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Hurricane Florence Targets East Coast; Trump Doubles Down on Puerto Rico Hurricane 'Success'. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Shift south and pose even greater danger.

So, Florence could now batter coastal areas within 24 hours of hurricane-force winds, bring catastrophic flooding, with more than three feet of rain, and churn up life-threatening storm surges of up to 13 feet.

We have a full team of reporters all along the Southeast Coast covering Hurricane Florence.

But I want to start with Jennifer Gray, our meteorologist, for just the most up-to-date information on where Florence is going to go.

And you were talking before about how Florida is almost like inhaling and exhaling. And it may be downgraded for now to a Category 3, but it could strengthen as it heads close to the coast.


And when you focus on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, what category it is, it was a Category 4, 130-mile-per-hour winds. Now it's 125-mile-per-hour winds. So when you get to that level, it really doesn't matter. This is a major storm, Category 3. This is a big storm. It's not only powerful. It's big in size, 125 miles per hour, could strengthen a little bit more before making landfall.

It's going to fluctuate in intensity. That's very normal. It has gusts of 160 miles per hour. It's still expected to make landfall on Friday as a Category 3 right here around Wilmington, somewhere inside this cone, could be extreme northeast sections of South Carolina. Even some of the models are hinting that this could go onshore a little bit and meander to the south.

Other models are showing it may hang off offshore and meander to the south. Regardless, this change in track and the extended period with showing this little shift to the south is going to shred the coastline.

It's going to mean that more of the coastline is going to be impacted and it's going to mean more people are going to be in this flooding area. So if you're evacuating the coast and going inland, you need to be very careful about the place you choose to sit this storm out, because a lot of places well inland will get possibly 10, 20 inches of rain. And we are now, like you said, a concern for Georgia, now inside the cone, could be in this for some flooding as well.

So look at this. This area has widened, this 20 to 30 inch of rain totals you can see stretching now down to include Myrtle Beach, portions of South Carolina. This area was a little bit smaller last time I talked to you. That's widened. And we have also seen well inland, Columbia could get 10 to 20 inches of rain, not to mention that the storm surge is going to be incredibly high, nine to 13 feet of storm surge pushing inland.

That's pushing on land, pushing up in the rivers, overflowing the banks. And with this storm sitting either just offshore or just onshore for more than 24 hours in the same spot, practically, you can walk faster than the storm is going to be moving, that means that we will see this storm surge last for several high tide cycles.

And so this is going to be something that this coast of North Carolina and South Carolina has never seen before. That's why it's incredibly important to get away from the storm, get well inland. The flooding is going to be catastrophic potentially for a lot of areas, and that coastline could definitely be shredded.

Brooke, all up and down, it's going to be devastation possibly for miles.

BALDWIN: Let me say that again. You can walk faster than the storm will be moving, right?

So that is key in what you just said. Therefore, that will lead to all of the flooding issues, for the coastal Carolina issues.

Jennifer, thank you so much.

I mean even farther inland.

More than a million people have been on the move, emptying out of Carolina beaches. We have got pictures of gas station pumps all wrapped up, but some people are choosing to stay, increasing the urgency for local and state and federal officials.

They say the window to get out of town is shrinking fast. Moments ago in South Carolina, the governor said this is -- said this to those who are not under mandatory evacuation.


GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you are in an evacuation zone or you are in one of those counties in an evacuation zone, when the order has not been given to evacuate, leave. Go ahead and leave and go to find higher ground, because you may be in danger.

This is a big, big storm.


BALDWIN: Drew Griffin is live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

And, Drew, Governor McMaster said that 300,000 people have evacuated there from South Carolina. Is it pretty quiet where you are?


Quite frankly, Brooke, that new forecast turning south this morning was a game-changer for a lot of the holdouts. And we can show you that the evacuation route highways from here in Myrtle Beach all the way down to Charleston are now all heading one way. And that is away from Florence.

It's not just the southward hit that could take place. It's also the duration of this storm that you were talking about with Jennifer Gray. You know, it's easy to ride out -- not easy, but it's easier to ride out a storm that comes and goes.


Even Hugo 29 years ago, it went through in a snap. When you have a storm just hanging around and battering the coast, that's just days and days of misery. And I think a lot of the people just decided, you know what? It is just not worth it.

