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Hurricane Irma closing in on Florida; Irma expected to strengthen again before hitting Florida; Florida Keys feeling hurricane wind gusts; 6.5 million people ordered to evacuate Southern Florida; Florida's western coast in the expected path of Hurricane Irma

Aired September 10, 2017 - 01:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello. And welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes live in Orlando, Florida where there is a little wind, a little rain, but the main brunt of this storm won't hit here, Orlando, for another 24 hours so.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: And I'm Isa Soares, coming to you live from Miami. It is 1 o'clock here in the east coast. And, Michael, like you were say, the wind is starting to pick up there.

The rain has come and gone and it is all very deceptive because it changes course so quickly, but this is just the beginning of things to come.

All right. Thanks, Isa. Well, let's get right to CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis. Karen, tell us about Irma's latest track, where it's headed, what you know.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, we have so many things to tell you. And its position now puts it about 80 miles to the south, southeast of Key West. It has slowed down. We watched it march across the Atlantic and it was moving toward the west at just about 18 miles an hour. That was probably at its peak.

Then we noticed, as it approached the Leeward Island and then into the Turks and Caicos, this started slowing down a little bit more. Yesterday, we were looking at it now, look at what it is. It's just about 12 miles an hour.

Our latest update from the hurricane center has it moving to the northwest at 6 miles an hour. The slower it moves, the better chance we're going to see this increase in intensity because water temperature here is from about 85 to close to 90 degrees.

Perfect combination. There's nothing that's going to sheer it. You've got that warm water. It is bumping up against the southern end of the Florida Peninsula and the coast of Cuba. We can only imagine what happened along the coast of Cuba. But it is a strong Category 3.

Our next update from the National Hurricane Center comes at about 2 o'clock, so we'll have some idea. My guess it's right on the edge of becoming once again a Category 4. And the satellite imagery, wanted to point this out to you, but I missed it, there is a slight jog to the north with that eye. It is something that we watched. Even though the overall trend is to the northwest - I use the word perturbation. That just means like a little jog. Nothing is ever going to be in a straight line, perfectly straight. They take little maneuvers, especially as it's interacting with different landmasses or different currents.

All right. This is very impactful as well. In the red-shaded area, the entire peninsula of Florida, even over towards Tallahassee, there are hurricane warnings. That comes as no surprise because the impact, even over along the east coast, if a lot of people said, oh, we're not staying here in Miami or this area, we're going to move to the West Coast, and now the big threat is for the West Coast.

But I will tell you that right now is seeing a wind gust of 53 miles an hour. There's a wind gust on Fisher Island that's just to the north of Miami that has a wind gust of 57 miles an hour; Fort Lauderdale, 40 mile an hour; at Tyndall, almost a 60 mile an hour wind gust.

So, we've got tropical storm force winds. But look at this, tropical storm warnings out, encompasses Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, towards Charleston. I know this area like the back of my hand.

And then, for Atlanta, there are tropical storm watches out. They've already canceled the public schools.

All right. I want to show. Maybe we can see this if you zoom in a little bit, Dennis, there has been an eye wall replacement cycle. What does that mean? Well, it's as if it's trying to reorganize. It's going to be gaining some strength. It's not really interacting with the coastal areas.

Where you see this red-shaded box, this is our tornado watch because this is where we see the really strong dynamic for tornado activity. And, indeed, over the last 12 hours or so, we see these - some really strong bands that move across.

They have lots of lightning with them. There's lots of twist in the atmosphere. It's very moist and it's very unstable. So, we could see one of these just kind of fire up very easily.

All right. If you see once again, Dennis, maybe you could zoom in on this. It may not depict it so well. But there is that slight jog to the north. What does that tell us? Well, it's just really hard to say because we know just how fickle Irma has been.

I want to show you one other thing before my time is up here. This is a storm surge where you see the red. Zoom in. And all the way from the Florida Keys, the highest point is about 12 feet above sea level, we could see a storm surge of 5 to 10 feet. They will be underwater.

[01:05:00] Marco Island, beautiful, lovely coastal area, all these inlets could be inundated with 10 to 15 feet of water. That is an estimate at this point, but it's a very good estimate. And then as we go up the coast, towards Port Charlotte, this beautiful area as well, a lot of these inlets, Sanibel, Captiva, those are areas that could see 10, possibly 15 feet of storm surge.

