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Storm Chaser Rides out Dorian; American Airlines Mechanic Accused of Sabotage. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 6, 2019 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back.

Within the past hour, Hurricane Dorian has actually made landfall. It did so over Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, as a category one storm. Dorian continues to slam the state's coast with heavy rain, storm surges and strong winds. About 215,000 people still without power in North Carolina right now. Dorian has spawned at least 24 tornados across the Carolinas over the last two days.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And now North Carolina officials say that life threatening flooding remains possible. Nine inches of rain fell in Wilmington yesterday. That is a one-day record for the city.

Josh Morgerman, a veteran storm chaser, took one of the last flights into the Abaco Islands before that airport shutdown, but he got stuck there. He had to ride it out in one of the island's designated shelters. He was posting updates on his Twitter feed, then fell silent. There was a lot of fear that he fell victim to this storm. Thankfully, two days after his last tweet, Joshua turned to Twitter posting, yep, I'm alive. By far the most intense cyclone I've witnessed in 28 years of chasing. Thought I was playing it safe by riding it out in a solid-concrete school on a hill in Marsh Harbour. Thought wrong.

HARLOW: Well, he joins us now with his incredible story, of course of survival, but also of, Josh, what you -- what you saw there. So let's -- let's begin because, I mean, that warning last night from the Bahamian health minister that -- that we should be prepared for unimaginable numbers in terms of the death tolls. What did you see?

JOSH MORGERMAN, STORM CHASER: Yes, that doesn't surprise me at all. This was a direct hit by a nuclear-grade hurricane. I mean it wasn't just category five, it was way into category five. And the intense inner core passed right over the main town in -- in the great Abaco, which is Marsh Harbour.

Now, a large portion of that town is very low lying. And that area, it's a poor neighborhood. It just got swept by a tremendous storm surge. And the whole area was simply wiped out. And it's going to take a long time to figure out how many people perished in it. HARLOW: You saw -- you saw people who died?

MORGERMAN: Yes. Yes. It was a -- it was ugly.

The hurricane hit and the front half of the hurricane just had these unbelievable winds. I was in a solid concrete building and a lot of it collapsed at the height of the storm. When the calm eye arrived, we had to figure out what to do. We couldn't stay in that building. So we -- there were a few cars that were not totally mangled outside, one of them being mine. We all piled into those three cars and found another government building to ride out the backside. When we got to that government building, people from every neighborhood, the poor neighborhoods, the rich neighborhoods, everyone was converging on that one government building to get in there before the backside of this storm hit.

HARLOW: My goodness. Oh.

SCIUTTO: Josh, I just have to wonder, because our reporters on the ground now in the rescue phase are saying they're having trouble figuring out who's in charge in the midst of this. It's just authorities, rescue operations overwhelmed. I wonder why, prior to this storm there weren't more warnings about where people should go, how they could ride it out safely, try to get people off the island. I mean do you feel that there were missed opportunities in advance of this to keep people safe?

MORGERMAN: Yes, I -- definitely that's a possibility. You know, I have very mixed feelings about how the Bahamians reacted to it. Where the Bahamians really excel is the way they build houses and buildings. They know how to build for hurricanes. Even in 185 mile an hour winds, most of the houses, the walls stood up enough to protect the occupants to keep them from getting crushed.

Now, in terms of who's in charge, I felt the same thing. While it was there at that government complex, which became a home for hundreds of victims, I had trouble kind of getting a handle on who was in charge. And I think that was one of the big issues, people didn't know kind of what to do or where to go.


MORGERMAN: A lot of these people were people without homes, with just basically only the clothes on their backs. So definitely authority was needed.

HARLOW: The last thing that you wrote on Twitter before you went dark for a few days, Josh, is, we're moving children to a safe space, wrapping them in blankets.


HARLOW: I mean, to Jim's point, you guys were moving kids. That's not how it should work ahead -- ahead of a storm.

MORGERMAN: Well, we were in a -- there were ten of us, there were two families, three guys and me, in a -- in a solid, concrete classroom.


And when I say moving the kids, the -- the boards blew off the windows and the shutters started to cave in. And five of us were holding furniture against the shutters to keep them from blowing in because if they did blow in, it would have been a shooting gallery. But we were just taking the kids in the room and we were trying to protect them by wrapping them in blankets and putting them under a table.

HARLOW: Oh. Were their parents around?

MORGERMAN: Oh, yes, the parents were there too. And we were all just kind of, you know, getting, you know, doing what we had to do.

You know, as a hurricane expert and having been in many collapsing buildings in many hurricanes, you know, I kind of -- I know exactly what to do and where to put people to keep them safe.


