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Florida Braces for Direct Hit from Hurricane Irma; Hurricane Irma Now Expecting to Hit Florida as a Category 5; Officials Plead with Residents to Leave; Death Toll Rises to at Least 24 in Caribbean. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:06] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Miami Beach, where, as you can tell, just the first outer bands of the storm are starting to be felt. The wind has just started to pick up here over the last 15 or 20 minutes.

But this is a faint whisper of the winds, the deadly winds that are still to come.

Late today, we learned the worst, that Hurricane Irma is expected to grow again on its final approach to the area and when it hits the Florida Keys just a few hours drive from here, it may once again be a category 5 storm, a killer storm already. Not only that, the track now puts both coasts here at risk of enormous surges, up to ten feet here in Miami Beach, up to a dozen feet on the gulf. That and the sheer size of this monster it now has hurricane warnings, evacuation orders, and traffic jams extending even farther north in Florida.

And the clock is ticking. The governor now saying all Floridians, everyone, should be ready to evacuate, leave now he said, not tonight, not in an hour, now.

We've got a lot of coverage tonight across the state in the Keys, in Cuba, the Caribbean.

We begin though with CNN's Allison Chinchar in the weather center.

So, a new forecast just came in with Irma. Explain where it is, how strong it is, and where it's heading.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. So, right now, it is currently in between the Bahamas and in Cuba. That's not a good thing. It's in very warm water and that's going to allow the storm to intensify over the coming hours, likely back up to category strength.

We are just now starting to see some of the extreme outer stretches of storm begin to produce showers and thunderstorms over the Florida Keys. That activity is likely going to increase in the coming hours. But again, the storm is still a very strong category four, just two miles per hour off from category five strength.

But we do expect it to get to category five strength just as it crosses over the Florida Keys. For the main peninsula of Florida, likely to be a category four and then we can relatively quickly as it moves to the north. We have seen expansion of the counties that are under hurricane watches and hurricane warnings, and that Anderson is likely to continue to push off to the north in the coming hours, as landfall gets closer and closer. At this point, landfall looks to be in the Florida Keys, right around early Sunday morning.

COOPER: And storm surge, obviously, a big factor here. What should a residents here expect?

CHINCHAR: Right. So, starting from, say, about West Palm Beach, stretching down through Key West, we're talking five to 10 feet. On the southwestern side, say, Naples down to Key West, we're talking eight to 12 feet of surge. It's going to be slightly higher on the southwest side, because that dip from where the beach goes and dives into the ocean is much shallower on the southwest side than it is on the eastern side.

But to understand what this means for a lot of folks around you, keep in mind a single story building is about 10 feet. So, if we really end up getting storm surge of five to ten feet, that means likely the entire first storey of this home could be submerged in water, Anderson, and we saw so much of that in Houston because of Harvey and we could end up seeing a very similar scenario play out for folks in south Florida.

COOPER: Allison, do you have a sense of where, you know, that Northeast quadrant of the storm is going to be hitting in Florida? Is it too soon to tell?

CHINCHAR: Likely. Again, and all things can change. But likely it looks like it would be from Miami down to Key West, where you're going to encounter incredibly strong winds and also you're going to encounter some very strong storm surge, although the storm surge, Anderson, as we talked about will actually take in the southwestern corridor of Florida from Naples down to Key West.

COOPER: All right. Allison Chinchar, we're going to obviously be checking with you very closely over the next two hours. It's going to be -- I've got a lot of new storm information coming in.

Bands of the storm have been lashing the north coast of Cuba for several hours now, as you can see from this video. Take a look at this. This is CNN's Patrick Oppmann there trying to get his windbreaker back on. You get a sense of just how strong some of these bands are.

In any case, he is now back with us. So, let's go to him live.

Patrick, what is the situation now we saw you get hit with some heavy wind and rain just a short time ago. What's -- it looks like a lot calmer now. I guess that's -- you're kind of in between these bands?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's an eerie dead calm you know so well, Anderson, between these bands. The power has been knocked out by one of those earlier bands. But the clip you showed where I got blasted, that was the first rain we had felt all day long. I didn't have a rain jacket on because literally not one drop of rain had fallen during a whole day of covering this.

We saw clouds -- my cameraman, Scotty (INAUDIBLE) and I off in the distance returning black, and we sort of said, oh, something's developing there. Then without any more warning, it was like having a power washer put in your face. I could barely stand. I could hardly get my rain jacket on without some of my Cuban colleagues help.

