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Monster Hurricane Irma Batters Caribbean Islands; Irma Passing Puerto Rico Major Damage Likely; Barbuda Barely Habitable, Damage Unprecedented; Republicans Blindsided By Funding Deal With Democrats; Ryan Calls Deal Ridiculous Hours Before Trump Backs It; Trump's Peculiar Introduction For Daughter Ivanka. Pope France on Mission to Promote Peace in Colombia. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and thanks for joining us. I'm John Vause live in Los Angeles. One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record continues to barrel through the Caribbean right now. Irma has hammered Puerto Rico with incredibly powerful winds and driving rains. More than a million people there are without help, and the U.S. government has declared a state of emergency to the island. The monster storm is now moving west towards Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Irma's sustained wind is close to 30o kilometers per hour. It's been a category five storm for 41 hours now. Hurricane doesn't usually stay that strong for such a long period of time. The prime minister of Barbuda says, almost every building on the island has been damaged, and one baby was left dead. Irma has also claimed two lives on the island of St. Martin. CNN's George Howell joins me now with very latest from San Juan, Puerto Rico. And George, Irma is going to pass the island to the north but that doesn't mean the worst is over.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, indeed it doesn't. We're still, John, feeling the -- some of these bands; you see the lightning from the time to time that the wind gusts can come and go. And again, the rain also comes and goes. But for the most part, that eye wall, it has moved on now to the west of this island in route at toward to the United States. The good news here, as you pointed out, this storm skirted just to the north of this U.S. territory, though, it did feel a great deal of the southern end of the storm -- very strong winds, a great deal of rain. The good news is it was not a direct hit.

However, the damage, we understand that at least 70 percent of power is out; customers without power. One million people, we understand from the utility here. As far as the governor is saying that there are significant damages, that's something that will have to be assessed, John, come light of the day. Another bit of good news as of the last check, we understand from officials that no one was injured in this storm but again, quite a lucky situation here because again that storm is very strong. One of the strongest storms, quite frankly, that's ever experienced and it is moving toward the contiguous U.S.

VAUSE: And George, how prepared would you say were officials for this storm? I mean, a lot of people did, in fact, head into an emergency shelter, and had a bit of time to get ready.

HOWELL: You'd get a sense, John, given what happened with Harvey. There was so much focus on that storm coming in, and then the devastation, a great deal of devastation throughout the South Texas region. People took heed and they noticed that and they stepped up to prepare. When we arrived on the island, you could tell very quickly that people were taking the precautions to board up windows and doors, people were going to the stores to buy up food and supplies.

And then, there was a mandatory evacuation -- many people took advantage of the some 450 shelters that were open and available for people. And you know, the hope here is that the same will happen for anyone in the course of -- in the path of this storm. Because again, it is an incredibly strong storm. The center of that storm, one of the most intense that's been recorded and it is moving toward the United States.

VAUSE: OK. George, thank you. George Howell there with the latest from his position in San Juan. We'll stay in Puerto Rico, and Monique Caradine-Kitchens joins us now on the line. Monique, how are doing, how did you weather the storm?

MONIQUE CARADINE-KITCHENS, COACH, OVERFLOW: Well, we are relieved, John, I have to tell you. That's the word of the night. Relieved that the storm has pretty much passed us, the worst of it anyway and we're doing just fine. Everyone here is safe. We've sustained very minimal damage. The only thing that I can see that we lost was the few banana trees, but that's about it. We are thankful and grateful that the worst of this is over.

VAUSE: Can you describe what it's been like for the past few hours, has there been one moment more frightening than the rest?

KITCHENS: Absolutely. I mean, it's been a very stressful day for me. We started the day this morning with heavy winds, very strong winds and strong rain, and that lasted for half of the day. We had, like, intermittent storm, wind, rain, for most of the day. And then, late this evening, I think around 6:30, the winds picked up again. But that -- we were prepared for a catastrophe, John, like, we were prepared for the absolute worst, and thankfully, in this part of the island -- I'm on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico -- it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be, thankfully.

[01:05:08] VAUSE: Yes. It looks like part of the island, at least, has dodged a bullet but the governor is saying that there is likely damaged, especially to the electricity grid and that could take months to repair.

KITCHENS: Absolutely. Well, what I can say is right now we are still without power, and some areas are still without water. Fortunately, we have a generator, so we -- you know, we still have our light. But you know, I guess the gas will only last so long. So yes, there has been significant damage up north in San Juan, where your reporter was just reporting from. That's where the heaviest damage was, and there is still some effect of the storm in the northern part of the islands. So, this isn't completely over yet. Some areas are still having flash flooding. We're expecting that there might be some flash flooding here as well. But again, the worst of the storm is over.

