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Hurricane Maria Bearing Down On Puerto Rico; Hundreds Killed in Mexico Quake; Trump Targets "Rocket Man". Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:31:57] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Dire warnings from officials in Puerto Rico as the island gears up for a category 5 hurricane. Landfall expected this morning from Maria. We're live in San Juan.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The death toll climbing overnight from another natural disaster, a devastating earthquake in Mexico. Rescuers working into the morning to find survivors.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.


BRIGGS: And President Trump with blunt warnings. North Korea threatening to destroy the country if they don't stop their nuclear program. Strangely, the reaction from Pyongyang this morning, nonexistent, we have coverage and all our top stories from around the world including our live report, as we see, from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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

ROMANS: Good morning. Nice to see you. A lot going on this morning. I'm Christine Romans, 32 minutes past the hour.

Let's begin with authorities in Puerto Rico warning everyone to flee the most powerful hurricane to threaten the island nation in 90 years. Evacuate or die, the governor says. Hurricane Maria stalking Puerto Rico at this hour with maximum sustained winds of 160 miles an hour. The storm expected to make landfall in a matter of hours category five force right now.

Puerto's governor warning: evacuate before it's too late.


GOV. RICHARD ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: Flooding areas are very vulnerable, very dangerous. The surges will be felt across the island. And vulnerable housing should be evacuated immediately.

And right now, the main focus is getting you out of harm's way, making sure you're in a shelter.


BRIGGS: The effects of Hurricane Maria already being felt in Puerto Rico where residents are still recovering from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Let's go live to San Juan, Puerto Rico and bring in CNN's Nick Valencia.

Nick, good morning to you.

People are even evacuated to Puerto Rico from Irma. What a disaster situation. How does it look there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Things starting to look scary here, Dave. It's in the last ten minutes that these rain bands have started to pick up. The winds have started to pick up and we're now feeling the effects of just how close Hurricane Maria is getting to making landfall here in Puerto Rico. Fifteen feet from here, there's a sign that ripped off. Just a few minutes before, we started going live.

Behind me, there's a precarious roof here at one of these small structures in the hotel that's been kind of dangling a little bit, that we're trying to keep an eye on. Inside the hotel, they're starting to put up more shutters. The side that the lobby faces toward the beach, those windows are starting to whistle. The glass is starting to flex back and forth, people inside of the hotel starting to peek out to see what the noise and the loud bangs. Just a few seconds ago, I heard a window break. Parts of roofs have been ripping off as we've been reporting throughout the day. Loud bangs have been having throughout our reporting here.

There is some ominous warnings that have been given by these government officials and now we're seeing what they were expecting. Governor Rossello here saying that it was necessary to evacuate yesterday, especially those low-lying areas -- I'm sorry, guys, you got to forgive me. There's a lot of noise and craziness going on behind me -- to evacuate those low lying areas because they're very concerned about flooding and the flood potential here that those storms can bring.

Guys, I'm going to throw them back to you. We don't know what's going on behind us. There's a lot of loud crash. I'd feel better if you took it from here.

ROMANS: That's a really good idea, Nick.

And, you know, we should point out to our viewers, that we usually have a pretty safe perch when we do these live shots just, usually outside of a car port or a car parking lot that protects you from flying debris and the wind and --

BRIGGS: There's a shield actually from the strong winds.

ROMANS: And even in those kinds of winds, you never know what's going to come whipping up around behind you, and sometimes it's debris coming out of trees, too, you know? And, look, I'm going to be honest, one shingle is enough to knock somebody out or really cause some major damage.

So, Nick, get safe there.

BRIGGS: Nick is on the weaker side of the storm as well.

ROMANS: I think it's a part of what this island is going to go through here, you know?

Overnight, the storm slammed into St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The next update from the National Hurricane Center about 30 minutes away.

Let's get right to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the CNN weather center.

