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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Potential For Record-Breaking Storm Surge In Tampa; Idalia Now Category 2, On Track To Hit Florida As Cat 3; Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), Is Interviewed About House Republicans Pushing For Biden Impeachment Inquiry; Hurricane Idalia Hits Cuba With Flooding & Strong Winds; UNC- Chapel Hill Grad Student Arrested On Murder Charge. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 17:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

We do indeed start this hour with some breaking news, the hurricane barreling toward the Gulf Coast of Florida. Moments ago, the National Weather Service update showed that Idalia is now even stronger than before. It is a category two storm. Idalia has been rapidly gathering strength, fueled by the extremely warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Idalia is expected to become a category three storm, if not even stronger, when it makes landfall in Florida. These are live pictures out of Cedar Key, Florida, near where Idalia is expected to make landfall. The National Hurricane Center says it is worried that Cedar Key could be cut off by eight to 12 feet of storm surge. Eight to 12 feet.

Later this hour, we expect an update on storm preparations from the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. We'll bring that to you live. Until then, our CNN teams are live on the ground across Florida, covering the storm from every angle. We're going to start with CNN Chief Meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center.

And Chad, tell us the latest on Idalia and its path.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the 05:00 advisory just in, not even time for our computer to go yet. There you go, 100 miles per hour storm, a category two with 120 miles per hour gusts. The hurricane hunter that I said was leaving Biloxi did make it to the storm, so they did get the update at 100 moving to the north at 16. That means this storm isn't going to be in the water more than about 18 more hours, probably even less. If this is picking up forward speed, that is a good thing because we don't want this in the water for 35 more hours getting more and more strength to it, that is one of the good pieces.

Another thing that happened in the 05:00 advisory is that the track has been shifted about 20 miles to the west, away from Cedar Key, away from Steinhatchee, but a little bit farther and closer to St. Marks where our Brian Tod is. And even a very significant blow likely to Tallahassee with all of those big trees that are there. You get wind gusts to 80, 90 miles per hour. We're going to lose so many trees and so many power lines in Tallahassee, it may not be recognizable if this thing keeps going in that direction.

There is the eye. You can now see it from the Tampa radar and also from the Key West radar. So, yes, it has been circular. Yes, the storm is breathing and now we're expecting that rapid intensification over the next 18 hours while it's still in the water before it makes landfall there in Appalachia Bay. That's the area, that's the catcher's mitt that's going to catch all of this storm surge, significant storm surge, a lot of rainfall as well.

And then all of a sudden you're going to push that rain, try to drain it back into places that have a saltwater surge. So flash flooding is certainly, certainly likely.

TAPPER: And Chad, explain why exactly these storm surges of just a few feet can be so dangerous on the west coast of Florida.

MYERS: Sure. Well, I mean, there's so much here that is a flat part of the country, a flat part of Florida. So we're looking here at more than 12 feet of surge. But that doesn't just mean it's all going to come in all at one time. It comes in one wave after another.

Each wave is four inches taller than the next. And it just keeps on going and keeps on going. And why that is significant is that when you start to push the water, even a foot or 2 feet of water onto land, you don't get just 2 feet flooding, you get hundreds of feet flooding as the water pushes up the shore. And then all of a sudden, because it's so flat, you start to raise that to 4 feet, now you've lost half a mile of beach. And then you do it again and you go all the way to what we're expecting then you've lost homes that are not on stilts.

And even some homes that are on stilts may not make it through this. This is going to be one significant surge because of the shape of the coastline. It's not going to be a glancing blow. It's going to be a catching blow. That area is going to catch all of the water and it can't go anywhere except up the rivers, up the creeks into St. Marks all the way possibly pushing water all the way up, you know, some spots.

Even I 10, could see a little bit of a surge, not something that's going to knock the power lines down or knock the street down. But with all of this wind, we are definitely going to see thousands, if not more than thousands, could be millions of big, big pine trees, live oaks that will be fallen that will all have to be picked up as the power lines have to go back up. There's going to be a long, long loss of electricity.

