Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Earthquake in Haiti
Aired January 12, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAFFERTY: If you want to read more on this subject -- we got a lot of mail -- go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We want to read more and we will, Jack.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a bombing in Tehran kills a nuclear scientist. Tensions rise as Iran blames the United States, Israel and opposition groups. But the killing and the motive all shrouded in mystery.
New details on how a double agent managed to blow himself up at a secret base in Afghanistan, killing eight intelligence operatives, seven of them Americans. And new information on how he may have fooled two of the world's best spy agencies.
And the head of a special election to fill the late Senator Ted Kennedy's seat -- Democrats may be starting to sweat right now.
Why the outcome may be crucial to health care reform.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A shattering explosion in a quiet neighborhood of Iran's capital kills a nuclear scientist and sends shock waves spreading across the world. Under pressure to halt its nuclear efforts, Iran is now lashing out at the United States.
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is following this story for us -- Jill, what's been the reaction?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, why did -- that's the question -- why did this scientist die?
And if you ask the State Department, they admit they're still trying to understand it all. They say that the situation in Iran is opaque -- that's the word they use. And they say the only thing crystal clear is that the United States had nothing to do with it.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): Blood and questions on the streets of Tehran -- a remote-controlled bomb hiding in a motorcycle explodes, killing Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a nuclear physicist teaching at Teheran University. The Iranian government condemns the killing. Government- controlled media blame what they called U.S./Israeli mercenaries, including an opposition group that wants to bring back to power the Shah of Iran.
GORDON DUGUID, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The idea, the discussion, the charge that the United States had anything to do with a murder in Tehran today is absurd.
DOUGHERTY: The assassination an eerie reminder of the disappearance of another Iranian nuclear scientist last summer. The Iranian government claims he was abducted and is being held by the Americans.
Washington has been tight-lipped on where that scientist might be. All this comes as the U.S. and five other countries pressing Iran to come clean on its nuclear program debate new sanctions on Tehran. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who once threatened what she called "crippling sanctions," now talks about targeting a small group of decision makers in Iran, echoing the strategy she outlined a week ago.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our goal is to pressure the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iraqis, who deserve better than what they currently are receiving.
DOUGHERTY: Back in Tehran, locked in political chaos, rumors abound over who wanted the nuclear professor dead. This Tehran University student thinks it could be the Americans or the British. "Considering the recent incidents in the country," he says, "both sides are attempting to discredit each other. In such chaos, it's normal someone would try to add fuel to the fire."
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DOUGHERTY: The U.S. and its allies are going to meet in New York this weekend to discuss revving up sanctions. But the State Department is no longer referring to that New Year's deadline that President Obama set for Iran to live up to its promises on its nuclear program. Instead, they are saying that this is just the beginning of a very long process. And that's another indication that this standoff could continue to drag on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly looks like it will.
All right, Jill, thank you.
This isn't the first time someone connected with Iran's military or nuclear program has died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. In May, a nuclear scientist vanished in Saudi Arabia while on a religious pilgrimage. Iran accuses the U.S. of kidnapping him and Washington and Saudi Arabia deny any such plot. Another scientist died under mysterious circumstances in 2007. Iranian authorities say he died of gas poisoning. Other reports claim he was assassinated by Israeli agents.
In 2007, a former deputy defense minister vanished in Turkey. Iran accused the U.S. of kidnapping the retired general, but "The Washington Post" reports he defected to the West.
Intrigue and assassination -- the bombing in Iran has the elements of suspense, fiction, but it's all too real. "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius is a veteran journalist who's covered the Middle East and the intelligence community for a long time. His latest thriller, by the way, is called -- entitled, "The Increment" and it involves an Iranian nuclear scientist who turns to the CIA.
DAVID IGNATIUS, "WASHINGTON POST": Sound -- sound familiar?
BLITZER: It sounds familiar.
David, you've been covering the story for a long time.
Whose fingerprints do you see on this latest assassination?
IGNATIUS: On the bombing in Tehran this morning of Ali Mohammadi, I don't see any fingerprints yet. Everybody is obviously looking for signs. The Iranian claim that this was a U.S. organized plot, there's reason to be -- to be doubtful of that. To undertake an operation of that sort would require a lethal covert action -- in other words, a covert action in which people would end up getting killed. The agency does that very rarely. It's hard for me to imagine that being granted in this case.
There are examples in the past where the Israelis are believed to have acted very aggressively against Iranian and Syrian operatives who were involved in -- in weapons of mass destruction programs. So you can't rule that out.
But the evidence we have about this man makes me skeptical that he would have been a target for the Israelis. He...
BLITZER: Because he was an opposition figure, too?
IGNATIUS: Because he was an opposition...
BLITZER: He opposed the regime in Tehran.
IGNATIUS: From what we have gathered today, he opposed the regime in Tehran. He signed petitions supporting the opposition presidential candidate, Moussavi. So there's reason to -- to doubt that he would be a target for the Israelis or anyone in the West.
BLITZER: Based on what you know, does the U.S., right now, have good intelligence on what's going on in Iran?
IGNATIUS: When I ask that question, I'm told it's not good enough. This is a very hard target. It's -- it's hard to get people. We don't have an embassy there in which we could hide spies. It's possible for people to travel in and out. But -- but I think the honest answer is it's opaque to the United States.
The CIA is working hard to get new sources -- new -- new ways of getting inside. Obviously, our greatest strength in intelligence is our technical systems and our ways of surveilling, of overhearing, all of those programs. And I'm sure that those have been aggressive and fairly effective.
But in terms of human spies on the ground, not so easy (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Because in terms of aerial surveillance or -- or whatever, it's hard when some of these facilities supposedly involved nuclear programs are deep underground.
IGNATIUS: The facilities are deep underground, but the -- but the electronics systems that run them, the messages that are part of controlling them are not. And our -- in this day and age, it's possible to penetrate those systems. But I'm sure that the -- the CIA and the National Security Agency have been very aggressive in doing that.
So it's not as if we -- we don't know anything. It's just that having the human beings there to assess intentions, to get behind something like what happened today in Tehran is very difficult.
BLITZER: Is the opposition movement in Iran right now -- the opposition to Ahmadinejad -- gaining strength or -- or losing strength?
IGNATIUS: I think the right way to -- to look at this, Wolf, is to say that it's not -- it's not dying out. It's very difficult for this opposition to mount sustained protests week after week. That's what happened in the overthrow of the Shah. Khomeini's people kept coming out -- larger and larger crowds. That's not happening. They're using, in an optimistic way, the death of Ayatollah Montazeri, the Shiite religious festivals, to organize demonstrations. But it's tough for them to do their own planning and organization.
So you'd have to say it's still there, it's still strong, but it's not really expanding.
BLITZER: Is the opposition as strongly supportive, potentially, of a nuclear weapon in Iran as the regime is?
IGNATIUS: Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yesterday.
When I was in Iran, I found that Iranians of virtually any description -- opponents of the regime, supporters -- all felt some pride in Iran becoming a nuclear power in the sense of having the technology. And you saw that when the Iranians were negotiating in Europe, in Geneva in October, and it seemed close to a deal with -- with the West, that deal was attacked by the opposition -- by the people we would support as being against Iran's interests.
So I think any successor regime would probably try to hold onto that nuclear program.
BLITZER: I want to hold onto you. Don't go away. We have more to discuss, including on those CIA operatives.
All right, stand by.
Jack Cafferty is coming up right after the break.
Also, we have some new details about what was happening in the final seconds before that deadly suicide bombing targeting CIA operatives. David Ignatius is here. We're going to talk about that. We have new information coming in.
And the special election that could determine the outcome of health care reform -- who will win the seat held for decades by the late senator, Ted Kennedy?
And Conan O'Brien venting his frustration at NBC over "The Tonight Show" shake-up. He's warning that the changes NBC is planning will destroy the show.
BLITZER: We're just getting word of a major earthquake in Haiti. 7.3. A 7:00 p.m. Eastern earthquake in Haiti, only about 22 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. We're watching this story. This was a large earthquake. The damage potential is significant. We're getting new information and we'll bring it to you as soon as we get it.
Also, a tsunami warning is in effect in the area. 7.3 -- that's the preliminary magnitude. We're expecting an update in the next few minutes. Once again, not very far from Port-au-Prince and that very heavy -- heavily populated area of Haiti. A very disturbing story. We'll get more and share it with you.
In the meantime, let's go to Jack right now for The Cafferty File.
My heart goes out to those folks in Haiti, Jack. This could be bad.
CAFFERTY: Yes. And earthquakes around a lot of water can get really out of control.
Back here in this country, it's turning out to be a piece of legislation that nobody wants -- not the public, not a consensus among the members of Congress, neighbor except maybe the pharmaceutical and insurance companies.
Amid dire warnings from Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd that the health care reform bill is, quote, "hanging on by a thread," unquote, comes news from a major poll that the public is losing interest in this. After months of debate, a couple of 2,000 page monstrosities managed to pass the House and Senate. And our illustrious political leadership has now dragged these bulky documents behind closed doors out of sight of anyone in an attempt to reconcile them into a single law.
Apparently, it's not going so well.
CBS News found only 36 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling health care. That's an all time low. Fifty-four percent disapprove. Congress' numbers are even worse.
The bulk of the political damage with this, though, whichever way it goes, is likely to accrue to the president. He has spent most of his first year in office obsessed with health care reform, many say at the expense of other pressing issues. Now that he's on the verge of getting something -- we don't know what yet -- the appetite for what was once a grand idea appears to have soured considerably.
Here's the question then -- after months of debate, what are the chances that health care reform happens?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.
We're now only one week away from the special election in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat held by the late senator, Ted Kennedy, for 47 years. And the race right now is dramatically heating up. The Democratic candidate, State Attorney General Martha Coakley, is getting a boost from the national party this afternoon. A source tells CNN some 500 donors are doing a conference call with DNC Chairman Tim Kaine, with the goal of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Coakley.
She's facing Republican State Senator Scott Brown, whose campaign says it raised $1.3 million yesterday in an online fundraising effort.
Our senior political analyst, David Gergen, moderated a debate between Coakley and Brown last night. One of the hot issues was health care reform, one of Ted Kennedy's passions.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: We know from the Clinton experience that if this bill fails, it could well be another 15 years before we see health care reform efforts again in Washington.
