Return to Transcripts main page


Millions Ordered to Evacuate along the Coast; Press Conference on California Ship Fire; Coast Guard Suspends Search for Survivors; Hurricane Dorian Forecast; Update on the Bahamas after the Hurricane. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 3, 2019 - 13:00   ET



ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: And that they don't see the other competitors, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren drooping out, neither should Biden is what they argue.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Five months to Iowa. Here we go.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Our coverage continues with Brianna Keilar right now.

Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Victor Blackwell is in Jensen Beach, Florida, for our special coverage of Hurricane Dorian. And he's going to give us a closer look at the storm here in just a moment.

Underway right now, Dorian is now a strong category two storm, moving closer to the Florida coast, but at a crawl, and that means that it's causing even greater damage to the Bahamas, which is still getting pounded two days after the storm first made landfall there as a cat five.

Here are some of the pictures that we're getting from there. People trying to escape the rising waters. The U.S. Coast Guard is now helping with the rescues in the Bahamas.

Also, in California, we are awaiting an update any moment from officials there on the deadly charter boat fire off of Santa Cruz Island. These are live pictures as we await this press conference. There were 39 people onboard and only five have been rescued, and it's now a recovery operation.

But I want to get back to Victor Blackwell now in Florida.

And, Victor, the storm is now a category two. That is good news that it's been downgraded, but it's moving so alarmingly slowly. That must have officials where you are very concerned. VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Very concerned. I mean this storm has

been moving at a procrastinator's pace for several days now, stationary to one mile to two miles an hour for several days. But, still, just about 100 miles off the coast of Florida, creating this much movement along the intercostal.

Let me give you an idea of where I am. I'm standing here in Jensen Beach. The water you're seeing, the swollen intercostal, I mean there's been plenty of water and rainfall in this area before Dorian formed. So now the additional rain and the squalls and the exterior bands of this storm coming in are guaranteed to flood.

What you see in the distance there, that's Hutchinson Island. That is expected to flood from the west, the intercostal, and from that storm surge coming in from the Atlantic from the east as well. Four to Seven feet expected there.

We know that in Martin County, at least, on that island, that stretches along several counties here across this part of Florida, there is a mandatory evacuation. The bridges onto Hutchinson Island have been shut down. The Jensen Causeway, the Stewart Causeway, and even officials have shut off water service to the island to encourage people to evacuate.

Right now there is a news conference that's being held by the sheriff's office here in Martin County and the emergency management officials giving the latest on the situation here.

We do know that there are about 1,400 people in shelters across the county, but they shut down anyone coming into these shelters at 7:00 a.m. this morning. So anyone who was still in this area who decided not to leave will have to shelter in place.

There have been reports of power outages. About 2,400 customers have lost power, which makes that shelter in place a little less comfortable as this storm continues to creep 100 miles off the coast.

Also reports of traffic light problems. So people who are driving through these gusting winds have to be extra safe when on the roads here.

The other thing that officials are fighting, and they are very vocal about it, is complacency and this preparation fatigue. Many of the communities across south Florida and this part of the state, even up to central Florida, started announcing plans to prepare for Dorian on Thursday and Friday. We're now approaching mid-week, so many of the people who went out and gassed up and bought food are having some bouts with cabin fever, or are deciding that maybe they're coming back.

Our colleague Nick Valencia, in the hotel where he and his team are, said that he spoke with a woman there who says that she's heading back to her house. She could have done all of this back at her own home.

We're going to take a moment here to join this presser in south Florida -- excuse me, southern California, on that boat fire. BILL BROWN, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SHERIFF-CORONER: Families who are

having to endure this terrible process as we work to recover loved ones and have searched for their loved ones. We realize that the information that we're about to convey in this press conference is difficult and painful for them. And we want to just let them know that they are in our hearts and that we express our deepest sympathies.

Yesterday, beginning at first light, and continuing throughout the day, the search for survivors and victims of the disaster that took place on the "Conception" continued.


