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Slow-Moving Hurricane Sally Set To Wallop Gulf From Louisiana To Florida; Trump Defies Pandemic, Again Hosting Big Crowd Indoors; President Trump Openly Questions Climate Science During Wildfire Briefing. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Crises converge. Another hurricane, historic wildfires, and a pandemic all putting the president's strange relationship with science on full display.

Good morning, this is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Laura Jarrett, about 30 minutes past the hour here in New York.

The Gulf Coast is about to be walloped by the second hurricane in three weeks. Hurricane Sally rapidly intensifying on Monday.

Mississippi and Alabama now facing a direct hit. Hurricane warnings now stretch from Morgan City, Louisiana eastward all the way into Florida. Sally could bring catastrophic storm surges and flooding, and days of torrential rain.

ROMANS: And troubling here, the storm is slowing down. That creeping approach means Sally remains a threat for a longer period of time.

Now, residents in the hurricane's path are bracing themselves. Water is already rising in parts of Mississippi.

Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us live this morning from the CNN Weather Center. If I know anything about hurricanes from listening to you, sir, it's that when they are slow like that over those warm waters of the Gulf, it means a lot of rain and misery for people who live there.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And it means wind from the same direction for a very long time. It's like taking that cup of coffee you're probably holding and blowing over the top to cool it off, and the waves go to the opposite side of the cup. Well, the waves are going to the opposite side of the Gulf Coast.

So, wave after wave after wave, building that surge. We're now over three feet of surge in some spots. Shell Beach, which is St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana way here off on the east side, that's already 4 1/2 feet higher than you should be at this hour because of that just incessant -- it just will not stop -- wind from the same direction.

Now, the storm was 100 miles per hour yesterday, at least briefly. Now, it's an 85-mile-per-hour storm but it's moving at two miles per hour. And before the break, I heard you say you could walk faster -- and yes, you can. Even at my pace, I could walk probably three miles per hour. This thing is doing two.

But that's doing a couple of things. That's putting down just unbelievable amounts of rain in Florida. It will move to Mississippi and Alabama as well. It'll push surge into Mobile Bay.

But it will also cool down the water a little bit. It will cool down the Gulf of Mexico and that will lower the intensity or lower the threat of any more intensification with this storm, so that is some good news. When you use up the heat, all of a sudden, the Gulf is cooler -- so the storm doesn't have the potential. Putting regular gas in rather than premium gas.

So there's the rainfall right there, moving on up. It has been in the same spots for hours and hours and hours. This doesn't even come on shore until after midnight tonight, maybe not even until 6:00 tomorrow morning. So, a full 24 hours from where we are now, moving at two or three miles per hour.

So what you see what you get and things still get higher and higher when it comes to that surge. Eventually, the rain gets all the way through into the Carolinas. It could be four to six inches of rainfall there. This is just one model.

But we are seeing right down here across the Gulf Coast -- the purple -- 10 inches or more in most of these locations and there's a spot in there with 20. It's offshore but certainly, 20 inches of rainfall probably not out of the realm of possibilities.

This is called freshwater flooding because it's rain, not the saltwater surge that we oftentimes see when you get a land-falling hurricane. The surge is still going to be six to nine feet -- maybe in some spots a little bit higher because of the long-term wind going in the exact same direction for such a very long time, guys.

This is going to be a storm -- not going to be a cat three but it's going have its own set of problems because of --


MYERS: -- all of the water coming down here now.

ROMANS: And we know you'll be very busy following it for us and we'll watch it --

MYERS: Yes, I will.

ROMANS: -- for the next 24-48 hours.

Thank you so much, Chad -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right.

For the second time in two days, President Trump holds a packed event indoors. This time it was a Latino roundtable in Phoenix. Chairs were zip-tied together there for fire safety but not a safe distance for a pandemic. But who was social distancing? Oh, President Trump, himself.

Another crowd is expected at the White House today for a signing ceremony between Israel and the UAE.

All of these crowds and, yet, the president is well aware of how dangerous this virus really is. In more newly-released audio recordings, the president told journalist Bob Woodward this back in April.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you're the wrong person, you don't have a chance --


TRUMP: -- because it rips you apart.

WOODWARD: This is a scourge and --

TRUMP: It is the plague.


JARRETT: Then, in private, he was calling it the plague. But in public, he was saying things like this.



TRUMP: We're very close to completing a plan to open our country -- hopefully, even ahead of schedule.

We have to get our sports back. I'm tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old.

I think you're going to see quite a few states starting to open.

They've got cabin fever. They want to get back. They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them.


ROMANS: We now know, of course, it's not a binary choice. You're either out or you're home. I mean, this is a pandemic caused by a still-spreading virus.

Five months later, life still isn't back to normal because the U.S. didn't do what it needed to then. At the time, 42,000 Americans were dead. Any day now, the U.S. death toll will hit 200,000. Nearly 550,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with a 15 percent increase in cases in just the last two weeks. Yet, some young adults are simply not getting the message or they're ignoring the message.

The University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Northern Illinois University are the latest schools to switch from in-person to all-remote classes. And some high schools in New York and Massachusetts now delaying reopening because some students decided to party before school starts.

Regional officials are pleading for young people and old to get their flu shots.


JUDY PERSICHILLI, COMMISSIONER, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: This year, we are preparing for the possibility of a twin-demic -- a severe flu season and a resurgence of COVID-19, which could strain health care resources.


JARRETT: Now there is some good news. Hospitalizations are under 30,000 for the first time since June, but projections for fall are still bad.

Now, two mainstays of Thanksgiving will be sidelined.

The Simon Property Group says it's keeping its malls closed on Thanksgiving.

And the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will go on but it will look very different this year, shifting to a television-only special. It will forego the traditional 2 1/2-mile route and participants by 75 percent. The ones who are going to be there will be socially distanced and will wear face coverings.

ROMANS: All right.

A battle over basic science as President Trump visits California in the midst of these devastating, unprecedented wildfires. At least three dozen people are dead in three states and more are missing at this hour. In California alone, 4,200 buildings reduced to ashes. A thick blanket of red and orange smoke is choking the West Coast right now.

President Trump confronted head-on with climate science and he shrugged it off.


WADE CROWFOOT, SECRETARY, CALIFORNIA NATIONAL RESOURCES AGENCY: If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to succeed together protecting Californians.

TRUMP: OK. It'll start getting cooler.

CROWFOOT: I wish --

TRUMP: You just -- you just watch.

CROWFOOT: I wish science agreed with you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows, actually.


JARRETT: Here's the thing -- science does know. A warming climate has caused droughts, drying the land and allowing fires to accelerate in intense heat.

The California fires injecting climate change directly into the presidential campaign.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?


ROMANS: Because of the smoke from the fires, three majors U.S. cities -- Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco -- have the worst air quality of any big cities in the world. And that smoke has blown thousands of miles to the east reaching parts of the Midwest, Canada, and even Upstate New York.

Martin Savidge braving the smoke on the ground for us in Oregon.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine and Laura, we are at a checkpoint just outside of what's called the Beachie Creek Fire. We're an hour and a half, roughly, south of Portland in the state of Oregon. And these checkpoints are basically designed to make sure that those who need to get into the burned-out areas do get in and those who shouldn't get in, don't.

This fire was particularly bad here. We were trying to get into the town of Lyons and Gates but we were stopped at this point. We know that both of those communities have suffered heavily. They haven't given an official estimate of the number of buildings destroyed but I talked to one man who said he was in Gates the night the fire came through. He said only a single block of the entire community survived intact.

There are 34 fires that are burning in the state of Oregon. The governor admits that they are stretched to their absolute max. Help is on the way. Firefighters from other states, primarily in the

east, are now headed out west to lend a hand. That'll be good news for the fire crews, many of whom have been on the lines -- 5,600 of them -- for nearly a week now.

There's also good news in the weather. The temperature has cooled down and the humidity levels have gone up -- which, of course, when you're battling any blaze that's good news -- and the winds have died off.

However, rain is in the forecast -- that's good. Lightning could come with the rains and so could high winds. And winds blowing from a different direction that could be problematic, especially in the middle and southern parts of the state of Oregon.


There's no question that this state is beginning to maybe see some improvement on some of the fires, but there is a long, long way to go. The governor says this is the worst she's seen in a generation -- Christine and Laura.


JARRETT: Martin, thank you so much for that.

President Trump's war on science is also being waged behind the scenes by some of his closest advisers. The top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services just launched an extraordinary assault on career government scientists.

Michael Caputo running through a list of conspiracy theories accusing scientists of, quote, "sedition" for their response to coronavirus while claiming, without any evidence, that the CDC has what he calls a resistance unit against President Trump.

