Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Dorian Devastates the Bahamas; Dorian Targets the Southeast; Walmart Takes Action on Guns; Families Heartbroken After Boat Tragedy; British PM Johnson Loses Key Vote on Brexit. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 04, 2019 - 04:00   ET




HUBERT MINNIS, PRIME MINISTER OF BAHAMAS (via telephone): We have been attacked by a vicious, devastating storm.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Unspeakable devastation in the Bahamas. Entire towns flattened by Hurricane Dorian.

The storm now moving dangerously close to the Southeast.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Walmart taking action on guns and wants lawmakers to do the same. What the retailer's changing in the wake of the El Paso massacre.


CHERIE MCDONOUGH, MOTHER OF CALIFORNIA BOAT FIRE VICTIM: She was just following her dreams. She loved it here and she loved the boat.


ROMANS: Grieving families looking for answers. Thirty-four people now presumed dead from the boating inferno off the California coast. Just a terrible holiday weekend tragedy there.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs. Wednesday, September 4th. It is 4:00 a.m. in New York and in the Bahamas, and that's where we begin.

The Bahamas obliterated by Hurricane Dorian, the scope of the devastation finally coming into view. Thousands of homes flattened. Entire communities eviscerated. Official death toll stands at 7 this morning and that number likely to climb significantly higher. ROMANS: On Grand Bahama, an estimated 75 percent of the homes, 75

percent under water. Recovering from this unprecedented storm will cost billions. The World Food Programme estimates more than 60,000 people will need to be fed.

Take a look at what used to be the runway of Freeport International Airport. That's right. That used to be the runway. It is submerged.

Listen to the prime minister of the Bahamas describe the enormity of the storm.


MINNIS (via telephone): We have been attacked by a vicious, devastating storm, an enemy that we would have had very little defense against such an enemy. And it's caused severe damage to two of our major islands that is Abaco and Grand Bahama.


BRIGGS: From overhead, the scene is sobering. The photographer who captured these images describes what used to be a vibrant community on the Abaco Islands.


BRANDON CLEMENT, STORM CHASER, LIVE STORMS MEDIA (via telephone): It's a lot of homes. You can't tell any homes there. It just looked like a bunch of building materials put on a big grinder and just thrown around the ground. It's just completely gone.


ROMANS: Just astonishing.

And throughout the Bahamas, locals navigating waist high water, some with their pets in search of dry land. Howard Armstrong was rescued from the deadly storm surge. His wife did not make it.


HOWARD ARMSTRONG, LOST HIS WIFE AND HOUSE IN STORM: It came over the roof. I would imagine 21 feet at least. We were doing all right until the water kept coming up and all of the appliances were going around the house like a washing machine. That's probably I got hit with something in there, and my poor little wife got hypothermia. She was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated. And then I kept with her and then she just drowned on me.

REPORTER: What was the last thing your wife said to you?

ARMSTRONG: I'm not going to -- I think I'm going to die. And I said, no, you're not, that was it. She took a little mouthful of water and that was it.


ROMANS: Take a look at these before and after satellite images. Before the storm is on the left and after the storm is on the right. So much of the Bahamas covered by water leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to survive.

Our Patrick Oppmann is there. He has more.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, finally, after days of being battered by Hurricane Dorian, we were able to get out and see other parts of the island. Much of this island is still off-limits there. There are flooded roads. There are roads that are blocked by submerged cars.

But we did get to one area where rescue missions are underway by volunteer civilians -- people who are just going out in their own personal boats, their own jet skis, and trying to rescue their neighbors and their friends, and even strangers -- people they've never even met.

It was pretty harrowing because hurricane conditions are still battering much of this island. Several boats and jet skis did flip during these rescue attempts. Other times, they said, the water just was too shallow as the tide rose and fell with the hurricane to get the houses.

But we saw dozens of people rescued. They were in awful shape. They spent days now without food or water.


Some of them hanging onto their roofs, some of them swimming in the water, some of them having seen their relatives carried off by the storm surge.

We are hopeful, though, by the sight of a Coast Guard helicopter that flew over this island late last night. Hopefully, this morning, more rescues will begin. We've been told by some of these volunteer rescuers that they're working around the clock until everybody is safe and sound -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Patrick Oppmann, thank you so much for that.

Tourism in the Bahamas can be devastated for some time after Hurricane Dorian. Many homes and businesses are destroyed, or heavily damaged. Parts of Grand Bahama Island underwater. The airports on Grand Bahama and Marsh Harbour Abaco are closed.

The Bahamas is the most tourist dependent economy in the Caribbean by far. Tourism accounts for 60 percent of its $9 billion economy. A recent UBS report estimates Dorian will cost between $15 billion and $25 billion in damage, including the U.S. once it's all said and done. The storm hit areas with fewer hotel rooms, compared to other areas of the country.

Rick Newton, a founding partner at Resort Capital Partners, told CNN the Abaco and Grand Bahama Island they have roughly 2,250 hotel rooms, which amounts to less than 15 percent of the hotel inventory in the country. The next challenge will be where the money comes from to help rebuild parts of the Bahamas.

The Providence, the engine and tourists down there of the Bahamas have not been touched. Very important to know, has not been touched and still is functional.

For more on how you can help nonprofits working to help Hurricane Dorian victims, please go to

BRIGGS: Hurricane Dorian is finally moving north now lashing Florida's east coast. The storm could make landfall in the Carolinas later in the week.

Let's get the latest on Dorian's track from CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the CNN Center.

Good morning, my friend. What's coming?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Dave. You know, this is such an impressive storm system even at this hour. Just sitting six miles per hour shy of being a major hurricane. So, it's really teetering on that edge here, of a strong category 2, 105 miles per hour. But it's about 70 or so miles per hour off the coast of Florida. In fact, the tropical storm force winds span 175 miles away from center. The cloud field now spans 500 miles across.

This was a storm that about a week ago, of course, was smaller or roughly the size of Puerto Rico and now you're talking about a storm that would encompass much of the state of Alaska. So, really speaks to the significance and the breadth of this storm system spanning so far apart here and damaging a lot of these coastal communities as it traverses to the north here in the next 24 or so hours.

But again, the eye wall sits about 70 or so miles off shore. And we think it will keep that sort of trajectory until about tomorrow evening. And at that point, we'll see the storm begin to pull away from the coastal communities and potentially approach the Carolinas going into the early morning hours of Thursday.

But here we go, towards Charleston, we think sometimes in the early morning hours there. Thursday, notice hurricane force winds really begin to interact with the land there as they approach Myrtle Beach. We think landfall somewhere on potentially Wilmington or, say, Cape Hatteras region before the storm finally begins to push away.

And keep in mind, we've been tracking the system for upwards of 11 days now, and really going to have significant impacts across a large reaching area. For storm search potential, up to four to seven feet across portions of Carolinas. Charleston Harbor expecting a ten foot river crest across that region, which would only be second to Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Hugo, of course, was a category 4. This storm looks to be a category 2 on approach.

At this point, all models here do want to push it just away from the coast of South Carolina. North Carolina doesn't look as lucky as we approach this and the model confidence increases a little bit when it comes to landfall potential, again, Thursday, somewhere around the Eastern Coast there of North Carolina -- guys.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. Gosh, a lot to watch. Very busy week in our weather center. No question.

All right. More than 7,100 customers without power.

For more on the current conditions in Florida, let's go to Jensen Beach and bring in CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Derek, what are you seeing there?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Christine.

You know, we've had our fair share of driving rain today. Tropical force winds overnight and a surging ocean as well. Now, this is a far cry from what our neighbors in the Northern Bahamas have experienced just 100 miles to our east. But nonetheless, we spoke to one of the officers from the Martin County sheriff's office. They're not reporting any significant damage across the county that I'm located in.

And speaking to some of the onlookers that came to check out the surging seas and the crashing waves earlier today, they said that they are breathing a sigh of relief because we are hoping or they were hoping for that right-hand turn and they did it just in the nick of time, just before making landfall here along the east coast of Florida. Good news for them, sparing the worst of the conditions in Martin County where I'm at.


But we still have a very treacherous next 12 to 24 hours as this storm rides along the coast line and targets the Carolinas in the coming days.

Back to you.

ROMANS: Stay safe. Thank you so much in Jensen Beach for us. Thanks, Derek.

VAN DAM: All right. Thanks, Christine.

BRIGGS: President Trump has approved emergency declarations for both North and South Carolina and new evacuation orders have been issued for residents from both states. Crews from Oklahoma Gas and Electric are already on their way to North Carolina to help out. They gathered to say a prayer before leaving.

ROMANS: Charleston international airport in South Carolina will close at 3:00 p.m. today. Officials telling everyone in the evacuation zones they must leave now. Both lanes of I-26 in South Carolina have been one way out of town to assist with evacuations. At noon today, that ends so emergency crews can come in and seek shelter at safe locations.

Now, some mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted in parts of Florida that were spared by Dorian. There are more than 160 shelters now open across the state.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a critical swing state will have to redraw voting maps. In fact, which states gerrymandered lines are ruled unconstitutional.



ROMANS: All right. Walmart making a big move here on guns. It is ending all handgun ammunition sales. The retailer also asking customers to no longer openly carry guns in its 4,700 U.S. stores, as well as its Sam's Club outlets in states that allow open carry. The move just one month after a massacre at an El Paso Walmart killed 22 people.

