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Hurricane Florence Grows in Size as It Closes in on Carolina Coast; Trump Claims 3,000 People Did Not Die During Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:18] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erica Hill in Atlanta. The beginning impacts of Florence are here. The outer bands of this powerful category 2 hurricane and it is massive, being felt already along the Carolina coast.

Take a look at that flag on the left-hand side of your screen. And look at those ominous skies as well. FEMA officials offering this warning moments ago.


BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Your time is running out. Your time to get out of those areas and storm surge inundation is coming to a close. I cannot emphasize that enough.


HILL: The warning from FEMA there in the coming hours, the conditions will deteriorate. It will become extremely life threatening. Catastrophic storm surges. Flooding is the biggest concern. And we are also hearing now from the governor of North Carolina. Let's listen in.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Get yourself to a safe place and stay there if you haven't already. Over the next few hours, many roads will become unsafe and impassable from debris and flood waters. Don't drive during the peak of the storm and don't attempt to drive through flooded roads. That puts your life in danger. I know many North Carolinians see updated storm tracks changing categories of the hurricane, and landfall predictions.

I'm concerned because I have even heard some people say that North Carolina is getting a break. Please hear my message. We cannot underestimate this storm. Wind speeds may have dropped some from yesterday, but we've traded that for a larger wind field that expands 200 miles with tropical storm force winds. And our greatest concern about this storm remains the same. Storm surge and massive flooding.

Both are going to be extreme. Catastrophic effects. Catastrophic effects will be felt outside the center of the storm due to storm surge as high as 9 to 13 feet. That's the second story of a house. Battering winds and relentless rain that will last for days. Make no mistake. Whether the eye of the storm makes landfall along our shores or further south, we're on the wrong side of this thing. This storm will bring destruction to North Carolina.

And remember that Hurricane Matthew didn't even make landfall in North Carolina and look what it did to us. Flood plain experts at North Carolina Emergency management know from storm surge alone, tens of thousands of structures are expected to be flooded. And many more by rising rivers and creeks. If local officials tell you to seek higher ground, please listen. These orders are not given lightly. They are based on experienced emergency response experts who can predict dangerous and life-threatening situations.

As of now, we have about 108 shelters that are open with more than 7,000 people in them. Emergency management's goal is to set up even more shelters where people can stay safe throughout the duration of the storm and even after. We appreciate local communities stepping up to host storm evacuees, and we're grateful to the volunteers for helping us out at these shelters.

I have ordered 2800 National Guard soldiers to report for duty to help in this time of crisis, and we are truly grateful for their service. We also want to thank their families and the families of all of the first responders who are making sacrifices with their loved ones who are serving with this natural disaster.

Across our state, we have more than 56 school districts that are now closed, and nearly all of the University of North Carolina School System classes have been canceled. Everyone needs to be prepared for power outages that could last for days and maybe even a week or longer.

[10:05:00] Duke Energy and our electric co-ops are estimating power losses in the millions. And families need to have their emergency supplies ready. I know I have said this a lot, but it bears repeating. Your supplies should include water, food, flashlights, batteries, medicines, important documents, that you may need to take with you if you have to evacuate quickly. And you need a plan for your pets.

And please remember, if you do lose power, don't operate gas-powered generators inside your home or in a garage, crawl space, or shed. This can be deadly. Stay away from loose or dangling power lines that may be knocked over during the storm. And no matter where you live, don't drive through roads covered by standing or moving water. The road that was there before the floodwaters may no longer be there.

If you encounter a flooded road, turn around. Most storm related deaths are caused by drowning in fresh water. Heavy rains can cause swells in small creeks and can turn streams into raging torrents that will sweep away anything in their path, including cars. Only takes a few inches of water to cause devastation in a flood.

North Carolina needs to stay alert and continue to take this storm seriously. You can download the "Ready NC" app or follow North Carolina Emergency Management on Facebook and Twitter. There you can get updates and learn how you can weather the storm.