So, very memorable coastline. Possible landfall going into midnight tomorrow. A very different scenario, but in an hour, another update. Michael?

HOLMES: All right. Look forward to that. Karen Maginnis in Atlanta, thanks so much. Appreciate that. Let's take you back to Miami, Florida where Isa Soares is keeping an eye on things.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Michael. Just listening to what Karen said there, the 10, 15 feet of this surge that she was talking about, it's so hard tonight to imagine, to visualize that. But, Karen, putting it all into perspective for us.

What we just heard from Karen, there's a shift there, going from east, northwest, and the city of Naples is along that route, and that's where we find our Ed Lavandera.

Ed, give us a sense of what is happening where you are, in particular on the weather front.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting. We really haven't experienced much of Hurricane Irma just yet. The wind is very manageable. Slight drizzles, if you will. Nothing terribly dramatic as of yet.

Clearly, that is going to change and will change in the overnight, early morning hours. We're going to begin to see those initial outer bands begin to strike here in Naples.

And because of that, you have seen emergency responders here in Collier County, which has a population of little more than 300,000 people, really kind of taking those - and here in the late afternoon, evening hours, taking those last-minute precautions and preparations to get ready for this storm.

In fact, we were on - in a little barrier island called Marco Island, home to about 16,000 people. We met up with the police chief there as he was about to make his final round before going inside the emergency shelter.

That is an island where some 80 first responders, police and firefighters, will be staying on the island, deployed on various location, high-ground locations, prepared to respond to any kind of high-water rescues or any kind of emergency calls that come in after the worst of the storm has passed through.

But in talking with the various officials here, throughout the day, a number of people, they feel very confident saying that they believe that the vast majority of people from this county and this area heeded those warnings and evacuated not just today, but earlier in the week as well, even when Hurricane Irma 's landfall hadn't really been pinpointed just yet.

And because of that, even the threat of it, a lot of people around here really took off and started heading north.

There are people who are staying back, Isa. In fact, we asked the police chief down there on Marco Island, for anyone who's decided to get cold feet now as this storm get closer, is it too late, in his opinion, to hit the roads and evacuate, and he believed the time was up, that this was now time to shelter in place and brace for the worst of this storm. Isa?

SOARES: Yes, absolutely. Now is not the time to be making that decision. Now is the time to really hunker down and prepare for it.

Ed Lavandera in the city of Naples, we'll touch base with you in the next hour or so.

Michael, over to you.

HOLMES: All right, Isa. Thanks so much. We'll be back with you shortly. And speaking of hunkering down, John Hines joins me now over the phone. He lives in Key West, Florida, waiting out the storm.

John, good to speak with you again. We were talking 24 hours or so ago as you were awaiting Irma. And you said you were confident you're in a strong building. What has it been like?

JOHN HINES, KEY WEST RESIDENT: Well, it's gotten worse, of course. We're still in a strong building, a Cat 5 building, concrete condo. And it's - we're hunkered down. Hurricane shutters are up.

The power is out. So, we're in pitch dark. Can't see your hand in front of your face, which makes it a little more eerie as everything rattles, rock and rolls as she, Hurricane Irma, works her way up here.

It's loud, it's noisy, it's raining. The last time I peeked through the hurricane shutters, it was starting to flood a little bit. I don't think it's storm surge. I think it's things from all the rain and the wind sideways.

Things are breaking and it's starting to get ugly.

HOLMES: We've been hearing about the storm surge. Of course, a lot of people up that West Coast of Florida worried very much about storm surge. Where you are, it's not exactly high ground. How concerned are you about that surge?

HINES: Well, I'm not concerned about it for us because I realize that we're in the fourth floor. So, storm surge is not an issue for me.

[01:10:00] But I'm sure once the daylight gets here, once Irma gets through here - hen she gets done doing what she's going to do, we'll go up and clean up and assess the damage and the mess and we'll help rebuild and recover and get the Conch Republic back to where it used to be.

HOLMES: Tell me, you were pretty confident last time we spoke, 24 hours ago, about your decision to stay. Any regrets at all or no? HINES: No, sir. I'd much rather be here on this side than having to fight 10 million people scrambling to evacuate and then having to evacuate again and if one of these bridges goes up.

