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Hurricane Dorian Takes Aim at Florida as Powerful Category 5 Storm; West Texas Community Gathers to Honor Shooting Victims; California Firefighters Report of Some Deaths in a Fire on a Boat Carrying Dozens of People Off the Coast of Southern California. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 2, 2019 - 09:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York. Jim Sciutto is off today.

And we begin this morning with a host of breaking news. Right now a boat with more than 30 people on board has reportedly caught fire. This is in southern California. You see it there right off the coast of Santa Cruz. As we speak, the Coast Guard is attempting a rescue operation. According to several tweets, crew members have been rescued and they are still trying to get the rest of the passengers off of that boat.

We'll bring you the latest in just a moment.

We are also, of course, following Hurricane Dorian very closely this morning. An extremely dangerous category 5 storm right now thrashing the Bahamas in hours, setting its sights on Florida.

And in Odessa, Texas, hundreds are gathering to honor the victims of Saturday's mass shooting. Seven people murdered, 22 others wounded. Among the injured a 17-month-old little girl. Much more on her and all of the victims ahead.

But let's begin this morning off the coast of California. The latest on that Coast Guard rescue there in southern California. Stephanie Elam joins me from our Los Angeles bureau.

So it's very early in the morning there, just after 6:00 Pacific Time. What do you know?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. And this is near Santa Cruz Island, which is off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura County, so north of here a bit. What we do know from the Coast Guard is that they are working to rescue people off of the 75- foot boat. We do know that there are 34 passengers on board and five crew members on this vessel. We just heard a spokesperson for the Coast Guard saying that they do believe that this is some sort of a diving vessel. Unclear why it was out so early, sun is just starting to come up here

on the West Coast. But the vessel was reporting a fire. The Coast Guard is saying that, "We're able to rescue a group of crew members." That there was one person there with minor injuries that they were able to get off, but working to evacuate the rest of the passengers. We know that there are multiple vessels, vehicles responding to help this boat.

But we do know why it was out so early, who was on board, these 34 passengers, and how this fire started. We do not know. We know that there have been reports of fatalities. We have not been able to confirm that at this time -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Stephanie, what do we know about life boats, for example, that may have been on board to get them off? Do we know?

ELAM: Right. We don't -- we don't have much information. I mean, keep in mind, it is really early here.

HARLOW: I know.

ELAM: This happening here around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. But just to take a look at what was said from Aidan Cooney, who represents the Coast Guard, talking to our Erica Hill on "New Day." Take a listen.


AIDAN COONEY, PETTY OFFICER, U.S. COAST GUARD: We don't have that information at this time for 34 fatalities. The most information we have that we could pass is that there have been five of the members on the boat that have been taken off the boat by the Coast Guard and that the fire was ongoing is the last information that I was passed.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Do you know --

COONEY: And that is -- go ahead.

HILL: Do you know what type of boat this was? We know it's a 75-foot boat. But again, it's so early out there on the West Coast. Was this one of the ferries that runs back and forth to Santa Cruz Island?

COONEY: The last I heard, it was a commercial diving vessel, possibly with tourists. That was the last information that I have been passed.

HILL: And are there typically boats out that early in the morning?

COONEY: I can't speculate as to why they were out there so early.

HILL: And how far off the coast are we talking? Do you know if it was closer to the island itself, closer to Ventura, on the mainland?

COONEY: I also don't have that information at this time.

HILL: From what I understand, there were multiple rescue assets launched from local agencies according to the Coast Guard. And as we just heard, they have been out there for at least 45 minutes, I understand, working from the both water and from the air. Have you been given any information? Do they have a sense at all of how large the fire is on board the boat or what may have caused it?

COONEY: No, we can't speculate to that at this time, since the situation is still ongoing. I'm sure there will be an investigation and that will give us all of those information. And as we get them, they will be released.


ELAM: All right. So, at this point you see there are still a lot of questions out there. Santa Cruz Island is a few miles off the coast there, depending on -- sort of in a -- not a cove but it does have a roundabout. So you could see it from Ventura County, you could also access it from Santa Barbara. But still so early in the dark that this is happening. Not a lot of information but still surprising to hear that it's a diving vessel, Poppy, at this hour of the morning.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. That would have been out there you'd think 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. because it's just 6:00 a.m. now that they are responding to this fire.

Stephanie, thank you very much. We'll let you go, get some reporting and come back as you learn more.

