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Hurricane Wilma Coverage

Aired October 24, 2005 - 00:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: So here we go. We are looking live now at Tampa, Florida, which may escape at least the brunt of Hurricane Wilma, which as you know has strengthened now to a Category Three.
Maybe you don't if you're just joining us. It's now a Category Three storm with winds now up to 115 miles an hour.

Also a live shot now of Key West. Let's take a look at that, which may not escape the storms fury.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: You can see the winds right there and already just whipping through.

HARRIS: Wilma, located now 100 miles or so to the west.

NGUYEN: The latest advisories, Tony tells us, that Hurricane Wilma is about 165 miles southwest of Naples, Florida.

Now top winds are up to 115 miles an hour. The storm is moving northeast at 18 miles per hour.

From the CNN Center in Atlanta, good morning. It's very early morning. I'm Betty Nguyen, thanks for joining us.

HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris: welcome to our special coverage of Hurricane Wilma. Hurricane Wilma, picked up strength now, as it heads toward Florida.

CNN, your hurricane headquarters, has Florida covered.

Rob Marciano is on Fort Myers Beach.

Jeanne Meserve is in Naples.

John King is at Marco Island.

And Gary Tuchman is in Key West.

NGUYEN: Putting all of this into perspective and where the hurricane is headed, we want to check in with CNN's severe weather expert, Chad Meyers. He's been up looking at all the maps and he's got the latest.

Good morning Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Betty. Good morning, Tony. The entire area now, from Key West right on up to Fort Meyers, under the gun for some type of damaging wind today, and I don't want you to focus on any type of line, because the storm, the eye, the center part, where the storms are the worst here and here -- that's 45 miles apart.

So there's going to be this swath of eye wall damage all the way across even Miami. Yes, even though that's on the wrong side, and the storm is not hitting you directly, it is actually hitting you indirectly from the backside.

Everybody that I know in Miami has storm shutters along the ocean. Very few storm shutters on the west side of the houses or on the big high rises, and if you do have it, you need to close them on the west side, cause that's your direction, all the way from Fort Lauderdale down to Miami.

The winds will be from the west, from the south first, and then the heaviest ones will be from the west or from the southwest. It is a Category Three, maximum sustained winds 115 miles per hour.

The storm did gain some strength in the past couple of hours because it is what we call in the loop current. It's in the loop, if you will. As the storm was in this very red warm water three days ago, it went to a Category Five. Then it parked itself over Cancun.

Well, in the past couple of hours it's been traveling over a very warm body of water; that's why it went from about 95 to 105 and now 115. But if you notice, in the next few hours it's going to run out of that warm water and most likely lose its potential for any further strengthening.

The eye wall could still tighten up a little bit, we could still see this as a Category Three, and that's the forecast when it comes on shore, but it looks like the forecast for any real dangerous type of motion now -- dangerous type of oh, it's going to be a Category Five, that doesn't look like that's going to happen but we are going to have that forward speed.

We are going to have 115 mile per hour wind and if it starts picking up speed by the time it moves across the state of Florida we're going to have some damage on the east coast as well.

Back to you.

HARRIS: Good to have you here my friend.

MYERS: Glad to be here.

HARRIS: You're getting a reward -- yeah -- any of those warnings, any additional information, you just give us a shout and we'll get it right to you.

While Florida residents have had plenty of time to prepare for Wilma, many are finding themselves stuck tonight. CNN's Gary Tuchman is live in Key West where the storm swells -- well, you know what Gary? Maybe I should ask this as a question -- well, we can see. The storm swells -- are they starting to roll in a bit?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN: Tony, well, we've been experiencing for the last three hours now are tropical storms force gusts.

But it hasn't been sustained yet. What the city fathers here are being told is that by about 2 or 3 a.m. Eastern Time they're expecting sustained hurricane force winds.

Now we've had several squalls come in that flooded this street, Duval Street in downtown Key West, but the rains have pretty much for the most part stopped for the last hour.

Of course, that's not the last we're going to see of the rain. We are sure that will pick up. But you can see down the street here, this street, seven days a week, is jam-packed with revelers.

The restaurants and bars down this street -- there are still some cars on it despite the fact that there's a curfew in place that began at 10:00 Eastern Time and also a mandatory evacuation in place.

All 28,000 of the residents who live here in Key West were supposed to be out by now. It's estimated by county officials that up to 80 percent of the people may still be here.

There's a lot of very proud people who don't want to leave their homes. They -- the last time they got hit directly by a major hurricane here in Key West, Florida was 1919.

There's actually a shrine constructed at a Catholic church near here, a grotto; a coral grotto -- that was constructed by a nun in 1922.

And what she said when she constructed that grotto was is that as long as the grotto stands here a hurricane will never hit Key West. Well, there hasn't been a direct hit since that grotto was put up.

In 1935 there was a major hurricane that hit the Keys, one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the United States, but it hit the middle Keys, the upper Keys, not this particular Key, Key West.

So right now, most people are still here, most of them are still in their homes, but occasionally we see a car or even a bicyclist coming down the street.

Some flooding, Tony, near the beaches, but we want to emphasize to you that's to be expected. Even in minor rainstorms they get flooding near the beaches. It's flooding here though that would be a major story if and when it does happen. Back to you.

