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Syria in Crisis

Aired September 7, 2013 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Hi. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting all week from the Syria-Lebanon border.

And joining me from Atlanta is my friend and colleague Brooke Baldwin.

Hey, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good to see you in Lebanon. As we know, the geography of the region, you're next door to Syria.

And I have a lot of questions for you as far as what you've seen in the last couple of days, being in and around the Beirut area.

So, let me just begin with what we have seen so far. We've seen the videos. It looks absolutely devastating. You are there.

Is what you've seen what you expected?

GUPTA: I'll tell you, Brooke, I've been to many refugee camps around the world. I think, you know, certainly as father, you can't help but notice the children in a lot of these refugee camps and sort of trying to imagine what they're going through, the thing that they've seen and how they're going to sort of move forward. And that's challenging.

I think what is particularly changing here in Lebanon, along the border, is that it's a very disorganized, chaotic situation. You've got refugees coming across the border so frequently now and those numbers are only expected to go up. So, you know, after two years now almost, Brooke, of setting up these camps right along that border in sometimes some dangerous areas, it's still very makeshift. Refugees are always that way but more than I would have expected I think in this case, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I want to talk about some of the people, of course, who you've met at these refugee camps and kids specifically. But let me first ask about this exclusive access that you and our CNN team had into this secret hospital steps from the Syrian border. How did you get in there and what did you see, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, we were spending some time in refugee camps that day and we got word of this hospital, we kept asking what if people are more severely injured, where do they go? And that sort of led us into this, you know, pretty secretive hospital, certainly not a place where they wanted to advertise or disclose in terms of its location. Remember, we're talking about a Syrian hospital essentially staffed by Syrian doctors and other Syrian staff to take care of Syrian patients, but all of it in Lebanon, right along the border. And that's part of the sensitivity here.

But ultimately, they did give us access and allowed us to visit certain floors of the hospital and to really get an idea. Take a look.


GUPTA (voice- over): Hard to believe, but these are the lucky ones. Most refugees end up scattered in camps like this, with little medical care available. So four months ago, members of the free Syrian army took over this mosque in the Lebanese border town of (INAUDIBLE). They turned it into a very basic hospital.

(on camera): The types of injuries, gunshot wounds, amputations, spinal cord injuries. You see all of those here?


GUPTA (voice-over): We are just walking distance to Syria. Look over there, just to those mountain passes.

Dr. Noor (ph) is Syrian, as are all the medical staff here. They left their country to take care of wounded rebels.

To keep them safe, the hospital is secret. No signs outside. They only allowed us to take pictures on the patient floors, and we agreed to limit what we would show that would identify people here.

(on camera): You don't want us to show your face. How worried are you about your own safety?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's dangerous to do, to help these people.

GUPTA (voice-over): There are many floors filled with patients and inside this room, every man you see is a rebel fighter. Every one of them shot or injured in combat.

A sniper shot this man in the leg. This man's arm peppered with shrapnel. They are all afraid. None wants to be identified, including this 24-year-old who says he was walking to work in Damascus when a, quote, "rain of missiles came down." He says he felt heat on his back and soon found he could not move his legs.

(on camera): He did get a CT scan over here which showed the fractures and ultimately made it to this clinic. He did get an operation -- ultimately, you can see the screws in the bones here to do the fusion. The problem was that this whole process took way too long, three months.

(voice-over): The operation was unsuccessful.

(on camera): Can I try and examine your legs? Do you mind? Can I examine?


GUPTA: Can you try and kick up at all? Nothing?

(voice-over): It is not likely he will be able to walk again.

In the last several weeks, Dr. Noor and his team have cared for more than 300 patients and the good news: he tells me all of them survived.

But basic supplies are now running low. Dr. Noor says these shelves were once filled with antibiotics and pain medications. Now he says there's just enough to last until the end of the month.


GUPTA: That's part of the problem, Brooke. There's just not enough supplies.

And think about those numbers and the number of injured that are coming across the border.

This is one of the few hospitals that can take care of people with those severe injuries. You saw what the supply situation was like. So, you get an idea of what some of the nervousness and anxiety is here.

