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Storm of a Lifetime to Bring Devastating Rain, Floods; NOAA Hurricane Hunter Gives Storm Update; SC Officials Update Strom Response as Florence Closes In; Power Outages Expected after Hurricane Florence. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:33] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Officials in the area I'm standing here in, Wilmington, believe a lot of people have left, most people have left. Not all this location is under a mandatory evacuation order.

I want to turn to Rob Zapple. He's a commissioner of New Hanover County.

First, are you satisfied with how things are -- how ready is this area?

ROB ZAPPLE, NEW HANOVER COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Very satisfied. We've had a good three, almost four days of preparation. Our county has done a wonderful job and a working cooperation with the city of Wilmington as well. So I feel very confident we've done everything we possibly can.

COOPER: A lot of people have left. You do have shelters here. You have five shelters --

(CROSSTALK)

ZAPPLE: That's correct. Five shelters there. They all have room that are open there but they're filling up fast. So if you have not made your plans to move now, you might start thinking about sheltering down in your home or in one of these school shelters that are open.

COOPER: But there is room. Could you expand the capacity?

ZAPPLE: That's correct. There was word that went out last night that some of them were filled. We've now expanded that capacity. In all five of those schools we have capacity.

COOPER: The key thing is in terms of time, as we were talking about, if your car isn't already packed, if you're not already in the driveway, you don't want to get on the highway at this point.

ZAPPLE: Not at this point. We're seeing the main band of the forward-facing portion of the storm. It's here within less than an hour, hour and a half, depending on how quick it comes. Stop if you're -- if you haven't made plans, you're not driving out right now up I-40, just go ahead and hunker down, find shelter in your home or go to one of the shelters.

COOPER: How does Wilmington deal with this water coming?

ZAPPLE: It's nature. We're on a coastal plain so that helps some of it. We have a huge Cape Fear River, which you see in the back, that can handle the volume. But in this case, we have a storm surge that is moving up the river and we have a lot of fresh water coming down, up to 30 inches or more coming in.

COOPER: Right.

ZAPPLE: So we're as interested as you are to see how that happens. And we're prepared for the worst, hoping for the best that the two don't hit at the same time to cause massive flooding.

COOPER: An area like this, which is so close to the Cape Fear River, you expect there to be water on the ground here?

ZAPPLE: Most likely there will be. Yes. It depends on the storm, how far the predictions are that will stall somewhere over the city of Wilmington or New Hanover County. If it moves on quicker rather than slower, it won't be as bad. At this stage here, at a day and a half, yes, you'll see days like this along Water Street, which is right along the Cape Fear River, they will flood.

COOPER: In other areas, Wilmington, in past storms, boats from marinas have ended up on the streets. A lot of people have already tried to put their boats away.

ZAPPLE: Yes.

COOPER: Some people, frankly, just ran out of time or had too much else going on to be able to do that.

ZAPPLE: Yes. We saw in Fran and Bertha, in 1996, two back-to-back hurricanes, we saw a lot of that over on the coast sides, the Intercoastal Waterway, et cetera. The marinas, like the one in the background, didn't exist at that time. So I know there's a lot of people have a weather eye, literally, to see what happens here with this marina.

COOPER: Well, we wish you the best. I know you have a lot of work ahead of you.

ZAPPLE: Thank you so much.

COOPER: Thank you so much. Appreciate all your efforts.

We're going to take you back to Chris Cuomo, who in north Myrtle Beach. We're going to speak live to a hurricane hunter currently flying near the hurricane.

This is CNN's special live coverage. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:38:04] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of Hurricane Florence. We're in north Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This is where the storm is headed. Category two at this time. We know that means winds of at least 100 miles an hour. Storm surge is going to be considerable, enough to wipe out the beach that we're standing on right now. And then hours and hours of rain, as much as eight month's-worth in three days. How will this community handle it?

One thing we know for sure, a lot of people have stayed behind.

So let's get the latest status check on the storm itself from Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Morgan, with the NOAA hurricane hunters. You'll keep hearing NOAA again and again, National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration.

So he's flying near the hurricane right now.

Lieutenant Commander, can you hear us?

LT. COMM. NICHOLAS MORGAN, NOAA HURRICANE HUNTER (via telephone): I can very well.

CUOMO: What can you tell us?

MORGAN: Well, first, thank you for having me. I'm aboard NOAA's high-altitude jet the Gulfstream IV, which just took off from our home base in Lakeland, Florida. We're currently en route to Hurricane Florence. We've performed our first two drops of our instruments. What we're doing today is surveying the environments around Florence. Even though it's close to land, forecasters are trying to get a better idea of what will happen with Florence.

