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Hurricane Florence Grows in Size as It Closes in on Carolina Coast; Trump Falsely Claims 3,000 People did not Die in Puerto Rico Despite George Washington University's Study; Hurricane Florence Grows in Size as it Closes in on Carolina Coast. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:34] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill in for Poppy Harlow today. Our breaking news, Hurricane Florence closing in on the coast and growing in size. This stunning image from space showing just how big and how close the storm now is. The outer bands already hitting North Carolina. This camera, as you see right there on your screen, that's just 30 miles off the coast. Take a look at that flag and also take a listen.

Tropical force winds could be here soon. John Berman is with me from Oak Island, North Carolina. And we will be joined by a team of reporters up and down the Carolina coast as we cover Florence.

Here's what we know at this hour. Florence is a dangerous, category two storm. And while it is weaker, do not be fooled by that. This storm is very strong. It is said to have a devastating impact, packing 110 mile-per hour winds and threatening catastrophic flooding and storm surges. Ten million people under watches and warnings. The latest on the timing of impacts ahead in a moment.

The other breaking news, just moments ago President Trump with a false claim noting 3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. After the storm had hit, they had anywhere from six to 18 deaths. Then a long time later they started to report really large numbers like 3,000.

In a second tweet, the president finishing his though, saying, "This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible." That is the president this morning as Florence is set to bear down on the coast.

Let's get right out to John Berman, who is on the beach in Oak Island.

So, John, what are you seeing now?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm in Oak Island, North Carolina. This is a town of about 8,000 people. There's been a mandatory evacuation order here on this island like so many, Erica, of the barrier islands up and down the North Carolina coast.

I'll tell you why. I'm standing right now on this manmade berm, a sand dune. This will overlap with water. This will be flooded with water with a three-foot storm surge. It cannot withstand a three-foot storm surge. They're expecting a storm surge here of 6 to 9 feet. The water is going to overflow here and it will inundate these houses behind me. Some of them are on stilts but it may not be high enough for the surge that is coming.

And it could be days of problems here. This storm has slowed down, but that's a bad thing. It means that people along the North and South Carolina coast will be right in the bull's eye for 48 hours, experiencing those hurricane force winds for a long time and a torrential rain, more than two feet in some places and again that storm surge 6 to 9 feet maybe more up and down the coast.

Want to go first -- we've got reporters by the way up and down the coast. First want to go to Wilmington, North Carolina, a little bit north of where I am right now. Our Kaylee Hartung is there.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. I'm standing in the intercoastal water way between Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. Another one of those barrier islands that's under mandatory evacuation.

Let me be your measuring stick here to understand what could happen if this storm surge does roll in here as is expected. This is a 17-foot high piling. This floating dock that I'm on is right about at the average high tide mark. I can tell that because of the water line that's just below the dock where it is now.

I am told when Hurricane Hazel showed up here, the floating dock here, the water, it rose just about to the top of this 17-foot piling. When Hurricane Fran came here, if you look at the dock to my left, those pilings older, wooden, those are just eight feet tall. Yes, that dock rose up, floated right off of those pilings. Locals here telling me they won't be surprised to see those docks in the parking lot in front of me tomorrow.

Again Wrightsville Beach behind me, an area of mandatory evacuation. Any other day these boat slips would be full. But they're not, John. Because more often than not, folks are getting their boats out of the water and into storage.

BERMAN: Well, good move. It is also a good move to evacuate if you've been told to do so.

Kaylee Hartung in Wilmington, North Carolina. We'll be up there shortly to ride out the storm with you.

Want to go down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

[09:05:02] Obviously a popular vacation destination for so many. A lot of people have moved there in the past few years. That, too, an area of extreme risk over the next few days.

Our Nick Valencia is there -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a very risky place to be. In fact the mayor is emphasizing, if you don't get out by 1:00 p.m., it might be too late. They have enacted a curfew at 7:00 p.m. and they are going until about 7:00 a.m., much earlier than what was in effect last night. That's for the safety of the residents who decided to stick it out.

