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Dorian Heads Toward U.S After Devastating The Bahamas; HHS Inspector General Says Zero Tolerance Policy Added Trauma To Some Migrant Children; Mayor of Jacksonville Talks about Hurricane Preps; 2020 Democrats Release Climate Plans Ahead Of CNN Town Hall. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired September 4, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. We have lots of news today.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: We do. I'm Poppy Harlow. We're so glad you're with us.

After leaving absolute devastation over much of the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian is now moving up to the coast of Florida, knocking out power to thousands, hitting coastal areas with flooding and tropical storm- force winds.

And most concerning in the latest forecast, the cities of Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Wilmington there all still at risk of direct hit from this storm as it reaches the Carolinas.

SCIUTTO: So imagine if these pictures showed your neighborhood, your home, because the true tragedy of this storm is what it left behind in the Bahamas. Entire neighborhoods gone, families joining rescue crews in the search for loved ones, everyone doing what they can there.

20 patients in critical condition have now been evacuated from the Abaco Islands. That's what you're seeing there, those pictures. But what's making it harder, there's no power, no running water. Thousands of people just need food. So far, seven people confirmed dead. As you look at those pictures there, it's clear, and we're wearing that from officials there as well, that the death toll sadly will likely rise.

Our Patrick Oppmann, he is live in Freeport in the Bahamas. Correspondent Paula Newton, she is on her way to the Abaco Islands. We're going to hear from her the moment she gets back.

Let's start with you, Patrick, if we can. I mean, your rare eyes and ears on the ground there, and you've seen the rescues, you've seen some of the devastation. Help paint a picture for our viewers this morning of just how extensive it is.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the entire island. We saw that photo yesterday of an island under water, the before and after. And remember, the highest point of land on this island is considered high ground for the Bahamas is 30 feet high. The storm surge was at least 20 feet high. Most of this island and most of its houses, I think we can say, were under water for hours a day, perhaps longer. People have been knocked down. And as of yet, there's no hand to help them get back up. We've not seen any sign of help coming from the outside. I know it's on its way, but time is running short.

Everybody here, so far, all the help that has come has been people banding together and helping their neighbors, their friends, their loved ones or just complete strangers. That is the only rescue effort that is going on. And yesterday, for the first time, we had the opportunity to talk to those people who have lost everything and people who have rescued them. Let's just take a listen right now to some of those residents that we were able to speak with.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD ARMSTRONG, WIFE DROWNED IN HURRICANE FLOODING: -- that came over the roof. I would imagine 21 feet at least. We were doing all right until the water kept coming up, and all the appliances were going around the house like a washing machine. That's probably I got hit with something in there. My poor little wife got hypothermia and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated. And I kept with her, and she just drowned on me.

OPPMANN: What was the last thing she ever said to you?

ARMSTRONG: I'm not going to -- I think I'm going to die. And I said, no, you're not, and that was it. She took a mouthful of water, and that was it.

ROCHENEL DANIEL, RESCUER: First thing we found was my brother. He was clinging off the tree. And he made out safe, but we're unable to locate his wife at the moment. We hope that she's okay. But the rescue goes on. We have a lot of people supporting us, everybody working as a team here, you know. It's very hard, but we shall overcome. But, yes, getting survivors as we go. And so we've got to keep on.

OPPMANN: How many people are still out there, you think?

DANIEL: A dozen more. A lot, and a lot of people we can't even find at the moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OPPMANN: And, you know, it seems like a world away, of course, but we are just off the coast of the United States. [10:05:00 You can practically see it. And I know the airport has been destroyed here. The ocean is full of debris that makes it incredibly dangerous to try to bring a boat in here. But it is just so hard to think we are so close to help and help has still not arrived.

Late last night, we heard a Coast Guard helicopter go over. We could see the orange helicopter and the Coast Guard insignia. It didn't appear to land though. I know the United States is sending all the help they can. The Bahamian prime minister has thanked them. The Bahamian government is simply overwhelmed and incapable, I think, of responding to the totality of the damage here.

But there are people in terrible shape. There was a woman in her building who fell and broke her hip while she was being evacuated. She is sitting on a couch, waiting for rescue. There are people you see who are simply the walking wounded and they are running out of time.

