Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico; Interview with Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello; Interview with FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Death Toll Soars to 216 in Mexico Earthquake; Interview with Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Rafael Romo is going to join us live now from Fajardo on Puerto Rico's east coast. Rafael, what are you seeing?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, let me show you what this hotel had to do to prevent catastrophic damage. They had to tie ropes to their front doors because they were afraid at one point that the air currents were so strong were going to completely destroy the lobby, and in a way that has already happened.

Let me show you what flying debris has done to the lobby. They broke the glass above me, and right now the lobby is taking great amounts of water. And the reason why I am here, Alisyn, is because our team, ourselves, had to be evacuated because conditions were so dangerous and precarious at one point.

Take a look outside. All of that debris came down in the last three hours or so. That's when we could experience the strongest winds here in Fajardo. And just to give you a point of reference, Fajardo is located in the northeastern tip of the island of Puerto Rico. You also have to take into account that according to Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello, this is the strongest hurricane this island has seen in almost nine decades, so that gives you an idea of how bad the situation has been.

What I can tell you at this hour is that the entire city is without power right now. Also, many of the streets are impassable because of flooding. So a very, very difficult situation, and as you can see by the strength of the winds outside, this is not yet over. It's still going on very much, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, Rafael. Thank you very much for showing us all the mess that is happening there.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Leyla Santiago live in San Juan. She is now inside, the conditions just too tough. Leyla, how are you. We saw you getting blown around there.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I will tell you, those were some really tough winds and they are continuing behind me. This is now my view of hurricane Irma. This is what the staff has put up to prepare -- excuse me, hurricane Maria. This is what the staff has put up. Much of what Rafael is seeing in Fajardo we are seeing here. These ropes are vibrating. You can see them shaking, and they are up on the walls that already have metal sheeting that was put up yesterday.

But I want to take a walk so you can see exactly what we are seeing in this hotel. Let me show you, police officers are standing by waiting to do their jobs that they really can't do right now because it's too dangerous. I am told they are already getting calls for rescue but they cannot go out right now because it is too dangerous.

And let me show you what else we are seeing in the hotel, which, by the way, has dozens of tourists that have taken shelter here. You can see they have towels on the ground because they are preparing for water that could possibly come in.

And then beyond these walls where you see security in place right now, dozens of tourists are right now in the staircase seeking shelter from hurricane Maria as it comes in. They have asked everyone to come down from this area because of what you saw earlier, Chris, where I was almost blown away by these category four storm winds.

I mean, it is incredible. I was talking to one of the officers who told me it's hard to watch, A, because this is their home, this is their island, they are getting calls for help. Their own families are out there right now at this hour, 11,000 people -- at last check, anyway, 11,000 people in shelters, and this is an island of 3.5 million people. So it's not a large number given how many people are here.

We are running on generators. The power is out right now. And as of 11:00 p.m. when we last checked in with the power company, 30 percent of the power company's system had already been impacted. That was before we started to see what we saw, waking up to that ominous hum. The winds that are circulating, the debris, I watched as a Starbucks sign came down from the building as part of the metal sheeting that many put up to try to protect ripped right through and had flying debris in this area of San Juan.

And let me put this into context as well. This is not the only storm that is looming over this island. There is an economic crisis, $70 billion in debt. So the rebuilding that is already being talked about by the governor and the people of Puerto Rico is not going to be easy by any means.

CUOMO: All right, Leyla, thank you very much. Keep the team safe and let us know what develops there in San Juan. It's good to have you.

[08:05:00] CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joining us with the latest forecast. What are we in terms of the progression of this hurricane Maria across this island?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The center of the storm now is 15 miles south-southwest of where Leyla is. That means the winds are going to shift in San Juan in the next 15 minutes. For most of the night the winds were like this. For most of the morning hours when we actually had Leyla live outside the winds were like this. But now that the eye has gone by, the winds are going to shift direction and come in like this. All of the debris we saw in her live shot will now be blown the other way. And debris is a really significant indicator of how much damage there is to the island. Devastating doesn't even truly begin to what really is going to show in the daylight when we can actually get out there.

