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Hurricane Irma: Florida Faces Days Without Power After Deadly Storm; Long Road To Recovery For Caribbean; Sanders Health Care Plan Backed By 15 Senators; Trump: North Korea Sanctions "Not A Big Deal." Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:47] 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 Virgin Islands where the power is out and supplies are running low.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Dave Briggs. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

We'll also have some surprising comments from the president's spokesperson about prosecuting James Comey.

But up first, the Florida Keys in ruins and starting down the long road to recovery. Authorities and a handful of residents finally reaching some of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Irma.

Twenty-five percent of the homes on this chain of islands destroyed, another 65 percent suffering major damage according to initial FEMA estimates.

ROMANS: All right. In Monroe County, where the Keys are located, there are some signs of progress. You've got about 80 percent of the roads in the Keys are now cleared. And according to the Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. 1 and all of those 42 bridges linking the Florida Keys have been inspected and are now safe for travel.

BRIGGS: Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon International have opened to handle emergency response flights. They remain closed, though, until further notice for commercial flights.

A dusk to dawn curfew also remains in place until further notice.

ROMANS: About five million customers throughout the southeast still without power this morning. That's five million customers. That means an awful lot of people. The majority of those customers are in Florida. Nearly two dozen counties remain at least half in the dark. And even in populated areas where power is coming back, one and a half million customers remain without power.

BRIGGS: Thirty thousand out-of-state utility workers trying to help get the lights back on. Full restoration, though, could take weeks for some.

President Trump will head to the Fort Myers area of Florida tomorrow as the death toll from Irma has climbed, now reaching 55. Twenty-four of those fatalities in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We'll have more from that hard-hit Caribbean area in just a few moments.

ROMANS: The Lower Keys remain closed to everyone at this hour but some residents of the Upper Keys are being allowed back into their homes. It doesn't mean, of course, life is returning to normal -- anything but. Everyone along the island chain facing big challenges in the 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.

Behind me, 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, crunched into the ground and into the water is the second floor and the garage. Twelve 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 who lives here evacuated. Thankfully, they did because they probably wouldn't have survived this.

And he says he actually wants to rebuild. He thinks that if they -- if they do come here and rebuild it they'll build it to a better code. This was built in the 1970s when the codes weren't as strong and he thinks he can get it rebuilt to a better code and survive these strong hurricanes.

A lot of frustration on the part of Keys 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 past the check points because they say it's too dangerous to go in there.

Sheriffs' deputies tell us if they go in and something happens to them they're not going to be able to call out. There are no coms 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 down here that that's going on but the sheriffs' deputies and others are saying look, we'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. I mean, this place is a disaster area. It's look like a war zone throughout this 115-mile stretch of the Florida Keys -- Christine and Dave.


[05:35:08] BRIGGS: All right. Brian Todd there for us in the Keys. Thanks.

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 gas where it's 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 it's all the gas that this port provides for 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 going to be coming in, so that's going to be 10 total that will be bringing gas to this area.

And when you think about this not only does it provide 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 kind of a 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 tried fill up in preparation of 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 up creating an affect here that had a

lot of places with 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 the gas will be flowing back through the lines the way we're all accustomed to -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Ryan. Thank you for that.

Hurricane Irma blamed for 31 deaths in the Caribbean, but one of the hardest hit areas, St. Maarten -- the island of St. Maarten.

A CNN team has reached this Dutch-controlled territory. It is cloaked by an 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 now.

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 actually going house-to-house, one-by-one. They've got to make sure there are no live wires before they can turn it on. We're very fortunate.

But let me show you a couple of 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 -- these are the guys who are -- have allowed us to stay here and that's the only reason we can even 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. Where -- where -- why are you sleeping here? TOM: The roof of my house is gone.

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

TOM: Once it gets a little bit better fixed, I will be, yes. But that's going to be awhile.

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

Let me show you this. This is the lifeline I was telling you about -- the gasoline. We consider that 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 are 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 that 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 that they would reopen. There will be security to ensure that it's done in an orderly fashion.

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


[05:40:05] ROMANS: Cyril Vanier reporting there. He's, of course, from -- he's from the Caribbean. He grew up in the Caribbean.

You know, it's so interesting to me that these islands -- you know, these are American citizens who live in many of these islands.


ROMANS: St. John, St. Thomas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, of course. These aren't just vacationers we're talking about. We're talking about people who make their livelihoods there.

