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Soldier's Widow Shares President's Call; Ten on Puerto Rico Response; Puerto Rico Struggles to Recover; Helping Gold Star Families; Deputy Risks Life in Wildfire. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 20, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] NATASHA DE ALENCAR, WIFE OF SOLIDER KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN: His brothers in arms and they would share and say the same things. And I knew it was true because the things that they were telling me were the same things that I knew in asking every day for the past 15 years. So I was just blessed to have him in my life for 15 years because he has made me a better woman and he has made me a better mother.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He was taken --

DE ALENCAR: So the only way to describe him is just a humble, amazing and just a nice guy overall.

CUOMO: Only a military family has that kind of sound going on.

DE ALENCAR: Yes, sir.

CUOMO: (INAUDIBLE) many of their devices.

DE ALENCAR: That's their wake up call, yes, sir.

CUOMO: I like that. We should use that on the show. It would help me pop my eyes open a little bit sooner.


CUOMO: I want you to know, I didn't bring you on here to talk to you about politics. What you're dealing with is far more important than the back and forth between left and right. But thank you for sharing the president's call so we know the right thing was done by your family. If there's anything you need, your family's matter to all of us and let me know how I can get that -- that ringtone?

DE ALENCAR: Absolutely. And I want to just say, thank you very much for allowing me just to get on here to speak. Any time I get to speak about that amazing man, my husband, I shall. So I want to thank you guys for giving me that platform to be able to do that yet again.

CUOMO: Does that work with the kids? Does that get the five-year-old up, by the way? Does that work?

DE ALENCAR: What's that?

CUOMO: Does that -- does that -- does the trumpet, does it work to get the kids up in the morning or no?

DE ALENCAR: That is the trumpet that we know that the bus is coming and, let's go, we've got to get to the bus stop because we know when it stops, the bus is already there.

CUOMO: Well, hold on, I don't want to hold that up. I do not want to hold up getting to the bus on time. I know what happens when that doesn't go right.

DE ALENCAR: Absolutely. Exactly.

CUOMO: Thank you so much, Natasha, for joining us. Thank you for the sacrifice of your family. And God bless you going forward.

DE ALENCAR: God bless. Thank you so much.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, who doesn't need a trumpet for a bus, for the school bus? That is effective. I also wish that somebody would just blow that in my ear every morning.

CUOMO: I'll do that tomorrow.


CUOMO: Discipline, order, you know what I mean. Like, this was a lifestyle for this family. She talked about how her husband, Mark, literally made her better and helped her and gave her a sense of herself that now she's going to have to use every day in his absence. And as you had been saying earlier, we don't talk about them enough. And I was asking those questions about whether or not her needs had been met --


CUOMO: Because a lot of the time they're not. You know, the support the troops thing sometimes rings a little hallow once they get back home. But that trumpet thing, if she says it gets them up and gets them to the bus on time --


CUOMO: That's coming my way.

CUOMO: It was a --

CAMEROTA: It's a bugle.

CUOMO: Is a bugle not a trumpet?

CAMEROTA: It's a bugle.

CUOMO: There's a meaningful distinction.

CAMEROTA: Oh, that is a meaningful distinction. And thank you for offering to do that for me, even Saturday morning, which is tomorrow.

CUOMO: Yes, I'm coming to your house.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

CUOMO: The scary guy at the door tomorrow morning that makes the kids scared, it will be me.


President Trump gives himself and his administration an A -- sorry, a ten. Whoops.

CUOMO: A ten out of ten.

CAMEROTA: A ten. Ten out of ten for their response.

CUOMO: And an A-plus.

CAMEROTA: To the hurricane in Puerto Rico. How does San Juan, mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, feel about that? Her reaction live next.


[08:36:08] CAMEROTA: It has been one month since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. Roughly 78 percent of that island is still without power this morning. While meeting with the governor of the island yesterday, President Trump was asked to grade his administration's response to the disaster.


QUESTION: Mr. President, between one and ten, how would you grade the White House response so far to the hurricane?



CAMEROTA: Here to react is the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

Mayor, thank you very much for being here.

Do you agree that the president's response and his administration has been a ten?

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN: Well, if it is a ten out of a scale of 100, of course. It is still a failing grade. FEMA personnel has admitted that they don't have the generators that are needed to provide to hospitals, so hospitals are still running on inappropriate generators, even though FEMA had mentioned that the generators would be here.

FEMA representatives have admitted that they really haven't been able to canvass all -- most of just -- just less than 2 percent of the people that have lost their roofs in their homes. FEMA administrators have admitted that there's still in a recovery side and they -- even though they have stepped up their game, and I have to say that in the last week they have stepped up their game, it still isn't enough. Three Star General Buchanan and Michael Burns have said, we haven't done what we have set out to accomplish.

So I think the president lives in an alternative reality world that only he believes the things that he's saying. But certainly people are still, like you say, without electricity.


CRUZ: We knew it was going to take a long time for that to happen. But the basic services are still not there yet and there doesn't seem to be any sight of how it's supposed to go.

CAMEROTA: So one to ten --

CRUZ: And, you know, Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: One to ten, what number would you give it, mayor?

CRUZ: One. One. The administration has been unresponsive. They go back and forth. Like the president first says Katrina was a real disaster. And yesterday says this is worse than Katrina. You know, the response in the USVI has also been very slow. There are still places in Puerto Rico where food has not gotten there.

We have been fortunate in San Juan because we are receiving a lot of private donations. And we have also received a lot of donations from Operation Blessing and OXFAM and other companies and other NGOs that allow us to provide a robust and supply chain of aid.

We are now feeding around 67,000 people. That includes 21 community kitchens, 63 elderly homes and about 40 community leaders that are serving food on a weekly basis. You cannot feed people one daily and then just forget about them the next week.

So we have a sustained supply chain of aid that we will be able to support people the rest of October and the rest of November.

CAMEROTA: You know, governor, sorry, mayor, your governor --

CRUZ: But that is not the case in the rest of Puerto Rico.

CAMEROTA: OK, well, I want to talk about that because your governor, Rossello, visited the White House yesterday and he's taken a much softer tone than you have. You, I think it's fair to say, you have been the most outspoken public official about what you need and in terms of criticizing the response. So let me just play for you a moment where your governor was asked directly by President Trump how it's going and here's his response. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Did the United States, did our government, when we came in, did we do a great job? Military? First responders? FEMA? Did we do a great job?

[08:40:06] GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: You responded immediately, sir.

The response is there. Do we need to do a lot more? Of course we do. And I think everybody over here recognizes there's a lot of work to be done in Puerto Rico.


CAMEROTA: What do you think, mayor? Is your governor going far enough in making that plea for what's need?

CRUZ: Listen, people have different styles and different ways of doing things. I'm always looking injustice in the face. Of course the response got here. But was it enough? No, you know. And people from this administration have admitted to it.

So I'm not one that's going to try to put a veneer over people's eyes and say things are not the appropriate way when they aren't. Has FEMA stepped up? Yes, they have stepped up in the last week. Are places still without food and water? Yes, they still are without food and water. You know, again, hospitals without generators.

So, no, the response has not been inappropriate response. Again, if it's a ten out of a 100, I'm fine with that. It's still a failing grade.

What is happening is that for some reason, which is unthinkable to those of us that are out in the streets, is that people are trying to cover up the truth. And the truth is that there is -- look, let me tell you something, Alisyn. A week ago, I wasn't doing such a good job at catching the debris from the streets.


CRUZ: So you admit it, you make sure you put the right resources in there, and you move forward.

CAMEROTA: So -- so, mayor -- so --

CRUZ: So, you know, this -- this attitude that politicians have of not admitting when they're not doing things right is totally inappropriate and, frankly, people are fed up with it.

CAMEROTA: Yes, listen, you've been, I think, quite outspoken and forthcoming about the situation on the ground. So what are you calling for today? What are you begging the administration and Congress for today?

CRUZ: Well, finally, number one, Congress needs to put together a comprehensive relief package. We have Senator Bernie Sanders coming to Puerto Rico next Friday to talk about some of those things. Still, the Jones Act needs to be repealed, at least for a year, to allow for international aid to get to Puerto Rico and help us and get -- make it easier for international organizations to come and help with the relief effort.

CAMEROTA: Yes. CRUZ: Number three is, is we need to look at alternative sources of power. Let's just concentrate on putting the electrical grid back together, but let's go solar and let's make sure that we have a grid that is in constant supply of what we have. We have constant supply of sun.


CRUZ: So let's use that. And also I think it is very important to ensure that the municipalities and this is something -- conversation that I had with the mayor of Houston last week when Reverend Jesse Jackson was visiting.


CRUZ: The municipalities need to have a more active role and a more direct role with FEMA. If everything goes through the state level, then it just adds another level of bureaucracy that frankly just does not help in saving lives.

CAMEROTA: OK. And you have certainly been sounding the alarm on bureaucracy.

Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, thank you very much. We will, of course, check back in with you in the coming days.

CRUZ: Thank you, Alisyn.


CUOMO: All right, we've been talking a lot about America's gold star families this week. And that is an unqualified good. It's not just about the Niger ambush when it comes to gold star families. There's so many out there and their needs are often unmet. What do they need? What's wrong? How can you help? Good answers for you ahead.


[08:46:28] CUOMO: We all say we support the troops, right? You hear it all the time. The question is, do the actions support the words? Gold star families, the whole family serves, the whole family sacrifices. And when the member of the military dies, their family is left behind often with huge challenges. We're showing you right now the four brave U.S. troops who were killed in an ambush in Niger. Yesterday we spoke with Calvin and Sheila Murphy about their son, Army Special Etienne Murphy. He died in Syria earlier this year. Here's just a reminder of the pain that these families deal with every day.


SHEILA MURPHY, LOST MILITARY SON IN SYRIA: Every day is hard. Every day -- it gets worse. It doesn't get better. It gets worse because I'm still looking for my child to come through the door.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Now, these families are in focus right now, for good and bad reason. But it's an opportunity. How can we help these families? What do they need? What are the challenges? Paul Rieckhoff is founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. You can get them online, the IAVA.

Always a pleasure. Thank you for the work that you do and your service to the country.


CUOMO: You've got concerns and you've got opportunities here. What is your concern about this ongoing political back and forth?

RIECKHOFF: We're forgetting about whose in the middle of it. You know, whose in the middle of it is -- are the gold star families. They're under tremendous pressure right now. They have enough to deal with before this ever happened. Now they're in this political maelstrom. They're being contacted by the press. You know, it's tremendous stress. And I think a lack of appreciation for how difficult this has been for them.

Now, the upside is, we're learning their stories. You know, there's an opportunity to support them. Organizations like TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, non-profits, are often at that point of attack when this goes down. They're there before, during and after. So I think silver lining is that hopefully groups like that will get more support.

But this is the politicization of our military, of our gold star families that's really unprecedented. So it's been -- it's been a bad week for America. It's been a bad week for our military, race relations and especially for the gold star families and especially for the Johnson family.

CUOMO: What was done right and wrong in this situation?

RIECKHOFF: It looks like a lot was done wrong. I mean this was handled poorly throughout. It wasn't just one issue. I mean we're at this point now because it was handled poorly throughout. And I think we forgot that the families are what matter most. It's not about what the president feels. It's not about even what this congresswoman feels. It's about what that family feels. And that's their truth. And it's an important truth. And hopefully it's a clarion call of conscious for the rest of country.

But the president has a responsibility to set the tone. He's the commander in chief. I think that's what you saw from General Kelly yesterday, you saw a command presence and you saw an understand of the burden of command. He knows what it's like to send folks into battle and to lose someone. And so that understanding was really important. I think that's part of why it was so compelling. And he admitted, the president doesn't know how to do this. You know, he's a new politician. So he didn't come up as a senator or a governor learning how to do the ceremony, understanding the cultural competency here. So I think that's an important part of this story. As new president, he's got a steep learning curve and the margin of error is very, very small.

CUOMO: So help the rest of us understand the needs of families like this. What often happens? You've told me many times, you know, it's hard when we're over there. Sometimes it's equally hard when we come back. The needs of returning service members and of families when they lose someone.

RIECKHOFF: Yes, I mean it starts with the grief. I mean they have to have -- be around people who understand what they're going through and only other gold star families can understand that. So groups like TAPS are on the ground to provide that support and shepherd them through the process. This is all a blur for them. So understanding how the funeral works, how the death gratuity works, how the life insurance works, how am I going to put my kids through college? Those are the questions that they have to be shepherded through.

[08:50:01] And then the opportunity is, when they come out on the other side, they often help each other. So there's this very strong, very empowered, very inspiring community of survivors. And that's what they are, survivors. They take care of each other. And now it's time for America to take care of them as well and step up.

