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Trump Falsely Claims 3,000 People Did Not Die in Puerto Rico During Hurricane Maria; Governor of Puerto Rico Responds to Trumps False Claims; Hurricane Florence Begins 3-Day Assault on East Coast; Officials Making Last-Minute Pleas to Leave. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper live in Wilmington, North Carolina. The White House is deploying two army corps of engineer teams and other disaster response officials to this area.

But the President is trying to rewrite the painful history of another storm, Hurricane Maria, tweeting today, and I'm quoting, 3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the island after the storm had hit they had anywhere from six to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much, then a long time later they started to report numbers like, 3,000. This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising billions of dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason like old age, just add them on to the list. Bad politics, I love Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rican government recently determined the official toll from hurricane Maria was 2,975 deaths. This was after months long of study from George Washington University. The original figure given of 64 deaths. When the President was there it was around 16. The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, joins me now. Governor, thanks so much for being with us. When you read that tweet this morning, the President of the United States, of which Puerto Rico is part, saying that 3,000 Puerto Ricans did not die as a result of hurricane Maria, what went through your mind?

RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: Well, Anderson, first thing was that the victims nor the people of Puerto Rico deserve to have their pain questioned. You know, this has been a long process. As you know, we didn't have a lot of the resources to make an accurate count in the onset. That is why I worked so we that could have an independent and scientifically robust effort taken with George Washington.

And as a scientist I can tell you that with the limitations that we had it is a very thorough, it is a very accurate estimate. And recognizing that it can only be an estimate at this point I decided to put it as the official figure because we believe in it. So, certainly, in our view there is a lot of pain. The moment right now is not to have political bickering or you know, to argue about other things that are not important. But rather to focus on the pain and remember those who lost their lives and to focus on rebuilding the future. COOPER: Have you heard from people in Puerto Rico who have lost loved

ones? Because I just can't imagine what somebody who has lost a loved one in the wake, whether a month or two months or three months after the storm. Because they didn't have electricity or they couldn't get their regular medication, didn't have access to medical facilities or their regular doctor, to be told by the President of the United States that person did not die, that your loved one did not die as a result of the storm. To me it seems just incredibly disrespectful not only to the dead but to the families of those whose lives have been forever changed.

ROSSELLO: Well it is painful. It is painful for all families and certainly that is why we wanted to have the most robust investigation possible.

[15:35:00] So that we could get clarity and we could get a moment to remember all of those that passed on. This has been the most devastating event in the modern history of the United States and with that I take a moment to send our thoughts and prayers, obviously, to the people of the Carolinas and the United States. We know what they're about to go through. So right now, obviously painful and we are confident that the estimates and the work that the George Washington University did are actually accurate.

COOPER: Governor, I know you're in a difficult position because you need the help of President Trump. You still need to be in his good graces for the future of Puerto Rico. But the President of the United States is saying this was not the catastrophe that you have just said it was, that we witnessed, that everybody knows it to be. The President of the United States is saying 3,000 people did not die as a result of this storm. In fact, when he was there with you in those days, he talked about hurricane Katrina as being a real catastrophe. The implication being was that what happened in Puerto Rico was not a real catastrophe. And you could say, well that was ignorance in the early days because the death toll was only at that point 6 or 17 people.

But right now, more than a year later he is denying the reality of what happened. I know you need to keep him in your good graces because you're in a difficult position. I just find that stunning. Do you have any reason to doubt this study? Because it's not just this study by George Washington University that the government of Puerto Rico spent tens of thousands of dollars on, that it took months to do. It's not just a study by Harvard and universities in Puerto Rico. Which did surveys months earlier which also came up with a death toll in this range. It's not just reporting by CNN and others who interviewed funeral directors. I mean, there is study after study on this and they are scientifically sound studies.

