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A Weather Disaster Playing Out Right Now In The Carolinas; Manafort Pleads Guilty In Mueller Probe, Will Cooperate; Catastrophic Flooding; At Least Four Dead, Widespread Damage Due To Florence. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 14, 2018 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: We are following breaking news, a weather disaster playing out right now in the Carolinas. Florence is parked and almost spinning in place, slamming the region with wind and rain. We are seeing dramatic flood rescues with many people still trapped and they are pleading right now for help.

And now Florence is a killer storm with reports of the first deaths coming in. We'll talk about the breaking news with the Commandant of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz, and our correspondents are in key locations throughout the disaster zone.

Let's begin with dramatic rescues taking place right now, CNN's Ed Lavandera in the hard hit New Bern area of North Carolina, and some people there, they are still waiting for help. What's the latest?

ED LAVANDERA, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Hi, Wolf. It's been a dramatic day here. Very reminiscent of what happened a year ago during Hurricane Harvey in Houston where private citizens descended on this small town, launching their own boats in the water to carry out rescue missions out of these neighborhoods.

You can see the amount of water that has been taken on in many of these neighborhoods where more than 300 people have been pulled out of their homes. This is a combination of private citizens, swift water rescue teams, first responders and other officials who have descended on this town to pull these people out of these neighborhoods. Some of them couldn't leave for financial reasons, others refused to evacuate. A whole wide array of reasons for why people are still in these neighborhoods, but many of them told us the water rose up rapidly.

One person said, they waited 12 hours to be pulled out of their home and the mayor here in New Bern, North Carolina says there are still about roughly about 40 people that they are hoping to pull out of their homes before the end of the day, but it is treacherous conditions that they are working in, Hurricane - this tropical storm has just spiraled throughout this town, throughout the course of the day with torrential downpours that seems to have never ended throughout the course of today, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to stay in very close touch with you, good luck over there. Be careful. Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us. I quickly want to go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Wilmington, North Carolina. Brian, the storm has now claimed at least four lives, including a mother and a child. Where you are, you saw the effort to try to get them out.

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Wolf, this was an excruciating rescue operation when this 30,000-pound tree came crashing down. You see it right here, it split the back bedroom of that house wide open. A rescue effort unfolding over the course of that eight hours. We were here for most of it.

In the end, though, they just simply could not save this woman and her young child. Those two perished. One person was injured inside this house. This was kind emblematic of so many rescue efforts throughout the Carolinas today that first responders had to endure as they tried to get to so many people trapped while the storm just kept churning through this area.


TODD: In Wilmington, a coordinated effort to save a family trapped inside their house. One man was rescued and transported to a local hospital. But though a team of doctors, paramedics and firefighters scrambled to get to a mother and her child, they were not able to save them.

It's just kind of the overall difficulty of a rescue operation like this. You guys have been here for hours.

PATRICK CAMPBELL, WILMINGTON FIRE BATTALION CHIEF: they were initially working from the inside of the house to try to make access. Any time a child is involved, human life certainly, but when it's involving a child, people push themselves to the limit. That comes with an emotional toll as well.

TODD: Heavy rains, sustained winds and Florence's slow, plodding pace are creating problems for first responders. With countless rescues ahead and more than half a million without power, the storm's impact is still unfolding. Throughout the region, a widespread effort to assess damage, rescue victims and mitigate the storm's impact.


BROCK LONG, FEMA DIRECTOR: We're focused really on safety and security and rescue missions. We have over - I think it's close to 1,300 search and rescue assets, people and assets on the ground and from South Carolina to the District of Columbia.

TODD: New Bern, North Carolina took the hurricane's full force, and much of the historic community is under water. Emergency crews in the area are already rescuing hundreds of people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist and now it's to the chest, and we are stuck in the attic. There's four of us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We told them to remain calm, not to panic. We will rescue them. Again, we're having to be strategic about it. We now have a citizen group that has come out with their own personal watercraft offering to help us with these rescues. We are not turning away that help.

