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Rescue Underway After Dorian Devastates The Bahamas; More Than 800,000 People Ordered To Evacuate From South Carolina Coast; Interview With Mayor Keith Summey of North Charleston, South Carolina. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 04, 2019 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me. We are continuing to follow Hurricane Dorian and its slow-march north now, toward the U.S.

A brand-new forecast is just in. And this is as we are getting a new and truly devastating look at the destruction that Dorian has left behind in the Bahamas.

Entire towns have been just wiped out. The Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama where Dorian viciously parked itself for two days, basically, are especially hard-hit.

Rescue efforts are getting underway but have been hampered, understandably, by the horrible weather conditions that they've been facing for not hours but days. Locals have then resorted to neighbor helping neighbor to try and escape the floodwaters.

The official death toll is right now at seven. But that is expected to rise, and could rise dramatically, as rescuers are really just now starting to get a handle of how bad it is there.

Before we get back to the Bahamas and what's happening there right now, let's get the very latest on the forecast and the track of Hurricane Dorian. The National Hurricane Center just put out its latest forecast with South Carolina, and points north in the target zone now.

Let's good to Chad Myers. He's in the CNN Weather Center. He's got the very latest for us. Chad, what is the latest right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Kate, right now, the storm has turned slightly, maybe five miles to the left. But really, of - of all the updates we've received over the past, but I guess now what eight days, this really is just a minor tweak to the track.

The biggest outtake from this is that we're getting more and more bright white clouds around the middle of the eye. We've seen that for about an hour now. That indicates that the clouds are getting higher, the storms are getting stronger around the eyewall, but the pressure isn't going down just yet. That's good.

And I don't expect it to go down. But I do expect this to continue to be a 100 mile-per-hour storm, as it moves very close to Charleston and then along this shore here from Wilmington, Cape Fear right to about Morehead City. That's the middle of the line. But you can't think about this as a line. This isn't a line. From here

to here is about 80 miles. This is an 80 mile-wide bowling ball that's going to run up the East Coast with the wind gusts of 100 miles per hour.

And if you're 30 miles from the middle to your shore, all of a sudden, you're going to get that. Now, if you're off - maybe 100 miles inland, you may not see anything more than just some rain.

So, this is the storm. This is what we're dealing with. It will eventually turn to the right. It will put water into Jacksonville. It will put water into Savannah and Tybee Island. And it will put - put water into - to Charleston itself.

Right now, our winds are in the 30 to 40 mile-per-hour range, completely manageable. But as it moves to the north, and it gets closer to Savannah and Charleston, we are going to get winds that are higher than that.

We are going to get gusts, at least gusts, to hurricane strength, and then on up toward Wilmington. See all this water, getting pushed on shore, and that's the surge, 4 to 6 foot surge, and even some spots could get an 8 foot surge if you're in the wrong place.

You already know your surge, your locations for where you are. You've seen this before. This looks - is exactly like every other hurricane that has turned to the right and moved away from land. This is the same kind of one moving along the coast, wall - eyewall on land with some damage but then it just keeps right on going.

If you take the precautions that they tell you to, everyone should be safe in this storm, but it's not a zero storm. This is a Category 1 to - maybe Category 2 hurricane, moving along the coast of North and South Carolina. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Chad, real quick, with the fact that this update kind of - the latest update keeps it kind of on the path that you have seen, and that we've seen really for, you know, a little bit now--

MYERS: Sure.

BOLDUAN: --does that tell you that the track is set? Is there still that unpredictability element? Or is this kind of on its path and it's going to go?

MYERS: Once we get it moving, and - and this was the deal when it tried to get to Puerto Rico, and didn't. And it wiggled and it wiggled, it didn't have a path.

It didn't have a true straight line. Now it has a straight line. Now the computer knows what to do with it. And the computer turns it to the right.

But as any cruise ship passenger knows, you don't turn a cruise ship all at once. It takes a while to turn. So, if that turn takes just a little while longer, that's the only real fly I can see, and how it would get closer, if the turn just doesn't happen in time. We'll see.

