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Rescuers Search Frantically For Quake Survivors; Rescuers Makes Contact With Girl Trapped In Rubble; Death Toll Climbs To 230 In Mexico Earthquake; 25 Killed In School That Collapsed During Quake; Hurricane Maria Strengthens Again Into A Cat 3 Storm; Hurricane Maria Knocks Out Power In Puerto Rico; Hurricane Maria Winds Lashing The Dominican Republic; Puerto Rico Under Flash Flood Warning; Rescuers Make Contact with Girl Trapped in Rubble; White House Grapples with Nuclear Confrontations; Hurricane Maria Strengthens Back to Cat 3; Caribbean Islands Face Long Road to Recovery. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 02:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE: Hello, everybody. I am John Vause live in Mexico City where rescuers have been digging for hours on end, searching for survivors after Tuesday's deadly 7.1 earthquake. A frantic effort is underway at one school in the capital where a young girl is still trapped.

Meantime, Hurricane Maria is now a Category 2 storm. In its wake, Maria left Puerto Rico completely in the dark, cutting 100 percent of the power on the island (INAUDIBLE) before lights come back on.

(INAUDIBLE) the earthquake rescue crew say they've made contact with a 12-year-old girl in the rubble of her collapsed school. Workers and volunteers have been using whatever they can to remove chunks of concrete as they search for signs of life in the rubble of that school.

Twenty-one children, though, were killed. And now, we're learning rescuers are concerned that what's left of that structure might collapse.

Throughout the day, we've seen people raising their hands to call for silence, so they can listen for signs of life. Crews managed to get the girl oxygen as well as water, but so far, they've not been able to free her from the debris.

It's a scene being repeated across Central Mexico after the earthquake. The government says at least 230 people have been killed and there are still concerns that number will rise.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has more now on the rescue efforts.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not until you stand this close to the collapsed school building that the horrific reality of the scene sinks in.

We weave our way in and around hundreds of rescue workers who have descended on this elementary school to save anyone who might still be trapped inside the rubble.

(On-camera): This is the area where crews have been frantically working for the last 24 hours trying to pull put survivors. Look at the impact here of the building, crushing that car there. And you can see all the workers that have been here for more than 24 hours now trying to find survivors.

This is the school where several dozen children were killed as the building collapsed down on to the ground here. Speaking quietly, because a lot of crews have been working and they're trying to hear for sounds of people inside the building. We're told that there might be a young girl, they believe, is still alive inside and that's what these efforts are for right now.

(voice-over): In the courtyard area of the school, hundreds of workers are moving debris away from the school under a banner that reads, "unity creates strength."

Then a whistle cuts through the air and everyone stops. Total silence. This gives rescue teams crawling through the collapsed structure the chance to listen for survivors.

(on-camera): You can hear (INAUDIBLE) sound of rescue workers as they work inside that collapsed part of the building.

(voice-over): The work inside the building is treacherous. Wooden pillars have been brought in to fortify what's left of the school.

Hector Mendez is part of a volunteer brigade of rescue workers known as the moles. He says his team arrived on the scene an hour after the school collapsed. And the 70-year-old volunteer believes more people will be pulled out alive.

(on-camera): Do you believe you'll be able to find children alive in there?

HECTOR MENDEZ, RESCUE WORKER: Yes of course. The children, the most times, they got the - they got more chance to live than we - the old people.

LAVANDERA: You think so? Even a day after?

MENDEZ: Yes, the boys, they want to - they want to be alive. And I know that. And that's why we're here working too hard.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Dramatic scenes are unfolding on the streets surrounding the school grounds. That's where we found a collection of names strung together on paper and clear tape. This is where Daniel Casos (ph) and a small team of volunteers help keep track of the names of the teachers and students who were inside the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These papers, the blue one and the white one, was the people dead and this - that's all fortunately.

LAVANDERA: Most of the buildings surrounding the school withstood the force of the earthquake. Only this portion cratered in on itself. And rescue workers vowed to continue the search as long as it takes.


