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Maria Pummels Dominican Republic; Death Toll Climbing in Mexico; Republicans Plan Health Care Vote; Young Girl Struck By Foul Ball at Yankees Game. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Maria regaining strength, now back to a dangerous category 3. Conditions deteriorating right now at this hour in Dominican Republic. And Puerto Rico wakes up 100 percent without power. We have reporters in San Juan and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: In Mexico City, a rush to save a little girl trapped under rubble from Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

[05:00:04] That rescue obligation ongoing as the death toll rises to 230.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obamacare is a disaster. It's a wreck. It's a train wreck, and it's only getting worse.


ROMANS: President Trump pushing Republicans to overhaul Obamacare again as the Senate plans for a vote as early as next week. Does this bill have a chance? And how many more uninsured Americans would be left in its wake?

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Clock's ticking on that one, less than 10 days to get done. I'm Dave Briggs. It's Thursday, September 21st. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East. It's also 5:00 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 4:00 a.m. in Mexico City, where they are digging through the rubble.

But we start in Puerto Rico, plunged into darkness and despair by Hurricane Maria, 100 percent of the island nation without power this morning. Hurricane Maria's category 4 winds devastating Puerto Rico's power grid, which could be knocked out for several months.

At least one person killed by debris with authorities admitting the number of casualties in some areas remains unknown. The government completely disconnected from the southeast part of the island with no communications.

New images this morning from the island of Dominica, Hurricane Maria hitting that island with category five force. Fourteen people confirmed dead. Hundreds of homes on the island flattened. This normally lush landscape, as you can see, stripped bare.

ROMANS: A grim scene as well in St. Croix. President Trump declaring a major disaster, ordering federal aid to supplement recovery efforts.

Let's begin in Puerto Rico, where people are waking up this morning to this warning the National Weather Service. Puerto Rico is now completely under a flash flood warning. If possible, move to higher ground now.

That is a frightening, frightening admission that there is more, more danger to come.

CNN's Nick Valencia from San Juan this morning.


Communication continues to be an issue. Our social media accounts are filled with requests from people outside of Puerto Rico, asking us for help to get in touch with their family members. But they may have to wait a very long time before any of that happens. The governor here, Governor Ricardo Rossello saying that the state-run power company has just been wrecked, leaving the country 100 percent without power.

Those that do have power like us here in this hotel are being powered off a generator. We're the lucky ones though. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands that aren't so lucky.

Meanwhile, weather continues to be a factor. That weather system, the core of the hurricane has passed over us but those outer bands continue to affect us. We've seen thunder, we've seen lightning, flash flood warning is also in effect for the entire island.

Now, we understand why the governor was so concerned about flooding. We saw that firsthand yesterday when our news crew ventured into the elements, to try to understand the scope of the devastation. In and around San Juan, we tried to get out, but it took us about an half and a half to go a few miles.

And part of the problem was the flooding. Those highways, interstate 26 to get out of San Juan was inundated with water, downed trees, downed power lines, polls, making it very complicated to try to travel outside of here. There's also a curfew still in effect, according to the governor, that will be lifted in about an hour from now and go back into effect tonight. That, of course, is for the safety of the residents who are still dealing here with so much -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Valencia in San Juan, thank you. Keep us up to speed.

BRIGGS: All right. Hurricane Maria also pummeling the eastern Dominican Republic. The storm is still packing destructive category three winds, flooding and dangerous storm surge, a huge concern at this hour.

CNN's Polo Sandoval live from Punta Cana with the very latest. Polo, are you seeing there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, those winds certainly have now let up here, though the eye of the storm is off the coast here of Punta Cana. I can tell you we continue to see those wicked winds, because we're so close to a building, we're not being tossed around but if we were standing out there, you can only imagine what we'd be facing.

What's interesting here is these palm trees have been whipped around by the wind, when you look at the trunks, only half of them or at least half the trunk is wet. The other is dry. That shows you how these winds are just pushing these sheets of rain sideways here.

