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Hurricane Maria Devastates Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic; Rescue Workers Attempt to Save Girl Trapped in Rubble after Earthquake in Mexico City. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired September 21, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 21st, 8:00 in the east.
Hurricane Maria regaining strength, lashing the Dominican Republic and still dumping heavy rain over Puerto Rico. The hurricane has knocked out power to millions of Americans. The entire island of Puerto Rico is in the dark. The island's governor says it could be months before the power is restored there. Hurricane Maria is blamed for at least one death in Puerto Rico and 14 others in Dominica.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We have a breaking story out of Mexico. There is a frantic search going on right now. There's a young girl that's been discovered buried in the rubble of her school after that massive earthquake that ravaged Mexico. Emergency crews have been working around the clock, often by hand. Why? Well, they can get to her. They say that she's moving her fingers, things have been passed back and forth. But they are too concerned about what they move and what it could mean in terms of further collapse. And there's a concern there are other people still in that building as well.
They are racing against time. The sound of cracking metal and concrete is just really heightening the anxiety. Dozens of buildings have gone down there. At least 250 people have lost their lives, and that is an early estimate. We have the global resources of CNN covering both of these disasters. Let's begin with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And today you've got the beautiful sky behind you, but it really is shedding light on an ugly situation.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, a reminder of what Puerto Rico was just 24 hours ago -- now 27 or so, I should say really, devastated by hurricane Maria. Even now rescue operations continuing, dozens of families rescued by the National Guard says the government in the area of Levittown near San Juan where I'm standing. They tried for about four hours from 1:00 in the morning in the dark to pull them out of the huge floods in that area but could only make three trips.
That's the kind of serious logistical challenges ahead here. You're seeing pictures of the drive we took from the area in the east coast where the storm may land about 6:30 yesterday morning when we were with you, and it travelled up Highway 3. We drove along that line there to see wind turbines, their propellers torn off. Every tree almost skeletal or strewn across the road, power cables down, their pylons shattered all over the street.
This is the challenge ahead now. The speed of the recovery and how quickly can you get people back on the roads, how quickly can you get electricity back. That last question, a very difficult answer for many Puerto Ricans to hear -- four to six months possibly. Remember, too, this is an island that's still reeling from a billion dollars in damage from hurricane Irma and 46,000 people then left without power, very much a state where the financial crisis is at the heart of it, and today learning one person died during today's violent storms, hit by debris. We saw it ourselves, tiles flung mercilessly around us. Puerto Rico perhaps thinking it escapes the greater human toll but now waking up to economic and life devastation ahead of them. Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: Nick, thank you very much for that reporting.
Hurricane Maria is also lashing the Dominican Republic with punishing winds and torrential rain. That's where we find CNN's Polo Sandoval. He's live in Punta Cana with the latest. What's the situation there, Polo?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, at least the winds feel like they are very slowly subsiding. At least it's not as bad as what we experienced during the overnight hours. As a result we're noticing some saw people here in the hotel that's serving as a place for us to stay, we're noticing some people and now getting their first look at any potential damage which from our vantage point does not look significant. This doesn't necessarily mean the rest of Punta Cana fared well.
That also doesn't mean that we're out the woods because even from the beginning, officials here have been warning the storm itself, the eye of hurricane Maria, would not make landfall in the Dominican Republic, but the outer bands would sweep across here Espanola here, causing these winds, and most importantly, the rain. This is a very fragile situation here on this island because Jose and Irma dumped torrential rains in the last several weeks, which means any of the precipitation that we could see could worsen the potential situation for flooding and also for potentially mudslides, Chris. The skies are dark, the threat for more rain is very real. CUOMO: All too real. Polo, thank you very much and keep us updated.
So where is this storm, Maria, headed next? CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the answer. What are we seeing?
[08:05:07] CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Headed to the Turks and Caicos, I believe. Our Polo Sandoval is right there. Now, the storm is not done with the Dominican Republic. The north shore, which we couldn't get anybody to because the storm was baring down last night, that's where the damage is being done now. That's where the storm surge is and that's the winds are right now. From Puerto Plata all the way down on that north shore of Puerto Rico -- or Dominican Republic.