At 140 to 150 miles per hour, the storm came onshore very close to our Nick Paton Walsh there on the really, if you want to look for a big city, that would be the biggest city on the southeastern side of Puerto Rico. And 100-mile-per-hour winds over the entire island. The entire place had at least 100-mile-per-hour winds. That's the big white circle you see there. Those winds are going to affect the Dominican Republic as well later on today.

A lot of rain coming in and we already have these flash flood warnings going on. Some spots could pick up 20 or 15 inches of rain. I know that's not 40 or 50 like we had in Harvey, but this is a mountainous island so this is going to run off very quickly.

And then what happens? Now we see the storm running up the east coast. Let me show you what the models said overnight. Yesterday, those same models were here, and I liked that solution. Now they are here, not liking it so much. Still no contact with the U.S. landfall- wise, but I don't like that progression to the west.

CAMEROTA: Chad, thank you for monitoring this. Obviously we'll check back with you.

Joining us on the phone now is the governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rossello. Governor, where do we find you at this hour?

RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR, PUERTO RICO: Hi, Alisyn. We are in the executive mansion. We have a center operations here to make sure that we have redundancy with the emergency management center. What we've been seeing, as we expected and as we anticipated for the people of Puerto Rico, this is the most devastating storm either in a century or quite frankly in modern history. So critical right now is for people to recognize that the brunt of the storm is still to come. There's a lot of flooding. There's a lot of infrastructure damage, but the only thing that should matter right now is that people stay safe, that we can lives, and they we will start the rebuilding process.

CAMEROTA: Governor, when you say this is the worst that we have seen in anybody's memory, just two weeks ago you were hit by Irma and obviously we've heard that there are still scores of people who were without power as a result of Irma. So how does this compare to other hurricanes you have seen and Irma?

ROSSELLO: There's no comparison, really. Luckily For Irma we were very prepared. We executed our protocols appropriately, so much so that we were far ahead in the rebuilding process, that we were able to serve as a platform for other U.S. citizens that were stranded on the island. Unfortunately, of course, now we're feeling a second storm in two weeks, this one much more devastating than the first one. And now who knows what the damage will be? We are at about 60 percent out of electricity in Puerto Rico, and we should expect by the passage of the storm to be 100 percent out. Telecommunications are failing. But again, infrastructure can be fixed. Lives can't. CAMEROTA: We are looking of video right now of Fajardo, that

obviously where El Conquistador is, and you can just see the destruction as well as the winds. What is your biggest fear at this hour?

ROSSELLO: My biggest concern is for the people, right. We have been sort of blessed for a couple of decades that hurricanes have skimmed through but have not hit right through us. So my biggest fear prior to the storm was complacency. We have many fronts of danger, not only flooding regions, which we have plenty here in Puerto Rico, coastal lines where the surge is coming, but also we have mudslide potential and we have very vulnerable housing. We are talking wooden housing and so forth.

So we made an enormous effort, not only the government but the municipal governments and the people of Puerto Rico to get people out of harm's way, get them into shelters, we opened 500 shelters that are concrete and will withstand the winds. But this is a dangerous storm.

[08:10:00] And my biggest concern is, yes, we will feel the brunt of it for the next 12 hours, but afterwards we are going to get a lot of rain. And people might have a sense that they have gone through the worst part of it, but as we know with hurricanes, it's the flooding, it's the heavy rains that tend to be the number one cause of death.

CAMEROTA: Governor, I want to ask you about the shelters, because the numbers that we're getting just seem like only a fraction of the people in Puerto Rico took advantage of the safety of a shelter, something like 11,000 evacuated their homes and headed to a shelter. But you have 3.5 million people. Why didn't more go?

