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Maria Hammers Puerto Rico. A 7.1 Earthquake Devastates Central Mexico, Kills 200. Jimmy Kimmel: Senator Cassidy "Lied To My Face." GOP Pushing Last-Ditch Obamacare Replacement Bill. Aired 9:00-09:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: By a catastrophic storm. As we speak, Puerto Rico is taking a direct hit from Maria, a category four hurricane. The governor there calling it the most devastating storm in our -- in the history of our island. And it is not nearly over.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, also happening now, a desperate search for survivors for the magnitude 7.1 earthquake in Mexico City. More than 200 people are known dead so far. Rescue crews, you can see it there, frantically combing through the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings.

We want to begin with Hurricane Maria battering Puerto Rico. We want to be transparent here, the storm so fierce that our reporters, we've knocked out communications. We can't get them up just now.


BERMAN: So let's begin at the Weather Center with Chad Myers to get a sense of where this storm is and where it's going.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I'm afraid there's not going to be cell service, electrical service and, in some cases, water for weeks or months. This was a devastating hit from a category four, a 155- mile-per-hour storm. A category five start at 157. So split hairs with me.

So, 155-mile-per-hour storm. Now that far from Umacou (ph) or from where our reporter was in Palmus Delmar (ph).

So we'll zoom in for you here. This storm coming in right -- very, right here. You can honestly see that. We don't have a radar for you because as soon as the storm rolled onshore, it knocked out the Puerto Rico radar. And you can't just say, hey, let me get Miami or let me get, you know, Melbourne, Florida. There's just nothing out there. Once we've lost that one, there was not another one to be found here. The Doppler radar at the terminal where the airport is wasn't working either.

There's Puerto Rico. The winds -- so, honestly, I would say the entire island saw hurricane-force winds. And much -- two-thirds of the island saw 100-mile-per-hour winds. So that's taking out power lines, taking down trees, just putting damage down that is unimaginable for a wooden structures. That's why we please ask you to be in a metal or some kind of concrete building. And I think most people did. They knew how bad this was.

And also St. Croix was truly hit, near Fredricks (ph) (INAUDIBLE). That's the area here as it went over in the overnight hours in the dark, somewhere around 3:00 in the morning.

We're going to see rainfall. We're going to see 20 inches of rain. And that will cause flooding. That may be the biggest concern from where we are now. The eye is losing intensity. We're down to 145 miles per hour. It's still southwest of San Juan. And it will be moving offshore probably in the next two hours.

But where does it go from here? Because for the entire time the models were saying, yes, it's going to stay offshore. But overnight they kind of changed their mind slightly. Now, it's still offshore, but it's closer to shore. Closer to shore, close enough that nowhere along the east coast can be just put it away and say it's not going to hit us because this is still days away, a week away, before it it's the U.S. And let me -- you know, we know two-day forecasts are about as good as we get. Not seven or nine-day forecasts in a hurricane.


HARLOW: All right, Chad Myers, thank you so much.

Look, as Chad was reporting, the entire island facing hurricane force winds. The eyewall, it appears, reaching San Juan, Puerto Rico. That is where our reporter, Leyla Santiago, is.

Before we get to her on the phone, look at this. All right, that is what she and her crew were dealing with.

Let's go to Leyla, who is on the phone with us.

Leyla, what can you tell us?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Poppy and John, we actually made it inside OK. So I want you to know that we are joining a group of people staying in the hotel that are sort of hunkering down right now, riding it out as this storm makes its way through Puerto Rico.

Right now a lot of the tourists that are here are people that the guests at this hotel are actually staying in the stairwell area. They were first evacuated into the casino, and then after that the security here decided to take them into the stairwell area.

Police officers are also here. And one of the interests things, I've asked them several times, are there any reports of injuries or rescues, and they are telling me that they are having a hard time with communication. They said they're not even able to get through on the radio. That said, their understanding is they are getting calls for rescues, but it is too dangerous for first responders to head out right now.

