Return to Transcripts main page

ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) is Interviewed About Preparations As Dorian Moves Dangerously Close to U.S. After Battering Bahamas; Coast Guard Suspends Search for Survivors in California Boat Fire; West Texas Gunman Purchased Weapon in Private Sale; Hurricane Dorian Growing In Size As It Starts Hitting The U.S.; Rescues Under Way To Save People Trapped In The Bahamas After Catastrophic Flooding From Dorian; Millions Ordered To Evacuate As Dorian Starts Hitting U.S. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 3, 2019 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: ... the NRA calls the move by Wal-Mart shameful. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN's special breaking news coverage continues right now with Erin Burnett OUTFRONT.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next breaking news, utter devastation. New pictures from above showing the epic damage of Hurricane Dorian. Tonight, a race against time to save those trapped as wind, rain and a powerful storm surge batter Florida's beaches this hour. And there is a new threat tonight, Dorian closing in on the East Coast of the United States possibly set to strike the Carolinas. Plus, new video of the deadly boat fire in California as questions mount about how the horrific fire started and whether any passengers could have been saved. Let's go out front.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, Hurricane Dorian's devastation. The catastrophic storm now setting its sights on Florida as tonight the storm finally picks up speed and it is getting even bigger.

These are live pictures right now out of Indialantic Beach in Florida. Conditions there deteriorating. Tropical storm-force winds and a damaging storm surge are now battering Florida's east coast as the hurricane starts to move north. New evacuations ordered tonight in both South and North Carolina.

Now, Dorian is growing in size now about 350 miles wide. The size and strength has officials warning tonight that the hurricane could cause destructive tornadoes up and down the entire southeast. Dorian's move towards the U.S. mainland comes as we are getting our first glimpse of the catastrophic devastation left after Dorian battered the Bahamas for two straight days.

This is when it was essentially stalled. These are new pictures from Great Abaco island. Entire neighborhoods are gone. Homes literally ripped from their foundations, cars and boats as you can see just littering the water and the land there. It is truly destruction and debris as far as you can see. Now, we've also traveled to another hard-hit area where rescues are

underway as we speak. Hundreds of homes still underwater there where people have been clinging to roofs, stuck in attics. Let me just show you another way to look at this and that is before and after Grand Bahama island. The yellow lines mark what was land before the storm hit, so you can see essentially it's essentially cut there in half.

Our team of reporters are on the ground tonight. We're going to go live to the Bahamas in just a moment. You saw Patrick a moment ago there in a rescue video. He will be with me in just a moment. I want to go first to Tom Sater though, out front live at the Weather Center.

So Tom, what is the latest on Dorian's track now that it is moving again?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST AND WEATHER ANCHOR: Well, Erin, right now it's moving at six miles per hour. That's still considered slow for a tropical system, but it's better than being stationary.

Let me start first with the Grand Bahama island here because they're going into the third night of darkness. And if you notice on the infrared satellite imagery, some of those colors of black, there's still rain that is falling in the area but thunderstorms are coming into the Abaco's region. That's going to hurt some of the rescue and search efforts.

But the winds are counterclockwise, so those winds coming in from the northwest are keeping that high water like the images you just showed moments ago from receding. When you have the airfield here and Freeport here and that inundation of water, as long as those winds continue across the coastline, that water is not going to be able to recede.

The airport had five to six feet, just completely submerging it. Once the waters recede, then they can inspect the airfield just to get some fixed-wing aircraft in there because that's what we're going to need. But again, now that we're seeing the system lift to the north, there are some concerns not just for the Carolinas but Florida is still in this because if you look at the radar, we're now starting to see more of a pattern of steady rain and it will be heavy at times.

No longer is it just the feeder bands kicking through in occasional downpour. This is going to cause some flooding. Florida's had a very wet August and a wet year. Now, the newest track that came out does give us some concern. It's currently 105 miles east of Fort Pierce.

Yesterday, we thought maybe the closest approach would be Cape Canaveral at 35 miles, now it looks about 80. But as it makes its way toward Jacksonville, we could have problems with that surge pushing that water up in the St. Johns River.