TAPPER: Chad Myers, thank you so much. Let's go now to CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir, who's in Steinhatchee, Florida, about 90 miles south of Tallahassee.

And Bill, the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico has been exceedingly warm. How is that record warm water? How is it contributing to the strengthening of this monster storm? BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, heat -- hot water is the engine for hurricane. And the engines we're seeing now are bigger than ever before. The Gulf of Mexico had never seen a surface temperature above 87 degrees Fahrenheit until August when it went to 88, over two and a half degrees above the average for the last 20, 25 years or so. And so, that engine has the potential every one degree above normal has the potential to add 10 percent more strength to a hurricane. There's a lot of other factors at play there, but you know, winds that would be 120 could be 135 and so on as you go up the chain.


And as Chad was talking about, there's nowhere for this water surge to go than up the rivers. Here is exhibit A. Here we are in Steinhatchee, this is the Steinhatchee River, and it's a beautiful fishing community here. We're at the height of scallop season, actually. Right now, it would be hugely popular, the hotels and inns here with anglers of all sorts, but scallopers and crabbers as well.

It's a historic community. A lot of older construction, wooden construction here, and they had about 6 feet of storm surge in 2016, the last big storm to come through here. They're talking 12 feet. So that's twice as high to so many of these homes here. We have a few on stilts, but there's a lot of prefabricated mobile home styles in this area as well. And those are no match for 10, 12 feet of storm surge.

As we saw less than a year ago, I was south of here getting ready, you know, for Hurricane Ian, which turned out to be the most costly, 156 lives lost in that storm, most of them Lee County storm surge, where it just came up and you had no way to navigate. So much floating debris, cars floating, even just a couple of feet of storm surge. And when everything is shaken loose, and so it's so hard to hang on. So the warning here is to get out of this county.

We're right on the border here of Dixie County as well. Get out. But there's always that 2 percent, 3 percent, maybe more of the diehards who say, I'm never leaving the storm. Those are the ones the first responders are worried about in moments like this, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much. We'll check back with you.

To Tampa now and CNN's Carlos Suarez.

Carlos, a storm surge of four to 7 feet above normal tidal levels is expected in and around Tampa Bay. Millions of people live in that area. How are they preparing?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Jake. So right now there are two mandatory evacuations. One of them is right here in Hillsborough County, which is home to the Tampa Bay area. The other is just to the west of us in Pinellas County. That's home to the sweet water -- Clearwater, rather and St. Pete area.

Now, the concern going into tomorrow here in Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay area is going to be the flooding, right? Because we're talking about a storm surge as you noted, Jake, of anywhere between four to 7 feet. Now, right now the tide is falling, but this time tomorrow we expect to take into account, of course, all of this rain, which has already started to fall. We're talking about anywhere between four to eight inches of it. We've also got to figure in high tide and then we've got all of that storm surge that is going to make its way here.

Again, Jake, the concern at this hour is the flooding. Hurricane shelters have opened and we're told those can house up to 20,000 people.

TAPPER: All right, Carlos Suarez in Tampa for us, thank you so much.

Let's stay with the Tampa area right now and bring in the Tampa fire rescue chief, Barbara Tripp.

Chief Tripp, forecasters are predicting up to a few feet above the previous record storm surge in Tampa Bay, a few feet above that. You're born and raised in Tampa. How concerned are you? How are you preparing?

CHIEF BARBARA TRIPP, TAMPA FIRE DEPT.: We're definitely concerned, so we did do evacuation zone for those low line areas and we're making sure families are protected. We have many shelters that are open and we have an emergency reentry program that we won't allow those families to go back in until after that surge has cleared. And you know, we expected the surge to take place tomorrow afternoon, pretty much between 11:01 and pretty much the water is going to last around until about 05:00 in the afternoon. So we're going to make sure the area is safe before we let families back in.

TAPPER: And you cautioned residents yesterday, noting that once the storm reaches a certain wind speed, Tampa fire rescue will not be able to respond quickly. What is that wind speed? And what do you do if calls begin to come in after that wind speed has been reached?

