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Hurricane Dorian Nears Florida After Devastating Bahamas; Hurricane Dorian Nears Florida After Devastating Bahamas; Trump, Pence Defend Labor Day Weekend Stay In Trump Hotels During Hurricane; Twenty Bodies Pulled From Burned Boat, 14 More Presumed Dead. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 3, 2019 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): A CNN crew sees hundreds of homes underwater as ordinary citizens work to rescue survivors, exhausted from clinging to rooftops.

Seven-foot surge: Dorian is due to move dangerously close to Florida tonight, bringing the threat of a 7-foot storm surge as it moves up the coast toward the Carolinas. Millions of Americans are under evacuation orders.

Trapped below deck: 20 bodies are recovered from the wreckage of a dive boat which went up in flames off the California coast. The victims were trapped during the inferno. The search is suspended as investigators now focus on what went wrong.

And playing weatherman: President Trump spends the weekend playing golf and playing weatherman. He predicted Alabama would be hit hard by the hurricane only to be corrected by forecasters that said Alabama will not see any impact. The president then insisted that he was right.

Does he just feel it in his bones?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: the latest forecast is just in with Hurricane Dorian growing in size and gaining strength as it starts lashing the United States. Dorian is expected to move dangerously close to Florida and Georgia in the coming hours and move up the Georgia and South Carolina coasts before menacing North Carolina.

Millions of Americans are now under evacuation orders with life- threatening storm surges of up to 7 feet, a major, major concern.

And we're also learning the devastation in the Bahamas may be much, much worse than the most dire predictions. CNN's Patrick Oppmann is on Grand Bahama Island. And reports that hundreds of homes are underwater with regular

citizens coming together to carry out rescues and having to carry survivors exhausted from clinging to rooftops overnight. Our correspondents and guests and analysts, they will have full coverage of today's breaking news.

First, let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez in Vero Beach, Florida, tonight.

What's the latest there, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we are feeling the first real effects of this absolutely brutal storm. It is moving towards other states in the U.S. But no matter how you slice it, the people of Bermuda have just been hammered.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Tonight much of the Bahamas decimated, the first aerial view of the unprecedented destruction since Hurricane Dorian started battering the islands on Sunday.

Thousands of homes and buildings obliterated, underwater or completely gone and nothing but water for miles. The Grand Bahama International Airport in Freeport totally submerged. So far, five people have been reported dead, including an eight-year-old boy, but that number is expected to rise.

With rescue efforts underway, CNN Correspondent Patrick Oppmann described scenes of survivors, who had been clinging to their roofs all night before being rescued, and carried away by those rescuers. As Dorian inches away from the Bahamas now, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas are all on heightened alert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are within a hurricane evacuation area. Please finish your preparations and leave as soon as possible.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Georgia and South Carolina both taking actions to help people out of harm's way, reversing lanes on two major highways. Both Georgia's Interstate 16 and South Carolina's Interstate 26 now only open in the westbound direction. But there is concern not enough people are taking action.

SGT. HAP CROWELL, BOYNTON BEACH, FLORIDA, POLICE: We are under a state of emergency. Unfortunately, not too many people are heeding that warning.

SHERIFF MICHAEL CHITWOOD, VOLUSIA COUNTY, FLORIDA: The latest forecast cones have the center of the storm remaining offshore. We will feel major impacts from this storm, including high winds, heavy rains and flooding waters.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): As of this morning, Mayor Curry says only 360 evacuees were in the Jacksonville area shelters. Officials are worried the slow-moving storm will push restless Floridians to let their guard down. CROWELL: Hurricane fatigue has set in. This has been going on since last Thursday. And now it's game time. You have to put your game face on and you have to be prepared for what's coming our way.


MARQUEZ: And now I apologize. Today I said Bermuda on the way in. Of course, I meant the Bahamas. Our hearts go out. Wolf, the impacts of this storm are both big and small. I want to show you this. This is something that they are dealing with across the -


MARQUEZ: -- beaches here. These are all turtle eggs. They have lost thousands and thousands. This is an area that is protected for turtles. It is an area where there should be young turtles now going out to sea. Many thousands of them lost. It's just one more toll that this storm is taking -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation, indeed. Miguel, thank you very much.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann and crew, as we just heard, they have been riding out the storm on Grand Bahama Island. And they have managed to get out and about, getting a close look at the truly shocking devastation, as ordinary citizens band together to rescue survivors.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We were walking out to a staging area, where they are bringing people in from the communities out here that have been flooded, sometimes one at a time. You can see there is still hurricane force winds and rain coming down on us.

