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Florida Braces for Hurricane Irma, Miami Could Take Direct Hit, Jose Strengthens to Category 3. Aired 8-8:30p ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

It's one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever, one of the longest lasting category 5 storms ever, potentially the most destructive hurricane to hit south Florida in decades. And now, the big question for millions of people is where exactly in Florida will Hurricane Irma hit hardest. We'll try to get closer to answering that question over the next two hours.

We already know what it did to the islands in the Caribbean. This is St. Maarten. As you can see, the damage extensive there. Four people we know have died. Four dead in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Another person died on Anguilla and another on Barbuda, which was virtually leveled and is now under a new hurricane watch for category 3 Jose.

The island chain of Turks and Caicos getting hit right now, feeling the worst of it. These are from several hours ago. But even this looks pretty threatening.

In the moment, you're going to hear from the Turk and Caicos governor. And in our next hour, an American trapped on the island with her family, including their 11-month-old son.

It has been a horrible three days for the Caribbean and a taste, just a taste of what could lie ahead in Florida.

Today, Florida's governor had a simple message for anyone facing evacuation orders.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Once you're in evacuation order, get out. We cannot save you when the storm hits. If you're in the Keys and still home, leave and get out. If you're told to evacuate, get out quickly. We can't take care of you in the middle of a storm.


COOPER: Again, Turks and Caicos getting a beating right now.

Let's get the very latest from CNN's Tom Sater in the weather center.

So, I understand new forecast just came out for Irma. What's the latest?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, not much of a change, Anderson. In fact, what we found is just a slight drop in the pressure.

Now, typically, that happens as it's going to go maybe through some strengthening. It takes a while for the winds to speed up to catch up to that pressure drop. That's really the only change right now.

We're going on hour 60 that this has been a category 5. I mean, that really staggers the imagination. We went 24 hours without a landfall. Although in the Turks and Caicos now, around Cockburn Harbor, and toward their capital, they're getting pounded pretty hard. So, there is going to be a fewer smaller islands that take landfall. But it's still mainly over the open waters.

Warnings for the Bahamas but a big thing happened today, do not take this lightly. National Hurricane Center placing a hurricane watch. This is a big, big deal. They don't do this lightly.

They don't slap one somewhere on the U.S. because it costs millions and millions of dollars to do this. With the federal and state and the local resources, and the money that pours into this for evacuations, for getting gear in place, this is a big deal.

So, they've studied it. They've analyzed it. This is going to become a warning. And the other watches will be posted up both coasts.

As we watch the new plots coming in, some still want to interact, of course, with Cuba. But mainly the computer models -- at least these, the spaghetti plots, still kind of favor that east coast. But when we look at the track now from the National Hurricane Center, instead of shifting eastward again like it did 60, 70 miles yesterday, it went back to the west about another 15 to 20. And that puts Miami, unfortunately, Anderson, in the worst possible position.

COOPER: All right. So, let's just talk about how the various models changed the risk for Florida depending on which way they return.

SATER: OK. Let's break it down by looking at -- let's look at the European, which consists of over 50 models. And the U.S. is another 21. So, these are ensembles.

Last Thursday, the European was exactly the same position, just amazing how it handles the environment. But it shifted back westward.

We'll put this into motion, there it is. Landfall, pretty close to Key Largo, just to the West. We have the keys, in the strong winds as well. Miami is in that front right quadrant where you do not want to be, where the winds are the strongest, storm surges are the worst, wrapping around the system. Then up through possibly all the way to Orlando, through the entire center part of the Florida peninsula.

The U.S. model, which was offshore, Anderson, yesterday, has shifted significantly, almost in the same location. Now, the possibility exists here tomorrow they may shift backwards. So, that's why every day is critical, but both of this, this is right on Key Largo, right up Biscayne Bay, the storm surge, into Miami, hugging the coast a little bit more.

So, that would mean the catastrophic damage is going to hug the coastline. So, I mean, this is critical to watch both of these.

COOPER: And Hurricane Jose is coming along. I mean, hard to imagine thinking about anything else right now but Irma, but Hurricane Jose is coming up right along toward some of the same islands devastated by Irma.

SATER: Yes, the 5:00 advisory, they upgraded Jose from a category 1, which yesterday just at 5:00, we got Katia as a hurricane, and Jose, is now a major category 3. Katia is going to slide down to Veracruz in Mexico, thanks to a cold front moving across the southeastern U.S. It's too bad that cold front wasn't moving through on Friday.

But now we've got a major category 3 hurricane. It is sliding toward the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles. Can you imagine if you were in Rockport and you were devastated by Harvey, and 24 hours later, you get another hurricane watch? That's what's happened for Barbuda, for Anguilla, for St. Kitts.

It's coming dangerously close, Anderson. I don't think it's going to take a direct landfall, but it doesn't have to be this close, because those hurricane force winds are going to spread all that debris from all the damaged homes across these islands.

