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Historic Category 4 Hurricane Slams Puerto Rico; Irma Survivor Endures Hurricane Maria; Crews Scramble to Rescue Survivors from Debris in Mexico City; Iranian President: Trump Made "Absurd, Hateful" Accusations. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:14] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Maria punishing Puerto Rico with 140 miles per hour winds. A Category 4 hurricane snapping trees, ripping off rooftops.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, you know, the most devastating storm either in a century or quite frankly, in modern history.


KING: Disaster of a different kind in Mexico. More than 200 dead. A frantic search and rescue effort now under way at a school crumbled by a powerful earthquake.

Plus a rare spotlight this hour for the first lady, Melania Trump. A big speech at the United Nations as she steps into a more public role.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I will always stay true to myself, and be truthful to you. No matter what the opposition is saying about me.


KING: We're keeping an eye, a dramatic search and rescue operation under way in Mexico City at a school where rescuers hope they can still find some children alive in the rubble. We will take you back there in a moment, sooner if developments warrant. A very dramatic situation playing out there in Mexico City.

For Puerto Rico, it's an entire day under a wet and windy siege, pummeled by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm. It's the strongest storm to hit the island in nearly a century.

Maria first slammed into the island with winds of 155 miles per hour. So strong, you see it right there, almost lifted our reporter, Leyla Santiago, off her feet. More than 11,000 people now hunkered down in emergency shelters. That

sounds like a lot of people, but remember, 3.3 million people live on Puerto Rico.

Many found refuge in stairwells or even bathrooms padded with pillows. Even seasoned storm chasers say this was terrifying.


MIKE THEISS, CEO AND FOUNDER, ULTIMATE CHASE INC.: We are getting absolutely pounded here. That eye, that northern eye wall, must have come through here, and we are taking the constant wind.

It's screaming, it's whistling. There's stuff hitting the building. We heard glass breaking. We are definitely, definitely in a dangerous situation.

It sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, very high- pitched squealing sound. And it's just -- it's coming through every crack in this building right now.

And every now and then, we hear a big piece of debris hit part of the wall. You know, it will tremble a little bit. But we are definitely taking it pretty hard right now.


KING: Here's some context for just how big this storm is. The cloud shield of Hurricane Maria, basically from one edge of the storm system to the other, about 600 miles. That's the distance from Washington, D.C. to Chicago.

Before it reached Puerto Rico, it wreaked havoc as a Category 5 storm on other Caribbean islands like St. Croix. St. Croix escaped the worst of Hurricane Irma, not so this time with Maria.

Listen to one woman's harrowing tale of watching her roof nearly blow off above her head.


JODY GOODRICH, RODE OUT HURRICANE MARIA IN ST. CROIX: Our storm shutters broke open at one point in the middle of the night. And Terry (ph) and I used mops and canes and rope and tied it shut and put -- you know, flattened it down again. And I sat in the kitchen for a long time, just watching our roof lift up away from the foundation and then up and down, dancing, swearing it was going to blow off. But she held on.


KING: She held on. Let's head to the CNN Weather Center. Chad Myers is monitoring the latest for us on Maria.

Chad, bring us up to speed. CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: This was a very big storm overnight,

John, and it made landfall as a Category 4 at 1:55. But when it was approaching St. Croix, it was certainly the Category 5, and I was watching at home.

Hurricane hunters picked up wind gusts somewhere around 180 miles per hour. We hoped that the storm might fall apart, and it slightly did on its way to the U.S. Virgin Islands and into Puerto Rico. But there you see, this is St. Croix, the northern eye wall right on the island right there.

And then we move in to Puerto Rico, landfall today, 6:00 a.m. Officially at that time, the National Weather Service radar in Puerto Rico failed. And so we haven't seen a radar picture since, which is why we're showing you the satellite.

We believe now the eye is to the west of San Juan, moving back offshore. That's good news. The farther it goes away, the more the winds will die off. The farther it goes away, the more the rain will taper off because the rain has been relentless. And also, flash flooding is going on, almost every river and stream in Puerto Rico right now.

But where does it go from here? This is the latest 11:00 a.m. advisory. It is still forecast to turn. Does it turn in time?

Notice where this cone is. This cone is almost to North Carolina. Remember how we had to keep the cone in when we talked about the storm that went through? Irma went through -- almost went through Tampa.

