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Rescuers Race to Find Survivors in Mexico Quake; Puerto Rico Faces Long, Hard Road to Recovery; Hurricane Warning In Effect For Turks & Caicos; Trump Hits Pyongyang With New Sanctions; Bangladesh Pm Addresses Rohingya Crisis at UN; Extensive Damage from Hurricane Maria in Dominica; Cartoonist Captures Merkel's Political Career; Health Care Feud Between Kimmel & Cassidy Escalates. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 02:00   ET


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: - massive earthquake.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: I'm Isha Sesay in Los Angeles. Millions are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Heavy flooding flattened homes and widespread power failures. Our correspondents are standing by with the very latest.

VAUSE: Mexico's president believes there could be people trapped in at least ten buildings around the capital after Tuesday's deadly earthquake. Enrique Pena Nieto says rescue efforts are continuing despite the dwindling chances of finding anyone alive.

The death toll has now been revised up to 286. As far as we know, no one has been pulled alive from the rubble on Thursday.

Meantime, the desperate search has ended at one elementary school. Crews were trying to reach a young girl they thought was trapped under the debris. Now, officials say, all the students have been accounted for, either dead or alive.

And the president visited Puebla state on Thursday where the 7.1 quake was centered. He has urged people to stay indoors during these rescue efforts, but volunteers have turned out in force to try and help.

Resources and support are pouring into Central Mexico from all around the world as the region struggles to recover from this devastating quake. But nothing means more to the people here than help from their neighbors.

CNN's Simon Ostrovsky reports.


SIMON OSTROVSKY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Out of the tragedy of the earthquake in Mexico City, at least one good thing has emerged from the rubble - a sense of unity, of purpose as thousands of ordinary citizens join emergency services across Central Mexico to assist in rescue operations. This collapsed apartment building in the upscale Condesa neighborhood of the capital is typical of the sites around the city. Ordinary people helping however they can as rescuers race against a ticking clock.

Sofia Broid is pitching in by helping distribute equipment, all of which was donated. She told us her whole family was taking part in the rescue effort.

SOFIA BROID, RESCUE VOLUNTEER: I am a mom and a graphic designer. I'm not prepared to do any of this, but there's always something you can do and this is just sorting out material, giving it out.

My brother is here somewhere. My father is an architect, so he's checking buildings around to see if they are in danger of falling. My mom is watching my kids.

OSTROVSKY (on-camera): Everybody's participating?

BROID: Everyone is participating. Everyone I know is doing something.

OSTROVSKY (voice-over): We saw scenes like this all around Mexico City where several dozen buildings are in ruins and the death toll is already over 270 people.

But a newfound sense of solidarity has turned each affected neighborhood into a hive of human activity.

(on-camera): These lines of men and women passing buckets of debris along are made up of both government workers as well as volunteers who have come here to donate their time, so that they can do whatever they can to clear this collapsed site as quickly as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People have lost everything. (INAUDIBLE).

OSTROVSKY: What made you come out here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) everyone is helping out.

OSTROVSKY: What kind of people have come here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All walks of life. (INAUDIBLE) around the area, people who work at offices (INAUDIBLE) army, navy. Everyone is pitching in.

(voice-over): The most surprising thing about the rescue efforts is that, for the most part, they've been self-organized. No one knows exactly how many people are involved, but you can see thousands around the city, manning barricades, carrying debris or simply handing out food.

The sense of urgency is real. Anyone still trapped under the rubble is fighting to survive. The more hours go by, the fewer people will make it out.

BROID: They're trying to find people. I hope that they will still find someone alive in there. Yes, I think chances are fairly slim.

Simon Ostrovsky, Mexico City.


VAUSE: Twenty-four hours ago, the story here, it was focused on this elementary school, part of which had collapsed.

And this little girl, her name was Frida. She was either 9 or 12 years old. And there was this massive rescue effort underway to try and reach this little girl. And she had become the symbol of Mexico's resilience in the face of this disaster if you were following on social media. It was playing itself out on national television as well.

[02:05:00] But then, today, came the very bad news that there was no little girl there. There was no Frida. There was no Frida registered at the school. There were no parents there who were missing a daughter called Frida.

And the authorities have now said that all the students at that one elementary school have been accounted for.

So, how did the story go so wrong? Journalist Ioan Grillo joins me now. And, Ioan, we were talking about this this time yesterday and it is so disappointing for so many people to find out that this little girl just never existed. So, where did the confusion come from?

