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Interview With Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes; North Korea Crisis; Hurricane Irma's Path; Trump Sides With Democrats on Debt Ceiling; Trump's Mixed Messages on DACA; "Extremely Dangerous" Irma to Brush Puerto Rico Tonight; Mandatory Evacuations Underway in Florida; Record Hurricane Aims for Florida House Intel Chair Threatens Attorney General, FBI Chief with Contempt; Record Hurricane Aims for Florida, Batters Caribbean. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 6, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Is Florida prepared for a mass exodus?

Blindsiding his party. President Trump stuns Republican leaders by cutting a deal with Democrats to fund disaster relief while raising the debt ceiling for only three months, just hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan called that idea ridiculous. Why is the president bucking the GOP?

And "We will see what happens." Mr. Trump says military action against North Korea isn't his first choice, but he won't rule out armed intervention to stop Kim Jong-un's aggressive quest for nuclear capable long-range missiles. Can new U.S. pressure on China calm the crisis?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following breaking news, a new forecast out for Hurricane Irma, breaking records and one of the most powerful storms ever seen in the Atlantic. It's already brought death and destruction in the Caribbean Islands in its path. One government official reports the island of Barbuda more than 90 percent destroyed, and Irma right now taking direct aim at Puerto Rico and eventually Florida.

Right now, Irma is a life-threatening Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 miles an hour and gusts, gusts topping 200 miles an hour. With most projections showing the storm hitting Florida this weekend, mandatory evacuations are already under way in some areas, and the governor has activated the National Guard.

Also breaking tonight, a jaw-dropping move by President Trump, cutting a deal with Democrats, to Hurricane Harvey relief funds, to temporarily raising the debt ceiling in order to avert a government shutdown. Sources now say Republican leaders were blindsided. They say the Republican leaders were stunned, along with the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, all of whom were pushing for a long-term debt solution.

We are covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee, and our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.



BLITZER: We have just received some pictures, aerial photos, you can see it right there, of the damage that Irma already has caused on the small Caribbean island of Barbuda.

There you can see. Let's just watch this for a moment. All right, you can see the devastation already there in Barbuda. Hurricane Irma went right over Barbuda. Puerto Rico next in line to feel Irma's fury.

Let's go to our CNN anchor George Howell. He's on the scene for us.

George, the latest forecast says the storm will pass just north of where you are tonight.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: And, Wolf, the situation here gets worse and worse hour after hour. That's why we're here, in fact, for people in the states and all points in between that could be affected by this storm, to see what's to come and to take those precautions, because this is no joke.

This is a Category 5 hurricane that is passing through right now the eye wall, about 50 miles to the north of Puerto Rico. So, we're starting to feel the effects, these strong wind bursts. They come in and out. Right now, Wolf, we're in the middle of a lull.

But if you see me turn this direction, it's because I'm looking to see what could be coming this way because debris is flying. It is a very intense storm.

Let's talk about what they are doing here on the island to keep people safe. They had some 500 shelters set up. They have urged a mandatory evacuation for people to leave their homes, in fact, to go to places that are higher ground, that are safer shelter. The National Guard has been activated. A state of emergency has been declared.

And we also understand from the governor that this territory, this U.S. territory will receive federal funding. Wolf, there is one question, though. How will that play out considering the debt crisis here? That is a question because this island already has a great deal of debt it's dealing with. How will recovery be -- how quick will that happen? That's a question many have as we wait and see what happens later tonight.

BLITZER: George Howell, be careful over there. We will stay in close touch with you. Good luck to all the folks in Puerto Rico.

All of Florida now under a state of emergency. The governor there urging everyone to prepare aggressively for Hurricane Irma.

Our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez, is in Miami for us.

Miguel, are people there following the governor's advice?


We know that for two reasons. There are two things in short supply in Florida tonight, water and gas. To give you an idea, Wal-Mart says 400 of its stores across the state are affected by this storm. They are moving in 1,360 tankers or semi-trucks filled with nothing but water, pulling as far away from Nevada to try and get there.


We're at a Shell station here on US-1. This is the second time a giant tanker truck has pulled in here to deliver gas. They delivered gas, 9,000 gallons of it five hours ago. They are almost out at this station. Here is why. Look at the lines.

