Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Florida Governor Rick Scott; Hurricane Irma's Path; Interview with Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay of Key Biscayne, Florida; FEMA Running Out of Money As Hurricane Irma Approaches. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 6, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start with breaking news in the national lead, and a nation embracing for Hurricane Irma, an explosive Category 5 hurricane, one of the most powerful ever in the Atlantic.

Right now, Irma is ripping through the Caribbean, flooding islands, downing power lines. Since Irma hit Barbuda earlier today, there has been no known communication from that island.

And right now, Irma is headed right for the United States, where millions more are in its path. Florida, population 20 million, is bracing for direct impact. Official mandatory evacuations started there today.

To help to put this hurricane, Irma, in perspective, Florida's Governor Rick Scott today warned that Irma is bigger, faster, stronger than one of the more destructive hurricanes in known U.S. history, Hurricane Andrew, in 1902.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Do not sit and wait for this storm to come. It is extremely dangerous and deadly and will cause devastation.



TAPPER: Meteorologist Tom Sater is tracking Irma. CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Miami, as Florida begins activating its emergency plans.

But we're going to start with CNN's Leyla Santiago. She's in Puerto Rico right now, which is feeling the brunt of Irma.

Leyla, there is no simple way to evacuate Puerto Rico, so how are residents taking cover? LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just in the last half-hour, the

governor of Puerto Rico has announced that there are about 3,000 people in the nearly 500 shelters that have been established on this island.

If you just look behind me, you can tell it is windy. These waters on the northern coast of Puerto Rico are certainly becoming more and more aggressive already. We know of a lot of road closures in the area.

So, for many who will soon probably be dealing with flooding, it is too late to sort of do any last-minute preps or last-minute moves for those who are not already in shelters, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Leyla, Puerto Rican officials have warned well before Irma that it might even be months before crews will able to restore electricity to the island. Explain that situation.


First of all, we're already seeing a lot of power outages right now, and no word on that, when that could be restored. But the power system here, many of the officials have said, look, we are having financial issues. There is a lack of maintenance that has been an issue for months, a lot of that rooted in the economic crisis.

This is an island that is $40 billion in debt. That is another crisis, another storm, if you will, looming over this island of 3.5 million people, 3.5 million U.S. citizens.

Don't forget, this is U.S. territory. So, as if this isn't enough of a crisis, the rebuilding that could come after what is said to be a possible catastrophic weather event, historic weather event for this island, is something that many are fearing.

I spoke to one woman today as she closed up her business, and when she locked that door, Jake, she looked right over at us and said, now it's in God's hands.

So a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty of what's to come, not only for the power and the utilities, but for the infrastructure and what could be rebuilding of this island if this Category 5 storm is as devastating as many believe it could be.

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Puerto Rico for us, thank you so much.

And joining me now on the phone is Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

What's the most important thing that people in Florida need to know right now?

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: They need to watch this storm. This is bigger than Andrew. It's stronger than Andrew. It has way more wind, way more storm surge than Andrew ever had, and

we can think of how devastating that was. I was down in the Florida Keys this morning, which we're evacuating.

We need to make sure when someone tells you to evacuate, don't wait, because that's when the lines get long on the roads, things like that. So, when someone tells you to evacuate, evacuate. Take this seriously and just figure out, I can rebuild. We all can rebuild homes. We can't rebuild somebody's life.

And my focus is, I want to take care of every Floridian and every visitor in my state.

TAPPER: How are people evacuating? Where are they going?

SCOTT: So, we're opening up shelters all across the state. The Red Cross has 1,000 volunteers coming down.

We have 2,000 people, additional volunteers that have already signed up. We do need more volunteers. But we have got regular shelters, special needs shelters, pet shelters around the state. As people go to other areas of the state to get away from this, we have shelters for them.

We're directing where they should go. We have got evacuation mandatory in the Keys. We have -- I was down there this morning. We have advisory evacuations in Miami-Dade and Broward County.


