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Irma Leaves Florida Without Power; All Government Agencies Starts Their Humanitarian Efforts; Paradise Destinations Turned into Dead Towns. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: What are your impressions of the damage left behind by Irma?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: You know, I think it's different, different places. I'm in Bradenton where it's really there's not extensive damage, I mean, except for this house behind me which is what's so surreal because most of the houses on this block are actually fine. But then it almost seems more like a tornado.

You know, sometimes a tornado will touchdown and destroy one house but leave others untouched. That's sort of the situation on the street in Bradenton. But wherever you go it's a different story. In Jacksonville, you know, still storm surge, flooding on the ground.

We talk to the mayor tonight that may last for several days. In some parts it is starting to recede. But all those, I mean, you know, think about six million people or so without power and if that goes for days and days and weeks, as some might fear, the impact of that, it certainly takes its toll.

You know, Don, when there's a disaster like this, kind of adrenalin gets people through for a couple of days. There's the fear of it, the needing to evacuate, the riding out the storm, but then the kind of the grim reality of no electricity, limited supplies, dealing with all the things, all the kind of, the mundane details of life that you have to deal with, where do you get your prescriptions if businesses aren't open. That really starts to take its toll overtime.

So, you know, the full impact of this storm is still being felt. It's still being assessed, certainly. We're learning more about what's happened in the Florida Keys. And I know you'll have a lot about that tonight. But I think we are still seeing the effects of this storm, the winds have gone, but the reality of this storm we're just starting to understand.

LEMON: I mean, it's really interesting. I was just going over since I've been here the hurricanes that I've covered. I remember you covering Katrina. I was at a different network then. But then I remember Gustav and the Ike and all of that.

I mean, each of them is destructive, but the kind of destruction they leave behind is different. Some of them are more flooding events, some of them are more wind events. It's just when compared, can you compare this to any one of them?

COOPER: You know, I mean, I've covered a lot of hurricanes. I always hesitate to kind of compare one situation to another.


COOPER: I sort of feel like, you know, for the people who have gone through this, many for this this is the worst event, you know, that they're experiencing or have ever experienced. But certainly, I think what was so surprising about this storm, as Tom Sater at the weather center will tell you, you know, how accurate the tracking of it was, but still there was a lot of confusion -- you know, once it made that turn and suddenly it seemed like it was going to be more of a western storm, you know, a lot of people who had gone west to, who had gone to Tampa, who had gone to Fort Myers suddenly needed to evacuate.

They tried to go back to Miami or they tried to go to Jacksonville, Orlando thinking they'll get out of the way storm then. Then the storm kind of starts to dissipate and then it jogs more to the east, but thankfully Tampa avoids a direct hit. You know, that could have been really a very damaging situation for Tampa.

But now we're seeing what's happening in Jacksonville. So I just think it was a confusing storm. It was a very powerful, clear storm early on, but after it made that turn and after it hit, made landfall in the U.S. and the Keys and then made landfall again in western Florida, I think it became very confusing and really, you know, minute by minute, hour by hour it seemed to kind of shift and change.

LEMON: Yes. Interesting the people who thought it was going to be further east and then it went west and they ended up in the path of the storm and they thought they were getting away from it.

Anderson, great job. We'll see a little bit later on in the network. Anderson Cooper there for Bradenton in Florida. I want to get CNN's Bill Weir now surveying the damage in Plantation Key for us tonight. Bill?

BILL WEIR, ANCHOR, CNN: As the sky over the Florida Keys turned from stormy black back to paradise blue. All that fear and anxiety turn into shock and heartbreak today as we got our first glimpse at the damage rocked by Irma. This is a community on Plantation Key where Irma mark at 87. About 60 miles away from where the brunt of the storm, the eye of the storm came ashore, but it's hard to tell it was any more gentle here.

And you see all these little touches of humanity, reminders that families lived here year-round. You have children's books. Look at this. This is a bingo wheel with the ball still inside. I met a former firearm who lives here who walk around days and said I found my sink over there and my couch over there.

But aside from all of this stuff that is lost, the main concern these days is about human life and who survived. And it's possible to tell who survive because communication is nearly impossible. All the cell towers are down. The road is impassable in places, so unless you physically come across your neighbor or your relative, it's really difficult to confirm who made it out.

Search and rescue teams have been heading down U.S. one all day. I watched just a parade of first responders including a fire truck from Los Angeles. So, Americans pitching in from all over. The navy is even sending an aircraft carrier with humanitarian relief down to Key West.

