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A Least 2 Dead in Puerto Rico Amid Recovery Efforts; Texas Sheriff to Investigate Flight to Massachusetts; Ukraine Pushes Counteroffensive Deeper into Luhansk Region; Izyum Residents Cope with Aftermath of Russian Occupation; Taliban Trade Navy Veteran for Convicted Drug Smuggler. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM.

Scenes of devastation in Puerto Rico after hurricane Fiona battered the island leaving thousands without power or clean water. We are tracking where the storm is headed next.

Plus, Russian forces may be gone but for Ukraine's newly liberated territories, the road to recovery is just beginning.

And a final farewell for Queen Elizabeth. How the U.K. said good-bye to the country's longest serving monarch.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: It is Tuesday, September 20th, 4 a.m. here on the East Coast of the United States where we are tracking hurricane Fiona as the storm gains strength in the Atlantic. Fiona is now a category 3 hurricane barreling closer to the Turks and Caicos Islands after tearing through the Dominican Republic on Monday.

Heavy rains and strong winds ripped through cities destroying buildings and homes. More than 1 million people are without running water in the Dominican Republic and officials say it's too soon to know the exact number of power outages. It's only a glimpse of this power of the power this storm, and that's expected to get even stronger through the week. So, let's turn to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri who's been keeping a very close eye on Fiona's movement. So, what are you seeing Pedram?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Rosemary, all eyes on this storm. As you noted is now a major hurricane, category 3 strength, the forecast of strength. And in the next 18 or so hours here possibly up to a category 4. But you'll notice eastern Turks and Caicos, Cockburn Town which is the capital of Turks and Caicos, home to about 5,000 people, now feeling the brunt of this storm system that has just been upgraded to a category 3 in the last couple of hours. But you'll notice the eye wall here going to begin to move towards

this region and really that eastern periphery of the islands which in its entirety home to about 40,000 people really going to feel what this storm system has to offer. And we do have warnings that have been issued across this region as well. Of course, we know this is a very low line community so any amount of storm surge here can cause significant damage to these coastal communities. And enough rainfall still on the backside of this storm, Rosemary, that portions of Puerto Rico, portions of Espanola still dealing with rainfall and the fact these flood alerts remain in place after more than 30 inches of rainfall came down across this region.

So, you take a city like Seattle picks up about 37 inches per year. Across Ponce, across this region of Puerto Rico, about a year's worth of rainfall that you would see in Seattle coming down in a span of 24 hours here. In fact, 90 percent of the island still in the dark across this region. And notice, systems quickly strengthens up to a category 4. Potentially maintains that for the next couple of days.

Latest model guidance does wants to keep this just west of Bermuda as it passes to the west come Thursday afternoon. But still quite a few days left before we see where the system ends up. Regardless a major hurricane in the works and quite a bit of rainfall here especially across the northern tier of Turks and Caicos could see as much as 10 inches in this landscape. And also, impressive storm surge, Rosemary, 5 to 8 feet. And any time you get to these thresholds, you know, water certainly can begin to push up towards some of these coastal communities and enter properties that are near sea level as well. So, a lot of concern in the Turks and Caicos.

CHURCH: Yes, absolutely understandable too, isn't it. Pedram Javaheri many thanks for keeping a very close eye on that.

At least two people have died in Puerto Rico as a result of hurricane Fiona. The National Guard said more than 1,000 people have been rescued from the life threatening flood waters since the storm made landfall on Sunday. But even though the hurricane has passed, the rain continues to fall. Only a third of the territory has working water services and much of Puerto Rico is still without power. Puerto Rico's governor told CNN's Anderson Cooper that most of the damage has come from the rains.


GOV. PEDRO PIERLUISI (D) PUERTO RICO: So, the damage relates to flooding, all over the island. I'm talking about primarily the mountain region of Puerto Rico, but urban areas in the north are being impacted as well, because the rivers are discharging towards the north, and that's causing flooding.


We got a total blackout when the hurricane hit us, and we still only have roughly 115,000 customers of our power authority with power.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: CNN's Leyla Santiago has more on the storm's aftermath from San Juan.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost the entire island of Puerto Rico remains in the dark after Hurricane Fiona slammed into the southwestern coast of the island Sunday afternoon.

Pounding rainfall causing catastrophic mudslides and flooding, the storm coming just as parts of the island were finally recovering from Hurricane Maria's destruction five years ago.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, SAN JUAN RESIDENT: It's been rough. We've been just working to get back this neighborhood, get it back from Maria that everything was destroyed.

