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At This Hour

Thousands Dead After Massive Quake In Turkey And Syria; Biden Authorizes Immediate U. S. Response To Deadly Earthquake. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired February 06, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KRISTIN FISHER, CNN ANCHOR: At this hour, thousands are dead after a powerful earthquake topples buildings in Turkey and Syria. The frantic search for survivors.

Navy divers working to recover debris from that Chinese spy balloon shot down by the U.S. military off the Atlantic coast.

And crews in Ohio are trying to prevent an extreme explosion at the site of a train derailment. Residents forced to evacuate away from the massive inferno. This is what we're watching at this hour.

And thank you for joining us. I'm Kristin Fisher in for Kate Bolduan. And we begin with that developing story overseas. A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake has killed more than 2,300 people in Turkey and Syria. The death toll is expected to rise significantly, possibly into the tens of thousands.

This is one of the strongest earthquakes to ever hit the region. Rescue crews are frantically searching for survivors, but efforts are being hampered by big aftershocks. So let's begin our coverage with Jomana Karadsheh live in Istanbul, Turkey. And Jomana, just bring us up to speed on this frantic search for survivors.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An absolutely devastating situation, Kristin, here in Turkey and across the border in Syria as well. We have seen the death toll continuing to steadily rise over the past few hours. More than 2,300 people confirmed killed, nearly 1,500 of them here in Turkey, and hundreds killed in Syria, both in rebel- controlled parts of Syria, and the northwestern part of the country, as well as regime controlled parts of Syria.

But communications are very, very difficult in that part of the country with power outages. So eight agencies are really concerned that we don't really know yet the extent of the damage and how high the casualty figures really are in those parts of Syria that are in no way equipped to deal with this sort of disaster, of course, after more than a decade of a war that has really devastated and decimated the country's infrastructure and services.

Here in Turkey, a massive search and rescue operation that is ongoing. And if you look at the earthquake zone, it is a huge one. We're talking about at least 10 provinces across southern Turkey, home to millions of people that have been impacted. The Turkish President saying that thousands of buildings have been damaged, destroyed. We see many buildings also flattened.

The earthquake, a 7.8 magnitude. The earthquake striking at about 4:00 in the morning. This is where people are indoors. They're in their homes, they're in bed, sleeping. So there's a lot of concern about the number of people who are believed to be under the rubble as search and rescue operations are hampered by so many different things.

You've got, of course, nighttime now making it more challenging for them. You've got those aftershocks, really powerful ones, more than 100 reported by Turkish authorities. One of them, a powerful, 7.5 magnitude, and earthquake in itself, really. Then you've also got the weather conditions right now expected to dip below freezing tonight.

Snow, ice, making it very difficult for rescue crews to reach many of these areas that are impacted and of course, absolutely miserable conditions. Really horrific for the millions of people across the earthquake zone who are outdoors, as Turkish authorities are scrambling to setup shelters for those right now.

Because Turkish authorities have made it very clear from the early hours that they are asking people to stay away from buildings, stay outdoors, because a lot of concern with these aftershocks about buildings collapsing. Kristin?

FISHER: Yes, and just incredible, these images of those buildings collapsing, reduced to rubble in just seconds. Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much.

In the meantime, back here in Washington, President Biden says that he's working closely with Turkey and has authorized an immediate U.S. response to the deadly earthquake. Countries around the world mobilizing to help Turkey and Syria.

Kylie Atwood live at the State Department with more. So Kylie, how are countries like the U.S. helping Turkey and Syria?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well listen, as you guys were just talking about, most of the work underway right now are search and rescue operations. We know that they're 2,000 dead. That number likely to rise because they're still pulling people out of the rubble.

And so we know that at least 10 countries and the European Union have sent search and rescue teams into to Turkey. We know that Turkey has been asking NATO for additional assistance with things like medical assistance, being able to set up field hospitals that are weatherproof so that they can take in folks who have been hurt and try to bring them back to life to make sure that they aren't among those deaths that we're seeing, you know, awfully rise out of this situation.