What does that mean for locals? Obviously people are hunkered down right now. Nobody has been coming out. We haven't seen any signs of life. People are certainly listening to officials and choosing to simply stay indoors.

Now, as for tourists, there are thousands of them that are essentially stranded here. They ended up in shelters or some of these hotels. They certainly hope that they may, again I use the word may, be able to fly back home later this afternoon. Authority expect to reopen around lunchtime, but really, it's all up to the weather which at this point those conditions continue to deteriorate as the storm continues to skirt past Hispaniola -- guys.

[05:05:03] BRIGGS: All right, Polo. Stay safe. We'll check with you in about 30 minutes.

ROMANS: All right. For the latest on Hurricane Maria's path and a potential threat to the eastern United States, let's go live to CNN weather center and bring in meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

What are your magic maps showing you?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, the updates have come in from the National Hurricane Center. They're saying the storm is remaining a category 3.

Look at the eye, guys, the eyes sits at 46 miles wide. The island across Puerto Rico 35 miles wide at its widest point. So, it literally could swallow up Puerto Rico and it shows how expansive the storm system is, beginning to regenerate.

National Hurricane Center says it could intensify with the next couple of days here, as the environment it's in. Water temperatures warm. The sheer above the storm is nonexistent.

So, we're watching the storm system as it pushes away and still producing tremendous rainfall on the backside of this to where the entire island underneath a flash flood warning. What does mean? It means flooding is imminent or occurring island wide. Officials saying get to high ground if you can. We know 60 percent of the island is mountainous in nature. Of course, that exacerbates the problem here as far as squeezing out any last moisture associated with the storm system.

Models in the last run in better agreement here as far as where the storm system will end up. We still think 400 to 500 offshore of the eastern United States. Ands in the later portion of that track, still high confidence it will want to shift away to the east. Notice, it remains a major hurricane category 3 at least through early Sunday morning before we enter cooler waters and introduce some additional sheer about this storm. That will cause it to weaken. Temps in the waters could drop down into the upper 70s.

And, guys, I was just looking at this, a disaster modeling group here analyzes the amount of damage left behind from any given storm, they analyzed, estimated $40 billion to $50 billion for Harvey. They're saying across Puerto Rico with the storm, $30 billion, including the U.S. Virgin Islands in Puerto Rico, $30 billion in economic lost.

I know you were just talking moments ago about the $70 billion in debt, the territory is in. Yes, it's not good news.

ROMANS: Just a tough situation all around. All right. Pedram Javaheri, thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: All right. A couple of national disasters unfortunately, now to the tragedy unfolding in Mexico, following Tuesday's deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake. The death toll climbing to 245, with the government declaring three days of mourning. Over 50 people have been rescued alive. Search teams still digging through the rubble of a collapsed elementary school where at least 21 children lost their lives.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Ed Lavandera in Mexico City.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the frantic search for survivors inside that collapsed school building here in the heart of Mexico City continues. You can see the legion of volunteers that have shown up here on the streets, just surrounding this school, bringing supplies that those rescue workers just a block away might need to get through the evening. Also here moments like this when they urge everybody to be quiet so they can hear what is going on inside that rubble.

I was up close to that building several hours ago, earlier in the day, and it was amazing just to be that close. It really gives you the sense of just a profound impact and what a horrific scene it must be for those rescue workers crawling and channeling their way, trying to make some sort of tunnel, some sort of path to get to those people they believe are still trapped alive inside of that building.

If they can pull somebody out alive, it will be one of these few bright spots in this horrific tragedy that has hit this country of Mexico so strongly, a glimmer of hope to pull out a young child from here. This is definitely one of the stories that has impacted the people of the city and around the world.

That search continues -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: They're just -- in anguish. Anguish night for all.

BRIGGS: Waiting on perhaps the worst news of your life.

ROMANS: All right. Nine minutes past the hour. Republicans moving full steam ahead on the plan to overall Obamacare, but the bill is already facing fierce bipartisan criticism.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: This is like the ping pong game on health care, and the losers in a game like that are the people.



