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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Florence Begins Slow Assault on Carolina Coast; Parts Of Coast Feeling Tropical Storm-Force Wind Gusts; Just In: New Forecast As Florence's Outer Bans Slash Coast; FEMA Warns Of Florence's Potentially Deadly Storm Surges. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


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[16:32:58] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As Florence begins its assault on the Carolinas, some areas are in their final push to protect their coasts.

I want to bring in CNN's Miguel Marquez.

Miguel, you're in Carolina Beach. Authorities are using every minute that they have left to prep for this storm.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are indeed, and it is upon us. The waves are getting bigger. They have been getting bigger throughout the day. It's low tide right now, but they are just growing in size and in intensity. They are coming very, very fast now.

The water -- we're getting another big pulse of rain right now and what they are preparing for is for that long onslaught of rain. The rain and a storm surge that they expect will cut off much of this town, perhaps flooding as much as a third of this town making it impossible to get out of this town or into this town for as long as five to seven days. There's also a nuclear power plant nearby, the Brunswick nuclear power plant that Duke Energy has taken the steps to shut down. Two power units that they are shutting down ahead of what's expected to be winds in excess of 75 miles per hour sustained -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, as they brace for the storm right behind Miguel.

Moments ago, the Pentagon said all branches of the U.S. military are strategically pre-positioned across the storm zone with hundreds of aircraft vehicles, ships and personnel ready to respond to Hurricane Florence.

Critical to that response and relief efforts, of course, will be the Coast Guard and joining me is the commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz.

Admiral, thanks so much for being here.

And I know you're a few minutes away from heading south. Oh, actually you're going down south tomorrow. How is the Coast Guard preparing?

ADMIRAL KARL SCHULTZ, COMMANDANT, U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, Jake, thanks for the opportunity to be here. The Coast Guard is preparing. This storm has been tracking at a pretty steady track for multiple days and we positioned our assets immediately out of the storm track. So, we've come in immediately behind the storm.

This is going to be an interesting storm. Everyone is kind of focused on the category. It's 105 miles an hour. That's just on the cusp of being a major hurricane, which is about 110 or bigger.

This is a big storm. It's slowed down. It's going to be a significant water event, catastrophic flooding, long term protracted flooding in the rivers, I think well in land.

[16:35:04] I think if we look back ton 2016, Hurricane Matthew had flooding along I-95 in Lumberton, North Carolina.

So, I think what's really -- folks should not be -- you know, lose sight of the fact that this is going to be a storm that's going to be persistent. It's going to sit. Harvey sat off for about 36 hours, dumped 52 inches of rain. This is potentially going to drop feet of rain off the North Carolina coast, almost the whole length of the coast, pushing into South Carolina. I think it's going to be a very challenging storm.

TAPPER: So, your ships are outside the lines of the storm ready to come in behind it.

SCHULTZ: Yes, sir.

TAPPER: What do you anticipate they will be needed to do when called upon to act?

SCHULTZ: Well, we've got ships at sea that can come in and respond. We've got helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, shore based, from Atlantic City to the north of the storm --

TAPPER: These individual rescues you mean?

SCHULTZ: These are for individual rescues. We've got aircraft, like I said, in Jersey, aircrafts down in Savannah, we got aircrafts at the Air Force base tied with our DOD partners. We've got, you know, 20 rotary winged aircraft, about 10 fixed-wing aircraft.

You're talking in your earlier segment about DOD, defense ports, civil authorities, USS Kearsarge is out at sea with rotary-winged, tilt winged helicopters on board, 53s and 60s. We had a coast guard liaison on board.

We are completely dialed in with our DOD colleagues. We're here to support FEMA. We're here to support the state governor. So, we're well prepared for this.

TAPPER: And what are you most worried about? SCHULTZ: I worry about just the flooding, to be frank, at 75 percent

to 80 percent of, you know, fatalities in storms, hurricanes, major storms, are due to water inundation?

TAPPER: And not just during the storm but after the storm.

SCHULTZ: After the storm. This storm potentially is going to sit in the Carolinas, eastern Carolinas for, you know, 72, 96 hours. It's going to dump a lot of water. It's going to be flooding events well inland, and I think folks need to take that very seriously. Listen to their local warnings, their local officials and heed the advice.

TAPPER: You coordinated the response for the Coast Guard for Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey. What lessons did you learn from those storms that you can bring to this one?

SCHULTZ: Well, we learned a lot of lessons. We do about 700 exercises across our full range of response operations every year. We pulled some lessons forward from Harvey.

Harvey was different. Harvey was inland and we rescued 12,000 people working with other members of the Department of Homeland Security and DOD. And we've involved with some technology, our helicopters, for real-time tracking as we response to areas. We made some changes of how we process social media. So, we're always looking at --

TAPPER: What changes? You say you made changes how you process social media, like more people monitoring it?

SCHULTZ: We're not well staffed to monitor social media, but in a surge situation like this, we're paying more attention to the social media. We encourage people to use the 911 system. We encourage folks that are at sea, and hope we know they'll be at sea to use a VHF radio. But we've got some learned, that we're always driving those lessons learned --

TAPPER: I'm just interested in this. It's obviously a sign of strength as a leader to learn lessons. When you say you learned lesson, tweets or Facebook posts or whatever that came in the past that weren't noticed as quickly as they should have been, what kind of thing do you mean?

SCHULTZ: Well, that's -- there's some of that. Folks want to tweet and want a response but that's challenging. Just in the nature of the environment that we work, we work classified missions, we work local, you know, non-classified missions, our command center has some limitations about what internet we can bring in. So, we've figured out we've got to be more accessible in that space. There's a manpower component to that. So, I would say --

TAPPER: Of course.

SCHULTZ: -- refer to the 911 system. That way you get the entire response from the local authorities, up through the federal response, the locals can get the right assets directed. But this will be a local, state, federal response, DOD-supported, and it's really team sport.

TAPPER: What's the biggest mistake you see citizens make after the storm has passed? Do they too quickly assume that everything is safe? What mistake do people make?

SCHULTZ: Absolutely. I mean, this storm with the combination of high winds, with water inundation, there's going to be downed power lines. If this storm sits as it's projected to right now, over hours, tiles come down off of roofs, power lines come down. There's going to be standing power lines.

Folks need to stay out of the affected areas. They need to heed the local warnings. They may be without television, maybe they'll have some Internet connectivity. They're deploying thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots.

I would say, really pay attention to what the advice is from the emergency management experts and the state governments.

TAPPER: And what's your message for those who are watching at home in the line of the storm who are planning to ride out Hurricane Florence, assuming that it's too late for them to leave.

SCHULTZ: Well, at this point, if you made a determination to be home, I would make sure you stake out whatever location, assuming your home, your residence, where the high ground is, have some materials if you have the signal. Emergency response capabilities have been removed out there, as local officials have said basically, if you've chosen to stay in there, you may be hunkering down until we get back in after the storm.

I say be patient, get to the high ground, make sure you've got some food and water supplies to last you a couple of days and, again, first emergency managers will get to you, but you need to be patient. Do not venture out in high waters, do not venture out where there's wires on the street or other dangers.

TAPPER: All right. Admiral Schultz, thanks so much.

SCHULTZ: Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: Best of luck to you. Good luck to you.

SCHULTZ: We're ready to go, and we're standing by to work with our partners.

TAPPER: Best of luck to your men and women. We appreciate it.

We're just seconds away from the next Hurricane Florence update. Just how bad is the storm surge going to get?

Stay with us.

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[16:44:22] TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news. The power of Hurricane Florence on full display. Parts of the Carolina Coast are now getting tropical storm force wind gusts. The rain is picking up as well, so is the storm surge, which authorities in several cities fear will cause catastrophic flooding.

I want to go to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's in Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the most eastern parts of the Tar Heel State.

Martin, electricity is already out in some places with the storm just getting started. It's going to be a very long next few days.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE)

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[16:45:00]

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The days of waiting are over. Hurricane Florence is already making its presence known along the Carolina coast. The window for people to evacuate is closing fast.

BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: This is a very dangerous storm. We're asking citizens to please heed a warning. Your time is running out.

SAVIDGE: Thousands of people are already in shelters across North and South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My first thought was Lord, don't let it flood because I can't swim. I can't do anything but the flood. I would really, really panic.

SAVIDGE: For those staying home, the governor has this dire message.

GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Once these winds start blowing at that tropical storm rate it, will be virtually impossible for the rescuers to get in to rescue you. So they will be leaving just like the others because it'll be highly dangerous to be there.

SAVIDGE: And if you are thinking the storm's category means it's weakened, officials say think again.

LONG: Just because the wind speeds came down, the intensity of this storm came down to a Cat Two, please do not let your guard down. The storm surge forecast associated with this storm has not changed. It has remained the same.

SAVIDGE: North Carolina also comes with some very serious specific concerns. The Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant in North Carolina only four miles from the ocean shutting down production and erecting flood barriers today. It's one of six nuclear power sites that could be in or near the storm's path. Duke Energy and federal regulators say the plants are built to withstand major hurricanes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not worried about flooding here. They have plenty of pumps to get rid of the water that comes in. SAVIDGE: Adding to that concern thousands of dams in the region that could be inundated with the storms heavy rain and surge. Some damage to these structures not out of the question.

LONG: Let me set the expectations. This is a very dangerous storm. We call them disasters because they break things. The infrastructure is going to break, the power is going to go out.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We have breaking news now. We just got the newest forecast from the National Hurricane Center as Hurricane Florence begins to pummel the East Coast of the United States. I want to bring back in Meteorologist Jennifer Gray in the CNN Severe Weather Center. Jennifer, this update is frankly it's not good news.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, because the storm is slowing down so much. We're only at five miles per hour now. And so, we could be another 12 to 20 hours from an actual landfall. So, this storm is just going to sit here and turn and kick those waves up. The storm surge is going to remain. The winds are going to continue to batter the coast, and with 100 miles out, we're already getting hurricane-force gusts around Cape Lookout. And as this slowly just comes onshore and meanders to the south, it is going to continue to just chew up that coastline. So, it's not good news. Anytime the storm is just going to sit there. And with it sitting just offshore and not moving inland quicker, it's going to be over that warm Gulf Stream, it's going to be over the warm water, and so it's going to be able to maintain the intensity that it has now.

So because it has slowed, the track has also slowed, and it looks like we're not looking at a landfall until possibly tomorrow afternoon. And if it just hangs out offshore even longer, and meanders to the south, we could be looking at an actual landfall even later. It's unbelievable how long this storm is just sitting here 24 to 36 hours with incredible winds, storm surge, rain. I was looking at one of the models that was showing up to 40 inches of rain in just 48 hours in a bulls-eye around Wilmington all the way to Myrtle Beach. And if that holds true, Jake, that's going to be incredibly devastating.

TAPPER: All right, Jennifer Gray, thank you so much. Joining me on the phone is the Mayor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Brenda Bethune. Madam Mayor, as you hear this new forecast and as you see these pictures coming in already starting to show flooding, wind, and rain, how worried are you about your town?

MAYOR BRENDA BETHUNE, MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I'm very concerned naturally but I know that we are as prepared as we possibly can be at this point. And from here on out we just sit and wait and take what comes our way. That's really all we can do.

TAPPER: Is there anything that the citizens of Myrtle Beach need from the state government or the federal government that you're not getting? BETHUNE: No, they have been absolutely incredible and so supportive.

Both Governor McMaster, the federal government, mayors from other states that we've had so many people reach out to us already and we know that we can call when this is all over, and we will rebuild and we will do so quickly. And Myrtle Beach we'll be back open for business.

TAPPER: Are most if not all of the citizens of Myrtle Beach, have they evacuated?

BETHUNE: Right now, we think we have about 60 percent compliance which is great. We usually don't have that high of a percentage. But I think the fact that this storm has been talked about all week, we really push the mandatory evacuation. Governor McMaster made that very clear early on about how dangerous the storm was going to be and I think people listened this time and that's really what makes the difference.