And yet these people are going out and pulling people from their houses, from on top of their houses, and saving their lives. There's a little baby here, a boy. They are covering him up and protecting him.

I assume this is his mother.

Come through, come through. Good job.

And they are going on a jetski because sometimes the boats -

Ma'am, how are you doing?

How are you doing?

You made it.


OPPMANN: How high did the water get?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was up to the first floor.

OPPMANN: You are safe now.


OPPMANN: As she was saying, the water was up to the first floor of her house. Many people here have told us that the water came in so quickly into this neighborhood, you would not be able to tell, from what you are looking at here, but there are hundreds of houses back there. The only way to get the people from the houses are small boats and jetskis.

What's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we are trying to do the rescue here in Freeport after the hurricane.

OPPMANN: How many people are out there still?


OPPMANN: A few hundred?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. A lot of homes over here.

OPPMANN: And it's tough to get out there and get them?


OPPMANN: How long are you going to keep doing it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until we get everybody. We are Bahamians. We are not going to stop until we get everybody in.

OPPMANN: This is all volunteer. People are coming, they're bringing their jetskis. They are bringing their boats. They are going to get their neighbors, they say. Everyone says they know of people.

This is very hard to navigate because there are, of course, no more streets and yet they are doing it. You don't see anybody from the government here. It is all very ad hoc. People coming with what they have. The jetskis they have. They are dealing with horrible weather conditions.

It's not safe to be in a boat right now. It's not safe to be out here at all. And yet they say they know there are people out there. There are people who have lost their lives out there, we are told. They have brought back at least one body. And they say they will not stop until they get everybody.

They have hours, if not days, of work ahead of them.


BLITZER: Patrick Oppmann is joining us now live from the Bahamas.

Patrick, tell us more about what you saw. Truly incredible, incredible images that you just showed us. OPPMANN: And most of the places we have tried to go today (INAUDIBLE) we were not able to reach. We wanted to go to the airport that was flooded. It isn't passable to get out there. There are cars that are submerged (INAUDIBLE) in the way.

We tried to get into a hospital, which we heard is full of people. Again, the downtown of Freeport, you just can't get there, Wolf. There is a river between any of the streets and downtown is also cut off.

We did get out to this one area in East Freeport, where that is actually a bridge. I was standing on a bridge. But it is still underwater. That has become a staging area just by word of mouth. There is no government organization there. There is no organization of any kind. It's people, good Samaritans coming with boats, many of them very small and donating, risking their lives, trying to go out there and get their fellow Bahamians.

While we were there, though, Wolf, hurricane winds kicked up again. A jetski flipped over. We were told they had to suspend for a few hours. They said they would try to go back out this evening because they know there are more people out there. More, they said, than they could bring in today. They will have to go back out tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right. Patrick, we are going to stay in very close touch with you. Excellent reporting as usual. Thank you very, very much.

I want to get some more on the situation right now in the Bahamas. Joining us on the phone is Brandon Clement. He rode out the storm and shot the truly incredible aerial video of the devastation that we have been showing you.

And Brandon, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for what you have done. I understand you do this for a living. Your company sent you to the Bahamas to capture this storm. Tell us about the catastrophic damage you saw with your own eyes.

BRANDON CLEMENT, STORM CHASER: Yes, actually, I was supposed to be in Freeport and had some car failures and just Every little problem you can imagine come -


CLEMENT: -- along the way and wasn't able to get out there. But I was able to secure a helicopter ride out with the very first team to go in, with some first responders bring --stabilizing need into the area, both recovery and personnel and equipment and emergency supplies.

But once we flew in, I had a pretty good idea what we were driving into it. One of the people we were with had contact with one of the people in the highlands.

The last text message he got was, it said, "My wife and I are in a building in our home, it's completely collapsed. We are going to go try and find safe shelter. My wife is holding a baby. We don't know whose it is."

So once you see stuff like that, you get a pretty good idea of what you are going to see when you get there. And your worst thoughts, you can imagine, came to fruition (INAUDIBLE) Abaco with the helicopters, with the destruction, particularly the lesser built homes.

Even the well-built, newer construction under really strong codes were significantly damaged. And we started seeing homes, large homes, new built, cat 4, cat 5 codes being destroyed. It had to be some really serious winds and waves to do that kind of damage.

BLITZER: When you flew around there -- and we're showing our viewers the video -- what were the weather conditions like?

