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Gulf Coast Bracing for Life-Threatening Storm Surge, Flash Flooding; At Least 36 Dead, Dozens Missing in West Coast Wildfires; Biden and Trump Battle for Crucial Latino Voters in Florida. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 10:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which we then aim to achieve funds, the continuation of the cleaner.


When we started out, I thought that perhaps the real problem wasn't necessarily technology but more public willingness to make something like this happen. I learned that that actually wasn't true, that people do really care. Honestly, this has been hugely humbling and inspiring to see the amount of people that are behind us and count on us to succeed.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Well, Lord, let's hope that makes a difference. God knows the planet needs it. We will continue to share these inspirational stories all week. Be sure to watch Champions for Change, it's a one-hour special, this Saturday night at 10:00 Eastern Time only on CNN.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right, everyone, it's the top of the hour, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 A.M. on the west coast. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

We are following breaking news. There's lots of it. Hurricane Sally is slowly churning towards the gulf coast. That speed is key. It's picking up strength as it moves, but that speed becomes a problem because that means rain, lots of it, will pound parts of the coast for longer -- a longer period of time, feet perhaps, our Chad Myers says. Flash flooding and a life-threatening storm surge, major concerns right now.

HARLOW: We're also following deadly wildfires on west coast. 87 of them, and they are large and deadly, torching millions of acres in ten states now. At least 36 people are dead from blazes. Dozens more this morning are missing. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's begin though with the storm, with the hurricane. Our Ed Lavandera is in Gulfport, Mississippi, where residents are preparing for Sally.

And one of the big problems, Ed, is how slow it's moving.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is really the troubling news here this morning as we monitor the effects of Hurricane Sally. This is looking back out toward the east, and the storm is out in that direction out in the Gulf of Mexico, but this storm at last count was moving about two miles per hour.

That is not what you want to see because all that means is that as this storm approaches land, it's going to sit over this area for a long time, drop a ton of rainwater, and that is going to cause flooding, inland flooding as well. So that is one of the great concerns that we have here as this storm makes -- approaches land fall which could come sometime tomorrow morning now.

We are seeing some of the strongest winds and sustained winds from this storm that we have seen all morning long here in Gulfport, Mississippi. There's been very little rain, but the winds have picked up and have remained sustained at much higher levels than we've seen throughout the morning. So that really gives us a sense that this storm and things will continue to deteriorate throughout the course of the day.

But, of course, all of these preparations are well in place. The conditions here in Gulfport are still good enough where people are out and about getting kind of views of the ocean and that sort of thing out here this morning. But, again, the story here this morning is just how slow moving this storm is and what that will mean for inland flooding in the coming days. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Well, Ed, you be safe and please help spread the word there. Folks, you've got to listen to the warnings as the storm moves in.

HARLOW: So, Biloxi, Mississippi, is just about 20 minutes east of where Ed just reported from. Sally could make landfall there in just a matter of hours. Biloxi's mayor, Mayor Andrew Gilich, joins me now. Good morning, Mayor. Can you hear me?

MAYOR ANDREW GILICH (R-BILOXI, MS): Yes, Poppy, thank you. I hear you very well.

HARLOW: Okay. Well, thank you very much for being here on what could be a very difficult 24, 48 hours for you guys.

The concern about the storm surge, six to nine feet, rain sitting on you guys for up to 24 hours, what are you prepared for at this moment?

GILICH: Well, this is probably our third scare of the season, and we've been practicing, you know, the drills and so forth as far as evacuation of low-lying areas and, you know, protection of roads that go under water. The storm surge is what really kills people. And the wind is, you know, is of concern.

But, again, I think, you know, our public safety is what drives everyone. We have a number of high water rescue teams on readiness and so we're hopeful that the storm surge, unfortunately, it's to our neighbors to the east is where we feel like the brink, the bulk of the storm surge will be. We're hopeful that everyone does the right thing and uses common sense and, you know, stay out of harm's way.

So we're -- as Ed said, we're not seeing a lot of rain right now and then wind seems to be shifting, but a meandering storm really presents some real issues as far as intensification and as far as direction. So that's our concern at this point.

HARLOW: We're looking at images here, aerial images of the highway that runs are right by your coastline.


I'm not sure if that's U.S. 90 or not. Forgive me if I'm wrong but I've been reading a lot about U.S. --

GILICH: It is.

HARLOW: Okay. I've been reading a lot about U.S. 90 and the major concerns for that just being inundated with water. And the problem you is get people trapped. So are you -- I mean, are people evacuating where you are?

GILICH: Right. You know, we're trying to block off those low-lying areas. It's 26 miles right along the beach, a sea wall that, you know, goes up and down and becomes vulnerable to a high push and high level of water.

So we're shutting it down, you know, along the coast from the cities, from the Bay St. Louis bridge to the Biloxi Ocean Springs bridge in those areas. So we're trying to keep people from being in, you know, a trapped situation.


GILICH: And, again, we're just asking everyone to be careful and, you know, stay at home and we'll get through this too.

HARLOW: You guys know what it's like to go through awful storms. I don't have to remind you about Katrina. And the reason I bring that up is because just about 28 miles from where you are is Long Beach. And CNN spoke with a man yesterday who lives there and lost his home to Katrina 15 years ago. And he said he's not nervous about Sally because he's already experienced what it was like with Katrina.

What's your message to him and anyone who might feel like that?

GILICH: Well, you just don't let your guard down even though, you know, Katrina in some places with 28-foot storm surge. Here in Biloxi, it's about 22 feet. You know, six to nine-foot storm surge in comparison doesn't seem like a lot to be concerned with. But there's still -- you know, it just takes one or two mistakes and you lose lives and we don't want to lose any life.

And so we'll hopefully, in a couple of days, return to normal, as normal as 2020 can be.

HARLOW: Well, there you going right, and you bring up the fact that you're dealing with this in the middle of a pandemic, which just makes it so much harder for your residents and your first responders.

I'm going to let you go and get back to your day job. I know you have a lot to do, Mayor Gilich. Thank you.

GILICH: All right. Thanks, Poppy. I appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Now to the threat we don't see, the coronavirus, and this is just in. The World Economic Forum says there is, quote, a strong possibility that manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines will not meet supply needs, at least immediately. It's going to take some time.

HARLOW: That's a really scary thought.

Joining us now is the Dr. William Haseltine, former Professor at Harvard Medical School. It's good to have you.

So let's begin there, because they are not the only one. WEF is not the only one that's warning that. You also have the Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world saying, if people need two doses of this thing, there won't be enough globally until 2024. Do you think that is realistic assessment?

DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: That is a realistic assessment. I know that U.S. manufacturers have been given a lot of money to ramp up manufacturing. But it's a slow process, and it is one that requires great care.

Usually for a vaccine, you need to make three or four different batches to make sure that they are safe and consistent. We hope that they are going to be doing that this time as well. But the total number of vaccinations is going to be very large.

There's another consideration in addition to all the issues that have been discussed so far, and that is even if you need two shots to be immune, you may need a booster in a year or less. This is a very tricky virus and immunity may not last. So the situation we're now looking at could be even more serious than the one they are talking about.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It seems that people have these sort of unrealistic expectations, right, that a vaccine is going to arrive December, January perhaps at the earliest or a few weeks before that, and all of a sudden everybody has one. What I worry about, Dr. Haseltine, is that we saw in the early stages of this outbreak a global and even a national fight over resources like PPE, you know, personal protective equipment.

Are we looking at a similar international or even national battle over access to a vaccine, supplies of the vaccine?

HASELTINE: We definitely are, and I don't think we're prepared at all for an equitable distribution of a limited supply of vaccine. Who is going to get it in it the United States? Who is going to get it worldwide? Those are very, very serious considerations.

I'll tell you another thing to consider. People have it in mind once a vaccine is announced, emergency use authorization, et cetera, that immediately pandemic is over. It's not over. It's just beginning. Even if it's effective and very effective, it's going to take a year or two before everybody is protected.

Are we going to let down our guard? And we can see what happens in Europe and other countries now that are letting down their guard.


Those infections are surging back, and they are even greater than they were when they shut down the first time. Countries like Israel are beginning to shut down again because people relaxed. You can't relax with this thing. It's relentless.

SCIUTTO: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they are obviously funding a lot of this vaccine research and to ramp up manufacturing of it, not to mention being now the largest funders of the World Health Organization since the U.S. pulled back from that. Their report out this morning says, we've been set back 25 years in 25 weeks because of COVID-19 in terms of achieving the U.N. sustainable development goals, in terms of economies thriving, in terms of health systems, in terms of exacerbating extreme poverty. Could you just speak to the health, the broader health implications of being setback that far that quickly?

HASELTINE: Well, they are both concerns globally and here in the United States. In the United States, because our health systems have been so overwhelmed in a number of our states and our cities, that most people haven't gone to get their regular checkups.

I myself, I'm a cancer survivor, and I've had a very difficult time going back and getting my regular checkups. I've been fortunate to be able to do so, finally, but for a long time I wasn't. And that's the situation for many people who are far worse off than I am in this country.

In other countries, programs, really essential programs, like infant vaccine programs have been put on hold. People taking care of many other disease, like chronic heart diseases, diabetes, surgeries, all of that has been put on hold while we occupy our hospitals and our doctors of this tragedy.

SCIUTTO: Professor Haseltine, I wonder, given this idea that we're not suddenly going to have vaccines in our pocket no matter where we live in the world and the data we've seen about masks and social distancing and other measures working. I mean, does that mean that folks should prepare to live with these things, not being shut-ins or having to shut down, but to live with some of these simple personal health measures for months, perhaps, years to come?

HASELTINE: Well, years to come is maybe a little too long, a little too pessimistic, but for sometime in the future.

What I would say is it re-emphasizes that we can control this through public health measures without a vaccine or a drug, and we need to ramp up those efforts. There's a very simple way that's coming very quickly to do that, which is to make home testing available for everyone.

HARLOW: Right.

HASELTINE: Test everybody to find those people who are contagious and then help them stay at home with their families for ten days to control the infection. If we do that, I believe, if we do that really systematically, we can control this within two to three months to get down to a place where China has now been for many months. They have controlled it. We can too with our own methods.

HARLOW: Imagine if we could all test our children every morning before they went to school and went to work, what a huge difference that would make.

HASELTINE: And I think it's possible. The tests are now possible.

HARLOW: Yes. Thank you very much.

HASELTINE: You're welcome.

HARLOW: We always enjoy having you. Thanks a lot.

HASELTINE: It's my pleasure, thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come for us, those wildfires burning out of control now. It's not just California and Oregon. It is across ten states. At least 36 people have died from them, dozens more are missing this morning. We are live on frontlines of this extreme firefight.

Also, inside the battle for the Latino vote, Democrats worried slipping support for Joe Biden among Hispanics will jeopardize his chances of winning.

SCIUTTO: Then later, coronavirus cases among children in Florida jumped 26 percent in jump one month. So why won't the state release crucial COVID-19 information about public schools?



SCIUTTO: Well, at least 36 people have now died in devastating wildfires burning across the Western United States, and the trouble is there are dozens more missing, concern that more lives have been lost.

HARLOW: Authorities say there are 87 large fires that are burning across these ten states all up and down the west coast. California has the most, at least 25 fires have scorched 2.5 million acres in that state.

Let's go back to Stephanie Elam. She's in Monrovia, California, this morning with more on devastation. Stephanie, good morning.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, and we're watching as some of the firefighters are making their way out after they were up in the mountain fighting the Bobcat fire here in the suburb of Los Angeles for the last 24 hours. They are now just coming out.

As the light has come out, it's gotten smoky, but we're still seeing some blazes there behind it. This fire going from being 6 percent contained down to 3 percent overnight. So they are continuing to fight here.

Obviously, this is a big concern as you look at all of the blazes that you just mentioned that are burning in California, just really depleting the firefighting forces throughout the state. They are also tired, but they can't stop because the blazes are so intense.

It's very clear to the governor of California as well as the mayor of Los Angeles that these fires are really becoming more intense and larger because of the climate change. Take a listen to what Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D-LOS ANGELES, CA): The idea of saying, I don't think science knows, is like turning back 2,000 years of human progress. It's like saying, the truth doesn't actually know. We know what is causing this. There is consensus there, and he's kind of one of the last members of the flat earth society.

But, you know, denial doesn't work when it comes to COVID. Denial doesn't work when it comes to climate. And the cost of denial is that people lose their lives and their livelihood.


ELAM: Now, the reason why Mayor Garcetti was saying this was because the president was in California yesterday, did meet with Governor Newsom.


And Newsom made it very clear that this is what he's concerned about is climate change and that they need more help from the federal government, and it was clear that the president doesn't think that that is a real issue at this point.

Also worth noting though, because the president has said that we need to clean out forests and have better forest management, as the governor pointed out yesterday, 57 percent of the forested lands in California are actually under jurisdiction of the federal government, only 3 percent under California. Jim and Poppy.


SCIUTTO: Stephanie Elam, thanks so much for letting us know what it looks like out there.

Coming up next, the fight for Florida in 2020, Joe Biden is trying to win over key voters in that state, Latinos, but this could be an even tougher battle.



HARLOW: Well, right now a flooding emergency in the making as the Gulf Coast braces for the full brunt of Hurricane Sally. Sally is right now lurking off the shore packing deadly amounts of rain.

SCIUTTO: Meteorologist Chad Myers is with us now. Chad, two dangerous things, speed, timing, you know, builds up, holds rain over those coastlines. I mean, we talked about this a couple of weeks ago regarding a previous storm that didn't quite pan out. How do we think this is going to pan out?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I think it's probably going to come onshore less than 24 hours from now. And that seem like -- if you look at the map and you go, wait a minute, it's right there. Why doesn't it come onshore soon, because it's only moving two miles per hour, maybe three or four miles at this point in time. But it will come onshore either the overnight hours tomorrow morning or maybe even as late as this tomorrow depending how far to the east or west this storm goes.

We're waiting for a hurricane hunter aircraft to fly through it right now. This is going to be a very important update coming at 11:00 because, before the last hurricane hunter left about an hour ago, the pressure was going down, which means the storm is getting stronger. And if that happens, this still could be that 100-mile-per-hour storm as it comes on shore.

We're not seeing any 100-mile-per-hour gusts right now, so don't get me wrong. It's an 85-mile-per-hour event. But if it gets stronger because we know sometimes in this warm water, they can get stronger quite quickly. But what's happening to the warm water? Well, the storm has been sitting over it for so long, it's warming up the warm water and mixing it up so it isn't as warm as it was.

Here we go, 1:00, someone around there at Port of Mobile for tomorrow afternoon. Gulf Shores, you're certainly in it, Pensacola, still in it, you're in the hurricane warning. And then, eventually, it makes its way across parts of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama and into the Carolinas with six to ten inches of rainfall.

And then this here, this purple, that's 10 to 20 and there were spots earlier near Fair Hope and Gulf Shores that were over 20 inches still expected and this is just one model. Then the surge, you've got all that fresh water trying to get to the ocean and you have all the saltwater trying to go up the rivers so that's going to exacerbate the problems.

Winds are still going to be somewhere between 74 and 110 with gusts, and so that will bring down trees. You saturate the ground with all that rain, then you put wind on top of it. Some of those trees are going to come down, power lines are going to come down. We still have people that are without power from Laura in Southwest Louisiana, something like 70,000 customers still without power from the storm that hit weeks ago.

HARLOW: Chad Myers, thank you for laying it all out for us, we're hoping for the best for all those folks, especially right there in Mississippi. Thank you.

Joe Biden is heading to the battleground state of Florida today, his first general election appearance there, and, you know, it's an important state. He is fighting hard, very hard, for Latino voters, many of whom vote Republican in that state.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Randi Kaye is in Central Florida this morning. Randi, does the president need to -- Florida to win reelection?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jim. No president has won the White House without carrying the state of Florida since 1924, and that was Calvin Coolidge. So, yes, you could say it is a must-win for Donald Trump, which may explain why he has been here now 11 times this year, 29 electoral votes up for grabs.

Joe Biden making his first visit here in quite some time. He hasn't been here to Florida in just about a year. He's coming here to Central Florida, as you said. And he will be marking Hispanic heritage month, all part of his effort to try and bring in some of those Hispanic voters to the Biden tent.


KAYE: Joe Biden launching this new Spanish language T.V. ad in Florida called, Dice Mucho, or They Say a Lot, all part of an effort to woo Hispanic voters. The ad claims to dispel the untruths the campaign says Donald Trump is spreading about Biden.

Trump, meanwhile, has his own ads. Team Trump seems to want to convince Hispanic voters Biden would turn the United States into a socialist country.

Trump has tried to tie Joe Biden to socialism, really instilling fear in some voters. Does that seem to be working?

THOMAS SANTIAGO, BIDEN SUPPORTER: Trump has done a really good job of just kind of hammering home this idea of socialism being a big boogieman and something to be afraid of.

KAYE: Thomas Santiago lives in Miami.


He is Puerto Rican and a newly registered Democrat who is supporting Biden. He says the more Trump talks about socialism --

SANTIAGO: That really resonates with them.