TODD: And as Florence churns its way through the Carolinas, its wrath is expected to extend through the weekend and beyond.

JEFF BYARD, FEMA ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR: Heed your local and state warnings, protect yourself, protect your families. Don't put our first responders' lives in jeopardy. Do what you need to do to for the team as well and that message is to our citizens both impacted currently and that will be impacted by the effects of Hurricane Florence.


BLITZER: All right, that was a report from Brian Todd. We're going to get back to him shortly. Brian Todd is on the scene for us. There is also a new forecast just out from a National Hurricane Center. Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is joining us.

Jennifer, this won't be over any time soon.

JENNIFER GRAY, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: You're right. And the new forecast is actually bad news because the storm has slowed down even more, if you can imagine, now moving at only about three miles per hour. So this storm is crawling along the coast, and that means that all of this onshore flow, all of the winds, the rain, everything moving from east to west is going to continue in that direction, so all of the flooding is going to continue, the storm surge is going to continue throughout the rest of this evening and the overnight hours as the storm continues to meander to the south.

So if people are already experiencing flooding, unfortunately, it is going to continue. That's what we were talking about. The storm is going to be around for a long, long time. Andt these bands are setting up right over New Bern. They've been getting the brunt of this as well as Morehead City since yesterday. It's not going to come to an end any time soon. That's going to continue as this storm just inches to the southwest. And this is going to continue to rain all day Saturday and then finally by the end of Sunday, possibly seeing some of this wrap up and lift to the north.

The winds are going to continue to be an issue, but the big problem is really the storm surge as well as the rain. We have already have rain reports of more than a foot and a half of rain. Some areas are getting close to two feet of rain, with Oriental getting 20 inches and another update to those numbers are supposed to be coming out any moment. They are going to be much higher than 20 inches because it's been raining nonstop.

Davis, North Carolina got a 108-mile-per-hour wind gusts, so the winds were there, but the main threat was that storm surge. And Wolf, the scary part is this river flooding as we go into next week, the rivers are going to rapidly rise between Monday and Wednesday. A lot of these rivers in eastern portions of North Carolina, we are going to see record river levels and that is going to last until the middle part of the week. The storm is going to be long gone, but the rivers are going to

continue to rise in some neighborhoods. Some of these neighborhoods could be inundated with more than seven feet of water, and a lot of this is very slow to go down, Wolf.

BLITZER: This monster storm continues and it is going to continue for days. Thanks very much for that, Jennifer. CNN's Martin Savidge, he is in Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina where the eye of the storm first made landfall earlier in the day. What's it like now, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The amazing thing is, Wolf, here we are with 10 hours after landfall and the conditions are just as bad as it seemed back then. That's an indication of just how significantly large this storm is and how slow it is in moving away. We're being battered from exactly the opposite direction. Now it's coming this way. You can't even look at it without getting a face of nails.

The rain continues to just pound from the sky and the winds here, even though they're tropical storm force winds, are still having a major impact primarily because of the fact that it's now the longevity, the fatigue factor that's beginning to wear on especially older structures like the ones around in this area.

Wrightsville Beach, we are hearing that they have got problems with inundation. They have got water coming in from the inter coastal, they've also got it coming in from the Atlantic. We also have heard that they've had significant beach erosion on the Atlantic side. Not surprising given how long this has been going on.

On top of that, there is some structural damage. It's been very hard for them to assess exactly how bad things are because they've been hunkered down.


SAVIDGE: We can't get over there because the bridge to get to the barrier island remains off limits to members of the public. It is considered too dangerous at this time. But again, here we are 10 hours after landfall, and you hardly feel any significant letdown of the conditions out here. It's likely we'll go through another high tide tonight which means another strong surge, and the rain, well, you've heard it over and over. And as the deaths have now shown, this is still a dangerous, dangerous storm, and this is why people were told to evacuate and remain in shelter in spite - as long as they've been warned about it.

