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Hurricane Irma Slams Caribbean, Florida Braces; Trump Deals with Democrats; Seoul: Expect North Korea to Launch ICBM. Aired 4:30- 5a ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:03] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A storm so powerful it has flattened an island, left smashed the instruments trying to measure it, left meteorologists out of adjectives to describe it. Irma barreling toward south Florida where the Miami mayor calls it a nuclear hurricane.

EARLY START's coverage from Florida and Puerto Rico is just moments away.

And the president finally strikes a deal, although it was with Democrats. His own party shell-shocked, forced to accept Democratic terms to raise the debt ceiling. That was a shocker for members of his own party.


BRIGGS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes, almost 31 minutes past the hour.

Let's start with this monster hurricane this morning. Irma taking aim at Florida after leaving a trail of destruction in the Caribbean. Right now, Irma remains a very strong, catastrophic category-five hurricane, 180-mile-per-hour winds as it moves along the northern end of the Dominican Republic.

Now, before it reaches the U.S. mainland, territories and islands in the Atlantic are battered. The death toll rising. Nine people now killed in the storm. That number, of course, expected to keep climbing.

BRIGGS: According to the U.N., Hurricane Irma could impact as many as 37 million people. Puerto Rico may have avoided a direct hit, but the governor telling CNN there is some pretty significant damage as rain and powerful winds lash the island. More than one million customers are now without power in Puerto Rico.

ROMANS: At least eight people died. Two others seriously injured on the islands of St. Barts and St. Maarten. Those who rode out the storm there describe paradise lost.


LOREN ANN MAYO, RESIDENT (via telephone): It's horrible. It's awful. This island was beautiful. It was a tropical paradise.

It's awful. I mean, roofs have blown off. There are cars damaged and flipped over. Back windows ripped out and bumpers ripped out. Everything's an absolute disaster, yes.


BRIGGS: Hurricane Irma blamed for the death of an infant on the Caribbean island of Barbuda where officials say more than 90 percent of its structures have been damaged or destroyed. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, says the island is, quote, literally rubble and barely inhabitable.


GASTON BROWNE, PRIME MINISTER, ANTIGUA & BARBUDA (via telephone): It was heart wrenching, absolutely devastating. I have never seen any such destruction on a per-capita basis compared to what I say in Barbuda this afternoon. The infrastructure was damaged, all of the institutions, the lone hospital, the schools. It is absolutely heart- wrenching.


ROMANS: Prime Minister Browne estimates the damage on Barbuda where some 1,800 people live, by the way, the damage estimated to be at least $100 million. The storm wiped out the telecommunications system there. And there is no water or phone service.

Now, Hurricane Irma has maintained winds of at least 180 miles an hour, longer -- maintained those winds for longer than any storm in Atlantic history.

BRIGGS: All right. So, let's bring in CNN's George Howell. He is live in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

George, more than a million customers, as we mentioned, without power, more than 56,000 without water. Can you describe what it was like to ride out this storm?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a hellish night, Dave, just to talk about the strong, the intensity of the storm that came some 40 to 50 miles, close to the north shore of this U.S. territory. We understand the damage, as you pointed out, a million people, customers without power. That's 70 percent of customers without power, and 56,000 people without water.

A lot of the damage, though, from this storm will have to be assessed by the light of day. We expect to hear from the governor, Ricardo Rossello, a little later today. A 7:00 a.m. news conference to talk about Puerto Rico after the storm.

But again, there is a sense of relief here that this island did dodge a bullet. Still, very strong storm.

Here's what the governor had to say earlier about what he felt of the storm. Listen.


GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO (via telephone): The winds that we're experience -- we're experiencing right now like nothing we have experienced before. They are very severe. You know, it's getting -- they're getting harsher right now in San Juan. And we've already seen some of the damage that not even, you know, the part that's connected to the center of the storm has hit in the northeast part of the island.


HOWELL: So, that's the thing -- this storm so intense -- and you hear that from the governor. I can tell you anecdotally, Dave, that, you know, I've covered hurricanes like this, but this was particularly intense. And we weren't even close to the center of the storm.

[04:35:01] So, that -- if that's any indication for people who may be on the fence about whether to evacuate or whether to wait until the last minute, you know, certainly, I urge you to listen to your officials there, take precautions. This is a storm unlike any that has been seen before. And it is moving toward the United States at this point.

