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Paul Manafort Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate in Russia Probe; FEMA to Test Presidential Alert Texting System; Massachusetts Governor Replaces Utility Company Following Blasts; Woman Accuses Brett Kavanaugh of Assault in Letter to Democratic Senator; Aired 12-1p ET

Aired September 15, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


ERICA HILL, CNN FILL-IN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Erica Hill, live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where the wind and the rains continue and the ocean behind me has definitely been churning far more than what we first saw when we got here 24 hours ago and we are waiting on high tide here in the next hour and that is important as we know.

The Governor of South Carolina lifting evacuation orders for a number of counties including the area around Charleston. We're still waiting on more news for here in Myrtle Beach.

What we do know at this hour, five deaths now officially related to this storm. The governor of North Carolina just a short time ago talking about in his words, "the epic amounts of rainfall," and that is true in the state of North Carolina, a state-wide record for rainfall has been broken, 30.5-plus inches of rain in the towns of Swansboro, North Carolina.

And what's important to remember with this storm is it is not over yet, sitting over the area, barely moving along at 2 miles per hour and is what will come not just with the rain in the coming hours but the flooding in the coming days that has many people concerned.

CNN's Scott McLean is just a little bit north of Myrtle Beach, he's in Conway, South Carolina driving around there, one of our roving coverage vehicles where you are seeing some flooding but also power outages which is another key part of the storm, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica. This area has gotten a heck of a lot of rain. The wind has died down but it did a lot of damage while it was here. Let me show you what we're looking at, what we can see from this roving coverage vehicle.

You can see there on the left of your screen that power line, that transformer down. The pole just got completely ripped out of the ground and then I'll pan over little bit, you can see another tree that is down on the road as well and we're seeing this in bits and pieces as we go along.

We'll just come up here and we'll turn over to show you a little bit more but Erica we know that there are a hundred and fifty-five thousand people who are without power in the state of South Carolina. We know that 87,000 of them are in Horry County which is the county that I'm in and Conway, which also includes Myrtle Beach so there are a lot of people being inconvenienced by these power outages.

Here's another, I'll slow down a little bit, a tree that's come down on those lines and you know, this is a familiar scene for a lot of people in this area as we deal with the effects of Hurricane Florence.

But you know, we talk about the rain, 8 1/2 inches have fallen in this area so far, they could get another 10 inches here and so all that water has to go somewhere and eventually it's going to find its way into the Waccamaw River system and they are expecting record flooding in this area and I'll show you some of it just when we get up to the end of this roadway Erica.

We -- we've seen some bits of localized flooding, you saw where Nick Valencia was last hour, that's one example but it is only going to get worst. They have -- it could be Wednesday, it could be Thursday, it could even be beyond that by the time we truly see the worst of it.

And as we come up here I'll show you where the water is just coming out of the roadway again. This is just the first, one of the first signs of localized flooding that we're starting to see in this area but Erica as I mentioned, the worst is really still very much yet to come.

HILL: All right. I will be watching for that.

Scott McLean with the latest for us out of Conway there.

I want to turn out to North Carolina, CNN's Brian Todd is in Onslow County, also out there looking at some of the damage. Brian what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Erica we've seen a lot of street flooding and I just came out of the Emergency Operations Center and spoke to several officials there including the County Manager who said that basically this area has just never seen a storm...

HILL: I think we just lost Brian...

TODD: ... (inaudible)...

HILL: ... we'll get back to him as soon as we can...

... Oh, I may have heard Brian again.

I think we lost Brian. We are going to get back to Brian so we'll get an update from him as soon as we can reestablish connection with him.

