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Florida Keys Devastated by Irma; White House: Look at Prosecuting Comey; Trump: North Korea Sanctions "Not a Big Deal". Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:31:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Years of rebuilding ahead for the Florida Keys. Ninety percent of homes there are either damaged or destroyed. More of the same in the Virgin Islands where the power is out, supplies are running low, some of these harbors simply wiped away.

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

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Should fired FBI Director James Comey be prosecuted? Well, the president's spokesperson says the Justice Department should consider it. An unusual suggestion from the White House podium yesterday.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes, almost 32 minutes past the hour.

Let's begin in the Florida Keys this morning. It is in ruins and starting down a very long road to recovery.

Authorities and a handful of residents finally reaching some of the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Irma and what they found: simply devastation. Twenty-five percent of the homes on the chain of islands destroyed, another 65 percent suffering major damage. This is all according to initial FEMA estimates.

BRIGGS: There are some signs of progress in Monroe County where the keys are located. Eighty percent of the roads in the Keys now cleared and according to the Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. 1 and 42 bridges have all been inspected and are safe for travel.

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

BRIGGS: And 5 million customers throughout the southeast, now, that's customers, not people, that could represent anywhere from 10 million to 15 million, without power this morning, majority of them in Florida. Nearly two dozen counties remain 50 percent in the dark and even some of the most populated counties where more than half the power is back on, 1.5 million customers remain without power.

ROMANS: Thirty thousand out of state utility workers trying to help get those lights back on. Full restoration could take weeks. President Trump heading to Fort Myers, the Fort Myers area of Florida tomorrow. The death toll from Irma now reaching 55, 24 of those fatalities in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We will have more from the hard hit Caribbean in just a moment.

BRIGGS: The Lower Keys remain closed to everyone at this hour, but some residents of the Upper Keys are being allowed back into their homes. That does not mean life is returning to normal, though. Everyone along the island chain is facing massive challenges in weeks ahead.

CNN's Brian Todd has more from this 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.

[04:35:05] 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.


ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that, Brian Todd.

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

CNN's Ryan Young has 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.


BRIGGS: Some good news there. Ryan Young, thanks.

We are seeing some positive signs in Miami-Dade County, the mayor lifting the 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. curfew that's been in effect since Sunday. The city of Miami also doing away with its curfew. Some 600,000 customers, though, in the county still without power. That's more than two thirds of Miami-Dade. ROMANS: Port Miami, a major hub for cruise ships is now operational.

The first ships since Hurricane Irma arriving late last night, packed with, get this, thousands of passengers, cruise ship passengers who rode this storm out at sea.

For many, getting a flight out of Miami won't be easy. Miami International Airport is open but operating on a limited schedule. The extent of damage in and around Miami is becoming clearer. Look at this from Coconut Grove. Boats washed ashore, the dock left in tatters.

BRIGGS: All right. Now, millions of people in Florida dealing with excessive heat without air conditioning or any power.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more on the forecast.

Pedram, you're looking at for some weeks without power with that wicked heat index. Good morning.


You know, guys, this is an area, of course, that people keep the air conditioning on year round, right? So, when you think about the significance of this, this I think is one of the bigger elements coming into play after the storm now has moved out of this region. You look at the weather observation across, say, Melbourne, Naples, Key West, the areas impacted most significantly.

We can't even see what the weather is across that region. So, it kind of puts it in perspective of the damage on the ground across this region, but where you can see, it's generally 80 to 100 percent humidity. Meaning the atmosphere nearly or entirely saturated. And your body's response, it does a fantastic job cooling itself off. But it does so by evaporation, off of your skin from sweating.

Now, if humidities are close to 100 percent, the sweat beads will sit on your skin, evaporation doesn't take place. Of course once you get your core temperature up to about 104, your nervous system begins to fail and, of course, that becomes a life-threatening situation in a matter of just a few hours.

And we touch on this because we know 4.3 million customers without power. Now, customers meaning three to four people per customer. So, maybe 10 million to, say, 16 million dealing with no power across an area with heat indices that are pushing up to about 100 degrees and, of course, Florida has among the highest elderly populations in the country as well. Three million over age 65, one in 20 over the age of 80. We know the elderly among the most susceptible to such temperatures as well.

