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Six Hundred-Plus Dead in Turkey, Syria After Major Earthquake; U.S. Navy Works to Recover Debris from Suspected Chinese Spy Balloon; Ukrainian Troops Begin Training on Tanks Provided By West. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired February 06, 2023 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans. Breaking news right now. An earthquake disaster, more than 600 people are dead in Turkey and Syria after a powerful quake that sent tremors across the entire region.

The magnitude 7.8 quake struck before day break in southern Turkey near the border with Syria. The quake and its aftershocks collapsing buildings. Now a desperate search and rescue efforts under way to find people who are trapped in piles of rubble. Turkey is now appealing for international assistance. CNN's Scott McLean joins us from London. Scott, this is one of the strongest quakes to hit Turkey in a century. What do we know?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And this part of Turkey, Christine, is used to seismic activity, used to smaller earthquakes, but certainly nothing like this. And remember, this happened in the middle of the night, so people were jolted out of bed with this very heavy, terrifying shaking.

And they're finding themselves running out of their houses or apartment buildings into very cold weather. Turkey is experiencing an unusual cold snap in that part of the country, and in places like Malatya, they are actually working to try to get people out of the rubble just as the snow is coming down.

So, not only do you have these rescue efforts, but time here is of the essence, because people will not be able to survive for extended periods of time in this kind of a cold. We are also getting new information from Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, saying that people who are un-housed at the moment are going to single-story buildings like schools and mosques.

Gas has been shut off for obvious reasons to avoid fires in many areas. But electricity and mobile connection is sparse in many parts of this affected region, which is a very wide swath of Turkey and a densely-populated part of the country. Gaziantep, closest to the epicenter, there are some 2 million people living there, at last count, 80 people were dead.

But these death tolls are very likely to rise. The numbers that we know so far are people that they've actually been able to find and confirm. There's really only two good comparisons to this in Turkish history. One in earthquake in 1939, a 7.8, same as the one that we saw today, killed 30,000 people. Perhaps, a better comparison though was an estimate in 1999, a 7.4, that killed 17,000 and left half a million people dead.

And so, perhaps, that is the kind of death toll that is feared at this point. After that earthquake in 1999, that's when Turkey really got serious about its building regulations, trying to tear down buildings that wouldn't meet building codes and rebuild them in a more earthquake-proved matter.

But this is a long process, and today, it seems like in that part of the country, we are finding out sadly, which of these buildings are up to code, and which ones are frankly not. There's also at least at the moment a higher death toll, Christine in Syria nearby, and that's maybe not surprising, considering that the infrastructure there has been absolutely decimated by decades of war.

And the Syrian civil defense, the White Helmets who became famous around the world for responding to missile strikes and bombings inside of Syria, to try to get people out, they're now working to try to free people trapped under the rubble of earthquakes. But one of the big concerns there and also in rural parts of Turkey is getting heavy machinery in.

When you look at these pictures, you can see that it's going to be very difficult to work with your hands alone. And so, heavy machinery is desperately needed, but it's not always readily available, especially in some of these smaller towns and villages nearer to the epicenter, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, and the weather forecast, the next few days, cold with, you know, drizzle and precipitation, so that's going to make it a really tough go here the next few days. Scott McLean, thank you so much. Right, this morning, the U.S. Navy is trying to recover the remnants of that suspected Chinese spy balloon.

A U.S. fighter jet shot it down off the coast of South Carolina, Saturday. A CNN team reported Navy personnel were removing items from boats and loading material onto trucks at a landing in North Myrtle Beach on Sunday. Cellphone video obtained by CNN shows a pile of white material on top of one of the boats.

Meantime, the decision to shoot down the big balloon is coming more into focus. CNN's Alex Marquardt has more.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We are now learning more about how and when President Joe Biden was informed about the suspected Chinese spy balloon crossing the United States and his decision to eventually shoot it down on Saturday.

Biden was first told about the balloon on Tuesday. Four days before it was eventually shot down, and three days after it first entered U.S. airspace in Alaska.


Now, after asking for military options, Biden was advised to not shoot it down over land because of the harm that the debris could cause. He was eager to shoot it down, we're told, in a way that was not only safe for people, but to try to preserve as much of the equipment on board as possible.

Now, as soon as it flew out over the water off of South Carolina on Saturday, those F-22 jets flew up and shot it down. The administration will now face fierce questioning as early as Tuesday from members of Congress, from the so-called gang of 8, that's the leaders of both houses of Congress, from both parties, as well as the chairman and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

They may ask about past instances of Chinese balloons over the U.S., we're told there were at least four others that flew over the continental United States in the past few years, including, according to Florida Congressman Mike Waltz, over or near Texas and Florida.

