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: Thousands Dead After Massive Quake In Turkey And Syria; Rescue Crews Searching Through Rubble For Survivors; Navy Divers Work To Recover Debris From Chinese Balloon; "Gang Of 8" Briefing On Chinese Balloon As Soon As Tomorrow. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 06, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a sad news day with us. Tectonic terror, a massive earthquake shakes Turkey and Syria leaving thousands dead. Buildings toppled, the fear now, that more will die. Waiting for rescues that simply won't happen in time.

Plus, superpower spy games. Right now, American investigators are searching for the records of that Chinese balloon, the weekend shoot down off the Carolina coast, punctuating a very tense moment between Washington and Beijing.

And President Biden enters tomorrow State of the Union with a plan to spotlight his accomplishments, but he does so with Americans, you in a sour mood about his leadership, his management of the economy and his plan to wrangle inflation.

But up first, tragic death and devastation, an enormous earthquake changing the landscape in Turkey and Syria right beneath the feet of millions. The number of dead stands at 2300. It is sadly rising every hour. Now, pulling people out is a constant critical mission. The quake hitting in the early morning dark around 4 am local time.

First responders scouring the rubble at first by flashlight. One crew look here, finding a boy pinned by tons, tons of concrete. And here, a literal sprint after a rescue worker pulls a girl from under the debris as you can see her white clothes splattered with red.

The initial 7.8 quake shook buildings off their foundation, shrinking them straight into the ground. The hours since have seen more than 50 aftershocks, each of those seismic events echoing with screens and clouds of dust.

Let's get straight to London, CNN's Scott McLean to get the very latest. Scott, what are we learning?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, frankly, Turkey is used to seismic activity but not like this. The last time that Turkey felt an earthquake, this strong it was 1939 and there were 30,000 people who were killed. In 1999, there was the 7.4 magnitude earthquake that 17,000 people were killed in in Northwest Turkey. And after that the Turks got smart about beefing up their building codes. But as we're seeing from the pictures today, clearly those efforts did not go far enough, quickly enough.

Turkish authorities say that there are more than 2,800 buildings that have been damaged. Of course, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of buildings that have been damaged on the Syrian side of the border. And given numbers like that, you can imagine just how high, potentially the death toll could rise considering that this happened in the overnight hours when the vast majority of people were sleeping.

Now, you mentioned there is a frantic effort to try to find people who may be trapped under the rubble, but they are dealing with darkness at the moment. They are also dealing with very poor weather. Right now, it's in the low 40s in most areas that were affected, but it's expected to drop down to about freezing by the morning, and then Wednesday and Thursday, it will be below freezing, making it very difficult for people to actually survive. They are also dealing with aftershocks.

One of those aftershocks earlier today was actually a 7.5, that's stronger than that 1999 quake. Here's what it looked like through the lens of a local Dever TV crew.

That sound is absolutely terrifying of that building coming down. The reporter says later that they were going to film the search and rescue crews at one down to building, and then another one came down when that earthquake took place. That's technically an aftershock, though, obviously, it's a very strong earthquake on its own.

Now Turkey has appealed to NATO for assistance. And there are plenty of international partners that are lining up to help to send people to send supplies, including the United States. The Biden administration just announced that they have authorized a response. They didn't give any details on that.

But of course, that's being complicated by the fact that roads are blocked. There is traffic jams, and even at the airports they look like, we have some video of Hatay Airport where the runway has been completely torn up by the earthquake, there well beyond just a crack in the earth. It is something totally different there.

And of course, on the Syrian side of the border. Well, frankly, their aid efforts coming internationally will be complicated by sanctions and by war, not to mention the fact that the Red Crescent says, that it has serious concerns about the health system's ability to cope at this moment. John?

KING: Scott McLean delivering more than sober news for us. Scott, we know you'll stay on top of us. Appreciate it very much. In Turkey every minute filled with fear right now. Dr. Mazen Kewara spoke to CNN this morning from his car. His family huddled inside that car with him. He says nowhere is safe.



DR. MAZEN KEWARA: We cannot use the buildings anymore for maybe hours, maybe till tomorrow, I don't know. Because we are continuing experiencing aftershocks adequate. So, the last one was 7.6. So, it's very, very strong. Frankly speaking, there is no - you cannot see that big damage in Gaziantep city right now. But next to my building about 200 to 300 meters, there's a collapsed building.

