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Florida Braces for Direct Hit from Cat 5 Irma. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired September 9, 2017 - 05:00   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.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN HOST: So grateful to have you with us as always, thank you for being here, I'm Christi Paul in Atlanta; my colleague, Victor Blackwell, as you see, in the thick of it.

Good morning, Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Good morning to you, Christi.

Good morning, everyone. I'm in Miami. We're tracking Hurricane Irma, barreling right now through the Caribbean toward South Florida. This is a massive storm. Time is running out, be ready to leave. That is the warning from Florida governor Rick Scott to everyone across this state; 20 million people, as Hurricane Irma returns now to category 5 strength.

Listen, in a matter of hours, this storm will blanket the state, that may be too soft or too gentle of a verb here. Going from coast to coast, FEMA said that Florida has never been hit by a hurricane like Irma before. This morning, more than 5.5 million people are under evacuation orders; many of them are getting out of the state or have already left Florida.

This could be one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history. The storm is still hundreds of miles away from South Florida. But the outer bands are already damaging power lines.

You can see that the wind has picked up over the last few hours and that has caused some of the branches to break, take down some of the lines. Officials say more than 10,000 people have already lost power this morning.

We're expecting a new update on Hurricane Irma from the National Hurricane Center at any moment right now. It usually comes out at the top of the hour. Let's go to Chad Myers, in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, this storm now again a Category 5, tell us where it's expected?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the storm is just leaving the coast of Cuba. And Cuba did take some stuffing out of the storm. Bad news for Cuba but good news that the storm has slightly weakened right now. I don't believe that the 5 o'clock advisory, not out yet, they're still tweaking just it a little bit.

And this happens when they make changes. Sometimes it's a little bit late. Now there are airplanes flying through it. They are really, truly looking through what's going on here. And this is the storm as it comes off the California coast -- OK.

I got it. The storm now is a 155 category 4, as I expected; the storm will and continue to move slightly offshore. As we zoom in, this storm is going to get into the waters of the Florida straits.

And as the Florida straits, because this area right here is so very warm, we could still see this come back. But right now, I don't see as much color in the satellite. That's good news. That means that the storm's eye has been torn up just a little bit.

Now this is the latest, I still see a 5 and then 4. Here we go. That is the jump as we get to 150 right now. The hurricane center is still updating this and so our computers are updating constantly. That's what we're seeing now, that update.

Here is what we're worried about. This is the European model and the American model. Then we'll go through what does this mean for everyone across all of Florida. From Key West here, coming off just to the east of Havana, the storm is going to try to come across the strait, right toward the Tortugas, right toward Key West.

That puts Key West, Cudjoe Key, Shark Key, Big Pine Key all on the bad side of the storm. This is where the storm surge is going to be the most significant, possibly all the way through the Seven-Mile Bridge all the way up into Marathon.

But I'm really concerned about the wind damage we'll see in Key West, it will be catastrophic, there's no doubt about it. I love the town, I go there all the time. But this is really a bad place for Key West. And then the European model takes it very close to Fort Myers, Cape Coral and into Naples.

This is also very bad for the area. The wind may be down to 135 or 140 but there are many structures there in Fort Myers, that were built in the '70s, just as random little houses on the ocean and you buy them as condos or a time share, those are not up to the after-Andrew standards. So you need to be out of those buildings at 140 mph.

Then it moves very close to Tampa. Tampa, yesterday, I thought the winds were going to be 85; now I think they're going to be 110. There will be significant surge up into Tampa Bay as well. The surge, though, up toward Cape Coral into Naples, that's going to be more.

Moving to the American model, moving onshore, very close to, I would say, Missouri Key. OK, so we're still south of the Seven-Mile Bridge. But we're moving you up into the Everglades. And the surge is going to be significant in the Everglades and also into Naples, Tampa, Cape Coral. The surge --

[05:05:00] MYERS: -- may be 12 feet, it may be higher. I'm also concerned that the surge moves into the Everglades and could flood Miami from the wrong side. So let's get to all of this and what I expect here.

