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Hurricane Dorian Batters Bahamas; Interview With Melbourne, Florida, Mayor Kathy Meehan; Tragedy at Sea in California. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired September 2, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are back with the special coverage here on this Monday afternoon on this Labor Day. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

I am back here in New York. Victor Blackwell is standing by for us in Florida, where millions are getting ready for the impact of Hurricane Dorian. We will take you to Victor here in just a second.

But, first, take a look at this image with me. This is a picture of the eye of the hurricane, which is now a Category 4 storm. This is taken from the International Space Station.

This powerful storm that has just devastated the Bahamas is making a painstakingly slow creep toward Florida's coast at one mile per hour.



BALDWIN: Speaking of Florida, let's go back to Victor Blackwell.

He is live on one of these barrier islands off Fort Pierce, so sort of the third of the way up, you know, the South Florida coastline.

And so are you -- how are the outer bands? Are you able to open your eyes a little bit more now?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, we have got a break now.


BLACKWELL: I mean, as quickly as one of those outer bands will come and really start pelting the sand and the rain, it goes away. And that's the nature of this phase of the hurricane.

As Jennifer said, Dorian's eye still 112 miles away from here, over the Bahamas. But the effect it does have, anyone who was on the beach is gone. I mean, they immediately run to some type of shelter.

And, of course, authorities here want to keep these beaches clear, mandatory evacuation here. And they have shut down the bridges to come across the Intracoastal on to Hutchinson Island, Jensen Causeway, the Stuart Causeway.

So, they're trying to keep people from coming this direction. Communities up and down the coast here are preparing.

I want to go to one of the mayors of one of the communities here, Mayor Kathy Meehan of Melbourne, Florida, up the central part of the state.

Mayor Meehan, thanks very much for being with us.

You just heard from the meteorologist Jennifer Gray that when Dorian gets closer to the U.S., gets closer to Florida, it will be far closer to the central part of Florida than it will be on the shores of Southern Florida.

So how are you preparing for what could be coming from the hurricane?

MAYOR KATHY MEEHAN (R-MELBOURNE, FL.): Well, first of all, we have a mandatory evacuation for the barrier islands and low-lying areas in the flood-prone low-lying areas in the flood-prone areas starting this morning at 8:00. So, that's going on.

Our city manager and our limited staff are in the Melbourne emergency Operations Centers starting today at 12:00. We have 14 emergency shelters that are open, and Uber is offering free rides to approved shelters up to $20.

Also, Orlando-Melbourne National Airport closed today at noon. So, we are -- I'm asking the residents to remain vigilant. And so we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

BLACKWELL: As is every community here. We're getting another one of those outer bands here coming along the Hutchinson Island here along Jensen Beach.

Mayor Meehan, fuel has been a concern for people who want to evacuate and the availability of fuel. Is that a concern where you are there in Melbourne, the availability of fuel for people to gas up and go?

MEEHAN: That hasn't been addressed with us. I have no one that reached out to me to say that they ran out of fuel. So, as far as I know, we're good to go.

BLACKWELL: I know that your government is taking this seriously and the preparations.

But are the people there in Melbourne taking this seriously? Again, this earlier in -- well, I guess last week now, it was forecast for a Florida landfall. That now is no longer the case.

At least, the cone is suggesting there won't be one or the cone of uncertainty. Are people taking this seriously, considering that it will likely stay off the coast of Florida?

MEEHAN: I hope so.

Like I said, we're preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. So I'm hoping that our residents take it serious and either get to a safe home or a shelter.

BLACKWELL: All right, Mayor Kathy Meehan of Melbourne, Florida, thank you so much for being with us. And our best to you as Dorian gets closer to the state of Florida.

I want to go to my colleague Randi Kaye, who is on Singer Island, off the coast of Palm Beach County, where the conditions I have seen are en route to where she is, if she's not feeling them now.

What does it look like where you are now, Randi?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are definitely starting to feel the outer bands. And, as you said, it comes and goes. Right now, it just stopped. A moment before, it was pouring and blowing me around here on the beach.

As you said, we're on Singer Island. This is a barrier island. So it was evacuated yesterday afternoon, Victor. A lot of folks did heed those warnings. There are still some folks on the beach here trying to take in the waves.

