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Hurricane Irma Closing in on Florida; Irma Headed to Florida as a Category 3 Hurricane; Dire Warnings as Irma Approaches Florida; 6.5M People Ordered to Evacuate Southern Florida; Florida Keys Feeling Hurricane Wind Gusts; 70,000 People in Shelters Across Florida. Aired 11p-12mn ET

Aired September 9, 2017 - 23:00   ET


[23:00:00] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Michael Holmes coming to you Live from Orlando, Florida, as Hurricane Irma barrels towards this state.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Isa Soares coming to you Live from Miami where it is 11 o'clock on the East Coast. I want to get you the very latest on Hurricane Irma and its new path. Let's go to Tom Sater. Tom, what is the very latest? Where is Hurricane Irma right now?

TOM SATER, METEOROLOGIST AND WEATHER ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Well, it's taking its time Isa getting off the coast of Cuba. And there has been some major interaction. The only thing we can tell you as far as an update it's slowing down at 6 miles per hour now. And of course that means a lot because it continues now, which was west -- northwesterly, more northwest.

But it still has that northwesterly component, which means it's not due north. We thought by now this would have occurred so we can pinpoint better for everyone a landfall. Everybody just wants to know where landfall's going to be and what time. Cannot do that just yet. So we're going to rely on the model still in the National Hurricane Center.

Winds still at a 120 but it's been undergoing an eyewall replacement cycle, which it's been -- it's done several times, many, many times in the last several days but it's slowing down.

Notice on this picture here, you're going to see a little wobble at the very couple ends of the frames of the animation. That's part of the eyewall replacement cycle. Last year when Hurricane Matthew made its way up the coast it did the same framing in the Freeport, Bahamas.

And every time you go through one of these you have a new center of the eye and you need to re-plot the track. Let's take a look at the track. So, this is just coming out now. I'm looking at it for the first time as well.

All right, we have seen a little bit of a shift now to the west. Not by much, but I do believe that we had more of a movement like this. So, again, there is still a cone of uncertainty but it takes it directly over Tampa now which isn't far off that track.

If we go further to the north it still keeps Atlanta in the same position but drops it down a little bit more toward the south. Again, this is new to us. We're going to continue to monitor but it's still a good 90 miles per hour as you get into Monday morning.

So again, what we're seeing here, and we're going to continue to monitor this and we'll kind of do a little research and study it a little bit more for the next half hour but not a big change.

One change they have done is they've extended now parts of the storm surge watch. And you can see the amounts. What we're seeing in Key West is critical right now. And again, we had a wind gust earlier at hurricane strength at 74 miles per hours, the first gust at hurricane strength.

But we are going to watch of course the storm surge. One, I show you the winds here. And again, you can see they're -- they're still calming (ph). But we're getting some pretty good wind, good wind gust at 38 at West Palm. I mean that's enough to down some branches, even power lines, 35 gusting in Miami.

Then you're getting 56 now in Marathon. And there's 66 in Key West. So, it's going to ebb and flow when it comes to the winds. But I want to break this down for you. When we take a look at the bright light, this is more of where our eye is coming in.

Moving into Key West overnight by dawn tomorrow we still expect it to make its way and these models will change somewhat in the next couple hours at 3:00 p.m. moving in toward Naples. So it takes its time.

Even towards Tampa we're looking at about maybe 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. in the morning. And you can still see the circulation.

Concerns are going to be on the East Coast of still storm surge coming around these large feeder bands coming in; little concerned about Jacksonville because some of the rainfall totals want to pick up in this area. And we know with Matthew last year they have significant flooding in St. Johns.

Now, as we take a look at the extended winds northward we're going to have some downed trees. I mean we could see tens and tens of thousands of downed trees. And again, it's going to be significant in the Southeastern U.S. up into Georgia and parts of Alabama and South Carolina because it's hearty pine, it's pine country and they have very weak root systems.

And there's going to be many of them knocking out power to neighborhoods and of course blocking trees. When you look at these wind gusts and what the extent could be, these are the peak. I've got to tell you now, and it's kind of hard, Michael, to talk about this.

But once you start to receive hurricane-forced winds, whether it's a gust or a wind and I know this sounds frightening but we know from past experiences you want to get in the interior part of your house, obviously, like a tornado watch or warning. You want to stay away from windows.

