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Florida Braces for Direct Hit from Cat 5 Irma. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired September 9, 2017 - 03:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Welcome back everyone to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isa Soares in Miami, where Hurricane Irma is expected to make landfall in less than 24 hours. As you can see, its presence is already being felt.

HOLMES: And we will check in with you in a little while, Isa.

Meanwhile, we are just hours away from witnessing one of the most frightening Atlantic storms ever, recorded making landfall in the U.S., now back up to a category 5 with 160 mile per hour sustained winds, Hurricane Irma delivering a glancing below to Cuba, not expected to weaken, though, before slamming into the Florida Keys early on Sunday.

The National Hurricane Center warns that the storm there might not be survivable. To give you a sense of what is coming, Irma is larger than the entire state of Florida. State and federal officials warning there is no safe place to stay, particularly around the Keys area.

It has prompted a massive evacuation. For days, cars and trucks streaming north along the state's main highway. At least 24 deaths have been confirmed since the storm first hit the eastern Caribbean.

This is how it looked a couple of days ago as Irma ripped into the British Virgin Islands. Let's have a look at those images there. There's no reason to think it will be any less intense when it hits Florida.

Take a look at some of the aftermath, hour after hour of punishing wind, leaving behind a surreal landscape, incredible images there. Whatever those hillside structures were, they are gone, reduced to splinters.

Let's get the latest on the storm's strength and position. Meteorologist Karen Maginnis joining us from Atlanta with that.

It's very much on its way, Karen, to Florida. What can they expect?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Already we're picking up some of the outer bands that have already made its way onshore around Miami. We saw Isa just getting battered for a while, lots of lightning and pummeling rainfall, a little bit of a break now before the next band of showers could produce another round of heavy rainfall, some gusty winds and pretty frequent lightning.

What I have seen, some of the reporting stations around South Florida, has really been an uptick in the wind. The wind gusting between 25 and close to 40 miles per hour.

This is a forecast radar of what we anticipate. Here we go from 7:00 pm on Saturday. Now it looks like the time of landfall has been adjusted a little bit. Maybe on Sunday about midday or early afternoon.

But long before landfall occurs, which means that the eye crosses the coast, you are going to be battered by tropical storm force winds, you being South Florida, Broward, Dade, Collier, Monroe, Charlotte, Lee Counties and then extending on up toward central sections into Pinellas and Sarasota, Hillsborough County and into also a lot of the counties right around Lakeland, Florida, is what I'm trying to say.

So we've got 20 million-plus people that live throughout the state of Florida. Pretty much, unless you live on this extreme western edge of the Panhandle, everybody is going to be affected by Irma.

And what Michael said earlier about Irma is so frightening because we don't know exactly what's going to happen. The computer models can tell us all kinds of information. And we know what hurricanes do.

But to the extent that we know it's slowed down a little bit. It was just barreling along at about 16 miles an hour, now it's slowed down a little bit more to 12 miles an hour. It's frightening to think this may slow down even more.

Look at the powerful rainfall totals, up and down the Florida Peninsula, from Orlando to Tampa, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, just all these areas could expect maybe 10 to 20 inches of rainfall and power outages.

With some of these bands that move onshore with the lightning, with the gusty winds, some people may lose power temporarily but look as we go through time, Sunday into Monday morning and there you see the orange and the red, all the way from Sarasota to Fort Myers to Naples --

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MAGINNIS: -- to Fort Lauderdale to Miami, Jupiter Beach, into West Palm Beach, widespread power outages.

If you haven't left, consider that you would have difficulty getting food, you would have difficulty getting gas to operate anything, that you might lose power, that the roads and the infrastructure is going to be affected.

There were so many things, such a long list of things that would be impacted in your life that would lead one to believe that it would be better to just get away. I still believe that wholeheartedly. One, because it's still a category 5 hurricane with the winds at hurricane strength through Key West, Florida, up toward Dade, Broward County, Collier County, Monroe, Sunday afternoon, but even before then, those bands and those heavy rain bands expected to move onshore.

And then we go into Sunday about 8:00 pm, travels a little further to the north. Now expect there to be weakening but don't be fooled by that because if it slows down, you'll get pummeled with even more rainfall.