BRIGGS: All right. George Howell live for us in San Juan, Puerto Rico -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Right now, Irma is one of three hurricanes churning in the Atlantic with Jose and Katia behind it. It's the first time since 2007 three Atlantic hurricanes have been active at the same time.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the latest for us.

What can you tell us about these storms together here?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know, well, Katia looks like it will be in the Gulf working its way towards Mexico. It is actually Jose that -- I want to touch on because Jose looks to be potentially a major hurricane. Could impact Barbuda, eventually work its way towards Anguilla by Saturday morning if the models verify.

So, back behind us, another hurricane could impact this region that was just so hard hit. Beyond that, it would begin a right turn, turning toward the Atlantic.

But I want to touch on Irma now, because still sitting there as a significant, as an impressive category-five hurricane, seeing a little bit of satellite degradation with it as it's interacted with land over the last several hours. And notice the models would take it right over Turks and Caicos, latter on today, you see more of a wobble, and I use the analogy of putting a top on a table. If there's some imperfection, you begin to see that top wobble around. And that gives us some potential of this storm seeing maybe a little bit of weakening. But it is such a well-organized storm that even if it weakens a little, quite a bit, it might remain a category five or best case to a category four.

So, here's what we're looking at with significant storm surge, as much as two stories high in some areas that have very little elevation to work with. So, the scenes that are playing out across some of the islands like Barbuda could play out, back toward Turks and Caicos. Look at this region right here when you go for a closer look, there's the center of the storm later on today. There we go. Some 40 islands dotting the region that are essentially just coral islands sitting right at sea level. Some of the beaches, you could walk out 40 to 50 feet in ankle-deep water. So, that's how shallow the limestone area and crest here is off the region.

So, here we go. Notice we think the storm will begin to push in towards Cuba on Saturday, with the significant right turn, the steering currents and the atmosphere have consistently indicated. But beyond that is where some discrepancy begins to enter. Some of the models now, a few take it into Cuba. The vast majority even avoid Cuba, keeping it over the Caribbean, the entire duration of the storm with that hard right turn, and then push it right up toward the east coast of Florida.

There are plenty that want to take it toward Miami on Sunday morning. Plenty that want to keep it offshore. So, at this point, three to four days out, typically an average of 175 miles in a track. So, if you're in Florida, in south Florida, somebody tells you it's not coming to this side of the state, they do not know what they're calking about, because with these tropical features, they can vary, they wobble, they do not travel on a straight line, and that's the concern with this.

They could easily end up on the western side of the state as opposed to the eastern side of the states. So, it is best that if you think you live in an area that is going to be impacted by this or if officials tell you it is, you need to get out of the path of the storm system.

So, here with this. There is a trough of offshore. That trough lifts unfortunately little too soon and pushes out towards the northeastern United States, which is why we think this storm will get uncomfortably close towards Florida. Had this stayed put as it is this hour, it would begin to push the storm off shore. But at this point, it doesn't look like any window is left for the storm to not impact Florida, whether it be directly or indirectly.

Now, look at these models. We have the American model in red, the European model in blue. Incredible agreement on these models here going in even three days out of their location. So, somewhere into the Caribbean, both models wanting to take it in, away from Cuba, with one of them being the European. Historically, the more reliable one, bringing it closer to land if not impacting land on Sunday morning near Miami, while the secondary one depicted here would take it offshore. That would keep it a strong hurricane potentially as it goes up toward the Carolinas.

So, this will play out in, I think, within the next 24 to 36 hours. We'll have a far better idea of that final area. But as you see, the agreement is very sobering as far as where we think this storm could be on Sunday morning, guys.

ROMANS: You know, Pedram, I just have -- I'm just reminded of, you know, the long time it's been since Hurricane Andrew, 25 years. There's a whole generation of Floridians who have never seen a storm this strong.

JAVAHERI: Absolutely. One thing I want to point out -- I looked into how many tropical storms, hurricanes have formed ever in the Atlantic and also in the eastern Pacific since 1851. That's when records began.

And, guys, there's 2,600 storms formed, 32 have reached the category five. Zero have been as strong as Irma has for as long as Irma has retained this intensity of 180 miles an hour or more.

So, when you put Andrew in there, certainly, Andrew is one of those 32. Irma is much stronger than Andrew was at this point.

[04:40:01] BRIGGS: That's some great perspective. Hopefully, that generation Christine was referring to learned from Hurricane Harvey and what happened to Houston. Pedram, thanks so much for that perspective.

