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Hurricane Dorian Relentlessly Batters the Bahamas as it Sets its Eyes on Florida and the Carolinas; Millions Ordered to Evacuate Along Southeastern U.S. Coast; Thirty Four Feared Dead in California Diving Boat Fire. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 3, 2019 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you -- Tuesday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

The nightmare of Hurricane Dorian continues for the Bahamas. We are now learning the Coast Guard has four helicopters in the air as we speak. They're running search and rescue missions at this moment. Authorities say they know that at least five people have been killed so far from the strength of Dorian. Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed and this storm spins over the islands now for a second straight day, splintering homes and flooding streets -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Today Dorian could finally start its move northward now as a category 3 storm. The forecast shows it's staying away from both Florida and Georgia. That's a big change. But not far enough to dodge dangerous coastal flooding and storm surge. That is why mandatory evacuations are set for three states. The storm could do a lot of damage even if it doesn't come ashore. And forecasters warn the storm could take a turn inland at any time. So a slight chance but still a high enough risk that coastal areas are preparing for the worst.

HARLOW: The stalled storm continues to dump rain on the Bahamas, making those search and rescue operations really, really difficult right now, especially with those four Coast Guard helicopters in the air. You have thousands of people that are still trapped in their homes because of a storm surge of 12 to 18 feet and hurricane force winds of almost 120 miles an hour.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Imagine seeing the water lapping up on your windows like in the Bahamas there. According to the salvation army more than 13,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. That number almost certain to go up. So many lives changed by this storm. Meanwhile the beachfront resorts that normally dot the islands are now scenes of absolute destruction.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) dock, it's gone, no vegetation. The bar wall has completely collapsed. The bar is hanging over nothing.


SCIUTTO: It's going to take so long to recover. Rescue efforts, they've been slowed by the destruction of the island's airports and landing strips. It's hard to get aid in there.

This is video from Freeport International Airport which is now completely under water.

HARLOW: That's unbelievable to see that is the airport. Take a look at this. This is video from Rand Memorial Hospital. This again is in Freeport in the Bahamas. Just one of the country's many hospitals now almost completely submerged in water. The Coast Guard has sent helicopters to some of the hardest hit areas, trying to evacuate those that are in need of urgent medical care.

And more than a dozen Coast Guard cutters in Key West are prepared and ready to make the voyage to the Bahamas to help as needed.

Let's get straight to our Patrick Oppmann. He joins us now from Freeport.

Again, Patrick, we saw you in the midst of this yesterday. There you are now as this thing is moving northward. What are you seeing? What is the extent of the damage?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The good news is that weather conditions are somewhat better. But we still have throughout much of this island tropical storm force winds or even hurricane force winds, and that is complicating any search and rescue operations. We are hoping for the first time in days to be able to get out and do some news gathering and see what the situation is like.

Last night in our building here, which is a very safe place, even though we don't have power or water. We saw people from the area come in, in the middle of the night. We helped them. These are people that evacuated as the water came crashing into their homes in the very late evening last night, after many of us were hoping this storm would have already left us. And these poor people carrying animals, they're carrying a woman who had fallen and broken her hip.

They were completely soaked. They had nothing but the clothes on their back. And they said by the time they realized the water was coming in the house, it had risen so quickly. They could not open their front doors because the water was already half way up their front door. Some of them, they said, had to chop holes in the roofs of their house to get out. They showed up here, we gave them towels, gave them water. Some of them actually slept in the apartment we are in now and they've gone back to see how their homes are this morning.

We've heard so many stories of people losing their homes. You talk about the airport, there are communities of people who live around that airport and those communities are completely under water. It is safe to say at this point no help has come into Freeport, come into Grand Bahama because the airport is closed, it is too dangerous to come here by boat. So, the many people who are injured, who are waiting for help, are going to have to wait even longer.

It is a dire, dire situation here.

SCIUTTO: Patrick Oppmann, thanks so much. You please stay safe.


And gosh, those scenes there, Poppy, just amazing.


SCIUTTO: The force of this storm, particularly on a low-lying island -- islands like the Bahamas.

HARLOW: And I think the fact that it just sat for so long with that persistent rains on islands that already deal with flooding in a normal storm.

OK, let's go straight to our friend and colleague, anchor and correspondent Victor Blackwell.

Victor, you're in Port St. Lucy, Florida. What are you seeing? What are they're preparing for as Dorian moves north?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: So I've actually moved to Jensen Beach here on the mainland. And we are right at the edge here of the intercoastal. The wind has kicked up in the last couple of seconds. We're getting some of that rain coming in. But frankly the way that intercoastal is moving it's hard to tell if it's rain or if it's spray from the water splashing up on the wall here.

