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FEMA Gives Update on Category 4 Hurricane Florence; Catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane Barreling Toward Carolinas; One Million-Plus Ordered to Evacuate from Coastal Areas; FEMA to Give Updates on Cat 4 Hurricane Florence; Trump Touts Puerto Rico Response Despite Almost 3,000 Deaths. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:01] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- now targeting South Carolina and now parts of Georgia. Officials are talking about this storm and dubbing it the storm of a lifetime. Millions of Americans under warnings and watches right now as the entire Carolina coast braces for a potential direct hit.

Florence is right now packing winds up to 130 miles an hour, but the biggest threat is when it strikes land -- the biggest threat when it strikes land will be water. Record storm surge is forecast. Nearly three feet of rain could fall in areas of South Carolina. Some city officials are telling residents, and I quote, "if you won't leave, then give us your next of kin."

The president this morning says emergency services are ready for the worst. This as he continues to tout his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. I think in a certain way the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Really? Surely. It was not that for the 2,975 people whose deaths have now been attributed to Hurricane Maria. We will get to that in a moment. But first this, we have live coverage, live team coverage all up and down the eastern sea board and on the Carolina coast.

Let's go first to meteorologist Chad Myers with more.

Look, we now, Chad, are really fully understanding the intensity of Florence, but also a dramatic shift. Where is it going?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It did take a dramatic shift overnight, especially at the 5:00 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory. So all night the models were running and somewhere around midnight to 2:00 a.m. they finally finished. They have to take -- they take hours to run. There is so many numerical models to just generate all this data. And then all of a sudden it gets spit out hour by hour, or 12 hours by 12 hours, and so the storm that's 1:30 was forecast to go straight into Wilmington and it still is forecast to do that for about 48 hours.

But the planes have been flying through it. Just got a 127-mile-per- hour wind gust right there. Planes have been flying through it, around it, and putting more data into the weather models. And now the models starting about at 2:00 yesterday afternoon have hinted at a slight left turn. Well, now after 2:00 a.m. and looking at all those models, yes, that left turn is pretty much confirmed. How much of a left turn, we don't know because, look, here, here's the end of the cone. So at 48 hours, the cone is about here and then, yes, we're probably going to get at least a close approach to North Carolina if not a landfall.

But that after that, this storm may turn out to sea. It still may go a little bit straight into the land. There is no way to know. All of the models are completely different at that point. We look at when the models agree -- when they don't agree, when they disagree, we say why does that one do better or didn't do better? When did you last time? And there is just no way to tell you right now where this goes after 48 hours. Really good number right there. Great position right there. After that, the wind dies off.

The steering currents die off. And then all of a sudden things begin to get loopy. And that's when we're going to continue to watch the potential for Myrtle Beach, maybe Charleston. What we do know is that we've taken a lot of the rain that was up here, we're going to put it a little bit farther down the south. That 30-inch rainfall totals, they're going to be maybe into the South Carolina, North Carolina, eastern Georgia, rather than parts of Virginia up to the north.

If this continues, we're going to get a new model run in a few more hours. We'll see what happens after that. We'll see if everybody continues to agree or disagree or just agrees to disagree.

HARLOW: OK. You know, again, the warning, this could be a storm of a lifetime here.

MYERS: Absolutely.

HARLOW: And I've got people in Georgia, Chad, waking up this morning where you are, you know, other folks in Georgia closer to the north there, saying, oh, wow, you know, this could be headed towards us as well. Keep us posted. Thank you.

MYERS: Will do.

HARLOW: Let's go to Conway, South Carolina, now. You've got the traffic lanes. They're all going now in one direction for people evacuating. Nick Valencia is there.

What are you seeing? What are you hearing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, the time to evacuate is now. We are at the main highway out of Myrtle Beach about 20 miles inland in Conway, South Carolina.

Let me show you what's going on here. All four lanes of traffic at this major highway, 501, have been reversed. The National Guard and state police as well as local police are helping out trying to direct traffic. You see a National Guard person helping a local resident trying to get him out of here quickly.

One of the good things that they said -- I was talking to these officers a short time ago, this traffic is a lot lighter than it was yesterday. They attribute that to people getting out of here quickly, heeding warnings. It's a little bit different from what we heard from residents yesterday. The majority of those people that we talked to on camera said that they were going to stick this thing out.

