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Trump White House; Hurricane Maria Aftermath; Kurdish Referendum; Battle against ISIS; Mysterious Sonic Attacks at Cuban Embassy; Catalonia Referendum; Air Force Academy Head Tells Racists to Get Out. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired September 30, 2017 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A dismal end to the week for the Trump administration. Health Secretary Tom Price resigns over the private flight he took on the taxpayer's dime.

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, has an angry, desperate message for the U.S. president, as thousands on the island are still stranded without food or water.

These stories are all ahead here and much more. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: The Trump administration has lost another key player. U.S. health chief Tom Price resigned on Friday. He was under fire for using private jets for official government business when commercial flights would have been much cheaper for taxpayers.

The resignation comes as the president is grappling with a huge natural disaster in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria. Sara Murray has our report.



I can tell you, I'm not happy.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today accepting the resignation of Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price. The bombshell announcement coming after days of mounting controversy over Price's travel on private jets at a cost estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

TRUMP: It's not a question of confidence. I was disappointed because I didn't like it, cosmetically or otherwise. I was disappointed.

You know, this is an administration that saves hundreds of millions of dollars on renegotiating things. So I don't like to see somebody that perhaps there's the perception that it wasn't right.

MURRAY (voice-over): Price agreed to repay a fraction of the overall tab. But sources say the offer only appeared to exacerbate Trump's anger.

TRUMP: Well, we have great secretaries. And we have some that actually own their own planes, as you know. And that solves that. But we put in an order, that no more planes.

MURRAY (voice-over): This as the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico continues to mount, leaving Trump to the federal government's response.

TRUMP: When you have a category 5 wipe out an island like this, because you have nothing. You don't have the roads, you don't have anything and you don't have the people even to operate the equipment.

MURRAY (voice-over): Characterizing the crisis as unprecedented, he painted a bleak picture of Puerto Rico's conditions before the storm.

TRUMP: The electrical grid and other infrastructure were already in very, very poor shape. They were at their life's end prior to the hurricanes. We're literally starting from scratch. We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.


ALLEN: Let's talk more about the developments with the Trump administration. Joining me now, Leslie Vinjamuri, a senior lecturer in international relations at SOAS University of London.

Leslie, thanks for talking with us.


ALLEN: Well, $1 million charged the American people for the Health Secretary to take private flights. And Tom Price's job was to repeal and replace ObamaCare. He couldn't do it -- and then spending the taxpayers' money, this is hardly draining the swamp, isn't it?

VINJAMURI: Yes, this is really -- it's a good thing that he's gone. The optics are terribly bad. The practices are terribly bad. Remember, the whole campaign, the reason that -- the lobbying, the mobilizing the base was all, as you said, about draining the swamp.

So now we have blatant use of public funds for private purposes in really an egregious way. But I think what's also interesting here, of course, is that the president hasn't been happy at the failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare.

And so this was, in some ways, an easy person for him to lose. So there are multiple factors, I think, driving in this particular direction. But, nonetheless, very disturbing.

ALLEN: Yes, as you mentioned it, the president referred to the optics of this and the perception. But he didn't really talk about the fact that this was a huge cost to taxpayers. He spent so much of his campaign expressing outrage about Washington and then this.

Should we hear more outrage from this president?

VINJAMURI: Well, I think that there are a number of things that don't look good to the public eye, when it comes to the spending of money. You know, the president constantly going to golf. And so, it's perhaps difficult for the president to speak out in a way that he might like to. But, yes, there should be some --


VINJAMURI: -- measure -- some steps taken to understand how those problems can be rectified and how it's going to be -- to prevent any future moves in this direction. But it's very -- you know, this has been an ongoing issue.

I think the optics have been an ongoing issue for this administration because it hasn't been about draining the swamp.

ALLEN: Right. And Tom Price apparently isn't the only one. Others are being investigated.

But let's move to the other issue on the president's plate and that is Puerto Rico. The mayor of Puerto Rico pleading for help, nine days after the hurricane ravaged the island. People don't have basic supplies to live. And the president was bragging before he went to his golf club about what a great job U.S. is doing. So there's some disconnect there.

