Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Natural Disaster Rock Mexico And The Caribbean; 7.1 Magnitude Quake Kills At Least 149 In Mexico; Quake Topples Dozens Of Buildings In Mexico City; Category Five Maria Slams Virgin Islands Headed For Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico Government Warns Of Catastrophic Damage; Trump Brings Defiant, "America First" Visio To U.N.; Trump Threatens To "Totally Destroy" North Korea; Defense Secretary Advocates Diplomatic Solution; Macron Discusses Issues With Trump Directly; Children Rescued From Mexico School After Quake; 7.1 Magnitude Earthquake Kills More than 140 in Mexico; Cat 5 Maria Slams Virgin Islands, Headed for Puerto Rico; Trump Takes Aim at Kim Jong Un. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[01:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause, live in Los Angeles. It has just gone 10:00 here and we're tracking two major natural disasters this hour. A powerful earthquake toppled buildings and kills dozens in Central Mexico, and the Caribbean being hit hard by a hurricane less than two weeks after Irma left behind a trail of destruction.

First the earthquake, at least 149 people are dead -- and that number is expected to rise as work crews dig through the rubble in Mexico City and surrounding states.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VAUSE: The catastrophic 7.1 magnitude quake hit just after 1:00 p.m. local time. Mexico's president says 22 bodies have been recovered from an elementary school which collapsed, at least 30 other children, though, are still missing. More than four million homes and businesses are without electricity. And joining us now by phone, Anna Catherine Brigida, an American Journalist living in Mexico City. So, Anna, how are you right now? What are things like, in Mexico City tonight?

ANNA CATHERINE BRIGIDA, AMERICAN JOURNALIST (via telephone): Well, things have calmed down a little bit. We actually -- we just got our power back, so we were without power for a little while, feeling a little bit disconnected. There were -- you know, during the day, a lot of people are in the streets, but further, as it, it got darker out. People who were not really directly involved in the rescue efforts sort of started to go inside. They were sort of a feeling that it's not quite safe to be outside when there's no power and no street lights. And we did get -- finally get power back about a half hour ago.

VAUSE: What is the security situation there like at the moment? Can you see troops out on the streets? Is that a major concern?

BRIGIDA: It's not a major concern, but l think that you know, at first, people were just very shaken up and hesitant to go inside. And then, as it started to get darker, they sort of just seemed like, OK, now is the time that, you know, we got to go inside, and everybody's, you know, leaving their keys by the door and making sure they have their shoes by the door and things like that. I mean, you hear every, you know, five, ten minutes an ambulance or a police car coming by. But I think it's more of the rescue efforts that are still continuing to go on.

VAUSE: Take us back, you know, what was about nine hours or so now. What was your first reaction when everything started to shake? Did you realize what was happening?

BRIGIDA: Yes. Well, there is a -- Mexico City does have an alarm system, but where I was we didn't hear the alarm. So, it just started shaking and someone that I was with was sort of the first one to realize it, and say, oh, wow, OK -- it seems like a pretty strong one, and we were just on the second floor so we just all evacuated quickly. But once we, you know, got outside, it was still shaking pretty hard. And then, afterward, you know, everybody just totally shaken up, everybody trying to call their friends and family; phone lines not working, the Internet has gone really slow. So, after that, you know. everybody just felt totally shaken up.

VAUSE: Yes. The rocking or the shaking, it lasted for, I think some people have said more than a minute, maybe 70 seconds, which doesn't sound like a long time, but in an earthquake, it seems almost like an eternity. Was that your experience?

BRIGIDA: Yes, it did seem like a long time. And you know, I think when it's happening you just sort of lose all sense of time, but it did seem pretty long, because we evacuated, we were out into the street and then it seemed to go on for quite a while after that. And we did have an earthquake here less than two weeks ago. And this one today did feel like it lasted a bit longer than the one before.

VAUSE: Well, Anna Catherine, thank you for joining us on the line from Mexico City. We're glad you're safe and we appreciate you sharing the details of what happened and what is happening right now.

BRIGIDA: Well, thank you for having me.

