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Death Toll Tops 5,000 Amid Race to Find Survivors; Tonight: Biden Delivers State of the Union Address; U.S. Military Searches for Debris from Chinese Spy Balloon. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 07, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with the race to find survivors in Turkey and Syria, more than 24 hours after an earthquake that has killed more than 5,000 people in the two countries. The 7.8 magnitude quake and its powerful aftershocks collapsing more than 5,000 buildings. The structure falling tragically faster than people can escape. Aftershocks were still creating treacherous conditions for rescuers, who are trying to reach victims, trapped in all of that rubble. A massive international rescue effort is now underway.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is live for us in Istanbul.

Salma, unfortunately, that death toll is expected to rise.

SALMA ADDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely expected to rise. And right now, it is an absolutely agonizing wait for families who are missing their loved ones. You have these rolling pictures right now on Turkish television, 24 hours of the search and rescue operations. As you see, people are trying to dig through the rubble, families are standing by, listing member after member that is missing. It is those families the Turkish authorities are desperate to bring answers to.

Absolutely, this is the critical window right now, Christine. This is the 24 to 48 hours after the earthquake, where there is still a glimmer of hope, that there might be survivors, trapped under their homes.

But the search and rescue operations face major challenges. You mentioned those aftershocks. There has been at least 100 of them so far, in this particular area of southern Turkey, some of the buildings are not stable. That means even after the aftershocks, there are concerns that these buildings could collapse, this means people, many of them have spent the night on the streets, in the freezing cold with no food, no water, no aid and no shelter.

And in the early hours, we started to see dozens of rescue workers, these promised search teams coming from countries around the world, coming with that specialist equipment that Turkey so desperately needs, and does not have enough of. Yet, another challenge is the weather. We have had these huge storms, snow, rain, sleet, sweeping through the region, making it difficult to access roads, difficult to get equipment into those affected areas.

Still, the search and rescue operations are working around the clock. Just for context, the last time Turkey had an earthquake of this magnitude, it was 1939, when some 30,000 people died. So, absolutely a critical moment here. You can feel the country holding its breath, waiting to find out more about the missing.

Further south of course, in Syria, the situation there is even more dire. It is hard to imagine a more vulnerable population being struck by yet another catastrophe. Northwestern Syria, of course, where infrastructure is largely damaged and destroyed. Absolutely tragic to think how those search and rescue operations will continue, when that part of the world is so cut off from the aid we see from the international community pouring here into Turkey, over here.

ROMANS: All right, Salma, keep us posted. Thank you.

So, the international community is of course responding quickly to the earthquake disaster in Turkey, and Syria. A host of countries including the U.S. sending teams to help with the search and rescue efforts.

Let's bring in CNN's Eleni Giokos.

So, Eleni, how is this all helping coordinated?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, exactly. It is all about coordination, it is about synchronizing the international rescue teams, with local authorities, to dispatch them across that fault line, where we saw the earthquake, you know, striking. Frankly, over 100 aftershocks, which is causing even more devastation.

So, the U.S. deploying 160 personnel, and other assistance. The EU has activated its emergency response teams as well as satellite mapping services as well, to ascertain what is needed on the ground. Britain, Greece, Germany, sending everything from rescue teams, those sniffer dogs we see in some of the pictures that we are getting out of Turkey, absolutely vital in finding people.

The UAE as well as Qatar, as well as Israel, sending field hospitals. Of course, those will take a couple of days to move to the ground, but it is about dispatching as quickly as possible, at a time where every minute is absolutely critical to find people alive under the rubble.

You know, Salma mentioned Syria, this is really important. That part that has been most devastated is mostly rebel held territory, a lot of the aid is going to Damascus, a lot of questions being asked whether that will feed through into those anti-government regions.


But a lot of international funders are now working together with international aid organizations to get those goods into Syria, through a few entry points that exists between the Turkish and Syrian border, into the most devastated regions. But we are hearing that people are sleeping out in the cold. The weather is absolutely harrowing for really a population that's already been devastated by almost 12 years of civil war.

I have heard the World Health Organization meeting a few hours ago, the international committee has largely forgotten Syria, but it's taken a tragedy to like this to put them back on the map, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Eleni Giokos for us in Dubai, thank you so much.

All right. Tonight, President Biden goes before a joint session of Congress to deliver his second State of the Union Address. It'll be his first before a divided Congress.

CNN's Jasmine Wright is live in Washington.

And, Jasmine, Brian Deese, the president's economic adviser, told me yesterday, he is feeling good, energized, he is prepared for this speech, we can prepare to hear some optimism from this president?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Christine. Look, the president spent weeks and weeks working on this critical primetime address. The White House advisers, including Deese, tells people that they will focus on things we have heard from him, for the last few weeks, this includes the economy.

