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AT THIS HOUR

Hurricane Dorian Moves Dangerously Close to Florida Coast; West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James Discusses Hurricane Preparedness; NYT: Texas Gunman Fired from Trucking Job Right Before Attack; Palm Coast, Florida, Mayor Milissa Holland Discusses Hurricane Preparedness; Lt. Gen. Russel Honore Praises Federal Hurricane Preparedness. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 2, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:30:15]

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell, live on Jenson Beach, continuing CNN's live special coverage of Hurricane Dorian.

And we're getting the waters here from the Atlantic coming up pretty close to our shot here. There are a few people here on the beach coming out to take pictures. But as we get to high tide, that water is getting closer and closer to the saw grasses. And many of these people who have come to take pictures will have to clear out.

This is under a mandatory evacuation order, as are the barrier islands across all of south Florida.

But this is not exclusively a south Florida storm as the track has shown us for the last several days.

Let's go about 150 miles up the coast to Daytona Beach where Rosa Flores is there.

Rosa, I understand you've been getting a little rain?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it looks like we're getting one of the outer bands, which is what we were expecting today. Victor, you can see behind me, we definitely are seeing high tide right now and the winds have picked up. But this is what the CNN Weather Center told us we could expect. These bands that are wet, windy and very brief.

The barrier island where I'm live right now is under a mandatory evacuation. And as you can see from these boarded buildings, businesses are definitely heeding the warning.

We just got an update from county officials here in Volusia County, and they say that they are expecting thunderstorm-force winds tomorrow at about noon to 1:00. That also means that they're expecting heavy rains, they're saying between four and six inches. And also a storm surge of four to seven feet. But the evacuation order is along this 47-plus mile island. It also

includes low-lying areas, anyone living in a mobile home park or an R.V. park.

And, Victor, if you see around, there are some people still taking pictures. Like you were just mentioning where you are, there's some people here. But this is what officials are saying should not be happening. Individuals should heed that warning and they should go ahead and evacuate.

We talked to some people here earlier today who actually live on the mainland. Take a listen at what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUTH FACHECO (ph), RIDING OUT THE STORM IN FLORIDA: So we've decided to stay, just hunker down. So we got a lot of the provisions last week when we thought it was going to be here yesterday. We did the ice, water, food we can eat. We got all the stuff inside already. And just hope for the best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLORES: And as we take another live look here, you can see high tide here in Daytona Beach, Florida. The winds are picking up and we are getting rain. It's sporadic.

And, Victor, again, these are just the outer bands of Hurricane Dorian. We're not getting the worst of it here. Of course, the Bahamas still getting pummeled. We're just getting a little pummeled right now. Just these outer bands of Hurricane Dorian in Daytona Beach -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Rosa Flores for us there in Daytona Beach.

And I think that's important for everyone who is watching along the coast to remember, that what you're feeling now, the wind picking up, even these sporadic downpours, it's pretty mild compared to what will be coming once Dorian gets closer to the shore.

The latest 11:00 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center shows that it's closest point in Florida may be closer to the space coast a few hundred miles up the coast from where I am.

But there was a point at which West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County was in the middle of the bull's eye, now not as close, as they expect Dorian to get to parts north.

Let's go down to West Palm Beach, Mayor Keith James, who is joining us.

Mr. Mayor, thanks for being with us.

Simple question, is West Palm Beach ready?

MAYOR KEITH JAMES, WEST PALM BEACH, FL. (via telephone): First of all, thank you for having me.

And the short answer to that question is yes. We drill, we prepare for hurricanes throughout the year, and so we have a staff. I'm here now in my emergency operations center. We have a staff that has been here since yesterday. We're geared up. We know our assignments.

And the most frustrating thing at this point is not knowing where the storm is going to head. It seems to be somewhat stalled and so we can't really get into active gear because we're kind of waiting to see what the storm does. But we are prepared.

BLACKWELL: So as I mentioned, there was a point at which the model showed that landfall could be in Palm Beach County. And of course, that understandably revved up preparations for a lot of people who live there.

