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Libya Floods: Thousands Dead, 10,000-Plus Missing; Source: China Appears To Have Suspended Spy Balloon Program; Hurricane Lee Approaches New England & Canada As Cat 1; Descendants Of Slaves Fear Land Loss From Georgia Zoning Change. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A new report out of Libya says a 22-foot tsunami wave is responsible for destroying the coastal city of Derna, wiping out buildings, destroying roads and leaving communities completely underwater.

The United Nations says most of the 5,000 deaths in this catastrophic flooding could have been avoided.

You can see here search-and-rescue teams wading through waist-deep floodwaters, looking for bodies. Because 10,000 people are still unaccounted for. Officials don't expect to find any more survivors at this point.

CNN is the only U.S. network on the ground there. We have CNN's Jomana Karadsheh witnessing the devastation firsthand.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've all covered wars, natural disasters before, but none of us have seen anything like this.

I mean, we drove into Derna late last night. Even during nighttime, in the dark, you could still see the destruction. Now, during the day, this is just utter, utter destruction.

And it really feels like you are walking through a war zone. Like massive bombs had gone off here. This is what people here would tell you.

You know, you've got several cities along the Libyan coast that were impacted by Storm Daniel, by the flooding over the weekend. But nothing like this, what people are describing here as this catastrophe.

What happened in Derna, of course, as you know, are the two dams that burst. You have the floodwaters that swept through the heart of the city, washing out entire buildings, neighborhoods, homes, infrastructure, families, and brought it all down here to the sea, to the Mediterranean.

I mean, this is just -- it is very difficult for us to really move the camera around because of the communication issues, the communications that were disrupted in the city. Our connection is not very stable.

But looking into the sea, what we see here is people's lives in there. You see homes. You see door frames, windows, furniture, clothes, cars, everything.

They are still right now searching for dead bodies, bodies that are still washing up on the shore six days after this tragedy happened.

Right now, Libyan officials are saying about 5,000 people have been killed. There are still 10,000 people unaccounted for. Officials we have speaking to say they don't expect to find any more survivors right now.

What you've got here, where we are, is all these volunteers from different parts of the country who are working, who are trying to assist in this recovery effort.

It is such a tough task. They're telling us they're not equipped to deal with something like this. They don't have the means and capabilities to do this.

One young man I was speaking to just a short time ago just describing how people were just tying ropes to themselves and holding each other as they would dive into the sea and start pulling out body after body.

This one young man telling me, in one day, he pulled 40 bodies just by himself.

Right now, the volunteers here are saying, look, they need heavy equipment. You've got cars that are stuck in there. They don't know how many people are still in there.

They are worried there are people still, dead bodies in these cars. And they want support, they want help. They want heavy -- they want divers, they want diving equipment to try and get -- recover as many bodies as they can.

They've had some international support. We've seen some teams here on the ground. The Turks were already out on a rubber boat a short time ago. You have helicopters in the air. But it is nowhere near enough.


KEILAR: Just unfathomable, what they are dealing with there in Libya.

Jomana Karadsheh, thank you for the report from Derna.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: The scale of destruction is heartbreaking.

Another story we're following, months after the Chinese spy balloon floated across the continental U.S., before it was shot down, sources say that China appears to have now suspended its entire surveillance balloon program.


You'll recall this was back in February, one of China's high-altitude spy balloons crossed over into Alaska and Canada first. Then through Idaho, Montana, across the entire country before U.S. fighter jets shot it down just off the coast of South Carolina.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins us now.

Natasha, this is a remarkable turnaround for China. You had the great powers there face-to-face in a conflict for a moment.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Jim, our reporting suggests that there are several reasons for this. The first is that, obviously, the U.S. and China have been trying to cool/ease tensions over the last couple months.

You saw Joe Biden say last week that he does not want to try to contain China, that he wants to get the relationship back on track. The Chinese have also been showing a willingness to communicate more with the American side. That's part of it, according to the officials we spoke to.

But the more specific aspect of this is that Chinese leaders were actually pretty angry about this spy balloon incident. Chinese President Xi Jinping was apparently caught off guard by the fact this balloon actually transited over the continental U.S.