HARRIS: Look at that, Gary. Have to ask you -- if 80 percent of the residents there are hunkered down and are going to ride this out, what does a mandatory evacuation mean any more? TUCHMAN: Well, its something we go through all the time with hurricanes. It's a question we're always asking and it's an important question.

Doesn't mandatory in "Webster's Dictionary" mean you have to do it?

HARRIS: Right.

TUCHMAN: And technically you have to do it, but no one ever forces people to leave. What they tell people is listen, if you're going to stay, it's at your own risk. There's going to be no 911, the police are not going to be coming out on these streets.

They're out right now, but once we start getting the hurricane- force winds, they're not going to be driving out. There's going to be no help.

There are no hospitals open. There's three hospitals in the Keys. No hospitals open whatsoever. So it's all at your own risk if you stay.

HARRIS: So Gary, the idea that the police ride through and basically visit the residents and just sort of take a number down of next of kin and -- or just to be able to contact them at some point when the storm moves away?

TUCHMAN: We've been -- we've covered some hurricanes, Tony, in some smaller towns where police do go and take down the next of kin. They're not doing it here in Key West.

There isn't any -- we've spent a lot of time with the mayor here in Key West -- he's been in office just 16 days he took office. And he went door to door telling people they should leave but he wasn't insisting they leave.

He acknowledges there's a spirit here in Key West, a very live and let live spirit and that people often don't want to leave and he accepts that.

But he makes it clear you're here at your own risk; here's a cop as a matter of fact right now.

The Key West police squad cars say on the front of them "protecting paradise" and that's what they're trying to do right now. "Protecting Paradise."

But that doesn't include forcing, physically, people to leave.

HARRIS: Okay, Gary. Thank you, Gary Tuchman.

NGUYEN: I think he hit it on the head: it's a live and let live kind of spirit down there. Definitely a spirit.

So let's head over now to Fort Myers Beach, Florida and meteorologist Rob Marciano. Rob, in Key West only 80 percent said hey we're not going anywhere.

I shouldn't say only. Only 20 percent decided to leave. Are folks leaving where you are?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I don't have a percentage for you but I can tell you along this strip of land right along the beach, nearly everybody is gone, certainly the businesses have closed up and boarded up.

And they've taken the precautions to protect their property and in some cases their livelihood. We don't expect in the present track of this storm to see a tremendous amount of storm surge and that's good news because where I stand relative to where the water is, it's only about 50 feet away and we're in between high and low tide right now.

So when this thing gets to high tide if we were to see a more direct hit or if the center of this were forecast to hit say Punta Gorda again, we'd have a serious storm surge and we would not be reporting from this location.

But nonetheless the rains have picked up in earnest here the last hour. Winds not so much -- 20-25 mile an hour winds, but the rains are starting to come down, so if there is any issue here in the next couple hours here in Fort Myers, it will be the threat for heavy rain -- excuse my Elmer Fudd impersonation -- and some pounding surf.

But, that's the latest from here, Betty. Back over to you.

As far as evacuations are concerned, all the barrier islands have had a mandatory evacuation order much like that of Key West, which just means that you know it kind of takes the liability off the local governments if something happens to you, you can't go say hey, well, the local government didn't come help me out.

When there is a mandatory evacuation that kind of wipes, you know, gets the blood off the hands, so to speak, of the local governments. It's one of the reasons they do that.

Here at Fort Myers Beach even though it's technically kind of a barrier island there is a small bridge that gets you to here, it's pretty close to the mainland to where there's only a voluntary evacuation here and that's one of the reasons we picked it.

Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: Hey, let me ask you about the rain and the wind behind you. When we saw you oh, a little over an hour ago you were completely dry. I mean, is this something that you're going to see constant until Wilma hits?

MARCIANO: That's what Chad Myers tells me. He says we're in this rain shield now and the squalls, the feeder bands, the spiral bands that spiral out and spin out ahead of the storm have now condensed into what is the main rain shield of this system. So -- any sort of break that we get going forward in the next six hours will likely be just a decreasing in the rate of rain and wind. We'll see that from time to time, but all the rain gear is one, Tony and Betty.

We've got the galoshes, the pants, the hat, everything. The whole nine -- the gear that has had too much wear for the past couple of months, that's for sure.

NGUYEN: No doubt. We need to retire that and let's do that soon, shall we?

We're hearing about an alpha? We'll talk to you about that a little bit later on, of course, when we check in with Rob and all the other folks on the scene throughout the morning.

HARRIS: So Betty, let's get the latest on Hurricane Wilma's strength and position. Max Mayfield is the director of the National Hurricane Center and Max is live with us from Miami and Max, good to have you here.

And Chad Myers is going to be joining us as well and Max if you would just sort of give us the facts, the figures, the nuts and bolts of this storm as you see it right now.

MAX MAYFIELD, DIR. NATL. HURRICANE CENTER: Okay, Tony -- the center of the hurricane is about 100 miles west of Key West moving toward the northeast. They're getting sustained storm force winds down here in the lower Keys.

But the core of the hurricane is still yet to come, and it's moving toward the northeast about 18 miles per hour. That forward motion will continue to increase and by the time it gets to the peninsula it will likely be moving about 25 miles per hour.

The landfall will be most likely in Collier County, passing just south of Lake Okeechobee then exiting Palm Beach County on the east coast.

