Return to Transcripts main page


Power Outage Cripples World's Busiest Airport; Putin Thanks Trump In Phone Call; South Africa's ANC Party To Vote For New Leader. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Thousands of travelers stranded inside the world's busiest airport right here in Atlanta, after a power outage left them in the dark for hours. Also, a message of gratitude shared between two president -- presidents, and we'll tell you what's that about. Also, CNN celebrates its 2017 "Heroes of the Year. These stories are all ahead here in the NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining us. We're coming to you live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: I'm George Howell live in Hartsfield-Jackson International Atlanta's Airport. A lot of passengers, not too happy. NEWSROOM starts right now.

The power has been restored here at the airport for all essential airport activities -- that means concourses, that means flight operations. A moment ago, we heard a flight take off -- whether that's a commercial flight, or another flight, a cargo flight, still unsure, but it is certainly a sign of good news. The reality, though, thousands of people have been stranded at this airport after a full stop that has affected, certainly, the United States as far as air travel, but also international air travel.

At least 1,000 flights have been canceled, so far. No flights coming into or going out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- the world's busiest since Sunday. Now, the result, what we've seen, again, people trapped on planes for several hours. We understand that they were able to deboard those planes, but again, a long wait for a lot of people. We saw escalators, elevators not working. The information posts -- blank. No power to give people any information, any indication about what's happening.

We went into the airport earlier to give you a sense of the before and after. What people were dealing with when the lights are off, and that when there was no power. And then, as the power came back on, the frustration of some of the passengers. Take a look.


HOWELL: The only light in the terminal right now is by the generator, and you see that there are crews here on the ground doing their best to distribute water. Water -- very important because people cannot buy. They can't get water, food, necessities. So, this work continues until power is restored. And also, I want to show you over here, just look at all of the baggage. People, obviously, have to reclaim their bags but this is a sense of

what it will be like when this airport gets back up and running. Again, getting water to people, very important. So, you see water cases throughout the airport. And this is where many people are staying the night. People who have been stranded here for hours at a time. Unsure of what happens next. One person that I spoke with just a moment ago, Mary, headed to Jacksonville.


HOWELL: Well, tell me what it's been like for you so far?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we've been here -- I have been here since about noon. We were just about ready to board. My hop down to Jacksonville and power went out. So, we were just, kind of, waiting around, and we were on C Concourse, and they, I guess, they had some kind of small fire over there. So, they evacuated everybody over here, and here I sit.

HOWELL: Do you have any indication of what happens next for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't. My family is in Jacksonville. I'm from Phoenix. So, I'm just trying -- my phone's dead. So, I'm trying to see what Southwest does. How I ended up over here, I don't know. I've never been to Atlanta airport before.

HOWELL: And there are thousands of people around you in the same position.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there are. I know some have gone to hotels. Some are waiting for people to pick them up. But for me, I'm not sure. I'm just, kind of, waiting to see what happens.

HOWELL: Again, people are just trying to get in position. Again, sleeping at the ticket counter. But I can tell you this, as of 11:16 Eastern Time, the lights flicked on here in the baggage claim and the check-in terminal here at the Atlanta airport. Again, you do see the line starting to form. Many of these passengers are trying to figure out what their next steps are. A lot of uncertainty about the hours ahead. Do you guys mind if I just chat with you? Victoria and Gancy, you guys are traveling but, first of all, tell me what have you been told about when you can get back to your travel plan?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are telling me, I can't leave until 9:45 tomorrow night.

HOWELL: Tomorrow night?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow night. And people has work, like myself, and I can't go. Because why? I'm trapped in an airport where I don't live and unfamiliar to the area, so what do I do?

HOWELL: What about yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I called Southwest, and the best they could do is 9:45 like Victoria, but they want to charge me for a new airline ticket just to get out here tomorrow night.

HOWELL: Charge you again, you say, and you could leave tomorrow night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, to leave tomorrow night.

HOWELL: What did you guys think about how this was handled so far?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no communication from the airport or TSA or Southwest, it was horrible.

[01:05:12] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone was scattering around. And every time you try to approach somebody, you get the same answer: I don't know. What do you know?


