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Hurricane Irma Hammers Caribbean, Kills Nine; Florida Preps For Mass Evacuations And Braces For Possible Gridlock; GOP Leadership Blindsided By Trump. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:31:20] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Irma showing no mercy as it barrels toward the U.S. It has flattened an island and smashed the very instruments trying to measure it. We now have new data from the National Hurricane Center showing just how powerful this monster it.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START this Thursday morning. I'm Christine Romans.


He is making great deals, Democrats agree this morning.

But we start with this monster storm. Hurricane 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 at is 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 overnight raising to nine, still expected to increase.

ROMANS: Puerto Rico avoided a direct hit but the governor there tells CNN there is pretty significant damage as rain and powerful winds lashed the island. More than one million customers are without power in Puerto Rico.

BRIGGS: At least eight people died, 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, CAUGHT IN HURRICANE IRMA WHILE VISITING ST. MAARTEN (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's cars that are damaged and flipped over, windshields and, you know -- the back windshields have been ripped out, bumpers ripped off. Everything's just an absolute disaster area.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Irma blamed for the death of an infant on the Caribbean island of Barbuda where officials say more than 90 percent of the structures there 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 AND 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 saw in Barbuda this afternoon.

The infrastructure was damaged, all of the institutions, the lone hospital, the schools. It is absolutely heart-wrenching.


BRIGGS: The storm wiped out the telecommunications system in Barbuda and there is no water or phone service.

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

ROMANS: Yes, I think that's a really important fact here. Winds of 180 miles per hour for longer than we have ever seen in recorded history.

Right now, Irma one of three hurricanes churning in the Atlanta with Jose and Katia behind it. It is the first time since 2010 three Atlantic hurricanes have been active at the same time.

Irma now prompting states of emergency in North Carolina, South Carolina, and also six coastal counties in Georgia. Important to keep them in mind as hurricane watches have expanded for portions of Cuba, so it would appear Florida would be next.

Let's ask meteorologist Pedram Javaheri where this will hit and when. Good morning, Pedram.


You know, you can't overhype -- overstate this storm even if you tried. The significance, the rarity, the place it holds in history as far as 40-plus hours approaching now where 180 mile per hour winds have been observed.

[05:35:05] Twenty-six hundred tropical systems and hurricanes have impacted parts of the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and also the Eastern Pacific. None of them have been as strong as Irma has for as long as Irma has retained this intensity.

So, it is headed towards the Turks and Caicos island. The immediate threat for these islands will be the storm surge because we know the areas just do not get up above a couple of feet for the vast majority of these islands. So once you're talking say 15 to 20 feet it is going to be incredible devastation across these islands of the Turks and Caicos and eventually, the Bahamas beyond today and eventually, on into tomorrow.

As we track this storm system going into Friday, that right turn still slated -- pretty high agreement in the models here that this storm system could potentially stay off of Cuba. Just a handful of models now bringing it into Cuba before a right turn.

And notice this. As that turn occurs in the last couple of days we've seen this kind of shift back to the west, back to the east. High concentration again wanting to bring this in and around Miami, points eastward early Sunday morning, and then up the coastline along the Carolinas -- potentially, coastal Georgia for a landfall.

And you can see the official track from the National Hurricane Center. Category four on approach towards areas around Miami and then potentially, a category three on that landfall across parts of the Carolinas and Georgia as it occurs -- as we go into, say, Monday and Tuesday at that point. And then it falls apart to a category one beyond that.

And I want to talk about this because if this storm system makes it to the Miami area as a category four as it is forecast right now at the National Hurricane Center, we're talking 145 mile per hour winds. Miami, of course, much, much taller buildings than anything the storm has had to encounter.

Once you get to this vantage point -- this stance across this region, you get up to about to say 30 stories we're talking about the winds speeds increasing from 145 back up to 174 miles per hour. Get up to 80 stories or so, we're talking a 30 percent increase of winds.

So essentially, what we're forecasting could be considerably higher for some of these major cities, Miami being a particular, on approach of this storm system. And, of course, the buildings will do a great job in funneling those winds as well so the dangers become considerably higher for Miami, in particular -- guys.

ROMANS: All right, Pedram Javaheri. Thank you so much for that. A very serious situation, no question.

