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CNN TONIGHT

Irma Pummels Cuba; Famous Tourist Beaches Now like a Ghost Town; Evacuation Centers are Now Jam Packed. Aired 10-10:30p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 22:00   ET

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


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[22:00:00] BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We have nearly 8,000 federal employees prepositioned to go for the storm in addition to the commodities we just spoke about.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: Mr. Long, I wish you the best in days ahead. Thanks so much.

LONG: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Our coverage of course is going to continue all through the night, all through the weekend. We will be covering this from a lot of different location. Right now, our coverage continues with Don Lemon and CNN Tonight.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Hey, Anderson, stand by because I have a couple of questions for you. By the way, thank you so much for staying with us. But you're in Miami now. And I saw some of the wind coming through. You're getting, I think the very outer parts of those bands. The winds just starting -- the conditions are going to get so much worse as you said as we get closer and closer to Saturday and Sunday.

COOPER: Yes, that's right. Right now, we're in Miami Beach, very close to the ocean. You know, 24 hours from now in all likely that we will not be able to be in this location. We're going to have to be probably more in Miami downtown in a slightly elevated position.

You know, you try to plan out where the water may come where the flooding may come, and obviously we want to be able to broadcast all during the storm. So we are looking kind of at elevated positions that we can kind of get to tomorrow and broadcast from -- as long as we're able to stay on the air.

LEMON: As you're out and about, you know, Miami is a big city and folks are out and about all the time. People vacation there. What is it like? What are they saying?

COOPER: You know, it's been incredibly quiet today. I actually, when I got in this morning, I went to the Publix Supermarket right by the hotel downtown. Amazingly was open and they have plan to stay until 9p.m. tonight. I expected the shelves to be empty. There was tons of food there, water, Gatorade, all sorts of supplies.

I actually filled up a shopping cart. There were hundreds of people. It was very orderly. There was a heavy security presence as well. The people were very calm. You know, I think a lot of people have heeded the evacuation orders. And that's certainly the best news of all.

But those who are staying, seem to be heeding -- you know, they understand the seriously. Sometimes in hurricanes as you know, you know, the night before, you see people kind of staggering around. They've had a couple. We have seen a little bit of that here in Miami Beach but not much at all. People seem to be taking this very seriously.

LEMON: As well they should. I mean, this is a monster storm. They should all take heed and leave. Anderson, please be safe. We'll see you on the air soon. Anderson Cooper, reporting for us live in Miami. We get back to him if need to be.

I want to get to CNN's Miguel Marquez live for us right now in Fort Lauderdale. Miguel, thank you for joining us so much. It's Friday night. People are typically out and about. Set the scene for us. What are you seeing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: You are exactly right, Don, People be out and about, and it looks like ghost town. It is shutters on a lot of these shops and stores. The roads are mostly empty. There are some people out.

But look, there are millions of people across this state on the move getting out or in shelters tonight. We saw some people in far west Palm Beach County today just south of Lake Okeechobee, these are people who are the most vulnerable not only from the storm that might hit almost directly there but the rains that will fall in the lake there and north of it.

The water shed, it could stress the levees that around the lake is about 143 miles of levees around that lake, and it could burst those. That is a concern almost the entire area, some of that lake. Immediately south of that lake is at risk.

But clearly people are heeding the order. Because as Anderson was saying, we drove down from that area into this area. Gas stations are open. There is no lines. The restaurants and the stores that are open, there's almost nobody in them.

Clearly people have gotten out of town or they are hunkering down in their homes or hotels that they know are built to withstand storms. Don?

LEMON: All right, Miguel, stand by. Anderson is in Miami, Miguel is in Fort Lauderdale. Also in Fort Lauderdale is CNN's Alexander Marquardt joining us now live. You're in a mandatory evacuation order zone, are people heeding that warning, that order, Alexander?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, it looks like they are tonight. It's actually quite around here. There are far fewer people who we saw during the course of the day. There are a couple of guys back there. But I have to say, Don, there were a surprising number of people who were out and about today, out here on the beach at a nearby bar which was just jam packed all day with a people getting a few more drinks in before they went home.

Now that evacuation order we should know is for a very thin strip along the coastline here in Fort Lauderdale. It extends eastward from the federal highway. So the people who we spoke with say they were not, they are not in that mandatory evacuation zone. They feel comfortable staying at home. Maybe they live on a higher ground. They believe that the homes that they live in can withstand these winds. They say that they have hurricane shutters, they boarded up their

homes and have the supplies.

