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Hurricane Sally Expected to Strengthen Before Striking Gulf Coast; Hundreds Expected At the White House for a Peace Agreement Signing Between Israel, Bahrain And the UAE; At Least 36 Dead, Dozens Missing in West Coast Wildfires. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We do begin with breaking news this morning.

The Gulf Coast is bracing for life-threatening storm surge and flooding as a very slow-moving Hurricane Sally closes in. Right now Sally is a category one storm but it's expected to gain strength before it hits land in just hours. The slow speed of the storm, though, it is really causing alarm. It means the region could endure more rain for a much longer period of time.

We're also following the devastating situation on the West Coast. Right now, 87 very large wildfires are torching millions of acres across now 10 states. At least 36 people are dead because of these blazes. Dozens more remain missing this morning.

SCIUTTO: Listen, you know, the West Coast, it's on fire. California officials say that climate change is to blame, but the president, he once again rejected the science during his visit to the state. And he's denying the science when it comes to the coronavirus as well. As the U.S. death toll nears 195,000, President Trump held another packed indoor event. We should note he was socially distanced. The crowd there who came to support him was not.

And more audio and more evidence the president knew just how deadly this virus really is. In an April excerpt from Bob Woodward's interview, taped interview, the president said, quote, "It's a killer if it gets you."

But let's start with CNN's Ed Lavandera in Gulfport, Mississippi, where residents are now preparing for Sally.

Ed, folks there, they know the power of these hurricanes particularly storm surge. What are folks -- what are officials there most concerned about today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a waiting game today as we get the latest forecast details from the National Weather Service and people tracking this storm. And it is just slow moving. About two miles per hour out in that direction. So for -- from here, where we are in Gulfport, Mississippi, to Pensacola, Florida, which is about 135 miles away, much of this region has been preparing for this storm for the last couple of days.

And you can see the storm surge and the surf beginning to pick up. We have not seen any rain bands yet here in Gulfport, Mississippi, which we had expected to see by this time yesterday, and so we are waiting for this storm to arrive. The eye of the storm might not make landfall for another 24 hours or so, so that really gives you an indication of just how much things have slowed down here on the Gulf Coast.

So many residents have been preparing. There have been crews that have set up piles of sand where people can make come and make their own sandbags and take them home, and because this is going to be a major rain event over the next couple of days and even though the storm surge is expected to reach anywhere from six to nine feet where we are here in Gulfport, Mississippi, the flooding could very well be the biggest story that emerges here in the next couple of days.

And Jim and Poppy, that's what many of the residents tell us that they're preparing for and bracing for. Remember, this is a region that was hit 15 years ago by Hurricane Katrina. They know the potency of these type of storms. And they say that right now they're most concerned about the flooding -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. With good reason.

Ed Lavandera, thank you for being there as we await for this to hit. We appreciate your reporting very much -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we're just at the beginning of storm season here. Gulfport, where Ed is, is in Harrison County.

Rupert Lacy is Harrison County's emergency management director and he joins me now.

Mr. Lacy, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: OK. So you've got a lot heading your way. It's early in the season. I know it's hard to predict, right? Sometimes the worst forecast for these storms don't turn out and sometimes storms that we don't think are going to be a big deal end up being a bigger deal.

Tell us what your primary concerns are now and just how concerned that this is going to be an outlier storm?

LACY: Well, you know, the big concern, and we've been trying to push this message since Friday, it is the water. Be it the water from the storm surge as you're all showing, down on the front side, the Gulf side, Mississippi sound side. But we have both the Biloxi Bay and the Bay of St. Louis that also is pushing our waters into our bays lakes which are pushing our waters up the streams, creeks and our three major rivers which we all have flood warnings out on those in moderate to major categories.


So water be it from rainfall, be it from storm surge, be it from water runoff, we don't want to lose a life because of that.

SCIUTTO: I hear you. So tell me about the particular challenges of managing evacuation orders, storm preparations in the midst of a pandemic. Are you finding people don't want to leave home, right, don't want to go to evacuation centers if it gets to that point? I mean, how do you manage?