CUOMO: What should we do that we're not doing?

RIECKHOFF: Go to and donate. Right? The fact that this organization has to raise money at all on some levels should be a national embarrassment. Do we really support the troops if a non- profit has to raise money to take care of the fallen afterward? I think that's a really important question right now. Why does an organization like that even need to exist. And if it does, why don't they have enough money to work forever? They should not have to raise money. They should be able to take care of these folks now and in the decades that are going to come, after the spotlights are gone, the cameras move on, these families, and especially the children, are going to need our support. And that's long, it's expensive and it's complicated.

CUOMO: How are we doing on this administration so far with veterans issues?

RIECKHOFF: We've had some wins. There's been some progress. But there's still huge, huge challenges. We're going to fix the VA in seven months. And there's going to be a big fight coming in the fall over the future of the VA, whether it privatizes or not. So I encourage everybody to watch that space. It's below the radar and it's very, very important. And those are the kinds of issues, suicide prevention, veteran unemployment, we're not covering now because we're focused on this stuff.

CUOMO: You will get time on this show to speak about these issues whenever they're in the public forum. You know that. That's a guarantee.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you. Appreciate it. Appreciate it. Keep giving the time to the families. That's the most important.

CUOMO: We'll do our best.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

CUOMO: Paul, thank you very much.


CAMEROTA: OK, we have some incredible video of what it was like to drive through an inferno. Wildfire evacuations from the vantage point of one of the rescuers.


[08:55:22] CUOMO: All right, we all should know by now what's going on out with these wildfires. We have some dramatic video of rescues. CNN's Miguel Marquez spoke with a Sonoma County sheriff deputy who really went beyond the call of duty, risking his own life, driving through what looked like one of the circles of hell.


BRANDON CUTTING, SGT. DEPUTY, SONOMA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, mandatory evacuation order, leave your homes.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONNDENT, (voice over): The video, terrifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help right here! Come on! Screw your shoe! Come on!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's disabled. All right, let me get her feet!

MARQUEZ: A typical shift, transformed into a hell scape.

CUTTING: Don't hit me! (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I gotta get out of here. I'm in a bad spot.

MARQUEZ: Sergeant Brandon Cutting, a 13-year veteran of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, he worked graveyard on night one of the fires.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Did you think you were going to die?

CUTTING: No. We were trying to get to as many people as we could. We were push into a complete fear zone.

MARQUEZ (voice over): Fear, understandable. Streets became rivers of fire.

CUTTING: I'm driving further into this fire and I need an out. I need an exit. I'm in a bad spot. I need to turn around. I realized that I'm too far in. I'm afraid to stop. As long as you continue moving generally you'll make it.

MARQUEZ: Despite fear --

CUTTING: Sheriff's office.

MARQUEZ: Cutting in his fellow deputies, some who knew their own homes were already gone, never stopped.


CUTTING: (INAUDIBLE). We've got to keep pushing the evacuations as far west as we can. As I said, Cal Fire advised they don't have a lot of containment.

MARQUEZ: On the radio, his voice calm, always calm.

CUTTING: Everybody was calm. Scared, afraid, but calm. And, honestly, if one person had come on the radio and had been yelling, it probably would have broke us all down.

Go! Go!

MARQUEZ: The only yelling, when directing traffic, trying to get stunned drivers out of harm's way.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Wat does it say about law enforcement, what you did that night?

CUTTING: You know, I refer to it as, we did our job. We don't train for this. This is an animal that I'm not used to. Everything we try to keep in front of us and so we know what the threat is. This is all around us.

MARQUEZ (voice over): Now the hardest part, putting a community back together.

MARQUEZ (on camera): What did this fire do to Sonoma County, to your home?

CUTTING: Devastated it. .Changed it forever. The face of Sonoma County will be forever different from this. It will -- it will recover.

MARQUEZ (voice over): Dedicated law enforcement and public servants, willing to go beyond the call, needed more than ever.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Sonoma County, California.


CAMEROTA: I've never seen video like that.


CAMEROTA: From that point of view. That was incredible what they did that night.

CUOMO: And to make the decision to keep going into it. That's why our first responders are angels on earth. CAMEROTA: OK, CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman will

pick up after this break. Have a great weekend.