Obviously, the White House feels bullish about the progress, so we are going to hear about the excitement from the president, about the recovery of the economy, and also foreign policy. He told reporters yesterday he had not amended his speech after that Chinese spy balloon really traverse the U.S.

But, of course, China is a big topic for the president. Not only does it structure its foreign policy, but also some of his domestic policies. We are likely to hear about that.

Ultimately, Christine, the president told reporters yesterday, when returning from the White House from Camp David, after you spent days and days fine-tuning that speech, was that he really just wanted to talk directly to the American people. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I want to talk to the American people, and let them know the state of affairs, what is going on, what I am looking forward to working on it from this point on, what we have done, and just have a conversation with the American people.


WRIGHT: So, we heard from the president, there. Of course that conversation will be very critical. It will rely a lot about what the White House feels that they have done, legislatively, those legislative accomplishments. And that's going to be a critical component, this is seen by a lot of people as kind of a soft launch for likely, it reelection bid made by the president, providing evidence to the American people as to why he should be reelected, if he does make that step.

So, of course, him telling the American people what he has done will be really pivotal. The last thing I will say on this is that the difference over here, that he will face this year, not last year, is who will be seated behind him? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will be in Nancy Pelosi's place, really, as a symbol to the fact that he will now have to deal with a divided Congress.

A big part of that speech tonight, but we will hear, will be him talking about unity. But only with the American people, but also trying to find unity with Congress, trying to see what else he can do with his time in office.

ROMANS: And he's going to make this economic prescription, if you will, that you can invest in America, you can create more breathing space for American families by lowering the cost, and cut the deficit, and reduce the deficit, which I think will be interesting as we head into that debt ceiling debate, into the summer.

All right. Nice to see you, Jasmine. Thank you.

Ahead of the Biden speech, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, calling on the president to negotiate a deal on the debt limit, something the president has so far been unwilling to do.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: President Biden wants Congress to raise the debt limit, yet again. Without a single, sensible change to how government spends your hard earned money. None.

Does that sound responsible to you? The choice is clear. We could have reckless spending, or we could have responsibility. We cannot have both.


ROMANS: Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper will anchor a live coverage of President Biden's State of the Union Address, starting tonight at 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

All right. President Biden firing back at criticism from Republicans, defending his decision to wait until a Chinese spy balloon was over open waters before shooting it down. He was asked by reporters on Monday about the potential impact on already strained U.S. relations with China.


BIDEN: No, we made it clear to China what we are going to do. They understand our position. We're not going to back off. We did the right thing. And there's not a question of weakening this country. This is reality.


ROMANS: In the meantime, the search for the remains of the Chinese balloon off of the coast of South Carolina goes on.

We get more from CNN's Dianne Gallagher.



DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under the full moon, just before dawn, we set out for sea. Captain Charlie readies his shrimp boat, Linda Anne.

Dropping the outriggers, checking the radar, steering us towards the U.S. military's operation to recover debris from the suspected Chinese spy balloon.

The U.S. Air Force shut it down with a single missile on the Saturday over the Atlantic Ocean, roughly six miles off the coach of Myrtle Beach. The NORAD commander now saying the full payload was about the size of a regional jet. And the attached balloon was some 200 feet tall.

As a day breaks, we begin to see something on the horizon -- the first glimpse of a multi vessel mission, which officials say include Navy divers and ships coming from as far away as Virginia. A law enforcement sources tell CNN the first pieces of sensitive spy balloon wreckage are already arriving at the FBI headquarters in Quantico for analysis.

But recovery continues. CNN captured this exclusive video of a Navy salvage team coming onshore in North Myrtle Beach today and setting out on two more votes towards the search area.

With restricted airspace above, the debris field at sea remains heavily protected. The Coast Guard warning our captain as we're getting too close.

CAPTAIN CHARLIE: Copy that, we'll go ahead and turn around.

GALLAGHER: Followed by a second call an hour later to confirm we were leaving.

CAPTAIN CHARLIE: This is Linda Anne, go ahead.

COAST GUARD: I just wanted to confirm your intentions?

CAPTAIN CHARLIE: I've got news crews onboard, news crew, and they were just trying to get some video of the cutter and just trying to stay out yours all's way.

GALLAGHER: The Coast Guard cutter following us to ensure we stayed clear of the work zone.

As for how long the stretch of ocean will remain restricted, a senior U.S. military official shared it would be months or weeks, a fairly easy recovery, they said, because the spy balloon just shot down in just 47 feet of water.


ROMANS: That's our Dianne Gallagher reporting from the Atlantic Ocean.