[22:04:59] Now one more symbol of Irma today, on the most infamous of modern American dates, 9/11, '17 at 2.30 in the afternoon they searched this trailer and this symbol means no bodies were found inside.

Tomorrow we're getting on a boat going down to the lower Keys to really get a sense of lives saved and lost down there.

Until then, I'm Bill Weir, CNN, Plantation Key, Florida.

LEMON: Bill, thank you very much, I appreciate that. CNN's Rosa Flores got a bird's-eye view of the devastation in the Keys today. Flying on a c130 with Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio and she joins us now. Rosa, good evening to you. What did you see?

ROSA FLORES, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Destruction, Don, destruction from the air and from the ground. As soon as we took off and got closer and closer to the Keys, it became very clear that the water was very murky. Obviously a sign that something is wrong because that water is clear as can be.

Then as we got past the seven-mile bridge, we started seeing boats that were not in the water but on land. We saw mobile homes that were almost like shuffled with the wind, almost like someone just was playing with them. And then we started seeing trees that were smacked by the wind, trees down, palm trees down.

Now, we landed at the naval air station there in Key West, and as soon as we landed, we saw that firsthand on the ground, trees down, yachts that were submerged, homes that were submerged. Now, this tour that was given to these two senators was to show them the federal facilities and how they were impacted, Don.

Now, those facilities actual fared well compared to other facilities that we saw. Those facilities were for U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard personnel. And those who fared fairly well the commander tells us.

But the scene is so eerie, Don, because you don't see anyone anywhere and if you've ever been to the Keys, you know it's a party town. There's always music here and there as you're driving around. And there's just this mood. All that is silent, all that is dead. So it just feels really eerie to be there.

LEMON: I'm sure it does. When will they allow people back in the Keys? Is it going to be anytime soon? Do they know?

FLORES: You know, the latest info that we've gotten from the Monroe County commissioners is that both for Islamorada and also for Key Largo, residents and business owners will be allowed to go in tomorrow starting at 7 a.m. Only business owners and residents. No one else.

Now, this does not include Key West. From talking to the U.S. Coast Guard captain there at the naval air station, he says he doesn't know when people will be able to go back to Key West because there is no power. There is no sewage. There is no water. There are power lines down.

They're still trying to assess the damage. There is an assess -- a damage assessment team with us in that C-130 that had equipment to assess the damage, to assess structural integrity, to see if it's safe for people to go back in there.

At this point they don't know if it's safe for them to go there. Now, they're also trying to bring in sonar so that they can figure out if they can open the port to bring in more federal resources, to bring in the DOD, to help them assess and to help them increase the pace of the recovery.

But it's going to be a slow one, Don. You can just tell by driving around, by walking around a bit. We had very few minutes to actually be on the ground and not in rolling vehicles because the sun was coming down and remember I said there was no power. So to take off in a C-130, you also need light on the runway. Well, we had to take off before the sun went down because the sun was our light on the runway.


FLORES: And so it was little time on the ground, but these senators were able to see firsthand the devastation that Irma left behind.

LEMON: Rosa Flores, thank you very much. Rosa, I appreciate that. I'm sure it was a sight to see from the air. And we're looking at some of those pictures now. Unbelievable to look at the Keys there. It's just really devastated.

I want to go now to hurricane chaser Mike Theiss on the phone. He joins me now from Key Largo. And Mike, we have been speaking with you throughout this horrific storm. Irma was a category 4 when it pummeled the Florida Keys. So talk to me about your experience. What did you see?

MIKE THEISS, STORM CHASER: Yes. You're right, Don. We've been warning people all week. We knew that this could possibly be bad and it happened that way. The eye, where the eye came onshore was just devastating. We were actually locked in Key West because we're on the left side of the eye wall.

So we saw about 120-mile-an-hour winds. Just to our east, my gosh, it was horrible. I mean, there was storm surge that came up everywhere. There's lines down. The trees are shredded. I mean, the wind that came through there had to be 140 miles per hour.

[22:10:03] From Sugarloaf Key, all the way up to Key Largo there's storm surge damage all along the coastline there. It's just really sad to see what happened there. I'm sorry. Correction. It was West -- no, east of Key West, sorry. It's been a long few days. But, yes, it's just devastating, Don. I mean, to see what happened to my hometown, it just makes me extremely sad.