ROSSELLO: Well, there's two reasons. Number one, we don't have all of the data. This has been done with the municipalities. So 11,000 should be an indicator that a lot more people have gone to the shelters. As soon as we have more data, I'm going to keep communicating through Twitter and then communicating with people so they know the up-to-date numbers.

But the second reason is a lot of people have friends and family members that do have concrete housing. Puerto Rico, a lot of the infrastructure is built on hard concrete. And although some of the people may leave the coastal lines on flooding areas and on vulnerable housing, there are a lot of people that have strong concrete houses.

And many of the people when we went to the emergency evacuation procedure, instead of going to the government shelter would go to family housing. So we don't know how many, what's the extent, but our hope is really that a lot of these people are not tabulated at this moment or have gone to seek shelter at a friend or family member's place.

CAMEROTA: And governor, do you have numbers yet on numbers of people who are hurt or any casualties?

ROSSELLO: No, we don't have numbers on casualties. Again, it talks a little bit to the strength of the storm. We have to get our rescue workers out fairly quickly. You know, once winds go to 50 miles per hour we got them out. But we are very attentive. We know that this is very dangerous and of course it's going to bring with it very likely injury and, of course, possible death.

So we want to make sure that we are aware, that we can inform and that we can keep informing people that the best solution for you right now, if you have family members, if you have friends in Puerto Rico is to let them know that they should stay in safe shelter. There is no reason to go outside right now. It's too dangerous. And after the winds come by there's going to be a lot of rain which presents a lot of danger as well.

CAMEROTA: Governor we just got an alert from the National Weather Service that I want to share with you. The eye of the storm is now 15 miles southwest of San Juan, so it looks as though you have several more hours of going through the conditionings you are seeing right now.

ROSSELLO: We will be bunkered down here in San Juan, and hopefully we will withstand the storm, rebuild. Of course we asked for our federal citizens to send us their thoughts and prayers, and once it passes we will be informing all of you.

CAMEROTA: And everyone is keeping you in their prayers this morning. Governor Ricardo Rossello, thank you so much for joining us.

ROSSELLO: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now is the FEMA administrator Brock Long. He is joined by a sign language interpreter so we can get out information to as broad an audience as possible. Administrator, thank you for joining us.


CUOMO: So with Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are talking about U.S. protected territories there. What do you have in place to get in there once Maria has passed?

LONG: So actually we are very well positioned. We have more assets on the islands now than we did before Irma hit. Basically we have over 3,200 staff members in the islands collectively. We have multiple days' worth of commodities, meals, water, hygeine kits ready to go and we're ready to support Governor Rossello and Governor Mapp. I've already spoken with Governor Mapp this morning. So last night St. Croix took a big hit. Unfortunately the wind field expanded last night as it passed just to the south of St. Croix basically putting 137-mile-per-hour wind gusts through St. Croix. So we will continue to be ready to support.

CUOMO: We had a member of Congress representing the U.S. Virgin Islands say that they may not have power for weeks or even months. It seems to be a very, very difficult living condition. What can FEMA do to help support during that power outage?

LONG: Unfortunately the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico both have very fragile power systems. After Irma we had 90 percent of the power back on in Puerto Rico. I think we will see the majority of it knocked off not only in Puerto Rico but power will remain off in the Virgin Islands for a very long time.

[08:15:00] We do we are working very closely with Department of Energy, he private power sector industry and looking at mutual aide, we had power poles ready to go to come into the islands and restring the lines. But because of the nature of the geography of the islands it's a logistical challenge so it will be a frustrating event to get the power back on.

CUOMO: All right. So, we wait to see what happens there.

Another important part of this interview should be reminding people of what already has been wrought and still needs to be dealt with coming out of Harvey, and Irma. What is an update there in terms of what people are still dealing with in Texas and the parts that were hit by Harvey and Irma?

LONG: Well, we're working very diligently with Governor Abbott in Texas to put together an innovative housing approach. The old way of doing business with, you know, the way that FEMA provided housing is not going to work for this unique event because of the magnitude of it. So, we are working with him to finalize agreements to where recovery is, basically supported by the federal government, managed by the state and executed at the local level.

