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Fires Devastate U.S. West Coast, Burning Over 4 Million Acres; Hurricane Sally Gains Strength as it Heads for New Orleans; Embattled Leader of Belarus Visits Vladimir Putin. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Deadly wildfires devastate the West Coast. Firefighters desperate for relief from paralyzing smoke. The president heads to California today.

LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And yet another climate threat. A major storm gaining strength. Tropical Storm Sally could turn to Hurricane Sally before making landfall near New Orleans.

ROMANS: Virus? What virus. The president holds another indoor rally. The latest in a pattern of defying science about the pandemic. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, this is EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: Great to have you back, Christine --

ROMANS: Thank you --

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett, it's Monday, September 14th, it's 5:00 a.m. in New York. 50 days until election, but of course, we may not know the result that night or even that week, so be ready for a long, drawn-out presidential election. We'll have much more on that later this hour. But we begin this morning with the nation confronted by three serious crisis, two of them caused by climate crisis. First, the raging wildfires on the West Coast, the death toll rising overnight to 35, 24 of them in California. Many more people are missing at this hour, nearly a 100 fires have already burned 4.6 million acres.

That's roughly the equivalent of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The fires are burning mostly in rural and forested areas, but major cities along the West Coast likes Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are feeling the effects.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Well, I listen to fire professionals, not the president of the United States or politicians when it comes to actually what causes these fires. It's been very clear that years of drought as we're seeing, whether it's too much water and too much rain in parts of our country right now or too little, this is climate change. GOV. GAVIN NEWSOME (D-CA): Mother nature is physics, biology and

chemistry. She bats last and she bats a thousand. That's the reality we're facing, the smash mouth reality. This perfect storm. The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California.


ROMANS: Governor Newsome will join fire and emergency officials to brief President Trump in California today. Now, the president has been mostly silent on the fires for weeks now. He's never embraced the climate science behind those fires. Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris heads back to her home state of California today. She'll meet with emergency personnel tomorrow. Now, smoke from the fires is making air quality there unhealthy. It can irritate lungs, cause inflammation and affect the immune system. That's a bad combination in a pandemic. More than 10 percent of Oregon's population is under an evacuation order. The city of Detroit, Oregon, 120 miles southeast of Portland has seen a majority of its structures destroyed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's all gone. You know, and it's like -- it's not -- it looks like a war zone hit it.


JARRETT: Making matters worse. False claims about the fires. Facebook says it's removed thousands of posts that were spreading rumors, claiming Antifa had started them. Law enforcement says they've had to spend valuable time and resources knocking down these rumors instead of fighting fires. Paul Vercammen is on the ground for us just outside of Los Angeles.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Laura, I'm in Arcadia in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles and scenes like this are being played out throughout the western United States. Let's take a look at this fire-fight. What they're trying to do here is get plenty of water onto this fire right now as it burns towards these suburbs. And what's happened here is, we have so many wildfires throughout the west, that there's 30,000 firefighters in Oregon, Washington, California and neighboring states. But they spread resources very thin.

As a precaution in neighborhoods like this, you'll hear that they've given the evacuation orders, and the neighbors understand it. Part of the strategy is to keep the roads clear so the fire engines and other important apparatus can get up and down the Canyon roads.


VERCAMMEN: They are obviously not under the mandatory evacuation order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, and I understand why they do that. They just don't want people in the way when the power goes off or when they have to shut off the gas. You know, you don't want to really be at your house anyway.


VERCAMMEN: And with all of these fires and throughout the western United States, the air quality is just wretched. Awful pollution and everywhere very difficult to breathe, and this smoke is so thick that in many instances, they can only fight the fires with the helicopters. It's just too dangerous to fly those planes. They can drop a retardant. So for the next few days, it feels like Groundhog's day for many of these neighbors every day. Now, for, you know, more than a week, they note the fire is lurking behind these canyons and in these hills.


And they just cross their fingers and hope it doesn't come all the way down into their neighborhood. Reporting from Arcadia, I'm Paul Vercammen, now back to you, Christine, Laura?

JARRETT: All right --

ROMANS: Paul, thank you so much for that. All right, as if that's not enough, now to the Gulf Coast where they're bracing for another crisis, tropical storm Sally, it could be a category 2 hurricane by the time it makes landfall near New Orleans tomorrow morning. Hurricane warnings are up from Morgan City, Louisiana, to Ocean Springs, Mississippi including New Orleans. Storm surges of up to 7 to 11 feet possible here. The warm waters in the gulf are helping these storms gain power, 18 of the warmest 19 years have occurred since 2001. Now, it's not your imagination, this is happening a lot and more is in store. The governors of Louisiana and Mississippi declaring a state of emergency. Let's get the latest now from meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, METEOROLOGIST: Good morning guys. Yes, we're watching tropical storm Sally here as it is poised to strengthen within the next 24 hours, and unfortunately, also forecast slow down significantly as it approaches the coast of Louisiana on into, say Mississippi as well. So, here is what we're looking at, moving into this afternoon and this evening, and notice the progression. Monday night, Tuesday morning, potentially even into Wednesdays, this thing could meander right along the coast and push eastward towards Alabama. That's the concern because we have a significant risk now in place here for flooding, and we're talking about life-threatening flooding because of the amount of rainfall that's forecast to come down from Monday into potentially Wednesday.