CLEMENT: About 60 knot winds, made quite an uncomfortable ride. We were getting thrown around substantially. So when I was trying to shoot the video, I was trying to keep it as stable as possible. It came out shaky. But considering the conditions, it wasn't too bad.

But yes, definitely one of those rides you hope to just -- not to get sick. That's all I could hope for.

When we were looking down at the destruction, looking down the camera and trying not to get sick, it was bad. We passed -- some codes came up. Had to make an emergency landing, check out the aircraft. And landing is not easy there because there aren't many good landing zones with all the debris around.

That debris can get kicked up by the rudders and hit your blade. And that's a catastrophic failure when you're out there with no fuel, no place to land. So it was more excitement than I really wanted. But looking down at the ground, made my situation feel a whole lot better.

BLITZER: We've heard reports of people clinging to the roofs of their houses.

Could you actually see survivors waiting for rescue?

CLEMENT: We saw survivors, quite a few people trying to wave us down. Unfortunately, the winds were so high we could not stop and land in those places. All we could do is just mark their locations and pass that information on. We did get video of them some of them standing in groups, waving us down.

We don't know whether they're injured, we know nothing because the conditions were still too bad. Hopefully Coast Guard -- I know the Coast Guard has been getting helicopters in and out on occasion, getting people out.

As far as the widespread aid, I think it will be midday tomorrow before you start seeing the capability of a large mounted effort to get in there and start doing search and rescue as well as deliver aid.

One of the big problems you have is also is that the airport is underwater. So you can't land any fixed wing aircraft. Then you talk about landing helicopters, man, there is just debris everywhere. So those areas have to be cleaned.

Some of the people we dropped off today were cleaning different spots off around the island for dedicated helicopter landing zones for tomorrow. So it's a really bad situation.

BLITZER: Yes, we just showed our viewers the airport, which is clearly underwater.

Were rooftops underwater as well?

CLEMENT: Not while we were there. I know they were yesterday. Not today. Once the winds, you know, changed directions, (INAUDIBLE) the storm, it pushed that water back out most places. Some areas had some pretty significant surge but nothing like it was yesterday.

BLITZER: How big of an area?

We are looking at the video.

A we talking miles and miles?

It looks like a huge area that is now totally destroyed.

CLEMENT: Yes. It's many miles and there is also barrier islands around that cay that are -- it's pretty widespread destruction. It's going to be -- it's probably going to take several days just to break down all of the areas that were hard hit.

There were some areas of the island, you know, far southern tip of the islands, that did withstand the hurricane pretty well. But once you get about halfway from south to north, about halfway up, it just gets bad fast.

BLITZER: We are going to stay in very close touch with you, Brandon. Thanks for doing what you did. Our viewers and all of us are grateful to you. We want to see what actually happened, the nature of this destruction. We are going to get back to you, Brandon Clement, storm chaser. Thank you very much.



BLITZER: Up next, there is more breaking news. Utter devastation in the Bahamas. We will talk to a storm survivor who says the hurricane was the worst thing on Earth.





BLITZER: Our breaking news with Hurricane Dorian about to move dangerously close to the United States. We are starting to see the utter devastation left behind in the Bahamas.

Joining us now is Michael Hynes, who rode out the storm in his industrial building in Freeport in the Bahamas. He says he is now surrounded by water as far as the eye can see.

Michael, thanks so much for joining us. Tell us what you saw and heard during your two nights riding out this storm.

MICHAEL HYNES, GRAND BAHAMA RESIDENT: Well, we're doing fine here. It was pretty bad but we're doing fine. Really what the world needs to know is that we are entering our third night of a hurricane that's caused unprecedented damage and destruction in Grand Bahama.

Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with all of those who are out there still missing. And to the young men, you know, and women that are risking their lives to locate and save them.

The island will need all the help it can get as soon as possible -- food, water, clothing -- basically all basic essentials.

BLITZER: You live and work in the Bahamas.

Michael, were you preparing for hurricanes as -- obviously, you have been there for many years.

But were you preparing for a hurricane of this magnitude?

Were you prepared?

HYNES: Look, Wolf, I mean, personally, for me, I always, you know, expect the worst, you know, and -- or prepare for the worst anyway and expect the best. That's what I meant. So expect the best.

But we were expecting something a lot -- we were expecting something that was not what we're getting. I mean -- sorry, I'm trying to find my words here. I'm about to break down. But it's truly just -- there is no words. It's very hard to describe what's going on.