[22:04:57] That question will really be answered tomorrow, whether people -- whether this in fact becomes a ghost town. There is still activity around here. On top of the mandatory evacuation orders there is also a curfew to go into effect tomorrow. Don?

LEMON: All right, Alexander Marquardt in Fort Lauderdale. I appreciate it. Stay safe after all of our correspondents. I want to get now to CNN's Allison Chinchar, she is in the CNN weather center with the very latest on this. This hurricane is going to intensify. What's latest path for Irma?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: Well, the latest path actually takes it pretty much we're thinking right over Cuba. In fact, the next advisory to come out in just less than an hour from now, they may actually call the land fall over Cuba.

This takes it a little bit further west on some of the original models we're trending, so this may have impacts on where the tracks of the storm goes from here.

But right now, again, it's just to the north of Cuba. It's expected to continue to the west and then make a sharp turn towards the north. Right now, winds about 155 miles per hour but that is only 2 miles per hour below category 5 strength and we expected to get up to that level in the coming hours.

Here's a look at that track. Again, we expect it to be a category five storm as it crosses over the Florida Keys. Then when it gets to the main peninsula of Florida likely to be around a category 4 as it crosses over the southern region.

We still have hurricane watches and hurricane warnings for much of this region here. Again, basically Sarasota to Fort Pierce and down is where we have the warnings. But those are likely to expand north as we get closer to that landfall time which at this point it's expected to be very early Sunday morning.

Storm surge is expected to be one of the big factors with the storm. From West Palm Beach stretching all the way down towards Key West. Storm surge is expected to be about 5 to 10 feet. On the southwest side, Naples down to Key West, we're talking 8 to 12 feet.

Then short, just a little bit north of that around the Fort Myers area, 5 to 8 feet. But even places far north as Tampa could be experiencing 3 to 5 feet of storm surge and rainfall. While it will be nowhere near what we had in Harvey, it's still going to be plenty high enough to trigger some flash flooding.

Widespread, you're talking 4 to 6 inches of rain. But there will be several pockets that could pick up in excess of 10 inches of rain with this storm. And winds, let's face it. As a category 5 storm, even a high end category 4, you're talking incredibly high sustained winds as well as wind gusts.

And because the storm is so huge, you got hurricane force winds that will extends on both sides of the coast. So, Don, it really doesn't matter whether you're on east coast side or the west coast side, you're likely going to get hurricane force winds for several hours as it tracks north.

LEMON: All right, we'll continue to follow. Allison Chinchar in the CNN weather center. I appreciate that.

Joining me now on the phone is Beth Martincic, she in a crowded shelter tonight, in a crowded shelter tonight with her young family. Beth, thank you so much. We appreciate you joining us. You're there with your 3-month-old baby, Ivy and your husband, Ali, right?

BETH MARTINCIC, FLORIDA RESIDENT: Yes, we have been here since last night.

LEMON: Yes. And the baby is 3-month birthday at the shelter. How are you all doing?

MARTINCIC: It's been a long less than 24 hours. We're holding up though.

LEMON: So tell me your story. Where do you live and what happened?

MARTINCIC: We live in Miami Beach. And there was a mandatory evacuation. So we headed up to Broward County to stay with his mother. But once the storm intensified and it just started looking a little bit too scary, we decided to head for shelter. So we came here last night around midnight, maybe 12.30 and we've been here ever since.

LEMON: So you decided to go there instead of with his mother, right? You made that decision late last night?

MARTINCIC: We all came. His mother, his two cousins and we're waiting for the aunt and uncle. They're going to let them in. They stopped -- the shelters full now. So it stopped admitting people. But hopefully since we have family here already, they will let more in.

LEMON: Let me ask you this. I want to ask you about the shelter and the conditions. So what is the shelter, what facility is in? Is it a middle school, right?

MARTINCIC: Right. It's a middle school.

LEMON: How many people are there? MARTINCIC: They said they are going to cap it around 900. So, I

believe around that many. It's really crowded. We started in the gymnasium. And then they started -- once the gymnasium -- once it was packed, they then started opening the cafeteria. They took out all the tables and now there's mattresses and sleeping beds. You know, the cafeteria is packed. After the cafeteria, then it was the hall, the dance room. Every square inch of this place is covered with blankets, pillows, bottles of water. They're everywhere. It's packed.

[22:10:07] LEMON: You did bring supplies or they are giving you supplies or it was a combination?

