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Flooding in Colorado; Hikers Stranded in Rockies; Kerry and Lavrov Meet in Geneva; Gov. Christie Speaks on Recent Seaside Heights Fire

Aired September 13, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield and welcome to the "LEGAL VIEW". It is Friday, September 13th.

And we're going to start with this, the breaking news, the images astounding, happening right now in Colorado. You might just say flood-ravaged Colorado. The town of Lyons is under evacuation. Little surprise when you look at what's on your television screen, the National Guard is now transporting about 2,000 people from this town.

If you check a map it's about 30 miles north of Boulder. Boulder is also struggling. This entire area has been overwhelmed. 15 inches of rain has fallen in just four days -- 15 inches of rain. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate. It's remarkably dangerous for the people and rescuers.

And as you're about to see, a dam in Big Thompson Canyon, just about Lyons, is just one of five that's being overtopped with alarming ferocity. Look at that. That is a dam. Normally it is not active.

Look at this. So clearly when that happens, everyone below is in a lot of trouble. That water is all racing downhill, straight for Boulder, Colorado, the city of Boulder, Colorado.

George Howell is in Boulder right now with an accurate depiction of what things are looking like.

George, the governor has spoken in this emergency just moments ago. Give us a rundown of his emergency message.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, good morning. The governor basically talking about what you see here. You can see this rushing water, the water going down the street.

This is what is cutting off many neighborhoods in Boulder and surrounding areas. Look closely on the ground, you see this rock field. That's a problem.

When you get in a situation like this in the deep water, rocks like this, they can knock you back.

The governor explained that just a few minutes ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: You have to recognize that this water is filled with debris and sand and it is almost like liquid cement. It can -- even just a foot and a half of water can knock people over and you can be swept away.

It's much, much different than normal water you see going down a mountain stream. We're asking people to be exceptionally careful and to, if at all possible, stay off the roads.


HOWELL: You know, in many ways this is flash flooding mountain style. You have big rocks that come down. This is dangerous stuff.

You see people trying to drive through this mess. It's really kind of interesting to watch because, number one, you shouldn't be doing it, especially when you consider how deep the water could get.

You may not know how deep it gets. That can be a real problem. With this, this is the sort of thing that can cause real problems.

BANFIELD: Clearly, the emergency is so obvious from where you're standing and the sky view as well, which is right beside you, George.

It's remarkable. The pics are remarkable, George Howell reporting live in Boulder as the situation becomes more acute in that area.

Lieutenant Colonel Mitch Utterback is with the Colorado National Guard. He's on the telephone live with us now to talk a little bit with the evacuation that's taking place.

Sir, can you hear me?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MITCH UTTERBACK, COLORADO NATIONAL GUARD (via telephone): Yes, Ashleigh, I can hear you loud and clear.

BANFIELD: Colonel, I am looking at the pictures along side of our audience that are flowing into CNN. It is hard to imagine how you are doing your jobs given that the roads you have to use are washing out beneath you. Tell me about how you are doing.

UTTERBACK (via telephone): Ashleigh, we're traveling down roads that we -- at this time we think are fairly safe, safe enough to use our light-medium tactical videos, the LMTVs, three feet of high water clearance that can carry 10 people in the back quite safely with their personal baggage and house pets.

We have 21 of those vehicles up in Lyons right now, running shuttles into the town, bringing the people back to a safe, warm, dry staging airy.

BANFIELD: That's the issue. How do you determine who to get first? We look at these pictures, there are spotted homes all along the rushing rivers that look like they can be taken out any at any moment.

UTTERBACK (via telephone): We take all of our instructions from the first-responders. National Guard is our supporting agency of the civilian first-responders.

So we are taking people out at the direction of the police, sheriff and the fire departments there in Lyons.

BANFIELD: Where are you taking them? Where is it safe?

UTTERBACK (via telephone): There's a predetermined staging area, I believe there's a large community church in a safe place in Lyons. That is where the citizens are being brought to. From there, there are buses to transport them to other locations.

BANFIELD: I'm watching these rescues taking place, literally civilians grab be other civilians out of torrents of water that seem to appear out of nowhere, exactly the definition of flash flooding.

Can you get in and out of Lyons safely or do you need to do this ASAP because by a certain time it's no go?

UTTERBACK (via telephone): As a matter of fact, the water quite literally ebbs and flows with the cloud burst. Right now the water is down a little bit more than it was yesterday. We have a good chance to get in and out with a lot of people today.

Just so happens we have those 21 LMTVs in there now. We're going to send six more as soon as they can arrive. We're throwing everything we have at Lyons right now to get those people to safety.