[20:05:06] They can't evacuate. It's barely habitable according to the prime minister, and they do not have a Houston Convention Center. I mean, they barely can go anywhere.

This is extremely a sad situation when you have forces of a category 3, that's major, and most of the buildings can barely give anyone any shelter. We'll have to watch it closely. Let's hope it stays away a little bit and moves northward.

COOPER: Yes. Tom, thanks. We'll check in with you.

Again, just to underscore, Miami is in Irma's prime target right now.

First, though, more from the Caribbean islands, and because Turks and Caicos is getting hit right now, communications are difficult. Just before air time, I spoke with the local governor, John Freeman.


COOPER: Governor, what are the conditions like right now in Turks and Caicos?

GOVERNOR JOHN FREEMAN, TURKS AND CAICOS (via telephone): Well, it all depends which part you're in, actually. I'm on Providenciales, the biggest island in terms of population. I mean, the hurricane winds are followed with a minute or two. We've had tropical winds before that.

Other parts of the island, Grand Turk, was the first to hit in the eastern part of the island. It's been having hurricane winds for some time and there's quite a bit of damage on that island already. Fifteen roofs have come off, and there's damage to part of the roof of the hospital. COOPER: Are many of the buildings in the islands, are they prepared

in terms of how they're constructed for this? Obviously, hurricanes are something that have happened before, but nothing this size.

FREEMAN: Yes, it varies. I mean, the more recently built, yes, because they meet contemporary standards of hurricane proofing. The older the buildings are, the more vulnerable they often are. People, of course, do try to improve and renovate them and make them stronger. And there's been quite a deal of preparation by people to secure their houses, and where they're not secure to leave their house and go to the shelters the government has provided.

COOPER: Do you know what time it's expected to be at its worst?

FREEMAN: Well, again, it depends island to island. But for this island, Providenciales, the worst time is between from now, 7:00, and 2:30 in the morning, our time.

COOPER: And have people evacuated, or are there shelters for people to go to?

FREEMAN: There are. We put out evacuation orders on two islands on Tuesday and Wednesday, where there is a smaller population. And others in low-lying areas, where there's a high risk of inundation, they've been encouraged either to go to family or friends to higher up on the island or go to the government supplied shelters which are open and now getting pretty full.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of how many people are in government supplied shelters?

FREEMAN: I don't know the exact number, I'm afraid, off the top of my head. But, I mean, for example, in Grand Turk, where there are two shelters operating, the figure must be of the order of 300.

COOPER: National shutdown I understand was declared today in the Turks and Caicos, freezing emergency services until the storm has passed. That's obviously a common move in many places, because it can be just too dangerous for emergency personnel to go out during the storm. Is the message to people now just, stay where you are?

FREEMAN: Yes, it is. It's hunker down. Stay where you are, because you can't go out, because the winds are just far, far too strong. Nobody can get to you either.

So, you know, they're a little while on their own, or with their families or in the shelters.

We took some steps before the storm came, of course, in terms of the shelters. For example, yesterday I was visiting hospitals. So, we brought in women who were pregnant and at risk of having confinement over these three days, we brought in all of those who needed to have dialysis, which only lasts three days. They were in from 4:30 in the morning all day having that dialysis done.

So, some things have been done to prepare as best we can. Even against those kind of medical emergency-like things.

COOPER: And just in terms of supplies of gas, petrol, of water, of food, how are things?

FREEMAN: Well, water production, the pumping goes down, of course, with the electricity. So, in Grand Turk, which as I say is the first island hit, water pumping went down quite early, because the electricity went down quite early. But people stocked up a lot on water. I mean, just as you've seen in Cuba and Florida and elsewhere, people have been collecting water. People here have been collecting water. You know, just to drink and for other purposes, too.

COOPER: Governor Freeman, we wish you the best in the hours ahead. Thank you.

FREEMAN: Thank you very much for your time.


COOPER: Some of the information on Irma comes from storm chasing planes flying above and sometimes directly into the storm. Just before air, I spoke with Air Force Reserve flight meteorologist Jeremy DeHart.


COOPER: Major, you flew in the hurricane last night. You still have planes up right now. What's going on with this storm?

[20:10:01] Is it maintaining its strength?

MAJOR JEREMY DEHART, AIR FORCE RESERVE FLIGHT METEOROLOGIST: It is, actually. It's kind of unprecedented that it is maintaining a strength for such a strong storm. Irma has been a category 5 for almost three days now. And it's the strongest category -- strongest storm to come out of the Atlantic on record, in the Atlantic Ocean. So, it's pretty amazing that it's been able to maintain a strength for this long.

COOPER: What about its organization? Any signs that it may be slowing down at all?