And let me show you what's going on here at the shore. These are the waves. I know Singer Island well here in West Palm Beach. There is not our usual surf. It's usually crystal-clear, blue waters. You can go snorkeling. It's really a beautiful place. The beach is usually crowded, certainly would have been today on Labor Day.

But there are only just a few, you know, curious onlookers here looking at the water and seeing what else is going on. But we don't know if Hurricane Dorian is going to make landfall in Florida yet or not. There's a lot of uncertainty still.

It could get as close as 50 miles away or even closer. So the businesses have closed up. The Palm Beach County Airport is closed. Schools have closed in this area.


And it just continues to kind of ebb and flow here in terms of the weather.

But let me show you. I know that you know Florida well, Victor. And this is something that's happening here. It's not just human life that's at risk in this storm, but this is a turtle egg.

These are normally buried this time of year. The big sea turtles come out of that ocean, they lay their eggs, they bury them here. And then the great volunteers in Florida come and rope them off and take great care to make sure that they survive.

And in a storm like this, the winds have been so strong, the rains have been so strong, that the nests get churned up. And then these little baby turtles aren't able to form and their eggs go out to sea.

So that's already happening here, certainly tough for Floridians to see happen. But, of course, we're concerned about the folks along the beach here as well. But, right now, businesses, hotels, everything shut down as we wait for more of these outer bands to come our way, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Some of the conditions that you're seeing there, we're seeing here with the turtle eggs as well. Randi Kaye on Singer Island, thank you so much for that report.

Brooke, I'm going to send it back to you. And, as I send it back, now we have got sunshine.

BALDWIN: Huh. How about that?

BLACKWELL: It's kind of just this cycle of sun and clouds and wind and rain, and it's going to be that way for the next two days, as you have got just moving at one mile-an-hour this monster Category 4, 100 miles away.

As those bands come in from the Atlantic, we will be here on Jensen Beach.

BALDWIN: Mother Nature. Victor in the sun for now.

Victor, thank you very much.

BALDWIN: We still don't know yet if Dorian will have a close even -- close an impact in the U.S. as we have seen in the Bahamas. The islands have been getting pummelled by this storm for now 24 hours now. Rescue efforts just getting under way. One death has been confirmed.

And a grandmother tells CNN that her grandson, 8 years old, likely drowned in the floodwaters. She hasn't been able to get back in touch with her daughter since she called to tell her that news.

You can see the devastation for yourself there.

One Florida state lawmaker shared this video that his family in the Bahamas sent to him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we need assistance fast. This is going on right, right now. Ooh.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pray for us. Pray for us. And God almighty, pray for us. We can't get down. This is a two-story structure. The door is shut.


BALDWIN: By the way, they are OK.

The Bahamian minister of agriculture shared these images of floodwaters seeping inside his home on Grand Bahama Island. The water is waist-deep across the island, and the storm, as we mentioned, one mile per hour. So, it is stuck, it is churning, it is dumping all kind of rain, creating all these floodwaters you see, which will potentially worsen.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann has been in the middle of all it for us in Freeport in the Bahamas all day.

So, Patrick, how bad is it where you are?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the wind and the rain just will not stop. It has been hours of this late last night, early this morning.

First, the power went out. And then it sounded like a jet engine running next to where we were sleeping. My crew and I, Jay Garcia (ph) and Jose Armingo (ph), we have actually come into a couple's apartment that had this amazing view. And we're sort of squatting with them, and they're riding out the storm as well.

And in the middle of the night, you could just hear this incredibly loud sound. And let me show you this. This is something I really have never seen with a hurricane, because usually you can't be this close to the ocean.

You see the ocean out there. It didn't look like that a couple of days ago. It is much higher today. And that doesn't make sense, except, with the hurricane, it pushes the water out and out and out. And it finally sort of creates a bulge of water.

But when the hurricane leaves, the danger won't be over. That water has to go somewhere. And it is most likely that it will rush in here. It will probably top the barrier between where we are and the beach. Luckily, we're on the third floor.

But it would seem very likely that there would be extensive flooding here. The Bahamian authorities said to expect up to 20 feet of storm surge once the hurricane leaves tonight. As you know, the most -- deadliest part of a hurricane, they say you hide from the wind and you run from the water.