LEMON: Can you talk to me about this video, Mike that we're showing now. You shot just before the eye wall came onshore. How does this compare to other storms you've chased?

THEISS: This is one of the scariest storms I've ever chased because the wording about you'll not survive and all these things I just kept second-guessing myself, you know, should I be staying. But I really felt confident in my, in the building I took shelter in, and I felt like it was important to share with people what was going on.

I mean, let me tell you, Don, I have been bombarded on Twitter with people asking me please go check on my relatives. They're sending me addresses of where people live and it's just impossible to do that because I ran out of gas. I am out of gas like everybody else. We used the last little bit of gas we had just to get to Key Largo so we could get internet connection to get the word out of what was going on in the lower Keys.

LEMON: Mike, all -- I mean, this flooding. How high was that water? We're looking at video now that you -- I think you're standing on a corner and it's just floodwater, it's just rolling by.

THEISS: Yes. Well, we only had a couple feet in Key West, but further up the road I spoke to a few people and I did a little bit of damage surveying, and I'm estimating six to eight feet in Summerland Key where I was looking at and it's possibly a little bit higher further up. The storm surge definitely was a huge factor with this hurricane, as well as the wind within that eye wall and right front quadrant.

LEMON: So this video, where was this video, the one where you're standing on the corner? Where were you when you captured that footage?

THEISS: That was in Key West. I don't remember the exact streets, but it was in Key West and it was on the north side. And when that wind was wrapping around and pushing from the north, it pushed all the Gulf of Mexico on the north side of the island.


THEISS: So that was -- yes. It was very dramatic.

LEMON: It looks like when you -- is that right when you come into town there from the airport.

THEISS: Yes. Right when you come into town there just from the right.

LEMON: Right.

THEISS: And it's so beautiful down there normally. And let me tell you, today when I left, the water was brown. You know, normally it's turquoise and beautiful water and it was just very sad to see, you know, my home looking this way. But we will be back. We're a very strong community. And already I've

seen a lot of people helping each other. And this is when people come together the best is after a natural disaster like this. And especially people in the Florida Keys.

LEMON: At what point did you decide to take shelter, Mike?

THEISS: Not long after you see these videos that I took. We knew the surge was coming in. The eye wall was starting to really get cranking, so we retreated back to the hotel at some point for our safety.

But, you know, we were actually very sheltered where we were at. When we went into our hotel, you could hardly tell there was a hurricane going outside. It was such a strong hotel. It was like a bunker.

But once you left outside and you went to the exposed elements it was a whole new world. There was debris flying in the air, plastic signs were breaking, power lines were coming down. Then you have the surge coming in. I mean, it was like a typical hurricane. And, you know, it's just devastating, Don.

LEMON: We also have some foot age that you took of the storm surge. How high did that surge get? That's a floodwater, but how high did the surge go?

THEISS: A rough estimate...


LEMON: That's the surge right there.

THEISS: ... where I was at maybe three or four feet in that particular area.


THEISS: I can't vouch for other areas, but about three to four feet in Key West.

LEMON: What kind of -- because you gather information and you gather data when you do these things. What kind of data did you gather?

THEISS: Yes. We actually deployed the HER, which is the hurricane eye wall research vehicle at mile mark for 7 on a bridge and we recorded 120-miles per hour in the western eye wall of Irma. And we also recorded a barometric pressure of 938 millibars as Irma made landfall in the lower Florida Keys.

LEMON: But don't those -- aren't those things conservative when they measure? Because the winds could have been much higher than that and the pressure could have been higher than what you measure.

THEISS: Yes. They were definitely higher if you went just a little bit further up the Keys. But right where I was at, that wind is actually a measured wind. That is the highest peak wind at mile marker for 7 which is right around the Key West area. But if you were just a little bit further up the Keys in the eastern

eye wall, the winds were always higher at onshore right front quadrant of the hurricane. Just throwing a number it had to be maybe around 140, 145, somewhere in there. But the biggest concern or the biggest danger on the right side of the eye is all that storm surge that gets piled up and just pushes over the island, knocking buildings down. I mean, wind -- water is way more powerful.

[22:15:00] LEMON: Hey, I've got to ask you, a lot of people go there and vacation, a lot of people live there. How long do you think before -- and we're just starting to see the pictures. We had someone last night, a viewer e-mail and say, listen, the Keys are devastated, especially Key West.

I was speaking to go a gentleman who said, well, you know, his property was spared and they did OK, but I mean, the Keys are decimated. How long do you think -- and they rely on tourism, that they're going to be able to get this back, before they can get it back?