TRIPP: So, we make sure we let the community know what levels that we can respond to. And usually we don't want to put our people in danger. So that's why we try to get everyone to make sure they evacuate early and make sure that they get out of the area so in case if they do have emergency, we will be able to help them. But once the wind speed get up about 50 miles an hour, it is unsafe for us to put any large apparatus out there in the field.

TAPPER: Peak storm conditions are expected from 11:00 p.m. tonight through 09:00 a.m. Tomorrow in Tampa, meaning that the worst could come when it's pitch black and it's in the middle of the night, maybe even no electricity. I imagine that complicates rescue efforts quite a bit.


TRIPP: It does, and you know, gratefully we do have a lot of lights that we can project. We have other departments that we are working with. We also work with the electrical company as well to go out to these areas that might have no power. So, we are pretty much prepared. We have been working with the state and local government to assist us if we need the assistance.

TAPPER: All right. Tampa Fire Chief Barbara Tripp, thanks to you and thank you for what you do. Appreciate it.

We're just starting to see the outer bands of Hurricane Idalia hitting Florida. Coming up next, an update from the National Hurricane Center about why this storm might be more dangerous than previous hurricanes. The latest on Hurricane Idalia after this quick break.


TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Idalia. Moments ago, we got an update from the National Hurricane Center noting that Idalia is now considered a category two storm and is expected to keep strengthening before making landfall along Florida's Gulf Coast this evening.

Let's go to St. Marks, Florida, just south of Tallahassee where we find CNN's Brian Todd. He's at the top of the so called Big Bend. The Big Bend is where the Panhandle meets the western coast of the peninsula of Florida.


And Brian, the new hurricane track sends the eye of the storm even closer to where you are right now. What are officials saying to those who have made the decision to stay?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I just asked an emergency management official that very question, what do you say to people who want to stay? This official had a one word response, don't. But then he did say, if you choose to stay, you have to make sure that you have at least three to four days worth of provisions to get you through the next few days because it's going to be tough for emergency people, emergency responders to get to you. Why is that? Well, you take a look at where we are here and how low we are to the water.

We're in St. Marks. This is the St. Marks River. The Wakulla River converges with it just beyond my right shoulder down there. And then just beyond that is Appalachia Bay. What we're told is that Appalachia Bay has never had a category three storm.

We're also told that this area, St. Marks, right here, is going to get about a six foot storm surge, which means that the wind is going to act like a snowplow, pushing all this water here way past where I am here. Residents here fully expect this whole area here to be flooded by tomorrow morning when the storm hits. Again, people being urged to leave. The sheriff's deputies have been going door to door knocking on doors in Florida as elsewhere. When it's a mandatory evacuation, it means they cannot physically pull you out of your house, but they strongly urge you to leave.

And with the latest forecast, Jake, you can see kind of how low we are to the water here, that really is something that people do need to heed. But we did talk to several residents in this town who want to stay, and they're staying for various reasons. Some of them say that their home is here, they want to make sure that they can check their home in case it's damaged. But again, with the surge of water here, again, this whole area is expected to be flooded. Not a safe place to be in the next few hours, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, CNN's Brian Todd in St. Marks, just south of Tallahassee, thanks so much.

Hurricane Idalia is expected to cause major flight delays and cancellations, of course, just ahead of the Labor Day travel weekend. CNN's Pete Montean is at the magic wall right now to help us understand this.

Pete, how busy is this holiday weekend supposed to be, even without the storm?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, a lot of people, Jake, have trips planned for Disney and Universal, the Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay. You'll want to have your airlines app downloaded and dialed up because here is the issue, there's so many people planning to travel for the Labor Day rush, sort of the climax of the big summer travel rush. It may be the biggest on record. The FAA says Thursday will be the biggest day in terms of the number of flights scheduled, but the TSA says Friday will be the biggest in terms of the number of passengers boarding flights.

The issue now is that this storm is going for some major airports on the Florida Gulf Coast. Tampa International Airport already close, closed at midnight. St. Pete Clearwater just closed at 03:00 p.m. Some 75 percent of all of the cancellations in the U.S. are flights into and out of Tampa right now. Southwest Airlines, especially hard hit.