VAUSE: Ed Lavandera reporting there. And joining me now CNN reporter Simon Ostrovsky. So, Simon, you've been here most of the day. Obviously, the focus now is on not just rescuing this little girl, try and get her out of the school, but in the meantime just trying to keep her alive in the midst of this incredible effort to make sure that she is alive when they get that debris off her.

SIMON OSTROVSKY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, what I can tell you about it is that it has been grueling. They've been working on this since at least 7 o'clock in the morning. And literally, thousands of people have been involved.

We've seen them passing oxygen tanks into the rubble, trying to get it through holes that they've actually created themselves throughout the day.

And the main effort right now is focused on widening that hole, so that it's big enough, so that they can start to pull people out, but at the same time so that the structure doesn't collapse and hurt anybody who still might be alive over there.

[02:05:10] VAUSE: And, I mean, the fact that they found her alive, these thermal imaging equipment and there were some reports of - there were text messages being exchanged between some of the kids and the parents, the kids being prepped under the rubble.

OSTROVSKY: Well, we haven't got confirmation about the text messages, but the thermal images, they seem to show that there may be at least three people alive.

They are focusing primarily on the 9-year-old girl up until now because the education minister has come out and said specifically that their rescue efforts were focused around her today.

They rescued 11 people yesterday. Today, it's been much worse. They haven't been able rescue anyone yet. And we're already coming close to midnight and they are probably going to continue through the night.

VAUSE: Yes. This seems so much of a national focus right now on this one little girl and this rescue effort. It seems to become a symbol for all the other rescues taking place across the country.

OSTROVSKY: Absolutely. I mean, just in Mexico City, there's about 40 buildings that have collapsed and there is people trapped underneath so many of them. And this scene is playing out all across the city.

Remember, this is the third or second largest city in the world. So, there is so many people here who wanted to volunteer to help. And if you drive around town and you see the rubble, you will see crowds of people doing whatever they can.

Just as you were describing before, passing rubble out, bringing equipment in, carrying food around, it's really brought Mexico together and it's amazing to see the unity that this has created.

VAUSE: And there have been people pulled out from under the rubble. I think the mayor said, as of midday, there was more than 50 people - had actually been pulled alive from the rubble in various parts of the city.

But, clearly, as time continues, the president himself said, this is a race against time. They need to get to these people. The longer goes on, the less chance these people have of surviving.

OSTROVSKY: We are getting close to 40 hours. Standard operation after an earthquake like this is to give up the rescue efforts after 72 hours. So, they have got a long slog ahead of them. And, of course, for the people trapped below, their last hope is the people who are trying to get them out.

VAUSE: And you mentioned the number of buildings which have actually collapsed here.

OK. This is a call for silence right now, to be quiet because they may have heard something. They need everyone to be quiet. While rescuers on the rubble, which is not far from our location here, try to listen for any signs of life beneath the rubble where this little 9-year-old girl is trapped right now maybe with others. So, we'll lower our voices a little bit as they continue with that.

But with regards to the other buildings, which have come crashing down, the mayor revised that number downwards, which is good, but there is also concern - and at this point, I guess, no way of knowing how many other buildings have been compromised, what the damage has been today and how many of these buildings may not be saved.

OSTROVSKY: Yes. There is buildings just on the street where you can see that the facades have come down. There are cracks straight through the front of them.

Their residents are actually sitting on the curb opposite the building, afraid to go back inside because they don't know if it's still structurally sound. So, there is going to be a lot of engineering work that's going to need to happen, assessments to tell people whether it's even safe to go back home.

And, remember, just a little over a week ago, there was another eight- point magnitude earthquake that happened, and so Mexico has been dealing with quakes now for quite a few days.

VAUSE: Yes, absolutely. Simon, thanks for speaking. We appreciate it.