HOWELL: All right. Here's what we do know. At this point, the cause of this fire, we understand that it was at a Georgia power underground electrical facility, and that fire also affected the backup power system of the airport as well. You would imagine, at an airport like this, a major airport, you would have redundant systems in place. Apparently, this fire affected that as well. There will be an investigation, we understand, into what happened here. We did also hear from the mayor of this city, Kasim Reed, speaking about this situation. Here's what he had to say.


KASIM REED, MAYOR OF ATLANTA: I want to express my sincere apologies to the thousands of passengers whose day has been disrupted in this manner. We certainly understand that the outage has caused frustration and anger, and doing everything that we can to get folks back home right away.


HOWELL: Frustration and anger. You can say that's an understatement with what we heard from people inside; people are quite upset about their travel plans, either being delayed. They don't know when they'll be able to leave this airport. Let's now bring in, Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri, who's been tracking a travel for us. And Pedram, you know, this is the world's busiest airport. A lot of people connect through Atlanta to go to vacation, to go back to work. And now, they found themselves in a really bad spot.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know, it's as bad they come to, right? We've all had delays, say, 30-45 minutes, maybe an hour. But when you're stuck in an airport for 10, 12 hours or more, it is an entirely different scenario. And you, really -- Atlanta has a unique distinction for the airport as well, not only for the busiest by foot traffic in the world but also, it's within about two-hour flight of 80 percent of U.S.'s population.

So, as George alluded too there, it certainly impacts a lot of airports when it comes to folks traveling out of Atlanta. And of course, when you look at the misery index, as it is tracked by Flight Aware -- a great Web site here for aviation tracking. The red indicates worst-case scenario. Nearly every single flight haltered -- that's out of Atlanta. But you notice, as you go up towards areas around Chicago, O'Hare; Dallas, Fort Worth; down towards Houston, Hobby or Bush. and then, away on into Washington, New York.

That is about 10 to 20 percent of their flights there indicated in the red, have been disrupted, and that's really widespread towards the Western United States as well. So, the impacts are wide-reaching, this could be a multi-day event before we begin to see volume, kind of settle back down and the flights get back into running order as they were as usual.

And, of course, we know the busiest travel times of the year for any airport, but for Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson is the latter portion of November, and in particularly the busiest for Hartsfield-Jackson is, in fact, between this 16th of December -- so two days ago -- up until early January, to put this into perspective. So, this is when your volume is at its highest.

You're getting towards that week. And, of course, now we have this occur, and now we've over 1100 flights that have to have about 200,000 passengers rerouted or redirected on different flights on Monday and Tuesday. So, this is going to definitely be piling up in the next couple days. George?

HOWELL: Pedram, yes, we're hearing from people -- again, some people won't leave until the next day. So, you say a multi-day event for sure, as we see this airport get back to its full operation. Pedram, thank you. Earlier, I spoke with to Mary Schiavo. Mary is a CNN Transportation Analyst and Former Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation. I spoke with her about, first of all, what people are dealing with, and how this airport is going to cope with quite a mess. Take a listen.


MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST AND FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: U.S. airports have had power outages for many times in the past, not of this magnitude and duration, but and usually it's a combination of construction issues and computer issues. And in this case, it sounds like it might be the same again, a fire in the substation, and the computers that we supposed to limit the damage did not function properly. Occasionally on power outages in the past, they've been isolated incidences of sabotage, but that brings to mind the second point and that is the whole point of all the backup and redundant systems.

So, when we do have a, you know, a construction crew hitting a power line, or computers failing to do the proper damage control with the power, we're supposed to have backup generators and systems to limit the damage. So, Atlanta will be having to do a lot of investigation and searching as to why their backup systems didn't work. But the whole point is an airport is like a hospital with generators and backup power. [01:10:00] HOWELL: And Mary, we understand from the city that there will be an investigation into what happened here. But let's talk about the day ahead. I mean, I don't know if you got to see just a bit of the misery in this airport with these passengers, and you just feel for folks who, you know, ran in a situation that couldn't be expected, but what does this look like? I mean, you've got so many layers here, right? You've got people who have to check into their flights, you've got computer systems, Mary, the screens are blank. So, these computer systems have to reboot. And then, security, you try to get to the airport ahead so you can beat the security line. There will be thousands of people trying to press in the security line, Mary.