Now, while Republicans blast Biden for not taking action sooner, former President Donald Trump denied that it happened while he was in office. But the Pentagon now says, there were at least three times that it did. Alex Marquardt, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: Interesting, all right, Alex, thank you. China is condemning the U.S. for shooting down what it says was a civilian unmanned airship. Overnight, the Chinese Foreign Ministry lodging a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy. Let's bring in CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Steven Jiang. Steven, what is China saying about the downing of this balloon?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Christine, they're accusing the U.S. of overreacting, which is ironic in the eyes of many people, given their own usual obsession with sovereignty and national security. But I do want to mention one late breaking development that is just a short while ago, China for the first time admitted the second balloon spotted in the skies over Latin America last week was also theirs.

And they're very much sticking to the same story line claiming that was also a civilian vessel used for testing flights, but it drifted off course due to the weather.

A foreign ministry official said they have explained the situation to relevant governments, and according to her, those governments have expressed their understanding, that obviously was not the reaction they got from the U.S., which is why you have heard from their defense ministry, issuing that vague threat against the U.S. But also from the foreign ministry repeating a lot of the condemnation

and accusations, saying they shooting down the balloon and quote- unquote "hyping up" the incident was irresponsible and unacceptable. But the thing is, despite this rhetoric, few observers think at this juncture, there would be immediate aggressive China's military actions against the U.S.

And -- a lot of the posturing, they think is addressing a domestic audience here, and there is just some hope, they think, that China may want to turn over the page quickly to bring the relationship back on track, which of course, was the purpose of that now cancelled trip by Secretary of State Blinken.

But Christine, a lot of unanswered questions here and many of which we may never find out because how secretive the system here is, including why does Xi Jinping and his government decide to do this at this particular sensitive time. And if it was indeed due to some sort of miscalculation and a failure of coordination within their system, then that would be very concerning or even alarming for not only the U.S., but the rest of the world. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Steven in Beijing, thank you so much for that. All right, to Ohio now, where hundreds of people still in their homes in East Palestine, Ohio, are being told to evacuate due to the threat of a major explosion after a train derailment. The train carrying hazardous material derailed Friday, it's still on fire. Emergency officials say they're concerned about a catastrophic tanker failure that could trigger an explosion that could send shrapnel up to a mile away.

Today, Ukrainian troops begin training with Germany's Leopard tanks as part of an EU-funded training machine. Ukraine's soldiers are already in the U.K. training on British tanks. European countries hope to rapidly deploy the vehicles to Kyiv ahead of an expected Russian Spring offensive. I want to bring in CNN's Nic Robertson, he is live near an army base in Estonia with tanks behind you there. Nic, what's happening there? What are you seeing?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, a lot of lessons to be learned here from -- for the Ukrainians who are today getting their hands on those Leopard 2 tanks to get training. There are plenty of the Leopards out in the forest around me here. The Danish Leopard 2 tanks, part of a big NATO exercise, 44 tanks, 500 vehicles, 1,500 troops, just a 100 miles from the Russian border.

And this is all about trying to do what exactly what the Ukrainians want to do, which is take enemy positions, then take territory. These NATO troops from Estonia, from the U.K., from France, from Denmark, are trying to work together with infantry, with the tanks, to -- and they've got assimilated trench lines here to fire-fights and fight and punch through to take territory.

But the big takeaways here, having talked to some of these experienced Danish Leopard 2 tanker operators is, don't expect quick results from the Ukrainians.


They can get trained up fast. The Danish -- where they can train up a tank driver in about two weeks, the gunner, about the same time, two weeks. But it takes two months for the four-man crew to get effective, and then to get them into a sort of battle group working in a platoon and a squadron of 14 of the tanks, plus, the support-type vehicles you see over there, these recovery vehicles to get those working together to gel with infantry troops that can actually take a couple of years.

But of course, these Leopard 2 tanks, massive advantages over the tanks the Russians are using. We've seen them here and the British Challenger tanks that the Ukrainians are getting. They're super fast, they're really fast in reverse, which you'll think, hey, how is that useful in a battle?

Well, the Russian tanks don't go fast in reverse, these do, which means you can shoot and scoot, which is a huge advantage on the battlefield. These things can shoot at night, they can shoot at one target and track another target. So, they could be a game-changer for the Ukrainians.

