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Interview With Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Interview With FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate; Hurricane Matthew Slams Florida. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired October 7, 2016 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have a lot of breaking news for you this hour, but let's start with the news about Hurricane Matthew holding its strength as a powerful, deadly Category 3 storm.

The first storm-related U.S. death was reported this morning. The victim was a woman near Fort Pierce who had a heart attack. At that time, medics had stopped responding to calls because of dangerous high winds. Her death comes as we learn of the staggering death toll out of Haiti.

Almost 500 people were killed there, according to Reuters, after the hurricane barrelled through. Now, the same system is racing up the East Coast, at times with wind gusts clocked at 120 miles per hour, plus that storm surge you have been hearing so much about.

Watch what happened to a house in Palm Coast just north of Daytona Beach.

Now, this hour, we have reporters in position all along the East Coast to both show you the destruction after the storm hit and the serious threat it continues to pose as the storm moves north.

The center of the storm is right now nearing Jacksonville, Florida.

We have CNN's Victor Blackwell there right now.

And, Victor, Jacksonville has a lot of low-lying areas. That seems to be the major concern as these winds begin to pick up.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Low-lying areas all over downtown Jacksonville, especially where I am now along the banks of the St. Johns River.

The concern here from local officials all the way up to the governor of this state, that the storm surge will flood those small communities and they will see damage even more dramatic than what we have seen across Florida already.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): As Hurricane Matthew inched closer and closer to Florida, it clobbered the coastline with a triple assault, winds topping 100 miles an hour, blinding bands of rain, and a storm surge that flooded communities up and down the shoreline, from Daytona Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many kids are in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's 20 of us.


BLACKWELL: To St. Augustine, where dozens of young people took shelter from rising waters at this bed and breakfast.

Some who did evacuate could only watch via Webcams as waves pummelled their homes. Further reports indicate much of Southern Florida skirted heavy damage. Hundreds of thousands lost power, but prepositioned utility trucks quickly were on the move. Weary residents near Jacksonville were keeping a close eye on the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're on the phone constantly trying to see who is the first one that is going to -- that is staying is actually going to say, we're leaving. We're trying to feed off each other's fears and our calmness, really. I mean, we're all scared.

BLACKWELL: Florida's Governor Rick Scott fears the worse damage could happen in the northern part of the state.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I'm really concerned about Jacksonville, and I'm really concerned about Nassau, because over 10 feet of storm surge, on top of that the waves. And if you look at, that's a lot -- that's a very low-lying area, on top of the fact that we still have the potential for direct hit and we're seeing 100 mile- an-hour winds.

BLACKWELL: President Obama urged residents in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina to not let their guard down.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People continue to need to follow the instructions of their local officials over the course of the next 24, 48, 72 hours.


BLACKWELL: Now, these fallen trees across the state are ripping down power lines.

Earlier today, Governor Rick Scott said that the number of customers without power topped 600,000, although they were working quickly to try to restore service. I can tell you right now in Jacksonville there are more than 100,000 customers without power in this city alone -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Victor Blackwell, stay safe. Thank you so much. Let's bring in CNN correspondent Sara Sidner.

Sara, emergency services have now been suspended in many parts of Florida because of the potentially deadly situations that emergency crews might face. Just how dangerous is it out there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daytona Beach is doing OK now. The storm has kind of moved on.

But I want to show you some of the damage we're seeing. Police going up and down the streets, because people aren't actually supposed to be out here. We have got traffic coming through, but they will stop you if you're not heading, for example, to your house or coming back from a job. If there's no media for you to be out here, if you're not the media, for example, then they really don't want you out here.

This is some of the damage. You are seeing stuff coming off roofs. And then if you do a turn around here, my photographer, Jeff, you will see we're on a A1A. It's the main drag here. And you see the Hilton sign there. The Hilton has had -- sustained some damage. We have some noticed things kind of flying off, and you will see it opening there at the very top.


So there is damage here in Daytona Beach. There's some trees down. We're going to go over here to the left here. This is the convention center where the police were staged. They had the entire department on staff.

