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Category 3 Hurricane Dorian Closes In On Carolinas; Hurricane Dorian Leaves At Least 20 Dead In The Bahamas. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 5, 2019 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right. It is the top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Dorian is still active. It is still dangerous. We continue to follow the breaking news this morning. Dorian's outer bands of heavy wind and rain now slamming the U.S.' southeastern coast, the storm intensifying again overnight to a Category 3 hurricane. More than a million people in parts of South and North Carolina are currently under mandatory evacuations orders. Officials warning of a possible ten-foot life-threatening storm surge and up to a foot and a half of rain in a short period of time.

Look at this video from Charleston, South Carolina this morning, the water rising there very quickly in the streets.

HARLOW: Dorian's eye is expected to move close to the coast of South Carolina today, then move near or over the coast of North Carolina by tonight. And in the Bahamas, it is just utter devastation, at least 20 people, at least, have been found dead. Officials are warning that number will climb as responders dig through the debris.

The only international airport on the island of Grand Bahama completely destroyed. Look at footage from our Patrick Oppmann and his team. They managed to get in there yesterday.

SCIUTTO: We have people on the ground bringing back these eyewitness reports. We're going to have a live report from the Bahamas in just a few minutes.

But, first, let's go to our Erica Hill. She is in Charleston, South Carolina, which is feeling the brunt of the storm now. You know, we've been seeing you nearly get blown away there, Erica. What are the conditions now and are they getting worse?

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is definitely the strongest that we've seen. I checked in a short time ago with the CNN Weather Center just so we can get a sense of when we were really going to be in the thick of it, and they said, now. So on through probably the end of this hour, we're really going to be feeling the strong winds here, about 35-mile-an-hour sustained gusts. I'm told that they could be anywhere from 40 to 60 miles an hour, some of these gusts, that may be coming through.

We have seen reports of power outages as well. And I do want to let you know, we just learned from Kiawah Island that the entire island is out. Officials saying, this is not a decision that they made to cut power, that this is related to the storm. There are a number of downed trees as well. And they said they can't get crews out right now. It is simply too dangerous. So, again, all of Kiawah Island currently without power.

We're expecting another update from them in about two -- actually, four hours, 2:00 P.M. They said, we'll know more then.

I also spoke with the National Guard here in South Carolina a short time ago. They are in wait mode. But they are stationed at key areas and essentially embedded in many ways with local fire departments and first responders so they can boost their local assets. They have their tactical vehicles ready to go if and when those calls should come, if we should need any rescues, because water is the major threat here and flooding is the concern.

We're still under a flash flood watch here in Charleston and surrounding areas for the next little bit, the next 15 to 30 minutes. And the reason is because this is really a triple threat of a storm, especially in low-lying areas, like Charleston.

So you have both the high tide. We're going to see high tide peak right around 2:00. You have this heavy rain that you both talked about and we have the storm surge. And when all of that comes together at once, there's nowhere for it to go.

We are already seeing some flooding in Charleston. Brian Todd is in the historic downtown area near the battery. And, Brian, I know you've been seeing that throughout the morning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Erica. Just like you, we just got slammed by another burst of heavy wind and rain. We're down here on Ashley Avenue, one of those streets that's flooded.

I'm going to take you over here and show you how it's threatening some of the homes over here. Clearly now, past the fence line coming underneath these houses here, a lot of houses here are sandbagged. These are not -- you can see how the water is coming up here to the doorstep.

Now, some of these houses have some elevation so they're okay for now. But it is clearly threatening here and there are just dozens and dozens of streets like this throughout Charleston.

I just talked to the mayor's office. Right now, they've got 85 road closures around the city. 26 of them are flood-related. They said they have 115 trees down. We know those numbers are going to go way up in the next few hours.