MARTINCIC: They have given three meals a day. But we don't know what we were in for. So we were already prepared. We brought our own. Most people that came. They are providing, you know, three meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner and some water. A little bit of tea, coffee.

LEMON: And there are people there from all walks, and all ages, from babies to the elderly, correct?

MARTINCIC: There is. Yes, all sorts.

LEMON: Yes.

MARTINCIC: All ages.

LEMON: This is -- I would imagine this is really challenging to go through for anyone. But when you're with an infant, what is that like? Geez.

MARTINCIC: Well, it was scary to be in a situation at all. You know, facing a major storm and then deciding what was right for your family, to stay, to get on the highway, is there enough gas? You know, an accident. To stay with families who come to the shelter. It was an intense, you know, three or four days and when it came down to the wire, you know, we just decided we have to be somewhere safe and shelter is the safest place.

LEMON: Yes. That was -- it's very smart of you because there are people who actually are not heeding the warnings and considering the size of this hurricanes, it is amazing that they are doing so. Listen, you have gone through -- you said you live in Miami Beach, correct?

MARTINCIC: Right.

LEMON: You have gone through hurricanes before, or a hurricane before. You dealt with Matthew.

MARTINCIC: No.

LEMON: Did you dealt with Matthew?

MARTINCIC: Yes, I dealt with Matthew but in Vero Beach. So I just recently moved to Miami Beach. So I'm not a Floridian so hurricanes are not something that I've really grew up with or accustomed here. They are terrifying. Matthew was a real scare. But Vero Beach where I was, had I-- we lost power for two days, where I was. My home, I had no storm damage. It was -- it was -- I mean, we were prepared but it was nothing compared to this.

LEMON: Do you think people are taking Irma more seriously than they did because it's coming on the heels of Harvey and then there is Jose right behind it?

MARTINCIC: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we saw what Harvey did in Texas. I have family in Texas. And it's always the city is safe and -- I'm sure, you know, I would hope that everyone feels that way.

LEMON: Yes. And listen, here's an interesting thing. No one knows -- because, you know, it's a science but it's not an exact science, if it's going to hit -- we believe around Sunday morning it's going to start, it's going to be the worse or at its worst. But you don't know the damage it's going to cause so you don't -- so have no idea when you're going to get home and what you're going to find when you get there.

MARTINCIC: Exactly. That's part of -- that's part of the decision. That it's hard to leave. And it's also hard to stay. You just don't know what you're facing. If you leave, and you have to be gone for two or three weeks, are you going to come home to a condemned building? You know, what's your property going to look like? Are you going to be able to get back in once you leave?

You know, we -- Ari is an attorney and he has clients that he has to deal with. You know, it's hard to make that call. Stay, go, what do you do?

LEMON: Yes.

MARTINCIC: We decided to stay, even though, we could be without power for a week, three weeks, and you know, we go back and forth. We're like, man, we should have left -- we should have -- this is too big. This is too scary and other times, you know, we think we're glad we stayed. We need to get back to the beach and see what our home is going to look like.

LEMON: Yes. Well, Beth, we wish you and your husband Ali the best and of course Ivy, happy 3-month-old birthday. Interesting spending it in the shelter, but we hope that you guys are safe. Thank you so much. We'll check back with you, OK.

MARTINCIC: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you. When we come right back, there is much more on this monstrous storm that is headed straight for Florida. We are getting all the new forecasts all the new information coming in to the CNN weather center. Millions of people evacuating. And Florida's governor calling it life-threatening, a life-threatening situation, saying, this is, officials saying this is the real deal. You need to get out and get to safety or get to shelter.

And next we're going to speak to a hurricane hunter n who flew right through the storm today and we're going to ask him what he saw.

[22:15:01] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Here's our breaking news. Florida, look at that, bracing for a direct hit from hurricane Irma as the storm's fierce winds rip on to the northern coast of Cuba tonight.

CNN's Patrick Oppman is there for us. He's right there for us now. Describe what is happening where you are, Patrick.

PATRICK OPPMAN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: You know, Don, just a few minutes ago, a dead calm that you get as you know from covering storms, purely between the squalls and just now we're kind of feeling the wind pick up again. Where we are, the power was knocked out some three or four hours ago. I don't think we'll get it back for days. Luckily we have a small generator. So that's how we are going to continue working from here.