BLITZER: Yes, and what you're feeling there is going out all over the Carolinas. Martin, we're going to get back to you as well. CNN's Diane Gallagher is in New Bern, North Carolina - that town has also been inundated. So what are you seeing now, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Wolf, I'll tell you just a couple of minutes ago, actually, we saw what we believed to be a US Coast Guard helicopter flying around here, which hopefully he's a pretty good pilot. I'm sure he is, because we've had the strongest winds that we've had since overnight when Florence just started coming in within the past hour.

Rain bands as well. They've been so strong. We haven't experienced this throughout the entire day, but we have dealt with are these rescues. You heard Ed telling you earlier in the day that he was going out on these rescues. I've spent my morning with some of those volunteers who came out from Maryland. They came down, they worked to get people out of Riverbend.

Now, I'll tell you that while we were on those boats, Wolf, there were people who were on the second floor of their house that just kind of waved to us and told us, "No, I'm good, I'm good, I don't want to be rescued." There were others who felt it was inevitable. This was not what they wanted to happen for whatever reason they decided not to adhere to the mandatory evacuation, be it financial, they just didn't think this storm was going to be this bad.

They were having to be taken out. Now, there were some people with medical issues. One woman we were told by a rescuer was knocked down by the water when it entered her home and it messed up her hips so they took her out on a backboard after bringing her on that boat.

But I think it's important to remember that these are volunteers for the most part who came down on their own accord, spent their own money. They have their own food. They're trying to stay at fire stations and things like that.

We've been talking to them. They are going to be going right back out in another couple of minutes here because of the increase in weather we've experienced.

During the day we started getting these lulls and they're coming right back in as strong as they can be. We've watched the water rise again in downtown New Bern. It had receded a bit. We're still in high tide about another three hours here. This is where they're going to start having more rescue calls again because the water is continuing to rise.

For some of those people who maybe didn't get out that first time around are going to have to deal with this again this evening and now, overnight. Still no power in the area. A lot of people still looking for places to go. If they can't get into a shelter, the hotels are full, Wolf.

So here in New Bern, we've got this weather going on, but the focus is this water that is continuing to rise and these rescues that they are having to continue to do and will likely have to overnight.

BLITZER: Yes, more than 600,000 homes right now without any power. Dianne, it's going to be dark there pretty soon. Are these rescuers, these first responders planning on working through the night?

GALLAGHER: They are, Wolf. In fact, they worked through the night last night as Florence was coming in, which is really shocking. That doesn't often happen in this hurricane situations, but they felt like they could get there. A crew that came in from Maryland who I spent my day with, I talked to them, they got in about - they started, they left, they got in about 4:30. They went all night long. They woke up again, started doing it again at 4:00 this morning so they could get these rescues because that's when people were posting on Facebook with these desperate pleas for help that I'm with my children or I can't reach my elderly grandmother and she's stuck on her - the last time I talked to her.

The sad story that we have heard from people, Wolf, as they come in looking for rooms, or looking for any kind of shelter, just absolutely devastated because they have lost everything and they are well aware that because of the way this part of the country floods, it has a tendency to reflood about a week later.

They are not going home any time soon. So they left everything that they had in their home and they don't know when they will ever see it again, period, or if they will see any of that again, because a lot of the stuff that's just ending up in the streets, when we were out there, there were all sorts of personal belongings that were just floating in parts of the river here.

Even in downtown where I am at right now, we've seen all sorts of things that have been moved from businesses that are sitting in intersections, in parking lots, in front yards of churches and businesses. So the water has moved a lot and we are likely looking for a repeat of that tonight in a couple of hours.

BLITZER: Awful situation, Dianne, we'll get in touch - stay in touch with you as well, Dianne Gallagher on the scene. Be careful over there. The breaking news continues next with more - more on the hundreds of people rescued from the rapidly rising waters. And those who are still trapped and are waiting for help.


