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Death Toll Rises in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria; All Electricity Down in Puerto Rico; Hurricane Maria Destroys Island of Dominica; Death Toll 286 After Mexico Earthquake; North Korea Warns of Hydrogen Bomb Test Over Pacific. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First priority is going to be the saving of lives.

[07:00:18] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had flood levels that were 20 feet above anything that people had ever seen before.

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: We are seeing a totally different San Juan. There's still (ph) people to be saved (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a house of cards that has basically collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thousands and thousands of people coming out and making an enormous human effort to save lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are believed to be signs of life beneath the rubble.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The rhetoric is escalating once again between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The North Korean foreign minister suggesting there could be a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

The death toll is rising in Puerto Rico. The governor there tells CNN that at least 13 people now are dead after Hurricane Maria. There have been, though, 700 people rescued. FEMA is beginning military aid flights to get water, food, and generators to the millions of people there in need because the entire island is without power.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And then we have the potential nuclear showdown brewing between the United States and North Korea. The leaders of both engaging in what seems like a schoolyard insult contest. Trump called Kim Jong-un "Rocket Man." Kim called him a senile old man. Trump just tweeted moments ago that Kim is a madman.

North Korea now threatening to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

We have a lot to cover. Let's begin with CNN's Leyla Santiago, live in Puerto Rico, San Juan, the capital there. Hurricane Maria's aftermath still being measured -- Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Chris, people are waking up in the neighborhood where I am. And I'll share sort of an interaction I just witnessed, where one neighbor called out to the next, saying, "s there water?" And the woman with the biggest smile on her face said, "Yes, we finally have water."

But you know, that is one small victory in really quite a bit of a harsh reality. You just mentioned the 13 people who died. And the governor is saying that is very preliminary, because they have not been able to reach parts of the island. In the meantime, the rain is expected to continue here today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Sections of the northern coast under water two days after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. The striking aerial images show the devastation as flash floods inundate the island. Residents seen trudging through waist-high floods, cars driving through a sea of water as many come home to find their houses destroyed.

Search-and-rescue teams working around the clock to rescue survivors as heavy rain continues to fall. Maria dumping as much as 40 inches of rain in some parts of the island.

CRUZ: People that are at home are elderly. And if we don't get to them in time, it is those that I cannot get to that really worry me the most.

SANTIAGO: The search and rescue effort complicated by a paralyzed communications system and impassable roads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first priority is going to be saving of lives.

SANTIAGO: The U.S. Coast Guard capturing this dramatic rescue of a mother and her two sons after their research vessel capsized at sea during Maria's fury. The catastrophic flooding claiming at least 13 lives, according to the governor.

In the town of Gravaja (ph), we watched as rescuers were going from home to home finding anyone needing new shelter. But everyone here seems vulnerable.

Siba Colon (ph) was fighting back tears after firefighters and the National Guard reached her 84-year-old neighbor.

(on camera): She says because she's like a grandmother. And she's not going to leave her. (voice-over): Sixteen-year-old Maria Therese (ph) Santos had to cross floods to get to the rescue team. Her family of six filled bags with food, toiletries and pillows, grabbed their small dogs and left to find help when the water got too high.

MARIA THERESE (PH) SANTOS, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I'm scared what's going to happen now to us. Where are we going now?

SANTIAGO (on camera): It's difficult but at least they're alive. She believes if they're alive, it means it can be a new start.

(voice-over): Once at the evacuation shelter, some safety. A new future ahead, already filled with uncertainty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[07:05:02] SANTIAGO: And as I've been talking to people on the streets, you really see as they are going through the different stages of coping. You know, people who first came out of their homes to see damage and destruction like this on the roads.

And now people who are getting very frustrated, getting very angry. And part of that, much of that, Chris, is not being able to reach family, not being able to talk to loved ones. I can't tell you how many people I've seen asking me, "Have you heard from Salinas? Have you heard from Abuedias (Ph)?" Have you heard from other parts of the island, because it is hard to establish communication with loved ones -- Chris.

CUOMO: Look, I mean, you are seeing it in real time. The not knowing can be the hardest part for the people there. And think about all their loved ones back here. There are so many interconnections, especially in New York, with people Puerto Rico, and they can't reach their family either.

Leyla, you're doing a great job. Keep being the eyes and ears on the ground. Stay strong. You and the team stay safe. Thank you.

All right. So nearly 3.5 million Americans are without power there. Why? Because of the hurricane and because the grid was so flimsy to begin with.

Joining us now is the CEO of Puerto Rico's electric power authority, Ricardo Ramos.

