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Forecast for Hurricane Dorian; Rescuers Race to Find Survivors in the Bahamas; Hurricane-Ravaged Abacos Island; Charleston Prepares for Hurricane Dorian; Beaufort Mayor Talks about Hurricane Preparations; Former FEMA Administrator on Hurricane Dorian. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 4, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


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JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our special live CNN coverage of Hurricane Dorian. I'm John King in Washington.

Dorian, right now, 90 miles off the Florida coast, tracking northward. The big concern this hour is for the Carolinas. Hurricane warnings cover both North and South Carolina. They could take a direct hit in the next 24 hours. Two hundred and forty-five thousand people have already evacuated coastal South Carolina ahead of the storm.

President Trump, right now, receiving a hurricane briefing at the White House. The White House pool meeting (ph) reporters have been brought into the Oval Office. They are gathering. We'll see tape from that. We'll bring it to you as soon as we have it to get the latest from the president.

Normal life today resuming for some Floridians. Seven counties are still under mandatory evacuation, but Disney is open, one sign of change. Florida officials confirming the second storm-related death this morning. An Okee (ph) County man died while trimming trees around his house in preparations for Dorian.

In the Bahamas, the storm killed at least seven, with that number very, very likely to spike as the storm surge recedes for the islands.

The morning did bring some mercy. The storm no longer sitting over the Bahamas.

But the damage, you can see some of it there, hard to comprehend, harder to stomach, entire neighborhoods submerged, runways still under water, which means planes cannot land and supplies have been more than slow to reach the island.

Volunteer rescue crews plucked dozens of people out of the water overnight, but they worry there are many more they simply cannot get to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first -- the first person we found was my brother. He was clinging on to a tree. And he -- he made it out safe, but we wasn't -- we were unable to locate his wife at the moment.

ROCHENEL DANIEL, RESCUER: How many people are still out there, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boy, a dozen more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to the Bahamas and the devastation there in just a moment.

First, though, the very latest forecast.

Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us from CNN's Severe Weather Center in Atlanta.

Chad, where is this going and when will it get there?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think it's going near Charleston. That would be the closest approach, at least in the immediate timeframe. And that would be overnight tonight into tomorrow.

The storm has gained some strength in these hours since about 5:00 this morning. The bright white around the center, John, is now a continuous circle. That means the eye is putting itself back together, exactly what we don't want. And the reason why this is happening is because we have warm water there. We have the Gulf Stream now.

The storm died when it went over the Bahamas after 48 hours because it cold -- the whole water there was cold, in the 70s. Now we're back into the middle to upper 80s again out here and so the storm is intensifying. And then it will just run right along the coast from Charleston, right on through Wilmington and up toward Cape Hatteras, eventually over like Moorhead City and the like.

Here is the storm right now off shore of Daytona Beach, right there. There's the center of the storm. The eye, I believe, is getting smaller, which means the winds will eventually pick up. We're at 105 right now.

Now, whether you get the eye, the middle of the eye or not, it's not that important because it's the eyewall that has all of the wind. And that eyewall from side to side is almost 50 miles wide. A 25-mile radius from the middle to the outside. So Brunswick now, 40-mile-per- hour, Daytona, 37. These are the exact gusts we just had. And then eventually up towards Savannah and Charleston, not quite picking up around 80-mile-per-hour gusts. We continue up the beach, up to Myrtle, and that's going to be 70 or 80 miles per hour. And that's if it's just off shore. If this is right on shore, John, everyone here will pick up these 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts. And if you're kind of on the fence from Charleston to Wild Dunes, and

slightly father up the coast and you don't want to know, should I go, should I stay, just go if you can. If you have the ability to go, now wouldn't be a bad time because you still have time and this storm is still, right now, still getting bigger.

KING: Solid advice, as always, from Chad Myers. Chad, I want to thank you. We don't say it enough. Thank you and all your colleagues at the Weather Center for the long hours and the expertise. Our viewers need it as we watch this play out.

Now back to the Bahamas.

Dorian may have left, but the destruction it left behind and finding people stranded in the wreckage is the giant challenge now.

Our Patrick Oppmann is in Grand Bahama tracking the status of the rescue missions.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the sun is finally shining here in Grand Bahama. And the weather conditions are good enough at long last for rescue operations to begin.

This island has been cut off since Dorian came in as a category five, slamming this island, taking out the power, the water and cell service for many, many people here, if not everybody. We are waiting for any sign of helicopters coming in, for boats.

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The need here is incredibly desperate. We've not had any resources since the storm and people are running out of food, out of water and many people are still in their homes where they rode out the storm, where the storm surge flooded them and they had to take refuge, often in their attics or on their roofs.

