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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Hurricane Frances: Eye of Storm Centered 30 to 35 Miles East of Tampa, Florida
Aired September 5, 2004 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Back now to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Frances in a minute.
But for some other stories making news right now, today was the first day of funerals for victims of the school massacre in Russia.
The Russian health ministry says the hostage death toll has risen to 338. Half are said to have been children. Russian reports say 22 victims were buried today.
More than a dozen injuries are reported after two strong earthquakes rocked Japan. They were centered off the Japanese coast and caused waves up to three feet high.
Tall buildings in Tokyo and Osaka have been shaking, and apparently, no reports right now of any serious damage.
Pentagon officials say they are unable to confirm reports that a former Iraqi military leader is in custody. The Iraqi defense ministry says Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a deputy commander under Saddam Hussein, was captured near Tikrit. U.S. officials say they are waiting for more information from the Iraqi government on confirmation.
Hello, again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Frances.
Let's get started with the latest developments, in case you're just tuning in on Hurricane Frances. At last check, the eye of the hurricane was centered about 30 to 35 miles east of Tampa, Florida.
It's weakening as it slowly heads toward the Gulf of Mexico with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, just barely over hurricane thresholds. So, it is, indeed, a Category 1.
One death has been reported so far - a traffic related fatality in Gainesville.
The eye of the storm came ashore early this morning, just east of Stuart. Nearby communities, including Vero Beach were pounded with wind and heavy rain. Almost all the city there is without power after incidents like these.
On a larger scale, 1.8 million customers - households, rather - are without electricity across Florida.
Rain is covering almost the entire state so far, at least the mid-section, primarily. And the National Hurricane Center issued tornado warnings for central Florida.
But the weather isn't the only trouble authorities are facing. Looting already has become a problem, with arrests reported in several counties.
Police say one of the incidents involved two men who tried to steal an ATM with a chainsaw. And that took place in the Orlando area.
Hurricane Frances has also disrupted the lives of some four- legged creatures, as well. This scene was captured in West Palm Beach. The area is close to where the hurricane made landfall earlier today. With this runaway, what appears to be an Appaloosa.
Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras. And, Jacqui, you know, we know that a good part of central Florida is farmland. So, this storm has affected so many livelihoods in so many ways, from the livestock there to even orchards, fruit orchards, and throughout.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. And tourism, too. That's something else to think about. You know, a holiday weekend, a lot of people wanting to go to Florida. Unfortunately, this just isn't the weekend to do it, with this hurricane.
Still 75 miles per hour. This is the advisory as of 2:00. We're going to get a new one here within the hour. By 5:00 we should have some new numbers and some new coordinates here for you.
And it was 55 miles, what we heard from Max Mayfield at the hurricane center about a half an hour ago, that it was more like 30 to 35 miles now, to the east of Tampa moving west-northwest around nine miles per hour.
The forecast track - I want to talk a little bit more about this track, because it's still moving very slowly across the Florida peninsula, likely to move up to the north of Tampa, back over the open water. So we're probably going to see this weekend maybe down to a tropical storm.
But you only really need two miles an hour in order to do that, and then maybe fire back up as a low Category 1 before making landfall once again on Monday morning, and then making its way into parts of Alabama as a tropical depression - finally - and then spreading some widespread rain and flooding problems expected there.
Some of these wind gusts pretty impressive. From the peak of the storm we had 124 mile per hour wind at Port Canaveral. At Okeechobee, 95 miles per hour, you see down to 69 miles per hour. That was the peak gust that we saw out of Orlando.
I want to show the latest radar and talk about where some of the strongest winds are and where some of the heaviest rains are at this hour.
This is our VIPIR Doppler Radar. And there you can see, still a lot of strong banding on the back side of this storm. And you're going to be seeing some gusts here, maybe 60, 70-plus miles per hour as some of these squalls move on through.
The actual center - we're going to zoom in over towards Tampa - the central of center of circulation honing in on Tampa right now. There's really no eye wall really left here.
We're not seeing any kind of eye either, but some of these stronger bands around the center of circulation. That's what's moving through you in Tampa right now, bringing in some of these heavy downpours.
You're going to be seeing those strong winds, maybe sustained winds, 60, 70, 75 miles per hour. You're going to be seeing some gusts, certainly beyond that at times.
Flash flooding is going to be a problem, particularly over the next couple of hours, as this center slowly moves over your way. And then, things might quiet down a little, but you're going to still have some of these steadier rains.
But remember, you still have these other squallings way back here, which are going to be coming on through. So, you're really just getting started with the worst of it here, Tampa. And that's going to be lasting for you for hours and hours and hours, unfortunately.
And do want to keep in mind, as I mentioned, as this storm moves up into the southeast, this is going to be lingering into Monday, Tuesday and even Wednesday with some flooding.
And we're preparing some graphics for you to show you some other big cities. You know, Birmingham, Atlanta, maybe heading up towards Knoxville, Tennessee, where we're going to see some significant flooding from Frances after it moves inland - Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And later on, we're going to be talking to you about that, Jacqui, because a lot of folks really should be taking heed and paying attention to some of these warnings, because it just might be affecting them in the next couple of days.
