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Irma Back To Category 4 Before Hitting Florida; 6.5 Million People Told To Evacuate; 288,000+ Customers Now Without Power; Florida Keys Braced For Monster Hurricane Irma; Storm Surge Up To 15 Feet Possible In Southwest Florida; Florida's Western Coast In The Expected Path Of Irma; Thousands Of Florida Residents Crowd Into Shelters; Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 10, 2017 - 04:00   ET


ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you're just joining us, a very warm welcome to our viewers right around the world. I'm Isa Soares. And you are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Michael Holmes coming to you from Orlando in Florida. Let's bring you up to date now. Hurricane Irma has begun hammering South Florida as a dangerous category four hurricane. It has not yet officially made landfall. It is expected to keep gaining strength as well as it crosses warm, open water between Cuba and Florida. It's projected path has shifted slightly to the west, putting Florida's Gulf Coast on high alert.

As you can see, parts of downtown Miami also starting to flood with all that rainfall. All told, 6.5 million people are being told to evacuate. More than 70,000 are now in emergency shelters throughout the state. And have a look at this video. Pleasure boats along the waterfront also taking a beating as the storm edges closer. The storm surge that follows could be catastrophic in certain places along that Western Coast of Florida. Almost 300,000 customers have lost power.

SOARES: And of course, you know, Mike, when you're really putting into perspective for us, worth bearing in mind as well that Irma hasn't even arrived and made landfall. What we're seeing -- what we're feeling right now here in Miami, the rain, the hounding winds, it really is just the beginning of the storm, the outer parts of the storm. But it has intensified, of course, in the last few hours or so. Now a hurricane four -- category four as Karen McGinnis said, I'm predicted right from the beginning. Karen McGinnis joins us now. Karen, give us a sense of where Irma is right now and the path it is taking.

KAREN MCGINNIS, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: It is - it's bearing down on the Florida Keys right now. We have seen a number of wind reports coming out of the Florida Keys, most recently marathon Key with an 88-mile-an-hour wind gust. That is hurricane force wind. This has been -- Irma has been battering the Florida Keys for hours, and it's not even made landfall across the Keys. We're well on our way. How soon will it get there? Well, Irma is moving to the northwest at about six miles an hour. It slowed way down then when it was over the glorious open waters of the Atlantic basin. But then as it was encroaching across the Leeward Islands and Turks & Caicos and then it made landfall along this north- central coast of Cuba before just now exiting, now it's slowed down a whole, whole lot. There's that tornado watch box out which includes that southern portion of Florida because of the outer bands.

That upper right quadrant, this portion of the hurricane that is most prone to see the dynamics that would lead to tornadic activity. We also have seen something. Looking at the satellite imagery, the eye looked kind of ragged. But on the radar imagery, it looks more concise, although we're fairly certain it is undergoing a -- an eye wall replacement, meaning the eye wall, there are two -- the central one collapses and essentially the other one engulfs it.

Right now, I was briefly distracted by this tornado warning which is in the vicinity of Fort Pierce and what looks to be Interstate 95 in that purple box. I don't have any other information. That just popped up just as we got on the air. But here's a different view. Hurricane Irma has been kind of warbling just a little bit. It doesn't make a beeline anywhere. It sort of does these little jogs and we'll continue to see that. Probably Key West is going to see the eye here or in that vicinity.

It doesn't really matter because we've got a category four hurricane with hurricane-force winds extending out about 120 miles. It's something less than 70 miles an hour. In the next 45 minutes or so, we'll be getting another update from the National Hurricane Center. So, wind supporting this at 130 miles an hour, moving northwest at six. It is taking aim for the Florida Keys. If we don't get another observation out of there, it wouldn't surprise me.

So you're probably wondering where is it going to go. Well, the computer models are still saying for the West Coast. Take a look at this. This is when it was just emerging from the Coast of Cuba and you can see not a very concentric looking eye. We know that it's strengthening when there is more kind of uniformity with it, but it just doesn't have that. Probably because it is -- looks like it is experiencing that eye wall replacement.