IOAN GRILLO, JOURNALIST: When you have an earthquake of this magnitude, the city in complete chaos, and then around the sites like this school, there were various different groups, including the Marines, civil protection, the fire brigade, and then hundreds of civilian volunteers, then you have family members and neighbors, children themselves talking to - a lot of different information being passed around and a very difficult, disorientating task for rescue workers of trying to communicate with people through rubble, trying to pass tubes to talk to people.

So, I think a lot of information was kind of put together and things. There were various children trapped under this. Some saved, some passed away. There could possibly still be a woman trapped under, we don't know because it hasn't been completely cleared.

So, I think it was more misinformation about a lot of the elements and people putting together kind of craves into this one girl when there really are many tragic stories like that, which were playing out in school.

VAUSE: So many wanted this story to be true. They wanted it so much. But now that it just hasn't turned out to be the case, what's been the impact?

You always felt the air being sucked out of all of the people around the search site today and it has had sort of a real negative impact, if you like. It's sort of battered the people here in an already bad situation.

GRILLO: Yes, sure. People are very weary. Some of the rescue workers - many people have slept handful of hours over the last two or three days. Some of the information was coming from rescue volunteers saying, this is - we've got this information and it passed around and then that being passed to the media and so forth. So, they have a lot of hopes up and coming down.

But, I mean, overall, the story has been - the story of this Mexico City earthquake is the story - I mean, the story that's going to last in the long term is the story of thousands and thousands of people coming out and making enormous human effort to save lives.

There is another building just around the corner from where I am now, an apartment block with five floors that went down, that has been completely cleared now - completely cleared in less than 48 hours, an amazing feat.

How many tons of rubble were cleared away there. And on that building, seven people were saved. Now, if it had not been for this human effort and this effort of all authorities working with civilians, no, there probably would not have been those seven people alive today.

So, I don't think we've really got to look at that as the big story. And a lot of these confusing things happening around, misinformation - another rumor going around, which I think is not true, people saying soldiers are going in with heavy machinery, hitting places where people are still alive. And probably again not true, where there's concrete blocks are left, they go in with heavy machinery. But these things are going around and people are tired and things move around on social media as well.

VAUSE: Ioan Grillo, thank you for that. And we are tracking another major story here. The path of Hurricane Maria. Right now, the National Hurricane Center says the eye of this Category 3 storm is over the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Turks and Caicos islands.

In Puerto Rico, there is a catastrophic flooding warning. In some parts of the island, the storm has dumped nearly 100 centimeters of rain in the past 24 hours and the rain will not stop until at least Saturday.

Puerto Rico's governor says the power grid is out and could remain that way for six months until electricity is restored to everybody.

CNN has correspondents across the region covering Hurricane Maria. Meanwhile, there is meteorologist Derek Van Dam in San Juan, Puerto Rico. And, Derek, the scale of the destruction to Puerto Rico, it's epic and it seems to be way beyond what anyone had expected.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And what makes it particularly dangerous right now is the fact that it's the overnight hours, it's late, it's dark, there is no electricity and there is still flash flooding occurring right now. [02:10:04] Obviously, we don't have the hurricane-force winds that they're experiencing across the Turks and Caicos and parts of the Dominican Republic, but Puerto Rico is still getting some heavier rain bands from the real southern edges or fringes of Hurricane Maria.

Just to set the scene, we are in San Juan. We're in a very affluent, almost touristy part of the beach front of San Juan. But about 15 kilometers to our west, it's a whole different type of neighborhood and community, and that area that was hit particularly hard.

In San Juan where we're located now, we saw trees toppled over. We've seen glass shattered across the roadways. We've seen windows blown out of skyrise buildings, but there hasn't been extreme flooding right where we're located.

But, again, just to our west, that's a whole different story. They felt the full wrath of Hurricane Maria when it came onshore Wednesday morning. They got the strong hurricane-force winds, 150 miles per hour. They also had the flooding. There has been search and rescue operations ongoing for several hours.

Now, the coastguard are rescuing people across the Catan (ph) region. And just to our south where the direct hit actually took place in the southeastern portions of Puerto Rico, communications virtually non- existent. So, we are cut off from the southeastern portions of Puerto Rico as we know it. Very difficult to drive across this area.

Latest rainfall totals, almost 40 inches. That's nearly a thousand millimeters in 48 hours. Just to put it into comparison, three weeks ago, we were in Southeast Texas for Hurricane Harvey. Those are very similar or comparable numbers to what parts of Houston experienced and we also noticed - obviously, witnessed the catastrophic flooding that took place there.

So, it is a major emergency here in Puerto Rico. But as the storm continues to move across the Atlantic, again, all focus right now will still continue to be in the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas because their worst conditions are still yet to come. They will really peak right about on Friday morning. John?

