Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Cleanup Underway After Major Hurricane Hits Florida Gulf Coast; Russia Hit With Biggest Drone Assault Since War Began; McConnell Seems to Freeze While Speaking with Reporters. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2023 - 05:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are all little old school Florida villas and they were just picked up and carried into the gulf.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, neighborhoods changed forever by Hurricane Idalia.

Plus, concern on Capitol Hill as Mitch McConnell freezes up again while talking to reporters.

And two U.S. adversaries becoming allies. Russia and North Korea now talking about a weapons deal?


JIMENEZ: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Omar Jimenez.

Idalia is still causing havoc along the southeast coast. Now a tropical storm, Idalia is bringing widespread life threatening flash flooding to southeastern North Carolina as it slowly heads offshore.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is live in the CNN Weather Center.

Allison, what's the latest from the National Hurricane Center at this 5:00 a.m. forecast? Obviously, this hurricane now tropical storm has changed a lot over the last 24 hours.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Indeed, it has. And good morning, Omar.

Yes, the latest update from the National Hurricane Center still has the winds at 60 miles per hour, but they are gusting up around 70 miles per hour. The forward movement still pretty quick at about 21 miles per hour. We still have quite a significant amount of people without power right now.

Overall, the bulk of them are across Georgia and Florida, but even through the Carolinas, if you add all of it together, you are looking at roughly 300,000 people. They are still looking at very heavy rain as the system begins to make its way over the Atlantic. And again areas of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina still dealing with some of the showers and thunderstorms.

No active warnings at the moment, but we have had several tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings overnight and still possible for the morning hours today. Flooding is certainly the most widespread concern. You've got several flash flood warnings here across portions of North Carolina and it is no surprise when you look at how much rain has fallen in just really the last 24 hours, this huge swathe of orange and red color, you are talking 4 to 6 inches.

But you will notice here, this red and even the purple color right near the North and South Carolina border, you are talking at least 10 inches of rain has fallen and remember, some of these areas are still dealing with additional rain this morning. Hampton, South Carolina, portions of Florida, Georgia, and even North Carolina, all picking up some pretty significant amounts of rainfall in just the last 24 hours.

The forecast does show continued rainfall through the morning across North Carolina and Virginia before finally starting to see the bulk of that rain begin to exit later on today, and especially once we get through the evening hours. Overall, some of these areas still expecting perhaps an additional two, maybe even as much four or five inches of rain, Omar, on top of what they have already had.

So again, you are talking significant amounts of water which is why the flash flooding will still be a primary concern for today.

JIMENEZ: Flash flooding being dealt with right now and even after, of course, the initial brunt of what was a category 3 hurricane forces blasting that coast. A lot to move forward with.

Allison Chinchar, thank you so much.

And I mentioned a lot to move forward with, look, cleanup is really just beginning on Florida's gulf coast in Idalia's wake. Tens of thousands of customers are still without power in the state's Big Bend area. Many roads remain closed and impassable. Inundated water systems have led to boil water notices in multiple counties.

It does appear there were one or two possible deaths but the good news is reports of injuries from Idalia were few and far between.

CNN's Gloria Pazmino is on the ground in Florida with more.


GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are in Crystal River and as you can see here, flooding is still very much a factor. However, this is actually an improvement from where we were several hours ago. These waters have started to recede in that direction is the Gulf of Mexico and the river and those two have come together bringing in a lot of this water inland.

City hall here in Crystal River had 8 feet of water when the storm surge came rushing in.

(voice-over): Hurricane Idalia pummeled Florida's gulf coast, bringing winds of up to 125 miles per hour. The gusts strong enough to topple trees by this house in Perry, Florida.


BRIAN TRASCHER, VP AND SPOKESMAN, UNITED CAJUN NAVY: We're seeing a lot of wind damage.

PAZMINO: The powerful category 3 hurricane making landfall Wednesday and unleashing heavy rains and triggering record-breaking storm surge. Streets along the coast swallowed by water.

MICHAEL BOBBITT, CEDAR KEY RESIDENT: This is the rest of the town. Water for as far as you can see.