I want you to listen now to John Tiliacos, vice president of the Tampa International Airport. He says the big concern now is not only the airport and its infrastructure and the passengers, but the 10,000 employees who work at the airport. He says they just had to shut the airport down preemptively. Listen.


JOHN TILIACOS, EXECUTIVE VP OF DEPARTMENT & CUSTOMER SERVICE, TAMPA INTL. AIRPORT: Impacting people's travel plans is not something we take lightly. And suspending flight operations is a last resort for our team here at TPA. But safety is paramount, and we have to ensure that we're protecting our employees and airport infrastructure that could be damaged by wind or water.


MUNTEAN: The big concern at Tampa International Airport is the storm surge. You can see the airport here almost right on Tampa Bay. They're expecting storm surge at the airport four to 7 feet. So, they're thinking that they may be able to do a damage assessment sometime tomorrow morning, potentially reopening the airport on Thursday. But we will see the cancellations and delays for tomorrow already piling up, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

As the hurricane strengthens, the concern about the potentially deadly storm surge continues to grow. We're going to have an update from Florida's governor ahead. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Hurricane Idalia is now a category two storm and continues to rapidly strengthen and intensify. Idalia is expected to make landfall tomorrow morning in the Big Bend area of Florida, where the Panhandle meets the peninsula. But as with any storm, the forecast track could change. We saw that in 2004 with Hurricane Charlie. It was set to hit Tampa Bay in the western part of the state, but it suddenly shifted south, devastating places such as Captiva Island and Cayo Costa and Port Charlotte.

More recently, Hurricane Ian landed in southwestern Florida as a category four. This was September last year. The storm was predicted to hit Florida, far south of Tampa. But then it suddenly shifted far north before it shifted south again.

I want to bring in Jamie Rhome. He's the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. Thanks for joining us, Jamie. We've seen the expected landfall move north as the day has progressed. Is there still a chance for a major change in Idalia's path, do you think?

JAMIE RHOME, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: No, I think it's pretty well locked in at this point. We're looking at landfall somewhere in the Florida Big Bend area. The main concern --

TAPPER: All right. So, Jamie has gone out there.


Let us go to our next individual will be John Berman. He is live for us in Steinhatchee, Florida, which is far south of Tallahassee. But while we're waiting to get Berman's signal up, let's bring you the map right now. Let me just show you again the Big Bend area of Florida where this storm is headed. The Big bend is basically the corner of the Panhandle.

If we could get the map where it actually shows the Panhandle and the peninsula at the same time. There it is. You see on the -- in the area of where the hurricane is scheduled and tracked to hit. That area right there, which is near Tallahassee, is called the Big Bend. It is where the panhandle of Florida hits the peninsula, hits the Gulf Coast while the hurricane has been traveling over the Gulf of Mexico, which is warmer than it has been in the past, it is gaining even more strength.

So now let us go to CNN News Central Anchor John Berman who is live in Steinhatchee, Florida, far south of Tallahassee. And John, we know mandatory evacuations are underway right now where you are. What is the major concern for residents there? JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The major concern is the storm surge, Jake. There's just no question about it. I'm standing right now at a Marina and Hurricane Hermine, which hit in 2016, people were walking around this area with water up to their waist. That was six foot storm surge. They're talking about 10 to 15 feet of storm surge here.

So if it was at their waist at 6 feet, you can imagine 10 to 15 feet, it would be well over their head. This area could just be inundated, that is the fear here. They haven't had a storm like this here, period, full stop that anyone can really remember. The ones that have passed through are much weaker or the ones that were stronger, didn't hit and send this kind of storm surge. That's what they're most concerned about.

We just talked to a couple of people with the sheriff's department. The sheriffs have been going door to door trying to get people to leave these low lying areas, particularly if they don't live in really strong brick houses. And the sheriffs were telling me they're having some success. They have convinced some people who are planning to stay, they've convinced them to go because they told them, look, this one is just different. We know the people who live around here, this is a fishing town of about 500 to 1,000 people, depending on what time of year, they know the water and they know the weather. They like to think that they can ride through just about anything.

What the sheriffs are trying to tell them is, guys, this one is different. Please take this very seriously, Jake.

TAPPER: And we should note also, John, and I remember covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levees breaking in New Orleans with you back in 2005. And one of the things I think a lot of people who don't live in areas like this don't understand is that this is not just like an ocean water that is now 5 feet in a town. This is -- it's a cesspool, really. I mean, it's dangerous water. It has oil in it, has all sorts of contaminants.

In many cases, it's toxic. It's not just like fun ocean water.

BERMAN: No, it's a really good point. And there's water everywhere. I mean, the Steinhatchee River, which is what I'm on right now, this is fresh water and it flows out until the Gulf of Mexico. And we can actually see it flowing out, which is a good sign right now. The concern is it's going to flow in, and it's going to flow in five, 10, 15 feet, maybe above where it is right now.

They've had flooding here just from rain, just from freshwater in the past. They've had real flooding issues over the last few years. But that's with the water upriver, the freshwater that's been falling and then coming down here, it's very vulnerable, very fragile. And it's not just this one river, there are all kinds of waterways. So once you start pushing a wall of water into it, as you said, it just creates so many problems, unhealthy, unsafe, and for a time, perhaps, unlivable.

TAPPER: All right, John Berman in Steinhatchee, thank you so much.

We're standing by for an update any minute from the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis as the powerful Hurricane Idalia moves in, and his residents, his constituents are in its path. This is just hours away before the worst of the storm will hit Florida's Gulf Coast. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: And we're back with the latest on the track of Hurricane Idalia, which is now a dangerous category two storm and getting stronger. Its maximum sustained winds right now are about 100 miles an hour. We're awaiting a news conference from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with all the latest information. And we will have much more ahead on Hurricane Idalia.

But let's turn right now for a moment to our Law and Justice Lead, because CNN's Sara Murray is monitoring developments in Georgia, where a state court is preparing for next week's arraignments in the election interference case against former President Trump and his 18 co-defendants accused essentially, of trying to steal Georgia's electoral votes through fraud. The Fulton County District Attorney, Sara, is still pressing for an October trial for all 19 defendants, including Donald Trump, October?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, there's a little bit of herding cats going on in her latest filing. She's saying, look, Ken Chesebro said he wants a speedy trial. You said to the judge you're going to try him in October. We still want to try all of these 19 defendants together.

So she's essentially telling the judge, this is our goal. If your goal is to try some people separately because they want to have a speedy trial, or if some people want to sever off of this case and be tried separately, we need to have a hearing on these issues and debrief them. But she's making very clear she would still like to go to trial in October. And she would like to go to trial with all 19 defendants at that time, Jake.


TAPPER: The arraignments in the Georgia election interference case, the deadline is scheduled for a week from tomorrow, September 6th. CNN of course will cover that. Do we know if former President Trump has any plans to go to Atlanta for the arraignment?

MURRAY: They haven't signaled yet what their plans are. But obviously we've heard from Donald Trump over and over again complaining that these cases are election interference. So you would wonder why he would choose to go in person if you have the opportunity to waive your arraignment, and we've seen a number of his other co-defendants in this case enter their not guilty pleas with the judge, say they intend to waive arraignment.

And normally that's allowed in this court in these kinds of cases, unless we hear otherwise from the judge. I would be surprised if Donald Trump doesn't take that opportunity. But we'll see. TAPPER: Also today, a judge asked for additional briefs on Mark Meadow's bid to move the Georgia election case from Georgia court to federal court. He says he needs to do this because he was serving at the pleasure of the president as White House Chief of Staff at the time. What do we know about that today?

MURRAY: Well, the judge wants some more information, even though, of course, he had a whole day hearing on this issue. But there is still a legal matter he wants sorted out. And that's this question of look, if one of the acts that Mark Meadows did that was written out in this indictment, something he did allegedly in furtherance of this conspiracy, could be chalked up to his role as the White House Chief of Staff. Is that enough for Mark Meadows to be able to move this to federal court, or does he not clear the bar?

