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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Hurricane Florence Strengthens: 20 Millions Face Threat. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 21:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right. Thank you to Anderson.

I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome, everybody, to PRIME TIME.

Heed the warnings. This one is different. Those are the words from the governor of North Carolina.

It's not just coastal areas at risk. This is right now a category 4 storm. Major catastrophe could happen inland as well as on those barrier islands.

Why are forecasters so concerned about this storm? We'll tell you. The power, the path, how best to prepare a lot of our audience that's in the target area. Please be with us tonight.

Also, is the government ready this time? President Trump tells us absolutely, as ready as ever.

Here's the problem -- his judgment was then called into question immediately by an answer he gave thereafter. The question was what did you learn from Hurricane Maria? He then answers it was an incredible unsung success. What happened in Puerto Rico? Can he say that and still be trusted to manage what's coming?

Will Congress ever demand answers about what happened during Maria? The Senate's number two Democrat is here.

What do you say? Let's get after it.

(MUSIC)

CUOMO: All right. Here's what we know. It's bad news. Florence slowed down.

All that warm water. We know what it does to a hurricane. It makes it stronger. It's now a category 4 storm. What does that mean?

Sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. Sustained, gusts even higher. The National Hurricane Center labels it extremely dangerous.

Tonight, we're learning important new information about the timing and the track.

CNN Meteorologist, Tom Sater is watching Florence.

Let's talk science first. What do you see?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I'll tell you what. This is a crazy beehive of a mess in the Atlantic. I've got to point out, oblige me if you will, by the time Florence makes landfall we could have a tropical depression or storm in the gulf. They are watching it.

Here's the latest. Early this morning, Chris, in the early morning hours, 8:00, a watch was posted. That means the Hurricane Center will start issuing updates every three hours. Since then, it didn't take long to upgrade the hurricane watch to a warning from Santee River, South Carolina, up to Duck, North Carolina, including Pamlico and Albemarle.

Now, with that said, we've got some changes going on here. The last advisory, not much. That's to be expected.

It still has not reached its peak intensity. We believe this could get close to category 5 tomorrow but maybe only 2 miles per hour. The soundtrack is still the same, but there are some changes.

The big concern I have is because the system is so large, so far away, it's going to bring with it a wall of water. When Katrina came out of the gulf, it was a category 5. When it hit New Orleans, it was only a category 2, but it brought with it such a surge of water when it was a 5, we had all-time record surge of 28 feet. So, that's why this is a big concern.

Now, this is interesting. The European model is in blue. You can't see it because it's underneath the U.S. model. Yesterday and the day before, they are in total disagreement. The U.S. wanted to kick it up near the outer banks. You cannot see the euro because they are in agreement.

This is what we want to see. We want to see some consistency. But watch what happens. It doesn't make landfall. It slides to the south staying just offshore.

This is different. Now, this is not going to be carved in stone here, but it's something that we need to pay attention to, because in the future, we may see changes to the advisories.

Let me break it down a little bit more, and this is a good detail. This is the European model bringing it where we expect it just to the north and near Wilmington. This is, of course, at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning Friday.

Let's go a little further in time. Dives down to the south now and still offshore near Charleston at Saturday night. That's several hours of this onshore beating of a wind-driven almost tsunami-like atmosphere increasing the surge.

Believe it or not, just moments ago we found out that the American model, Chris, is now saying, you know what, I kind of like this. I kind of think this may happen. But we need to have consistency and go with the National Hurricane Center's track and for good reason. They still believe landfall at a strong category 3 or a weak 4.

You're not going to note difference. It's not about these winds at this time.

CUOMO: Right.

SATER: But they continue to make this progress inland.

CUOMO: Right.

SATER: It still stalls. If you look at the time stamps, they get shorter, so we're looking at maybe rain Friday morning and lasting 72 hours in this area.

The reason they are continuing to keep this track inland and these computer models, the spaghetti plots do carry it that way. So, you can see where we'll start to see some hem hawing around about what's going to happen, is it going to stall or not. We also believe that when they increased the watch this morning to a warning, they increased the amount of rain and they increase the surge up to 13 feet.

We believe this may be conservative. They don't want to come right out and say several days in advance, it's going to be a 20-foot storm surge. We may see increments with each and every advisory, and that's why this is pretty interesting to note.

CUOMO: And also, you know, people get caught up in the top speeds and numbers.

SATER: Right.

