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Hurricane Aftermath Coverage; Assessing the Damage; Trump to Visit Florida; Malaysian PM Visits White House Amid Justice Department Investigation; U.N. Unanimously Approves Fresh Sanctions on North Korea. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We still do not know the full extent of Irma's damage, but what we do know, it does not look good.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Residents return to ruin, Irma leaving basically every house at least damaged in the Florida Keys, but now the search for the missing commences, even as some areas remaining unreachable.

Paradise lost. Dozens of people killed by Irma in the Caribbean, and those left are struggling just to survive, pleading, do not forget about us.

Plus, President Trump's meeting today with a politician under a cloud of investigation from the U.S. Justice Department. Three guesses which hotel he's staying at.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with our national lead.

It's been 2.5 days since Irma's Category 4 landfall and the Florida Keys, and we still do not know the full extent of the damage she has wrought. It is difficult for boats to maneuver, the debris littering the water and sections of the road and bridges in and out of the Keys have been washed away.

Residents and authorities have been able to reach some of the islands. Sadly, what many have found is nothing short of devastation. A quarter of the houses in the Keys have been destroyed and another 65 percent suffered major damage, according to FEMA. That's just its initial assessment.

Of course, without electricity and with poor cell reception, it has been difficult to communicate with loved ones. And with estimates of up to 10,000 people who possibly rode out the storm in the Keys, it is still unclear how many of them may not have survived.

FEMA says around 15 million Americans remain without electricity affecting emergency call centers and affecting hospitals, meaning many Americans are without food or water. The National Weather Service is warning that heavy rain and more flash flooding is still possible across several states, including the Carolinas today, as the center of what is left of the storm heads towards the Tennessee Valley.

This afternoon, the White House announced President Trump plans to visit Florida on Tuesday.

I want to start with CNN's Kyung Lah. She's in Islamorada, Florida.

Kyung, you spoke with some of the residents returning home today, and what did they find?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we woke up very early in the morning to try to drive in with them.

The way that they had been told they would be allowed in. These are very anxious residents, Jake. They all got in their cars and they stood in line. They basically waited in line, many of them since last night, forming an orderly line, hoping they would be able to get in as soon as the roadblock was lifted at 7:00 a.m.

At 7:00 a.m., the roadblock was lifted and they started streaming into these areas and the road has been cleared. And then they finally got the answer. For them, it was the agonizing wait, what does my house look like, and for some of them like the people that live here, the answer was they had lost their homes.

This is a mobile home park. This is a power boat that's right behind me. The water is way over there. There are destroyed mobile homes in their path. This is just one small snippet.

What I can tell you as far as perspective is this is one area that's considered not as badly damaged as what's further down the Keys. We met a woman and her family. They are a family that has a business here and they have their homes here. And they all gathered together to start to clean up.

They believe their business may be a total loss. Here is what she told us.


MARILYN RAMOS, HURRICANE VICTIM: We are trying to savage anything that we can

It's devastating. Imagine, this is everything for us. We also have another restaurant in Tavernier, who -- same thing.


LAH: So both of their restaurants, they simply have to mop up and try to figure what they can do.

Everybody in that place that was mopping up with a family member, cutting tiles where roofs had been completely peeled off. Everything inside had been damaged. This is not just one family, Jake. It is a story that's being repeated across the area. The anticipation and the hope from other people we met who live beyond

the roadblock, Jake, is that this roadblock will soon be lifted and the roads will be cleared and then more and more families will get the answer day by day -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung, my understanding is that there are other people who cannot even reach their homes farther down the Keys.

LAH: That's the roadblock that I am talking about.

And the reason why they cannot is because there is still debris completely covering parts of US-1. We are seeing a lot of work trucks come in. The amount of work aid that is coming in here, the amount of construction work is incredible.

You see, every few seconds or so, somebody coming by. You see helicopters in the air. They're rapidly trying to clear out the road, not for the tourism, but to get aid down to the area. The conditions out here, it is very, very hot. They absolutely need water.


They need food and there is no electricity. They're going to need clean water. These conditions are going to deteriorate day by day for the people who remain down here. It's going to become very desperate very rapidly, Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung, the people that you speak with, are they hoping to rebuild or are some of them thinking that they're going to leave the area?

LAH: Surprisingly, some of them say they will stay.

And it was the one couple in particular, one husband says absolutely he will stay. He loves living in the Florida Keys. And his wife after living through this experience, she was wondering if she can ever take it again, if her heart could take it again.

She said it was so terrifying having to leave in the middle of the night, to hear the governor say, you're on your own. You dial 911, we are not going to be there to help you. She said she simply could not live through something like that again.

The question of knowing, am I going to come back to something or am I just going to come back to dirt and foundation, she says she does not want to experience that again.

There are going to be a lot of hard conversations I think between couples like this.

TAPPER: Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

As Kyung mentioned, millions of people have no electricity. It could be weeks before the power is back on. That means no clean water, no refrigeration. If a cell phone dies, no way to call for help.

