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Puerto Rico Ravaged by Hurricane Maria; Crews Race to Find Mexico Earthquake Survivors; Kim Jong Un Lashes Out of Trump; GOP Lacking Support for Graham-Cassidy: Rams Hold Off 49ers Late-Game Rally, 41-39. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: They feature wireless charging and new cameras, as well as a brand new mobile operating system, the iOS 11. Customers will have to wait until for the iPhone X, Apple's $1,000 anniversary phone.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Ahead, we'll have the latest on devastation in Puerto Rico and Mexico and the North Korean nuclear threat as EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: Hurricane Maria still a dangerous category 3 bearing down on the Turks and Caicos islands, after leaving a path of devastation in Puerto Rico.

ROMANS: Tragedy in Mexico. As the death toll there climbs, rescue crews racing against time to find earthquake survivors 62 hours after the quake.

BRIGGS: Revenge of rocket man. North Korea's Kim Jong-un vowing retaliation after the president's defiant speech at the U.N. North Korea's foreign minister threatening a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean.

Boy, this change in the last 24 hours is dramatic. Kim Jong-un calling president Trump mentally deranged and we have ratcheted to a new level.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I am Christine Romans. It is Friday, September 22nd, 5:00 a.m. in the East. It's also 5:00 a.m. in San Juan, Puerto, 4:00 in Mexico City.

Let's begin, though, with Hurricane Maria, still a very dangerous hurricane and heading straight for Turks and Caicos, a deadly and potentially catastrophic storm surge is 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 is simply stunning, houses and cars under water, block after block. The flooding described is Harvey-like, with more than 40 inches of rain in some areas and another four to eight inches of rain is on the way. BRIGGS: Rescues are ongoing in the country's hardest hit areas.

Take a look at this. Coast Guard crew from Clearwater, Florida, and a British Royal Fleet rescue helicopter team saving a woman and two children from a vessel near Puerto Rico. Right now, over 4,000 members of the U.S. Army Reserve on the ground in Puerto Rico. They report massive destruction, nonexistent communications.

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

Nick, good morning to you.

The rain is still a problem there.


Rain is a huge problem this morning, Dave. It has not stopped falling since about two hours ago. It's been heavy rain, consistently followed by lightning strikes, even thunder. And this is an island that could use a break and it's just not getting it.

Flooding continues to be a major issue in and around San Juan. The governor of the island here, Governor Ricardo Rossello, was very concerned about that leading up to Hurricane Maria, saying it is going to be a big cause of death and what we learned this morning from the local newspaper here is that at least eight people have died as a result of drowning. This rain is just not stopping.

We also know infrastructure, we can report, has suffered some catastrophic damage. We've seen gas stations under water, mangled road signs, highways that are just inundated by water and a community that's being told by its local leadership that they need to prepare for this to be a way of life for the next four to six months.

I was talking to the mayor of San Juan a couple hours ago before this report started, and she was telling me that she's going to have to set the tone and the expectations for her community that they're going to have to change their way of life. If you can just imagine that, people waking up for the next four months in the dark, going to bed, trying to prepare breakfast or dinner for their families without light or electricity.

There's going to be certainly desperate situation for a long time to come here on the island -- Dave.

BRIGGS: It's impossible to imagine. That on top of the massive debt crisis facing Puerto Rico.

Nick Valencia, live for us in San Juan, great reporting.

ROMANS: They're going to need a lot of help. A lot of help, a lot of investment and infrastructure completely rebuilt.

Heartbreaking images out of Dominica. CNN gathering the first pictures on the ground after Hurricane Maria simply decimated this island. You can see houses and 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, a country that relies on sugar cane and banana growing. Recovery may take up to two years.

BRIGGS: Hurricane Maria still a potential threat to the U.S. as well.

Let's get right to the CNN weather center where our meteorologist Karen Maginnis who's tracking the storm, and where that rain down in Puerto Rico as well.

Good morning, Karen.

ROMANS: Good morning.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Good morning to you both.

And for Nick, right now, yes, there is a cluster of thunderstorms that is moving along that western and northern edge of Puerto Rico. Now, I think you'll get a little bit of a break, maybe a few hours before the next round begins. But it will slowly taper off. That will be the good news.

[05:05:00] We got an update from the National Hurricane Center. Not a lot has changed. It's still on the track, moving towards the northwest at about seven miles an hour, with 125 miles per hour winds. That makes it a category 3. But category 4 gusts associated with this.

And in the line of sight now, within 35 miles of Grand Turk Island, we are looking at a battering there as this savage journey of Hurricane Maria just continues its trek very near the Turks and Caicos, the center of the eye, the eye is just not going to move over the Turks and Caicos, but that doesn't mean they're not going to be battered by the high winds, very rainfall and the storm surge.

