Return to Transcripts main page
Volunteers Searching For Survivors After Mexico Quake; 7.1 Magnitude Earthquake Kills At Least 248 In Mexico; Trump Brings Defiant "America First" Vision To U.N.; Trump Threatens To "Totally Destroy: North Korea; South Korean Reaction To Trump's U.N. Speech; Cat. 5 Maria Slams Virgin Islands, Headed For Puerto Rico Where Officials Urge People To Evacuate. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired September 20, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Just about 11 PM here in Los Angeles.
I'm John Vause with breaking news. Two massive natural disasters unfolding this hour. In Mexico, the death toll continues to rise after a major earthquake and a Category 5 Hurricane Maria about to strike Puerto Rico after bringing more destruction and misery to the already-devastated Caribbean region.
First to the quake. At least 149 people are dead. Dozens of buildings have collapsed. Rescue workers are digging through rubble, looking for signs of life. The Mexican president says 22 bodies have been recovered from an elementary school in the capital. At least 30 other children are still missing.
The catastrophic 7.1 magnitude quake struck just after 1 PM. local time. Here's what it looked like at the airport in Mexico City.
VAUSE: And that death toll has just risen to 226 as aftershocks also continue to be a major concern. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses are without power. And take a look at this video from Mexico City.
VAUSE: The president has ordered damaged hospitals to evacuate patients, school throughout Central Mexico are closed. The international airport, though, has reopened.
Joining us now from Mexico City, freelance journalist Ioan Grillo. So, Ioan, just describe the scene around you. How much damage is there? How extensive is the destruction which has been caused by this quake?
IOAN GRILLO, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: So, it's been absolutely devastating for the city. Right behind me, you can see a building of six floors which collapsed. It was a building of various businesses. There was a language academy there. There was an accountant's office. There was an Internet company. And this happened right in the afternoon. So, many people were there.
I was talking to one woman, whose sister was in the building. And she was saying, in her office, an accountants' office, there's about 50 workers there.
So, in just this building is 50 people in one business. And all over the city, there's hundreds of buildings which collapsed. So, the damage is absolutely catastrophic. And, tragically, that death toll looks like it will be considerably higher than what we know so far.
VAUSE: What have you seen of the government's response here, the emergency response to this disaster, because we're also seeing a lot of people, just civilians, ordinary everyday people, using their bare hands to dig through this rubble to try and anybody who may be trapped beneath all of that debris?
GRILLO: Yes. In Mexico, there was a devastating earthquake back in 1985 on the same day. So, that earthquake was really in people's collective memory and collective pain.
Everybody from Mexico City, who lived then, you can ask them, what were they doing on that day and they'd remember that.
And there's been earthquake drills since then and many people really with this idea of what to do if an earthquake happens.
Now, this happened again, it's like a nightmare has come true. It's really a painful feeling, but also a very powerful response. People are going out there in the thousands to these places, helping with buckets, bringing water with wheelbarrows, taking the rubble away.
And you can imagine, with the buildings like the ones behind me, how much rubble you have to clear to reach the people. It is tons and tons of rubble.
Now, the government is also sending people and helping organize these brigades, but it's just so overwhelming, the scale of it that these people are really helping.
VAUSE: So, looking forward to the next 24 hours here, one of the biggest concerns that the authorities have right now, as they look to the next couple of days, trying to get some kind of normalcy back into place, trying to care for the survivors and trying also to clear away all of this debris. What's their priorities, what are they worried about the most?
GRILLO: So, the first concern is the replicas. I mean, there's a lot of seismic activity. There was only ten days ago, another earthquake. So, it's very concerning.
But also, it's just basic facilities. The city has collapsed. There's no electricity in much of the city. It's very difficult to move around. No traffic lights working. Traffic has collapsed. So, basic getting water, getting food is a concern for people and the authorities. Now, the authorities are also dealing with things like hospitals being damaged, schools have collapsed with children, prison facilities damaged. So, there is just so many - an overwhelming number of things they have to watch for the next 24 hours.
