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Catastrophic Flooding Predicted as Harvey Lashes Texas Gulf Coast; North Korea Fires Unidentified Projectile; Trump Signs Directive Banning Transgender Troops. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:02] BLITZER: -- 17 million people as Hurricane Harvey lashes Texas and plows toward land fall around Corpus Christi. It is threatening to unleash historic rainfall, up to 3 feet or more and catastrophic storm surges and flooding, emergency officials urgently warning residents that lives are at risk.

Tens of thousands have evacuated at this hour. Time is quickly running out to escape the storm. Water levels are rising and weather conditions are deteriorating as Harvey moves closer intensifying along the way. The historic nature of this disaster made even worse by the likelihood that Harvey will stall over land dumping heavy rain on the region for days.

The National Weather Service says large areas of south Texas may be uninhabitable for weeks or even months. The Texas governor is already asking for the state to be declared a major disaster area to trigger additional help from the federal government. As the first national disaster on his watch is about to hit a natural disaster, President Trump is over at Camp David. The White House says he's been actively engaged with emergency officials and is planning to travel to Texas early next week.

We're also just learning that the president assigned and directed following up officially on his ban on transgender troops that he announced in a tweet last month. This hour I'll speak live with the head of the federal emergency management agency, Brock Long. There you see him. And our correspondents, specialists and other guests are standing by as we cover this breaking story.

First, let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's right in the heart of things in Corpus Christi. Martin, you're in the danger zone. That's expected to take a direct hit from Harvey. Give our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world the latest.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Corpus Christi is definitely under the gun and the wind just continues to increase. It's an indication that this hurricane is growing ever more closer to the shore here, and it is the wind right now that is the biggest problem. It is literally body punching this entire area with a heavy, heavy force.

It's only going to increase over the next few hours. But then comes the secondary, and that's the rain and that is truly what could be the most destructive and deadly force over multiple days. Not since Katrina have we heard the dire warnings like we're hearing now. And also what we're hearing is that this storm, even when it comes ashore, that's not the end. It really is the beginning.


GREG ABOTT, TEXAS GOVERNOR (R): This is going to be a very major disaster.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): A dire warning from the Texas governor as hurricane Harvey bears down on the Texas coast. With a window to evacuate now closing, officials are cautioning residents to get out of the storm's path.

ABOTT: You have the power and the ability right now to be able to avoid being stuck into a search and rescue situation if you make the decision to get out of harms way before it is too late.

SAVIDGE: Millions of people in Texas are being warned to evacuate. The Texas army and international guards have been activated ahead of the storm's land fall, backing winds above 100 miles an hour. Harvey is expected to dump 15 to 20 inches of rain. And if it stalls some in land areas could get up to 35 inches. For coastal areas, waves as high as 20 feet and storm surge endangering everything and everyone in its path.

MICHAEL BRENNAN, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: This is life-threatening storm surge inundation. Water moving in as the hurricane makes land fall. We could see 6 to 12 feet of flooding. I'm 6 feet tall, double my height in certain areas of the coast here.

SAVIDGE: Farther in land floods and possible spin out tornadoes are the concern.

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: You got nothing to lose but your life. Now is not the time to lose faith in your government institutions.

SAVIDGE: With possible widespread and prolonged power outages, residents are stocking up on dwindling supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for calling team of Home Depot. We're out of generators, we're out of water and we're out of sand.

SAVIDGE: Keeping an eye in the situation from Washington before departing for Camp David, president Trump tweeting this photo of a hurricane briefing with his tom homeland security advisors and the first lady weighing in as well tweeting for those living near the path of hurricane Harvey, stay safe. Thoughts and prayers of an entire country are with you.


SAVIDGE: Wolf, it is really starting to howl now with this hurricane. It's like standing in the backwash of a 747. At times it's hard to even remain on your feet. And the worst is still yet to come. So, right now in this community they're hunkered down. There is no way anybody could leave at this point. If you haven't left, you're going to have to stick it out. Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you see any people out there on the streets near you? Are people still driving their cars near you?

SAVIDGE: Yes I'm afraid we do. It's - you see it in every storm, but you would think in a storm with this magnitude that they would stay home, but they don't.

[18:05:03] You'll always have people who want to come out and see what's going on, take their photos. They don't realize it of course there is real danger. Any kind of break, any kind of debris in the air would shatter their car and have a big impact on their lives. It's just not wise at all, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Martin Savidge joining us. Martin is in Corpus Christi, that's the real danger zone. Let's head up a little further along the Texas Gulf Coast to Galveston. CNN'S Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us. What's it like there, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We're on the eastern edge of this storm looking back toward of the west here at the brunt of Hurricane Harvey down that way and it's those communities that lie between Galveston Island and those -- and Corpus Christi. And a lot of focus is always on the eye of the storm and obviously that is an area of great concern given the sustained winds and the damage that those winds and surf is going to cause in those areas.

But in this particular storm, you really have to look at the wider reach and what it is going to be capable of doing and the rainfall that it will be producing in the hours and days ahead. And that is of the most concern and for the most widespread area here in Southeast Texas.