But they say once you start getting these winds make sure your shoes are on. Sleep with them on if you have to. If you have motorcycle helmet, a bicycle helmet, anything like that go ahead and put it on. And if you have children then do that as well.

Also fill up bathtubs if you can, any kind of sink, any buckets, you're going to need the water if you lose power. If you have a propane tank, you just don't want to leave it outside, put it in the garage; you don't want it in the interior part of your house if you want any kind of a leak.

But also, and this is hard, but we saw this too with Harvey. [23:05:00] Get an ax, or make sure you have a chainsaw, even a hammer, what you can to take it up in the attic if you need to escape the waters and get to the roof. Many people get to their attic and they don't know how to break through. And those are hard things to think about. But it needs to be done.

Again, with the winds like now and if we take a look at the radar, a slow movement, only a few miles per hour I mean under from what it was just in the last hourly update and we're going to continue to have these updates every hour now.

National Hurricane Center is putting these out every hour. Tornado watch, we had a few of them. But again, moving now northwest instead of west-northwest. That's the beginning of that turn northward. But until that happens we're really not going to have a good idea of exactly where landfall will be.

That's why the National Hurricane Center has got the track for us with a cone of uncertainty, the storm surge and of course the amounts of rain we'll continue to monitor for you. Isa, again, this is beginning. We had our first gust. And that means everything right now, the next couple of days, it's, you know, full press ahead for everybody.

SOARES: And Tom, great advice you're giving to all our viewers. But let me ask you this. I mean one person was saying to me, why is it taking so long? People are still feeling the jitters but they want this to get this over and done with. Explain to our viewers why it's taking so long for Hurricane Irma to finally make landfall?

SATER: Well, I think part of the problem was why have we been seeing this westerly shift? High pressure in the Bermuda right now has really been kind of a stronghold. We thought for sure that at some point that area high pressure that's in the Atlantic would break down or it would slide eastward, so our westerly movement wasn't such a big deal and maybe we would see it move north.

But in the northeastern U.S., a trough was coming down but it didn't turn out to be very strong so it's not lifting it up northward like we would expect it. But again, we've said this all week, until that turn to the north happens we won't know exactly where landfall is.

So if again, every hurricane has its different characteristics and its different path this one's just unfolding before our eyes, not exactly the way we would like it. There is no best case scenario here, Isa.

SOARES: Yeah, absolutely. Tom Sater, we'll touch base with you throughout the hour for all the latest updates. Thanks very much Tom. And Michael, as Tom was saying, you know we've got the shift now going slightly northwest.

And for people here in Miami, you know, what -- what we've heard from the Governor of Florida is don't be complacent, just because it shifted

somewhat don't go back to your homes. Wait for authorities to tell you when you've been given the all clear so, very, very important for people to remain in those shelters until they've been giving the green light Michael.

HOLMES: Yeah, and indeed and of course the storm being so big I mean it's as big as the State of Florida wherever you are in the state, you are going to be impacted. Isa, thanks so much. We'll check in with you a little bit later.

And we saw, as Tom was indicating there, that track headed towards the north of the state, heading up towards Tampa, Florida. And we have the Mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn on the line joining us.

You're pretty much in the line of sight of Irma. You know, what preparations have been taken to make people as ready as they can be, and the city ready? Mayor Buckhorn, you can hear me?

We seem to have lost Mayor Bob Buckhorn there. Unfortunately, we're going to try to get him back though. Tampa, very much Isa Soares in the line of. And one of the things that is worrying meteorologists is if the eye of the storm stays off the coast on the west side of the peninsula there, the storm surge is going to be that much worse.

And Tampa is a city that is very susceptible to a storm surge. So we'll try to get the Mayor back in a little while. Isa? Oh, I think -- I think we have the Mayor now. Isa, stand by.

SOARES: Absolutely. What we've been seeing in the ...

HOLMES: Bob Buckhorn, we've got you back on the line now, I'm told. Got the communication set. You are in the line of this storm. What is your big concern? What preparations have you made?

MAYOR BOB BUCKHORN, TAMPA, FLORIDA: Well, we train for this all year round. We recognize that living in Florida this is always a risk. You know, we've been lucky because we haven't taken a direct hit in over 90 years.

So we really have been blessed. But we also recognize that our day was going to come. And it looks like our day has come. Fortunately, we've got a whole city that has trained for this. Now we are in the execution phase and we got a lot of people that are counting on us to get up and do our jobs tomorrow.

HOLMES: You know there has been a lot of sort of talk, speculation, but also reporting that Tampa in particular is vulnerable to this sort of storm, to a hurricane [23:10:00] and to the storm surge. So many houses close to water, of course, and their proximity to the lower levels. What about the storm surge? That must be your big concern, I imagine.

BUCKHORN: It is, indeed. It is the issue that we worry about the most. It is what we fear the most. I mean we're going to get through the winds. We'll get through the rain depending on what this level of surge is. But more importantly, the surge will occur tomorrow at the same time we have a high tide.

So that compounds the problem. So for our low-lying areas, which happen to be very close to downtown, those areas that tend to hold lot of water in rainstorms anyway because they are low-lying, my house, for example, we've evacuated.

I'm in Flood Zone Level A. Those are the areas that I fear for the most and potentially would experience that surge moving in early on Monday morning.

HOLMES: Well, tell us a little bit about that. I mean, everybody hopes that, you know, Irma is a little bit kinder to Tampa than other places because of that vulnerability. Tell us, what is the worst case scenario? What if the storm does the worst thing and you do get that surge? How big will it be? How much of the city could be impacted?

BUCKHORN: Well, certainly all of downtown would be impacted. All of the areas along the water front which tend to be our more affluent areas would be impacted.

It would be pretty devastating. There would be a lot of trees down. There would be a lot of standing water. There would be power disruptions. It would take a number of days to get the power hooked up, if not weeks.

So, I think you would see Tampa in a predicament, not that we wouldn't emerge from it but it would be a tough, tough couple weeks, I think.

HOLMES: Tell us about shelters, preparations. Are the shelters full? Are there enough shelters? Have people been going there?

BUCKHORN: Well, they have been going there, for sure. And obviously with a storm of this magnitude there are never enough shelters. This storm, as you know, took a jog to the west only two or three days ago.

We had anticipated going to help our friends in Miami, not being the recipient of these hurricane-forced winds. So there were a lot of people, I would suspect, that didn't think this storm was going to hit them, that thought Tampa was safe, that this was going to be a challenge for the East Coast.

And so their preparations were probably delayed. The shelters are filling up. They're filling up quickly. There is still some availability. I would imagine some point tomorrow that will end as well.

But here's what people need to know. You don't have to travel necessarily to a shelter and you don't have to travel to Georgia. All you have to do is get out of Flood Zone A. Just that B, C, D, and E, it could be a few blocks away, it could be few miles away, all you need to do is get to higher ground, get to a safe place, stay with a friend. It's not necessary that you completely pack up and move somewhere else.

HOLMES: Yeah, our thoughts and prayers are with you there in Tampa. As you say, wasn't expected to be this much of a threat to your city. And hopefully it won't be as bad as it could be. Mayor Bob Buckhorn thanks so much for being with us.

And Isa, that vulnerability for the City of Tampa, which is a large city of course here in Florida a real worry. For years now, they've been saying that Tampa could be vulnerable to precisely this kind of storm.


HOLMES: So, this is really a worst case scenario for them.

SOARES: Absolutely. I mean, there are 385 shelters along the new path the hurricane has taken. And it seems from what officials have been telling is that many of the people along that route Michael they'd already taken precautions before we saw Hurricane Irma shift slightly west.

So, I mean that is one positive sign at least that people are heeding those warning. Let's get the very latest from our Derek Van Dam. And Derek, you know, the winds have started to pick up here in Miami. Nothing like we have seen in the last 48 hours or so.

And the rain comes and goes. It changes so quickly. It's really hard to keep on top of it. And it's very deceptive, isn't it?

DEREK VAN DAM, WEATHER ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Yeah, absolutely Isa. I would believe that for the next 10 to 15 minutes weather is really going to intensify here and where you are located because we have one of the outer rainbands coming in again just checking on the local radar.

I am in Miami Beach. We're about one block away from the water in a safe location, about four stories high. We have seen an incredible amount of wind over the past few hours.

We've seen transformers blowing in the distance, obviously, trees or tree limbs coming down and falling on some of the electrical wires. We had flickering of our own electricity here. Fortunately we have generators.