Thanks so much.
Well, Melbourne is just parallel to Tampa, where Jacqui was showing us. The eye of the storm is already starting to wreak havoc.
So, in Melbourne, along the Florida east coast, that's where we also find our meteorologist, Chad Myers.
And last time you and I were talking, Chad, we were talking about this lone boatman out there, who was trying to hold on to his boat. And ...
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes.
WHITFIELD: ... the Coast Guard was approaching him to say what? What happened?
MYERS: To kick him off the pier, because he was scratching the wood. He was scratching the piling, and they wanted him off the pier.
And I said to myself, where's he going to go? I mean, the guy's blown into port. He's blown up against the pilings. His boat's getting torn apart.
So, I have a little less skin on my hand. But we pulled the lines. We pulled them forward. We got a mid line on there, and we pulled him up against that other piling over there.
So now the boat is at least not pounding against the pilings, and I think the Coast Guard is happy. They're not going to kick him out of here.
I'm speechless, basically. But boater's code said that I had to go do that, and I did it, because, you know what? I have a boat of my own, and I'd expect - I'd hope - that someone would help me, too.
Back out here to the marina, the boats are really bobbing. We had a great day yesterday. We had no breaching at all of the wall out there, and the boats just basically sat there like it was a summer day.
Well, now the winds shifted direction and the water came up. And those pilings that are out there trying to stop the water from coming in - it's kind of like a wall.
And when the wave hits it, it just bounces back. And the waves, as they bounce, they just bounce back out to the ocean or bounce back out to the bay.
But now they're breaching that wall and those waves are coming in. And these boats are getting tossed pretty good.
The boats are OK when they're tossed, as long as the lines are still working. A lot of the lines now are either stretching or breaking, or now boats are into another pier, or even the cleats coming off the pier itself.
And you know what? Now, it's kind of getting serious.
We have had winds like this, Fredricka, now for well over 12 hours. And at 4:00 a.m., these winds were doing 100.
And so, now finally - well, you can see what happened to this dock right here. I mean, there's just basically nothing left of that.
There was - the supports from underneath got pushed up. Obviously, all the docks are nailed from top to bottom, or screwed in, whatever. But as the water pushes it from above, it's almost like taking a hammer and pushing it from (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And the board just popped right off, and that's what's been happening here.
This sailboat, we've been watching this for a long time. There's been nobody on it. It's not even tied to anything. Everything that it was tied to, is no longer attached to anything. So it's just kind of sitting there. The wind just blew it in this direction. And a lot of folks are going to have some damage. And, you know what? That's the least of some people's worries. I was concerned for that guy's safety. I was concerned for that guy's life, because he was sitting on the boat all alone, trying to save the boat all by himself - Fred.
WHITFIELD: Perhaps he was thinking about his own personal safety last. He was thinking about his property.
But obviously, the Coast Guard came very quickly. They're keeping a close watch on any kind of activity, ...
WHITFIELD: ... because there are ...
MYERS: They are.
WHITFIELD: ... curfews in effect. Are there curfews in effect right there in Melbourne? Is that why they came out so quickly to say, off that boat?
MYERS: The Coast Guard has been out. But they've been checking every marina, all the way down from the inlet, all the way down here.
And this is the last one that they've been to. Now they're down to another marina down the slip a little bit.
But as they saw this guy, they knew he was in danger, and they said, you've got to get off. You've got two minutes to get off that boat.
And he said, I need 10 minutes to save my boat. And then they said, you've got 10 minutes. You've got 10 minutes. We got the boat saved. That's good news.
WHITFIELD: And in addition to their concern for just that man's safety, you know, they ...
MYERS: Safety. Absolutely.
WHITFIELD: ... yes, law enforcement ...
MYERS: The boat can be replaced.
MYERS: You can replace the boat. You can't replace the guy.
WHITFIELD: That's right.
MYERS: And that's what they were doing.
WHITFIELD: The Coast Guard and law enforcement folks are also concerned about looting. They just don't know, you know, ...
MYERS: Well, of course.
WHITFIELD: ... who's responsible for what property. They don't want to see any kind of problems like that, and that's why you do have a lot of curfews in effect.
MYERS: I think the Coast Guard was in the right on this one, because that guy was really in his - he was putting himself in danger.
And he was so overwhelmed with saving his boat, he probably couldn't see that he was putting himself in that kind of danger. And it took the Coast Guard to say, you - it's time for you to leave.
MYERS: It's time for you to get off that boat.
WHITFIELD: All right. Well, Chad Myers, thanks so much for bringing us that update ...
MYERS: You're welcome.
WHITFIELD: ... from Melbourne.
MYERS: All right.
WHITFIELD: As I mentioned, just parallel to Melbourne, but go west to Tampa - that is where the eye of Hurricane Frances is already starting to pound that area there, bringing some of the more intense winds and rain.