CUOMO: You know, that eye is one set of problems, but you have hundreds of miles out from it. You know, winds, even if they are 70, 80, 90 miles an hour, that's totally enough to change your community, so just because you're not getting hit with it directly, doesn't mean it's not going to be bad.

Now, I was taught when I first got into this business, you got to look at it in the phases. You've got the purge, people needing to get out. You got the surge, what comes with the wind and water. You've got the merge which is when land and storm become one and everything is destroyed.

SATER: Good.

CUOMO: And then you have the dirge, which is, you know, the ugly aftermath of who is gone because of it.

SATER: Yes.

CUOMO: So, we are dealing with the purge. Are the people getting out? We're being told a million are set to evacuate, and what is the coefficient of time and opportunity? How long do they have until they have waited too long? SATER: All right. Great question. Now, we talked about Hugo the

other day, 29 years ago. The population has increased over 25 percent in the coastal area. That's important to know. That's more cars on the highway to get out.

Let's take a look. They got the day tomorrow, Chris, especially for those that want to put plywood on their doors and windows, because at the end of the day and use every hour, because by Friday morning or Thursday as we get into Thursday morning, that is, the tropical storm force winds are going to be strong enough that you're not going to be able to put the plywood up.

So, you've got the day tomorrow to get the things you need. Get on the road and if you're going to, you know, shore up and prep like that with the plywood do it, because these winds -- and I want to get in a little bit closer and you get an idea of what we're expecting.

Tropical storm force winds hit Thursday and 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, by Friday morning well inland and by Friday you're back out to areas all the way to West Virginia. I mean, this is massive. That is tropical storm force winds that extend outwards 175 miles.

CUOMO: All right. And also, people have to remember, I mean, look, you guys are living down there and note local traffic better than we do. I was looking at the maps today, and there aren't a million ways out. You are going to be hitting traffic. You have to budget time for that.

I've also been cheating in on the local newscasts. They are doing a great job in telling you what the traffic delays are and how much time you need to budget. So, please, pay attention.

Last question for you right now, Tom. The unique characteristics of this coastline that make it vulnerable to this, what is it like along there?

SATER: Well, I'll tell you what. There isn't a more vulnerable spot in the entire U.S. than this area. Let's look at an inundation map so can you get an idea of what you're talking about as far as the surge into certain areas.

All right. Let's go in towards areas down towards the south. Savannah, when you see these colors of yellow, you're over six feet of storm surge all the way to Charleston, blues like one to three feet and all the sounds, across the barrier islands.

Here we go down to Southport, you get to Carolina Beach in Wilmington, the barrier islands and then you got the intercoastal and a high berm, and you're still talking over six feet. Further to the north though, you're starting to see six to nine, maybe ten foot, and that's up not just the Cape Fear River, but you've got the Neuse River, you've got the Tar River. That is well inland.

If this storm stalls off the coast, that's hour after hour of just pushing more and more of this water in than just making its way inland. So, once the storm surge reaches this spot, the heavy rains fall, that, too, then, all that flooding will come back out from the rivers to this area, so they are going to get flooded on both sides. Extremely vulnerable.

CUOMO: You know, that whole area of the country, if you want, you know, just to give yourself some confidence in what you're hearing, look at the coastline, the south coastline of Long Island, and it got hit by one bad storm. I'm not talking about Sandy, I'm talking about back in the 1930s, and it changed the topography of the area. It created massive bays and inlets and the need for engineering that is still there a generation later.

So, Tom, thank you very much. You and I are going to be spending a lot of quality time. I'll be in position soon enough to give you the best information that I can from the ground.

SATER: You got it.

CUOMO: All right. Be well.

So, now, look, the big macro question is are we ready for Florence? Are all levels of government ready to go? They should be. FEMA, state and local authorities, they have had time. They have had opportunity and they know what the unique characteristics of this place are.

It's new information for a lot of you, not for those who are in charge.

But the president said today what he should have said. We're totally ready, as ready as ever. But then he said something that gave us really good reason to doubt whether he knows what he is talking about. We wanted to discuss his feelings and fact check in a sobering way, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: You know, everything we say on this show has a reason. The reason I keep pushing lawmakers to have hearings on Hurricane Maria because when you don't look back and scrutinize, you run the risk of cementing mistakes. We know the expression, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it and that's where we are today.