So, this is an area that is already prone to major flooding in the weakest of tropical storms, so you can imagine this is exponentially much larger than even some tropical depressions or tropical storms have caused in the past. So, that is why this is so much concerning.

Not even just along the coast, you now, here in Galveston, you see the seawall that is here that protects from somebody -- the smaller storm surges and you can see how the water is already pushing up close to this wall. And the seawall stretches throughout most of the island.

And once you start getting away from Galveston Island down closer to Corpus Christi, not every community has that kind of protection and that's why the flood waters, not just along the coast line, but even inland is of great concern is as this was storm stalls out and just continues to produce more and more rain, that flooding is going to be of major concern. The teams of a -- first responders have been prepositioning. We're told high water rescue teams in various areas throughout various counties to be able to react to those types of situations, that they expect to have to be called out too.

So, that is some of the work that's being done here on the front edge of this storm as many people here from Galveston Island to Houston all the way down to Corpus Christi really prepare for the brunt of what is coming with this hurricane. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera joining us from Galveston. We're going to get back to you. What I quickly want to go back to Corpus Christi right now, bracing for impact from this hurricane. Weather Nation Field Correspondent professional storm chaser Ben McMillan is there for us. Where exactly are you, Ben, and tell us what you're seeing or hearing?

BEN MCMILLAN, WEATHERNATION FIELD CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, the winds have really picked up here the last hour here in Texas. So that to 5:00 p.m. This is Corpus Christi Bay. Look at how violent this water is coming up and over some of these sea breaks. That's a big concern here is the surge is supposed to hit 6 to 12 feet potentially above sea level and the city itself is only 7 feet above sea level. So, if we get to those higher numbers, we could see a lot of water flowing up over this seawall and into the city and we're watching that condition very closely to make sure that water doesn't rise too quickly.

BLITZER: How about the conditions changed over the past hour? We spoke an hour or so ago, Ben, what does it feel like now in this hurricane?

MCMILLAN: Wolf, as that eye or center of circulation of the hurricane has moved closer to the city itself, we've seen sustained winds start, which is constant winds flowing in a circular pattern around that hurricane. It's basically a big machine releasing all that heat off the ocean in this rotating storm and that's what those winds are coming from and they're going to continue to batter not only the coastal areas but inland now as the evening goes on.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get back to you. Stand by. Be careful over there, Ben McMillan, the storm chaser.

I want to check right now on the emergency response plan for Hurricane Harvey and the catastrophic impact it's likely to have. We're joined by the head of the federal emergency management agency, Brock Long. Administrator Long, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for all the great work that FEMA does. What are your biggest concerns as Hurricane Harvey now approaches landfall?

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Right now it's the life safety mission. Obviously, the time to evacuate has come to a close. And if you're in those areas and getting ready to experience the 6 to 12, 8 -- 6 to 12 feet of storm surge, it's time to find some higher ground and a facility that can withstand the wind.

BLITZER: Did people heed the evacuation orders? I know there a lot of areas, it was voluntary, some mandatory. What are you hearing about that?

LONG: So, this was a tough storm, you know, the National Weather Service is -- we have the world's best meteorologists when it comes to the National Weather Service.

[18:10:03] And -- but the one thing about this storm is it was incredibly difficult for them to forecast because of the nature of it coming off the Yucatan and getting into the Bay of Campeche.

And so, what we saw is a rapidly intensifying major hurricane. And it's very hard to motivate people in a small window of time to move. Regarding actual participation rates of a, you know, a 100,000 people plus that were placed under evacuations, I do not have a good number on that. But it was difficult to motivate people most likely because of the nature of this storm and the forecast.

BLITZER: How long, Administrator, should people expect to be away from their homes?

LONG: This is going to be a marathon and we have to set the expectations of citizens. This one's going to be very difficult. Not only we're going to we have, you know, the first major hurricane landfall since 2005, which brings with it the most deadly hazard, storm surge, and the most costly hazard storm surge, but because the storm is going to lose its steering currents and slow down before land fall and stay on top, you know, of Texas and portions of Louisiana, this is going to be a very -- a multiple day event, low and were -- and it's going to be constantly changing dynamic forecast over the next 48 to 120 hours.

BLITZER: It's going to be amazing. Is your biggest fear, you know, the storm surge, the high winds, category 3, 125 mile an hour winds, the flooding, the power outages that certainly will develop. This is potentially a real disaster.

LONG: Oh, it's going to be a disaster. It's going to be a significant disaster. And, you know, the citizens of Texas and Louisiana are going to have their daily routine disrupted for a long time, particularly in, you know, the areas that are going to receive the torrential rains. Storm surge is about 50 meter target. Storm surge is the most dangerous element of hurricanes, in my opinion, because it has the highest potential to kill the most amount of people and cause the most amount of damage when they come ashore.

Once the system starts to dissipate over time because of interaction with land, it's going to turn into that rainfall event. And then it's going to be a frustrating event because it's going to take time for the system to move out.