We know the rainfall is coming. We know the wind is still coming. But for now, we are in strong buildings and that's why we still have pictures. When we get to the countryside, this storm is going to look a whole lot different, John.

[12:05:08] KING: Chad Meyers tracking this for us in the Weather Center. Chad, we'll keep in touch. See you a bit later this hour to get the latest.

This hurricane is showing absolutely no mercy on Puerto Rico. Here's a look at some of the damage we're seeing so far.

These buildings are in San Juan where structures are typically a lot sturdier than those you find in rural parts of the island. CNN's Leyla Santiago has been outside during some of the strongest winds in San Juan and joins us now.

Leyla, what's the latest?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, these winds are certainly still strong. Rain is coming down. Take a look at the debris behind me, just in front of the hotel where we are staying. And this is really what we're seeing all over this area, debris on the ground.

I'll bring you over here, as well, so you can see how the buildings are holding up. That is an apartment complex that is really struggling. It has not held up all the way. You can see where windows have come down.

It's left it -- it sort of stripped it of some parts of the building, despite the attempts from residents. What appear to be some pretty solid attempts with metal roofing and boarded windows. That did not hold.

Let me bring you down over here so that you can see also some of the businesses in this area. The Hard Rock Cafe. And we're wiping the lens here for a minute, but that -- and that's because of all this rain and wind.

The Hard Rock Cafe, actually the sign is down on the ground. Part of the sign is down on the ground. There is a tree that has come down right in front of it. Its roof really sort of tells the story of the power of these winds.

And if you don't get it from these buildings, just take a look at these palm trees that barely have anything left on them. And you know, it wasn't until just recently I actually got to see some of the first responders heading out for the first time.

Communication is a major issue right now. And they had a team that went out, came in. I asked them what they saw. They said there were a lot of flooded roads right now, a lot of blocked roads, which are going to make it very difficult for those who are still needing help, those who don't have power.

More than 60 percent of this island right now doesn't have power. And the Governor has already said that he believes, by the end of this, it will be 100 percent without power -- John.

KING: Leyla Santiago on the ground for us in San Juan. Leyla, stay safe. And we will stay in touch as the power crisis and other issues continue to mount because of Maria.

I want you to imagine this following nightmare scenario. Barely surviving Hurricane Irma, then going through Hurricane Maria just two weeks later.

Mari Rosas took this video. She's now weathered both storms in San Juan. It took six days to restore her power after Irma. She joins me on the phone now from her apartment where she's been sheltering down.

Mari, give us your situation at the present. And do you still have power? And what is this -- what are you hearing from local authorities about what's likely to come in the days and hours ahead?

MARI ROSAS, SURVIVED HURRICANES IRMA AND MARIA (via telephone): Hi, thank you for having me.

We had no power since about midnight last night. And the generator, I think, went out around 6:00 a.m. There was a generator for the common areas. And so there's no water in the building either because without a generator, we don't get any water. The entire area where I am is flooded by a lot. And what I hear is

that there's no communication to the west side. I think communication towers early on came down. A lot of people don't have service. I have AT&T, and it's one of the few, I think, that manages to still have some service. And so we're really just in the dark right now.

There is -- from what I hear, a lot of people have lost everything because storm shutters have broken and windows have flown away. And so everything -- I don't know of any casualties yet personally, but I also am not in touch with many people.

But I do know of a lot of people that are taking refuge in garage, you know, in building garages, because their windows blew out and so they -- and in the hallways and near elevators because those are the -- or stairways.

I'm currently in my bathroom because I just am terrified of, like, maybe having one of these window shutters give up. And we -- I mean, the eye just --

KING: I think we lost Mari Rosas here. Let me just give it a couple of seconds to see if the signal comes back.

Mari, can you hear me?

OK. We lost the signal with Mari Rosas. We will check back with her, a, first and foremost, to make sure she's safe. And, b, if we can continue the conversation and we'll do so.

We have -- Mari, we have you back.

[12:10:02] ROSAS (via telephone): Yes, I'm here.

KING: OK. You say you're taking shelter in your bathroom now because you're worried. In terms of what you're seeing outside the windows or you were seeing before you came into the bathroom, are things better than they were an hour or two ago, worse than they were an hour or two ago?

ROSAS (via telephone): No, they're getting worse because we're getting more rain. So the flood is really now what is going to kind of be the most devastating thing, I think.

