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Florida Bracing for Direct Hit from Monster Hurricane; Mueller to Question White House Staffers on Don Jr. Meeting Statement. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:19] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to you in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, September 8, 6 a.m. here in Miami. We are following breaking news, of course, and all eyes are on Hurricane Irma. She is coming right to where we are at this hour. The storm is scarring every place she touches in the Caribbean so far. Cuba is next in its path. We will show you the predictions. We have the best proof of what she's done so far.

Chad Myers is going to show you the moment -- the track that we know right now. And I'm being qualified about it, because the closer the storm gets, the less hope there is for a shift. But there are still variables. We'll take you through them.

Right now, Florida is under a hurricane warning. It's looking like a Category 4. That's 155-mile-an-hour sustained winds. Gusts can go higher. The models call for a hit somewhere in South Florida. There seems to be a westerly shift. That could be a good thing. We'll take you through the possibilities.

So again, this could be the last tranquil morning you see in South Florida for some time. Every man and woman, every official and first responder is pleading with those in evacuation areas to get out now. Those sheltering in place, the message is clear. Have a plan. Have supplies for 72 hours. That's three days.

Take a look at the map. You can see where the mandatory and voluntary evacuation centers are in Florida. Just because your county may not have an evacuation order in place right now, it doesn't mean there's not going to be one by tomorrow. So be ready to have to move. Keep checking. There are lots of places to look online. Look at our website if you need help.

Now a lot of the people are getting out of Dodge. Take a look. This is the interstate. Jam-packed. Cars are obviously heading north. Florida's governor shutting down offices, schools, colleges, even some hospitals, all closed. Why? Because of the destructive capabilities of hundred plus mile-an-hour winds. Anticipated storm surge, 10, 20 feet. And this spongy area of the state, you can't exaggerate the effect, Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Chris, so great to have you on the ground there to tell us what you're seeing and, as the conditions change, what you're experiencing there.

So meanwhile, ten people have already been killed by Hurricane Irma. And of course, that number could rise as it hits the more populated areas. The monster storm pummeling Turks and Caicos. Here's some video. This happened overnight. The wind and torrential rain causing lots and lots of damage.

The Bahamas and Cuba now bracing for impact. They are the next in line to be hit by Irma. The Red Cross says the storm has already battered 1.2 million people, but 26 million more are in its path.

And as if this all is not bad enough, there is another hurricane on Irma's heels. So we're now keeping a close watch on Hurricane Jose.

CNN is using all of our global resources to bring you up-to-the-minute coverage of Hurricane Irma, beginning with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, tell us where this thing is heading.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is heading to Florida. It is going to make landfall in the Keys somewhere. Right now it's over Crooked Island in the Turks and Caicos, millibars of 925. That is a very deep and strong storm. This is not a Category 1. This is nothing to ride out and say, "Oh, it's just a blow. I will be fine." No. If you are in the Keys, you need to go. If you are in the lower elevations here of Miami-Dade, you need to go. You already have those mandatory evacuations.

And I don't say this because -- I've seen so many people ride this out and they're always fine. This isn't an always-fine kind of storm. This is a storm that will have a storm surge bubble of 15 to 20 feet. And it's already running over the Turks and Caicos right now. There will be waves on top of that 15 feet of another 15 or 20 feet. So your house is not safe in the Keys. Oceanside, bay side, whatever, get out. Get up. Get cars on road. Get up the stretch. Whatever it takes for you to have to do.

Here's where the European model is taking it right over -- right there -- right over the western edge. Probably big pine key right up to almost Cape Coral. That's the area here that will see the 130- to 140-mile-per-hour winds. The onshore flow here in Miami will also cause significant storm surge in the city, maybe six to ten feet there.

Now, the American model, slightly farther to the east, but still not that much farther, maybe 40 miles getting over about Key Largo, right through Miami proper with 130- to 140-mile-per-hour winds, right where our Chris Cuomo is. And it will be a devastating storm.

You need to get away from here. Because even though you know it's going to go over land, you know what that land is? That land is the Everglades. That's not land. That's still water. The storm will not going to slow down that much. Even by the time it gets to Atlanta, we'll have wind gusts here of 45 to 60 miles per hour. And some flash flooding is possible, but that's not the real storm. The story, Chris, is surge, and the story is wind damage. We will get

some rain. This isn't Harvey; this is moving fast. This moving fast is bad, because it's going to push that bubble of water right through the Keys, right into Homestead, right into Cutler Ridge, all the way in those areas in the Biscayne Bay. If you're within ten feet of elevation of Biscayne Bay, you need to get out.

