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Leaks In Russian Pipelines Raise Concerns About Sabotage; Putin Expected To Annex Parts Of Ukraine After Sham Referendums; Tampa Bay Faces High Storm Surge Risk From Hurricane Ian. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 27, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: A series of unusual gas leaks are now sparking concerns about possible sabotage. This has to do with the much discussed and debated Nord Stream gas pipelines that link Russia to Germany into the Baltic Sea. The operator of the pipeline says one of them suffered unprecedented damage in the last 24 hours. CNN's Nic Robertson joins me now with more details on -- well, there's not a lot of detail and a lot still to be learned, Nic. But what can you tell us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, a huge amount we learn Nord Stream that operates two pipelines, Nord Stream One, Nord Stream Two that would normally be carrying gas from Russia to Europe, but not at the moment because Russia are throttling back the gas that it's sending to Europe. The operator said look, a hole or something of this nature is a one-in 100,000-year event. So, three of these events in the same vicinity within 24 hours is really causing concern about what actually triggered it.

What we know is that seismologists in Sweden picked up at about 2:00 a.m. yesterday morning -- Monday morning a seismic event that they say seems like an explosion on the sea floor. Then about 15 hours later, at seven o'clock in the evening, they picked up another explosion on the sea floor. The Danish military have put in an exclusion zone around their, aircraft flying over -- Norwegian fighter aircraft have taken pictures and you can see the sea bubbling up from the gas that is coming out of the pipelines.

One of those areas of bubbles is more than half a mile across -- a kilometer across the other ones are a bit smaller, about 200 yards across. But this is causing a great deal of concern. We don't know what caused it. We don't know what's going to happen next, but clearly, a lot of attention is being focused on Russia and these lines of what it means next.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Nic, thank you so much for that. Russia is also, at this moment, on the verge of annexing four occupied areas of Ukraine as sham referendums are ending -- will be ending today. Those votes, if you will, are not free and fair, and they are considered illegal under international law. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is tracking this for us. He's live in Ukraine at this hour. Nick, why is this such a pivotal moment as you describe it?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, because it significantly increases what Russia thinks it may have to do here or is entitled to do in the areas which in the days ahead, it is likely through these completely staged referenda in which people were essentially asked to express the desire to join Russia at the barrel of a gun become formally part of Russia. That could be as little as a week away after which Russian officials have relentlessly said that they reserve the right to use pretty much any weapon in their arsenal to defend what they consider to be Russian territory.

Russia is also having some serious problems in terms of its conventional military. It's really struggling on the battlefield here what it has. It's really struggling to get more recruits to the front line. This partial mobilization is causing pretty much-unprecedented dissent in some protests across Russia, people deeply unhappy that their loved ones are being pulled off the street in some cases, and sent to an exceptionally perilous frontline with military equipment. And so, it looks unlikely in the days and weeks ahead that Russia is going to be able to transform its conventional forces here to its advantage and we're still going to see Ukraine advancing forwards closer towards areas which in a week or so, Russia is likely to falsely claim is now part of Russia proper.

This brings us to the pivotal moment essentially here where Vladimir Putin is really out of choices. He doesn't have much more conventional force to use. He could employ his Air Force, possibly in carpet bombing. He consistently threatens nuclear blackmail, nuclear force here. And there has many concerned that in the weeks ahead, we could see a sea change in how this war is being fought, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much for that. Joining me now for more on this as CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and also with a CNN contributor Jill Dougherty, a former CNN Moscow bureau chief, it's good to see you both. Thank you so much.