As we speak, my view of Irma, as I look out, I have a glass door in front of me that is tied by rope to a cement column and those ropes are shaking. We've seen it kind of calm down for a minute, and then it sparks back and I think there is debris sort of flying around, hitting things. (INAUDIBLE).

I do want to go over a few numbers that we're just getting in from the governor as well. I spoke with emergency management just minutes ago and they're telling me that at the shelters they have more than 11,000 people right now in the hundreds of shelters that have been set up on this island. That's great to hear that there are people that are taking precautions. But when you think about it, that's pretty small. Eleven thousand people on an island of 3.5 million. That means there's still a lot of people in their own homes.

[09:05:13] Power is an issue. We're fine right now. The generator is on and so I am able to have power. But the governor is saying they're seeing about 60 percent of outages. So that's thousands of people who -- let's put this in context here -- many of whom already did not have power after Hurricane Irma passed through just days ago. And now Hurricane Maria is coming through.

And this is a power system that lacks maintenance. The authorities have actually been pretty open about it. They're having issues there because financially this island has struggled and the power system is very vulnerable right now. The governor admitting that he expect by the time the storm passes, 100 percent outages on this island. Again, an island that felt lucky a few days ago when Hurricane Irma passed by and really didn't do as much damage as they thought.

But make no mistake about it, Maria is a different beast and she is definitely going to leave the destruction, the devastation that many experts believed would happen. This is historic for Puerto Rico. They have not seen a category four make landfall here since 1932. So it's definitely something that even first responders are saying, we've never seen anything like this. One of them calling it tremendous. Another one calling it catastrophic. We're riding it out right now, but I expect that once I can get out this door and see what is outside, it's not going to be nice, by any means.

BERMAN: Leyla Santiago for us in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Leyla, thank you so much. Stay safe.

Remember, the governor of Puerto Rico called this the most devastating storm in that island's history. And one note, people may remember, there were CNN reporters outside during Hurricane Irma. It's one thing being outside when it's a category one storm, which is what it was where I was in Miami.


BERMAN: But when it gets up to three and four, you simply can't stand up.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes, you saw her. She was blown into the wall.

BERMAN: You cannot stand up outside. It's not safe. Not to mention the fact that the communications got knocked down, so there's no point at standing outside.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Now our Nick Paton Walsh is ono the southeast tip of Puerto Rico. That is where the storm first passed over, first made landfall. We were hoping to have Nick live, but, again, the storm so fierce it knocked out communications. This is what it looked like just a few moments ago.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is definitely the worst wind we've seen so far. It started to tear parts of the roof off (INAUDIBLE) devastation. It seems to be flung over the roof of the building where we are. I think it's -- let our cameraman giving you a shot of this. It is quite extraordinary.

And as you were hearing from Chad earlier, it's likely that the eye of the storm is the most intense part, is upon us now. This is the most ferocious we've seen. I'm leaning against a wall, frankly, because if stand out here, we feel a little bit like we're kicked out.

You can taste the sea salt in your mouth. And that siren you may just be able to hear in the background was generated, we're told, by the hotel staff. Two of them stayed behind to look after the building. The rest evacuated. We're told that siren is generated by a drop in pressure. And it's that kind of drop in pressure that causes a storm like this, particularly when it's over walls of water. The (INAUDIBLE) provide the energy that creates winds like this. And it is just extraordinary. I've never seen anything like this.


HARLOW: That was Nick Paton Walsh just moments ago. Again, he, his crew, now inside because they've totally lost communication and this is a category four eyewall of Maria hitting San Juan and a lot of Puerto Rico right now.

Let's go to Carlos Mercado. We have him on the phone. He's a spokesman for the governor of Puerto Rico. He joins us from Washington.

So, sir, the word from the governor, this is the worst that the island has ever seen. In the history of Puerto Rico, this is the worst that they have seen. Did enough people evacuate to the shelters?

CARLOS MERCADO (ph), PUERTO RICO GOVERNOR'S SPOKESMAN (via telephone): Well, yes, we -- we were expecting to have about 15,000. The last report number that I have, the official number, it's about 13,420. That includes about 530 pets that were also sheltered in the different shelters that we have.