KING: And when you talk about what you've seen before you came in to take the shelter, what about the damage you've been able to see over the past few hours?

ROSAS (via telephone): Every tree in our property is down, and there are no leaves on any of the trees that are -- the few that are still up. And there's just, you know, really -- like it's a -- it's rivers of water going through the streets, so it's not that it's like calmly flooded. It's like gushing through, water just gushing through the streets like a river.

KING: In terms of your personal situation, you just went through Irma. This looks like it's hitting harder there. In terms of your own preparations, foods, supplies -- you obviously won't have access to power if the power is out -- are you prepared for this?

ROSAS (via telephone): Yes, as much as we can be. I mean, we collected water. And there's plenty of food but hopefully, this is something that -- I don't know. I -- honestly, I haven't even thought of, like, more than, you know, how I'm going to survive until tomorrow.

KING: And how much of that, the minute-to-minute contingency plan in your mind, is because of just -- you just went through Irma?

ROSAS (via telephone): Well, the problem is that the infrastructure here was already damaged by Irma, but Irma wasn't a direct hit at all. So this is, I think, like 10 times the force or at least like how we are receiving it this time. And so I just can't imagine.

I was without power for six days, and I'm in a very central urban area. I don't know what's going to happen to -- I honestly don't know what's going to happen to the economy now because I feel like people are going to be -- I mean there's devastation across the entire island, and it's -- I don't know. It's really scary.

KING: Mari Rosas, really scary. That's an understatement. Of course, we appreciate your time, and we wish you the best. We hope for your safety and then for the restoration of power as soon as possible.

Mari Rosas, we'll keep in touch in the hours and days ahead. An important first hand witness to what's happening in Puerto Rico.

Now, let's move on to that devastating earthquake in Mexico City. Right now, search crews are racing against time, trying to rescue survivors from under debris after a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico City.

You see the pictures right there of the rescue effort. So far, sadly, at least 225 people, confirmed dead. Among the victims, at least 21 children found after the collapse of an elementary school. Dozens still missing from that school.

The video we're about to show you, very difficult to watch. It shows search crews pulling out a small trapped child. Listen as the crews scream out for help.




KING: We watched these dramatic pictures play out. Mexico's President says rescuers have been asking for total silence at times in hopes of hearing voices from under the rubble.

Let's bring in CNN's Rosa Flores. We're also joined by Gustavo Valdes. We'll talk to Gustavo in a moment. He's a reporter for CNN Espanol. Rosa, you're live on the ground there. I've been watching you

throughout the day getting a sense how widespread is this damage.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, from here, what we see are death, destruction, devastation, despair. A lot of people still waiting to hear if their loved ones are alive. I want to show you over my shoulder because this is one of the dozens of buildings in Mexico City that collapsed yesterday because of this devastating earthquake.

We've been monitoring overnight, John. I can tell you that first responders have been sifting through this rubble carefully by hand, lifting some of the rubble, hoping to find life, listening within the cracks and crevices of this building for signs of life to follow those signs of life.

Now, the latest here on the ground is a bit of confusion because, of course, family members have been asking for information about their loved ones, the information about the loved ones that they believe are trapped inside.

And just a little while ago, there was this woman asking for cash, asking for money, because she wanted to go buy nails, wood, and wire. And, of course, we're thinking why is this woman asking for nails, wood, and wire?

Well, I asked some of the police officers who were here, and they tell me that first responders are trying to create tunnels through the building that you see behind me, this collapsed building. They are trying to build tunnels to get to people that they believe are alive.

[12:15:10] Now, at about that same time, we saw a swell of resources here. A lot of paramedics. We saw military, people dressed in military fatigues carrying picks, axes, rope, everything imaginable.

You can see, this was not what the scene looked like earlier today. There is a lot more commotion. There is a lot more movement. And, of course, all of these are good signs for the people who are waiting to hear if their loved ones will be rescued here alive.

And, John, from talking to a lot of them, they are in agony. Their eyes are swollen. They haven't slept all night. They've been here, hoping, waiting, praying, that their loved one will emerge from this rubble alive.

KING: Rosa, stand by. I want to bring in Gustavo as well. And we're watching traumatic pictures. On the right of your screen there, you saw the search dog. You see them using lumber there to prop up the ceiling above, trying to create a safe space.