And it just gives a sense of the power of this storm and what Cuba is experiencing right now.

[20:05:04] A lot of people have evacuated people here. Some people are staying. It's going to be an incredibly powerful storm here and it's going to go on for the next several hours.

COOPER: Yes, do you have a sense of what conditions are expected in the hours ahead and how long it may be hitting Cuba hardest?

OPPMANN: You know, I think we'll be going through this tomorrow, if not longer. All day long, government officials have been coming by and trucks with speaker phones, telling people to evacuate and seeing people put all their possessions the horses and carts. The Cuban government says over a quarter of a million people have evacuated. The government has brought in a lot of resources just outside where we think Cubans will be hardest hit, you get those resources and immediately after the storm pulls away to begin making some repairs.

They have a lot of experience here with hurricanes, Anderson. Of course, you live in an island, that's just what happens. There's not really anywhere you can run to.

But a storm like this one is something the few people here even in Cuba have ever seen.

COOPER: Yes. Patrick Oppmann, be careful out there.

Again, a projected cat-5 when army hits the Keys, where nearly nothing is built for anything like that. It's why everyone, everyone is supposed to be off the island chain by now.

CNN's Bill Weir is in the Keys for us. He's not alone. There are residents who are hunkered down, trying to ride this out.

Bill, the situation down there is now going to be even worse than expected. Has the sense of urgency there increased tonight?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson. You can feel it. It's been interesting. We've been down here for the last 36 hours or so, and the beginning, they were raising rum drinks and making fun of those who evacuated prematurely, they said. But just in the last several hours, as these reports came in, traffic on U.S. 1 heading north is noticeably heavier. Man on his bicycle just rode by and said, I was going to ride it out, no, I got to go north, I got to go as far north as I can.

We are on Cudjoe Key, right above the Lower Key, low us, a stunning, you know, sort of prototypical Key West sunset happening back there, but there is nobody in Mallory Square, trust me, watching that with a boat drink tonight. In fact, many of them have brought their cars here. And this shows the desperation when you live inches above sea level, this is one of the mountaintops of the Florida keys where we are right up against a bridge and people have parked their cars, they've jammed them in.

If you can see that Jeep Wrangler there, that guy took the winch on the front of his jeep and lashed it around one of these guardrails. That's one more piece of protection against what is now we know will be category five winds.

COOPER: So, Bill, I mean, for those who have resisted evacuating, haven't listened to authorities. What options do they have? I mean, that doesn't seem -- I mean, if that's the best place to be parking your vehicle and that doesn't seem very good.

I think these people -- I'd hazard to guess that these folks did evacuate but couldn't bring their cars with them. So, they wanted to, you know -- they don't have a garage. There are no parking structures you can put it on a second level. So, this is the best they can do. But as for people who are deciding to come and maybe even pull these cars out of here and drive north, the road the highway is wide open pretty much from here to the lower Dade County, to get you at least out of the Keys , I think that's what the governor and more and more first responders are saying.

No longer. It's no longer time to mess around get out. And, you know, these are storm season cocks down here. They're used to see in the sky turning on them after a day's fishing or diving. But this is a whole different level of dangerous.

COOPER: Bill, I got to ask you, just -- are you and your team going to be leaving out, leaving the Keys at some point?

WEIR: We, as soon as I'm done talking to you, we're headed north and we -- if you look at the predictions, we've been very careful to check with our meteorology team and as for the timing of this, and I think we'll be safe until the wee hours of tomorrow morning. We might be reporting maybe from the very tip of the Keys if it's safe, to give you a sense of what it's like. But we plan to head up north of Homestead to ride out the storm.

COOPER: All right. Just for people who are watching, even in the Keys, that gives you a sense of what's ahead, if our team is going to be pulling out at a certain point. Bill, stay safe. As we've been discussing, the storm surge could be bad on both coasts.

However, the hurricane latest track suggests it could be especially bad to our west on the gulf.

CNN's Drew Griffin is there, joins us now.

You've been talking to some residents in Naples, Florida, today. How are they feeling knowing that they could take a direct hit?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: There was a big, big change in how they viewed the storm here, especially in Naples, Fort Myers, the southwest area, when it began, Anderson, to make that westward tilt. It looked like this was going to be a Miami storm, maybe an east coast storm. But when it began to tilt west on Thursday, a little more today, boy, people really jumped into action.

A lot of the -- all the barrier islands have gone under mandatory evacuations. All the lower level areas that normally flood or get storm surge on the mainland have now been under mandatory evacuation.

