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Hurricane Sally Makes Landfall along Gulf Coast; Hurricane Sally Devastates Parts of Alabama; Due to Slow Movement of Hurricane Sally Large Amounts of Rainfall Threaten Severe Flooding; Trump Falsely Claims He Didn't Downplay Virus (He Said It On Tape). Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: More than 1,400 news deaths reported in the U.S. on Tuesday. That's the highest single day total in more than a month.

Last night President Trump falsely claimed that he did not downplay the threat of the virus, contradicted his own reported words to Bob Woodward in which he admitted he did and he likes downplaying it. The president is also trying to blame Joe Biden for not instituting a national mask mandate, which would be difficult to do since Joe Biden is not the president.

We begin with the breaking news, though, on hurricane Sally. CNN's Gary Tuchman is live in Pensacola Beach, Florida. What's the situation now, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, we are still in the midst of hurricane sally. That's the exact same thing I told you two hours ago, and as a matter of fact, it's the exact same thing I told Don Lemon 10 hours ago. It's a very slow-moving storm. It is primarily a rain event, however, because you have 105 miles per hour winds in a hurricane that's lasting for so many hours, there's going to be wind devastation too.

You could see behind me, there's a restaurant there with part of the roof gone and that blue canopy flapping. We saw a bunch of scooters which were inexplicably left on this parking lot which were just blowing down the parking lot. And there's lots of powerlines and debris down in the roads.

However, the bigger problem here on this barrier island is the flooding. We've been told that as of two hours ago, 18 inches of rain had fallen. Now the rough criteria of conversion with snow, 18 inches of rain equals 18 feet of snow. That gives you an idea of how much rain we're talking about, how unusual this is.

Flash flooding is going to be a problem. The concern is going to be seven to nine feet along the beach. The beach right now is too unsafe for us to be on, but it's a five minute walk away. When we were there yesterday, it was like whiteout conditions, the sand was blowing, the waves were blowing. You couldn't see anything while you were walking. It was like a fog. This rain is expected to last most of the rest of the afternoon. The great concern authorities have is that people now that the sun is up and it's gotten brighter outside, that they're going to go out to take a look. That's always the concern.

A lot of people have stayed in their homes because of the COVID pandemic. There are very few people that want to be in the shelters. Only a few shelters in Escambia County, this county, have been set up. By the way, about 70 percent -- at least 70 percent of the customers in this county have power. However, there's concern, rightfully so, and we understand why people don't want to be in shelters with lots of other people. So people are staying in their homes, they're going to higher ground with relatives, and there's concern now that since there still are so many people living here, they haven't gone out, we haven't seen people wandering around, but that they might start doing that now, and that's obviously a danger with all the debris in the road, and particularly because of the powerlines in the road.

What I want to tell you, Alisyn, is the most important thing to stress when we do these stories after it's over is to find out if people were hurt or killed. As of now we have no reports of any casualties. We hope it stays that way. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Gary, actually, you wouldn't know because there was only a voluntary evacuation. We talked to the mayor there in the last hour, and he said that obviously it's too dangerous right now for emergency crews to go. So I guess as the light comes out and as the rain bands pass, we'll know more about that.

But I have an update for you, Gary, because you just said that when you last checked 18 inches of rain had fallen. We are now up 24.8 inches of rain having fallen where you are. That's the latest.

TUCHMAN: Amazing.

CAMEROTA: It's amazing because we're also not at the tidal surge yet of all of that. So, Gary, I'm sorry, we have to leave you because we have to get to Ed right now. But we'll check back with you. So be careful obviously in the flooding and the wind and we'll check back. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Ed Lavandera live in Mobile, Alabama. Ed, give us a sense of where you are. We're beginning to get reports of some serious surge situations along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Now that daylight is here, you can get a sense, I think the visual of this really speaks volumes as to what the conditions are like out here. This is the Mobile River that ends up in the bay just a short distance this way. This is blowing straight south, and you can see, and I hope the camera can pick up the swiftness and the intensity of the current that is blowing downstream because of hurricane Sally here.

And as the strongest bands that we have seen come through here this morning continues to intensify, when you look upstream, you can get a sense of when the next strong band of wind and rain is coming up. The wind lifts the water off the river, and it gets very dark up there, upstream. There you go. There's one of them. You can see it just picking up, and it's almost like it's slow motion. You can feel it coming toward you as it's getting closer and closer. So these are some of the conditions that we're dealing with here. And this is here in the city of Mobile.


Further down south where the eye of hurricane Sally came ashore this morning there's a little town called Fort Morgan which is on a barrier island just east of Dauphin Island. Our weather team tells us they picked up a wind gust there this morning of 121 miles per hour. The intensity and the sustainability of this storm is really quite something. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: It sure is, Ed. Thank you very much. Stay safe. We'll check back with you as well.