Now, to the major storm in the Atlantic with 160-mile-per-hour winds, 200-mile-per-hour gusts. Hurricane Dorian is the most powerful storm anywhere on earth so far this year and the strongest hurricane recorded to hit the Bahamas.


So far, an 8-year-old boy has reportedly drowned as a result there. 13,000 homes have been severely damaged or destroyed already. In the coming days, it will sweep up the southeastern coast of the United States, just 40 to 50 miles offshore. That is close enough to thrash the shoreline with winds as high as 100 miles an hour. Evacuation orders are in effect for millions of coastal areas in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. All of them hoping the storm will not take a left turn inland.

Our anchors, our reporters are throughout Florida and the Bahamas this morning. Let's start with Patrick Oppmann. He joins us live in the Bahamas, with more.

Patrick, where are you? What are the conditions?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. We have hunkered down in an apartment overlooking the beach here in Freeport. We continue to be lashed by the powerful winds that Dorian has brought here and this pouring rain all over my shoulder here, perhaps, is the greatest concern. You can see the water rising in the distance. And that's because Hurricane Dorian is pushing the ocean back. That will eventually become a storm surge. When the hurricane leaves that water will come in, surely flood the beach. And perhaps luckily we're on the third floor, but some of the area underneath me.

So, this is a very dangerous, in fact deadly storm there. There's at least one fatality so far. Bahamian media is reporting that an 8- year-old boy ground in Abaco according to his grandmother. And there are other reports of people missing, of roofs torn off, of cars and whole neighborhoods under water. So, it will be sometime before we get a full accounting of the damage and destruction this storm has wrought.

But you just imagine a little bit further to the north from where we are, there is a category 5 hurricane parked over the edge of this island, and it has been there for hours creating a level of destruction that no one in the Bahamas has ever seen, because, Poppy, they have never had a storm like this before in their history. This is the most powerful storm --

HARLOW: Right.

OPPMANN: -- to ever hit the Bahamas and people will never forget it.

HARLOW: I know. And Patrick, you talked about Abaco, for example, I mean, that's a place where they have flooding even just with severe rain, let alone a storm of this magnitude that they have not seen before. Thinking of them all, thank you for being there. We appreciate it.

Joining me now on the phone is Kristoff Ayala-Strachan, riding out the storm with his family in Freeport where we just saw Patrick.

Christoph, can you hear me?


HARLOW: Thank you very much for being with me. You were born, you were raised in the Bahamas, this your eighth hurricane. How does this one so far compare to others? What does it feel like in your gut?

AYALA-STRACHAN: Well, you know, honestly preparing for this was just like preparing for any other hurricane. But, you know, knowing that this one was so much stronger than the others, there was a little level of fear that wasn't present with other hurricanes. Where I am, there isn't any flooding or anything, but there's extensive flooding throughout the island. The winds, believe it or not, are actually increasing as time goes by. The storm is now stationary, just about 30 miles away from me, the center of the storm. And it's expected to get a little closer to me as the day progresses. So, we just don't know what's going to happen as it gets closer and the winds do continue to increase.

HARLOW: Yesterday you said you were pretty fearful about what was coming. And I know that you have been trying to contact some people. I don't know if it's there on your island or elsewhere, but you had lost touch with some people because of connections. Is that right?

AYALA-STRACHAN: Yes. I was trying to reach a few people that I know on the island of Abaco. I've since heard from them this morning. They are all right. But now just worried about family, close to areas that we know are flooded, and trying to reach them and not getting through to them on the same island as me.

HARLOW: Where are you on the island and are there any shelters for people a little bit more inland if you're on the coast?

AYALA-STRACHAN: Yes. Well, there were about 15 or 16 shelters in total. All of them in land away from the coast, specifically I'm in the area of South Bahamia, in the city the Freeport. I'm also relatively inland. And so there wasn't any concern of flooding from storm surges that would bring about the need to maybe evacuate to a shelter from my household.

HARLOW: OK, Kristoff --

AYALA-STRACHAN: But there are quite a number of shelters.


HARLOW: Good. I'm glad to hear it. Thank you for taking the time to call in. I'm glad you were able to reach those people that you were trying to get ahold of yesterday. We're thinking of you guys as you are in the middle of this right now.

Let's get the latest on the forecast. Chad Myers joins us in our Severe Weather Center.

So, Chad, I mean, looking at that image of freeport, what I saw with my, you know, layman's eye, is the eye seems to be right on it. And that's when it's not as bad, right? Meaning are they going to get worse?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The eye is about 20 miles east of Freeport right now.


