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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Florida Bracing For Direct Hit From Monster Hurricane; Mass Exodus From Florida As Catastrophic Storm Closes In; Barbuda Devastated By Irma Bracing For Another Storm; Gov: Irma Storm Surge Can Cover Your House; Interview with Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Interview with Jeb Bush; Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: That's near Ft. Lauderdale, just north of Miami, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She represents this area. She joins me now.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, thank you so much. I know you've got a lot on your plate now. We've got a map here showing where your district is. And I know a lot of that is in mandatory evacuation areas. Are you finding that people are heeding those calls?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Yes. For the most part we have folks who are really paying attention, listening to the instructions, following them. The folks in the mandatory evacuation zones, for the most part, we've seen them actually leaving over the last couple of days, but it is a very important message to send to those folks who have been deciding to stay.

It is absolutely critical that you leave if you're in a mandatory evacuation zone. That's east of U.S. 1 in Broward County. Broward County is in the crosshairs of a direct hit of this very powerful storm. It is bigger than any storm, even than Andrew, 25 years ago that we've seen.

And Jim, also it's important to note we have a thousand people move to Florida a day. There are many, many people in our community who have never lived through a hurricane and who need to be heeding these instructions.

I went door to door in neighborhoods in my district yesterday just west of the mandatory evacuation zone. People are preparing, but we also have vulnerable people who need help, so we're asking people to look out for their neighbors as well as for themselves.

SCIUTTO: As I'm speaking to you, I'm showing a map here that shows the storm surge hazard areas. And just pointing down here, this is where Wasserman Schultz -- Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz represents, and you're seeing predicted storm surge danger 3 to 6 feet, perhaps higher. What would that kind of storm surge do to the communities that you represent there?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We already have very significant flooding problems on the east side in our communities in Hollywood and Hallandale Beach and Dania Beach. And let me tell you, that kind of storm surge will be devastating. There will be a tremendous amount of devastating impact, and so it's important for people to leave the aftermath and the cleanup of this -- from this storm is going to be the likes of which we've never seen.

I've just come from a shelter on the west side of my district, if you still have the map. And, you know, we have an inland. I represent a district that goes from the sawgrass to the seagrass. On the sawgrass side of the district, because Irma is likely to also go over the everglades where we have warm waters there, she's not likely to slow down very much as a result of passing over that land, and so we have real concerns over the west side of our community as well.

And the shelters are filling to capacity. People need to finalize their preparations now. And when -- another really important thing, Jim, I want to caution people especially because I just came from this shelter, people should only bring to the shelters what they're going to need for a couple of days.

And I saw so many people bringing queen-size, full-size air mattresses. And if you are bringing that kind of amount of things with you, then you're taking up space and shrinking the capacity of the shelter. We want you to be comfortable, but please try to be considerate so that we can make sure that we can utilize the maximum capacity of these shelters.

SCIUTTO: You've been, of course, meeting with county officials today. If the worst comes, if the strongest part, the northeast part of the storm, right, with the biggest storm surge, winds, et cetera, if you get a direct --

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: -- out of the storm.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. If you get a direct hit, are you concerned that parts of your community cannot survive such a hit?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, since we were hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the south part of the building code was significantly upgraded. And so any construction built since 1992 really is built to withstand category 3, high category 3 hurricane force winds. So we have a lot more structures that can withstand a very significant storm. But if this is a high category 4, then we're talking about a different situation.

We're still going -- I mean, we're going to have very significant structural damage. We're going to have mobile homes and the kind of devastation that we have seen in other communities, and we're going to have a lot of work to do. That's when we go back to Washington. Our congressional delegation, really, across this whole region is going to need to double down and make sure that we pass a quick emergency supplemental fund like we did for Harvey.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No question. We just -- that just passed today, in fact, signed by the president. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's right.

SCIUTTO: We can expect a similar request.

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, thank you very much.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It's going to pale in comparison, Jim, to what we need here. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: It looks like it very much. Thank you. Good luck to you and your community.

Much more on Hurricane Irma coming up. The latest storm track just minutes away. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:07] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Sticking with our breaking news on Hurricane Irma, time running out to evacuate. As the latest storm tracks show, that the worst case scenario for the state of Florida might actually happen.

As governor of Florida Jeb Bush oversaw the state's response to eight separate hurricanes in a two-year period.

Governor Bush, thanks very much for taking the time there. We know you have your experience with storms. I'm curious, as you look at this one, how does it compare to the eight you handled directly in Florida?

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Well, we had two or three cat 4 storms. This one is bigger and it's as powerful as any that has hit the -- maybe other than Andrew, that's hit the state. But the path it's taking is going to impact more people than any storm than in the past. So this is a storm that's going to have hurricane force winds over all the peninsula. And, you know, we now have 19 million people living in the state.

[16:40:08] Everybody can evacuate in a community like Miami that's so densely populated. Thankfully we have the best building code in the country and we have great emergency managers at the local and state level. So we're prepared.

One advantage, which is kind of unusual, is that the storm has been so strong for so long that there's been five or six days to prepare. And I think most Miamians, most Floridians, have taken this very seriously.

