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Hurricane Florence Moves Towards North and South Carolina; Cities in North and South Carolina Evacuated ahead of Landfall for Hurricane Florence; Hurricane To Test Trump Ahead of Midterm Elections. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's the combination of threats here that's the real problem. It's not just the wind, and you will have wind speeds of 110 miles an hour, but also the rain that Alisyn was saying, some three feet of rain in some places, and then the storm surge, six to nine feet.

And on top of it all, it's the duration. This storm will be hitting for more than 48 hours. There are tropical storm force storm winds north of 45 miles an hour in some places. As we have said, the outer bands of this storm already hitting the outer banks of North Carolina, and it will take a very slow turn, which mean this is entire region will be in the crosshairs for a very, very long time.

One of the biggest concerns here where I am in Oak Island is storm surge. Let me explain. This is why it is so frightening for the people here. High tide last night was right about here, right about here. You see this berm, this manmade berm or dune behind me. This will overflow with a storm surge of three feet. They are expecting a storm surge here of nine feet. That means this island will be inundated with water and inundated with sand. And some of these homes which are boarded up, there will be serious damage there, and that is why there have been mandatory evacuation orders in place.

The wind will be hitting here for two days -- 45 miles an hour winds or worse up to 110 for two full days. What does that sound like? This morning we have a new sense of how ferocious this storm is. This is a light station about 35 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Just listen for a second. That's incredible. I was listening to this moments ago with a man who chose to stay on this island, and I could tell that the sound of this storm made him think twice about whether he made the right decision. Again, mandatory evacuation orders in place where I am, up and down the coast. A million people or more have been told to leave their homes. Hopefully they have done so by now.

We have got reporters up and down the Carolina coast. First, though, let's get the very latest forecast. We're hoping for an 8:00 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. Chad Myers, what are you learning?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is in. It is 110 miles per hour right now, so a category two storm. Hurricane hunter in the eye right now. The difference, and the only change, is now we're moving to the west/northwest at 12 miles an hour, so that slowdown is beginning to occur. Yesterday at this time it was 17 miles an hour.

There is your eye. It's going to be coming very, very close to Wilmington and then maybe turning to the left right there. So as we work our way into today, and where that flag was, it's where the winds are coming in. Morehead City, you're about to get it because now you're on this north side of the eye. But John, for you, when the eye gets somewhere in here, that's when you are going to begin to see the winds come around this way. And so they are going to be blowing offshore. That will take the storm surge and push it back into the ocean.

But now all of a sudden we have to keep moving this forward. And now we put the storm here. And that's when, John, you and all the people there to the south and southeast of Wilmington, will get surged, and the wind will blow from that direction for a very long time.

The real threat I believe here is this catcher's mitt that we have right here as all of this wind in ways eventually get into this, and that's where the 13 to maybe 15 foot surge is going to be. Now, that's water level above sea level. And the tide in that area goes up and down about four to four and a half feet during the day twice up and down. So when you take the time, you add the time to the surge, and then you add the waves on top of that tide. All of a sudden, there may be few homes left if they're not way up on stilts, 150 nautical miles away from the shore right now and moving to the northwest at 12.

There's the very, very latest we have, northwest at 12 miles per hour. We lost the eye overnight, but it appears to be coming back on the satellite. We can already see it on the radar, but we may have lost it on satellite. If it comes back today, there is still a chance for this to grow a little by. It doesn't matter if it is a two or a one, the surge under this, John, is a four.

BERMAN: That's right. The surge is related to the size of the storm, and it's an immense storm, and that's the problem. And Chad, you're talking about these houses on stilts. All the houses where I am are on stilts, but it may not be enough even then to protect them all.

And one more thing. Chad mentioned the storm is slowing down. That may sound good. It's not. It's a bad thing. The longer this storm lingers, the greater storm surge you will see, the more rain will fall, and that's a real threat. Chad mentioned that the eye of the storm eventually will pass over Wilmington, North Carolina. That's just a little bit north of where I am right now. Our Kaylee Hartung is there. Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I'm standing on a floating dock in the intercoastal waterway between Wilmington in front of me and Wrightsville Beach behind me.

[08:05:02] Keep in mind that context that Chad just gave to what it means for when a storm surge hits, when in the tide it is. I am told that this marina, this dock in particular, built to sustain a category five hurricane. These concrete pilings right here, they are 17 feet from where they say the mean thigh tide is. This mark you see right here, where that mean high tide is.

For some context for what this area has experienced, hurricane Hazel, I'm told the water basically to the top of this piling. When it came to hurricane Fran in 1996, the shorter, older wooden pilings you see to my left that are about eight feet tall, the docks were floating right up off of them. Locals saying they expect to see that, and when you hear about the level of storm surge this area could experience, you understand how these floating docks could float right up off these pilings and into the parking lot up in front of me.

Wilmington in front of me. As I mentioned, but Wrightsville Beach behind me actually this bridge, that's one of those barrier islands under mandatory evacuation. Authorities telling me they believe only a handful of folks are left on the island. Police telling me they have seen two cars come across that bridge today, people they have led off willingly. One of those men, though, he had a conversation with one of those officers last night where he was told if he was going to stay, he needed to take a sharpie and write his name and his Social Security number on his arm if he was going to stay, John. He changed his mind.

BERMAN: Good, good for him. Kaylee Hartung up in Wilmington, North Carolina. We're coming your way shortly, so get that umbrella ready.

In the meantime I want to go to Ken Graham with the National Hurricane Center. Ken, we're getting the new 8:00 update. We just heard the storm has slowed down, now moving at 12 miles an hour. What does that mean?

KEN GRAHAM, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, that's as advertised. We're slowing down, we're looking at it on radar. You just can see the center here. We had a progressive hurricane, but now all of a sudden it is slowing down, so that is coming true. But you know what is interesting about the system, the tropical storm force winds extend 170 miles from the center. So you are starting to see those high winds and those high levels of the rainfall coming on in. And the latest forecast shows still slowing down, not a lot of movement with time, just like we talked about yesterday. This is 2:00 a.m. Friday. This is 2:00 a.m. Saturday. That's not a lot of geography in 24 hours.

BERMAN: No, that's not a lot of geography, and that's a real problem. People are used to hearing about when the eye wall makes land fall. That's not the issue here. Tell me when and where people will start feeling tropical storm force winds and hurricane force winds, and then for how long.

GRAHAM: Yes. You're going to look for a long time, because if you think about this movement and you think about 70 miles from the center of the hurricane force winds, look at this. This is 170 miles or so at the maximum of the tropical storm force winds, so those high winds are reaching the coast as we speak in those outer bands.

And if you think about it, still a hurricane through really tomorrow afternoon. So through this afternoon through tomorrow afternoon, it's a day of these hurricane force winds battering the coastline and the storm surge and the rain. All of those impacts are completely independent of the category. The last 24, 25 years I've seen these systems, I've seen low categories produce a top of storm surge. So it is about the size, it's about the speed. Those are the characteristics that go into these hurricanes that cause those giant impacts.

BERMAN: What does that mean, because there will be at least two high tide cycles because this storm will linger for so long? Does that mean people will be getting this storm surge twice?

GRAHAM: It does happen, because if you are lingering like that, you will catch the peak water at the high tide cycle, so the rainfall is going to continue. But when you look at those storm surge values, eventually there is so much water that you are kind of compensating for that high tide. But at the same time, yes, you can see several rises and some falls.

But here is the other issue that can happen in these situations. The longer you have those winds, the further inland that surge can actually move into the inland basically. So you can have storm surge a mile in places where you have repetitively keep those hurricane force winds going. So places well inland, miles inland could still see storm surge from this.

BERMAN: So pick a spot. Let's take Wilmington because we keep hearing about Wilmington, North Carolina. How long will they be suffering in terms of hurricane force winds and in terms of just the pounding rain?

GRAHAM: Yes. You look at it over time, we look at these values. Still a depression even looking into Sunday. So these winds, this onshore flow with the system moving forward, you can see winds starting definitely this afternoon but lingering into the week end. So apparently you start seeing the water continue, the rain continue with this. We're looking not just, you know, 170 miles out from the center of the tropical storm force winds. That continues while we make landfall. So you are going to see that throughout much of the weekend.

So really, we need to concentrate on those impacts like we have been talking about. Not necessarily even becoming a storm with time and a depression. You can still see those impacts.

[08:10:04] And by the way, the longer that we have that rain, you still have those winds, even a depression can knock down the trees.

BERMAN: Ken Graham of the National Hurricane Center, thank you very much for helping us understand this storm. Hurricane Florence is a historic storm. The outer bands just beginning to hit the Carolina coast, and this will last until Sunday. You can hear the force right there. CNN special live coverage continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You're looking at live pictures right now from above Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, there has been a mandatory evacuation order. Everybody has been told to leave. People are supposed to be off the beach for sure. And this is what might be the last look of when Myrtle Beach, the beach itself, looks exactly like this. Why? Because for the next two and a half, three days, that beach, that city will be under siege by hurricane Florence. Hurricane Florence, the outer bands now beginning to hit the North Carolina, the northern part of North Carolina, the outer banks.