BOLDUAN: Yes. All right, we will see. Thank you so much, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: It's been essential having you laying this out for us. I really appreciate it. Let's get back to the Bahamas right now where the Sun is finally coming out again.

But that is offering a grim new view on the path of destruction that the storm left in its wake. It is now a race against the clock really to find survivors who have been trapped for three days in the ripping winds and rising floodwaters.

The latest images coming in show a debris field really of just splintered wood where homes and neighborhoods stood just days ago, just last week, home after home, mile after mile, just shredded.


One man who rode out the storm and finally made it to safety yesterday shared his gut-wrenching story.


HOWARD ARMSTRONG, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: It came over the roof. I would imagine 21 feet at least.

We were doing all right until the water kept coming up and all the appliances were going around the house like a washing machine. That's probably I got hit with something in there.

And my poor little wife got hypothermia, and she was standing on top of the kitchen cabinets until they disintegrated, and then I - I - I - I kept with her and - and she just drowned on me.


ARMSTRONG: I know. I know.

OPPMANN: What was the last thing your wife said to you?

ARMSTRONG: I'm not going to - I think I'm going to die. And I said, "No, you're not." And that was it. She took a little mouthful of water and that was it. It was just so quick.


BOLDUAN: She just drowned on me, he said. You can tell he's in so in shock right now. That's Howard Armstrong, and he was speaking to CNN's Patrick Oppmann

who's been in the - in the Bahamas who is - he's been there throughout the storm and the aftermath.

Now, Patrick filed this update just moments ago about the conditions there this morning. Listen to this.


OPPMANN: The weather has cleared here in Grand Bahama. And that is so hugely important for this hard-hit Island. Ever since Dorian slammed into this island as a Category 5 hurricane, weather conditions have just not permitted any help to arrive either by sea or air.

Finally though, the skies have cleared. And even though the airport remains underwater here, the hope is that helicopters can land, boats can now arrive, bringing that crucial aid. People are running low on food and water.

Power and water and cell service has been intermittent or completely cut off ever since the hurricane. People are desperate. It is hard to prepare for a hurricane that lasts this long.

Conditions have simply gotten worse since the hurricane, not better. No help so far has arrived on this Island.

But the Bahamian Prime Minister says he's asking the United States and receiving help from the U.S., and that he is hopeful that in the days to come more help will flow from the U.S.

The U.S. Coast Guard is on the scene in other parts of the Bahamas. We saw a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter fly over this island yesterday. But the situation is desperate.

There is a crew of Bahamians who've taken their own boats, their own jet skis out to the hardest-hit flooded areas, trying to rescue people who've been trapped in their houses now for three days, have been riding out the storm on the roof of their homes without food or water.

You see these people get off boats, and they're completely spent, they're wasted, and have not had any help at all ever since the hurricane. People as well have died on this island.

And now that - begins the grim task of recovering bodies. We know at least several bodies have been recovered by this all-volunteer crew of rescue workers. But, at this point, the help has to begin flowing because time is running out.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Freeport, Bahamas.


BOLDUAN: We'll go back to Patrick when he has more updates for us. Thank you so much. So, folks there, as Patrick lays out, folks there are really just now beginning to grasp the enormity of the impact of Hurricane Dorian. Yesterday, we spoke to one Bahamian lawmaker who sent out this - these videos, this one of, I believe, this was the Freeport Airport, completely underwater.

And there's also a video that he sent out from a member of his own family showing the massive flooding as they were trapped in their home. He had lost contact with his family when we spoke in yesterday. He had gone out to try to reach them, was forced to turn back because the roads were too dangerous.

Iram Lewis is the man I'm talking about. He's joining us once again by phone. Iram, can you hear me? Can you hear me?

IRAM LEWIS, BAHAMIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Yes. Good morning, Kate. I can hear you loud and clear.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. When we spoke yesterday, you'd said you weren't able to reach your sister-in-law and her two young children. Have you been able to make contact with them?

