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Hurricane Death Toll Soars, 2,000-Plus Rescued as Search Intensifies; Biden, Japanese Prime Minister to Talk After North Korea Missile Launch; Putin to Sign Illegal Annexation of Ukrainian Regions into Law. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 04, 2022 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Glad you're with me.

Right now, officials in Florida are working trying to identify and locate those still missing after Hurricane Ian ravaged several parts of the state. And while the search and rescue missions continue, more than 2,000 people have already been pulled to safety.

Despite that, the death toll has risen significantly over the last 24 hours. At least 101 people across 11 Florida counties died as a result of the storm. Hurricane Ian is also to blame for at least four deaths in North Carolina.

Well, this morning, more than 400,000 people across the state remain without electricity. Officials warn residents and businesses may be in the dark for weeks or even months and the storm could have a major impact on the U.S. economy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shrimp industry is devastated. All of those people are without a lot of them lived on the boats. They have no home now. They have no work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have got a disaster going on here. Our infrastructure is shot.


HARLOW: Let's begin this hour in Fort Myers, Florida. Our colleague, CNN Correspondent Randi Kaye, joins us. Randi, good morning to you. You've had a chance to survey damage across Fort Myers Beach. Give us a sense of what you're seeing now.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. We're on Fort Myers Beach and this is an area that we've certainly seen from the air, but to get a chance to look at it up close was certainly like nothing I had ever seen before. There were homes on top of homes, there are staircases to nowhere because the homes were simply blown off foundations.


KAYE (voice over): This is our first look from the ground at Fort Myers Beach. Hurricane Ian's winds combined with storm surge chewed through homes and businesses, sparing nothing in its path.

JENNIFER BROWN, FLORIDA TASK FORCE 2: Massive devastation, something somewhat used to -- my first deployment actually was Hurricane Katrina. So, I've a lot of hurricanes over the years and certainly this is a big, big disaster.

KAYE: Jennifer Brown is a canine search specialist with Florida Task Force 2. Her dogs, Fierce and Fame, are searching for human remains here on Fort Myers Beach. They've worked dozens of missions since Florida's Task Force 2 first arrived at Fort Myers Beach as the storm was still pounding this community.

BROWN: It was a good day, you know? I mean, again, it's like -- you know, you don't want to leave anybody behind. That's what we're here for, but then on the other hand, we didn't find anybody else. It's a good thing.

KAYE: A team of 80 from this task force has been busy crisscrossing a seven-mile stretch on the beach, working 24/7 going house-to-house in search of survivors.


RYAN HUNTINGTON, FLORIDA TASK FORCE 2: We found a lot of residents who are still sheltering in place, need info, need some help just getting outside or just where to get water, ice, food. And even just giving that information to them was a huge help for them.

KAYE: It's no easy task given the scene here. Homes crumbled, smashed and stacked on top of others, businesses blown to pieces.

This building used to be over there across the street. It was moved by the sheer power of the wind and water.

CAPTAIN IGGY CARROLL JR., MIAMI FIRE RESCUE: We had about 60 medical calls, medical emergencies that we responded to with two people who actually went into cardiac arrest, stopped breathing, and search and rescue personnel ended up performing CPR, able to get a pulse back and get them transported to a local hospital.

KAYE: The team rescued this elderly couple who were trapped in their home. The storm had washed away the entire ground floor of their two- storey house.

This is just one area of Fort Myers Beach where you can really see the destruction. Nothing is where it belonged. This laundry machine came from that Laundromat or what's left of that Laundromat over there. And in this whole area here, these were homes. But now, those homes are over there. And just look at that level of destruction. They're up against the other homes but they are shredded, crumpled, there is nothing left with them.

This woman was rescued today. She has cancer and rode out the storm so she could continue her treatments nearby.

CATHERINE BATZ, SURVIVED HURRICANE IAN: It was rushing. It was like 30 miles per hour. It was pulling houses, roofs apart, literally. You could see them float by. We were sitting up in my bedroom watching all of this debris go by.

KAYE: There's no power or water in this area, so anyone still at the beach a completely cut off from services. The search and rescue team has been using high-water vehicles and front loaders to navigate through the debris as they continue to search for anyone trapped in rubble. Task Force 2 has found human remains but did not say how many bodies they've recovered.

Bob and Rose Mary Kopsack are some of the lucky ones. They lost everything inside their home but were rescued today.

