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Hurricane Charley: Three More States in Storm's Path

Aired August 14, 2004 - 07:00   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Charley slamming Florida. Three more states now in its path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life, you know? When those winds got up here, it sounded like it was a thousand guys marching up on our roofs.


GRIFFIN: Welcome to this special edition of CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

Continuing coverage of Hurricane Charley.

It's August 14.

Good morning.

I'm Drew Griffin at CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta.


As you can see, we have a lot to tell you about this morning, so let's get right to it.

Now in the news, wicked winds and rough waters -- Hurricane Charley is barreling toward North and South Carolina after ripping through Florida overnight. Charley has weakened from a category four to a category one storm. Almost two million Florida residents are without power as we speak. There are fatalities, as well. And President Bush has declared the state a disaster area.

Hurricane Charley left Florida for the Atlantic Ocean by way of Daytona Beach. Residents reported seeing small tornadoes. Daytona Beach is in the state's Volusia County and about 80 percent of that county are without electricity because of drowned power lines and trees.

And in Punta Gorda, Florida, moments ago we got word that the city's hospital has been shut down and patients transferred to other nearby facilities. We'll get the latest in a live report. That is straight ahead.

Meanwhile, though, residents are taking stock of the storm damage and officials say there are multiple deaths and many injuries. Hundreds are missing and thousands have been left homeless.

GRIFFIN: Floridians will remember this particular Friday the 13th. For some, it was a lucky day. But not for Port Charlotte. That is a town that got struck hard. It was about 4:00 p.m. It was a dangerous category four when it crossed. It churned northeast across the state toward Orlando, with high winds and rain over a wide area, reaching Daytona Beach eight hours later as a category one and began taking aim now at Georgia and the Carolinas.

CNN's John Zarrella is live in Punta Gorda, Florida, probably the hardest hit area, where the damage is going to be most severe, as we see it this morning -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Drew, certainly one of the hardest hit areas until all the emergency crews get out throughout the coastal communities here. It's going to be hard to tell who got it the worst, but certainly terrible damage here in Punta Gorda.

You can see back there, that was that, what looked like a garage with a car on top of it. The garage completely demolished, the car sitting up on a lift. In the distance, there's a hotel down there and some buildings, a strip mall. The roof of one of those torn off. A lot of damage there.

But, you know, in some places, though, you still see the awnings standing. So damage is random in these kinds of events. Sometimes you see things that are still left standing that shouldn't be and things that should be standing aren't.

We can look over here now. Up at the tops of these palm trees -- and you can see that many of the palm trees have been completely denuded. They're bent, their limbs are gone, showing the force of the storm that came through here yesterday afternoon. As I mentioned, at one point there was a clock tower here that stopped at about 4:30 yesterday afternoon, apparently the time when the worst of the weather was coming through here and when the power went out.

We are told by one of our cameramen, who just drove up the street a ways to try and assess further damage that the buildings are down there. There are several buildings completely demolished. There are car dealerships completely demolished. He got to a trailer park. We don't know if it's the same trailer park where some fatalities have been reported, but he is -- he did say that that trailer park, no one around there, no police, no National Guard, nothing at this point -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: John, we'll be getting back to you.

A couple of hours from now, Charley is expected to crash the Carolinas. South Carolina's Charleston County likely to get slammed. And in North Carolina, forecasters say Charley could dump up to six inches of rain, 60 mile per hour winds along that state's eastern edge. That includes Raleigh inland.

North Carolina's governor has declared a state of emergency there. We want to go to Ed Rappaport, the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

He joins us now live from Miami.

What can you tell us about the latest tracking and the latest data you have on this storm?

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, the center of the hurricane is pretty clear on the radar image, even after passing over the Florida Peninsula. So we still have a hurricane with 85 mile per hour winds. At least that was the last report from the aircraft.

And the center is moving pretty rapidly to the north-northeast. So, as you said, there's going to be a significant impact up the coast, probably from about Charleston northward. Most of the rough weather is on the east side of the center and that center will be making landfall about noon today. So the conditions are going to deteriorate along the northern part of the South Carolina coast and up along the North Carolina coast.

GRIFFIN: Ed, the water temperature there is very important in terms of whether or not this storm will strengthen or not.

Is there any indication it's going to cross at any greater strength than a one?

RAPPAPORT: Not yet. It is over warm water and we do see some indication of the eye wall trying to reform here. But it's only got about three or four more hours of time over the water. So there could be a little bit more strengthening, but at this point, we should be expecting a category one hurricane. Perhaps it could get to category two.

GRIFFIN: I know you've been up all night, as all the forecasters there have been up all night, but are you going to be looking back at what this storm did in Florida, how the path changed, how the strength changed so rapidly and that, in effect, caught a lot of people off guard with their escape routes. Basically, they didn't know where to go.

Are you going to be looking at how that developed?

RAPPAPORT: Yes. We acknowledged that the track and intensity are big challenges for forecasting. We've got one graphic which I think will give you some perspective of that. When the center was south of Cuba, here are all the model forecasts that we talk about. And at that point, 24 to 36 hours ahead, all the guidance suggested a landfall from the central coast of the west coast of Florida, westward to almost Alabama.