You can see the beach behind me is empty. The businesses here in Myrtle Beach forced closure at 5:00 tonight. And after that, the mandatory evacuation is under way, by which you just do not have the promise of emergency or police help if the storm gets bad enough.

So I think many people have heeded the warnings. The people who are leaving certainly had time to leave. It wasn't that crowded actually leaving. So you could get...

BALDWIN: Oh, we lost him, Drew Griffin in Myrtle Beach. Thank you, Drew.

To North Carolina, where we know of at least one shelter that is at full cast. Remember, North Carolina could get up to 40 inches of rain from Florence.

So, let's go to Kaylee Hartung. She's in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

And, Kaylee, Drew was just making the point, because of the path change with Florence, that was sort of a game-changer for a lot of people in South Carolina saying, all right, we really do need to leave.

I'm wondering if people in North Carolina feel less so now.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, by the looks of the scene on the beach right now, that should be a concern. And I think it is for a lot of officials.

Just as Jennifer Gray said, you can walk faster than this storm will move. Local officials right now hoping people start walking a little bit faster toward the exit route from Carolina Beach, a barrier island in North Carolina where there is a mandatory evacuation order, a deadline of 8:00 p.m. tonight, where the one bridge off this island will be closed.

And yet I see about a dozen people to my left, about a dozen people behind me on this beach, and even some folks in the water, despite the strong recurrence that are an incredible threat right now before this storm even arises.

But tourists were gone from here long ago. The mayor here says he believes 50 percent of this small island population left yesterday. Many of the people I have spoken to who have come out to the beach here today are locals. They don't live on this island. They really just came to enjoy the last bit of good whether they have and expressed a sentiment similar to this one:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not crazy enough to stay on the island by any chance. I really think everybody should probably evacuate off the island.

I mean, it's just -- I mean, we get lunar tide floods here all the time. So with a nine-to-13-foot storm surge, I mean, this whole island is going to be inundated with water. We're not that crazy, but we're in the city limits in Wilmington, and, you know, in a brick home, so boarded up, ready to go with the generator.


HARTUNG: So much of the sentiment here, Brooke, if you're not under mandatory evacuation orders, folks aren't leaving their home.

It's hard to find anyone who's leaving the city of Wilmington. But here on Carolina Beach, despite that turn in the storm you mentioned, you're still looking at life-threatening storm surge.

The sand dunes over here to my right, these are 12 feet tall. Those are expected to be toppled. That hasn't happened since Hurricane Fran in 1996. This area, you know, Brooke, you're familiar with it. It's grown so much in the last 20-plus years, since the last time people saw a storm coming anywhere close to this magnitude.

You want people here to heed those warnings. And that clock continues to tick towards the 8:00 p.m. deadline to get off this island, because if you stay, you are doing so at your own risk. Emergency responders will not be there to help you if you need it.

BALDWIN: Went to school in Chapel Hill. Everyone would head east to go surf out where you are. And I'm just hoping that people choose not to do that and go the other direction.

Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

Want to go a bit inland now, go to Wilmington, North Carolina.

That is where journalists Tim Buckland is standing by for me. He's a senior political reporter for "The Wilmington Star News." But he's been in storm coverage mode for the last week. So, politics aside there, Tim, you tell me. We have got all these

pictures of people boarding up all these storefronts all along the main drive there in Wilmington. You tell me, are people heeding the warnings to get out of town? What is the story?

TIM BUCKLAND, "THE WILMINGTON STAR NEWS": Well, as of today, officials with New Hanover County government have told us that it seems as though most people are heeding these warnings, whether they be mandatory or voluntary.

We have had a shelter here in Wilmington already fill up and the county has opened three more here in Wilmington, along with a couple more in and around the Raleigh area.

So people seem to be taking this one seriously. Like your previous guests have said, this kind of storm hasn't happened in decades and decades, perhaps even since the '50s. But since then, we have grown by leaps and bounds. We have roughly five times as many people living here as did during Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

And meteorologists have told me this is going to be a once-in-a- lifetime, game-changing event.


BALDWIN: Tell me about your newsroom, how you're covering it, where you're all hunkering down.

BUCKLAND: Well, we have some reporters stationed at emergency operations in Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick Counties.