Take a look behind me. his entire street, and now this is kind of one of the lower lying streets. It's right by the Ashley River. But as we've been saying, Charleston is on a peninsula. Just about every street is low-lying. Plus you've got the confluence of three bodies of water, the Ashley River about a block behind me, you've got the Cooper River and you've got Charleston Harbor. And then all of these streets are about at the same level as the water. So high tide, storm surge, it's going to cause scenes like this throughout the city.

Another thing we haven't talked about here, this is the third major hurricane to impact this area. You had Matthew in 2016, you had Irma in 2017, now this. And one official at the mayor's office told me, that doesn't include a thousand year rain event that they had [10:05:00] in 2015. So you can really -- well, another one, a fourth one in there. And so the city is kind of wondering at this point how much more can it take. Erica?

HILL: Yes. And the mayor even addressing that yesterday saying this speaks to some of what they're talking about in Charleston itself about planning, about building and how they have to look at things, especially moving forward. Brian, thank you.

We are feeling, as you can see, if you're watching, as Brian just mentioned, we're both feeling these gusts come through.

CNN Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is in the Weather Center.

So, Allison, as we're feeling this come through, how much closer is that eye wall getting to us? Because I know that's where the really strong heavy winds tend to come from, the closer it gets.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's a really good question. And we've been just noticing that here in the weather department over the last few frames of this. Look at how close this is getting to the South Carolina coast. And when we say this, we mean the center of that storm. It's very easy to kind of see right there. The movement itself is north, northeast at eight miles per hour.

But here is the thing. It is very possible we could see a landfall today in South Carolina or maybe perhaps it just slides ever so close to the coast and makes a landfall tomorrow in North Carolina. This is how close we're talking that this storm is going to get. But regardless of whether it makes landfall technically or not, the impacts are already there. Obviously, you're looking at very heavy rain bands.

But one of the growing concerns is actually the threat for tornadoes. This is a tornado watch in effect for portions of North and South Carolina. This includes cities like Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Hatteras and even Kill Devil Hills. This goes through the afternoon hours.

We've had over a dozen tornado warnings so far this morning. We have three of them active at this point, two in North Carolina, one in South Carolina. You can see they're just to the north of Myrtle Beach. That is because all of the strong outer bands just now starting to push on shore are bringing with them waterspouts and even tornadoes.

So that is going to be a threat going throughout the rest of the day for Virginia, North Carolina and portions of South Carolina, this orange area there being the biggest threat. That is a level three out of five threat zone for specifically severe storms.

But that's not it. Again, the heavy rainfall is also going to be a big concern here. Look at this widespread amount here stretching from Virginia all the way down through South Carolina, widespread amounts of four to six inches of rain. But a lot of locations where you see that red color or even nearing that pink where we're talking eight, ten, if not, even as much as 15 inches total before the storm system finally makes its way out.

And, Erica, you have to combine that also with the storm surge, which is going to be several feet not only for South Carolina but also North Carolina and Virginia as well.

HILL: Yes, a lot still to come and a lot that people are focusing on now. Allison, I appreciate it, as always.

Poppy, we'll send it back to you, but we'll continue to update you throughout the morning, of course, from here in Charleston and around the region.

HARLOW: Thank you, Erica. You guys have been great. We'll get back to you very soon.

SCIUTTO: Well, one thing is clear, unprecedented damage left behind in the Bahamas. Look at this video. It showed how powerful winds and floodwaters carried small planes, boats straight across the islands. More importantly, look at the homes there, ripped apart, there are roofs missing, neighborhoods turning into piles of debris.

HARLOW: We've also just learned in the past few minutes at least 80 people have been rescued this morning alone from the Abaco Island. That is according to a government official who CNN just spoke with.

With us now is Brandon Clement. He's a storm chaser and he made it to Great Abaco yesterday. He joins us now from West Palm Beach, Florida. Good morning to you, Brandon. Thank you so much for being with us.

So you were there. You were on the ground. What did you see?

