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FEMA Update; FEMA Official Talks of Storm Preparations; Consequences over Idlib Airstrikes; Trump's Puerto Rican Tweet. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] JEFF BYARD, FEMA OFFICE OF RESPONSE AND RECOVERY: 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, we're healthy in that fund. That is the fund that we utilize with the Stafford Act. And we have no concerns at this time.

As far as, you know, what the exact amounts are going to be, it's too early to determine. But I can say this, there will be disruptions in our services. The power will go off. Infrastructure will be damaged. Homes will be damaged or destroyed. So, again, the time to act is now. We can rebuild that. We can -- the power will come back on. Roads will be repaired. But we cannot repair loss of life. And we ask right now that the time to evacuate is now.

Yes, ma'am, and then I'll come to you.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rene Marsh with CNN.

You mentioned the Disaster Relief Fund. How much money do you all have in the fund now going into this hurricane? And then the second question, do you guys have a better sense now as far as commodities, numbers, what is where and how much of it?

BYARD: Well, to your second point, as far as commodities, we have adequate commodities that we've laid down across the full spectrum of the states. We continue to move additional resources in.

But I want to make sure that we understand this. Our piece is just a part of the puzzle. We're working closely with our NGOs. We're working closely with the private sector. So the MREs, the emergency commodities that we bring to the table are just a very stop gap measure. We feel very confident that we're coordinated across the board, that we'll have adequate feeding and adequate water for those survivors that need it. So we don't have concerns there.

The concern that we have, and we're working through, is making sure that we can distribute those to our state and local partners. We have strong, robust emergency managers in that area that know how to get that to the last tactical mile. So we're very confident there. But we will continue to move out on that.

As far as the DRF, we're healthy. I don't have the exact numbers, but I do know that we're healthy in the DRF and we have no concerns as far as recovery on that.

MARSH: Do you have a ballpark at least?

BYARD: It's well over $20 billion. So we're healthy on that.

I'll come back to you.

Yes, ma'am.

COLLEEN LONG, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Colleen Long from AP.

I wanted to ask about the number of evacuations. I think last night you said there was somewhere around 1.7 million people. I wondered if that is increasing based on the latest forecast and kind of how many are we talking about (INAUDIBLE)?

BYARD: You know, we -- that was the number as of last night. There's not been, to my knowledge at this point, additional evacuations ordered. But what we would say as far as numbers is, don't be a number, at least that stays behind. Be a number that evacuates.

Again, I -- you know, a lot of good questions today. And I'm going to bring everything back to the importance of what we're dealing with, with Hurricane Florence. We want our citizens, we owe it to our governors and our local emergency managers and the mayors, these impacted states to -- for you to get that message out. The more people that can evacuate out of this deadly storm, the safer we'll be all the way around. We can bring people back. We can bring the commodities back. We're confident of that. But our emphasis today is that team effort and what the citizens can bring to the table today.

(INAUDIBLE), and then I'll come back to you.

Yes, ma'am.

CHERYL CONNER, ABC 7 NEWS: Cheryl Connor, ABC 7 News.

BYARD: Yes, ma'am.

CONNER: What exactly does the president's emergency declaration provide for the locals?

BYARD: Right. So there's many -- there's several types of declarations. What we've been authorized, what the president's authorized, is that any resource that a state needs at this time that the federal government can provide can be provided. It allows us to move resources in and it allows us to engage assets and resources, like urban (ph) search and rescue, Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, FEMA, our commodities, our emergency commodities and other things. Those declarations will be assessed obviously as the impacts and we'll go up from there. That's a -- that's a process that we work closely with our states on and the White House on. We're confident that we'll get the resources we need to the programs we need to affect positive outcome.

Does that (INAUDIBLE)? Yes, ma'am.

ANNE CUTLER, FOX 5 NEWS: Anne Cutler, Fox 5 News.

The president said that the response to Maria was a success when 3,000 died. A lot of people would disagree with that assessment. What would be the bar for a successful response for Florence?

