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Powerful Category 4 Hurricane Maria Slamming Puerto Rico; Interview with Senator John Barrasso; Rescues Underway at School Devastated by Mexico Quake; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: -- water. Water may be a very difficult thing. How do you bring water -- fresh water to 2 million or 3 million people and have it distributed if there's just no running water? And that's a likelihood for at least some time.

An awful lot of rainfall still coming down, right here into Puerto Rico and also into the south side of the island. That's where the flooding is most likely, although we've been seeing flooding, I've been watching some of these Twitter pictures coming in and it looks pretty dangerous. And it looks like water running down what would be, like, a Venice canal. You can't even tell where the street would be.

Another one, where does the storm go? All right. By Monday after Sunday night, midnight, we're somewhere just offshore of North Carolina. Probably a couple hundred miles. But we have to watch where the storm goes because it's still very close to the U.S., and although none of the models bring it onshore just yet, they are too close for comfort. This is a big storm. It's still going to regain strength, even though it may have lost some over Puerto Rico, it's going to be back over water here very, very soon.

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

We're getting a lot of messages on Twitter. People concerned that they're not seeing as much coverage of St. Croix, having the storm, having passed over there. We just can't get in touch with our folks on the ground there. There's no communication that we're able to set up as soon as we do.


HARLOW: We will bring that to you of course.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Back to Puerto Rico now, joining us by phone, Geffrard Dejoie. He is a U.S. tennis coach who's staying at a Holiday Inn in San Juan. He took a photo we want to show you right now. It's of floodwaters on the streets outside his hotel. There's about 150 people without power right now.

Geffrard, if you can hear me, give me a sense of the situation and give me a sense of what you have been through.

GEFFRARD DEJOIE, STAYING IN A HOTEL IN PUERTO RICO: Well, we lost power for a while now. The power is back. But we had heavy floods here. But now the water is receding. But I think it's coming back. I think the eye went by and now the weather is starting to go back the other way.

We had to move to the hall because some windows are broken in some rooms. And then we came down to the lobby and it was starting to get flooded and then they moved us up to the halls.

HARLOW: Well, what are you hearing from the other people that are there with you, hunkered down right now? Obviously, almost everyone with you, if not everyone, is a tourist. What's the reaction been to what the governor is calling historic, potentially the worst storm ever to strike Puerto Rico?

DEJOIE: Well, they're all very scared. I'm here. There's a group with FEMA here staying with us. So we've been -- they've been pretty prepared, they know what to do. But everyone's been calm. They've been taking good care of us at the hotel. The hotel is pretty bunkered down. It started blowing really, really hard as hard it's blown before. It stopped for a while, but now it's starting to blow again really, really hard. I don't know if you can hear it. I'm sheltered. I'm in the workout room right now, but I'm looking outside and I'm -- we're right next to the lagoon. But people are pretty calm here and they knew what to expect, pretty much.

BERMAN: The winds blowing as hard as they have, to date. So we're getting a live update from Geffrard Dejoie staying at the Holiday Inn in San Juan.

Geffrard, I understand that some windows have been broken in the hotel. Any other signs of wind damage to the structure that you're sheltering in?

DEJOIE: No, not to our shelter that I can see. I'm inside, but outside, there's a lot of shutters that have come down from buildings, from across the street, palm trees have gone down. There were cars that were under water. There's a lot of debris on the street and it's just -- it's just horrible outside right now. It's just very, very scary.

BERMAN: Geffrard Dejoie, please hang in there, stay safe, and keep everyone around you calm. I can hear the strength in your voice. The people who were with you, they're going to need it for several more hours, if not days. Thank you so much for being with us.

HARLOW: All right. We have just gotten communication back up with our reporter Nick Paton Walsh who is in Palmas del Mar on the eastern part of Puerto Rico.

Nick -- you know what, this is what happens in the middle of a hurricane. His shot just froze. As soon as we can get up communication with him, we will.

We have a lot of ahead we're covering here at home, as well. This morning, a health care Hail Mary. The president pushing Republicans to not let this Obamacare repeal fail. We will talk to one of the senators supporting it, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:38:38] BERMAN: All right. This morning, the president jumping into the health care battle, arm-twisting in high gear as lawmakers struggle to get more Republicans on board for the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal Obamacare. The president throwing a jab at Republican Senator Rand Paul for opposing the attempt. He called the senator a negative force. Senator Paul fired back saying that Graham-Cassidy is amnesty for Obamacare.

