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Storm's New Path Poses Greater Danger; Evacuation Orders for Residents; Commissioner Chooses Not to Evacuate; North Carolina Congressman Talks Storm Danger; Money Diverted from FEMA for Detentions. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 13:00   ET

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


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[13:00:30] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, the bull's-eye gets bigger for areas of the East Coast on a collision course with Hurricane Florence. Forecast models predict the monster storm will pause and then take a left turn as it slams the coastlines of North and South Carolina. That means areas like Myrtle Beach are now at greater risk. A hurricane warning is in effect for much of the South Carolina and North Carolina coastlines. We have our correspondents up and down the coast to bring you the very latest.

So where is Florence now and where is it headed? Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is tracking all of this for us.

Jennifer, what about this left turn that Florence is now expected to make? What does that mean for the people in the path of this storm?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, it basically means more of the coast is going to be impacted. The track of this storm still brings it into coastal North Carolina, right around Wilmington, on Friday as a category three. But beyond that, that's where things have changed just a little bit.

Now, 120-mile-per-hour storm, the track shows it just meandering down to the south from there, along the coastline. Now, it's very important, some of the models show this storm sort of hovering just offshore and meandering to the south. Other models bring it just onshore and doing that. If it comes onshore, we will start to see the storm weaken faster than if it hangs out offshore. So that's very important.

But, still, incredible impacts all along the North Carolina coast, just as we were talking about yesterday, but now we're including more of South Carolina and even Georgia that needs to be on the lookout for this. We're still going to be talking about this storm by the end of the weekend. This is going to be a slow mover and it is going to dump a lot of rain. It's moving to the northwest at 15 miles per hour now. And with this track, we are going to see massive amounts of rain. We could see 20 to 30 inches of rain across coastal sections of North Carolina, and that rain is going to extend well inland. Here are the latest stats, 130 mile-per-hour winds with gusts of 160,

moving to the northwest at 15. This is a massive storm. It's not only powerful, it is big. We are talking about wind fields stretching -- tropical storm force winds -- 300 miles across. Hurricane force winds extending 125 miles across. And with this storm just sitting, we are going to see not only a lot of rain, but we are going to see a lot of storm surge. Nine to 13 feet storm surge expected anywhere from coastal -- portions of North Carolina, outside of Wilmington, all the way to Moorhead City.

And with this storm lingering, it's very important to note, we talk about storm surge being the worst, if it -- that storm comes in on high tide. This storm is going to be sitting for so long, we could see the storm surge for several tide cycles. This storm could be unprecedented. It's definitely nothing like this portion of the coast has ever, ever seen.

Here are all your watches and warnings, Wolf. This is one people should really, really pay attention to. You can't stress that enough.

BLITZER: Yes, it's awful indeed.

All right, Jennifer, thank you very much.

As this hurricane moves closer and closer to the Carolina coast, the window to leave is rapidly closing. But despite a mandatory evacuation order, some residents are determined to try to ride out the storm.

Our correspondent Kaylee Hartung is joining us from Carolina Beach in North Carolina right now.

Kaylee, the clock is clearly ticking. What happens at 8:00 p.m. local time tonight with this evacuation order?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is one way off of the island that Carolina Beach sits on. That bridge will going to close at 8:00 p.m., or when sustained winds reach 45 miles per hour, whichever happens first. That deadline looming.

And you just heard Jennifer talking about the storm surge. So much of the fear for this island, you can see the line here, where high tide comes up, how short that beach gets. These sand dunes, 12 feet tall, expected to be toppled by the storm surge here. Local officials tell me at this point, this island of 6,300 people, they believe about 100 are planning to ride out the storm. Just a short while ago, I met Casey Dodson, a man who moved here just a couple of months ago with his family from Pennsylvania. They say they are going to ride out this storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY DODSON, PLANNING TO RIDE OUT STORM: I'm not even worried at all. We got all the windows boarded up and we've got water -- plenty of water, plenty of food, and, I mean, we're just really not worried. We've got a sturdy house and it's just faith in God that we're going to be here when it's all over. The most that can happen is your windows are going to get busted out, or you're roof's going to rip off or you're going to get flooded. But we're not in a flood zone. So I'm not worried about it being flooded. I'm not worried about the windows being broken. And, I don't know, we're going to lose power, but we've got plenty of flashlights and stuff like that. So we're just going to bunker down and see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:05:29] HARTUNG: An incredibly optimistic view by Casey there, as, Wolf, local officials fear much worse could happen. They tell me at 8:00 p.m. tonight, when a 24-hour curfew goes into effect for those who are still on the island, they will be knocking on doors. They will be asking for the people who say they're staying to hand over information, contact information, for their next of kin. They want that to be a very serious conversation the local officials have with those folks so that they understand the severity of the choice they are making to risk their lives by staying here.

BLITZER: It's an awful situation, as I said.

Kaylee, thank you very much.

Kaylee Hartung reporting for us.

Hurricane Florence is expected to pause, as we noted, off the North Carolina coast and then make that left turn. Coastal locations there will be subjected to tropical storm force winds between 39 and 73- mile-per-hour or more for two days. The areas will be inundated with rain and storm surge.

Our correspondent, Nick Valencia, is in Conway, South Carolina, for us.

So, Nick, are folks over there leaving?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. And we've been talking to them as this traffic has sort of stalled on the way out. We just talked to a woman right now who is with seven pets and her two children on the way to West Virginia.

And that's what we've seen seeing all day long in the morning hours and the afternoon that we've been here, Wolf, we've been seeing people leaving with animals in their back -- in the back of their cars. We've also been seeing adults leaving with their elderly parents.

And some new reporting that I wanted to share with you. Yesterday I spoke to a woman on Myrtle Beach who says that she was going to stick it out. She thought that she had a better handle on this than the local officials who were telling her to leave. Well, this morning I checked in with her and she says that she's had a change of heart. Much of that having to do with the change of direction of this storm. As this storm is predicted to go a little bit further south with Myrtle Beach in its crosshairs, more people are starting to get a little bit nervous. She's on her way out today, has booked a flight to the Tampa Bay area to be with her father-in-law. But her husband, incidentally, has decided to stick it out. There are several people we've talked to on camera who say that they

are going to stick it out. They want to be here. They don't think that this storm is going to be as serious as everyone else says. But that's not what we're hearing from the local officials.

I spoke to the mayor of Myrtle Beach who says that those who do stay, they're not going to have that much help. The first responders are going to leave. We've even talked to local leaders who say that they're going to evacuate. They're in the process today, not just of opening these lanes and getting them reversed so everyone can get out, but they're also shutting down hospitals, evacuating the emergency room. They're preparing for the very worst. Many people predicting that this is going to be the absolute worst hurricane to ever hit the Carolinas.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you very much. We'll stay in close touch with you. Be careful over there.

The evacuation orders along the Carolina coastline are especially urgent for the barrier islands and Ocracoke Island along North Carolina's Outer Banks. The only way out is by ferry or small plane.

Hyde County Commissioner Tom Paul does not plan to leave, despite a mandatory evacuation order from the governor. Commissioner Paul is joining us right now.

So, commissioner, why did you decide to stay and not evacuate?

TOM PAUL, HYDE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA, COMMISSIONER: Good afternoon, Wolf.

That decision to stay or evacuate is an -- it's an important one that everyone on the island has to make. And you've got to understand that on Ocracoke Island, this kind of event isn't something that happens every three or four or four or five years. We face this question as a community and as individuals, we face this question every year and sometimes two or three times a year. So we have a good bank of knowledge to rely on when we're making the decision. And add to that the quality of the forecasting that we get in terms of the path of the storm and the intensity of this storm. And everybody keeps that in mind as they make that decision for themselves on the island.