[05:13:18] ROMANS: The latest now on the Republicans last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is apparently ready to bring the measure to the Senate floor as early as next week, despite some push- backs from four key colleagues. Right now, Senator Rand Paul is a firm no on Graham-Cassidy. And Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, have all expressed concerns. If three of those four Republicans vote no, the bill is dead.

ROMANS: President Trump firing up the twitter account targeting that's right Paul, the most vocal critic of the plan. The president says, quote, Rand Paul is a friend of mine but he is such a negative force when it comes to fixing health care. Graham-Cassidy bill is great, ends Obamacare.

The White House is hoping Senator Graham's close relationship with Senator McCain will help get the measure passed.

But with each tick of the clock, opposition to Graham-Cassidy intensifies. Blue Cross Blue Shield, the American Medical Association, AARP, and the American Cancer Society Action Network, among the latest advocacy groups to reject this bill.

Let's go live to Washington and bring in CNN's political reporter Tal Kopan.

So nice to see you this morning. Thanks for coming by.

And I want to just bring something that my moment state Senator Chuck Grassley said yesterday that gotten an awful lot of attention. He was on a conference call with Iowa reporters and said this, Tal, which I think is just -- he's just revealing the truth to his Iowa journalists.

You know, I can maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's pretty much as much of the reason as the substance of the bill.

[05:15:02] Tal, that's saying this is politics, not policy.

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: You could interpret it that way, certainly. I mean, you could also interpret as, you know, Republicans feel like voters sent them to Washington to do this broadly, and it's up to them to work out the details. So, that may be driving it.

But, yes, we are in a situation where at the beginning of the year, Republicans passed a measure that procedurally allows them to pass a bill with only 50 in the Senate. To do that, they have to act before the budget runs out on September 30th, and so they're rushing to the finish line with the bill that most people hadn't even read as of a couple weeks ago. And so, it is a remarkable display of how our Congress works or doesn't, depending on your perspective, and that's why you're seeing some very honest reactions from Republicans who don't seem to like it, but feel like time is running out and they want to take their last best shot as they see it.

BRIGGS: Yes, it wasn't the brilliant break through that led to this. It was really the calendar.

KOPAN: Yes, right.

BRIGGS: So, unfortunately, secondarily, we get to the policy of this, which is now seeming to be between Bill Cassidy, a senator, and physician, and a late night comedian, Jimmy Kimmel on the Jimmy Kimmel test.


BRIGGS: So, Cassidy, yesterday on NEW DAY confirmed that in his words, this bill does pass the Kimmel test and Jimmy fired back last night. Listen to both.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I'm sorry he does not understand. Under Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson, more people will have coverage and we protect those with preexisting conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, there will be billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those states who have been passed by, by Obamacare and we protect those with preexisting conditions.

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: I get it. I don't understand because I'm a talk show host, right? Well, then help me out. Which part don't I understand? Is it the part you cut $243 billions from federal health care assistance?

Am I not understanding the part where states would be allowed to let insurance companies price you out of coverage for having preexisting conditions? Maybe I don't understand the part of your bill in which federal funding disappears completely after 2026. Or maybe it was the part where the plans are no longer required to pay for essential health benefits like maternity care or pediatric visits?


BRIGGS: Tal, is this how the debate will be framed moving forward and if so, who comes out on top?

KOPAN: Yes. I mean, Jimmy Kimmel has given Democrats and opponents of this bill a remarkable gift with his ability to put in terms their concerns about the bill as well. And, you know, Cassidy keeps pointing to a provision of the bill where he says, if states want to waiver some of these things, they have to provide adequate and affordable insurance.

The problem is, as we know, when politicians point to language like that in legislation, it's interpretation is what matters, not, you know, necessarily the plain language. And you could certainly conceive a situation where HHS or whoever's enforcing that piece of the bill, health and human services department, would see many things as affordable and adequate. I mean, that's not a very strong standard.

And so, that's where some of the dispute is. That's what Cassidy points to as preserving preexisting conditions. But the truth is this bill gives wide latitude to states, and even if some states get more money, many states do not. That is really where the concern lies.