But more importantly, as we talked about, this is a concern in the Carolinas therefore the evacuations. We may have a landfall very close to the coast of South Carolina. Therefore, the warnings have been extended just north of Wilmington, maybe even a better chance for maybe Cape Fear or toward the Outer Banks. But still, power outages are going to occur. We're still going to

have a storm surge where the water could after hour after hour breach some of the dunes, find its way inland and then with that heavy rain and the pounding of water and the flood problems we could have in the coast. That's coastal areas to maybe 20, 25 miles inland.

But then it gets extremely close to this coast because of the curvature of the coastline and that is an big concern. We're looking at maybe a 20-mile difference between the center and the coastline.

[19:05:06]

And if you think the men and women of the National Hurricane Center have been busy, we've got five systems right now, Erin, in the Atlantic. The peak of the season is next Tuesday. More to watch.

BURNETT: Wow, five systems. All right. Thank you very much, Tom. Look, the damage across the Bahamas is widespread across the island of Grand Abaco, particularly when you talk about Grand Bahama power outage are now on third day.

Look at these images though from Great Abaco, homes have been leveled. Others are still underwater, as you heard Tom talking about, because the waters can't recede. City of Freeport has been devastated and that is where our Patrick Oppmann is tonight.

Patrick obviously has been out amidst the storm. We saw a video of you earlier, Patrick. People were racing to rescue those who were still trapped to try to save lives. What have you been seeing?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's so much of this island we're still not able to access because where there used to be streets there are rivers. Other places are completely blocked off like the downtown of Freeport where the main hospitals which we hear is full of victims of the storm by submerged cars.

But we did get to one area, Erin, where it used to be a bridge and now it's a staging area for rescuers there. They are volunteers and they say the time is running out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHENEL DANIEL, RESCUING PEOPLE IN FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: First we found is my brother. He is clinging onto a tree and he made out safe but we're unable to locate his wife at the moment. We hope that she's OK, but the rescue goes on. We have a lot of people supporting us. Everybody is working as a team here. It's very hard but you know what I'm saying, but we shall overcome but, yes, we're getting survivors as we go so we got to keep going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people are still out there you think?

DANIEL: Boy, dozen more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot. DANIEL: A lot and a lot of people we can't even find at the moment.

Families unaccounted for at the moment. My brother's wife, we can't even find her at the moment. The last time he said she is clinging on a piece of cardboard trying to stay afloat and we find him stuck in a tree.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OPPMANN: Dozens have been rescued by this all volunteer force, Erin. But there's still so many more people out there. Just stop for a second to imagine they're entering their third night. They will be in the dark. They're unlikely to have food or water and they are waiting for rescue that could take hours or even days more to come, Erin.

BURNETT: Patrick, thank you very much. Of course stay safe there, Patrick, on trying to give everyone as best a picture as there is, of course as darkness falls with no light. I want to go now to Harold Williams. He is a resident of Grand Bahama island.

Harold, what does the destruction look like where you are?

HAROLD WILLIAMS, LIVES IN FREEPORT, BAHAMAS; HELPING WITH RESCUES: Well, I don't think we've ever seen anything like this in our lifetime. Just total destruction as far as water surge coming onto the island. We've thought before that 70 percent of the island has been flooded.

The Abacos is just totally destroyed. Persons are still looking for their loved ones. We're using social media to try to locate them. The report of persons being found, the bodies of persons being found. It's just something that we've just never encounter in our lifetime.

BURNETT: That's just so horrible, Harold. I know we have no idea at this point what the death toll may be. I know you have been trying to rescue people. What have you seen?

WILLIAMS: So my son and my nephew were out last night and we had to use jet ski to try to rescue some family members. The jet ski has broken down and so what they had to was to go like into the water themselves and the water was chest deep. They had to lock arms in order to get those persons out of the house.

So the current and the wind was just blowing and so in order that they do not lose one another, they just have to lock arms until they get to safer ground. But this was just something unimaginable.

