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Irma Heads Directly for Naples & Points South; Thousands Wait to Get Inside Ft. Myers' Germain Center as Rain Begins; Rains Begin in Key Largo; Irma Starting to Impact Low-Lying Miami; Interview with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson; Hurricane Irma to Impact All of Florida; Storm Chaser Warns of Storm Surge on West Coast; Ft. Myers Police Commander Gives Update; West Palm Beach Won't Be as Badly Impacted as Expected; Cranes a Concern During Storm; Some Still on Beaches in Sarasota. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired September 9, 2017 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Anderson Cooper, live in Ft. Myers, Florida, on the west coast of southern Florida.

John Berman is standing by in Miami Beach. We're going to go to John shortly for the situation there.

Winds just starting to gently pick up here in Ft. Myers, but just a hint of what is to come.

The monster storm that is now heading directly for this city, for Naples, Florida, and points south. Even Tampa now, further up the coast, further up here, north of Ft. Myers, they are expecting a bigger storm surge than they certainly expected just this morning.

Evacuation areas now have increased in Ft. Myers. It's a Zone A and Zone B. We've seen thousands of people going to one particular shelter near Ft. Myers. Many of them are still waiting to get in. We're going to check in with our Drew Griffin, who's there in the hour ahead.

But first, let's get the latest, most importantly, on where this storm is headed. Allison Chinchar is in the Weather Center.

Allison, bring us up to date.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right, Anderson. Take a look at what we have right now. Some imagery where we can see the latest on Irma. Winds 125 miles per hour gusting up to 155 miles per hour. The movement it's been what we call wobbling, where it's going back and forth between west and north and west and north. The question is, when does it finally start to make that really sharp turn to the north. We focus on the maximum wind gusts. Notice for the most part it's the western half of Florida where we have our strongest winds. Key West, this will be our peak maximum wind gusts around 138 miles per hour. But, say, up around Ft. Myers 136. Even Tampa going to be in the triple digits right around 116 miles per hour. The track itself will still take it over portions of the Keys and then riding up along the western coast making a very close call towards Naples, Ft. Myers, even into Tampa. Those are going to be the cities of concern going forward in about the next 36 to 48 hours.

Here's a look at the forecast radar. This shows you not just where it's headed but where some of the heavy rain is going to be as well. When we get to Sunday morning, this is when we really start to see incredibly heavy downpours for cities like Miami, into Ft. Myers. Then we push into Sunday afternoon and evening. Now Tampa starting to get some incredibly heavy rainfall. And then the system itself begins to make its way into portions of Georgia and also into South Carolina.

Overall rainfall totals we're talking widespread six to 10 inches of rain. But it could even be slightly higher than that, especially when you get some of those outer bands where you could end up getting incredibly heavy downpours for several hours at a time. But the rain spreads even farther north. So even states like Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina could end up picking up say four to six inches of rain.

We've noticed hurricane watches and warnings continue to spread to the north. Hurricane warnings now extending from the northern-most part all the way down through the entire state. And we now have tropical storm watches in effect for portions of South Carolina as well as Georgia -- Anderson?

COOPER: You know, you talk about that turn. Any way to estimate when that turn north might occur? Because obviously, you know, if there were tens of thousands of people watching that very closely, because it's going to affect exactly where this thing goes.

CHINCHAR: Likely it will happen within the next six to 12 hours, but you also have to keep in mind that's getting awfully close to when we expect it to cross over the Florida Keys. You've got a couple things driving it. You've got a high-pressure system sitting out here over the open Atlantic. You've got a high pressure sitting around the Texas coastline. Those two combinations are what's going to be driving it to push that right-hand turn over the main peninsula of Florida. Then you have the high over the main portion of the U.S. That's going to break away. That's what's going to allow the storm once it crosses into places like Georgia and Tennessee and take its track from there.

But ultimately, Anderson, again, six hours versus 12. We know it's likely going to happen in that time period, but if it happens six versus 12, there's a huge difference on who will end up taking the ultimate landfall. Again, what we have a range, the opposite ends of that range could mean huge differences for several cities.

COOPER: Allison, appreciate that update.

