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Hurricane Irma Crawls up Florida's West Coast with Category 1 Strength; Naples Storm Surge Not as Bad as Predicted; Irma Roars Through Florida Keys, Destroys Bar; Eyewitness Describes Drive Through Storm-Damaged Florida. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 02:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world as we continue our coverage of Hurricane Irma. I am Michael Holmes in Tampa, Florida.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: And I am Isa Soares coming to you live from Miami where it's just turned 2 o'clock in the morning. Thank you very much for staying right here with CNN.

HOLMES: And, yes, as we continue our coverage here in Tampa, and I can tell you that Hurricane Irma is giving this city a bit of a battering, the winds are high, the rain at times is horizontal.

The river behind us, it's been interesting watching the water being pulled out of this river as the winds have driven it out the sea. Of course, the big fear in this city, it's seen as a vulnerable city to storm surge.

And when that water starts to come back in, there are concerns about what damage it could do, what areas it could flood. A lot of build-up areas very close to the water, low-lying areas in this city.

And in the last hour or two, we have seen that water start to rise. Karen Maginnis is in the International weather center. I don't know what you're seeing on the map, but we just noticed that the water has gone up appreciably here, Karen.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Michael, it is that dramatic and that noticeable. I thought you were going say it was still going out when I was thinking the winds had shifted there.

They are out of the northwest now. They're still pretty brisk. And Clearwater, we had a wind gust in the past hour of 89 miles per hour.

But this is the latest information. We have just got this information in from the National Hurricane Center. It is now a Category 1 hurricane. It is moving rapidly to the north, northwest and its position puts it just slightly to the north of Tampa.

So, what now? Now, the winds start coming in from the northwest and we start filling in those bays, filling in those canals. That's not a good thing because, on top of that, the tides are going - they'll be high tides - from between 4 and 6 in the morning. And you add this storm surge, which could be 2 or 3 feet, then we've got these low-lying areas in a very vulnerable, those back bays that fill up and there could be considerable storm damage.

All right. I want to show you this. This is interesting. Did you see Sara Sidner? She was in Daytona Beach. She was nearly being blown down.

If you didn't see it, it was one of the most compelling things that we've seen all day, with just how strong the winds have been. Why? Why there? That is in that very dynamic quadrant of the hurricane that we always talk about, but there was the added component that now we're starting to see a little dry air intrusion further to the south.

So, that is actually enhancing this moisture from some of these outer bands, coming in off the Atlantic, specifically right in through there. So, in that corridor between Jacksonville, Amelia Island, all the way down to Daytona Beach.

Even the Kennedy Space Center had a wind gust reported of 80 miles an hour. Now, they've gotten down the hatches there a long time ago. They don't want any of those things to be ruined or somehow compromised. So, they took precautions there.

All right. This is what we call the HERR (ph) forecast radar, going into Monday. You can see much more clearly, some of this dry air intrusion, meaning because it's over land, it's not sitting over water - that because it's over land, now we start to see a little bit drier air. It's ripping it apart. It's not sitting over water, just kind of feeding from those very warm water temperatures.

But what I am primarily concerned about now, along with the storm surge, all the way from Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater to New Port Richey towards Crystal River, now will be some of the enhancement of that heavy precipitation from Valdosta, Georgia to Jacksonville to Savannah to Beaufort to Charleston, South Carolina, and the city floods in a heavy thunderstorm.

If you see significant rain bands moving across that area and into Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina, then you're looking at very severe flooding there.

[02:05:09] What about some rainfall totals? What can we expect over the next couple of days? Well, in this I95 corridor, in that corridor along Interstate 4 between Daytona, Orlando and Tampa up toward Jacksonville and Lee City, we could see significant rainfall totals between 10, possibly as much as 20 inches.

But because Irma is moving so quickly now, maybe it won't have a chance to see those staggering rainfall accumulations. Michael?

HOLMES: Great information there, Karen. Interesting to know. So, the eye is about 25 miles northeast of where we are here in Tampa in Florida.

And as it's weakening - as Karen Maginnis was just saying there, as it is weakening, it's a lot of relief for people in Tampa. When the eye was perhaps going to go west of the city over water, the fear here was of a big storm surge in a city that is vulnerable to that because it's got so much property, expensive property, right on the water, and a lot of it low-lying as well.