And, you know, just a lot, you know, a lot going on behind him there as this storm still has a few hours before it really hits there with full force.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely. You know, it's going to deteriorate very quickly here going into the next couple of hours. You see the eyewall beginning to push into the island. We're talking about 10,000 people living across that region. So, the wind is going to pick up in intensity and this is going to happen very quickly across this region. When you think about an island that is not very mountainous, but very heavily vegetated, a lot of defoliation going to take place, a lot of leaves, a lot of trees, a lot of branches, as we saw across the Barbuda and Antigua, they begin bonding and stay in the direction the winds have bent them, some 90 degrees so, in the direction the wind bend.

So, this is going to all take place inside the next couple of hours. That becomes tremendous danger and tremendous risk as far as projectiles are concerned on a wooded and heavy forested island.

But the storm system right now, again, approaching at 160 miles per hour. On that island, again, 10,000 residents across this region. Area indicated in white, that is 100 plus-mile-per-hour winds. Somewhere between 8:00 and 9:00 this morning and then push offshore by this afternoon and this evening, very quickly moves out of here, but the heavy rainfall back behind us really could be a major player going into tonight and eventually into tomorrow morning as well before the storm system moves out of the picture.

But with a category 5 moves ashore across this region, we expect the power outages to be almost widespread for the eastern half of the island. The most populous and populated corner of the island. This, in fact, could leave the vast majority of the island in the dark for weeks in some spots and, of course, the storm surge threat is extreme, 7 to 11 feet across what is normally dry ground. Across Puerto Rico, six to nine feet.

We're talking about typically two feet moving your car. Say, you get up to three to four feet, getting into the first floor of your home, six to nine feet pushes up to the second floor of your home and, of course, the rainfall amounts within the mountains could be as much as 10 to almost 20 inches and Irma did not produce more than three to four inches across much of the Caribbean. So, this could be an entirely different story in that respect.

ROMANS: Hey, can we ask you, Pedram, what about the Virgin Islands? We know that St. Croix really dodged a direct hit from Irma, but St. John and St. Thomas really got hurt badly there. What can you tell us about this storm on the Virgin Islands?

JAVAHERI: Yes, absolutely. So, you're right. St. Croix, the eye of the storm began moving just south and we often talk about these storms. They wobble. They do not go in a straight line here. So, that wobble kind of benefitted St. Croix and storm dodging to the southeast. Still have 137 mile per hour gust, but the gusts near the eyewall were 215, a significant difference. But as you work your way toward St. Thomas and areas to the north here, of course, this is the northeast quadrant of the storm system. This is where not only do you have the winds, of course, the most significant storm surge.

You factor in the speed the storm itself is moving which is about 10 to 15 miles per hour on top of the 160, 155-mile-per-hour winds that are expanding away from the center. So, yes, a lot of damage could be left across these areas and you bring that storm surge concern back into places like San Juan, but places like St. Thomas, the area across this region, the underlying landscape on the beach is much more shallow than parts of Puerto Rico where it's a lot deeper. Any time you have shallow beaches, water will pile up and inundate those coastal communities so the damage could be far worse for those areas of the Virgin Islands -- guys.

BRIGGS: Yes, St. Croix, direct hit. And now, the most populated part of Puerto Rico taking this direct hit.

Pedram, thanks.

Another natural disaster we're covering for you this morning. Mexico's president declaring his country facing a national emergency following a deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

[04:40:06] Now, at least 217 people were killed, 22 people in an elementary school in Mexico City. Thirty others are still missing.

ROMANS: This is just one of the terrifying scenes that played out across Mexico. Most of the deaths reported in Morelos, Mexico City, and Puebla. Those three cities, rescue crews in the country now facing a grim task there, digging through the rubble. They're looking for any signs of life. They're hauling off buckets of debris while calling out names of people possibly trapped beneath these buildings.

BRIGGS: President Enrique Pena Nieto urging people to stay indoors while rescue efforts are underway. The quake buckled buildings, windows and concrete plunging to the ground.

President Pena Nieto says 27 buildings collapsed in the capital alone. That's about 75 miles from the quake's epicenter.

ROMANS: The president instructed his cabinet to team up with medical centers to make sure that everyone is receiving proper medical attention. Mexico's defense ministry deploying 3,400 soldiers to the affected areas. The earthquake cutting power to nearly 5 million customers.