All the way up to Jacksonville, the Okefenokee Swamp; Tallahassee; Albany, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Savannah and Macon and probably eventually Augusta, Georgia, and Atlanta.

So, so many people with so much in the way of population that could be impacted as we go into Monday and we've been talking about this storm now for a week.

And, Isa, we'll have more than 20 million people impacted as we go into the next 48, 72, 96 hours. Back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Before I let you go, Karen, you know, I was thinking about covering Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 up in the northeast of the country and seeing along those barrier islands the enormous damage done, not necessarily by the wind and the rain but by the storm surge as it came ashore.

We literally saw entire houses that had been picked up off their foundations and dumped in the middle of streets, an extraordinary and bizarre sight. Now obviously there's going to be a storm surge issue here.

How bad could it be, what sort of damage can be done?

You've got all those houses along the barrier areas in Florida.

MAGINNIS: Yes. And there are a lot of vintage 1950s, 1960s homes, maybe they were made out of concrete block. Unless they were reinforced, hurricane force winds, category 5 hurricane force winds, are not going to be able to withstand that.

But since Andrew -- and if anything Andrew taught us is that they need to prepare buildings, subsequently, that can withstand these types of hurricane force winds. So that's good news. But that is fairly recent construction, recent meaning in the last 25 years.

But, yes, those barrier islands, those small coastal communities, the impact will be great -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Karen. Thanks so much. We'll check in with you a bit later there, Karen Maginnis in Atlanta.

Let's go back now to Isa Soares, standing by in Miami, where I know you've been getting wet.

SOARES: I have indeed. Not fully drenched but you've definitely seen a change in the last few hours, Michael, not just in the mood but also in the weather, as Karen was pointing out.

She is saying more rain is expected in the next few hours or so. But what we've seen is winds picking up significantly. We've seen more rain. And also the sea that is right next to me is much more agitated. We've also seen plenty of lightning, must I say.

That is on the weather front; on the mood here in Miami's gone from one of preparedness to one that's slightly been more agitated, some jitters and some urgency. That's because police have been going door to door, telling people to seek shelter, to get out and be prepared.

We have seen the video of those long lines of people trying to head north on I-95, trying to get away. What officials are saying, if you're staying put, make sure you are prepared, you're hunkered down. You might not be able to speak to police, be able to call for help in those key hours.

But they're saying, otherwise, seek shelter. Plenty of shelter here in Miami. So let's get more on the many, many people that have been evacuated; 5.6 million have been evacuated.

I'm joined on the line now by one of our guests. His name is General Secretary -- his name is Dave -- let me get this right --

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SOARES: -- Major David Erickson, who's a general secretary of the Salvation Army's Florida division.

Major, thank you very much for joining us this hour. Give us a sense of what you've seen in the last few hours.

MAJOR DAVID ERICKSON, SALVATION ARMY: Well, thank you for having me. We've seen a lot of people take the heed of evacuation. We're getting more requests to assist with feeding at shelters as counties have, further up the state, had to open up more shelters than they were prepared to.

We're adding feeding to many of those shelters so we can help those prepare and ride out the storm in a safe place in a shelter.

SOARES: And how many -- I mean, are people heeding those warnings?

I was speaking to a police official earlier in the last hour or so, he's saying the majority are but there are some people who are still pretty unsure and trying to ride out the storm.

ERICKSON: There are always those who try to ride out the storm or they wait until it's too late to get out. And we recommend that they try to stay with their local emergency shelters and try to find shelters, a safe place of last refuge at least, in their community so they can ride out the storm safely. But we try to encourage, along with the state emergency management

offices, when evacuation orders have been given, for them to move out and get to where they need to be to be in a safe place.

SOARES: Major, at what time, I mean, for those people who are still dithering, like you were saying, they're not sure, they're looking at the hurricane path, they're wondering, is it going to hit us, is it going east, is it going west, by what point should people have made that decision, if not already, should they have made that decision?

What point should they just be staying still, staying put or seeking shelter?

Is there a cutoff time, would you say?