VAUSE: It's sort of over for now, and you have your generator, you've got some water, you've got some supplies, but as you say, that will only last for so long. There are concerns about how long it will take for, you know, relative normalcy to return before the sort of, you know, restoration rebuilding efforts get underway, and what it will be like between now and then. Does that worry you?

KITCHENS: Yes. Well, I think it doesn't worry me. I think that we'll start to see normalcy return by Friday. I think in some areas -- you know, as long as we have power, the kids can return to school and et cetera. But I think the concern among the leadership is the fact that there is another hurricane coming -- and that's Hurricane Jose. And we don't know the path that that's going to take exactly. And so, what folks are saying to us here, what the authorities and the municipalities are saying to us is that we have to stay vigilant. You know, if Jose develops into something that is, you know, as strong as Irma which we hope it won't be, we have to stay vigilant. And just because we weren't hit as hard as we thought we would be with this storm, you know, we can't let our guard down once Jose comes if it comes this way. We have to stay vigilant.

VAUSE: You mentioned you have a couple of kids with you. How do they weather at all, how are they coping? My son, I think, he was a lot less concerned than I was. I mean, this has been just an absolutely stressful day. I mean, imagine being -- we've been barricaded behind our storm shutters for the entire day just waiting to see what's going to happen, bracing for the worst. I mean, it's extremely stressful, but my son handled it very, very well. And now, he's sound asleep and, you know, hopefully getting ready to go back to school.

VAUSE: I hope it is a sound sleep. We're glad he is safe. We're you are safe. And that your losses have been limited to a few banana trees. Great news! So, Monique, hang in there. Stay safe. Thanks very much.

KITCHENS: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: OK. Let's go to Pedram Javaheri who's tracking Irma; he has the very latest right now. So, you know, there's always rains hitting Puerto Rico, but that's sort of, say, diminished now, this sort of threat of flash flooding. But now, it's what, Dominican Republican and Haiti, presumably, what they expected to.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely. I think the impacts on the Dominican Republican and Haiti will be very similar to what we saw in Puerto Rico where it is kind of indirect impact, where the northern fringe of the island gets the brunt of this. And of course, and as you work out of Puerto Rico into some of these areas including Haiti in the northern portion, where talking some of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.

So, anything you get out of this will have significant, significant damage, and of course, a lot of infrastructural impact for this region to be able to handle. But the storm in the center of it, where the highest winds ever observed on Earth and getting up there, believe it or not, as far as the strength of the storm, when you go on 36 hours of 100 or 290-plus kilometers per hour. At that rate, no other storm in recorded history in the satellite year going back to 1960s has ever been as strong as Irma for as long as these many hours.

So, that is as impressive as it gets, and that center going directly towards the Turks and Caicos inside the next 24 or so hours. But again, notice the track will want to kind of migrate here to the north, having the same sort of impact on the island of Hispaniola as you see in Puerto Rico -- it's significant damage in the way of winds, but of course, the flooding concern. But the direct impact is not going to be there, but still seeing hurricane warnings in place.

Notice the widespread coverage of the warnings stretching well out of this region as well as we go in towards the next couple of days. So, here is what it looks like as far as going into Thursday and Friday, a dramatic shift in the model here as far as turning the storm to the right. It's kind of see-sawed back and forth between how far east or west it will go beyond, say, Friday and to Saturday.

But notice, a lot of the models suggesting now this may not even interact with Cuba, which could be a significant player. Cuba has mountains that go well over 6,000 feet high. So, those mountains would be, really, the best bet to be able to disrupt the flow of the storm system. But as the models are guiding this to the north interacting with part of the Bahamas, essentially Salta, Keys, and islands that are made up of marshland here, not going to do much in the way of disrupting the flow of the storm system. So, the right turn looks imminent here.

[01:10:25] The coastal portion of the east side of Florida, looking to be the most likely area of impact, sometime early Sunday morning. And the perspective of this if it takes that track on of an Easter flow of Florida, it would be similar to Hurricane Matthew back in last autumn. And this is exactly what it looks like, it had an east coast of Florida impact. No direct impact still left behind $15 billion in losses.

Keep in mind it is estimated, if this storm system -- and that was just about, say, 60 kilometers offshore. This storm system migrates back to 60 more kilometers to its west. The estimated damage and losses for Southern Florida this day and age would be upwards of 50 to $100 billion, which would be the second costliest national disaster in U.S. history. So, just a few kilometers can really make a significant difference as far what Florida would experience from this as well. But here goes the timing on this, notice the Bahamas get on Friday and to Saturday.

