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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

New Forecast: Hurricane On Track To Hit The Carolinas, Winds 120 MPH. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will, thank you very much. Thanks for your excellent work. Thanks very much to our viewers for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Out front next, bracing for impact, the latest track shows Hurricane Florence on a collision course with the Carolinas with the clock ticking, the message to residents is, get out now.

Plus, mandatory evacuations in place along the east coast, but one mayor is defying the warnings and staying in place. Is he sending the wrong message? I'll ask him.

And an aerial view of the monster storm tonight. We'll talk to a hurricane hunter calling in live from his plane. Let's go out front.

Good evening everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, Hurricane Florence on track right now to deliver a devastating blow to the east coast. We are just hours away from the first tropical storm winds to hit the U.S. States of emergency are now in effect in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and D.C. Some 20 million people are in the storm's path, which as we speak, is kicking up 83-foot waves out in the Atlantic.

Sustained winds are topping out at 120 miles per hour. It's also some 600 miles wide to give you an idea of just how big that is. We'll show you a video from the international space station as it flies over Florence. Just look at it. The National Hurricane Center warning of catastrophic flash flooding, rainfall totals of up to 40 inches expected in some areas.

In South Carolina, some 300,000 people have already evacuated. The state's governor saying that number could hit 1 million by tomorrow. Officials, though, are taking no chances of course, and here's why. Just take a look at the size of Florence compared to Hurricane Hugo, the monster storm from 1989, which was the most powerful storm then, of course, to hit the Carolinas.

We're covering this storm from the ground and from the air. We will check in with our AccuWeather storm chaser and a hurricane hunter who just flew over Florence and has new data on the storm. But let's start with CNN Meteorologist, Tom Sater, who has the very latest on all these. So, Tom, give us the very latest. TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Kate, another hurricane hunter is getting ready to fly into this and what they may detect is a little bit of dry air trying to infiltrate that southern flank but we don't think that's going to do anything to this system. It lost a little strength, category 3 from last night, but this is still considered a major hurricane. Some of the high cirrus bands starting to now to move in. The tropical storm force winds about 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

So hopefully everyone is boarded up if they needed to board up with plywood because it's going to be hard to do that with these winds. The rain will follow coast to maybe midday into early afternoon and then it's going to rain for days. But I want all of your viewers to understand that was not a typo when you said 83-foot waves.

Early this morning, on the northeastern quadrant, 83-foot swells, that's the wave height. That is unbelievable. That's the wall of water that the system is carrying toward the coastline. When this first developed, it was 2,000 miles away, now it's only 385, and it is southwest of Wilmington. The red color here, these warnings may have to be extended down to the south if we find these models continue to push the system toward the coast and down the coast.

This is just the European model. This is something new that happened last night. Still brings the eye toward kill Wilmington. This is going to pound Wilmington. From Cape Fear, Carolina Beach is going to get hit hard and if it slides down, this model keeps it right on the coast or just off the coast down to Charleston. Now, the U.S. model agrees with this, but they put it pretty much on the shoreline. This is worst case scenario. This is the fuel line that continues to be open, so this engine purrs and just drops day after day after day of rain.

We could be looking at this area of the Carolinas having four days of rainfall. Some of the days are going to drop over 10 inches a day. That's just staggering when it comes to what this path may do. But again, we're still going to try to see if the National Hurricane Center somewhat maneuvers and tweaks this path as this system gets a little bit closer, which most likely it will.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Tweaks its path but it is big and it is coming. That's, I mean, all you really need to know at this moment. Tom, thanks so much.

SATER: Right.

BOLDUAN: And in just 45 minutes, a curfew is going to be setting in for Carolina Beach, North Carolina. A mandatory evacuation is in effect and all the residents need to be out by the top of the hour.

Out front now is Carolina Beach's Mayor, Joe Benson. Mayor, thank you so much for coming in.

MAYOR JOE BENSON, CAROLINA BEACH, NORTH CAROLINA: Kate, thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: You're going to be leaving. You're heading out. You're following the evacuation orders. You're gong to be leaving right after this interview. Do you think most of the people in town are following your lead?

BENSON: They are, and, you know, you wish that everyone would. My guess is 90%, 95% do.

[19:05:07] The order that I issued naturally, it makes sense that I follow it, you know. But as your meteorologist pointed out, Kate, it's going to be nasty here before too long.

