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Crews Headed to Florida Keys; Caribbean Gets Hammered by Irma; Goodland Survivor Stories; Florida Congresswoman Talks Hurricane Impact; Charleston Flooding from Irma; U.N. Passes North Korean Sanctions. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Cleared off so the utility crews can get in there and do the work they need to do. Of course, over here, trees still down. Clearly more work to do.

Meanwhile, the first federal disaster responses teams from the Department of Health and Human Services are about to take off from Orlando in the center of the state bound for the Florida Keys. Doctors, nurses, rescue crews, loading up right now. CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, she has exclusive access and is there.

Elizabeth, what are you seeing?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I watched as they loaded up two C-17 planes that you see behind me. These are Coast Huard planes. They loaded them up with equipment, with personnel. We're talking doctors, nurses, pharmacist. More than 30 medical specialists. And they're taking medical equipment. They're taking drugs. They're taking other medical equipment. And also law enforcement will be with them. And also search and rescue teams. They had a little gathering before they got on the plane, and their leader said, we're here, Florida needs us, the Florida Keys need us.


BERMAN: Yes, Elizabeth Cohen, we were just talking to the county administrator from Monroe County who said he's got no intention of leaving. He doesn't want people to evacuate. He thinks and he knows that help is coming in the form of the people right behind you there.

When they get on the ground, what will their priority be?

COHEN: You know, the first thing they're going to do is surveillance. Actually, they were, you know, really asking us, and we're asking each other, what are we going to find when we get down there? I think people really don't know. So they need to be smart. They need to look around, see what's needed. What kind of rescue efforts are needed? What kind of medical problems are people having? Have people suffered trauma from falling debris, from falling trees? They need to figure out what's necessary, and then they set in to do their work.

And, John, I'll tell you, I've seen these teams at work in other disasters. They know what they're doing. They're very fast. They're very efficient.

BERMAN: They sure do know what they're doing, and they also have to be self-sustaining because when they get there they don't have much support services to keep their lives sustained.

COHEN: Right.

BERMAN: Elizabeth Cohen, important work going on behind you. Thanks so much for bringing us that report.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, John, this morning we're hearing more about the decimated Caribbean Islands. The death toll from Irma continues to rise. We know this morning at least 36 people are now dead after Irma tore through much of those islands as a category five storm. The Dutch Red Cross says that Irma destroyed a one-third of the homes on St. Maarten. And that is why at least 1,200 Americans were evacuated from both St. Maarten and Puerto Rico.

Let's go to our international anchor, Cyril Vanier. He joins us live from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

You know, these numbers that are just starting to come in now are pretty stunning.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, Poppy, they are. They absolutely are. And this part of the Caribbean is not going to forget this in a very, very long time. This is a generation defining storm.

Part of my family comes from the Caribbean. When I was growing up it was Hurricane Hugo. The kind of thing you talk about for years, you know? You mention it 15 years later, as I have done since we've been reporting in the Caribbean for this hurricane, it still raises eyebrows. So Hurricane Irma is a name they're not about to forget.

That death toll, 36, it is high. Cuba paid the heaviest tribute, 10 people dead there. I'm in Puerto Rico, San Juan right now. Three people died here, although I should point out indirectly related to the storm. Those numbers coming to us from local authorities here in Puerto Rico.

So, yes, you know, those numbers, people won't forget that and people won't forget the destruction. It just -- it just forces you to ask yourself the question, these very, very basic questions that a lot of people and perhaps a lot of our viewers, you know, have not asked themselves in a long time. And, of course, I'm not referring to viewers who are in Texas, who are in Florida, because they're affected and they've been affected recently. But the questions are, is my home safe and secure?

And as we've been going through the islands, we've seen it really, really depends on what kind of structure you're in. Some of these buildings are made of cement and concrete and they, by and large, are secure, like the windows. The roofs might have problems. But when you're talking at about houses that are made of wood, you know, which actually are very similar to the houses that are where I live in Atlanta, Georgia, at CNN headquarters, they're made of wood. Those houses like that on these island would not have survived. And those that were like that did not survive.

