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Hurricane Maria Regains Strength As Category 3 Storm; Maria Leaves All Of Puerto Rico Without Power; At Least 14 Dead On The Island Of Dominica; National Hurricane Center Issues New Update On Maria; Search Underway For Girl Trapped In Quake Wreckage; Soon: "Important Announcement" on North Korea. Aired 11:00-11:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us at this hour. Hurricane Maria is regaining some of its fury, strengthening now to a Category 3 overnight and continuing its disastrous charge through the Caribbean. The storm is lashing the Dominican Republic with strong winds and heavy rains just as Puerto Rico assesses its widespread devastation.

Trees stripped, roofs peeled off homes, a result of the storm's howling winds that reached up to 175 miles an hour in some areas there. Millions of Americans are without electricity right now as the power grid for that entire island is knocked out. Puerto Rico's governor says it may take months to restore. And this morning we're also learning of dozens of families now being rescued from floodwaters as flashflood warnings now blanket every inch of the island.

Meantime, at least 14 people are confirmed dead in the island nation of Dominica. The government there saying that those spare are now "in survival mode" as the food and water have run out and looting is widespread. CNN'S Michael Holmes surveyed the devastation from the air.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: The damage is island-wide. Whether it's a town or village, there is debris covering the landscape like confetti. Houses ripped open, torn apart, roofs gone. We saw some cars moving, but no people. We did see evidence of numerous landslides on this mountainous island. The usually blue-green sea rendered brown in places from the Earth swept into it.

CABRERA: Much more from Dominica and across the region. CNN has deployed its vast resources to cover the story like no one else. Let's begin our coverage in Puerto Rico's capital, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us live from San Juan. Nick, what are you experiencing there right now? Looks like at least, it's calmed down.

NICK PATON WALSH, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, the first time, yeah, we've got weather that's not awful, frankly, but it does bring people back out onto the streets. This is the first time the sun rose and actually got to see a natural light, quite how awful hurricane Maria has been to their daily lives. Here behind me, people just simply pausing to take stock of what's happened to them. But, you know, probably the thing that we sort of say under our breath quickly is affecting people's lives most extraordinary is the fact that without electricity, and that's probably going to carry on for four to six months. So there's, obviously, a very swift trade in generators around here. You can hear their hum in the background, but also the silence really of the normal business daily life brought to the hold because of that.

Imagine, you know, without electricity, which jobs would you normally turn up to do? So that's an enormous challenge. And let me remind you, I mean this is the place that was already in huge economic dire straits before hurricane Irma, caused a billion dollars' worth of damage. So, we're seeing debris around the streets and places like Walgreens with their lights on, but the door still boarded up.

I mean generally, I think people taking down those shutters, having a look at really how bad it was, but also, really lacking in information. Remember, cell phones are out as well. So people coming up to us asking us actually the details of the storm, how bad was it, is the airport open. And, you know, this is also because they can't even watch CNN if they haven't got electricity on right now. So a different kind of life in 2017.

And even fresh water, in fact, being taken from an area just behind me here. Challenges people would never have thought that I'd be experiencing in the United States in 2017, Ana.

CABRERA: Signs of life there behind you with cars rolling by, people out in the street, trying to pick up the pieces, that is a small sliver of good news at the very least. Nick Paton Walsh, any update as far as you know on deaths or injuries there?

WALSH: At this point, as far as we know, there is one person who lost their life, hit by flying debris, a man. So minimal details, but obviously, that's deeply tragic for his family, but possibly the fact that we're talking about one instance in storms we saw ourselves terrifying is one piece of comparatively good news. A lot of damage there.

And, you know, we're fascinated by the drama of the storms and how ferocious they are, but this month-long process of rebuilding, that's the really hard effort here.

CABRERA: And hard to fully get our minds wrapped around how much damage is there. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for being our eyes and ears on the ground there as the drenched rains have continued to batter parts of the region officials are scrambling to assess just how bad and widespread the damage is.

Remember, this was the strongest storm to hit the island in nearly a century. And just minutes ago, President Trump weighed in on the massive recovery effort that will have to be launched in this U.S. territory. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated. Their electrical --

[11:05:00]

TRUMP: -- grid is totally destroyed and so many other things. So we're starting the process now and we'll work with the governor and the people of Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Joining us now is Carlos Mercader. He is the spokesman for Puerto Rico's governor. Thank you so much for being with us. Do you agree with what we just heard as far as the president's assessment is that Puerto Rico is completely or absolutely obliterated?

CARLOS MERCADER, SPOKESPERSON: Yeah. Thank you, Ana, for the opportunity. Definitely. It's massive devastation. It was something that was forecasted. Like you said before, this is the strongest hurricane that we've had in more than 100 years. And the hurricane was top 10 in terms of storms in the last century, in the region in general. So, it was -- we knew that this was going to happen.