BRANDON CLEMENT, STORM CHASER: Just total devastation. I knew the day before when we flew over and got the aerial video, just how bad it was. But when you get down on the ground, it goes from a widespread disaster to looking at individual loss and talking to people on the ground who have just lost everything. And it's become a humanitarian crisis very quickly. A lot of supplies are dwindling down the island and resources are very limited at the moment and tensions are quite high.

SCIUTTO: Brandon, do you have a sense of the human losses on the ground there? Because from the air, it just looks -- how difficult it must have been to survive, not just the conditions from the storm, as the hurricane sat on top of the Bahamas, but the aftermath as well. Do you have any sense?

CLEMENT: Yes. The storm surge that went through, particularly the mud, this area of Abaco, it's going to be high. I know it's going to be high just with multiple (ph) people.

These multiple people I spoke to yesterday, you know, had firsthand accounts of -- I would say fatality is higher than the total number right now. It's just their (INAUDIBLE). So I expect that number to go up substantially.

HARLOW: Did you -- I know you were on with our colleague [10:10:00] Don Lemon a few nights ago when you were talking about where you were going to try to reach to see the extent of the damage. Is there anywhere else that you were able to go? You talked about Grand Bahama. Anything else?

CLEMENT: I was going to try and get over to Freeport, Grand Bahama. The problem is, from Nassau, if you go to Freeport, you're pushing your fuel limits a little too far. The only way is probably from West Palm but only -- at that time, the storm was in the way. So, yes, you have to kind of pick one or the other.


CLEMENT: No. We were back to Abaco yesterday and there're also limited places for landing and everything else. But when we got there and got on the ground, particularly in the mud area, we also went up to the government building where a lot of people went for safe harbor during the eye of the hurricane, and that area is just -- it's like somebody just took a giant tiller across the earth and just ground up everything and poured water over the top of it and just flooded it. It's unimaginable if you're looking at it.

SCIUTTO: We know folks have been working hard to rescue those affected. I spoke to someone from the Coast Guard. They've done nearly 150 rescues in the last 24, 48 hours. Our Patrick Oppmann was down there. He was watching local residents using their jet skis to get people out. But did you see any rescues and did you have a sense of how many folks were still waiting to be taken out?

CLEMENT: I did see a few rescues. We managed to get a couple people in our helicopter as well and take them out. It's not so much as rescue -- we saw a couple of the rescues that were injured. It's not just those people. It's everybody. They all want out of there. It's a horrible situation right now.

Helipads and the landing areas have people just standing by there with a suitcase offering just insane amounts of money to get out, just anything they can do, and it's not help. And we're hoping the humanitarian relief gets in there really quick because it's on the brink of a really bad situation. I mean, it's already really bad. But it's on the brink of going downhill, some worse territories, like violence and stuff like that. HARLOW: Goodness. All right, they deserve all the help they can get and very, very quickly. Brandon, thank you so much for going and for bringing us your reporting on the ground.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Those eyes usually on the ground make a difference because it helps give a sense of where the help is most needed, how extensive the damage is.

Meanwhile, the only airport in Freeport is gutted, debris scattered everywhere, piled up on runways. That's a problem, because to get aid in, the fastest way to get it in is to fly it in.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is there live.

Patrick, the airport has put medical evacuations in jeopardy. That means, really, you can only use helicopters, ospreys as well. I know the Coast Guard is operating with ospreys. How are authorities planning to get people there to safety now given those limitations?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a great question. I wish I knew. At least on the island, there's no sense of organization. I couldn't tell you who is in charge. I'm not sure there is anyone in charge here.

Yesterday though, we were very hardened to see planes and helicopters flying overhead. Most of them are U.S. Coast Guard. People were taking photos and shooting them. We have not seen any in my location this morning. But that doesn't mean they couldn't be in the far eastern tip of the island where they're still, we're told, people are believed to be trapped in their homes, hundreds of homes over that way. They were completely submerged up to the first floor and beyond. We know people -- at least several people drowned there as they awaited rescue.

