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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Florida Authorities Hold Press Conference

Aired September 26, 2004 - 09:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Downgraded Hurricane Jeanne is crossing central Florida, heading toward Tampa Bay and still putting up a fight. Jeanne still packs winds of 85 miles an hour. State officials will have a storm update shortly, and when that happens we will go live to Tallahassee for that.
But in the meantime, from CNN Center here in Atlanta, this is a special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Good morning to all of you. I'm Betty Nguyen.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Drew Griffin -- 9:00 a.m. in Florida, nine hours after Hurricane Jeanne passed over land there. But it's still reeking havoc on the state of Florida. Hurricane Jeanne slicing across central Florida right now. Its damage expected to be extensive.

Strong wind and heavy rain are part of this package. More than 800,000 homes, businesses without power. The number expected to climb.

Before plowing into Florida, Jeanne hit the Bahamas. There are no deaths reported, but significant damage. The Grand Bahama Airport among the areas under water. Some neighborhoods also reporting flood waters as high as five feet.

Other news. In Iraq, a general in the nation's National Guard is in U.S. custody. Suspicion that he has ties to insurgent fighters. The U.S. military had just appointed that general to lead Iraqi forces in Baquba, an area plagued by terrorists. He had not yet been confirmed for that role.

A Palestinian official confirms to CNN the assassination of a Hamas leader. Witnesses say Izz al-Din al-Sheikh Khalil was killed when a car exploded on a Damascus street. Israel has not commented on what role, if any, it played in the death of the midlevel official.

Let's bring you up to speed now on Hurricane Jeanne. With the light of day, authorities are getting a first look at damage done by the storm. Jeanne roared ashore just before midnight in Martin County, north of West Palm Beach. It was a Category 3 hurricane then, packing 120-mile-an-hour winds.

Authorities around the town of Stuart report extensive damage to buildings. Bridges are damaged as well. Jeanne is the fourth hurricane to tear through Florida in six weeks. That's a first since records have been kept. GRIFFIN: We're going to go to the Florida emergency officials starting a news conference. This is in Tallahassee. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've already cleared Broward and Palm Beach County in initial assessments. At this point, we'll not be at the Barrier Islands because of safety issues. We're hoping to be able to do that as the weather starts to clear.

Our initial assessments indicate that there is damage. We're working with our local EOCs. All of them have been in communication with us throughout the night. And as you know from the briefing that you heard at 7:00 this morning, our focus is going to be on search and rescue.

We're asking people in the Tampa Bay area to be particularly vigilant as the storm makes its way across the state. As you know, it will making its way similar to Frances. We're taking out that playbook as we look at some of the things that we've been able to do successfully in that process. And as it makes its way towards Tallahassee, clearly folks here in Leon County will need to be able to pay attention to the storm as well.

I would like to be able to say that our FEMA partners, we're working closely with them. CFO, as well as Craig Fugate and the governor, are out currently. Let's just -- let me give you a moment to talk about their schedule.

As far as Central Time, they would be at Booker T. Washington senior high school, which is a shelter. They will then go to Saint Michael parish for a mass.

They will then be in -- excuse me -- St. Lucie County at the EOC there at about 4:00. That would be Eastern Daylight Time, I believe, to be able to do a briefing. They will then travel to Martin county EOC at 5:40 approximately.

So clearly the governor is continuing to be out there with the citizens in their time of need to be able to continue the message that we have today, which is life safety. To be off the roads so that we'll be able to start the response process.

I'd like to now take a moment and introduce Ben Nelson, who will move us farther on the weather issue. But before I do that, one of the last things I should point out is our shelters are working fairly well. We have about 268 shelters currently open, with a population of 42,000. Sixty-two special needs shelters open with 1,200 personnel in them currently.

Ben Nelson to bring you an update on the weather.

BEN NELSON, FLORIDA STATE METEOROLOGIST: Good morning.

We had another awful night in our state across the southeastern portion and east central sections of our beloved state. Hurricane Jeanne made landfall last evening just before midnight in the same place where Frances made landfall three weeks ago, on the southern end of Hutchinson Island, near Sewall's Point, Florida, at Category 3 strength, 120 miles per hour. The pressure did fall right before landfall as hurricane hunters measured 947 millibars, which ironically the same pressure as Ivan was when it made landfall in the western -- in the western panhandle in Alabama just over a week ago.