VINJAMURI: Yes, and this is really, I think, a very serious tragedy. It's an ongoing humanitarian disaster. It's very grave and one cannot underestimate it. Of course, there's always a concern.

And it's not only a problem of getting goods to the island, there's a real problem with distribution. And I think the president and those around him miscalculated and have really -- haven't taken it as seriously as they need to.

And so we're seeing this walking back the rhetoric. He's recently listed and shows that but only temporarily. And really there's a big question of whether or not a temporary lifting of that, ability to have more access to goods, regardless of whether they're transported on American ships, whether temporaries or not.

Because we're going to have weeks and months of trying to rebuild infrastructure, deliver the goods that get to the island. So it's a very grave humanitarian crisis. And I think if you look at the rapidity of the response, it's been not good compared to past crises.

ALLEN: One other thing that was revealed this week, that the president's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, did not reveal to the Senate Intelligence Committee about use of a private e-mail to do the public's business.

And we all know that that was what candidate Trump expressed outrage repeatedly, even since being president, over Hillary Clinton. So bottom line about this administration, where do you see the top


Is it over organization, is it over ethics?


ALLEN: If it's one thing, I don't know.

VINJAMURI: There are so many problems right now, I think. But the e- mail question, of course, there is, as you know -- as I guess what we're talking about today is a lot of issues that are real. They're concrete.

But they're also real questions of optics. There's a sense of double standard. And the e-mails, there is a great irony, those legitimate concerns. And there are different -- you know, the legal questions are different with respect to which individuals are and are not allowed to use private e-mails. So that legality is actually quite different across cases.

Nonetheless, the optics are very bad. Of course, the best thing to do right now would be for the White House and for the president to stand up and say that we're going to clean up shop and we're going to take care of this.

But there is an ongoing problem of internal cohesion, coherence, in terms of the message that's being communicated and also the normative and ethical standards that are being applied across the administration.

But the current humanitarian crisis, I think, is one that the administration has got to get out in front of and take very seriously in the long term. And I think that's something, not to be sort of be put in the same camp as the other issue, which is very great for a lot of people.

But there's a perception here possibly that Puerto Ricans won't be taken as seriously, their humanitarian needs won't taken as seriously because there's some sense of this being a second-class population which, of course, it's not. The majority of Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

They're going to now need access to the mainland, many of them. And so this is a very grave ongoing crisis.

ALLEN: All right. Hopefully, things will start to come together soon for them.

Leslie Vinjamuri, thank you again for joining us.

VINJAMURI: Thank you.

So again, a humanitarian emergency in Puerto Rico, a week and a half after Hurricane Maria, U.S. officials remain optimistic that the island is on the road to recovery. Acting Homeland Security chief Elaine Duke arrived in San Juan Friday to check the situation firsthand. She caused a lot of anger before leaving Washington when she called the federal response "a good news story." On Friday, she was more guarded than that.


ELAINE DUKE, ACTING U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Clearly, the situation here in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory. But together we are getting there. And the progress today is very, very strong.


ALLEN: And, again, across the island, progress is slow. Puerto Ricans are waiting for hours under a --


ALLEN: -- brutal sun for basic necessities like food and fuel. Some are tapping spring water, as you see here, to drink and wash themselves.

The mayor of San Juan is furious. So many Puerto Ricans are still suffering; during a news conference Friday, Carmen Yulin-Cruz made an emotional cry for help and warned that lives are hanging in the balance.


CARMEN YULIN-CRUZ, MAYOR, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: We are dying here. And I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles long. So mayday; we are in trouble.

So I am asking the President of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.

I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy. We may be small but we're huge in dignity and in our zealous (sic) for life.

So I'm asking the members of the press to send a mayday call all over the world. We are dying here. And if we don't start -- and if we don't get the food and water into people's hands, we are going to see something close to a genocide.


ALLEN: The mayor repeated her frustrations with my colleague, Anderson Cooper.