SCHIAVO: Right. And it must -- you know, it certainly, of people's minds, the most wonderful time of the year, but that means it's also the most crowded time of the year on airports. So, rebooking on already crowded planes, then the holiday times, planes are booked generally at 85 percent and above, already full capacity. So, not only they will have to get their own schedule up and running again, it's going to be difficult to rebook passengers at the holiday season.

So, they've got a double problem to face and that is getting your own flights back in the air and coordinated nationwide and worldwide, but they could not readily put passengers onto other carriers that they have agreements with. So, it's going to be difficult on so many fronts. Of course, the -- while the FAA has generators that run the backup power for the air traffic control tower, that did not go down and shouldn't.

That's the separate generator that keeps that running. You're right about the problems with electric system needed obviously to check people in, to sort the baggage, most importantly TSA and the security rely on power for that. So, it's going to be a huge problem getting it up running and people rescreened and back into the airport. And for some fortunate few who don't leave, that might be a wise choice, but they will probably rescreen them.

HOWELL: Yes. Mary, you certainly imagine what that will be like for international travelers as well, just even more inconvenience. One other question that I have for you, so we heard one quote from a passenger, and again in that interview, 9:45 p.m. tomorrow -- or today, rather. So, do you expect the airlines to press back, push back travel for people that far? I mean, could you see people leaving tomorrow rather than today?

SCHIAVO: Oh, certainly, and I do expect that, because, you know, once they get the flights back up and running, they don't have a lot, you know, a lot of excess air traffic anymore. You know, over the past two decades, airlines have worked to take out the excess to pass -- they need extra planes, extra flights, extra seats to maximize revenue. So, those seats are already filled.

So, when the flights and electricity are fully back functioning, all the flights are back up and running, they're going to be running today's flights and tomorrow's flights because they're already almost full before they can think about re-accommodating those passengers. And again, so, it's the worst time of year it (INAUDIBLE) holiday season running at their peak. And then, there will be the pushback on price, because one traveler says that one airline wants to recharge him to rebook.

Again, that's a function of the computer system, somewhat, at this point, but there are going to be a lot of passengers seeking financial accommodation from the airlines as well. And unfortunately, the federal laws aren't very good about clarifying that. They allow airlines to cancel flights. And so, there'll be a lot of negotiations going on with passengers in the airline.


HOWELL: All right. A live look inside the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. You see people at the ticket counters there, and, you know, trying to get some information about what happens next with their flights. I want to give you some statistics about this airport. Because when we say the world's busiest, here's why: this airport averages 275,000 passengers per day; almost 2500 arrivals and departures daily. It's been the busiest that we understand since 1998, and served 75 international destinations along with 150 U.S. destinations. All of this according to the city of Atlanta. So, that gives you the scope and scale of why this is such a big deal, Natalie. This is like London, this is Chicago -- one of these major airports going down for any time. It's going to have a knock-on effect for several days to come.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. I was asked to check in for my flight a few hours ago, and now I got the cancellation notice from my airline. Do you hear any more airplanes in the air there, George?

HOWELL: You know, Natalie, yes. Right before the top of the show, that was the first plane that we heard take off. And, you know, just to put it in context, we wanted to find out, is it a commercial flight or is it cargo flight? We don't know. But that is the first plane, the only plane that we've heard take off so far. We're starting to see -- we're told operations will slowly progress, slowly get back to normal. And, you know, we'll just have to wait and see how that happens.

[01:15:15] NATALIE: Yes. I guess some pilots had to be sent home because of the time limits, and now they're scrambling. Can you imagine the people whose job it is to get these planes back up in the air? All right, George, we appreciate all your reporting. Thanks so much, friend. We'll see you later.

