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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Category Three Hurricane Florence Nearing Carolinas, Georgia; President Trump Calls Recovery and Response to Puerto Rico an Unsung Success. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you, Anderson.

I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.

Soon, it will be too late to escape Florence. Go now if you've been directed to evacuate. Officials up and down the coast are echoing this warning. Please hear it.

Many of you are watching from the areas that could be affected. Please don't meet me down there under circumstances you may regret during or after this storm. Winds are beginning to blow. Now even more Americans are in the path of destruction.

Florence has weakened slightly to a category 3, but it has increased in size and taken a slight turn. The second and third factors matter way more than the first. Georgia is now in jeopardy as well and the entire Carolina coastline is bracing for a direct hit.

Tonight, we have new information and insight and a treat. The one and only Sam Champion is here.

The storm is coming, my friends, it's time to prepare. Let's get after it.

(MUSIC)

CUOMO: The storm of a lifetime, that's what experts are calling it. Let's show why forecasters warn that Florence could be the most intense hurricane to strike the Eastern Seaboard in decades. What are the numbers? Twenty-five million in the forecast.

Sam Champion is here. You know we work together at ABC News. Sam mentored me in the ways of weather for years.

Thank you, brother. It's good to have you.

SAM CHAMPION, WEATHER ANCHOR: It's a pleasure to be here, my friend.

CUOMO: This does not look good by any metric.

CHAMPION: No, and it's important because these things will fluctuate in strength. This storm, as you pointed out at the top of the show, is really getting bigger and that's bad in a lot of ways. So, tonight, we need to double down on who should get out because tomorrow, even though we're going to start to see those tropical storm force winds coming in the morning, we're not going to have a lot of time to make those decisions. You've got to make the decision tonight.

Then, we're going to talk about who's going to flood, and as you said, there's a bigger area of that as well. Fresh water flooding, storm surge flooding, this storm has it all.

CUOMO: Let's start with the data and science. We have Tom Sater, CNN meteorologist.

What do we know, Tom?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Chris, you got a good mentor there.

For those of you who wanted to know how large in size Florence is, to compare to the land, we're getting much closer now. And you can see what a monster this is. This all started a little wave off the coast of Africa, the first advisory was August 30th, two weeks ago.

For the first time in history, a storm as hurricane at this latitude and longitude is making landfall. Never before has that happened. They've all moved to the north. Yes, it is going to fluctuate, but here's the problem, between tomorrow night, Thursday night and Sunday morning, Florence may move only 150 miles. That is slower than a walking pace, two to three miles an hour. Like Harvey. That's part of the problem now.

When you look at how broad the hurricane force winds are, the tropical storm force winds, you're starting to see how it's broadening out. This is an amazing storm. Early in the morning, on the northeastern quadrant, a wave height was reported at 83 feet. Is that -- that's mind boggling.

So this system as it moves in, you can see how far out 300 miles of tropical storm force winds. This is a relentless rainfall and believe it or not, we may see more rain in three, three and a half days than Washington, D.C. picks up in an entire year.

CHAMPION: Yes, definitely.

SATER: Just amazing.

CHAMPION: Hey, Tom, my friend, I got a quick question because people are going to be looking at numbers and Chris and I were just talking about this before the show. When you see two times in a row this storm has dropped or weakened a little bit, and some people might get the feeling this is going to an all-clear. But I --

SATER: Yes.

CHAMPION: Talk to me about how this storm could strengthen a little bit, weaken a little bit, and how it's not a signal for all-clear.

SATER: That is a fabulous question because, you know, when you look at the satellite picture, it's quite ragged. CHAMPION: Yes.

SATER: I mean, there's dry air coming in underneath and you're losing an eye. Is it going through an eyewall replacement cycle or what? Hurricane hunters flying into this. We're going to find out soon.

But you're exactly right. Do not bite on the notion that this is weakening. By tomorrow, it gets into the gulf stream, those warm waters, and it may have a few tricks up its sleeve. I mean, these things, as you know, Sam, I mean -- every one is different, every characteristic is different from storm to storm.

And again, it's just -- watching this, what these models do, I mean, the National Hurricane Center is going to play with that track a little bit. It can't jump on over model because that would be irresponsible.

CHAMPION: Right.

SATER: We need to get supplies in place and evacuations, but just looking at these models and for the European, as you know, it looks like Wilmington is going to get hammered, Carolina Beach. But the European model, even though it wants to bring it in near Carolina Beach, it kind of wants to drift it back off shore.

CHAMPION: Yes, down to the south, yes.

SATER: Yes, down toward --

CUOMO: That's why the size winds up being relevant. Tom, let's do this.

SATER: Yes.

CUOMO: Stay with us. Let's go over to the wall and let's start going through some of these factors and I'll use both of you guys to kind of let people know why we're worried about this. And again, this idea of just worrying about the numbers itself, it's not enough.

