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Florence Turns Deadly as it Stalls over the Carolinas; N.C. Rep. George Holding Talks Storm Aftermath; Manafort Enters Plea Deal & Cooperation with Mueller Team; White House Tries to Distance Trump from Manafort; Lumberton Still Recovering from Hurricane Matthew & Hit by Florence; Deadly Gas Explosion Near Boston; Fayetteville, N.C., Declares State of Emergency Due to Inland Flooding; Ham Radios Important Communication Devices During Disasters. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 15, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: 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. We learned of some new rain bands that formed earlier today. The storm will continue to pound the area, continue to drop rain, to bring these winds and there's nowhere as we know for the water to go.
Five deaths now confirmed connected to this storm. We know that rescue operations are under way in a number of areas. There have been incredibly moving pictures coming out as well. A tree that fell on a home in Wilmington, North Carolina, killing a mother and an infant. Images of the firefighters that went out to do everything they could to rescue them. Taking a moment, kneeling down in prayer outside that home.
The pictures of the flooding, the extent of flooding, it is really something. These are really the pictures that tell the tale. The area of New Bern hit especially hard. We spoke with the mayor there earlier who told us 4,200 homes were damaged in that 300-plus-year-old city.
I want to get a sense of the conditions folks are facing now.
Miguel Marquez has spent much of the last couple of days in Carolina Beach.
Which we know was expected to be hit very hard at high tide there as well, Miguel, correct?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is just coming up on high tide here. I cannot believe, Erica, that I'm sitting here almost 48 hours later telling you about the wind and the rain and the surf and how bad conditions are here.
This is the beach. I don't want to get too close here. There's about an eight-foot drop here. They've lost so much of the beach here. You should be able to see about 20 or 30 feet of beach here at Carolina Beach. That may be one of the worst things, the longest term issues this community has right now. They survive on their beach here. It is all gone, all the way up and down Carolina Beach. They've had some pretty serious beach erosion. There's also a lot of power lines down everywhere, trees down everywhere. Lots of small damage to homes. Brick walls have fallen down. Some other walls pushed over. Fences down. A lot of roof damage across the area as well.
There have been some deaths in the area, mainly because of the wind driving trees into a house. The saddest and most difficult case I've heard is this woman who died with her child when a tree fell onto their home.
I've talked to some locals here who have survived this storm the last couple of days. And, you know, they've hunkered down and they're doing OK. The problem here is anything could go wrong. When conditions are this bad for this long, it is very difficult for emergency workers to respond. We're starting to see those emergency workers out. We're starting to see Duke Energy out in great numbers throughout the neighborhood trying to get power restored. It is going to be a massive and long effort -- Erica?
HILL: Certainly is. Only the very beginning, as you point out.
Miguel, appreciate it. Thank you.
Jacksonville, North Carolina, also hit incredibly hard.
Ed Lavandera is there.
Ed, you're in a neighborhood where I know at least one family is evacuating. Are officials trying to get others out as well?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many people evacuating on their own. This is looking back toward the higher ground, Erica. Let me show you this way. If you look beyond, this is a neighborhood off of Highway 258 between Jacksonville and Richland, North Carolina. Beyond that tree line, there's another subdivision where we've seen Coast Guard choppers flying into throughout the day.
But we interviewed this woman and the family that lives in this house, Misty Diaz. They just raced away with as much as they could pick up. But here over the course of the last few hours this morning, the water has started creeping on to their driveway. They're fully expecting for water to go inside the house. If you look out this way, the New River is beyond that tree line. About 7:00 a.m. this morning, the water was all the way down there. You can actually see the water is now about a foot or so, maybe a foot and a half, below one of the street signs there at the end of the street. There's a pickup truck that has almost -- is almost halfway submerged. Misty and some of the residents tell us that the water was down there at 7:00 a.m. Over the course of the last five hours, this is how far the water has creeped up. That has put everyone here on notice and started racing to get up to higher ground. There is some places, if you look up the street here, people are kind of evacuating either to some friend's homes up there at the top of the street or just leaving the subdivision altogether. But that is what they're facing here as -- and many of the residents here tell us this is an area that is not prone to flooding. That's why they felt comfortable staying back here. But it really speaks to just how quickly these floodwaters are rising in certain places and how people are reacting to it -- Erica?
