Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Florida Battens Down As Hurricane Ian Approaches; Russians Flee Amid Protests Over Putin's Mobilization Order; Ukrainian Forces Continue to Push Back Russian Troops. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Monday is here. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, it is Monday, September 26th, I'm Christine Romans. We begin this morning with Florida bracing for Ian, officially declared a hurricane. In just the last few moments, residents filling sandbags readying their homes and businesses for high winds, heavy rains, storm surges. The weather service and Florida officials are urging preparedness.


KEN GRAHAM, ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR FOR WEATHER SERVICE, NOAA: You've got two full days, you'll start seeing the winds get into portions of Florida starting Wednesday and Wednesday night. So, you've got two days to get ready. Have supplies for five, seven days. Having everything you need, medicine, food, water. You've got to take it serious.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We have activated the Florida National Guard. They are activating 2,500 guards, men at the moment. And if, there is a need for more, then we could do more.


ROMANS: Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri standing by in the weather center. We saw that 5:00 a.m. update, now official update, now officially a hurricane. What is the latest on Ian's track across the Caribbean toward Florida here?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, METEOROLOGIST: You know, the system has everything it takes, Christine, to really amplify here over the next couple of days, and strengthen possibly to a category 4. That's the concern. All the environmental conditions absolutely conducive for rapid development of the storm system.

And we take a look at this, because a category 1 right now about 100 miles south of the Cayman Islands, about 300 miles south of the western tip of Cuba. The governments of these countries have already taken this very seriously. Hurricane warnings have already been prompted in advance of this feature.

And you'll notice, the northwest Caribbean home to the greatest oceanic heat content across the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean. Water temperatures here, bathtub-like-warmth into the middle and upper 80s. So, certainly, again the intensity of the storm system is really going to reflect the ocean temperatures across this region.

And you'll notice the storm surge threat across western Cuba, we often talk about this region, storm surge being the most dangerous aspect of the storm, 14 feet high potential there over the next 24 hours, once it moves over this region. Once we get into say Tuesday and eventually into Wednesday, areas of southwestern Florida could have a storm surge threat as high as 7 feet.

So, incredible threat in place there along that region. Notice initial landfall, we think could be a major hurricane as early as Tuesday morning across the western area of Cuba and then work its way over the Gulf of Mexico, the eastern side of the Gulf, where again, major oceanic heat here with water temperatures into the middle 80s.

System intensifies to category 4, and then notice the spread here. The model guidance quite a bit of variability, and frankly, when you look at four, five days out on average, well over 100 mile air here for a spread of a system of this magnitude. And you notice, the western periphery of it wants to take it as far west as portions of the panhandle eastern periphery could bring it in, even re-emerge it into the Atlantic.

And that's what you've got to keep in mind, never fall in love with the center of a track, and will kind of fine-tune this over the next several days. But again, showing you that variability going in from just a Saturday forecast guidance to a Sunday forecast guidance, significant spread. What we do know is it will strengthen.

What we do believe is that it will be a major hurricane, even a category 4 hurricane so the impacts are going to be significant regardless, and its interaction with the state of Florida for multiple days also going to be significant, because taking that parallel track here, this is going to bring significant rainfall, also massive storm surge on the West Coast of Florida, and of course, inclement weather across this region for not only just say, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but possibly for the entirety of the week as it traverses up the coast.

Now, notice this guidance. This is the European model that brings the system as a major hurricane near Tampa Bay by -- as early as the middle of this week. The last time Tampa Bay was impacted directly by a major hurricane was back 101 years ago in 1921. Of all the hurricanes we talk about almost every single year across Florida, that region has not seen a system this strong in of course 101 years ago.


JAVAHERI: That part of Florida was far less populated as it is right now. Another model, the American model takes it farther inland, brings it in closer towards the panhandle later on in the week. So again, the variability will shift. We'll monitor it here on CNN and give you the latest.

ROMANS: But get ready. That is what the --


ROMANS; Officials are saying for Floridians. All right, thank you so much. As Pedram mentioned, before it gets to Florida, Hurricane Ian is bearing down on Cuba. People there are doing everything they can to prepare. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has the latest from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CUBA CORRESPONDENT: Cuban officials have warned residents in the western portion of this island to remain on alert as Ian approaches Cuba. Certainly, in the low-lying areas, areas that are close to the water, most likely people will have to be evacuated from those areas.