[16:50:19] TAPPER: 60 percent compliance, of course, that's 40 percent still there. Are their emergency services for them if they need it or they on their own?

BETHUNE: There are right now. However, when we get into tropical storm force winds, we will not be able to. And that is the warning that I really want to share with those who have chosen to stay home. It really is at your own risk because we cannot have people on the roads in those conditions. So stay inside. This is not the time to go take pictures, take videos, or check your property. Just be patient. This is a long storm. We're going to be in it for a long time. It's going to be stalling over us. Be patient, don't be in a rush to go outside because it just does not work the risk.

TAPPER: And obviously this is such a monster storm. What's your biggest concern especially as you -- as you look back and think about how your city prepared where you are strongest, where you are weakest?

BETHUNE: My biggest concern is flooding obviously because the amount of rain that is coming with this and the fact that it is just going to stall over us for such a long period. But my other main concern is the loss of business for the businesses that are located here. Tourism is our only industry and this is really going to hurt badly.

TAPPER: Yes, I was going to say Myrtle Beach is obviously a huge tourist town. Saving lives, of course, is most important but what has been done to preserve the town itself?

BETHUNE: We've had people board up their homes, board up their businesses. We have worked to secure construction site, public spaces, everything that can possibly be done has been done including getting people to shelters, clearing out our Humane Society, getting the animals to shelters. So we are ready. We're as ready as we possibly can be. We have a great team in place that is eager to get outside to do the damage assessment when this is all over, clean up, rebuild, and get back in business.

TAPPER: Mayor Brenda Bethune of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina thank you so much. We'll be thinking about you and your town. Stay in touch with us. Let us know how we can help going forward.

BETHUNE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Just how dangerous is a 13-foot storm surge? CNN's Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio finding out. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Jake, the wind is fierce, the wind is dramatic, but it is the storm surge that devours Houses because they simply cannot withstand it. We'll explain in just a moment.

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TAPPER: We're back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Florence. We're looking at an American flag flying off at peak fear in North Carolina. Hours earlier it was fully intact but it is of course weathering. The storm there it is a few hours ago. This flag, of course, is still standing. The flag was still there. One of the reasons why this storm is so dangerous of course, is the storm surge, the rising sea water. FEMA Administrator Brock Long said earlier that the storm surge has the highest potential to kill the most amount of people and caused the most destruction.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman in the virtual studio. Tom, explain these phenomena for us, the storm surge, and how it's going to come into play in all likelihood with Hurricane Florence.

FOREMAN: Jake, a storm surge is not a wall of water or one big wave typically as some people imagine, rather it's a series of smaller waves, a bulge in the water that is being pushed ashore by all these winds and then it overtakes the water. And of course, when it floods and it can do a tremendous amount of damage. If you had two or three feet as we forecast in some areas, that's enough to destroy some cars, to really caused significant damage to homes.

But when you talk about these areas where we're going to have nine to 13 feet, in that case, it's a different ballgame. Now you have enough water to eat away at, to erode the foundation of a home, to batter the upper portions of the home with waves and wind as well at that point. Once it gets inside and starts churning around, that is far more force than any home is really meant to take.

And there are some real warning (AUDIO GAP), that are in that danger. We have a lot on low land particularly around estuaries, creeks, rivers which will funnel that storm surge right up toward these houses. There is a shallow coastal shelf here, meaning the storm surge can get a lot of momentum and just ride it right up over the land and keep going. And importantly and interestingly, this is now a weaker slower moving storm. If it were stronger, more focused, and faster the storm surge actually might be less. But this can drag it up very slowly and that water can just grind and grind and grind. Jake?

TAPPER: Show us on the map if you can, Tom, specifically where all these factors likely will most come play. FOREMAN: Yes, basically, any place that you see here with color on it

is a place where you can have that kind of damage. And if you look at one particular community here, I just want to show you one, if you go into Vanceboro, this is 60 miles from the coast, and if it gets the kind of flooding we think they could change from this to that. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.