DEHART: The forecast track has been pretty spot-on the last couple of days. National Hurricane Center has it at a pretty continuous speed, forward motion. It's held that. It looks like it will begin to slow as it approaches southern Florida before it makes that turn. But that's being forecasted by the National Hurricane Center through their products as well.

COOPER: What was your flight like?

DEHART: Pretty intense. Category 5 storms are rare. Some of us could go our entire careers in this line of work without seeing one, flying through one.

So, just immediately, as you start flying through the storm, you recognize the power of it. And, you know, you're flying through, it can be relatively smooth until you get to the eye wall area. And that's when you really start getting jostled around, completely obscured with cloud cover and rain.

And then what's unique about these major hurricanes is, as soon as you hit that eye wall, punch through that, it just opens up into a clear blue sky, and calm winds. So, pretty incredible.

COOPER: You talked about, you could feel the power of the storm as you were flying through it. How do you feel that in an aircraft?

DEHART: Well, one example is, there's something that we call slip. So, when you're flying through the storm, you know, you're trying to fly in at a straight line. But you're getting blown from the side so much, so we have a slip. So, we were at about 35-degree slip, which means to maintain a constant heading, we had to fly 35 degrees pointed the other direction. That's just one example of how extremely strong this storm is.

COOPER: The eye is incredibly large on this storm. And everybody I've talked to who's flown over it has just talked about how perfectly formed the eye is.

DEHART: Right. Yes, we measured it at 25 miles across, which is a large eye, and perfectly symmetrical, perfect from a meteorological perspective, yes. They are rare, especially in this part of the world. So, quite a unique and amazing storm.

COOPER: We've seen, you know, two basically different tracks, the European model, the U.S. model. How confident are you in the tracking so far, that it likely will hit Miami?

DEHART: Well, it's important to note that with the hurricane hunters, we're primarily data collectors. The National Hurricane Center that's putting out those official forecasts, it's our job to gather that real time reconnaissance data that's so crucial to them, to be able to make those forecasts. So, the hurricane center, the true experts when it comes to forecasting the storm. We provide the data they need to be able to make those forecasts as accurately as possible.

COOPER: Major, I appreciate all the work you and others are doing right now. Thank you very much for talking to us.

DEHART: OK. Thank you.


COOPER: We're going to be hearing more shortly on the dimensions of this, from someone crunching the data Major DeHart is actually gathering. Ed Rappaport from the National Hurricane Center is going to join us shortly.

As we said, Irma already pummeled the island of Anguilla, leaving complete devastation in the wake. Josephine Gumbs-Connor rode out the storm, survived, but says her homeland looks like a nuclear bomb was dropped on it. I spoke with her a short time ago.


COOPER: Josephine, what was it like for you when the storm was at its worst?

JOSEPHINE GUMBS-CONNOR, SURVIVED HURRICANE IRMA ON ANGUILLA (via telephone): I think that it's so incomprehensible, the significance of feeling the immense pressure at the time when it was at its worst. You know, we live in the hurricane belt. We are very familiar with hurricanes.

And we prepare every year. We're happy when we go through a year and when there's none. And when we do have, you know, we've developed a really serious good construction industry.

[20:15:00] And we feel proud of how we're able to withstand these winds.

But I think it was very, very clear when we heard the warnings from the National Hurricane Center that this was going to be the worst recorded storm in history. And it was the first time that even I myself needed to hunker into a bathroom when the winds got as tremendous as they did. They were every bit the 225-mile gusts that we anticipated.

COOPER: What sort of damage have you seen?

GUMBS-CONNOR: Oh, Anguilla is a completely different place at the moment. If you talk about, for example, essential services -- our hospital, one hospital on the island, it's lost a good portion of its roof. One police station on this island, it's lost its roof. The courthouse lost its roof. The prison has lost its roof.

All our schools are sorely damaged. They are basically open shells and open sepulchers. Our churches seriously damaged. And we've had -- you know, we pride ourselves on one church that was built back in 1830. One of the oldest churches here in Anguilla, completely destroyed. And it's a shell.

It's just -- the magnitude, Anderson, is just -- it's -- I keep saying incomprehensible, because that's what we're seeing on the ground.

COOPER: You actually ended up in your bathroom to try to ride out the storm? You felt that was the safest place?

GUMBS-CONNOR: You know, literally, what we were hearing outside, it felt -- you had to -- you felt the need, you had to move. The winds, I can't begin to tell you the zinging of that -- at that -- that sound. It was just all-encompassing.

And it really became at one point a question of whether we would live to see through it. That's literally how it felt.

COOPER: You actually were worried about that, you actually thought this could be it?

GUMBS-CONNOR: Absolutely. This was a few hours of such intensity, that you worried, you literally worried, and you listened to the people in Anguilla, you talked to people on the road, everybody had a story. Who wasn't holding down a door, who wasn't witnessing, you know, projectiles coming through their house.