We're very concerned with the storm surge near and to the south, where the center crosses the coast on the Gulf side and of course in the Florida Keys.

We need to remind people that a hurricane is not just a coastal event, though. The strong winds and heavy rains and the tornados will spread well inland.

In fact, on the graphic behind me, this shows the area of hurricane-force winds, you know, and a pretty good chunk there of the southern Florida peninsula.

And storm force winds well up to the north of that, too.

HARRIS: Okay, Max, Chad has some questions for you.

MYERS: A question about storm surge today with this storm on its current track. Ocean-side, Keys, probably into Collier County, northern Monroe County, that area there.

But what about areas north and northeast of there? How far is this surge that you talk about going to go inland through the Everglades?

MAYFIELD: Well, it's going to go quite a ways and they -- you know -- talking about the storm surge down there in the Keys. You know they're getting some from the Florida Straits side. I'm sure Roosevelt Boulevard down there in Key West has water over it now or will shortly.

But the most significant storm surge in the Keys will likely be from the Florida bayside, on the backside of this hurricane and then on the mainland, we're looking here -- this is the track, and I always want to say here that to have a perfect storm surge forecast you have to have a perfect forecast: the track intensity and the radius of maximum wind.


MAYFIELD: But if we're close to being right, all this area down to the south here is going to be, you know, 14 to 19 feet -- luckily, a lot of people don't live here, but Chkalovsky (ph), Everglade City, Dublin (ph), those areas -- and this is Marco Island right here, and there's Naples to the north of that -- those shift to the north of the track and they're going to get a lot higher storm surge up there.

HARRIS: Wow. Well, Max thank you. Thank you for your work on this and thanks for all the great information and Chad thank you as well.

NGUYEN: And that is some important information there. Storm surge possibly 14 to 19 feet.

Well, a substantial storm surge is expected at Marco Island, which Mayfield was just talking about, just south of Naples, Florida is where it's located, and our John King is there and he joins us as we can see.

John, the winds have picked up.

JOHN KING, CNN: Betty, the winds have picked up in the past hour or so, and Max and Chad just discussing the storm's surge. You can't see it here but the Gulf is just 100 yards or so, a little bit more, away from us.

And the waves have started to crash a bit, the rain is getting more intense, so certainly the early warning signs essentially, that Wilma's just a few hours away, are here in Marco Island.

Now, the last hurricane to hit directly from the west was some 40 years ago. This was a small fishing village then. Now it is a very pricey resort community, million-dollar condominiums, million-dollar homes are easy to come by.

Even some million-dollar yachts and many boats and yachts still in the canals, very close to these homes. So if this storm surge is in the area of seven to nine feet as they say, if it's a Category Three when it hits, possibly 12 feet or higher, many of those boats will be tossed about.

We know that from our travels today.

One of the concerns local officials are raising is that some residents will stay on the island because they're Floridians who have watched hurricanes hit the Miami area, watched hurricanes go nearby but not hit directly here because it has been so long.

The city manager trying to urge people to heed the mandatory evacuation order by reminding them that this is a storm that is coming directly at or certainly quite close to Marco Island.


BILL MOSS, MARCO ISLAND CITY MANAGER: Well because we have so many hurricanes, people think that they've been through a hurricane just because one has been off-shore 50 miles or one passed through moving from east to west.

For us, a storm coming from the west makes us very, very vulnerable, especially to storm surge.


KING: Now we visited the emergency operations center earlier today and you just heard the city manager mention that storm surge. If the storm passes a bit to the south as is projected now, Marco Island believes it will get off a bit easier if you will but there are about 20,000 who are on this island when they issued the evacuation orders over the weekend.

They believe about 90 percent are now off. There are still some police patrols after midnight; there was a 10 p.m. curfew in effect, but they believe 2,000 or fewer people on the island right now.

We went to two homes tonight where there were hurricane parties underway; people ignoring the requests of local officials. In one case a local who said he and his wife and his neighbors were determined to stay. In another case, Betty, four British tourists here on holiday.

They've never been through a hurricane like this before -- they said they simply had no place to go so they were going to try to ride it out.

NGUYEN: Yeah, that's going to be a memorable vacation for them. I have to ask you about emergency officials. Are they just scratching their heads?

Because it's good news that 90 percent were able to evacuate, but for the folks who stay behind, I mean Floridians know all to well about a hurricane's damage and especially after Katrina.

With folks out there staying home despite all of the warnings, are officials still at this point going what are they thinking?

KING: Well, the officials certainly get exasperated when people decide to stay. And it's a mix of people. We went on police patrol today through Latino neighborhoods; one of the officers was speaking in Spanish urging people to get out.

We went to Catholic mass this morning -- most of those people said they were planning to leave, but I spoke to a gentleman who would only say he was in his 70-somethings -- his wife said near 80. He said he was going to ride it out in a 17-floor retirement condominium.

So some of the hardy stay and the local officials say they will keep in touch, they will try to keep the bridges open in case anyone needs to get out and they do have a remarkable computerized system here that gives them not only every home on the computer in a fire truck or a police vehicle but also the schematics of the buildings so they can get into an apartment and know where all the entrances are if they need to.

NGUYEN: Oh, that is good information. Very good.