[13:05:07] HILL: And that's so important that they react before they rise too much. Because they come up so quickly, as we know.
Ed Lavandera with the latest there. Ed, thank you.
Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is in the CNN Weather Center.
Allison, I'll ask the question a lot of folks in these areas, the thing they want to know is, how long is this rain going to last.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that question of, when does it finally end, is on a lot of folk's minds. The problem is, for the majority, you still have at least probably a good 12 hours to go, if not longer, before this system moves out. The reason for that is the forward speed is only two miles per hour to the west. It's going to take it time. In reality, think about that, two miles. Most people walk it an average of three to four miles an hour. You could probably walk faster than this storm has been moving.
The good news is it is still moving. You are starting to see that begin to push further and further inland. That's not good news for cities like Raleigh or Charlotte. It's good news for those along coastline, who are going to finally see an end to this rain, but not today. You're going to have to wait until at least tomorrow for a lot of these cities before you see an end to that rain. And until that point, some of those rain bands are going to be quite heavy. Where you see the dark colors here, the yellows, oranges and reds, we've got one band to the south, another band to the north of Wilmington. They're producing rain at a rate of two to three inches an hour. That's being added on top of all of the rain that has already fallen. We have broken a state record. The previous record for North Carolina, for any tropical system, was 23 inches. That was from Hurricane Floyd set back in 1999. We've now had a rainfall report of 30 inches so far from Florence. That number is likely going to rise because we do expect additional rainfall. And it's not the only spot. You have at least a half a dozen locations on here that have picked up over two feet of rain. Now we're going to be adding an additional six to 12 inches on top of that, Erica, for widespread locations. If you isolate spots, will still pick up an additional one foot of rain before this thing finally ends.
HILL: All right, Allison Chinchar, with the latest forecast for us there. Allison, thank you.
I want to bring in Representative Georgia Holding, of North Carolina.
Sir, we appreciate you taking some time for us today.
The pictures, they are heartbreaking that we are seeing ought of your state, sir. Where is your focus at this hour?
REP. GEORGE HOLDING, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I tell you, we have to be prepared for catastrophic inland flooding. For example, in Harnett County, an evacuation order has been issued for the lower Little River. It will flood at 17 feet above flood level. In comparison, Hurricane Matthew, two years ago, that's five feet over where it flooded from Hurricane Matthew. This is going to be catastrophic. It's going to go on for days. We will not know the extent of the inland flooding for several days. People need to be aware of it. Flooding, they call it, you know, the silent killer because it sneaks up on you. People, if they see standing water, you should never try to drive through it. Turn around and don't drown.
HILL: So important. We can't say that, can't stress that enough for folks. As we know, this storm is far from over. As it does move inland. Even as it's continuing to rain in many of the coastal areas, we know that these federal disaster declarations have been approved by the president. That is important obviously moving forward.
What else can you do from your end? What else do you believe needs to be done at this point?
HOLDING: So the federal disaster declarations are for the first eight or nine counties. There will be additional counties included in that. I've discussed with FEMA this morning, including Harnett County and Samson County. This is going to take months to clean up from and years to recover from. We need to think outside of the box. I'll introduce legislation in coming days to provide some relief on taxes for people who are impacted by the storm. For instance, people will be able to withdraw from their retirement savings and not pay penalties for doing that. And we'll continue to think of other ways to try to be helpful as people recover from really historic catastrophic storm damage.
HILL: As you're reporting some of these totals that we could see surpass some of the catastrophic flooding we saw only a couple of years ago, some of those communities still working to recover, even from 2016 flooding. How concerned are you about what this will do to those communities as they're having more flooding on top of what they've already experienced?
HOLDING: Well, as the governor said -- and the governor's been doing a fantastic job. The governor said yesterday some communities will be changed forever by this. This is an historic storm. And some communities will truly never be able to fully recover. But it's our job right now to keep everyone as safe as possible. The first responders are doing a phenomenal job, federal and state. They're working together, doing a great job. The charities, the non- government organizations are doing a great job as well. We need to be as supportive of them as possible.
We also need to stay out of their way. Folks don't need to try to go home. You don't need to try to go back to the coast for several days. Let things settle down, you know, the waters recede, get power back on. Let's not try to rush back into areas that have just been devastated by catastrophic damage.