And you're looking at some coverage now from our affiliate, WTVT. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The types of winds that were just gusting at times, and then just retracted there for a while. So, fortunately, a lot of folks are not seeing the type of damage.
Now we're taking a look at - what we are seeing here, which is some scattered power outages all throughout Polk County. Because as the storm blew in, there was some power that was barely restored from Hurricane Charley that barely got up to snuff. And unfortunately, as this storm came in, it knocked out the power lines again.
In fact, the emergency operations center, where we're reporting live from, is actually without power and working off of a backup generator. It's been without power for hours. And there are lots of areas that are like that.
Here you can see downed power lines. This is a - I wouldn't say as common as Charley, but you do see them every so often at intersections.
And we also, interestingly enough, even though there's more of a storm that's coming through, we did see power crews out trying to restore power as quickly as possible. So, they are working on it, even as we speak. But downed power lines is a very serious situation, obviously. And then, if you do get to an intersection where there are - where there aren't any lights, you need to stop.
This is video now from Bartow that you're seeing. You can see the amount of rain that was coming through here. And the visibility was not great at all. You could barely see ahead of you.
And driving was treacherous, and they were advising folks to stay off the road. We, as news crews, obviously took some chances so we can bring you some pictures. And the result of all that rain and the wind that came through here were downed trees.
And this is probably the most dramatic picture that you're going to see from this area. This is from Bartow. This is a barbecue place that the roof totally collapsed.
So, here is probably some of the worst damage that you're going to see. And it's hard to tell whether this was wind damage or rain damage, or perhaps a combination of both.
But this was the result of hurricane, what was Hurricane Frances, that came through here that obviously did extensive damage to that restaurant.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks to our affiliate covering from WTVT, talking primarily about the power outages that the folks in Tampa are already experiencing.
That, in part, because the eye of Hurricane Frances is already over Tampa, bringing in some of the most fierce winds and rain that they will see over the next few hours.
But speaking of power outages, Tampa isn't the only city that's experiencing that. Throughout a good part of Florida, nearly two million households are without electricity.
And so, we wanted to get an update on those numbers, because perhaps the numbers are much higher now, or perhaps some repairs have been brought.
Tom Veenstra, with Florida Power & Light is on the telephone with us. And, Tom, can you give us a sense? Two million households? Is that the most updated number? Or do you have something fresh and new for us?
TOM VEENSTRA, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT: Well, I'm happy to say we've been able to make a little bit of progress. We've restored power to about 624,000 homes and businesses so far.
Unfortunately, that leaves 1.6 million folks still out in 23 of the 35 counties that FPL serves in Florida.
WHITFIELD: How were you able to restore those 624 households with power so far, given that the weather is so treacherous? How are your crews able to get out and restore or repair some of these downed power lines?
VEENSTRA: Well, you kind of touched on a point. They can go out only when the conditions are safe.
And that means when winds are below 35 miles per hour and we aren't hampered by any serious problems, such as debris blocking our access to our facilities, or in some cases, we've seen a lot of flooding in some of the areas.
But we have been restoring what we can using local crews until we have an additional 6,000 crews from contractors and other utilities, most of them outside Florida, that will be coming in to join us as soon as the storm clears and it's safe for them to drive down into the staging areas we've set up.
WHITFIELD: And what are the conditions that you are looking at when you do selectively choose to try to restore power to certain communities?
Are there certain priority counties that you want to get to first, perhaps because they have mostly elderly community or they have so many more hospitals in that vicinity than in other counties? Is that a factor?
VEENSTRA: Well, our priority is to restore service to essential customers that provide for public health and safety, things of that nature such as hospitals and police, fire, communications, water systems, transportation providers, and so forth, in all of the areas that we serve.
And then we go, once we get those folks back in, then we will do the things that we can do to get the largest number of customers back on the fastest, and so on, until everybody is back on.
WHITFIELD: Tom, you mentioned the help that you'll be getting from other states.
Just here in Georgia, I saw a number of convoys of tree-cutting services trucks who were either parked or on their way toward Florida. They have said that they are at the ready to try to help out in any way they can.
At what point can you give us a little bit more detail of the kind of green light you're looking for for them, before they start venturing in? Because it will take some time for them to travel, given that there will be so many impassable roads.
VEENSTRA: It really will. And this is especially frustrating, because it's such a slow moving storm. And there has been such a widespread damage to the entire Florida Power & Light system.
And so, we expect that there might be substantial debris on the roadways and heavy traffic, due to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who will be returning to the homes that they evacuated prior to the storm.
WHITFIELD: So, the latest numbers, about 1.6 million households still without power.
Are you willing to venture out and say how many days or many more weeks it may be before you've got 100 percent of all of your counties that you serve, of the 35 counties that you serve, restored in power?
VEENSTRA: Well, we will be able to provide that once we get down the road a little bit.
We conduct a damage assessment of all of our facilities, and that helps us plan the restoration, knowing where we have to focus our resources. And as we're able to complete that, then we'll provide that later on.