VAUSE: OK. Let's go to Pedram Javaheri at the International Weather Center with more on the earthquake and also more on the aftershocks which clearly will continue for some time.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely. With a quake of this magnitude, you can see that continue for weeks, if not months across this region of Mexico. And we're talking about, of course, a 7.1, a shallow quake of that, 32 miles deep. And anytime you're at that shallow, the buffering, the earth would provide becomes very much mitigated, so you're going to feel a lot of that intensity right away across this region of Mexico City. And of course, just 70 miles south of the city is where the epicenter was, still, some 15 million people felt the strong shaking.

[01:05:59] Almost two million people feeling very strong shaking associated with this particular quake, and the rarity, the significance of such a quake is really what's most mind-boggling. Because we know, on average, there are about two million quakes on our planet every year that we can detect. About one, on average, is at an 8.0 or greater. We had one, 11 days ago in Mexico -- not in this region, but in Mexico. And between, 7.0, and 7.9, or 15, such magnitude quakes, but Mexico City is particularly vulnerable when it comes to such quakes.

And I want to go in for a closer perspective across this region, because of we -- go in for a closer look -- we know Mexico City was actually built on what is now a dry lake that you can clearly pick it out on Google Earth imagery. This region about 700 years ago was a very shallow lake bed. The city, of course, one of the most densely populated in the world, situated directly on top of that, and that plays a very large role in the intensity of everything plays out when it comes to shaking. And I want to show you this here in this animation, because with -- that's sort of a setup, that's sort of a topsoil.

When you have intense shaking, you can bring that water table up, and of course, you can liquify the soil. So, a lot of reasons why you're seeing a lot of the structures that come down. That shaking reverberates tremendous distances. That water table comes up to the top. The buildings begin to collapse. Just played out. It's a very much on a similarly there back in 1985 when we had the quake that was greater than 8.0 magnitude. So, a similar, sort of, event here with the shaking being felt through a very large area.

Now, that's not the only natural disaster, of course, that we're covering, we're also watching an incredible, absolutely incredible Hurricane Maria, sitting there at a healthy category five, pushing just south of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix, in the crosshairs of this storm system. You can see the eyewall, getting awfully close here to crossing land with wind gusts now pushing up to around 200 miles per hour. Radar imagery gives you an idea here that it is actually a little farther offshore. This storm wobbles just like any hurricane.

People often think hurricanes move in a straight like -- that is absolutely not the case, that never happened. They wobble as they migrate to any direction. So, the concern is that it's going to begin to push away from the Virgin Island -- good for them. For Puerto Rico, we can keep this as a very strong category five as it approaches sometime around 8:00 in the morning on Wednesday, across eastern Puerto Rico. Look at the storm surge, seven to 11 feet across the Leeward Islands; six to nine feet above what is typically dry ground.

Now, with one foot of water, coming onto the dry ground, that can knock you off of your feet. Two feet of water, that can move your car. Three feet of water, of course, can start getting into your house. Get to six and seven feet, that can push up to the second of your house. That's what we're talking about across, literally, the island thereof Puerto Rico with storm surge pushing up to nine feet in spots. And a storm like this that is very different in Irma, in the sense that it is going to produce tremendous rainfall. We're talking about one to two feet in spots.

And notice, it is uniform, it's widespread, everyone gets in on this, on a very mountainous island with elevation over 4,000 feet. What is, typically, dry river beds, creeks here, will essentially become raging rivers over the next 24 to 48 hours. That's the biggest concern, and honestly, I think, a lot of times we get fixated on a category, and this storm is as strong as you'll ever see it, but the rainfall across the very mountainous island could lead to more destruction and more loss of life, potentially, than even a storm of this magnitude.

And notice the population density, the darker areas in red are the highest population. Four million people live in Puerto Rico, about half of that population on the eastern third of the island. Category five crosses right over this region, and of course, this would be catastrophic to put it lightly across this area. Never have we seen a storm of this magnitude move across this region. And a new graphics here to share with you from the power outages forecast perspective, and widespread power outage.

And you know, with Irma, in crossed about 50 miles, John, to the north of the island; left a million customers without power. This comes in as a category five directly over the island. We could see power outages here, historically speaking with such storms, weeks or months, and this, certainly, could play out that way as moving over the most populated region. John.

