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Aftermath of Hurricane Maria; Death Toll from Mexico Quake Rises; Trump and Kim Trade Insults; ObamaCare under Attack; London Transport Yanks Uber's License. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired September 23, 2017 - 03:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Get out now. That's the warning for thousands of people in northwest Puerto Rico as a nearby dam threatens to fail.

Plus in Mexico video taken beneath the rubble by a trapped survivor of the earthquake, the story behind an amazing rescue.

And later, name-calling and nuclear threats. U.S. president Trump continues his "rocket man" a rhetoric while North Korea threatens to test a hydrogen bomb.

Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton.


NEWTON: Authorities in Puerto Rico are racing against time to try and get tens of thousands of people away from neighborhoods near a dam they fear could collapse at any moment.

Now the dam is in the northwestern part of the island, which has been utterly ravaged by Hurricane Maria's winds, rain and floodwaters. You can see the destruction and the strong footage. CNN has reporters right across the Caribbean. Our Nick Valencia is in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has more on what is happening with that dam.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is an extremely dangerous situation for the island residents as if Puerto Rico has not been through enough already. They now have to deal with the potential of a failed dam in the northwest part of this territory. It is being reported that local engineers found a crack in the Guajataca Dam and they're now using buses to evacuate nearly 70,000 residents in two townships, using those buses to evacuate people that cannot evacuate themselves.

As severe weather also continues to be an issue here days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, it was earlier that this community in San Juan was pounded with heavy rain, lightning and thunder, making problems even more difficult for roads and passageways that are already inundated with water.

If that wasn't enough, it's been catastrophic damage here to the infrastructure; gas stations underwater, people without water, people being unable to communicate with loved ones back home.

And the ominous warning from local officials here is that modern life may cease to exist for months. The San Juan mayor tells CNN that she is telling her residents to expect to be without electricity, perhaps up to six months -- Nick Valencia, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


NEWTON: That was Puerto Rico. Dominica was also ravaged by Hurricane Maria, the island still has no running water and many of the roads are piled with trees. Our Michael Holmes has this exclusive report from the island.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The drive between Dominica's capital, Roseau, and the coastal village of Point Michel usually takes no more than 10 minutes. After Hurricane Maria, getting between the two is to embark on an odyssey of hurricane carnage on foot.

We have been told Point Michel was among the most badly hit areas of Dominica and more people died in this community than any other. More than a dozen confirmed dead, many others missing.

The foot traffic is constant, mostly out of Point Michel. Food is running low and people head to the capital to find what they can. We meet Germaine Fontaine (ph) on the way, leaving home because she no longer has one.

GERMAINE FONTAINE (PH), DOMINICA RESIDENT: Home is where we are OK. Your home is where we are OK. We have life. But the entire home is gone. Everything, every single thing I had in my house is gone.

HOLMES (voice-over): The closer you get to Point Michel, the more apocalyptic the scenes become. It is an assault on the senses. Here, a massive tree shoved into a house and blocking the way.

During the storm, ravines and waterways became furious torrents, obliterating everything in their path.

There is no running water on Dominica. These waterways are now the only way to bathe or wash clothes.

The scale of this is just impossible to get your head around. This was the main road. To Point Michel from the capital and just look at it. Along a main section of the road to Point Michel, the trees begin. Thousands of them stripped even of their bark by Maria. piled high onto the road until they become the road.

You don't walk to Point Michel; you climb and clamber.

These are what is left of the once glorious (ph) rain forests, giants that stood perhaps for centuries thrown like matchsticks across the shoreline. The rain forests now just a memory.

Once at Point Michel, we hear the stories of those who survived, like Miranda John (ph).

MIRANDA JOHN (PH), DOMINICA RESIDENT: When I came back and I saw inside there, I just break down. Everything gone. This here was right inside there.

HOLMES (voice-over): As we venture further into the community, we find Selma Francis (ph), who insisted her mother leave her home next door to be with the family as Maria bore down. This is what remains of her mother's house.

These are stories repeated throughout the village. We met Joan Frampton (ph) further along the road; born and raised in Point Michel, still stunned at the ferocity of what she and her family lived through.

JOAN FRAMPTON (PH), DOMINICA RESIDENT: I was so scared, scared because first time I ever experienced a thing like that. I saw Hurricane David. I saw many other hurricanes, not like this one, like it was nonstop. It did not want to stop. It came with a vengeance and it just come out not to play but to destroy.