PAZMINO: Hundreds of thousands of homes are without power in Georgia and Florida, and the widespread flooding forcing major highways like U.S. 19 in Citrus County to close.


SHERIFF MIKE PRENDERGAST, CITRUS COUNTY, FLORIDA: This road is shut down in major portions of my county right now due to the storm surge that we're seeing.

PAZMINO: Several thousand homes along the coast now under water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have water at least 18 inches or higher that have gone into these homes.

PAZMINO: Idalia turned northeast to Georgia as a category 1 hurricane and then a tropical storm, unleashing heavy rains and strong winds. All of Georgia is now under a state of emergency.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: It's a dangerous storm. People need to prepare.


PAZMINO (on camera): So even though the worst of the storm has already passed the state of Florida, things here will still take a while to clean up, to assess the damage and as I said, even though the storm has passed, there is still the need to be careful when navigating these streets. The cleanup is going to take a while.

We are in Crystal River, Gloria Pazmino, back to you.

JIMENEZ: Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine are each claiming the other inflicted huge attacks within their territory. Overnight Russian officials say three drones were shot down in the Bryansk region.


JIMENEZ: Quite an explosion. And early Wednesday morning, Russia experienced the biggest drone

assault on its territory since it launched its war on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia hit Kyiv with a massive bombardment, biggest officials say since the spring.

CNN's Nada Bashir is following the story from London.

Nada, I want to start with the drone attacks within Russia. What is the latest there?

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we've certainly seen an uptick over recent weeks of the drone attacks on Russian territory. As you mentioned, just this morning yet another attempted drone attack according to local authorities targeting Moscow, the capital in Russia.

Of course, as you mentioned there, another three drones reportedly shot down in the Russian region of Bryansk. Now, Russian authorities say their air defenses have been successful in thwarting these attacks, and this comes just a day after the largest drone assault we've seen on Russian territory since the beginning of the war. Now, of course, it is important to note that Ukrainian authorities typically do not acknowledge or admit responsibility for such attacks.

In fact, we've heard from an adviser to the presidential office saying that Ukraine adheres to its strict orders not to use such weapons supplied by its partners against Russian territory. But we have seen a sharp increase in these drone attacks. This is becoming a key element in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Of course, we saw multiple regions targeted on Wednesday by these drone attacks, causing some infrastructural damage. And four military aircrafts sustained damage as a result of these drone attacks. And several airports in Russia forced to temporarily close.

So this is having an impact and we've heard in the past from Ukrainian authorities, again, while not directly claiming responsibility for such drone attacks, they have said that they will continue to see an increase in the scale and range of such attacks, so long as Russian troops remain on Ukrainian land and in Ukrainian waters.

And, of course, we've heard from an adviser to the president who has said that the war is increasingly moving toward Russian territory. This is becoming a key factor within the war and, of course, as drone become use ever more by the Ukrainian authorities, we could potentially see further attacks against Russian territory.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, Nada Bashir, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, Mitch McConnell freezing in front of reporters again. See how it unfolded this time.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani could see some significant penalties after losing a defamation suit in Georgia.

And millions of low salary workers in the U.S. could see a major bump in overtime pay. That's next.



JIMENEZ: There are new concerns about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health after he appeared to freeze up for about 30 seconds at a press conference on Wednesday. This happened just a month after a similar incident.


REPORTER: Senator, you're up for election in three short years.

What are your thoughts on it at this point?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm sorry. I had a hard time hearing you.

REPORTER: That's okay. What are your thoughts on running for re- election in 2026?

MCCONNELL: What are my thoughts about what?

REPORTER: Running for re-election in 2026.

MCCONNELL: Oh, that's --

AIDE: Did you hear the question, Senator? Running for re-election in 2026?


AIDE: All right, I'm sorry, we'll need a minute.


AIDE: Want to head outside, sir? Want to come with us?

MCCONNELL: I'm okay.


JIMENEZ: It's a scary sight. It's a second time a similar incident like that has happened in as many months.

A spokesman from McConnell told CNN he, quote, felt momentarily lightheaded and paused during his press conference, adding that while he feels fine, McConnell will consult a physician prior to his next event.