And look at me, this is downtown Naples, the iconic lit palm trees on a Friday night. Virtually, nobody here. People who are here generally believe they're going to be able to ride this out, ride out the storm surge.

Everybody in a mobile home park in Collier County basically has been told to leave. We took a look at mobile home parks and it looks like they are empty. We found a few people actually moving out.

This is Joe Haberkorn and his mother Sue, Joe works at a beachfront hotel. That beachfront hotel said, get out. So, he is making last- minute evacuation plans. They're going up to Fort Myers where Sue Haberkorn is going to have four people and a bunch of pets in a one- bedroom apartment and that's where they plan to ride out the storm.

And here's what she told us about that.


SUE HABERKORN, NAPLES RESIDENT: You do what you have to do you do what you have to do and we'll do the best that we can and if things don't work out, we did the best.


GRIFFIN: They are doing the best they can. I don't see anybody really saying this is just going to be a blow off storm. They know. They can see the track. They remember Charlie from 2004.

And, Anderson, they are they are really either getting out or hunkering down for this storm,

COOPER: Yes, and just in terms of those who are saying or feel it's too late to get out, is there a place they can seek shelter? I mean, are there city run shelters?

GRIFFIN: You know, shelters are opening up. In fact, just about and -- well, at 6:40 tonight, Collier County, the county I'm in, opened up three new shelters.

They've got plenty of shelters. They've got tons of shelter -- shelters with pets. But they are starting to fill up. It just shows you how serious people are taking it here on the west coast of Florida.

So, three more shelters opening up tonight. The Emergency Management seems to be really on top of this and taking this in an orderly fashion.

Gas is going to be a huge deal over the next couple of days, Anderson. You have to drive all over the place to find gas. I think that's going to really limit the kind of mobility and the decision making for people who want to get out of here. They might look at the gas stations that are closed and think, I have no idea where I'm going if there's gas, I may just stay -- Anderson.

COOPER: Right. And also, I mean, you know once this thing starts the roads themselves could be cut off could be blocked that's the first thing emergency responders are going to be working on once this is done, just getting roads clear.

Drew, we'll continue to check in with you.

Just ahead, over the last couple days, you've been watching the broadcast. We've been checking in with NOAA hurricane hunters who are flying through this storm or over this storm. We'll talk to another one just ahead.

Also, we'll go to Barbuda, which not only took a direct hit from Irma, but is now bracing for Jose.

We'll be right back from Miami Beach.


[20:16:35] COOPER: We're live here in Miami Beach, where as you can see, those first outer bands are just light wind really just starting to affect us, again just a whisper of the winds to come.

Many people have left Miami Beach as Hurricane Irma approaches. Others state, federal, local people are getting ready to respond when it hits.

With me now, someone who's seen all the hurricanes can do to this state, has overseen preparations and at times, the recovery effort, CNN contributor and former state emergency management director, David Halstead. Also here is Josh Levy, mayor of nearby Hollywood, Florida.

First of all, how are things in Hollywood? Because, you know, here in Miami Beach, there's dunes, as we were talking about before we went on air. But in Hollywood, there's a beautiful boardwalk right on the beach.

MAYOR JOSH LEVY, HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA: Right. It's a two-and-a-half- mile boardwalk, with hundreds really of businesses, hotels, shops, restaurants, right on the sandy beach. There's no -- there's no barrier to protect like the dunes here in Miami Beach.

COOPER: Yes. So, how are preparations there?

LEVY: So, I'm happy to report that people are taking this very seriously really throughout south Florida, certainly in Hollywood. Most buildings, if not all of them, are boarded up. Hurricane shutters are up. People have evacuated. We have 16,000 residents within the evacuation

zones mandatory. So, we're seeing people take this very seriously as you can imagine.

COOPER: At this point in an emergency response, I mean, what are first responders doing at this point? Because, obviously, they're still trying to encourage people to leave in these last hours or two.

DAVID HALSTEAD, FORMER DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGMENT: Absolutely, the mayor and I were just talking about that. The first priority is get them out. If you can't, get them to a shelter as quickly as possible. But the second part of this, and you just hit upon it, the first responder is immediately afterwards what are they going to do? How quickly can they respond? What are the damages to the police stations, the fire stations and their equipment before they can get out? Even start answering 911?

The other part of that, Anderson, is, can they answer 911? Is the communication going to be up and running, or is that going to be down?

