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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Charley: $15 Billion In Damages And Counting

Aired August 14, 2004 - 14:30   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening to Florida Governor Jeb Bush making his comments earlier. Earlier estimates had put some of the damage in the western, primarily the western coast of Florida at $14.5 billion. But you heard the governor say at this juncture they're still not sure, they are still trying to assess the damage and they don't have a figure, only that it will be in the billions.
Well ground zero on Florida's west coast was Punta Gorda, a town of 14,000. Danielle Dryer, public information officer for the Charlotte Regional Medical Center is on the phone for us where at that hospital, they sustained quite a bit of damage. Describe the damage for me.

DANIELLE DREHER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, CHARLOTTE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER (via telephone): Hi, Fredricka. It's been a very long day so bear with me. The damage began about 3:00 yesterday when storms decided that it was not going to continue up the coast; it was going to come up through our harbor. I was stationed in our EOC building, which didn't keep its roof. And I was relaying information to our hospital regarding satellite imagery and miles per hour and things of that nature.

About 3:05, we moved all patients to interior hallways. They were already upstairs. We had done about a week's worth of preparation as far as bringing supplies and those kinds of things in. We were ready. Just didn't realize it would hit us.

WHITFIELD: So all of those patients that you talk about moving into the interior, what kind of conditions are we talking about? I mean you had to make some very special arrangements in order to keep the medical care for these patients on going, yet at the same time ensure their safety?

DREHER: Correct. We had our disaster team already prepared and here. We had both a and b clinical teams deployed so we had plenty of staff here because we knew what we would be facing directly after the storm as far as walking wounded showing up at our door. So we were ready in the way of staffing and supplies, we just weren't quite ready for what nature had to give us.

WHITFIELD: And about how many patients are you talking about?

DREHER: About 215, we had some patients discharged early in the day that were stable so that we could try to reduce our numbers a bit, but quite a few showed up quickly right before the storm presenting with chest pain and things of that nature. So it sort of brought our numbers back up to full capacity.

WHITFIELD: And Punta Gorda is known to be a fairly large retirement community, elderly community kind of place.

DREHER: Yes.

WHITFIELD: So of the more than 200 patients that you had at your hospital, are many of them special needs, special medical cases where they were in rather delicate situations?

DREHER: We had -- we're an acute care facility here, we're the only open-heart center here in our county. So we already had a lot of open-heart patients and cardiac care patients, patients with things like CHF, and congestive heart failure and other things of that nature, heart attacks were certainly pretty common yesterday.

So we did see a great deal of acuity care already here. That was before all of the emergency cases came. But our staff was prepared. They're used to having that level of care to provide in that respect. The one thing we weren't anticipating was once the storm left, what we'd be left with.

WHITFIELD: And that is extensive roof damage. So you had to transport a number of your patients correct to other regional hospitals?

DREHER: Actually, our building that we were in did sustain major cosmetic damage, structurally it is still sound. We did lose parts of our roof, but it did only peel back the top layer. So luckily, precipitation was not able to gain entry that way. Did have some windows break, but luckily the rooms were isolated so didn't hurt any humans. We had no injury or fatalities during that storm in our facility.

WHITFIELD: And Danielle, let me just interject that the pictures we're looking at right now are specifically live pictures of Sanibel Island which sustained extensive damage. There are reports that almost 100 percent of the buildings on Sanibel Island sustained some sort of damage. Sanibel Island is not very far from you though, correct?

DREHER: Correct, it's about 25 miles south and in fact, we were confirming today the numbers in steady wind force and they only had sustaining winds of 155 to 160. By the time it got 25 miles, 30 miles north to us, it was already at top speed of 172 when it hit landfall and our hospital is right on the lip of Charlotte Harbor. So we met the big monster as it came in.

WHITFIELD: Yes and it is unusual that hurricanes hit in broad daylight like this one did, make landfall in your area for all of you to see. Describe for me the situation in the hospital, how patients, how medical care workers were managing through these howling winds, this driving rain, describe what you recall?