THEISS: Well, let me tell you from a firsthand account. I mean, the Keys were not devastated, but they were damaged bad. I mean, especially Key West was actually the least amount of damage. If there was anywhere devastated it was maybe mile marker 20 to mile marker 50.

But then once you went up the Keys it was just slight storm surge damage. It was hit hard damage. But we're going to be back very fast. I mean, we'll be back up and running in a couple weeks. We're all sticking together. We're coming together as a community. And we'll pull through this and the tourists who want to come back. And we will welcome them with open arms.

LEMON: What are local people saying, those who didn't evacuate? Are they telling you stories, are they saying I'd do it again or I won't do it again.

THEISS: No. Most people said they wouldn't do it again. I spoke to many people and some of them were still shaking, you know, 10 hours after the storm was over and they didn't know if the storm was coming back. I had people asking me is the storm coming back and I didn't know why they were asking me that.

I just, no, storm is over, everything is OK now. But now most people said next time I'm leaving. I don't know why I stayed. There's this big problem about people said I can't get gas, I can't get hotel rooms, which is true. That was a huge problem of an evacuation of this type, but it's still not worth staying. I mean, these are...


LEMON: But don't you think that was people who just, who may have waited too long because forecasters had been warning about this storm for a long time, Mike.


LEMON: And maybe if you waited until the end you had a problem, but if you heeded the warning early, you shouldn't have had a problem.

THEISS: Right. Right. Like you say, we've been talking about it all week. But you know, sometimes the forecast changes and I think people were waiting for that. But the people at the National Hurricane Center did an excellent job.


THEISS: They said eight days out that this thing was going to go over the Florida Keys. Of course it can change as it gets closer. But they nailed this one.


THEISS: So there's no excuses for this one to blame anybody. They've been predicting it, they've called for it and it happened.

LEMON: Mike Theiss, thanks you, sir. I appreciate it.

THEISS: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: When we come back, Irma climbing north continuing its deadly path. At least three more people killed in the storm today. We're going to speak with officials in South Carolina bracing for the storm tonight.


LEMON: Tropical storm Irma moving up through South Carolina, flooding the coastal city of Charleston. That's how far the damage from this storm is reaching right now.

So joining me on the phone is Derrec Becker, he's the chief of public information and external affairs for the South Carolina emergency management division. Thank you, Mr. Becker for joining us. Man, you guys are getting it now. What is the latest? What do South Carolina residents need to know tonight?

DERREC BECKER, CHIEF PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SOUTH CAROLINA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIVISION: Right now the latest is that there's still dangerous conditions throughout much of the state. We're still seeing some very high winds, there's flooding in localized areas, particularly along the coast line.

We can't still rule out the possibility of an isolated tornado what we're getting from the National Weather Service. So, we have a few hundred thousand power outages, about approximately 200,000 power outages statewide. So it's going to be a night where people just need to monitor the weather and as local officials say take safety precautions and by all means do so immediately.

LEMON: I wonder if you guys thought about this earlier, if you thought that you'd be in the path because we're seeing some tremendous flooding in Charleston. The waters in the harbor cresting nearly to, you know, 10 feet high. Was South Carolina prepared for this? BECKER: Absolutely. We've been activated at the state emergency

operations center for six days. In fact, you know, several days ago South Carolina was in the direct path of hurricane Irma. So we're actually looking at this as a good thing for the people in South Carolina that don't have power or they saw damage to their homes as a result of this, we feel for them and we're going to get them the help they need.

But we were spared the whole brunt of hurricane Irma, thank goodness. But, you know, we're also focused to our neighbors to the south in Georgia and Florida and we stand ready to help them as well.

LEMON: So do you think the residents of the state were caught off guard?

BECKER: No. We issued an evacuation for the Barrier Islands several days ago. A lot of people did get to safety. We message; we put out emergency alert messages as often as we could. Our weather service partners were very clear through press conferences, daily social media posts, continuously making people aware of the situation snd setting expectations too.

We did have a little bit of confusion with people seeing the national coverage, what was happening in Florida and a lot of people might have thought that the same conditions were going to happen in South Carolina. We were very fortunate in this case. We still see some damage. We're still seeing some adverse weather effects, but it could have been much more serious.

LEMON: Yes, absolutely. But, you know, even in that and this is the latest number could be higher now nearly 200,000 customers without power in your state. I mean, just like millions in the region. How long before power comes back? Do you have any idea at this point?