BYARD: So, you know, let me set the expectations. You know, a successful response -- obviously nobody wants any deaths. And we can -- that's the importance of today is saying, hey, get out. If you're in an area where you know it's going to flood or if you're in a mandatory evacuation area or you just don't feel your home is safe, now is the time to evacuate. We have shelters. We have other means.

A successful response, you know, it's a disaster and it's named a disaster for a reason. It's going to disrupt services. It's going to destroy homes. It's going to destroy infrastructure and our power's going to be out. But we feel very confident that working with our partners we're going to quickly stabilize those seven critical lifelines. That's the key. We've got to stabilize the lifelines that our communities are used to on a daily basis. Then we can turn our focus to that more long-term recovery, and that's -- that's a model we're going to employ and we're going to be successful at it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a question in the corner.

BYARD: Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, ma'am.

[09:35:00] HEATHER TIMMONS, QUARTZ: Heather Timmons with Quartz.

There was a -- the South Carolina Department of Corrections said last night they don't plan to evacuate one of the prisons that's right in the mandatory evacuation zone. Is that something that the federal government gets involved in? I mean when it's a mandatory evacuation zone.

BYARD: You know, mandatory evacuation zones are done at the state and local level. We support the sheltering and we support in ways -- you know, if it -- you know, there's a sheltering issue, we would not get involved in that. I don't know the specifics of that, so I definitely don't want to speak -- speak out of turn, but that would be a question best directed down to South Carolina Emergency Management.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up (INAUDIBLE)?

BYARD: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: What -- what -- there's some concerns about the people that just don't have enough money to evacuate, you know, for several days. They can't afford to take themselves on the road. What -- what would you say to those families and those people that are worried?

BYARD: So, a lot of our communities will provide resources to move those individuals out. But, again, there is adequate media avenues to find those resources. So, you know, I would employ on those citizens to work with who they would work with daily. You know, citizens that, you know, may have -- may not have the means to evacuate. They do live in our communities daily. They do attend, you know, social services and functions daily. So interact with those that have that.

And I would employ all of us, you know, it's neighbor helping neighbor in this situation. If that's the case, help your neighbor. You know, lives cannot be replaced. And we want to -- again, I want to hammer that importance home. This is not going to be a glancing blow. This is not going to be a tropical storm. This is not going to be, you know, one of those storms that hit and move out to sea. This is going to be, you know, a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast and then it's going to have very heavy rains, you know, that -- as Steve eluded to. It's going to stall. So we're looking at inland flooding. We're looking at, you know, coastal storm surge. We're looking at all the hazard that a storm of this magnitude would take.

So, to that point, I would ask that, you know, neighbors help neighbors in this situation. And let's all be on the team.

QUESTION: There are like nine hazardous waste sites in this region.

BYARD: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: In the path of the hurricane. What do you all know or what kind of assessments have you all done to determinable, you know, how vulnerable those sites are, especially when we talk about this storm surge?

BYARD: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: What do we know about those sites and the hazardous waste?

BYARD: What I do know -- I don't know the specifics. Obviously we can -- we can get down to the specifics. But I do know that hazardous waste is one of those critical life-lines that we focus on. So we work closely with the EPA. We work closely with the state and locals and those entities that have the authority over that -- those type of facilities. So we're -- it's definitely on our radar and we will quickly put the mitigation measures in place afterwards to see what the effects are.

But I don't want to speak to the ninth, because I just -- I don't want to give false information.

Yes, ma'am.

Anybody else?

Well, look, before we close, again, I want to thank you. You have been just a wonderful mouthpiece to the citizens of these -- of the impacted states. We need you to continue to do that today. This is a serious storm and we appreciate the team effort, not only from the media, from our citizens and also from all the players involved.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And just a reminder for --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, there you have it, FEMA's Jeff Byard. He runs the Office of Response and Recovery there. In his words, a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast. That is how serious this hurricane is.