And I'm really worried about, you know, restaurant workers and people who work paycheck to paycheck who are waiting for tourism to come back before they're going to have money to be able to go to that supermarket. So --

BRIGGS: We're really just learning the damage in a lot of these islands, as well.

All right. Ahead, Medicare for all. Is this a good idea for Democrats?

A number of high-profile, 2020 candidates signing on to Bernie Sanders' single-payer plan. Could it come back to haunt them? We'll discuss.


[05:45:00] BRIGGS: All right.

Senator Bernie Sanders unveiling his 'Medicare for All' bill later today and more than a dozen other senators signing on. Could the Sanders plan become the Democrats version of repeal and replace?

Let's ask Zach Wolf, digital director of "CNN POLITICS," live in Washington this morning.

ROMANS: Hey, Zach.

BRIGGS: Good morning, Zach.

It's not just Democratic senators, it's those who look like they're positioning themselves for a 2020 run. Some very high-profile senators like these few. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker, if you want four who were really talked about as 2020 candidates.

Let's set aside the fact that this is fiscally impossible. Is there a peril in signing aboard with Bernie Sanders and a single-payer bill?

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL DIRECTOR, CNN POLITICS: Well, it definitely, you know, puts you in the corner. I think later on if you're elected, ultimately, you would presumably have to pursue that kind of thing which is, at least in the current climate, pretty unrealistic.

I guess by the time there's a Democratic president, and who knows when that could happen, but there could be a Democratic and House and Senate, and now we're totally into hypothetical land. But you'd need all of those things in order for this to happen.

And even when they had all those things under Barack Obama they couldn't make it happen. They couldn't get a public option included.

So yes, I think there's a political peril here in promising something that you ultimately can't deliver, for sure.

ROMANS: You know -- so it's so interesting to me that Bernie Sanders -- an op-ed in "The New York Times" this morning, "Why we need Medicare for all." Hillary Clinton on a book tour.

I mean, we're still talking about the Democrats who were the stars in the last presidential election. Who's up and coming and where is the energy in the Democratic Party here if we're talking about -- still talking about the past?

WOLF: Well, one thing I do think that's interesting with all these perspective candidates signing on to the Bernie Sanders model of this, the suggestion is we're not going to have a moderate Democrat in the mold of Hillary Clinton --


WOLF: -- represent the party come 2020.

At least not one on health care and not somebody we've heard of yet simply because they're all signing onto the 'Medicare for All' plan. So you can see the party is, you know, following the Trump mold of retreating to their corners, so to speak.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, some other Democrat senators met with President Trump last night, along with some Republican colleagues to talk about tax reform. Those Democrats include Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly -- those vulnerable Democrat senators in 2018.

Is there, Zach, bipartisan agreement on tax reform and what are those principles?

ROMANS: (Laughing).

WOLF: Well, OK, we don't know what the tax reform plan is yet --

BRIGGS: Right.

WOLF: -- from the White House. They're still working that out. They need to come up with it pretty quickly.

It's starting to sound a little bit like health care --


BRIGGS: -- if you kind of read between the lines there. You know, behind the scenes negotiations going on only with Republicans, so far as we know. I think he's meeting -- the president is meeting with another bipartisan group today.

So there is some bipartisanship but there's an asterisk you need to put next to all three of those names that you mentioned. They're all from states that Trump won, so they don't kind of represent the bulk of the party.

And as long as Republicans are trying to pass tax reform with a 50- vote majority, or 50 votes in the Senate, which is what they're trying to do, I don't think you can really call it a bipartisan effort.

ROMANS: I would say there's agreement that there should be tax cuts for companies and tax cuts --

BRIGGS: Right. ROMANS: -- for people. There's absolutely no agreement on what kind of tax goodies you cut to pay for that, and that's where the fighting is among the GOP.

BRIGGS: Ted Cruz will also talk taxes at the Tax Foundation. Might have to answer some questions about some other issues as well, but we won't delve into that.

We will discuss, though, what Sarah Sanders, yesterday, said from the White House podium. Eyebrow-raising comments -- let's listen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.


BRIGGS: What do you make of that, that the Department of Justice should look at prosecuting former FBI Director James Comey?

WOLF: I don't see that happening unless we learn something else about what Comey did, you know. Nobody's really suggested he did anything illegal. And if you listen carefully to her words right there, Sarah Sanders doesn't really, either.

And, in fact, the only people under active investigation are, you know, people at the White House, as part of the Robert Mueller investigation. So this could be, you know, a way to divert attention from all of that.

