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Hurricane Florence Grows in Size as it Takes Aim at the Carolinas; Millions Under Mandatory Evacuation Orders Ahead of Florence; FEMA Director Brock Long Gives Storm Preparedness Update. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: So what they're doing is they're going to other coastal colleges. They're also working with retirement homes and getting whoever they can to help them get to a safe place -- Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: That is good news, indeed.

Lindsay, appreciate the update. Thank you.

CZARNIAK: You've got it.

HILL: Thanks to everyone for joining us today. I'm Erica Hill, in for Poppy Harlow.

Our breaking coverage of Hurricane Florence continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to our coverage of Hurricane Florence, that massive storm bearing down on the Carolinas.

I'm Kate Bolduan, in New York.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman live in Oak Island, North Carolina. Where the skies are just darkened and the winds, Kate, have just begun to pick up.

BOLDUAN: And, John, thankfully, we'll have John. He's going to be with us this entire hour. Our eyes and ears on the ground. Conditions are beginning to change. John is going to be with us this entire hour.

We are in the opening hours of Hurricane Florence's assault on the Carolinas, but the siege itself will last days. Over the past few hours, the monster storm has slowed, but that is not good news. The National Hurricane Center says the storm surge could still rise up to 13 feet. That's enough to swallow the first floor of buildings pretty easily.

And though the storm weakened slightly overnight to a category 2, as it will make landfall as a cat 2, the surge coming with it is considered a category 4. Catastrophic flooding is also expected inland with Florence looking to stall over the Carolinas. It will then dump seemingly endless rain for days. And the days part of this equation is where the real problems can set in. The predictive rainfall totals are both historic and jaw-dropping, up to 40 inches in some parts.

So it's looking to be one hit after another after another hit for the region, and it is going to start very soon.

We're fanned out with teams up and down the Carolina coast to help you understand the mass size of this and the coming impacts of this.

And, of course, that includes John Berman, in Oak Island, North Carolina -- John?

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Kate.

As you said, days and days of this. I have to tell you, I'm just feeling the first wind gusts that feel like they mean business. Here on Oak Island, there's a mandatory evacuation order. Some 8,000 people live here. About 500 remain. Why have they been told to leave? So much fear over storm surge. This dune I'm standing on can withstand a 3-foot storm surge. Higher, the water will flow over it.

Beyond that, I want you to look at the houses. Some are on stilts, built up high to withstand some storm surge, but my producer is 5'3" with her arm raised, maybe seven feet max. The storm could be nine feet tall, which means the water will rush right into the houses. And even some of the stilts will not be able to withstand the power of the storm surge expected up and down the Carolina coast.

Let's get the latest forecast track. An 11:00 update. Our Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us with that -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, John. It's 105 now, the new number for the eye or the eyewall itself, 105 miles per hour. Last time we were 110, but don't let that fool you. Every other number in this storm other than eyewall is the same that it was when it was a category 3 storm. So right there, this is the eyewall, right there. And because it's got a little bigger, we have lost a little bit of continuity to it. That's why the initial number is down. But the initial number of that 130 or 140 was only right here. It was just right here in this eye. Everything else about this storm, left and right, completely the same. And even right now, the tornado watch up here or the tornado warning just issued in Pamlico Sound, some of these will be rotating as they work their way inland. There's the storm there.

You're not that far from your first batch of weather, John, because it's about 10 miles to your east. John Berman, Oak Island, right there. Here's the first batch of weather coming your way. It will bring you probably 45-mile-per-hour winds and it steps up from there. Your maximum wind speed tonight should be around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. And it will be a tough night to sleep. I'll still see you in the morning, but you may have toothpicks in your eyes trying to stay away from that storm.

BERMAN: Sounds like I'm about to get wet. Chad Myers, at the Weather Center, thank you so much.

Oak Island, where I am right now, just one of many of these barrier islands where they have mandatory evacuation orders.

Let's go up the coast a little bit to Carolina Beach. Our Miguel Marquez is there.

Miguel, what are you seeing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much the same thing. We're starting to feel the first winds. I want to show you the ocean. The waves are getting much bigger. This is high tide, about 5 feet high right now. You can see the dark clouds off in the distance as well. They're not expecting the real hurricane force winds, the 45-mile-per- hour winds or so until, about 2:00 p.m. In about three hours here where that's when they will shut the bridge completely, and Carolina Beach will be on its own until this thing is over. And 6200 people live here. Most, most have evacuated. But some have decided to stay. The town manager here saying, basically, you are on your own. They will have some security individuals here, but they will not be able to respond once that wind hits 45, 50 miles per hour or so. It's too dangerous for them to go out.

