Return to Transcripts main page


Four Confirmed Dead as Hurricane Florence Thrashes Carolinas; Transformers Blow As Florence Knocks Out Power. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 14, 2018 - 16:30   ET



[16:33:53] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our breaking news.

The Cajun navy is in the Carolinas. The group of volunteers formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina out today rescuing residents, including some of the hardest -- some if the hardest hit places such as New Bern, North Carolina where the storm surge has in some parts been over 10 feet.

Let's go to CNN's Dianne Gallagher who's in New Bern.

And, Dianne, you're learning they're pausing rescues there.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There has been a pause in rescues. For the most part it was due to the fact that they had been able to get everybody who had been requesting those rescues, Jake, but we're in high tide. We're going to be in high tide for another four hours, and we have been watching the water rise. Some of it had receded a bit, especially in the downtown area where it got up so high yesterday when we were out here, they had to do rescues overnight in this area.

It had receded some. They were able to get most of those rescues concluded in River Bend and downtown New Bern, but now, we're in high tide again, and so, those rescues are likely going to kick back up within the next hour or two as people start to realize the water is creeping back up. When I was out on boats with rescuers today, a volunteer group that had driven from Maryland overnight sends a whole night rescuing, Jake, woke up from two hours of sleep and spent all day doing the same.

[16:35:10] There were people who refused rescues when we were out of that boat. They waved at us from their top floor window and said, no, no, I don't want to be rescued. I'm just fine. I want to stay here.

But that water is just going to get higher. So, emergency officials are saying, if you are locked in your house right now, you were stuck there on your second floor, you need to find a way to get out, and the only way you can do that is with professional help, because When we were out there, Jake, on that boat sometimes it was two feet, three feet deep. Other times it was eight feet deep, maybe even higher as we were trying to get through a neighborhood going over streets, front yards and bushes. You can see right now, too, this is probably the heaviest rain we have

had all day here in New Bern. This has been mostly rising water because of the storm surge event with a pretty steady rain. It's the really hard, driving rain we're experiencing right now and has been in the last half hour. It's the most we have had since this storm really started in this part of the state.

So, the rescuers I talked to said they're expecting to go out and complete more rescues. They received nearly 200 calls here in Craven County for 488 people. We're told that most of those rescues were completed by either people who work for Craven County, FEMA, swift water teams or the volunteers, the Cajun navy, the swift water rescuers who came down from Maryland, other volunteers who showed up with their boats to help, Jake.

We're really watching that human spirit here in Craven County as they're working against this rising water that again continues to just get higher here.

TAPPER: And there have been times that the water in New Bern, Dianne, has been up to 10 feet. What are they doing about people in the danger zone?

GALLAGHER: So, initially they tried to get everybody off to start with by making it a mandatory evacuation, they used buses. But, look, people stayed. Whether it was for financial reasons, they're worried about their pets. They didn't think the storm would be serious enough so they have been sending those boats out.

You know, usually, they say we're not going to come to you during the storm, and they did say that, but, Jake, they did go and get people. They did rescues all night long, they've been working around the clock in these boats. The National Guard, they're in very large vehicles, coming, backing up in the houses, trying to get people on the upper part of it, bringing them in. They're working as hard as they can to get people out of their homes.

The problem now is they're trying to put them in shelters. There are no rooms in hotels. They're all full. We have some evacuees from River Bend at the hotel where we were staying, they were trying to find anywhere to stay.

There's no power, so the hotels are having a hard time doubling and tripling up in these areas to give shelter. And so, right now, they're looking for places to go if they don't have any. They don't have vehicles, a lot of times, they don't have any of their personal belongings and at this point, a lot of people are starting to feel really lost and really desperate here in Craven County, Jake.

There's a lot of tears that we're seeing from people, a lot of people saying I don't know what I'm going to do, I didn't think it was actually going to be this bad, because it was reduced down to a category 2 at that time, and I don't know what I'm going to do right now. We're seeing lots of parents with small children who kind of are at a loss at this point.

TAPPER: All right. Dianne Gallagher, stay safe. I appreciate it.

Part of the challenge in the city of New Bern is that the city is surrounded by two rivers, which is being pounded with tremendous rainfall and storm surge, being pushed in from the ocean. That's why you keep hearing about New Bern.

Joining me on the phone right now is Gene Hodges. He's the assistant county manager for Craven County where New Bern is located.

Gene, thanks for joining us.

You're at the emergency operation center in New Bern. I hear right now you've had nearly 200 rescue calls, around 500 people, and this is obviously just the beginning.

