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Hurricane Sally Makes Landfall Near Gulf Shores, Alabama; Trump Falsely Claims He Didn't Downplay Virus (He Said It on Tape). Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: We're following important developments with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 1,400 new deaths reported in the U.S. overnight. That's the single highest death toll in over month. There may be some reporting issues there, but it does show things aren't going down nearly as quickly as they should. Medical experts, state and local leaders, they're counting on masks to fight this.

But overnight, the president dissembled and downplayed masks, taking his advice, not from scientists, doctors, but waiters, a remarkable town hall where he faced undecided voters whose lives have been upended in the pandemic.

Let's begin though with Hurricane Sally. As we said, our reporters are right in the middle of it. Let's begin with CNN's Gary Tuchman, who is getting soaked and blown around live in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Gary, give us a sense of what you're going through.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I was on the Florida gulf coast, the Alabama gulf coast on Memorial Day doing a story, and tonight, the same place feels like a different planet. Feels like it's time to start building an ark.

I've never seen this before in any of the storms that I've covered, but it started raining torrentially at 2:00 Central Time yesterday afternoon and it has literally never let up. It's been raining like this now for 16 hours and is supposed to keep going until this afternoon.

So, as you said, that is the issue here, just historic and calamitous flooding. It's hard for us to see right now during the night. But yesterday, when it was still daylight and it was on a beach where I felt like I was on top of a ski slope, because it was whiteout conditions on the beach, it was already flooding.

And as we're taking a walk around here at dark, we've seen the continuation of the flooding. So, it's anyone's guess what this island that we're on, Pensacola Beach, it's a barrier island, just south of Pensacola, Florida, and Escambia County, it's anybody's guess what it will look like.

But I don't want to underestimate these winds. We're having hurricane- force gusts right now, and although it's not as strong as Hurricane Laura, which was frightening at 140 miles per hour, it's continuing for so long. And that's an issue.

And we've seen portions of roofs. There's like a restaurant behind me and part of the roof is blown off. And just after our last live report with you, a sign just blew down this roadway. So we can't underestimate how damaging the wind will be also, but this is a rain event and a very serious rain event. And this hurricane is moving too darn slow.

BERMAN: Look, the gusts of 100 miles an hour, I know, are fierce. And just so people know, the reason our shot is bumpy right now is there's so much water between our camera and you and you because it's raining so hard and your face, you have so much water on your face, I know it's hard to make the words. And this rain will last all day, Gary?

TUCHMAN: Yes, it's expected to continue until the afternoon. I can tell you though one thing, John, is that the winds, hopefully, in the next couple of hours will let up a little bit. But what we're concerned about here, the eye is not going to pass over us. We're on the eastern end of the eye, the stronger end of the storm.

So that's one of the strange delights of a hurricane, when the eye passes over and it's completely calm, we felt that with Laura for an hour. That's not going to happen here. That's all the more devastation that they're going to have here on this island.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: I'm glad you still find things to delight in, Gary. That really shows the mark of a good reporter. The novelty of what you're enduring has not worn off yet for you. And I don't think those clothes you're wearing will ever be dry. I don't think it's possible to ever be dry.

Gary, we'll check back with you. Please be careful. We'll be right back with you.

CNN's Ed Lavendera is live in Mobile, Alabama. What's the situation there, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are on the western edge of the eye of the storm. And those bands and the most intense parts of that area around the eye wall is starting to approach here in the Mobile area.

And for the last hour-and-a-half, two hours, we have seen the most intense winds and fierceness of Hurricane Sally that have come ashore here in the areas between Mobile and Pensacola.

And this city of Mobile is also not going to have the benefit of seeing and getting the reprieve, at least temporarily, of the eye of this storm. It will be on the edge of that eye wall, which, at this point, means it will just continue seeing the sustained winds and the intense winds that we have seen, not to speak of the rainfall that has been falling here throughout much of the night.