CUOMO: People are hearing that the storm's strength is less strong. It might have been a 5, then a 4, then a 3, currently a 2, and they are therefore sleeping on warnings, but they are missing the fact of its size and lack of speed. What do those factors mean to you?

[14:40:55] MORGAN: Well, the category doesn't always tell the whole story so even though the wind speeds may have increased, there's other threats this storm will bring. The storm surge being one, along the coastline. And it's also forecasted to get a lot of rainfall inland so the storm may have weakened with the wind but it's expanded in area, so it will affect a larger area than initially thought.

CUOMO: Right, we see that in all the models we've been reviewing and maps we've been making 1 that a lot more area will be involve than original anticipated. That means more people were exposed to it who may or may not have made plans to leave. Then you have duration. When you're looking at a storm and its potential consequences. What does it mean when you up duration effect? Having a stalled storm moving slowly, staying in one place, what are the additional factors?

MORGAN: Well, much like with Harvey, because of the tremendous amount of rain, it caused a lot of flash flooding and sometimes that's -- sometimes that's not fully anticipated by people on the ground. I would advise them to keep checking hurricane.gov. That's the National Hurricane Center Web site that provides all the forecasts. And they have great products to tell you if you're in any watches or warning areas. And also heed advice of the local authorities, as they know best what the local impacts will be.

CUOMO: Lieutenant Commander Morgan, be safe. Thank you so much for the work you're doing so the rest of us can understand what's coming our way. You know how to get us. Please check in if there's anything you want people to know.

Thank you, sir.

All right. We'll check back with the lieutenant commander. They're doing the work for us to make sure we have the chance to be safe. What do we do with that chance? That's up to each individual.

A couple quick points as we go to break.

First, Jay, show the people.

There are a lot of people who stay behind. The local first responders say this place is 85 percent emptied out. Well, there are a lot of people here on this stretch of beach here, nine miles of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, a deep part of where this coastline comes in towards the west. It's going to see the storm longer, but later. A lot of people are here.

Two quick points. One, we're not pointing out they stayed behind to shame them, that we hope something bad happens to them. God forbid. It's about giving people information and giving them their last clear chance to make a better choice than they made already. It will be your choice at the end of the day. But as you're watching, wish people well. This storm is a chance for us to come together. People will need help.

Please stay with CNN. We'll see you right after the break.

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[14:46:04] HENRY MCMASTER, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: -- in those areas. If you are in those areas or outside those areas, you should plan to be patient because you may not be leaving wherever you are for several days. It may take a week. It may take two or three days. We don't know. But we know things will not be normal for many days.

Highway 501 is now going in both directions as of noon today. I-26 will be going in both directions as of 6:00 p.m. today. Of course, we don't expect many people to be going into the area except first responders and those who are still setting up.

As I mentioned, power will be out for a long time. Think about what you need for power. If you have a cell phone, it won't last the length of time it will take to get to this storm without being repowered so you need to have an extra battery or some place to go that has plenty of power. I mentioned the trees will be down on the roads, the power lines will

be down on the roads. Don't drive your car into standing water on a road. There may be no road underneath that standing water. It may be a power line down under that standing water. This is enormously dangerous. And also we may have flash floods. So if you see a barricade, do not go around the barricade. And don't try to take your well-known short cut that usually works. Follow the signs, follow the evacuation signs.

And, again, it's getting late to evacuate so if you are in one of those areas, you need to go on and get out now. Again, the power line crews, the law officers and others will be the first to go back in.

COOPER: Some good advice from local officials. Basically, saying what all the officials this morning have been saying, don't be driving with so much standing water around. If you haven't already evacuated, it's getting to be the time where you need to just stay where you are or seek shelter in your local area. Here in Wilmington, there are five shelters. They still have room. They've expanded capacity from what they had last night.

I want to bring in Chris Cuomo, also Don Lemon, all of us who are covering the storm. We have reporters all over South Carolina, North Carolina, all of the potentially affected areas.

Chris, it can't be overstated too much how much water people are expecting, whether Wilmington or where you are. Not only that storm surge but drenching rains that will likely go on for three days.

CUOMO: Look, the statistic that you keep echoing to people, eight- month's-worth of rain in three days, just think of the cascade effect as an event. We have the risk here in real time in front of us right now. This is a mandatory evacuation zone. This is not evacuated. There are a lot of people here. They've seen the number of category go down on the storm and they are giving it a false amount of significance in terms of what the risk factor is. It's no small irony that motto of South Carolina, where we are in north Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is "While I breathe, I hope." The hope should be people are making their best choices in this situation. Look how vulnerable it is. This sand used to be white that Jay is showing you right now. It's gray because it was recently added. They built this beach up five feet from what it normally is. Look where the normal high tide comes to, Anderson. There's the water line now. This is normal high tide. We're just finishing low tide now.