And based on the uncertainty, though, at that point we already had a hurricane warning and a watch up for all of the west coast of Florida. So, indeed, the hurricane came ashore in the middle of our hurricane warning area. GRIFFIN: All right, Ed Rappaport, we want to thank you for your reporting this morning to us and trying to keep us informed on what's happening.

We're going to show you aerials, Ed, that we're getting in now. These are our first aerial pictures from the Tampa area, where we're seeing some real devastation here of the homes. Obviously, the roofs ripped off of these homes. We'll be getting these live pictures all morning.

NGUYEN: And we want to take a look at this forecast, as well, as we were talking with the people with the National Hurricane Service.

We want to talk to our own Rob Marciano here at the CNN Center with a look at the weather forecast.

In fact, we are going to shift gears quickly and go to David Mattingly, who is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with the latest on the storm damage in that area -- David, you're near the beach right there. The water, the waves...


NGUYEN: ... not too rough right now.

MATTINGLY: Here at Myrtle Beach, everyone was heeding the warnings of the governor of South Carolina. And I want to show you what's going on here. Take a look at this beach. It should be crawling with tourists today. It is absolutely empty. The governor of South Carolina issuing a mandatory evacuation affecting the so- called Grand Strand. This is where you have miles and miles of high rise luxury hotels. They were all supposed to be full this weekend. But this time they are empty.

Everyone getting out last night, hitting the roads. The highways were reportedly clogged for some time, but the traffic was moving as people tried to get out ahead of the weather.

Right now, the wind is picking up, as you can see behind me. The surf is also getting pretty choppy right now, all signs that Hurricane Charley is expected to make its second landfall here on the beaches of South Carolina.

We are expecting some tropical storm force winds to hit here in the next couple of hours. If Hurricane Charley is still a category one hurricane, as it could be when it gets here, those hurricane force winds may be hitting around noon -- back to you.

NGUYEN: As they prepare there in the Carolinas, we want to shift gears, as well, and go back to Florida and talk about the damage as Charley passed over that area yesterday.

We have with us John Agwunobi, the Florida State Department of Health, joining us with the latest on the situation there.


NGUYEN: What do you know so far about the damage, the death toll, the injuries?

AGWUNOBI: As you can imagine, when you have a category four hurricane with winds up to 145 miles per hour slamming into a community that is as beautiful and as wonderful as southwest Florida, there's an awful lot of damage. This is one of the most beautiful communities in the state, a wonderful harbor. And, quite frankly, it's been trashed by this storm.

We have power lines down. We have water systems disrupted. We have trees down and roofs damaged. It's been a day of tragedy, but it's also been a day of miracles. And we're going to be going down this morning, take a good look at what's happening. There are already rescue efforts, search and rescue efforts on the ground in southwest Florida. It's been quite a day.

NGUYEN: What's the biggest difficulty right now for those search and rescue efforts? Is it just the mass amount of debris scattered all over the place?

AGWUNOBI: That's a part of it. Power lines are obviously quite dangerous. There's still some flooding away from the coast. We're trying to help citizens get their lives back together. But as I've said before, we have a major effort under way related to search and rescue and it extends from the coast well into the interior of our state.

NGUYEN: All right, John Agwunobi with the Florida State Department of Health.

We thank you for your time this morning.

AGWUNOBI: Thank you.

GRIFFIN: Rob Marciano is in the Weather Center -- Rob, we're getting the first pictures out of Tampa, some aerials showing damage widespread even up in the Tampa area.

This was a pretty big storm.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a widespread storm. The core of the strongest winds, though, were confined to a fairly small area and unfortunately that gentleman was speaking and the folks in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda got the brunt of this storm system.

The good news, I suppose, is that it picked up speed and forward momentum, as well, or forward acceleration. So it wasn't hanging around that long. So flooding, as far as rainfall, hasn't been that big of an issue and we certainly hope that trend to continue.

It does have a lot of moisture with it. It will be heading -- already moisture bands or rain bands heading into South Carolina and North Carolina. So they're starting to feel the effects of this and a lot of tropical moisture will be heading up into the Virginias to Delmarva and then even up through parts of New England as we go through the afternoon, actually, as we go through the weekend. That's the deal here.

A category one storm at this point. Winds of 85 miles an hour. It is moving to the north-northeast at 25; 197 miles from Orlando, but about 115 south-southwest of Charleston. And that's going to be in the path of this thing over the next three to six hours. It looks like at this point it could scoot just to the east of Charleston. But certainly the Carolina coastline and, the South Carolina and the North Carolina coastline will be under the gun here over the next several hours.

Tornado watches are out. This is something that we don't always concentrate that much on. There are so many things to deal with in hurricane situations. But typically the right quadrant of the storm has a lot of spin in it and there's always a tornado watch out. And there are several tornadoes that touched down during the afternoon and evening last night in Florida.

Adding insult to injury, we have a tropical depression similar to Charley that is going to be heading into the Caribbean. It could be a tropical storm by the end of today. So we're starting to ramp up as September gets closer and closer, Drew and Betty. That is the peak of hurricane season. And hopefully we won't have another storm as badly as Charley. We'll keep you posted on that one throughout the day.

