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Florida Prepares for Irma; Cars Lined up on Gas Stations; Tough Guys Choose to Ride out the Storm. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Our breaking news, tracking a killer storm. Monster hurricane Irma heading for a direct hit on Florida.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Millions of people running for their lives in a mass exodus ahead of a storm the size of Texas. Irma slamming Turks and Caicos tonight. Miami right in the path of a storm so large and so powerful official officials' advice comes down to this, "get out of the way."

Warnings of life-threatening storm surge, and wind impacts. Look at the scene in Turks and Caicos. There are three active hurricanes out there. Our reporters are live tonight across the region and CNN's Tom Sater is in the CNN weather center.

I want to start with Tom, of course, this evening to give us the very latest on this forecast, of this monster storm. Miami, is it a direct line to be hit? Sorry, Tom, we can't hear you. As soon as we get Tom back, we'll work on that.

But, again, our reporters are out in the field. Tom Sater in the CNN severe weather center. Again, there are a couple different tracks for this storm if you look at the different models as Tom has been reporting all day and our meteorologists. The American version, the European version, and other versions of this storm taking it somewhere along the east coast of Florida.

It could be taking it back up to the Atlantic. That would be the most positive. The most positive path for the storm. But unfortunately, the concern is that it's not going to happen. Tom Sater joins us now. Tom, I believe we have your audio now.


LEMON: Tell me, is this a direct hit for Miami?

SATER: Yes. Unfortunately, Don, the last couple days we did have a window, it was shutting on us that maybe the system would miss and move away from the outer banks into the Atlantic. That window has shut completely. Somebody's going to get socked and it does look like it's going to be southern Miami and may make its way south and north across the entire state. Now, we had a pressure drop at 8 p.m. The winds take a while to catch

up, Don, to that pressure drop. So the pressure drop means it's trying to get stronger. We did lose 5 miles per hour a little earlier today at 175 but you wouldn't know the difference.

The video that you were showing of the Turks and Caicos looks like just it did in St. Martin and Barbuda. So, again, everyone needs to really look at that because that's what's heading in our direction.

The warnings issued, of course, for the Bahamas islands. But this is brand new. So anyone is just joining Don on his broadcast tonight, you got to know about this. This is a big, big deal. The National Hurricane Center does not just throw up some kind of hurricane watch anywhere. They do it out of close analysis and discussion over where areas should be evacuated.

This is going to cost millions of dollars to put a hurricane watch into Florida because you got to get the federal state and local authorities to get evacuations out, you've got to get equipment and resources and aid in place. Businesses are shutting down.

This watch will become a warning when the storm starts to approach. And then other watches will be issued. And on both coasts. All the way up to the Carolinas as well. This shows you where the tropical storm force winds will be in the area shaded so you do not want to leave Florida on Saturday. Many are probably making up their mind late, you know what, I better get out.

If you get locked down on the interstates, you're in tropical storm force winds. That enough could down power lines and throw some debris and branches around so get out a little bit sooner.

Don, this system has been shifting now. Yesterday, it shifted to the east. Today, the models are shifting back westward. And that is not good news for the Keys and Miami, for Monroe County, Miami-Dade, and everyone from Orlando northward.

LEMON: All right. Tom Sater, thank you very much for that. I want to get now -- let's get to the ground. Paula Newton is live for us in Haiti. Paula, good evening to you. Officials are telling you that Haiti is not ready for Irma or its aftermath. What are you experiencing down there right now, what are you seeing?

PAULA NEWTON, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, we've had the back end of the storm. It was a good position for Haiti and really people here are saying they could not have handled a direct hit from hurricane Irma. So it is a good thing. We have had some torrential rain, we've already had some flooding.

Some reports of also sporadic damage. We've had some downed trees, downed homes. That some flooding that's actually knocked out a bridge, a key artery between the Dominican Republic and the other side of the island of Haiti.

But the key thing here, Don, the next few hours to see exactly which areas in haiti has been lashed by the storm. It doesn't take much here, Don, to wipe out an entire village in terms of seeing those very deadly mudslides and the flooding that follows and that still is what concerns officials here. And they're very blunt with us, Don, saying, look, we just do not have what we need in order to provide for people that are completely cut off by road and that whose perhaps, homes have washed away.

[22:04:58] It's early hours yet. It's going to take some time to really assess the damage. But right now Haiti saying, look, we could not have taken a direct hit. And thankfully Irma, hurricane Irma did not hit us directly.

LEMON: Paula Newton, we appreciate your reporting. I want to go to Bill Weir now, Bill is in the Florida Keys. Bill, as I understand, you have someone with you who's going to ride out this storm. What is that all about?