There were fears that parts of the city itself would flood. It's good news that it's inland, that it's weakening and that it is east of the city and, hopefully, the storm surge will be much lower and have a much lower impact. We shall see.

We have seen the waters here rise over the last hour. They will continue as the waters turn around after being pulled out as these winds move around and push the water back inland. So, we'll see how that goes.

Isa Soares in Miami, what's happening there?

SOARES: Michael, it is pretty impossible, isn't it? Just hearing what you were talking to Karen to try to second-guess Irma. It shifted so much in the last 24 hours or so. That's why it's been important not to be complacent.

But whilst you're starting to feel some of those strong winds and the rain, really here - it really is about the day after, trying to assess the damage and trying to pick up the pieces.

I want to take you now into Punta Gorda and speak to Ben McMillan, who is a WeatherNation field correspondent and a storm chaser.

Ben, thank you very much for joining us. I was hearing our correspondent Miguel Marquez throughout the day, who was right where you are, and he was talking about winds as strong as 100 miles per hour. On top of that, the storm surge that we keep on talking about. Give us a sense of what you have been seeing there throughout the day and also the damage on the ground.

BEN MCMILLAN, WEATHERNATION FIELD CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Isa. From the banks of Peace River, we are in Punta Gorda, a town of 20,000 people where they have been watching that storm surge very closely.

Water is still very turbulent still this AM, but not quite the amount of water they expected, which is good news. The city here is only 6 feet above sea level. And a last-minute switch in the course of the track of the storm to the east has spared this area the worst of the damage.

SOARES: Give us a sense, Ben, if you can of what you have seen on the ground in terms of the damage?

MCMILLAN: Isa, we have seen numerous trees down. The entire city is without power tonight and people are just trying to figure out what to do next.

We've seen people with flash lights, people walking around, all of them in a state of confusion and just trying to figure out how to start putting their lives back together after this significant storm has moved through the region.

The biggest things right now are just finding fuel and food and beginning to make those next steps.

SOARES: And I am guessing a majority of people, from what I've heard our correspondents say earlier in the day, had sought shelter, they had time to go to shelters and there was hundreds of shelters throughout Florida in place. The majority go to these shelters then?

MCMILLAN: Yes. Isa, we visited a shelter earlier this week that held 8,000 and it was very close to being filled to capacity. So, the general feeling on the ground here is that the state and government officials did a good job of getting the word out prior to this storm's arrival, keeping many people safe that might not have been otherwise.

SOARES: Absolutely. It's about the preparations, isn't it? Ben, give me sense, if you can, of what officials are saying on the ground in terms of when people may be able to start leaving their shelters, the hotel room, their friend's houses and start making their way home. What are they saying?

MCMILLAN: Well, indications from local police and fire officials that we have talked to is, of course, no one is going to be leaving their homes this morning, but when first daylight comes, they will begin to send out teams to assess the damage and try to make sure those neighborhoods are safe to lift those mandatory evacuation orders and begin the process of people returning to their home.

[02:10:03] SOARES: Now, I know you're also a storm chaser and you go where any of us really run away from. So, what did you see? What did you feel? Did it meet the expectations that so many people were waiting for, in particular when we heard about the hurricane shifting? What did you see when it passed by you?

MCMILLAN: When it first came onshore in Marco Island and Naples, lots of destruction did occur. We had mobile home parks that were damaged heavily. We had gas station awnings that were ripped off.

But, thankfully, for the State of Florida, there was a decrease in some of the wind as that storm moved inland, which was good news and it didn't cause quite as much damage inland as expected, but still significant amount of damage along the coast, especially in the Naples area, which will take already many years to recover from.

SOARES: Absolutely. And we're just only starting to assess the damage. Ben, thank you very much for joining us there on the phone from Punta Gorda.

Of course, this is going to take some time now to really get a sense of exactly how costly it is in terms of damage. I can tell you from where I am here in Brickell, this is the financial quarter, the water was up pretty much waist deep throughout the day. But as you can see, it has receded pretty quickly as we've been hearing through my colleagues in Miami Beach.