And essentially, we're trying to tell people you have about two days if evacuations are to be made to do that. Now, on some of these islands, John, it is not as easy, it's a lot easier said than done to be able to evacuate; a lot of people do not have the means or the opportunity to leave to another island, which honestly is not going to do them any good. But across the United States, it is a little different, and that's why right now is the time to make those evacuations and get out of harm's path because typically two days in advance is the best bet of getting out without traffic picking up on the final day. John.

VAUSE: Yes. There is always an opportunity to get out, it's just a matter of people actually take that moment if they believe it's serious enough and this is one of those moments. Pedram, thank you.

JAVAHERI: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, Michael Joseph is the President of the Antigua and Barbuda Red Cross. He's joined now on the line from St. John's. So, thank you for being with us. There are no communications to the island of Barbuda, but the pitches have been devastating. How much do you know about the situation on the ground there right now?

MICHAEL JOSEPH, PRESIDENT, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA RED CROSS: Well, we've been briefed effectively by the prime minister in a cabinet meeting tonight. So, what we are -- well, you know, there is an urgent need for immediate relief intervention. But however, from a disaster response perspective, one of the things we did have relayed to the prime minister that we -- before we can determine what exactly are the needs, we first have to do a damage and need assessment. So, first thing in the morning, there's supposed to be two teams that which I will be going with, which we will be traveling to Barbuda, and then, doing the damage and need assessment. And then, relief effort and assistance should be poured in the afternoon.

VAUSE: So, how long do you think all of this will take? How long before you do the assessment, determine the needs, and actually deliver what was actually needed?

JOSEPH: Well, there are a different level of needs. So, we have a rapid assessment that we do in few hours to tell you what the immediate needs are, and then you have the medium and long-term needs. So, we know off the bat, because of the pictures and what has been reported by (INAUDIBLE), and we know what is the immediate needs. We know the shelter is an immediate need. And we know they're going to be our concern as well water a food. So, those who have been earmarked, despite the fact we haven't done -- damage and needs assessment that those have already been identified to be deployed no later than tomorrow afternoon, as early as in the morning with the first of the shipment going to Barbuda.

VAUSE: Michael, can I just ask you. As you look at these really heartbreaking images that are coming to Barbuda, just absolutely outright destruction. You know, these are, you know, your neighbors, if you like, when you look at all of this, what do you think? What are you expecting to see when you get there and how do you deal with this just on a personal level?

JOSEPH: To be honest with you, it's quite difficult, even just the pictures. I mean, I've -- my team has spent the entire day from since this morning up until when were -- the prime minister first gave the official word as to what was happening in Barbuda. I know you've been working around the clock and are still working because, personally, for me, it's difficult disbelief, you know, knowing the conditions in Barbuda. So, we're are doing everything that we possibly can to make it a lot easier. But it's an easy thing to deal with. I mean, Barbuda has a very small population, and almost everybody in

Barbuda knows a significant portion of the Barbuda population. We have a branch in Barbuda and we work very closely with Barbuda community in terms of, you know, different preparedness mechanisms we've been working with them on. So, over the years, we've developed a really close relationship, and, you know, not knowing exactly what is happening or just the fact that the conditions that they've been on, it's quite difficult to deal with.

[01:15:15] VAUSE: I just can't imagine what terrifying night it must be for those people who are living amid all of this destruction. And the Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, he believes the cost of rebuilding will be close to $100 million. Is that something this community can actually afford? Have they got the resources for this?

JOSEPH: Well, to be honest with you, no. That's just the honest truth. Something of to that magnitude, we've discussed it in the cabinet as well. It's going to require significant international aid. Just even if we're talking about just getting the Barbuda population to 25 percent the way it used to be, we're talking about a humongous amount of additional aid coming from overseas. We've been working with some of our international partners to try and secure the immediate to medium term needs, but in terms of, what, long-term needs -- we're talking about rebuilding house for 1600 people, talking about creating a water supply, we're talking re-running electricity, clearing roads, communication, providing jobs, livelihood, it's a significant amount of investment that going to be required to return Barbuda to the gem that she was once.

VAUSE: Well, the immediate concern, obviously, is saving lives, getting shelter and helping the people who need it. And right now, if you look at these images, there are a lot of people who need a lot of help. Michael, thank you so much for being with us and we wish you well. All the best for tomorrow.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, the rush to leave parts of Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma already is draining local supplies of water and gasoline. Also, President Trump, now dealing with his second major hurricane in as many weeks. How he's preparing, that's next.