GRIFFIN: Rob, I don't want to put you on the spot, but when is this going to cross the South Carolina coast? They were telling us about three hours. Is that still...

MARCIANO: Yes, anywhere from three to six hours. But, you know, you look back to yesterday and we were looking at a landfall of, you know, between 6:00 and 8:00 last night. It made a quick right turn and then was in there in the mid to late afternoon hours. So give it about a three hour range there between the next three to six hours. It'll be up across the northern part of South Carolina. Of course, in that case scenario will be that it scoots out to sea. That would be nice. We'll see if that happens.

GRIFFIN: All right, Rob, thanks a lot.

We are getting pictures, aerial pictures in from stations in the Tampa area. These are aerials, obviously, near the airport of a hangar that has been destroyed. Others we have seen have shown rooftops ripped off. We don't know the exact location of these pictures right now, so we can't tell you if this is, indeed, in the Tampa area, or south of there, but you can see the destruction, widespread, and pretty harsh. This looks like tornado damage in some areas. Just incredible stuff, as the local stations try to survey all the damage, go to all the different landmarks that they can find and let people know, of course, what has happened and what has not happened in terms of damage in and around the Tampa and the southwest Florida area. NGUYEN: And as John Zarrella was talking about a little bit earlier, some of the things that you're looking at, one of the cars that was still standing, but everything else around it had just collapsed. It's amazing how a storm can damage one particular piece, but leave everything else just fine and then just annihilate the building next to it. So, there's no rhyme or reason, but we're taking a look at a lot of damage there in the Tampa area.

Fort Myers, Florida was ground zero of Hurricane Charley when it made its initial assault. First light today is beginning to reveal just how terrible it was.

Amy Ruse of affiliate WINK filed this report as the category four storm came crashing ashore.


AMY RUSE, WINK CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It started out with strong winds testing signage on buildings and causing tall palm trees to bend in the wind. From eight stories above, we felt Charley gain strength.

(on camera): It's a couple of minutes until 3:00 this afternoon. The rain and the winds, the rain is coming down right now and the winds are just fierce.

Take a look at these palm trees here in downtown.

(voice-over): From an apartment on the seventh floor, we were left with no other option but to be patient. When we thought it couldn't get worse, it suddenly did. Charley slammed into downtown, including its yacht basin, where waves pushed onto the shore, creating lakes out of parking lots. Nature's fury sliced tree trunks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've gotten through the worst of it. It was just the surge. And we talked to one of your meteorologists and he said he doesn't think it's going to be as high as they predicted. So we're very happy.

RUSE: Cleanup crews arrived immediately afterward and assessed the damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was quite an experience, yes. Yes, we haven't been hit by one in a long time. We were due.


NGUYEN: Quite an experience, indeed. Luckily he lived to tell.

That report was from Amy Ruse of our affiliate, WINK.

Well, Hurricane Charley leaves Florida, but it is still active in the Atlantic. Will it effect the East Coast and the flights there?

An air travel update. That is just ahead.

Plus, the damage in Port Charlotte.

We are back with continuing coverage of Hurricane Charley.


MARCIANO: Good morning once again.

I'm Rob Marciano in the CNN Weather Center.

They're picking up the pieces in Florida. The worst hurricane there since Andrew. And now it's still a hurricane off the coastline of the Carolinas. And it will effect, it looks like, the folks of South Carolina and North Carolina and probably northward. We'll go over all of that as the morning progresses.

CNN LIVE SATURDAY MORNING will be right back.


GRIFFIN: Charlie, right now barreling through the Atlantic toward the Carolinas in its cross here. Its next landfall expected later this morning, maybe hours from now, on the coast of South Carolina, probably north of Charleston in the Georgetown area. The hurricane warning extended north to the Virginia-North Carolina state line at Charleston, where history is king and hurricanes are part of it.

They are waiting for Charley, downgraded to a category one. We're going to have live pictures there. This is Charleston's Folly Beach, we are told, which is out near Kiawah Island, for those of you who know the area. A mandatory evacuation order in effect for South Carolina's Grand Strand tourist area, which is north of Charleston.

NGUYEN: Well, as we've been reporting, Punta Gorda, Florida took a devastating hit from the hurricane called Charley.

Glen Selig of our affiliate station WINK braved that storm and here's what he saw.


GLEN SELIG, WINK CORRESPONDENT: Here is some of the damage that was left behind of the 100 plus mile per hour winds that came through here. We, if you're just joining us, rode out this storm in Charlotte County. We were actually in the area where the eye came over. We were in the heart of this storm as it came through and this is the destruction that it left behind.

This is a business park, at one point a thriving business park. This, what you're looking at, was a storage facility that was within this business park. People brought their cars, their boats, their belongings to this facility, hoping that it would be safe and would be able to withstand this storm and would survive.

But as you can see, it didn't. In fact, there's many boats that were destroyed, some nice looking boats; and many businesses. And as you can see, there's pieces of wood, pieces of the building strewn throughout. And on this particular building, you can see that the side walls and the front walls have actually buckled but the roof has collapsed and has caved in. And as we've been here, people have started to come by either to look at the damage themselves or have come by to check out their belongings.

A stop sign that is obviously usually pretty firmly in the ground just bent over. We saw poles that were bent in half. That should give you an idea of how strong, how ferocious this storm was when it came through. Look at that. These people are coming back to see this type of damage and at a facility that they thought for sure, with the concrete block and everything, would be able to withstand.

Stop signs just knocked over. Pieces of buildings all over the place. There was a gas station that we went in and shot some video when we first came in and that place was half destroyed.

These are buildings that -- this is a new facility that has just been reduced to rubble. It totally collapsed. This was an amazing storm as it came through. Here's somebody who parked their car here thinking that it would be safe.

What we're seeing a lot of is pieces of wood. And the danger here is there's nails, exposed nails and wiring and electrical wiring. These are some of the things that folks around here need to be careful about.

This is looking from the outside in. This is a door that somehow managed to stand, but the roof collapsed. And this is a perspective from inside the building looking out. This is where the roof should have been or should still be, but it's gone. Hurricane Charley took it away. And there are scenes like this throughout Charlotte County.

This was some storm that we experienced as it came through and I'm not surprised, I can tell you, at seeing the damage, because you could feel it as it came through. These were strong, strong winds.


NGUYEN: And we will see much more damage throughout the morning as those pictures continue to come in.

That was Glen Selig of affiliate station WINK -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: We're trying to bring you the very latest on this storm and we want to dip in, listen in, as it were, to our affiliate from Orlando, WESH, reporting live from Punta Gorda.

Let's take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that's likely a good thing.

Michel (ph), thanks so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, right now we want to go to another chopper shot from one of our sister stations out there in Tampa. We have video of Polk County, aerial pictures here. It's basically severe damage to this building. Take a look. Almost like something just completely ripped off the roof.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This looks like it's, if not an industrial park, a shopping center of some kind.

By the time the toll is taken in Florida, millions, if not billions of dollars in damage.

We will be right back.

GRIFFIN: That was our affiliate WESH in Orlando getting live shots from across Florida.

It's widespread damage. Even though the center of the damage seems to be in Punta Gorda, there appears to be a lot -- a wide area. The governor reporting that billions, of course, in damage they're going to be recording.

This is now live from Folly Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... back to New Jersey. We're going out to Columbia today. Both my daughter who lives in Texas and myself in New Jersey, all the flights out of Texas here have been canceled until Monday night. So we're going to Columbia so they can get home tomorrow.


Well, Joe, have a safe journey back home.

Again, Joe says that most of the flights out of Charleston canceled this morning. We will make some phone calls and check to see if all of them are canceled. He's heading to Columbia because he wanted...

GRIFFIN: This is out of Charleston, South Carolina, Folly Beach, just on the Barrier Islands there near Charleston. And this is a live shot from WCSC, the affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina.

Let's listen.

PATRICK VILLEGAS, WCSC CORRESPONDENT: Bill, I'll send it back to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Patrick Villegas live at Folly Beach.

Patrick, thanks very much.

I hope you don't emulate and do what those tourists are doing, folks. You don't need to be outside. You stay put where you are and watch us or listen to us on the radio WTMA 1250, and we'll steer you correctly.

Now, I want to take you down to Florida and show you some damage down there. In case you're just waking up and joining us and you don't know this, that state has been devastated by this horrible, strong storm.

This is Polk County, Florida. Look at this. This is what used to be a building of some sort. The roof has been just taken off. Actually, it looks like an apartment complex, storage units, perhaps. And, again, these tops have just been pulled off as if they were cans and you just, you know, you just turned those tops off.

Pictures coming from a chopper above. This is in Polk County, Florida. Once again, this is the evacuation ordered by the governor. This was last night in Myrtle Beach. If you remember, 501, which is a major artery out of Myrtle Beach, was -- the lanes coming in were reversed. All of the lanes were going westward out of Myrtle Beach. That started at 8:00 last night.

And look at the traffic. That's reminiscent of Hurricane Floyd, if you remember that mess we had, that Floyd fiasco back in 1999.

Now, this is the way it looks outside right now, live pictures with our Live 5 traffic tracker. The merge lanes, 526 and 26. You're looking westbound. Traffic, there is some traffic here, not much, thank goodness, because we don't think you ought to be on the roads. But there is some traffic venturing out this morning at about 7:25 on this Saturday morning.

Another picture, College Park Road, Mile Marker 203, I26. Again, some traffic. We recommend that you do not get out on the highway. You stay where you are. Hopefully you're warm and comfortable and will stay there and watch us as we bring you the latest information or listen to us on News Radio WTMA 1250 AM.

Now, let's go back to the storm center...

NGUYEN: And that is a look at WCSC in Folly Beach, South Carolina, as they brace for Charley, which is headed that way along the coastline there.

But we want to take you back to Florida and Punta Gorda, an area that was hard hit by Charley yesterday.

We want to go to John Zarrella, who has the latest information on injuries there -- John, what are you learning this morning?

ZARRELLA: Betty, some very, very sobering news coming out here now. I have just spoken, within the last few minutes, to Wayne Sallade, who is the emergency manager here in Charlotte County. He is almost in tears. Wayne Sallade is saying that they have ordered 60, 6-0, body bags. Two refrigeration trucks have just arrived here to handle the bodies, according to Wayne Sallade. He told me that he has sheriffs' deputies standing next to bodies and still searching for more victims here in the rubble.

He told me that they had wind gusts at the hospital, which is now closed, at over 180 miles an hour. He, again, is almost in tears. He doesn't know where to begin to start the assessment here. It is everywhere in Punta Gorda, trailer parks all over this area, he says. He reminded me of Hurricane Andrew, with 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 trailers. He says he has more trailers here and he says he has no idea what to expect as they continue to assess.

But, again, Wayne Sallade, emergency manager, saying that he has, for now, ordered 60 body bags and that he has sheriffs' deputies standing over bodies in various parts of this city -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Information we were not hoping to hear this morning, although we knew there was a death toll, just not that amount. So far, 60 body bags have been ordered.

John, let me ask you, is this mainly centered around those mobile home parks? I know you say it's throughout Punta Gorda. But mainly are -- is the death toll around the mobile home areas, the mobile home parks?

ZARRELLA: It appears to be, although he's not clear on exactly where it is. He said it's widespread because of the number of mobile home parks he has here.

We just walked by a condominium building that has been completely destroyed, the front blown off, the roof blown off. I talked to some folks who live there, they said they believe everyone got out of that building. But, again, it appears that it's mostly around the trailer parks. And, again, you know, we want to emphasize that while he said he ordered the 60 body bags, hopefully they all won't be needed. But he is very, very worried about the situation and the devastation here. He says it's as bad here as what we had in Hurricane Andrew back in 1992 -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Let's talk a little bit about the hospital. I understand there were evacuations yesterday. Many patients were transferred to nearby hospitals.

What kind of damage are you seeing there and were those patients, indeed, hit by this storm?

ZARRELLA: Well, we saw this morning, as we drove in here, a number of patients being taken out in wheelchairs, some of them with oxygen bottles and masks attached as they were taking them to ambulances to transport them out of here. In the darkness, it was difficult to tell exactly how badly the hospital had been damaged, considering the fact that Mr. Sallade believed that they had a 180 mile an hour wind gust there.

But it is surrounded by debris, surrounded by rubble and they were taking numerous patients out this morning. And I know Anderson Cooper reported earlier today that they had, indeed, closed the hospital there. Not surprising. But hard to say exactly what the situation is there right now, other than the fact that they are closing that hospital.

He says he also has other hospitals in Punta Gorda that were also seriously damaged. That's Wayne Sallade. But he's not sure exactly the extent of the damage at those other hospitals -- Betty. NGUYEN: CNN's John Zarrella in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they have just been hit so hard by Hurricane Charley.

Of course, we will continue our coverage right here on CNN, as Charley heads inland toward the Carolinas this morning. You'll want to stay tuned.


GRIFFIN: If you are just joining us, we've just had some ominous reporting out of Punta Gorda, where our John Zarrella is reporting the emergency director there has ordered 60 body bags. No confirmation on exactly how many people have been killed. In fact, we don't have confirmation on anybody being killed. But Wayne Sallade, who's the emergency director there, has deputies standing over bodies and has ordered 60 body bags.

Hurricane Andrew, 26 deaths, if you're comparing hurricanes. That was back in 1992.

NGUYEN: Well, Charley has been a powerful storm, category four. We're looking at some damage video right now. These look like some R.V.s that have been tipped on their side. Hopefully the folks inside those R.V.s were able to get out. This is Polk County, I'm being told. This is courtesy of our affiliate, WTVT.

All morning long, we're going to be giving you pictures as they come out of Florida, and also pictures along the Carolinas and the Georgia coastline as Hurricane Charley heads inland. Right now it's in the Atlantic Ocean. And, hopefully, Rob Marciano, it won't be picking up too much speed as it heads toward the coast. MARCIANO: Well, it's a category one now, Betty, as you mentioned. It was a category four. Incidentally, those type of trailers, those R.V.s, it only takes about a 70 mile an hour wind to knock those things over. And the other pictures that we've shown you throughout the morning of roofs being torn off and structures being completely demolished, you obviously need more wind than that. And apparently we've had an unofficial report of a gust to about 180 at that hospital in Punta Gorda. And judging from the devastation there, that wouldn't be out of the question.

Winds were sustained at 145 miles an hour at flight level when that thing came in and certainly a gust to 180 is not out of the question. That plane obviously not faring too well.

All right, here's where the storm is right now. It is off the coastline of South Carolina and Georgia, actually, about 115 miles south-southwest of Charleston. A category one, but it looks like it's getting a little bit better organized. And it is going to head into South Carolina, Charleston, maybe a little bit farther north toward Georgetown and then towards Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, certainly. And the Outer Banks just getting done with Alex about 10 days ago, will probably get a little piece of this action, as well.

North-northeasterly movement at about 25 miles an hour. So that will bring it into the Carolina coastline in the next three to figure five or six hours, more likely three hours here, and they're already starting to feel the effects of some gusty winds and some rain bands swirling into this area.