Next here, who owns your e-mail? That is the question at the center of a dispute between the U.S. Special Counsel and members of the Trump transition team. We'll have that story ahead. Also, the third largest wildfire in California's modern history is moving so fast that some residents have awakened to their houses surrounded by flame. More about it coming up here as we push on in the NEWSROOM live in Atlanta, Georgia.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Patrick Snell with your CNN WORLD SPORT headlines. Manchester United Manager, Jose Mourinho, says his team will fight until the last match for the English Premier League Title. The United holding on to beat West Brom on Sunday 2-1 and moved back to within 11 points of the runaway leaders there was Man City. Romelu Lukaku opens a scoring went ahead. Jesse Lingard (INAUDIBLE) for half-time. While, Garrett Barry made the Red Devil sweat a goal of four, the host, with 30 minutes to go.

In golf, Justin Rose putting the Asian tours, Indonesian Masters by Korea about eight strokes as well. Weather delays, meaning Rose actually had to finish off at ten holes of his third round Sunday morning. He needs to cast his report carding a closing round 62. He finished a staggering 29 under par after four rounds. It's the third victory in the past two months for the 37-year-old English man.

Finally, a story of (INAUDIBLE) on Winter Sport where Anna Veith captured the Women's Super G event in France. Veith is the reigning Olympic champion who had last won back in March 2015. Sure, at the fall, suffering a serious knee injury, from which the 28-year-old from Austria could only return to racing less than a year ago. She was back to back overall World Cup Ski Champion 2014 and '15 when she was known as Anna Fenninger. That's a look at your CNN WORLD SPORT headlines. Thanks for joining us. I'm Patrick Snell.

ALLEN: Welcome back. U.S. President Donald Trump has a quick and simple answer to the question on whether he plans to fire the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?



[01:20:00] ALLEN: There you have it. The president's comments came Sunday after Mueller's Russia probe obtain thousands of e-mails from the Trump transition team. Lawyers for the transition team called Mueller's access to the e-mails unauthorized, and claim it violates attorney-client privilege. Boris Sanchez has more for us from Washington.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, what you have is a dispute over who owns these tens of thousands of e-mails that were exchanged between Trump transition officials during the transition last year. On one side, you have the general services administration which is making the case that these e-mails are public record and part of the public domain. The general services administration is in charge of providing e-mail services and logistics to the transition. And as one spokesperson told Buzzfeed today, in part, because the transition used a dot-gov domain, that there is no illegality or unethical standard that was broken by handing these e-mails over to Robert Mueller and the special counsel.

On the other side, you have the Trump transition team and its executive director, Ken Nahigian, who I spoke with on Sunday, who made the case that that is simply not true. He says that there was an understanding, an agreement between the Trump transition team and the GSA, that though the GSA was providing these e-mail services, that the Trump transition team still actually owned these e-mails that it was their property. And therefore, they could be distributed at their discretion, that ultimately, they could decide who they should and should not be shared with. The president weighed in the on all of this when he returned from Camp David to the White House on Sunday, calling the situation sad. Here's more what he said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you believe your transition team e-mails were improperly taken?

TRUMP: Not looking good. It's not looking good. It's quite sad to see that. My people are very upset about it. I can't imagine there's anything on it, frankly. Because, as we said, there's no collusion. There's no collusion, whatsoever. But, a lot of lawyers thought that was that was pretty sad.

SANCHEZ: One interesting aspect of what the president said there, was that his team was upset by this. In contrast, when I spoke with Ken Nahigian on Sunday, he, several times, argued that the transition team was fully independent of the White House. And he actually said, "I do not talk to the White House." He is clearly trying to put some distance between the transition team and the administration, in part, because, you know, these accusations coming from Democrats that stories like this one that tries to shine the special counsel in a negative light are by design so that Republicans can end the investigation into alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. And Nahigian also telling me that his team is exploring different options for taking next steps in light of the revelations that Robert Mueller obtained these e-mails. It was unclear exactly what those next steps might be. Boris Sanchez, CNN at the White House.


ALLEN: Meantime, the story that has nothing to do with Russia's alleged collusion or inference in the 2016 election. Russia's president is thanking President Trump for something else entirely. For help in heading off a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg. The two leaders spoke by phone, Sunday, for the second time in three days. For more about this, here's Elise Labott.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT: Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Trump to thank him for a CIA tip that helped stop a terrorist attack in Russia. Now the CIA had information on an ISIS-inspired plot to blow up a cathedral in St. Petersburg. U.S. officials shared that information with Russia, and as a result, Russian authorities said they were able to capture the terrorist just prior to the attack and thwart the plot.

Now, the White House said, President Trump stressed the importance of intelligence sharing, especially on terrorism. And both leaders cited this as an example of the benefits of more cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. Now, it's worth noting, President Trump called Mike Pompeo, the Director of the CIA, to congratulate him and his team for a job well done here. Even as the president continues to cast doubt on U.S. intelligence assessments, saying Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

Now, the two leaders also spoke on Thursday. They talked about North Korea. President Trump would like more help from Russia in combatting the North Korean nuclear threat. But President Trump really initiated the call to thank Putin for some comments he made at a press conference, praising Trump's efforts to grow the American economy. Now, President Trump has shown in his first year as president that he thrives on public praise and it seems President Putin got the message. Elise Labott, CNN, Washington.


[01:25:07] ALLEN: The third largest fire had California's modern history is burning Northwest of Los Angeles, and experts fear it may get worse. Firefighter, Cory Iverson, who died battling the flames this past week was remembered in a funeral procession on Sunday. He leas behind his pregnant wife and a 2-year-old daughter. The Thomas Fire has burned through an area larger than New York City, and that's happened in about two weeks. It is now 45 percent contained. CNN Miguel Marquez was in Santa Barbara County.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to give you a sense of some of the erratic wind and fire behavior -- they've been seen on this Thomas Fire. It has just been a monster for firefighters to fight here. The fire -- the main brunt of the fire was actually burning over that ridge. And the winds over the weekend was just so intense that it started blowing the fire over this way. You can see the red on top of the ridge where they were laying down, retarded, trying to keep it from spreading, but it did spread. Embers came all the way on this side. You can see all the black area here.

People still coming up here or starting to come up. And you can see how it's affected homes. This is firewood that burned, and all the vegetation in this area burned, but firefighters were able to save the house. Just an incredible job. Some 9,000 firefighters on this fire. There are about 400 different engines in this area alone. So, the areas of Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Summerland seem to have dodged a bullet for now, but other areas south of here, Ventura, they're dealing with Santa Ana winds today. And that will be where the big firefighting is in the hours to come, back to you.


ALLEN: All right. We'll continue to monitor that as well, of course. As we said, 45 percent containment.

Still to come, with protests growing against President Trump's Jerusalem decision like this one in Pakistan, Palestinian leaders are trying a new plan -- taking their grievances to the United Nations. More about that as we push on here.


[01:30:42] ALLEN: And welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. We appreciate you watching. I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories: Power is now restored at the world's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield- Jackson. But most planes are not moving yet. And thousands of travelers have been stranded for hours. They've got hours more to go, it seems. Officials say an underground electrical fire caused Sunday's massive power outage, plus they say they don't believe it was started deliberately.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is thanking the United States for its help in preventing ISIS-inspired terror attacks in Saint Petersburg. Mr. Putin spoke by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump, Sunday. He thanked Mr. Trump for the CIA's information that it shared with Russia on the planned attack.

Meanwhile, President Trump said he's not considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He did say that his transition team was upset about Mueller's request for thousands of their e-mails. Mr. Trump again said there was no collusion with Russia in the election.

The third largest fire in California's modern history is burning northwest of Los Angeles. And experts fear it may get worse. The Thomas Fire has consumed an area larger than New York City in about two weeks. It is now 45 percent contained. Firefighter Cory Iverson who died battling the flames was remembered in a funeral procession on Sunday.

As many around the world protests the U.S. decision on Jerusalem, Palestinian leaders are trying a new tactic, asking the U.N. to vote this week on a resolution to nullify President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Here are just some of the demonstrations from Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan. This was described as the largest protest since Donald Trump's announcements earlier this month. Thousands of Muslims also took to the streets of Jakarta with demonstrations held at the National Monument and outside the U.S. embassy there. Similar scenes played out in Turkey. The Turkish President addressed the situation on Sunday.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, PRESIDENT OF TURKEY (through translator): Since Jerusalem is currently under occupation, we cannot go there and open our embassy, but our consulate general is represented at ambassador level, so we have the fact to accomplish this. But God willing, the day is close when officially with God's permission, we will open our embassy there.


