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At Least 100 Feared Dead in Tornado Outbreak Across Eight States; New York Institutes Mask Mandates Amid Winter Surge; Source Says, Biden, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Could Meet Today to Talk Build Back Better. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 13, 2021 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: FEMA and homeland security officials have briefed President Biden on the federal response.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in the hard-hit community of Bowling Green, Kentucky, with some of these incredible stories of survivors. Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you say this is indescribable and I think that is a great characterization, John. It is one thing to see the devastation on the screen, it's another thing to be here on the ground and see it up close, especially when you acknowledge that people were home at the time that these tornadoes hit in the overnight hours.

So, we were talking to the landlord of this home here who tells me that the man who lived here survived by hiding in the bathroom. And then you go just next door and you see his neighbor, they were home as well and all that is left is really just the foundation. The house is a debris field.

One of the big issues here and a factor, according to police here, Bowling Green Police, is that this is a huge international community, an immigrant community, you have people from Bosnia, from Somalia, from El Salvador, countries that aren't familiar with this type of severe weather. So, according to police and other residents I've spoken to, some may not have taken this storm as seriously as they should.

Others who have lived through severe weather here before say that nothing has ever materialized, not quite like this. But you can see the devastation. We've spoken a lot about Mayfield, but the devastation here is extensive. The debris fields are hundreds of yards long. And just look around here. You see people slowly starting to come back as well, clear out this debris. You have a lot of volunteers here locally who are trying to help out and chip in.

We have heard some extraordinary stories of survival. And yesterday, I spoke to a 38-year-old man from Bosnia who was inside his car as the tornado hit. His family including his four small children, one of them just a few years old, trapped under the roof. And he says if it wasn't for a refrigerator, they would all be dead. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALENCIA: You're in the car and they go upstairs and the roof collapses in on them and that refrigerator that we're looking at the corner --


VALENCIA: And when you got to them, what kind of shape were they in? What was their condition?

BEGANOVIC (voice over): They was screaming and crying. And my little girl's hand was cut here, bloody.

I don't know what do. I don't have a roof over my head and my kids.


VALENCIA: Many people are in the same scenario as Redzo. Thankfully, though, they are grateful for the help from FEMA, from the National Guard. We've seen teams here who are going to continue to sift through the debris and make sure there are no signs of life that they have overlooked. John?

BERMAN: Nick Valencia, those images all around you and hearing from the people. I mean, what is unique obviously about a tornado versus other severe weather, you've got 20 minutes if you are lucky to prepare once you are warned there and you have to take cover right away. You have got to be very, very quick. Anyway, Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

Joining me now is Sam Bloch. He's director of emergency response for World Central Kitchen.

Sam, just talk to me about what you and your team is providing not just here in Mayfield but all over this area.

SAM BLOCH, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY RESPONSE, WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: Yes. I mean, as we do in a lot of these situations, we provide a hot plate of food when it is needed most and it is more than just the food, but it is getting out there in the communities and showing them that somebody cares.

BERMAN: So, how many meals have you provided over the last few days?

BLOCH: Typically, our operations will do anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000. In this situation, it is smaller pockets of need spread out across the state and as well as in Illinois. And so the numbers aren't that high at the moment, but we have got teams going out, some in door to door. You've got 20 people, a lot of people are hosting friends that have lost everything and/or family that have lost a loved one or whatever. And so we're actually going out into all these different communities.

We have got about 25 different food trucks and restaurant partners providing food as well in addition to the teams going out and finding the people that really aren't able access the resources they need.

BERMAN: And you said something interesting. It is not just about calories, right? It's not just about the food itself. Explain that a little bit more.

BLOCH: It's how we look at food as bringing a sense of normalcy as much as possible, at least during that moment, while somebody is sitting down to a hot plate of food. It is showing that somebody cares about them, you know? You wouldn't believe some of the reactions that you get when you knock on somebody's door and nobody has come and checked on them and they are like, wow, somebody from the Chef Jose Andres' team is here checking on me and actually bringing me a hot plate of food. It means a lot more and it brings something special to people that really need it when they do.