In fact, one Republican said the bill concerned him because he thought blue states do pass single-payer under it. So, that gives you a sense of how much latitude it gives to the individual states to figure it out.

BRIGGS: Yes, according to a group Avalere Health, three states that will get less money, Maine, Arizona, Alaska. That's where Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain, you know, from. So, that could play a factor.

KOPAN: For now.

ROMANS: All right. Real quick, let's talk about the Mueller inquiry, you know, in the front page of the papers again today. CNN reporting as well that this inquiry is zeroing in on things happening inside the White House, inside the Oval Office and on Air Force One, crafting the Donald J. Trump Jr. response to that meeting with the Russians.

Where is the center of gravity on this investigation today?

KOPAN: Well, you know, it's -- this is what was predicted from the outset when it comes to a special prosecutor, that Mueller is going to go where the facts lead him, and nothing is off limits. This is what happened with the Clinton investigation. So, you know, this is sort of what was predicted and the White House is really feeling the heat from it.

ROMANS: All right. Tal Kopan, talk to you in about a half hour, get a cup of coffee, come back.

We love her. She's an early bird. EARLY START early bird.

BRIGGS: Thanks, Tal.

ROMANS: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. A scary moment in the Bronx: a young fan hit in the face by a screaming foul ball at Yankee Stadium rushed to the hospital. Andy Scholes with an update on the condition this morning's "Bleacher Report". You can see that ball player is horrified on what just happened.

[05:20:02] Be back in a moment.


BRIGGS: Welcome back.

There have been changes to baseball stadium around the country in recent years and there might be more because of terrifying moments like the one at Yankee Stadium yesterday. This young girl was struck in the face by a line drive.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.


You know, this is the worst thing that can happen at a ball park.

In the fifth inning yesterday, the Yankees'' Todd Frazier, he had a line drive foul ball right behind the dugout and the ball ended up striking a young girl that was sitting with her grandfather. As you can see, everyone's attention immediately turned to whether the girl in the stands was OK.

[05:25:02] The game was stopped for about four minutes while paramedics attended to the girl.

Now, the Yankees releasing a statement saying that she was taken to an area hospital and according to the "New York Daily News", she remained there overnight.


TODD FRAZIER, NEW YORK YANKEES: I thought of my kids, you know? I have two kids under 3 years old. And just hope she's all right. It was terrible, shaken up a little bit.

I don't know really what happened. I hope she's all right but it was just something that I wish never happened. It was tough. It's tough to watch and tough to be a part of, to be honest.


SCHOLES: Now, teams are required to have protective netting to at least the start of the dugouts now. About a third of teams have extended the netting further. The Yankees are not one of those teams. However last month, after a fan was hit, the club did say that they were seriously exploring extending the netting for next season.

All right. Golf's tour championship gets underway today in Atlanta and two guys in position for the $10 million are Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. These two guys have been really close friends since the early teenage years, and they spoke exclusively to CNN about pushing each other to be their best.


JUSTIN THOMAS, 2017 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP WINNER: It keeps me push to go try to beat him because I feel like if I'm beating him in the tournament, there's a good chance I'm going have a chance to win.

JORDAN SPIETH, 3-TIME MAJOR WINNER: It's really cool for us to kind of say, hey, in 20 years, you know, if we're both healthy and we're both continue to go push each other like we have been, along with these other extremely talented young guys on tour, it could be a really, really special time for us.


SCHOLES: Pretty cool to have two guys young like this going at it and the fact they've been friends for quite a while, like Jordan Spieth just said, could be a rivalry we see for a very long time in the game of golf.

ROMANS: Very cool.

BRIGGS: Good, good guys. Two really good role models in the sports.

Justin Thomas, though, five wins, 9 million bucks this year, golfer of the year.

Thank you, Andy.

SCHOLES: Good at 10. Yes.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

Hurricane Maria is strengthened again. It's now a dangerous category 3 storm. We're going to be live in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico next.