[13:10:44] HILL: We cannot say enough, to stay out of their way, let folks do their job. That includes letting residents know when it's safe to return.
Appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us. HOLDING: Thank you.
HILL: We'll, of course, continue to monitor the situation.
HOLDING: Thank you.
HILL: Also want to update you folks at home. We are just now getting an update to the death toll related to Florence. Of course, the death toll was at five. We've now learned of a sixth confirmed death in the state of South Carolina.
Our continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Florence continues after this short break. Stay with us.
[13:15:21] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We're going to step away from Tropical Storm Florence for just a minute for another big story developing this afternoon.
Former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded guilty before a federal judge. That's a big win for Robert Mueller because Manafort's deal means he has agreed to cooperate with Mueller and his prosecutors in the Russia probe.
CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, joins us.
Shimon, President Trump praised Manafort just a few weeks ago for "not breaking," as he put it. Now that appears to be precisely what's happening. So what does this mean for the president?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Certainly it could spell some trouble for the campaign folks who worked on the campaign and perhaps even the president. I think you said it right. This is a big win for the special counsel. This is something they have been working on probably since the beginning of this investigation. They had wanted Paul Manafort to cooperate from the very beginning but he resisted. Finally, it's the prospect of jail the rest of his life that he would face jail time after his conviction in the Alexandria, Virginia, case, that perhaps is what caused him to finally fold.
So what will this entail is essentially he's going to have to do everything the government says. Whatever it is. If they want him to come in for interviews. If they want him to testify before any grand juries. If they want him to testify at any of the trials. He's going to have to do that in order to, you know, keep promise on his cooperation agreement. In the end, what Paul Manafort really is hoping for is he's going to be let out of jail. We don't know if that's going to happen any time soon. It could if the government moves and asks the judge to release him. It's possible he could be released within weeks perhaps. So that's really what Paul Manafort gets out of this.
The other thing here really, what's interesting, Alex, is -- excuse me -- this comes so late in the game, right. We know that this investigation has been going on for so long now. The special counsel has so many cooperators, has so much information. But perhaps what Paul Manafort could bring will tie up a lot of loose ends that they need legally in court to prevent evidence. They have a lot of information. They may not have had the witnesses to necessarily present this information. Paul Manafort could perhaps give this now to the government.
And, like you said, really a huge win, changes the entire dynamics of this investigation. And certainly this story for the White House and for the president and whatever exposure he may face for this and people who work on the campaign.
One final note is also the people who Paul Manafort did business with, the Russians, the Ukrainians, all perhaps now have something to worry about.
MARQUARDT: Yes, and Manafort is now the fifth Trump aide to strike a deal.
Shimon Prokupecz, in Washington, thank you.
What does this mean for the White House and what are they saying?
CNN Correspondent Boris Sanchez joins us from the White House.
Boris, the Trump administration, somewhat predictably, is now trying to distance the president from Manafort.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alex. Sarah Sanders, his press secretary, yesterday, effectively saying President Trump has nothing to do with his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his plea deal. The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also echoing that remark, saying the president has nothing to do with Manafort because the president did nothing wrong.
And now President Trump did speak briefly about this to the "Wall Street Journal" on Friday on a phone call, saying that, again, he has nothing to do with Paul Manafort and, again, calling the Russia investigation an artificial witch hunt that should have never been started.
I do want to point out President Trump has been uncharacteristically silent on social media. Recall that just a few weeks ago, he was talking about Paul Manafort, calling him brave, saying he respected Manafort for not cooperating with investigators, for "not flipping," in his words, which he said should probably be illegal. The president has yet to send out any tweets about his former campaign chairman after Paul Manafort did just that.
And of course, the significance here cannot be overstated for Robert Mueller. Now he has a witness who is in that room at Trump Tower in June of 2016 when Trump campaign officials met with Russian nationals that were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton -- Alex?
[13:19:36] MARQUARDT: The big question now is, what exactly can Manafort offer the special prosecutor and his team. He certainly knows quite a bit. Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thank you very much.
Now, still ahead, our continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Florence. We'll be back right after this.
