Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Parts of Bahamas Obliterated by Hurricane Dorian; Dorian Targets the Southeast; Walmart Takes Action on Guns; Families Heartbroken After Boat Tragedy; Elizabeth Warren Unveils $3 Trillion Climate Plan; Stocks Snap Winning Streak as Tariffs Kick In. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 04, 2019 - 04:30   ET





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


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

The storm stalking the Florida coast with possible landfall in the Carolinas. New mandatory evacuations now underway.

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.


BRIGGS: Grieving families looking for answers, 34 people now presumed dead from the boating inferno off the California coast. Just a devastating story.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 32 minutes past the hour here in New York. We begin with the Bahamas obliterated by Hurricane Dorian. The scope

of the devastation finally coming into view. Thousands of homes flattened. Entire communities eviscerated.

The official death toll stands at seven this morning. That number expected to climb.

BRIGGS: On Grand Bahama, an estimated 75 percent of homes are underwater recovering from this unprecedented storm will cost billions. The World Food Programme estimates more than 60,000 people will need to be fed.

And take a look at what used to be the runway at Freeport International Airport. Submerged. Listen to the prime minister of the Bahamas describe the enormity of the destruction.


MINNIS: 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.


ROMANS: 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: There's a lot of homes -- you can't tell there are any homes there. It just looks a bunch of building materials were put in a big grinder and just thrown on the ground. It's just completely gone.


BRIGGS: Throughout the Bahamas, locals are navigating waist high water, some with their pets in search of dry land.


HOWARD ARMSTRONG, LOST HIS WIFE AND STORM IN HURRICANE DORIAN: It came over the roof, I would imagine 21 feet at least. We were doing alright until the water kept coming up and all 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, and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated. 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. [04:35:03]

And I said, "No, you're not" and that was it. She took a little mouthful of water and that was it.


BRIGGS: Take a look at the before and after satellite images, before the storm on the left, after on the right. So much of the Bahamas is now covered by water. An estimated 60 percent, leaving tens of thousands of people struggling to survive.

Patrick Oppmann there with 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.


BRIGGS: OK. Patrick, thank you. For more on how you can support non-profits working to help Hurricane Dorian victims, please go to

Hurricane Dorian is finally moving north, lashing Florida's East Coast. Dorian could make landfall in the Carolinas later this week.

Let's get to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the weather center.

It seems to be a big of a sigh of relief for most of Florida. But not so much in the Carolinas. Good morning.


It's an incredible storm here when you consider it was a category 5 just on Monday. And, of course, the storm system now twice the size as it was this time last week as far as the cloud field is concerned and, of course, the tropical storm force winds expand well away from the center. They're already lashing the coastal region of Florida, about 105 miles an hour.

We're talking about a strong category 2 system. One hundred eleven is what dictates a major category three. So, again, negligible difference, and notice this, Dorian, of course, going into the book as the fifth category 5 in the past three years, since 2016 from Michael, to Irma, to Matthew, and Maria, all of these storms rapidly intensified and reached category 5 status.

But that storm when you talk about Dorian in particular now expanding some 500 miles across really makes the impact wide reaching, widespread across this region. So, we are watching this just about 70 or 80 miles off the East Coast of Florida at this hour. Tropical storm force winds extend 175 miles from the center. So, certainly, going to feel that right along with the Eastern Coast line over the southeast the next 24 or so hours.

But notice as we go in from later on tonight into early tomorrow morning, the storm begins a gradual shift to the north and east. This is when the highest occurs here for more powerful gusts as far as hurricane force winds are concerned and potential there for landfall. Now, area indicated in red, that's where the hurricane winds are very close to places such as Jacksonville, Saint Simon, in particular Savannah, and potentially, even Charleston feeling some of those hurricane winds.

And then as we transition from the early morning hours of Thursday into the afternoon hours, that again is the highest probability region here, from Myrtle Beach towards Wilmington and potentially on to Hatteras for landfall there before the storm system, hopefully a day number 12 finally exits stage right. But, of course, storm surge going to be significant here. Four to seven feet along the Carolinas.

In fact, if you're in Charleston, Charleston Harbor expecting a 10 foot crest across the rivers which is the second highest since Hurricane Hugo made a 12-foot crest across that region in 1989. And Hugo was a category 4, of course.