WHITFIELD: All right. Tom Veenstra of FP&L, Florida Power & Light, thanks so much for taking the time to join us on the telephone.
I know you've got at least the owners of 624,000 households there who are very thankful that you're able to restore as much power as you have so far. But still you've got a sizable job ahead of you with 1.6 million households still without power.
And I know the folks there are very thankful for your efforts and their speedy recovery of electricity. Thanks so much, Tom.
VEENSTRA: You're welcome.
Well, don't forget to log on to cnn.com/hurricanes to keep up with Hurricane Frances. There's a map of the storm's projected path and links to emergency information and resources.
And coming up, when we come back, we're going to take you to St. Augustine, Florida, one of the oldest cities in this country, a historic city right there along the coast of Florida where our David Mattingly is standing by.
WHITFIELD: In the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida, they are feeling the brunt of the northern quadrant end of Hurricane Frances. And our David Mattingly is there and still feeling wind gusts and some serious rain, as well - David.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, one of those bands of intensive wind and rain, as we've been watching our radars, coming through right now. We're getting some very strong tropical storm force winds and some of that horizontal rain we've been hearing about from central and south Florida absolutely stinging your skin as it flies past.
And as much trouble as I am having standing up here a ways, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) - just take a look out here on the seawall.
There are people who think this is a good time to go out and take a stroll. We've been marveling at how many people have decided, at the height of this storm, to come out here and take in the sights and to experience the elements first hand. You can see it's mostly young people - and mostly young men, I'd have to say. Maybe it's a test of manhood for some of them.
But officials are saying - they're encouraging people - please don't go out right now.
In fact, a little farther down the bay here, I'm going to show you the bridge. You can see some cars going over the bridge.
The sheriff's deputies occasionally here have been closing off each end when the wind gets just a little too strong. They want to make sure everyone's able to cross safely.
There were no mandatory evacuations here, so there's still lots of people with their homes and in hotels on the barrier islands right now.
But, again, people who live over there are free to come and go as they wish, just as long as they don't try to cross the bridge in winds like this that we're getting right now.
We've received reports of about 1,600 (ph) power outages of customers here. And that includes the emergency operation center, as well as two of the shelters that were opened here for people to get out of low-lying areas and out of mobile homes. Those facilities are now on emergency generators.
And again, authorities keep echoing what we hear from the governor, is that if you don't have to be outside, don't go out. And yet, still, we see people doing that.
Earlier today we've seen - we showed the pictures to our audience a couple of times this last hour of a young man on a board behind a car, taking advantage of some of the flooded streets here.
There's plenty of people willing to get out and try and take a chance to do something fun like that. But at the same time, there's plenty of opportunity to get hurt.
This city is very close to sea level. There are parts of the city that are below sea level, so flooding is a very common even here, something very much a part of this city's rich history.
Those streets are filling up right now. And according to the forecasts, we're expecting to see quite a few more of these waves coming through. And as they do, they will be dumping more rain, and cannot get out into the bay, because the water in the bay, you see, is trying to come this way.
So, we're going to go through several more hours of this, and maybe this city will finally get some relief. But it's finally starting to see the full effects of a storm they've heard so much about for the past couple of days - Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right. David Mattingly, thanks so much. Several more hours - in fact, it may be about 3.5 more hours before this storm has completely passed over most of the east coast of Florida.
Well, all along the coast, some people are venturing out, some who are marveling the elements, just like we just saw in David Mattingly's report. And then are some who really are out there to kind of make trouble.
According to one local lawman, he said, "the jackals are out there and just waiting to pounce."
We're hearing of some sporadic reports already of looting throughout Florida. Miami police chief John Timoney is on the telephone with us with a look at what's happening in that city.
And, chief, perhaps you can just help us understand the expectations that law enforcement has. Here's an example of what's being reported so far, chief.
Ten arrested for five separate looting incidents in Orlando, two suspects apparently arrested in the Miami-Dade area for trying to steal an ATM.
Is this the kind of activity that you all were poised to be able to expect, knowing that so many homes were evacuated and are abandoned?
JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE CHIEF: Exactly, Fredricka. And the expectation normally is, these hurricanes get in and out in about eight or 10 hours, and in the aftermath you may get some looting.
But here, we're at this now. We're going through a fourth day - although fortunately, this morning we're allowing people back in. But folks have left their residences. Businesses have closed. They're boarded up.
Of course, there are some people out there looking to take advantage of this situation.
We have had hundreds of additional police officers out on the streets since Thursday, really focusing in the downtown corridor and the commercial strips and, of course, in those residential areas east of U.S. 1, that were mandatory evacuation areas.
And we've been going home, checking on houses, going into gated communities, making sure that people who are not supposed to be there are not there.
And so, so far, so good. There's one or two burglary arrests, but they may just be the typical, common burglar that we have here on a weekend.