John King, thank you and of course we'll be in touch with you throughout the morning.

HARRIS: Well, conditions all along Florida's west coast are breaking down, deteriorating, as Hurricane Wilma approaches.

Emergency officials worry about the storm surge that we've been hearing so much about and tornados that may spin off the storm.

CNN's Jean Meserve joins us now from Naples where a curfew is in effect and the rain gear is on, the hood is up. Obviously, you've got conditions that are really breaking down around you, Jean.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN: They are, Tony, but I'll tell you I haven't traded my sneakers from my boots yet. That's coming, I'm sure but we aren't there quite yet.

We've been hearing Gary Tuchman all night talk about some of the wildlife he's seen down on Key West. The only wild life we've seen here is one rat, one opossum, and a whole lot of really big insects.

People are few and far between. I took a walk around this area of the coast, which is largely built up with condominiums. Very few lights are on here tonight. Most people at least on this front line against the Gulf have chosen to get out of their condominiums and back to safer ground.

There are some people here; a few. I met one couple earlier, retired -- they're staying here. They're pretty well equipped -- they had their lanterns on the table, they had a night light in the bathroom that was battery-operated so they could find their way around.

They said frankly they're more comfortable staying here. This is the place they know, they're comfortable with the building, they know where everything is, and they're pretty confident that the structure of this building is good and strong.

You know this is an area that's grown up tremendously. The last time it saw a direct hit from a hurricane was in 1960, Hurricane Donna. There were only about 15,000 people living here at that time.

Now it's ballooned to something like 300,000, but on the plus side of that many of the people who live here are in this new construction which has been built to new hurricane standards.

It might be able to resist quite well a Category Three, which is what they're anticipating here.

On the downside, it may give a false sense of confidence to some people. They may assume the best and maybe the best isn't what they'll be handed here in the early mornings of this hour. Tony, back to you.

HARRIS: Okay Jeanne, we'll be watching your location throughout the morning, obviously. Much to get to this morning.

NGUYEN: We do have a lot to talk about, including FEMA preparedness. Of course FEMA doesn't want to make some of the same mistakes that were made during Katrina. Want to show you what they're doing to get prepared.

HARRIS: And Betty in just a couple of minutes we'll be talking to the sheriff of Lee County. Lee County includes the city of Fort Myers.

That sheriff from Lee County, Mike Scott will be joining us in just a couple of minutes.

Remember, CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida. We'll be right back.


NGUYEN: CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and for the day as Wilma bears down on Florida.

HARRIS: That's Islamorada, Florida, south of Key Largo?

NGUYEN: Yeah, South of Key Largo.

HARRIS: South of Key Largo right now, live shot coming into us from our affiliate --

NGUYEN: Look at the wind blow there with those palm trees. You can tell it's picking up and quickly.

HARRIS: And our thanks to WPLG for those pictures as the storm clearly intensifies, and I couldn't begin to guess what kind of wind speeds.

Maybe tropical storm at this point, but clearly hurricane force winds will be rolling in shortly in that area and all of the areas along the west coast of Florida.

And we'll be keeping an eye on it, obviously.

NGUYEN: And for those of us just -- for those just joining us, Wilma is now a Category Three storm.

HARRIS: Category Three, winds of 115 miles per hour, and Chad Myers is, with all of his computer technology, is tracking every moment of that, and Max Mayfield just a couple of moments ago giving us an update on the storm's path and coordinates, so a lot to get to, a lot to follow, and we'll be doing that all morning long.

NGUYEN: But now, joining us on the phone live from Fort Myers, Florida, is Lee County sheriff Mike Scott, and he's been patrolling the south side of the county and sheriff, first thing I want to ask you is what are the conditions where you are and what are you seeing?

MIKE SCOTT, LEE COUNTY SHERIFF: I'm actually just coming off of Fort Myers Beach and I'm headed out to our command center, which is in the eastern part of our county.

A large county here, about 1,000 square miles. There's rain everywhere. The rain's picking up here. I'm encouraged by the fact that there is very little traffic on the roadways.

Clearly, people have received the message to evacuate or hunker down and we're encouraged by that.

NGUYEN: Is there a curfew in effect in your county?

SCOTT: There is; 10 p.m. for this evening until daylight in the morning, but obviously we don't expect a whole lot of daylight and don't expect too many people will be out and about early in the morning.

The main reason for that, of course, is for safety and also for the opportunists that might decide to try to loot.

NGUYEN: Have you seen any? I know it's still early, but have you seen any of that at this point?

SCOTT: No we have not. We had one arrest earlier; it was an impaired individual that was drunk and causing a problem, but nothing with regard to theft right now. Most of the businesses here are boarded up and/or shuttered down and obviously closed.

NGUYEN: Well that's good news. Now, you are a native of Lee County. In fact, a third generation, so you have seen your fair share of hurricanes. Are you feeling any hurricane fatigue at this point?

It's been such a busy year.

SCOTT: Actually, personally, I'm in this mode, and I think I speak on behalf of most of our agency, in the mode of kind of overdrive right now. I mean, we've been sort of anxious for this actually. I realize that doesn't sound right, but we've had so much hit and miss preparation for it now that we're pretty well ready to get through it.

You know, we had a couple of days of extension now on this deal.