You're seeing the palm trees into the water. They were snatched up and moved by the strong winds. We really got strong winds the last couple of hours and they have really moved out now. We were on the boardwalk yesterday. And I will you again another look at this roof that has peeled off.

And the boardwalk look like it's sustained quite a bit of damage as well, but of course the storm not as bad as everyone thought it might be. It did not get Category 4 winds hitting this coast, which is good news for the businesses here.

And we did manage -- Jake, yesterday, on your show, we had a gentleman who said he was going to stay the night. He was a couple of hundred yards from the beach in his business he boarded up. He is fine. We went to visit him. He's OK. He boarded up his house, boarded up his business and he's going to be reopening, he says, on Saturday -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner in Daytona Beach, thank you so much.

Joining me now is FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

Administrator Fugate, thanks for joining us. What's the biggest threat from the storm right now?


As the storm moved has north, we were fortunate it stayed offshore, but we're seeing significant impacts from storm surge all the way up into Jacksonville. And that will continue as the storm moves north into Georgia and South Carolina. The 3:00 position shows it is continuing that track right along the coast.

But the concern now is, it is going to come even closer in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Plus, we're seeing a rain event set up potentially for North Carolina and South Carolina tomorrow, in addition to the storm surge.

TAPPER: So far, has Hurricane Matthew lived up to the forecast?

FUGATE: Yes, it has been the forecast.

I realize that sometimes people are going around saying, well, it doesn't look that bad, why did we get all ready for it? But when you have a forecasted storm this close to the coast, you really don't have options. You have to prepare.

We were fortunate it has not come onshore, but we're still not done with the storm. We have a lot to go as it moves into the Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina region. And you remember back in Sandy, everybody said, well, that storm weakened, it wouldn't be that bad. We continue to see from that storm, storm surge was the biggest contributor to damage, and that's still the concern with this storm.

TAPPER: If people have not yet evacuated from places such as Jacksonville or parts of Georgia and the Carolinas, where they have been these evacuations ordered, is it too late for them to do so?

FUGATE: Well, it's probably too late in places like Jacksonville, where they're already seeing hurricane-force winds along the coast and into the river area.

Further north is really just going to depend upon the conditions. But it's still one of these things where as you go further north and you're not into hurricane squall lines yet, you can get to higher ground. Local officials, state officials still asking people move to higher ground. Hopefully, it won't be that bad, you can go back home. But we don't get a second chance if it as bad as forecasted.

TAPPER: How quickly do you think FEMA will be able to get out to assess the damage and deliver aid to wherever it is needed?

FUGATE: Most of ours is in support in the states.

And right now, you talk to folks in Florida, as the counties south of the storm track are starting to clear, in some cases, it's going to be a rather fast recovery getting power on. Other areas, we're going to have to look at the damages.

But we're with the states. So, as they start moving in, we will be with them.

TAPPER: All right, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, we appreciate your time. Good luck with the storm, sir.

FUGATE: Thank you.

TAPPER: The worst from Hurricane Matthew could still be on the way, the Category 3 storm now entering a critical time period as it starts to approach more vulnerable parts of the United States.

That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

Hurricane Matthew remains a destructive Category 3 storm. We have seen powerful winds, high waves and storm surge. Technically, this hurricane has not yet made landfall. That's because it's all about eye wall, the strongest part of the storm.

If it does, well, then it could spell disaster.

Let's bring meteorologist Tom Sater in the Severe Weather Center.

Tom, in less than an hour, we're going to get the latest update on Hurricane Matthew.

But from your tracking, cities such as Charleston, South Carolina, they're in a critical state right now.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They really are, Jake, because even the trend has been for the track and forecast to carry it along the coast still in that northeasterly movement and then offshore, I really think the forward momentum will most likely come close to making a landfall.

Now, notice the winds at 115. At this time yesterday, it was 145. If it just drops five miles per hour down, it will be a Category 2. But still with a landfall, that is still significant. The eye is now 35 miles just to the east of St. Augustine, 45 south-southeast of Jacksonville, so they're still into the thick of it.

