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Slow-Moving Hurricane Sally Pummels Gulf Coast with Torrential Rain; Trump Again Claims Virus Will Just Disappear; 87 Fires Burn More Than 4.7 Acres in Ten States. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


The breaking news this hour, Hurricane Sally is barreling across the Gulf Coast, several states affected. It's bringing torrential, lasting rain, and as a result, threatening catastrophic flooding for miles and just sitting over that area there pumping down that rain. Sally now a Category 1 storm was still 90 mile per hour winds.

HARLOW: Some areas already seeing close to two feet of rain, over three feet predicted for parts of the southeast. Reports of high-water rescues already under way in Gulf Shores, Alabama, that is near where Sally made landfall just a few hours ago.

We've got out reporters across the coast. Let's begin with our Gary Tuchman again this hour. He's in Pensacola Beach, Florida, on the conditions there.

Gary, tell us what you're feeling. We certainly see it.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and Jim, Pensacola Beach, which is a barrier island, south of the city of Pensacola, Pensacola, the city, has about 53,000 people. This barrier island has about 4,000 residents, but lots of tourists come here too. We are still in the midst of this. They got the unfortunate distinction on being on the east side of the eye, the right side of the storm, which is the stronger side of the storm.

So we're not going to feel the effects of the eye here where everything calms down and you can have a picnic in this parking lot. It's just a continuous deluge of wind and rain. We still have the consistent tropical storm-force winds that occasionally got to hurricane force. We had a 92-mile-per-hour gust about an hour and a half ago.

But the story of this storm is the rain. We've had now at least 24 inches of rain and it's likely more 24 inches about an hour and a half ago, two feet of rain and extensive flooding in this island and in the city of Pensacola. People who live here in the city of Pensacola and here in Pensacola Beach are being advised still not to go out. There are power lines down. We've heard transformers explode. We've seen piece of roof fly by, signs fly by.

The damage we've seen so far to buildings around this area is not as extensive as what I saw during Hurricane Laura three weeks ago in Lake Charles, Louisiana. But we didn't see much flooding damage there, very little flood surge. And here, we're seeing intense flooding and that's certainly going to be a problem because of this amount of rain.

This is an amazing fact, and I've never seen this in any storm I've covered, but we've had a deluge, torrents of rain for 17 straight hours now. Poppy? Jim?

SCIUTTO: Wow. And that is exactly what Chad Myers has been warning about, lots of rain and the storm just sitting over there like Charlie Brown, practically, over those areas. Gary Tuchman, please stay safe.

HARLOW: Let's go to Ed Lavandera. He is in Mobile, Alabama. Good morning, Ed.

So we just heard from Gary what it's like there. Is it similar where you are? It looks like a lot more wind. I don't know about as heavy, pounding rain as what Gary is going through.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's interesting here is that it was almost like the faucet has been turned off on the rain within the last half hour. It was raining rather heavily and then all of a sudden, it stopped. We're still trying to get a sense of whether or not that means that the back half of this hurricane just doesn't have the moisture that the front half did.

So perhaps the worst of the rainfall, at least here in the Mobile, Alabama side of the storm, the rain has dissipated for now, but the winds are still rather intense. I don't know exactly at what level the wrath there had been within the last hour and a half or so.

Wind gusts out at the Mobile Airport of about 75 miles per hour. The wind his been under 50 miles per hour, so that's almost at the point where emergency crews can start getting out into the elements to begin surveying and reaching people who need help. But I'm not sure if that call has been officially made here at this point.

But it has been a dramatic several hours here along the Gulf Coast as the eye of this storm came in between Mobile and Pensacola, Florida.


And we were all right here on the edge of that eye wall, which brought some of the most intense rain and intense sustained winds for hours and hours this morning. And that is going to be, at least, what I am most concerned about as crews begin surveying the extensiveness of the damage brought by this hurricane as we go out and see just how long all of this area was exposed to this intense wind and rainfall for as long as it has been. I think that will be the real story here in the hours ahead as crews and emergency teams begin surveying the damage. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Ed, thank you very much. Good luck to you and your crew out there. We appreciate you being there.