One line goes all the way up this way on US-1. It wraps also around the other corner coming in. Two hours, people are waiting for gasoline at this particular station. Also want to show you US-1. This is the main route from south to the north here.

That's on the far side. All that traffic is moving north. We have seen traffic at a moderate pace all day today. The first shelter for those coming from the Keys will open up in South Miami tomorrow. Certainly, the traffic there will get much, much heavier in the hours to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will. All right, Miguel, we will stay in close touch with you as well, Miguel Marquez in Miami.

Let's get some more on all this. The acting director of the National Hurricane Center, Ed Rappaport, is joining us from Miami right now.

Ed, based on the latest forecast, what are your biggest concerns for Americans in the path of this storm?

ED RAPPAPORT, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: We should put this in perspective, Wolf. Right now, we have a Category 5 hurricane. It's forecast to move towards the Southern Florida Peninsula over the next three to four days.

About the time that it reaches the north coast of Cuba early in the weekend, there will be a turn towards the north. We don't know yet whether that turn will occur when the center is just offshore, over land, or just to the west.

The problem is that this hurricane, if it comes to shore at Category 4 or Category 5 intensity over South Florida, will be the strongest to have hit land since Hurricane Andrew, and we would expect impacts that could be as severe as Andrew.

So, this is potentially a once-in-a-generation storm for wherever landfall occurs.

BLITZER: So, if it goes right over South Florida and hits the Keys and then moves up towards Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach County, what happens?

RAPPAPORT: Well, we would see severe damage from wind, and also a huge storm surge.

Now, with Harvey, we had a lot of flooding from rainfall. And while there will be some flooding from rainfall, in this case, the hazards we're most concerned about is the storm surge along the coast. People need to get away from the water. And then the very strong winds that will occur even in the inland areas.

BLITZER: So what's your advice for the millions and millions of people? Miami-Dade has about three million people alone, millions more in Fort Lauderdale and up the eastern coast of Florida. What's your advice for these people? What do they do right now?

RAPPAPORT: They need to prepare for the possibility of a major hurricane making landfall, one that they have not seen in terms of intensity, at least in Miami-Dade County, since Hurricane Andrew.

And given the track of this hurricane, which is to the north, we're going to be affecting counties with a strong hurricane that did not have the impacts from Andrew. So, from Broward northward, there will be stronger impacts than we had for Andrew.

The most important thing now is to get ready and to follow the advice of their local management emergency officials on evacuations.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you once again. Just put the strength of this current hurricane in context for viewers who are watching right now and who may say, you know what, we can ride it out.

RAPPAPORT: This is the strongest hurricane we have had on record in the Atlantic area, in the open Atlantic. It's now approaching the coast and will be over the next three to four days an intensity that is comparable to what we have seen in some of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the U.S., including Hurricane Andrew.

We are very hopeful that the center will turn away before it makes landfall, but we don't know that that's actually going to happen. So, people need to prepare for the worst, first for the Southern Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys.

BLITZER: When will we know if it's going to hit South Florida in the worst possible case?

Can you hear me?

I think we may have lost Ed Rappaport.

Ed, can you hear me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lost audio. BLITZER: I think we lost Ed Rappaport. We will try to reconnect with

Ed Rappaport. He's the acting director of the National Hurricane Center. But he's putting this into context for us.

This is the worst, the worst, the most intense hurricane in the Atlantic, and potentially the disaster in Florida could be awful indeed. We will get back to Ed Rappaport.

The breaking news continues here. We're monitoring this monster hurricane, the killer storm barrelling toward Puerto Rico and Florida tonight.

Plus, President Trump's shocking deal with Democrats. Why did he buck his own party and blindside its leadership?



BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Florida is bracing for Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record. We are going to have much more on that, the latest forecast coming up.

But, first there is more breaking news tonight, President Trump's surprise deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, fund Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, a move that is said to have blindsiding Republican leaders.


Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's working the story for us.

Jim, a pretty shocking move by the president.


President Trump tried to clean up the mess left behind after his decision on the dreamers. The president insisted to reporters he is not sending mixed signals, despite some pretty clear waffling on the subject.