MYERS: And so they are in the eyewall. They are not yet as bad as it will get.


MYERS: They're probably 120 miles per hour and they're headed to 140 before the eastern part of that eyewall kind of passes on over. This is what it looks like from space right now. This the visible slight. And if you look hard enough -- maybe you can't from TV but I can see. You can see the ocean in the eye. You can see all the way down through a completely clear eye. So here was our reporter, Patrick Oppmann, and also the other reporter we just had on the phone.


MYERS: That's Freeport. Here is where it is calm inside there. So they are getting the north part of the storm here. This the south wind here. So they're filling up this sort of harbor near Freeport with certainly big surge. But this here, this marsh island, this great Abaco, that's the area that got hit when it was 185.

HARLOW: Right.

MYERS: I just can't believe there's anything left of that. At least that man said that he talked to someone on Abaco and they were OK. Because it wouldn't be out of the question that no one would be OK. I mean, everyone could have had some type of damage or water or whatever it might be, 25 feet. This island is 30 feet tall tops. So you all had to get to the right place at the right time to survive that. And hopefully that that is the case for everybody out there.

Communication, to be very honest, with Abaco has been impossible.


MYERS: I mean, even people with sat phones haven't been able to get there. Here is the storm right now moving over Freeport, moving one mile an hour. It's going to move very close to the coast of the U.S., very close to the space coast as it kind of sticks out, Cape Canaveral. As it gets closer, the winds will pick up. We are going to get winds, I would say gusts to 90 miles per hour along the Florida east coast. That is a hurricane gust. That's why hurricane warnings are posted. It is going to get a lot worse than what we're seeing it right now. But it's just going to take 36 hours because it's moving so slowly, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

MYERS: This is a brutal storm.

HARLOW: Brutal. Moving so slowly, which means that rain that continues is just going to pound those areas for longer.

MYERS: You bet.

HARLOW: Making the flooding worse.

Chad, thank you. We're so glad you're here on top of all of this.

So let's go to Florida. Chad was just talking about the eastern coast of Florida all the way up in the danger zone here. Marty Savidge is in Vero Beach.

So talk to us about the preparations. Obviously we see the wind but blue skies behind you right now.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Weather conditions actually are not that bad considering what you were just describing there in the Bahamas.


SAVIDGE: What is catastrophic there for most people here is curiosity. There is a mandatory evacuation order in effect. It went into effect an hour ago. You wouldn't know it by all the people that are down on the waterfront. Let me show you over here right now. This is Vero Beach Police who

have come down just to remind people that there is, in fact, a mandatory evacuation order in place. They're going person-to-person to tell them that the bridges will eventually shut down, which means as much as you might want to enjoy the view right now, you could become trapped on this island.

It's a barrier island and there are concerns that with the tidal surge of seven feet, it will overtop some of the dunes here. The winds are going to get up to hurricane force. That's expected in about 24 hours. So this is not going to be just some amusement, it will actually turn into something that could be potentially pretty hazardous.

People have been stocked up for days and that's part of the problem. They have been ready but they have been wondering, when will it ever arrive. And that's why they are here.


SAVIDGE: Back to you, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. I hope they listen to those officers, Marty, because the sunshine can be deceptive. That's for sure.

Thank you very much, Martin Savidge, in Vero Beach.

We have a lot ahead. More on that breaking news this hour. The Coast Guard rescue is under way right now, right off the coast of California. More than 30 people, possibly trapped on a burning boat. We'll bring you the latest on that.

Plus, authorities are learning more about what prompted a suspect to go on a shooting rampage in west Texas this weekend leaving seven dead, 22 injured. We'll take you live there.

And our special live coverage of Hurricane Dorian continues. A catastrophic category 5 storm as it takes direct aim at the eastern Florida coast. A lot going on this morning. Stay right here.



HARLOW: All right, welcome back, let's get straight to Hurricane Dorian thrashing the Bahamas right now. The monster Category 5 hurricane is leaving catastrophic damage as it slowly turns across the Bahamas as we speak.

Its outer bands now hitting Florida's East Coast. We'll hear from Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis at the top of the hour as millions there are bracing for one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic. But as we wait for that, let's go to my colleague Nick Valencia, he joins us in the Atlantic, Florida. Nick, what are you seeing there? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the uncertainty of this

storm and just how much it shifted has led a lot of people, Poppy, to believe that they're not going to see a major impact.


