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CNN This Morning

Idalia Floods Florida, Georgia, Carolinas Before Moving Offshore; Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Freezes at Podium After Similar Episode Just Weeks Ago; At Least 73 Killed After Fire Tears Through Johannesburg Building. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2023 - 07:00   ET


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I'm not a fan of 12 teams making the playoffs.


The college football regular season, it's arguably always been the best because each game every week means so much. Phil, you went to Ohio State. I mean, if the Buckeyes and Michigan are both undefeated going into the game after Thanksgiving, they're both making the playoffs. Who really cares? That game won't matter.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, I do, because I would like Ohio State in the playoffs.

Also, you'd note Ness was talking about the cream of the crop. We're going to roll into the seven and people are going to yell at us, but Ness talking about the cream of the crop, that's Ohio State, not Florida.

Andy Scholes, my man, thank you, my friend.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't need to learn something about the SEC, but we will teach how to play football, just to let you know.

CNN This Morning continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The storm's rain is now covering four states stretching 600 miles from Florida all the way up to North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Tampa Bay area, that is where we saw some of the more severe flooding homes that saw anywhere between four to six inches of water go inside.

MICHAEL BOBBITT, RESIDENT, CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA: Here's the aftermath. These are all little old school Florida villas and they were just picked up and carried into the gulf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This right here is bad. This is bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the storm surge is like a tsunami like feature. You can just see how destructive it is there firsthand at Cedar Key.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't even keep my head up because the winds are so strong out here and it's blowing the sand directly into my face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New questions about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after he appeared to freeze for about 30 seconds while speaking with reporters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear the question, Senator, running for re-election in 2026?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The aides came there quickly, but they did not seem surprised. You get the sense happens that this quite a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Concerns about his health really resonate with the public, so I think they should be a little bit more transparent about where he is right now. I feel for him.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: A federal judge held Giuliani liable for defaming those two Georgia election workers who he falsely accused of election fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've lost my name and I've lost my reputation. I've lost my sense of security.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: It will be a trial for how much money he's going to have to be on the hook for for the emotional distress, for the defamation and also punitive damages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our expectation is that we'll be able to prove tens of millions of dollars.


MATTINGLY: A good Thursday morning, everyone. College football starts tonight. Sidner and I are going to try and not get into fisticuffs by the end of this show based on our allegiances. But more importantly, you're back from Florida.

You were covering the hurricane down there on the ground yesterday, and that's exactly where we want to start, where this morning, Idalia is now a tropical storm cutting a devastating path of destruction across parts of the southeast. It's moving slowly north along the Carolina coast. It's weaker, but still bringing heavy rain, flashfloods and tornado threats to the Carolinas.

Now, you'll remember Dahlia slammed into Florida's Big Bend region as a Category 3 hurricane, the strongest storm to hit that region in at least 125 years. Then it rolled over Georgia and into South Carolina as a Category 1 storm, unleashing torrential rains and flooding, and as.

SIDNER: And as you might imagine, there were homes decimated, communities flooded, roads still unpassable this morning, a lot of residents unable to fathom how to begin after losing everything they owned.

We have team coverage with CNN's Carlos Suarez, who is live in Tampa, Florida, for us, but, first, to Dianne Gallagher in North Carolina, where Idalia is moving off the coast.

But, Dianne, you were talking about the fact that this hour is supposed to be the worst of it, and I see those winds have really picked up.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, Idalia may be moving out into the ocean, but we're still getting tropical storm force wind gusts here in Wilmington, North Carolina. We expect this to continue at least for the next hour or so in Southeastern North Carolina.

The good news is the rain has let up just a little bit. The flashflood warnings have expired. But people here in coastal Carolina areas experience just a lashing from this storm.

Overnight, lots of localized flooding in low-lying trouble areas because of those king tide, the storm surge and all the rain that has fallen. There are still some areas, such as in Columbus County, where we're seeing road closures.