VAUSE: Well, the Trump administration is preparing a response to Hurricane Irma. Disaster officials are now in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a new and seems to be record breaking hurricane heading right toward Florida and Puerto Rico and other places. We'll see what happens. We'll know in a very short period of that, but it looks like could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Well, the U.S. president also dealing with the fallout from

his decision to ending the dreamers' program -- the Obama-era program, which protected the young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Jim Acosta has the details.


[01:20:03] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump's message one day after terminating the program that shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation, he would do it again.


ACOSTA: Just hours after igniting an uproar, the president sounded as if he was wavering on the issue. Tweeting, "Congress now has six months to legalize DACA, something the Obama administration was unable to do. If they can't, I will revisit this issue." Talking to reporters on Air Force One, the president denied he was backing down.

TRUMP: No mixed signal at all. Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of the situation. I would like to see something where we have good border security, and we have a great DACA transaction where everybody is happy, and they don't have to worry about it anymore. Because, obviously, as you know before, it was not a legal deal.

ACOSTA: The president cited one surprising reason for his optimism, the potential for work with not Republican, but Democratic leaders in Congress -- namely Senator Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

TRUMP: Chuck and Nancy would like to see something, and so do I. And I said, if we can get something to happen, we're going to sign it, and we're going to make a lot of happy people.

ACOSTA: That's remarkable given Pelosi and Schumer just blasted the president's decision on the program known as DACA.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We all agree that President Trump's decision to end DACA is a despicable act of political cowardice.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER: The president's decision to end DACA was heartless and it was brainless.

ACOSTA: And after House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the president.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: So, the president was right in his decision. He made the right call.

ACOSTA: But there were more surprises in store. Sources told CNN, the president also blind-sided GOP leaders as they huddled with their Democratic counterparts and Mr. Trump at the White House. The president shocked Republicans supporting the Democrat's plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown., pushing that deadline to December. Though Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell insist afterward, he was on board.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I will be adding that as an amendment to the flood relief bill that comes over from the House on the floor, and I will be supporting it.

ACOSTA: Republican sounded so irritated by the meeting. One aide vented about Ivanka Trump's interrupting the gathering saying: "Toward the end of the meeting, Ivanka Trump entered the oval office to say hello and the meeting careened off topic. Republican leaders were visibly annoyed by Ivanka's presence." An aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan disputed that account saying, that's not true.

TRUMP: Come up, honey. You bring Ivanka up, come up. She actually said, daddy, can I go with you? I like that. Daddy, can I go with you? I said, yes, you can.

ACOSTA: At a tax reform speech in North Dakota, the president seems to touch on the upside-down day on Capitol Hill.

TRUMP: Mitch, and Paul, and everybody, Kevin, and we walked out and everybody was happy. Not too happy because you can never be too happy, but they were happy enough.

ACOSTA: Some of the Republican reactions to the president cutting a deal with Democrat leaders on the debt ceiling and Hurricane Harvey were swift and harsh. In the words of one House Republican aide, the president simply folded on the deal. Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: CNN's Senior Political Analyst, Ron Brownstein, joins us now with more on this. So, the man who wrote the "Art of the Deal" folded on the deal. I mean, what's going on here?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's hard to say. Look, first, the president, clearly, has been frustrated with the Congressional Republican Leadership, their inability to deliver a repeal of Obamacare, and he may have seen this, I think, by all indications as a way to give kind of them a, you know, kind of a jolt and a nudge by working with Democrats. It's very unclear, though, this represents a fork in the road and a new strategy, because even while this was going, even while he made this dramatic turn to work with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, he's still working with Congressional Republicans as they prepare a major tax reform bill that has completely excluded Democrats from any discussions.

And there were even reports that they are trying in a last-ditch way to revive the repeal of Obamacare. Again, solely among Republicans, completely and excluding Democrats. So, whether this was like a thought-out strategy that will be sustained or just another zig and zagging presidency, I think, you know, we'll have to see, but I'm betting on the latter.

VAUSE: You have to wonder how his base would, you know appreciate, you know, the president doing deals with Democrats. BROWNSTEIN: And the goals, the goals are not there, right? The goals

are not compatible enough to have many deals with Democrats. Even like, today, when he was talking about the DACA program, the deferred action program for the young people brought here illegally by their parents as kids. He emphasized: I want to this with border security. He may see this as a way to try to leverage Democrats into either funding his border wall or reducing legal immigration or mandatory E- verify, something like that. Democrats are going to be very resistant to any of those ideas, and they feel they have public opinion on the other side -- since polls show about two-thirds of all Americans and a majority of Republicans support some legal status for the dreamers.

[01:25:05] VAUSE: All of this will play out, I guess, in three months from now when the debt ceiling comes up. But just before the president made this deal with the Democrats for the emergency funding for the victims of Harvey raising the debt ceiling, the House Speaker, Republican, Paul Ryan, he was slamming the Democrats for playing politics. This is what he said.