BOLDUAN: But for the people who are in your town who are choosing to stay behind, I mean, we know that police are going to start knocking on doors, asking folks to provide next of kin information just in case. And that's a really horrible thing to think about. So, what is your message -- what message do you want to send them tonight? How big of a mistake do you think they're making if they stay behind?

BENSON: Well, it's huge, Kate, because this part of North Carolina, indeed the entire state, we haven't been hit by a category 3 -- strong 3 or 4 since Hazel, that was 64 years ago. And there aren't very many people who remember Hurricane Hazel, so I think everybody acknowledges it's a huge mistake. I just wish everybody would heed the warnings and heed the evacuation order.

BOLDUAN: It's a good bit of perspective that no one really even understands, no one really was around when, you know, Hazel hit, probably. Right now the storm is a strong category 3. Tom was just laying it out for us. It could bring storm surge of up to 13 feet. Can you put in perspective what kind of damage you are expecting in your town?

BENSON: Well, Kate, if we have -- and we should expect -- two cycles of tides, that means two high tides in a 24-hour period when the surge is the greatest, when that happens, 13 feet above the high tide, which might be 7, you're talking about as much as 20 feet of water coming over the dunes. Our sand dunes are healthy, but they're not going to be able to keep back a wall of water like that. And we can expect at that point the water gets out on to the first two, maybe three blocks, and you know, from there, take the rain in conjunction which we have now --

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BENSON: -- you put the two in combination, flooding is almost guaranteed.

BOLDUAN: Almost guaranteed. And thank you for sticking it out in this rain that's coming down very clearly. I can see it on you and on our camera, Mayor. Do you have a plan for when the storm passes? What are you hoping to get back in?

BENSON: Well, I mean, if we assume the storm is three or four days, as we've heard, roughly, we're going to need a couple of days to clean up the island. You know, make the roads passable. Hook back those essential services, water and sewer, start getting the power back on. We don't want folks rushing back into an unsafe and unsanitary environment, so that could take a week. You know, and as we've heard, as strong as this storm is now, that might be more than a week, so we want those conditions to be met before we, you know, begin the re- entry process.

BOLDUAN: So many unknowns with this. Mayor, thank you so much for sticking it out as you're getting rained on now. Please stay safe. Do evacuate.

BENSON: Yes, just a little.

BOLDUAN: We'll check back in with you. I really appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

Also joining me right now is Meteorologist Reed Timmer, and he's an AccuWeather storm chaser. He'll be joining us all week. And tonight he's live in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. You're also very used to getting rained on, Reed, as the Mayor was just getting rained on for us.

You heard the Mayor of Carolina Beach. They are all evacuating. He thinks that at least, you know, almost all of them will be evacuating. They are facing a curfew at the top of the hour. That's not far from where you are. How worried should they all be?

REED TIMMER, ACCUWEATHER STORM CHASER: Well, yes. We're in Wrightsville Beach right now and it does look like most of the residents are gone as well. We haven't talked to anybody that's staying behind but I'm sure that there are a few residents out here. We've talked to the checkpoint there as well on the bridge just on the other side of the mainland and they said they want everybody off by 8:00 p.m. They could even be blocking those roads but if you stay here and try to ride out the storm, you're absolutely not going to be able to get rescued.

We're already starting to get some increases in the wind speed. We've got the hurricane eye wall research vehicle. Here behind me, you can see the anemometer and that tall mass (ph) on the top in order to measure the wind speed of 27 miles an hour so far. So we're finally starting to get that slow increase of the winds out of the north right here. We have a little bit of a rain band coming through as well that we are monitoring for water spouts. But this storm is going to approach and then it's going to hit the brakes and that, if possible, that the storm surge could inundate this area for a few high tide cycles if it sits there and spins offshore and there's going to be that river flooding and flash flood risk.

BOLDUAN: Just lays out just how dangerous it really is. When I spoke with you last night, you said the beach where you're standing may never look the same again after Florence. With the changes in the forecast, the tweaks, the slowdown, turning a little bit south overnight and today, now what do you think?

[19:10:02] TIMMER: Well, I still think it's going to be the same. There's going to be a huge storm surge all along eastern North Carolina. The wind field has expanded so even though it doesn't have that well defined inner core as you'd see with a category 4 or category 5 storm, it's a very large category 3 so those winds are extending way out. It also takes a while for that storm surge to subside due to momentum so the surge is still going to be the main problem with the storm as well as the inland flooding for days possible as it stalls.