Overall, most of that flooding has receded. Right now, the concern is winds. Public transportation in Wilmington is delayed this morning because of these high winds. I don't know if you can kind of see behind me here.

We've got a lot of bridges in the coastal part of North Carolina that people drive over. They'd like to minimize the number of cars that are over those bridges at least until mid to late morning here in this area.

Now, look, in Southport, North Carolina, they've stopped the ferry services today again because of these high winds. And the concern going forward into the afternoon is going to be the riptides, the currents in the ocean.

Of course, Labor Day weekend coming up. A lot of visitors to this part of the country, they want to make sure people stay out of the water, at least until they tell them it's okay, because it is dangerous for people who are not strong swimmers.


Dianne Gallagher, thank you for braving all of that nutty weather there in North Carolina. I appreciate your time.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is joining us now from Tampa, Florida, where we've been watching, Phil and I, for the last couple of days, just absolute flooding. You can see Derek Van Dam, who was in the middle of it as the storm was coming through and watching this whole area.

That's a road normally --

MATTINGLY: Yesterday morning, 24 hours ago.

SIDNER: Just 24 hours ago. What is the situation this morning after we all witnessed that all of yesterday?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara and Phil, the flooding out here in Tampa has receded and the cleanup effort really across Hillsborough County is well underway. The lone mandatory evacuation order out here was lifted yesterday and the bridges that connect Tampa out to St. Pete and Clearwater have reopened.

Now, to the north of us, it is a very different situation up in Pasco County. Thousands of homes have been damaged by flooding there and at least 150 people had to be rescued from their homes.


SUAREZ (voice over): Hurricane Idalia barreled through Florida Wednesday, making landfall near Keaton Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My house is down in Keaton. I don't know if it's there or not. But this right here, I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to have a house to go home to.

SUAREZ: The eye of the storm ripped through Florida's Big Bend region with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour, resulting in a once in a century weather event.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was bad. It was heavy, heavy, heavy winds, worst I've ever been in.

SUAREZ: The Category 3 storm left homes demolished and streets flooded.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We clearly have significant damage throughout the Big Bend region.

SUAREZ: This family in Perry, Florida, watched as trees fell directly on their home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. No. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay.

SUAREZ: Up and down Florida's West Coast, record breaking storm surge occurred in Citrus County. Crystal River left devastated by floodwaters.

DOUG BABER, CITY MANAGER, CRYSTAL RIVER, FLORIDA: People are actually really going strong and, and an entire city of Crystal River is in a flood zone, so we have no choice but to move to higher ground.

SUAREZ: Further south along the coast in Hudson Beach, crews rescued residents by boat as the floodwaters came rushing into their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe this. I've never seen unlike it.

SUAREZ: This family rescued but heartbroken to leave everything behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it just came in before we can get out, man, like so quick. We're trying to get into the truck and it's up to the --we barely able to get the doors open.

SUAREZ: In Pasco County, around 150 residents were rescued from flooded neighborhoods. This home caught fire in the midst of the floodwaters.

Michael Bobbitt from Cedar Key, Florida, says he stayed behind to weather the storm.

BOBBITT: These are all little old school Florida villas and they were just picked up and carried into the gulf. So, that was heartbreaking to see.

SUAREZ: One resident on Anna Maria Island posted this video of her swimming through floodwaters at four in the morning.

ALEXIS DELEON, RESIDENT, ANNA MARIA ISLAND, FLORIDA: Golf carts, cars were flooded, the trailer homes, I mean, it was up to our knees, our waist, we're riding bikes through it. So, it got pretty high.

SUAREZ: Idalia then traveled north through Georgia into South Carolina, where the storm surge reached nine feet in Charleston, according to the National Weather Service, leaving roadways throughout the state treacherous. This car in Goose Creek, South Carolina, flipped over in the middle of the road.