His message, today is the day. Get out. Evacuate. He calls this very dangerous in multiple states. Not just on the coast, but inland.

Let's go back to our meteorologist, Chad Myers, with more.

Look, I mean, a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast. This thing is not just going to go back out to sea, he said. What struck you most in that briefing?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Maybe the thoughts of not being able to evacuate when you want to. You know, maybe having to go knock on your neighbor's door and say, hey, if you're going, would you take us, because, you know, we don't have a way to get out of here. We want to leave, but we don't have a way to get out of here. Or talk to your church or talk to anyone in your local community. Is there a bus leaving? Is -- can I get out of here? Because you would hate to leave anyone behind that really wants to get out but doesn't have the means.

Something else. It's a very important website. It's called ready.gov. And I would tell you, if you have a pet and you're going with your pet, ready.gov/animals, that will give you all the things you need to take, including your medications for the pet. Yes, but also the tags because many shelters won't let you in unless they know you've had your shots. The pets have had your shots. You know what I mean.

This is kind of a -- the checklist of things you need to do that you don't think about until you're already on the road and you go, oh, I don't have my rabies shot. You know, I have no -- I can't prove that he has a rabies shot. Well, you can't do that and go to a public shelter. You're going to need that kind of information.

[09:40:15] And there's many other things that you can do. Even about home safety. About the weakest part of your home is a garage door. They blow in all the time. So before you leave, prop it closed somehow. Or if there's a second car in the garage, just kind of pull that car right up to the back of the garage door from the inside and then the garage door won't blow in. When the garage blows in, you've lost all of the structure of your home and the whole thing just wants to blow out from the inside.

There are many things to think about now and you don't have a lot more time. That was probably the biggest thing. You don't have a lot more time.

I was on here Monday saying, now is the time to plan. Don't panic. But now is the time to move. Now is the time to get that plan into motion and get out of there if you're going to be underneath that, 130 miles an hour storm. A very potential here of a storm surge somewhere between 13 and 18 feet. That's the blow. That's the Mike Tyson blow that he was talking about. What -- 127 miles per hour is the latest observation from the

hurricane hunter aircraft. So 130 is right on the money. This isn't an overblown situation. This is a big category four hurricane making landfall some type -- sometime after midnight Thursday into Friday. Don't have a number on that time yet because it's going to start slowing down. Right now it's still not slowing down, doing 17. And that's what it was supposed to be doing. But then earlier today that 17 said, nope, five, and I'm turning left. And so all of a sudden now Myrtle, Charleston, Murrells Inlet, many places that weren't in it yesterday should be thinking about evacuating now.

Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, Chad, such incredibly useful advice on all fronts. Thank you. Don't go anywhere. We have a lot more.

We are all over Hurricane Florence as she barrels towards the southeast coastline.

More than a million people told right now, evacuate your homes. Do not turn back. Not everyone is evacuating. We're going to talk to someone who is refusing to, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:46:38] HARLOW: Hurricane Florence -- we are all over Hurricane Florence. We are tracking this monster storm as it barrels towards the eastern seaboard. We just got that update from FEMA, one of the associate directors. They're calling this a Mike Tyson punch that is headed to the Carolina coastline.

Let's go to my colleague, Brian Todd. He is in Swan Quarter, North Carolina.

And, Brian, I understand, I mean you've got all of these barrier islands along the Carolinas, and the only way for folks to get off are these ferries. And one of the last ferries is headed your way right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Poppy. This could set up to be one of the more dramatic scenes of evacuation in the next couple of days. There are three more ferries coming off Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is about -- a little more than 25 miles east of where we are. It's a barrier island. The only way to get on or off that island in normal circumstances is by boat. They're trying to get people off that island.

There are about 900 permanent residents on the island. They are under mandatory evacuation, of course, but not all of them are leaving. I spoke to the manager of -- the commissioner of Hyde County, North Carolina, who lives on Ocracoke Island. He is staying there with his family. So they're not getting everybody off that island.