And Mr. Ramos, this is not about insulting the grid in Puerto Rico. It's just about describing the realities of need and the time that it will take to get back up, sir.

RICARDO RAMOS, CEO, PUERTO RICO'S ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY: Well, Chris, good morning. The -- the grid certainly so far, devastation. We've only been able -- we have only been able to fly our helicopters on the metro area due to weather conditions. You can see, it's raining pretty hard right now. And devastation in the San Juan area indicates that the mountains and where they said the eyewall passed our transmission grid is going to be destroyed. CUOMO: So in terms of getting it back, do you think that the FEMA

officials, that the government officials understand what is needed yet is the commitment there?

RAMOS: Yes. The commitment is there. We've been preparing with the local and U.S. FEMA personnel for the last couple of weeks. We have a pretty good idea of the help we need. We have already requested an amount of additional personnel, drugs, materials. And, you know, we're ready to begin the work.

But the assessment is very important in order to have the logistics made. We already have a plan to bring power to the medical center at Rio Pedras (ph). That's our biggest, largest medical center, and that's where the federal health aid is going to be operating from.

In terms of time, Chris, until we do the assessment will be very hard to tell. But I can give you some references. For example, Hurricane Hugo took about six months to have everybody, all of the people connected.

But as you can see, we are expecting to have the medical center with power in three days. So it's a long stepping process in order to get there. We do need the help. You know, the governor for Puerto Rico is behind all of us.

At this moment actually most of the work we are doing is rescue, search-and-rescue, because there's still no access to the power plants, no access to other place. So we ordered our people, our personnel to try try to help in any way they could as soon as they could make it to their work.

In the next couple of days, the roads will be clear. They will get their instructions. We will start rebuilding the power system.

CUOMO: So you have power workers helping out with search-and-rescue until the power plants could even be a place where they could go and start their job. Everybody is chipping in. We understand that.

What do you say to the people there? Because time breeds desperation. No power means no cell phone. No sewage treatment. You know, all of the things that people depend on in life. And the more time goes, the more scared they get. What do you say?

RAMOS: Well, I will tell them that -- to rest assured at least that we PREPA is going to do the best we can. We are -- we're going to be working very hard. And by priorities. Hospitals, water treatment plants, pumping stations, drainage pumping stations. So we know exactly what we need to do. Water is a more precious utility, let's say, than electricity. So we know that. We're giving all of the support to the water and sewers company.

They need to be patient. We've been through this before. People that have -- depend on medical devices should go to shelters or to family homes that have emergency generators. And, you know, we'll work with -- PREPA people are passionate about returning the service. And, you know, we'll do our best. And with the help that we're receiving from the federal government, we

probably will be able to make it much faster than what happened in Hugo. So that's our expectation. You now, we're working as hard as we can. Once we do the assessment, we'll let you know how much time we expect the repairs to take.

CUOMO: All right. Mr. Ramos, thank you very much.

To remind our audience, PREPA is the Puerto Rico energy and power association. That's who he's referring to. And we know that many of your workers are dealing with their own loss, their own families who are in need. So we respect their commitment.

Be well. Let us know how we can help -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. It's not just Puerto Rico. The island of Dominica has been destroyed. It is mostly inaccessible after Hurricane Maria. CNN is one of the only reporting teams on that island right now.

And CNN's Michael Holmes is live in Dominica with the widespread destruction -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, you know, I'm on top of, actually, the prime minister's office, the main government building here in Roseau, which is the capital of Dominica. I look down to my right. I look over to my left. All I see is destruction. A lot of the main buildings survived this storm. What is concerning is the rest of the island.

We got here yesterday and had a look around. And it was quite stunning what we found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES (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 back here called Fondoli (ph). It's a middle-class suburb. And it has been -- just every house there has been hit. There's a little cafe here, Jacom First (ph) they call it. Popular. Just gone. And I don't know if we can see up back there. There was a little community up there. Those houses, they're just pieces of wood now.

(voice-over): In the capital, Roseau, 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 OF DOMINICA: You know, there's a lot of human suffering and people not knowing what tomorrow will bring. The difficult circumstances as the days go by. But it has been heart-wrenching. Very, very heart-wrenching.

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

Aid was expected to start flowing in here Thursday. Precious little arrived. They need water, food, medical supplies, shelter. Pretty much everything.