West of Havana, it is mostly agricultural areas, and what we've heard throughout the day on Sunday is that people are readying their farms, are taking their livestock to areas that will be safer for them, are trying to collect crops. There's a lot of tobacco grown in this area because they know that when the heavy winds and rain come in, that, that is when they could lose their crops. So they've been warned to get ready in advance of this powerful storm's arrival.

So Cubans are simply wondering if the impacts of this storm will be too much for them to bear. Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


ROMANS: All right, Patrick. Hundreds of thousands are still in the dark this morning in Canada's eastern provinces after Hurricane Fiona's torrential rains and powerful winds ripped a path of destruction through coastal communities, washing away homes, washing away buildings, toppling trees and power lines. Power outages are expected for days as crews work on downed lines and possible live wires.

In Puerto Rico, the company that operates the island's power grid says it has restored electricity to more than 825,000 people there, that still leaves nearly half their customers or another 825,000 people without power a week now after Fiona hit. There have been at least seven deaths attributed to Hurricane Fiona. Three people died in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic, one in Canada and one in Guadeloupe.

All right, Moscow's partial mobilization of 300,000 more troops for its war in Ukraine off to a chaotic start with heated protests and Russian citizens trying to flee their country. Lining up for hours near the Georgian border to evade conscription. The U.S. and its allies now responding to President Putin's threat to use nuclear weapons.


crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively. Now, in private channels, we have spelled out in greater detail exactly what that would mean.

LIZ TRUSS, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: And I think he has been outsmarted by the Ukrainians. We've seen the Ukrainians continue to push back against the Russian offensive. And I think he didn't anticipate the strength of reaction from the free world.


ROMANS: CNN's Ben Wedeman joins me live from Kharkiv, Ukraine. And Ben, I can see the temple around you there. You're in a town that was just liberated from the Russians less than 48 hours ago. What are you seeing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, precisely, back there, it was Saturday evening local time. What we're seeing, these are two T-80 tanks from a tank division normally based in Moscow. This, in fact, in one of the tanks is the mangled body of a Russian commander.

And what we've seen is as we've drove into -- driven into this town is a lot of completely destroyed Russian armor. We saw one dead Russian soldier by the side of the road. We understand even though the Ukrainians were able to take control of this town just less than 48 hours ago, the Russians are as many as 15 kilometers, that's about 10 miles away from here.

And most of the fire out-coming from -- outgoing from the Russian positions is really just to cover their retreat. Now, this -- we're well away -- we're actually not far from the Russian border here because this is the far end --


Kharkiv region. Now, what you just heard that was outgoing, not incoming. But what we're seeing is that even though in the first two weeks of September, Ukrainian forces made dramatic progress, now they're making slower but steady progress in driving the Russians out of this part of Ukraine. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much for that, Ben Wedeman there. All right, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration has privately communicated with Moscow about Vladimir Putin's nuclear saber-rattling, appearing on "CBS'" "60 Minutes", Blinken says he was asked if there's anyone in the Kremlin who can tell Putin no, should he decide to launch a battlefield in nuclear weapon.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: They have a chain of command. Whether it works or not, to be seen. But I think what you're pointing to is a larger challenge, and that is the Achilles heel of autocracies anywhere. There is usually not anyone who has the capacity or the will to speak truth to power.

And part of the reason I think Russia has gotten itself into the mess that it's in is because there is no one in the system to effectively tell Putin he's doing the wrong thing.


ROMANS: All right, joining me now live from Moscow, "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich. Thank you so much for joining me this morning.


Look, Putin -- Vladimir Putin is facing political pressure at home, isolation abroad, humiliation and retreat on the battlefield. How boxed in here is Vladimir Putin?

EVAN GERSHKOVICH, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think what Vladimir Putin just showed last week is what he's done throughout his 22-year and counting rule of Russia is that he's always ready to escalate. And so, what he did by announcing -- while having Russians told officials, announcing these Ukrainian territories, that they'll be conducting a referendum to -- for Russia to annex those territories, and then by announcing a partial mobilization is, he's signaling he's not done yet.

