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Deadly Storm Batters Caribbean, Heads for U.S.; Trump Deals with Democrats. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:17] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: 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 towards south Florida where the Miami mayor calls it a nuclear hurricane.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And the president finally strikes a deal with the Democrats. Now, Trump's own party is shell-shocked as it's forced to accept Democratic terms to raise the debt ceiling.

BRIGGS: He makes good deals.

ROMANS: I guess he does, with Democrats.

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

BRIGGS: Good to have you back, my friend.

ROMANS: Nice to be back. Nice to be back.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Thursday, September 7th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with that monster hurricane, that's Irma, heading straight for Florida after leaving a trail of destruction in the Caribbean. Right now, Irma remains a category five hurricane, packing 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 are getting battered. The death toll rising overnight to nine, it is expected to rise.

ROMANS: That's right. This is a dangerous, dangerous system. According to the U.N., Hurricane Irma could affect as many as 37 million people. Puerto Rico may have avoided a direct hit. But the governor telling CNN there's some pretty significant damage there as rain and powerful winds lashed that island. More than a million customers are now without power in Puerto Rico.

BRIGGS: At least eight people died and two others were seriously injured on the islands of St. Barts and St. Maarten. People who rode out the storm there describe a 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.


ROMANS: I got to tell you, nothing is paradise in 185 mile-per-hour winds. Just so dangerous.

Hurricane Irma blamed for the death of an infant in the Caribbean island of Barbuda where officials say more than 90 percent, 90 percent of structures on that island 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.


BRIGGS: Prime Minister Browne estimates the damage on Barbuda where some 1,800 people live to be at least $100 million. The storm wiped out the telecommunications system in Barbuda, and there is no water or phone service. Hurricane Irma has now maintained winds above 180 miles per hour, longer than any storm in Atlantic history.

ROMANS: That is remarkable.

I want to bring in CNN's George Howell. He is live in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

George, nice to see you this morning, late evening I guess -- it's been a long night for a lot of people, more than a million customers is without power, more than 56,000 without water. What can you tell us about it is like on the ground there in Puerto Rico, George?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Christine, good to be with you.

Fair to say it has been one hell of a night. A very strong storm that passed through this part of the Caribbean. We know that the eye wall has now moved on westward, but we are still feeling, experiencing the bands of this storm. The rains that can come and go, the strong winds that can come and go, though not nearly as strong as what we experienced when we were so close to the eye wall of the storm.

The eye wall came about 50 miles -- 40 to 50 miles just north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, this U.S. territory. But again, many people here feel that they did dodge a bullet. This was not a direct hit as we saw with many other Caribbean islands.

We did hear from the governor of this island earlier. We will hear from him at a 7:00 a.m. news conference to assess damage. But here's what he had to say about the storm that pass the through this territory.


GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO (via telephone): 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.


[04:05:08] HOWELL: So, Christine, you know, that's the governor speaking. And I can even speak anecdotally myself having covered several of these hurricanes. But this was one of the strongest that I've experienced. The wind gusts so intense, you know, they could knock you over as they come through.

If it's any indication for people who may be on the fence about evacuating in the path of the storm, you should absolutely take heed of the officials telling you to evacuate, to seek safer shelter, because again, this is a storm unlike any other that's been seen in quite some time.

ROMANS: Yes. George, I've covered a few of these, too, and never something like this with the sustained 185 -- 180 mile-per-hour winds for so long. Dodging Puerto Rico, meaning it is still very strong, barreling right toward Florida.

And what we know from our experience in covering these storms is that a lot of times people wait until the last minute, and they're so afraid as the storm gets there, the fatalities happen as they get in the car trying to get out too late. We don't want that to happen here. Don't --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: This is not something to mess around with.

George Howell, we'll check in with you again in a half hour or so. Thank you for the live report from San Juan.

BRIGGS: All right. Right now, one of three hurricanes churning in the Atlantic with Jose and Katia behind it, it's the first time since 2010 that three Atlantic hurricanes have been active at the same time.

Let's bring in meteorologist Pedram Javaheri who has the latest.

Pedram, we know meteorologists like yourself running out of a adjectives to describe Irma. Let's show the track and when you think it hits U.S. mainland. PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know, it's getting very

interesting as far as the approach to the United States. I think Sunday morning is the best bet here on approach to Florida. We'll break this down momentarily. But here we go with the storm system. If any sign of hope or maybe potentially slight weakening, the 5:00 a.m. National Hurricane Center update may gave us that. The storm becoming a little more ragged.

Now, it's going on 40 consecutive hours at 180 miles per hour or stronger. That is by far the longest of any storm in recorded history to maintain such intensity. But part of the interaction with Puerto Rico, part of the interaction with Hispaniola, right around, say, Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, that area of the Dominican Republic are really beginning to cause parts of the storm to begin to wobble a little bit, lose some steam, as well. Maybe slight weakening, but it's so far in the upper territory of a category five that even a 30 mile-per-hour drop in winds, which I think are unlikely, would keep it around a category five.

But hurricane warnings in place. The next main area of interest, we're talking about the Turks and Caicos. Storm surge in excess of 20 feet possible. Keep in mind, these islands across the region, essentially 40 islands with the Turks and Caicos are made up of coral and low-lying beaches. So, when you talk about 20 feet, much of the structure is much like you saw in Barbuda would be entirely moved off their foundation. Significant implications in store by this afternoon across Turks and Caicos and then beyond that, into the Bahamas.

But notice the model still bringing that right turn in. A lot of the cone shifting to the east including Florida, points to the east of Florida, model-by-model breakdown here. Look at the high concentration of this, even potentially dodging Cuba in its entirety. That was one main player we initially thought could in fact weaken the storm a little, alter its track.

Very few models want to take it to Cuba with the right hard turn as it approaches the Bahamas. That would in fact bring it in somewhere around Miami if it keeps the western periphery of the track. Somewhere around Miami early Sunday, say 7:00, 8:00 a.m. at this point. A lot of those models that want to keep it just off shore of Miami early Sunday, potentially taking it up toward the Carolinas.

The breakdown of the European and American model, we like to favor typically the European in this instance because of their accuracy. But it is just uncanny, the similarities between these two models throughout the duration of the run. So, you notice, the American overlaid on top of the European. The European on the blue, favoring a little bit of the westerly track. It does bring it over Miami on Sunday morning.

The American model keeps it about 30 to 40 miles offshore, which is precisely how Matthew played out as a skirt of the coast of Florida. This could still be a category four if it does not interact with Cuba on Saturday. So, that is one of the most sobering analysis of this if it does not interact with the mountains there. We're still looking at a major hurricane working up towards coastal

Florida, potentially coastal Georgia, or the Carolinas. And we always try to tell people, two days is literally the last point before any evacuation should be made. We know across some of these islands, very hard for a lot of these people to try to find an alternate location because it just takes a lot of effort to be able to move to another spot which will give the same sort of breakdown.

In the United States, we have better infrastructure to get people out of harm's way. That's why I think it's extremely important to do that, because you see best case scenario at this point would be a Matthew-like track which would keep it off shore. It still left $15 billion in losses, took with it about 600 lives. And again, this is our best-case scenario potential of it stays offshore in the U.S.'s perspective at least.

[04:10:01] So, a lot going to be learned I think in the next 24 hours or so as it narrows down a little more.

ROMANS: Harrowing few days ahead, I would say.

BRIGGS: Indeed it is, along that entire coast.

All right. Thanks so much, Pedram.

This morning, the Dominican Republic feeling the fury from Hurricane Irma.

All right. We're going to check in with the Dominican Republic later on in the program. We do have a reporter there trying to ride out this storm. And we'll check in with them in just a bit.

ROMANS: All right. Ten minutes past the hour right now.

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


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.


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



SCOTT: It is 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [04:15:02] 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 the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula today. 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 Airport announcing all commercial flights will cease at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday.

ROMANS: So, right now, there are mandatory evacuations. You see them there. Mandatory evacuation orders in effect for coastal areas of Miami-Dade County, parts of Broward County, and all, all of Monroe County.

And as this monster 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.


ROMANS: Absolutely, Miguel. And authorities there saying to have three to seven days of food and water on hand.

All right. Big airlines are slashing fares, trying to get people out of Irma's path, but only after reports of price gouging that people crying foul on social media. A Twitter user, Leigh Dow (ph), posted this screen shot of a Delta flight from Miami to Phoenix. It shows an alert with the ticket change of $547 to more than 3 grand. She later tweeted that the airline had reached out and helped tremendously.

Delta tells CNNMoney it was an issue on Expedia's Website, not its own. It says it never raised fares due to Irma. That tipped off a round of price caps from major airlines. Delta says it will not charge more than $399 for flights out of Florida or the Caribbean. That includes first class.

American Airlines says it capped the price of main cabin seats on single-leg flights at 99 bucks. JetBlue is offering any remaining seats at reduced fares between $99 and $159 to get out.

BRIGGS: And if you can get out, do get out.

Ahead, after months of throwing insults at Democrats, President Trump is suddenly making deals with Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. The agreement they made on spending, debt, and the Harvey relief that has Republicans seeing red.


[04:22:53] ROMANS: President Trump will return to Camp David on Friday with his entire cabinet. They are all expected to tackle the widening nuclear crisis in North Korea and tax reform. Funding the government also front and center after the president simply stunned Republican leaders by cutting a deal with Democrats on a short-term debt ceiling increase.

BRIGGS: The agreement funds the government, gets Hurricane Harvey relief money flowing. But by siding with the Democrats, the president infuriated Republican leaders. One GOP Senate aide telling CNN the move killed any hope of advancing the president's agenda 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 has essentially said 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.

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, thank you.

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.

[04:25:06] 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 are getting it.

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

A hurricane with winds that would stretch the length of Florida. It is barreling toward the Sunshine State. Less than 48 hours until the storm approaches the U.S. It is carving a deadly path across the Caribbean. More on Hurricane Irma, next.