Yes, trees are down, there is no electricity, there is no power. But the upside to all of this, of course, is that lives, of course - it hasn't taken that many lives here in California and that is the most important part. Michael, back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Isa Soares there in Miami. Thanks so much for that. Now, we're back here in Tampa, which was initially right in the path of Hurricane Irma, now sort of thing side-swiped, if you like.

The winds are high, the rain is still coming down. Stephanie Elam is out in the thick of it. Stephanie, fill us in on what you've been saying out there?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Michael, if you remember, a couple of hours ago, if you've been watching what we've been doing here, I couldn't really stand and look up the street here because it was coming down at me so much.

Now, it's reversed. And the wind is now coming the other direction and it's a bit like a car wash, in the sense that it started off with a lot of water and now it's more wind.

I feel like I maybe even drying out my jacket here a little bit. It's not a bad thing. This is a much better outcome than what they expected, what was going to happen here in Tampa.

And I know for a lot of people, it may seem like it was much of an overdone example of how everyone was saying you've got to get out of Florida, you've got to get out of Tampa, you can get hit, but you never know how these storms are going to change.

And I came here from Texas, directly from Texas after Harvey. And when you see what happened there, I think those images coming out of Texas, I think for a lot of people, it really influenced them to not take that chance and it's always worth it because you just never know what these storms can do.

But, yes, now that we are - the storm has passed us, I can tell you that the winds have shifted direction now and it really is more of a spitting of the rain on - at least where I am standing at, downtown Tampa, and it's way more about the rain at this point here.

I checked in with the police here in Tampa and they said that lots of calls about maybe downed trees and power lines being down. They're not going after those calls just yet, but they did say that they were going to wait for the rescues, anything that had needed to happen after that.

But so far, fingers crossed, it's looking like a much better turnout with the storm than had previously been expected for a city that has not been walloped by a storm in some 90 years.

So, a much better turnout for the folks here in Tampa. It may have been a lot of work to get out of the city, but all in all, it's worth it because you just never know how these storms can turn on a dime, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly, Steph. That's exactly right. Stephanie Elam here in Tampa with us. And Stephanie pointing out that the winds have started to turn. The eye of this storm is about 25, 30 miles northeast of where we are.

And as the wind -- as the further north it goes, the more those winds will start to turnaround. And what happens then is all the water that we've seen over the last day or so or half a day going up, it's going to start to come back in.

But as Stephanie says, it's not as bad as it was first feared and, hopefully, the water, when it comes back in, the storm surge, if you like, will not be as severe as what was first anticipated and certainly concerned the mayor and everyone here in Tampa.

Because it's gone to the east of Tampa, it's closer now to Orlando, which initially thought would escape the brunt of the storm. It has been hit pretty hard in the end.

[02:15:01] And Brynn Gingras has been there throughout the last few hours and has been out in the thick of it. Let's have a listen to what she was saying there.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in the downtown part of Orlando where there are tall buildings and that's just creating wind tunnels where sheets of rain are just coming at us with these strong wind gusts.

Now, earlier, we had a fraction of what we're experiencing. And I can tell you in the distance we saw a bright blue skylight. Of course, it means that a transformer blew.

We saw a bunch of emergency vehicles because, at that time, it was safe for them to go about the streets. And we inquired what they were racing towards, it wasn't that transformer, it was actually someone was in their car and crashed.

And when emergency vehicles responded, that person had died. So, it was one of Orlando's fatalities, according to the fire chief here, that is storm-related. Of course, investigators couldn't really investigate that because of these terrible conditions.

But it just goes to show you that it really doesn't take much for this storm to be super dangerous.

And even with Orlando being in the center of the state with people on both coasts coming here to evacuate are certainly seeing conditions be pretty difficult.

I also want to mention, here in Orlando, at the convention center, they're housing thousands of emergency vehicles ready to respond all across the state. And those vehicles coming across the country, but it's going to take a while for this storm to die down, before they can get to anywhere and see where the damage was from this storm. Back to you.


HOLMES: Brynn Gingras there in Orlando which has been pummeled in the last few hours. We're going to take a short break. More of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma when we come back.



