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Hurricane Charley: At Least 10 Dead In Charlotte County

Aired August 14, 2004 - 12:13   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. They are wrapping up that news conference now in Punta Gorda. Most markedly that was Governor Jeb Bush, also other state officials and officials from FEMA talking about the devastation that has hit the state of Florida, especially the southwestern community of Punta Gorda.
The governor did not have specific numbers on casualties, however, "Associated Press" is reporting that one official, at least, is confirming at least 10 dead from Hurricane Charley in Charlotte County and that is the county that holds Punta Gorda. And that's where we find our John Zarrella bringing us the latest from there.

John, this -- this number we have expected to rise and have expected to come in throughout the morning does appear to be doing just that.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: :Right, and you know, it is unfortunately, it's still very early on, as you heard the governor say and others have been saying all day. It's very, very difficult to get into those sites with those teams to assess the damage, to actually get in and start the digging, which literally what it is, through the rubble of some of those trailer parks.

And speaking of rubble, this is another example, we wanted to show you. This used to be a bank building, it had become an office building in recent times and you can see what Hurricane Charley did to this office building, this office complex. As you look around there, you can see all the glass is completely blown out, the top awnings and the top panels blown out, the back windows blown out, the chairs, everything completely blown around, so -- and this is -- typifies what we see in and around Charlotte County and here in Punta Gorda -- the Punta Gorda area. It's -- you can look out the windows there, what were the windows on to the street and I'm sure you can make out a lot of the traffic that is continuing to drive down, this is the main Route 41 through here and again, that's one of the issues that they need to deal with and will be dealing with here, is how to keep some of the spectators from coming out to just gawk and see what the problems are here in Punta Gorda so...

But the -- the issues, of course, as the governor pointed out, a lot better than during Andrew because that was a lesson learned during Hurricane Andrew. Don't have that same issue here. They are getting the response in quickly, the mobilized task force are moving in quickly, and so that is certainly one thing that will be very valuable here in finding places, shelter for the people who are homeless, could be many thousands, that's the report we have. Potentially have to set up one or more tent cities here to accommodate all those people. Getting in needed services, water, any ice is always a priority, here. And you know, one of the things we've noticed Daryn, with all this debris on the ground, many of these residents -- we saw an elderly couple, a husband and wife driving around on a flat spare tire, their tires had been blown out by the debris. So, everywhere you look, again, there's another heart wrenching story. There's another poignant picture, it is just block after block and mile after mile, here in Punta Gorda -- Daryn.

KAGAN: The things you don't think about until you go through a situation like that and I know you've seen it way too many times there in Florida. John, I think some people might be wondering, as we just start getting these numbers, and once again "Associated Press" reporting at least 10 people dead in the county where you are, in Charlotte County, in association with Hurricane Charley. Some people might be wondering, what it's more than 12 or 15 hours since the storm passed through there, why is it taking so long to figure out the numbers and assess who's missing?

ZARRELLA: Well, what you have here are a couple of issues, first of all, it hit late into the afternoon, yesterday. We drove in here last night just to try to get an idea of what we would be facing this morning. We couldn't go but more than a couple of blocks. Absolutely pitch-black, you could not see a thing. This morning, when we got back in here, first light, that's when you were going to be able to get a chance to assess things. So, the fact that it hit late in the afternoon, it was the next day, this morning's light when the emergency crews could start to get out to look over things and to assess the damage and the fact that there are so many areas that are hard hit here, that they have to go through, literally, door to door as they did in a condominium building that we had been showing to you folks most of the morning, to our viewers today, just the emergency rescue crews with their -- their hammers and with the sledgehammers just going and knocking down doors to get in to see if there were people in. It's just a very difficult situation and the fact that there's no electricity, there's no telephone service, so to try and find out how many people are even missing becomes a tremendous task.

Again, they're getting phone calls from out of town, from people who are calling wondering about relatives and friends that they can't reach, that they can't find. And the answer simply is, from emergency officials here, we don't know where your friends and relatives are either. We hope they're safe, but at this point, they simply don't know -- Daryn.

KAGAN: All right, John Zarrella in Punta Gorda, thank you for that. We'll be back with you. Also, those of you up and down the east coast wondering is Hurricane Charley coming your way, we will check in with our Orelon Sidney, just ahead. Right now we take a break.


KAGAN: We've been focusing quite a bit today on the destruction that Hurricane Charley has left in its path, but for those of you farther north on the east coast wondering if Hurricane Charley is heading your way and how strong the storm will be when it gets there, let's bring in our Orelon Sidney -- Orelon.

ORELON SIDNEY, METEOROLOGIST: Daryn, thanks a lot. Charley, of course, not the storm of old, it is now barely a hurricane, in fact, the Hurricane Center is indicating that it may well be below hurricane force. In the last update an hour and a half ago, they went ahead and made it a minimal category one hurricane, but it may well be that it really has no longer hurricane force winds at the surface. They did find some hurricane force winds at flight level, which is several thousand feet up, but there may not be those hurricane force winds translating down to the surface.