ROSSELLO: Right, you're right on, Anderson. There is no reason to doubt the validity of these studies. There is no reason to expect that even though it's an estimate, that it's not far away from what the accurate toll should be. This is a scientifically robust effort and I completely support the conclusions. Both signaling that we need to make changes at the local level and at the federal level to have a better response towards the future. And regarding the relationship with the White House and looking

forward towards rebuilding a future, I'm hopeful that we can continue on the relationship because this is about helping over three million American citizens that have been significantly affected. In my view, my role, Anderson, is to point out what has been good. But also, to signal what has been wrong and, in this case, neglecting the facts about the level of the death toll, how it came about. The reality of the devastation that we lived in in Puerto Rico is just simply inaccurate and I will continue on to signal on that.

I feel that if we have that sort of relationship where we can speak truthfully, if we can have transparency and of course, have this open lines of communication with the American public we can start a rebuilding process to the benefit of Puerto Rico. But also recognizing that if people are irate, are angry at the unequal treatment, at the second-class citizenship treatment that the people of Puerto Rico received relative to other states, then you need to look no further than the reality that Puerto Rico is a colonial territory. That we don't have the rights to voting members in Congress. That we don't have the rights to vote for the President.

And we really need to ask ourselves as a nation if we are to be the standard bearers of democracy, everywhere else in the world, how can we go to Venezuela, how can we go the Cuba and preach democracy when we're not really acting upon it in our own backyard. So, my petition to everybody seeing this is if we want to manage and if we want to handle the inequality issue that's at play we need to strike at the root of the problem. And that is that Puerto Rico is a colonial territory and until that problem is solved we will always be treated as second-class citizens.

COOPER: We're certainly seeing that with the President's tweet today.

[15:40:00] And just very briefly the President also says this is basically a plot by the Democrats. There's absolutely no reason for him to say that, just for the record, this study by GW, in your opinion, was this a plot by Democrats or something involving Democrats to somehow make the President look bad?

ROSSELLO: Well, no. Other than the fact that I am a Democrat this was an independent commission report. It's a highly reputable academic institution. The instructions were clear to them. You make those results public at the same time you give us -- the government of Puerto Rico -- those results so that there can be transparency and that we can have -- we can move forward and see how we can fix or how we can mitigate towards the future.

Again, I need to stress again, Anderson, my professional formation is as a scientist. So, once the study was unveiled I went through the process, I saw what they did and it was very, very important data. I mean, important data that showcased how if you were, for example, somebody that was poor or lived in poor areas of Puerto Rico you were more likely to be in an area with excess deaths or if you were older than 65 you were also more likely to experience the excess deaths. So, I thought it was a well-done experiment and process. I think that the results are scientifically robust and so much so I decided to make the official tally change to that estimate, to the 2,975. So that we can have at least a fair view of what occurred here in Puerto Rico and start working towards fixing what was wrong both at the local level and at the federal level. So that in the event of another storm or another catastrophe, an earthquake, for example, that we can respond much, much better.

COOPER: Yes, it's stunning that we are even having this conversation today, of all days, that we even have to have this conversation given what we saw in Puerto Rico and given the magnitude of what's happening in North Carolina right now. It shows where the President's head is at, as much as he says he's focusing on what's happening here in North and South Carolina. The fact that he's tweeting this this out about 3,000 dead Americans is just stunning. Governors Rossello, I appreciate your time this afternoon.

Coming up next, we'll go back to Chris Cuomo live on North Myrtle Beach as the outer bands of hurricane Florence begin, just begin to hit the coach. Stay with us.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we are in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Let me put the map up for you. Eric, do me a favor, show them the map from the control room so you can see where we are. You see how the coast of Carolina kind of curves in there. You'll see North Myrtle Beach, you'll see Myrtle Beach underneath it. That's were Don Lemon and his team are. We're kind of in between Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina here is North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

So, what does the topography tell you. That curve in means that North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach are going to see Florence a little bit later and with a little bit more energy than you're going to see in other areas. So, we've been showing you early impact from places, Morehead City , Carolina city, other places around North Carolina so you can get a sense of what even low-power impact can do and look like. 50 mile an hour winds, 60 mile an hour winds can be more than enough if sustained with surge and precipitation rain. And that's what you're worried about. That when we come here, people sleeping on the strength of this storm. Oh, it's a category two not a three or a four, what about Matthew? And what about Hugo?