BERMAN: You were just telling me you've been on the road for years basically helping people like this, 40 different locations in the last couple years. What is unique or different about this, this outbreak of tornadoes?

BLOCH: I mean, obviously the scale of the individual tornadoes, but then how many touched down in how many different communities are impacted across such a large region.


So, that makes it unique. And every disaster is really unique. And our responses are unique to that disaster and to the community's needs.

BERMAN: That is a really good point. I mean, look, they don't just need meals here. They need meals 200 miles away. That is unusual for that type of operation you're doing.

I keep looking around just so people know, and I don't know if you can push in behind me, but there is that big crane working on what was a church back there behind me. And the reason I keep looking when I'm here with you, it is not just people who have had their homes and businesses destroyed, but now Mayfield is a construction zone. Everywhere you look here, there is someone picking up and cleaning up. And in a way, it is a community at work that also needs to be fed.

Are you working with some of these people who are out here trying to clean up and rebuild at the same time?

BLOCH: Absolutely. Since the day after, we've been feeding the rescue workers over at the candle factory, the first responders, those are always up on the list as far as people who we can help take care of and help them do their job better. So, it's not just the communities or people that have lost their homes, but it's everybody that is a part of this long-term ongoing response.

BERMAN: I mean, everyone here is out doing something at this point. It really is a remarkable sight to see. And it's remarkable to see you and your team do your work. I mean, what have you learned about people over the years doing this? BLOCH: You really see the best come out in people. You see a lot of neighbors helping neighbors. You know, we typically look at a first responder as somebody that's is wearing specialty equipment, but your real first responders are your neighbors. And we see a lot of that here. Like I said, a lot of the locations that we're providing hot meals to are small homes that have 20 or 30 people in it that have really opened their doors and let them come in.

Now, a lot of them still don't have water or electricity and won't for quite some time and they are not able to cook without water or electricity. So, we're happy to be doing what we do.

BERMAN: And I know you're not just here today, you'll be here next week, you'll be here as long as they need it. Sam, thank you so much for being with us. Thank you so much for what you do.

BLOCH: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. For more information about how you can help tornado victims, go to And we're going to have much more from here ahead.

Let's get back to Kate in New York. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: John, I was just thinking how World Central Kitchen always shows up in these times of need and does such an important job. But it also is reminding me that you have covered so many natural disasters in your years of reporting. As you're kind of seeing the light of day, yet another day in this really unbelievable situation, what is sticking with you about this particular tragedy?

BERMAN: I have to say, I keep saying it, I am overwhelmed by how quickly they have responded here and how many people are out doing so many different things. Most of the disasters I've covered are hurricanes and there tends to be water and sometimes it is harder to deal with the water damage right away, and that is a little different than a tornado. But so much has been picked up here already.

I'm not exaggerating. I'm looking around. And if I scan like this, I mean, there are people carrying metal, digging things out every direction you look in right now. You can see Bowling Green on your screen there across the state, across the region, people are just out cleaning up. And they promise us here, Kate, that they are not going to stop until it is done.

It looks like there is an infinite amount of debris here and it is fairly endless but it's not going to go anywhere unless you start picking it up. And these people here, they are just digging right in. It really is inspiring.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And you heard it from World Central Kitchen, you heard it from Wayne Flint, your earlier interview, this kind of determination and need to find hope, and that is what they are doing, just by starting to put one foot in front of the other, as the governor said it today. Thanks for being there, John, really. Coming up still for us, the winter COVID surge and what that really means now almost two years in. Some states already going back to old protocols and mandates. Details straight ahead.



BOLDUAN: Starting today, masks are required once again in most indoor public spaces in New York State. It comes amid worrying COVID-19 trends in New York and, quite frankly, across the country. One measure to watch closely in all of this is hospitalizations, and that number is up 42 percent from last month, leading a former FDA commissioner to say mask mandates is one way to fight back against this trend.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Most of those cases right now are being driven by very dense epidemics in the great lakes region and New England. I think in those parts of the country, it is prudent to take steps to try to control the spread. There are certain states, like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where the health care systems are beginning to get pressed. And mask mandates are the easiest thing that we can do to, sort of collective action that puts some downward pressure on spread. It would be a temporary measure just to try to preserve the health care systems at this point.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now for more on this is Dr. Craig Spencer. He is the director of Global Health and Emergency Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. It's good to see you, Dr. Spencer.