BLITZER: The breaking news, now tropical storm Florence is slowly moving across the Carolinas. At least four deaths are blamed on this storm. Emergency crews have been busy all day dealing with the widespread catastrophic flooding and wind damage and enormous power outages across the Carolinas.

CNN's Drew Griffin is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for us and they're expecting the worst of the storm later tonight. What are the conditions now, Drew?


DREW GRIFFIN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: They are bad, but they're not as bad as everyone thought here, Wolf, and I don't want to minimize what's happening in North Carolina, but as of right now, Myrtle Beach - North Myrtle Beach, Horry County, there are no major incidents to report, no major flooding to report.

They do anticipate big time troubles with river flooding inland in the days to come, but there is not much damage here on the beach at all. That's because for the most part, the offshore winds here have kept the waves away from the beach. You can see this is all pushed back. We're not getting that strong surge, and as this storm weakens, even though it is a strong tropical storm, it doesn't appear like that huge storm surge will hit Myrtle Beach.

That's not to say there is plenty of danger coming. They expect a long, long saturated night before this storm gets through, but as of right now, Wolf, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Horry County, in fact, South Carolina holding up pretty well as Florence makes its slow move.

BLITZER: Yes, the next few hours will be critical, indeed. All right, Drew, thank you very much. The constant rain, the rising floodwaters, they are raising deep concerns about the dams across the Carolinas.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Lumberton, North Carolina for us. So what's the situation there, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: What we're witnessing here, Wolf, is a city coming together to defend itself against the flooding from Florence.

Let me explain. Two years ago, Hurricane Matthew struck through the region. The nearby Lumber River overflowed its banks, the result, it made its way all the way here to the community on the west side of the city.

The church that you're looking at here with the red brick, that was wiped out by floodwaters and has since been rebuilt. The city here, the people here, they are not willing to let that happen again, so what took place earlier this morning again, all call was issued on social media -- strangers, residents, the city and the National Guard, coming together to create this barrier made out of soil and sand.

Most of the folks here have gone home for the day, but look at what the scene looked like earlier today and some of these pictures captured by our colleagues, people coming together, many of them not even knowing each other, filling up these sand bags, to create a barrier where they say that the Lumber River basically crept into the city and then left behind widespread damage.

People here are still recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew two years ago, so what we witnessed today, Wolf, is certainly the best of humanity brought out by the worst of mother nature. These are people coming together, defending themselves against Florence, right now again, many of them have gone home to be with their families, hoping that this barrier will do its job and keep the floodwater from making its way here.

Finally, that is what officials have been worried about, is Florence part two, basically the flooding that will follow the storm. I checked the river forecast just a little white ago and it is expected to reach major flood levels in the next 24 to 48 hours.

So the people here, all they can do now is wait.

BLITZER: And hope for the best. All right, thanks very much, Polo Sandoval on the scene for us. And stay with us. We have crews up and down the coasts of both Carolinas. We're going to have more updates on the flooding, the damage and the ongoing rescue operations, but there is another major breaking story we're following right now. Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman now pleading guilty in the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigations, and agreeing to cooperate.


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories and we'll have much more from our correspondents covering Florence in a little bit, but I want to turn to another major development that's unfolding today in the special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation today.

Paul Manafort who served as chairman of the Trump campaign pleaded guilty as part of the deal that includes his full cooperation with prosecutors. Let's get some more from our correspondent and our expert Gloria Borger. How big of a win is this for Robert Mueller?

GLORIA BORGER, AMERICAN POLITICAL PUNDIT, JOURNALIST, AND COLUMNIST: This is a huge win for Robert Mueller. I think this is what he was been working towards and it was very clear that Manafort didn't want to go to jail for the rest of his life, and he cut a deal that if he cooperates in the way that they expect, and they expect in the cooperation agreement that he will testify fully, completely and truthfully before any and all grand juries about everything, okay?

This is not limited. This is about everything. That he could get a lesser sentence. So I think he made a decision that they wanted him to make, so I think it really could turn out to be a game changer depending on what he knows. And, of course, they're going to ask about the Trump Tower meeting, but they're going to ask him about his business, they're going to ask about his affiliations in the Trump campaign.

This could prove to be quite a gold mine for them despite the fact that Sarah Sanders is out there saying this has absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, remember, he's 69, almost 70 years old. He doesn't want to spend the rest of his life in jail. What else are you learning about what's included in this deal?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER ,CNN: Like Gloria said, I mean, he's going to have to testify to the grand jury. He is going to have to testify in possible trials, anything else, and really just anything that the special counsel wants, he is going to have to do.

BLITZER: For all practical purposes, he is working for Mueller, right?

PROKUPECZ: He is working for Mueller ...

BORGER: Or owns him ...


PROKUPECZ: Owns him and really significant here is that he can go and meet with Mueller without any lawyers. So, he's not facing any additional charges. There was a lot of concern for him that he would face additional charges. And there's a very good chance that he may be released from jail and all of this sometime soon, and will likely will not spend the rest of his life in jail. And that's the key thing, because the government said, by you cooperating, we're going to write a letter on your behalf to the judge to say that you've been helpful to us and so you should not have to serve the rest of your life in jail.

BLITZER: What did you learning now about a prominent Democrat who might also be targeted by Mueller.

PROKUPECZ: Right. So, this is more fallout, really, from the Mueller investigation. This is Greg Craig, who was a lawyer, he worked under Obama and the White House. He now is facing his own set, potentially. There's an investigation; this case was referred from Mueller to New York and Southern District. You know, he's a Democratic power broker. He's linked to Manafort through a law firm where he works. And he worked on this report for the Ukrainian president that Manafort had commissioned.

There was another lawyer at this firm at (INAUDIBLE), who, as you may remember, was charged and he actually spent some time in jail for lying to the FBI about this report. So, he and Greg Craig worked on this report together. We're told that Greg Craig is now facing possible charges of not filing these forms to register as a foreign agent, and that is something that the U.S. Attorney in New York is looking at. And this is another example, perhaps, of where Paul Manafort's cooperation could become at play, and can be important in that investigation among other investigations.

Because there are other investigations outside of Washington, D.C., at other U.S. Attorney's offices that Manafort could play a role in -- that involve Russians, that involve Ukrainians. It's not just limited to what the special counsel has been looking at. There's a lot, really, here that Paul Manafort can provide -- the details.

BLITZER: And presumably, it makes it harder if they go after this Democrat, maybe there are other Democrats as well for the president to simply call all of this a witch hunt.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. Exactly. There are going to be other people, perhaps. Look, I think Paul Manafort gives the Department of Justice, the FBI a window into a political operation in Washington, D.C. unlike we've ever seen before.

BLITZER: Susan Hennessey, Alan Dershowitz, the famed Harvard Law Professor, he says that this Manafort plea bargain, plea deal, guilty plea, is a very big deal and should worry the president.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So, I think it is a big deal, and I think it goes to what Gloria mentioned. How big of a deal depends on what Paul Manafort knows and how much he's actually able to tell prosecutors. Now, there's reason to believe that the answer to that question is that he knows a lot. This is a senior member of the campaign, he was present at this Trump Tower meeting, involved in other things -- including that he's in a position to either refute or corroborate other testimony that other witnesses have given under oath as well.

You know, and this plea agreement, he is only immunized with -- only works for him to the extent that he's told Robert Mueller everything. We know that there was a proffer agreement, written proffer on September 11th. So, anything that Manafort knows, we can pretty much rely on the fact that Robert Mueller knows that as well. I think to the larger point, why this is such bad news for the president is the fact that Mueller is racking up more cooperators and getting more information, means this investigation is nowhere near wrapping up.