Perhaps more surprising, though, as you mentioned, was the president's sudden embrace of Democratic leaders on a plan to prevent a government shutdown this month. In doing so, the president bucked his own party and we are told even his own treasury secretary.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's message one day after terminating the program that shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation, he would do it again.

QUESTION: Any second thoughts about DACA?


ACOSTA: Just hours after igniting an uproar, the president sounded as if he was wavering on the issue, tweeting: "Congress now has six months to legalize DACA, something the Obama administration was unable to do. If they can't, I will revisit this issue."

Talking to reporters on Air Force One, the president denied he was backing down.

TRUMP: No mixed signal at all. Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of this situation.

I would like to see something where we have good border security and we have a great DACA transaction where everybody is happy, and now they don't have to worry about it anymore, because, obviously, as you know, before, it was not a legal deal.

ACOSTA: The president cited one surprising reason for his optimism, the potential for working with not Republican, but Democratic leaders in Congress, namely, Senator Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

TRUMP: Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I. And I said if we can get something to happen, we're going to sign it and we're going to make it -- we're going to make a lot of happy people.

ACOSTA: That's remarkable, given Pelosi and Schumer just blasted the president's decision on the program known as DACA.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We all agree that President Trump's decision to end DACA is a despicable act of political cowardice.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, MINORITY LEADER: The president's decision to end DACA was heartless and it was brainless.

ACOSTA: And after House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the president.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So, President Trump was right in his decision. He made the right call.

ACOSTA: But there were more surprises in store. Sources told CNN the president also blindsided GOP leaders as they huddled with their Democratic counterparts and Mr. Trump at the White House. The president shocked Republicans, supporting the Democrats' plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown, pushing that deadline to December, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted afterward he was on board.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJORITY LEADER: I will be adding that as an amendment to the flood relief bill that's come over from the House on the floor. And I will be supporting it.

ACOSTA: Republicans sounded so irritated by the meeting, one aide vented about Ivanka Trump's interrupting the gathering, saying -- quote -- "Toward the end of the meeting, Ivanka Trump entered the Oval Office to say hello and the meeting careened off-topic. Republican leaders were visibly annoyed by Ivanka's presence."

An aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan disputed that account, saying that's not true.

TRUMP: Come up, honey. Should I bring Ivanka up? Come up.


TRUMP: She actually said, "Daddy, can I go with you?"

I like that. Right? "Daddy, can I go with you?"

I said, "Yes, you can."

ACOSTA: At a tax report speech in North Dakota, the president seemed to touch on the upside-down day on Capitol Hill.

TRUMP: Mitch and Paul, and everybody, Kevin, and we walked out and everybody was happy, not too happy, because you can never be too happy. But they were happy enough.


ACOSTA: Even with all that on the president's plate, the White House still has to keep an eye on the Russia investigation. Tomorrow, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to meet with staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

One key member of that committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is insisting that Trump Jr. eventually testify in public to tell all he knows about the Russian meddling in last year's election.

So, despite everything else they're keeping their eye on here in the White House, they still have to pay attention to Russia, Russia, Russia, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. Jim Acosta over at the White House for us, thank you very much.

As Jim just mentioned, Donald Trump Jr., he is scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow by staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its Russia investigation.

Our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is working that story for us.

Manu, Senator Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, says Donald Trump Jr. will have to appear before the panel publicly, at least at some point.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, because tomorrow is the staff level interview on the Judiciary Committee, the first time that the president's eldest son will have come and answered questions before any congressional committee about that June 2016 meeting in which he was promised Russian dirt on the Clinton campaign, a meeting also of course attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.

Now, earlier today, when I had a chance to talk to Dianne Feinstein about Mr. Trump Jr.'s appearance tomorrow, she said, this is not going to be the only time he comes to Capitol Hill, and he's going to have to appear publicly.



SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The agreement that we had is that there will be a public hearing. And if they don't come, they will be subpoenaed.


RAJU: So, she's using the S-word, subpoenaed, and that's something she said that she and Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the committee, have agreed on moving forward on.

Now, I did get a chance to ask Grassley if he agreed with Feinstein's interpretation. He declined to comment about this altogether.

