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Obama Lays Wreath at Tomb of Unknowns; CNN Anchor Experiences Super Typhoon; Devastation in the Philippines

Aired November 11, 2013 - 11:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right shoulder, arms.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And as the president and the rest of the guests of interest and the platform party head in for the ceremony in the memorial amphitheater, the guards remain at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

And in case you're wondering, the Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded every single hour of every single day since April 6th, 1948.

CNN's Jim Acosta is watching this ceremony, along with me, from his post at the White House. He joins me now, live.

And Jim, the president started off this day commemorating soldiers and then ended up here, but give me a little bit of a feel for the morning.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ashleigh, and very soon, in about half an hour from now, we're going to hear from President Obama at Arlington National Ceremony after laying that wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns

His arrival was announced, we saw some of this just a few moments ago, by a 21-gun cannon salute. The president laid the wreath. We heard taps followed by a 30-second moment of silence, there.

In case you're wondering, you probably saw this if you're watching this at home, the president is joined by the vice president and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Earlier this morning, Ashleigh, a very interesting ceremony over here at the White House, the president hosted a group of veterans here for a breakfast. In that crowd was Richard Overton. At 107-years-old, Overton is the nation's oldest living veteran, having served in World War II.

Of course, there were many other veterans in the room, and many of them over at this ceremony now. This ceremony, Ashleigh, comes at a critical time for the nation's veteran. So many of them have returned home from a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan with devastating wounds.

Many of those veterans the president pays visits to on a regular basis up at Walter Reed and other facilities around the country. Many of those veterans also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

And right now, a very interesting story, the Department of Veterans Affairs, it has an enormous backlog that the secretary over at that department, Eric Shinseki, a Vietnam War veteran himself, has been scrambling to clear, so that's another issue that veterans have been dealing with.

Now President Obama has pledged to officially wind down the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, drawing to a close one of the longest stretches of military conflict in this nation's history, all of that, of course, starting with September 11th.


BANFIELD: Jim Acosta, live for us at the White House, and the ceremony continues at the Tomb of the Unknown.

And then also, inside the memorial amphitheater, that ceremony will last about an hour as well.

And as we mentioned, as Jim mentioned, President Obama will be making those comments and you'll be able to hear them in just a few moments. You'll hear them live on CNN.

Also making big news today, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, slamming into the Philippines, and now survivors are left with pretty much nothing, trying to figure out how to get the basics, like food and water, to remain survivors.

A CNN reporter stuck in the middle of the typhoon is going to describe his experience, next.


BANFIELD: Countless survivors of the typhoon that slammed the Philippines are desperately searching for loved ones right now.

As many as 10,000 people could be dead. That's at least the estimate according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Filipino president has declared a state of national calamity.

As the storm moved on towards Vietnam and China, United States Marines were leading the charge today on the ground in the Philippines to help in the recovery there.

CNN's International anchor Andrew Stevens was in the Philippines when it hit. His hotel was flooded. He and his crew actually had to help rescue people using mattresses.

He's got a close-up look of what it was like inside a super typhoon.


ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: This is what the inside of a super typhoon looks like, 250-kilometer-an-hour-plus winds slamming into a city, a white haze of screaming noise, smashing windows, tearing metal, water and flying debris.

Just minutes after we finished our live shots, telling headquarters that we were moving to safer ground, cameraman Brad Olson shot this in the place we'd just left.

As the destruction there continued, a floor below, terrified residents huddled together, finding protection against the flying spray and mind-numbing noise. Some pray for their safety.

We're sheltering in the corridor. It's a relatively secure area, I think, where we are. It's a very substantial hotel, this, and we are away from windows. All around us, you hear the sound of windows breaking, you hear the sounds of large objects falling, crashing on the floor and underfoot, it is now just a deluge, if you look behind me, I don't know if you can see it, the staircase is basically a waterfall.

And then a torrent of black water began pouring into the hotel. The storm surge had begun. Within a few minutes, it was at ground floor window level. Panicked family trapped in their room, smashed the window and screamed for help. We managed to get the mother across to safety using a foam mattress, and it immediately became clear the cause of the panic, their daughter was severely disabled.

Storm chaser Josh Morganman (ph) and I went back across to get the terrified girl to safety, and CNN producer Tim Schwartz helped rescue the rest of the family.

The waters only rose a little higher. The height of the storm, in fact, had passed. Two hours later, the winds had lost their lethal strength. Our live position was a ruined shell, but as we walked outside, it was immediately clear that so much of the city had suffered so much more than we had.


BANFIELD: And Andrew Stephens joins me live now from Tacloban. What kind of response are you seeing in the heart of it there where there is some of the worst damage? Can you see the response yet, Andrew?

STEVENS: Ashleigh, the response is indeed underway. But it is just a drop in the bucket, if you like, given the needs, enormous needs of so many people here. We've talked about it time and again, the fact that they are running out of food, that there is a severe lack of clean water. There is no power. We're standing here with our own generator here. We've just managed to line up what you can see behind me.

This is just a fraction of the debris here at the airport. There's got to be quite a lot of work done here to get that airport rolling at a 24-hour operation.