VAUSE: And also the diagonal path is especially dangerous because the storm surges happen on the coast. You get all the rain in the mountains. It's a lot more water than it just skirted around the coast. Pedram, thank you for the update. We will be keeping in contact with you. Our reporters are across the region, covering this storm. Meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, is with us from San Juan, who joins us live. Derek, you're there in the path of the storm, what are conditions really like right now, and what does that tell you about what's still to come?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, this storm is most intense at its core. We know that all hurricanes behave and act like that. We have the strongest winds right around the center of the eyewall, and that's when we expect the strongest winds to come. Once that reaches the shores of Puerto Rico by 8:00, 9:00 this morning, then that's when conditions will be at their worst or let's say the peak of the hurricane. We know right now, 175-mile-per-hour sustained winds. We're talking about hurricane force winds extending 50 miles from the center. Tropical storm force winds extending 150 miles from the center. That's a 300-mile-wide hurricane, OK. This is a significant storm. We know that it's up to a category five.

[01:10:01] In fact, when we start to look past events, this could potentially be the strongest hurricane to ever reach the shores of Puerto Rico. A lot of people remember or at least have heard about the destruction that came with the 1928 and 1932 hurricanes that struck this region. Well, guess what, this could pale those in comparison. So, kind of puts it into perspective. Right now, the central pressure of this storm, this is the way that meteorologists use to determine the strength and intensity of a hurricane, it's at 908 millibars -- and that is the tenth lowest central pressure ever recorded in Atlantic basin hurricane. So, that also puts this into perspective. It will go down in the record books.

In terms of timing, we're in San Juan, the northeastern sections of Puerto Rico. And we expect tropical storm force winds for the next four hours. Hurricane force winds by first light. Worst conditions between 8:00 and 10:00 in the morning. So, a lot of tough hours ahead of us to say the least. Storm surge here, six to nine feet. If we look towards the Virgin Islands, we expect seven to 11 feet -- and that all just has to do with the shallow depth, the shallow nature of the waters across that particular area. This is a mountainous territory in Puerto Rico. So, that is going to act as a barrier. It's going to actually squeeze out the available moisture and produce a lot of rainfall within Puerto Rico, leading to flash flooding as well.

So, storm surge, winds of 175 miles per hour, and flash flooding -- those are the three main concerns. Now, we've had -- remember, Harvey and Irma, move through this region within the past two to three weeks. So, we've got a little bit of a problem with storm fatigue. And I want to bring in Nick Valencia here because he's seen it first-hand, just like I have. People, you know, become complacent when they start hearing watches and warnings so common. Like, it's almost like they're crying wolf in an instance.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And especially here in Puerto Rico, when they get so used to hearing about tropical storms, hurricanes are mentioned, there's sort of a shrug of the shoulders from a lot of the island residents here. But this is noticeably different. And we've heard the tone change from the government officials as well. During Irma, we asked local residents -- and the governor here was praised for his calm demeanor during that. But now, it's been a bit different. What has happened here in the last 24, 48 hours is -- the tone of anxiety, the tone of nervousness, even among those government officials that are leading what will be, no doubt, these relief efforts on this island territory. Derek.

VAN DAM: Even your taxi driver. You were talking to me about how he seems to be a bit anxious about this storm as well.

VALENCIA: That's right. That's right. My taxi driver -- it was actually a woman. She was driving me here on the way to the airport, and she was telling me, I don't know how we're going to go through another storm. We just went tough Irma. There are roofs that are still damaged here. There are homes that are still without electricity. There are people that are still in parts of the island without running water. And she was telling me about her 80-year-old father, who she says is going to ride out the storm with her. She still doesn't have electricity. And I asked her, what are you going to do with your elderly father, she sort of shrugged her shoulders and says we're going to hope for the best.

But you know, as these conditions start to worsen, we're feeling some of what could come here in the coming hours, I should say. And I just came from the beach -- were being blocked, that should be told, by a parking structure here. So, the conditions are even worse towards the beach. I walked there about 100 yards away from where we're standing. A light is already out. You're already seeing debris on the roads, that sand is whipping and starting to, you know, really cause an issue here locally. So, it's only going to get worse, and you know that.

VAN DAM: You talked to the general manager as well about the structure of this building. How safe are we here, the CNN crews, for instance?