Now, Wolf, this comes as a number of other revelations have really piqued the interest of Republicans and Democrats on the key committees, including those e-mails from Michael Cohen, the president's attorney, who sent those e-mails back during the campaign season about a Trump Tower Moscow project they had been pursuing at the time.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that raises questions.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Apparently, according to the information, they were talking about some kind of Trump Tower in Russia. So, it seems to me they were interested in some kind of business dealings with the Russians. I don't know if Trump knew anything about what Mr. Cohen said or did, but that's why we have the investigation.


RAJU: And I asked Senator Graham, do you want to hear from Michael Cohen as a witness? He said, "I do."

So, both Cohen and also Jared Kushner, Feinstein told me earlier also that she wants to hear from him as well. A lot of these major figures in the Trump orbit are still expected to come and answer questions before senators and House members in the coming weeks and months, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. As you know, Manu, the former national security adviser to President

Obama, Susan Rice, she was also up on Capitol Hill today meeting with the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. What can you tell us about that?

RAJU: Yes, this was a big Republican-led push on the committee.

You will recall the chairman of that committee raising concerns about so-called unmasking, revealing of identities of names of officials, people connected to the Trump universe who are identified in these intelligence reports. There were a lot of questions about whether or not Susan Rice mishandled any of these intelligence reports and revealed the names improperly.

I am told she had a lot of questions from some of the Republicans who attended about this issue of unmasking. She contended that she really did nothing really wrong, she handled these things appropriately. Some Republicans had been concerned she may have leaked some of this information to the press. There's been no evidence to suggest that.

And she denied having leaked any evidence. A lot of discussion also talking -- focused on the issue of Russia, Russia meddling, part of this House Intelligence Committee's investigation. And, Wolf, one Republican member of the committee, Tom Rooney, came out afterwards and said that she answered all the questions that they had and does not expect -- they don't expect to bring her back for any further questions, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

I want to get some more on all of these major developments.

Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut is joining us. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, we have got lots to discuss, but I have got to take a quick break.

We will have our interview right after this.



BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, Florida and Puerto Rico are bracing for Hurricane Irma, a deadly Category 5 storm that's battered Caribbean islands in its path. We'll get the latest forecast in just a moment. New information coming in.

[18:32:53] But first we're back with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, the chairman of your committee, Chairman Devon Nunes, he's now threatening to hold the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, in contempt of Congress if they don't provide documents showing whether the FBI relied on that partially-verified Russia dossier. Do you support that effort by -- by the chairman?

HIMES: Well, Wolf, a lot of us are puzzled by this effort by the chairman, me included. It's not clear what the chairman is after here. Of course, politically speaking, if we look at this politically, you know, this is a Republican-run Department of Justice. It is an FBI appointee of President Trump.

The process by which the chairman decided to make these subpoenas was not one that included the minority, the Democratic minority or, to my knowledge, other people who were involved in the Russia investigation. As you know, the chairman recused himself from that investigation.

And one of the many, many questions that we have about this new effort, with respect to subpoenaing the FBI and the Justice Department, is why the chairman, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, would be pursuing something that is very clearly linked to the question of the Russian hack and possible collusion.

BLITZER: I understand that. I know he's removed himself from the investigation, but he clearly is still involved in this indirect way. But having said that, isn't it important to understand what role that controversial dossier played, if any, in the FBI's investigation?

HIMES: Sure. And I mean, let's spend a minute on this dossier. It is, you know, infamous at this point; and it has never been an important part of, certainly, the investigation that I'm involved in. I think the general consensus is that many of the allegations in that dossier are unproven or unsubstantiated.

Now, I would note that none of the allegations in that dossier, to my knowledge, have been refuted. So, it's a big open question mark.

And the thing that puzzles me about the chairman's request to the FBI and the DOJ, it seems to me that the answer is either they're not interested -- and by the way, I don't expect necessarily the DOJ, the Department of Justice or the FBI is going to actually answer those subpoenas if this is, in fact, an ongoing investigation.

[18:35:15] But the answer is either, no, "We're not using elements of that dossier," or it strikes me as potentially profoundly damaging if the answer is the reverse, which is that "Yes, there were allegations in that dossier which subsequently have proven credible and that we are looking at."