ERICKSON: At this point, I would say that cutoff time would be this morning, early morning, that we need to be -- if they haven't left already, they need to be finding a place of safe shelter in their community because the roads, as we've seen on the news and throughout all the reports we've had, the roads are crowded and it's hard to get too far out of the storm's path at this point.

They just need to get with their local emergency management and find a safe shelter as close to where they are so that they can get to quickly.

SOARES: Major David Erickson, general secretary of the Salvation Army's Florida division, Major, appreciate you taking the time and keeping us updated on the situation there. And very best of luck to your team and to yourself, of course, and those close to you.

And, of course, like the major was saying, there are just some people, of course, who have decided to ride out the storm. It's such a personal decision. Some said they've experienced it, they've been in a situation like this.

Others saying it's their only option. I want you to hear from one lady; her name is Penny Monahan, she spoke to our Zain Asher earlier and she, too, she said, is staying put. Take a listen.

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PENNY MONAHAN, FLORIDA RESIDENT: Well, I don't have the luxury of leaving. We have a small farm here in St. Lucie County and we're smack dab in the middle of the Indian River citrus district and we're close to harvesting our crop here.

And we need to be here, available to stick the trees back in the ground if they're blown out and just be here for our trees. And then we also have cows and cattle on our farm, that this is their time, in September and October, when calves are being born. We have to be here for that.

You know, the -- these storms blow in and they make the biggest mess you can possibly imagine. And invariably trees fall on the fences, we have to fix the fences. We just have to be here. And I'm scared if we leave, we can't get back in a timely fashion.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR: When you hear about the fact that, you know, if you are caught in the middle of this storm and you dial 9-1-1, there may not be emergency services available to help you out, does that scare you?

MONAHAN: Oh, yes. It makes me very nervous.

But, you know what?

I am hoping -- I'm prepared for the worst and I'm hoping for the best. I hope my house will hold up.

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MONAHAN: We'll just see. It's all in the hands of God. And, you know, I'm 10 miles from the coast. Most of the evacuations are going to take place along the coastlines. We just prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

ASHER: So, Peggy, what is your biggest fear right now?

MONAHAN: I'm really concerned about losing my citrus crop. We've been fighting for the last decade for this citrus greening disease that has come in from China and we're just about to turn the corner on that. And, boy, we have a beautiful crop hanging out there. And I'm just so sad. I hope most of it doesn't blow off.

ASHER: And this means so much to you because this land, this farm has been in your family for generations, I understand.

How long?

MONAHAN: Actually, my people have been in this county for generations. I am the last -- my son and I are the last of our family who've been -- who continue to farm in this area. This will probably do it for us. If we can't -- if we -- if it's really bad and we can't recover from this, I suspect we're probably -- this will finish us off.

ASHER: How are you preparing?

What precautions are you taking to make sure that you and your family, who I presume are staying with you, are as safe as you can be?

MONAHAN: Well, we've started about a week ago Thursday, started making our trips into the grocery store; we've loaded in with lots of food. We have lots of water. You know, we've managed to secure -- we've been working since Thursday, cutting down what limbs are in the way.

We've secured the house, we've secured our barns; most of our equipment is in a safe place. But then we also have elderly neighbors. We have to go help them close up. It's sort of neighbor depending on neighbor out here. And I would say I personally don't know anyone who is -- well, no, I

can't say that. There are a few people who are leaving. And I would never encourage anyone not to leave. If they can leave, they need to go on and get out.

After the storm is over, it's critical for farmers to be on their land, dealing with the water, making sure it gets off the land, dealing with the trees, making sure they get put back in the ground, dealing with the cows to make sure they stay they're supposed to be. It's a mess.

ASHER: Right. So your fear is clearly that if you leave, it's not just what's going to happen to your land but it's about actually how difficult it would be for you to navigate the streets and get back.

MONAHAN: Right, because gas, since Harvey went through in Texas, gas is a very dear commodity at this point.

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MONAHAN: I'm scared to death that if we try to leave, we can't get enough gas to get back in to clean up the mess.

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SOARES: Penny Monahan there, really explaining in a very passionate way why she's staying put.

And Michael, this is such a personal decision for many people, of course, whether to stay put and hunker down or to seek shelter or drive north. But as officials say time and time again, you can rebuild -- we can rebuilt your homes but we can't rebuild your life.