[02:05:04] There is also the concern about law and order breaking down and people looting. But so far, there's been more of a feeling of solidarity and people helping, not really a major problem of disorder that happens after some disasters like this.
VAUSE: Is there a concern among many people in the city that they just don't want to go back into their buildings because they may not be safe at this point, that they could be damaged.
And quite often, what will happen is that many people will just sleep outside to avoid the risk of going back into a building that may have been damaged.
GRILLO: Yes. There's that happening. I'm talking to people who are saying I can't go home, I can't get into my home. They want to check the building, is being cracked. There's a lot of gas leaks and gas all around the place that can cause explosions.
So, there is many people who say they want to sleep with relatives or, in some cases, sleep outside or leave the city and sleep in other places.
VAUSE: OK. Ioan, we shall leave it there, but thank you so much for giving us the very latest from Mexico City. Of course, this is a disaster on a scale that it appears that has not been seen for a while. Thanks so much for being with us, Ioan.
GRILLO: Thank you.
VAUSE: Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri live at the CNN International Weather Center for us with more on the intensity of the quake, the magnitude. I guess, how these aftershocks are now playing out and, of course, they will be with us sometime.
PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. That's certainly how it works with a quake of this magnitude. Such a shallow one too, John, sitting at 32 miles deep. This is considered a shallow quake here. And, of course, there is just less buffering for the earth's surface here to absorb any energy from this earthquake.
And it comes in about 70 miles or so south of Mexico City, but, of course, the energy felt hundreds of miles away from the center.
And we know, with a 7.1, looking at statistics, you know that on average, there is one aftershock that would typically be one order of magnitude less. So, a 6.1 or greater would be expected.
We haven't seen that yet. 5.1, some ten or so aftershocks are expected in that range. Hundreds into the 4 scale. Thousands into the 3 scale. This will continue for weeks, if not months across this region.
So, certainly, going to be a scary situation for a lot of people exposed to the shaking today. And, in fact, some 15 million people felt strong shaking this afternoon.
I have to talk about when is the worst time to have an earthquake. It is typically the overnight hours when you're sleeping or the early afternoon hours if the kids are in school, you're at work, because earthquakes don't kill people. The common saying is that it is buildings that kill people and that's precisely the threat here when you're into the afternoon hours and we've had these - this earthquake near Mexico City.
One-and-a-half million or so felt very strong shaking associated with this particular quake. And, of course, the significance of it is that it's extremely rare. Typically, out of 2 million quakes on our planet every single year that are felt, one is magnitude 8.0 or greater. We had one in Mexico about 11 days ago. Only 15 are 7 to 7.9.
And for Mexico City, in particular, it has a long history of significant quakes and shaking. And in fact, you go on for a closer perspective, this is what it looks like in about 700 years ago or so.
Lake Texcoco was across this reason. It is now a dry lake bed. You can see it clearly on Google Earth imagery, the light indication. This lake has all dried up at this point. That is where Mexico City is situated.
And the shaking is incredibly intensified as a result of that. In fact, when you look at the sediments, one of the worst areas you'd want to build any sort of structures or buildings would be on top of a lake bed.
And, of course, this was built there over 700 years ago. So, with shaking near the surface, you'll have a lot of that take place here with a lot of energy that could essentially reverberate a tremendous distance away from the center.
That energy is not going to be absorbed with a top soil like this with the lake bed sediments. And, of course, that shaking could really be amplified and you can bring the water table up and that's called liquefaction. And that is why you see so many buildings collapse in Mexico City with large quakes because the city is situated over what was once a dry lake bed.
So, another element that goes into this, of course, with aftershocks. You're certainly going to feel them across this region as well.
And when you take a look at this, the USGS is looking at the estimated economic losses based on historical data across this region. The highest likelihood right there, almost 40 percent, that this will have somewhere between $100 million to almost $1 billion in losses in economical toll for areas around Mexico with the damage that's left in place now, John.
So, definitely, a big story here for a lot of folks across Mexico. VAUSE: One thing which the experts at the US Geological Survey have pointed out that this earthquake is not related to the one on September 7 of magnitude 8.1. Why is that important and how do they know?