So, this is what it looks like before the sun comes up. Lower 80s, you factor in the humidity and keep in mind, 6.5 trillion gallons of water fell across this region, so just about every single inch of the ground here is absolutely saturated.

[04:40:02] All of that moisture evaporates into the air. Of course, the humidity is up high and that moisture then in the form of sweat sits on your skin. So, it's just very, very difficult to get any cooling from your body and, of course, without air conditioning from any advanced technology even as well. So, it really becomes a hard scenario.

BRIGGS: Also hard for those Florida Power and Light workers trying to get power back on for that region. A long road ahead.

Thanks, Pedram.

ROMANS: All right. Hurricane Irma blamed now for 31 deaths in the Caribbean. One of the hardest hit areas, St. Maarten.

A CNN team has reached the Dutch controlled territory. You can see it is cloaked in eerie darkness.

CNN anchor Cyril Vanier filed this report.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to show you the first impression you get when you get to St. Maarten. We're on the Dutch side right now and when the sun sets. This is it. There's no light. There's so little power on the island right, so all along, down that street, there's an insurance, there's a pizzeria, there's a furniture store and many other stores, only two of them still have a light that's running.

We're actually very fortunate because the biggest newspaper on the island, "The Daily Herald", has agreed to let us sleep here. They've got power. They're one of the rare people, for them, the power is working.

So, the power company is going house to house, one by one. They've got to make sure there are no live wires to turn it on. We're very fortunate.

But let me show you a couple things that are absolutely necessary right now in St. Maarten. This is a generator. The few lights that are on in the island, either they're one of the fortunate ones that have the power turned back on or they have a generator.

If they have a generator, then they need some of this, they need the gasoline, but the gas stations, they're all closed and that buys you in this building about two hours of power.

Let me show you this way. So, these are the guys who have allowed us to stay here and this is the reason we can put this broadcast out there. One of the few things, Tom, I know you're camera shy, I know you didn't want to talk about this, but when you talk to people, this is what happens. Why are you sleeping here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roof of my house is gone.

VANIER: You can't sleep in your house anymore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once it gets a little bit better fixed I will be, yes, but that's going to be a while.

VANIER: All right. So, for the moment, Tom is one of the very -- one of the many, many people who's homeless. We can put it that way and who's sleeping here with his wife. He's part of the sports section at the paper.

Let me show you this. This is a lifeline. I was telling you about the gasoline. We consider this is about two hours of power and with everything that's been filled up, we have maybe two days of power. Once that goes out, not much we can do.

And this is the printing press. They can't print anymore because this requires water. There's no water. It's essentially what the Dutch marines are giving you in terms of water.

This is the last newspaper they printed on Tuesday. It was the day before the hurricane hit. And this is the headline. Businesses must close at noon, curfew, 8:00 p.m.

Now, with all this, there's one glimmer of hope which is we've learned now that tomorrow, two things going to reopen that are key to a normal functioning life here in St. Maarten. And that is supermarkets, a couple of supermarkets have said they're reopening on Wednesday. That's going to bring a great relief if they do open to the population of St. Maarten and gas stations, as well, a couple of them, have warned they will reopen. There will be security to ensure that it's done in an orderly fashion.

It's the very, very beginning of life restarting in St. Maarten.


ROMANS: All right. Cyril, thank you for that.

Just really remarkable what's happening there.

BRIGGS: Yes, and the notion early was, well, the networks aren't covering this, that's because it was impossible to get information. It was impossible to get pictures, video, anything, any sense of what truly happened, the devastation there. We're just now beginning to learn.

All right. Ahead, a 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.


BRIGGS: Why Sarah Sanders says the DOJ should weigh prosecuting the former FBI Director James Comey, next.


ROMANS: Hello American job market. The U.S. has never had more available jobs. A record high 6.2 million open jobs in July. This is a huge number, but such a high number is both good news and bad news.

The good news is here, employers are clearly hiring. Business is good. They want to hire people.

The bad news here is employers claim they cannot find workers to fill these jobs. Some blame a skills gap. They say the workers who are available simply don't have the skills needed for some of these jobs.