But other counties are looking at this as we follow this track. But we're going to have the shelters. We will not have a lack of shelters. There's not going to be a lack of shelters. That's not a reason not to evacuate.

The storm -- people don't realize, the storm surge can go miles inland. It can cover an entire house. You look at what happened in Harvey. So, we can get an unbelievable storm surge out of this. This is a big, big, big storm.

TAPPER: As you noted, the storm is expected to be more powerful than Hurricane Andrew. Supplies, we're told, are already running low in some areas. Is your state fully prepared for the storm?

SCOTT: We're absolutely prepared, but every citizen -- we have a sense of urgency in what we're doing. But every citizen has got to have the same sense of urgency.

Every citizen should have three days of water, three days of food. So, here's what is going on. We're restocking our shelves with water and perishable food. We're working that very diligently.

The fuel issue is -- where we're having issues with fuel is because people naturally are filling up their tanks. And what I'm asking people to do, take what you need, whether it's water, food or fuel, but don't take more than you need. Remember, you have neighbors that might need something also. If you

know you're going to shelter in your (INAUDIBLE) then you probably don't need a full tank of gas. So, think about what you need.

We're selling so much gas, especially in the Miami-Dade and Keys area, as opposed to normal, which I can understand. But people have got to think there's other people that might need some gas.

TAPPER: All right, Governor Rick Scott, thank you so much. Our thoughts and prayers are with Florida.

SCOTT: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: We just heard Governor Scott talking about gas lines and possible water shortages, saying take what you need, but nothing more.

We're going live next to Miami, where evacuations are under way. Stick around.



TAPPER: We're back with the breaking news.

In our national lead, Florida bracing for the worst ahead of Hurricane Irma, on track to make an imminent turn towards the U.S. mainland.

Let's go now to CNN's Miguel Marquez, who is along an evacuation route in Miami.

Miguel, evacuations of course can always be risky. There's a possible sense of panic, accidents, fights, casualties. How is this one proceeding?


But keep in mind it's still a day before the evacuation centers actually start up. Key West, it's a mandatory evacuation order there. So, they are moving north from Key West.

The big issue right now across South Florida is water, which is not available in most stores, although most say they're getting more, and gasoline.

Filling up with gas at this particular station, which has gas, which is good -- many of them -- is about a two-hour wait. I want to show you the line on this side here, just how far the cars go back.

It is dozens and dozens, maybe a half-mile or more on this side, and then around the other side as well, with everybody pretty much playing along and doing fine.

Now, the route here, this is US-1, it's been a steady flow of traffic all day from the Keys toward the north.

[16:15:02] It will only get heavier in the days ahead. People certainly heeding this warning so far -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Mayra Pena Lindsay. She's the mayor of Key Biscayne, Florida. Key Biscayne, of course, is an island city in Miami-Dade County. It's south of Miami Beach. It's fully exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.

Madam Mayor, thank you so much for your time during such a critical moment for your city. What are the evacuation plans for Key Biscayne?

MAYOR MAYRA PENA LINDSAY, KEY BISCAYNE, FLORIDA: Well, our evacuation plans are we are currently evacuating senior citizens and individuals with special needs, and we plan on starting general evacuation this evening.

TAPPER: And what are you telling citizens to do right now? Just prepare for the evacuation?

LINDSAY: They are preparing their properties, they're gathering their personal belongings, they are planning, they are gathering supplies for the next 72 hours. And they -- most of our residents prepare at the beginning of the season, so they are just taking inventory and making sure that they are well-organized and well-prepared.

TAPPER: Key Biscayne, for those who are not fortunate enough to have visited it before, it's a beautiful island. It's connected to Miami by a series of causeways. You're otherwise isolated on a barrier island in the Atlantic, essentially.

Now, you say you have big concerns about one bridge in particular, the Bear Cut Bridge. Do you think it could sustain a hurricane of this magnitude?

LINDSAY: Well, you know, obviously, I hope it does and it can. We had the -- Miami-Dade County, who is the owner of the bridge, had it inspected four years ago and they found that it was structurally deficient, that the piles it stands on, even though they had rehabbed it for $38 million, the piles were compromised and that they really should replace the bridge. That's one issue.