Now, one of the things that we are watching very carefully is the uncertainty of this forecast. If this system moves a little bit to the east of track or north of track before landfall, it could change the rainfall forecast over the next five days tremendously. So, we want to make sure that, you know, the locals are heeding the -- the warnings the judges are giving out to them, not only in Texas, but also the local officials and the parishes of Louisiana. Any shift to the north and east could change the rainfall forecast significantly for those folks living in Louisiana.

So we want to make sure that while the attention right now is -- and all the cameras are in Texas, Louisiana needs to watch this one very closely. We've been in touch with both governors and we are ready to go and preposition in both states. BLITZER: Would you compare this Hurricane Harvey to Hurricane Katrina which happened exactly 12 years ago this week? And we all remember the enormous destruction, the loss of life then.

LONG: I really don't compare it to Hurricane Katrina. It's a different scenario. Each storm is different, by the way. No category 3 hurricane is the same, no category 4 hurricane is the same, no tropical storm is the same.

You know, for this, this one has no steering currents. Katrina had pretty solid steering currents and moved through the state. It brought a tremendous amount of, you know, storm surge to the coast of Mississippi. And what's interesting is those who stayed behind to experience storm surge in Mississippi were not around to give interviews after that event because storm surge is the unforgiving hazard.

Then when you shift over to this event, this is a slow moving event, I would probably, you know, look to the 2001 event and Tropical Storm Allison. Allison stayed over the city of Houston for five days and dropped over 30 inches of rain and was a billion dollar event back in 2001.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember that as well. Could this hurricane, Hurricane Harvey, make landfall twice?

LONG: Yes. You know, right now this forecast is so uncertain. Any time I see a very slow forward movement and where the models, what we call as spaghetti, you know, do a spaghetti model plot where they are all over the place, they're not in agreement with each other.

Right now anything is possible, in my opinion, and we have to watch, you know, each forecast as it comes out very closely because those models are going to change and the guidance that the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center uses is going to change. It's a dynamic situation that we, you know, we can never be too cautious and everybody needs to stay alert.

BLITZER: FEMA has deployed what are called urban search and rescue teams to San Antonio right now. What will be their role in the coming days? I assume they're going to be moved out of San Antonio as quickly as possible.

LONG: Right. So, the goal of FEMA is we have to pre-stage teams such as search and rescue teams, incident management teams.

[18:15:01] We are at pre-staging lifesaving commodities. We can't roll directly to the area. I cannot put my staff in danger. It does no good for FEMA to become a victim by getting too close to the storm.

But as soon as the governor, you know, asks for support, we understand what the gaps are in the state. We can mobilize those forces very quickly to start helping the state to respond and recover.

BLITZER: What sort of coordination support are you getting from the White House, from President Trump right now? LONG: Excellent coordination and support. We are in constant contact with not only the White House, but our acting Secretary Duke over at Homeland Security. I briefed the President directly this morning. He's actually been to the Federal Emergency Management Agency here in the National Response Coordination Center which is behind me where all my dedicated staffs are working.

So, the lines of communication are not only clear between the White House and FEMA as well as the lines of communication to the Department of Homeland and Security. But most importantly, you know, our goal is to support our state and local partners and those two governors, John Bell Edwards in Louisiana and Governor Abbott in Texas. And that's what we do.

We're not a first response agency. But we are an agency that coordinates the fire power of the federal government down to those governors when called upon.

BLITZER: What's the status of President Trump declaring a federal disaster zone or a declaration, even before land fall occurs?

LONG: So, here is the process. The declaration request has come up from Governor Abbott in the state of Texas. We come through, evaluate the declaration and put it to the White House. It is in the White House this moment as we speak.

BLITZER: So, you guys haven't done it yet. But you anticipate that he will because it's your recommendation that he is going to be relying on, right?

LONG: A decision should be made very soon.

BLITZER: Very soon. And can I just -- I say that you've recommended that the declaration be issued?

LONG: You know, I can't comment on that. Obviously we are leaning forward and ready to support. We have our resources in the state and so we've already mobilized -- we've already mobilized a tremendous amount of resources without being asked to be there.

BLITZER: But this is going to be a critically important decision, then. I assume he's going to do it fairly, fairly soon. How different would the situation, administrator, be in the Texas right now if that state had built what some recommended years ago a coastal barrier system, they recommended that after Hurricane Ike.

LONG: You know, I'm not familiar necessarily with the coastal barrier system that was put forward. But I can tell you this about the state of Texas. It's a very capable state. They have solid leadership. Chief Nim Kidd, the director of the Texas division of emergency management is on top of things as well as Governor Abbott.

And again, you know, Texas is a model. They have amassed a lot of forces and a lot of capability and do serve as a model for some of the other states in the United States. I mean, they are ready to go. BLITZER: Is there also administrator at risk right now of an environmental disaster if some of the oil refineries, other industrial infrastructure are hit, which I assume will be the case?

LONG: Yes. There is a risk of that and our ESF 10, hazardous materials emergency support function, you know, is here on-site. They are actually working behind us. We have great communication with our partners at the coast guard and others, EPA and others that handle hazardous materials event should we start to see, you know, issues arise very quickly.

But here again, our forces are designed to support the state forces. So, you know, once the state's capacity to handle an environmental disaster succeeded, we can come in and provide technical expertise and physical resources to help overcome those issues.

