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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Charley: Hurricane Charley Reenters At South Carolina

Aired August 14, 2004 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're looking at live pictures, scenes of devastation in Punta Gorda where hurricane Charley focused its fury. We'll go live to Florida in just a moment. Meanwhile, the South Carolina coast is the eye of the storm. Hurricane Charley roaring ashore there. We are tracking the latest. Just after 1:00 p.m. on the east coast and just after 10:00 a.m. on the west coast. I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN's local headquarters. This is a special edition of CNN SATURDAY LIVE TODAY.
We're going to kick off the hour with a look at the top stories in the news right now. Florida Governor Jeb Bush says the damage from hurricane Charley and his state is in the billions of dollars. He says quote, our worst fears have come true. Earlier today the governor took a helicopter tour of some of the hardest hit areas. The governor's brother, President Bush plans to visit the state tomorrow. Today officials are adding up the death toll and assessing the damage.

In other news today, peace talks aimed at ending the fighting in Iraq's holy city of Najaf have failed. And Iraqi government official says that military operations against rebel forces will resume. The rebels are loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

As the unrest goes on in Najaf, the U.S. military says its forces have bombed insurgent positions in Samarra. That is north of Baghdad. About 50 insurgents were reportedly killed in the attack. Keeping you informed, CNN is the most trusted name in news.

The storm that brought death and destruction to parts of Florida is now moving up the Atlantic coastline. Hurricane Charley is now in the Carolinas. Just hours ago, it was sweeping across the Florida peninsula. Right now authorities in Florida are trying to determine how many people died in that storm. In hard hit Charlotte County, 60 body bags have been ordered as a precaution. And as the morning began, more than 2 million people in the storm's path were without power.

Hurricane Charley came ashore in southwestern Florida yesterday and it left the state after cutting a path of destruction from the Fort Myers area all the way to Daytona Beach. The hardest hit area, the small retirement town of Punta Gorda which took a direct hit. Entire neighborhoods were flattened and thousands of people are now homeless. Our John Zarrella has been following the developments from Punta Gorda and brings us the latest. John, hello, once again.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Daryn and again the situation just continuing to unfold as more and more of the assessments of damages are taking place here. You can probably see in the distance there, that was what was that gas station we talked about before. People going through some of the remains of what is left over there, other people talking, you can see coming out to assess the damage. Clearly nothing left there.

And to just the left of that is that condominium that we were talking about over and over today that the search and rescue teams from Hillsborough County went into with their sledgehammers and with their crow bars, breaking down the doors, trying to find out if there were any survivors in there. As they went through that building, they did find some people who were in there, elderly people, telling them in fact that they had to get out, those people apparently very dazed, appeared dazed and confused.

They were trying actually, those people to put their houses back together, a very, very sorrowful scene. When these search and rescue people had to come in and tell them the building had to be evacuated. It was unsafe for any occupancy. So periodically seeing more people show up here to gather belongings there. And as the day unfolds, more and more traffic continuing to come on to the road here. This is that major artery, 41, that runs through Punta Gorda. And, again, much of this traffic is probably people coming home, trying to assess their own damage to their own property.

But the concern, of course, is that there will be gawkers coming here, sight seers coming from other parts of the state just to see what the damage is. And that's the one thing emergency rescue teams do not need are any excess vehicles on the road. It is already taking a long time to get around the streets as it is because of the power lines down, the trees down, everything the litter covering the roads, road signs all blown down. So this is just adding, making it difficult situation even worse. Daryn.

KAGAN: And what kind of access are the people who should be allowed to get back to their homes, what kind of access are they getting?

ZARRELLA: Well, there have been some -- there were a couple of checkpoints that we noted early on this morning, out as you came off interstate 75 where there were some police officers. But quite frankly from where we have been and again we haven't been able to scour every area, but we have moved freely as we were riding around. We have seen a lot of police cars on the streets, a lot of the search and rescue teams on the streets. But we haven't seen what you would call any checkpoints or roadblocks or people or anyone trying to stop people from getting into this area. Not to say that they're not out there, but we just haven't seen it. It appears from where we are anyway that people are moving around quite freely. I guess because 41 is such a main artery, a north/south artery with all this traffic going back and forth, if they shut that down it would probably create more problems than it solves. So that may be one of the considerations that they have. Daryn.

KAGAN: And one of the problems I've heard from Punta Gorda that the fire department and the police departments, those stations are not operable, that they took big hits, too? ZARRELLA: Right. They certainly did. There was some major damage at those facilities. But they are out and working. We have seen the fire department out. We have seen the police department out. We have seen the Punta Gorda search and rescue teams out and so while their base of operations apparently, you know, reports that they have been severely damaged in certain locations, in fact they are out these people, working the scene as best they can.

