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Interview With Palm Bay, Florida, Mayor William Capote; Tragedy at Sea in California; Hurricane Dorian Batters Bahamas; Mayday Call Released in Dive Boat Fire: "I Can't Breathe". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 2, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Destruction risk, days of it loom for the East Coast.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: Hurricane Dorian has Florida in its sights, the incredibly massive and powerful storm described as catastrophic as it lays waste to parts of the Bahamas. The latest track and evacuation orders affecting millions.

Also breaking today: people leaping for their lives, dozens missing, many feared dead, as a boat goes up in flames off the coast of California, but how did it happen?

Plus, minutes ago, new details revealed on the possible motive behind the latest gun massacre in America, as we learn more about the victims and a 17-month-old survivor.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.

And we start with breaking news in the world lead. Hurricane Dorian, catastrophic, and now a Category 4 storm battering the Bahamas. Dorian devastating the islands as it spins, moving at just one mile per hour at times.

This is the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas. The minister of agriculture posting video of his own home. And he says that these windows are about 20 feet off the ground and barely holding back the waves outside.

As Dorian inches toward Florida, evacuations are under way. The governor says that includes more than 70 nursing homes, in addition to some hospitals.

CNN has teams positioned along the Florida coast, as well as in the Bahamas, where the storm is hitting right now.

Let's go to CNN's Patrick Oppmann. He's in Freeport, Bahamas. And, Patrick, tell us, what is it like where you are?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We still have these bands of rain coming in.

You think this storm is over, and then it comes back and it shows you that after 40 hours of beating the hell out of the Bahamas, this thing will just not end. Dorian has been hovering over us since early this morning here in Grand Bahama.

It destroyed Abaco on the sister island who just next to us yesterday. And even though you would think at this point it would be done with the Bahamas, it continues to bring -- you just -- you hear that sound of the rain picking up again and again.

Over to my right, there are trees that are broken. Behind me, there are some enormous waves and some storm surge coming in. So all over this island, we have seen videos of people who have lost their homes, who have had to actually escape from their homes because the water rose too high, people whose cars are underwater.

And there are reports of people who are missing. It has caused, I think we can say at this point, more damage to the Bahamas than probably any other storm. The storm, it's been the most powerful storm to ever hit the Bahamas, and it is not done with us yet.

So many people say that after 24 hours of hearing the screaming wind, that it is just almost too much for them to bear any longer, even if they are in a safe shelter. To watch the weather constantly hitting us again and again and then to look and see that Dorian is really not moving very far from the Bahamas, people are just simply exhausted, and yet we still don't know the full extent of the damage to these islands -- Brianna.

KEILAR: You really can't know until this passes by. I think there's so much to learn coming out of the Bahamas.

But what we do know, Patrick, that this is deadly. There was a little boy who drowned. Tell us about this.

OPPMANN: Tragic.

An 8-year-old boy on the island of Abaco, where the storm really came ashore with deadly force, and his grandmother has told some Bahamian media outlets that this boy got separated from his family and drowned.

And even worse on top of such a horrible tragedy, apparently, this little boy's sister is also missing. We're hearing reports of dead bodies in the streets of Abaco, of people missing here in Freeport.

So, as the light comes up tomorrow, as the storm moves away from us, hopefully, then we will have some clarity. But this is a deadly storm, and I think, again, we don't know that much yet about how deadly this storm actually has been.

KEILAR: All right. [16:05:00]

Patrick Oppmann, thank you so much, reporting from Freeport, Bahamas.


KEILAR: And I want to get to CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Stuart, Florida.

This is north of West Palm Beach, Brian. And this area that you're in is actually prone to flooding. So what's the plan to get people out of harm's way there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, they have issued mandatory evacuation orders for this area of Martin County to get people out of low-lying neighborhoods like the one I'm in now. This is a park in Stuart, Florida.

You can see kind of the tide hitting pretty violently against the seawall here at this park. And this is right near some neighborhoods that are here. So it's pretty low-lying. And you have got storm surge that is really threatening at this hour.

And part of the problem is that we are at the confluence of two major rivers that come right in through that inlet right there. That's the Stuart Inlet that goes right out to the ocean, OK, so these two rivers, the Indian River Lagoon over here and the St. Lucie River just to my right, they come together all here.

And this creates more storm surge, more power for the storm surge. And, of course, these waves kind of come up and wash over this place, threatening a lot of the houses around here.

That's why they're evacuating these areas now. That island behind me, that's an island, that's Hutchinson Island. It's one of the several barrier islands that go up and down this part of Florida's coast. That place has been ordered to be evacuated, along with Jupiter Island just to the south.

But the problem is, a lot of people in these islands have elected to stay and ride out the storm. We have talked to emergency management people here who say that, because the bridges may close, they can't get to them over the bridges during and right after the storm.

Some people at that island right there may be cut off for a few days, Brianna. So as you can see the storm surge here behind me getting worse, it's only going to get worse overnight and into tomorrow. And a lot of the people on these barrier islands could find themselves cut off.