BILL WEIR, ANCHOR, CNN: Don, you have no idea. Not just a person, people. About 75,000 people call the Florida Keys home. One of the most unique neighborhoods anywhere in America. And living on these little chunks of coral inches above sea level comes with a certain attitude and that is never more evident than when a hurricane is churning offshore.

Massive winds out there, massive concern everywhere, but here at Snapper's in south Key Largo, they're partying. Everybody here's staying, right?


This is -- this is tradition in this part of America. It's sort of part of the spirit that draws people down to the southernmost closest to the equator. This is Peter who owns this joint.


WEIR: Good to see you.

ALTHUIS: Good to see you.

WEIR: So explain the mindset for everybody who's watching this thinking these people are either drunk or nuts or both.

ALTHUIS: No. No, no, no. We're living in the Conch Republic, we're Conchs. We are not leaving until it's really (Inaudible). Sorry.

WEIR: You can't say that.

ALTHUIS: Sorry. I know. I know.

WEIR: We'll give you a category 5. The sensation on that.


WEIR: But I can understand you staying here because you're worried about your business. You want to be here. I want to see what's left. ALTHUIS: Absolutely.

WEIR: But we're talking about 185 mile an hour winds. We're talking about 20-foot storm surges. That is -- your life is in danger if you stay here.


WEIR: Don't you take that into consideration?

ALTHUIS: Of course, I take it in consideration, but still now as far as we can see, it's not sure where it's going. And how it's going.

WEIR: Yes.

ALTHUIS: A lot of people make last-minute decisions. They say, OK, now it's full frontal, now we have to do something.

WEIR: And you're telling me your escape route is south, you'll go to Key West to get out of here.

ALTHUIS: Well, it'd depending if the outer band is -- when Key West is out of the outer band, I'd rather be in key west because I'm one and half hours here at Snapper's. I want to be after the storm immediately at my place.

WEIR: Any idea of sitting in traffic going north.

ALTHUIS: And, well, then the hurricane is hunting you. So, what are you going to do? Are you going to drive to Atlanta or are you going to drive to -- where are you going? There isn't -- maybe no gas because that's another insecurity and then you look in your rear window and say, shit, I'm too late.

WEIR: You did it again.


WEIR: I'm sorry, peter, after two we have to cut you off. Thank you, though. Thank you for having us. So, Don, there you go. There's a little glimpse into the psyche of the Conch Republic. A lot of people, a lot more people have evacuated than many years prior. You heard some old folks are scared of Irma, but obviously, not everybody.

LEMON: I would say that Peter is probably had more than two at this point. We wish them luck. And we wish you luck. By the way, he's famous in those parts. I have friends down from Key West who are saying, you know, they know the guy. Anyway, good luck to him and good luck to you guys. We'll check back with you, Bill.

WEIR: Yes.

LEMON: I want to bring in now CNN's Kyung Lah. Kyung, South Miami, for us, in Homestead, and that's where she joins us from, they're devastated by hurricane Andrew. That was 25 years ago. How are folks there preparing for Irma? KYUNG LAH, SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, it's not the

lighthearted moods here because people still remember hurricane Andrew. So what we're seeing across this area, any gas station that is open like this one, we're seeing a long line of cars. This is a line that has not gone down the entire day that we've been here.

This is one of those gas stations that has stayed open. It's one of -- we've driven everywhere, Don. Many of them have already boarded up. The owners have evacuated. This owner says he's going to keep doing this, making sure people get gas for the next 24, 48 hours. He's determined to stay open until Saturday morning across Homestead.

There are also homes being boarded up. We met Joel Melendez. He barely survived Andrew in 1992. He and his brother are running across the city boarding windows for free. He says this is absolutely a terrifying thing to live through twice.


JOEL MELENDEZ, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: It's traumatizing, you know? Serious. You know? This is no game. You know, I feel for a lot of people that I can't help, that I can't get to because I'm only one guy, my brother and I, you know? Hopefully I made some type of change or I saved a life or two. That's all that matters.


LAH: Now Keslin Betron (Ph) is another woman we met in Homestead. She's had the exact opposite reaction. She has a 4-month-old and 15- month-old. She says she's determined to stay. She knows the risks, Don, but she says she doesn't want to leave her extended family behind. Don?

[22:10:04] LEMON: It's interesting to see the two different live shots. You know, the folks there in Key West not taking it seriously and they should, and folks, that they've been warned to get out, and the people there taking it very seriously and heeding what authorities said. I understand that we're seeing incredibly long gas lines and police escorts for refueling tanks? Is there enough?