Again, here's that one building, an office building that we had talked about in the last couple of hours that was completely demolished. And again, this is more typical than it is atypical of the kind of damage that you see around Punta Gorda. It is just one blown out building after another.

Now what is very interesting Daryn and always is, is the capricious nature of these things because there are places that you see that are perfectly fine, that weren't damaged at all. There are places where you see awnings that should have been blown 100 yards that are still standing and yet right next to it, an entire storefront blown in. So the whim of nature, it is impossible to comprehend. Daryn.

KAGAN: And often very difficult to predict, which explains why there is so much devastation in a community that really didn't see it coming. John Zarrella, thank you. We'll be back with you in Punta Gorda.

Let's go to the White House now. We're getting word that President Bush plans to come down and see the devastation for himself tomorrow. Dana Bash telling us more about that. Dana

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENTS: Well, Daryn, the president of course declared Florida a Federal disaster area just hours after the hurricane hit the land and that was something that the president did after talking to his brother, the governor, the FEMA director and others in his state. Well, we are told that he is going to spend his Sunday actually now in Florida to get what White House spokesman Scott McClellan calls a firsthand look at the disaster so that he can assess for himself whether or not the state is getting the kind of Federal funding that they need, whether or not they need some more. Certainly the president is going to be -- has been on the campaign trail quite a bit. He's actually in Iowa today. He was supposed to have a down day in Washington tomorrow but instead he'll be going to Florida. Daryn.

KAGAN: I'm sure with great concern. His own brother and his family lives there in Florida. But we cannot ignore the politics of what is involved here. 79 days until an election that many people think is too close to call and the importance of Florida in particular, Dana.

BASH: That's right and it is interesting to note that this is a president that attends not to go to disaster areas, pretty soon after they happen, hurricanes, tornadoes, even forest fires, primarily because he said before that he feels that many times presidents and all that they require from the local law enforcement and local authorities tend to get in the way of the major cleanup that is necessary in situations like this.

But Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said this morning that they're going to try to minimize the impact of the president's visit, but this is Daryn, as you mentioned, a very important thing for Mr. Bush to do. He was in Florida just this week. He's been there almost 25 times since he's been in office. Nobody can forget that number 537 and the five weeks of the recount. This is a state that the president is really trying hard to win. And it is also a state that John Kerry has opened up his lead in since the Democratic convention. So this is certainly a contentious place and you can't ignore the politics here.

KAGAN: No you can't and we have yet to hear from the Kerry campaign if the senator plans to make a visit there. We'll be tracking that however. Dana Bash at the White House, thank you.

We most importantly are tracking the storm, where it is headed next. Our Orelon Sydney has that job today. Orelon.

ORELON SYDNEY, METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot. The center of the storm now moving across the Carolinas, especially North Carolina. You can see that some of the obviously heavy rain bands are here to the north. We are getting some thunderstorms offshore, moving on in and with that circulation now you are going to have some storm surge but it is going to be minimal compared to what it was yesterday, but still nothing to sneeze at, four to eight feet possible along the Carolina coast.

So just kind of keep in mind that you do have to watch out for some surge as we go through the rest of the day. Here is how it looks as we take a little bit different vantage point. The jet stream now has kept it really cool across the east. That is going to keep the storm pretty much paralleling the eastern seaboard. It's going to hug the coast, we think heading off shore again later on to either tonight or tomorrow depending on how far inland it decides to get. You can see that the eye right now, the center of the storm is half on, half off the coast.

And really anything that juts out into the water like Cape Hatteras, perhaps even up towards Cape Cod, those areas are going to be the most vulnerable. But if you're anywhere along the east coast, you need to be aware that you have a weak hurricane, but a strong tropical storm at least heading in your direction. Officially the hurricane center still calling this a hurricane. Its next update comes in at 2:00 and we'll see if they decide to downgrade it then.

Wilmington, getting better for you right now except you got one more bump coming in just from your southwest. That is that center of the eye wall kind of rotating on in or what is left of it anyway, sort of rotating on past you. So right now, things are a little bit calmer in Wilmington, some of the rain probably stopping, maybe a little shower. It's going to pick up again from the opposite direction here soon and then I think in the next hour, hour and a half, things are going to get a lot better in Wilmington.

But they'll be going down hill of course in places like D.C. and Philadelphia, even though I don't think D.C. is going to see a direct hit by any means. Here is a look at some of the rain totals, I just picked a sampling from down in Florida. Look at this, almost 5 1/2 inches in Gardner, Lakeland, 3 1/2. Bartow, almost 3 1/2 inches, Fort Myers, over 3 and this is just where they've taken the official excuse me, the official readings. In some locations you could certainly see rain, even heavier than this, just depends on where the particular heavy downpours were.