But the last chance to get off the island are on three ferries. One of them arriving at this terminal here probably in the next five to ten minutes. And we're told that that ferry is fairly full and it's got maybe more than 50 cars on it. So several people taking advantage of that last opportunity. They're going to be landing here in just a few minutes.

About a half hour after that, another ferry is going to be landing here. And then the last chance to get off that island is going to be on a ferry that has just left Ocracoke. It's about a two and a half hour ride. And it's going to land here at about noon eastern time.

That is it as far as any chance to get off that barrier island. Again, it's isolated. There are no other ferries leaving Ocracoke Island after that one that lands at noon eastern time here because then the ferries are going to be moored to ride out the storm.

And you can see just over my right shoulder there, that white boat there, that's a ferry that's already been moored to ride out the storm. They're going to moor all the ferries here because it's the safest place for them to stay.

But, again, you're talking about the last chance to get off some of these isolated barrier islands. This one, Ocracoke, is a particularly worrisome situation, obviously, because it is so isolated. Some of the other barrier islands in the outer banks and elsewhere points north of here are accessible by bridge and other roads to try to get out. But, you know, what -- the big question is, what is going to be the condition of those bridges and roadways. So, again, this island is very vulnerable, but those islands are also in a pretty -- a dangerous predicament, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, no kidding.

All right, Brian, thank you for the head's up and for being there very much.

We are staying on this and we are all over the breaking news on Hurricane Florence. We'll get back to that in just a moment.

But also Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell overnight with a very stark message for his party on the midterms, this could be ugly. He is cautioning that Senate races are dead even in states like Arizona and Florida. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: All of them, too close to call. And every one of them like a knife fight in an alley. I mean just a brawl in every one of those places. I hope when the smoke clears that we'll still have a majority in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK. And beyond the race in Congress, what is Congress doing, and the White House, about the situation in Syria that we're monitoring very closely? The U.N. secretary-general warning of a potential blood bath in Syria just yesterday as President Bashar al Assad and Russian forces train their sights on Idlib province. That is the last major rebel stronghold. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had a blunt message for Russia and Iran and Syria saying there will be, quote, dire consequences if Russia and Assad's forces continue the clear military escalation there in Idlib. Haley called their actions in the region those of cowards interested in a bloody military conquest.

[09:50:32] Joining me now is a Republican lawmaker who has called on the White House to do much more on Syria. Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is back with me. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thanks for being here.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: You bet. Thanks.

HARLOW: Look, we spoke a few weeks ago. You sent a letter imploring the White House in July to do more. Looking at this now, the Assad regime has conducted more than 100 air strikes. They have used barrel bombs, rockets, artillery, trying to retake Idlib. You've been clear, you don't think the White House has done enough. What should the White House do at this point?

KINZINGER: I don't think this White House has done enough. I don't think the last White House has done enough. This started in '01 and we've been very silent in our response. We're scared to death of any escalation.

And I understand that. I understand this, you know, this kind of being gun shy about what's going on in the Middle East. But there's half a million dead Syrians, 50,000 of which are children. And I think if we're serious about winning the war on terror, one of the things we have to do is deprive ISIS or al Qaeda of their next generation of terrorists. And right now, because of the actions of Bashar al Assad, he is producing a whole new generation of people that are so ticked off, so disaffected, so angry, so disenfranchised that they're joining groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.

So I'd love to see a no fly zone. Truthfully, it's probably not going to happen from this administration. But I think holding firm on enforcing the red line against the use of chemical weapons is essential. Sanctions against Syria and Russia, et cetera, that's got to get done.

HARLOW: And on that point, typically you have not heard back from the White House yet, right, on the letter that you sent calling for the no fly zone?

KINZINGER: Right. Right. Right.

HARLOW: You talk about sanctions. I mean the House passed a measure that would install stepped up sanctions on Bashar al Assad's regimes, including any forces that are supportive of him. So that would be Russia. You say it's time for the Senate to pass this.