Miami, you're going to see winds 100. Over here, Naples, Fort Myers, you may see winds 140. That may not seem like a big number because you're still in the hundreds but there's significantly more damage here than there will be here. But there will be surge here on all the barrier islands, all the way through Fort Lauderdale, very low city, that is going to flood.

Key Biscayne will absolutely flood with this storm. So we do expect that to happen as well. Here come the winds. I'll go through one more graphic. And then I'll toss it back to Victor and then we'll go from here.

But here is the wind now, wind field coming into Key West first, into Key Largo, eventually all the way up into about Ocean Reef and Miami. There is the storm over Miami. The white is 100 miles per hour or greater.

It's difficult to stand, difficult do anything out there. Everyone in the Keys needs to be gone. It's that simple. I know the Conchs, I know all that, you just need to go. And then up into Naples, honestly, this is a very difficult storm for Naples and Cape Coral but it's not too late for you to leave if you want to leave.

And I'll show you the satellite and I'll also show you the traffic in a bit. Up towards Tampa at 90 to 105 miles per hour. And then even into Atlanta, you'll get wind gusts around 100 miles per hour possible.

Now this is Google Earth, and I expect to you use it or ways on your way out of Southwest Florida. The roads are clear. According to the governor, he's been delivering gasoline as much as he possibly can. If you want to get out, there are no huge traffic jams like there were yesterday.

I talked to one of my friends who usually lives in Michigan but right now he lives in Grassy Key, which is by Marathon. It took him 20 hours to go from the Keys to Jacksonville, 20 hours to get there because the traffic was so bad. Right now, the traffic is clear -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Chad Myers for us there in the CNN Weather Center. As you say, a bit of the wall taking a little beating from Cuba. And we saw the beating that Cuba took from Irma.

Let's now go CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam in Miami Beach.

Tell us, what makes the storm so dangerous and then the change of the weather from the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center, people really won't feel the difference in the drop of the wind on just that front edge. This is still a very dangerous storm -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Victor, it has to do with the sheer size of Hurricane Irma. No doubt. We're talking about hurricane force winds extending the diameter of the storm, 140 miles at least. And the widest point of the Florida peninsula is 140 miles.

So this storm has the potential to bring hurricane force winds from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, all the way through to the Florida-Georgia border. That's what we're expecting.

We know that this westerly trend in the models is so critical and exactly where the strongest winds will lie. Now that we look towards a west coast Florida peninsula storm, we focus on Naples. We focus on Tampa, Clearwater and into the Coral Gables region.

But that doesn't mean the east coast is spared. That doesn't mean you let your guard down if you're in Miami-Dade. Where we find ourselves right now, we're in South Beach. And we have seen some of the outer feeder bands from the storm already impact us.

It's dry now. But not too far in my distance, we have had lightning illuminating the horizon. And when we had one of those feeder bands come through earlier this evening the temperature dropped 15 degrees in 60 seconds. The rain fell extremely heavy and the wind whipped at least 35 mph, just giving us that brief taste of what's to come.

This storm has a lot of open water to travel over. Even though it's starting to show signs of disorganization as it moved across the northern parts of Cuba, the Florida straits have water temperatures at least 86 to 88 degrees. That's bathwater. That's jet fuel for hurricanes. And that means the potential for strengthening still exists.

And with the delayed landfall now with a westerly track, that means the potential for more storm surge, also stronger storm systems. As we talk about this storm surge across the eastern coastline, we have the potential for 5-10 feet, right where I'm standing. That is still the official forecast.

We'll find out if that comes into fruition but definitely, people heeding the warnings to evacuate South Beach because it's desolate here. Back to you -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Derek, one of the large equivalent if not the largest mass evacuation, as we said at the top of the show, in U.S. history.

The storm, Christi, now a category 4, still a very strong storm in the drop from a category 5 to a 4, people really won't feel the difference in that maybe 10 to 15 miles per hour.