So it's important that if people are going to stay, they are prepared for what might come, especially given, as we heard from police officials as well that they may not be able to pick up those urgency emergency calls as -- when the hurricane actually hits -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, absolutely, Isa.

And obviously life is paramount and people getting to safety is so important. But also we've been talking to a lot of people here in Orlando, who've come up from places like where you are, Miami and other places south of here, who have left everything behind.

I was talking to one man earlier today who said that he has no content insurance. He's renting his house. So he's not that worried about that but he has no content insurance. And people who've left in their thousands have no idea what they're coming back to.

I did want to say, we just got an e-mail confirmation --

[03:20:00]

HOLMES: -- that Irma is still not having its major effect yet on Florida but already there have been 10,000 power outages, 10,000 people impacted by power outages. So it really is just beginning.

I want to talk now to journalist Stefano Pozzebon, who is in Nassau in the Bahamas.

And, Stefano, Nassau is no stranger to hurricanes. It's been hit before. But this one is just so much bigger than anything that's -- that's been around for so long.

I mean, how are they dealing with the preparations there, in dealing with this monster of a hurricane?

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: Yes, absolutely, Michael, the Bahamians are no stranger to hurricanes, they've dealt with (INAUDIBLE) last year and they were prepared for Irma arrival.

These are six of the southernmost islands were evacuated between Wednesday and Thursday in what was the largest evacuation operation in the history of the Bahamian emergency management agency.

And most of them were brought here in the island, where we have been for the past 2-3 days, in the island of Nassau, where the vast majority of the Bahamas population is living -- they live in houses that are built of concrete, that are capable of resisting to the hurricane forces and, thankfully, Irma swing past by the island of Nassau and the northernmost part of the Bahamas archipelago.

But just to give you an idea of how these people deal with hurricanes and tropical storms on a daily basis, when earlier yesterday we went to visit one of the shelters, where the people from the southernmost island have been welcomed in this evacuation process.

We spoke with them and asked if there was a sense of relief in the sense that they -- they were able to pass by and they were able to come to Nassau and resist from the burden of Irma.

And what they told us is that the relief will come in November, when the tropical season will be over and they will know that, for the next year, they will be once again prepared -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Stefano, thanks so much, Stefano Pozzebon there in Nassau. They are dealing with some major issues and Florida here waiting.

The storm's not meant to hit here properly in Orlando until Sunday afternoon, early on Sunday afternoon, preparations being made. But so many people have come here from places further south and they really just sort of postponed the impact for them.

We'll take a short break now. When we come back, much more on Hurricane Irma as this monster storm moves toward the U.S. state of Florida. We'll look at the massive destruction already left in its wake. Do stay with us. We'll be right back.

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HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

Anyone who still wants to escape South Florida before Hurricane Irma arrives has very little time left. Those who cannot leave or those who choose not to began lining up at emergency shelters on Friday. Many of those facilities, though, are already full to capacity.

Here's what's coming: Hurricane Irma is back up to a category 5 storm. That's means sustained winds of 160 miles an hour. The eye made landfall on Cuba's north coast late on Friday with a powerful but glancing blow.

Since first striking the Eastern Caribbean earlier in the week, at least 24 deaths have been confirmed. Even places that with stood the brutal winds have had to deal with flooding from the storm surge, which is always a problem in these situations.

Hurricane Irma now battering parts of Cuba but even before it made landfall, Irma was bringing torrential rain to that country. Our Patrick Oppmann is there and has more for us now from the Cuban coast.

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PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So here on the northern central coast of Cuba we continue to feel these feeder bands coming in, these squalls; they bring a lot of rain and wind.

This one is not that strong. Earlier tonight, though, I was nearly blown over. A storm came in and, really out of nowhere, I didn't even have time to put my rain jacket on, it was incredibly forceful. I've covered plenty of hurricanes and yet nothing like this has ever happened to me where I just could not get my jacket on.

Out of nowhere, rain came in that was pretty much blinding and it knocked out -- that squall actually knocked out power in the area where I am in Cuba, where we've seen a lot of evacuations over the last day or two.

