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Irma Expected to Strengthen Again Before Hitting Florida; Florida's Coast Could See Catastrophic Storm Surge; Storm Surge Up to 15 Feet Possible in Southwest Florida; Interview with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; Interview with Miami-Dade Police Chief Juan Perez. Aired 8- 9p ET

Aired September 9, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- elsewhere. So many places that have been affected already by this killer hurricane we are expecting now into tomorrow in here on the West Coast. As you know, early this day -- early today, the storm moved west, that a lot of people here on the west coast of Florida woke up to a very different situation.

People who decided to hunker down, who decided to ride out the storm in their homes, suddenly were faced with a storm surge they had not anticipated, a storm direction they had not anticipated. And many of those people have decided to either seek shelters or get on the highway and to try to get out.

There's a lot to talk about in the hours ahead, but I want to go to Tom Sater who's at the weather center for us with the latest on the track of the storm. Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, latest advisory just issued now by the National Hurricane Center, and we did see a little bit of a wind change. Sustained winds are down five miles per hour, from 125 to 120.

Now, we're only 10 miles away from getting back up to Category 4, and we're pretty sure that's going to happen sometime this evening or overnight. But what it tells us is that the interaction with the Cuban coastline has tried to starve the system from some of its energy, even some of the high terrain in Cuba, some of that dry air trying to infiltrate it on the back edge. You'll see that here on the eastern flank.

But the bright colors are telling us it's going to strengthen. That's the high and the colder cloud tops. The eye is actually getting quite bounded as well.

Everybody's asking, what happened overnight? Why didn't we have this shift? We knew that shifting was going to continue. And until that storm moves to the north, we still, without any certainty, can tell anybody what time and where landfall is.

It still, Anderson, has a track toward the west, northwest. But high pressure, Bermuda high, which is massive, has been swinging these systems -- even Jose back behind it -- keeping it to the south, through the Caribbean.

We thought, at some point this week, this area of high pressure would either slide away to the east or break down. And that would allow this trough coming in to the eastern U.S. to pull it northward.

Well, high pressure didn't break down. It's strong, keeping it westward. But this trough is not as strong as we expected as well, so it's stuck in between high pressure. And that high pressure in the gulf is going to keep it from moving in toward Texas.

Eventually, it's going to slide northward, but we got to break it down right now because what we're seeing are these bands coming in with rainfall where, again, just like we saw with Harvey in the heavy rainfall in Houston or into Beaumont and Port Arthur, it's going to drop heavy rain.

But it's also significant because we're seeing some severe weather. We've got a tornado watch in effect now for the southern half of Florida. We're starting to see a few warnings.

We've got one now still. It looks like it's in Broward County. That's just north of Miami. And we're going to continue to have that overnight.

Almost the entire state of Florida is under a warning. There are watches to the north that will change to warnings over time as the storm decides to move up. But where is it going to make landfall? That's a big threat here.

We think if it continues it's west, northwest track, it may, barely by morning, make landfall in Key West, possibly around Fort Myers. If it wobbles east, let's say 2:00 p.m. or so in the afternoon, give or take a couple hours, Port Charlotte. If it wobbles east, may not be until tomorrow evening.

So there's a lot of ifs right now. Listen, the storm does not know about computer models. It could care less that we have a European or a U.S., right? But I think what really -- I heard this morning from Senator Marco Rubio, he said, do not play chicken with this hurricane, and he's right.

Everyone is shifting to the west coast, of course, yesterday. And now, they're wondering if they should go east. Just hunker down. Just stay away from the water.

This system, if it continues in this direction, and this model, Anderson, wants to place landfall near Fort Myers. When the eye is halfway over land, you consider that landfall, but keep in mind the outer bands. This is where the wind are the strongest. And of course, that's a path of destruction up, of course, the entire western half of Florida.

They may think they're fine in the southeast, parts of Miami and Hollywood up to Delray Beach and northward. Well, you're not because you're going to be in still to significant wind bands and the threat for tornadoes. As it moves to the north, there is concern now into Georgia with the

winds sustained around 50, maybe gusts, 60, 70. That's pine country. I mean, the pines in this area have weak very root systems, and they're massively tall and they -- they're downed all the time in strong thunderstorms, so we could definitely have power outages in many states.

These are the projected wind gusts. Notice Fort Myers, 134 miles per hour. You think you're fine over in Miami and you're still at 71. That will down powerlines.

Even up to Jacksonville at 72. Some of the models want to put a lot of moisture, a lot of rainfall into Jacksonville. That will flood that region.