HOLMES (voice-over): And destroy Maria did. Three houses vanished from this part of the village; 13 people are still missing but two bodies were found, including a 10-year-old boy. They lie in Point Michel's tiny cemetery, the freshly turned earth and a hastily constructed cross marking just two of the victims of Hurricane Maria -- Michael Holmes, CNN, Point Michel, Dominica.


NEWTON: And of course we thank our Michael Holmes for getting to that island and getting their story out there.

And, Karen, you're just left speechless looking at that devastation and this hurricane is still out there.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. The savage journey that has been Hurricane Maria is continuing and unfolding even as we speak.


NEWTON: Nearly 300 people are now confirmed dead from Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico. At least 12 of them were killed when this church collapsed in Puebla State. But rescue crews are not giving up hope. They will keep searching for at least two more weeks in areas ravaged by the tremor.

Among those meticulously pulled from the wreckage of a building in Mexico City are Martin Mendez and Diana Pacheco. They were trapped for some 17 hours. Imagine that. They shared their incredible stories with CNN's Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 1:14 Tuesday afternoon, Martin Mendez, a locksmith, was replacing broken locks in an accounting office on the fourth floor of this building. At Othero Obregon 286 (ph), when the world around him started to rumble.

LAVANDERA: When the earthquake struck, what did you year?

(Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN MENDEZ, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR (through translator): The building moved back and forth two or three times. Then it started jumping up and down like a horse.

LAVANDERA: When the shaking stopped, Martin found himself trapped with three women he'd never met before who worked in the office he was visiting.

Could you move?

(Speaking Spanish).

LAVANDERA: He said he could only move like a worm. He said they started getting very nervous because they were running out of air. He thought they were going to suffocate.

What came next would test every shred of perseverance they could muster.

Diana Pacheco says they had no time to react and could hear the floors above crashing down.

What was it like when the earthquake struck?

DIANA PACHECO, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR (through translator): It all happened so fast, we didn't have time to get out. In five or six seconds, the building collapsed.

LAVANDERA: Diana says she reached for her phone and started sending these text messages to her husband.

Love, the roof has fallen. We're trapped. I love you. I love you so much. We're on the fourth floor near the emergency exit. There are four of us.

And then you can see a series of phone calls that wouldn't connect.

That was enough to alert rescue workers that there were indeed people still alive inside this building, but the rescuers couldn't hear them.

Diana says the sounds were horrible. She recorded this incredible video of the space where she was trapped. Massive sheets of concrete around them, they used cell phone lights to see the dust billowing around them. There was no escape, no way out.

Martin and Diana and the two others talked to each other, soothing each other's fears, waiting for rescue workers to reach them. Martin's leg was broken. He sat there in excruciating pain.

What was going through your mind?

MENDEZ (through translator): I was talking to God and hoping that the rescuers would hear us.

LAVANDERA: As we talked, Martin opens his phone and shares with us a picture he took of himself while he was trapped. He hadn't seen it. The emotions overwhelm him.

I imagine that you believed there's no way you were getting out alive?

MENDEZ (through translator): Yes, I did. I always believed I was going to get out alive.

LAVANDERA: Finally, after 17 hours, rescue workers pulled all four of them out alive.

All these scratches came when he was pulled out.

Diana Pacheco and Martin Mendez are now recovering in the same hospital on the same floor but haven't been able to see each other since they were rescued. They were brought together in an unexpected moment of horror and survived.

And I teach him a phrase in English that he and his friends can share.

We made it. We made it. In English, we say, we made it.

MENDEZ: We made it.

LAVANDERA: We made it -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, Mexico City.


NEWTON: Now they made it but you have to think there are perhaps dozens of people still trapped. Among those assisting in rescue efforts is a team from the United States International Aid Agency. Earlier, I spoke to a task force leader of the group about working under such grueling conditions.


DENNIS CROSS, USAID: You've got some of the most highly skilled and talented search and rescuers from around the world, including USA Team, 2 team, with some amazing technology and equipment, tirelessly working to try and access the egress and six potentially trapped victims.

We're just hoping that that will (INAUDIBLE) in the past and (INAUDIBLE) fall that they are in a void space, uninjured and they just are unable to extricate. So we're going to continue to work tirelessly to access them.