Are you willing, under those circumstances, to say I'm going to be the person -- I'm going to sit in Teddy Kennedy's seat and I'm going to be the person that's going to block it for another 15 years?
SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, with all due respect, it's not the Kennedy's seat and it's not the Democrats' seat, it's the people's seat... (CROSSTALK)
BROWN: And they have a chance to send somebody down there who's going to be an independent voter and an independent thinker and going to look out for the best interests of the people of Massachusetts.
MARTHA COAKLEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS SENATE CANDIDATE: I'd be proud to be the 60th vote to make sure that we get health care reform that we so badly need. We've taken the lead here in Massachusetts in getting everybody insured. And now we are attacking costs, to make sure that we provide for transparency and competition to bring costs down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring David Gergen in.
He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Remind our viewers why, one week from today, everyone who cares about health care reform, pro or con, needs to be concerned.
GERGEN: Well, it -- if the Republican were to win -- if Scott Brown were to win in Massachusetts -- an upset -- he would become -- become the 41st senator and he could block health care reform in the Senate. And his campaign, Wolf, has gotten a lot of traction -- suddenly, unexpectedly -- in the last few weeks by exactly that campaign pledge -- I will be the 44th senator, I will send this bill back.
BLITZER: But the Democrats have two potential strategies. It's still a long shot, I think it's fair to say -- and you live in Massachusetts...
BLITZER: ...that -- that he will win. It would be a huge upset. But it is getting closer.
GERGEN: It would be a huge upset. No Republican has won a Senate seat since 1972 in Massachusetts. Since 1990, there have been seven Senate elections in Massachusetts. The average margin for the Democrat has been 33 points over these last seven elections.
So, yes. And it seems to be tightening up. We don't know what the polls look like. I asked him about -- and he's -- he's very fast on his feet. I asked him about...
BLITZER: Scott Brown...
GERGEN: Yes, Scott Brown. I asked him about, you know, this Kennedy seat, because he is filling out the end of Kennedy's term. But he saw an opening and he very adroitly turned it on me and stuffed me a little bit. I thought it was a smart answer. But that's how fast he is on his feet. And he's -- and he's impressing people. I think she's still the favorite. I think she's still a strong favorite. But he is -- he's certainly put in an air of unpredictability in this race. There are a lot of Republicans excited that maybe, maybe, maybe he can take it.
BLITZER: Could the Democrats -- let's say he wins...
BLITZER: ...and it's still a long shot, but let's say he wins -- delay certification, in other words be sworn in as the senator from Massachusetts, so that they could try to pass health care reform first?
GERGEN: Yes. There are a couple options for the Democrats should Scott Brown pull off an upset.
One is they could simply have the House pass the Senate bill and never send it back to a vote for the House. But that would be a huge compromise...
BLITZER: They would have to pass it verbatim without even one change.
GERGEN: (INAUDIBLE) no change. And, of course, they want a lot of changes. So I think that's unlikely, but they could do it.
The other thing is -- and what worries some people on the Republican side in Massachusetts and Republicans nationally is maybe they could extend out the vote -- the vote count. The -- the Massachusetts state officials have 10 days to count the votes.
And what if they took every one of those 10 days?
Conceivably, the Democrats could go ahead and get it done in Washington. The last time there was a special election in -- in Massachusetts for Niki Tsongas, when she won, it just took two days to certify it.
So there are a lot of Republicans saying why would it take 10 days then?
So the -- this is a -- there's a lot of contention and suddenly there's a lot of focus nationwide on this -- on this race.
BLITZER: There's one interesting, I guess, issue that's come up over the past few days. Scott Brown, when he was at Boston College Law School, he posed for "Cosmopolitan" magazine.
BLITZER: This was back in 1982. I think we have a picture of that. There he is, sort of posing nude. And some people are saying, you know, if this were a woman candidate, this would be an -- and let's say she had posed nude in "Playboy" magazine, this would be a huge issue. But you live in Massachusetts, this has not necessarily has been a huge issue for Scott Brown.
GERGEN: Oh, no. You find a lot of women sort of chattering about it. He's a -- he is a good looking fellow. But he also has a daughter who was on "American Idol" and she's a basketball star at B.C.
But I have to tell you, I think probably there is -- if a woman had posed nude in her younger years, I imagine it would have been a real burden. But for him, in this environment, you know, it's just part of the -- it's part of the conver -- it's part of the buzz about him. And he's got a lot of buzz right now.
Again, it's a very Democratic state -- the bluest of blue states -- or one of the bluest of all of our states. And, you know, she has to be, really, the favorite. But he's created a momentum. And the intensity factor is on his side. There are a lot of Democrats who want to send a message -- I'm not happy with what's going on in Washington, I may vote for Brown to send a message. But some people told me I'd like to vote for Brown, you know, but if he's going to lose, maybe I need to vote for Coakley.
BLITZER: Well, we'll watch. It's going to be a -- an interesting week in Massachusetts. And a lot of folks around the country will be watching.
BLITZER: David Gergen, thanks very much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We want to get back to this very strong earthquake in Haiti that we've been reporting on -- the breaking news. We're now told it was a 7.0, the magnitude of this earthquake, not very far away from the capital of Port-au-Prince -- Port-au-Prince in Haiti.