The path and the track still looks pretty much the same. We'll get a new track, Anderson, in just a few hours. But again, still uncertainty as exactly where landfall will be. But it's such a massive storm and most likely will get to Category 4, at this point, it doesn't matter. But we will be able to lock it in as soon as the storm starts to move north.

COOPER: Tom Sater, we're going to check back within -- with you.

[20:05:01] I'm going to be on the air for the next three hours following this story, so we'll be talking to Tom a lot. I want to check in with Bill Weir who has been in Key West. He's now in Key Largo where there are a lot of folks still riding out this storm.

Bill, the scene tonight is what? I know, there, you've been talking to a number of people who are riding out the storm. I've been talking to them throughout the day as well.


COOPER: What is the situation there? What are they facing?

WEIR: Well, I'm going to give you a little sense of that here. I mean, you don't have to be a meteorologist or a governor of Florida to know the common sense in you hide from wind, you run from water.

Stay away from the coast. You've heard that again and again, but there's this community of sailors, these old salts down here in the Keys. That's just not in their DNA.

I met a scuba boat captain here on Key Largo by the name of Timothy Jones. He lives aboard a vessel called "Livin' the Dream," and here is his logic.


TIMOTHY JONES, RIDING OUT HURRICANE IRMA IN THE KEYS: This is home. Basically, it's a two-bedroom, two-bath floating condo, to put in layman's term.

WEIR: OK. JONES: We have two bedrooms or two cabins, two heads, living room,

kitchen, and dining room in -- on the boat.

WEIR: You hope it's still a floating condo --

JONES: It will be. It will be.

WEIR: -- by the end of this? But this is your refuge in here? The little --

JONES: This is our shelter, yes.

WEIR: -- yacht club here.

JONES: It used to be a sailing school rigging shop. We have what they call a ship store on this end of it. That's where the wood siding and everything is.


JONES: And then some offices. And we're actually sleeping in the offices. That's where we're all staying. I mean, this is home. This is where we are.

We brought in the stuff that we couldn't store somewhere. We brought it in here to get it out of the wind.

WEIR: Right.

JONES: We shut the doors. And life is good. This is solid concrete. This is solid concrete. It's not going anywhere.


WEIR: Tim, like so many other locals I talked to, their logic is based on fear of the highways much more than fear of Irma. They were worried about running out of gas and being stuck somewhere in the Everglades. But that decision is made, that die is cast, and now it's up to the fates to see how that decision plays out, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. And, of course, you know, obviously, one road in, one road out. So just a lot to watch for tomorrow and in the days after, in terms of the kind of damage we're seeing in the Keys, throughout the Keys, and the ability to get aid and supplies to people who are in need.

As you know, authorities have been telling people, have at least three days of supplies in your home or where you -- or wherever you may be riding out the storm, even in shelters. Bring what you can with you.

We're going to continue to check in with Bill Weir all throughout in Key Largo. He's been in the Keys now for days.

Let's go to John Berman, though. You saw his vantage point at the top of this broadcast. You saw that boat. You saw the wind and the rain. John, what is the situation in Miami in terms of, you know, the

beginning of any storm surge? Clearly, you're getting a lot of wind and rain right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right now, it's about the wind and the rain here, Anderson. We've had gusts consistently now touching 50 miles an hour or so.

And a second ago, it was just pouring. It let up a little bit. It's bad, but this is not as bad as it was just a few minutes ago. It looks like we just got like an inch or so of just a downpour here. I'm standing in the middle of it now.

But as you said, the concern here, just like it is all over southern Florida, particularly where you are up in the west, is storm surge. Behind me, you can see this marina here. You know, this is water that they're expecting a surge of somewhere between three and six feet.

That would put it up to my knees or higher here, and that would, you know, go inland and that would get into the first floor storefronts here along the coast. And this is downtown. This isn't even Miami Beach.

Behind me, which you can't see through the rain right now, is Miami Beach. That is a very low-lying area where they're very concerned about the storm surge. Not as bad are you're going to get in the west, but still at six feet, enough to cover a serious part of that barrier island.

Of course, out there on Miami Beach right now, it's after 8:00 p.m. Eastern time. They have a curfew. They don't want anyone out on the streets tonight. If they see you out on the streets, they say you're going to get arrested.

Now, that said, first responders, law enforcement, they don't want to be out right now either. Once the wind gusts and the sustained winds get above 40 miles an hour, you know, they will not be out there. They also won't be responding to 911 calls. I can't imagine why anyone would be want to -- want to be out right now in all of this, though.