BLITZERS: Brock Long, the administrator of FEMA, thanks so much to you and to all the men and women of FEMA. We are counting on you guys. You always do an incredibly important job in saving lives. And that's what you're going to be doing in the coming days as well. Brock Long, thank you very much.

LONG: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZERS: Let's get an update on the hurricane forecast right now. Our meteorologist Chad Meyers is in the CNN Severe Weather Center for us. So, what's the latest there, Chad?

CHAD MEYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I would say, Wolf, right now the western part of the eye wall where the wind is 125 is less than 15 miles from shore. 15 miles from a national sea shore, plus Mustang island and there are houses and places of residence there, resource there as well but not all that built up.

But I want you to show -- I want to show you here. That it's raining all the way from almost New Orleans all the way down to Brownsville. So, this is not a localized area although we are obviously focused on the eye and where the eye is going.

The problem here is, we are going to see the wind damage here. We're going to see the flood damage as the storm expands out.

[18:20:03] It is going to continue to get stronger until it makes land fall. That's not too far away, maybe an hour or two. And then as it gets over landed likely begins to die off. Still a cut three tonight, but then by tomorrow probably down to about a category one, 75 miles per hour. That's over land. That's blowing a lot of things around and still grabbing the moisture off the Gulf of Mexico and throwing it down as tropical rain.

Been in the tropics on a cruise ship or whatever and all of the sudden you say, "How could it rain this hard?" That's what Texas is going to have for five solid days.

And the cabinet was talking about the spaghetti models. And I well just show them to you because I have them right in front of me. Spaghetti says this storm is going to head to San Antonio tonight, that's 24 hours from now. Then where does it go? There is not a model that would agree with you on anything because they all just spread out and go in every different direction. There is no consensus from the model which means the storm is going to essentially stop and wobble and you could put down 25, 30, maybe more inches of rainfall in any one area.

I just measured it on Google earth. I can kind of do a polygon and get the square miles. The 20-inch rainfall total that's going to cover up most of Texas is the size of South Carolina. I know I said 30 inches about the size of Delaware, but 20 inches or more will be the size of South Carolina with all of that rain coming down.

Plus one more thing tonight, Wolf, if you don't have to worry about anything else, there is a risk of some small or tornadoes any time one of the storms comes on shore. So, think about that as you go to bed and hear the bumps through the night. It's just one thing after another. A tornado watch has just been issued.

Here is the shore. Here is that area of 125 mile per hour winds. There is our Martin Savidge right there.

Now, this heaviest wind should move up toward the north. But I think Marty could still be in 120 or 115 mile per hour winds, and that is a destructive, almost a f-2, ef-2 tornado, even though it's not a tornado it's a hurricane, the same wind damage is possible from this as a tornado for sure.

BLITZER: Yes. I just want to elaborate on what you just reported, Chad. The National Weather Service in Corpus Christi has just issued what they're calling an extreme wind warning for portions of the Texas coast through 8:00 p.m. Eastern, according to the statement widespread destructive winds of 115 to 145 miles per hour will produce what they say will be swaths of tornado-like damage. Explain that.

MEYERS: Absolutely. Well, it's a new product, and 115 to 145 is a pretty extreme product. I mean, we're talking 115 can knock anything down. It's going to take some roofs off, going to absolutely take every shingle off, every roof on there. Now the good news is, this is either part National Sea Shore or part Mustang Island, Port Aransas is here, that the people did get away. Now, there is not anyone left.

It was a mandatory evacuation 48 hours ago. So, I hope, anyway, everyone listened to mandatory because mandatory is mandatory, to get off of that island. This right here, the circle that I've drawn, that's one of the counties under that warning.

And then farther up here is another area that's going to see this band. This is the band right there, that crescent, almost looks like an eclipse, that crescent right there is where all that wind is. The hurricane hunters have been in there and I just saw about ten minutes ago at 7,000 feet, a hurricane hunter aircraft had a wind gust of 147 miles per hour. Now I know that's 6,000 feet up and that's not on the ground. But you translate that down, that's still a gust of 135.

BLISTERZ: Yes, if the wind and the surge and the flooding were not enough, now a tornado warning for part of that Texas gulf coast as well. Chad, stay with us. Don't go too far away.

We're all over the breaking story, hurricane Harvey bearing down on the gulf coast right now, Texas and Louisiana, threatening to bring catastrophe to those states. Much more of our live coverage, coming up.


[18:28:50] BLITZER: And we're following breaking news, a major disaster is beginning to unfold tonight in Texas. As Hurricane Harvey closes in, packing devastating winds and catastrophic rain. That's forecast to fall for days. CNN's Martin Savidge is in Corpus Christi, right in the danger zone for us.

Martin, people there who chose not to evacuate are now being told it's too late.

SAVIDGE: Right, it is too late. There's now way that anybody should go out now. We've just come under this extreme wind warning that come from the National Weather Service. And it essentially warning that now until about 8:00 local time, you could face gusts of up to 145 miles an hour.