The latest tsunami warning we're getting is also that there is a tsunami warning in effect as a result of this earthquake off the coast of -- of Haiti. The Associated Press, by the way, says this earthquake hit an impoverished area of Haiti. Most of the country, I must say -- I've been to Haiti -- is impoverished.
The hospital, A.P. is reporting, has collapsed. People are now screaming -- screaming for help.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake has a preliminary magnitude now of 7.0, occurring just a little while ago, only 14 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
All right. We're going to get some more information. We'll take a quick break. We'll update you on what you know -- on what we know. This is a very disturbing story developing right now in Haiti.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A strong earthquake has hit Haiti in the Caribbean. We're now being told by the Associated Press at least one hospital has collapsed. People are screaming for help, according to the Associated Press. The U.S. Geological Survey says now the preliminary estimate is a 7.0, which is a large -- very large earthquake, only occurring about 22 kilometers, or 14 miles, west of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is a very, very poor country, highly populated. And we can only imagine what's going on in Haiti right now.
Deborah Feyerick is working the story for us, as well.
What are you picking up -- Deb, as far as this earthquake in Haiti is concerned?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, monitoring the wires that are incoming right now. And, obviously, we have got a number of calls out on this. We're being told that it is a 7.0 earthquake -- very, very strong on the scale there. A hospital has collapsed. That was witnessed, apparently, by an A.P. videographer who was near on the scene. Another reporter who was in the area is saying that, in fact, there was a tractor on scene trying to dig out victims of a building that had collapsed -- a three story building.
The big concern right now, Wolf, and that is that there's a tsunami could follow this earthquake because it is so strong. And there is a warning that has already gone out to countries -- Haiti, Cuba, Bahamas, Dominican Republic. We are told those are the countries most affected; obviously, Haiti, where the earthquake initially struck.
We are told right now that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, right now, they don't seem to be in the path or a threat of any sort of following tsunami that could occur because of this er -- earthquake. But right now, a big warning out for Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Again, we're getting information on this, but it does look like it's -- it's really hit that country very hard -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This is a country that's populated -- about nine million people, Deb, live in Haiti. And we're told most of them, about 60 percent -- people from the ages of 15 to 64, a large, very young population. Nearly 40 percent of the people of Haiti are 14 years or younger.
And, as I say, this is a very poor country. A lot of the folks live along the coasts of Haiti. And this is precisely where that hurricane has hit, as we've been saying, only about 14 miles west of Port-au-Prince in -- in Haiti.
We're getting more information even as we speak right now, getting information coming in from the national -- from the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. As you say, Deb, there is this tsunami warning, although there isn't a long history, I take it, of tsunamis in that area. There is, though, this warning says "a possibility of a local tsunami that could affect coasts located usually no more than 100 kilometers from the earthquake epicenter."
Well, this epicenter occurring only, what, 15 or 20 miles or so from the capital of Port-au-Prince -- Deb, what else are you getting?
FEYERICK: Well, exactly. And, Wolf, you know, if there is a tsunami in that area, especially if it hits Haiti, that's really going to be like a one-two punch. First, you have the devastation of this earthquake, as the country is trying to mobilize in order to try to get people out who may have been caught under buildings that might have collapsed.
Then, of course, if you have a tsunami, that is just going to further complicate things. Once these warnings go out, really, it's up to the country to respond -- the country to react. It is a very poor country. Many of the people there really don't even have enough to eat.
So right now, all of this is in play -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Deb.
CNN International, our sister network, is working this story, as well.
Michael Holmes is anchoring that coverage.
Let's listen in to what CNNI is reporting.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Live news. If you're watching the replay. If things change, we'll update you.
Let this guy get to work. (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: OK. Michael Holmes is working that story at CNN International.
Chad Myers is working the story for us, our severe weather expert -- Chad, this sounds very ominous.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is, Wolf. And the -- the problem right now is that this is a very shallow quake. This is about six miles deep. And if you're going to have a quake at 7.0 or something like that, you want to have it very deep because then there's plenty of rock to almost cushion the blow to the surface.
This is the same depth that the Banda Aceh tsunami happened. And we know how much damage that occurred -- that made. Just alone, the shaking itself is more of a concern to me than any tsunami potential here because the earthquake did happen below a land surface.
Now, there still could have been part of the sea surface that shook, as well, of course. But it's not like it was a quake under the water, where the rupture under the water would have caused a large displacement of water. This is a displacement of land and the shaking will be devastating to this.
You're -- you're talking about the poorness of the country and the people around there. And it -- and it isn't so much how much they make, it's how well the buildings are built. And they are not too -- what we would, in the U.S., what we would call to U.S. specifications. And so these buildings, when you get a shake like this, are going to collapse and there is going to be -- there's going to be devastation here that we haven't even talked about yet. This is going to be a long night -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yah, because if you've been to Haiti -- and I've been to Haiti -- these structures there, most of them are not strong and certainly not capable of withstanding a hurricane -- excuse me, an earthquake the magnitude 7.0, which is a very, very large earthquake.
BLITZER: These structures are very, very poor, primitive and the folks there, some nine million people live in Haiti. Our hearts go out to them right now. We're try to go establish contact with some people in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti right now.