That was before the latest model, though, came out this morning and it has a lot of people here very, very nervous that Myrtle Beach could very well see the brunt of this storm. I talked to the local mayor a short time ago. She says that if you do stay behind, there will be no emergency services, there will be no first responders to help you out.

[09:05:03] They are currently evacuating the hospital as well as the emergency room as well as those coastal nursing homes to try to get the elderly out of the way here. The main concern, though, is flooding. This is an area that occasionally floods. They have had an unseasonably wet summertime. A lot of raindrops saturating the ground. They're quite nervous about that as this storm approaches -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, and Nick, you know, I just think for everyone, we all look at you on screen, and we see this beautiful, you know, fall day behind you. We see blue skies, and that does not show what is in store at all. So I hope that the lighter traffic is because people have already gotten out of there, not because more people are staying back.

Keep us posted, Nick. Thanks.

We will get an official update in just a few minutes. FEMA is set to brief everyone on this massive storm as it pushes its way toward the East Coast. Let's go to our correspondent Rene Marsh. She is at FEMA headquarters in Washington.

Rene, what are you hearing from them in terms of, you know. how FEMA is looking at this and preparedness, et cetera, because I did see some reporting in just the last few hours on some concern about multiple hazardous waste sites that are in the storm's path.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT AND AVIATION REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely. And I can tell you at this minute they are actually in their operational meeting, and then they will come out and brief us on the very latest, Poppy. But you mentioned, you know, all of the concerns that FEMA has. I mean, they are stressing to today that today is the last day to safely evacuate areas like North Carolina.

But it's not just FEMA. They are working together with agencies like Health and Human Services, which by the way today said that they prepositioned more than 200 medical personnel and equipment in areas like North Carolina, as well as Maryland to be in position as well as the EPA, which is carefully monitoring this storm.

You mentioned those hazardous waste sites. We do know after speaking to EPA that they are monitoring this because there are some nine sites in the area that is in the hurricane's path that contain hazardous waste. So that will be a concern, too, once you talk about those storms -- the storm surge and the flooding. All of those factors are essentially what the agency is concerned about and what they're working with, their partners like the EPA on to make sure that people who'll stay behind may have contact with these toxic substances are safe -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. All right. Thank you so much, Rene. Again I know that briefing is set to begin in just about five or 10 minutes. So we'll bring it to people. Appreciate the update.

So the president speaking about hurricane preparedness, government response, et cetera. He says the government right now is fully prepared for whatever Hurricane Florence may bring. He also says unappreciated is the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico about a year ago.

The president is insisting the federal response was great, writing that officials did, quote, "an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent mayor of San Juan."

Now the president yesterday went even further in his remarks in the Oval Office. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico I think was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK. Here are the facts. Maria is now officially blamed for 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico. Those are American citizens. Despite an announcement last month that power was finally totally restored in Puerto Rico, that's not what our reporting found. CNN found some areas still off the grid. And the government's own report from just last week has found, one, there was a shortage of proper equipment and generators in Puerto Rico for the recovery, and that FEMA was so stretched by the time Maria hit more than half the workers it was sending out were not qualified, and the lead author of the Government Accountability Office report said that FEMA, and I quote, was, quote, "not prepared to respond to an event like that."

Let's go to Abby Phillip, she joins me this morning from the White House.

Given all of those facts that cannot be disputed, why the revisionist history from the president on this? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. The timing

on this seems in some ways quite unfortunate considering that this is a time when the government is supposed to be focused on the current storm coming toward the East Boast. But President Trump from the very beginning of the Maria crisis last year has been praising the government's response and praising what he considered at that time a low death toll, one that he said was so much better than other catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina.

Now fast forward, we now have evidence that that death toll is likely much larger from people who were affected -- directly affected by the storm and President Trump, as you see there, is blaming an inaccessible island and the mayor of San Juan who at the time was clamoring for more government resources for what transpired there.