Chris Cuomo, just a few minutes ago, told us that we're going to get a band of some of the rain that he experienced in Miami Beach. That's going to be coming to the Ft. Myers area.

Let's go to Drew Griffin, who's outside the arena that holds about 8,000 people.

Drew, first of all, I understand, for the thousands of people waiting outside, for those who are still left, I understand it's already starting to rain there.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a blast of rain just came through. It's subsided just a second, but it created a little bit of a panic. What happened was, at the same, time they were opening up a second door on this center, the Germain Center, and trying to get the people inside now with a little more importance because the squalls are now really beginning to come through.

There was a bad tweet that went out not too long ago, Anderson, that said somehow or another this place was going to reach capacity. That is not true. I want to knock that down for anybody who might be in the viewing area. It's not true. There is plenty of capacity at the Germain Center. Everybody here is going to get in.

But obviously the rain has begun. We're seeing the first bands coming through. And they're really rushing now to get these people inside before Irma really strikes -- Anderson?

[15:05:32] COOPER: Well, Drew, if you have a band of the rain there, we're expecting now in Ft. Myers, looking at the sky here. But again, good information that arena is not -- that arena is not full. More people can still go there.

For anybody in the Ft. Myers area who still wants to try to evacuate, the buses according to the city were shut down at 3:00, the shuttles. So you'll have to figure out a way to get there on your own. But there is still room in those shelters. And the mayor talking about opening other shelters throughout the day as needed.

211 is the number to call for information and also for help in trying to get to some of those shelters. That line has been busy throughout the day.

I want to go to Bill Weir, in Key Largo, where it's also started to rain pretty hard.

Bill, how is it now?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's so interesting, Anderson, like someone flipped the switch and turned on the waterworks. We were just enjoying calm skies, and then, boom, it came on. Now it's easing up a little bit. Ernest Hemingway, who loved the Florida Keys and wrote "The Old Man and the Sea." The split personality of the ocean, it's La Mar, when it's calm and beautiful, and there's El Mar when it sinks your boat and house. Of course, the Keys bracing for El Mar in Irma form.

Also interesting to look at the attitude shift. A couple days ago, very devil-may-car, we're riding it out because that's what we do. But last night, about 6:00, city managers in Key West had a meeting and came out shaken. That's when they decided to evacuate 500 prisoners out of the county jail down there. That's when they started really sending people north in ways they hadn't seen earlier. They announced this morning Key West High School is a refuge of last resorts. No service is provided, bring what you need, but pets are welcome there. As they're hunkering down for what they were thinking might be the biggest direct hit since the great Labor Day hurricane of 1935. People have long memories about storms and who survived, what boat boats survived.

About five families are actually riding out the storm in this little marina here in Key Largo. Not on their boats, but in a stone building right here nearby. There's also a shop has three stories made of stones. That's plan C if things get really dicey today. We're just bracing to see what comes next -- Anderson?

COOPER: Yes. People shifting their plans all throughout the day as the winds and the path of this storm has been shifting here further west.

Let's go to John Berman, who's standing by in Miami Beach.

John, you know, we talked about this earlier today with Chris Cuomo, but it can be so deceptive when -- if you haven't been through one of these hurricanes before. And frankly, no one's been through a hurricane this size. But it can be so deceptive when you look at the weather for most of the day here in Ft. Myers, you know it's been hot, the sun's been out at times, sometimes just behind the clouds. Haven't really seen a lot of rain. But as we saw Bill Weir talking about in Key Largo, like somebody flips a switch and the rain is torrential.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It can change so fast, Anderson. Right here in Miami, where we are, it's windy. I mean, the wind is now fairly sustained and fairly strong, 30 to 40 miles an hour. I say not yet at the point where it is dangerous for the first responders to still be out. But it is very, very windy now. Not a lot of people out on the streets by any stretch of the imagination in Miami.

More than 600,000 people under mandatory evacuations in Miami-Dade County, the largest evacuation this county has ever seen. And while maybe now they are not expected to bear the brunt of this storm, officials are pleading with people to still take it seriously, pleading with them, don't go home. If you evacuated, don't go home because we don't know exactly what's going to get here. The storm could wobble. Even if the storm doesn't wobble, there's going to be hurricane force winds here almost for sure in the Miami area. And storm surge as well, Anderson. Maybe not the 10 to 15 feet they're fearing where you are on the west coast, which sounds terrifying, but three feet, maybe up to six feet in some areas.

In particular concern, you can see behind me right now, there's the causeway. There's a bridge out to Miami Beach. Miami Beach is particularly low lying. It's one of these barrier islands. Mandatory evacuations over that whole island. That has been a cause of particular concern now. The entire run-up to Hurricane Irma making impact.

Our Kyung Lah is out on Miami Beach, one of the few people, hopefully, still out on Miami Beach.

Kyung, what are you seeing out there? [15:10:23] KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing the same

sort of winds out here, sustained winds now. And we're just starting to hear from the Miami Beach Fire Department that they're responding to some calls. Calls of fallen trees, trying to get to some of that. The reason why is the winds are picking up. You can see in the trees here you can see that palm tree over there, some of the palm fronds have broken off. Look down there. It's a branch of the tree. This is what we're beginning to see here. So wind is a concern.

The other concern here, and that's something you see over here, the businesses are concerned about the wind but also the storm surge. It's the storm surge here, because it is low-lying that the Miami Beach police department has now said if you are out and about, whether it's foot traffic, car traffic, if you have not evacuated -- and this is an area under mandatory evacuation -- if you are out and about between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., this evening, the overnight hours, you will be subject to arrest. They want to try to keep people off the streets. A storm surge of five to 10 feet here could mean that you drown. And so that's why we're seeing the Miami Beach Police Department taking that extraordinary measure telling people to simply get out of the way -- John?

BERMAN: It makes so much sense, Kyung.

We hope they are paying attention. Because to storm surge there's no defense against storm surge rather than just getting out of the way. Go inland. You don't need to evacuate out of the state of Florida, just move inland to safer, slightly higher ground. And we hope on both coasts now that people are paying attention to that warning. Storm surge the real concern from Hurricane Irma, as it has now moved past Cuba, very close to making that bend, battering the Keys, and up into the Florida peninsula.

CNN's live coverage of Hurricane Irma continues right after a quick break.


[15:16:29] COOPER: Welcome back to continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma, from Ft. Myers, Florida. Getting to get a little bit of wind here in Ft. Myers. It's been a very deceptive day, as we were talking about earlier with John Berman. The sun was shining, it's very hot. People putting on sunscreen as they were standing outside here. But it is getting a little bit cooler now. And definitely, one of these bands the storm as we saw with Drew Griffin who's not too far away at an arena where several thousand people are seeking shelter, big rain out there. The rain has not yet hit this area of Ft. Myers. We'll continue to watch it very closely.

I'm joined on the phone by Senator Bill Nelson, from the state of Florida.

Senator Nelson, as you watch this storm approach your state, I'm wondering, you know, you've seen a lot of storms, what do you think of this one and the track that it's taken, thus far? SEN. BILL NELSON, (D), FLORIDA (via telephone): Well, we saw 48 hours

ago that it was starting to shift west. So now 48 hours later, it's not an east coast storm, it's a west coast storm. The fact that you're there in Ft. Myers, the real threat, other than the Florida Keys, which is going to get hit hard, and it got to cat 5 on the Florida Keys, that could give some structural damage to the seven-mile bridge. But that's a whole set of other problems.

But coming up the west coast, if it moves out into the gulf and parallels the coast, that's the worst of all possible situations because the counterclockwise rotation takes the water and runs it up the bays, like Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay. And once, Anderson, it gets up in the bays, there's no place for it to go. So it walls up and becomes a huge, huge storm surge.

COOPER: Right. At this point, I mean, they're talking about for Tampa Bay estimates of five to eight feet of storm surge. Of course, depending on the wind. You have waves on top of that. And even here at Ft. Myers could be 10 to 15 feet.

I mean, Senator, for people who are living in a one-level house, I mean, a 15-foot storm surge, that covers first floor of a house.