BURNETT: I mean, Harold, I know you're risking your own life to do this. How many people do you think need help? I mean are you even able to tell as you see a house or as you're on the jet ski and you go by, how many people need help?

WILLIAMS: It's just heartbreaking to hear the stories. My son told me that while they were trying to rescue the loved ones, they heard screaming from persons in nearby homes just screaming, "Help. Someone help me get out, out, out." And there's only so much you can do. There's only so much help you can provide and I know the government and through the efforts of the emergency responders that died last night.

[19:10:01]

They had one of the fire trucks that actually head out through the water and the fire rescue had to swim to space and they were unable to get to those people, so that was just devastating.

BURNETT: Harold, obviously, these conditions are incredibly dangerous. I mean how worried are you for your own safety and what is your situation when it comes to your cell phone battery, the food that you have, the supplies that you have, given that it may take so long for more help?

WILLIAMS: Well, my own safety I'd say is pretty much better than a lot, because I live over on the south side of the island. And for us, luckily, the water was coming from the north side and so we felt a lot better so my family and I are safe. But, of course, you have a lot of loved ones, a lot of friends, a lot of person that we know that are not been found and we're still worried about them.

And we're finding reports of bodies being found and so we're just praying that none of the loved ones or person that we know are among those person. So we all we can do is just continue to hold our hope and continue to pray that no more casualties occur.

BURNETT: Well, Harold, thank you very much for joining us. I just hope that you get a lot more help and it's amazing there are people like you out there trying to help so many others. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Thank you very much.

BURNETT: And next, more of the breaking news. President Trump just announcing the United States will send more crews to help with the search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas. We're going to show you the latest video that we have of the airport. When you talk about getting help in, it can't come on an airplane.

Plus, a scuba dive master and firefighter who has been on the boat that went up in flames is out front. He has been in that bunker many times. What he thinks caused the fire that killed 36 passengers? And tonight, extremely disturbing you details, how the gunman in the Texas mass shooting got his assault style weapons.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:22]

BURNETT: Breaking News, a major airport in the Bahama is completely underwater tonight. This is what the Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport looks like. This is after the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Dorian.

You can see waves crashing against the terminal. The terminal completely submerged. You heard Patrick talking at the top of the hour, five to six feet of water, literally waves. Let me just show you by comparison what the airport used to look like so you can see what's happening here.

Dorian dropping more than 30 inches of rain across the Bahamas. And then, of course, you've got the storm surge and now just free flowing waves. Out front now, Eric Jones, Seventh District Commander for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Commander, I appreciate you coming back on the show. I know you've had an exhausting day. How many people have you been able to rescue so far in the Bahamas?

ERIC JONES, U.S. COAST GUARD SEVENTH DISTRICT COMMANDER: Now, we're able to rescue - seven, Erin. The day started a little challenging because Dorian still hadn't appreciably moved. But toward the end of the day, we finally saw that motion to the north which allowed us to move further to the north and west.

BURNETT: And you cut out for just a second, you said seven or ...

JONES: Forty-seven.

BURNETT: Forty-seven, OK. So look that is good news because we keep hearing from people, as you know we're still talking about people trapped and the pictures commander are stunning. There's a hospital completely flooded. I'll show those pictures. And we just showed everyone the airport.

I mean, what are the conditions you're facing on the ground as the Coast Guard right now?

JONES: Everything we're bringing in is coming in from the air at this point, simply because of the conditions and we're having to focus on evacuating those folks that are injured that require additional medical care and getting them back to the hospitals in Nassau which is quite the trip.

BURNETT: And what has been the biggest challenge you faced so far? Some of those 47 people, what is their condition been like?

JONES: Several that I've heard of have been basic blunt injuries, head injuries, a broken pelvis and the like. We've been able to have a doctor and medics on the ground on Great Abaco island to help evaluate those that can be treated in place and those that need to move to a higher level of care.

BURNETT: And Commander, as you said that's been an exhausting 24 hours, 47 people rescued by the Coast Guard. What are you expecting for tomorrow?