And we're joined by a 10-year-old here who's already a veteran of hurricanes. His dad is here, just off camera. He's given him permission to be on with us.

How are you, Nicholas? You got a great name, by the way.



VALENCIA: So are you nervous at all? You told me a little while ago that you're not.

NICHOLAS: Well, no, not really. I mean, yes, I have been through two hurricanes, and they weren't that scary.

VALENCIA: What was it like the last time? I mean, what do you usually do in a time like this?

NICHOLAS: Well, we usually just stick around the house and we make a plan and we follow that plan. And then after the hurricane hits, we execute the plan.

VALENCIA: So you and your dad, you come to the beach a lot. Almost every day or I guess weekly pretty much. What do you see different now when you look at the waves and you look at the conditions here?

NICHOLAS: The beach there is slanted. And it looks like the heavy water has been eroding it eventually and like over and over again. So the waves are getting heavier.

VALENCIA: Yes, so it's a lot windier than it was yesterday as well. So there's nothing that makes you nervous. I'm sure you're watching the news, you're watching the weather. All of that?

NICHOLAS: What makes me nervous was that Matthew, it didn't make me nervous until the peer came off.

VALENCIA: Yes. The peer was damaged during that. That was a category one, right?

NICHOLAS: Yes. It wasn't damaged. It was off, like destroyed. And so I don't know what this one is going to do. This one is said to be worse, said to be longer. So.

VALENCIA: Yes. Well, we wish you best of luck. Take care of yourself. We know that your dad is going to take good care of you and you're all pro already at them. Thanks so much for taking time with CNN.

So residents, you see here, some of them aren't evacuating. According to the representative in this district, Erica, only 60 percent of the residents here on Myrtle Beach have gotten out of town. It's not too late, but that window is closing -- Erica. HILL: It is important to continue getting that message out, Nick.

Thank you.

Want to go now to meteorologist Chad Myers. He's in the CNN Weather Center.

So as Nick pointed out, the window is closing. When do these life- threatening impacts from Florence begin to be felt?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It really depends on where you are because if you're on the outer banks right now, you're already feeling it. You probably already have wind gusts around 75. Some of the Frying Pan Shoal gusts are over 50 at this point. So we have a new tornado watch issue here. That's north of Wilmington, Moorhead City, all the way up to Cape Hatteras and Nag's Head. And that's certainly because these bigger storms will be rotating on the north and east side of the storm as it gets closer.

There you see the first real band almost to (INAUDIBLE) into Hatteras right now. We will watch that all day long, get closer and closer. The eyewall itself 146 miles from Wilmington, so getting closer at 12 miles per hour. You can do the math and you can get about 14 hours to land fall. But the storm is slowing down and is forecast to get slower.

Here we go. Cape Hatteras officially at 38, New Bern at 28, and Wilmington just a wind gust there of 31. Coming up forward this all the way to about 11:30 tonight when the water is starting to pile up in that storm surge that we talked about.

There is Wilmington right there. The eye to your south. The surge to the north, and that's where the water is going to go. That is where the major surge is going to be. We don't have crews up there on purpose. But there is the eye right there for tomorrow morning because the surge will be into Wilmington. This is an area that will surge tomorrow morning and into tomorrow afternoon.

Some of these areas could pick up 9 to 13 feet of surge. That's a pretty big surge. Because we're at 110 miles per hour, gusts of 130. But let me do something else here. I want to take you to a map. I made this map a little bit ago. This is a Google Earth. Stop moving it. This is a Google Earth. And I laid a polygon on top of this Google that's 12 feet high. So if the area is above 12 feet, you won't be flooded. If you're below 12 feet, you'll be drowned. So really, this is Carolina Beach. The only spot here is up to the north. You go ahead and move it now. The only spot that actually will be sticking out of this muddy water is the courtyard which is where our crew is and should stay safe there as long as they stay out of the water and that's the key -- Erica.