Reinstating a mask requirement, it may feel like we're sliding backward in this pandemic, for a lot of folks.


Is that how it feels to you? I mean, what are you seeing right now in your hospital?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH IN E.R. MEDICINE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Thankfully, right now, the COVID cases that I'm seeing are largely amongst the unvaccinated. Here in New York, we have had an uptick in recent weeks, much like the rest of the country, but it still hasn't overwhelmed our health system.

That being said, we have a lot of health care workers who are thankful that about just a year ago we started getting vaccinated and really, over the past six months, eight months, we've made vaccines broadly available. But we still have a large chunk of the population here and across the country that is not vaccinated. We still have a lot of people coming in with COVID and a lot of health care workers are frankly really, really, really exhausted. And I'm concerned about our ability to really weather another wave. BOLDUAN: Yes, especially if we're heading into another wave in the winter as we're rounding out on what is the second year of us dealing with all this. And one thing that this speaks to as you are talking about vaccinations is something that you have long said that in order to truly beat back the pandemic, it is not just the United States, but it is the entire world that needs to be vaccinated. And there needs to be much more vow cuss on focus on that. How would you describe how well that is going?

SPENCER: Well, we've certainly seen a lot of improvements in the past couple of months. We've seen the U.S. step up with a few initiatives getting hundreds of millions of doses out. We know that there is enough vaccines being made or there will be enough vaccine early next year. The problem is that it is still in the wrong places. And we have places particularly sub-Saharan Africa where only 7 to 8 percent of the population is vaccinated.

We've seen that the COVAX initiative launched by WHO and others has struggled to get the doses that it needs because countries like the U.S. and other wealthy western countries have been holding on to booster doses. The problem is that we've treated this like a domestic threat for way too long. We've put in place travel bans that are ineffective and just stigmatize other countries as opposed to approaching this as an issue of global solidarity. And I think what omicron is going to show us is that we are not -- and I know cliche, but we are not going to get out of this until we all get out of this together. We need to get more vaccines globally. We need to do more to bring the rest of the world along with us.

BOLDUAN: I do want to ask you more about this, because Dr. Margaret Harris with the World Health Organization, was on here recently talking about this exact thing. And she pushed back against the notion coming from folks, like the CEO of Moderna, that there are enough shots out there but it is just the individual countries, the poorer nations that are not getting shots in arms fast enough.

Let me play for you what Dr. Harris said, because she called that myth.



What we're seeing in countries is not any difficulty actually with getting people to be vaccinated. The struggle is making sure that it is available in the right place at the right time so that people can get to it and so that it can get into people's arms.


BOLDUAN: What do you think of that?

SPENCER: I think that that is correct. Look, pharmaceutical companies have a motive for saying that it is not their fault, right? They've done everything that they can by making doses. But it was over a year ago that South Africa and India went to the World Trade Organization and said, we need a waiver on vaccine-manufacturing treatments, all these other things that we know save lives in a pandemic, and pharmaceutical companies have pushed back. They want to protect their intellectual property and not allow vaccines to be made in places like sub-Saharan Africa where they are needed.

There was a long time where vaccines made in South Africa had to be sent to Europe even though Africa was facing their own COVID crisis. We have seen this since day one that pharmaceutical companies have prioritized their profits and we have gotten some trickle down charity in the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but doses that arrive very late and near expiration, and when those get pitched, the world says, well, clearly, they don't need or they don't want those doses, as opposed to saying we did a lot here in the U.S. to tackle logistics of getting vaccines into rural hospitals in Idaho, we did a lot to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

We didn't just throw up our arms. I think that the rest of the world needs to do the exact same -- put the same amount effort into getting the world vaccinated and instead of throwing up our arms saying, well, maybe they don't want them or maybe they don't need them.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Everyone needs to focus more on exactly this or we're not get past this pandemic. It's great to see you, Dr. Spencer. Thank you.

SPENCER: Thanks for having me back.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a historic first with an official visit by the Israeli prime minister. Details and a live report, next.