So it is a somewhat frustrating position to be in here and know there is a terrible demand all across this island. Thousands of people have been left homeless. The majority of this island was underwater for at least a day or two. And you don't see any aid coming in because it is not safe, we're told, to come in by boat. They are turning away private sea craft, private boats because there's too much debris. And there has to be an assessment before they can open up the waters. The U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy are helping with that.

The airport is a disaster. Some buildings, as you saw, were totally torn apart. There were planes strewn around several, pieces of them or whole planes that have been flipped. And there were two other terminals which were still standing but have been in the water for days. And one of those terminals was open. We were able to peek inside. It was pretty destroyed. And then the security guard, said don't go in there. We've been told it's too dangerous. No one has done a security assessment yet. That was yesterday afternoon.

We heard within a couple of hours of our first report, and it may have just been a coincidence that teams that descended on the airport to clean the runway, no word yet so far if the airport is open or will be open any time soon. HARLOW: So, Patrick, I mean, just to hear you say we have no idea who is in charge, that is a huge statement. [10:15:00] And you're feeling that as a reporter there with resources. I know CNN prepares you well when you go into situations like this. For the average, you know, citizen on the island, they must be getting to a point of hopelessness or despair if they don't even know who is in charge, let alone who may be coming to help.

OPPMANN: We have heard some reports of looting. It's not confirmed by the police because I have yet to really see the police here.

It's a rough situation getting rougher. There was one restaurant open yesterday, a fast food chicken place. The line, there must have been 300 or 400 people in line. I doubt they had that much chicken. We need food, we need water, we need supplies, we need them now. The Bahamians do, not us. The Bahamians.

HARLOW: Right. Patrick, we're so glad you're there. Thank you for that.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just a shocking assessment from the ground.

HARLOW: I know.

So Hurricane Dorian is closing in on the Carolinas. That is where the focus is today, hammering the coastline and very populated tourist areas.

Our special live coverage continues. We will take you to Myrtle Beach next.



HILL: Welcome back CNN's continuing live coverage of Hurricane Dorian. I'm Erica Hill in Charleston, South Carolina. And we're really feeling the effects of this Category 3 storm as it moves closer to shore, moving at about eight miles an hour. And what we're really feeling too is the stronger winds. We're expecting high maximum sustained wind gusts at different points of 75 miles an hour. We can tell you, we're going to be feeling a lot of it through 6:00.

I also want to let you know that National Weather Service updated the flash flood warning for this area, for the city of Charleston, for North Charleston and for Mount Pleasant. It was to go through just about now. Actually, they have now extended that to 1:15 Eastern time.

And they're looking at some of the totals around the region. The highest 24-hour rainfall that they've recorded is more than seven inches in Mount Pleasant. And officials there are reminding people that as little as 12 inches of rain on the streets can wash away a small car. Flooding is a major concern and will continue to be for the next several hours. This is a major wind event. As you can see from here, just about 100 miles north of me is where we find my colleague, Rosa Flores. And, Rosa, I know in that area, wind a concern also because of potential tornadoes in the area.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a little difficult for me to hear you, Erica. But I think you were asking me either about the tornadoes or the conditions here in this area. We are on a tornado watch until 4:00 P.M. And there is a reported tornado just north of us in North Myrtle Beach.

According to -- I believe we're having technical difficulties. I don't know if you're able to hear me. Okay, my photographer is telling me that you do. Sorry for the technical difficulties.

According to the firefighters in North Myrtle Beach, there is a tornado that touched down in that area. They are assessing damage. There is damage to vehicles and Also buildings, but no injuries are reported.

Now, I want you to take a look around me, because early this morning, sustained winds were at about 17 miles an hour. Those conditions have been progressively deteriorating with wind gusts of up to 30, 32, 33 miles an hour. You can see the vegetation, you can see it and also the rough seas.

From talking to the mayor of the city, I can tell you that her biggest worry is the storm surge. Storm surge is expected at four to eight feet. On top of that, there will be high tide at 1:30 this afternoon. And on top of all of that, rain totals are expected at four to eight inches. That's why all of this area along the coast, what is considered zone A is the northern (ph) county is under mandatory evacuation because of those conditions.

Now, according to our CNN Weather Center, the worst conditions here in Myrtle Beach are expected at about 6:00 P.M. this afternoon, and that's because that's when the eye of the storm will be closest to Myrtle Beach. That's when conditions are expected to be worse.

Now, one of the biggest worries, guys, here in Myrtle Beach, of course, and all along this coast is how much west will Dorian wiggle? Will it get too close for comfort or will it actually make landfall? And, of course, if it does, that would mean life-threatening surge and very dangerous winds. Erica?

HILL: Rosa, thank you. Stay safe. And as we're feeling this pick up, I can tell you, Jim, one of the ways that you can really tell that the wind is getting stronger is not just feeling it blow against you but you feel the way that it pelts the water on you. And it is definitely a little sharper, a little bit more like pins and needles, perhaps not meteorological science there, but that's what we're feeling, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's how it feels on the ground and a Cat 3 is 111 miles per hour. As the center gets closer there, those winds are going to increase. Erica Hill, thanks so much. For more on what's happening in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I'm joined now on the phone by the mayor, Brenda Bethune. Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time. We know you've got a lot on your plate today.


SCIUTTO: [10:25:00] Let me ask first about the conditions on the ground and the conditions you're expecting over these next several hours here.

BETHUNE: Currently, I would say that we're under tropical storm conditions, gusts of wind, rain, a few downed trees. I think, as you just mentioned, we do have had some tornadoes in the area. So right now, we're just waiting for later this afternoon and just to see what comes our way.

SCIUTTO: Now, there are some mandatory evacuation orders in the area. But as always, as those orders come, some people listen, some people don't. What's your message to those who are choosing to stay put?

BETHUNE: Unfortunately, we will always have some people that won't listen to those evacuation orders. We feel that most everyone did pay attention to that. We do still have shelters open. And I encourage people, if you do want to leave, do it now before we really get strong hurricane conditions.

It just -- the conditions today to be out driving are just going to gradually get worse. And put safety first. If you can stay at home, please stay inside. This is not the time to try to get a great photo- op. It's just too dangerous.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I think people forget and so often when we cover these storms. Folks drive on the roads, they think it's a few inches of water, and before you know it, they get washed away. I hope folks are listening.

I know South Carolina. They have experience with hurricanes, Hurricane Hugo, of course, in 1989, devastating. How does this storm stack up based on what you know now to past hurricanes that have hit the area?

BETHUNE: Every storm is different and they can change so quickly. So I really don't want to compare anything in the past. I will say that we have learned a lot from previous storms, most recently, Hurricane Florence last year, with all of the flooding that we experienced after the storm.

So I think with each storm, we learn things that we can implement for the next one, and I'm sure that we will with this one as well.

SCIUTTO: Anything you need in the meantime as folks at home who aren't in the area are watching? Any help that you need in the community? BETHUNE: Not right now. We are actually reaching out to other cities around us offering our help with equipment or a personnel, whatever is needed. I just see people pulling together and that's a beautiful thing when people reach out and try to help each other. And just stay safe. We are prepared. We have our crews already staged with equipment and vehicles to get out first thing in the morning to assess damages and to begin the cleanup effort. We will be ready to welcome visitors back to Myrtle Beach.

SCIUTTO: Listen, take care, Mayor Bethune. We wish you and the people of Myrtle Beach all the best.

BETHUNE: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: All right. And, of course, we're keeping a focus on the Bahamas. Because Hurricane Dorian has battered the Bahamas, obliterating homes, knocking out power across the island and taking at least 20 lives.

A daughter who rode out the destructive storm with her elderly father, she'll join us next.