We're also still seeing rainfall into Puerto Rico proper. I can't tell you or show you the radar because the radar is still broken. In fact we just got a notice off the National Weather Service chat that it may be two weeks before they can get to the radar because there are so many trees down on the roadways and obviously the radar is on the highest hill you can get. They put it on top of a mountain, which is a good place for it until you have to go fix it.
There is the storm right now, 115 miles per hour. It is a really big storm eye-wise, about 50 miles across. It was about 10 miles across when it hit Puerto Rico. That skater with her arms out, or with the arms in, the arms are out right now. And it is forecasts finally to turn to the right away from the U.S. We have been watching this wiggle for the past couple of days. It doesn't wiggle too much back to the U.S. So far so good today. The answer is no.
CAMEROTA: OK, that's very good news. Thank you very much, Chad.
It is hard to exaggerate what has happened to Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria has left the entire island without power for the foreseeable future. Joining us on the phone is Ricardo Ramos. He is the CEO of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority. Mr. Ramos, thank you very much for being with us. Can you just give us a sense of the scope of the effort it is going to take to turn the lights back on in Puerto Rico?
RICARDO RAMOS, CEO, PUERTO RICO ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY: Good morning, Alisyn, and thank you for the opportunity.
We really do not know the whole scope by fact or by visual inspection. We haven't been able to fly our helicopters to inspect these transmission lines, but from what we have seen in the inspections that we have been able to make throughout the metro area, it's going to take quite a while. It's been devastated. We recognize that the system, you know, has been basically destroyed.
CAMEROTA: Mr. Ramos, you say quite a while. I think we heard your governor say something in her estimation four to six months. Is that what you are looking at?
RAMOS: Well, yes. If you put that in perspective, you look back at other storms. Hugo, it took six months. George, it took four months. So now we hope to beat those dates and those times, you know, with the help of the government and the APPA which we are part of.
CAMEROTA: But you admit you haven't been able to get into the sky yet, it's still raining, to look at your transition lines. If those have been damaged or blown away, how do you rebuild?
RAMOS: Well, we have done this before, Alisyn. Certainly we have never seen a storm like this in the past 100 years. We will need, I guess, emergency measures, large ones, and we will start rebuilding from the areas that have not suffered that much to the other area, in that order. We can put those areas localized around the important urban centers and fix those areas first and get power up. I guess we will operate as separated islands, separated systems for a while, while we give priority to the hospitals and water systems. And eventually once we are able to establish the transmission, we will certainly join again as a whole prep our system and operate more efficiently.
CAMEROTA: San Juan's mayor, the mayor, was very emotional in speaking last night about how life as you know it has changed. So let me play this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: The Puerto Rico and the San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there. I am just concerned that we may not get to everybody in time. That is a great weight on my shoulders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: I don't know if you could hear but she was quite emotional, saying that San Juan and Puerto Rico as we knew it is no longer there and she's very worried that you won't be able to get to everyone. What will happen to people if you don't have power for six months?
RAMOS: As I said, Alisyn, it happened in the past. With Hugo it took about six months to get power to the last client.
[08:10:00] We'll need to relocate people. People will have to adjust and use a different means of, I guess, cooking and cooling. It is a very difficult proposition now even though we do have the experience. It's more difficult because there has been a generational change from that time to now. Everybody uses, of course, their social media. The kids play on their electronic games and their video games. And now really the customer has changed.
But the fact is the fact, we are going to take a long time to get power back to every single customer, and I guess it's a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children, the way you are going to go to school, the way you are going to cook with gas stoves rather than electric.
The government is ready. The governor has made a great effort. And we will identify those places that will take longer to get power and through the central government, the governor, Rossello, we will provide these people with a means to survive without electricity. CAMEROTA: You said it best, you have been thrusts back in time by
decades now, and it's just impossible to overstate the responsibility that you have on your hands starting this morning. Ricardo Ramos, thank you very much. Best of luck to you and of course all of Puerto Rico.
RAMOS: Thank you very much, Alisyn.