Restaurants, houses, everything was destroyed, and we just -- we just -- not, all the way back but we're just half way back. A lot of people more than Maria lost their houses now. They lost everything on their houses because of the flooding.

SANTIAGO: This is the barrio, the neighborhood where the National Guard had to come in to rescue people. Still a lot of flooding. I can hear generators powering the homes and it is still pouring down with rain.

Neighbors looking out wondering exactly what will come next as Hurricane Fiona, the remnants of it, continue to demolish this area.

SANTIAGO (voice over): The family rescued overnight now safely in a shelter.

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE speaking in foreign language.)

SANTIAGO: She says this was worse than Maria.

(MAYOR BONILLA COLON speaking in foreign language.)

SANTIAGO: She is pointing out that they've already been underwater for 24 hours and the rain is still coming down, so she is concerned about the 2,500 families that she says are impacted by this here.

SANTIAGO (voice over): About a thousand people rescued from floodwaters, hundreds more rescue efforts still underway as emergency responders try to navigate through difficult to reach areas.

In Utuado, the interior part of the island, 25-year-old Leomar Rodriguez watched this bridge come apart in just minutes and washed down the river.

On the west side of the island, rainfall swelled in the Guanajibo River in Hormigueros, surpassing its previous record high at 28.59 feet set during Hurricane Maria, now gauging to over 29 feet, the National Weather Service said.

While a few hospitals have regained power, emergency workers are racing to get electricity back to the island.

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FEMA ADMINISTRATOR FOR PUERTO RICO: It takes so long to get things back up because so many of the systems are connected, and some of the main lines go through the hills there. And if those main lines get damaged, they don't have the ability to get the other sections up and running.

SANTIAGO (voice over): Sunday morning, President Joe Biden approving an Emergency Declaration for Puerto Rico that authorizes all emergency measures needed, including FEMA.

ANNE BINK, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR RESPONSE AND RECOVERY, FEMA: There's 300 responders on the ground from FEMA working hand in glove with the Commonwealth and their emergency management structure.

SANTIAGO: It's not just the flooding, the mudslides or the power outages, it's also a lot of folks not having water right now either. So, the big question will be how quickly can crews get in to work on the power lines, to restore that power and open up some of the roads that have been damaged by the flooding.

Now another big thing to mention, it has now been five years since Hurricane Maria struck the island. So, a lot of folks that are seeing these images that are seeing it right before them unfold are sort of having flashbacks to Hurricane Maria, the disaster that really decimated this island five years ago.

Leyla Santiago, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


CHURCH: And for viewers who want to help those affected by hurricane Fiona, you can go to And you'll find a list of verified organizations ready to help you make a difference. Do take a look.

Well, now to the controversy around a group of 48 migrants transported from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. A Texas sheriff is opening an investigation into the flights. Javier Salazar says he's been told one of the migrants was paid to recruit others from a center in San Antonio. They were flown to Florida then on to Massachusetts where they were dropped off on the wealthy resort island with some cash and a map.


SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: I believe that they were preyed upon. Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people. Lured them with promises of a better life -- which is what they were absolutely looking for and with the knowledge that they were going to cling to whatever hope they could be offered for a better life -- to just be exploited and hood winked into making this trip to Florida and then onward to Martha's Vineyard for what I believe to be nothing more than political posturing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claims credit for the flight paid for with tax money.


He said the migrants signed consent forms and were treated very well. DeSantis and other Republican governors say they have no plans to stop. CNN's Miguel Marquez reports.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An indication of how some migrants are being convinced to travel from red states to blue. A pamphlet provided to Venezuelan asylum seekers going from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. The pamphlet offers refugee assistance, including cash and employment services. All the migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard were seeking asylum, not refugee status.

More buses, more migrants, shipped from Texas to New York City. No heads up, no coordination.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: This is, as is stated, a humanitarian crisis created by human hands.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Mayor Adams blaming Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who continues to send busloads of migrants to New York City. Six buses already arriving today, at least 22 over the weekend.

ADAMS: When we reached out to Governor Abbott and stated, can we coordinate, can we identify, you know, who's traveling here, that we don't have to guess this, they refused to do so.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The influx pushing New York City's shelter system to its limit, the mayor says.

