Return to Transcripts main page


Hurricane Irma Targets Florida. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 15:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Now let's talk about what the common responses are, right, because there are people -- we have a lot of viewers in Florida. Thank God for that. We love them. But they need to listen right now.

The first pushback we get is, well, it's a 4, it's not a 5. It's already getting less. You see? It will probably be OK.

Your response?

VIRGIL FERNANDEZ, MIAMI BEACH FIRE CHIEF: My response is that I'm glad that they have that kind of faith, but they're really putting their own life at hand.

And it is critically important that they understand that there's a lot of science that goes into this. There's a lot of thought that goes into evacuating an area. And when emergency managers are telling you to evacuate, we consider that a last resort, that that is a must that needs to happen.

CUOMO: Another common response is, I have been through it before, Chief, and this is my home. I want to be here so that as soon as it's over, I can get a jump-start on fixing, recovering, rebuilding. This is my home.

FERNANDEZ: And that's extremely important. And that is something that we're extremely sensitive to. But you can't be here if somehow you perish.

And so, what we have done as a city is to make sure that as soon as the storm hits land and we can start clearing up, to allow them to come in and start rebuilding, because we think that's a critical component of the rebuilding.

CUOMO: Now, something else they say is, we have you. We have some of the best first-responders in the world here in South Florida. They will be here for me. They will come.

True, you are uniquely equipped, uniquely trained and you handle a ton, but what is the reality about what you're capable of?

FERNANDEZ: Well, reality is, is that after 40-mile-an-hour winds, sustained winds, we don't put people out on the street. It's not safe for them, and it's not safe for the people that are out we have to go pick up.

And, you know, our -- come tomorrow morning, we will start evacuating some of our units off the beach and we will be going to the mainland. And so we won't even have a full force to deal with anybody calling 911.

CUOMO: All right, Chief, thank you for doing everything that you guys are doing to get ahead of what is to come. God bless. Be safe.

We're here to help get out any information that we can. Thank you, Chief.

FERNANDEZ: And I thank you.

CUOMO: All right, be well. Be safe.

All right, so, look, you heard it from the fire chief. This is it. He's a lifelong public servant. He has lived through the situations here. He knows the realities.

But I know that there are still people who will say, well, but the science, the storm, it goes back and forth.

Let's go right now to Michael Brennan at the National Hurricane Center. He is studying the maps, the models, the realities.

First thing, good to have you with us.


CUOMO: Is it true that Hurricane Irma is no longer an if, but a when in terms of contact with Florida and the Keys?

BRENNAN: It certainly looks that way, that we're pretty confident now that Irma is going to move in over some portion of the Florida Keys or the Florida Peninsula.

And it's certainly going to bring direct hurricanes to a large part of the whole state of Florida in terms of the high winds, storm surge and rainfall.

CUOMO: And then what?

All right, so if that's the reality, that you're going see hurricane- type conditions, whether the eye goes over or not, it doesn't have to be a direct hit to be a bad hit. What are you seeing in terms of realities now about levels of expectation as you move through this state?

Because we just heard Governor Scott saying, you know, all Floridians should be ready to evacuate. That's more than we have heard before, and he says that the risk goes from South Beach to Jacksonville at the northern end of the state. Why so?

BRENNAN: Well, because the track that it looks like Irma's going to take is going to take it, you know, up most of the Peninsula, so you're going to end up with hurricane conditions on the west coast and on the east coast and near the core if it does go up the peninsula.

There's also a significant risk of storm surge. That's what really drives the evacuation decision-making in a state or in a locality. And so anybody who's at risk of storm surge, if they have been asked to evacuate, they should.

The areas here that we have highlighted in dark pink are under a storm surge warning. There's a storm surge watch up in East Central Florida. These are areas that are at risk of life-threatening inundation from storm surge from Irma that could be five to 10 feet or even six to 12 feet above ground level here in areas of Southwest Florida, so that's really a life-threatening hazard.

CUOMO: What are you looking at in terms of duration of exposure in different areas? I mean, one of the calculations is how long until the first-responders can get out and help people, because 911, you know, is just not the lifeline that it can be during the actual storm.