Look, this is total devastation. The -- Puerto Rico, you know, in terms of this -- the infrastructure, it will not be the same as the one that we -- that we lived yesterday in the island. This is -- this is something of historic proportions. It's -- all of the northeastern part of the island since very early in the morning, I would say 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., started receiving this catastrophic winds and it has kept on going. And apparently it's going to keep on going to at least in the San Juan area to at least 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. today. So you can imagine the devastation that is out there right now. And even first responders cannot go out there.

[09:10:31] Today, we're the only office of the governor of Puerto Rico working regularly. Obviously we're in D.C., so we're hear receiving all of the calls from different people that have family, friends throughout the (INAUDIBLE) Puerto Rico, and then people from the mainland are calling here and we're trying to give them all the information possible. And then also this is the office that we're going to be coordinating support and aid for the island. So I want to, you know, make a call here -- or an ask to everyone in America that Puerto Rico will build up obviously with the support of everyone. And during Irma, Puerto Rico was a safe haven for more than 4,000 U.S. citizens that were stranded in the neighboring islands. After Maria, we're going to be in a situation where -- which we're going to -- we're going to need the support of everybody.

BERMAN: So, Carlos, I'm sure you're in the same situation we're in right now, Carlos. We can't get a tremendous amount of information out from the island. But have you been receiving reports over the last couple of hours, any status of buildings, lives? What's the greatest need?

MERCADO: Yes. Well, right now -- I would give you -- I would like to give you like a report in terms of the essential services that are out there. What I have from the officials is that in terms of water services, right now we have about 60 percent of the population without water. We have about 85 or some -- or almost like 90 percent almost getting -- actually it's probably even higher right now, of people without electricity.

We encounter some situations, for instance, in one shelter we had a -- one of the biggest shelters in San Juan, we had an issue with the -- with one -- like the roof. You had a big issue with the winds. And we were -- we had to relocate the people to a second or third floor.

But we have heard about individuals that were -- that stayed home and because of the magnitude of the winds, they lost a roof or they lost the windows, like the -- or glass windows broke. And they had to take extreme measures. But there's some -- obviously the governor was very clear, he said no responders would be out there during the winds. I know of some that have tried to help others. But the reality is, that out there is so dangerous right now. It's so dangerous.

BERMAN: Carlos Mercado for us.

MERCADO: Yes. That it's very, very difficult for --

BERMAN: Carlos --


BERMAN: I know, and you're having the same issues we are, getting information out of the island. The word right now, stay inside if you're in Puerto Rico and somehow able to listen to this.

Thank you so much for being with us.

Sixty percent without water. Maybe 100 percent of the island right now without power.


BERMAN: We are thinking about Puerto Rico. We will stay on this story all morning. And when our reporters can come up, we can see them, we will do that the minutes it is possible.

There is more breaking news this morning, this time out of Mexico. The powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake. You've seen the pictures of the buildings crumbling. This morning, crews are digging for survivors. The death toll is mounting. This video is from just after the quake hit outside a school where today more than 30 children are missing.

HARLOW: Several bodies have been discovered inside of that school. Parents, as you see, frantically running there, gathering, pulling those children out. The youngest of the survivors through the small openings left.

Let's go to our Rosa Flores. She is nearby in another part of Mexico City.

That is heartbreaking, Rosa. You still have 30 children missing in that school. What are you seeing? What are you hearing on the ground?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is heartbreaking, Poppy, and it's heartbreaking to see the people that you see behind me waiting to hear about the fate of their loved ones. Now, there are dozens of buildings that collapsed in and around Mexico City. The one that you see behind me is one of them.

We have seen first responders work around the clock here looking through that debris, sifting through the debris. Every now and then putting their ear close to the debris.

From talking to family members, they tell us that they almost ask for these moments of silence to see if they can hear signs of life so they can follow that sign of life. Now you can see cadaver dogs up there as well. They have been relentless. They have been going through this debris over and over. They have asked for added resources.