If you are staying down here, you do not wanted to be in these outer bands but if you are a little bit inland that's very possible, you could be trapped down here for days. So you certainly want to have all those supplies, stay out of those flood zones, take the mandatory evacuations very seriously and just get off this island because it's probably not going to be survivable out here.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about size. You mentioned. You've been in the middle about two dozen hurricanes. I wanted to -- we're going to be showing for our viewers once again the image of Florence compared to Hurricane Hugo, previously the most powerful storm to hit the region. Florence seems much bigger in size. What could the sheer size of it mean for residents?

TIMMER: Well, that's the scary part about Florence is its size, but even the more scary part is how it's going to be slowing down its forward speed, almost grinding to a halt and then just sitting barely offshore, possibly right overhead here in Wrightsville Beach, the Wilmington area, just hammering this area with that storm surge ever, a few high tide cycles, a river flooding. About that will be the 140- mile-per-hour winds, so it's very difficult to compare this storm to anywhere previously.

Many of those storms that were the strongest in history hitting here also ejected quickly off to the northeast as they were going to getting picked up by mid latitude trough. But this one's very different with a massive ridge in place and the storm just meandering, finding those weaknesses within that ridge. That's why it's going to -- now it's been forecast to meander a little bit southwest from Wilmington after it stalls out here. But when you don't have very much in the way of steering flow for the hurricane, there's still some uncertainty as it wobbles around and the exact areas that get hammered by that catastrophic storm surge should be very near and just north of the center and that includes all the outer banks of North Carolina.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's not just the initial hit. It's the hit, the hit, and the hit, and the hit that keeps coming, the sheer size of this. Again, how it's going to stall out as you're mentioning. Because of that, and as I mentioned, you've been in, you know, so many storms, are you taking any different precautions ahead of this storm than others in the past?

TIMMER: We take very different precautions for every single storm. We prepare for these and overthink every single possible scenario. We keep our escape routes dialed in. We're running models as well to see which areas are going to be inundated by that storm surge and we just make sure that we always have an escape route. You always have to expect the unexpected when you're chasing these storms because no two are the same and there's very complex differences with the coastline and the storm surges involved. Here, there are a lots of rivers that are also flowing into that river flooding. It will be beating the storm surge, especially with it stalling offshore like that so you just have to be prepared for everything. We may be trapped here for several days and we have to have enough food and water that we brought in from the outside of the impact zone to survive for days, potentially, so we can continue to deliver those life-saving reports through AccuWeather.

BOLDUAN: And you just stay in your vehicle this entire time?

TIMMER: We do stay very close to our vehicles but we also have scouted out concrete structures that can withstand those winds so we'll be parking downwind of some of those structures. The hurricane intercept vehicle will be measuring those winds in a very exposed area. We'll likely have to leave the vehicle behind and then retreat to an inland area that's safe to ride out the storm and also has data so we can continue to deliver those reports.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Reed. Thank you for what you're doing. We're going to check back, we're going to hear from you again tomorrow. We'll see you tomorrow and of course as it's going to start -- the real effects are going to start setting in tomorrow morning. We'll see what changes are before us. I appreciate it, Reed.

TIMMER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Out front for us next, as more than 1 million people scramble to safety, I'm going to speak to a mayor who is not going to be -- not going to be evacuating. He's ignoring the mandatory evacuation for his town. Why is that? I'll ask him.

Plus, President Trump sounds a new warning on Florence as he doubles down on his handling of the hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico. And a hurricane hunter is going to be calling in live from his plane on what Florence looks like from the air.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:03] BOLDUAN: Today is the last good day to evacuate, that's a warning from a top FEMA official as Hurricane Florence barrels toward the east coast, adding that the impact will be in this official's words, a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast. At this hour, more than a million people are under mandatory evacuation orders. Some racing against the clock after initially hoping to ride out the storm.

