tv NBC Bay Area News Special NBC December 3, 2016 6:30pm-7:01pm PST
officials found no evidence of smoke alarms or sprinklers at the i'm raj mathai, welcome to nbc bay area news. we've been on the scene all day. the fire began last night, at 11:30 in the evening. the work begins tonight, fire crews have stabilized the building enough to access the building. a lot of heavy machine has cleared away the debris and now the search is on for possibly 25 bodies inside. within the last 30 minutes we just got an update from sergeant ray kelly from the alameda sheriff's department. he confirmed to us that nine bodies have been recovered. many families have been reunited with their loved ones, that's the upside. but many families still have no idea, waiting for word. it's not just a local story. we've been talking about at
length throughout this day, around the bay area, around the state, around the world, this was an artists' colony and a music party. a lot of deejays and live music here performing last night. everyone showed up around 9 or 10:00 p.m. last night. the party was supposed to stretch until 4:00 this morning. it didn't happen that way. no word yet on the cause of the fire. 11:30 is when it first happened. that's what's happening right now. a lot of the neighbors are still in shock, in fact a lot of people here around our camera location here on 31st and international are saying prayers and just really hoping that their neighbors or loved ones are okay, that made it out. one thing that stood out for us, one of the fire offices said not many people went to local hospitals. they simply got out of the fire or they did not. that's what they're looking for right now. garvin, jessica, i'll send it back to you. >> thank you very much, raj. a lot of people, garvin, are describing it as a tinder box, a maze on the inside, very difficult to get out of. fire officials confirm they so far have not found any evidence
of smoke alarms or sprinklers in that building. >> and the way the artists built their spaces, it ended up as a warren of different rooms filled with wooden furniture. nbc's laura malpert joins us now, it sounds like a recipe for disaster if there were a fire, which unfortunately there was. >> reporter: well, that's right. they also called it a death trap. i am just in front of the warehouse, and i can tell you that people have been stopping by here all day long, people who live or work nearby or thought that they knew somebody inside. as you can imagine, they are walking around in a complete daze right now. earlier i spoke with a man who went to a party here about a year ago. his name is darryl ortiz. he says his first thought was, it could have been him. he says at that time the one stairwell at that time was made of rickety, unstable pieces of wood. he says it was narrow and hard to get up and down. take a listen to what he has to say.
>> it was cool, there was all these different couches and car seats and stuff set up. and they had like everything made of wood, though, that was like the problem. everything was kind of made out of old fences and stuff. it was like -- i don't even know how to really explain it. they made different rooms with different like, you know, curtains and things like that. >> reporter: ortiz says it was like a labyrinth, a big maze made of strainiof strange objec. he says a year ago a family lived there with children, 8 and 9, but it was unclear whether they were there last night. officials said there were no minors that they were aware of. one man who saw the fire said it was so hot, you didn't even smell anything, it was all consumed in the air. he says it was strangely quiet, even almost peaceful. he saw a gurney go in and come out empty. and he thought everyone had made
it out safely. but of course he later learned that anyone who was inside just didn't make it out. i can tell you, everybody out here is just wondering how this happened, how it got so far. they say it was no secret that that place wasn't exactly safe. and they say it should have been shut down a long time ago. back to you. >> okay, laura, thank you. we heard our own investigative units, liz wagner who we talked to a short time ago about the owners of the building refuting the claim that it was a makeshift staircase, saying it was in fact a permitted staircase. investigators will be looking at that, lots of questions about the safety and integrity of that warehouse. >> i think it was at the 2:00 press conference that the oakland building and permits department said there was blight around the building and complaints of unpermitted construction. now, our investigative unit has been on this story since early this story, well-equipped to look at those investigative concerns. investigative reporter bigad shaban joins us with what he's
found. >> the venue where the dance party actually took place overnight, we learned it's actually owned by a trust that was settle up by chor ing, who owns a dozen other buildings in the bay area, several have been investigated for minor violations but not received as many complaints as this warehouse according to government records we obtained. we discovered the venue for last night's dance party was already under investigation by the city of oakland over potential structural problems. now, our investigative unit discovered the warehouse has actually been accused of a long list of violations over the years. today the city launched yet another investigation into the warehouse that accuses the facility of having a makeshift, one-way stairwell built out of wooden pallets. as we've heard, relatives of the building's owner adamantly deny that kind of shoddy work. but today firefighters repeatedly blamed that narrow stairwell for trapping some of the victims inside the fire.