GENE HODGES, ASSISTANT COUNTY MANAGER, CRAVEN COUNTY (via telephone): Yes, that's for sure, and this is, you know, the storm is still ongoing. We're still taking calls ongoing and we're dispatching as quickly as we can in order to affect rescues. We're working with state and federal partners and volunteer groups that are really providing a great service and complementing what we can do.

TAPPER: And how many rescue teams do you have out right now?

HODGES: I mean, the last count I've got that are working so with us, I know we've got at least five swift water rescues, and there's volunteer group, the Cajun navy, they're really been engaged and working with us to try to rescue and help people as quick as we can.

TAPPER: We saw some tweets earlier today from residents tweeting to try to get help. We're told they've since been rescued. What's the best way for someone to get help if they need it?

HODGES: The best way would be to contact our emergency operations center. That number is 636-6608. To get that information, log in, or the best way -- if you're in a safe -- fairly safe situation where you can get away from the floodwaters, if you're at a place where you can get to the first or second floor, you know, and move up and call that number.

[16:40:17] If it's more of an emergency situation, if it's a severe medical situation, then we probably would want you to call 911. But first try to call 636-6608.

TAPPER: 366-6608.

And, Gene, lastly, what's your message to any other residents what may be in their homes right now?

HODGES: If you can get out safely, please, please try to do so. We're going to be in a long period of recovery when we get through, and it will be easier to get lights on the people, it will be easier to get trees out if people either were not in the area or if people would stay inside their homes, because there is a lot of downed power lines, there is a lot of water. Water and electricity do not mix well. That's one of the things I have to be made real clear every time as I'm looking around.

TAPPER: All right. Gene Hodges with Craven County, North Carolina, thank you. Good luck to you and the people of Craven County. Obviously, we hope you're getting everything you need from the state and federal government.

If you do not, if you need help, let us at CNN, we'll do what we can for you.

HODGES: Thank you. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: OK. We know at least four people have been killed so far as a result of Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina. A huge tree fell on a house which killed a mother and her baby.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene there for CNN.

And, Brian, we could unfortunately see a lot of situations like this one when the ground is so saturated. These older, larger trees are vulnerable to a storm such as this.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: that's right, Jake. They are very vulnerable, even this 30,000-pound tree that fell down on this house right behind us. We're going to zoom in. I'll go in a little bit closer here.

This happened at -- the 911 call came in about 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Rescue crews got here, they got here with reinforcements. We got here a short time after that.

What we saw was they extracted one of the three people in the house, a man who was pinned under something. They brought a surgical team in and thought they might have to amputate possibly his leg that he was pinned under, but they were able to move some objects and hold some other objects and pulled him out and get him some medical care. He was a survivor here, but unfortunately, a woman who was in here and her very young child died.

But rescuers were here for roughly eight hours, and we were for most of that, witnessing it and talking to first responders as they were coming in and out, furiously working to cut through the wood of the tree, the bricks of the house. They got in there and they even talked out dresser drawers that they had to demolish and get out of the way. They were just working furiously for hours.

And you mentioned the conditions here, it is saturation. It was saturation even before the storm hit, and you can see that old and very large tree was just so vulnerable to the storm ask came crashing down on this house. This is a brick house. It's got a solid foundation but obviously couldn't withstand anything like that, Jake.

And these conditions here that you're seeing, this is a pelting rain that has been just pounding on us all day long and of course on all our other teams. It kind of comes and goes, as you know, but these conditions have made it even tougher for first responders to get to these areas. And almost in every one of these scenes, there are downed power lines, downed trees. First responders have to navigate through all of that to get to places like this.

And they're doing yeoman's work, they're doing heroic work trying to get to these places. The efforts they made to try to get the man out of here and save his life was just unbelievable. But despite their efforts, they couldn't save the woman and child who were here.

I talked to a battalion chief who was very emotional about it. He said, these guys were just exhausted, physically exhausted, but when it involves a child, it gets to you even more. So, he was almost in tears when he talked to us about that, Jake. So, very emotional scene here and it had a very bad outcome, obviously.

TAPPER: OK, Brian Todd, horrible story out of Wilmington, North Carolina. Thank you so much.

We're seconds away from the newest forecast about Hurricane Florence. Will the monster storm speed up or will it keep stalling with these massive amounts of rain?

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Florence now a deadly storm hitting the Carolinas. Let's go right to CNN's Martin Savidge in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina where Hurricane Florence may have landfall this morning. Martin, tell us about the damage report.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that was ten hours ago, Jake. And the amazing thing is that ten hours later the conditions haven't really changed that much which gives you an indication of just how powerful and how large this storm is. The wind direction is changed. So it's got about a 180 but we're just getting hammered. Now, it's coming off of this direction so it's very hard to look that way without feeling like you got a face of nails.