[08:15:05] And that's just the beginning. The hurricane force winds will come in by this afternoon. The rain will follow. And a storm surge, a huge storm surge of six to nine feet that will cycle through at least twice, at least two high tides.

It's a very, very long time. It's great to have these pictures of Myrtle Beach now so we can compare in a couple days to see the damage that is done by this storm. It is expected to perhaps be extensive.

Now, somewhere below on the ground of where we just saw that shot is our Nick Valencia, who is based in Myrtle Beach -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John. Yes. I'm on the beach as of 8:00 a.m. Eastern. This beach is officially closed by police.

I just ran into the representative whose district this is, Alan Clemmons. He tells me there has been an estimated 60 percent evacuation rate. He wishes that was more. He says there is about 100 percent of the tourists that come to Myrtle Beach, have been asked to leave and they have left.

He also tells me that he's really worried about the rain totals. Ten to 12 inches of rain expected here. This is what we can show you what's happening right now.

This is low tide. But presumably what you are seeing here is this hurricane as it approaches the Carolina coast is sucking that water out into the ocean, very concerning message given to me earlier from the mayor as well telling me that if you have not evacuated yet from this area, you only have until about 1:00 p.m., she's asking everybody who is in myrtle beach to get out by that time. She also says another curfew will be put into place.

Remember, last night she enacted a curfew at 10:00 until 6:00 a.m. this morning. It will be earlier today starting at 7:00 p.m. going until 7:00 a.m. No one will be allowed into or out of Myrtle Beach. That includes news crews if you are watching.

So, very dire warnings here on the ground, Alan Clemmons is very -- the representative here in this district -- is very concerned that many people have decided to stick around. The mayor warns if you have decided to do that, you are doing so at your own risk -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia for us in Myrtle Beach, Nick, please stay safe. Thank you very much for your reporting.

All morning long for the last hour or so, we have been playing you and showing you the remarkable sounds and images from this light station about 35 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Listen for a moment again.

You can see and you can hear the force of Hurricane Florence as it bears down here on this coast. This is coming from this light station, which believe it or not is privately owned. The man who owns it is Richard Neal. He joins us now.

Richard, thanks so much for being with us. Before we get into the whys and hows of this station, explain to us what we are seeing and what we're hearing. What readings are you getting at this point?

RICHARD NEAL, OWNER, LIGHT STATION (via telephone): Yes, certainly, John. Look, thanks for having me on.

What we have right now is we have a camera about a hundred feet off the water where the wind is ripping up to 50, 60 miles an hour already. And the waves are rolling past, doing their best to knock us down. But we have been out here since 1964. We're not going anywhere.

BERMAN: So the wind right now at 50, 60 miles an hour. That's just the outer bands of hurricane Florence, correct.

NEAL: Yes, that's right. We expect to get a little bit of a low here later this afternoon. Our primary concern is for people to evacuate, like I say.

BERMAN: I'm so glad you said that. I got surfers behind me right now and I really wish they weren't be out there at this water. They shouldn't be there. All these people should be evacuated from this barrier islands right now.

Explain to us what this light stations. What is this thing from which we are getting these readings.

NEAL: Well, you're actually looking at a piece of story. Back in the 1960s, before there was GPS, cell phones or anything like that, they had to have a light out there to keep ships from going aground on shore, which extends out 32 miles where we are located. And when it became obsolete and everyone's phones told them where they were, they decided to surplus it. And rather than paying the big dollars to get rid of it, they did the next best thing, they found a foolish person to buy it at auction, who you are speaking to.

So, I saw an opportunity to actually have chance to help preserve a piece of history. It is an amazing place with incredible views. And to sort of plug, but it's actually being sold, too, if people want to have a piece of this themselves. But restore it and make it so people can go out. You can't see land. All you see is sun, moon, stars and a lot of fish.

BERMAN: We're glad you have it because it is giving us a unique perspective on this storm. Do you expect to get readings from this light tower throughout the storm?

NEAL: I think so. [08:20:01] We were able to engineer with the help of explore.org a

microwave connection all the way to shore. And folks like flagandbanner.com provided the flag, which we're hoping will survive a little bit longer. So, we should get data all throughout this.

I was out during Matthew, Arthur, and Sandy went passed. So, it's very stable. Just sits there and watching it roll past. People onshore, please, better caution than that, right?