I want to thank everyone across our state who is working to get us ready for this storm. And I want to introduce to you part of our team that is leading those efforts. We have Mike Sprayberry, who is our director of Emergency Management. Dr. Mandy Cohen, who is the secretary of Health and Human Services. Colonel Glen McNeill, who is the commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

We have General Jim Trogdon, our secretary of the Department of Transportation. We have Alby Lewis who is with FEMA.

HILL: We have been listening to the governor there of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, who was very clear. He said, "My message today, don't relax, don't get complacent. Stay on guard. This is a powerful storm that can kill, and today the threat becomes a reality." Saying make no mistake. We are on the wrong side of this.

John Berman is in Oak Island, North Carolina. Those words there from the government. And he is not mincing them. We hope that people are taking them to heart.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the word that jumped out to me, Erica, that Governor Cooper used was catastrophic. The effects of this storm will be catastrophic. They traded some wind speed, it's down to a category 2, for size. It is a huge storm, an immense storm, which means the storm surge could be even greater. And what that means where I am on Oak Island, let me just show you, I'm standing on this sand dune on a walkway.

People were concerned I'm actually standing on the dune when you're not supposed to. I'm in the walkway, but this dune can withstand a three-foot storm surge. Higher than three feet, the water will wash over the dune. Now let me show you the houses. These houses are built on stilts. Yes, waving right there is my producer, Ally Hedges (PH). Ally is about 5'3". If Ally can raise her hand up, if she can hear me. So she raised her hand, maybe seven feet tall there.

If we get a nine-foot storm surge, which we're expecting, that means the water is going to wash right over those stilts, right into the living room and kitchen at that house, and the stilts won't make any difference. That is what's coming to the coast of North Carolina, and it isn't just coming for an hour or two hours, 24, 48 hours, several high tides. That's the concern here.

Let's go down now to Conway, South Carolina. That's where we find CNN's Scott McLean.

Scott, what are you seeing there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Look, there are still 375 people who are staying in shelters, and we're still quite a ways away from this storm actually making landfall, but these people are hunkering down. They are not taking any chances at all. It's not the most comfortable place for people to stay, but the Red Cross running the shelter. They're trying their best. They've got tables set up for people. Some folks like the guy over there, they brought an air mattress, a TV, some lawn chairs. A lot of food, really trying to make things as homey as they can. Over here, they've got entertainment for the kids. But at the end of the day, John, this is not supposed to be a shelter.

And the Red Cross has made this abundantly clear. This is supposed to be an evacuation center. That means that there are only cots set up for the sick or for the elderly. There are -- some people as you saw brought their own air mattresses but a lot of people are simply sleeping on the floor.

[10:10:05] It is far from an ideal situation, but it's better than the alternative for a lot of people. That's because a lot of the people who are here they are living in mobile homes or they're living in prefabricated homes, not where you want to be considering the weather that could come to this part of Myrtle Beach, you know, 20 inches of rain, 60-mile-per-hour winds.

I spoke to one woman. She said that she rode out the storm in a trailer, in a double-wide trailer, Hurricane Matthew, back in 2016. She says that is simply not something that she is willing to do again. They were without power for a week back then in 2016. This time, it could be even longer than that.

Now after this storm actually passes, John, this will turn into a shelter. They'll have cots for everybody, but only obviously for those people who cannot go home because their home is destroyed or flooded out.

BERMAN: Scott McLean for us in Conway, South Carolina. Scott, thanks so much.

Again, these shelters need to be open now. Hopefully, people got to where they need to go already because it's really almost no time left.

Let's go up to Wilmington, North Carolina, and might be very near where near the eye of this storm makes landfall ultimately, not for a while, still some maybe 24 hours away. Our Kaylee Hartung is there -- Kaylee.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. A gust of wind is picking up through here for the first time we've really seen today. Otherwise, the waters of the intercoastal waterway running between Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach is pretty calm.

Now you describe the impact the storm surge could have on Oak Island where you are. Let me help people wrap their minds around what that storm surge could do right here in the Wilmington area. People tell me these boats, these floating docks could be in the parking lot on the other side of this dock that I'm standing on. Use me as your measuring stick. I'm 5'2". This piling, 17 feet high from the average high tide mark.

High tide is not expected for about another hour, but we have already risen above that average high tide marker here. There is something to be said for when the storm surge hits. And where we are in the tide, but these waters already higher than they should be.

I'm told when Hurricane Hazel came rolling through here in 1954, water rose as high as nearly the top of this pylon. Hurricane Fran in 1996, if you look to the left of me, these older wooden pylons, those eight feet tall, that floating dock rose up and like I mentioned we're expecting here today or tomorrow, I should say, rather, that dock up over those pylons and into the parking lot ahead of me.

Now you heard Scott talking about those shelters that folks in South Carolina are headed to. We hope that the vast majority of people from Wrightsville Beach behind me have gotten off the island. It's one of those barrier islands with a mandatory evacuation order. Officials telling me they believe only a handful of people are left. This morning, they've had four cars of people get off that island and make the decision at the last minute to get out because we know anybody who stays in one of these areas of mandatory evacuation, it will be at their own risk. First responders will not be there to help them if they need them -- John.

BERMAN: That's exactly right. Once the wind speed hits 45 miles an hour, the first responders and rescue crews will not go out and the wind speeds could be higher than that for two days.

Kaylee Hartung in Wilmington, North Carolina.

I want to go to Chad Myers now at the Weather Center. Chad, I have to tell you, I'm seeing the sun right now. I get the sense I shouldn't get used to it.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, not at all. The storm is not that far from you. The outer bands are on the way. And those are the bands, and I'll show you here in a second, those are the bands that will bring in the first real batch of tropical storm force winds. They are already getting now to Cape Hatteras and all the way up there along the outer banks. Everywhere you see here from Hatteras all the way back down to Morehead City, back out here, even toward the almost north top sail beach, that's where the first round of weather is happening now. And we are still 150 miles, 129 now, from landfall. Not that far from Wilmington. So these are live updates as the storm rolls this way.

So what has happened overnight? Well, the storm kind of got a stuffy nose. That's in a good way. It's not breathing as well as it was. So the pressures are coming up, which means the wind speeds are coming down. So now we're at a category 2, and it wouldn't surprise me if we were a category one, but that category one, those winds are only in the small section. The wind here is the same as a cat 2 or 3.

The same wind here as a cat 2 or cat 3, and the wind here is the same as it was, even though the wind around the eye is not where it was two days ago. The water under this storm is exactly where it was. That surge water that was being pulled in by a cat 4 for a while is still there. And when the storm comes onshore very close to Wilmington, this is 12:30 tonight, a little bit after midnight, that's when the water is going to start splashing over the dunes and some spots 13 feet over the dunes and washing away houses.

[10:15:06] That's just the fact. Some houses, they will not be here when we wake up tomorrow or get there through the day tomorrow afternoon, because some of them aren't on stilts, those stilts just aren't tall enough to compete. You've got 13 feet of surge on top of the water, and then all of a sudden, you have another 15-foot wave on top of that. It's just going to knock it down. A wooden structure has no chance with that. And that's why we put our crews where we do, in big concrete structures that we can get away from things.

Hundred and 10 miles per hour right now. Wouldn't be surprised if that goes to 105. There's a plane going back and forth. We'll get a new update here in about 45 minutes and then all of a sudden, the storm gets to Wilmington tonight and tomorrow night and then turns left toward Myrtle. That's why we have so many crews down there -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Chad Myers with the forecast. Chad, thanks very much.

And again, the duration here, it is coming. It is staying for a long, long time. Much more of CNN's special live coverage after this quick break.


[10:20:31] HILL: I'm Erica Hill. Welcome back to our continuing live coverage of Hurricane Florence. You're looking at the radar there, obviously, in live pictures on the right hand of your screen, of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. You can see some of these outer bands already making their way there. And as we just heard from our meteorologist, Chad Myers, do not be fooled that this storm may have been downgraded to a category 2 at one point.

The winds, the water, the immense stretch of the storm still there. The governor of North Carolina saying moments ago, this storm is catastrophic. And we're on the wrong side of it. It is time to listen to each and every warning because your time is running out.

All of this happening, of course, while at the White House, the president is already claiming accolades for the federal response to this storm. All while attempting still to rewrite the story of Maria in Puerto Rico one year ago.