Jill, let's start with the situation with this pipeline as Nic Robertson was explaining. I mean, if this turns out to be sabotage, there's much more to be learned about it. But if it does turn out to be sabotage, does that move this overall conflict into a whole new place? I mean this -- where this is happening is under the Baltic -- under the Baltic Sea, not in or near Ukraine at the moment.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I don't think it does directly militarily. There's no question. But you know it's very unclear who is doing this. I mean, you could play it both ways. You could say, you know, Russia has been trying to cut off gas supplies to Europe so if this kind of cuts off gas supplies, and we don't know directly how much it would, that conceivably could help Russia. But Russia sounds very concerned about it. So, it's a little unclear. But I don't think it's going to change anything on the battlefield. That's a separate deal. And as we just heard from Nic, it's not going well for Russia.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And let's talk about that, General Hertling, because separately, you have the failures of the Russian military so far that we've tracked and discussed together, and also this growing dissent that we are seeing from inside Russia, Russians protesting Putin's war effort. When you combine that it does paint a picture of Vladimir Putin up against a wall of sorts. What do you see as his options from here and what does that mean for Ukraine?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There aren't many, Kate. And I think this is why he hesitated at such a long time in mobilizing his so-called reserve. And I use that term loosely. These are not reserve forces as the U.S. sees on. These are not individuals who are part of a unit back home that have trained together. They haven't even trained, in the most part, as individuals. They get one year of service as a Russian soldier.

So, if a Russian soldier has served before, he's -- he would be very, very immature in his approach to soldiering skills. But a lot of these people that are being snatched up on the street as has been reported, are -- have not served ever. They certainly aren't part of units. So they don't have that camaraderie or didn't trust in sergeants or lieutenants in their force. They don't have a belief in the cause. Everything potentially could go wrong in this further mobilization of forces.

And there are now reports that Russia is establishing blocking units behind these forces that they're mobilizing. And what I mean by that is they are recruiting people to shoot to kill any individual that does not go on the front line and fight against Ukraine. So, everything that you attempt to do when you mitigate fear in combat from new soldiers, new units, Russia is doing just the opposite. It's just a continuation of the dysfunction, the lack of leadership, and disbelief in the cause it's plagued this operation from the very beginning.

BOLDUAN: And, Jill, when you see these images coming out, those lines stretching for miles of people trying to get out of Russia, there -- I mean people protesting on the streets of Russia, in Siberia, a man shooting a recruitment officer. Do you think these protests could force Putin to change course?

DOUGHERTY: You know, that's the ultimate question, isn't it? And nobody really knows precisely what could or might push Putin to stop this. But I'd have to say that, so far, we haven't really seen anything that pushes him. I mean, look at his rationale. He is prepared to bring in any young man and older man into the military into what the Russians themselves on the internet are calling a meat grinder, to die in Ukraine. And annexing you know, areas in Ukraine and saying that they want to become part of Russia. That's just a political way of trying to, you know, threaten the West and say, if that is Russian territory, we can use nuclear weapons, and therefore you should fear and you know give us what we want. It's really I think all of this is a sign of desperation. And especially since it is so poorly carried out right now, everything is going wrong as General Hertling mentioned about, you know, the bringing the men into the military, and then the fighting itself.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Jill, it's good to see you. General, thank you as always.

HERTLING: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us still, Florida is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Ian bringing a record storm surge and potentially historic flooding. I'm going to talk to a hurricane researcher about what worries him most next.



BOLDUAN: Hurricane Ian, a Category 3 storm barreling towards Florida's west coast. The biggest concern with this hurricane right now is historic flooding and the potential storm surge. As much as 24 inches of rain is forecast, essentially sitting on top of the area for up to 48 hours. This storm could be doing that.

Joining me right now is Brian McNoldy. He's a hurricane researcher and senior research associate at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine Atmospheric and Earth Science. Brian, thank you for helping us try to understand this a little bit better. Can you talk to me about why the Tampa Bay area is so vulnerable when you're looking at five to 10-foot storm surge and up to you know 24 inches of rain?

BRIAN MCNOLDY, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI'S ROSENSTIEL SCHOOL: Sure. Yes, it's -- the issue with the Tampa Bay area is the shape and how it's lined up relative to Hurricane Ian's forecast track.