Let's go down to the CNN Weather Center, where Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is following the storm. We have that update at 11:00. Allison, what can folks expect moving forward today?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST, CHINCHAR: Right, so you're still going to need to expect plenty more rain, even the areas on the coast where it's been raining for over 40 hours straight, more rain is still on the way. Again, the reason for this is the forward movement of the storm is practically stationary for all intents and purposes, it's moving only at 2 miles per hour to the due West. Now I will say this, we do expect the forward speed to gradually start to pick up over the next 24 hours. That will be a good thing for a lot of folks that have been getting rain for over a day straight because eventually it will start to take back off but until the storm does that, heavy rain is still in the forecast.

You can see some of these really heavy rain bands. We've got one just to the south of Wilmington and one just to the north of Wilmington, that's where you see those yellows and the orange colors on the radar.

In some places it's still coming down, at 2 to 3 inches an hour and again, these folks are not just getting it for one hour, they're getting it hour after hour and this has to now be added on top of how much rain they've already had.

To put this in perspective, we have set a new record for the state of North Carolina, for any tropical system to hit the state. The previous record was 24 inches, that was back with the tropical system Floyd, back in 1999.

One location already in North Carolina has picked up over 30 inches. The thing I need you to understand, that location we're talking about is Swansboro, it's still raining there so even though we've already broken the record that differentiator (ph) -- the difference between the old record and the new record is likely going to continue to be a bigger spread. Wilmington has picked up over a foot; Elizabethtown has picked up nearly 2 feet, and Morehead City has also picked up nearly 2 feet of rain.

And again, folks the key thing to note it's still raining so a lot of those locations, widespread, are still going to pick up and additional 6 to 12 inches but there are some places that are likely to pick up Erica, at least an additional foot of rain before this system can finally push back out.

HILL: And of course, the big concern is where does -- the big concern Allison, where does all of that water go.

Allison Chinchar in the CNN Weather Center for us.

I think we have Brian Todd back up again in Onslow County, North Carolina and Brian as we were just mentioning with more rain to come, the concern obviously is there is nowhere for this water to go.

TODD: That's certainly true Erica and we're experiencing that in Onslow County. We were just in the Emergency Operations Center talking to officials there including the County Manager. He said they have 30 rescue missions that have already been done, they pulled people out of homes, most of them have been home rescues but they have had several car rescues as well. They have many more in line, who are calling to be rescued.

I was just in there and looking at their board operations and you can see a lot of people calling in and they're in certain areas. We are heading to those areas now.

We are told that there are swift-water rescue teams from the state of Indiana here, helping out, pulling people out of their homes, those are boat teams but there are also some Coast Guard helicopter units helping people out in areas that are not even accessible by boat so it's a difficult slug here in Onslow County.

We are navigating our way around the streets now to see where we can get to, to get as close as we can to where these people are being rescued Erica.

We can tell you that one account was pretty harrowing from either last night or very early this morning. They had an ambulance deployed to a cardiac arrest case, they picked up that individual but then the ambulance started taking on water, I believe it was a swift-water rescue team nearby and was able to get those people out OK.

They've had no deaths or injuries in the county but this is the worst storm they have seen really in collective memory, Erica.

HILL: Brian Todd with the latest for us there. Brian thank you.

Also want to bring in Now Reed Timmer, AccuWeather Network Extreme Meteorologist. Reed as you've been watching this, helping us watch this over the last several days, one of the things that has certainly borne out that I have heard from officials as well is just so accurate the forecasting has been here, which of course helps people plan ahead.

Now they have to look at planning for once the rains subside and they figure out what to do and where to go if they are in some of these flooded areas. How much is that message do you think getting out of this point?

REED TIMMER, ACCUWEATHER NETWORK EXTREME METEOROLOGIST: Well I think everybody realizes the severity of the situation now, certainly. I'm standing right along I-40 just to the north of Wilmington and you can see flood waters rising rapidly. We have state troopers here that are about to shut down I-40 because these water levels are rising, they're flowing over into the Cape Fear River, and only has about another six inches to go and this is going to be up and over this lane of I-40. And they said they have never seen anything like this in the past and that they've learned a lot from this storm in terms of the impacts.

