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Hurricane Sally Threatens "Historic, Life-Threatening" Floods; Trump Claims He "Didn't Downplay" Virus, Audio Says Otherwise; MLB to Hold Historic 2020 World Series at Neutral Site. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, September 16, it is exactly 5:00 a.m. in New York.

But there is danger in Gulf this morning. The National Hurricane Center in a special advisory overnight warns historic and life threatening flooding from Hurricane Sally. The storm re-strengthened overnight, churning a painfully slow path towards the coast.

Now, the category set by the wind, look, that's not what really matters right now. It's Sally's speed, two miles an hour, which means the rough conditions will last for days.

JARRETT: Ten to 20 inches of rain is expected across Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle with rainfall of 30 inches -- 30 inches in some areas. Landfall is expected later this morning, even before that happens, though, the storm has already brought flooding and storm surges to several coastal communities.

Thousands have evacuated. More than 260,000 customers are already without power.

ROMANS: Eighteen inches of rain already falling in Pensacola, Florida. Remember, that's before landfall, 18 inches. Florida's National Guard activating 175 members to prepare for search-and-rescue operations to come.

Water has been shut off in Pensacola Beach because of a water main break. They can't repair that right now.

CNN has reporters across the Gulf.

Let's begin with Gary Tuchman live in Pensacola Beach.

Gary, what are you seeing?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, I can tell you, Pensacola beach, Florida is a beautiful place for people who live here and a beautiful place for vacationers but not today. This is the hurricane that will never come to an end. It's been torrentially raining here for 14 hours, started 2:00 Central Time yesterday. It continues as we speak. And there's no end yet in sight.

We're in northeast eyewall now of this hurricane and we're about a five minute walk away from the Gulf of Mexico, from the beach. But it's been pretty difficult.

I can tell you we took a ride last night. Throughout the barrier islands, and there's an extensive flooding. There's been a lot more rain since we took that ride. Right now, it's too dangerous to ride around.

As you mentioned, there's been a water main break here. A lot of water coming from the sky, but no water coming from the faucets. For all the 4,000 people who live here year round and vacationers, water has been turned off. So, what's different about the hurricane from three weeks ago in western Louisiana, that was 140 mile-per-hour winds.

Right now, the wind of this hurricane are at 105 miles per hour. So that is a very good thing, that the winds aren't as strong. As you said the rains are torrential.

There could be more than two feet of rain here in Pensacola Beach, the Scandia County, the most western county in state of Florida by the time this is all over and it's not supposed to end until later tonight. Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Gary Tuchman, battling those wind gusts there and the rain. Stay safe, Gary. Thank you.


JARRETT: All right. Well, lots of rain already whipping parts of Alabama before the worst of the hurricane even hits. Look at this before and after view of a pier in city of Gulf Shores. What it looked like a week ago on the left of your screen there, and on the right, that's yesterday, a full day before landfall.

Polo Sandoval is live for us in Mobile, Alabama. And, Polo, it looks like you're already getting whipped around a little bit out there. What are you seeing this morning?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Laura, just to put things in perspective, we've been out here foreclose to ten hours and since we've been here, it seems Mother Nature has been slowly but steadily turning that wind dial because the conditions that we're seeing here certainly deteriorating especially when you hear from the local National Weather Service, especially looking over the Mobile River. This empties in to Mobile Bay which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, that storm surge could prevent much of this rainfall from draining out there, however, the forecast for that storm surge overnight did drop considerably. But nonetheless, the threat certainly remains. National Weather Service office here in Mobile did issue a flash flood emergency. This is a while ago for a region that's closer to where our colleague Gary Tuchman is, and that according to local meteorologists is exceedingly rare, only issued when there's a threat to life.

That's affecting about 170,000 people, potentially hospitals and since the emergency they are coming from local officials here.


If people haven't done so already, didn't do it last night or overnight is to get to higher ground, because as you pointed out, yes, the wind, we're certainly feeling a bit wind whipped here in this part of Alabama but the rain event, this stubborn storm that just will not go away seems to be real threat, a real threat of flooding.

Christine, Laura, back to you.

JARRETT: Yeah, get to higher ground and hunker down.

All right. Polo, we will check back with you later this morning.

ROMANS: So, even as Hurricane Sally heads inland, flash flooding with rainfall is six to 10 inches forecast for Georgia and the Carolinas later this week.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking Sally's path today and for the rest of the week.

You heard Gary Tuchman say this is the hurricane that just won't go way.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It really is over Pensacola, Orange Beach and points to the east right now. The eyewall itself moved directly over Gulf Shores, Alabama, just about 20 minutes ago, waiting for the center of the eye to actually make landfall. That's what landfall means. Landfall means when the center of the eye crosses. We already know the worst of this hurricane is onshore right now.

