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1 Dead, 45 Hurt When High School Band Camp Bus Overturns; Soon: Biden To Meet With Zelenskyy At White House. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2023 - 15:00   ET





BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: We start this hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL with some breaking news out of Orange County, New York. We're getting new information about a deadly high school bus crash. We now know that 45 - at least 45 people were hurt when this bus carrying a high school band camp overturned.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: This is obviously a very serious situation that we are monitoring.

We have CNN's Polo Sandoval back with us watching this.

Polo, what can you tell us?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, guys. That 45-figure coming from the local fire department saying that at least 45 individuals that were severely injured in addition to one person confirmed dead. And we now know, according to officials, that this bus was actually transporting a large group of students from Long Island, specifically coming from Farmingdale High School.

According to that school district, it tells CNN that those students were on their way to band camp in Pennsylvania when just after 1 o'clock in the afternoon, their bus crashed. And these aerial pictures give you a dramatic look at the - what eventually took place there.

You see that bus on its side in a wooded area just off of Interstate 84, I believe. Here's what we understand right now. Not only that those students were coming from Farmingdale High School, but they were heading to Greeley, Pennsylvania, which is typically about a 140-mile drive, when at one point that bus crashed, again, killing one person and injuring at least 45, according to local fire officials.

The school district releasing a statement saying, "That they were informed that there had been an accident with bus one en route to Greeley, Pennsylvania for band camp." Police and emergency responders on the scene, as well as district administration, the school district saying that they will be providing additional information as it becomes available. Obviously, there's still many questions here, including, of course, the cause of this accident, but also the severity of those individuals that were injured when this bus ended on its side there just off of the interstate. The result certainly is a massive scene that is still very active right now.

In fact, a portion of Interstate 84, according to authorities, remains closed as authorities continue to work that scene, guys.

SANCHEZ: So we are taking a live look at the scene. And as you can see, it appears that I-84 - it looks like we lost that there. But for a moment, it appeared that authorities were setting up some kind of a triage site on I-84.

Polo, please stay with us, because from our vantage point right now, as we look at these live images from WABC, who's over the scene, it looks like authorities are now combing that area for evidence. You mentioned there were 45 people hurt, at least one dead. Do we have any other information from officials about who else might have been on board? Was this exclusively the high school band that was headed to camp that was on this bus?

SANDOVAL: Right, Boris. We understand that this was a bus that had been chartered for use to transport these students. And when you look at the statement that was released by the district, you see that this was - they refer to this as bus number one.

We don't know if it was part of a fleet that the school system actually kept for use to transport students or if this was a charter company. This is all, again, these are all questions that we're trying to answer right now.

But as you point out in these pictures, you see authorities on the ground there, almost canvassing the area, making sure that they don't miss anything and most importantly, anyone. This was a bus that was potentially transporting dozens of individuals. So authorities certainly want to make sure that anybody who needs help, that needs medical attention is getting that.

And then, of course, also gathering evidence as they try to piece a case together to try to find out exactly what led to this crash, now fatal crash, of a bus that was transporting these students from Long Island headed to band camp.


KEILAR: Do we know anything about where they are being transported in terms of hospitals? And you also do make a very good point there, I think, that we can see this ravine, this area where the bus is. It's not just grass as it is on that hill. There's also some pretty large bushes.

And when you're talking about a crash of this magnitude and we're talking about a bus where obviously you would expect that people may not be wearing seatbelts, there's going to be concern that some people and certainly some things will be ejected from the bus. And so they are going through over this large area of the ground there to make sure.

Do we know anything, Polo, about where they are transporting people?

SANDOVAL: Well, we know that there are multiple area hospitals where many of the injured would potentially be taken. We do know that some people have had to be air evacuated from the zone there. That certainly might speak to the severity of their injuries. But in terms of some of those who survived and potentially may not need medical attention, of course, what we have seen in the past is usually a form of reunification center that will be prepared so that parents can get their children there that have been medically cleared.

We don't know yet if that's already been done. We - it certainly would not be surprising if we get to that point as the parents of these children, again, 45 people who were injured aboard that bus that was carrying students. As you can imagine, these parents will be desperate for answers and desperate to be reunited with their children.

But again, as of this point, looking through some of our editorial, we do not know exactly where that is happening right now. The authorities are certainly, specifically the school district, is taking those steps to make sure that parents are informed and they can be - see their children again.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And Polo, if you could, let's talk about the geographical context here. Orange County is not far from Manhattan. And I believe your reporting was that this was a high school that was located on Long Island.