And there are many buildings collapsed in Gaziantep. So, I cannot tell you why, it's not clear to me. We have four of our hospitals damaged severely by the earthquake. We have evacuated two of them because of the altitude. And the number of collapsed buildings in northwestern Syria. So, I don't know. I don't know what to tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, doctor, can ask you something just quickly, because I'm just fascinated by your personal situation. How many people you got in the car with you there?

DR. KEWARA: We are six.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six in one car. And who's holding the camera?

DR. KEWARA: (Inaudible) to say hello to my kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are you able to open the window to see where you are and what it's like behind you?

DR. KEWARA: Yes, yes. I can because it's very rainy circumstances, rainy conditions here in Gaziantep. The people is collecting themselves in a collection centers like collection centers. Here in Gaziantep prepared by the municipalities. So, it is the safest area I can feel safe in my car we've determined.


KING: Credibly moving story. Let's get some critical insights. Now, the challenge ahead. Abby Maxman joins us. She's the President and CEO of Oxfam America. Abby, grateful for your time. Oxfam has teams in Syria, in Turkey in the areas affected here. A, have you heard at all from your people on the ground? And B, what is the most urgent need right now?

ABBY MAXMAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, OXFAM AMERICA: Thanks so, John. Yes, overnight we were in coordination with our teams on the ground. And fortunately, all of it accounted for which has positioned our teams, we have trained Oxfam staff that are already part of the search and rescue, which is critical. Of course, today, as we heard the harrowing stories.

While our teams are assessing needs, we are part of a civil society coordination effort. Working with our local partners under the official response and mounting response in Turkey and all the affected areas. Our priority in Oxfam is to ensure that people affected had adequate humanitarian assistance as soon as possible and work to prevent these secondary disasters and outbreaks of disease.

And so, we're focusing on the assessment right now, safe water, sanitation, blankets. We heard how cold it is. People can't go back into their houses, their homes, they're traumatized. And the aftershocks are continuing. So, the basic needs of shelter, food, clean water, blankets are a priority, the assessment underway. And part of our train staff are part of the search and rescue, while this assessment is going on.

And indeed done, you know, what's happening in northwest Syria and Turkey, it is a crisis that we are ready to respond to with our local partners. And we're really working to save lives now and prevent for further suffering in the critical coming days.

KING: You have eyes on the ground in a part of the world that most of us can't see anymore because of the dysfunction, the war, the violence, the government dysfunction inside Syria on that side of this? Is their hospital, medical, food and supply infrastructure in place? Or is that years of dysfunction, devastation and tragedy going to make this even worse?

MAXMAN: Well, we know that these kinds of crises within crises are really affecting people and ordinary people who are doing everything, everything they can to survive. And so, having this earthquake come on top of the years of conflict and all of the economic and other implications people have been experiencing is heartbreaking. So, we are working with our partners inside Syria and in Turkey to make sure we're ready to mount the emergency response to help people at this time of exploring their need.


KING: Abby Maxman of Oxfam, appreciate your insights. Please keep in touch with our staff. Let us know if there's anything we can do to get the message out about their needs as your organization and many others try to help in the hours and days ahead. Thank you so much for your time.

Let's get some important scientific perspective. Now on this, from CNN's Chad Myers. Chad explained to us, Scott McLean was going through the numbers, why this earthquake, this one so devastating?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A couple of things. It was a very long earthquake in distance. It was also only 11 miles deep. If you have an earthquake that's 200 miles deep, that means it's 200 miles from its closest place that it can damage something. If it's only 11 miles deep, that means it only has 11 miles worth of attenuation to get to the surface.

So, on an another thing here. This is not just a point. Earthquakes are not points. And we'd love to draw them as such. I saw it on the map with one big epicenter right there. That's not how a big quake like this happens. The rupture at the surface or even down below, goes for miles. It just keeps rupturing to get this type of number 7.8. This one ruptured almost 120 miles or so.

Along this red path, that's where the damage is the worst. And it's part of the acceleration as the problem with the earthquake itself. Let me kind of talk to you about this. A lot of times we talk about the Sumatra earthquake. Anything around the ring of fire, we see the part of the ocean bottom go up, and all of a sudden you get a tsunami and that's how that works.

