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Hurricane Irma Threatens the Caribbean; Florida Preparing for Hurricane Landfall; Interview with Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The prime minister there flew over the island, says 95 percent damaged or destroyed, barely habitable. And remember, there are more storms coming. The death toll rising. The United Nations say the hurricane could impact up to 37 million people.

CNN has this hurricane covered like no other network can. Let's begin with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. We're seeing this path is sticking pretty much to what you expected. And we're also seeing that you don't need to have a complete hit to have a complete disaster.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, because this is so wide. Everyone on the Florida peninsula will feel the hurricane gust force, 75, 77 or greater. But someone there will feel 150, and that's the real problem, 150 is nothing like 110 or like 80. Just exponentially goes up the damage you get if you'll be 150.

Here's the hurricane center's track. It hasn't changed overnight. It's truly the exact same track they had yesterday, very close to Key Largo and then straight on up the stretch right into Homestead and right into Miami proper. It is a significant storm for the entire Florida coast, one side or the other.

Let me take you to something here. We know where the storm is. We know where it's going. But what happens when it does hit Key Largo? Fairly unpopulated here. Ocean reef there and then up toward Homestead, Coral Gables, right where Andrew went through.

Now we're going to take you to downtown and what we're expecting here. This is the third tallest city in America. There are 70 buildings over 40 stories high and many of them higher than that. And now let's take a look at this graphic. We just got a wind gust at the surface from the hurricane hunter aircraft of 146. But 600 feet up, guys, the wind gust was 206 miles per hour, and there are buildings that are taller than that. It exponentially goes up the higher you get. If you are in a high rise as this begins to approach Miami, you need to be out completely. I don't think there's a window in America that will take 206 miles per hour.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, that is very important context you're giving us, Chad. Thank you so much for the graphic and for all the information.

Joining us now is FEMA administrator Brock Long. Mr. Long, thank you very much for taking time to talk to us this morning. I remember talking to you two weeks ago basically exactly this time as Harvey was barreling down on Houston. So now, today, what are you seeing, and how are you getting ready?

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, bottom line is very similar to the way we lean forward with Harvey. We're doing the same with Irma. So the numbers are coming up. We have nearly 3,000 federal work force in place, not only in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico but also in Florida all the way, we're moving teams to basically South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina today as well. Commodities have been pre- staged, search and rescue has been pulled off of Texas and mobilized to the southeastern United States. Three Navy ships are off the coast of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to support life-saving missions today and helping them get back on track with recovery.

CAMEROTA: So as you look at this model on our screen where it does look as though Florida or at least its entire coast line is going to take this direct hit, what's your biggest fear?

LONG: Right now we just need people to heed the evacuation warnings being issued in the state of Florida. But I expect more of those evacuation warning orders to be issued by local and state officials in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, over the next 24, 48 hours. So the entire southeastern United States better wake up and pay attention.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Just to reiterate that, there are mandatory evacuations. We spoke to the mayor of the Miami beach area, and it's mandatory. Now you can see some of the traffic already bottling up.

So with this one-two punch of Harvey and Irma, this rapid fire succession of these huge storms, are you worried about funding today? I know that funding is on its way with the emergency Harvey relief fund, but today do you have enough of what you need?

LONG: I'll never allow paperwork and money to get in the way of saving lives. We're pushing forward. I have a healthy relationship with the Congress. The White House, Homeland Security, and the Congress are all working together diligently right now to get us what we need to continue forward. They know that they have a job to do to support Texas and southeastern -- not only the southeastern United States for Irma but a multitude of disasters. I think there's over 30 different disaster declarations active right now in the United States that FEMA's working. And the bottom line is I'm leaning forward. I'll let them do their job while I do mine.

CAMEROTA: And, look, you're no stranger to emergency preparedness. You've done this for a long time. But when you hear category five hurricane, you just heard Chad Myers gives the report of something like 200 miles per hour gusts. What goes through your -- put this in context for us of how concerning what you hear about Irma is.

[08:05:00] LONG: Well, the United States is only been hit by three category five storms since 1851 if my memory serves correct. So that was the Labor Day storm of 35, Camille in 69, and Andrew in 92. So bottom line is a majority of people along the coast have never experienced a major hurricane like this. It will be truly devastating. The reason we're asking you to evacuate is largely because of coastal storm surge flood inundation, and the goal is to get out of those storm surge zones and into a facility that can withstand the winds.

CAMEROTA: So while we watch Irma, barrelling towards Florida, can you give us an update on what's happened in Houston and the surrounding areas? I was there reporting last week. I saw all of the displaced people. I was in the shelters. So how is it looking today?