SCIUTTO: Governor Bush, what amazes us is when you look at the models right now, they shows with really certainty that as this storm goes forward, it's going to go straight up the state. It's going to take a right-hand turn, hit south Florida, and keep going right up the state. These purple areas here that I'm showing our viewers now, that is a virtual guarantee of the path and then there's a little bit less certainty as you go further up. But, Governor, because of that, since it's going to be basically

running roughshod over the state from bottom to top, what are you most worried about in terms of damage?

BUSH: Well, these are -- millions of people are going to be in harm's way. So first and foremost, the safety of people I care for, and I know Governor Scott does, is the first priority. We -- the damage, the physical damage is going to be serious for sure. There is some unique risks. Maybe Lake Okeechobee, there could be a breach of some kind, but watching the reports it appears that that's -- the Army Corps has strengthened Late Okeechobee's dike system. But right now the focus is on making sure people are prepared and getting people to hunker down if they can't safely evacuate.

SCIUTTO: You responded to many hurricanes, as we said, as governor. What did you and the state learn then that you see Florida doing a better job of now in advance of Irma?

BUSH: Well, we learned that you couldn't evacuate everybody and that we needed to have much stronger shelter space. And we passed the most meaningful building code reforms during my time, and so all the new schools that have been built are shelter compliant. There is a greater focus on special needs shelters.

The state learned a lot during those hurricanes and I think those lessons have been applied now, both at the local level and the state level. Governor Scott is really all in on this and so are the mayors. They understand that this is their chance to really show their heart.

SCIUTTO: Well, Governor Bush, I know you love our state. And it's going to be a challenge and so we wish you and we wish the state of Florida luck.

BUSH: Thank you. Thanks for covering this story.

SCIUTTO: Have to. We'll talk again.

We want to go back now to CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She's in the CNN Weather Center.

Allison, we know that we're just minutes away from the next key update on Hurricane Irma. What changes do we expect to see in the storm and the storm's path?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We don't expect it to -- and I think this is going to be, if you don't expect to see that much of a drop. The fact of the matter is it's over open water. This is what the storm wants -- this is where it wants to be. When it's over land, it weakens. When it's over open water, it can either maintain or strengthen. And we expect it to maintain.

Winds right now about 150 miles per hour, gusting up to 180 miles per hour. So you have your hurricane warnings in red and your hurricane watches in pink. That takes a little bit further up into Florida. And it would not surprise me if we start to get some, say, even in the northern tier, of Florida, especially around Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Because this is where the track I expected to take it.

Now with that said, we expect landfall to be around a category 4 strength. By the time it reaches that northern section of Florida, it should weaken back down to a category 1, but that's still going to have incredibly strong wind.

Now at landfall, again we're talking category 4 strength which is where we are right now. As it pushes over land it will weaken pretty quickly. Tampa, we could be looking at winds around 100 to 115 miles per hour, and then by the time it actually comes all the way inland, say, up towards Atlanta, Georgia, we could be looking at winds, say, around 40 to 50 miles per hour.

This is going to be the forecast intensity. And when you look at it again, it doesn't matter whether you're on the east side or the west side of Florida, you're going to be dealing with really intense winds.

Now take a look at this because this just goes to show you there are a lot of high rise buildings in Florida, not just Miami but other cities. The higher you go up in those buildings, the stronger the winds actually gets. So let's say the wind at the circus 140 miles per hour, for example. You get into a 30-story building, you're now talking winds jumping to 175 miles per hour. Then you get up to say an 8-=storey building, you could be looking at winds nearing 190 miles per hour. So again this is going to be a concern for a lot of the high rises that we even have across areas of southern Florida and some of those other regions.

Now the other thing that we wanted to note. Again we're talking about Jose. Because this is going to impact unfortunately some of the exact same islands that already had to deal with Irma, not getting Jose again. The good news is long term. This does not look like it's going to impact the U.S. In fact, actually, once it makes its right- hand turn, the only place it's likely to impact would end up being, say, around Bermuda. Now, one of the things that people have talked about is the comparison of Andrew.

This is to scale. I want to point that out. This is Andrew, this is Irma. This is a true scale comparison. When we talk about it, the winds for Andrew were slightly higher. It landfall about 165, we expect Irma to be around 150. But again, the time over Florida, and this is the key Jim, Andrew only spent four hours over Florida. We expect Irma to spend over 30. And that's likely to end up cause some pretty significant damage just that point alone.

SCIUTTO: Amazing how big it is. Looks like the perfect storm. Allison Chinchar, thanks very much.

Much more ahead from the Florida Coast as we continue to track Irma, please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Sticking with our breaking news on Hurricane Irma, time running out to evacuate. The mad dash to escape Irma not only has the airports packed but also Florida Interstates and evacuation routes. CNN's Ed joins me now. He's on the road in South Florida. Ed, I know Florida suspended tools across the state. One of the steps they take in to try to ease that traffic along but how does it look from your vantage point?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we spent much of the day monitoring these roadways and kind of getting the sense of just how many people here in the most southern part of Florida are heeding those evacuation warnings. It's been interesting when we drive here, you're looking at the most southern part of Interstate 95 as we pass downtown Miami, we have driven this Interstate from Dade County to Broward County north into Palm Beach as well. And it has been smooth sailing through here. Now, I don't want to give everybody the wrong impression. Once you get much further north, you apparently do start hitting some of those traffic jams and it slows down considerably. But at least here, down in the southern part of Florida, this is the way we've kind of seen these roads throughout the day. Out in the surface streets, more cars which gives you the impression that a lot of people are staying in the Dade County area riding out this storm. Jim?