Let's bring in retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore. He's a CNN contributor and the author of "Leadership in the New Normal." Lieutenant General Honore was the commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina, coordinating military relief efforts in post-hurricane New Orleans, and we remember very well the hard work he did then.

Let me ask you about what Floridians should be doing right this moment because every now and then, you know, you hear about people who say oh, I'm just going to ride this thing out. When you look at 180 mile per hour winds, if you are in one of those low-lying coastal areas this could be a deadly catastrophic situation. What are you advising people?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, AUTHOR, "LEADERSHIP IN THE NEW NORMAL", COMMANDER, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA, U.S. ARMY (RET.) (via Skype): Listen to your local officials. And, by and large, they're all telling people to evacuate.

But Miami is at about 11 foot elevation and the storm could come in at -- would surge depending on when the high tide is -- seven, eight, 10- foot tidal surge. That water is going to come into Miami in that particular area -- that coastal part of Florida.

And the canals in there that will allow the water that's used for boat channeling and for recreation and to get even the people out of homes in that area will allow that surge water to get into the city.

So it's quite possible, and I hope it doesn't, much of Miami could be underwater and you do not want to be in a city underwater as we had in New Orleans and as we saw in Beaumont. It becomes paralyzing. The grid goes down and you're stuck there.

And with 100 -- over 140 mile an hour wind, many of the wooden structures will be destroyed. So the information to people is evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.

ROMANS: And don't wait too long. I mean, Pedram Javaheri was saying, you know, tomorrow is your last chance. You don't wait too long. That's when you really --

BRIGGS: Get out two days ahead.

Certainly, you learned a lot about preparedness and evacuations from Katrina, but you talked a lot about the handling of Hurricane Harvey. In fact, telling CNN's Erin Burnett that the military's rescue efforts were amateur hour.

What should have been learned from the way Harvey was handled that they could apply to Florida, South Carolina, and parts of Georgia?

HONORE: And absolutely, to put that in context, the work that the military and the first responders were doing was excellent. My criticism was the slow mobilization of the active forces to come in and reinforce the National Guard. And that being said, we already see a difference.

The ships that were going to Houston are no longer needed and now they've been already re-missioned to Irma. And that is a type of proactive, leaning forward that our military is known for. That's been our tradition and I'm glad to see they are leaning forward and giving people warning orders to be prepared to support the people of the United States as well as those in the Caribbean by maneuvering forces toward the storm as it does pass.

[05:40:12] ROMANS: We talk about these winds. You talk about, you know, wooden structures that can just be flattened by winds like this. There's during the hurricane and then there's also after the hurricane. And we've seen so many fatalities happen afterward when people are returning home or when people are trying to get out of their homes in the water.

Walk us through what -- walk us through how people need to be so careful, even after this thing has passed.

HONORE: Well, the downed power lines. If the grid is still on -- flickering and parts of it on. We lost some of our good samaritans in the Houston area because of power lines.

There's also the possibility of toxic chemicals being in the water from nearby plants that might disrupt their holding and may be in the water.

In the case of Florida, it could be everything from alligators to snakes that might get into your homes on the -- when this tidal surge flushes them out.

So, it's important to also make sure that you take care of your pets and move them out of the way.

So those type of things are that cause most -- a lot of the people getting injured or killed afterwards.

And the other one, of course, is driving through flooded streets. We must remember the power of floods, whether they come from the ocean or is from rainwater, destroy more homes than any other event on earth and we must be prepared. And if you see floodwater from your home, it's quite a probability you're going to flood during a storm like Irma.

ROMANS: Lieutenant General Russell Honore, thank you so much for your time, sir. We know we'll be relying on you in the hours and days ahead as this storm approach really is the strongest thing we've seen in some 25 years in Florida. Thank you, sir.

HONORE: Good day.

BRIGGS: Thank you, sir.

All right. Everyone's been demanding bipartisanship but the deal between the president and Democratic leadership has Republicans shaking their heads.


[05:45:28] BRIGGS: Well, President Trump once tweeted that deals are my art form, but his latest is hardly a masterpiece if you ask Republican leadership. The president cutting a deal with, in his words, Chuck and Nancy on a short-term debt ceiling increase. That agreement funds the government and gets Hurricane Harvey relief money flowing.