So, this is going to continue throughout much of the morning, most of the afternoon before it begins to pull away, slowly. It is slowly moving away. The computer models are now in fair agreement, but we go beyond that five-daytime period. It's trying to split the difference between Bermuda and the East Coast of the United States. But the East Coast still has to worry about the potential for heavy surf, rip current and plenty of beach erosion.

We'll keep you updated on that. Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. You sure will. Thanks, Karen.

Now to the disaster unfolding in earthquake-ravaged Mexico.

Those are rescue teams pausing to sing the national anthem to honor the dead. The death toll rise to go 286, three days after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake devastated Mexico. Volunteers and first responders are still racing to save survivors who may be trapped under rubble at this hour. CNN's Rosa Flores live in Mexico City with the very latest.

It's almost as time stands still where you are as men and women rush to get handfuls of dirt out of these piles of rubble and try to shore them up.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Christine, you're absolutely right. It is such an agonizing wait for the families that have been here since Tuesday, since this horrible earthquake hit. I talked to some of them. Some of them haven't eaten. (AUDIO GAP) stay strong so that the rescuers can see us here outside so they know that the people that they're fighting for their lives that are trapped in this building, they know that they have family.

I want you to take a look behind me because this is one building of ten buildings that the president of this country believes are people trapped inside.

Now, according to a family member who gained access beyond the barricade, who was given a briefing, he says that they were told that they believe that there are capsules, what they're calling capsules that were created when this building collapsed, in the back of the building. The heat sensors have been used and that positive readings have come back, that giving families a lot of hope this morning.

Now, right now, there's actually a briefing happening right behind us, family members getting more information from first responders. And that is the key, Christine, is what family members here tell me. They were about to start a protest yesterday they tell me, because they couldn't see any rescue workers on top of the building, and they wanted to know why.

And once they learned what was happening, that calmed them down. That gave them the information that they needed. And, Christine, that information was the rescue workers are already working inside the building. They have shored up the first floor and they're working inside. That's why you don't see anybody on top of that building.

So, good news for these families. They believe, as they rescuers hopefully get closer to the loved ones inside -- Christine.

ROMANS: OK. Rosa, thank you. Keep us -- keep us posted on all the progress there.

All right. Eight minutes past the hour.

A complete change in strategy from Facebook, facing pressure over Russia's meddling during the election. Facebook will give all Russian-linked ads to Congress. Originally, Facebook refused to share the ads, citing privacy concerns. Special counsel Robert Mueller only received copies with a search warrant.

Now, Facebook is changing tact, part of the new plan to deal with the election interference.

Here's CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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: OK. So, Facebook will beef up how it reviews political ads and who posts them. Facebook has been criticized a lot for being basically the platform for fake news during the election, selling 3,000 ads to a pro-Kremlin group.

But 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 records of ad buys exceeding 10 percent.

And I personally can't wait to see what some of those ads are, what they were attached to, how Facebook was able to match that content with potentially vulnerable populations who wanted -- who would be swayed by it.

[05:10:04] There are critics who have said Mark Zuckerberg was incredibly naive, that sort of the libertarian Facebook stance. We provide the tools, you know, and democracy flourishes with more information tools. That in the end turned out to be naive, when you have, you know, a Russian strategy trying to use free speech in this company to undermine democracy.

BRIGGS: Well, let's hope ahead of 2018 we've solved the problem.

Ahead, Kim Jong-un calling the president mentally deranged, frightened dog and vowing the U.S. will pay dearly after threats by President Trump.


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


BRIGGS: And a North Korean official now threatening a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.


BRIGGS: The silence from Pyongyang shattered by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, lashing out in response to President Trump's comments at the U.N. General Assembly.

[05:15:05] He's vowing to retaliate against the U.S. with the highest level of hard line counter measure in history. That's not all. ROMANS: When North Korea's foreign minister was asked what the

highest level would be, he replied: This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean.

Let's go live to Washington and bring in Kyle Feldscher, breaking news editor of "The Washington Examiner".

Here you have the heat rising on this situation sort of day by day. You know, when the president gave the speech on Tuesday, there was kind of silence. Then this response, even these pictures of Kim Jong- un sitting in front of the camera holding that response and looking straight into the camera as if to personally deliver this -- these words to the president of the United States. What's the off-ramp here?

KYLE FELDSCHER, BREAKING NEWS EDITOR, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, it's at this point, kind of a self-perpetuating cycle where Pyongyang will do something so President Trump responds, and then Pyongyang responds to that, and it keeps going and going, whether it's a missile test or if it's a new round of sanctions from the West.

So, if there's an off-ramp, someone's going to have to break the cycle. And at this point, it doesn't seem like either President Trump or Kim Jong-un really has the motivation to do that.

BRIGGS: Yes, this is a nuclear standoff and we're not clear where we're headed. We're not clear where we're headed on health care either in this country. But we know they have eight days. The Republicans to get through this Graham/Cassidy bill, that essentially block grants money to the states, keeps portions of Obamacare in place.