I continue to work with Governor Scott, Irma, as well as other governors in the Southeast to make sure that we are meeting demands, and providing them the correct bridge to recovery. You know, the good news is that the response is winding (ph) down from both Harvey and Irma, so that we can put those assets towards Maria.

CUOMO: This is your opportunity to ask for more resources. Do you have what you need? We know that the FEMA budget is one of the footballs being tossed back and forth, and we asked politicians not to play politics, with storm aid or with the FEMA budget, or at least not now. What kind of level of confidence are you getting from lawmakers that you are going to get what you requests?

LONG: No, Congress has been performing their due diligence to help us out in the situation and it's a dynamic situation. We keep getting hit, so the target for budget needs continues to move, and they are tracking that very closely and working with us.

I speak to Congress, you know, daily, various members of Congress daily, you know, about budget needs and we are communicating what we need to them very clearly so they know what to do.

CUOMO: All right. Mr. Administrator, thank you for joining us. Let us know what information we can get out that is important to people.

LONG: You got it. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Be well.


CAMEROTA: And, Chris, there's more breaking news. A powerful earthquake in Mexico City, and more than 200 people have been killed. This was a 7.1 magnitude quake struck the country and at this hour, there's a frantic search for survivors.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Mexico City. She's at the scene of search of this collapsed office building.

What's happening, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, I just talked to a first responder on the sidelines who tells me that at least four people have been rescued in this building that you see behind me this morning. And as day breaks, they are hoping to continue the search and hoping to find more people alive.

But there are dozens of people here waiting, waiting anxiously and grappling with the fact that they might not get good news after first responders go through this mountain of debris. Now, this is one of dozens of buildings that collapsed here in Mexico City. Now, just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this, we are 75 miles from the epicenter of this earthquake and dozens of buildings collapsed. Glass buckled. They crashed -- came crashing down.

There are buildings and people trapped in buildings all over, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of first responders, military, family, friends, going through the rubble trying to find loved ones. There are lists, like the one you see over my shoulder close to the buildings that have collapsed. Those are the lists of the people who have been rescued.

So, people come here, look at that list to see if their loved one has been rescued. If their loved one is not on that list, they wait. You probably see them behind me. There was a woman weeping loudly just moments ago that I talked to, and she says she has been trying to communicate with her daughter via text message, via WhatsApp, and she says that she doesn't get an answer.

The last time she saw her daughter, she was in that building that you see behind me that is now collapsed.

So, Chris, a lot of very tense moments. People here in a lot of pain grappling with the fact that they might have lost loved ones -- Chris.

CUOMO: The waiting, as we know, Rosa, is the worst part in a situation like this. Prayers go to the point that miracles happen when it comes to recovery. Certainly, nothing is a guarantee. This is a horrible situation. But time may wind up being a friend as much as a foe for them, because they have to wait, but hopefully, more people may come out of that building alive.

[08:20:00] Rosa, let us know if there are any updates. Thank you.

All right. So, we have to cover what is going on with the health care, because they're coming down to the fire, the GOP is trying to get something to repeal and replace Obamacare. That would be delivering on a signature promise.

The president is tweeting saying that the bill is great. Why does the American medical association, the AARP, and even Republican governors say he's wrong? We're going to take you through two different lawmakers' perfective on this.

And we want to remind you of the Jimmy Kimmel test.


JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face. There's a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you, and it's called the lie detector test. You are welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime. There you go.


CUOMO: The senator is going to be on NEW DAY. What is his response? Does he believe he failed the Kimmel test?

There's the senator, one of the two sponsors of this bill and will be on NEW DAY right after the break.


CUOMO: Senate Republicans are making a last ditch effort to repeal Obamacare with the Graham-Cassidy bill. One of the men behind it is Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He's previously said he'd only support a bill that passed what he coined the Jimmy Kimmel test. Jimmy Kimmel himself does not think that's the case.