And, in this case, many, many people will not be able to run from that storm surge. Another gust right there. Dorian just is not done with the Bahamas. But when that storm surge does come in, and if it is 20 feet high, that will cover most of this island.

This water has already covered islands that were off the coast that are much more low-lying. And there were people who said they were going to ride out the storm there. You just wonder how they are doing, and as well the people who are under the Category 5 eye of this hurricane and have been there for hours. [15:15:08]

You can only imagine what that has been like. Dorian has devastated parts of the Bahamas, and the sad thing is that this powerful storm is not done with the Bahamas just yet.

BALDWIN: Patrick Oppmann there in Freeport. Please, be safe to you and your crew hunkering down on that third-floor apartment.

We will come back to the storm.

Also ahead, you will hear from people who decided to ride it out.

But we're also following breaking news out of California, where 34 people are missing and feared dead after this massive fire on a scuba diving boat.

And we will take you live to Texas as we get new details about the gunman in that mass shooting in Odessa, in Midland. We have just heard that he previously failed a background check.



BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN on this Labor Day afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We are following this breaking news of this terrible tragedy unfolding at sea as I speak here off the coast of Los Angeles.

A spokesman for Ventura County says there are numerous fatalities from a fire on board the 75-foot diving boat. The Coast Guard says more than 39 people were on board. Five of them have been rescued. The five rescued were all crew members.

Multiple agencies responded to this mayday fire call early this morning near Santa Cruz Island. The boat named Conception sank just 20 yards offshore as fire crews have been battling the flames.

CNN's Nick Watt is following the story for us.

And we're getting new details about that mayday call, Nick. What are you learning?


Well, Brooke, this call came in shortly before 3:30 that there was a huge fire aboard there 75-foot diving boat just off Santa Cruz Island off the California coast here. And just take a listen to a little bit of that mayday call.

BALDWIN: Oh, we're having technical issues. But I know you know...


BALDWIN: Yes, go ahead.


So, Brooke, yes, so, I mean, in that call, one of the people on the boat is saying, "I can't breathe." And you can then hear the dispatcher ask...


BALDWIN: We have it now.

Sorry, Nick. Let's roll it. Let's roll it.


WATT: Let's take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday, mayday, mayday. (INAUDIBLE) Santa Cruz.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vessel in distress. This is Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles on Channel 1-6. What is your position and number of persons on board? Over.



BALDWIN: All I could hear is, "I can't breathe."

WATT: So, that was, "I can't breathe." Now, yes, "I can't breathe."

And, Brooke, now, we also heard questions from the dispatcher which are interesting. One is, can you get back on board and unlock the boat? And there's no escape hatch for any of the people on board? That was another question. Third question, you don't have any firefighter gear at all? No fire extinguishers or anything?

Now, we cannot hear the answers to those questions. And we have asked the boat's owner for comment. We have not heard back. But the Coast Guard here earlier did say that this boat was in compliance.

But, Brooke, what we know is that mayday call about 3:30 this morning, 39 people on board. Now, the five crew were apparently awake already getting ready for the day. They managed to jump from the deck and were rescued by a nearby pleasure boat -- 34 people trapped, we believe, below decks as this fire raged.

And, you know, when the firefighters eventually got there, remember, this is 20 miles or more off the mainland coast. When the firefighters got there, they said they managed to extinguish the flames. But the fire just reignited. They're not sure why. They think maybe because there was so much fuel on board.

But, as you mentioned, five crew were rescued. Now, we saw some of them come ashore. One was on a stretcher, was taken to the hospital. Another had a bandage around his ankle. Two others wearing shorts and T-shirts, no shoes, they looked bewildered and shocked, as you would expect.

So, right now, what is still going on, we're told that they are still looking for bodies. Now, the boat burned and sank just 20 yards off the shore of Santa Cruz Island. So rescue personnel are right now combing those shorelines, trying to find any survivors or, I hate to say it, but any bodies.

That is ongoing right now. So, as it stands, five have survived, 34 people, Brooke, still unaccounted for many hours after this fire took hold.

BALDWIN: This is awful, especially with the news from this mayday call.

Nick Watt, I appreciate you relaying that to us.

Ken Kurtis is with me now from Los Angeles. He is the owner of Reef Seekers Dive Co.

And, Ken, thank you for coming on.