So conditions are going to continue to deteriorate here as we get into Saturday, as the storm moves in closer to Cuba before heading the Florida. People say they are prepared here but of course until the storm actually hits, we won't know how prepared Cuba is. But people at this point really don't have any other option. If they haven't fled and if they haven't evacuated, then they need to stay put because the storm is coming -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Cuba.

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HOLMES: All right. Let's take you out now to Miami. That's where we find our Isa Soares, where the rain has begun, the main part of the storm, though, still a little ways off -- Isa.

SOARES: Absolutely, Michael. It's been raining for the last two hours or so. It's now calmed down. But you can definitely feel the wind has definitely picked up. Looking out to the sea, you probably can't see it, it's gotten much choppier, too, in the last several hours and much -- a lot of lightning since we've been here for the past four hours or so.

That is how the weather is picking up here, how that has changed. And worth bearing in mind that Hurricane --

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SOARES: -- Irma hasn't yet reached these shores. To give you a perspective and insight of just the path of the destruction of Hurricane Irma, I want to show you these pictures. Because Hurricane Irma felt its full force, actually, and showed its full force in Barbuda. At least one person died there. And if you look at those aerials, those drone shots, what you see is total devastation, it's barely habitable.

That's a huge concern for the people living there who felt the power of a category 5, crushing on the island. Residents now preparing for the second hurricane in four days, as our Leyla Santiago now reports.

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LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once a Caribbean getaway, surrounded by turquoise water, now demolished, left desolate, unrecognizable, by Hurricane Irma. This is the shocking view as we fly on to the island of Barbuda.

Jerome Teague says hurricanes are a way of life here but not this one.

JEROME TEAGUE: This is the worst one ever seen.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): And this could get worse, as the hurricane- ravaged island braces for Hurricane Jose. Those who braved Irma now arriving in Antigua, evacuated to escape a second major hit.

Elvis Burton is determined to protect the place he's called home for 12 years -- at least what's left of it. He evacuated but returned to find a home no longer livable, savaged by nature.

ELVIS BURTON: It's my home. I have to try and save it.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): Even more are determined to save lives, get people out of Barbuda, save the people who seem to have lost it all. It's hard to imagine that an island now rubble, an island home to nearly 2,000 residents, could get any worse than it already is. But the prime minister has said 95 percent of the buildings are damaged and it will be quite the rebuilding effort. More than $100 million to get this the way it once was.

SANTIAGO: Barbuda looks like a war zone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a war zone. Everything is blown up.

SANTIAGO (voice-over): This is the wrath of Irma, now on the move. Irma has shown her strength, the reason so many fear what is headed to Florida -- Leyla Santiago, CNN, Barbuda.

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SOARES: Total devastation there.

We'll have much more on the hurricane coverage right here on CNN after a very short break.

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SOARES: A very warm welcome back to our viewers in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in Miami, Florida.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando, Florida, and this is a state that is bracing for a direct hit on Sunday from one of the largest Atlantic storms in history.

Hurricane Irma is back up to a category 5 with sustained winds of 160 miles an hour. The eye made landfall on Cuba's north coast late on Friday, with a powerful but fortunately something of a glancing blow.

Irma is larger than the state of Florida. Think about that. And officials warn there is no safe place to stay in the Florida Keys area. Highways have been bumper to bumper as countless cars and trucks head north. Irma has already claimed at least 24 lives so far.

We've got video to show you there from the British Virgin Islands, showing how the hurricane ripped entire buildings from hillsides, leaving more than splinters, extraordinary images there.

Let's get the latest on the storm's strength and position and perhaps where it's headed. Meteorologist Karen Maginnis joining us from Atlanta with that -- Karen.

MAGINNIS: Yes, still a category 5, even though it made landfall in Cuba about two or three hours ago. Then it's going to wind its way, start to make the trajectory more toward the northwest. We knew that was going to be happening, according to the computer models. The computer models have all along been shifting a little bit from a Miami landfall to now maybe a double landfall.

Right around the Florida Keys and in towards Naples, Florida, then running up the spine of Florida but more so to the western edge in the vicinity of Tampa and headed up toward Tallahassee, splitting the difference between Tallahassee and Jacksonville and then into South Georgia, where we could see some flooding rainfall. This has been fascinating to watch some of the arcs, the outer bands

make its way across South Florida and, in Dade County, already reports that the first round, which we saw Isa in, when she said she saw lots of lightning, about 10,000 people reported without power.