I'd much rather be on this side of at home with my food, girlfriend, everything we need here as opposed to being on the other side of the bridge and wondering when am I going to get back home, where am I going to stay. Ten million people have to come back, down through South Florida. It's going to be a nightmare. So, I'd much rather be here.

And we're very fortunate that we're in this building and the first responders are right next door in a hotel, in a concrete building too. So, we're all here, waiting for it to be done, and then we'll go back out and do what we do, get people back to work.

HOLMES: You mentioned the power being out. We can say that all 29,000 customers in the Keys area of Florida are without power. So, you're not alone in that regard.

You mentioned the neighbor and you did tell me yesterday that other people had chosen to stay as well. Are you in contact? What are you saying to each other? What are you talking about?

HINES: Well, I was over next door earlier today, right in between rain bands, we're just all hunkering down. (INAUDIBLE) do what you're going to do and get on out here, so we can get back to business.

HOLMES: Have you had moments of nervousness. Tell us what the actual experience has been like.

HINES: Well, I don't get that nervous around stuff like this. I joke with people. You can't scare me anymore. I've been there. But it is what it is. It's windy, it's noisy, it's loud. And when it's over, it's over. And we'll go to what we do. We're covered. We're Conch Republic down here and we'll rebuild it and cleanup what needs to be cleaned up and get on with it.

HOLMES: There are some great communities down there. Are you worried about what daylight will reveal or when the waters do recede what the damage is going to be like? What are you expecting?

HINES: I am concerned with the storm surge. I think that will be the biggest thing that hurts down here because all these buildings down here are hurricane rated.

This is what we do. We live on an island and we know it and we live this every day. We love it down here. It's a total, special, different kind of world down here with my mom. And little brother died last year. My dad brought the ashes down here. And we spread them out in the Atlantic Ocean and then dad died in my arms. And we lost them all in the first 53 days of last year. So, they are up there in the Atlantic Ocean. So, I have an emotional attachment down here and I'm not going anywhere.

HOLMES: Yes. And we touched on that last night and our thoughts with you. You did have a tough year last year and that's part of the reason you stayed, that emotional attachment.

John, great to talk to you again. Glad you're doing OK there and, hopefully, we'll talk again when this is all over. John Hines, appreciated. Thanks so much.

All right. Still to come here, much more on our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma. The huge storm expected to affect most of Florida. It is the size of Florida. We'll have reports from along the east coast now getting lashed by high winds and heavy rain when we come back. Stay with us.


[01:17:35] HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes live in Orlando, Florida.

SOARES: And I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami. You are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma.

HOLMES: And gale-force winds are lashing South Florida right now as Hurricane Irma nears the US mainland. Let's have a look at some video. Now, the storm a Category 3, but is expected to regain strength as it crosses very warm open water between Cuba and Florida. Warm water feeds a storm like this now.

Now, Irma's path has shifted slightly to the west and that puts Florida's Gulf Coast on high alert. Many people, from Naples to Tampa, are now seeking shelter from the storm surge that is expected to follow. A lot of fears about that water rushing inland.

We've seen fleets utility trucks heading down south, mobilized to deal with power outages which have already affected almost 200,000 customers.

And, Isa Soares in Miami, they say those people - the numbers of people affected could go up into the hundreds of thousands more and it could be weeks before some of them get power perhaps.

SOARES: Absolutely. You just sort of know. You're looking at the strength and the breadth of this, this hurricane, Michael, and it's really hard to predict, as we've been hearing from Karen Maginnis the last 20 minutes or so.

Here in Miami Beach, officials are not taking any chances. They put the curfew in place from 8 PM local to 7 AM in the morning.

Derek Van Dam is monitoring the conditions. And, Derek, definitely seeing where I am here in Miami, winds starting to pick up and the rain coming down. Not as strong as we saw earlier, but, definitely, we've seen that shift, haven't we?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Isa, we're between the heaviest rain bands that right now, but it's a good reason that they've enforced that mandatory curfew through 7 AM because the immediate threats for Miami Beach and right along the Miami-Dade coastline are staggering frankly. We've got a tornado watch, we've got a flash flood watch, we have a

storm surge warning. All that on top of mandatory evacuations and curfew. So, this is real as it gets.