LEWIS: Yes. Thank God. To God be the glory. We were able to find them yesterday, so they are safely sheltered as we speak.

BOLDUAN: Thank God.

LEWIS: It is just gloomy right now. I didn't go out much (ph). And we do have a clear Bahamas sunshine. We have a Bahamian sky. We just don't have Bahamian sea and Bahamian land anymore. What it used to be is no longer. But that is the - that is how nature works.

There are - there's something called erosion and deposition. And we believe that the same way the land was eroded away, eventually it's going to come back. But we have clear sunshine right now.

I'm driving through same areas of Grand Bahama, and areas that I used to recognize that I can no longer recognize. However, we do have teams on the ground doing as much as - as we can right now, as fast as we can.

And - and I did see a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter fly over a few seconds ago. So, we - we do have help on the ground from the United States of America, and we really do appreciate you guys, and all that you are doing to help us to get back to some sense of normalcy.


BOLDUAN: Iram, it's, I mean, really remarkable. I mean you say that the Bahamian land is no - is no longer, it's gone, and that you can't recognize these neighborhoods, as you're trying to get through them now.

What are you - now that you're able to venture out, what are you hearing from folks? What are you seeing there?

LEWIS: We're still hearing persons in distress, persons haven't heard from their family, particularly on the Eastern portion of the - of the island. We - we are trying to get large equipment to go across the - the Grand Bahama Highway.

We - we attempted to rescue residents of East Grand Bahama last night from Freetown, Gambier Point, but we could not go any further than the University of the Bahamas because at that point we had - we encountered about four - water on the highway.

However, we were successful in rescuing three security guards that was at the University. And we discovered that entire bottom floor of the University is no longer there. It's - it's been destroyed. It's been decimated.

So - so again, there's going to be a lot in terms of rebuilding. But our main focus right now is on rescuing those individuals. And after that, we will do assessments and see how we can get in - into our recovery.

So, right now, it is just - it - it is just I - I'm speechless, and - and that is very unusual for me to be speechless, but - but, right now, in the wake of what I'm seeing.

But I - I do - I - I would say that there is some - some good news. The City of Freeport itself, major city, the City of Freeport, the damage is not as severe as - as we got during the Hurricane - Hurricane Matthew.

However, the Island of Grand Bahama, on a whole, got torn up. But the city itself where essential services will be provided, and has been provided, fared lot better this time than the last time.

However, the outlying settlements, they are - they're in trouble. So, we're doing our best to stage. And we're hoping that - that the United States of America would not receive the kind of beating that we did. And, you know, we - we are one.

And it appears as if Bahamas and - and this is something that just dropped in my spirit, it appeared as (ph) if the Bahamas blocked the hurricane from coming to the Florida Panhandle, so we were there protecting you, and - and we believe that you're going to come back and help us get back to sense of normalcy.

BOLDUAN: Oh, we can see that.

I mean, you know, that - there are so many people, the outpouring of support coming from Americans, from the government on down has been on display. U.S. Coast Guard, you said you just saw a helicopter fly over.

But that, of course, that - that need, I think, it's safe to say is just beginning. I think it's important for folks to understand that it's - this is - this is not even a recovery moment.

You - there's no - you haven't even been able to assess really the damage because there are still people who need rescuing from their homes or for - from wherever they're trapped.

I mean we're getting-- LEWIS: Yes.

BOLDUAN: --kind of ad hoc reports of just really desperate conditions as people have been trapped for now, three days, with either little food left, little water left, or their supplies completely gone. How - how desperate is it that you're - that you're hearing?

LEWIS: It is extremely desperate. We have persons coming from that - that we rescued last night that we had to immediately get food to. I was a part of a team that took a tremendous amount of - of supplies to the hospital.

We took food. We took water. We cook - took cleaning supplies. And I'm happy to say that the hospital floor's now dried out, so we are now trying to restore that as a - as a primary healthcare facility once again.