JAVAHERI: It's really important, Christine, to note the categories do not make a difference. The energy is significant and that energy is going to be pushed on towards the coast of the Carolinas.

ROMANS: And it's called Low Country for a reason. It's all right there at sea level.

JAVAHERI: Absolutely. ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that, Pedram. We'll talk to you in a few minutes.

More than 7,100 customers without power this morning. The majority in Brevard and Indian River Counties.

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

Good morning. What are you seeing there? What's the condition like?

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

You know, we've had driving rain, tropical storm force winds all night long.


A far cry from what's happening, of course, 100 miles to our east, still in the northern Bahamas. But we also have been dealing with surging seas, about two to four foot of storm surge. Within the coastal communities of eastern Florida, I'm located in Martin County as we speak.

But we did talk to an official from the Martin County sheriff's office. They were not reporting any significant damage throughout the county, but you can imagine the logistical nightmare that these officials and the residents here have had to endure since four or five days ago. There was a category 5 staring down the east coast of Florida. They issued mandatory evacuations for Martin County and they rescinded them and they brought them back once the computer models brought the storm closer and closer to the coast line.

Now that we've finally seen the right turn and the movement in the forward motion of Hurricane Dorian, people can relieve -- have a sigh of relief here because they are out of the worst of it but now we focus our attention on the coast line of Carolinas and Georgia -- Christine.

ROMANS: It is stalking that Florida coast, but the Carolinas really look like they will -- they could see the potential landfall. Thank you so much for that, Derek.

VAN DAM: All right.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us now on the phone, the mayor of Fernandina Beach, John Miller.

Mr. Mayor, thanks for being with us.

You are north of Jacksonville, about 30 or 40 minutes. So, it looks like hurricane force winds are headed your way. What's your message to your more than 12,000 residents this morning?

MAYOR JOHNNY MILLER, FERNANDINA BEACH, FLORIDA (via telephone): Yes, good morning. That's right. We're going to see something coming. We're starting to get a little bit of a breeze here now. So, we're expecting it to come in this afternoon and going throughout the evening.

We've been under mandatory evacuation for days. We look like we're going to take a big hit, and every track we've seen since have been more encouraging. So, we're feeling confident but we have our guard up.

ROMANS: Do you feel like people have heeded the evacuation orders?

MILLER: Yes, they sure have. We're seeing unprecedented, you know, response to this evacuation. Unfortunately, this isn't new to us. We did several of these over the past few years, mandatory evacuations.

Matthew did a similar path. So, we have sort of an idea what we're looking at. Matthew obviously was closer. It was also weaker and we saw major storm surge.

It wiped out a marina. It caused $100,000 worth of damage, but nothing but it could have been. But we were looking at a direct hit for a while. If you had told me before that storm I would be happy about a cat 2 or 3 100 miles off the coast, I would have said you were crazy, but this is really good for us.

BRIGGS: Sure. What type of storm surge are you expecting and how do you prepare for it?

MILLER: We're looking at three to five right now. We've put berms up. We have bulldozers outputting up sand berms.

We've also done some mitigation since the last hurricane. We're looking at our shoreline, we're (INAUDIBLE) on the riverside -- being a barrier island, we're on the river on one side and we have the ocean on the other. So, we have two bridges connected to the main land.

Our main concern is getting people to evacuate if it looks like there's going to be a problem before the bridge is closed. They have to close before it gets up to 3,500 miles of sustain winds.

Once you go, you're gone, because it closes both ways. And people want to get back on as fast as possible. So, it's been better this time than the past. People are going.

ROMANS: Yes, that calculus, that personal calculus people have to make living on those barrier islands. If you wait too long, you can't get out. If you come back too soon, that's where there can be a lot of dangers lurking in downed power lines, water, unforeseen hazards.

So, this is -- you're in the early innings, aren't you, sir?

MILLER: Yes, we sure are. We'll be the last city in Florida that's still be affected. We're right on the Georgia/Florida line. The St. John's River and state line separates us.

And if you look at the map, we're about as far east as you can get. We're in a cone here. You're correct. I'm glad you brought that up about coming back.

Even though the bridges are deemed safe and the Department of Transportation has inspected the bridges after the storm, people need to know not to come back until we get the all clear, because we have to inspect the island for downed power lines, limbs, and things like that, and that can take sometime. In previous storms, they have come back too earlier and it caught in traffic, and it's caused a lot of heartbreak, and, you know, that was a difficult situation.