RYAN: I think that's a ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens in need to respond to these hurricanes so that we do not strand them.


VAUSE: Which is exactly what the president then went on to do. If you're Paul Ryan if you're Paul Ryan tonight, what are you thinking?

BROWNSTEIN: You're thinking that this president is erratic and capricious and you can never know exactly what he's going to do, it's very hard to say his word to the bank. Look, the debt ceiling so people around the world understand, this is kind of unique American institution where we have to -- where he grants the authority borrow more because we were on deficits every year.

And historically, it has been a very hard vote for Republicans when they're in control of Congress, but there are conservative members who will not vote to raise the debt ceiling no matter or will demand budget cuts that can't attach to it. So, they need Democratic votes. The problem is, they want it one vote. They wanted to raise the debt ceiling now all the way through the end of this Congress using the flood relief for Texas as the sweetener to get enough Democrats feeling compelled to have a vote for it. Instead, the president gave away their chit.

VAUSE: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: The flood relief -- and they're going to have to be back at it in three months. And the fear is that Democrats will then exact new leverage into something, for example, like the dreamers or other budget things that they want, and Republicans will have to give in that because they can't raise the debt ceiling on their own because too many conservatives won't vote for it. And obviously, not raising it risks, kind of, global financial catastrophe.

VAUSE: Yes. Economic meltdowns. I could be wrong, I think Norway is the only country that actually had the debt ceiling. It does so if you go three months from now, it seems that the Democrats are the ones who are in the driver seat.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, right. Again, these Republicans, even though they have the majority of both chambers, historically, they have not been able to raise the debt ceiling on their own. Because there are certain conservatives who will never vote to do it or will only vote to do it by attaching it to budget cuts that are implausible. So, they're going to need Democratic votes. And so, now the question is since they have already given away the flood relief, what do they have to give Democrats to get them?

VAUSE: You know, the only thing about this meeting was Congressional leaders today -- on Wednesday, rather. Republicans were very unhappy -- according to one source -- with the late entrance by the president's daughter and his White House Aide, Ivanka Trump. Apparently, there were some very unhappy Republicans that she was there. Clearly, though, Donald Trump has a very close relationship with his daughter. Here they were on Wednesday in North Dakota.


TRUMP: Everybody loves Ivanka. Come on, should I bring Ivanka up? Come on. Sometimes they'll say, you know, he can't be that bad a guy, look at Ivanka. Now, come on up, honey. She's so good. She wanted to make the trip. She said, Dad, can I go with you? She actually said, daddy, can I go with you? I like that. Daddy, can I go with you? I said, yes, you can.


VAUSE: I wonder if she uses daddy in the oval office.

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know. But look, even for people who have long careers in politics, the presidency requires you to expand beyond the circle of people you've known and trusted and to bring people in into your circle. Donald Trump started with a much smaller circle in this kind of family company, he didn't really bring anybody from -- very few people if any from the company in. Right now, as he looks around the White House, there are very few people that he has any kind of established relationship with.

The family, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are pretty much it. You know, Steven Miller, you know, there isn't much there. And so, there's kind of this, everyone's left, and it wasn't that big of a circle, to begin with. So, you know, he feels as kind of -- these are people who he knows and whose loyalty is only to him. But for anyone in the political world, the idea that just because you're the president's daughter or son-in-law, that suddenly you are the power that they have to deal with and respect, that's tough.

VAUSE: Well, it raises a question about what role she has, and what power she actually really does have in the White House. BROWNSTEIN: And so far, you know, the main power she's had is to --

is to kind of leak that she tried to stop things from happening that her friends in New York don't like but failed. That has been the main super power.

VAUSE: On her account. On everything, yes.

BROWNSTEIN: That has the main superpower, so far, for Ivanka Trump.

[01:29:19] VAUSE: OK. Good to see you. Thanks so much. We'll take a short break. When we come back, as Hurricane Irma barrels through the Caribbean, the prime minister of one island nation says the damage is heart-wrenching and the island is barely habitable.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN's coverage of Hurricane Irma, which has caused extensive damage in the Caribbean. The prime minister of Barbuda says that the island is rubble and every home has been damaged. About 1800 people live there and they have no running water or phone service, and the power is out as well. Destruction on the island is upwards of 90 percent.


GASTON BROWNE, PRIME MINISTER OF ANTIGUA & BARBUDA: It was heart wrenching. Absolutely devastating. I have never seen any such destruction on a per capita basis compared to what I saw in Barbuda this afternoon. 95 percent of the properties in Barbuda were damaged, the infrastructure was damaged, the institutions, the lone hospital, the school. It is absolutely heart wrenching.


