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A Look at Damage in Key Largo; A Look at Damage on Marco Island; A Look at Damage in Bradenton, Florida; Tom Bossert Talks Hurricanes Harvey & Irma at White House Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our Bill Weir rode out the storm in Key Largo. You saw him do amazing reporting over the last few days. He filed this report to give us a sense of some of the damage he's just beginning to see. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing a lot of mobile homes that have been torn apart.

Here is a power line. Be careful, Rod.

This is some of the most dangerous hazards is live electrical wires. You can hear them buzzing as we go around.

And this is just one canal, a sample of, you know, this is a good -- I would say 300 yards from the coastline and a lot of the debris just got pounded over here by the winds. The waves pushing piles of rocks up against doors over on that side of the community.

The good news is we get word from officials down in Key West, no fatalities reported miraculously. It's amazing. But they're worried about the humanitarian assistance they're going to need. A lot of elderly and infirmed that couldn't evacuate. They need food and they need fuel. And they have a desalination plant and a generator, so even if they are cut off from the mainland in terms of those supplies, they can get by.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: That's Bill Weir in the Florida Keys again.

The storm made first landfall on the U.S. mainland in the Keys and they took that big turn and made second landfall right on Marco Island, a tiny little island with beautiful houses, but very fragile.

When we come back, we'll have a live report to get an early damage assessment from Marco Island. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:35:48] BERMAN: All right. John Berman, here in Miami. Brooke Baldwin is in New York. I'm surrounded by the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Six million people

without power in the state of Florida alone. And that doesn't include Georgia and South Carolina now. It's doing some of its worst damage yet, flooding Charleston as we speak.

The first landfall in the continental United States on the Florida Keys. And then made the turn on to Marco Island, a direct hit. The eye wall made a direct hit on Marco Island. And overnight and early this morning, there was a lot of concern. How did that island survive? Did it make it through?

Our Ed Lavandera right now on Marco Island.

And the last time I saw you, I think was here, Miami. Oh, the places you've gone since then, and now to where the storm made its first impact on the west coast of Florida.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's been a wild 48 hours since we last saw each other, John. We are actually in a little fishing village called Goodland, just east of Marco Island. We were able to get on to Marco Island. That island has been reopened and residents that were there, 17,000 or so, able to get back on. That island withstood the power and the fury of Hurricane Irma rather well.

But it is a different story in Goodland, Florida, which is a small little fishing village at the very bottom of Florida and the edge of the Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico. And this is a small little village that just took a clobbering from Hurricane Irma. This is very typical of the scene that we have seen here on the island as we've driven around.

Surprisingly, we've also spoken with a number of people who have -- who rode out the storm here on Marco Island. We just interviewed a man by the name of Dustin Shepard, whose home is up on 15-foot pilings. And he said it was one of the scariest experiences he'd ever endured. He talked about seven feet of water, storm surge rising up underneath his home. Part of his roof coming off in the middle of the storm. And it was at that point whether or not his home would withstand the winds that here in the Marco Island area the strongest gusts reached up to 140 miles an hour. So you can see the damage that we see consistently through this community. A massive tree here falling over on to this home. We've seen a lot of this -- a lot of this throughout the small streets and the canals here in this area in the small fishing village of Goodland, Florida -- John?

BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavandera on the ground there in the streets where the people need the most help right now. Thanks so much for that perspective, Ed. And we hope that it does get there soon. Thank you for your work.

I want to go up the west coast of Florida to Bradenton, Florida. And Diane Gallagher is there to give us a look of how things are progressing -- Diane?

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we are in Bradenton in Palma Sola Shores, and I want to give you a look. We'll let you drive and let you see on both sides of the vehicle where we have the roaming coverage vehicles and the 360-view of the damage. And you can see the strong winds ripped off carports and they tore down roofs. This is a retirement community. It's 55 and older, living here. We spoke to someone this morning who got out. They said it wouldn't be safe because the bay is right behind us. These are basically on the, right there on the cusp of the water, and so they got out. No one, he thought, was staying here. But he came to see his property. His was OK and some of their neighbors and the roofs completely ripped off, John, and almost as if a can opener just opened these homes up. You can see that the damage is almost like a tornado. We've seen to where some homes have a lot of damage. Some homes don't have too much whatsoever, and we're seeing this throughout Bradenton. At this point, we're seeing a lot of down trees and roughly half the county does not have power.