BOLDUAN: All right. Let's head to Capitol Hill right now. Senator Joe Manchin on the Capitol speaking with reporters. Let's listen in.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): There are limits of what we can afford, and that means having a tax plan that's fair and equitable and keeps us competitive but also makes everyone pay, especially the wealthy pay their fair share too. See what that spins off. And if that's in the 1.7 range, then we should be spending whatever in that range, as far as I'm concerned, if it's whatever plan it would be, pre-K, child care and home care, then it should be ten years. It shouldn't be just one year here, three years here, five years there. That would be -- I think it would be very transparent for the public to see exactly what they are getting for overspending for ten years.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, you won't support it if these things are temporary.

MANCHIN: No, we're going to talk. We're still talking. I'm listening to everybody, but I'm just telling you -- you asked me about inflation is real. It's not transitory. It's alarming. It's going up, not down. And I think that should be something we're concerned about. Geopolitical fallout, we've talked about that. I'm concerned with close to 100,000 troops on the Russian-Ukraine border and also with the continuous flyovers from China, taunting Taiwan, these are all concerns of ours that we're very much concerned about. So, we're very, very careful about what we do. And I've always said the unknown is very, very great. I want to make sure we can handle and take care of anything that does come at us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, do you think that some of these unknowns, is this legislation becoming more imminent for you, or what are your conversations around a possible deadline or the urgency to get this done? Schumer says December 31st, maybe December that he would like to see this, or will it be --

MANCHIN: I know people have been in a hurry for a long time to do something, but, I think, basically, we're seeing things that unfold that allows us to prepare better. And that's what we should do, take advantage of what we're doing in a very litigious way at making sure what we do and how we do it, for what period of time we do it is something that we can maintain and manage.

My grandfather used to say unmanaged debt will make a coward out of the decisions you make, and we're now at 29 trillion and we'll be pushing on to 30 trillion. And I'm sure that Mr. Powell with the Feds, they are going to make some decisions pretty soon here. And I'm understanding that he is considering things that we've talked about, quantitative easing should be reduced or eliminated as quickly as possible, and the interest rates are going to affect all of us if he has to increase interest to try to control.

REPORTER: Senator, what is your message going to be to President Biden today when you guys talk?

MANCHIN: No, I don't have messages. I basically go and have conversations whenever the president calls me or wants to visit. We visit and talk genuinely as person-to-person, as two people who have had the experience of being in the Senate, him much longer than me, understanding this process, and being extremely respectful and very friendly. He's been a friend.

REPORTER: Senator graham said on Friday that, in conversations with you, you were stunned, that was his quote, by this modified CBO report that came out. Is that an accurate --

MANCHIN: Well, I've seen the Penn Wharton report, the Penn Wharton we've been working with a lot of different people getting cross- sections of what really was a true figure and we've seen figures pretty high on that, and then when the CBO came back and confirmed that, CBO's figure was a little bit higher.


I think it's very sobering.

RAJU: Do you believe -- do you believe that number?

REPORTER: Have you finalized your plans? Are you going to the White House to meet with the president?

MANCHIN: I'm going sometime today, I believe. It's either a phone call or I'm going over. I've heard both, so I'll find out when I'm going to be there later this afternoon or early this evening.

REPORTER: And are you going to tell him whether you want to do this bill now?

MACHIN: We're going to talk about exactly what happened on Friday with the CBO score and inflation reports and things of that sort, and I would like to hear theirs first, the president's first, where he's at and what his concerns may be.

RAJU: Would you believe that CBO number? I mean, the White House says that, look, this is not offset, the spending, but Republicans say this is the true cost. Do you believe this is the true cost, $3 trillion?

MANCHIN: CBO is not a Republican or a Democrat report. The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, they are nonpartisan, and they are going to give it to us the facts, whether we like it or not. And I've been very concerned because I've been seeing all the people, the Penn Wharton --

BOLDUAN: All right. So, we've been listening in right here to Senator Joe Manchin speaking to reporters, making very clear his concerns remain with the Build Back Better plan, and when it comes to the overall cost over ten years, so much more to come on that.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King begins after a break.