So, can you measure that, like, how long you will have to put up with Irma, let's say, in South Beach?

BRENNAN: Well, what we can look at here is -- oops.

I have lost my screen here. What we can look at here is, we can look at when the winds are most likely to start, and that's at a real key, important point, because people need to get ready at a certain time.


And in South Florida here, for example, looks like Saturday during the day or into the evening is going to be that critical time to get ready. It looks like we'd be dealing with tropical storm conditions at least all the way through Sunday and then into Sunday night and perhaps Monday, with the hurricane conditions in the middle of that time period.

CUOMO: All right, Michael Brennan, I appreciate it. I know that you have to crunch all the numbers and put in the science just to get close on these.

But the closer that the storm gets, the more accurate that all the predictions become.


CUOMO: We will check with you. Thank you very much. And we appreciate the information.

So, what have we seen with Irma so far? We saw what it did coming through the Caribbean. This is a deadly storm. You have at least a couple of dozen lives that have been stolen by this storm through the British Virgin Islands, through the Caribbean.

Now it's coming over Cuba, doing damage. They had to evacuate the whole northern shoreline of tourists there. We will still learn what the devastation is that the storm brought to bear. So you would think that people in the Florida Keys, seeing what's

coming their way across Puerto Rico and now Cuba and now towards them, that they would have taken flight first. Not the case.

Bill Weir is in Key Largo. That's the key closest to the Peninsula of Florida.

Bill, what's the reality you're seeing there to this minute?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, Chris, minor correction. We were in Key Largo this morning, but we came all the way down. Welcome to Key West. Welcome to the southernmost city of the United States.

CUOMO: Oh, good.

WEIR: Welcome to the corner of Green and Duval streets, which, on an average Friday, would be elbow to elbow with revelry, with tourists, with people catching beads and swilling boat drinks.

But now we have just an occasional barback going to work. So, they see -- that's the thing about the Florida Keys. You're never going to have a full mandatory evacuation in a place like this, because it goes against the psyche of the people who come down and make their living in this place.

There's a certain stubbornness, a certain sense of fierce individualism, but that doesn't mean they're not afraid. By this point, most of the people who wanted to leave have gone. That's about two-thirds of the 75,000 who call the Keys home.

But we met a couple people with varying degrees of angst. Take a look.


CHRISTOPHER RUIZ, DEFYING EVACUATION ORDER: Yes, we hunkered down and we're staying. There's a lot of people that are staying.

WEIR: Yes?

RUIZ: Just mostly the tourists left.

WEIR: Right.

RUIZ: I know a lot of locals are staying.

WEIR: And what is it about a true native conch that makes you defy all those warnings and orders and makes you think you can survive?


RUIZ: We have been through plenty of hurricanes. I know this one's a little bit bigger, but I'm sure we will be all right.

ARIEL SCHLEIN, DEFYING EVACUATION ORDER: I'm feeling confident about where I'm staying and I'm just more worried, I think, the aftermath at this point.

I grew up in the Chesapeake Bay, and seeing what some of the storms did up there and the nor'easters. And we're down here. I think we would be kind of a last to get supplies over Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the bigger cities.


WEIR: She did express real worry. And this is somebody who's lived down here for quite a while.

Most people refer back to Wilma, 2005, which was the last time the storm surge inundated about 75 percent of Key West. They're worried about the storm surge. They're worried about a bridge going out, because that not only cuts off transportation and supplies from the mainland, but their water and electricity as well.

We understand there is a meeting of city council folks tonight. They will get the very latest update. But if you listen to the locals here who have been studying the sea and the sky all their lives, the consensus here seems to be on the coconut telegraph that it will come ashore at Marathon.

Some of our meteorologists have been saying the same, a little further north from here, and most have said they're hunkering down. It's too late to leave at this point, because by the time they go two hours to Miami, then there's all the traffic on I-95 going north.

But this place has no shortage of characters. And we will introduce you to several of them in the coming hours, Chris.

CUOMO: Well, Bill, first of all, thank you for making that effort to go all the way down even further, deeper into the danger zone.