BECKER: No idea at this point. We know our power utilities are out and they're coming down very quickly. They were at 270,000 power outages just an hour ago, so just to give you an idea of how quickly they're coming down. That out of 2.8 million power meters we have in state relatively good.

But I'll say it again. If you've lost power, if you have damage to your home, our minds and our hearts are with you and we're trying to get you the help you need as quickly as you can.

LEMON: Derrec Becker, chief of public information and external affairs in Carolina, thank you very much -- South Carolina, we appreciate it. Good luck to you guys. OK?

BECKER: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, millions of people evacuated from their Florida homes. When they can come back and what will they find. What will they find. Look at that. Unbelievable. We're going to talk to two of the state's representatives coming up. We'll be right back.

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Six and a half million customers without power in Florida tonight. The White House saying parts of the state may be without electricity for weeks.

I'm bringing in now Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida republican whose district includes Miami, Key Biscayne and Coral Gables. And she joins me by phone. Congresswoman, I'm so happy that you can join us. We know that it's a tough time for you, so thank you so much.

ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, thank you so much, Don. I tell you, I have generator envy. I'm right outside of our suburban home in South Miami and I don't have the hissing of Summerland as Joni Mitchell talking about but it's sweet humming of generators all around me.

But we don't have a generator, so it's four days without electricity and we're not hooked into the county system. That means we don't have running water either.


ROS-LEHTINEN: So we can't wait. I can't wait to get this back on...


LEMON: Well, let's talk about...

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... but just like everybody else in Florida.

LEMON: Let's talk about some of the things you're dealing with there, because you represent a large part of Miami which has been dealing with the severe flooding. Irma hit the city with 99-mile-per-hour winds and heavy rain. As I understand you traveled around your district today to survey the damage. What was that like? What did you see?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, it's been incredible. What a change from the daytime hours to the nighttime hours. Because we have a curfew in Miami-Dade county starting at 7 p.m. And boy, people are really heeding that. I don't know if the police are giving tickets or warnings, but it's pretty desolate at the nighttime as we were driving home.

[22:29:56] But all around what I see folks looking for gas stations. There aren't any that are open that I could see dispensing gas. And lots of Florida Power and Light trucks, and trucks, thank goodness, from other states that are helping us out.

But they haven't quite hit all of the places, nor should they right now. Right now they're concentrating on assisted living facilities, public housing where old folks stay. So that's the right thing to do.

And we're hoping that the rest of us hoi polloi get it soon. But nothing to complain about.


ROS-LEHTINEN: It's just -- I mean, this used to be Florida where we used to be living without air conditioning. You know, in the capitol each state gets two monuments, some people who you think best represent the state. And one of the guys that we picked is the one who invent the Freon, which is what air conditioning is based on.

LEMON: Which you guys need so much.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm going to worship him at his feet when I get back to D.C.

LEMON: Well, speaking of power, let me ask you, because the mayor of Miami, congresswoman, said that 72 percent of the city is without power. When do you expect your constituents will have power back? Do you have any idea?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No. It's going to be weeks and weeks and weeks. And I believe people do need to be patient. We do see the trucks rolling around. They are trying to help. And I know, people, we're used to. We're used to air conditioning because our homes are built around that.

Our schools are built around that and that's the reason why there's no Dade County, Miami-Dade county public schools opening, first of all because they're being used as shelters. People have not gone back to their homes because they don't have any power there.

And so there are no schools. There's no power. Once we get the situation with the schools worked out, then we can worry about our homes. And, you know, I represent also areas like Key Biscayne and people have been really antsy about getting back their homes. And they say, look, we're not going to evacuate next time unless you let us back in our homes now.

And I understand, people want to see that their homes are OK. But this is a time for patience and patience is running thin as the gas fumes are running low and there's no air conditioning. It's just really hot down here. There's barely a breeze at all.

At least with Irma, it was horrible but we had those bands of wind. Now, you couldn't hardly stand up in them, but at least there was a little bit of air. Right now it's just...


LEMON: It's stagnant and you can't get -- nothing is circulating. We understand. Listen, we're thinking about you guys and we appreciate you joining us. Good luck, OK, congresswoman.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But listen, our complaints are small and the precious life is the most important thing. So we're fine.


ROS-LEHTINEN: We're just getting kind of cranky. That's all. LEMON: Yes. Understood. Thank you very much.

ROS-LEHTINEN: All right. Thanks so much.