it was only less than a month ago when oakland's planning and building department launched an earlier investigation into the very same property, also citing complaints about some illegal construction inside. our investigative unit also got ahold of some video showing a recent dance party inside the warehouse. this one took place in june. part of the structure, as we talked about, was a workspace for artists. it included cramped quarters with tons of wood furniture and no smoke detectors. the oakland fire chief tells us this may be the worst fire oakland has seen in nearly three decades, garvin and jess. >> bigad, thanks very much. still a lot ahead on our breaking coverage. we'll take you to a vigil going right now for victims of the fire. - hi, it's me. [imitates fanfare]
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oakland, at 31st and international. one of the great things about oakland is its diversity and culture and community. this was an area filled with warehouses with a lot of artistic space. so many people are sad at what happened last night whether they knew anyone in the building or not. this tragedy is still unfolding. a lot of people here, neighbors, friends, loved ones, are waiting, like everyone is. these next 48 hours will be so difficult. people are saying prayers and watching what we are. if you look towards this colony, this warehouse, you see heavy equipment taking out all that dirt and debris and hopefully accessing some of the bodies, because people are waiting, their families of the loved ones are waiting to see who is inside and hoping their loved ones are not. we'll send it back to you in the studio. >> thank you very much, raj. not only are people gathering there at the scene of the fire to figure out what is going on, other people are trying to remember the victims of the devastating fire and still trying to hold out hope for the
missing. >> let's go to nbc bay area's christie smith, live at the chapel of the chimes in oakland, where people are gathering for a vigil at this hour. christie? >> reporter: yes, that's right. we've seen people in tears. they're hugging, some in prayer. it's quiet. it's solemn. of course there are still many unknowns. and we have heard from people who say that they have not heard from their friends since that fire. they are still missing. many of the folks who came out tonight, of course members of oakland's thriving arts community. they tell us they've been watching facebook and other social media sites and say that condolences have turned up on some of their friends' pages. again, they have friend that are unaccounted for and they're waiting for word. so they decided to come here where there was an interfaith vigil happening, a pastor offering words of comfort. we spoke with an am would who says that four, four of her friends are still missing. and a man who didn't know those involved but was touched by the tragedy. >> they were amazing.
you know, they're amazing. i'm sorry for, you know, everyone's loss. it's the people i didn't know. it's just -- i can't even -- it's mind-blowing. heartbreaking. >> when something so tragic strikes so close to home, unimaginable grief. and the least we can do is be here and show our love and our suppo support. you know, our hearts ache. >> reporter: there's also a book of condolences inside, candles and flowers that we're told were donated by a local forest when they heard of the tragedy and of the vigil that they would be holding tonight. the meditation chapel will be open until 8:00. then we're told they're going to go ahead and reopen that tomorrow morning at 8:30 to give people a place to grieve and mourn and reflect. live in oakland, christie smith, nbc bay area news. >> thank you, christie. one of the consistent themes we've been hearing over and over
again, that people who visited this artist' colony often thought the building itself was unsafe. those familiar with the ghost ship say they knew that building was potentially dangerous. >> one man who came to check on artists he knew associated with the collective says he's devastated by what happened but not surprised. >> i was worried about it before too. you know, i had been asked to move in there. i refused. i felt like it was a little too scary for me because of that. but wonderful people. really wonderful people. very creative, very talented people living there, really good people. >> he says the man behind the collective traveled extensively, picking up artwork from all over the world to make the industrial space beautiful. i'm raj mathai. we're here in east oakland. it was and is a beautiful collect of artwork for so many people. we'll let you know what's going to happen in the next few hours that will be key for so many
and covered california is there for it all. not just to help keep you well. but to make sure the cost of being unwell doesn't ruin this whole life thing. because it's more than just health care. it's life care. i'm raj mathai. i want to give you an idea where we are here, in the corner of a wendy's parking lot. through that parking lot, you can see all the command vehicles. and in the distance there, that building that's lit up is that art collective, that warehouse that went up in flames last night. and there's a fear that 25 people are burned inside there. so they're trying to recover the bodies. nine bodies have already been