And we've made the arrest last night, in one case, it was a jewelry store - a guy with about $30,000 worth of jewelry. So, so far, so good. WHITFIELD: Wow. And this is your method of surveillance, mostly because of the lessons learned after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, where looting was extensive.
TIMONEY: Exactly. And as you are well aware, in that case, it was even difficult for police officers to get there and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a day or two. And so, by and large, certain areas went unprotected for a while.
And, of course, there are always a few amongst us that will take advantage of those situations.
WHITFIELD: And one of the big problems during Andrew was, you had so many downed trees, so many impassable roads, that it was difficult ...
WHITFIELD: ... for law enforcement to get around.
But this is a very different case, and Miami-Dade didn't seem to really experience very much of this storm.
TIMONEY: Well, no, I wouldn't say that. It's - I'm looking - it's still been pretty heavy rain here and winds all day long.
WHITFIELD: But your roads are mostly passable.
TIMONEY: Yes. Most of the roads are passable, although there are quite a few power lines that are down to be fixed right now. There's still well over 100,000 people without electricity.
So there's still some problems, but nothing of the magnitude of Andrew, or even what's going on up-state.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And how much longer are you expecting to have to conduct this kind of surveillance on so many communities, since you're so far south? It's going to take a long time for people to get back home.
TIMONEY: Yes. But hopefully, we should resume some kind of normalcy by tomorrow, hopefully.
WHITFIELD: All right. Police chief John Timoney with Miami-Dade. Thanks so much for taking time to join us.
TIMONEY: Thanks, Fredricka. Bye-bye.
WHITFIELD: At least two hurricane related deaths now are being reported in the Bahamas, where Frances battered and bruised the island residents there before heading toward Florida.
Our Karl Penhaul is on the line from Freeport with details on some of the damage there - Karl.
Or, actually, we get to see you on videophone. KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Fredricka.
Well, the winds have certainly dropped here. No longer even the tropical storm force winds that we were feeling this morning.
But a short while ago - only a short while ago - the torrential rains had stopped. Because we hadn't had a huge amount of rain throughout this hurricane. Yes, we had had bands of rain, but not a huge amount.
But this afternoon, that rain really did come down in sheets. A lot of rain dumped on Grand Bahama in just a few - in just the space of a few hours there.
Now, what's the picture looking like now? Well, the tidal surge that was seen on the north and south sides of the island seems to have receded, as the tide has gone down naturally. Then the extra high storm wall (ph) has also seemed to have receded.
But the problem area right now is in the west of the island. A lot of that area is still under water. That area is one of the lowest lying areas of the island, some of that even below sea level. It's certainly under sea water right now.
We tried to get out there in a bus, and there was about two feet of water on some of the roads there. We couldn't proceed. We had to turn back.
But the emergency services have gone out there to see how the local population there are faring. A lot of them had been evacuated.
Now, to bring you up to date on the casualty toll, the police chief here on Grand Bahama says one man, a 35-year-old, was killed, drowned, during the hurricane.
The 80-year-old man that we've been talking about, also is reported missing, is still reported as missing. He disappeared when his house was flattened.
And then on Nassau, before - just before the hurricane hit Grand Bahama, another teenager there was killed.
But the main problem here is power. The power pylons were all down. The energy is still out on Grand Bahama. Telephone lines are still out. The cellular phone service isn't working.
Those are the kind of problems that right now the emergency services, what they're working on is trying to put together a preliminary balance of damage assessments -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, Karl Penhaul, thank you very much for that report out of Freeport.
So in the Bahamas where this storm hit first, already reports of two deaths, and in the state of Florida one reported death, it being a traffic related death has been reported so far. Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras who has an update now on what this storm is doing -- Jacqui.
JERAS: Well we have some new information with a tornado warning actually Fredricka and this is in southeastern Georgia into Southern Wayne County. You can see the top edge of this storm here with these bands moving on through with a lot of vorticity (ph), and now we have tornado warning for Southern Wayne County until 5:00 Eastern Time.
I want to switch this over to GR-114 and show you the velocity and you the winds actually and that's what makes Doppler radar so great is that you can see the wind speed and the wind direction, if we can go over to 114. And we can show that to you right now. Apparently we can't go to that.
But anyway tornado warning then for Southern Wayne County. And we have the tornado watch in effect. You have got it now? All right is this 114? This is not 114. There we go. That's what we're looking for. Yes we are looking for the couplet and we are looking for the rotation, and here we go we've got the in and the outward right here, 25 miles per hour out and ten in and so we are looking at a very weak tornado possibly. This is a radar indicated tornado has not been spotted, but tornadoes certainly come and we've got that tornado watch across the southern parts of Georgia and across much of northern and central Florida at this hour -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right thanks so much Jacqui Jeras from the Weather Center.
More of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Frances in a minute. But first a look at some other stories topping our news. Blood tests are being performed to verify the identity of a man captured in Iraq. Reported to be a Saddam Hussein loyalist. The defense ministry there says he is Izzat Ibrahim al Douri. A top military commander under the old regime. The Pentagon however has not confirmed this.