You know, as the night goes on and the winds pick up and the rains pick up, it's very dangerous to be moving about. And officials that we have spoken to say, look, if you made the decision to stay, hunker down. Be careful, be safe, make good decisions -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, John. As the storm moved west earlier today in Fort Myers, authorities here faced a new situation. They actually expanded the evacuation zone.

[20:10:00] Originally, it was just an area called Zone A. Now, it was -- they added in Zone B, which is downtown west and south down river. So basically kind of all in that direction and also across the river on the western side of it.

That basically meant even more people were being told there was a mandatory evacuation, that they have to go to shelters. The scene at some of the shelters today, one in particular, people were standing in line for hours and hours, thousands of people.

We'll show you that coming up, but I want to go to Ed Lavandera who is in a vehicle right now.

Ed, I would think I was told you're heading to San Marco Island. Can you just explain where you're going and where it is exactly?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, we have just left the city of Naples, which is a little bit further south of where you are, and are on our way down south of that to Marco Island, popular vacation spot for many people in this part of the country.

It is a barrier island. And given the path of this hurricane, it could be one of the more -- first more significant spots after the Florida Keys that will take a direct hit from this hurricane.

We have been driving around the Naples area in Collier County, which is home to about a little more than 300,000 people. And this town is absolutely desolate. I spoke with the Mayor just a little while ago, and he told us that many people here in this area had started heeding the evacuation warnings early in the week.

Many people were extremely worried about the path of this hurricane, and they left early. And the signs of that, very clear throughout the city. Virtually every business closed down except for maybe one or two restaurants that we have come across that are still open.

We are on our way to check out the scene in Marco Island where they have urgently been asking people to evacuate that area. That is definitely not an island you would want to be on as this hurricane approaches, so we're going to go check out and see if there are anybody -- if anybody is still there.

But the mayor here in Naples says that he's very encouraged by the number of people who listened to those evacuation warnings and left town. The entire city is under a mandatory evacuation, and they're very concerned about all of the homes.

And there are multimillion dollars homes up and down the Gulf Coast there. They're on the edge -- western edge of the city of Naples. So these are -- an area that will be very close to those -- that storm surge where they expect anywhere -- the storm surge here could be up to 15 feet.

So these are stunning numbers. And many people around here who have lived here a very long time say that they lived through Hurricane Wilma back in 2005, and they don't think that -- what this that they're about to experience and what they're about to endure here will easily rival --


LAVANDERA: -- what they experienced here 12 years ago, Anderson. COOPER: Yes. Ed, I mean, it's incredible when you think it was the

11:00 a.m. advisory today where there was new storm surge figures came in, in which, as you said, in Naples, they were talking about a potential of 10 to 15 feet of storm surge.

And that doesn't even include, obviously, you know, any wind on top of it is going to be creating waves on top of that storm surge. So you're talking about a huge amount of water. Potentially 15 feet, I mean, that will cover somebody's house if it's a one-level house.

LAVANDERA: Oh, no, absolutely. You know, the homes there on the western side of Naples, like I said, multimillion dollars, multistory homes, so it will be interesting to see what kind of impact and what they'll be able to withstand.

And, Anderson, as we're talking to you here, we just arrived on to -- if we show you the shot. This is the scene on Marco Island here this evening. I think a lot of people who might be familiar with this island, who have vacationed here over the years, will find this shot interesting.

But you can see here, as you look out onto the streets tonight, still a full, you know, 15 hours or so before the worst of this hurricane makes impact here. This is the scene that we see repeatedly on the streets around here tonight. You can just see how desolate everything is.

The power is still on. That's the good sign. You can see the streetlights still on, but that won't last for long. This is an island that will take a very strong hit here in the next 15 hours or so.

COOPER: Yes. Ed, be carefully out there. We'll continue to check in with you again, you know, all day long. This thing has been moving. It's been moving, the last I heard about, eight miles an hour, so relatively slowly.

And obviously, as it's going through that very warm water now that it's left Cuba, heading up toward the Keys, it very will likely become a Category 4 as it picks up strength in feeding off that warm water.

[20:14:39] We're going to take a short break as we look at images from Fort Lauderdale and also the radar. A lot more ahead from our correspondents all throughout the region. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We're back with our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. The images there out of Fort Lauderdale. We're trying to give you as many different kind of vantage points as possible, so you can see where the storm is as these outer bands of the storm move across various areas.