JONES: Tomorrow is going to be an entirely new challenge because we should have access to all of the Abacos plus Grand Bahama island. We obviously are going to have to be selective. We have the aircraft, but they can only lift three to five people at a time and the capacity of the hospitals in Nassau is limited, so there will be prioritization.

We're working with the Bahamian government and both the Royal Bahamian Police Force and defense forces will be bringing supplies to the islands to help with the people that are in place and we will use the search and rescue to prioritize the efforts to get folks to medical care.

Additionally, we expect some response from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay, a U.K. ship that will be lending assistance as well. And then we'll be helping as the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance starts to flow in supplies that can be brought to the islands for the people that are there.

BURNETT: Commander, thank you very much and good luck with this tomorrow.

JONES: Thank you so much, Erin. We really appreciate it.

[19:20:06]

BURNETT: All right. I want to go out front now to Verell Pinder. She is in Freeport on Grand Bahama. She was forced to evacuate her home to go elsewhere on the island and stay with family. Verell, you tried to go out today. Tell me what happened.

VERELL PINDER, LIVES IN FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: Upon trying to go out. We weren't able to venture far. There were some down power lines and then there were some trees across the road right in the area that I evacuated to, so we weren't able to venture really far from where we are.

It was pretty amazing but heart-wrenching that we were just looking outside all night to see if the floodwaters would come to this area because right across the street and all around us people were calling in on social media needing to be rescued from right around in the area that he were staying in, so it was heart-wrenching.

BURNETT: How would you describe the damage you've seen so far?

PINDER: The damage I've seen so far - well, the thing is right now with all the flooding we're going to have to estimate that and we are able to venture out. Right now all I can say is there's a lot of tree damage, a lot of lines that are hanging low.

But because of the hurricanes of last time, they changed out a lot of the power poles so they're kind of more sturdy now so we didn't have much of the pole damage, I would say, in this area. But I don't know the extent of the island right now, but there are some roofs that are definitely damaged.

BURNETT: And Verell, I know you've said you don't have power, you've been relying on candles, flashlights with whatever battery power you have.

PINDER: Yes.

BURNETT: But you also mentioned when you were talking to us earlier that the part of town where you would go to buy food is completely submerged, so possibly that food you know is gone, is ruined. You're not able to get more. I mean are you worried right now about how long you may be stuck?

PINDER: That is always a concern for us when it comes to stores. But right now the streets that was flooded there, the streets that of the major food stores are on. I don't know what they did in preparation of the storm if everything is damaged or what, so we just need to wait and see.

Like I told you before, we are prone to this kind of thing and we know it. So most of us are kind of prepared with enough food and water for our home we have with us. But the thing that happened with this one is there was so much persons out of place that they had to come into the home.

So I know some persons, water supply is probably almost depleted.

BURNETT: Yes.

PINDER: And without telephone communication we just aren't sure what's going on and so we're eager to get out but we're not certainly - we can't even hear when all clear is called.

BURNETT: Verell, good luck. We're thinking of you.

PINDER: Thank you.

BURNETT: We'll be checking in. Thank you.

PINDER: OK. Thank you so much. Thank you.

BURNETT: And next, new evacuation orders in effect. Dorian's outer bands are now lashing Florida, the Carolina bracing for possible direct impact. Plus, we're learning more about who was on board that diving boat. It went up in flames. The 34 passengers below deck are dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a go-getter. She was just following her dream. She loved it here and she love the boat and she loves diving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:27:12]

BURNETT: Breaking tonight, new evacuation orders along the East Coast as Hurricane Dorian moves north. The storm pummeling the Florida coast with outer bands of heavy rain and tropical storm-force winds. Dorian picking up speed. It is heading for the United States after devastating the Bahamas. Miguel Marquez out front tonight in Vero Beach, California.

So Miguel, what are the conditions where you are? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is some of the

worst that we have seen since the storm has been churning off the coast here. It's about 100 miles from where we are. This town and this area has been preparing for about a week.

A lot of people stayed thinking that it was going to turn north and not affect them as much, but I mean you can see just how rough and ominous the seas are right now. A band is coming in now, the wind is picking up somewhat. It's been pretty steady wins for much of the day.

But the damage here is going to be long-lasting. Where we are standing right now, this used to be a dune, basically. You can see how much was eroded just in the first high tide. High tide came in around noon today and as that storm was offshore and it really just hammered away at this coast, they lost several feet of it.

The other problem here, this is an area that is sensitive for turtles. There's a lot of turtles that come here and lay eggs. We're seeing turtle eggs all over the beach here. They're loose in some cases all over the beach as well. They've been all up and down this part of Florida as well.

So wildlife also feeling the effects of Dorian, reporting here though hearing Patrick seeing what's happening in the Bahamas it is hard to imagine how bad they have it when it is as bad as it is here, but there - I mean, this is only a taste of what they are getting there. But people have come back to their homes in this part of Florida, but people north of where we are now bracing for whatever Dorian packs up there, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Miguel, thank you very much and so many questions now of course of the direct impact to the United States where it will be. I want to go now to Drew Griffin who is live in Titusville, Florida which is about 80 miles north of where you just saw Miguel.

So Drew, what are you seeing?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are finally getting those outer bands and pretty strong probably tropical force winds at this point. This is what authorities in this Brevard County have been worried about all day.

There was a lot of complacency, A lot of looky-loos, people coming out and the officials were saying, "Stay in place. Something is coming. We have not really escaped this yet." It is finally here. The looky- loos have all gone home and we're expecting a pretty rough night.

But as Miguel said, everybody is believing they have dodged the bullet here really and looking towards the Bahamas with great empathy at this point imagining just what could have been had this storm get barreling in.

[19:30:00] Tonight into tomorrow is when it will be bad here, then it will move

along. There was a tornado warning earlier in the northern part of the county. That was about an hour ago. But what we're getting, Erin, is the bands coming through and certainly it's not going to be as bad as it could have been they were predicting just a couple days ago -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Drew, thank you very much.

Of course, the big question is, whether it will be much worse than it was predicted to be in the Carolinas, which is where Dorian may make landfall now with the latest predictions.

OUTFRONT now, the governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper.

And, Governor, I appreciate your time.

You have just ordered mandatory evacuations I understand for the barrier islands. How worried are you about the storm that it could make the direct United States landfall in your state?

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): Well, Erin, as you know, North Carolina juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. And we have suffered two hurricanes in the last three years.

So, our antenna is up. We are prepared. We are ready to go in the event that this storm does hit us. We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. And certainly, we are thinking about the people of the Bahamas tonight, with the utter devastation that they have experienced there.

We know how powerful these storms can be. So, we've got all of our local emergency management people on alert. Our barrier islands are spectacular, but we know that it can be difficult logistically to get people off of them.

BURNETT: Yes.

COOPER: And so, we have ordered evacuations, because we want them to get to safety. And we are encouraging them -- do not ride out this storm. Not only do you put your life at risk but you also put the lives of first responders at risk who would have to go in and rescue you.

BURNETT: So, Governor, what I'm wondering about on that front, though, is exactly -- well, I don't know if you just heard our reporter, Drew Griffin, talking about from Florida, right? People starting to get a little complacent, oh, maybe it won't hit here, and then they come back. And then it didn't hit a direct hit. Obviously, they're getting some severe impact.

But I'm wondering if you have that concern or are seeing any of that, that maybe there is a bit of complacency among people in your state when you're telling them to evacuate?

COOPER: For a state like North Carolina that has had two devastating hurricanes within three years -- we had two so-called 500-year floods in less than three years. And it hasn't even been a year since Hurricane Florence hit last year.

So, we know what the storms can do. I don't sense any complacency. I do know how difficult and frustrating and sometimes costly that evacuations can be.

But when you weigh the cost of losing lives, you know that it is something that you need to do. Always you have people who live at the coast and particularly in the outer banks who have been through a lot. They have weathered a lot of storms. They've seen a lot of northeasters that they consider stronger than hurricanes.