It's a mistake. Why? Because that number doesn't tell the whole story. The size of a storm matters. The speed of the storm matters. 30 inches of water here will change what this community looks like. Six feet of storm surge and say it's just half of what they expect, will change this beach. They added five feet to this beach. It's not enough for a normal high tide. It's pulling at a normal high tide.

I'm giving you this as context for all the people that you see around us. This is a beautiful beach scene. People have been out here with their kids all day. They're killing it in the surf. It's a beautiful day for them. They're not supposed to be here. This is a mandatory evacuation. So, what happens when all of these other aspects of Florence are made manifest? That's the concern. That's the concern for first responders who are staying in force doing

12 hour shifts to be able to be available to see if people like this once the weather abates. Once you get out over 30 miles per hour sustained winds in some places, 50 in others, first responders can't come out. It's too dangerous for them so you're stuck. And then after that they'll start to do their rescues. The heroes that you saw with us in hurricane Irma from FEMA and other divisions of the government.

[15:50:01] They go out and do angels' work. And that's something that these people have to take into account. It's really not just about them. It's about the people who may have to help them if their choice goes badly.

Now, a man who taught me a lot about risk assessment and what the realities are in storm situations is General Russel Honore, obviously, retired from the U.S. Army. We remember him from Katrina and his efforts in helping with logistics and helping us get through a very difficult time there. And General, once again, the plus side of a hurricane is you have time. They tell you that it's coming. You can make choices. The downside is once this storm gets there the window is closed. What does this scene behind me mean to you?

GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET) COORDINATED MILITARY RELIEF EFFORTS FOR HURRICANE KATRINA: Is that the energy in this storm if it comes in with the power and the wind at above a category 2 and with winds and rain as predicted, it could be like a weapons of mass destruction concentrated at landfall. And I don't want to alarm people but if you visualize all the power lines down, most of the homes within three to five miles of the coast flooded and all the rivers running over their banks five or six times what they normally are, it would have the effect of a weapons of mass destruction.

And when you don't have power, as we know, Chris, it changes the way we live 100 years because you can't communicate, and you don't have fresh water. So, this is a real disaster just losing power. And I know we've got a lot of teams out there ready to come in, but it's going to take them a while to get there. If you lose power and the distribution lines go down, you can go two to three weeks, to a month without power.

CUOMO: That's an important point, General. They are not talking hours or even days. They are planning for weeks. So even if you stay, even if you play it right and now you have access to your property and an ability to recover, you don't have the resources to do it. And you will be living in a very rough situation. Because although you'll be surrounded by water it's like the old fable, water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. The water goes from runoff to not being potable to toxic soup very quickly, does it not?

HONORE: Absolutely, sir, and you shouldn't be in it because that water will also overrun the sewer systems and all kind of bad things. You know, in Katrina we actually decontaminated our troops after they got done with missions in the day because of the exposure to bacteria in that water because of overflown sewer systems. That water is really dirty. CUOMO: I remember all too well. You did genius work on logistics but

imagine if they had vacated that city the way they should have. Imagine if the people who were supposed to leave this area had done so. It just reduces so much of the labor and the risk, but, General, once again, it's good to hear you now. I will need you even more after this storm when we're dealing with how to get through whatever Florence has wrought. General Russel Honore, thank you for being a guide to us as always.

HONORE: Point on, Chris, because the hard work starts doing the search and rescue and the recovery.