ROMANS: But siding with the Democrats has infuriated Republican leaders.

I want to bring back Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."

Oh, the president made a deal, all right. He made a deal with the Democrats. What is the Republican reaction?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Obviously, Republicans are still trying to sort of what happened yesterday just a few hours before President Trump agreed to adopt Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi's approach to getting the debt ceiling passed and to funding the government past September.

House Speaker Paul Ryan had called this very approach unworkable and ridiculous, so Republican leadership was left looking ineffective coming out of that meeting with President Trump.

Republicans think that this approach gives Democrats all the leverage because in December they'll know that when it comes time to raise the debt ceiling once again and find some other sort of funding mechanism for the government, they'll have the leverage because Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass anything.

And so, Republicans are worried that this precludes any chance to get funding for the border wall, to get other immigration enforcement policies in with the DACA protections that they'll need to pass, like greater enforcement of E-Verify.

So, Republicans are a little despondent over the fact that they think President Trump handed Democrats a very huge win that is not just symbolic, but also substantive.

BRIGGS: I combed "The Art of the Deal" searching for some explanation of what the president did in terms of handing away leverage. Couldn't find a passage that backed it up.

But, "The Wall Street Journal," I think, sums it up pretty well. The conservative, Murdoch-owned "Wall Street Journal's" editorial board writes in the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal -- I'm just going to read part of it -- that essentially President Trump "undermines their fiscal strategy and all but hands the gavels to Democrats."

What is the impact of a deal that a best-selling author, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, described in one word, bad? What is the political impact of it down the road?

WESTWOOD: Well, obviously, President Trump's relationships on Capitol Hill were already strained by the summer of controversies that he has had. By the fact that he's gone after incumbent Republicans like Sen. Jeff Flake, like Sen. Dean Heller, who really need support from Republicans because they may be vulnerable in 2018. So, already, he was having a difficult time bridging the divide with much of the GOP conference.

Now that he is openly undermining leadership's strategy, he's going to have an even more difficult time getting their buy-in when it comes to passing things that he needs their support for. Like I mentioned, funding for the border wall, like these immigration enforcement mechanisms, even tax reform.

There are areas of disagreement between the White House and Republicans in Congress still that are not going to be easily smoothed over if President Trump is dealing exclusively with the Democrats. And, Republicans in the White House are now saying they want to see tax reform get passed before December.


WESTWOOD: It's a pretty brief time line for something that's still so thorny.


ROMAN: But he so badly wanted a deal, right? So stung after health care. I mean, he so badly wanted a deal.

This is -- it is a deal. He did get a deal there.


ROMANS: So can Democrats capitalize on this? That's the next question, I guess, Sarah.

WESTWOOD: I think Democrats are probably already figuring out how they are going to make the most of this opportunity that President Trump has given them. Clearly, they are going to want to pursue DACA protections as one of their first priorities and Democrats have indicated they're not really going to be willing to negotiate on immigration.

They're going to try to keep the DACA protections bill without strings attached to it, meaning they don't want to have any of these talks of border wall funding or E-Verify enforcement or more money for detention centers.

Anything that Republicans are going to want to put in an immigration bill the Democrats are going to want to keep out and they have a better chance of doing that in December when the debt ceiling will be back on the table.

Whereas, Republicans wanted to take that away for -- until after the midterms. They were pushing for an 18-month --

BRIGGS: Right.

WESTWOOD: -- extension of the debt limit so that they wouldn't have to deal with it again. And instead, they will have to face it in just 12 weeks.

[05:50:00] BRIGGS: And if you add to it that Heidi Heitkamp, a Democratic vulnerable senator, flew with the president aboard Air Force One, appeared with him on stage, and got her campaign ad, it was a very good day for Democrats yesterday. We'll see what happens next. Sarah Westwood, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, this --

WESTWOOD: Thank you.

ROMANS: -- from Facebook. Facebook says it sold ads to Russian trolls during the presidential campaign and now it's sharing that information with investigators. We've got details when we check on "Money Stream" next.


BRIGGS: Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett speaking out after he says police held a gun to his head for no reason recently in Las Vegas.

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


So, Bennett was attending the Mayweather-McGregor fight on his day off and afterwards he was returning to his hotel in Las Vegas when a crowd heard loud noises that sounded like gunshots.