But the category still indicates that this is going to be a monster for South Florida. In fact, the entire state.

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BLACKWELL: I'm going to toss it back to you in Atlanta.

PAUL: All right, hey, Victor, stay safe. Thank you so much. I want to go back to Victor in just a moment but want to make clear what Florida's governor is saying, he says if you live in this state, you will be hit by this storm.

Millions of people, thankfully, have taken that warning to heart. And they are getting out. It was a mass exodus from this deadly storm. Here's how one evacuee from Miami described her decision to leave.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's difficult for me to leave my home. I don't want to displace myself. But this is going to be a big storm. And it's going to come in, right in at Miami.

So we would watch, we would wait, we would watch. We would hope that it would sort of veer to the right or go out to sea. And at one point, it became apparent that this was our window of opportunity to move north to go north. So we drove north and got to Jacksonville today.

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PAUL: All right. Hurricane Irma, I want to show you what it's doing to Cuba here. I believe we have some pictures coming in to us of what is happening there. You see the trees blowing, Patrick Oppmann is there; he said it felt like a jet engine as the wind hit him, making landfall on Cuba's northern coast there, with 16-26-foot waves recorded and they could get higher as they head to Havana.

We'll talk to a storm chaser who is in Key Largo ahead of this storm. See what he has to say next. Stay close.

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BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell, live in Miami, continuing CNN's live coverage of Hurricane Irma. Let's now go to Cuba, that is taking the brunt of Hurricane Irma right now. CNN's Patrick Oppmann is there.

Patrick, what are you seeing?

What are you feeling there?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, very strong winds, very strong rain. All night long, it just screamed, the wind here. We're actually in a town that is underwater, if you can believe it.

Thankfully, we're on the second story of a house. The coast, which was about 50 yards away yesterday, has now moved well past us in this town. The main street, which we walked yesterday, now has waves rolling down it. On the first floor, it's about four feet deep of water and rising. I

think for the people here who decided to ride the storm out, to not evacuate, they're regretting that decision very, very much. There's no way for help to get to them right now.

The winds are just still too powerful. The storm, it came ashore as a category 5; it's now been downgraded to a category 4, still very powerful, still very dangerous. And Cuba is going to be recovering from this devastating storm for some time to come -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Patrick, I know it may be difficult for you to hear me, so I just send that on to the audience.

But is there any indication of how many people who decided to stay and not evacuate ahead of Irma?

OPPMANN: Overall, countrywide, the Cuban government said about a quarter of 1 million. It may have been much more than that. Of course of 11 million people. I think perhaps the biggest problem is the people thought it was going to go by the coast. And we'd have some effects of the storm. You know, that's what we had been told as well.

Of course, it just goes to show how unpredictable storms are in their final moments. And the storm did come ashore as a category 5. The storm is the strongest to hit Cuba in many, many years and is going to cause great suffering here.

BLACKWELL: All right. Patrick Oppmann there for us in Cuba. Patrick, thank you so much. Stay safe.

And, everyone, what you're seeing right now in Cuba is what is on its way in less than 24 hours to the Keys, to South Florida and straight up the peninsula.

Christi, I'm going to send it back to you.

PAUL: All right. Thank you so much, Victor. We appreciate it.

We want to take a look at some more power from the storm and show you the latest we're getting from Barbuda after Irma just crushed that island Wednesday. It was a category 5 at the time.

But look at this. It's amazing to realize only one person died in this. But residents -- on that island -- but residents are preparing for a second hurricane. And that's in just four days. Here's Leyla Santiago.

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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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BLACKWELL: Our thanks to Leyla Santiago.

[05:20:00]

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in now Reed Timmer, Accuweather storm chaser.

Reed, good morning to you. I know you were on Key Largo just a few hours ago. The advice from state officials and weather experts like yourself is that it will be difficult, maybe impossible, for some people along the Keys to survive the storm with that strength.

How many people are heeding that warning?

