Florida Condo Death Toll Rises To 32, Elsa Drenches Cuba: News You Need To Start Your Day
We hope you had a safe and restful weekend. We're back in the mix this morning, so grab some coffee and let's catch up on the stories of the day:
- Search and rescue teams in Florida are accessing new areas of the collapsed condo building. But rain and wind from Tropical Storm Elsa is complicating efforts.
- England is preparing to end most COVID restrictions, even though cases from the Delta variant are rising.
- Six months ago today, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. This is where the federal investigation stands right now.
- Book recommendations for your summer reading list that highlight the immigrant experience, in America and around the world.
- On today's Up First, a look at how the Biden administration is approaching police reform.
— The Morning Edition live blog team
(Emily Alfin Johnson, Rachel Treisman and William Jones)
Rescue workers are still methodically searching the site of the collapsed condominium in Surfside, Fla. The effort is helped by the demolition of the still-standing part of the building over the weekend but hampered by harsh weather conditions from an incoming tropical storm.
NPR's Adrian Florido walks us through where things stand this Tuesday morning:
- Crews have recovered 32 bodies so far — four of them yesterday and another four since — and as many as 113 people are still unaccounted for. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said this morning that of those, 70 are confirmed to have been in the building when it collapsed. No survivors have been found.
- Tropical Storm Elsa is closing in on Florida's west coast, bringing blustery conditions to the region. Workers have periodically had to pause their search over the last day because of lightning.
- Crews used explosives late Sunday night to demolish the remaining structure at Champlain Towers South, a step that local officials deemed essential for search efforts, especially because of the high winds and heavy rains expected this week.
- The demolition means crews can now search the area that was previously considered too dangerous because it was holding the structure up. They assured former residents, and the public, that everything possible had been done to rescue pets left behind.
- Some families have now been waiting almost two weeks for word of their loved ones.
'Unadulterated, unquestionable kindness'
Rabbi Sholom Lipskar leads the Shul of Bal Harbour, a synagogue just a short walk from the building with many members who resided there. He says a great source of trauma for the community is not knowing whether all of the bodies will be found, citing the basic need to grieve in the presence of loved ones' remains.
Lipskar says the only thing he can offer these families in this moment is kindness.
"Because there's nothing else that works under these circumstances. Unadulterated, unquestionable kindness. If you want a monster drink, we'll get it for you ... A blanket, a pillow. Whatever you want we're gonna get it for you, so that you put their mind at ease of all material things at this moment."
NPR is looking into what happened in the months and years leading up to the building's partial collapse.
- We have learned that seven months before the tragedy, the condo association board and building residents were sparring over expensive repairs.
- A Florida judge ordered the condo association board into receivership, appointing an attorney to handle its financial matters while the court hears lawsuits over the building's collapse.
- Five lawsuits have been filed so far, and more are expected in the months ahead.
Exactly 27 years after starting Amazon in a garage in West Bellevue, Wash., Jeff Bezos officially stepped down as CEO of Amazon, yesterday.
Bezos, the richest man on the planet, will remain Amazon's largest shareholder.
But day-to-day operations will now be handled by longtime deputy Andy Jassy.
Bezos told employees a few months ago that the move will allow him to focus on other projects, including philanthropic pursuits and his space exploration company.
The transition comes during somewhat of a difficult period for the company.
Amazon's competitive practices are the subject of multiple probes. And Amazon drivers and other workers have alleged mistreatment, and complained about working conditions in factories.
NPR's Bobby Allyn has been covering the transition. Here's what we know.
Amazon is among NPR's financial supporters.
England is on track to lift nearly all COVID-19 restrictions in about two weeks. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it’s time to return to near normal and let people police themselves. But Johnson is planning to open society at a time when cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise.
Johnson acknowledges the pandemic isn't over, but his argument is basically that the United Kingdom’s successful vaccination campaign has largely broken the link between the disease, hospitalizations and large numbers of deaths.
So far, the numbers seem to largely support that. There are more than 27,000 new cases each day and deaths are averaging about 18 a day. Back in January, at the peak, England had over 1,800 deaths in a single day. But this decision is a tradeoff between more cases, some more deaths and fully reopening the economy and society.
The prime minister's decision is drawing criticism from some unions and opposition politicians. One of the big concerns is that Johnson wants to make mask-wearing voluntary. One union, UNITE, which represents tens of thousands of public transport workers, called it an “act of gross negligence.” And Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour party, called the plan “reckless.” He points to the rising infection rate as the delta variant has taken hold.
It should be noted that the prime minister's plans are not a done deal. Johnson is still watching the numbers and says he's going to make a final decision at the beginning of next week.
His decision will only impact England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Island have their own COVID policies.