recovered. where we are exactly, 31st and international. if you're familiar with the area, you know it's right next to the fruitvale b.a.r.t. station. if you're not familiar with where we are, it's 880 and fruitvale, three miles north of the oakland coliseum and the oakland arena. these next 48 hours are crucial, because that's when these crews are actually going to be able to get inside and get the debris from inside and, more importantly, the bodies. we'll continue to update this throughout the evening and later in the newscast. guys, we'll send it back to you. >> raj, thanks very much. one of the most important parts of the story has been trying to keep the family members of those who know they have passed or who are unaccounted for up to date with information. to do that, the county of alameda set up a family assistance center. that information is on the screen right now. 2425 east 12th street in oakland. the phone number, 510-382-3000. we did hear from sergeant kelly saying they are flooded,
inundated with phone calls. and only people with pertinent information or questions about the fire are supposed to call there, so family members can get through. they said that's an important way for them to communicate with the families. of course rick boone has been out at the scene all day watching family members come and go, trying to get information about loved ones. >> new information is coming in by the minute. we've been updating our digital platforms with all that new information on this breaking story. another good resource for you, check our twitter feed or sign up for breaking news alerts on nbcbayarea.com. we are staying on top of this breaking news for you out of oakland right here, still a very active scene. it's going to be for some time. you're looking at a live picture from the scene right now as the crews start to bring in heavy equipment to begin to open up holes in that building so they can search for more remains. our coverage continues after the break.
we're continuing to follow breaking news, so much has changed in the last few hours. it is nighttime in oakland. that means firefighters have changed their tack, they have brought in big floodlights and heavy machinery to try to reenter the building. >> we've heard they've actually taken nine bodies out of the building and are furiously working to try to identify the victims of the fire. at least two dozen others they say are unaccounted for. they just don't know how many people were in the building to begin with. they're trying to figure out what that true number is. they know there are bodies in there they have seen, they just haven't been able to get to them yet. >> our raj mathai joins us live from the site of the warehouse. raj, we've seen the machinery come in, have you seen an uptick in firefighters converging on the building? >> yes, we're seeing the machinery, we're hearing the machinery, movement and trucks and personnel vehicles behind us. 30 minutes ago for the first time in several hours we saw
fire crews on top, on the ceiling of this building, on the roof looking in. that's something they weren't able to do since this fire broke out, simply because it was too dangerous. they were fearing for the firefighters' safety that they would fall through, because apparently that second floor has collapsed into the first floor. so yes, there has been a lot of movement. as sergeant ray kelly said with the alameda county sheriff's department, these next 48 hours they'll be able to get a lot of answers. i want to check in with some of the briefings now we've received within the hour. let's listen in. >> so we're going to continue working through the night. we've brought in lights. we're going to flood this place with light as much as we can. nighttime operations are going to slow us down a little bit. so we have to move slowly here. and very judiciously in getting this done. >> reporter: have any more than the nine been seen? >> we know there are bodies that are in there that we can't get
to, that have been seen and not reviewed. [ inaudible question ] it's been widely known that a lot of the victims are in their 20s and young adults. >> reporter: any minors? >> no minors that we know of at this time. >> reporter: is the focus on recovery now or is there also the investigation going on that you talked? >> so as we do the recovery, we have to be mindful of the investigation that is to come. the second part of this. so we have to make sure we preserve the debris and wreckage properly so it can be looked at later. that's all being taken into account. [ inaudible question ] that is correct. >> go ahead. [ inaudible question ]
