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Florida Keys Devastated By Irma; White House Won't Link Storms to Climate Change; U.N. Adopts New North Korea Sanctions. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, a first look at the stunning devastation Hurricane Irma left in the Florida Keys. It is so bad. Some areas in the Keys cannot be reached to fully examine the damage. We have coverage this morning from the Keys, from Cuba and other hard hit areas.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And after the second record-breaking hurricane in weeks, climate change is back in focus, but the White House will not draw a connection between global warming and the outbreak of this wild weather we're seeing.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, September 12th. It is 4:00 in the East.

Let's begin with Hurricane Irma, now a tropical depression, moving to the north. The devastation it left behind is now becoming painfully clear.

Rescue teams struggling to reach the Florida Keys, west of Key Largo, where up to 10,000 people who chose to ride out the storm may require evacuation. The pictures are just stunning here. Key West city manager insisting there are no plans to evacuate anyone.

BRIGGS: For now, accessing the Lower Keys by boat is too dangerous, because all the debris and the water in U.S. 1 which connects the Keys to the mainland is under water, blocked by a large pool the crews are still trying to clear. Later this morning, Monroe County officials will allow some residents and business owners back into this flooded out area you can see here.

ROMANS: Wow, that is remarkable. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln is now stationed off Florida's east coast. Its helicopters flying over the Keys to assess the conditions.

The biggest threat this week will be river flooding in northeastern Florida. The city of Jacksonville reeling from a record storm surge and devastating floods there.

BRIGGS: The same threat facing other coastal communities like Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, where a flash flood emergency was declared overnight. And so far, Irma being blamed for five deaths. One each in Florida and South Carolina, three in Georgia, including two from fallen trees.

ROMANS: Yes, one case, a tree just came and split a house in two killing the man who lived inside. Power outages still a big issue across the region, about 6.2 million people in Florida. Look at these numbers, 6.2 million people in Florida, 1.4 million in Georgia, hundreds of thousands more in South Carolina and North Carolina and Alabama.

BRIGGS: Remarkable. All right. Reaching the Florida Keys right now can be difficult and dangerous. The scope of the damage were breathtaking and heartbreaking.

Our Bill Weir managed to reach Plantation Key and he has more this morning.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, good morning.

As that sky turned from stormy black to paradise blue here in the Florida Keys, all that anxiety and fear the storm turned into shock and utter heartbreak as people began to survey what Irma has wrought. This is a community in Plantation Key. This is mile marker 87, about 60 miles away from the eye of Irma, but it's hard to tell that it was anymore gentle up here.

This home used to be right on the coast of the Atlantic, about 500 yards away. Now, it's utter wreckage. It includes, you know, children's books, picture books, look at this. Bingo wheel. People lived here year-round. This wasn't a transient or snowbird community. There were secretaries and boat captains. I met a former fireman who walked around just sort of shell-shocked. As he said, my couch over there and my sink is over there.

But aside from all the stuff lost to Irma, there is the human life and that's what most people are concerned about these days. And it's almost impossible to confirm who was lost and who was saved, because communication is down. The cell towers are down. There's no power, no running water down here. The road is impassable in many places as they try to inspect all of the 43 bridges that connect this necklace of islands all going down to Key West there.

And another symbol, we've seen it in Katrina. They're doing the same -- the poor folks in Houston, and look at the date, 9/11/17, at 2:30, they searched this home for bodies and the symbols confirm that none were found.

We're really interested to see how the folks down in the Lower Keys have fared. I've been getting text messages from strangers, people on Instagram, Twitter, saying please check on my family. If this is bad, we can only imagine what it's like where the storm was the fiercest -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Bill Weir, thanks for that. That string of islands, those keys, all those bridges have to be inspected. And all those boats and ports and small businesses destroyed.

Another part of Florida still reeling from Irma's direct, Marco Island.

[04:05:00] That's where the storm made its second landfall, packing winds over 130 miles an hour. The island is off Florida's southwest coast. It's still this morning without water, without electricity.

CNN's Ed Lavandera takes a look at the destruction and one man's brush with death.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, this is Goodland, Florida, which is on the eastern edge of Marco Island. This is a small fishing community. Several hundred people live here full- time. And this is an area that shows some of the most intense destruction that we have seen in the path of Hurricane Irma.