All right. So, here we are last year in Irma, all right?

CHAMPION: Irma.

CUOMO: And this -- the difference between 145 miles an hour and 105 miles an hour, meaningless when you're standing in it, Sam, but people take the numbers as some type of direction of influence as to how bad it is.

CHAMPION: Right. Remember, exactly that, category like 125, category 4, 120, category 3, so don't care about the categories. This is a dangerous and destructive storm. That storm did a lot of damage. This storm will do a lot of damage.

As Tom mentioned, they're all completely different.

CUOMO: Pushed my hairline back half an inch. All right. So, what we're worried about, you guys mentioned that

wave, 83 feet. People will look at the data and say, well, but the face of it was only like 35, 40. We measure from the back of the wave from meteorology because that indicates the force that is pushing along with that water. That's what creates surge.

What do you see in these numbers that piqued your interest?

CHAMPION: OK, and that wave, Chris, was on the right -- northern right side of the storm. If you took the storm and drew a pie across it, that wave height was up here. It's not --

CUOMO: So, if this is -- if it's coming this way, it's over here.

CHAMPION: Right. So, this is the worst part of the storm. That quadrant, that right front quadrant.

And just to get off what we're talking about for a second off that wave, when that moves on shore, this will move on shore like that, which means everything north of wherever the center of the storm strikes, all of that on the coast line, north and east, will get the worst part of this storm. So, that's where that wave height, that 83- foot-high wave was. We're not going to see waves like that along the coast.

But here's what that tells us. First of all, that wave is there because the storm was moving, it was trapped in winds that are pushing in the same direction. Now, as that gets here, what we know now is there is a wall of water associated with this storm. Usually as this storm is bigger, so is that wall of water.

With the eye getting bigger, the wall of water gets bigger. And we know that wall of water is going to end up someplace, the storm surge along the coast.

CUOMO: Right.

CHAMPION: So, transfer that 83-foot wave down to about nine to 13 foot storm surge. We're pretty darn sure that's going to happen somewhere because there is that much wave action.

CUOMO: And then, Tom, you know, one of the reasons that we're looking at this and trying to figure out what it means, numbers can be deceptive. This is the regular height in that region, Tom, if you can see this from where you are, as well, this is what six to 13 feet winds up looking like. It takes you at the top of your house.

It's over for you if you're in there, unless you're going to hide in that attic, as we've seen so many times. Very low percentage.

CHAMPION: Yes, it's a bad idea. Even if you have to get out of the water, you know, it's better to take your chances not in the house than to get in the attic. Nobody can get you out if there are no windows in that attic, if there's no way out. There is nobody who's carrying machinery to get you out of the attic in a storm like this. And here's the other thing you need to know. And, Tom, a lot of these

homes are built on stilts and they think they're doing OK. But remember, the stilts are not quite a full story. So, when we got a 13-foot storm surge --

SATER: Exactly.

CHAMPION: -- that's a story and a half. So that's almost two stories of moving water coming at your house.

CUOMO: Right, even if you had stilts on the house, Tom, as you can see, you're still going to wind up about here. You can't exist in that.

SATER: Well, you know, what always confuses me or concerns me is those that stay behind say, well, I've got supplies and I got a generator.

CUOMO: Right.

SATER: You lose a roof or you got six feet of water in your house, you're not using your generator. And the other problem how many thousands have they sold and they're first-time buyers?

CUOMO: Right.

SATER: You know? They're going to use them in their home. Every storm we see fatalities of people using generators inside.

CUOMO: It's a good point. And, look, again, just let the visual tell the story for you. If you had a generator, where is it, where is it with this kind of water?

CHAMPION: Right, is it under water?

The other thing, Chris, is water is going to be sitting here for a while.

CUOMO: Right.

CHAMPION: So, you k now, it's likely that if you decided to stay in some of these communities with that water trapped around the house, you're not going to be able to get in and get out. You're going to have several feet of water.

CUOMO: And it's not water any more. Once you're in there, it's sewage, it's everything that's runoff from everything. It gets toxic quickly. And we hear about secondary, tertiary, third level infections.

CHAMPION: Good point.

CUOMO: All right. So, rainfall, size of storm has created new potential for different areas that weren't waiting, Sam.

CHAMPION: Right. So, Tom did a great job of showing you how the storm moved off the African coast line. It's had days to collect moisture in the storm. There is a lot of rain here.

And prior to the last 12, not even 20 hours, the South Carolina area wasn't thinking about this much rain. We were really focusing on it here and possibly a little bit in southern Virginia. Now this turn and drift that he mentioned is critical. It's hugely important because all of South Carolina is in play.

Look at that, all of South Carolina is basically going to flood. We've got the low lands down in here, so even if you don't flood like Savannah, you're looking, oh, I'm not getting the big water out of this. You're going to get the big drain out of this.

And the other thing that happens with this is that storm surge pushes water for the entire time it's here. It's going to be more than a day, kind of wandering the shoreline maybe. So, that water is holding in those bays and inlets and pushing nine feet of additional water in there.

CUOMO: Tom made a good point for me last night. This is not spongy space all along here.

CHAMPION: No.

CUOMO: It's really permeable and that's why Hugo was so destructive.

Tom, please, go ahead.

SATER: Yes. You know, the second part of this is the mountains of the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont up to areas of Shenandoah because they've already been inundated with flooding in parts of Pennsylvania and upstate New York. And when this system starts to move northward in the next several days, it's going to pull a lot of moisture in that area that they've already been performing water rescues.

I mean, the streams are so high right now, this is not just a coastal event when we get toward Thursday -- Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. So, this is going to be ongoing. And really stretch the resources for law enforcement and first responders well up in I think to areas of New England.

CUOMO: So the last factor, you've got capacity and concentration, all right? Here, 1940, Hazel was what, Tom, like 1940, '50-something? 1950-something? Hazel came in there?

SATER: Eisenhower was president.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: But this was who was exposed then. Look how over time 1990, now we're talking hurricane Hugo. Category 4 changed the topography of this area. It was the most expensive storm in terms of damage at the time.

But now look at it. Look at the concentration, look at the over building and the population, Sam. This is the problem. CHAMPION: So, in the old days, Chris, we would say that this part of

the country is well-versed in hurricanes and tropical storms. This area gets hit a lot. They have to prepare a lot. They know a lot. But what's happened in the last ten years is that population explosion, and at the same time there hasn't been a big storm.

A lot of these people -- and this is a big college area inland as well. A lot of these people will be in the storm for the very first time. Look how many people live along the coast line.

Now, we've got the coast line handled with those evacuations. My real, real, real present concern is what's going to happen inland. We're talking about, Chris, feet of rain. When you're talking from 20 to 30 to possibly 40 inches of rain and all of that rushing in kind of a runoff direction, it's going to be a catastrophe for some town, some area with this flood.

CUOMO: And, Tom, you have the storm surge and the winds pushing that water so it's not just the rain event.

SATER: No. And then with all the rain that's falling, that surge is going to keep it inland. You know, part of the problem is this to topography, too. The angle of those coast lines and the angle of approach Florence is making. I mean, that's a big difference when you have it perpendicular or parallel to the wind event.

So, I mean, you're absolutely right. We're going to have flooding that's going to be well inland. That surge is going to keep that rain and it's going to return on the backside of this storm.

So, there's always a problem, too, on the backside that many think they're in the clear and they're just not.

CUOMO: People sleep when they see the eye and it's a bad wake up call every time.

Tom, thank you very much. I'll be checking back with you early and often.

Sam, stay here because now we're going to go to the next phase of insight. We're going to have Brett Adair join us. He's a storm chaser. He just made his way to the front lines of Florence. What concerns him about Florence and something many don't know about the economic risk for people who live in the Carolinas.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. The good news is Florence has slowed down. What does that mean? You have time, heed the warnings. Make a plan, execute it. Get out if you were directed to do so.

The bad news, slowing down has allowed this storm to expand. So, right now, it's roughly 300 miles off the southeast coast of Wilmington, North Carolina. Locals have cleared out to a large degree. Some hunkering down.

Take a look at this video. This is inside the eye of the storm, OK? This is the calm area with hell on all sides, right?

The Air Force flying right into it, gathering weather data for the National Hurricane Center to provide all of us with the most accurate information about this monster storm.

That takes us to Brett Adair. He's a storm chaser extraordinaire and field meteorologist, joins us right now from Wilmington.

Now, you're there. Thank you. Be safe. Because that's where we expected to be the main hit from landfall. But now we see a turn, we see an increase in size.

What does it mean to you?

BRETT ADAIR, STORM CHASER: Yes, Chris. We've been watching this thing all day with the Hurricane Center updates. And we've been watching the live Air Force reconnaissance going in, checking the storm out.

To us basically, a stall-out on the coast line would be a worst case situation because you're going to see those hurricane force impacts be felt here in Wilmington and along the beaches here for a much longer period of time, as well as that inland heavy rainfall threat. Plus, you've got the storm surge. And then you've got the waves on top of the storm surge, so we're very concerned for this area no doubt.

CUOMO: What's next for you in terms of what you want to see with this storm?

ADIAR: Well, Chris, we're really just monitoring the situation. We want everyone here to understand just because we have seen maybe what they would call a weakening of the storm, just because the winds are down below 120 miles an hour, that means nothing.

This storm is massive. It is much larger than Hugo was when it hit this area in '89. It's larger than Hazel was when it hit in '54. Those are the two benchmark storms for the Carolinas.

So just because you've seen a little bit of weakening in the winds doesn't mean those wind fields aren't growing larger and going to affect a larger land mass. So, you know, this is still a serious storm, a dangerous threat as we go into the next couple of days.

CUOMO: All right. I've got Sam Champion here. What do you have for Brett Adair?

CHAMPION: So, Brett, I think you made a huge point for these people because there is only one time that I have ever been forced out of a shelter, and that was a category 1 storm, Brett. It's exactly what you just said, is that it stayed over us for 20 hours.

So, the building was fine and secure. The windows were great. The roof was fine. This was a great place to be for the storm. But 20 hours of being in a blender took the windows out, took the

walls down, took the roof out. It's the kind of thing that prolonged damage can be worse than just that initial hit. So, Brett, are you hearing that people are relaxing a little bit now, or are they still on point with the watches and warnings in the area?

ADAIR: Oh, everybody is still paying a lot of attention to the situation, Sam. Most of the folks that we talk to here along the immediate coast line are absolutely going to heed those evacuation orders and get out. Some of the more interior people, you know, they were getting all the supplies, the generators, the fuel.

But again, like you said, if this storm sits here for 24 hours, even longer, you've got the freshwater flooding threat that you could get trapped along with that wind damage threat, the surge threat, all that water from the Atlantic is going to go up the rivers and into the inlets. Where is it going to go? It's going to spill out on the land.

CUOMO: And water that you can't use. So if you're stuck, you don't have potable water. You're just sitting and waiting and you're putting a ton of stress on the first responders. And we know how that story goes.

Brett, be safe. I'll be checking in with you. I'm going to be down there later tonight. I'm sure we'll meet up at some point, OK? Thank you, brother, appreciate it.

ADAIR: Thanks.

CUOMO: You know, the story -- there is a story in a lot of the science. So you and I are covering a -- we covered like a hundred storms.

CHAMPION: A lot.

CUOMO: I think we're in Superstorm Sandy, and I'm standing somewhere and you say, we have to leave. We're in downtown Manhattan. It was not that bad --

(CROSSTALK)

CHAMPION: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) I remember.

CUOMO: And you say, no, it's duration. We can't take this level of rain for this long with this wind. We're going to get stuck. Cut to two hours later, we're staring at my brother across --

CHAMPION: In that big Humvee thing, yes.

CUOMO: Across the West Side Highway, we were trapped on top of a van and inside the van for the entire night and it happened like that.

CHAMPION: Yes. And that storm surge -- and again, we can't tell you exactly where the storm surge is going to set up. That was an 11-foot wall of water that moved across the area that we were. And that water came up so quickly that nobody could even get out.

The same thing will happen in some part of the coast line here. And what I want people who are seasoned, you know, North Carolinians and South Carolinians who lived there for ever and been through storms, storm surge is the thing you can't beat. You might be able to protect yourself from the wind, but you storm surge will take you, the building, whatever you're in with it and it will just -- you'll be gone. So that's the one game you don't want to play.

And the second game I don't like here is the freshwater flooding, all of that flooding inland. Chris, there are so many people who just won't be able to take this and will lose everything in the kind of flooding that we have the potential of having with this storm.

CUOMO: Two points. The first is you think you can do it, but you can't. Again, that's Superstorm Sandy. I wanted to try to swim across. You're like, yes, go ahead, try to make it to your brother. Let me have your mother on the phone because you're never going to make it.

There are cars and telephone poles and everything --

CHAMPION: Yes, everything in there. That water is not what you want to get in.

CUOMO: The second thing is the difference between the word hurricane and flooding, we use them together all the time. It's common sense. It should.

That's not how the economics works. Put up the graphic of how many people have flood insurance under the program in the Carolinas.

All right. The numbers are small, but let me just take you through it. Sam directed me to this earlier today as a big factor.

Dark colors along the coast. You'll see numbers there of somewhere between 20 to 35 little north of that percent, people have flood insurance. They have hurricane insurance, but they don't have flood insurance. And once you move inland, it's in the single digits in most places.

Now, how does that play out in a storm like this?

CHAMPION: Horrifying. And this -- kudos to my friend Paul Walsh who is -- he handles the business of weather. So, he's always looking for this kind of thing. What does it mean economically?

And this surprised even me, Chris. I kind of figured coastal areas would have that kind of insured flood protection. But I really expected more inland areas. So a lot of people, since we have put this out on Twitter, have talked about it. They said, yes, we don't have flood insurance in the area. Or we had a problem getting when storms came before, we had a problem getting paid out for flood insurance so we didn't pick it up again.

This is the hard thing. Look, insurance companies don't like to pay out. We all know that. They're going to make it difficult for you to get money from this.

CUOMO: And time is on their side.

CHAMPION: And time is on their side.

CUOMO: Because you want to get paid because waiting is literally delaying your life.

CHAMPION: Right. So, if you -- if your house is not livable, where are you going to live while you're waiting to get the check?

But the problem here not having it is that this is going to fall on the backs of people who really just can't take that. If you lose your home, you lose your car, you lose the way you can get to work, you lose the clothes that your kids wear to school, you lose everything. And how do you make that up? You know?

So, that's the problem in these areas in North Carolina, inland areas. I'm concerned about this all the way to the mountains and beyond -- even some of this heavy rain in north Georgia, Tennessee, eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio. And as Tom pointed out, now we're looking at this thing maybe spinning around back up toward New England carrying some of that heavy rain. In the same areas where the moisture from Gordon just went through.

So, the ground is saturated. This is going to flood like that.

CUOMO: And, by the way, this isn't the only storm in the area.

CHAMPION: Right.

CUOMO: Right? You're keeping your eyes on something in the gulf, two or three others that are in a cluster coming off of the African coast?

CHAMPION: A lot of people are going to need to know about what is a landfalling system, a hurricane or tropical storm in the Caribbean, the Central Caribbean. And then the other thing, look at the 70 percent zone. That isn't named yet but it is in the gulf, and the gulf is a perfect area to develop storms.

CUOMO: What does that mean, 70 percent zone?

CHAMPION: Seventy percent means that they believe it's got a high probability of becoming a tropical storm or a developed tropical system.

CUOMO: Or it's not named yet.

CHAMPION: Right, it's not named yet.

So -- but they look at it and they give it a -- is it a 10 percent chance, a 30 percent chance it will develop? This has been increasing. And the gulf is like an incubator for storms. It's perfect for them to develop.

So, Texas, south Texas has had a lot of flooding lately. Can't take a system like this. Houston, we all know the stories last year in flooding Houston. Houston and north Texas had a lot of rain as well.

This will be a huge problem even if it doesn't develop. If it just moves on shore exactly like it is, this is a lot of rain for Texas. They need to be ready for this.

CUOMO: It's one of the things that's frustrating what did we learn from last year. Duration of precipitation, not just to rhyme, is a real problem. That was Harvey.

Irma, you -- forget about the strength of the storm. It changes direction and it hangs out places that you didn't expect it to. It's devastating. We learned that just last year.

CHAMPION: Yes. And we'll see exactly the same thing with this storm. And again, people tend to forget because inland folks don't deal with storms like this a lot. But we'll have tornadoes, we'll have severe thunderstorms, we'll have flooding, and they'll be dealing with it for days.

There will be power outages most likely hundreds of miles away from the shoreline just because of this system.

CUOMO: Sam Champion, nobody does it better. Thank you for helping me once again.

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to need you more in this storm season because there's a lot coming our way.

CHAMPION: Yes, there is.

CUOMO: Thank you, my friend. Sam Champion, everybody.

All right. Another man with a lot of experience with storms, the mayor of Florida's capital, Andrew Gillum, hoping to be the next governor of the state. We're going to tap into what he learned the last time around. There was blame to go around.

What he thinks about what the president said about Puerto Rico. This isn't just about Trump. Those Puerto Ricans left the island, many of them are now potential voters in Florida.

Andrew Gillum, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Look, we worry about storms like Florence because of what we don't know. And then they come and we learn too late. But what do we do when they are over?

That's something that we're struggling with from last year right now. Now, one person who knows about political fallout and needing to learn in the past is the current mayor of Tallahassee and the Democrat running to be Florida's next governor, Andrew Gillum.

Welcome back to PRIME TIME, sir. MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GOVERNOR NOMINEE: Thanks so much for

having me. And, obviously, my heart goes out to those as they prepare for Florence, as she makes heron tri onto the United States. I hope that all of those in harms way will heed the warning of their elected officials and their leaders and evacuate if they're in the path of danger.

CUOMO: What is your word to the leaders on the ground there from what you learned last year?

GILLUM: Yes, well, I would say, first of all, ensure that you aggregate all the help you need on the frond end. There are a lot of layers to this thing. Obviously, the first response you want to have in place is for individuals to protect life and to save life, to recover folks from danger.

And then beyond that, there are going to be some difficult days where people are inconvenienced. They won't have power. They'll be inconvenienced by some of the water damage. And that's when folks start to get frustrated.

Help them through that. Make sure you have comfort station ands places where folks can, again, begin to get some relief from the storm. And then the dangerous part of recovery and what that means.

If you're from Puerto Rico, many of those folks are still dealing with what it means to recover from --

CUOMO: Right.

GILLUM: -- the impact of that storm.

CUOMO: Right, and that's what being --

GILLUM: I want to encourage that we look at this in that way.