HILL: Our continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Florence continues. I'm Erica Hill, live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Just want to update you on some of the numbers. We learned from the National Guard, 6,500 force members have been activated. In South Carolina alone, some 3,200 soldiers and airmen activated. Some coming from the Pennsylvania National Guard, which also brought with them two Chinook helicopters, two Blackhawk helicopters to help in these rescue efforts.
We're closely monitoring the situation, of course, in North Carolina as well.
CNN's Brian Todd is in Onslow County, North Carolina.
Despite the fact that this storm is still ongoing, this is the point where we're starting to see some of the initial damage. And this flooding, Brian, is really something to see.
[13:25:09] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely it is. Take a look at this apartment complex. This is the Webb Apartments in Onslow County. I heard some voices a second ago and I called out to see if they need help. They've evacuated people from this area with high- water vehicles and boats.
We're told by officials in Onslow County, emergency management people, that is there have been some 30 rescue missions at least in the county since yesterday. No injuries or fatalities, thankfully. They've had some close calls. They've had at least one incident where an ambulance was in one of these areas picking up a cardiac arrest patient and the ambulance started to take in water. So they had - luckily, they had a swift-boat crew near the ambulance to get those people out and they got out OK.
This is the Webb Apartment Complex. A lot of people have had to be pulled out of here. I just saw some people running over there on one piece of high ground. But you can't see them from your vantage point. We may go check out and see if they're OK. But, again, you can see just the level of flooding here. Look at all these cars. Just completely washed out. The water going up to the windows of those apartments over there. Some apartments over here to my right, to your left, are in a little bit better shape but not much. The water's going right to the doorsteps here. So, you know, if anyone is elected to stay here, obviously they're in some trouble here. They may want to try to call and get out.
Emergency management officials here, you know, I just talked to county manager, a guy named David Cotton, who said no one around here has seen flooding like this, no one around here has seen a storm like this in their collective memory. This is something they're dealing with here.
And the water just keeps coming down. The rain is relentless. We just passed an area where one road kind of dipped into a little bit of a culvert and came up but that road is flooded out. There was a truck in the middle of that road and fire officials were next to the road assessing whether they needed to come and get someone out of that truck. They determined there was no one in that truck. This is kind of what first responders are up against. They're patrolling around this area, just trying to find anyone in distress. They're taking calls. And, you know, they've got a lot of resources here, though, to help them. They've got three Coast Guard helicopters. They've got amphibious cars, amphibious mobile units from the U.S. Marines at Camp Lejeune, and they've got swift-water rescue teams from Indiana here to help. They're going to need all these resources, guys.
HILL: Brian, you were mentioning, too, I know you have been in touch with emergency officials there. Have they given you a sense of the number of calls that they've been receiving from people, especially in these last few hours as the water's beginning to rise?
TODD: You know, they won't quantify the number of calls but they're saying there are a lot of them. They do have more than 300 people in a couple of shelters. And about 200 of them have had to been either pulled out of their homes or have made their way themselves from their homes to the shelters. So it's pretty drastic situation here.
Some of the water is starting to recede a little bit. They're clearly not out of the woods yet in neighborhoods like this where they have to affect high-water rescues.
Brian Todd, with the latest for us in Onslow County.
As Brian pointed out, residents saying, in their collective memory, they cannot remember flooding of this magnitude.
Folks in Lumberton, North Carolina, area can remember terrible flooding because they had to deal with it there just a couple years ago. In some areas, they have still not recovered from flooding.
CNN's Polo Sandoval is there now.
Polo, they're getting ready for the next wave. Some of it they're already seeing.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems like it was just yesterday, as you mentioned, two years ago, when Hurricane Matthew swept through the region in Lumberton, North Carolina, and dumped about 20 inches of rain. The nearby Lumber River reached record highs. That's what's expected again in the next 24 to 48 hours. That river is very quickly rising. All the rain from Florence basically emptying out into that body of water. Government officials have been stressing this warning, even going door to door, telling people, now is the time to get out, it is perhaps your last chance. This particular neighborhood here, Erica, two years ago, flooded. You
can see on this tree, this white line that's been marked. That is where the water level made it to during Hurricane Matthew.
This gentleman here who we just checked in with said he's doing good so far but he has plans to evacuate if necessary. He's one of the few families who are still here.