And, you know, you call them conchs as a nickname. And it makes me think. In Italian, the word for conch is scungilli. And it's used as a word to kind of describe somebody who's a little not right in the head, who sometimes makes decisions that aren't a hundred percent.


CUOMO: And I have to tell you, if you talk to the experts, they say staying where you are right now, you know, may make you a little bit of a scungilli in terms of thinking about risk assessment.

WEIR: Absolutely.

No. I mean, from the outside, it makes utter no sense at all, especially when I talk to the guys who are going to ride it out on their boats. Now, even some long-timers say that's suicide, the guys we met last night who are going to ride it out on boats is suicide.

But, yes -- but when they do the math in their heads, they say, well, the building codes in the Keys are much stronger than, say, Tampa, so I would rather ride it out in a structure that's rated for Cat 4 than a structure that's rated for a Cat 2. [15:10:01]

There's all these interesting bits of calculus that they're doing whether to stay or go. But that is the reality. That's the psyche of the conchs, as you describe it. This is the conch republic, and they fly that flag proudly.

CUOMO: All right. I hear you. And I get it. I mean, we all respect the spirit, but the choices, certainly, the first-responders aren't respecting them, not that much, not that deep down that close to where the storm is expected to come.

Bill Weir, you stay safe, my friend. We will check back with you in a little bit.

WEIR: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, now, where Bill is, they just have a lot -- they're checking a lot of boxes of risk factors down there. OK?

Now you get here to South Beach, and it becomes a very different dynamic. You have a much more dense population. And you have mandatory and involuntary evacuation orders. And it's hard to keep track of everything.

So, let's go to West Palm Beach. Let's go to Brian Todd. He has been monitoring the police actions, almost, Brian, going door to door to see who got out, who decided to stay, and what is their condition.


The police were here just moments ago on South Flagler Drive here in West Palm Beach, putting it in incredibly plain and stark terms on their loudspeaker, saying, this is a mandatory evacuation. Please evacuate, doing it very loudly on the loudspeakers, so that everybody could hear it.

Some people came out of their homes and talked to the police. But you would be surprised, Chris, how many people are going to ride this out. And one of the reasons this area now is under mandatory evacuation is storm surge. Our people are telling us this could get five to 10 feet above normal water levels of storm surge.

Right now, if you see down here, the Intracoastal Waterway, this is low tide. We're about maybe eight feet above the water, but at high tide, we're only going to be five feet above the water, and then five to 10 feet more with wave activity.

And it's going to inundate this area. That's why they're trying to get Palm Beach over to your right, my left, evacuated right now. And they're trying to get people across these bridges.

We are told that, in West Palm Beach, some distance from here -- there are some poorer neighborhoods that are being evacuated, tens of thousands of people getting on buses to go to shelters on high ground. That's good news. But a lot of people here on this street have decided, Chris, to ride it out. And they think they're confident in the structure of their houses, and they just believe that, you know, they have been through this before and they can ride it out.

That is not the advice that they're getting, and it leads to another question, Chris. Are -- you know, is the city going to be able to spend the resources, are they going to want to spend the resources to rescue these people, when there might be other people in more dire need who are trying to get out, but maybe couldn't? Those are some tough decisions in the couple of days ahead.

CUOMO: Brian, and you put your finger on the exact issue that we keep hearing from all of the officials.

It's not that they're just making a decision to stay that is a decision for them. It's going to impact the first-responders as well.

Our thanks to Brian Todd.

TODD: Yes.

CUOMO: We will check back with him in just a little bit.

And, you know, there are a lot of considerations here. And the first- responders all say, we get that it's a hard choice. But sometimes just because something is a difficult choice doesn't mean it is one you should not make.

We're going to take a break here. When he come back, there's a whole variety of reasons to stay and shelter in place. We're going to introduce you to a man, a chef, who has a very unique reason to stay.

Stay with CNN.



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. We have special live coverage of Hurricane Irma.

And it is not just South Florida fleeing Irma. Nearly 270 miles north of where Chris has been in Miami Beach, people are getting out there as well.

I want to go to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's in Daytona Beach, Florida, where a mandatory evacuation will soon begin there as well.

Sara, talk to us about what you are experiencing there in Daytona Beach and what you're hearing from some of the residents.