Trump was asked what did you learn from last year's storms, including Hurricane Maria, the unmitigated disaster in Puerto Rico. This was his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What lesson do we take from what happened in Puerto Rico? How will we apply the lessons we took from Puerto Rico?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Wow.

All right. The president has been invited and refuses to make his case to you on this show. He'd rather hang out with his Fox family, but the obvious pushback is you told us 16 died and then said it was 64. Here is the closest sense of numbers we have, 2,975.

The president used Katrina as a benchmark of what a catastrophe is. Look at difference. Look at the difference with all the storms.

This was the worst in a generation, and he calls it a success? Who says he's right. This is his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The governor has been very nice. If you ask the governor, he'll tell you what a great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, was the governor very nice? Yes, he was. He praised the initial response as it was underway. Most famously you'll remember with the president prompting him to praise him in the Oval Office.

But that was then, this is now. There's the governor. Here are his words.

The historical relationship between Puerto Rico and Washington is unfair and un-American. It is certainly not a successful relationship. Our basic infrastructure was devastated. Thousands of our people lost their lives.

So what does Trump do when confronted with this? What no good leader he does -- he blames the victim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They had no money. It was largely, you know, largely closed, and when the storm hit, they had no electricity essentially before the storm and before the storm hit that took it out entirely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: One, if that were all true, why didn't you prepare for it? Why didn't you take that under consideration?

These aren't someone you were doing a favor for. This is an American territory. Secondly, he isn't right. He's grossly exaggerating the situation.

The power grid in Puerto Rico is not like it is in Indianapolis. It was in poor shape, no question, but to say it was dead before the storm and the island had no electricity demonstrably false. Tourism brought $4 billion into the island the year before. Hotels, shopping, malls, restaurants were all booming.

So now what? Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think the Puerto Rico was wan incredible unsung success. We've gotten a lot of receptivity to the job we've done in Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Certainly unsung because nobody agrees. Do you know who is saying that? Just the president and people who agree with whatever he says. No one else.

You remember, even President George W. Bush said he took responsibility for the federal government's failures within a month of Hurricane Katrina, and there were failures. They were on his watch. That was what he was supposed to do.

We're not getting that with this president. We can only hope that when President Trump says that the disaster response to Florence that he -- that we should be in great shape, we hope that that is the assessment of people who actually know what they are talking about, and that they have told him that.

Truthful hyperbole as he wrote in his book, that's one thing. His lying, that's a problem. But this, what he said, calling Puerto Rico part of an unsung success is a level of delusion that must be checked by those around him and by Congress.

You must meet, find facts and fix, Congress. That's your job.

And once again like the op-ed and the book from Woodward that came out today, both tell us we need to depend on those around this president to make sure people are safe.

So, the phrase of the day is "unsung success". My question, setting up the great debate, has president finally found a level of B.S. that simply cannot be defended? And this Woodward book out today, is it a tipping point?

Great debate, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Today, the president spoke from the Oval Office assuring everyone in the path of Florence that the federal government is prepared and ready to handle whatever comes their way.

This as Trump also touted his administration's response to Puerto Rico as incredibly successful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A 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)

CUOMO: You see the little graph there on the side that looks like a gauge. It's supposed to be Florence and the strength of the storm. That was like a B.S. meter there. You see how the needle was like hitting the edge because that's what it takes to call Puerto Rico any kind of success.

These comments come as and reasonably stand as proof why President Trump's approval ratings having taken a dramatic dip.

Let's discuss all of this with our great debater Van Jones, David Urban.

David, help me with this.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, Chris.

CUOMO: How do you call what happened in Puerto Rico a success?

URBAN: Chris, so, look. You're a facts first guy. You've got the board up there, and I know facts matter to you. So, let's look at the facts, right?

So, initially, whether it's 64 or 3,000 deaths, too many, right? It's too many. It's tragic. It's a disaster on a scale that no one should have to endure. But the facts are what the facts are, and you are deriding the president for his comments about Puerto Rico not being prepared.

I mean, if you look at it, Puerto Rican electric power company was in bankruptcy. Seventy percent -- this is prior to the storm -- 70 percent of the Puerto Rican population didn't have clean drinking water according to the 1974 Drinking Water Act. Eighty percent -- you talk about the president lying and say -- 80,000 Puerto Ricans were without power before Maria hit because of Irma which had hit right before that.

So, with the president saying it was an unmitigated success -- you know, look, there's no way to say disaster response is going to be a success. It's a disaster. You're responding to it. You're trying to mitigate this disaster.

And so, what they did, the responders got there as quick as they could. They went --

CUOMO: Wrong.

URBAN: Chris, listen, 80 percent, I talk to -- you know, you want to talk facts first again, Chris.

CUOMO: Yes.

URBAN: One of my college roommates was on the ground there, and he's a Democrat, Chris.

CUOMO: Good for him.

URBAN: He's a -- a very senior emergency management guy. When you get there, 80 percent of the telephone poles knocked down. Ports closed. Airports closed.

CUOMO: How did they prepare for that?

URBAN: Chris, they had -- Chris, three consecutive. You're a smart guy. Three consecutive major hurricanes.

CUOMO: None of this was new.

URBAN: Chris, it is new. It is new, Chris.

CUOMO: What I really wanted to hear from you the president shouldn't have called it an unsung success.

URBAN: I said that, Chris. I said it. I said that at the beginning.

CUOMO: It's beyond any type of insult I can come up with in the segment.

URBAN: What the president should have said is given the circumstances that we faced, it was a huge success.

CUOMO: Right, and that would have been untrue, too.

Let me get over to you, Van.

URBAN: Chris, how is that untrue?

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: All of this stuff that Dave is saying people knew. They knew the vulnerabilities. It's a territory of America, OK? It's not some place far, far away that we only see on TV.

URBAN: Chris, are you insinuating -- you're doing a disservice, Chris, to the brave men and women --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Oh, here we go. Here's the part that insulting people if you say that the response stunk. Then that's what I'm doing because I was there, and everybody knows that they weren't ready for it, Dave --

URBAN: The National Guard showed (ph) up, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Look, don't be cheap about this.

URBAN: I'm not being cheap, Chris.

CUOMO: We have more deaths that we've had in a generation, OK? And it happened because the place was vulnerable. We didn't take care of those vulnerabilities, we didn't pre-load, and then once it happened, we didn't get there, and then the government went into a denial mode and that delayed things even worse and he wound up compromising people on the ground.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Shame on you for ignoring the facts, Chris. You know the facts.

CUOMO: Van, let me bring you in.

URBAN: You know the facts, Chris.

CUOMO: I do know the facts.

Van, please, look, for him to call it an unsung success, come on!

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Let me just -- I just think we have to try to learn things as a country. Fortunately the guys at FEMA, the men and women at FEMA are a little bit more honest than the president was, and they put forward a case that sounds frankly very much like what you're saying, Chris, that they made some real mistakes.

First of all, you've got to remember you had big fires that year. You had Harvey. You had Irma and then you had Maria, so FEMA was really taxed at that point.

URBAN: Absolutely, Van.

JONES: And they also overestimated -- I'm talking theme a. FEMA says they overestimated how well the locals could handle it will.

CUOMO: Right.

JONES: Now, that's a big mistake to make because --

CUOMO: Right.

JONES: -- as Chris just said, everybody knows Puerto Rico was already on its back. So, you had very bad -- before -- before this happened, FEMA by its own estimation says they didn't plan well. What you would want the president to do is then to say, you know what. I read what FEMA said and I agree with FEMA's self-critique and here's what I learned from it.

The reason that we're having this conversation now is because the president apparently is not taking his own reporting agency seriously, and that's a real reason for a concern tonight.

CUOMO: Look, Dave, you can shake your head and you, look, you know my fight is not with you. But this is what I'm saying. You've done this to now twice. When we're talking about Madison Kelly, you said, are you going to call their credibility into question?

URBAN: Chris, I'm just saying -- you are. Yes, absolutely. (CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Look, I'm saying you're covering for the president and they are saying what they have to because of the position they are in. And those on the ground in the Puerto Rico, the great men and women from the National Guard, and I get protected by our first responders on a regular basis. When I go down there now into Carolina, I will once again be dependent upon them to keep me safe like they did in Pakistan, like they do in Iraq, like they do in Afghanistan. I put all first responders and the people who serve us in one big group of heroes.

URBAN: Right.

CUOMO: This isn't about deriding them and they are being put in a position by the president. They told me on the ground, we don't have enough. We're not in the right places. We can't get it done.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You can't yell at me, Chris.

CUOMO: I'm not yelling. I'm yelling to you to listen to this.

URBAN: So, listen, my question is where is the breakdown? So, it's the president is not doing his job and somehow what -- so it goes -- everybody is doing their job along the way but the president is what you're saying?

CUOMO: No. What I'm saying is that this president is so hell bent on twisting everything into a win and treating the truth like it was a tissue that he just says whatever suits him in the moment.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Chris --

CUOMO: To call Puerto Rico an unsung success defies reason.

URBAN: Chris, what he should have said given what we are dealing with, to Van's point, to amplify that. Given what we're dealing with, three back-to-back major storms, an island nation that was devastated, it was ill-prepared and was devastated, we did it a pretty damned good job.

CUOMO: Right, imagine if George Bush, Van Jones, had said, you know, look, if you look at New Orleans, those levees, they stink, and those poor people, they build lousy homes, you know? And --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I'm not -- Chris, I'm not blaming anybody here. Chris, I'm talking about the facts here. I'm not blaming them.

CUOMO: The facts are what they are. It's how they were managed.

Van, go ahead.

URBAN: Chris, there was no power. I'm not blaming them. There's no power, it's a fact.

JONES: Before we run out of time, listen, the fact that we didn't have power means we should have had a better and stronger response than we did. In other words, we have a responsibility to take the facts as they are and the facts are bad.

Let me just draw a contrast. When there was a disaster in Japan in 2011, President Obama sent seven ships to Japan to do search and rescue, a huge --

URBAN: Van, do you know how many ships were outside of Puerto Rico, do you know how many?

JONES: I'm really trying to make my point. You get to talk about more than I do in these segments.

So what you saw was a leaning forward, you saw a real rallying around and you didn't hear a lot of excuses and that kind of thing. And so, I think when you have a President Obama, that's a standard. In other words, so you have that as a standard that's been set.

URBAN: Chris, quick fire back. There were 11 Coast Guard ships. The USS Comfort hospital ship was there. The president sent two U.S. Marine Corps ships, 2,500 marines.

JONES: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I mean , those were all there on the ground. Eight Blackhawks from Ft. Campbell and all of those things were put forward.

JONES: And that's the problem, because and -- listen, you talk to people in Puerto Rico and from Puerto Rico. The aid wasn't getting through despite all that. There's a problem here.

Listen, I'm not somebody who wants to come on every night and say President Trump says something dumb. If that's all we want to talk about him saying dumb stuff, we'll have a very long program. I think we got to learn as a country, when do we get it right when it's wrong?

URBAN: I agree with you. What was the problem in Puerto Rico?

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: And I'm going to tell you, the problem is that in Puerto Rico, it was known that the country - that that territory was struggling and FEMA's plans did not reflect that reality from the beginning, and that's what FEMA says about itself. And so, the fact that the president didn't come out and support FEMA's own self-critique, that's why we should be concerned because the commander-in-chief isn't listening to the people below him who are saying, boss, we screwed this up. They are saying they screwed it up and the president won't acknowledge it.

URBAN: OK, Van. I'm not -- again, I agree things should have gotten there quicker. The argument about whether 64 deaths or 3,000 deaths, look, any death is too many. We should try to pretend it.

CUOMO: No, you're skipping over. You thought it was 64. It was 3,000.

URBAN: Chris, again --

CUOMO: You understand that that matters?

URBAN: Chris, I read the whole Milken report. Did you read -- I read all the Milken report before I came on from G.W. which is got the 2,975 deaths.

CUOMO: Right. That's the one that the Puerto Rico government commissioned but there are several out there. They're all very high.

URBAN: I just read it, and what it says is that those underreported deaths were due to a large extent because the state and local government was ill-prepared in how to record and report deaths. This isn't some grand conspiracy by the Trump administration.

CUOMO: President Trump said when it was 16 people, thank God we got so lucky here.

URBAN: Chris, it's not some grand conspiracy --

CUOMO: Imagine if -- who say -- it doesn't have to be a conspiracy to be wrong. When he said it was only 16, he said, imagine if it were --

URBAN: So, does it make it better that if it's 16 or does it worse?

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: What a catastrophe it would have been. You then have a much higher death toll and it's an unsung success.

URBAN: It's terrible. It's terrible.

CUOMO: Van, last word.

JONES: I got one more thing to say. One thing to say.

The bigger picture here is that storms like this look they are getting bigger, worse and more frequent and the climate disruption going on, you -- on a bipartisan basis, Barack Obama and John McCain agreed they wanted to get something done. Now we have the Republican Party not wanting to talk about the climate disruption.

I think we -- as a country, we've got to learn. If these storms are getting bigger and worse, we need to be moving to a strategy where we are much more aggressive at moving to clean energy and much more aggressive at protecting lives in harm's way.

CUOMO: Well, look, there's one thing we can all agree on, Dave. I've got to go for time.

But, first of all, appreciate you making your points. Van, you too. It's just so hard when you're on the ground and you have to look these people in the face.

URBAN: Chris, I know, it's terrible.

CUOMO: And you know that they have been failed. It's a tough position to be in. And you don't like to hear it, you don't like to hear it exaggerated. I've got to jump.

URBAN: Chris, get everyone out of the way of the storm that's coming in, the Puerto Rico people didn't get the chance to get out like the folks in North Carolina can.

CUOMO: That's true. They have time.

JONES: Amen, amen.

CUOMO: That's fair warning.

And also the word to Congress -- you have a responsibility to look into what happened last time or we will repeat the same thing.

JONES: Chris, we can do better, should do better.

CUOMO: Dave Urban, thank you very much. Van Jones, always a pleasure.

All right. So, what do the Democrats make of the president's assessment of the last storm? What do the Republicans make of it? Hear that? That's the Republican leadership responding to what the president called an unsung success today. They won't come on, but the Senate's number two Democrat will, and he's here next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Look, I hope we all wind up being wrong and the science is wrong, but right now everything is pointing to Hurricane Florence being a big problem for the East Coast. I would think that we're going to be in good shape because we've heard it from the authorities, and we've heard it from the president today, but then he gave this confounding notion of what he considers a success, the response in Puerto Rico. That's what he calls an unsung success.

So, we take it to the number two Democrat in the Senate, Illinois' Dick Durbin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Senator Durbin, thank you for joining us on PRIME TIME.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: It's god to be with you.

CUOMO: All right. Top of the docket tonight is this storm is coming, Florence. It looks like we're not going to avoid a bad situation here. Obviously, we're going to mobilize, but the help starts at the top, and the president spoke today about Hurricane Florence, and he put it into the context of what was learned from Hurricane Maria, and the question matters.

He was asked, what lessons were learned? Here was his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Is he thinking of some different Maria than I remember being in Puerto Rico with a death toll that was grossly exaggerated and people who had no water and power and were treated like they weren't part of America?

DURBIN: I can tell you that if we'd had that similar storm response in the United States and left people without electricity for almost a year, there would have been riots in the streets of America. It would have been totally unacceptable.

The president has obviously forgotten the obvious. The Puerto Rican people have suffered greatly, and he shouldn't be bragging about the response to that hurricane.

CUOMO: Now, his supporters will chock this off to style points. That's how he talks, but actually the government did everything that it could. Do you have any concern that we didn't learn lessons and that that may come to bear on what happens with Florence?

DURBIN: I'm not going to jump ahead. I'm hoping for the best, and we all are. We don't want to see the loss of human life. We want destruction to be as little as possible and pray that that's the result.

But I hope we learned something with what happened in Puerto Rico about what happens after a long period of time when there's no response. It is devastating -- devastating not only to the people and the families but certainly to the economy.

CUOMO: One thing. I agree that we don't want to jump ahead in forecasting tragedy, but the whole way you prepare is by jumping ahead right? I mean, what we got wrong in Puerto Rico is that we didn't think about what it would need. We didn't take its vulnerabilities into consideration, and I hope they are doing it differently on the East Coast with respect to the Carolinas.

DURBIN: Well, I hope they will, too, and we're all holding our breath because this is supposed to be a very dangerous storm hitting the Carolinas and Virginia. And it comes at a time when many of us are supposed to be headed back to Washington for a vote after the Jewish holy days. CUOMO: Right.

DURBIN: So, it -- it's a matter that we're all watching carefully and concerned that human life is the highest priority.

CUOMO: Well, it's important. We will be there to make sure that our leaders understand the situation on the ground and communicate the urgency as needed.

Now, this statement from the president signals something else. Once again, the president has said something that has very little basis in fact, and what we hear right now -- silence is what he's getting from the Republican leadership. Once again nobody steps up to check the president within his own party.

Why?

DURBIN: I think they are afraid of the reaction back home. Many Republican senators have told me they are embarrassed by his remarks and some of his actions, but they believe that the Republican base back home is in lockstep and is devoted and loyal to the president regardless of what he says or does. They are afraid of reaction in their own primaries if they are too critical.