HARLOW: Let's discuss this. Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is also a doctor, joins us.

Senator, it's nice to have you here. So --

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Good -- and thank you for waiting. We know you waited a while as we were getting through that breaking news on the hurricane coverage. So we appreciate your time and you being here.

The CBO, which you know is a nonpartisan organization that marks up these bills and tells us what it's going to cost and how many folks will and won't have insurance, they estimate as a result. Here's what they're saying.

"We will not be able to provide point estimates for the effect on the deficit, health insurance coverage or premiums for at least several weeks."

Now you guys have until the 30th of September to do this with a simple majority. Is it appropriate to vote on something like this that would completely overhaul the U.S. health care system without knowing how many people might lose their insurance as a result?

BARRASSO: Well, they have already said, whenever you eliminate the mandate, the mandate that says people have to buy a government- approved program, that many people will choose not to buy Obamacare insurance because they don't think it's a good deal for them.

[10:40:06] So they said millions and millions of people will no longer have that insurance. But that's what people are doing as the free choice they have as Americans --


HARLOW: But that's not it, Senator. That's not it.

BERMAN: Senator -- you know, Senator, because you're intricately involved in writing these bills, that most of the people who would not have insurance as a result of the legislation that's been discussed has nothing to do with the mandate. It has everything to do with Medicaid.

HARLOW: Yes. BERMAN: And Medicaid expansion. That's the score that could be the

most variable here. And again, you're prepared to have a vote on a bill without a CBO score, telling the American people how many people might lose their insurance.

BARRASSO: Well, they have said the last time that over -- up to 15 million will lose and a lot of it has to do with the mandate. The individual mandate, the employer mandate. What we will have and CBO has said we will have that is the number of whether this does work with the reconciliation laws of this country.

We're not going to move forward until we are consistent with the law and we'll have that number next week. But what we're trying to do is lower the cost of care for the American people. We know and certainly in my home state of Wyoming, there's down to one selling insurance. And over 40 percent of the counties are in them. This isn't longer a marketplace, it's a monopoly.


BARRASSO: And prices have gone way up.

HARLOW: I understand that, Senator.

BARRASSO: We're trying to get them down for people.

HARLOW: Senator, we understand that. But you also know there's a bipartisan effort under way right now between a Republican and a Democratic senator to fix these issues with the insurance market for the Affordable Care Act.

Let's just take one state. That's the state of Ohio where the Republican governor, John Kasich, says this is a bad idea. Why? Because over 700,000 people there are benefiting, he says, from Medicaid expansion in his state. A third of them, he says, are mentally ill or drug addicted. A quarter of them are chronically ill.

This would take away the Medicaid expansion for them, and it is unknown how much money the states would get, and if it would provide funding for those people.

BARRASSO: Well, Governor Kasich has embraced the Obama health care law that so many of people around the country have rejected. Well, right now 40 percent of all of the money under Obamacare goes to just four states. California, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland. But that's just 20 percent of the population.

So states across the country will actually get more money to deal with things the way that works best for that state. I know Governor Kasich's opposition. We have many governors who are embracing and supporting what we're trying to do because they would have more authority. When I was in the state legislature in Wyoming, we always felt, if we could get the money without having all the mandates in Washington that drove up the costs, we could help many more people take care of many more medical problems for the same number of dollars. That's what we're trying to do. Get the authority out of Washington

with its one-size-fits-all. Get it back to the states where people can make those decisions for themselves.

BERMAN: Pre-existing conditions. As part of Graham-Cassidy, you say that people with pre-existing conditions will have to be covered. And I know your wife is a breast cancer survivor, so this is very important to you. But there's no guarantee that states won't allow insurance companies to raise the rates on people with pre-existing conditions, maybe even make it unaffordable. Does that concern you?

BARRASSO: It does concern me. And it concerns me that all across the country rates are going up right now under the current law.


BERMAN: But they go up exactly the same.

BARRASSO: They're so unaffordable --

BERMAN: But you know, Senator -- Senator, you know that they go up, the community rating guarantees that people with pre-existing conditions, their rates stay in line with other people's rates. If you unhitch that, then people with pre-existing conditions, their rates could go up much, much higher than other folks.