YULIN-CRUZ: We're dying here. We truly are dying here. And I keep saying it, SOS. If anyone can hear us, if Mr. Trump can hear us, let's just get it over with and get the ball rolling.


ALLEN: She's being such a champion for the people of San Juan. And she, too, with her family, right now, is living in a shelter.

CNN has teams across Puerto Rico. Ivan Watson is in Florida, Puerto Rico, where the U.S. Aid agency, FEMA, is bringing much needed supplies. And Leyla Santiago has an emotional reunion with our family in Corozal. We'll bring you her report in a moment.

But first, Ivan Watson visited one small town, still lacking basic necessities, food, water and electricity, and is desperate for help.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to Florida -- Florida, Puerto Rico.

Like so many other communities on this American island, this town suffers from fuel shortages and the collapse of many other utilities.

NORMA BRUNO, RESIDENT OF FLORIDA, PUERTO RICO: There's no water in the house. No telephone, no Internet, nothing.

WATSON (on camera): Have you seen any --

BRUNO: People from government? No.

WATSON: Officials?

BRUNO: No. No one. No one. No one pass from any neighborhood. No,

WATSON (voice-over): One neighborhood in Florida is struggling with an additional problem.

(on camera): This is -- are these fish in the road?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Fish in the road.

WATSON: You've got fish in the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Really big one.

WATSON (voice-over): A flood.

(on camera): This town is up in the hills. Nowhere near the coast and yet somehow, the storm backed up a nearby creek creating this flood that has inundated dozens of families' homes. Among those now homeless, Edith Negron.

EDITH NEGRON, RESIDENT OF FLORIDA, PUERTO RICO: We lose everything. First floor and second floor, everything is gone. Everything is gone.

WATSON (voice-over): She's now living with her son and family in a local government shelter. The municipality provided this pump to suck out thousands of gallons of flood water and it's distributing fuel to volunteers like George Pagan, who is using his own equipment to help clear debris.

Much of the cleanup here is also being done by ordinary citizens.

During our visit the mayor of Florida appeared accompanied by officials from FEMA, the Federal Disaster Relief Agency. The mayor tells a FEMA representative he's worried the flood could spread disease.


WATSON (voice-over): Residents made homeless by the storm have their own questions for FEMA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are your sources for like food wise and gas wise and water?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That need that the mayor reported to us we're reporting back to San Juan and somebody --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how long will that take?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are the first to come here, apparently, so --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because for us to move back in here, because it's black water, it's full of black water.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no type of moving back in there.


WATSON: FEMA's first visit to Florida comes nine days after the storm.

CAROLINE CUDDY, FEMA: We've said this is the first many visits. FEMA is not going to forget about this community. FEMA is not going to forget about the needs that they have and we are going to work with our people back at the field office in San Juan about what we're going to do.

WATSON: The people here could sure use some more help -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Florida, Puerto Rico.


ALLEN: Well, for one of our reporters and the devastation in Puerto Rico, it's personal, Leyla Santiago is based in Mexico for CNN but was born and raised in the town of Corozal, about 40 kilometers southwest of San Juan. While reporting, she made it back to the place she calls home. Here's her report.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is relief, seeing my family in Corozal for the first time, hearing them tell me they're OK.

(Speaking Spanish).

SANTIAGO: That's the relief I found in this small town, but it's far from the relief needed on this island.

At the shelter in Corozal, a school, we find more than 120 people living in classrooms. The generator went out six days ago. No power, no water and the staff tells us they have people here with cancer, HIV, diabetes, children with asthma like three-year-old Joanne.

SANTIAGO: She walks everyday about 15 minutes to get therapy for her daughter who has asthma. She's three and a half years old and needs medical attention she's not getting here.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): We then find Francisca Rivera, she has Parkinson's disease. Haven't had access to the medicine she need indeed.

SANTIAGO: She's crying because she doesn't know about her family.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Desperation is growing. People are waiting in line to get water from mountain streams.

SANTIAGO: He says they can live without power but they can't live without water, that's why they're filling spring water from the mountain side to take a bath, to cook, to eat. People are even resorting to washing clothes like this.