More than 11,000 asylum seekers passing through New York City's shelter system since May. Some 2,500 arriving on buses from Texas alone.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): To relieve our communities, we have to continue these busing operations.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): With a sharp increase in border crossings over the last two years, Republican governors say sanctuary cities and states are legitimate destinations.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There's also going to be buses and there will likely be more flights. But I'll tell you this, the legislature gave me $12 million, we're going to spend every penny of that to make sure that we're protecting the people of the state of Florida.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis defended sending two planes of asylum seekers to Martha's Vineyard last week with funds provided by his state legislature. The law says migrants must be in Florida and illegal. Those shipped to Martha's Vineyard were in Texas and here legally. All those we spoke to having applied for asylum to escape the repressive Venezuelan regime.

DESANTIS: So, they've been in Texas, identifying people that are trying to come to Florida and then offering them free transportation to sanctuary jurisdictions.

MARQUEZ: So, what Governor DeSantis was talking about there is precisely what the sheriff of Bexar County, Texas wants to investigate. Bexar County is where San Antonio is. It's where all these migrants were that went to Martha's Vineyard. The sheriff there saying that they were lured to Martha's Vineyard. Saying that they were offered false promises and wants to know who was talking to them. Governors who were taking part in these relocation programs say that all the people that they relocate do so willingly. Back to you.


CHURCH: At least five people have reportedly been killed in protests in Iran over the suspicious death of a young woman while in police custody. A human rights group monitoring the events says they were shot and killed by security forces. The protests started over the weekend after Mahsa Amini was arrested by the morality police, then died in custody. Police deny witness reports that the 22-year-old was beaten inside their van. State media released an edited video of Amini collapsing at a re-education center where police say she had a heart attack.

Demonstrations have spread across Iran over the past few days. In one video shared by the Free Union of Iranian Workers, protestors marched through the streets chanting death to the dictator.

Ukraine's military has liberated more towns in the country's east. Now the newly freed residents elect to pick up the pieces of their lives after months of Russian occupation.

Plus, let's make a deal. One navy veteran for a convicted drug trafficker. More on the prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Taliban.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. A Ukrainian official reports Russian strikes and heavy fighting in the Donetsk region as Kremlin forces target the city of Bakhmut. The Russians are trying to press an offensive after being forced to retreat in other parts of the east. Ukrainian military leaders in Luhansk claimed another village was liberated on Monday. With one official saying it's a hard fight for every centimeter of land.

The Ukrainians also say a Russian military base in a still occupied part of Luhansk was destroyed on Monday. And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says his forces are digging in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are stabilizing the situation, holding our positions firmly. So strong that the occupiers are really panicking. Well, we have warned the Russian soldiers in Ukraine have only two options, to flee from our land or surrender.


CHURCH: Meanwhile, Moscow is denying accusations of war crimes in areas where it soldiers retreated. The Kremlin claims the alleged evidence of torture found in a mass grave near Izyum is a lie. Ukrainian authorities said Monday they exhumed more than 140 bodies, two of them children.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is in London. But let's start with CNN international correspondent Ben Wedeman who's in Kharkiv. So, Ben, you had the opportunity to speak with residents of Izyum who had suffered months of Russian occupation. What all did they tell you about that and then life after liberation?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, life under Russian occupation, they tell us, was difficult but bizarre. Most of the people stayed off the streets as much as possible.


Normal life in that town simply came to an end. People huddled in their basements. There wasn't much food available. A lot of people got by on the fruit and vegetables they simply grew in their gardens. Some people told us they were collecting rainwater because there were no basic services, no running water, for instance.

But now that the Russians are gone, it's still a struggle to get the basics.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Help arrives in Izyum. Bags of barley meal, tins of food. Waiting her turn, Inessa shrugs off the tribulations of late. She's seen worse.

We survived World War II when I was little, she tells me.

Surgeon Oksana Karapetian hands out medicine. Sedatives are in high demand.

OKSANA KARAPETIAN, KYIV RESIDENT AND SURGEON: Half of a year, six months, without any help. You can understand -- just imagine what do they feel?

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Liberation from Russia isn't the end of Izyum's troubles. Much of the city was severely bombarded before falling in spring to the Russians. There's no running water, no electricity, no heat.

Crowds gathered to charge cell phones off an army generator and make calls, 10 minutes per person, using internet provided by a satellite connection.

Lubof and her daughter Anzhela are calling relatives. They want to leave. Winter is coming.

People will freeze, Anzhela warns. Older people won't survive.

They also fear the Russians could return. Nearby the signs of their hasty retreat. Helmets strewn outside a house Russian soldiers commandeered. Bread crumbs still on the table. Insects make a meal of the fruit half eaten.

On the edge of the town the remains of Russia's once vaunted army before a monument harkening back to a different time which now seems like the distant past.

Natasha shows me a newspaper distributed during the occupation.