VALENCIA: Well, you know, we chose this location because of safety. Safety is always a concern for our crews, for our directors of coverage, to keep us in a safe environment so we can continue to inform and educate. The honest answer, though, is the infrastructure here in parts of the island, it's just not meant to withstand winds that are what we're going to expect here later today. Category three type wind is what most of these structures are built to handle. We're expecting something around a category five.

VAN DAM: OK. All right. Well, we know that we have a long night ahead of us here. But I think, in the meantime, we're going to send it back to John in the studio. John, can you hear us?

VAUSE: Yes, I can. A long night, it has been a long, long month it seems. These storms just keep coming one after the other. Derek and Nick, thanks to you both.

[01:14:18] We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Donald Trump, putting world leaders on notice in a dark and threatening speech at the U.N. North Korea tops his list of evil nations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. In his first appearance at the U.N. general assembly, Donald Trump set a grim combative tone. He outlined his nationalist ideology and referred to U.S. sovereignty repeatedly, making it clear the U.S. will act in its own self-interest and other countries should do the same. He called the Iran nuclear deal an embarrassment, he also issued a dire warning to North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States has great strength and patience. But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocketman is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully, this will not be necessary. That's what the United Nations is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ian Lee joins us now Seoul, South Korea. So, Ian, name calling and threats of total destruction from the U.S. president, how is that likely to play out with the North Koreans? IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not well, John, to simply

put. We know that Kim Jong-un is not going to be like to call -- being called "Rocketman," and he doesn't take too kindly to threats against his regime. And then, that's really what's pushing him to develop a nuclear weapon. And we haven't heard officially from the North Koreans, and it relies on could be more what they do, instead of what they say. They could carry out another test an act of defiance, and things we've seen from the regime in the past. You know, the interesting thing too, John, was a reaction from South Korea.

We heard from the president's spokesman saying that the unprecedentedly long speech showed that -- illustrates that America is serious about North Korea, saying that the denuclearization of North Korea is the only path and to get to that path is through maximum sanctions and pressure. And they also said they're in close cooperation with the United States. You know, the one thing they didn't mention, though, was war, or any military option, and we really haven't heard that from the government here. They keep talking about diplomacy and dialogue, sitting down with North Korea and talking about it, hashing it out that way. Only yesterday, we really hear the defense minister bring it up as a supportive element, not really talking about any sort of military option because it straightly put, John, the South Korean government, the people of Korea do not want to see another war on their peninsula.

[01:20:52] VAUSE: They, you would imagine, have a say in it. Ian, thank you. Ian Lee, live for us there in Seoul. So, joining us now here for more on this is Political Analyst, Peter Matthews. Just on the last point about the segment that came out of the office of the South Korean president, talking about America being serious about North Korea. Could another take on that be, essentially, that you've run out of options when you start talking about the total destruction of another country? And this is an indication that, you know, once you reach total destruction, there's nowhere else to go.

PETER MATTHEWS, POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's the ultimate in the end game. And this is very dangerous for Trump to even use those words in this precarious situation. There should be more soothing words saying, you know, look, North Korea took a good step in not firing a missile at Guam, we're going to take a step and postpone the military maneuvers with South Korea for a while. That would build confidence. And that the president lost the golden opportunity and the United Nations to tell the whole world that we're a nation among nations, willing to work with partners. And that American First agenda is totally contradicting United Nations.

VAUSE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: You know, you have to have cooperation and collective security together -- that what the United Nations is all about.

VAUSE: But also seems that you know, this was a speech, you know, many people around the world may not have liked it, but a lot of people in Trump country -- in the United States -- it's what they wanted to hear.

MATTHEWS: Which is down to about 34 percent of the popular vote.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Yes, it's narrowing and he's still trying to hang onto those few people that support him. It's still a good chunk of the population. And this is what he's playing up to, and he's not going to expand his base. I think it's very crucial because he can't win the next election if keeps this up. Not to mention, we could end up in World War III, literally, because, you know, the World War I, Barbara Tuckman, the great historian, said the wars are started mostly by miscalculation and mistaken error. And that's what happened in World War I, it could happen again here.

VAUSE: So, there are consequences.

MATTHEWS: Absolutely.