Let's get to our Meteorologist, Chad Myers.

Chad, we're glad you're back. Just talk us to about the track of the storm and just how slowly it's moving and this huge rainmaker that keeps dumping, clearly as we saw with what Gary said.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. The Hurricane Center is still saying three miles per hour forward speed and the winds, I'm sure, still gusting to 85 in spots, especially along that shore for Orange Beach all of the way to the east. And we have bigger storms too that could be rotating anywhere from Panama City all of the way down to an Appalachia Cola. That could, of course, cause a tornado or two.

There is the storm itself, tornado possible to the east, flash flooding certain to the west, where it has already been raining, 20 in some spots. I'm sure we're going to get reports of 30 inches, no question about that.

The irony of this storm is that there is a five-foot storm surge in Pensacola where Gary is, that's a positive surge. But there is a seven-foot negative surge blowing out of Mobile Bay. Mobile Bay is at least at the Coast Guard station in Mobile Bay on the west coast there, seven feet below where you should be at this time.

I'm sure the boats are just sitting there in the mud because the water is going to have to come back. We're going to have 36 miles per hour in Mobile, gusts to 68. Pensacola, your latest gust at the naval air station was 82.

So it is not slowing down. The rain is obviously still going down. Everywhere that you see white is 20 inches or more. And I don't have the -- or more. We don't have a 30 or more here. But most of the rain obviously was in the Gulf of Mexico, but way too much -- way too much was on land that all has to try it to run off. Poppy? Jim?

SCIUTTO: Thanks for keeping us up-to-date, Chad.

Well, Hurricane Sally has knocked out power to 95 percent of Baldwin County in Alabama, it shows how communities can really be devastated by this.

Joining us is Jenni Guerry. She is the deputy director of Emergency Management for Baldwin County. Jenny, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

We know you have a lot on your plate. You said you think it is very important that people really pay close attention to this system and not focus on what category of storm that it may be. People always focus on wind speeds, et cetera, but tell us why you're putting that warning out.

JENNI GUERRY, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT IN BALDWIN COUNTY, ALABAMA: Thank you for having me this morning. So I will tell you right now, the storm is still incredibly impacting our area. So the eye is moving across our county. We're still seeing tons of rain and wind all across our area.

The important safety message that we want to make sure that we convey to our people right now is please stay put. We have serious conditions along our roadways and a lot of road debris, a lot of trees down at this time. We really want to make sure that people are staying safe and are staying off of our roadways.

We have been informed from the National Weather Service that we're going to continue to see these conditions throughout the day and the tropical storm-force winds are likely not going to subside until later this afternoon, so that is limiting many of our responders at this time.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And, listen, it's good advice because oftentimes people drive on flooded roads and they think it's a few inches deep and before they know it they're in dire straits.

So what are you hearing about people trapped or stranded in the midst of this? Are the conditions safe enough for first responders to get out and look at the folks who are in danger?

GUERRY: So right now, the conditions are very dangerous. We have been receiving calls through our 911 center that there is a lot of requests. But at this time, because of the high winds, because of the amount of flooding that we're seeing, our responders right now are having to stage because it's so dangerous.

So they're not able to get out, but our 911 center has been very busy with lots of calls throughout the night and those power outages are all across our area at this time. So we're beginning to collect some of that information and hear damage reports, but we'll be assessing and assimilating that information as conditions will begin to alleviate so that we can actually get out into the community and see and assess the situation.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can, listen, it's a challenge under any circumstances to respond to this in the midst of a pandemic as an extra layer for you.


Are you finding that that has made people less likely to evacuate, for instance, not use shelters, et cetera?

GUERRY: So, the information with COVID-19, I will tell you that we have opened shelters for our individuals that needed to seek shelter. We may possibly open additional shelters once we assess the need here in the county. Live safety is always going to be the top priority but we will take every measure and we implemented those measures for infection control measures in our shelters as we open them for evacuees that were looking to seek shelter from Hurricane Sally.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I get it. Well, listen, we wish you the best of luck. We hope you maybe you can dodge a bullet here but we'll keep in touch.

GUERRY: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, President Trump is again claiming coronavirus will simply go away even, he claims, without a vaccine. We're going to speak to someone who knows the science. That's next.

HARLOW: Also, will heavy rain in another part of the United States, the west coast, help thousands of firefighters battling those deadly wildfires across ten states?

And our exclusive with 3M CEO Mike Roman, the company's unprecedented response to this pandemic and the big question, will there be enough of their N95 masks as we brace for a very rough fall and winter.


MIKE ROMAN, CEO, 3M: We were not in a position to meet that demand. Even today, the demand for N95s is greater than not only our production capacity but the entire industry.



SCIUTTO: Well, once again, the president is claiming that the coronavirus will simply disappear in the U.S. whether or not Operation Warp Speed, as it's known, the U.S. effort to find a vaccine, proves to be successful.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: It would go away without the vaccine, George. But it's going to go away a lot faster --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: It would go away the vaccine?

TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time, it goes away.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And many deaths.

TRUMP: And you'll develop like a herd mentality. It's going to be herd-developed and that's going to happen. That will all happen.


HARLOW: Joining us now on all of these key topics, Dr. Larry Brilliant, an Epidemiologist, also a CNN Medical Analyst. It's always good to have you, Dr. Brilliant.

I actually like to talk about -- I think that's a sort of -- I don't really want to get into that assertion by the president because there are so many factual issues there. But what the federal government did just came out with moments ago is HHS's plan, Doctor, to distribute the vaccine when one is proven to be effective to the American people. And they state in this, when you read through the details that everyone is going to get one for free, so how key is that and then how do you ensure equal, really equal distribution?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, good morning, Poppy. Good morning, Jim.

Yes, I don't want to comment on the president's note about how we will get to no cases without a vaccine, but we will have vaccines, and that's the good news. I'm a little concerned that the vaccines that we get may have a very low bar of efficacy, 50 percent has been set by the FDA. I'm concerned that we will get an efficacy's signal and know that they are effective long before we know what kind of side effects, what we'll see when we distribute larger doses of it. I'm concerned that it requires a cold chain and multiple doses in the first few vaccine.

But be that as it may, we will have vaccines and we will have lots of them and that will be a wonderful thing and we should all look at that and say maybe there will be a better one later, but we're glad to have one now. And we have to make sure that it gets to everybody in an equitable manner, and making it free certainly makes it easier to think in terms of equitable distribution.

SCIUTTO: Well, let's hope people take them too, right, because you have this kind of anti-vax culture out there growing.

I want to ask you about what we're seeing in the number, because in the last 24 hours, more than 1,400 Americans died from coronavirus. That's the most in a single day since July. As you know, Dr. Brilliant, we've talked about it, some of the models have predicted an increase in the daily death rate over the next several weeks.

Is there something significant in what we see in that day or is it too early to say?

BRILLIANT: No, there is something very significant. We are on the verge of exceeding 200,000 deaths. Just think about that for a second, and we've grown numb to the numbers. 200,000 deaths from this virus, most or many of those deaths were avoidable.

And not only did we get over a thousand deaths a day in the past 14 days on average, but we're heading into a time when all of us are going to go and spend more of our life indoors as we go into the cold season. We'll be spreading disease indoors.

We're going into flu season, which is coming off Labor Day. We're going to a time when kids are going into schools. Schools open but they can't stay open. So, some of the kids are coming home. And then we go into the real holiday season, Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I am very concerned that the next few months may be amongst the worst months that we have experienced. And I don't believe that the virus will just go away.


And I certainly don't believe this notion that we will achieve herd immunity through enough people getting sick that will stop it, because if we reach that, we would be talking about millions of deaths, not hundreds of thousands.


HARLOW: Dr. Brilliant, let's talk about children for a moment, because there's new really disturbing federal data out. It just came out yesterday. And what it shows is that black, Hispanic and American- Indian children are dying at a much higher rate from COVID-19 than their white peers, a rate 75 percent in terms of their deaths, which has not been proportional. Because when you add their percentage of the population, it's 41 percent. So there's that.

And then you have this sort of dire warning, I think, from Bill Gates. Here he is.


BILL GATES, CO-CHAIRMAN, GATE FOUNDATION: The inequity of this, whether it's between citizens in the country, blue collar versus white collar, blacks experiencing a higher sickness rate than others, you know, poor countries can't borrow money and spend money like the U.S. and other rich countries have. So almost every dimension of inequity has been accentuated here.


HARLOW: How imperative does that make it that a vaccine is truly equally distributed and the rich and the privileged don't just get in the front of the line?

BRILLIANT: It's just wonderful to hear Bill Gates speak like that. I hope everybody listens to him and think deeply about what it means to be an American when we are part of such an inequitable system right now.

It is both important for reasons of equity and fairness and justice that we have that kind of a distribution. It's also important to stop the epidemic. If kids are getting the disease in higher numbers who are from less privileged environments or racially different environments, they are still going to be broadcasting that virus to everyone else.

And as long as this virus is affecting anyone anywhere, it's affecting everyone everywhere. And that's what a pandemic is. And we need to be extraordinarily careful that we find every place that it is and vaccinate everybody that we can.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it's a shared problem but the solutions are also shared, right? They require a shared effort. Dr. Larry Brilliant, always good to have you on.

BRILLIANT: Thank you for having me. HARLOW: Thank you, Doctor.

Well, nearly 90 active wildfires are scorching millions of acres still out west despite science, the president refuses to say that climate change has anything to do with it.



SCIUTTO: The breaking news this hour, Hurricane Sally is currently pummeling the Gulf Coast, now a Category 1 storm with torrential rain. Category 1 means gusts up to 90 miles per hour. It is crawling at an agonizingly slow pace, just 3 miles an hour. What does that mean? That means some areas are already seeing close to two feet of rain with more than three feet predicted for parts of the coast.

Right now high-water rescues are under way in Gulf Shores, Alabama. That's close to where Sally made landfall just hours ago. We're going to have more in just a moment.

But, first, Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes. Also, this dire situation continuing out west, 87 fires burning more than 4.7 million acres across ten states. California, one of the hardest hit clearly here, bracing for intense winds that could just exacerbate this.

During the meeting in the state on Monday, the president refused to say that climate change was playing a role in the growing number and growing intensity of these fires. My next guest had a lengthy conversation with the president during that meeting, explaining some of the causes of these fires, that is Thom Porter. He is the director of California Forestry and Fire Protection, and he joins me. Good morning. Thanks for being here.


HARLOW: Let's begin, Chief Porter, with the reasons why you think it has been so hard this year to get a handle on these fires.

PORTER: Well, we've been having successive years of drought throughout the west coast, but also the southwestern United States. And while we have had a couple of wet years here and there, that's not been enough to really saturate the soils and really give the vegetation the moisture it needs to remain healthy and resilient to wildfire.

So the fuels are very dry, fires are growing very much fuel-driven, meaning they are not necessarily needing wind or slope to drive where the fire is going to go. And then it's just -- it's a really difficult situation. We have overgrown forests in some areas. We have grass everywhere, which is very easy to get going, as well.

HARLOW: Let's speak to those overgrown forests and areas, because you spent a lot of time explaining all of this to the president.


I think we might have some video of this. And it's also important for people to know that it is the federal government.