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Vital Aid Stranded at Puerto Rico's Main Port; Interview with FEMA Administrator Brock Long; People Wade Through Floodwaters After San Lorenzo Bridge Washed Out; Old U.S Law Blamed for Slowing Aid to Puerto Rico; Speaker Ryan Comments on NFL/Anthem Protests. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 28, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Forget the numbers, just look at the images. That's all you have to see.

Let's go there now. Somewhat shocking image of shipping containers holding supplies sitting at port of San Juan.

Leyla Santiago is joining me now right there.

Leyla, what you hearing about this?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's also what I'm seeing about this, Kate. Look behind me, the aid is here. This is the port where all of the aid is just sitting. Water, generators, food, it is on this island and they can't seem to move it from where we are right now. I was just talking to some of the port authority workers who tell me it is just sitting behind the fences of where we are. It's been doing that for days now.

We are eight days now since Maria struck this island leaving it devastated and one of the shipping companies here, the president, tells us they have about 3,000 containers right now, 4 percent, 4 percent, of the 3,000 containers have actually made it out of this port. So what's the problem? Why is it just sitting here? They don't have the drivers. They don't have the commercial drivers that can transport this to the parts of the island that need it most, not just San Juan, but the remote parts of this is island that we have visited. We have taken choppers to go to and found elderly people without food and water, what is sitting right here, not being transported. The governor saying that FEMA has been able to reach 35 municipalities with aid. Sounds like a large number. Problem is that's not even half the island that has received aid from FEMA. So the frustration is, they don't have the drivers to get it out. If they have the drivers, the drivers don't have the gas. The diesel to get to where they need to go.

Meanwhile, the help that is so desperately needed across this island of 3.5 million U.S. citizens, is not reaching the places it needs to get to right now -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Leyla, I appreciate it. We will come back to you.

A lot of questions that are unanswered. Leyla is one of our many reporters we have fanned out across Puerto Rico to cover this story for all of you. We're going to be getting back to Leyla and our other correspondents and the teams that they're working with to bring you the story and continue to do so.

Leyla, right there, you're hearing talking about the -- what the cargo companies are essentially saying that they don't have the drivers to get the much-needed supplies out into the communities.

Earlier this morning, I was able to speak with the FEMA administrator Brock Long about this issue and the rest of the relief efforts under way in Puerto Rico.


BOLDUAN: Administrator, thank you so much for joining me.


BOLDUAN: We were hearing from San Juan's mayor this morning and she says there are thousands of shipping containers full of supplies sitting in the port of San Juan. We have images and video of it as well. As the mayor put it, she says there is no reason at all that they're sitting there. Do you know why?

LONG: First of all, I don't even know if those are our shipping containers or not. I don't know what image you're referring to.

The next thing the mayor of San Juan needs to understand that there's a joint federal field office in San Juan right now where unified planning and execution is taking place with the governor, with my staff, with the Department of Defense. And so what we need is a unified effort. And we need for everybody to make sure that we are coordinating our plans and making sure that we're all operating off the same plan and being able to go through. Unmet needs the mayor needs to be tied in to the JFO in her city.

BOLDUAN: She said when she made a plea to FEMA to get the stuff moving that she sees in the port she was twice told she needed to write a memo. Is that really what's needed right now?

LONG: No. I can't even clarify that that actually came through. It's my understanding we have embedded a staff with her over the last two days from New York, though.

BOLDUAN: So do you see -- do you think those supplies are going to get moving soon? Is there any --

LONG: Yeah.

BOLDUAN: -- guidance you have on that one?

LONG: So the supplies is moving, but I think we have to have a greater conversation. This is a complex disaster. One, Irma created quite a bit of damage. Two, Maria knocked everything out. So the goal right now is to establish critical lifelines to be able to move commodities. We're getting commodities to Puerto Rico. The question is, how do we get it to the last mile. And in many cases, we've set up regional points of distribution. We have to expand those capabilities. But you can only shove so much through the airports that we're not operational. You can only shove so much through the shipping ports that were not operational. Once we get it to islands, we establish distribution sites and we're doing air lifts to the remote locations. The road system is gone in many places. It's not possible to pick up the supplies and move it forward. That last mile is a coordinated sequenced process to be able to get it to the points of distribution. Many communities are coming in to these points of distribution to pick up the supplies themselves and being very resourceful in doing so, while we're also trying to push as much out as we can. As the supply chains come back online, we will be able to increase the amount of supplies that are going. But listen, we're not going to be able to move as fast as everybody would like us or as I would like. But we are pushing everything that we have, the entire workforce of the federal government of the agencies represent ready working tirelessly around the clock to alleviate this situation.