Bennett says he, like everyone else, tried to run for cover but he was targeted by police. Now, TMZ obtained video of Bennett being detained.

In a letter posted on his Twitter, Bennett says police quote "pointed their guns at me and singled me out for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time."

[05:55:05] Now, police describe a different version of events. They say that Bennett's actions appeared suspicious and that when more security video emerges the officers will be exonerated.

Now, Bennett was detained for 10 minutes before being released and yesterday he spoke about the terrifying experience.


MICHAEL BENNETT, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I'm just lucky to be here to be able to speak about it. At any moment I could have made the wrong decision and whether moved or felt like I was resisting or doing something wrong again, you guys would be wearing -- the Seahawks would be wearing the patch with number 72 on it.

I try to tell my daughters every single day that they matter.


SCHOLES: Now, Bennett has retained a prominent attorney and is considering a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Throughout the NFL preseason, Bennett has sat during the National Anthem to protest social injustice and says he will continue to do so.

All right. For those waiting for the first-ever Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer U.S. Open match, yes, they're going to wait a little longer. Federer shocked by Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro last night in New York in the quarterfinals.

Fed trying to win his third grand slam title this year. The 36-year- old is now going to have a little longer for that twentieth grand slam title. Del Potro and Nadal, meanwhile, will play on Friday.

All right, even with Serena Williams out of action after giving birth to her first child, the women's side, they'll be dominated by Americans for the first time since 1981. All four semifinalists are from the U.S.

Tonight, Venus Williams is going to take on Sloane Stephens. That match is at 7:00 Eastern.

That will be followed by CoCo Vandeweghe, the niece of former basketball player KiKi Vandeweghe. She's taking on Madison Keys. And guys, CoCo and Madison, good friends off the court so it will be -- you know, bittersweet for whoever wins that match.

BRIGGS: Yes, but this is just great news for American tennis.

SCHOLES: I know.

BRIGGS: I can't wait to watch.

SCHOLES: Four for four, pretty cool deal.

BRIGGS: It's outstanding. Thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning.

Stocks futures in the U.S. down a little bit. Stock markets in Europe and Asia mostly higher. Investors encouraged by President Trump's debt ceiling deal with Democrats, but worries about North Korea and the economic effects of the hurricane 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 about 3,000 ads from the summer of 2015 through the spring of 2017. It cost about $100,000.

The ads were both traditional and sponsored posts. They were intended to sow discord among voters by amplifying divisive social and political messages. That's according to Facebook.

Messages ranging from LGBT matters, to race issues, to immigration, to gun rights. But we can't show you the ads because Facebook has not released them.

A pop quiz. What do you do if you're a billionaire and there's a category five hurricane barreling toward your private island?

BRIGGS: I don't know.

ROMANS: Run? No, you hunker down in your wine cellar.

BRIGGS: Of course, you do.

ROMANS: Billionaire Richard Branson sent out this tweet from his home on Necker Island.

"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 on Instagram everyone is OK but the storm destroyed some buildings on the property. He warns those in Irma's path not to take this hurricane lightly.

And we urge all of you not to take this hurricane lightly. This is something that Florida hasn't seen in a very, very long time.

BRIGGS: If you can get out, do it.

ROMANS: Difficult days ahead.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now with the latest projections for Hurricane Irma.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September seventh, 6:00 here in New York.

And we do begin with breaking news for you.

At this hour, the Dominican Republic is beginning to feel the wrath of Hurricane Irma. Rain and wind are picking up on that island. Haiti, the Bahamas, and Turks and Caicos also in the line of fire.

Florida is bracing for a potential direct hit from this deadly category five storm and there are mandatory evacuations already underway in some parts of the state. Landfall there is expected this weekend.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: There is still time. The hope is that that shift to the east continues. We'll be watching it.

But right now, Irma is punishing Puerto Rico. It wasn't even a direct hit and still, more than one million customers, no power. More than 56,000, no water.

The pictures tell the story. The monster storm, literally the size of Texas, unleashing its fury on the tiny island of Barbuda. One hundred and eighty-five mile an hour winds, this is what they do -- disaster zone.

Ninety-five percent of the buildings are damaged or destroyed. That's according to the prime minister. He flew over it. He says it's barely habitable.