REED TIMMER, ACCUWEATHER STORM CHASER: I think most everybody is heeding that warning. We were around Key Largo yesterday, there were some restaurants and establishments open. There are some locals that are trying to ride it out there.

It does appear the track is shifting further west, possibly right over Key West and right up the west coast of Florida, which is the worst case scenario for there. We're on Islamorada, Florida, right now, in the Keys. We're likely going to retreat back to the mainland and then cover this storm up Naples.

There's another (INAUDIBLE) of our that is considering a concrete structure in Key West. But we're likely going to head in on the mainland and (INAUDIBLE) instrument probe in the path of this (INAUDIBLE) wind speed and the direction and the pressure followed by the eyewall.

BLACKWELL: You describe this as the worst case scenario, that shift to the west. Explain for people who don't know the lay of the land there, quite literally, and the network of bridges and roads throughout the Keys why this is such a detriment to the people there along the Keys, the shift toward the west?

TIMMER: Yes, there's definitely a reason for the very strong warning from the National Weather Service last night that said, get off the Keys. They're very low in elevation. They're connected by a single bridge, a single escape route.

And once that water level gets up a little bit, those bridges will be blocked. And there will be no escape route. The emergency personnel will not be able to respond to emergencies. So if you do call 9-1-1 and you've stayed behind (INAUDIBLE), they can't come and rescue you. You'll be on your own.

So there still is time to evacuate and there still is time to get away from this thing. It's a category 5 hurricane. With a storm surge of 6-12 feet, those locations below that will be inundated by deadly storm surges with winds on top of that and then winds gusting possibly at 180 to 200 miles per hour.

Above that, it's just a horrible situation that you just definitely want to get out of the path of.

BLACKWELL: And there are a lot of people who went to sleep and knew that Irma had strengthened again to a category 5 this morning from the National Hurricane Center, now a category 4 but the strongest possible category 4.

Reinforce for people, who are preparing for this storm, deciding whether or not to take certain precautions, the lack of comfort that could be taken in the reduction from a 5 to a 4?

TIMMER: Well, there's a lot of warm water ahead of this system. So as soon as it moves a little bit away from Cuba, it will regain its intensity as category 5, likely. The waters are in the upper 80s across the Florida straits.

So as it makes a northwest turn, it will likely intensify on its approach to South Florida. So you definitely don't want to get any sense of comfort from that downgrade to a category 4 because it's about to move away from Cuba and will reintensify likely to a category 5.

BLACKWELL: All right, Accuweather storm chaser Reed Timmer, thank you so much for being with us. And, of course, you stay safe. We'll check with you throughout the morning and the rest of the day as Irma now approaches Florida.

Again, is this a category 4 storm. We're following the path of this massive hurricane in the weather center. We'll have an update on what it may look like when it hits Florida. That's coming up next. Stay with us.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the size of this storm. It is wider than an entire state and could cause major life-threatening impacts from coast to coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not a woman that is frightened. But this is frightening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are scared right now, after they seen what happened in Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't even begin to describe the feelings that I'm going through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: We are so grateful to have you on board here with us this morning, as we watch what's happening with Irma. Good morning to you, I'm Christi Paul; Victor Blackwell, my colleague, in Miami.

Victor, I understand you're already feeling the first traces of Irma already this morning.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the wind has certainly picked up in the last few minutes but, believe us, this is nothing compared to what is coming. You may see a few flashes of lightning behind me, over Miami Beach, so be prepared for those as well.

This storm is on the way, the brunt of it coming in the next 24 hours. It's now a category 4 strength. But don't find any comfort in the downgrade because it's sustained winds at 155 miles an hour. Two miles more, it's back to category 5.

Cuba felt that strength with winds at 160 miles per hour. It's expected to slam Florida tomorrow morning with screaming winds, heavy rain, storm surge as high as 12 feet.

More than 5 million people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate, stretching across myriad of counties along the east and west coasts and they're scrambling into crowded shelters, jamming highways as well, trying to get as far north and as far inland as possible.