Again, as you look down the street here, you see tree after tree has that white mark. A reminder of what happened here two years ago. And according to the forecast, the water levels are expected to go about two to three feet higher than what people experienced. Likely won't be able to stand here in the next 24 hours. That just goes to show you people about 75 miles inland will be dealing with Florence for days, perhaps weeks to come.
[13:30:13] HILL: It's so important to point out.
Polo, thank you.
Officials of the government stressing that, that this storm, as we know, is far from over. It is the flooding that will come in a number of days. Flooding that could, of course, go well into the middle of the week as we wait for these rivers to crest several areas inland. Florence, as it's sitting here, essentially not moving over the area, will be pushing in and will be pushing further inland, even into the mountainous regions of North Carolina, and that is a major concern for folks there.
We'll continue to keep a close watch on Tropical Storm Florence.
Stay with us. We're back after this short break.
[13:35:19] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Alex Marquart, in New York. We'll get back to the special coverage of Tropical Storm Florence in a moment.
First, we're learning more about those deadly gas explosions that rocked several towns north of Boston. We're waiting for a briefing from the National Transportation Safety Board. That's coming up in a short time. There are lots of questions that need answers.
In the meantime, the governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has declared a state of emergency in the three towns affected. He's also taken the extraordinary step of replacing Columbia Gas as the utility company in charge of the recovery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE BAKER, (R), MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: 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 died and around 8,000 people were forced to leave their homes because of the danger. Officials say they've cleared more than 50 streets in North Andover but it could be some time before life returns to normal in the area.
I want to bring in Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.
Juliette, thanks for being with us this afternoon.
I want to start with the governor removing that utility company, Columbia Gas, from the recovery operation and replacing them with another company. What does that tell us?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So Columbia Gas literally could not have done this worse, the response. I mean, one, the accident happens and we need to figure out what happened in terms of pressurization. Why weren't these homes protected? From the moment it happened, they were unreceptive. They weren't answering phone calls. Media couldn't get a hold of them. Political officials couldn't get a hold of them. They had a delayed response as if they were hunkering down trying to protect themselves.
From the governor's perspective, he wants to get people back in their homes. Taking it away from a company that seems more interested in its self-interest, at least in the beginning, and less interested in figuring out what happened and correcting it was the right move to make. And, you know, look they'll be long-term changes likely to the distribution of the pipelines for those areas, if Columbia Gas gets into big trouble with this legally.
MARQUARDT: Do we have any sense of when these 8,000 people can go home?
KAYYEM: No, because, right now, I mean, at least what we're hearing, there's going to be a press conference today at 4:00. I know this area. I was the state's Homeland Security advisor. It's, you know, there's not a lot of density. People have to -- officials have to go home to home to ensure there's no leaks and to return -- and to either turn the gas off or turn it back on depending on where they are in the process.
It's also a diverse community. These communities are not all the same. So part of what this process is also is ensuring that people are adequately taken care of for the short term. Schools were canceled on Friday. I think we'll figure out what schools are going to look like next week. This is also a high immigrant community. The mayor of one of the cities in the area has been very vocal, wants to ensure that people, you know, who come forward who go into shelters don't have any questions about their immigration status. You want to make sure that people feel comfortable coming forward because you don't want them hiding in their homes just in case there's gas leaks.
MARQUARDT: That's an excellent point. The NTSB is set to give a briefing around 4:00 p.m. eastern time.
What are you going to be listening for? What can we hope to hear from them?
KAYYEM: So part of this is just what, in fact, happened. So there's a lot of theories online. We clearly -- this doesn't happen without some sort of mistake in the pressurization. Why was -- and what linked all those different houses. Because if you look at the map, it's rather random. Were those houses older? Did they have older sort of assessments, what we call sort of step-ups, things that make sure that the pressure does not become flammable. So we're just going to learn sort of what those homes and what those areas had in common.
And then secondly, were there upgrades going on, something going on that would explain why this happened in the middle of the afternoon, you know, in three different towns. Because there must have been some triggering event. I will say, on the afternoon thing, actually that ends up being a blessing though. It was very disruptive to people in terms of getting home and getting out. If this had happened in the middle of the night when those houses were full, you know, the one fatality is horrendous but there probably would have been more.
[13:39:40] MARQUARDT: Such extraordinary scenes and tragedy. So many questions we still need answers for, that we will hopefully get this afternoon.