The battleground state of West Virginia is getting a lot of attention in the presidential race this Labor Day weekend. George Bush was in Parkersburg this afternoon, an area that strongly supported him four years ago. John Kerry visits the state tomorrow.
And at least 14 people reported injured in a pair of powerful earthquakes in Japan. The quakes were centered off the Pacific Coast. But shook Osaka and Koto and caused buildings to sway in Tokyo.
Keeping you informed CNN, the most trusted name in news.
And we'll be right back with another look at Hurricane Frances and the latest tornado activity. That could be threatening Wayne County Georgia now.
WHITFIELD: Back now to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Frances. Now a category one, but still a danger. So much so, that it's already spawning potential tornadic activity beyond the state lines of Florida. Now apparently a tornado warning is in effect for Wayne County, Georgia. But let's move much further south all the way down the Atlantic coast of Florida, and head to West Palm Beach where they're still feeling the effects of Hurricane Frances. Even though right now it looks like you guys are in between bands of wind and rain, but it's not over apparently.
Sean Callebs who is there is West Palm Beach apparently it will be 8:00 p.m. This evening, east coast time, before Frances seems to be way away from the east coast?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'd be curious Fredricka to hear what our meteorologists have to say about that. Because this has been the most extensive break we have had in this hurricane in 36 hours. Right now conditions very favorable. It is a nice warm afternoon, not very humid. It is getting breezy. But you can see what Frances has done to this community in West Palm Beach.
This is a picture that is playing out all over the state and especially areas of southeastern Florida now experiencing a little bit of sunshine after getting so much precipitation. People are going to be busy in this area for days to come trying to do what they can to clean up all the debris as well as trying to get power restored there.
At one point 1.3 million people that live in this county. And a lion's share of them simply without electricity at hour. You can see over here to what they're known for citrus, that's an orange tree, not going to have any oranges this year they're all scattered all over the ground. But that's certainly very, very mild compared to what a lot of other folks. Look at this a big coconut tree snapped in the neighbor's yard came down across the driveway here one of these and just a few feet from the front door, so presumably these are some of the people who did evacuate.
As you know some 2.5 million people ordered to evacuate. Many, many shelters, something like 100 shelters throughout the east coast of Florida. At the height many of them filled to capacity. People eagerly trying to get back home. We saw it on their faces the past couple of days. This was a hurricane that lumbered this way. It was very frustrating for a lot of residents, they simply wanted Frances to arrive and then move on so they could get back to their homes.
Well there is a curfew still in effect here in West Palm Beach. The mayor told us earlier she doesn't want anybody out until at least tomorrow morning. The police chief saying that anybody caught on the streets that would be probable cause to stop them. When asked what they would do? She said, well, they could arrest them, but probably using her words drag their butt's home.
But the situation right now very calm, people are using this break to try and assess the damage, get out pick up what they can, and hopefully, Fredricka, we talked about it a bit earlier, these strong gusts don't pick back up because all this debris now is being scattered in front of homes. Waiting for refuse officials to come and pick it up. But if the wind kicks up like they presume it could, it could be a lot of ammunition stored on these streets -- Fredricka. WHITFIELD: Wow, well you talk about the police chief and the mayor trying to encourage people to stay in their homes. We know because of the folks that you talked to in the last hour. Some folks are venturing out; they're not going very far. But I wonder if you have heard anything about whether people have been spotted driving from great distances on their way back to West Palm Beach to see if their properties are still intact?
CALLEBS: Well, we've been kind of anchored down to this area; there has been a great deal of car activity. Especially on the main thorough fares Flagler Avenue a couple of blocks down from us that butts up against inter coastal water way, don't know if it is any people leaving the shelters. But it is certainly not I'll say it, there's an area of West Palm not terribly far from us called Pineapple Grove we know that area suffered some pretty intense flooding.
We just had a crew come back from there not terribly long ago that is clearly the most serious flooding in this area. But think about everything this region had to deal with, all that rain in fact inter coastal is right here, and very flat land that is simply saturated. Nowhere for the water to go. They put new storm drains in on the main road up against the inter coastal, and the mayor said she is glad after spending that money to see that the storm drains are working well.
So it could have been a lot worse, that is what a lot of people in this area are saying, but not terribly far removed from where we are, people are still feeling the teeth of Frances, those punishing winds that really kept people in this area awake all night long and caused so much damage. We know Governor Bush was supposed to be in this community in the last hour and half or so to begin his initial inspection of all the damage. Five counties have been declared major disaster areas, and state and federal officials have made it clear they would like to get people on the ground and begin getting help to these people long before the skies get clear.
WHITFIELD: And you mentioned Sean that it could have been worse. In fact there were a lot of people in West Palm Beach that were expecting it to be worse because there was a moment when the forecasters were saying that West Palm Beach just might be ground zero when Hurricane Frances was making its way out of Bahamas and toward the Florida coast.