VAUSE: From Richard Haass, he's President of the Council on Foreign Relations: "Threats of these are being North Korea ridiculing its leader more likely to persuade North Korea to increase its nuclear weapons and missiles, then limit and give them up." So, there's every chance here -- a lot of people are taking this line that this speech, that Donald Trump if he hoped it would deter North Korea could have quite the opposite effect.

MATTHEWS: It is the opposite. Every time he escalates his rhetoric, the opposite happens. And you know, one thing North Korea tests another missile, they test the latest bomb. Every time he escalates, they feel more insecure and say, we need to have this defense against the U.S invasion or a north -- or American Trump pre-emptive strike.

VAUSE: This whole America First doctrine about every nation for themselves, which is what he was sort of advocating. At the same time, he wants China to continue to put more pressure on North Korea. But for China, that's not in its own self's interest, because it doesn't want the regime to collapse. So, these sort of contradictory messages, right?

MATTHEWS: It is, John, definitely so. And I'm not sure he's really thought it through. And he needs to do that because China's main concern is instability on its border or having an antagonistic country -- which is not the North Korea government. It's a unified Korea that could go against China with Western troops there. So, China's concern -- he's saying every nation for itself, well, that's what China is doing right now, and yet he's saying we should work it out and work together.

VAUSE: The reaction to this speech in real time from the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, that palm planted. It also seems that Defense Secretary, James Mattis, is trying to clarify now, almost sort of clean up the U.S. position when it comes to North Korea. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are dealing with the North Korean situation through the international processes and we will continue to do so with Secretary Tillerson leading the effort. And we will hopefully get this resolved through diplomatic means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: It does seem there are frustration and concerns, to say the least, within the administration. But regardless of what they say, at the end of the day, these are the words the president said: you can't take them back. There's no going back from this.

MATTHEWS: That's correct. And that's a big danger because he can't backtrack. Mattis and Tillerson have always tried to clean up the mess after his words, and it's happened several times before. Eventually, is they're not going to be able to do it, and who knows what could happen? So, I would advise President Trump to really be more cautious, to strictly listen to people who have knowledge about this issue, people who are diplomats, who've been in the field for so long. He's a total amateur. And you know, with all due respect, he is the president, he needs to listen to the advice of experts.

[01:25:09] VAUSE: I think that advice is coming from a lot of people and has been coming for quite some time, and I guess we'll see. You know, the French president, he spoke exclusively to CNN's Christiane Amanpour. He's one of the world leaders who says he's got this good relationship with Donald Trump. Even so, he did say, they had their differences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask you about how you deal with President Trump. Because he says some things in person, he says some things on Twitter, his ministers say other things. How do you deal with the leader of the free world in this kind of situation? Some have described it as kind of chaotic, some say they don't quite know who to listen to. What does President Macron use to deal with the president of the United States?

EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE: I have very direct discussions with President Trump. I do appreciate him. We have a very good personal relationship, and I have very direct discussions with him. I don't interfere in domestic policies and what you describe in differences or discrepancies between different members. For me, there is one voice, you're the president, you elected your president, and this is the voice I consider, and as a man, I speak with. And it's the same thing, we share our views. He's very direct. And I think, I think, he'll listen to what I propose.

AMANPOUR: What are the main areas of disagreement right now?

MACRON: I think the very first disagreement is very well known, it's about climate. And as President Trump decided to leave Paris Agreement -- I mean, that's his choice and I do respect his choice, and he was elected on the basis of such a decision. But I do regret his decision and I do want to convince him to come back to this agreement because, for me, that's a core agreement for the climate. And I do believe that, especially after these hurricanes, which just had, both in the U.S. and in France, we do see the direct consequences of CO2 emissions and all this climate change.

We have to fight against this climate change, and we need the globalization for that. So, we have a disagreement on this issue, but I will keep pushing. We have direct discussion yesterday. We will implement Paris Agreement on our own, at the French level, as European level as well. We have a strong agreement with the Chinese and the other boarders and I think it's very important to preserve this multilateral approach. And now, that's an issue for the U.S. itself, to see what they want to do and what President Trump wants to do with climate, but we have to deal with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: You know, it seems the French president is sort of the antithesis of Donald Trump right now. And you know, he's playing this role of international sort of diplomat if you like, while at the same time managing to stay on Donald Trump's good side. But is that of any value if he can't sort of persuade Donald Trump, you know, to go with more of a majority opinion?