VAUSE: This record-breaking storm has been lashing Puerto Rico with fierce wind and heavy rain. Widespread flooding and mudslides are still likely.

CNN's George Howell joins us from the capital, San Juan.

George, there is a feeling of relief there, compared to the devastation and destruction on other islands.

HOWELL: Such a stark difference, absolutely. You get a sense from people here, John, that this island dodged a bullet, that eye wall of the storm, the most intense part of Hurricane Irma, just to the north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, about 50 to 30 miles, within that range, that's about how close this storm came to this island. And what we've seen, because of the storm, we've seen power outages. We know at least one million power customers without power. The governor of this territory says that he does expect there to be significant damage. But a lot of this will have to be assessed by light of day. What many people are saying here, they're relieved that this storm passed and didn't cause quite as much damage awe are seeing in many other islands in the Caribbean.

VAUSE: George, thank you for the update there.

Let's get the latest on where Irma is heading and the path and the strength and the wind gusts as well. Pedram Javaheri is with us.

Pedram, bring us up to date.

JAVAHERI: The storm system is still sitting there, extremely strong and dangerous. Not much in the way of changing whether it be in intensity or it is positioning in the forecast. Inside the next 12 hours or so we'll see it on approach to the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is going to produce tremendous rainfall as it exits Puerto Rico. Similar impact expected around Hispaniola. Good news in a sense to these two islands. If this storm had any hope of weakening, more interaction with these two expected. Mountainous terrain would shred the system apart. We're not seeing that. As it moves over the Turks, Caicos, we think complete devastation could be possible because of the flat nature of the islands. And think about this region, up tout 35,000 people and essentially four low-lying coral islands make up the ark pillow. You notice it begins to spin a little bit and loses the intensity. That's the only hope we have to bring this down to a category 4 but it is so high above the threshold of being a category 5, even if it weakens, it may retain the category 5 strength. And notice the rainfall amounts. They are nearly off the top of the charts as we saw with Harvey. Part of that is the storm system is moving quickly. Any heavy rainfall is what these folks have seen many times. 100 to 200 millimeters. That storm will slow down as hits the United States and additional rainfall could be possible in south Florida.

Let's show you the model comparison. The European and American models have great agreement when you look for. And it is confident that the European model wants to keep it closer to the United States. Maybe a landfall near Miami. The American keeps it just off shore. Takes it up to the Carolinas. But the disagreement is not very large. This is concerning for the eastern United States. I want to touch on something as well. When you see this variance build four or five days out, still a scene roughly 200 kilometers, weather east or east. If someone in south Florida tells you it is not coming here, they don't know what they are talking about. They do not go in a straight line. And for the first time since 2010, we have three hurricanes in the Atlantic basin with Hurricane Jose potentially to a category 3 on Saturday as it approaches Barbuda. That is what we are watching with this storm. It looks like at this point it will shift away from any additional impact to the islands. But the islands, St. Martin could have impacts. But the southern periphery of the track may bring it too close for comfort for folks in the emergency management official out there. And this is something that I'm sure is on top of their minds as well.

[01:36:43] VAUSE: If anyone thinks this ends well they haven't been paying attention.

Pedram, thank you.

JAVAHERI: Yes. VAUSE: A short break on NEWSROOM L.A. When we come back, the mayor of Miami Beach has a message for everyone in his city, get out., get out now.


[01:40:13] VAUSE: Hurricane Irma will likely be on Miami's doorstep in days. Gasoline is already in short supply as thousands in south Florida are making their way north. The state's governor is warning Irma is one of the most dangerous storms in recent memory.


GOV. RICK SCOTT, FLORIDA: This is serious and we cannot take chances. This is life threatening. A storm you can sit and wait through. I cannot stress this enough. Get prepared. Know your evacuation plan. Listen to the local officials. This storm has the potential to defensive state our state a you have to take this seriously.


VAUSE: Many people are packing up and heading out.

Here's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Irma's force already slamming the Caribbean, across Miami, prepping and bracing for the monster coming.

(on camera): How much is Harvey hanging over everything that is happening to you today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think because we all just saw the images of devastation, loss, and heart break and forgiving other people, seriously.

LAH (voice-over): Florida counties and state government taking the categor6y 5 hurricane seriously. Mandatory evacuations began in Monroe County. Thursday in Broward County. The big concern with Irma, the storm surge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are pretty much state-of-the-art flood panels.

LAH (on camera): You are expecting a five-foot storm surge potentially.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Potentially. Hopefully, it doesn't get that bad.