COOPER: Right. I mean, in many storms, first responders say, look, during the storm, it's just too dangerous for us to go out. So, you call 911 -- maybe you leave a message, but they're not going to be able to get to you.

HALSTEAD: No, certainly, after Hurricane Ivan, in the panhandle, we heard 911 calls that were recorded, they were just heartbreaking. People calling, wanting help, and no, ma'am, no, sir, we can't. Winds are above 70 miles an hour right now, we couldn't even get out on the road if we wanted to.

But again, immediately after the storm, that's where the mayor and his team come in very quickly, those first responders get out to those citizens what they can.

COOPER: It's also essential to get the roads clear. I mean, it sounds like a mundane thing, but until roads are clear, you can't really do much of anything.

HALSTEAD: Right, and that counts for essential services, first responders, the power company, let alone you know folks who want to try to get the different destinations following a storm.

COOPER: What do you -- what's your message right now to folks in Hollywood, to anyone listening right now, in this area?

LEVY: Sure. So, we're watching very closely the forecast track. People should not get complacent. They shouldn't think of this storm as not going to severely impact southeast Florida and the city of Hollywood and Broward County. So, heed the warnings, stay sheltered, stay in place, and then be ready to brace for impact tomorrow.

It's a very serious occurrence. The storm made jog 50 miles left, 50 miles right, and we might find ourselves right toward, you know, a direct hit again. So, it's not -- it's not anything to take lightly right now. COOPER: Yes, I think back to Punta Gorda and Charlie back, I think it was 2005, you know, wasn't expected to hit there as hard as it did. What's your -- what's your message?

[20:20:00] HALSTEAD: Absolutely it is. First of all, if you haven't already evacuated, it's probably a little too late. So, get to a shelter. Get yourself safe. Get your family safe.

Listen to all of the locals, such as the mayor here, what they're telling you to do. They know best.

COOPER: David Halstead, thanks so much. Mayor Levy, I wish you the best in the hours ahead. Thank you very much.

LEVY: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: As we wait for conditions here on the ground to worsen and they certainly are going to over the next 48 hours, Air Force pilots and scientists have been up in the air, flying above the storm or in some cases straight into it.

Joining me now is Major Nicole Mitchell, Air Force Reserve meteorologist. She's aboard one of those flights. She's just crossed the eye.

How is it up there? What have you seen? How strong is it?

MAJOR NICOLE MITCHELL, AIR FORCE RESERVE METEOROLOGIST (via telephone): So, this is our first (INAUDIBLE) storm and we came in from the northwest side. Both either side is close to the Florida right now. We did observe winds at the surface we're over 160 miles per hour, winds at flight level of 10,000 feet, over 170 miles per hour. So, still, fairly, a very intense storm.

COOPER: And forecasters have said the storm is expected to strengthen back into a cat five before making landfall in Florida. Does the data that you are collecting back up that prediction?

MITCHELL: (INAUDIBLE) we defer everything to the National Hurricane Center, which is where all of our data goes to. And I will say, between ourselves and also there's been another flight in there, the pressure has been affirmed to drop slightly in the last couple of hours. Sometimes, that is a sign of intensification. But as I said, we have piece of the picture, so it would be put to the National Hurricane Center to make that call.

COOPER: And you were able to make it to the eye of the storm, is it still so well-defined or well-defined, what they call a stadium eyewall. What did it look like?

MITCHELL: Yes, we were jus entering you know -- as the sun was going down basically, still the stadium is because (INAUDIBLE) it is kind of curved around you. We definitely saw that. We also had some lightning as we went in, on our first task, which you don't always see on a tropical system. And those eyewall is very well-defined. I also hear you mentioning

earlier about Charlie. I actually flew Charlie back in 2004. Something about this that is different (INAUDIBLE) the intensity, the category of the storm, you also how large the storm, how those hurricane force and tropical storm force winds (INAUDIBLE)

And I can tell you, this is a larger storm than Charlie was.

COOPER: You may have said this and I apologize if you did, I -- because I can't hear you as well as our viewers probably can. How far across is this eye? How big is it?

MITCHELL: The eye is 35 miles across. But we want to emphasize that the winds roll (ph) out from the center. So, it is a large storm.

COOPER: Listen, we all obviously appreciate all the information that you and your colleagues gather, Major Mitchell. Thank you so much.

Just ahead, we're going to see what the National Hurricane Center is doing with that data. We also check in with the top official there.