NELSON: Exactly. And then if the storm surge comes at high tide, you just add that much more water.

COOPER: I remember back in 2004, covering Hurricane Charlie, and I was talking to the mayor here in Ft. Myers, Charlie was on the same track, essentially coming up this river. It had an adjustment of about 4 degrees, and hit Punta Gorda, which wasn't initially what people expected it to do. I remember, I was in Tampa, Florida, and ended up driving there. Even now, this storm could still move. Even slight changes in degrees make a huge, huge difference.

NELSON: It could. But you've got to give a shout-out to the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center and NOAA. All of their assets, they're much more accurate now in their predictions of the path and intensity since Hurricane Charlie.

But you're right, Anderson. Hurricane Charlie was going up the west coast and, all of a sudden, it took a right hook, and went right up Charlotte Harbor, ground zero was Punta Gorda, and that was a big surprise. There've been a lot of people evacuated from Tampa to come down to stay in the Holiday Inn and that ended up being ground zero.

[15:20:22] COOPER: I was talking to somebody who had evacuated from Miami Beach and was staying Tampa. I got a text this morning saying, "Where should I go, should I go back to Miami Beach," because now Tampa seems to be possibly worse off than Miami was supposed to be.

Are you concerned about people getting to shelters? You know, buses here in Ft. Myers were supposed to stop at 3:00. We've seen a long line outside one shelter -- the arena, where our correspondent has been. It seems like everybody's going to be able to get into that arena. But it seems like there's a lot of people who decided to ride out this storm and then woke up this morning and realized, wait a minute, this storm has moved west. We're now directly in its sights.

NELSON: That's precisely what's happened. And you're not only getting to locations for shelters now. I saw it. I just came from Tampa from Hillsboro County Emergency Operations Center. The traffic on Interstate 4, going east, has significantly picked up. So that's exactly what people are doing, like your friend that you just mentioned. They had evacuated to the west coast. Now they're moving off the west coast back to the east.

COOPER: Yes. When I drove here, obviously, going west from Miami this morning, there was virtually no traffic heading back to Miami. But as you say, now that's definitely changed.

Senator, appreciate talking to you. We'll talk to you in the days ahead.

Another short break, but our coverage continues in a moment.


[15:26:33] BERMAN: All right. John Berman here in Miami.

The video you're seeing right now was shown a little while ago here in Miami. More than 20 cranes, giant cranes up in this city, a sign of the booming economy here. There's a lot of construction here. The problem is they couldn't take these cranes down in time. They had to leave them up. And the booms, those arms, looks terrifying when they move. They're designed to move. They serve like a sort of weather vain. If they tied them down, it would be like a sail and blow a whole lot over. That resistance would be dangerous. So they let them twist like that. Could be a terrifying sight for people in the city of Miami. Building officials here in the city sent a note out to the populations saying, if you live in a building near one of these cranes, you should evacuate. There is obvious concern about that.

Just one of the things we're watching here in Miami as the wind has picked up. It is now consistently windy here. A wind of about 30 miles an hour blowing. Fairly consistently. Gusts a little more than that. Just starting to drizzle right now as these bands move through.

Let's go to Allison Chinchar, in the CNN Weather Center, to get a sense of what we will be feeling here, in the Keys, and maybe, most importantly, on the west coast of Florida and when -- Allison?

CHINCHAR: That's right, John. We take a look at the current numbers that we have right now, Irma is a category 3 storm and a very strong category 3 storm. Winds right now 125 miles per hour, just five miles per hour stronger and it would be a category 4 storm. You're talking a difference of five miles per hour here. So don't focus on the category number so much but the intensity of the winds. Movement is west at about nine miles per hour. But we have started to see at least a slight shift off to the north as well.

One of the big concerns is going to be maximum wind gusts. Take a look at some of these numbers. Key West we're talking around 138 miles per hour. This will be at the peak as the storm is crossing over that region. Naples and Ft. Myers also in that 130 to 130-mile- per-hour range. Even Tampa, likely to be around 116. Now, the east coast while it may not be as strong, you're still talking pretty strong wind gusts. In fact, Orlando, looking at 95 miles per hour for their peak wind gusts.