When you get a slip strike like this, which means this part is moving this way. This part is not. You take these two plates. These plates have been joined. They have been locked for decades. All of a sudden, this morning and last night for them. They weren't locked anymore. They broke that lock completely shattered.

Talk of this block here. The acceleration of this side of the plane, this side of the quake moved the buildings in such a way that if a building was here and the ground moved, the building wanted to shift, and the top couldn't keep up with it.

All of a sudden, either the building falls this way, or if it does actually catch up to the base that has just been accelerated shoved over, it can fall back because all the braces of the building had been broken on the way as the earthquake happened. John?

KING: Chad Myers, stunning, stunningly scientific but sad explanation. Chad, appreciate that very much. We'll stay in touch that indeed. We'll stay on top of that story. Now, we want to show you some live pictures. This is off the Carolina coast. Navy cruise combing the ocean for wreckage from that Chinese balloon. We'll go live more on that next.




KING: The first pieces of records from that Chinese balloon are now arriving at Quantico, that according to a law enforcement source. That debris could help provide key answers about the balloons' capabilities. Meantime, the FAA is restricting airspace off the South Carolina coast. That is where CNN's Dianne Gallagher is tracking the recovery efforts in the waters. They're off the Carolina coast. Dianne, tell us what you're seeing?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. I can tell you that we are much further closer to the coastline than we were earlier this morning. And that's because essentially, we went out on the shrimp boat to say, see what we could see from this recovery. We know that it was about six nautical miles. And we were told that they brought that suspected Chinese balloon down on Saturday with a missile and we knew that the recovery effort began very shortly after that by creating a perimeter. Well, we ran into that perimeter.

Today in this shrimp boat, the coast guard posted up radio to our captain basically said, you can't go any further. And in fact, we need you to go back south. They told our captain that it's about a 20-mile perimeter, where they are not going to allow other vessels at that time. And that's because they're attempting to continue to retrieve debris from that suspected Chinese by balloon.

We're told they're using navy divers, also using unmanned vessels if needed to try and lift things up to support it. Now our colleague Josh Campbell report it, there are pieces of that suspected spy balloons that have arrived at Quantico for intelligence officials to begin examining.

I can tell you that yesterday evening, our colleagues did see what appeared to be officials with the navy coming back. There were items that were being brought back. We did reach out to the navy to ask. They would not confirm. We were not able to independently confirm that this was in fact related to the balloon. But look, we're talking 47 feet of water and we're off the coast of Myrtle Beach right now.

This was miles out from where we were that we went this morning. And they essentially again told us to turn back around, John. They followed us for a bit to make sure that we were in fact turning around, very serious about making sure that perimeter stays. But they said that they do believe that should be a fairly easy recovery because it's only about 47 feet of water that that balloon crushed down to.

KING: Remarkable search effort underway. Dianne Gallagher, appreciate the first-hand glimpse at it. Let's bring the conversation in the room. Joining me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Mana Raju, Ayesha Rascoe of NPR, Jeff Mason of Reuters, and our CNN national security analyst Carrie Cordero.


Carrie, I want to start with you. Josh Campbell reporting the first pieces get to Quantico. The idea is to recover as much as you can, and then study what was on this craft. If you listen to Jim Himes, he's a Democrat on the intelligence committee. He says, this is an intelligence coup, listen?


REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): There is enormous value in observing up close and personal and asset like this. What are its capabilities? How does it maneuver? What is it collecting? What is it emanating? You know, we need to see whether the decision was deliberate or whether it was careless. I'm going to withhold judgment until we get that tick tock.


KING: We'll get to the politics in a minute about whether the president should have shut it down sooner. That's policy and politics, I guess. But in terms of what the intelligence community hopes to glean from this wreckage, walk through it.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I think there's a really good argument that part of the reason the intelligence community and the administration may have let the balloon continue to traverse the United States and weren't so anxious to bring it down quickly, is because the longer it went, they could watch it, they could see what it was going to do.

And by the time it got to a safe place, for them to be able to shoot down, now they're going to be able to recover information. And they're going to actually be able to do the forensics and learn as much as they can about what it was collecting, what it was able to collect. To the extent they're able to recover that information. So, from an intelligence perspective, there is value and letting it play out a bit.