I, for example, have seen a situation in which concrete and rebar was sliced -- sliced -- and it's just incredible. Just incredible.

COOPER: What is the situation right now in terms of supplies, access to water, access to food, you know, law enforcement? What's the situation there right now?

GUMBS-CONNOR: It is very disorganized, Anderson. You know, we are a British overseas territory. And I personally am very saddened with the response. It should have been different.

And I must say, there weren't boots on the ground. Our electrical services are completely gone. Even if you have a generator, as we did, you were advised you couldn't turn it on, because of such severe electrical failures island-wide, island-wide. Poles on the ground. Trees. It's incredible.

COOPER: Josephine, I'm so sorry for what you and everybody else in Anguilla is going through. And we wish you the best in the days ahead.

GUMBS-CONNOR: Thank you for the call.


COOPER: Well, just ahead, as we continue to get new information on Irma's path and location and we're going to take you to the Miami International Airport, where people are trying to get out. They're up against some petty trying conditions to say the least.

And for those who stay, will any structure in south Florida be safe? A lot has changed since Hurricane Andrew. The question is, will it be enough? We'll look at that.

And also, more on the big question, the storm track, where exactly will Irma hit. We'll talk to someone at the National Hurricane Center about where he thinks it's heading.


COOPER: If anyone under evacuation orders need a reminder of what a powerful hurricane can do, we've just gotten word from the U.S. Virgin Islands that four people lost their lives in the storm when it came through there. You heard Florida's governor at the top of the program telling anyone and everyone who's ordered to get out or wants to get out, to get out now. That can be easier said than done.

Randi Kaye is at Miami International Airport for us.

So, what is it like there in terms of crowds, evacuations, flights out?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's jammed, Anderson. It's actually really a mess. I mean, it's calm. People are really being in control and staying in control. But it's really a mess.

There are lines just to get checked in. They're kind of ebbing and flowing throughout the day. There are lines, security, also for people trying to get out of town.

Right now, the biggest evacuation in Miami-Dade County is under way. So, everybody, a lot of them at least are coming to Miami International to try and get out. And it is just a mess.

The airport itself says it will stay open until the winds get to about 35 miles per hour. They're not taking any chances. That's not even tropical storm winds. People are trying to evacuate with their families, with their pets.

We just meet this one gentleman come in here. This is Matt Varga and his dog Mika.

And you can't even get on a flight, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't. I waited an hour in line at the agent office. I don't have the pet carrier. They won't let me on without a pet carrier.

KAYE: Airlines are saying that there isn't a pet fee because they want people to be able to evacuate, but you don't have the carrier and you went to how many stores?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went to ten stores.

KAYE: So, what are you going to do now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm heading back to Kendall. Just ride out the storm.

KAYE: With your dog? So, you're not going to leave her behind.


KAYE: She wants this microphone. Listen, we wish you luck. You're not the only one trying to get out certainly.

We met with a lot of people who are waiting in line, Anderson. One guy from here in town is trying to get to Toronto. He just wants to get as far away as he possibly can. Another family, they're actually originally from Brazil. And they are trying to get to anywhere they can get four seats on a plane.

So, they're going to Memphis. They had no desire to go to Memphis, but it was the only plane that had four seats. So, they're going to go checked out Memphis.

But we look at the board here. There are delays for hours. Many of the flights, of course, to the Caribbean are being canceled. So, it is still pretty messy even at this hour, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it's probably so frustrating for him to wait in line so long, for there to be a flight he could get on, but not allowed on because he doesn't have a carrier for the dog. It's not a huge dog. You would think they would make an exception.

Randi, appreciate you being there.

Joining us now is the Miami beach mayor, Philip Levine.

Mayor Levine, this updated path showing a direct hit for Miami, I'm wondering at this point, what are the biggest concerns, the biggest challenges you're facing?

MAYOR PHILIP LEVINE, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, the biggest concerns I have, of course, people that may not have left Miami Beach. I was on Ocean Drive today, which as you know, Anderson, is a place of parties and clubs and bars and restaurants.

[20:25:05] It was empty. That's a good sign. The streets are empty.

We have been telling people to leave for about three days now. I called it a nuclear hurricane because of what we see happening in Barbuda and St. Maarten and the United States Virgin Islands.

So, the good thing is, people are listening. My concern is, are there certain people that won't listen, that will hole themselves up in these buildings. I don't want to see that. Of course, with this hurricane, as a low-lying island that we are, the storm surge is very concerning to all of us.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, obviously there could be a very big storm surge. How do you prepare for that? I assume you have pumps and things like that?

LEVINE: Well, Anderson, I'll tell you, we've experienced sea level rise, we've been a leader in raising our roads, putting in pumps. But, of course, they're no match for hurricanes, let alone the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history.