The rainfall, we've already had a few feet of rain over eastern North Carolina, it looks like 1 to 2 feet additionally. And the meteorologists have done an incredible job forecasting the hydrological impacts of this storm and the different flash flood impacts with -- or flash-flooding, river-flooding, and the storm surge inundation, all of those combining has created a very complicated flood scenario here.

There are several flash flood emergencies that have been issued and it looks like there are some new rain bands forming as well. There's one just to the southwest of Wilmington that's moving in. There's one to the north here that has shut down I-40. They've had a few tornado warnings and it looks like the flooding situation of the storm is just getting started.

HILL: And you talk about those bands that have been added. I mean just give us a sense, with the storm sitting now and essentially sitting still, 2 miles per hour, it is barely moving as we know, what is that doing in terms of allowing it to gain a little strange or create new bands?

TIMMER: Yes. And I could actually walk faster than this storm is moving and that is very dangerous.

There is nothing more dangerous or scary than a slow-moving stalled- out tropical cyclone and that's because you get such prolific rainfall rates in these rainfall bands -- in these rain bands, you can get 2 to 4 inches per hour easily, you can get tornado threats as well; the winds are gusting, downing trees already weakened from that hurricane; the flood waters and the rising water table are weakening structures so those trees are falling.

And there's nothing more dangerous than a situation like this and then in a few days later as these rivers begin to crest, it's going to create an even more catastrophic situation out here from a different type of flooding, and that's the slow-moving natural disaster portion of this storm.

HILL: Reed Timmer, appreciate you joining us as always. Thank you.

CNN's continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Florence continues and we will be broadcasting live from Myrtle Beach, from North Carolina, updating you (ph) with the very latest after the short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Hi, here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we are still feeling Tropical Storm Florence and we are far from alone as you know. One quick look at that radar and you can see just the immense size of this storm.

And we were even seeing as we learn just a few moments ago from Reed Timmer, new bands of rain that are developing. We are expecting several more inches here in South Carolina.

And it's not just the rain that will continue to fall, it's not just the records that have been broken in the state of North Carolina, the other concern is what comes next.

There are the flooding rivers that are not expected to crest for three, even five days, well into the middle of next week, that is a major concern even as rescues are underway for folks who need help in this storm.

We can tell you that here in Myrtle Beach, the mayor telling me, about 60 percent of residents did evacuate. She was very happy to report that number. Driving around here we were out this morning for a couple of hours. The good news, not a lot of damage. But again, the concern is the

flooding in the coming days, Myrtle Beach itself, the bridges, the roadways that can bring people in and out of this area, there's concern that perhaps those can be cut off by flooding by a number of rivers in the area, also the flooding coming down that's moving in of course from North Carolina, that is a major concern.

In the state of North Carolina, the governor talking about the epic amounts of rainfall. There is still much more to come and he was also stressing of course, this is moving into other areas of the state.

We're not just talking about coastal communities in terms of flooding. Specifically, he's talking about Charlotte. He's talking about Fayetteville, Asheville, the southern Piedmont area, the mountains.

The concern there is that as the rain moves in, not only in the swollen (ph) areas with rivers in the coastal communities is there is nowhere for this water to go but in those mountainous regions there is not a lot of real estate for this water either and so it is imperative that people listen to these warnings, to these updates from their officials, to stay where they are, to evacuate if they're told to do so, and to not come home until those evacuation orders have been lifted.

And that is the process, they need to hear from the governor that the evacuation has been lifted. Local officials need to make sure the roads are safe for people to be able to get back in, all of these things have to happen before it is safe for residents to come home.

And with a storm like this it may seem like a long time but as we know much better safe than sorry.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has been in the thick of it over these last 48 hours or so and I think we're going to try to get to him, possibly with a rescue as we try to get contact with Ed Lavandera. Let's take a look at some of what we've seen over the last couple of days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): The wind is whipping harder than it has in the last 24 hours.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): The eye did make landfall in Wrightsville Beach about six miles from where I am with a wind speed of about 90 miles per hour...