Very light rain here in Fort Myers, whereas earlier you saw heavy rain in Miami. And certainly, it looks like a lot of wind there in Fort Lauderdale. As I said before the break, this is a slow-moving storm, some eight

miles an hour or so. So even when it -- if it hits the Keys, starting with hurricane force winds tomorrow, early part of the day, it's not going to hit, according to latest estimates, Tampa with hurricane force winds until Sunday night around this time, around 8:00 or so.

I want to go to Tampa right now and talk to the mayor, Bob Buckhorn, who woke up today to a very different situation than what many in Tampa had hoped for and been praying for when they thought Miami, and that this was going to be more of an eastern storm and it didn't take this more western track earlier today.

[20:20:04] Mayor Buckhorn, I'm just wondering what your day has been like. I know a number of people had actually left Miami, had come to Tampa, thinking that that was going to be a safer area for them. I talked to one person who was considering driving back to Miami or what they should do.

How are things in shelters? What is the situation right now in Tampa?

MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN, TAMPA, FLORIDA: Well, Anderson, you're absolutely right. This is a day unlike any other, and I would imagine tomorrow and Monday are going to be unlike any other that we have ever experienced.

We have not been hit by a hurricane in 90 years, so this, for us, even though we trained for this every day, all year round, is going to be an experience unlike anything we've ever seen, particularly given the magnitude of this storm.

Shelters are filling up. We still have some availability. What I am concerned about, though, is given sort of the rightward shift of the storm is the impact is going to be more severe than we had ever anticipated three, four, five days ago.

We were ready to come assist in Miami. Now, we're the ones that are in the eye of the storm, and we now have to execute our plan, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, the storm surge, the latest estimates I have seen for Tampa -- and again, it might change -- was five to eight feet. Down in Naples, they are looking at 10 to 15 feet. Five to eight feet of storm surge, what is that going to do to Tampa?

BUCKHORN: Well, it would hit us pretty hard. We are a low-lying city. We are right on the Hillsboro Bay.

Our downtown is right on that water as you well know. There are some residential areas around it, one of which is mine. I mean, my family has evacuated.

If we get that kind of surge, you're going to have significant impact on some of the residential communities around Tampa Bay. Downtown Tampa will be affected. Harbour Island, Davis Island, all along Bayshore Boulevard, that is world famous, will be affected. The wind and rain are going to be significant. But, Anderson, what is

compounding the problem is that the surge will occur at the same time that we have a high tide. So early, early Sunday morning, from probably 6:00 to about 12:00, we will have a high tide as well. So that will increase the amount of water that is being pushed up onto land.

You know, knock on wood. We're going to be OK, but there will be damages, and there will be flooding.

COOPER: If people wake up tomorrow morning in Tampa or surrounding areas and decide, you know what, I'm not going to try to ride this out, are there still shelters? I mean, you said there is some room at shelters. Are there shelters that they can go to still tomorrow in the early part of the day?

BUCKHORN: There are. That capacity is dwindling fairly rapidly as this storm gets closer. I would suggest to them and to anybody who is listening who is in Flood Zone A, if there is sustained winds higher than 40 degrees -- or 40 miles per hour, Tampa Police Department and Tampa Fire Rescue cannot come and get you. And we can't put those law enforcement and public safety personnel at risk in those conditions.

So my suggestion to you is you still have probably 12 to 15 hours to make this decision. Get up in the morning and move. You don't have to go to Georgia. You don't have to evacuate to Tennessee.

Just move to another flood zone. It may be a couple blocks away. It may be two miles away, but just get out of Flood Zone A and let us do our job.

COOPER: Well, Mayor, we wish you the best. I think we're going to try to get to Tampa tonight and be there, obviously, in the morning and throughout the day tomorrow. Though, of course, everybody's plans always, you know, can change on a dime along with this weather.

We'll continue to talk to you throughout the storm, Mayor. Good luck you to and everybody in Tampa, and, of course, all along -- all around Florida tonight.

Because no matter where you are in Florida, and, frankly, in other states as well, this is a storm that is going to affect you in one way or another. Maybe worse than you thought, maybe less than you thought, but this is a statewide storm. It is going to impact everybody in one way or another in the state of Florida. And authorities have been saying that now for some time.

[20:24:08] We're going to take a short break as we continue to track Hurricane Irma.