Deadly quake hitting just hours after drills and memorials honoring the anniversary of another devastating earthquake that killed thousands of people in Mexico City back in 1985.

All right. The Republicans last ditch health care plan gaining opposition in Congress. Governors and a late night host with a stake in the bill.


JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: My family has health insurance. We don't have to worry about this but other people do. So, you can shove your disgusting problems where your doctor won't be giving a prostate exam once they take your benefits away.


ROMANS: All right. More of Jimmy Kimmel's plea for Affordable Health Care, next.


ROMANS: All right. With only 10 days to get a bill passed, Republicans are stepping up their final push to repeal and replace Obamacare. An administration official tells CNN, President Trump will sign the Graham-Cassidy bill if it reaches his desk. And another source adds the president quietly encouraged Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy to take one last shot at health care reform.

BRIGGS: Any chance for a bipartisan fix dashed by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander. He chaired a set of bipartisan health committee hearings and just called off further attempts to craft a limited bipartisan plan. He claims talks were at a standstill.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington co-chaired those health chair committee hearings. She says she regrets Senator Alexander's decision, insisting significant common ground had been found.

ROMANS: All right. The plan now being considered, here's the policy. That was the politics. Here's the policy.

The plan being considered repeals Obamacare mandates and subsidies and loosens protections for people with preexisting conditions. It also gives the states more authority on how to spend revenue from Obamacare taxes. Despite the fact that a bipartisan group of governors and several interest groups just came out against it.

When we say influential business groups, we're talking interest groups, we're talking about doctors, hospitals, seniors, the very groups that have been against these Republican efforts all along who have said you're going to have more people who are uninsured, you're going to have fewer protections for people and the states would be overwhelmed with a roll back of the Medicaid expansion and with the block grants --

BRIGGS: But there are 15 Republican governors who are in favor of this bill, including Kentucky, which is very controversial right, right in the middle of all this. But also against this new GOP health care plan, Jimmy Kimmel. Back in May, the late night host revealed his newborn son needed multiple open heart surgeries and he made a plea to lawmakers to protect parents who couldn't afford such costly care.

ROMANS: Senator Bill Cassidy sponsored the new Obamacare repeal bill told Kimmel then that any new plan would have to pass what he called the Jimmy Kimmel test. In other words, no family would be denied medical care because they can't afford it. Kimmel says the bill now has Cassidy's name attached to it does not.


KIMMEL: A few months ago, after my sign had open heart surgery, which was something I poke about on the air, a politician, a senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana was on my show and he wasn't very honest. It seemed like he was being honest.

I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a health care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on preexisting conditions, lower premiums for middle class families and no lifetime caps. And guess what? The new bill does none of those things.

These other guys who claim they want Americans to have better health care, even though eight years ago they didn't want anyone to have health care at all, they're trying to sneak this scam of a bill they cooked up in without an analysis from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office. They don't want you to see it.

Health care is complicated. It's boring. I don't want to talk about it. The details are confusing and that's what these guys are relying on.

They're counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information, you just trust them to take care of you, but they're not taking care of you. They're taking care of the people who give the money like insurance companies, and we're all just looking at our Instagram accounts, liking things while they're voting on whether the people can afford to keep their children alive or not.

I never imagined I would get involved to something like this. This is not my area of expertise. My area of expertise is eating pizza and that's really about it. But we can't let them do this to our children and our senior citizens and our veterans or to any of us. And, by the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I'm politicizing my son's health problems, I want you to know I'm politicizing my son's health care problems because I have to.


[04:50:10] BRIGGS: An impassioned plea there from Jimmy Kimmel.

Now, let's be clear, Bill Cassidy, who is in position, has not responded to Jimmy Kimmel. He did respond to some criticism from NPR. NPR said for people with preexisting conditions, the bill would remove guarantee of coverage and there is Cassidy's answer. States must insure that individuals with preexisting conditions have access to adequate and affordable insurance.