NGUYEN: Now when you talk about preparation, and I think we all have learned a lot in light of Katrina when it comes to what works and what doesn't work.

Have you changed anything since that storm? Has it made you rethink some of what you're doing to prepare for hurricanes and to protect the people in your county?

SCOTT: Actually not. You know we've had the plan in place -- the plan has remained pretty well consistent. It's just a matter of when to implement that.

Again, we had a couple of days there where we were in a hurry up and wait mode. At 6:00 last evening we went to what we call an A/B shift, which is half of our manpower allotment for 12 hours on and then 12 hours off, and our agency is about 1200 strong, so we've got around four or five hundred people in the streets right now and obviously we've got support groups behind the scenes.

I will say, though, Betty, that when the winds here reach a sustained speed of 40 miles an hour we also seek safety and seek shelter until the threat passes, so I expect some time during the early morning hours we might go into a withdrawal mode for a short period of time.

NGUYEN: Well, yeah, you have to stay out of the storm's way so that you're safe and can help those in need.

Last question to you and very quickly for those who are staying behind, what's your warning to them?

SCOTT: Well, obviously, lay low. I mean, we're going to get some very, very nasty conditions and the primary focus here is personal safety of our residents and our visitors and for those that stayed behind. Just ask them to seek cover and seek shelter and we'll get back to them as quickly as we can once the threat passes.

NGUYEN: Sheriff Mike Scott of Lee County, we appreciate your time, stay safe.

SCOTT: Thank you very much.

HARRIS: Once again here we're keeping an eye here on our local affiliates. CNN affiliates in the Miami area. We've got WFOR, which covers Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

WPLG covers Miami. WSVM-Miami as well and also WTBT, which I believe covers Tampa.

So do we want to check in with one of our affiliates? Okay. We're going to take a break and when we come back we'll check in with one of those affiliates just to monitor the coverage locally in the Miami-South Florida area.

NGUYEN: CNN as you know is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida so don't go away.


HARRIS: CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida.

NGUYEN: Want you to take a look at this right now. This is a live picture out of Naples, Florida.

As you can see, the winds don't seem to be pushing too hard in that area just yet, but you know they will be picking up and it seems like its one of those things that it comes and it goes until Wilma gets a little bit closer to shore.

But, for those of you who are just joining us, do want to remind you that Wilma has been bumped up to a Category Three storm, with winds now up to 115 miles an hour.

Also want to give you a live look now at Fort Myers. Somebody in the little live shot there but you can see -- you can see the winds are picking up in that area.

Look at the palm tree to the right there just blowing in the wind. Wilma is now located 110 miles or so to the west.

HARRIS: Wow. All right. We're about 90 minutes away from the next hurricane advisory.

The 11:00 advisory reported Hurricane Wilma is about 165 miles southwest of Naples, Florida. Top winds are up to 115 miles an hour.

The storm is moving northeast at 18 miles per hour.

NGUYEN: Well, from the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Betty Nguyen. We want to thank you for joining us. We're going to be up all morning with you.

HARRIS: And welcome everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Welcome back to our special coverage of Hurricane Wilma.

In the next few hours most of south Florida will certainly feel Hurricane Wilma. CNN, your hurricane headquarters with reporters all across the state.

Rob Marciano is on Fort Myers Beach.

Jeanne Meserve is in Naples.

John King is at Marco Island.

And Gary Tuchman is in Key West. And we'll get to them in just a moment.

NGUYEN: But first, putting all of this into perspective for you and where the hurricane is heading, we want to check in with severe weather expert Chad Myers. He has been up all day watching this.

And you're going to continue to do so.

MYERS: I just want to kind of tell you, Betty, about where the Islamorada area is there rather than just kind of throw that out there and no one has an idea where it is.

It's right there and that live shot was actually from Holiday Isle, just kind of a resort area that a lot of people from Miami drive down to for the weekend.

And this is about to get a fairly strong squall coming up now -- that looks like about maybe Grassy Key, Duck Key and then it will be coming on up into Tavern (ph) here. That entire area there about to get a little bit harder hit than maybe what you see there.

Be nice to keep that shot up so that we can see it when that squall comes on shore.

By 8 a.m. tomorrow morning it is still a Category Three. Right now it is a Three. Sustained winds to 115 and that is a Category Three storm.

If we move you from Key West on up into central Florida, seeing now the rain picking up and we've talked about this with Rob Marciano a little bit ago.

There's not going to be much more of a break in between these rain squalls now. Some squalls will be heavier than others but there's very little empty space now on the radar map. Farther up o the north one very strong cell had a tornado warning on earlier for Lake County and more cells off shore on shore and even farther to the north.

There is even rain in Georgia from this storm that hasn't hit Key West yet. That's how large this storm is north to south and east to west.

NGUYEN: Hey Chad, I have a question for you. In that one radar clip that you have, you can see the eye of it and it's a large eye. I don't think I've seen an eye that large in a while.

MYERS: It is. It is 45 miles around, which means if we had Category Three winds, that it's going to be a 60 mile path, swath, of that as it comes completely -- well, farther south than this -- but you get the idea.

If that storm is 60 miles across, 45 miles from eye to eye, and in the middle there's not much wind -- that's not a myth -- that's true. But if it goes farther out than that, let's say 65 miles from eye wall to eye wall, look how far this path is going to be. NGUYEN: Wow, yeah.

