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Hurricane Florence May Switch Travel Path and Threaten South Carolina and Georgia; Senator Claims Trump Administration Diverted Funds from FEMA to ICE. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- just in which provides some new context for the major shift in the forecast we saw overnight in hurricane Florence. It is now a category four storm, 130 miles per hour winds, and it seems to have shifted south, putting South Carolina and Georgia in much greater danger.

At this hour, hurricane warnings are up for parts of North and South Carolina coastlines. The new guidance is that Florence could stall or at least slow down off the Carolina coast for up to 36 hours before making landfall. Where though? This has huge and potentially devastating implications and could mean even bigger storm surge in some places, catastrophic flooding, with possible rainfall totals as high as three feet. We have been looking at this picture all morning long, what the storm looks like from space, scary, in a word. A forecaster for the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, warns this will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So people who live there are rushing to get out. Mandatory evacuations are in effect for millions of people today. In South Carolina officials turned this major highway into a one-way road, as you can see on your screen. The mayor of Myrtle Beach tells CNN just a short time ago this is a very dire situation. Gas is in short supply. Some stations have already run out of fuel.

So let's begin with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. He has the changes in the hurricane's path and timing. Tell us about the latest advisory.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The latest advisory has the same wind speed, 130 miles an hour. But what I'm watching, and I want you to watch this as well, is how it is moving. West-northwest at 17. When that 17 starts to come down, then we have to start to worry, because the next 48 hours, truly this is on a track to North Carolina. The hurricane hunter plane is in it right now. It just found 127 miles an hour wind. So this is no joke. This isn't 130 but, really, it's only 100. No, this is really 130, because it didn't even really find the center of the eye as it went by. The pressure was still going down as it drove through the eye.

So here is what happened overnight. Up to 48 hours, nothing. That's exactly where we were yesterday. Charleston out of the cone. The cape out of the cone. Right here, category three. But all of a sudden, the computer model said, wait a minute. There is no more wind to push us. There is no more wind to push this storm. We're going to start turning it. We're going to start turning it to the south. And that's where we are right now. We could even turn it far enough to the south that it's offshore. Hurricane center has said that.

Right now the official forecast is north of Charleston. But still from Friday to Sunday, that's 48 hours with tremendous rainfall, tremendous wind as storm surge, wind damage occurring for hours and hours and hours. It's cumulative damage. If you are blowing 100 or 120 miles an hour on homes, they're going to start to deteriorate. So will the trees. So will the power lines as the trees fall down as well.

So yesterday we were something over here. Now we are not. Yesterday about 8:00, we showed you that this, this little turn, this little wiggle to the left was starting to show up in the models. Now all the models are turning it down into South Carolina. Whether it goes offshore and really affects Charleston we don't know yet. That will probably be on the 11:00 advisory because the models are coming in, information coming in from the hurricane hunter aircraft, and we'll show you what all that means coming up as the day goes on.

BERMAN: Chad Myers for us. Chad, we'll let you digest some more of that data. The important thing, as Chad has been saying all morning, is the storm looks like it is moving further south than it did when we went to sleep. You can see right there, right where the numbers two and three are, that's off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina. It will turn south there. Forecasters now say it may make its eyewall impact north of Charleston.

A lot of folks, though, a lot of folks in harm's way up and down the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts. Let's got to CNN's Kaylee Hartung live in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, with a sense of what's going on there. Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, John. If you were still in your home at 8:00 p.m. tonight, the deadline for the mandatory evacuation of this barrier island, you'll get a knock on your door from local officials. They will ask you to share contact information for your next of kin.

The town manager here, Michael Cramer, telling me that it's not meant to be a scare tactic. Rather, he wants to have a very serious conversation with the 100 or so people he expects to be wanting to ride out this storm to make sure they understand they are risking their lives by staying beyond this 8:00 p.m. mandatory evacuation deadline tonight.

As we hear these new projections this morning, this storm turning a bit south, that doesn't change the fact that this area is in the storm's bull's eye. We're talking about life threatening storm surges that could easily topple these sand berms that are 12 feet tall behind me, life threatening and catastrophic flash flooding, especially inland areas, farther inland than you would typically imagine.

[08:05:10] And of course the hurricane force winds, Wilmington in particular worried about those winds. As you can with every storm, you find these folks who want to try to ride it out. Local officials really hoping and praying that folks heed these warnings, because if you do stay, John and Alisyn, as you both know, you will be doing so at your own risk, emergency responders will not be here to help.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaylee, thank you very much for that report. Joining us now is Ken Graham. He's the director of the National Hurricane Center. Mr. Graham, thanks so much for being with us. So tell us what you are seeing in the shift of the track.