CUOMO: 100 percent. The men and women who I was with from FEMA or thanks to General Honore , they are in Columbia, South Carolina. They are there. We do know that FEMA teams -- there's 28 of them around the country. Now a couple are in Hawaii. You know, their weather systems is like all over the place. You've been looking at the Gulf and see what is coming off the coast of Africa.

This is going to be a hairy few weeks that we have in front of us. But many of the teams have been mobilized, that's a good word to hear from the U.S. government. That better safe than sorry. Bring all the resources. Sure, it's costly but it's a lot more costly not to do it. So, we'll have teams but, remember, this is risk for them. This is potential for them to have to go into action when they wouldn't have to otherwise. You want to get power back up, but you have to do it even more quickly, and you can do it less effectively when you have to rescue people. And when people are reliant on that energy to survive.

So, these are the variables, and that's why the number going down. People make a mistake and they say, oh, the media doesn't want to be wrong and when it goes from a 4 to a 3 to a 2, they hype it. Fake news. Please, put the ugliness of politics aside and focus on the people here. You never want to be wrong in the news except when it comes to predicting the weather. We would be so happy if this wasn't what we fear it might be. We want it to be better than that. We don't want people to be in risk or at risk. So, we need to come together. We have to be prepared, and we have to make the smart choices. That's why we're putting out the evac orders from the localities. That's why they are concerned about people here enjoying a beautiful day now.

[15:55:00] But much of this beach may well be gone in 15 of the 30 hours that Florence is going to sit on our heads and dump her worst. So, when we come back, we will take you around the zone of Florence's impact which is just starting and showing you what just a taste can mean to people along this coast. Stay with CNN.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We're starting to get some wind here in Myrtle Beach, but as we know the worst is yet to come. I want to get to my colleague Brian Todd in Hampstead, North Carolina. Brian, I understand that you're getting it there. What's going on? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Don, this is the inter coastal

waterway behind me. The waterway obviously between the mainland North Carolina and the outer banks, some of the barrier islands. If it looks like I'm standing in the intercoastal waterway, technically I'm not. I'm actually standing on old landing road. Right now, this road and the inter coastal are pretty much one in the same because as you can see the storm surge is coming in and this road is starting to get flooded. I'm in a few inches of water. Not severe right now, but we know it will be severe.

We don't believe this is even high tide yet. That's not even coming for a few hours, but as you can see how low-lying this area is, our photojournalist, Dave Catrett, will pan to your left, my right, and look at these -- you see a little bit of whitecaps out there on the inter coastal. It is going to get much worse in the coming hours. And it is already with just a little bit of rain starting to fall here and a little bit of wind coming. It's already causing obviously some storm surge and some flooding in here.

This is how easily this place gets flooded, and, again, we're just seeing the early stages, the first bands of this storm hitting this area of North Carolina. Don, we were just in a place called Surf City, North Carolina, just to the south of us trying to get near a bridge that connects it to the -- one of the barrier islands there on Surf City. Surf City actually is at both sides of the waterway, but the police kicked us out of the entire town, even the mainland side of the town. They kicked us out of the town. They don't want any private citizens, don't want any media there. That is how seriously some of these municipalities are taking this storm. No media allowed even in that town. They asked us to leave -- Don.

LEMON: Brian Todd. Brian, thank you. Be careful out there. And you can understand though really, Brian, why they are kicking people out. They want people to be safe. They don't want to put the emergency responders' lives in jeopardy as well.

So, listen, here we are. We're here on myrtle beach. When I got here, honestly, earlier it was empty. And we're starting to see people coming out. I guess there getting a little bit stir crazy in their homes. And also, probably trying to get their last glimpse of the beach and get out before they will have to really hunker down in their homes. Listen, if you can get out, do it now. That window of opportunity is closing just because they have downgraded this. Doesn't mean there won't be a huge storm surge that could come in here and do some major damage and take many lives in the process. We hope that it doesn't do that. That's it from here. Our coverage is going to continue now with my colleague Jake Tapper and "THE LEAD".