But you can see some of these hurricane bands on the water vapor imagery all the way through Tampa, Saint Pete, up near Jacksonville. I was very concerned about Kennedy Space Center because I just like looking at all the things that are happening there. It had a peak wind gust of about 25 miles an hour, but that's about it. But the local forecast for the Kennedy Space Center on the East Coast of Florida, where a lot of people feel a little disappointed because it wasn't going to make landfall there, now it's the West Coast.

Kennedy Space Center is looking at the potential for near hurricane- force winds. And the hurricane is still way down here. So if you're second guessing yourself, don't. Because there are a lot of impacts from wind damage, lightning, tornado, storm surge, flooding, 10 to 20 inches of rainfall. Irma has pretty got all of that covered. Michael, Isa? SOARES: Thanks very much. Thanks very much, Karen. Don't second

guess yourself, of course, in situations like this. The rain, the water, the hurricane, they always win. It's just we cannot compete with the force of nature that is the hurricane. Let's get now one of the guests who's on the line.


SOARES: He's a reporter with the Miami Herald. His name is David Ovalle. He's - Ovalle. He's on the phone now from Key West. David, I know you're with Miami Herald. Tell us what you're seeing in Key West, one area of course that we know having listened now to Karen McGinnies, our meteorologist saying that it's going to be seeing the biggest impact from Irma. What are you seeing out your window, what are you hearing?

ORALLE: Hello?

SOARES: Hey, avid. Can you hear me?

ORALLE: Yes, I can. I'm sorry about that. Can you hear me? Hello?

SOARES: I can hear you well. I was just - I was just asking you - I was just asking you to give us a sense of what you can see and what you can hear.

ORALLE: OK. We don't -- I'm in a seven - I'm in a three-storey building in the middle of Key West. It's pretty high ground, so it's a pretty safe but as you were saying earlier, the storm really is nowhere near us. I mean, it's still about 70 miles away from Key West. So, right now we're just getting the bad winds. So far the one window we can see out of, there is - there is no storm surge yet and the winds are just whipping really, really strong now. We are - we lost power about 8:00 p.m. last night.

So, I'd say about, you know, four, five, six hours ago. We - you know, just a lot of debris, power is out everywhere. The - you know, we're concerned, we're boarding up one of the windows down here because there's a metal clasp that came loose and on one of the shutter -- shutters here, these special type of shutters we have in the first floor. And it's banging against one of the windows. So, we fully expect the windows to get blown out at some point, once the hurricane-force winds start coming in, and at some point I figure we'll end up in the stairwell. So, we're just here waiting it out. It's a little nerve wracking because you can't see too much of what's going on. But here we are.

SOARES: Yes. It is extremely nerve wracking just waiting for it to arrive. And you just don't know what to expect. But David, why didn't you not go and stay and seek help from some of the shelters? There's some 365 shelters in Florida. Why did you decide to stay - excuse me, to stay put?

ORALLE: Well, I don't - I don't know, I didn't stay put. I actually don't live in Key West. I live in Miami and I came down here for the storm. So, you know, once it was pretty clear it was going to impact the Keys, me and my photographer Charlie Trainor, we hopped in the car against probably everyone's better judgment and came down and we arranged a place to stay here and a place to work, and we've been chronicling everything.

And a little surprise but not - well, I guess I wasn't that surprised, but most of the other media outlets picked up and left. And so we're going to be here and transmitting and giving out information as best we can until we lose cell service.

SOARES: David, you're talking about how you're chronicling everything. What have you seen today? What stories have you heard? Because of course, the surprise, the shift in Irma going slightly northwest may have caught some by surprise. Do you feel that people are prepared, they have been -- they've been going to shelters? What have you seen?

ORALLE: Well, in Key West, I think there was a little bit of back and forth. I mean, of course, Key West -- people in Key West and in the Keys are very self-sufficient. They're very stubborn and pendent and, you know, people want to ride it out here. You know, this is -- these are islands, you know, they don't want to be stuck on the mainland. I've gotten that from a lot of people. They want to be close to their businesses and their homes and their friends. And so they didn't want to go.

