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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Charley: Search Continues For Missing In Florida

Aired August 14, 2004 - 13:30   ET

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


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's look at the stories that are now in the news. Hurricane Charley is hugging the North Carolina coastline. It is losing steam as it heads north. A full update from our weather is coming up in about seven minutes.
President Bush plans to get a firsthand look at Charley's devastation. He'll travel to Florida tomorrow and join his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, for a tour of the worst hit areas. The president has already declared Florida a major Federal disaster.

In Iraq, efforts to form a truce in Najaf have failed and supporters of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are pouring into the city. Al-Sadr gave a fiery speech Friday asking for martyrs to join his fight against Iraq's interim government. Najaf's governor says the protesters are welcome to visit, but no one will be allowed in if they have a weapon.

Keeping you informed, CNN is the most trusted name in news.

The eye of the storm slammed into Charlotte County. That is the site of Punta Gorda, the site so far as we know that has taken the worst devastation from hurricane Charley. Our John Zarrella has been there for all of the morning and into the afternoon and he brings us the latest on the phone. John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Daryn. Well, as the afternoon of course wears on, the oppressive heat, the humidity, just that overall feeling of just a very difficult situation being made worse here by the afternoon rain showers. A lot of traffic on the roads now moving back and forth along the main highway 41. The governor just left the area a few minutes ago by caravan, pulling out of Punta Gorda here. And, of course, the governor had been expressing all morning the fact that the relief effort is in full swing here and in fact it is.

We're constantly seeing search and rescue teams, police officers, fire engines. There are tree removal trucks that are stationed here now. Debris removal vehicles that have been moved into position in and around this area that we have seen periodically. So the effort to first dig out, the first thing they have to do is to dig out, is well under way here this afternoon. The phase of that digging out, of course, is part of that is looking for possible victims of this devastation here. Certainly we have been hearing that there are a number of casualties here, the exact number not known.

We are hearing that there are potentially a lot of people that have not reported in. Perhaps they are missing but because there is no telephone service, because there is no electricity, because there is no water, it is very difficult to do much of anything here as far as communications certainly within this area. So it is hard to find out who exactly is missing, who has turned up, who may have been off at a shelter. I'm watching another recovery team moving into position now here in the area on 41, that main stretch of highway that we have been talking about. Daryn.

KAGAN: Some of this recovery clear is going to take a long time, when we're talking about rebuilding homes. But, John what about some of the other things you were mentioning. You know, the loss of power, and phones. Any estimation at this time how long it is going to take to get that up and running?

ZARRELLA: Well, certain areas will come back online more quickly than others, others that did lose the (INAUDIBLE) power grid they may come back online more quickly. But certainly you're looking at days and in some cases perhaps weeks and weeks before power is back on. Certainly this storm is comparable to hurricane Andrew and in that case here in south Dade, it took months for some places to completely get full services back. That may not be the case here this time. But certainly we could get some of those services back online because first these power companies and they have power company teams from all around other states assembled, waiting to get in here.

Now we haven't seen any of those recovery teams yet, power company crews but we know they have been stationed and are waiting the word to come into those areas to start rebuilding systems. But that is a little bit too early right now to do that. They've got to first come in, remove all the downed power lines and all of the downed transformers that are all over the city and then start rebuilding the network of the electrical grid here and that is what will take certainly some time.

In the meantime, people in these communities, those that are still in their homes are dealing with the fact that they have no facilities. They have a loss of all working utilities and those that have been displaced by the storms, thousands may end up in tent cities that may have to be erected in the areas throughout the (INAUDIBLE). In the days ahead certainly, a very difficult task (INAUDIBLE) needs to be done for this area to begin recovery.

KAGAN: And just one question on the pronunciation of Punta Gorda. I would go with Punta Gorda but listening to you and some of the other local news casters, it sounds like it is Punta Gorda. Is that how the locals pronounce it.

ZARRELLA: Yes, I'm giving it more of a Spanish pronunciation myself of Punta Gorda earlier, which is what I had always learned it to be. But the locals pronunciation here is more Punta Gorda. That's correct.

KAGAN: All right, when in Punta Gorda, we will go with Punta Gorda. John Zarrella, thank you for that phone report. We'll be back with you.