But with this forward momentum that we have been talking about, the rain shield is so incredible that already the land is getting completely soaked before the strong winds even push in. The surge is a big issue that we have been talking about, and that's really going to be significant.

Already in Jacksonville, warnings for flash flooding. The water is being shoved up Egan's Creek and Amelia Island. So, they're saying evacuate to higher ground. When the winds shift, it will get a little bit better.

Savannah, Charlotte, big, big concerns, especially that eye gets a little bit closer.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Sater, thank you so much for the update. We appreciate it.

Joining me now is Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He's in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Senator Rubio, thanks for joining us.

What are the conditions like on the ground where you are?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, there's been some damage here, obviously.

Just a moment ago, one of your reporters was just about it. Again, I don't want to minimize it. It's not ideal, but it could have been a lot worse had it made landfall. Our concern now, our real focus -- and there's some flooding localized around the area. Certainly, we will have to look at that in the days to come.

But it doesn't look like any loss of life in this area, thank God. We're very concerned right now about that area, central Duval County, into Nassau County, where Fernandina Beach is. They just issued a few minutes ago an emergency flash flood warning for the Fernandina Beach- Amelia Island area.

And that's really been the concern here for the last few hours, is all of that water being pushed in by these winds in low-lying areas close to the coast. It's very concerning, a very dangerous situation potentially, hopefully not, but -- but that's what the concern is now.

TAPPER: And, Senator, more than a million people in Florida are currently without -- without power. Do you have any sense of how long it might be before the power can be restored?

RUBIO: So, Florida Power and Light, which is one of our largest utilities here, has begun to work it way up north, in the areas where they can work. But again, there's dangerous conditions in some of those places, as you're seeing behind me here in Daytona Beach, there's still high enough winds you can't have guys and gals going up a pole to reconnect the line yet. So, there's concerns about their safety.

But you will see power restored. The guys have got the crews in place and they're going to move in and they're going to work their way up north behind the store. It will be a few hours before they get to the areas around Duval County and all that clears. And, of course, the Duval County, the city of Jacksonville has its own municipal electrical system. It will take them a few hours to get working as well, as it should given the conditions they're about to face.

TAPPER: What's your message and the message of emergency personnel when it comes to those who have left their homes who did evacuate out of southern Florida, other relevant parts? Should they come back or should they stay where they are?

RUBIO: Well, each local authority in each county is going to make that determination. There's still causeways that are closed because the Florida Department of Transportation needs to go in and certify that they haven't been structurally compromised. And as those were lifted, people will know. Obviously, up in the northern part of the state, Jacksonville, people on the beach there in Jacksonville, and north of that, it's going to be a while obviously before they can get back over. The worst is yet to come in terms of the water intrusion that they're going to see.

TAPPER: Beyond northeastern Florida where I know the storm is just about to hit right now, what do Floridians in other parts of the state need most in terms of aid and are they getting it?

RUBIO: Well, we're still getting those reports coming in, obviously, in some areas. There are still power outages, we've discussed that.

There isn't at least in some of counties south of here, there doesn't appear to be extensive damage and that's good news. Maybe late that may not be the case. I think the real concern from areas from about right here, Daytona Beach north to St. Augustine into Jacksonville metropolitan area, that's where there's going to be significant damage that's going to come from a combination of wind and especially the storm surge.

And you just had Fugate on a moment ago. He'll do an excellent job. He knows Florida very well. FEMA is ready to respond as soon as necessary. And my sense is that given the severity of this water situation we're seeing up there, there may be some additional resources necessary in the days to come, especially helping identify people who might be trapped who did not heed evacuation warnings in some of these coastal areas.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Marco Rubio, thanks for the update. We appreciate it. Stay safe, sir.

RUBIO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Bracing for an unprecedented storm surge, thousands of homes in Hurricane Matthew's path as it moves up the coast and takes aim at two new states.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Charleston, Stephanie Elam is live in Savannah where the rain has already started.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Strongest bands that we've seen so far now hitting Savannah. We will show you how the historic part of the town is handling things so far, next.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd in Charleston, South Carolina, where we're getting pounded with some early rain bands from Hurricane Matthew. These waters from the Ashley River and other tidal areas are likely to rise soon. We're going to tell you about the storm surge and other dangers just ahead.