ALLEN: CNN's Arwa Damon went to a refugee camp where she spoke with a man who said these are hopeless times for the Palestinians.


Hussein Aslan a wall decoration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. I made it out of my love for the original place, he recalls. My love for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, for the dome of the rock. He designed it 25 years ago, well before he lost his legs to diabetes, before he lost his sight, before President Trump declared the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, driving a sharp knife into an already festering wound for Palestinians. Three generations of the Aslans (ph) family were born here. The Kalandia Refugee Camp started as a tent city. Over the decades, its reluctant residents built it up, adding on floors as families grew. Its densely-packed population feel like they have just been left to fester as the State of Israel thrives.

"I don't cry about stones, I cry about the place, about the place, about the memories," Hussein tells us. The Aslans are originally from the picturesque City of Jaffa right on the Mediterranean coast. It's a total contrast from where they are now. (INAUDIBLE) was its northernmost neighborhood, today a part of Tel Aviv, the most prominent building left of its Palestinian history is the mosque. Outside, we meet taxi driver, Ahmad al-Sharat (ph).

His family's home was actually just down the street. The whole square here is now a parking lot. It used to be lined with homes and there was also a school.

He takes us into the mosque to see a handful of photographs, before and after.

[01:35:05] This is approximately where we are just filming from, and you can see in this old photograph just how close the houses were to the shoreline. In in Ahmad's heart and in his mind, this is still Palestine, though, he believes that they can co-exist alongside Israel.

"I know from experience that some of them can be convince that we have rights. We can live together," he explains. "We can accept living together. We cannot accept that they replace us." It's a tempered view compared to that others who live within the Palestinian territories, where the experiences are just too raw like those within the Aslan household.

So, one of the last photos she has of her son.

Shehnaz Aslan (ph) wants to scream each time she remembers him. Her son was shot and killed on this building's rooftop in 2014 during a massive Israeli nighttime raid as they searched for three missing Israeli teens. All she wishes for the now-4-year-old her son left behind is that he will have a chance his father never did, to get an education and to live in a Palestine that isn't consumed by the anger that eats at their souls.

"They killed my cousin, our friends," one relative jumps and speaking of the Israelis. "For me to go tomorrow and say hi to them as if nothing happened? Impossible." Impossible, too, for the population of Kalandia to give up on what they viscerally believe is their own land. The checkpoint here is one of the main ones into the West Bank along the separation wall. Clashes like these and elsewhere throughout the Palestinian territories are growing in the aftermath of Trump's Jerusalem declaration. The pain of the Palestinians define differently for each generation, for each individual. For Hussein Aslan now blind, but through his darkness, there is a repeating vision of the waves breaking on Jaffa's shore, of fishing, of the era we saw in the photographs. He imagines going to Jaffa, to his house that used to be on its shore. Arwa Damon, CNN, Kalandia Refugee Camp.


ALLEN: Coming up here, South Africans hoping for a brand new future. The ruling party is choosing a new leader. And we'll tell you how this could shake up the country's political future as we push on here in CNN NEWSROOM.


[01:40:46] ALLEN: Landslides caused by heavy rains from Tropical Storm Kai-Tak have killed at least 27 people in the Philippines. State-run media say 24 people are missing. The storm hit a central Philippines province, Saturday, causing massive flooding that destroyed several bridges and isolated towns. More than 80,000 people were forced to shelter in evacuation centers.

In South America, emergency crews continue to search for survivors, a day after a landslide swept through a remote village in Southern Chile. The country's president confirmed at least five people were killed in Villa Santa Lucia, a tourist whose identity has not yet been made public is among the dead. 15 people are still missing. Heavy rainfall triggered the landslide on Friday.

Delegates in South Africa's ruling party will vote in the coming day for a new leader. The African National Congress is replacing embattled President Jacob Zuma whose presidency has been plagued by corruption scandals. David McKenzie has more for us from Johannesburg.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: ANC delegates pray for unity before welcoming the President's central to their party's decline. This is the public face of the bitter battle. The ANC has lost supporters as Zuma faces hundreds of allegations of corruption and fraud. The delegates hope this crucial vote for his replacement as party leader will signal the rebirth of the once proud ANC, sending a message to South Africa and the world.