MATTHEWS: No, he needs to be able to persuade Donald Trump, and if not, he needs to move forward as leading this movement to cooperate in the world for climate change, which is affecting people in the global south, even worse. He has to cooperate on North Korea and get the Iran agreed to continue because Donald Trump wants this threatening to disband the Iran nuclear deal, which was such a good deal that President Obama brought in. So, Macron is for it, Germany, U.K., Russia, China, they're all for the Iran deal. And Macron has to find a way to persuade Trump or not just keep on playing up to him. You know, he's trying to be diplomatic, and he's doing a good job with that, but he has to also accomplish something.

VAUSE: There's got to be a pay-off at the end of the day.

MATTHEWS: Always a good point on the whole thing.

VAUSE: Yes. OK. Peter, good to see you. Thanks so much.

MATTHEWS: Good to see you, John.

[01:28:54] VAUSE: OK. After the break, we head back to Mexico. A powerful earthquake has destroyed buildings there, including an elementary school -- some children have been rescued, dozens, though, were killed or are still missing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:33:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause live in Los Angeles. 10:33 here.

A powerful 7.1 magnitude quake has killed more than 140 people in Mexico. The epicenter was southeast of the capital. And President Enrique Pena Nieto is calling it a national emergency.

Rescue efforts continue at this hour. A short time ago, some children were pulled from the debris of their elementary school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Officials found 22 bodies in that school. 30 other children remain missing.

Here's the moment the quake struck. It was caught on cell phone videos.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(PEOPLE SCREAMING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: This is the second earthquake to hit Mexico in less than two weeks. And it's 32 years to the day after a powerful earthquake killed thousands in and around Mexico City.

Here's why. The country sits on one of the most seismically active regions. This image shows the tectonic forces in Mexico including three of the largest tectonic plates.

Pablo Ampuero is a professor of seismology at the California Institute of Technology.

Thanks for coming in. Because this is something that concerns a lot of people. Not just in Mexico, but up and down California as well and in many parts of the world.

But if earthquakes are all about releasing a build-up of energy, there's been a magnitude 8.1 couple weeks ago. Now it's 7.1. A lot of people would like to know, does that buy us a little bit of time here?

What can we expect?

[01:35:00] PABLO AMPUERO, PROFESSOR OF SEISMOLOGY, CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: This energy that has been released up there in Mexico, that doesn't release the energy that has been built up here in California, on the San Andreas fault and in many of the faults that are right beneath our feet.

VAUSE: So what -- is there a link that we can make between what's happening in Mexico and what we could expect here. Well, they are completely and totally separate events?

AMPUERO: The events in Mexico do not have any impact on the earthquakes that happened here in California. But there are other analogies between the earthquakes there and the earthquakes here. There are also important differences that we can discuss.

VAUSE: What are the similarities?

AMPUERO: Well, the shaking and the severity of the shaking. The fact that we live on soft soils also that amplify the shaking. That these faults are very dangerous and very big and very close to us.

VAUSE: And the differences?

AMPUERO: The differences is the building practice. For example, here in California, we have one-story houses, very light, they don't tend to fall on us. The dangerous things are rather the things that can fly during the shaking, but not the collapse of a building for example.

VAUSE: Mexico, though, after the 1985 earthquake, at least in the capital, apparently, you know, went about improving building standards, implementing higher codes, safety procedures to prepare for earthquakes.

Given what you've seen in the last couple of hours, you've seen some buildings collapse, but you know, so far, 140 people dead, a high death toll, but certainly not as high as it could be.

VAUSE: Do you think that Mexico was as prepared as well as it could be for this event?

AMPUERO: With every earthquake we learn how to build better and to prepare better. But there's no obligation to correct or to retrofit older buildings. And perhaps a lot of the buildings that collapsed today are older buildings that were not prepared.

VAUSE: You know, there is this expectation for people who live in California, especially if you are here in Los Angeles and Southern California, you're always waiting for the big one because the fear is, the big one is long overdue, right?