So, we expect -- hope it will hit gate over days and get the water out, assuming we get this major storm surge. But there's no match. You know, how do you prepare for a storm surge? I don't think there's a textbook written yet.

But I'll tell you one thing, we'll make sure we protect the lives of our people and that's what we're trying to do, to get to the shelters.

COOPER: If people have not evacuated at this point, obviously there is still time for them to get to shelters, how many shelters do you have? Is there still room in shelters for people?

LEVINE: There is still room. There are shelters all over Miami-Dade County. We have shelters that are geared towards people with pets.

So, if you have a pet and want to bring it to a shelter, we have shelters for that. So, we have multiple shelters. They're not totally full right now. People can get into shelters.

And if you somehow don't want to go into a shelter, at least go to the mainland or go somewhere, where you have friends or family that maybe on elevated level, you feel it's a little bit safer. But being on a barrier low lying island of Miami Beach, that's what we don't want people to do.

And some visitors are -- some of them are staying. We're getting them all out as aggressively as we possibly can.

COOPER: There are long lines at the gas station, I know the governor talked about police escorts for gas, to try to keep stations open longer, and get gas to people.

Is there enough gas there for people who are trying to drive north?

LEVINE: Yes. Well, we're seeing right now the gas lines seem to be getting a lot less. I've heard from different friends of people, they are able to get gas. Now, as you leave Miami-Dade County and go to Broward, go north in the state it becomes more challenging. I know there's a lot of traffic.

But the one thing I do know is that getting off Miami Beach is not challenging right now. Our causeways are open. They're free. People are going in, actually leaving the island, so it's easy to leave Miami Beach.

COOPER: Mayor Phillip Levine, appreciate your time. Good luck to you. Thank you.

LEVINE: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to be right back with another update from the National Hurricane Weather Center, and the CNN weather center as we try moment by moment to get the most accurate picture for you of exactly where and when this hurricane will hit the U.S.


[20:30:43] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we continue to get updated information on Irma and of course category 3 Hurricane Jose behind it. Tom Sater is back, and joining us Ed Rappaport, acting director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Ed, let's start with you. This latest Irma forecast, where do you think is the most probable path?

ED RAPPAPORT, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: The most probable path is what we've actually been saying for the last several days now, it looks likely the hurricane will continue to move towards the west-northwest with its center passing just north coast of Cuba and then turn towards the north. What we're uncertain about is where that turn would occur, whether it's going to be offshore in the Atlantic, the Gulf, or over land. Increasingly, the threat is for the turn to come along land and up through the Florida Keys potentially and the Peninsula all the way up through the state.

COOPER: So just in terms of for Florida, that's probably the worst case scenario, isn't it?

RAPPAPORT: That's right. This track, in fact, if it were to play out just as shown is going to be the worst possibility certainly for the eastern half of the state. The entire state would experience hurricane force winds with a forecast like this, verifying, and the area very near the center, the core of the hurricane, expected to still be a category four, potentially category five at landfall. And that would make it the strongest, most destructive potentially, certainly for Florida, since Hurricane Andrew.

COOPER: And Ed Rappaport, that northeast quadrant of the storm that is the most powerful, so for that eastern part of Florida, that would be the hardest hit?

RAPPAPORT: That's right. And in fact, that's where the storm surge will be the highest. The winds will be coming onshore there. That's what's going to blow the water on to the land and the inundation we're expecting could be 5 to 10 feet along the shoreline. That water will progress inland until it reaches that elevation. And In fact, we have a hurricane watch up now for the southern Florida peninsula, as well as the Florida Keys. This is the first year the National Weather Service has issued a storm surge warning, a storm surge watch. This is area of the watch where we have a risk of life threatening storm surge within the next 48 hours.


RAPPAPORT: It's likely we'll upgrade that to a warning. It means likely kind of that level of water.

COOPER: And Tom, I mean, Ed just referenced this, but in the last category five storm to hit Florida, Hurricane Andrew. Talk to us how it compares to what we're looking at with Irma?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, first and foremost, I mean, there are many ways to compare them. The track is a major comparison. I mean, coming up from Cuba, from southern and due north direction, you're going to really have more damage across the entire Florida peninsula. If you take a look at what Andrew did 25 years ago, it came in from the west.

And so, again, just kind of like a buzz saw, shaving off a smaller piece of real estate, doing major damage, though, to homestead as we know, in fact, the number of fatalities was over 500, most of those were from -- or excuse me, 65 with this one, I'll show you another in Matthew which is about 500. That came up to the side of the coast, but 65 fatalities alone. It changed building codes coming in from the south.