It could be a category one, a strong category one, maybe even make it to category two. But again, when you see the amount of rainfall the system has forecast, that's the most concerning element of it here where as much as 15 to even 20 inches possible along the coast over the next two to three days before the system is out of here. Notice, highs, upper 70s across OK. C., Denver, highs back up again to about 90 degrees and Salt Lake City aiming for about 92. Guys?

JARRETT: Pedram, thank you. President Trump showing an utter disconnect with reality in some new audio of his interviews with Bob Woodward. Remember last week, we learned the president said on tape he knew as early as February that the virus was deadly and admitted to concealing the true threat from the public. But then just last month, he also told Woodward this --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.

BOB WOODWARD, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Nothing more could have been done. Does he remember what he told me back in February about it's more deadly than the flu? I mean, it almost took my breath away.


ROMANS: Woodward also says the deputy National Security adviser warned in January this pandemic could be worse than the Spanish flu that killed 650,000 Americans. Coronavirus so far has killed 194,000 people. With many people anxious for a vaccine, the CEO of Pfizer says there's a good chance the company will know if its vaccine works by the end of October. He says Pfizer refused U.S. taxpayer money to remain independent.


ALBERT BOURLA, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, PFIZER: I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy. When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings. I didn't want to have any of that. I wanted them -- basically, I gave them an open check book so that they can worry only about scientific silences, not anything else.


JARRETT: There's also growing concerns about political interference at the nation's health agencies as a source tells CNN, Trump appointed communications officials at the Department of Health and Human Services pushed to change language within the CDC's weekly science reports so that they wouldn't undermine the president's political message. Meanwhile, hard-hit areas are trying to reopen once again, bars in Florida are allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. However, a month after reopening schools, Governor DeSantis still hasn't released virus data specific to K through 12 schools. That's despite data showing a 26 percent overall increase in cases in children.

ROMANS: Ohio State University already canceling Spring break 2021 due to coronavirus. The school will instead have two instructional breaks and no classes on February 9th and March 31st. In New York City, Parks Department officials are working with NYU to address young people gathering in large groups. In Washington Square Park, 20 students have already been suspended for previous violations of coronavirus guidelines.

JARRETT: Well, President Trump is offering a glaring new example of refusing to put science before politics. He had thousands of people packed into a large indoor rally Sunday night in Nevada, making a mockery of social distancing and defying the state's ban on local gatherings of 50 or more people. Juxtapose that with this, empty stadiums across the NFL for week one of football season. Here, the president's last indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just three months ago, well, that preceded a surge in coronavirus cases there. Remember, multiple campaign staffers and Secret Service agents ended up testing positive for the virus afterward. Listen to what a former White House medical adviser thinks about these rallies?



JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Negligent homicide. You know, what else could you call an act that because of its negligence results in the deaths of others. People will die as a consequence of this.


JARRETT: The president did discuss the California wildfires, blaming them on forest management. There's actually a wide range of responsibilities for maintaining these forests. All of them are affected by climate change which is raising temperatures, intensifying droughts and making it harder to contain the flames.

ROMANS: All right, days before a ban on the widely popular TikTok app which is set to go into effect, Oracle beats out Microsoft to control U.S. operations. President Trump had demanded TikTok be sold to a U.S. company or else face this ban. Trump and other officials call the app a threat to national security. Now, Microsoft had been discussing buying TikTok from its Chinese-based parent company ByteDance. Sunday night, Microsoft's offer to buy the app was rejected. Now, details about the agreement are still unclear. But it was not described as an outright sale. It's also unclear if the partnership will allow TikTok to avoid that ban. ByteDance and Oracle did not respond the request for a comment.

JARRETT: Well, still ahead for you, the authoritarian leader of Belarus looking for support from a neighbor who knows how to stay in power. CNN is live in Moscow.



ROMANS: Welcome back. The embattled leader of Belarus in Russia this morning for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Alexander Lukashenko is looking for help as he clings to power, following a disputed election. On the eve of the meeting, a 100,000 people protested in the streets of Minsk, hundreds were detained by police in the fifth consecutive weekend of mass protests. CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Moscow. It's amazing to see those pictures from the street, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, a 100,000 people on the streets of the Bela-Russian capital. Alexander Lukashenko who is the president of that country is facing an absolutely desperate situation because six weeks ago, the election that he won again marred by massive allegations of vote rigging has brought those people out to the streets. He seems to have lost the support of a big chunk of his own population, he's certainly lost the support if he hadn't anyway of the international community.

But he's got one chance, once chance to stay in power, and that is, if the Kremlin flings him a life line. And so, that's why he is here today in Russia, meeting with Vladimir Putin, asking him basically to bail him out. Now, the Russians publicly have said, you know, OK, you know, we support you, we recognize the legitimacy of your re-election. Putin has also said he's put a police force on standby to go into Belarus to re-store order if the Bela-Russian authorities request it. They haven't so far. But the big question is, you know, what's the price that the Kremlin is going to want Belarus to pay for that?