But power competes with gas shortages as the most dire need in Florida right now.

Joining me is CNN national correspondent Ryan Young. He's in St. Petersburg.

Ryan, how are Florida's efforts to restock fuel going?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a bit of good news here.

I talk to the Port of Tampa Bay's captain for the Coast Guard, and she tells me the shipping lanes are now back open. There will be gas coming to Central Florida. You got to think this is a very important shipping lane, because not only does it fuel the airports, Tampa and Orlando, but most of Central Florida.

But With that good news, there is still 5.5 million people in the state without power.


YOUNG (voice-over): In the aftermath of Irma's roof-ripping force, parts of Florida's coastline are crushed and crumbled. Some inland communities all but sunk.

But Florida's main focus now is power and fuel.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I have gotten a lot of phone calls from nursing homes and assisted living that they are having issues with their generators.

YOUNG: Electricity is out for millions, as crews work around the clock.

SCOTT: The numbers are 30,000 individuals from out of state are helping us get our power back on.

YOUNG: Hospitals, emergency call centers and street lights are among the top safety priorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The greatest number fatalities when it comes to a storm like this occurs after the storm has passed.

YOUNG: According to Florida Power and Light, complete restoration is still days away in the east. Electricity won't fully return to Florida's west coast until September 22.

Meanwhile, off the coast of Tampa, tankers are ready to deliver much needed fuel to ports that have been closed since the storm.

(on camera): Those ships are waiting for the all-clear. Once the Coast Guard checks all the signs here, they will allow those ships to enter the shipping channel. That's important because those ships have critical supplies for the state of Florida, especially gas.

(voice-over): The Port of Tampa typically receives more than 12.5 million gallons of petroleum products each day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It definitely is a huge impact on the rest of the country when Tampa Bay is shut down.

YOUNG: The Coast Guard must mow ensure that the supply line is safe to reopen.

(on camera): Tell me what you guys are doing today to kind of alleviate some of the issues of Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, as far as today, we are getting out here and making sure that the critical aids to navigation is still standing, still watching properly.

YOUNG (voice-over): Floridians anxious for normalcy need the fuel to return home and the power to stay safe when they get there. As armies of workers strive to deliver both, folks here wonder what comes next.


YOUNG: Jake, something we wanted to show you live that's happening right now.

If you look in the distance there, it is one of those fuel tankers that was waiting on the outside of the shipping lanes until they got the all-clear. This is the third ship that we've seen sort of coming into the port.

We do also know that the Port of Everglades and of course again the Port of Tampa is now back open. There are three ports that still remained closed. That's Port Canaveral, Palm Beach and Jacksonville.

While we were here with the Coast Guard, we saw a fleet of ships going down south to help with the efforts down there -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Young in St. Petersburg for us, thank you so much.

Paradise lost and chaos taking over -- the search for food and water so desperate in the Caribbean islands ravaged by Irma, police say people are walking around with weapons and searching for basic necessities.

Stick around. That story is next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our world lead today, Irma's peak strength ravaged the Caribbean islands. Today, victims are struggling to survive as they face lawlessness in their communities. Reports of looting and high-risk prison escapees on the streets are adding to the chaos, on top of severe food and water storages.

Survivors are begging not to be forgotten.

Joining me now by phone is CNN national correspondent Polo Sandoval. He's in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Polo, what is it like to be there right now?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The devastation is everywhere, Jake.

Today, spent some time both in the Virgin Islands and Saint Thomas, and then jumped on a charter and flew here to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

And both obviously are very devastated. This perhaps is some of the worst damage that I have seen. The landscape that makes this such a picturesque area has changed dramatically. The trees have been stripped of leaves.

And most interestingly, some of the reports that we've been hearing from some of the people who have left, some of these streets, and done some of this looting, some of these acts of violence, for example.

Yesterday, we were in Puerto Rico speaking to some people, some Americans that were flying in from Saint Martin. At least one family telling me that they had to essentially lock themselves up in a hotel as people were going door-to-door with machetes.

And now there are these news reports that several individuals were possibly armed with firearms as well. Again,this is happening -- was happening at some point in Saint Martin. That's one of the several reasons why people have been leaving the area, being evacuated and making their way to Puerto Rico.

[16:15:01] But I definitely want to be clear here, Jake, here in Tortola, after speaking to people, they don't -- they say that that has not been a concern earlier. They did see some of that looting, but men were not necessarily after valuables but they were after something more precious right now which is food and water.

TAPPER: And what's being done, Polo, to get the victims of this hurricane the supplies they need and how are they getting by until the supplies come in?

SANDOVAL: Interesting. I spoke to a couple here from the U.K. that was here in Tortola. They said after the storm swept through last Wednesday, they basically had to go out and find some food. They had to learn how to crack coconuts and drink water and anything that they could find and today, though, there are some signs of improvements. There are some supplies that had been brought in from not only the United States but also parts of Europe.