I want to show you a photograph and here's another one, too, because the size difference is amazing. When you look at what Andrew was, much smaller, you can fit probably two of these inside Irma, really this is what we call with Andrew more of an annular hurricane. It's smaller, it's compact. Like a little cannonball as it moves through. But with Irma, the winds are so spread outward, that's where the catastrophe comes in, because much more damage can occur especially if it's sliding from the south to the north instead of just cutting off a smaller slice of the southern Florida in toward the Everglades, Anderson.

COOPER: Tom Sater, Ed Rappaport, I appreciate it. Thanks very much. We'll obviously be checking with you a lot in the future.

One island nation that has been through so much over the years is about to face more, I'm talking about Haiti. CNN's Paula Newton is there for us tonight. I believe you're in Cap-Haitien, correct me if I'm wrong, what are the conditions there right now?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely here on the north shore. Well, we were supposed to be hit with that southern, and we've been lashed with wind. But it's heavy downpours that really have been an issue. We've got a few more hours to go, Anderson. And officials have told us point blank all day today, they are not ready for this storm. More importantly, Anderson, they are not ready for the aftermath.

And you know it's going to happen here, in the next few hours, although thankfully Haiti escaped a direct hit in the ensuing hours, depending on how bad the flooding is going to be, and those mudslides, still a very dangerous situation. And authorities here really at pains to explain, look, we haven't even been able to get the people who need to be in the evacuation centers, in the evacuation centers.

[20:35:16] In these low lying areas behind me, Anderson, there are 100,000 people at risk at this very hour. People still do not know exactly what it means for them, especially since we have seen some surge.

I mean, look, Anderson, you know better than most, the government here is quite dysfunctional. They did the best they could. But it really wasn't a sense of urgency that you wanted to see from a place really being hit with this kind of a storm.

COOPER: Yes, and I mean, you know, the danger of flooding, the danger of rainfall, you know, moving mud off mountains, and we've seen this time and time again in Haiti, it can be truly, truly devastating.

NEWTON: Absolutely. And Hurricane Matthew, when you're comparing it, that was a category 4, hit the southern part of the country last year. Anderson, as you know, you've seen these homes, tin roofs, plywood, there are entire families swept away by mudslides. And, you know, a lot of people think the danger is over when the storm passes, when these winds go, and the torrential rains go, but the danger is just coming from the side of the mountain. They don't even know what is going to hit them. And that's why I'm saying, as you know, it will take several hours, days to really figure out the impact that this storm, even the back end of it, has had on Haiti, already that has dealt with so much in the last few years.

COOPER: Yes. Paula Newton, be careful. We're thinking about everybody on the island of Haiti tonight and Dominican Republic as well. Take a look at this. The dot is a plane, a commercial airliner flying through bands of Hurricane Irma, flying through an outer band. It got out of Puerto Rico at the last minute, to say the least. It was the last flight out of Puerto Rico. The flight was harrowing, as you might imagine. We're going to talk to one of the passengers coming up.

We'll also get an update from Barbuda where last night the prime minister told those homes and buildings on the island are just flattened. The island is decimated. We're going to hear again from the pilot who flew the prime minister on that trip. He's now carrying supplies in. We'll find out the latest from there.


[20:40:16] COOPER: One of the most remarkable images to come out of Hurricane Irma so far is this radar image. If you see that little dot, there is an aircraft that's an aircraft. The Delta rescue flight they got people out of Puerto Rico as Hurricane Irma approached right in the nick of time. Now just before air I spoke with Sheila Sellers who was on that flight.


COOPER: Sheila, you were on this remarkable flight. First of all, explain how the airline ended up racing against the clock. And what it was like for you.

SHEILA SELLERS, FLEW OUT OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (via telephone): Well, initially I was on a flight, on American Airlines. It was delayed. And then it was canceled. So we were seeking shelter inside the airport. They had, you know, getting the cots ready, getting the food ready and they said just wait until 1:00. We have one more flight and we want to make sure that flight gets out. If not, we'll have all the passengers come with you, you know, for shelter. And we said, what extra flight? We didn't know about any other flight. So it was a Delta rescue flight. And that's how we ended up there. Didn't know anything about it.

COOPER: What was the takeoff like? I mean, the winds were already, you know, getting strong.

SELLERS: You know what, we boarded the plane it was barely raining. It was like drizzle. But I think as, you know, by the time we actually hit the runway, that's when the wind really, really started. And you can see the rainfall -- we swayed a lot. As we, you know, ascended into the air, you can feel the pressure. I don't know if it was wind or what, you know, what it was, you could feel the plane having resistance.

COOPER: I understand you actually put your head in your lap and kind of covered your ears.

SELLERS: I did. Initially I was at the window. You kind want to see what's going on. That's a big deal. You're the last plane taking off. Everybody else was delayed. But you feel like, you know, let me see everything I've got to see in this flight. And I couldn't take it anymore. You can look down. I see the water. I see the water, everything turning white because of the wind pushing the waves. And you just see wind. It was a lot. So a nerve-racking at that point, and you hear people moaning, groaning. You hear people crying. There were two kids crying, and the mother trying to console her children. And it's a lot to hear. And you know, I'm in the same state of panic. So at that point I closed my window shade and put my head in my lap and covered my ears. The plane was turbulent for maybe about an hour like it never really stopped. It might have like subsided just a little bit, but not a lot.