[09:10:12] But President Trump is right at this moment also trying to refocus attention on Hurricane Florence. He's trying to prove that this time around the government is going to be ready, that they're going to be prepared in advance. And he released a clip on Twitter this morning urging people to heed the advice of their local officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're fully prepared, food, medical, everything you can imagine. We are ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: And Poppy, I think right now the White House is really focused on making sure that they appear ready not just for the physical response to the storm but also that the president is engaged, that he is seen as being fully responsive to this storm. There is some recognition that the aftermath of Maria has left some folks wondering whether the federal government is going to be consistent in their responses to all of these storms.

And I think today what we will see from this White House is a concerted effort and also from FEMA, a concerted effort to show that they are ready, that they're engaged, that the president is focused on this and that the federal government is not going to be caught flat- footed again -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Right. And that lessons -- I mean, that's what the president was responding to a reporter question about what lessons have you learned from Puerto Rico to help with what's going on now. There are always lessons from past events. Let's hope they are heeded in this response.

Abby, thanks very, very much.

We have a lot ahead this hour and a lot more on the president's victory lap on Puerto Rico and what he means by all of this. Also, all of the president's attacks on the Special Counsel Bob Mueller appear to be backfiring. We have a brand-new CNN poll this morning and it shows a lot more Americans approve of the man running the Russia probe than how the president is handling it. And scandal after scandal within the Catholic Church. Well, this morning an unprecedented move by the Pope to address the sexual abuse.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] POPPY HARLOW, HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, we want to take you to FEMA headquarters in Washington. Right now, authorities from FEMA are behind closed doors, they're having a briefing amongst themselves, a strategy meeting.

They're going to take to the -- left in just a moment, and give us an update on Hurricane Florence and where everything stands, as soon as that begins, we will bring it to you live. Meantime, you've got more than a million people this morning under mandatory evacuation.

Notices as Hurricane Florence spins and spins toward the Eastern Seaboard. Officials are warning of a life-threatening storm. Life- threatening storm surges, dangerous winds and devastating flooding. Carolina Beach in North Carolina could be directly hit by the storm if it continues on this path.

The mayor there is warning residents to get out right now or give authorities the information of their next of kin. It's an ominous warning, no doubt. Let's go to our Kaylee Hartung who joins from Carolina Beach. Every single person -- you know, every hour that goes by, the officials warnings become more and more dire.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do, Poppy. And in just minutes ago, I met a resident named Fred Graddy(ph), he lives just three blocks inland from where I'm standing here. On the beach now, he will be one of those people who gets a knock on his door around 8:00 p.m. or so tonight from local officials, and he will be asked to hand over contact information for his next of kin because he says he plans to ride out this storm, despite the fact he's just three blocks from the beach and his house only raised up three feet.

He believes it's a risk that he can weather because his greater fear is how long it will take folks to get back home after this storm passes. He can recall storms in the past where it took two or three weeks for people to get home and he believes that is a greater challenge to him than the risk of riding out this storm.

But you said it, despite these projections we hear of this storm turning a little bit south, this spot is still well in the bull's eye of this ferocious storm, life-threatening storm surge that could easily topple these sand berms behind me which are 12 feet tall.

Life-threatening and catastrophic flash flooding. Remember, so much fresh water inland that's a cause for concern when you think about flooding as well here in the state of North Carolina, and then of course those hurricane force winds.

Poppy, that deadline for mandatory evacuation on Carolina Beach and the barrier islands in North Carolina, 8:00 p.m. tonight, that's because that's when they believe that the tropical storm force winds around 45 miles an hour will begin to reach this area. There is one bridge, snow's cut bridge that gets people on and off the

island. We are standing on that bridge, it will close at that time. In the meantime, shelters are open in the area and well into the state as far as Raleigh. Four people to head to at this point, you just hope that people are.

The last count I got from the mayor here says he believes of the 6,300 people who live here, 50 percent have already left. He believes about a 100 or so will be staying here. But like you said, those folks are going to get a knock on their door for a very serious conversation with local officials tonight where I'm told it's not supposed to be a scare tactic.

But rather, these local officials want people to recognize the risk they are taking, the risk they are taking with their life if they do stay on this island beyond the deadline that's been set for them, Poppy.

HARLOW: Right, not a good idea at all. As you elaborated, Kaylee, thank you for being there and giving up all of that information, we'll get back to you in a minute. The president this morning is warning Americans, just like we heard from Kaylee, and reassuring them that we're prepared, that the government response is prepared for Hurricane Florence.