We believe these rescuers believe they have something, someone, hopefully, that they have found in this debris. You see the search dog. You see everything else.

Gustavo, you're near that school that collapsed. Describe the situation as you now know it. GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN EN ESPANOL REPORTER: That's right, John. In the

last few minutes, a lot of people have been coming with two-by-fours, the kind that's largely used to build a structure, perhaps signaling that they are getting ready to secure some of the collapsed parts of this building.

A few minutes ago, I talked to one of the rescuers, one of the members of Los Topos. This is a group that formed in 1985 after the big earthquake that struck this area back then. And these are people who have, for years, specialized in search and rescue. They've gone all over the world.

And they say that what is different this time in Mexico City from 32 years ago is that the government has the equipment. And he said they've used some kind of machine that is giving them some thermal imaging from below the rubble and has pinpointed some images. And that's what they're focusing on.

They think that they still have time to go and find survivors of this elementary school. They remember back in '85 when babies were able to survive for over a week. And that's why the rescuers are very hopeful that if they continue to work, they are going to be able to pull more survivors from the rubble, John.

KING: And, Gustavo, as we watch this urgent scene play out -- I know you can't see the pictures as closely as I can because the live feed is coming in. You see the gentleman in the red there with the hard hat.

He has the search dog. He's been waving frantically at someone inside, trying to give some directions. You see the dog looking, as well.

Take us through what's happening at that scene. We hear dozens still unaccounted for. Do we have a better number of that, of the children who are missing?

And as this plays out, I assume these search and rescue crews have been on the scene for hours now, frantically going about their business. How -- are they being rotated in? Are there supplies there to keep them going?

VALDES: The number the President used last night was 30 people still missing, unaccounted for in this school. We know that at least 20 are dead. We haven't heard any official word.

We tried to talk to the people in charge, the Mexican Marine who is in charge of the operation. They're being tight-lipped about what is happening back there, perhaps to prevent spreading any rumors that can give false hope.

But we've been able to piece together what the rescuers have been trying to do. They said they found an L-shaped area in which they think there's some survivors. They hope the smaller size of the people trapped inside will give them a better chance to get to them. And the latest development is that, over the early hours of the

morning, we saw the big backhoes trying to lift the big pieces of concrete. Now, they're going to a small operation using small buckets to remove the small pieces of debris.

Not long ago, they pulled a big section of crumbled metal and concrete. And a moment that gave the people around here some pause was when they brought out a playground that was used at this elementary school, a reminder of who the victims are.

Right now, they're asking for silence because they might have heard something inside, John.

KING: We'll let Gustavo stay silent as we wait and we watch these pictures. Rosa Flores is still with us.

Rosa, you're at a similar site where people are waiting to see, hoping, as the time passes, that there are pockets under there where survivors can be rescued from. Again, we'll keep our eye on these live pictures as they come in.

To the degree you've been able to, Rosa, as you report, number one, we salute the heroism of these responders who are here in a risky situation. It is dangerous to be in shattered, crumbled buildings like that where everything is unsafe. And number two, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of families desperately waiting for some word, hoping and praying.

[12:20:02] Have you been able to speak to any of them?

FLORES: John, are you speaking to me?

KING: Yes, Rosa. Sorry.

FLORES: Yes, I definitely have. I've been talking to some of the families who are waiting here in agony. There is actually a gentleman who has been drafting a list, and he called it a list drafted with tears because these family members have been waiting here since yesterday.

They haven't slept. They haven't gone home. Some of them haven't even eaten because they are waiting for first responders to give them news about their loved ones.

Now, I can tell you, one of their biggest fears has been that instead of removing the debris by hand, that they would start using machines. And they were frantic earlier today saying, please, do not go in there with machines because we still believe and have faith that our loved ones that are trapped inside are still alive.

Now, as I was mentioning moments ago, when people started hearing that rescuers were going to create tunnels to try to get through this collapsed building to perhaps find people in air pockets, in pockets where they are safe, that really gave people hope. And you know, I mean you could see the spark in their eyes. As we look right now, because this is a very active scene right now,

you can see that -- you can see almost two-by-fours. I can't see quite clearly from here, but I know that they're pieces of wood.

These are the pieces of wood that they were asking for earlier. So it looks to me like they're starting to mobilize those pieces of wood to create the tunnels through this building.