But yes, we - we are in need of food because persons who evacuated at the last minute, they didn't get the opportunity to put food stuff together to take to the shelters, so the shelters were pretty much lacking.

It was a safe haven. But there wasn't sufficient food and water. Every shelter was oversubscribed. Every one that - that we had yesterday was oversubscribed because we never anticipated that the - the - the - the magnitude of this--


LEWIS: --of this - of this hurricane was going to be what it is.

And also, the duration of the hurricane, that is the - the - the greatest, I guess, fact of destruction, the time that it spent on this island, visiting the beautiful shores of the Bahamas, that at the moment we do not have.

But we do believe that - that we will continue to remain Bahamas strong and we're going to come back by the grace of God.

BOLDUAN: And by the grace of God is right and - and - and the grit of the Bahamian people.

You - you talked about how the shelters were already at capacity, or over, and I'm wondering this is not - this is not - this is something where folks either know that their homes are destroyed, and they don't have anything to return to, or they're going to learn very quickly that their home - that many of their homes are unlivable.

Where are all of those people going to go if all the shelters that are - have been open are already at capacity or over?

LEWIS: We - we have to go into the emergency mode now in terms of - of creating, perhaps that we did in New Orleans, creating a tent city that we are identifying sites in Grand Bahama.

We're hoping that we can get in some air-conditioned tents on the island. We can get some refrigerated containers (ph) on the island. We need - we need to establish a tent city. And we are - we are on the ground actively looking for locations.


Perhaps we will use some of the government schools. One of the schools that has fared very well in State of Freeport that - that is in my constituency, is St. Georges' High School. The auditorium is in perfect condition. The classrooms are in perfect condition.

We have a - a great - a large playing field there, and there's another place called Gombelan (ph) connected to the school. So, perhaps that may be a - a location where we can set up a tent city to at least get people in a safe environment where they can be dry, where they can get food, where they can get water.

But I - but like you said earlier, there - a lot of individuals have no home to go back to. I - I was over the bridge this morning, and I met one or two residents, who they said, even if their home is in good condition they will never live in those areas again. That's how bad it is.

So, we also need psychological assistance at the moment. So, we have psychologists, psychiatrists to come over. We need persons - we need counseling.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I was--

LEWIS: And that's something to put down (ph).

BOLDUAN: I was so struck yesterday when we spoke, when you listed out the needs, the - the supplies that are needed on the ground there, from personal hygiene to - and diapers to chainsaws and jet skis.


BOLDUAN: And that's one thing to not forget about also. The need, the psychological help, the--

LEWIS: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: --trauma that folks have been experiencing is something that is true, real, and going to - going to be around for a very long time.

Iram, thank you so much. I'm so happy to hear. I know all of our viewers are to hear that you were able to contact and get your family to safety. That's one bright light in this very dark story. But we'll check back in with you. Thank you so much.

LEWIS: I thank you very much for - for the attention and - and this - for bringing awareness of our plight. We appreciate you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

LEWIS: Have a good day. BOLDUAN: Thank you. We'll check back in with him. We'll continue to stay in touch with him and the recovery there because it is just day one of a very long road ahead.

Coming up for us though, the Carolinas now are in the crosshairs of Hurricane Dorian, which is especially troubling for low-lying Charleston, South Carolina. The forecast could give the city some new records, sort of - could have the city see - experiencing some near record storm surge and some very heavy rains.

The Mayor of North Charleston will be joining us next.



BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We are watching Hurricane Dorian, the massive storm that has proven at least a couple of things so far. It can bring massive destruction and it also is quite unpredictable.

The latest track tells us that the most likely place Dorian could make landfall, if it does in the United States, is South Carolina.

The Mayor of Charleston says his city is facing a triple threat from the storm, high winds, heavy rains, and what could be some big storm surge. More than 800,000 people in the state are now under mandatory evacuation order.

CNN's Athena Jones is live in Charleston, taking a look at all of it.

Athena, what are you seeing there now?