So the good news is the skies are clear, the sea, the conditions are much better, and we know that help is on the way. It can't get here too soon.

HARLOW: So well said, Patrick. Let's hope it's there very, very soon. Thank you for your remarkable reporting on all of those fronts.

Some of the worst damage, you heard from those people there where Patrick is, some of the even more extensive damage is in the Abaco Islands. Our Correspondent, Paula Newton, is in the air headed there right now. She spoke with CNN International moments ago before taking off. Listen to what she's hearing from reporting on the ground.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These families are desperate. We are now on day four without having any contact. I am here with family members who have text messages on their phones from loved ones from Sunday that read only alive now. They do not know if anybody is left, if anyone is left in terms of family members, what is left of their homes. They've seen the pictures of devastation as well, and they are desperate to get there.

You can imagine as well the big aid effort ongoing. We are here with U.S. Coast Guard and Bahamian military, all trying to get to the Abaco Islands to see what is needed. The hard work is yet to come. There are reports of at least dozens, perhaps hundreds injured, critically ill, and, of course, the issue of food and water as well.

It's hard to get an estimate of exactly how many people are on the Abaco islands at this time, perhaps as many as 25,000. I can tell you anecdotally just from the messages people have on their phones that there are at least hundreds, but more likely thousands, who are in desperate need of the basics right now with help. So, as you said, it's the first day the sun has come up. It's certainly given everyone some hope that they can finally get in there and get some help.

The most depressing scenes are from family members who literally are begging people here at this aviation center to fly by their homes, to give them the coordinates of their homes, hoping that even if they can't land that, they will see a flag, that they will see a person on the roof, that they will be able to have proof of life. And that's what they're moving on here.

SCIUTTO: Just imagine their fears, not knowing the status of their loved ones. Paula Newton, thanks very much. We know the Coast Guard is there. U.S. Coast Guard there, they're doing their best to help. We're going to share images as we have those and the possibility of the U.S. Navy heading there as well to help.

Let's get the latest update from Meteorologist Chad Myers. He's in the CNN Severe Weather Center.

So, Chad, we're expecting an update in the next hour. You know the storm better than anybody else. What's the latest you can tell us about where it's going, how strong it is?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's still moving to the north, maybe slightly west of due north. And it appears to me to be trying to re- intensify. We're beginning to see a little more white around the middle. Those are the high tops. Those are the big, tall clouds around the center of the eye, the eye wall itself. And the more white we see, the more intense the storm could still become. I know it's close to land right now, but it's in the gulfstream. It's in the warmest water out there in the Atlantic other than what was in the Bahamas.

Category 2, Category 2, Category 2 making a run at Charleston for tomorrow, pushing a lot of water into Charleston Harbor. Same story for Tybee up in Pulaski, same story as we work our way into Hilton Head, so there will be water pushing onshore. That's the storm surge.

Here is the latest radar. Still trying to get the middle part of the eye. It gulped in a bunch of dry air overnight, which really helped out because it just tore the entire thing apart. It didn't have an eye, looked horrible when I walked in this morning, and we're thinking, oh, yes, this is over, this is done. But now that it's back over the water, it's trying to re-intensify.

So maybe it isn't quite done, but it isn't ever going to be 180-mile- per-hour storm again. It will still be packing a punch. It will still be packing a pretty decent, when it comes to storm surge, easily could see four to seven feet, maybe eight feet at times. There will gusts here from Savannah to Charleston, approaching 80 miles per hour. [10:10:00] And that's if the eye stays slightly offshore.

We don't know quite yet. A lot of the models are pushing it a little bit farther to the left, but like a little like five miles. Now, we're just splitting hairs here. Now, we're just like, okay, is it really going to be on land or is it going to be offshore or is it going to be close enough, you still need to prepare if you're in this area. You need to prepare for winds 80 to 100, especially gusts to 100 because it is that close.

You also need to prepare for storm surges. It would be a great idea to figure out when your high tide is, when you're going to get that four feet above your normal high tide or five feet here. We're going to see Charleston tides here around 10.3. That's feet above really where low tide would be, to ten feet above. The biggest number we've ever seen was Hugo at 12.9. So, really, we're not all that far. So we're a couple feet below Hugo, which was one of the bigger storms ever. There you go, 105 miles per hour. We'll keep you advised at 11:00.