What kind of Faustian bargain is Lukashenko prepared to strike? There's been lots of talk over the past couple of decades, a closer unity between the two countries, that's going to be back on the agenda, at the same time, Putin and the Kremlin are painfully aware that these protests in Belarus are not anti-Russian, and by supporting Lukashenko so publicly, they risk turning the streets in Belarus against them. And that's something they probably going to want to avoid as well. So, it's a difficult situation.

ROMANS: Jerky for sure. All right, Matthew Chance for us in Moscow. Thanks, Matthew.

JARRETT: All right, two L.A. County Sheriff deputies critically injured in an ambush shooting in Compton over the weekend are now out of surgery. A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the suspect in the case. Video of the shooting appears to show an individual in dark clothing, walking up to the deputy's vehicle, opening fire inside and then running away. The sheriff says it looks like the two officers, a 31-year-old mother and a 24-year-old man are going to be able to recover.

ROMANS: A sheriff's deputy in Atlanta fired for using excessive force after a video showed him repeatedly punching a black man who was pinned to the ground. Protesters are calling for him to be charged and the sheriff to resign. The victim had been identified as Roderick Walker. Walker's attorney says he hired a ride share to take his family home and it got stopped for a broken tail-light. The situation escalated when the deputies demanded Walker provide his ID and he didn't have it. Walker is still in jail. He is being held on unrelated past warrants.

JARRETT: All right, coming up, powerful displays in support of social justice as the NFL season finally kicks off.



ROMANS: All right, unlike the president's rally in Las Vegas, NFL stadiums were mostly empty for week one of the football season. The ongoing fight for social justice, a big part of the first Sunday of the NFL season. Andy Scholes is in Jacksonville, and has what teams are doing around the league in this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT", hi, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Yes, good morning, Christine. So, as a part of the NFL's new social justice initiatives, they were allowing players to wear messages on their helmets, they're encouraging people to vote, and for week one, they're playing both the songs, lift every voice and sing, which is the black national anthem and the "Star Spangled Banner" before games, and teams are really split on how they handle those pre-game ceremonies. Eight teams remaining in the locker room for those songs, other teams saw players taking a knee, raising a fist and locking arms. Here in Jacksonville where I am, all of the Colts players locked arms together with one person taking a knee, and that was head coach, Frank Reich.


FRANK REICH, COACH, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: We thought it was a unique way to express what needs to be done. You know, where someone like myself, a white leader would kneel out of a posture, not as the statement said, not out of defiance, but out of humility to acknowledge that some work needs to be done, that we can't leave things the way they are.


SCHOLES: Now, in Atlanta, quarterback's Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson speaking before the game, and they decided that their teams would both take a knee together on the field right after kickoff in order to protest social injustice. And now, George Floyd's family meanwhile was on hand at the Vikings game, the team honoring Floyd before the game with a video tribute, and then by not blowing the Viking's horn like they normally do. Now, Colin Kaepernick meanwhile not impressed from what he was seeing from the NFL. He tweeted yesterday while the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about black lives, they are still actively black balling Eric Reid for fighting for the black community.


Reid was the first player to kneel with Kaepernick back in 2016 with the 49ers, he played for the Panthers the last two seasons, but remains unsigned. Now, Dontari Poe, the only Dallas Cowboys player meanwhile to kneel for the national anthem last night. And a controversial offensive pass interference play going against the Cowboys late in this game, the Rams ended up beating the Cowboys 20-17 at the first game at SoFi Stadium there in Los Angeles. Tom Brady meanwhile making his debut with the Bucks, he scored on a quarterback sneak in the first quarter, but from there, it was all Drew Brees and the Saints. They would go on to win 34-23 in the battle of over 40- year-old quarterbacks.

And finally, I want to show you this. The Baltimore Ravens unveiling a new section at M&T Bank Stadium dedicated to Mo Gaba, a huge Ravens fan who lost his battle with cancer earlier this year at the age of 14. They're calling it Mo's rows, that section filled with 575 cut- outs of Gaba, pretty cool thing going there in Baltimore. And meanwhile, here in Jacksonville, this is one of only two games on NFL opening week along with Kansas City to allow fans in the stands. Laura, you know, I went into the game, you know, fans were very spread out, they were following the protocols, wearing masks, the tailgate though, a little bit of a different story. You know, they had cars parked in every other spot, but you know, if you had told me that this wasn't 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, I wouldn't have known because --


SCHOLES: You know, the tail-gate look like a normal tail-gate. So we'll see -- we'll see how this goes. You know, four teams --


SCHOLES: Go -- expected to allow fans for week two of the NFL season.

JARRETT: All right, well, we're glad you're there for us, Andy, thank you. Appreciate it. All right, still ahead, the president in denial, failing to see the climate crisis as wildfires rage and another hurricane bears down. He's also put thousands at risk with another rally with few masks, this one indoors in the middle of this pandemic.