There was another shooting at a Walmart just a couple of days before that. Walmart is also asking lawmakers to do their part. CEO Doug McMillon sending a letter to Congress that reads in part, there are multiple bills before the House and Senate that address the issue of gun safety and are worth examining.

BRIGGS: The retail giant also urging congressional leaders to pass stronger background checks and reauthorize an assault weapons ban.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is clearly not motivated to take action.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If the president took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I'd be happy to put it on the floor.


BRIGGS: On a conference call with House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her caucus to keep the pressure on McConnell to introduce gun legislation. And on Tuesday, the grocery chain Kroger asked customers not to openly carry guns in its stores even in open carry states. Kroger stopped selling guns last year.

ROMANS: Hard to see how you're going to enforce any of this, but when you have two huge retailers say, hey, listen, leave your guns at home, that is a big signal that companies at least are willing to, you know, put their marker out there.

BRIGGS: Sure, but then the people would argue the ones that are dangerous will still carry guns in your store and there might not be people there to defend them.

ROMANS: Yes, you've already heard that. We know that the statistics show there's not an awful lot of people -- good guys with guns taking out bad guys with guns. More often it's the other way around.

All right. Seventeen minutes past the hour.

The search for victims of deadly dive boat fire off the California coast, that search has been suspended. Thirty-three passengers and one crew member are presumed dead. We have new video of the U.S. Coast Guard responding to the Labor Day disaster. Assets spent 23 hours searching 163 square miles before calling off the operation.

We're also learning more about the victims this morning. Just awful. A family of five from Stockton, California, was aboard the Conception when it caught fire. A family of five.

Also perishing, a marine biologist who owned a Santa Cruz-based diving company. Two students from Pacific collegiate school. A Fremont physics teacher and his daughter.

And a 25-year-old woman from Cincinnati whose mother is just devastated.


CHERIE MCDONOUGH, MOTHER OF CALIFORNIA BOAT FIRE VICTIM: She was just following her dream. She loved it here and she loved the boat -- she loved diving. And she would just do -- could do anything she wanted.


ROMANS: Of the 39 people aboard the Conception, only five people, four crew members and the captain, were found alive.

ROMANS: North Carolina's legislative maps are unconstitutional. A three-judge panel ruling the state's congressional districts violates the North Carolina Constitution through extreme partisan gerrymandering. The court is leaving it up to the Republican state legislature to redraw the maps with specific guidelines. They must be redrawn by September 18th and lawmakers cannot use data to try to draw a partisan advantage. The court will appoint a referee to review the redrawn maps before they are enacted. In the midterms, Republicans received more than half the vote but the GOP still controls more than half the state legislature and the vast majority of congressional seats.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, could Boris Johnson's rein as prime minister last just three months? Snap elections could be on the way as Brexit drama consumes the U.K.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I don't want an election. But if MPs vote tomorrow to stop negotiations and to compel another pointless delay to Brexit potentially for years and that would be the only way to resolve this.


BRIGGS: A snap election now a very real possibility in the U.K. after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffers a devastating loss on its first key Brexit vote.


That compounded a rough day for Johnson. Earlier, 21 members of his Conservative Party joined opposition parties to take control of parliament. A former conservative member even crossing the floor of the House of Commons to sit with liberal Democrats while Johnson was speaking.


JOHNSON: -- to the United States. I wish -- I wish -- I wish --- all of it.

JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER, HOUSE OF COMMONS: Order! Order! Order! Order! Resume your seat.


BRIGGS: CNN's Max Foster live outside of parliament with the latest.

The morning papers basically all say Boris loses control. Be careful what you wish for, huh, Max?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's absolutely true. He's literally lost control of parliament today because parliamentarians have taken over the agenda. They're going to put the bill through today because they have the majority from all of the soundings we've taken which will block a no deal Brexit.

If a deal can't be reached there will be a delay. Basically they will tell Boris Johnson he has to go to Europe, ask for a delay probably until the end of January. They have to agree to that.

We can also confirm that the government has tabled this motion that will follow that, which will call for a snap election. But today, the Labour Party, the opposition Labour Party who needs to support that is saying they're going to block it literally in unchartered territory. We don't know what happened. You know, calling an election is meant to be the nuclear option. Opposition would normally agree to that.

Because that's not going to get through, we don't know what is going to happen next literally. We are in unchartered territory. It's a complete mystery I'm afraid, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Max Foster live just about 9:30 with the Brexit mess, thank you.

ROMANS: As if it couldn't be more mysterious, and there could be more twists and turns, the whole Brexit saga has been honestly maddening.

BRIGGS: Yes, where it ends up.

ROMANS: No one knows.

BRIGGS: No one knows.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

Years of recovery ahead in the Bahamas. Some areas unrecognizable after Hurricane Dorian parked over the island for a full day. The pictures are just devastating. The storm is now dangerously close to the Southeast. A live report, next.