And the flooding has been with flash flood emergencies all the way from Dauphin Island, all the way across the bay, all the way across into Alabama proper and then here from Pawley Beach to Gulf Shores and into Pensacola and into Florida. Here's where the Florida Panhandle starts right here.

Honestly, we've already seen some spots with over 20 inches of rain, plus the surge coming in with all of that water getting pushed onshore. That's the saltwater flooding. They are combining now. We heard from one of our storm chasers, he's out there all time. Cars are actually floating around because there's so much water, under some of these buildings.

The same with Jeff (INAUDIBLE), reporting the exact same thing, cars are floating because there's water under these condos that people put here on the beach. This is going a significant beech erosion problem. It will also be a flash flooding problem, but right now, the wind is the problem. Some gusts over 115 miles per hour. The big change, if it's a big change, at 5:00 is that it's moving

north-northeast at three, three miles per hour. So, not two. We moved that up by 50 percent.

It is still going to the to move very slowly over Alabama into Georgia and eventually even into the Carolinas, where we're going to spread that six to ten inches of rainfall in places that can't handle it. Not that you can handle 25 inches along the shore, you can't, because it's not getting into the ocean quick enough, it is still rising in all of those beach communities. And we have a real problem here.

This is almost as strong as Ivan was in some spots when it comes to wind here. Aircraft reconnaissance seen wind speeds at 115 knots, which is about 115 miles per hour at the surface if the wind gets down the surface. The aircraft are flying at about 10,000 feet.

Where significant flooding going on today and going to be continuing for later on this afternoon as this is now the category 2, almost category 3 hurricane making landfall really the center would be gulf shores. The worst of a hurricane is always east of the eye landfall.

So, we're watching that. It's a very nasty day and afternoon for most these here. Right now, the morning is the most dangerous. Things are flying around.

ROMANS: All right. Everyone be careful out there. Chad, keep watching it for us. Thank you, Chad Myers.

JARRETT: Well, experts predictive that historic hurricane season fueled in part by climate change and, boy, were they right. This morning there are five tropical cyclones in Atlantic Ocean all at the same time. That's only happened once before nearly five decades ago.

The season has been so active there's only one name left on the list of 2020 hurricanes, Wilfred. Once those names are used the Greek alphabet is used next something that's only been done once before in 2005.

ROMANS: All right. You just heard there, we -- the worst part of the storm has made landfall along the Gulf Coast there, a category 2 hurricane with three mile-per-hour winds a dangerous, dangerous situation along the Gulf Coast this morning.



JARRETT: All right. We are monitoring hurricane sally, slamming in to the Gulf with strong storm surge, winds. We'll have more reporters coming up for you this hour in all of that.

ROMANS: All right. And the weather emergency and the pandemic emergency, with the election less than two months away, President Trump is dismissing questions about his handling of the pandemic when confronted last night fact he told Bob Woodward on tape he's always wanted to play down the virus. Here's how he answer ad question from one undecided voter in



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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yeah. Well, I didn't downplay it. I -- actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.


JARRETT: The coronavirus will just disappear like a miracle is not up-playing this virus, repeatedly implying that COVID isn't as serious as the flu or saying without any evidence at all that it will just get better when the weather turns warmer. That's not up-playing it.

In fact, at that very same town hall, last night, he downplayed it once again. Listen.


TRUMP: There are a lot of people think that masks are not good and a lot of people as an example --

MODERATOR: Who are those people?

TRUMP: I'll tell who you those people are, waiters. They come over and serve you. The mask is over and they're touching it and then they're touching the plate. And that can't be good.


JARRETT: The president also told voters he will protect people with pre-existing conditions even as his administration tries to dismantle the Affordable Care Act in court.


His long promised alternative to Obamacare has yet to materialize. A million more Americans lacked health insurance last year and that was before the pandemic, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, the first real sign of a post-Labor Day spike in coronavirus, seven day average of new cases curving sharply upward. It is the first time that's happened three straight days since July 25th. That was near the peak, 1,422 more deaths were reported in the U.S. yesterday. That's one American death a minute and the highest total in more than a month.

JARRETT: Testing has also dropped over the last week. Less testing means more people who may have the virus are not isolating because they don't know they have it. The rate of positive tests is also creeping up at the same time.

Now, President Trump loves to talk about low U.S. numbers but look at all these countries. All of them have lower positive test rates than the U.S. which is at 8 percent. As more states re-open, the World Health Organization says countries need to set priorities if they want to keep transmission down.