LAH: We -- well, at this one, we have, there's certainly enough. Because we just in the last five, six hours that we've been here, we've seen three different tankers come by and refill all the underground tanks. They say they have plenty of gas. It's a 24-hour station. They want to make sure that they stay open so people can get out of Homestead should they try to leave tonight into tomorrow.

LEMON: Kyung Lah, thank you very much. I want to turn to CNN's Randi Kaye now. Randi, you're at the Miami airport for us. What have the lines been like today?

RANDI KAYE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, CNN: They've been pretty on and off, Don but they've been pretty steady. A lot of people trying to get out of course before they shut this airport down. Miami International here says that once those winds get up to about 35 miles an hour, they will probably ground all flights. And they've been seeing this series of ground stops throughout the day, there are so many people trying to get out, and so many flights that they had to put more space in between them for safety. So they've actually had to slow things down.

So that's causing a lot of headaches for people. People are angry, people are frustrated. Even after 10 p.m. on the east coast here in Florida, a lot of people are already waiting in line. I talked to some folks in this line and they tell me this line at this hour is for people who had problems with their flight, for some reason they're not ticketed or they can't get on the plane and now at this hour trying to work this all out.

One guy I spoke to said he's supposed to be on a fishing trip in Brazil, Don, and now he's just trying to get home to Dallas-Fort Worth and he probably won't take off they're telling him until at least 1.30 if his plane goes at all.

So, it's a real problem for a lot of folks. I talked to another family of four, they wanted to get out. They are getting out today they think. But they are from Brazil originally and they haven't traveled much around the country and the only flight they could get with four seats, Don, was to Memphis. They've never been to Memphis, they had no desire to go to Memphis but that's where they're going because that's the only place that they could go.

I also talked to another family from Italy. They have been staying in this airport for two days. They have nowhere to go. They're determined to get on a plane. They had a cooler of food, a cooler of water. They just want to get out, but still, no answers as to if they'll be able to get out.

And a couple other girls I spoke to, these younger girls who were staying at a hostel that closed and has evacuated. And now they have nowhere to go. So they are sleeping in the airport tonight hoping to get on a flight to Washington, D.C., tomorrow. But again, no guarantees. So, a lot of frustration and a lot of very long nights and uncomfortable situations for folks trying to escape hurricane Irma, Don.

LEMON: So those are people who are trying to get flights. They're still in the airport. But when is the last opportunity, Randi, for folks to fly out? When are they going to stop just stopping flights?

KAYE: They will only they're not putting a deadline and actually closing the airport. They plan to stop flights when it gets to about 35 miles per hour, the winds, which is far less than tropical storm force. So they're really just trying to play it safe, but they're telling people also, Don, that they can't leave their cars here and they can't use the airport as a shelter which it kind of feels like people are starting to do because they're just sort of camping out here hoping to get a ticket. Even though that window is closing rapidly.

LEMON: All right. Randi Kaye, thank you very much. I appreciate that. Joining me now by the phone is rear admiral Peter Brown, commander of the Coast Guard 7th district in Miami. Admiral, thank you so much for joining us again tonight. This hurricane is barreling towards Florida. They're bracing for a direct hit. Does Florida appear well prepared for this?

PETER BROWN, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD'S 7TH DISTRICT: Well, Don, thanks for having me on again and we certainly are preparing throughout Florida. We've moved some of our ship, our coast guard cutters out of the storm's path. We have moved families out of the Florida Keys. We've repositioned even our command staff to a coast guard contingency facility in St. Louis so that we can continue to operate even after the storm passes, even if it does damage to our facilities in south Florida.

Also I'm responsible for Coast Guard operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I wanted to give you an update there. As you know, the hurricane passed Puerto Rico last night and this morning, the men and women of the coast guard had helicopters in the air, boats in the water ready to save lives.

Thankfully, the hurricane passed Puerto Rico at a distance and direction that produced mostly wind and rain and so we didn't have a significant search and rescue workload so our people and our assets were able to turn to our next highest priority, restoring the maritime transportation system, that is the economic arteries of the islands that move critical commodities and people back and forth.

LEMON: Admiral, in terms of damage, is the bigger concern the winds or the storm surge? What are you concerned about?

[22:14:58] BROWN: Well, there's a saying that you run from the water and you hide from the wind. So, ultimately, the water can -- the force of the water can produce much more damage than wind force can, although spectacularly strong winds can produce damage like we saw in Barbuda and St. Martin.

So, we're very fortunate in Puerto Rico and even St. Thomas which was somewhat hard hit that the primary damage is caused by wind and not water. But working with the port partners and the Army Corps of engineer, the Coast Guard captain of the port has been able to re-open many of the economically significant parts of Puerto Rico and St. Croix including the major port of San Juan Puerto Rico.