CUOMO: And there's all this eerie familiarity with those areas from Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.

MYERS: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Those are the memories that people fear repeating now. The authorities down here thank you, Chad, for telling people, "Hey, just because you see the eye going over one area doesn't mean that you're not still going to get hit. It doesn't have to be a direct hit to be a bad hit. Chad, we'll check back with you in a bit.

[06:05:07] So in tracking that path, and Chad just showed you, who's up next? Cuba. They are gearing up for the destructive power of Irma. Deadly hurricane-force winds, especially along the northern ridge of that vulnerable island, all coming in just a matter of hours.

CNN is there. We have Patrick Oppmann live in Cuba with the very latest. My friend, I hope your family is OK. I know you've got to be out there doing your job. But, you know, your heart is in that home, as well. What are you seeing on the ground?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Chris. Thank you so much.

Well, here in Cuba, people are getting ready. Tourists have evacuated. You talk about the Florida Keys, but Cuba has its own Keys on the northern coast, full of hotels. Usually a pretty busy season right now. They're all empty. Here where Cubans live, along this coastal community, a lot of people have evacuated. Some of the bomb shelters built during the Cuban missile crisis, Chris.

So the government is moving hundreds of thousands of people here. They're telling residents that just about everyone on this island will be affected. We still don't know if it's going to be a glancing blow or a direct hit. But whatever happens, it is going to cause devastation in Cuba before heading north to Florida.

CAMEROTA: OK. Patrick, thank you very much. Obviously, we'll check back with you throughout the program.

So overnight, Turks and Caicos took a direct lit from Hurricane Irma, and that's where Travis Cohen and his new wife were celebrating their honeymoon. They spent days trying to figure out what to do. Travis joins us now from Coral Springs, Florida, with the story of how they got out and where they're going next.

So Travis, man, I have been reading about your odyssey--

TRAVIS COHEN, WAS ON HONEYMOON IN TURKS AND CAICOS: Never-ending. CAMEROTA: -- of how you tried to figure out how to get off the island. So tell us what day you figured out you were in trouble and what you did.

COHEN: The day I figured out I was in trouble was probably around Sunday. We started looking at flights to get out of there, but there was really nothing to get out of there. And we were told, "Don't really worry yet. Just wait until you get evacuated."

And I'm like, "No, I don't want to wait until it's too late. I need to get out now."


COHEN: So there's nothing we could really do.

CAMEROTA: So then you started calling airlines. You started calling, you know, travel agents, and it felt for a while as if you were trapped. How did you -- how did you and your wife eventually make it out?

COHEN: A lot of coffee. And eventually on Wednesday, a miracle opened up. There was a flight that showed up. You could get out of there for $1,500 a person, which is outrageous. But we had no choice but to take it. So there was a plane that we chartered, some of our guests that we chartered, because our airlines weren't coming to get us.

And now we got out of there for a nominal fee.


COHEN: That really put us in another situation. Now we're stuck in Florida, and we have to get out of Florida.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

COHEN: But I'm just happy to be out of there.

CAMEROTA: Yes. No, I get it. Your odyssey is not over. You need to evacuate or get out of Florida whenever you can. But so there was this charter flight for 1,500, and a couple of days earlier you'd been offered a different charter flight for 1,500 at which point you said, "That's price gouging. No thanks."


CAMEROTA: "I'm not going to do it." You stood on principle. And then two days later, you were like, "I think I'll take it."

COHEN: Yes, because I think at that point that was our only option. I thought a couple days ago, maybe there's got to be some other flights. There's no way you have to pay that much to get out of there. And then it turns out that was our only option.

So we were just happy to leave. We'll worry about the financials later. That's the least of our problems right now.

CAMEROTA: No kidding. So how much--

COHEN: I heard there were people that had to charter a flight, and they had to pay $5,000 each. I mean, I heard about price gouging going on all over the place.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. I mean, obviously, they are just, you know, preying on people who are desperate to get to safety. So how much of your honeymoon did you dedicate to trying to figure out how get out of the way of Irma?

COHEN: Let's just say I spent more money getting out of there than I spent getting there and staying at a hotel. Our budget pretty much doubled from this whole thing, and it's, you know, obviously not recoverable. We're not out of the woods yet. But we're just happy that we have our lives for now. At least we're not like the poor people in Florida who have everything to worry about. I just had to get myself out. But these people have homes, everything. And I'm -- I can't imagine the devastation that's going to happen here.

CAMEROTA: So Travis, let's talk about what's next. I know that there's this whole, like, planes, trains and automobiles system--


CAMEROTA: -- that you have for how you're going to get back to California. What are you looking at?

COHEN: Literally, that exact thing. There was no rental cars here in Florida. I was told you can't even rent a skateboard out of here. We're going to take an Amtrak to Orlando, get an Uber to the airport there, get on our plane there, fly as close as we can to L.A., which we got to Long Beach, and then Uber back home. There's just going to be all these different modes of transportation. And it's just been non-stop, trying to get something solid. And no one has anything.

So it's just not -- it's the most stressful, most expensive vacation I've ever been on. We talk about hopefully taking another honeymoon sometime nowhere near the Caribbean. But yes, it's been quite a lesson in travel.

CAMEROTA: Well, Travis, we know that your new bride, Jessica, is sleeping some of this off right now.

COHEN: Yes, a little bit.

CAMEROTA: We wish -- we wish you guys the best getting home, and we sure wish that you have a really tranquil honeymoon at some time in the future. Thanks so much for joining us.

CUOMO: I don't have the--

CAMEROTA: All right. Well, so you just heard -- that's just one story. By the way, we had all sorts of guests who are supposed to be joining us, Chris, from Turks and Caicos, but the phone lines are down, and we can't get a hold of any of them. And we're hoping that they're OK. So obviously, we'll update people on the status of everyone on Turks and Caicos as soon as we can, Chris.

CUOMO: Phone lines being down are the least of their worries. I mean, all of these different places in the Caribbean that are getting hit are being scarred, and we'll show you the pictures. We'll show you the outcome, and we'll show you the predictions of what comes next.

Now, to the mainland here, that means the Florida Keys. They are certainly under a hurricane warning. There are mandatory evacuations in effect, and they've been in effect for a while. There's been a mass exodus. It's a nightmare. Tons of traffic, headaches. There aren't a lot of ways out of there. The job for us is to be there.

CNN's Bill Weir is on scene in Key Largo. Again, the closest key to the mainland, you're going to see the most activity. What's it like on the floor there, my friend?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Chris. You've got basically three types of Conks, people who live here in what is known as the Conk Republic. One of the most unique neighborhoods in America. You've got those who heeded that early evacuation warning, and put up their storm shutters and ghosted. They're out of here already.

There are those late sort of decision makers that are watching the track of the storms, sitting by the beach, under what have been beautiful skies, trying to figure out, is it going to go west? Is it going to go east? Do I go down to Key West to ride it out? Do I head north?

And then there are those who aren't leaving at all, and this -- this sort of storm psychology is especially prevalent in a place that's fiercely independent, a place where a lot of people dropped out of society and don't suspect [SIC] the government telling them to do anything with mandatory terms.

We talked to a few boat captains last night. Not only going to ride out this storm, but going to ride it out on their boat in harbors just like this, hoping their anchor and double lines will help them. And they -- because they want to be mobile after the storm.

And it's interesting, Chris, is they -- everybody here who's been here a long time, they've built in history into the decision. "Oh, I was here for Andrew, and it missed the Keys by this much." Or "Last year, when Matthew went out and turned east."

And so as you know, all of the first responders, all the authorities are saying, "Get out of here." But that's just not the reality. There will be tens of thousands who do not leave.

CUOMO: All right. And so then you get into what happens as -- and a function of that reality. If they stay behind, all the authorities have been saying to us is they're getting out of the Keys. So 911 is going to reach no one, at least during the duration of the actual impact of Irma.

How is that resonating where you are?

WEIR: It's -- you know, again, it goes back to the sort of fierce sense of independence, and it's fine. I can handle it; I'll take care of my own and my family. I've got my water and my beer and my ammunition.