Drew Griffin is out front.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The southward track at the South Carolina coast with a sudden reality check. Already preparing for what might have been a glancing blow, Myrtle Beach and points south woke up in Florence's cross hairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like waking up to a sucker punch, and we need to take this very seriously. This storm is massive. It's catastrophic. And I don't say that to create panic but I say it to create a sense of urgency that people do need to take action and evacuate.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Evacuation routes turned all lanes one-way, away from the coast. A steady stream of last-minute evacuees trying to get as far as possible to ride out a storm that could last for days.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in. If you're on the coast, there is still time to get out safely. No possession is worth your life.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In North Carolina's barrier islands, two ferries full of residents of Ocracoke Island were some of the last to leave. More than 1 million facing mandatory evacuation orders are making one last decision, leave or ride it out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We leave, it could be weeks, a month until you can come back and check on your home. I mean, that's -- that in itself is scary to be away from your home for that long. So we boarded up the house. We have plenty of water. We have plenty of food. We're all just going to, you know, stick in it together and hope for the best.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In Myrtle Beach, final boards went up this morning on Christine Rush's apartment building. She thought she was staying, then reluctantly, looked at Florence's new path.

[19:20:08] CHRISTINE RUSH, RESIDENT OF MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: I didn't know it until you told me and my husband told me, so yes, we're leaving. We're going further off of the beach.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The biggest problem, her dog, Paten (ph). She won't leave without him. Shelters in her county don't accept pets. She has a friend on higher ground, her neighbors, she says, aren't so lucky.

RUSH: Some of them just don't have any place to go. Some of these people in here don't have vehicles. They have, like, bicycles or mopeds or something like that. I mean, they cannot leave.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Officials say the lack of huge traffic jams today shows people have already heeded the warnings. Up and down the coast, a final warning was being broadcast today, stay at your own peril.

REP. ALAN CLEMMONS (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Emergency services are going to be discontinued. There will be no police. There will be no fire. There will be no ambulance service. We are an independent lot here in Horry County. That said, protect your loved ones.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Kate, if there is a silver lining to this slowing down of the storm, it is going to give folks here in Myrtle Beach a few hours tomorrow to either convince those holdouts or to find those people who don't have the means to evacuate and get them away from the beach. As of tonight, Myrtle Beach does look like a ghost town. There is a curfew that starts at 10:00. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Drew. Thank you so much.

Out front now, the Mayor of Beaufort, North Carolina, Rett Newton. Thanks for coming in, Rett.

MAYOR RETT NEWTON, BEAUFORT, NORTH CAROLINA: All right, Kate, good evening

BOLDUAN: So, your town is under a mandatory evacuation. I just spoke with another mayor. He was leaving as soon as he kind of finished up our interview. You, though, are staying behind. Why?

NEWTON: Well, Kate, as a mayor, I'm part of the evacuation team. I'm part of the shelter in place team and I'm part of the recovery team as well, so our first responders are prepared right now. The window for evacuation is closing right now. And I need to be prepared to help the community with the recovery phase.

BOLDUAN: Do you think there's still a chance that you're going to leave or you're definitely staying?

NEWTON: No, I'm staying in place and we've made some measures to mitigate the circumstances here. Obviously, we're very concerned about the high winds. We're very concerned about the storm surge and we're very well aware of these conditions.

BOLDUAN: Folks should know you are a retired air force colonel, you've worked on multiple relief efforts in the past, including after the tsunami in 2004. Is your background and training one of the reasons that you're comfortable that you think you should stay.

NEWTON: Well, it's just one piece, Kate, and it's helpful to have that kind of background, but it's also every single storm is going to be different. Every natural disaster is going to be different. So, maybe there's some lessons learned from my background, maybe there are different circumstances that we'll have to deal with on the ground here.

BOLDUAN: Mayor, do you think at all you're sending the wrong message to the residents of your town? I mean, can't the folks in your town just say, well the mayor's not going, so I'm not going to leave either.

NEWTON: No, I've been very crystal clear to everyone that they need to consider the evacuation. First of all, the winds are going to be extreme. The storm surge is going to be potentially damaging. There are going to be times in the middle of this storm that if somebody has an emergency, we're not going to be able to get to them. And there's a likely condition that we're going to -- not going to have power for a long time.

So, the education has been important. We've actually seen a lot of people evacuate that have never evacuated before, and that's great. I'm -- I appreciate that, but I'm also not naive to think that people aren't staying because I know that they are, and public safety is certainly a top priority for us.