CUOMO: And that's what being an unsung success as we hear from the president. Imagine if it were a catastrophe in Puerto Rico --

GILLUM: Well --

CUOMO: -- and obviously I'm being sarcastic and with cause. Many Puerto Ricans, hundreds of thousands fled the island, many did not return, and they are in mostly south Florida and they are eligible as American citizens, to register to vote.

So, when I ask you about what the president said about Puerto Rico, it's not just about politicians infighting. You have potential constituents who are listening. What do you make of what he said, what do you want the Puerto Ricans in South Florida who may vote to know?

GILLUM: Well, I mean, another disappointment by this president who seems to be completely disconnected from the reality of the lived experiences of so many of those folks who were displaced because we failed to respond appropriately. I mean, we saw the images of pallets of water that never got

distributed. I went to Puerto Rico a few weeks ago and traveled into the interior of the island where there were still folks there that had not had their utility restored and a major water problem that they're still trying to figure out. And this president has the unmitigated gall to describe what he did as some form of success.

It's a disappointment. These are American citizens. They are deserving of a proper and an appropriate federal response, and they didn't get that in this case.

And Donald Trump and all throughout the system, there is enough blame to go around. You would think he'd be contrite and figure outweighs to fix it. Instead, he's patting himself on the back.

CUOMO: So, what he points to is Puerto Rico's fragility, it's on them. Now, of course, the irony in that is if you knew it were fragile and people did know, why didn't you prepare more?

So, now, you have these Puerto Ricans in Florida -- looking at the numbers on your race for whatever good polls are. You know the Quinnipiac poll that came out. You guys are basically within the margin of error from one another. It's a very tight race.

One of the reasons that everybody is watching a governor's race which ordinarily doesn't draw as much national attention, but because it's Florida and you've got over 93 percent in each party says I know who I'm voting for. One of the areas of spread is Latinos, Hispanics as it's termed in the poll. DeSantis has a little bit of strength against you with Hispanics.

Do you think this issue could make a difference? He's Trump's guy. Trump calls it an unsung success. Does he? And is this something you're going to go after?

GILLUM: Well, first of all, I think we are going to get our fair share of the Hispanic vote. Not only will this storm and this storm response that Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump share in will that be a problem for them, but his position on health care is going to be a problem for him. He doesn't believe in expanding Medicaid for 700,000 of the most medically needy people in this state.

His economic plan, which we haven't seen yet -- I mean, he's basically told the press in this state that he's not talking to them because he hadn't formulated what his agenda is for the people of the state of Florida. He was a near guarantee to win his primary and still didn't think about why he's running for governor and what he wants to do for the people of the state of Florida? That's what's going to do him in.

Obviously, the storm will be a part of that, but largely it is that he has no real ideas to move this state forward. When you compare that to what we're offering, voters are going to make and have a very clear choice here, and that is they're going to choose to go forward, not backwards. They're going to choose hope and inspiration and aspiration --

CUOMO: Right.

GILLUM: -- and not derision and division this candidate happens to be offering.

CUOMO: Well, as we talked before and we have to talk more on this show about as an issue, his problem is he doesn't want to cover enough people. Your problem is you want to cover everybody but you don't know exactly how to pay for it yet.

And those are interesting issues --

GILLUM: Well --

CUOMO: -- for the electorate. I know you have your ideas. We invited Congressman DeSantis.

GILLUM: Sure.

CUOMO: He's retired for the purposes of his election. But we asked him to come on the show actually for months. He's invited on again. If he doesn't come, that's his choice.

You are invited back to discuss that issue because the economy and health care are the two biggest issues in all recent polling for your voters. We'll have you on and we look forward to what your take is on how Florence is handled because of your own experience in Florida. Thank you, sir.

GILLUM: Indeed. Look forward to it. And look forward to sharing with you my plan to pay for it.

CUOMO: Good. Andrew Gillum, good to have you.

So, are we ready? Is the federal government ready? The president proclaimed again tonight, yes, 100 percent. Now, all we want is for that to be true, right?

But it wasn't the case in Puerto Rico. It wasn't a great job. It's still not a great job. Americans there are struggling, and more failures were just exposed. We're going to have a great debate about the reality, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: President Trump can say it. He can say it again. He can demand it. He can wave his fists when he says it. And it is never true.

Calling the recovery and response to Puerto Rican an unsung success is only half right. It is unsung because it is not a success.

Millions are now in the path of Florence. They are looking to their president for reassurance that he has everything in order. And when they hear what's going on with Puerto Rico, it's hard to have his credibility be not held in check.

Listen to the most recent sound bite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tremendous people working on the hurricane. First responders, law enforcement and FEMA, and they're all ready and we're getting tremendous accolades.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Good. They should be ready. Accolades for what they do right, the president, the government should be applauded. But what they do wrong, they have to own or we don't learn and people don't have confidence.

Let's debate the status quo with Ana Navarro and Steve Cortes.