Personally, I was and my wife, we were prepared to leave yesterday, yesterday morning, until we saw the change in the track. And at this point we feel very comfortable with the predictions for wind values and the storm surge, that it's -- that it's within or only slightly above much of what we've experienced previously. So it's those kinds of considerations that allow us to make a decision that's really a very, kind of detailed and nuanced decision that each individual on the island has to -- has to fact.

[13:10:13] BLITZER: You estimate, commissioner, that there are, what, about 900 permanent residents on the island. Are most of them following the orders to leave? PAUL: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. So initially we've -- we've issued three

evacuation orders for our county. The first evacuation order took place on Monday, and that was a mandatory evacuation of visitors. And that's strictly enforced. And there were well over 1,000 visitors on the island at the time and they've all -- they're all long gone.

Then we extended that evacuation order to include residents. And the purpose of extending the evacuation order to include residents is to emphasize to the residents on the island the severity of the potential storm and the impact. And then we issued additionally an evacuation order for everyone on the mainland and Hyde County is primarily a mainland county, Ocracoke Island is the only barrier island that's a part of Hyde County. So we've issued those three evacuation orders.

BLITZER: By staying put, trying to ride this out, are you setting a dangerous example for other folks on the island?

PAUL: Oh, no. I've only lived here for 15 years and the other folks on the island have been here, you know, a lot of these folks who are staying have families who have been here for generations, and they themselves have, many of them, were -- you know, have lived their whole lives on the island. So I'm by far not setting an example for them but maybe -- if anything, it's the other way around.

BLITZER: What about the children, the little kids, are they evacuated or are they sticking around there with their adult parents?

PAUL: That's, as I say, it's an important and very difficult decision. But as far as I know, if there are any children on the island at all, it's very few and it's going to be those families who have been here for all their lives and have that level of confidence. But I do know of many, many people who previously have stayed on the island for hurricanes who now have children and are absolutely evacuating with their children.

BLITZER: Yes, which is, of course, critically important.

Commissioner Tom Paul, thanks so much.

PAUL: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks over there in Hyde County. Appreciate you joining us.

PAUL: Sure. Thank you very much. Anytime.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the Trump administration accused of diverting hurricane funds for immigration detentions. One senator's discovery. How the White house is now responding.

Plus, the president once again attacks some in Puerto Rico, defends his administration's response despite nearly 3,000 deaths a year ago on the island. Why one U.S. senator now says this is a bad sign for those in the Carolinas.

And did the president's attacks on Robert Mueller just backfire? A brand new poll shows Republicans may want to rethink their strategy.

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[13:17:46] BLITZER: A monster storm may be charting an even more dangerous path. Hurricane Florence could shift to the south, though, when it slams into the Carolina coast. And that puts more of South Carolina in greater danger, but North Carolina is also still very much in the bull's-eye.

Already Florence is being compared to other legendary storms to hit the Carolinas, like Hurricane Hugo back in 1989 that struck north of Charleston, South Carolina, as a category four storm.

Let's talk about the area and how it's preparing for Hurricane Florence. Joining us now from Raleigh is North Carolina Congressman David Price.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

How prepared will your state be to deal with this monster storm?

REP. DAVID PRICE (D), NORTH CAROLINA: All hands are on deck and I'm very heartened by the level of preparation that we see from FEMA, right through our governor and our state emergency preparedness office, to the counties that the governor has deployed 2,500 National Guard troops, to various points to facilitate operations. And we've, of course, been in touch with Brock Long, our FEMA administrator, and all of his team. We're anticipating a big hit and especially a lot of water. So, you know, you -- you know there's going to be some dislocation and discomfort. But we really do seem to have a -- all hands on deck to prepare for this as best as we possibly can.

BLITZER: As you know, congressman, the latest forecast indicates that the storm may take a turn to the south as it makes landfall. Are you concerned that people in North Carolina may be letting their guard down as it moves towards South Carolina?