But we're on the northern coast, central coast of Cuba. An area that has been evacuated. Usually there are a lot of hotels in this area. There are the Keys off the coast, which are a very popular tourist destination. They have been emptied out and all day long, we were watching the weather get worse and worse and worse.

And this afternoon, a couple of really strong bands came through out of nowhere and really almost knocked us off of our feet. It's quietly down but we do get some rain, some more wind, that's just going to keep on.

I was talking to someone who lives down the coast from us where the storm is a bit more intense as it comes our direction. And they told me that they are getting absolutely hammered right now.

LEMON: Yes.

[22:19:58] OPPMAN: So I think in the next few hours, we're going to begin to see those kinds of weather conditions which are continuing tomorrow morning, probably from most of the day Saturday until those storm begins to leave Cuban territory and heads to -- heads towards Florida, Don.

LEMON: Hey, Patrick, you mentioned the conditions early. I just want to show some of the video of you when an outer band came through. Patrick, you can hear the rain and you can see the wind ripping there. What was that like?

OPPMAN: You know, it came out of nowhere. I think that was the most surprising thing. I've covered a number of hurricanes and usually they progress up to a point and the weather turns and eventually you get those kinds of conditions. This literally came, you know, we didn't even see it coming.

I had my rain jacket on earlier in the day. It was hot. It was not raining. We didn't have a drop of rainfall and all of the sudden we just got blindsided by this -- however, many seconds long squall that was and it felt like you were getting hit by needles. I felt like some turn on a power washer was on you. Just -- you know,

you can see from the video, it's not very pleasant but it's very dangerous as well because if you are out and about, if you're not conscious when we are in a structure that's going to keep us save during the storm.

We've spend a lot of times in the last few days figuring out where we will for the storm tried to do our research. But all the same when the weather conditions change so suddenly, there is not a lot you can do.

You just, you know, luckily I have my colleagues here who got me a jacket. I was almost unable to put on by myself. And it just goes to show the power of this storm. Because those are not even the most powerful bands or winds that are going to come. And certainly whether you're in Cuba where I am or Florida where it's going, you have to be prepared for these kinds of weather conditions and worse.

LEMON: Yes, I was going say, that's just a little bit. That's nothing there compared to what's going to happen. So be safe out there, Patrick Oppman. We appreciate it.

OPPMAN: Absolutely.

LEMON: Forecasters predicting hurricane Irma will be a monster category 5 when it slams into Florida. And joining me now a man who is flying directly into the storm, Jack Parrish, a flight director on board on one of NOAA's hurricane hunter aircraft and he joins me now on the phone. As I understand you just flew through the wall. What you did see?

JACK PARRISH, AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS SCIENTIST, NOAA: We saw a very, very strong eye wall in the north-northwest side of the storm. This is the roughest pass so far, 8,000 feet. So probably the winds around 158 knots, pretty close to 190 miles per hour and the surface winds about 140 knots, so roughly 165 miles an hour or so.

LEMON: Well, as you look at this compared to other storms, the size and the intensity, talk to me about that, Jack.

PARRISH: Well, from the time that the last airplane was in here and then we came in, we got about a 5 millibar drop in pressure. We've seen increased winds, we got a very beautifully formed eye on the radar. Of course it's dark out here now. It's a 30-mile round eye and hurricane force winds 50 miles out from the center every direction.

LEMON: Are you noticing major changes in your flight from last night?

PARRISH: We actually did not fly last night. Early morning flight, we were saying a little bit of increase in intensity. Probably the only thing keeping this storm mitigated a little, it's rubbing right along the northern coast of Cuba, so that's a little bit of a disruptive factor but it's still quite the storm.

LEMON: And if it wasn't rubbing on that coast and just out at sea it would be even stronger, right? And more intense? PARRISH: There's every reason that it could be? So obviously getting

a good source of warm water right now, very low sheer. Beautiful radar structure if you like that thing but it's not beautiful when it comes to what's ahead for Florida.

LEMON: Hey, Jack, what type of data are you collecting right now and how is data going to be used?

PARRISH: The primary thing we've been collecting tonight other than surface winds and flight level winds, we're using the tail Doppler radar, tail Doppler radar in NOAA aircrafts Doppler radars takes CAT scans generates storm. Or it's looking all the way from the ocean surface through the top of the troposphere, CAT scan that go into the computer modeling and just combined with data from our G4 graph. It will keep giving an accurate forecast. It may not be a good news forecast but it will be accurate.

LEMON: Jack, on a personal note, what is it like when you're flying through a storm that you know will be hitting your home state?

[22:24:59] PARRISH: Well, Don, that is one of our biggest worries right now. Is that of course all of our families are up there in the Lakeland and Tampa area. So, of course, just thinking about them.

While we're flying these missions we have to put full focus on the mission itself to get the best data and we're always looking for good news. But unfortunately, good news for us is bad news for someone else. So what we can do is try to make it as accurate as we can.

LEMON: Jack Parrish, hurricane hunter with a NOAA flight director, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate the work that you do and stay safe.

PARRISH: Well, Don, you're very welcome and we're heading back toward Lakeland now. We'll put two P3 flights into it and one more G4 mission. So by that time, it can be cast as far as where the storm is going strong.

LEMON: Jack Parrish.

Now I want to turn to Brigadier General Ralph Ribas and he is leading Florida's military response to hurricane Irma. He joins us on the phone now. Brigadier General, thank you so much for joining us. How is the National Guard preparing tonight in Florida?

RALPH RIBAS, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD: Well, the National Guard as of right now has approximately 7,000 soldiers and airmen activated throughout the state. You know, we have been pretty fortunate that Governor Scott has been proactive in activating us now very early and with his support, we've been able to posture our soldiers and airmen in those positions that we're going to be able to support the citizens.

LEMON: What resources do you have ready to go?

RIBAS: Well, basically, anything that you might think with respect to military. So we've got over 1,000 high wheeled vehicles to move in areas that might have some high water involved. We've got rotary winged aircraft that can reach any area that might be blocked for whatever reason. We've got boats that can get out to our Barrier Islands if needed and certainly generators that can help power any structure that -- a civilian populous might need assistance with.

LEMON: What kind of conditions are you expecting when this thing hits?

RIBAS: Well, as the governor mentioned we are expecting catastrophic conditions in certain parts of the state. Florida has had its share of hurricanes dating back to 25 years ago. We just recently went through the anniversary of hurricane Andrew and we had devastation.

So we're familiar with the kind of damage that a hurricane of this magnitude can leave beyond on the state and we're going to be there to support our citizens.

LEMON: When are you going to deploy, brigadier general?

RIBAS: Well, we currently -- we currently are. We've got soldiers and airmen positioned throughout the state. So if you're asking in terms when we would move in following the storm? Of course we want to be -- we'll move in when the storm reaches approximately tropical storm winds.

At that point if it's safe for our soldiers to move, the commanders on the ground will make that determination. And as soon as that is safe, they will move forward to start initiating missions that we receive from our state EOC.

LEMON: And you guys are trained to do this. You do this, you've done for storms before. What do you usually see after a storm? And you know, one that's at least -- you probably -- I'm not sure if you have been deployed to one of this magnitude but what do you usually see, what are the needs?

RIBAS: Well, immediately it's the search and rescue. So we will move in to an area immediately look to see what we might do to help any citizen, anyone that needs something.

Following that, it will move into a security type of mission. To help the law enforcement as they might need in terms of making -- reassuring the populous that everything's going to work out and everything is going to be fine. And it transitions into pod type locations where we provide food, water, ice for the citizens as they need it. So it's almost -- it falls on a type of fazing structure but it all happens at pretty much the same time.

LEMON: Well, listen, thank you for you for your service. We appreciate your time here. It's going to be a busy time for you coming up. Brigadier general Ralph Ribas, thank you so much.

RIBAS: Thank you, sir.

LEMON: When we come back, the Florida Keys right in the path of the storm. The National Weather Service saying nowhere in the Keys will be safe. Nowhere in the Keys will be safe. I'm going to speak to the mayor from the area, a mayor from the area and a resident of the Keys who says he is not evacuating. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:30:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Back now with breaking news. Forecasters predict hurricane Irma will strengthen back into a category 15 storm adds it slams in the Florida Keys. The National Weather Service warning in a tweet that "nowhere in the Keys will be safe. You still have time to evacuate." That's what they said in a tweet.

Joining me now by phones is George Neugent, the mayor of Monroe County, which is home to the Keys. Thank you so much, mayor for joining us. Key West is in danger of being cut off. There is concern about the bridges to the mainland washing out with boats being the only way out. How do you survive this?

GEORGE NEUGENT, MAYOR OF MONROE COUNTY: Let me be very clear based upon what I heard, was that the mayor is not evacuating. The mayor is not evacuating strictly because he wants to be here with the residents that are still here, the people that we need to take care of, and I am only doing that because I can't evacuate and leave my troops.

LEMON: Mayor, are you talking about us? Did we say that? We weren't talking about it. We were talking about a residents who lives on the Keys who is coming up who is saying he is not leaving, not you.

NEUGENT: OK. Well, he is foolish for not leaving because everybody ought to be leaving because of the magnitude of the storm. And I can't believe anybody wouldn't want to get out of here if they had a chance to get out of here because we're imperiled with a very dangerous situation.

[22:35:01] But I tell you this, that we are disbanding because it is such a threat that we are disbanding our EOC. We're just temporarily taking a break in getting out of here. But, myself, the sheriff, the emergency management director and others are not evacuating because we have to be here when this situation takes place.

And I just wanted to make that clear based upon what I heard. Anybody that is saying that they're not leaving is a fool.

LEMON: Yes.

NEUGENT: This storm is going to be very -- it's going to change the culture and the geography and everything else of the Keys and it's going to be a long, protracted recovery. There are going to be people that stay here that are going to die.

And anybody that has these last hours to evacuate, which would be between now and the next couple hours or at least by tomorrow morning, needs to get out of here. Because this storm is going to kill people if you're still here. LEMON: Yes. And we've seen it before when people get washed out from

the storm surge. Usually it's a drowning that kills the most people during storms and during hurricanes. There are no rental cars left. No commercial flights leaving the area. Uber even stopped taking customers. And you said it's going to within the next couple hours -- but mayor, it's getting really close. Is it almost too late to get out of there?

NEUGENT: It's almost too late. If you're not out of here by 6 or 7 o'clock tomorrow morning, 8 o'clock at the latest, you're putting your life in harm's way. And it's just mind boggling that someone would do that.

If I could leave -- I just buttoned up my house as best I could. And I'm hoping that things will work out. It's my home. I've been here for 33 years and I'm a Floridian that hates to leave. And -- but I will be back here as soon as the storm has passed, along with my emergency management director, sheriff and others.

LEMON: So, mayor, you are leaving?

NEUGENT: I'm leaving for -- not leaving the Keys. I'm only leaving my hometown of Marathon because it is the ground center for where this storm is supposed to hit. We're just moving up a little further into the Keys to higher ground. We're not leaving Monroe County.

LEMON: And you want to be there with the officials. This is your town and you feel responsible so you want to be there, correct?

NEUGENT: Absolutely.

LEMON: Yes. So are you going to go -- listen, we have seen people out in bars. We have seen -- even some a gentleman on a boat saying, you know, I'm going to be fine, I think he is going to try to ride it on a boat. At any point between now and 6 o'clock, are you going to go and try to round people up or try to convince and say, you know, you need to get out of here? This is crazy.

NEUGENT: I'm hoping people are watching TV. And I know they are. And that message has to be out here. And I praise you guys for being on the air 24/7 and getting this message out. I have been watching TV as I have been buttoning up my house and this is something that you guys have done a great job over of trying to get this message out.

And even though I can't get out and knock on doors and tell people that they need to get out of here, I had an ambulance come through here with a loud speaker telling people to get out, both in English and Spanish, that you shouldn't be here and telling them that it's a life-threatening situation and I hope it resonates with these people and they have a little bit of sanity to do whatever they can to get out of here.

LEMON: You've got some prisoners to move what, like 500?

NEUGENT: We've got about 500. I spoke to the sheriff late this afternoon. They're going to get those guys out of here so we can get our staff. I think Palm Beach area, I'm not exactly sure which particular area said that they were going to take those prisoners but we're going to ship them out. And just to allow our staff to get out of the Keys.

LEMON: Mayor George Neugent, sound advice. Good luck to you, mayor.

(CROSSTALK)

NEUGENT: Thank you, guys.

LEMON: Good luck to you. I'd like to see you get out of there as well. I like to see everybody get out because, you know, I mean, if you look at the storm, it is just a monster. I know it's not perfectly shape but it really is.

NEUGENT: It is. It is. It's a killer.

LEMON: Be safe. Thank you, mayor.

NEUGENT: Thank you, sir.

[22:39:58] LEMON: And if you are anyone in the -- watching or in the sound of my voice. It's not cute, try to bar, you think it's funny, you're drinking, you're going to be fine or whatever, you're not. You need to leave. Your life depends on it. Or people will be fishing you out of the ocean.

When we come back, much more on Florida bracing for a direct hit from hurricane Irma.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: One of the biggest evacuations in U.S. history underway right now in Florida. The biggest in U.S. history.

I want to bring in now Randy Towe, he is a resident of the Keys and a business owner. And he and his family -- he and his family said say they are going to stay put at least for now. And he joins me by phone. Hey, Randy, so glad you could join us this evening. Did you happen to hear my interview with the mayor earlier?

RANDY TOWE, FLORIDA KEYS RESIDENT: I did. It was pretty interesting. And he's not too far off, but you know, if you're in a mobile home or you're staying on an ocean front house or a condo, I can understand. A lot of the houses here have built very, very well, port concrete and they're on high ground. They are closer to the bay.

[22:45:02] And, you know, it's one of those things. It's still unpredictable. It could go west of us. And you know, remember, Key West is about 80 miles from Islamorada, we're on that and that could make a big difference on the winds and the surge.

LEMON: Randy, I understand you're a very smart guy and I understand what you're saying and you have your family there with you, right?

TOWE: Yes. LEMON: And I mean, listen, I don't mean to come down on you. But

wouldn't it be better if you just left, just in case you left -- I mean, what harm would it be for you and your family just to get to safety? Just in case. Because you don't know with these situations.

TOWE: Well, very true. You know, I have three daughters. They all spent two days on the phone looking for accommodations for everybody so we could be together with five dogs, and we weren't coming up with much. And as we watched the storm, it would move east, west, it would move here, it would move there.

And the last thing that I really want to do after experiencing hurricane Andrew is leave somewhere and end up in ground zero somewhere else. So it's very difficult to run from a hurricane. And they have a pretty good idea where it's going now. But 40 or 50 mile lefts to right can make a big difference.

LEMON: I know that, Randy, but you're in ground zero right now. Where you are is ground zero.

TOWE: Well, we are certainly in -- in the upper part of the Keys. Not the Key West area which -- and lower Keys that they are predicting this is going to go. But it's one of those things that you just have to -- you have to hunker down. You have to get everything together.

You know, everybody -- we've all agreed on this is going to be the best thing that we can do. Be together. And, you know, we're ready to take it on with everything we have. And, you know, I've seen it before. My friends have seen it before. There's quite a few -- the last time I checked, there's about 400 of us in the upper Keys that are staying.

LEMON: OK. All right. Again, listen, I don't mean to beat you up. OK? I'm not doing that at all. I'm just really worried about you having listened to the forecast and the forecasters and looking at -- can we put this -- do you have television right now, Randy?

TOWE: Of course.

LEMON: OK.

TOWE: I've been watching it all day.

LEMON: You've seen it.

TOWE: I mean, in a perfect world, we would have evacuated and we will be sitting in Vegas right now and having a good time.

LEMON: Right.

TOWE: But you know, the reality of things sometimes doesn't always work out the way you want it to.

LEMON: Right.

TOWE: And sometimes you just have to keep it simple and hope for the best. I mean, really, there's not a lot you can do with the storm. And if you look where it's going, in south Florida, although it looks better on the east coast right now, than the west coast, then that was the opposite of a day ago.

LEMON: Right.

TOWE: You just never know.

LEMON: So that's your final decision. You're not going to wake up tomorrow at 5 a.m. and say, you know what? We're going to go. That's it, you're going to stay, right?

TOWE: No. We're staying. We're hunkering down.

LEMON: Got you.

TOWE: We're in a very secure house on high ground and we're ready to face what's coming.

LEMON: All right, Randy. You guys be safe. Thank you so much, OK. We'll be thinking about you and we'll check back with you, all right?

TOWE: You're welcome. Thank you.

LEMON: All right. Thank you. I want to check in again tonight with storm chasers Randy Timmer -- Reed Timmer, I should say, and Mike Theiss who are still in Key Largo, Florida, and Mike joins us on the phone. There you see Reed via Skype. So, Reed, this storm is now battering parts of Cuba. It appears to be taking a direct aim at Florida. What are you seeing at this hour?

REED TIMMER, EXTREME METEOROLOGIST, ACCUWEATHER: Right now, the southern eye wall, and even the very southern parts of the eye appear to be over the northern keys of Cuba. Cuba also has a string of islands that are similar to the Keys here as well.

But the intensity does appear to be increasing as well. We were looking at some of the latest data from the hurricane hunter aircraft and it does appear that the influence of Cuba does not appear to be weakening at all.

In fact, it could even be strengthening. Again, back up to a category 5 which is absolutely devastating news here for the Florida Keys. It doesn't matter where it tracks. So whether west of U.S. or east of U.S. the Keys are going to be under water and a lot of water. Ten to 15 feet, maybe even. So you definitely want to evacuate and get off to Florida Keys and in all those mandatory evacuated areas in south Florida. This is definitely the real deal.

LEMON: All right. Stand by, Reed. Mike, what's your biggest concern right now?

MIKE THEISS, STORM CHASER: Well, my biggest concern is that I do think it's going to be a cat 5 at landfall. It's going to be, you know, the peak as it can be. It's entering waters that are 88 degrees. I mean, the waters are steaming around Key West and the area it's coming from. So we're definitely going to be dealing with probably a cat 5. There

is going to extreme storm surge. Extreme wind. It's going to be very scary on the island of Key West, or Islamorada or Marathon. Wherever we decide to ride this thing out and take wind measurements or barometric pressure its' going to be the spot that it's going to be really scary.

[22:50:00] LEMON: Reed, what do you make of the storm's path right now because you -- when you look at the forecast they think it's going to move. You look at the European model and all the models we're trending a little bit further west. I think folks on the east are going to make it a break. But what do you think of the storm's path at this point? Still Florida and Miami, I mean, especially Miami it's going to be impacted heavily.

TIMMER: Yes. And the size of the storm, too. It's such a very large storm that those impacts are going to be widespread from the east of Florida still. Just because it has shifted west it doesn't mean the east is not going to receive impact. It's still going to be very bad there as well.

But right around that eye and the eye wall it's absolutely catastrophic impacts are going to be. Or makes its worst as it approach there to south as Florida is the worst case scenario for every storm surge prone area. They are near just south of Naples and even up toward the Tampa Bay area too is going to experience a potentially devastating storm surge for this track.

And it all depends too on that timing of the northward turn. It's going to hug the northern coast of Cuba here. Hopefully going to weak a little bit but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. It looks like it's going to come into the Keys as a category 4 or 5 with the deadly storm surge and also a deadly wind.

LEMON: All right. Reed and Mike, thank you. As you know we'll get you back. We had you on every night since you guys have been down there. Stay safe, brothers. We'll see you soon.

When we come back, much more on our breaking news. Florida bracing tonight for a direct hit from hurricane Irma. Expected to be a category 5 storm when it makes landfall. But one of the biggest dangers may be from a massive storm surge along the coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Hurricane Irma expected to slam into Florida as a category 5 storm packing catastrophic winds. The monster hurricane is also expected to bring dangerous storm surges to both the east and west coasts of Florida. And all along the Keys. Down to Key West.

Joining me now by Skype is Hal Needham, he is the founder and president of Marine Weather and Climate. Hal, so good to have you here. We're potentially looking at storm surge of 5 to 10 feet for the metro Miami area. What's the storm surge that big going to do to a major city like Miami? [22:54:59] Hal, we can't hear you. Can you hear me? Let's double

check. No audio with Hal. Keep trying. Still don't have him? All right. No Hal. All right. We'll take a break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

LEMON: So here's our breaking news at this hour. The great escape.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us.

One of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history underway tonight, right now. Millions of people running for their lives. Ahead of massive hurricane Irma. Now expected to strengthen to a category 5 before slamming Florida with a direct hit on Sunday.

Irma which has sustained winds of 155 miles an hour has left a trail of destruction and death through the Caribbean as it takes aim right at south Florida.

The National Weather Service tweeting this ominous warning. Saying, "Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe. Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe." And Florida's governor warning anyone who is still not taking this storm seriously we can't save you when the storm starts.

We're waiting a new forecast to come right at the top of the hour in just a moment. So we came to you a little bit early so we can get that on as soon as we get it.

I want to get right to CNN's Derek Van Dam, though, live for us in Miami. So, Derek, take us to the ground. You're a meteorologist, as well. What makes this storm so dangerous? What are some of the specific threats, what are you seeing? I know that's a lot. But take us through it.

DEREK VAN DAM, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: All right. So Don, we are on Ocean Drive in south beach in Miami and normally on any given night, especially in the summer, especially on a Friday evening, this street would be teamed with cars and pedestrians, but as you can see very little activity with the exception of one bar, one lonely restaurant where they just ended up kicking out the last few people that decided to stay and have that last final beer.

[22:59:59] Here it is behind me. And we're talking about threats. I would imagine that this particular area just because we're so close to the sea, 5 to 10 feet inundation from storm surge not out of the question.