BANFIELD: Lieutenant Colonel Mitch Utterback, good luck. Thank you for what you're doing.

We want you to keep up with us as to how effective this is. Clearly our thoughts are with all of these people who need to be moved out of there, Lieutenant Mitch Utterback with the Colorado National Guard.

I want to take us now to Mike Banuelos, with the Colorado emergency operations center. He's also on the phone right now, live in Boulder.

Mike, I'm sure that you were able to hear the colonel talking about what the national guardsmen are doing at this point.

Can you differentiate and tell me what your unit is doing?

MIKE BANUELOS, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, COLORADO EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER (via telephone): So that's the most updated information we have right now for Lyons.

We do still have evacuations for the town of Eldorado Springs. Erie has voluntary evacuations. There are partial evacuations in Longmont.

And we still do have the evacuations that were ordered last night for downtown Boulder here.

BANFIELD: Are you getting help from other jurisdictions? It would just -- I'm looking at the overwhelming situation you're in and wondering if you have the manpower or if you have emergency responders flooding in from everywhere? BANUELOS (via telephone): No. We certainly do, state and federal.

BANFIELD: And is it enough? Do you have what you need? Can you do your job?

BANUELOS (via telephone): At this point we're taking it situation by situation and doing the best that we can.

BANFIELD: Is this a case whereby it's on a 911 basis, that you're waiting for the requests and then reacting, or do you know where to get ahead of this disaster?

BANUELOS (via telephone): There are certain spots where we certainly know where things are bad and we're accessing the situation in those spots.

But, you know, the calls do keep on coming in. So it's a little bit of both.

BANFIELD: And, Mike, we've got a banner that says at least three deaths in Colorado. And we have to put "at least" because we just don't know the count.

I'm not sure if you have better information than we do.

BANUELOS (via telephone): We only had two confirmed fatalities at this point.

BANFIELD: Is that today or with regard to this week?

BANUELOS (via telephone): That's with regards to this week, the whole event.

BANFIELD: OK, Mike, good luck.

We are certainly with you and hoping that you are able to do what you need to do to keep all of those people in that terrible area safe. Thank you for your time.

BANUELOS (via telephone): Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: We'll let you get back to your work.

Mike Banuelos is the PIO for the Boulder emergency evacuation center. Clearly they have their work cut out for them.

It's been remarkable watching these pictures. And really, if you wonder how this happened so quickly, it did. It just happened that quickly.

All of this just began around Monday or Tuesday, and it wasn't until the pictures began rolling into the network news programs that it became obvious how fast and dangerous this story became.

And it is not letting up at this point. You did hear that there are ebbs and flows in the weather, but when those ebbs give way to the flows, it is just as dangerous. And so we're watching this carefully.

Take a look at your screen right now. has been set up if you want to help those in need. And there will be many who will lose so much in that area.

We're just now in the evacuation stage, folks. And you know what happens when they come back what they're going to find has happened to their homes.

We'll continue to watch the Colorado flooding story for you, give you the most updated information as it comes into our offices.

And straight ahead, another, I suppose you could say, offshoot of this story, frantic texts have been coming in from two hikers who are stranded by a snowstorm up in the Rockies.

Because of what is going down below, people can't get to them. So what is being done to find them and rescue them? That's next.


BANFIELD: A series of desperate text messages from two hikers, Connie Yang and Suzanne Turell, stranded in the Rockies in a snowstorm right now, they read, "We need help. At top of Longs Peak, 13,400 feet. Whiteout snowstorm."

"Call Emma back country office. No injuries. Iced over. Risk of hypothermia. On south ridge. Rocky Mountain National Park. No battery. Yellow tent.

"We are off trail, north 40 degrees, 15.106 feet, west 105 degrees, 36.812 feet near the notch.

"Can't move because of ice storm. Don't know how long it will last. Been here for one day. Trying to wait it out."

That's not the message you want to be receiving if you're a sister of one of these stranded hikers, and now the families are hoping that a search party will be organized to help to find them.

And Connie's sister, Winnie Yang, is live with me here today.

Winnie, this is really just sort of chilling to get that message from your sister. You're in New York. They're in Colorado. All the while, you saw the stories we were just airing about the flooding down below.

Give me the sense of how first-responders are going to get potentially a search party to your sister and her friend.

WINNIE YANG, STRANDED HIKER'S SISTER: Well, apparently, yesterday they tried, a group of rangers tried to get to the trail head and the roads weren't passable, and so they were thwarted.

BANFIELD: Because of the flooding?

YANG: Yes, because of the flooding. And I think there were road blocks as well.

BANFIELD: And what is the circumstance with your sister now? Has she continued any texts or was that the last you heard?