KEILAR: All right, Brian Todd in Stuart, Florida, thank you so much.

I want to bring in now the mayor of Palm Bay, Florida. William Capote is joining me on the phone.

Thank you, Mayor, for joining us. WILLIAM CAPOTE, MAYOR OF PALM BAY, FLORIDA: Well, thank you for

having me.

KEILAR: Tell us what you have been telling your residents ahead of this storm.

CAPOTE: For the most part, we are saying that for expecting worse is a tropical -- for the best is a tropical storm. For the worst is a Category 3 or 4 storm.

We have been preparing, coordinating with the county and local agencies to make sure that the recovery efforts are put together. We have been proactive in our stormwater to make sure that they're clean and at lower levels, so we can deal with a surge of all the storm that's going to come in for the next 24 hours.


This is the unique part about the storm. Like you were referencing Matthew, Matthew at least was quicker. It got through quick. This is a -- this storm is going, crawling like a turtle.

So that's what really makes it frightening, because you're talking a Category 3-4 storm at worst, that it would stay around for much today, and that's very frightening.

KEILAR: Yes, it's a lot of water. And we have seen this storm track has shifted dramatically here over the last few days.

You say you have been telling people kind of what the worst-case and the best-case scenarios are. Neither one is good. But do you worry that people are taking this less seriously because the track has changed, even if this is moving slow and is threatening to just pour water on top of water on your community?

CAPOTE: For the most part, our community has been through quite a few hurricanes, Frances, Jeanne, Charlie, Fay, Tropical Storm Fay. So, we're accustomed to this type of thing.

So our community is prepared for the most part. Shelters are already opened last yesterday at 5:00 p.m. So people are taking those precautions. So I have seen a lot of people boarding up, last-minute shopping. I was at Walmart earlier, and I saw some constituents, and were asking me the question, Mayor, what's going to happen?

I said, best, tropical storm, worst 3 to 4, Category 4 hurricane, so just prepare. Be prepared. Be prepared for the worst and pray for the best.

KEILAR: All right, we will be praying for you.

Mayor Capote of Palm Bay, Florida, thank you.

CAPOTE: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: We're live on the ground up and down the Florida coast, as Hurricane Dorian is lashing this state, and millions of people could be in the storm's path.

And then we're tracking some breaking news out of California, the frantic search for dozens of people, after a boat is consumed by fire in the middle of the night.



KEILAR: Rescue efforts are underway right now in parts of the Bahamas devastated by category 5 Hurricane Dorian. Wind gusts over 200 miles per hour at times, feet of water overtaking cars and homes. One government official describing the damage there as catastrophic.

Let's talk to Sam Teicher. He is joining us on the phone right now. He lives in Freeport, in the Bahamas, and he works on coral conservation there.

And I want to talk to you about that, Sam, because I know you have concerns about your efforts there. But just tell us in general, how bad has the storm been so far and what are your gravest concerns at this point in time as you wait for the storm to pass and you can survey the damage?

SAM TEICHER, FREEPORT, BAHAMAS (via telephone): Well, my gravest concern right now is for the people of Bahamas. We're fortunate, my home, I have some friends staying with me here. We've got two stories of concrete, hurricane windows, and we're on the south side of the island.

But we've been getting reports and videos of friends and neighbors and people across the island who are fleeing on their rooftops in some cases and having water come up to the second story. It's going to be devastating to see when the storm passes and help people get back on their feet because there's never been anything like this before.

KEILAR: You're hearing that they are on their roofs waiting for rescue? What are you hearing?

TEICHER: In some cases, we've heard reports of people fleeing to their attics, because water has been creeping in. Obviously, they can get trapped. So, in some cases, they've been forced to go up on their roofs. And some parts of the island are waiting for the eye of the storm to (AUDIO GAP) so they go and can retrieve people and they're getting people by jet skis and with police cars, whatever can be done.

But in some cases, the storm gusts are still coming -- I mean, at our house we've had gusts of about 120 miles an hour. And we're, you know, in sort of the fortunate zone, I guess you could say.

KEILAR: You're still very much in the middle of it as you say you're on the side of the island where it's good to be at this point of time.

TEICHER: Uh-huh.

KEILAR: You work to conserve coral across the Bahamas. Are you worried about what you're going to find after the storm is gone?

TEICHER: Yes. Hurricanes have a track record of really ripping apart coral reefs, and that's obviously tragic from an ecological standpoint. A quarter of our marine life depend on the reefs. But they are sorts of protection, especially during events like hurricane. They can act like seawalls. So, healthy coral reefs can reduce wave energy on average of 97 percent.

But 80 percent of the reefs here are dead in the Bahamas and the Caribbean. I started a company called Coral Vita that grows corals, to restore dying reefs. So, we're going to have to go out there. Obviously, people are taking care of to help rebuild the reefs, because again, they're not only something we're protecting for their own right but they provide jobs and food and ultimately security for people during storms like Dorian.

