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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Hurricane Dorian Growing Stronger Tonight; Mayor John Tecklenburg Talks About How Charleston Prepared For Hurricane Dorian; Bahamas Minister Of Health Now Telling "The Washington Post" At Least 20 People In The Bahamas Have Been Killed. Aired 7:40-8p ET

Aired September 4, 2019 - 19:40   ET

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


[19:41:48]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to a special abbreviated edition of OUTFRONT. We will have more of CNN's unprecedented Town Halls on the climate crisis with six more of the Democratic presidential candidates at the top of the hour.

But first we want to update you on the breaking news. Hurricane Dorian growing stronger tonight. Winds now just one mile per hour away from the storm growing to become a Category 3. Florida is still getting hit with drenching rains and powerful winds as the storm moves up the East Coast. South Carolina is now bracing for a possible direct hit with a potential storm surge not seen in decades.

According to the National Weather Service, high tide in Charleston could top 10 feet. That of course would cause devastating flooding. Also tonight, we're learning that the death toll is rising in the Bahamas as expected.

Bahamas Health Minister telling "The Washington Post" that 20 have now been reported dead and that number is still expected to rise precipitously, this as CNN's Patrick Opmman gained exclusive access to the Island's Airport which is destroyed in Grand Bahama Island. We're going to go live to Patrick in a moment.

But first I want to go to meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She is live in the CNN weather center. Jennifer, where is the storm right now?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right now, it's about 150 miles south of Charleston. And you're right, just shy of a Category 3, with 110-mile per hour winds, gusts of 130. Moving at about eight miles per hour at a northwesterly direction.

You can see the outer bands already making it on shore -- South Carolina, Georgia, even Florida -- still feeling the impacts of this storm. We're really concerned about places like Charleston, as you mentioned, because we are expected to see that storm surge push in. It's a very vulnerable area.

We could see maybe the second or third highest tide level there just behind Hugo and if folks there remember Hugo, it can cause some major flooding in that area. Conditions will continue to deteriorate as we go throughout the day tomorrow, midday, especially is when think the peak winds will be and then it will head off to the north and east most likely.

There's a potential for the storm to make landfall anywhere along the Carolinas. It is still a little too early to tell. But also places like Wilmington and of course the outer banks. Really, don't need to let your guard down with this one because you're going to see a lot of wind, rain and even that storm surge as well.

We are expected to see somewhere between five and eight feet of storm surge along the central coast of South Carolina and then as we get into North Carolina in the outer banks, we could see four to seven feet of storm surge -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jennifer Gray. Thanks so much. I want to go now to Charleston, South Carolina where Erica Hill is tonight. Erica conditions it appears are starting to deteriorate where you are. Tell us.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: They are just starting to. It's funny, we felt an outer band early this morning around 9:00 a.m. and we thought, now it is coming.

It's been some time since it started to pick up, but as Jennifer said, we're really expecting conditions to worsen overnight especially as that high tide comes in just after 1:00 a.m.

What I can tell you is the call to evacuate has gone out multiple times. Keep in mind, this is the third mandatory evacuation that's been ordered for the coastal area in four years. How many people are paying attention? We were told earlier that of the 830,000 people in that evacuation zone about 360,000, as estimated had already heeded the call.

[19:45:12]

HILL: That is good news, because the time to get out was obviously earlier this evening and throughout the day. So as we watch this roll through, we can tell you that preparations are in place in terms of staging areas. There are temporary pumps that have been put into certain low lying areas ready to go if needed.

We know that obviously, first responders are ready. In addition to that, the National Guard, as well as FEMA teams with high water vehicles and also swift water rescue boats, Jake, if needed, if those calls come.

TAPPER: All right, Erica Hill, stay safe. Thanks so much. OUTFRONT, now I want to bring in the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, John Tecklenburg. Mayor Tecklenburg, you just heard our Erica Hill describing the dangerous conditions that your city faces, near record storm surge. There's still a potential this hurricane could theoretically make landfall. As Mayor, what is your biggest concern right now?