Currently, Jeanne has weakened to Category 1 strength, but its destruction continues across central Florida. Maximum sustained winds are down to 85 miles per hour. It's currently located about 15 miles to the south of Bartow, Florida, or about 50 miles to the east- southeast of Tampa, Florida.

We're seeing destructive hurricane-force winds spread all throughout the metro Orlando area this morning. And even in farther areas west, DeSoto County, is now receiving hurricane-force gusts. So those are the areas that now have been hit now by three hurricanes in the span of six weeks.

We expect Jeanne to continue on a west-northwest, to eventually northwest course today. We'll be spreading tropical storm force and hurricane-force winds into the Tampa Bay region here in the next couple of hours before taking a more northward turn along our state's Big Ben coast later this afternoon and during the evening hours.

With that motion, we'll expect three to six-foot surge along the Nature and Big Ben coasts towards the evening hours, and then Tampa Bay area more immediately could see a two to four-inch -- two to four- foot, rather, storm surge here in the next few hours as the storm bypasses them, perhaps just to the north. If the storm does veer a little bit west and goes over Tampa Bay, those could be three to six feet in Tampa Bay as well.

We've seen, based on the Doppler Radar estimates, more than eight inches of rain over a pretty widespread area of the state, especially in east central Florida. That's resulted in flash flood warnings that continue until noon today. So obviously, residents in east central Florida and along the southeast coast need to remain indoors, as the weather conditions are going to be very slow to improve later today.

Based on what the hurricane hunters saw, their landfall flight last night, the area of hurricane-force winds sustained -- extended from the southern half of Brevard County, all the way throughout Palm Beach and perhaps even into northern Broward County.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To bring us an update on our health care and medical facilities, Secretary Levine.

ALAN LEVINE, SECRETARY, FLORIDA'S AGENCY FOR HEALTH CARE ADMINISTRATION: Alan Levine, Agency for Health Care Administration.

The good news on the hospital front, most of the hospitals -- we've talked to most of them this morning -- they've seemed to fare much better in this storm than they did during the last storms, specifically Martin Memorial Hospital, which is still repairing from the damage from Frances, did sustain some significant roof damage last night. And they do have some water intrusion in the hospital. Though they -- their CEO and I talked, and he seems to be -- he seems to feel that they're much better prepared now and are able to move quickly to do the repairs.

So they're operational, though limited. The big issue right now is capacity.

Most of the hospitals are either full or nearly full already. So Dr. Aguinobe (ph) from the Department of Health has been in active communications with FEMA with regard to the availability of DMAT teams. And those are available should the need arise. And we've prepared to distribute them or get them on the ground quickly.

A couple of interesting stories. One, Sebastian Hospital in Indian River did have a generator failure, though their life safety generator is functional. And we're in the process now of securing another generator to back them up.

One story of heroism. As I was talking to the CEO of Palm Bay Hospital, she informed me that there was a truck driver about 2:00 this morning who had pulled over at a rest stop. The wind blew his truck over. EMS dispatched in the middle of the storm and got him to safety at Palm Bay Hospital, where he is doing fine.

So a lot of -- a lot of -- a lot of good stories out there, a lot of heroism. And we're really proud of the health care teams that are out there in the field now.

The secondary issue, nursing homes. I know many of you are concerned, as we are, with the issue of the potential for extended power outages.

We have been in active communication with the nursing home associations and many of the members. And we're -- we're encouraging them to develop alternative plans in the event of an extended power outage to ensure that the frail and technology-dependent elders are well taken care of in this storm. So we're much better news from this storm as compared to the -- to the prior storms.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To give you a little bit more information on operationally what the DEM is doing as far as the storm's concerned, we'll have the cert chief -- excuse me, the SERT chief, Mike DeLorenzo.

MIKE DELORENZO, SERT CHIEF: Good morning.

Currently, the focus of the state emergency operation center is on life safety issues. As soon as conditions permit, we will have our own search and rescue teams go to the impacted areas.

As you heard, Secretary Levine said the conditions are still dangerous in the state, with the storm presently at the center of the state. But we do have recon teams, and the recon team has made it to Stuart, Florida, and will progress up the coast as conditions permit. Currently in the state of Florida, power outages for the storm, the current number is 938,000 without power. But of course that figure will increase as the day continues. We will focus on damage estimation and life safety issues for the remainder of the day, and hopefully we'll have better information for you at the 4:00 briefing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been in constant contact with our FEMA partners, and here we have a representative that can give you an update on the FEMA position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We federal people don't move quite as fast as state and locals do in a disaster, but the good news is we're already in place this time. The bad news is we're also hunkered down. We have a disaster field office in Orlando, and like the secretary said, we're worried about life safety.