The situation in Florida getting a lot of attention from the Bush family. We're getting word that President Bush plans to visit there tomorrow to see the devastation for himself firsthand and then, of course, the Governor, Jeb Bush, has already toured and given a news conference from Punta Gorda. Let's listen in to what he had to say a little bit earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. JEB BUSH, FLORIDA: Once we approached Punta Gorda and saw a community destroyed in essence, I mean, particularly the mobile home parks. It is just, you know, it is hard to describe seeing an entire community totally flattened. That's what happened in many of these mobile home parks. And then to see, you know, the sheriff's department lost its roof. There are no police stations. There are no fire stations that are operable right now. Clearly this was where the center of the storm hit and as we approached it coming up the coast from Lee County, you could see it. And it brought back very vivid memories for me personally of going through Andrew and seeing similar type of destruction. This is a different -- in one way in that the destruction is across this community here too. We have not -- the inland counties also have had very similar type destruction en route in the path of hurricane Charley. So there is a lot of work to do.

QUESTION: What about casualties?.

BUSH: We have not gotten - other than the fact that the operations - emergency operations director knows that there are casualties. They can't get yet as of yet they can't get the search and rescue teams out into every possible place to be able to quantify the number of deaths. But if you see the devastation from up above, it is -- it would be a total shock that there weren't deaths. It is really really sad. There were -- the storm - as the storm approached this community like the other coastal communities, called for mandatory evacuations as was appropriate. We were in total communication with the emergency operations center here as well as in Lee County and Sarasota and Collier. So the -- you can't plan for the unforeseen. God doesn't follow the linear directions of computer models and these are powerful storms that don't behave in any kind of way that you can say with certainty where they're going to go.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) How about a dollar estimate so far?

BUSH: No. No, in fact, the estimate that had been referred to yesterday was from a computer model of a different track for the hurricane. Clearly this is in the billions of dollars. There is no question about that but that will be part of this job. What you're going see here is the primary focus will be on humanitarian aid for the young mom and her children who -- she doesn't have formula and she's lost her home and for the elderly couple that we met coming out here to speak to you.

That first priority is to provide assistance to them and what you'll see, I think in a very short period of time is that FEMA, the U.S. military, the National Guard, will be establishing facilities so people can have a cot to sleep on if they're homeless, to be able to get formula, to be able to get water, to be able to get food. In addition to that, there will be efforts under way working with local community leaders to rebuild economically this beautiful part of our state.

And in addition to that, we're going to make sure that there is no price gouging, that there is efforts -- intense efforts to make sure that the personal reconstruction that is going to be required because if you counted the number of roofs that need to be fixed, it is just in the thousands, obviously. All of this is going to go on at once and we've trained for this. This is a team effort. We have got local officials to work with. As Mike said, while this is a day of complete devastation and a real tragedy and there is a lot of sadness in peoples' hearts now, I'm absolutely convinced that within a shorter period of time than what we experienced with hurricane Andrew people's hopes are going to be lifted.

KAGAN: All right that was Governor Jeb Bush making a statement from Punta Gorda, Florida, earlier today, the hardest hit community in Florida from hurricane Charley, getting word earlier today that President Bush plans to visit the site of the devastation tomorrow. He's already declared Florida a state of emergency.

We're also now just getting a statement in from the Kerry campaign. We'll share that with you after the break. Much more ahead after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Back to our coverage of hurricane Charley, getting word President Bush plans to personally visit Florida tomorrow to see the devastation for himself and then just before the break, getting a statement from John Kerry to the people of Florida. I'll just go ahead and read it to you from John Kerry. Quote, Teresa and I extend our heart felt sympathies to the people of Florida whose lives have been devastated by hurricane Charley. Families across Florida, loved ones today are coming to grips with incredible loss. In an instant they have lost loved ones and seen everything that they have worked for swept away. Now the difficult work of recovery begins. We offer our full support to the president and the governor as the people of Florida rebuild their communities and their lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with you today and in the difficult days ahead. That is from Senator John Kerry to the people of Florida. No word from the Kerry campaign or from the senator if he, too plans to make a change in his plans and visit Florida.

