Return to Transcripts main page


FEMA Update; Florence Grows in Size; Myrtle Beach Mayor on Florence. Aired 9:30-10:00a ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:38] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I want to take you right now to the latest update from FEMA. Let's listen in.

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: In regards to FEMA vehicle usage. Every day we work very closely with the OIG and GAO to make meaningful improvements and make sure that we're running programs and policies according to regulation. And bottom line is we'll continue to fully cooperate with any investigation that goes on and on updating mistakes and push forward and keep going, keep moving on.

But here's the thing. Regardless of an article, right now I am 100 percent focused on Floyd (ph) and that's exactly where our attention needs to be from the standpoint of the life safety mission. So with that, we're going to invite in our federal partners. Florence, excuse me.

QUESTION: Mr. Administered, would you say, though, do you feel confident that you are follows the statutes and the laws as it relates to the use of the government vehicles.

LONG: Yes, so we're going to get Floyd and -- or Florence, excuse me. We're going to get to Florence. And we're going to push forward and concentrate on the life safety issues. Thank you.


LONG: All right. Thanks, guys.

We've got Linda (ph). All right.

All right. So in regards to Florence, 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. Here's why. As the system's encroaching on the coast, the wind field is expanded. So what you're going to start seeing in a matter of hours, in the next coming hours is, these wind bands that far proceed the center of circulation are going to start pushing water up against the coast, but more importantly up the back bay and inlet areas. Storm surge is not a problem just along the coastline. It's going to be a major problem way up into the streams and tributaries that come out of sound areas that push up into the sounds, like the Pamlico Sound on the west side of the Pamlico Sound.

This is a very dangerous storm. Storm surge is why you have been placed under -- many of you have been placed under evacuation. And we are asking citizens to please heed a warning. Your time is running out. The ocean is going to start rising along the coast and in the back bay and inlet areas, in the sound areas within a matter of hours. Your time to get out of those areas in storm surge inundation is coming to a close. I cannot emphasize that enough.

With that, the other thing that's going to happen is not only are we going to see high winds, 110 miles an hour sustained winds coming upon the coast, the wind field is large. There are -- there are hurricane force winds that extend far out from the center of circulation that will not only inundate the coast, but you're going to see some high inland winds as this storm starts to come in and push into the coast.

Coupled with that is copious amounts of rainfall as this system is pulling a lot of moisture out of the ocean. You're already seeing rain band come along -- come along the Carolina shoreline. And, unfortunately, these rain bands are going to be with us for several days. We're going to -- we're going to -- you know, the forecasters are basically indicating feet of rain, not inches, in portions of the Carolinas and into Virginia.

So this is a very dangerous storm. Inland flooding kills a lot of people, unfortunately. And that's what we're about to see. So, please, keep that in mind.

The other thing is, is that -- I want -- I want everybody to know that FEMA and our federal partners have fully positioned and in support of our state and local partners. You know, here again, we are here to help our governors achieve their response and recovery goals. Emergency management is a team sport. It is a whole community effort.

You know, as this system pushes through right now, we're focused largely on life safety, supporting evacuation movement, supporting mass care. As this system pushes through, starts to exit the Carolinas and Virginias and, you know, the threat ceases, we're going to be focused on stabilizing what we call community lifelines. For example, we've got to quickly understand the damage that's been done to the transportation systems, the communication systems, the power systems and we are positioning and have been positioned for multiple days now to be ready to get those critical lifelines back up and stable as quickly as we can.

[09:35:07] But let me set the expectations. This is a very dangerous storm. We call them disastrous because they break things. The infrastructure is going to break. The power's going to go out. It could go out for a number of days. It could go out for many weeks. It's hard to say at this point.

So, not only that, but many of you who have evacuated from the Carolina coastlines are going to be displaced for a while, particularly where the areas receive the highest amounts of storm surge. So, you know, we need people to get their mindsets right that disasters are very frustrating and it takes time to get the infrastructure back and running. But we are going to do everything that we can to push forward as quickly as we can to get things back up and working, along with our state partners in the private sector, who owns a large portion of the critical infrastructure that's going to be impacted.

So with that, I want to quickly turn it over to our partners over at NOAA, Dr. Neil Jacobs and Steve Goldstein.

So, take it away.