SUAREZ (on camera): And we spent the day yesterday over in Pinellas County just to the west of Tampa. We were in the city of Gulfport where the flooding there really has also receded. And the folks who left their homes there ahead of that storm were allowed to return yesterday.

Phil and Sara, as early as this morning, were told that at least 140,000 homes and businesses across the state of Florida are without power.

SIDNER: All right. Carlos Suarez, thank you so much. And just a quick note, I saw a whole bunch of power trucks as I was leaving late yesterday afternoon. They were flying just to try to get in place because it takes some time --

MATTINGLY: Yes. I think tens of thousands were ready to deploy, certainly deploying now.

We want to turn to another very important story that happened yesterday, and we're continuing to follow throughout the course of today, another health scare for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The 81-year-old Republican appeared to freeze for about 30 seconds during the Q and A with reporters in his home state of Kentucky yesterday. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear the question, Senator, running for re-election in 2026?

All right, I'm sorry. You all are going to need a minute.


MATTINGLY: Now, this is just the latest in a string of health related incidents for McConnell this year. That includes several falls as well as a similar freezing episode at the U.S. Capitol late last month.


And it's all raising additional questions about the fitness of the 81- year-old to lead Senate Republicans.

Joining us now, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Scott Jennings, CNN senior political commentator and a longtime friend and adviser to Leader McConnell.

And, Scott, that's kind of where I want to start with you, because the contrast of yesterday really kind of feeds into what I've been hearing over the course of the last several months, where you talk to people around McConnell. You talked to Senate Republicans. I spoke to a Republican senator last night who would say, in our interactions with him, we don't see stuff like this, which, to some degree, almost makes it more jarring and more unsettling when you do. Yesterday, was a great example of that.

A couple of hours later, he was a fundraiser for a top tier Senate candidate in Indiana. You were with him as well yesterday, I believe. How's he doing?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he was doing great last night. I should also point out on the video what is not being shown very often is the fact that 30 seconds later, he came back and he answered several more questions from reporters, and then he took off.

And as you pointed out, he came back home to Louisville. I was with him with Jim Banks, who's running for Senate in Indiana. He met with a group, answered questions, worked the crowd, and was on top of it, sharp and fully in command of all the politics and issues of the day.

And I should also tell you I was with him two days ago and watched him give a long speech to a lunch crowd and then answer several questions from that crowd in the midst of another long day.

So, throughout the month of August, he has kept up a pretty robust schedule. He was down at the Fancy Farm political picnic, which is a huge, thousands of person thing. You probably saw a video on that. So, it's really kind of in business as usual for McConnell. Other than this incident that happened that you showed the video of, it's been a normal, robust schedule for him, from my perspective and my up close observations throughout this month. SIDNER: I'm no doctor, but to hear that he has still a robust schedule, that he went to a fundraiser afterwards, I don't know. It just seems like he's pushing himself in a way that might be problematic.

I want to get to Sanjay Gupta, our resident doctor here. As a neurosurgeon, what did you see? What did you make of what happened?

GUPTA: Well, first of all, let me just say that what Scott is describing is really important to know because whatever this is, it comes and goes, and it seems to come and go quickly. And in the world of when you're looking at the brain, that's an important sort of clue.

What I saw, and this is, I think, an appropriate term here is the term freezing. That does sort of describe this freezing of his body, freezing of his speech, freezing of his face. His hands were very clenched to the side of the lectern. One of his aides came over and was trying to, I think, just raise his arm, and he was pretty locked in there for about 30 seconds.

But then, as Scott mentions, a short time later, he seems to be more lucid again and seems to improve. And when he walks out of the room, he's walking out moving his arms and his legs, which is important because people think, is there some sort of stroke or precursor to stroke, such as TIA, less likely, given how quickly the recovery happens.

You do think of things like a seizure, for example, a sort of mini seizure that can cause these sorts of cessations or coming off medications. People who have Parkinson's, for example, when their medications start to wane off, they may have freezing episodes. But, again, it comes and goes.