The Bay opens up to the southwest. And if Ian ends up taking a path that puts the strongest onshore winds into the Bay, that's what can make that situation a lot worse. If it ends up on the other side, and you get offshore winds from the Bay, it won't be remotely as bad.

BOLDUAN: Got you. So if the storm kind of goes up through the Bay like it has been looking for the less little bit, do you think it's shaping up to be kind of a perfect storm in the worst sense to be headed at the Tampa area?

MCNOLDY: Yes. The worst case would be if the -- if the eye tracks just to the west and north of Tampa Bay, which would place the Eastern or the onshore eyewall on the bay. That's really the worst case. That's how you would maximize the storm surge there.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I've also been reading about -- trying to separate and apart from the storm itself, but also adding to the concern here is king tides setting in this week as well. How could the timing of this add to the problem?

MCNOLDY: Yes, that's right. We're seeing that all around the state, actually, very high tides, which are fairly typical for this time of year around every new and full moon. Except now on top of that, we'll have the influence of hurricane, which is, you know depending on where in the state you're looking at, it is going to be very significant. You know, even on the east coast of Florida, which isn't going to get hit, you know, by a landfalling hurricane on the -- on that side.

But we will still have winds that will influence the tides and we'll have some onshore wind. So whether you're on the East coast or the west coast of Florida, you will feel the impacts of the hurricane. And so you're mostly going to notice it around the high tide. So if you live anywhere, that's at all influenced by the high tide -- high tides, that's where you're going to want to pay attention. That's where we're going to have the worst problems.

BOLDUAN: And we always -- I mean, we -- you know talk about the storms and their category because that's part of the way to describe them. But I know that you also want people to focus on more than just the category of the storm here. Why is that?

MCNOLDY: Yes. The Saffir-Simpson Scale that we use for hurricanes is just for wind, it only refers to really the peak wind in the eyewall so it doesn't tell you anything about the size of the storm, the storm surge, the rainfall all of that is absent from the scale. So when you hear a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane, that's only referring to those peak winds in the eyewall. So even though most of Florida won't experience that, most of Florida will experience tropical storm force winds and significant amounts of rain.

BOLDUAN: We're going to be waiting for more updates throughout the day and definitely in the next 24 hours. This is a critical period. Thank you for helping us understand a little bit more, Brian. I really appreciate your time.

MCNOLDY: I think it look like a bit --

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, NASA crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid. What the first test of this planetary defense system means for Earth's future? That's next.




GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL): Northern Florida in the Big Bend region, then that track has shifted consistently eastward. As we went to bed last night, the anticipation was a landfall in the Tampa Bay area. And now the models this morning, both the European model, the American model, the ICON, all have it coming into the Sarasota region. The 11:00 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, they revised their guidance to see it south of Tampa Bay into this region.

Now, that's still not set in stone. I'd say anyone on the Gulf Coast prepares for impacts. And that was true even when it was going to make landfall places further north. We knew that there would be big storm surges as far south as Collier County. So that's what we're dealing with here though, is continue to preparations, heeding the warnings, and the evacuation orders that we have from our local officials. And you're going to hear from that some additional guidance here in Sarasota.

People remember Charlie was earmarked to go into Tampa Bay, it turns south in impacted places, particularly like Charlotte County. This is a little bit different than that because it is a big storm, it is going to kick up a lot of water as it comes in, and you're going to end up with really significant storm surge, you're going to end up with really significant flood events. And this is a type of storm surge that is life-threatening.

Another factor that they're forecasting now is it makes landfall somewhere. Let's say it's in Sarasota County. Most of the forecasts have it slowing down to almost a crawl. And what that means is it's going to dump an inordinate amount of rain. So that could be Sarasota, could be a little bit inland.

Obviously, the impact could be somewhere down this coast in different ways. There's still time for it to wobble. But I think most of the forecasts are anticipating a landfall, then a slow to almost a crawl, which is going to put a lot, a lot of saturation in the ground. So these -- this is going to be a major water event, both in terms of the storm surge and in terms of the flooding.