And if you take a look at the situation there, Chad, you can only begin to imagine what might be going on even as we speak.
You have a lot of experience in dealing with these kinds of earthquakes. And as you say, this earthquake hit underground, not off the coast directly of -- of Haiti, but underground, what, only about 15 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince?
So that is devastating.
MYERS: It is. And there will be two types of wave. There's going to be a T wave and an S wave. A T wave is almost (INAUDIBLE) when the Earth moves, the same way a front car of a chain reaction accident would move. The front car moves because all the other cars behind it hit it. That's all the dirt and all the earth moving in a straight line. That will be the first one, that's the very quick and they very first tremor felt in Port-au-Prince. Then the S wave is almost like taking a slink and putting it on a table and then moving it back and forth with your hand and almost making an "S" out of it so it's called an S wave. That is the shaking. That is the rumbling that tears buildings down. They're unable to withstand the back-and- forth motion which is much more violent than what the T wave would be or the first -- the initial wave and it's the secondary wave, the S wave, that I'm very concerned about here. A 7.0, only this far from a very large multimillion population town is going to cause quite a bit of devastation all the way from the epicenter right into Port-au- Prince itself.
BLITZER: Port-au-Prince has a population of 2 million people. I can't emphasize enough, Chad, this is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It's one of the poorest countries in the entire world, so these 9 million people who live in Haiti, they have a tragedy, they have a crisis they're dealing with right now, and they're going to look to the entire world, especially the United States, I'm sure, for assistance. A 7.0 earthquake hitting Haiti just moments ago. That assistance won't be able to be easy to get in, given some of the primitive conditions at the runways and elsewhere, the sea ports in Haiti right now, although a cry for help I am sure, Chad, is going out.
MYERS: Yes and you know what? We also think about what the roadways are like, they are not all that high tech as well. So not just airplanes, but getting heavy equipment to be able to move some of this concrete structure away from some of these collapsed buildings will also be a task. They may have to literally rebuild some of the roads to get the equipment to this disaster.
BLITZER: Is there any good indication, a 7.0 magnitude coming as close as it is to a major urban center like Port-au-Prince, 2 million people live there, and given the nature of the structures there, Chad, is there any good indication how devastating this could be?
MYERS: Wolf, I don't really even need to get there right now. This is a very bad situation. This is a concrete structure and structures that aren't put together with rebar well. They are not anchored to the ground by flexibility to allow the earth to shake or wobble back and forth. When concrete structures that are made solid to the ground shake with this ground, there's going to be a lot of collapsing or pancaking buildings. Those are the most devastating situations when people are caught under these large slabs of concrete, and it takes major equipment to get those slabs off.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a moment, Chad. Jean Bernard is joining us from Port-au-Prince right now. He's on the phone. Mr. Bernard, thank you very much. Can you describe the scene where you are?
Unfortunately I think we have lost our connection with Jean Bernard. We're going to try to reconnect with them. We're also trying to connect with others in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, but as you can imagine, communications right now are very, very difficult. Chad Myers is still with us. We're also getting some new information. Chad, are you still there?
MYERS: Yes Wolf. Go ahead.
BLITZER: I was saying we're trying to establish communications. But as you know and our viewers know, one of the first things that go out are communication lines. It's not going to be easy to get through, whether on a phone or any other connection.
MYERS: Of course, and also the electricity will be going out. Even if you can think of wireless transmissions, most of that wireless line would be connected to power companies that are from the Port-au- Prince area, and all of these wires, this they expand almost in like a spider web outside from Port-au-Prince out into these urban areas and suburban areas, and that's what this is. This is only 15 miles from downtown.
This is still an area where people would -- I use the word "commute" because that's what we think of it as, but these are satellite towns and villages where, you know, even the low level of income that some of the people have in downtown would even be exponential to these little small farming villages where people have spent their entire lives, now all of a sudden this 7.0 is shaking their life and shaking the earth like it's never shook before. This is not a quake that these people cannot live through, but this is a very dangerous situation at this point in time, with a lack of power, with probably you're going to see a lack of all sanitation for quite some time. A 7.0 quake at only 6 miles deep is almost the same as like an 8 quake that would be 50 or 60 miles deep. This is a very difficult situation for these people and will take probably even hours for us to get good communication. So we're doing our best here in Atlanta as well.
BLITZER: I want to bring in Jenny Harrison from CNN Weather as well.
Jenny, what are you picking up?
JENNY HARRISON, CNN INTERNATIONAL WEATHER: It's all about the tsunami watch, Wolf. That's what I have information on here. Let's show again the area we're talking about. The can zoom in here, we can actually see the area we're talking about, but a tsunami watch has been posted not just for Haiti, but also for the Dominican Republic, also of course Cuba and the Bahamas. That is how far-reaching this could potential be, and of course these low-lying areas, as Chad was saying, they are very, very poor areas. Also, you have to remember the time of day, so it will be dark in many areas.
A tsunami watch means that a tsunami has not actually been spotted, but there is very much the possibility or the potential that a tsunami could arrive. A tsunami isn't necessarily just one wave. It could be a series of waves, and they could also take anything between five minutes to one hour to actually occur. It's a sort of situation where you may see a tsunami wave coming onshore and people could mistakenly be thinking that's it the threat is over, but it's not over, because there could be more waves to come after that. So again just to tell you, the tsunami watch is in place, obviously for Haiti, but also for the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas, the whole area of the western Caribbean is under basically a tsunami watch right now.