Also, of course, there are grave concerns about one of Florida's best known inland bodies of water and whether it could overwhelm surrounding area. We'll talk about that and show you to you, ahead.


[20:27:28] COOPER: So, before the break, you heard from a meteorologist aboard an Air Force flight into the storm. She just crossed the eye and said the pressure was dropping, in other words, a sign that Hurricane Irma may already be growing stronger.

Let's -- I'm going to get the latest now from Ed Rappaport, who's acting director of the National Hurricane Center.

Ed, thanks for being with us on this night.

What is the most important message for Floridians to know based on the latest forecast you have?

ED RAPPAPORT, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Our greatest concern as it often is for Florida is for the storm surge. And in this case, what we're expecting is a life-threatening storm surge along the coast and southeast Florida around in the southwestern part of the state and the Florida Keys. Five to 10 feet of surge on east coast, six to 12 feet on the west coast, and those very vulnerable islands downing the Keys with another five to ten feet there.

I have some video we can play in the background as we talk showing what storm surge looks like, and what it can do.

COOPER: And just in terms of that storm surge, how -- do we know or do you have a sense of how long that water would be on the ground for?

RAPPAPORT: It depends. Typically, we see the half the rise of storm surge in the 12 hours leading up to landfall, and then perhaps the other 50 percent in that very last hour, as the eyewall comes ashore. How long it takes to clear though depends again on how long the onshore winds are -- will persist. Then, also, how long it takes to drain out after the storm passes.

COOPER: And again, if Irma does strengthen and hit as a category five, how long would it stay that way when it actually hits Florida?

RAPPAPORT: Not for very long, and again, we're talking about category four versus four. We're only talking about five-mile-an-hour difference. So, at this point, we indicate there'd be fluctuations and there have been. There will be some more, but we still expect the landfall category four, perhaps up around maybe even category five, but it won't make a difference overall. It's going to be devastating storm some part of Florida, the Florida peninsula, and the Florida Keys.

Where the center goes will determine ultimately whether we have the category three or four on the east coast or the west coast, with the reverse being category one or two. So, three or four on one side, and category one or two on the other side.

COOPER: Also, when you talk about storm surge in an area like Miami Beach -- I mean, it's not just the coast on the beach where you're getting water coming up, there's a lot of inlets, there's a lot of bays, there's a lot of canals all throughout Miami. You'll see storm surge there, correct?

RAPPAPORT: That's right. And that's why we see some of the size of the colored area varies it depends again on the slope of the land, it depends whether they're canals and rivers. But there are several miles worth of land near the coast that are susceptible storm surge on the east coast, and many more on the west coast. But first, the greatest risk is going to be for the Florida Keys. Most of them are on the order of five or 10 feet high, and we're talking about a five or 10 foot invasion rise of water, plus waves on top of that. So that's where we have the greatest concern for them, at least first.

COOPER: Yes, they just -- I mean, they're just aren't the buildings that can sustain that on the Florida case. I mean they don't have taller buildings as they do here in Miami obviously.

Ed Rappaport, we'll going to check back with you throughout the night obviously and the days ahead. Florida's governor said again tonight what he said all day to anyone facing evacuation orders, get out now. It's a simple message. In central Florida, it seems many are heeding that warning. One especially vulnerable place is Lake Okeechobee, where flooding is a big concern. Miguel Marquez spent a day there where thousands were evacuating. He joins us now. Miguel, what do you see, what's it like there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the area just immediately south of Lake Okeechobee, nowhere is safe. And not just because the storm may pass right overhead there, but because of the rainwater that Irma will bring, it could flood the lake, swell it to the point where the lobby is break, destroying dozens of communities. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In central Florida, entire families fleeing the path of the storm.

(on camera): How old are you?


MARQUEZ: Five. How do you feel right now?


MARQUEZ (voice-over): We're leaving. She says in Creole, much of the far western edge of Home Beach County is now under a mandatory evacuation.

(on camera): Where are you going?

EDNER ETIENNE, IRMA EVACUEE: We're going -- I don't know exactly where they're going to take us.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The county here is rural, agricultural, immigrants, and largely poor. Many people without cars of their own met at a local staging area to be bussed with police escorts to higher ground.

(on camera): If a storm hits here and destroys everything, what happens to this community, what happens to these people?

FONTIL DAITY, IRMA EVACUEE: We must go down. It goes down, everything was destroyed. You won't see any work. I don't know for years or so. The mill would shut down, the school. It would really, really destroy the whole town.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Emergency workers preparing for the absolute worst case scenario.