You can see just how the wind, the far edge of what Dorian has, is battling here the intercoastal. Now across the water here it's tough to see because we've got some of the rain coming through. That's Huntington Island. That's where I was yesterday on that portion of the city of Jensen Beach. Now, authorities are not letting anyone cross that bridge unless they are residents, not even news crews. So that's why we're on this side right by the Jensen Beach causeway.

There had been more closures here in town overnight. The hotel lobby where we are staying, they closed down and preparing to board up as well. Now, this area is under a hurricane warning. It means that this wind will get even stronger. There will be even more effects from Hurricane Dorian. Now this community is out of the cone for potential landfall.

Chad Myers who we'll hear from in a moment will remind us of the advice from the National Hurricane -- excuse me, the Hurricane Center is that one-third of storms will move outside of that cone. But we know that there's also a storm surge expected that's coming maybe north of four feet and it would come from that direction. The Atlantic is on the other side of that barrier island.

Let's go now to meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, I don't know how strong these winds are but they have certainly picked up a bit and we know that they will get even stronger.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You bet. Every time of one of these outer bands rolls by, we had one thru Orlando earlier today not too far from Sanford Airport. Every time one of these bands comes on by, you're going to get your winds to go up by 20 miles per hour. The wind is up there. It's up above you when it's not raining. But when the rain comes down, it brings that wind with it. And so, we are seeing a band right through you right now.

The most important thing about the 9:00 advisory down to 115 miles per hour from where we were when it hit Great Abaco at 185. The pressure is still low, but the winds aren't there right now. The eye is not very distinct. It is certainly not circular at this point. That means the storm is not gaining strength. That doesn't mean it's not going to because as it drifts to the northwest at 1:00, it will get into a warmer area of water. That's called the gulf stream.

It hasn't been in the gulf stream for a couple of hours now, I think almost 12 hours, because it sat right over itself. And when you take that water and you mix it around, you actually mix the warmth out of it. It sucks all the warm air and now the water is cold. Hurricanes don't like cold water. So, by 2:00 in the morning which is just after midnight, it'll be just about parallel to Melbourne, Florida, and then farther on up toward the north as we get into Wednesday, Thursday and finally offshore into Friday.

The wind speeds, though, are going to be impressive. Every time that that goes by you, you're probably going to see a wind speed of around 59, 60 miles per hour. And then later on tonight, for Melbourne, this is 2:00, just after midnight, that's Melbourne, 64 miles per hour. A little bit closer approach here toward Daytona, 62. And then on up into St. Simon and Savanna and the like, about the same story.

If the storm is 10 miles closer to you, those winds will be 10 miles per hour greater. If the storm is 10 miles farther out to shore, all those numbers will be 10 miles per hour less. So we have that right- hand turn that we're looking for. Right now, we're just hoping it moves at all.

BLACKWELL: Hey, Chad, let me ask you before you go, we're expecting of course this storm to take that northern turn and head north.


BLACKWELL: Based on the two systems, you've got low pressure to the east or was it high pressure to the east, high pressure to the west.


BLACKWELL: What is that third element that's going to push it that's not there right now?

MYERS: One of the highs will move away and one of the highs will move in. We have this almost like -- I used earlier, like trying to get it in second gear and you just miss. So the gears are just grinding, you don't go anywhere in a car. We have a high pressure moving this way and then another high pressure moving this way and they are not acting together. They're acting opposite. And so, because they're acting opposite the storm can't go anywhere. When one moves away, we expect this one, too, eventually that'll push the storm to the north.


We call it a trough, but it really is just kind of low pressure between two highs. Not really a tropical low pressure. Get one of them out of here. As soon as the one goes, I think the big story will be that it'll turn to the right, but it's been a slow moving away of these systems.

BLACKWELL: Very slow. Far too slow, especially for the people there in the Bahamas.

Chad Myers, thank you so much.

Hurricane warnings from where we are here on the Treasure Coast in Martin County all the way up the east coast of Florida, to near Duvall County, Jacksonville, let's head to my colleague, Brian Todd, who's at Sewall's Point.

Brian, what are you seeing where you are?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Victor. This is evidence of the fact that we are not out of danger yet in this part of Florida. We just got another strong burst of wind and rain. It's still continuing here at Sewall's Point. This area has been under a mandatory evacuation. And behind me you can kind of see one of the reasons why. The storm surge still pretty strong. All of our forecasters telling us it's about one foot over normal stages. It could get to maybe four to seven feet. And we're going to show you a little bit about, you know, the homes here that are in some danger of the storm surge and how close they are to the shoreline.