HARLOW: Okay. Chad, thank you so much for being on this around the clock.

Joining us now from Daytona Beach, Rosa Flores. How are things looking there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, right now, it's wet, it's windy. I want to walk over because I want to show you this. Right now, we're experiencing low tide. That's why you see that the beach has still some sand that we can see visibly. But in the next few hours, we are expecting high tide, and that's when we are expecting this water to rise several feet.

Now, according to county officials, the worst conditions here in Daytona Beach were between 3:00 A.M. and 9:00 A.M. this morning. That's when wind gusts were up to about 40 miles an hour. The bridges here that connect to the mainland were closed at that time. Overnight, there were about 1,500 people in shelters.

But overall, you can see, if you see around me, the conditions are not bad. This is the back half of the storm. So people here are counting their blessings. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX SZINEGH, DAYTONA BEACH RESIDENT: We are lucky, lucky, lucky. This is absolutely amazing. I moved from Canada down here. This is my second hurricane. A couple years ago, we were here when the other hurricane came through. And this is very fortunate for everybody around here.

It looks like it's just sitting off the coast, but I'm very, very glad that it didn't hit us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLORES: Now, these same conditions is what we're expecting for the next six hours or so, except for the increase in the water levels because of high tide. So, Jim and Poppy, we're going to continue monitoring here and bringing you the latest as it becomes available.

SCIUTTO: Rosa Flores there, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, we are minutes away from an updated track on Hurricane Dorian. Thousands evacuating now in Georgia and the Carolinas as it seems to head their way. We're going to be on top of it.

HARLOW: And as one of the strongest storms on record makes its way up the east coast, several Democratic presidential candidates released their plans to fight the climate crisis. That's all ahead of tonight's special CNN Town Hall event on The Climate Crisis. We'll talk about that ahead.

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[10:15:00] HARLOW: All right. We do have breaking news just in this morning. Moments ago, the inspector general for Health and Human Services has released a detailed report on the impact, especially on children, of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy perhaps permanently damaging migrant children separated from their families.

SCIUTTO: This is an important study here because it quantifies the effects of this policy. This is the report, we're quoting from it. According to program directors and mental health clinicians, separated children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment and post- traumatic stress than did children who were not separated. To be clear, this is the inspector general from an agency run by a Trump appointee, the Department of Health and Human Services.

Joining us now, CNN's Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, I mean, what this does is quantify a real effect of the family separation policy, specifically on children.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So this was an in-depth investigation over the course of two months to really study how well equipped these facilities were during the height of the family separations last year and how equipped they were to deal with the mental health needs in particular of children.

And the report's conclusion here is that they weren't adequately prepared or equipped. The report goes into stark detail recounting how these separated children cried and were inconsolable.

And for those children who believed their parents have really just abandoned them, there is this account from a health professional saying this. Children who did not understand why they were separated from their parents suffered elevated levels of mental distress. Children who believed their parents had abandoned them were angry and confused.

And, really, it turns out that the mental health professionals tasked with helping these children, they sometimes didn't get very far. They are described -- they thought that they were seen as the enemy by those children, according to several staff anecdotes in this report. They said, really, the kids couldn't tell the difference between them, [10:20:00] who were trying to help them, and the agents who separated them in the first place.

You know, the trauma really was severe here, and it was really shown in some of the physical symptoms. There's this anecdote saying that, you know, you get a lot of my chest hurts, even though everything is really fine medically. Children describe symptoms, saying every heartbeat hurts, I can't feel my heart, of course, all of emotional pain.

So, really, these were the details that the inspector general gathered over the course of two months last fall. They visited 45 facilities nationwide where about 12,400 children were in care. And now after this report coming out, the I.G. has put forward several recommendations on how to make mental health treatment better for children who are in these facilities.

And we know, Jim, that the program for housing these children, they have agreed to implement these conclusions. They say they'll have more mental health professionals available. They'll have them better trained and equipped. But still we're seeing the emotional and mental health trauma that resulted as a result of this zero tolerance policy and the family separations just last year.