BOLDUAN: So there's, of course, no shortage of really frightening ways that officials are describing this storm. Meaning, catastrophic, disaster at the doorstep, life-threatening. FEMA describing it as a Mike Tyson punch or the storm of a lifetime. And here's the governor of North Carolina, what he told me last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: North Carolina, we're used to storms, nor'easters, we've had hurricanes before. But this is historic. This storm is big, and it's vicious. We're telling the people of North Carolina, do not try to ride out a monster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And yet you are riding out the monster, Mayor. Are you scared?

NEWTON: I'm part of the recovery team, Kate. I am very conscious of the winds. I'm conscious of the storm surge. I'm conscious of the potential flooding after the fact as well. So I'm not neglecting these concerns. I'm mitigating in every way that I possibly can.

BOLDUAN: And in no way do you think that they're blowing this out of proportion, what you're hearing from Roy Cooper or what you're hearing from federal officials.

NEWTON: Not at all. I think they are spot on. I think this is a massive storm, both in area and in energy, so, no, I think they are spot on in their message.

[19:25:06] BOLDUAN: Mayor, I'm sure residents in your town appreciate what you're doing. We always appreciate what first responders do. Please be safe. Thank you so much. We'll check back in with you.

NEWTON: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Out front for us next, 20,000 palettes of bottled water untouched, left sitting on a runway in Puerto Rico, while residents there were left without running water. Why was it never delivered to those in need?

Plus, toxic sludge. Officials warning tonight about contaminated flood waters, a major concern as the U.S. braces for Florence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Breaking news. President Trump touting his administration's response to Hurricane Florence, even though the full impact of the storm, of course, won't be known for days. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's coming in fairly fast, and it's going to be one of the biggest to ever hit the east coast, one of the biggest to ever hit our country. First responders, law enforcement, and FEMA and they're all ready and we're getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people. We are ready. But this is going to be one of the biggest ones to ever hit our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Kaitlan Collins is out front right now from the White House.

Kaitlan, the president's comments tonight, continuing to pat himself on the back for the government's response to Hurricane Maria last year where nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate, quite in contrast to see the president seeking to reassure the East Coast that they are fully prepared ahead of Hurricane Florence while still going back to that tragedy in Puerto Rico, that devastated the island, and, of course, like you said, left 3,000 people dead.

That is actually going to be a big test for President Trump here. We heard him speaking there in the East Room earlier today, that Medal of Honor ceremony, issuing that dire warning, telling those people in evacuated areas that have been ordered to evacuate, to get out while they still can, while it's still safe. But also, in that same speech, he said that his administration is already receiving tons of accolades for their efforts ahead of Hurricane Florence.

Of course, that reminds you of what he said just yesterday about Hurricane Maria when he was talking about what an incredible success it was for his administration for the way that they responded to that. That's typically not how you hear these leaders respond to something, some kind of tragedy like that, but that's what President Trump was saying today.

Now, right now, he's over at his Trump Hotel just down here from the White House at a fund-raiser tonight for Republicans, but the question over the next few days was how does he fill that consoler in chief role? Does he display empathy for those people that are going to be affected by a storm that even President Trump is saying is going to be better than anticipated because he struggled with that before, with tossing paper towels in Puerto Rico or saying it was a lovely trip when it was just days after the storm.

That will be a lot of things that people are focusing on too here tonight, Kate, because it's not just a test of their competence but also the president's empathy.

BOLDUAN: That's a real test tonight as we've seen in the past.

Kaitlan, thank you so much.

OUTFRONT with me now, senior administrator at FEMA, James Joseph.

Thank you so much for coming in, Mr. Joseph.

JAMES JOSEPH, SENIOR ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: Kate, thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: So, how confident are you tonight that North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, that they have all that they need, and does FEMA have everything it needs to help them?

JOSEPH: Well, we always talk about disasters, we say that disasters start at that local level so the local communities, the states that are supporting them, the states that you mentioned, they are -- they have been in planning and preparation for about a week now, going into the storm, and looking at the hurricane forecast and looking at the timing of the impact and the location of the impact. So, there are a number of resources at that state and local level that are already out and on the first round and prepositioned to support, as well as the evacuation orders that have been issued at the local and state level as well.