Let's bring in Mariana Alfaro, a reporter on the breaking political news team at the "Washington Post."

Great to see you. I want to start in part with what happened there. McConnell ended up

going to a fundraiser later on Wednesday. But he is 81. He is not an outlier, though, when it comes to being an older senator.

How do you see age playing a more pronounced role in this next set of elections coming up?

MARIANA ALFARO, POLITICS BREAKING NEWS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, it's definitely something that we'll have to be discussing more. It is not only McConnell with what we saw yesterday.


There is also California Senator Dianne Feinstein who has been making headlines because, you know, some concerns over her age.

But we're getting ready for an election in which the two frontrunners, President Biden will be 82 in November 2024 and President Trump -- former President Trump, at 78, he's only a few years younger. It is definitely going to start playing into what we consider our options to be going to the polls.

That being said, you know, experts that my colleagues have spoken to saying that they may be advanced in age, but they have been living pretty healthy lives their entire lives, they have really good access to health care. So that is something that Americans need to consider too when looking at the advanced ages and saying yes, we can acknowledge that they are older, but they look healthy and their doctors are saying that they look healthy, but it is more about what transparency we can expect going forward from them.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and you may not be able to see it, but we have the average ages of Senate side 65 years old and House side 58 years old. But even outside of Capitol Hill, you touched on it briefly, we're looking at the presidential election, and we've got Biden in his 80s, and President Trump close to be 80.

On Sunday, Biden campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond was asked about Biden's age. Here's part of his answer.


CEDRIC RICHMOND, BIDEN CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIRMAN: While they talk about age, we'll talk about the things that Americans are talking about and that's kitchen table issues. While they continue to talk about age, we'll continue to talk about the fact that they are not talking about banning assault weapons, while they are banning books but they're not protecting our children in schools.


JIMENEZ: So it seems like the campaign has a strategy for the age questions in that this is not going to on go away, we're essentially going to have to live with this through the elections.

ALFARO: Yes. And we're seeing a lot of polls that say Americans are very concerned about Biden's age. Not that many Americans are concerned about Trump's age but they are only three years apart.

When it comes down to 2024, the two of them continue being the frontrunners and end up being the nominees, that lot of Democrats even though they are concerned about Biden's age, I think about 80 percent say that they are still vote for him because as the president loves to say, like don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative. And if the alternative is Donald Trump, a lot of the Democrats won't necessarily turn on him just because of his age.

That being said, if Republicans were to nominate a younger candidate which again does not seem to be the case right now, that could really kind of change, you know, the math here when it comes to the more moderate voter or independent voter who might think that younger -- you know, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, could do a better job than Biden is if it comes down to that.

JIMENEZ: And for one of those younger candidates, as you mentioned, Ron DeSantis, his polls have slid as of late, but he still is sort of seen as the person who has been in second place so to speak. He obviously had to deal with Hurricane Idalia, but more so on his governor capacity.

And do you think his response to this hurricane will make a difference to voters at large in this primary?

ALFARO: Again, I think because, you know, it has kind of been very focused on -- I don't think that I've seen that much focus on DeSantis himself. I don't know if it is another instance of his campaign not being able to grab the moment and, you know, message around it, but still you know, a lot of recovery to be done and I hope to see, you know, what they put forward on that.

But this is coming one week after during the debate he did, you know, try to push against young Republicans concern over climate change. So this is a good moment for his campaign to kind of take on that and say, you know, this is real, that is happening and so maybe that is a message that he can use.

But, again, during last week's debate, he tried to push against it, concerns that a lot of young Republicans have. Climate change is very real to them. So we'll see if his messaging changes on this.

JIMENEZ: Well, and, look, whether it's a hurricane or not, trying to break through what has been a hurricane of legal issues on the Trump side has already proven to be an incredibly difficult task. But we'll see how things unfold as we approach the primaries.

Mariana Alfaro of "The Washington Post", thank you.

ALFARO: Thank you.

JIMENEZ: Quick hits across America now.

Thousands of University of North Carolina students attended a candlelight vigil for a beloved science professor after he was shot and killed by a graduate student on campus Monday. Classes start again today.