BOB KOPSACK, SURVIVED HURRICANE IAN: Our best friend, we have not been able to contact him. He's 92. And he said he's not leaving the island, and I hope he did. He phone is out and so on. I sent the police over to his home.

KAYE: You haven't been able to reach him?


KAYE: So many people, it seems, still unaccounted for, leaving friends and loved ones to wonder if they made it out.


KAYE (on camera): And this was this search and rescue team's third pass through this area, Poppy, and they are still finding survivors, which is certainly good news. But the task force tells me that the first 48 hours are really the most critical. And in that time period they located 150 people who were trapped inside their home. They had rushed to their attics or somewhere else in the home to try and escape the high floodwater and then they got stuck there.

And meanwhile, Poppy, as you know, the mayor here is saying that they just don't know how many people remain missing, how many are still unaccounted for. But the task force and the search teams will continue.

HARLOW: Like the friend of that man you just spoke with at the end of the piece, they hope their friend is still alive, but they can't reach him. Randi Kaye, thank you to you and your entire team.

Well, right now, Florida residents are lining up trying to get clean water and food. The state has already distributed 2.3 million meals. More than 83,000 residents have applied for federal assistance.

Our Correspondent Nadia Romero is at a food and water distribution center in Englewood, Florida. Nadia, good morning to you. I wonder what people are telling you as they come and try to get some help.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Poppy. We are in Charlotte County, one of the impacted areas, like so many parts of Southwest Florida. And people just need the basically necessities and a lot of people lost everything. So, we're getting food and water here at this site that is being run by the National Guard.

But that is one of the most important items that people have been looking for. It is ice, something as simple as ice. Because everything in your freezer, in your fridge, likely spoiled due to not having electricity. So, you have these coolers lined up but you need ice to keep your food cool.

Come take a walk with me. You could see this line of cars. They will come through this area. This site has opened up just this morning at 9:00, so just about an hour ago. And they've already seen 80 cars come through. So, you have the National Guard soldiers out here and they will hope to load up all of these items into people's cars food, water, ice and tarps, tarps, of course, because people's homes were damaged by the storm.

Poppy, when we speak to people, they're looking for really basic necessities. They're wondering when their power will be back on. And we've heard estimates that people will likely have their power on by Saturday in some areas and in other areas. It may take much, much longer especially on those barrier islands.

So, these sites, these centers that are popping up all across the area are really becoming a life saver. Poppy?

HARLOW: And thanks to everyone there volunteering their hours to help as well. Nadia, thank you for the reporting in Englewood, Florida.

Well, one of the groups working very hard over night and all day to restore power is the Lee County Electric Cooperative. As of this morning, more than 130,000 customers though that get service from them still did not have electricity. That is almost 60 percent of the people that they serve.

The cooperative's director of public relations, Karen Ryan, joins me on the phone for more. Karen, thank you very much for being with us. I mean, six -- almost a week out from the brunt of this storm and still 60 percent of people that you serve without power. Why is that?

KAREN RYAN, PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR, LEE COUNTY ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE (voice over): As you can see from the damage, this was a catastrophic event for our community. It was unprecedented. I've been through Charley and Irma and many other hurricanes. I've never seen anything of this magnitude in our area. We also serve two barrier islands that lost infrastructure to even gain access to the islands. So, none of those customers are able to be restored until there is some sort of way to get access. HARLOW: Can you talk about how your -- because you guys serve some people on Sanibel, Pine Island, right, how are you actually getting access? Is it all by helicopter? Have you had to build sort of makeshift gravel roads and bridges? Because we saw right after the storm that route to Sanibel was completely cut off, half of it just washed away.

RYAN (voice over): Well, we were very fortunate the day after the storm. We had access to it by helicopter to assess the damage, so we knew what we were up against. We've also received assistance from the governor and local agencies and they have a plan to rebuild a bridge that will get us there. But we really need to get there before that.

So, we're looking at different options, including barges, but as you can imagine to take utility trucks on a barge is quite a feat and there needs to be infrastructure on the island, a bulkhead to even let the barge land because you're talking about tons and tons of equipment and vehicles to get there. But they have multiple operations working in tandem, new bridges, temporary bridges and a barge operation.

HARLOW: They all sound very complex, to say the least, difficult and like they would take a lot of time. Does that mean your outlook is for places like Sanibel and Pine Island to not have power restored from your teams for weeks, possibly a month?