This tree that you see behind me crushed the home behind us. The people who own the house weren't here at the time but, thankfully, the man who -- there was one man home just in the house next door, he was spared because on the north side of the storm, when this tree fell over, the wind was blowing from the east to the west, knocking the tree down this way.

The man who lived next door, he told us if the wind had been blowing the other direction he might not have been alive to tell the story of how he endured Hurricane Irma here on this island.

Officials tell us that some 40 people road the storm out here on this island, incredibly treacherous stories that they had to share. And as for the rest of Marco Island, a lot of trees, power lines down and that sort of thing. A lot of clean up left to do. And authorities are urging people if they can to stay away. The bridge unto the island is open. But without power and electricity, officials are urging people to stay away as long as they can until those services are restored -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: All right. Ed, thanks.

A slow start to the recovery effort in Miami-Dade County. At this point, 60 percent of traffic signals still out. Trash recycling centers are closed. Offices in the county are shut down through Wednesday. Port Miami announced on its Website Monday it will reopen today but frustration the are mounting for residents who are still being told to keep out.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam live in Miami with the latest.

Good morning to you, Derek. What is it like there this morning?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Dave and Christine. Hurricane Irma responsible for thrusting the ocean water into the

Biscayne Bay. We're at one of the many marinas in the Coconut region. And we have recipe for disaster, a combination of storm surge and 100- mile-per-hour winds.

And that takes boats and tossed them around like toys. We've several tail boats that washed ashore. A luxury yacht behind me that has traveled a significant distance from one dock to another. It's now aligned on top of one of the concrete jetties and docks here.

You can just see that the cleanup efforts was going to be substantial for days if not weeks to come, and the insurance companies are going to be extremely busy here as well. We've spent a significant time on Miami Beach lately.

I had an opportunity to talk to the mayor once again yesterday. And he's got a message for his residents waiting to come home to the evacuation zones there. And his message is come home, 8:00 this morning. It is your time. Come home, because we're going to lift those evacuation orders. So, some good news there.

Dave, Christine, also, an update on the airports, Fort Lauderdale, starting to resume normal operations actually at 4:00 a.m. this morning. And it looks as if Miami will slowly start to regain some of its operations today.

Back to you.

ROMANS: Today. All right. I know -- I know they had water damage and wind damage at Miami and them wanted to try to get some flights out.

Look at the flight, the FlightAware, you know, you look at the satellite maps, the flight tracking maps. It was empty over Florida, something you never, never see.

Derek, thanks.

BRIGGS: You wonder if some of these people who stayed through the storm are going to leave now. The heat index is 105 degrees today. You might be looking at no power for weeks. You might still want to evacuate.

ROMANS: And all these people who want to come back eventually. I mean, this is such a mass evacuation of people. It's unbelievable.

Irma is only a tropical depression now, but the threat is not over. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joining us live from the CNN Weather Center.

And to have first a tropical storm and then a tropical depression so deep in the American interior dumping all that rain and all that wind really something.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. Yes, you know, we're finally seeing it, begin to really get its last grasp in here across portions of the Midwest. But look at, notice the clouds here, the stretch is all the way into parts of New England.

So, you see outside of New York this morning, you see some of those high clouds coming, yes, that is associated with what's left of Irma. But you notice, all that dry air filtering right into the storm. So, essentially, it is raining itself out across parts of the Midwest, the southwest as well.

And you look at the damage done, you know, 6.2 million customers in Florida without power. That is by a factor of two, about twice as much as high as anything we've ever seen as weather-related in U.S. history when it comes to power outages. Incredible number.

And, of course, as we were just talking about, tremendous power outages going with extreme heat that's in place. A lot of that moisture locked into the soil, all of that want to evaporate. So, humidity goes up. Naples feels like 96 this afternoon. Marathon, 100. Work your way to Miami, in West Palm Beach, about 100 to 97 degrees or so respectively.

[04:10:03] And, of course, the flood warnings and also rivers that had been exceeding their values, record values across portions of the central and northern portions of Florida, pretty impressive.

But look at this: six and a half inches of rainfall is what the average statewide rainfall amount was for the state of Florida. You run those numbers, that's 7.5 trillion gallons of water that fell from the storm over the state of Florida. Equivalent to 11 million Olympic size swimming pool.