But, you know, people at the last minute (INAUDIBLE) as they call them decided, you know what, this storm is looking too bad, we're getting out of here. I interviewed a guy I guess a night before last. He said the final (INAUDIBLE) high tailed it to Orlando and drove throughout the night. But there are plenty of people that have stayed, you know, up until 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m. last night. There were still some of the homeless people on Key West just loitering out in the front.

We tried to get one homeless woman who just had spent all day cleaning branches from the street, we (INAUDIBLE) to go to a shelter, and she just refused. So there's going to be - there's going to be some stragglers, but hopefully everybody is in a safe place now.

ORALLE: Yes, absolutely. And it's OK to be stubborn, but just worth weighing the risks. It's very important, isn't it? Thank you very much, David. Appreciate you taking the time, David, to speak to us. Do keep us posted on how you're doing and keep safe, of course. Stay away like you said from those windows. Dave there joining us on the phone. And of course, Michael, you know, what David was saying, he went out there Key West to tell the story.

Now that the hurricane has shifted somewhat, he's hunkering down the rest of his - of his crew, weants to wait for it to pass. Although, he's not yet seeing yet the impact. We starting to feel all right here in South Florida. The rain hasn't stopped. If anything, it has intensified. And the winds are starting to pick up too. But as Karen McGinnis has been saying throughout the last two, it's still far away from us. So this is nothing at this point. Michael? HOLMES: Yes. And those winds pushing water ashore and the surge that

everybody fears in low moving but packing a punch still, an increasing punch, as you said, up to category four. Isa, thanks so much. Appreciate it here in Orlando, well north of where Isa is. There's been a steady rain but not a heavy rain. The winds are light. 24 hours from now, it will be a different story. And south of where we are is Ed Lavandera in the City of Naples in Southwest Florida. And a city that have seen hurricanes before and has suffered through them before, but not seen anything quite this big. Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Michael. Well, after Hurricane Irma churns its way through Key West in that area that you just heard, the reporter from the Miami Herald talking about. The next significant land point - significant land point that it will come across is this area here, Naples and Collier County which is on the very south - the southwest corner of this part of the state. And here everyone measures hurricanes by what happened in 2005, Hurricane Wilma.

Speaking with the mayor, he says that he's not quite sure that experience will measure up to what Hurricane Irma will deliver here. A 10 to 15-foot storm surge expected and feared. The rains and the winds slowly starting to pick up. It's been very manageable here through the overnight hours. We also manage to make our way down south to a little island called Marco Island, about 24 square miles. 16,000 people live on the island.

We caught up with the police chief who was making his final round through the neighborhood. They had been warning people throughout the day to evacuate. He believes that there are still a number of people who have decided to stay on the island and wait out the storm. And I asked the police chief if he thought it was too late for anyone who's getting cold feet, if it was too late for them to evacuate and this is what he told me just a few hours ago.


AL SCHETTINO, POLICE CHIEF, MARCO ISLAND: It's too late. It's called - what we say, it's right now we're at shelter in place. (INAUDIBLE) we ask people to do if they're in a home, just a vertical evacuation. That means if they have a second storey, they go to as high above the water line as they possibly can. If they're in a single-family home or one-storey home, we ask that they get to a neighbor's house that has a second story where they can get high above the water line.


LAVANDERA: And Michael, depending on where the eye of the hurricane makes its way along the west coast, if it makes a direct hit here, obviously significant impact but it doesn't really matter at this point because at the very worst, Naples is going to be on the right edge of that hurricane eye. And if you know anything about hurricanes, it's that right edge of the hurricane eye that really has the strongest and most punishing winds and that is exactly where much of this Western Coast of Florida is going to find itself over the course of the next 24 hours. Michael? HOLMES: Yes. And those winds pushing water ashore and the surge that

everybody fears in places like Naples and also in Tampa. Ed Lavandera, thanks so much, reporting there from Naples, Florida. Isa, back to you.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Michael. I'm going to stay in the West Coast of course when we talk aftert he break. We'll be looking at really the shelters that are in place there. More than 365 shelters in place along the main route here in Florida. We'll be looking in particular at Fort Myers. Do stay right here with CNN.