But speaking to Estonia's defense minister here, yesterday, he said these tanks can't come fast enough, speaking to the troops on the ground, don't expect results, super great results right out of the gate.

ROMANS: Yes, training is so key. All right, Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that. All right, the stars came out in Los Angeles for music's biggest night, the 65th Grammy Awards.




ROMANS: An exciting performance by Bad Bunny kicked off the show, which was hosted by former "Daily Show" anchor Trevor Noah.


TREVOR NOAH, COMEDIAN & FORMER DAILY SHOW HOST: I'm lucky enough to be back as your host tonight. My job is to be your eyes, your ears, I'll be floating around this room, think of me like a Chinese spy balloon, that's what I'm doing right now.


ROMANS: And this year became official, Beyonce is the queen of the Grammys, her album "Renaissance" won best dance electronic album, and in doing so, Beyonce became the most awarded artist in Grammys history, for the record, 32 wins.


BEYONCE GISELLE KNOWLES-CARTER, AMERICAN SINGER-SONGWRITER: I'd like to thank the queer community for your love and for inventing this genre. God bless you, thank you so much to the Grammys.


ROMANS: This year, the Grammys also celebrated Hip Hop 50th anniversary with a high energy melody, including Run-D.M.C., Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, Ice-T, Flava Flav, LL Cool J and many more. And for the big finish, Harry Styles took home the night's biggest award album of the year for "Harry's House."

All right, still ahead, why did it take so long to shoot down the suspected Chinese spy balloon? Plus, another close call on an airport runway. And we continue to follow our breaking news this morning. Hundreds killed in an earthquake disaster in Turkey and Syria.



ROMANS: Navy crews now on a recovery mission to salvage what officials believe is spy equipment from the Chinese balloon that was shot down over the weekend. President Biden ordered military jets to take it down, but not until it was over water so debris wouldn't endanger any people. Republicans are criticizing the delay.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): And clearly, the president taking down over the Atlantic is sort of like the quarterback -- sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over. The satellite had completed its mission. This should never have been allowed to enter the United States. And it never should have been allowed to complete its mission.


ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner. So nice to see you this morning. Why did they wait so long? Was it really risk of debris on the ground or coordinating with the FAA to close that airspace, you know, to do the mission? Or were they surveilling the surveiller, I wonder?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, good morning, Christine, thanks for having me. You know, it really is a combination of all of the above. And I'm glad you asked this question, because there's been a lot of churn around why it took so long to shoot this balloon down.

Look, you know, I firmly believe that if we had taken the shoot first and asked questions later approach, today, we would be asking questions about why we failed to consider the risks to lives and property on the ground. It's a legitimate concern. The fact of the matter here is that, once we discovered that this balloon was in U.S. airspace, the first thing to do was to stop and think and figure out the best course of action.

It's really important for people to understand that -- to understand that when it was determined that this balloon could not be shot down safely, it's not like we were going to let the balloon simply traverse across the United States collecting data. The very next step would have been to figure out what we could do to protect sensitive information.

And so, I think the administration, the federal government made the right call here, protect lives on the ground, protect property, coordinate with other federal agencies, but also, what we don't know all the steps taken to protect sensitive information as this balloon moved across the country.

ROMANS: You know, Shawn, this has apparently happened before, right? The Pentagon has briefed Congress of Chinese surveillance balloons during the Trump administration, three times, I think, during the Trump administration, and another time earlier in this administration. How does that concern you?

TURNER: You know, it does concern me, primarily, because in those previous instances, we didn't know anything about it. I know there was some churn about this several years ago. But, you know -- you know, the fact that this was so public, it was so visual, it was something that was very personal to people, because we could see this floating over the United States is a big deal.

I also think, Christine, that we never sent a very strong message to China, that this will not be tolerated. Fact that this wasn't part of the public discourse here in the country. So, from that perspective, it really does concern me. And I think that, what we may be seeing here and we'll have to wait until all the details are in.

But we may be seeing an emboldened China that saw those instances in the past and realized that the United States wasn't going to take any action, and so, they decided to be a little more aggressive this time around.

ROMANS: No surprise, I think the Chinese reaction -- official reaction is that the United States overreacted. But this is an interesting turn this morning. You know, China admitted that the balloons spotted over Latin America belongs to China, and that it was by mistake it entered Latin America.


What do you think about the Chinese sort of line here, that these are weather surveillance balloons? And that, could this still escalate the tensions between the U.S. and China?

TURNER: Yes, you know, I think that they are doing what nation states do when they get caught spying. They are crafting a narrative to try to frame the way we think about it. Now, the bottom line here is that, we know the Chinese -- the Chinese story doesn't hold water here.