MYERS: That's how wide the Category Two; Category Three damage is going to be.

HARRIS: And Chad right now because we're about to go to Jeanne Meserve and she is at Naples and I'm just wondering how strong are the winds for her right now? Is she seeing tropical storm force winds?


NGUYEN: Not yet?

MYERS: I just checked Naples was about 22; Islamorada about 35 and Key West is now up to 54.


MYERS: So as it gets closer, those numbers are all going to go up though.

HARRIS: Okay Chad. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Wilma is a Category Three storm, it is huge, from central Florida to the Keys residents will see strong winds, heavy rains and even possible tornadoes. We begin this half hour's coverage from Naples and our Jeanne Meserve.

Oh, we don't have Jeanne. Oh, we just lost her. Just lost her shot. We'll get her back up in just a second.

NGUYEN: In the meantime we are going to Rob Marciano. Rob is in Fort Myers. He's going to give us a look at what's happening there. Rob, we've been talking about tornadoes.

Give us an idea of where these tornadoes are.

MARCIANO: Well, Chad would have a better answer to that than I would. I can tell you when there's -- it doesn't feel like there's one right over my head, so that's good news.

NGUYEN: Well, obviously not.

MARCIANO: The winds and the rain have picked up steadily in the past two hours and we have not seen a break.

Earlier in the evening we were getting those squalls coming through where we'd see heavy rain and heavy wind for 20 minutes and then we'd see calm weather -- you could take your jacket off and just hang out and enjoy the tropical weather.

But now we're in -- starting to feel the taste -- or taste Wilma and the tropical storm force winds starting to get closer to us, but we really haven't see that just yet.

The barrier islands that make up the coastline of Lee County, they have been under a mandatory evacuation since noontime yesterday, so folks there most of them have gone out.

The residents that have chosen to stick around, well, they're kind of on their own until the storm is over and a lot of them are sticking around.

There are many homes that are built to hurricane standards, the new hurricane standards, which since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew came back there are state laws that say that any home that is now built after 1994 has to pretty much be built like a fortress to withstand hurricane force winds up and over 100 miles an hour.

And you see them going up all over the place. Homes built in Florida; when you see new construction going up in Florida it's unlike any other place around the country.

There is none of that cheap plywood, none of that cheap particleboard going up for new homes around here. It is cinderblocks from bottom to top and those roofs for the most part are strapped in.

What you see behind me is the beach here, Fort Myers Beach, about -- it's about 10 miles southwest of the city itself down the Caloosahatchee River, which is the big river that dumps out of the Lake Okeechobee.

That can see flooding problems on a storm like this if the winds and the storm surge is right. Looks like the track of this storm is coming in such a way that the winds for the most part all day long should be blowing out off shore, which would mean that should keep the storm surge from coming in.

So we don't expect to see much of a storm surge, and that's good news because I can see the ocean from here. The high tide will come up in a few hours and high tide, you know, like just a normal everyday I can kind of see where the line is -- it's about 15 yards from me, so if there was any sort of storm surge forecast for this area we wouldn't be standing in this spot.

So we will bring you, over then next several hours there, an update on how the winds and the rains are beginning to increase, and obviously if the track starts to shift a little bit north, if Wilma starts to make a more of a left turn than a right turn, then we may very well be in the thick of it.

But as Chad has mentioned throughout the evening, that wind field is beginning to expand, it's beginning to spread out because this storm is now mature, it's not an exploding storm where you see a real tight radius of winds.

We're seeing hurricane force winds about 70-80 miles an hour so with landfall forecast to be 40 or 50 miles south of here we should theoretically be in that shield of hurricane force winds.

So its not going to be like this all night that's for sure Betty and Tony, and we'll just keep brining to you live reports from Fort Myers area because we want to represent those folks who were forecast the storm, not just the folks who are getting the full -- you know, the ground zero so to speak -- folks who will be up -- who will be dealing with this storm up and down the coastline.

NGUYEN: That's right; on those outer bands. Rob Marciano, we will be checking in with you. Thank you for that.

Thanks for representing, Rob. All right, Tony.

HARRIS: Let us return now to Collier County where a curfew is in effect and residents are preparing for Wilma.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is there at this hour and John you've got winds of over 25 miles an hour right now.

KING: Local officials, Tony, tell us they think they've past 30 but certainly the gusts have intensified. You can see it -- we came a little closer to the beach from where we were in the past.

The waves hitting about 60-70 yards to my left here. This is a little boardwalk to take you out to the beach. If they get the storm surge they expect, some time in the morning, this is likely to be underwater, at least temporarily.

You see the vegetation here on the shoreline starting to blow around a bit, but the conditions are still relatively, if you will, peaceful given what is coming.

But this is certainly the early warning signs of what is coming. About 16,000 people live on this island year round. Local officials think there are about 20,000 people on the island.

Some of the winter arrivals coming early when they issued the mandatory evacuation orders. They think now and there are still some police patrols going around town that they are down to about 2,000 people on the island.

Again, if a Category Two hits close to here and at one point today the storm was coming directly at Marco Island. It looks now like it will go a bit to the south but they still expect a Category Two to give a seven, maybe a nine-foot storm surge if it comes ashore as a Category Three as I believe it still is now.

