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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Charley: FEMA Will Assist Hurricane Charley Victims In Florida

Aired August 14, 2004 - 17:30   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, President Bush will be making his way to view for himself the damage in several parts of Florida tomorrow.
CNN's Dana Bash is at the White House with the latest on that effort -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredericka. Well, ever since it became clear how strong Hurricane Charley would be, the White House has been very careful to say that the president has been engaged. He's been in touch with local officials, including his brother, the governor of Florida.

And the president came out very quickly yesterday to talk about how he was thinking about the state of Florida. And even as the hurricane was making landfall, he declared the state a federal disaster area, freeing up federal funds for that state.

Now less than 48 hours later, the president is going to head to Florida to tour, for himself, the devastation. He talked about that at a campaign stop earlier today in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow I'm going to travel down to Florida to visit with those whose lives have been hurt by Hurricane Charley. I just want them to know that our federal government is responding quickly.

We have got aid stations in place. FEMA federal officials are on the ground working with state and local officials. Many lives have been affected by this hurricane. And I know you join me in sending our prayers to those people who look for solace and help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Now, there are 79 days until the election, and it is very hard to look at what is going on there without looking at it through a political lens because, of course, Florida's 27 electoral votes are so crucial this election year.

Now Senator John Kerry, the president's opponent, was in Oregon today. He told reporters that he also expresses his sympathy for those affected by his hurricane. But he instructed his staff there to help with whatever recovery and support efforts as much as possible that they can help with. He did also tweak Mr. Bush a little bit for going to Florida so soon saying that he, himself, is not going to go now because the response personnel in Florida should not be diverted by a visitor like him. That was essentially what Senator Kerry said.

Now usually that is a big concern for President Bush. He oftentimes does not immediately go to a place that has seen devastation from a hurricane or tornado even a fire just for that reason, because he's worried about sucking up resources that his visit always sucks up.

But this time the White House is saying that the president is going to go, of course, and he will try to minimize whatever disruption his visit might cause -- Fredericka?

WHITFIELD: All right, a change in strategy, but I'm sure a lot of the Floridians will be glad to see him nonetheless.

All right, Dana Bash, thanks so much from the White House.

We're going to take a short break right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The latest on Hurricane Charley straight ahead. But first, here's a look at what's happening now in the news.

Overseas in Najaf, Iraq, there has been a total breakdown in peace talks between Iraqi officials and forces local to Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. Iraqi officials say, as a result military operations will resume.

U.S. military officials say 360 members of Al-Sadr's army have been killed in 10 days of fighting.

Former U.S. congressman Bill Ford has died. The Michigan Democrat spent three decades in Congress. Ford died today of complications from a stroke he suffered six weeks ago. He was 77 years old.

Pope John Paul II is in Lourdes, France along with thousands of other pilgrims. He prayed at a cliff-side shrine where Catholics believe miraculous cures have taken place. The 84-year old pope told the pilgrims he shares in their suffering, an apparent reference to his struggle with Parkinson's disease.

At the Olympics, American swimming sensation Michael Phelps has captured gold. Today he won the 400-meter individual medley. And in the process, he broke his own world record. Phelps eventually hopes to win an unprecedented eight goad medals.

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

Our special coverage of Hurricane Charley continues right now.

Officials in Florida have confirmed five deaths from the hurricane that slammed the state's west coast at category four strength, but no one knows yet how many people may have died totally.

Wind gusts of up to l80 miles an hour demolished much of Punta Gorda. Florida governor Jeb Bush says the storm damage will be in the billions of dollars. He calls Charley Floridian's worst fears coming true.

Charley made its second landfall near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina today causing minor damage there. It is now inland and considered a tropical storm moving northward.

Well let's see what you can look forward to if you're in the storm's path in the northeast, particularly. Meteorologist Orelon Sidney is in the weather center -- Orelon?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot, Fredricka.

Indeed, Charley is now a tropical storm, 75 miles south-southwest of Norfolk, Virginia.

This is the update from the National Hurricane Center that came out at the top of the hour it, 36.0 north, 77.0 west.

The winds are holding since the 11:00 a.m. update at seven -- 70 miles an hour. I wish it were seven. Seventy miles an hour, it's moving north-northeast now at 30. So we're continuing to see it sort of hold itself together, but you know what? It's going to go downhill. It really doesn't have any choice.

