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Irma Floods Charleston; Bannon on Comey Firing; Response to Hurricane Relief Efforts; Florida Residents Without Power; Couple Talks about Riding out Storm. Aired 8:30-9 ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] MIKE STUSNICK, LIVES IN CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: So we're just thankful that we were able to not get flooded and we're -- everybody's OK pretty much around here.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're thankful you're OK. Thank you. We'll let you get back to cleaning up your back yard.

STUSNICK: Thank you very much.

You see this, Alisyn, block after block after block. So much. And there's a lake right here, right out to the side, that pushed a lot of the water into this community. About 24 hours is what local officials are anticipating. We should update you as well, about 100 people spent the night in shelters last night because they had nowhere else to go. The city just now -- the sun's shining. Just now getting out of the worst of it.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Well, I mean, it's good news that the sun is shining. That should help a little bit.


CAMEROTA: But it's going to take long, long time.

Nick, thank you very much for that reporting.

So there are other stories and there is still politics happening, believe it or not. Steve Bannon has made a comeback on "60 Minutes," and he said that firing James Comey was the worst mistake a White House has made in modern politics. So we will speak to former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta about politics and storm response next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody said to me that you described the firing of James Comey -- you're a student of history -- as the biggest mistake in political history.

[08:35:07] STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: That would be probably -- that would probably be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.


CAMEROTA: All right, less than a month after leaving his post as White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon criticizing President Trump there. The White House dismissing Bannon's talk as him being prone to hyperbolic words.

Joining us now is former defense secretary and CIA director under President Obama and former White House chief of staff to President Clinton, Leon Panetta.

Secretary Panetta, we'll get to the response to Irma in a second, but let's just start with some politics of the day. Do you agree with Steve Bannon that firing FBI Director James Comey was a colossally bad idea?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, you know, to a large extent, Bob Mueller, in his investigation of the whole Russian issue will determine whether or not that was as big a mistake as Mr. Bannon says it was. There's no question that Mr. Mueller is going to look at that firing and determine whether in any way it constituted obstruction of justice. So that's going to be the issue. And we'll find out just how big a mistake it was depending on what Mr. Mueller is able to determine.

CAMEROTA: And, look, you're obviously a veteran of different White Houses. What do you think of these strange bedfellows that we're seeing where Bannon is now criticizing President Trump's decision and President Trump is now seeming befriending Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi?

PANETTA: Well, it -- I think since the beginning of this presidency, we've all gotten accustomed to the fact that President Trump is very unpredictable and is not particularly tied to any kind of political philosophy or direction. He goes across the board. He reacts to the moment. He tweets his deepest feelings. And a lot of that is being reflected now.

I mean I -- to some extent I'm a little surprised that he didn't reach out to the Democrats earlier in his administration. If he had worked with the Democrats on funding infrastructure, if he had worked with them on tax reform, if he had worked with them on budget issues, if he had worked with them on health care reform, something might have gotten done. So it's taken him a while.

But I think he does recognize the fact that if you really want to get some things done in the Congress, you are going to have to develop some kind of bipartisanship. And I commend him for doing it this last time on the debt ceiling and on hurricane relief.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, from where you sit, secretary, as a former chief of staff, how do you think the Trump administration has been responding to these back-to-back natural disasters?

PANETTA: Well, you know, my -- my sense is that lessons have been learned here. Lessons have been learned from Katrina, they've been learned from Sandy. And I have to say that FEMA, homeland Security, have actually done well in getting ahead of these terrible hurricanes as they approach both Houston and Florida. They were able to develop their disaster declarations by the president. They were able to put assets in place. And, most importantly, they did everything necessary to back up both state and local officials.

But, you know, this is still to be determined. We're in a long recovery here in both places. And my experience on disasters is you go through several stages. The first stage is kind of shock from what happened. The second stage is frustration in trying to recognize the damage that you have got to deal with. And the third stage is anger. And so the real test of whether they've learned how to deal with disasters will probably come with that third stage and a lot of anger by people who are trying to recover from this terrible event.