And, of course, the diplomatic uproar that ensued. If you'll remember, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to visit Beijing around that same time.


BERTRAND: And they had to postpone the trip.

So I think it is partly because of that. It's just the juice wasn't really worth the squeeze here in terms of getting the surveillance balloon up, having it float over the U.S., causing this uproar.

And potentially jeopardizing that relationship over something that potentially wasn't even providing them with very good intelligence. Because the U.S. says that, ultimately, they weren't able to get granular intelligence from their surveillance.

SCIUTTO: Is the U.S. doing this as something of a concession from China in terms of rebooting the relationship, or at least opening up some channels?

BERTRAND: I think it is too soon to say. Of course, they could restart this program, right? This was a very important program for them. It was about two dozen missions they had flown over the last several years, according to U.S. officials. Obviously, something they valued.

But it appears they took it a step too far in that instance. And so while this may be on hold at this point, and U.S. officials, we should note, have not seen any new launches of these balloons since February, it could always restart.

It really depends how the relationship, you know, happens moving forward.

SCIUTTO: Technology hasn't gone anywhere, but they have suspended the program.

Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: So New England is bracing for Hurricane Lee, but how strong of a storm are we talking? We'll have your forecast.

And it is the only impeachment fight that's playing out in this country, not on Capitol Hill but in the Lone Star State. Prosecutors say Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton abused his office and betrayed voters. We're following the closing arguments there.

Stay with CNN NEWS CENTRAL. We're back in just a few minutes.



SCIUTTO: Now to some of the other headlines we are watching this hour.

Deliberations are now underway in the impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Paxton. The Republicans was accused of abusing his power to help a wealthy donor. The GOP-led House voted in May to impeach and suspend him.

Both sides get a final say before the Texas State Senate.


STATE REP. ANDREW MURR (R-TEXAS): Mr. Paxton willingly and blindly wielded the power he loved so as to maintain the relationship he needed.

TONY BUZBEE, PAXTON DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You have to vote on the language of the articles. That should be 30-0. There was never a prosecutor pro tem. Game over.


SCIUTTO: Paxton will need 10 Senators to vote for his acquittal in order to the keep his job. Also, the European Union is slapping TikTok with a nearly $400 million

fine. An investigation found that the app violated the privacy rights of underage users, in part, by setting teen accounts to public by default.

Allowing anyone to see their videos. That's dangerous. TikTok says it disagrees with the decision and is now considering next steps.

Contract talks in the Hollywood writers' strike are set to resume next week. The alliance that represents the studios and streaming services says it has reached out to the Writers Guild and the two sides both agreed to resume negotiations.

Writers have been on strike for nearly five months now over pay, job security, and this is key, regulating the use of artificial intelligence, which is already rampant in the industry.


SANCHEZ: In New England, preparations for Hurricane Lee are under way as tropical-storm conditions start to move in this afternoon. The category 1 hurricane has been in the Atlantic Ocean for more than a week now.

Let's get straight to CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray who has the track for us -- Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Boris. Yes, this is still a hurricane, category 1 storm with 80-mile-per-hour winds. It's moving quickly at 18 miles per hour.

Now, conditions along the cape is going to deteriorate within the next couple of hours. Feeling the worst of it this evening.

And then, overnight into tomorrow morning, that's when coastal sections of Maine will feel the most of it, as well as Nova Scotia as the storm passes ever so close to Nova Scotia.

So this is going to start to transition into an extra tropical storm, lose some of the tropical characteristics. However, the impacts are going to be the same.

This is a very large system, so tropical-storm-force winds extend more than 300 miles from the center. We're easily going to get tropical- storm-force conditions along coastal portions of New England.

So I think the biggest threat with this storm will be power outages because you will have trees come down. You will have power lines impacted. So we are going to see quite a few power outages from the storm.


Also going to see heavy rainfall, rough surf, coastal erosion, higher- than-normal seas, higher-than-normal tides. Coastal flooding will be a concern. We're looking at rainfall rates anywhere from, say, four to six inches

across eastern Maine. Widespread amounts anywhere from, say, one to two, maybe three inches of rain.