RYAN: Possibly a month for some areas. The good thing is -- for some people is that when we were able to assess the damage by air the day after the storm, we did see that some areas were not as impacted as others. So, it will be much easier to restore power once we can gain access to the island.

Both islands, that is not case for the entire island. There were some places that were just devastated, and you're right, they will take a month or longer to restore in those areas.

HARLOW: Karen Ryan, good luck to you and our thanks to all of your team we know working around the clock. Thanks very much.

RYAN: Thank you. That means a lot. Thank you.

HARLOW: Of course.

Well, up next, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign a law today illegally annexing four areas of Ukraine that are not even fully under Russian control, by the way. I will speak with Ukrainien President Zelenskyy's former spokesperson about how Ukraine intends to respond.

And later, Georgia Republican Senate Candidate Herschel Walker strongly denying accusation this morning that he paid for a woman's abortion in 2009. Obviously, that is making headlines given his anti- abortion stance on the campaign trail. We'll take a closer look at his past statements on this issue.



HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, President Biden is expected to speak with Japan's prime minister. This is just hours after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan. The launch sent people scrambling. Look at this video out of Tokyo earlier today. The train services were suspended before the missile crashed into the Pacific Ocean. National security officials in the United States had this warning.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Each time they do this, they learn and they get better, they get more capable and that is what -- that is what makes us want to stay vigilant, make sure that we have got the capabilities ourselves in the region to -- as I said, to defend our national interests and those of our allies.


HARLOW: Our Senior International Correspondent Will Ripley joins me now on this news. Wow, you saw the response in Tokyo. What more could you tell us about this launch?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this was right in the middle of the busy morning commute and it is third time this has happened in Japan, albeit the first time in five years. So, there were a lot of people who heard the warnings and kept on going to work but there were others who took the government's advice to take cover, either inside a building or underground because it was very stark warning and very disturbing for people, certainly if you haven't been through it before.

I was living in Japan the last time this happened five years and I remember that palpable sense of unease, because you think that it is going to be a test but you're not entirely sure and people in Japan didn't have that feeling for five years, and now it is happening again. It's bringing them right back to 2017, the fire and fury days with the former U.S. president, Donald Trump.

Now, are we at that level tension yet? Because the Biden administration has been relatively muted in terms of its rhetoric, a lot of analysts say we are not at that level of tension. But what we are seeing is an increasingly aggressive North Korean testing program. This particular missile, the Hwasong-12, they've tested it before but they've never flown it this far.


And the fact that they're now flying it almost 2,800 miles over Japan for the third time because, seemingly unconcerned about any sort of global repercussions, because, frankly, they're already so heavily sanctioned and they still keep developing their weapons program, it seems, analysts say, that Kim Jong-un is now definitely not interested in diplomacy, disregarding the call from the vice president, Kamala Harris, to talk to the United States about complete denuclearization. From the North Korean perspective, they now need to bolster their arsenal. They need to test more. They need to test more provocatively. They need to do a nuclear test, which is expected to happen pretty much at any point it could, Poppy. And all of these signals seem to indicate a real roller coaster in this part of the world in the coming months. Perhaps North Korea will be ready at some point to return to dialogue with the U.S. but not any time soon.

HARLOW: Wow, Will Ripley with some really important context on this escalation that continues. Thank you, Will.

Now to Russia's war on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to sign into law today the documents that would illegally annex four regions of Ukraine. This as Russia claimed 200,000 people have joined the military as part of their conscription, their new mobilization.

And for his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree this morning, formally ruling out the idea of negotiations with Putin, calling it an impossibility.

Joining me now is Journalist Iuliia Mendel, former spokeswoman for President Zelenskyy, and the author of the new book, The Fight of Our Lives. Iuliia, thank you and congratulations on the book.

IULIIA MENDEL, UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST: Well, Poppy, thank you for having and or raising this topic. Ukraine is very important these days.

HARLOW: Obviously. And for you particularly, to see what Russia has done to these territories in the east, one of them being the Kherson region, where you are from. I wonder what your reaction is not to the law that Putin is signing today but also what you are hearing from your loved ones still there.

MENDEL: Well, Poppy, it is really very difficult to see how Russia tries to invade actually my memories, my childhood, the places where I was born and brought up. But, in fact, we see that no one in the world except North Korea recognizes this annexation. And, of course, Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian president do not.

Today, we've heard that five supplements in the Kherson region were liberated by Ukrainian army and we strongly believe that they will move forward. We also have heard that the Kremlin said that they do not know the exact borders of the territories that they want to enact, which means that their strategy is really failing and they just try to push fake democracy, not to stop.