BLITZER: But he started talking prosecutors on Tuesday to set the stage for elaborate a deal. Take a look at this, Mark Preston. All these Trump team members, guilty pleas, they're all now cooperating, they're working with Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Paul Manafort, guilty; Rick Gates, Deputy Campaign Chairman, guilty; former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, guilty; former Foreign Policy Advisor, George Papadopoulos, guilty; former Trump Attorney, personal attorney, Michael Cohen, all pleading guilty. This is got -- they're cooperating -- they're telling everything they know presumably to federal prosecutors. It's got to get the White House very nervous.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, there's no question about it. And I'm surprised that we haven't seen the president weigh in. I'll give him some credit, low bar, for the restraint that he's showing certainly while we have this natural disaster occurring, you know, just to the south of us, down in North Carolina. It's very ironic to note that Barack Obama came to Washington and said he was going to drain the swamp, clean up Washington. That has been Donald Trump's mantra over and over again.

Well, it seems like Robert Mueller is the one who is draining the swamp, so to speak, going both ways, if in fact the Greg Craig situation does happen. We show the Tony Podesta, another big Democrat as well, who has been ensnared in all of this. So, when we talk about draining the swamp, when we talk about the institution of Washington, D.C., it is ironic that it's Robert Mueller the one who's cleaning it up.

PROKUPECZ: I think anyone who did any work with Paul Manafort. Let me just -- you know, Farrow and this foreign registration. For a long time, this was not -- there was always this talk, well, this was not something the Department of Justice really goes after. That seems to have changed, Wolf, and I think anyone who has done any work with Paul Manafort is probably concerned. But it doesn't involve just people in this country, it's going to be people overseas. Look, he's done extensive work in the Ukraine, he's had contact with Russian oligarchs, he has information on these people, and that is where Paul Manafort is going to play a key role in this investigation as well.

[17:35:37] BORGER: Well, and it isn't just sort of forgetting to file or register that you represent a foreign client. What we saw outlined in the document that you've got in front of you, Wolf -- that's the document -- is that Paul Manafort had a complicated scheme to hide who his client was. He set up this sort of phony think tank and there were P.R. firms and law firms who cooperated in this because, quite frankly, they wanted the money. And they were getting paid a lot of money to do it.

What struck me in reading all of this was somebody from one company: A, noted to another company employee that they knew who they were lobbying for even though it had a fake name, and this person said, it's like "Alice in Wonderland." And an employee of another company described the center, as it was called, a fig leaf on a fig leaf. So, they knew exactly what they were doing and they were hiding it from Members of Congress that they were going to lobby. So, this is a different kind of swamp. I mean, this is a deeper, darker, illegal swamp.

PROKUPECZ: Murky, mucky.

BLITZER: If you read this whole, let's call, superseding criminal information document, it spells out an enormous detail all of this; and among other things, it spells out that Manafort stole $15 million from American taxpayers. Manafort cheated the United States out of over $15 million in taxes, among other things, and he's now admitted to all of this.

Everybody, stick around. There's more we're watching. We're also going to put our attention back to the other major story that's breaking right now, the ongoing rescues, catastrophic flooding and wind damage as Florence slowly moves across the Carolinas.


[17:42:00] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories in the Carolinas where floodwaters are rising as rain from Tropical Storm Florence continues. Let's get an update on the dramatic rescues that are taking place as Florence drops a deluge on the Carolinas. CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the hard-hit New Bern area of North Carolina. So, what are you seeing now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, even with the torrential downpours that have continued throughout the day, that didn't stop a fleet of volunteers to show up here in the neighborhoods of New Bern, North Carolina -- North of Wilmington. Where floodwaters rose dramatically overnight and many people woke up to three, four, five feet of water inside their homes, and that's when the calls for rescues started coming in.