[01:20:00] Even though we may not be whipping around at this very moment in time, but the wind we know can change so drastically as these feeder bands continue to move in and the eye of Irma edges closer and closer to the Florida Keys and, ultimately, the southern Florida Peninsula.

There are four fire departments located within Miami Beach. We had the opportunity to talk to the Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine earlier today. And he said that, police and fire will remain operational as long as winds - sustained winds remained below 40 miles per hour.

And I believe, they have probably have, at least in terms of average wind speeds so far. But that should change as we head into the early morning hours here locally. That's when the police and fire with start to pull the emergency services from the streets.

And if you did not heed the warnings for evacuations, you are ultimately on your own. But I did just check the Miami Beach police and fire Twitter accounts and they are still actively responding to service calls.

In fact, there have been numerous calls, a lot of alarms have been set off and tripped in some of the buildings here. They did rescue an individual who was stuck within an elevator shaft for a number of hours because of an electricity failure.

Speaking of electrical failures, in Miami-Dade County alone, we have over 106,000 people without power. Believe me, you can imagine that number is just going to go up because, as we look over the horizon, just to my left, as we look towards Miami city proper, we have seen transformers blowing up, lighting up the skies, this purple blue haze, quite frequently here throughout the period of the night, especially when those stronger feeder bands come in.

So, that just gives you an indication that these strong wind gusts are knocking over maybe perhaps some of the palm trees, some of the palm leaves and really whipping some of the conditions there.

Isa, it's going to be a long night ahead of us. We expect the worse conditions to really pick up as we head to first light tomorrow morning.

SOARES: Absolutely. Derek Van Dam there for us in Miami Beach. And, Michael, as Derek was just saying, the most important thing here, as we've been hearing, especially in the last hour, it's really not to be complacent. There are so many elements at play, not just the storm surge, but also the degree that may come from some of the storm surge, but the winds that we are expecting.

So, it's worth waiting until you get the green lights from officials to actually come back and going into your homes. I know many people will be concerned about the damage to their homes, but better to be safe because, as officials have been saying for hours, we can rebuild your homes, we cannot rebuild your lives. Michael?

HOLMES: Yes, exactly, Isa. We were talking last hour with Russell Honore, of course, the military man who oversaw Hurricane Katrina and the logistics there. And he was saying the aftermath almost as important as the pre-preparation for a storm like this, making sure that people get back home to safe houses and safe environments.

We'll check in with you in a little bit, Isa. Good to see you now.

Let's go to George Stokus, is the assistant county administrator for Florida's Martin County. Good to have you on the program, sir. You're on the east coast of the Florida Peninsula. You must be a bit relieved. It looks like the western side is going to get the worst treatment. But what are conditions like for you?

GEORGE STOKUS, ASSISTANT COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR, MARTIN COUNTY: Good morning, Michael. We are definitely relieved a little bit that the storm is going towards the west side of Florida.

However, we realize that the tropical storm force winds extend 205 miles out and that the state is only 165 miles wide. We're starting to see some of the winds pick up.

We are expecting storm force winds to arrive at 03:30 this morning and continue for us till 9 AM on September 11 Monday. We're looking at a whopping twenty-nine-and-a-half hours of Irma's experience for us. And we're taking precautions for that.

HOLMES: Yes, tell us about the precautions.

STOKUS: Sure. We have emergency operations now at a level 1, which is 24-hour operations. We've been very well-staffed. We're working with over 40 of our participating agencies, including local, state and federal partners, FP&L and some other entities.

In preparations for the hurricane, we inspected and cleared our county storm water drainage structures, proactively placing pumps in flood- prone areas and have pre-staged our county equipment to quickly facilitate debris removal and repair any damages sustained through the storm.

We're also working with Florida Power & Light to stage our electrical truck and some other vehicles are there to respond to our neighboring counties to the south of southwest. We've also been communicating via Facebook.

Go ahead, sir.

HOLMES: No, carry on, sorry. Finish your thoughts. Yes.

STOKUS: We've also been taking a very proactive role and trying to communicate to our public what the conditions are, what they should be doing during the storm, as well as we've been having regular press briefings as well as reaching out versus Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, as many outlets as we can to get the word out.