COOPER: Well that's what's extraordinary. I mean, they were flying between -- kind of a gap in the outer band of the storm. They were working with, I understand, their meteorologist to kind of find a little channel that they could fly through. When you landed, what was that like? I mean, I've been on flights where people burst into applause. I assume there was probably some applause?

SELLERS: And it was. I don't know why I didn't anticipate it, if I had, I wish I would have had my phone out. It is, but everybody clapped. I mean, people were like standing ovation clap. It felt good. You know, you feel like you beat the odds. But I don't know what, you know, what devastation was behind me. I just was happy to be ahead of it. We landed. And we landed about 30 minutes early.


SELLERS: You know, and safely. And even during the flight, you know, we even had cabin service. So at some point, of course, the flight stabilized. But the initial -- from about takeoff for one hour, it was rough.

COOPER: Did you get a cocktail at least on the flight?

SELLERS: I had one.

COOPER: Just one?

SELLERS: You know what, just one. Because the turbulence, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. You know what, I wasn't the only one.

COOPER: You deserve it. Listen, Sheila, thanks for talking to us. I'm glad you and everybody else onboard that flight and remarkable work by the crew and everybody working there. Sheila Sellers, thank you so much.

SELLERS: Absolutely. Thank you.


COOPER: Quite a thing. Puerto Rico was spared the worst it of it, destroying of hundreds of thousands people, though, without power, tens of hundreds without water, meanwhile in the island of Antigua, Barbuda, devastation.

You know, yesterday we spoke to Pilot Greg Scott who flew the prime minister over the island in a helicopter. Nearly all structures he saw were damaged, completely flattened or just gone. Today he's flying supplies in and people out. The focus now of course on rebuilding and preparing for the next one, Jose. Greg Scott joins me again tonight.

So you described last night, you know, the destruction that you saw, that just the extent of it. I think the prime minister said as much as 95 percent of the structures were damaged or destroyed. Today what was it like flying there?

GREG SCOTT, PILOT, CARIBBEAN HELICOPTERS LTD.: Today much better. The weather was better. And although we did have some -- still had clouds and rain showers passing through from outer bands at the back of the storm. But -- so we had to dodge a few rain showers there. But the flights were fine. You know, mostly your normal Caribbean weather. Just a little bit breezier. But --

[20:45:01] COOPER: You talked yesterday about the damage to the runway. Which you said could be easily repaired. I'm wondering, has that begun so at least aircraft can start landing at the runway? And what sort of relief is being brought in at this point?

SCOTT: Yes, I think we've got a couple of guys got some concrete from Antigua, and they patched a few of the holes. We got another team going over to finish. A couple of holes were left in the runway and then it will be ready to go, probably tomorrow afternoon. And we flew people from Red Cross, the National Office of Disaster Services here in Antigua. And who else did I fly? Emergency personnel and medics.

COOPER: Have some people been evacuated?

SCOTT: Yes. We managed -- our company, our helicopters managed to evacuate about, oh, I'd say maybe a dozen, dozen and a half, two dozen people, about a dozen and a half, 18 people or so. But the -- a couple of boats came over. One was a tour boat. He was the first one over there this morning. And he took -- I'm not sure, about 10 or 12 I'm guessing. Another tour boat that does normal trips between Barbuda for tourists, they showed up with and took 100 back and they're going to go back again tomorrow and do it again twice. And a few other smaller boats were also there. So I'm guessing we've probably moved by the end of today, there are maybe -- could be as many as 150 were taken off the island that was of course, initially it was get the sick, the elderly, the young babies, and injuries off the island. So we, myself, I carried one lady who was kind of in distress. But she was -- she reminded me of an old Hollywood movie star. She had a good spirit, and cool way of talking even though she was sick.

COOPER: And we were looking at some of the images that were taken yesterday when you were flying over. Obviously cell towers have been destroyed. Is communication still an issue? I mean, can people communicate from the island? Is there cell service any?

SCOTT: Still down. Still down. The only thing is satellite phone is the only thing that's working over there right now. And so we communicate with our companies using cell phones for just, you know, times, the arrival times, departure times, and we weren't even able to do that.

COOPER: And there's a hurricane watch in effect for Antigua, for Barbuda, for Hurricane Jose. Are people able to prepare for another storm at this point, I mean, I'm not sure on Barbuda where they would stay.

SCOTT: This is the problem. That's why I think the move is to get them off is because there are no roofs over their heads. And -- nobody has been able to get any kind of shelter set up there yet. So, that I think that was the rush to get people off. So I think we'll see another 200 or more get taken off Barbuda tomorrow.