DREHER: Well, they managed remarkably well. Its one thing that stands out in our memories of yesterday was just how strong our team was. We had a lot of staff come in prior to when they realized it was becoming more of an issue. We still didn't know at that point it was hitting us. But people just showed up on their off days and came in and helped out.

There was even some humor exchanged between staff and patients and a lot of good-natured hopes, a lot of hugs, a lot of tears together and we got through it together and made it.

WHITFIELD: Well, Danielle Dreher, PIO for Charlotte Regional Medical Center, an acute care facility that sustained a lot of physical damage to the building, thanks so much for joining us. And continued best wishes for you all to be able to continue to offer medical care to those in need there.

DREHER: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: All right, we're going to carry on with our live pictures here, and listen in to the chopper reporters of WBBH as they give us a bird's eye view of the damage on Sanibel Island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that a majority of our damage is roof tiles and screen enclosures, trees down and that type of thing. However, we're going to continue to clear streets and power restoration is going to be a big variable when it comes to deciding issues such as curfews and that type of thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Power outages, are they making any progress? We had Fire Chief Thomas Dulison (ph)? Yes, well, we had -- I'm sorry, Vanhelton (ph) earlier today and he was talking about they were making a little bit of progress. That was earlier this morning. Have you seen any more progress since this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the progress has been incremental at this point, slowly but surely. That was one of the variables that we considered in reinstituting the curfew. Is that when it's dark out, obviously people have a difficult time navigating and we also want to deter any of the type of criminal conduct that might occur under cover of darkness?

WHITFIELD: You are listening to the live coverage being carried by WBBH over Sanibel Island looking at the extensive damage there. For now we want to take you to Tallahassee, Florida, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency is holding a press conference. Lets listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they think other people may need the help more or something like that. We want everyone to call FEMA who has disaster damage and to let FEMA make the determination of their eligibility. Again, the number is 1-800-621-3362. Thank you very much.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL KEN HOUSE, DPUTY DIRECTOR FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL: I'm lieutenant colonel Ken House, Deputy Director Florida Highway Patrol, I'm here to talk about traffic conditions, road closings, general traffic safety information for people that may be traveling through the affected areas. Can start with some -- the good news is that Interstate 75 is completely open, throughout the affected area. Collier County is all open; all the roads in Collier County are open. Lee County all the roads are open with the exception of some local roads going to the beach such as Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach. Sarasota County all open. Highlands and Glades County all major roads are open. Three of the hardest hit counties, which were Desoto, Charlotte and Hardy. In Desoto County, all the roads are closed. No one can go into Desoto County that was by order of the sheriff down there.

Charlotte County all the roads are closed except Interstate 75 going through Charlotte County. Hardy County, U.S. 17, State Road 62, 64, and 66, they are open. They were closed earlier. I just got off the phone, our troop commander in the Tampa Bay area. He happened to be in Polk County at I-4 and U.S. 27. He said that traffic westbound on I-4 at that time was backed up from the Hillsboro Polk County line east into Osceola County. People trying to go west on I-4, we've got construction is going on there. The roads under construction in that area. He said it was pouring down rain and the traffic was maybe going two miles an hour. So we are urging people to avoid that area.

In addition to that, U.S. 27 from Interstate 4 south to State Road 60, all the traffic lights at this time are inoperative. No traffic lights. He's urging people and we're urging people to stay off of U.S. 27 south of I-4 to State Road 60. We're in the process of getting law enforcement officers at all the major intersections but we're asking people not only in this area but any area where there may be traffic lights inoperative, Florida law and common sense says to treat those traffic lights like four-way stop intersections.

If the traffic light is not operating, treat it like a four-way stop intersection. Problem that may associated with that is if someone follows the law and follows common sense and they stop, someone's liable to run into the back of them that's not paying attention. So we're asking people just to use caution in these areas if they have to travel in them. We're asking also -- there is some road closure information online at EOCONLINE.org. We are the Florida highway patrol is responsible for updating that Web site through the state emergency operation center.