PRICE: I would hope not. There's no reason to let -- let our guard down. The evacuation orders mean what they say and that's at the federal level and the -- and, I'm sorry, at the state level and the county level. People need to get out of these vulnerable areas, get out of harm's way, and this storm could still, you know, the track could still be modified. But there is going to be a huge amount of water coming down and a huge amount of flooding any way you look at it.

[13:20:08] And so -- and the high winds, of course, it doesn't take a whole lot of wind. Once -- once that water's there and once the ground is soaked, it doesn't take as much wind to bring things down and to destroy homes and so on. So nobody should have any false assurance about this. I think we all better just get ready to the maximum.

BLITZER: Yes, well, some people are deciding to stick it out, even though it's extremely, extremely reckless and dangerous.

As you know, President Trump says the federal government is prepared to provide whatever assistance is needed. Are you satisfied with the response you're seeing from the federal government here in Washington?

PRICE: We -- we know FEMA and have worked with FEMA. We've had, of course, experience in the past. And they were -- all of us know that there were some major catastrophes in the past. Katrina comes to mind, Puerto Rico comes to mind, where FEMA itself has said that their preparation was deficient.

We need to learn from those past failures. And I believe we are learning from those past failures. I certainly hope so. Maybe the president isn't, but I think the agency has certainly improved its operations. And so we -- we're working very closely with Brock Long and with FEMA and we are confident that the preparations are there and now the citizens just have to ease -- just have to heed the warnings and protect themselves and protect each other. So we're doing the best we can here and I do -- I do believe it's a unified effort in this state, which will serve us well.

BLITZER: Congressman David Price, good luck to all the folks in North Carolina, South Carolina, all along the eastern seaboard. We're really hoping for the best, although it looks like it's going to be awful indeed. Appreciate you joining us.

PRICE: Sure. Thank you.

BLITZER: As Florence nears the coast, a Democratic senator released some new document which shows the Trump administration used nearly $10 million of FEMA funding to pay for immigrant detention centers. What FEMA and the White House are now saying about that.

Plus, concerns over nine hazardous waste sites in the path of Florence. What's being done to protect those from this storm.

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[13:27:10] BLITZER: An evil partnership. That's what one U.S. Senator is calling the Trump administration's act of pulling nearly $10 million away from FEMA and hurricane preparedness to fund ICE detention centers. The administration disputes the claim saying the money came from FEMA's routine operating expenses and, quote, couldn't be used for hurricane response. But here's Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, he's a Democrat, who brought the money swap to light. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: That's just kind of a lot of bunk. Where 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, joining us now, California Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat. He serves on the Armed Services Committee.

So what's you your reaction to this move by FEMA to transfer some of this money, $10 million, from preparedness -- potentially preparedness to deal with ICE instead of FEMA?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It's terrible. And it is really a reflection of where this administration's priorities are. They clearly are interested in ICE. They're interested in the immigration issue. At the same time we have Americans in harm's way and we have Americans that need help. FEMA needs to be prepared. If they're operations, that's exactly what they do to get prepared. That's moving people, moving equipment, getting prepared, prepositioning. $10 million, that's extraordinarily important. They need it right now.

BLITZER: Especially as we've got a lot of these hurricane that move in, tropical storms.

GARAMENDI: Yes, there's --

BLITZER: There's a lot of work that clearly needs to be done.

GARAMENDI: Well, just take a look at the map of the entire eastern Atlantic. There are hurricanes that are stacking up. They expect four to hit Puerto Rico. And we know that Puerto Rico hasn't recovered from last year's hurricane because FEMA didn't get its job done.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of Puerto Rico, I want to play a clip. This is the president of the United States. He was speaking, and I'll play the clip, he was speaking about what happened in Puerto Rico last year and why he thinks his administration did such an outstanding job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico I think was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But take a look at the numbers. An unsung success. Nearly 3,000 people over the past year have died as a result of this hurricane, Maria, in Puerto Rico. The original toll they thought was about 64. It's now 2,975. And the president says this was an incredible, unsung success.

[13:30:12] GARAMENDI: Well, maybe he's talking about his ability to toss paper towels