And he wants to hear from Meadows attorneys on that. He wants to hear from the district attorney on that. And he wants to hear from all of them by Thursday afternoon, which tells you that whatever the judge's decision is going to be on this matter, it's not coming at us before Friday. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much for the update. Appreciate it. We're joined now by Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck. He's a member of the House Freedom Caucus. Congressman Buck, good to see you. We've now seen Donald Trump indicted in four different cases, and the jockeying is underway to set trial dates, all of which will conflict with the Republican presidential primaries and caucuses. What's your feeling about how distracting Trump's legal troubles will be for the Republican Party writ large?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Well, first, I think it's going to be very distracting for the former president because he's got to be in different locations that aren't holding primaries. And I think it is going to be newsworthy whenever he shows up into court, so he'll get a bump with that. But I think in terms of the debate that we saw last week, it's difficult to go after the former president's policies. And it's also one of the things that's talked about the most is not the answers that are given on the stage, but the answers that weren't given because the former president wasn't there.

TAPPER: Donald Trump keeps dismissing his legal troubles as election interference. You've read the indictments. Is that how you see it? Or do you think Donald Trump is in legitimate legal peril, at least in one or two of these cases?

BUCK: I think there are a couple of cases, and I'm sure the president and former president and his attorneys are taking all these very seriously. But there are a couple of cases, the classified documents case, for example, that I think is a very serious case. I'm sure the president is focused on defending himself in that case.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the Republican leadership, the House Republican leadership's push to open an impeachment inquiry targeting President Biden. Last month, you notably called impeachment talk a shiny object to distract from budget negotiations. What are you hearing about the impeachment inquiry conversation in your discussions with other members of the House Republican Caucus and for that matter, from your constituents back home?

BUCK: Yes. So I think the Speaker is intending to either bring a floor vote or it doesn't appear that one is necessary by the Constitution. He may just order an impeachment inquiry to move forward. My constituents back here, really in all of Colorado are split on this issue, a lot of them. In part of this, Jake, I think it's fair to say it doesn't justify having an impeachment inquiry or an impeachment of President Biden.

But part of this is based on the fact that President Trump was impeached twice and acquitted twice by the Senate. I think there is more of an appetite on the right now for impeachment because it really hasn't been respected the way it was for the last 150, 200 years. So I think that my constituents back here, some of them want revenge, some of them want retribution, and others want to get over this, and they want to move on and solve the problems that we face in this country.

TAPPER: I mean, for the record, the second impeachment was after January 6th, and it was a bipartisan vote to impeach Donald Trump in the House and the Senate. Republicans in both the House and Senate voted against Donald Trump for that impeachment, so it might be observed that they're not even equal in importance in that way.


BUCK: Well, I think that's right. I think, you know, the first impeachment, one Democrat who is now changed to Republican Jeff Van Drew, voted not to impeach the president. And in the second impeachment, I think there were 10 or 11 Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump.

So, yes, but we'll see what happens with this. Obviously, we're not at the point where we're ready to offer evidence of impeachment, but rather just to start an inquiry into whether impeachment is appropriate.

TAPPER: Yes, I'm still not quite sure what crime Joe Biden is to have committed. But we'll get to that at a later date, because I want to bring up the fact that your leader, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, revealed rather today that he's being treated for a form of blood cancer. Obviously, all of us are hoping for the best for him. Have you spoken with Leader Scalise at all?

BUCK: I have not spoken with him. I've exchanged texts with him. And as a cancer survivor, I have wished him the best. He is a tough cookie. He obviously survived a shooting incident and has been living with those injuries and has a really strong soul. And I believe that if anybody can overcome this blood cancer, it will certainly be the Leader Scalise.

TAPPER: All right, Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck, good to see you, sir. As always, thanks so much for joining us.

BUCK: Good to see you. Thanks. TAPPER: Any moment now, we expect to hear from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as Hurricane Idalia approaches the state of Florida. Moments ago, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told me that the Biden administration is in constant contact with Florida emergency officials. We're going to have new updates from the Florida governor ahead.