COOPER: Already you're seeing the power of this storm in Fort Lauderdale, and we are still so many hours away from the full brunt of this storm tomorrow. Obviously, felt at different times in different places, so let's go back to Tom Sater. Because, Tom, I don't think we can repeat this enough and track this

enough. Can you just give a sense of the time line from where it's at now, when its --


COOPER: You know, when hurricane-force winds are going to hit the Keys, you know, Naples forward to Fort Myers --

SATER: Sure.

COOPER: -- Tampa and points beyond?

SATER: OK. I'll tell you what, Anderson, we can break down a few areas, but I just want everyone to understand, until this system moves due north -- it's still going west, northwest. Until it goes due north, we're not going to be able to really pinpoint any landfall, but we do have some ideas.

And it does look like around Key West by daybreak. Depends on -- around Naples or further north if it wobbles to the east.

Here is the forecast map. And you're going to be able to see it make its way toward Fort Myers, maybe 2:00 in the afternoon, 3:00. Maybe up a little bit further. We're talking around Port Charlotte, let's say, around 8:00 or 9:00 at night, even to the evening. You know, Tampa, maybe overnight, tomorrow night.

So it really depends. It's only moving seven miles an hour. So if it makes its way, which it will, in toward Georgia and Alabama, that will be another issue.

[20:29:56] But here it is, Naples. Tropical storm force winds arrive at 5:00 a.m. Hurricane-force winds, around 9:00 a.m. That's tomorrow morning.

Rainfall, over up to a foot. That's possible. And the storm surge is 10 to 15 feet. We know that.

Let's go a little bit further now over toward Tampa, to the north. Tropical storm winds around 2:00 p.m. Sunday. All right. We were talking about that. That's the tropical storm force winds.

But the hurricane-force winds, during the evening period, sometime around 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 at night, and the conditions deteriorate with six to eight inches possible. And that's your five to eight-foot storm surge.

A little concerned once the system gets north of Tampa. The winds wrapping around it, coming in from the northwest and the west, will also flood Tampa Bay. That can be another two to four feet. So we're going to be watching Tampa closely for the next several days.

Slide over toward Miami. You think you're OK, but tropical storm force winds are occurring now. You've got your rain bands. We've had a few tornado warnings. Hurricane-force winds arrive by tomorrow morning, about 8:00 a.m.

roughly. And you're rainfall is seven to nine inches, with a storm surge of four to six feet. But, really, the tornado warnings are going to be a big issue, all up and down areas of the south and southeast.

Here's our storm system. Again, seven miles an hour. It's moving slower than it was, but it dropped another five miles per hour at the top of the hour. We do believe it still will pick up in intensity.

Instead of going right from Cuba to Florida in that 90-mile stretch, it's going to take more of a path towards the outer areas of the Keys, then up in this direction. So instead of 90 miles over the warmest waters, we've got about 200 and maybe 20 miles. So -- or at least that much. So, again, you're -- we're doubling up the amount of time it's going to soak up this heat that's about 86, 87 degrees.

Now the eye. We pointed this out earlier. You have the eye. But now we've got a band of yellow, a secondary banding procedure.

This is the eye wall replacement cycle. That's happened numerous times in the last couple of days. It's the time where it's like taking a top and spinning it on a table. These storms can only sustain their energy for so long before they start to wobble, and that's the same thing with a hurricane.

So the outer bands form, and then they tighten back up and it gains its strength again. So that's why, most likely, we have lost some strength, and that 120-mile-per-hour winds will become greater. It will become a Category 4.

When we undergo this process, though, the hurricane-force winds expand outward. So they're going to start moving into the southern areas of the Keys.

Band after band have been coming in. We've seen, already, some waterspouts. We've had tornado warnings. The bands of rain, just like we saw with Harvey and parts of Houston, are not going to have that kind of historic rainfall, but that's what the bands do. It's called training, like one boxcar of a train after another.

Now, the wind forecast. And this is critical when it comes to power outages. Notice in in white, near our eye. This is over a hundred- mile-per-hour winds. Gusts are going to be 120, 130, 140 miles per hour as they slide northward, downing tens of thousands of trees. Tens and tens of thousands.

Florida, light and power. They are putting out a forecast, and here is one that we can show you as well as far as minor power outages. And when you get to the brighter colors, more widespread.

But Florida light and power, estimating 3.4 million will lose power. If that occurs, that will be the greatest power outage in U.S. history, and they believe the restoration of that power will be the greatest challenge in U.S. history when it comes to restoring power. FEMA is saying more than that, Anderson. They're going with 4 million

to five, but we can see easily people without power for weeks, maybe months, depending on getting the needs down into the areas.