Look at where the houses are, Jay.

They're just another 50 yards from where we are.

So the vulnerability is so clear, Anderson. So no matter what strength, whether it's 100 miles an hour or 130 miles an hour or 80 miles an hour, it doesn't matter. It's going to be the time and the water that can create problems for many days to come.

[14:50:06] COOPER: We're expecting rain here, Don, the first rain we've seen today, although we saw a little two hours ago. We're expecting a band to come through in 10 minutes or so.

It's surprising, Don, the difference you're seeing on the beach where you are. You're south of where Chris is. He's got a lot of people on the beach. Your beach is empty.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is. Well, it's picking up. To echo what the officials said earlier, I just had some police officers drive by on the beach and they said the same thing, technically this beach is closed. They won't start arresting people now but they want people to stay off the beach. They won't kick you off until the storm gets closer.

But we're starting to see -- let's pan around. We're starting to see more people come out here on the beach. Here we go, look around here. Before, it was virtually a ghost town. There was hardly anybody out here. We've seen people coming out. And the patrol officers out earlier basically, Anderson, told me the same thing, that they saw people -- people are starting to come out. They'd gone away but now they're coming out.

The officers told me this barrier right here that says "dunes" to us in the northeast, this is landscaping. But this sand was up over this. And then the high tide has been coming in every day getting a little bit higher and higher because I guess the storm is pushing that water in. And it's just washed that out back into the ocean. So we're starting to see more people come out. At some point, they say they'll make people leave the beach. And if you don't want to go, they'll have to arrest you. They don't want to do that. But also the riptides. There are surfers out there. I heard Chris say this morning they got in the water. Luckily, they didn't go out and surf. There were surfers out there. They said pros, who were having to come back in because rip currents are so bad.

So this is something not to be taken lightly. Just because it's downgraded from a 3 to a 2, it doesn't mean that water is going to sit here, that the storm isn't going to sit here, that the storm surge won't come in. And as we have been saying, as you have been saying, Anderson, that's how most people die during a storm, and it's from the flooding, it from drowning.

COOPER: People know they will be stuck in their homes. They want to stretch their legs, get out before they get stir crazy. That's understandable. But we want people to stay close to their homes or inside their homes. It's very understandable. A lot of people woke up, saw it's now a category 2, not a category 4 or 3. But this storm has doubled in size. The sheer, the just the width, length of this storm is enormous. It's going to be with us for a long time.

We'll take a short break. We will have more with Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo and all our correspondents all throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, along the coast and inland. We'll be right back.

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[14:57:34] LEMON: We're back now live here from Myrtle Beach for our special coverage of Hurricane Florence. As Anderson mentioned, people get stir crazy, they want to stretch

their legs. They're starting to come out. You saw the beach police just drive by moments ago. They're trying to get people off the beach. If they can't get them off, they want to make sure they're safe. Trying to at least keep them out of the water because they're saying the riptides are really, really strong.

We want to talk about what will happen on the ground with the reality of this storm, and that is a lot of people are going to lose power.

Let's go to David Fountain, from Duke Energy. Duke Energy supplies power to a bunch of people up and down the coast of the Carolinas, all over the Carolinas.

Mr. Fountain, thank you so much for joining us.

I've spoken to you recently. Talk about the power outages. What are you doing?

DAVID FOUNTAIN, NORTH CAROLINA PRESIDENT, DUKE ENERGY: Don, we are preparing for significant outages. As you know, this is a very dangerous storm and we're projecting to have one to three million outages of the four million homes and businesses that we serve here in the Carolinas. So we are talking about 75 percent of our customers losing power across the Carolinas. But we're ready for the task. We've amassed a restoration army of over 20,000 personnel to be prepared to respond as soon as it's safe to do so. That's over 10,000 workers from Duke Energy, not just the Carolinas, but also from our jurisdictions we serve in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida. We are also working with our neighboring utilities to bring in additional crews, over 9,000 crews from states as far away as Texas. So we're ready and prepared to respond. But we have to wait until the storm passes and the floodwaters recede and the winds die down before we can go out and do our damage assessment and begin this important restoration work.

LEMON: David, anything in recent history that you can use as a model to help you deal with this?

FOUNTAIN: That's a great question. Two years ago, we had historic flooding from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. And the forecast for the rainfall to come from Hurricane Florence is even more than Hurricane Matthew. Hurricane Matthew was a 100-year flood. So it's remarkable to think that here, just two years later, we're projecting to have more rainfall. So we are taking additional precautions to be sure that we're able to mobilize our crews as soon as we're able to. We're bringing in special equipment, amphibious vehicles, boats.