Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
Remembering Las Vegas Shooting Victims; Assessment of Administration's Puerto Rico Relief Efforts as Trump Heads to Puerto Rico; Trump Arrives in Puerto Rico; Rep. Nydia Velazquez Talks FEMA Relief in Puerto Rico. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired October 3, 2017 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:30:22] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He went out protecting Heather. That shows his true self in his last moments of life. He was protecting other people, like he would do every day. Sonny would bring the best out of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sonny Melton was just 29 years old. One of the 59 confirmed deaths from Sunday night's tragedy. He died when the gunman opened fire on the crowd attending the Las Vegas music festival. Sonny, we are told, was protecting the love of his life, Heather Melton, an orthopedic surgeon. Heather survived the tragedy. Sonny did not. And she described Sonny as her knight in shining armor. The college professors say he was a sweet and kind spirit who loved hunting and always went out of his way for others evident in Sonny's work as a registered nurse.
This is just one of the far too many heartbreaking stories of lives taken too soon.
CNN's Jason Carroll is joining me now.
You have been learning much more about some of the victims.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you hear about Sonny Melton or his wife, Heather, all of the names, the magnitude of the tragedy, has so much more impact when you see the faces of some of these victims. You learn more about who they were and the people who loved them.
Let's talk about Sandra Casey. She was 35 years old, a country music fan. She was also a middle school special education teacher. Casey was an alumna of the college of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vermont, and Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her family is planning to set up a scholarship in her name.
Another teacher, Jenny Parks. Parks was a kindergarten teacher for the Lancaster school district in southern California. Parks had gone to Vegas to visit her two brothers and go to the concert. Her family says, quote, "She was truly one of the most loving people you could ever hope to meet, someone who always went out of her way to help anybody."
Then there was Angie Gomez. She was a former cheerleader at Riverside Polytechnic High School, graduated two years ago. Her school wrote, "She will always be loved by our Poly family." Gomez's friends want everybody to know how much she was loved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VERONICA MADISON (ph), RELATIVE OF ANGIE GOMEZ: I know she had the time of her life this weekend and just knowing that her last weekend was spent doing what -- something she loved, listening to country music and being with the love of her life was -- I mean I'm OK with that, rather than something else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: Fifty-nine people killed, many more injured. Some still fighting for their lives. That number even more heartbreaking when you learn about their names, see their faces, hear about their stories, whether it be Sonny Melton or Sandra Casey or Jenny Parks or any of them. It's heartbreaking when you see the faces and just learn about the lives and the people who are now suffering because they're gone.
BOLDUAN: So much more than numbers and the number, though, is --
CARROLL: Barely scratches the surface of the story.
BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Beautiful lives lost way too soon.
Jason, thank you for focusing on those three.
We also, we've now CNN has identified 13 of the 59. There's a long way to go. Fifty-nine people killed in the mass shooting. We have identified 13. We want to make sure you hear all of their names and stories.
Rachel Parker, she served 10 years with the Manhattan Beach Police Department. She was off duty attending the concert.
Neysa Tonks, the mother of her sons, her brother saying I was proud I was her brother.
Carrie Barnett was a 10-year employee of Disney. The company's CEO paid tribute to her saying they "mourn a wonderful member of the Disney family."
Susan Smith was a big country music fan and office manager with the Simi Valley Unified School District for 16 years.
Bailey Schweizer was just 20 years old. A college student who also worked as a receptionist. Her boss said this, "That was only her official title. She was everything to us."
Jennifer Irvine was an attorney practicing criminal and family law. She enjoyed yoga, snowboarding, and had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Lisa Romero-Muniz was a secretary for the Gallup-McKinley County
Schools in New Mexico. 42 years old.
Rhonda Lerocque was from Massachusetts. Her mother describes her as "a truly great mother, wife, and daughter who loved Hawaii, Disney and country music."
[11:34:57] And Jordan McIldoon was from British Columbia. He worked as a mechanic at a construction company. And he was just 25 years old.
BOLDUAN: Any moment now, President Trump and the first lady be will landing in Puerto Rico, the president's first trip since Hurricane Maria walloped the U.S. territory just shy of two weeks ago now. He's set to meet with military, first responders, and those leading the relief efforts and those impacted by Hurricane Maria. He's also set to meet with the local officials and officials from the U.S. Virgin Islands also dealing with widespread and major devastation from not one but two hurricanes.
The president will have a chance to come face to face with the mayor of San Juan as well, a mayor the president has accused of playing politics in the aftermath and also slammed for poor leadership since the hurricane hit. This is also the same mayor who has been sleeping on a cot alongside her family and her constituents after the hit from Hurricane Maria.
As the president was leaving the White House this morning, he had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[11:40:15] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I'll tell you what, I think we've done just as good in Puerto Rico. And it's actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communication is starting to come back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Here's the latest update from the ground. 6.89 percent of customers in Puerto Rico have electricity, just under 7 percent. 40 percent have cell service. 45 percent have water and sewer services back up and running.
So let's go to the ground right now to Puerto Rico and our correspondents who have been covering every angle of the disaster and recovery.
CNN White House correspondent, Sara Murray, is at the air base where President Trump will land soon. And CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has been tracking the unfolding health crisis in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Sanjay, first to you.
I want to get your take from what you've seen on the ground. As we're -- as we're saying this, we're seeing Air Force One land as we speak. We will watch and wait for the president to come off the steps and see who greets him.
But, Sanjay, while waiting for that moment, give me your assessment of what you're seeing on the ground and the recovery and the efforts so far? The president says it's an A-plus response. Is it an A-plus response where you are?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's not an A- plus response. To be fair, in the aftermath of disasters like this, it's never an A-plus response. There are always people who go without, and certain populations that go without for too long. I'm talking basics, food, water, shelter and life-saving medications.
It's going to be interesting because here, in San Juan, you have had a more rapid rate of recovery as you might expect. It's a capital city. You can maybe hear in the background the generators, some of the work that's going on, trying to rebuild. You know, as you've heard many times, Kate, 15, 30 minutes an hour outside of San Juan it's a different story. Hospitals that may be up and running, but only have hours of fuel left. What do you do with that? Do you take in new patients? Can you care for the patients you have that well? The morgues are overflowing because it's hard to access these places. They can't communicate with the families some of whom live on the mainland. People who don't know their loved ones who have died who are in morgues right now. There are still many places that haven't received medications that are really important life-saving medications. I mean, these are people who are not necessarily affected by the hurricane, but now have been sort of forgotten and, you know, in these communities, where they can't get the medications they normally take, they don't have the conditions to help them survive. They're teetering on the edge already, Kate, and they could be pushed over. Those are the preventable deaths that people are so worried about.
I have seen private organizations, Project Hope, Direct Relief, a couple going in and doing incredible work, going into these places hard to access places where no one else has a been, door to door, treatment bags in hand, Kate, walking through flooded waters through the rain whatever it takes, to take care of people. Because that's what's necessary right now.
It's a tough environment. I hesitate to give it a grade of some sort. All I can tell you is there are people still suffering and that's where the attention and focus needs to be.
BOLDUAN: And that's what is so tough about when you are talking about a grade card, is that no matter what, there's still people suffering and that's where the focus really needs to lie as you're saying.
So, Sara, we're watching Air Force One, its taxiing. And landing -- just landed at the air base where you are. What exactly are we expecting? What is the president going to be seeing while he's on the ground in Puerto Rico? What's the plan today?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the president has landed at an airport that's separate from where we are. He's going to be headed over to this air base where the National Guard is located. This is where the president is going to get a briefing basically on the extent of the damage from the storm.
After that, he's going to be meeting with the governor of Puerto Rico as well as the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We're actually speak with the governor of Puerto Rico earlier today who said, look, I've printed photos of damage from across the island so he can try to give the president a better a better, a clearer understanding of the magnitude of destruction so he just doesn't see San Juan where, Sanjay said, restaurants are opening and the lights are coming back on and think that's indicative of the situation across the rest of the island because it isn't.
President Trump is going to be meeting with the mayor of San Juan. Obviously, they've had some harsh words for one another. But it's interesting, when you talk to people on the ground here about some of the things that the President Trump has had to say about the mayor, the president has had to say about Puerto Ricans need to do more to help themselves, the only thing we hear is they want President Trump to come here and understand that a lot more work needs to be done and they need help from the federal government. That's the message Puerto Ricans are hoping the president will leave with today.
[11:45:13] BOLDUAN: Sanjay, real quick, I just -- as you're spending time in Puerto Rico, I'm recalling how much time you spent in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastation there, and the immense U.S. effort that was on the ground to help the people of Haiti get back on their feet, from your view, is there a need for more federal response? Is there a need for more private organizations? Is it a need for local governments to step up? Do you see a direct line of where -- who needs to step up more?
GUPTA: Well, the private organizations, I think, have been doing a pretty incredible job. Many of them have been here since immediately after the hurricane.
GUPTA: I think that when it comes to these basics, setting up infrastructure -- again, I'll give you an example. There are many of these life-saving supplies, probably close to where Sara is now, at the airstrips and areas near the ports, some of the stuff exists on the island. It's here, these medications, and insulin and painkillers, I.V. antibiotics, I.V. fluids, things like that are needed in certain places. They're here. But they're not oftentimes with the people who need them. There is this disconnect, right? And there's lots of different reasons. I'm sure you've been hearing from other reporters, not enough trucks, not enough drivers, not enough fuel. I think the communication is a big part. You can't just pick up the phone and say, I need X, Y, Z, and someone will drive it over to you. That part that has been remarkably slow. Again, it's tough to compare timelines to other disasters, but it's been really slow. Even yesterday, I went to a hospital who said, look, we have a few hours of fuel left. We don't know if we're going to get any more fuel. They have 230 patients there. They have patients in the intensive care unit on ventilators. You don't know if you will have more fuel. What do you do? I mean, it's pulling your hair out. This isn't waiting for a hurricane anymore. This is the slow wave of continuous frustration that could lead to needless preventable deaths.
BOLDUAN: And fuel is the widespread concern, the largest concern right now of the general who is in charge of the military response effort. He said that this morning, that's his biggest concern.
Sara, real quick, finally to you, Sara, as we're waiting for the president to come off of Air Force One with the first lady, this -- this all kind of was lost in the past day because of the tragedy played out in Las Vegas. But over the weekend, that back and forth or more just kind of the forth coming from the president towards the mayor of San Juan, has the White House tried to walk that back? Has the president tried to explain that further? Are we expecting any kind of, I don't know, resolution to what has become kind of a nasty back and forth in the midst of an unfolding crisis when he's on the ground today?
MURRAY: Well, the White House did extend an invitation to the mayor of San Juan to join them for a briefing, and she has accepted. The president seemed to make some comments as he was leaving D.C. before he touched down here today, saying she seems to be saying nicer things now. So, look, I think both sides are sort of want to bury the hatchet here.
From the perspective of the mayor of San Juan the things she said were not necessarily critical of the president, specifically. They were critical of the government's response. Remember, she was dealing with a population here and dealing with a population across the island that is still struggling to get power, to get fresh water, to get communication services. So you can understand, from her perspective, and the perspective of the people she represents, of frustration. We are almost two weeks out from this storm and we're talking about less than 7 percent of people who have power. And it could be months and months until power is restored for many of these people. So I also think it's an opportunity for the mayor of San Juan to make the point to the president in person that this isn't a personal battle or a political battle. This is a humanitarian crisis.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Very important to see how that plays out.
Sara, thank you.
Sanjay, as Sara points out, we're just -- we're on two weeks now, almost, after the hurricane hit. And you wonder if there's a second wave of crisis coming, if power doesn't get back up, fuel to the hospitals doesn't get there. You talked about the needless deaths that are there. But if the -- if Waste Management doesn't get to pick up trash and the cleanup, all of the second wave of a crisis that could be unfolding, how big of a concern is that right now on the ground? [11:49:52] GUPTA: I think it's the biggest concern, Kate, certainly
among the private organizations. I was really struck. I went to this place near the center of the island just outside of the Ciales, the central part of Puerto Rico, and the hospital that would typically service that area -- I was with the doctors there, and I said, I'm surprised that I don't see more patients. They are not just completely filled waiting rooms. They have some 200 patients, but I expected more. They said, look, we think that many of these people have not even made it out of their communities yet. They have been unable to get out. It's a risk-reward relationship. They are hurt and in need of medications and trying to rebuild the community a little bit. Those people are the ones who are teetering on the edge and likely to start gradually increasing the numbers at the hospitals and clinics. You will likely see that second wave. People who have been affected by the hurricane, maybe not directly, but that this is the critical time for that. Sort of that two-week window, two to three-week window. This is where it's going to be important for either people to get to the hospitals or, again, as I mentioned, people literally getting out of the hospitals and out of the clinics and out of their cars, because cars can't go, treatment bags in hand, and walking down the flooded streets and going to people's homes and knocking on doors. Sometimes they are bedridden and saying, look, we have supplies, we have things to help. Again, there is amazing organizations doing that kind of work. But it's not coordinated and doesn't feel consistent. You don't know when it's going to arrive. You don't know when it's going to come back. That's the real concern.
BOLDUAN: Sanjay, thank you for everything you're doing on the ground. I know everyone there is appreciative. Your effort as well bringing the stories.
Sara Murray is also standing by as the president and first lady are just getting off Air Force One. I'm trying to take a look and on the ground in Puerto Rico. That might be Jeffrey Buchanan that the president just shook hands with, the lieutenant general in charge of the military relief effort on the ground in Puerto Rico. First lady is there. And I couldn't tell, that might have been the governor meeting him at the bottom of the stairs at Air Force One. We'll see if the president makes any remarks as he makes his way. And we'll be following the president all along as he travels through Puerto Rico. What he sees, who he speaks with, and we will bring you all of these moments live and, hopefully, the picture clears up so we can bring everything more clearly.
As we are watching the pictures play out, let me bring in New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House of Representatives. She's back here with me.
As a reminder, last time we spoke, it's important to point out, Congresswoman, Maria made landfall right near your hometown. And you have family there.
I am looking at the images of the president and the first lady making their way as they land in Puerto Rico. What do you want the president to see while he is on the ground today? REP. NYDIA VELAZQUEZ, (D), NEW YORK: Well, I would like for him to
travel to the most-remote areas so that he can see firsthand the vast destruction and devastation that has taken place in Puerto Rico. And these will give him an opportunity to really focus on a strong response and providing the resources that the people of Puerto Rico, resilient American citizens can do in order to rebuild Puerto Rico.
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, what is your assessment? You had been on the island after the hurricane. You have family on the island. What is your assessment? The president gave himself a grade this morning as he was heading on to marine one. If you need to tell me something, you feed to repeat yourself, control room. You were not satisfied when we last spoke. Are you more satisfied now with the federal response?
VELAZQUEZ: No, I'm not. First of all, they are playing catch up because of the many days where we really didn't see relief operations in place. Given the magnitude of the disaster. I would just now meet with federal officials from FEMA at the office of Nancy Pelosi. We continue to raise the issue of the disconnect that exists between the manpower that is there, the fact that this is an island sitting in a big ocean, and it's not very easy to provide what they need and transporting the diesel and the fuel to some of the remote areas so that we can keep those hospitals providing the services and attending the needs of the people that are ill.
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, I want to play for you -- I'm not sure if you've heard it -- here's one of the messages that came from President Trump. Listen to this.
We don't have that sound byte. I will read it. He said, when asked about the response on the ground, he said, "We need their truck drivers. So at a local level they need to give us more help.
I think now we have the sound bye. Let's try again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that. At a local level, they have to give us more help."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: On a local level, they have to give us more help. Do you agree, Congresswoman?
[11:55:36] VELAZQUEZ: Totally disagree with the president. By listening to that statement, it shows me the disconnect that exists between the president understanding of the level of destruction and the devastation. We don't have the power grid. How can people get -- and telephone and communication powers down? How is it that truck drivers will get the information as to the need for them to show up? Then what we have in Puerto Rico right now is that most of the people there are in a mode of surviving, attending to their families. Many of the bridges were swept away. Many of the roads still are obstructed. They can't drive. They don't have fuel. There is no gasoline. That disconnect, this is why we need it given the fact that it's an island. And it's not like Texas that you can bring truck drivers from other states. We needed a larger presence in a proactive way prior to the storm hitting Puerto Rico and after the storm made landfall. We need that type of --
BOLDUAN: One of the things playing out -- over the weekend, and we will see what happens into today -- is the president's criticism of San Juan's mayor and her response and criticism of him over the weekend. You were very angry over the president's criticism of the San Juan mayor. You called his tweets outrageous and un-presidential when he pointed to such poor leadership on the part of the mayor. What do you say today? They extended an invitation and she is likely to meet with him today.
VELAZQUEZ: Of course. This is about the people of Puerto Rico. This is not about the mayor. And this is not about the president. This is about a lack of response, comprehensive response. It's having all the steps that were need knowing that it was a hurricane category 5 or 4. The lack of response and preparation prior to that storm making landfall was not the responsibility of the government of Puerto Rico, nor the mayor of San Juan.
BOLDUAN: Do you think that the back and forth or the bad blood between the president and the mayor, do you think that is hampering response?
VELAZQUEZ: Look, we need to move forward. I hope that this visit will help the president keep focused on the work at hand. We need to make the people of Puerto Rico whole again, American citizens. The people of Puerto Rico need to hear that this president is as committed as President Bush. When President Bush visited New Orleans, he said, we are going to rebuild New Orleans better than it was. That's what I expect to hear from our president. He is expected to rebuild Puerto Rico better than it was.
BOLDUAN: Finally, you had not been able to get in touch with your family in Puerto Rico. How is your family doing?
VELAZQUEZ: Not too well. This is taking an emotional toll on them. For a whole seven days, I didn't hear from my sifter, and I was really concerned. I learned yesterday that the tower she was using on the highway to connect is not there, it's not working any more. Now she has to travel an hour and 20 minutes to make a phone call.
BOLDUAN: Congresswoman Velazquez, thank you so much for coming on. We wish your family the very best --
VELAZQUEZ: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: -- as part of a large and long road to recovery in Puerto Rico.
We wait to see what the president will say today as he is in Puerto Rico for the first time in the aftermath.
Thank you so much, Congresswoman. Appreciate your time.
VELAZQUEZ: Thank you for having me.
BOLDUAN: Much more on the president's visit to Puerto Rico, as well as the devastating aftermath of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, will continue right now with John King on "INSIDE POLITICS."