[11:05:38] Some local concerns here they have, waste water treatment plant on the island, they're afraid that may take on water and overflow. Also a nuclear power plant between here and Wilmington, Brunswick, which Duke Energy has begun the process of shutting down the two power units there in the event that they take on water. They have also put up barriers around that plant. So they are readying that. There's also a munitions plant, an Army munitions depot nearby that the mayor here is concerned about. So lots of concern. Everybody watching and waiting.

But that water, five feet now at high tide. This is going to last for some time. Stack on top of that several feet of the storm surge. Basically a bulldozer of water this storm is going to push on there, stack on that 10, 20, perhaps 30 inches of rain, and that's what they're talking about. They expect a big swath of this town to be under water in the hours ahead -- John?

BERMAN: Miguel Marquez, in Carolina Beach.

And Miguel lays it out, so many areas of concern, and for such a long time. We're talking two, three days after the storm makes initial landfall, which it already has in the Outer Banks, turns very slowly and moves south.

Heads toward Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. That's where Nick Valencia is at this moment.

Nick, what are you seeing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this has become an urgent situation here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Earlier this morning, they closed the beach, but it hasn't stopped a lot of people from coming out and checking out the conditions here. It has picked up. The wind has picked up in the hours we have been out here. So have the waves. Just like where Miguel is, it's high tide here. You have a lot of people on the beach trying to see what they're up against and what Hurricane Florence is going to bring.

We talked about evacuations, a lot about evacuations. And 60 percent of Myrtle Beach, we're told by the local congressman here, local representative, that 60 percent of this area has evacuated.

What about those that aren't leaving? In fact, some people say they can't. They don't have the resources to do it.

We talked to one man a short time ago who says he doesn't have a car, doesn't have a license, doesn't have a way out of here.


VALENCIA: You said you live here, you're going to ride the storm out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I have nowhere else to go. Shelters don't take dogs.

VALENCIA: The shelters here are not allowing animals in, so you decided to stay?


VALENCIA: Are you worried at all? Are you a veteran about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went through Hugo.

VALENCIA: Not too worried?



VALENCIA: This is an area that is accustomed to hurricanes. I think that gives people more of false confidence that they're going to be able to ride this storm out. Florence is predicted to be stronger, lot stronger than that storm.

One message that the mayor has really emphasized here throughout the day. The hospital is closed. The emergency room is closed. It's all been fully evacuated. Those patients have been transferred to neighboring states like Georgia and Florida. She also says the first responders are not around here. If you decide to stick around and get injured, you're not going to get help -- John?

BERMAN: Nick Valencia in Myrtle Beach. Nick, thank you.

Joining me, the mayor of Oak Island, North Carolina, Mayor Cin Brochure. Mayor Cin, as she's known around here.

Thanks so much for joining us. I understand you have an update on how many people chose to stay.

CIN BROCHURE, OAK ISLAND MAYOR: We did a windshield drive-by and it looks like about 500 people who chose to remain on the island. They may pack up later. They have a small window of opportunity. When the winds get so high, we'll close the bridge at 45. If they're going to go, they need to go now.

BERMAN: We're not there now, but as you can see by our wobbling, it's starting to pick up.

BROCHURE: And my hair, yes, you're right.

BERMAN: We look down the beach. Look, I see people walking on the beach behind me. What's your message to these folks?

BROCHURE: My message is, caution. We've asked you to leave. If you don't, then please go shelter in place and stay safe.

BERMAN: You mentioned 45 miles per hour. We have been speaking to some of these first responders. And they will respond as soon as they can, but they can't. They won't be able to get out until the winds get beneath 45 miles per hour. Could be a long time before that happens.

BROCHURE: With this storm in particular, they're predicting two, three days of high storms and a lot of rain. We will not allow them to leave or neither will the county unless it's under 45 miles per hour. If you have a health issue or if you're just a little iffy about the storm and afraid you made need help, then go. You can always come back. You have -- nothing is more important than your life.

[11:10:06] BERMAN: You have a little time, a little more time. Not talking five hours. Probably two.

BROCHURE: At the most.

BERMAN: At the most. OK.

BROCHURE: Because everybody will start leaving and get a little nervous as the winds kick up, which you can see since I talked to you this morning, way stronger than earlier.