LAH (voice-over): What is already bad, trying to get the basics. Some gas stations are already out of fuel. Is one told us they do know when they will get more.

Trying to get bottled water? This sight greeting shoppers across Miami-Dade County.

(on camera): No water up there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No water up there, at all. No Home Depot, no Publix. CVA has none.

LAH (voice-over): She finally got water after seeing people fight over it in other stores. Here's what she heard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make sure you get some but I'm not giving out my water. People were asking to buy from him from his own cart.

LAH (on camera): People are fighting for water.


LAH: Many gas stations, especially those in central Miami, are completely out of gas. Some say they believe they will see new supplies, new fuel trucks coming in. Others say they have no idea if any more is coming in.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Homestead, Florida.


VAUSE: The mayor of Miami Beach is urging everyone to evacuate while there's still time.

A short time ago, he spoke with Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, A.C. 360: Mayor, do you feel Miami Beach is prepared for whatever comes?

PHILIP LEVINE, MIAMI BEACH MAYOR: Anderson, I think we are as prepared as possible at this point. The county declared a mandatory evacuation. Ave been telling residents and tourists get out of Miami Beach. Is a nuclear hurricane. We have put in portable pumps and generators, and offering sandbags to our residents. But mandatory evacuation, we want people to take this seriously and get off Miami Beach.

COOPER: How easy is it for people to get out if they choose to tomorrow?

LEVINE: We're going to be offering all types of services, buses, trollies, we have protocol put together. We are working with the seniors, the homeless community. And our special needs folks have already been under a mandatory evacuation I think as of yesterday is when that was called. We are going to do everything we can and we are here for the residents and we want them to be safe.

COOPER: I know Miami has learned from hurricanes from past decades and building codes are very -- I know people pride themselves in terms of the building codes ere. Can buildings safely sustain that? LEVINE: Like one of the experts said since hurricane andrew the

protocols are much higher. They are supposed to but you can't take chances. We don't want to be sorry. Folks shod listen to this beach. Now of course, I'm going to be there. Our team is going to be there all the way through the entire storm and we're doing everything we can to protect our residents and the property.

COOPER: About how many residents are in Miami Beach you would like to have evacuated.

LEVINE: It's a little under 100,000 people and that's not including the tourists. We're getting them out of the hotels right now. I issued a letter today, saying, I urge you to leave Miami Beach now. This is not a game. This is serious business.

[01:45:14] COOPER: If somebody is staying for whatever reason, how many days do you advise they're able to be self-sufficient in terms of food and water?

LEVINE: That's something they have to make a personal plan about. We don't advise them to stay. As this storm moves in, and hopefully it doesn't, but it looks like, based on what the experts are showing us, with a 300-mile diameter, the state of Florida the with is 140 miles across this wide envelope, the entire state. We're telling them that services will be reduced to next to nothing as the storm comes in. I he to say it, you'll be on your own if you choose to stay. We will not put our first responders' live in danger when the storm hits.

COOPER: Mayor, thank you very much. I wish you best in the coming days.

LEVINE: Thank you, Anderson.


VAUSE: Irma is one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic. It's one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic basin right now, the first time in seven years there have been three active hurricanes in this area at the same time.

Joining us is Bradly Opdyke, a senior lecturer and research scientist at the Australia National University. And Bradley is in Utah right now on a conference.

So, Bradley, thank you for being with us.

Clearly the question for many, what is the direct connection you can make between arming planet, climate change and these monster storms that we're seeing time and time again?

BRADLEY OPDYKE, SENIOR LECTURER & RESEARCH SCIENTIST, AUSTRALIA NATIONAL UNIVERSITY (via telephone): What's happening is the surface ocean is warming up as the planet warms up. And it's not only the temperature going up but the hot water is there. So these hurricanes have more energy to draw on. And so the hurricanes once they form will be bigger and stronger. And so that's the bottom line. So as the temperatures increase, these storms will get bigger.

VAUSE: Would you say what we're seeing now, first in Texas with Harvey, and explain why Harvey moved so slowly. And now we have in the Caribbean with Irma. Is this what scientists predicted would be the result of a warming planet and warming oceans?

OPDYKE: Yes. There will be more storms but when they form they will be bigger and stronger.

VAUSE: Go on, Bradley.

OPDYKE: I was going to say the area of water which can feed the storms will increase as well. You'll probably see them reaching to areas that haven't seen these sorts of storms before as the warm pools of the ocean expand. That's another danger.

VAUSE: So we should essentially get used to this kind of hurricane season?

OPDYKE: Yes. Yes.


OPDYKE: We won't necessarily see more storms but they will be big ones like this.