It is starting to move continually over land. And if it moves out over water now, the water's here are cool. It's just not going to have the type of fuel that it needs to regenerate. So we've seen the end of Hurricane Charley. Tropical storm Charley is still with us.

If you're in Norfolk, here is what was the eye of the storm. Area of low pressure here to the south, still pretty good evidence of it here on the picture.

We are seeing these thunderstorms now heading towards Norfolk. Some of the heavier rain bands, the heaviest actually, starting to rotate in to your area.

Things will be getting better for you in about two hours. But for now, you have to deal with some very gusty winds, at least up to tropical storm force. And you also have to deal with the potential for some tornadoes.

Tornado watch box now in effect until 9:00 p.m., but you notice that this box is really getting squeezed northward. So you're probably going to see a new watch box come out from the storm prediction center that will include the Chesapeake Bay probably on toward southern New Jersey.

That will probably be coming out pretty shortly here as the storm continues to work to the northeast. So we'll be watching that, as well. Flooding, well may not be as much of a problem as we earlier thought. Thank goodness. The reason for that is the storm is moving so rapidly. It's expected to continue moving about 30 miles an hour and even accelerate over the next several hours. So any areas that get rain, it's going to have to be really quick. It's not just going to sit there and soak the region with heavy, heavy rainfall.

We still have tropical storm warnings, but they've been adjusted a bit from Cape Lookout now, Cape Lookout, North Carolina northward to the Merrimack River, you still have a tropical storm warning in effect.

South of Cape Lookout, advisories are no longer in effect for that area. I did want to quickly touch on Florida. You've got a little bit of thunderstorm activity there for the central part of the state.

Here's that old boundary, that old trough that's left a little bit of a boundary down here in the gulf. You've got plenty of moisture riding up from it. And so that combined with some daytime heating has kicked off some thunderstorms for you.

That's going to be with you, unfortunately, at least until the sun goes down. Probably going to lose a lot of its energy once the sun sets because the heating is what helps to kick off these air mass type thunderstorms.

Looks like there may be a little disturbance riding there through there, too. So look for some potentially heavy rain. Unfortunately, you'll probably see this the next couple of afternoons until that trough starts to fill out to your west. And we hope that's going to get going on Monday. Then your thunderstorm activity will become much more scattered across much of Florida -- Fredericka?

WHITFIELD: So Orelon, back up to the mid-Atlantic area and further north, when you talk about this storm likely moving very fast, which means we may not see the kind of flooding that would ordinarily be associated with a tropical storm, is there a feeling that, you know, this is kind of good news for people up there, that you see a light because it will move so fast...

SIDNEY: Oh, yes.

WHITFIELD: ... they are not likely to experience that?

SIDNEY: I think that's excellent news as a matter of fact. I mean you just don't want to get a storm that sits over an area. Beulah, I believe, back in Texas -- this is really showing my age now. But Beulah, I remember, generated lots of tornados and kind of slowed down across parts of the southern plains and just drenched much of the state of Texas with rainfall.

And we have that many times. When you see a hurricane dying along the eastern seaboard, sometimes it will just sit and continue to rain, and there will just be just be terrible flooding. But the good news is the unseasonably cool weather in the East, that cold front is what's taking and pushing the storm rapidly to the northeast. So we probably will have minimal flooding problems from this particular system.

WHITFIELD: Wow, OK. And in North Carolina, folks won't forget how Floyd did just that. It kind of sat, and it really caused some nasty flooding there.

SIDNEY: That's exactly right.

WHITFIELD: All right, Orelon Sidney, thanks so much.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: Well, while Charley's winds devastated many homes and buildings, the storm surge took a toll, as well, flooding some coastal areas, particularly down south in Florida. But not everyone has flood insurance there, so what do you do if you don't have it?

Don Beaton is with FEMA, and he is the acting chief of risk insurance branch. And he's heading down to Florida on Monday, but he's joining me right now from Washington.

All right, good to see you, Mr. Beaton.

So the hardest hit area of southwest Florida, Punta Gorda, many of them trailer homes, trailer home communities, about 31 of them, it's likely most of them did not have insurance. So what can you all do to assist them?

DON BEATON, ACTING CHIEF OF RISK INSURANCE, FEMA: Well, we have individual assistance available to homeowners who do not have flood insurance. They can contact FEMA through an 800 number, 1-800-621- FEMA or on our Web site at www.fema.gov.

For those who do not have access to phones or Internet at this time because their homes are destroyed, we will be setting up disaster recovery centers in the area as soon as we are able to get in there.