We are on the Indian River lagoon. That house there has been boarded up, but you can see how close the water can come to that house if the storm surge gets, you know, maybe a few feet higher in the coming days. Houses like these are going to be in some danger, and you can see these people boarded up and they took off.

Another factor here is that we are at the convergence of two large rivers and the ocean. This is the Indian River lagoon and you can see again, look how violent the storm surge here is, and it could get worse. You've also got the St. Lucy River which converges with this river just over here, plus the Atlantic Ocean coming in.

Two large rivers and an ocean, bodies of water that are absorbing a lot of that storm surge and bringing it over here. You've also got this area here. This is an evacuation route. This is the Stuart Causeway. It's now closed. People cannot get on that causeway to get to Hutchinson Island, the barrier island over there. And what local officials are telling us is that if conditions get worse over the next 24 hours or even after that, they're not going to be able to get first responders over that bridge and to the island if people are stuck. A lot of people, of course being Floridians, have elected to ride out

the storm and they're saying that people on that barrier island and on Jupiter Island to the south may be cut off. About 30,000 people total live on those two islands. Not clear, I've been pressing officials for the last two days, how many people did get out. They really don't have a count of that. They say it's very hard for them to tell. But a lot of people have elected to ride out the storm. They could be cut off in the next couple of days if the conditions here get worsen and if first responders can't get over these bridges.

So, Victor, those are all factors that we're thinking about today. About 2400 customers in this county are already without power and that's I think with the worst of this storm yet to come -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: And expected to get worse. Brian Todd, thank you so much.

Mandatory evacuations here in Florida, up to Georgia into the Carolinas. We know that last hour I-16 out of Georgia, all roads, all lanes are now headed west as people try to get away from the effects of Dorian.

I'm going to send it back to you in studio. We'll continue our live special coverage throughout the morning.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Mandatory evacuations, folks, listen to them. Officials don't make these decisions lightly.


SCIUTTO: Victor, great to have you down there. Please stay safe for us.

While Hurricane Dorian was hitting the Bahamas, President Trump was hitting the links. On Monday the president played golf at his Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. Aides say he did receive hourly briefings on the storm.

We should remind you President Trump had canceled a diplomatic trip to Poland set to mark the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II in order, his aides said, to better monitor the storm.

HARLOW: All right. Still to come for us, we continue to follow the path of Hurricane Dorian as only CNN can. We are all up and down the eastern seaboard. We'll take you live next to Vero Beach, as the community there waits for Dorian to pass by.

SCIUTTO: And in California NTSB investigators will be on the scene of a deadly boat fire today. Just a horrific scene. What a story. We're learning new information about the accident and what led to it.



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Victor Blackwell, live on Jensen Beach here continuing CNN's live special coverage of Hurricane Dorian. And authorities here along the Florida coast have said that once the winds pick up to about tropical storm force, they will not be able to go out and help people who call for rescues or assistance.

But we know that at least in Martin County, they have already shut down the causeways onto the Barrier island, Hunting Island, both the Jensen Beach causeway, the Stewart causeway as well because the winds had picked up, we're getting some pretty strong gusts occasionally, and one of those lower lines that come in.

What you're seeing now, this is the inter-coastal that has been moving overnight and all morning lapping up against the road here. Let's go to Vero Beach and my colleague Martin Savidge. Martin, how are conditions there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, we're on the Barrier islands here. Essentially, we're looking at where the storm is hitting the ocean-front.


The weather here just changes so dramatically in the span of 60 seconds. You can go from torrential downpour to almost a rain white out to now you've got sunshine, you've got it reflecting it off the water and the wind and the trees and the palms there. You can see that sea state, and that is a real concern on the Barrier island.

Right now, that may be one of the most problematic things you're going to face. Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate here from this point on for the next 24 hours or so, and the bridges to the mainland in theory are closed. They were saying they were going to do that as of midnight last night. I want to get a real read-on where things stand on Vero Beach, and for that I turn to the Mayor Val Zudans, thanks very much. How is your community faring?

MAYOR VAL ZUDANS, VERO BEACH, FLORIDA: They're doing great. We're totally prepared, what we have -- there's been too many tragedies in the world in the last couple of days, and we need to avoid having a tragedy here. I don't think we could have done a better job of being prepared at this point.

The only thing that we can do is become less prepared if people don't stick it out. Just stay the course, you've got about another 24 hours of tropical storm winds. You don't -- a lot of the deaths that happen are even after the storm, people wading through water, driving their cars through waters.