We're hearing, as you said, from the Biden administration, the President expressing condolences, the Secretary of State expressing deep sadness for the loss of life here, and also saying that what they're doing right now is working with Turkey to figure out, you know, what exactly they need.

We'll be looking for those details. But the Secretary of State being very clear in saying that this is going to be something where the U.S. commits support for the next few days, the next few weeks, and the next few months. Really saying that the United States will be committed to supporting Turkey and, you know, the tremendous number of humanitarian groups that are going to be on the ground as they need continued support.

And we have seen over the last 24 hours or so that that support has been flowing in from countries like the U.K., like Japan, really, all over the world. Kristin?

FISHER: OK, Kylie Atwood live at the State Department for us. Kylie thank you.

So, joining me now is Francis Ricciardone, he is a former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt and the Philippines. You know, Ambassador, this is an area that you know very well. This is one of the strongest quakes to hit the earthquake -- hit the region in more than 100 years. Since you do know this region so well, what is your biggest concern this morning?

FRANCIS RICCIARDONE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO TURKEY, EGYPT, PHILIPPINES: Well, as is obvious for all of us, just the magnitude and the depth of the devastation, the human loss, the lives lost, the injuries, the immediate tasks of rescue. And then, as you've pointed out, your correspondent has pointed out, the recovery after the rescue phase is over and then the longer-term reconstruction. It's enormous. I do know the area well. I have many friends there, and it's quite vivid for me.

FISHER: One of the other big concerns this morning, you know, there are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees that have settled in that part of Turkey, that have been -- the part of Turkey that's been hit. You know, a lot of these refugees end up in crowded buildings or temporary structures. What are your specific worries for them?

RICCIARDONE: Well, the two situations could hardly be more different. As your correspondent in Istanbul has pointed out, in Syria there -- that has already been devastated by over a decade of war, unrest, insecurity, massive population movements within the country and across the borders.

What people sometimes fail to appreciate in these situations is the -- people know about the need for physical relief, reconstruction, medical supplies, food, but what they sometimes overlook is the human infrastructure. In Turkey, there is a strong national state that is very capable disaster relief infrastructure, coordinating its own agencies to deliver aid immediately, to communicate with its people and to coordinate with the outside world.

In Turkey, there is the U.S. Embassy very capably, led by Ambassador Flake with an interagency team coordinating U.S. government response. Civilian, military, security, food in the short term and the long term.

In Syria, there is none of that. It's almost an ungoverned space. There isn't a national government presence that is -- and if there is one, it isn't capable. Communications -- there are no international correspondence there to start with on communications. So just finding out what's going on is hard.

There's a very limited international NGO presence there. It is episodic and fraught. Whereas, on the Turkish side of the border, for many years, international aid organizations have been working in support of the Syrian refugees with some limited cross border activities.

So I really worry for the people in northern Syria. I think they have -- what international presence there is is a very limited U.S. presence -- U.S. military presence. There's a limited Turkish military presence. Maybe they could help. I don't know what the Russians have there and what they're willing to do, if they're even capable of helping. So it's a very stark situation on the Syrian side.

FISHER: Yes. And, you know, a disaster of this magnitude is going to need an international response, from search and rescue teams to humanitarian aid. As we heard our Kylie Atwood reporting, more than 40 nations have already offered up assistance, Russia, NATO allies.

But given your perspective as a former ambassador, it's one thing to talk about providing help, it's another thing to actually give the help and deploy those resources effectively. So how do you go about doing that?


RICCIARDONE: It's hard to speak of anything good or even a silver lining of such a dark, dark situation. But the fact is that these disasters can refocus countries to set aside their political differences. Lord knows even the United States and Turkey, NATO allies have very troubled political relations right now.

We've set those aside, and that you'd expect the Americans have pledged full support. Other countries, or even Greece and Armenia have supported -- have pledged their support. You mentioned the risk between talk and delivery. What really matters on the delivery is not just the intent and the capability of the countries pledging it, it is, as I mentioned, having that human infrastructure that can coordinate it.