And Governor Rick Scott this morning and throughout the day yesterday said, it is time to get out of the state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SCOTT, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: Don't get on the roads. We have shelters in your community. Go to those shelters. I mean, you can go to your family, go to your friends, go to those shelters but we don't want people on the road when the storm starts --

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SCOTT: -- to hit.

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BLACKWELL: All right. And what that storm will bring to Florida, let's check in now, send it back to you, Christi.

And you're with, I understand, Chad Myers, watching the latest from the National Hurricane Center.

PAUL: Absolutely because one of the big questions is where's this thing going to go.

MYERS: Yes.

PAUL: We had thought for certain it was going to stay along the 0066. I have friends on Facebook who are on the east coast, they went west and said, now, OK, we're packing up and heading back east.

MYERS: I know and that's the rub because Irma doesn't know that there's an European model or an American model. And Irma doesn't care that we're running models here on Earth because it has a mind of its own.

Category 4 hurricane, north of Cuba, although right now, the hurricane center even saying that may be optimistic. It might be lower than that. Hurricane Hunter aircraft not finding as much this morning as yesterday because the storm has been over Cuba and Cuba has torn it up. Now that's terrible for Cuba.

The Cuban Keys, we've heard of the Florida Keys but the Cubans have a line of keys, too, an archipelago just north of it. They have been torn up overnight. And that's what's caused the storm to disintegrate at least a little bit.

PAUL: OK. So my question is, once it gets into these warmer waters, how plausible is it that it would reintensify?

MYERS: Because it's only going now about 10-12 mph. There's 90 miles between Havana and Key West. And everyone on Key West will tell you that because there's a big buoy on the south side of Key West that says 90 miles to Havana.

That's nine hours in the warm water. And that's a long time. So, yes, I believe it will reintensify. It is beginning to tear itself up and it takes a long time to put itself back together but I think that's going to happen.

PAUL: All righty. So take us to where we're going to go from here. Because I know the Keys, first and foremost, are the most vulnerable right now?

And about what time do you think that's going to happen?

MYERS: It will be tomorrow morning when we really start to see the storm surge. But we're already now seeing the first bands of weather. So if you're trying to get out of the Keys, you're going to go through some squalls. There's just no question about that.

Here is the eye of the storm, right there, and there's the little archipelago right there along the north side of Cuba. We've probably never talk about it until something gets hit like this, like a hurricane. But that is really an area that is being torn up tremendously right now.

There is Key West here and I'll zoom in here a little bit. You can begin to see that there are squalls now hitting Key West, hitting Cudjoe Key, Summerland, all the way through Marathon and as far as north as Key Largo.

So if you're still trying to get out -- and I hope you are still getting out of the Keys if you're there -- you're going to have a little bit of weather to drive through. That weather will eventually get up to our Victor. It will be certainly into Miami this morning.

If you just stay with us the entire time, you're going to see Victor go from a wind of 15 to maybe a wind of 50 and then some. Because we already saw our Patrick Oppmann, which was right there. That's where he is, right at the center of the storm, not the eye yet. Not the eyewall, but certainly as it gets closer, the weather goes downhill until the eye hits you and then it gets better.

But when does the eye hit and where does it hit?

Hurricane center says somewhere close to what I would call Big Pine Key, definitely south of the Seven-Mile Bridge. That puts all the water, all that surge into Marathon, into Grassy Key, into Duck Key and maybe even as far north as Islamorada.

You'll see storm surge somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 feet that will overwash many of those islands. It will take the homes that are on the beach and shove them into the bay, which is up here. So we're going to have to watch out for any kind of surge like that.

Now eventually, this storm gets all the way to Atlanta, where people have been evacuating, too, at 50 miles per hour. Everyone's really freaked out up here. But really, this is only a 50-mile-per-hour storm. There will be branches down, there'll be some power lines down.

What you will see in Fort Myers and Cape Coral is nothing like what we're going to see up here. Fort Myers and Cape Coral will be a devastated area, a lot like what we saw when we went to Puntagorda, Anderson Cooper and I, back when Charlie hit.