The other thing that everyone needs to understand is, is that the local governments were decimated. There is diminished capacity. So we're having to operate, from a federal government standpoint, through the governor to be able to build and reconstitute a baseline working capability for nearly all of the municipalities in Puerto Rico. That, coupled with the complex logistical movement of getting in is creating delays and making things difficult.

[11:36:02] BOLDUAN: I hear you, that it is complex and we -- you don't need to look any further than just seeing the images of how everything was knocked out in Puerto Rico. Everyone understand that and has a lot of sympathy with that and the complex efforts of getting stuff there.

But when the mayor seems to have gone from being pretty satisfied, the mayor of San Juan, with how things were going, to seeming desperate now in how things aren't moving fast enough and I hear you folks -- no one is going to be satisfied that things are moving fast enough, but are you satisfied with how fast things are moving? Because it's over a week and folks are now seeing shipping containers, cargo containers sitting at the port and they're desperate.

LONG: As I said, you know, the situation is not allowing things to move as quickly as we would all like.

BOLDUAN: What do you need? Is there anything -- is there -- I've heard lawmakers say it's time for a three or four-star general to come in to take over because this response needs to be coordinated at that level.


BOLDUAN: Do you think it's time for that?

LONG: Hold on. So a sustainment force of DOD was deployed several days ago and there are things coming in. There's a press conference that was held this morning in Puerto Rico with General Kim, Admiral Hughes, my staff, and the governor to talk about jointly where we are versus where we need to be that was not picked up by major media networks across the country this morning. So those conference calls or those press conferences are occurring on a regular basis, from now going on, to make sure that we're putting out enough information about where we are versus where we need to be. Those press conferences need to be picked up by the major news media networks to make sure that the message gets out, that everybody understands what we're trying to accomplish.

BOLDUAN: Press conferences, I'll take any press conference that falls in my hour, I promise you that. I can promise you that.

But, so are you satisfied right now with how things are going in terms of the federal response in Puerto Rico?

LONG: I know that my guys back here are doing everything that they can. We all wake up every morning trying to do the best we can. And we are pushing forward. Right now, we need unity of effort which we are instilling with the governor and pushing forward and everything is pushing forward. No, I'm not satisfied, because the fact is, is that we will not be satisfied until we stabilize the situation, which is why we work day in and day out, hour after hour, to try to alleviate the situation the best that we can.

BOLDUAN: I mean, do you have everything you need? It's gone from Harvey to Irma to Maria. Does FEMA need more?

LONG: So what we're trying to do is get a baseline level of government to come back up. What we need is to continue to increase those supply chains. We have everything we need, as FEMA, to be able to put forward the forces. The question is, is that last mile, as I've been explaining, to get it and distribute it. It's there. It's not that I'm being hampered or I don't have this or that to be able to do this job. We are trying to force everything in that we can. We're limited by a damaged air traffic control system. We were limited by airports that weren't operational. We were limited by ports that weren't operational. Now as those are coming back up, we're increasing capacity. It's not a factor of what can Congress could for me or what -- you know, additional supplies we need. We're working with the private sector. We can only sequence so much stuff in. We have to prioritize life-saving missions with the private sector who brings in telecommunications. We can't just park hundreds of power trucks on the island before the storm because they would be damaged. It takes time to ship those in or airlift those in. It's a process that is -- that takes a lot of time. It's very complex. We have to set the expectations. We're trying to do that ahead of time before the storm hit. As I have been saying, the power could be out for months. And it will be out for months. But we also deployed the Army Corps of Engineers who is taking oversight and complete control of the power grid rebuild process. Not only are we trying to work to establish emergency generation power for critical facilities all over the island. But also we are already taking control of figuring out how we're going to basically rebuild the entire grid on behalf of Puerto Rico.

[11:40:27] BOLDUAN: And that is a huge undertaking. Finally, Administrator, patience is running thin, and what I hear you

say is you need patience because you have to get this stuff in in the right way and at the right process. Other than saying, please be patient, what is your message to the folks of Puerto Rico right now?

LONG: Well, not the message to Puerto Rico. It's a message to all Americans. Go to Understand, on behalf of the governor, we're handling the donations through Puerto Rico. Cash donations -- understanding what type of help can be rendered, you know, from afar -- should be funneled through that Web site to ultimately, you know, help the governor and people of Puerto Rico.