At the same time, he is praising the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, calling it one of the greatest responses that we have seen. Let's talk about all of this ahead of Hurricane Florence.

[09:20:00] Shelby Holliday is with me, politics and business reporter for the "Wall Street Journal", good morning. Amie Parnes; political correspondent for "The Hill", good to have you both. And look, the president was asked a question yesterday in the Oval Office. What are the lessons learned from Puerto Rico and the Maria response that you can apply to do better for American citizens?

This time around, a totally legitimate question that any reporter should ask. There are always lessons to be learned. Instead, he didn't list -- I read the entire transcript and watched it again, he didn't list one thing that was learned.

AMIE PARNES, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: Right.

HARLOW: He said it was so great, greater than anyone knows, and if you -- you know, he said there were -- you know, he didn't say there were any mistakes. But if you look at the death toll, I mean, let's pull this up. We now know because of independent studies of this that just came out, 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico blamed because of Hurricane Maria. And the president is calling it an incredible success. What are you --

PARNES: Right, I mean, people are just getting power back now, too. So you have that in addition to the deaths. And he could have talked about how it was a lesson, you know, how what he could have applied, but instead, he chose to, you know, talk about how great it was and he did it again this morning on Twitter where he talked about that. And people remember, this is a weakness for him, a particular weakness

and so is Hurricane Harvey. Hurricanes haven't been the president's strong suit, so instead of saying that, he could have, you know --

HARLOW: We have seen what hurricane responses or lack of appropriate responses can do to presidents and presidential legacies, right, Shelby? Look, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy this morning wrote, and he is saying this is in politics, but let me read this people, because it's germane to this conversation.

Quote, "I mean this seriously, not as a political dig, if you're in Florence's path and considering riding it out, your president just said that a hurricane response where 3,000 people die is a measure of success. Get out of there." That sure sounds like a political dig. But politics aside, is he wrong?

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, POLITICS & BUSINESS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: It's hard to compare these two areas, obviously Puerto Rico is an island as the president continues to point out. I'm not endorsing his response to it, but these are very different areas, very different storms.

I do -- I mean, Martin Luther King once said, we don't get to make history, history makes us. And the president appears to be trying to make history by touting his response to Hurricane Maria and by saying it was a great success when in reality the numbers show it was a devastating tragic storm for an entire island with 3,000 -- nearly 3,000 people dead.

So he appears to be trying to sort of shift the history books, and that is part of the reason why when you look at polls, only 33 percent of Americans think this president is honest and trustworthy. And those numbers maybe don't matter for Trump, but when it comes to natural disasters and national security matters, honest and trustworthy numbers are a very big deal.

HARLOW: And all politics aside, the government's owned -- Government Accountability Office report found a number of failings, we'll get to that in a moment, but let's jump over to Washington D.C. to FEMA headquarters.

We're about to get briefed by the head of the Office for Response and Recovery Jeff Byard will speak in a moment at FEMA. I think, control room, let me know, but we'll take it as soon as he begins speaking, right, guys?

All right, we're going to -- we're going to bring it to you in just a moment. What's the danger, Amie, in not noting mistakes from the past?

PARNES: I mean, it's key because people really care about this. I mean, this is something people are --

HARLOW: Yes --

PARNES: Still talking about and angry about -- HARLOW: All right, and let's listen to Jeff there from FEMA.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN, NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION: Hundred and thirty miles an hour. Florence is centered 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, it's moving west, northwest at 17 miles an hour.

Florence is a large hurricane, tropical storm force winds extend 175 miles from the center and hurricane force winds now extend 70 miles from the center. The forecast have trended just a bit slower with Florence making landfall late Thursday or Friday in coastal North Carolina.

Though Tropical Storm force winds will overspread this area well ahead of this during the day on Thursday. Now, Florence may stall after it makes landfall, and then move very slowly south down the coast. This could mean that parts of North and South Carolina near the coast will experience hurricane force winds and hurricane conditions for 24 hours or more.

Hurricane watches and warnings as well as storm surge watches and warnings are in place across coastal North and South Carolina. In North Carolina, of concern is the Pamlico Sound, the Pamlico River and the Neuse River where 9 to 13 feet of storm surge is forecast especially during times of high astronomical tides.