So, just a short while ago, our weather team told us that there had been a wind gust of 121 miles per hour picked up in Ft. Morgan, Alabama, which is at the south end of Mobile Bay on a barrier island. So you can imagine what a place like that is going to look like after this storm blows through.

But what emergency officials are urging people here, as they begin waking up, if they've somehow managed to get some sleep throughout the night here tonight, is to be patient and not to rush outside, because this is a weather event that is going to last the better part of the day, at least the very intense dangerous conditions.


And that is the concern, I think, for a lot of emergency officials, is that once daylight breaks here, on the gulf coast, that there will be some people wanting to break out, venture out and start assessing the damage. This is going to last a while, so they're urging people to be patient.

BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavendera, hunker down, stay safe, get dry, maybe? We'll check back with you in a second here.

Joining me now is Ken Graham. He is the director of the National Hurricane Center. Director, thank you very much for being with us.

We just spoke to Ed Lavendera in Mobile and Gary Tuchman in Pensacola Beach, and we can barely see Gary through the raindrops. It was raining so hard and the floodwaters are coming up and the wind gusts, I know, are approaching 100 miles an hour there. What is he going through? What can he expect? Talk to us about what the storm is doing.

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, John, just a slow mover. So, nothing is going to go away anytime soon. So if you think about the eye wall itself, I mean, if you think about the eye wall getting the maximum winds of the hurricane, right over gulf shores, fully in the eye.

So it's going to get calm for a little bit, but just really urging residents, if you're in that eye, don't go outside. Because what's going to happen is the back edge of that eye wall is on the way. And it's actually approaching the coastline, so just dangerous situation there.

But the wind, the torrential rainfall, the slow move and the storm surge, already seeing some gauges get up four to five feet with the storm surge. So all aspects of this, just a dangerous situation all around.

BERMAN: How much rain and how much longer?

GRAHAM: Just a slow mover. So you think about this rainfall, the slower the movement, the more the rain. So we can see areas. We can see areas with 15 to 20, a large area there, 20 to 25. I would not be surprised at some point getting over 30 inches of rain in some of these areas. So that's the coastal part of it, and not just coastal, with time because of that slow movement, six to ten inches through portions of Alabama, Georgia, even heavy rains in the Western South Carolina.

John, when you look at this track, it's so slow, it's going to take a while, this through Friday. So, through Friday, we finally get into South Carolina. So very slow movement and that causes just more rainfall.

BERMAN: Just to put that in perspective, that's 21.5 feet of rain you're talking about in some places there. And there's really very few places it can go, and I know because this storm was moving so slowly, you're particularly concerned with the storm surge. Why and where?

GRAHAM: John, slow movement just has more time to keep piling that water in. That's what happened. So you think about Pensacola, I just looked at the tide gauge a little bit ago, getting over -- getting really close to about five-foot of storm surge in some of this area, and we're looking at four to seven.

So, any area, right around the center and to that right side is where you get that onshore flow. And that's where you get the high water, so four to seven feet. Remember, there're waves on top of that. And the four to seven feet, that's water up your pant leg, that's water over the surface. So that's a dangerous amount of storm surge and just going to continue there and pile the rainfall on top of that.

BERMAN: If you are in the middle of it right now, as people are along the gulf coast, what's your advice?

GRAHAM: My advice is stay indoors, stay in a safe place, listen to those local officials because it's just a dangerous situation. You think about the rainfall, the storm surge and the wind around the center of this system, just a dangerous situation, just have a safe place.

BERMAN: And when will they be out of the woods?

GRAHAM: It's going to take some time. So if you think about this slow movement, back to the forecast, I mean, look at this, 1:00 A.M. Thursday is by the time we finally get this system into portions of South Alabama.

However, it's a big system. So, you're still going to some rainfall through the day today, tomorrow, and it's going to take a while, so not until Friday by the time we get some relief from these areas along the coast.

BERMAN: All right. Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center, thank you very much for being with us. We will hear from you again following this storm throughout the morning.