AMPUERO: Yes. Big earthquakes happened here in California every 150 to 200 years. We haven't had a big one since 1857. That's why we say it's overdue.

There's also smaller earthquakes that can happen and they're actually as dangerous because they're closer to us, like the North Ridge in 1994 earthquake. It was a smaller magnitude, but it was right beneath our feet in a fault that we didn't even know about.

VAUSE: So, yes, obviously the depth of the quake is crucial and the damage that it can do. But, you know, the question a lot of people maybe asking is, is there an 8.2 magnitude earthquake coming anytime soon for Los Angeles or in California? The problem is there's no way to know.

AMPUERO: There's no way to predict when it will happen, but it's certain that in my lifetime I will have to go through a big earthquake here. A magnitude 7.8 can happen anytime. It can happen now. It can happen tomorrow or in ten years from now.

And a big one -- bigger one, an 8.2 could also happen on the San Andreas fault.

VAUSE: How old are you?

AMPUERO: I'm 42.

VAUSE: 42. Good to know.

OK, thanks so much for being with us, Pablo. You know, this is obviously something which concerns a lot of people here. You live with it, but you kind of put it in the back of your mind. Thank you.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, all eyes are on Maria as the monster category 5 storm roars through the Caribbean. We'll have the very latest on the hurricane's path as Puerto Rico braces for landfall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:43:00] VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody.

We're tracking Hurricane Maria, the category 5 storm pummelling the Virgin Islands right now as it heads towards Puerto Rico. Even islands not in the direct path, they're taking a beating, and that includes Antigua.

Here's Michael Holmes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With winds reaching 250 kilometers an hour, Maria's first victim, the island of Dominica, population 73,000. A direct hit. The strongest hurricane on record to make landfall there.

The prime minister saying there is widespread devastation.

"My roof is gone, he writes. I'm at the complete mercy of a hurricane. House is flooding."

He adds, "So far, we have lost all what money can buy and replace."

With the island in ruins and his own house in shambled, CNN reached him by phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This hurricane is going to be horrible for a long time. It's just unrelenting. I don't think we have any roofs, you know, which would survive the hurricane.

HOLMES: Reports from the island have been few. Communications hit hard with the National Hurricane Center quoting ham radio operators as saying there had been significant structural damage island wide.

After being battered by Irma, the Island of Guadeloupe was next, skirted by Maria's eye, but hit hard by its winds and rain, flooded streets, high winds lashing the island. At least one dead and two missing there. (on-camera) Hurricane Maria reigns terribly, about 120 miles south southwest of us here in Antigua, but have a look at the conditions around us, then you can get some sense of what it must be like in the path of this monstrous storm.

(voice-over): Maria intensified rapidly. Islands that thought they might deal with a category 3 hurricane faced a category 5. Many places enduring their second major hurricane in less than two weeks after Irma tore through, taking lives and destroying communities.

On the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents are still trying to recover from the devastating effects of Irma now being forced to evacuate and prepare for another brutal hit.

[01:45:10] And Puerto Rico bracing for an assault. A state of emergency has been declared, 500 shelters set up across the island while they wait for what could be the strongest storm to hit in 85 years.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Antigua.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: OK. That's the situation there in Antigua.

Let's go back now to Puerto Rico and San Juan. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is live once again.

So, Derek, I mean, it's crucial now that we know where this storm is. How far away it is and what intensity it is.

So what can you tell us?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, listen, we are in San Juan right now, to the north-eastern section of Puerto Rico. And the storm is currently about 95 miles or 240 kilometers just to our south and east. So still several hours to go before this storm inches closer and closer.

But what's amazing, John, is that Hurricane Maria, major Hurricane Maria is really scraping the upper echelon of what's possible with hurricanes. 175-mile-per-hour sustained winds right around the center of the storm. It continues to harp on that because we know that's where the strongest winds will be felt.

To put this into perspective, we have a scale for tornadoes which are real small scale event. Let's say a hundred yards wide or a half a mile wide at its greatest. 0 to EF-5 would be the strongest tornado possible.