But now that there's not expected to be West Palm Beach or south Florida landfall, do you believe that that could have led to some degree of an early exhale of relief that's premature.

[11:35:06]

JAMES: You're exactly right. That's my biggest fear now, is that people might get complacent.

We're still expecting tropical-storm-force winds beginning today and going into tomorrow night and maybe even Wednesday. We'll probably get some hurricane-force winds during that period. So this is still a significant major event.

There will probably be a lot of trees knocked down, maybe even some power lines going down. There are going to be people without power. So this is not going to be a comfortable next few days.

I really want people to remain vigilant and, hopefully, everyone has made their hurricane plans by now.

But this is not something that we can sleep on. It's a category -- I think, a four hurricane just right off of our coast. And having seen the pictures in the Bahamas, this is something we have to take very seriously.

BLACKWELL: A very strong category four.

Talk to me about a curfew. When you spoke to my colleague, Fredricka Whitfield, on Sunday, you had not made a decision about that. Will there be one in West Palm Beach?

JAMES: We expect that will happen. We're waiting to see is when we lose power. We obviously have law enforcement lined up. And that would be a county-wide decision. We'll be making that in coordination with the sheriff. But we're on top of that. Our police chief is in communication with the sheriff and they'll be making that decision together.

Obviously, public safety is a primary concern, in addition to protecting lives throughout our city.

BLACKWELL: All right, West Palm Beach Mayor, Keith James. I lived and worked in West Palm Beach for several years so my best to everyone there. Stay safe during the storm.

JAMES: Thank you. And you be safe as well. Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

Of course, we are covering several big breaking stories. We're going to have the latest on the shooting in west Texas over the weekend. New details coming up in just a moment.

Stay with us.

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[11:41:54]

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: We'll continue our coverage of Hurricane Dorian in just a few minutes.

But right now, we want to bring you the latest on another big story that we're following, the country's latest mass shooting that killed seven people in west Texas.

We're learning more about the victims and the gunman. The "New York Times" says the 36-year-old responsible for the rampage was fired from his trucking job just hours before the attack.

CNN's Scott McLean is with us from Odessa, Texas, where police killed the gunman after a high-speed chase.

Scott, what can you tell us about the latest on the investigation?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Ryan. We are learning more about the suspect. We know, as you said, he's a 36-year-old man. He has a pretty scant online footprint. And from what we could find, a pretty scant criminal history as well. Just two misdemeanors that date back to 2001.

Officials say this does not look like terrorism. They are currently out at his property about 15 miles west of here in a rural area searching for any clues as to what his motivation might have been.

A neighbor told CNN yesterday, though, that the suspect used to be on top of his roof and actually shoot down at animals in her yard. She also told us that there was a dispute between the two of them that ended with him showing up at her door with a rifle in his hand.

Now, she says that she contacted local law enforcement, but that they never showed up. She suspects it's because her address is difficult to find and doesn't actually show up on GPS. We have reached out to local law enforcement agencies to try to clarify what exactly happened in that instance.

We know that he was using an A.R.-15 type weapon during this shooting. He was also on the loose for about an hour.

At some point, he actually hijacked a U.S. Postal Service van, which made it that much more confusing for law enforcement to figure out what they were looking for.

Listen to some of the dispatch audio.

(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)

UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: Start locking that down. Do we know if the people have moved from one vehicle to the other or do we have two vehicles?

UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: They don't have if they moved. They just know there's one male occupying a mail truck. They believe he's part of it. It's the second active vehicle. Last seen headed westbound again.

(END AUDIO FEED)

MCLEAN: So, Ryan, keep in mind that what you just heard there was from about 40 minutes after the first shots were fired in this instance.

The driver of that van, the one you can still see right back there, was a 29-year-old letter carrier, named Mary Granados. Her sister was actually on the phone with her at the time when she heard the screams, when she heard the phone go silent. She actually drove to the scene only to find her sister lying dead, Ryan.

NOBLES: Awful tragedy.

Scott McLean, live for us from Odessa, Texas. Scott, thank you for that report.