CAMEROTA: Okay, John, joining us now on the phone is Grover Robinson. He is the mayor of Pensacola, Florida. Mayor, thank you very much. I know what a busy morning you have. What's your biggest concern right now?

MAYOR GROVE ROBINSON (R-PENSACOLA, FL): Good morning. We obviously are concerned about the storm surge and flooding (ph). And so, you know, we won't be high tide until 10:00. So just what you heard him talking about certainly in downtown Pensacola, we have a number of streets closed. We now -- last check I had was about 12 streets closed with flooding. We did have -- we do have numerous streets closed with obstructions, obviously wind.

So we're working through it, probably the worst part of the wind sort of coming through right now. But, you know, we're just waiting to see what we get and get out there and clean up afterwards.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you just heard Ken Graham there at the National Hurricane Center. He said that he would not be surprised if you all get 30 plus inches of rain. What will that do to Pensacola?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, we had 24 inches of rain in 24 hours back in 2014.


So we've made a lot of things, we've made a lot of improvements to our storm water. We'll wait to see what's happened and what's going forward, and if those things worked and what challenges we have.

So right now, the coastal flooding is probably as much of a concern. I think that anything (ph) in some of the (INAUDIBLE), we're obviously going to end up, unfortunately, in the most difficult part of the wind. So, we continue to see those things and we look forward to get a chance to do some assessment after it gets out here. Obviously, we won't send anybody out right now.

So all I can say is, what it looks from yard, I got a -- my trees almost have no leaves left on them, so, anyways, it's -- the trees are still standing. So that's the good news.

CAMEROTA: So you're hunkered down at home right now. And I know that you had a voluntary evacuation in Pensacola. Do you think that there are a lot of people who have stayed?

ROBINSON: You know, I don't know. I'm hoping people took it seriously. We had two days of -- we had two days of high tide cycles to show people. And I think Monday, people realized this is going to be more a significant event.

And then yesterday, I was very clear to them, you know, if you had tide issue in the city of Pensacola yesterday, today was going to be worse, Wednesday was going to be worse. So get to a place.

What we don't know is we only have155 in a shelter, but we already -- this whole hurricane season, we've been telling people, don't really plan for a shelter unless you have no friends or family in the area. Because what we want you to do is, obviously, with COVID, we want you to only go to the shelters (INAUDIBLE), try to find friends and family that are nearby, on high ground.

So, again, it's hard for me to tell you how many we have. We kind of discourage people from going to shelters and try to get them to go to relatives and friends that are on high ground. So I hope two days of high tide cycles got a lot of people out. And we'll see what happens. But it's hard to say. They didn't really go to shelters because, in some ways, with COVID, we didn't really want a lot of congestion of people.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. I mean, listen, we've talked to so many officials who say that this double whammy of having to deal with COVID at the same time as these intense hurricanes is really taxing the system. Mayor, take care of yourself. We will check back to see what Pensacola looks like in a couple of minutes. Thank you very much.

ROBINSON: Thank you very much for having us and thank you for always keeping everybody -- letting everybody know out there what's going on. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: It's the at least we can do. Take care of yourself. We'll check back with you.

So, President Trump facing tough questions from undecided voters last night in a town hall. The president falsely claimed he did not downplay the virus, though he told Bob Woodward he did and he does. We discuss it all, next.




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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you not admit to it yourself, saying that you --

TRUMP: Because what I did was, with China, I put a ban on, with Europe, I put a ban on. And we would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on. So that was called action, not with the mouth, but in actual fact. We did a very, very good job.


BERMAN: Not some did President Trump downplay the coronavirus, we have him on tape saying he downplayed coronavirus and the pandemic, and explaining why he downplayed the pandemic. So pay no attention to the man in the town hall last night.

Joining us now, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman, she's a White House Correspondent for The New York Times.

And, Sanjay, I really do think as much as we've been talking about the tapes from months and months and months ago, the important thing is where we are now. And what's really important is last night in this ABC News town hall, the president downplayed the pandemic.