They say that could go up to maybe 10 or 12 feet, perhaps even a bit higher. So that is the key concern.

Quite dark now, and you see the vegetation blowing to my left, to my right, all around the canals around here, million dollar condominiums and homes, pricey yachts, also down the road a bit some very low-lying fishing communities with trailer homes literally inches and feet away from some of these canals in the Gulf.

So certainly it is the storm surge and we're seeing the waves beginning to intensify; that is what they are worrying about most, but as Rob was just noting the rain has now begun in earnest, so you'll get some rain filling the water table beforehand, then the storm surge comes in.

They're certainly expecting considerable flooding here in Marco Island and the surrounding communities, Tony.

HARRIS: Okay, John, thank you. Storm surges. You think about it -- it's the wind, the rain and then the storm surge that everyone is so concerned about.

NGUYEN: A lot of combinations to factor in with a storm just this big, a Category Three hurricane and we have a lot to tell you about.

We are going to be speaking with the spokesman for Collier County, John Torre. That's coming up right after this break.

HARRIS: And Gary Tuchman.

NGUYEN: He's in the thick of it right now.

HARRIS: Yeah, Key West. Winds there over 30 -- over 40 miles per hour? We're checking with Gary Tuchman in just a couple of minutes.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida. We'll be right back.


HARRIS: CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida.

And Betty, let's put the technology to work for us here.

NGUYEN: Bring up the pictures.

HARRIS: We're going to put up four different shots on your screen and -- let's see -- let's make this up.

Upper left corner of your screen now as we show you Blanket (ph) Florida where we're expecting this storm to make landfall in just a couple of hours.

Upper left corner of your screen: Key West, Florida. All right?

Upper right corner of your screen: Naples, Florida.

Lower left of your screen: Marco Island, Florida.

And lower right, that is Fort Myers, Florida as we show you this storm as it is in fact bearing down -- okay, just to double check it -- there it is. All right, I got that right.

As it continues to bear down on Florida you can't be too sure.

NGUYEN: Now you mentioned Naples -- Collier County, where Naples is located, is expected to get the worst of Wilma.

First responders and emergency officials expect long hours during the next few days. On the phone right now from Naples is John Torre. He's the spokesman for the Collier County government, and he joins us now to talk about the situation there.

We were showing a live picture just moments ago, but I want to hear it from you. What is the weather situation right now?

JOHN TORRE, COLLIER COUNTY SPOKESMAN: Well, Betty, I just came in from outside a couple of minutes ago, and I can attest to the fact that it has really picked up, the wind and the rain.

You know, the storm is almost on top of us, so we're going to be dealing with this now for the next several hours.

NGUYEN: And as for the people who live in that town, have many of them sought shelter? Have they evacuated?

Well, we put the mandatory evacuation order into effect at noon on Friday and the voluntary evacuation notice a couple of days before that.

We think many people got out of town, but those who couldn't get out of town have sought refuge in our public shelters.

At last count we had more than 6,000 people in our public shelters scattered around the county.

Most of those shelters are in public schools that are located further inland away from the coastline.

NGUYEN: Now this obviously isn't your first hurricane, so give us some perspective here. Six thousand in shelters. Is that an increase from the hurricanes in the past?

TORRE: Yes. We haven't had a direct hit, by the way, in Naples in Collier County, from a major hurricane since 1960 and Hurricane Donna, so it has been a while since we've had to contend with a storm that directly impacted us.

Hurricane Charley last year, though, was a very close call for us and impacted a little bit further north and we had many people in shelters at that time but only about half the number we're seeing tonight.

NGUYEN: Only about half. Okay, so that's good news. And these people are taking the precautions necessary.

As you prepare for Wilma, which is headed your way, what kind of challenges are you facing?

TORRE: Well, I think the key point in the days leading up to the storm's arrival was getting the word out to folks that this was a serious storm and needed to be taken seriously and I think people responded.

Could have been some residual leftover effects from Katrina and Rita of the northern Gulf and people -- those images were still fresh in people's minds and I think they took the -- the notification to evacuate seriously this time.

We put the evacuation notice along the coastal area of west and south of 41 and we also have curfew in effect for that area tonight, so I think this time around people were paying attention, understood that this was a serious threat to our area, and made a decision to either get out of town or at the last moment to seek refuge in a shelter.

NGUYEN: You alluded to the lessons learned from Katrina. Did you do anything different this time? Did you order those -- not order -but suggest those evacuations earlier, perhaps?

TORRE: Well I -- you know -- I think we have good procedures and plans in place here in Collier County and I think its been evident this week that, you know, we have a good team in place down here, we've worked closely with state and federal officials to be ready for this storm and also to start planning for the post-storm recovery efforts.

So I think, you know, obviously we felt that as much time as possible to get people to make a decision about evacuation was important.

NGUYEN: Uh huh.

TORRE: And I think that went into the thinking to issue the preliminary voluntary evacuation notice early -- earlier in the week -- and then to issue the mandatory notice on Friday. And we did buy ourselves an extra day here when the storm slowed down considerably over Mexico.

NGUYEN: And time does matter in these situations. John Torre, spokesman for the Collier County government there. We appreciate your time and do hope that you stay safe through Wilma.

TORRE: Thank you.