JAVAHERI: So, the epicenter of that quake was considerably farther away from this particular one. We know Mexico is an active location for earthquakes.
In fact, when you take a look at the Ring of Fire, as it's known, the most earthquake-prone areas on our planet, it goes right along the coast of Mexico. And, of course, it comes down into portions of South America where 90 percent of our planet's quakes occur.
So, Mexico, certainly not uncommon to see this, but the epicenter of that particular one, farther away. And people think, was it that one that instigated this one? Not necessarily how it works either.
So, this is completely independent of it, on a different fault line, on a different location. But, again, when you look at the numbers, only 15 or so quakes are at 7.0 or up to 8.0. Two of them have happened now in this country in the last 11 days, John.
VAUSE: Yes, OK. Pedram, thank you for that. We turn now to Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is bracing for a worst-case scenario. The deadly storm moves through the Caribbean.
It's already battering another US territory, St. Croix, with powerful wind gusts and heavy rain. Maria is a Category 5 storm with top sustained winds of 175 miles or 281 kilometers per hour.
At least one person has been killed in Guadalupe and there is widespread damage in Dominica. And now, Puerto Rico just hours away from what could be a direct hit from Maria.
We have reporters across the region covering the storm. Right now, meteorologist Derek Van Dam in San Juan, Puerto Rico, joins us live.
And, of course, expecting this storm to make landfall at around, what, a Category 5, a very powerful storm, could it fluctuate before it gets there? Is there any expectation that maybe the intensity weakens a little?
DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, John, it's actually already fluctuated from the last National Hurricane Center update. Winds were at 175, but now the new 2 AM update, it's at 165.
So, with storms of this magnitude, we're really reaching the upper echelons of what's possible with hurricanes and mother nature.
It's impossible for these storms to stay at that extremely intense Category 5 status. So, what we would typically see is the storms kind of going through a rejuvenation cycle. It's almost like breathing as humans.
Of course, we want the storm to be inhaling when it makes landfall, not exhaling, because, of course, that would mean the strongest winds would be taking place. But typical for these storms to fluctuate to a Category 4 to a Category 5, but we're really splitting hairs here because when we're talking Cat 4 or Cat 5, still catastrophic damage possibility, complete homes destroyed, trees snapped like twigs, power lines brought down instantaneously.
We've already seen just up the road from us here - we're in a protected sheltered area to keep our crew safe, but just walking out into the elements underneath the garage that we're actually positioned in, there is a wind tunnel there and all the trees have been bent over completely.
We've got all kinds of debris already flying down the roadways there. So, this is exactly what we would expect to see with tropical storm force winds, but hurricane force winds will appear here in Puerto Rico by first light and then the worst of the storm we anticipate about 10 AM here locally. John.
VAUSE: Yes. A couple of weeks ago, the concern was with this Irma hitting the power grid and knocking out power for a sustained period of time. When that didn't happen, they breathed a sigh of relief. They thought they dodged a bullet. Will they be so lucky this time?
VAN DAM: Well, there are still 45,000 people that are without power from the direct cause of Irma. I mean, this is over two weeks ago.
And talking to some of the locals here, they still don't have power within their homes and they're still dealing with the cleanup efforts from Irma. Of course, they were breathing a sigh of relief because that storm really did that - the wrath of Irma was not really felt because the eye wall went just to the north of Puerto Rico. That is not going to take place with Maria.
Maria will make a direct landfall unless the storm makes an abrupt shift in direction, which is highly unlikely. We expect a Cat 4, Cat 5 over Puerto Rico and over some of the more populated eastern sections of the territory.
VAUSE: And, Derek, from what you've seen in terms of preparation, they have shelters which are open, which I think can house 60,000 people, maybe 130,000 in an emergency, but also just in terms of people preparing for themselves, the shops, the shelves are empty, there's little of - there's not much water to be found, baby formula is in short supply, that kind of thing?
I think we lost Derek. But he was giving us the update there on the storm. And, of course, one of things that has happened over the last couple of days is people prepared for this storm. They stocked up on food and supplies, basic stuff like water. Many of the stores are now empty.