There were a number of swift water rescue teams from across the country, professionals who were already prepositioned here in these areas to participate in some of these rescues, but it also brought hundreds of volunteers who brought out their own boats, Wolf, and vehicles as well. We met one man by the named of Jason Weinman earlier today, who had bought a government auctioned, ten years ago, a high-water troop movement army vehicle, and he used that to drive through the high water and get into areas where people were being brought out of their homes so he could take them to shelters. That's just one of the examples of the efforts that we've seen taking place here in the town of New Bern today. The mayor of the city says that more than 300 people have been rescued

from their homes. The last we heard from him, there were about under 40 or so that still needed to be rescued here before the end of the day. So, it has been a treacherous and dramatic scene here throughout the city as in pockets of neighborhoods these rescue teams have descended and shot into these neighborhoods. You can see the sheets of rain there just continue to pour down and flooding is still very much a concern. And we've spoken with a number of people, of these volunteers, Wolf, who say there are still a number of people who have refused to leave their homes in these flooded-out neighborhoods. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, we'll check back with you. Thank you very much, be careful over there. Let's get some more right now; joining us, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Karl L. Schultz. Admiral, thank you so much --


BLITZER: -- for joining us. Thanks for all the good work the men and women of the Coast Guard are engaged in right now. What sort of operations are you doing in this Carolina area to save lives?

SCHULTZ: Well, Wolf, as you've been reporting all day, it's a very active system -- still, there is high winds. So, we've got helicopters playing over and around New Bern right now, we pushed out of Elizabeth City, where we have a parent base earlier in the day. Severe thunderstorms, microbursts, actually forced our helicopter to sit down just in the last half hour. So, I believe we're back overhead. There were ongoing rescues there. The Coast Guard is assessing; they are trying to determine what the need is statewide, we've got what we call a flood response -- flood response, both shallow water rescue boats spread out across the state.

We're paired up with local and state partners there with FEMA. We're part of the fight on those water rescues. It's a big storm that expands over 400 miles in width. It's pushing into South Carolina that was very slow moving, three miles an hour. It's a deluge inundation across the state and it's going to be expanding here, so I think we're just in a very catastrophic flood situation, protracted flood situation and we're just teed up and ready to respond to the demand here.

BLITZER: So, I assume you're seeing lots of people who are in desperate need of being rescued?

SCHULTZ: I would say we're not seeing the last people yet. I mean, the reporting is there's been a hundred or so folks rescued by guardsmen and local agency folks. We're on top now. We've got a Coast Guard C-130 doing some broader assessment over the state of North Carolina. So, I think we're just starting to get situation. I believe much of the 911 system is working. So, you know, there's incoming request that are being responded to by the entirety of the local state and federal response system.

BLITZER: What are the biggest challenges you're facing? SCHULTZ: I think the biggest challenge is that this is going to be a

protracted event as you're seeing. You know, there's upward of six to eight feet of water in some places. Water is always very dangerous. People need to stay put until rescue professionals arrive to them. There can be swift water, there can rapidly rising water. So, I would say, our challenge is getting to folks -- you got to understand first how you're getting to them and then get them out safely.

BLITZER: You saw Ed Lavandera's report at New Bern. You're saying, you have helicopter rescue operations underway in that area?

SCHULTZ: We have helicopters that are overhead right now, with some challenging areas to get into. There is still some severe weather, but we will respond to rescues as they arise and as we can, you know, do that safely.

BLITZER: How many men and women, how many ships, helicopters have you deployed?

SCHULTZ: Well, we've got probably 1500, 1600 responders circling around the area ready (INAUDIBLE) ships at sea, if need be, some with helicopters. We have land-based folks, we got helicopters that are prepositioned down from Atlantic City into North Carolina. We got helicopters coming in from Savannah. We got this flood (INAUDIBLE) teams that we brought from the Midwest part of the country. So, we've got about 1500 first responders here ready to go in response --

BLITZER: You train for this all the time.

SCHULTZ: We train for this all the time.

BLITZER: For major mission of the U.S. Coast Guard.

SCHULTZ: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Admiral, thanks so much for what you're doing. Thanks again, once again, for the Coast Guard.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, Wolf.