And he's sending, you know, a clear signal both to Ukraine and the West that this isn't close to being over despite the Ukrainian lightning advance that we saw earlier this month. Partial mobilization is only the beginning of this. He has a long way that he could go to continue escalating.

So, you know, he might seem boxed in, and we also are seeing, you know, you showed at the beginning of this program the protests at home. But he -- you know, as he's always done, he's ready to make moves really quickly and sort of surprise moves that we may not be expecting.

ROMANS: What do you make of the nuclear option? He raised this in his address last week. There are a lot of western experts who believe he is bluffing. What is it -- what is the feeling on the consequences if he isn't bluffing here?

GERSHKOVICH: Yes, the reason people think he's bluffing is because this isn't the first time that he's made that threat. He made the same exact threat right at the beginning of the war, right at the start of the invasion. You know, he said, you know, if you get involved in this conflict, I will use all the instruments in my arsenal.

You know, meaning nuclear weapons. The West clearly took that as a bluff and has you know, supported Ukraine throughout the conflict, and he made the same exact threat now. The difference -- the thing that's important to note, though, is as we've reported and, you know, about this back channel that the U.S. has with Russia, consistently warning Mr. Putin for not using nuclear weapons. "Financial Times" yesterday reported that European diplomats have the same sort of back channel, and they're warning him as well and they're taking it seriously.

Is that there are worries in the West that he could -- he could resort to such a step. Question is, what could he do? Could he use a -- you know, tactical nuclear weapon to send a signal? You know, shooting into the Black Sea and basically show that he's not bluffing? First, that's a question that experts aren't sure of.

And the other point to make is, as I said earlier, he has a long way to go in terms of escalatory measures.

ROMANS: Right --

GERSHKOVICH: So far, partial mobilization, you know, doesn't get him where he could potentially go before he would resort to something like that.

ROMANS: You know, in the homegrown backlash to the -- to the conscription of the partial mobilization has been remarkable to watch. You know, CNN has geo-located Russia's Dagenstan region, showing heated protests against the mobilization. Russian men are fleeing the country to avoid having to join forces.

One mayor there called for calm, saying this: "I urge you not to commit illegal acts, each of which will be assessed by the law enforcement agencies for legal consequences. Do not succumb to the provocations of persons engaged in anti-state activities." Do you think that -- do you think these pictures of people -- these long lines, these queues of men trying to leave the country, is this going to sway the Kremlin?

GERSHKOVICH: It won't sway the Kremlin in any shape or form. It's just the first point to make. You know, In his 22 years, he's seen protests against him before. He saw mass protests against him in 2011, he saw them in 2018 before -- you know, when he got re-elected for his fourth term, and he's always been able to handle them.

He runs an authoritarian state, he's able to tamp-down protests, but this is for the long-term -- you know, the long-term way this war plays out is something to watch. We've seen these protests not just of Dagenstan, but out in the far east hours away from Moscow where mothers protested yesterday in front of policemen who didn't know how to handle them.

And this morning, you know, we've seen more and more discontent. We saw reports are coming in now of a man who set himself on fire -- he wouldn't want -- you know, he doesn't want to go to war. Somebody ran into a military recruitment center and shot an official there. That person appears to be alive, but you know, there's a lot of discontent.

It's been handled very poorly. And the consequences of that and the way that plays out over the next weeks and months are definitely something to watch. But in terms of the Kremlin, I don't think Vladimir Putin will look at that right now and say, oh, I have to change my mind. You know, his pattern of his actions are -- I'm in control, I can put down any discontent and escalation works.


So, the discontent will be something to watch, but I don't think in the immediate, the Kremlin looks at that and says, we're changing our minds.

ROMANS: Evan Gershkovich, thank you so much. "Wall Street Journal" reporter there in Moscow. Have a nice day. Thank you.

GERSHKOVICH: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: Yes, Vice President Kamala Harris just touched down in Japan. We'll take you there live. Plus, Italy just elected its most far-right government since Truman was in the White House. And later today, NASA crashes a spacecraft into an asteroid on purpose.


ROMANS: This morning, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Japan. She is leading a delegation of U.S. officials ahead of tomorrow's state funeral for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. You'll recall he was assassinated in early July. CNN's Blake Essig is live in Tokyo. What more can you tell us about the vice president's trip, Blake?


BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, about 4,300 people are expected to attend tomorrow's state funeral including roughly 700 foreign dignitaries, among them U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. She arrived in Tokyo just a few hours ago, and only about 30 minutes ago, wrapped up a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

During that meeting, Vice President Harris said that she will continue to work together with Japan to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific and put forward -- that was put forward, excuse me, by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. While globally, Abe was known as a charismatic international statesman, here in Japan, he is both equally revered and criticized for his domestic policies.

And so, when it was announced that a government-funded state funeral would be held to honor his legacy without consulting Japan's parliament, there were a lot of people who weren't happy about it. In fact, one man even set himself on fire outside of Prime Minister Kishida's residence in protest just last week.

While not as extreme, other protests have been held on a regular basis, one is being held tonight, over -- and these protests have been held on a regular basis over roughly the past two months. And according to the latest poll from Yomuri Shinbon(ph), 56 percent of the public now stand in opposition, an opposition that has seemingly grown larger, fueled by Abe's connection to the controversial unification church after learning that hosting this event is going to cost taxpayers an estimated $12 million U.S. as a result of the backlash.

Prime Minister Kishida recently defended his decision to lawmakers, although he admitted that his explanation was insufficient. Kishida says that he made the decision to honor Abe's diplomatic legacy after messages of condolence came pouring in from around the world in the hours and days that followed Abe's assassination.

And while there is a slight majority of people who oppose tomorrow's state funeral, Christine, there are also a lot of people who credit Abe with shaping the Japan that exists today, and feel a state funeral is in fact, appropriate.

ROMANS: All right, Blake Essig, I know you're going to be following everything for us. Thank you so much. This morning, Italy appears on the brink of having its most far-right government since World War II. Ultra-conservative party leader Giorgia Meloni is claiming victory in a general election that would see her become Italy's first female prime minister. Let's go live to CNN's Barbie Nadeau in Rome. Barbie, what do we know about Italy's new leadership this morning?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Giorgia Meloni is largely untested in the 2018 election. She only got 4.5 percent of the vote. And she's just skyrocketed in popularity. What we do know though, in the two regions where her party rules, we've seen clamp- downs on abortion rights, we've seen a lot of anti-LGTBQ rhetoric.

And so, there's a lot of concern that her conservatism on the far right is going to affect groups that are -- that, you know, are largely unsupported in this country anyway. She's also anchored by coalition members, the Donald Trump-loving Matteo Salvini who has unapologetically a Trump protege.

And also Silvio Berlusconi, you may remember his name, three-time prime minister of this country, sort of a political caricature. So, these there are leading the country going forward. But Italian politics take a little bit of time to get into place. It will be until mid-October before she's sworn in. And there will be some back-room hand dealing done before that. But Italy is waking up to a very different world this morning. And that's for sure. Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely, all right, Barbie Nadeau, thank you so much for that. All right, 22 minutes past the hour. Talk about pressure --




ROMANS: Rihanna's return to live-performing will be -- oh, in front of a 100 million people at the Super Bowl. And next, Iran's president with a new warning for protesters there.



ROMANS: In Iran, a fifth member of a volunteer paramilitary group has died after clashing with protesters in the streets on Sunday. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody for not wearing a head scarf. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh live in Istanbul for us. Jomana, the Iranian president has threatened a decisive response. What's been the reaction?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, and this is the indication we are getting from the Iranian regime that they are going to continue dismissing the grievances of the thousands of young Iranian protesters who have taken to the streets in recent days.

On Sunday, we saw organized, mass pro-government rallies in the capital, Tehran and other cities, where according to state media, the people were out there to show their support for the government and their outrage against what they say are these acts of sabotage by the so-called rioters, referring to the protesters.

The government is really trying to paint this picture that what we're seeing going on in the streets in Iran is a foreign plot to try and destabilize the Islamic Republic. They have continued to severely restrict the internet, making it harder for protesters to gather, harder for activists to get video and information about what's going on in Iran to the world.

They have arrested more than a 1,000 people so far, and that is according to government estimates. They have used lethal force against the protesters, according to Amnesty International and other organizations. And we don't really know the exact death toll so far in the country, but estimates range in the dozens, and it's coming from different organizations.

It's just really impossible for us to try and verify these numbers independently at this point.