SANDOVAL: Right. So these were students from Farmingdale High School on Long Island. They were, according to the school district, they were heading to Greeley, Pennsylvania. So it's about a 140-mile drive that typically they would be making if they actually started from their school.

So this would have happened well beyond New York City. And when you look at the geography there, it is certainly not as populated as perhaps you would find in New York City. So perhaps that may have led to a challenge there for authorities.

But no, it is certainly a heavily wooded area there that authorities have to comb right now as they try to get to the bottom of what actually led to this crash. Boris? Brianna?

SANCHEZ: Again, at least one person dead, 45 others hurt in a bus crash in Orange County, New York. Polo, we'll let you go and get more information for us. We'll, of course, make sure to keep you updated with the very latest in that situation.

KEILAR: We see them using a drone.


KEILAR: We could see a small drone. We see them in a row canvassing the area, raising questions about is someone missing? Is something important missing? And obviously those parents are going to have major questions about that.

SANCHEZ: No doubt about that.

Still, we are also focusing on other major news in the nation's capital. In just a few moments, Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is going to arrive at the White House to meet with President Biden. He's going to be there just a few hours after additional Russian strikes killed Ukrainian civilians. These are new strikes as of today. And Zelenskyy is now pleading with the West for more help.

He will get some of it, at least from President Biden, at least symbolically, because Biden will walk him through a new military aid package. But of course, there are major challenges ahead for Ukraine's president.

KEILAR: Yes. When he met with lawmakers earlier today, Zelenskyy had a tougher sell. More and more Republicans are trying to block increased aid to Ukraine. So Zelenskyy put it bluntly. He said, you give money, we give lives. We'll see, though, if that is going to convince anyone there.

We're covering this across the - across Washington. We're covering this inside Ukraine.

Let's start with CNN's Kayla Tausche at the White House.

Kayla, these two leaders have met several times by now. They are largely on the same page when it comes to countering Russia. What are we expecting from this meeting?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are largely on the same page, Brianna, and we're expecting another show of force from Washington, at least from this side of Pennsylvania Avenue. We can see the Honor Guard has been assembling here on the driveway at the South Portico, where we expect President Zelenskyy to arrive in just a few minutes.

It is the third time that Zelenskyy has visited the White House in person, the sixth time that he and President Biden have met. And this afternoon is going to follow a pretty specific program. Biden is going to hold a bilateral with Zelenskyy. He's going to be introducing the Ukrainian president to a newly appointed U.S. diplomat, Penny Pritzker, who's a known entity to many in the U.S., and she's going to be leading the rebuilding and recovery inside Ukraine.


Her job is essentially going to be to connect private sector companies to the rebuilding effort to try to generate investment. But, of course, that can't happen until there's something to rebuild, until there is essentially a victory for Ukraine. And that is what Zelenskyy is here to try to secure.

President Biden is going to be holding a meeting with his cabinet where they're going to be looking for battlefield intelligence from Zelenskyy about how the counteroffensive is going, how much more military assistance and aid they will need. President Biden is set to announce $325 million from an existing drawdown, but of course, 10s of billions of dollars more will be needed this year.

SANCHEZ: Kayla, please stand by as we await Zelenskyy's arrival at the White House.

Let's get over to Capitol Hill now with CNN's Lauren Fox.

Lauren, a range of viewpoints today on the issue of Ukraine aid that we've heard from lawmakers. Did President Zelenskyy change any minds?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, a range, Boris, and a deep division between Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate. So far, it is not clear that Zelenskyy changed any minds in his meetings, especially when it comes to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He has been circumspect about putting more Ukraine funding on the floor of the House of Representatives.

And after his meeting with Zelenskyy, I pressed him repeatedly on whether or not he would commit to putting $24 billion in a supplemental request from the White House on the floor of the House before the end of the year. And repeatedly, McCarthy dodged the question, saying that there were issues and priorities when it came to the U.S.'s spending that needed to be dealt with first.

So a huge question right now of whether or not McCarthy will put that money on the floor of the House. And this is coming as McCarthy is trying to find a way forward with his Republican conference to avert a government shutdown. It also comes as House Republicans are expected to leave for the weekend, even though they were saying that they were going to work through the weekend.

So, so far, no indication that any minds, or at least the minds that matter, were changed in that room. Boris?

KEILAR: It's so stunning, I think, Lauren, to look at the visuals that we see coming off of the Hill and the difference between the Senate and the House, where you have Mitch McConnell walking side by side with the Senate majority leader and President Zelenskyy trying to present this unified front of Democrats and Republicans supporting Ukraine.