YANG: The last I heard from was 9:12 yesterday morning and no one's heard anything since.

BANFIELD: She's an experienced hiker.

YANG: That's correct. Both she and her --

BANFIELD: How experienced?

YANG: They go on back country trips every year for several weeks at a time. Last year they were in the Sierras for 12 days or something.

But they've met these conditions before and usually --

BANFIELD: Were you aware of this trip before she went?

YANG: Yes.

BANFIELD: And how long were they planning to be out?

YANG: I believe it was for a week or maybe a little more than a week. I did not have their itinerary.

BANFIELD: But clearly they weren't expecting to be iced over -


BANFIELD: -- with whiteout conditions --


BANFIELD: And nearing hypothermia.

What happened? How all a sudden did everything change?

YANG: It just seems like a freak snowstorm that must be related to all of the heavy rains and flooding that's going on now.

BANFIELD: I know, you've been in touch with the Rocky Mountain national police forest rangers.

YANG: The park rangers, yes.

BANFIELD: What have they said?

YANG: They said at first that they needed a 911 call and clearly that probably wasn't going to happen because of all the flooding going on and all the other emergencies that are going on.

And they said --

BANFIELD: Wasn't your call a 911 call or at least akin to it? YANG: Sure felt like one. And they said that they would have to wait it out, probably, because that there were too many emergencies like --

BANFIELD: In the message it says, "Yellow tent. Risk of hypothermia, iced over."

Is your sister capable of handling these conditions -

YANG: Yes.

BANFIELD: -- or does she need the kind of equipment most winter campers would need?

YANG: They would have been prepared with sleeping bags and with warm clothing, but they definitely weren't planning to say in icy or snowy conditions for many days, so --

BANFIELD: The text message, what happened when you got this? What did you do?

YANG: I got up and called the back country office and tried to figure out what to do.

Then I called the company that they work for, which is an outdoor gear manufacturer, so and they --

BANFIELD: And they're helping?

YANG: Yes. They're helping. They're coordinating a lot of the efforts.

BANFIELD: The timing could not be worse in terms of the crisis that the first-responders and emergency personnel are facing down below. Do you get the sense that you're low priority at this point or these two hikers, your sister and her friend, will have to wait a long time?

YANG: That's what it sounds like. I mean, last we heard last night the rangers said they were going to try to get a group together this morning at first light but we have not heard anything from them today.

BANFIELD: Winnie, stand by if you will. I want to bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, who's standing by as well. Elizabeth, you've seen these stories where people have been in an emergency situation when they've been hiking. The weather has changed, temperatures have dropped. Can you give me a sense of, when she says there's a danger of hypothermia and she's experienced, there's got to be a danger.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely there's a danger of hypothermia. The question, how long can they last in these conditions is really unclear. First let's talk about the conditions. My colleague Chad Myers says it's about 34 degrees where they are with 20 mile-an-hour winds. So it is cold. How long they can last really depends on so many different things. Are they just cold or are they cold and wet? What kind of physical condition are they in? Are they dehydrated? There's so many different variables in there. It's certainly a good sign that Suzanne had enough presence of mind and was able to type that out and think it through. When you really develop hypothermia, you're not able to do those things. So it's certainly a good sign that she had the ability to write all that out.

BANFIELD: One other thing I noticed in that message as well was that they do have a tent. She e-mailed probably -- or text messaged probably for identification purposes yellow tent. But having some kind of shelter has to make a difference in a circumstance like this.

COHEN: Oh, absolutely. Anything you can do, any layers of clothing, extra sleeping bags, a tent to the to break the wind, any of that can be really important.

BANFIELD: Okay. Elizabeth Cohen, stand by if you will, again, Connie Yang and Suzanne Turell are stranded in the Rocky Mountains right now. Much of it has to do with what's going on below them. The weather is horrible, and the search and rescue parties that tried to get to them as of yesterday could not do so because the roads have been impassable due to the flooding. The pictures you have on the screen, we'll continue to follow this story. Winnie Yang, Connie's sister, thank you for coming in. Please keep us posted, if you hear back from the rangers, if you get any news, certainly if they're able to get another text out.

YANG: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Thank you so much, Winnie Yang with us live here in New York.

We have another big story we're following as well. A huge explosion rocking a U.S. consulate and this time, Afghanistan. Yes, again, Afghanistan and yes, the Taliban to blame. More if a moment.


BANFIELD: U.S. troops may be withdrawing from Afghanistan ,but that country is far from safe and secure. And there's no greater evidence than perhaps what we're about to show you. The Taliban launched a daring attack this morning at the U.S. consulate in the western city of Herat. It began with a huge car bomb explosion at the front gate of the consulate. Two Afghan police officers and a security guard were killed, as well as seven Taliban fighters. All of the American consulate personnel took shelter in safe areas after being ordered to do so within that compound.