But yes, we talked to the sheriff's department here. They are hunkering down. The -- really one of the only Category 5 structures in all of the Florida Keys is the jail, the county jail on Stock Island. Actually happens to be an animal refuge right under that. So you have about 400 prisoners, all of the guards, most of the sheriff's departments' staff and families, hunkering in there.

The nearest refuge center north of us is up in Miami. So they've got buses running. They're trying to shoo people out of here, but those who say they can handle it on their own, that will be tested in real time.

CUOMO: All right. Bill, be safe. I'll be seeing plenty of you. We'll check back in a little bit.

All right. So what else are we seeing in terms of infrastructure here? Florida Power and Light says it's shutting down its two nuclear power plants along the state's eastern coast, obviously trying to stay ahead of the storm. The facilities, they say, are designed to withstand heavy wind and storm surge. In fact, they're about one of the strongest in the U.S. That's what the officials are telling us. Yet, the anticipated arrival of a Category 4 storm is just too much of a chance to take. They see too much potential danger. So federal regulators expect the Turkey Point plant -- that's near Miami -- it's going to go offline tonight. Just as a little bit of an indication of how seriously they're taking this.

So again, the expectation right now is that Hurricane Irma will hit Florida. All right? The closer it gets, the less hope there is for a radical shift that would spare us. So people in Miami are scrambling to leave before impact. We're going to take you to Miami's airport and the realities of fares, worries about gouging, and the chance of getting out, next.


[06:18:34] CUOMO: All right. We are live in Miami and, unfortunately, this is not where you want to be. Hurricane Irma is heading this way and is expected to make landfall somewhere in South Florida this weekend.

So we see a lot of things shutting down in advance of the storm's arrival. We've got CNN's Rosa Flores, live at Miami International Airport right now.

What is the situation there, Rosa, and what are you hearing? There are so many stories and concerns about gouging, you know, not being able to get flights, them being closed out, stuck at the airport. What are you seeing?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, frustrations are high here at Miami International Airport as operations start winding down, like you mentioned.

Take a look behind me. This is the customer service line. I've talked to multiple people on this line. Some of them received notices overnight saying that their flight was canceled. I talked to another couple who said that they printed their boarding pass about an hour and a half ago, arrived at the airport only to find out that their flight had been canceled, as well.

I talked to another gentleman who was in tears, because he says that he's going to miss his son's wedding. And so emotions are very, very high.

Now, we've learned from American Airlines that they've added 16 flights. Delta has added 15 flights. But Chris, it is definitely not enough as people are trying to get out of Miami ahead of Irma -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Rosa, thank you very much. Please keep us apprised of what's going on, because so many are worried about trying to leave, because they think they're going to be taken with their pocketbook or not taken where they need to go by an available flight. So we'll check back with you.

[06:20:11] All right. Let's get some perspective on what's headed this way, what the preparations are, what the reality is. We have CNN contributor and former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, David Halstead.

Big Dave, good to have you with us. Got a little bit of sprinkles coming down on us. But this is welcome, because it's so muggy down here that we'll take a little sprinkles right now.

But let's talk about what's really coming. When we look at the path of the storm, we're still hearing, well, could shift, could shift. But the closer it gets, what are the realities?

DAVID HALSTEAD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm not into Vegas odds. So I think you've got to look at the reality of where the storm is coming right now. You've got to plan for the worse, and that's simply the way to do it.

Now we're going to hear that, well, it's been downgraded to a Category 4. Well, let me tell you, a Category 4 isn't a whole lot different than a Category 5 headed this way. People have got to heed those evacuation warnings, take precautions, and move to a safe shelter.

CUOMO: Andrew, Andrew, 1992. You know, I remember it, but I didn't live through it. Every first responder we've been with down here, all the officials, they keep likening what this might be like to that.

Just for perspective, as you well know and taught me, three Category 5s have hit this country since the 1800s. Andrew the most recent, 1992. Came right through this part. I think it hit Homestead very hard and went on up.

What do you see in this that justifies concerns about it being like Andrew?

HALSTEAD: Well, I look at each hurricane differently. So I don't compare it to Andrew. I think this is much worse.

CUOMO: Worse? But that was a 5. This may be a 4.

HALSTEAD: But this is bigger, Chris.

CUOMO: Bigger in its dimension?