SOARES: Welcome back. You are watching CNN's continuous coverage of Hurricane Irma. I'm live for you in Miami this hour. I have been, in fact, for several hours now, and the weather as we've been here, standing here and just seeing the shift in the weather since it's gone from a hurricane three category to a hurricane four, it has intensified, and this weather is just been so predictable. It's nonstop. It started, it's raining and then it stopped but the one consistent -- consistency we've seen is the wind.

It's starting to pick up. It is howling. But it's much worse, I have to say, in Miami Beach where we find Derek Van Dam. And Derek, I hear it's not pleasant at all where you are.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN INTERNANATIONAL ANCHOR: No, that's an - that's an understatement. In fact, I think we're really going through a really strong outer band from Hurricane Irma. And every once in a while we get one of those stronger breezes and you got to actually hold on to the railing just to make sure that you don't get pushed to the side. So, we've been clocking and measuring some of the winds, keeping a close eye on it.

We've had wind gusts 45, 50 miles per hour, easily into tropical storm force, but nothing hurricane force just yet, which of course is 74 miles per hour or higher. The threats here though are in - are several. We're talking about a tornado threat at the moment. There's tornado watches, there's flash flood watches, the storm surge warnings. The list goes on. And that has prompted the fire and police rescue authorities to issue a mandatory curfew.

That was set into place at 8:00 last night and it goes right through the morning hours. And I wouldn't be surprised if that gets extended as well because the worst of the storm is still yet to come here in Miami Beach right along the Miami-Dade coastline. It has been a long night, very, very stressful in terms of what to expect here. We are still on high alert. The emergency services are still on high alert because they're still receiving calls.

Lots of them are fire alarms that are being tripped from various buildings across the area. Remember, this majority of Miami Beach has been evacuated. Still a ghost town when you look down the street behind me. Buildings have been boarded up to try and prevent any kind of damage. But really going forward, we expect the worst conditions really to come in right around the first daylight. But we think about what's going on just to our south, maybe 50 miles to our south into Key Largo and the Key West region, they are preparing for a direct landfall in hurricane within the next coming hours.

That's where we would expect the worst conditions to be, of course right near the center of the storm. And Isa, we know that there's been a track that's been trending westward, but we don't want to let our guard down here on the east side of the state either because as you can see with this live shot, conditions can change rapidly, and it's really important that people don't start to come back to the evacuated areas here because if you become complacent and that storm shifts ever so slightly to the east, we know that this is a game of miles or kilometers and it can make a big difference on your family and your friends. Isa?

SOARES: Absolutely. No room for complacency. You were just talking about the storm surge, of course. But also the debris. That's very important that people stick, stay in their shelters or ride it out at home and be safe and wait for authorities to give their green light before they go outside. Derek Van Dam, you too be safe, hold on to that rail and keep warm if you can. And Michael, as Derek was saying, you know, no room for complacency. We are seeing just the outer bands at this stage of Hurricane Irma.

Although, we know it's intensified somewhat. But this is just the taste of what's to come. I know you're not feeling it as of yet but you will be roughly at this time tomorrow and you'll be - it will be -- when it gets there, of course, it will be packing quite a punch, Michael.

HOLMES: You know (INAUDIBLE) watching Derek there, I mean, he was getting buffeted a little bit. He's talking about gusts of 40 miles an hour. They're talking by the time it gets to Tampa, it could be 130, 135 miles an hour. If you're getting buffeted around by 40, can you imagine what 130 is going to be like? Yes. I mean, I hope it doesn't get to that where he is. He's not a heavy guy. We might lose him. He might fly away. But it just shows the strength these winds can get to. You stay safe too.

Yes. You're right. It's not bad here at all. Little bit of rain, light wind, but this time tomorrow it will be very different. Isa, we'll check in with you in a bit. Meanwhile, let's talk about shelters. Some 70,000 people finding refuge in shelters across Florida. CNN's Randi Kaye visiting one of the centers in Fort Myers where many have been waiting in line for hours.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Germain Arena, the last best hope for many seeking shelters from Irma. This massive arena just outside Fort Myers opened Saturday morning, but getting inside hasn't been easy. What's the challenge here in getting inside?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Waiting. Waiting four, five, six hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About four hours. It's been a long wait.

KAYE: How do you feel about spending the night in here with a bunch of strangers? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's better than being at home getting


KAYE: Many here brought their dogs and whatever belongings they could grab. They weren't sure what to expect once inside, but the general belief is it's safer than their own home. There's air-conditioning, water, and food. Also, the National Guard and Florida Highway Patrol are here to keep it secure. Are you worried at all about the conditions inside?

MARTHIE LATHROP, HURRICANE IRMA EVACUEE: Oh, no. I'm a camper from way back. I can do just fine.

KAYE: This couple just moved to Florida from Seattle two months ago. Do you feel like you waited too long to decide?

SHARON RAFTER, HURRICANE IRMA EVACUEE: Yes. Totally. I wanted to leave on - leave on Monday. It's like if it's the biggest hurricane ever, just leave. Then you're not stuck.

KAYE: The line goes on and on and on. Really, as far as the eye can see. Some of these people have been waiting in this line for four, five, six hours. It first opened at 10:00 a.m. this morning and many of them told me that the reason they came here was they saw the way that that storm shifted and that track shifted and said they've got to get out of their homes. Were you planning to evacuate or -


KAYE: -- or is it the last-minute decision?

LEE: Yes. It was definitely a last-minute decision. Yes. I'm in zone B, so then when the evacuation -- like, I was just on the edge of the mandatory evacuation and I decided I should come anyway. I'd rather stay safe.

LATHROP: I've been here 30 years and I've ridden out other hurricanes. So yes, but when they - when they increase the boundary for the mandatory evacuation, then we had to leave.

KAYE: This was all especially tough for the elderly and disabled. Some sat down while others held their place in line.

DAVE TAYSON, HURRICANE IRMA EVACUEE: So we migrate up ahead, wait, they catch up. We migrate ahead and they catch up, so a lot of team work.

KAYE: Yes. You're making friends with some good Samaritans, it sounds like.

TAYSON: Yes. It's been rough.

KAYE: Are you OK?

TAYSON: Yes. I'm fine.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Fort Myers, Florida.

HOLMES: A lot of people in those shelters. We're going to be taking a break now but we will be right back with the latest forecast on Hurricane Irma. That's when we come back.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. Michael Holmes in Orlando.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Isa Soares in Miami, where it is 4:30 in the morning.

HOLMES: In the next 24 to 48 hours, are going to be unlike anything South Florida has experienced in many, many years as Hurricane Irma moves closer to the U.S. mainland. Now a category four storm, well, briefly a category three. The eye of the storm about midway between Cuba and the Florida Keys. But it is so large that the outer bands are already battering Miami with gail force winds and heavy rain. The flooding that follows could be crippling to many areas. Some 6.5 million people have been told to evacuate in the state with a population of 20million, almost 300,000 customers are without power. And that is a figure likely to become millions in coming hours.

SOARES: And now, not only that, Michael, we've seen the hurricane intensify from hurricane three category to hurricane four. Feeling right now what Derek Van Dam was feeling in Miami beach, those strong winds really packing a punch and that rain that starts hitting the sides of your face. That is just the outer bands of Hurricane Irma. This is just the outer bands, let's put some perspective on this. Karen McGinnis has been keeping a close eye on Irma for us and she joins us now. And Karen, give us a sense of how slowly it's moving, the direction it's moving, and what we should be really concerned about in the hours ahead.

KAREN MCGINNIS, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: We just received this. And this is from the National Weather Service in Key West, Florida, from a member of the National Weather Service on Key West, Jonathan (Kurt), and he send this out. And I will read the majority of it. Everyone in the Florida Keys needs to remain indoors, hunkered down, in an interior room away from windows and make sure you have proper footwear on, meaning no sandals, no flip-flops.

We want people to know -- to use whatever they have to protect themselves while they shelter, use mattresses, blankets, pillows, helmets, whatever. The worst is yet to come. The intense winds associated with the eye wall are expected to arrive around 7:00 a.m. Lower Keys. He wanted that to go out to as many people as possible. Now the keys were one of the first places to evacuate. We've got those brave soldiers there in the National Weather Service office who were going to be -- they've already been battered for many hours.

But as category four Hurricane Irma moves across the Florida Keys over the next few hours or so, then on its way towards the northwest, maybe in the vicinity of Fort Myers, Marco Island, perhaps not until Sarasota, Bradenton, Tampa, St. Pete. But then look what happens even going into Monday. And already a good portion of Georgia is under a tropical storm watch. They've closed a number of public schools across North Georgia. This is what has been very troubling.

Now it's about 55 miles to the southeast of Key West, Florida. Looking very impressive on the -- on the radar imagery as it swirls with winds of 130 miles an hour. Now because it is going to interact with this land mass, it may lose some of its energy, but we've been saying all along, don't focus on the winds, on the rain, all of those specifics. We're worried about all of those combined and the storm surge. There was a report earlier from a woman in the Keys who said there's already eight inches of water in my house.

The obvious question is, was that rainfall? She said, no, we really haven't had that much rain. At that point, she said this is the surge. This is the surge you talk about. So it is remarkable. And literally we saw some tornado warnings out right around Fort Pierce and Interstate 95. This area from Melbourne all the way down towards Miami is in a tornado watch. We'll see some of those tornado warnings spin up. But the worst is yet to come, and we're still looking at 55 miles away from the first U.S. landfall in the Florida Keys. Back to you.

SOARES: Karen, for those people sitting, watching us right now who were just (INAUDIBLE) and quite nervous about what is happening in the northwest, the West Coast in particular, of Florida. Can you give them any insights as to exactly a rough time? I know rough times are very hard to estimate, as you've pointed out throughout the last five hours or so. Any sort of indication of what time they should be feeling it in, for example, if you are in the West Coast?

MCGINNIS: The West Coast of Florida really, unfortunately, is probably going to be in the worst position of all. If it stays out over the waters here like this, you're going to be in that upper right front quadrant of the hurricane, the worst portion of the hurricane to be in. It will probably make these little jogs all along the coast. There have been a lot of comparisons to Donna back in 1960 when it just kind of paralleled the coast and went in in the vicinity just to the north of Marco Island.

Devastating hurricane there. There have been a lot of parallels. But we know that you just can't cumulatively say all hurricanes are going to act this erratic. This -- Irma has just been exceptional on so many levels but I think -- we think landfall near Sarasota, to answer your question more specifically perhaps around midnight. But everybody needs to stay on top of this because it has been unpredictable from the first day. Back to you, Isa.

SOARES: Unpredictable and so don't get complacent. Thank you very much, Karen McGinnis. Michael, back to you.

HOLMES: All right, Isa. Appreciate that. Thanks so much. Good information as always. And we get good information, too, from James Reynolds. He's a storm chaser and he's joining us now on the line from Naples on the West Coast of Florida. And James, Naples is a place that is been hit by hurricanes before, been damaged by hurricanes before, and in this case is worried about a storm surge as well. Fill us in on the conditions there.

JAMES REYNOLDS, STORM CHASER (via telephone): Yes. Absolutely, Michael. A storm surge is the major big threat here in Naples. Right now the wind is slowly starting to pick up. We're getting sporadic rain showers but really it's not a patch on what is going to come later into the daylight out today when we expect the conditions to really deteriorate, violent winds, torrential rains, and then one (INAUDIBLE) storm center starts moving to the north, that's when the big storm surge threat becomes real and those winds shift on the shore and piled the water into the coast.

HOLMES: Yes. It could be disastrous for Naples, also Tampa further up the coast. We're looking at video now. The place looks deserted. What is the atmosphere like?

REYNOLDS: Yes. It's all -- a lot lot of businesses boarded up, homes all boarded up, and people just finishing up their final preparations, really. We did go to a local restaurant which had a pretty booming business. I think everyone just getting in a last good warm meal before the storm crashed to the shore and knocks out the power and makes a pretty uncomfortable aftermath. Michael?

HOLMES: And James, just very briefly, I mean, you do this, I mean, you wander the world chasing storms. When you take the big picture view of Hurricane Irma, what do you think? How does it stack up?

REYNOLDS: Yes. This is a big deal. You should never, ever treat a major hurricane or typhoon or cyclone approaching land lightly. But the big deal here is Florida has not been hit by a major hurricane since 2005. That's a long time ago. And then you compound that with the threat of storm surge, you know, the very shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a lot of new people living here who haven't been through a hurricane before. Yes, it's a big deal and it's going to be a very, very major impact over the next day or two.

HOLMES: James Reynolds there in Naples, Florida. Appreciate it as always. Thank you. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, as Florida gets ready for Irma, we'll go through one family's destroyed home in the Caribbean. Of course, the Caribbean already has been hit. A lot of devastation in the neighborhoods there. That's when we e come back.


HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. We're getting a better idea now of the devastation after Hurricane Irma roared through the Caribbean Islands. In Cuba, ripping down power lines, tearing off roofs, knocking down trees. Many people were especially vulnerable because they live in one-storey homes and not all of them very well built. And in Tortola, entire homes covered in debris, cars destroyed. Leyla Santiago surveyed the destruction.

KEDRICK PICKERING, MINISTER OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND LABOUR, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS: People are really upbeat despite the physical problems that you see. People are (INAUDIBLE) it surprises me how upbeat people are. We've been through this. You know, this is bad, but we'll get through it, and we'll get through it again.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So what are we looking at here? I mean, I -- it seems like everywhere you look there is damage. Can you quantify that somehow?

PIKCERING: Difficult, you know, but I'll say at least 80 percent of all homes, all buildings have been, you know, damaged one way or another. Some of them totally destroyed. This is my home.

SANTIAGO: This one right here is your home?

PICKERING: This is my home. You can see what it looks like.

SANTIAGO: Can we go inside?

PICKERING: You're welcome to. And this is, you know, representative of what has happened. And by the way, the windows in our home, we bought in Miami. They're supposed to be Miami-Dade -- can withstand 200-mile-per-hour wind.

SANTIAGO: So you're -- I mean, you think hurricane mode a lot.

PICKERING: All the time. We live in a hurricane zone. So when we build homes and (INAUDIBLE) we think of hurricanes.

SANTIAGO: So now that we're upstairs, I mean, walking through here you have to be careful. Immediately I've noticed here that you don't have a roof. What do you feel when you see all of this? I mean, this is your home.

PICKERING: This is our home. You know, and I said to someone earlier, we've lost our house, but we haven't lost our home. You know, and that's the -- and that's the inspiration that we get from our neighbors, from our friends, from the people you've seen, you know, since you've been along here, how the people interacting on the street. And I think it's -- that will -- that is what will get us through.

SANTIAGO: So among all of this, the damaged building, the injuries, unfortunately even the deaths, what is right now the biggest challenge, the biggest concern?

PICKERING: Well, as I speak to you now, we still have Jose to deal with -- to this even tomorrow. Beyond that will be security, making sure the security in the country is under control. And then building back people's lives one step at a time. And I think once we approach in that way, we'll get through this.

SANTIAGO: You'll get through this.

PICKERING: As you can see.

HOLMES: Leyla Santiago reporting there on that tragic scene. I want to take you now to the International Weather Center. Karen McGinnis standing by there. Karen? MCGINNIS: Yes, we have on the phone, he is live from the National Weather Service in Key West, Florida. This is Chip Casper. He is the senior forecaster in that office. Chip, we know that category four Hurricane Irma is churning its way towards the northwest and you've been battered by some of the strong winds associated with it. Give us some idea of what you're experiencing right now in Key West.

CHIP CASPER, SENIOR FORECASTER, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE (via telephone): Yes, well, we're consistently gusting over hurricane force. Recently we had a wind gust of 84 miles an hour here at the office and we've had reports of wind gusts over 90 in the last hour as Hurricane Irma travels northwest at about six miles an hour and we're expecting conditions to go downhill further as we approach daybreak.