CUOMO: So what they learned from this op-ed by the anonymous writer, what you see in the Woodward book, what we get from leaks from the White House all this time. In the past, this was something where members of the party would step up, at least in private and go to leadership within the White House and say you need to check this, or we'll do it for you.

DURBIN: Well, history will write the chapter here of the Republican Party under Donald Trump and whether or not after hundreds if not thousands of statements, misstatements by him during the course of early days of his presidency, what the reaction was from his Republican colleagues, and I will just tell you that many of them can make a difference in history if they would be more forthright about their personal feelings.

CUOMO: Senator Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, thank you for being on PRIME TIME, as always.

DURBIN: Good to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: All right. Look, hope is not enough. We need accountability for the past and helps for preparation in the future.

And right now with Florence, more than a million have been ordered to leave as this hurricane comes bearing down. Some as is always the case refuse to go. We have a bar owner for you who says, I'm going to ride out the storm, and the memory from Hurricane Hugo which changed the way that part of the country looks to this day says it actually gives her confidence to stay. Why? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Hurricane Florence is rapidly approaching the U.S. coastline, and it seems to be getting stronger by the hour. It's already got more than a million people being ordered to get out. Now some, as is always the case, some are choosing to stay put.

One such stalwart is with us right now, Maaike Brandis. She's a bar owner in North Carolina, hoping to brave the store.

Now, important context. She's lived through other hurricanes. Hugo most notably which was the worst that that area had seen in a generation, but also, Bertha, Fran, Bonnie and Floyd.

First of all, Maaike, thank you for being on the show. You know I'm coming to you at a place from love and support, right?

MAAIKE BRANDIS, BAR OWNER RIDING OUT HURRICANE FLORENCE: Thank you.

CUOMO: I'm not here to give you a hard time about your life decisions. I just want to make sure you know what you're doing because I want you to be OK.

BRANDIS: Absolutely. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: All right. So tell me, make your case. Why is it okay that you're staying when you've been told it's time to go?

BRANDIS: Well, it's a voluntary evacuation for where I live right now. I own a small business and a house, and I want to be here in case anything happens. If I need to call my insurance companies, if I need to take care of damage around my property whether it's the bar or my residence, I want to be here.

I've weathered out several serious storms, and I've just -- I have responsibilities here. I'm not jumping ship. I'm going to go down with the ship if I have to.

CUOMO: God forbid, God forbid.

I get the responsibilities, but you heard the governor say today this isn't like the others. What does that mean to you?

BRANDIS: Well, it means I have to be extra vigilant, make sure I'm extra stocked up, make sure I'm very close contact with my neighbors and my family members and my friends and my staff, but I do see that it's going to be weakening a little bit hopefully once it hits the coast. So all I can do is cross my fingers and ride it out.

I mean, there's a lot of us staying here. There's a ton of people going. Also, too, once we get inland, how long are we going to be stuck there?

CUOMO: I know.

BRANDIS: And how long is it going to take until we can get home?

CUOMO: I know, that's also the luck --

BRANDIS: I was out after Hurricane Matthew and I left the mountains of North Carolina. Should have taken six hours and it took 11, because there's so many road closures. I went down so South Carolina, I went North, it took entirely too long to get home. And if there's damage to my business, if there's damage to my personal property I want to be here to take action immediately.

I don't want to be stuck in the middle part of the state where they're also going to experience severe rains and potential flooding --

CUOMO: Right.

BRANDIS: -- and very intense winds. I want to be here.

CUOMO: You make a strong case, but there's one thing going against you that's hard to deal with. What matters most to you?

BRANDIS: My personal safety obviously which I have taken many measures to protect --

CUOMO: How? How are you going to be safe?

BRANDIS: -- my health and my house.

CUOMO: If the stuff really comes, how do you do it? What do you have going for you there? You have generators. What have you done to prepare?

BRANDIS: I don't have a generator, but I think about what humans did before we had electricity and I'm just going to do that. I was raised by my grandfather's words of wisdom of how he did in the prisoner of war camp. So, we're just going to tough it out.

CUOMO: Maaike, you seem like a very cool and interesting person, and I would like to meet you. I hope that the circumstances are not that I'm coming through Wilmington doing door knocks and I'm trying to pull you off your roof in a horrible situation.

I hope it doesn't happen. I hope this storm is completely misunderstood, but just in case it isn't, please, make sure that you keep in your ear to the information, you're telling your neighbors the same thing and at a minimum, you make sure you know where each other is when the bad stuff comes so you got help around you.

BRANDIS: Absolutely. One hundred percent.

CUOMO: All right. Maaike, you be well. I'll be checking on you.

BRANDIS: This is not my first rodeo. I've been -- thank you, Chris. Thank you so much.

CUOMO: All right. I'll be checking on you down there. We have your contact information. I hope you make it. All right? Be well.

BRANDIS: Absolutely. CUOMO: All right. Don Lemon is standing by.

You're no stranger to hurricanes. You grew up down there. You had to deal with it as part of life. People stay behind all the time, and most of the time, they're OK. But it scares me every time.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Every time. Ever since I was a kid, I remember, you know, being in the house with my family and my grandma hunkering down under the bed.

Hurricanes are nothing to play with. And people say, well, I've done it before. Every one is different. Every single hurricane is different.

Just -- the difference between a category 3 and a category 4, I mean, it's still a very strong hurricane. If they're banking on this thing weakening to a category 3 when it comes -- when it makes landfall, that's still a very strong storm. And as you and I both know, the backside of that storm people underestimate, and that's where all the floodwaters, that's where the storm surge comes in.

So, I would, you know -- the best way to deal with a hurricane is to get out of its way. You can replace every single thing except for your life.

CUOMO: Well, look, best we can do is get the information out, hope that she knows better. Like I said, I have her information. When we're down there, we'll probably be in that area a little bit. At least we'll get to check on some people as we can.

Don, looking forward.

LEMON: Eleven o'clock update is going to happen during my show. So, stay tuned. Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. We'll be watching, just a few minutes from now. Thank you, my friend.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: So, today's a big day, right? Seventeen years ago our country came together after a catastrophe of a very different nature than a hurricane. And I think that this being 9/11 means something special this year. I know it's 17 years later, but it might as well be yesterday for the people who lived through it.

And it's an important day for a new reason. My closing argument, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: I'm one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason. So, today is 9/11, 17 years since that horrible, horrible day. You're looking at the Freedom Towers now, those real preternatural glowing lights at the top, beckoning us to draw our eyes to the sky, and hopefully, people are in a better place who were lost that day. The tribute in light it's called.

You know, when I was down there this morning, hearing those names being read, it's just a timeless grief, 17 years. Might as well be 17 seconds. Never forget, we say, who was lost, who did it, how it hurt.

But also, I would ask you to never forget what happened next. Those were the worst of times, and it was then that we saw the best in people. New York City was the recipient of love and condolence from all over. On the streets, there was something you never hear here -- quiet. There weren't honks of frustration, there was no shoving at the subway door for a good while anyway. Why?

We were united. We were mourning, and we were welcoming the chance to see the next morning that we were blessed enough to have. We decided to be good to one another because why the hell not? What did we have to be so petty about in that moment after surviving something so profound?

That stayed with me along with the grief and the longing for who and what are no longer here. I also longed for what remained, that closeness. And on the same day that we remember that coming together 9/11, we should never forget because we find ourselves too far apart in this moment. And we're also on the verge of needing to come together once again in ways big and small.

On the day that we look back at fear and loss, we may be on the doorstep of another knock this time, and it's from natural tragedy. I pray that I am wrong, but Hurricane Florence looks like it's going to be terrible, and it's headed toward parts of the East Coast that have not seen this kind of ugly for 20 years. And the topography there is uniquely vulnerable.

We will be there, and I for one don't go for the spectacle. I'm no fan of standing in the rain and much worse. But I know the job matters. I know how valuable the information is to first responders, to the people left behind, and to those who need help, and to you, to remind us all whether you're near or far of your connection to this place.

We are going to be tested, and I mean that. We are going to be tested, all levels of government, first responders, people who live there, near there, and all the rest of you too. Why? Because you're going to be needed. People may not survive, and those who do will not be able to survive for long on their own. Cash to candles, clothing to classroom materials. Construction, simple consolation. The need is going to be great.

So, my argument is this. On the day that we say "never forget", remember what we're really about. Do forget what tortures our political dialogue right now and instead remember how we deal with true torment.

Trouble is coming, and it is time to remember who we are when times are at their worst. It's time for this country to show once again who and what it is at its best.

Thank you for watching.

"CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON" starts right now.

The hurricane is coming. I wish it weren't. I hope we're wrong, but it doesn't look that way.