LACY: Well, of course we did open up shelters yesterday afternoon in anticipation of the storm. We opened up three. Of course we have more on stand by and we've got people ready to go. We had -- we have a very small number of people that showed up. We're not going to close them down because we're out of the woodwork, but as your reporter was saying, we haven't seen those rain bands hit us directly yet.

We have seen some rain bands to the north, not in our county, but, you know, each storm is a little bit different. They're coming, you know, we again anticipate this afternoon and evening being worse. Sustained winds are picking up. You know, some are -- some tropical forms gust, you know, hitting that 35, 45 miles an hour, 45 on some higher elevations. So yes, it's interesting, a good thing, you know, we tried to prepare for the marathon.

We are doing that, but, you know this wake is -- you know, it's one of those concerns that we worry about in COVID is keeping the numbers down. But we're ready for them.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because it seems like there's a national -- natural, rather, disaster almost every day. I mean, of course, you've got the fires on the West Coast. You've got frequent storms on the Gulf Coast here. Are you overwhelmed? Are you getting the help you need from the federal government, right, given that there's so much to respond to and prepare for at this time?

LACY: Yes, yes. You know, our federal partners are helping us. Now, of course, you know, a lot of it where we were -- had our center fully -- we're fully functional, but, you know, we're pretty tight in here in trying to keep the numbers down. And of course, doing the temp checks we'd go a little bit further, we're doing pulse checks. Also -- and we're doing those three or four times a day. But, you know, we've overcome a lot of the technical issues because of Zoom, Skype conference calling and all of that. We're meeting, it's just that people aren't physically getting in the same room.


LACY: We keep a Zoom room open, you know, since we're operational. Our partners join us that way and, you know, we're talking to them live, seeing them on camera, and answering questions. SCIUTTO: Good. Well, I'm glad you're able to get the resources you

need. We know you've got a lot coming your way so we wish you the best of luck.

LACY: Thank you, we appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Well, a lot to face there, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure.

Let's turn now to our meteorologist, Chad Myers.

Good morning, Chad. Talk to us about Sally's path and how slow the storm is moving, not a good thing because it means it will sit and dump the rain. Right?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right. I mean, just take a look at what happened to Harvey when Harvey stopped over Houston, and they had 60 inches of rain before it finally ejected three days later. This isn't a three-day storm, but it's a one-day storm, moving two miles per hour to the north.

Before the last Hurricane Hunter airplane left, the pressures were beginning to go down which is a bad thing because lower pressure makes higher wind or at least it can when the storms catch up. Right now the pressure is about 9-82 to 9-80 millibars. And there right there is Gulfport, and you can see to the north there are storms. Into the south there are storms. And Gulfport where our Ed Lavandera is, kind of right in the middle of the little dry area in between.

Now we are picking up gusts in the 50 to 60-mile range. There was a Chevron oil rig out there at 500 feet above sea level where the wind vane was. It had a gust to 91 in the past hour and a half. There goes the storm, it doesn't make landfall until this time tomorrow. Somewhere between likely Biloxi and maybe Gulfport. Kind of in the middle, somewhere around Daphne Island. There's no way to tell right now. These things are going so slowly.

What we know because it is going so slowly, guys, is the amount of rainfall will be in feet. Could be 20 inches of rainfall in some spots and the hurricane center Ken Graham was on a little bit ago and said he wouldn't even be surprised if some places saw 30 inches of rain.


SCIUTTO: Wow. That is -- well, a lot for communities to absorb.

MYERS: Overwhelming.

SCIUTTO: Chad Myers, stay on top of it. As he brings us information, folks. We'll bring it right to you particularly if you live in those affected areas.

Still to come this hour, in his own words, the president might be ignoring health experts in public, but in new audio from Bob Woodward's interviews with the president, it's clear more he knew just how deadly this virus is. You know, still contrary to his public statements.

And as wildfires rage out of control on the West Coast, President Trump continues to assert that climate change plays no role whatsoever. In fact questions whether it exists.

HARLOW: We are also learning of the true heroism of an L.A. County deputy after an ambush attack. She saves her partner's life while suffering a severe gunshot wound -- multiple gunshot wound herself. We'll have an update on both of their conditions ahead.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Just hours from now, a large crowd is expected as President Trump holds a diplomatic signing ceremony on the White House lawn. White House officials say they are not requiring those who attend, however, to wear a mask. It's become part of a pattern, of course.

HARLOW: Our John Harwood joins us now from the White House. It is a -- it is a big day there in terms of this peace agreement signing. It also comes on the same day as we hear more from the president's interview with Bob Woodward.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, this is a striking rollout of the Woodward book and we're getting it in stages. Two of the things that we have seen consistently displayed by the president, both by what we've seen with our own eyes and also the accounts of close family members and top aides, two trades consistently, dishonesty and almost exclusive concern for self.

Earlier revelations from Woodward show that he -- that the president knew that the coronavirus was five times as deadly as the flu when he was telling people publicly, it was like the flu. Now, we have this clip from April from the president which was played last night on Stephen Colbert and it shows the president's own concern about the transmissibility of this virus.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Bob, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't believe it.


TRUMP: I mean, you can -- you can be in the room -- I was in the White House a couple of days ago, in a meeting of 10 people in the Oval Office, and a guy sneezed innocently, not a horrible, you know, just a --


TRUMP: Sneeze, the entire room bailed out, OK, including me, by the way.


HARWOOD: Now, this came as the president was publicly pressuring governors -- Democratic governors in particular to open their states. In June, the president held his first indoor rally in Tulsa, a bunch of his Secret Service agents and advanced staffers got sick. One of his top supporters, Herman Cain died after that.

The president continues to engage in that behavior with the rallies that we've seen in the last couple of days, and the reason for that is he wants to stoke this culture war and portray the Democrats and the public health officials as the science nerds who would hurt the economy, and his supporters as the tough guys who would reopen the country, get the economy going. But what we've seen from this private clip is the president himself is not one of those tough guys, he is very concerned about his own safety.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's a consistent thing, right, John? I mean, that you see, for instance, that event yesterday, the crowd had no social distancing. The president at a great distance from the crowd much like you see in the White House, frequent testing, contact-tracing, all the kinds of things we don't have nationally as a country.

HARWOOD: Exactly, and the president said so. He gave an interview with a Nevada reporter, and was --


HARWOOD: Asked, are you concerned about catching the coronavirus and he said, first of all, while I'm a little concerned about how close you are to me --


HARWOOD: Maybe he was joking, but he then alluded to his distance from the crowd. The crowd is not distanced from each other --


HARWOOD: But the president is distanced from them.


HARLOW: John Harwood, thanks a lot for the reporting from the White House. Meantime, the U.S. is closing in on 200,000 coronavirus deaths, and six months into this crisis, the reality of how it's impacting children is becoming more clear to us.

SCIUTTO: Yes, such concern understandably for parents particularly as students go back to school. Some do, many still staying at home. We're now learning nearly 550,000 children have tested positive for the virus. CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here. Elizabeth, tell us what this is teaching us, right? Because of course, children have been at home mostly, many have --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Through this. Now they're testing more --


SCIUTTO: It looks like we may have lost Elizabeth.

HARLOW: Yes, she can't hear us.

SCIUTTO: We will get her back so we can ask her, she knows the smart answers to the hard questions. Give us a moment to fix that. Meanwhile, millions of acres are scorched out west and the president is digging in on his denials that climate change has anything to do with it or exist at all.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Take a look, futures higher, stocks set to start the trading day in positive territories, tech stocks leading the way as the coronavirus hits some of the world's largest economies hard. The trend is reversing in China, China's economy in recovery mode, that is lifting spirits this morning. Retail sales up there in August for the first time all year.



HARLOW: At least, 36 people have now died in these devastating wildfires --


HARLOW: Burning all up and down the West Coast. Ten states affected, dozens of people missing and that number is likely to rise.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're searching these burnt homes for the lost. Authorities say there are 87 large fires burning across 10 states -- look at that. Part of the country, the fires have burned more than 4.5 million acres, I mean, let's quantify that for a second.


It's about six times the size of the state of Rhode Island, California has the most fires with at least 25 scorching 2.5 million acres, destroying more than 4,000 homes and other buildings, imagine if that was one of your home -- if that -- one of those homes was yours. CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us now from Duarte, California. Stephanie, you know, help us understand just the devastation that these fires are leaving behind.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's hard to put like an actual quantification on it, Jim, just because of the fact that for anyone who's in that situation, how do you begin to build back? How do you make sure that your family feels safe while you're also making sure that they're protected from the coronavirus.

All of these are concerns of what's happening right now. And there's so many fires burning across the state that one official I talked to said there's been nothing like that in his 27 years of covering wildfires.

He's saying that this is definitely something new, and with that comes the fact that firefighters are just completely being over-worked because there's no new set of firefighters to send in to replace them. They're just keeping going. They had to pull back firefighters to fight this fire here.

This is a bobcat fire here and we've been watching it. The sun has already come up, so now, you're seeing more of the smoke than the flame that is going on behind it. But this is above this neighborhood in Duarte, Monrovia along these foothills here, and they have been working all night to try to keep that fire line up there.

Because they put fire retardant on along that ridge because they don't want it to burn down here, but they did slip on containment overnight, it was 6 percent contained yesterday, now it's at 3 percent containment. They're saying it's going to take weeks to get these fires contained, and then just to put that into perspective, talking about the number of lives lost that you were mentioning.

Keep in mind that in Oregon, according to the Oregonian, they're saying that they are actually putting into place the usage of a mobile morgue because they are expecting for the loss of life to go up because of the number of people that are missing. Something that they've had for years, but this is the first time that they're actually implementing it.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're saying brace for a mass fatality incident there. Stephanie Elam, thanks very much. So those wildfires burned, the president denies climate change has a role. Listen to his exchange with the Secretary of California's Natural Resources Agency.


WADE CROWFOOT, SECRETARY OF THE CALIFORNIA NATURAL RESOURCES AGENCY: If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it's all about vegetation management, we're not going to succeed together to protecting Californians.

TRUMP: OK, it will start getting cooler.

CROWFOOT: I wish --

TRUMP: You just -- you just watch.

CROWFOOT: I wish science agreed with you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows actually.



HARLOW: Wow, both California and Washington's governors are pushing back on that claim that we just need to say again and again is completely baseless, of course science knows. And Joe Biden is also pushing back. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR 2020: If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?


HARLOW: Our meteorologist Chad Myers is back with us. Chad, we're glad you're here because there are two weather crisis converging in the United States right now. The fires in those 10 states and the West Coast, Hurricane Sally which is one of five storms as you've said, churning in the Atlantic right now, and the president says science doesn't know. Set the record straight for the American people in terms of how climate change contributes significantly --


HARLOW: To moments like this.


CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: Science knows where our carbon dioxide has come from and where it's going. Science knows that carbon dioxide holds in gases and warmth, green house gases, so is methane, there are others.

Science knows that there is limited knowledge that tornadoes get stronger, but close to some knowledge, limited evidence that hurricanes can be stronger because the water's warmer. That just makes sense. It doesn't make more hurricanes, it just makes the hurricanes that happen have more potential.

We know that because Sally's in very warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, it's 2 degrees warmer than it should be. We know that climate change makes drought. We also know that it makes flood, and this confuses people, saying you can't have it both ways, Chad. How can you have flood and how can you have drought and call it climate change? Because the patterns get stuck sometimes, and when the patterns get stuck like California has been in where it's dry there, compared to last year where they were stuck the other way, it was wet there.

There were very few acres compared to this year burning California because they did have rain. Well, the rain made things grow and then the drought came and made things die, and then all of a sudden, you get drought. And so, look at the numbers here. These are the biggest acres fires in the west here in California since 1930. Five of the biggest fires so far out of the top 10 have been this year, 3 million acres and more in the west still burning because of the drought, because of the bark beetles.