And it's great -- I've heard throughout the programming here that so many people are heeding those evacuation warnings and they are leaving the area. But the federal government is ready as well. We have the national response coordination center behind me that is operating 24/7 to support state and local and tribal partners in their response and recovery to this event, as well as personnel that FEMA has forward deployed, including those incident management assistant teams that are in the states and in the county emergency operation centers as well as urban search and rescue teams moving forward and swift water rescue teams to really support any response or recovery in the wake of the heavy rains that we should expect after these -- after the storm as well.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it does look like it's going to be nasty. So what is -- what's your biggest concern right now?

JOSEPH: Well, the biggest concern right now from a preparation phase in advance -- in advance of the hurricane making landfall is anyone that is not heeding the evacuation warnings at that state and local level. It's very important that they follow the evacuation warnings that have been issued. We're expecting anywhere from 10 to 12 feet on the latest forecast of a storm surge, and that is deadly. You're not going to be able to outrun it. You're not going to be able to outdrive it.

And so it's very important that while people still have time, even tonight and with the daylight hours tomorrow morning, that if they have not yet followed evacuation instructions, that they do so. Services may not be available to them if they call 911. There's chances of rain in some parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, where we can see three to five inches of rain per hour. That's blinding rain. And it's going to be impossible to drive through and navigate so that's our biggest concern right now, that we protect as much life as possible to follow the instructions to evacuate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and getting out early. In FEMA's after action report on the 2017 hurricane season, it says quite a lot, including this: FEMA leadership acknowledged that the agency could have better anticipated that the severity of Hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term significant damage to the territories' infrastructure. Leadership also recognized that emergency managers at all levels could have better leveraged existing information to practically plan and address such challenges both before and immediately after the hurricanes.

[19:35:06] In summary, I take that as you at FEMA acknowledge you could have done better. There are lessons learned. Tonight, can you guarantee that, you know, quote/unquote, better is being put to work ahead of this storm?

JOSEPH: Well, there are definitely, Kate, lessons learned from every event, not just the 2017 disaster season but any time there's a response to an event, an after action report is always conducted. There are a number of lessons learned and we talk about the whole community of emergency management and that's not just the federal government's response. There's the state level, the county level, or the municipal level of response to an event, and I think everyone coming together needs to be a little more prepared as we move forward.

And that's why I'm confident with some of the lessons that we learned that we've already implemented. We haven't waited to implement some of the lessons learned and some of the things that we're already doing as far as assessing critical infrastructure, the critical lifelines that are required in the recovery of any event are things that we're already emphasizing, focusing on, with FEMA personnel, other federal agencies that we have in the room behind me. There's 175 people from nongovernmental organizations, private sector partners, as well as the whole of federal government that are in the room behind me and out in the field right now to ensure that there is an effective response and recovery process to this event.

BOLDUAN: And everyone is going to be need.

I do want to ask you. Our reporter down in Puerto Rico right now saw this video that we're showing to our viewers. I'm not sure if you have a monitor. It's 20,000 palettes of bottled water that were left untouched after Hurricane Maria last year. Officials on the ground say it was brought in by FEMA and they started distributing it but stopped when they received complaints of foul taste and smell and that then they requested that FEMA test it before they did anything else with it.

Do you know if that water has been tested? Because clearly, they are still in need of drinkable water down there.

JOSEPH: Yes, I have read the reports. I don't know the status on the testing that you mentioned.

BOLDUAN: OK.

JOSEPH: I do know that there have been millions -- hundreds of millions of bottles of water that have been distributed by FEMA and not just FEMA but by our nongovernmental partners as well and private sector partners and even the territory of Puerto Rico as well in the aftermath of the event.

But I have read your report. I am still trying to get some of the details surrounding that as well. But we're still on that research phase right now.

BOLDUAN: OK. Because you know, a lot of people want to know the answer to that as people down in Puerto Rico still need water.

The FEMA report that we were talking about talks about lessons learned, as you said, and you said lessons are learned after every storm. Here's how the president of the United States responded when he was asked that very question about what lessons were learned after last season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: FEMA's own report, as we've talked about, stated multiple areas where you said we could have done better and nearly 3,000 people were killed from that storm. How is any of that, then, an incredible unsung success?

JOSEPH: Well, there are a lot of positive things that FEMA did that the territory did, that NGO partners did. But we have to look at this as the whole community response.

I liken emergency preparedness and response to a four-legged chair. There's the federal government that's involved, there's the state or territory that's involved, there is the private sector and our nonprofits that are involved, as well as individual preparedness. If any one of those legs are not firmly attached to that chair, the chair becomes unstable.