BLITZER: And we'll be watching that very, very closely, Jenny. I want you to show our viewers, if you can, where Haiti is compared to Cuba, some of the other places in the Caribbean right now, and certainly how close it is to the United States.
HARRISON: Well let's have a look shall we? Here of course this is Haiti. This is the western portion of Haiti. The whole island mass is the two countries. So Dominican Republic is out to the east. So that is what that one particular area is. Cuba, look, it is very, very close just to that northwestern tip of Haiti and then I think we can just move our map out a little bit, possibly I can show you, there are the Bahamas, and of course as many Americans know traveling so frequently to the Bahamas, it is just off the coast of Florida as indeed is Cuba but there isn't at the moment Wolf any tsunami watch posted for Florid. Of course, if that happens, we'll bring it straight to you.
BLITZER: And so the Dominican Republic and Haiti, they share that island. Are we getting any indication of damage in the Dominican Republic itself?
HARRISON: We haven't had anything at all. Nothing has come through to us here, but obviously as soon as we hear that, we'll make sure you hear about it.
BLITZER: We just were told that the U.S. Geological Survey saying a 5.9 aftershock has just been reported, which is also very significant, Jenny.
HARRISON: It is significant, and of course the damage that could already potential been done, Wolf, by a 7 magnitude earthquake, when you have an aftershock as strong as 5.9, structures are already significantly weakened, so 5.9 on top of a 7 and very, very soon after does indeed mean that some structures are going to be weakened significantly, now could be coming down, and as I say, on top of that we have the tsunami watch in place as well.
BLITZER: It's a very disturbing story. Let me read what the Associated Press just moved on the wire. They have established contact with a visiting official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Henry Bond. "Everybody is just totally, totally freaked out and shaken," Mr. Bond says. "The sky is just gray with dust." Bond says he was walking into his hotel room when the ground began to shake. He's in Port-au-Prince. "I just held on and bounced across the wall. I just hear a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance." He said there were rocks strewn all over the place. He saw a ravine where several homes had been built, just full of collapsed walls and rubble and barbed wire, an eyewitness account to the Associated Press coming in from Henry Bond, a visiting official from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We're trying to establish contact with the Haitian ambassador, Raymond Joseph. We hope to speak to him momentarily. Chad Myers are you still with us on the phone?
MYERS: Yes, Wolf.
BLITZER: Based on that eyewitness description of what we just heard from Henry Bond of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it sounds ominous indeed in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. These are heavily populated areas with shabby construction.
MYERS: It was very disturbing to hear cloud of concrete dust, and even if it's not -- even if it's just dust in general, that means that things have been shaken to a point where the earth shook in such a way that concrete structures, and pieces of other structures have disintegrated, literally, and into dust as it pancakes to the ground. To hear that I was shaken to the core when I did hear that we have dust in the area, because that is one indication -- almost like when we talk about tornadoes. If we hear that we have insulation on the ground, we know that that insulation came out of the attics, and that's what a devastating tornado occurs, when you have dust in the air that requires a devastating earthquake, and that is what's happened.
BLITZER: The sky is just gray with dust, a direct quote from this American official who's on the scene in Port-au-Prince right now. I think we have established contact with Haiti's ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Ambassador, Raymond Joseph, are you there? Can you hear me?
RAYMOND JOSEPH, HAITIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Yes, I can hear you, and I am just heartbroken. I just spoke to the secretary-general to the presidency, Mr. Fritz Longchamps. He's the only one I've been able to reach on his cell phone, and because he was on the streets, and he said he was going from Port-au-Prince to the area toward the east, and he had to stop his car just about half an hour ago, and take to the streets, start walking, but he said houses were crumbling on the right side of the street and the left side of the street he does not know whether he would reach his home, not knowing what he would find, because he had a bridge to cross to get there. He said it is a catastrophe of major proportions.
BLITZER: We can only, only start praying. We are getting indications, Mr. Ambassador, that the U.S. military's southern command, if asked, by the U.S. government, the State Department, for assistance, the U.S. military is ready to come in. Have you been in touch -- I know it's only moments since this earthquake, 7.0 magnitude occurred, but have you been in touch with the State Department? Are you seeking U.S. assistance in this situation?
JOSEPH: Definitely, but I have to tell you, since this happened about a half hour ago, I've been on the phone with different news agencies calling me, and I have not had a chance to contact my friends and colleagues at the State Department with whom I was just discussing other things just yesterday. Yesterday I was with the State Department, and today, you know, I have to call them about this catastrophe.
BLITZER: This area, you know it well, this area of the Port-au- Prince, the capital area, and you mentioned this other town where I guess your friend -- I don't know if I'm pronouncing it correctly. Describe this area under good circumstances, how congested it is, the nature of the buildings. Are they capable of withstanding an earthquake of this magnitude?