I mean, we've been through hurricanes. Like we moved here in 2000. So we have been through pretty much every hurricane that hit this island. We have had some flooding before with Jean and Frances, major winds with Matthew two years ago. And just nothing compares to the past two days. I am also at 48 hours now of nonstop carnage.

BLITZER: Did you ever consider evacuating, Michael?

HYNES: Yes, but I know our building is very safe and very high up. All of our family basically left. It's just me and my brothers here just because we know it was going to be -- a lot of people -


HYNES: -- will be, you know, needing help. We are going to - they're going to need help with cranes and things like that and help with the cleanup. I mean, just basically where we're at, we know we're safe. It's built

like -- it's basically a fortress. So I know we were going to be safe. The only thing that could have happened here was if debris would have hit the window and that's it.

But we are 40 feet up. So I doubt that would ever happen, unless there was some type of tornado that brought something up.

BLITZER: So clearly you were in what you thought would be -- and it was a safe and secure location. But for so many others on the island, Freeport and elsewhere in the Bahamas, were there safe places for them to go?

HYNES: Basically, it seems like it's just the south end, the south side of Freeport, like, you know, closer to the beachside. Yes, and we can't even - but there is an issue here where we can't even get to them. We can't go for help because the road that links from my building here -- to downtown is basically eroded and blocked.

We are going to have to see what we can do to try to get there. We have a boat we can use but the seas are too rough. My family home is over that bridge that you guys were talking about earlier and that's 20 feet underwater. So I mean, there are so many things that -- going on. It's hard to think about.

BLITZER: Yes, well good luck, Michael. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone who is there with you. Our hearts go out to all of you. And I know this is an awful, awful situation. We will stay in close touch with you. Michael Hynes joining us from Freeport in the Bahamas. Thank you.

HYNES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, 20 bodies are recovered from the wreckage of a dive boat that went up in flames. The search for more victims now called off as investigators focus in on the cause of the inferno. Lots of breaking news. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We are keeping a very close watch on Hurricane Dorian. The Category 2 storm is nearing the U.S. mainland after causing widespread devastation in the Bahamas. CNN's Brian Todd is along the Florida coast for us. Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're still feeling just how enormous and powerful this storm is, still getting hit with heavy winds, rain and storm surge. This is the Indian River Lagoon. And we're told that this area here, a local police officer told us this jetty here, the storm surge here is about three to four feet above what it normally is. He says, normally, you can walk down here to a beach area, but this has been pounding this jetty all day long and since yesterday. We can also show you just how low-lying the area is. This is where

two rivers and the ocean converge. This is the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie River is just up there, and you've got the Atlantic Ocean coming here. All of which feeling the brunt of that storm surge that was building over the Bahamas and now pushing up the coast of Florida.

We have seen flooding all day long over in these low-lying streets right by the Indian River lagoon. And what we can tell you tonight, Wolf, that -- is even with these conditions -- and we know that the storm is moving further away from this area, and that's what has caused officials here to lift the evacuations.

They want people to start coming back into their homes, and what they are calling it is -- what they're calling it is a soft re-entry. They want people to trickle back little by little. This is one of the evacuation routes, the Stuart Causeway going to Hutchinson Island, the barrier island.

But they do want people to come back slowly -- and they say that you still could be risking some injury if you come back in these conditions, but don't try to do too much. Don't work your generators. Don't pull your shutters off your house. Don't take -- don't engage in risky behavior like that. But they are, tonight, allowing people to trickle back into their homes in the barrier islands that have been cut off for a couple of days, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good to know. All right, Brian, we'll get back to you as well.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, President Trump is defending his decision to play golf over the holiday weekend. And Vice President Mike Pence is sounding defensive as well.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta. Tell us more, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump and Vice President Pence are both defending their Labor Day weekend activities tonight after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Bahamas and is now threatening the southeast. The President spent much of his holiday weekend playing golf and tweeting out his grievances, while Pence was staying at one of Mr. Trump's golf courses during an official trip in Ireland, something the President actually suggested.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump isn't asking for a mulligan. After hitting the links at his Virginia golf course over the Labor Day weekend as Hurricane Dorian pounded the Bahamas, he is teeing off on his critics, tweeting that many politicians exercise for hours or travel for weeks. Me, I run through one of my courses. Very inexpensive.

But the President wasn't alone in showing his preference for Trump properties. Vice President Mike Pence stayed at the Trump golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, three hours from Dublin where he was to hold official meetings.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand political attacks by Democrats. The opportunity to stay at Trump National in Doonbeg to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel made it logical.