CALLEBS: Exactly. Our colleague John Zarrella was here all night long really feeling these hurricane-force winds. And John is a guy that lives in Miami and has covered a bunch of these things and he said it got their attention. He was here for a long period of time. It wasn't one of these storms that blew threw and moved on to another part of the state. But lets also remember Charley was what 22, 23 days ago, and there were so many warnings remember for the Tampa Bay area and then it came in the last minute and moved south really punishing Charlotte County, Punta Gordo, Port Charlotte.
So people were cutting this one a wide berth. They took the evacuation seriously. You can't say it was just good luck for this area; it was also good planning they had a lot of time to ready for this. I heard Chad Myers earlier this morning say that he believes the fact that this hurricane moved so slowly probably saved lives, because it gave people an extra 24 hours to do everything that they possibly could to ensure their safety and do what they could to get out of the path of this hurricane. We say get out of path.
But think about it this is a hurricane that touched the very tip end of Florida all the way now up to the panhandle and into Georgia as you just mentioned.
WHITFIELD: All right, Sean Callebs thanks so much. As some of the folks there in West Palm Beach try to assess some of the damage well very soon. In a matter of days or perhaps even weeks, a lot of the insurance companies will start making their way throughout Florida to find out and assess some of the damage.
But what will happen to a lot of those property owners, some of which are insured and some of which do not have flood or wind damage insurance. In a moment, we're going to talk to an expert who can help us understand all of the trappings that many of these property owners will have to get through when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: More of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Frances now. Families are just beginning to deal with the damage left behind by Frances. Those who are already venturing out. Cynthia Demos from CNN affiliate WFTV has that story.
CYNTHIA DEMOS, WFTV REPORTER (voice over): As the lights dangle in the Fort Pierce roads, tops are tumbled over and windows blown out. Families like the McMillians (ph) left their mobile home and huddled in a hotel room to ride out the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surviving. Getting by, waiting for the storm to go away.
DEMOS: And what a wait it is. James McMillan, his wife Sabrina and their 11-year-old children Ivan and Sabrina along with the dogs Egghead and Sheppy have this sight out of their hotel door. A palm tree crash right into the now filthy hotel pool.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boring, no fun, and I want my electricity.
DEMOS: Even though the long storm is still taking a toll on roofs holding on, just barely, and toppled trees where the roots are now taller than the homes standing next to them. The McMillan's sit and worry about their own home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We won't have one; it's going to go bye-bye.
DEMOS: Well with Frances coming ashore as a category two and not a category four. This Fort Pierce family is hopeful their home may be OK. We went to check it out for them but we couldn't get back to their home because there was too much debris in the roads. We did find some homes near by though like this mobile home that was totaled. The McMillan's just hope they were in the majority of homes at this park that were OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hoping for the best.
WHITFIELD: Well like its predecessor Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances was expected to cause billions of dollars of damage in Florida. Bob Rusbuldt is CEO of Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and he is in our Washington bureau with some advice and help us assess how a lot of these home owners and business owners are going to be able to get through what is likely to be a pretty sizable, you know, swath of damage throughout Florida. Good to see you Bob.
BOB RUSBULDT, CEO, INDEPENDENT INSURANCE AGENTS AND BROKERS OF AMERICA: Good to be with you.
WHITFIELD: Well given that this damage is so widespread, is it expected that most of the households and businesses will have the right applicable individual coverage, or will most of these folks have to rely on some federal help?
RUSBULDT: No most people will have homeowner's insurance and will have flood insurance. There are always some that don't have either for any number of reasons, and the federal government, if they declare a disaster area, those home owners can get assistance through grants and sometimes loans and those sorts of things. So there will be assistance there. But there is a distinction between flood insurance policies and homeowners policies. Flood insurance coverage is not covered under a standard homeowner's policy.
WHITFIELD: And not only that in Florida there's another type of coverage that is usually through the state which is mostly wind and hurricane-type damage insurance, but does everyone have to have that if you live in Florida or only along the coastal communities?
RUSBULDT: No there is -- well traditional homeowner's policy does include wind damage. But in Florida because of the unique circumstance and exposure they have to hurricanes they created a wind pool in Florida. That is part of your homeowner's package when you buy it. So if you are in those areas of Florida that will be included as part of your homeowner's package. It's just backed by the state of Florida in addition to insurance companies that contribute to that pool.
WHITFIELD: And many of those houses that must have that are usually east of U.S. 1 there somewhere between a mile or so inside of the coast. So what happens if you're a bit inland, like say the folks in Orlando who don't usually expect to be hit by a hurricane? How might their coverage work for them?
RUSBULDT: Well, their homeowner's policy will cover the wind damage. The big concern that we have in Florida right now the entire state of Florida has been declared in a flooding danger zone, and there are a lot of people that don't have the proper flood insurance coverage. Because it is a separate policy you have to buy. So the independent insurance agents that I've talked to today are concerned in West Palm Beach you had 10 inches of rain. Jacksonville tonight and tomorrow are going to be hit hard with rain, and people don't understand that they need that separate flood policy.