Here's a little bit different view, again, of the radar, still looking, of course, at that tornado watch. Look how far inland some of that rain extends, all the way to Charlotte, almost to Asheville, interstate 77 is going to get wet, up towards Raleigh, you're going to see some thunderstorms moving in your area later. And, of course, you don't want to be on the outer banks today. Places like Cape Hatteras, you're certainly going to have to watch out. Looking for that storm to continue to work northeastward later on today, we'll talk more about its track and where it is going to go overnight a bit later. Daryn.

KAGAN: OK. So you want to wait to see about what is coming up next, Earl or Danielle or whoever might be out there...

SYDNEY: That's correct.

KAGAN: ... the next time. OK, we will do that, give us something to look forward to and get our minds off of Charley. Thank you for that Orelon.

We're going get a break in right now. We're going to talk more about Charley, other news of the day. Also insurance tips not just for those of you in Florida, but for any of us homeowners who -- what you need to do to be ready in case of any kind of crisis. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: All right the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush is speaking. Let's listen in.

GOV. JEB BUSH, FLORIDA: ... which is why we're here. We're here to give them confidence that there will be support. There already is support and there will be a lot more of it in the days ahead and to give them some hope that what they had, they can get back through their work and through the support of government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you see in their eyes? You've talked to people who have gone through similar disasters. How do they look?

BUSH: They look devastated. I mean, it is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they believe you?

BUSH: Yes, I think so. I think people have a sense that we're serious about responding to this challenge, yes. I really believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, governor, I know you have a very busy day. Thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you very much. Take care of yourself.

KAGAN: One of our local affiliates, WINK, just getting a chance to chat with Governor Jeb Bush as he tours the devastated area in southwestern Florida, Punta Gorda. We've been hearing a lot from the governor and as we hearing from Dana Bash, we expect President Bush to tour that area tomorrow.

We're not going to -- we're going to skip the break. We're going to get right to the important insurance information and bring in Loretta Worters. She is with the Insurance Information Institute. Loretta, thank you for being with us on this day.

LORETTA WORTERS, INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: Thank you.

KAGAN: First of all, in terms of the insurance industry, how bad of a hit do you expect the insurance industry to take from hurricane Charley?

WORTERS: Well, you know, this is definitely going to be a very severe storm, category four. We're looking at least several billion dollars. The -- and not to mention the economic losses which will be tremendous from the flooding which is not covered under standard homeowners policy.

KAGAN: ... which is important to look at because as homeowners go home today and they get a look at the devastation, many might be in for a surprise in terms of what is covered and what is not. Under a typical homeowner's insurance policy, what is covered?

WORTERS: Typical perils that these people need to be aware of right now are fire, which is an issue right now in Florida as well and a wind storm. When it comes to flooding weather, if it is wind driven rain, that would be covered. But if it is flooding where it is seeping in from the basement, something like that, it would not be covered. You are covered for your auto for flood but not for your home.

KAGAN: All right, so let's first be specific in talking about the people who are coming home here. What is the first thing you do in terms of contacting your insurance company?

WORTERS: Well, hopefully before they left they took their insurance policies and the phone numbers. Because the biggest problem for people, there is a lot emotional issues going on. And the last thing you want to do is try to rummage around in all this devastation trying to find phone numbers. So hopefully they've got those numbers. They've got their policy numbers and they can call their insurance agent and let them know where they're located, whether they're at a hotel or a family or a friend, so that they know where to reach them.

KAGAN: If it is a good and reputable insurance company, do they tend to come with a check to help you get started?

WORTERS: The insurance companies are going down there now. They are setting up what is called these catastrophe vans, which will be in place. And what they usually do is write out a check there for some expenses having to do with living and eating and food, so those things will be taken care of right away.

KAGAN: I want to take a step back and this is for homeowners not just in Florida but across the country. What do most of us do wrong? You mentioned before you leave, you should take that with you. But even just to be set up because you don't know - I mean you have some warning with a hurricane, but a fire, an earthquake, another type of devastation can hit your home. How should we really be set up in order to take full advantage of homeowners insurance?

WORTERS: Well, one of the things you should do before anything happens obviously is to take a home inventory, whether it be a camera, or videotaping of your personal possessions because you want to make sure you are ready. You have receipts, everything that is needed for your claims adjuster to come in and expedite that claim as quickly as possible.

KAGAN: And then finally one question about the insurance companies. Does a massive event like this when we're talking billions of dollars, how do the insurance companies sustain that financially?

WORTERS: Well, the industry is in a very good position to sustain these kind of losses. We have a hurricane Florida catastrophe fund that is available. There is also our citizens property group there that can take care of any of the large losses. We have $15 billion in reinsurance that is available. So the industry is very capable of withstanding any losses from this.

KAGAN: All right, Loretta Worters, hopefully lots of folks on their way down to help the people who need it there, especially in Polk County, also in Charlotte County, Florida. Thank you for joining us.