So, again, it's a -- it's a very, very puzzling thing why -- why this has sort of risen to, you know, the attention of the chairman.

BLITZER: As you also know, Donald Trump, Jr., the president's oldest son, will be speaking behind closed doors with Senate Judiciary Committee staffers tomorrow. When does your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, plan on hearing from him?

HIMES: Well, that's yet to be determined. We have a long list of witnesses who have been scheduled. In fact, as you reported earlier, we interviewed former national security advisor Susan Rice today. We do not yet have Don Jr. scheduled.

But he, of course, is one of the really key people here, because in an investigation that is looking at possible connections -- and I emphasize possible connections -- between the Trump campaign and the Russian hack effort, Donald Trump Jr., by his own admission, is sort of at the point of that spear.

He said that he went into a meeting in Trump Tower with known Russian agents for the purpose of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. That, in many ways, first of all, is completely at odds with what we were assured by the Trump campaign and by the president for a very long period of time. But it raises profound issues about what the follow- up to that meeting was.

And, so I don't care over much what venue he testifies in, but obviously, that we get a full and complete accounting of what happened before, during and after that meeting from Donald Trump Jr. That's essential to this investigation.

BLITZER: Congressman, how concerned are you that President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, asked the Kremlin for help with a deal to license the construction of a new Trump Tower in Moscow?

HIMES: Well, I'm concerned about something that has been a persistent theme in this investigation, which we were assured directly by the president, that there were no deals, no nothing, nothing at all in Russia.

Well, it turns out that, in fact, there was a very clear proposal for the construction of a Trump Tower. And, again, this is a recurrent theme. Outright blanket denials followed by, "Oops, it turns out that that denial is not true."

If you're part of the investigation, in addition to further damaging the credibility of any statement that is made by the president or the president's people, that opens yet another line of inquiry.

You know, again, just operating from the news reports here, you know, the timing of the emergence of this project, the development of this project, who was involved, and whether there was an intersection between that business -- that potential business project, Trump Tower Moscow, and the campaign is obviously of great interest to us and to the American people.

BLITZER: A final question before I let you go, Congressman. It's been reported that Facebook sold 2016 campaign ads to what's being described as a Russian troll farm, with a track record of publishing pro-Kremlin propaganda. First of all, are you aware of this? Is this something your committee is looking into?

HIMES: I saw the story when it came out today. And it -- as so many things do, raises questions. It, of course, is a violation of the law for foreign entities or individuals to make contributions either of money or in kind to U.S. political campaigns. We, therefore, need to sort of look into whether that is a possibility here. Again, it's a new news story. I just read it quickly. You know, we

need to understand what was involved in that effort, because there is the possibility of foreign money, resources going into a U.S. campaign.

BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thanks as usual for joining us.

HIMES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more now on the breaking news we're following. Hurricane Irma. Our meteorologist, Tom Sater, is tracking the storm in CNN's Hurricane Center for us. Tom, Puerto Rico, Florida, clearly in the path of this record storm. What's the latest?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, let's back up, and we can let everyone know what the latest is by looking at the destruction that we're getting reports from, from the islands of Barbuda and St. Maarten.

Prime minister from Barbuda saying that the island is barely habitable. The French foreign minister in St. Maarten is saying now the four largest buildings on the island are completely destroyed. Most of the buildings are partially or completely destroyed. We have not heard yet from Anguilla.

That is monstrous. We talked about Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm to ever make landfall anywhere on the earth. This was in November of 2013. That was powerful. But this one surpasses that in the sustaining strength. This has now been over 30 hours with winds of 180 miles per hour or stronger. So, again, there's a big, big concern here.

[18:40:09] Notice the radar. We're about 50 miles from San Juan. So we didn't expect the landfall in Puerto Rico, and it will not. It will not make landfall in Dominican Republic or Haiti. But notice the eye. Now, just around the eye, notice that color of yellow. What we may be seeing here is one of those reorganization processes. It's called an eye wall replacement cycle, where the strong winds in the eye fan out, create another eye, and then that banner, that outer band tightens back up, and it gains strength again.

Now, this process can take 10 to 12 hours, but that's maybe what we're seeing here. We talked about it happening maybe two or three times before it reaches Florida.