Florence is a category two hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 110 miles an hour. It is moving northwest and is presently centered 170 miles east/southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and 220 miles east of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Florence is a very large hurricane. Hurricane force winds extend outward 80 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds extend nearly 200 miles out from the center.

Florence is forecast to slow down as it approaches the coast. So even today as we see outer rain bands from Florence move into the Outer Banks of North Carolina, landfall is not expected for another 36 hours. Some time Friday afternoon, Friday evening or even early Saturday morning.

This slow moving, very large hurricane will bring a long-term extreme rainstorm, storm surge and hurricane force wind threat to eastern North Carolina and South Carolina into the weekend. In North Carolina, we're particularly concerned about the Pamlico (ph) Sound and the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers where nine to 12 feet of storm surge are forecast. And the beaches from the outer banks to the Wilmington area, six to nine feet of storm surge are forecast over several astronomical high tide cycles.

As far as rain fall, we're still forecasting 20 to 30 inches, possibly 40 inches or more, especially in eastern North Carolina and northeastern South Carolina. In addition to all of that, there is also a tornado watch in effect for eastern North Carolina today and tomorrow.

The next advisory from the National Hurricane Center will be issued at 11:00 Eastern Time.

Thank you.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN, NOAA: I just like to take an opportunity to emphasize that the expanse of this storm. So the tropical storm force winds extend out 200 miles and the hurricane force winds extend out 80. This is a tremendously large storm and when it slows down what you'll see is this expansive wind field will pile up water along the coast in the form of a storm surge. But in addition to that, there's going to be a tremendous amount of rain.

And as this storm slows down, there's going to be lots of coastal flooding. And with that, combined with the onshore flow, it's going to be very hard for this water to evacuate. So you're going to see a tremendous amount of inland flooding.

I'd also like to thank the NOAA core officers for flying several fights into the storm collecting data to improve the forecast scale and the models. In addition to that, I'd also like to thank the Air Force for providing reconnaissance flights as well.

LONG: All right. Thanks, (INAUDIBLE).

All right, next we have our partners with the American Red Cross, Charley English, to give us an update on the mass care efforts underway.

CHARLEY ENGLISH, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Thank you, Administrator Long. And we certainly appreciate your leadership and your inclusiveness of our faith based and private non-profit partners on the team. So, thank you very much for that.

The Red Cross and other private non-profits continue to pre-stage resources in the theater of operations in the Atlantic area. Just like to settle a little expectations if the public has not experienced staying in a shelter in the past. You'll be safe, but conditions are Spartan. So we'd ask you to bring your toothbrush, your pillow, other comfort items with you, and we'll keep you safe until the storm passes. And then post landfall and post impact, it will be a more comfortable situation for you.

We would also like to take the opportunity to say that this storm is a significant event. Our resources will be stretched. If you're fortunate enough not to be impacted, we would like to have you consider being a volunteer. You can do that at or any other of the other fine agencies that you choose to volunteer with.

Thank you.

[09:40:08] LONG: And, folks, one of the most powerful arms of the whole community is the non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross. And here again, when this storm passes, this is about neighbor helping neighbor all the way up to the federal government. So if you're looking to get involved and you're not in, you know, the Carolinas but you're looking to get involved to help out the situation once this thing has passed, go to or So, thank you again.

Next -- next, up we have our partners with the Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Ray Alexander.

RAY ALEXANDER, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Thank you, Administrator Long.

Good morning.

The Army Corps of Engineers is prepared and ready to respond to Hurricane Florence, working with our federal family members and state and local partners. To date, we have over 200 personnel engaged with over six million in mission assignment dollars from FEMA, 19 million assignments and over $13 million in federal coastal emergency dollars.

And our Pacific Ocean division continues to assess and respond to the effects from the typhoon and the hurricane out in the Pacific. While here in the Atlantic, under our Stafford Act authorities, we're postured to provide temporary power support, debris management, temporary roofing, housing and conduct infrastructure assessments in the Carolinas, Virginia and elsewhere where need.

As far as dams, there are five Corps of Engineer dams in Virginia and North Carolina. All have sufficient flood control capability to accept the effects of precipitation from Florence. And we're working with the Army's Installation Management Command to insure that dams on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, any effects of Florence to those dams are mitigated.

In terms of navigation, we're closely working with our partners from NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard and prepared to rapidly open federal channels and other navigation.