This is very close to what Charlie did as it turned to the right and made that right-hand turn on up the west coast. This is the European model, just west of Key West, completely destroying Key West proper, with winds to 130 to 140.

Now we move it on up. And this is where I'm very concerned. If you look at Google Maps, and you look at Cape Coral, you look at Fort Myers, there are so many people that live on canals that are connected to the ocean. If that ocean is 12 feet higher, than it is right now, all of those homes are going to be in trouble because of storm surge.

And the water will kill you. It will. The wind you can get away from. But you can't get away from the water as it begins to wash away your home.

Tampa, you're also in it to win it, 115 miles per hour. Still possible because it's not over the spine of Florida, it's not in the middle of Florida, it's not over going Sebring anymore. It's farther to the west, Annabel Island. We're talking about Sarasota getting a direct hit from some of these winds.

Here's the American model, not much different; they're agreeing pretty much today, maybe 20 or 30 miles.

[05:35:00]

MYERS: But eventually all the way up into Atlanta, Georgia. This will be the worst storm America has ever seen with so many people in the way.

Now, Miami, you're probably 20 or 30 miles per hour of wind less than you were yesterday as this model continues to shift. The model is still saying it will be west of Miami. That puts Miami on the bad side -- don't get me wrong -- if you have to add the forward speed to the storm itself.

So if the winds are 90 plus 10, because the storm's moving 10, that's 100. But the storm's not moving any faster than that right now. It's still moving very slowly.

Here's the white area; where you see white, if you live in this area, you need to find a very strong structure to be in for the next 48 hours or get to the east coast. Here it is. That's 100 miles per hour or greater, Fort Myers, Naples, sustained winds of 100 for maybe an hour or two, maybe three, in some spots if you get both sides of the eyewall, then eventually on up to Tampa, just to the west of Orlando, The Villages all the way up toward Leesburg and Ocala, this is a dangerous storm for anybody still being there.

And you need to hunker down. I know, Tampa, you weren't told to evacuate zone A but I want you to watch out, watch out today, if they change that to A and B. We haven't heard anything about that yet. But if this storm turns any farther to the left, we'll have to watch out for significant flooding into Tampa Bay itself.

Just stay with me on that one. The storm is still in Cuba. The storm doesn't know whether it's a European model or a GFS model or whatever, this storm has its own mind. And we'll keep watch for you, minute by minute, hour by hour. The storm will change, it keeps changing. And you have to keep watching today. It's very, very important -- Victor. BLACKWELL: All right, Chad Myers, Christi Paul. Thank you both.

Now despite the mandatory evacuations -- and there are 5.6 million- plus people across the state ordered to leave -- there are some people who've decided to stay here for a myriad of reasons. Andy Guerra- Mondragon is one of them. He's from Miami's South Beach. He's on the phone with us.

Andy, good morning to you, first.

Why did you decide to stay?

ANDY GUERRA-MONDRAGON, SOUTH BEACH RESIDENT: Well, because I feel that I'm in good shape where I am right now; I'm above water on the ninth floor, looking south. At this time, the waves are beginning to fluff (ph) and it's all white caps right now.

And I came downstairs to the second floor, pool area, overlooking the ocean. And it's -- on the south side, there's really no breeze. It's like a vacuum. If I step out on that corner, you'll see (INAUDIBLE) the wind's blowing.

(INAUDIBLE) put my hand on the railing that covers the first, the second floor, the railing is actually vibrating from the wind.

BLACKWELL: Yes. If you could step back where you were before, we could hear you much better. We could hear the difference there.

GUERRA-MONDRAGON: I'll step out on the --

BLACKWELL: You say you're on the ninth floor of this building.

How many people are there in the building with you?

How many people have decided to stay?

GUERRA-MONDRAGON: I believe there could be up to 30, maybe.

BLACKWELL: OK. Now you say you're in good shape.

What precautions have you taken?