ROMANS: Heed those warnings.

BRIGGS: Yes. Get out if you can.

Irma prompting new mandatory evacuations in Florida. Governor Rick Scott pleading with people to abide.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I cannot stress this enough -- do not ignore evacuation orders. Remember, we can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.


BRIGGS: More on what Florida is doing to prepare for Irma, next.



SCOTT: It's important to not focus on the exact path of the storm. A storm of this size could have effect statewide, and everyone must be prepared.


BRIGGS: Florida Governor Rick Scott warning everyone in his state to prepare for Irma's fury. The National Hurricane Center says hurricane watches will likely be issued for parts of Florida and the Keys, the Florida peninsula today.

[04:45:05] American Airlines canceling nearly 2,200 flights today through Monday, with operations winding down Friday afternoon in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, and West Palm Beach. Orlando International also announcing all commercial flights will cease at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday.

ROMANS: So, right now, there are mandatory evacuation orders in effect for coastal areas of Miami-Dade County, parts of Broward County, and all of Monroe County. As the monster storm moves closer to the Florida coast, more evacuations are expected.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Miami for us.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Dave, evacuations are underway, and you can measure the concern in Floridians' minds by the amount of gas and water that's available out there. Throughout Miami and in Florida, water at many stores, whether it was a Walgreens, or a Target, or a Walmart, or Publix supermarket, completely out. They say they are getting more in the hours and days ahead.

In Walmart's case, they are pulling from distribution centers as far away as Nevada to get water to stores here in Florida.

Gas also in short supply. Some people waiting up to two hours for gas. This is one shell station on U.S. 1. I can still see a line, though.

It's about a 45-minute to an hour wait now at this gas station. Goes this way and comes this way on U.S. 1.

Speaking of U.S. 1, this is U.S. 1 headed southbound, the opposite lane, that's northbound. Almost no traffic on it now, but it's been a steady flow of traffic for much of the day as people start to evacuate Monroe County. That is the Keys in Florida. Already under a mandatory evacuation order for shelters in Miami already open. Clearly, this area bracing for a major, major storm -- Dave, Christine.


BRIGGS: Miguel Marquez there for us, thank you, my friend.

It's been a long time since Floridians have seen something like this storm. Irma has been packing up -- has them packing up and heading north, fearful of what this monster may have in store.

Kyung Lah in Homestead, Florida, with more.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, as Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, there are mandatory evacuations overnight in Miami-Dade County. We're standing in one of the areas impacted, Homestead, Florida. And we came here to this particular mobile home park because during

Hurricane Andrew, this park was almost completely destroyed. Many people lost their homes.

And we met here Edward Collins. He was packing up his white car. He was stuffing everything he owns, everything that's inside his mobile home into that car. He says he is driving north because he is, quote, beyond scared. He wants to completely get out of the state.

Now, we did see other preparations across the city of Miami. We saw sandbags being handed over to people, people who waited in line for more than an hour just to try to get some sandbags to try to keep water out of their homes. And in Miami Beach, we saw metal plates being put up against glass. Businesses hoping that these metal plates will protect them against the surge at the beach. The storm surge is a major, major concern -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Kyung Lah, in Homestead, Florida, for us.

High costs for Hurricane Irma even before the storm has made landfall in Florida. Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have all announced cancellations due to the hurricane. Those stocks have dropped 4 percent because of the disruptions. The companies promise full refunds for cruises or partial credits for trips that have been shortened.

The Florida citrus industry bracing for this. The experts -- experts are saying the damage could force some growers into bankruptcy. The problem until now has not been storms but a disease known as citrus greening. It is spread by an insect and leaves fruits green, bitter, and unstable.

As a result, Florida orange production has declined by about 50 percent in just the last five years. So, this is insult to injury there. Corporate America already stepping up to help residents. Walmart says it is deploying 1,300 semi truckloads of bottled water to Florida and set up a command center at its Arkansas headquarters.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, after months of throwing insults at Democrats, President Trump is in deal-making mode with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. The agreement they made on spending, the debt, and Harvey relief that has Republicans shell-shocked.


[04:54:04] HERERA: So, President Trump will return to Camp David Friday with his entire cabinet. They are expected to tackle the widening nuclear crisis in North Korea and tax reform. Funding the government also front and center after the president stunned Republican leaders by cutting a deal with Democrats on a short-term debt ceiling increase.