The problem that we had this morning is our for the Ft. Myers Communication Center was without activity. So we couldn't get on the Internet. We've gone over hurdles trying to get that information on there but we think we're past that. Another line -- another phone line that you can call very well publicized we hope is 800-342-3557 and they'll give you general information. OK, thank you.

DR. BONNIE SORENSON, DEPUTY STATE HEALTH OFFICER, FLORIDA DEPT. OF HEALTH: Hi, I'm Dr. Bonnie Sorenson, the deputy state health officer for Florida Department of Health here to speak to the health care issues. Our focus today has been really search and rescue. We've been reaching out and contacting all our health care facilities in the impacted counties all across the state. Including the county health departments, the community health centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, as well as hospitals.

In an effort to reinforce the staffs who is already tired, also in an effort to assess their needs, understand what they're going to need in the near future. We have three disaster medical assistant teams, DMATs already on the ground, another five that have been ordered. Each of these teams has 35-50 health care professionals who can provide primary care, urgent care, on site.

We have potential more DMATs, disaster medical assistance teams all across the country if we need them. Things we are currently trying to assure is certainly water safety, whether it be testing of waters, concerns about folks entering water and being injured by electric, electricity or contamination. In addition, we're assuring that there are medical supplies, as well as pharmaceuticals, as well as vaccines on the way.

COLLEEN CASTILE, SECRETARY, FLORIDA DEPT. OF ENVIROMENTAL PROTECTION: Hi, I'm Colleen Castile, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. We are working with our utility companies and our water -- our drinking water supply companies to ensure that we've got enough power generation. It was reported earlier that there were 2 million people without power.

We are now down to approximately 1.3 million people without power and our utilities worked diligently to get people on power. That -- the power is also used to clean our drinking water and to send our drinking water through the system. There are a number of utilities, which have -- communities which have no water. Arcadia, Port Charlotte, and Punta Gorda currently have no water. They will need to use boiled water and we are sending watered through the logistic staging areas, which coordinate with the local governments.

And the local county emergency offices to provide that water. There are 3.6 pounds of ice being sent and 1.9 million gallons of water through that system. We urge people to wear their -- where there are water that's being delivered that appears to lose system pressure, we are asking for people to boil their water to ensure its safety. And we have had very few incidents of hazardous waste spills, but as they get reported our folks are down on the ground and assessing those.

And our three major systems with our phosphate industry, all of those locations are secure. And no -- and rain has not been a problem in those areas. Thank you.

MIKE MCHARG (ph), DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DEPT. OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Mike McHarg (ph). I'm a director of investigations for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement representing emergency support function 16, the state law enforcement partnership. My purpose today is to update you on the status of resourcing this and what has been done from this EOC to the affected areas.

As soon as the storm started clearing last night in the affected area of Port Charlotte, we began to resource by sending in state officers into the affected areas. As of this time, over 500 state law enforcement officers that have been deployed to the affected areas ranging all the way from Charlotte all the way through the exit point to Volusia County. In addition there's some 2,000 Florida national guard that have been deployed. The deployments are designed to first support local law enforcement.

These agencies have been hit very hard and they're devastated. Our responsibility is to go in and back fill for traffic control, for public safety missions, looting patrols and just general public safety. The Florida National Guard supplements those missions not just with bodies but with also specialized vehicles, high wheel vehicles and others. It's also important to note that across the state law enforcement partnership that the agencies represent an impressive array of talent and equipment.

Water borne assets from the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission doing costal patrol, search and rescue up through and including inland search with specialty vehicles. We'll continue this mission as long as necessary we're in the process, of course, of trying to sustain this mission and we're in it for the long haul.