Evacuation orders have been issued up and down the Gulf Coast of Florida including here in Sarasota County. The issue with this is if you are in one of these low-lying areas and you have the potential for 10, 15 feet of storm surge, that can absolutely be life-threatening. Those orders I think, are not taken lightly, I think that that's what is the best to keep you safe. And you don't need to evacuate to another state, you don't need to evacuate hundreds of miles away. The key is, is to get the high ground and be in a safe structure.

And I know in here, in Sarasota, they have shelters that are open that can do friends and family in the area. If you are going to go somewhere in other parts of the state of Florida, you know, we're advising that you can go south and then across Alligator Alley, southeast Florida seems to be doing better. This track may end up taking it all across I-4. It can take it in other areas.

But the most important thing with the evacuation is, just get to the higher ground, get to a safe structure, it doesn't mean you have to be in a place where there's no storm or you're not going to face anything because, in Florida, we have structures that can deal with these hurricanes. It's hard to deal with 10 feet of water. And that's really what is underlying the evacuation notices. If you're in the barrier islands, if you're in some of the places that are susceptible to that, you are in -- you are in risk.

FDOT and FHP are coordinating about the flow of traffic. As of now, on 75 out of here that it's moving, we've had -- we have had increased folks on the road starting yesterday heading eastbound on Interstate 4, I think you're going to continue to see it pickup on I-75 now that the track has shifted further south into this part of the state. FDOT is prepared and FHP are prepared to open the shoulder to emergency use for evacuations. But that will happen once the sustained traffic goes under 40 miles an hour.

I have not reached that point yet, and so when you do then they will do it. The people sometimes ask are you going to do all lanes on both sides in one direction, FDOT has studied that over like 10 years and they determined that's not the most effective way to do it. You need people to be able to get into the storm for supplies and rescue and whatnot so the emergency lanes, that would -- that is going to be the first step. Of course, we've suspended tolls in the affected areas and we will keep those suspended. And we will expand that as need be.

A fuel is still being provided. I know there's a lot of people out getting fuel. We've seen that -- we've seen lines up but you still see they're going to keep providing that until it's no longer safe to do so. And then of course, once the storm hits and passes, that's going to be a priority to clear the roads so that we're able to get the fuel back to the gas stations. People should anticipate losing power. Just when you have a storm of this magnitude, that's what happens. It knocks down trees, it knocks down power lines.

So, when you're making preparations, just be prepared to be able to make do without having consistent power. And that may be a matter of days. It may be more than just a few days. It really depends on the intensity of the storm. And it depends on how much structural damage is done to the underlying infrastructure that powers our state. Of course, we -- now we have -- I think we've got over -- almost 30,000 folks that are now stationed, that -- in various companies that are going to be ready to go and work to get the power back on once the storm has passed.

We also know that people who are evacuating may not necessarily want to do a shelter. Maybe they don't have family. Maybe they want to do a hotel room. Well, Visit Florida has partnered with Expedia to launch an emergency accommodation page. Anyone who's been ordered to evacuate can use this page to find available accommodations in other areas of the state. Just go to -- We have probably more than 2.5 million people right now that are under some form of an evacuation order. So we understand there's going to be a need to use everything at our disposal, not just shelter, not just friends and family, but also available hotel rooms.

Know your evacuation zone. You're going to hear another announcement here in a minute from Sarasota,, If you go there, you can determine where your evacuation zone is. It's different from the FEMA flood maps. This is something that is impacting whether you should evacuate in the case of a storm and that is what your local emergency managers are relying upon.

Don't leave your pets behind. We need to make sure we're taking care of the pets. There are pet-friendly shelters. There's information about planning for taking care of your pets any time of the day.


BOLDUAN: All right, we've been listening in to Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis. That is the very latest from Florida and the track, stuff that we know of right now of this dangerous storm as it heads towards that state. Thank you so much for watching us "AT THIS HOUR," I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.