BRIGGS: The agreement funds the government and gets Hurricane Harvey relief money flowing. But by siding with the Democrats, the president infuriated Republicans and gave Democrats all the leverage here. One GOP senate aide telling CNN the move killed any hope of any hope of the president advancing the agendas this year.

Ryan Nobles has more from Capitol Hill.



There was a breakthrough here on Capitol Hill Wednesday, but it was not necessarily the breakthrough that we expected. Donald Trump striking a deal primarily with the Democrats. What he's essentially said is that the Senate and the House will pass a package that will provide the much-needed aid to the hurricane-ravaged sections of Texas and Louisiana, but at the same time, pass a continuing resolution that will keep the budget funded and take care of the debt ceiling.

[04:55:13] It's a short-term fix that will only take three months.

And while Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he and his caucus will go along with the plan, there are several Republicans who are a little leery. So far, it is just a small group of Senate Republicans who said they will not support this package, likely not enough to keep it from passing, but it does show that there are some cracks in the Republican Congress as they try and push forward on some of the big- ticket issue items that are still on the agenda.

And while it is likely that this Harvey aid package will pass both the Senate and the House, it essentially just pushes off many of these big decisions on the budget and the debt ceiling to December.

In fact, it will be right around the time that Congress is ready to go home for the Christmas holiday -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks for that, Ryan.

South Korea now says it expects North Korea to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday. The South Korean prime minister told a meeting of defense ministers the situation is grave, and he expects another launch marking this weekend's anniversary of the day North Korea was founded.

BRIGGS: Also overnight, Russian President Vladimir Putin with some harsh words for President Trump on the North Korea crisis. Putin said inflating military hysteria is counterproductive and asked, quote, why are you playing along with it? He says Pyongyang is counting on a specific reaction, and they're getting it.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning. Stocks futures in the U.S. falling this morning, but stock markets in Europe and Asia mostly higher. Investors encouraged by President Trump's debt ceiling deal. But those worries about North Korea and the economic effects of the hurricanes still lingering here. Facebook telling congressional investigators it sold political ads

during the presidential election to a so-called Russian "troll farm" that was looking to target American voters. Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos says a review found 470 inauthentic accounts bought roughly 3,000 ads from the summer of 2015 through spring 2017. The costs, about $100,000.

The ads were both traditional and sponsored posts that were intended to sow discord among voters by amplifying decisive social and political messages, that's according to Facebook. Those range from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights. We can't show the ads because Facebook has not released them.

All right. Pop quiz -- what do you do if you're a billionaire and there's a category-five hurricane barreling toward your private island? You hunker down in your wine cellar. Billionaire Richard Branson sent out this tweet from his home on Necker Island. Quote: expecting full force of Hurricane Irma in about four hours. Will retreat to a concrete wine cellar under the house.

After the storm passed, his son posted that everyone was OK, but the storm destroyed some buildings on the property. He warns those in Irma's path not to take this hurricane lightly.

BRIGGS: Would we expect anything less of Sir Richard Branson? Absolutely not.

ROMANS: When I saw that, I was nervous. A wine cellar underground, storm surge, didn't sound like a very good idea to me.


ROMANS: But sounds like everyone is OK.

BRIGGS: But a Branson-esque handling of a hurricane.


BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest projections for Hurricane Irma.


ROMANS: A storm so powerful it has flattened an island, smashed the instruments trying to measure it, left meteorologists out of adjectives to describe it. Irma barreling toward south Florida where the Miami mayor has called it a nuclear hurricane.

A new update from the National Hurricane Center just moments away.

BRIGGS: And the deal-making president finally strikes a deal, albeit with Democrat leaders. Now Trump's own party is shell-shocked, forced to accept Democratic terms to raise the debt ceiling. He did promise he makes great deals.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. ROMANS: And Democrats are -- Republicans saying, what's the deal?

BRIGGS: Yes, Democrats agree.

ROMANS: What's the deal?

I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, September 7th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with this monster hurricane, Irma, taking aim at Florida after it left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean. Right now, Irma remains a very strong category five hurricane. This is a rare, rare storm here. It's packing a 180-mile-an-hour winds as it moves along the northern end of the Dominican Republic.

Before it reaches the U.S. mainland, territories and islands out in the Atlantic have been battered. The death toll rising overnight, nine people now killed in the storm. That number expected to climb.