I'd also like to report we are going through a very painstaking process of trying to locate and report on any fatalities. This is a very deliberate process, and the mission that's on going out there right now is tedious and dangerous. There's downed power lines. There's glass, there is debris. There's a lot of water. There are a lot of unsafe conditions for our first responders, and of course, the victims. This deliberate process has yielded at this point five confirmed fatalities. One in Desoto County, one in Lee County, two in Polk County and one in Sarasota. These have all been confirmed by the medical examiner and they are storm-related.

Again, let me iterate, there are additional rumors that we're attempting to track down, but we want to not act on rumor we want to deal in fact. Going to be very deliberate as we go through the process of attempting to locate people that may have been injured or killed during the course of the storm. As a matter of protocol, we confirm any such death with the local medical examiner. We want to be accurate. Again, we can't base this on rumor.

This situation is bad enough. We don't want to complicate it with misinformation. It's our pledge to you as soon as additional victims if they exist are found, they will be reported in real time. Thank you.

GRIM FANT (ph), DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Good afternoon. I'm Colonel Grim Fant (ph) with the Department of Transportation. I direct the commercial motor vehicle law enforcement efforts here in Florida this afternoon, I want to give you a rundown Colonel House (ph) told you specific road closures but I have several areas of concern as people get out. We want to reiterate that we would ask that nonessential or non-emergency traffic please stay home.

They'll come a time when people can return and get out. But sightseers cause us problems as we do recovery and try to clear debris from the roadways and the right of ways. So we would ask that everybody if it's not an emergency please stay home. But we do have several areas that we want to talk about where we do have specific issues.

In Lee County, State Road 80 near Sunset Drive, we still do have some water and debris that are being cleared. So we want to stay away from that. Also, on State Road 8, we have a lot of trees on the right- of-way that we're trying to remove today and also some signals as the Colonel said earlier. In Glades County on State Road 78, we also do have some water on the road which is making it hard to pass, and on State Road 70 west of Arcadia, we've got several miles of roadway there still with a lot of tree debris and water. We would like drivers to stay away from those areas if they could.

State Road 674 in Polk County, we do have a lot of trees down in that area and the roadway is still closed. In Henry County, near Labelle, we still have about four inches of water on that roadway. So it's a very dangerous roadway to be crossing at this point in time. And also in Polk County, we did have a sinkhole on State Road 60 east of Lake Wells that the sinkhole did collapse and that roadway is still blocked there. Polk County, U.S. 17 between Lake Hamilton and Dundee is still impassable due to some power line issues there that are being worked on and in Polk County, State Road 17, frost -- near Frost Proof, we got some power lines and signals still down.

Over in the Orlando area and Seminole area, Volusia County, we do still have some signs and signals and debris issues there that are being worked on. I would like to tell you the Department of Transportation has been very, very busy last night and today, and as we speak, a good many crews from the northern part of the state from Jacksonville and the Panhandle and Tallahassee and Orlando and different areas are enroute down to south Florida to Charlotte and Lee County areas, and we are bringing in front-end loaders and equipment to start working and cleaning up the debris.

So we just want to encourage that everybody to be real careful as they move around and kind of watch out for where they're driving and hopefully we'll get everything cleaned up and right a ways cleaned up as soon as possible. Thank you.

DARYL LIFER (ph), DEPARTMENT Of AGRICULTURE: Good afternoon. My name's Colonel Daryl Lifer (ph) from the Department of Agriculture Law Enforcement. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is very concerned with the issues of price gouging. I'd like to give you a couple sites you can call. We have people ready to answer your calls at 1-800-help Florida. The call center will be open 8 to 5 today and tomorrow in addition, go to MYFLORIDA.com. Look under the Dept. of Agriculture Consumer Services and register your complaint online. Thank you.

ALEX UMPARO (ph), DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT FOR VOLUNTEER FLORIDA: Alex Umparo (ph), director of Emergency Management for Volunteer Florida. The government's commission of volunteers and service. We are coordinating the volunteer and non-government faith- based organization effort in this storm. We have set up a hotline. First we want to recognize that we recognize there is a tremendous role that voluntary agencies play, faith-based organizations are going to play today, tomorrow, weeks, months and years to come on this event.