[02:20:45] SOARES: You're watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. I'm Isha Soares coming to you live from Miami and we have seen Irma really being very unpredictable in the last 48 hours and it continues to pummel the State of Florida.

Let's get more now where we're joined now to Sara Sidner, who joins us from Daytona Beach here and she has been seeing some ferocious wind. Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wow, this (INAUDIBLE) 250 miles from Tampa (INAUDIBLE) these winds are intensified. (INAUDIBLE) in a couple hours at 4 o'clock in the morning. So, this is again (INAUDIBLE) in the last couple of hours. We've bene out here (INAUDIBLE) very easily. And now it's getting so strong (INAUDIBLE). This is an incredible show of force (INAUDIBLE).

Hurricane Irma is not finished, packing a punch, slamming into Daytona Beach right now. This wind, it feels like (INAUDIBLE).

I'm going to leave now here and get out of the wind a bit, so that you can hear me better. But this is incredible. We were here earlier when the wind was wild and that was 30 miles an hour gust. Then it went up to 40. And it kind of stayed in that range.

But this feels much stronger. I was here to during Hurricane Matthew about a year ago and this is powerful, powerful than (INAUDIBLE) Hurricane Matthew.

We're on the fifth floor of the hotel, looking down. And I mean it's just powerful. We've not been (INAUDIBLE) Daytona (INAUDIBLE) not expecting the winds to get this strong here in Daytona Beach. We know that there are about 500 people in shelters here and also (INAUDIBLE), just an hour down the road, about 60 miles away in Brevard County (INAUDIBLE). They have confirmed reports - two confirmed touchdowns, sorry, of a tornado and they've had 40 tornado warnings. This is a massive storm and you can tell that because (INAUDIBLE) incredible, incredible wind speeds.

SOARES: Sara, it is just so deceptive, isn't it, as you're telling us exactly what - how quickly it's changed, those wind gusts. Please stay safe. Of course, we'll touch base with you in the next hour or so.

But, Sara, was saying there it changes so quickly. And although, as you can see there, that was a Category 1, it's so powerful. It's such a strong hurricane. It doesn't matter which way you slice it. It is damaging and it is very worrying. So, it is important that you seek higher ground and you stay away from the strong winds.

[02:25:14] (INAUDIBLE) in Miami. I want to show you some footage of what Hurricane Irma has done here in Miami. I'm in Brickell. We've seen a lot - some of the damages, trees being uprooted, but take a look at this.

Normal streets have been turned into rivers, let's say, covered in flood waters as Miami was really battered with those powerful winds as Sara was seeing, even stronger, in fact, and some very heavy rains.

And we started to get a firsthand look at the damage. And, of course, in the next 24 hours, as the sun rises, we will get a better sense of what exactly has happened.

Look at this dramatic video. This is the moment that a roof was actually ripped off a two-story apartment building. This is downtown.

And then, we've been talking about these cranes. There are some 20 cranes throughout Miami. But this construction crane just couldn't withstand the strong wind. It collapsed on to the high-rise building beneath it.

Two construction cranes, in fact, fell off here Miami. And the reason - they were put - they were tied into the building, but nevertheless officials telling us, in the lead up to Irma making landfall, they would take 5 to 7 days to actually take them down. So, that was almost impossible. So, that was a huge concern here in Miami too.

But as you can see, the water is subsiding. Now, it's about assessing the damage, trying to get power up, millions of people in the State of Florida without any power.

And in the morning hours, we know from Miami-Dade that officials will be coming out at 5 o'clock in the morning to assess the damage, to try and move some of the streets.

Derek Van Dam, you and I have been together for the past 48 hours or so. You saw some of those strong winds that we've been seeing now in Daytona Beach. Talk to us a bit more what you are seeing in Miami Beach in terms of the damage.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, generally, Isa, I believe that the residents here are going to be breathing a sigh of relief. Although there is some destruction across the area, downed power lines, downed trees, for the most part, it really was a glancing blow to Miami Beach.

Now, with that said, though, there are still a lot to cleanup effort that's going to be underway over the next coming days.