So, some people, you're just not going to be able to move out. They just refuse to go, understanding the risks that they take. But we certainly want all the tourists off. And we want as many of the residents off who will do so.

Local law enforcement and local officials will be going through these outer islands to warn people and tell them it's time to leave, because you really don't want to put yourselves or first responders at risk, because we have some amazing people --

BURNETT: Yes.

COOPER: -- public servants in our state who will risk their lives in a minute to go in and save people. And we have seen it done.

BURNETT: And I hope -- I hope that residents heed that warning, because there are those who will risk lives for others and there should be no need for them to do so.

Thank you very much, Governor Cooper. I appreciate for your time tonight. Thank you, sir, as you ready for the storm.

And next, rescue crews calling off the search for survivors of that horrific boat fire. There are new questions tonight about exactly what happened.

And we have alarming details tonight about how the gunman in the latest mass shooting got his hands on an assault style weapon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:37:54]

BURNETT: New tonight, there are no additional survivors in the horrific boat fire in California. The Coast Guard suspending its search for survivors after searching 23 hours across 160 square miles. This is new video of the Coast Guard responding to the fire when they responded to the mayday call. So far, the remains of 20 victims have been recovered.

And there are up to 14 others still not located, they believe probably inside the wreckage. It's not going to be easy they say to identify them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF BILL BROWN, SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA: Many if not all of the victims who have been recovered will need to be identified through DNA analysis. There was an extraordinarily hot fire. And the bodies do exhibit signs of extreme thermal damage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Stephanie Elam is OUTFRONT.

Stephanie, have investigators determined the cause of this fire?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, that's something that's still outstanding. In fact, the NTSB now here in Santa Barbara saying the investigation they might be able to get a preliminary report within 10 days. But it may be a full year before we really know what happened.

What we know is that divers did identify that there may be more bodies within the wreckage. They were working today to try to pull those bodies out. But even if they to, they saw about four to six people. There are still more bodies they are working to find, Erin.

BURNETT: Stephanie, you just spoke to one woman who says her daughter was on the boat. What did she say to you?

ELAM: It's interesting when you are out here and this makeshift memorial is behind us and people keep visiting. But all of a sudden there is the cry of the woman she said my daughter and she fell to her knees in front of the picture of her.

The mother's name is Cheri McDonough. She says she came from Cincinnati. She said her daughter, Alexandra Kurtz (ph), 25 years old, loved diving, loved being by the ocean, loved living out here.

Take a listen to how she described her daughter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHERIE MCDONOUGH, MOTHER OF VICTIM IN BOAT FIRE: She was a go-getter. She was just following her dream. She loved it here and she loved the boat. She loved diving.

[19:40:00]

REPORTER: How are you coping with all of this?

MCDONOUGH: I'm not. We came out from Cincinnati. And it comes in waves. Never thought I would ever have to go through this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: And when you're out here, you know that the harbor is still very much alive. People are coming out and touring and enjoying the end of summer. But when this mother showed up here, Erin, everyone went quiet. It was so silent as everyone allowed this mother a moment to have this moment as she's mourning the loss of her daughter, and not even knowing yet if she's been recovered -- Erin.

BURNETT: Stephanie, thank you.

I want to go OUTFRONT now to Eric Ohde, scuba dive master and retired fire firefighter who has been on the Conception boat six times.

Eric, look, you know this boat well. At this point, we understand people were sleeping. There were very tight bunk quarters below deck. The crew who survived were obviously above deck.

What would it have been like for someone sleeping in the bottom to try to get out?

ERIC OHDE, SCUBA DIVEMASTER & RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: Well, in looking at the floor plan of the boat basically, there's -- you go down a stairwell on the star board side in the front corner of the bunk room. And that's the egress and ingress access to the bunk room. There is an emergency access hatch that comes up above the two rear bunks, 27 and upper a 10 upper that comes up into the main dining area, salon floor near the back, close to the opening where you can go out the back of the boat. But those are the only ways you can get in and out of it the downstairs bunk room.