We are doing everything we can. We realize people are frustrated and they're going to be frustrated because of the complexities of the response but these guys have been working almost 40 days around the clock starting with Harvey until now and we will not stop until we stabilize the situation and start to bring back baseline capabilities.

BOLDUAN: Administrator Long, thank you so much. Appreciate your time. Good luck.

LONG: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: All right. From there, I want to head straight back to Puerto Rico. We have breaking news.

Ivan Watson joining me now.

Ivan, I have very few details about what you're seeing but you're -- looks like there are rescues under way behind you?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me set the stage here. We're at the entrance to the village of San Lorenzo where a major bridge here was washed out by floods after the storm. And here we are eight days after the storm and as you can see here people are having to walk out, out of their village, on foot, through this river after the bridge was washed out. This is the United States of America. Eight days after the storm. And you can see this family here, on foot, walking through knee-high river water. They're using a metal cable that residents here erected themselves, strung up across the river, to help people through this river, Kate. And this is the best way, the fastest way that residents of these neighborhoods, these villages up here, have of kind of reaching the outside world. If there's a medical emergency, if they need to try to get fuel. The alternative is a three-hour drive through the mountains to try to reach the outside world. And because of the fuel shortages, that's really not a viable option, especially at a time when there's basically a fuel crisis on the island and people are being rationed about $10 worth of gasoline. So people in 2017, more than a week after this hurricane, are being forced to travel this way on foot, knee-high water, from the village of San Lorenzo to try to reach the broader municipality of Morovis.

I spoke with a man who runs a small shop in the village here named Manolo Gonzalez, and he helped set up on his own this metal line across the river. And he's described how a couple days ago they had to take somebody in urgent medical care who needed dialysis on a raft across this same river, dragging the elderly person across, through the water, to try to get them to a dialysis machine. Because, of course, there's no electricity in the communities on the other side of this river. There's no electricity. There's no real running water. There's no refrigeration. And, as he explained to me, there are people there who are diabetic who need insulin. Insulin needs to be refrigerated. And they're having problems with supplies of insulin, for example. So I'm just bringing, again, this situation. You have children here crossing knee-high deep water, hanging on to a line that's been put up by locals, not by government officials, not by FEMA, not by any authorities. This is pure voluntarism to basically try to survive through this very dire situation in the wake of this natural disaster.

And the sheer force of the water, the flash flood that ripped through here, Kate, I don't know if the bandwidth of our signal will show you, but the actual bridge -- and, Brad, perhaps, can try to pan across to where the bridge used to be. You can see it's 20, 30, 40 feet up. That was a serious bridge out of concrete and segments of it have been swept down the river. There's like 100-foot-long segment of the bridge that was swept down 100, 200 yards down the river.

So here we are more than a week since the storm, and you've got a community there, three neighborhoods, I'm told, three villages essentially up here with more than 1,000 residents, and this is their basically only physical link, if they don't have fuel, and nobody has fuel, to the outside world.

I've been told that the mayor of the municipality did visit, Kate, this area, and took an assessment. And that several days after the storm, people from FEMA did visit. But otherwise, we've seen a helicopter fly overhead but in the hour that we've been here we've seen no kind of presence of any emergency workers or anybody from the Puerto Rican government or federal government either.


[11:46:16] WATSON: Also there's no telecommunications here. We're communicating via a satellite phone.

BOLDUAN: Right. And just from the image behind you, shows how, when federal response asks for patience to get things to people, it's hard for people. And their patience is clearly waning as they're desperate having to find their own way to make it across a river to get to civilization.

Ivan, thank you so much. Thank you so much. Ivan is in Puerto Rico. All of our teams are in Puerto Rico.

Joining me right now is Philip Levine, mayor of Miami Beach, Florida.

Mayor, thank you for sticking around for me.

You were just in Puerto Rico yesterday, chartered a flight there to take 7,000 pounds of supplies to San Juan. Showing pictures you brought back. You just got back.

When you hear the FEMA administrator basically told me he didn't know what to do with those shipping -- they didn't have -- he didn't have an answer for what to do with the shipping containers stuck at the port of San Juan, how the supply chain they've got problems getting things from not just -- not getting them on the island but getting them out, you got there and you got supplies out, what's going on here?