SCIUTTO: And that's exactly what many Florida officials have said don't do, and yet they're doing it. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

The island of Barbuda was decimated by the hurricane with building ripped apart, trees uprooted. These are some early pictures from there. You want an idea of what this storm is going to be like when it hits the State of Florida, this is an early view of its immense power. Our Leyla Santiago just returned from Barbuda where she saw the devastation like you're seeing here firsthand. She just arrived back safely, thankfully in Antigua nearby. Leyla, we're seeing some of these images now, but I imagine as you walked around there, drove around, just devastation.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what you see from above, right, in those aerials and they're kind of what you feel when you're down there are two very overwhelming feelings. I mean, it is pure destruction, it is desolate, people are overwhelmed. You can tell that it's not a, what am I going to do tomorrow, it's a what am I going to do next hour? They are overwhelmed trying to get off of the island, those that were still there. The priority now not so much to save what Irma did left leave behind more so to save lives. They're trying to get people out.

On our way there, we actually saw five ferries coming from Barbuda to Antigua. So right now they're bracing for things to come with Hurricane Jose, and it was just this feeling -- you know, Barbuda is such a vibrant island, you know, so colorful, not just their buildings but culture and people. And then to see it so desolate is really overwhelming and the people with tears in their eyes are just -- not knowing what to do next and not knowing what the next storm will actually bring, Jim.

SCIUTTO: They're going to need a lot of help, no question. Our Leyla Santiago, one of the first to see the devastation there in Barbuda firsthand. Thanks very much.

We're just moments away from the next update on the path for Hurricane Irma. Where will it head next? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back here, watching a live picture there of the Miami Beach. You might say the calm before the storm. Hurricane Irma closing in now in Southern Florida, and there is an eerie feeling in some typically feasted places particularly this time of year. Let's go to CNN's Chris Cuomo, he is in Miami Beach. Chris, as you know, that beach normally full of people now. Do you find as you go around the area that people are finally listening to these evacuation orders?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. The experts, the police will say more than usual but not enough. There are actually a lot of people on this beach. Just now, the police are starting to come and tell them that they have to get off. This is a mandatory evacuation center Jim -- evacuation zone, so you're not supposed to be here.

SCIUTTO: We looked at the map down there, and of course Governor Rick Scott told us earlier in the program it's the storm surge they worry about. He's talking about some areas as much as 12 feet, one story of a house or a building. Where you are, I mean, the thing is, you get storm surge like that, there's no margin for error there. I mean, it's all low-lying, isn't it?

CUOMO: Well, that's the problem, you know. You make a choice to stay, you think you'll be OK, but if that winds up to be a bad choice, then it falls on search and rescue. And even though they have one of the best units in the country here, they get sent all over for catastrophes, they're going to be overwhelmed. So everybody who makes a bad choice puts more strain on the system.

SCIUTTO: That's the thing. I mean, you know, you not just making a choice for yourself, you're making a choice for the firefighters who might have to come rescue you-- rescue them. As you're there now, you've been talking to some of the local officials, the first responders, et cetera, do they give you the sense they're ready for this? I know they've seen a loft hurricanes there but they haven't seen one like this.

CUOMO: Well, that's what they keep saying is that they're worried that this will be more than they've ever dealt with before. The downgrade from five to four, as we both know, that's like a difference between a punch in the throat and a punch in the nose. You know, either way, it's going to really hurt. It's really only a distinction for scientists. So they say they've done as much as they can, especially the first responders here, Jim. You know, a lot of them just came from Harvey and they're here to defend their homeland, so they're uniquely motivated but they leave their families you know, to help the rest of us and that's a big commitment.

SCIUTTO: No question. You're going to be sticking out through it there. Have you talked to any residents who are sticking it out, and have they explained to you why they're making that decision?

CUOMO: Yes. You know, there's a range. Sometimes it's they're elderly and infirm and can't leave or they have other people they have to take care of, or they didn't have the money, they didn't have the access. And then you have people who just say they want to stay, they think they'll be OK. And you know, look, you can't make them leave, but it is a choice that, as you said very well, Jim, puts others at risk.

SCIUTTO: Chris Cuomo, stay safe down there. We're glad to have you there, but stay safe.

Be sure to stay tune into Sunday morning for CNN "STATE OF THE UNION." Jake Tapper my colleague, he will speak exclusively with Senator John McCain. That is the Senator's first live national television interview since his cancer diagnosis, plus Jake will also have all the breaking news on Hurricane Irma as this category four storm hits Florida over this weekend and in the coming hours. It all starts at 9:00 Eastern time on Sunday right here on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to the very capable hands of Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM."