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Fort Myers Braces for Charley

Aired August 13, 2004 - 15:52   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Charley in all its Category 4 force is bearing down now on Ft. Myers, Florida, having taken yet another turn to the right, a little farther southward than previously anticipated. Winds -- sustained winds, upwards of 145 miles an hour. Joining us on the line right now is the mayor of Fort Myers, Jim Humphrey.
Mayor Humphrey, good to have you with us. I know you've got your hands full today. You've got a city of about 50,000 people, I'm told. Most of them that need to, have they heeded the call to evacuate?

MAYOR JIM HUMPHREY, FORT MYERS, Florida: Well, we are concerned about that. And we have been trying to, frankly, before the winds started getting too high, to go house to house to try to get people to evacuate.

But, as you know, the -- both the storm started turning more east and gaining intensity and came, frankly, with a velocity that surprised most of us, even though we were well prepared. And we still are. It's just we didn't expect to have the eye as close as it is.

O'BRIEN: Yes. We relied on some forecasts, and I guess this is a good reminder that they -- you know, forecasts, for all their efficiency these days, and as good as they are, there's still a little bit of guesswork in all of this. I guess the concern would point, at a certain point, folks attempting to get to high ground could find themselves in harm's way trying to get to safety.

HUMPHREY: That's correct. In fact, we sent out a bulletin that -- about 30 minutes before some of this started. Or I think it was really about 45 minutes, saying that, now, stay in your homes, do not try to get out. The wind could be dangerous. And so that you need to stay in and try to get into an area in your house that's safe, such as the bathroom area, where there's no windows.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, let's remind people of that point. That's an important point. This has been -- in the past 15 minutes this went out?

HUMPHREY: Well, actually, about -- about 45 minutes ago.

O'BRIEN: All right, 45 minutes ago. So folks in that part of the world, Fort Myers, that stretch of Florida, wherever you are, stay put and find some degree of safety. If in your house, what are -- you know, what's the advice for folks who are having to ride this out?

HUMPHREY: If you do not have shutters over your windows, and you are really out vulnerable, to try to go into areas where there's no windows, such as your bathrooms or to closet areas that -- where you -- you know, you're the safest. And so we have tried to alert everyone to that fact.

O'BRIEN: All right. And I'm sure, as I sit here and listen to this, of course many people who need to hear this the most are sitting there without power. Do you have any word on power outages?

HUMPHREY: Yes. It's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for most of the city. In fact, we do not have power where we are now. We are working on a generator. But we do not have -- the power is gone from almost all of the city right now.

O'BRIEN: So I guess it's important then for the folks in your police department to get out there with loud speakers and so forth to get the word out. And, of course, anybody who is well prepared for a hurricane in Florida has a portable radio.

HUMPHREY: That's right. That's what -- one of the essentials in Florida is a portable radio. And so that -- we're communicating now through the -- through the radio so that we know that most people should have their radio on and able to hear us and listen to the commands, frankly, now, more than requests.

O'BRIEN: A little history for just a moment. When was the last time Fort Myers really bore the brunt of a big storm like this?

HUMPHREY: Very good question, because this, too, was our challenge. Our last major storm was Donna in -- on September the 10th, 1960. So it's been right at 44 years ago that we received a Category 3 and four storm. And this one, they're even predicting will exceed Donna in both strength, as well as the wind velocity.

O'BRIEN: Well, and, of course, Orelon Sidney up in the Weather Center has been referring to Donna all day, that this storm bears striking resemblance to it. What's your biggest concern right now, Mr. Mayor?

HUMPHREY: Well, still the primary concern is the safety of our citizens. Secondly, though, this is a beautiful city along the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and where very famous people such as, of course, Thomas Edison wintered here for 47 years. And he had his winter home that -- that actually was built in 1886, and it's right on the river.

O'BRIEN: Oh, boy.

HUMPHREY: So we're very concerned for our historical treasures. Henry Ford built a home next door to Thomas Edison. So it's -- they're just telling me now that the fire chief is calling in to me. Maybe -- I hate to get off of this interview, but I might -- should coordinate with my emergency personnel.

O'BRIEN: Mayor Humphrey, by all means. You have more pressing business than talking to us right now. Thank you very much for your time.

HUMPHREY: Thank you. O'BRIEN: We do appreciate it.


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