Caputo also predicting the president will win reelection and Joe Biden will not concede, leading to widespread political violence.

And "The Washington Post" reports a longtime climate change denier has been appointed by the Trump administration to help run the federal agency that produces climate research. David Legates has served as Delaware's state climatologist but was forced out because of his controversial views on the issue.

ROMANS: All right.

Millions of Americans are still out of work. Stimulus looks like it's now on hold until possibly after the election. But, President Trump, once again, tried to rebrand the coronavirus recession as a success.


TRUMP: We've set all kinds of records -- and we're setting records. And I think next year, you're going to have a fantastic year. So we're coming back very, very strong. I call the super V.


ROMANS: With his supporters there elbow-to-elbow, the president is cheerleading the shape of the stock market bounce, but the stock market is not the economy.

The coronavirus jobs crisis far from over. Layoffs and bankruptcies continue as people contract the coronavirus, are quarantined, are hospitalized, or die.

At the same time, Trump's emergency $300 unemployment payments have ended for some, almost as soon as they started. Recently, FEMA said Texas, Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and New Mexico have already exhausted the extra aid. FEMA said states will be able to provide six weeks of these enhanced payments. So far, it has distributed $30 billion of the $44 billion available.

And, Laura, it doesn't look like you're going to get a stimulus package again until sometime after the election. That really tests what truly happens here for real Americans.


ROMANS: Not the stock market but real Americans who -- you know, the money's running out.

JARRETT: Yes, and forced to now wait, potentially, for months for any help.


JARRETT: All right.

Well, a big weight lifted from Democrats in Wisconsin after the state's Supreme Court rules the Green Party presidential candidate should be kept off the November ballot. Democrats had worried Green candidate Howie Hawkins could act as a spoiler for Joe Biden in the tight race there. County clerks can now send out mail-in ballots.

A similar battle over the Green Party candidate is already delaying ballots from being mailed out in another battleground state, Pennsylvania.

ROMANS: All right, a quick programming note. Join Joe Biden in a special CNN presidential town hall live from Pennsylvania with Anderson moderating, Thursday at 8:00 p.m., only on CNN.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

Russia's opposition leader Alexei Navalny is off a ventilator weeks after apparently being poisoned with a nerve agent. So what's next for him? Frederik Pleitgen is live from Berlin where Navalny is being treated. And, Fred, I know we're told that he's able to leave his bed for short amounts of time, but you've got to think he's got a long road ahead.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, the Germans certainly say that he does still have a very long road ahead, Laura, but they do say that his condition has been improving and continues to improve. In fact, he's able to get out of bed for short periods of time.

And what the Germans are saying is that they've now completely taken him off any sort of mechanical ventilation, so he doesn't need any more help in breathing, at least. And they're trying to remobilize him again as well. At the same time, they do say that this is going to be a very long process.

And one of the other things that they also say is that they're not sure whether or not he is going to be able to make a full recovery at all because, of course, of the nature of the poison that he was exposed to. This was a chemical warfare agent called Novichok and the Germans are saying that the poisoning was so bad that obviously, it's very difficult to come back from all of this.

Now, the Germans are continuing to demand an explanation and investigation from the Russians. That's causing huge problems between Berlin and Moscow.

In fact, today, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was supposed to be here in Berlin -- however, he didn't show up. Late last night he said that he was going to cancel that visit as Germany and other countries are continuing to pressure the Russians. Less pressure, however, coming from the United States as President Trump continues to say that he has seen no proof that Russia could be behind all this -- guys.

JARRETT: All right, Fred. Thanks so much for staying on top of this one for us.

ROMANS: All right.

This morning, a manhunt is intensifying for the gunman who ambushed two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in Compton over the weekend. Officials say it is a miracle these two survived after being shot multiple times in the head and the face. The officers, we're told, are in critical but stable condition in the hospital and they have a long road to recovery.

Now, this may be difficult to watch but this new video shows the bloodied officers in the moments just after the attack. The female officer helping save the life of her partner. She's applying a tourniquet around his bloody arm as they then crouch and take cover.

JARRETT: The reward for information leading to the shooter's arrest now up to $175,000. And the L.A County sheriff unexpectedly putting his focus on Lakers' superstar LeBron James.



SHERIFF ALEX VILLANEUVA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: I want you to match that and double that reward because I know you care about law enforcement.

You expressed a very, very interesting statement about your perspective on race relations and on officer-involved shootings and the impact it has on the African-American community, and I appreciate that. But likewise, we need to appreciate that respect for life goes across professions, across races, creeds.