This is Juana. She's been here since this morning washing clothes. Five to six hours cleaning clothes, she tells me.

I'm asking her, where is the help?

She says there's no help. No help has arrived here.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): No help at all, none from the local government, residents say, nor from FEMA, which has only been here to do an assessment, not to deliver any aid. The people of Corozal are now in survival mode waiting for their relief -- Leyla Santiago, CNN, Puerto Rico.


ALLEN: We have stories from other parts of the world ahead here, including reports that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death may have been greatly exaggerated. Details on what may be a new recording on the ISIS leader.





ALLEN: U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson has arrived in Beijing for top-level talks with Chinese officials. He's expected to meet with President Xi Jinping Saturday. On the agenda: trade and investment as well as the increasing tensions with North Korea. He'll also discuss preparations for U.S. president Donald Trump's upcoming visit in November.

The Iraqi central government is making good on its threat to shut down international flights to the Kurdistan region. It's in retaliation for the independence vote this week, in which Kurds chose overwhelmingly to split from Baghdad. The central government views the vote as unconstitutional. And the Kurds have little international support for their independence bid.

One of the reasons many countries are urging unity in Iraq is the war against ISIS. The terror group has been dealt some major losses but there's evidence its leader is still alive and calling for future attacks. Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's been called a ghost and the invisible sheikh. So mysterious, only this one video from 2014 exists of him. For months, the Russian government had said he was dead. Tonight, Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of ISIS, is apparently alive and calling on what's left of his terrorist army to attack the U.S. and its allies.

ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI, HEAD, ISIS (through translator): Carry on your jihad, your blessed operations. Let not the crusaders enjoy life in their homelands while your brothers are subjected to bombardment and destruction.

TODD: The new audio message running more than 45 minutes is, experts say, a clear directive.

Any doubt that that's a call for ISIS to launch attacks inside America?

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA ANALYST: What ISIS wants to do is show that they are a virile, powerful organization. And what better way to show that is to lunch attacks wherever these folks are, whether it's in the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, or elsewhere. And so, this is Baghdadi in the bunker.

TODD: U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN they have no reason to doubt the tape's authenticity. The message does appear to have been recorded recently. It references the nuclear threat from North Korea and current Syrian peace talks. What's not clear is why the message was released now. Could Baghdadi be trying to regain command and control? PERITZ: We know that he had delegated a lot of his efforts to his underlings. His successor has been trying to get things going in a lot of places. But as we've seen, pushing out for complex operations such we saw in France and in the U.K. and elsewhere is extremely difficult.

TODD: A U.S. official tells CNN the American-led coalition has tried to take several shots at Baghdadi in recent months and thought they had their best shot at killing him in a recent airstrike.

But getting him has proven challenging. Baghdadi is said to have an obsession with his own security. Analysts say he covers his face, even when meeting with his most trusted lieutenants and makes them place cell phones in a lead-lined box. But experts say he's also got an Achilles heel.

MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": And his personal proclivities I've heard -- I've heard it from various sources might give the game away. For instance, Baghdadi has kept a consortium of sex slaves. He's taken Yazidi women, some of whom -- one of whom at least has escaped his clutches as his own personal chattel.

TODD: If he's alive, which the new tape suggests, the ISIS leader could be running out of places to hide. The coalition says more than 33,000 square miles of territory in Syria and Iraq are clear of ISIS and more than 6 million people --


TODD (voice-over): -- have been freed from ISIS control.

Analysts say this audio message could only intensify the coalition's hunt for Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, that intelligence agencies are combing through the audio for any potential clues to his whereabouts. If they can successfully target him, it might put ISIS even more on the ropes. As one expert put it, of a potential replacement for Baghdadi, all the usually suspects have been killed -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: We've been talking a lot about how Puerto Ricans are suffering; they don't have enough food, water, electricity. Well, they don't have something else. They need fuel. And you wouldn't believe how long they're standing in line and waiting, to try to get that. We have a story for you coming up.

Plus, bureaucracy is bogging down Puerto Rico's recovery, especially when it comes to distributing life-saving medications. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta with that report.