There's the Charleston radar. And you can kind of see the last couple of frames there. There's the eye wall and heavier rains with gusting winds about to move in to Charleston.

It/'s still a hurricane, although a category one, and it may strengthen a little bit, but certainly not to category four status, and that's good news as we get the bad news and throughout the morning out of there, out of western Florida.

Back to you guys in the studio.

NGUYEN: And devastating news out of Florida this morning.

Of course, we'll keep you posted on all of that and much, much more right here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

GRIFFIN: We'll be right back.


NGUYEN: Good morning and welcome back.

Hurricane Charley has left nearly two million people in Florida in the dark without electricity.

On the phone now, we have Tom Veenstra, a spokesman for Florida Light and Power.

And there isn't much of that in the state right now.

Let's talk about these numbers, if you would, Mr. Veenstra, 1.8 million Floridians without power.

Is that correct?

TOM VEENSTRA, FLORIDA LIGHT AND POWER: Well, for Florida Power and Light Company customers, there are 648,000 customers without power. And most of those, hardest hit, are in the Fort Myers area and on the northeast coast of Florida, in the Daytona Beach area.

NGUYEN: What's being done right now to restore the power? Obviously you've got a lot of obstacles in your way.

VEENSTRA: Right. Well, our efforts to assess the damage and restore power began immediately in those areas after the storm had passed and it was safe for crews to begin work. And we're concerned about determining how much flooding there has been in order for our crews to gain access to certain areas, along with things like downed trees that have to be cleared out before our crews can get into place.

NGUYEN: As well as downed power lines. Those can pose a huge problem. VEENSTRA: Absolutely. And we want everyone to stay away from downed lines, flooding and debris, and don't walk in the -- there's a lot of standing water about in certain places and please stay out of it because you may not see a power line that could still be energized and dangerous.

NGUYEN: Now, I know it's still early on and the sun is still coming up and you're looking at the damage before you, but any indication as to when some of this power will be turned back on?

VEENSTRA: Well, we'll have a better idea of that as our damage assessment teams report in, but in those hardest hit areas, customers should be prepared for some extended outages.

But our crews are working around the clock to restore power as quickly as possible. And, in addition to that, we brought in 3,500 crews from utilities in other states to help us out, as well. And that's in addition to the 10,000 workers we have.

NGUYEN: All right, Tom Veenstra, a spokesman for Florida Light and Power, this morning, as they work to get electricity turned back on in many areas throughout Florida.

Thank you.

GRIFFIN: We're going to listen now to WTVT in Tampa. They have a reporter right now in Punta Gorda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just amazed. I can't believe it. I don't recognize the park. I don't recognize the homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once is enough. I'm not going through this again. I'm leaving town next time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what many of them told us, that they're just not going to even stay. The shelters that they went to, that woman said she was at a church and that the church was moving back and forth, that it was just horrible. And it's going to be, I think, many days before we have a real handle on this, Tom -- I mean, Bill.

Certainly the starting point now is search and rescue. The starting point is to find out where the victims are. And they are really overwhelmed. We have seen caravans of ambulances and police officers moving up and down the interstate. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of order to these efforts now. It seems like it's going to take them some hours just to get organized -- back to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Warren, over the years, you've had a chance to see several stories like this.

How does this compare, just in your own personal estimation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's really difficult to tell at this point, Bill. I don't have a sense of just how wide the area is. But the areas that I've been have the telltale signs that you've seen. Of course, all of us are thinking about Andrew. And I'm not sure that that, in the end, is going to be a badly placed comparison, largely because of the totality of the destruction and such a wide area, so many counties affected by this.

But what comes to my mind in having just faced 24 hours ago the potential loss of my own home in South Tampa, knowing what we went through and many of our colleagues who live in the areas that would have been just absolutely flooded and destroyed by this storm, you can really empathize with these people. They're in shock. They don't really know what to do at this point, as they come back to what's left of their homes.

Many of them are lucky that a good part of the homes are standing. But a great many more are just gone. They are destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Warren Elly in Charlotte, Port Charlotte.

We'll be talking to you again later this morning.

Thank you, Warren.

And we're seeing the extent of damage in Polk County, as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sky Fox pilot Randy Powers is over Lake Wales.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is just amazing to look at this devastation here in Lake Wales. You're actually looking at Quails Bluff Apartments. It's on Burns Avenue. And as you can see, it looks like every single apartment complex has been hit. And right there you see on the left side of your picture -- I want Rick to zoom in -- that's one of the recreation centers, we believe. The roof is almost completely gone by that. And the people that we're seeing walking around this apartment complex and they're just in awe, basically shell-shocked at the amount of damage that you see here.

And literally every apartment complex in this little community at Quails Bluff up on Burns Avenue in Lake Wales has some sort of damage to it. It's just the debris field and the shrapnel. And you can see there on the bottom of your picture, you can see the police kind of driving around patrolling the area.

And look at, look at the side of that building. That's the southeast corner of this apartment complex. The side of the building is gone. The roof is gone. And you can imagine as this, the roofs just fly around and just hit car after car. And then the tree damage alone is just, it's just truly unbelievable.

We had flown earlier, we were over atop of a mobile home assembly park. And the roof of the assembly park was just gone. And once again, we were over the Lake Wales' airport and you saw the damage from that alone. But you see right here at the Lake Wales area, I think they were hit hardest. So far, from what I've seen, you can't fly anywhere in Lake Wales and not see some sort of damage, shrapnel laying around, roofs, trees, car damage. It is just truly overwhelming to see this much damage in this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was going to say, Randy, you probably can't go a mile this morning without discovering something new you hadn't already seen today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And let's punch up one more picture here. That's, this is the same area. And, you know, you go maybe 50 feet and you'll see something else that you weren't expecting to see. Every single place we've flown in Lake Wales has some sort of damage, something flying around, a tree laying somewhere, cars turned over, mobile homes turned over. And as we flew around the back side of this Quails Bluff apartment complex, it's overwhelming to see it. And it's just heartbreaking because these people didn't prepare for it like they did in Pinellas and Hillsboro County. They truly thought that they were going to be OK. And I think this kind of blindsided them there.

But, Rick, if you could, can I get you to go to about a heading of 330? We're going to try to get that mobile home assembly park. And we're going to fly Sky Fox over to this area that we were before. And let me know when you have that, Rick, punched up.

It was a mobile home assembly park and also a rental place. There you see it. That's the mobile home assembly plant. And the entire roof has been removed from that plant. And this is in the heart of Lake Wales.

And as Rick kind of zooms in there and makes a pan all the way across, it's overwhelming just to see this kind of damage. And we're going to go ahead and show you a trailer that was just leveled. See, there are some trailers on the left side of your picture and that right there was actually one whole trailer and it's gone. It's, there's somebody that lived in that mobile home. And it is just completely gone.

And, Rick, if you can come out a little bit wide and to the left, you can see the houses next to it, nothing. And, Rick, over to the right is that bridge rental storage unit. And if you can see there, Tom and Bill, you know, that's a storage unit and the roof is completely gone. And there was a couple more to the left, Rick. And you can see above it -- go due left. Yes. There you see, some of the roofs are there and you can actually peek into those rental units and see what people had in there. It is just, it is just an amazing sight to fly around this town and to see that kind of damage, guys. It is overwhelming. It really is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a doll house. It really is.

Randy, thank you very much.

We're going to keep in touch with you throughout the morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Randy.

You know, this is...

GRIFFIN: We are going to go to another affiliate, WESH.

First, I want to tell you that those pictures that we just saw from TBT in Tampa were inland. They were between Orlando and Tampa. That is far north.

Let's get right to WESH out of Orlando right now with their live coverage.


I hope everybody had a restful evening. I know I didn't.

What we have experienced in Orange County is a very devastating storm. As you ride around our neighborhoods, you will see a good deal of damage to property, downed trees and the like. Let me do suggest, though, that the situation could have been a lot worse than it was. All we have to do is look to south Florida, where it was a category four when it entered the state to see the damage that took place there. And in a sense, you can look at it that we were, indeed, blessed.

What we're looking at mostly, again, is property damage. There is no evidence of any loss of lives in Orange County or even major industries. There are some public health issues that we can discuss this morning, but in that sense, I think that we are -- can count our blessings that we didn't lose any lives or any major injuries.

We can deal with these property damage issues and we are marshaling the troops to do that.

One of the things that we do want to let the citizens of Orange County know is that the next few days are going to be a bit uncomfortable. We have cleared the major roads of tree removal. The major roads, you should be able to get through, the secondary roads and the neighborhood roads. We have activated our county contract to assist us in our debris removal program and we should have all the roads in Orange County cleared within the next 24 hours.

A dangerous situation does exist as it relates to downed power lines. And you see power poles in various states of having been blown over or been damaged by the wind. We have folks here from Progress Energy and Orlando Utilities that may want to address some of those issues.

We are, again, the citizens are going to have to kind of tough it out here for a while. There's going to be a potential for clogged sewers, in some instances; the water, if you can get water that's safe to drink. But there are a lot of issues that we'll be available for questions for this morning relative to tree removal, delivery of power, water and sewer services and that sort of thing.

I can tell you that just within Orange County, there were 163,000 Progress Energy customers who are out of power at this time; 109,000 OUC customers.

At the height of the event last night, during the critical time, we were receiving 600 911 calls per minute. So people were out there, they were very concerned. They need to know that we are marshalling every available resource, bringing in assets from around the state. I actually saw at 6:00 this morning some of those assets being moved into the region from outside the area.

I can tell you that the wheels for recovery are in motion. It's going to take some time. It's going to take a lot of patience. We want to call on the people of Orange County to be patient and to work together.

We're going to get as much information out any way that we can get it out to the citizens, to at least let them know some general time frames of where we go from here and what the recovery effort is going to involve.

Later this, in a few minutes here, at 8:00 or so, I'm going to get into the Orange County fire rescue helicopter, Firestar (ph), for a damage assessment trip around the county and return here.

Later this morning, Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings will be here with a state helicopter and she and a group, along with myself, will readdress the issues there at about the 10:00 hour.

I can tell you that I have been on the phone with Governor Bush. He has, again, committed all available resources from the state perspective. He's been in touch with the White House. We have been declared a federal disaster area and, again, the wheels are in motion. And we're asking the people to be patient, the people to be thankful for the fact that we didn't lose lives...

GRIFFIN: You're looking at a live news conference with Rich Crotty in Orange County, Florida. He is the chairman of the county there, telling the citizens of the Orlando area it's going to be a rough couple of days ahead, but they'll tough it out.

Eighty-five mile an hour winds. Charley still category one. Its eye now on the Carolinas.

NGUYEN: Rob Marciano is in the CNN Weather Center watching this storm.

And, Rob, what kind of an update do you have for us right now?

MARCIANO: Well, it's getting a little bit better organized as we look at the latest radar imagery. We'll have the latest numbers out of the National Hurricane Center actually in the next few minutes, to give you an idea if it has strengthened and if they've changed their projected path, which is to bring it just to the east and north of Charlotte, South Carolina over the next few hours.

But obviously rain bands beginning to come in from this thing. Here is the eye or at least the northern fringe of the eye wall. The western and southwestern part of it has kind of fallen apart. That's an indication of a weakening one.

When this thing came onshore, I mean all quadrants were wrapped in rain and heavy winds yesterday as they came across western Florida.

This watch box is a tornado watch out through noontime, because the right side of these systems typically have a lot of spin and they'll drop tornadoes from time to time. There were seven reports of tornadoes during the day yesterday across the state of Florida.

And here's the latest satellite imagery. The orange is blowing up lately to show that it has become a little bit better organized. It's moving fairly quickly, so rainfall amounts across much of Florida have not been as bad as they could have been. Obviously, the wind was the big story.

Winds right now 85 miles an hour north-northeast; movement at 25. really, it's about -- it's less than 100 miles south-southwest of Charleston at this point, and probably will move onshore at that speed, well, in the next three to five hours. And this is the projected path, as we go through the afternoon. And then once it moves onshore, it will become less organized, but still bring a fair amount of moisture to it and the Carolinas up through Virginia will see some rainfall, as well.

We mentioned the rain across Florida. These are storm totals from the hurricane. And the green is indicating about two inches of rainfall. You really have to go up toward Jacksonville, where they saw over three inches of rainfall, and that was a record, yes. But it could have been a lot worse if this thing was not moving as fast as it was.

We mentioned earlier in the program that we do have another tropical depression. This one could be our next tropical storm, which would be Earl. And it's taking a similar path to what Charley took about a week and a half ago, and that is across the Windward Islands and eventually into the Caribbean. So we'll watch this system as it progresses.

But Drew and Betty, it won't likely get close to the U.S. coastline for at least another five, if not seven, days. But we're getting into the peak time of hurricane season and Charley was a doozey.

Still out there, a category one storm, to recap, and heading into the Carolina coastline here in the next couple of hours -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Definitely staying on top of that.

Rob Marciano, thank you.

MARCIANO: You're welcome.

NGUYEN: And, of course, you want to keep it tuned right here to CNN SATURDAY MORNING for continuing hurricane coverage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): September 5, 1996. Hurricane Fran howled across North Carolina's Cape Fear. The storm surge from the category three hurricane devastated coastal areas. And Fran's heavy rains generated flooding from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania. The storm's winds damaged homes and buildings from North Carolina to Virginia. When the cost was tallied, Fran did some $3.2 billion in damage.


GRIFFIN: As we continue to cover Hurricane Charley, you know, some residents in Florida are breathing a sigh of relief this morning. They actually returned to their homes in Tampa and found them standing.

Ed Lavandera is in Dunedin, Florida.




BRAY: Judea.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): There was a spring in Jack Bray's step as he walked out of the only storm shelter he's ever had to sleep in and when he pulled up in front of his unscathed home in Dunedin, Florida, it didn't take long for his sense of humor to come roaring back.

BRAY: Home sweet mobile home. It's still here. That's the good news. The bad news is it's still here. No, I'm only kidding.

LAVANDERA: Bray was one of more than 16,000 people in Florida who hunkered down in shelters to avoid the wrath of Hurricane Charley. What a relief for him and his neighbors, who live just west of Tampa, to see the category four hurricane miss its original target.

BRAY: I was anxious. I was nervous, fearful. Looking at the map, I could see that sucker coming right at us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was dangerous. We did the right thing by leaving.

LAVANDERA: Bray moved to this part of Florida from New York 10 years ago. And as he finished his short walk around his home, the feisty retiree was happy to see that not much had changed since he left 24 hours ago.

BRAY: The same old same old. For the first time, that's a very warm sounding expression to me -- same old, same old.

LAVANDERA: There's nothing quite like a brush with disaster to make you appreciate the simple things in life.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dunedin, Florida.


GRIFFIN: The hardest hit area so far. Hurricane Charley's winds slamming into Punta Gorda. Charlotte County, Florida winds, as you can see, up to 145 miles per hour. Fear and destruction to a trailer park. Officials say many there are dead. Now the powerful storm sets its sight on the Carolinas.


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