ACOSTA (voice-over): As it turns out, staying at the Trump club was Mr. Trump's idea. Pence's chief of staff told reporters, I don't think it was a request like a command. I think it was a suggestion.

The White House says the President was receiving constant updates on the storm, even as Mr. Trump was stating he had never heard of a Category 5 hurricane before.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not sure that I've ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed and I have seen some Category 4s. You don't even see them that much. But a Category 5 is something that I don't know that I've ever even heard the term other than I know it's there.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But that's not true. The President has repeatedly claimed he has never heard of such storms in the past.

TRUMP: It was a Category 5. I never even knew a Category 5 existed.

Nobody has ever heard of a five hitting land.

I saw the devastating effects of that Category 5 hurricane. Category 5.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci says he's worried about the President's mental state.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He has a few phrases that he uses repetitively that he thinks is working. And so, saying that he's never heard of a Category 5 hurricane and not remembering that he has heard of a Category 5 hurricane is emblematic of what's going on in terms of the mental decline.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Over the weekend, the President stated that, in addition to Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama will most likely be hit much harder than anticipated. But that wasn't quite right.

The National Weather Service in Birmingham appeared to correct Mr. Trump's tweet, saying Alabama will not see any impacts from Dorian. The President didn't like the coverage that received, tweeting, it was, in fact, correct that Alabama could have received some hurt. Always good to be prepared.

ALEX WOODS, EYEWITNESS TO THE WEST TEXAS MASS SHOOTING: Oh, God, they're shooting right there.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One of the big questions as Congress returns from recess is whether lawmakers will pass new gun laws. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says much of that is riding on the President.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER OF THE SENATE: If the President took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I would be happy to put it on the floor.


ACOSTA: And as for the Vice President's visit to the Trump property in Ireland, the White House says Pence will be paying for the costs of his family members who also stayed at the resort. But the rest of the costs for all the Secret Service agents and other government workers traveling with Pence, that will be picked up by the taxpayers. Aides say the President will not be picking up the tab, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta at the White House for us. We have a lot to discuss. And our political experts, they are here. We'll have this conversation right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Tonight, as Hurricane Dorian swirls just off the coast of Florida, President Trump is defending his decision to play golf over the long holiday weekend despite the approaching storm and lashing out at critics of his erroneous tweets about hurricanes. Let's bring in our political experts to discuss this and more.

Gloria, what do you think of the President's excuses for playing golf while so much potential disaster affecting the United States was underway?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's predictably defensive, Wolf. This is somebody who used to criticize Barack Obama all the time for playing golf, even when there wasn't a hurricane on the horizon. I mean, some of his excuses were just silly. You know, he talked about how he plays a fast round of golf.

And he is not like other presidents who sometimes exercise for hours. He said, no, no, no, you know, that's not me. And I don't travel all over the world to do that as Obama did who went to Hawaii. I just go to my own clubs which are very close, and, by the way, that's completely inexpensive. Sound a little defensive to you?

BLITZER: You know, and he -- and he canceled an official, important visit to Poland in order to stay back to monitor the emerging storm. Do we know if any of his advisors said to him, Mr. President, maybe it's not a good look? Maybe it's not appropriate to go play golf while so much potential disaster is unfolding? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you would have it

expect that a lot of his advisers thought it was a bad idea, but here we are, 2-1/2 years into the Trump administration. I don't think they've really ever been successful in getting the President to not play golf at times when he, at the very least, needs to give the appearance that he is engaged in official business.

And the canceling of the trip to Poland, it seems like, based on what he was actually doing this weekend, that was an auspicious excuse. Because he could have had these briefings hourly as the White House said while he was traveling overseas, for that matter, so there was really no reason for him to do that.

But, you know, this is a classic example of President Trump doing what he wants to do and disregarding what it looks like to people who are, you know, especially in the Bahamas, really suffering and then the people along the coast who have been bracing for days for this massive storm.

BLITZER: Yes. Take a look at this graphic. We have a graphic, Manu, I want to show you and our viewers. The President has been in office, now, 957 days. Two hundred and eighty-nine of those days, he's been at Trump properties; and 227 of those days, he has been at Trump golf clubs.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And look, this is a president, as Gloria said, when he was campaigning, criticized President Obama relentlessly over playing golf. And that is when was the one -- he is facing this amount of criticism.


Now, all presidents -- not all presidents but a lot of presidents play golf, and, of course, President Obama played golf. He didn't just go to Hawaii to play golf as Trump tweeted today. He actually went to Hawaii about once a year. He did play golf there, but, typically, President Obama played at air military bases here in the Washington area, not going to his private golf course.