PHILIP LEVINE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Kate, let me tell you this in my office of city hall in Miami Beach I have a sign that says, "The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack." I listened to the administrator, and FEMA is a fantastic organization. But can you imagine, during World War II, D-Day, if we heard from Dwight Eisenhower or FDR that they've had a little problem landing the beach or issue landing when they had hundreds of thousands of Nazis shooting against them as our troops were landing on those beaches, you didn't hear excuses. You heard the greatest generation getting things done. When I look at what's going on in San Juan, I say, what's going on in washington, D.C. Why are you not declaring war on the devastation of Hurricane Maria and showing what America can do when we come together? They should have been dropping things in. There should be ships everywhere, landing with amphibious vehicles on the beaches. You a mayor in San Juan, Mayor Cruz, I was with her all day on the streets, she's live in a shelter, she's with those people. She understands what's happening is there they're not getting the real help they need and it really derives from washington. If you have someone at the top a real general, who someone that says, I'm going to make sure this happens and get it done, that FEMA director, that FEMA organization would have everything organized. It's not coming from the top. The top is preoccupied, I'm sorry to say.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, do you -- there is -- Puerto Rico was devastated. And what the administrator was saying is that they have -- they have to follow the process to make sure it gets out in the right way. Does that not pass the sniff test?

LEVINE: No. When you are starving and don't have water, you're missing medical materials, there's no such thing as a process. There was no process during World War II when we landed on D-Day in Normandy. We got it done. Where is that spirit of just getting it done. I can tell you the Velvet Navy, the cruise ship industry, they seem to be doing it. They have rescue missing going on. I saw a Royal Caribbean cruise ships helping people leave, and bringing in supplies. They're getting it done. Where is the federal government and the leadership at the top, like Dwight Eisenhower and FDR? This was an invasion. This is a war. Our territory was attacked by a natural disaster. Treat it like a war. Help these people.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, when you were there -- I mean, San Juan's mayor is calling out whenever she can on the satellite phone set up for her. What do they need most? And I don't know if that's a worthy question to answer at this point because it seems there are supplies it's actually getting it out there. That's why I seem confused at this moment. LEVINE: Kate, I can tell you this, the president waited seven days to

lift the Jones Act, which he should have done within 24 hours to make sure every ship possible --


BOLDUAN: Do you think that would have changed it?

LEVINE: Absolutely. Absolutely. What you are saying is with the Jones Act, only certain types of ships can come in to save people who are literally dying right now.


[11:50:12] BOLDUAN: Honestly, who cares what ships are coming in if it's sitting in the ports and not making it to the community.

LEVINE: I agree with that. And if the federal government brought in fuel and moved fast, and get it done, we wouldn't be in this situation today. That starts at the top. I'm sorry to say. Because the speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack. They need everything. You have a mayor who is able to receive it and distribute it. Our massive aircraft landed, and she was able to get it unloaded. We had New York City fire folks and people who came to volunteer to help remove the products and get them out as fast as possible. They are able to move it. We just have to get it in. I don't care if you airlift trucks in there. Come on. We know how to do this stuff. We have major aircraft. If you don't have trucks and fuel, bring it in, land it in. Open it up. Cut through the process. Just get it done.

BOLDUAN: You are mirroring the frustration we are seeing on the ground, Mayor.

Mayor, thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

LEVINE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We will keep our eye on Puerto Rico. We're not moving away from that, I promise you that.

Right now, House Speaker Paul Ryan is in washington holding a weekly press conference. He is talking about the next battle on Capitol Hill, tax reform. We'll have details of the Republican plan and the reaction so far. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: All right, I'm going to take you back to Washington right now. House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking at his weekly press conference. Of course, he wants to talk about taxes. But he is also speaking out about the other story that has been thrust into the headlines, the president and his feud with the NFL and the silent protest taking place during the national anthem. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaking about that. Listen to this.



[11:55:11] REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: -- the NFL or

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I want your take on the president's comments and -

RYAN: I haven't seen all his comments, other than clearly people have a right to express themselves. That's the First Amendment. What I don't think people seem to get is when you do it on the flag and the anthem, it looks like you are protesting against the ideals of America, the patriotism, the people who put their lives on the line and have given their life for the country. I just don't think the proper - I think it's misguided to protest the anthem and the flag because people don't see it as an issue, on some political issue. They see it as protesting against the people who have given their lives for this country and the ideals that we all strive for to make a more perfect union. So that's the point, I think, some people are missing in this debate.




BOLDUAN: All right. Excuse me. House Speaker Paul Ryan having to weigh in on the NFL protest feud with the president that does not seem to be going away any time soon. The questions continue. House Speaker Paul Ryan giving his take on that right now.

Coming up for us, Marco Rubio will be speaking on many topics to our John King. What does he think about the tax plan? What does he think about what's going on in Puerto Rico right now? A lot to discuss with the Senator. That will be coming up.