VAUSE: And, Derek, you say there's a major emergency still underway there in Puerto Rico. Not only is the power out and will be for a very long time, Communications are also out. No one can call anybody.

So, you have a situation where families don't know the condition of other family members. And all of this is happening, as you say, right now. It's ten past two in the morning. Well, this flood water continues to rise.

VAN DAM: John, we are one of the select few hotels that happen to have generator power. And it's no secret that the hotel that we're staying at has power and some form of communication to the outside world.

Now, they're preventing people who are not staying at this hotel from actually entering the premises. They are keeping wrist bands on all people who are actually staying here.

But what we found is that some of the residents across the area are coming to the hotel, trying to use the Wi-Fi that's connected in this area just so they can reach family and friends, who they've not been able to talk to for the past two days since the storm hit. So, communication, obviously, a dire problem for these people. People just want to find out if their family members are OK.

VAUSE: OK. I think we're having a few communication problems there with Derek. But - OK. Derek, if you can hear me, thank you. And if you are there, you can also hear me, we'll move on now to the Turks and Caicos.

Officials there have been warning people to stay inside until further notice. Earlier, I spoke to Virginia Clerveaux - she is the director of Disaster Management - about the conditions right now and if they are, in fact, prepared for Hurricane Maria.


VIRGINIA CLERVEAUX, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND EMERGENCIES: Residents from the Turks and Caicos Island, including visitors, should definitely be seeking shelter indoor, whether it's a government shelter or shelter with family and friends.

We would not advice persons to be driving on the road because, at this time, we are experiencing tropical force winds and that could also be dangerous and or deadly.

VAUSE: Irma caused so much destruction. That was just two weeks ago. Have you enough time to prepare? Are shelters structurally sound? Do you have enough of those shelters than can actually withstand the force of Maria to house all the people who may need protection over the next couple of hours?

CLERVEAUX: Yes. We - definitely following Irma, we did some structural assessment to buildings that we were intending to use as shelters. So, we are pretty confident that our shelters will withstand this storm here. And we have shelters throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands, all the islands on the Turks and Caicos Island have shelters that persons can seek shelter there.

[02:15:03] VAUSE: There is this concern about a massive storm surge which, obviously, for many of those low-lying islands within the Turks and Caicos, that is a very big concern, a very big threat.

CLERVEAUX: It is. We encourage persons living in low-lying areas, persons living along the coast to definitely seek shelter inland and to seek shelter on high ground.

And we are monitoring the situations and we had a lot of public education where we discourage persons from going near the beach to take pictures of the storm surge or just to play in the water.

So, we're hoping that persons heed the warning and they are currently indoor sheltering in place. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: So, Isha, once again, and anxious - to say the least, an anxious night for so many people as Maria moves past on this very slow destructive track that this storm has taken, what, for the last week or so now. It is incredible to think how many people this one storm has affected.

SESAY: It's hard to actually fathom just how the storm has upended lives, livelihoods and entire economies, in some cases. It is very frightening indeed. We'll continue to follow that.

A quick break here. Just ahead, harsh words between Pyongyang and Washington are suddenly growing louder and more threatening and neither side shows any willingness to back down. We'll have live reports from across Asia.

Plus, at the UN, Myanmar faces condemnation for the Rohingya crisis. Now, Bangladesh says it's threatening civilians. Ahead.


SESAY: North Korea may respond to the latest threat from Donald Trump by setting up a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea's foreign minister laid out that disturbing scenario after the American president vowed to totally destroy North Korea if the US were forced to defend itself or its allies from Pyongyang's aggression.

And now, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is facing new US sanctions aimed at denying him access to hard currency. We're going to take you live to South Korea and China for all the reaction, but first a closer look at the sanctions.

CNN's Brian Todd has our report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The regime that compared Donald Trump's threats to a barking dog may soon feel his bite.

In an effort to put the squeeze on Kim Jong-un, the president unleashed new tools for the US to block North Korea's finances, hoping to get the aggressive young leader to stop building his nuclear and missile programs.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime.

TODD: The president is going after those others by giving the Treasury Department more authority to sanction banks, companies, and individuals doing business with North Korea.

ANDREA BERGER, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Potentially, we could see some heavy-hitting sanctions on foreign companies coming in the very near future.

TODD: But completely cutting off Kim's cash stream for his weapons will be very difficult. Analysts say the dictator and his cronies are creative and deceptive in getting around sanctions.