And I will say the police chief -- and I'll get out here and walk so you can see. I will say that the police chief said this is almost like a really bad summer storm, that this didn't seem like a hurricane. And my producer will have to stop the vehicle so I can walk out and show you just how substantial some of this damage is. And a lot of the roofs in this area and if we can look here and we see at this point. As I come through here, John, some of these -- and I just lost my hat for a second because it is windy and the rain is starting to come in here again. But you can see that some of these actual carports besides this one being bent, this is metal completely bent, the carport of some of these have come over to their neighbors.

[14:40:33] So we are here in their neighbor's area. Some of these parts and aluminum, that's why it reminded me so much of a tornado. I'm sure you covered them, as well. It didn't seem like one large gust of wind. It almost seems like you have shattered windows that have just ripped off of the sun room area, coming down this part right here.

Now you can see the person who lives here. Her little angels and her cross in her window didn't move whatsoever at this point. The chairs are still there. The tables are still there. But the door to get in, you walk this way, so the door to get in didn't open. No walls. Nothing else around here. Completely ripped up some of the siding like this. The woman, we knocked on the door. And my producer, Rob, knocked on the door of this woman's house. Not here, we are told. She didn't answer. Her neighbor said that he did not believe that she was here.

But this is something that really, you think about the fact that many people realize they dodged a bullet. And a man named Gary told me I was expecting to come to nothing. I was not expecting to see anything when I came here. I thought my whole house would be gone and while he recognizes that what his neighbor is dealing with here is devastating and devastation, John, they thought it was going to be so much worse.

So they have a lot to deal with. There's going to be expensive and a long bit of recovery, but it is a blessing for some of them that it was not worse than it is now.

BERMAN: One of the questions is, the people who got to shelters, what is next for them? When is it safe to go home? When can they try to get to their normal lives? They want to check on their houses, too.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:50:37] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll take a pause from Florida and listen to Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the White House press briefing today.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- husbands and wives 16 years ago. The lives of those survivors and families were changed forever on that day, and our country has never been the same since the imaginable evil of terrorism reached our shores.

In response to the attacks, we are memorializing today the Department of Homeland Security was created and giving a vital mission, securing our nation from the many threats we face from counter terrorism and border security to disaster preparedness and relief. Which we know all too well in light of FEMA's work in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The men and women in the storms embody the spirit under which DHS was established. The president recognized a Pentagon police officer this morning that sped to the scene of the crash at the Pentagon as soon as he heard of the attack and saved as many as 20 people. Like Isaac, the first responders for Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are running directly into danger to save lives and serve our nation. I hope that every American can take comfort in the fact that in the face of unbelievable tragedy, this country has always come together to heal, protect, and save, from the firefighters and police officers who rushed into burning buildings on 9/11 to the first responders on the ground in Florida, the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

FEMA through the national and regional response coordination centers and liaisons to the National Hurricane Center continues to actively monitor the track of Hurricane Irma and support local authorities responding to the damage the storm has already caused.

I'd like to bring up, Tom Bossert, the president's Homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, to provide an update on issues related to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey before I take questions. As always, he'll make an opening statement and take questions. And I'll be back up to answer further questions. Thanks.

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR & COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISOR: Good afternoon. It's a somber day today. And I and Sarah and others are honored to join the president at the Pentagon in a moment of silence on the South Lawn, as well.

In addition, I would note that President Trump continued a long tradition of presidents since 9/11 to receive a counterterrorism briefing this morning in the Oval Office from his intelligence community, from his director of National Counterterrorism Center and from myself and others on the team. The purpose of that is to give the president a sense of the terrorist threat that exists globally and to the homeland, and give him a sense of what we're doing about it and make sure he's comfortable with our posture. As I said the other day, we don't have any current, active threats against the homeland to our knowledge, and that's a good news story for today.

Let me move into a quick thought. Before I do it, though, Sarah noted that we created the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11. I would note that the government engaged in a massive reorganization of its structures and efforts to create a National Counterterrorism Center to create a Department of Homeland Security, an office of the Director of National Intelligence, U.S. Northern Command, which you will see now marshal resources in expert fashion for this storm, to combat and command in the United States of United States, and Cyber Command, which you've seen recently President Trump elevate to a full combat and command. So we've marshalled our resources and organized them in a way to confront the threat of terrorism, but also to organize ourselves in a way that will allow us to respond to any event, from a manmade hazard to an unfortunate terrorist attack, but also to a hurricane.