Mike Pence on "Fox and Friends" and shockingly, I'm quoting a question from them about preexisting conditions and the vice president punting. Here's what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you guarantee that these governors will make sure preexisting conditions are covered?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thomas Jefferson said a government that governs least governs best. I mean, the question that people ought to ask is, who do you think will be more responsive to the health care needs in your community? You're governor and your state legislature, or a congressman and a president in a far-off nation's capital.


BRIGGS: Let's not get caught up in history. PolitiFact says that was Henry David Thoreau, not Thomas Jefferson. But the question was, can you guarantee preexisting conditions are covered? I didn't hear an answer there. Can the Republicans come up with a better one?

FELDSCHER: It doesn't seem so. I mean, the point of block granting this to the state is to allow them to create a system that works for the state or the political powers that be in each state want to create and if that means not covering people with preexisting conditions because it will be too expensive, then that's what it will mean. The federal government, if they block grant them out, the loss states, the secretary shall approve their new system.

ROMANS: Right.

FELDSCHER: That doesn't mean review. That means the secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, has to do this.

ROMANS: You know what's interesting to me is before Obamacare, before Obamacare, an insurance company could deny you coverage if you had childhood leukemia. And now, you survived, you're a grown up, they could deny you coverage. They could deny you coverage for almost anything, and Obama put these sweeping conditions for a reason because the insurance companies were so good at denying coverage or giving huge costs and premiums for those people.

A fourth of the country of the non elderly adult population has a preexisting condition. So, this really, really matters. But what you keep hearing supporters go back to is the philosophy of federalism, a civics lesson.

I mean, listen to Lindsey Graham talking about federalism versus socialism here.


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.


ROMANS: Who are those couple of Democrats, I'm wondering, if he thinks they're coming on board?

FELDSCHER: Oh, boy, I'm not entirely sure. Maybe the senator knows something we don't because it seems like even states like West Virginia with Joe Manchin, or Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, they face a lot of pressure to -- from Democrats in their states to not back down on this and to not jump on board with the Republican Party.

And as you say, you know, with every sort of Obamacare repeal or reform effort that's come up, they have at this point not jump onboard with the Republicans. So, I don't know, maybe Senator Graham has spoken with some people behind the scenes and is hiding some information from us.

[05:20:01] But at this point, it doesn't really seem like there's any buy-in from any Democrat to vote with Republicans on this issue.

ROMANS: I mean, they're trying to sell in the most positive light, their bill. Cassidy has been doing the same thing, too, really trying to say, no, no, preexisting conditions will be covered but there's no question the sweeping protections against discrimination against preexisting conditions that is in Obamacare does not exist to that same extent in this bill.

BRIGGS: All eyes on Collins, Murkowski and McCain.

Kyle Feldscher from "The Washington Examiner", talk to you in about 30 minutes. Thank you.

ROMANS: Yes, come back soon.

BRIGGS: All right. Thursday night football, Rams, 49ers and a battle by the bay. This went down to the wire.

We'll also have the latest on this Aaron Hernandez story, CTE, this 27-year-old former NFL star.

Andy Scholes has the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:25:14] BRIGGS: All right. After a young girl was hit by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium, teams around major league baseball reassessing these protective nets at their stadium.

And I got to say, you called it, Dave Briggs.

BRIGGS: I had a feeling.

ROMANS: Yesterday, Dave Briggs said you're going to see these stadiums really rethinking extra netting.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".


You know, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred came out and said in light of what happened at Yankee Stadium, he was going to redouble his efforts to get netting expanded at stadiums across baseball. And four Major League teams hearing that call immediately. The Reds, Rockies, Padres, and Mariners all announced yesterday that they're going to be expanding their netting before next season.

And only a third currently have the netting that extends to the end of the dugout. There's no update right now on the condition of the 2- year-old girl that was hit by that foul ball at Yankee Stadium. Her father said on Wednesday night after the incident she was, quote, doing all right.

All right. We've got you Thursday night football game not being that great. Well, last night we had an awesome game. The Rams opening up a big lead in the fourth quarter. Sammy Watkins battling his way to the end zone right here. At that point, it was 41-26 Rams after the touchdown but 49ers came storming back with this 2-point conversion to tie the game. Rams win the shoot-out 41-39.

Fun fact: the first time NFL history a game has ended with the score 41-39.

All right. France says they are considering skipping the Winter Olympics due to security concern in the Korean Peninsula. France's sports minister telling RTL Radio, quote: If our security can't be assured, the French team will stay at home, adding however, that no decision right now has been made. The 2018 games will take place just 40 miles from the demilitarized zone. The game is scheduled to begin, guys, February 9th. I'm guessing other countries will start sharing those thoughts as we get closer to the games.

BRIGGS: Exactly like the Major League netting. We have not heard the last of that.

Andy Scholes, thanks.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. Hurricane Maria barreling towards the Turks and Caicos. Puerto Rico still reeling, facing even more rain. We have the latest forecast, next.