SCIUTTO: I mean, it's amazing because kids, they're so young. They don't understand the circumstances of this. So they think their parents have abandoned them. I mean, that seems to be one of the prime conclusions here.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, and then getting angry and confused about it because they just think that their parents left.

SCIUTTO: Goodness gracious. Imagine if it was your own kid. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

HARLOW: That's why having an independent body is so important to look at these things.

All right, so back to hurricane Dorian right now, making its way up the eastern seaboard, the storm about 100 miles off the Florida coast right now, still dangerous. The mayor of Jacksonville, Florida says the city is expecting conditions there to deteriorate in the next few hours.

So Lenny Curry joins me now, mayor of Jacksonville. Thank you, sir, for being on the phone. We appreciate it.

MAYOR LENNY CURRY (R-JACKSONVILLE, FL): Good morning.

HARLOW: Okay. So this is your third big storm in four years as mayor. What are the biggest areas of concern for you in Jacksonville right now?

CURRY: Well, right now, the coastal communities, the beach cities that we have as a part of our county and our city, this storm has just changed so much over the last week. We've been watching this thing for a week. The early predictions last week had it coming at us and arriving last Saturday or Sunday. Obviously, we saw that shift and change. Now, it's crawling, it's just south of us, moving -- fortunately moving northwest. But we still expect coastal impacts. And we just want people to pay attention and continue to be smart about this thing.

HARLOW: I know one of the things that you're preparing for is these life-threatening waves. And at least as of last night, you had these shuttles running to all the shelters until 8:00 P.M. Are those still going and operating for people that want to evacuate the coastal areas?

CURRY: The shuttles are not running right now. But if someone -- I would encourage folks that they can reach out to our city, they can call 630-CITY if they need help. And we can still get some help to people.

HARLOW: You guys had record flooding two years ago. I remember being down there leading up to Hurricane Irma. What is your concern? I mean, you even talked about people standing on roofs and waving white flags. What's your concern in terms of the level that Dorian could bring of flooding?

CURRY: Well, the National Weather Service tells me that the highest risk is the beaches, coastal community, which we experienced three years ago with Matthew. Irma was a whole different animal, if you will, and that we had high tides in our river and the position that the storm came in. These bands coming on with -- with the eye of this being off the coast, the highest risk is the coastal communities at this point.

HARLOW: Okay. And I know you have been pointing everyone to this website, jacksready.com (ph), to get the latest. So, hopefully, they can go there.

CURRY: Jacksready.com. And I'll tell you, anybody -- having been through two storms, coming on the other side of these, having literally held people that were crying, people that were hungry, thirsty, that had lost property, that had medical needs, I'm always going to do everything that I can to prepare people to be safe and mitigate the pain that could come on the other side of these, and hope that they're non-events.

HARLOW: Of course, we certainly hope that. Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville, Florida, I appreciate your time this morning. Good luck today.

CURRY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: There are so many communities up and down the coast preparing for this. You know, one day they think it's coming that day. The next day, they don't know. It's just so hard to predict. They have to take these steps.

HARLOW: It is hard. They're doing a great job getting ready. And as Dorian churns toward the U.S., major questions about the role climate change plays in all of this.

Well, tonight, 2020 Democratic presidential contenders lay out their plans to combat it during a special series of CNN town halls. We'll preview it next.

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[10:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Look at Hurricane Dorian, how powerful it is. And the question, is it driven, to some degree, by climate change? This is a question. It's been explored by science for some time. A lot of these more powerful, more frequent storms fit the models that have been out there For some time on the effects of climate change.

Now, 2020 Democrats are putting a major emphasis on how to combat the global crisis.

HARLOW: Tonight, they will go in-depth on their plans one by one, ten leading presidential contenders will take part in CNN's unprecedented climate change -- climate crisis town halls. Each will have 40 minutes to lay out their vision and defend it.

We're joined now to talk about this by David Gergen, former adviser to four presidents. [10:30:00] David also just returned from Greenland, where he got an up-close look at the real impact of climate change. And Tracy Raczek is with us, a climate policy adviser who worked at the United --

[10:30:00]