Others complain the jobs don't offer enough wages, when -- that's simple supply and demand. Wages should be rising. Worth noting, this report contradicts a central argument of President Trump's decision to end DACA. That's the Obama era program protecting 800,000 immigrants who arrived illegally at children and who are allowed to work in this country. That assumption, DACA takes jobs away from young Americans.

But most economists conclude immigrants help fill an employment gap, a gap largely driven by demographics. Today, about 44 million Americans are retired. That's up 36 percent from the year 2000. It's the baby boom generation retiring.

In that same span of time, the labor force has only grown 12 percent. Meaning, there aren't enough young Americans to replace those retirees.

[04:50:01] BRIGGS: The White House 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 he'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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 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 first mistake in modern political history.

BRIGGS: Will the Indians lose another game this season? It's 20 wins in a row now and counting. The tribe shutting out the Tigers last night behind their ace, Corey Kluber. The victory ties the 2002 "Moneyball" A's for the longest winning streak in American history.

The Indians just one win shy of the modern day Major League record set by the Cubs in 1935. That's right, they tried for their 21st straight at noon Eastern Time.

I think it's about seven hours away. What a remarkable run and something people have hardly noticed nationwide because, of course, they're the Cleveland Indians.

ROMANS: Hat's off for that banner. You got to believe. That's good. All right.

BRIGGS: What an outstanding story for them.

ROMANS: Ten years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple debuting a premium version. Would you pay $1,000 for a fancy iPhone? That's on CNN's "Money Stream", next.

BRIGGS: And will the newest sanctions against North Korea do anything to slow their nuclear ambitions? The president doesn't seem to be so convinced.

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



[04:56:32] 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 sounding pleased with the new U.N. sanctions against North Korea. But clearly not convinced they'll do any good. The president calling the measures, quote, not a big deal, you heard that there, 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 is calling the sanctions a heinous provocation by the United States.

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


It's interesting to hear President Trump basically acknowledging that these sanctions don't go far enough because the concessions that had to be thrown in there to appease Russia and China eliminated what the U.S. feels could have been a fatal blow to the North Korean economy. There's no oil embargo, although the U.S. says they will cut oil imports into this country by as much as a third which could spike everything from gas prices to energy prices and have a direct impact on life here in Pyongyang. Thus the very strongly worded response from North Korea, reiterating what officials on the ground were telling us here just after the sanctions vote yesterday that North Korea condemns these sanctions in the strongest possible terms. They call it a full on economic blockade, but they say despite that, they will double down on their efforts to rapidly grow their nation's nuclear arsenal, a pledge that Kim Jong-un made when he had it written into this country's constitution back in 2013.

So, how does South Korea respond to a man that they call a dictator armed with nuclear weapons? By conducting live fire drills of their own, including the first ever test of a long range air to surface missile that they say could strike targets here inside North Korea -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Will Ripley, live for us in Pyongyang, 5:30 p.m. there. Thanks, Will.

All right. Be sure to join CNN 10:00 p.m. this Friday night for Will's special, "Secret State: Inside North Korea", Friday night, 10:00, only on CNN. Extraordinary access.

ROMANS: That should be great.

All right. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global stocks mixed after a record day on Wall Street. For the first time since July, all three major indexes hit highs, thanks largely to a huge rally the day before and talk of tax reform. So, a couple of really good days for stocks, but the futures are pointing down right now. The Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he's hopeful tax reform will happen this year. He says the administration may make tax cuts retroactive to January 1st, something companies certainly like to hear.

Apple introducing a trio of new iPhones, in case you live in a cave and didn't know, including a premium version worth about $1,000. And 10 years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple debuted the iPhone X at its annual press conference.

The anniversary phone has an edge to edge screen, scans your face to log in. If customers don't want to spend a grand on the smartphone, Apple unveiled the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

Middle class Americans got another raise last year. The median household income rose 3.2 percent to a record, a record, more than $59,000 last year, the second year of an increase.

Now, wage growth has been flat in recent years, so this increase is pretty stunning. Experts say it's because more people are returning to work as opposed to getting significant new raises. This is about people getting back into the job market. Fascinating 59,000 --

BRIGGS: Some more people can pay $1,000 for an iPhone? Is that what you're telling me?