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Hurricane Maria Leaves Path of Destruction; Crews Race to Find Mexico Earthquake Survivors; Kim Jong Un Lashes Out of Trump; GOP Lacking Support for Graham-Cassidy. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:08] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Maria still a dangerous category 3, bearing down now on Turks and Caicos after leaving a path of devastation in Puerto Rico.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Tragedy in Mexico as the death toll climbs. Rescue crews racing against time to find earthquake survivors.

ROMANS: The revenge of rocket man. North Korea's Kim Jong-un vowing retaliation against U.S. after President Trump's defiant speech at the U.N., and North Korea's foreign minister threatening a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Friday, September 22, 4:00 a.m. in the East, 4:00 a.m. in San Juan, 3:00 a.m. in Mexico City.

We'll go live to both shortly, but, Christine, this feels like a massive escalation, a nuclear stare-down between Kim Jong-un and President Trump and where it goes, no one really knows.

ROMANS: And it looks as though, China, the president at least saying that China is going to step up its efforts to help starve the North Koreans of the financing that they need to continue this --

BRIGGS: Yes, the Chinese central bank making a move.

ROMANS: Fascinating there. So, we'll continue to follow that for you.

BRIGGS: We're live in Seoul just ahead.

But first, Hurricane Maria still in dangerous category 3 storm, heading straight for Turks and Caicos, deadly and potentially catastrophic storm surge, expected as much as 12 feet above normal. That could submerge the already battered island chain.

The devastation left behind by Maria in Puerto Rico, stunning -- homes, car, under water. Block after block, the flooding described as Harvey-like with over 40 inches of rain in some areas, an additional rain four to eight inches of rain on the way.

ROMANS: Rescues are ongoing in the hardest hit areas, Salinas and Guayama. Entire towns in ruins with fallen trees and downed power lines everywhere. Right now, more than 4,000 members of the U.S. Army Reserve, here on the ground in Puerto Rico, they report massive destruction and nonexistent communications.

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

And we just reported -- four to eight inches more rain on the way. That's a real problem for you.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's unbelievable here. Here we are, Christine, on Friday morning, and it's still pouring rain. Over the last hour, it has picked up steadily. We've seen lightning strikes followed by thunder, all the more frequent, just hour by hour. This rain does not stop, it does not let up.

Every inch, it seems of this island territory has been affected somehow and some way and a big issue right now throughout the island is flooding. It's something Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, talked about extensively before Hurricane Maria made landfall. They were very worried about the issues that it would cause for public safety and it has become a big one.

We just heard from a local paper reporting at least eight people have died in a town here because of drowning. That flooding continuing to be an issue. People here living in the dark and yesterday I had a conversation with the mayor of San Juan, and she told me residents should expect to live without power for the next four to six months -- Christine.

ROMANS: Wow, without from four to six months, waterways under -- oh, just a real tragedy. Keep us posted.

And we'll check in very, very soon, Nick -- Nick Valencia.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BRIGGS: Also heart breaking images out of Dominica. CNN gathering the first pictures on the ground after Hurricane Maria decimated this island nation. You can see houses, buildings, ripped to shreds, entire towns flattened. Officials say at least 15 people died there. Dominica's prime minister describing the scene as heart-wrenching.

He says the country's agriculture has been completely washed away and recovery may take up to two years.

ROMANS: Bananas and sugar cane, they're really important, important crops for Dominica. The crops are wiped out, just wiped out.

BRIGGS: And you're talking about these other island nations, where tourism is their sole economy, which is going to be wiped out.

ROMANS: That's right.

All right. Hurricane Maria still potential threat to the U.S. Let me get right to the CNN weather center where meteorologist Karen Maginnis is tracking this storm for us.

Where will Maria go, Karen?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, in the short term, it's going to move past the Turks and Caicos. They are still going to be impacted greatly from the heavy bands of rainfall that move across this region. We're going to see storm surge as well. They're going to get battered by the wind.

But one of those areas, we just saw out of Dominica, also for Puerto, we have seen those images time and time again. It's just how devastating it is.

Hurricane Maria moves just past Turks and Caicos, which is located just about here. They are going to see tremendous rainfall, maybe on the order of what we saw right around Puerto Rico. But these are tiny, tiny islands. Everything they have they have to bring in.

What about the Bahamas?

[04:05:00] A very popular tourist spot. Do they have something to worry about? Yes.

Maybe not a direct landfall from Hurricane Maria, category 3, but we will see -- the storm surge affect these areas, beyond the western edge of the system. The computer models now are just kind of turning Maria more towards the north.

But we've been tricked by these computer models before as we saw with Harvey, as we saw with Irma. But here we go, here's, kind of the comparison. But this is still a long way out.

In the blue area, that's the European model. That's the one that's kind of the gold standard. It has a lot more information. And then we have the GFS, the North American model still keeping it well offshore. But the impacts along the Eastern Seaboard will be a very heavy surf, the rip current and possibility of erosion.

