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Category Three Maria Batters Low-Lying Turks And Caicos; Volunteers Join Frantic Search And Rescue Effort. Trump and Kim Jong- un Rhetoric; Iran Unveils New Missile. Maria's Devastation in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico's Energy Grid Down for Months. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:11] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Top of the hour. 9:00 Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Breaking this morning, mad man, frightened dog and (INAUDIBLE). AP level insults flying back and forth. The question is, will missiles follow. All that's at stake, the lives of tens of millions of people.

HARLOW: That's right, a short time ago, the president of the United States wrote this, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who is obviously a mad man who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before.

This hours after Kim Jong-un called the president mentally deranged and threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

Let's go straight to the Pentagon. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is there.

A threat of something that has not happened, a test that has not happened since 1980.


Good morning to both of you.

The Pentagon not commenting on this publicly, but military planners will tell you, when North Korea makes a threat like this, they have to plan as if it might be true, as if North Korea might decide to carry out such a test. The North Koreans now threatening a hydrogen bomb test either on or over the Pacific Ocean. This would be the first atmospheric in the atmosphere test of a hydrogen device of a nuclear bomb in decades.

The toll on the environment, the toll on humanity really would change everything. The calculations of how the Trump administration might be forced to respond, how could the North Koreans get a hydrogen device out into the Pacific, how would the U.S. take it out, would there be preemptive action? All of these questions, obviously, at the moment, completely unanswered because nobody really knows what the North Koreans might do. The president calling Kim Jong-un a mad man. Kim Jong-un, I want

everybody to just have a look at what he had to say about President Trump. The president -- the head of the regime, Kim Jong-un, saying, he, Trump, is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster, fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician. I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK. Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation. I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.

The key military question right now is, could Kim live up to his threat? Could he put some sort of hydrogen bomb on a cargo ship, on a missile, and detonate it either on or over the Pacific Ocean.

John. Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara, there's another issue that the U.S. has to deal with right now with another regime.

Iran unveiled a new long-range ballistic missile this morning. The Iranian president says we seek no one's permission to defend our land. Now, missiles, not part of the nuclear deal, per say, but it has to factor into the debate right now that the administration is waging with the rest of the world over the Iran nuclear deal.

STARR: Well, it certainly does because, of course, these missiles are essentially the delivery vehicle, just like in North Korea, for a bomb or a nuclear device, a nuclear warhead on the front end of these ballistic missiles. That is what essentially makes the threat at long range to other countries in the Middle East, to Europe, and eventually to the United States so concerning.

The critics, analysts will tell you, this comes at the most difficult time. If you are trying to get North Korea to the negotiating table over its missile and nuclear warhead program, how do you do that when you have an administration that is signaling it might -- we don't know -- but that it might pull out of a deal with another country with Iran.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: All connected.

Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Want to bring in CNN global affairs analysts David Rohde.

David, thanks so much for being with us.

Let's start with the actions threatened by North Korea. A hydrogen bomb test in or on the Pacific. How provocative would that be and would that demand a response beyond diplomacy?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it would be extremely provocative. And it could demand a response beyond diplomacy because, you know, we're testing the Trump doctrine here. He has said that Barack Obama and the United States was too weak and not tough enough with other countries. So Donald Trump has been very tough, lots of sabre rattling, lots of name calling and, guess what, you know, Kim Jong-un is calling him names back and this is all escalating. So I don't think this Trump approach is working and this is an extraordinary dangerous situation.

HARLOW: Barbara, what's interesting, though, is the president choosing yesterday to say at one of the photo ops at the U.N. General Assembly whether a dialogue was still possible with North Korea. His response, quote, why not. This from the same president who tweeted right at the end of August, talking is not the answer. Is there a shift in his thinking here?

[09:05:21] STARR: Well, you know, it's hard to know, isn't it, you know, from such a brief answer. But the problem may be, is there a shift in Kim Jong-un's thinking. Because Kim is all about staying in power, keeping himself in power, keeping his family in power. And what he is focusing on right now is Donald Trump threatening the destruction of his entire country. And he has to demonstrate to his people that he can stand up to this threat.

He's been brainwashing them for decades -- for years now that the U.S. is coming to invade them or to destroy them. Donald Trump perhaps playing into that rhetoric by calling for the destruction of North Korea.

So now the question is, how could Kim get to the negotiating table? One of the key things intelligence officials tell us is, with all this escalating rhetoric, what worries them is, they just don't know what would be the actual trigger in some of this rhetoric that might set Kim off on a military path.

BERMAN: You know, David, Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote something interesting this morning. He said, POTUS war of words with Kim Jong-un not only pushes him to provoke us, but limits Trump's own flexibility to deal with this national security threat. Richard Haass suggesting that this rhetoric, the name calling back and forth, boxes the president in. How do you see it?

ROHDE: It does box him in because it -- just like Barack Obama and the famous red line on Syria, if you don't carry out on the threat, you lose credibility. And I agree with Barbara. All politics is local. Sorry to use the cliche. But Kim Jong-un has to stand up to Trump because he needs to maintain his own hold on power.

CNN just had a correspondent in North Korea. My New Yorker colleague Evan Osnos (ph) was also there recently. And, you know, the North Koreans live in an alternate reality. They were asking, you know, Evan basic questions -- these were senior government officials -- about whether Trump could launch a nuclear strike on his own. How does the American government work? So it's this misunderstandings and this kind of bellicose approach that can lead to conflict. Again, I'm very, very concerned about all this rhetoric. HARLOW: Barbara, public opinion has changed, though, and the

willingness of the public to accept military action if deemed necessary. A new CNN poll just out, 58 percent of Americans now favor a military option -- action in North Korea if economic and diplomatic sanctions don't work. That's up significantly from 2012. So this gives the president a bit more leeway, does it not?

STARR: Well, I think there's a couple of serious concerns there, and I'll start with the secretary of defense, James Mattis. He has repeatedly warned that conflict with North Korea could be and would be, in fact, disastrous. That the global impact would be really the likes of what the world hasn't seen since World War II. That constant concern that the North Koreans could very quickly counter attack against South Korea.

One of the things U.S. military planners have been trying to look at in recent weeks, and we have reported it here at CNN, is, is there any way to avoid that counter attack? Can you get to North Koreans' weapons programs, take them out if you have to, can you get to them faster than North Korea can launch a counter attack against the South and potentially kill tens of thousands in Seoul? That is a very difficult problem, we're told. Right now no easy solution to it.

By all accounts, Secretary Mattis very much leading the push to have the White House continue to focus on diplomacy.

HARLOW: Right. Although, you know, Nikki Haley said, I'm happy to kick it over to Mattis and the Pentagon if need be.

Barbara Starr, thank you, as always, at the Pentagon.

David Rohde, we appreciate it.

Right now, Hurricane Maria sending nine to 12 feet of sea water over islands that barely rise above sea level. The Turks and Caicos right now getting eight to 20 inches of rain as Marie's eye passes to the east, away from the Caribbean, where the extent of the misery only gets clearer by the hour.

BERMAN: In Puerto Rico, at least 13 people known dead, but the governor says hundreds have been rescued from floods and mudslides. This is our first look we're getting right now. Some pretty incredible images of a rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard and the British Royal Navy.


BERMAN: A woman and two children plucked off an overturned hull of a boat off the coast yesterday. Look at that.


BERMAN: They are OK. The Coast Guard says the children's father died on the boat.

CNN's Leyla Santiago in San Juan, where she has been with us for days.

[09:10:01] Leyla, you've been able to get out and around a little bit more. What are you seeing?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, we're still seeing the same debris, the same flooding that we have seen. This area where we are right now, which is Catanio (ph), to be more specific for those who know this area, we are in Bay View. And this is what we're seeing as we're out and about.

But it's not just the debris. As we were out in Flavaja (ph) yesterday in Catanio (ph), we actually saw flooding that was waist deep. People trying to get out. Which also makes it very difficult for people trying to get in, including rescue teams.