JOSEPH: Definitely not when I went back to Haiti after 13 years in 2004, I wrote a piece for then a newspaper in New York, and I said, coming from the air, what I'm seeing, the kind of buildings hanging from the sides of the hills, Port-au-Prince is a catastrophe waiting to happen. And we saw a bit of it recently when some buildings collapsed like school, but now to have an earthquake of that magnitude, well, I cannot tell it. I cannot tell what's going to happen. But the place is really pretty bad, and already in good times it was bad. Now something like that, 7.0 magnitude earthquake I think is really a catastrophe of major proportions, as Mr. Fritz Longchamps has said.
BLITZER: And Mr. Ambassador, Chad Myers, or severe weather expert is still on the phone. He wants to ask you a few questions. Chad, you heard about the 7.0, the 5.9 magnitude aftershock. Can we just assumed through be a series of aftershocks which can be pretty definite stating in and of themselves?
MYERS: I think that's clear. I think the 7.0 was the shock, the main quake. There December what's called foreshocks, waiting for a largest quake about one hour or less later. It has been longer than that, so now we believe the 7.0 was the major quake and not a foreshock, thanks goodness, to a larger quake.
Mr. Ambassador, I'm worried a bit about the quality of the buildings. Tell me a little about since 2000, the quality of the buildings and inspections, and are the buildings any safer than when I visited in 2000? The newer buildings, are they better now?
JOSEPH: I wish I could have said something else, but I think it's as bad if for the worse. In fact, recently the government began to condemn some areas that people can no longer build in there. However, if you look at what's going on, these little flimsy houses, holding to the side of hills, Port-au-Prince is surrounded by hills, big valleys, and so forth. As I said before, anything that happened it was a catastrophe waiting to happen.
BLITZER: I want to point out, Mr. Ambassador, you know this well, Haiti is the most densely populated country in the western hemisphere, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. 9 million people in one third of this island that's Haiti. Two thirds are the do minute scan republic. It's just a very crowded place, Mr. Ambassador. Is that right?
JOSEPH: Not only very crowded, but especially Port-au-Prince, a city that was built for about 50,000 people today house is 2 million. And the government was just in the process of doing some projects outside of Port-au-Prince to try to decentralize the capital.
BLITZER: I'm sorry for interrupting Mr. Ambassador, but the epicenter we're told is only about 10, 15, 20 miles, if that, from the capital? It's very, very close?
JOSEPH: Yes. Well, the only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best.
BLITZER: I think you've got to do more than that, you've got to pray, but you also have to start making sure that the world comes to the aid of Haiti. Haiti is in deep trouble right now. You have 9 million people there, potentially others in the Dominican Republic and in the Caribbean area that are going to be looking for the entire world's help, especially the United States. I want you to stay with us, Mr. Ambassador, because Chris Lawrence is over at the pentagon. He's getting new indication on what the U.S. military might be able to do to come to your aid. I want to bring Chris in for a moment. Mr. Ambassador, stick with us.
JOSEPH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Chris, go ahead. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes Wolf. We've been talking to officials here at the Pentagon. They tell us right now the United States doesn't have any troops stationed there in Haiti. No troops in Haiti, but sometimes the U.S. military will do some joint exercises as part of the United Nations missions there, so they're checking to make sure if any U.S. troops may be attached to any sort of mission there.
In regards to helping Haiti, we've been in touch with southern command, that's the part of the U.S. military in charge of that part of the world. They say not only have they been alert to do this earthquake, they say they are ready, willing and able to help if need. That request would have to go through the state department, and then to southern command add the U.S. military. There would be precedent for this. About a year and a half, I'm sure the ambassador remembers when his country suffered those really devastating torrential rains and mudslides, the U.S. navy dispatched one of its ships from Columbia, diverted that ship to Haiti and helped deliver about 3 million pounds of international aid to the people there. They were also assisted with engineering, repairing some of the schools and health clinics so there's definitely a precedent for the U.S. military to be involved in helping the people of Haiti to get over a natural disaster like this.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Chris. The ambassador is still with us. Ambassador Raymond Joseph, are you there with us?
JOSEPH: I am still there.
BLITZER: I assume you know that right now we are being simulcast on CNN and CNN international, so that the entire world is watching CNN right now. This is a moment for you without going through normal diplomatic channels to make your appeal for help. What would you like to tell the state department and other foreign ministries around the world right now?
JOSEPH: Well, what I would like to say is that Haiti has been portrayed all of the time the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and now has been hit by the worst catastrophe, so I'm calling on all friends of Haiti and people who are listening to me to please come to our aid, because Haiti having been the first black republic in the world did help many others in the beginning to gain independence, and even helped the United States by fighting in the war of independence of the United States and by defeating the French in helping the United States get the Louisiana purchase. So, we did help in the beginning. So, today as Haiti is going through the worst day in its history I am calling for all others who got help from us in the beginning to help in support.
BLITZER: I am sure, Mr. Ambassador, the U.S. government and the Canadian government, governments all over the world and the Mexican government and all of those who are listening to your appeal will come to Haiti's assistance as quickly as possible.
Just to recap a 7.0 magnitude earthquake only about 40 minutes or so ago striking Haiti about 15 miles or so from the capital of Port- au-Prince. Mr. Ambassador, stick with us, as Frank Williams is joining us on the phone right now from World Vision Haiti. He is in Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Williams, describe what you are seeing and hearing.