Also of concern is the Wilmington area and surrounding beaches. Once the storm does move inland, the inland flooding threat is extreme, 15 to 25 inches of rain is forecast, with up to 40 inches near the exact center of Florence.

[09:25:00] There is a large area forecast of 10 inches of rain or more across much of the state of North Carolina, Friday into Saturday. Now, the remnants of Florence will then dissipate and spread out. Interest in the central appellations, Tennessee Valley, Southeastern U.S. and Ohio Valley as well as the Mid-Atlantic should remain vigilant to some sort of heavy rain and flash flood threat as we get into next week. The next update from the National Hurricane Center will be at 11:00 Eastern Time.

JEFF BYARD, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR, OFFICE OF RESPONSE & RECOVERY: Good morning again, I'm Jeff Byard, I'm the Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery for FEMA. The president has declared declarations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. I want to first thank the media for the messaging that got out yesterday and I want to continue in advance, thank you again today.

We need our message out that this is a very dangerous storm that's going to impact many of our citizens in multiple states, not just on the coast but definitely inland. More to follow on that, but I need to re-emphasis this is a dangerous storm, we ask that you heed the warnings. Today is the day.

It's a team effort, just as I think the media, you're part of the team, is getting our message out of the importance and the dangerous nature of this storm. But right now, it's time for our citizens to be a part of the team and heed those warnings and evacuate if you are in one of those zones.

Talk to your local, state government, make sure that you have a plan, download the FEMA app, go to ready.gov to make sure you're ready. The main thing on evacuations is life safety, that will be our priority, as our effort will be stabilization.

But you need to evacuate if you're in one of the evacuation zones. I ask that you do that for your own safety and also for the safety of our first responders. We don't want to put additional risk on our first responders when, you know, this storm, we know it's coming, you hear the -- you know it, you hear the signs, you know the dangers and it's time to evacuate and be a part of the team. At this time, I want to turn over to the Mr. Charlene(ph), he's with the American Red Cross.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Jeff, we appreciate your administrator's long inclusiveness as being part of the team, along with the other private nonprofits and faith-based organizations. We'd like to encourage all residents to, number one, have a plan, know what you're going to do ahead of time, don't wander about aimlessly and take off somewhere not knowing where you're going to go and where you're going to seek refuge.

Number two, get a kit. Know what you're going to put in your kit, shelters are a safe haven, but they're not a resort. So you're going to need your toothbrush, you're going to maybe need pillows and things of that nature to sustain you.

Don't forget your medicines and don't forget to take care of your pets as you come. Number three, know how you're going to get warned. Know the apps you want to download, the news media apps that will warn you and keep you abreast of what's going on.

Would also encourage you like Administrator Byard, just mentioned to download the FEMA app, Red Cross also has an app if you would download that, it will give you up-to-date information on where shelters are being opened as they are opened. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will now open it up to Q and A.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please state your name and affiliation, if you would.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eva McCann(ph), "Spectrum News", we're learning this morning that Senator Jeff Merkley obtained, showing the Trump administration taking nearly $10 million from FEMA which deals with hurricane relief and giving the money to ICE for more detention centers.

What can you tell us about this? Is that funding -- Is that funding -- would that funding have been used for hurricane relief? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am, what I can tell you is we have plenty

of resources, both monetary, staff and commodities to respond to the dangerous storm that it is Hurricane Florence. We again ask those residents who are in the impacted zones to heed the warnings now.

Additional information can be provided, but right now we want to focus on what are those impacts from Florence and what can our citizens do today which is the last good day to evacuate and we really want to push that message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But can you specifically shed any light on this funding that Senator Merkley is calling attention to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am, what I can tell you is we have plenty of resources to respond, we have plenty of resources to recover, that has not impacted our situation whatsoever. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for taking our questions. Do we have any insight and estimate into how much the damage is going to be from the storm's impact and will there need to be more funding from Congress?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's a good question. The question was what -- do we have any impacts or assessments on what the impacts of this storm may be? I can tell you it's going to be large. I can tell you right now as far as the disaster relief fund where healthy enough fund as the fund would utilize with the Stafford Act. We had no concerns --