If the arteries are clear, if the trees are out of the way. I mean, there is so much more to infrastructure. We're going to find, of course, the many dangerous elements that are a possible risk to loss of life and property. So this is a big one. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes. Without power for weeks, you know, a lot of elderly people in that area in Florida. Obviously, this is going to be a huge challenge --


COOPER: -- in the weeks ahead if that number of people are without power for that amount of time. Tom, we'll continue to check in with you.

I want to go to Juan Perez, who is the chief in Miami-Dade Police Department.

Chief, I appreciate you being with us. I can imagine how tired you and your officers are, working the kind of hours you have been working. As we see the wind already now in Miami picking up, those tropical force winds, what are the challenges? What do you want people to know?

JUAN PEREZ, DIRECTOR, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): Well, Anderson, it's -- you know, I hope, you know, that people don't take this lightly. You know, the anxiety level was the highest I've ever seen yet for any storm coming this way.

Of course, you know, we went through Andrew 25 years ago. And then with what we saw happen in Houston as that storm built up into the magnitude that it built up, 185 miles per hour, the anxiety level was, you know, skyrocketing.

Once it looked like it was shifting away from us, and it became a smaller storm -- or not smaller in size, but a weaker storm, I'm hoping that people still -- you know, they heed the warning, and they take this seriously.

[20:35:02] Stay inside because we will have Cat 1 or Cat 2, from what I'm being told so far, unless this thing shifts again. Cat 1 or Cat 2 hurricane winds hitting us at some point tomorrow between 4:00 and 8:00. It will start and it's going to last. It's going to be a long- lasting storm.

We will be out of it completely until Monday morning, around 5:00, 6:00 a.m. in the morning when the tropical storm winds subside. So it is going to be a long event for us. And I -- you know, our guys are going to be very tired. Our men and women in the police department are going to be -- they're out there already.

You know, they're sheltering up now because the winds have picked up, the gusts have picked up. And they're going to have to withstand the amount of hours. And we'll get back on our feet once it's over and go out there and make the assessment and help our community out.

COOPER: You know, because this storm did move west earlier in the day, I got the feeling, in talking to people in Miami, that some were kind of breathing something of a sigh of relief thinking, oh, it's not going to be as bad as we had thought. Obviously, people in the west and here in Fort Myers and Naples and Tampa had the exact opposite feeling.

Do you worry about that sense that, oh, maybe it won't be that bad in Miami and Miami-Dade? You know, obviously, a lot can change. We were talking about something that is going to be taking place all during the day tomorrow. We're still talking about hurricane-force winds and their storm surge and rainfall. There's a lot of variables here that maybe people aren't taking into account.

PEREZ (via telephone): Absolutely. And we continue to remind the people of that. We message them and continue to send it home so that they understand the magnitude of what this storm brings.

Every storm, every hurricane that we face, that have -- we have ever faced brings challenges and unexpected results. So we don't know what this is going to bring. There's still surge threats to a part of south Miami-Dade, an enormous threat that will threaten lives.

We still have the wind threat that will kill people because, already, midday, we had trees down, power lines down. And the winds were -- it was really -- you could walk outside and it looked like a windy day, and then all of a sudden you get a gust.

And those gusts -- and we probably had, already, a touch down of a minor tornado down in the south end of the county where two blocks of -- city blocks, we lost trees, gates, fences, and roof tiles. And that was early on.

So we've been messaging the people and hoping that they're listening. We do have, you know, upwards of 45,000 people in the shelters currently now. So we hope that, you know, that -- you know, that message really was spread out through the community, and they understand that they need -- actually, to the entire state, right?

That they understand that this is a very serious storm that's going to blanket the entire state, except for the panhandle probably, you know. Pretty much the whole peninsula part of the state will probably be blanketed by some part of this storm.

COOPER: Yes, it's that wide. Chief Perez, appreciate your efforts. We'll check in with you as well. We're going to take a quick break as we look at images out of Fort Lauderdale, and Delray Beach as well, as this storm approaches.


[20:42:33] COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. This storm is approaching tomorrow. The day so many people here have been planning for and dreading.

And certainly, all along the west coast today in Tampa, here in Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, in Naples, authorities have been trying to open more shelters because a whole bunch of people who thought that they could ride out the storm woke up today to a very different storm, a very different reality they were facing, and deciding, you know what, I got to try to get to a shelter. I got to get my dog, my cat, my loved ones to a shelter and do that fast.