JARRETT: James, of course, has been one of the most vocal athletes to speak out on social issues and condemn police misconduct.

ROMANS: All right.

Cars and trucks pose a serious health threat and the American Lung Association wants you to drive an electric vehicle. According to its new report, transitioning to all-electric vehicles by 2050 would prevent 6,300 premature deaths and more than 93,000 asthma attacks each year.

The report says switching to electric vehicles would also avoid climate-related problems and it would save the economy $133 billion. One obvious hurdle, it's still a lot easier to gas up than to charge up your car.

JARRETT: All right.

Authorities in South Dakota are investigating after the state's attorney general struck and killed a pedestrian with his car this past weekend. State officials say Jason Ravnsborg initially told authorities he hit a deer on the highway. The victim's body was discovered the next day.

The attorney general's office calls it a tragic accident and says he is cooperating fully with investigators. Court records show Ravnsborg had six speeding violations between 2014 and 2018.

ROMANS: A Connecticut teenager being honored for saving a family by pulling them from a burning vehicle. Waterbury police say 18-year-old Justin Gavin was walking down the street when he saw the vehicle drive past in flames.

He tells CNN by the time he caught up, the car had stopped and his instincts took over. He raced to help the driver and her three kids -- ages nine, four, and one -- out of the car. Look at those pictures.

You know, police honored him as a hero, awarding him a commemorative coin and warm praise for his courageous, selfless act. That's a nice story on a Tuesday morning.

All right, taking a look at markets around the world this Tuesday. Asian shares closed mixed and Europe has opened higher.

On Wall Street, U.S. Stock Index futures also leaning higher this morning. Stocks finished higher Monday after a rough week. The Dow closed up 327 points. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also finished up.

Interesting here -- the height of that grocery store boom is over. Food and drink sales at U.S. retail stores grew 11 1/2 percent in August. That compares -- look at March, Laura -- 31 percent when everybody was stocking up at the grocery store and not -- and not going out to eat. People just aren't rushing to grocery stores like they were before to stock up on supplies.

Analysts say that shoppers have settled into a routine. People have shifted their spending as some restaurants have reopened. Stimulus checks and the extra $600 a week in enhanced benefits, those have also stopped. That means that money is not flowing into those sales anymore.

FedEx is planning to hire at least 70,000 workers as it gears up for the holiday season. FedEx said a majority of new hires will be seasonal employees.

Since the pandemic, online shopping orders have spiked. Millions of people stay at home and working from home.

FedEx also said it is increasing its shipping rates in January.

All right, some people relax with a cup of tea before bed. What about a can of Pepsi?

Pepsi unveiling its new drink called Driftwell, with ingredients said to promote relaxation and ease stress. Driftwell described as an enhanced water. It's Pepsi's way into the $1 billion sleep aid industry. Pepsi plans to launch mini cans of Driftwell later this year.

JARRETT: I think we could use that when we need to go to bed at 7:00 p.m.

ROMANS: I know. I drink a lot of caffeine to get up. Maybe I need something to go down.

JARRETT: Exactly.

All right.

Will Smith is giving his fans a chance to live like a prince. To mark the 30th anniversary of "THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL-AIR," Smith and the owners of the show's iconic mansion are making one wing available for rent on Airbnb. Pretty sweet there.

The home, which is actually in Brentwood, California, is being offered for five nights in October at $30.00 a night. Sounds like a deal. It looks like the dates have already been booked, though.

Smith shared a photo of himself posing outside the mansion with DJ Jazzy Jeff, announcing the deal.

ROMANS: All right.

But a new study says traces of gas in Venus' atmosphere could indicate some form of life exists there. The gas known as phosphine is also found on earth. Now, the research suggests at least the possibility of activity in the planet's atmosphere well away from the surface, which is hot enough, of course, to melt lead.

The NASA administrator calls this the most significant development yet building the case for life off earth.


ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The center is irregular and I think that that causes some problems with respect to accurately forecasting it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The models have as poor of a handle on this storm system as any we'll ever see.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If we wind up with a vaccine that requires two doses, there won't be enough for everyone on earth until 2024.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know what we can do -- other countries have done it.

TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is forcing these events to continue even knowing so full well how dangerous it is for his own supporters.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome everyone -- all of our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, September 15th, 6:00 here in New York.

And there is a crisis unfolding in every corner of the United States.