Time is running out for these people. There has been a brave crew of Bahamians going out, ever since this storm passed through here, risking their lives in these dangerous, dangerous conditions to pick up people in their boats, in their jet skis and get them to safety. But, at this point, gasoline is running low. There are not enough boats. Some of these boats are no bigger than row boats. So the prime minister of the Bahamas has said that this is the worst disaster this island has ever faced.

Clearly, authorities in the capital of Nassau don't have all the resources. They're asking and receiving resources from the United States. And even though the airport here is shut, it is under water. A lot of roads remain unpassable. People on this island are hopeful now that the weather has lifted that help is on its way.

John.

KING: Patrick Oppmann and his crew doing remarkable work as well under very difficult circumstances. The city of Miami dispatching firefighters and medics to the Bahamas

to help with the recovery, what promises to be a weeks' long, if not months' long struggle. Bahamian officials say 20 patients in critical condition were medevac'd this morning from the Abaco Islands to Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau.

A very difficult question right now, how many more people out there are in urgent need of help?

Allaya Hagigal is coordinating rescue teams on the island.

Allaya, as I speak to you here, thanks for joining us by Skype.

ALLAYA HAGIGAL, COORDINATING BAHAMAS RESCUE TEAMS: Thank you.

KING: The biggest question is, what do you know? And I guess the more daunting question is, what don't you know? How much information are you having trouble trying to put together?

HAGIGAL: Right now, for me, with the work I've been doing, families have been reaching out, sending their photos of their loved ones, their addresses, their date of birth, all of the details that could really piece together the puzzle of where they've been and sending -- therefore sending teams to find them and rescue them.

Right now that's been my main concern. A few -- running on a few hours of sleep and primarily that's my focus. I know that the weather has let up. I know that some -- the water has been starting -- it's been receding. I know that we're finding people, so that's important.

I'm still a bit worried. I know that our islands, the islands that have been affected, Abaco and Grand Bahama, have been just completely devastated by this hurricane, this massive hurricane, and I'm just a little nervous and a little -- a little anxious to hear to -- when -- when the authorities assess the damage.

KING: Allaya, you can see your anxiety, and it is honest and heartbreaking to a degree.

You're a volunteer. You say when the authorities assess the damage. What level of optimism, confidence do you have in those authorities or is a lot of this early work, especially right now, in the hands of wonderful volunteers like yourself?

HAGIGAL: It's a mixture of both, honestly. I have nothing but faith in the Bahamian people, as well as the Bahamian government and the authorities. Personally, for me, I've been working hand in hand with the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, as well as, most recently today, the Nassau Police Command Center. The officers, you know, specifically Marine Seaman Smith, Inspector Burris (ph), they've been huge helps with me. I've been liaising with the victims and their families and then we're able to rescue them. So it's -- it's a concerted effort. You know, as soon as the water was let up and some people were able to escape from their homes, people in Grand Bahama who had action to jet skis and boats, as well as trucks. We saw forklifts and things like that and tractors, you know, on the roads, rescuing people. So it is a -- it's a mixture of both and it is -- it's -- it just shows the resilience of the Bahamian people really.

KING: Well, it is great to see your faith and your effort, Allaya, and we compliment you.

HAGIGAL: Thank you.

KING: And we wish you the best. And we'll keep in touch in the days ahead and help us, contact with our people, if anything that you need, please, let us know and we can get word out.

HAGIGAL: Thank you.

KING: We appreciate your time today. Thank you.

Heart-wrenching stories out of the Bahamas. You just heard one there. More this hour. People like Howard Armstrong, helpless, relegated to bystanders, his loved ones literally vanish before their eyes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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. And my poor little wife got hypothermia. And she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated. And then I -- I kept with her and she just drowned on me.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the last thing your wife said to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 little mouthful of water and that was it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One of many heart-wrenching stories. One of many heart-wrenching stories.

Our Paula Newton now live in Man-O-War Cay in the Abaco Islands.

Paula, you have been trying to get on the air, surveying the devastation. I can see those pictures behind you. Just tell us what you're seeing.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely incredible. As you can imagine, these people have survived one of the strongest storms to ever hit this earth. And, John, it is devastation everywhere you look.

So, think about it. We have seen entires -- entire fields of debris, places completely flattened. People are struggling to really even tell us the stories and what they lived through. Hours and hours of winds where they had debris, pieces of their home running into them and through windows. When you survey the damage from overhead, John, there is just nothing

left of this kind of community here. We're talking about damage, 90 to almost 100 percent of everything that is here.