BERMAN: We're standing on top of this dune in one of the walkways -- I want people to understand, we're not destroying the dune -- but the dune here can withstand about a three-foot storm surge. What's going to happen to this dune in the next two days?

BROCHURE: Well, I'm afraid what's going to happen is that it won't be here when I wake up on Sunday morning or Saturday morning. Whenever the skies clear, we'll be on the beach assessing. I'm praying and hoping it stays. My fear is it will not. The water will come over, go up into the houses, and like you were demonstrating earlier. This storm surge is stronger than any we have seen, so it would have went over her head if it comes in at nine foot. BERMAN: And the storm surge, people have been to the barrier islands.

The water comes in, it brings sand, debris, and then whatever roads that exist will be covered.

BROCHURE: Exactly, we'll have dunes in the roads. What people I don't think understand about a storm surge, and I'm by no means an expert, but it's kind of like a tsunami. It pulls it out and then it brings it back in. So just -- and I can't stress enough how the aftermath is going to be worse than we have seen before. But we're prepared, we're ready. We have crews standing by. They're bringing in people from outside the county to help and volunteer. We're hoping we will recover as quick as we possibly can.

BERMAN: Mayor Cin Brochure, of Oak Island, it's beautiful here. Thank you for letting us come here to appreciate and watch as you get ready for the storm. We have to head out here.

BROCHURE: I pray for you. Pray for Oak Island, and all the rest of the citizens of North Carolina. Stay safe.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Mayor. I appreciate it.

BROCHURE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Kate, let's go back to you.

BOLDUAN: All right, John.

Thanks so much to the mayor.

John, as he says, he's only himself got a little window left.

We have much more of our coverage of Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, coming up.


[11:16:34] BOLDUAN: We're keeping a close eye on Hurricane Florence. The storm is slow, massive, and heading to the Carolina coast. More than a million people have been under mandatory evacuation orders ahead of this storm.

CNN's Scott McLean is joining me from one of the centers taking in these residents. This one in Conway, South Carolina, just outside Myrtle Beach.

Scott, what are people telling you there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Emphasis on evacuation center. This is not a shelter. The Red Cross says the function of this place is purely just to keep people safe until Hurricane Florence passes and until the danger is actually over. That means there are not cots for everybody. A lot of people are simply sitting on the floor. It's certainly not an ideal situation, but it's better than the alternative for a lot of people.

I want to introduce you to one family. This is James and Elwana.

Guys, I wonder, you were telling me earlier, the ground by your house is already pretty marshy, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. It's real spongy. You step on it in places and mud will cover your foot.

MCLEAN: So flooding is a real concern then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would think so because we're in close proximity to the rivers. We have creeks and low-lying areas around the house.

MCLEAN: You're in a mobile home as well so this structure is safer than that. Are you worried a lot about the wind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, it's going to be a big factor. I'm hoping it don't tear nothing up, but it's an older home. It's been remodeled a little bit, but still, you don't play with the hurricanes and storms.

MCLEAN: Of course.

Elwana, how has it been staying here for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has been a blessing. We have been just laying here on the floor, putting them two on carts. Just waiting on the hurricane to come. But it has been a blessing. It hasn't been a real, real hard thing to do. Because you know, we have shelter. For the most part, I have enjoyed it. I met new people. The Red Cross has been amazing. The police officer that stays here at night, she's been amazing, so.

MCLEAN: You have been just grateful to be indoors and in a safe place.


MCLEAN: How long do you guys expect to be here, James?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It depends what the storm does. Once they give us the all-clear, I'll check out the house and make sure everything is good. If it's satisfactory, then I'll come back and we'll take the family and go home.

MCLEAN: I wish you the best of luck. Hopefully, you stay dry and stay safe. Thanks for talking to us.

Kate, you meet a lot of people who are just like them, living in a lower lying area, in a mobile home or a prefabricated home. They have a lot to worry about. They're hoping they stay dry and this is over quick.

BOLDUAN: They have the perfect attitude. No matter what, as she said, just a blessing they're there. A blessing that they're safe. And they're with their kids.

So, Scott, thanks so much. Hoping to hear more of their stories throughout the day.

Joining me now, though, by phone, is Mayor Tim Goodwin, the mayor of Folly Beach, North Carolina, just south of Charleston.

Mayor, can you hear me?

TIM GOODWIN, FOLLY BEACH MAYOR (via telephone): I can. Good morning.

BOLDUAN: Good morning. Thank you for jumping on the phone.

