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Dive Boat Fire Investigation; Science Of Hurricane Dorian; New Information Emerges On Texas Gunman; Parts Of Bahamas Obliterated By Hurricane Dorian; Five Killed, 13K Homes Destroyed Or Damaged; Hurricane Dorian Growing In Size As It Starts To Hit Florida; Charleston Bracing For Major Flooding From Hurricane Dorian. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 3, 2019 - 16:30   ET



TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, the lack of steering currents, something we had once before, 30 hours to move halfway across the Grand Bahama Islands.

The one that was moving slower was 1965. It was Betsy. And it moved only 12 miles in 30 hours. But that was over land -- or -- excuse me -- over water, not near land.

If we go back and look at the history of this, Jake, all these storms want to do is transfer their heat from near the equator to the colder waters and the colder air to the north. That's it. So they just want to take the path of least resistance.

And what we have had going on here is a strong area of high pressure that's been up to the north of us. And it's been shifting this. And in fact, a week ago, we thought it was going to make a rare perpendicular landfall in South Central Florida, then break through into the Gulf.

This shows you a rare NOAA flight they did the other day, not just around the storm of Dorian. But they flew up and down around the north and tried to track to see if this high -- area of high pressure was breaking down.

They said, yes, it looks like it is breaking down. And then we needed something to move this, because once all the steering currents just tugging and pulling against each other, it's got nowhere to go but stall.

But then the hope was -- and this is what blows my mind about all of this. Think of this -- 20 years ago, Jake, if we knew we had a Category 5 200 miles off the coast, the whole peninsula would evacuate. But because we're now relying on our modern-day forecasting and logarithms and mathematical equations, everybody said, oh, it's going to move north.

This is what we have been waiting for, that little color here of cyan, this little kind of orange-blue-green color. That's the trough that's starting to lift the system. So it's going to take a while for it to actually get its act together.

But, yes, we are expecting it to continue now to pull it northward.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There's a lot of history involved with this hurricane. It's the strongest hurricane to hit the Bahamas ever since we started recording this sort of thing.

SATER: Right.

TAPPER: It's the second slowest-moving on record, the second strongest winds in the Atlantic Basin.

How much of this might be a result of climate change, the increased intensity of this?

SATER: You know, we could do a whole show on this, really. But to give you a quick answer, and this is what a lot of scientists, those that study climate and tropical storms, will tell you.

We can't just look at Dorian and say, you know what, that's climate change. That's climate change. But we can look at elements within the storm. And you can look at the past. There has been a slight trend in the last couple of years, a couple of decades, really, that we have been seeing more Category 4 and 5.

But, really, it has to do with the elements. And, first of all, I mean, when you look at climate change, the biggest factor in climate change really is heat waves. Europe's had some incredible heat waves. We had them in the U.S. Coastal flooding is happening. In fact, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is now thinking about moving because the coastal areas, they're sinking, because it's rising.

Heavy rain events. Florence in the Carolinas created a one-in-1,000- year-event flood. Harvey, of course. But you get down to the list where it's limited, and you're at hurricanes and tornadoes.

I expect that we're going to see, when it comes to hurricanes, that's going to start going up the list a little bit. I went back in the archives here and grabbed the radar from Harvey. And, of course, this moved to a pace that you could outwalk, like Dorian.

But what we're seeing here is, with a warmer climate, when the air is warmer, it holds more moisture. So you're getting these one-in-500- year rain events, one in 1,000 year rain events. But then, also, you're getting warmer waters. So that's more high octane fuel.

And we're seeing these hurricanes now go through rapid intensification because of the warmer waters. And when you look at the list, and you want to know what the definition of rapid intensification is, 35 mile- per-hour wind increase within a 24-hour period. That happens to 79 percent of major tropical cyclones.

But we're seeing that happen, it seems like, more and more with these storms, and definitely in the last five to even 10 years. And then you have got the ocean that is rising. That's a climate change event. So our storm surge is getting a little higher and higher and doing

more devastation. But you can't just look at Dorian and say, that's climate change. But you can add it to the broad picture, if that makes sense.

TAPPER: OK. Yes, that makes sense.

Let me ask you, specific to Dorian, the center eye wall is practically gone. But the powerful winds are stretching out for miles.

SATER: Right.

TAPPER: How is that possible? That seems like it would be contradictory.

SATER: It's a great question.

These storms, as they go through reorganization, eye wall replacement cycle we talked about, even though it's losing strength around its core, the vast majority of the energy is coming out and spreading to the top. So each time it goes through that replacement cycle, it pushes those hurricane winds and tropical storm winds out farther and they stay there.

Then it goes through another cycle, and it pushes them out, and it stays there. So the storm wind field is broadening, even though the stronger winds at the core are weakening.


So it's still a very dangerous storm. It's larger in size than it was, but not as strong in the center.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Sater, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

SATER: Sure.

TAPPER: And Hurricane Dorian will, no question, be part of the CNN town hall on the climate crisis, which is tomorrow night; 10 of the Democratic presidential candidates will be attending the live event only on CNN.

That will air from 5:00 p.m. Eastern to midnight Eastern tomorrow.

We're also following some breaking news out of Texas. We have new details on how the terrorist there, the mass shooter, gunman in America's latest mass shooting acquired that weapon. And this one might have major political implications.

Then, the search is over, sadly, tragically, for survivors of that mysterious boat fire -- what investigators are looking for now.

That's next.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now in our national lead.

New details on how the Texas mass shooter obtained his firearm after he was rejected by a gun store for failing a federal background check.

I want to get right to CNN's Ed Lavandera.

Ed, what are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have learned from a law enforcement source, telling CNN that the weapon used in the shooting spree here in Odessa was purchased by the gunman through a private sale, which is essentially a way of avoiding a background check.

We have been told by investigators that, at some point, the gunman failed a background check. It wouldn't have been for any kind of criminal history because what we have been able to find in this gunman's background is a couple of misdemeanors. That wouldn't have been a cause to fail the background check.

But investigators here over the last couple of days, Jake, have been alluding to a deteriorating mental state of the gunman, and that that was what made him so agitated on Saturday.

But this purchase of this weapon through a private sale is what we're being told -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ed, this is what a lot of people call the gun show loophole.

In other words, private sales, you don't have to necessarily do a background check, whereas, if you go to a gun store, you do. And this will be an argument we will hear from people who want more gun laws, that these loopholes should be closed.

LAVANDERA: Right. This kind of goes to the heart of this idea that many people have been pushing for, a universal background check.

As you mentioned, if you were to sell a firearm to me directly, you wouldn't have to give me any kind of background check. And now what investigators have to do is use the serial number on that firearm to trace back to who sold it. And that kind of work, investigators say, is being done at this point.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera in Odessa, Texas, thank you so much.

Some more tragic news, this time out of California. We have learned that students at a Santa Cruz area high school are among the victims in that tragic dive boat fire. The search for survivors is essentially over. At least 20 bodies have now been recovered, another 14 victims missing, presumed dead.

But, as CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now, this all remains something of a mystery in terms of what caused the fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 09:40 this morning, hope officially died. There will be no more survivors. The mission switched from rescue to recovery.

CAPT. MONICA ROCHESTER, U.S. COAST GUARD: It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Conception, Platts Harbor, north side, Santa Cruz.

WATT: Captain Paul Amaral heard that call, raced to the scene, shot this video. To know these people were trapped on that boat, he told CNN, it's horrific. He saw bodies float to the surface.

All 34 people now confirmed dead or missing were likely asleep in bunks on the bottom deck when the fire broke out.

BILL BROWN, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF: There was a stairwell to get down the main entryway up and down, and there was an escape hatch. And it would appear as though both of those were blocked by fire.

BOB HANSEN, WITNESS: It was fully engulfed from bow to stern, I mean, and flames probably 30-feet-high.

WATT: Bob and Shirley Hansen were anchored close high, heard a banging on their boat around 3:30 a.m. It was the five crew who had been on the top deck, managed to escape.

HANSEN: Two of the crew members that were in pretty good shape, gave them a flashlight. And they went out to try to find anybody that might have gotten off.

WATT: They found no one. And the Hansens brought a handful of survivors to shore.

HANSEN: I got the space. You know, if they could have all just gotten in the water, I could have got them out of here.

WATT: Listen to these frantic questions asked by a dispatcher as the boat burned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you get back on board and unlock the boat? You don't have any firefighting gear at all, no fire extinguishers or anything?

WATT: Clues to the cause of this catastrophe? Apparently not.

ROCHESTER: A lot of adrenaline. A lot of confusion. And I think -- my best deduction is the member was -- the radio communicator was trying to ask for information. There are no locked doors.


WATT: Now, those five crew members who escaped, they were interviewed by investigators yesterday. That's happening again today. But authorities are still not giving us any indication as to what

caused this fire, a fire, Jake, so intense that the only way that they can identify the victims is by DNA.

TAPPER: Horrible story.

Nick Watt, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

It's a city already prone to flooding, and now Charleston is bracing for Hurricane Dorian. What the area is doing to prepare for this storm as the hurricane moves up the East Coast of the United States, that's next.


Stay with us.


TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in our "NATIONAL LEAD," taking a first look from the sky at the devastation left behind by Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. An estimated 13,000 homes obliterated, at least five people killed. Residents are using jet skis to try to save their stranded neighbors, hundreds of them we're told.

Hurricane Dorian is now targeting the East Coast of the United States. And CNN's Leyla Santiago is in Hutchinson Island, Florida. That's an island stretch north of West Palm Beach.

And Leyla, tell us what you're seeing, what you're experiencing.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly it's still very windy out here, something we've been seeing an increase up for the last 12 hours since we've been here. And you know, although we're not seeing much rain, we are also starting to see more people showing up to sea. And that's partially because in the next hour or so, the county expects to lift the mandatory evacuation that they put in place for Hutchinson Island, a barrier island here in Fort Pierce.

Now, they are saying that they're still concerned about possible coastal erosion and flooding as well as tropical storm force winds but they are lifting that evacuation and they're also scaling back on the Emergency Operations Center, so a sign that that possibly they're not facing the same threat or danger that they had in place yesterday.

That said, they're telling folks -- excuse me -- they're telling folks that they are still not very much in the clear and they need -- and they're urging people to be careful out here. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Hutchinson Island, Florida. Joining me now on the phone is Elliott Summey. He's the Chairman of the Charleston County Council. Elliott, thanks for -- thanks for joining us. Right now, what are your biggest concerns for your area? ELLIOTT SUMMEY, CHAIRMAN, CHARLESTON COUNTY COUNCIL: Well, obviously, we're worried about flooding and we're worried about you know, having a category two hurricane right off our coast. You know, Charleston, we are at sea level. There's a reason they call us the low country.

And unfortunately, over the last few years, we've had some major flooding events like Hurricane Matthew and then the major flooding in October 2015. So we are very concerned for our residents that it flood when the rains real bad or they flood it in the past they've got a flood again. And we're worried about you know, people's lives. 90 percent of people lose their lives during a hurricane do so because of the water.

TAPPER: And there's been a mandatory evacuation order for the eight coastal counties in your state. Are people in your area heeding that order?

SUMMEY: I believe they are. We'd like to thank Governor McMaster for pulling the trigger and making it happen. The low country of South Carolina especially Charleston has experienced an exponential population growth over the last -- definitely last five years. And so we've got a lot of folks here. We've got a lot of folks who visit here in this Labor Day weekend, on top of it, so we needed to get as many people out of harm's way as possible.

TAPPER: Do you and the people of South Carolina have the resources that you will need from either the state or from the federal government pre-positioned? Are they in place right now everything you need?

SUMMEY: Absolutely. We've been in constant contact with our governor's office. United States Senator Tim Scott, as a matter of fact, just left here. He is actually the former Chairman of County Council. He was in the role that I am in today. And he's been in constant contact with the White House.

We've been ready. We're prepared. Unfortunately, we have had to go through this a few times here in South Carolina over the last few years. We know what we are facing. Our biggest thing is for our folks, our citizens to understand, if you -- if you're in harm's way, please, if you have to leave -- if you cannot leave, stay and shelter in place and we will try to go get you. But at some point when the winds get too bad, we won't be able to. So if you can leave, leave.

TAPPER: All right, Elliott Summey in Charleston, thank you so much. Good luck to you and all the people of South Carolina with the storm. We are just seconds away from the next update on Hurricane Dorian. Where will the monster hurricane hit next? Stick around. We'll tell you.



TAPPER: The breaking news in our "WORLD LEAD" today. Utter devastation in the Bahamas neighborhoods reduced to rubble. An estimated 13,000 homes as of now destroyed. At least five people have been killed. One official saying that death toll is sure to rise.

Amid the tragedy, however, local residents have been stepping up to rescue their stranded neighbors. They have been using jet skis and boats to do what they can to save strangers, to rescue families. They estimate hundreds are still waiting for rescue.

Officials say thousands of federal employees and troops have been deployed in response to the hurricane which is now targeting the east coast of the United States with mandatory evacuations in order up the coast. Nearly 5,000 National Guard members, 10,000 from the Coast Guard, all in place to try to help respond to Dorian.

And just take a look at the track. Tomorrow the storm should be in Northern Florida before it makes a turn towards South Carolina by Thursday. And Hurricane Dorian, of course, will be one of the topics discussed at tomorrow night's CNN climate crisis town hall. Ten Democratic Presidential Candidates will join live from 5:00 p.m. to midnight. That's only on CNN.

You can follow me on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Utter devastation. We're getting images of the catastrophic hurricane damage in the Bahamas. Utter devastation as far as the eye can see. A CNN crew sees hundreds of homes underwater as ordinary citizens work to rescue survivors exhausted from clinging to rooftops.