[17:46:56] BLITZER: We appreciate it. Stay with us, we're going to take it back to the coast of the Carolinas where the storm is causing widespread flooding and major wind damage and is being blamed for at least four deaths.


[17:51:47] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A new forecast for life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic flooding as the killer storm, Florence, stalls over the Carolinas. Let's get more from Storm Chaser Ben McMillan of Weather Nation. He's in North Myrtle beach, South Carolina for us. What are the conditions like now, Ben?

BEN MCMILLAN, STORM CHASER, WEATHER NATION: Yes, Wolf, the conditions are changing very rapidly here at North Myrtle Beach. You have seen the devastating images coming out of North Carolina. Well, that flooding is now spreading to South Carolina. This is Ocean Boulevard, we're about ten blocks of residential street have now gone under water. You see it's about three to four feet deep that are already coming up on things like mailboxes and covering people's front yards.

BLITZER: How dire are the circumstances for those folks who decided not to evacuate?

MCMILLAN: Wolf, for the last 12 hours this water has rose rapidly. As you can see behind me, it's almost up to my knees, and this morning it was dry, so that's a very dangerous condition. But the good news here in South Carolina is that many did heed evacuation orders. We haven't seen any fire/rescue or boats or high-water vehicles coming into this area and we hope that continues and everybody got out before the water came in.

BLITZER: Do you expect the situation at least over the next 24 hours to worsen?

MCMILLAN: Yes, Wolf. We're starting to see those winds switch around on the storm. So, that can push additional high surf and storm surge up into the beaches here of North Myrtle Beach and exaggerate the flood threat even more. Most of the water you see behind me is fresh water flooding because of the extreme heavy rainfall we've seen over the last 24 to 48 hours, and that will be made worse if that storm surge comes up over the beaches and into the city.

BLITZER: Ben McMillan of Weather Nation. We're going to continue to check back with you, Ben. Be careful over there. We'll stay in touch. Right now, I want to go to Jennifer Gray over at the CNN Weather Center for the latest. We got a little while ago, a new update.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We did, and we found out the storm is slowing, which is bad news because it's just going to mean more storm surge and more flooding across these areas. The winds are 70 miles per hour. It's only moving at three miles per hour. That's incredibly slow, and that means all of that wind, the rain and the storm surge, the flooding is all going to continue to feed into the North Carolina bays, the rivers. And it's basically causing these rivers to flow backwards because you have the -- all of the energy and the wind pushing from east to west.

And so, where the rivers normally flow out into the ocean, it's causing them to flow backwards and that's causing them to overfill their banks. That's why we're going to see major, major river flooding. We're also going to see flooding from rain. You can see New Bern and Morehead City right in the bullseye of some of the heaviest bans. We've seen a couple of inches an hour and this has been going on since yesterday, early yesterday, too. We were talking about it early in the day. The center of the storm is still right on that North Carolina/South Carolina border. It's not going to move much over the next couple of hours, considering that it's only moving at three miles per hour.

And we're also going to see the flooding continue as we go through tomorrow, even into Sunday. And so, the river flood outlook is something we'll be concerned about as we go through the middle part of next week, long after the storm is gone. The river flooding is what we'll be talking about because the rivers will still be rising. We could see record river levels in some of these rivers. Here's the Cape Fear River at Wilmington. It's going to hit record levels, or expected to by the time we get into Friday. So, that's next Friday, Wolf. So, we'll be talking about this long into next week.

[17:55:22] BLITZER: Yes, and this is really bad. All right, Jennifer Gray, our Meteorologist. Thanks very much. The breaking news continues next. Florence stalls over the Carolinas, ravaging the region. We're live across the disaster zone.


[18:00:00] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Catastrophic flooding. Florence hits and disaster strikes with the deluge of wind and water, swamping homes, cars and streets. We're live across the Carolinas, covering this hurricane crisis that just turned --