And I can't begin to try to tell you how destructive that can be because it's not just narrow (ph) focus of what you might be get a tornado. This is a broad swamp of kind of damage that can occur. And especially when you add that for the storm surge that is measured here, for about (ph) 6 to 12 feet, and then the rain that is measured in feet as well over the next several days. And that's why this is being described as a catastrophe, the likes of which no one has really fully wrapped their head around.

Because it's one thing to have a storm come ashore, a category 3 major hurricane is no simple matter. But then for it to linger, as this massive rainmaker, in low lying areas, you have got one disaster just compounding after the other.

[18:30:09] The wind continues to grow much, much stronger. It is harder and harder to lean into it. You can see the trees in the background, as they begin, piece by piece, to simply fall apart. The power is still on in this area but there are sporadic outages around here.

And that's only going to continue to get worse because the rain will soften the roots for the trees. They come down and they bring the power lines with them.

So in a lot of ways this is a disaster that will just continue to multiply and cascade. It doesn't end when Hurricane Harvey comes ashore. And judging by the wind now, that won't be long -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And you not only have to worry where you are, Martin, about a hurricane. Now you have to worry about tornadoes as well. Stand by. I want to bring in Chad Myers. He's at the CNN Severe Weather Center for us. It's not all that unusual is it, Chad, based on my own reporting experience, that sometimes tornadoes develop out of these hurricanes as well.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Sure, of course. Every single cell -- that may be one here, one there -- may rotate because the entire system is rotating. So if you take that storm, you push it on shore and then you bring the ground into play and the ground is making friction, slowing the storm down, the north side of the storm wants to come around and around and around and then eventually, without even trying, the storm is rotating and the storm is putting down a tornado.

So, yes, absolutely that happens all the time. Normally on the right side or the north of this case because we're going this way, on the northeast side, that's where the tornado should be. Not so much on this side because the storms are coming off the land.

You'll want to look for the storms that are coming off the ocean; those are the ones that typically will make that type of event. Call it a waterspout and then it comes on shore and it's a tornado. That's just really how it happens.

Look at the size of the storm, though, right now. Here's Corpus Christi, the eye very large, 125 miles per hour, about to come on land very near Port Aransas, if you want to look at that on a map.

There is more to the storm back out here coming into Lake Charles. More to the storm here coming into New Orleans for tonight and the storm then moves on shore and stops.

And, Wolf, that's the rub. It's the stop part. This is one day, two days, three days, four days. In four days, it doesn't get any farther north or west than halfway to San Antonio.

So where it's raining now, it will be raining tomorrow. And it will be raining the next day and so on and so on. The storm may even back up, the hurricane center not believing it yet, some models saying the storm may come back offshore, likely not become a hurricane again.

This is just for effect. And then back up toward Galveston and Houston by the end of the weekend into the early part of next week. It's the amounts of rain that no one in this building can believe.

We have 200 years of forecasting experience in this building and we look at it and I just have never seen the number like 3 feet, like 50 inches of rain possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by, Chad. I want to go right back into the danger zone in Corpus Christi, Weather Nation field correspondent, professional storm chaser, Ben McMillan is there for us.

Ben, what do you see?

BEN MCMILLAN, STORM CHASER: Wolf, we've seen debris in the air now. Things like these palm fronds are starting to become missiles. They just fly across the sky. We continue see the wind increase. This will be the issue as the evening goes on. Even small things that are very lightweight can become very dangerous items when they get picked up by those winds.

BLITZER: It looks like it is getting much more intense. We spoke half an hour or so ago. It looks like over the past half hour it's becoming much more intense.

MCMILLAN: Yes, Wolf, we've seen a significant increase in the storm's intensity. Let me show you one thing that's troubling. This is Corpus Christi Bay and we have numerous boats that were not removed out of the water. They are just sitting here like sitting ducks. If these waves get any larger or that wind gets any stronger, even the larger items can become some of those missiles flying through the air.

BLITZER: And at what point do you leave there?

At what point do you have to go inside or find some sort of safe area?

MCMILLAN: Wolf, just off to my side here you'll see a concrete wall. That's an area that we can go to for safety. So we're at a safe place.

But if you're out driving on the streets in a vehicle, that is just putting yourself at a very significant risk for not only damage to your vehicle but potentially damage to other types of things, like you could get hit in your face or your arm with some sort of projectile.

We don't want any injuries out here. So just play it smart, stay home tonight if you at all possible can. If you haven't evacuated, just hunker down.

BLITZER: Ben McMillan, be careful over there. We're going to get back to you.

We're going to have much more ahead on this breaking story --


BLITZER: -- this Hurricane Harvey.

But there is another very important story that's breaking right now. We have just learned that North Korea has just launched what is being described as an "unidentified projectile," a ballistic missile, we're told.

This is the first missile launch by North Korea following sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council earlier in the month. The country has now fired 19 missiles since February, further perfecting its technology with each launch.

This launch comes as the 10-day joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises are underway. Ahead of those exercises, North Korea warned that the U.S.-South Korean military war games could lead to what they called uncontrollable, "an uncontrollable phase of nuclear war."