Well, right now, we have a lull in the rain. A couple of hours ago, we got a - a sample of what we're going to be seeing, a little while from now, heavy rain, strong winds. Now, it's just stopped drizzling. The big rain, the steady rain expected a little while from now.

But we're in historic Downtown Charleston. You can see behind me how the businesses, these restaurants have boarded up their sandbags. This is the way this has looked since we got here yesterday, almost completely vacant.

If you've been to Charleston before, you know that this is one of the - the center of the commercial bustling section of the city. You usually would see a lot of people in shops and - and at restaurants. But no, they've boarded up because the Governor has, of course, called for evacuation a couple of days ago now.

We know as of early this morning that already more than 245,000 people had gotten out of this area.

We also know that at the top of the next hour, at noon, that is when the reversal of the lanes on Interstate 26, heading away from the coast, that's going to change. Those eastbound lanes will now go eastbound, so they can let - let those crews go home and find shelter.

But you notice - you noted the storm surge. The reason for all of this is because we're in a low-lying area. They - they don't call this a low country for nothing. We're by the sea, and we're at sea level.

And this is a place that has historically seen huge storm surges. They're expecting a life-threatening surge of - of as much as 10 feet, which will be second only to Hurricane Hugo back in 1989.

And, of course, these storm surges are really important and dangerous. The National Weather Service says that they account for about half of the deaths you see in these tropical storms in the U.S.

So, something that authorities here want people very much to avoid, they've been warning since last night. Look - if you're still getting ready, if you're still boarding up, if you're still trying to get - get sandbags, you need to hurry up and do so. Get out of town. If you can't get out of town, head to a shelter.


BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. All right, Athena, let's see how things progress where you are over the next couple hours, really appreciate it.

Joining me right now on the phone is Keith - is Keith Summey. He's the Mayor of North Charleston, South Carolina. Mayor, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for getting on the phone. I really appreciate it. The latest forecast that we've seen has your area in the target zone now. What are you most worried about right now, Mayor?

SUMMEY: Well flooding is - is the biggest thing that we have to deal with. We've - we've dealt with wind in the past. The rain is - right now, it's currently raining, and we have a little wind gust, maybe 7, 8 miles per hour.


But we know what can come in. We are preparing for it. We've got people evacuated from the low-lying areas.

We've put out 45,000 sandbags into neighborhoods to make sure that they are protected as much as possible, encouraging people to leave, but a lot of people won't, they're going to ride it out.

And so, we're just prepared. We've got our people in place waiting on the Interstate to reopen with vehicular traffic moving back in as well. And that could create a little bit of confusion. But, you know, we're here to - to serve the people.

We've been putting out ourselves up and in all of our low-lying areas, myself directly, and - and hitting some more this morning, going back through, just to remind people "You're going to leave, now is the time. If you're not, then hunker down, and we can't come out after 40- mile-an-hour winds. But up until then we'll be there serving you the best way we can."

BOLDUAN: Yes. I was going to ask you, how - how are evacuations going? You said a lot of folks are going to decide to stay. I mean do you have a percentage - or people? What's there - kind of what's the calculation there?

SUMMEY: Well North Charleston is not as low as the Peninsula.


SUMMEY: And so, we have fewer people. In fact, we have four of the shelters, the only four in Charleston County, are actually established in North Charleston. And so, we will be getting people from the Peninsula coming out to stay in North Charleston to ride out the storm.

If the winds get over on a certain degree, then those shelters will be transferred into Berkeley and Dorchester County. But I think we're not going to get that strong of a wind, a Category 4 it would take for - for us to have to do that.

BOLDUAN: All right, well here is hoping for that. Mayor, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Good luck. We'll stay - we'll stay in close touch. Thank you, Mayor.

SUMMEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, in the Bahamas, desperation is setting in, as rescue workers have been struggling to try and reach those folks who are stranded without food, water, and definitely without proper shelter.

One local is calling the situation a catastrophic and dystopian mess, as his hotel has now become a shelter for a lot of the folks trying to escape. He joins us next.