We have our Gary Tuchman standing by. He is in Orlando. This is a community that we have been get some word that there has been some damage, not as bad as in the southwestern part of the state. Yet Orlando is such a key community to central Florida, also a key tourist destination. So, Gary, can you bring us the latest on how Orlando did in hurricane Charley?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, as we speak right now, we're going through rain and thunder squall, an eerie reminder of what happened here last night. Tens of thousands of people from the west coast of Florida came to Orlando for safety to stay away from hurricane Charley and the hurricane ended up leaving his calling card about 9:00. Eastern time last night. We have been driving between today Orlando and Daytona Beach, which is about an hour to the east of Orlando and there is extensive damage. But we have not seen any catastrophic damage and according to the police here in Orlando, there have been no serious injuries from the hurricane.

But as you drive and we have driven 60 miles between Orlando and Daytona Beach, you see damage almost the entire way. You see roofs partially torn off of buildings, many signs down. And there is lots of power still out. In Orlando, tens of thousands of customers are still without power.

Traffic jams are immense right now. Most of the people who came to Orlando from the west coast are now back. They left early in the morning, started driving back and they caused huge traffic jams on interstate 4, the major interstate that runs west to east in Florida.

Right now you have people trying to get back to their lives but it's hard to do with all the electricity out and the traffic lights out and people - and you see this all the time, this is really important to mention. When the traffic lights are out, there are four way stop signs. You have to stop, look and then go and people just barrel through it and That right now is one of the more dangerous situations -- Daryn.

KAGAN: A couple of key points that I think people will be interested in in Orlando. Any word on how Disney world did?

TUCHMAN: Yes, the Disney parks, Universal studios, the other parks have all reopened. The only Disney park - Disney has four different parks. They have Epcot Center. They have the Magic Kingdom. They have MGM. They also have Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is not opening today. We're told the reason for that is just there are so many employees who have to tend to their own business that they decided to spread the employees around a little bit, open three of the parks, keep animal kingdom closed. The Universal studio parks are open, too. So the parks are back in business and one day after a hurricane came through.

KAGAN: Spoken like the father of three who can name the Disney parks just off the top of your head like that. What about the airport in Orlando?

TUCHMAN: The airport is back in service. But as of right now, though we're in a serious squall right now and I think a lot of people, especially here in central Florida who aren't that familiar with hurricanes may be thinking, oh my God, it is coming back. It is just a separate system so right now it could cause delays. But the airport is back open.

KAGAN: All right, Gary Tuchman in Orlando, Florida, thank you for the latest there.

KAGAN: We have also had our David Mattingly on the move. I think he's making his way to his third location since we went on the air about four hours ago. David, tell us where you're headed.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are headed back to the northern sections of the South Carolina coast. And all along the way we're seeing all sorts of signs of damage from that furious half hour as Charley came ashore here in South Carolina. We're looking at an area of flooding right now, looks like knee deep water that's completely flooded one parking lot and several businesses. We have also passed along the road trees that are down that have blocked the highway. But road crews are already on top of the situation trying to clear up things as we speak here. Charley came ashore absolutely furious. There was a period of about 70 mile per hour winds, blistering rain, very poor visibility, but it didn't last long.

In fact, it came through and then abruptly started to abate and right now everyone coming out of their homes, going back, going shopping, getting along with their lives. We have seen a lot of people getting back out on the beaches, doing some hunting for shells that people like to do after a period of heavy rain, so getting back to normal very quickly here on the South Carolina coast. The question now is when will the state of emergency be lifted? And when will the hotels on the beach be allowed to reopen? Daryn.

KAGAN: David, this area of the coastal part of Carolina, the northern part of South Carolina that you've been covering really caught a break in that the storm moved through. It was weaker than it was when it was in Florida. Also it moved through as it was low tide.

MATTINGLY: That's right and that did help with any sort of flooding issues. Of course there was so much Rainfall that fell in such a short period of time, there is flooding in areas where the drainage is poor. But, again, a very, very slight tidal surge associated with this storm. Because it was low tide, they were looking at a storm surge of only five to six feet. In some cases waves did start lapping up to the edges of the dunes but for the most part, there was no problem from the storm surge.

KAGAN: All right, David Mattingly in South Carolina along the coastline there, thank you.