I understand you know the owner of this boat. You just heard the new reporting on this mayday call, the Coast Guard dispatcher asking, can you get back on board? Unlock the boat. You don't have any firefighting gear at all?

Again, you know the owner.


BALDWIN: Tell us about the type of operation he runs.

KURTIS: He runs a great operation.

This is Truth Aquatics. They have three different boats. Very well- respected in California and around the U.S., worldwide, really.


And it's important -- just to give you some perspective, I have been diving in California for 38 years now. I have never heard of a boat fire, you know, of this sort. So, this is phenomenally unusual.

I think it's also important to understand that, when -- the Coast Guard questions confused me a little bit, because when that guy is making the mayday call, he's making that from the wheelhouse, which is -- so you have the main deck Here. The wheelhouse is right above it.

He is likely on fire while he is making the call or certainly surrounded by fire.


KURTIS: So, I'm not sure why they're saying, can you get back on the boat, can you unlock, or anything like that.

BALDWIN: No. And that's the thing. We don't hear the response.


BALDWIN: These are just the questions, right, that are coming from dispatch. And we will be clear in saying that.

KURTIS: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: And you -- you mentioned the various points of the boat, because we know the crew members were able to bail.

And would they have been sleeping up above? I mean, this call came in around 3:00, 3:30 in the morning. I don't know if -- I know they have night dives, but I'm sure they're up early cooking breakfast for a morning dive. What would have been happening?

KURTIS: Right.


BALDWIN: Could they be asleep?

KURTIS: Well, first of all, there's always going to be at least one or two crew people who have to be awake throughout the night.

The way the boat is structured, if you could picture -- again, I'll be my own graphic here. If you could mention a main level here.


BALDWIN: Guys, let's show him. I just want to make sure we're showing you, too.


KURTIS: Oh, there we go.

I'll wait until I'm back up here. But, basically, it's three decks. Here we go.

BALDWIN: Go ahead. Show us.

KURTIS: So, main deck is here. Below decks is the bunk area. That's where all the divers would be. And then above the main deck would be the wheelhouse, and that's going to be the area where the crew is going to be sleeping.

So it makes perfect sense that the crew people are able to jump off the boat, because they're on the highest part of the boat. It makes perfect sense that they will be able to initiate the mayday call, because, again, that's where the radio is going to be and everything else.

So, the issue is going to be -- the Conception, the name of the dive boat, is designed -- this is a very typical design for what we call a California live-aboard dive boat, where you're going to be out for a couple of days on the boat and your gear is on that main deck.

You're going to be sleeping in the bunk room. There are bunks for everybody down below. And you have a main staircase down, and you do have a hatch in the back, an escape hatch in the back.

Now, it's very possible that that hatch has something fallen on top of it and people can't get up it, or in their panic people are just going for the stairway. There's no real way to know.

But, you know, this is just -- it's been a horrific morning in the dive community, as I'm sure you can understand. Diving is a type of sport where, you know, we go because...

BALDWIN: Of course. It's a tight-knit community.

KURTIS: Yes, we love nature. It's a relatively small community. I even got an e-mail from a friend of mine, though, this morning who said her husband was supposed to be on that trip, but his hip was acting up, so he decided not to go.


KURTIS: So, it's a type of thing where -- you know, like I said, I have known the owner for a number of years. I don't know the people that chartered the boat.

They're out of Santa Cruz. But I know of them. And I know that they have been in operation a long, long time.

And, again, to emphasize that a fire -- first of all, a fire at sea is probably the most terrifying thing for anybody, whether you're a diver, a fisherman, a recreational boat, or whatever.

But it is phenomenally unusual. Like I said, I just have never heard of it happening to a dive boat in the 38 years or so that I have been in California.

BALDWIN: Ken, you have been phenomenal. I'm so sorry this has happened in your community. I was reading all about this trip and this company, sort of for divers, by divers, love to dive. And you just -- you can tell it by reading the description.

We're hoping to get some answers. And, obviously, we want to know what happened to these other 34 people.

Ken Kurtis, thank you very Much.

KURTIS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Right now, meantime, in Florida, hospitals are now evacuating and some airports have closed, as Hurricane Dorian marches toward the East Coast.

It has already just devastated the Bahamas. We are back with the updated track just ahead.