ROMANS: You can see on the Website the legislative text of the bill. So, you know, we'll go find exactly that spot and fact check that.

Obamacare premiums maybe soaring this year, but Americans and worker- based health care avoided any major hikes, just a little bump there. A new study finds that family coverage, again, employer based, you're paid through your employer, if health care is through your employer, it only rose 3 percent in 2017, with individual coverage up to about 4 percent.

Compare that to Obamacare, the average silver plan spiked 24 percent this year. Employer policies cover 151 million, just over half of non-elderly Americans. Companies cover most of the cost and the market is fairly stable, but health care costs overall are rising. So, even employer based plans are not immune to some hikes.

For example, family plans cost about 30 percent more today than they did five years ago, that's because companies are paying less for dependents. They are raising deductibles. The average deductible is more than double 10 years ago.

The amount employees are responsible for may not go any higher, next year. Thanks to Obamacare. Obamacare caps Americans out of pocket expenses.

BRIGGS: Ahead, President Trump's past bluster on North Korea has been met with bluster from Pyongyang, so why is it so quiet in North Korea after the president threatened to destroy the country? We're live in Seoul, next.



[04:56:02] TRUMP: Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.


BRIGGS: Rocket man. President Trump taking a page from his own Twitter account there,

mocking Kim Jong-un in his big address to the United Nations while cautioning other countries not to become bystanders to history as North Korea emerges as a nuclear power.

Listen to the president's chilling warning to the North Korean leader.

All right. He warned that he would totally destroy North Korea if they don't stop their nuclear program. President Trump also signaling he may be ready to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Sources tell CNN he's weighing his options and will announce a decision next month. He has until October 15th.

Today, the president meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders of Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian authority. He also has a working lunch planned with African leaders.

Reaction to the Trump speech has been mixed. So far, there's been no direct response from North Korea.

Let's bring in CNN's Ian Lee on this. He's live in Seoul, South Korea, where they did react to the speech.

Good morning to you, Ian.


Yes, everyone's wondering when North Korea is going to come out with a statement especially after that harsh rhetoric from President Trump yesterday talking about destroying North Korea, also calling Kim Jong- un rocket man.

As for the South Koreans and the Japanese, they praised this. The spokesman of President Moon Jae-in here in Seoul said -- praised it, saying it was unprecedentedly long, showing how serious the Americans were about North Korea, saying that the path of denuclearization will be through tough sanctions and pressure. And he also highlighted how there's close cooperation between the two countries.

I think there's something very important that was missing in the South Korean statement and that's any mention of a military option. The South Koreans from day one of President Moon's time in office, he's talked about diplomacy, dialogue, sit at the table, hash it out, come to an agreement that way. And yesterday when the administer of defense was talking he said that the military option was a supporting element, really downplaying that.

But as far as this region goes, you know, right now the tensions are still very much there. And North Korea could answer President Trump not through words, but through actions in the form of another test. So, we'll be watching that closely, Dave.

BRIGGS: We will indeed. All right. Ian Lee, live for us in Seoul, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on "Money Stream" this morning. Global stocks mostly higher after U.S. records once again. The Dow a

fresh record high as the Federal Reserve kicked off its two-day meeting. Fed Chief Janet Yellen speaks today. The Fed is not expected to raise interest rates, but we do expect maybe details for how the Fed will unwind its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

Gun stocks also spiking late afternoon after "Reuters" reported that President Trump plans to make it easier to sell guns overseas. Sturm Ruger rose almost 14 percent, a huge rally for that gun manufacturer.

Twitter is getting better at finding terrorist accounts. The company shut down nearly a million since 2015. That's when Twitter began combating extremism on its sight. Twitter says it now detects more accounts in-house instead of through government requests. About 95 percent this year were discovered with internal spam fighting tools.

The company says government request made up less 1 percent. Look at that, 935,000 terrorist accounts shut down this year.

BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on Hurricane Maria as it approaches Puerto Rico.


BRIGGS: Puerto Rico's governor calls this the worst hurricane in the island's modern history. Puerto Rico bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. A new update from the National Hurricane Center just moments away.