Look behind me and you can see that a large tree fell on to one of the electrical poles here. And this is significant because this is one of the reasons why three quarters of Miami-Dade County is without electricity, as we speak. Over 850,000 residents without electricity and it's all because of situations just like this. Now, they've closed the roadways that connect the barrier island to the main peninsula in the downtown area near Miami. Now, this is for a few reasons. They need to check the structural integrity of these bridges before they reopen them, but they also want to prevent people from returning back home to the Miami beach region because they also want to prevent any looting from happening.

There simply isn't any electricity. So, that means alarms don't work properly. That means light, obviously, aren't on. So, police there are patrolling the streets, making sure that no one is looting in the area. In fact, there were 28 arrests in Miami-Dade alone.

Now, not only are we having electrical problems across this area, but we've had water main breaks. You can see just how significant the water is here across this region, with one of the trees just completely being uprooted and that, obviously, broke a water main and it's flowing across the sidewalk and into somebody's driveway.

But, really, again, they spared this area quite significantly because we think about what happened in the Florida Keys region as well.

We had a quick opportunity to talk to the mayor. This is what he had to say about the destruction here in Miami Beach region.


TOMAS PEDRO REGALADO, MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH: I think Miami Beach did relatively well. Those were some very strong winds up. Thank God, our pumps held. Our raised roads did very well. And we had very minimal flooding, especially in the areas that we approved for our sea level project. There's power lines down, you'll see branches and trees in all different roads all across the city.

We've maintained our curfew. No one's allowed to be out past 8 o'clock at night. And, of course, no one can come back to Miami Beach for at least a day or so. We haven't decided yet.

Tomorrow morning, we have crews coming in at 6 AM. Major emergency recovery crews are going to start clearing out all our roads to make sure that we can get back on our feet as fast as possible.


VAN DAM: Isa, curfew remains until 6 AM here in the morning. It really was a glancing blow, but they have several days of cleanup, as you can see behind me. Back to you.

SOARES: Yes. Absolutely. It has all been about the preparation, isn't it? Derek Van Dam, thank you very much. We will have much more on our continuing breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma and its path along -

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. All about preparation.

Derek Van Dam, thank you very much. We'll have much more on our continuing breaking news coverage of

Hurricane Irma and its path along Florida's west coast. That's coming up next, right here on CNN.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world as we continue our coverage of Hurricane Irma. I'm Michael Holmes, in Tampa, where the wind just died down. It has been blowing pretty hard here. Wind gusts in excess of 50, sometimes up closer to 60 miles an hour. And the rain has also remarkably stopped.

What has also happened here, all day, we have been watching water go out of this river. The river level dropped remarkably as the winds were pushing the water out to sea. What has happened in the last hour or two, as the tides started to come in, and the winds have switched around and we have seen water levels here rise markedly, probably about five feet or so in the last hour or two. Quite extraordinarily.

The good thing about the path of the hurricane is it made the risk of storm surge here not go away but be less than if the eye of the hurricane stayed west of us here out over the water.

Karen Maginnis knows a lot more about that than I do. She's joining us now from the International Weather Center.

It's been remarkable watching this water go up, Karen. It's been so fast.

[02:35:07] KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And it's remarkable that you have the vantage point that you can observe it in real time. You also watched it go out and marveled at how low the water was. Now that the wind is on the back side of this hurricane, starting to force that moisture, the water. And now we're seeing the storm surge associated with Hurricane Irma, which, by the way, is now category 1. It has been over land for a while. It is losing some of its energy. But as Michael just said, that doesn't mean it diminishes anything. In fact, there are enhancements taking place. One of them being, look at this long line of storms coming in off the Atlantic. Just kind of aimed at Jacksonville, and another line, Kennedy Space Center. We had pretty strong wind gusts there. Then this little band of heavy rainfall along the northern edge of the eye. Right now, in the vicinity of Orlando towards Spring Hill. But for Tampa, the reason Michael has seen that water rise, is now we're on the back side and now the wind is coming in from a northwesterly direction. And it will shift even more as the center of circulation of Irma moves more towards the north. It's moving fairly rapidly. We will see that even more so move in from the west. Maybe the storm surge on the order of three feet. I see some reports that they are estimating as much as five feet. But there is a high tide. That high tide brings in about an additional two to three feet across that area as well.