But the stories that you hear about survival, people crawling into closets, crawling into bathrooms as their entire homes were lifted. Roofs toppled. They could hear their appliances being flown around their backyards.

And when you go through these islands, John, when you talk about the resilience they are going to have to have in the weeks and months to come, there is nothing left of these places. Right now they are thankful that they are medevacing people out that need it. They are still looking for loved ones throughout these islands. The messages of desperation from people in other places of the Bahamas trying to find their family members on this island. They continue to come through.

Thankfully, John, as you can see, the weather is cooperating. They are starting to get more aid into here and more search teams. And that includes the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been up above our heads several times already.

We will continue to keep an eye on what goes on, on islands like this because they are wondering what comes next, especially as they continually tell me they have never seen anything like this and have nothing left of their lives.

John.

KING: And to that point, Paula, never seen anything like this and have nothing left. As you get on the ground and start hearing these stories from the locals, what do they need the most and what do they lack the most? I'm assuming power and communications, infrastructure is priority one.

NEWTON: Yes, John, we're just going to hold on and deal with some audio for you. Can you hear me now, John?

KING: Loud and clear.

NEWTON: Thank you, John. Apologies to all of our viewers for dealing with some adversity here. And so as we continue to come live from the Man-O-War and Abaco Islands, they continually here are trying to figure out what comes next. And that is the problem.

Desperation is starting to set in. John, remember, this is day four. And the message that we continually hear from everyone is that they need help. They need it. And they need it all.

We finally -- they finally had some medical help come to this island right now. We do have a doctor on site just trying to have a look at some of the kids, see if they're OK. But some of the people that they need to get to have not had help now in four days. And we're talking -- they went through this traumatic experience, trying to survive this category four -- five storm and still now wondering where the help is. And that seems to be part of the problem. When I continually talk to them about it, they say, no one's come. We

don't know where anybody is. And what they want now is that help that they so desperately need and a plan forward. How do they recover from this?

KING: And, Paula, help our viewers in the United States understand this more if they don't understand the vast swath that is the Bahamas. Man-O-War Cay, put it in logistical perspective for us. So say the government in Nassau trying to help, it's a challenge.

NEWTON: It is. I mean this is an island, and it's a chain of islands, right? And for the same reasons that a lot of people --

KING: We just lost Paula Newton. Obviously, a giant logistical challenge. Applause to her crew and the like for being there. We'll bring them back up as soon as we can.

For more information about how you can support non-profits working to help these hurricane victims, especially as you see these pictures and understand the needs, please go to cnn.com/impact.

Up next, we'll check in on South Carolina, where evacuations are underway.

Also, the president of the United States in a hurricane briefing. We expect to hear from him momentarily.

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KING: This time tomorrow, people in South Carolina likely will be the ones bearing the brunt of Hurricane Dorian. In fact, streets in some parts of Charleston already flooding. This picture was posted on Twitter about four hours ago.

CNN's Athena Jones is there watching the preparations unfold.

Athena, Charleston is a city very susceptible to flooding. Tell us about the preparations and what sort of early impact you're already seeing.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.

That's exactly right, they don't call this the low country for nothing. We're in a low-lying area right next to sea level. This is an area where some parts of town flood even at high tide. So that is the real concern in this city when we're expecting 10 to 15 inches of rain.

There's a lull right now, but the rain is going to come back and it's going to be steady. That's why you've been these preparations behind me here in historic downtown Charleston. Restaurants boarded up. Sand bags.

[12:20:01] This is what we see around all of downtown, almost completely vacant. There are some cars passing by and a few people here and there. But mostly people seem to have heeded the call of the governor to get out of town or at least find a safe shelter.

I can tell you that historically this city's harbor has seen high, high water levels and they're expecting a life-threatening storm surge of possibly as high as up to 10 feet just under the record set by Hurricane Hugo back in 1989. So this would surpass Irma and Matthew if the rains come as expected and come at a high tide. So a lot of concern in this area.

And the National Weather Service says that storm surges are particularly dangerous. They account for about half of the deaths of any sort of tropical cyclone here in the U.S. So that's very, very important.

We've already known that as of this morning, more than 245,000 people had evacuated this area and they're saying anyone who hasn't already evacuated needs to, perhaps, find shelter or try to go ahead and get out of town. But they were urging people to get out fast so they could get far enough away before this rain and wind picks back up again.

John.

KING: Athena Jones for us. We'll stay in touch. The next 24 hours key where you are South Carolina's low country.