The other concern that authorities have right now is anybody who may still be living in a flimsy or wooden house, they've been told to leave those houses, head to shelter because those structures simply are not safe. Relief workers have been hit with the one-two-punch of Irma and Maria as well. Adam Marlatt from the Global Disaster Immediate Response Team arrived on St. John in the US Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Irma, only now to be caught in a second powerful storm.
[02:15:08] Adam joins us now on the phone. Adam, it was Irma and then it was Jose and now, of course, Maria is posing a real threat. What precautions have you taken what are conditions like there right now?
ADAM MARLATT, FOUNDER, GLOBAL DISASTER IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TEAM: So, right now, we're experiencing a very high level of rainfall.
The winds that we're experiencing right now, we're out in our vehicles staged at three locations. It's pushing our Jeep Wranglers around on the road, even while we are stationary here.
We're starting to get a little bit of a storm surge on the eastern side of the island. And several of the routes that were already damaged and blown off have pushed into the roadways here on St. John.
VAUSE: Irma knocked out the basic infrastructure there. The main medical clinic, it was badly damaged. Powerlines were snapped. How will this island cope with another blow as powerful or more powerful?
MARLATT: I think it's going to be incredibly limited here. The one clinic that is on the island has a compromised roof. We were able to pull a majority of the tiles out of it to avoid molds.
However, we think there's going to be additional water backing up here. Fortunately, significant population of the island has already evacuated, but there are several people who remain behind and wanted to sit this storm out, there'll be significant about tonight.
VAUSE: Because there's, what, 4,000 people on St. John, I think 2,000, let's say, over the last week or so. So, there is a considerable number of people still on that island. And many of them, what, they're taking shelter on what's left of their homes?
MARLATT: Exactly. For the people that are still here, a majority of them are living in compromised homes. Very few of them have been able to tarp of that all.
So, we're getting pushed around really heavy and our vehicle just flipped back a bit.
With the rain that they're experiencing here, it's going to be - they're going to get several inches of water inside of these homes, but they're trying to shelter in tonight.
VAUSE: Well, some difficult times ahead. A difficult night ahead, clearly, for so many there. Adam, thank you for being with us. We appreciate the update.
Many Hurricane Maria victims need assistance, shelter and critical supplies. And you can help. Please log on to CNN.com/impact. There you can donate to one of the charities, which we have vetted, or you can volunteer your time.
A short break. When we come back, evacuate or die. A dire warning from officials in Puerto Rico about the dangers of Hurricane Maria.
[02:21:32] VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. We're looking at exclusive images of rescue efforts underway right now in a neighborhood in Mexico City after that powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
What we're seeing is essentially neighbors helping neighbors, forming these human chains to remove the debris, passing slabs of rubble and concrete from one to the other to get to the people who are trapped underneath that concrete, that cement in what is one of the many collapsed buildings across Mexico's capital right now.
This is happening across Mexico City. People are using whatever you can. There you can see, people are using are using a trolley, a shopping trolley, a shopping cart to try and move this debris out of the way.
This earthquake happened 32 years to the day after a devastating earthquake back in 1985, which left thousands dead. And so, ever since then, Mexico has held these drills and that's what we're seeing play out there.
In fact, in the morning before the earthquake struck, school children were conducting earthquake drills. And then just an hour or so later, the real thing happened.
We move on now with right now with Hurricane Maria barreling towards Puerto Rico. One official has issued a very blunt warning, evacuate or die.
The Category 5 storm has top sustained winds around 165 miles or 270 km per hour. Puerto Rico, which escaped brunt of Hurricane Irma, is now expecting a direct hit from Maria in the hours ahead.
Our correspondents are across Puerto Rico and the region covering the storm. Let's go to Nick Valencia live in San Juan. So, Nick, how have conditions changed there since we last spoke?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're experiencing here on this side of the parking structure where we're positioned is nothing, John, what's being - what's going on right now about 100 yards away from us.
The beach is just behind our camera. And within the last 30 minutes, power was lost on that street. As a matter of fact, our hotel briefly lost power before the generator kicked in.
Debris already can be seen on the streets. And we're still about eight hours away or so from the worst of the storm.
You're talking about the frantic ominous warnings from the local officials. Governor Rossello taking a much different tone this time during Hurricane Maria than he did during Hurricane Irma. The tone of anxiety and nervousness among those local officials here, giving those warnings that they need to evacuate or face death.
So, one of the things that he was reiterating was the concern about flooding and how that is the number one cause of death after storms like this make impact here on an island territory like Puerto Rico.
The last time they felt the storm like this was nearly 100 years ago and the infrastructure is different now. And there's certainly a lot more people here on the island and that's causing concern for officials.
They did stress to try to evacuate from those lower-lying areas, areas that are in flood zones. As a matter of fact, we are in one of those flood zones. Just behind me is a lagoon. And during a normal rain event, these streets, we're told by local residents, they flood.
And what we're going to experience in about six to eight hours from now is certainly going to be anything but normal. People here, obviously, preparing for the worst and they are preparing with the precautions being given to them by the local officials.
I think local officials have done enough of a job, a good enough job so far in the last 24, 48 hours to really stress to the residents here just how dangerous and just how monster of a storm that we're expecting here to make landfall here in San Juan. John.
VAUSE: You know it's not normal when you start measuring rain in feet instead of inches. So, that's what ahead. Nick, thank you.
[02:25:05] We'll head back to Mexico after the break. Volunteers are searching for their neighbors through the rubble, some using only their bare hands. More on that.
Also, Donald Trump puts world leaders on notice in a dark and threatening speech at the United Nations. North Korea tops his list of evil nations.
VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. I am John Vause live in Los Angeles. It's coming up to 11:30. Our breaking news, Mexico's president has declared a national emergency after a powerful earthquake near Mexico City. The death toll has jumped dramatically within the last hour to 248.
Dozens of buildings just like that one were toppled by the magnitude 7.1 tremor. And this CNN exclusive video shows residents joining the search for survivors, some are digging through the rubble with their bare hands removing debris piece by piece.
Victims, including children, have been pulled from under buildings and rescue efforts are continuing throughout the night. Joining us now (INAUDIBLE) Patrick Timmons, he's on the line from Mexico City. So, what's the latest in Mexico City in terms of search and rescue and treating the wounded? [02:30:00] PATRICK TIMMONS, FREELANCE JOURNALIST (via telephone): So
the search and rescue efforts are ongoing. There are about 50 buildings which have come down in Mexico City running sort of align west of the 50 from north to south. There are reports of children being pulled out of a collapsed college, the Colegio Rebsamen in central Mexico City. There are reports of hospitals having to move all of their patients because of structural damage and that people are being -- patients are being moved around the city.
The city right now, some I guess eight hours after the earthquake is rather calm in some parts. The traffic is completely sort of quietened down after the huge exodus of people from their workplaces this afternoon and trying to get home. So that meant that city was saturated, making it difficult for Proteccion Civil, the civil protection people, and ambulances to get through. And reports of buildings and people being trapped in rubble still communicating with actually friend through what that message it seems to be (INAUDIBLE) their communication system which really worked.
We lost telephone and internet for much of the day but some (INAUDIBLE) still working. So, they're pretty shaken and trying to pull people out still from the rubble. Kind of an interesting, though, that the Red Cross is not actually asking for more volunteers and there are a lot of places actually seems to be covered with substantial groups of people digging through the rubble.
VAUSE: Yes. It's been remarkable the number of just ordinary civilians who have come out to help dig through all the rubble there. Can you describe what it was like when the quake happened and the reaction from those around you? Was there panic? How did it play out?
TIMMONS: Well, you know, I've been in about five quakes now from Japan to California to Mexico (INAUDIBLE) by the building, you kind of feel like you're taking a deep breath and then it moves back into the vision, this is not like the other two. It started with kind of a -- I guess a gentle rumbling and then it really did became a -- just become a violent shaking both from side to side and from up to down. It was kind of like -- I was on the fifth floor of a six-story building and it was kind of like reverse of the bumpy castle (INAUDIBLE) the children play on. It's like when, you know, you're able to bounce up and down on the castle but in that like this way around, the castle bounce, actually bounce in you.
So once out of the building and most people seemed to get out of the building, the quake lasted for 70 seconds which is really pretty astonishing. It took me -- it took me all of that time actually to get down from the five-story building. And then you come out onto the road and everybody in the road. And really it was a fright. Looking at the utility poles, it's kind of (INAUDIBLE) the most remarkable thing. The utility poles still swaying backward and forth. And people really remained outside for much of the rest of the afternoon.
VAUSE: A lot of focus right now on Mexico City. But the epicenter was about 75 miles to the southeast.
VAUSE: Do we know what the situation is there?
TIMMONS: Yes. Well, I was spending a little time, one of the ways in which we've been staying in touch in terms of the news because websites were kind of impossible to get unless you're on a (INAUDIBLE) with different news. And then also (INAUDIBLE) radio. And so radio correspondents were calling in particularly from the State of Morelos which is heavily affected. The highway between Acapulco and Mexico City which is an important highway, part of one bridge was down between Chilpancingo and Cuernavaca. Cuernavaca is only 50 minutes away from Mexico City by car.
I would say also that there are lots of reports in Morelos of roads being damaged that are impossible, and a lot of damage (INAUDIBLE) when I checked a couple of hours ago, this is one of the states where 50 people have died. So, there is also effects in Puebla and also in Vera Cruz and there are reports of tremors being felt as far away as Aguascalientes which from my (INAUDIBLE) it's not much of a place, it just had much, much cosmic activity. So, particularly worrying I think of what's going on Morelos and triggering out (INAUDIBLE) and buildings. Somewhat rescue efforts are like there.
VAUSE: And very quickly, Patrick, just --do you get a sense that the government has a handle on the response to this or is it sort of overwhelmed at this point?
[11:35:08] TIMMONS: Well, as, you know, as I said, the Mexican Red Cross is no longer asking for volunteers to help. It seems as though, you know, Mexican Civil Society is pretty well-organized and it happened, you know, 12 days ago with the Southern (INAUDIBLE) a lot of people contributing food and making sure there are supplies. The government has opened -- a different municipal parts of the government had opened shelters, so there are places for people to go I know that's true for Southern Mexico and it will (INAUDIBLE) Mexico City.
And I'm also watching my Facebook feed of people offering their rooms and places for people to sleep tonight if they don't want to go home and -- or if they got problem in their building. I should add that in my building which has about 15 families in it, I think there are only three apartments occupied tonight. So there has been kind of a -- sort of an exodus from Mexico City. It seems to me the government, you know, had been fairly well-prepared. We just have to see what happens with the, unfortunately, rising death toll.
VAUSE: Yes. And it does continue to rise. Patrick, thank you for being with us and giving us an update there from Mexico City. Of course, this is only just the very beginning of what will be a huge rescue and recovery effort for the authorities there. Patrick Timmons, a freelance journalist in Mexico City. Thank you, sir.
TIMMONS: Thank you, John.
VAUSE: And we'll continue to follow the situation in Mexico, as well as the Caribbean with Hurricane Maria. We'll take a short break. When we come back, Donald Trump uses his first address to the United Nations General Assembly to taunt and threaten the rocket man of North Korea.
[11:40:51] VAUSE: Using divine, fiery, and combative language. U.S. President Donald Trump sent an apocalyptic warning to North Korea, at the same time pushing his America First message to the United Nations. He referred to U.S. sovereignty 21 times, insisting strong nations rather than international institutions are the key to a peaceful future. But in that address to the United Nations General Assembly, that will be remembered for Mr. Trump's threat to North Korea.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocketman is on a suicide mission for himself, and for his regime.
VAUSE: After the speech, the president tweeted, a great and important day at the United Nations. Met with leaders of many nations who agree with much or all of what I stated in my speech. Joining us now for more on this, Ian Lee live in Seoul, South Korea. And here in Los Angeles, Political Analyst Peter Mathews. Ian, first to you, clearly the president was trying to ridicule belittle Kim Jong-un. North Koreans don't usually take particularly well to that. So, given that this was at a whole new level by the president in front of the United Nations, how is Pyongyang expected to react?
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're expecting them to up their rhetoric as well with their own fiery brand that we've seen time after time again. And you could -- wouldn't be surprised if we see some sort missile test or some sort of action from the North as a response, something that they've done in the past to show that they are serious about this. You know, the interesting thing too was the reaction from the South Koreans to that.
You know, the South Korean president's spokesman came out, they praised it as being unprecedented, a long, showing that the United States was serious about North Korea. They also said that denuclearization is the only path and that strong sanctions and pressure is the way to get there. Also said that there's close collaboration between the two countries. And the one thing that was missing though from their statement is any mention of war or military option.
And only time we've heard about a military option really is real -- in passing. Yesterday, we heard from the defense minister who said that they want diplomacy and dialogue and that a military option is just a supporting element, John.
VAUSE: Yes. I thought that statement from -- on behalf of the South Korean president, I thought they chose their words very carefully with that statement. But Peter, to you, to be fair, Donald Trump is not the first person who's referred -- who used the term, Rocket Man. Back in 2006, the Economist Magazine used it to refer to Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il. But it is one thing for a magazine to use the term, Rocket Man. It seems -- it's another thing altogether when it's the president of the United States addressing a world body at the United Nations General Assembly. As a whole, a different meaning in conversations, right?
PETER MATHEWS, POLITICAL ANALYST: It's totally against convention in any way and norms and it can be very -- it's very provocative and demeaning. In front of a world, body addressed in the whole world to call the leader of a country, whether he's a dictator or not which we know that he is, to call him Rocket Man after a rock and roll song by Elton John. That's demeaning.
VAUSE: And this is a leader who seems insecure and young --
MATHEWS: To begin with, right, right. He's 32 years old, right? Something like that.
VAUSE: Yes. But we don't --
MATHEWS: Approximately early 30s. And, you know, here's Donald Trump, 70 years old and he's never been in politics before and he's acting very inexperienced and in front of the United Nations it was uncalled for in my view.
VAUSE: Ian, back to you. The U.S. president also slammed the Iran nuclear deal. He hinted he would rip it up. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, told CNN that's not a good idea especially when it comes to dealing with North Korea. I want to play an extended clip here of an interview that Christiane Amanpour did with Emmanuel Macron. Listen to this.
[02:45:04] EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE: I think it would be a big mistake. I think if President -- I don't say it's just Iran deal, it's a nuclear deal with Iran is the (INAUDIBLE) of everything about how to deal with Iran. If President Trump considers it's not sufficient, I do agree with that. We have this deal. I think that the outcome of this deal is that now we have the monitoring process with the international agency following the situation, and I think that it's better than nothing, OK? Why? Because if we stop with this though, if we just stop with the nuclear agreement, so we will enter into a situation, very similar to the Korean -- North Korean situation before what happened this summer.
So I think it would be a big mistake. Now, this deal has to be completed and probably I will try to convince President Trump that the best way to address his concerns regarding Iran is to work in that direction. First, we have to work in order to have a monitoring process on ballistic missiles and ballistic activity of Iran. That's a concern. That's a concern for the whole region. We have to work on it and we need a new agreement. And we can -- we can work on sanctions and agreements on the ballistic side. And second, we have to complete the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran for the post-2025 because this agreement just covers until 2025 situation.
VAUSE: So Ian, the final appeal will be making out of this is, why would the North Koreans agree to a diplomatic solution with the United States if there's this risk of that diplomatic solution gets torn up like it could with the Iranians that seems (INAUDIBLE) nuclear weapons. Some of us have speculated that this speech at the U.N. by the president will only, you know, force the North Koreans to step up the development of their nuclear and missile program. Is that a view shared in the region?
MATHEW: OK. Here's the thing. North Korea has said that their nuclear and missile program is designed to protect the regime and to -- and protect them against the United States they -- who they see as a threat. And they look at countries like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and Libya under Gadhafi, those countries, those leaders ousted by the United States, gave up their weapons of mass destruction. And so they look at now Iran. Iran came to the negotiating table. They negotiated with the United States, the other members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, to come up with this deal.
And if the United States backs out of this deal without any reason, strong concrete reason and if other countries stick with this deal, then it brings into question the word of the United States and their credibility. And so the North Koreans will just point to that as well as reasons they don't want to go to the negotiating table with the Americans because they'll say they can't be trusted. So the North Koreans yesterday were watching that part of the speech also very closely to see if the Americans will stick to a deal they already signed to.
VAUSE: Peter, I do think it's one thing that the Democrat Senator Barbara Feinstein said. She was one of many people who were critical of this address by the president. His -- her statement. The goals of the United Nations are to foster peace and promote global cooperation. Today the president used it as a stage to threaten war. It seems that the world was waiting for U.S. President Donald Trump to turn up on that stage, maybe (INAUDIBLE) the message like he did for NATO. Instead, they got Candidate Donald Trump from last year's campaign. This is very much about it was for the base. It was for whole politics.
MATHEWS: It was. And it's unfortunate because this is a golden opportunity for Donald Trump to be a statesperson to actually reduce the tensions by offering something to the world and to North Korea saying we are willing to work with this and to reduce tensions and prevent any kind of miscalculations of war starting by miscalculation. He didn't do it. He took that belligerent attitude, campaigning again, appealing to his America First base which is out of whack with a hold to what our allies feel and what the world feels that we should -- the United Nations, we should be a cooperative institution that should help us reduce the tension and he didn't do that at all. Golden opportunity missed.
MATHEW: And he did intentionally and other way. We don't know why.
VAUSE: Well, It's almost as if Steve Bannon wrote the speech.
MATHEW: Unbelievable. Isn't it?
VAUSE: Peter, thank you for being with us. Also, Ian Lee who is live with us in Seoul. Ian, thanks to you as well. And with that, we'll take a quick break. More on out-breaking story Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 storm, closing in on Puerto Rico. The very latest in just a moment.
[02:53:41] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. 11:53 here in Los Angeles. And officials in Mexico have revised the death toll, lowering it to 216 after that powerful 7.1 magnitude quake. In the meantime, rescue efforts continue at this hour. Dozens of buildings in Mexico City and surrounding states have collapsed. Nearly five million homes and businesses are without electricity.
Another breaking news. Hurricane Maria is barreling through the Caribbean on a path for a direct hit with Puerto Rico. Right now, though, the Virgin Islands have been bearing the brunt of this Category 5 storm. Heavy rain and sustained winds of about 165 miles, 265 kilometers per hour. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri back with us now for the latest on Maria's track. So, before we finish this hour, Pedram, bring us up to date.
JAVAHERI: Yes. The storm system has not weakened much in the past several days and we're talking about still sitting at a healthy Category 5. It is skirting just south of St. Croix into the Virgin Islands. That is one element of good news. When you look at the radar imagery here, you see the eyewall just push south of St. Croix region. But of course, this puts it on a beeline right toward eastern Puerto Rico. And just some background on Puerto Rico. When you bring a Category 5 ashore, we know the country -- the island in the midst of a severe recession. Some $70 billion in debt. It is poorer than the poorest U.S. states when you look at the numbers across this region. That is according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And of course, you bring a storm of this magnitude, Category 5 across this region, widespread power outages going to be expected across this region for almost the entire four-plus million population across the islands at that magnitude.
[02:55:11] And notice rainfall amounts. Another element of this storm that is going to be catastrophic on top, of course, having complete devastation on the ground would be on the order of 10 to 15 inches. Some areas may be 20 inches of rainfall in the higher elevations. The track takes it in across the most densely populated corner of the island there for about two-thirds 3 of the island's population there living on the eastern half of the island and San Juan, of course, being the most populated region. So we're expecting this to cross either as a strong Category 4 or potentially a Category 5 right over San Juan and then beyond that heads in toward the Turks and Caicos. So this is certainly a story that's going to be evolving the next couple of days with significant ramifications for Puerto Rico.
VAUSE: Category 4, Category 5 seems a distinction without a difference right now. Pedram, thank you. Appreciate it. You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. The news continues with Rosemary Church after a short break.