Folly Beach, the entire county actually is under a mandatory evacuation. I'm hearing that you're planning to stay put. I have talked to other mayors who are evacuating along with other residents. Why, Mayor, are you staying?

GOODWIN: Well, our emergency management system is here. And as long as I have employees here, I'll be here. If we decide that the winds are picking up too much and we move to our next emergency management center, alternate, we'll all move at the same time. But we do have residents here who did not leave, as well as residents that did evacuate, and we have a duty to try to maintain their property and keep it as safe as possible for as long as we can.

[11:20:23] BOLDUAN: Mayor, is there still a chance for those residents sticking around that you can convince them to evacuate, do you think? `

GOODWIN: We have been trying to explain to people and trying to convince them that it is time to leave. While everybody gets focused in, they look at the national weather map, from the hurricane center, and they watch that line, and they focus on that line. But as the folks from the National Hurricane Center stay, remember, this is a big storm. So this storm's winds and storm surge is stretching out hundreds of miles either side of that line. And that line wobbles a little bit one way or the other, and you're in trouble. So that's our message. And once the winds, like everybody else, hit that 45-mile- per-hour speed, you're on your own. You're not going to get emergency calls. And if it's a real high tide with high winds and the causeway, one two-lane road that leads into Folly Beach gets covered over, you're really by yourself. So --


BOLDUAN: Yes, Mayor, I was actually wondering, at what point -- what point do you think it's going to be, would emergency services aren't going to be able to answer the call?

GOODWIN: Well, at that 45-mile-per-hour wind spot. When it reaches that, that's it. We won't put anybody's life in danger. That's the standard operating procedure all across the state. We follow that just like everybody else does. And you're on your own. So especially if you have medical problems or you need assistance, you need to leave now while you can, while you still have an opportunity.

But we also have --


BOLDUAN: I'm sorry, Mayor. Go ahead.

GOODWIN: I was going to say, we also have the island locked down, basically, to just residents only coming and going off the island. Then at nighttime, we have a curfew in place to make it easier for our policemen to maintain people's property from not being vandalized or trespassed on.

BOLDUAN: As you well known, as you're watching, the forecast is not only about the storm making its initial landfall as a cat 2, but it's also, as you very well know, the massive storm surge, it's the rain, it's the sheer size of this storm and how far it reaches, the fact that rain could be dumping on the shore for days. How bad to you think this could be for Folly Beach?

GOODWIN: Well, it all depends which track it follows. If it follows a track inland and goes behind us, we'll get some storm water flooding, but not as bad as if it bumps the coast and decides to head south. Then our storm surge is going to go up. And as we have experienced before, once the hurricane comes, we not only get flooding from the ocean, but because our island is not all that wide, we also get flooding from the river on the back side, the sound on the back side. So that's a big concern. It's the greatest concern. Most of the houses here are built up to meet flood standards, but still, your cars get flooded and things under the houses get flooded. So you don't worry about that as much as losing somebody's life or somebody getting injured seriously.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. That's an important point. Folly Beach could look at a double whammy from both sides, from the river, from the ocean. And it's a waiting game.

Mayor, I really appreciate your coming on. We'll check back in with you. Good luck.

GOODWIN: Thank you. And our prayers go to whoever is in the path of this thing. We know everybody tries to do what's right and stay safe.

[11:24:11] BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Thank you, Mayor Tim Goodwin, of Folly Beach, South Carolina.

Coming up for us, do not let your guard down. Could have been the message that you just heard from the mayor there, but that's also the message from the nation's top emergency response official. What has the head of FEMA most concerned? That's next.

We'll go back to the ground. John Berman standing by. He's seeing the first signs of Florence on the way. There's just one look off the coast of North Carolina, and that's headed straight for the coast.


BERMAN: All right, John Berman, live in Oak Island, North Carolina. The sky truly now getting dark. We can see on the horizon what looks like the first outer bands reaching this place where I am now.

When we first arrived yesterday in North Carolina at the Raleigh Airport about 150 miles from here, at the car rental center, there were rows of SUVs, dozens, 40, 50 of them, just waiting. Waiting for FEMA contractors who would be arriving on the scene to answer the need after the storm passes through. That is how they stage and get ready for storms like this.

A short time ago, we heard from the FEMA director, Brock Long, giving an update on preparedness and what he's most concerned about with this huge storm.

Let's go to Rene Marsh in Washington, covering the federal response -- Rene?

[11:30:09] RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Right, he's most concerned, John, about people just not heeding those warnings. This morning, FEMA gave another briefing.