Officials, as Athena noted, issuing a series of warnings, including within the last hour, to residents who have decided to stay behind. Your window to leave, those officials are saying, is running out. Beaufort County officials say highways are expected to flood. Power outages could last for several days. Cell phone towers likely to drop off fairly quickly. Airports and hospitals will close, or at least have limited services.

The Beaufort, South Carolina, mayor, Billy Keyserling, joins us on the phone right now.

Mr. Mayor, what is you emergency management team telling you to expect?

MAYOR BILLY KEYSERLING, BEAUFORT, SOUTH CAROLINA: They are reminding people that notwithstanding the sunny, beautiful day yesterday, that the picking up breezes, the drizzle is the sign to go. We've had difficulty getting people to move. But I think they are beginning to move.

We are not quite as low as Charleston, but we anticipate our afternoon high tide being with us for a couple of days, depending on the wind. We do not anticipate a direct hit, but we know that the winds are broad and we've been through flooding. We've been through winds. We've been through it before. We're prepared.

The question is, are people prepared? We've been working on that for several days. And I believe that we are. KING: You raised a great point there in the end. The question is, are

people prepared?

Do you sense -- because there was not a direct hit on Florida, because there has not been pictures of catastrophe here in the United States, that people think, oh, maybe this is one of those ones that's going to fade away and that these warnings just are -- just overstated?

KEYSERLING: Well, no. I think that they're -- our transplants have left, but I think our natives have been through so many storms they sometimes get cocky and they have short memories of Matthew and Irma, both of which brought significant damage threat (ph). So I'm hoping that you and other people showing pictures of the Bahamas will be a wake-up call to them to realize what can happen.

KING: And we certainly hope so and wish you the best, Mr. Mayor.

KEYSERLING: We typically -- we typically go -- typically, at this time, go to the streets and knock on doors with our fire department to remind people. But we also make a list of who's here so that we can check on them when possible.

KING: Mr. Mayor, we appreciate your time at this busy time. We wish you the best in the hours ahead. It sounds like you're running through your checklist and doing what's necessary.

Joining our conversation, someone who understands this quite well, the former FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate.

Craig, I appreciate your time.

As director of emergency management in Florida, then as the FEMA director in the Obama administration, you have been through too many of these to count. When you look at Dorian, and you look at the devastation of the Bahamas, and you see the forecast and the track, help us, from your perspective, put it into context.

CRAIG FUGATE, FORMER FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, what you have in the Bahamas is what we call catastrophic damage. And, you know, right now the immediate focus is on life-saving operations. You can't even talk about recovery yet, you're still trying to find people.

But what we're seeing now with Dorian close to the coast is they may very well, as the mayor and others have said, they'll start seeing flooding well before they get to hurricane force winds. They're already dealing with king tide. So people need to heed the evacuations. Don't track that center because we are already seeing the Weather Service and Hurricane Center forecasting that they'll start seeing storm surge before the arrival of the strongest winds.

KING: So, from your perspective, obviously, so far, in the United States, no direct hit. The hopeful is that this stays out or at least it's just the band of winds that hit the Carolinas. What's the president of the United States being told right now in the sense that FEMA has many jobs, and obviously when there is a direct hit or catastrophe damage like we see in the Bahamas, FEMA's job becomes awesome and all-important, but that doesn't mean it's unimportant right now.

What is happening in FEMA now to adjust the plan as they see the adjusted track?

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FUGATE: Well, they were already staffing the EOCs at the states all up through this track into the Carolinas and now probably, you know, talking with Virginia. They're also redeploying resources that they had down in Florida and moving them up. They had held some resources back to prepare for these other states. But they're redeploying and trying to get ahead of that, as well as probably reaching over to the U.S. agency for International Development and go, is there anything we can support those operations in support of the Bahamas?

President Obama had dispatched quite a bit of the federal family to support USAID in the Haiti earthquake. So hopefully those conversations are taking place as well.

Florida is obviously a close jumping off point to support the Bahamas in addition to what USAID is prepared to do. So hopefully those conversations are taking place. But it's really right now about FEMA readjusting resources, making sure the states have what they need and then making offers to USAID all available resources already deployed that may be of use to the Bahama -- Bahamian government.

KING: Craig Fugate, appreciate your coming in and sharing your perspective on this important day. Hopefully we can keep in touch in the days ahead, especially as that international aid plays out.

Up next for us here, Victor Blackwell, live in Nassau, as survivors of the devastating hurricane desperately try to find their missing loved ones.

Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, I'm at the airport here. This is the first stop for people who were plucked from Abaco and brought here after rescues. There are plenty of people here waiting for word of loved ones they have not heard from since the weekend. You're going to hear from two of them waiting for news on their mother, grandmother and several other relatives, when we come back.

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