Until we get there and ultimately provide your family (INAUDIBLE) hope. NEWTON: Yes, and they definitely need that right now. As far as you are concerned from your experience in this, what is the most difficult part at this point in terms of trying to get them out?

As you said, there are signs of life.

CROSS: You know it seems like one roadblock after another. We come up with a plan and it's working and we're breaching and breaking, we're tunneling. We see like we're making good access and progress.

And then you run across something you just cannot get through or around and now you pull back, you come up with another strategy and plan. You evaluate it. You make sure it's safe for the rescuers and the firefighters going in. And then we start again and you find yourself continuing to do this. And that is just the nature of the beast.

Buildings collapse in 1,000 different ways, although a lot of them have unique patterns, they all pose unique challenges. So we (INAUDIBLE) taking this amazing equipment we have and firefighters with a huge heart, knowing that there is people waiting to find their loved ones.

And we're not going to stop. We're going to continue (INAUDIBLE) local search and rescue teams until hopefully we find survivors.

NEWTON: That really seems such inspiration really at those scenes. Dennis, describe what you see right now and what is going on right now around you.

CROSS: Well, right now I'm staring at a six-story office building that has collapsed in a pancake, meaning all the floors have pancaked on each other. There are some void spaces but weekly but you've got debris and material hanging up the front, up on top, on the roof. We've got approximately 100-150 highly skilled urban search and rescue technicians breaching, breaking and cutting concrete and then moving that off the building through what we call a daisy chain of buckets and volunteers; and then it's moved off-site.

We've got cranes operating; we've got literally thousands of people that are volunteering (INAUDIBLE) in any capacity. It's just amazing. (INAUDIBLE) your heart when you see people come together for the -- for the good of all.

As the task force leader in the charge of this team, I could not be more proud to be here in Mexico and helping our neighbors and hopefully providing some sense of comfort.


NEWTON: Yes, some sense of comfort indeed. Hundreds, if not thousands of people remain at those scenes at this hour, looking for signs of life.

Now coming up the U.S. president tries out a revised insult on North Korean leader, Kim Jong-up. How it stacks up to "dotard" -- ahead. Also ahead, President Trump's latest attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare, may be on the verge of defeat after two Republican senators said he'll vote against it again.




NEWTON: Iran says it has successfully tested a new ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads. Now it was launched from an unknown location. This is Iran's third type of missile with a range of 2,000 kilometers. It is smaller in size and more tactical than previous types. Officials say it will be operational in the near future.

Now the war of words over North Korea's nuclear program has not let up. U.S. president Donald Trump renewed his attack on Kim Jong-un on Friday, calling him not only "rocket man" as he did at the U.N. this week but now disparaging him even more as "little rocket man."

Mr. Kim earlier called the U.S. president a "dotard," an old term now for an -- old term for an old imbecile, apparently. Mr. Trump told a rally in Alabama that it is long past time to deal with North Korea.


TRUMP: This should have been handled eight years ago and four years ago and honestly -- and 15 years ago and 20 years ago and 25 years ago. This should not be handled now but I am going to handle it, because we have to handle it.

Little rocket man, we're going to do it because we really have no choice.


NEWTON: Of course none of Mr. Trump's insults appear to have deterred North Korea so far in its nuclear ambitions. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: North Korea already is getting ready for its next missile launch, according to administration officials, possibly a missile that could hit the U.S.

Kim Jong-un now threatening the highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history following President Trump's speech at the U.N. North Korea's foreign minister suggesting the regime may launch potential devastation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think this could probably mean the strongest ever hydrogen bomb test on or above the Pacific Ocean. STARR (voice-over): Detonating a hydrogen bomb above ground could change everything.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What you are looking at is from a radioactive standpoint is large areas of East Asia, the Western Pacific, all the way potentially to the West Coast of the United States being blanketed by radiation.

STARR (voice-over): The U.S. intelligence community will now watch for very particular signs.

LEIGHTON: So what they could potentially see is special work being done on the muscle itself. They could see certain things being moved around that would potentially indicate that a warhead of a particular variety was being put inside the missile.

Kim matching Trump on the battle of words.

"I will shortly and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."

President Trump responding, "Kim Jong-un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman, who does not mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before."

All after a doomsday warning from president Trump at the U.N. that if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies...