Let's just take masks, for instance. This was extraordinary, after doctors and governors and mayors all talk about the importance of masks and people on the task force. All of a sudden, the president says, I'm not listening to them, I'm listening to waiters. Listen.


TRUMP: Now, there is -- by the way, a lot of people don't want to wear masks. There are 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 serve you and they have a mask and I saw it the other day where they're serving me, and they're playing with the mask. I'm not blaming them. I'm just saying what happens. They're playing with a mask, and the mask is over, and they're touching it and then they're touching the plate. That can't be good.


BERMAN: That's downplaying a solution now, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That felt like such a sideshow. And I'm not even sure how much merit to even give it. I felt like he was sort of making that up as he was going along.

Clearly, we know now that masks could have dramatically -- can still dramatically change the trajectory of this pandemic. We've seen what is happened in countries around the world. We've shown this graphic on your program so many times, the United States versus Italy, versus South Korea.

What was the big difference there? Two things, really, testing and then masking. Big difference, when you look at the United States in red versus these other places, it absolutely makes a difference and it can still make a difference.

That's what's the particularly bother some part about this is that, if you look forward now, and, again, people generally who are probably watching the show know this, but if 95 percent of the country wore masks, we could be part of a movement that could save 120,000 lives by the end of the year just by putting two ear loops on.

So the fact that he still says this, waiters don't like it, therefore, what, we're not going to do it and potentially have this very effective public health strategy, he's still minimizing it.

CAMEROTA: In fact, it sounded like he would prefer to go with herd immunity.


He talked about that, though he didn't use that term, Sanjay. He used the term herd mentality, and then he used the term herd developed.

BERMAN: Immunity is a tough word, four syllables. CAMEROTA: Maybe we have -- do we have the sound of him talking about -- let's listen.

Oh, we don't.

Maggie, the point is that when you hear the president's logic in the White House press briefings, as we get to hear many times a week, it's one thing when he runs the show. But when you hear him have to interact with voters on the fly, it reveals, I think, an entirely different side of his logic, which sometimes is hard to follow.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, Alisyn, I think in both cases, when he's talking to reporters and he was talking regular voters last night, which, again, as you said, we don't get to see that often, I think his logic can be hard to follow in both instances.

But what was striking to me last night is that his advisers have allowed him to live in this bubble where he basically just gets adulation at his rallies, where people will appear before him who he knows are going to tell him he's doing a good job and he has not forced to have these kind of interactions that most incumbents realize, even if they don't like them, make them better candidates in their re-election efforts. And this is not what this president seeks. So instead you have what you had last night.

And while I think it got better for him in the final 30 minutes, and I'm not even talking about the science of what he was saying about the coronavirus, but just in terms of the engagements, for the first hour, it was rough going for him. He was very defensive, he was getting challenged by voters.

There were voters who did not want to hear him tell them that falsely that he supports preserving pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act, he's trying to repeal the whole act. He said he up-played the virus, that's just not true. And he, again, as John said, played it down last night.

I don't think you're going to see too many of these kind of raw interactions with voters and the president for the next seven weeks, but this should have been a jarring reminder for him why he is struggling in so many polls.

BERMAN: And, Sanjay, this was just one piece of what we experienced last night. The town hall, I think, was also important. And also important was to listen to Bob Woodward at greater length with Anderson for a full hour on his extensive conversations with the president over the months.

And I know one thing stood out to you, and that was how president talked about vaccine. So, let's listen to that.


BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, RAGE: Are you going to acknowledge that the in the last six, seven months, you made some mistakes in judgment on the virus? TRUMP: I'll see how it all turns out. Let's see how it all turns. I took a big chance on vaccines. I upped the program. You wouldn't be looking at vaccines for three years. We're looking at them next week.

WOODWARD: No, I understand. I understand.

TRUMP: No, no. What you don't understand --

WOODWARD: I do. I do.

TRUMP: -- what I was able to do with the FDA and scheduling.

A vaccine takes years before it ever even gets tested. We're testing vaccines for three weeks already.