What we're hearing from Wrightsville Beach, which is behind the very island just behind us, and we can't go there because it's just too dangerous, the bridge is closed and the winds are still too high. But for those who stayed behind and the first responders that are there, they're saying they have been seeing some structural damage. They can't assess exactly how much because they're hunkered down.

They do know they've got some pretty serious beach erosion there, and no surprise, that's the Atlantic Ocean pounding up against the surf line there. And then on top of that, they've also got water in the streets. It's a combination of going from the Intracoastal here is your heavy storm surge and it's the rain that falls. They get a lot to deal with. Jake?

[16:50:14] TAPPER: All right, Martin Savidge, stay safe. He's in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray has the brand-new update on Florence from the National Hurricane Center. Jennifer, is there any slowdown in speed that would be more bad news or is it speeding up? What do they say? Unfortunately, Jake, it's slowing down, even more, three miles per hour is the speed so it's pretty much just sitting still. It's also now a tropical storm. It has been downgraded to that.

But as we've been saying with this storm all along, the winds it's not what matters. What matters is the catastrophic flooding is still going to continue, the storm surge is still going to continue regardless of the category because we still have that onshore flow and we've been getting that for the last 24 to 36 hours and we're still getting it. These cities like New Bern, Morehead City, Wilmington still getting all of this rain that they've been getting since yesterday morning and that storm is just crawling down to the southwest three miles per hour. You can walk faster than this storm is moving.

New Bern still getting a downpour right there all across on the Outer Banks, still getting hit very hard. We still have the gusty winds and that river flooding is going to be a problem, Jake, all the way into the middle part of next week where a lot of these rivers across portions of North Carolina are going to be at record levels. So we'll be talking about this to the middle part of the week at least.

TAPPER: All right, Jennifer Gray in the CNN Severe Weather Center, thank you so much. Hundreds of thousands of people are in the dark right now because of Florence and that number is only expected to grow. Just how bad the power outages are? That's next. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news coverage of Florence, now a deadly tropical storm responsible for at least four deaths. Let's go right to CNN's Nick Watt. He's in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And Nick, all the water from Florence is starting to take a toll on that beach town.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Jake. I mean, as this storm moves towards where we are, we're on the Grand Strand which is normally a sixty mile stretch of beautiful sunkissed Carolina sand but not today by any stretch. Now, so far the head of the Safety Department here in town tells me that just some downed trees, some downed power lines, and he says we are lucky right now.

Now, the question is whether that luck holds through the night as this storm moves down towards South Carolina. There will be a point tonight we're in North Myrtle Beach we will be basically between the eye of the storm and the ocean. So the question is how much rain is going to fall from the sky and how much that ocean is going to surge. So far no injuries, no major damage here, although we did just see a firetruck go past, sirens blaring, we haven't heard from the fire chief exactly what is going on there yet but it's going to be a wet long windy night. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt, thank you so much. Stay safe. In Wilmington, North Carolina, this video captured the moment, a transformer blew. You can see a huge flash before some sparking and then a parking lot plunging into darkness. As we approach the evening hours, Florence has already caused widespread power outages. Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman at the magic wall for more on that problem. Tom, what are the latest numbers and where are we seeing the most outages?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, as of this hour, Florence has left more than a half million homes without power in North Carolina alone. The numbers been fluctuating throughout the day in measure of the confusion there. Thousands more in neighboring states too. and that number could certainly grow perhaps in a big way as the rains and floods go on through the weekend.

This map from the biggest power provider in North Carolina, Duke Energy, shows almost every county was affected and some were hit particularly hard left with almost no electricity. In New Hanover County down here where Wilmington is, more than 114,000 people affected, the vast majority of their customers there. The same story up here in Carteret County with 24,000 people in the dark. Some of the other counties here in yellow had 14,000, 15,000, 16,000 without power. About half way across the state it trails off into the hundreds but still very widespread outages and a big challenge for power providers, Jake.

TAPPER: And Tom, with the storm still grinding away, still apparently even slowing down, how soon does the power company, the state officials think they can get the lights back on for these folks, in some cases, it might even be a matter of life and death?

FOREMAN: Yes, not soon at all in some places. Every power provider we talked to said they have to be super careful as long as the storm hangs around to keep their crews from being hurt or stranded in the flood. Even when it's safe to go back to work, this is an arduous process. They have to start with the big parts of the electrical grid. Then they can focus on the substations and getting power to critical sites like hospitals and police stations and water treatment plants. And only then can they truly focus on getting the lights on in homes out there. And that could actually take weeks. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning to "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be rising Democratic star New York Congressional Candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday. We'll obviously also cover the storm and the aftermath. Our coverage right now on CNN continues. Thanks for watching. I'll see you Sunday morning.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, storm surge.