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Millions Ordered To Evacuate As Dorian Starts Hitting The United States; Twenty Bodies Recovered From Deadly Boat Fire In California. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 3, 2019 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: ... meteorologist, Jennifer Gray with an updated track. Jennifer, what are you learning?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the two o'clock advisory out. The storm has winds of 110 miles per hour, gust of 125 moving to the northwest at five miles per hour now, so actually starting to get a little bit of forward movement.

In fact, Grand Bahama Island should start to feel conditions improve over the next couple of hours, finally after just beating the island for days and days, so finally starting to move forward, just skirting the coast of Florida. We will still get rain, wind, surge all across Florida. But more confidence now that this is going to skirt just offshore.

And you can see the rain bands already starting to pile in along I-95 and points to the west all along the barrier islands inter coastal waterway getting a lot of water pushed in and that's going to be the trend over the next few days.

So as this moves forward, we will continue that Category 2 status as it bends back to the north east. Once we get into the Carolinas, that's where we could possibly see an actual landfall with this storm anywhere from say, South Carolina all the way up through North Carolina. The outer banks even could get Category 2 conditions. And so we know that's a vulnerable part of the state right there. They could get plenty of storm surge, wind and rain as well.

Here are your current wind gusts. We have about 32 mile per hour winds in Fort Pierce; 36 in Melbourne, and 28 in Orlando, and as the storm travels to the north, those winds will increase as well.

Here are your hurricane watches and warnings. We have hurricane watches all in place along North Carolina coast, South Carolina as well. The storm surge threat has gone down a little bit across portions of Florida to three to five feet, which is good news, but we still have that four to seven feet all along the Georgia coast, South Carolina as well as North Carolina.

I want to show you something this is a picture of Grand Bahama Island, this is before the storm, and with radar imagery and the amount of rain that fell and how long that storm was sitting on top of the area, we can see an inundation map. This is the after picture of what all we believe is inundated with water and you can see all of the water, there's the outline of Grand Bahama Island. So incredible to see, of course, this is just an estimate, but it's with a pretty good confidence that most of that island is still underwater, Brooke. It is going to be devastating when more pictures come out of there.

BALDWIN: Yes. It's unreal to see how high that flood water is there. As we mentioned 13,000 homes in the Bahamas gone. Jennifer, thank you very much. Let's go now to Victor on Jensen Beach, Florida. Victor, how is it looking out there?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Well, the rain has just picked up a bit, but the wind here has been a constant for several days now. And we're expecting that the wind will stay even as this storm heads up north.

The true story of Hurricane Dorian though, is in the Bahamas. Patrick Oppmann has been riding out the storm. He was there even before Dorian approached. He is joining us by phone. Patrick, Jennifer Gray says that you know, the storm is starting to move five miles per hour. Are conditions improving? Are you able to get out now?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): We got out the first time since the storm and conditions were much worse than I expected.

We went to the focal point of the rescue effort of these three ports where people -- private citizens are bringing their boats and their jet skis into areas that used to be houses, communities, thousands of houses also. And many of them are underwater. Whole neighborhoods you can't even see a roof anymore.

But we talked to one man who was (INAUDIBLE) drowned front of him. That they were standing on the cabinets in a kitchen, the water got so high and that the cabinets gave out and that he was not able to keep her head above the water and that she drowned.

And that there are bodies yet to be recovered. We saw multiple jet skis come in, despite the fact that there was still a hurricane winds and rain pelting down on us, bringing people, children, people carrying their pets, and the people were absolutely exhausted. They had to be helped and carried some of them because they had been holding on to the roofs all night long. And people were just in, as you can imagine, incredibly bad shape.

Again, this is a completely ad hoc rescue effort. I didn't see anybody who seemed to be an official. They are having trouble getting out all the boats in part because there are very small places. There had been a bridge, but that bridge is underwater and these amazing Bahamians have just come out despite very dangerous conditions.

We tried to get on a boat, and I can just tell you, it was still far, far too rough. A number of boats and jet skis have flipped over. But they are still doing this as long as they can, despite the conditions, despite the fact that we didn't get to even see the sun today by going out and plucking people.

Women and children are first, they are saying, all from roofs. They rescued dozens, but there are many more still to be rescued, Victor.


BLACKWELL: Yes, the U.S. Coast Guard reporting more than a dozen rescues. Officials there in the Bahamas waiting for an all clear to get to the northern islands. But I understand there was a difficulty trying to get to the hospital. Tell us about that.

OPPMANN: Yes, I can tell you, with the doctors, we tried to go to the hospitals, and even though we've found an (INAUDIBLE) with a big truck, it was a bigger truck and we got to places where cars had stalled and blocking the road. Trees were down and the water was probably above my shoulders.

Still, the flooding here, it's just everywhere, so we tried to get to a hospital (INAUDIBLE). We tried to get to the airport, which was completely flooded, so many of the communities out there were completely flooded.

We were then able to finally get out to this one place in the eastern side of the city and even there, it was a complete maze of rundown various roads to road obstacles and we finally got there.

We saw the terrible scene of people being rescued that so many of the people needing rescue and we talked to a number of Bahamians who said that they rescued one family member, but other family members who are in the same house are still missing. It just seems like a very chaotic rescue after because it is literally people going out in their own boats. Not everyone has enough gasoline.

While the (INAUDIBLE), there were some other small boats and some arrived by jet skis so people could be put in the back of basically road boats and then dragged in and the people had been brought in. The people who had been out on roof tops for days now and are completely wiped out.

So, even though there's not a very organized rescue effort going on, there is a rescue effort and people are risking their lives to save a lot of their neighbors and family.

BLACKWELL: They're reaching out to people they know and people they have not heard from since this storm parked over the Bahamas for days, a Category 5 now moving off as a Category 2 slowly, but in the question or of scope and scale, is there any idea of how many people are unaccounted for?

OPPMANN: No. I mean, just in this brief time, an hour in the city, we were out there, I had three people tell me that they had lost loved ones. This one man, Frank Hamishan (ph) told me that his wife had died in front of him and he actually saw her go under the water and there are neighbors who are here to say that they were looking for relatives, that they were missing and that they've been in the house that they are no longer -- or that they have been pulled away by the storm.

And the waters -- the conditions, nobody else would have come to rescue right now if it were not so absolutely necessary because it's just not safe to be on a boat, it's not safe to be in a jet ski. They are going down rivers that used to be streets.

And when we were there, we got pelted and knocked down by the wind. The last thing anybody should be doing was going in a boat, but these people realized that time is running out.

BLACKWELL: Our Patrick Oppmann now able to venture out there in Freeport for the first time in days to get a better idea of the aftermath, the legacy of this monster storm. Patrick, you and the crew stay safe. We'll check back with you.

I want to go down to Michael Hynes who was in Freeport. He rode out this storm there with his brothers. Michael, thank you for spending a few moments with us. You told our producers that this was the worst thing on Earth. Describe why you said that. What have you seen?

MICHAEL HYNES, RODE OUT HURRICANE DORIAN WITH HIS BROTHERS: Well, it's just the fact that it's been about 46 hours of non-stop brutal winds banging on this island. I mean, we've had flooding before, but nothing in this level.

We expected -- I mean, you kind of prepare for the worse. You're trying to figure out what's the worst situation or what's the worst that can actually happen? And I mean, this is worse. You cannot describe you know what's going on right now. It's worse than what anybody could have imagined.

BLACKWELL: You spent two nights there sheltered with your brothers as this monster, a major hurricane kind of just parked over the Bahamas. Tell us about those two nights, what you heard? The conditions of the facility where you were, what was it like?

HYNES: Well, it's -- our building is a -- basically, it's all repurposed containers, about 130 containers all in all to begin. We have three decks. So it's a lot of -- it's basically a lot of structural steel and it's pretty safe.


HYNES: So the windows that we have is all PVC and are hurricane proof glass. And it's just kind of like, you know, with the wind banging on -- or just (INAUDIBLE) forcing on that PVC is just a lot of --

MATTHEW HYNES, BROTHER OF MICHAEL HYNES: A lot of force on the windows.

MICHAEL HYNES: There's a lot of squeaking and things like that, plus you have an awning with the -- which the turbulence of the wind makes everything shake, but we're very safe here.

I mean, we've had tornadoes come through here and not a scratch. Basically the only thing we're losing is wood panels.

MATTHEW HYNES: We're more fortunate than a lot of other people, that's for sure. Our parking lot is 16 or more feet above sea level. So no flooding here, which is why we decided to stay here during the storm.

MICHAEL HYNES: The offices are about another 20 or so feet up and I mean, we're very safe here. We have a generator. A generator that could last up to four days and no running water about since seven o'clock first night I think because last time, from Hurricane Matthew, the pipes broke and salt water was mixing with -- and you know, damaged the systems.

BLACKWELL: Have you been able to -- have you been able to reach out to friends, to people across the islands to check on them? How are communications for you?

MICHAEL HYNES: I mean, there's two cell phone companies here on the island. I think there's BTC and Alive. Alive is still up because that's how we're able to get -- that's how we're able to communicate you know, and we've been talking to my -- we have another brother who lives in -- Jonathan Hynes -- he lives in South Lucaya and he's been -- he is okay. He has been going around in a pickup truck, but just looking around and --

MATTHEW HYNES: We're cut off here. We have a bridge that was newly built and so basically, we are basically stuck on the western side. And we're not able to go and help out friends and other family members because many of our friends are out there trying to help out and rescue through jet skis and all of that. They said before --

MICHAEL HYNES: We sent you guys the pictures, I think to Bill and I don't know if you guys have shown any of that -- of how it is --

BLACKWELL: There's a bit of a delay, so I don't mean to interrupt. It's just because we're -- you know, I'm in Florida, you're there in the Bahamas.

We've heard from the Prime Minister that the damage, the effect of Hurricane Dorian has been unprecedented. A lot of Americans, a lot of people watching around the world have fond memories from vacations, from honeymoons. But for you, it's home. What are your feelings for the islands and the work ahead as they look for survivors, try to rebuild their lives, rebuild their businesses.

MICHAEL HYNES: Well, I mean basically it's -- the aftermath is usually the worst part of the storms.

We're still recovering from Hurricane Matthew from two years ago and you know, they said that that might be the nail in the coffin and people still survived and they rebuild.

Basically this one, I'm not sure. This is worse than -- this is basically Matthew and Jeanne combined and I'm not too sure if anybody is going to, you know, get back on their feet -- most likely -- but basically, it's going to be a lot of pickup.

I know there's going to be a lot of people, a lot of trucks from Florida coming down to rebuild the pole -- the light poles and the electricity poles and a lot of cleanup and I know, we're going to be helping as soon as we can. We're going to be going out there and try to, you know, either go by boat or by truck if we can get out of here and just go assist our friends who are also assisting -- they're currently trying to rescue people.

BLACKWELL: Well, there's certainly a lot of work ahead. The storm is just starting to move away from Grand Bahama and that'll give us our first opportunity to see the aftermath of the storm as rescue operations continue there.

Guys, thank you so much for spending a few minutes with me. We are happy you are safe, and we'll check back later as you start to get an opportunity to get around the islands and see what's there. Again, thank you.

Back here on the southeast coast of Florida, the storm for at least, Martin County where I am, the Sheriff says we've been spared, but that is not the case for northern counties here in Florida. Just an evacuation ordered in North Carolina for the barrier islands there, from the South Carolina line up to the Virginia state line. We will bring you the latest on the preparations as Hurricane Dorian is slowly -- very slowly, slowly starts to move north. We will be back.



BALDWIN: Welcome back to our special coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Parts of Indian River County along Florida's East Coast are under a mandatory evacuation and CNN's Miguel Marquez is live in the town of Vero Beach. Miguel, what's the story there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they've just lifted those mandatory evacuations for Vero Beach and for Indian River County. So things are starting to get back to normal here.

It was sunny three minutes ago, it is now starting to rain here again. The wind has remained fairly constant over the last 24 hours. You hear what's happening in the Bahamas and the massive amount of damage and loss of life and property. This storm is going to not only affect there, but here as well in ways small and large.

One thing that they absolutely love here in Vero Beach in this part of Florida are turtles and the number of species that lay eggs around these this time. Right now, tons of these eggs have been lost.

This is a turtle leg that was just on the beach. We're seeing nests now that have been lost all along the beach here and the beach itself, look at the erosion in just the last couple of hours. This will be months and months for Florida known for its fine beaches to recover from. People are allowed back onto the barrier island here in Vero Beach.

Right now, authorities are saying, "Stay cautious. Stay aware." You're still going to have rain, you're still going to have high winds over the next 24 hours or so, and there are possibilities of water spouts and even tornadoes being spun off of this storm inland. So there are all sorts of threats still out there. But for now, this

part of Florida is sort of getting back to business as usual. A lot of people have now come out. You can see that since they've lifted the evacuation order. You have a number of people who had stayed on the barrier islands, they've now come out. They've been preparing for days and days, days and days with a lot of them getting cabin fever.

But north of here, that storm is moving there, and if it takes the jog in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Many people could be in danger -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, just the smallest shift as Jennifer Gray was talking about, you know can wreak absolute devastation anywhere up and down that coastline. Miguel, thank you in Vero Beach, and we'll get you back to the storm in just a moment.

But how about this? Just hours after several reported birthday celebrations, a fire turned the 75-foot dive boat, the Conception into a death trap. Now as many as 34 people are feared dead.

Moments ago, the Sheriff explained why it is likely people could not escape.


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


BALDWIN: Twenty of the dead have been recovered. Several others are unaccounted for. Santa Barbara County Sheriff just revealed investigators will be using DNA to confirm identities. However, we are learning from the brother of Kristy Finstad that she was on board the Conception. We were told the 41-year-old researcher and dive instructor first took an interest in diving as a little girl.

The fire tore through the dive vessel 20 yards off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in the early morning hours of Labor Day. Fire officials believe most of the victims were below deck asleep.

Interior video taken last year shows how tight the quarters were. They were also questions surrounding that harrowing mayday call about whether there was lack of fire extinguishers or if an escape hatch was locked.

A Coast Guard official made it clear that neither was an issue, adding that they inspect these vessels annually and that the Conception was in compliance with Maritime Regulations.

Five of the crew members including the Captain were able to jump off, saved by a passing boat whose owners describe the anguish the rescued were in, thinking of those still on board.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was such a hopeless helpless feeling to watch

that boat burn. And know there were only five people at our boat and there was nothing we could do.

There was a 17-year-old girl celebrating her birthday with her parents that she might not have another birthday.


BALDWIN: Joining me now is a long-time California diver who had originally planned to go on that dive trip on that very boat over the holiday weekend. He is Dale Sheckler, also co-founder and former editor of "California Diving News" and Dale, I am so sorry. I know this community is so tight. I know you have been on this boat over a hundred times. You must be gutted. But my question is, did your hip save your life?

DALE SHECKLER, CO-FOUNDER AND FORMER EDITOR, "CALIFORNIA DIVING NEWS": I think so. The hip surgeries that I had to have, the second hip surgery saved my life. I just wasn't able to go out on the boat this particular weekend.


BALDWIN: How are you holding up over all of this?

SHECKLER: Well, I was shocked and devastated. I did know Kristy, and it was very painful to see this happen. I love the boat. I love the crew. I love the owners. They're just fantastic people.

BALDWIN: And they are also, you know, meticulous, right, divers have to be meticulous. I want you to tell me about the boat because as I said, you've been on it a hundred times. It had impeccable safety records. What could have happened?

SHECKLER: Geez, that would take speculation as to what possibly could have happened. They were very good about their safety briefing. Impeccable reputation, excellent reputation. A reputation in customer service and in keeping the facility -- keeping the boat in a hundred percent up and running condition. It was an excellent boat, excellent operation.

BALDWIN: Fully compliant with Maritime Regulations, as I said. You know if you're on this boat, right, so the mayday call comes in, right around three in the morning if you're on this boat asleep, isn't there an escape hatch, right? You're down below, if you're one of these passengers, a diver, isn't there an escape hatch? And would you know where it's located?

SHECKLER: Yes, you would be, definitely, definitely know where the exits are. And the fire must have been so ferocious that that exit was just impossible.

BALDWIN: You are a Church Deacon and I know you've been an active diver for 39 years, you're an inductee into the California Wreck Divers' Hall of Fame. Can you just speak to the loss within this community and speaking about some of the people perhaps you knew?

SHECKLER: It will send ripples through the community for years to come, the amount of loss -- what's going to happen in future operations, future boat trips, it's just devastating. I can't -- I just can't imagine as the names come out, I know I'm going to be shocked when I see the names and try to identify as to who I might know and who I've had passing encounters with throughout the years.

BALDWIN: Dale Sheckler, I appreciate the time. And again, I'm so sorry.

SHECKLER: Thank you. Thank you for that, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You've got it. We'll come back of course to covering that investigation. Also our special coverage of Hurricane Dorian continues. We will check on conditions on the coast as Dorian slows down, but gets even bigger.