So let me see if I can today talk to you about what we've done. I believe Harvey, as I said earlier, was the best integrated, unified, joint, federal, local, state response effort that our country has seen in its history. I continue to stand by that. We have roughly 700,000 in individual assistance in the greater Houston and south Texas area. Governor Abbott continues to demonstrate leadership, and President Trump continues to work with him and direct his cabinet to not lose focus on the people of Texas.

With respect to Hurricane Irma, as you know, it's a tropical depression. That does not mean it's not a dangerous storm. As you will see from reporting, Jacksonville is suffering what has been called some of the worst flooding it has seen in 100 years. And so the category might be reduced, but the effects on Jacksonville, for instance, when you combine storm surge and wind, might now replicate that of a category 3 storm even though it's a tropical depression. As that flooding is ongoing, we have life-saving and life-sustaining operations under way. And we're prayerful that there are not people right now trapped by floodwaters.

[14:50:24] The president spoke this morning to the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Governor Matt (ph) expressed -- and I join that call -- his thankfulness to our administration's help, with the U.S. government providing such a rapid response and an ongoing response, I would add. If I could on that, I'll speak to it later.

But the mobilization of our military in response to the storms in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is the largest ever mobilization of our military in naval and marine operation and we now have an Air Force carrier deployed in this effort. This is the first- ever, as well. So we have the largest flotilla operation in the nation's history to help not only the people of Puerto Rico, people of the U.S. Virgin Islands but also St. Martin and other non-U.S. islands affected and the people of Florida.

With respect to Puerto Rico, the president spoke to the governor of Puerto Rico this morning around 11:30 a.m. And they discussed similarly how happy they were with the federal response to their needs. The governor communicated to the president that they still have a large, island-wide power outage problem that we're addressing as soon as we can.

And then Florida, if I can speak to Florida. I think Governor Scott has demonstrated outstanding leadership instinct in press forward, continuing the message of getting people out of harm's way, which is an ongoing effort. The storm is still hitting the United States, and Georgia and South Carolina, and it will move into an inland flooding problem in Tennessee and maybe North Carolina, as we see the storm progress. Governor Scott has at this stage begun conducting overflight surveys of the Keys. And it looks like to the north and east of Key West, the storms there took -- the islands there took the largest brunt of the storm. I'll be able to speak to that when we take questions.

If I can come back to 9/11, the lesson we learned that day, among others, not only does evil exist, but good people taking action can confront that. What I've been assured and reassured about over the last 24 hours is how many good people are taking action. That's my lesson for today.

I'd like to take questions now -- John?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In the immediate aftermath of Harvey, the federal response priority was to rescue people who were trapped by the enormous flooding. In the state of Florida, what's the priority for the federal government?

BOSSERT: There are a number of priorities for the federal government. Right now, because the storm is still ongoing, our priorities are life-saving, life-sustaining. In Jacksonville and the Keys are taking a considerable amount of our attention right now. But what you will see in Florida and more broadly speaking is as a comparative matter, Houston and Harvey is an acutely narrow area of operation compared to what we have now, is a large scale-area of operations. What we're trying to do is marshal the resources where they're needed. So it's a prioritization effort. We're worried about flooding, housing, debris and power restoration. Power restoration is also a function of access to fuel, refined fuel. As you will see the next days and weeks play out, we will clear debris from roadways so people can gain re-entry. Right now, the message is not to rush re-entry. There are still dangerous conditions, downed electric lines, flood conditions, problems that would be compounded by your re-entry. So listen to your local officials not just about evacuation but how to stagger your re- entry. For a reason. There is a life safety reason, a public safety reason. There's the priority set. Eventually, we'll move into issues about recovery and issues and so forth.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are you doing on the fuel front?

BOSSERT: On the fuel front, what the federal government is doing at this stage, and what we did in the three or four days building up to this event, was to get out of the way. And by that, I mean we waived regulations and we waived rules and we waived the Jones Act restrictions to free up additional capacity. Florida is a uniquely postured state in the way it receives refined fuel. It's not part of the larger pipeline system throughout the country. It receives fuel by ship tanker. Those ship tankers then link into intermodal sites where they fill up trucks and trucks distribute. We'll clear those pathways and assess those three ports where those tankers dock, and make sure they're not damaged, and we'll get things back up and running. Florida Power and Light and others, the nuclear power failures, Duke Energy and others, will continue with their professionalism and they'll bring that back up as soon as possible.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do we have any agreements in place with the private sector to contribute to the response and the recovery, talking about Costco, Home Depot, Walmart, so that we don't have to deplete the Disaster Relief Fund as a public service?