But I'm not holding my breath for a Comey prosecution.

[05:50:00] ROMANS: All right. Zach Wolf, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning bright and early from D.C.

BRIGGS: All right.

WOLF: You, too.

BRIGGS: A quick programming note. Hillary Clinton will speak tonight on CNN with Anderson Cooper. There's also a special Friday night with my man Will Ripley, "Secret State: Inside North Korea."

So, a lot happening. Tonight, Hillary Clinton on Anderson. Friday night, Will Ripley's special on North Korea.

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

CNN is the only Western T.V. network broadcasting from Pyongyang. More from Will, in North Korea, next.


[05:55:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 to nothing vote. But, those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen.


President Trump offering his take on the new U.N. sanctions against North Korea, clearly not convinced that they'll do any good. The president calling the measures quote "not a big deal."

BRIGGS: Now, North Korea's state-run agency calling the sanctions a heinous provocation by the U.S.

CNN's Will Ripley, the only Western T.V. journalist reporting from North Korea, joins us live from Pyongyang.

Will, interesting to hear the president kind of throw cold water on what otherwise was thought to be some big sanctions.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. You heard the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley talking about what a strong, unprecedented sanctions package this was.

But then you have President Trump basically acknowledging that the version that was approved unanimously was watered down to appease China and Russia, who didn't go along with the full oil embargo, or blacklisting Kim Jong Un, or grounding North Korea's only airline.

Instead, what they're doing is capping oil exports by 30 percent which could spike gas and energy prices here in the country.

And there is an angry -- a furious response from the North Korea government. The official response now reiterating what officials told us here on the ground yesterday, that they condemn these sanctions in the strongest possible terms. They're calling it an economic blockade.

They say the U.S. will pay for this and they also say that they will redouble their efforts to develop their weapons programs even faster than before -- their nuclear program and their missile program -- which is the reason why they keeping getting sanctioned because these launches and nuclear tests are in violation of international law.

In response, South Korea conducting a live-fire drill of their own, testing for the first time a long-range air-to-surface missile that could potentially strike targets here inside North Korea. It's a direct threat to a country that has a growing nuclear arsenal. South Korea and the U.S. trying to find counter-measures but tensions continue to escalate here, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Will Ripley live for us in Pyongyang. Looking forward to your special Friday night. Thanks.

ROMANS: Thanks, Will.

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

Global stocks are mixed after a record day on Wall Street. For the first time since July, all the three big major averages hit record highs continuing a huge rally from the day before.

There was also talk of tax reform -- that helps. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he is hopeful reform will happen this year, adding the administration may make tax cuts retroactive to January first.

Apple introducing a trio of new iPhones, including the premium version worth a cool grand. Ten years after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple debuted the iPhone X. It has edge-to-edge screens, scans your face to log in.

If customers don't want to spend a grand, Apple also unveiled the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.

Big news for the middle class. Middle class Americans got a pay raise in 2016. Median household income rose 3.2 percent to a record -- a record high $59,000, the second year in a row of an increase.

Wage growth overall has been pretty flat in recent years so experts say this jump is because more people are returning to work. The work opportunities are just really good.

The last couple of years has been very good for workers. The U.S. added two million jobs last year.

Finally, four years after writing "Lean In," Sheryl Sandberg has this to say about leadership in the U.S.


SHERYL SANDBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK, AUTHOR, "LEAN IN": Men still run the world and I'm not sure it's going that well.


Sandberg added that female leadership has really stalled. The U.S. has a long way to go to reach equality, citing the fact that women still earn less than men in almost every single industry. So her comments yesterday getting a lot of attention. Thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. Chris Cuomo, live in Florida.

We'll see you tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen a hurricane like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just started crying because I didn't realize how bad this was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FEMA estimates well over half the homes in the Keys have major damage and one in four destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go home. I want to see that we have a home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest challenge we have right now is just the lack of power, the lack of water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A humanitarian crisis quickly growing in the Caribbean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not anything that you could have been prepared for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The goal is to get people back as soon as possible. We're just not prepared to do that at this hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While we may be down, we're not out right now.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, September 13th, 6:00 here in New York.

The Florida Keys are still reeling from Irma. Folks who evacuated are returning this morning but seeing nothing but devastation. The people are beginning the heart-wrenching task, though, of cleaning up there.

So here's what we know at this hour. The death toll from Irma is 55 people, 24 of them killed in the U.S. That includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And another 31 storm-related deaths across the rest of the Caribbean.