HILL: Wow. All right, Chad, thank you.

Want to turn to the White House now where after days of calling the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico an incredible expense, and even underappreciated, President Trump is now denying the official death toll. In fact, he's gone beyond denying it. He's claimed that this is all a ploy by Democrats.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins me now with the latest. Abby, good morning.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica. This is per President Trump an escalation in the rhetoric around this issue. We know for several days now he's been saying that he believes that Hurricane Maria was an unsung success for the federal government, that they did everything that they could. And now he's saying that these claims that there might have been more people dying as a result of this storm are all part of what he calls, "done by Democrats in order to make me look bad, look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising billions of dollars to help Puerto Rico."

[09:10:11] The president also claims that when people died of old age, that was counted in the death toll. But that is not true. This death toll is the result of a study that was commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico to find out whether there were people who died unnecessarily as a result of the storm, whether it was because they couldn't be found in time or there was no power in places where they need them, hospitals, that sort of thing.

And the president is not addressing any of that really. He's just simply focusing on what he says is a conspiracy against him when it comes to this death toll. This is coming really at a bad time for the White House. They're trying to refocus attention to Hurricane Florence, they're trying to reassure people in the path of this current storm that the federal government is working as hard as possible on this issue.

But President Trump is trying to re-litigate Hurricane Maria, trying to get accolades for it. But clearly there is a lot of disagreement on this issue. And frankly, Erica, I think a lot of people on the ground in Puerto Rico, whether or not they agree 100 percent with these death toll estimates or not believe that perhaps more should have been done, but you don't hear that at all from President Trump.

HILL: And last I saw, Abby, there were no public events that we knew of for the president today. Do we know if he -- what he has on his schedule in terms of perhaps meeting with FEMA? We're waiting on a briefing from FEMA coming up. Or just how in touch he is with the developments about Hurricane Florence with his officials today? Or they're tightlipped on that?

PHILLIP: They are being very tightlipped on that. President Trump has nothing on his schedule publicly at all today. You know, yesterday was a day that we were expecting to hear a lot more from the White House. We only got an update on what President Trump's briefings were very later in the day. He spoke to the governor of Georgia. He's gotten briefings on the Florence response and he spoke about it briefly at the top of an event here at the White House.

But it will be interesting to see whether or not they show more of President Trump's engagement on this issue. You know, whether or not he does anything to kind of let folks know exactly how responsive he is being. So it's still pretty early here. We'll see whether we get more from them. But so far nothing -- Erica. HILL: Interesting, too, as you pointed out, Abby, that officials

there and folks in the White House, in the West Wing, trying to do their best to redirect the president. And he keeps going back to making this about his performance. Are any of those folks talking this morning

PHILLIP: Well, so, you know, these tweets just happened moments ago. And often when the president tweets at this hour, this is the time when he's still in the residence. He hasn't even gotten to the West Wing yet. Aides haven't even had a chance to really engage with him. So many of these tweets will come as a surprise to people working for the president, but I have to tell you over the last several days there is not a desire in this White House to talk about Hurricane Maria, to re-litigate this issue of whether -- how many people died exactly.

The issue of whether there were casualties in that storm is -- it is beyond question. Everybody knows that there were. The job for the president, I think his aides believe, is just to express sympathy in these cases and express a willingness to make sure that the federal government is engaged in future hurricanes. But President Trump is doing something completely different. He's taking this on head on.

Yesterday he was tweeting new attacks at the mayor of San Juan, who he has been engaged with for months since the hurricane. And again, it's a distraction. What we're hearing from White House aides is that they want to talk about how well the Florence response is going, which, you know, by all accounts, the folks on the ground are saying they're working pretty well with the federal government. That's what the White House wants to talk about today.

They're not having that opportunity right at this moment because the president is just dictating the agenda via Twitter.

HILL: Via Twitter, which is as we know a daily occurrence. And it is fascinating as you point out, Abby, because there is a lot in place. And we have seen mobilization. Obviously, we're hearing a bit from the federal government but from states as well pitching in.