BALDWIN: So, it's those that you've seen in the hospital and then just we have the talk about refugees. There's one Syrian refugee every 15 seconds and you've been to the camps. You talked to the people. What do they have to say about a possible U.S. strike?

GUPTA: I think -- the sense is they think it's going to happen. Granted, they don't have nearly the same access to information that you do, that a lot of people do who have television. So, it's much more word of mouth but so much of the increase, I think even coming across the border was because of the concern of those strikes.

And I think that only grows, that concern only grows in these refugee camps. So, you see families that are coming across and other members coming across later. And again, the numbers just increasing.

By the way, I'll just point out quickly, Brooke, because I know you've been talking about this. They say 700,000 to 750,000 refugees in Lebanon from Syria, those are just registered. The number could be double that if you count all the people who are just coming across without officially registering.


GUPTA: So, it's very difficult to keep track of this, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And then there's the fear of additional chemical weapons to be used. There's video that has surfaced, Sanjay, of Syrians making these homemade gas masks to, of course, protect themselves in the case of yet another attack. Here they are.

What about these masks, Sanjay? Would they -- homemade masks -- actually help?

GUPTA: No, I don't think they will help, Brooke. You know, it's kind of sad to actually see that because I think it just shows the desperation here, try anything.

A couple of things about sarin and people are learning a lot about this gruesome chemical weapon. But, first of all, you can inhale it, but you can even just get it on your skin, a small amount of it, and it could also cause the devastating symptoms that way as well. It is odorless. It is tasteless. You don't know that you've been exposed until you start to develop symptoms.

But to your question, Brooke, that mask there that we showed the video of would not work. Let me show you the type of mask that could possibly offer benefit. This is a military grade mask, besides actually, filtering what you're breathing in. It also covers the skin on a large part of your face. You obviously have to cover the skin in other parts of your body as well, to be fully protected.

Best advice, if you think there's been a release you've got to just run out of area. Get out of there as quickly as possible. It tends to be a heavy gas. It tends to settle closer to the ground. It does to intend to disperse as much. So, get out of there. Get your clothes off of you because it can linger on your clothes and then wash your body because it can linger your skin.

So, people who have nonlethal doses will often recover, but getting out of there really seems to be the key.

BALDWIN: So, with sarin, according to reports, there are hundreds of thousands of tons of this stuff, of sarin, not far from where you are. If there were to be this massive explosion of this type of gas, how far would it spread?

GUPTA: I think the possible good news here is as far as the refugee camps, which are over the mountain overpass between Syria and Lebanon, it's unlikely to come over into those refugee camps. So, the people who have these concerns in the camps along the border towns, understandable concerns but probably not something they need to worry about because again, it's a heavy gas. By the way it even -- if there were small concentrations that made it over those mountain overpasses it would be so deluded to likely not have an effect.

But, again, part of -- this is a psychological terrorism as much as in some ways is physical terrorism. So, you know, they're so frighten of this and they do everything they can to try and protect themselves. But the good news is, if there's any good news in this, at least for the people who are further away, they're not likely to be affected by this.

BALDIWN: Let's take a quick break, Sanjay. Stay with me there, from Lebanon, because coming up next, I want to talk to you about the people who are struggling to survive without food, without medical care.

Back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Continuing our special coverage of the crisis in Syria.

You know the situation is incredibly desperate for so many people there. And those hit the hardest are the children. In fact, a lot of them are dying.

Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon takes us to one makeshift hospital where children are simply struggling to stay alive without food and proper medical care. But I just have to warn you, get the kids out of the room now because some of video we're about to show you is very graphic.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this video uploaded to YouTube by opposition activists, two-and-a- half-year-old Ibrahim (ph) struggles for life. His body can't take solid good. It can only digest milk. But there isn't any for him.

Through Skype, we reached Dr. Abu Samer in Syria, the pediatrician who treated Ibrahim.

"There are many illnesses we are confronting because of an absolute absence of food," Dr. Samer explains. We've depleted all of our food reserves. Even animal products that could act as alternatives because there are no animals left.


BALDWIN: And sadly since Arwa filed that report, have learned that little boy has since died. An important point, CNN has to way to independently verify the authenticity of these videos. The Red Cross says they can't confirm how many people are in this condition because they simply have not been granted access to some of the most troubled areas in Syria.

I want to take you back to the neighboring Lebanon. Dr. Sanjay Gupta back with me, who has been reporting from the border for the past couple of days.

And, Sanjay, the video -- it just continues to be very, very difficult to look at. There's absolute devastation and desperation in Syria but the refugee camps where you visited in Lebanon, is malnutrition a problem for them too?

GUPTA: Yes. It can be a problem too.

I just got to say, Brooke, all the problems in the world that we talk about and we've talked about a lot of them lately, feeding children should not be that big of a problem. It's heartbreaking to look at that. We saw some evidence of malnutrition in the refugee camps where we were as well. There was a boy that I met. He is eight months old. He looks like he's about four or five months old. You know, I have children myself, so you get such a good gauge of being able to tell how big a child should be and it is tough to see children who just aren't developing because of the lack of food.

So, it is a problem. They're doing their best, I think, in some of these places, the NGOs, to bring supplies in. But again, the numbers that we just talk about, Brooke, make that challenging.

BALDWIN: Right. And I know you've been all over the world -- you have covered natural disasters, droughts, wars. You've been in refugee camps, you know, worldwide. You mentioned NGOs, I mean, what really works to get these kids what they need?

GUPTA: Well, you know, you need to find products that can be very sustainable, that don't need refrigeration and can provide both macro and micro nutrients. And I don't want to get inside baseball here, but let me make it quite simple. This is something called Plumpy'nut. This comes in a foil package like this, and essentially a peanut-based product that doesn't require refrigeration. It's mixed with some skim milk but does not -- once it's opened, they can be reused.

And this provides a lot of fat and protein and a lot of the micronutrients that kids need.

Brooke, this is what I'm talking about in terms of solving big problems. This can actually help address chronic malnutrition in many places around the world, this peanut butter in a tinfoil thing. And it costs less than a dollar a day.

So, I mean, I don't want to -- you know, obviously, these are -- I don't want to minimize these problems but there are some simple solutions out there, too, that can make a huge difference.

BALDWIN: And I know people here at home are wondering how to help. Just to go to We have a list of all kinds of groups who are trying to help get things like that to children and adults, of course, in Syria and beyond.

Sanjay, stay with me, because before you hopped the plane to Lebanon, you hopped a plane to Key West. We're going to talk about the story you were all over here in the United States.

Roll the video and you will see her. You'll recognize her. Here she is, in her swimsuit, Diana Nyad walking up the beach unassisted after swimming all the way from Havana. Her true dream, coming up next.


BALDWIN: All right. How about a little something positive. You know the story this week.

Earlier on, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad made history yet again, because over the past 35 years, just imagine, she tried four different times to swim the 100-mile stretch between Cuba and Key West. Finally, fifth time was a charm because on that try this past week, the 64-year-old swam nearly 53 hours straight to become the first person to cross the waters without a shark cage.

And just hours afterward, guess who she sat with? Of course, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Take a look.


DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: It's a great story. You have a dream 35 years ago, doesn't come to fruition but you move on with life. But it's somewhere back there.

And then you turn 60 and your mom just dies and you don't know, you're looking for something, and the dream comes waking out of your imagination.

No one's ever done it. It's -- I'm not sure when the next person will do it. That's how hard it is to get everything right. And when I say everything right, with all the experience I have, especially in this ocean, I never knew I would suffer the way I did.

GUPTA: Are you hurting right now?

NYAD: I was hurting then.

GUPTA: I mean, I know your face is swollen.

NYAD: That's OK. That's temporary. But 13 hours, partly because of the daylight being less these days, to avoid the fatal attacks of the box jellyfish.

They're close to 80 percent fatal, no matter what the sting is, how small, what part of the body.

So I had a prosthetic mask made, and it's brilliant for jellyfish. Box jellyfish could not penetrate it. Because I wasn't stung and they were there.

GUPTA: What about sharks?