(MUSIC PLAYING) ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen. Here are the top stories.



ALLEN: Well, the administration's upbeat assessment, as you heard there, does not quite square with circumstances on the ground. It's true that medicine and medical supplies are on the island but getting them to hospitals and clinics is bogged down in red tape. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta found that situation unacceptable.


DR. ASTRID MORALES, VOLUNTEER: We're tied up here because we don't have IV antibiotics to give the patients and we have no place to get them.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I kept thinking to myself, how difficult could this be?

If these life-saving supplies are on the island of Puerto Rico, why aren't they getting to the people who need them?

What's standing in the way of that happening?

And can I make it happen myself?

The first place I'm going to try are these DMAT tents, disaster management assistance team, the HHS. This is the federal government. See what they have to offer.

I was with the doctors yesterday who were volunteering and this is what they were asking for.

OK. So we've been waiting about 45 minutes now outside the HHS tent. We know that they have medications. What we heard is that they got to run it up to lines of command, two chains of command, and then they get back to us.

But, again, it's been 45 minutes.

How are you doing?

We're going to go and try somewhere else.

We're trying to get to some of these medications because we went to some of the shelters --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can get some here.

GUPTA: Is there medications here? (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we have the medications just arrive.

GUPTA: OK. OK. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

GUPTA: Because the hospitals have been slow to start back up, these are all volunteer doctors over here, who have basically come, trying to gather supplies and take it out to the people who need it. They're trying their best. It's a slow process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

GUPTA: OK, OK. Yes, if we can get a few doses, we will take it over there.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have only some of the antibiotics (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need it also.

GUPTA: Yes, that would be great.


GUPTA: All right. Perfect. OK, Doctor, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other one I will give you --

GUPTA: Appreciate it. Thank you.

It's all about getting the supplies and then getting them to the people who need it. These come from an organization called Direct Relief. You can see they're set up right underneath this parking structure with all these medications.

We got them. Now we're going to take --

GUPTA: What Dr. Morales asked was that we get these medications and see if we could bring it to this clinic, this hospital. This is one of those places that is up and running. But without these medications, they haven't been really able to take care of patients.

Dr. Rodriguez, I was told to bring you this.

DR. RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

GUPTA: These are --

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

GUPTA: Let me tell you what we have. There's all sorts of antibiotics, primarily. But Dr. Morales said that you were needing a lot of this.


GUPTA: Is that true?


GUPTA: How are you getting -- you can go through it. And there's also pediatrics.

Well, I hope this helps.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, a lot. Thank you.

GUPTA: You're doing great work here. Keep doing what you're doing.

It's like a little baby.


GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Loiza, Puerto Rico.


ALLEN: Well, throughout Puerto Rico, people have been forced to stand in long lines to get basic necessities. Our Anderson Cooper is outside of San Juan, where trying to buy gasoline is an all-day ordeal.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): In Loiza, gas stations are open, but the lines are long and agonizingly slow. It's 91 degrees and Gloribeth Munoz is trying her best to stay cool.

COOPER (on camera): So, how long have you been waiting here?

GLORIBETH MUNOZ, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT (translated): Sitting in the car since 5:00 am.


COOPER: Since 5:00 am.

And just sitting here in the car?


COOPER (voice-over): Felicita Ferria (ph) can't sit in her car any longer. She's been waiting for nearly ten hours.

I've been here since 4:30 am, she says. We're just waiting for the generator to turn on. They turned it off because it got overheated.

When the generator starts again, so does the pumping. Like most places in Puerto Rico, here cash is king. Credit cards can't be processed, so dollars rule the day.

COOPER (on camera): A lot of people can't even bring their cars here. They're just waiting in line in person with as many gas cans as they can, but this line, there are dozens of people and it stretches all the way down here. And a lot of people here have been waiting for hours as well.

What's it like?

I mean, just day to day?

GISEL TORRES, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT: Well, I haven't been able to come back. Even my boss said, don't come back unless you have gas just for our risk. But during the day, we have from 6:00 am all the way to 7:00 p.m. to be out in the streets looking for whatever you can so that --

COOPER: That's how you spend your days basically, looking for stuff, water --

TORRES: Yes, yes.