(on camera): One of the ironies here for Dominica, the people are so caring and loving. They had aid, food and medical supplies, containers full that they had prepositioned in case of a disaster. After Irma came through, they shipped that out to other islands like St. Martin, like Totala (ph) that 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: And the prime minister told us, Chris and Alisyn, that he's heading off today, in fact in the next hour or two, to New York to the U.N. G.A. to try to make an appeal for international help here. They do need everything.

Aid is going to start to come in, in the next few days. We've seen aid workers here, as well, trying to assess the damage. The problem is getting around, distribution and getting particularly to some of those villages that we flew over there that just look in terrible shape -- Chris.

CUOMO: Michael Holmes, thank you very much. Stay safe there, as well. Hurricane Maria still a powerful Category 3 storm bearing down on Turks and Caicos. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast. What do you see?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I see it in the Atlantic for most of the rest of its life. Let's just hope for that.

Now St. Croix picked up a couple showers overnight. So did Puerto Rico. Not devastating in any way, but you know, those -- both of those islands are in such bad shape, along with Vieques, as well. But the storm is moving away. I think we get much better weather for the cleanup there.

There is the storm over the next 24 to 36 hours. After that, it moves to north and to the northeast, at least slightly. Right there, there's a minor wiggle to the left. Why? Because the European model takes it left at least briefly. So the Hurricane Center put that forecast right through the middle.

Now after that, out to sea. Maybe to Atlantic Canada with the Euro, but that's days and days and days away -- Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK, Chad. Thank you very much for tracking it for us.

Now, to Mexico. Rescue crews are still digging through the rubble. They're trying to find more earthquake survivors, but the death toll continues to rise.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Mexico City with the search that continues to go on. Rosa, what's the latest?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, overnight a serious complication to an already dangerous and very delicate search-and- rescue operation. Rain pummeled over Mexico City and the metro area. And that added weight to already collapsed buildings, to very fragile buildings, and it triggered the stop of the rescue operations in the building that you see behind me.

But this is not the only building in Mexico City where, presumably, people are trapped.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FLORES (voice-over): Search-and-rescue teams frantically combing through collapsed buildings, desperate for signs of life amid the mangled rebar and blocks of concrete. Mexico's president telling the public that authorities believe there are still people buried alive. Emergency officials using high-tech cameras and rescue dogs, hoping it isn't too late.

These workers build a makeshift ladder to reach the top of the rubble before calling for silence to listen for any survivors. These scenes playing out across Mexico City and surrounding towns as thousands work together removing buckets of debris and pieces of wood, one piece at a time. A painstaking task done carefully to avoid a further collapse.

Amid the chaos, moments of joy as people are pulled from the rubble. Workers celebrate as this survivor is brought to safety. Other efforts coming up empty, like the urgent seven for a young girl authorities believed was trapped under this collapsed elementary school. The world eagerly awaited news of her fate before officials announced that all of the students and teachers had been accounted for, either at home, in hospitals or dead.

Nevertheless, rescuers remained hopeful and determined as the global community rallies around Mexico. Volunteers from around the world coming from as far away as Japan and Taiwan, working together with hundreds of ordinary people who have flocked to the area to do whatever they can to help save lives.

SOFIA BROID, MEXICO CITY RESIDENT: I'm a mom and a graphic designer. I'm not prepared to -- to do any of this. But there's always something you can do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLORES: And as we take another live look here at this building that collapsed on Tuesday, rescuers tell families that there are people trapped in what they are calling capsules that were created when this building collapsed. Now, they say that they can't get them food or water, because the building is too unstable.

And Chris, these rescue workers say that -- they're asking family members to be patient. When I talked to these families, they say agony feels no patience. It only feels pain -- Chris.

CUOMO: And that's the truth, Rosa. And waiting is the hardest part. That's understood. But there's just no good outcome right now until they're able to get in there and continue the digging.

Thank you for being there. We'll check back with you.

Tensions are also escalating once again on a very different scale. Politics of the geopolitical variety. The president of the United States and the leader of North Korea are going at it an insult contest. But North Korea just upped the ante. They said, "We're going to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific." What would that mean? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:23:00] CUOMO: President Trump and North Korea's leader are trading one insult after another. The reclusive regime is now upping the ante and testing a hydrogen bomb is what they're saying they're going to do over the Pacific Ocean.

CNN's Joe Johns is live near Bedminster, New Jersey, the White House Annex, where President Trump is busy tweeting this morning -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: The latest salvo in this escalating war of words coming from the president just a little while ago on Twitter. It reads, "Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who's obviously a mad man who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before."

This follows a highly provocative and personal statement from Kim Jong-un, following the latest sanctions announced against North Korea by the president after a trilateral meeting just yesterday with South Korea and Japan.