BERMAN: Right, you're in Charlotte right now. You're well inland. You should be safe there.

But what is the message you want to send to people like me, standing in Oak Island, North Carolina, right now? These barrier islands which could see a storm surge of some nine feet.

NEAL: Well, you know, as you are watching this on the news and it's fascinated and it's interesting to learn, just remember that when they are telling you, as these guys are right now, that it's coming, they are not joking. You better get to high ground, get all your family, friends, animals up to safety. It will get rough and rugged for quite a while. Be safe.

BERMAN: Now, we heard from Chad Myers earlier, some of the waves they're measuring out there, they are getting these swells, these rolling swelling of 40, in some cases 80 feet. Is that something you can measure from this station?

NEAL: We do have a measurement on a buoy that's real close to it. In the last few hours, we have seen, oh, 12, 15 feet tall. And so, still not the big ones yet. Those really huge ones, those are offshore where it is not quite as shallow.

So, when it gets to shore, I say, you have the numbers up on screen, people need to pay attention. It will get a pretty heavy swell. We've got about 65 feet before it gets to our underbelly, so I think we're going to be all right.

BERMAN: All right. Richard Neal, the owner of this light station, which is really had us fascinated for the last several hours. Richard, thanks so much for joining us and giving the people this look at Hurricane Florence as it approaches the Carolina coast.

NEAL: Take care.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John, that -- yes, that is super cool.

BERMAN: The light station is cool.

CAMEROTA: Very cool. Because I'm online looking at it. It is called Frying Pan Tower. And I wonder how much it's selling, right? He said that -- I think he said that it's for sale.

So anyway, it is so cool. You can see that you could take a winding staircase up to that top platform there. I liked how he said there is nothing out here by the moon and stars and a lot of fish.

That does sound idyllic, even though at the moment it sounds ominous and scary.

BERMAN: Yes, the moon and the stars and whole a lot of fish. And right now, wind speeds of 50 miles an hour that are about to get a whole lot worse for a whole long period of time, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. Stay safe. We will check back with you momentarily.

But we have to talk about other news, and that is the politics of all of this because, of course, Hurricane Florence is a big test for the Trump administration, particularly after the disaster of Hurricane Maria. So we discuss the preparation and the politics, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:27:04] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of these people working on the hurricane, first responders, law enforcement and FEMA, and they were all ready and we're getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people. We are ready. But this is going to be one of the biggest ones to ever hit our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK, that is President Trump warning people and talking about his administration's response to Hurricane Florence before the storm has hit.

So, what did the administration learn from the disaster of Hurricane Maria?

Joining us now, we have CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon and Josh Green, national correspondent for "Bloomberg Businessweek".

Great to see both of you guys. We should let viewers know within the hour, we will be getting an update from FEMA on exactly what they're doing to save lives as Hurricane Florence approaches.

So, in the meantime, Josh, I will start with you because this tweet from the president about Hurricane Maria is getting so much attention for being so different from reality. So, here's what he said. We got A-pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent mayor of San Juan. We are ready for the big one that is coming.

So, Josh, when the president tries to rewrite history, we now know thanks to the Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed, that it makes people around him very uncomfortable.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, I mean, this is standard Trump form. You know, whatever he is attacked for, usually justifiable, he'll turn around and say, no, just the opposite. So, if the attack is you did a terrible job on Hurricane Maria, thousands of people died, government wasn't prepared, the response was inadequate, Trump will come out, as he's done, and give himself an A-plus.

So, this part, you know, at this point, it's standard form. I do think that he appears to recognize that the hurricane now is more serious. He's been tweeting about it as we just saw. He's been speaking about it publicly.

Things seem to be going pretty well, but, you know, it's a natural disaster, so you really don't know until it hits and until the government has to carry off a response.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, John, I think that we're basically done analyzing when the president is not rooted in reality. I mean, I think that we're done. We have seen two years of the president rewriting history and saying that crowd sizes are bigger than we often see with our own eyes, saying that he didn't blame America in the Helsinki summit when we have the audio and we watched it repeatedly.

So, I think that we're done. I mean, I think that new chapter in this, thanks to the Woodward book, as well as the reporting of so many of our great journalists, is that there are people around him who think that they are keeping the train on the tracks because they don't think that the president is rooted in reality, and that he's often amoral when it comes to decisions like this, like not mentioning the 3,000 victims in Puerto Rico.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, not an empathetic leader to say the least. Look, you know, I still think the president's statements, because they come from the president of the United States and words matter, can't simply be glossed over.