[08:25:01] KIMMEL: I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on this publicity tour, he listed demands for a health care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and no lifetime caps.

Guess what? The new bill does none of those things. And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

Do you believe that every American regardless of income should be able to get regular checkups, maternity care, et cetera, all of those things that people who have health care get and need?


KIMMEL: So, yep is Washington for nope, I guess.

Stop using my name, OK? Because I don't want my name on it. There's a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you, it's called the lie detector test. You are welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.


CUOMO: Harsh words, not apparently in jest.

And joining us now is Senator Bill Cassidy.

What is your response, Senator?

CASSIDY: I'm sorry he doesn't understand. Under Graham-Cassidy- Heller-Johnson, more people will have coverage and we protect those with pre-existing conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, there will be billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those in those states who have been passed by Obamacare and we protect those with pre-existing conditions.

CUOMO: Well, the counter-argument will be pre-existing conditions will be up to the pricing of the particular state and market. It's not what it is now where you can't allow insurance companies to cherry-pick and punish people for pre-existing conditions. So, the protection is not the same, Senator, on that one point.

CASSIDY: The protection is absolutely the same. There's a specific provision that says that if a state applies for a waiver, it must ensure that those with pre-existing conditions have affordable and adequate coverage. Affordable and adequate coverage --

CUOMO: But the schedule of what people might pay, that is out there making the rounds, pending a CBO score, which you have to wait for under the rules for this type of reconciliation, the price won't be the same as it is now. It's going to be different for people.

CASSIDY: I think the price will actually be lower. What is being circulated is by those who wish to preserve Obamacare and they are doing everything they can to discredit the alternative.

But the reality is, if you are in Maine, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, there will be money in your state to help lower your premiums and provide coverage. And by the way, we protect those with pre-existing conditions.

CUOMO: Right. But protect means that they don't get priced out of their own care. That's the affordable part. That winds up being the rub.

Yes, you are giving money to the states directly as a block grant. Yes, some governors will like that. But you have some Republican governors, you've got the AMA, the American Medical Association, you got the AARP, you got the CBO who are all saying, no, this bill does not keep as many people covered as is the case right now.

CASSIDY: Can I respond to that?

CUOMO: Absolutely.

CASSIDY: We actually will cover more.

The reason they based that is on a study of a different bill, but it depends upon the individual mandate. And those folks put great credit in the individual mandate which penalizes, coerces working families into purchasing insurance.

As it turns out, the best data shows that the individual mandate does not work. What does work is giving power to governors.

But there's a fundamental difference. Democrats think the Washington, D.C. should have the power and people should be coerced. Republicans think the state and the patients should have the power and that we should help those families, not penalized them.

There's a fundamental difference, but Graham-Cassidy will ensure more folks and we protect those with preexisting condition.

CUOMO: But then, why do you have governors of your own party coming up and saying that's not true? That even though you're going to give me the money and I like the control, you're going to cut the amount of money that I have, and in fact, those block grants are going to go away altogether at some point in the future, so there's going to be less money in the system which you like because you want to take money out and use it for tax reform, or whatever you want to do it. But if you take money out, you can't cover as many people.

CASSIDY: A couple of things. We do take money out because we eliminate the mandated penalties.

CUOMO: And tax credits.

CASSIDY: Fifty-eight percent of those penalties are paid by families who make $50,000 or less. If you are in Maine, Florida, Virginia, Missouri, you get far more money than you do under the status quo.

We actually -- speaking of governors, we had I think 14 or 15 governors that signed a letter yesterday which they published say that they were in support of this. I think there was six who are not, there's I think 15 or 16 who are.

And the study show that the best way to get people covered is not through a mandate, through penalties, but through getting a governor engaged. Our bill gives the governor responsibility, which he or she may not want, but that's the best way to get people covered.

CUOMO: But, Governor, giving -- governor -- Senator, not yet, Senator, giving people the ability to have coverage and it being affordable are very different things.