KEILAR: Yes, and safety as you point out.

Sam Teicher, thank you so much for joining us and telling us what you're seeing there.

TEICHER: Yes. And thank you for having and I have said that people really, we're going to need help across the Bahamas. We've actually set up a GoFundMe campaign. There's people like (INAUDIBLE) and we're going to be dropping in to help out.

But if you Google Hurricane Dorian or relief to help Bahamas, people you've known (ph), GoFundMe.


Everyone is going to need help here. They don't have the resources like in the United States. So, please, please, please do what you can to send help to the people in the Bahamas.

KEILAR: All right. Sam, thank you so much.

There are mandatory evacuations that are now in effect in parts of Florida. I want to go to CNN's Randi Kaye. She is in Singer Island, Florida, which is a stretch just north of West Palm Beach.

Randi, this is a popular tourist spot where you are. Are people heeding warnings? Are they getting out of dodge?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They seem to be, Brianna. I certainly hope so, because the winds have picked up here, and all that talk about Hurricane Dorian wobbling, possibly getting even closer that they think here to Singer Island, which is part of West Palm Beach.

It certainly has folks concerned. There was an official evacuation order given yesterday afternoon in this area. Most people have gotten out of dodge.

If you take a look -- it's hard for me to look, but if you pan down that way, you can see the buildings and the beach are pretty empty. Those are hotels and condominiums. There's really nobody on the beach down there except for a couple of random folks.

And then if you take a look at the ocean here, you can see how business those waves are. The sea is angry today, really. That's the best way to describe it. That's not usually how you see the water on Singer Island. It's usually crystal blue and a lot of great snorkeling here.

This really looks more like the Pacific Ocean. So, it's quite a day here on Singer Island. The Palm Beach Airport is closed up. Businesses are barricaded nearby, and the winds are certainly picking up as the outer bands come this way, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Randi Kaye, we can see you fighting the wind there. We're going to keep checking in with you.

More breaking news about that mysterious boat fire in California. There are dozens still missing. The mayday call and the frantic search, next.



KEILAR: Welcome back.

It is still a mystery as to exactly what happened to a scuba diving boat that burst into flames off the California coast as dozens of people onboard slept. The mayday calls came in just after 3:00 a.m. Pacific Time. Thirty-four passengers at this point are still unaccounted for.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports, five crew members including captain jumped off the boat and were rescued by Good Samaritans.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mayday call just before 3:30 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Conception. Platts Harbor. Northside. Santa Cruz.

COAST GUARD: Vessel in distress, this is Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles on Channel 1-6. What is your position and number of persons onboard, over?


WATT: Thirty miles from the mainland just north of Los Angeles, first responders beaten back by the inferno.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It keeps being extinguished and re-flashing possibly due to the amount of fuel onboard. Unsure why.

WATT: Five crew members escaped.

CAPTAIN MONICA ROCHESTER, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD: The crew was actually already awake and on the bridge. And they jumped off.

Five people were evacuated aboard a Good Samaritan pleasure craft known as the Great Escape.

WATT: One brought ashore on a stretcher, rushed to the hospital, one limping, an injured ankle. Two shoeless and shocked. Thirty-four others who are below decks still unaccounted for. We're told there are numerous fatalities.

Listen to the dispatcher on that mayday call asking questions.

COAST GUARD: Roger, are they locked inside that boat? Roger, can you get back onboard and unlock the boat -- unlock the doors so they can get off?

WATT: We cannot hear the answers and the coast guard has said the boat was in compliance. Bears repeating, 34 still missing.

PETTY OFFICER MARK BARNEY, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD: We are combing the shoreline. We have vessels, two vessels from the Coast Guard station Channel Islands Harbor. We have Coast Guard helicopter air crews. So, we are using everything we have in nearby area to search for these missing 34 people.

WATT: The boat sank 64 feet of water just 20 yards from the shore of Santa Cruz Island. The Conception, 75-boat dive boat seen here in video on a previous video had left Santa Barbara Saturday morning. The cause of the fire that destroyed her still unknown.

The NTSB is en route and the Coast Guard is working with the vessel's owner, but the priority right now, the fight with hope fading to find any more survivors.


WATT: And that mayday call came in more than ten hours ago. Now, that boat burned down to the waterline. These, Brianna, are not good signs.

KEILAR: No, they aren't. Nick Watt, thank you so much on the California coast there.

Joining me now is Josh Campbell, former FBI special agent.

And there's five survivors, Josh, at this point. What are investigators trying to learn from them right now?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, Brianna. These are all witnesses to what occurred here. We know that the NTSB is en route to this location, one of their go teams.

They will be questioned. Authorities want to know what took place in the immediate -- preceding this incident. They want to know if there were any issues that they knew about, perhaps electrical issues and the like.

We are told that the vessel was in compliance. We're told that by the Coast Guard. But again, they want to recreate.