And you know, if we think about the excuse they gave the United States, or the excuse they're giving about this other balloon, we know that, this is just a case of China spying. I do think, to a larger part of your question, I do think this is significant with regards to our diplomatic relationship. Now, we were at a point where Antony Blinken; Secretary of State, was

about to head back to China for sensitive diplomatic discussions, and what China wants more than anything right now is to be able to move forward with those discussions. So, this is the worst possible thing that could happen for China at a time like this. And I think their narrative around this is all about trying to appear strong at home --

ROMANS: Right --

TURNER: By what they want more than anything is to simply get past this.

ROMANS: Shawn, what do you think U.S. authorities can learn from the debris? We've seen the video of them, you know, pulling this out of the ocean and piling it on top of boats. What do you think they can learn from the debris?

TURNER: Yes, you know, that's a great question. These balloons have the ability to hover over a particular area for a long period of time. They're not like satellites. Satellites have to keep moving, and so they're limited in what they can collect at any particular time. So, what we can learn are not only -- it's not only information about Chinese technology.

But we can also learn a little bit about Chinese trade crafts. So, we're going to be looking at the equipment to see if there are things that might allow for the Chinese to pick up encrypted signals Intelligence that might allow them to decrypt signals Intelligence at the end of this.

There are a lot of possibilities here. But it's important for people to know that it's not just about the technology, we are also interested in understanding their trade craft. How do they go about collecting Intelligence? Because that's valuable information that we could use in the future as we continue to deal with challenges with China's collecting and trying to steal -- really steal a U.S. Intelligence information.

ROMANS: All right, Shawn Turner, CNN national security analyst. Thank you, Shawn.

TURNER: Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, quick hits across America now, a near-collision between a FedEx plane landing and a Southwest plane taking off at an airport in Austin, Texas, this weekend. Another runway close call was reported at New York's JFK Airport just last month. The raging river ride at Iowa's Adventureland Park will be permanently closed, nearly 2 years after an 11-year-old boy died from his injuries when the ride flipped over.

Democrats have reshuffled presidential primaries in 2024. South Carolina is now in the lead-off spot, replacing New Hampshire. It's part of a shakeup to empower diversity over tradition. All right, breaking news this morning, a desperate search and rescue operation under way right now in Turkey and Syria, a live report on the earthquake coming up. And a landmark national security trial begins today in Hong Kong.



ROMANS: A group of pro-democracy activist go on trial in Hong Kong today in a landmark case over a national security law that is used to quash dissent in China. They're accused of organizing and taking part in an unofficial primary election. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us live from Hong Kong. And Kristie, there are journalists, activists, seasoned politicians in this group? What exactly are they accused of?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this group is called the Hong Kong 47. A group of 47 pro-democracy activists, and they have been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, which is a very serious crime under the national security law here in Hong Kong. It's punishable by up to life in prison, and the trial begins today.

Now, this is the largest national security trial to take place since Beijing imposed sweeping security legislation in the wake of the 2019 anti-government Hong Kong protests. And among the 47, you have highly recognizable figures like the activist Joshua Wong, as well as the legal scholar, the former legal Professor Benny Tai.

The former opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo. They have already pleaded guilty, but among the 16 or so defendants who are pleading not guilty, you have a former journalist, her name, Gwyneth Ho. Now, they are accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial primary vote. That took place in July of 2020.

And Hong Kong had previously held a similar exercise, in fact, in 2018 without incident. But when this 2020 vote took place, the liaison office, which is China's top representative here in Hong Kong said that there was an attempt to paralyze the government, and they said that they were trying to contravene the law.

Now critics say that the national security law is being used to crush dissent, and to crush opposition here in the territory -- I want to share with you this statement that was recently put out by the senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, Maya Wong. She writes this, quote, "Hong Kong's biggest national security cases wrapped in legal language, but it's just part of the Chinese government's relentless efforts to smother Hong Kong's Democracy movement.

The very real threat of life in prison for peaceful activism shows Beijing's utter contempt for both Democratic political processes and the rule of law", unquote. And Christine, this is a landmark trial. A lot of people are watching it in Hong Kong and around the world. It's expected to last at least 90 days, but the implications will last for decades to come. Back to you --

ROMANS: All right, Kristie Lu Stout for us in Hong Kong this morning, thank you. All right, the European Union has banned imports of Russian diesel fuel in an effort to slash Moscow's profits that are funding the war in Ukraine. CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live.