And then on the flip side on the House, you have Speaker McCarthy will not be seen in public with President Zelenskyy because of the political peril that it puts him in. It's such a far cry from the Republican Party just even a few years ago.

FOX: Yes, it is a far cry and it's a far cry from what Zelenskyy received when he came to the Capitol last year, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was still in charge and he spoke before a joint meeting of Congress, and he was sort of met with this sea of yellow and blue as lawmakers were standing, giving him an ovation and arguing that more money for Ukraine was not only critical for that country, but also for the future of the United States. It's a very, very different reception that he received in the House today. And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is being careful because those on his right flank have openly mocked the support for Ukraine. You had Matt Gaetz earlier this week tweeting a picture of McCarthy standing with his pin with the Ukraine flag and yellow and blue pocket square. And Matt Gaetz tweeted, how does this make you feel, basically arguing that this is probably going to enrage some on the far right.

So that is why House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been so careful, Brianna.

SANCHEZ: Lauren, please stand by. We do want to get you the view from Ukraine, as we've been alerted that President Zelenskyy will get to the White House in just a few moments.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is on the ground there for us.

Fred, bring us up to speed on the latest series of Russian attacks there.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a huge barrage of aerial attacks that happened in the earlier morning hours of today. And if you look at some of the things that happened, certainly the timing does seem quite conspicuous, Boris, as it was just as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was arriving in Washington that the Russians unleashed this aerial attack.

Now, they used ballistic missiles, but first and foremost, they also used cruise missiles as well. And some of the numbers are pretty staggering. The Ukrainians say that the Russians used 10 nuclear- capable strategic bombers that took off from a base in the west of Russia and then launched 43 cruise missiles at the territory of Ukraine.

Now, the Ukrainians do say that thanks to some of the air defense systems that they've already received from the West, they were able to take most of those missiles down. But some of them did come through, and they did cause a lot of damage.


There were five people who were killed in the town of Kherson. There was another incident that took place in a town called Cherkasy, which is in the center of Ukraine, where a hotel was hit. A lot of people were injured there.

But the Ukrainians also say what really concerns them is that there was a massive attack and a lot of hits on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. And if we look back throughout the course of last winter, pretty much all of last fall, winter and also into the spring, the Russians had unleashed a giant aerial campaign against Ukraine's energy infrastructure, essentially trying to freeze the Ukrainians into submission. And they certainly fear that what we're seeing right now could be the start of something like that again.

The Ukrainians say there were massive power outages in large parts of the west and the center of the country, and some of those still continue. There are works in progress to try and restore the power. Ukraine's president, of course, who we're about to see, he's pleading for more air defense weapons to help the Ukrainians better defend themselves than what we've been seeing here in the past couple of hours, guys.

KEILAR: Yes, so far, not getting them, even though that's very much on the table, Fred.

Fred, thank you so much.

I want to head back to the White House where Kayla Tausche is. To Fred's point there, Kayla, these long range weapons, these ATACMS, that have been discussed so much, you heard Zelenskyy as he came to the Hill, as he's been here in Washington, he is saying that Ukraine is not going to cede territory. In fact, they want to take Crimea back and long range weapons are critical for that.

But at this point so far, the U.S. is not delivering on that. Can you explain to us why that is? Is it just logistical? Is it also a political consideration?

TAUSCHE: Well, Brianna, the administration has not denied that these capabilities would be helpful in Ukraine's defense of its country and of some of those territories that you just mentioned. But what I've learned through my reporting is that the U.S. military has briefed the White House that what Ukraine needs most right now to be successful in the counteroffensive are vehicles, are mine clearing equipment, are the types of aid that will help them breach Russian defenses on the ground, and that they want to essentially prioritize that type of weaponry instead of, or perhaps in addition to in the future, sending those ATACMS.

John Kirby, the spokesman for the NSC, has said that the review by government agencies on whether to send those deep strike missiles is still underway, that no decision has been made, but that it remains on the table. But for now, there is a belief within the administration, based on briefings from the U.S. military, that that is not what is most pressing at this exact moment in time.

SANCHEZ: Kayla, please stand by. We understand, President Zelenskyy is set to arrive at the White House within minutes. We will obviously bring that to you live.

We want to expand the conversation now with CNN National Security Analyst Beth Sanner.

So Beth, what are you going to be watching for in this meeting at the White House?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We're not going to know too much about it except what they tell us afterwards. There's not going to be a big, long press conference or anything like that. This is very much inside baseball, I think, about President Zelenskyy really collaborating and talking to President Biden, strategizing about next steps, plan Bs, how is this going to unfold in terms of assistance over the next few months and what are they going to do for the longer term.