I mean, timing of aircraft arriving, ships arriving, trucks arriving, deploying of people, bringing equipment to remove debris, bringing in search dogs, that is human infrastructure people don't think about. For the international side, when you have a U.S. Embassy, you've got very capable people from all the different disciplines sitting in the same room, speaking with each other, speaking with headquarters and dealing with the local government, national government to do it. It will be a challenge, but we know how to do that. And we've got excellent people on the ground in Ankara. In Syria, I honestly don't know what there is to help channel that relief. If not through Ankara, which will have their own concerns right now.

FISHER: Yes. Well, Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, thank you so much for providing your unique perspective at this very difficult time. Thank you so much.

RICCIARDONE: My privilege. Thank you.

FISHER: So Navy crews are trying to recover debris from that Chinese spy balloon shot down by a U.S. fighter jet over the weekend. A live report on what they have found so far, next.



FISHER: This just into CNN, the FAA is restricting the airspace off the coast of South Carolina where the U.S. military shut down a Chinese spy balloon. Navy divers are working to recover debris scattered over 7 miles of ocean.

Dianne Gallagher joins us live in a boat somewhere off the South Carolina coast. Dianne, where are you? What are you seeing?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Kristin, I am off the coast of the Myrtle Beach area and I'm actually going to get Wayne to kind of push over here. There's the coastline of Myrtle Beach. You probably reckon the Surfside building if you've been in this area or anything like that.

So we're in the Surfside Myrtle Beach area. We're a few miles away from where the perimeter has been set up around the recovery area. And I know this because we got to the perimeter and Coast Guard cutters essentially told us we had to leave. The Coast Guard radioed our captain saying you cannot be here. This is a restricted area now and you need to start going back south now.

And they literally followed us as we started our journey back south. They told our captain there is a 20-mile perimeter around this recovery zone. Now, a couple of things we do know about this suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down and what this recovery will entail.

It's actually -- the water they anticipated was going to be much deeper than it actually is. According to a U.S. military official, we're talking about 47 feet of water, which that official said means the recovery should be fairly easy. We don't know the exact duration of how long this might take.

And look, you can see it's vast. It's all the way out there. Past this line here, is where this is happening. But we're talking about Navy divers and unmanned vessels that are likely going to be bringing up the debris from that balloon. And, Kristin, we did get the chance to see what may have been debris. We saw people with the Navy bringing stuff up a little bit north of Myrtle Beach last night. Our cameras captured that. We did ask the Navy about this, but they did not confirm that. And CNN has not been able to individually confirm that what we saw was a part of the balloon, but they're actively working on recovering here in the ocean at the moment.

FISHER: Dianne, a 20-mile perimeter around the recovery zone. That's pretty big, and you got pretty close. Thank you so much for bringing us this unique perspective off the South Carolina coast. Thanks, Dianne.

So this morning, China admitting for the first time that a second balloon floating over Latin America belongs to them. Beijing claims it drifted off course by mistake. Marc Stewart live in Hong Kong with more. Marc?

MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kristin, good morning. When we talk about this second balloon that was flying over Colombia and Costa Rica, it is very similar in description to the one that was flying over the United States. And the explanation as to how it even got there in the first place is also very similar.

Take a listen to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson speaking from Beijing.


MAO NING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translation): After verification, the balloon over Latin America, the unmanned airship in question came from China and was of a civilian nature, used for flight tests. Due to the weather and the limited control ability, the airship pass, the airship seriously deviated from its intended route and entered the airspace over Latin America and the Caribbean by mistake.



STEWART: So we begin this week with some lingering questions, including, are there any other balloons in other parts of the world that still maybe airborne? And then an even bigger question, the lingering relationship between the United States and China.

As we reported, Secretary Blinken was supposed to head there for a diplomatic mission. China's response, this was a visit that we had haven't even acknowledged. It only came from the United States, From Washington. So that's a whole other timeline and explanation we're going to have to sort out, Kristin.

FISHER: Yes, absolutely. Marc Stewart, thank you so much.

So joining me now is Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks, he is the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Thank you for having me.

FISHER: Yes. So I'd like to start by, you know, asking you about how the Gang of Eight, may be briefed as early as tomorrow. Senate Leader Schumer says that the full Senate is going to receive a briefing on China next week. Do you know when the Foreign Affairs Committee or that the House as a whole may be briefed? And I'm assuming that you would like to be briefed.