[02:20:09] MARCUS NOLAND, SENIOR FELLOW AND EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, PETERSON INSTITUTE: One of the ways they skirt sanctions is by setting up front companies.

TODD: Just one example of those alleged front companies, CNN has learned, is called Glocom. UN investigators says the company which sells military gear like this seized communications equipment is listed as being based in Malaysia, but the UN says it's really linked to North Korea's spy agency.

Analysts say a company like Glocom is hard to catch because it acts like a chameleon.

BERGER: If it's operating in Vietnam, it will try to look Vietnamese. If it's operating in Malaysia, it will try to look Malaysian.

TODD: Another alleged deception from Pyongyang and its partner's, shady shipping. The Treasury Department last week said it believes some ships like this one it tracked from China turn off their transponders when they pass North Korea to hide the fact that they divert there to pick up coal purchased from Kim's regime.

North Korea also sells weapons overseas illegally, like this intercepted shipment including 30,000 North Korean rocket-propelled grenades hidden under a load of iron ore. And experts say Kim's regime partners with criminal networks in China and even in the US to smuggle counterfeit goods.

BERGER: It's been known to counterfeit pharmaceuticals and cigarettes and even engage in the trade of illegal wildlife products.

TODD: Analysts say the money Kim makes each year from illicit businesses that skirt sanctions is staggering.

NOLAND: If you can buy arms, counterfeiting, drug trafficking and so on, you're in a figure that's over a billion dollars. And in a country that only exports about $3 billion a year, that's a very substantial source of revenue.

TODD: Analysts say the bottom line is that none of these sanctions will likely get Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear and missile programs. They say what the sanctions may do if they squeeze him tightly enough economically is get Kim to the negotiating table with his rivals, but only they say if the loopholes in the sanctions are closed up and the sanctions are really enforced against North Korea.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


SESAY: Well, let's get the latest now from our correspondents. Paula Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea and Matt Rivers is in Beijing. Paula, to you first, what's been the reaction in the region to this threat of a possible hydrogen bomb test?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN SEOUL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, they are certainly concerned this would escalate the situation quite significantly.

This message from the North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho certainly wasn't an off-the-cuff remark. This would have been choreographed. This would have been preapproved from Pyongyang. The message is always very much choreographed from North Korea.

And, of course, it follows what we saw from Kim Jong and himself. This was through state-run media. We see a photo of Kim Jong-un speaking to the camera, reading out a statement potentially, so we could see some video later on.

And that statement is in the first person narrative, which is quite unusual. In fact, I can't remember that ever happening before, almost as though the North Korean leader is speaking directly to the US President Donald Trump, following Mr. Trump's statement to the General Assembly, his address saying that he would totally destroy North Korea if North Korea threatened him, his country or his allies.

Now, we do have one statement from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un where he says, after taking office, Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country and he surely is a rogue and a gangster, fond of playing with fire rather than a politician.

So, some quite remarkable words there from Kim Jong-un to the president of the United States, certainly words that some would have directed more towards Kim Jong-un than they would to a US president.

So, it just shows how different this is and how different this feels, the fact that Kim Jong-un is now almost talking directly, leader to leader, with Mr. Trump. Isha?

SESAY: Yes. It does feel like a remarkable moment. I absolutely agree. Thank you, Paula.

Matt Rivers, to you in Beijing, would a North Korean hydrogen bomb test change China's calculus when it comes to how it deals with North Korea?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question that everyone asks after another North Korea provocation. At what point does China start changing its calculation.

Because as of this point, while it's willing to sign on to certain sanctions that come out of the UN Security Council, in fact, the last four rounds of sanctions, the Chinese have been absolutely crucial to those votes getting passed because they do hold a veto power on that council. But at this point, they're not willing to impose sanctions that they believe would only make things worse. In their mind, they would add to the tension and the chaos on the peninsula by imposing sanctions that could cause the Kim Jong-un regime to collapse.

[02:25:08] So, at this point, they're making the calculation that no matter what North Korea does or no matter what they have done up to this point, they're not willing to do those kind of sanctions.

Like, for instance, a complete ban on all oil exports from China to North Korea. They're not willing to take that step. And so, everyone is asking the question, well, what could North Korea do that could potentially change China's mind?

Obviously, testing a nuclear device in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean would mark a dramatic escalation into what is already a very tense situation, but really the Chinese have given no public indication as to exactly what their red line is.

Does a red line even exist beyond something that could hurt Chinese citizens? We are just not sure to the answer to that question, but it is the question that the entire international community is asking, including the Trump administration.