Having said that, you have at least tropical storm force winds working their way up the coast. Currently now, if you're tracking at 33.2 north, 79.0 west, 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach, south Carolina. Winds, go ahead call them 75 miles per hour, that's just barely hurricane force and it's moving very rapidly now to the north- northeast at 28 and it's really starting to lose a lot of its definition on the satellite picture. On the radar, though, it's pretty impressive as we'll see in a moment.

We do continue to have hurricane warnings in effect from the South Santee River up to the border, state line rather with North Carolina and Virginia and then continuing tropical storm warnings northward to the Sandy Hook and Merrimack River. So, you're not out of the woods in those areas.

In addition to that, tornado watch is still in effect until 9:00 p.m. tonight, this current box extending from Wilmington northward and continuing to be a risk of tornadoes for you. As a matter of fact, we didn't have any reports so far, at least to confirm tornadoes today, but numerous yesterday as the storms passed through Florida and is, especially as you look at some of these inner rain bands, you could see some very gusty winds and potential tornadoes in those.

Currently now, Wilmington is getting a pretty good thunderstorm moving through. Watch out in Fayetteville and Raleigh, and especially around Cape Hatteras along the coast, because there's still a chance of a four to seven foot storm surge with this. Not a whole lot, certainly not as much as we saw down in Florida, but it could still be a problem for the barrier islands later on this afternoon and going into tonight.

This is what we expect, then, later today. Winds will be certainly dropping to tropical storm force about, 60 miles-an-hour, gusts near hurricane force as it continues to work its way north and northeastward across the Potomac continuing on through parts of New Jersey, probably right up close to New York City with tropical storm force wind gusts and then moving in earnest into New England tomorrow, looking at your gusty winds about 45 miles-an-hour as the tropical depression, we think, by sometime on Sunday.

So we're going to see the end of it, we hope, as we go into early Monday morning. But for now, we still have a very busy weekend and, of course, we're worried about flooding. That's going to be a big problem over the next few hours. Take a look at the track of Donna from 1960. That's the red line you see here. Looks a heck of a lot of what Charley has been doing and, in fact, the official forecast, pretty much parallels that track from Donna in 1960. It's going to rake almost just about all of the U.S. east coast before it's finally out of here on Monday morning.

Flash flood and flood watches are in effect for much of the eastern seaboard stretching back to Roanoke, Virginia; Baltimore is included, Philadelphia is included and of course, as you continue northward later today, we get more of that rain to spread towards Boston, they'll probably be included in a watch box, or at least in a watch area, a little bit later on today.

So certainly not out of the woods yet. We have a new tropical storm in the Atlantic and a potential tropical storm later today. I'll talk about that as we go through the rest of the hour.

KAGAN: Right. And as I let you catch your breath here, what I want to know, you can answer it now or we can save it, Orelon, you tell me. But, the two next storms coming up, you've your "D" storm, which is Danielle, right? And then Earl, "E" for Earl, there's a chance, good chance that the "E," Earl, is going to get ahead of the "D."

SIDNEY: Well, actually Earl is ahead of the "D" storm. I'll have to get a little graphic and show you, but Earl is actually close to the Leeward Islands where Danielle formed off the coast of Africa, it's way, way out there. Danielle's probably not going to affect any land area at all. So it will be Earl, when it becomes Earl, it's currently Tropical Depression No. 5, but should become Earl later on this weekend, that'll be the one we'll have to worry about.

KAGAN: Or, as we say here in the south, we say "Url."

SIDNEY: That's right, my dad's named Earl.

KAGAN: Oh, ho ho, and we've met your dad. Watch out. All right Orelon, thank you for that.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

KAGAN: We are making great use of our affiliates in Florida including "WINK" bringing us the latest. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And major damage to the trees all in this area, kind of a mangled look.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a mess. It's a mess, a lot of debris, it just looks like just things are out of place and -- how it is in a lot of areas, too. I understand about 200 people chose to ride out the storm in the Sanibel area and they're obviously stuck because the causeway is still shut down and they're not allowing people back on the islands right now and the -- the initial assessment is still going on when it comes to those areas, but like I said, our first pictures of that -- that part of the county and southwest Florida. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, right now, and just a couple of mentions that we do -- we saw those are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the first pictures of Sanibel and Captiva that we've seen all day. They're not allowing anyone on the causeway; they're not allowing anyone on the islands, there. They do not want you to take your boats out there. Just stay away. If you happened to be on the island and if you're listening to us right now, the water is not safe to drink. It must be boiled before you drink it. There are other words out there from Sanibel, the schools are closed indefinitely, they're trying to get emergency crews out there as quickly as possible to assess some of the damage and as soon as we get more information on that we will share that with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joining us here on the set is Greg Frist, he's with the Fire Service Disaster Cleanup.

And I know, Greg, you're working here at Wadman Broadcasting getting some water out of our building, here.


KAGAN: All right, we are making use of our affiliate "WINK" out of Orlando to get the latest on hurricane coverage there. We have our correspondents up and down Florida also making our way up the east coast. A lot more on Hurricane Charley, plus other news of the day coming up after this break.



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