MEEKS: Absolutely. I fully anticipate that briefing coming either the latter part of this week or the early part of next week. I think, as you've just shown, that the operation is now underway to obtain the remnants of the balloon that are now in the ocean. I would hope that once they've brought it up and have investigated it and looked at it, that then we will have that briefing so we can see and understand exactly what it is and what it isn't. I think that's important.

We are looking for the facts of the matter. And so I fully expect a classified briefing to happen this week or early part of next week.

FISHER: OK. So, you know that Republicans were very quick to call Saturday's mission too little, too late. Listen to this, and I'll get your take on the other side.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Clearly, the President taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like the quarterback -- sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over.

REP. MIKE GALLAGHER (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Letting a Chinese surveillance balloon lazily drift over America is like seeing a robber on your front porch and inviting him in, showing him where you keep your safe, where you keep your guns, where your children sleep at night, and then politely asking him to leave.


FISHER: So like tackling the quarterback after the game is over, like seeing a robber on your front porch and inviting him in. But, you know, it's not just Republicans. Former Obama official Leon Panetta told CNN that the balloon should not have been allowed to enter U.S. airspace and fly over U.S. military sites. So where do you come down on this? Was the response over the weekend to shoot it down too little, too late?

MEEKS: Well, clearly, you know, it was a violation of the United States airspace and sovereignty. There's no question about that. And that is something that we will have further conversation. But, you know, listening to my Republican colleagues, it just shows the art of irresponsibility.

Look, the military did an evaluation that there was no danger to the United States and to the people that was on the ground and that it wanted to make sure that we shot the balloon down in an airspace that was safe. You know, we just heard 7 miles, and there's a parameter now in the waters of 20 miles, we don't know what would have happened.

Had we shot it down over air and there had been destruction of lives or property, the Republicans would say, oh, why didn't they wait until it was under the water? You know, so they're just playing a political game right before the State of the Union address tomorrow, where the President is going to state how well that the United States of America is doing and how we've recovered from the pandemic, how we're recovering from inflation --


MEEKS: -- and anything to stop that from happening.

FISHER: Congressman, just to be very clear here, you do not think that the balloon should have been shot down sooner. Is that what you're saying?

MEEKS: No, I'm saying that there was an assessment that was done, that there was no imminent danger or any danger at that time to the United States and or the intelligence that the information balloon is believed to have had. And so, therefore, the prudent thing would be not just to hear the statements of members of Congress, but hear the statements of the military, who's in charge of making that assessment.

The President did what he should do. He asked the appropriate authorities who would have had the ability to assess the balloon and make a determination where it was the best place to take it down. And he directed, well, when you get to the best place of taking it down, the safest place to take it down, take it down. And that's exactly what they did.

That, to me --

FISHER: So Congressman --

MEEKS: -- is the wise thing to do.

FISHER: Congressman, you also brought up the State of the Union address. It is, of course, tomorrow night. What specifically would you like to hear from President Biden about this incident?


MEEKS: Well, I think that the fact that the nation was secure at all times, the nation was never in peri, that was never any danger to the American people and that it is well under control and that we are going to try to make -- what we want to make sure that it's clear to the Chinese, to the PRC. It is clear that we are not going to tolerate our sovereignty being invaded.

And I think that we also need to be talking to our allies. You know, it came across Canada before it reached the United States. We've got to -- you talked about now in Latin America and whether it's some other places. So here again is where we've got to make sure that China plays by the rules that everyone else plays by. And we can do that in a collective manner with our allies, who also could have the possibility of having one of these balloons or other things that's --

FISHER: All right --

MEEKS: -- you know, that's taking place.

FISHER: Yes. Well, Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much. It'll be interesting to see what President Biden decides to include in his State of the Union address tomorrow night. Thank you so much, Congressman.

MEEKS: Thank you for having me.

FISHER: Eastern Ohio is on high alert. Look at this. After a train carrying toxic material derails, sparking this massive fire, thousands of residents ordered to evacuate their homes. We'll have the latest next.