We are just about 12 minutes away from a significant part of this story and that is the days and the time of hurricane Charley, it looks like are about to come to a close, at least for now. Orelon Sydney is here to tell us more about that.

ORELON SYDNEY, METEOROLOGIST: That's right. The National Hurricane Center just finishing up their conference at 2:00 p.m. They're going to officially declare that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Charley is no longer a hurricane. It will be a tropical storm. And so we are definitely looking at it decreasing in strength as it moves up the Carolina coast.

But wait, there is still more. We're going to see some more flood problems, I think, as we go through the rest of the day. This is the visible satellite image. This is what you would see if you could get out in space and look down on the earth. And this is what it looks like, a big mass of cloudiness moving across the Carolinas. Look at some of the wind gusts generated as it moved across the Carolinas and Georgia. Now these are unofficial, Tybee Island 33, but look at this. This is buoy off the South Carolina coast, 74 miles an hour. So hurricane force winds even with this moving through, though most locations did see tropical storm force winds.

Center of the storm now continuing to rotate its way up the coast. I'm going to take you a little further northward now to the radar out of Norfolk and you can see that the rainfall is extending up through Williamsburg, to Richmond and Petersburg. Now we still have hurricane warnings along the coast. And there is a tropical storm warning of course from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Montawk, New York. This includes now the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties in New Jersey include Essex, Hudson and Union Counties.

In Connecticut, Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven and New London counties. All of those are in tropical storm warnings. You can look for those winds to begin to arrive by early Sunday. Storm surges expected to be two to three feet in those areas, though they're going to arrive at high tide. It is going to be the lower of the two high tides that day. So we expect that there will be minimal threat to the coastal areas. Sustained winds of 30 or 40 miles an hour expected to arrive late tonight and early Saturday morning. Look for 2 to 4 inches of rain and for mariners which you shouldn't be out on the seas anyway, but at 8 to 10 feet are we expect the seas to be by Sunday morning.

It's not every day that you have a hurricane warning for the Bronx or tropical storm warning, excuse me, for the Bronx. That is indeed what we have. Hurricane Charley again now going to be downgraded to tropical storm Charley. We'll be updating all of these facts as we go to the top of the hour when the official advisories come in. But it is continuing to move rapidly to the north, northeast, close to 30 miles an hour. As we go through the rest of the day, it is going to move its way northeastward right up the Potomac.

Don't think Washington is going to get a direct hit from it. It will be scraped to the east -- the storm will pass to the east and you'll get a little bit of action from it. Baltimore, Philadelphia, maybe a little bit more direct hit from the center. Same thing in New York City, I think and then it continues to head on northward but it is not going to be a hurricane. It is going rain like all get out and it is also going to give you quite a bit of gusty winds and don't forget the potential for tornadoes as well.

This is finally going make its exit from the United States, we think, by Monday as it moves out of Maine, heads on towards Nova Scotia and then continues out to sea. So it is going to be a while yet. Excuse me again. I'm so sorry. I think my voice is just about to go. But we're looking now out in the Atlantic, tropical depression number five, located here just off the Windward Islands and here is tropical storm Danielle, still not looking for much threat here, though tropical depression number five expected to become tropical storm Earl this weekend and we may have to deal with that one the middle of next week.

OK. So hurricane Charley about to become tropical storm Charley. But still what was the term, rain as all get out.

SYDNEY: That's right.

KAGAN: One of those technical weather terms.

SYDNEY: That's a Texas technical weather term.

KAGAN: But you know what, everyone out there knew exactly what you were talking about.

SYDNEY: That's right.

KAGAN: Thank you for that.

SYDNEY: You're welcome.

KAGAN: OK, we want to go ahead now and take a look at where Charley, who is about to be a tropical storm and not a hurricane, is hanging around the Carolina coast, North Carolina coast and bringing in Chris Marshall. He's a meteorologist and he's in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Chris, hello.

CHRIS MARSHALL, WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Daryn, how is it going?

KAGAN: It's going well for me. I'm in a dry studio in Atlanta, Georgia. More importantly, tell us how it is where you are.