They are openly disagreeing with the party's leadership, so this is democracy in action. But less than 5,000 people will make a choice for more than 60 million South Africans.

Just down the road in Soweto on the street where Nelson Mandela lived, South Africans died in the struggle against apartheid.

OUPA MOLOTO, ANC VETERAN: We didn't know that what is it that we are going to meet when we arrive at Vilakazi Street?

MCKENZIE: The survivors are disillusioned with the party of Mandela. Oupa Moloto says the ANC has lost its way.

MOLOTO: It is painful thing, you really have a question like do these people know how much we have sacrificed for this country?

JACOB ZUMA, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA: It was at this same thing as well --

MCKENZIE: He says whether the deputy president or a former minister and Zuma's x-wife when the ANC must still reckon with the rot. And the woman perhaps most responsible for exposing the allegations agrees.

THULI MADONSELA, FORMER PUBLIC PROTECTOR OF SOUTH AFRICA: So, a lot of it is about President Zuma, but is it only about President Zuma? Now, that would be a mistake because I think the waters have been poisoned.

MCKENZIE: Zuma denies all the charges of corruption. And he's famous for surviving scandal. Will the ANC overcome his legacy? David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.


ALLEN: Coming up here, we're off to the movies. One in particular, "The Last Jedi" is a box-office force. Ahead here, how the latest installment of the "Star Wars" sage did in its opening weekend.



[01:48:20] LUKE SKYWALKER: I only know one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end.


ALLEN: OK. Disney's "Star Wars" franchise has smashed box office records yet again. No shocker there. Taking in $220 million at the U.S. box office. "The Last Jedi" had the second biggest opening ever in North America, topped only by the 2015 "Star Wars" film, "The Force Awakens." It has brought in $450 million worldwide. Film and entertainment journalist Sandro Monetti joins us now from Los Angeles. Happy holidays and ho, ho, ho to the makers of this film, right?

SANDRO MONETTI, FILM & ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: And kaching. And I do feel partly responsible for this big box office having seen it three times myself. So, I am the kind of repeat viewer that is responsible for those big numbers.

ALLEN: Were you speechless when you came out of it like a lot of the people that we saw interviewed this weekend that we had on CNN?

MONETTI: Well, yes, the -- I had the grin of a Cheshire Cat because we've waited so long to get a "Star Wars" film as good as "The Empire Strikes Back." And I'm one of those who is definitely in the count that says, yes, it's at least equal to the best "Star Wars" film ever.

ALLEN: Yes. Yes. And we're seeing that. But why am I reading some things online that say "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" had low initial audience scores, critics love it, why do some fans hate it? Is this just some fluky thing I'm reading? What do you know about that?

[01:50:07] MONETTI: Not at all. Well, three things: opinions are like noses, everybody has got one and so everyone is entitled not to love it as much as me. Another thing is the trolls, another thing is the bots. Now, you can't really trust all these sort of internet reviews, as much as you can trust the exit polls. Yes, now, I know we talk a lot of CNN about exit polls in politics. They exist in movies as well. For 40 years now, as long as the "Star Wars" franchise has been around, the industry has been using cinema score which is a random survey of people who've been to see the movie, an exit interview. Those people rated 89 percent positive and an average review of five stars.

So, yes, I at least, for one, am convinced that the negativity on the internet has maybe been created by a few of the haters. But certainly, the studios are taking those exit polls to mind. And yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker himself. And he was obviously full of Juliet (ph), the positive reactions admits that it's not for everybody. But as he said to me, The Beatles is my "Star Wars." I love The Beatles and not everybody loves The Beatles but most of them do, and it's the same to "Star Wars."

ALLEN: Yes. I mean, the diehard fans, boy, they are diehard. Are they not? How would you compare it to --

MONETTI: They certainly are.

ALLEN: -- to 2015? Which one?