KING: You were with the president some over the weekend, covering him when he was up at Camp David, preparing for the State of the Union. But obviously, getting constant updates on this. The administration has not said a lot about, this is I'm going to quote, this is from a defense department official over the weekend, took immediate steps to protect against the balloons collection of sensitive information, mitigating its intelligence value to the PRC. It's a key question.

But the president and his team have not talked about this publicly, right? If they were jamming it somehow and preventing it from sending back photos or any signal intelligence back to China, then no harm leaving it in the sky. If it is capturing air force bases, missile silos and sending that information back, then Republicans might have a point. But they're not saying much.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: They're not. And they are giving us some details about the balloon itself, and the fact that it was maneuverable. I had spoked to one U.S. official on Sunday, who said, we could tell it was being able to move left and right within the Jetstream and it was lingering over some of these sites. They didn't say exactly which sites they were.

But we know that there are at least three bases that the balloon was over. But you're absolutely right, John, he would not engage on what sort of mitigation efforts were taken. And I think they're keeping that (crosstalk)

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's been part of the - that's been part of the criticism from the Republicans, especially last week, why didn't the president come out earlier? Or at least condemn what was happening? Why did they leave it to the Pentagon to really message this on Friday? That's going to be part of the political debate going forward? How he deals with this, it'll be interesting to what extent that the president nods to this at all.

And tomorrow's State of the Union, does he ignore this completely? And there are just so many questions about it from members of his own party. There's going to be a briefing on Capitol Hill as early as tomorrow with the so-called gang of eight, the top leaders in Congress on this issue. Larger Senate will get a briefing next week, but they don't have any many answers at this moment.

KING: It's important point you make that the briefings are coming up later this week. So that, whether it's Democrats or Republicans, you see members of Congress on television. Are they're acting, they have the same information we have for the most part, maybe they've made a few phone calls, but they haven't received a classified briefing yet.

They're not back in Washington to be in the sensitive room to do that. Still, this is Mike Turner. He's the new Republican chairman, the intelligence committee who says, by leaving this in the sky for several days over the United States, in his view, President Biden's weak.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): That never should have been allowed to complete its mission. They need to make clear to all our adversaries. You're not going to get to come to United States and take a tour of our most sensitive military sites and have a free shot.


KING: We don't know that part. We don't know that part. And again, maybe the chairman knows more than we do. He has not received a sensitive briefing yet. Maybe he's working the phones, maybe he knows a little bit more. We'll give him due diligence on that. But we don't know what it was doing, yes, because the administration has not given us a tick tock, not only of the flight path that that we roughly know, but whether it was capable, while it was up there.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Well, and the thing, so you can look at this from a communication standpoint. And you can also look at it from a political standpoint. If you are a Republican, you want to say that the Democrat in the White House is weak, and that them sending this balloon over there and not shutting it down immediately is a sign of weakness.

But of course, you don't have the responsibility. If the balloon comes down, it's like the size of tube school buses or whatever, and it lands on something, hurt somebody, you don't have that responsibility weighing on you, right?

So, it's very easy to kind of do the Monday morning quarterback and say, look, they're showing weakness. The fact is, tensions between the U.S. and China are at their highest levels in years. And it's very serious. And so, when you get into the cycle stuff and who's not, you have to realize that these things have real serious ramifications. And this balloon is not going to help those relations at all.

KING: And so that gets to the question why? The secretary of state is about to go to Beijing. Beijing's public rhetoric has been, we want to dial things back. We'd like to at least - we're going to disagree on a lot of things, economic security, but let's have a - let's be able to have adult conversations, and then they pop a balloon up in the sky.


The United States spies on China all the time. China spies in the United States all the time. Humans on the ground, satellites in space, but to put a balloon over the United States for all to see at this moment is a message from China, just what is it?

CORDERO: It may be a message but it's really important to put this in context of the bigger national security threat that China is posing. And Congress and the intelligence committees, they are fully cognizant of the national security threats. I mean, China has been an aggressive perpetrator of intelligence activities against the United States for years now. If we could do a visual where we take the 2015 theft of data from the Office of Personnel Management and could have a visual that depicts how that could have gone up to a balloon. Maybe that would have seized people's attention back then. But it doesn't in the same way as this visual of the balloon floating overhead.

KING: Well, maybe then if it's got now if they have everybody's attention, maybe they can actually have some adult conversations about what to do about it. We'll watch that one plays out. Up next for us, the President's State of the Union challenge, a primetime platform but a very skeptical audience.