Now, there's a lot of people waiting here. A lot of families that are hoping that just like they're bringing those pieces of wood into that building, they're hoping that after they create these tunnels, that their family members will be able to walk out of that rubble alive.

And, of course, John, our hopes and our prayers are with these families that are in agony as they wait. And it's an agonizing wait because, you know, they don't get news about their loved ones unless they make certain lists. There's a list that you see behind me. There's a long white sheet of paper.

Those are the list of the rescued. People come by and check that list to see if their loved one has been rescued. And at that point, they'd figure out what hospital they're taken to.

But then there's another list. There's the list of the missing. There's at least 39 to 40 people missing, and these family members have been here since yesterday. And they've added themselves to the list. They added them -- their loved ones to the list, hoping that if someone knows where their family member is, if perhaps they were rescued and they're in a hospital, that someone will let them know where their loved one is.

But at the end of the day, if they don't receive that call or if they don't receive that e-mail regarding their loved one, they're hoping that they emerge from the rubble that you see behind me alive and safe.

KING: Rosa Flores --


KING: Rosa Flores and Gustavo Valdes. I want to ask both of you to stand by. I want to also inform our viewers President Trump spoke to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico this morning, offers his condolences and his assistance.

We're going to take a quick break, but we're going to keep our eye on those dramatic rescue scenes. We'll be right back.


[12:26:28] KING: Welcome back. I want to remind you, we're keeping our eye on a dramatic scene in Mexico City. Rescuers trying to look. This is a crumbled school building. Twenty or more children still missing. More than 20 have been confirmed dead.

Rescuers have been searching. We've seen rescue dogs, personnel propping to make a makeshift tunnel there. We're going to keep a very close eye on that, and we'll take you back there live as soon as developments warrant.

As we continue our coverage of other issues, though, President Trump remains at the United Nations. If you watched his speech yesterday, he lashed out, threatened to absolutely destroy -- those are the President's words -- North Korea if it does not abandon its nuclear program and its missile program.

Also, very harsh words for Iran, calling it a rogue regime and saying he thought the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration designed to keep Iran's nuclear program in check was a disaster.

Will the President back out? We don't know, but today the Iranian President responded.


HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics. The new U.S. administration only destroys its own credibility.

The ignorant, absurd, and hateful rhetoric filled with ridiculously baseless allegations that was uttered before this August body yesterday was not only unfit to be heard at the United Nations.


KING: President Trump, yesterday, you recall, called the Obama-era deal designed to slow Iran's nuclear program, quote, the worse; quote, one-sided; and quote, "an embarrassment." Yet twice already, this President has chosen to stay in the deal he professes.

The next certification decision? Next month. The President sure sounds like he's ready to walk away, and he teased the decision this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, have you already decided what you will do about the Iran deal? Have you already made up your mind?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Can you tell us what decision is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What have decided?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your decision?

TRUMP: I'll let you know.


KING: Now, the President says he's decided. But listen here to the U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, earlier this morning, suggesting the President's personal feelings don't necessarily guarantee a shift in official administration policy.


CHARLIE ROSE, CBS ANCHOR: Is that a clear signal that he plans to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran?

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It's not a clear signal that he plans to withdraw. What it is, is a clear signal that he's not happy with the deal and that the United States is not safer because of it.

I'm sorry?

ROSE: Will the United States not certify the deal?

HALEY: The President has to make that decision, and that's his decision alone. What I can tell you is if he does not certify, he's certainly on grounds to not do that.


KING: Let's discuss it. With us to share the reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Toluse Olorunnipa of Bloomberg Politics, Michael Shear of "The New York Times," and Seung Min Kim of Politico.

It's a big decision for the President. The Iranian President essentially pushed back today. President Trump called Iran belligerent. The Iranian President returned the favor today.

It is hard -- if you listen to the President's words, you'd say, oh, he's going to rip it up and he's going to walk away. But his words have been consistent since day one of the administration. They have twice recertified Iran. Who can solve the riddle?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, part of -- I mean, part of the problem in Iran as in north Korea is that the dissatisfaction that you may have with an option that's currently in place, you have to ask yourself, well, what are the alternatives? And as in North Korea, the alternatives with Iran are not good.

[12:29:56] They're -- you know, I mean, it's not as if this deal with Iran was made under the Obama administration without thinking about, well, what are the other things we could do? Are military options, you know, possible? Would they work?