FRANK WILLIAMS, WORLD VISION HAITI: Well, thank you. It is a pretty disconcerting situation. You have got pretty much people screaming kind of all around the city of Port-au-Prince, and our staff, we were in the building that shook for about 35 seconds and portions of things on the building fell off, and fortunately for us, our building remains standing. And none of our staff were injured, but lots of walls are falling down. Many of our staff have tried to leave, but were unsuccessful because the walls from buildings and private residences are falling into the streets, so that, it has pretty much blocked significantly most of the traffic. We have some aftershocks that we have experienced about 10 or 15 minutes after the original quake. We have an unconfirmed report that the national palace is severely damaged as well as some other government building structures.
BLITZER: Mr. Williams, where exactly in Port-au-Prince are you right now?
WILLIAMS: I'm in a sort of the part of the city above the bay called Petionville, and so, we have talked to some of the people, and we have got through on one of the phone lines into the interior part of the country, and they also experienced the earthquake. But we have not been able to confirm other portions of the country.
BLITZER: So your associates, your colleagues in Haiti right now are reporting widespread devastation, and when I hear you say you are hearing people screaming, this is an ongoing situation?
WILLIAMS: Yes, it is an ongoing situation. I think that, you know, people are particularly, if there is another aftershock, there is a kind of wail as people are very frightened by it, but most people are out in the streets and just kind of looking up, and several, you know, lots of people are pretty, you know, not holding it together emotionally, but that is how it is on the ground.
BLITZER: The ambassador to Haiti from the United States is with us, Mr. Raymond Joseph, are you there?
JOSEPH: Yes, I am there.
BLITZER: I would like for you to speak directly to Mr. Williams in Port-au-Prince, and I know you have loved one and friends in Port- au-Prince, Mr. Ambassador and you can ask him what you want, and you heard him say he is near Petionville, and he is near the capital of Port-au-Prince, and you can go ahead to speak to Mr. Williams in Port- au-Prince.
JOSEPH: Mr. Williams?
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.
JOSEPH: Do you hear me?
JOSEPH: I have just spoken to Fritz Longchamps, and he is the secretary-general of the president, and he happened to be going up to Petionville, and he told me that he had to park his car and start walking, because the buildings were collapsing on both sides of the streets. So, that is the first time I was able to speak to somebody from government other than no contact at all. Are you aware of what is happening around the palace and so forth?
WILLIAMS: Well, we have an unconfirmed report that the palace is severely damage and the building also that the Internal Revenue Service staff are located has been severely damaged as well. I am resisting the urge to say that people will be happy to hear that the internal revenue service building is damaged, because it is not a situation of levity, but we are hearing a lot of people pretty much wailing and out in the streets. My hope and my prayer is that, that is mostly just the kind of emotional reaction to something that many people here have never experienced, but we will be determining as quickly as we can with our resources and staff and colleague organizations how much loss of life, loss of assets and how we can use prepositioned supplies and supplies that hopefully will be coming from people who respond to this situation as quickly and as effectively as possible.
BLITZER: Mr. Williams, hold on Mr. Ambassador for a moment, it is approaching 6:00 p.m. here on the east coast of the United States. Mr. Williams, what time is it now in Port-au-Prince?
WILLIAMS: We are on Eastern Standard Time here in Port-au- Prince. It is just darker here, because we are further east.
BLITZER: Well, I was going to -- that raises the question, is it dark already there? That is certainly going to complicate rescue operations in Port-au-Prince, and as I have been saying a city of 2 million people and 9 million people in the small sliver of this island called Haiti. How worried are you, Mr. Williams, that it is getting dark now?
WILLIAMS: I think that I'm very concerned that the darkness will not only hinder people who are of goodwill, but it will encourage people who are maybe opportunists in the circumstances like this, but we are going to have to take it an hour at a time, and respond as we can.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, when Mr. Williams who is with World Vision Haiti says that there are prepositioned supplies in and around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, what, if anything, do you know about this in terms of getting water and food and other essentials and medical equipment to people who are struggling right now?
JOSEPH: Well, as I said before, this first time I was able to talk to an official of the government. The secretary-general, he was on the street walking. He, himself, was not able to be in contact with any official, not with the president, not with the prime minister. So, right now, I'm in no position to know how they are going to do anything. What I want to do is to get off of this phone now, and be able to try to reach either the chief of police, some of the people that I have phones I have, and see what can be done, and also to get in touch with the state department and ask them to come to our rescue right now.
BLITZER: I think that the State Department is hearing every word, Mr. Ambassador, that you are saying right now, while you are here on CNN. I will let you go hang up the phone, and we will stay in close touch with you, and needless to say, our heart goes out to all of the people of Haiti, and we wish only, only the best under these awful, awful circumstances.
Raymond Joseph is Haiti's ambassador here in the United States. He has been kind enough to share some information with us. We are going to continue to check back with him. Mr. Ambassador, I am sure that the State Department and other foreign ministries around the world have been listening to your appeals and getting other information as well, and the entire world will be coming back to try to assist Haiti during this awful, awful time. We only know that people are screaming on the streets of Port-au-Prince, and other towns and villages in Haiti right now, and we will continue to follow what is going on.
I want everyone to stand by. Our continuing coverage of the breaking news, an earthquake in Haiti, resumes after this little animation.