[11:44:48]

Still to come, this powerful storm bashing the Bahamas and it's moving closer to the United States. Emergency responders are gearing up for what happens after Dorian is gone. But it is no easy task. We'll have more on that right after this break.

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[11:50:02]

BLACKWELL: Welcome back to CNN's live special coverage of Hurricane Dorian, now a category 4 storm with max sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. Very close to a category 5 but a slight downgrade in the speed of those winds.

I'm standing on Jenson Beach here under a mandatory evacuation as this storm continues to crawl across the Bahamas. We'll check in with what's happening there in just a moment. But I have an update for you from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, announced that 72 nursing homes or assisted-living facilities for senior citizens have evacuated along the coast of Florida.

Always a concern for seniors in our community. But there's a heightened concern and attention after the recent charges against workers at a senior home, a nursing home where 12 seniors died during Hurricane Irma back in 2017.

The governor also says that hospitals along the coast are either planning to evacuate or considering evacuations as well.

Let me take you up the coast to Georgia where we know that tomorrow the governor there, Brian Kemp, will order roads out of Savannah to all head west, as that state prepares for the impact of Hurricane Dorian to the city of Savannah there along the coast.

Up in South Carolina, those roads headed out of Charleston, I-26, all lanes are already headed west as people start to evacuate, as this storm, I can't say gets closer because, right now, it's sitting right over the Bahamas.

Let's check in now with the mayor here, Milissa Holland, who is joining us of a local city here.

Mayor Holland, tell us what is happening where you are. And is your city prepared?

MILISSA HOLLAND, MAYOR OF PALM COAST, FLORIDA (via telephone): Yes. Thank you for having me.

We are. We feel very prepared. This is not the first time our city has experienced a significant weather event. So we have been preparing around the clock for the last several weeks, you know, when we were forecasting it out, so we are now on alert.

We are communicating as much as possible with our residents to ensure their safety. We have our front line, our first responders that we always want to keep safe, adequately prepared, stocked, stationed appropriately. And so it's all-hands-on-deck right now.

BLACKWELL: Mayor Holland, you expressed some concern about flooding in Palm Coast. The area floods when a strong storm comes through. Are you prepared, is your system prepared for the amount of water that's coming, the amount of rainfall that's coming?

HOLLAND: Yes. You know, these storms, as you know, are very unpredictable. We've experienced some flooding both with Irma and a little bit with Matthew, so we are as prepared as we can be.

We have a master planned city with close to 90,000 residents. And the infrastructure that's been in place, we've been prepping it throughout our history with Matthew.

But I can tell you the amount of rainfall that they are predicting, frankly, is a large amount of rainfall that we will be ensuring our residents stay indoors during this time period because we have experienced flooding and we are somewhat confident that some flooded areas will happen in different parts of our city.

BLACKWELL: All right. You said that your city is ready. We wish the best to the people there in Palm Coast.

Mayor Milissa Holland, thanks so much for spending a few minutes with us.

HOLLAND: Thank you so much. Good luck.

BLACKWELL: Let's go now to General Russel Honore, who led the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

General Honore, thank you for being with us.

You have been quite critical of this administration's response to and preparations for hurricanes, specifically Hurricane Maria. What's your assessment of the preparation for Hurricane Dorian?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, FORMER COMMANDER, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA: Well, I can tell you what, what I've seen on Dorian is a major effort of synchronization between the United States Northern Command, the National Guard, FEMA, the Corps of Engineers.

They are doing magnificent work right now in prepositioning helicopters, engineer equipment, task force trucks, high-clearance trucks from the active duty components to reinforce National Guard inside the state as required. They have already deployed the defense coordinating officers in each state.

[11:55:01]

And they are maneuvering naval and Marine forces to go in under a different type mission in the Bahamas as soon as that weather dies down.

So there's significant planning and positioning. The first rule of engagement, you've got to get there.

BLACKWELL: Yes. General, thank you so much. We've got to go. Thank you for spending a minute with us.

We'll continue our breaking news coverage after a quick break.

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