And I think what is curious is we've seen it twice, the aides that rush to his side, they didn't seem so sort of affected by it, almost to the point where you wonder, is this something they're more used to. If this were the first time it happened, I would say, look, you got to get to the doctor, figure out is something going on here with the blood flow to your brain or something. They didn't seem to react that way, which I thought was another important clue.

MATTINGLY: Scott, it's an interesting point because, for people, if you see the video, the woman in the video is somebody from the event itself. The gentleman you see who very clearly kind of reads and understands the leader quite well is from his service detail, who I've seen around him for years at this point.

But to what Sanjay is saying, and I think also to your point where you guys see and talk to him on a regular basis, is unsettled at least in kind of their public response what they've seen. Is that the case in kind of McConnell world, which is a very tight knit group?

JENNINGS: Well, first of all, the woman is Robin Taylor. She is Senator McConnell's director. She travels with him to all of his events.

MATTINGLY: Oh, you're right. Oh, sorry, yes.

JENNINGS: I saw her -- yes. And I saw her last night as well, and she was telling me about the breakneck schedule he's got them on in the month of August. And I know they've been running and doing all sorts of things.

I mean, he's had a number of press interactions, constituent interactions, sort of speech interactions, but also just private meetings.


I mean, she has seen him up close all month, and he's been perfectly fine and has been in full command of all the duties that you would expect a U.S. senator to perform. I think she was in the moment wondering truthfully whether he had heard the question. Because I think since he had his concussion, there have been some moments where, obviously, his hearing has not been quite as good as it used to be.

And so I think she has gotten used to making sure he heard the gist of the questions that are being asked. And I think that's what you saw her reacting to in that moment. But last night, she told me as soon as they got back in the car after the event, he was a chatterbox all the way from Northern Kentucky down to Louisville, and I can personally attest at the banks event, he had no trouble hearing, no trouble speaking and no trouble telling everybody how focused he is on winning back the Senate majority. So, there was -- I mean, it was like nothing had happened. It was really something.

MATTINGLY: Scott, Sara has got a few more for Sanjay, but I do want to ask you that I think his office had said that they plan to see a doctor between the event and the fundraiser yesterday. Do we have any sense of whether that happened, how things went with that?

JENNINGS: I don't know, to be candid with you, Phil. I suspect he did, but I'm not able to speak to that right now.

SIDNER: Scott spoke of the other things that have happened medically to McConnell. He experienced some serious major health issues and there was a fall. Can you walk us through what he went through, Sanjay? And this has happened, I guess, over the past eight months, we've seen numerous things that has happened with him. Can you walk us through that?

GUPTA: Well, preface by saying, you know, he did have a history of polio as a child. So, he's always had difficulty walking, is my understanding. And even back in 2019, four years ago, he had a significant fall. You may remember, I think fractured or at least dislocated his shoulder at that point.

But if you look at the timeline here, there have been some, you know, pretty significant events, a fall back in February, that significant fall you're talking about that led to a concussion and broken ribs in a hospitalization, that was in March.

He's had these episodes where he's had trouble hearing reporters. It's (INAUDIBLE) a thought or that's actual hearing loss. Hearing loss is not uncommon, another fall in the in the middle of July. And then these two episodes now about a month apart, where, again, freezing is the right term in terms of what happened, lasting about 30 seconds.

And, again, as Scott pointed out, last time and this time as well, he does seem to recover quickly from whatever this is. But I think he needs to get it checked out and have a diagnosis so that it doesn't get worse.

SIDNER: All right. Scott, I just want to quickly go to you because politics is going to play into this no matter what you think on a human level. If this same thing would have happened to Biden during a press conference, there would have been an uproar, correct? Do you think that age is going to really play into the 2024 election cycle because of what's happening with McConnell, these freezes, what's happened with Dianne Feinstein and, you know, people coming after mostly folks from the Republican side, but there are some Democrats coming after Biden for his age?