Now we'll watch it as it exits the north central coast of Cuba and moves into the very warm waters of the Florida strait and moves across the Florida Keys.

I want to show you what about the wind as we take a look across the Florida peninsula, what can we expect as far as wind gusts are concerned, also what we can expect as far as the conditions in the next few hours or so.

Right around Tampa and St. Pete, maybe hurricane force winds and maybe this particular one isn't working but let's go back to the main board here right now. We move this through the Florida Keys and expecting that perhaps plenty of power outages associated with this as well with category 5 hurricane winds.

Now it could shift before it makes landfall, maybe it'll be a category 4. But we shouldn't stay focused on those particular numbers. But what has been key from my perspective is that it has slowed down, not a lot, just a little bit.

But if it continues to do that, we're looking at not just a wind event and a flooding rain event and a storm surge event but now we're looking at excessive rainfall across a lot of these areas.

Where you see the purple, Michael, 10 to 20 inches of rainfall up and down the Florida peninsula over the next two days. Back to you.

HOLMES: Extraordinary amount of rain. All right, Karen. Thanks so much. We'll check in with you a little later.

For now, let's take you to Isa Soares, standing by in Miami -- Isa.

Thanks very much, Michael.

[03:40:00]

SOARES: And if you're just listening to what Karen Maginnis was saying, putting into perspective not just the strength of Hurricane Irma but also the surges, the storm surges but also that rain, the amount of rain that we expect to see, that we're already starting to see and feel right here in Miami.

More than 5.6 million people have been ordered to evacuate.

Have the majority been heeding that warning, that advice?

Let's get more now. I'm joined on the phone by Jim Gruidone (ph). He's a public affairs volunteer with the Red Cross.

Jim, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us here on CNN. (CROSSTALK)

JIM GRUIDONE (PH), RED CROSS VOLUNTEER: Good morning.

SOARES: From what you've been seeing, from those you've been speaking to, Jim, a very good morning to you, have people been heeding that advice and those warnings?

GRUIDONE (PH): Yes, this has been quite a event. We drove down from Orlando yesterday. As you can imagine, there was very little traffic in any southbound. The northbound lanes while not clogged or jammed were still quite heavy.

So it looks like the residents for the most part have heeded the government and the governor's urgency to evacuate.

SOARES: What have you been able to see?

I know you're now in Miami.

What is your role now here as before, of course, Hurricane Irma makes landfall, what are you looking for in terms of preparations?

GRUIDONE (PH): My role is to make sure that the preparations are made available to those in need, to work with the city, county, state and even the federal government and the media, to let know where people can get assistance, where when they need it, and to make sure people are kept advised and what the Red Cross is doing and what we can do to help them survive and get through this storm.

SOARES: And, Jim, do you have everything you need to help those seeking shelter, to help those calling on the Red Cross for much- needed help?

GRUIDONE (PH): We certainly think so. We even moved additional assets down here. We have nearly 1,000 people on the ground; another 400 arrived yesterday. We have 80 emergency relief vehicles. I know we have supplies for over 120,000 people.

So, yes, we do believe we are prepared. But we also are in a very fast, reactionary mode; should we see that we need additional supplies or people, we'll bring them in here as quickly as we can.

SOARES: Are you approaching people or waiting for them to come to you to your shelter?

At what point, what is the cutoff point, would you say, for yourself and for Red Cross workers?

GRUIDONE (PH): Well, we have a number of Red Cross volunteers on call. 24/7. So we, we reach out to them. We have a availability plan, we know who can come and who cannot.

We began doing this a week ago, bringing people and supplies in here, positioning them around the area. We do get spontaneous volunteers, people who just want to help. When appropriate, we'll accept them and put them through a quick

training process and get them up to speed. But for the most part, we're relying on the Red Cross workforce and volunteer team to provide assistance.