GUERRA-MONDRAGON: Well, before the whole building was refitted for the 30-year certification, I had placed some higher gauge windows. And I asked for those to be replaced back, instead of the ones they put in. So I hope I'm a little better protected.

I have 170-mile-an-hour graded windows. That should do it. And I'm on the south side. Like I say, I'm outside on the south side. And I'm in a breeze. But if I step out on that corner, it's a different story altogether.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, beyond just the storm passing through, the challenges will be infrastructure, the availability of emergency resources during and after the storm. Of course, anyone who makes a decision to stay during a storm like this knows that. But what goes through your mind when you hear from authorities in

South Florida who say, at the height of your storm, if your calculations, if your expectations turn out to be wrong, they will not be able to get to you?

GUERRA-MONDRAGON: Yes. I'm well aware of that. And that's going to be the same for everybody in the state. I'm not alone on that one. Thankfully, I have a well stocked refrigerator. I have a huge ham that I bought out in Publix. They usually bring them out on Labor Day weekends and stuff like that. They brought them out; it will last me a week. So I think I'm good on that one.

[05:40:00]

GUERRA-MONDRAGON: I need to survive the --

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: -- the first four hours and a little more than that. Hopefully, your power stays on, although the expectation from Florida Power & Light is that up to 9 million people could be impacted by this storm.

Andy Guerra-Mondragon, thanks so much for spending some time on New Day. We wish you the best. And we'll check in a little later and check in on you after the storm, all right?

GUERRA-MONDRAGON: Will do.

BLACKWELL: All right, Andy, thank you so much.

We'll continue CNN's live coverage of Hurricane Irma, now a very strong category 4, battering Cuba, headed for South Florida in 24 hours.

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[05:45:00]

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BLACKWELL: Welcome back, I'm Victor Blackwell continuing CNN's live coverage of Hurricane Irma, now a very strong category 4 storm, battering down on Cuba at the moment, packing winds at 155 miles per hour.

This will pound the Florida coast with a very high storm surge, heavy rains; we know about the winds. The freeways have been jammed with people trying to make their way north to escape the brunt of the storm.

I want you to take a look at the cars here, just backed up, stretching along the Florida turnpike. And although, we understand there are no huge traffic jams now, like there were yesterday, there are some people making tough decisions right now.

Christi, you know that I lived here in South Florida for several years before moving to CNN. Some of my friends here have made that long drive to Atlanta to get out of Florida.

Governor Rick Scott is now telling people, if you have not gotten onto the roads up to midnight, which is almost six hours ago now, this not the time to get onto the roads. Go to a shelter if you're in the evacuation area. This is the time to make that decision, to get out of these areas where there are mandatory evacuations.

We know that shelters across this area are filling up.

PAUL: Yes, they are. In fact, some are to capacity. Thank you so much, Victor.

We're going to keep going to Victor, obviously, all morning, as he is where this is starting to change, you're seeing the winds start to get a little stronger down there where he is in Miami.

But there's a storm surge here that may be 12 feet high in some areas. So the Army Corps of Engineers have a dire expectation. They believe that Hurricane Irma is going to overflow Florida's Lake Okeechobee or at least cause it to do so.

And the Herbert Hoover dike holding the water, that is in danger of breaching. A lot of people nearby did decide to leave. But there are people waiting it out there. And our Miguel Marquez spoke to some of the people in the small town of Beclide (ph).

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MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Central Florida, entire families fleeing the path of the storm.

MARQUEZ: How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 5.

MARQUEZ: 5?

How do you feel right now?

MARQUEZ (voice-over): "We're leaving," she says in Creole. Much of the far western edge of Palm Beach County is now under a mandatory evacuation.