Now, that statement reads, "He's unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country. 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 United States 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."

When asked what the North Korean leader meant by that, the North Korean foreign minister said it might mean the test of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific. Though he said that decision, of course, would be left up to Kim.

Today the president is expected to have a quiet day here in New Jersey before flying off to Alabama to participate in a rally for the election of Senator Luther Strange, who's in a tight race against the very popular former judge, Roy Moore.

Chris and Alisyn, back to you.

[07:25:03] CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much for all that reporting.

Let's discuss it with CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. Great to have both of you.

David, before I get to the sort of overheated, colorful rhetoric coming from Pyongyang, can we just talk for a second about what was a development yesterday? And that was what's happening in Beijing. That it appears that China's central bank has sent some sort of instructions to its ancillary banks to stop doing business or transactions with Pyongyang.

How big of a development is that? And do you think that's a byproduct of something that President Trump has done?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I do think, Alisyn, it is a byproduct of this. You saw these Treasury Department regulations, or at least the executive order authorizing them, that came out yesterday. And I think the Chinese had a pretty good sense from the U.S. of where that was coming and decided to get out ahead of it, not let their financial system be at risk.

Because the essence of that order is, if you do business with North Korea, you're not going to do business with the United States or do business in dollars, basically, to be able to clear transactions in the U.S. So the Chinese have taken that part of it seriously.

But I wouldn't overestimate whether or not that -- that particular kind of sanction is going to change Kim Jong-un's behavior. Cutting off oil to North Korea might. Stopping shipping in North Korea might. The banking system will certainly hurt him if he can't get access to it. But North Korea is pretty good at abating sanctions and have learned how to go operate in cash pretty well.

CUOMO: And China is pretty good at saying one thing and doing another, as well, when North Korea is involved.

So what do you make of this war of words, David, here? We had Tillerson on TV this morning, saying, "Diplomacy is still our primary mechanism for change in North Korea." And then you have the president tweeting this morning, "Kim Jong-un is a madman, and he's going to be tested like never before."

What kind of diplomacy is this?

SANGER: Well, it's certainly not terribly diplomatic wording. And what worries me about this, Chris, is that until now, while Kim Jong- un has said a lot of wild things, he has not directly addressed the president of the United States and certainly hasn't directly insulted him.

But I think after seeing the speech and its suggestion that North Korea could be destroyed, although the president did put some conditions on that statement, he's now gotten into this directly with President Trump. And that has a danger of escalation, because it's not in the North Korean character to back down. It's certainly not in Donald Trump's character to back down.

And so this threat now that we heard from the North Korean foreign minister that there might be an atmospheric nuclear test, I think you have to take quite seriously. First of all, North Korean diplomats don't freelance, Chris. It's probably not a terribly healthy thing for them to go do.

And secondly, we haven't seen an atmospheric test in early 40 years. The Chinese were the last ones to go do one. They've been banned by the United States and in the former Soviet Union as far back as 1963, because they are such an environmental risk and risk to human health. And I think the U.S. would face some very, very hard questions if it had to decide whether or not to try to preempt such a test.

CAMEROTA: So, Chris, what's the response to all of this in Washington?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, I mean, I think you wondered last night when we heard the Kim Jong-un statement, "OK, this was a moment. Let's see what President Trump did." His actions, when you call Kim Jong-un Rocket Man, when you use phrases, although as David rightly points out, couched. But you still used the phrase "totally destroy." You would think you're going to get a response. That was the response.

What did Donald Trump do? You know, it's -- getting in a slap fight of words with a rogue nation's dictator does not seem to necessarily be the right thing to do, although it seems like Trump is willfully doing so. I don't know whether that's because he can't resist or because it's part of a broader strategy.

And I think, Alisyn, to answer your question, Washington doesn't really know. We know that Donald Trump likes to talk. We know that he likes to talk tough. The general consensus is his speech at the U.N. using the words he used, provocative words, non-diplomatic words, to borrow David's phrase was purposeful.

But the big question, I think, now is OK, how much hotter can the rhetoric get? And then is there a strategy of where we go from here?

Because remember, we have Steve Bannon and others, former White House chief strategist, saying there really aren't any good military options...

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CILLIZZA: ... in North Korea. So how much nastier can they be to one another rhetorically? And then is there a "then what?" Or does it just continue like this while the Rex Tillersons of the world seek diplomatic solutions and the sanctions, they hope, do the work?

CUOMO: All good questions and all answered...