SESAY: Well, if North Korea does what they say they could do, we'll get an answer soon enough. Paula Hancocks joining us there from Seoul, South Korea and Matt Rivers there in Beijing. Thank you to you both.

Turning now to Myanmar where recent violence has forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. That's made an already dire humanitarian situation even worse. Bangladesh's prime minister had this to say at the UN General Assembly on Thursday.


SHEIKH HASINA, PRIME MINISTER, BANGLADESH (through translator): We are horrified to see that the Myanmar authorities are laying landmines along their stretch of the border to prevent the Rohingyas from returning to Myanmar.

These people must be able to return to their homeland in safety, security and dignity. I further call upon the United Nations and the international community to take immediate and effective measures for a permanent solution to this protracted Rohingya crisis.


SESAY: Well, Bangladesh says it's sheltering almost a million of Rohingya forced out of Myanmar. They are fleeing a military crackdown. Authorities say it's meant to target insurgents. The UN Human Rights chief disagrees and calls it a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

We'll take a quick break here. And "State of America" with Kate Bolduan is next for our viewers in Asia. For everyone else, a look at how ordinary people are responding to the extraordinary circumstances in Mexico as the country works to recover from that deadly earthquake.

Plus, as Hurricane Maria churns through the Caribbean, Puerto Ricans are facing the daunting reality about how long recovery from the storm will take.


[02:30:08] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. I'm John Vause, Live in Mexico City, with our breaking news coverage of the major earthquake and its aftermath. The death toll is now up 286. The major of this city says at least 50 people remain unaccounted for. Rescue efforts are now concentrated on 10 collapsed buildings where there are still signs of life beneath the rubble.

Meantime, the search has tapered off at a school where it was thought a young girl was buried in the debris after Tuesday's earthquake. Authorities now say all the students from that school have been accounted for and are either alive or they're dead.

We've been talking to a lot of volunteers who have been out and not leaving these sites of these collapsed buildings, doing whatever they can to try and help the rescue efforts.

One of those volunteers is Natalia Compa, who -- you've been here pretty much since this happened, right?

NATALIA COMPA, VOLUNTEER: Yes. I work around here so I'm happy to be here to help.

VAUSE: When you say try to help, what have you been doing?

COMPA: At the beginning, giving water and food to the people. Then some my friends helped in moving rocks out until the experts came and did the work for them.

VAUSE: Did they ask you, and you run and get whatever they need?

COMPA: Yes. They were not very organized but now they're organized and give all that we need to stay there. Also, I'm giving food and all that kind of stuff.

VAUSE: It's been a difficult couple of days being down here. Does doing something, made it a little easier?

COMPA: I don't know. Is there? Because everyone wants to really help. And you cannot do anything. It's very frustrating. You don't want to ge4t in the way. But it's frustrating because everybody wants to help and nobody can help how they want to help. So hard to see all these buildings and people trapped in them.

VAUSE: I think people were found alive and taken out of the rubble yesterday. It gets tough.

COMPA: Yes. It's sad because there will come a time when they'll say let's stop looking for people and just take the rocks away because that means there's no hope any more. So that's sad. That's why all the people are here because they want to help.

VAUSE: Maybe save a life.

Natalia, thank you so much.

COMPA: Sure.

VAUSE: Wish you luck ahead.

COMPA: Thank you for being here.

VAUSE: We got to Puerto Rico now and the island is facing a long, hard road to recovery after Hurricane Maria. Most of the island has received incredible amounts of rain, turn many streets into rivers. The National Hurricane Center is warning of catastrophic flooding. More rain is expected for the weekend. The entire power grid is out. It could be months before it's restored.

Let's go to Meteorologist Karen Maginnis at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

Karen, the Turks and Caicos are next in the path of Maria.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEROLOGIST: Yes. It's roughly 70 kilometers to the east of the eastern most Turks and Caicos Islands. So we are on the western edge, looking at this incredible Hurricane Maria at a category 3. What has really impressed me and my producer, also a meteorologist, is that the eye of this hurricane is looking smaller, which suggests that it is intensifying or perhaps there's an eye-wall replacement cycle. But it looks like it could be strengthening. But it is interacting with land. This western edge looks more eroded. But the National Hurricane Center, at 2:00, put the winds at 205 kilometers per hour, and change. It did slow down. That leads me to believe that perhaps we might see a little uptick as far as winds are concerned. So we have a strong category three that is battering the TCI and will affect the Bahamas, even though it's still pretty far away. But we could see phenomenal storm surge, just like we did for Puerto Rico. Very heavy downpours. But this is the wind forecast going into the next 48 hours or so. You see it is well to the north and northeast of the Bahamas. This is just the wind field. The computer models are in fair agreement that this is going to remain to the north of the Bahamas, perhaps lose some of that energy as it encounters cooler water and then transition more towards the north. As a matter of fact, the National Hurricane Center said maybe a while longer on that northwestern trajectory and then start making that turned more towards the north.