Let's go to Pedram Javaheri now at the CNN Weather Center. Pedram, there's, obviously, this concern about aftershocks, but there hasn't been any, at least not significant ones. Does that mean that there won't be any aftershocks?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not at all. It's extremely unusual that we've gone now almost 40 hours without an aftershock. In fact, the USGS, I was speaking to them earlier, they're telling us that this as unusual as it gets.

And having covered for almost a decade here for CNN, I have never seen one that has gone this long without an aftershock, but typically, with such a quake, you would one that was hit at 6.1, you'd expect ten of 5.1 and hundreds into thousands beyond that as well.

But we think the reason why we haven't seen an aftershock just yet is by shear knowledge of where the plate boundary is in association with where the actual quake occurred. So, the quake, the 7.1, about 400 miles south on Cocos Plate.

The Cocos Plate moves about 60 to 75 millimeters per year, dives underneath the North American Plate. Essentially, at the same rate as, say, your fingernails are growing is the rate this plate is moving. And that shear distance is the reason why we think we haven't had initial aftershocks yet.

But typical progression of it, we often talk about this being something that decays over time. So, if you have 100 aftershocks the first day, you would expect about 50 the second, about 30 or so the third day and so on. And that is expected. But it is still early to look at this and not to think that we're not going not to get aftershocks.

We have had quakes in the past, very rare again, that have gone several weeks before an aftershock has followed.

But take a look, when we're talking about human survival in such situations, three to five days without water, up to 8 weeks without food, but, of course, you need water to digest food. And the key factors here, metabolism, fat stores in your body, the air temperature outside, all plays significant role on how your body reacts to this.

[02:10:08] And there is a disturbance down there south of Acapulco. National Hurricane Center says 50 percent chances of form in the next couple of days. The rains that are battering portions of Mexico, including Mexico City, are as a result of that.

Temps there, John, around 23 Celsius, 75 Fahrenheit in the afternoon. If you're trapped and you're wet, that is plenty to set in hypothermia. So, definitely, is not a good go here for weather the next couple of days.

VAUSE: OK. Pedram, thank you for that. Yes, and the rain, certainly not what they're experiencing now with Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, but it is enough to make the situation here miserable.

Mexico, though, is an area which is prone to earthquakes mostly because of where it is in the world. It sits on an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. This is this horseshoe-shaped band of volcanoes and fault line circles right around the Pacific Ocean. It's about 40,000 kilometers long. And this is where 90 percent of the world's earthquakes happen.

Bill Steele is a seismologist expert for the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network. He joins us now live from Seattle. So, Bill, it's good to see you and it's good to get your explanation about just exactly what's happening here in Mexico City because it's not just the Ring of Fire which makes Mexico City so vulnerable to earthquakes, it also has to do with the actual type of tectonic plates it's sitting on.

BILL STEELE, SEISMOLOGIST, PACIFIC NORTHWEST SEISMIC NETWORK: That's right, John. Here in the Pacific Northwest, our hearts are reaching out to the Mexicans. It could be us in this situation. It could be our schools collapsed. It could be us trying to get to our children.

And it's just by luck or poor fortune that two large earthquakes hit this Mexican city in two weeks. So, we're really pulling for them and resources are coming from Seattle and Washington to go and help, try with the rescue and recovery efforts.

So, where we are here is also in the subduction zone environment where we have an ocean plate subducting beneath North America.

In Mexico, that's where this earthquake occurred, on a descending subducting plate that ran horizontally under most of Mexico from the Pacific side and then was bending to dip down into the mantle. And it's at that bend that it snapped. And the fault broke about 50 kilometers long and about 20 kilometers wide to create this earthquake.

VAUSE: Yes. So, normally - I'm just having a little bit of trouble with my earpiece here, Bill, so bear with me.

So, normally, in a situation when you have an earthquake, when two tectonic plates come together in sort of a collision, which is sort of the run-of-the-mill normal earthquake which releases all the energy that causes all the destruction, that didn't happen here. It was just one tectonic plate which ruptured, which is unusual.