We were with the National Guard and firefighters as they were pulling out the elderly, a very vulnerable part of the population, from flooded homes. And at this point, the governor is saying more than 13 people have died as a result of Hurricane Maria. And even he admits that this is very preliminary. They can't reach parts of the island by road or by cell.

Here's something else he had to say.


GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: We're 24 hours just post hurricane warning and right now our efforts are to make sure that we have everybody safe, that we can rescue people. Our efforts have already produced almost 700 rescues.

We have a lot of flooding. We have reports of, you know, just complete devastation of vulnerable housing. Of course, it's still raining over here, which is one of our main messages here, keep safe, still seek shelter because mudslides and surges as well as flooding continues.


SANTIAGO: And, John and Poppy, the frustration continues here when it comes to communication. Just this morning, as we watch some of the neighbors in this area wake up, they were using flashlights, yelling out to other neighbors to see if they had water. One woman sort of cheered when she said, yes, we do have water finally here.

But there is no power. Many without water. Many without the ability to communicate with others.

Rescue efforts continue today. FEMA, the state of New York, bringing in lots of supplies today to the San Juan Airport. But how that will actually get to different parts of the island that rescue teams can't reach right now is still a matter of very difficult logistics.

BERMAN: All right, Leyla Santiago for us, again, in and around San Juan, where she's been for days.

Leyla, thank you very, very much.

We're joined now by Ricardo Ramos, CEO of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. Mr. Ramos, thank you so much for being with us. I hope you can hear

us. We keep on hearing 100 percent of the island is without power right now. What's the extent of the damage?

RICARDO RAMOS, CEO, PUERTO RICO ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY (via telephone): Good morning, Poppy and John. Thank you for the opportunity.

Damage is catastrophic. We have not been able to assess all of it. But we did get a helicopter up yesterday within a window of weather that permitted us to go up and what we saw (INAUDIBLE) --

HARLOW: All right. It --

RAMOS: Was devastated -- devastated. Transmission lines on the ground and conductors on the ground. You know, distribution poles broken right in half. Very, very disconcerting.

HARLOW: You've spoken about the recovery, the power recovery efforts after some of the other major hurricanes that Puerto Rico has experienced, taking upwards of six months, some of them. But you do sound a bit hopeful in what I've read about other things you've said that the federal aid coming from FEMA, et cetera, may actually help you get power up sooner than six months, is that right?

RAMOS: Yes, there a -- I mean there's been a lot of interest from, you know, the FEMA, and American Public Power Association, the large Public Power Council, private companies. And as a matter of fact, Governor Cuomo is arriving today here and I think he's bringing some engineers, experts in power systems as well, to help us out.

So I -- you know, the governor of Puerto Rico has, with the federal department (INAUDIBLE) to (INAUDIBLE) and so I think this time, you know, the flow of help is going to be working very efficiently. And that makes me hopeful that we could restore the system in a time that is at least less than what we have confirmed that in the past with --


[09:15:10] RAMOS: With storms that are not as big as this one or as strong. But, you know, we -- as soon as we finish the surveillance and the patrol of our infrastructure, we will have a better idea of what we need to accomplish and what time it's going to take.

HARLOW: We certainly hope that is the case. Ricardo Ramos, good luck to you. Thank you so much. I am glad some help is coming down today with the governor of New York.

Arty. Let's get to CNN's Chad Myers. He is the tracking the storm where Maria is headed next right now in the weather center. So, Turks and Caicos, and then where?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Atlantic Ocean, and we hope it stays there because that is the best forecast we can give you and if it stays between Bermuda and the U.S. we are in good shape and so far, that is the middle of the cone. So, we can go left or right, but so far so good here. Category 3 right now in the Turks and Caicos. As you said, some of these islands possibly even being over washed by the surge.

Those aren't islands that are the most populated islands, but certainly some of the outer islands could be seeing that kind of conditions. There's a slight bend to the left. This has been with the forecast now for a few days.

This slight bend to the left I believe has something to do with interaction with Jose up here, but it doesn't last very, very long. The interaction to the left here, especially the blue line, which is the European model does have a slight turn and then back to the right as soon as the west winds across parts of the northern hemisphere that are typically through here shove everything off to the east.