JENNINGS: Yes, without question, I think Joe Biden's biggest political problem, honestly, and there was a big survey that came out yesterday on this, is the belief that he is too old to do the job or he is not up to doing the job of president of the United States. It's a different job than U.S. Senator. And I should note McConnell's actually not up for re-election until 2026.

But one of Joe Biden's biggest problems is a persistent belief that he should have not run again over his age. And that is, as you pointed out, a belief that's held by a lot of Democrats.

Now, I do think a lot of those people will ultimately vote for him because they don't -- Donald Trump or some other Republican. But, yes, it's going to be a big issue. And it's also probably going to honestly highlight the role of the vice president in this next election.

And that will be true for both parties, if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump, although he's been, you know, quite vigorous, you know, he's no spring chicken either. And so, yes, in our politics, are we having a conversation about age? Absolutely.

SIDNER: We should be having a conversation. I think about term limits too. And I know that conversation does come around every now and then. Thank you to both of you. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, you know, I love you. Scott Jennings, I got some love for you too. Thank you both.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, guys.

SIDNER: Overnight in South Africa, more than 70 people were killed after a building went up in flames. We are live for you in Johannesburg.

MATTINGLY: And why several people were taken off a Delta flight on stretchers. We'll have more of that coming up next.



SIDNER: New overnight, a devastating fire in South Africa. At least 73 people were killed after that fire ripped through a building in Johannesburg.

The fire is now out and emergency services are conducting recovery operations. Officials say it took place in what they're calling a hijacked building, meaning a place taken over by hundreds of squatters and those who are houseless.

CNN's David McKenzie is live in Johannesburg with more on this. David, what a terrible scene there with more than 70 people killed.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sara and Phil, it's absolutely tragic. If you look behind me, this building is absolutely gutted.

In the early hours of the morning, a fire broke out and ripped through this area. People described to me how they were desperate to try and get out, breaking through windows, some tying comforters and blankets out of the windows to try and get out.

At least two people have told me that there were gates that were locked, which meant that people couldn't get out. You see some of the firefighters there behind me, they have been exhausted. They lauded for their efforts to try and get some survivors.

Our guy spoke to one man who survived. He ended up unconscious. He doesn't know where his family members are because of the chaos that ensued as this unfolded.

Now, you say this is a hijacked building. That is correct, bizarre as it sounds. This building was taken over, we believe, by gangsters, then people without the means to afford rent were squished in together into rooms 5, 10, 15 at a time, Sara.


And that means that when this fire broke out, it was total chaos.

There are bodies strewn on the street, many of them burned beyond recognition. You know, behind my shoulder there, you can see the forensic teams that are suiting up. They've been here for several hours now. They'll have to have the painstaking efforts to try and identify the bodies.

And there are bigger questions here, questions about the crumbling infrastructure of this country, and also the deep inequalities in South Africa. There are people who can live in the rich areas, have safety, they have access to private security and fire services. Those that live in areas like this, in the poorer parts of Johannesburg, many of them migrants from other countries, are dealing with the squalor and this possibility of dying in this awful situation like this behind me. Sara, Phil?

SIDNER: What a terrible tragic scene there. Thank you so much, David McKenzie. I know you'll be following this throughout the day. We'll be checking back in with you later.

MATTINGLY: Well, it was a scare for passengers and crew on a Delta Airlines flight. 11 people were taken to the hospital after the Italy to Atlanta-bound flight hit severe and unexpected turbulence. Some had to be taken off the flight on stretchers.

Witnesses described the plane dropping in the middle of the flight and seeing two flight attendants hit the ceiling. The FAA is launching an investigation.

SIDNER: That is why they always tell you to put on your seat belts if you're sitting down.

New York Attorney General's Office now says that Donald Trump inflated his net worth by as much as $2.2 billion in a year.

And they also just released a transcript of Trump's deposition from April. What we've learned from that transcript, that's coming up next.