We now will fit in that break and be back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Once again we're making use of our affiliates throughout Florida and we're going to bring in WESH television to bring us their coverage. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, what they're doing now is they are setting up new shelters, mobile shelters, tent cities, they're also converting some buildings. They're talking about actually taking like, for example, an abandoned supermarket and opening that up and getting cots in there. They can try to get power and air and some sort of comforts from home in those huge abandoned buildings that withstood hurricane Charley and use that in an effective way to try to help people cope while they're getting through this. That's one of the big things, again. But the tents also are a way they're talking about trying to do that.

We were down by Charlotte Regional Medical Center for example and they had a mobile hospital set up where they're not getting a lot of traffic there right now. That's good as far as the number of injuries are maybe kind of tapering off here so on and so forth, but they are simply waiting then and trying to get as many places set up in places that are still standing, still secure, not leaking with their roofs and then that is where the people will go.

One other thing I wanted to point out is I talked to -- I was asking Wayne Saladay (ph), the director from the Charlotte County administrator and asked him about the death toll. You had asked about that and I asked them if they -- once day broke, was it even worse than they expected and they said no and perhaps that's a good thing. They knew exactly what they were dealing with late last night. They had crews here overnight already while the wind was still blowing, even county employees here working here, clearing stuff and so they really -- I can't stress the fact -- I've covered hurricanes before, but the response has been tremendous. And how fast everyone was mobilizing and getting here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to know, Todd. Thank you very much. We are partnering up with numerous sister stations and stations that we don't normally have a relationship with and we're going to eavesdrop on one of their live interviews that's happening right now in Charlotte County.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...are all gone. Police officer is directing traffic. Well, she would be anyway but look around this corner. Look where the traffic lights are on the ground here, completely blown down by the storm. You see a lot of traffic here on 17 as people try to go about their business but emergency officials are urging people who don't need to be on the road to start -- to stay at home and do what they can there at home. Wind beginning to blow here. As the storm comes through this little thunderstorm after Charley, we are back to you with the latest information just as soon as we get it in Wachula (ph), Lloyd Sours (ph), Fox 13 news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That appeared to be up in, that would be Hardy County, right, north of DeSoto. We have Debbie Horvath on the phone with us from the American Red Cross.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear us?

DEBBIE HORVATH, RED CROSS: Yes I can hear you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Debbie, tell us a little bit about the Red Cross efforts today across southwest Florida.

HORVATH: I can tell you that we are in Collier County, specifically, we are out doing damage assessment. We still have shelters open. We don't have a large population in them. We kept them open with new crews in case people from Fort Myers or Port Charlotte wanted to come down to this area. We will continue to do that as long as we are being asked to do that. We have got damage assessment teams out trying to find out if there are pockets of people in Naples that I understand there are, trying to get help to. As soon as we can take care of our own community, we intend to get up into Port Charlotte and Fort Myers as quickly as we possibly can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this time, though, let me just clarify, you don't feel like there is a huge strain on your resources in Collier County. You're just wanting to make sure that everyone is taken care of there? HORVATH: Yes. We have a cadre of volunteers and God bless them, they've been with us now for two or three straight days, manning shelters and we have been sleeping overnight at the chapter house and answering the phones and doing the best we can. We know that our national headquarters has been staging in Orlando waiting for the moment that they could get into town with the emergency response vehicles and more personnel and comfort kits and cleanup kits and as soon as they get into the area they will start feeding and delivering water to all the communities and making plans in conjunction with FEMA in order to find housing for all of these people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure you're talking to your counterparts up in Charlotte County. What is the word from them?

HORVATH: Honestly I can't get through to them because of the power problems. So I'm putting this call out to them. If my counterparts are listening -- are hearing this, to please give the office a call. Call me on my cell phone if that's possible. I know that they're having difficulty also getting to a phone. But we are standing at the ready waiting to talk to people and get our own people up there to help them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, Debbie Horvath from the Red Cross, thank you very much.

As we have been talking to Debbie, for the benefit of our radio audience, we have been showing aerials of some of the rural parts of Charlotte County and some of the mobile home parks where the mobile homes were just simply flattened and from the air, they look like piles of garbage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's because of the winds. I would imagine that some of those homes it didn't have to be 145 mile an hour winds to destroy those mobile homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; Just the scope of that, that storm we saw up in Wachula, all the traffic lights just down on the side of the road right now.

UNIDENTIIED MALE: ... which is still the case here in southwest Florida. Some good news before we go to the break. The Miami Dolphins have a -- excuse me, an exhibition game tonight.

KAGAN: All right. Things are getting a little bit more back to normal in Florida when they're talking sports and talking the Miami Dolphins. We were listening in to one of our affiliates, making use of the many affiliates we have up and down Florida and interesting way to watch how the news is gathered. They then were making use of some of their affiliates as well. We have a lot more to cover on hurricane Charley, plus other news of the day. We're going to get to that after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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