[01:25:16] HOLMES: All right. George Stokus there, the Martin County assistant administrator. Appreciate it. Thanks so much for the update.

And, everyone, do keep it right here on CNN for the latest on Hurricane Irma. We will go live to Fort Myers in Florida where powerful winds from this monster storm are expected to hit in the coming hours.


HOLMES: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, live in Orlando, Florida.

SOARES: And I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami. We have started to see the winds pick up. It's starting to rain, not as a really as we have seen in the past hours, but it is definitely starting to see the initial impact of Hurricane Irma.

Let's find out where the hurricane is right now. Karen Maginnis is keeping a very close eye on Irma. And, Karen, you were talking earlier about that shift slightly northwest and about it slowing down, why is that important?

MAGINNIS: It is important because the impact can be different. And it doesn't take much of a shift for you to, say, see a storm surge of maybe 5 feet as opposed to 10 feet.

[01:30:11] But I wanted to show you this. This is kind of interesting as far as model runs go. The National Hurricane Center, at 5 PM, we plotted out all the coordinates, and this is what it was doing. And it was going to make its way up towards Sarasota.

But soon, the next run, from the National Hurricane Center, plotted out the coordinates that we anticipate that it will take and there we shift it to the west. But it doesn't really make landfall.

Let's move this a little bit further to the north. Doesn't really make landfall until you get up towards the Tampa, St. Pete area. Is that possible? Certainly, looks like.

This is been one of the most fickle hurricanes. We can have all of the really good computer models in the world and they will tell us something different because the environment has changed, just how it interacts with land has changed, the sea surface temperatures may change. They're all kinds of different variables that to forecast out beyond just a couple of days is very difficult.

All right. I want to show you another couple of things. This is looking at the forecast radar. We go right now and we put it into motion and it brings it up across the Florida Keys.

And by the way, just about everyone in the Florida Keys has lost power. I saw a report from a woman who is in Great Pine Key. That's just to the north of Key West. And she said I have about 8 inches of water in my home.

What do you think that's just because of the rainfall? No, they haven't gotten that much rainfall. There was water that was creeping up. That is the storm surge.

When you see it kind of in real time like that, it's almost mind- boggling to think this isn't because of rain, it isn't because of rain, it's because the wall of water gets kind of pushed up because it is just such a tremendous system.

There we go. Right around Tampa. You can see all these deeper red- shaded areas, those are some of the stronger bands that move along that upper right quadrant. That's where it's typical in a storm like this to expect and to see hurricanes.

I want to point out one other thing. We were looking at this in the CNN weather department. There was just a very noticeable jog kind of to the north. Just a little bit. That could be just like a little blip. Could be that it's just one of those perturbations where it doesn't exactly make a straight line, but, overall, it's movement to the northwest and it's moving slowly. It's only moving at about 6 miles an hour.

So, it's slowed down. It's not barreling along like it had been, but it slowed down. So, you can imagine we were looking at landfall right about now. We were calling it yesterday. Now, it's - they moved another 24 hours.

So, if you were thinking, oh, I was on the east coast, moved to the west coast, and probably would've been better to stay over here, it's not better over here. It isn't better over here. There is still a storm surge. There are still winds at tropical storm force.

In the Keys, we had our first report of a hurricane force wind gust there. And the storm, the Hurricane Irma is still 80 miles away.

Now, in just about 30 minutes, we will get another update from the National Hurricane Center, 26 million people under hurricane warning. This is a storm surge. This is a problem. This is the illustration I was giving you about the woman who is on Big Pine Key. Purple shaded area, pink shaded area, 10 to 15 feet; from the Everglades, Marco Island to Naples to Fort Myers, 6 to 10 feet; Tampa, 5 to 8. All of that's going to change.

If Harvey just stays a little bit further to the west and the warm waters - Irma, if it stays just a little bit further to the west, we're going to see that storm surge become even bigger. And there is a tropical storm watch now that includes Atlanta, Georgia and some of the schools are saying we're not going to open on Monday. It's a wait and see situation.

Back to you guys.

SOARES: Karen, very quickly, I know you're outlining the path it will take. But for our viewers in Florida Keys, those in Naples, they are sitting there, watching, wanting to know when they should expect to hit.