That would be obviously the best news possible. Look at some of the rainfall totals out of Puerto Rico from Garcia. That's a yard, three feet of rain and that happened if 24 hours. Flood warnings still going on and flash flood warnings for some of the rivers here in Puerto Rico.

And that's going to be the story. The rain has essentially died off. That's the good news. But for the next couple of days this water will not be gone just yet.

Poppy and John, earlier, we talked to Mr. Ramos from the power company, he said that they have a triage, kind of like we do in America, but their triage is let's get water and hospitals and places where people can actually survive before they get to residential. Residential will certainly be the last on the list.

BERMAN: All right. Chad Myers for us watching the storm very closely. Chad, thanks so much.

Another catastrophe we are watching very closely, rescue crews working to find survivors in Mexico, working around the clock digging through the rubble. We have the very latest.

Plus, a warning this morning to any Republican votes against the current repeal bill of Obamacare. The president says you will forever be known as the Republican who saved Obamacare.

HARLOW: And Facebook says it will handover information, thousands of ads bought by the Russian troll farms to Congress. This morning the president calls the whole thing a hoax. This as Facebook promises major changes down the pipeline.



BERMAN: All right. Happening now, volunteers joining rescue crews in Mexico City. They are working against the clock as the search effort enter its fourth day. HARLOW: Mexico's president said there could be people trying to stay alive under that rubble as 10 buildings that have collapsed of the earthquake. The Mexican Navy which is involved in these recovery efforts is apologizing for yesterday's reports of a young 12-year-old girl trapped under the rubble of the school.

Our correspondent, Rosa Flores, is live in Mexico City for us. Obviously, there's so much chaos and confusion as they are trying to rescue people. We certainly understand that they thought there was this little girl. What else have you learned as the president says 10 more buildings may have people alive in them?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm standing in front of them, Poppy. This building that you see behind me, we learned in the past 20 minutes from rescuers that it could collapse. Here's the reason why.

They explained that because of the rain that happened overnight it added more weight on a very fragile building that had collapsed, of course. Right now, we are seeing rescue workers for the first time this morning because they have to evacuate their search efforts because it was extremely dangerous for them to be working inside this building.

Because what rescuers explained to us is that they have created what they call almost, like, cylinder holes through this building so that they can get down there and secure the building beginning from the first floor.

They believe that they have shored up the first floor, but, again, the rain that pummeled over Mexico City overnight changed things for these rescue workers here. They do tell us that they believe people are alive in the back of the building because when the building collapsed they believe that there were capsules that were created and crevices that allowed people to stay there safely.

Now how do they know that? From what rescuers are telling family members, they sent in heat sensors and they came back positive. So, they do believe people are still alive inside this building more than 60 hours after this already deadly earthquake, and right now a very delicate balance.

They told us that rescue workers were going to have to take a look at the stability of this building, John and Poppy, before they can allow the rest of the rescue workers to go in because of their own safety.

They said right now the priority, of course, are the lives of the people that are trapped and the lives of the rescue workers who are risking their lives to save others, and of course, there's the families that are living this agony and weight. A lot of them here behind us, waiting, hoping, praying that their loved ones will emerge from this rubble alive and safe -- Poppy, John.

[09:25:08] BERMAN: Rosa Flores in Mexico City. History has shown that people can survive in these buildings for days and days and that's a reason to hold on to hope for as long as they can. Thanks so much, Rosa.

It's no news, good news for Republicans in their latest attempt to repeal Obamacare just days before the Senate wants to vote. Still no public announcements of oppositions from key senators. This as the president issues a new warning for anyone who opposes this bill.


HARLOW: Quiet is good as GOP leaders try to wrangle votes for their latest and last ditch effort to repeal Obamacare. Phil Mattingly reports they are happy each day they do not hear a statement opposing the bill from Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and John McCain.

BERMAN: This morning, the president issued a warning for Republicans thinking of voting against the bill. He says think of your political future. Republican Congressman Tom Reid joins us now from Rochester, New York. He is the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.