So there's a lot at stake right now and they're plotting how to maneuver these very difficult waters.

KEILAR: And what are you expecting to come out of Congress and how are you expecting this to be maneuvered by Republicans, because they're very much the ones at odds when it comes to support.

SANNER: Right. I mean, it looks increasingly likely that it's - this supplemental won't be passed in this near term. And then it shifts everything to trying to get this passed by the end of the year, so that is definitely not an optimal situation. I think it's probably less than 50 percent chance right now that it will pass in this near term.

It means disruptions. It means problems for U.S. companies, big and small, that support this effort. A continuing resolution is just really bad and very costly for Americans. But if it's passed by the end of the year, then I think that, in general, Ukraine will be okay. But if it's not, there are real second and third order effects in terms of funding from international institutions. IMF money may not be able to go forward. World Bank money that's leveraged using this assistance may not be able to be used and what will the rest of the world do if the United States really starts to cut back.


And so this really becomes much more of a life and death situation for how Ukraine will be able to prosecute this war. And ultimately, if we cut off aid, they're going to lose.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And the question of how that aid is scheduled is a big part of the negotiations underway right now on Capitol Hill. The spending fight, whether it should be part of a bigger spending package or its own individual bill.

Beth, I want to ask you about one of the claims from Republicans that are hesitant to send more aid to Ukraine, one of them being Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida. He's talked about this perception that's plaguing the Ukrainian leadership regarding corruption. And recently, Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired many of his deputy defense ministers.

How big a part is dispelling the notion, the reputation that some of the top leadership in Ukraine has for corruption a part of Zelenskyy's effort here?

SANNER: I think it's important in terms of the Pentagon putting in place, and they're making steps now in terms of appointing an IG or IG-like person that will oversee that aid. There's no evidence of corruption involving U.S. armaments, but there is evidence of some malfeasance from ministers at different levels regarding purchases of food and things like that.

Zelenskyy's taken a very hard line and strong stand on this because it's really key to EU membership. They have to deal with these things to move forward with that. The Ukrainian people, 77 percent of them hold Zelenskyy responsible for ongoing corruption in Ukraine. They want change. Zelenskyy wants change. There will be change, but not always at the pace that I think all of us want, because it's like trying to fix the airplane while it's in flight. They're at war, so it adds more problems.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly.

Kayla Tausche, to you, at the White House, there is what we're hearing from some Republicans who are dismayed by this degree of aid going to Ukraine or they don't want to be on the hook for more as they anticipate after there being more, there being even more. Is there any sense from the White House that they need to prepare Zelenskyy for the fact that this aid is finite and that at a certain point he has to make a decision, that there is a deadline in a way for Ukraine's progress?

TAUSCHE: Well, Brianna, I think every time that conversation comes up, the White House, the U.S. and Ukraine are just dealing with a new set of facts based on where the country is in the conflict at that moment in time. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser to that end, told reporters today that the $24 billion request that the White House has made essentially would sustain the war from the end of September, the end of the government's fiscal year, through the end of the calendar year, but that the administration has already begun conversations with Congress to talk about what would be needed after that and what the U.S. government's assessment is about how much aid Ukraine could need to sustain the war beyond the end of this year.

And so some of those conversations are already happening, but there's also an acknowledgement that war is unpredictable, and they don't know exactly what the state of play on the ground will be at that time and what Ukraine's needs will be, and that that conversation will have to evolve, even as it's one that they're trying to anticipate right now.

SANCHEZ: I want to go back to Fred Pleitgen, who's in Zaporizhzhia for us, because something struck me about what Beth was noting a moment ago regarding not just aid from the United States, but how aid from the United States could impact aid coming from others. And there was big news today, Fred, about Poland and its decision on supplying arms to Ukraine.


SANCHEZ: Bring us up to speed with that.

PLEITGEN: You're absolutely right. And Poland, which was always one of the staunchest allies, maybe the staunchest ally, aside from the United States, of the Ukrainians, even before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine today announced that they were going to completely stop giving weapons to the Ukrainians, at least for the foreseeable future.

Now, they did say that they were going to continue to deliver the weapons that they had already pledged. And the Ukrainians also have bought some weapons in Poland as well, and that those were going to be delivered as well. But aside from that, for now, there is going to be none of that going on. A lot of that goes back to a dispute between the Poles and the Ukrainians over grain exports, which the Poles have stopped the Ukrainians and filed a lawsuit at the World Trade Organization.