TAPPER: And we're back with our continuing coverage of Hurricane Idalia, the powerful storm currently making its way towards Florida's Gulf Coast. We're waiting to hear an update from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And as soon as that starts, we will bring that to you live.

Let's bring back CNN meteorologist Chad Myers right now. Chad, the slightest wobble in the storm track could have big implications. You've talked about this happening in the past. What's the latest on this track?

MYERS: Yes, the wobble problem is that the storm track is almost going parallel to the Florida coast. So a one or two degree track changes where the landfall will be compared to a perpendicular landfall where one to two degrees only makes one or two miles. I mean, one or two degrees could make 10 miles or so.

We're still kind of though in that wildlife refuge area, even if we go left or right just a little bit. 100 miles per hour storm right now. A couple of things to notice here, a little bit of a brighter color pattern, a little bit more purple in the center of the eye. That means that the storms are higher, they're colder, they're intensifying, something else that I've just seen here.

On the radar, we're seeing lightning again, which means likely an intensification process going on. The track has changed a little bit slightly to the west, 20 miles or so from the last advisory at 5 o'clock. But that puts hurricane force winds all the way into Georgia. There are hurricane warnings in Georgia. I can't remember the last time I've seen a hurricane warning cross state lines.

But that's what's going to happen here. If we have 125 miles per hour, 120 miles per hour, storm moving fairly quickly, it's not going to slow down in time to not be a hurricane by the time it gets to Georgia. There is the lightning I'm talking about right around the center. Now, notice there's an awful lot of lightning here in parts of Florida as well.

We talked about this yesterday where there's a potential even for some tornadoes on land here. No watches or warnings right now, but there were some warnings earlier around Marco Island. And the wind gusts are now picking up somewhere around 20 to 25 there on the west coast of Florida. So a few changes have gone on here over the past couple of hours.

There is the storm itself. I think likely that this is going to be on shore somewhere around 6:00 to 7 o'clock tomorrow morning. But that doesn't mean that's when the initial wind starts. The wind is going to be well ahead of that 3:00, 4:00, 5 o'clock. We're going to hear things go bump in the night for sure. And because it's tracked a little bit farther to the west, that puts Tallahassee more into the wind event, where 60 to 70 miles per hour winds would certainly bring down quite a few power lines, trees in the beautiful city of Tallahassee.

Something else that's going to go on, likely I-10 will at least be shut down for a while because those same trees are going to be falling down across the interstate and have to get removed before you see all of that traffic continue. Tallahassee, not only with the wind, but almost six inches of rain. If you put that on top of a tree with wet roots and all of a sudden trees start to come down. It's going to be a rough night.

TAPPER: All right, Chad Myers, thanks so much. Hurricane Idalia already whipped its way through the western edge of Cuba, causing major flooding and power outages there. CNN's Patrick Oppmann is in Havana for us. Patrick, how severe is the damage in Cuba?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the sun is out behind me, but don't be fooled. Cuba took a licking today. And they are just beginning now to assess the damage. We are talking about thousands of people who were forced to evacuate from coastal areas. Now hundreds of thousands of people, according to official numbers, that are still without power. And the government has to go. And it's going to be a slow work to begin the job of restoring power, of fixing power poles, down power lines.

We saw dramatic scenes of flooding across western Cuba, people that had inches of rain in their house, storm surge. And, you know, that pickup process is only beginning now, whole areas of agriculture that were just slammed into. And the thing to remember, Jake, is this storm came into Cuba as a tropical storm, left here as a category one, and it really just skirted the western edge of this island.


So Cuba, by comparison, got lucky. The storm that's going to be going to Florida will be a much more powerful storm. All the same, it did a lot of damage here.

TAPPER: All right, Patrick Oppmann in Havana, Cuba, thank you so much.

Much more from Florida and Hurricane Idalia ahead as this major storm gained strength over the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

But let's turn now momentarily to our Law and Justice Lead. The graduate student accused of killing a faculty member at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, yesterday appeared in court today. This is police are still looking for a motive and the weapon that was used in yesterday's shooting. CNN's Nick Valencia is tracking the story. Nick, what more do we know about the suspect and the charges he's facing and the victim? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tailei Qi made his initial court appearance where the judge read the charges he's facing, including a first degree murder charge as well as possession of a handgun on education property. And according to the police report, handgun was a nine millimeter pistol.