JAVARIS MIDGET, DISTRICT FIRE CHIEF PALM BEACH COUNTY: It is highly recommended that you leave because that was essential danger. No one knows what's going to happen with the storm.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The risk here, twofold. For one, the area is close to the path of the storm or right on it. The other, the enormous Lake Okeechobee just the north is held back by 143 miles of levies, built since 1930. They were improved in recent years. But --

(on camera): You don't know whether the storm or the possibility of a breach is your problem.

DR. ROBERT AVOSSA, SUPERINTENDENT, PALM BEACH COUNTY SCHOOLS: Right now it's both. It says on its current track. We could see lots of water and it doesn't just matter about the water landing here it also what happens on the north end.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The vast watershed feeding Lake Okeechobee could fill it to the breaking point. The U.S. Army Corp Engineer says, the enormous but shallow lake can hold another three feet of water and should withstand the storm. Some here refusing to evacuate are counting on it.

JESSE TAYLOR, RESIDENT, BELLE GLADE, FLORIDA: We've been here all these years. The storm ain't never been this big. So I figure --

MARQUEZ (on camera): If you're wrong?

TAYLOR: If I'm wrong? I won't be here.


COOPER: Miguel, how difficult -- I mean, you talk about obviously look -- and it's important to point out a lot of people don't have vehicles. They can't just get in their car and drive off or even if they can they don't have gas or can't get gas. How difficult has it been to evacuate that area? You talk about some busses -- shuttle busses that were taking people away?

MARQUEZ: It's been tough. The level of Creole and Spanish spoken there is tough. Police officers are going through neighborhoods with bullhorn trying to get people out of, you know, very vulnerable homes, like trailer homes out of there first. But people are reluctant to board buses. They're reluctant to go to shelter areas, to be driven 40 or 50 miles away. So those cultural barriers were difficult to overcome. But I can tell you, there were hundreds, if not thousands of people I saw bus after bus, city buses, school buses all sorts getting out of there.

There were some people in town refusing to leave. So they are rolling the dice at this point. But most people it seems heeded the warning and did get out. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Miguel Marquez, I appreciate you being there.

[20:34:44] When we come back, how the U.S. military is gearing up to help with the relief efforts. We'll tell where ships are positioning and which military basis are packing up and evacuating, that's next.


COOPER: You can see winds starting to pick up a little bit more here in Miami Beach, a taste of what is to come. We heard from an air force meteorologist on a flight through the hurricane just a few moments ago. But storm chasing aircraft and of course FEMA only part of the federal storm effort just as the hurricane Harvey U.S. naval vessels have been moved into position to the extend that they can be and other military assets are being shut down and evacuated.

Our Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon with details on that. So Barbara, just explain which military resources are going to be available to help.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, tonight the U.S. navy aircraft carrier, an aircraft carrier, "Abraham Lincoln" is at steaming its way towards the impact zone. It is joining six other warships already in the region, one of them off the Virgin Island. Why an aircraft carrier? Why these warships? Because they will have several dozen helicopters on board, they will be able to go ship-to-shore on continuous missions. They will be able to evacuate the ill and the injured. They may not hospital or medical care ashore. They will be able to bring ashore aid and assistance. They will have teams including FEMA people that will help potentially get ports and airports back up and running.

[20:40:09] As I said, one of them already is off the Virgin Islands tonight and is evacuating people who are medically unable to stay in that area.

In addition, we are seeing the air force begin to assemble a fleet of large cargo planes as far away as Illinois and California. These cargo planes will come in and they will bring in vehicles and other equipment that they can move in rough terrain. One of the big challenges will be to get medical care up and running and get airfields up and running. They military has the capability to open these airfields commercial airport runways, air traffic control if it is destroyed in the hurricane. They will be able to get it up and running within hours. And that will be very important to getting these cargo planes in and to get other assistance in. Anderson?

COOPER: And there are obviously a number of military installations here in Florida. Obviously MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, which is homes of the U.S. command, Homestead Air Reserve Base, which is ain't far from where we are, what's the latest on the preps there and evacuation if any at those locations?

STARR: Well, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, home to the U.S. Central Command, which is running the wars overseas. They've evacuated out some of their command. A woman have move forward as far away as the Middle East, hundreds of aircraft, ships and submarines have moved out of the region, out of the impact zone, along with tens of thousands of military personnel, along with civilians of course throughout the area. Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Barbara Starr, I appreciate that update.