So, tremendous, tremendous water on the ground across this region. And, of course, we know the storm surge has been a major issue in places like Jacksonville, record amounts, records there guys have been kept since 1846.


JAVAHERI: We've never seen water levels so high into Jacksonville. Much the same in Savannah and Charleston as well.

BRIGGS: All right. Pedram, thanks so much.

Jacksonville -- well, people were evacuating to Jacksonville to get out of the way of the storm and devastating effects there.

ROMANS: And we should be clear, there are flash flood warnings under way right now in those coastal cities in South Carolina. You know, this is still a very much an ongoing water situation.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

So, before Hurricane Irma made its way to Florida, it caused widespread devastation across the U.S. Virgin Islands, including here in St. Thomas. Look at that boat, tipped over, near the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office at Crown Bay. Devastation across those U.S. Virgin Islands, we're still learning what really happened there, tough to get information out of those islands at this point. Meantime in Cuba, the death toll now stands at 10. Cleanup efforts

under way after Irma pummeled the island nation. We will check in with Patrick Oppmann who is through in just a bit. But he rode out the storm in Cuba and they took a nasty hit as you can see by this devastating video.

ROMANS: OK. Not to be lost in Irma's devastation is the city of Houston, trying to bounce back from Hurricane Harvey. Tens of thousands of school children returned to classroom Monday, 268 of the city's 280 schools reopening. That's a critical step toward normalcy.

Many challenges remain with lost supplies and psychological trauma affecting teachers and students. The storm is expected to cost Houston schools $700 million. That's one third of the annual budget.

BRIGGS: And that's, you know, so much of the attention moved on to Irma and to the state of Florida. State of Houston still under water, still going to need billions, tens of billions of dollars to dig out.

All right. We do now have Patrick Oppmann for us live in Cuba. Again, he rode out the storm. He joins us live this morning.

Good morning to you.

What is it -- what are you seeing there this morning and what was it like to ride out this deadly storm?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I've been covering storms now for my entire career at CNN, 17 years to be this close to a category five. Eighty years since Cuba had a category five strength. It's an incredible and frankly frightening experience. We thought it was going to go further off shore. It made a direct landfall right where we were and we're just happy that we're OK, my team is OK, the people who sheltered us, one, were so kind and their family is well and got through the storm.

So, here in Havana you can see the light for the most part is off. Government is trying to get electricity back. You know, in my neighborhood where I live, we don't have power. It impacts everything you do and live and how you live. You can't keep food. It's very, very complicating when your party doesn't work. Those kinds of things.

So, the government -- that's the first priority, get the power back on. We expect by the end the day, more neighborhoods will have their power back on. You mentioned those 10 deaths, you know, those come from building collapses by and large.

And that is very concerning to many Cubans because sometimes it's not until weeks after a storm when a building is drying out that it just suddenly gives way. You have so much age infrastructure here in Cuba.

A bit of good news, though, the airport in Havana is going to be opened today, according to the government. So, that means some of those trapped tourists will be able to leave and more supplies and food will be able to come in -- Dave.

BRIGGS: So, a long hard road to rebuild and recover from hurricane Irma there in Havana, Cuba.

Patrick, thanks how much.

ROMANS: All right. The White House pushing back on former chief strategist Steve Bannon. He called firing James Comey the worst mistake in modern political history. How the administration responded.


[04:18:32] ROMANS: All right. Florida racing go refill its gas stations to help millions of residents drive home. More than 60 percent of stations in Miami and Gainesville are out of gas. The same true for half of those in Jacksonville, Tampa, West Palm Beach. Many residents bought gas before the fled the storm. That sparked a shortage.

Another factor here, Harvey, that storm closed many key oil refineries disrupting America's gas supply. But Florida has few refineries, so fixing its gas shortage will depend instead on its ports. The state relies on oil shipments to meet fuel demand. Most of the major ports are still closed. Significant damage could delay future shipments.

But Florida may have avoided the worse case scenario. For example, the state's largest port in Tampa, Tampa Bay suffered only minimal damage, that's good news. And the U.S. Coast Guard expects that port to reopen today.

BRIGGS: All right. Good news.

The issue of climate change front and center in the wake of hurricane Irma, the White House making it clear it's not ready to link the spike in major storm the to global warning.

Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert telling reporters yesterday it's too early to tell.


TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Causality is something outside my ability to analyze right now. There's a cyclical nature of a lot of these hurricane seasons, and I thank the scientists for their forecast on this particular one. They were dead on that this would be a stronger and more powerful season with slightly more than average large storms making landfall in the United States. So, we'll have to do a larger trend analysis at a later date.


[04:20:00] BRIGGS: After Harvey pummeled Texas and right before Irma unleashed in the Caribbean and Florida, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said now it's not the time to talk about climate change, claiming it's, quote, insensitive to storm victims. ROMANS: The White House also fending off questions stemming from Steve Bannon's interview with "60 Minutes" on Sunday night. President Trump's former chief strategist calling the firing of FBI Director James Comey, quote, the worse mistake in modern political history.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders firing back, insisting the president was right to dismiss Comey. She says the former director gave false testimony and leaks privileged information to journalists. Sanders also pointing out that Bannon tends to speak in extreme terms.

BRIGGS: He does, but that was spot on. Hard to argue with a bigger mistake in terms of the result, the end result. You know, what else what he is right about? It is a litmus test how people reacted to the Billy Bush tape. It's a litmus test on the character of the people of that room. And the respect they have for women, not on how they support Donald Trump.

ROMANS: I think that interview would have made a lot more news if it hadn't come in the middle of a major hurricane quite frankly.

BRIGGS: It was buried by Irma indeed.

All right. Ahead, the U.N. Security Council adopts new sanctions against North Korea after the U.S. back down on some demands. CNN, the only Western TV organization in North Korea. Will Ripley live in Pyongyang with reaction, next.


[04:25:49] ROMANS: New sanctions against North Korea adopted unanimously by the U.N. Security Council one week after rogue regime carried out its sixth and largest nuclear test. The United States originally circulated a proposal, calling for a full ban on oil exports to North Korea, as well as an asset freeze on Kim Jong-un.

Now, the final resolution doesn't go quite that far.

Let's go live to Pyongyang and bring in CNN's Will Ripley.

Will is the only Western TV journalist reporting from inside North Korea. We're so lucky to have him here with us this morning to guide us through this.

So, a new round of sanctions, and what's the response from the regime?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Predictable outrage, of course. But I have to say, these sanctions, if they could be good news, they are in the sense they are significantly watered down. They have the fingerprints of Russia and China all over them. The United States did not get the oil embargo it wanted. It did get North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un's name put on the sanctions with an asset freeze and travel ban, would have been tantamount to an act of war for the North Korean perspective. That was thrown out of the final version.

Air Koryo will still fly. There won't be an asset freeze on North Korea's only national airline, allowing diplomats and elite North Koreans to travel back and forth from China and Russia. And so, yes, they can to longer sell their textiles, just like they can't legally sell their coal, their iron, their lead, their seafood.

This does cut North Korea's export income, the legally reported expert income significantly if sanctions are enforced. But keep in mind, North Korea gets a lot of its money through other means. And the sanctions bill also aims to try to stop North Korean smuggling by more inspections of ships carrying North Korean coal or perhaps contraband items such as weapons. We know that North Korea often sells the weapons that it crease and they are continuing to create weapons at a very fast pace despite round after round of sanctions.

And officials on the ground here tell me that they will continue to accelerate their missile program and their nuclear program and they demonstrated their ability to develop even more power from nuclear weapons just this past weekend with their largest nuclear test ever and many experts believe they are ready at any moment to launch yet another intercontinental ballistic missile. In fact, South Korea thought they were going to push the button and launch a few days ago to mark their foundation day holiday. That didn't happen. We don't know why that didn't happen.

But one thing I've learned, Christine, 15 trips here to North Korea, is that they are very predictable and that we know they will launch more missiles, but unpredictable in the sense that we don't know when. So, that's what we need to watch.

ROMANS: One of the toughest assignments in journalism you have there, trying to disseminate the facts of what is a very, very opaque situation. Thank you so much, Will Ripley.

BRIGGS: To say the least, my friend.

All right. Florida Keys left battered by Hurricane Irma. We'll get our first look at certain devastated areas. Some parts remain inaccessible. And the problems are not limited to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, the entire region devastates. More for you, next.