And now the latest developments in the attempt to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons. Tough and not so tough talk between the Secretary Of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Switzerland. Secretary Kerry telling Lavrov, quote, "this is not a game." But at a joint news conference that you're seeing here in Geneva this morning, both men describe their second round of talks as constructive. And they plan to meet again at the end of the month.

Up next for John Kerry is a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday. Two main topics on the table for discussion, the Syrian civil war, clearly, and also the latest developments for Middle East peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Meantime, in Syria, the rebels are claiming that the Syrian government under Bashar al Assad has been moving some of that chemical weapons stash to Iraq and to Lebanon. Iraq at this point is denying forcefully that allegation.

Want to take you now live to Switzerland for the latest on the Kerry/Lavrov meeting this morning. Our Matthew Chance is there live. It seems that Kerry/Lavrov and the relationship between them is less a cold peace, or at least less icy than the Putin/Obama relationship, or is that reading too much into it, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they seem to be putting a positive swing, Ashleigh, on their relationship. They speak to each other in first name terms. They they've agreed on the basic principle of these talks, which is that Syria should have its chemical weapons put under international control and eventually have those weapons decommissioned.

There is a fundamental disagreement at this point in these negotiations, and they're taking place in this hotel building right behind me in the heart of Geneva, and that's over the issue of U.S. air strikes. The U.S. believes it's only the credible threat of military action against Syria that will force that country to do what it commits to doing in terms of giving up its chemical weapons. The Russians take an opposite position at the moment saying they don't believe the country should be expected to essentially disarm while another country, the United States, is planning military action against it. That's what the focus of these talks is now, trying to work out some kind of compromise solution, so the plan can be agreed upon to get these chemical weapons out of action in some way, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Matthew, it seems with all these critical talks and critical meetings and the fighting and the killing continuing, it's hard to believe there can be light moments in these conferences, in these meetings but there certainly was one today.

CHANCE: Yes. Certainly some amusing moments at least. Not sure they were men the to be light moments or jokes by the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, but they underline what a tricky customer he is. I've worked with this man, several years I was based in Moscow as the correspondent there, he's a difficult, intelligent, tough negotiator. Take a listen to the comments he made towards John Kerry at the press conference they gave yesterday.


JOHN, KERRY SECRETARY OF STATE: Can you give me the last part of the translation, please.

You want me to take your word for it? It's a little early for that.


LAVROV: After the meeting. You give us orders (ph), you just catch the moment.

KERRY: We'll see you after the meeting. Thank you.


CHANCE: That was the Russian foreign minister putting a photographer in his place, telling him to catch the moment and not to give them orders. Underlines what a character this Russian foreign minister is, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Matthew, not sure if anybody could hear what the question was but the photographer was asking Sergey Lavrov to turn around, please, so we can get a photo of both of you. He said, you do your job, just catch the moment. You're right. All right, Matthew Chance live for us in Geneva. Thank you.

Straight ahead, a tragic situation in New Jersey where fire destroys 50 businesses, and here's the worst part. These were stores that had just re-opened after Superstorm Sandy had destroyed them.



GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I said to my staff, I feel like I want to throw up. And that's me. After all the effort and time and resources that we put in to help the folks at Seaside Park and Seaside Heights rebuild, to see this going on, as I said at the top is unthinkable. I know how I feel. I can only imagine how the residents and business owners in this area are feeling.

As soon as this is over we'll pick ourselves up, we'll dust ourselves off and we'll get back to work. I do not want red tape and bureaucracy at the local level to slow down or impede rebuilding, demolition, removal and rebuilding. What I've directed the commissioner of community affairs do is work with both mayors, provide whatever state resources are necessary to expedite demolition where appropriate and removal. And then rebuilding.


BANFIELD: That is the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He was standing at the site of a devastating fire on one of New Jersey's most famous boardwalks. It had just been rebuilt after last year's Superstorm Sandy. Millions and millions of dollars of rebuilding and look at it on the screen, up in smoke.

The fire crews are still pouring water on the smoldering embers. About 50 newly re-opened businesses ended up being burned to the ground. They just tried to make it for this summer to get open in time for the summer.

Our Don Lemon right away dispatched live to Seaside Park in Seaside Heights. That is just so devastating to see the governor, Don, he gave some of the most powerful words. I cannot imagine what it is like where you are. First and foremost, is the fire out yet.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not out yet. Let me show you what it's like. Over here. These are some of the people who live in the area, and they are - they can't get back into some parts.