Which really shocked us as we've been here the last couple of days. It's just seemingly the lack of preparation at the businesses. We just came from one of the main roads here, some of the businesses are boarded up, some of them have deployed their shutters and put up plywood. Most of the businesses however have not. And I know, this is not what emergency management officials want to hear.

But those that we've spoken to, nearly all of them say that they're not planning on evacuating even though there's mandatory evacuation orders are going into effect at 1:00 p.m. I want to show you the current conditions here, the wind has picked up steadily over the course of the last several hours.

Nothing as serious as what they're seeing in the Bahamas of course. But those waves are starting to churn. People here though say that they're ready despite not wanting to leave. I just spoke to one woman a little while ago who says that she has a hurricane-proof house. She believes that she's ready, she's not planning on leaving, even though officials have continuously stressed over the last several days that you cannot take your chances, and now is not the time to let your guard down -- Poppy?

HARLOW: Nick, thank you very much, I wish they were preparing a little bit more because you never know which way this thing is going to turn --


HARLOW: Thanks for the reporting, we'll get back to you soon. Joining me on the phone is Russ Blackburn; he's the city manager for Port St. Lucie, Florida. Russ, can you hear me?


HARLOW: Russ, thank you very much for joining us. You've been through these things before, but this is one of the strongest storms ever to form in the Atlantic. I know that you were an incident commander during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. What is the best case-scenario right now for Port St. Lucie?

BLACKBURN: Well, we feel like we're staring down a train that's coming directly at us. And we're being told that the track turns really sharply to the north, but we can't see where it turns. So, we're very anxious as we watch Hurricane Dorian.

Our city really is very well prepared. We're a low-lying community like most coastal communities. So, we've been working to make sure we have capacity in all of our drainage systems. We do have, I would say, very good compliance with our citizens and our businesses. With Hurricane shutters up and boarding up. And so our best-case scenario is that Dorian does what all the weather projections are and it makes a sharp turn to the north and stays off course and off the coast.

HARLOW: You know, that's interesting and I'm so glad to hear that your businesses are complying and boarding up, et cetera. Because we just heard from our correspondent Nick Valencia in the Atlantic that they're not doing that, many of them are not doing that, they're not taking those precautions.

Tell me about the bridge because I wonder when you guys, you're a city manager, you planned a close of the bridge that allows people to get on and off of Hutchinson Island. When are you closing that?

BLACKBURN: So, the mandatory evacuations started yesterday at 2:00 and the shelters were opening in the counties for St. Lucie County. The bridges will typically close as the winds get 39 miles an hour or higher on a sustained basis.

So, that -- if the county calls and when they will be monitoring that, but recognize that on the bridge, you know, you're actually getting more wind and much resistance than almost anywhere in the community. And so, it's important that people get out of the areas that have high vulnerability to hazards and that helps everybody because the emergency management staff also doesn't need to be having to worry about folks that are on islands and in low-lying areas.

HARLOW: You have said, sir, that this hurricane to you feels different than others. Why and how has that change how your entire city is preparing?

BLACKBURN: So, there is -- so, certainly, the strength of Dorian is pretty amazing. You know, yesterday, we had winds at 185 miles an hour on land in the Bahamas. The idea that, that might come straight ahead into the coast of Florida is a little bit scary. And our homes are all built a little bit newer. But --

HARLOW: Yes --

BLACKBURN: Some rains from 110 miles an hour construction standard to 155 for our newest zones. If you think about 185 miles an hour, we don't have anything that's really built to let you absolutely know would withstand that.

HARLOW: OK, Russ Blackburn, we are hoping for that best-case scenario for you, that the storm swings north and does not turn in-land. We'll be thinking about you, thank you for calling in.

BLACKBURN: Thank you very much.

HARLOW: Of course. As people pay tribute to the victims of the mass shooting, yet again, this weekend in West Texas, the FBI is working around the clock to try to figure out the motivation. Why did this man go on this horrific shooting spree. We'll take you live to Odessa, Texas, next. [09:25:00]


HARLOW: Right, of course we're continuing to follow Hurricane Dorian very closely. But I do want to bring you the latest on the breaking news this morning off the coast of Southern California. Right now, the U.S. Coast Guard is in the middle of a rescue operation there assisting a boat that is in distress. It is off the coast of Santa Cruz.

The Coast Guard says there are numerous fatalities. Let's get back to Stephanie Elam who is in Southern California with more. I mean, that's a significant update, Steph, they're saying numerous fatalities.