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Interview With Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Mayor Brenda Bethune; Hurricane Dorian Slams Carolinas; Tornadoes Hit Carolinas As Hurricane Dorian Moves Along Coast; Trump Relentlessly Defends Claim Dorian Threatened Alabama. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 5, 2019 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: His arrest comes after police pieced together surveillance video showing him driving an employee's truck.

A blood-like substance that contained his wife's DNA was found in that vehicle. We will continue to follow that case.

All right, thanks so much for watching.

"THE LEAD" with my friend Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Coming up: the latest Dorian forecast. No sharpie required.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: A tornado tears apart homes, as part of Hurricane Dorian unleashing its fury on the Carolinas, the flooding, damage, and even explosions as the storm plows up the coast.


SHERRIE ROBERTS, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: It was like an atomic bomb went off.


TAPPER: The damage left behind in the Bahamas hard to believe, entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble. Our correspondent who spent the night in the hardest-hit area joins us with stories of survival and despair that you will see first on THE LEAD.

And with American lives in jeopardy right now, President Trump is today sticking with his bizarre focus after using a laughably doctored map to push a false claim about the storm.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news: deadly Hurricane Dorian right now taking aim at North and South Carolina on the East Coast of the U.S., the Category 2 storm crawling up the coast, dragging out the danger.

Tornadoes such as this one have even been reported. Another one hit Emerald Isle, North Carolina, tearing apart homes in this R.V. park. Hundreds of thousands of people do not have power across three states, the Carolinas and Georgia.

And survivors in the Bahamas are just beginning to assess the damage from Dorian. The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued at least 135 people in that country after entire neighborhoods were flattened.

One survivor telling CNN it was almost as if an atomic bomb had gone off.


ROBERTS: I'm from Tampa.



ROBERTS: And I just want to let my family in the States know that we're OK.

QUESTION: I'm so sorry.

ROBERTS: We thank God for life.

It's not just us. Everybody's hurting. We're not any worse than anybody else. Everybody is hurting.

Words can't describe it. I don't wish it on nobody.


TAPPER: We have our team of reporters spread out across the South and monitoring the storm in the CNN Severe Weather Center.

Let's start with CNN's Rosa Flores. She's in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Rosa, tell us about conditions there.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, conditions have been deteriorating all day long.

Right now, I'm live from a location that shows some flooding. This is actually the first flooding here in Myrtle Beach. We're seeing about nine inches right now. It appears that this waterway here on the north side has flooded over.

And, Jake, I can swing the camera around and show you, these individuals over here just tried to drive through this area. And, of course, they were stalled. And now it appears that their car is not working. That, of course, is what officials say you're not supposed to do

during a storm. But, here in Myrtle Beach, we're expecting the worst of it, the brunt of the storm, at about 6:00 p.m. Why 6:00 p.m.? Well, that's when the eye of the storm is expected to be closest to this city.

Now, according to the mayor, her biggest concern is what you're looking around me, the flooding, the potential flooding, and the storm surge, Jake, four to eight feet expected in this area -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Rosa Flores, stay safe, please.

Now let's talk to the mayor of Myrtle Beach, Brenda Bethune, who joins us on the phone.

Madam Mayor, you're at your emergency operation center. We just saw flooding in Myrtle Beach. How are conditions overall in your hometown right now?

MAYOR BRENDA BETHUNE, MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: Right now, everything seems to be holding up really well.

Our infrastructure is holding up well. We did expect some coastal flooding, especially closest to the beaches, especially with the high tide and the storm surge.

We know that the worst is yet to come. So we will wait to see what happens with that, but, as of now, everything seems to be doing really well.

TAPPER: Throughout the Carolinas, there have been reports of tornadoes, as well as power outages. What is your greatest concern right now? Is it the flooding?

BETHUNE: Really, it is the flooding.

We had such a horrific event last year with Hurricane Florence, where we literally had days of rain, three days of steady rain. And areas around us were flooding that really closed off Myrtle Beach from all of the roads to get out of here. So we are watching the flooding very, very carefully. We don't think that it will be anything like what we experienced with Florence.