Joining us now with the new forecast track on hurricane Sally is Ken Graham. He's the director of the National Hurricane Center. Ken, before we get to that, our Chad Myers has just told us that the latest reading of the inches of rain, you heard me probably tell Gary Tuchman this, are 24.8 inches, in other words, over two feet of rain in Pensacola Beach, there.

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, Alisyn, that's what we're stressing so much. These slow storms are so dangerous. The slower the storm, the more time there is to put down this rain. So you think about this forecast. We have been talking about 15 to 20, the potential getting to 30, even 35 inches of rain. So we're still not done yet. The slow movement, that's the problem. You start looking at this system. We're still along the shore and even by Thursday early morning you're in portions of south Alabama. Slow moving system.

CAMEROTA: So just so I understand, Ken, you're saying that this level of rain will last there for how many hours?

GRAHAM: Yes, you still got it. If you look at this radar, you think about how long you're still going to get this rain. So we're moving so slow towards the north-northeast here, and that's just more time for the rain. So some of these rain bands could continue, because even if this center moves to the north, you can see some of the rain bands wrap around.

So the heaviest is right about now. But you can have some of that lingering rain. It's just a dangerous situation. And what worries me as well, Alisyn, is the fact that it's still got to move inland. So if we're moving that slow, you have all of the issues around Pensacola, but we're slowly moving north to portions of south Alabama, still could get some torrential rainfall there, too.

CAMEROTA: And so Ken, back to the coastal area. If there's already been more than two feet of rain, do you know the timing with the tidal surge or the tides, and what's going to happen there along the coast?

GRAHAM: Yes, you look at the tidal surge, that's been such a problem because a slow-moving system, it has more time to push that storm surge in. And looking at some of the cages, we are seeing four to give foot of that storm surge.

The problem is this. You still have that south wind. It pushes the surge in, and then you put all that rainfall on top of it, it doesn't drain well because it tries to drain but it's blocked by some of that storm surge. That makes the problem even worse. It's just going to be a lot of water, it ponds, just a lot of flash flooding.

CAMEROTA: We talked to the mayor of Pensacola in the last hour, and he said that they made some accommodations after one of their more recent big hurricanes, and they tried to enhance drainage, but he said at this hour, they just have no idea how the city is going to be able to tolerate that.

GRAHAM: It's so difficult because when you start to putting the storm surge on top of all this rainfall, you look at this rainfall forecast, that's just hard for anything to happen. That's just an incredible amount of rain. What's already falling, what's still yet to come. And this tropical rain is just incredibly effective. It doesn't take long for the water to really pile up when you have a tropical system like this. It's just slow. We have been saying that for days. Whenever they move slow you just get so much rainfall and just more time for that storm surge.

CAMEROTA: Obviously we're emphasizing the rain because that's what's really dangerous here, but the wind is no joke. We're watching our correspondents get blown around, and Ed Lavandera said the wind gusts had clocked at 121, which is obviously really dangerous and really high. Ken Graham, thank you very much for all of the updates for us. John?

BERMAN: The site where hurricane Sally made landfall, Gulf Shores, Alabama, and joining us now is Grant Brown, the public information officer for the city of Gulf Shores. Grant, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate your time. Can you give us a sense of what you're seeing right now. We're seeing some clear skies behind you, but we're told by our meteorologists it's because you're actually in the eye of the storm.

GRANT BROWN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, GULF SHORES, ALABAMA: That's correct. Landfall, 4:45 central standard time as a category two right here in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Prior to the landfall we had had that significant rainfall that you were just talking about. And with over two feet of rain and more and the surge, our flooding situation occurs when our neighborhoods flow the drainage into our intercoastal waterways and into our bays and rivers. But when the bays and rivers and coast water are crested, that water actually back up into the neighborhoods. So we have got a condition even now this morning where we still have people with water in their homes. We have had to do some highwater rescues. The first light is just now happening here, so we haven't really been able to get out and establish exactly what it looks like. Significant trees down because before that 100-mile-an- hour wind came through, we had two feet of saturation in our ground.

BERMAN: Talk more about the situation right now, because we are just getting our first reports of some serious surge and water situations there. So what are you hearing?

BROWN: So there's two real stories here. The first is the beach.


The beaches of Gulf Shores, our amenity beaches, we had a very healthy dune system. Hurricane Laura when she came through and hit the Louisiana coast really scoured our first dune system and our line of defense. And so we had a weakened dune system now for this storm to come in. This storm caught us by surprise. We were anticipating a tropical storm, maybe a low category one storm hitting someplace in Louisiana or maybe the coast between Louisiana and Mississippi, and it ramped up to the category two, strong category two, and hit dead on us. So we've had breaches to our dunes. The water from the Gulf of Mexico is up over our roadway, which is along the beachfront. We have one main artery road that goes from the north part of Gulf Shores across what we call our little lagoon down to the beaches, and that road is now impassable.

Then the neighborhoods, the neighborhoods with the rain flooding that we talked about, and then the significant surge and the higher tides, high tide is 11:00. So we haven't even got to high tide yet.

BERMAN: Oh, wow, so you have several more hours, I think, of serious concern, especially as it continues to rain, or it will continue to rain. We got a report from Pensacola Beach of 24 inches total so far, and they're not done yet.

You're mentioned you're beginning to hear from people who need to be rescued. Can you get people out to those in need right now?

BROWN: We are. During the actual height of the storm when landfall was being made and even prior, once the winds got so severe, our police and our fire departments could not respond. And it was very disheartening to hear the calls come in through the radio and for them to say we are not able to respond at this time due to the high winds.

So as soon as the eyewall passed and they were able to get out, they were able to get caught up and remove the people from the dangerous situations. We had trees falling on people's roofs where the roofs were blown in and the rain was coming into their homes. We had one of the cottages at our Gulf state park where the ceiling fell in, high water rescues where the flooding got into people's homes and they had to leave. And we opened some what we call shelters, really not shelters, just a place to put people that's dry and safe while the police and fire were able to go back out and get more people. I don't have any numbers, unfortunately. The good news is we have not heard of any severe injuries or any fatalities at this point, and we'll hope that that continues to hold through as we get through and assist our city.

BERMAN: Let's hope that does continue. Listen, Grant, thank you very much for being with us. Please stay safe, enjoy the last few minutes inside the eyewall, I think, before you start getting hit by the rain and wind again. We appreciate your time.

BROWN: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: So this morning, President Trump is trying to tell Americans he didn't say what he did say to Bob Woodward about downplaying the threat of coronavirus. That's next.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump making new false claims and repeating some old ones. The president now says he did not downplay the threat of coronavirus despite the fact that we all heard him tell Bob Woodward on tape that he did downplay it and he likes to downplay it.

He also repeated his claim that the virus will just go away.


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

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Go away without the vaccine?

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

STEPHANOPOULOS: How many deaths?

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


CAMEROTA: Almost definitely be in a herd mentality being developed somewhere.

Joining us right now is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and CNN chief political correspondent, Doctor -- Dr. Dana Bash. Dr. Bash, it's great to have you here.



CAMEROTA: Very good.

I want to before we get to the substance of -- if that's what you want to call it of what the president said last night, I want to talk about the style for one second, Dana. Because it was so different watching him have to take actual voters' questions and interact with voters as opposed to being in his rallies where obviously he's king of the hill or even in his press briefings where he gets to call the shots and he can huff out what he wants to and dress down the reporters. Last night was a very different style. BASH: Alisyn, not only do we look alike and dress alike but we think

alike because that's a point I wanted to make this morning to you both because that was the -- my biggest takeaway was that just even watching his face, listening to the voters who didn't just ask a question and then sit down. They challenged him in real ways on real facts, on everything from health care to the coronavirus. Health care meaning Obamacare and pre-existing conditions and that kind of policy which I think we'll talk about.

But it was remarkable and he almost didn't know what to do with it because he is almost never in that situation, pandemic or not. And, you know, it didn't necessarily change his answers, his answers just stayed the way that they always are, which is his version of reality, but just to watch that interaction was really remarkable.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, Sanjay, not only do we look alike and dress alike, but we also think alike, and by that, I mean, I'm a neurosurgeon.

What I saw last night, and there's been so much about the president downplaying and then denying he downplayed the pandemic, that's in the past. What I saws last night, like right now, was the president downplaying the pandemic and downplaying masks and that's important.

What's happening now is the most important thing going forward.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. No, that was quite striking. I mean, I'm glad you bring it up this way because people do think of this -- this coronavirus pandemic in the past tense sometimes. He is still saying some of the same things this will just simply go away. Masks are not that important.

I mean, these are the types of -- that's the type of thinking that has gotten us into this really tough situation, awful situation that we're in right now. And had we not -- had we just focused on some of the basic public health measures, we could be in a very different place, but you know, it's -- there's so much that you could tell he's banking on the vaccine in so many different ways, it's going to be here within a few weeks. It's going to be the answer to all of the problems, and I just think it's important to set expectations.


First of all, we don't know if the data is going to actually show that the vaccine is effective enough to be authorized or even subsequently approved. And even if it is, by the end of the year, there may be, you know, tens of millions of doses, potentially 30 or 40 million, according to Operation Warp Speed, but that's primarily going to be for health care workers. It will be probably at this time next year that the general public seems to have enough vaccines.