Basically, what the residents and the business owners are doing, especially here on the boardwalk, is that they're boarding up their businesses.

Now, we were here in this exact spot during Hurricane Matthew. This place did get some damage from that. There was water inside. A business owner here said water inside his business about two to three inches.

But he is very nervous this time. He says his family is panicking. They want to leave. They're putting up boards. And then they are going to try to leave this area. You just said it yourself. We should reiterate it, that there are mandatory evacuations for low- lying areas and those who are in mobile homes here in the Daytona Beach area.

And the sheriff was very clear in saying that they will shut down the bridges. So you would be trapped on Daytona Beach if you don't leave Sunday. Between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., those bridges may be shut down because of the high winds and potential of flooding at the bottom of those bridges.

So, they want people to be aware of what's going on. They told them to prepare to go to shelters. And one thing that I thought was interesting is that, when you go to a shelter, they said, look, you have to bring preparations for yourself. So, bring food, bring clothing, bring your animals' dog food, cat food, bring all that with you, because they do have some things like water, but, really, you're supposed to be self-sustaining as you go into those shelters.

They're telling people, be ready for that. Those shelters were open on Saturday -- Ana.

CABRERA: So, Sara, those shelters, are those shelters there in Daytona Beach, or are they north of there? We keep talking about shelters and people need to get out of harm's way. Where are they going exactly?


If you go over the bridges, they have them all listed for them as to where it is they can go to make sure that they are in a little bit higher ground than right here on the coast.


I do want to let you hear from people, because people are listening to these evacuation orders, clearly. We were out, up and down, going to and from Orlando, which is about an hour drive from here, and we bumped into a gentleman who had his two dogs, his wife and his mother- in-law, and he was getting out of town.


BERNARDO MELO, EVACUATED MIAMI: It was, you know, a couple of days without electricity, so I'm used to it. But I have never seen anything like this. I'm usually the last one. I'm the most skeptical one to evacuate. So, I'm now I'm taking this seriously because I realize that it's

twice the size of Andrew. It's too much not to -- you know, put my family at risk and get out.


SIDNER: So, he's getting out. He is heading north. He said the traffic was fine for him. That was a few hours ago as he came through Orlando. But people are taking this seriously.

And there's definitely a look on people's faces of, you know what, this is a big storm. Even if it doesn't hit us directly, we do need to pay attention and listen to authorities -- Ana.

CABRERA: It is great to hear people are heeding those warnings.

Sara Sidner, thank you for that in Daytona Beach.

Let's head south now, go back to Chris in Miami Beach.

And, Chris, it looks like people are clearing out from the scene behind you. Are people there listening to the authorities?

CUOMO: Yes and no.

They say it has gotten better, that there's been a cultural evolution here in terms of taking evacuations seriously. Some are resistant for good reason, some for bad reason. But I will tell you, Ana, it is rare to hear the governor of Florida say, everyone from Jacksonville to South Beach must be ready to evacuate.

It's no longer just about the Keys and just about this area here around the South Beach area.

So let's go to Miguel Marquez. He's in Lake Okeechobee, north of us.

And what's the situation there, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, it's a pretty decently running evacuation at the moment. But it's a lot of people, 32,000 in this far western side of Palm Beach County just in the shadow of Lake Okeechobee.

I want to show you what's happening here. This is a middle school in Belle Glade. People are gathering here by the hundreds, and then they are taking buses from other parts of Palm Beach County, whether they are city buses or school buses here, or there's more -- if you come around this way, you can see there are more city buses that are now leaving the area.

They may be going to another shelter. What they are doing is from different locations in the lake region here, south of Lake Okeechobee, they are loading people on to these buses and then moving them to Seminole Ridge High School about 30 minutes away, 30 minutes east of here, because that is somewhat higher ground and certainly much more hardened positions to be in to wait out this storm. The problems here are many. This is a very poor community, mostly

working in the cornfields or sugar fields. Also, it's a very heavily Creole-speaking population, not exactly the most trusting community to get on buses. But you see whole families carrying everything they have on to these buses, not sure if they have anything to come back to, for two reasons.

Right now, the track is either near or on this very area, and it may come very close to here. The other problem is that lake. There's 143 miles of levees surrounding Lake Okeechobee. It has been worked on. This is from 1930s, they started building this thing.

It has been worked on this recent years and hardened in certain places, but it is still not perfect, and it is not clear it will hold, if not only the rainwater from the storm itself, but from this massive, massive drainage north of the lake in the days after the rain is gone, if it will raise the amount of water in that lake and wear away at those levees and flood this entire area.

They could -- this could make Texas look like a cakewalk, if that lake goes and this area floods -- Chris.

CUOMO: God forbid, Miguel, but you're pointing out the right issue, and you're talking about one aspect of resistance to get on the buses and travel, cultural resistance, but there's another kind of resistance, practical resistance.

Take a look at the traffic. This is from Ocala. This is what's happening as people are trying to move north. The traffic is maddening. There's no question about that. There's an expression down here we heard from one of the state actors this morning, who said, something like face the drive so you can survive.

You know, just because it rhymes doesn't mean it's true. But the reality is, that is the proposition. Do you want to be stuck in traffic,but get to where you need to be to be safe, or do you want to choose convenience and wait out a storm that could really take you sideways?

So, let's get some perspective from a man who knows the job, who knows the risks and the realities, CNN contributor Dave Halstead. He's the former director of state emergency management here in Florida.

Dave, thank you very much.

So, let's deal with points of resistance. Did you see that traffic? I'm not going to do that drive. I'm better off staying home.



We get so gridlocked in our thinking and gridlocked in our driving, that it makes it impossible for people to see the reality that it's still better to get out of here. Yes, they're stuck in traffic now. They're not going to be stuck

there when the storm hits. It's going to be cleared. They're going to be taken to shelters or they're going to be able to clear the area.

CUOMO: Second thing we have been hearing, not so much from the locals, but the people who are vacationing down here, look at this. It's beautiful. It's beautiful. Look at the people still on the beach.

What is the reality about the violence of the shift?

HALSTEAD: The reality is, tomorrow, you and I cannot stand here. We would not be able to stand here because of what's coming in.

So, the time to leave, the time to evacuate is now. Yes, it's a piece of paradise right now. Enjoy it. But you better be thinking, where am I going to be tomorrow, when the real storm hits? Hopefully, it's far away from here.

CUOMO: You scared me and said it would be like Andrew. That was a 5. Now they say it's going to be a 4. The eye may even miss us. It's not going to be that bad.

What's the reality of the difference between a direct hit and a bad hit?

HALSTEAD: Oftentimes, on the north side of the storm, you have got actually worse weather than you would if the center came right over you. It's going to push that water. It's going to build that water up.

The storm surge, in fact, could, in fact, be higher. So let's say that it misses us slightly to the east, that storm goes up the coast. What's that eye wall doing? It's pushing that water more and more onshore.

So the closer it is to shore, the worse it is for the storm surge, and the worse it is for that possible flooding that you and I talked about. And that again is where a lot of our deaths occur.

CUOMO: Explain one other thing we keep hearing, the concerns about getting hit by the dirty edge of the storm. What does that mean?

HALSTEAD: Yes. That's really where the bad stuff comes in. That is where the worst weather comes in.

That is also potentially where you get tornado activity, which, again, compounds everything that you're working with. So, that's what I'm talking about. When that weather gets on the wrong side of the state or on the wrong side of where you're standing or on the wrong side of where you're living, it's going to build up and build up and hit you very hard, even if the eye wall doesn't strike.

CUOMO: Dave, you are completely indispensable to this coverage. Thank you for helping us through it. I will be leaning on you heavily, and probably physically, in not too long from now. HALSTEAD: No problem, Chris. Thank you.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

So, here's the good news and the bad news. The good news is, the dirty edge scenario may not happen with Irma. But the bad news is, the reason is, it's so big, literally estimated to be about the size of Texas, that it will be evenly distributed in a way that it is all dirty edge.

Those are the realities and the possibilities we're dealing with. What are the specifics of the forecast?

Let's take a break. When we come back, we will get you the latest information on where Irma is headed. Please stay with CNN.