We have set up a hotline for those who want to volunteer for those who want to donate, that's 1-800-354-3571. 1-800-fl help 1. Those who want to volunteer or donate, please call that phone line. There are phone operators waiting to take those calls. Emphasize that at this point, with the track of the storm having passed hours or less than 24 hours ago, the most effective way to help those storm victims now is your cash donation.

Cash donations are preferred. You can go to our Web site, www.volunteerflorida.org. There's a listing of the organizations that are working this event. We encourage the public to please make donations to those organizations. It will help us in the long run with this event. Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any more detail about how the five people died in these counties?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we have limited detail. Four of them are traffic related accidents as a result of the storm. And although one would have to be confirmed pending autopsy, one appears to be of natural causes, possibly just a stress-induced death because of the trauma of the storm.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) died in any of the mobile home parks, as far as you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no information to support any of that at this time.

QUESTION: General question for the group. There were seven firehouses destroyed in Desoto. Is this right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm aware of three that were destroyed in one county. Just -- that's a signal, right. Just a signal of the intensity of the storm, and I think -- let me make a general statement if I might on behalf of the group. This storm came in late in the day. By the time it passed, Mother Nature also brought us nightfall, which makes it difficult to initiate and sustain any type of recovery effort.

So the first time we were able to safely move in first responders was this morning. Although during the nighttime hours, special detains, urban search and rescue had already begun their work as had different patrol units, but the ability to go into a community with collapsed structures, with active power lines, it really poses a threat to the first responder as well as the victims.

So we have to be very responsible in how we initiate and then we have to go through this tedious deliberate process to locate and recover victims. We appreciate your patience and we certainly appreciate your understanding. Our your folks are working very, very hard to help the people in those affected areas recover quickly and completely but it's going to take time.

QUESTION: Are you going to be releasing the identity of the fatality?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they will be released pending notification of next of kin. Again complicated by the same factors as already been reported. We have communications difficulties by cell phone towers and landlines. So in some cases, locating people that have been evacuated from those areas complicates that even further. In some cases, we don't know where family members are because they have been sheltered and maybe attempting to return home, and they are not able to be reached by cell phone.

QUESTION: You all know how many people ignored the evacuation orders in this area?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not have those figures at the present time. I would like to explain how the process works and the coordination that's done between the National Hurricane Center and the State Emergency Operation Center in conjunction with all the counties that were affected. The procedure that we follow is that we schedule daily conference calls and in this case, there were many conference calls during the day with the National Hurricane Center.

The Hurricane Center briefs on the latest information that they have. Our state meteorologist coordinates conference calls with the affected counties. The counties are on that call with the National Weather Service offices, they are allowed to ask questions about the Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service offices and after that call, the counties decide what protective actions to take.

QUESTION: And do you know when you ordered a mandatory evacuation of the barrier islands?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't order the evacuations. The local counties are responsible for issuing protective actions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do we have a last question?

QUESTION: Mike, do you know whether or not that mobile home park where we're getting the largest number of fatalities reported from in Punta Gorda would have been under mandatory evacuation or was it at a higher level?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would have to get that information for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. We appreciate.

WHITFIELD: You're listening to an update of Tallahassee Florida from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Where in a nutshell, they say the damage is extensive and widespread. Lots of roads and highways are closed because of damage or because of inoperable lights. FEMA's focus, however, right now has been search and rescue and medical supplies and vaccines apparently are still on the way as well as getting good, clean, drinking water to the residents of Punta Gorda, where no good water is being reported.

They are urging residents there to boil their water. And for anyone who wants to make any kind of financial donations to those devastated areas in Florida, the number is being given at 1-800-flhelp 1 and at the Web site, www.volunteerflorida.org. And we'll continue our live coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Charlie when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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