Storm surge is also going to be a huge threat with this particular storm. We got some updated numbers a few hours ago that really made these numbers rise. In fact, especially in the southwest portion. Say Naples down towards Key Largo we're talking 10 to 15 feet. Miami down towards Key West, five to 10 feet. Even around the Ft. Myers area you're talking six to 10 feet. The numbers however, you have to understand what they mean, so let's take a look at this for example. Just to talk about storm surge. Ten feet is what an average first story building is. So if you have storm surge of 10 feet -- and keep in mind some places we're actually forecasting higher than 10 feet, some areas it could be as much as 15 feet, which means it would start creeping into the second story of a home or a business or something like that. But this is just the storm surge.

Now you also have to factor in the waves. This is where true inundation takes place. Because it's not just the amount of rain -- or not just the amount of water pushed in from the storm surge, but those waves. The crests of those waves can add even a couple more feet on top of that. So you talk about five to six feet, if you have a person six feet tall, you are now completely submerged under water, and you have the waves moving everything around. This is where it gets very concerning, especially those higher amounts, too. You could have cars submerged.

[15:30:00] If you take that car out onto a street as the storm surge is pushing in, you will have absolutely no control over that vehicle. Even, say, the car may not be fully submerged at that point.

Now, when we talk about the track, this is the part that everybody is concerned about because you want to know where landfall is expected to be. However, because of the size of the storm, at this point, it's really just semantics. Everybody around Florida is going to get some impact from this storm. Some will just get bigger impacts than others, namely the winds.

Here's what we expect. We do expect it to increase back to a category 4 strength storm as it crosses over the keys and continues its way up the west coast. Right now, landfall could be anywhere from say Naples to Ft. Myers, even up around Tampa. And Tampa is a huge city. A lot of people in Tampa did not necessarily evacuate, especially several days ago. Thinking this was mostly going to be an east coast main landfall of a storm. But that is now starting to change. Then we see the track kind of push further into the north, states like Alabama, Georgia, as well as Tennessee.

And the other thing, John, to note is we are still talking a pretty good amount of rain. We've talked about storm surge and wind, but don't count out the rain. We could be looking at widespread rainfall totals of six to 12 inches of rain.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, All right. Allison Chinchar, an important forecast. A point people should listen to there.

When you're talking about impact on the state of Florida, the impact of a hurricane will be the entire state of Florida. The eye may hit on the west coast, but you're going to feel the storm force winds and see the storm surge in water like this all across the southern part of the state.

The storm surge clearly what is worrying officials the most. You can hear it in the voice of the governor. You can hear it in the voice of the FEMA director in washington. They're watching that very, very carefully, particularly on the west coast, where they could see a storm surge from 10 to 15 feet.

Let's go over to the west coast. I want to talk to Ben McMillan. He's a storm chaser. He's in Punta Gorda, Florida, right now. Punta Gorda, by the way, has seen its share of hurricanes in the past.

And, Ben, you have a fairly alarming prediction of what could happen, particularly on the west coast because of Hurricane Irma. You say some parts of Florida could end up looking like a third-world country. Why?

BEN MCMILLAN, STORM CHASER: Well, the issue with the storm surge you were talking about is it plows through everything in its path, buildings, cars, vehicles and even people. And that is one of the most damaging forces of nature. All that water coming up from the bay up over these walls and into the city. Guys, we're talking about 10 to 15-feet of surge. So these walls aren't going to be any match for all that water coming up out of the ocean.

BERMAN: Now, I'm over here in Miami, where they've been preparing really for several days right now. One of the things that has concerned me is that maybe people on the west have been a little complacent. What's your take on that? What have you seen?

MCMILLAN: As we've driven north today from the Ft. Myers area up to southwest Florida, we've seen a lot of people out and about. Some people even going about their normal daily routines and that's the big concern here is that people might not have gotten enough of the urgency that the state officials have been trying to communicate because so much of that effort was directed towards east coast. But we want to tell you now if you live on the west coast of Florida and being asked to evacuate, please go now. This threat is real.

BERMAN: So a couple hundred thousand people have been evacuated. St. Petersburg issued evacuation orders. They're watching that very, very carefully.

Ben, just because you've seen storms like this, you've watched all of these storms very carefully. People think hurricane, they think the winds. They always keep track of the wind strength. And now after Hurricane Harvey people have thought about flooding. But storm surge is something completely different. And in some ways, one of the most dangerous things that can happen in a hurricane. Why?

MCMILLAN: Just because the power of all that water. Winds can be stopped by stronger buildings, stronger construction. But when you have that much force coming up, especially out of something like the ocean, where it's unlimited supply of all that water, almost anything could be toppled.

BERMAN: And of course, on the west coast, you have these bays. There are a lot of people now saying that the concern about the path of this storm maybe, even if it's slightly off the west coast, it will push the water up into the bays on the west, particularly Tampa Bay. That city, the city of Tampa, lies so close to the water there on that bay. How bad could it get there?

MCMILLAN: Well, unfortunately, John, Tampa, metro, over three million people. That's a lot of folks that I don't know if we're going to get them all out in time. So there could be serious consequences if this storm is any more to the west, as meteorologists have been saying. There will be strong winds and storm surge on the eastern part of the storm. The northeast quadrant is where we watch closely for some of the most dangerous conditions.

BERMAN: All right. Ben McMillan for us in Punta Gorda. You have your work cut out for you for the next few days. I hope people heed your warnings there.

As we've been saying, over here in Miami, the winds have picked up consistently, blowing now fairly strongly. Going to feel these winds for some time all over the southern part of Florida as the storm moves up west towards where Anderson Cooper is in Ft. Myers -- Anderson?

[15:35:16] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, John, thanks very much.

I want you to meet Captain Jay Rodriguez, commander of hurricane operations for the city of Ft. Myers Police Department.

How are things going?

CAPT. JAY RODRIGUES, COMMANDER, HURRICANE OPERATIONS, FT. MYERS POLICE DEPARTMENT: So far, so good. Our community's listening. We're starting evacuations and actually wrapping them up. Giving some rides to people that still need it. But overall, very good.

COOPER: The public buses that were in operation to try to get people shelters that are offered people call 211, those shut down at 3:00. So if people don't have a vehicle, is there any way for them to still get to a shelter if they want?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, we still need them to call us. They can call 211. And we're doing our best, fire, EMS and police. We're going to help them to get to shelter.

COOPER: Looks like a lot of those people, were people who thought they could ride it out, and when the storm suddenly shifted west, wait a minute, we're in a different category.

RODRIGUEZ: Exactly right. Waited a little too long but we're going to do our best to get them out. That's why we say please get out as fast as you can. COOPER: You've been through a lot of storms before. You went through

Hurricane Andrew, right?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, sir.

COOPER: How does that inform the way you react to this?

RODRIGUEZ: As a native of Florida, I take this very seriously. I did survive Andrew. That's a piece of my public to my community, I've been doing that for a week now, please get out, don't take this lightly. I moved out myself and my family just to show that I'm serious about this.

COOPER: You know, it is so deceptive. If you're hanging out here today, you know, it seems calm. And then all of a sudden it can change on a dime.

RODRIGUEZ: The calm before the storm. If you're from Florida, or lived anywhere with hurricanes, you know what's coming. This is a very serious one.

COOPER: Right. In terms of the aftermath, you know, for police, if there were 911 calls during the storm, obviously, it can be too dangerous for police, for firefighters, for EMS or anybody to go out. You got to wait. What are the priorities? Because in many cases, you got to get the roads clear before you can even get anywhere.

RODRIGUEZ: Right. We work with fire and EMS. And we have an emergency response team with chainsaws and stuff like that. And we prioritize all the calls. We take the calls and prioritize them. As soon as it's safe for our guys to go out there, we go by highest priority and we work our way there. Obviously, our hospitals, our shelters are main importance to clear the areas around there so we can use those facilities.

COOPER: People listening right now, whether they're considering to going to shelter or staying home or figure out what to do the next couple hours, what's your message?