We have seen more and more resources arrive throughout the morning. But just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this earthquake, I'm in Mexico City, this is 75 miles from the epicenter of what looks like a shallow earthquake. Anything under 70 kilometers is considered shallow.

The more shallow the earthquake, the more dangerous. We have seen just how dangerous and deadly this earthquake is already. You probably can see a list over one of my shoulders. This is the list that is of the people who have been rescued.

So, every now and then people come by to check on their loved ones, they go and check on this list to see if their family member has been added to the list. Otherwise, they wait here, Poppy, and John.

I have seen people with their eyes swollen, sometimes just weeping, waiting to hear. They send their family members text messages or WhatsApp messages, and unfortunately, they have not received a response.

HARLOW: Rosa Flores, I am so glad you are there. What a tragedy. Thank you very much for the reporting. We will keep updated with you, of course, as you learn more.

A lot of head for us this hour. In Washington, a health care showdown. I am not just talking about what has been brewing between Republicans on the Hill. Why late-night television host, Jimmy Kimmel, just said one of the senators with his name on this newest bill, quote, "lied right to his face." This morning the senator responding.

BERMAN: Plus, CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Paul Manafort doesn't just focus on the election year, it goes back years. That and Hurricane Maria with devastating impact right now. We will hear from our reporters as soon as we can get their communications back up.



BERMAN: All right. New this morning, the president just jumped into the health care battle. In a statement, he went after Kentucky Senator Rand Paul for opposing the party's latest attempt to repeal Obamacare.

He called Senator Paul a negative force. The senator responded saying the Graham-Cassidy bill as it's called is what he says amnesty for Obamacare.

HARLOW: All right. The president needs votes on this one and he needs enough Republicans on board to get this through and soon if he wants it happen, let's go to the Hill where negotiations are under way.

You have criticism coming from folks like Rand Paul and others who are on the fence. You know, John McCain and others, they don't know which way they will go on this one yet and also from late night. Ryan Nobles, what are you hearing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy and John, haven't we had this conversation before. It seems like we are right back where we were at the end of July. The same group of senators are the same ones we are keeping an eye on as it comes to getting this Graham-Cassidy version of health care reform passed.

It's really seems to be coming down to two pivotal senators and that's John McCain of Arizona and Liza Murkowski of Alaska. We pretty much know that Rand Paul is not going to vote yes and Susan Collins of Maine seems to be a pretty hard no as well.

So, the question is, can McCain and Murkowski be pulled over? There's a chance that there are some optimism with McCain. He is, of course, very close friends with Lindsey Graham who is the co-sponsor of this piece of legislation.

As for Lisa Murkowski, there is talk that they are trying to strengthen this bill to make it better for the citizens of Alaska, and if they are able to do that then perhaps she comes over.

But let's take a look at the main sticking points in this bill. What is good and bad about it right now? The big problem that senators like Susan Collins are having in particular is that this really is a fundamental overhaul as to the way Medicaid is distributed.

And that means there will be some winners and some losers depending on which state you live in because much of the control is going to be handed over to individual states to decide how to spend that Medicaid money, and over the long term, the growth rate of Medicaid is certainly going to come down.

There's also some questions about pre-existing conditions. Does it have the same level of protections? That's one of the reasons that many of these senators continue to be concerned about this legislation -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: And that is why Ryan Nobles, Jimmy Kimmel on "Late Night" last night took a good chunk of time to say it doesn't, it doesn't meet the Jimmy Kimmel test that Senator Cassidy, one of the authors of this legislation, said anything he supports would. What else are we hearing?

NOBLES: Yes. I mean, a big part of this negotiation is the public optics surrounding this, the emotional part of it. Bill Cassidy to a certain extent backed himself into a corner when he said that it had to pass the Kimmel test, after Jimmy Kimmel talked emotionally about his own child's medical issues and what he would have done if he did not have health insurance to take care of it.

This is what Kimmel said last night on his show about this current piece of legislation.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "LATE NIGHT SHOW": I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on this publicity tour he listed his demands for a health care bill very clearly, these were his words, he said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on pre- existing conditions, lower premiums for middle class families, and no lifetime caps.