CNN has learned exclusively that the Chinese balloon sightings were documented during the Trump presidency. A military intelligence report found that a spy balloon was seen in Hawaii and Florida in 2019. The White House says balloons were flown over the U.S. on at least three occasions during the Trump administration, but that information was not discovered until after Trump left office.

The report says China has deployed multiple high altitude balloons that can operate for months at a time.

Here is what China is now saying about the balloon debris being covered from the Atlantic. It belongs to China, not the U.S.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong.

What exactly is the Chinese government saying? And I guess, the tone over the past few days has changed a bit?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, China is effectively saying to the United States, whatever you are recovering, analyzing right now, it does not belong to you. It belongs to us. Now, China continues to insist that the balloon was a civilian vessel, which some of your, blue of course. But the United States, as we heard from the U.S. State Department, said that explanation rings hollow. It was used for spy craft.

According to the White House, they said that on this Chinese balloon, they were able to find propellers as well as an aerial rudder that gave it limited maneuverability. Now, earlier, China condemned the U.S. for shooting its balloon down, calling it an overreaction. China also said it reserves the right to deal with similar situations, but earlier today at a briefing of the ministry for foreign affairs, we have most folks woman who said that the debris from the balloon that was shot down belongs to China.

Bring up the court for you, according to the spokeswoman, she said the airship is China's, not the U.S.'s. She goes on to say the United States should have handled it properly in a calm, professional, non- forceful manner. But it's insistence on using force is a clear overreaction, unquote.

Now, the Chinese balloon, it caused a political uproar in the United States, it prompted the U.S. secretary of state to cancel his planned February visit. And the White House did say that visit could be rescheduled, but only if the time is right.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kristie Lu Stout for us, thank you so much.

To Maryland now, two people are under arrest in Baltimore, charged in an alleged plot to attack the power grid. According to federal court documents, completely destroy the city.

CNN's Brian Todd has the story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chilling neo-Nazi-led plot to attack a major power grid revealed today by authorities in Maryland. They've charged Brandon Russell and Sarah Clendaniel with conspiracy to damage energy facilities surrounding the city of Baltimore.

EREK BARRON, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR MARYLAND: Clendaniel and Russell conspired and took steps to shoot multiple electrical stations in the Baltimore area, aiming to, quote, completely destroy this whole city.

TODD: Court documents say Russell and Clendaniel were in a relationship and corresponded while they were being held in separate prisons.


Russell was in jail for possessing bomb making materials. Clendaniel was imprisoned for robbing a convenience store with a large butcher knife.

TOM SOBOCINSKI, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, BALTIMORE: They had extremist views, and in order to further those views, they hoped that conducting this violent act was going to bring light to them.

TODD: Prosecutors say Brandon Russell founded a neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division.

ILANA KRILL, PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The Atomwaffen Division is one of many domestic extremist groups that focus on neo-Nazi, neo-Fascist principles in order to sow chaos.

TODD: According to court documents, Brandon Russell led a neo-Nazi group in 2017, which planned to attack infrastructure targets in Florida, including a nuclear power plant. More than 100 reports of suspicious activity, vandalism, sabotage, and physical attacks on power facilities were respected in the U.S. in 2022.

Of these, experts warned, an increasing number are attempts by domestic violent extremists.

Why target places like this? What does it do for their ideology?

KRILL: White supremacists have targeted the energy sector, because it's so vital to all critical infrastructure systems in order to cause the downfall of society as we know it and eventually build it back up in a more neo-Nazi, fascist society. TODD: As one white supremacist manifesto puts it, quote, when the

lights don't come on, hell breaks loose, making conditions desirable for our race to take back what is ours.

BRIAN HARRELL, FORMER DHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION: They are intents on destroying critical infrastructure, specifically energy infrastructure across the United States. They are talking kind of behind the scenes within these dark web portals and chat rooms and they're somewhat organized.

TODD: The strategy? Attack the least protected, weakest links, trying to cause a domino effect.

HARRELL: When you remove one substation, but maybe it's multiple substations, you have this collapsing effect on the system.


TODD (on camera): Defendant Sarah Clendaniel, according to court documents, told the confidential informant that she expected to die of a kidney disease within a few months, and wanted to, quote, accomplish something worthwhile before her death.

CNN has been unable to reach either of the defendants or their lawyers for comment, but both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Brian, thank you for that.

Still ahead, huge flames near the scene of a train derailment in Ohio. This time, it's no accident.

Plus, a blue raincoat takes center stage at Alex Murdoch's double murder trial. President Biden's tough task in tonight's State of the Union, that's next.



ROMANS: President Biden heads to Capitol Hill for his State of the Union. The White House says he'll tell Congress and the American people the state of the economy is strong.