CAMEROTA: And I'm just curious, what is the role of a president during a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma or any hurricane? I mean is it really just sort of comforter in chief for the people who have been hurt or is it sort of a general where he's marshaling resources and giving directions?

PANETTA: Well, the president of the United States, as the leader of the country, really is responsible for how the country responds to these kinds of disasters. So, in one way, even though he has people who are assigned responsibility for these disasters, and if he has good people that's really important to any administration, but in the end the president has to reflect both the concern and the compassion necessary to indicate to the country as a whole and particularly to the victims of these tragedies that the country is with them and will support them and will be there for any kind of necessary aid that they need.

[08:40:14] So the president has to be, as president of the United States, the leader that says to those people, we in Washington are going to do everything necessary to try to help you.

CAMEROTA: And have you heard that from President Trump yet?

PANETTA: I think, you know, what I -- what I have seen from President Trump is an understanding of what people are going through. And the fact that the federal government is going to be there. I think he's got some very good people at FEMA. I think Homeland Security has done a great job. I think the Department of Defense has done a great job. They're there. That will be the test of whether or not they've been successful. The test is going to be whether or not they're going to be there for an effective recovery.

This is going to be a long recovery. And that will determine, in the end, just how good this administration has been, or bad, in dealing with the disaster.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Leon Panetta, thank you very much. Great to talk to you today.

PANETTA: Good to be with you, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: So Miami is cleaning up, but power, of course, is a very real problem this morning. So we're there live with the latest numbers for everyone, next.


[08:45:15] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this is ground zero for where Hurricane Irma made impact and its biggest impact on the United States of America, here in The Keys, just a few miles away from here. One hundred and twenty-mile-an-hour sustained winds.

And we're down here talking to people this morning about how you going to make it? How long can you last?

These are the realities on the ground. It is a very raw existence. No power. No fuel. No promise of it getting better anytime soon.

This is remote. But even in Miami, one of the most developed places on the face of the planet, life is going to be hard for some time to come.

John Berman is there, as he has been from the beginning.

Time was the concern duration the storm, the duration of the soaking you were getting. Time is now also the factor. How long can they go without power? How long until they get relief? How long until frustration gives way?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think the answer to that, Chris, is too long if you are a resident of Miami right now waiting for your power to come back on.

I'm standing in a street in the Coconut Grove neighborhood which looks like so many streets right now in Miami. You can see all the trees down behind me.

And what's interesting about this street is, the trees went down. You think sometimes there are the power lines, you know, up on the poles that get knocked down. No, the power lines here were underground, but the trees, when they toppled over, it pulled them up. So all these houses have lost power. It knocked out some of the water mains.

We have seen utility crews poking around this morning, which is a wonderful sign in this neighborhood right now. They're going to try to fix a broken water main that's behind me right now. That might be the first order of business.

The utility company here in Florida, Florida Power and Light, says they got a million customers back online overnight, but still 54 percent of the customers in Florida are still without power. That number is more than 6 million customers. When you translate that into actual human beings, it's well over 10 million people in the state of Florida still without power. They estimate it will take 1 million man hours, 1 million man hours to get the power back up across this state. They've got nearly 20,000 people, they're saying, working around the clock. I mean they are working day and night, and day and night for as long as it takes, Chris.

You know, this city was pitch black last night as we drove through it. But this morning they're up. People are moving about. They just need to be patient.


CUOMO: All right. So what JB is dealing with is bad. What they're dealing with here is bad. And it's not just about the power, it's about external power and internal power. The heat, the humidity, the exhaustion. These first responders, they've been going since we met them days ago. I mean it's hard for us. Imagine what it's like for these people who are working around the clock.

And then you have worse. We're going to take a break now. When we come back, we're going to show you something even worse. The reality, we have people who are stuck on St. Maarten Island. Have you seen what happened there in the Caribbean? How are they making it? How long can they make it? We'll check in with them, next.


[08:52:27] CUOMO: Here in the Florida Keys, perspective is everything right now. You can replace everything that you see that's been destroyed before -- behind us, but not the family. Not those people. Not their pets. That's their concern, that at least they have what matters most.