You said 24 hours. Any idea in terms of time?

MAGINNIS: Because it has slowed down in its forward progression, it's moving northwest at 6 miles an hour. It's not moving northwest at 16 miles an hour.

[01:35:09] But, yesterday, I said, it will be about midnight on Saturday, going into Sunday. Now, we're saying Sunday late night.

But there are comparisons that are being made to Hurricane Donna back in 1960. Why do we mention that? Because Irma has taken a similar path, right across the lesser Antilles, Turks and Caicos, Leeward Islands, bounce along the north coast of Cuba, then made a turn towards the north, moved across the Keys, and then went in right around Fort Myers.

Is that possible? Certainly, it's possible. Now, it's very hard to say. All of those huge beautiful cities along the west coast of Florida are very vulnerable and any one spot could be the landfall location.

Right now, it appears as if it could be the Sarasota area. Very warm water temperatures here. But if that storm surge, Isa, is going to be - that's going to be huge. These are low-lying areas and it's going to inundate homes and buildings and businesses.

So, it's a terrible situation.

SOARES: Karen Maginnis, thank you very much for that detail there just in terms of where the hurricane will go next.

And, Michael, as Karen was outlining, it's so unpredictable, Irma, and the best we can do is really seek higher ground and really seek the advice of authorities and stay safe.

HOLMES: Yes. What there is always the issue in a situation like this, isn't it? Isa, thanks so much. We'll check in with you.

Let's go to Miguel Marquez. He's in Punta Gorda on Florida's west coast. Conditions have been getting steadily worse there. The west coast is going to take the brunt of this, although most of the state - nobody is going to be unaffected.

Bring us up to date, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Punta Gorda very aware of hurricanes. Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Charlie ripped through here and nearly leveled the town. We're just north of Fort Myers, just south of Sarasota on the West Coast of Florida here.

That hurricane track takes it just west of the city, which is good because it is not coming ashore here, it seems, at least at the moment. It's bad in the sense that it's on that right-hand side of the eye wall, which is some of the worst sort of wind and storm surge.

They're expecting a very big storm surge in here, basically a giant wave out of the ocean that comes on to land and then sweeps everything back out in relatively quick order.

It's a very low-lying order - county here in Charlotte County. They have three shelters here only because the lands are so low, they don't really have anything higher than below sea level essentially.

So, the shelters in the county are completely full. They will accept people if there is a dire situation, but they are moving people to five shelters - four now because one is closed there. Four shelters in Sarasota County just north of here to get people taken care of they need help.

There is no gas to be had in Charlotte County. We looked quite a bit today. The apps that we use on the phones as well, there's nothing. People basically hunkering down now.

The beginning of the wind that we are starting to see now, just to see the move toward that hurricane force wind that we will see in the next 24 hours has begun. It is light now compared to what we're going to see in just a few hours. Michael?

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. I'm curious, you mentioned the shelters being full there. There are other shelters a bit further out. Are people able to get to those shelters if they decide I made a mistake, I want to get out of here?

MARQUEZ: Yes. The roads are open. It's pretty much a ghost town out there. You see a lot of emergency vehicles out and police and ambulances, but other than that, you don't see much else.

You can get up there. The rain is not heavy here yet. The surge has not begun. So, there is time to get to shelters, but they have to move now because, as the hours tick on, there's going to be less and less opportunity to do that.

HOLMES: Yes. There is that point where you just can't go or shouldn't go. Miguel Marquez, thanks so much. Good to see you.

We're going to take a short break here on the program. 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 passes through.


[01:43:13] HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes coming to you live from Orlando, Florida.

SOARES: And I am Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami. You're watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma.

HOLMES: And US officials are warning about how dangerous this storm will be when it hits Florida full on in the next few hours. In Key West, intense winds from Hurricane Irma already shaking palm trees. More than 6.5 million have now been ordered to evacuate the southern parts of the State of Florida.

Authorities are also expecting even more power outages lasting perhaps days and even weeks. So far, close to 200,000 customers have lost electricity. That number could swell into millions of people when the storm really makes impact.

Isa Soares, glad to be with you.

SOARES: Thank you very much, Michael. You are talking about losing power and we've got a resident in Key West. Randy Towt joins me now on the line.