JOHN TECKLENBURG (D), MAYOR OF CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA (via phone): Well, thank you, Jake. We're -- if I may say -- well prepared. We've had training over the last four years in a row with major storms. So our preparedness team is top notch. That being said, it is

starting to whip up. We're expecting a real high tide tonight. Our biggest concern is that combination of heavy rain and high tide and storm surge, all at the same time, which can bring water right into our city.

But at this point, I must say, we're ready to take what comes. Our teams are standing by for response and recovery. And we're looking forward to getting cleaned up and moving on to this weekend.

TAPPER: Charleston is under a mandatory evacuation order, as you know, what is your message to residents who see the storm path far off the coast and think they can stay home and how many people do you think have not heeded the mandatory evacuation order?

TECKLENBURG: Well, you heard Erica just a minute ago. I think that's probably representative of the city as well. There's probably 40 to 50 percent that have vacated or evacuated and the rest have made a decision to stay.

But I've been around the city in the last few hours, and it's almost a ghost town. Everyone is inside. They are hunkered down. We're ready for the storm. We're asking folks to stay off the streets and just be safe until this storm passes by.

Because if folks are out right now, to tell you the truth, they are putting our own first responders at risk. They're ready. Our Fire and Police Department have a coordinated emergency response. But we don't want them to have to go out.

So we're asking our citizens, please just stay inside. Stay safe. And tomorrow, maybe it'll take tomorrow afternoon. We'll be out there with teams to clean up and get ready.

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor, this is going to be the third time in recent years that many of your residents have had to deal with major flooding in their homes because of hurricanes. Do you feel like you have the resources to continue dealing with this problem?

TECKLENBURG: Well, we have strategies in place. We have five part strategies for sea-level rise and flooding. It's the most important issue in Charleston, and that involves infrastructure of building projects to prevent water from coming in.

The resources to make that happen, the governance, the rules of engagement for future development, the land use because we've built in the wrong places over the last 350 years. And then the engagement of the public because this is an issue that impacts all of our citizens.

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor, be safe. And our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Charleston this evening. Obviously, stay in touch. Let us know if there's anything you need that the State or Federal government are not getting to you.

TECKLENBURG: Well, God bless you. Thank you very much, Jake. TAPPER: I appreciate it. And there is breaking news now from the

Bahamas where the death toll from Hurricane Dorian is rising. The Minister of Health now telling "The Washington Post" that at least 20 people in the Bahamas have been killed because of the strongest storm ever to hit the Bahamas in recorded history. Seventeen of those deaths in the Abaco Islands and three in Grand Bahama Island.

That number of course expected to go even higher as crews and volunteers continue to race against the clock to try to rescue any residents who may still be trapped across the Bahamas. Patrick Oppmann is OUTFRONT in Freeport on Grand Bahama Island and Patrick, you had a first-hand look at some of the massive devastation at the only airport on the island of Grand Bahama, Freeport. What did you see?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the airport spent several days, like so much of this island, like a majority of the island, underwater, Jake.

First we got to the runway, and it was quite easy because most of the fencing has come down, so we walked out to the runway that is covered in debris. We couldn't see if anybody was in the control tower. Certainly, no generators running. Again, there is no power on this island. There was concrete blocks. There was metal shooting all over the runway. It would be impossible to land a plane right now.

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OPPMANN: There was a Coast Guard helicopter and this was a good sign parked on the other side of the airport, not parked, landed I should say. And the Coast Guard has started as of today some of its search and rescue mission. So that has been a very positive sign.

But as of now, the airport, either the terminals were completely destroyed or they spent days underwater and they are still (INAUDIBLE) debris and several terminals, we could get in were either destroyed or (INAUDIBLE) we shouldn't try and go in film inside.

I don't know how anybody could land a plane right now. And if we're not able to land planes here, it's going to be very difficult to get the aid that this island so desperately needs.

TAPPER: All right, Patrick Oppmann in Grand Bahama Island. Thank you so much. I want to bring in now Lisa Pakosh on the phone. She rode out Hurricane Dorian at Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.

Lisa, thanks for joining us. You've lived in the Bahamas for more than a decade. You've been through hurricanes before. Tell us how Dorian compares to other experiences with hurricanes?