We have a lot to tell but because it isn't just right around where the eye of Irma is located, but also over here on this northeastern coast of Florida. It has been very dramatic. Look at this. This long feeder band with this enhanced precipitation right around Daytona Beach. You see Sara Sidner, she was holding on for dear life. Producer told me she is safe. She is fine. But nonetheless, stunning to see someone holding on like that in the midst of a band of intense rain and intense wind.

And some of that is moving up into southern sections of South Carolina, into coastal Georgia. The coast of Georgia isn't very long, but already we're seeing wind gusts around 35 to 40 miles an hour. The hurricane is still down here. But Tampa is really going to see it over the next couple of hours. But not just in Tampa, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs; New Port Richey and towards Crystal River. So is all of those places, water rises going into the next three to five hours -- Michael?

HOLMES: Yes, it's going to be interesting to see this water continue to rise. Amazing. Just as you described, Karen. Once winds shifted around and started going up. How far it goes up is the key thing.

Karen Maginnis, thanks so much.

There was a lot of concern here, as I said earlier, about storm surge. That was the mayor's biggest fear. It is a city vulnerable to that kind of thing. Water comes in and basically right into the heart of the city. There's low-lying areas there. Expensive housing built on the water's edge in recent years and the fear was a lot of that would be flooded. The mayor was worried that parts of the city could be underwater. That has been alleviated now. And while there will be a storm surge, it's not going to be anywhere near where it would have been had that eye stayed to the west of the city, and not moved inland, as it has, and of course, causing Irma to weaken somewhat.

I want to go now to John Brewer, who is in Naples, Florida.

John, you're on the line for us. Watching Chris Cuomo there earlier in the day, went through punishing wind and rain before the eye past over. Tell me how it unfolded for you.

JOHN BREWER, NAPLES, FLORIDA RESIDENT (via telephone): I'm staying at my parents' house, which is just a little east of I-75, for a landmark. When the eye wall was going by around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., it was about 45 minutes of the most intense wind and rain I've ever seen in my life. Just astounding.

HOLMES: Tell us more about that. Were you concerned for your safety? I mean, I know what it sounded like here. But it was worse in Naples, I know.

[02:40:06] BREWER: Yes. Wind gust, I believe it tapped out around 140 to 142 miles an hour. It was, I wasn't really worried about any type of physical harm because the house I was in was very structurally sound. You know, doors were barricaded. There's shutters. So all that was taken care of. It was more of the stress of watching all the debris and everything flying around outside and wondering when things would get back to normal. My own house is closer to the coastline. So I still haven't made it back there. Hopefully, when they lift the curfew in the morning, I will be able to check it out. But going through the time leading up and no power, pretty much the entire day, leading up and until the eye wall, was very odd.

HOLMES: I can imagine. Then talking of winds in excess of 100 miles an hour. Amazing. We have gusts of maybe upper 50 miles an hour. That could be quite daunting, too. When you double that, I can't imagine.

John Brewer, thank you, in Naples, Florida, that was hit hard earlier today.

Still feeling the effects here in Tampa. There's a lot more to come over the next few hours as we watch Irma creep further north.

We will take a short break. We'll be back with more after that.


[02:44:53] SOARES: You are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma. I'm Isa Soares. And you're joining me live here in Miami.

Miami is now about picking up the pieces, assessing the damage. But in other parts of the state, it is become quite drastic just the amount of damage that Hurricane Irma caused, particularly, as it starts moving northwest, isn't it?

Now I want to show what you the damage it caused in Florida Keys, and it is just astounding.

Our correspondent, Bill Weir, went with his team to a restaurant in the Keys. Then he returned to see the impact. Take a look at what he found out.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm about to show you something that has shaken me unlike anything I have seen in 25 years of reporting and eight other hurricanes. Thursday night, I stood right here and interviewed the owner of a bar called Snappers and a bunch of very festive Key West residents who were debating whether to evacuate or stay. Peter, at that time, was determined to stay, holed up inside his bar. He changed his mind. Good thing he did. Because it is completely gone. Look at this. Gone. The entire bar. Right here, where I sat and had shrimp tacos with my crew after a live shot and hung out with these amazingly warm gracious people. It's gone. It's been shoved up by the storm surge into the side of the fence of the neighboring businesses here.