As part of the initial size-up to assess the search area, we were fortunate that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department dive team flew into the area and deployed divers. Once the size-up was completed, the search operation was turned over to the Santa Barbara Sheriff's underwater search and rescue team. The U.S. Coast Guard, the National Park Service, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's dive team all supported our team's search efforts in the search and recovery process.

Sadly, no additional survivors have been found. An additional 16 victims were located in yesterday afternoon's efforts and were brought back to our coroner's bureau.

This makes, in total, 20 victims who have been recovered and transported to our coroner's bureau. Thus far the victims have only been identified as 11 female and nine male remains.

There were several other victims that were seen by the divers, somewhere between four and six, that are still within the wreckage, but due to the positioning of the boat, they were unable to be recovered before nightfall. Today, efforts will be made to stabilize the boat so that divers can safely enter it, search it and recover additional victims. Divers will also map a search area based on currents and the debris field which is about a half mile in size in our continuing efforts to recover additional victims and evidence.

This type of underwater search and recovery operation can be taxing and dangerous with divers operating in up upon 65 feet of water. We want to make sure that this process is done safely and methodically, so we appreciate the families and the patience -- I'm sorry, the families and the public's patience and understanding as the search continues.

I want to talk a little bit about the coroner's process and the investigative process.

The process of identifying the victims and notifying families is underway, concurrent with the search effort. Sheriff's office investigators in our criminal investigation division are working with the Family Assistance Center and the call center, which to date has received over 100 calls from family or friends who believed that loved ones were onboard the "Conception." Investigators are comparing information from the callers with the vessel's passenger list. Since many, if not all, of the victims who have been recovered will need to be identified through DNA analysis, investigators will be coordinating, commencing today, with family members to collect DNA samples for comparison purposes.

In all, 30 victim family members have been connected with the sheriff's office. Only four families of the 34 passengers have not yet been connected with investigators.

The sheriff's coroner's bureau has had mutual aid assistance from the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office and a special team from the state's department of justice is lending their expertise with a rapid DNA analysis tool that was instrumental in identifying victims in the Camp Fire.

Today we will begin the process of mapping DNA profiles of the 20 victims that we have recovered so far so that they can be compared with family samples that will be collected commencing today and in the days to come.

An operation this large could not be handled by a single agency. And I want to thank our allied agencies and cooperators, the many local, state and federal agencies that have come together once again as a team of teams to address this disaster. In the initial response and the first incident -- first day of the incident, we thank and appreciate the Coast Guard, the Ventura County Fire Department, the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol, the Ventura Sheriff's Office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff.

And as we are moving into the sustained search and recovery efforts, I want to thank the Cal Office of Emergency Services out of the governor's office, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department, the National Park Service, the FBI, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Division, the Sacramento branch of the state department of justice, the Orange County Sheriff, the Long Beach Police Department, that's helping with security in the exclusion zone, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


The Family Assistance Center that has been set up is doing extraordinary work. And I want to thank the team that is assembled there and working directly with the victims' families. Members of the district attorney's office, the behavioral wellness department, our chaplains from the sheriff's office, Hospice of Santa Barbara, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and counselors from the At Ease Program that is there in support of the first responders who are dealing with this terrible incident.

Once again, I want to express our sympathies to the family members and our thanks to those who are supporting our continuing efforts to locate everyone who was involved in this disaster.

I now would like to introduce Captain Monica Rochester from the U.S. Coast Guard. CAPTAIN MONICA ROCHESTER, U.S. COAST GUARD: Thank you, Sheriff.

I'm Captain Monica Rochester, captain of the port for Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles Long Beach.

As of 9:40 a.m. this morning, Coast Huard has suspended search efforts pending further development. It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts. We know that this is a very difficult time for families and friends of the victims.

We have suspended the search efforts due to no additional individuals having been witnessed entering the water. Our last aircraft over flight this morning has revealed that no additional signs of distress or debris has been witnessed.

The Coast Guard and other partner agencies conducted seven missions consisting of three helicopter crews and multiple surface assets covering an area of approximately 160 miles. Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco, Forward Operating Base Point Mugu, MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew was involved. Two 45 response boat mediums from Coast Guard Station Channel Islands Harbor, Coast Guard Cutter Narwhal, home ported in Corona del Mar, California, who has been relieved this morning and a 45 response boat medium has been called in her place to maintain on scene commander. The National Parks Service, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire Department.

Again, our hearts, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims. Our total search time for it -- for our efforts was just below 24 hours. The Coast Guard will continue working alongside our partner agencies throughout the recovery and now investigation phase of this incident to try and determine why this incident occurred and what we can learn from this tragedy moving forward. We will work in concert with the National Transportation Safety Board, who is here with us today.

That concludes my statement.

KEILAR: All right, I want to bring in Stephanie Elam, who has been following this story.

Stephanie, this is very sad news for the family members of those who are onboard this dive boat. The Coast Guard saying they're now suspending their search for survivors, and we learned as well from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff-Coroner what they're doing at this point to try to identify victims.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And it is devastating for these families to hear that they are most likely for most of the bodies that they recover having to use DNA technology to identify who these people are because they cannot tell. That's hard for the families to hear. And knowing also that they're going to use technology that they used in the Camp Fire, remember, that was a very, very disastrous fire up north, that they're going to use that technology to quickly identify the DNA here and identify who these people are. What we also learned too is that there -- 11 of the victims are

female, nine of them are male of these 20 people that have been recovered.


And they also said, because what we've learned too yesterday, that the boat itself is actually -- when it sank, it kind of sank on an angle, so it's in about 62 feet of water, but it's a 75-foot boat. So part of it is sticking out of the water, at least that's what they indicated yesterday.

So the way it is in the water is not a safe way for them to get in. But what they did say is that the divers did identify somewhere between four to six other bodies still within what's left of "Conception." So they're hoping to work on stabilizing that boat today and get those bodies out of there. But that still would leave some remaining because we know that there were 39 people onboard and five people were rescued. And then they brought 20 victims back to the coast here in Santa Barbara.

KEILAR: All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

A lot of news that we got out of that press conference. Devastating for these families. We still don't know what caused this fire. We're going to stay on it and bring you any details that we learn.

In the meantime, Hurricane Dorian is continuing its relentless assault on the Bahamas, leaving unprecedented damage in its wake. What people riding out the storm are experiencing, even as Dorian continues to batter the island.

And as Dorian is now setting its sights on Florida, officials are urging residents in its path to get out of dodge. We are live along the East Coast, where millions are now under evacuation orders.



BLACKWELL: Welcome back to CNN's live special coverage of Hurricane Dorian. I'm Victor Blackwell in Jensen Beach.

The Martin County Sheriff's Office and emergency management officials just wrapped up what they said would be their last scheduled news conference on this storm. And it comes down to three words from officials, we've been spared here in Martin County. They say that the mandatory evacuation along Hutchinson Island will be lifted. The causeways, the Jensen Beach Causeway, the Stewart Causeway, will be reopened. We're getting a bit of rain coming in from one of those exterior bands of this now category two hurricane.

But the officials say that for those people who prepared for this storm, boarded up and stocked up or evacuated, they should not look at this with frustration but instead see this as prayers answered. And you only have to look east to the Bahamas to know the true strength of what this storm could have brought to this area.

Again, this is what we're expecting to see as this storm starts to slowly climb the eastern coast of Florida. These stronger bands that come in and bring stronger winds and rain.

Let's go now to meteorologist Jennifer Gray with the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center and what communities here on the treasure coast can expect, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Victor, it really is incredible. To touch on what you were talking about, how this storm is just offshore. All you have to do is look east because if this storm would have jogged a little bit farther to the west, it would have meant a huge difference in the impacts or potential impacts that Florida could have felt, especially where you are, Victor.

Of course, as this travels to the north, we'll still get impacts along the Florida coast. This is a category two. We'll get the wind, we'll get the rain and we will get storm surge and beach erosion along this coast, even with this storm this far out. But just imagine if it would have traveled just a little bit farther to the west, we could have been in a much, much different scenario.

So winds are 110 miles per hour right now -- that's no joke -- 125- mile-per-hour gusts. Here's the radar. You can see that eye, that center of the storm still lashing out at Grand Bahama, if you can believe that. It has been days and days that the Bahamas have been in just torrential rain and unrelenting wind. We are going to see this storm continue to travel to the north. You can see Florida now fully outside the cone. But, remember, that center of the cone can drift to the west side. So it could get a little closer, but we're fairly confident in the track, especially throughout the next couple of days.

Once we get to the Carolinas, though, that's when we really need to worry, especially for the Outer Banks. We could be seeing a landfall there, potentially anywhere along the South Carolina/North Carolina coast with potential category one or two conditions.

Here we go as far as the current winds go. Thirty in Ft. Pierce, 36 in Melbourne. We're seeing some of these buoys well off shore, 56, 43 mile per hour winds.

Here are the hurricane watches and warnings. You can see all along the North Carolina coast, South Carolina, Georgia, even into Florida. Here's the storm surge. And you can see it has come down just a little bit across much of the Florida coast. But still three to five feet. That's a lot. Florida is low lying, as we know, so we could still see, especially some flooding along the beaches, just to the east of the intercostal canal, the barrier islands especially. And then as we get into Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, you can see that right there.

Let me show you this before and after the storm. This is Grand Bahama Island. And when you put the radar imagery into play, this is what they've come up with. There's Freeport right there. This is a before picture. And then the after picture of what we expect is inundated with water.


You can see that turquoise, that bright, bright blue right there, that's what we think is under water as far as Grand Bahama Island goes. Of course, devastating there for the Bahamas, Victor. It's just going to be time before we get more pictures out of there. And, unfortunately, it's not going to be good at all.


BLACKWELL: Yes, certainly will not be.

Jennifer Gray for us in the CNN Weather Center.

You know, you talked about that red line of warnings and watches drawn along the southeastern portion of this country, but the true legacy of Hurricane Dorian is in the Bahamas.

So let's go there now to Freeport and Sam Teicher and Joe Oliver are joining us.

First, we're glad you're safe. We're glad you're OK. Thank you for spending a few minutes with us.

Joe, the prime minister there says that the damage that he's seen, that he's received reports about, unprecedented. What have you seen? What can you tell us about the aftermath of Dorian?

JOE OLIVER, LIVES IN FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: It's pretty much the same thing. We ventured out earlier to take some fuel to a couple of guys that were doing jet ski rescue in parts flooded -- a more flooded part of the island. And catastrophic is about the most accurate word you can use. Florence was bad last year. Mike -- the damage with Michael was incredible. I haven't seen anything like this before in my life.

SAM TEICHER, LIVES IN FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: This is (INAUDIBLE) asking people last year in North Carolina, where he's from. It's -- it's --

BLACKWELL: Sam, have you been able to communicate with friends, with co-workers, with people there? How are communications on the islands?

TEICHER: We're very fortunate. There's (INAUDIBLE) carriers on the island. I (INAUDIBLE). And thus far the Internet has been all right. Our (INAUDIBLE) at this point, but a lot of people on another network can't get communications out. So we've been able to let people know that various message (ph) groups going around town (INAUDIBLE) the island were dropping (INAUDIBLE) rescues, pleas for water or fuel. The Humane Society flooded, which had a hundred animals in it, and people as well.

And like Joe just said, we just came back (INAUDIBLE). And on the east side of that, it kind of (INAUDIBLE) and it looked like a lake that stretched out for miles. And the defense force guy and other people were volunteering with jet skis and boats and are doing everything possible to get boats. But Dorian's sitting on top of us. But, still, even with moving north, we're still getting strong (INAUDIBLE).

BLACKWELL: Yes, it sat there for days.

Sam Teicher, Joe Oliver, we're having a little bit of difficulty hearing and understanding everything. I think people at home understand that happens sometimes.

Thank you for spending a couple of minutes with us. Again, we are -- we are happy that you are OK and our Patrick Oppmann said that from his perspective this will be the Bahamas' Katrina.

And as we see more pictures of the devastation and the damage, we'll know exactly how much work there is ahead.

We'll take a quick break here, but we will continue CNN's special live coverage of Hurricane Dorian. We'll bring you back to the Florida coast.