CUOMO: Another big story right now, the search for survivors of the Mexican earthquake. Rescuers are working around the clock and they've made contact with a 12-year-old girl that is buried under the rubble at her collapsed school. There may be more. CNN's Rosa Flores live at Mexico City with the latest. What do we know?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, a sign of life. About an hour ago we saw rescue workers raise their fists up in the air, and that, of course, here means silence. Please be quiet so that we can hear the signs of life and so that those signs of life can be followed, because here's the delicate dance that these rescuers are doing. They listen for the signs of life and then move the debris by hand. Only a human hand can be that careful.
Then they use beams to shore up the building to create what look like tunnels underneath that rubble to try to get to those signs of life. Of course here we are talking about the 12-year-old girl that according to photo TV, one of CNN's affiliates in Mexico city, they are told rescuers have seen her fingers move. That, of course, the ultimate sign of life, especially for the parents who are in this agonizing wait, waiting to hear and hoping and praying that their daughter will be brought to safety.
But a lot of resources being mobilized right now. About 30 or 40 minutes ago, a doctor came rushing to the checkpoint behind me asking for more pediatricians. When I asked if a rescue had happened, he said he couldn't say. But they are asking for pediatricians, Chris, another sign of life. But of course here we know that 25 bodies have been recovered, 21 of those children. The agonizing wait here continues as these rescuer workers continue to do their painstaking work to try to save lives. Chris?
CUOMO: All right, Rosa, please, thank you for being our eyes and ears on the ground. Let us know what you develop there.
Back here at home, President Trump instead of just dealing with one potentially nuclear situation with North Korea, he's now agitating a second, the Iran deal. The president had been talked about maybe pulling out. He said he's made a decision. What is it? We're going to ask the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster in studio, good to see you, sir, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[08:17:40] REPORTER: Have you decided to stay or to leave?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have decided.
RPEORTER: Can you tell us what your decision is, sir?
TRUMP: I'll let you know. I'll let you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: All right. There it is. The president saying he has made a decision about whether to pull out of the Iran deal, has not revealed it. He said he'll let us know when he wants to.
Joining us to discuss that and a lot more is the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.
Sir, a pleasure to have you on the show.
LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thanks.
CUOMO: Thank you for your service to the country.
MCMASTER: It's a privilege. Happy to be here.
CUOMO: So, do you -- Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, was surprised to hear the president made a decision. Did you know that the president had made a decision?
MCMASTER: Sure. We have all been involved in lengthy discussions, not just about the Iran deal, but really what to do about Iran's destabilizing behavior broadly. You know, the potential of a nuclear program, the need to block all paths to a nuclear record for Iran, with their ballistic missile program, things not covered under this incomplete deal, and really what they have done to perpetuate violence across the Middle East, with support for terrorist organizations, proxy forces, propping up these murderous Assad regime, causing problems, and enmeshing people in conflict in Yemen, subverting Iraq.
And so, we have taken a holistic look at this. And I think what's different about the president's approach is he didn't look just at the Iran deal, he placed his decision on the Iran deal in broad context of how we protect American citizens, American interests, how we protect our allies and parties from Iran's broad range of destabilizing behavior.
CUOMO: Understood. Two questions. One, what is the decision? Do you know?
MCMASTER: I know what the president is, but when the president reveals that, when he talks about it, he'll place it in context of the broader approach to Iran and what we have to do as a nation to protect our people, and what we have to do with our allies and partners to really prevent Iran from continuing this very destabilizing behavior, the threat to Israel, the ceding, the flow of these very destructive weapons through this clandestine network they've set up, you know, from Gaza to Syria and Iran. CUOMO: Understood. Dangling it the way the president did is good
showmanship, perhaps, but it can also be destabilizing.
[08:20:02] You had Rouhani from Iran come out and say, this deal is non-negotiable.
You had Khamenei, understood, he's a religious leader, he is prone more towards extreme views. He says that the president is speaking out of desperation and anger.
The central focus is -- I hear everything you said about what Iran is doing and we've heard it from others as well -- that is not what the deal was about. As you well know, this was about controlling, containing as best you can, looking at the missile program, the nuclear development program.
Why mess with that deal in the interests of these outside issues?