One thing we know, that outer band is going to lash the coast. With 4-foot storm surge, we've got winds over 60 miles per hour already in San Juan. They're going to get stronger.

Now to the track. Didn't change much from this morning to this afternoon. We'll have another one later this evening. But it did change from last night, shifting eastward somewhat.

Notice the cone of uncertainty. They're keeping this cone still over into the Gulf of Mexico, because that's still a possibility. But it's been dragged a little bit to the east. That opens the door to maybe not a landfall in southern Florida, although it's looking more like that, but we're going to watch it day in and day out. If the trend continues eastward, maybe just maybe, it will slide off the coastline. That is not good news for the Carolinas.

But notice this one model. That's what we want to see, but unfortunately, because it's the only one, we consider that an outliner.

Now, there's about 71 computer models. Fifty of them are under the umbrella of the European, 21 under the U.S. model. So, these are the 21, and they're trending more to the east. So we could see a variety of landfalls. Most likely now we're looking at maybe not the possibility of interaction with Cuba, which would keep its strength.

The one thing this reminds me of, last year. Matthew. Remember -- you could probably recall; those that live there know the damage. We had a storm surge down in western Haiti of 26 feet. And that's where the majority of the fatalities were. We had a few in Cuba. But I believe we had over 20 from the historical flooding in the Carolinas. That cost $15 billion. It just hugged the coastline.

So the catastrophic damage stayed offshore, and we had light to moderate, although it was catastrophic in toward the Carolinas.

And, Wolf, look at this. We talked about -- we talked about Jose becoming a hurricane. It is. And now we've got Katia. That was named a tropical storm this morning. And now it's a hurricane. Katia is going to drop southward.

We have a nice cold front right here moving through the southeastern U.S., and it's too bad that cold front wasn't a couple of days away, because that would really help steer Irma away from the U.S. mainland. But because it's here now, it will push Katia to the south.

The problem is, if we watch Jose, it looks like it could become a major hurricane now. Talked about it moving to the north, becoming a fish storm in the open Atlantic, but the models are carrying it extremely close now in the future to the northern islands of the lesser Antilles that have just been decimated. We still believe it will turn to the north, but this is getting to be a little too much. Not one, not two, three. The last time was in 2010, Wolf, when we had Karl, Julia, and Igor. Enough's enough.

BLITZER: What a horrible, horrible situation unfolding. All right, Tom, we're going to get back to you. I know you're standing by for the latest forecast, as well.

And our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma will continue right after this.


[18:48:15] BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, we're getting some of the first aerial pictures of the enormous damage Hurricane Irma caused to the Caribbean island of Barbuda. The prime minister says 95 percent of the properties on the island suffered some kind of damage. In the prime minister's words, Barbuda is barely habitable.

The core of this extremely dangerous storm will be passing Puerto Rico over the next few hours.

Our anchor, George Howell, is in San Juan for us.

So, George, what are the conditions there now?

HOWELL: A moment ago, Wolf, I would have said that we're in a lull. But quite frankly, we just felt one of those very strong wind bursts hit again. We're about 50 miles to the south of that eye wall. That eye wall again is where the strongest winds, the strongest storms are churning.

So, again, the concern is the closer we get to that and over the night, we will get closer and closer to that, the stronger the wind gusts will get. We understand through CNN meteorologists, over the next three hours will be the toughest here for Puerto Rico.

I can tell you from experience from covering hurricanes, I have never felt wind gusts as strong as I have felt with this particular storm. They hit real quick. They're strong enough to knock you over.

And that's the concern here for people that are in the direct path of this storm. If you get anything from what we're telling, from what we're experiencing here in Puerto Rico -- take cover, you know, evacuate, follow the officials, because this is a strong storm, unlike any we have seen before. Again, Wolf, the conditions set to deteriorate over the next several hours here, as, again, a monster continues to lurk out there, getting closer and closer to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there, good luck to all the folks out there in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, a state of emergency is in effect in Florida where millions of people are now at risk because of this hurricane.

[18:50:00] Mandatory evacuations have been ordered in some of the most vulnerable areas.

Let's go to our national correspondent Miguel Marquez, he's in Miami for us.

Miguel, I understand gas, water, lots of short supplies right now.

MARQUEZ: Yes. You can measure the concern people have in those exact things, gas and water.

I want to show you what the lines for gas here look like in south Miami. These cars, this little knot of traffic here, this has been happening all day. It is an hour, perhaps two hours at some points today waiting for gas here.

This is just one line. It wraps around the corner that way about an hour. And then if you look all the way down this way, across this stoplight there, that line and that right hand lane is also there for gas.

This particular station had 9,000 gallons delivered about six hours ago. They were almost out when another tanker truck arrived and they got another 7,500. So, they will be busy for a very, very long time. This is U.S.-1.

The counties you are talking about, the Keys and Key West, all those counties are south of where we are and many people will have to come up this road right here. It has been busy, moderately so so far today. It will certainly get busier in the days ahead.

The first shelter has already been established here in Miami-Dade County, but only for residents of the Keys who are coming up this way. That will open up for tomorrow. But clearly, just from the line of gas and the need for water, every store we went to, whether it was a Walgreens or a Publics or Walmart or Target today, none of them had water.

To give you the example, Walmart says they are pulling water from distribution centers from as far away as Nevada to bring it in here, some 1,300 semi trucks filled with nothing but water to 400 stores just to quench the thirst of a very concerned Florida -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Miguel. We'll get back to you. Miguel Marquez in Miami for us. They are bracing for the worst over there.

We're following the breaking news. We're going to have the latest on Hurricane Irma. The dramatic new images of massive destruction this record storm is leaving in its wake.

And with Irma coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, is the U.S. government equipped to handle back-to-back disasters?


[18:56:53] BLITZER: We're following breaking news.

Hurricane Irma, record storm packing winds of 185 miles an hour that's devastated Caribbean islands in its path. Already, Human Services Secretary Tom Price just declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And also tonight, this hurricane, this monster is headed toward Florida with landfall projected for this weekend, just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey brought record rain and flooding to the Houston area.

Let's bring in CNN's Rene Marsh.

Rene, is the U.S. government ready for another natural disaster?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you tonight, all eyes are on Congress. The ball is in their court to provide the money FEMA needs to help those storm victims.

And as I speak to you, FEMA is flirting dangerously close to running out of money. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): First, Harvey, now Irma.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: If you're told to evacuate, get out quickly.

MARSH: A second major hurricane is headed to the U.S., and it's one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever.

SCOTT: Storm surge and extreme winds are the biggest concern right now.

MARSH: Irma, a category five hurricane, is threatening Florida two weeks after Harvey devastated Texas, and it's all happening as FEMA comes dangerously close to running out of money. FEMA has just over $1 billion with $541 million of that available for immediate use as of Tuesday morning.

BLITZER: Are you confident that Congress will set aside enough funding for FEMA?

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: You know, that's up to the Congress.

MARSH: Wednesday, the House approved $7.8 billion in relief aid, but the aid package now in the Senate has gotten political, with relief funding being tied to raising the debt ceiling.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R),WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We've got another unprecedented hurricane hitting -- about to hit Florida and they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims.

MARSH: Even if the $7.8 billion in relief aid passes Congress, Florida senators say it will only cover federal response costs for about a couple of weeks and would not adequately cover resources FEMA needs to respond to Irma.

LONG: We need citizens to be involved. Texas -- this is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this.

MARSH: The historic magnitude of Harvey overwhelmed federal responders, causing them to ask the public for help. And that will likely happen again with Irma.


MARSH: All right. And this image that you are seeing there, I mean, that's how bad it is. You can't even make out where you are looking at. No doubt the response and recovery will be overwhelming for federal responders. Despite all of that, FEMA says it has activated its regional offices and already deployed some 700 people to respond to Irma.

Now, on this issue of running out of money as the storm approaches, I heard the FEMA administrator speaking to you last hour, Wolf. He says he will not let money get in the way of his operation reminds me a lot of Hurricane Irene. They were in a similar situation. They were forced to essentially operate with IOUs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Rene. We'll stay on top of this story for all of our viewers. Stay with CNN for continuing breaking coverage.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.