St. Thomas and St. John, which are the hardest hit of the U.S. islands are going to take a little longer. But importantly, ferry service has been restored which will allow first responders and relief supplies to get to the places where they're most needed.

LEMON: Admiral Brown, you're also responsible for operations in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands. CNN is learning four people have died in the U.S. Virgin Islands. You've begun damage assessment. What are you seeing there?

BROWN: Well, certainly St. John and St. Thomas, the northernmost of the U.S. Virgin Islands were the hardest hit and there is significant structural and property damage there. We do have coast guard officers embedded with Virgin Islands territory emergency management agency and we're working closely with them to find out if coast guard assets and capabilities can be of any assistance to them. Also our colleagues in the Department of Defense have put a team in

place on St. Croix and a number of navy ships have some capability to assist as well and they'll be coordinating with the Virgin Islands emergency management authority.

LEMON: Have you had to conduct any search and rescue operations?

BROWN: We have not had to conduct major search and rescue operations. Our DOD partners have been working with moving some passengers, excuse me, patients between a hospital that was damaged and some undamaged hospitals, but that's primarily what we call an aeromedical evacuation. Only a couple of the cases were deemed to be truly lifesaving or life-threatening issues.

LEMON: I'm not sure if you saw before, but there are some folks down in Key Largo, didn't want to rain on their parade, I think the hurricane will do that for them. Who said they're going to stay and just hang on and try to ride the storm out. What's your advice to the folks in state of Florida?

BROWN: We, everybody in the state of Florida to pay close attention to the storm and heed the warnings of their local officials whether at the state level, as Governor Scott has been very active in getting the word out, or the county level for evacuations particularly for low- lying coastal zones where storm surge upwards of 10 to 12 feet might be expected in some areas and can quickly inundate low-lying lands.

And we need people to get out of there because the water is truly a life-threatening part of this storm.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, Admiral Brown, I appreciate it. We'll see -- we'll talk to you soon. Now I want to turn to Laura Strickling, she's a resident of St. Thomas who rode out hurricane Irma, and is bracing for hurricane Jose. Laura joins us by phone. Thank you so much. How are you doing?


LEMON: Yes, you've been in St. Thomas and you have seen what Irma did firsthand. So explain to us what it was like the days leading up to this storm and did you get a lot of information?

STRICKLING: So much tension. And so much information that was incomplete. Because when you're preparing for a hurricane, you can't know. They give you probabilities. Early on in the warning process, I looked at flights and thought maybe we should go. Didn't want to overreact. Felt silly for thinking, you know, possibly thinking we should leave. But we have a 1-year-old, and as a mother, like, you want to get your child out of harm's way.

But we waited. We waited. By the time we thought maybe this was the best route, it was just too expensive to leave. And there weren't a flight out. When you're on an island like St. Thomas, you can't just drive away. If the flights are gone, they're gone and you're stuck. We spent the whole day, 12 hours in our basement with another family with a 1-year-old. So, four adults, two 1-year-olds. We -- I -- I can't say I've ever

been more terrified in my life. Felt like the world was crashing in around us. We truly thought for a couple of hours that any moment was going to be the moment we died. And no parent should have to watch their child and wonder what the next minute will hold like that.

LEMON: What's it like there now, Laura?

STRICKLING: We don't have a lot of information. I say that's the hardest part. Phone service is spotty. We -- it's like a giant game of island telephone. Every time someone walks by or drives by, we get a little more information. We have no idea if it's correct.

[22:20:08] Facebook has been very helpful. There are Facebook groups that residents have set up to spread information to check in so that family stateside knows who's alive, but, again, it's not -- we don't have electricity. We don't have running water. We don't have -- we can't watch the TV news to see what's going on. We don't even have a radio.

So I would say lack of information is almost the scariest part. I had -- I actually had cell service the entire time we were in the bunker yesterday and I kept my family and friends updated as often as Facebook would allow me to upload through the cell service. Kept them knowing what was going on.

And today, the day after the storm, we haven't really been able to post at all. We're feeling much more cut off. It's a little strange to sit in a bunker and watch the eye of the storm approach you on a weather app and, you know, I guess that helped us brace a little l bit, but it was very surreal.

LEMON: And then you got Jose coming behind. Are you concerned and...


STRICKLING: So concerned.

LEMON: And how much -- you have a 1-year-old, right?


LEMON: How much supplies do you have? How much longer can you go without stocking up?