SOARES: Of course. And this is a time when everyone comes together, it really shows the amount of work involved to keep people safe. Jim Gruidone (ph) from the Red Cross, appreciate you taking the time to speak to us here on CNN. We wish you the best of luck. Keep us posted on how yourself and everyone is doing at those shelter.

You are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. We'll have much more after a very short break.

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SOARES: Welcome back. You are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. As you can see here in Miami, it's really picking up.

We're roughly 24 hours or so before it makes landfall in Miami. We're already starting to see the wind's getting much, much stronger; we've seen rain the last two, three hours, very strong rain, lightning to my right just now.

And also the ocean here, the sea here much choppier, much more tempestuous. This is just the start, the beginning of things to come. Hence why we've seen more than 5.6 million people ordered to evacuate.

People still have time, authorities say, until the early hours of this morning to leave, to seek shelter. Authorities saying, if you're driving north, perhaps that is cutting it too late, one, because you do not want to be stuck in the motorway when it hits.

We know there's been lots of traffic with bumper upon bumper, a journey that would have taken two hours someone said to me, has taken them nine hours. Let's get more on what to expect particularly with the storm and the path it's taking.

Derek Van Dam joins me now from Miami Beach.

Derek, I'm sure you're feeling as much as I am, the wind has really started to pick up. Hasn't it?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I'm sure you probably felt the initial rain bands about two hours ago. First making their way across the Miami region. It's amazing how quickly the weather changed.

The winds picked up from a gentle breeze to about 35 mile per hour gusts in a matter of 60 seconds. The temperature dropped significantly as well, about 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That was amazing.

You also mentioned, Isa, that there has been 5.6 million people ordered to evacuate in Florida. This could potentially be, depending on the numbers of people that actually heeded that warning, could be the largest evacuation in the United States history.

This is coming ahead of what was the previous record of Hurricane Rita back in 2005, September of 2005, as that storm approached the Texas coastline. It'll be interesting to see if 5.6 million people actually heeded the warning.

One thing's for certain, here on the South Beach, in the southern portions of Miami Beach, you can see it is desolate. What would be a bustling night, because it's a Friday, it's still summer here and lots of visitors and lots of tourists typically, well, these roads are deserted.

The odd police officer actually patrolling the streets, you can see palm trees behind me, swaying back and forth. We have lots of lightning behind us. There are still outer feeder bands that will make their way into the coastline of the Miami-Dade County.

But really you talk about the track of the storm and we continue to hinge on that westerly shift and this also has --

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VAN DAM: -- some ramifications for places like Naples into Tampa. Of course, it looks like that may have a direct hit with the eyewall, which is where you would see the strongest winds from a storm.

The other thing about this storm as well is that, with this westerly shift, it has a little bit more time over those warm ocean waters there in the Florida strait. So it also allows for it to reintensify. I notice on the latest satellite loop after it grazed the Cuban coast, it almost lost some of its structure to its eyewall, kind of a sign of some interaction with the mountainous terrain there, maybe a weakening trend briefly.

But the warm waters over the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida strait will definitely allow that storm to intensify, perhaps up to a category 5 before making another landfall in the United States.

SOARES: Derek Van Dam there for us, officials have been saying to us, this is as real as it gets.

If you're dithering, if you're looking at the path of the hurricane now and deciding where is it going, east, west, that may be too late. You need to seek shelter or stay put.

We'll have much more on our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma right after a very short break. Do stay right here with CNN.

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HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

While Florida braces for Irma, authorities in Mexico are grappling with their own hurricane. Hurricane Katia made landfall as a category 1 storm a few hours ago, bringing strong winds, heavy rain and the threat of storm surges, flash floods and mudslides.

Meanwhile, rescue crews are still trying to reach survivors trapped under rubble after a magnitude 8.1 earthquake left at least 61 people dead. The quake was the most powerful to his the country in a century. It caused extensive damage, as you can see, to some of Mexico's poorest areas, many of which were close to the epicenter.

Mexico City, about 1,000 kilometers away, suffered damage, as well. We will continue to follow this story for you as well.

Meanwhile, thanks for joining us, I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando.

SOARES: And I'm Isa Soares in Miami. We'll have much more on Hurricane Irma's path, just after a very short break. Do stay right here with CNN and we are, of course, the world's news leader.