And so when we look at how we need to address catastrophic disasters and emergencies in the future, we need to build a culture of preparedness in our nation. We need to ready the nation for catastrophic disasters, and that's at every level of government, and those are things that we're focused on doing.

We've already begun doing some of that before hurricane season started this year and obviously now as well, but those are the preparedness efforts that we need to take as whole community across the country. Every level of government, our NGO and our private sector partners as well as individuals embracing preparedness and being ready, not just in the days before a hurricane like we're seeing right now, but in the long-term as well.

BOLDUAN: As I heard you say, there were many lessons learned, and every hurricane season definitely from last season and I doubt I will -- I would hear you use the words, unsung success with regard to 3,000 lives lost.

James Joseph, I appreciate your time. Thanks for coming in.

We've been leaning on FEMA as they have a hard few days ahead.

Coming up for us next, hurricane hunter who just flew over Florence calls in live from his plane and he has new data about this dangerous storm.

[19:40:01] Plus, North Carolina, home to thousands of pig farms, why officials worry that could lead to a toxic sludge of contaminated water now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: In just a few hours, the Carolinas will start feeling the power of hurricane Florence. Currently, the sustained winds are 120 miles per hour, gusts of 150 miles per hour, making it a dangerous category 3 storm. So what is the latest? What is it like in that storm?

Joining me now live from the plane that just flew over Hurricane Florence is Paul Flaherty. He's the flight director for NOAA hurricane hunters.

Paul, can you hear me?

PAUL FLAHERTY, FLIGHT DIRECTOR, NOAA HURRICANE HUNTERS (via telephone): Yes, I can. Good evening.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for calling in. You just got a whole set of new data from your flight. What'd you learn?

FLAHERTY: Well, it's a little bit of good news in a bad news story. We found that the southern side of the storm is -- the outro is not really working well for a storm that would prefer to develop so that's good news but we're -- that, we're finding, is working against the idea of the storm, at least in this moment, getting stronger.

[19:45:01] So, anything we can do or find to maybe lean in that direction, we're happy to find that information.

Now, the storm still has the ability to strengthen over the next 24 hours. It's going to go over some warmer water and potentially less sheer so we've got to keep our fingers crossed that we'll continue to find a little bit of good news as we keep these flights going.

BOLDUAN: So, Paul, this is your fourth flight over Florence. You said on Monday that you had a sick feeling in your gut watching this storm form. Do you still have that feeling right now?

FLAHERTY: Yes, you know, just a little numb after a few days. I've been doing this for 15, 16 years, so we've been through this lots of times, but it never seems different when it's happening because you know so many people on the ground, a lot that we know that will be affected by this. And, you know, what keeps us going is knowing that we can get the information out there to the NOAA national hurricane center and to the forecasters and the media so people on the ground will listen.

BOLDUAN: Paul, I'm not sure if I just lost you in my ear, but can you still hear me? I'll try --

FLAHERTY: Can you hear me?

BOLDUAN: Yes, I can hear you. Great, we still have a connection. It's wonderful. You said you found a little bit of good news tonight.

It did go from a category 4 to a category 3 this afternoon. I feel like people hear that and they might think, oh, this storm's not going to be as dangerous as people are making it out to be. What do you tell them?

FLAHERTY: Well, so, that's something we hear a lot. Category 3 hurricane is a major hurricane, and so what we want people on the ground to know is not to focus on whether it's a category 3 or category 4. We're talking about a major hurricane, and whether it fills your house with 8 feet or 10 feet of water is probably a little bit irrelevant if you're in there.

So, we want you to get out of the way. We want to make sure that everything we're doing is getting everyone the best information they can and like I said, that is the message is that they ask you to go, please go.

BOLDUAN: Yes, Paul, we're seeing some video from NOAA of what it's kind of like. Can you just describe what it's like to be up there?

FLAHERTY: Well, so, you know, a lot of times, the views are actually incredible, things you don't see in everyday life. But you can't forget for too long that you're out here to collect the data and do the best job we can and like I said, kind of hope that we can find some good news, but it can be bumpy at times.

Some flights are a little sporty. It's a little different being at a 45,000 feet on the NOAA G4 versus the G3 in the eye wall, but each mission is unique and just I go home and I hope I don't hear about anyone who didn't evacuate.