We will continue to keep an eye on that. Abby, appreciate it as always.

I want to bring in now CNN's Leyla Santiago who joins us from San Juan. Leyla of course was on the ground from the very beginning.

Your reporting has been an absolute stand-out from the beginning, Leyla. And I would imagine that for folks who are waking up and seeing these tweets from the president of the United States. There is perhaps a bit of a reaction this morning.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Listen, this just happened. And I can tell you that this will likely have a big response, just like it did when the Harvard study came in that actually put this number at much higher, around 4600, the death toll.

So let me just sort of paint the picture of what I have seen in just the last few days that will likely give a better idea of what Puerto Ricans will have to say and how they will feel about this.


As we had traveled around Puerto Rico a year later in the last few days, people are still traumatized by this hurricane.

And one of the things that I have heard over and over is, I lost someone. I lost more than a home, I lost more than family and friends who left this island. I lost a loved one, someone who died as a result of this storm. And one of the things that President Trump may not really be looking at here is that, yes, when he came the death toll was at 16 certified deaths.

Hours after he left, it jumped up to the 30s. But those are all what we call direct deaths. Those are the deaths that come because a direct result of the hurricane. This number that spikes up to 3,000 includes the indirect deaths, those deaths that have been impact -- that have been a result of the conditions of living here, of being 11 months without power.

That's how long it took to restore it for some people. The case I always talk about that we have featured is the case of a man named Natolio(ph), he died January 6th in the southeastern part of the island because he had no power and when the generator ran out of the diesel in the middle of the night, the breathing machine that he uses to breathe at night stopped working.

And as a result, he died. That is an indirect death. That is a death that is included in this number of 3,000, which came from researchers at George Washington University after the government of Puerto Rico commissioned a study to look into the deaths.

So when President Trump talks about that small number, that 16 that he quoted as a way to show what a great job the recovery was when he came after the hurricane, he's really only talking about direct deaths. He's not taking into account the people who got into an accident because they didn't see that the bridge was out.

The people who didn't have access to hospitals because the roads were closed. The people who didn't have power and needed that breathing machine. The people who couldn't get dialysis because the dialysis center didn't have power to operate and care for these medical patients, that's what the number 3,000 takes into account.

That's what the people of Puerto Rico are thinking about. They are thinking that that number reflects the devastation that came after Hurricane Maria, after President Trump left.

ERICA HILL, HOST, NEWSROOM: And that, Leyla, is what we call a complete picture, of course, and full reporting as to what happened. Not cherry-picking numbers that may or may not convene for people and the message they want to send out there.

Leyla Santiago, thank you as always, I know you'll continue to stay on the response from Puerto Rico as well. We can tell you we are just hearing from the mayor of San Juan, and this is the tweet from the mayor. "This is what denial following neglect looks like. Mr. President", he writes, "in the real world, people died on your watch. Your lack of respect is appalling."

We are waiting on a briefing from FEMA in just moments from now, an update on preparations as this massive storm Florence barrels towards the U.S. East Coast, stay with us.


HILL: We are monitoring the latest on Hurricane Florence as we wait for the storm to make landfall. And in just a matter of moments, we will have an update from FEMA on this massive hurricane. Cnn correspondent Rene Marsh joins us now from FEMA headquarters in Washington. Rene, good morning.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. We know that they started off the morning here at FEMA with their operational meeting, so that is likely still ongoing. But we do expect them to come out here and give us the very latest as far as where their assets are deployed and their final warnings, essentially for people who are in that target area.

We do know that, you know, aside from warning people that they need to get out, FEMA as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, they're paying close attention to five federally-operated dams in the target area. Army Corps of Engineers saying that they will be paying close attention to those dams because obviously the bottom line is they don't want this issue of a breach, so they will be monitoring and managing those five dams throughout the storm.