VAUSE: It has been popular for many conservatives to talk radio and television to deny climate change as a hoax. In the United States, Rush Limbaugh, he said the media and government officials are hyping the threat from Irma to convince people that climate change is in fact real. Listen to what he said on tuesday.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK RADIO SHOW HOST: There haven't been more hurricanes and they are no more dangerous than previous years. But that doesn't matter. The bias is built in. There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda. Hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do that. You accomplish a lot just creating fear and panic. You don't need the hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent a bigger and more dangerous, and you create the picture, and it's mission accomplished, agenda advanced.


VAUSE: Can you fact check a couple of points?

OPDYKE: I can say that we can -- you can demonstrate that the surface ocean is getting warmer and you can demonstrate these storms are getting bigger and stronger. And there's a real connection. The physics is robust.

VAUSE: So he's wrong, basically? So what impact do these --


OPDYKE: I wouldn't claim that -- I wouldn't claim that they're getting more frequent but when they form they're stronger. And this present hurricane is of the strongest that's ever been seen.

VAUSE: And what sort of impact when these misleading statements or untruths come out, what sort of impact does that have?

[01:49:56] OPDYKE: It feeds the denialist bias toward denying what the data are. And obviously, they have their agenda. They don't want to see action taken on climate change and so --o that's what they're trying to accomplish.

VAUSE: OK. Bradley, thank you for being with us. Bradley Opdyke, currently in Utah. Thanks, Bradley.

When we come back, the story of one commercial flight that raced against Hurricane Irma to get passengers out of Puerto Rico.


VAUSE: Irma has created havoc with flight schedules. One Delta Airlines flight raced getting passengers out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and to New York City just in time. It was live tweeted in real time. He tweeted, "You want to fly into San Juan during a category 5, Delta 431. Everyone else turns around." He then tweeted, "Now Delta flight 302 has to climb out of San Juan." Amazing stuff. The pilots followed proper procedures.

OK, a change of pace here. Pope Francis is bringing a message of peace to Colombia, but not everyone is ready to hear it. He was greeted by large crowds in Bogota on Wednesday evening.




VAUSE: And the theme for the pope's five-day trip is reconciliation. Colombia's civil war is finally over. But the peace deal between the government is controversial. Not everyone is ready to forgive the rebel forces.

John Allen is CNN's senior's Vatican analyst joins us now.

Is this all about building bridges for the pope. That has some risks for the pontiff, given that this peace deal in Colombia is not supported by almost half of the country.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Yes, that' right, John. I mean the great irony here would be if Pope Francis goes to Colombia to promote reconciliation and the trip ends up creating new division because it is perceived as a victory lap for the president and the highly controversial peace agreement. You saw the pope starting to try to do this yesterday. I expect we will see him do it again today when he gives -- excuse me, when he gives a speech to government officials this morning, Bogota, time he wants to try to strongly support the process. It's to steer clear of identifying himself with this particular agreement. I think another element of the pope's strategy, John, is he's got meetings with Colombian youth along the way here. And I think he's trying to do around the country's stalemate, which are especially widespread among the generation that lived the civil war in first person and reach out to a new generation sing you don't have to carry the weight of that conflict on your back, you can build a new future.

[01:55:08] VAUSE: The pope has been trying to resolve dl2ferences between the United States and Cuba. He has been involved in the problems in Venezuela and now in Colombia as well. Is there an expectation of too much from this pope? One comment I read is that yes, he's the pope but he's not a miracle worker.

ALLEN: Yes. That's right. You see him, when he climbs up the stairs of the plane there is no magic was that can make conflicts disappear. They all see themselves as peacemakers. St. John Paul II tried to stop the U.S. from going to war in Iraq in 2003, and we know how that turned out. I think it's possible to invest too many expectations on what six days in the country might accomplish. But most Colombians I have spoken to believe that although they've watched the politic of peace process play out, but n lacking so far is strong moral leadership to create a sense of urgency around it. And at least, perhaps, that's what they're hoping Pope Francis can provide this week.

VAUSE: One thing I did notice in images, no barricades to hold the crowds back. They got up close and personal with the Holy Father.

ALLEN: Yes, this is a pope whose style is very much he wants as few barriers between himself and the people as humanly possible. Fortunately, has a long history of having to learn how to do crowd control and security. I think he also trusts he's in good hands.

VAUSE: Yes, absolutely.

John, thank you so much for bringing us the latest there and some analysis on the pope's trip. We appreciate it.

You've been watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

And I will be back with more news right after this.


[02:00:10] VAUSE: Hello. I'm John Vause. Breaking news on Hurricane Irma.