The governor was prepared to basically have an immediate response to the storm and thankfully, we've had the collaboration with all of the federal agencies. I want to say here, thank you to President Donald Trump. Thank you to FEMA. Thank you to Brock Long, the administrator of FEMA. This morning, he had a call with the governor and just now the governor is sitting down with the cabinet.

They're basically assessing what has happened in the past 24 hours and what's going to be ensuing in the next 24.

CABRERA: As far as what has happened, I know you have reported the entire island lost power and 70% is without water. Is that still the case?

MERCADER: That's still the case, yes. And another big part of that, that I think needs to be mentioned, is that communication lines are -- they're basically down. We have communication with some people, but in general, we're still getting in contact with people that are located in different parts of the island, like the southeastern part, the northwestern part, the southwestern part. It's been very hard, the last 24 hours to determine what has happened from the voice of other people because we haven't had any communication.

Plus, there's a lot of destruction in the road. There's a lot of debris in between, a lot of obstruction. So today it's a day of assessment. And obviously, the priority of the government, saving lives. We still have a lot of flooding, we still have a lot of landslides that might occur because of the massive amount of rain that we got, and the governor, alongside FEMA, after the meeting that they had with the cabinet, they're going to go to the ground.

They're going to assess all of this situation and hopefully again we're going to be -- it's going to be a long process of reconstruction, but we're going to come up. CABRERA: Sure. I understand that the assessment still has to take place, but what is the plan? If it's going to be months before all of that electricity is restored, people are going to start to need a lot, right?

MERCADER: Yeah. Well, yeah, right now, right now, we are definitely in need of support from -- aside from the federal government which we're receiving right now, also from America, from our country. We need generators. We need generators, we need water, we need supplies, and we've started like a campaign, it's called unitedforpuertorico.com [ speaking foreign language ] and we have some phone numbers that we've established. So people want to help Puerto Rico, they can all. The numbers are 202-888-3033 and 3034. 202-888-3033, 3034.

CABRERA: Okay. And we'll make sure to try to pass that message along, obviously it's hard for some people to pick it up right here as we're talking on air, but we'll be posting that on our website, we'll try to make sure that gets passed along as well. Real quick before I let you go, can't help but ask about the financial situation there. We know that Puerto Rico before this hurricane has been in the midst of an economic crisis.

MERCADER: Yeah.

CABRERA: What does this hurricane now do for the people and for your government financially?

MERCADER: Well, again, we are prepared for emergencies like hurricanes and we have an emergency fund and we're going to be using that to sustain the initial economic impact of the recovery process. Also, again, we're working alongside the federal government and we're also asking congress to take a look at what has just happened in Puerto Rico. We've heard that house leader Paul Ryan --

[11:10:00]

MERCADER: -- wants to go to Puerto Rico.

CABRERA: The house speaker.

MERCADER: The president wants to go to Puerto Rico. So they can see.

CABRERA: Okay.

MERCADER: So they can see the damage. Because it's total devastation.

CABRERA: Well, our hearts and prayers are with all of you there. We hope that this all comes out okay in the end. And as you point out, I know the damage assessment injuries, loss of life, still being determined, but we'll continue to pray for everybody there. Thank you again, Carlos Mercader. We really appreciate your time. Now before hitting Puerto Rico, hurricane Maria began its murderous tear through the Atlantic by slamming into the tiny island nation of Dominica.

At least 14 people are dead there after the storm tore into Dominica with a full veracity. It was a Cat 5 hurricane when it hit there. CNN's Michael Holmes takes us on a journey to survey the jaw-dropping devastation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Hurricane Maria hit Dominica at full Category 5 strength and showed no mercy, plowing through villages, towns, and the capital Roseau. Not a tree untouched across the island, thousands snapped in two. No greenery left. There was spectacular rainforests here, no more. Now this is as close as we or anyone can get to Dominica or at least for now.

The airport is shut down, they're hoping to open it in the hours ahead to see just how bad things are down there, but we can see from up here, this island has been hit and hit hard. We pass low (INAUDIBLE) by the remnants of Maria. Our pilot unable to land before, on the ground, safety checks had deemed the runway safe. The damage is island-wide. Whether it's a town or village, there is debris covering the landscape like confetti. Houses ripped open, torn apart, roofs gone.

We saw some cars moving, but no people. We did see evidence of numerous landslides on this mountainous island. The usually blue- green sea rendered brown in places from the Earth swept into it. Dominica has an agriculture-based economy, so sugar cane, banana plantations, citrus, and most of that is exported. From what we can see up here, that is gone. And the loss of those resources and that income is going to be devastating for this island and its people.