But this is a fast-moving storm, Boris, so I don't think the rain is going to be as much of a big deal as the power outages will over the next couple of days.

SANCHEZ: Important to keep an eye on that if you're in the area.

Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.


KEILAR: A zoning change on an island in Georgia worrying descendants of enslaved Africans who fear that their cultural heritage could soon be gone forever. When we come back, I'll be speaking to a resident of the Gullah/Geechee community.



KEILAR: A change in one Georgia county's zoning law is the latest battle in a century-old struggle to save a culture at risk of disappearing.

It involves descendants of freed slaves from West Africa, known as the Gullah/Geechee. They settled along the southern east coast, preserving their traditions, living in relatively isolated areas.

And over the generations, the Gullah/Geechee communities dwindled. One in particular, known as Hogg Hammock, with a population of just dozens, has held onto its culture and has battled over taxes, development and county law.

But this week, the enclave on Georgia's Sapelo Island suffered what Geechee descendants say could erase their culture.

The McIntosh County Board approved in a three to two vote to increase the maximum size of homes from 1,400 to 3,000 square feet. The decision, the Gullah/Geechee say, will usher in vacation homes and force out many on fixed incomes in the Hogg Hammock community.

Joining us now is Maurice Bailey. He is a local historian. He's also a ninth-generation resident of Hogg Hammock.

Maurice, thank you so much for being with us.

This is kind of complicated for people not familiar with it. I hope I did it justice explaining it. Tell us your reaction to the zoning change.

MAURICE BAILEY, GULLAH/GEECHEE COMMUNITY OF DESCENDANTS OF FREED SLAVES: Well, I'm not happy with it. It's very discouraging. Not too surprised. The new council is trying to eradicate the population on this island in various ways. It's just another way of them removing us from this community and calling it their own.

It's going to be a tough battle, but we're going to continue to fight for this last community. People like my mother and other people have witnessed the loss of other communities throughout the years.

This is the last one we have left. But people are tired of fighting.

KEILAR: People are tired of fighting.


BAILEY: -- but were not recognized. Yes.

KEILAR: Can you tell us what they're fighting for and what you're fighting to preserve in this community?

BAILEY: We're fighting to preserve our homes. This is our home. In our state, our home. We own land on this island for many years, since 1871. Ever since we were starting to purchase land, people have been trying to take the land away from us.

This is our home. This is all that a lot of us know. It's a connection to our ancestors. Our spirit is here. Our culture is here. This is a home for many of people. (INAUDIBLE) It's their home.

KEILAR: For people who are unfamiliar with this community -- and it's fascinating if you look online and see pictures of it. There are many historic buildings and homes. They are small.

What will it do, in your opinion, to open up this allowable square footage from 1,400 feet to 3,000?

BAILEY: Well, we created zoning years ago in this community from this type of thing because we knew a lot of the houses will increase people into the community.

This will definitely be affecting us. We don't have a lot of jobs here on Sapelo. There's not a lot of jobs here. In fact, this place we live in Georgia, there's not a lot of great jobs.

So we can't afford the increase in taxes. We can't afford to build a home of that size even if we wanted to. It will be detrimental to the community.

KEILAR: Maurice, one of the -- in your family, you spoke about your mother. She's such an advocate. You are and there are other people in your community.

What we're seeing happening on Sapelo Island, it's really part of a bigger loss of freed slave culture even beyond Georgia. Can you talk to us a little about that and what's at stake?


BAILEY: Yes. I travel a lot advocating for Sapelo. This is not similar to Sapelo, but it affects us more because our numbers and years of being here, all the generations. But other places suffer from the same thing as we speak.

It's hard to see this up and down the coast and inland that we're always being displaced, just our community of people.

We're still not respected in this state or in this country. We still battling to be respected in this country. In the state of Georgia, it's very difficult.

KEILAR: Maurice, we know that this is a small community, one of a few small communities, but many people are watching. We appreciate you speaking with us today.

Maurice Bailey, thank you.

BAILEY: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Quite a story there.

Still to come, Ford's CEO says that union demands would drive his company into bankruptcy. Is that true? We'll have the latest on the historic strike just ahead.