HALSTEAD: It is dimension, and its hurricane eyewall. And also, I think the plus side is, you see people and residents heeding those evacuation warnings. Typically, we don't have this kind of response. But people have looked at CNN. They've looked at the weather out there. They know that it's coming. They figure, "Let's be safer than sorry."

Also, the changes that we've made since Hurricane Andrew, the building codes for one thing. South Florida put in some of the strongest building codes there are. Everything that's been built since Hurricane Andrew has been built to that standard.

CUOMO: Important point. When people look at South Florida, especially Miami proper, they see all these high-rises, all that glass, so vulnerable. But these aren't like buildings that you see even in Manhattan. How so?

HALSTEAD: These are not built the same way. Thicker class, sturdier construction. Most of them have huge backup generators, so they can, in fact, not only withstand the storm but also can be a place to hunker down if need be. If people use that as a last resort, which obviously, they should. They need to follow those evacuation orders and get out of town.

CUOMO: All right. So I will be partnered with you for the duration, probably often clinging to you physically for safety. What should people anticipate happening here, based on the current predictions?

HALSTEAD: I think the current predictions are, if they come to fruition, which apparently, it looks like unfortunately, it probably will, we're going to start getting those rain bands coming in. We're going to start getting stronger and stronger winds. It's not going to be safe eventually to even be on the roadways. You're going to have to be inside, protected because then you're going to get the flying debris.

CUOMO: So you basically have a 24-hour window from right now.

HALSTEAD: I think right now you've got 24, probably, at the max before it's going to be very dangerous even to be outside.

CUOMO: All right, David, thank you very much. Thank you for putting us in the know. All right. So Alisyn, there you have it. You've got 24 hours. Now

is the time to go. Otherwise, you've got to have a plan and you have to have supplies, anticipating 72 hours. Three days of no power and waiting for the search and rescue to get to you if there's something dire.

CAMEROTA: OK. That's a great warning, Chris. Thank you for that.

So obviously, we will keep tracking the latest on exactly where Irma is heading. But we're also following new developments in the Russia investigation. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller reportedly focusing on Don Trump Jr.'s now infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Who is Mueller talking to now? All that is next.


[06:27:27] CAMEROTA: CNN learned that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is looking for more information about the aftermath of that Don Trump Jr. meeting at Trump Tower with Russians. He wants to talk to several staffers who were on board Air Force One back in June when the first misleading statement about that sit-down was crafted.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with the very latest. What have you learned, Joe?


The president has a full plate right now, disaster funding, the debt ceiling, keeping the government open and operating, as well as the continuing crisis is North Korea. Despite all of that, the president still cannot escape that investigation into possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and the Russians.


JOHNS (voice-over): Donald Trump Jr.'s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee prompting a new lead for Robert Mueller, the special counsel now looking to question White House staffers who were aboard Air Force One about the initial misleading statement Trump Jr. made in regards to a meeting he took with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower.

In a five-hour closed-door meeting, the president's son telling committee staffers he could not recall exactly how much input the White House had on crafting his statement.

That initial statement, as we know now, drafted in part by President Trump, claimed the meeting was about Russian adoptions, not opposition research. Don Jr. denying that his father had any knowledge of the meeting.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.

JOHNS: Donald Trump Jr. also revealing he met with the Russian lawyer hoping to get damaging information on Clinton, saying in a prepared opening statement, "To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out."

Don Jr. asserting he would have consulted a lawyer, had he intended to use such information. Later saying, "I trust this interview fully satisfied their inquiry."

But some members of the Judiciary Committee left unsatisfied, expecting to have Don Jr. back for a public hearing.

REP. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: There were huge gaping holes of information that we need to fill.

JOHNS: Shortly after, Democratic Senator Chris Coons e-mailing out a memo about a law that prohibits lying to Congress. Coinciding with Don Jr.'s testimony, President Trump trying to convey unity on Capitol Hill.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we will have a different relationship than you've been watching over the last number of years. I think that's what the people of the United States want to see.

JOHNS: Continuing to align himself with Democrats on fiscal matters this week and leaving the door open to working with Democratic leaders on immigration. President Trump giving DACA recipients reassurance they won't be targeted over the next six months while Congress works to pass a DREAMers bill, at Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's request.