Steve, Puerto Rico has its problems. It's vulnerable. Everybody knew it. It wasn't prepared for, FEMA admits it.

The president says it is an unsung success. That is not true. Can I get an amen?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I will not give you an amen. I wish he had continued the sentence and the thought, though, and said, an unsung success given the horrific conditions of both the island before the storm unfortunately, the infrastructure particularly, really a third world infrastructure because of a very corrupt government, combined with acts of god that island has never seen before. Two horrific storms in succession.

So, I think unsung success given the circumstances is a very rational and logical and truthful analysis.

CUOMO: Ana, we have picture from Bill Weir where he's flying over one of the areas inland in Puerto Rico and he comes across what looks like some kind of megamall. And what those are are 20,000 pallets of water that was never delivered to people, even though they were in dire straits.

The government knew the situation in Puerto Rico. They knew the storms were coming. FEMA admits it did not anticipate the need and did not organize the place is still under water literally and figurative in some places. How is it a success?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not a success. Look, any time you have 3,000 people, 3,000 Americans, 3,000 U.S. citizens die, it is not a success.

And let me remind you that for almost a year the government covered up these deaths. They told us over and over again that there had been 64 deaths in Puerto Rico. And by the way, I also think the state government in Puerto Rico is complicit in this and Governor Rossello has some explaining to do. It's not just the federal government.

I give the Trump administration and FEMA accolades for the way they behaved in Harvey and Irma. I was in Florida. I'm a Floridian. You could see the activity.

The bottom line and the facts are that the response to Maria was slower and it was less than Harvey or Irma, despite the fact that the necessity was much more. We know Puerto Rico was an island. It's not like a meteor fell from the sky one day suddenly and it became an island. It's an island, OK? It's always been an island.

We knew that the infrastructure was affected. We knew the electric company was affected. We know that it's been in a debt and financial crisis now for years because of the inefficiency and incapacity and corruption of the Puerto Rican government. They have some responsibility.

But the federal government knew that Puerto Rico required more help than Texas or Florida. And they did not give the same level of response that they did to Texas or Florida. The question is, why?

CUOMO: Steve?

CORTES: Well, you know, I'm glad you asked that, by the way, because one much our colleagues Jeffrey Toobin made a very careless statement, ridiculous statement frankly when he said they didn't respond because it wasn't white people on the island of Puerto Rico.

I'm glad you mentioned Hurricane Harvey in Texas because Houston, Texas, is perhaps the most diverse metro area in America. Houston, in fact, the metro area, has more people of color than the entire island of Puerto Rico. And yet the disaster response in Houston, Texas, has been uniformly praised from the federal government and the state government.

So it's clearly not a case of the president ignoring people of color, ignoring black and brown people in need. The difference is Texas is a prosperous place with largely good government and is not an island. All three are the opposite in Puerto Rico, which made the situation there much, much more dire.

But to affix this to racism as the left so often does, it reaches its conclusion first that the president is a racist and then it tries to come up with the reasons why is really an insult. It's an insult to first responders. It's an insult to the president --

CUOMO: Let's keep the first responders out --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Well, let me -- let me give you some facts, though. Let me give you some facts.

Six days after Harvey, there were 73 helicopters that were operating on site. It took three weeks after Maria where there was such need to evacuate people because there was no electricity. People were dying because they couldn't hookup their oxygen machines. People were dying because they couldn't keep their insulin refrigerated. It took three weeks to get the same amount of helicopters that it did six days after Maria. It took Donald Trump four days to show up in Florida and four days to

show up in Harvey. Places that had been devastated by the hurricane. It took him almost two weeks to show up in Puerto Rico. What did he do? He lobbed paper towels at the Puerto Rican people.

There were millions and millions more meals, more liters of water, more tarps sent to Harvey relief and to Irma relief than there were to Puerto Rico in the same nine days immediate response.

You can't argue with the fact that the response was less. It was lower. It was not sufficient.

And we knew, you know, one of the things with hurricanes as we've seen this week is that they give you advance warning. It's not a tornado, it's not an earthquake. We knew for days this was going to happen. It took the USS Comfort three weeks to show up there.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Listen, you don't -- I sat in my house watching a --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: You don't have --

NAVARRO: How many days have we known that a hurricane is going to strike the eastern United States this week?

CORTES: Ana, you don't have advance notice to build infrastructure. You can't build infrastructure within days of knowing that a hurricane is going to arrive and that is the difference between Texas, a place where the government did a great job helping a lot of Americans, millions of Americans --

CUOMO: Right.

CORTES: -- of color recover quickly and Puerto Rico were a lot of Americans unfortunately --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: How much infrastructure do you need to land the helicopter? How much infrastructure do you need to land a military helicopter?

CUOMO: You have continuing need in Puerto Rico that's still not met and that's why the question remains. They just keep not getting it right.

We have to leave it there for now.