Let's discuss this before we go back to the hurricane coverage, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Only the other day the president was tweeting and saying relatively nice things about Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-un made a very wise and well reasoned decision. The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable.

He then tweeted, he then said on Tuesday at that speech in Phoenix, Kim Jong-un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. Maybe, probably not, but maybe something positive could come of that.

The U.S. is not going to like another ballistic missile launch by the North Koreans.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, certainly not. And Secretary Tillerson also earlier in the week said similar sort of conciliatory things to Kim Jong-un and the regime, I think trying to keep the tension down.

But, look, these guys have been racing towards a ballistic missile program and a nuclear program to go along with it for a long time. And I see nothing that is going to stop them from doing that.

This is, if it's true, that these reports are true, it's most likely a response or a reaction to the joint exercises that also began in recent days and I think are still going on. And certainly this would not be a surprise, that they would want to shoot something off.

But we should really wait to see what it is, where it went, what kind of missile it was before we make too much.

Mike Rogers, former congressman, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee now our national security commentator, what is your reaction when you hear, that in the middle of these joint exercises, U.S.-South Korean military joint exercises, now, all of a sudden, North Korea launches another ballistic missile?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, and these joint exercises have been going on very a long time. As a matter of fact, when I was a young second lieutenant assigned out west, I was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, we had these exercises. We supported these exercises in South Korea.

It was always to try to stretch our muscles. to show North Korea that we had the capability -- we, the United States, had the capability to work with the South Koreans if anything were to happen.

This is a part of a long history of provocation during big events, including these joint training exercises. So I think this is Kim Jong-un, finally or once again, reminding the world that he's on this path to a nuclear weapon and just hardly anything is going to stop him from getting it.

I think that's what he's trying to do. I don't think it's provocation to the point where he is looking for engagement. He understands, he engages the United States or our South Korean allies, it's over for him.

But what he is trying to do is set the table for the world to understand that he will be a nuclear power. And that's what I think the sanctions and other things are trying to avoid.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say he already is a nuclear power. He has dozens of nuclear bombs already and we're now told he has the capability to miniaturize those nuclear bombs and put them on intermediate range ballistic missiles or long range.

ROGERS: Hardest thing to do, Wolf, is to get that nuclear device in a shape, cone shape it, to put it on top of a missile to deliver it.


BLITZER: An inter-continental ballistic missile that potentially could hit the United States.

ROGERS: Very difficult to do. I think they think that he's close to that. I'm not sure he is there yet. He does have an inter- continental ballistic missile that can reach parts of the United States.

KIRBY: That's exactly right and reentry also into the atmosphere to be effective is also something that we don't think they have perfected yet. So they still have some things that they have got to get done. And I think there is still room and time for diplomacy.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, I want to play the clip for you. This is what the president said about Kim Jong-un Tuesday night in Phoenix. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you see what's going on in North Korea. All of a sudden, I don't know, who knows, but I can tell you what I said, that's not strong enough.

Some people said it was too strong. It's not strong enough.

But Kim Jong-un, I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact.


BLITZER: So, Ron, what's your analysis?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, that was either conciliatory or belittling, in effect, saying that Kim Jong-un has kind of bent to my superior resolve and power. You know --


BROWNSTEIN: -- I've been watching administrations as you have, Wolf, deal with this since the Clinton presidency. And the very hard fact is that we may not have levers that can prevent

them from advancing this program at an acceptable cost. There may not be economic levers that are sufficient, particularly given China's ambivalence about pressuring them too hard.

And while there are military actions -- military options, there has always been the overwhelming reality that any military action would involve enormous, unprecedented since World War II, level of destruction in South Korea, even before you get to the question of whether the North Koreans use any nuclear weapons.

And so the president has said, you know, rather unequivocally, we will not let this stand. But I think more and more people in the national security arena, as they have for years, have questioned whether ultimately some form of deterrence is going to be the end point because we may not have the capacity to stop them from advancing down this track, at least not at a cost that would be acceptable.

BLITZER: The president went from fire and fury, the military was locked and loaded, to the statement that he's starting, Kim Jong-un, to respect us. There's been a whole bunch of U.S. warships that have had serious problems, not too far away from the Korean Peninsula right now. Here's the question.

Is the U.S. Navy ready for, God forbid, what could be a disaster?

KIRBY: Not only is the navy ready, Wolf, but all our military forces, our joint forces and our combined forces with the Republic of South Korea, they are ready. They are ready to fight tonight, as they say.

Yes, there have been some collisions in the Navy that have reduced some of the capability. But they have got redundancy in the fleet and I'm confident that they'll be able to handle anything that --


BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There is other breaking news we're following right now.

President Trump has just signed the directive banning transgender Americans from serving in the United States military. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray. who is working the story for us.

Sara, the president caught the Pentagon off guard when he announced his intention to do this a few weeks ago on Twitter. But now he's issued a formal order as commander in chief.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The military was not moving forward with this because they were awaiting more details from the White House.

Today the president signed this memo, essentially telling the military not to move forward with a plan to allow transgender troops to serve.

They also instructed the Department of Defense that they cannot use their resources to pay for medical treatment regimens for transgender troops, who are currently serving in the military, which, of course, cast their future and their roles into question.