And, finally, in flood response. We are integrated with state and local county governments to provide technical assistance and flood fighting, both before the storm and after.

Thank you.

LONG: Thank you.

Next up, our partners with the Coast Guard, Rear Admiral Austin.


The safety of the people in Hurricane Florence's path, as well as our own Coast Guard men and women and their families, are a top priority. And we are working in close concert with FEMA and other federal, state and local partners in preparing for the storm.

In preparation for the storm, the Coast Guard has taken the following actions. The ports of Wilmington and Moorhead City, North Carolina, as well as the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay have been closed. And in preparation also for this storm we've pre-staged shallow water response boats, as well as bring in additional search and rescue aircraft, which will be staged in air station Savannah, Georgia. And we've moved aircraft out of the air station, Elizabeth City, to be ready to come in behind the storm as soon as it is safe to fly those missions.

The Coast Guard is also prestaging other deployable specialized forces with additional law enforcements, security and oil and hazardous materials response resources to be ready. And all Coast Guard small boat and cutter crews are going to be outside of the storm and ready to move in as soon as it's safe to do so.

For those in the path of the storm, we urge you to do the following. Please stay off the water. Coast Guard search and resource resources will be degraded or unavailable before, during and immediately after the storm. Remember that social media is a great way to stay informed, but please don't use social media in order to call for help. Please call 911 or channel 16 in order to reach out to get help.

And, finally, once this storm has passed, the areas will still be hazardous. So please stay in a safe location while Coast Guard and other partners assess the damage and we'll let you know when it's safe to do so.

Thank you.

LONG: Thank you.

Next up we have the Office of Disability Integration Coordination at FEMA, Miss Linda Mastandrea. And it's incredibly important for FEMA to help our partners do everything that we can to render the highest level of function on access needs that we can, not only during the response phase, but also after the recovery phase.

So, Linda, please, would you say a few words.


Excuse me.

Good morning.

So as the disability coordinator and the director of the Office of Disability Immigration and Coordination, our responsibility is to ensure that FEMA's programs and services are available to and accessible to people with disabilities before, during and after disasters. And in terms of Florence in particular, we are working very closely with our partners at the state and local level, at the territorial and travel levels, with our federal partners and agencies like the Red Cross and HHS to insure that people with disabilities have what they need during evacuation, during sheltering, pre and post landfall.

[09:45:08] So part of our coordination efforts are to ensure that we are in close communication with our state and local partners, to ensure that any unmet needs that people with disabilities have during evacuation or sheltering and in terms of response and recovery are met. And we'll continue to closely coordinate with our state and local and federal partners to ensure that people with disabilities who are impacted by the storms have what they need to safely evacuate, that they have what they need in the shelters and that they can effectively respond to and recover from the effects of the disaster.

LONG: Thank you, Linda, appreciate that.

And then finally -- or next up, Environmental Protection Agency Reggie Cheatham.


Thank you, Administrator Long, and good morning. My name's Reggie Cheatham. I'm the director of Office for Emergency Management, U.S. EPA. EPA is the lead federal agency for inland releases of oil and hazardous substances through emergency support function 10 under the national response framework. In addition to requests for assistance from our states, tribes and local government, partners, some of the things that EPA is currently going prior to Hurricane Florence is to determine the status of preparation at chemical, oil and production facilities that may be in the path of the storm and to identity any releases and discharges of hazardous substances or oil caused by the storm.

The agency has identified sites under Super Fund, Risk Management Program and the Facility Response Plan Program for oil that may be in the current projected path of the hurricane. And we're trying to assess any pre-land fall concerns.

In addition, we're working with the state --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, you've been listening to this news conference held by FEMA Director Brock Long, along with officials from the National Hurricane Center, the American Red Cross and other responders who are waiting for Hurricane Florence, waiting for this storm to pass through. They've talked about how they pre-staged so much support and so much relief for when the storm is over. They talk about how they will respond when they are behind the storm. The problem, of course, is this storm will be very, very long in duration.

Hurricane Florence, the outer band starting to hit now the North Carolina coast, the Outer Banks. And once it hits, it's going to stick around for some 72 hours. FEMA Director Brock Long said people need to be prepared to be frustrated. This will be a very long haul. The important thing now is to stay safe.

CNN's special live coverage of Hurricane Florence continues after this quick break.