Here in Antigua, myself, I didn't unpacked much. I've left everything pretty much, because I knew the next storm was coming.

COOPER: Well, Greg, again, we wish you the best. And you're doing a great work for a lot of people over there. Thank you.

Here's what last night we saw in Puerto Rico. By this weekend, the same kind of wind, if not stronger, will be threatening high-rises, construction sites cranes in Miami. The question now is whether those buildings in Miami can stand the impact of this. Details on that next.


[20:52:04] COOPER: In South Florida, they've tried to learn from the past, especially from Hurricane Andrew, which was the last category five hurricane to make land fall in the U.S., that was back in '92. But since then, builders and developers put a lot of prevention measures in place. There's still no telling what can happen if and when Irma hits. CNN's Miguel Marquez has more.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five hundred feet above Miami. Workers scramble to tie down and sweep up, anything and everything that could become a destructive projectile in a storm.

(on camera): These things are extraordinarily heavy, yes?

BRAD MELTZER, PRESIDENT, SE REGION, PLAZA CONSTRUCTION: Exactly. So these are heavy and that's why -- yes, even though they are heavy and you would not expect them to able to fly away. We want to make sure nothing rolls away and we strap it down. You can see, it's a metal tie up. It's really going to go anywhere.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Construction cranes, extra steel anchors added, each massive hoist on top allowed to swing free like a weather vein.

MELTZER: A building like this is really open to the bay. So winds are going to come hit it. Don't have anything to protect it.

MARQUEZ (on camera): So the standards today are as meticulous as they can be?

MELTZER: Absolutely.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Much different than what?

MELTZER: Much different than pre-Andrew.

MARQUEZ: Not since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 has South Florida prepared for such a potentially destructive storm. Tall buildings like the 62 story, 1,000 museum, far different in design and engineering than single family homes. The windows alone over an inch thick.

MELTZER: This is tested up to 150 miles an hour in a testing chamber. So we withstand a 2 by 4 at this level at 150 miles an hour.

MARQUEZ: That's a lot.

MELTZER: That's a lot.

MARQUEZ: And even if it does break, because there's a protective layer inside.

MELTZER: It shouldn't shatter.

MARQUEZ: Shouldn't shatter.

MELTZER: Correct.

MARQUEZ: All right, I guess we will find out very shortly.

MELTZER: Hopefully not.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Andrew destroyed more than 63,000 homes across South Florida. Today, most of those homes have been rebuilt. Andrew came on shore as a category five storm, winds in excess of 175 miles an hour, it buzz-sawed through homestead and other South Florida towns. The price tag, $26.5 billion. High speed winds and homes don't easily mix.

DAN LAVRICH, ENGINEER: It wants to tilt back and forth. It wants to rotate and twist. And it wants to up lift, lift up.

MARQUEZ (on camera): All at the same time?


MARQUEZ: That's a lot of pressure on a house.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Dan Lavrich inspected homes in the aftermath of Andrew and helped to write Florida's post Andrew building codes, requiring better design, materials, construction, and inspection.

LAVRICH: If we get the full force of a category four or category five, that storm is what we call in excess of a design event. In other words, our design requirements are less than a category four or category five storm.

[20:54:58] MARQUEZ (voice-over): A 2012 study shows a direct hit on Miami by a storm as powerful as Irma, could cost an estimated $125 billion in insurance losses alone. It could be a disaster dealt by a single storm.

(on camera): Does that mean we're going to get those kind of damages?

LAVRICH: Well, we haven't been tested for that particular event yet. And hopefully we won't be.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Tonight, construction sites, homeowners and families across the state hardening defenses in preparation of a storm that could break all records.


COOPER: Now, Miguel joins us now. Miguel, that's incredible that those windows in the high rise you were in, they can take a two by four moving at 150 miles an hour slamming in to that window.

MARQUEZ: Yes, well, during the wind, it's blowing that fast, but two by four might be going somewhat slower because they are very large and -- but they can get airborne in those sorts of winds. They would be moving slower but the impact on that glass would just be enormous and they are designed. It is -- you know, that glass is about that thick, and they are designed that no matter how hard it hits it. Even if it shattered it or breaks it, it won't shatter, spreading debris across a room. It will just break but not shatter because it has the protective layer in the center of the glass.

COOPER: But again, I mean a lot of these buildings, it hasn't been tested, obviously, in a cat four, in a cat five?

MARQUEZ: This is the big serious question out there that all of their standards are to a 140 miles an hour that those winds, anything beyond that, we will see how Miami does.

COOPER: All right. Let's hope. Miguel Marquez, thank you.

Coming up, the very latest on what we know about where the storm is heading and when exactly, we'll get an update from the Weather Center after a quick break.