[23:15:00] There is a mandatory evacuation in place for this particular location and a mandatory curfew. So, anyone who decided to stay, obviously against their better judgment, they are actually prone to being arrested. So, if you're found on the streets tonight you could potentially be arrested by police.

Obviously the roads are completely desolate. It looks like a Ghost town right now. I managed to speak to the Mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, earlier today. And he told me that fire and police officials are still on high alert regardless of that westerly track in the Irma's path.

That doesn't mean that Miami-Dade County is out of the clear. So, do not let your guard down. And in fact, we expect the worst of the conditions to really occur by first light tomorrow morning, so roughly about 6:00 a.m.

By the way, already 109,000 people without electricity in Miami-Dade alone. In the entire State of Florida, 160,000 people without electricity. There have been rescue attempts from an individual who was stuck in an elevator.

Fire and police personnel have still been responding to phone calls and service requests, lots of them being tripped fire alarms across some of the buildings here. But as soon as the winds become sustained at 40 miles or higher, Isa, they're going to start plucking those personnel from the road and anyone who stayed here is on their own. Isa?

SOARES: Yeah, yeah. And that curfew has been set in place from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. for a reason. It's for your safety. That's what officials are saying.

VAN DAM: Yeah.

SOARES: So it's important that you abide by those warnings and heed those warnings. Derek Van Dam, thank you very much. I'm going to toss back now to Michael Holmes. Michael?

HOLMES: Isa Soares there in Miami. Thanks so much. We'll check in with you shortly. Meanwhile, we're going to take a short break. When we come back, more on our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma. As the storm's path shifts to the west and the north, Naples, Florida, preparing for the worst of it. We'll be live with the City's Mayor when we come back.


SOARES: A very warm welcome back. I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando, Florida. This is CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. And Floridians, of course, are facing a long and stressful night ahead as Hurricane Irma approaches the State from the south.

The storm once a powerful Category 5 has weakened a little to a Category 3 but it is expected to strengthen once again as it moves into open water between Florida and Cuba. That water is warm. And that feeds a storm like Irma.

It is so large that it's already whipping the Florida Keys with hurricane-forced winds and pounding surge. The track shifting west during the day and that sent many residents along Florida's Gold Coast racing to emergency shelters; officials warning that Irma is likely to bring potentially lethal flooding along the coast and widespread power outages. Isa?

SOARES: Thanks very much Michael. Like you said, it's not just shifting west as we heard the last 20 minutes from Tom Sater. It's shifting northwest. And for many people that shift that we've seen in the last six hours or so has caught many people by surprise.

Now, the City of Naples is in the eye of the storm. That's where we find our Ed Lavandera. Ed, from what you've seen on the ground, have people been heeding those warnings? Have people been able to seek shelter?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, from what we have seen today and we've been here since early this morning in the City Of Naples. I've had a chance to talk with the Mayor of the City who says he believes that many people heeded the warnings to evacuate actually several days ago and started leaving the area even when Hurricane Irma was just threatening all of South Florida, it's exact location and ending location wasn't quite known. And many people heeding those warnings then and taking off.

So that is a good sign as we drove around throughout the city today, essentially just as the Mayor has described it, as a Ghost town. There are still a number of people who have chosen to stay behind. In fact, we also traveled about a 30-minute drive south of here to Marco Island, a very popular tourist destination where about 16,000 people live full-time.

We spoke with the Police Chief there this evening. He believes that most of the people that were on the island have evacuated as well but that there still are a number of people on the island who chose to stay back; a lot of high-rise condominiums and that sort of thing on those -- on that particular island.

So, as you can see here this evening, just a slight drizzle at times. Occasionally the rain picks up a little bit. We're still not really feeling the effects of what we know is on its way to this part of Southwest Florida. So, all eyes on that.

But the emergency officials we've spoken with say they are ready for this landfall and ready to answer any calls for help and distress after the storm passes. But they feel that they have done everything they could have done to get people into safe places before this storm makes landfall. Isa?

SOARES: And Ed, I know you said you spoke to the Mayor. What was the Mayor's biggest concern?

LAVANDERA: It's the storm surge. This is an area that is expecting anywhere between 10 to 15 feet of storm surge. There is a mandatory evacuation throughout all of the City of Naples and throughout the County here where there's some 300,000 people that live in these areas.

Those coastal areas along the Western edges of the County and the City, these are areas that are going to be of great concern here as that storm surge pushes inland. The exact extent of that damage and how much of that flooding will reach, you know, we don't exactly know but everyone here preparing for anywhere between 10 and 15 foot of storm surge.

[23:25:00] And in talking to the Mayor, who was here during Hurricane Wilma back in 2005, that and when I asked him, it was like you know, what are the areas of town that concern you the most? He said, it's really kind of hard for us to pinpoint exactly what is the concern. We've never dealt with this kind of storm surge.

SOARES: Thanks very much for that. Ed Lavandera, joining us out from the City of Naples. And Michael, you know, that really helps put in perspective. They're expecting between 10 to 15 feet until when it comes to the storm surge. That is a staggering amount.

HOLMES: It is hard to imagine, isn't it, what that might look like on the ground? Isa, thanks a lot. We'll check in with you in a minute. Bill Barnett is actually the Mayor of Naples, Florida.

He's joining us now on the phone. At, you know, 10 to 15 feet of storm surge, I mean, you must be extremely concerned about your city?

MAYOR BILL BARNETT, NAPLES, FLORIDA: Yes, Michael, I am. And as you said a minute ago, it is very, very hard to imagine. And I'm hoping that the forecast is wrong.

HOLMES: Well, what about preparations? What can you do? I mean there's nothing you can do about a storm surge if it's as bad as they predict it could be. But what preparations have you made? Obviously human life is the priority. What is happening there?

BARNETT: Well, you know, as what's said, people started evacuating here very early in the week. They took this storm very seriously, just the threat. And I think -- I think that Harvey had something to do with that, with the awareness and a realization that this could happen to us.

I have said that with Wilma it was -- there was a very, very cavalier attitude. People were on the beach the day that Wilma was coming. They kind of didn't believe it was going to happen. And I have just seen, you know, and here we are years later.

But this here's done (ph) this has been taken seriously. Our emergency first responders, police, fire, are ready. We have made plans both for prior to the storm, and during the storm of course there won't be any -- there won't be any emergency services once the winds retain -- attain tropical force and of course the aftermath, which of course which nobody really knows what's going to be right now. But we do have a plan.

HOLMES: Yeah. Yeah, and something else you can't imagine, what it might look like afterwards. You make a really good point, Mr. Mayor, about complacency that has happened in the past when perhaps a hurricane has not lived up your expectations and then next time around people get a bit lazy about acting on their own safety. That's not the case here. A lot of people I think something like 6.5 million Floridians in a state of 20 million have been under evacuation orders. You say a lot of people in your area, in Naples, have heeded that.

Like everywhere else though, there are those who are saying they're going to ride it out, they're going to stay put. What is your message to them, particularly as you say, first responders, during the height of the storm, they're not coming?

BARNETT: Well, you know, it has been said time and time again. I've said it. Others have said it that you're just not going to get a response. And, you know, there are die-hards out there that just absolutely want to ride it out.

So, you know, hopefully they stay in a secure place or in an interior room and weather it out. We've done everything that we possibly can.

HOLMES: Mayor Bill Barnett from Naples, Florida. Thank you so much for your time. Good luck with the storm on its way. We do appreciate it. All right coming up here on the program our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma continues.

We will talk to the National Hurricane Center about how strong this monster storm is and where it is right now and where it might be headed. That's coming up.


[23:32:55] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes coming to you live in Orlando, Florida. Isa Soares is in Miami.

Isa, I got to tell you here in Orlando the wind is picking up a little bit. It's very dry. It's not even raining. Twenty-four hours from now the storm is meant to be having a big impact here. Tell us about Miami.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's so deceptive, isn't it? This weather. You know it's -- we started to see it (INAUDIBLE) somewhat.

It's only just now starting to feel the rain. But the wind, I've just felt the wind picking up part substantially and also howling.

We can already hear that sound from the wind. Let's find out how the storm is moving. We know it move -- shifted somewhat northwest.

Tom Sater quote keeping a very close eye on Hurricane Irma. And Tom, what is the very latest?

TOM SATER, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: OK, Isa, we've been able to kind of take a step back and look at the latest advisory. Because it happened -- all of us got to watch it together when the graphics came up.