RODRIGUEZ: My message is, if you're going to stay there, please hunker down. Please call us. We'll get to you as soon as we can. But understand that we're no good if I can't get there, if my people can't get there. So pray or do whatever it is you do to stay safe. And we'll be there for you at the outcome. We have a lot of plans in place for what happens after the storm.

COOPER: Captain, appreciate all your efforts. Thank you very much.

RODRIQUEZ: Thank you.

COOPER: Good luck to you.

A lot more to cover here in Ft. Myers, also John Berman in Miami, and of course, all our correspondents all around. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:42:14] COOPER: Our coverage continues now here of Hurricane Irma from here in Ft. Myers, Florida, where it's been deceptively calm in terms of weather throughout the day. Just a little bit of gusts of winds in the last few minutes but nothing serious. Nothing to really indicate the monster storm, the deadly storm that is to come.

And the people here in Ft. Myers woke up today realizing that, because the storm had shifted to the west. They're talking about storm surge down in Naples, which isn't too far from here, south of here, in 10 to 15 feet range. In the Centennial Park area, where we are right now, if it raises 10 feet, this area's going to be flooded, 15 feet. There's no telling how much of this area will be flooded.

This is actually evacuation Zone B, they call it. Evacuation Zone A, there's already a mandatory evacuation for them earlier today. They also called out a mandatory evacuation for this area, B. Basically, stretches south of here and west across the river. So it's a really big area. They've been sending out police with loud speakers saying, look, this is now a mandatory evacuation zone. Trying to get as many people as possible to the shelters. Because, frankly, there's a lot of people who have just thought, look, you know, it's Miami. This is going to be an east coast storm. It's Miami that's going to get the worst of this. It is a whole different story right now as we continue to track where this storm is exactly.

I want to check in with Brian Todd, who's in West Palm Beach.

Brian, it looks like it's not going to be as bad there as it might have been. I'm wondering what you're hearing from people and what you're seeing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the streets have gotten a lot more deserted here because the wind has started to kick up. We were told by our weather people at CNN that we could expect tropical storm force winds about now. We're starting to experience those. White caps here on the Intercoastal Waterway. Storm surge is a concern because it could lap up and wash through this area and inundate it with water if the storm surge plus the high tide combined with each other.

Less than an hour ago, they ratcheted up those warnings you were talking about, going door-to-door with loud speakers. They ratcheted up that pressure on people to stay inside. Less than an hour ago, a curfew went into effect. They do not want to see people out here on the streets. Once in a while, a vehicle will pass by, but no traffic, people on the streets. People seem to be abiding by the curfew.

Now, we talk about the danger of cranes. We have a double whammy here because we have two cranes here. This one is bracketed down. About halfway up, that bracket securing it. But another one over here just to my left. Walk a little bit here. This is a large construction site, looks like a condominium being built here. That one is also bracketed down about halfway up. And as we've been talking about all day here and in Miami, the tops -- these top booms of these cranes are going to be allowed to swing. And it's going to look pretty ominous when they're allowed to swing, but they are designed to do that. We had a lady just come and tell us, who lives in that apartment building there, she's concerned that that crane may topple and hit her apartment building. We've got apartment buildings over here and a church over here. If these cranes come down, those places could be vulnerable -- Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, Brian, I know, in Miami, certainly, we saw they were securing those cranes as much as they could. But as you said, they allow the outer arm of that crane to basically act like a weather vain. That's actually safer. We'll, obviously, continue to watch all the construction sites.

But, Brian, in West Palm Beach, as elsewhere in Florida, building codes have changed in the wake of Andrew, as people probably know by now, some newer structures are built much more solidly, supposed to be able to withstand strong storms.

TODD: That's right. They are. And they're built to code here. Andrew was the storm that really changed that equation all throughout south Florida, Anderson, as you know. All of these buildings are built to code. However, we were looking at one hotel not far from here, and those people told us that they were built only to withstand a category 2. So not everybody is able to withstand a 4 or 5, despite what you may think about certain standards here. However, a lot of these buildings seem very solid and secure. But when you've got, you know, 130-mile-per-hour winds possibly here, it might be not quite as strong, but they're going to threaten some structures. They're going to rip whole sections of roof off other structures probably. So those are things you have to watch out for.