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): This isn't just water that's coming this way, the ocean and the winds are forcing sand up into the air.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): If you look all the way down beyond those people you might be able to make it out, that is the ocean. It's not supposed to be there right now.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): The power is out all over the city. That tree over there to my left, to your right, looks like it's about to be uprooted and we're getting a lot of strong gusts of wind. (UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): We are in Riverbend. They experience an extraordinary amount of flooding here and a lot of people have said that they weren't expecting it to flood like this here...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: The rain and the wind, as you can see and likely hear through the microphone, it really picked up here just in the last couple of minutes in Myrtle Beach.

And if we can get a shot of the ocean behind us too, I just want to point out. This is so much rougher than what we saw when we got here a little over 24 hours ago. The water is also almost all the way up at that fencing you see before the dunes, moving in far closer than we saw yesterday.

High tide, supposed to happen around 1 o'clock in this area so that is a major focus as well.

Our live coverage from across the Carolinas, right here on CNN, continues after the short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Rescues are underway in a number of areas. I want to take you now to CNN's Ed Lavandera who is in Jacksonville, North Carolina, one of the hardest hit areas. And Ed, where you are, they're trying to get people out right now, right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're in a neighborhood just on the outskirts of Jacksonville, North Carolina and this is an area that kind of borders the New River and water has been pouring out of that river over the last few hours.

Just beyond the tree line we've seen Coast Guard choppers flying into a neighborhood back there that we can't access anymore and this -- in this particular neighborhood, the water has been coming up rather rapidly over the last few hours.

In fact, when we drove in here, we came across Marti Diaz and she -- we saw her and her family frantically loading up their minivan here.

You guys are racing to get out here, what's -- what it's been like in the neighborhood this morning?

DIAZ: This morning -- we were under Flash Flood Warnings, which I mean -- with this kind of weather it always happens and just -- we're kind of immune to it. When I woke up my backyard was pretty much flooded and most my patio, it was really abnormal for our area.

And then I drove down at the end and there was a house that -- two houses at the end and they were pretty much on the water.

And so I opted to -- because we have a whole (ph) Group, and I took a live video and updated everyone because the curfew was supposed to be lifted at noon today and I told them, "Don't come back. It's not safe."

And then our streets over, that completely flooded out all the homes and couple people already had to be rescued by some of our other neighbors.

LAVANDERA: You were telling me that this is an area that you didn't really expect to flood at all?

DIAZ: No.

LAVANDERA: You felt -- you felt safe here?

DIAZ: Yes. We did. I actually looked up FloodiQ and we were "minimal risk" so that's why we felt comfortable staying and they were saying, "If you flooded during Hurricane Matthew, then you would flood with Florence as well," and we did not flood during Hurricane Matthew, not to this level so.

LAVANDERA: So what have you guys been doing? Are you -- I saw you here at the tail-end loading up your minivan, just taking out some of your -- the most important belongings?

DIAZ: Yes. Clothes, food and water because we're going to be staying with a neighbor and then our dogs, we have four dogs, we love them. And then just I mean -- just the irreplaceable stuff, everything else in the house, we're just kind of -- it's going to be a loss.

LAVANDERA: Is water gotten -- has water gotten inside yet?

DIAZ: I know our shed has started to flood. Actually, inside the house not yet, as of the last I checked but it's I mean you can see the shed, our garage; our shed is completely underwater, our shed is flooded.

LAVANDERA: You seem to be holding up all right. I mean I know this is going to be incredibly stressful to deal with?

DIAZ: I (inaudible). I cried this morning. I broke down and cried. At this point I'm accepting it. It is what it is, we can't control it; we just pick up and go, that's you know, that's all we can really do.

LAVANDERA: And you were telling me, you're -- you're watch -- you've been watching the water creep up -- it's not even creeping, it's -- it's moving...

DIAZ: Yes.

LAVANDERA: ... Quickly?

DIAZ: Our neighbors, there's the Jeep over there, and then the house next to it. They were staying too and they just left may be like an hour ago, and now they're -- they're underwater as well.

Our original plan was to stay in this house because our -- I mean, we're -- we're a very close-knit neighborhood and they said if you need to escape the floodwaters, go to our house but it's not looking like that's going to be a viable option because their house is starting to flood too.

LAVANDERA: How are your kids holding up?

DIAZ: I mean they're kids, they're pretty resilient so they're just at this point, it's like we're going camping, like the past couple days we've been without power and it's like campaigns, they just want to play with the flashlight.

And it's just," Pack up your stuff. Pick a couple of your favorite toys."

And they're like, "Oh, we're going to go to a new house?"

"Oh, kind of, not in the way we -- you've gotten -- nothing the way that we want to." But I mean...

LAVANDERA: The campaign trick always works?

DIAZ: Yes.

LAVANDERA: All right Marti, well best of luck to you. Thanks for talking to us and I wish you guys the best.

DIAZ: Thank you very much.

LAVANDERA: All right, hang in there.

So let me give you a sense here Erica, as you look back in this neighborhood, Marti was telling us, you might be able to see there in the distance that yellow pickup truck at the end, it is almost submerged in water there.

The water was starting to creep on the streets, all the way down there at 7 o'clock this morning so over the course of the last few hours that water has already moved up, let's count, one, two, three, four, five, six or seven houses and this is their house right here that you see -- you see behind me.

The water is already beyond the fence line, already starting to trickle into their front porch here. I'm going to walk around so you can see. They've locked up and there she goes, driving off getting to higher ground.

So the water is about to reach the porch level and start breaking in -- breaking into the souse so that's what they're dealing with, that's why they felt to rush to get out of here as quickly as possible Erica.

HILL: All right. We need you to get to higher ground too, my friend.

Ed Lavandera with the latest for us there and thank you.

Stay with us, our continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Florence continues after the short break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:33:21] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Alex Marquardt in New York. We will be continuing our coverage of tropical storm Florence in just a moment. But first, a big victory in the courtroom could mean a real boost to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S ATTORNEY: He's accepted responsibility and this is for conduct that dates back many years. And everybody should remember that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: On Friday, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort went before a federal judge and entered a guilty plea. That's part of the deal struck with Mueller's team that includes an agreement to cooperate in the Russia probe.

So what kind of fallout can we expect from that cooperation? For that we turn to impeachment attorney Ross Garber live in New Orleans.

Ross, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Now Manafort is the fifth Trump aide to offer cooperation in exchange for lesser charges. Why would Manafort be agreeing to this deal now after that conviction in Virginia, but before his federal trial in Washington was to begin?

ROSS GARBER, IMPEACHMENT ATTORNEY: Yes, I think what happened was Manafort saw the potential years of his life in prison stacking up and he had to make a decision whether he was going to sit back and rely on the president for a pardon or whether he'd be safer going to prosecutors, offering cooperation and potentially getting leniency from them. And that's how it works. If you cooperate with prosecutors and they think you did a good job and offered them a lot of information on others, then they can go to the judge and ask for a substantially lower sentence.

MARQUARDT: That's really the question is what kind of information he's going to be offering. Right? So in this deal, Manafort has agreed to answer questions fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly about any and all matters.

[12:35:05] What does he have to offer prosecutors?

GARBER: See, and that's what we don't know. And you know, one thing to keep in mind is he has already met with prosecutors several times. The way this works is before you get a cooperation agreement from the government, you have to preview things for prosecutors. You have to sit with them. You have to talk with them. And they have to believe that you have something good to offer and that you're being truthful. So that's already happened. And we just don't know at this point what it is. But it has to be valuable enough to prosecutors where they've given him this cooperation agreement. MARQUARDT: Can we assume that that information is less about his

business dealings and more about potential relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign?

GARBER: See, we just don't know. I think it's safe to assume that, you know, his prosecution was entirely about getting at the campaign, at the Trump campaign, and at the president, you know, that's what this was about. The allegations rolled. I don't think he would have come, you know, on to the radar screen of prosecutors without that. So that's what this was all about.

Now we just don't know, you know, what he can offer. But one of the things to keep in mind is conspiracy law is incredibly broad. And so often those involved in a conspiracy don't necessarily know all of the ways in which the law was potentially violated. What Mueller's doing is sort of putting together like a jigsaw puzzle and trying to figure out kind of what it looks like in the end and it's possible Manafort offers a significant piece of that puzzle.

MARQUARDT: Manafort, as we know, is 69 years old. And until now, we've been talking about the prospect of him possibly spending the rest of his life in prison. So what does this deal mean in terms of his potential prison time?

GARBER: Yes, so -- yes, he was looking at -- if he got sentenced in Virginia alone, he was, you know, potentially looking at the rest of his life in prison. He had an upcoming trial in D.C. that was supposed to start in a couple of weeks if he got convicted there. And even an account, he was looking at many, many years in prison. Probably the rest of his life.

So with cooperation, the way it works, is if he cooperates, if he gives prosecutors what they want, what they're looking for, then they can go to the judge and ask for substantially lower sentence. In addition, under the agreement, his sentences in Virginia and D.C. would run at the same time, concurrently. But the big potential benefit to Manafort now is that if he cooperates in the way the government likes, the prosecutor is going to ask the judge for a lenient sentence and that can make a substantial difference and in my experience often does.

MARQUARDT: But we're still talking about years in prison. There's no way that he walks away scot free.

GARBER: Yes. It would be unlikely that he walks away scot free. But there's a big difference between, you know, five years in prison and 10 years in prison and the rest of your life in prison for sure. But it's all going to depend on what he offers prosecutors. And people in his position, and you can imagine, have enormous incentive to give prosecutors as much as they can and to be as helpful as they can to prosecutors.

And one thing I'd be concerned about if I were on team Trump is there's also an incentive to not tell the truth or even stretch the truth to please prosecutors because right now Paul Manafort's life is in the prosecutor's hands. MARQUARDT: Yes. We should note that the White House was very quick

to come out and say that this has nothing to do with President Trump but you can imagine that they are still quite nervous at this point, not knowing what Manafort is going to give the Mueller team.

Attorney Ross Garber, thank you very much for joining us today.

GARBER: Pleased to be here.

MARQUARDT: All right. Now switching gears, whether you like it or not, you may be getting a text message from President Trump next week. Now don't worry, it has nothing to do with politics. Next Thursday afternoon, FEMA is planning to test out a new messaging service that they're calling the presidential alert system. That text will look a little bit like this. It could be used for major emergencies like severe weather which we're seeing now down to the south as well as missing children.

CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter is joining us live from New York this morning.

Brian, we already have something like this. It's called Amber Alerts. So what's the thinking behind rolling out this new service? And the big question, will the president actually be the one in charge of what goes into those messages?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, first of all, you mentioned Amber Alerts. That's the thing, we're all used to Amber Alerts on our phone these days. We're also used to those severe weather alert. We've all had that experience of being in a room where everyone's phone lights up at the same time with an alert about the weather.

The difference here is that this is FEMA applying that same technology on a nationwide level. Testing the ability to communicate to the entire country at the same time. And that's why it's called this presidential alert. And I think because we're in this upside-down period of politics with a lot of people fearful of President Trump, concerned he might abuse his power, there's been a lot of speculation in recent days that he would try to use this new technology in ways that are inappropriate. However, there's no indication of that. In fact, there's no indication that he even really knows about this test that's coming up next Thursday.

[12:40:05] But it is an interesting moment in time to see the government testing out this new technology. I think we can show you what the text will look like on Thursday that will be pushed to everyone's phone. It will be labeled "presidential alert" which is probably why this is so curious. It will say, hey, this is a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System, no action is needed. So that's the message that will be pushed out on Thursday.

It's the result of a law that was passed by Congress back in the Obama years in 2016 in order to bring the U.S. government up to speed. So that, you know, it's not just an alert on TV, not just an alert on the radio. Now there will be alerts on your phones in the event of a national emergency. A major terrorist attack or a major national disaster.

So that's why it's being tested. But I know that because we're in this strange period of time with most Americans feeling the president is simply untrustworthy, I think this is probably going to raise some eyebrows when it happens on Thursday -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes. The president as we know always looking to circumvent the media and take his message directly to the people but you can also imagine that there will be a lot of people who want to opt out of the option of receiving this presidential text, right?

STELTER: Yes. That's an interesting point. And there will be no opt out functionality at least with regard to this test. The whole idea here is that the government believes it needs to be able to reach the entire population in a true crisis. And of course those come a long very, very infrequently. But the test is to make sure that it is possible.

You know, you think back decades, the government worked with television broadcasters, radio broadcasters to put out those alerts that you sometimes see when you're watching something and it interrupts you and it's a test. We're actually going to see that happen on Thursday as well, the existing broadcast system will be tested on Thursday. But the new twist is the text messaging.

And Alex, in an age where most Americans don't trust the president, I think seeing an alert that says presidential alert will be curious. This is why the president's credibility matters so much. We know that he makes up stuff all the time. So when he's able to text message you an alert, normally that would be a good thing. Normally the government needs to be able to do that. But in the Trump age, it's going to raise eyebrows.

MARQUARDT: All right, well keep an eye on your phones, Thursday afternoon, folks.

Brian Stelter in New York, thanks very much.

STELTER: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Still ahead, we'll take you live to Lawrence where 8,000 people are forced out of their homes after dozens of gas explosions. That's in Massachusetts. Investigators there still trying to pinpoint what exactly went wrong.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:48:30] MARQUARDT: Welcome back. I'm Alex Marquardt in New York. We'll get back to our special coverage of tropical storm Florence in just a moment. But first, we're learning more about the string of deadly gas explosions that rocked an area just north of Boston. Right now we're waiting on a briefing from the National Transportation Safety Board. That's coming up at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

And all this comes as the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has declared a state of emergency in three towns. He has also taken the extraordinary step of replacing Columbia Gas as the utility company that is in charge of the recovery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We took this step after it became clear to us that Columbia Gas was simply inadequately prepared to take the steps necessary to effectively manage relief efforts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: At least one person has died and around 8,000 people have been forced to leave their homes. Officials say they've cleared more than 50 streets in North Andover Mass. But it could be some time before life returns to normal and people are able to go home.

CNN's Alison Kosik is with us live from Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Alison, what are the authorities saying and doing now?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, we're seeing that authorities are trying to figure out what caused these massive explosions. And Columbia Gas of Massachusetts which owns those gas lines that were involved in these explosions has yet to really give a definitive answer as to why they happened. And you mentioned these news conferences that's happening with state and federal officials. Hopefully we may learn more.

[12:50:02] Now at this point, the NTSB, as you said, is on the ground here, collecting evidence, trying to figure out exactly what triggered these stunning explosions that happened really cascading through three suburbs north of Boston, killing one man, injuring more than a dozen others, damaging or destroying dozens of homes and buildings and forcing thousands of people to evacuate at a moment's notice in fear, wondering what will happen next.

I want you to listen to what one resident had to go through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN O'CONNELL, ANDOVER RESIDENT: Frantic call to my wife. Gas. I told her to get out of the house and get the car away. The next thing you know the police came and ordered everybody out of the house. Homes down the street were catching fire. By the time I got home, it was just a lot of confusion and chaos. It was just actually scary, you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Now this is response that is happening is massive and there are a lot of moving parts. At this moment, teams of three people are literally going through each neighborhood, door to door. The people include a utilities technician, a first responder and even a locksmith. Because what these folks need to do is get inside the house, see if there's any sort of lingering gas, let's say, in an attic or a basement, and they need to shut the gas off and make sure that they can give the all clear to these homes before people can go back. So the people that you're hearing who are going back to their homes,

those homes have been given the all clear. But the reality is, when they do get back to their homes, there is no power, there is no gas and there's no telling when the power's going to be back on.

And Alex, I'm hearing it could be weeks before the gas is turned back on -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right, well, hopefully the NTSB will have some answers to those questions at their press conference in just around three hours' time.

Alison Kosik, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, thank you very much.

Turning now to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. A decades old assault accusation against Kavanaugh is now threatening to impact his confirmation vote in the Senate.

This is what we know so far. A woman who is still unidentified sent a letter to California Senator Dianne Feinstein accusing Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were teenagers in high school in the early 1980s. Feinstein redacted the woman's name and sent the letter to the FBI. Judge Kavanaugh is forcefully denying those allegations. But it does come at a critical time in this confirmation process.

So joining me now is CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane De Vogue.

Ariane, what is Kavanaugh saying about these accusations and really what effect could it have on his confirmation?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, this is an anonymous allegation of an alleged incident that occurred 30 years ago and the woman is declining to come forward and Kavanaugh is denying it. But she's alleging that Kavanaugh assaulted her at this party when they were both in high school in the '80s. She won't go public but she did send this letter to Dianne Feinstein.

Of course Dianne Feinstein is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And on Friday Feinstein said the woman requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further. So what Feinstein did was redact her name and she sent the information on to the FBI.

And Kavanaugh, he's released a statement strongly denying it. Here's what he said. He said, "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

In the letter, though, the woman alleges that Kavanaugh physically pushed her into a bedroom and along with another male locked the door from the inside, put on loud music. She alleged the two teens were drunk and at one point Kavanaugh was on top of her with a hand over her mouth and she said she feared she was in danger at that moment.

She didn't say whether she reported it to the authorities at the time. But she did say she sought some medical attention. We don't know any details around that or the timing. And then as you said, the Republicans here are furious because they know this letter was sent in late July and then only referred to the FBI after the close of hearings, close to this friend -- close to this vote, and I spoke to someone who's close to Kavanaugh and he's in disbelief. He said look, Kavanaugh has been vetted five times. This isn't something that he would do.

And on the Democratic side, some are angry at Dianne Feinstein, saying why didn't you bring this forward earlier?

MARQUARDT: Right.

DE VOGUE: But others say look, she was in a tough spot. The woman wouldn't come forward with the allegation. Again, really important to note, Brett Kavanaugh, he's released that statement and he's denying this, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Really an extraordinary twist in what are already very contentious confirmation hearings in the Senate.

Ariane De Vogue in Washington, thank you very much.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Our special coverage of the flooding in the Carolinas will continue right after the short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:59:18] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erica Hill live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where it is just about high tide. And as you can see from the waves behind me, things really whipping up out there in the ocean. I should also point out that just about 24 hours ago, you could see a good stretch of beach in between the dunes and the water. That is no longer visible. About 60 percent of residents here in Myrtle Beach did evacuate. They are not allowed to come back yet.

We're continuing to monitor the situation here. The biggest concern according to the mayor, the flooding that is expected over the next three to five days for the rivers in the area. Flooding. And as the governor in North Carolina Roy Cooper said these epic amounts of rainfall also a major concern of course in North Carolina.

This storm Florence is not going anywhere. That is also part of the issue. Essentially sitting still. On a large area of the Carolinas moving, barely moving, crawling, at two miles per hour.