Ana Navarro, thank you. Steve Cortes as always.

All right. What we keep hearing is this one is different. Florence is a storm unlike any other. Don't get caught up in the category. Why? We're going to help put this hurricane in perspective for you and why this one could be so bad, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. Right after the show, I'm going to head down to the Carolina coast obviously to cover Hurricane Florence. Here are some of the stats to contextualize the storm as we understand it right now.

It could be the most intense storm to hit the Carolina coast in at least 25 years. From late Thursday through early Sunday, Florence is only going to travel about 150 miles. Slow is bad with a hurricane, OK? That's literally slower than walking pace.

Parts of North Carolina could get up to 40 inches of rainfall. Now, why? Three reasons. One, saturation of the ground from so much rain already and from parts surrounding it. Two, the size of the storm. Three, the speed, OK?

What does this all mean? It means you got to heed the warnings. You've got to make a plan and live up to it.

Now, somebody knows this as a professional and as someone who grew up in a hurricane-vulnerable area, Don Lemon. He's with us right now.

You're going to head down as well. I've been getting a lot of calls from local officials saying, please keep telling people, don't sleep on this storm because it got "weaker" in category size.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Yes. Well, and when people say, oh, well, you know, it's never as bad as the media says. Well, sometimes they are as bad, and sometimes they are worse. So, it doesn't matter if it's not as bad as we say because the forecasters are predicting this.

And what we're trying to do is save your life, keep the loss of life to a minimum, if at all. So I think, again, heed the warnings. I've gone through a number of them as a child growing up and a young person growing up in Louisiana and also covering them as well.

Can I just say something, Chris? I don't want to insert myself in your show, but it was shocking to me when I heard what Steve Cortes said about my colleague, Jeffrey Toobin. A gross mischaracterization of what he said. So, I went back to look at what he said.

He did not say that the president would not send people -- did not send people in to rescue people because they were not white. What he said is if 3,000 white people had died in Florida or Texas, he would not be saying -- or would we be saying it was a success? Would he be saying it was a success?

Those are two different things, and I think that was a gross mischaracterization as someone who works here at CNN. Jeffrey Toobin is my colleague. I just felt the need to defend him and to set the record straight.

CUOMO: Oh, it's just fine. It's a fair point, and also, Toobin is far from the only person who said exactly that, including among major congressional leaders. Don, thank you very much for setting the record straight.

LEMON: See you soon, sir.

CUOMO: All right. Now, I keep saying I fear what's coming because, as Don was just saying, I've been in storms like this, and I know that the difference between a two, a three, a four is meaningless when you're on the ground. So, if you're still debating whether to stay or go, I have a closing argument for you. Please listen and consider.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. Closing argument for you.

Almost exactly a year ago, we were getting slapped around by Hurricane Irma and its aftermath. You remember this, right? That storm and Harvey before it, they gave us lessons for Florence. The main one, a stalled storm creates suffering.

Harvey proved 30 inches of rain or more in a day with even 50-mile-an- hour winds blowing it around creates deadly surge and fatalities from flooding many miles inland. Shelters were a struggle. Many went missing.

You remember us making calls here at night trying to reconnect folks?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Jess, I'm alive. There's no fatalities that I know of. It's just a mess, a total mess down here. OK, honey. I love you. All right. Bye.

Thanks, guys.

CUOMO: No, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You know, that was in the Keys in Florida. All this infrastructure, and yet they needed our satellite phone to let people know after days that they were still alive. That storm showed us a change of direction and duration, and for it to happen quickly like may happen with Florence, it's too late to adjust. You're out of position.

So, the lesson is you have to err on the side of caution. You must go. You saw us weathering that storm. Winds were upward of like 140 miles an hour, all right?

You saw what they can do to the beefiest of us. You have to play the percentages. A long drive home is a lot better than a short struggle with rising waters and wind.

Now, you've seen us. We chase storms. We stand in them. We survey the effects of a lot of different types of historic natural disasters. I've been with first responders making miracles happen after a storm,

and I see the makings of a bad situation here. Not just because of what we can't control, but because of what we can. Many are not leaving. Many are seeing the five go to a four, go to a three, and they're thinking it's okay.

I have never felt the difference between a one, three, or five on the ground. Things fly by. People die.

Are we going to make sure that the events are recorded? Yes. That's why we go, so that you know what happens. So that our leaders know, first responders know, the people from the area know. That's why we go.

If -- I would not be there for any other reason, I'll tell you that. If I lived there with my family, I would go. If you're in the area, do what is the absolute safest course of action, please. And if you're watching what happens from home, remember, there but for the grace go you. And please do what you can to help your brothers and sisters after the storm.

We'll be coming to you from the landfall zone starting tomorrow night. I will see you then. If you are in the area, please be safe.

Thank you for watching.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon picks up the coverage right now.