BURNETT: And just to be clear, you know, because the Coast Guard had originally been asking if thing were locked. Your understanding there is no door on the staircase at all so that someone could get out but all the means of egress, whether staircase or hatches all essentially go to the kitchen.

OHDE: They go into -- well, the kitchen, the galley area is in the very front. If you go up the stairwell out of the bottom from the bunk room, you'll come up right next to the galley. So the galley -- the stairs come up right on the starboard on the right side of the kitchen area, the galley.

And then the hole from there going back to the back of the boat to get outside on the dive deck is all enclosed except for the back opening. That's the salon dining area. That's where everybody -- you would come up through the emergency hatch end up in the back part of that. Or if you come up the ladder, you come up next to the galley. Not the ladder, excuse me, the stairs.

BURNETT: So, you've been on the boat six times. You're also a retired firefighter.

OHDE: Yes.

BURNETT: What do you think may have happened, Eric?

OHDE: Hard for me to speculate, really. It's just -- I really enjoyed every trip I've taken with Truth Aquatics on the Conception. I was on the vision one trip.

And it's -- they are really professional. They give great safety briefings. They're very professional crews. Jerry, the captain is amazingly -- just an amazing guy and knows so much, and was very safety conscious.

So, it's -- it was a catastrophic event. It seems like, you know, a fire occurred at somewhere that nobody could get out of. The two probably areas are either the galley or the engine room.

The only thing running at night would be the generators. The generator runs the lights. But, you know, the boat anchored is -- typically, Jerry would anchor in an area that was fairly sheltered and set the front anchor in the boat and pivot in the current and the wind.

BURNETT: So, what was your initial reaction when you heard about what happened and that people -- I mean, whatever happened, nobody was even able to get up the stairs that didn't have a door on them? Obviously perhaps the fire was at the top of the stairs. We don't know.

But a lot of people who are on the boat had been on that boat before probably or been on boats like this before.

OHDE: Right. And I've been on boats -- other live aboard boats in the Caymans and Belize. Actually I was on the Cayman Aggressor, we had an explosion from an air compressor that overpressurized and created a flash fire in the engine room and the extinguishing system put the fire out immediately.

This, however, at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning when they were calling, the fire must have got well-established somewhere on the boat, maybe -- I don't really know. But if it was near the galley area, then it would have blocked any egress or ingress out through the stairwell.

[19:45:00]

BURNETT: Eric, thank you very much.

OHDE: You bet.

BURNETT: And next, we have disturbing details on how the Texas mass shooter got his weapon after failing a federal background check. Failing a federal background check but got the gun legally. That's a loophole.

And Vice President Pence going out of his way in Ireland to stay at one of Trump's properties. And guess who is paying for it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: New tonight, we have found out how the Texas mass shooter got his assault style weapon. A law enforcement official telling CNN that the gun was purchased in a private sale. Now, this is a huge loophole. It allows people to buy guns from family, from an individual seller online or a gun show without a background check.

And this shooter had failed a background check when he tried to buy a gun at a retailer in 2014. So, he got the gun anyway. He got it legally through a loophole and he killed seven people and wounded 25 more in a mass shooting rampage. So, will these needless deaths of innocent Americans get the Senate

majority leader to take action?

[19:50:03]

Here is Mitch McConnell.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If the president took a position on a bill, so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I'd be happy to put it on the floor.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BURNETT: So here is why he doesn't know President Trump's position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have an appetite for background checks. We're going to be doing background checks.

We do have a lot of background checks right now.

As strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Closing another loophole would have.

Manu Raju is OUTFRONT in Washington.

Manu, the House bill on expanding background checks, you know, which would close this crucial loophole has been sitting on McConnell's desk for months. He's not brought it to a vote. When he says it's because he doesn't know where the president stands, is that fair?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the concern for the Senate majority leader right now is putting a bill on the Senate floor that would put his Republican senators in a difficult spot. What they are asking essentially for the president to give is political cover to back legislation that could be continue verse and will controversial and get backlash from the base to move forward.