Just wait until everything is clear until the emergency managers let you know that it's OK. We've also had in the past in hurricanes, people died from carbon dioxide poisoning if the power is out. And you're using a generator, make sure it's far enough away from your house.

It can definitely not be in your garage and it has to be -- you have to have a couple of extension cords to get it away, so the exhaust isn't coming in through vents and things like that in your house.

SAVIDGE: Let me ask, any reports of damage, any power outages?

ZUDANS: There have been intermittent power outages. There have been some -- I've heard some people cable out -- I did talk to the sheriff's spokesman Eric Flowers(ph) this morning as well as the Vero Beach police chief and the city manager, and we're doing great.

Everything is going according to plan where there's no major issues right now, but this is not the time to let down the guard. This is the time to stay busy, stay with the plan, stay inside, eat your doritos and play some board games, spend some time with your family and just avoid a catastrophe at the end of this. We just need to stay the course.

SAVIDGE: The worry is that it sounds like there could be cabin fever setting in. People have been preparing for this storm --

ZUDANS: Right --

SAVIDGE: For almost a week, and they've been hunkering down now for at least 24 --

ZUDANS: Right --

SAVIDGE: So, you worry that people are going to just physically get out and about when they shouldn't.

ZUDANS: Yes, please don't. Just stay in your house until it's announced that it's OK to leave. Yes, I think people are going to have cabin fever. And because the storm was delayed and sat there in the Bahamas for so long, people had a lot of extra time, we noticed that the last couple of days before we started getting the winds that people were going to the beach, even going in the water -- bad idea, just don't mess it up at the end.

You've done a great job, the community, the emergency managers, the first responders have done a flawless job, our support from FPNL, from AT&T, from the governor, from the -- even our U.S. Senator Rick Scott's office called me, I got a call from the White House -- not from the president, but from one of his special assistants, but they're all on top of this. They're going to do everything they can to support us and --

SAVIDGE: Let me ask you real quick --

ZUDANS: Yes --

SAVIDGE: Before we run out of time, and that is this. You know, do you feel that this was handled the right way? Was it an overreaction? Do you think people are going to second guess how much effort was put into an vacation for a storm that may not turn out to be that bad here?

ZUDANS: Yes, but you have to prepare for that because people will die if -- when we get a hurricane that actually hits. And for several days there, it did look like Vero Beach was in the center, that's why all the news was coming -- descending on Vero Beach because we were supposed to be there.

And I have been through storms that are bad enough that we would -- if we don't prepare, there can be deaths. Please, don't assume this the next time, that oh, it's just going to turn the last second. You can't make -- you can't make the best case-scenario and try and work out for that.

You have to do the worst case. You will not be disappointed if you're fully prepared. You may be disappointed, but not in a bad way.

SAVIDGE: Right --

ZUDANS: You're not -- you're not going to get the -- people's lives are on the line, pay attention next time just like we did this time. You did perfect and just do it again next time.

SAVIDGE: Yes, no one wishes that it'd be any worse --

ZUDANS: Yes --

SAVIDGE: And we're very glad so far --

ZUDANS: Yes --

SAVIDGE: It has turned out very well. Mayor, thank you very much --

ZUDANS: Thank you very much --

SAVIDGE: We hope your community continues to stay safe. So, Victor, the news is good for now, but 24 hours, this is still going to be an impact here. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Martin, thank you, and we've heard that from several officials across the Treasure Coast, better safe than sorry, what we heard from the mayor of Port St. Lucie yesterday, because in this area in the discussion of hurricanes, the context is Frances, the context is Jeanne, both storms that hit in September of 2004 that caused significant damage and caused -- and came at the loss of life.


Also Hurricane Matthew back in 2016 as well that skirted the coast and caused billions of dollars in damage. Poppy and Jim, this storm is still a 100 miles away, but this area says -- at least, the leaders says that their people are ready.

HARLOW: Yes, that's good, that's good to see how prepared they are. Victor, thank you so much.


HARLOW: All right, we'll get back to Victor in just a minute. But Jim, I mean, you were just pointing out some extraordinary satellite images of the Bahamas, right, as we get the first look?

SCIUTTO: Yes, wiped off the map, I mean, that's the thing. It's so low level, these storms have lasting effects, so even though we're just getting the first reports from there, we probably won't see the full extent of the damage for some time --

HARLOW: Yes, exactly. All right, so also a tragic story that we brought you first too, yesterday, we've learned new details about this deadly boat fire. This is off the coast of southern California, the search and rescue efforts are still under way trying to find anyone else who may have survived. That's next.