But this all raises the concerns from watchdog groups and the like that the President is trying to use his private -- go to his private properties and trying to, essentially, enrich his business, help his businesses out while in office. And that's the concern that's being raised. And one reason why the President lashed out the way he did is that he is getting very defensive over this getting so much criticism about all the golf he's played particularly as a national disaster loomed.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Bianna, what we just heard in Jim Acosta's piece. The President, once again, insisting he never heard of a Category 5 hurricane and then -- he has heard of it because he said the same thing several times, at least four or five times, since taking office. How do you explain that?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, at the very least, it's confusing for the American public, Wolf, because this is the fourth Category 5 that we have seen since he has been president. You know, it would be comical and we wouldn't be making such an issue of it if he were not Commander-in-Chief as opposed to observer-in-chief.

But as the role of Commander-in-Chief, he is in charge of the government response to these types of storms, FEMA's response. So when the President seems to be confused about whether or not a hurricane is a Category 5 or 4 and saying -- and talking about it as if he is in awe as opposed to what is actually happening on the ground, it's yet another example of the President confusing the American public.

And the worst-case scenario is for those residents in the, perhaps, eye of the storm not knowing what to do. So, obviously, we have FEMA and the FEMA representative have been on television and advising people, saying that they are on top of this, but when you have the President wondering whether or not this is a Category 5, it's the first he's ever seen, it just adds to the confusion.

BLITZER: Yes, lots of confusion out there. Everybody, stick around, there is more we need to cover. And be sure to stay with CNN tomorrow for an unprecedented Democratic presidential town hall event on the climate crisis. Ten candidates will take the stage. That's tomorrow afternoon and evening starting 5:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up, authorities give up searching for survivors and now concentrate on recovering and identifying the bodies of 34 victims of a horrific fire aboard a diving boat.



BLITZER: We have much more ahead on Hurricane Dorian. We also have new details emerging about the deadly fire on a diving boat off California. Thirty-four people are presumed dead. Crews still are trying to recover all of the bodies. CNN's Stephanie Elam has the latest.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, dramatic new video from the California Coast Guard shows the battle to save the dive boat off Santa Cruz Island as rescue crews suspend the search for survivors.

CAPT. MONICA ROCHESTER, SECTOR COMMANDER, U.S. COAST GUARD SECTOR LOS ANGELES - LONG BEACH: It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts.

ELAM (voice-over): Thirty-nine people were aboard the ship as an inferno took hold in the early morning hours. Family members now being asked for DNA samples to help identify the victims as body bags are brought ashore.

Investigators say many were believed to be in bed at the time. This video shows the ship's tight sleeping quarters. Wooden bunks stacked three high. A single staircase, the only obvious way out.

BILL BROWN, SHERIFF-CORONER, SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: There was a stairwell to get down the main entryway up and down, and there was an escape hatch. And it would appear as though both of those were blocked by fire.

ELAM (voice-over): That portion of the ship is now gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday, mayday, mayday. I can't breathe.

ELAM (voice-over): The only known survivors are five members of the crew. They pounded on Bob and Shirley Hansen's nearby boat for help.

BOB HANSEN, HELPED RESCUE DIVE SHIP SURVIVORS: They were all in their underwear, OK, all five crew members. And -- well, one of them was in Levi's but they were torn. I mean, it's what he just threw on.

SHIRLEY HANSEN, HELPED RESCUE DIVE SHIP SURVIVORS: It was such a hopeless, helpless feeling to watch that boat burn.

ELAM (voice-over): The surviving crew recalled those who may have been on board at the time.

S. HANSEN: Some of the crew told me such sad stories because there was a 17-year-old girl celebrating her birthday with her parents. She might not have another birthday.


ELAM: And what we learned today, Wolf, is that 11 of the victims are female, nine of them are male. We also learned that the boat is in such a position that the divers were able to see perhaps four or six more bodies that are still inside the boat. They're working today to stabilize the boat so that they can try to recover those remains, but that would still mean there are a few people that are outstanding. But at this point, authorities say that everyone should just be prepared for the worst, Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation, indeed. All right, Stephanie, thank you very much.

Coming up, shocking new images reveal the catastrophic hurricane damage in the Bahamas.




BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Annihilated. We have a horrifying first look at the catastrophic destruction in the Bahamas where Hurricane Dorian has left a sea of homes in ruins or underwater.