HARRIS: You know, Betty, we asked Chad Myers to jump in here whenever he gets new information of warnings, watches, whatever and he has news now of a new warning.


MYERS: Well I'm seeing some live shots from Gary Tuchman -- he's getting blown around in Key West and just to the east of Key West, in fact, Ramrod Key and Big Pine Key now a tornado warning for that area.

This is the little storm you can even see, use your imagination there may even be a hook on this storm, the doppler radar out of Key West is calling this a violent waterspout, 22 miles south of Ramrod Key moving up toward Big Pine Key, Little Torch Key and obviously then Middle Torch Key maybe even toward No Name Key before it's all done.

This storm is moving to the north very quickly, almost 60 miles per hour. Tony.

HARRIS: And Chad, just quickly, we're about to go to Gary Tuchman. How strong are the winds?

MYERS: He's getting hit. I -- you know, I haven't looked lately. What I'm looking at -- that's at least 65 to 70 now. He's getting close to hurricane gusts.

HARRIS: Okay. Chad, thanks.


HARRIS: Wilma's strength is already being seen, as Chad mentioned, in waterspouts, tornadoes. This waterspout was captured by one of our -- yeah, it's a tornado over water -- that's what it is.

Captured by one of our "citizen journalists" off the coast of Miami toward Key West. The National Hurricane Center warns people will be seeing more of these as the storm moves across Florida all day today.

Wilma is a big, big storm. So, much of south Florida will feel its effects -- the Keys are already losing power and experiencing flooding. CNN's Gary Tuchman joins us live from Key West.

And Gary, 65-70 mile per hour winds you're experiencing now according to Chad.

TUCHMAN: Well, that's right Tony: we were getting the sustained tropical storm force winds now but the rain still -- we haven't seen a torrential spell for more than a half an hour. Started raining nine hours ago; it's come and gone and it's really not that heavy.

Of course, we anticipated getting much more heavy. The big development here in Key West: 15 minutes ago most of the power went off in Key West.

And we who cover these hurricanes a lot describe that as the serious phase of the hurricane, because once the lights go off for most people the water goes off, too and it becomes a real difficult situation.

We always think about all the small children and elderly people who did not evacuate and now find themselves in a situation where they have no electricity and no water, and they hear the howling winds and the torrential rains and it's a very scary time, particularly when it's the middle of the night like it is right now.

But Key West a very fun and festive town -- was that way up until a couple of hours ago now a very quiet, very dark -- curfew in effect 10:00 Eastern Time. Mandatory evacuation in effect since yesterday.

Fact is, though, many of the residents, 28,000 people in this city, have decided to stick it out, a far cry from what we saw in Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi during Katrina and Rita. People here have decided to stick it out and you have a major hurricane, a Category Three, heading in this direction. It's been since 1919 since a major hurricane hit Key West -- could happen early this morning.

HARRIS: Gary, taking a look over your left shoulder, you've got people -- are they just -- what are they doing? Are they just --

TUCHMAN: Well, I'm going to show you, Tony. There's one guy standing over there, and this is something you do see in places like Key West.

I don't want to describe -- why he had the demeanor he has, but I will tell you that we had -- and I'm not -- and I'm doing this for legal reasons, okay, Tony?

What I'm going to tell you is this. We've seen a lot of people in Key West who have had a little too much to drink this very evening.

I'm not going to say this guy is one of them, but I can give you an idea that they've been wandering down the street doing their performances and that's what you see, Tony sometimes when you're at a place like Key West.

Not saying it's this guy, I don't know. But a lot of people have had a little too much to drink.

HARRIS: I apologize for even asking the question. We just saw him over your shoulder and I didn't know what the heck was going on.

NGUYEN: We thought he was being blown by the wind and it was a situation where people were just out and feeling the --

HARRIS: Its performance art is what it is. All right.

TUCHMAN: No, I'm glad you brought it up because I didn't know he was behind me so, yeah, we've got to let the viewers know that this wasn't a guy who was just out having a good time. He has some issues.

HARRIS: All right, Gary, thank you. We're going to take a break now and when we come back we'll have more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Wilma.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida. We'll be right back.


NGUYEN: Well CNN is your hurricane headquarters all night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida.

So throughout this very long, and we stress long, hurricane season we've been telling you about the strength of the storms.

Well CNN's technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg has done a fact check for us. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: The low pressure in a hurricane is measured in the eye of the storm, while the average barometric pressure on earth's surface is 1013 millibars, the pressure at the center of a hurricane is 100-120 millibars lower.

That low pressure point is what determines the storm's strength. It acts like a vacuum, pulling the storm system inward all around it. This does two things.

First, it holds the hurricane together, keeping the storm bands from straying away and dissipating and second, the harder to pull inward the faster the storm's rotation and the stronger the winds.

Of course, the pull gets stronger as you get closer to the eye of the storm. That's why the winds and the so-called eye wall are the hurricane's strongest. It's those winds that can cause the most devastation when the storm makes landfall.


NGUYEN: All right, you know where to be, because we're going to be here all night long tracking Hurricane Wilma so we don't want you to go anywhere.

HARRIS: Just three minutes from the top of the hour. On the other side of the hour, we will get an update on Wilma from the director of the National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield in Miami.

Quick break and we'll be right back.



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