Tropical Storm Elsa has been drenching Cuba, with heavy rainfall and sustained winds of up to 65 miles an hour. More than a 100,000 people were evacuated from coastal parts of the country due to fears of flooding and mudslides.
As NPR's Dan Charles reports, the storm is expected to reach Key West and the west coast of Florida on Tuesday. Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, has declared a state of emergency in 15 counties in advance of the storm.
The National Weather Service says that the western coast of Florida, including Tampa Bay, can expect a storm surge of two to four feet, and up to six inches of rain in some places.
Forecasters say Elsa will then bring heavy rainfall to Georgia and the Carolinas. It's been a relatively busy start to the Atlantic hurricane season, with five named storms so far.
We've got some thought-provoking reading for you!
We asked Vietnamese American author Ocean Vuong to share some of his favorite pieces that highlight the immigrant experience, in America and around the world.
Vuong, who wrote the coming-of-age novel On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, was born on a rice farm outside Saigon in 1988 and emigrated to Connecticut in 1990.
Here's what he suggests:
Some of his poems are written in both English and Spanish, just as many first generation immigrants switch back and forth between languages.
Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin
This one is posthumously published and semi-autobiographical by the Taiwanese writer Qiu Miaojin. It's a book of letters, sent from a Taiwanese woman living in Paris to her friends, her family, to no one in particular and to the woman she loves.
The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul
The 2002 Literature Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul has written a novel that very much reads like a memoir. This is about postcolonial identity, his journey migrating from Trinidad to the English countryside in the 1950s and how he made sense of his adopted homeland.
Duras explores a unique question, according to Vuong: "What is it like to have privileges and yet still be part of a declining imperial force?"
Africa has vaccinated about 1% of its population against COVID-19. And the delta variant is continuing to spread.
The majority of African nations are participating in COVAX, a worldwide vaccination initiative created to try and improve equity in distribution. But the program has faced challenges.
Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe is the New Vaccines Introduction Officer at the World Health Organization's Africa Office and in that role, is playing an integral role in the vaccination drive. Atuhebwe spoke with NPR's Leila Fadel. You can listen to their full interview or read the highlights below.
Dr. Atuhebwe believes a funding shortage is at the heart of the issue:
"The World Bank estimates that Africa will need about $12 billion for procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to reach sufficient numbers, to ensure adequate protection of the African population. And many countries, African countries, must fund the costs of procuring the additional vaccines, while at the same time investing in immunization systems to be able to distribute the vaccine."
There's also been an issue with vaccine acceptance:
"We know that we have disparities between, for example, West and Central Africa, which have a low vaccine confidence, and then East and Southern Africa that have a higher vaccine confidence."
"There are countries that still think COVID is a myth. To them, they have not seen the real impact of COVID, so they think it's something political," Atuhebwe says. "The vaccines arrive in the countries before the communities are engaged and education has not yet taken place."
Dr. Atuhebwe says there are some success stories:
"Some countries are doing better than others. For instance, we have Angola, Eswatini, Gambia, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, countries that have used up 100% of their COVAX dozes, because they all had a robust vaccine rollout."
Morning Edition is speaking to people on the ground in Surfside, Fla., where Day 13 of search efforts is underway as loved ones anxiously await closure.
Maggie Castro is a firefighter and paramedic with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, whose duties include briefing family members on the progress that rescue crews — from across Florida and now five other states — are making.
She says the work has been emotionally taxing but extremely fulfilling, in that she's able to be there for families in the depths of tragedy. What they need most right now, she adds, is answers.
Many of them, and the rescue teams, are still holding out hope.
"We're always hoping for a miracle, but we do understand that with every day that passes the chances of that happening becomes less and less."
Castro also talked about how two new developments — the demolition of the unstable remaining building and the incoming tropical storm — are impacting today's search efforts.
For instance, whenever there's a lightning strike within a 2.5 mile radius of the site, work has to stop by law for about 30 minutes. But Castro says workers can deal with the rain, a hallmark of South Florida weather. And they now have access to the entire rubble pile, including the condo's parking garage and other spaces that were off-limits before Sunday's demolition.
Plus, at least four federal agencies are currently on the ground in Surfside.
Their findings and eventual recommendations could lead to changes in things like building codes and engineering practices aimed at preventing similar tragedies from happening elsewhere.
Noel King spoke with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida about what that process might look like in days and weeks to come. 🎧 You can listen to that here.
It's summertime, and there's plenty to do outside. But before you head out, here are a few things to remember and share with your loved ones.
Staying safe — and calm — this tick season
Ticks are showing up in more parts of the country, from the West Coast to the Northeast, and experts say tick-borne diseases are at an all-time high.
What ticks should you be watching out for? Where are they found? What should you do if you think you've been bitten?
Check out this thorough guide to identifying and avoiding ticks.