NYAD: We had a great shark team, great guys -- brave, experienced. They're just going to, in the black of night, they're just in there, looking for eyes. And if the eyes are very far apart, it's a large animal.

GUPTA: At those times when it was really tough, when the wind was blowing hard, the squalls and stuff like that, what do you think about?

NYAD: My whole mantra this year was, find a way. You don't like it, you're not doing well, find a way.

GUPTA: Find a way, I like that.

NYAD: Find a way. So it was really rough that first day, Saturday, after the start. And I just said, forget about the surface up. Get your hands in somehow, and with your left hand, say push Cuba back and push Florida toward you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got this! You got this. Crawl if you have to. You got this. You got this. You got this.

GUPTA: You've just gone through something nobody has ever done before. I mean, has that set in?

NYAD: Yes, because I've been trying for so long, and because today I had 15 hours. We could see last night the lights of Key West, and our navigator said, it's probably going to be about 15 hours of swimming. But I just believed in it. I believed I could make it.


BALDWIN: Goose bumps. Find way she says. Diana says the journey was thrilling but the destination has brought her tremendous satisfaction.

We'll be right back with Dr. Sanjay Gupta live in Lebanon right after this.


BALDWIN: We should tell you that this weekend is the big Nautica Malibu triathlon. And, of course, while he planned to race, Sanjay couldn't be there because you've been seeing why, the breaking news in Syria.

But the CNN Fit Nation team is regular to roll. Take a look these five regular viewers. They have spent five months training for the race with the good doctor's help.

So, Sanjay, all the way from Lebanon, what's your message for these guys?

GUPTA: Well, first of all, let me say I'm sorry I couldn't be there, but I think for good reasons, as you mentioned, Brooke. And, Brooke, maybe by the end of all this, you'll be inspired to do a triathlon yourself.

Let me just tell you that the reasons that I got involved in this in the first place was because this was chance to hit the reset button on your life. And I know our six-pack is watching from Malibu. And I'm talking to you directly and all the viewers who are interested in this.

This is a chance to hit the reset button in your life. How often do you get chance to do that? Another piece of advice that I give people and I take this very much to heart is that you should do something every day that scares you. That's part of living, do something every day that scares you, it makes you feel more alive.

And tomorrow morning, when you wake up, you're going to be a little scared. This is going to be something that scares you. Here's a couple pieces of advice, you go swim, bike, run. So, line up by the water first to swim. You want to make sure you're doing that. And also, don't make the mistake I made the first time, which is not to have my goggles all set and I actually got them kicked off my head at the beginning.

So, hit those goggles on, maybe even do a few strokes before going. To get to the bike, make sure you do that bike ride and when you get back, take off your helmet before you start the run, because you're going to look a little ridiculous if you start that run with your helmet on.

You may forget things. It's OK. It's part of this tremendous journey and I'm so proud of you. Again, I'm sorry I couldn't be there in Malibu, I really wanted to be there. But I wish you the best of luck. And, maybe, Brooke, maybe you can join us next year as well.

BALDWIN: Maybe, maybe, you sound like a girlfriend of mine who just did the Ironman. She was prepared to get, you know, elbowed and kicked as well when she swam. So, it's a tough crowd, but good luck from them -- from me as well. And let me just ask you this, I know you're in Lebanon, Sanjay, what, for a couple more days?

GUPTA: We'll be here for a few more days. As you know, Brooke, it's a very fluid situation. I think it's safe to say that nobody in the world really knows how the next few days are going to unfold in this part of the world. So, we don't know how long we're going to be here but we are going to be spending some time in the border regions looking at the impact of what happens over the next few days on the citizens in this area, but also people who are coming across the border from Syria, into Lebanon, we're literally just walking distance from there in these refugee camps. And we're going to look at what's happening in that area over the next few days.

BALDWIN: Be safe, be safe, be safe -- Sanjay Gupta to you and our CNN crew there. Incredible reporting.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We'll watch for it in the coming days as this is a pretty fluid situation. Of course, we'll continue our special CNN coverage from Syria and beyond. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks so much for being with me.

Now, time for a check of your top stories making news right now.