So you have islands where it is just almost impossible to live right now. Think of Barbuda. Ninety-five percent destruction. Ninety-five percent of the peoples' homes there are now uninhabitable. Think of St. Maarten, which is a bigger scale. The French side. Because I know you mentioned the number. The number is actually higher on the French side of St. Maarten. Remember, it's divided between the French and the Dutch. On the French side, 40,000 people, 65 percent of homes are uninhabitable.

So what do you do when you find yourself in that situation? You have a choice between, you know, staying and waiting for months before it's rebuilt, or perhaps just leaving the island and potentially never coming back.

HARLOW: The island you've called home for your entire life.

Cyril, thank you so much for your reporting and obviously your personal perspective as someone whose family comes from the region and knows what it's like to deal with generation-defining storms like this.

[09:35:07] Thank you, Cyril.

So ahead for us, a lot of these folks, as you just heard Cyril saying, no power, no water, no homes. After Irma hit Marco Island, which is dealing with no power and no water, it had winds clocking over 100 miles per hour, this is what is left.

Let's go to Ed Lavandera. He is near Goodland, Florida, for us.

What are you seeing, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, there are a small group of people who rode out this storm there on the shoreline where Hurricane Irma came onshore and they have quite the story to tell. I'll share that when CNN NEWSROOM continues.


[09:40:09] BERMAN: We have pictures we want to show you that will be so welcomed to the people of Florida. These are tankers arriving in the ports of Ft. Lauderdale now bringing so much needed fuel to this peninsula. There were long lines for gas and then there was gas running out.

Now these tankers are in. They will provide the fuel and hopefully people will be able to fill up their tanks and frankly the generators that they might need to survive so long as the power lines are down. So lovely to see this.

Obviously, so many people did evacuate. Others chose to ride out the storm. Over on the west coast of Florida, Ed Lavandera has been covering the situation there. He's been talking to people that stayed in Goodland.

Ed, what you have found?


Well, you know, the place where Hurricane Irma made its second landfall in the United States was around the Marco Island area. This is where the winds were 130-mile-an-hour, 140-mile-an-hour gusts. And there's a small fishing village there by the name of Goodland, Florida. Some several hundred people called this home.

And authorities tell us that some 40 people decided to ride out the storm there. We spoke with a few of them. And the harrowing tales that they have -- that they shared was just simply amazing. Even more amazing, the fact that there were no major injuries, no one killed there in that town.

We spoke with one man by the name of Gary Stringer (ph), who described how his house was shaking. He could hear the cracking of a large tree in his front yard slowly tearing apart and then collapsing. And the wind pushed it away from his house. He said that if it had been pushed the other way, he doesn't think he would have survived that destruction.

Other residents describe seven feet of storm surge underneath their home. This is all -- and they all, to a T, described the sensation as they were inside their homes, that they just were waiting for their homes to come splitting apart, John. The intensity of that moment was something that they'll never forget. And many of them telling us they will never ride it out again after going through such an experience and an ordeal like that in Goodland, Florida.


BERMAN: Yes, we do hear that from people who chose to stay in this storm and past storms. Once you choose to stay in one and it hits you, you don't do it again.

Ed Lavandera over on the west coast. Eddie, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Republican member of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the representative for Florida in Miami Beach.

It is so nice to hear your voice, representative. We talked to you before the storm. You were here when it hit. Now I know you're without electricity, you're without air-conditioning, you're without water, but I also know those are the least of your concerns right now. I am sure you were much more worried about your constituents. What is your greatest area of concern?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA (via telephone): Well, you are so right about that. First, thank you so much for having me on.

But, yes, we have no water, no electricity and -- but we have a lot of hope. And I'm so glad to have heard your reporter saying that the trucks are lined up with gasoline. We also have no gas. And that's -- we did at the beginning. We did all the precautions. But, eventually, you run out when you're going hither and yonder. So I'm really glad to see -- to hear that the gasoline trucks are coming through because people are pretty desperate.