MCMASTER: Well, I think the main reason is the deal is fundamentally flawed. I mean, as the president said, he called it the worst deal of all-time. It gave the Iranian regime all benefits up front, and then the incompleteness of the deal, the flaws of the deal, the sunset clause that could really give this regime who is not trustworthy, obviously, cover to advance a nuclear program and then have this threshold capability --
CUOMO: But you had the six nations --
MCMASTER: -- while they're developing missiles which (INAUDIBLE) --
CUOMO: Understood. But you have a this and that issue here. You have your six nation allies, OK, including the U.S. This was the best deal they thought they could get. By most accounts, this has stopped, slowed, and somehow, some way, positively influenced their development capabilities. And we haven't heard you guys, Rex Tillerson or others, question that reality.
But if this was the best deal they thought they could get and you have outside concerns, why not deal with those separately? Cut a different deal about what Iran is doing elsewhere, assuming you have leverage. But if you mess with this, you may destabilize the entire situation, according to the Iranians.
MCMASTER: Well, what's happened is this deal has had the exact opposite in terms of what the expectations were, the effect of that deal. And Iran is continuing missile development, missile development that could be paired with a nuclear program later. The regime has not just walked up to the line and crossed the line, spinning too many centrifuges, too much heavy water.
And so, while the IAEA, the monitoring body, has called them out on it and they corrected some of this, how do you trust this regime to do it?
So, much more rigorous enforcement is needed. The need to address this fundamental flaw, the sunset clause, the need to address other capabilities that could then threaten the world from autocratic, theocratic regime in Iran, and such as missile program. So, these are the things that we have to work on together.
But in the context of an overall Iran strategy, because Iran is destabilizing, not just the Middle East but poses a broader threat, Iran is perpetuating this humanitarian and political crisis in the Middle East.
CUOMO: I don't think the argument is so much about what Iran does that is negative. It's about how to approach it, because in this move, potentially, you destabilize a second situation, which is North Korea, because arguably what we have been hearing from most of you guys when the president isn't being more inflammatory with his rhetoric is, we'll get them to the table. We'll make a deal.
Why would North Korea make a deal with people who are backing out of a deal with somebody else involving nuclear capabilities? Doesn't it comprise your efforts there?
MCMASTER: No, I don't think so at all. In fact, I think it strengthens our efforts with North Korea, because North Korea knows this president is not going to repeat the failed strategy of the past.
CUOMO: But help us understand how North Korea seeing you back out of a deal with six nations involves helps?
MCMASTER: Well, what's happened is North Korea has just walked into deals with the North Korean regime which it then it breaks immediately. So, the pattern in the past with North Korea was to engage in long drawn-out talks, lock in wherever they had gotten with their missile program and their nuclear program as a new normal, and then weak deals develop which then Iran immediately breaks -- I mean, I'm sorry, North Korea immediately breaks.
So, we're out of time on North Korea. So, we can't take that approach anymore. And what the president has been able to do is marshal the broad community of nations, nations who recognize that we must work together urgently on this problem. And you've seen the very strong sanctions, 215-0 votes in the Security Council. Now, the move to enforce those sanctions and do more.
The president will make an important announcement today about the continuation of our efforts to revolve this problem with North Korea, short of war, and he will make that announcement as he meets with our very close ally, South Korea and Japan, later today.
CUOMO: Were you one of the authors of "rocket man" as a way to describe Kim Jong-un? Do you think that kind of rhetoric helps?
MCMASTER: Well, it's an accurate term. I mean, this is someone who has compromised everything for his nation in the pursuit of these capabilities. He is disadvantaging his own people every day by investing in what the president said is a suicide mission. This is not going to keep his people safer. It puts them on a path to devastation. CUOMO: Understood. Does the words matter, edict apply here, that,
you know, you talk to a hot head who's very unstable, in an inflammatory way? Is that helpful?
[08:25:00] MCMASTER: Well, it got everybody's attention, right? And we need to get everybody's attention. We cannot take the same approach we've been taking on North Korea. It is really, really an urgent problem now.
CUOMO: So, there's talk and then there's action. You have been talking about something called preventative military action, OK? Which is different than preemptive. And this isn't -- you know, I'm not trying to get big brain on this. It matters to the American people.
CUOMO: Preventive is, oh, they're getting ready to do something to us and we can see it, we have to do something first, recognize an international law as a reasonable, potential basis for action. Preventative is not.
You have been using the word preventative. What do you mean by that? What would you do with military force?