MCGINNIS: How are you -- all of the forecasters that are there at the National Weather Service, how are you preparing yourselves for the onslaught of this now infamous Hurricane Irma?

CASPER: Well, we all have our roles here in the operations area and we're doing our job. You know, our mission in the National Weather Service is the protection of life and property. So that's kind of what we're doing now. Everybody's got a different role. Right now we're going to be focusing on the extreme wind surrounding the core of this hurricane as it moves north through lower and middle Keys. And really, the extreme winds will last through much of the day. Hurricane force sustained winds we think will linger until mid to late afternoon.

MCGINNIS: What about the storm surge? That's a big thing that we have been talking about. I know a lot of people have second guessed themselves on whether it was the right move to make from the East Coast of Florida to the West Coast of Florida now that it looks as if Irma may make landfall along the West Coast. Tell us about the potential for storm surge where you are and what people along the West Coast of Florida might anticipate.

CASPER: Yes, storm surge, we're very concerned about storm surge. It's one of the hurricane's most deadly hazards. It is the deadliest hazard. And so in the keys, which are really low lying, that -- you know, that's why our public officials and emergency managers issued an evacuation order to try to move people out of harm's way. But right now the waters are already rising. In fact I think we're about two feet above normal at some of the gauges.

And we're going to see the storm surge flooding increase through the morning hours and actually probably peak around midday. We can expect anywhere from five to 10 feet of inundation, that's storm surge flooding above ground level. And obviously in the low-level -- low- lying string of islands, that can be very devastating. And then obviously there's a threat, not just in the keys but extends further up the West Coast of Florida.

MCGINNIS: Absolutely. Chip, thank you for your time. Please stay safe. Thank you for the information that you've given us. We hope to send out the information that people need to hunker down. It is really too late to be doing anything. Thanks for your help. Stay safe. Keep it here on CNN. We'll continue to update you on Hurricane Irma.


HOLMES: Welcome back everyone to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. I want to go out to our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, who's on Miami Beach. Things are getting a lot hairier there. Tell us what's happening.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN INTERNANATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. Conditions have gone from terrible to simply worse and treacherous. We're standing outside on Ocean Drive, Michael. If you've been to this part of Miami Beach, we're in South Beach, normally bars and restaurants would be getting out right now. Quite literally this is the time where people would start heading home on an early Sunday morning. And of course, everyone heeding the evacuation warnings because, well, quite simply, it's tropical storm force out here.

Not quite hurricane but we've had gusts easily 55, 60 miles per hour, and I just want to point out a couple of things behind me. We've got road signs that are shaking quite furiously. And those can easily become projectiles in wind over 60, 70 miles per hour. They warn about that all the time. That's why we're standing in front of the road sign. Obviously the winds to my front. And then just to my right here, we got some downed trees as well that have started to come.

And so you can just see the ferocious nature of these tropical bands that continue to move in. And it's just quite unreal to sit here and talk to you from a street that would normally have cars and pedestrians on it. In fact, Michael, just within the past 10 minutes, the National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Dade County. And with rainfall rates like this, I'm guessing anywhere from one to two inches an hour, maybe more, we can imagine to see some localized urban flooding and obviously the apparent danger of storm surge which is forecast at three to five feet here. It could potentially start to build now that the stronger outer bands of Hurricane Irma start to batter this region. Michael?

HOLMES: Absolutely extraordinary to see the buffeting you're getting there at 50 to 60 miles an hour. And it could be 130, 135 miles an hour at its peak. Derek Van Dam, thank you so much on the streets, get inside, take some shelter. Isa, back to you in Miami.

SOARES: Yes. It is a beast of a hurricane and what we're feeling, what Derek is feeling of course there, Michael, is just the outer bands of Hurricane Irma. An d of course, we'll have an update at the top of the hour on the latest path of the hurricane to find out whether it's shifted and how fast or how slow it is moving. Do stay with us. I'm Isa Soares in Miami.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando, Florida. Our coverage of Hurricane Irma continues on NEW DAY in just a moment. Thanks for your company these past few hours. Do stay with us right here on CNN.