The other issue is that it is structurally obsolete. It is a very low-profile bridge and the rare hurricanes that come from the Atlantic and are over a category 2 could very well lift the bridge off the piles and destroy the bridge.

So, we are concerned. We know we're a zone A barrier island. We do evacuate because of things like bridges and infrastructure.

But this is something that we are very vigilant about, something that we can fix and we can address. We hope that this is -- this it's a non-event but a wake-up call about maintaining our infrastructure. TAPPER: All right. Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay, thank you so much for

your time during this emergency. Best of luck. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Stay in touch, please.

Is FEMA ready to respond to back-to-back national disaster emergencies? A big test for a crucial agency. That's next.


[16:22:04] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news. We're just hearing about the first deaths from Hurricane Irma, which is crossing the Caribbean as one of the strongest storms in Atlantic Ocean history. At least two people have been killed, and two others have been seriously injured in the French isles of St. Barts and St. Martin.

As potentially this catastrophic hurricane is pushing toward Florida, with Texas still reeling from Hurricane Harvey's devastation, FEMA is running out of money. The agency is burning through cash for response and relief efforts related to Harvey. It's down to its last $1 billion, which might sound like a lot of money, until you hear that Harvey is projected to cost as much as $180 billion, according to the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. And we still don't know how much damage Irma will leave behind.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins me.

And, Rene, at this rate, it seems very likely FEMA will be completely drained by the time Irma strikes.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, all eyes are in Congress right now because they've got to figure out this whole funding thing, and as I speak to you, I can tell you that FEMA is dangerously close to running out of money. FEMA had just over $1 billion with $541 million of that available for, as they say, immediate use, and that was as of Tuesday morning.

Now, on Wednesday, that's today, the House did approve a $7.8 billion relief aid package, but now, the Senate has it and it's gotten political at this point because it's being tied to raising the debt ceiling.

But again, the point is, will this be enough? We are already hearing from senators from Florida, Senator Marco Rubio as well as Bill Nelson, who are saying even if this passes Congress, the $7.8 billion, it won't be enough because that will only last about a couple weeks. It will not cover what they expect Irma to do as far as damage.

TAPPER: And as people are rushing to get out of Florida, there are plenty of reports about price gouging -- airlines, gas stations, people jacking up prices.

MARSH: Yes. So, we've seen lots of reports on social media, even seen other reporting about people saying that the prices are going up dramatically.

We reached out to the Department of Transportation about this, and I actually just got a response from them, and they say that they, too, have received a lot of these complaints, and they are now currently looking into and evaluating whether this is, indeed, gouging.

I will point out that I spoke to airlines like American Airlines, one of the larger airlines operating out of south Florida, and they tell me they did not change their algorithms, their pricing structure remains the same. What people are seeing is a last-minute purchase, it tends to be very expensive. But DOT now investigating.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

The president's son is heading to the Hill to speak to investigators about Russian and his father's campaign.

Next, we're going to talk to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Stay with us.


[16:29:06] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

New developments in the Russian probe. Donald Trump Jr. will be questioned by investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow behind closed doors. The president's oldest son is at the center of that controversial June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer and a Russian American lobbyist in which members of the Trump campaign were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that they were told would be from the Russian government.

Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you learning about tomorrow's meeting before the committee?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. Tomorrow, actually, this meeting is going to be with the staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jake. This will be the first time that Donald Trump Jr. has met with anybody here on Capitol Hill since the revelation of that meeting that he had in June 2016 in Trump Tower, where the Russians had promised dirt on the Clinton campaign.

Now, a lot of members, some members of that committee plan to sit in on that meeting, to listen to what he has to say, including Senator Dick Blumenthal who wants to hear Donald Trump Jr. talk about whether he knows anything about the firing of James Comey as well.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He is his father's son. And there may be conversations between him and his father about the reasons for firing Jim Comey.