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Deadly Wildfires Ravage U.S. West Coast; Pfizer Predicts Results on Vaccine By End of October; One Hundred Thousand Reward Offered in Ambush Shooting of L.A. County Deputies. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Scorching multiple states. At least 35 people are now confirmed dead. Dozens are still missing and concerns about their safety. This is across California, Oregon and Washington state.

Tens of thousands of firefighters are battling these flames. It's a military-like operation all under a cloud of dense smoke. Millions of acres have been burned so far. The weather coming could make things even worse.

This is someone driving through it trying to escape with their lives. President Trump will head to California today after taking criticism for failing to address the fires. We're going to have more on that visit in a moment.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also take a look at this. You're looking at scenes from the president's rally last night. Thousands of supporters packed indoors in a pandemic defying science and defying the governor's orders. Many of them not wearing masks. Officials fear this could be a super spreader event.

We're also following Tropical Storm Sally as it closes in on the Gulf's coast, expected to be a hurricane when it makes landfall sometime tomorrow morning.

Let's go to meteorologist Chad Myers. He joins us (INAUDIBLE).

Good morning to you, Chad. So it's going to become a hurricane. The question is how bad and how directly is it expected to hit New Orleans?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it depends. If the storm goes a little bit farther to the left in the cone, then New Orleans gets a tremendous amount of rain. Also more surge. And maybe a foot of rain. And we know that because of the pumps that have to get the water out, a foot of rain quickly in New Orleans is a very bad thing. If it turns a little bit farther to the right and it goes toward maybe Bay St. Louis and Waveland, then you're going to see a surge somewhere in the seven to 11-foot range.

And that's a big surge. It's not a Katrina surge, but it's a big surge. We're already seeing surge right now at Apalachicola to a foot and a half, and at times 2 /12 feet. And that's way before any kind of landfall because of the way the wind is blowing right now. But notice here, landfall somewhere maybe noon, plus or minus a couple of hours, depending on where it tries to hit here.

Notice how big the cone is at this point still, all the way from Mobile, all the way back to Grand Isle, Louisiana. That is a wide cone. The computer models are not doing a good job with this right now. I tell you when they do and I tell you when they don't. They are not agreeing on this whatsoever. So if you're on the right side of the cone you need to pay attention on the left side of the cone you need to pay attention.

And even on up into Georgia, winds are going to be 25 or 30 with six inches of rainfall. And there's that heavy rain. If this batch of purple, which is 10 to 15, maybe 20 inches is a little bit farther to the west, right over New Orleans, that's when they have the fresh water flooding problem. Here is the salt water flooding problem, all of that wind pushing salt water into Claiborne, all the way up to Ocean Spring, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, even towards Slidell, trying to get that water pushing up those rivers.

That's the salt water flood. And then we have the 70, 75, maybe 100 mile-per-hour wind gusts with this. So there are many levels of problems here. Not a category three or four hurricane. But we already have problems down here and we certainly don't need this. We have obviously four more storms in the Atlantic or at least named events out in the Atlantic, we'll call it, still to come.

SCIUTTO: Chad Myers, so much to watch. Thanks very much.

We'll continue to keep you informed at home. Particularly if you live in that area.

Well, other story we're following, at least 10 people are dead, nearly one million acres burned. What is one million acres? That's bigger by long shot than the entire state of Rhode Island. This as firefighters battle more than a dozen large wildfires in Oregon.

CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now from Portland with the latest.

You know, Martin, I think that folks on the East Coast, the middle part of this country, probably have trouble understanding the scale of this. Can you help us understand?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Yes, I'll do my best. I mean, it's difficult even for those who are here to try and describe it but the governor of Oregon has said this is a once in a generation kind of an event. Unprecedented is a term they use a lot.

There are 36 major fires that are actually burning currently in the state of Oregon and a couple of them are burning in the direction of the major city of Portland here. We're outside Portland Fire and Rescue. These are the fire units that are here to protect the city.

Let's show you some of the latest footage that's coming out of Marion County. It's about an hour and a half to the south. This is the Beachy Creek Fire. It has been one of the more deadlier fires in the state of Oregon and the devastation down in that area is just -- well, it's just magnificent, even though that is a positive term for such a terrible thing.

The fire officials down in this state are saying they need more of everything. They need more fire trucks. They need more personnel, they need more air assist. The problem is they also know in making their plea they're not going to get it because everything there is is already in use.

And one of the people who lives in the town of Mahama, this woman was able to return. She found that their home was still standing but almost everything else was not. Here's what she had to say.



PATTI CANDELL, MAHAMA, OREGON RESIDENT: I just have no words for it. It's just -- it's -- you know. It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing. I mean, I don't know how many tears I cried, you know. You know, before all this happened. It's like I don't even want to cry anymore because I'm just in shock.


SAVIDGE: Let's just go over some of the numbers. You mentioned that about a million acres in this state have gone up in flames. Normally in a typical year they would have about 500,000 acres burned in a year. They saw that much, actually twice that burn almost in a week, last week. So that's the kind of fires that they are up against.

There is some good news, the weather is changing, humidity levels going up, wind speeds are coming down, at least in the northern part of the state. The other problem they've been battling is the extreme air pollution. It is hazardous. That's the highest warning they can give to the people in Oregon as far as air quality. It is unhealthy to be outside. Schools are closed. It's hampering air assets being used and it's raising concerns of COVID because people's lungs are going to be exhausted breathing in all the smoke.

Jim and Poppy, it's just amazing how these fires are impacting on such multiple front level.

HARLOW: It's awful. Martin Savidge, we're glad you're there. Thank you very, very much.

We'll get more from Oregon over the next two hours. Let's go now, though, down coast to Arcadia, California. Our Stephanie Elam is there.

Good morning to you, Stephanie. More than 3.1 million acres scorched across the state, a staggering 26 times more than the amount burned in California this time last year.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're talking about 3.3 million acres burned so far in 2020. Some 4100 structures have been destroyed. You think about the number of fires that have been burning throughout the state, throughout the west. Listening to Martin as well. And firefighters, the systems are attacked. You see firefighters are working 24 hours just because they just don't have new people to bring in to replace them. So they're trying to take advantage of longer break times while they're doing that.

Where I'm standing, this is just below the Bobcat Fire, which we've been watching glow overnight. But I think I can finally tell that the sun is coming up. The smoke is so thick here that it's hard to tell. I've had some ash landing on me.

This fire here is 6 percent contained, more than 33,000 acres have burned here. Right now this residential area where I am standing in the suburb of Los Angeles, in the foothills here, they are evacuated -- some 300 homes evacuated because of this. And across the state you're seeing this. We did mention that President Trump is going to make his way to the Sacramento area to get some on-the-ground surveillance of the fire there. What damage has been left, talked to local and federal officials as well as Governor Gavin Newsom.

Gavin Newsom, as well as the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, making it very clear that these fires that are starting to burn earlier and to burn longer and more acres are worse than we have seen before and that is because of the climate crisis. We're also expected to hear that same idea coming from Joe Biden today but obviously very different words coming from the president. We'll see what he has to say when he gets to California later on today -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Stephanie, just another reason to wear that mask, right, out there today with all the smoke. Stephanie, thanks very much.

Well, our next guest is a filmmaker who grabbed her camera as the North Complex Fire began, ravaging the county (INAUDIBLE). And this is video capturing the intensity of those flames. Ambulance rushing into the fire, right? I mean, that's what's happening here, people rushing toward the flames to save. And this is a scene of the aftermath.

Nancy Hamilton joins us now.

Nancy, thank you for coming on. You experienced -- I mean, you did a film about the 2018 fires, which seemed bad and they were bad, and now it seems like we're setting new records every day. Just describe to folks who don't have personal experience of this, haven't seen it themselves, the intensity and the scale of these wildfires.

NANCY HAMILTON, FILMMAKER, LIVING NEAR NORTH COMPLEX FIRE IN CALIFORNIA: I think that it's hard to even begin to grasp just how the magnitude of these fires until you're actually even a hundred feet above the tree top. Just blazing and inferno. I have a new appreciate for firefighters especially since last Wednesday.

SCIUTTO: Tell us about the speed that these fires move because you have a lot of folks getting caught, right? I mean, they think they can get out, they can't get out. Unfortunately a lot of them have lost their lives. You were driving through this. How quickly do these fires move?

HAMILTON: I mean, incredibly, incredibly quickly. And they are unpredictable. They really are a beast of their own identity. They move at their own whim. They're terrifying and they're moving extremely quickly.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we're showing as you speak now some of the aftermath.


I mean, it just -- it moves through, burns homes look paper. You're currently housing families who were forced to evacuate, including your best friend's 80-year-old grandmother, who lost her home in the fire. Tell us how the families face this sort of devastation. I mean, they're losing everything they have. Thankfully they're alive but they're losing everything they own.

HAMILTON: Yes. It's really difficult. And that's one of the reasons why we're here because people need to know the condition of their homes. They need to know the state of things. When you leave a wildfire like this at such a quick pace, the stress levels are incredible. My best friend's grandmother had a stroke a few months back and then she had COVID a couple of months back and now her house is gone. So her stress level is -- you know, she's handling it very well but it's very, very difficult.

SCIUTTO: Yes. She's experiencing what the country is experiencing, right?


SCIUTTO: COVID and now this. I wonder, you hear of tens of thousands of firefighters fighting very bravely. You see police reacting, first responders and so on. As you watch this unfold, is it your sense that state governments, local governments, the federal government are overwhelmed by this?

HAMILTON: Oh, definitely. Yes. This is -- every event is another unprecedented event. It just gets bigger and bigger and people don't know how to cope with them. The authorities do their best. They work so hard to contain these fires.

SCIUTTO: What happens now, I suppose, is a question, right? Because we're early -- I mean, in normal times the season hasn't even begun, right? I mean, so forest fire season as we traditionally think of it is, you know, in the future, not the past. What happens now in these communities? Can people even safely go home?

HAMILTON: No. That's one of the difficulties is when a fire comes through of this magnitude such as the Camp Fire did two years ago, they were -- many of the residents were locked out of their homes for over a month. And so even though they didn't have homes -- the large majority did not have homes to go back to, they wanted to at least have closure and they weren't able to. And another problem is of course insurance will not pay out unless there's photos. So if you can't get in and get photos, you've got a real problem on your hands.

SCIUTTO: Wow. And that's a risk to take.

Listen, Nancy Hamilton, we're glad you're safe. Please send our best to all the folks that you're hunkering down with there and thank you for bringing us an eyewitness account of all this.

HAMILTON: Thank you very much.

HARLOW: Wow. Still to come, the president is defending this morning his pandemic response. He did so again just last month. The journalist Bob Woodward saying, quote, "nothing more could be done," but then last night he holds a huge indoor rally defying science and expert warnings. Why?

Also, a manhunt under way for the person you see in this video who ambushed two Los Angeles County deputies. We're live.

SCIUTTO: And still no stimulus deal, no help for millions of hard-hit Americans in this pandemic. Is there hope of an 11th hour agreement?



HARLOW: Welcome back. Well, if you missed it last night, the president completely defied science and he defied Nevada's governor by holding a big indoor rally, thousands of people were there. Take a look, this was the scene last night in Henderson, Nevada. Most of the people there tightly packed as you can see, didn't wear masks. There was very little social distancing, few, though sounded worried.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have any of the symptoms and neither do they. And if they did, they wouldn't be here. We're not stupid people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you know the virus can be spread with people who don't have symptoms as well, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like that's my freedom as an American. If I catch COVID, that's -- oh, my apologies, the consequences of my actions, so I'm willing to take that risk.


SCIUTTO: It's just hard to fathom, right? Because it's not in their own health interests, yet that's where we are. This as the White House is defending its response to the pandemic and the president's interviews, his comments, on-the-record comments, on tape comments in interviews with journalist Bob Woodward. Woodward is now speaking out about those interviews for the first time.

CNN White House correspondent John Harwood joins us now. John, you know, one of the more interesting interactions is that Woodward talking about his last conversation with the president over the week in his last of 18 interviews. What did he have to say on that?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it was fascinating. First of all, Woodward has also been placed on defense to some extent by these revelations with people asking if you -- the president had told you, he was deliberately downplaying the virus, why did you not release these earlier?

And what Bob Woodward has said is that he didn't realize the import of what he had heard from the president until later on his reporting. By the end of his reporting, he had concluded as he writes in the book, that President Trump was the wrong man of the job.

He related that President Trump had said to him in the White House, there's always dynamite behind the door, Woodward says President Trump is himself the dynamite. And then when he related to the president at the end of his reporting before the book was coming out, that it was going to be a tough book, and he emphasized that to the president.

He said shortly after that, the president tweeted out that the book was going to be fake. Now, that inability to tolerate and process dissent and criticism is something that President Trump has shared with authoritarian leaders around the world.

And in fact, he told Bob Woodward, he gets along with authoritarians better than a lot of other world leaders. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't get along very well with the other guys (INAUDIBLE), the relationships I have -- the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them.


They always find that to be something, I don't care. But basically, it's not a bad thing. The easier ones are the ones that maybe I don't like as much or don't get along with as much.


HARWOOD: Now, of course, the one authoritarian leader that President Trump has gotten along well with for a long time is Vladimir Putin of Russia, and one thing we heard over the weekend, Jim, was from the former deputy National Intelligence director saying that the message the president is sending about a rigged election is precisely what Russia and Russian propagandists want to send to try to decay trust within the American system.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely, and on every level, you hear that from Republicans, from literally every national security official involved in this. It amplifies Russia's message and yet doesn't stop.

HARLOW: John Harwood, thank you for the reporting. We've got a lot to talk about as this relates to the virus. Joining us now is Dr. Paul Sax; clinical director of the Infectious Diseases Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Really good to have you doctor. If we look --


HARLOW: If we look at history, sort of a guide and the lesson here, before last night, the last indoor rally the president had was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was June 20th, and we saw a significant spike in cases in Tulsa in the weeks following that.


HARLOW: When will we know if this, last night's indoor rally will be a super spreader event?

SAX: Usually, it takes a couple of weeks just to have cases that are linked to these events. And it varies because the incubation period varies from a couple of days to about two weeks, and we'll have an idea in a couple of weeks whether this is going to be that way. We do know that the virus is spread by people without symptoms. So, I think it's very important that we try to avoid these large gatherings where unmask people are together and that's why there are no spectators in the sports venues right now.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Sax, this week in the "New York Times" highlighted how the Trump administration pressured health officials to speed up the emergency use of convalescent plasma. As we know, as they did so, they greatly exaggerated the health benefits of it by a factor of seven, in fact, that's no small thing.

And that was of course, Sunday night before the RNC, you know, there seemed to be some political timing related to that. I just wonder, given that this is the first -- the latest in a series of incidents like this, going back to for instance use of hydroxychloroquine, what's the safety valve here?

You know, because we talk often, well, the institutions will stand up, they'll push back against this, but the fact is, they haven't, right? You know, the president has gone on to spread these messages and we have a vaccine decision coming. Well, what's the safety valve so people can feel confident?

SAX: Well, the good news is that the FDA has repeatedly now said that they are not going to rush a vaccine for approval unless there are good safety data. So that's one thing that we have backing us up. The other thing is that the scientific community is really very much unified in our wanting to have a safe, effective vaccine with an emphasis on "safe".

Remember, this is different from treating someone who is sick. These are -- these are vaccines given to healthy people. So, it's very important that we wait for the safety data before we put a vaccine out in the community, in a widespread way. There's already quite a bit of distrust about vaccines as you know and we don't want to --


SAX: Harm that relationship at all since they could be the way out of this pandemic eventually.


HARLOW: On the topic of vaccines, the CEO of Pfizer with a really interesting interview yesterday coming out with a lot of headlines. One of them being they believe that their vaccine, they're going to know by the end of October whether it works or not. And he qualified that by saying we don't know if it will work, but if it does or doesn't, we should know either way by the end of October. But then he said this, explaining why the company declined any government funding and has put $1.5 billion of its own money in the vaccine development. Listen.


ALBERT BOURLA, CHAIRMAN & CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, PFIZER: The reason why I did it was because I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy. When you get money from someone, that always comes with strings. And also I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics by the way.


HARLOW: How significant is it to hear big pharmacy are working on a vaccine, saying in order to keep politics out of this, they couldn't take any government money?

SAX: That's very interesting. It's not the approach that the other major companies have taken --

HARLOW: Yes --

SAX: Where they've welcomed support from the U.S. government. I think it's nice when there's collaboration between industry and the NIH in particular and some of our best advances in science and medicine come with those collaborations.

One thing also is that we don't have a full protocol on any of these vaccines available for review. I know there's been some call for that, and I think that actually is important that we know what the so-called stopping rules are so that we know how they can say a vaccine is going to be effective or not effective or safe --



SAX: Or not safe. So, those are some unknowns. Of course, all of us are very excited about the progress in vaccines, and -- but we again, I want to underscore I want it to be safe, it's really critical before it gets released.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Paul Sax, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate helping clearing some of this stuff up -- SAX: Thanks for inviting me --

SCIUTTO: Well, a manhunt is now underway after two Los Angeles County sheriff deputies were ambushed in their patrol car. It's an alarming story. Coming up, the latest on their conditions and the search for the shooter.


HARLOW: Welcome back. Well, two Los Angeles County deputies are this morning still in critical condition after they were shot while they were just sitting in their vehicles in what authorities there are calling a complete ambush.