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Irma's Lasting Damage; White House: Look at Prosecuting Comey; Trump: North Korea Sanctions "Not a Big Deal". Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:17] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Years of rebuilding ahead in the Florida Keys. Ninety percent of homes either damaged or destroyed. More of the same in the U.S. Virgin Islands where the power is still out. Supplies are running low.

We have reporters in the Keys, Tampa, U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Maarten.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department should certainly look at prosecuting former FBI Director James Comey. Did he though, as Sarah Sanders suggested, break the law? The White House all in on the really discrediting James Comey as a witness, ahead of that Robert Mueller investigation.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, September 13th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: Up first, a long and painful recovery getting underway in the Florida Keys. Authorities and a handful of residents finally reaching some of Hurricane Irma's hardest hit areas and what they found was chilling. Twenty-five percent of the homes in the chain of islands destroyed. Another 65 percent suffering major damage, according to FEMA estimates.

ROMANS: Yes, the picture becomes clearer and clearer as we can get in there and see some of this devastation. There are some signs of progress in Monroe County. That's the country, of course, for the Keys. Eighty percent of the roads in the Keys we're told are now cleared and according to the Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. 1 and its 42 bridges have all been inspected and they are safe for travel.

BRIGGS: Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon International have both opened to handle just emergency response flights. They remain closed until further notice for commercial flights. A dusk to dawn curfew remains in place until further notice.

ROMANS: About 5 million customers throughout the southeast are still without power this morning, the majority of them in Florida. Nearly two dozen counties remain at least 50 percent in the dark and even in some of the most populated counties where more than half the power is back on, 1.5 million customers remain without power. BRIGGS: Thirty thousand out of state utility workers are now in for

trying to help get the lights back on. Full restoration, though, could take weeks. President Trump heading to the Fort Myers area of Florida tomorrow. The death toll from Irma reaching 55. Twenty-four of those fatalities in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

We'll have more from the hard hit Caribbean in just a moment.

ROMANS: Yes. When you look at those pictures at St. John and St. Thomas, honestly, there's not a leaf on a tree, just mud. The Lower Keys remain closed to everyone at this hour but some residents of the Upper Keys are being allowed into their home. That does not mean life is returning to normal. Everyone along the island chain is facing challenging days and weeks ahead.

CNN's Brian Todd has more from the hard hit region.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we're in Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Islamorada, probably about a third of the way south from Key Largo to Key West. You would think this is a single level family home that got gutted by Hurricane Irma. Well, you'd be wrong if you thought that. This is a three-story condominium complex with 12 units in it that got crunched down to one level. Right behind me is the third floor. Below it, crunching to the ground and into the water is the second floor and the garage, 12 units in here. We talked to one of the owners.

His name is Tom Ross, 73 years old. He's had a unit in here for 18 years. He believes that everybody lives here evacuated. Thankfully, they did because they wouldn't have survived this and he says he actually wants to rebuild.

He thinks that if they do come here and rebuild it, they'll build it to a better code. This was built in the 1970s where the codes weren't as strong and he thinks he can get it rebuilt to a better code and survived these strong hurricanes.

A lot of frustration on the part of Key's residents as they're coming back into their homes or trying to. We've seen a steady stream of cars, steady streams of military police, utility vehicles, all trying to get past check points. Well, at certain points, south of us, near Marathon Key and other Keys, they're not letting even residents pass the checkpoints because they say it's too dangerous to go in there.

Sheriff's deputies tell us, if they go in there and something happens to them, they're not going to be able to call out. There are no comms here still. There's no cell phone. There's no landline. There's no water. There's no power.

So, a lot of frustration on the part of residents here that that's going on, but the sheriff's deputies and others are saying, look, you've got to do this for your safety. You've got to try to be patient. You know, we don't know when communications and power are going to be back up.

I mean, this place is a disaster area. It looks like a war zone throughout this 115 mile stretch of the Florida Keys -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Long road to recovery there.

[04:05:01] Brian Todd for us.

One of the most critical needs in Florida right now is gasoline. Deliveries are beginning to reach central Florida, but there are serious challenges getting fuel trucks where they're needed most.

CNN's Ryan Young with more from Tampa.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, as it heats up here in Florida people are looking for a few things -- not only gas but they're also looking for fast food. In fact, we saw long lines as businesses started to reopen, but that critical need of gas is something that people are still searching for. We spent the day with the Coast Guard as they opened the shipping channels here in Tampa Bay and that is so important because of all the gas that this port provides to the entire central Florida area.

In fact, if you look behind me, you can see some of those large tankers back there. Those are the first three of seven more that are coming in. So, that's going to be ten total that will be bringing gas to this area. And when you think about this, not only does it provides gas for central Florida, but for both airports, the Tampa Bay Airport and the Orlando International Airport. Now, gas will be flowing back into this area.

But there's a kind of combination that's going on here. You've got to think about this. There was an unprecedented run on gas and that happened as people were trying to be in preparation for the hurricane. And then the idea that electricity was lost in so many different places. You need that electricity to be able to pump the gas.

Those combinations sort of ended creating an effect here. It has a lot of places without gas. And when someone finds out there's a gas station with gas, that run starts all over again. Officials are hoping by the end of the week, gas will be flowing back through the lines the way we're all accustomed to -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Yes, some of those shipments started coming into Tampa Bay and that will start to help. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, millions of people in Florida will be dealing with excessive heat, without air conditioning or power.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more in his forecast here. You look at some of these temperatures. There's nothing like, you

know, several days of high temperatures. You're trying to clean up or just get back to normal.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. You know, the factors that really the human body responds to so effectively is humidity, air temperature, guys, and any sort of physical activity. You put those three things together at a high level, it is a dangerous scenario regardless and, of course, you take the power out and it's a bad recipe all the way around.

But look at this. We're talking low 80s at this hour and into the 4:00 hour in the morning, and then you look at the observations in Key West. I think it's fascinating when you look at Key West and Naples, guess what, the weather observations there completely knocked out for obvious regions, a storm track across that region and that just the same curiosity and look back around the Caribbean and you have British Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, the Turks and Caicos, weather observations all out of commission for the same exact observation as the storm inundated that region, in place.

But notice this, we're talking heat indices, what it will feel like outside, 99 to as hot as 101 degrees into the afternoon hours. Northern central Florida, mid-90s to lower 90s as well.

Again, when you look at an area, not only with the extreme amount of people that are without power, we're talking 4.3 million customers. It takes a three to four people per customer, we're talking 10 million to maybe 16 million people across the state of Florida without power right now.

And then you look at it another way. We know the state of Florida, well known for its elderly population. Over 3 million people estimated to be over age 65. One in 20 Floridians are over age 80, and we often say the elderly, the children, the most susceptible to extreme heat because their bodies do not efficiently cool off.

So, we know sweating is the most efficient way for your body to cool off. But at certain age groups, sweating doesn't really occur at effective levels. So, that becomes a very dangerous scenario, especially when you considered a cumulative effect of this sort of a setup in that region, guys.

ROMANS: Some important information there. Pedram Javaheri, thank you so much for that.


BRIGGS: Oh, brutal.

All right. The extent of the damage becoming painfully clear in the Caribbean. CNN has crews on several of the islands.

Correspondent Sara Ganim is on St. Thomas and has more on the long recovery efforts expected not only there but for all of the U.S. Virgin Islands. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This island, St. Thomas, was one of the first to get hit business Hurricane Irma, a category 5 when it hit last Wednesday. And it has become very clear that it is going to be one of the last to fully recover from that storm.

As we approach today, six days later, it was immediately clear there is still devastation across this island, barely a structure that wasn't touched, barely a leaf on a tree.

We spoke to people who spent days just chain sawing themselves out of their own local roads, their own community to get to the main streets. We saw people who six days later are trying to get off the island. Getting in and out of this island is incredibly difficult with the airport and the ferry ports damaged, just now are people beginning to be able to leave.

[04:10:00] And just now are supplies beginning to be able to come in. We have seen locals helping each other using private resources, like private yacht and private airplanes to ferry in medicine, food, water, diapers, formula, things that people stranded here desperately need as they move forward in recovery. I'm here at the local headquarters for emergency management. FEMA came to the island before the storm hit, and military assistance has since arrived.

But almost a week later, they are now just starting to get to some people. Authorities here admitting to us they have not yet been able to search all of the corners of these islands.

Back to you.


ROMANS: Yes, there's been some concern. So many people saying this is not just an island that are trapped for vacationers. These are American citizens who work there, live there, no paychecks right now, clearly, no running water, no electricity.

BRIGGS: No schools, no hospitals, and to send them supplies -- well, that's just about impossible. There's no post office. So, it's difficult to help if you want to.

ROMANS: All right. Eleven minutes past the hour. Surprising suggestion from the president's press secretary.


REPORTER: Would the president encourage the DOJ to prosecute Comey?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's not the president's role. It's the job of the Department of Justice and something they should certainly look at.


ROMANS: Why Sarah Sanders says the DOJ should consider prosecuting the former FBI director. That's next.


[04:15:36] BRIGGS: The White House is suggesting the Justice Department take a look at prosecuting former FBI Director James Comey. Administration officials claim he's a leaker who lied to Congress.

The president's press secretary, Sarah Sanders, making a case for criminal charges.


SANDERS: Comey, by his own self-admission, leaked privileged government information weeks before President Trump fired him. His actions were improper and likely could have been illegal.

REPORTER: Would the president encourage the DOJ to prosecute Comey?

SANDERS: That's not the president's role. That's the job of the Department of Justice and something they should certainly look at.

REPORTER: Is that something you'd like to see?

SANDERS: I'm not sure about that, specifically, but I think if there's ever a moment where we feel someone's broken the law, particularly if they're the head of the FBI, I think that's something that certainly should be looked at.


ROMANS: The question came up when Sanders defended the president's decision to fire Comey. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon telling "60 Minutes", the firing was the worst mistake in, quote, modern political history.

BRIGGS: A much anticipated meeting at the White House later this morning between President Trump and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Scott is the Senate's only black Republican and will be discussing the president's response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville last month.