LEMON: I want to bring in now Congressman Francis Rooney, a Florida republican who just concludes Fort Myers, Naples, and Marco Island. And he joins me on the phone. We watched Marco Island get hit. Thank you, Representative Rooney. I appreciate you joining us. Are you doing OK?

FRANICIS ROONEY, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: I'm doing great, Don. Thank you for having me on.

LEMON: Irma made its second Florida landfall yesterday afternoon right there in your district with 130-mile-per-hour winds. How extent is the damage there tonight? Tell us about it.

ROONEY: Well, there are some areas where it's very extensive. Marco Island was almost devastated. Big parts of Bonita Springs and Estero have huge flooding. Collier County took a pretty good hit. When you move on up north into Lee County, not as much when you get north of the Estero and Bonita until you get to the Choctawhatchee River which over ran its banks and flooded around downtown.

So we've got a lot of flooding to deal with. We have no power. But, you know, we have great emergency operations center capability here in Lee and Collier County and two fantastic Sheriffs, Mike Scott and Kevin Rambosk and they are running an operation that's destined to get us back online fast.

LEMON: How long do you think it will take you guys to recover, congressman?

ROONEY: Well, the Florida Power and Light folks as Ileana said, you know, it could be a couple weeks. But I think there's so many people out there, I think they're going to beat their deadline.

Like I said, I know that the Sheriff's Rambosk and Sheriff Scott have people deployed all around making sure that roads are being cleared. I went around a few of them this afternoon with Sheriff Scott, and they're just covering the territory in a very good way. I'm very thankful that we have this caliber of people at the helm.

LEMON: Good for you. So, listen, Congressman, what does your district need the most? What's the most urgent need right now?

ROONEY: I think the most urgent need now is power. You know, if people don't have power, they're hot, they can't cook. Their food spoils. It's a very serious situation. You know, gasoline and things are important later, but you can -- if you have power, you can stay in your house and you can live.

[22:35:00] And I think that's the most important thing that we need to do is to get power restored in Lee and Collier County.

LEMON: Well, and you heard the congresswoman there say, you know, the air is stale and the wind isn't blowing. I mean, you've got water everywhere. I can imagine it's a -- it's a bit smelly and stale and that's tougher people to deal with that at this point. You're right, they need the power...


ROONEY: Well, you know, this is a hot area down here, Don.


ROONEY: And so when there's no AC and it's stale and now the bugs will start to come. So we definitely I would say power would be the number one thing we need to get back...


LEMON: Are there enough rescue and recovery resources on the ground right now?

ROONEY: I think there are. I think there are a lot of resources deployed all through Lee and Collier County. Again, I go back to our sheriff's and I go back to our emergency operations people.

And today I sent a letter to President Trump thanking him for designating the appropriate areas of Florida as capable of receiving individual and public assistance from FEMA and the other parts of the government. And it was joined in by both senators in the entire Florida delegation.

So I think that hopefully we'll be able to get FEMA down here. And I talked to the FEMA director also today about that, and I think they're fully engaged. They have prepositioned food and water and supplies all through the area before the storm hit. So we're doing about as good as we can do given the magnitude of the devastation.

LEMON: Well, we're thinking about you, Congressman Francis Ronney, all your constituents, everyone down there in Florida. Thank you so much.

ROONEY: Don, thank you for having me on.

LEMON: I appreciate it. When we come back, over 7.5 million people without power in the southeast, thanks to Irma. Over 6.5 million in Florida alone. Officials say it could take weeks to restore power. How they're handling the biggest power outage in history. That's next.


LEMON: Hurricane Irma has left 6.5 million people in Florida without power tonight and some places may not have electricity for weeks.

Let's discuss now. Robert Gould, the vice president and chief communications officer with Florida Power and Light. He joins us now. And I just want to warn our viewers there's a little bit of a delay, so please be patient with this interview. Robert, thank you so much. Governor Rick Scott addressed the rampant

the power outages at a briefing earlier today. Let's take a listen before we discuss.


RICK SCOTT, FLORIDA GOVERNOR: We have about 65 percent of the state without power. It's going to take us a long time to get power back. I've been talking to the utilities and I'm having daily calls with the utilities to get the power back on. They're going to do everything they can.

I can tell you that they're bringing in 23,000 members, this is just what the utilities are doing, not including what the federal government is doing, not including the support of the military.