[14:55:10] BOSSERT: Yes. Yes. No. Absolutely. Two things. First, there is a partnership in terms of coordination where the private-sector entities are built in to our coordinating centers so they can understand what we're doing and how to prioritize the reopening of the facilities and the safety of their workforce. But secondly, it's our absolute baseline doctrine nowadays in the emergency management community that we would rather reopen those stores than continue providing food, water and temporary shelter to people. It's not within the course of regular operating business and it's not routine and not something we can easily sustain, so it's better and faster to re-open those stores as fast as possible.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The administration saw a connection between climate change and Homeland Security and that the frequency and intensity of powerful storms like Harvey and Irma can pose a problem for future administrations. You can have a FEMA budget that can't keep up with the demand when you have powerful storms hitting the country. Is that something that you think this administration should take a look at? We know the president pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. Are these storms giving this administration giving some pause when it comes to the issue of climate change and Homeland Security?

BOSSERT: I was here in 2004 cycle of hurricanes that hit Florida. What's important right now is to make sure the response is there. And it's beyond my ability to analyze right now. I'll tell you, we continue to take seriously the climate change, not the cause of it, but the things we observe. So there's rising floodwaters. I think one inch every 10 years in Tampa. Things that would require further mitigation measures. And what I said from the podium the other day, and what President Trump remains committed to, is making sure that federal dollars aren't used to rebuild things that will be in harm's way later or won't be hardened against future predictable floods that we see that has to do with engineering analysis and changing conditions along eroding shorelines but also inland water and flood control projects, so.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just to follow up on that, when you see three category 4 hurricanes all on the same map at the same time, does the thought occur to you that, geez, maybe there is something to this climate change thing and its connection to powerful hurricanes, or do you separate the two and say boy, these are a lot of hurricanes coming our way. BOSSERT: I don't know about that either. But I do know there is a

cyclical nature to the hurricane seasons. And I thank the scientists, for their forecast on this particular one, they were dead on that this would be a stronger and more powerful hurricane season with slightly more than average larger storms making landfall in the United States. So we'll have to do a larger trend analysis at a later date.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To follow up on just the budget. What kind of pressure? You have wildfires, two major hurricanes strikes. So what pressure on the federal government's budget have these natural disasters put? And how are we going react to it? Will there be programs cut or reassessments in order to rebuild the infrastructure and it will take several years?

BOSSERT: The president and Director Mulvaney started the process in a bipartisan discussion on this point. Right now, we have plenty of resources to get through this. That was the nature of the appropriation that we saw, and the second appropriation that we will see at the end of next month, subject to the regular course of order in the fiscal year. We'll ask for a third, perhaps fourth supplemental appropriation for the purpose of rebuilding. We'll do it smartly, to the previous question. But in terms of pressure on the budget, this is a Disaster Relief Fund issue. It's funded differently. And I have every believe that this president will end up with proposals, as he started his administration with, that will lead to a balanced budget. But not to get too far into how that works and the politics is way outside my lane now.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just to follow up. At any point in time, as you take a look at this issue, is there any chance that FEMA, the EPA and some of the places that were cut will see more money go into their budget?

BOSSERT: I think that we'll put money in as money is needed to address the need. What you will see here is the same trend that I alluded to earlier. In 2004, we had a large fight over disaster relief funding but we also had to elevate the cap on flood insurance, and we'll probably end up having to do that again here. You'll see, though, over a longer span of time, even the flood insurance budget is red and black, red and black based on claims and premiums. So I won't analyze it in that fashion. But don't have a prediction for you on that.

In the middle?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I asked you two weeks ago, and you said -- I asked you a housing thing, and I wanted to know if you had an update on housing now that we have Harvey and Irma and whatever else is on the way. Can you give us a sense of locating housing for those that were misplaced?

BOSSERT: Locating housing in Texas?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Housing in Texas, for those who need housing, be it Texas, be it outside of the state for the moment. BOSSERT: I'll answer both. In Texas, again, going back to praising

the governor, he's done what we have seen done so well in the past, and that is he's owning the housing problem with a task force that he's initiated. He's also assigned a person to be in charge of long- term recovery. And there are four or five solutions --