At the time, Senator Scott said this.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. That moral authority is compromised when Tuesday happens.


ROMANS: Last night, the president met with a bipartisan group of senators. We are told he approached it as a trust building exercise. A senior administration official tells CNN the president is willing to work with Democrats now that he has shed the advice of hard line Republicans who are no longer in the White House. BRIGGS: Seattle Major Ed Murray announcing his resignation in the

wake of a new sex abuse allegation against him. The mayor's cousin telling "The Seattle Times", Murray abused him back in the 1970s. He is the fifth person to publicly accuse the mayor of child sexual abuse. The 62-year-old Murray, Seattle first openly gay mayor, denies the allegations, says he is resigning so his personal issues do not affect the ability of city government to serve its citizens.

ROMANS: All right. About 18 minutes past the hour.

In the wake of Equifax's huge security fail, lawmakers want to investigate three executives for insider trading. Thirty-six U.S. senators seek a federal probe into $2 million in Equifax shares sold after the discovery of the hack in July, after the company discovered the hack in July, of course, but before the public was made aware.

Equifax only made this public last week, the fail last week. The breach exposed the data of 143 million of you, including your birthday, Social Security number, your driver's license.

Equifax's response has prompted a public firestorm. For example, the company appeared to only offer free credit monitoring if victims waived their right to sue. Equifax later backtracked after conversations, we should call them conservations, prodding from the New York attorney general. Massachusetts' state attorney general plans to sue Equifax.

And the hack even concerns the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Americans shouldn't expect these things to happen and the current situation is obviously quite unfortunate.


ROMANS: Quite unfortunate, quite unfair. Mnuchin added that the safety of U.S. financial data is his top priority. The administration, of course, has been rolling back financial protections, consumer protections.

Equifax CEO Richard Smith accepts all the criticism, writing in an op- ed, the company vows to make changes to strengthen against cyber crimes.

Certainly a big failure for Equifax. And it's a reminder for people. You might not even know that Equifax has your data, but it does. If you have a car loan, if you have a home loan, if you have a credit card, this information is out there and you are not the customer of Equifax.

People who want to know more about you are the customers of Equifax. So, there's no priority for your information to be secure.

BRIGGS: And you've checked your own -- I've not even done the homework you asked me to do by checking it out.

ROMANS: Do a credit freeze. Do a credit freeze, and it might cost you five bucks. It might cost you 10 bucks. Do a credit freeze. All three credit rating agencies, do -- credit agencies, do a credit freeze.

BRIGGS: A botched handling of that deal.

Quick programming note now: Hillary Clinton will speak tonight on CNN with Anderson. She'll discuss the 2016 election and that new book you may have heard about, "What Happened".

[04:20:02] That's tonight, 8:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

ROMANS: All right. Will the new sanctions against North Korea do anything to slow its nuclear ambitions? The president does not seem convince.

CNN is the only Western TV network broadcasting from Pyongyang. More from our Will Ripley in North Korea, next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know if it has any impact, but certainly, it was nice to get a 15-0 vote. But those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen.


ROMANS: President Trump offering his take on the new U.N. sanctions against North Korea. He's clearly not convinced they'll do any good.

[04:25:00] The president calling the measures, quote, not a big deal, insisting more steps need to be taken to rein in Kim Jong-un and his nuclear ambitions.

BRIGGS: Now, North Korea's state-run news agency firing back, calling the sanctions a heinous provocation by the United States.

CNN's Will Ripley, the only Western TV journalist reporting from North Korea joins us live from Pyongyang.

Good morning, Will.


Yes, certainly, very strong words and not unexpected to hear the North Koreans condemning these sanctions in the strongest possible terms, threatening unbearable consequences, pain and suffering against the United States for what they call a full on economic blockade.

But clearly, based on those cryptic comments from President Trump, he thinks there is more that could be done. And he's right, because the U.S. didn't get the full on oil embargo, cutting off this country's supply. That's what they wanted. China and Russia wouldn't go for it and so at least for now, these sanctions do not appear to be a fatal blow, although it certainly will make it more difficult for North Korea to bring in revenue for the country.

I have to tell you, I was out on the streets chatting with people today and they say despite previous rounds of U.N. Security Council's sanctions, their living standards are improving. North Korea's economy grew by almost 4 percent last year, according to South Korean Central Bank estimates. There are many cars on the streets, more goods for sale in stores and people say they're just not worried. They shrugged off those comments from President Trump.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, a major show of force, a live fire drills, quite dramatic and then additionally, a test for the first time of air to surface missiles that South Korea says could specifically take out missile launch sites in North Korea and they also continue to threaten the leadership of this country, saying they could track down and target the leader Kim Jong-un if they needed to.

So, clearly, a ratcheting up of tensions before these sanctions even take effect -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Will Ripley, live for us in Pyongyang, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. From the Virgin Islands to the Florida Keys and beyond, people are looking at homes, businesses, livelihoods in ruins. Emergency help just starting to get to some towns. It takes years of recovery, folks. We have reporters stationed in the areas hardest hit by Irma.