LEMON: So, Robert, the governor said 65 percent of the state without power and an official count from -- for Florida pegged the number at 6.5 million people. How long do you think the power starts being restored to some of the hardest hit areas in Florida?

ROB GOULD, VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT: Well, we've been aggressive with attacking it thus far. We've got 3.1 million customers out tonight, but when you look at the outage number, we've already been able to restore about 1.5 million outages.

So to put it in perspective, we're expecting about five million outages. There will be some customers who will have one, two, three, four repeated outages just by the nature of the restoration. But we expect to have some more visibility on some specific times of restoration sometime tomorrow hopefully to be able to give customers an opportunity, really, to understand some -- you know, what they have to do to make their plans going forward.

LEMON: Well, it's all a matter of resources as well. I mean, the more people you have, probably the quicker you can get it done. The governor said an additional 23,000 workers are being brought to help restore power. Is that enough? Do you have enough resources to expedite this process?

GOULD: Yes, we do. We had actually the largest prepositioned workforce in place not just in our company's history but in U.S. history. We had -- right now we have a work force of nearly 20,000 actively on the property in the territory. It's like a military movement.

We're moving them into the various areas that we need to have them into. And we're going to be aggressively attacking restoration. In parallel, though, we have to assess certain parts of the territory.

The eastern part of the territory is going to be more of a traditional restoration. But what we are finding on the West Coast is some significant damage. And that could require a rebuild of certain parts of the system which can extend outages much longer.

LEMON: OK. So it's not just about, you know, manpower there. You've got flooding. You know, you've got the winds, you've got trees down and all of that. What is the biggest obstacle that you face in getting power restored?

GOULD: You actually hit the nail on the head. It's the floodwaters that really curtails our movement to be able to get to the outages themselves. The other thing that we face is in terms of the surge of whether there's traffic.

Miami-Dade in particular, you have a lot of traffic on a regular day. So you're going to have a lot of people inflowing back in. You know, we've evacuated millions of people. Those folks are going to be coming back to the state.

So the longer people can stay away, candidly, that helps us so we can maneuver.


GOULD: But we really do have a plan that is very deliberate. We're going to be aggressively attacking it.

LEMON: Robert Gould, Florida Power & Light. Thank you, sir. Good luck to you.

Now I want to bring in CNN contributor David Halstead, the former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. David, thank you for joining us. Yesterday before the full extent of Irma's devastation was known the FEMA director, a FEMA director Brock Long spoke to CNN. Brock Long spoke to CNN. And he said that it could be weeks until power is restored. Here is what he had to say. Watch this.


BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We can see millions of people without power in Florida for multiple days in some areas maybe weeks. And so I think it's very important to set the expectations of citizens.


[22:45:00] LEMON: Do you see weeks as a reasonable estimate?

DAVID HALSTEAD, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: I see weeks as a reasonable estimate based on the storm. I think if we go back to historically certainly in hurricane Andrew we had parts of the Miami-Dade area out of power for 90 days because they had to literally rebuild the fracture.

I think we just heard Florida Power & Light talk about their system. But I know they are the biggest dog in the hunt, but there's also smaller systems. There's Talco enough in Tallahassee and there's Orlando Utilities in the Orlando area. So the smaller utilities also play a part in this. Again, they're part

of the power grid back up. And again, it depends how hard they were hit. As he mentioned, the flooded waters. There's going to be high expectations by the people coming in. We'll see that tomorrow, I'll guarantee you, at the Keys as people are going to be turned away from coming in for a period of time. When they do get in there, they're not going to have power and water. It's going to be a mess for quite some time.

LEMON: Yes. And you know they want to get back. So, listen -- and another component to helping them get back is getting the power back on. That's obviously a huge priority. But another component are things like water and sewer. How long this those services can be restored?

HALSTEAD: Well, again, power is the key because power also helps with the water systems and the sewer systems. So power is not on, we have more people in shelters. Those shelters typically are schools, universities, so that means those schools and universities are shut down.

What will happen over the next probably two weeks to 30 days is there will be a transition. Red Cross and other human services will be working with those people that are going to have to stay in shelters because their homes are so damaged or destroyed or, again, there's not going to be power on for let's say up to two to four weeks, they'll try to find alternative living situations for them so that we can get the schools back and running, so that mom and dad that are going to work can go to work and not worry about the kids because they're going to be in school as normal.

So it's a cascading effect as we go down. But you're right, electricity starts with it. But it's also the water and sewer and septic. It all has to be working together for these folks to be able to go back into their homes if it's still livable. But again, we're going to be talking about I'm sure thousands of homes that are not livable.