The president says he would ultimately sign off on that but because he's been all over the map, that has made it very difficult for Republicans in the Senate to decide exactly how to move forward. They have been in this position before, Erin, recall right before the government shutdown the longest in history that occurred this year. They thought the president was going to sign legislation to keep the government open.

Ultimately, he backed away and the Republicans were in a difficult spot. In this situation, they don't want the same thing to happen, which is why they are asking for clarity and something the White House has yet to give the Republican senators and the Senate, of course, is in recess with the House. They don't return until next week when members will start to discuss these matters in more detail, Erin.

BURNETT: And you have new reporting, Manu, on what the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling Democrats tonight.

RAJU: Yes, she wants the Democrats to focus exclusively on Mitch McConnell, pressure him to put the universal background checks bill on the floor which will require background checks of those private sells and Democrats tonight, including the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, are saying that had the House bill been passed, that could have stopped this tragedy in West Texas from over the weekend. Expect that message to be one that Democrats used in the days ahead -- Erin.

BURNETT: Manu, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT next, Vice President Mike Pence is in Ireland staying nearly 200 miles away from where he's doing business, and, you know, having to fly and drive to get there. Why? Well, there is a reason and it's Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:57:07]

BURNETT: Hurricane Dorian hitting Florida tonight after ripping through the Bahamas, destroying almost everything in its path. The monster storm raising serious questions about climate change, and with extreme weather will only get more severe in the future.

We're going to be discussing that in depth with the ten top 2020 Democratic candidates, special night of town halls tomorrow.

It starts at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN and we're very much looking forward to you being with us for that.

Also tonight, Vice President Pence going out of his way to stay at President Trump's properties. Pence is in Ireland right now, sleeping at a Trump resort, which makes absolutely no sense because his official business is 181 miles away from where his bed is tonight. So, taxpayers are also paying for an hour-long car ride and 40-minute flight for Pence to get to meetings with government officials.

And Pence's team admits that Trump leaned on him to do it. According to Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short: I think it was a suggestion. It's like when we went through the trip, it's like, well, he's going to Doonbeg because that's where the Pence family is from. It's like, well, you should stay at my place.

Again, taxpayers are paying for this and Trump is benefitting.

Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT at the White House.

Kaitlan, you know, last week, we learned the Attorney General Bill Barr is a using the president's hotel for his family's Christmas party and now this. I mean, just to state the obvious there, this is not normal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and the question is, is it the new normal? With aides, as you just noted, Marc Short, brushing off that the vice president is staying there and, of course, are the questions about Bill Barr himself and they are saying this is the first time the vice president has stayed at one of the president's properties when he's not been with the president.

But obviously, it is raising the obvious questions about not only ethics but also optics. Logistics plays a factor because the vice president had several meetings with government officials in Dublin, which is hours away if you're driving from where he was going to have these meetings compared to where the president's property is. So, there is questions about whether or not that was the most ideal place for him to stay when it's taxpayers footing the bill here.

Now, they are pushing back saying it was the president's suggestion that he stay here because the president does often say his properties he believes are the best ones wherever they are sprinkled throughout the world, but also the White House says they can't help where the vice president is going to stay because the president cancelled his trip to Poland at the last minute that caused Pence's office to shift some things around saying of course, they got this contingency coming.

But there are questions who is paying for the vice president to stay at a property that the president obviously benefits from.

Now, they are saying that the vice president has got family roots here where this property is. That's why he was initially planning to go there at the end of his trip in the first place but they did have to clarify today that it's going to be the vice president footing the bill for his family traveling with him. But, of course, when it comes to the vice president, his secret service and staff contingent, that's going to be the taxpayers paying for that, and that's why the White House is facing questions why it is that he's staying at the president's property.

BURNETT: Certainly impossible to justify. It certainly seems like.

Thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins.

And thanks very much to all of you for joining us as always.

"AC360" with Anderson begins right now.

END