LONG: Well, we've established recovery command to help the governor, Governor Abbott and those local communities that were impacted to achieve their recovery goals. It's going to be a long, frustrating recovery for the state of Texas for two reasons. One, it takes a long time to pick up the debris, and then two, it's a very complex mission to get people into transitional housing as they rebuild their lives. And my goal is through individual assistance and our housing assistance programs to restore hope and provide them an initial bridge to recovery.

I can't make them whole, but we are working around the clock. As of yesterday I think we had over 30,000 federal government workers in Texas trying to effect recovery. But the citizens of Texas are going to have to be in for the long hall. This is going to be a tough one.

CAMEROTA: For sure. In your experience when people's homes are destroyed, how long does it take them to rebuild and have some sense of normalcy again?

LONG: Well, it depends. The first line of defense is insurance. And one of the things we've got to do is create a true culture of preparedness in this country and help people understand that insurance is important, understand the policy, how it works, how to mitigate your house. There's a lot of pre-disaster mitigation that needs to take place in this country not only from land use planning to building codes, but how do you actually mitigate your house from elevating your heating and air-conditioning systems, elevating your homes to mitigating them for wind, to do you have three to-six months of rainy day fund in your savings account to overcome disasters? We've got a long way to go in this country to building a true culture of preparedness.

And these are landmark events. It's time for the United States to wake up and take preparedness seriously.

CAMEROTA: Those are really good tips. And for people who don't -- I keep getting this question, and I don't know the answer. For people who don't have flood insurance, what is there for them? What happens?

LONG: So unfortunately, there is individual assistance that's capped at a certain amount that FEMA provides to provide rental assistance. And in some cases, it's funding for those that may have lost their job as a result. But then their only other option is really small business administration does low interest loans to help them repair and rebuild their homes that they have. But it's going to be a frustrating process. And we do realize there were many uninsured victims out there in Texas.

CAMEROTA: Well, Brock Long, thank you very much for all of this sobering information this morning, and obviously we'll check back with you as Irma progresses. Thanks for being here.

LONG: Thank you.


CUOMO: All right, and we do have concerns about how people are going to recover in the United States, but it is nothing in terms of the desperation you will see in Haiti, and the hurricane is hitting it right now. CNN's Paula Newton joins us live with more. Paula, this is the moment of calm before the storm. The wind is starting to pick up. What is the expectation?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The expectation is that they will not take a direct hit, but as I keep telling everyone, this place does not have to see a direct hit for there to be epic devastation, something the government here and quite frankly the people here are not prepared for. Why? The just simply can't prepare for something like this. We have seen the northern coast is going to take the brunt, very little preparation in terms of even the basics, food and water.

Having said that, some evacuation centers are open. There are no indication that a lot of people are going to them. And Chris, where does that leave people? That leaves people with a tin roof and a few pieces of plywood. That is their home, with flooding and mudslides being a major concern. And that is going to be what they're watching out for here. Again, not a lot of help coming from the government. It hasn't been forthcoming. It could be days before we understand the impact of this hurricane here on this island. A lot of them praying that passes for preparation here. That's all that you can do. And we have seen, really it's been unsettling, Chris, very few amounts of evacuations or stocking up or any kind of protection, nay kind of really even knowledge that the storm is approaching. They know it's going to rain and it's going to rain hard and the winds will be quite strong, and that's about it.

CUOMO: Look, let's be honest, the place checks every box for risk. It doesn't have good emergency services, people don't have insurance. Their house construction is crap.

[08:10:00] They're prone to mudslides, deforestation, no ability to recover afterwards. So they're always going to be in a bad way. It is good to have you there. Be safe, my friend, and let us know what happens.

So what we've seen so far from this storm ain't good. The images just show what 185 miles an hour winds can do. This is the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda. The hurricane reducing everything of everything in its path to rubble. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, joins us now. Sir, sorry for the loss.

GASTON BROWNE, PRIME MINISTER, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: Well, we've had one fatality. It could have been worse. And it shows that there is significant level of preparedness. Otherwise there would have been many more fatalities, many more casualties. So we are grateful even though saddened by the fact that the Barbuda infrastructure and 90 percent of the roads have been decimated. Natural disaster is unprecedented here. In fact, it is one of the worst national disasters that any country certainly within this hemisphere will ever experience perhaps barring Haiti.

CUOMO: We know that from your flyover you said about 95 percent seems to be damaged or destroyed, barely habitable, the words you used. And you're right there is a blessing in not having had tremendous loss of life. But for those who are there, that's going to be only a measure of solace because now they have to figure out how to live there. How will people make it when so much of the infrastructure and the structures are gone?