Our people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) brought our people in from the field, and we have them hunkered down, hopefully safely. To compensate for that, though, we have beefed up our staff here.

I have more medical folks here. I have search and rescue folks here. And we have a beefed-up staff to work here.

We have disaster medical assistance teams already staged and in place to assist the state. We have search and rescue teams already in place. And we have more on stand by.

The -- we also have commodities that are prepared to go in. As soon as the disaster moves -- go through, we will move more commodities in. And my boss is flying -- the FCO is flying with the governor today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just in conclusion, as you know, in working with FEMA, we have a logistical staging area located in Homestead. We've also been in contact with the local EOCs for the distribution. So as the storm clears, we'll be able to push the needed commodities top those locations for then distributions with our volunteer partners. For example, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and faith-based organizations, as well as other volunteers.

So the process that we used similar to Frances is in place, has been tested. We understand the needs of the community. And as the weather clears, or as Director Fugate says, we won't wait for blue skies. But as soon as that it's possible for us to do so, all of the elements will be moving.

At that point, we'll take questions that you might have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were speaking about the Homestead teenaging area. Has the weather cleared up that those folks can start inching their way up the coast yet, or are they still hunkered down waiting for a couple more hours?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still waiting for the weather to clear, but our search and rescue teams are starting to move currently, as well as (UNINTELLIGIBLE). As I said earlier, they're already in Stuart. So they've been able to be clear Broward, Palm Beach, and now we're into Martin, and making our way to St. Lucie (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How serious is the flooding threat, not only in the Nature Coast area, but also Tampa Bay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll ask Ben Nelson.

NELSON: Well, we're expecting rainfall-wise six to 12 inches along the path of -- of Jeanne. If it does pass a little bit to the northwest of Tampa Bay, you know, that area immediately will get, you know, at least five inches of rain there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Category 2 and Category 3 storms, describe a Category 1 hurricane for those people who are yet to experience it today.

NELSON: Well, a Category 1 hurricane, you know, they're probably going to have sustained winds in the 75 mile-per-hour range around the Tampa area. You know that's a significant impact, I mean, wind-wise, rain-wise.

And then, of course, if you're along the immediate coast, that two to four feet of surge right in Tampa Bay and areas just north could be three to six feet. So it's not anything that you want to be outside. You need to hunker down just like the folks on the east coast did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) anticipated crossing here or the path at this hour?

NELSON: Well, we still -- we're still looking at overnight landfall tonight, into Monday morning. That's still up for a little bit of margin of error there.

Right now they have it going into -- the Hurricane Center has the official forecast into Taylor County, but obviously we've got a little bit of wiggle room to the west of that perhaps. So really, residents all along the warned area from, you know, Apalachicola on over to Dixie County can, you know, have an equal chance of seeing this move on shore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben, can you -- you said that it hit the same place. What are the odds of that happening, and is there something naturally that would cause it to go back to the same place?

NELSON: There's nothing naturally that would cause that. It's just the steering currents were very similar to what they were in Frances with this ridge off the East Coast. So they were just very unlucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number on the odds of it going back to the exact same place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cohen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm wondering if FEMA could tell us when he expects FEMA to reopen their Orlando disaster field office. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say as soon as the weather clears.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, as soon as the weather clears. It's traveling up through the center of the state. Ben kind of gave you the area in which it's coming up through.

We're telling people in Tampa, we're asking folks not to be out on the road. So as soon as the weather's clear, that gives us an opportunity to reestablish our office there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that likely to be today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can you say about the damage? I know it's early, but can you give any...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's early. It actually is too early at this point.

Probably later this afternoon there'll be some initial assessments, again, as the weather clears. It's a very significant storm at this point.

We're still getting tropical-force winds. We're still getting hurricane-force winds. We're not asking anyone to be out in that kind of weather. So we're waiting for it to clear.

However, as we're doing that, we have recon teams that are already out there, and we've got National Guard folks teamed up with the law enforcement people who are positioned, ready to go in. But at this moment, as the weather clears, the local EOCs are starting to make those initial assessments. So again, we'll just need a little time to be able to get to that point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any reports of deaths?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None confirmed at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. Our next briefing will be at 4:00 p.m.

GRIFFIN: OK. That was live coverage from the state of Florida. Various emergency officials debriefing on the status of things right now, and really search and rescue at this moment.

They're not concentrating on too much damage. Two hundred and sixty-eight shelters open, 42,000 people in them as this storm continues.

NGUYEN: And the storm is still working its way across Florida right now. Rob Marciano has the latest on that.

I understand you have an update as well on Jeanne.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, west-northwest movement, it remains at about 12 miles per hour. It is now 50 miles east- southeast of Tampa Bay, and heading that way.

Right now, winds are gusting in Tampa over 50 miles an hour, and they've gusted to hurricane strength in Orlando. So those are the two cities where this thing is beginning to head between. And we'll continue to keep this track, it looks like, for the next couple of hours.

Winds now have dropped to 85 miles an hour. That makes it a Category 1 storm, likely to continue at that strength for the next couple of hours. And then likely around noontime I suspect they'll drop it to a tropical storm strength at that point.

All right. As far as what you can expect for the track of this thing, we do expect it to continue just to the north and east of Tampa.

Forty-three mile-an-hour gusts. This is actually as of 8:00. It's increased just a little bit since then.

Fort Myers 44, and West Palm beach at 35. Daytona, 48-mile-an- hour wind gusts. So still this wind field is huge. It still expands almost 200 miles from the center of this thing as far as tropical storm-force winds are concerned.

Here is the center of the storm, here is Orlando. Tampa about 50 miles to the west of the center. And this thing continues to march that way.

This area, the western flank or the western eye wall, is where the nastiest weather is right now. That, and plus to just the south of Orlando, around Kissimmee, St. Cloud. Anyway, as this thing heads off to the north and east, Clearwater up to Spring Hill will all be in the path of this, and could see hurricane force gusts.

Category 1 strength. There's the forecast track just to the north of Tampa, then out in the Gulf of Mexico.

The state's meteorologist there for Florida mentioned that there may be a little wiggle room here as far as where it's going to make landfall. And that's a little term meaning that it could be pushed off to the east. If that's the case, then Tallahassee will be seeing a little bit worse weather than originally thought. Right now, though, the track takes it up the gut of the Apalachia Bay area as a tropical storm, likely a strong tropical storm later on today.

Good news with this system. Hurricane -- or tropical -- tornado watch has not spawned much in the way of tornadoes. That will likely change later on today.

But so far, we have not seen a whole lot of tornadoes to the north of the system. That's where we typically look for them. And that's where the watch box is out.

But right now, this storm continues to barrel towards Tampa. It is about 50 miles almost due east as it moves in that general direction.

Let's the latest. Category 1 storm. So we're slowly starting to weaken this thing. It's been a slow-go this morning, but it is weakening. And might very well be a tropical storm before noon.

NGUYEN: Made landfall at Category 3, now a Category 1. I think people, especially if they're just waking up and seeing what Hurricane Jeanne has done, may be surprised that the path that this has taken, because almost identical to that of Frances.

MARCIANO: Yes. Well, the...

NGUYEN: At least where it hit.

MARCIANO: Is that what they're saying for the official landfall? Because I've got Sewall's Point as well.

OK. It's pretty much right there. I mean, it is -- it is, what, a couple of miles apart?

So, yes. And then, also, if we could continue this graphic even farther to where Jeanne is right now, it would be identical to where Frances went. So it's mind boggling.

NGUYEN: What are the chances of that, Rob?

MARCIANO: You know, I was thinking about that.

NGUYEN: Yes.

MARCIANO: I don't know, winning the lottery five times over. I have no idea. But there isn't an odds maker that would make that bet.

NGUYEN: Exactly. All right. Rob Marciano, thank you so much for that update.

MARCIANO: OK.

GRIFFIN: We have been able to get e-mails from a lot of people across Florida. Fortunately, this storm has not knocked out everybody's power. And if you are in the path of this storm, or if you have an email question for Rob, why don't you send it to us: wam@cnn.com. And also let us know what's happening in your area right now as far as the weather and/or damage is concerned.

And we encourage you to stay with CNN all day. We're going to stick with Hurricane Jeanne, continuing coverage.

Correspondents posted from one point to the other on this storm and moving as we see fit. So stay with us. Hurricane coverage here on CNN.

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