At the moment, people are foraging. People are sort of, most people are doing whatever they can to get food to their families. In the hardest hit areas, they're looking to rebuild what they can. They're taking what remains of their home, and we're talking about bits of rusty corrugated iron, about plastic tarpaulins, things like that, and they are making their own make-shift homes.

It's obviously not enough. There has to be so much more aid brought into this country. The U.S. military arrived today. C-130 touching down. Two trips (ph) from C-130 today. What is needed and what the Philippines' president told me yesterday is they need to see and they've got the all-clear, they're going to get a lot of U.S. helicopters coming in. A

And that's what you need. The president said we want lift. We need to get more supplies into -- not just here. This is a city of 200,000 people. But outside the city. Remember, this is a long, low-lying coastal strip. Several hundred miles, if you like. There are so many other towns here which haven't had any help at all. So that is also a critical issue. So really, we are at an absolutely critical point now in the rescue, the recovery, the relief process.

BANFIELD: And that was my question when we looked at these pictures. It looked so much like the Japanese tsunami aftermath. And it's amazing to hear that the airport where you are at Tacloban was actually even open at all. Given that now we've got the military landing under the command of the Marines, have you seen evidence of -- have you seen the marines out in the streets and are they going to be able to do what you said, spider out into the communities and find those people and bodies? There's just such a massive effort that lays ahead.

STEVENS: Well, those sort of operations are going to be handled by the Filipino military and police. The U.S. will be -- it will be all about logistics for the U.S. they will be bringing choppers in with much needed relief supplies. They will be ferrying it out to where it's needed the most. The Philippines does have choppers, not nearly enough. They also have C-130s.

This is a Hercules four-engine plane, but they've only got three of them so they've got to do round trips and that takes a long time. An hour, hour and a half by air from the capital where we are at the moment. So the U.S. brings muscle as far as getting out to all of those places, all those far-flung places which need help as well. What we have been seeing over the past couple of days has been more and more people looking for food, stores are being broken into. I would not call it looting, because they need food and water. There has been clear looting, televisions, air conditioners, things like that. We've seen hundreds of people carting off just objects, if you like. But the underlying need is all about food and water.

BANFIELD: There's a differences when you're talking about criminal looting and looting out of desperation and just mere survival. Excellent work. From all of us, thank you for what you did in the middle of that storm helping those people and getting them to safety. That's remarkable stuff and it's good that you're okay.

Andrew Stevens is live for us in Tacloban. That's one of the worst hit areas. You just saw his report and you saw the what looks like toothpicks. And that is real devastating damage. Neighborhoods that are just reduced to splinters. Look at the images.

So, when towns and cities are wiped away by a powerful super typhoon, people need help. You can help. Go to CNN Impact Your World.

Also just ahead, CNN is going to travel with the Filipino military to the remote islands as that country's biggest relief effort gets underway.


BANFIELD: If you can think back for a moment to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where we saw images like this. We also saw people on the rooftops of their homes waving to news helicopters, begging for someone to come and rescue them. Now think about the most remote places in the Philippines where people right now are probably on their rooftops, but there are no news helicopters and people may not even know they're there. Anna Coren traveled with the military on a mission to save those people.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Above the vast blue sea that separates the thousands of islands that make up the Philippines, a rescue mission is underway. We're traveling with the military to a remote group of islands devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan, yet to be reached by authorities. From the air, we can see the carnage. Home after home, village after village, nowhere has been spared. On the ground lie the injured with broken bones and internal bleeding. They've been waiting for days for a medical evacuation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't seen anything like this before. I thought I'd only see this on television.

COREN (on camera): There's a real sense of desperation here on the ground, while the focus is obviously on the sick and the injured and getting them to safety. The people of this hard-hit island need food and fresh water. They've been without it for days. And despite assurances from the government, it has yet to arrive. The problem facing authorities is logistics, getting these supplies to these hard- hit and remote areas, and to the people who need it.

COREN (voice-over): All these people have lost their homes. They're now staying in tents and makeshift shelters they've erected from the debris. And while they say they received the storm warnings from the government and took what they thought was appropriate action, no one here anticipated that mother nature would unleash such fury.

UNIDENITIFE MALE: At my age of 35, I experienced a lot of typhoons, but this is the worst one.

COREN: This air field in Cebu has become the staging ground for the country's biggest relief operation. C-130 Hercules fly in survivors, all shell shocked from what they've just lived through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot say anything yet. I'm still in shock. I am so sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people are dead. Our friends are dead. Some of our family members are dead. So it's really devastating.

COREN: As the death toll grows by the day, families here desperately wait for news of their loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am the only survivor of the family and I want to know then if they are still alive.

COREN: Having had no contact since the typhoon hit, many say hope is all they can hold on to.

Anna Coren, CNN, Cebu, the Philippines.


BANFIELD: And tune in tonight as Anderson Cooper will be live from the Philippines with stories of courage and bravery. That's "AC360" tonight at 8:00 and 10:00 eastern time.

Back here in the United States is Veterans Day, and the annual ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery is underway. President Obama is about to speak shortly in fact. We're going to take a quick break and bring you his live remarks after this break.