It is going to take a long time to get our power and the normal life back. But at least in my congressional district the hit was bad, especially around Key Biscayne, for example, that (INAUDIBLE) key got really slammed, but it's The Keys, the area I used to represent for 10 years, boy, they're -- they're in pretty bad shape.

Our cousins are having breakfast with us here. The one restaurant that is open. And they're headed back to The Keys. They have a home there. But they're in the middle keys. They're going to do all right. It's the lower keys that is really in pretty bad shape. And I don't know what's going to end up happening there. I think people need to evacuate even post storm from that area because it's a recipe for disaster.

BERMAN: Well, there is a difference of opinion right now because we have heard from Senator Rubio, for instance, asking the question about whether it will be necessary to evacuate maybe the thousands of people who were there from the Florida Keys. But we did just speak to the county administrator from Monroe County who says that's ridiculous. He actually got angry at the notion of a mass evacuation right now. What should they consider when making that decision?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I understand that. These residents are -- don't like to -- don't like to move. I understand that, while I was representing The Keys for 10 years, as I did. And no one likes to leave their home no matter where it is. But I hope that as hard-hit as my district was, let's make sure that we don't have any -- any loss of life down there. And I hope that they fix up the lower keys pretty quickly.

BERMAN: Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, it's so great to hear your voice. You'll get your power back, you'll get your water back soon, so we appreciate you being with us.

[09:45:06] All right, let's go back to Poppy in New York.


HARLOW: Her spirit is everything, right, John? She's got no water, no power, no gas, but her spirit is everything.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Hats off to her.

So right now crews are working to clear flood water that swamped parts of Charleston, South Carolina. Nick Valencia is there.

Nick, when I was reading the local paper in Charleston, it says, these were some of sort of the worst tidal surges in 80 years. And that meant some flash flooding. It meant folks having to evacuate their homes.

You're with a resident, I believe, who has just gone home after Irma for the first time.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is three years in the running for Charleston. You had Hurricane Matthew last year. The year before that, historic flooding. A thousand-year flood back in 2015. And then this time, Hurricane Irma.

Just check it out, Poppy, just how high the water went up. That's the water line from yesterday. and from what residents have been telling us, it happened here fast.

This is an area, if you know Charleston, it floods all the time. People at home probably saying, oh, that's a typical thing. It's not for this area, this much water to be in here. There's a lot of debris too, and this is what Nance (ph) is dealing with here.

Nance Peach and Keith (ph).

Nance, where you at here. We're on CNN. We'd love to talk to you about what you went through.

Nance, she was actually rescued yesterday, guys.


VALENCIA: Tell us about the experience you went through.

PEACH: Well, I actually live in Columbia, which is two hours away, and --

VALENCIA: But you were here?

PEACH: I was here. Barbara had had shoulder surgery, and I was here to help here. And I think we had a false sense of security because we weren't asked to evacuate.

VALENCIA: This happened in like 30 minutes, the water raising.

PEACH: Yes, it did. I mean you can see the water level. We -- we had everything prepped. I mean we had everything in bins, and the bins just started floating. Things started collapsing. Yes, we actually had to call 911.

VALENCIA: And how did you get out of here? I mean this is not an easy place to get out of if you're trapped in by water.

PEACH: Yes, we could not open the doors because the water level was too high. So we --

VALENCIA: Just check this out here, just how high the water level went up. So the pressure of that water just did not allow you guys to get out. You had to call 911.

PEACH: Right. Right, we panicked and we did open a window.


PEACH: We called 911. And we had to wait a little while. I mean they had a hard time getting to us.

But, yes, they got us out of the windows. He had an all-terrain vehicle.

VALENCIA: All right. Well, you're having a hard time cleaning up right now and I'm making a mess of that, so I'm going to get out of here and get out of your way.

This cleanup effort's still happening here. It gives you a sense, guys, of just how big Hurricane Irma was. We're all up here in the Carolinas, in Charleston, very far away from south Florida and where the storm made direct landfall. But even still here you're dealing with the effects of this monster storm.


HARLOW: You are. I spent a good amount of time in Charleston, and, you're right, that is not an area that is used to flooding, especially like that, that high and that fast.

Nick Valencia, thank you for bringing us the real pictures and the people impacted by this.

VALENCIA: You bet.

HARLOW: We appreciate your reporting.

So ahead for us, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley this morning calling those U.N. sanctions that are brand new against North Korea the strongest ever. But here's the thing, they're actually weaker than the U.S. initially wanted. We'll explain how China and Russia appear to have had a hand in softening them.

And tomorrow night right here on CNN, Hillary Clinton sits down with Anderson Cooper about what happened in the 2016 presidential race. You'll see that at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Back in a moment.


[09:52:41] HARLOW: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says the U.N. has unanimously passed, in her words, quote, the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea. She's talking about this new sanctions package that was just passed unanimously by the Security Council yesterday.

It does a few things. Namely it caps the country's oil imports that should hurt the country's effectiveness and also it bans the export of all textiles from North Korea. One of the top money makers for the county with about $760 million a year in sales.

But it's important to note that the U.N. could have taken even tougher action. They could have done more, but Russia and China, well, they were skeptical of that and they seemed to have played a role in softening what the U.S. initially wanted. Let's go to Will Ripley. He is in Pyongyang.

You know, Will, Nikki Haley promised, when she spoke a week or so ago at the U.N. that, you know, this road isn't forever and tough sanctions will move North Korea's hand. But it seems like, from all our reporting, these sanctions were going to be a lot tougher before China and Russia, which have veto power, had a say.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): And from my vantage point here in Pyongyang, Poppy, it doesn't seem that these sanctions are going to move North Korea's hand, at least not in the short term. You have messages of anger and defiance from the North Koreans threatening, you know, unimaginable consequences on the United States. The typical fiery rhetoric that we hear from North Korea whenever the United States pushes for more sanctions.

But the fact is, these are really watered down. They don't have the bite the United States wanted. Russia and China's fingerprints are all over this. There's not an oil embargo. So there will still be oil floating into this country. Kim Jong-un's name is not on the sanctions. He hasn't been blacklisted. That's something the U.S. wanted, which would have been (INAUDIBLE) an act of war from the North Korean perspective. And North Korea's airline, Air Koryo, continues to fly back and forth from Russia and China to Pyongyang, which allows business people and diplomats to still go into these countries and engage and have discussion. So it's not the isolation and not the full economic impact that the U.S. was hoping for.

But it will still hurt when you're cutting $800 million in textile export revenue and inspecting ships for illegal coal shipments and other types of materials that North Korea has been smuggling to get money in.

HARLOW: Frustrating to say the least to Nikki Haley must be this front page "Washington Post" reporting this morning that Russian smugglers are helping prop up North Korea, namely by shipping a lot of oil in. I mean it notes these reports, these documents that have seen a rise in tanker traffic between North Korea's ports and the far eastern Russian ports. What does that tell you?

[09:55:23] RIPLEY: Well, you know, I was in -- just a few weeks ago I was in (INAUDIBLE), which is a coastal city on the east coast of North Korea. And I saw a ferry that used to go back and forth from Japan, but now it goes back and forth from (INAUDIBLE), Russia. It carries North Korean workers. It carries supplies. It carries materials. And it's those kind of ships that have also been accused of carrying contraband and illegal shipments back and forth.

There has been a lot of talk and that "Washington Post" report really outlines how it is believed that Russia is starting to fill the gap where China is increasingly willing to impose tough economic penalties. But now a lot of the oil and a lot of the other assistance is starting to come from Russia. Clearly in Vladimir Putin (INAUDIBLE) last week also indicating they don't necessarily think that North Korea's in the wrong here. They think that the United States is also escalating the situation. HARLOW: Will Ripley, thank you for your reporting inside of Pyongyang,

North Korea. As always, we appreciate it.

So back to our top story this morning, obviously the devastation that is widespread from Irma coming into clearer focus as the sun came up this morning. Two out of every three homes in some of the Florida Keys are damaged. You've got about a quarter of them wiped out, according to FEMA. Millions across the southeast without power. We're on the ground.

Stay with us.