As for FEMA, I mean, we haven't heard from them yet this morning, we will in a few minutes, but we do expect them to continue on with a message that they have had all along, which is you only have a few hours left to safely evacuate. And so we suspect that they will continue that.

Again, FEMA saying that they are ready and they are very confident going into this storm that they will have the resources and they'll have the funds to adequately respond. Erica?

HILL: All right, Rene Marsh with the latest there from FEMA headquarters, Rene, thank you again, we'll get you that briefing as soon as it begins. Want to turn back now though to my colleague John Berman who is there in North Carolina. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN: All right, Erica, thanks so much. I'm here on Oak Island in North Carolina. I have to tell you, the sun just peeked through the sky right now. I have a sense this might be the last I see of it for a long time. I want to bring in the Ken Graham; the director of the National Hurricane Center to get a sense of the latest storm track and just where it is at this moment. Ken, what are you seeing?

[09:25:00] KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Hello, John, yes, we're getting hourly updates, we're getting frequent updates from the radar and also the aircrafts, so we're maintaining that 110 miles an hour. So the system seems to be slowing down a little bit as advertised.

But one thing that we keep talking about and is really important, these hurricane force winds extend 70 miles from the center, 170 miles from the center is the tropical storm force winds. So looking at radar -- and you're seeing these rain bands already reaching the North Carolina coast with some of those high winds and the heavy rains.

So forecast is on track, and I'm urging everybody not necessarily to concentrate on that center. You know, with that kind of size, those impacts could be well away from the center.

BERMAN: And that's a super important point that I want to pick up in just a moment. But just so people understand, the eye of the storm, when and where do you expect it to make landfall?

GRAHAM: Well, looking at the latest forecast, we're really advertising this slow down. So it looks like, you know, impacts right now, tropical storm force winds reaching the coast right now, and then getting close to the shore that looks like, you know, over the night, overnight tonight.

But look at this, with time, you know, you look at 2:00 a.m. Friday at this location, this is 2:00 a.m. Saturday, that's 24 hours of this battering hurricane force winds that we're looking at. And that's just compounding the issues, that's more rain, that's more storm surge. So really, a slow progression, but you know, that's -- it's going to impact areas for -- you know, into the weekend easily.

BERMAN: That's a really long time to be suffering the battering blow of hurricane force winds, not to mention what could be two high tide cycles. And I know high tide and storm surge are two things, but if you get both at the same time, it could be particularly bad.

GRAHAM: And even to compound those issues, if you think about this, we're also putting all that rain on top of it. So those areas looking at 20 to 30 inches of rain, maybe some isolated 40 inch rainfall totals. So think about the storm surge coming in and then you pile on top of the rain.

A lot of these rivers won't be able to drain, and the longer you have these hurricane force winds, the further in-land you push that storm surge several miles in some areas could see storm surge. So think about it, your storm surge, the water is high, a lot of rainfall, that can't drain and it just compounds the issue. It's just a dangerous situation when it comes to the water.

BERMAN: And I know it's a long time coming from now. But when do you think it will finally stop raining along the Carolina coast?

GRAHAM: Yes, it's going to take some time because if you think about this forecast, even on Sunday, we're going to have a depression over South Carolina. But look at this, this cone. We still have some uncertainty with exactly where that center is going to be, so it looks like it's going to go through the weekend and that's going to take a long time for that to drain.

So think about it, even if the rain ends, you're still talking a long time for those rivers to drain, especially in these areas that get the heavy rain, they've got a lot of rain as well, so dangerous flash- flooding situation in addition to the coastal issues.

BERMAN: All right, Ken Graham; the director of the National Hurricane Center, thanks so much for being with us. I hope people get the message, he and so many other meteorologists are sending, which is this is a huge storm in terms of its size, which means that people will be suffering hurricane force winds for a very long time.

The pounding rain of the storm surge will last until Sunday, that is a serious problem. We know the government has been getting ready, they've been staging over the last several days. In just a moment, we're expecting a life briefing from FEMA. Cnn's special live coverage continues right after this.