STEELE: That's right. So, normally, a great earthquake, even larger, it is the interface between the two plates sliding that creates this earthquake.

This is actually the lower plate, that ocean slab breaking and pulling apart. And it's also why we're seeing a dearth of aftershocks, I believe there.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, in 1949, 1965 and 2001, we had large deep earthquakes, similar depth to this one, and none of them produced - only one felt aftershock. None of them damaging and some of them had no aftershocks at all.

So, even though it's unusual for a crustal earthquakes or, as you mentioned, a plate boundary earthquake, a subduction zone earthquake, it's not so unusual for these very deep - these deep intraplate earthquakes.

VAUSE: OK. Bill, we appreciate you being with us to give us the explanation as to why this earthquake was so powerful. Bill Steele there in Seattle. Thank you. Right now, at this school where so much focus on this rescue has been for much of the day, there is still this ongoing activity right now.

Once again, they've called for silence. They continue to do this. They are trying to listen, they're trying to see if there's any signs of life beneath all of that rubble. They know that there is this one girl. She could be 9, she could be 12, there's a little bit of confusion right now about the exact age, but she is a young schoolgirl trapped under piles of rubble. They've reached her during the day. And again, they're calling for silence.

There is still hope. There is still hope that maybe there will be others alive with her. So far, when rescuers have managed to crawl through the crevices of these great big cement chunks of concrete and then managed to get into some of these classrooms, all they've seen when they've reached those areas has been death.

[02:15:09] So, there is still hope, though, that maybe others are alive with her. They've got oxygen to her, they've got water to her. At one point, there was a call for painkillers, for fentanyl. We know that the ambulances and crews are standing by.

And here on the scene, civilians are still here, even though it is late into the night here. These people are still staying on the scene, offering whatever assistance they can. As the search and rescue continues not just here, but at so many of these collapsed buildings across Mexico City and across the quake zone.

Again, we will keep a close eye on what's happening here at the school. We will have more on our breaking news story when we come back after a short break.

Hurricane Maria is weakening, but still very dangerous. And the Dominican Republic is being hit right now. Our reporters are standing by throughout the region.

Also, we'll look at the devastation left behind in Puerto Rico, which took a direct hit from Maria.



VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause live in Mexico City where search and recovery efforts continue, especially at this school, not far from where we are here.

[02:2001] Once again, the rescue crews have asked for a period of silence. According to local reporters, this is the longest period of silence these rescuers have requested.

Earlier in the evening, there was some concern that this - what was left of this school may actually come crashing down because of the instability. They've put out a call for more wooden beams to shore up the structure, so that it could prop up these big chunks of concrete to preserve the pockets of oxygen that exists there right now. They also called for pulleys to come to this site to try and move some of this concrete as well, but there is some expectation - there is some expectation that maybe they could be getting close to finding or reaching this young girl in a way they'll be able to pull her out of the debris because they have reached her, getting close enough to give her oxygen, to give her water. There had also been a call earlier in the day for fentanyl, a sedative, a pain killer as well.

But right now, the hands are up in the air here, with people being asked to be quiet as these rescue crews listen closely for any signs of life beneath that rubble, if they're - maybe they're inching their way closer towards her under all of that debris.

Again, this is a story which could break at any moment, hopefully, so much of this nation's attention has been focused on this one rescue. It has been broadcast live on national television throughout much of the day. The nation is watching what happens here. It's almost a symbol of all the other rescues, which are taking place across this quake zone. Again, we'll keep watching this.

We now get to the very latest now on Hurricane Maria, lashing the Dominican Republic right now with high winds and driving rain. And there's concern about dangerous storm surge.

And the storm has wreaked havoc across the region, with right winds up to 110 miles, nearly 180 kilometers per hour.

Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as a Category 4 early on Wednesday, knocking out power to the entire island. And the country is now under a flash flood warning. That is the entire country. All of Puerto Rico is under a flash flood warning.

We have reporters across the region covering Maria. Polo Sandoval is at Punta Cana in Dominican Republic, which is about to be hit with the full force of Maria. Derek Van Dam standing by in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which took that direct hit on Wednesday morning.

And, Polo, first you, Maria is intensifying. Last time we spoke, it was a Category 2, now it's a Category 3.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that re-strengthening quite evident too. When you see the wind behind me, you can see how it's whipping up some of those palm trees. We've also seen some debris flying around, particularly in the breezeway of the hotel that we're using here for shelter.

So, clearly, we are seeing those bands sweep through the region here, increasing that wind threat. So, while the actual eye of Maria will simply be skirting just past the island here, past the Dominican Republic, we certainly are feeling the effects, not only with those winds, but also the threat for flooding.

And also, some major travel trouble here. This is, obviously, an extremely popular tourist destination. There are people from all over the world who come here, particularly here to Punta Cana, many of them tried that last-minute ditch effort to get out of town, to fly out, but their attempts landed them right back here in some of the hotels where they're hunkered down and riding out the storm along with us, including one couple from Iowa, John.

I'll share with you their story quite briefly. They made it to the airport in Punta Cana. They decided to - they were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary, telling my colleague they made it to Punta Cana after rescheduling their flight, essentially moving it up, saw the plane that was scheduled to pick them on approach. And then, when the airport closed, that plane then having to turn around, be rerouted and flying away from them.

That couple, now among really thousands of people, thousands of tourists, who are now stranded here in Punta Cana, but there is some hope. They've been told by officials that tomorrow afternoon, by tomorrow at about 12 o' clock, the airport here in Punta Cana could - and again, I emphasize on the word could - re-open and, again, we could start to see that air traffic.

But, for now, the government is in a partial shutdown right now. Some of the non-essential operations not only here in Punta Cana, but also some of the major cities here in the Dominican Republic are simply shutting down throughout the night and into tomorrow until this storm clears.

We continue to see the effects of Maria even though it's just off the coast here of the Dominican Republic, John.

VAUSE: A tough break for that couple, but you have to wonder what they were doing - what so many tourists are doing on the island anyway, with so many hurricanes bearing down at the moment. I guess, that's a story for another time.

Derek Van Dam, in San Juan, if the people of Dominican Republic are worried about storm surge and flash flooding, they only need to look to Puerto Rico to see exactly how devastating it could be.

[02:25:10] DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. That's right, John. Now, Maria, officially, becoming - again, this all while torrential rain continues to lash Puerto Rico, even though the center of the storm, the infamous eyewall, continues to move away, we're still feeling the effects of Hurricane Maria, now a major hurricane.

It's raining behind me, definitively not as hard as what we experienced about 12 hours ago when the core of the storm was overhead, but believe me there are rain bands across the central portions of Puerto Rico right now that are producing rainfall rates of 3, upwards of 4 inches an hour.

The National Weather Service just tweeting out that virtually all regions within Puerto Rico under a flash flood warning. They are urging residents to seek higher ground immediately, if it's safe for them to do so.

That just kind of puts their emergency into perspective and how much rain that is actually taking place here. Water is trickling down from the mountain sides. Here, the mountains can traverse about - over 4000 feet. So, it's really wringing out all that available moisture that Hurricane Maria brought with it.

And all that water is streaming into some of the rivers and all the various streams and riverbeds. And, ultimately, those are starting to over-top their banks.

Several rivers above major flood stage by several feet and the flooding and flash flooding is going to continue well into this night.

You've got to think about the challenges that are posed for people right now with no electricity and virtually no communications possible across this area. Of course, we're running on generators here at our hotel in San Juan.

A long night ahead here across Puerto Rico, even longer night ahead in the Dominican Republic. In the meantime, I will send it back to John in Mexico City.

VAUSE: Derek, thank you. Derek Van Dam there in San Juan and also Polo Sandoval in Dominican Republic. Thanks to you both.

A show break here. But before we go to break, this is the scene right now at an elementary school in Mexico City which has been the focus of much of this nation for many, many hours now.

This is an elementary school where 21 children died when the building collapsed. Four adults died when the building collapsed.

But, right now, the focus is on one young girl, who is alive, who they are hoping to reach at some point. And clearly, this rescue operation continues, even though it is well into the night, it has been going hour after hour after hour.

They're continuing. They're not letting up. In some ways, this is sort of a symbol of hope for this nation, which has been battered by two powerful earthquakes in the last two weeks.

With that, we'll take a short break. On the other side, we take a closer look at how this earthquake is impacting young children who have been left traumatized or may be basically hurt.


[02:32:08] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause, live in Mexico City, where rescuers are continuing their efforts to find a young girl trapped beneath the rubble of her school. That is ongoing, even though it is coming up to 1:30 in the morning here.

Earlier in the day, this was the first detection of signs of life beneath all of that rubble. They used these thermal image scanners and picked up at least three people who they thought may have been alive. They have confirmed that a 12-year-old girl, a young girl, is beneath this debris. They provided her with some oxygen as well as water, but they have not been able to pull her free of the debris just yet. There are problems, though. There are concerns. A short time ago, the rescue crews here said they were concerned that what's left of the building, and all that debris, could come crashing down. Essentially, because the integrity of these big concrete slabs. They put out a call for more building materials, a way of shoring up what's left of the building to buy more time essential hi and try to reach this girl and anybody else who may in fact be still alive. There's been so much attention here. At first, there was the call, "They're alive, they're alive." People were seen rushing to the scene with stretchers, as well. A call went out for neck braces and painkillers. This has been ongoing throughout the day. Of course, there's been moments of silence. The hands and fists go up. Everybody around here, and there are a lot of people here, nobody is leaving the scene right now. A lot of civilians here providing coffee, food, water. Whatever these rescue teams actually need they're being provided for. These civilians are staying on the scene and they are not going anywhere until this is resolved one way or the other.

An investigative journalist, Hugo Bela, a senior reporter with ADN 40 Television.

Hugo, you're joining us now.

You were in the area for most of the day where all of this was happening. Take us back to the moment when they first discovered these signs of life, what was that moment like? What happened?

HUGO VELA, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, ADN 40 TELEVISION (via telephone): Hello, John. Yes, the thermal scans identified there could be signs of life inside the rubble. Three people. And one of them was a little girl. After the moments of silence, we were mentioning where the fists went up, the crews were able to communicate with the girl and listen to her and communicate and talk to her. And that's how they started looking to the exact place where she might be trapped in that moment. In that time, the rescue crews started removing all the rubble, and they needed special tools to do it, because they had to do it by hand. Because if they brought in heavy ma then chine machinery, they put at risk the life of the girl. This has been going on for more than 15 hours since they discovered signs of life of this girl. Afterwards, still there's no success in being able to free her. However, what we know so far is the girl is alive. She is well and communicating with the rescue crews. And so far, we are about to see that this girl could be free at any moment. However, they were able to give her some water. She asked for some water during the morning. And afterward, they had been working tirelessly around the clock to try to remove everything on top of her. She was able to survive because she hit under a table when the building collapsed after the earthquake, and that's how she is alive.

That's how this girl has become a symbol of hope and a symbol of resilience in this place where people have -- this life that is about to be saved is actually one more way of hoping that more lives can be saved in this tragedy that we're seeing in Mexico City.

[02:36:34] VAUSE: Hugo, talk to us about some of the challenges that they are facing right now, because it was probably a few hours ago when there was a cloud of dust from the scene of the school and then we heard about this frantic plea that they were concerned that the rest of the building could come down. They've been trying to shore it up with big pieces of wood to try and hold those pieces of concrete in place, just long enough to get this girl out. What are the other challenges they've been facing?

VELA: Yes, the other challenges have been the weather, because it started raining heavily, and that complicated the efforts to rescue the little girl. Also, they needed those special tools, which they didn't have, and they had to have them brought in. That also complicated the situation, because that made it smaller for the people to be able to work around to move all the rubble and be able to save the girl. But fortunately, now, the rescue crews are working around the clock and they have now --


VAUSE: Sorry to interrupt. Is there any condition, any word on what her condition might be? Because if she's able to communicate, if she's asked for water, there's hope that maybe she's in not too bad of shape.

VELA: Yes. Well, actually, what we know so far is the girl is ok. There's no other conditions. The girl is fine. She's just a little dehydrated. We were able to talk to the doctors that communicated with her and gave her the water. They said they just -- that she was fine, she was able to communicate constantly with the rescue crews. And hopefully we'll see a very happy ending out of this.

VAUSE: Yes. Gosh, it's been 16 hours now. It is so difficult to imagine what she's going through, what so many other people who may be here waiting for rescuers to reach them in what is just such a slow, grinding pace to remove that debris slowly and carefully to get these people out alive.

Hugo, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate you sharing what you learned and what you know about the situation here. Very much appreciate it.

With that, we'll take a short break. In a moment, Rosemary Church will join us with the latest political news.

There are new developments in the Russia investigation. The special counsel is look into Donald Trump's activities after he became U.S. president.


[02:43:15] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Rosemary Church. We will return to John Vause, in Mexico City, in a moment.

We want to bring you some U.S. political news. The presidents of Mexico and the United States spoke about the earthquake in a phone call Wednesday. Donald Trump expressed condolences for the victims and offered U.S. assistance, including search-and-rescue teams.

Meanwhile, there's breaking news in the ongoing Russia investigation. CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is requesting White House documents on the firings of FBI director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn. One source also says Mueller's team wants information on the Oval Office meeting with Russian officials the day after Comey was fired. In addition, "The Washington Post" is reporting, during the 2016 race, then-Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, offered to give private campaign briefings to a Russian billionaire with Kremlin ties.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This vast tranche of e-mails that's been turned over to investigators by the Trump campaign and Trump organization, there are a series that Paul Manafort had with a former aide of his, the guy who ran his office in Kiev. As part of their discussions, he asks how are things going with Oleg Derapashka (ph)? He asks about former clients in the region, who may owe him money. And specifically, under Derapashka (ph), he says, if it would be helpful, we can offer him briefings.


CHURCH: Meantime, the world is watching as the White House grapples with two nuclear-related confrontations. There's political fallout over President Trump's fiery warning to North Korea tuesday. And concern over whether he'll pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Jim Acosta has more.


[02:45:15] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everybody.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Listening to President Trump talk about the Iran nuclear deal, it sounds as if he's setting up another reality style TV-style cliffhanger.

TRUMP: I'll let you know. I'll let you know.

ACOSTA: All week long at the United Nations, the president has signaled he may be on the verge of scrapping the Obama administration agreement designed to pause Iran's nuclear program.

TRUMP: Shocked.

ACOSTA: Adding to the rising tensions, Iran's president condemned the speech to the U.N.

HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): The ignorance, absurd, and hateful rhetoric filled with ridiculously baseless allegations.

ACOSTA: The president is offering no apologies for his U.N. address.

TRUMP: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself, and for his regime. ACOSTA: Despite the complaints from Democrats.

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You have to ask yourself, is America safer because of Rocket Man? Did we bring anybody to the table as a consequence of that hang wage?

ACOSTA: Including Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought it was very dark, dangerous. Not the kind of message that the leader of the greatest nation in the world should be delivering.

TRUMP: The depraved regime.

ACOSTA: Top administration surrogates appear to be softening some of the president's tough talk. Take U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's caution on the Iran nuclear deal.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It's not a clear signal that he plans to withdraw. What it is, is a clear signal that he's not happy with the deal, and that the United States is not safer because of it.