And then we have several reporters who are going to hunker down in our building at "The Star News," which is a brick fortress. It has no windows.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

BUCKLAND: So we're going to ride it out through the storm, and then make sure we are constantly providing updates at

We know that we are the source of information for people, not only here, but for people who have left and are looking for news for how their home is affected.

BALDWIN: Including your own family who you sent out of town. Is that right, Tim?

BUCKLAND: That's right. My wife, Kate (ph), and my kids, Zoe (ph) and Max, went to Charlotte about two days ago. But I'm staying here.

BALDWIN: And you rode out Hurricane Matthew, right?

BUCKLAND: Correct. But Hurricane Matthew -- people who are assuming that Hurricane Florence is going to be anything like Hurricane Matthew was, they're mistaken. There's a reason emergency management officials have told me that if

people choose to ignore these orders, they have got body bags ready to go. This is going to be a completely different storm. I have never been through anything like this. Most people who have lived here have never been through anything like this.

We should take it seriously.

BALDWIN: Body bags. My goodness.

Here's my last question for you. We know that Florence has shifted direction, and Wilmington is less of a bullseye than first projected. You know, do people where you are feel that Wilmington should be under a mandatory evacuation?

BUCKLAND: It's a question that's being asked, but Wilmington is a little bit higher. And, basically, what they have said is, if you can get out, just get out. The advice is to just go.

You can come back and fix your house. You can't come back and fix you if you die. So I think most people are taking this one pretty seriously.

BALDWIN: Tim Buckland, "The Wilmington Star News," thank you so much. Appreciate it. Appreciate you and your newsroom and all the coverage.


BALDWIN: Thank you. Thank you.

BUCKLAND: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Still ahead here: President Trump lagging 20 points behind Robert Mueller in this new poll about how they're handling the Russia investigation, this as the president signs a new bill to punish those involved in election interference.

But coming up next, we will talk to a storm chaser live who will be writing out Hurricane Florence, as the clock ticks for most people on the coast to evacuate while they can.


CAROL BIONOWICZ, EVACUEE: We originally were going to stay. But once the track changed overnight, or early this morning, then we really did not feel safe in our house. So, for that reason, we're leaving.

We hate to leave, but we need to be safe.

HEATHER RAMSEY, EVACUEE: It's unpredictable, really, so we need to -- we need to get out of here to be safe. So we got my daughter and my animals, and we're packed up for a week or two, if we can't -- can't get back in.




BALDWIN: You talk to experts, they say this is likely the storm of a lifetime for the Carolinas. That's what we're getting from officials to those in the path of Hurricane Florence.

And that's saying a lot, given the fact that four major hurricanes left a trail of destruction along the Carolina coast just in the last century.

First, there was Hazel. That was back in 1954, the only Category 4 storm ever to hit North Carolina. Storm surge reached 18 feet in some places. Then, remember Hugo? That was in 1989. After barreling through Puerto Rico, it set its sights on South Carolina, continuing to produce hurricane-force winds seven hours after making landfall; 50 people died.

Fran, 1996, extensive flooding and damage spanned from South Carolina all the way up to Ohio; 26 people died. And, most recently, Isabel, that was in 2003, packing the greatest storm and wind surge in half-a- century.

The names of all four of these storms are now retired because of the devastation they brought to the U.S. And now we're talking about Florence. And officials have made it clear, evacuate today. This could be your last chance.

And as evacuees head for safe ground, various businesses are offering their support. You have airlines extending waivers and advisories for travelers in the storm's predicted path. U-Haul businesses all across Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia are offering free storage.

Verizon and AT&T are offering free calls, texting, data to its customers who live in the areas most impacted. Airbnb hosts, as well as campgrounds, volunteering to house evacuees for free. And Magellan has opened a toll-free crisis line.

Brett Adair is a field meteorologist and a storm chaser.

And, Brett, you and I chatted yesterday. You were on the beach, and now you're in Wilmington. And for as far as you're seeing, is the town boarded up? Is it fairly quiet? Are people hunkering down?

BRETT ADAIR, STORM CHASER: Well, to give you a visual of it, you can see behind me. I mean, this is Market Street. We're in Wilmington.

Yes, there are a few cars here. But, as we spill into the 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 hour, this is a very busy thoroughfare here about five miles off the beach, off Wrightsville Beach here in Wilmington. We are seeing a lot of the local businesses here, they are boarding up, putting up those piece of plywood, hurricane shutters.