WHITFIELD: And Bob, let me just interrupt you for a moment. Because this just in about this, what was Hurricane Frances, a category one now it's been downgraded once again, this time to a tropical storm. And our Jacqui Jeras, meteorologist, in the Weather Department is going to be keeping a close watch on this.
In a moment, after this interview, we'll get to her to talk a little bit more about what this means for the folks, particularly in the panhandle, because they had been threatened as this storm was going to make its way across the Gulf and into the panhandle of Florida and then on to places like Alabama and Georgia as well. So more on that in a moment with Jacqui Jeras.
And now back to you, Bob. You know these folks who are particularly inland where this storm has been sitting for hours dumping a whole lot of rain. We're talking about mostly flood damage. A lot of these folks don't have flood insurance, so once all the FEMA offices have set up, might these home owners and business owners expect they're going to get satisfactory claims from FEMA or is it just a little bit to help them along the way?
RUSBULDT: Well, every disaster is different, and FEMA does have different rules for different types of disasters. But if you don't have flood insurance, there's a bunch of different things that the federal government can do for you from loans to grants to actual certain types of assistance, financial assistance and those sorts of things.
So FEMA will be on the ground, they're already, there the claims adjustors are going to descend on Florida in mass from the insurance companies. I think most of the people will be taken care of in Florida. Governor Bush will do everything he can with disaster assistance as well. It's a good lesson for homeowners and for renters and for businesses that buy flood insurance now for the next one. Because it doesn't -- once you buy it...
WHITFIELD: Even if you're not in a flood plain, you're saying.
RUSBULDT: Even well I'll tell you, everybody in Florida basically is in a flood plain and the policy takes effect 30 days after you buy it. So you can't run out three days before a hurricane hits in Florida. Buy flood insurance, you've got to do it in advance.
WHITFIELD: And real quick before we let you go. For folks who will discover they've got damaged property. How might they start documenting that so that they can assess some kind of value on these properties so that they know what to tell the claim offices?
RUSBULDT: Good question, you should not go out and start repairs on your house unless it's temporary repairs to stop rain coming through a hole in your roof and those sorts of things. Take pictures if possible, do minor temporary repairs to avoid further damage, but don't go out and hire contractors, don't start doing repairs yourself until a claims adjuster gets there to assess the damage so you can get your claim paid ASAP.
WHITFIELD: And Bob this might be a lesson for everybody not even if you are just living in Florida but for everyone in any state who owns property that you need to document what you have, maybe take pictures or videotape what you have anyway so you at least have a before, if indeed there's a natural disaster. You also have some kind of documentation to compare the two, don't you?
RUSBULDT: Absolutely. Before a disaster hits, if you have videotape, still pictures, and a written list of all of your major possessions, electronic equipment and all those sorts of things, you need to know. That also a lot of policies don't cover artwork and there are exclusions, so you need to read your homeowner's policy and talk to your independent insurance agency.
WHITFIELD: Bob Rusbuldt, CEO of Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, thanks so much.
RUSBULDT: Good to be with you.
WHITFIELD: For joining us from Washington. And when we come right back. We'll be joined by Jacqui Jeras to tell us a little bit more of Hurricane Frances. Was a category one, now it's tropical storm Frances. It has been downgraded in just last couple minutes. More on that when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: No longer a Hurricane Frances, but now tropical storm Frances. Jacqui Jeras is in the Weather Center, but this still means it's potentially dangerous, right?
JERAS: Oh absolutely, and this still could fire back up to hurricane strength believe it or not as it moves back over the Gulf of Mexico. So you certainly don't want to let down your guard here, even though we changed the status from hurricane to tropical storm. Winds now at 70 miles per hour. That's a maximum sustained winds. We've got an update on the location as well, about 20 miles to the east of Tampa Bay. The ordinance right there at 28.0 north and 82.2 to the west. And it has picked up one mile an hour, so any kind of forward speed we can get certainly helpful. We would like to see this move up even more west-northwest at 10 miles an hour.
Still getting the very heavy rain bands 20 miles away from Tampa. The worst of the weather pushing in right now. You can see along I-4 some very heavy rain bands at this time as well. And by the way Fredricka, no eye here, there's no eye anymore, so we're just talking about a center of circulation.
Forecast track, what is going to happen after this it's going to move back up over the open waters? Probably going to happen sometime tonight. Late tonight, move back on up towards the Florida panhandle sometime tomorrow, making landfall. Official forecast in the 5:00 advisory showing it as a weak category one hurricane when it does so -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: So Jacqui what does that mean for all that stuff on the right? You know all those wind and rain bands there that are still kind of hovering over the Atlantic coast of Florida?
JERAS: No big changes with those, those are going to stay the same in terms of their intensity. We're still going to see a lot of these hour rain bands way back out here move onshore so no big change with those. You'll see those wind gusts move along with that. But we are talking about the maximum sustained winds in the center of the storm.
WHITFIELD: OK, Jacqui Jeras thanks so much.
WHITFIELD: We'll have more now on tropical storm Frances when we come right back.
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