But right now, what I'm explaining in The Fight of Our Lives, what we see, Putin invaded our country, he killed tens of thousands of people, he took our land and now we see that he tries to push perhaps some moments about negotiations, when actually his army is being defeated by the Ukrainian army right now.

HARLOW: Our viewers heard what I just read leading into it, which is what President Zelenskyy is saying now, which is no way, no way would we negotiate with Russia after they've done all of this, and at the same time, Putin conscripting 200,000 soldiers. We saw the video of them doing everything they could, many people to avoid joining the Russian Armed Forces. How long could Putin sustain this? And if there is no negotiation on the table, then where do you see this going?

MENDEL: Poppy, what we actually see right now in the moment online, we see that all of our efforts of Ukraine and our western allies achieved the results already, because we have shown great counteroffensives with regaining lands, in Kharkiv, in Zaporizhzhia, in Kherson, and we can move covert (ph). Our army is much better prepared than was at the very beginning thanks to our international partners. We have a trained army. We have weapons. We just need to push more effort to get rid of their army.

Let me say, if Putin were serious about finishing this conflict, there is nothing that does not allow him to take his army, to withdraw his army out of the territory of Ukraine. Ukraine wants peace but we cannot allow someone to invade parts of our country, kill tens of thousands of people, to see all of this enormous destruction worth billions and billions of dollars and then just to forget and forgive, especially at the moment when we see that we can regain our people and our territories back.


I know from occupied territories, from the people who I know very closely, that they are still waiting, they are waiting and they celebrate the achievements the Ukrainian army. That is why Ukraine asked to stand with us to the very end. We can actually finish this evil by taking the Russian army out of Ukraine. And then we will need to take Russia -- to hold Russia accountable.

HARLOW: I do want to ask you, Iuliia, because you served as press secretary for President Zelenskyy, about what is happening on Twitter actually between Elon Musk and Zelenskyy.

So, for folks who aren't familiar, here is what happened. Elon Musk posted a tweet yesterday with essentially an idea of how to bring peace, and one of his suggestions included redoing elections under U.N. supervision in the regions of the country that were legally annexed by Russia, also part of his suggestion included, quote, making Crimea formally a part of Russia, which, of course, was annexed in 2014.

President Zelenskyy responded with a poll of his own, because Elon Musk was polling people. Here is how Zelenskyy responded. Which, Elon Musk, do you like more, one who supports Ukraine or one who supports Russia?

As Zelenskyy's former press secretary, I wonder what you make of this unsolicited advice from Elon Musk?

MENDEL: That is a very good question. Poppy, because I don't think that these are actually offers from Elon Musk. In March, I was helping to organize the conversation between Volodymry Zelenskyy and Elon Musk, because Elon Musk wanted to use his connections with the Kremlin to talk to Putin and to help to establish some relations between two presidents, Zelenskyy and Putin.

And what I know, he called there several times, and Putin ignored him. That was the moment when Ukrainian and Russian groups, negotiation groups, who are preparing their offers, that later Putin also declined. And many of these offers, they were compromising and they, in many ways, looked at the positions that were there but without giving up Ukrainian territories and Ukrainian sovereignty.

So right now, when Elon Musk goes out with this offer, I guess he just had some relations with the Kremlin maybe because this comes the same exact messages that we hear from pro-Kremlin propagandists and that we hear from many pro-Kremlin supporters.

And, again, I will tell you, this is -- this doesn't make any sense. They came to our country. They invaded. They took over our land. They killed tens of thousands of people. And we cannot even count how much damage, what is the cost of this damage. So, the negotiations must take place but nothing forbids Putin to take his army from Ukraine and stop this mass murdering, annexation, violation of international law and all of those atrocities that we see in Ukraine these days.

HARLOW: Iuliia Mendel, thank you for all of your expertise on this. And, again, I point people to your new book, The Fight of Our Lives. I really appreciate your time from Kyiv this morning.

MENDEL: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thank you.

Still ahead, the potentially explosive allegations that staunchly anti-abortion Senate Candidate Herschel Walker may have paid for a woman's abortion over ten years ago. Hear how he is responding this morning.

Plus, the FBI is warning that threats against election workers are still unusually high just five week ahead of the midterms. I'll speak with an expert who says that is having a real impact on the people who were just trying to do their job.