COOPER: Gas, food, anything.

TORRES: Right now, today, it's just gas.

COOPER (voice-over): Slowly, the cars inch forward. Felicita is close with cash in hand.

Loiza's deputy mayor says the needs are overwhelming and it all starts with the need for gas.

DEPUTY MAYOR LUIS ESCOBAR, LOIZA, PUERTO RICO: This is the chain, right. This is one piece. This is another piece. No fuel, no work, no money.

COOPER (on camera): It's all connected.


COOPER: People are patient, but they're tired and fed up.

FRANCIS FELTON, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT: I don't understand what's -- why things are so drastic and so out of control. It's just gas. We have gasoline, so why isn't there in the stations?

COOPER: Do you see relief supplies coming? Do you see the federal government coming?


COOPER (voice-over): Felicita finally makes it to the front. Fuel is no longer being rationed, so she can fill her tank and a small gas can as well.

She drives off happy. Tomorrow, she'll look for water and other basic necessities. The line inches forward. It's another car's turn at the pump -- Anderson Cooper, CNN, Loiza.


ALLEN: Well, after hearing about the trouble the government is having getting in supplies, don't let that dissuade you from helping out if you'd like to. You can go to our website, You can donate to one of the charities that we vetted. You can also volunteer your time.



ALLEN: Coming up here, the United States taking action in Cuba after those mysterious sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats. And also, it's warning Americans, don't go there. Our Patrick Oppmann will have our report from Havana.




ALLEN: The United States is drastically cutting its embassy staff in Cuba after mysterious sonic attacks made some diplomats ill. The State Department is warning Americans not to travel to the island, saying they could also be at risk. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has the latest from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just two years after the reestablishment of full diplomatic ties, the U.S. embassy in Havana has seen better days. Hurricane Irma battered much of Cuba and Havana's seafront boulevard where the embassy is located.

U.S. diplomats are still picking up from the storm and now are facing another calamity. Diplomats' families and nonessential personnel are being ordered to return to the U.S. after at least 21 members of the embassy staff were targeted by what U.S. officials say could have been sonic attacks.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have it under evaluation. It's a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We've brought some of those people home. OPPMANN (voice-over): U.S. officials believe that, starting last November, devices that emit sonic waves could have targeted U.S. diplomats while they were in their homes or staying in hotels. Who is behind the attacks and the motive is still unclear.


OPPMANN (voice-over): Cuban officials deny responsibility and say they are investigating the incidents.

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA, CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Cuba has never perpetrated not will it ever perpetrate actions of this sort, nor has Cuba allowed or will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties for that purpose.

OPPMANN (voice-over): U.S. officials say they believe the Cubans know more than they are saying and what they call rogue elements of the island's formidable intelligence services could be involved.

OPPMANN: Not long after the U.S. complained to the Cuban government about the attacks, Raul Castro himself personally promised American diplomats that Cuba would investigate the incidents. The FBI was allowed to come to Havana and security increased at U.S. diplomats' homes. But U.S. officials say still the attacks continued.

OPPMANN (voice-over): U.S. officials say, as a result of the attacks, they will stop issuing visas to Cubans effective immediately and issue a travel warning to Americans thinking of visiting Cuba.

Despite the harassment, both current and former U.S. diplomats say now is the wrong time to lessen the U.S. presence on the communist-run island.

VICKI HUDDLESTON, FORMER CHIEF U.S. DIPLOMATIC MISSION IN HAVANA: It is the worst possible thing that could happen to both countries. And what worries me more than anything is that hard-liners on the Cuban side and the U.S. side might be behind pushing this idea.

OPPMANN (voice-over): U.S. officials say their first priority has to be to keep U.S. personnel and their families safe. But they concede that American diplomats leaving Cuba could be just what the people behind these mystery attacks were hoping to accomplish -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


ALLEN: The Catalonia region of Spain is trying to break away from its central government. They're holding an independence referendum on Sunday.