So we're prepared for it. We're prepared for the worst. And we just are waiting to see what comes later this evening.

TAPPER: And, Madam Mayor, Myrtle Beach obviously is under evacuation orders, but not everyone has left.

How many do you think remain, percentage-wise? And what is your message to those who are attempting to ride out the storm in Myrtle Beach?

BETHUNE: You know, it's hard to make everyone evacuate. And we had over 100,000 visitors in town during Labor Day weekend. We

feel very confident that those visitors are out of town safely. And as far as the residents, if you are in your homes, things may look calm right now, but, as I said, we don't know what's coming later.

The worst is yet to get here. And I just encourage people to stay in your homes. This is not the time to be out riding around, taking pictures, because we don't know exactly when things are going to kick up, such as winds or fallen limbs or power lines.

It's just too dangerous.

TAPPER: Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune, thank you so much. We will be thinking about you.

And, obviously, if there's something you're not getting from the state or the federal government, please let us know, and we will bring attention to that.

BETHUNE: Thank you.

TAPPER: CNN's Brian Todd is in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly half-a-million people have evacuated the state so far.

Brian, you have been seeing flooding. You have even seen some transformers blowing up.


And before we talk about that, I'm going to show you how it's still a perilous situation here on the streets of Charleston. Just a short time ago, we were transmitting less than a block away from here, when this huge magnolia tree just toppled over.

It hit this pole right here, but then take a look at what it did over here to the lines. It hit the lines. The lines knocked down that pole. And so this is a very dangerous situation here. First responders have come. They have roped off that part of the street down there.

You can see those power lines down. We just saw some police going to these houses behind me, knocking on doors, trying to get people to leave because of the fire hazard and the -- you know, just the overall danger of those lines being down.

Now, that transformer that you mentioned, we rolled up on that a few hours ago. We went down to Market Street, which was flooded, in downtown Charleston. And as we were getting there, we saw this downed power line still, you know, emitting live currents into the water, whipping around, just sparking, smoking.

And then, every couple of minutes, a very violent, dangerous explosion would occur. And, you know, the whole street -- that whole street got knocked out. But every time that explosion would occur, the businesses next to us would experience either a power surge or they would go out of power, then come back on a couple of minutes later. And it was just -- it was a very dangerous situation. We had to warn

people who were walking around and driving around to get out of there, Jake.

So they're not out of the woods here yet. This is kind of the danger that officials here are telling us that people have to be wary of. Even as this storm moves away from Charleston, the danger is trying to come back to your home too quickly and encountering situations like this.

TAPPER: That's right. A lot of the fatalities occur after the storms have already passed.

Brian Todd in Charleston, thanks so much.


TAPPER: Only a few buildings are still standing.

Our correspondent just got back from one of the most devastated parts of the Bahamas with some heart-wrenching stories of survival you will see first this hour.


Plus, we are following Hurricane Dorian's path up the coast, where we are going to go live where the storm is headed next.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Tornadoes ripping through the Carolinas caused by Hurricane Dorian miles away, adding to the mass destruction of this Category 2 storm.

I want to bring in CNN's Ryan Young, who's in North Carolina, where one of these tornadoes hit.

Ryan, how much damage have you seen?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have seen a tremendous amount of damage in a short period of time.


But I want to show you something right now, Jake. This has really stepped up in the last five minutes or so, the rain, the outer bands that picked up. You can see the signs here as they're starting to get ready for this. Florence was really a big impact here. In fact, this entire street here was covered in water. In fact, that's what residents are worried about.

But we have to show you what happened in Emerald Isle about 30 miles from here. Look at this video. This is an area that was hit by a tornado earlier this morning around 9:30. This hit with such ferocity that people who were on the inside of the home who stayed actually were very scared and were actually regretting the decision they made to stay behind.

Now, coming back here now, you can see the rain is hitting pretty hard. Our iPhones have started going off with tornado warnings in this area. So at some point, we'll seek a little more shelter.

But you can see the heavy rain, especially out there toward the waterway. That's what people are concerned about in terms of flooding. And we've been told even by the police chief here that once the water starts getting bad in this area, they may not be able to respond because they've dealt with such heavy water before. The rain hitting hard, the wind is actually starting to pick up, this is really starting to turn in the last ten minutes or so, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan, thank you so much. Stay safe.

Let's go north now from Beaufort to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Joining me on the phone is Mayor Sheila Foster Davies. The town is under mandatory evacuation and bracing for the storm. Mayor Davies, thanks for joining us. Do residents of Kill Devil Hills still have time to get out of town?

MAYOR SHEILA FOSTER DAVIES, KILL DEVIL HILLS, NORTH CAROLINA: They do, but it's a very short window at this point. Starting at 8:00 P.M. tonight, we will be imposing a mandatory curfew. So if anyone is trying to evacuate, please do so, but you're really limited on the time now.

TAPPER: I have been to your beautiful town before. It's where the Wright Brothers took their first historic flight. What is the biggest concern right now for Kill Devil Hills?

DAVIES: So, overall, it's just personal safety, making sure people are doing everything they can to be prepared and then stay safe throughout the storm duration.

On the backside of the storm, our biggest concern is we expect significant sound flash flooding. Initially, the sound is going to be sucked out with the wind direction. But on the backside -- so when people think that it may be calming down, we anticipate storm surge anywhere from four to seven feet above ground.

TAPPER: For anyone who is planning on staying behind, even though there is this mandatory evacuation, what do you want them to do to stay safe?

DAVIES: Stay inside. That's why we've put this curfew in place. Oftentimes, people want to go out and look and be the first one to snap the footage and film of what they're seeing, but they need to stay in and stay safe. We're expecting hurricane-force winds for a number of hours starting in the early morning hours, and then like I said, the storm surge. And until we can get out and assess damage at whatever point tomorrow afternoon, we just need people to comply with our warnings and orders. TAPPER: Mayor Davies of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, thank you so much for your time. Stay safe. If there's anything you're not getting from the state or federal government, please let us know. We'll bring attention to it.

DAVIES: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: As Hurricane Dorian lashes the Carolinas, President Trump has been busy on Twitter falsely trying to prove to the world that he was right about something he tweeted on Sunday. Why this is all about so much more than just a sharpie scribble? Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Politics Lead, with Americans in the Carolinas in danger from Hurricane Dorian, President Trump right now, at least based on his tweets, including just moments ago, is focused instead on defending his decision to show a sloppily augmented map of the storm's projected path.

The president using this map in the Oval Office yesterday with this extended track drawn in apparently sharpie, apparently done to justify his claim on Sunday morning that Hurricane Dorian would most likely hit Alabama much harder than anticipated. That's a claim that was outdated and refuted by the National Weather Service. The sharpie- scribbled map the president showed was from days before, from a week ago, last Thursday.

Alabama's own CNN's Kaitlan Collins picks up our coverage from the White House now.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is now on day five of insisting Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: That was the original chart.

COLLINS: After being ridiculed for displaying a forecast map altered by a black marker to prove his point, Trump tweeted today that Alabama was going to be hit or grazed and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path.

He now says he was referencing early predictions when he claimed Alabama could be impacted.

TRUMP: I know that Alabama was in the original forecast.

COLLIN: But he first made that assertion Sunday, long after the state was ruled out as a potential target.

While the Gulf Coast was shown as a possible threat for Dorian's track in early projections, by Friday, the guidance had shifted to Florida's east coast, two days before Trump said this.

TRUMP: This just came up, unfortunately. [16:25:00]

COLLINS: The president canceled a trip to Poland to monitor the storm and the White House said he was being updated every hour, meaning he would have known that information. Instead of admitting the error in moving on, Trump is insisting he's right, even tweeting out projections last night from over a week ago with dated information.

The spaghetti models the president is using as a defense are updated four times a day, meaning by the time Trump made this claim Sunday --

TRUMP: And Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that, it could be.

COLLINS: -- they had been updated at least 15 times. It's against the law to knowingly issue or publish a false weather forecast, though right now, both FEMA and NOAA are referring all questions back to the White House, where aides are refusing to say who it was that altered the map and won't rule out that it was the president.

TRUMP: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, regardless of who it is that did alter that map, right now, it's clear the president does not have any intention of admitting he was wrong about Alabama because he is still continuing to tweet about it just moments ago, even as this hurricane is now hitting the Carolinas, the president is still tweeting old maps that showed that there are chances it could potentially affect Alabama, maps from over a week ago that the president just tweeted out several moments ago.

And right now the people we've spoken to said they do not expect the president to stop anytime soon, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alabama's own Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Amanda Carpenter, because you wrote an entire book about this, about how President Trump gaslights the American people, look, no one disputes that a week ago, there were some projections that showed a possible slight affect on a small sliver of Alabama. The point is that on Sunday, by the time he started warning Alabama, those were outdated and the projections no longer said Alabama was in the zone, as the National Weather Service laid a few minutes later said so. Why is he doing this?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think all of this is done in service to his ego. He wants to constantly present himself as this chosen one, once in a lifetime president who can only defeat the most historic threats we've ever faced, right? So if he has the chance to hype the storm as something bigger than it is, of course, he will do so, even if he has to take out a sharpie and extend the map westward. He has done this --

TAPPER: We don't know for a fact that he did that, although everybody --

CARPENTER: But it definitely wasn't the guy with the sharpie on his desk, okay.

But he has done this in other occasions. He hyped the humanitarian migrant crisis at the border into a national security threat. When he was campaigning for president, there was a protester who got rowdy and he tried to say that he was maybe perhaps a member of ISIS. This is something that he does so that we can be thankful when these made-up threats are overcome or diminished.

TAPPER: Mehdi, I know you have --

MEHDI HASAN, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THE INTERCEPT: He -- I mean, not just the made-up threats, he also keeps going, I've never come across a Category 5 hurricane before, because each time he has to big up the threat.

I mean, look, if you were a writer on House of Cards or even Veep and came up with sharpie-gate, you would be fired. I mean, this is ridiculous. The president would never do that. But now we have this toddler-in-chief who is now into day five of tweeting about this stuff.

His press people are like, why are you still talking about this, because he keeps tweeting about it. He could have let it go. By his standards, by Trump's standard, this is a small lie, a small error, a small mess-up. But he can't let it go, as Amanda pointed out.

And there's a serious point here is as well, because we can laugh about this. But a president who won't accept the weather or the direction of a hurricane is not going to accept the result of an election that he loses next November. He's not.

TAPPER: And Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley tweeted in part, quote, watching the media go ballistic over a black sharpie mark on a map would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. The real news that matters here is a deadly hurricane continues up the coast and tens of millions of Americans could be greatly impacted.

I agree with the second part of that. The real news, as it matters, is that deadly hurricane and Americans are in harms' way. Poor Bahamians, a few dozen of them, at the very least, have been killed. But we're covering it because the president just did two more tweets on it. He won't stop talking about it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. But the president, I think, enjoys all of this because this becomes a media story. And if you are a Trump supporter, you believe him on this. And he has done a very good job of discrediting a lot of things. Never mind the fact that he's in the wrong here. But I think the bigger point here is not the fact that likely the president drew Alabama, whoever -- or someone in the service of trying to please him, of which the west wing is full of people, it is the fact that the president's word, both in this country and around this world, must stand for what is accurate, what is in the moment, is true.

Imagine after 9/11, if President Bush would have said something that was factually just not, you know, accurate at that point. You have to be able to believe what your government is telling you. His own government said, sir, that isn't right. But he won't let go of it because he likes this back and forth.

And we're not talking about a variety of other things, like the fact that there's not a real agenda that's happening for 2020. They haven't, you know -- I mean, he's not talk about gun control and other things. So, anyway, he's happy to talk about Alabama.

TAPPER: And republican strategist and CNN Commentator Ana Navarro asked this question in response to the Trump news, quote, you guys still want to talk about [16:30:00] Joe Biden's gaffes? I mean, she's making the point --

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, she's making the point that, yes, people do want to talk about Joe Biden's gaffes and he makes quite a few of them --