Of course the immediate concern is the 73,000 residents here, making sure aid gets in and quickly. Medical treatment, power, fresh water, and shelter, the immediate priorities. Regional officials planning for aid flights and voyages to begin in force on Thursday from the nearby island of St. Lucia, and hoping for clarity on just what has happened to the Island of Dominica. Michael Holmes, CNN, over Dominica in the Caribbean.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Incredible pictures. Now just moments ago, the National Hurricane Center released its new update on hurricane Maria, so let's get right to our weather center and CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, fill us in.

CHAD MYERS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Ana, the storm is now really just hammering the north shore here of the Dominican Republic. Right through there. And there's a couple mountain ranges in here too. I'm afraid that all of this moisture that's coming off the storm is now getting in those mountains, just like it got into the Puerto Rican mountains, and all of this rain is going to come rushing down in flashflooding. So we're going to watch that for you.

But really, I mean, I think the focus is still probably on St. Croix, on Puerto Rico, and the likes because what this storm already did. Now it's going to move into the Turks and Caicos, but there's the latest advisory, 115. So that hasn't changed. The pressure hasn't changed much either. About 959 millibars. So not deepening rapidly like it did before it got to Dominica. So 120, 115, but 110, but that's in the Atlantic Ocean, nothing really to hit there.

And as long as it misses Bermuda for now, all of the weather models are missing the United States as well. One thing I want to point out, though, where Irma went, the yellow line, and where Maria is right now, right over the top of that. Now there is some disturbance, some wake here, where the water isn't quite as warm because Irma did go over it, so that may hinder Maria for a while but watch what happens, it crosses the path and turns off to the right.

So we'll continue to watch that. I think the story, Ana, that people don't understand about how it's four to six months for power, is that you can't drive bucket trucks from Georgia and Florida and fix power lines in Puerto Rico. There are no interstates that go there. You cannot just put the equipment that they need on that island. Sure, you can ferry some in and all that, but it will take a long time.

And not just power lines, but distribution poles are gone. They have to rebuild that. A little bit like what they went through with the ice storm up in Atlantic Canada, up in Montreal and New Finland, you know, years and years ago. They had to put up the entire hydro grid.

CABRERA: Wow. And still to think thought that an entire island is without power, the amount of work that has to be done.

[11:15:00]

CABRERA: And the limited resources as you point out that they have there available at the ready. Chad Myers, we know you'll stay on top of it. Good to see that that storm path appears to be going the right direction as far as people in the U.S. are concerned in the mainland getting hit. Just moments ago, though, there is a stunning reminder of the emergency that still covers the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Effective immediately, all four islands will be under a 24-hour curfew. A measure so extreme, it's rarely heard of there. I want to go to St. Croix resident, Chuck Brittain, he's the owner of a cafe in St. Croix and rode out the storm in a friend's basement. Chuck, thank you for being with us. I want to get your first reaction to this newly announced curfew, 24-hour curfew. How do you as a business owner survive that?

CHUCK BRITTAIN, ST. CROIX RESIDENT AND OWNER OF A CAFE (voice-over): Good morning, Ana. This the first that I have heard of it because we have such limited communications right now. We are depending on texts and phone calls from people because AT&T is the only network that's working right now. We have no internet. And everyone is trying to use the data, so we can't access anything. So I have not even heard of this because no one has texted it to me yet.

CABRERA: Wow.

BRITTAIN (voice-over): So it's difficult for us, but, you know, I just spent the last few hours, I walked to my house which is about a mile and a half from Frederiksted, and there are people on the street, you know, going to check on their families and everyone is -- it's a community, there's guys out with there with chainsaws and machetes trying to clear the roads, enough to where we can at least walk in safety because there is not a single power pole standing right now. They're leaning or they're on the ground, or they're snapped.

CABRERA: Wow. So do you have power?

BRITTAIN (voice-over): We have zero power on this island.

CABRERA: Zero. You too --

BRITTAIN (voice-over): I am at Polly's At The Pier right now which is my restaurant, I've got the generator on, we're making sandwiches for the firemen who are putting a fire out at the lottery building, a couple of doors down and then we're going to make other sandwiches to distribute to some of the workers around before we go back up because our food -- we've got to turn the generator off and everything's going to go bad anyway at this point.

CABRERA: And look at you, neighbors helping neighbors, always the good silver lining of situations like this, but it's got to be scary. There's got to be a little bit of panic I would think among people on the island when you have limited communications, no power, do you have running water?

BRITTAIN (voice-over): We have no running water in the towns, which uses city water and most of the houses use cisterns which is water that's collected from rainwater. So those houses are good until they run out of that water because all of our gutters have been ripped off of our houses, so we can't collect any more rainwater.