Juliette Kayyem, in Boston, thank you very much.
Still to come, demonstrators rally on the streets of Dallas, protesting the police shooting of Botham Jean, a black man who was killed inside his own home. Plus, an exclusive look inside Jean's apartment. That's coming up next.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turn around. There you go. We want this side.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burro Racing is -- wow, a fantastic spectacle. He's going to wear me out for the race. Getting ready.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Colorado, a one-of-a-kind race has been climbing the Rocky Mountain trails for the past 70 years.
[13:45:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pack burro racing started in 1949 between Leadville (ph) and Fairplace (ph). They needed revenue because the mining was dying. The towns got together and they decided to have a burro race.
GUPTA: This year, 89 teams started the race in Fairplace (ph), a world record, according to the Western Pack Burro Association.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burro racing does require training because you have to have a relationship with your ass. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How to motivate an ass is unique.
GUPTA: All puns aside, this is a physically challenging 29-mile ultra-marathon through the Rockies, featuring elevations over 13,000 feet. But the course might be the easiest part of the competition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burro racing is brokering a deal between you and an animal that's known not so much for cooperation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could get the guy who won the Boston Marathon out here running with a donkey and he could get last place. It's about how well you cooperate as a team. Maybe even more so than how fast you and your donkey are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the negotiation you have to deal with this guy, the terrain, the trails are brutal. But they're so sure footed. These critters, they just have a good work ethic. These burros can run a four-minute-mile if you can hang on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is their race. I love to run their race with them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're humble beasts. They'll change your life if you own one.
GUPTA: This year's winner, Kirk Kercamp (ph), finished in just over six hours, but completing the race can present one last challenge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burros are color blind. There's a white line on the street, they don't know what that is yet. Your burro sees this finish line going from end to end, there's no way, and the donkey stops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you cross that finish line with the burro, I don't care if you're last ass, it's an accelerating to know you got your partner across the finish line or they got you across the finish line.
HILL: We're live here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Of course, here in South Carolina, we have learned recently of at least one storm-related death. That brings the total number of deaths at this point up to six.
The situation in North Carolina, the flooding we are seeing there, the rains that continue to pound this area, not getting any better. In fact, the concern is moving further and further inland.
I want to bring in Kevin Arata, the communications director for the city of Fayetteville, which has just issued a mandatory evacuation.
Kevin, appreciate you taking the time for us.
What is the situation on the ground in Fayetteville? Are you already seeing flooding? KEVIN ARATA, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, FAYETTEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
(via telephone): We're starting to see the waters rise rapidly, Erica. It's something we've seen before with Hurricane Matthew. It's going to be a little bit worse this time around. What we're telling people is, the worse is yet to come. Really, the rains are starting to collect because it's hitting harder up north. When it goes into those banks or tributaries up there and then comes down, that's where trouble starts. While we haven't seen it rise all the way yet, it's going to happen here in the next 24 to 48 hours. So the evacuation order we've issued is for two areas on the Little River and the Cape Fear River.
HILL: So those two areas, are there other areas, though, you're concerned about, that you're monitoring, that could ultimately end up being under an evacuation order as well?
ARATA: There's certainly that potential. We've got 46 neighborhoods we've identified that had flooding problems and challenges last time during Hurricane Matthew. We've got those. We've let those residents know, hey, you should pay attention to this. If your neighborhood comes up and we tell you to move, it's something you need to be heeding because it's happened before. So those are the things we're doing now. Just to make sure people know. We're concerned now with the Little River and the Cape Fear River. We really want to get people moving on.
HILL: And how many people are we talking about who are affected now by this evacuation order?
ARATA: We're looking at about 3,000 homes between the two areas. Maybe a tad more. So maybe double and a half that. So 6,000-plus for those areas combined.
HILL: And in terms of shelters, what is available to them in the vicinity, or where are you letting them know that they should go where it's safe for those shelters if they don't have someone to stay with?
ARATA: Well, the shelters -- yes, the shelters we've got now, we've got a capacity for 1,225 people now across the city in various locations in the city and the country. We've got about half filled. We've got room for 600 more. What we find, too, is a lot of people choose to leave or go with friends. When we ask somebody to evacuate an area, do you necessarily to shelter all 6000 people? No, they find places to go to that are safe in areas of higher ground and areas they can get to. So we're looking at options to expand those shelters in the area if we can do that but right now we just want them to leave and help find other options on their own as well as that look to do that in other areas.