BARRASSO: You know, when they unhitched it in Maine and had this high-risk pool that was paid for, which is what we're proposing for other states, they were able to keep the rates down for people with pre-existing conditions paid at --

HARLOW: That's because they taxed everyone in Maine -- Senator, that's because they taxed everyone in Maine. They taxed everyone in Maine to pay for that.


HARLOW: Are you comfortable with doing that to the American people, then, to pay for it?

BARRASSO: Well, all of the tax money right now coming in for the Obama health care law -- when you look at what we have proposed, we have kept the taxes on the high-income earners in this. We have not eliminated those taxes. So that money is there, available to do this sort of thing, for people with pre-existing conditions. It worked in Maine.

You're right, people were taxed for it. We keep those taxes in this proposal. And what we saw in Maine is, it worked. It can work across the country if it's allowed to do so. But you need the freedom and flexibility and choice at the local level, I believe, rather than this one-size-fits-all, which we know, prices are going up across the country again under the current law. Again, to unaffordable levels.

If people aren't getting a government subsidy, it is unaffordable and even for people with the subsidies, their deductibles and co-pays are so high, it's hard for them to get the care that they need.

[10:45:04] BERMAN: Understood. One thing we will not know by the time you vote on this is if the Graham-Cassidy will increase premiums on people with health care because the CBO won't have scored that part of it yet.

But, Senator Barrasso, thank you so much for your time. And again we really do appreciate you waiting for the breaking news and the hurricanes.

BARRASSO: Thanks, John. Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thank you.

Let's get back to -- now we do have our Nick Paton Walsh in Palmas del Mar in eastern Puerto Rico up with us.

Nick, it's been so bad, your signal to us has been down for this entire show. What are you seeing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage, we do feel the storm is lessening where we are.

Now let's recap a little bit. Since 3:00 this morning, impossible to sleep, frankly. This building we're in, pretty sturdy concrete structure, buffeted by high winds, peaking around about 6:00 or so. And then some winds of a ferocity frankly I cannot describe. Hard to stand in it at all.

It's been tearing bits of the rooms nearby off, tearing trees out of their rooting. A phenomenal sense of force and power. What we have not seen so far, what many have feared, was the storm surge, the flash flooding that could, they warned, meteorologists, get up to about nine feet. We've been seeing between these two boards, we've seen some quite ferocious winds for the last hour or so, but it feels just how the things might slowly -- we might be starting to see the ends or the tail of this.

But this beachside resort evacuated but two staff and us, absolutely devastate. Trees blocking the road, much of it torn out. The buildings themselves retaining some elements of their well-being, but the surface damage quite extensive. And it gives you an idea of what it must have been like for people who weren't in solid concrete structures like this for the last six hours or so. But we do appear now to be seeing a slowing of the speed of the winds. It may pick up again. Not quite as bad as it was at its peak which was extraordinary -- Poppy.

BERMAN: Nick, any sense of how your building held up there? You said you've looked outside, you have seen some structures damaged. The roof on your building, any flooding?

WALSH: Yes. Other buildings appear to have tiles torn off. And we have some in ours. Ours is multi-story, but I mean, remarkably, in the balcony behind me, it's sort of filling up like a fish tank. The glass doors there holding water on the balcony and that's about six to eight inches deep now.

So extraordinary scenes for us and the rooms we're in, we're walking around in two to three inches of water. That's the second floor because the rain keeps basically coming in from all angles and training down the stairways into the various different rooms.

This is a relatively well-kept, well-proportioned building that's able to withstand the damage like that. Imagine being in a wooden house or a lesser structure with the absolute ferocity we saw, with speeds suggested at 175 miles an hour. It seems to have hit the landfall of 155, frankly the next (INAUDIBLE) miles an hour. (INAUDIBLE) you're sanding with an enormous amount of saltwater in your eyes and mouth. That's how you feel the storm because it's literally throwing the ocean towards you. But still, at this point, we seem to be seeing a slower pace of wind now -- John.

BERMAN: Nick Paton Walsh for us again.

We've been waiting to hear from Nick the entire show. He has seen some of the worst of the storm.

Nick, we appreciate you being with us. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: I want to show you some live pictures right now coming into us from Mexico City and the surrounding area. These are live pictures --



[10:54:31] BERMAN: All right. These are live pictures from Mexico City. This is the site, we believe, of the school that collapsed. And we are getting some figures now, some tragic figures. We understand that 21 children killed inside, four adults.