So the needs for our island right now is just like Puerto Rico, we need batteries, we need flashlights, we need generators, and we need water because as I had stated when I was on the air yesterday, is we have sent all of our supplies to St. Thomas and St. John because we were the hub for all rescue activity and all product going to them. So we -- the storm came so quick that we did not have time to resupply.

CABRERA: We heard from the spokesman of the governor in Puerto Rico that FEMA is on the ground that they feel like this administration has been very responsive to the needs of Puerto Rico. Do you have any sign of help there on the ground in St. Croix?

BRITTAIN (voice-over): Well, being in Frederiksted, which was hit worse, the roads are so blocked that very limited vehicles are able to come in. I've seen a few Humvees, the fire truck, which is in Frederiksted, it was able to make it to the fire. We've seen a couple police cars, but no clearing of roads. And it's really -- the community is the one who's doing this.

As I was walking to my house, I ran into some guys who work at a gravel pit at the end of the road and they had taken their heavy equipment and they were starting to clear the roads, coming back towards Frederiksted as far as they can, but now the power poles are blocking that access. So what we need is just power poles to be cut and moved to the side so they can clear these roads and we can go on with our activities. St. Croix is -- we know about this type of devastation.

It happened to us in the late '80s with Hugo. There was no power here for six months to a year. The good thing is, when St. Croix rebuilt in Hugo, a lot of the structures were built better, a lot of roofs that should have gone did not go because they had been rebuilt or, you know, put back on after Hugo. So, you know, the devastation of roofs is not as bad as we are seeing in some other places just because of what had happened before.

CABRERA: Well, it sounds like it could have been worse, but it's still not good nonetheless. Yeah. Chuck Brittain, and we really, really appreciate your time. Best of luck to you and to you and your neighbors and friends and family. Thank you so much for joining us.

BRITTAIN (voice-over): All right. Thank you so much.

CABRERA: Coming up for us, the desperate search for survivors after a monster earthquake rocked one of the biggest cities on the planet. Right now, crews in Mexico City are still trying to reach a 12-year- old --

[11:20:00]

CABRERA: -- girl, a survivor, still trapped inside the wreckage of a collapsed school. We'll take you there live. Plus, some major development in the escalating feud between the U.S. and North Korea. President Trump says he will announce new actions against Kim Jong- un's regime today and it could come any moment because just minutes from now, President Trump is scheduled to meet with the leader of South Korea. We will bring that to you as soon as it happens. Stay with us.

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CABRERA: I want to take you to Mexico now. A powerful earthquake leaving behind more death and devastation, but people in Mexico City are hanging on to a glimmer of hope that a 12-year-old girl trapped in the rubble of her school since Tuesday will be saved. Rescuers have been working nonstop. This is a delicate and desperate race against the clock.

A short time ago crews recovered the body of a school employee raising the death toll there to 26, just in that one school. Everyone hopes this girl will not be number 27.

[11:25:00]

CABRERA: I want to go to CNN'S Rosa Flores in Mexico City. And Rosa, at this time, yesterday, we were first hearing those reports that rescuers were trying to reach this young girl, but now another 24 hours have gone by, what's the latest?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, these rescue workers are still here. I talked to someone who worked for 36 hours straight on and he says that it's been an emotional rollercoaster because as soon as they find signs of life, then the mood is up, they are joyful, they are re-energized.

Then they hear that, like you mentioned, the 58-year-old woman who was recovered from the rubble, and then the mood plummets because they're working so hard and they're working for life. I want you to take a look at what's happening behind me right now because these rescue workers and these volunteers have been out here for hours unloading.

They've been unloading metal beams which is a new development here because we've seen them use wood to hold up the walls of the school to try to create tunnels through the crevices and the cracks of this building after it collapsed and now they're also trying to use metal beams. So that's a development that we've seen just in the past 30 minutes.

And the other thing that we've also seen multiple times is these rescue workers raising their hands, Ana, and creating a fist, and that is a good sign because rescue workers tell us that that means that there is some sign of life. So they're asking for silence. Everybody is quiet. You can hear a pin drop here when that happens.

We've seen it multiple times this morning and that, of course, hope for those parents that have this agonizing wait, who are waiting to hear if their children are safe.

CABRERA: I cannot imagine. Rosa Flores, we'll continue to watch your live shot and keep us posted. Thank you so much. If you would like to help the victims of the earthquake in Mexico or the people in the Caribbean and in the U.S. that are affected by these recent hurricanes, so many of us feel helpless, there is a way to make an impact.

Go to cnn.com/impact and that's where you can find out how you can make a difference. Coming up for us any moment now, President Trump will meet with the leader of South Korea after promising new actions against North Korea. We will bring that to you just as soon as it happens. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:30:00]