ROMANS: All about preparation and being patient, and we know that's what your job is.

Mr. Mayor, Johnny Miller, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

MILLER: Thank you. Thank you for the great coverage. We really appreciate it. This has been fantastic for us.

ROMANS: Good. Thanks so much.

BRIGGS: All right. Stay safe.

The mayor put his personal cell phone on the Facebook page. So, if you live there, you can call him. He is responding to his constituents. That's public service.

All right. Ahead, did officials at USC consider how much parents could donate when their children applied to the school? Newly discovered internal emails, next.



BRIGGS: A big move in the nation's largest retailer. Walmart ending all handgun ammunition sales. The retailer also doesn't want customers to bring guns to its stores, even in states that allow open carry. The move comes one month after a massacre in an El Paso Walmart killed 22 people. 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.

ROMANS: McMillon specifically cites stronger background checks and reauthorizing an assault weapons ban.


But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell clearly not motivated.


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.

And on Tuesday, the grocery chain Kroger asked customers not to openly carry guns in its stores even in states where it's allowed. Kroger stopped selling guns last year.

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. The Coast Guard spent 23 hours searching 163 square miles for victims.

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

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

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


BRIGGS: Of the 39 people aboard, only four crew members and a captain were found alive.

ROMANS: All right. The Texas gunman who killed seven people and injured 22 others purchased the weapon in a private sale. That means the transaction did not require a background check. ATF officials confirmed the official applied for a gun but failed a background check. Still, no word on who was behind the private sale.

Among the wounded in that rampage, Odessa Police Corporal James Santana cheered as he was discharged from the hospital and trooper Chuck Pryor who was shot during the traffic stop that touched off the massacre. Tuesday marked the first day of school in Odessa since the shooting. A dozen of Trooper Prior's colleagues escorted the trooper's son to school.

BRIGGS: The climate crisis has moved front and center for the 2020 Democrats with Hurricane Dorian as a backdrop. Ten candidates will face questions tonight about how they plan to combat the crisis in back-to-back CNN town halls.

More now from Jessica Dean. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, tonight, we will see ten of the Democratic presidential hopefuls to take the stage for our unprecedented seven hours of town halls focusing on the climate crisis.

This as Senator Elizabeth Warren rolled out the details of her plan last night, announcing she would adopt Governor Jay Inslee's proposal promising some $3 trillion in federal investments to tackle climate change. Now, Warren's plan commits to Inslee's ten year plan and also sets a goal of reaching zero emissions in a number of vehicles, trucks, and buses by 2030.

Climate change is a key issue in the Democratic primary as the party wrestles with how to best combat climate change and how to pay for those initiatives and programs. We'll see a number of candidates, including Senator Cory Booker, Secretary Julian Castro and Senator Amy Klobuchar all rolling out no policy proposals in the last few days in anticipation of the town halls.

And it all gets started tonight at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Jessica Dean, important information there.

And breaking overnight, admissions officials at the University of Southern California considered how much wealthy parents could donate when deciding which students to accept. It's the latest fallout from the college emissions scandal. Court filings including emails between USC admissions personnel and parents of prospective students, they reveal how the university flags children of possible donors and other influential families for special considers.

Spokesperson for the USC claims the admissions office a loans decides which students will be admitted to the university.

All right. Big business committing big bucks to relief efforts in the Bahamas. CNN Business has the details next.



ROMANS: Just about the top of the hour. Let's take a look at global markets.

Big gains for the Hang Seng on media reports of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam will formally withdraw the extradition bill. A bill that has sparked weeks of protests. CNN has not confirmed those reports, but looking at a rebound around the world today in global stocks.

And on Wall Street, looking at futures this morning, also up just shy of 1 percent for Dow futures. We'll watch this to see if it builds because Tuesday was rough. Investors sought safety in gold and government debt. The 10-year note yields fell to the lowest in several years, the Dow closed down 285 points, more than 1 percent. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq as well.

What's the problem here? Well, a new round of Chinese tariffs begin over the weekend. And this -- this is really critical here. A key manufacturing report in the U.S. renewed concerns that the president's trade war is hurting the very part of the economy it was designed to help.

Watch this space. Talk of a recession in manufacturing.

All right. Stepping up to help in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. Royal Caribbean and the Walt Disney Company will donate $1 million to disaster relief efforts.