Thousands marched through the streets of Barcelona on Friday in support of the vote, even though the Spanish government said it's illegal and has sent police officers to prevent it. Independence campaigners promised to hold the vote anyway.

We sent our Isa Soares to Spain to get a closer look at how both sides viewed the hotly debated referendum.


ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A sea of red, yellow and blue screams to be heard.

These are the yells of defiance.

"We will vote. We will vote," a message the central government of Mariano Rajoy, who, in the last week, has been accused here of (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

SOARES (voice-over): "He has lost his democratic compass," tells me this man, "and he thinks he can stop this with the use of force and the courts in a perverse manner."

Earlier in the day if the streets of Barcelona, that anger and frustration was matched by the deepest desire to vote, come what may.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

"We're going to vote with carnation," tells me this lady, "with flowers. And there will be no type of violence. No one will stop me because we're so many. I don't think they can do anything."

SOARES: According to the Catalonian government, some 150 referendum websites have been suspended. What this has led to is the creation of more traditional campaigning, right here on the streets of Barcelona.

People can approach, asking for information regarding polling stations, which ones are open from what time and, critically, they can collect their official ballot paper.

SOARES (voice-over): This is a grassroots referendum, too, with people occupying polling stations like this school to make sure that police cannot close it and (INAUDIBLE) stop them from voting.

"The option to vote yes or to vote no is up to each person," he says, "and what we want above all else is to vote. We want to manifest our opinion and our desire as a people."

But a look towards the Barcelona port suggests the central government of Madrid has other plans. Here are reinforcements, as many as 7,000 police officers awaiting to be deployed to stop a referendum the central government calls unconstitutional and illegal.

But while the (INAUDIBLE) may be ready to trash the party, Catalonians now are celebrating in the hope that, on October the 1st, they'll be finally heard -- Isa Soares, CNN, Barcelona.


ALLEN: In a moment, the U.S. Air Force Academy chief responded to racial slurs being used against some of its cadets and he did not mince words when he faced the students. His words -- when we come back.






ALLEN: A few hours ago, there were reports of a shooter on the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. Police eventually said there were no shots fired and no injuries.

There were concerns it could have been linked to another painful incident this week, when five black cadets found racial slurs written on their doors. But, as Tom Foreman reports, that prompted a blunt anti-racist speech by the school superintendent.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was a very bold line being drawn in the sand by a general who quite clearly has had enough.

LT. GEN. JAY SILVERIA, SUPERINTENDENT, U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY: If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.

FOREMAN: In a blistering address to all 4,000 cadets and hundreds more staff, the superintendent lashed out, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria raging over racial slurs, "Go home" and the N word written outside the rooms of five African-Americans in the prep school.

SILVERIA: If you are outraged by those words, then you are in the right place. That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school. It has no place at USAFA and it has no place in the United States air force. You should be outraged not only as an airman, but u as a human being.

FOREMAN: Over recent years, the academy's reputation has suffered from allegations of sexual harassment and assault, claims of religious bias and racial animus.


FOREMAN: Even though last year, a quarter of the cadet corps was female, a quarter from minority groups.

SILVERIA: Reach for your phones. I'm serious, reach for your phones.

FOREMAN: So, the general explicitly invited students to record and remember his hard hitting words.

SILVERIA: If you can't teach someone from another gender whether that's a man or a woman with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you to get out. And if you can't treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.

FOREMAN: Against the news of recent up-hovels involving white supremacist and the ongoing dispute over the national anthem, the general said it would be naive to imagine racism could not be a problem at the academy.

SILVERIA: We would be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what's going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville and Ferguson. The protests in the NFL. That's why we have a better idea.

FOREMAN: That better idea, for all cadets to stand up against bigotry of all types or pack up and leave.

SILVERIA: This is our institution and no one can take away our values. No one can write on a board and question our values. No one can take that away from us.

FOREMAN: The general's staff is now working with the students who were subjected to these racial slurs. And, just as importantly, he says he is hearing a lot of support for his words from the rest of the community there at the academy -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: Thanks for watching. The news continues next. You're watching CNN.