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Hurricane Sally Grows to Category 2 as it Nears Landfall; Parts of West Coast Now Have Worst Air Quality in World; Authorities Brace for More Wildfire Deaths; Trump to Woodward: Virus is a Killer If It Gets You; Trump Contradicts Health Experts' Advice on Masks; Israel Signs Diplomatic Deals with UAE and Bahrain. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 04:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And we would like to welcome our viewers who are joining us now from across the United States.

And right now, we continue to keep an eye on hurricane Sally now a category 2 storm expected to make landfall in coming hours. The U.S. Gulf Coast is being pummeled by the strong winds and torrential rain. In places like Gulf Shores, Alabama the storm has brought flooding and storm surge to several coastal communities including in the Florida panhandle. The national hurricane center warns historic flooding is possible.

Hurricane Sally's slow movement mean states will have to endure destructive weather for even longer. Some roads are already under water and tens of thousands across three states are now without power. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us now from Mobile in Alabama. Polo, talk to us about the situation this hour on the ground. What's going on?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, every hour becomes clear that Sally is a stubborn storm making its way slowly towards the Gulf Coast and with that those winds grow more intense by the hour. Really every time we check back it seems that the wind is more intense.


We're looking over the Mobile River. This is a body of water that eventually empties out into Mobile Bay and then into the Gulf of Mexico. Of course, the concern that we've heard from officials is that because of that surge, that storm surge can allow that water being dumped on municipalities, it may be harder before it's actually emptied out of those streets into some of these waterways and out into the Gulf of Mexico.

So, that's what's fueling that flooding concern and that fear of flooding. I'm going to tell you that in about 90 minutes east of here in the Florida Panhandle, a flash flood emergency has been declared, according to a local national weather service. Those are usually according to them, an exceedingly rare circumstances and are issued only when they believe that there's an immediate threat to human life. So, the message that they're sending to residents is to certainly get to higher ground if they did not do so already.

Here in Mobile officials closed down both public and the private beaches about two days ago making sure that nobody would actually, head out to try to get a closer look. Obviously, there's an added advantage since this seems to be a bit of an overnight storm. Or at least we are beginning to see the effects during the overnight hours which means that we're likely to see fewer people.

We took a quick drive through the downtown area here in Mobile. We have seen some minor wind damage but the most part seeing that people are hunkering down. But as the local national weather service made very clear a little while ago, Rosemary, this is far the from over.

CHURCH: And Polo Sandoval, do stay safe there joining us from Mobile, Alabama. Many thanks.

I want to go to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. And Pedram, what are you seeing there because, of course, the big threat is that this moving is slowly that it's just drenching areas. There is just so much rain and that is the bigger threat than the wind of course.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. And you know, the wind is certainly nothing to just sneeze off at here with it comes to this particular storm system, Rosemary. Because still sitting there at a strong category 2, just 6 miles per hour shy of being a major hurricane category 3.

You know, we've just been talk being about tremendous rainfall because of that slow progression. At 3 miles per hour this storm system moving at the rough estimate of what a turtle averages about one hour a speed, about 3 miles per hour. So, if you imagine putting a near major hurricane on the coast and moving it at that pace. It's going to cause major problems. As that northern eyewall really getting close to making landfall here. I wouldn't be surprised if the national hurricane center in next couple of hours gives us an official landfall.

But the northern eyewall means that's where the winds are currently about 105 miles per hour near Gulf Shore, near Orange Beach, and of course, around Mobile Bay. This is where the storm system looks to be pushing ashore in the next several hours.

Now the forecast tracker, of course, has been as complicated as it gets. We know it have been all about the rain with this storm. In fact, go back to just a couple of days ago, nearly ten inches came down in Key West as the system moves over the region. The wettest day on record for the month of September.

And I wanted to show you this because -- look at this, this is the actual track it's taken. A lot of people see tropical systems, they see that cone, they think it travels in a straight line. It never does. And precisely like this you see the details almost like a signature, the way it kind of meandered and wobbled by the coast and that is now where it sits. We're upwards18 inches of rainfall now are being reported out of the Pensacola office of the National Weather Service.