BOLDUAN: We appreciate what you're doing for everyone and the data that you gather, Paul. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it. Amazing that we can get a connection as he's coming out of Florence.

OUTFRONT for us next, 40 inches of rain, 13-foot storm surge, why an already dangerous situation could be much worse because of where Florence is expected to hit.

Plus, serious concerns tonight of a public health crisis if this monster storm floods the thousands of pig farms in North Carolina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:52:07] BOLDUAN: Tonight, the governor of South Carolina warning anyone in low-lying areas that they could be in grave danger. And that covers a large portion of the state.

I want to go back to Tom Sater at the CNN weather center with this. Tom, this storm is going to bring a lot of rain, and very quickly, as you've talked about. What areas, then, are most vulnerable?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, this is one of the most vulnerable spots in the entire U.S. I mean, with that low-level land, the marshy land conditions, of course, the barrier islands, you got the intercoastal. I wanted to show you the track pause we were talking about it, it could stay offshore, but they want to bring it in Friday afternoon.

Some of the models, Kate, that are just north of these numbers bring it in Friday morning. But they, too, give us a cone of uncertainty that half of it is onshore, half is off. So, again, any scenario is possible, but they curve it. It would irresponsible for the National Hurricane Center to adjust their track every time a model shows something different. But this is days and days and days of rainfall until the system kicks off towards Knoxville.

When it comes to the rain, however, and this is a big, big deal here, much like Harvey, which slowed with no steering currents, you could outwalk it, we may be able to outwalk this one, too. I'm concerned about all of the rain up into the Northeast. They have had flood problems in Pennsylvania, upstate New York.

But even closer, when you look at the areas of Hawaii, this is a couple of inches of rain per hour for several days. When you get into the areas of red, you're into mountainous communities, Kate. And this is likes areas of the Piedmont into North Carolina, into parts of the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah, I mean, the Smokies.

This is really, really critical. So this is going to be something that will probably continue to be tweaked in the next couple of hours and the next couple of days, as the system slows down.

BOLDUAN: And, Tom, you mentioned Houston. Houston saw massive flooding last year when it was hit by Hurricane Harvey. How does that terrain there compare?

SATER: Houston has got problems, Kate. Sometimes if you get a 5, 6, 7-inch rainfall, but that condition -- Harvey was a named storm for almost a week. It was feeding off its own rainfall. This is different in pa way, because, yes, it is marshy and it may do that, with but some of the inundation areas that we're watching, these colors of red in these intercoastal area, from Wilmington down to Southport, you're looking 9 to 10-feet surge moving into the area and that extends upward.

The costal terrain, the angle of the coastline is what's most detrimental to this part of the U.S.

BOLDUAN: Tom, thanks for laying it out. I really appreciate it. OUTFRONT for us next, bracing for a national health crisis. How North

Carolina's pig farms could lead to a toxic sludge.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:58:22] BOLDUAN: New tonight, officials are warning of a public health emergency in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Serious concerns tonight about contaminated drinking water.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He's at a pig farmer where workers are racing against the clock to protect it from flooding.

Ed, what's the biggest worry where you are?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate.

Well, people around the country might be fascinated to know that this part of North Carolina has tens of thousands of hog farms. And as you see behind me, this is one of the lagoons. And what the lagoons here are used for is hog waste is thrown into this lagoon and it's later used by these farmers as fertilizer in the water to fertilize crops here.

But there's concern, and it has happened in recent storms, where floodwaters either overtake these lagoons and spill it out into river water or that the edges of these lagoons break down, sending all of that waste out into river water, as well. So that is one of the concerns that officials are worried about here, as this hurricane approaches. But we're here in the Howard family farm. They say they're not that concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARION HOWARD, HOWARD FARMS: We are in good shape with the lagoons, but if it exceeds the amount of space we have in the lagoon, you know, they're going to overflow. And it's beyond our control. Nothing that we can do about it now.

BRANDON HOWARD, HOWARD FARMS: There is a chance that it could bust the dam on the lagoon bank or breach the dam. And that would -- that's what we hope not to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: Kate, the Howards say that anything under 3 feet of rainwater and they'll be in good shape, if the waters and the floodwaters reach more than that, then they'll start getting concerned -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Hope for the best. Thanks, Ed.

And thank you all so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.