BROWNE: One of the problems with Barbuda is that the own the land in common. So invariably they do not get mortgages. Most of these properties have been constructed from their life savings. And invariably they're not insured. So we cannot even look for the insurance proceeds. They will have to bear the brunt of expenses to rebuild Barbuda. And it is really beyond the means of our country. At this time we are seeking assistance. And this is absolutely quintessential if we make the type of recovery that we needed in Barbuda.

CUOMO: Mr. Browne, are you worried that you're going to see a lot of flight from the island? That people will decide this was just too much, this was too bad, they'll pick up and try to start again elsewhere?

BROWNE: Well, Barbudans tend to be extremely loyal to the country. I believe that temporarily some of them will move, especially in light of the impending storm, hurricane Jose. The lasting thing we want is to have a significant amount of individuals go, anyone for that matter in Barbuda, resident of Barbuda.

These storms are more ferocious, they are coming with greater frequency, and evidence climate change it real. You're living the consequences of climate change. And those who do not belief in climate change, we're hoping that when they would have looked at these natural disasters that will change their position. All of us need to believe in it and to take collective action to affect climate change.

CUOMO: Right. Well, look, there's a broader discussion to be had, that is true. A lot in the political spectrum in the United States don't want to have that conversation right now. They'll blame it on urgency but they just don't like the subject matter. But the immediate concern for you now, especially with this other storm coming, how many people are we talking about that are still on the island and obviously shelters in short supply?

BROWNE: Between 1,800 and 2,000. We are making every effort possible to send over relief supplies there.

CUOMO: OK. BROWNE: Miami flown into the country, we're trying to get some from

Panama. And the whole idea is to try and get some plywood and galvanize over so that they can restore some of them immediately. And depending as to whether or not Jose is going to hit land and whether or not it becomes a threat for Barbuda, then we may have to take a last minute decision to evacuate everyone. And we do have a number of passages that we've established to affect an evacuation.

CUOMO: All right, Mr. Prime minister, as you get information about what is needed and how people can help, please relay it to us. We'll be in touch with your office. See us as a resource, be safe and be well. I wish you quick recovery.

BROWNE: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Chris, we will of course have much more on hurricane Irma, but first, President Trump surprising his own party when he sided with Democrats on a debt ceiling deal yesterday. So Republican Congressman and avid Trump supporter Chris Collins is going to join us live to tell us how he feels today.


[08:18:30] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump reportedly blind- siding members of his own party by endorsing a Democratic plan for a short term debt limit extension and money for the victims of Harvey.

Will that plan pass muster with Republicans? Do they even have a choice?

Joining us, Republican Congressman Chris Collins. He was one of President Trump's earliest supporters in Congress.

It's good to see you as always, Congressman.

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: It's good to be with you. It's good to be back in D.C.

CUOMO: Yes, there's a lot of work to be done. No question about it.

So, there's two different versions of what the president did. One is he went around Republican leadership, he made people upset, he gave the Democrats too much leverage, he didn't get a long enough deal on the debt ceiling, only three months. You guys wanted more like six.

The other is he cut out the partisan B.S., he went right to the source and he got something done that allows you guys to now focus on tax reform, health care and other big ticket items.

Which side are you on?

COLLINS: I'm on the latter side that Donald Trump went to the source. He had to. We have a filibuster issue when it comes to the debt ceiling. So, he went to Senator Schumer. We have 52 Republicans, we don't have 60.

So, he went where he needed to go to find out what Senator Schumer's appetite was on the debt ceiling. But I'll also point out, we technically hit the debt ceiling limit last March.

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: So, we're six months beyond that, using what they call extraordinary measures. It's like accrual accounting versus cash accounting. So, by extending the debt ceiling until December 15, in point and fact, using extraordinary measures, it could go into next June or July.

[08:20:03] CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: And what he has allowed us to do, we're just now tonight at midnight, we're going to be voting on appropriations bills. We've got the FAA reauthorization we've got to get through, including the privatization of air traffic control.

So, I think Trump did what he thought was best. He is the CEO, if you will, of the country. And I'm fine with it. And meanwhile we can and have to focus on some of the other issues.

CUOMO: Why is the leadership talking in abundance about how they're upset about it?

COLLINS: Well, I have not heard that. Yesterday in our conference, we got the distinct impression this is exactly what we were going to see.

And clearly, some people -- and I'm one of the folks who would say why do we have a debt ceiling? It's because we spend more than we bring in. We run deficits. We have to pay our bills.

There are people, and I'm one of them, who would say let's just have an automatic increase in the debt ceiling. When you run out of money, you know, you have to raise it. We have to pay our bills. We can't default on our debt.

So, really, it's a vote we have to take. We've always taken it. We always will. Whether we do it in December, whether we do it in June or put it on a perpetual automatic increase, which is what I think we should do.