This construction site is kind of that in a microcosm. Look at all the loose stuff that's here. They've secured a lot of this. But a lot of this could be flying around tomorrow. So it's the flying debris, Anderson, at the height of these storms that is very, very dangerous. Not as dangerous as you've heard Chad and Allison and our other weather people say that the flooding is, because that is the thing that kills the most people. But flying debris, flying shingles and flying sections of rooftops, that's going to be a big concern in addition to these babies right behind me, these cranes.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, it's one of the reasons people need to stay indoors not just because of the surge and flood waters and chance of drowning, but again, those projectiles. When it is dark out and that wind is whipping, I mean, I've been out there, as you have and so many others, you don't know what's coming. You can't see what's coming towards you until often it's too late.

We're going to continue to check in with Brian.

We're going to take a short break, as our coverage from Florida, from all points in southern Florida and beyond, continues in a moment.


[15:52:03] COOPER: Welcome back, coverage of Hurricane Irma, the calm before the storm.

Alex Marquardt is in Sarasota, Florida, for us. I want to check in with him.

Alex, in terms of what you're seeing, what's the preparations there?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it seems like people are heeding the evacuation warnings. Just driving through downtown, we saw very few people. Many of the businesses were boarded up, locked down.

And you would be forgiven on the beach for not thinking a massive storm is on the way. You have these beautiful blue skies, sandy beaches. The only thing amiss is the beaches aren't packed. We have a handful of people out here enjoying the final few hours before the storm hits. That is a handful too much for Governor Rick Scott, who told people they need to get out of town or be in a shelter by noon today. That was almost four hours ago.

We expect when this storm hits is the storm surge to come in from the ocean around three to six feet. More than six feet would result in catastrophic flooding. Many mandatory evacuations. Local officials, including the city manager have told us these people out here have a little bit more time. The city manager was saying the city is as prepared as it can be. And in his mind, he's preparing mentally for what the city is going to look like afterwards.

COOPER: Alex, the thing about this storm, as we saw with Charlie, and I know it's gotten better, the estimates of tracking these things, but a small deviation for this storm can make a huge difference on the ground. A couple of degrees difference can mean the storm hits a town that nobody thought it was going to hit directly.

MARQUARDT: So everybody out here on the beach and everyone we've seen in town, they're expected to go indoors in the next few hours. Local officials saying, wherever you plan on riding out the storm, you should plan on going there as soon as possible -- Anderson?

[15:54:08] COOPER: Yes. Good words of advice.

Alex Marquardt, appreciate it.

We have a lot more ahead. Our coverage continues. We want to bring you the latest soon on exactly where the storm is now, how powerful it is, and also a time line, give you a sense of when it's going to make landfall, and track it as it heads northward.

Our coverage continues in just a moment.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage.

I want to go to John Berman, in Miami.

John, I understand one of those outer bands of the storm is now hitting you. BERMAN: That's right, Anderson. A sign of what you are in for, and

maybe stronger and maybe soon. The outer band hitting Miami. The wind has been consistent, hitting at 30 miles, 35, maybe higher for some time now. But now we're getting the rain in combination with that. It comes and goes. But when it's on, you know, it is very strong. That is why people here, officials really want everyone inside. It's time to be indoors. Once the bands start hitting, it's time to stop moving about, get where you are going to be. And for Miami Beach, that means a total curfew at 8:00 tonight. They don't want anyone out on the streets tonight after 8:00. If you are there, you're going to get arrested and taken into custody. They are just that serious.

Right now, as I said, one of the bands hitting us right now.

Let's go to Allison Chinchar, in the CNN Weather Center, to get a sense of where the storm is and why we're feeling it in Miami -- Allison?

CHINCHAR: That's right. One of the things that has just changed at the top of the hour, is the forward movement, the direction the storm is moving. Right now, we're starting to see a change from due west to west northwest. That may seem very subtle but that's we've been waiting for. We've been waiting for that shift in which it is going to start to make that northward trek towards the state of Florida. And we're starting to at least get a little glimpse of that. Again, it --