But, John, as we well know, the computer models, the last two systems were off. They were less inclined to have it more towards the west, more inclined towards the east. So we go out another 24 hours, and where looking like Turks and Caicos. But beyond the next several days, it's going to be at the whim of category three Maria.

[02:35:51] VAUSE: OK. Again, it's been difficult to think where these hurricanes will eventually head up and where they'll make landfall, I guess. MAGINNIS: Yes. The spaghetti models


MAGINNIS: All right. The spaghetti models, John, still have it away from the eastern coast of the United States.

VAUSE: So we've got a terrible day right now, Karen. Apologies to cutting you off.

Let's go to Puerto Rico now, San Juan in particular.

Nick Valencia is live for us again this hour.

Nick, we keep talking about this huge amount of rain which Maria continues to bring to the Caribbean and also to Puerto Rico. It doesn't seem to stop. I guess how much more damage can all of this rising water cause to an island, which already seems to have so much catastrophic destruction because of Maria?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is not normal, John. But it's certainly starting to feel that way. Just day after day, since the storm, the rain has not stopped. You just think about how impressive that storm system is. Coming through here, it's continuing to rain behind us. The effects of that rain and the flooding have been felt all throughout the island, especially as our news crew learned at the hospitals.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Ashford Presbyterian is doing the best they can with what they have, which right now is more than a lot of places in Puerto Rico.

Margo Silva is the hospital's planning director.

MARGO SILVA, PLANNING DIRECTOR, ASHFORD PRESBYTERIAN COMMUNITY HOSPITAL: Puerto Rico was in a hurricane, a corridor, so we're used to dealing with it, unfortunately, being close to the ocean. These circumstances come up.

VALENCIA: Like most every building in San Juan, the trauma hospital was damaged during Hurricane Maria. But they got lucky walk. As we walk the hallways, we see some structural damage, but not much. Their air-conditioning did crash, so patients like 103-year-old, Diosa Aldarondo, are burning up.


VALENCIA: She's been here for nearly two months and her daughter is distressed.

ALDARONDO: No water. Water came late this afternoon. It was bad and messed up administration from administration.

VALENCIA: We meet Ana Rivera. She got to the hospital days before the hurricane and tells me she's in the best place to ride out the storm.





What was the feeling being here during the hurricane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of the people giving a hand.

VALENCIA: All the team, yes. Everyone working here and all hands on deck?


VALENCIA (voice-over): Impressive, considering with the last two weeks of delivering more than a dozen evacuees from Hurricane Irma, including a pregnant woman who gave birth six weeks early. Some here look they've been through war.

SILVA: People get very nervous and anxious. I'm very nervous and anxious, too, because I had a lot of damage to my apartment. So it's part of what we go through when we have a hurricane. We're used to it but, at the same time, it's still is very stressful.


VALENCIA: Family members of those still hospitalized are clearly worried about their family members' well-being. But the good news in all of this is, at that hospital, no one died during the hurricane. Ashford Presbyterian expects to be back at full capacity by early next week -- John?

[02:39:38] VAUSE: Nick, thank you. Nick Valencia there in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

You're getting more rain there. We're getting rain here as well. Nothing like the rain that's hit Puerto Rico, but it's enough rain here to make the search here for survivors after the earthquake more miserable than it needs to be.

We'll take a short break. Still to come on CNN NWSROOM, Hurricane Maria has caused so much misery to many Caribbean islands, including Dominica. A closer look when we return.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. We continue to follow Hurricane Maria as it makes its way through towards the islands of the Turks and Caicos. The National Hurricane Center says the eye of this category 3 storm is over the Atlantic Ocean, about 75 kilometers southeast of the Turks and Caicos. A hurricane warning has been issued as well as in the southeastern Bahamas, and of course, the Dominican Republican. Not an inch of Dominica was spared in the wrath of Hurricane Maria.

Barely a building left unscathed. The landscape has been stripped greenery and rainforests.

CNN's Michael Holmes has exclusive look at a country brought to its knees, and it's pleading for help.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRSPONDENT (voice-over): From the air, you can see every inch of the island of Dominica has been brutalized by Hurricane Maria. On the ground, it is so much worse.

This was a car dealership. This, a bridge. And these were people's homes.

(on camera): This is an area that is a middle-class suburb. And it has been -- just every house there has been hit. There's an old cafe here. Popular. Just gone.

And I don't know if we can see back, that was a little community up there. Those houses are pieces of wood now.

(voice-over): In the capital, Rojas, just about every building is damaged. But this just scratches the surface. Dominica has been defiled from end to end by Maria's brute force.

The prime minister of this tiny country is just coming to grips with the enormity of what has happened here.

ROOSEVELT SKERRIT, PRIME MINISTER, DOMINICA REPUBLIC: You know, there's a lot of human suffering. Not really knowing what tomorrow will bring. Difficult circumstances. But it has been heart wrenching, very, very heart wrenching

VALENCIA: What worries officials here is what they haven't seen. Hillside villages hard to reach or even communicate with. The fate of those living is unknown, even to family members just on the other side of the island.

The tide was expected to start flowing in here Thursday. Precious little arrived. They need water, food, medical supplies, shelter, pretty much of everything.

(on camera): One of the ironies here for Dominic where the people are so caring and loving, they had aid, food, medical supplies, containers full, that they had pre-positioned in case of a disaster. After Irma came though, they shipped that out to other islands like St. Martin, which were hit by Irma. So they have nothing now.

(voice-over): With so many other islands hit by Irma and then Maria, the people of Dominica, whose needs are great, hope they don't get forgotten.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Dominica.


VAUSE: There is so much devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, especially in Puerto Rico. This island is now under a catastrophic flood warning because of Hurricane Maria. The rain continues. It will continue through the weekend.

Early, CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke to the major of San Juan about the fate of her city and the island.


[02:45:15] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Mayor, you said earlier that Puerto Rico and San Juan, that the Puerto Rico and San Juan you knew yesterday is no longer there. That's an incredible statement. You really feel that the city you know, the city love is no longer there?

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN MAYOR: It's not only do I feel it, but since last night at 6:00, about 200 crew members of the municipal employees went into the streets and, as we're doing today, we are seeing a totally different San Juan. There are of people saying we're going make it, we'll push on. But the landscape is just, the devastation like I have never seen before, which has brought out the solidarity spirit that we have to recognize. I was telling someone today that if we're going to rebuild and reconstruct, which we have to do, we ought to do it with the appropriate priorities and we ought to use this opportunity to change the conversations that were having and the way that we feel and handle one another.

But, Mr. Cooper, what I'm more worried about is that the manpower the womanpower is not enough.

COOPER: You need that help. You need that federal help. You need as much help from the outside as possible?

YULIN CRUZ: We need the help from the outside world. I am very grateful that the first help has come from New York and from Houston, particularly to the city of San Juan. We had 1,264 refugees. By tonight, we only have 425. We're having, Mr. Cooper, what I call the urban refugees, people that are at home, are elderly, don't have their insulin, they've lost their heart medication or blood pressure medication. If we don't get to them in time, it goes, those where I cannot get to, that really worry me the most.


VAUSE: Isha, if you remember, a few weeks ago, the U.S. Congress approved a $15 billion recovery package for Hurricane Harvey. One thing seems certain that Puerto Rico, the cost of rebuilding there will greatly exceed $15 billion.

SESAY: Yes. I think that's safe to say. A desperate situation.

John, thank you. Stand by. We'll come back to you.

We'll take a quick break and come back with more of the day's top stories after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: In Germany, voters head to the polls Sunday for this year's federal elections. Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel appears set for another victory. She's expected to trounce this man, Social Democratic candidate, Martin Schulz. The chancellor may not be the only winner. The Far-Right Alternative for Germany has gotten a boost from the migrant crisis and Merkel's handling of it. It could pick up seats for its staunch anti-emigrant platform.

If Merkel gets another win, it will be her fourth term in office. Her style has earned her a reputation as being humorless, but it's been great for one political cartoonist. He's tracked Merkel's career for years. He says, behind her gruff demeanor, lies a shrewd politician.


[02:50:14] HEIKO SAKURAI, CARTOONIST: My name is Heiko Sakurai. I am 46 years old and I am a political cartoonist.


SAKURAI: Merkel gets stronger every day. She gets to create an idea every day. And to stick to the soap opera of politics every day. And that's the real chancellor.

The best moment is if you just get an idea. You'll hear information to us and then, click, you have an idea.

First, I have to read my paper newspaper. I start with one news I want to comment on, and then I try to picture it in my mind.

Normally, if you see her face, she's a clever person and she can become dangerous, pushing her rivals out of the way. She must be, otherwise, you can't reach the highest position.

You have to draw a person more and more. It gets more simple and more pure to find the formula of the face. "Her eyes are important. In former times, I thought her eyes a bit closed meant she is a bit sleepy, a bit shy, but meanwhile I know it is her rationality.


SAKURAI: It was a big surprise how she acted in the climax of the refugee crisis, that she didn't close the border, and she really stick to this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At least we have something in common perhaps.

SAKURAI: I think there is no bigger difference in character than between Trump and Merkel. He's loud.

TRUMP: Just to finish.

SAKURAI: Sometimes not very rational. And she's is the exact opposite position. She's rational, calm. She's is thinking and thinking all of the time before she says anything. Merkel is really prepared for everything. And Trump.

She's not vain. She's calm. She's a bit distance. She's Mummy. You can rely on her. You can feel in safety with her. I think that's why people like her in a way.


SESAY: Interesting images of her.

Join us this weekend as Hala Gorani hosts a two-hour special, bringing the results of the German election as they come in. It starts at 5:00 Sunday afternoon in London, 6:00 p.m. in Berlin.

In the U.S., GOP lawmakers aren't giving up on their promise to scrap Obamacare. Their latest effort is opposed by some members of their own party. The most stinging criticism is coming from a TV host. Comic Jimmy Kimmel has a son with serious medical issues. For him, health care is no laughing matter.

Our Phil Mattingly has more.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Senate plows towards a vote to repeal Obamacare, President Trump is unequivocal, tweeting, "I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of preexisting conditions. It does.

Senator Bill Cassidy, the bills cosponsor, also is towing the line.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY, (R), LOUISIANA: Under Graham Cassidy, more people will have coverage and we protect those with preexisting conditions.

MATTINGLY: Trump's defensiveness over the issue is understandable. The issue of whether the GOP proposal maintains protections for all has been a central and toxic piece of the repeal debate for months, and one that has been magnified exponentially by, of all people, a late-night talk show host on a two-night attack.


JIMMY KIMMELL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Last night, on our show, I took a senator from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy, I took him to task for promising to my face that he would oppose any health care plan that allowed insurance companies to turn people with pre-existing conditions away. He said anything he supported would have to pass what he named the 'Jimmy Kimmel Test,' which was fine, it was good. But unfortunately, and puzzlingly, he proposed a bill that would allow states to do all the things he said he would not let them do.

MATTINGLY: Jimmy Kimmel is joined by insurers, outside advocacy groups and even Republican Senator Susan Collins in raising those concerns.

With good reason. At core of Obamacare's regulatory structure was a mandate that insurers could not turn away anyone with preexisting conditions. Under the new bill, that protection does remain. But here's where things diverge. The GOP plan allows states to opt out of certain Obamacare regulations, including one that ensures insurers won't raise prices on those with health issues. The rationale? States need flexibility to innovate. And the regulation has led to younger, healthier people paying more. In place of that scrapped regulation? A state would simply have to ensure that they provide, quote, "adequate and affordable coverage." Those terms aren't defined. That ambiguity has led analyst and insurers to conclude that, in some states, the protections would almost certainly be cut back.

So while Cassidy fires back at Kimmel --

[02:55:28] CASSIDY: Yes, so Jimmy doesn't understand. Not because he's a talk show host but because we've never spoken. He has only heard from those on the left who are doing their best to preserve Obamacare.

MATTINGLY: The bill itself does open the door to change at the state level. And doing so puts an end to Obamacare's guarantee.


SESAY: Phil Mattingly, reporting there.

Donald Trump is praising the health system of Nambia. The only problem is Nambia doesn't exist. In a speech to African leaders Wednesday, he misspoke twice.


TRUMP: I'm greatly honored to host this lunch, to be joined by the leaders of Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Nambia. And Guinea and Nigeria, you fought a horrifying Ebola outbreak. Nambia's health system is increasingly self-sufficient.


SESAY: Well, Nambia. The gaff lit up social media with many questioning whether what did he mean, Namibia, Zambia, or Gambia. The White House later clarified he was, in fact, talking about Namibia. Of course, the joke reminding everyone making on another one of the Trump gaffs, and that's Covfefe. Covfefe is Nambia's top export.

We're off to Nambia now. I'm Isha Sesay.

John Vause will be back with more coverage of the earthquake from Mexico City after a short break

Stay with us. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CNN is in and in an and using it is a TV and an international is on the way to is usually large onboard reporting live from Mexico City that sold it from a power

You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles.


[03:00:07] VAUSE: Hello, everybody. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause, reporting live from Mexico City.

The death toll here from a powerful earthquake has risen --