Joining me now is former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. And back with us here in Miami Beach is David Halstead, former Florida Emergency Management Director.

Craig, you heard Barbara Starr talked about the military assets poised to help. Obviously, FEMA likes to preposition resources as close as they can, but when you have a storm this size that's going to hit as big an area in Florida. That's going to be extremely difficult.

CRAIG FUGATE, FORMER FEMA ADMINISTRATION: Yes. And we've actually done exercises on this. The challenges with the hurricane coming up to state, you're not going to be able to drive resources that are staged to go south. So that's why you have to have air transport, aircraft because what may happen is for South Florida, they're going to have to supply teams and supplies in, while teams further north are waiting for the storm to pass to respond south. COOPER: And also just in terms of like -- you know, FEMA has search and rescue teams that they pulled from all over the country. Are those assets do you think already in place in Florida?

FUGATE: Well, a lot of them are already staged, but they're also air transportable. So I would imagine what Brock and the team at FEMA are doing is looking at this from the stand point how do they get teams into the areas hardest hits and the fastest. And they're making decision, which one are going to go by ground, which one will go by air.

And two of those teams are actually based in Miami. Miami-Dade County has one of the task forces and the other one is the city of Miami and the surrounding communities. Plus, Florida has other cities that have urban search and rescue teams. So those will be the first team on the ground augmented by the remaining 26 federal urban search and rescue teams that maybe deployed if required.

COOPER: David, you've seen a lot of storms in your work here for the state. What worries you as you look at this storm?

HALSTEAD: Well, I think Craig hit the nail on the head. We worry about it coming up through the state, unable to get resources back behind it. But I used to have a diabolical boss, his name is Craig Fugate. He had us plan for a hurricane called "Oh, No." And is almost following this particular path coming up --

COOPER: Just planning for the worst possible.

HALSTEAD: Just planning for the worst, getting the team ready, getting the locals involving them with the planning process. The Herbert Hoover Dike, all of this. So this is not something that has not been gone unplanned for in the past. We have a plan to go into the Keys, exactly as Administrator Long is doing right now. And that is getting aircraft carriers and or other large ships that have aircraft such as helicopters, heavy-lift that could bring resources in.

COOPER: And we'll going to talk to Administrator Long, I talked to him earlier today, we're going to play that a little bit later on in the broadcast.

David, just in terms of, you know, getting people to leave, the folks who decide to stay, who say they can ride it out, you know we hear obviously from first responders, that can be a drain on resources. That they think they're doing it for themselves but that can actually have a ripple effect on first responders needing to spend time trying to rescue them. How much of a problem is that for emergency personnel?

HALSTEAD: Well, it ends up being a large problem because as we talked in the earlier segment, what happens if communications goes down? Now we got someone who is trapped or injured and we didn't know who is staying, who is needing help? How do they even get that notice out? People have got to think beyond just -- well, I want to ride the storm out. What happens when the first responders come into a dangerous area to have to bring you out? That is taking resources from other folks that perhaps didn't ride the storm out perhaps needing 911 right now.

[20:45:13] COOPER: Craig, for FEMA, how difficult is it just getting accurate information? I mean, obviously you get information through all the different cities, through the local and the state actors. But just trying to organize things immediately after and even during the storm, how tough is that?

FUGATE: Well, it's never easy. And that's why supporting Governor Scott and the Florida team are also doing this. We learned this after Katrina. We can't wait for formal requests to come in. Brock had its teams in the studio sea (ph). So there are already synced up working with the studio sea (ph).

They have team ready to go and something that Dave and I and a lot of us figured out a long time ago, we can't wait for assessments. We have to roll as quickly as the winds permit and start moving to the area of heavy impact and we respond based upon the projected impact. If we wait for the facts to come up, it's too late.

So this is something we've learned in Florida, something that FEMA does. We're not going to wait, the skies won't be clear. We'll roll as soon as we can get people on the road that's safe enough to go. But we're going to respond to the area of impact like it's bad and hopefully it won't be as bad when we get there. But we cannot wait for those formal requests or assessments to come up and we have to roll as one team.

COOPER: Craig Fugate, I appreciate your time, David Halstead as well, good to talk to you.

Up next, an update from the ground in Barbuda, that island is devastated. CNN has one of the few crews on the ground there today to get a sense of the scope of the destruction. Conditions are so bad. One eyewitness said the island looked like a garbage disposal. The prime minister earlier said as many as 95 percent of the structures from his initial estimate seemed to be damaged or destroyed. We'll get an update from the ground, ahead.