The judge didn't require him to enter a plea, and they also said that he will be continuing to be held without bond. Police right now are examining the connection between the victim and the suspect. The victim, identified as an associate professor there in the Department of Applied Physical Sciences, Zijie Yan, who's been working at the university since 2019.

At a press conference earlier today, the university chancellor, as well as the UNC police chief, talked about the tragedy and mentioned that the victim was a father of two young children.


CHIEF BRIAN JAMES, UNC-CHAPEL HILL POLICE: The victim and suspect knew each other. And the suspect went directly to the victim and then left Caudal Labs. We are still exploring the relationship between the professor as well as the suspect.


VALENCIA: The incident caused panic on campus, and for hours there was a scarcity of information. The shooting happened at the heart of UNC- Chapel Hill near the bell tower. And according to officials, classes will remain canceled until Thursday. And at the bell tower, they will have a ringing of the bell to commemorate what happened, followed by a moment of silence.

Meanwhile, Jake, that suspect, Tailei Qi, he has a probable cause hearing for September 18th. They're still looking for that weapon used in the alleged attack, as well as trying to figure out a motive. Jake?

TAPPER: I know that campus very well. My late grandfather used to be the head of the physics department at UNC-Chapel Hill. My mom went there. How are the good people in Chapel Hill doing today?

VALENCIA: You know, they're still processing it. I've been speaking to students, both current and former students, and some of them who's just started their college know they've been called generation lockdown because they've gone through these situations post Sandy Hook and post Columbine, of course. They're terrified, and they're still processing exactly what happened. For some of them, this was their worst nightmare that came true. Jake?

TAPPER: Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

In our World Lead, it has been two years since the deadly attack on Abbey Gate at the Kabul airport during the chaotic withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan. Today, the families of 13 of the U.S. service members killed in that attack spoke out on Capitol Hill.


CHRISTY SHAMBLIN, MOTHER-IN-LAW OF MARINE CORPS SERGEANT NICOLE L. GEE: Those men and women in uniforms loved their jobs and they carried out this humanitarian evacuation. In the worst of circumstances, there were failures, and I can count over half a dozen opportunities to stop this tragic ending. Systems we have in place were ignored.

Our armed services request for air support, multiple, multiple military personnel saying this is not a good idea, our snipers asking for permission to engage. Every one of them ignored. These are red flags. Why were they ignored?


TAPPER: Exactly two years ago today, these families met their loved ones' remains at Dover Air Force Base. Two years later, they are still searching for answers about what happened on that fateful day in Kabul.


DARIN HOOVER, PARENT OF MARINE CORPS STAFF SERGEANT TAYLOR HOOVER: We want answers. We need answers. And we expect those answers. I'm calling on you, please, please, don't let this fall through the cracks.


TAPPER: They want answers. They need answers. They also deserve answers.

In our World Lead today, a private funeral was held for Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. This according to a company Prigozhin owned. Video appears to show Prigozhin buried next to his father at an old small cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia. Russian media says about 30 people attended. Russian President Vladimir Putin was reportedly not one of them. This funeral comes about a week after Prigozhin and nine others were killed when their private plane crashed near Moscow.

The major update this hour, Hurricane Idalia now a powerful category to hurricane, it's expected to balloon into a major category three storm before it slams the Florida Gulf Coast tonight. We're standing by to hear from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We'll have the latest on this monster storm up next in the Situation Room.



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Idalia is now a powerful category two hurricane and still strengthening as it closes in on Florida's Gulf Coast. We are standing by for an update from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as officials warn that catastrophic devastation and death are very possible. Parts of Florida are being lashed by Idalia right now as it barrels toward impact. We are tracking the imminent threat of fierce winds, heavy rain, and a record storm surge.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt. And you're in the Situation Room.


As we stand by for an update from Florida officials, let's get right to the breaking news.