So there was sort of a spat going on between these two countries. One of the other things, Boris, we also have to point out is that Poland is right before a very crucial election for the governing party there and that's certainly something that some people believe could also play a role as well.


But, of course, in the end, this is a very staunch ally and one that the U.S. and that President Biden have hailed as being instrumental in helping the Ukrainians, also taking in a lot of refugees from Ukraine, essentially saying they are going to cut off their weapons supplies to Ukraine.

And, of course, that's also something that can have a chilling effect on other countries that are providing support as well. And I think the U.S., of course, plays an oversized role in all of that. There are a lot of European countries who have taken steps to provide additional weapons to Ukraine simply because the U.S. has done so and who have said that the precondition for them giving additional weapons to Ukraine is that the United States does so as well.

The big case in point is that - in that is main battle tanks, where the Germans, when we're talking about Leopard 2 main battle tanks from Germany, which a lot of countries here in Europe have going to Ukraine, the Germans went down and said, look, we're going to do this if the U.S. gives Abrams main battle tanks as well.

And it took that pledge from President Biden for those Abrams main battle tanks, for the Germans then to say, okay, we are going to allow German and European main battle tanks to go into Ukraine as well. The same also goes for multiple rocket launching systems.

So, of course, if the U.S. curbs its support, cuts its support, that definitely could have a chilling effect on other nations, certainly European nations, giving weapons to the Ukrainians and it is definitely something that the Ukrainians are aware of as well. We can see that as President Zelenskyy has been in the U.S. Certainly some of those meetings today were again and again and again.

And also in that interview with our own Wolf Blitzer said that Ukrainians extremely grateful for the help that they're getting from the United States. But they certainly do need a lot more of it to stay in the fight. And I think one of the things that we need to mention in that as well, the Ukrainians from what we're seeing, and we've been on the southern front here a lot over the past couple of days.

They say there are immediate needs that they have and some of that is really basic stuff. A lot of artillery ammo that they need, HIMARS ammo simply to stay in the fight on the battlefield. Also, some of those vehicles that Kayla was talking about, mine clearing, because they are having to deal with those massive minefields here in the south and then ATACMS missiles, as they put it, for the longer term stuff to hit the Russian supply lines.

But we do also see that the Ukrainians have indeed in the past couple of weeks, the past couple of months really increased their own capabilities as long distance strikes as well. We saw them hit targets, for instance, in Moscow with a big drone fleet that they've built up. We've hit them - we've seen them hit, for instance, today a Russian - they claim - a Russian airfield in Crimea using a homemade Ukrainian missile called the Neptune that they say they used in that.

So they do have longer distance capabilities, certainly the Ukrainians, but they also say they do need a lot of artillery ammo. They need a lot more vehicles to stay here in the fight. And certainly every nation that says that it's going to stop providing them, especially a key one like Poland, which has a border with Ukraine and has done so much so far.

That really is a pretty big blow and it's something that the Ukrainians have noticed, and they certainly are trying to come to some sort of agreement with the Poles to see that that goes on again. That's why this visit is so very important for Volodymyr Zelenskyy and that's why we've seen him go around, go to Congress, meet the members of Congress there, go to Capitol Hill and now also with President Biden to try to keep that aid going.

The Ukrainians understand that for their survival on the battlefield and certainly if they want to keep their counteroffensive going, which has been slow so far. But when we're on the front lines, we do see that the morale of many of the soldiers still remains very high because they say right now they are the ones that have the momentum on the side. They are the ones who are taking the initiative.

It's not them defending against the Russians. It's the Russians defending against them and that's certainly something where they say that in itself is already worth a lot. But, of course, many people here believe that this war is going to go on for a very long time. And certainly the Ukrainians need the U.S. to stay in the fight and to keep supporting them if they are going to have a chance to pull off larger territorial gains, winning back large parts of their own territory, guys.

KEILAR: When you talk to people, Fred, in Ukraine, do they understand the possibility of - I mean, obviously they're confronting this very real situation with Poland. They need ammo and Poland is now saying, hey, we're only going to give you the ammo that we had promised before we made this decision to stop shipment, so that's obviously very real.

Are they considering in Ukraine that they have to come up with a plan for what happens if that isn't just a Poland issue, if that becomes a U.S. issue, if Donald Trump were to be elected president, certainly that is something that could really turn off the spigot. I mean, these are things that they must be considering, the political realities that would affect the realities for them on the battlefield.

[15:30:00] PLEITGEN: The realities for them on the battlefield and quite frankly, existential realities for them.