[20:50:41] COOPER: Well, the islands already hit by hurricane Irma are beginning to look toward rebuilding. But many, of course, are starting from almost nothing. And there is the other hurricane, Jose to worry about. In a moment we'll get an update from Barbuda. But first let's check from the Bahamas where many evacuees from the smaller islands have ended up. CNN's Cyril Vanier is in Nassau. He joins us now. What are the conditions like there now, Cyril?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Waiting for the storms. The winds have really begun to pick up here. But we are waiting for the worst of it.

Now, I'm actually going to be one of the more encouraging probably reports that you're going to get this evening, which is that the forecasts here in the Bahamas have been proved slightly wrong but in a good way. The winds we're going get here are not going to end up being the hurricane-force winds that we were hearing even 24 hours ago. We're talk tropical storm-force winds.

And I just spoke to the person who is looking at this, and was looking at this tracking this hour by hour. We're not expecting here in the capital of Nassau anything that would threaten a structure of buildings. So what we're looking at, there is still a possibility of floods there is still a possibility of rainfall, also although we haven't seen much of that yet. It's going to happen throughout the night.

So people are doing one of two things right now, either they are regrouping and whoever has the strongest home, the safest place to be. Or they are going, for some of them, we're talking a few hundred, maybe a few thousand people in one of the 24 or so shelters that are dotted across the capital of Nassau. So and the CNN team went there today. Those people for the moment pretty grateful towards the government that they've organized this, they're just wondering what kind of -- what if -- what damage if any they're going to find to their home when they wind up going back there.

COOPER: Yes. Well, good news there for the Bahamas. Cyril Vanier, I appreciate that.

Now I want to go to Barbuda, where obviously the news has not been good. An estimated 95 percent of buildings were damaged, according to the prime minister. Now it's another -- under another hurricane watch for category 4 hurricane Jose.

Leyla Santiago is one of the few journalists to get on to the island today. She joins me now from nearby Antigua. Leyla, what was it like?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, we were there as people were evacuating with the few bags of belongings they had left. There was a lot of anxiety, a lot of people overwhelmed by what the future may hold. One man saying he was reminded that nature is truly powerful. And when you ask them what would you say to people in Florida, they told us get out. You do not want to be in Irma's path.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): Once a Caribbean getaway surrounded by turquoise water, now demolished, left desolate, unrecognizable by hurricane Irma. This is the shocking view as we fly on to the island of Barbuda. Jerome Teague (ph) says hurricanes are a way of life here, but not this one.

JEROME TEAGUE: This is the worst one I ever seen.

SANTIAGO: And this could get worse, as the hurricane-ravaged island braces for hurricane Jose. Those who braved Irma now arriving in Antigua evacuated to escape a second major hit.

Elvis Burton (ph) is determined to protect the place he has called home for 12 years. At least what's left of it. He evacuated, but returned to find a home no longer livable, savaged by nature.

ELVIS BURTON: It's my home. I have to try and save it.

SANTIAGO: Even more are determined to safe lives, get people out of Barbuda, save the people who seem to have lost it all.

(on camera): It's hard to imagine that an island now rubble, an island home to nearly 2,000 residents could get any worse than it already is. But the prime minister has said 95 percent of the buildings are damaged. And it will be quite the rebuilding effort. More than $100 million to get this the way it once was.

Barbuda looks like a war zone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a war zone. Everything is blown up.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): This is the wrath of Irma, now on the move. Irma has shown her strength. The reason so many fear what is headed to Florida.


[20:55:00] COOPER: Leyla, you talked about seeing people being evacuated.

SANTIAGO: And Anderson, the government here asking --

COOPER: Go ahead.

SANTIAGO: I was just going to mention quickly, the government here asking people in Antigua to help. One of the nice comments I heard from someone today, someone is saying we are sister nations. And the only thing that separates us is water. So there is a lot of anxiety among the people of Barbuda. But it is sort of nice to see people coming together on this island to help out the nearly 2,000 residents right now.

COOPER: Yes. We certainly wish them the best. They're going to need a lot of that in the weeks and months ahead. Leyla Santiago thanks.

Coming up, more breaking news coverage of hurricane Irma from here in Miami Beach and all across Florida, the very latest that we know about where the storm is headed and how people are preparing. That's next.


[21:00:03] COOPER: We are live tonight in Miami Beach where a lot of folks have already evacuated, and others are hunkered down waiting for hurricane Irma as it approaches.