[16:22:53] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The entire coast of Georgia and South Carolina are under a hurricane

warning right now. Hurricane Matthew is headed there next and it could bring with it, unprecedented storm surge that might drown hundreds of thousands of homes. CNN has been monitoring the mandatory evacuations in both states.

Let's check in with Stephanie Elam. She's in Savannah, Georgia.

The situation, Stephanie, it's so serious there. There are emergency response teams on nearby Tybee Island, and they were ordered to abandon their posts.

ELAM: Yes, they left earlier than expected. In fact, this storm has come into Savannah a little bit earlier than expected here, Jake. And if you take a look behind me, you can see the Talmage Memorial Bridge, which you drive over to come into Savannah. Well, that bridge closed at noon today and that's because they're afraid of those gale-force winds when they make their way here into Savannah.

This is the Savannah River and since the time that we' been here for the last couple hours, I can say it's already risen a few inches. That's the thing. They're expecting there will be a rise here of that storm surge of more than six feet. And that is really, of course, very important for the people here who have been businesses and residents close to this area.

But mainly here, for people who know Savannah, the historic river street right here, this street right here shutting down right now, police out here taping it all, they don't want people to come down here, that's because flood waters could come up into this area here.

We talked to one business owner who owns this restaurant, the Boar's Head (ph), right over here on the corner, they are inside. They're hunkering down. They plan on riding the storm out there. They said they've got plenty of food. They want to make sure the restaurant does well they're not concerned but the building was built in 1790s, so it's weathered lots of storms so they feel like they're in a good safe place here.

But the owner telling me that he does believe the water will likely come up to far as where we're standing from the river. They're here to wait it out and make sure everything is OK.

But, otherwise, the city itself shut down. Curfew dusk to dawn is in effect and they want people to just, at this point if you haven't left, hunker down and stay as safe as you possibly can, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Stephanie Elam in Savannah, Georgia -- thank you so much.

[16:25:02] Let's go now to Brian Todd. He's in Charleston, South Carolina.

And, Brian, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley issued a mandatory evacuation order yesterday. Still, many in South Carolina, they are defiant, they're choosing to stay. If they get into trouble, what are local officials telling them about whether or not they're going to be able to help them?

TODD: They're telling them, Jake, that they cannot help them when the storm is especially at its height. We talked to a local police chief yesterday who said, when the storm winds get to 40 to 45, he cannot put assets on the street. That was a local police captain. So, they are not going to be able to help people who are stranded.

The time to evacuate is pretty much closing right now. The storm surge is really the concern here. I heard Stephanie talk about surges of six feet or so in Savannah. Here, they're worried it could get from eight to 11 feet.

And here's the worry, you see these boats in this marina behind me, that mooring over there with the triangle top, we talked to a boat captain here not long ago and he said he is worried the waters are going to rise near the top of that mooring and if they do, these boats are going to come loose, be released from their moorings and wash up into the roads and maybe up against the buildings.

We talk about evacuation. This is the James Island Connector Bridge. This is one of those routes where people could use it for evacuation but again starting in the next few hours, they're not going to be able to because these bridges that are 65 feet above the water or higher are going to shut down automatically when the winds get to 40 miles an hour and higher.

Do you see the water here in the Ashley River? The tides are rising as the rain gets more intense and this is how close it is to the parking area here and the roads. The water levels here are pretty much at the road levels. This parking lot was flooded a short time ago, that receded, but it is going to flood again.

As of this morning, Jake, 310,000 people, according to the governor, had evacuated, that's not enough. She says, they needed about twice that many to get out, and again, they're warning people if you don't get up pretty much by now, you are stranded, especially in these barrier islands near here that could -- you know, the roads leading to them could get washed out, those people could be stranded and without power for a matter of days -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Stephanie Elam and Brian Todd, thank you both.

It's Russia. That's what U.S. officials are now saying out in the open, Russia who was behind the hacking of several U.S. political organizations and high-profile individuals. Why is the White House announcing this now? That breaking news, next.