BRIAN DEESE, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: And so that's one thing that you will hear directly from the president. The core part of any viable economic strategy needs to answer the question, how are you going to keep lowering costs for families?

The president will outline specific ideas on how to do that, including building on the prescription drug reforms we were unable to enact, to get more people the relief from prescription drugs, building on proposals that we have put in place, to for example, lower the cost of childcare, to lower the cost of caring for an elderly parent, so that also reduces a families balance sheet challenges, and can help more parents, more women work.

Those are the kinds of policies which will actually help to continue the progress that we have seen.


ROMANS: Recent polls show Americans are pessimistic about the economy. The president also faces low approval ratings. So, tonight's speech is critical ahead of his announcement that he is running for reelection.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst and watching the bureau chief for "The Boston Globe", Jackie Kucinich.

Jackie, the challenge of the president is to strike an optimistic tone on the economy, but not appear tone-deaf to the people who just don't say they are feeling it.

JACKIE KUCINCIH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. That is something else he said at the podium yesterday, the president will try to acknowledge that there is a lot of economic anxiety, but that there is a reason for optimism.

But I think the other thing you're going to hear is the elephant in the room, or over his shoulder, in this case with Kevin McCarthy, and Republicans taking over the House, that progress -- the progress he believes have been made could be derailed by partisanship, by not passing the debt ceiling. That this isn't -- this isn't guaranteed that this economic progress continues.

It is contingent on Congress working together, and making sure these things are must pass things are, in fact, passed.

ROMANS: Yeah, and the president, I think, will make the point that we are investing in America again, giving breathing space for American families and lowering the deficit all at the same time. Of course, deficit is the thing that adds up to national debt. So, he's going to try to make the case that we are going in the right direction here, even with debt and deficits.

There's also the optics which are so important, the State of the Union Addresses, right? You have the parents of Tyre Nichols attending the event, along with families of Uvalde shooting victims. So, this is the president highlighting policing and guns in America, right?

KUCINICH: Yes, it is a question of how much he's going to. You know, every State of the Union speech is really a statement of priorities, and particularly, as you know with this president, he is going into a potential reelection campaign.

Policing has been a struggle for this White House, actually getting Congress to do anything on the issue. They have pushed various plans in order to you know, curb some issues we've seen in the country when it comes to policing, and I think guests like Tyre Nichols parents will highlight that, and as you mentioned, the parents of the children who were killed in Uvalde.

Now, how much time he spends on that versus how much time he spends on the economy, I think is the open question. Another open question, last year's address spent a lot of time on Ukraine, Russia had just gone into Ukraine, just a few weeks before the last State of the Union Address.


This time, you have a Congress which might not be as accepting of some of the requests that he's made, in terms of funding for Ukraine, and among Republicans, that support has eroded considerably. So, how much time he spends talking about that is also something I know, we will be watching for.

ROMANS: Yeah, we will watch what he says about China as well, they say he's not changed much what he will say about China. But he wants to hold China responsible, he also will talk I am sure, but leveling the playing field, protecting American workers, which was already on the books for him.

Also, I want to bring this up to you, this caught our tension, an opinion piece in the New York Times this morning. This opinion piece says quote, Biden has been a great president. He should be celebrated on Tuesday, but he should not run again.

But is a conversation that is happening in Democratic circles, in political circles, no question. We have seen some of this polling, what do you make of that part of the debate?

I mean, tonight, he is going to try to appear energized, right? To sort of put some of those -- that chatter to rest, I suppose?

KUCINICH: Yes, I think what you hear when you talk to the president's advisors, is the president believes he has a pretty strong track record, for his first two years in office. Again, we will hear a lot about that tonight.

But going into 2024, he is the only one who can beat former President Donald Trump, who remains the front runner of the Republican field, as it starts to take shape. And so, I think because of that, and when you talk to Democrats, you don't really hear of Biden, there's also a lot of to cantering on that side as well, should he decide not to run? Who would fill that vacuum?

So definitely a conversation going on on both sides of the aisle, who should be their parties going into this new presidential election?

ROMANS: Indeed.

All right, Jackie Kucinich, you will have a late night tonight. Thank you so much.


ROMANS: Quick hits across America now.

Evacuated residents in East Palestine, Ohio, are still being told to stay away after the release of control toxic material at the side of the fiery train derailment.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis might soon have oversight to Disney's theme parks in Orlando. Republican state lawmakers proposed a new bill on Monday, giving him power to choose who is in charge of the Reedy Creek District.

One winning ticket sold in Washington state will claim Powerball $754 million jackpot, the fifth largest prize in the lottery's history.

Coming up, House lawmakers about to grill the FAA, in public, on planes safety.

And mounting fears in Ukraine over a renewed Russian offensive.