CUOMO: That's because you're a businessman though. Obviously you would run it very differently if this were a business. It's not a business. So many of the services aren't in a profit motivated dynamic, we get that, or at least people like you do.

And you also give up all of this political leverage the party wants to use to wage war over fiscal responsibility. And that's why the business acumen doesn't always predominant. But I like what you're saying about you country over party. The president did what he thought he needed to do. Some of the GOP is upset. So be it.


CUOMO: So, let's talk about some of these other big ticket items. DACA, you got your own bill. Curiously, or interestingly, it's actually all sponsored by Republicans and it has a save the DREAMers situation with it. But it does deal with future registrations and those types of needs as opposed to being permanent.

Do you believe that Congress will come together to create a permanent solution for the DREAMers?

COLLINS: Well, I hope so. That's why the bill that I'm on with Carlos Curbelo gives them -- gives the DREAMers as long as they're working on their education, in the military, with a job, law-abiding citizens, it gives them five years of certainty at the end of which they would have another five years to get through the application process of a green card.

So, in fact, this bill would give them certainty, would result in a green card.

CUOMO: So, it's not five by five by five. It's five, as almost a probation period and if everything goes right during then, you then can apply for full citizenship.

COLLINS: Well, you can then get in the line for a green card. And what we haven't discussed, Chris, is whether that would lead to citizenship or not. I don't a problem if it does for the DREAMers, not for the adults who broke the law coming here. I'm all about permanent work status for the adults.

But for the kids that came here, that have lived here, if there is a path to citizenship, I've always --

CUOMO: And what do you say to members of your own party who say, no, they are fruit of the poisonous tree. They came here, some of them maybe even knowingly. And if they don't rat on their parents to help in the deportation promise, then they should be seen as criminals themselves. That is almost verbatim with Steve King, congressman from Iowa, Republican, says is the situation.

What do you say to people like him?

COLLINS: Well, I believe we're better than that. We're a compassionate country.

I know I come from a big dairy area and also ag where the undocumented workers, that's what I call them. I don't want to call them illegal immigrants. I prefer the term undocumented workers -- are working hard. They've been there in some cases for well over 10 years raising their families.

We need to recognize that. We need to get the borders secure, which was the root cause of these problems. But, Chris, we've got to have a pathway for legal work status for the adults as well as the DREAMers, and if the DREAMers end in citizenship. Again, I don't have a problem with it. These are kids living just

like, going to school with our kids, looking forward to living the American dream, whether they're going to be a teacher, engineer, or whatever profession, maybe a CNN host, that they choose --

CUOMO: That's a low bar, Congressman. You should have higher hopes for people than they get to the media and be used as a pinata for guys like you all the time.

Let me ask you something else. What if the quid pro quo on the DACA deal comes down to the wall? We know it has a tremendous amount of political currency, at least in the head of the president. The Democrats keep saying it is a non-starter. Where are you within your party if they say, well, we've got to get the wall if we give them a DACA deal?

COLLINS: Well, you know, the irony is, the $1.6 billion that we're talking about for the wall --

CUOMO: As a first installment.

[08:25:01] COLLINS: As a first installment.

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: In many cases, this is actually finishing out some areas that were part of the Obama plan to secure the border. This is border security, and when you look at where that money's going, it's not a 20-foot wall. In some cases, it's a levy or a barrier in the water. It's some fencing.

It's securing our borders and for some reason, we no why, the term the wall has entered into the narrative. It's securing our borders. That's what it is. And --

CUOMO: That's not what the president tells people. He says he' going to build a new, beautiful, very high wall. Sometimes he says there's a nice door in it.

He's created political currency around this. This is not what you're saying now. I'm not saying you're wrong. You're certainly more right in terms of what I'm hearing in terms of legislative proposals. But how do you tamp down that rhetoric?

COLLINS: We just have to move forward. Secure the borders. We need this money. And call it a down payment.

It's important that we secure the borders as we deal with comprehensive immigration reform. A must will be on the Republican side to say we now have control of the borders. We'll deal with it once and for all, and we're not going to have to revisit it ten more years down the road with another 10 million undocumented workers.

And the rhetoric is the rhetoric. Let's face it. It's always going to be. And as you pointed out, the minority party is always going to jump on whatever sound bite works best for them. And that's where we are today.

CUOMO: Leadership starts at the top, though. The talk from the top is what carries down.

Chris Collins, congressman from New York -- thank you very much for joining us on NEW DAY as always, sir.

COLLINS: Good to be with you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Chris, of course, we're tracking Hurricane Irma. It's heading straight for Florida. So, we'll give you an update, next.