DR. MICHAEL RYAN, WHO HEALTH EMERGENCIES PROGRAMME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: So, what is more important, our children back in school or the nightclubs and bars open? I think these are decisions that we have to make coming in to the winter months.

These are trade offs. There are no easy answers. It will be very easy to sit there with Dr. Tedros and say, you can do this and this and this and this. Unfortunately, sometimes when you do this, you can't do the other thing.


ROMANS: Schools still struggling to keep this virus one control. The University of Missouri expelling two students and suspending three more for violating the school's virus restrictions. The University of Colorado Boulder is moving to a 14-day quarantine period for students who lived in the city.

Schools in New York City are supposed to re-open to 1.1 million students Monday, but teachers will have to prepare lesson plans for both in person and online. Roughly 40 percent of students have opted for remote learning.

JARRETT: Authorities in New York are beginning to handout $50 fines for unmasked transit riders. The mayor of Boston says the city is extending outdoor dining through December 1st, but a lot of people won't want to eat outdoors in New England.

And the 2020 World Series is set to make modern day history with the neutral site games at the home of the Texas Rangers. Holding all the games in one place, it means less travel and easier containment of this virus. It will be the first neutral site World Series since the 1940s.

ROMANS: The magazine "Scientific American" is endorsing Joe Biden, the publication's first endorsement in its 175-year history. The magazine's editors writing, quote, the evidence and science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people because he rejects evidence in science. The writers go on to describe the president's response to the coronavirus pandemic as dishonest and inept.

JARRETT: Well, rain could bring relief to thousands of firefighters battling wildfires devastating the West Coast. At least 34 people have now died. Two of the victims found near the burned home in Berry Creek, California. They were packed and ready to evacuate last week, but they changed their minds and stayed based on false information about containment of the fires. There have been documented cases of people posting misinformation about the fires online.

In Oregon, at least eight people are dead and 22 more are missing. Authorities are so fearful there will be more deaths they set up a mobile morgue there. And in Oregon, a man has been arrested after admitting he set a brush fire along a highway after he was released from jail. Police say he set six more fires.

ROMANS: All right. Right at this moment we got the worse eyewall of this hurricane category 2 hurricane crushing the Gulf Coast. We have a live report, next.



JARRETT: Welcome back. We're getting live pictures this morning from Gulf Shores, Alabama. Hurricane Sally lashing the Gulf Coast with high winds before it even makes landfall. Sally's poor crawl is the major concern here, at just two miles an hour. Most people walk faster. In other words, it's going to be a long few days.

Some states could get 10 to 20 inches of rain. Isolated areas could see 30 inches of rain. Thousands of people have evacuated already. Now up to at least 315,000 customers without power. We got more coming up live from the gulf in just a few minutes.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump often uses Wall Street's gains as his personal scorecard cheerleading what he calls a super V recovery as millions of Americans are still out of work and pandemic anxiety is widespread across the country.

During last night's ABC town hall, the president disputed the argument that his recovery is not a super V, it's more of a K-shaped recovery. That means it's widening the gap between winners and losers.


TRUMP: Stocks are owned by everybody. You know, they talk about the stock market is so good. That's 401(k)s. I'm meeting people with, as long as they didn't sell when the market went down when we first realized the extent of this horrible thing from China, I mean, these people are doing -- some people are doing better than they were doing before pandemic came.


ROMANS: Some of them doing better than they were doing before the pandemic began. He has a fixation on the stock market, as a number to watch. But look at his, data from Pew Research shows half of American families have investment in the stock market mostly through retirement accounts. Fourteen percent of that group actually invest in individual stocks. The far great majority of the stock market is controlled by the top earnings families and wealth holders in this country, no question about that.

[05:25:04] And remember, the stock market is not the economy. There's a health and jobs crisis on Main Street. Emergency stimulus has run out and a new stimulus deal is most likely on hold until after the election.

JARRETT: Someone has to be telling him, Christine, that not everybody owns stocks. This is not a barometer for the health of the country right now.

ROMANS: And stock ownership has not recovered to pre-Great Recession levels, you know? I mean, people are trying to put food on the table. Stock ownership is not widespread.

I wish more people owned stock during the rally. Obviously, that would be great for everyone if the stock market continues to go up. But the stock market is not the economy.

JARRETT: It's not helping to pay rent this month.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: All right. Hurricane Sally on track to make landfall this came morning, but it doesn't have to make landfall to cause catastrophic damage already. Officials warn of life-threatening floods to come. CNN is live along the Gulf Coast, next.