A lot of places closed down, such as the local Wal-Mart here. Home Depot's closed.


So those final preparations are being made. Those employees are now going to their homes, getting prepared and getting ready to evacuate.

BALDWIN: As a meteorologist, from what you know about this storm so far -- we know it's taking a little bit of a turn more southward, which has people in South Carolina a little bit more worried. What concerns you the most?

ADAIR: Well, the biggest concern even compared to yesterday is, yes, people are seeing now that at the moment Florence is down to a Category 3 hurricane.

OK, the only difference in a 3 and a 4 vs. the last advisory is five- mile-per-hour sustained winds -- 125 is nothing to laugh at. This storm is going to continue to barrel toward the coast. It is a very large storm. It is going to cover a lot of land mass and a lot of area.

So just because it's down to a 3 at the moment doesn't mean, one, it can intensify. Number two, it's going to be just as bad as a 4 at this point, because it's driving tons of storm surge, extreme waves, flooding rains, high winds, and it could potentially stall just offshore now.

If the forecasts are correct and we get a storm that stalls offshore and stays there for 24 hours, 36 hours, and then moves maybe towards the south and west, that would actually be a worst-case scenario and drive more water in when impacts into this area.


A moment ago, we highlighted the other major storms hit the Carolinas in the last century. Do any of those look like what we're already seeing with Florence?

ADAIR: Well, no doubt.

In terms of the level of urgency here from locals and officials, yes, they realize that this is the Hugo of '89 that could potentially impact their region. And size-wise, it's even bigger. So everybody seems to be paying attention to the officials' warnings and the official forecast here in Wilmington. Let's just hope that continues and everybody can put themselves in a safe places as Florence comes inland.


Brett Adair, thank you so much. Good to talk to you again.

Coming up next, move off the storm for a second. President Trump says the federal government is fully prepared for Florence, as he doubles down on comments that the hurricane response in Puerto Rico was an incredible success.

So let's talk more about that today. Plus, we're live at the Waffle House storm center. Yes, that is

really a thing, and you might be surprised to hear they're actually in touch with FEMA.



BALDWIN: President Trump says the government is fully prepared for Hurricane Florence and is once again touting his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico almost a year ago, tweeting -- quote -- "We got A-pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida, and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent mayor of San Juan."

Let's just remember here that almost 3,000 people died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. That is far more than original death toll that was set at 64. The White House only recently acknowledged those revised members.

So let's start there with our CNN political analyst, Gloria Borger, in Washington.

And, Gloria, we listened to the president yesterday from the White House, doubled down on Twitter today, for some reason continues to tout what happened with Puerto Rico as this incredible success.

Where is he getting this from?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. It's some kind of a curve he's grading himself on, I'll tell you that.

I mean, I think his response has always been, in answer to a question about what did you -- what lessons have you learned from the mistakes that were made in Puerto Rico? And, of course, this president is incapable of admitting to making any mistakes anywhere.

So instead of saying that, he is blaming it on the electrical grid, the fact that there were two hurricanes, the fact that the government in Puerto Rico was -- the mayor was incompetent, he believes, et cetera,et cetera.

So this is just -- it's not surprising, honestly, coming from Donald Trump, but given the number of fatalities, it's just kind of stunning that he would keep repeating it.

BALDWIN: So out of touch.


BALDWIN: We have numbers. We have been talking in the last 24 hours about the dramatic drop in the president's approval rating. And on the flip side, we have numbers on Bob Mueller, the special counsel, and how his approval is on the rise in terms of how Americans feel he's handling this Russia investigation. Do you think that President Trump's attacks, attacks from Republicans have backfired and that's why we're seeing those numbers up?

BORGER: Well, that could be. I think people may be sick of hearing it called witch-hunt, a hoax, and everything else.

But I think what you're seeing in terms of Bob Mueller is, you're seeing results. I mean, you have seen the Manafort trial and you have seen the conviction there. You have seen the plea arrangement with the president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen.

You see that there are clearly more indictments coming down the road. You have seen the 22 Russian indictments. And you see the conversation that is still ongoing about whether the president in fact ought to testify before the special counsel.

And our poll also shows that more than 70