ACOSTA: Making a rare public appearance in New York, former President Barack Obama didn't mention his successor by name, but called on the world to reject the divisive politics that launched Mr. Trump into power.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The rise of nationalism and xenophobia and a politics that says it's not we but us and them.

ACOSTA: Across town, the first lady was giving a speech about children being exposed to the dangers of being bullied on social media.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We must turn our focus right now to the message and content that they are exposed to on a daily basis, through social media, the bullying, the experience online, and in person.

ACOSTA: Critics wonder whether those pleas to stop bullying should be directed to the president, who last night slammed the Emmy awards, tweeting, "I was saddened to see how bad the ratings were on the Emmys last night, the worst ever. The smartest people of them all are the deplorables."


ACOSTA: Perhaps the president wasn't a big fan of former Press Secretary Sean Spicer's latest spin at the podium.

(on camera): As for the prospect of the U.S. pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal, Iranians are balking at the idea of crafting a new agreement. Iran's president told reporters at the U.N., it's just not realistic to think his country would enter into a new round of negotiations.

Jim Acosta, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: We'll take a short break here. Coming up next, gaining strength, Hurricane Maria, back up to a category 3 storm. Pedram Javaheri joins us live after this.



[02:52:07] CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. An update now on Hurricane Maria, which has strengthened once again. it's back to a category 3 storm.

Let's go back to Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

This is bad news, Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Rosemary, yes, it's sitting at a major hurricane at this hour. Last hour, it was 110 miles per hour, the dins in wind speed is negligible. Look, the concern with this, the storm surge significant threat across Puerto Rico. But also around Puerto Rico you're drawing moisture in from the Caribbean. So this region could see potentially 30 inches of rainfall before it's all done. The weather service out of San Juan, which is now operated out of Miami, saying everyone in the region is under flash flood warnings. They're saying if you have any possibility of getting to higher ground do that. This river is a raging river with 10 of the 13 gauges reporting major flooding at this hour. This is going to be the main concern on the island that is covered by 60 percent of the land area, Rosemary, with mountains.

CHURCH: Pedram, thank you so much for that and keeping an eye on everything for us.

With infrastructures and economies torn apart by Maria and Hurricane Irma, many islands in the Caribbean are looking at a very long road to recovery.

CNN's Amara Walker reports.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Hurricane Maria continues her path of destruction, islands the storm has already hit try to grasp the enormity of the challenges they face.

Maria barreled up through the Caribbean, making direct hit as a category 5 storm on Dominica. Then moving north to Guadeloupe and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

More than 75,000 people live on Dominica. This is what they have to call home. At least 70 percent of structures damaged, many homes completely destroyed.

Maria's strongest winds pummeled Guadalupe, battering the southern coast especially hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I have lost everything; my car was crushed as well. It was a car I had just repaired entirely. Now it's gone.

WALKER: And it left residents on the island of St. Croix wondering when the brutal storm would end.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wouldn't stop. It just keeps going and going. You were sitting there going when it was going to end. And with it being nighttime, it was scarier. Our storm shutters broke and we used ties to baton it down again. I sat in the kitchen watching our roof coming off the foundation and up and down dancing, swearing it was going to blow off but it held on.

WALKER: The damage to the infrastructure and economy is expected to be great.

[02:55:02] STACEY PLASKETT, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS DELEGATE: We know we're going to be out of power on all three islands for several months. Hopefully we'll be able to get ourselves back up and running before the spring and start the rebuilding at that time. As you can see from the devastation, we're going to have lost our tourist season for the year on all of these islands. So the economic damages are going to be catastrophic.

WALKER: And the recovery for these islands slow and costly.

Amara Walker, CNN.


CHURCH: Thanks so much for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church, in Atlanta.

Our quake and Hurricane Maria coverage continues after this short break.

You're watching CNN.


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