Seven ways to prevent young swimmers from drowning
Dr. Kristen Kendrick, a health and media fellow at NPR and Georgetown University School of Medicine, reminds us that unfortunately, in the majority of drowning accidents, the child was being supervised by an adult at the time.
"Absolutely anyone can drown, or lose a loved one to a drowning," she says.
Kendrick has compiled a list of seven things you should do to prevent or save a child from drowning. You can find it here.
Don't forget the sunscreen ☀️
And of course, be sure to protect your skin!
NPR's Life Kit made this handy guide to sunscreen, which is especially helpful if you're looking for a new bottle but aren't sure where to start.
It was exactly six months ago that a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, in a deadly attack that stunned the nation and the world.
The insurrection prompted former President Donald Trump's second impeachment, and a congressional inquiry has been the subject of much debate on Capitol Hill. It also spurred a massive federal investigation, in which the government has brought charges against more than 500 individuals (and counting).
"I've said it before, but it's worth repeating," NPR Justice Correspondent Ryan Lucas said. "This is a massive, massive investigation. Prosecutors have said it's likely to be one of the largest in American history."
A team effort: The U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., is leading the prosecutions, with help from government lawyers brought in from other offices. The FBI's D.C. field office also has agents rotating in to help out. The investigation remains active, with more people arrested every week.
Reading into guilty pleas: Some defendants have already pleaded guilty, and defense attorneys say their pleas may serve as a potential roadmap for many other Jan. 6 cases.
Only one person has both pleaded guilty and been sentenced so far: Anna-Morgan Lloyd, a 49-year-old Indiana woman who pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of "parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building." She was sentenced to three years of probation, 120 hours of community service and no jail time.
The case against far-right groups: The government's conspiracy case against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers remains in its pretrial phase. One of the 16 charged co-defendants has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, as has another individual allegedly involved. Both have agreed to cooperate with the government, giving investigators a major boost.
The still-unknown pipe bomber: Investigators have released footage of a suspect, but are still working to determine who planted two pipe bombs near the Capitol.
The pandemic is certainly not over. But as people in America and around the world begin to emerge from their bubbles, it's a good time to reflect on the things that helped us through it.
That's what Paula Zuccotti, an Argentine-born, London-based designer and ethnographic researcher, has been doing.
She put out a call on Instagram last April, asking people to share the 15 items they couldn't live without during the pandemic.
The instructions were simple: Lay everything out on a flat surface, shoot a photo from above, and post it with a specific hashtag.
Zuccotti got more than 1,000 responses from 50 countries, which she collected in a publicly searchable archive. Some have items in common — computers, books, musical instruments, hand sanitizer — but each tells its own story.
Want to add your items? Zuccotti's gathered submissions under #everythingwetouchcovidessentialsx15 on Instagram.
Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, at least 150 people were killed in about 400 shootings across the nation.
President Biden is trying to walk a thin line, as he attempts to tackle this surge in violent crime while also getting a police reform bill across the finish line.
In terms of the relationship between law enforcement and the Biden administration:
- President Biden is trying to balance calls from activists for a major overhaul of policing with concerns about law and order amid a crime wave.
- The president has a long, personal relationship with police that dates back to his 1994 crime bill. The question is whether those old ties will help him in this moment.
- Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, says Biden has evolved on the issue: "He has moved to the left in his thinking and that colors his approach to pretty much all things law enforcement," Pasco says.
- Police groups say they have not had one-on-one meetings with the president, but they have had an open line of communication and multiple candid conversations with senior White House officials.
You can 🎧 hear about the relationship between President Biden and law enforcement, and what that might mean for the chances of a bipartisan agreement on police reform eventually becoming law.
This week, top executives from the most influential tech and media companies will gather at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho for tennis, hiking, whitewater rafting and — they hope — lucrative deal-making.
The annual getaway is back on this year after being suspended during the pandemic. It promises to be a who's-who of media moguls and tech titans; regulars include Apple's Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Oprah Winfrey, and analysts believe the aggregate wealth of this year's attendees will top $1 trillion.
Where deals are born
NPR's David Gura takes us inside the gathering known as "summer camp for billionaires," and the secretive investment firm that organizes it.
Allen & Company has played an influential role in some of the biggest tech and media deals and initial public offerings in the last several decades — and many of those emerged from the Sun Valley conference.
As Gura puts it, "The next time there's a merger or acquisition in media or tech, there's a good chance it may have been hatched at a resort in central Idaho."
Before you go, we wanted to highlight a project we learned about from member station WAMU.
Back in 2016, then-First Lady Michelle Obama was addressing those gathered in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention. The whole speech is worth listening back to but one line stood out:
"I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves."
The line hit home for many — and they went looking to learn more about the enslaved people that built the White House.
Historians have spent the last five years looking for answers. Now, their ongoing work can be explored in-person and online.