MARQUEZ: Where are you going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know exactly where they're going to take us.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The county here is rural, agricultural, immigrants and largely poor. Many people without cars of their own met at a local staging area to be bused, with police escorts, to higher ground. MARQUEZ: If a storm hits here and destroys everything, what happens

to this community, what happens to these people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It must go down. It goes down. Everything will destroy. There won't be any work for, I don't know, for years or so, the mill will shut down. The school. It will the vast -- it will really, really destroy the whole town.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Emergency workers, preparing for the absolute worst case scenario.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a high recommended that you leave, because there's potential danger. No one knows what's going to happen with the storm.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The risk here, two-fold. For one, the areas close to the path of the storm or right on it; the other, the enormous Lake Okeechobee, just to the north, is held back by 143 miles of levees built since 1930. They're improved in recent years but...

MARQUEZ: You don't know whether a storm or the possibility of a breach is your problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, it's both. If it stays on its current track, we could see lots of water. And it doesn't just matter about the water landing here, it also what happens on the north end.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The vast watershed feeding Lake Okeechobee could fill it to the breaking point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the enormous but shallow lake can hold another 3 feet of water and should withstand the storm. Some here refusing to evacuate are counting on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been here all these years, the storm ain't never been this big. So I figure --

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: And if you're wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I'm wrong, I won't be here Tuesday.

MARQUEZ: If you couldn't quite make out what he said, he said, if he's wrong, he'll be gone by Tuesday. So a sort of bit of fatalism in people's decision in staying put, rather than getting out, across the cities and across South Florida and across the entire state. It is clear, that if people were getting out, they have already moved to shelters or getting out of the state.

And if they are staying, they have decided to ride it out -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: All right, Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

Speaking how big that storm is, think about this -- it is the size of Texas. That's what it's been equated to. There's a look at it from NASA. Victor Blackwell is in Miami. We're going to go to him in just a moment. Stay close.

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BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell live in Miami. More flashes of lightning here. And those gusts of wind that we have seen over the last hour, now becoming a little more sustained. But understand that this is nothing compared to what is coming to this part of Miami.

Now Miami-Dade County is under a severe storm surge warning. And officials here are expanding evacuation orders, I've been told, more than 650,000 people to get out. This is the largest evacuation ever attempted by the county.

On the phone with me to talk about this is Artemis Cologne (ph) from the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Detective, good morning to you. First, give us an idea of how many people are complying with this order and how are you going to be dealing with the people who are deciding to stay?

ARTEMIS COLOGNE (PH), MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Good morning, Victor, thank you for having us. So far, to be honest with you, today hasn't been a huge turnaround in regards to the evacuations. Yesterday, people were a little hesitant. We've been very fortunate that as of now a lot of people --

[05:55:00]

COLOGNE (PH): -- have come to the shelters. We have 43 shelters that are still open. And about 27,000 people are in there right now.

We still have plenty of room; so we continue to encourage everybody that if they're still in one of these evacuation areas, to please seek shelter. There's plenty of room out there for them. And that's something that we encourage them, because there's going to come a point in time that the storm is just going to get very heavy.

And the winds are going to be very, very heavy. So we're going to actually stop answering these calls of service. And at that time, the officers actually have to take shelter and hunker down themselves.

So that's the biggest part of this. We want them to know that there may be a time where we're not able to respond to them. And once we get rolling again, it's going to make it harder to get to areas under evacuation, a mandatory evacuation.

BLACKWELL: And what's the cutoff for you?

At what point do you cut off responding to those calls? COLOGNE (PH): It's pretty much going to be something that the command center is going to take into consideration, it's basically once the winds pick up to a certain speed that it's not safe enough for us to operate our vehicles out there.

That's when they make that decision. So right now, we don't have an exact number. But I'm sure that, once they start noticing that it's to a point that it's not safe for our first responders and even rescue people to be out there, they're going to make that call. And that's our biggest fear.

BLACKWELL: Yes. There will be a point at which it will be more dangerous for first responders to be out and putting themselves in danger than to get to the people who make those calls.

Detective Artemis Cologne (ph) with the Miami Police Department, thanks so much for being with us.

Hurricane Irma barreling towards the Florida Keys right now, category 4, very strong storm. An update on the projected track -- coming up next.