LEMON: And you need the power for the gas pumps to work, right, because you have that and then on top of that you have a gas shortage. What effect does that have on the recovery?

HALSTEAD: Well, certainly that has a significant impact, but remember, some of these gas stations after the '04 and '05 season, if they're in an evacuation route, there was actually a bill passed for them to get generators on to their system so they could run their pumps.

I think getting gas to those pumps is not going to be as much of an issue as it is making sure the pumps can run. So, the ones that have generators are going to be fine. The ones who don't have generators, you're absolutely right. They're going to stay off line until we get power back to that area or until we get temporary pumps back in there.

LEMON: With all the destruction that this storm brought, the biggest challenge facing Florida right now? Do you think it's power? HALSTEAD: Power is simply -- we're just about to the end stages of

search and rescue. I know Jacksonville, they're still moving with boats trying to make sure they've gotten everyone out of there, but certainly it is in the hands of the power companies, utility companies, because that's going to be the critical key, getting the power back on.

LEMON: David Halstead, I appreciate your time. Best of luck. Thank you.

HALSTEAD: Thank you.

LEMON: And for ways that you can help those affected by hurricane Irma, go to And when we come back, CNN's Brian Todd has a story of an elderly company who stayed in their mobile home during the storm and were trapped by massive flooding.


LEMON: Naples, Florida was slammed particularly hard by Irma's wrath. I want you to take a look at this aerial footage of the devastation. Massive flooding and most of the city doesn't have power.

CNN's Brian Todd is nearby Goodland, Florida for us this evening. Brian, good evening to you. You surveyed damage from Irma today in the areas around Fort Myers and Naples. What was that like? What did you see?

BRIAN TODD, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, there's some devastation in some selected pockets of this area. We're in one of those areas. This is Goodland, Florida, right near Marco Island. This is where hurricane Irma hit like a buzz saw. This is where it's made its second landfall all throughout this neighborhood.

There are damaged houses, downed trees, down power lines. There were several flood surges near here. We were told, Don, that hundreds of people make their home here year-round and only about 40 or so decided to stay. So they road it out, but they really got slammed here yesterday.

We can report from what we're told by local authorities there's some pretty good news, no serious injuries to this town. But there is some real devastation here. And you can see from the debris and everything all around me, that it's going to be a long arduous process for these people to dig out and clean up their neighborhood.

LEMON: Absolutely. And you ran, speaking of people saying, you ran into an elderly couple I understand who rode out the storm at home. Why did they choose to stay, Brian?

TODD: Right, this is quite a story, Don. We came upon this edge of this neighborhood that was severely flooded in Bonita Spring, Florida, just between Naples and Fort Myers. And it was an elderly neighbor -- an elderly couple name Edith and Ed Nalepa (Ph). They decided to stay because according to Edith her husband Ed has Parkinson's disease and diabetes and it would be just too tough for them to move him right before the storm or during it and they decided to ride it out.

But their neighbors and the caretakers of the mobile home got very, very worried. When we came upon the edge of the neighborhood the caretaker told us, you know, they're deep in this neighborhood; they're there in their mobile home. I don't know that the water was waist deep by the way throughout much of the neighborhood.

And this caretaker said I don't know if they're alive or dead. So rather than wait for local authorities to send fire and rescue in there, we waded through the neighborhood and hip-deep water, finally got to their house, knocked on their door.

[22:55:01] I was so pleasantly surprise they had, they were fine. They had plenty of food and water. They were about to have lunch. And Edith, the wife, she is 88 years old, she said we're doing great, you know, we don't need help.

Don, we offered to carry them out if they wanted to, we offered them food and water. We offered to call the police and fire. They said, no, we're doing great. And they said we have flood insurance and they were very optimistic. I couldn't really believe their spirit.

They were, you know, they were there alone and stay. But almost everybody else had evacuated. But they stayed. He is 93, she is 98, and you know, you'd think they were 25.

LEMON: Do they have water in their house? Do they have a lot of water?

TODD: They said they had water stored. They had several gallons...


LEMON: No, did they get floodwaters?

TODD: ... to last for days. I don't think they had any water service. Well, they know -- they -- right. They had floodwater right lapping at the top of their step, almost in their home, but not quite in it. They were fortunate.

LEMON: Good for them. I'm glad they're OK. Thank you, Brian Todd. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.