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes. We're trying to focus just not on the track like that because the impacts are still going to be the same. But here is the problem that we have. This system is a major hurricane, so we talk about the winds. But watch how slow this moves right along the coast, 2:00 a.m. Friday, this is 2:00 a.m. Saturday, and then 2:00 a.m. Sunday. We don't move very far. So the longer this system hangs around, you get more of the rainfall, more of the storm surge. And the rain fall is absolutely staggering, forecasting 20 to 40 inches of rain and 15 to 20. Look at how far inland, six to ten, almost all of North Carolina and stretching into South Carolina as well, so a very dangerous situation with the rainfall and the storm surge.

CAMEROTA: Yes. In fact Chad Myers, our meteorologist, said it's not the wind that he worries about that will kill a lot of people. It's the water. And so let's talk about that storm surge. So how far in are you seeing that it could hit?

GRAHAM: Well, it is interesting, because you look at history, 50 percent of fatalities in these tropical systems is the storm surge, and another 25 percent is the inland rain. So we have to have the conversation about the water. And look at this, as far as Charleston, two to four feet. We've got warnings up the coast of South Carolina, North Carolina. Look at these values, nine to 13 feet, potentially four to nine feet. These are staggering amounts.

And when you ask about looking at inland, I do want to show you this graphic because it is important for people to realize that it is not just a coasting thing even with the storm surge because it is not just these barrier islands. These rivers, you talk about the Pamlico River or the Neuse River, they normally flow out. But guess what? With a storm surge, that water reverses and it flows inward. And where it piles up is where you can get some of those values nine to 13 feet. And all these tributaries as well. So look at how far inland this storm surge goes. That's why we communicate the dangers of the water and it's not just coastal that goes well inland.

CAMEROTA: But help us with our geography. Is that like 100 miles inland from the coast?

GRAHAM: You could easily go 30, 40 miles inland with this. So what happens is when you get this storm surge start to pile up and you get that heavy rain we have been talking about, it actually gets blocked by that storm surge and can't drain. So you start getting a situation that even these side tributaries start filling up with water and you get that flash flooding well away from these main tributaries. So any river flooding is just going to be a major issue as well. So you think of every impact we can have in this situation, we seem to have it with Florence here.

CAMEROTA: OK, so what time is all of this going to start happening?

GRAHAM: Well before landfall you start seeing these outer bands reaching the coast. Probably we're looking at even late tomorrow we'll start seeing it. People a lot of times concentrate on the landfall, and it's a lot more than that. You start getting these bands extend further out, 170 miles, by the way, away from the center, we're actually getting some of those tropical storm force winds. So we'll see if some of those arrive tomorrow. And so it's not just about the center. You think about these areas like that. Look at how big this area is when you start looking at tropical storm force winds. They'll start arriving, really looking at some of the bands tomorrow. But Thursday outer bands reaching the shore, and then Friday getting landfall and then not going anywhere very soon.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, we all remember how bad last season was between Irma and Maria and Harvey. Is there anything you can compare Florence to?

GRAHAM: This is one of the big kind of rules of thumb we talk about here at the Hurricane Center. Every storm is so different. It is amazing that I go back the last 24 years in the weather service and every one are so different. And that's what we try to tell people, to be very careful with those comparisons, because if you're sitting at the edge of one, you think you went through it, but you really didn't. So try not to compare those, and really in your mind think about every impact. Think about the values of the rain. Think about where you are in those risks.

And the biggest thing, and everybody has been communicating this, listen to those local officials. They're really on the ground looking at those dangers. We talk to them constantly. And if they're telling you to leave, you have to leave.

CAMEROTA: That is such a good reminder. Ken Graham, thank you very much for explaining all of this to us. We'll check back. John?

BERMAN: All right, so did the Trump administration take money away from the agency in charge of hurricane recovery and divert it to ICE for detention centers? We're going to hear from a Democratic senator who says he has documents to prove it. That's next.


[08:13:33] BERMAN: As hurricane Florence heads toward the Carolinas, the Trump administration is accused of taking money away from the agency that spearheads the federal response. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon has released documents showing the Trump administration transferred nearly $10 million from the FEMA budget to ICE. According to the documents the money would help fund detention centers to assist the Department of Justice controversial family separation policy.

So joining me now is Senator Merkley. Senator, thanks so much for being with us. Explain to me exactly what you see in these documents?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D) OREGON: Yes. What I have in the document, and I have a copyright here, is it is a notification to Congress of transfers that the administration is making. And it lays out the exactly the details of how this roughly $10 million is being transferred away from FEMA, and a good share of it is in lines that say things like preparation, preparation, preparedness, protection, response and recovery. Clearly, these are funds that are very valuable in terms of preparing for the types of challenges we have had in the last few weeks, a hurricane that almost hit Hawaii, a tropical storm hitting Mississippi, and now Florence bearing down on the Carolinas.

BERMAN: Let me give you the response that we got from the DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton. He posted this on Twitter. "The money in question transferred to ICE from FEMA's routine operating expenses could not have been used, he says, for hurricane response do to appropriation limitations. DHS and FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs." Let me give you the response that we got from the DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton. He posted this on Twitter.

The money in question transferred to ICE from FEMA's routine operating expenses could not been sued, he says, for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations.

[08:15:06] DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs.

So they are claiming the money couldn't go to this hurricane response.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: That's just kind of a lot of bunk. When you have preparedness lines and when you have lines dedicated to response, that's exactly the sort of funds that help you prepare and address the damage that comes from these storms. So, it's really kind of an evil partnership here in which the funds are being taken away from preparation. After we knew the impact of the three massive hurricanes from last year and then the money is being directed towards a program that comes from a very dark place in the heart of the administration, which is ripping thousands of children out of the arms of their parents, then locking their parents up.

BERMAN: And I understand you have on the record and you have been to the forefront of arguing against the administration's border plan and the detention center plan. But in regard to hurricane response, are you saying that you legitimately fear that the government, that FEMA will not have the money it needs to respond to Hurricane Florence?

MERKLEY: Well, I'm simply saying it will have $10 million less than it would have. And $10 million is significant. We -- clearly, we are entering a season -- I mean, this transfer occurred apparently in June. The document delivering the information says it was prepared in June.

June is -- June 1st is the start of hurricane season. So, it just goes to the judgment of the administration at the very time hurricane season is starting in light and with the knowledge of last year the administration is saying, well, that sort of preparation, we can cut corners on that, which I don't think that the Americans want to see the corners cut on preparing and responding to these massive storms.

BERMAN: Do you have -- independent of this story, in which people should look into and we appreciate it you bringing it to light so we can see it -- do you have faith in the administration's response, what it will be, to Hurricane Florence?

MERKLEY: Oh, absolutely not and I'll tell you why. I went down to Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands to see how the recovery had gone. I went down in May. And the administration did a horrific job with the recovery.

And the president is completely out of the circle of reality when he says they did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico. Well, go down and see the fact that it took a full year to hook up electricity again after that storm and the way they redesigned it was essentially to reimplement the same engineering problems they had previously. So the next big storm is going to take down the Puerto Rico grid once again, or visit the hospital in Virgin Islands that the storm damage was massive and they only have a small section of the hospital in operation and the patients are having to fly in and out of the United States, which is, of course, an extraordinary expense.

So, FEMA did a poor job in both those locations. And I know that there is a lot of undone work down in Texas as well.

BERMAN: Up on the screen right now underneath you, we have what the president said yesterday about the Puerto Rico response. He called it an unsung success. This morning, let me read you what the president wrote, because I think he disputes the claim that you just made right there.

The president says: We got A-pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida. And then parenthetically he said, 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. He then goes on to say, we are ready for the big one that is coming.

MERKLEY: Well, an A-plus is only in his own mind, and I'm sure he's a hero in his own mind. But in the reality on the ground, you would have to give this failing grades.

BERMAN: Certainly the people and the families of the 3,000 people we now know died as a result of Hurricane Maria, it's hard to see how they would find the federal response or anything having to do with Hurricane Maria frankly a success there.

My question this morning, though, is even if you take the president's side, even if you think the government did a good job there, I don't know why it is helpful to be saying this this morning when there are millions of people in harm's way in North and South Carolina. I don't see how self-aggrandizing helps them. MERKLEY: Well, I would like to say we learned a lot of lessons from

Puerto Rico, from Texas, from Virgin Islands. We prepared all this year to do a better job this year, but you don't hear anything like that coming out of this administration.

BERMAN: Senator, what do you expect to happen with this revelation you came out with last night, this $10 million shift in funding? Is it now just shedding a spotlight on it and that's it, or do you think the Appropriations Committee you sit on will look into it?

[08:20:00] MERKLEY: Well, my hope is the administration will sit down, as they should have weeks ago, and say, how can we get the additional resources we need to respond to these storms? We got lucky with Hawaii being a near miss. We got lucky with the hurricane degraded to a tropical storm when it hit Mississippi.

I don't think we're going to get lucky this time around with the storm hitting the Carolinas. So, exactly everything that could possibly be done, how can we do it in order to minimize the damage, respond quickly because speed is of the essence, and prepare for the other storms that may welcome yet in the following months of the hurricane season?

BERMAN: Senator Jeff Merkley, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

MERKLEY: You're welcome. Thank you, John.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So, this morning, the bull's eye is headed towards South Carolina. Even Georgia is now in greater danger given this shift in this storm's track. Chad Myers and Charleston's major will join us next.


CAMEROTA: OK. So, there has been a shift in the track for Hurricane Florence that affects millions of people in the Southeast. This is a category four storm.

[08:25:00] It is now expected to stall off the Carolina coastline and shift south, putting South Carolina and Georgia in greater danger. So let's check in with our meteorologist. He joins us with more.

So, this jog to the left that you have been watching, does that mean that some people are now out of the woods or what does this mean to you that it now goes south?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Delaware, Chesapeake Bay, likely Virginia Beach won't have wind damage. That doesn't mean there won't be surge up there. There will be some surge.

But if it continues to turn to the left, as it did overnight, yes, there are people some out of the woods. I wouldn't let your guard down or go back down on to like Ocracoke or, you know, onto the cape, certainly not. There still will be some watch possible there. But it's 130 miles an hour. We're talking about this change that

happened overnight. The storm system really did in the computer models that ran at 8:00 p.m. last night, they finished about midnight. The computer models took this and turned it to the left.

More aircraft in it right now trying to sample the atmosphere. We talked about this all day. This is what they're doing. This is what the airplane is doing in the hurricane.

It looks like you will put your money in there and send it to the bank. Well, they don't send it to the bank. They send it down. And it's like an inverse weather balloon. These go down, but they still sample the atmosphere.

And that's what's been happening. That's why the computers have said, this is what's happening up here. They are in the weather balloons, you can't send weather balloon up in the ocean. So they go down.

So now that turn to the left is what all this progress is all about and toward Charleston is what we're more worried about because the cone is in the ocean. We're not sure it's going to be on land yet. That's still to come.

BERMAN: All right. Chad Myers, thanks very much.

Down toward Charleston is where we're now worried about. You just heard Chad Myers say it.

Joining us now is the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, John Tecklenburg.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us.

The forecast overnight changed. I'm sure you knew it before we did. Now Charleston appears to be in much greater danger. Your reaction in.

MAYOR JOHN TECKLENBURG, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA (via telephone): Well, we're a very resilient city, and we have known over the last few years to roll with the punches and pull together. That's exactly what Charleston is doing.

That being said, this is a very dangerous storm. And as you know, unpredictable. And so, we're urging our citizens to follow our governor's evacuation order and to be safe rather than sorry. We are preparing for tropical storm winds and an inundation of rain over this weekend as this curve to the left really does occur.

BERMAN: As you mentioned, the evacuation order from Governor McMaster was mandatory. It's a mandatory evacuation order. But it doesn't have repercussions if you don't follow it, at least legally speaking, correct?

TECKLENBURG: Well, that's correct. And that's why, yesterday and today, we're going to be on soapbox urging everyone to get to a place of safety and the follow the evacuation order. Yes, sir. BERMAN: Let me give you that soapbox because I think it is important

that people hear this message. Why is it important to get out if you are in one of these mandatory evacuation zones, which I believe Charleston is, why is it important to get out? And what happens if you stay?

TECKLENBURG: Well, you are at your own peril if you own stay, because at certain points in time, with winds and with flooding, our public safety personnel will not be able to get to you in order to give you that hand. So, when the weather conditions are that bad, you really just need to be in a safe place, be hunkered down and ride this thing out. The best place is away from here right now. That's clear.

BERMAN: So, if you choose to stay, are you going to get city resources to those people if there is a dangerous situation? Will you be able to reach those people?

TECKLENBURG: Well, at a certain point, as I mention, and that's when the wind velocity is over 40 miles an hour and when tidal waters and rain waters rise, you're at peril. Don't get me wrong, we've got our personnel that will be ready when it is safe for them to be out.

We have boats ready and we have been cleaning our drainage systems and having portable pumps in place. We're taking every precaution to prepare for the worst, but we're still hoping for the best. But the best way to hope that is to be safe and to evacuate and be in a safe place.

BERMAN: I remember last year, after Hurricane Irma, which wasn't anywhere near Charleston, there was some flooding issues there. It is the low country, right?


BERMAN: You have issue with the coast. You also have the fresh water issues. We are talking about a storm surge that could be three, five feet, maybe more in Charleston and then, you know, maybe a foot, two feet of rain. What are your flooding concerns?

TECKLENBURG: Our flooding concern, mostly, with this storm is from rain, copious rain, an inundation of rain that may occur.