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Karen Maginnis, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Now to the other natural disaster still unfolding in Mexico.

Those are rescue team the pausing to sing the national anthem to honor the dead. The death toll rising to 286, three days after 7.1 magnitude earthquake devastated the country. Volunteers and first responders are still racing to save survivors who may be trapped under rubble at this hour.

And CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Mexico City with the very latest for us.

Good morning to you, Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. The building that you see behind me is one of dozens of buildings that

turned to rubble on Tuesday when this terrible earthquake hit Mexico City. Now, according to the president of this country, they believe that there are people trapped in at least ten of these buildings. The one you're looking at right now live, that is one of them.

From talking to families of the people who are believed to be trapped inside, they tell me that there is renewed hope this morning because rescuers have told them they have used sophisticated equipment, temperature gauges, and that there appears to be signs of life in this building. If you looked at that building momentarily, you can see the front of the building almost looks like it's leaning forward.

That is giving these families hope, because according to these families, rescue workers told them that there are areas in the back of the building that are encapsulated. So, they believe these individuals that are believed to be alive are almost can captured in these capsules. Now, it's a very delicate process what they are doing to try to get to those capsules because they believe that this building crumbled in about eight seconds. So, it didn't give people very much time.

They're hoping people tried to go to the back of the building, because that's where the emergency exit is, and if most people did that in those eight seconds, and that means that those survivors are in the back of the building. But it's a very delicate dance, Dave, to try to get to them, because, as you know, as these rescue workers begin to take these pieces of debris by hand, carefully, they're worried or fear that they could collapse the building further and hurt the people that they're trying save -- Dave.

BRIGGS: It took a moment just to realize that was a building behind you, heart breaking scene. Holding out hope, though.

Rosa Flores live for us in Mexico City, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Fresh over Russian's meddling during the 2016 election, Facebook will now give all Russian-linked ads to Congress. Now, originally, Facebook refused to share the ads, citing privacy concerns. Special counsel Robert Mueller only received copies with a search warrant.

But now, Facebook is changing tack, part of the new plan to deal with the election interference. This according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: We are in a new world. It is a new challenge for Internet communities to have to deal with nation states attempting to subvert elections. But if that's what we must do, then we are submitted to rising to the occasion.


ROMANS: So, a new strategy after a lot of criticism against Facebook, Facebook will also beef up how it reviews political ads and who posts them. The company's been criticized for spreading fake news, during the election, selling at least 3,000 ads to a pro-Kremlin group.

It's not just Facebook. Two Democratic senators want transparency from all digital platforms. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner plan to introduce a bill concerning online political ads. It will require sites to keep ad buys exceeding $10,000.

This is a very new tack for what has been seen until now as a very kind of a libertarian Facebook. That they just provide the tools, so that people can use the tools, how they want. Now, they're saying, all right, we're going to tell you who's using those tools and how if it comes to the actual integrity of American democracy.

[04:10:03] BRIGGS: Are you skeptical that's going to solve the problem? Of the misinformation being spread?

ROMANS: Two things that people were saying yesterday. This is too little too late. The election is already over and also, this could be the tip of the iceberg, that, you know, there could be more -- Mark Zuckerberg said in that Facebook live, he said, you know, look, if we find more -- and we might find more -- we will release those to Congress as well.

American people should be able to have a full accounting of just who was spreading information, misinformation to American voters.

BRIGGS: At least they're doing something.

All right. Ahead another massive story: Kim Jong-un, in a rare direct statement, says the U.S. will pay dearly after President Trump's threats of military action, also calling the U.S. mentally deranged. And a North Korean official now threatening a nuclear test over the Pacific.


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




[04:15:01] TRUMP: The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.


ROMANS: The silence from Pyongyang shattered by Kim Jong-un. The North Korean leader lashing in response to President Trump's comments at the U.N. General Assembly, vowing to retaliate with the, quote, highest level of hard line counter-measure in history.

And that's not at all. Kim also warning President Trump, he will, quote, pay dearly for his speech, calling for totally destroying the DPRK. The North Korean leader goes on to say: Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.

BRIGGS: When the North Korea foreign minister was asked what the highest level retaliation would be, he replied this could probably be the strongest hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean.

Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks.

Paula, this is a different game now. President Trump raising the stakes with new sanctions against North Korea. China also making some unprecedented actions.

What can you tell us this morning?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, that executive order from the U.S. President Donald Trump was to make sure that anyone who does business with North Korea is penalized. It was to make sure any companies, any individuals, any financial institutions that were helping Pyongyang get cash, get revenue that could then be funneled through into their nuclear and missile program will be penalized. Donald Trump saying, you either do business with the United States or you side alongside North Korea. There won't be much trade in that respect.

Now, another interesting thing that has happened today is we have seen a response, a direct first person response from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the U.S. president. In my recollection, this is the first time we heard this kind of first person narrative from Kim Jong-un, slamming the U.S. president for what he sees as a very aggressive address at that general assembly when he threatened to destroy North Korea, calling him mentally deranged, saying there was going to be the hardest countermeasure in history.