WHITFIELD: And now herein lies some of the other complicated factors that happen when an area is hit by a natural disaster. Oftentimes they go to a FEMA office or an emergency management of their state office and they are asked to prove their place of residence.

But guess what, their home has been blown away or they don't have those kind of documents. So what do you advise people to do?

BEATON: Well, we try to work with them. You know, hopefully they will have at least their driver's license, something like that they were able to take with them, and we work with that as best we can.

WHITFIELD: Don't you run into that quite often, though?

BEATON: Yes.

WHITFIELD: That really ends up being a major obstacle in people trying to get some relief quickly?

BEATON: I think we are able to work through that rapidly and not to hold them up unduly in establishing their claim.

WHITFIELD: All right. And as you all make your presence known in those hard-hit areas, do you fan out trying to reach as many homeowners, residents as possible or do you wait for them to come to you?

BEATON: We use a combination of media to get the word out. And we do have people going around to areas doing damage assessments so that we know where to set up our disaster recovery centers that are closest to the affected areas so they don't have to go as far.

WHITFIELD: What is your expectation when you get down to the southwest portion of Florida -- your expectations on the kind of damage that you're already hearing your colleagues report and the need that residents will have, those who don't have insurance, home insurance or flood insurance?

BEATON: Well, our immediate problems are food, water, shelter, medical attention. Those are the primary things that we have to establish right away. And we're working with the state of Florida and the local communities to do that. We provide a support function to the state and local governments.

After that, it's a matter of setting up our disaster field, disaster recovery offices and providing whatever assistance we can. We do that through a combination of grants and low-cost -- or excuse me -- low interest loans made available through the small business administration to homeowners, and those are based on need.

WHITFIELD: Yes, for example, Charlotte County, Florida, which was a hard-hit county, 151,000 residents there. Are your expectations fairly high that a good number of those residents do not have insurance, or do you think that number's fairly small?

BEATON: In Charlotte County, I checked before I came over here today, and we have about 34,000 policies, flood insurance policies in Charlotte County.

WHITFIELD: That's not very big.

BEATON: So I'm hopeful that those people will be well taken care of.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Well, I know you all have a huge job ahead of you as you all are continuing to try to assess the damage there and the kind of needs that are there in Florida and other parts.

All right, Don Beaton, thanks very much for joining us from FEMA and safe travels on Monday.

BEATON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, central Florida is also digging out from the storm. Actual damage costs in Orlando are sketchy right now. It's not the kind of destruction that we've been seeing in southwestern Florida, but it is a mess nonetheless.

Our Gary Tuchman is in Orlando with more on the assessment there -- Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredericka, hello to you.

We come to you from the second floor of this motel, the Knight's Inn motor lodge in the east part of Orlando to give you an example of the very typical kind of problems and destruction we've seen in central Florida during this hurricane.

Right above me, the roof, you can see this part of the roof, a top part of it is gone. This part is OK. But this is what we've seen all the way between Orlando and Daytona Beach. On many businesses, motels gas stations and homes, parts of the roofs disappear.

We've seen many trees down. We've seen power lines down. And indeed in central Florida, tens of thousands of customers are still without power.

Now we can tell you, we spent the evening last night in Daytona Beach on the Atlantic coast. The hotels there almost all virtually full because people evacuated Daytona to get out of the way of the hurricane, they ended up in it because that is where Hurricane Charley exited in to the Atlantic Ocean.

We had the wind gusts up to 95 miles per hour, sustained at 90 miles per hour for about an hour and a half, and there was a lot of damage also in Daytona. And that was one thing so unusual about this storm because usually when we go cover hurricanes, we're in places where people are expecting the possibility that it will arrive.

But yesterday morning even, if you talked to people in Orlando and Daytona Beach and told them there may be a hurricane coming your way, they never would have thought about it. They came here to get away from it and instead they jumped right into it.

But obviously, they know they're a lot luckier than the people in southwest Florida. There was one fatality here near Orlando, a little girl killed in a car accident when a truck blew over from the wind on top of her car. Other than that, though, there have been no serious casualties. But there is a lot of property damage here in central Florida.

Fredricka, back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Gary Tuchman in Orlando, thanks so much.

Well, while two million people were evacuated along the Florida west coast, there were a handful of people who decided to stay, in fact, even a couple who decided to head straight for Charley and they didn't even have to.