And again, when you talk about water and the significant rise in water here really only takes six inches to move you and sweep you off your feet. But that water to come up to that two feet that could move your vehicle. So, the threat here really can't be overstated of dangers of what's happening here on the ground along the Gulf Coast.

But again, the storm system even after it makes the landfall -- here's the current time. You notice the time around noon barely over land and remaining there. So, really not much displaced where it currently is. And then finally, into the overnight hours of Thursday that's when we think it pushes into portions of Alabama, on into Georgia and then the Carolinas, Rosemary. So again, a very slow moving story here, and essentially causing a lot of problems right on the coast.

CHURCH: Absolutely. Hopefully, people will remain hunkered down and safe. Pedram Javaheri, many thanks for bringing us up to date there, appreciate it.

While speak with CNN, the deputy director of the Emergency Management Agency for Mobile County, Alabama, said planning is crucial in handling destructive weather and attempts are made to make everyone on the coast aware of emergency procedures.


MIKE EVANS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MOBILE COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We share our surge maps. You know, we get updated surge maps through FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers on a yearly basis and we share that with our residents that live in those coastal areas. We also have pre-determined evacuation zones and what we'll do is when we see that surge is going to become a problem in those areas we invite or we actually suggest and even the duly elected officials can mandate that the citizens need to evacuate to an area with higher ground.



CHURCH: On the other side of the country, parts of the Western United States now have the worst air quality in the world due to the ongoing wildfires. And that is according to one monitoring group. Dozens of blazes are filling the sky with smoke and ash and pushing firefighters beyond exhaustion. In Oregon, the fires are blamed for killing eight people while at least 16 others are missing. CNN's Martin Savidge reports officials are preparing for the situation to get even worse.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Oregon, firefighters loading up and heading out, including elite hotshot teams, trying to rein in the massive Riverside fire outside Portland. One of three dozen blazes burning in the state. The effects of the historic western wildfires now spreading far beyond the region, seen from space smoke from the fires streaming across the country, reaching the skies of New York.

The smoke even forced flight cancellations. Schools in northern Oregon remain closed as millions shelter in place from smoke choked air classified a health hazard.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): These fires in Oregon, they're apocalyptic going through a couple of towns that had been absolutely incinerated.

SAVIDGE: Oregon's Governor says the state is stretched to its limits. Last week, it had 3,000 firefighters. This week, nearly double that number and still more are needed. And in an ominous sign for the first time in its history, Oregon is preparing to use its mobile morgue, with a team of 75 forensics specialists.

CAPT. TIM FOX, OREGON STATE POLICE: We're able to take those trailers out and set them in a central location and this time we're able to take in any fire victims from all the counties into this facility.

SAVIDGE: With as many as 50 people listed as missing or unaccounted for, the State is bracing for a rise in death toll even after the flames subside.

FOX: Purpose behind this facility is so that we could give families closures.

SAVIDGE: In neighboring California where the fires have been even deadlier, the Campus family considers themselves fortunate to be alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the fire coming down to burn all my barn.

SAVIDGE: First trying to fight the flames on their farm before fleeing.

On the outskirts of Los Angeles at the Bobcat fire, a desperate battle is shaping up between firefighters and flames at the historic Mount Wilson Observatory. The next 24 hours could be decisive.

CAPT. DAVE GILLOTTE, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We've got a lot of dirty brush and dirty growth laddered and layered, and so it burns deep down in there and climbs through the trees and then it rolls with the hills. Luckily, we don't have any wind driving the fire right now.

SAVIDGE: Back outside Portland in the near deserted neighborhoods of Estacada, volunteers deliver food to those refusing to leave.

TONY DIFRANCISCO, ESTACADA RESIDENT: We all had a pretty grim outlook and the fact that the firefighter stopped it, nothing short of amazing. I think it's a miracle.

SAVIDGE: Across Oregon and much of the West, they will need a lot more miracles in the days and weeks to come. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Martin Savidge with that report.

U.S. President Donald Trump keeps flouting coronavirus rules. He hosted world leaders from the Middle East on Tuesday at the White House and has held two rallies in the past few days with few masks and no social distancing.

He also keeps insisting the virus will magically go away and there's nothing to worry about. But in another reporting from journalist Bob Woodward's interviews with Mr. Trump for his new book "Rage." You can hear the President acknowledge that COVID-19 is dangerous and highly contagious. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This this is a killer if it gets you. If you're the wrong person you don't have a chance.


TRUMP: Like, a friend of mine died. Very great real estate developer from Manhattan. He died yesterday.

WOODWARD: Yeah, I know. You know, listen, student of mine, I teach a journalism seminar, have written me, have had it. And one of the women said she had it, they said she was cured, and they kept coming back with new symptoms, strange things happen. She had intense headaches.

TRUMP: So, what happened?

WOODWARD: And she -- she's in agony. And they are telling her, oh, you're cured now. You're over it. So, this -- I mean you've said it. This is a monster --

TRUMP: So, this rips you apart.

WOODWARD: This is a scourge and --

TRUMP: It is the plague.

WOODWARD: It is the plague. And the --

TRUMP: And Bob, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't even believe it.

WOODWARD: I know. It's --

TRUMP: I mean, you can -- you can be in the room -- I was in the White House a couple of days age. And a meeting of 10 people in the Oval Office and a guy sneezed, innocently. Not a horrible --


TRUMP: -- you know, just a sneeze. The entire bailed out, OK. Including me, by the way.



CHURCH: And President Trump is defending his handling of the coronavirus pandemic yet again appearing at an ABC News Town Hall in battleground state of Pennsylvania. Mr. Trump continued to deny he had downplayed the outbreak.


AJANI POWELL, STUDENT: Why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low income families and minority communities?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.


CHURCH: And despite the deaths of nearly 196,000 people in U.S., Mr. Trump continues to insist the virus will simply go away.


TRUMP: It'll go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster --


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CHIEF ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: It will go away without the vaccine?

TRUMP: Sure. Over a period of time. Sure. With time it goes away.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And many deaths.

TRUMP: And you'll develop -- you'll develop herd, like a herd mentality.


CHURCH: Of course, he meant herd immunity there. Mr. Trump is also still railing against masks contradicting advice from top health officials. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Now there is, by the way, a lot of people don't want to wear masks. So, a lot of people think that masks are not good. And there are a lot of people that as an example --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who are those people?

TRUMP: I'll tell you who those people are, waiters. They come over and they serve you and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me. And they're playing with the mask. I'm not blaming them. I'm just saying what happens. They are playing with the mask, and so the mask is over and they're touching it and then they're touching the plate. That can't be good.


CHURCH: Meanwhile President Trump's political rival Joe Biden is usually seen wearing a mask. The U.S. Democratic Presidential nominee called Mr. Trump a climate arsonist after the President insisted climate change did not play a part in the California wildfires. Biden also had this warning for the President.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Yesterday in California he said sitting with a group of scientists, I don't think science knows whether or not climate change is real. That's what he said. At a time when wildfires are racing across the West destroying homes and communities and another hurricane threatens our coast. Mr. President, science knows. Science knows.


CHURCH: And the magazine "Scientific American" is endorsing Biden over President Trump. This is the publications first endorsement in its 175 year history. They said in a statement the evidence and science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people.

You can hear more from the Democratic presidential nominee. Join CNN's Town Hall with Joe Biden moderated by Anderson Cooper. That's 1:00 a.m. Friday in London, 8:00 a.m. in Hong Kong only here on CNN.

And still to come, new ties between the UAE and Bahrain with Israel being hailed by President Trump as the dawn of a new Middle East. We will have details of the deal. That's next.



CHURCH: Well, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed agreements normalizing relations with Israel on Tuesday. The move brings into the open relations that had been covert until now but doesn't resolve Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. The Abraham Accords were brokered by the Trump administration. President Trump is calling it the dawn of a new Middle East. Here's what his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had to say.


JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: I think we had a very good breakthrough. What's happened is in the Middle East, the deals have been so well received. That's what helped Bahrain go quickly. They saw how well the deal was received in the United Arab Emirates and throughout the Muslim world. The people in the region are tired of war, they're tired of conflict, they want to move forward.


CHURCH: CNN's Sam Kiley is live from Abu Dhabi and Oren Liebermann joins us live from Jerusalem. Good to see you both. So, Sam, let's start with you. And of course, we heard from Jared Kushner there, but these countries aren't at war. So, what is the significance of all of this? And of course, the glaring omission of the Palestinians?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kushner's words there, the people of the Middle East tired of war, tired of conflict, and he's right about that. The problem is the Bahrainis and Emiratis have never been at war or in conflict with the Jewish state. They have though over the last 40 years subscribed to, if you like, the Pan-Arab indeed, even more widely -- a wider Muslim world's desires to see an independent Palestine established next to Israel with its own ability to survive as a viable state.

Now, what's interesting though, is in term of the domestic language, that's where really Kushner is addressing. They need to make this look like a peace deal so that they can win some domestic energy behind the November elections. But -- and this is an important but -- from the Emiratis and Bahraini perspective and arguably we're going to see other nations such as Oman and possibly even Saudi Arabia down the line normalizing relations with Israel.

They are saying that they have remain completely committed to a two state solution. The Emirates have trumpeted the fact that this postpones almost indefinitely in their view a plan a plan by Israel to annex large sections of the West Bank, the Palestinian territories. And they also argue that this gives them influence with the Israelis. They have a voice where in the past they didn't have a voice. It gives them leverage. It gives them something to take away from the Israelis. Whatever that might be in terms of downgrading diplomatic relations or ending some kind of future commercial deals or whatever.


The fact of the matter is the argument coming from the Emiratis in particular but also endorsed by the Bahrainis, is that it's better to talk. And also, assure Israel that it is no longer necessary for to it be a small paranoid nation. Arguing that it is surrounded by enemies. If you remove the enemies perhaps you might get a more benign dispensation for the Palestine's. And that's certainly something that Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Rosemary, was keen to stress. He kept talking about this circle of peace. Again, an unnecessary misnomer. But it is very extraordinary to hear the Israeli Prime Minister talk about how Israel no longer feels feel isolated in the Middle East. That is a step change -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Right, and Oren Liebermann, let's go to you in Jerusalem. Talk to us about what's being said about this across Israel, and of course, what the Palestinians are saying.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are agreements that are welcomed across Israeli society pretty much. We saw the Bahraini flag, the Emirate flag not only on the walls of the old city of Jerusalem but also in Tel Aviv. Those flags as well flying above the Foreign Ministry, not very far from where we were sitting right now.

So, this was truly celebrated in Israel. And you see it reflected in the newspapers with the headlines that's all about what we saw at the White House yesterday. This, for example, Salam Alaikum, is in Hebrew, but that is specifically in Arabic saying, "peace be upon you." And the entire newspapers are full of articles like this.

So, it is being celebrated here. Of course, a lot of these are also talking about what was not at the White House and what's a problem domestically for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that is the surging coronavirus cases. The Health Minister who was on CNN last night, said that Netanyahu would be wearing a mask and there would be an attempt at social distancing. Neither of those happened and that will quickly overshadow what was very much a celebratory day for Israel and Netanyahu at the White House because of how bad it is with a record set as Netanyahu was at the White House. And that is the competing narrative here. Almost every front page makes at least some message of the coronavirus cases here and the impending closure.

As for the Palestinians they remain furious about this. Accusing both the Bahrainis and the Emirates of betraying them, betraying Jerusalem and betraying Al-Aqsa. We saw that anger pouring over when Gaza militants fired a total of 15 rockets last night and overnight at southern Israel. Notably they fired the first of those rockets as the Emirate Foreign Minister was beginning to speak. So, that anger although generally pointed at Israel, also very much pointed at the Arab states they see as having betrayed them at this point.

So, there is nothing about the Palestinian position at this point that is happy about what's happening here but is even trying to accept what's happening here. But it does put them in a very difficult position, and you see the Emirate and the Bahraini, the statements there that we're getting from them, urging them to -- if they're not going to come to table with the Trump administration, at least consider shifting their position as been absolutely against what's happening here.

CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to Oren Liebermann and just before him Sam Kiley. Appreciate it.

Well, coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM, U.S. President Donald Trump is defensive about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Now a new survey of how he's viewed around the world is not likely to please him. Back with that in just a moment.