But the interesting thing that people are picking up on in this region is the fact that it is almost a direct response to Donald Trump. It is a leader to leader response from Kim Jong-un, and you simply don't see that from him. That shows just how affected Pyongyang certainly was when it came to that address -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, the stakes have definitely changed. Paula, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Just nine days left for Republicans to pass their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they're facing more pushback, this time from the National Association of Medicaid Directors which represents all 50 states. It's warning the Republicans their bill, quote, would constituent the largest inter- governmental transfer of financial risk from the federal government to the states in our country's history.

BRIGGS: Republican leaders still don't have the votes to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill. But senator and co-author, Lindsey Graham, feeling awfully confident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you want money and power out of Washington and you want to end the march to single-payer health care, this is your last best chance. This is the biggest change in health care in my lifetime. This is federalism versus socialism. I think we're going to get 50 Republicans to vote for federalism, and I make a prediction, a couple of Democrats are going to come on board because their state does well. I like New York, California and Massachusetts and Maryland, but I don't want to give them all the money.


BRIGGS: Socialism versus federalism clearly the line the Republican leaders are now taking. But not everyone is so optimistic this will pass.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, when the Senate on session, when it comes to the future of repeal and replace, it's very still much up in the air right now. Obviously, Republican leaders, they want to have their vote next week. They have to have that vote next week, if they want be able to actually move forward on this.

The big question is, will they ever actually get the votes? You break down who is actually in play right now? And everybody comes back to the same two people. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John McCain of Arizona.

John McCain is about process. Well, guess what? There will be a Senate Finance hearing on Monday about this bill. They -- Senate Republican leaders at least hopes that checks the box on process.

Well, we asked Senator McCain about that a couple of times this week, he says that's not regular order. I want more than that. So, we'll see what happens going forward. Of note, Lindsey Graham, co-author of this bill, good friend of his, working on him and expected to all weekend.

The other person that everybody is paying attention obviously, Lisa Murkowski. And now, it's worth nothing, I spoke to Lisa Murkowski a few months ago, early on in this process, and she said, look, I'm not going to be bought off. I don't want something that just makes Alaska look great and hurts other states.

If she sticks to that policy going forward, it's going to be tough to see her get to yes. But, she's back in Alaska. I'm told the Trump administration officials are reaching out to her repeatedly, making sure that she knows they're available at all times.

I can also tell you here on Capitol Hill, we're seeing a series of draft proposals going back and forth about ways to make Alaska end up better in this bill. [04:20:04] The big question now is, will it actually work? Because if

it doesn't, they most certainly won't have the votes. If it does, next week, show time all over again -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: You know, the politics of this are just so fascinating.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: The policy every single group that represents the people who provide or consume medical care are against this bill for the politics keep moving forward.

Be sure to tune in CNN Monday night for a special live town hall debate of Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar debate Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, on health care. And they're going to take questions from the audience on this bill.

Our own Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate. It starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday, only on CNN.

And I just think it's going to be a wonderful time to talk about policy.

BRIGGS: Yes, good for Graham and Cassidy to do this, right?

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely.

BRIGGS: But if it's the best plan, why wasn't it the initial plan for Republicans? We know it's the last. Perhaps, that's a question from the audience. Yes.


BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, President Trump in a brand new CNN poll seeing a positive bump in his approval rating. What's behind the bounce? Will it last?


[04:25:7] BRIGGS: President Trump enjoying a small bump in the polls. Take a look at this brand new CNN poll finds president's approval rating up to 40 percent. Yes. Up to 40 percent, 55 percent disapprove.

What's behind the bounce? Solid 64 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is managing the hurricane response. When it comes to fixing the health care crisis, the numbers not so positive, 59 percent disapprove of the president's handling of the health care battle, and only 31 percent approve. It's a slight bump.

ROMANS: It's a slight bump, you know, up four for the first number is certainly welcome for this White House. There are also those who say just the onslaught of weather news has actually taken some of the White House news off the front page. You see what I mean? BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: A news cycle that has not been Trump-driven and that has actually helped the president.

BRIGGS: But perhaps a part of that, an NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll found more than 70 percent liked the bipartisan deals the president made with Chuck and Nancy. So, we'll see if those last.

ROMANS: An outreach.

All right. President Trump headlining a rally in Alabama tonight for Senator Luther Strange, ahead of Tuesday's election. He and the former supreme court justice Roy Moore dueling in the runoff to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate.

The runoff setting a surprising division among key Republicans. The president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are backing Strange, while former top White House adviser Steve Bannon and Sarah Palin are endorsing Moore.

BRIGGS: Such a strange dynamic there, isn't it?

ROMANS: Yes, pun intended.

BRIGGS: Yes, it is a -- yes, I didn't even see that.


BRIGGS: It's early. Hurricane Maria barreling towards the Turks and Caicos this morning and Puerto Rico still reeling, facing even more rain. We have at the latest forecast for you next.