And this is nothing compared to what they saw in other parts of the Caribbean. We know at least three dozen people lost their lives from this storm. Imagine living through that. Imaging dealing with the aftermath now.

We have people who made it out. Brian and Christianna Poe. They're back home in Boston. Thank God for that. They were celebrating their fourth anniversary in St. Maarten, I believe, and they had to make it through the storm and deal with all the fear and anxiety of weathering it and then getting out.

How are you doing today, if you can hear me, Brian and Christiana?

BRIAN POE, AIRLIFTED FROM ST. MAARTEN: Good morning. We're doing -- we're doing OK. Doing better.


CUOMO: Well, congratulations on four years of marriage. You tested the better or for worse, so you got that out of the way, and now you can deal with the better. What was it like weathering this storm there and getting home?

B. POE: It was incredible. We -- I -- you can't really prepare anybody for something that strong. But you can't -- you -- we could never ask for everybody stronger than the crew that helped us get through it.

C. POE: Yes, and all of the -- CUOMO: And tell us about it. Tell us about what it took, Brian, what it took to deal with it, Christiana, what it took to get out of there. Tell us about it.

B. POE: It was -- it was amazing. We had really good leadership in the management team, his name was Alex Canton (ph). And his team around him, Cleo (ph), and a bunch of his team really led us, along with security. They -- but as we got into the thick of it, there was really nothing you could -- you couldn't beat the wind. You couldn't beat the installation blowing out of the walls, the roofs coming off, the glass breaking. We just held on tight with a pillow and held each other, you know.

C. POE: Yes, we were praying for the whole time. Praying to God, calm the waves and the winds.

B. POE: And take care of the people on the island. That was our big concern, too.

C. POE: Very, very sad (ph).

CUOMO: Christianna, what do you think it's going to be like there for people on that island?

C. POE: Oh, my gosh, that's -- that was the most sad thing for us. It was when we left the hotel to go to the airport and see the whole devastation, everything was destroyed. It's very, very sad. And we are very concerned about those people because they are running out of water and food. It was very, very sad to see in the shelters where like little kids saying that their house is completely destroyed. It -- it really broke -- break our hearts. It was very sad.

[08:55:20] CUOMO: Yes, it certainly makes you count your blessings. And it also now gives you a little bit of a duty. You need to tell all the people back in Boston, that as the weeks and months go by and they hear about calls to help, they may forget, but you have to tell them, Christianna, they can't forget those people in St. Maarten the way you'll never forget them.

C. POE: Yes. Exactly.

B. POE: Yes. And, truthfully, our storm is over, but the storm for even people in Texas and Florida and St. Maarten, they've got a long way to get home. We're lucky to be home and we need to make sure that no one forgets and that everyone -- everyone can chip in from the islands all the way through. It's just very important the no one change the channel and forgets what happened down there.

CUOMO: Christianna, what was the hardest thing for you emotionally in seeing all the loss and the pain down there?

C. POE: It was a little kid that I saw in the shelter. She was sharing the same room with us. We were like in a room maybe with 25 people. And she was probably 16. And I asked her, where were you at the time of the storm? And she said, oh, I was in a bathtub of the hotel that my mom works. And -- and then I say -- and what about your house? And she's like, no, my house is gone. I don't have a house. I don't have nothing. So it was the most touching thing for me. It was very, very sad. I'm sorry.

CUOMO: Well, you never know what life is going to bring your way. You guys learned something about each other. You learned something about the loss of those people there. And you just carry it forward with you and do the best you can to help them from where you are. And thank God you're in a better place right now than those people back in St. Maarten.

So, Brian, Christianna, thank you for talking to us about what it's like and thank you for reminding everybody that they have to stay connected to the people who are in a much worse situation than they could probably even imagine. Thank you for talking to me this morning. I'm happy you're home.

B. POE: Thank you. We are too. Thank you.

C. POE; Thank you. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, we are just starting to learn the truth of what Hurricane Irma did to the hardest hit areas. That's where we are here, ground zero for the storm on the American exposure. But there's so much news. There's so much to update you about.

We're going to take a quick break. CNN "NEWSROOM" is going to pick up with all the latest. Please, stay with CNN.