[09:51:48] BERMAN: All right, John Berman here in Oak Island, North Carolina. Winds picking up a little bit here and this is nothing. Tropical storm force winds have begun hitting the Outer Banks, about 200 miles north of me in North Carolina. They will batter the rest of the coastline very shortly and then they will stick around for days, dumping rain, lots of rain, feet of rain, and a storm surge that could top six, nine, 12 feet in some places. That is an area of enormous concern.

Want to head down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a place very much on high alert for this storm as well. Our Polo Sandoval is there.



Want to give you a view of what's actually happening a little further south in Charleston right now. You know, if you've been here, you know that this area is obviously always extremely bustling with activity. It's a very vibrant part of Charleston. Not today. You can see business after business has been boarded up. The sandbags are certainly in place.

People here are afraid of a repeat of what happened during Tropical Storm Irma. That is when the high tide and the storm surge combined to flood parts of the city. That is what people here are worried about. They have been describing it as Florence part two, the scenario where the storm would potentially sag south, dumping incredible amounts of rain in the region here. So not necessarily because they may be on the southern end of the storm. The concern here, Erica, is over the flooding.

Finally, I should mention, both the Port of Charleston and the airport itself have been shut down until at least Saturday, Erica. So you can't really fly or sail into Charleston, at least not for the next few days.

HILL: All right, Polo, appreciate it.

As we're looking at preparations up and down the coast, the message is very clear, stay off the beach, stay out of the ocean or risk getting arrested. A strong warning to residents and tourist alike as Myrtle Beach officially closes ahead of Florence. The outer bands of the hurricane already hitting the coast this morning, as we have seen.

Joining me now, Brenda Bethune, who's the mayor of Myrtle Beach.

Mayor, good to have you with us.

This is your hometown. This is where you grew up. You have dealt with hurricanes before, but this is a little something different. Are people heeding these evacuations? Are they listening?

MAYOR BRENDA BETHUNE, MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: I think people have listened this time. I really believe that this storm has gotten everyone's attention because of the sheer mass of it. And I truly hope that people have obeyed the mandatory evacuation warnings because now really is the last chance to get out of town.

HILL: Once this track shifted, and was, you know, showing more of Myrtle Beach in its sight, what changed for you in terms of preparations?

BETHUNE: Well, immediately, I felt like I had been sucker punched. But we just went into high gear. Our city crews, our emergency planning team, public safety, we've all been working 24/7 to prepare for this. And we were prepared even before we knew that it was coming right towards us. But now we are on even higher alert and ready for whatever comes our way.

[09:55:05] HILL: You know, part of what we talk about with every storm, but especially with this one, is how important it is to listen to these evacuation orders because help can't come to you and people who want to call for help, especially if this storm is there, are putting other people, first responders' lives, at risk. But this is going to stay for days, we're talking about, not just hours. How has that impacted where your folks are riding out the storms so that they're ready when it is over?

BETHUNE: We have actually called all of our tier-one employees and brought them into a shelter at our local convention center, Myrtle Beach Convention Center, so that we could have them close enough into the city so that immediately after the storm, we can get out, do our damage assessments, patrol the streets, and just insure that the city is safe and work in a very proactive and hopefully a very swift manner to get things back in order.

HILL: We know the gondolas from that iconic sky wheel are down. So much preparation has been done there in Myrtle Beach. What's your biggest concern this morning?

BETHUNE: I think my biggest concern right now is the people who have chosen to stay. A lot of times people think that just because the storm has been downgraded, that it is not going to be as impactful. And that is not the case with Florence. It is such a massive storm. And we need to pay attention to that and not get lulled into that false sense of security.

I also just encourage people that if you are home, you need to stay in your homes. This is not the time to be outside taking pictures or to see what's going on and making FaceBook videos. This is very serious -- a very serious situation that we're in.

HILL: We absolutely need to treat it that way.

Mayor Brenda Bethune, thank you. Appreciate the update.

Some folks who may have been watching earlier, you may have seen Nick Valencia who was talking about a person there who said he couldn't get out of Myrtle Beach, no car, no license, and he had a dog. Well, there have been a lot of offers on social media I know via Nick to help him out. Right now he's deciding to stay. Hopefully he's listening to these messages, though, again.

Stay with us. The latest on this breaking news, Hurricane Florence making its way to the Carolina coast, continues after this.