BERMAN: What did you hear there, Sanjay?

GUPTA: There was a couple of things that really jumped out at me. Obviously, he's very angry at that point, talking about this. But I want to show you also what was happening in the country on July 21st. We went back and looked at the data to see where we were.

Look, that was one of the peaks, right? We were in a really bad spot at that point. People were concerned we may go to 100,000 new infections per day, newly diagnosed infections per day. So I just thought it was quite striking that he still would not acknowledge that there have been any mistakes, as the country was really, really at its worst spot.

Also, you know, he's banking it all on the vaccine. I mean, you can hear it. I mean, all of these other countries, again, that have done so well, have not had a vaccine, they've brought their numbers down to containment levels, one in a million new infections per day. We are roughly at one in a million new infections per day in this country, that would be around 350, 400 new infections per day. And, obviously, we're exponentially higher than that.

So he still sort of was talking about the vaccine the way that it is. People say, if we have an authorized vaccine this year, that's going to turn everything. The reality is, for people who are watching, the general public, it's not really going to be available to them until middle to end of next year. So, you know, I just want to make sure expectations are set.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate that, Sanjay. But what about the truth of what he said? Is it true that under any other president, they wouldn't be testing vaccines yet? I mean, did he supercharge this in some way?

GUPTA: This was a fast-moving process, there's no question. I mean, there were vaccine platforms that were sort of created within days or weeks after the genetic sequence of the vaccine was made available. Some of that built on the knowledge from starting to create SARS and MERS vaccines.

This has moved fast, there's no question.


The mumps vaccine was probably the fastest before this, four years, but this was happening right away after the genetic sequence was released.

How much did the president have a role in that? I don't know. I mean, I will say it's moved quickly, but what it fundamentally means though for people, it's still a year, maybe even longer away in terms of actually getting the vaccine, getting the immunity and being able to return the country to some sense of normalcy.

Because of that, the problem, Alisyn, as we've talked about so many times, is that we've nearly completely ignored other things that could have gotten us there much more quickly. Not shutting the country down, but masks, physical distancing, the things that we've talked about for six months now.

BERMAN: And as the president is now depending on, as he told George Stephanopoulos last night, was herds of some kind of, whether it'd be herd development or herd mentality. And through the magic of television, Maggie, I think we do have that piece of sound to play.


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

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: It would go away without the vaccine.

TRUMP: Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And many deaths?

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


BERMAN: So, Maggie, besides the issue with the grasp of the English language there, I does give you an insight into what he's hearing, maybe from Scott Atlas, maybe what he's discussing behind closed doors right now. So what did you hear though?

HABERMAN: So, what I heard there, John, was a little different. I didn't hear him saying that he thinks this is what's good and therefore that's how this is going to play out and resting his hopes on it. I think that he was just reciting something that someone told him, which is, as you said, it could have been Scott Atlas, it could have been anyone, that this would develop one way or the other without the vaccine.

But, remember, he has previously said, and he does have trouble saying herd immunity, he repeatedly does say the herd over time, but he has said before, that I could have done that, but that's a bad thing, we shouldn't have done that, and therefore the actions that he did take were good.

I want to go back to something that Sanjay said, because I think what we saw last night with the president over and over again and what we have seen with him over the last six months, over and over again, is he treats this as if it's an either/or proposition, do nothing or shut the entire country down. And that's not what anyone is talking about, really, except for him.

BERMAN: It's a great point. It's a straw man that doesn't exist and never existed in this case. Maggie Haberman and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much for being with us.

We do have an important quick programming note. Former Vice President Joe Biden, part of a special CNN presidential town hall live from Pennsylvania, moderated by Anderson Cooper. This is tomorrow nightlife, 8:00 P.M. Eastern, only on CNN.

All right, we do have breaking news we were following this morning. Hurricane Sally has made landfall with force, hitting the gulf coast right now with life-threatening rain and flooding. Our reporters are right in the middle of it. You will not believe what they're going through right now.

We'll bring you the latest, next.