MCMASTER: Well, preventive means that you think that a threat is so grave and it is so imminent that you have to act to prevent that threat to the American people and to our allies.
CUOMO: That's preemptive.
MCMASTER: No, preemptive is if you see an imminent threat. So, for example, the lighting up of missiles that could be -- this is a leader who said, he is -- and his people have said, he is going to target the U.S. --
MCMASTER: A great to our great ally Japan, and obviously, South Korea, which lives under the gun of this regime.
CUOMO: And about 50,000 U.S. servicemen and women and their families.
MCMASTER: Right. And so, what we owe the president is options. What we have to do is help define with our great intelligence community, along with our South Korean allies, with our Japanese allies, to define these decision points, because there may be some really, really tough choices.
Now, everybody wants to resolve this short of military conflict. Everybody knows how costly that could be, how unpredictable it is once you begin this interaction, military interaction with this kind of a regime.
CUOMO: So, why do we talk about it so much?
MCMASTER: Because we have to have these options on the table. If you --
CUOMO: Do we have options?
MCMASTER: Yes, we do have options. Certainly, we have options.
CUOMO: Do you think one of them would be shooting down one of these missiles?
MCMASTER: It could be. There are a broad range of options that we have available. You know, we have tremendous military capability, along with our allies. We practice that capability. We have our forces at a very high level of readiness and an increasing level of readiness for this problem.
But what the president has done is he has directed us to integrate what we're doing diplomatically, what we're doing economically and with sanctions, with our plans and what we are prepared to do militarily. If you divorce what you're prepared to do militarily from your diplomacy, your diplomacy is not going to be effective.
CUOMO: Right. But at the same time, the talk of we'll totally destroy -- you know, look, we get the idea of muscular rhetoric. We get it. But you are dealing with a madman. And don't all roads of any kind of military action lead to great vulnerability with 10 million people in Seoul and all those American lives in the DMZ?
MCMASTER: Of course, they do. Every time we talk about this, the president first talks about the South Korean people and the importance of us solving this problem in a way that doesn't -- that doesn't involve increased risk to our great allies there. But the president's rhetoric was completely appropriate because what's even more dangerous if there's a lack of clarity.
Previous presidents, as you know, have made similar statements and the clause is that if -- you know, if North Korea attacks, if North Korea --
MCMASTER: -- takes these provocative actions, we may not have a choice.
CUOMO: So, that's the same standard that it's always been? You haven't changed the line?
MCMASTER: No, but the line -- you know, it's much more dangerous than ever, though.
MCMASTER: Because of the way this program has progressed over the years.
CUOMO: What they're doing --
MCMASTER: And how previous agreements have failed. CUOMO: What they're doing has changed, but you're saying our
standard, the United States standard for military action has remained the same in terms of what you have to perceive as a threat?
MCMASTER: Well, and what we can -- what we have to do at this point is provide even more options. We have to work harder at making sure we're ready for any eventuality. I mean, this is a nation that poses a great threat to the world, right? If a missile can reach the United States, it can reach other nations as well.
MCMASTER: If the nonproliferation regime, which means, you know, preventing other nations from getting nuclear weapons in a way that could destabilize the world, if that breaks down, if you have -- if you have Japan really arming, if you have South Korea arming at a higher level, which they're doing, they have to, that's destabilizing to the region, to the world. And it's a threat to all nations.
A so, the president has called on all leaders, our allies and others, including China, Russia, others, to do more.
The Russia investigation. I have been hearing you this morning saying you're focused on other things, but it is a national security issue that which Russia was doing to impede our election. It just is by definition.
What do you feel about the implications of what Russia did and do you endorse what the special counsel is doing?
MCMASTER: Well, what we have done for the president is we have developed a strategy for coping with Russia and Secretary Tillerson is in the lead on this, and essentially what we have to do with Russia is three things. We have to confront their destabilizing behavior.
The president is going to meet with President Poroshenko of Ukraine today, whose sovereignty has been threatened and is under threat today from Russia.
The second thing that we have to do is we want to deter conflict with Russia, right? This is a nuclear-armed nation. You know, we had the long Cold War with the Soviet Union. We want to deter further conflicts. In areas where we are interacting with Russia, we have to make sure we keep that in mind as well.