Well, with a hurricane of 175 miles per hour, that's equivalent to a tornado of an EF-3 equivalent. So that would last upwards of several hours here if we get a direct land falling hurricane within San Juan or anywhere across Puerto Rico. So that really puts into perspective. Two and a half hour-long tornado, for instance. What we know so far is that winds have continued to pick up. Obviously, we are in a sheltered area to keep our team safe. But we did stepped outside of the building just a few momes ago, and trees are starting to lean to the edges. We've lost electricity in some of the streets here.

We are just about a block away from the ocean side so we are safe. But the storm surge is the major threat here. Six to nine feet, that's the official predicted storm surge within the greater Puerto Rico region. But if we go to the Virgin Islands, they're predicting a higher storm surge. 7 to 11 feet is the official forecast.

And that's all because they have shallower water surrounding those particular island as compared to Puerto Rico. On top of that heavy rain fall leading to flash flooding. We know that up to two feet of rain could fall into some these localized areas causing flash flooding. All kinds of concerns her, John. The night is going to be long and people really are starting to heed the call, staying inside, if not evacuated.

VAUSE: And if you look at some of these islands that weren't hit particularly hard by Irma less than, you know, 2 weeks or so, they've been the base for recovery operations where, you know, a lot of relief workers have been, where many people who fled Irma took shelter and now they're directly in the path.

So, clearly, a lot of the work done in the last couple of weeks and a lot of these operations are going to be severely impacted over the next couple of days, the next week or so?

VAN DAM: Yes. And it's unfortunate that they have cleaned up from two major hurricanes and then now they are facing a third hurricane. And that brings up the fact that some people might be getting storm fatigue, storm complacency. That's almost like we cried wolf.

We've talked about hurricane warnings too much. But we heard Nick Valencia a few moments ago, he talk about how the governor has really raised his tone, his sense of urgency with this particular hurricane, because a category 5, let alone a category 3 or 2 is really nothing to fancy eye. Category 5 really is as strong as it gets. Again, we are reaching that upper echelon of what is posslle with hurricanes and Mother Nature, quite frankly.

VAUSE: OK. Derek, clearly over the next couple of hours, things will get a lot more, a lot more intense where you are. Stay safe. We will check in with you when we get a chance.

And with that, we'll take a short break.

You know his greatest hits. Lyin' Ted, crooked Hillary, all about the hands. Now add rocket man to Donald Trump's list of insults. That's next on NEWSROOM L.A.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:53:10] VAUSE: So is it childish or genius? Unpresidential or just unconventional?

Jeanne Moos has more on Donald Trump's latest insult.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a verbal missile.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket man is on a suicide mission.

MOOS: That exploded on social media.

(Music Playing)

MOOS: Reaction ranged from infantile to awesome, tweeted one critic.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

"Tell other countries respect this nation again," tweeted another.

"I would bet you Kim Jong-un likes being called rocket man," posted someone else.

"Leave Elton John alone."

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's your favorite kind of music? What music do you like?

TRUMP: Well, I think Elton John is great.

MOOS: No word on whether Elton John thinks it's great.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

That the president is using his song.

Google says searches for "Rocket Man" have skyrocketed. It was "The Economist" magazine that first dubbed Kim Jong-un's father rocket man back in 2006.

The president firs tweeted the insult Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong-un after an Elton John song, "Rocket Man." I would have gone with "Tiny Dancer," but you know I'm not the president.

One fan tweeted to President Trump, "He's a master troll and brander."

(on-camera): For those who say President Trump is trolling North Korea's leader, look, a President Trump troll doll actually exists.

(voice-over): The president of the United State is trolling and Elton John-un is live in concert.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

VAUSE: It's quite a busy day for the U.S. president, putting North Korea on notice and threatening total destruction of that nation. Warning he might rip up the Iran nuclear deal and of course sparing time for another matter of major national and international concern, the ratings for Sunday night's "Emmy's Awards."

[01:55:00] Donald Trump tweeted a short time ago, "I was saddened to see how bad the ratings were on the "Emmy's" last night. Worst ever. Smartest people of them are all the deplorables."

President Trump was ridiculed for much of the night. Even his former press Secretary Sean Spicer had a bit of a go.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause. Please follow us on Twitter @CNNNEWSROOMLA. There you can find highlights and clips from the show, but don't go there yet because I will be back with more news after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)