And guess what? The new bill does none of those things. This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.


KIMMEL: Do you believe that every American regardless of income should be able to get regular checkups, maternity care, et cetera, all of those things that people who have health care get and need?



KIMMEL: So yep is Washington for nope, I guess. Stop using my name, OK, because I don't want my name on it. There's a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you. It's called a lie detector test and you are welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.


[09:25:00] NOBLES: So Bill Cassidy was on "NEW DAY" this morning and he responded to Kimmel's criticism last night and this is what he had to say.


CASSIDY: I am sorry he does not understand. Under Graham-Cassidy, more people have coverage and we protect those with pre-existing conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri. There will be billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those in those states that have been passed by Obamacare and we protect those with pre-existing conditions.


NOBLES: And after he was finished to that interview, Cassidy told our Suzanne Malveaux that he doesn't take the criticism from Jimmy Kimmel personally and he said that everyone is passionate about health care and everyone is looking for the best path forward.

The question we have up here on Capitol Hill today, John and Poppy, is this Republican plan the best path forward and is it good enough to get those 50 Republican votes to get it through to passage?

BERMAN: Ryan Nobles for us on Capitol Hill. Ryan, standby. We have breaking news. A very busy morning. We want to go back to Mexico right now. The search for survivors at that school we told you about a collapsed school, many feared dead there possibly.

CNN's Gustavo Valdes is outside that school. Gustavo, what can you tell us?

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN ESPANOL REPORTER: Good morning. I am in the south part of the city, a city of 22 million. This is one of the neighborhoods. The first thing I want to show you is how the volunteers have come out to assist not only with the rescue but the people who are rescuing. And that's because just on this side you can see how heavy machinery is trying to dig on the building, a little bit further down the block you can see the security is a little tight.

I was just trying to give you a little look of what is happening, because heavy machinery since last night has been trying to dig in what is left in the part from the school where they found at least 20 children dead yesterday, and they believe there are more people trapped underneath.

The authorities have set up desks where relatives and parents of these children can come and register, and there are many missing, kids included. You can see how they keep bringing light and electric -- electricity that is needed for the tools they need to dig carefully so they don't cause more problems.

We are seeing a number of volunteers. We're seeing also a number of ambulances on standby trying to help with the rescue. They hope they will find some people. We know there's another building closer to the downtown area, and there's an active rescue of 70 people that are trapped under a building. There's a lot of activity in Mexico's --

HARLOW: Gustavo, thank you so much for showing us that. Please keep us posted again. Thirty children at least missing in that school and we'll keep you updated on that.

But let's take you back to the other breaking news this morning out of Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria right now tearing through the island. Our Leyla Santiago just got her live signal back up. She is there. What are you seeing?

SANTIAGO: All right. So, this is the first time we have actually been able to come outside and I want to walk you through what we are seeing as we get the first glimpse of Puerto Rico given that now we are on the backside of this storm.

I want to take you up immediately to the one building that sort of caught my attention. You can see the windows have collapsed in that apartment complex. Certainly, people who put up metal roofing, much of that did not stand as Maria made her way through.

I will bring you down to take note of a few things here. Look at these palm trees that pretty much have nothing on them at this point. If you continue to look down on this part where we are right now in San Juan, you can see the businesses have certainly felt the impact.

The Hard Rock Cafe has a palm tree that went down immediately in front of it. The Starbucks Coffee only reads coffee at this point. The Starbucks sign came down and looks like it knocked down also -- I am not sure which business that is, but the door of its neighboring business. Windows are down.

This is the first we are seeing of what Maria has left behind on this island. Let's look at another picture here. That is power. The governor is saying 60 percent right now without power. He suspects by the time Maria moves through it will be 100 percent. I checked in with emergency management not too long ago, and they tell me 11,000 people are in those shelters right now. Good to know there are thousands of people that took to those warnings, but that's 11,000 of 3.5 million people on this island.

So, really there are a lot of people who are still asking for rescues from police officers. Police officers that I have talked to here who say, A, communication is down.