In a pair of frankly breathtaking tweets this morning, the president not only denying the officially accepted death toll of nearly 3,000 lives but claiming, and I quote, "This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible."

Let's bring in CNN's Abby Phillip now at the White House with more. Leyla Santiago is also in San Juan.

Abby, let me go to you first. Has anybody tried to explain, confirm -- any word on the president's tweets out of the White House this morning?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No word, Erica, this morning from the White House about what the president meant by these tweets, why -- what reasons he has to doubt that that death toll is higher than what was originally reported in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But under normal circumstances, a White House facing a storm like this coming at the United States wants to be of one mind about the message heading out to people, that they need to be safe, that they need to heed warnings.

But President Trump is having an entirely different conversation on Twitter. He's tweeting about something that frankly the White House would like to put to the side for the next coming days. Aides have been trying to tell us this morning even that the president is engaged on this, that he has meeting on his schedule today, that there's cooperation happening between federal officials and local officials, all morning on the pending storm.

But President Trump is instead debating whether or not Democrats are trying to undermine him by artificially elevating the death toll associated with Hurricane Maria. This comes after days of President Trump saying that the federal government's response to that storm was an unsung success. He says that they're getting accolades for it. Clearly, a lot of folks on the ground there disagree, and White House aides this morning would love to be talking about anything else but this, Erica.

HILL: And that is going to be tough to do. Abby Phillip at the White House with the latest, thank you.

It did not take long for the mayor of San Juan, who the president just yesterday called totally incompetent, to respond to this morning's tweets. She writes, "This is what denial following neglect looks like. Mr. President, in the real world, people died on your watch. Your lack of respect is appalling."

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us now from Puerto Rico. Leyla, what are you hearing there?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, it's not just words like appalling. It's words like shame. People sort of in disbelief that anyone would believe that the number 3,000 is not real. Given the devastation that came after Hurricane Maria.

And I think it's really important here to talk about these deaths. I mean, we have been here on and off for a year after Hurricane Maria. And yes, there were deaths immediately. People who had a stroke or a heart attack and 911 couldn't get to them with 150-mile-per-hour winds slamming the island. People who a tree fell on them. People who drowned in floodwater.

And now the number 3,000 is looking at the bigger picture, at the indirect deaths. People who died because they didn't have power. People who died because they couldn't get medical attention. People who died because of the conditions that lingered for so long after Hurricane Maria.

I mean, it took 11 months for the power authority to feel like their mission was complete in restoring power. It took five months to get water. There are still people here today that have 30-day roofs or 30-day tarps as a roof.

[10:25:02] I mean, these conditions led to deaths. They're called indirect deaths. And that's what's included in the number 3,000 that, by the way, came out of George Washington University researchers. So this was an independent study. Yes, commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico, but that's what this number 3,000, that's why people are appalled.

I want you to hear what Chef Jose Andres had to say. He's someone who was here immediately, delivering food, going to the most hard-hit areas after Hurricane Maria. Here's his take on it.


JOSE ANDRES, SERVED THREE MILLION MEANS IN PUERTO RICO AFTER MARIA: He should be ashamed. Probably was more than 3,000 people. But actually, history only shows you his lack of empathy. But it's actually true that week after week, people kept dying because of injuries, because lack of food, lack of water. You name it. Actually, that proves how little support the federal government gave Puerto Rico.


SANTIAGO: And listen, Chef Andres brings up a good point in that we may never really know the exact number. But where there is agreement here is that it's not 16, which was what President Trump pointed to in boasting about the recovery. That it's not 64, which is what the government of Puerto Rico had it at. So yes, maybe it's not necessarily exactly 3,000. But to believe that it's anything less is something that people here find shocking.

HILL: Leyla Santiago, appreciate it, as always. And as you pointed out, you have been on the story from the very beginning and we know you'll continue to stay on it as well. Thank you.

Stay with us. CNN's breaking coverage of Hurricane Florence continues. Landfall appears imminent. Millions in its path have been ordered evacuated. We're live up for you up and down the coast next.