And, Randy, just want to double check with you. As Michael was saying, many residents without power. Do you still have power at this moment?

Randy Towt, we do right now. And the really heavy winds have started. So, we've got power and we can hear the rumbling outside. We're shuttered in pretty good where we can't see what's going on. But we can hear it outside.

SOARES: And as you said, you're shuttered in and you're one of the people that we've been speaking to have decided to ride out the storm. What have you decided to do that, Randy?

TOWT: As we watched the storm drifted more to the west away from us, we were not going to be in the in the center of that core going through the upper Keys. It's actually moved to the west toward Key West, which is about 80 miles from where I'm at. And our winds are going to be a lot less than what they're going to have.

[01:45:20] And we're on high ground. We've got a solid house to withstand what's coming and, hopefully, there won't be much of a tide surge in this area. And we felt it was a safe place to ride it out and be home.

SOARES: We've been hearing from our meteorologist Karen Maginnis, we've been saying the storm surge, it's something that we keep talking about that it could go up about 10 to 15 feet. I know you said you're slightly on higher ground. But those 10, 15 feet, is that a concern to you?

TOWT: Well, it certainly can be. That's kind of a prediction that they are giving. Where we are in this subdivision, Indian Mound in Tavernier, we're on pretty high ground. So, even if it does flood and we get a tide surge of that magnitude, I don't think it's high enough to get into our house. And plus, we have a second story as well. So, we're not too worried about the floodwater.

SOARES: Randy, at what point did you decide to stay put and just hunker down?

TOWT: Well, when we tried to find accommodations for our family of eight and five dogs, we just weren't coming up with much. And plus, we were watching on TV with the lines and the traffic and the chaos that was going on throughout South Florida of everybody evacuating, everybody took it very serious, which is a good thing, but sometimes you leave your safe haven to go somewhere you think will be OK and you ride the storm out there or you end up in Ground Zero and you can't get back to your home in the Keys.

SOARES: And did you look outside a window? I know you said you're prepared, you're on higher ground. But as you look outside your window, give us a sense, give our viewers a sense of what you see and what you hear.

TOWT: Well, you can't really see anything. It's dark and we're boarded up, but you can hear the rumbling, you can hear trees breaking. You can hear things hitting the side of the house where the shutters are. So, it's really more of a wind and noise that you're hearing right now.

And the prior to this, there was a lot of trees down already. So, that's really about all you can get from what's going on. You know it's windy. You don't know how windy, if it's 70, 80 miles an hour. But the forecast for us to be a 20 percent chance of hurricane force winds was going to happen in my area.

SOARES: Randy Towt, do keep safe and keep us posted on how you're doing, how your family and your dogs are doing. Hopefully, we touch base with you in the next several hours. We wish you all the best.

Of course, we have seen, as Randy was saying, the winds starting to pick up. The rain has started too. But, also, what we're seeing is the howling. The wind is just ferocious at this moment. That's the noise that I keep hearing.

We'll have much more of our continuing coverage after a very short break.


[01:52:32] HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes coming to you live in Orlando, Florida. This is CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma.

Well, the City of Tampa on Florida's west coast facing potential storm surge from Irma. Now, I spoke earlier with the city's mayor Bob Buckhorn about what it's doing to prepare.


BOB BUCKHORN, MAYOR OF TAMPA: Well, we train for this all year round. We recognize that living in Florida that this is always a risk. 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're in the execution phase and we've got a lot of people that are telling us to get up and do our jobs tomorrow.

HOLMES: There's been a lot of talk, speculation, but also reporting that Tampa in particular is vulnerable to this sort of storm, to a hurricane, and to the storm surge. Clearly, houses close to water, of course, and the 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. We're going to get through the winds. We'll get through the rain depending on what the 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 a 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: Tell us a little bit about that. Everybody hopes that 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 waterfront, which tend to be our more affluent areas, would be impacted.

[01:55:02] 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 of 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. 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-force 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 are 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. You don't have to travel to Georgia. All you have to do is get out of flood zone A. 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: And that is all the time we have been this hour. Thanks for being with us. I'm Michael Holmes live in Orlando, Florida.

SOARES: And I'm Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami. Our coverage of Hurricane Irma continues after a very short break. Do be safe. Stay safe and stay right here with CNN.