So it's not going to happen overnight. And we have to not minimize this in the meantime because we're still very much in the middle of all this.

CAMEROTA: Dana, even before we had 195 million Americans killed with coronavirus, we had major health care issues in this country, and so, last night, one of the voters wanted to address that, wanted to address that, wanted to address her own pre-existing conditions with the president and ask what was going to happen if he completely won -- if he gets his way and all of Obamacare is gone, what happens with her pre-existing conditions?

So, here's that moment.


ELLESIA BLAQUE, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LITERATURE, KUTZTOWN UNIVERSITY: Should pre-existing conditions which Obamacare brought into -- brought to fruition be removed?


BLAQUE: Without -- please stop and let me finish my question, sir. Should that be removed, within a 36 to 72-hour period without my medication, I will be dead and I want to know what it is you're going to do to assure that people like me who work hard, we do everything we're supposed to do can stay insured. It's not my fault I was born with this disease. It's not my fault that I'm a black woman in a medical community, I'm minimized and not taken seriously. I want to know what you are going to do about that.

TRUMP: So, first of all, I hope you are taken seriously, I hope you are.


CAMEROTA: Dana, your thoughts about that exchange?

BASH: Go, Ellesia. I mean, that was remarkable, really remarkable, I mean, to have the -- the guts to talk to any president like that is difficult.

I mean, even for a reporter, but look, she's feeling it. She lives it every single day. And look, he tried to show empathy there at the beginning, but what she wants is a policy answer. And he doesn't have one.

And that is one of the through lines of the Trump presidency in the first term, because remember, he started out they went -- you know, full on to try to overturn Obamacare. It didn't work legislatively and now, as we mentioned, it is happening in the courts right now.

The Trump administration is trying to chip away -- not just chip away, but overturn it and include it in the law is a protection for people like her with pre-existing conditions, and we still do not know what the president would do to replace that as part of his plan, because there is no plan despite the fact that he says there's going to be one every two weeks, we haven't seen one.

BERMAN: Let's play that because, actually, George Stephanopoulos confronted him on that subject, and called him out on this lie which has been going on for well over a year now. So, listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You fought to repeal Obamacare. You're arguing --

TRUMP: I potentially did --

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- arguing in the Supreme Court right now to strike it down. That would do away with pre-existing conditions.

TRUMP: No. So we can do new health care.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've been promising a new health care plan. We interviewed -- I interviewed you in June of last year. You said the health care plan would come in two weeks. You told Chris Wallace this summer, it would come in three weeks. You promised an executive order on preexisting --

TRUMP: I have it already, I have it all ready.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you've been trying to strike down pre-existing conditions.

TRUMP: I have it already.


BERMAN: It is, it is. I mean, there's no health care plan. He hasn't come forward despite promising it for really a long time.

Sanjay, just moving on to where we are in morning, 1,400 new deaths reported in the last 24 hours and a very high number of cases. And part of this might be some different reporting standards in Alabama which may have increased some of those numbers a little bit but only a little bit.

I mean, the fact of the matter is we're still seeing more than a thousand deaths on this day. Other days it's been less but it isn't going down the way that I think a lot of people hoped it would go down. And we still don't really know what's going to happen with the Labor Day holiday and whether thereby there will be a post labor day increase in cases.

GUPTA: Right. You know, if Memorial Day and July 4th weekend were any indication, I think they should be, you know, within a few weeks, you know, usually three to four weeks after a particular holiday is when you start to see the numbers increase. People who developed symptoms, it may take that long for them to develop symptoms and then to schedule and get a test, get the results back. It can take a while.

You know, the IHME model, which I bring up because that's the one that White House often cites basically says, as you well know, that there will be more than 200,000 people expected to die by end of the year by this disease. That's not even four months away now.

[08:25:00] So, if you do math there, the average number of people who are dying is going to be well over 1,000 people dying. The projections are the numbers are going to go up, increased mobility, people going to schools. Even if young people are less likely -- far less likely to get very sick or die from this, they can still spread it.

And, obviously, the discussions we've had about mask. Mask wearing actually plateaued, even going down in many places around the country.

Add all these factors in, and, John, I mean, I think the numbers overall sadly, the average number of people dying every day is likely to go up.

BERMAN: All right. Sanjay, we appreciate your being with us. Dana Bash as always, professor/doctor.

CAMEROTA: She's a doctor of something. I know that much.

BERMAN: Dana Bash.

All right. We have a quick programming note, Joe Biden sits down for a CNN presidential town hall live from Pennsylvania moderated by Anderson Cooper. This is tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

So, talking about the town hall last night, a Philadelphia pastor challenged President Trump on race. Was he satisfied with what he heard from the president? Next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: OK. I want to give you an update right through on the location of Hurricane Sally.