A judge rules former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is incompetent to stand trial for the alleged sexual abuse of a minor decades ago and dismissed the charge. The incompetence was deemed age-related. The Vatican defrocked the 93-year-old in 2019.

And millions of low salary workers could get overtime pay under a new Biden administration proposal.


Under the rule, federal guidelines would guarantee overtime pay to workers earning less than $55,000 a year.

Coming up, North Korea launches a scorched earth missile test threatening the U.S. again.

In a developing story right now, dozens killed in South Africa as a building goes up in flames. We're getting some images and we'll bring them to you next.


JIMENEZ: In southern Ukraine, about 600 residents live just a few miles from the frontlines of the war.


Only the elderly and poor are left in this dangerous area now under near constant shelling. They rely mainly on emergency services and the generosity of their neighbors to survive.

CNN's Melissa Bell has more.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The water is for the animals left behind. Svetlana draws some each week as she waits to her own supply. Or, rather, her village's.

It is too dangerous for emergency services so she will carry it the rest of the way.

I can't abandon the people, she says. The elderly. And she quotes a Soviet era saying: If not you, then who?

But even in the center of Stepnohirsk, there aren't many people left. The Russians are only five kilometers away.

Presidential residential buildings like this one have been on the frontline of this war for nearly a year and a half. The shelling say the few residents that are left here is day and night. About 500 to 600 civilians left in this town from several thousand before the war. So far, they say the counteroffensive hasn't made things much worse in terms of the shelling, nor, though, they say has it made things any better. It's dangerous every day, says Ihor Samsonenko. Overnight, the roof of

that house was hit, there was shelling yesterday afternoon and a building was on fire just the other day. As we inspect the damage done by last night's artillery fire, a Russian drone inspects us, exploding just as we leave.

But little phases the local emergency services who have been showing us around.

People are used to the war, says Mykola Malykhin, before a shell interrupts him.

Those the emergency services can't get to rely on people like Svetlana. She will now walk with what she can push on her bike for more than an hour towards enemy fire.

But with her dog for company, she says, she's never afraid.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Stepnohirsk, Ukraine.


JIMENEZ: Quick hits around the globe right now.

We're going to start in the State Department is urging Americans in Haiti to leave immediately over widespread gang violence in the country. The U.S. is also backing a U.N. plan for a multinational police force there.

North Korea says it fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday as a warning against U.S. strategic assets. This comes as the U.S. and South Korea conclude joint annual military exercises today.

And the U.S. approves the first ever transfer of military aid to Taiwan, $80 million, through a program generally reserved for sovereign nations. The decision is likely to anger China.

Also, international western allies including the U.S. have joined the United Nations in condemning the latest stunning military coup in Gabon located in Central Africa, but many people there are celebrating.

Military leaders ousted and detained the president just minutes after he was declared the winner in a contested election.

CNN's Larry Madowo joins us live from Nairobi, Kenya.

Look, Larry, Gabon joins Niger, Burkina-Faso, Sudan, the latest in a growing number of military-led coups, a lot of them overlapping in timeline and implications.

Walk us through what happened here and why.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If this coup is successful, Omar, this will be the eighth coup in a former French colony in Africa in just the last three years, because this is still a developing situation in Niger.

What we have here, I want to show you some celebration of the man who declared himself the transitional president of Gabon. This is General Brice Oligui Nguema. This is other military men celebrating him, hoisting him up in the air celebrating him declaring himself leader.

He is said to be the cousin of the ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Now, the Bongo family has led Gabon since 1967, almost 56 years continuously. His dad led the country until his death in 2009, and then he won the presidential election there. And just before this military coup, he had been announced the win for a third time of a seven-year term.

Now, these military men who've taken over say that election has been voided and they shut down the country's borders and dissolved all institutions because they think that election was a sham election. And then we saw this extraordinary video from Ali Bongo Ondimba appealing for international help from his friends around the world.

I want to show you a bit of that.


ALI BONGO ONDIMBA, PRESIDENT OF GABON: Nothing is happening. I don't know what is going on. So I'm calling you to make noise, to make noise really.