MONETTI: Well, I think this was, you know, J.J. Abrams who directed "The Force Awakens" had such a difficult task. You know, he had to introduce a new audience, please the old fans. And he did a sort of pretty good job. Ryan Johnson who was writer and director of this one could really take on those characters and set a new course for the franchise. And he's really done that and he introduced new things this time. I think this is the funniest "Star Wars" film ever. I think it's the sexiest "Star Wars" film ever. Certainly, there's a sexual tension which wasn't there before, there's a high camp comedy which wasn't there before. And I think this ongoing franchise is, if you can add new elements every time and still bring the old fans with you, you're on to a winner. And despite some contrasting reviews, I think the overall mood is positive.

ALLEN: And if there's anyone out there that say hasn't seen a "Star Wars" movie since the first one came out in 1977, some loser out there that named Natalie Allen, that would be me.

MONETTI: Oh, yes.

ALLEN: Would you -- is it OK that I could go see this one and I'll get it or do I need to back up a little bit?

MONETTI: You know, Natalie, it's like every other good versus evil film that you've ever seen. You know, it's mythical status now, and yes, the pry and knowledge can be enjoyed by those of us who are super fans, but just for the casual viewer, it's a rip-roaring entertainment and a really fun movie. So, maybe this is a good jumping off point. I hope I don't sound too much like a publicist for this movie. I'm just a fan who feels he's got his money's worth.

ALLEN: No, we get that. And the fact that you've seen it three times, we get it. We get it. It has brought you a lot of joy. We can tell. And (INAUDIBLE)

MONETTI: Let me speed this up, I've got the fourth screening in an hour to get to.

ALLEN: You're probably spending more on, you know, the (INAUDIBLE) the popcorn and, you know, chant.

MONETTI: I got the poster, I got the Darth Vader mask, I bought Yoda --

ALLEN: All right. I'm out. I'm going to see -- you got it. All right.

MONETTI: Who needs Christmas decorations, my home is full of "Star Wars."

ALLEN: We'll let you got to see that for the fourth time. Thank you, Sandro, so much.

MONETTI: May the force be with you.

ALLEN: All right. You, too. A new report by The New York Times revealed details of a classified program run for years by the Pentagon which spent millions investigating. Reports said UFOs, Unidentified Flying Objects. This isn't a "Star Wars" movie we're talking about, OK? The Times reports that the Advance Aviation Threat Identification Program began in 2007. It studied video and audio recordings like this one of aerial encounters between military pilots and unknown objects, and interviewed people who said they had experience encounters with UFOs. The Pentagon which until now has never acknowledge the program existed, says it was shut down in 2012. But according to The New York Times, certain aspects of the program still exist under the radar. How about that one?

Well, scoring an interview with the former president, a pretty big deal, but when you're a prince, your odds are pretty good, just ask Britain's Prince Harry who recently sat down with Barack Obama for a radio interview. They apparently had been friends for many years, and their closeness was on display, and Harry explained her editorial process to the former president when they were getting (INAUDIBLE).


[01:55:04] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do I have to speak faster? Because I'm a slow speaker.


OBAMA: OK. Do I need a British Accent?

PRINCE HARRY: But if you start -- if you start using long pauses between your answers, you're going to get the face or (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA: OK. I don't want to see that face.


ALLEN: All right. That interview is going to be on BBC Radio later this month. CNN's "2017 HERO OF THE YEAR" is an advocate for people with disabilities. She was inspired by her two children who have Down syndrome.


AMY WRIGHT, CNN's 2017 HERO OF THE YEAR: People with disabilities have been in the shadows for too long, but no more! Thank you, CNN, for this incredible honor. To my two youngest children, Bitty and Beau, who are my inspiration, I want you to know because I know you're watching at home tonight, Bitty and Beau, that I would not change you for the world. But I will change the world for you.


ALLEN: Amy Wright employs dozens of people with disabilities at her coffee shop in North Carolina named after her children, Bitty & Beau. Through her non-profit, she helps them show they can contribute and participate in the workforce. You can read more about her and the other heroes on our Web site. I'm Natalie Allen in Atlanta. Up next here, more CNN NEWSROOM with my colleagues, Rosemary and Cyril. See you later.