WEDEMAN: What does she think of him?

WEDEMAN (voice-over): I haven't thought anything good about him since 2000, she says. He destroyed everything in Russia.

The paper does, however, come in handy.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And president Zelenskyy says that the authorities are working as quickly as possible to restore those basic services. That may take a few weeks, but in terms of reconstruction of the town of Izyum, that will take much, much longer -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Extraordinary report there, Ben. Many thanks. And Clare, you're there in London as we pointed out. What is the latest on Ukrainian efforts to retake the Luhansk region and how is Russia responding?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT Yes, Rosemary, the Ukrainian efforts continue. We're hearing that it's not quite at the same speed -- as Ben was reporting show so clearly -- in the Kharkiv region. But they are continuing. They have taken a key town called Balakliya which is near the key cities of Lysychansk, Severodonetsk which Russia took back at the beginning of July when it took over the whole of the Luhansk Region. So, that is strategically important.

However, Russia is continuing to fight back, continuing to shell areas that Ukraine has taken back. Those heavy fighting reported, as you noted, in the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

And we are hearing as well that they have fired a missile on Monday near a nuclear plant, another nuclear plant. Not the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant but one in the Mykolaiv region on Monday. Obviously a very worrying sign, a missile apparently landed within 300 meters of the reactors. So, that is very concerning.

And another thing to note is that the Russian-backed heads of the Donetsk region in its pursuance in a sort of video called his counterpart in the Luhansk region and urged him to sort of join forces to bring about referendums on joining Russia. That speaks to a sense of concern, even perhaps panic of the Ukrainian advance that could undermine Russia's gains and prevent it from taking over the Donbas. Which is of course, a stated goal in its special military operation. So, Russia continues to fight back in several ways -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: And Clare, the U.K.'s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has announced her plans for military spending to help Ukraine in 2023. What is she vowing to do?

SEBASTIAN: She is saying what the U.K. spent in 2022, has pledged in 2022 will be matched in 2023 signaling that they are in it for the long haul to help Ukraine. A message your security is our security.


She is set to elaborate on that, to give more detail on that decision at her speech in the U.N. General Assembly this coming Thursday. So, this is a sign from the U.K. and we're hearing from other Western allies to Ukraine as well. The U.S. is set to likely approve more aid to Ukraine as part of an interim budget measure. Senators seem to be coalescing behind that idea. The evidence that the Western weapons have proved so critical to Ukraine's success on the battlefield. And because there's more evidence of Russian war crimes emerging as it retreats from areas in the Kharkiv region and the Donbas that we will see more pledges, especially this week at the United Nations General Assembly -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Clare Sebastian, many thanks for that live report. Appreciate it.

As we heard, Ukrainians expected to dominate the 77th Annual U.N. General Assembly. Which will hear from a parade of world leaders starting in just a few hours from now. Some foreign ministers are already meeting including the top diplomats from France and China. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy seem to hint he would address a gathering by video link this week. And here is European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell.


JOSEP BORRELL, EU FOREIGN MINISTER: Last year we were talking about Afghanistan, if you remember Afghanistan, was the key issue. This year Ukraine will be very high on the agenda. It will be on the world event plan, many other problems we know, but the war in Ukraine has been sending shock waves around the world.


CHURCH: U.S. Navy Veteran Mark Frerichs is a free man after spending the past 31 months in captivity in Afghanistan. The Biden administration agreed to swap him for convicted drug trafficker Bashir Noorzai, a prominent member of the Taliban. CNN's Kylie Atwood has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The release of Mark Frerichs was a result of a prisoner swap that was signed off on by President Biden himself. Back in in June he granted clemency to an Afghan drug trafficker who was serving time in U.S. prison.

And according to U.S. officials, during their back and forth negotiations in recent months with the Taliban, what they discovered is that that man, Noorzai, was the key to securing Mark Frerichs. And that is why President Biden move forward to greenlight that release which then led to the release of Mark Frerichs.

Now Frerichs himself is currently on his way to Germany. He is going to undergo some medical treatment. We're not sure exactly how long he'll stay in Germany. But of course, is family is welcoming this news today. They said that they had been praying every day for the last 31 months that he was held hostage in Afghanistan. And of course, the Biden administration is doubling down and saying that they will continue to work on the cases of all-Americans who are held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad.

Kiley Atwood, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: A solemn day in the United Kingdom as the Queen is laid to rest. When we come back, we will look at how the country is responding to this time of change.

And later this hour, why a judge in Maryland vacated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, a man serving a life sentence behind bars.