LISA PAKOSH, RODE OUT HURRICANE DORIAN IN FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: Hi, there. It was the worst experience I've ever had, and I've been through a Cat 5. We've been through so many hurricanes, and this one, there's no words to describe it. This was the scariest experience ever. TAPPER: Now explain to our viewers why this was scarier, even though

it wasn't a Category 5 for most of the time that it hovered over the Bahamas. Why this is worse and more frightening than the previous experiences?

PAKOSH: Well, the problem with Hurricane Dorian was it was stationary. It did not move. So we were caught in this wind storm that just didn't -- you didn't have the hope of it leaving. Every update, it was zero miles per hour. It wasn't going anywhere. So the devastation and the destruction didn't stop

And it's just like you know, it just kept pounding and pounding and so nothing could stand up to it. And the problem was, the wind was really bad, but the storm surge was brutal. And the flooding that came in, the northern part of the island flooded all the way into town. Homes were destroyed.

Friends -- their homes, they flooded to their ceilings, and they were in their attics with their children and their dogs trying to survive.

Two-storey homes that were flooded out. Boats have been picked up and put in the middle of street -- people -- it was just -- it was horrific.

TAPPER: I want to show a photograph of you and your husband after the winds died down and you were able to leave your home. Tell us what you saw outside when you made it outside.

PAKOSH: We were very fortunate. For some reason, our canal did not flood. We dealt with rain water. And when we were able to get out of the house, our main floor had water in it. But we're so fortunate. We don't have -- we still have a roof over our heads.

We had roof damage, but nothing compared to what some people have had to deal with. Coming out, our area was cut off from the rest of Freeport because there were just lakes and you couldn't drive your car through them. You couldn't do anything and we had lost contact with everybody.

So we were kind of just isolated out here and we were just waiting for the winds to calm down enough that we could start assessing the damage to our home, our yard, our friends, our neighbors. So that's what we were doing then.

TAPPER: Quickly if you can, I am told that you haven't heard from one of your friends since Sunday. Have you have you yet been able to make contact with him?

PAKOSH: We lost contact with him on Sunday. We were actually able to -- he lives in an area where telephone poles and wires are just everywhere and he can't get out and/or he couldn't get out. We couldn't get in.

We were able to park and hike our way in and we were able to talk to him today. He is doing okay, he and his family are doing okay. They're in shock, but they're doing okay. It was really nice to finally talk to them and then we found out that

our other friends were all rescued by amazing Bahamians that put their lives on the line to go out there and rescue their neighbors.

TAPPER: Well, that's some good news in a sea of horrible news. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Tonight President Trump is defending his action showing this altered map of Hurricane Dorian's path. And if you look closely, you can see the extra line apparently added with a sharpie that tries to make this map look as though Dorian could have hit Alabama.

The President tweeting that this was the originally projected path of the hurricane in its early stages. He is showing a different map there. "As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida, also hitting Georgia and Alabama," the President writes.

Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT from the White House, and Pamela that the President really tripling down on this and it's kind of unusual and confusing given the fact that there are literally Americans in harm's way. We're hearing about people who have lost their lives and he is tweeting about a tweet that he sent over the weekend.

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PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right and he is effectively keeping that story alive, what happened over the weekend, rather than focusing on what's going on right now, like you said, people losing their lives.

He is tweeting this graphic tonight. It's from last Wednesday, Jake showing what are known as spaghetti plots reaching Alabama by Sunday morning. Those spaghetti plots and models didn't come remotely close to Alabama. But still, the President erroneously claimed several times that Alabama would be hit hard.

Now today, eyebrows are raised when President Trump referenced an altered map to include in addition, showing the storm potentially affecting a part of Alabama claiming that was the original forecast.

But Jake, a similar image released by the White House last Thursday, did not include any impact on Alabama and its forecast. Now, a White House a visual offers this explanation saying there was a discussion before today's briefing at the White House about the early models and an official in the room grabbed a black Sharpie pen and prompted to make the point it could have been much worse by drawing on the map -- Jake.

TAPPER: An interesting focus given all the hundreds of thousands of Americans whose lives are on the line right now as the hurricane comes towards the Carolinas. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

Thank you for joining our CNN special night of climate change. Town Halls continues with former Vice President Joe Biden right after this very quick break.

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