And what's happening right now is they're trying to rescue a young girl.


BERMAN: That might still be alive. We just saw a man with his arms up right there. Not sure what that means. This is a very delicate operation. One of the only ways you can tell if there is a survivor in a building like this is to listen, you have to listen to the shouts of people who are trapped underneath.

[10:55:05] I hope this picture does stay up. We're having obvious problems with our communications from Mexico City right now.

HARLOW: There you go.

BERMAN: But again, look at the amount of people. The number of people on this scene, sifting through, trying to get to someone they believe might be inside.

BERMAN: Let's go to our Gustavo Valdes. He is there.

Gustavo, we just saw one of the men holding his arms up, seeming to cheer. We don't know what that means yet. What are you hearing?

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN ESPANOL REPORTER: It is, indeed, a massive operation going on behind me. We've seen members of the Mexican Marine, Los Topos, which is a specialized unit they have in Mexico City for search and rescue. These people have been all over the world. They were born 32 years ago when Mexico City was hit by another devastating earthquake.

The authorities are being very tightlipped. They are not giving a lot of details to the press. They don't want to spread rumors. But we are seeing an increased activity. We just saw a group of men pulling a bunch of twisted metal and concrete from what is left of this building. And we can sense the anxiety amongst some of the people who have been waiting for hours because this is an operation that went overnight.

We haven't heard many details, but we know that a lot of people have been coming in and out. They have ambulances on standby. There's medical personnel ready to assist when needed. But right now we've seen it change from the heavy machinery that they had earlier today to the smaller, bucket-by-bucket removal of the debris to make sure that they can get to whoever is underneath the rubble.

BERMAN: -- do that so you don't shift anything with a heavy machinery that could cause more big pieces of debris to fall underneath, if there is, in fact, a survivor. And then we did see someone with their arms up. We're not sure what that means. It could be just looking for silence.


BERMAN: So they can listen in to see if they can get any more signals from the person they believed to be trapped underneath that rubble. And we are told, they think it may be a young girl. So that may be behind what is this extraordinary urgency you're seeing on your screen right now.

HARLOW: And again, the devastating news, one of the horrific pieces of all of this is these children at these elementary school that has just collapsed, we now know 25 people died inside, at least. 21 of them are children.

And the shot is back up now. They are in the midst of what we hear is this attempt to rescue a young girl from this school building. One would think they heard something. They've been calling for moments of silence to listen and hear where survivors may be.

As our Rosa Flores reported, they've been using cadaver dogs across and they're trying right now, attempting to rescue this girl.

BERMAN: And Gustavo Valdes, a reporter who's on the scene there, notes, and this is very important, overnight they were using heavy machinery to move the big pieces they could get. Now it is a hand operation. People with their hands, picking out pieces of the dirt, the wood, the debris by hand, putting them in buckets to remove it. It is very, very delicate right now. And you can see, really, I'm sort of astounded by the sheer number of people on the scene there to assist, although only a very few in the building or on the building itself right now.

HARLOW: And Gustavo says this is a team of specially trained men and women who are digging very methodically through this rubble, trying to remove some of those -- at least one young girl, they believe, is still inside.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: This is a wider vantage shot that we've seen of the school. But you see the roof, it looks like two levels there absolutely fallen on one another.

BERMAN: And bear with us on this shot that's going in and out. Communications dicey with Mexico City right now after everything they've been through. The 7.1 magnitude earthquake. One other piece of reporting we did get from Gustavo is while they've been searching through this building the parents of the students inside kept in a separate place.

Obviously the emotions running so high. And by now, you could assume that most of them have received the news that 21 children are believed to be dead, although there is one girl, we are now told, they are searching for, trying to reach through that rubble. Some hope still remains, which adds to the urgency of the job at hand.

HARLOW: They're using buckets, bucket-by-bucket, pulling debris out of this building. For some of these folks, they lived through, many of them, the 1985 earthquake and the thousands of lives lost in that. So far the death count from this 7.1 magnitude earthquake, 225 and expected to rise from that, at this school, at this elementary school. Again, 21 children have been found dead, as they continue their rescue efforts right now, believed to be for a little girl.

BERMAN: All right. CNN will stay with our live breaking coverage of this and Hurricane Maria. Kate Bolduan picks up right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. I think we're going to pick up right where we left off --