STRICKLING: I overreacted, I think just enough. I have a lot of diapers. I mean, with a baby, there's certain things you kind of have to have. I have a lot of diapers. I'm hoping we have enough formula. I'm hoping we have -- you know, I'm hoping that she doesn't get ill. We don't have access -- our hospital is gone.

Even if it wasn't gone, it would probably be a good half day's hike up a mountain from where we live. We just hope no one gets ill or sick or injured in our house because we have no access.

LEMON: Laura, we wish you the best. Laura Strickling in St. Thomas. She rode the storm out. And Jose is coming right behind. Thank you very much for joining us.

When we come back, in the path of a deadly storm, as Miami braces for a direct hit, scientists are saying they have never seen anything like this hurricane before. I'm going to ask one of them just how bad he thinks this will be.


LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, a forecast putting Miami right in the path of monster hurricane Irma. I want to bring in an expert who says he really fears for south Florida right flow.

Joining me now is Jeff Weber from the University Corporation of Atmospheric Science. Sir, thank you so much for joining us. Explain the technology that you are using to track the storm and what is it telling you?

JEFF WEBER, PROJECT MANAGER, UNIVERSITY CORPORATION FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH: Thank you for having me, Don. Fortunately, we have a brand new space observation platform called Go 16. And it's been able to give us fantastic satellite imagery at panel resolution temporally and specially than ever before.

This is really helping us look at the storm from a distance. But for close of actions we're also throwing our planes into it and dropping drop sound into the eye of the hurricane to help understand the structure of the system.

LEMON: How has it been with tracking Jose as well?

WEBER: Right. So we had a little tandem of hurricanes coming across the Atlantic right now Jose on the heels of Irma. This is not completely unheard of. We see this occasionally in both the Atlantic and Pacific basins, but having these two storms together is allowing us to study both of them at the same time. Our aircrafts are flying into both of these systems so we can get data sets from both of these storms at the same time.

LEMON: Yes. So you said that you were really afraid for Florida right now. Why is that?

WEBER: Well, Don, this is one of the largest hurricanes ever in the Atlantic basin. Not only in terms of pressure, but also in terms of wind speed. So we have not had a cat 5 hurricane hit the United States land since Andrew. It's been quite some time. I think people have forgotten how deadly and how dangerous these storms can be.

Currently, the models, both the European and the American model, have Irma kind of taking a dead hit on Miami. Now, if the current forecast track that is available to us now were to play out, it would bring what we call the dirty side of the eye which is the upper side, the north and east side of the eye wall into the Miami urban area.

And so, Miami has a problem of flooding already so if we bring in 10 to 12 inches of rain as well as 180-mile per hour winds, there could be really catastrophic damage to this area, and there hasn't even been a land falling hurricane in Florida for about 10 years.

So I think people have let down their guard a little bit. So this is going to be a big eye opener for the Florida residents. I think there's going to be a lot of damage. And so I'm seeing what's happened already in Barbuda and some of the other island nations, and communities in the Caribbean, there's a lot of damage potential that could come out Irma.

LEMON: I got to ask you, Jeff, I mean, everyone is surprised that Irma has been able to sustain her strength for so long. Are you?

WEBER: Well, I'm not surprised at all. This was how Irma was forecast and the forecasting for hurricanes continues to get better and better both in track and intensity. And Irma has been over incredibly warm waters. Eighty-eight, 86, 90 degree temperature waters which are very warm. Abnormally warm for this time of the year even though this is the peak hurricane season.

And there's been actually no negative impacts from this, there's been no shear, there's been no interaction with major landmasses and so Irma has been able to take the energy out of the extremely hot oceans and not be impacted by either landmasses, by either disrupting the eye or by bringing in dry air off of these landmasses as well.

So, Irma has kind of woven a straight line through the islands of the Caribbean, through the Leeward, and over Hispaniola and Cuba and has kind of dodged most of the landmasses directly for the eye. So it's been able to continue to keep up its strength and use that ocean's energy to keep its strength at category 5.

LEMON: And just in time to possibly hit southern Florida, right?

WEBER: It will hit southern Florida. The question is, is it going to be right in the middle of the peninsula on the east coast or west coast? Currently the models are indicating a scenario where it will roll up the east coast striking Miami almost dead on and then coming slightly offshore, before coming onshore, making other landfall near South Carolina and Georgia.

[22:30:07] The forecast for us now is as it comes by Cuba, there are some mountain regions in the southeast part of Cuba and so there will be some dry air and training coming off those mountains going into the system. And that will weaken it a little bit.

I don't think it's going to weaken it down below a major hurricane and probably won't weaken it below a category 4. So we're currently forecasting a category 4 landfall for the Miami area.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Goodness. Jeff Weber, atmospheric scientist. Thank you, sir, I appreciate it.

WEBER: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back -- absolutely.

When we come back, bracing for impact down in Florida. Mandatory evacuations are in place throughout much of the state including the Keys. I'm going to speak to officials and storm chasers who are hunkering down there about what they're expecting.


LEMON: I need you to take a look at this. This is new video of the destruction caused by hurricane Irma after it rampaged through St. Martin. Look at that. Tonight the monster storm is headed towards Miami.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for large parts of South Florida including Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys.

And joining me now on the phone is George Nugent, he is the mayor of Monroe County. Mayor, thank you for joining us at this hour. It looks like hurricane Irma is headed directly toward the Florida Keys. It could take a direct hit. Do you think your county is ready?

GEORGE NUGENT, MAYOR OF MONROE COUNTY: We are ready. We're as ready as we can be, Don, and as you know, and as your previous guests have pointed out, and I agree with most of them that this is a very challenging situation that we're dealing with. This storm is a potential killer.

[22:35:04] Hurricane Irma is now a category 5 storm with winds at 175 miles an hour. And it is bearing down on the Florida Keys which is a unique area made up of 40 -- has 43 bridges connecting all the islands from Ocean Reef to Key West.

We're very concerned about this. We want our residents to evacuate. We're under mandatory evacuation and we want them to get out, get out of harm's way. It's a scary situation.

LEMON: I got to ask you, because it was very concerning to us at the top of our show, there were people in a bar in Key Largo who said, you know, they were going to ride it out and they were drinking, they were having a good time. What's your advice to them?

NUGENT: First of all, there are psychologists that could probably help you from making comments like that because it's just crazy. This is a storm that we've never dealt with. It's one of the worst storms that has ever hit the Atlantic and they need to get out of there.

Yes, it may be less than what we've been looking at these 185-mile-an- hour winds that have been going on for a while. It may bouncing off of Cuba be reduced in intensity, but 175 miles an hour and down to 145 is still a major storm. A killer storm.

I've got a history of storms going back to 1957 in Louisiana where I grew up on the Gulf Coast and this storm concerns me and scares me very much. Safety is our first and foremost situation. We want people to get out of the Keys.

LEMON: Yes, I grew up down in Louisiana, too, and it was always a very serious matter when hurricane was making its way toward us. You know who Roman Gastesi is, he is your county administrator and he issued a warning tonight. Watch this.


ROMAN GASTESI, COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR, MONROE COUNTY: You might as well leave now while you have a chance because when you dial 911, you will not get an answer.


LEMON: He was on our program last night. How are you making sure everyone gets out?

NUGENT: We started evacuating very early as compared to other times when we evacuated people out of the Keys. This is something that we recognize the intensity of this storm and the danger of this storm and I suggested very early on along with our emergency manager to get out of here early.

And there was some raised eyebrows when I said that. I said we need to evacuate now. And I think it was a right thing to do. Roman is absolutely right, we are not going to put our first responders at risk because of stupidity and those people will be on their own. When this storm hits, if they have not evacuated, it's an irresponsible selfish position that these people are taking.

LEMON: Thank you, Mayor. Mayor Nugent of Monroe County. I appreciate it. Good luck. We'll have you back.


NUGENT: Thank you, I love your show.

LEMON: Thank you very much. We love that you come on. I want to check in again with storm chasers Reed Timmer and also Mike Theiss who are both in Key Largo, Florida. Mike joins us on the phone. And Reed, I'm going to start with you. This killer storm now heading for Florida. What are you seeing at this hour? You joined us last night. How is it different?

REED TIMMER, EXTREME METEOROLOGIST, ACCUWEATHER: Well, it's not much that different except that people continue to stream out which is a very good sign, especially with this the tendency of a westward shift in the models, that's a worst-case scenario here for the Keys. Because if the eye goes anywhere further west, that will be likely in a (Inaudible) for the strongest part of the eye could impact the Keys.

We did see the gas stations earlier, there was a gas truck, the final gas truck that came around and everybody was lined up filling up with gas so that they had enough gas to evacuate north to i-95 to get out of the path of this thing which is a very smart decision.

With a category 4, category 5 storm here, and the immense size of it as well. So much larger than hurricane Andrew, another devastating hurricane obviously. People know it very well around here. The impacts of this are going to be like nothing we've ever seen here before in our lifetime. LEMON: Mike, to you now. What do you make of the storm's path at this


MIKE THEISS, STORM CHASER: Well, the track hasn't changed very much, it's still heading to south Florida. But the one thing that's concerning, as through the last few hours, it's going through an eye wall replacement cycle and it's looking like that eye is going to be a bit bigger which means the wind field could expand out. So now we could be talking about an even bigger wind field impacting the entire peninsula of Florida.

LEMON: This is home for you. So what are you expecting? What worries you the most, Mike?

THEISS: Well, it worries me what could possibly happen to my community that I love so much. You know, this is, this could be very devastating so it's a lot of mixed feelings right now.

[22:40:03] And I just keep telling myself that the best thing I can do is what I've always done and that is document these things, take barometric pressure readings. Now we're working on some wind readings.

And just, you know, bunker down and hope for the best but I don't want to give a false sense to other people listening because I do highly recommend to leave because we're not leaving, we have studied where we're going to stay, we have a safe spot to stay. But please, leave, everybody. All my friends and family in the Florida Key, you can still get out. This is really bad and please leave.

LEMON: Yes. And let's hope they heed your advice. Reed, you know, you've done this a lot. You can read these storms and winds and the trajectory and all that. Do you have any idea when do you think this storm will hit?

TIMMER: It has sped up a little bit, it's maintaining a steady clip to the west. So it looks like it could hit, we'll likely start experiencing impacts here on Saturday. Saturday night, early Sunday. Very likely that the eye wall will start to impact this region and could accelerate. It could happen earlier, too.

There are some indications that it could even happen Saturday afternoon or evening. A lot of these questions will be answered tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be a very big day to keep a close eye on those models.

Right now it looks like it's headed straight to the Keys and possibly right up the central spine of the Florida peninsula which would absolutely be the worst-case scenario here for this state.

LEMON: Absolutely. Reed Timmer and Mike Theiss, thank you very much. We'll check back with both of you.

When we come back, we're going to get a closer look at the storm's path with Tom Sater in the weather center.

Plus, we'll speak to the former administrator for FEMA about how officials are preparing for this monster storm.


LEMON: State of Florida bracing for a direct hit from monster hurricane Irma which is rampaging really through the Caribbean right now. Look at this thing. It is a huge hurricane.

Let's get right, check in now with meteorologist Tom Sater in the CNN weather center. Tom, what do you know?

TOM SATER, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: Well, waiting for an update from the National Hurricane Center, Don, at 11 p.m. Now the pressure did drop at 8 p.m. which mean it's trying to get a little stronger. We'll see if the winds kick up a bit and catch up to that pressure drop.

[22:44:58] But if you look closely, what we're seeing right now is tremendous rainfall in Haiti. Parts of Hispaniola and Dominican Republic on that southern edge. We went about 24 hours without a landfall which is good news. We don't want to see more destruction, but that's just because this eye now is over water and that's just jet fuel.

So this thing continues to churn. Incredible pace and strength. Now the computer models continue to make that turn and it's been telling us this all week long. It looks like on Saturday, spaghetti plots hang a little more on the coastline.

But when you look at the National Hurricane Center, they like to split the difference, still play it safe. It's understandable. We still have a little bit of cone of uncertainty. Can it go still off toward the west? It could but the chances out of 100 percent, that maybe only be like 10 to 15. Better chance that it hangs to the east but then it slams right in of course into the Carolinas.

So when we talk about this system, we're really talking about splitting hairs between the two models and unfortunately, Don, they're both terrible scenarios as the systems move in by Sunday morning and there they have it, the American and the European.

So everyone from Key West, Miami, Hollywood, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, all the way up toward Daytona and the entire peninsula most likely. They've been shifting east and west. We'll see what happens come 11 o'clock tonight.

LEMON: Yes. We're just a couple minutes away from that for an update. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Tom Sater, we'll check back with you.

I want to bring in now Craig Fugate who was the administrator of FEMA during the Obama administration. Mr. Fugate, thank you very much for joining us. You see the devastation Irma left on the islands. How concerned are you for Florida?

CRAIG FUGATE, FORMER ADMINISTRATOR, UNITED STATES FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We're very concerned. I mean, I'm a Floridian. I grew up here. We dealt with hurricanes in '04 and '05. This is not Andrew, this is not Charlie. It's much worse. That's why people, again, we're urging them as the mayor of Monroe county said, you need to evacuate, you're running out of time.

LEMON: Miami-Dade County will open 13 additional shelters tomorrow, I understand, buses are going to provide transportation to the shelters. What's your message tonight for people who don't want to leave their homes?

FUGATE: Again, it's your decision, but you're putting yourself and your family in a situation that you may not survive. I think we're -- we talk around this issue too much. We're evacuating to keep people from drowning to death.

That is the biggest killer in hurricanes is water. Storm surge has historically been the biggest killer. The evacuation zones are meant to get people out. The risk is you will drown. Not pleasant to talk about, but that's the reality. That's why there are such urgency in these evacuation orders due to the size of the storm and the fact that time will run out and if you haven't evacuated, that decision may be your last one.

LEMON: I'm glad you put it plainly like that. I think we do, you know, we don't want to say it but you nailed it right there. So, listen, we're already seeing clogged highways, Mr. Fugate. Gas and water running out in Florida. Our reporters have been, you know, at these gas stations. We've been seeing lines at grocery stores and on and on and on.

How should officials prepare in these final hours for record-breaking storm, a record-breaking storm like this and another one coming behind it?

FUGATE: Well, they're gearing up for big search and rescue operations. A lot of the teams that were working Harvey are back resetting getting ready to go. Governor Scott has closed all the schools. Getting ready to host shelters farther north as people flee the areas.

But the bottled water, I tell you what, get some Ziplocs, fill them full of water, freeze them. That's even better than waiting in line at the store. But neighbors helping neighbors really is going to be our best response. But we need people to heed those evacuation orders.

LEMON: You know, this is all happening just two weeks after hurricane Harvey devastated Texas. The head of FEMA says the recovery there could last for years. We're tracking Irma, now hurricane Jose. It's a category 3. It's on the way. Should anyone be concerned about FEMA being stretched thin right now?

FUGATE: Well, we got hit by four hurricanes in Florida in 2004. We followed that with Katrina and other responses. We learned a lot since then. FEMA's prepared to handle multiple storms, but it's not just FEMA. It's all of the states working together on the emergency management assistance compact. And it's the fact that we have to focus on lifesaving, life-sustaining, and yes, recovery will take years, if not decades from these storms like we've seen in Louisiana post- hurricane Katrina.

LEMON: Thank you, Craig Fugate. I appreciate your time.

FUGATE: Thank you.

LEMON: And for ways that you can help those affected by hurricane Irma, go to

Much more to come on monster hurricane Irma as Miami braces for a direct hit.

Plus, the storm at the White House over Russia.


LEMON: Big developments tonight in the Russia investigation. I want to turn right away to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, good evening. Donald Trump, Jr. met with staffers on the Senate judiciary committee as part of their investigation into Russia. What have we learned about that?

PAMELA BROWN, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, that's right. He was behind closed doors with the staffers for five hours and according to sources he said that he didn't understand the extent of the White House involvement and the crafting of that initial misleading statement.

As you'll recall earlier this summer detailing why he took the meeting at trump Tower with the Russian attorney. At that time the statement said that it was about adoption, and then later on his statement clarified to say really the purpose was to get information on Hillary Clinton, incriminating information.

So he said that he didn't know that the White House was involved in the statement which was curious because our sources have told us that his dad, President Trump actually helped craft an initial statement. It's a statement that came out in his name.

So that was one of the takeaways and also he said that he never told his dad about the meeting at Trump Tower last June even before or after. But some democratic senators walked away from this meeting and said it raised more questions than answers and they're now calling for a public open hearing with Don Jr. Don?

LEMON: So Donald Trump, Jr. released a statement earlier today, Pamela, saying in part, "I trust this interview fully satisfied their inquiry." What is next for Donald Jr., is he expected to be questioned any further?

BROWN: That is the expectation. We know that Senate Intel, the Senate Intel community has been interceded in talking with him as well was part of its Russia investigation. We know that Robert Mueller, special counsel of the Russia probe is looking at that meeting at Trump Tower that he was involved, and has issued subpoenas to some of the participants in that meeting. So there is still very much a focus of his involvement at that meeting

at Trump Tower and as I pointed out the judiciary committee, senators from there now want him to testify in the open.

LEMON: There's also big news today regarding special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Pam. What can you tell us?

[22:55:03] BROWN: That's right. We've learned from three sources that Robert Mueller has reached out to the White House seeking interviews with some White House aides who were aboard Air Force 1 when that initial misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting was crafted.

Robert Mueller wants to know what they knew, when, if any information was intentionally left out to conceal what the true purpose of the meeting was. This is all part of the obstruction of justice probe.

So this is something that Robert Mueller is clearly interested in. We're told that he hasn't reached out about interviewing the president as part of this but it's still very early. Don?

LEMON: All right. Pamela Brown in Washington. Pamela, thank you so much for that. When we come back, a brand new forecast for monster hurricane Irma and it's not good news for the people of south Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

[23:00:02] LEMON: Of course our big breaking news tonight. Bracing Miami for a direct hit from the monster hurricane Irma and we're expecting a new forecast at any moment now. We'll check in with our meteorologist Tom Sate in just a moment.

But let's get right to the ground.