And here in Fort Myers, bus service stopped at 3:00. If you called -- dialed 211, you were able perhaps, if you were lucky, to get information about a shuttle service to get you to a shelter if you're one of these last minute people who decided to evacuate. But that bus service stopped at 3:00.

Miguel Marquez has been in Punta Gorda, which was obviously so badly hit back in 2004 with Hurricane Charlie when that hurricane deviated just several degrees from the track it was supposed to be on and ended up really decimating Punta Gorda. Let's go to Miguel.

Miguel, you were at a shelter today. I think you -- if memory serves me, some people were actually turned away because they just had too many people inside. Is that right?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were turned away. So this is Charlotte County where Punta Gorda is, and they -- all the shelters here are jam-packed. They are turning people away now.

Unless they ran out of gas, they're elderly, they're disabled, they can't get anywhere else, then they will take them in, in emergency. But they have -- there are so many lowlands here, and they are expecting a 10 to 15-foot storm surge, basically a giant wave out of the ocean, that would sweep in, grab up everything, and sweep it back out to sea.

And there are so many areas that are in threat of flooding here that they only have a couple shelters in Charlotte County itself. So they have five other shelters in Sarasota. Just north here, Sarasota County. Four of those are still taking people in.

We're only beginning -- I think you guys are getting rain down there. We are only beginning to get the first stronger winds up here and just a little bit of rain coming down. But certainly, it's going to get worse and worst in the hours ahead.

Punta Gorda, no stranger to terrible storms. Hurricane Charlie almost leveled this place. The track that Irma is on right now is not too far off from where Charlie was -- Anderson.

[20:45:03] COOPER: And just in terms of storm surge, do you know what kind of expectations there are in the areas around Punta Gorda? And I think you said this, but just to reiterate, if tomorrow, people in Punta Gorda --


COOPER: -- and on the surrounding county want to get into a shelter, there are some shelters, you said, in the nearby county?

MARQUEZ: There are shelters that Charlotte County has arranged with Sarasota County where they're a little bit higher, so people can go up there and still get into. Four different shelters now are still open in Sarasota County for residents of Charlotte County.

The concern about the storm surge here is that all of Charlotte County, about 60 percent of it, the majority of it, is low land. So if that storm surge comes in, in that 10 to 15-foot range, it is going to sweep very far inland and then carry things out. There's going to be very few places that are safe in this county.

COOPER: All right, Miguel. Thanks for all you're doing. We'll continue to check in with you.

John Berman has been working long hours in Miami to bring us the latest.

John, we saw the rain earlier, already some tropical winds in that area. Where are you now and your guest?

BERMAN: Look, it's raining and it's not really letting up anymore. I mean, the bands have been coming. But now, when the heavy, heavy rain goes away, we're left with this, which is merely, you know, a medium range pelting rain.

The wind has started to swirl a little bit, and we have started to see lightning, Anderson, fairly regularly. And as you have noted, there are some tornado warnings for a big section of south Florida right now. That's something everyone is watching very, very carefully.

I'm joined here by David Halstead, making him stand out in the rain with me right now, the former director of emergency management for the state of Florida.

And, David, we are now, you know, after dark, into the night. In some cases, the wind is picking up, you know, over 40 miles an hour. What do people need to know right now tonight?

DAVID HALSTEAD, FORMER DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: In this particular case, evacuation in these conditions needs to be over. First of all, it's dangerous at night. You're going to start having debris falling. There's going to be water on the roadways.

So certainly, from Miami south, any thoughts of being on the roadway should be over. Now, on the west coast, again, caution should be used as, again, as we approach night. It's very dangerous trying to evacuate at night, but use your caution. Go tens of miles, not hundreds of miles. Be careful.

BERMAN: And as we've been standing out here, we've had some pretty powerful wind gusts. Gusts that had notably moved me more than they moved you. But people need to know that once the wind speeds reach over 40 miles an hour, it's a much different situation. HALSTEAD: It is. Your first responders and your 911 centers

everywhere are making decisions on the speed of the winds, on the conditions of the roads, whether or not they're going to respond anymore. I can almost guarantee you, down in the Keys, that has probably stopped or is about to stop.

Here in the Miami area, probably sometime throughout the night, law enforcement, fire, will not be able to respond, nor ambulance. The west coast, the same thing. Sometime probably later tonight, maybe early tomorrow morning, those 911 centers are going to say, listen, it is too dangerous for us to be on the road.