But it's about what I expected. There was now a western shift in that track. But let's break it down. Because this is critical for a lot of folks here.

And a couple of miles here and there means everything. First of all, with the infrared imagery what you want to see or not is the brighter colors, it's higher colder cloud tops.

And when you start to see more of a symmetrical look after it was interacting with the land in Cuba. We are starting to see some strength. Although, we're still at 120 miles per hour.

But now that the eye is going through an eye wall replacement cycle. It's going to most likely start to increase in strength somewhat. Now it's a category three.

The National Hurricane Center now wants to keep it as a three. Here in the CNN World Weather Center we're not so sure on that because not only do you not have just 90 miles, all right between in the straits from Cuba to Florida.

You've got really now a distance that should take this now on a farther track up toward Sarasota. This is going to be a lot like last year when Hurricane Matthew hugged the coast on the east coast.

When it came through freeport in the Bahamas, there was a wobble when it underwent one of these eye wall replacement cycles. And it just stayed off the coast by about 30 miles.

When it's on the coast it's catastrophic damage. But because it stayed off last year Matthew was light to moderate. But it did a lot of damage on A1A.

Flooding up and down the coast even in Jacksonville, they'll see that again with this one even though it's on the other coast.

And then we had historic flooding in the Carolinas that killed about 24. But here, let's break this down. No longer is it west northwest. It's northwest.

So again, it still has that component to move more to the west. I still believe when we break this down and we take look at the new track this is what we're thinking right now.

Instead of the 90 miles as mentioned the system is going to travel about 280. So, it moves from the center, moves probably close to Naples and somewhere in between Fort Myers and Tampa we're looking at a landfall.

But it's hard to predict the landfall because like Matthew last year (INAUDIBLE) the coast. It only takes one little wobble here or there to give us a landfall.

It could be now that we're seeing a shift in the Tampa area of about 15 or 20 miles. Which actually is the worst news for Tampa. Because it puts you in the eye band of the strongest winds.

It'll give you the surge up into the bay most likely. Even if it's to the north, we're going to be looking at a return flow. So again, that's the concern.

Consensus is generally maybe around Sarasota, Florida. Possible landfall. Bradenton. All right, that's Manatee County. Anna Maria Island is going to be smacked with this as well.

And it's still as I mentioned at the top of the hour I noticed there's a little bit of a shift from Atlanta which may keep them out of some of the strongest winds but they're still in the worst quadrant.

But by that time, we'll start to see the storm lose some strength. After that when it moves up toward Tennessee the model look like Harvey, just entering (ph) all over the place.

Not having a steering current. And that was kind of frightening thinking, OK, here we go with something that's going to hang around for a while and drop copious amounts of rain.

But by then, we think it's going to be dried up and it's not going to have the amount of rainfall that Harvey has. It doesn't have that water source.

So maybe two to four inches. But we've got to get back and take a look at this path. Because this means everything. And it's critical now for the entire West Coast and everyone who lives in that north front right quadrant.

Everyone in this north right quadrant, which is the center of the entire state. And even into Georgia which we talked about with the pine trees and the broad pine area with the down trees there.

Still looking at Florida and light calling for 3.4 million to lose power. FEMA is going closer to five. But even at 3.4 million losing power, that is going to be the greatest power outage in history.

And then restoring that power they believe will be the greatest restoration of power ever taking place in the U.S.

[23:37:54] The eye is interesting. We're still seeing some wobbling.

But notice the bright yellow banding outside the eye. When that forms and circulates better, when it gets away from the coastline it will tighten up and we should see an increase.

So even if it stays at a category three that's still a major hurricane. If it gets closer to a four, you're not going to know much in a way difference here.

We're still going to have incredible storm surge. We still have a course that tornado watch it's in place. This will be extended northward. It's a mess. We're going to hit with this.

But again, we're not sure of landfall. Naples could get hit and then we're thinking somewhere in between Fort Myers and up toward the Tampa area.

So again, here is Sarasota. If this system moves directly up this area this is a big, big concern because the track is now about 20 miles shifted, 15 to 20 Tampa Bay.

Wish the news was better. But we're going to continue to watch this. And these things change. Isa, we're going to continue to monitor that.

But it's been a westerly movement the last couple of days which has been kind of shocking since everybody went from the East to the West Coast.

SOARES: Absolutely. But it is important of course regardless of where you are, either side do not be complacent. Tom Sater, thank you very much for giving us the very detail of Hurricane Irma. Michael, back to you.

HOLMES: Isa, thanks so much. Let's talk more about that. The all- important track. I'm joined from Miami by Ed Rappaport. He is the acting director of the National Hurricane Center.

It's great to have you on and your expertise. I want, if you can, I mean, you heard Tom Sater there, you know what the track is. What is your big concern about this latest model and where we think it is headed?

ED RAPPAPORT, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, the forecast we're talking about is the one that comes out of the National Hurricane Center rather than any particular model.

There are dozens of models but the forecasters here put together the best forecast that they can. The shift makes some difference particularly for where the strongest winds are.

But the strong surge is going to occur no matter what whether you have a wobble to the left or to the right. And along the West Coast it's not going to be ahead of the storm.

Because the winds blow this way around the storm center and that's pushing the air from the land to the sea. There won't be a storm surge during this time.

It's after the center passes to the north that there will be a storm surge. So, when the center gets up in here in the (INAUDIBLE) is like this.

That's when you get the highest storm surge is after the center passes on the West Coast. So, here's where we could expect the 10 to 15-foot surge potentially and then as much as five to eight feet in the Tampa area.

HOLMES: I'm told that the -- you know, the closest comparison that might be made here is Hurricane Charlie back in 2004. What have we learned from that that could apply here in terms of impact?

RAPPAPORT: Not much. It's not at all like Hurricane Charlie. The intensity is maybe not too far off. But Charlie was a very small storm. Irma is moderate to large in size -- is moderate to large in size. And what that means is a larger storm surge, a deeper storm surge,

even for the same amount of wind. So, we're going to get storm surge over much of the area that we pointed out just a minute ago.

I've got behind our examples of what storm surge looks like and the kind of damage that can occur. In this particular case, the storm surge will be up the entire West Coast of Florida and the Florida Keys.

Whereas there was a very small and limited storm surge for Charlie.

HOLMES: Yes, that's interesting. You know, we talked to the Mayor of both Naples and Tampa, who are extremely concerned, understandably, about storm surge.

With the eye staying to the west of those cities, that makes it worse, right? Just tell people about how that works.

RAPPAPORT: Well, let's take a look. This is a graphic that shows where we have storm surge warnings. Much of Florida as well as the southeastern part of the country.

And the storm surge again is built by the winds moving onshore, pushing the water ashore. And once the center passes that particular area that's when we're going to get that strong storm surge onshore because the winds are pushing it that way.

And at this point, we're expecting even if the center moves inland from Tampa or out -- or to the west of Tampa once it gets to the north there will be this onshore flow building the surge through Tampa Bay.

HOLMES: Well, that's a real worry, isn't it? Ed Rapoport thanks so much. Appreciate having you on and your expertise. Thanks.

RAPPAPORT: Thank you.

HOLMES: All right. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, Florida officials say millions of people in Irma's way could be without electricity for days and possibly weeks.

We'll show you why they are expecting a long recovery after this storm hits. We'll be right back.


[23:45:45] HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. U.S. officials are warning how dangerous this storm will be when it hits Florida in the next few hours.

In Key West, Hurricane Irma already shaking the palm trees there as intense winds whipped through more than 6.5 million people have been ordered to evacuate the southern part of the state.

Just think about that. 6.5 million people in a state of 20 million. Authorities are also expecting even more power outages lasting several days, possibly even weeks. So far, about 190,000 customers have lost electricity. That number

went up from 160,000 just in the last hour or so and it could swell into millions of people when the storm really makes its impact.

Miguel Marquez joins us now live from Punta Gorda on Florida's West Coast. Tell us my friend, what is it like there at the moment? I know it's been getting worse.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're just starting to get the very first of the rain and the wind of Irma. And it's still hundreds of miles away.

It's been raining fairly steadily. I mean, it is interesting. You would think it was just sort of a pleasant summer rain except for the fact that in the next 24 hours we are going to get deluged with both wind and rain.

Punta Gorda very, very sensitive to hurricanes. Charlie came through here 13 years ago and nearly leveled the town. I heard the meteorologist you were speaking to earlier saying Charlie was a relatively small storm.

Well, it did major, major damage in this town. And the path that Irma is on is not unlike that of Charlie. It's just out to the west of Punta Gorda, it's -- which means Punta Gorda will be and this county of Charlotte will be on that dirty side of the eye wall where the storm surge is expected to bad.

They are expecting here 10, perhaps 15 feet of storm surge. Basically, a giant wave coming in off the ocean that rapidly goes in on land and then washes out.

Charlotte County a pretty low county about 60 percent of it is in the evacuation area right now. They only have three shelters.

It's so low they only have three shelters they are able to put in here. And they are all packed to the gills tonight. They have no more room at the shelters in Charlotte County.

They have five that they have established in the county north of here so if people need to get to shelter there are shelters open in Sarasota County just north of here.

For the most part, it seems that people have heard those warnings and are taking shelter or staying in their homes. The town here, a complete ghost town. Michael?

HOLMES: Miguel Marquez in Punta Gorda. Thanks so much. We'll check in with you later. Appreciate that. We're going to --


HOLMES: -- take a short break. When we come back, Hurricane Irma hasn't struck Florida yet officially but charities are already sending relief and supplies in anticipation.

After the break, we'll talk to the spokesman for the American Red Cross. We'll be right back.


[23:52:47] SOARES: Welcome back. I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami. You are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma.

You're seeing Miami, how quickly the weather changes, the rain is starting to fall down on us. The wind is also picking up.

This of course as we have heard in the last 50 minutes from our Tom Sater, our meteorologist saying that Hurricane Irma is now a category three.

He believes that perhaps that may change yet again. Shifting west northwest by roughly 15 miles or so. And what officials are saying, well, don't be complacent whether in the east whether in the west.

This is going to be huge. Do not leave your shelter. Stay safe. And wait for authorities to give you the green light before you return to your homes.

Let's get more now on how some of these NGOs on the ground how they're preparing for Hurricane Irma. I'm joined now on the line by Craig Cooper from American Red Cross.

Craig, thank you very much. A very good evening to you. Thanks very much for joining us. Give us a sense --


SOARES: -- of the preparations that you've have -- you have under way for Hurricane Irma? A very good evening to you.

COOPER: Thank you. Fortunately, we've had a fair amount of notice. Unlike Harvey which was a tremendous surprise and, you know, required us to very, very quickly.

The Red Cross has been working for well over a week putting supplies and people into place in safe places so that we could deploy them into the disaster zones after the storm has passed.

There are already over 1,000 Red Cross volunteers and disaster responders spread out across Florida. We have shelters on the East coast, shelters on the West Coast.

Of course, as the storm track pushed to the west, we again (ph), to mount up more shelters and evacuation centers over on the West Coast.

I'm coming to you from Miami where there -- where somewhere in the neighborhood of 48,000. Actually, this is a state-wide number, 48,000 people were at 249 shelters here in Florida last night.

SOARES: And I know looking at your website that you have a safe and well site. Talk us through how that works, Craig. COOPER: Well, obviously in the aftermath of a storm when

communications are down, very often cell service is gone, electricity is gone.

Families want to know that their loved ones are okay in the disaster zones. The Red Cross website which is very simple. It's

If you go to that website, you as a concerned person outside the disaster zone can log in, register your information and say, I'm looking for so and so.

If you are a person in the disaster zone and you do have access to the web, you can register your information there and say, I am safe and well. This is where I am.

So, it's a very robust site. It's been used by thousands and thousands of people now for several years. We're very proud of the service that it provides.

FEMA recommends it as well. And it's a very good site.

SOARES: Craig Cooper, appreciate you taking the time to us. We wish you the very best of luck as well as everyone working in the American Red Cross.

And do keep in touch with us and see how you are doing. And as, Craig, was saying, you know, there is just so much for everyone to bear in mind, not just the wind, not just the storm surge, but also now hurricane national weather service said 36 million people now under hurricane watch.

So, very important to keep all these elements in your mind before you make those decisions of where you're going to shelter.

Of course, we'll have much more on our continuing coverage right here from Miami. I'm Isa Soares.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes, live in Orlando. That's all we have this hour. We will be right back with more of our coverage of Hurricane Irma. Do stay with us.


HOLMES: Hello. And welcome to our viewers in the --