Storm chaser Jim Reed is someone I talked to a little bit ago, and he explained why he decided to go toward the eye of the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM REED, STORM CHASER: OK, right now the time here is roughly 4:37. We are watching a neighborhood disintegrate. This is Hurricane Charley.

For the past five minutes or so, we have been experiencing winds in excess of 100 miles an hour. It is tearing off roofs.

Behind you!

Category four hurricane. I hope I'm recording. This just came in on us right here. Hurricane Charley, August 13, 2004. If you want to see what it looks like inside a category four hurricane, this is it.

I'm wondering if we got hit by a tornado. I don't know. Straight line. Yes, I'm all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Jim Reed. Well, why does he do it? He says to learn more about hurricanes. He lives in South Carolina during hurricane season and then because he still is very fascinated with weather patterns, he lives in Wichita during the spring to keep watch of the tornados during tornado season.

And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Charley lashed Florida's west coast with winds of up to 145 miles per hour. The Charlotte County sheriff's department found itself directly in the path of the storm.

Jason Wheeler of CNN affiliate WINK has the deputy's details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON WHEELER, WINK CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Piece by piece the Charlotte County sheriff's department was taken by storm.

About a half dozen deputies and the sheriff himself now faced with a personal emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody together.

WHEELER: How to deal with a roof that was disintegrating. We joined them as they searched for a safe room in their own building.

UNIDENTIFIED SHERIFF: We're all hold up in here. It's the only place that seems to be holding together. If the eye passes, we're going to make a run for the main door.

WHEELER: Our ears popping from a drop in pressure, we listened to the storm roar by outside inviting the roof to join it.

Communications were hampered, too. The situation had become serious. Finally, the call was made to notify others of who we were and where we were just in case the worst was to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to give you the names of everyone with us.

WHEELER: Finally though, the worst of Charley passed, and the men and women who were just hanging on for survival began to inspect the damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we were in there, would you have imagined that it would have been this bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never.

WHEELER: Not only to their building but also to their community, what they found was astounding. Friday the 13th has been unlucky indeed, for this area. As far as the eye can see here, it appears that no place has been spared.

Charley went through here quickly but left a lasting impression, to say the least. People here walking around in a daze say they can't even begin to think about cleaning up right now because the damage is just too overwhelming.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And that report from Jason Wheeler of WINK.

Well many Floridians went back to their homes and businesses today only to find there isn't a whole lot to return to.

Ken Suarez from CNN affiliate WTVT has the story of one family dealing with Hurricane Charley's aftermath.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEN SUAREZ, WTVT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to see what's taken you years to build up fall down right before your very eyes. Chow Mei Scott just did when a restaurant called Big Mama's began to fall in to pieces trapping her inside.

CHOW MAY SCOTT, FAMILY BUSINESS OWNER: This is my life. I depend on every penny. I work here. I open 6:00 to 4:00 every day. I work 18 hours here everyday. Everybody know that too.

SUAREZ: Hurricane Charley didn't care about her or her daughter. The storm took away her daughter's job, but it took away something much harder to replace from Chow Mei who's well into her 60s. CHOW MEI'S DAUGHTER: It's been her life since she came to America when we were, you know, my dad suggested that they get a restaurant. And for me to see this and know that basically my mom's life is gone for the time being is really hard.

SUAREZ: Chow Mei was preparing for the storm when it whipped through. When the roof ripped off, Chow Mei frantically called her husband for help who rushed over.

SCOTT: My husband said come to the backdoor! So I hurry, run from the front to the back and the ceiling started. And I thought maybe going to be, I don't know, just a small piece. I thought maybe the whole ceiling going to collapse?

SUAREZ: Pieces did, but it held out.

UNIDENFIED CUSTOMER: Hey, mama. You OK?

SUAREZ: Long-time customers have been stopping by at what use to be the place in Eagle Lake.

UNIDENTIFIED CUSTOMER: The food is just fantastic. The price is reasonable.

SUAREZ: And her?

UNIDENTIFIED CUSTOMER: She's great. She's just a great host and hostess.

SUAREZ: Now she's a woman who's thankful to be alive but wondering how she's going to get the money to live.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And that was Ken Suarez from CNN affiliate WTVT reporting.

Carolyn and Anderson Cooper are up next to continue our coverage of Hurricane Charley.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for joining me for the last two hours.

Then coming up next at 9:00 Eastern, "LARRY KING LIVE."

For the most-to-minute developments as the storm makes its way up the Eastern seaboard, stay right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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