>> correct. and that may be -- it may be more than two dozen. we cannot give you a definitive number. you know, one person being killed here is horrible. let alone nine and maybe possibly more. >> a typical day for everyone involved here, just trying to get an exact number, but that's not possible until they actually get inside that warehouse. that's what they're doing. you can still hear and see the heavy equipment and machinery behind me. you see that backhoe bringing in dirt from one location to the other. that's what's going to happen for several hours. so they have secured the building. and that is good news. there is some more good news, relatively speaking here. a lot of families have reunited with their loved ones. they feared they were inside the building. but they have reunited with their loved ones. the family center where they're all located is five miles from here. all those friends and family are waiting on pins and needles for any updates coming from inside this warehouse here. that's what's going to happen
now throughout this night and throughout the next 48 hours. jessica, garvin? >> thank you very much, raj. one of the interesting things we talked about, that's unique about this, there were not very many people injured. we heard of one person taken to the hospital. so the hospitals are not an active scene as parts of the story right now. you have where raj was at the scene of the fire, but then the other place to be is the family assistance center where nbc bay area's rick boone has been most of the day, talking with some of the desperate family members who are coming and trying to get a little more information, rick hem. >> reporter: they're trying to get whatever they possibly can. so far a lot of families are basically waiting or listening to the words coming out of your mouth and hoping they'll have some type of content about their loved one. this is the sheriff's office for alameda county. they've been in and out throughout the entire day. there's been red cross officials bringing in toiletries and food and other things these families may need because they may be
here for some time. this is the place they are to be, this is where officials want them to be to get the latest information. some, we're finding, are very frustrated that they're not getting the details they need. one particular family, the vega family, dan vega is desperately trying to find out about his 22-year-old little brother alexander and alexander's girlfriend michaela. they want to the concert last night had he's been trying to call his brother on the phone, trying to do whatever he can to contact him. no response from him on the phone, no response to any texts. he believes his little brother was inside the building. his mom and entire family are wondering what is happening. they have no information right now. so a lot of the nervousness is turning into serious frustration right now. and as you just indicated, this is going to be going on for quite some time. so throughout the entire night, you'll have people wondering what, and then they're going to
get angry. that will be the reality here until they have some type of closure. we'll send it back to you. >> thank you very much, rick. it is a difficult situation, because the process of identifying remains of someone through fingerprints can be tedious if the person doesn't have fingerprints somehow in the fingerprint database, it's virtually impossible. social media has been a tool for people being able to alert the family members and saying, hey, i wasn't at that fire. that's a lot of the communication going on. >> if you're one of the people doing the investigation, you do want to -- you don't want to give them no information but even worse is giving them the wrong information so you want to be careful about that. we'll check in one last time with raj mathai out at the scene of the warehouse fire. >> it's so difficult for everyone to deal with this, because it's a recovery and an investigation, which makes it challenging for fire crews and city officials. just a short while ago, mayor libby schaaf in oakland says she wants to deal with all of this compassionately. she summarized it very well, she
needs answers for the family but ultimately needs to deal with all of this compassionately. the fire chief in oakland said in her 30 years of experience, this is the worst tragedy she's seen and been involved with as a professional, 30 years of fire service. we were all here in 1991 or many of us were, and we saw that, i believe, off the top of my head, 25 people died in the oakland hills fire of 1991. so far nine bodies have been recovered here but up to 25 more could be recovered. so in the scope and the magnitude of what's happening here in oakland, it's a big one, perhaps the worst in its history. we'll send it back to you and see you later tonight, guys. >> thank you, raj. you can count on us to continue to monitor the situation not only from the recover effort, the investigation, as well as what's happening with those anguished families, this oakland deadly fire in that warehouse known as the ghost ship. a tragedy tonight for oakland and all of the bay area. >> we have crews on scene and they'll continue there throughout the night. we'll bring you the latest tonight at 11:00. we hope to see you then. >> bye-bye.
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