KINZINGER: Yes, absolutely. Look, it's not --

HARLOW: Does it look likely at all? KINZINGER: I -- I don't know. I mean, look, the problem with the

Senate and the problem with some folks over in the Senate is they just -- they're scared to death to exert America's influence, and not for imperialistic reasons, but because we are uniquely capable of being able to enforce human rights and human dignity around the globe and to stand up and say that atrocities have no place. We've been blessed with the ability to do that diplomatically and militarily and economically. And a lot of those folks over in the Senate, I mean even people on my side of the aisle, look back and say, gosh, I -- I yearn again for a day in which America has no presence outside of its own borders, and that's tragic for me. And so the Senate's -- the Senate is stalled.

I think even if you do these sanctions more against Russia, also against Iran and Syria, it's not going to stop Idlib. They're going to do what they're going to do. But it's sending a very strong message that we stand for something for God's sakes, something.

HARLOW: And Mattis has been clear that he's not going to message what the U.S. response would be, right? Dire consequences is what Nikki Haley said. What that will mean or could mean militarily, Mattis is not saying at this point.

I know you're all over this and we're watching very, very closely.

I do want to get you on politics and your party and the midterms because you heard what Mitch McConnell said there, right? And we're 55 days away. Is he right, is this a knife fight for Republicans when it comes to holding on to the Senate?

KINZINGER: Yes, I think it's going to be a battle, House and Senate. If you look at the fact every time one party has had unified control with the exception of like 2002 and maybe one other year in recent memory, the party in control loses seats. We knew that going into this.

But I think as Republicans, we have to regain our message. I think we've done great things for the economy. We need to talk about that. And we need to show our compassion for people. That's why I think things like Syria are so important. So, look, it's going to be a battle, that's for sure.

HARLOW: That's -- that's interesting. I mean you look at the new CNN polling this week. You saw it. The alarm bells you know, you think ringing maybe in your party when it comes to the drop off in independents for the president, 47 percent a month ago, now only 31 percent approve of the job he's doing. And you say we have to, as a party, show compassion more and empathy more and message that.

What about on that front, the president, when it comes to the message on Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico? I mean you heard him yesterday, well, this morning he tweeted, we did an unappreciated good job in Puerto Rico and yesterday he called it an incredible unsung success.

KINZINGER: Yes.

HARLOW: Two thousand nine hundred seventy-five people, those are American citizens down there, died.

KINZINGER: Yes, absolutely.

HARLOW: Is that an unsung success?

[09:55:00] KINZINGER: Look, we -- no, I think we can always do better. But I think you have to look at the reality of what happened in Puerto Rico. It's a terrible loss of human life. And we need to learn everything we can from it.

Nine days after the hurricane struck, only 50 percent of the Puerto Rican National Guard, for whatever reason, was on duty. They are the first responders in Puerto Rico to be able to distribute aid and -- once it gets to the airport. You had destroyed infrastructure. As a guardsman, my unit went to Puerto Rico.

HARLOW: Right.

KINZINGER: It takes time to activate the National Guard to get them there.

HARLOW: But you read the Government Accountability report, right, that came out last week.

KINZINGER: Right. Yes.

HARLOW: And they said -- I mean the author of the report said FEMA was, quote, not prepared to take on an event like this, right?

KINZINGER: Sure. Absolutely. Yes. Yes. Yes.

HARLOW: Lessons learned?

KINZINGER: Absolutely. We need to learn that lesson. And, like I said, I -- there's a lot of things the president tweets I wouldn't tweet. One of them is those. And -- because I think as a government we need to always look and say, how can we do things better.

HARLOW: Right.

KINZINGER: We will never have a perfect response.

HARLOW: OK.

KINZINGER: What can we learn from Puerto Rico to do better this time?

HARLOW: Yes. And we're watching. You've got so many Americans in the eye of this storm right now.

Congressman Kinzinger, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

KINZINGER: You bet. Take care.

HARLOW: All right, we'll be right back with the breaking news.

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