BERMAN: All right. The big concern right now with the storm as heavy as it's raining right now is still storm surge, the surf coming in and staying in. You were director of emergency management for the state of Florida. You hear 10 to 15 feet of storm surge in the west. How did you prepare for that? How do you prepare for that?

HALSTEAD: Well, as we talked about a little bit earlier, what we did is we put a lot of money into the radar detection for the entire geographic spaces around the entire state of Florida. Never been done before. We spent a lot of money, a lot of that was federal money, after the '04 and '05 storms.

So we identified all those spots we could take a 10-foot surge, a five-foot surge, even a 15-foot surge. Where do the people have to be? Where are the danger areas for that kind of surge? So we have those identified. Locals know where they are and quite frankly, they're moving people to the safe areas.

BERMAN: That's such an important note. David Halstead, thanks so much.

And, Anderson, that is one thing different here from storms in the past. The storm surge warnings, the technology, gives people those warnings in so much more specific, so much earlier. All we can do, Anderson, is hope that people are paying attention.

COOPER: Yes. And, of course, we're waiting later tonight. Tom Sater is going to bring us the latest update if they, in fact, and when they update the track of this storm, the speed of this storm, and its strength.

[20:49:28] We'll talk to more of our reporters coming up. We'll take a short break ahead.


COOPER: As we talked about earlier in the broadcast, a lot of people are already without power. But there are estimates that millions could be without power for possibly even weeks, depending on where this storm hits and with -- and what strength it hits and what kind of storm surge we're seeing.

And as we said, there are a lot of elderly residents. You're looking at some images from Port Charlotte. And this just gives you a potential hint of what could come down the road if power is lost for a lot of elderly people.

There was a senior living facility that's in a low-lying area in Port Charlotte. We were told about 35 residents of that facility were evacuated. They were brought to an old K-Mart, to an empty K-Mart, that, for some reason, people thought was an adequate place to bring them. Turned out there was no air-conditioning there and some of the windows were open.

[20:54:54] They had to wait there for about three hours with mattresses and some of their belongings before they were taken to -- I believe it was an elementary school. It just gives you a sense. That's only 35 people. That happened in Port Charlotte today. Those images are from our affiliate.

But you really get a sense of just the difficulties, the layer upon layer of difficulties. It's not just the immediate storm and what's going to happen over the next 12 to 24 hours, which is bad enough. It's about what's going to happen 48 hours after that and 72 hours after that and days and weeks after that.

Obviously, folks in Texas are still dealing with Harvey but this storm is, obviously, a very different storm. The size of it is going to affect everybody in Florida, in one way or another, and states beyond. So there's a lot to get to.

Our Kyung Lah is standing by in Miami Beach, which is obviously different from where John Berman was. John Berman was in Miami. Kyung Lah is in Miami Beach, much closer to the water.

Obviously, that's an area where storm surge is a huge concern, Kyung. And it's mandatory evacuation, though we all know that doesn't necessarily mean everybody has left. What's it like there now?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we are seeing is that, at least, at least, Anderson, just on this block, as we look up and down, the street is empty. So at least on this street, people appear to have, at least, come off the street if they have ignored the mandatory evacuation order.

There is a mandatory curfew in effect. And the police have said -- and we have seen officers still on the job driving around. They say that if you are walking the streets here in Miami Beach, you are subject to arrest. They are not kidding around.

They do not want people to be lulled into the idea that because the forecast is showing that the hurricane is pushing to the west -- sorry, just heard something crash there. But as it's pushing to the west, they're concerned that people will feel that they can come out onto the street.

But the storm surge here -- because this is such a low-lying barrier island, the concern is that the storm surge could rush in without -- you know, people not expecting it. So the police want to make sure that people are off the street.

Something we have seen, Anderson, deteriorating conditions. We continue to see higher winds, more rain, and we're not even in the thick of it yet. That's not expected until 6:00 a.m. here in Miami and the Miami Beach area.

One other thing, Anderson. You can see that we still have some power here. The city grid in Miami Beach is on, but we are starting to see at least one transformer blow. And we are seeing lightning in the area and flickering of lights -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. When the electricity goes out, a lot can change, and it changes quickly. Kyung, thanks very much. We're going to take a short break. More coverage ahead.


[21:00:00] COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage live from Fort Myers, Florida. You're looking also at scene on the right side of your screen there in Fort Lauderdale and, of course, the radar track of that storm. Expected to grow back into a Category 4 storm, taking a little bit longer to do that --