MARSHALL: Well, it's actually gotten a lot better in the last five minutes. The last hour has been pretty rough here. I'm on the third floor of a restaurant called the Oceanic Restaurant on the south end of Wrightsville Beach and it was rough here. We had a weather station on top. And one of the wind gusts was up 66 miles an hour before the power went out about an hour ago. And we actually had some stronger winds after that. So I would definitely bet that we had a few hurricane force gusts.

KAGAN: Are you catching the same breaks that the folks in South Carolina did, and that is as Charley was moving through, it was low tide?

MARSHALL: Definitely. I'm looking at the beach right now and it looks as if it is high tide so the surge has brought it up a little bit but it is that low tide. I drove by the intercoastal just about an hour ago and things look fine there. As far as damage goes, a few shingles. There was a fence that was torn down, a catamaran that was on dry land toppled over. So no major damage but there is definitely going to be some cleaning up and I think power is going to be an issue. But the beaches, they're in great shape and the sun is actually just now starting to pop on out. I understand there is a wedding planned in a couple of hours on the beach. So hopefully that will happen.

KAGAN: That's a wedding that they'll have some good stories to tell, the grandkids, won't they?

MARSHALL: They certainly will.

KAGAN: In general, though North Carolina certainly has seen much worse than Charley.

MARSHALL: Oh definitely. Fran, Floyd, Dennis, we have seen a lot worse than this one. This was actually -- I didn't think it was going to be this strong. It seemed like it was falling apart as it was heading our way. But that eye wall just came through and we had some strong south winds for a while and now they seem to be letting go. So, yes, definitely lucky in the sense that it was low tide. And we're kind of used to this here. We don't like them, but we deal with them and as soon as they're gone, we get out and enjoy the Carolinas once again.

KAGAN: And it is a beautiful part of the country. In terms of being able to handle all the water and all the rain, what kind of year has it been for north Carolina?

MARSHALL: We have had a lot of rain recently. This storm itself I think right before the power went out we had about 1.8 inches of rain since midnight here which really isn't that bad. I'm sure it is over 2 inches by now. So I don't think flooding will be too bad. If anything it will be in isolated areas where some of the heavier rain fell. But as far as south side or coastal flooding, it's really not that bad, even the surf right now only probably running about five or six feet.

KAGAN: Chris Marshall, meteorologist in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, thank you for the report from there, appreciate that.

I want to bring in our correspondent Harris Whitbeck. He was in Tampa, is now making his way to Punta Gorda. Tampa, of course this time yesterday, was the area we really thought was going to get smacked by hurricane Charley. Instead the hurricane jogged into the coast a little bit earlier than that and slammed into Punta Gorda. Let's bring in Harris now. Harris.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We got into Punta Gorda about an hour ago and I must tell you, some of the devastation here is just incredible. We have been talking to some residents, people who are just coming back to check out their homes, see how things worked out. We spoke to one couple from Delaware who had left their apartment here and they came back and obviously very nervous about what they would find inside.

They were some of the lucky ones. They had installed storm shutters in their condo and they had absolutely no damage at all. And they say that the lesson there is in prevention, prevention, prevention. A lot of people of course not so lucky. We've also spent some time with an emergency medical rescue team. They've been basically going around the city, answering calls, answering a few calls that have come in because one of main problems here is the lack of communications. But when calls do come in, they respond to those.

They've done everything from a tent to an elderly lady who was suffering from exhaustion and heat stroke because she hadn't eaten or had anything to drink for more than a day, to searching for and rescuing victims in some of the buildings that were damaged. They say that in many cases, a report of missing people lead to these search and rescue missions if you will and in most cases the people do -- the missing people, do end up turning up somewhere. They attribute a lot of these missing people of course to a lack of communication.

But do say that they have a lot of work ahead. They say that they don't feel overstretched yet. They feel that they do have resources coming in from the state and Federal level but they say that they have a long road ahead here. Right now in the initial phase which is basically damage assessment and search and rescue of potential victims or fatalities. Daryn.

KAGAN: Harris Whitbeck in Punta Gorda, Florida, thank you for that report. That actually is going to wrap it up for me. For those of you who spent the last four hours with me, thank you very much. I'm Daryn Kagan. Our coverage continues. Fredricka Whitfield takes over at the top of the hour.

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