HILL: Kevin Arata, appreciate you joining us from the city of Fayetteville. We'll stay on top of the situation there as well. Thanks again.
ARATA: Thank you, Erica.
[13:49:55] HILL: Our special coverage of Tropical Storm Florence continues on the other side of this break.
HILL: Communication is going to be so important in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Florence. We know, at this hour, there are more than 960,000 customers between North and South Carolina that are without power. And communication is going to be key. Remember, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, communications essentially wiped out. But one of the things brought in that was essential, ham radios.
Joining us now is Mike Corey. He is the emergency preparedness manager for National Association for Amateur Radio.
Mike, we appreciate you taking time.
Some kits were sent to South Carolina and Virginia. Give us a sense. What will that change for people to have access to this communication?
[13:55:20] MIKE COREY, EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS MANAGER, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR AMATEUR RADIO: Right. The effect the kits have is tremendous. They really offer increased band width and communications for first responders out there doing the work. I just heard this morning some of these kits are assisting swift-water rescue teams in South Carolina. And getting them into Virginia, Maryland area, staging them there gives us a chance to rapidly deploy them to a situation as you know that's changing quickly.
HILL: Right. As you point out, staging is key here as we know. What have you heard from some of those folks that you may end up working with in terms of their needs today.
COREY: Right. We are hearing a lot from state partners in South Carolina, particularly, communications networks are getting overloaded, being compromised. Amateur radio operators are there to help fill gaps. We heard from teams in Myrtle Beach area working with shelter teams, teams at the state capital, working with state health officials, hospitals around the state and emergency management agencies and emergency operation centers, helping bring communications capabilities to add to the response. We know an event like this happens, communication networks can get overloaded quickly. (INAUDIBLE).
HILL: We saw, too, it is not just the kits that are important, even extra hands on deck there. Are there other folks headed in to help as well?
COREY: Right. So I spoke with the South Carolina, our emergency coordinator this morning. He is working with our field organization in Alabama to help bring additional hands on board if need. Plus, there's the resident amateur operators in the affected area and they're lending a hand. It is impressive to see folks being affected by this offering that skill set to be part of the response and recovery as well.
HILL: As you're watching the storm unfold, and as we know, this is a beast not going anywhere. Some areas are dealing with the rain and winds for two days. We know it will continue. We know it is moving further inland. Where are you watching? Where do you think some of the most challenging areas are going to be for first responders in terms of communication?
COREY: Clearly, the Carolinas, the hardest-hit area. We are keeping a close eye on that. Heard of some cellular networks and public safety networks being affected, so we're keeping an eye on the situation there as well as hospital communications. Saw that in Puerto Rico that that became key. And of course, as the system moves inland, we're going to keep an eye on how it effects communications and power grid in the path of the storm in the coming days.
HILL: Just for folks that aren't familiar, when you talk about how pivotal this form of communication was in Puerto Rico, just remind us what that was able to change once we had more radio kits in there, more amateur radio operators just in terms of allowing people to talk to one another and get to where they needed to be around the island?
COREY: Yes, it was amazing to see the amateur operators in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands responding, large group coming from the mainland to assist. And that being the only lines of communication in the early days, first few weeks after landfall. It was tremendous to see what they were capable of doing, what kind of communications capacity they could provide, not to mention thousands of health and welfare messages sent back to the mainland to let families know their loved ones were OK. It was impressive to see the response and that they're stepping up to do it again with this storm.
HILL: Yes, absolutely.
Mike Corey, thanks for your time and everything you're doing as well. Thank you.
COREY: Thank you, Erica.
HILL: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
I am Erica Hill, live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where over the last few hours, we felt the winds and rains kicking up.
Tropical Storm Florence downgraded to a tropical storm, but don't let that fool you. This storm is sitting in one place on top of us, barely moving. Moving two miles per hour. May as well be standing still. We learned of additional rain bands that developed today throughout the day as water continues to dump on areas of South and North Carolina. It is also moving further inland.
[14:00:06] And we're also starting to see pictures. Evacuation orders in many areas are still in effect. But we are starting to see some of the pictures. There are --