This was the bar. You can see they tried to board it up with plywood, but the storm, winds blew through it. And then, inside the restaurant, shoved everything up against the western wall of this place.

And your heart just breaks. Peter, the owner of this place, I just left him a voice mail. One of his employees told me he had AAA insurance. I hope that's the case because this is a total write-off.

You can see these were slips for jet skis that have been shoved up, blown into the restaurant.

This was a hugely popular place on the Atlantic side of Key Largo. An institution for many years. Peter is from the Netherlands. He bought it a couple of years ago, expanded it.

But if this is a sample of what we'll find in Key West, you know, paradise, southern paradise of the United States, as we know it, has fundamentally changed.


SOARES: Bill Weir was saying, as well, the torrential rain was so strong it actually felt like you had a power washer basically spraying his face.

We will have much more on our coverage of Hurricane Irma after this short break. Do stay right here with CNN.




[02:51:43] HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to CNN's coverage of the progress of Hurricane Irma as it heads further north through this state, and leaving behind a wake of damage along the way.

I want to bring in Mary Ann Lou. We will talk to her on the phone. And she made a harrowing drive to Weston in Florida from Davie in Florida.

I'm not familiar with those places, Mary Ann, but tell us about the drive and what it was like.

MARY ANN LOU, FLORIDA RESIDENT (via telephone): Well, it's west of Fort Lauderdale, even more west of Fort Lauderdale. It was only a 20- minute drive but it was a scary maze of trees that had fallen on the road in some places. Even driving on the opposite side of the road to avoid trees. But we made it. Our place lost power since yesterday morning so we went to my future in-laws' place. We made it OK. They had power, no Wi-Fi though. And just now the lights have flickered. So it's pulling strong --


HOLMES: No Wi-Fi. First-world problems with no Wi-Fi. I can understand how frustrating that is.

But power, there's nearly four million in the state without power now. A major issue going forward getting that back on. What was your experience of the hurricane itself?

LOU: It was scary. We have nailed down the windows with plywood last week. Because we don't have shutters. Bought a lot of canned food and other supplies as well. And basically, stayed in and tried to hunker down in the storm. But when the power went out, we weren't sure what to do. We stayed as long as we could and then tried to find power yesterday. So it was scary yesterday. We had tornado alerts that kept coming on the phone over and over. You could hear the wind blaring through.

HOLMES: Sounds like a perilous drive. That must have been surreal driving through the debris of this storm.

You were meant to leave on Friday. What are your plans now?

LOU: It was actually Saturday. I was trying to leave Saturday. Then tried to make it Friday. I kept trying to do all these different flights. First Saturday, then it became Friday. Then it became Monday, then Tuesday. Then I found out tonight that my Tuesday flight is cancelled. So we would try to get out Wednesday. But I might be stuck here for a little bit.

HOLMES: Mary Ann, we'll leave it there. Mary Ann Lou, good luck with getting out. A lot of flights have been canceled.

As the storm has headed through this state, it has left a trail of damage and left people with some indelible experiences and images we want to share with you now.


[02:55:00] RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can hear just how powerful this storm is. We have experienced at least 80 mile-an-hour winds. Now another strong gust. Seems like no matter what we do, it gets a little tougher.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What that is, if you can see the globes, the glass globes around the street lamps, those are crashing down onto the streets.

BOB BUCKHORN, MAYOR OF TAMPA, FLORIDA: It wasn't pretty but we were prepared. And I'll tell you, this is where government matters. People can complain about government and the efficiency of government, but when you need government, particularly at the local level, this is where we are at our best. And we are prepared to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay inside. Stay safe. Be compassionate. Look out for each other. If you need us when the storm passes, we will be there for you.


HOLMES: That will do it for us at this hour. I'm Michael Holmes, in Tampa.

Victor Blackwell and "EARLY START" is up next.

SOARES: I'm Isa Soares, in Miami. Thank you for staying with CNN. Please, stay safe.