In fact, a little while ago, the gentleman we went up to has offered us rice and chicken, these are precious things that people are willing to share, people are resilient here. And there are some supplies that are also trickling in. In fact, we share the aircraft that we flew in on this afternoon with large supplies of bottles of water.

So, yes, there are supplies making their way into some of these Caribbean Islands. But people here, Jake, like to see even more done in the coming days.

TAPPER: All right. Polo Sandoval in the British Virgin Islands for us, thank you so much.

Some eyebrows went up when President Trump welcomed to the White House today a world leader who is a subject of a U.S. corruption investigation. Then those eyebrows went up even more when that world leader checked in to a certain hotel in downtown D.C. That's next in our conflict of interest watch.

Stay with us.


[16:20:51] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead now.

President Trump today welcomed the leader of Malaysia to the White House, despite the cloud of scandal hovering over Prime Minister Najib Razak's head.

This meeting is a subject of our latest installment of conflicts of interest watch. The president rolled out the red carpet today for Prime Minister Razak.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Prime Minister, it's a great honor to have you in the United States and in the White House.


TAPPER: This despite the prime minister's alleged role in what the United States Justice Department calls an international conspiracy to launder fund misappropriated from a Malaysian fund, money that should have been used to help the people of Malaysia, the Justice Department says, but instead was used by a small number of individuals to fuel their astonishing greed.

It's been widely reported that Prime Minister Najib is referred to as Malaysian official one in the investigation into how $4.5 billion were misappropriated by the prime minister and other officials. As part of its investigation into the funds being laundered, the Justice Department is seeking $1.7 billion in asset, including an interest in the movie "Dumb and Dumber II", a condo in New York City, diamond jewelry, a painting by Picasso, and $260 million mega yacht called the Equanimity.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your invitation for me and members of my delegation to meet with you in the White House.


TAPPER: President Trump welcoming the prime minister with open arms today offering him with an adrenaline shot of credibility back in his home countries which stunned reformers and anti-corruption advocates.


RAZAK: We want to help you in terms of strengthening the U.S. economy.


TAPPER: The prime minister's attempt to strengthen the U.S. economy apparently began with the coffers of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., where the prime minster and his team are staying.

Many good government groups say that the president continuing to take profits from foreign governments is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution emoluments clause, which bans such gifts from foreign leaders for the U.S. president. President Trump has said he would donate profits from leaders to the U.S. treasury. But this spring, the Trump Organization told Congress it would not engage in any thorough or comprehensive attempt to follow through on that pledge, calling impractical and saying it, quote, would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest's experience of our brand.

Now, just minutes ago, the White House was asked of the appropriateness of the prime minister staying at the president's for- profit hotel in the midst of a U.S. Justice Department investigation.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We certainly don't book their hotel accommodation so, I couldn't speak to the personnel decision they made about where to stay here in D.C.


TAPPER: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also said she did not think the hotel stay was an attempt to curry favor with President Trump.

In our world lead, with the United Nations issuing the toughest sanctions yet against North Korea, how will the rogue nation and Kim Jong-un responds? We're going to go live inside North Korea, next.


[16:28:06] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Global punishment against North Korea in our world lead now. The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed brand new sanctions after Pyongyang's sixth and largest nuclear test. They are the harshest sanctions to date, capping oil imports into the rogue nation and banning its textile exports. But they, of course, could have been tougher.

Let's go now to Pyongyang where CNN's Will Ripley is. He's the only Western journalist on the ground inside North Korea.

Will, how is North Korea's government reacting? Is there any sense of fear, of retreat?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Short answer no, absolutely no fear expressed to us. In fact, quite the opposite, outrage, threats against the United States. We've seen the messaging from North Korea, threatening retaliation, unimaginable consequences, pain and suffering.

And it's true, these sanctions do bite more than previous rounds of sanctions by, as you mentioned, putting a cap on oil imports, banning textile exports, and also eventually ending overseas labor contracts. But it's going to take a while for any sanctions to kick in. We haven't seen any noticeable impact on the ground of the previous rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions and South Korea does believe, Jake, that the North is ready to launch their next ballistic missile pretty much at any time. That's certainly would be one way for them to send a giant middle finger to the U.S. after these latest sanctions.

TAPPER: And this is your 15th trip to North Korea. You say you're not putting your money on North Korea giving up its nuclear program despite the sanctions. Why?

RIPLEY: Because they have invested too much into it and it's really the only leverage that they feel they have in the global stage. It's written in their constitution since 2013 that they will be a nuclear power. North Korean officials find the idea that more sanctions would somehow cause them to change course now absolutely absurdly and ridiculous frankly. They've gone all in on this.

And they feel that this is all they have. Their nuclear weapons are what they believe will eventually lead them to a better future, even in a short term, it means diplomatic isolation and economic hardships.

And, Jake, you know what that is? Five o'clock every morning.

TAPPER: Oh, yes.

RIPLEY: The wake up alarm, your favorite.

TAPPER: Yes, that creepy morning alarm for the entire country.