Today a White House official would not say whether transgender troops who are currently serving can continue to serve. So still some question marks there about their fate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara, stand by. You know, Jeremy Diamond is our White House reporter.

You've been covering the story now since that initial tweet.

Do we know why the president decided to tweet a major change in military policy, even while the Pentagon had said they were conducting a six-month review?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's anyone's guess because as you said, the Department of Defense was still conducting this review. Apparently that tweet caught the Joint Chiefs of Staff by surprise, which is not something you want to do when issuing some kind of significant military policy like this.

This does raise questions, though, the way that the White House rolled this out. Clearly they're bearing this with the hurricane coverage to avoid some of the negative headlines associated with this.

But in the process, they're also kicking down the decision on the -- on the fate of current transgender troops serving in the military to the Department of Defense, to the Department of Homeland Security.

This senior White House official on the call that I was on earlier today refusing to say whether those troops would be allowed to continue serving. So essentially, they don't want to have the president come out and be the one to say, no, those troops cannot serve.

They also don't want to be the ones to say that they can serve because of the political implications for this president. But certainly a lot of those transgender troops who are still serving in the military today, they really don't have any certainty on their future despite this directive from the president.

BLITZER: It's pretty extraordinary the way all of this unfolded, Rebecca Berg.

Why did the president decide to tweet that initial order and now go forward?

The timing of this right now?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and the timing is just incredible that now we're getting more details about this, as the president is announcing that we're sending more troops into Afghanistan, expanding our influence around the globe and then asking these transgender service members at the same time to suffer this morale boost (sic). And, frankly, uncertainty about what their future in the military is

going to be, even in terms of their medical bills. And, so, it's really a blow for them, for these service members.

But the tweet also does raise questions about how the president handles policy making in this administration. There was a political report at the time that this went back to a budget discussion on the House side, that Republicans were having and the president didn't want that spending measure to be held up. And, so, he said --


BERG: -- I'm just going to take this off the table by not allowing transgender troops at all.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, I'd say another way of looking at this, is the transgender ban that he tweeted initially was the first domino in what has really been now a sequence of dominoes falling.

The tweet came toward the end of the health care fight, which had taken a real toll on his approval ratings, among both noncollege whites and older whites. And I think there is a very clear reaction that he has tried to reel back in some of these voters by turning Right on cultural and racial grounds that he lost on economic grounds.

I mean, what followed after transgender?

Almost immediately thereafter he endorsed the Cotton-Perdue bill, that cut legal immigration in half, Attorney General Sessions has talked about turning up the heat on sanctuary cities. He's repealed the mandate on birth control under ObamaCare.

Obviously all the comments about Charlottesville, protecting our heritage and our statues, his language, and possibly pardoning Sheriff Arpaio. There is a very clear pattern since health care has gone down, I think, of trying to move to the Right on some of these hot button social and racially tinged issues as a way of rebuilding support of what had been his base and which he alienated significant portions of which by embracing a health care bill that took away coverage from so many of them.

BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand, John Kirby, who used to be the Pentagon spokesman. Maybe you can explain this me in this memorandum on transgender service members that the president signed today.

He said -- he also banned the Department of Defense from using its resources to provide medical treatment regimens for transgender individuals currently serving in the U.S. military.

So what does that mean?

If you're a transgender service member, serving in the military right now, and you get sick, you're not going to be able to get medical attention?

KIRBY: No, no, I don't think that at all. And oh, by the way, a senior administration official tells me that if currently serving transgender members in the process -- because it's a medical process to move from one gender to the next.

If they're in the middle of that, they're not going to stop it, they're not going to do any harm. Certainly if they have any other medical issues, just like any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, they're going to get treated for that.

I also think this policy gives Secretary Mattis a little bit of flexibility here in terms of what to do with currently serving members. There is a lot of combat effectiveness, lethality talk in this policy memo.

And he even has flexibility on the enlistment side. Now we never did enlist, allow transgenders to enlist. That policy has been -- is still extended for further review. And what this administration official tells me tonight is that the president is going to extend that further, delay on --


BLITZER: For those who are currently serving?

KIRBY: No, no, no, for new ones coming in. They're not going to --

BLITZER: Transgender Americans will be allowed to serve in the U.S. military?

KIRBY: No, no, well, they're not going to be kicked out just yet. He has --

BLITZER: Those who are serving now, but well, they're -- if you want to volunteer and serve in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marine Corps, you're transgender, will you be allowed to join?

KIRBY: You will not be allowed to join. And you weren't allowed to join even before. Remember that whole policy change had been extended by Mattis six months. The president has extended it again, according to this administration official, pending further review by the Department of Defense on how to ensure military effectiveness and lethality.

So Secretary Mattis still has some flexibility with that as well. He's going to have to go back and study it and bring back President Trump a strategy.

BLITZER: Let's get to another issue that's breaking right now. "The Wall Street Journal," Mike Rogers, reporting that the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, Robert Mueller, is looking into whether the fired national security advisor, retired general Mike Flynn, played a role in trying to obtain what they believed were hacked Hillary Clinton e-mails.

This is what "The Wall Street Journal" reports about Republican activist Peter Smith.

Quote, "In correspondence and conversations with his colleagues, Mr. Smith portrayed Mr. Flynn as an ally in those efforts and implied that other senior Trump campaign officials were coordinating with him, which they have denied. He also named Mr. Flynn's consulting firm and his son in the correspondence and conversations."

So tell us what you think Mueller is now going to be investigating.

ROGERS: Yes, there's going to be a couple things that the investigative team will look at. If they're looking for any criminal activity -- and that's what the FBI does. So they'll look for something of value.

Can they determine that in any exchange between General Flynn and any of his foreign contacts, he was seeking something of value for the campaign?

Now that tips the scale for a criminal matter if they can find that. They'll also look for promises of other things, meaning, if you give me this, I'll do this for you later. If they can make those determinations, now it rises to the level of criminality. If not, there is not a lot of there there. Even this talk of collusion is not necessarily a crime.

You can talk to a foreign government, you can get their input. You can do all of those things without being illegal. What they're going to center on is the finances of this, any promises that --


ROGERS: -- may have been made and anything of value, not directly money related, that may have been asked for by the Russians or the Russian intelligence.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There is much more coming up.

We are also, of course, covering multiple breaking stories. Hurricane Harvey closing in on the Texas coast right now; North Korea firing several, several unidentified short range projectiles or missiles and President Trump signing a directive banning transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. military.





BLITZER: We have much more to come on Hurricane Harvey and its life- threatening winds, rain and storm surge.

We are also looking ahead to this weekend's CNN special report on the life and shocking death of Britain's Princess Diana. Here's a quick preview.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The most famous and photographed woman in the world, a princess with style and substance, a loving mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Diana was absolutely born to be a mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): A passionate advocate.

DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES: I have been trying to highlight a problem that's going on all around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Through it all, her every move scrutinized and scandalized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was followed everywhere. I think she found that time very difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): But behind the flashbulbs, a life marred by loneliness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She wanted her freedom. She wanted a life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The tragedy that took her life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Princess Diana at the age of 36 has died.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Left the world devastated and in disbelief.

Twenty years later, what do we know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She went to her lawyer and said, "They're going to kill me and here's how."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She knew something was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Friends, family, those who were there, speak out about Diana, a woman who transcended celebrity and transformed a monarchy.


BLITZER: Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is joining us now.

Clarissa, 20 years after Diana's death, people are still talking about her and how she died.

What did you learn about how she died, about the conspiracy theorists who out there, who believe it was more than simply a car accident? CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting; some of these conspiracy theories just refuse to die, in spite of multiple inquests and investigations that have all found that this was simply a tragic accident.

A big part of that, I think, is, as you just heard in this clip is, that Princess Diana herself actually went to her lawyer and said that she believed she was going to be killed and that she was going to be killed in a staged automobile accident or helicopter accident. This is something she also took to some of her close friends about.

But a lot of people in Diana's inner circle actually say there was no grand conspiracy to kill Diana here. What actually killed Diana was that the fact that she wasn't wearing a seat belt, that there was a drunk driver, that they were being chased by the paparazzi and that she had very crucially made the decision after her divorce to disband her Scotland Yard security detail, potentially, our friends say, some of them, with deadly consequences -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Why did she suspect, tell her lawyer before the terrible crash, why did she suspect she would be killed in a car crash or a helicopter crash?

WARD: I think it is really difficult for most people and this is why you should tune in and watch this documentary, because it gives you a sense of incredible isolation that Diana was facing, especially during the final years of this marriage which had fallen apart, a royal family who basically didn't speak to her, didn't encourage her, didn't really offer her wisdom and guidance.

And she became quite neurotic, frankly. She was obsessed with this idea that these people, who she referred to as the men in gray, by which she meant the sort of middle management and intelligence services involved with the running of Buckingham Palace, she believed that simply put they were out to get her because she was outspoken, because she was passionate and because she was human.

Diana was never known for being one to bite her tongue. She said what she felt and her sincerity really struck a chord with people.

So that may, indeed, be one of the reasons that she felt strongly that she might actually be killed although, we should say there is nothing during the course of our investigation into her death that would indicate there is any credence to her belief -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Her sons now are speaking out about their mother.

Tell us a little bit of what they're saying.

WARD: Well, it is nice to see actually I think her sons really are -- embody her legacy. They're talking about tough issues. They're talking about mental health. They're talking about grief. They're talking about trauma. They're taking the best of the traditions of the British monarchy, an incredible institution and establishment, that has been in place for many hundreds of years and they're combining it with the warmth, the humanity, the compassion and the sincerity of their mother.

So it is actually really kind of wonderful to see them coming forward 20 years after her death and talking so candidly about their grief, about their pain and about the difficulty in speaking about the loss of their mother -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa Ward, doing excellent reporting for us as always.

And to our viewers, be sure to tune in this Sunday, 9:00 pm Eastern, for CNN's special report, "Diana: Chasing a Fairy Tale."

That's it for me. Thanks for watching. CNN's breaking news coverage of Hurricane Harvey continues right now with Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT."