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Category 3 Hurricane Dorian Closes in on Carolinas; Charleston, South Carolina Area Under Flash Flood Warning; President Trump Continues to Insist Alabama is in Dorian's Path; Hurricane Dorian Leaves at Least 20 Dead in the Bahamas. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 5, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:24]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

We do begin again this morning with the breaking news of Hurricane Dorian. It is slow but it is intense. And this morning it is setting its sights on the Carolinas.

Overnight Dorian intensified in strength. It's now again a major category 3 storm. More than a million of people in parts of South and North Carolina are currently under mandatory evacuation orders. Also, right now the outer bands of wind and heavy rain are slamming the eastern seaboard. 15 to 20 inches is expected in cities like Charleston just in the next 12 hours.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A foot and a half of rain, that is no small thing. The eye of the storm is expected to move close to the coast of South Carolina today and then move near or over the coast of Carolina tonight.

And as Carolina residents brace for the storm Dorian, death toll in the Bahamas has now jumped to 20, and we should be clear, and as you look at those pictures there, this probably doesn't come as a surprise, authorities saying they expect that toll to climb. People there still desperately in need of emergency aid and medical evacuations.

Imagine how many days they have suffered through this. Entire neighborhoods destroyed, homes turned to rubble, and the only international airport on the island of Grand Bahama completely obliterated and of course that jeopardizes efforts to bring in much needed aid.

HARLOW: Look at that. I mean, those are the -- what look they were the checking counters perhaps.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: At the airport. It is all --

SCIUTTO: We saw Patrick Oppmann in there earlier today and there was a plane smacked in the middle of it.

HARLOW: Oh, my god.

SCIUTTO: Blown in. Yes.

HARLOW: All right. So we'll bring you reporting throughout the next two hours from the Bahamas. But first let's go to our colleague, friend, CNN anchor, Erica Hill. She's in Charleston, South Carolina.

They've felt massive flooding before like from Hugo. Is that what they're preparing for again this morning?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: So that was the concern. Especially overnight when the high tide overnight was forecast to come at 10.3 feet. The good news there is that it actually came in about 7 1/2 feet. And so that is actually significantly below, about four feet now would be below where the Hugo levels were.

But, guys, that doesn't mean that Charleston is out of the woods. Flooding is a major concern here. We are really just starting to get into the thick of the storm here for Dorian for the city of Charleston. It's a major concern because we're looking at a triple threat. There's the high tide that's coming between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m., it'll peak at 2:00. There is also the storm surge and on top of it there is this heavy rain that we're going to see throughout the day.

Three to five inches have already fallen in the area. We're looking at another seven to 10 throughout the day. And the issue as we approach that high tide at 2:00, which is forecast for 9 1/2 feet, is that with all of that water coming together at once, there is nowhere for it to go. Obviously, this is the Low Country for a reason. It floods. While folks may be used to that the concern, of course, is how all of this could come together later today.

The mayor was very clear yesterday and said it again this morning on CNN. He wanted Charleston to be a ghost town. I have to tell you when we were out and about, and based on what the mayor has said, he had seen even overnight a lot of folks heeding that and heeding some of the evacuations, and those who didn't say, he said they are hopefully all staying inside. And obviously that is where they should be.

One area that is starting to see a lot of that flooding is just a little ways away from me in the historic downtown area, and that's where we find CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Erica. The flooding has gotten worse in the last few hours as you mentioned and in this area it's only going to get worse in the next few hours.

Look at how the flooding is threatening this house. We're on Ashley Avenue, just a couple of blocks off the Ashley River, and it is a low- lying neighborhood in Charleston. But frankly, almost anywhere in Charleston whether you're near the water or not, your street is probably going to get flooded at some point today. Look at how it's threatening this yellow house over here. Coming

right up almost to the front door. This house is in a little bit better shape because it's elevated but we saw a gentleman through his front door there. He's been sitting there. He's not there now but he was sitting there for a couple of hours just monitoring the water level rising. So you can see kind of how it's threatening these houses here on Ashley Avenue.

And as you mentioned, Erica, you know, in about four hours you're going to have that triple threat. You've got the high tides, you've got the storm surge, and the heavy rain which we were just told by our CNN weather team is really going to be just pounding this area consistently well, well into the evening. So at about 1:00 when it's high tide these roads are really going to be in a very dangerous state.

We've had about 360,000 people at least evacuating the coastal areas of South Carolina. You mentioned the mayor of Charleston. We talked to his people as well. They do want this area to be a ghost town, and they're saying, look, you know, Charlestonians, a lot of them feel like they can venture out in this stuff.

[09:05:02]

Don't do it because standing water in streets like this is a real threat. You try to drive through it, you don't know how deep it is. You don't know if there's a downed power line around. So you've got to just stay away from these areas and ride it out.

You know, one thing, Erica, that's weighing on the minds of Charlestonians is Hurricane Hugo 30 years ago right about now when, you know, dozens of people were killed, the storm came right up Charleston Harbor, hit just north of Charleston, and they had -- they were in horrible shape for weeks after that. That still plays on the minds of Charlestonians. That's why so many of them got out, and Erica, again, we're faced with a pretty dangerous situation here for the next several hours.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. And Brian of course mentioned the danger of driving through standing water. Part of that danger, as Brian just said, is downed power lines. We do know about Over 200,000 reported outages, just in the state of South Carolina alone, and some of our other reporters stationed in areas even close to Brian, saying that they were noticing power going out around them. Also, a lot of old growth trees and that of course can be a concern with saturated ground as more and more water comes in.

For a closer look at the forecast, at the track of this storm let's go now to the CNN Weather Center and meteorologist Allison Chinchar -- Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right, Erica. So we've got the latest update in just at the top of the hour. We are noticing the forward speed picking up ever so slightly but it's still moving north-northeast. This is good. It means it's trying to make its way back out over open water. It's just doing it very slowly. The question becomes, can it turn east enough to avoid an actual landfall because it is coming so close. Even in just these last few frames here, so close to the coastline here.

So it is still very possible. We could get a landfall today perhaps in South Carolina or even a landfall tomorrow in portions of North Carolina as the system still continues to slide up the coast. Now one thing to mention, winds are still Category 3 level, sustained at 115 miles per hour. One of the growing concerns, new growing concerns is the threat for tornadoes. This is growing tornado watch. We've had some counties expand on this map.

This is valid through the afternoon hours and includes portions of North and South Carolina here, and that's because we've had numerous tornado warnings. Right now, we have three active tornado warnings on the radar. But we've had at least a dozen of them so far this morning in both North and South Carolina, as these strong outer bands continue to slide onshore bringing with it the potential for tornadoes and even some water spouts.

Notice this threat risk from this storm force prediction center includes Virginia, North Carolina, and portions of South Carolina, and (INAUDIBLE), so it's a level three out of five. But that's not the only concern. We've talked about water being the main concern with this, and that's coming both from storm surge and this. Very heavy rainfall. Widespread amounts of about four to six inches expected.

But look at some of these other -- look at this, this red color here, the red, and even this purple color just to the north and east of Charleston, now you're talking 10, 12, if not even 15 inches of rain before the system can finally exit. You factor that in, the rain coming down with the rain coming in from below as well, meaning the storm surge, this is why flooding is such a big concern, Erica.

Look at this area stretching from Myrtle Beach all the way up through Hatteras where we're talking about storm surge around four to seven feet total.

HILL: Yes. And we still have that flash flood watch in effect here so I believe it's 10:15 or 10:30 a.m. so at least another hour plus of that here where we are.

Allison, thank you.

Jim, Poppy, we'll continue to bring you updates of course throughout the next couple of hours. We'll send it back to you, though, for now.

HARLOW: OK. Erica, thank you so much. Great reporting down there. Not easy conditions at all. We'll get back to you very soon.

But let's go to the Bahamas now because we are talking about devastation and years of recovery ahead. Take a look at this bird's eye view of the devastation that Dorian left behind. You're looking at Abaco, I believe that's Great Abaco in the Bahamas. These images capturing the grand scale of the catastrophe. The storm ripped apart homes, shredded them into heaps of splintered wooden frames.

Dorian wrecked cars, their horns still blaring. You hear that through the neighborhoods after the water and winds receded.

SCIUTTO: It's a haunting sound. Just think of how many families impacted there.

Meanwhile, the only airport in Freeport is just gutted. Debris scattered everywhere, piled up on runways. Many residents asking how they're going to get the medical help, the supplies they desperately need if those planes can't land in an airport like that?

That's where we find our Patrick Oppmann live.

Patrick, you know, pictures so compelling as you walk through that airport earlier today and yesterday, giving us a sense of just how extensive the destruction is. What are authorities going to do now to clear that airport so that they can start getting aid in?

[09:10:01]

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to talk to you again, Jim and Poppy. You know, yesterday for the first time we saw Coast Guard planes, other planes, Coast Guard helicopters flying over this island and what a beautiful sound it was. We've not heard any planes or helicopters this morning. So far maybe they're still in other parts of the island, still carrying out rescues.

Behind me you see a calm, flat ocean. There are no boats. Personal watercraft have been told they cannot come in here. There's so many too debris. There are people who want to bring in supplies. We are told there needs to be damage assessment on the harbor to see where the debris are, to make sure the boats don't crash and need rescue when they're coming in. But it also means that supplies are not coming in.

Supplies that's still come in, it's now day two. After the storm, perfect weather conditions and aid is not reaching this island. There are some stores open today but they're just selling the last goods they have.

There are injured people we've met. There's a lady in her building with a broken hip. She has not been evacuated just yet. There are other people who are walking wounded. There are other people who have been absolutely terrorized by his storm and probably need some mental help after two days of listening to those howling winds, needed to get off the island where they can take a shower and get reunited with their family or they've lost family members.

You know, we've talked to some of those people. And right now, nothing is coming in or out of this island.

HARLOW: Oh, my goodness. I'm -- you know, Jim and I just sort of sighed a little bit of relief when we saw those images of the Coast Guard members carrying people.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: To get the help that they need but clearly not everyone is getting what they need.

Patrick, before you go, I know you were actually inside the airport that is the only international airport there, right? Can you talk us about what you saw?

OPPMANN: That's correct. You know, we tried to get there the day before yesterday and the flooding was just too extreme, and we talked to other residents who know this island better than we do. And they also went in and looked at there. So yesterday morning when we heard these flights, I thought maybe they're landing and maybe we're going to see, you know, palettes of aid, water, gas, you know, everything, we need everything here, coming off.

We did get to the airport. We walked right in because the fences are pretty much all knocked down. There are several terminals there. One we entered because it doesn't have any walls on it, and the other ones are still all boarded up, but they have been under water for days. They are still standing but perhaps they are even damaged worse.

We walked down the runway. At the very end we could see a Coast Guard helicopter in the distance that landed. It's the only aircraft I've seen on the ground but I couldn't tell what they were doing. They were not unloading anything. The runway, and this is really the problem, it's not about the terminals, is the runways is littered with shrapnel. I'm talking about pieces of metal, pieces of concrete, there are pieces of a plane that had come apart.

Everywhere you looked there was shrapnel. I've since heard back from people involved in the recovery efforts. First doubting that we saw the shrapnel. And I have video, I saw it with my own eyes, I picked it up, and then I've heard back now from those same people saying we sent out crews after your story and we have picked everything up. I'm hoping to go and confirm that today because until that runway is clear, nothing is coming in.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Yes. That is a huge problem, Patrick. Thank you again for being on the front of all of this and bringing us those images and those stories. We'll get back to you very, very soon.

And coming up we are going to speak with a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. We'll talk to them about how they're responding and dealing with, you know, not being able to land on the runway, for example. How are they bringing aid to the Bahamas.

SCIUTTO: And still manage a lot of rescues. Plus, the Carolinas are feeling the brunt of Hurricane Dorian this morning. But President Trump is still insisting that Alabama might have been in danger, even showing this map in the Oval Office with one slight change. We're going to be live in Charleston where Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 3, is slamming the area.

CNN's special live coverage up and down the coast continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:15:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to CNN's continuing live coverage. We are live here in Charleston, South Carolina, where as you can see, we're really feeling the effects of this Category 3 Hurricane Dorian. We're only about 35 miles from the eye wall, and that's where the strongest winds are. My colleague Athena Jones is not too far from me in the historic downtown area, right now, I know you've already been seeing flooding this morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, that's right, you can see the street behind me, the water has been steadily rising. This patch of dry pavement has been getting smaller over the last several hours. The rain isn't quite as hard right now as it has been, but it's coming in waves along with the wind.

We know that several streets around this area where we are, just a few blocks from the battery, from Charleston Harbor. That harbor that historically has flooded in storms like this. As we've been saying, 10, 15 to 20 inches of rain are expected all total by this afternoon, and that is why there's so much concern about flooding.

We know that there's a storm surge, a warning in effect until further notice. And that's because all of the streets around here or many of the streets are flooded. We're hearing constant updates from Charleston police telling folks what areas to avoid.

And we're also hearing from city officials, from the mayor, from the emergency management chief, the county to say just stay put. If you don't have to be anywhere out in this weather stay where you are, because as we all know, high tide comes this afternoon around 1:00, and with all of this rain that is when we could see even more flooding, even more high-water levels. Erica, to you.

[09:20:00]

HILL: Absolutely, Athena, thank you, we'll continue. Really, the wind too, do might just want to put out a major concern. The bridges don't close in Charleston County, however, they are obviously telling people that at this point, with the winds as high as they are, it is not recommended that they'd be out there on the bridges at this time, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes, listen to those warnings, they're important ones, they don't give them lightly. Erica Hill, great to have you on the ground there.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: All right, so just across the bridge from where Erica and Athena are in Charleston is Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Amanda Knight joins us from there. She's the Emergency Manager. Amanda, thank you so much for taking the time in the middle of all of this.

We know how busy you are. Look, I know that on Tuesday, I believe it is, you guys moved to the highest level of emergency preparedness that you have, which is OPCON 1. What does that actually mean -- AMANDA KNIGHT, EMERGENCY MANAGER, MOUNT PLEASANT, SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes

--

HARLOW: In real terms, are you still at that level and are people heeding the evacuation warnings?

KNIGHT: So our Operating Condition One is in line with that of South Carolina Emergency Management Division as well as Charleston County. And that is the lowest level, the greatest level of preparedness that we have. And that means that we have a whole Emergency Operations Center activation.

For us that means that we pull in our staff emergency personnel over the bridges and house them internally to Mount Pleasant to make sure that we have access to our emergency responders. Right now, we have about 300 staff members working 24/7, and that is comprised of our EOC staff, Public Services, Fire, Law Enforcement, Logistics Personnel to make sure that we have a heightened ability and efficient response to our citizens whenever they need us.

HARLOW: When you look at the lessons learned from Hugo, I know it was a long time ago, you know, 1989, but you guys had twelve and half feet of flooding from Hugo in Charleston. What are you preparing for as we look at the storm surge that could be above 10 feet there?

KNIGHT: Yes, so certainly, we have been monitoring the surge models and that has been a primary concern as well as the heavy rain that we're expecting. And it's difficult not to compare an incoming hurricane with what we've seen in the past.

HARLOW: Right --

KNIGHT: So, we know what that looks like, of course, our communities have changed drastically since 1989. Our exposure rate by means of they're not the people, the citizens that we have in the Charleston tri-county region has grown incredibly. So we know that we have more people that we have to protect.

HARLOW: As you talk about what you have to protect those people, I know there's been a lot of focus for you guys on high-water vehicles positioned all over the place. Is that because you are hearing too many reports of people not evacuating?

KNIGHT: Right, so we're not necessarily hearing reports of people not evacuating. This is our standard emergency deployment of our personnel. And the way that we manage our geographic area because we have low-lying areas, roads that may be inundated with water.

We prepositioned our emergency response equipment and personnel to include high-water rescue vehicles throughout the -- throughout the municipalities so we can get to whoever needs us regardless of whether -- regardless of the counts of evacuation.

HARLOW: Talk to me finally, Amanda, about how this feels to you, guys, because of course, Florence was a Category 4, Dorian is a Cat 3 now. Does this storm feel different? KNIGHT: Certainly, so, I would say we've had -- we've had a lot of

activations over the past six years. We've certainly had several hurricanes that have either been a near miss for us or an impact. So, and you know, the good news with that is that, as we continue to activate, we streamline our process and we become more efficient with that.

And so we feel good about our preparedness level. With that being said, this has been an unpredictable storm, and we are -- the only thing that we can do, the only thing that we can feel is to be as prepared as possible for whatever is --

HARLOW: Sure --

KNIGHT: Going to happen.

HARLOW: OK, we wish you luck, Amanda Knight, I know you guys are working around the clock. Thanks for being with us this morning.

KNIGHT: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got it, all right. So, the president -- I don't know why, doubling down on his claim that Hurricane Dorian would have hit Alabama using Sharpy(ph), someone there in the Oval Office to include parts of Alabama in the trajectory a little bit earlier this week.

SCIUTTO: You've just got to wonder why. We are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. In just a few minutes, members of the American Red Cross will ring the opening bell to highlight their work to help those affected by Hurricane Dorian.

[09:25:00]

And when trading begins, stocks shoot quickly, moving to positive territory, this after the U.S. and China announce they will hold a new rounds of talks in Washington. China says the two sides will meet next month and will also keep talking before the meeting.

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