MORGERMAN: So I kind of tried to take a leadership role there.


SCIUTTO: So, Josh, 26 years covering these kind of storms. You say -- or 28 years. Don't want to sell you short. You say Dorian, you have it as number two on your list of the craziest. You've seen a lot of crazy. Tell us why this was particularly dangerous.

MORGERMAN: You know, sustained winds of 185 miles an hour, when it struck Marsh Harbour, think about that. The one that devastated the Florida panhandle last year, Michael, that was 160. So this was like a whole order of magnitude above.

I'd never seen wind like this. It hit the building with the force of hammers. And when we came outside afterwards, the thing that struck me, besides the fact that the building was almost destroyed, were the cars, thrown around in every direction, and mangled like they'd been through a blender just from the wind. I mean just -- we heard stuff I couldn't -- there's damage I didn't even understand how it happened.


SCIUTTO: Yes, just imagine people, right? I mean, obviously imagine people, humans in that kind of force, if that's what it does to cars and buildings. It's just a horrendous story to see unfold.

HARLOW: It is. And, again, we're waiting for that updated death toll from the health ministry there.

Josh, thank you very much for being with us. We so appreciate it.

And, again, Josh is an expert in this stuff. He has a new series all about this. "Hurricane Man," it premieres in just a few days, September the 15th on the science channel. Josh, thank you for bringing us your experience.


MORGERMAN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Glad you're safe, Josh.


SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, an American Airlines mechanic has been arrested. He's accused of attempting to sabotage a plane just before it was set to take off en route to the Bahamas with 150 people on board. Luckily, they were safe.



HARLOW: Wait until you hear this story. An American Airlines mechanic is accused of -- is accused this morning of trying to sabotage one of their own planes filled with passengers.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just how was he able to do this? It's remarkable. Investigators say he tried to disable part of the plane's navigation system shortly before it took off from Miami International Airport. They had to abort the takeoff.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins us now.

Do we know why he tampered with the system, but also how close this led this aircraft to potential danger in the air?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, let me set the scene for you. I mean this plane was actually rolling down the runway. There were 150 people onboard. And according to court documents, this mechanic allegedly placed foam in a tube that leads to a flight navigation system. Luckily, the pilots realized that something was wrong and they aborted that take off.

But the man at the center of all this, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani told investigators that he was upset over a contract dispute between union workers and the airlines and that this dispute cost him money. Alani allegedly explained that he tampered with the aircraft so that he could get overtime working on the plane. This all happened at Miami International Airport.

It is worth noting, no one was hurt. But this really does highlight a larger issue, this issue of the insider threat that U.S. aviation or aviation as a whole actually is extremely vulnerable to. I mean just a couple of years ago Congress put out a report that essentially said that airlines, airport operators and even TSA need to do a better job about getting a handle on this issue of the insider threat. And just last week, CNN, we reported that TSA is in the midst of its own internal audit, trying to test its own program, looking for potential vulnerabilities as it relates specifically to insider threats. SCIUTTO: Specifically to what this mechanic did, he glued, right, he

used super glue or crazy glue to glue something to that data system. Did that put the plane at risk, is my question.

MARSH: I mean, this is a critical system and it -- it's a system that tells pilots not only the speed of the airplane but also the pitch of the nose. So that's all data that a pilot would need in order to safely fly an aircraft. So certainly it's concerning that an individual who works for the airline would do such a thing. But to answer your question, Jim, yes, this is all critical data that pilots would have needed. But, again, happy to know that they were alert and these pilots were able to see the problem before they got off the ground.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No question.

Rene Marsh, thanks so much for covering this story. It's an important one.

MARSH: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: New this morning, Zimbabwe's former dictator, Robert Mugabe, and the man who once said only God could remove him from office, is dead at 95 years old. After ruling with an iron fist for three decades, Mugabe leaves behind a grim legacy.

HARLOW: His loyal supporters revered him for ushering in independence after bringing an end to white minority rule. Whoever, in the decades that followed, he waged a campaign of violence and oppression to retain power. He repeatedly stole elections, imprisoned and (INAUDIBLE) Zimbabwe into poverty. He was ultimately forced to (INAUDIBLE) coup in 2017 when members of his own party turned against him. The cause of his death (INAUDIBLE) at a hospital in Singapore receiving medical treatment. The cause of death is not known at this point.



SCIUTTO: You know, Poppy, I got a taste of Mugabe's rule. I snuck into the country in 2008 during an election there. They were not allowing journalists in, so you had to sneak in. I went to polling stations where his party blatantly fabricated results to (INAUDIBLE) of what his leadership, the effect it had on his country, a once prosperous county, is he collapsed the economy. So when I was there, this is a 5 billion dollar bill.

HARLOW: Oh, my goodness.

SCIUTTO: This was worth less than $2 in U.S. dollars at a time.


SCIUTTO: It would buy you a couple of tomatoes in the market.

Later they had to issue bills in the hundreds of trillions of dollars just for people to be able to feed themselves. They eventually dollarized their economy. But it was just one measure of how one man's rule imagined that only he could lead this country caused such enormous consequences there.

HARLOW: That's remarkable that you went in that way in 2008. I mean the runaway inflation and everything. And there were such high hopes among his own people when he came into power --


HARLOW: And then he just completely abused it for so long leading --

SCIUTTO: Yes, and --

HARLOW: Destroying the economy.

SCIUTTO: Violence too. I mean imprisoned dissidents, imprisoned his political opponents.


SCIUTTO: I mean, this was -- this was -- this was a brutal, brutal dictatorship in the end.

HARLOW: No question.

All right, so (INAUDIBLE) on Monday morning. Remember this tragedy off the coast of southern California? Well, surviving crew members have told federal investigators they tried to save those 34 people trapped below deck on that boat as it burned off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, but they could not make it through the fire and the smoke. The "Conception" caught fire while the victims were sleeping there early on Labor Day morning. Of the 39 people on board, only five crew members, including the captain, survived. And investigators now say that the victims were likely trapped. Their escape cut off by the roaring flames.

An NTSB board member inspected a similar boat owned by the same company and flagged several safety concerns about whether there was proper equipment for detecting and suppressing fires.

Meanwhile, we are hearing for the first time from the boat's owner. Listen to what Glen Fritzler said last night.


GLEN FRITZLER, OWNER, TRUTH AQUATICS: A lot of these customers that come out with us are like family. And a lot of them that were on that particular voyage had been coming out with us for 20, 30 years. So it's a tough time for us.



Well, the owner says he's reaching out to the victims' families, but his company is also preparing for the possibility of lawsuits. This week Truth Aquatics filed a complaint to avoid or limit the liability of that fire. We'll keep you posted on that.

But left behind are the families reeling in grief for their loved ones. Among those who have suffered unimaginable loss is Vicky Moore. She lost her husband of 35 years and their first-born daughter in the fire. Here's what she told me last night.


HARLOW: So let's just begin with Kendra (ph), your first born, 26 years old. As a mother, I cannot imagine losing a child. No one can until it happens to them. But can you just spend some time telling us about her? What do you want everyone to know about Kendra?

VICKY MOORE, LOST HUSBAND AND DAUGHTER IN CALIFORNIA BOAT FIRE: Well, yes, Kendra was -- I don't like to use the word "was" but -- an amazing, beautiful and accomplished, curious, adventurous young woman. My husband and I were incredibly proud of her.

HARLOW: What do you want people to know about Scott?

MOORE: He had great appreciation for the arts and culture and -- and we had amazing travels together. And just amazing -- wonderfully complete and well-rounded and -- and, like I said, multifaceted person.


MOORE: And a loving father. An amazing father. An amazing husband.

Our lives are forever changed. It's just this experience is -- it's somewhat surreal, really. And -- but we're going to be on this journey and -- whether we like it or not. And, you know, we're -- we're going to make it.


MOORE: And we really -- I think we really are going to be thinking about my husband Scott and my daughter Kendra. And a lot of what we do in our lives, you know, we hope to continue to honor them because they just did such amazing things. And we're going to -- we're going to honor that.


HARLOW: Jim, I don't know where she got the strength to talk to us, but she said she wanted to be there because she wanted to honor, you know, her first-born daughter and her husband's lives and what they live for.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I -- that poor mother. I just can't -- I cannot imagine that pain. So many families reeling from that disaster.


SCIUTTO: We're going to continue to cover that story and the repercussions of it.


Other news we're following this morning, five major retailers are now asking their customers to stop openly carrying firearms in their stores in states where that is legal. Walmart was the first to come out with this policy earlier in the week, of course in the wake of a deadly shooting at its store in El Paso. Kroger quickly followed. Just yesterday Walgreens, CVS and Wegmans issued similar statements as well. Companies have faced increasing pressure to take action to prevent gun violence after several mass shootings in recent weeks and, of course, over decades now in this country. All of the retailers will still allow law enforcement officers to openly carry firearms there.

Hurricane Dorian is making landfall over Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, as a category one storm. We're going to be live from there in a way only CNN is covering this storm. That's coming up.