TRUMP: We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

STARR (voice-over): The head of the U.S. Strategic Command, who would help lead any attack on North Korea, making the case for U.S. firepower as a deterrent to Kim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're right there; we're watching all the time. And if you want to go that way, we're ready. So we can deter an attack on North America or our allies.


NEWTON: That report from our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Now the latest Republican effort to undo ObamaCare is one vote away from failing after a key senator said he would not support it. It is not the first time that John McCain has opposed legislation important to the Trump White House. In July, McCain cast the deciding no vote on the so-called skinny repeal of ObamaCare.

Now on Friday while campaigning in Alabama for a Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, U.S. president Donald Trump singled out looking for criticism.


TRUMP: John McCain's -- John McCain's list -- John McCain was not on the list. So that was a totally unexpected thing, terrible, honestly, terrible. Repeal and replace because John McCain, if you look at his campaign. His last campaign was all about repeal and replace, repeal and replace. So he decided to do something different and that is fine . And I say we still have a chance to -- oh, we're going to do it eventually. We're going to do it eventually, oh, with Luther and every -- we're going to do it.


Now earlier I spoke with CNN political analyst Ryan Lizza about why the president has been unable to get this one issue past in a Republican Congress.


RYAN LIZZA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can certainly tell that he is deeply frustrated that McCain, for the second time, seems to have scuttled one of Trump's major campaign promises.

And because of these funny parliamentary rules of the Senate, if they do not do this by September 30th, it is pretty much dead until the next Congress 2019.

So serious frustration with McCain. Remember, these two guys have a long history; during the primary season, you know, I actually have a personal role in that, not to be all Trump-like and talk about myself. But I did an interview with John McCain, where he said Trump was "riling up the crazies."

That was his remark. And when I -- after I reported that, Trump was asked about that comment. And that is when Donald Trump attacked John McCain's service in Vietnam and said, I like people who don't get captured, because, of course, John McCain was held by the Vietnamese for many years and tortured.

That was the start of their very, very testy relationship, really hasn't improved much with Trump as president. McCain has been a consistent critic of Trump across a host of issues.

Frankly, this healthcare was never an issue that McCain was a student of. He is not a big -- it has never been an issue for McCain and so I think a lot of people rightly think that the personal dynamics between the two of them have something to do with McCain's opposition.


NEWTON: Ryan Lizza there.

Now the CEO of Uber is pleading with London to change its mind about Uber's license to operate, tweeting a few hours ago, "Dear London, we are far from perfect but we have 40,000 licensed drivers and 3.5 million Londoners depending on us. Please work with us to make things right."

The rideshare service is appealing after London revoked Uber's license. CNN's Erin McLaughlin tells us why.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm told this decision involved a lengthy and meticulous review process by Transport for London or TFL, the regulatory body which governs London's transport networks. There were several reasons for this decision, primarily relating to the safety and security of Uber, its approach to the background checks, extensive background checks of its driver as well as the way it reports criminality.

Earlier I spoke to London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, who says he supports this decision. Take a listen.

SADIQ KHAN, MAYOR OF LONDON: If you're a Uber driver, if you're a Uber user, you're right to be angry at Uber for failing to play by the rules. The question you should be asking is why is Uber not playing by the rules?

And Uber have said they're going to appeal this decision. Uber employs an army of lawyers and public relations teams and they've already set out their plans to appeal this decision.

MCLAUGHLIN: London's Black Cabbies are likely to be celebrating this decision. They've long protested Uber's presence in the city. Their union actually backs London mayor Sadiq Khan although he told me that this had nothing to do with him, this decision, or any sort of political involvement, that TFL is an independent body.

The people who will probably are very upset by this decision, of course, some 40,000 Uber drivers, registered Uber drivers, as well as the millions of people within the city that use their services. We spoke to some of them and they're pretty upset.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I'm like shattered. I don't know what I'll do on a Sunday night now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I use one like every day. It's just an easier, better way to get around, like a Black Cab fare is so expensive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the end of the day, it's a reliable service. Not only in London, if you're a foreigner, if I fly out to New York or go to somewhere else and I know exactly by pushing a button, I'm getting a reliable driver, he is checked; I know him. We talk and they're all friendly, all of them, you know. And also they have families.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Uber hitting back at the allegations, saying, quote, "The mayor and Transport for London have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice."

It does plan to appeal and can continue to function while the appeal process is underway -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.


NEWTON: And thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Paula Newton. I will be right back with the headlines in just a moment.