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Hurricane Irma Slams Florida With Heavy Rain and Winds. First Responders Rescue 25 People From Flooding. Lieutenant Eric Harper of the Lakeland Police Warns People to Stay Off the Roads. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:08] We know that six million people had to be evacuated. Over 150,000 are still in shelters and with good reason. In Jacksonville, a place that was not supposed to see any major action from Irma, they've already set a storm surge record. They broke a 1964 mark from Hurricane Dora. That is the kind of history you don't want to make.

We have Alisyn is in New York. We have Anderson is in Tampa. We have John in Miami. And we are here in Naples, where they saw some major gusting of wind and storm surge that certainly changed the reality for far too many people here.

It's good to have -- it's good to have everybody here to talk about what happened. But what is happening is it matters just as much. Sara Sidner is in Daytona Beach.

Let's get to her, because they are getting hit with the winds right now. And that's another place, Sara, wasn't supposed to see Irma in any serious way. But you're getting smacked right now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It wasn't supposed to be like this. And least it wasn't forecasted to be like this. But Irma has been a particularly ornery, if you will, storm. It's kind of made her own way through the state, but certainly hitting the entire state.

Finally, it's daylight. We have been up all night. And these winds have been ferocious. They've been punishing. They've been strong enough to knock us over. I've got my producer holding a light. I've got my cameraman bracing the camera.

But now we have daylight. And now the storm is starting to go away, except for you have blue skies, and we aren't anywhere near those blue skies just yet.

What you are seeing, though, right there is -- look at those waves. These are not typical waves on Daytona Beach. This is a place where people love to come fun and sun. You could take the young kids out there when it's not spring break. When it's spring break, you've got college kids that love coming out here. What you're seeing now is a really, really angry sea that has been whipped up by these winds in huge ways, all the way back as far as the eye can see. You can see whitecaps on very large waves coming in.

What is the good news is we are not seeing the same kind of flooding that we saw during Hurricane Matthew, which was just a year ago. We were standing just down there on the boardwalk when Hurricane Matthew was coming through, and it was covered in water.

The owners, the boardwalk businesses there told us that they took a truckload -- a truckload of sand out of their businesses for Hurricane Matthew.

What will Irma bring to their businesses? What kind of damage did the sustained winds that no one was really expecting to show up here in Daytona Beach do? That remains to be seen.

But I do want to talk about the fact that first responders here risked their own lives to try and save 20 to 25 people that were here. They decided to stay. They didn't think it was going to get this bad. There were tropical-force storm winds. Yes, but they didn't expect hurricane-force winds. Not over here. Not on the East Coast, 225 miles from the eye when it was hitting, for example, Tampa. They thought, "We're fine."

And then suddenly, here they are dealing with hurricane-force winds. They were rescued, and we're very proud of those first responders. But it's just an example. But when they say shelter in place, even if you think the storm is gone, you've got to listen to authorities -- Chris.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sara, it's actually Anderson here in Tampa. In talking about those first responders, I want to talk to Police Chief Craig Capri in Daytona Beach just to get a sense of what he and his officers have been doing and have been seeing now just as dawn begins to break.

Chief, appreciate you joining us.


COOPER: You're still probably assessing the situation in Daytona Beach. I'm wondering what you have seen so far out there. What kind of things have you been responding to?

CAPRI: You know, we had a call from people in one of our apartment complexes, a lower-lying area there, intercoastal, calling for help. We went down there myself, city manager and the sheriff. We all went down there. We rescued about 25 people with the high-water trucks and got them out of there. A little nervous, upset with the flood waters. We got everybody out OK, and nobody was really injured. Thank God.

COOPER: In terms of the flooding, you know, again, we just heard Sara Sidner talking about how the storm was not expected to hit Daytona Beach in the way that it did, to affect them the way that it did. You've seen flooding there before. How did it compare this time to -- to just the last time?

CAPRI: A lot better. I mean, we went out a couple hours before, you know, the early morning hours. It was fine. And the tide was coming in, and the storm picked up from about midnight to 4 a.m. in the morning, that water rose real fast. It goes to show you how quickly it will turn on you.

[07:05:00] But you got some water damage down there, but nobody is hurt, like I said. And that's the only area to be flooded in our city. The beach side looks really good. A lot of the streets look good. A lot of debris in the roadways is clear. And I think that's because of Matthew. Last year we cleared most of that stuff out. And we're just not seeing it right now.

COOPER: So for the hours ahead, what's the task? What's the job?

CAPRI: Well, we're going to go out back right now. We're going to go out and drive around, make mitigation and look to see if anybody needs any help and try to get them some help. All my officers are going out on the streets right now. The winds have died down tremendously. There are probably around 35, 40 right now. We're going to go back out and see if we could help some people. That's what we do.

COOPER: Yes. And we're very thankful that -- that you do that. Thank you, Chief Capri. Appreciate your time. And wish you the best. All your officers have been working around the clock over the last couple of days.

Chris, the situation in Tampa, you know, certainly the big concern here for all of yesterday really was the potential for storm surge, the potentially, obviously, for hurricane-force winds. The winds did not get us by into the triple digits, as they had feared, as some of the -- some of the models had shown as early as, you know, two days ago and even earlier yesterday morning.

We have been watching the water come back in. It's really, actually, much higher now on the Hillsboro River than it was this time of the morning yesterday.

As you know, we watched all that water being sucked out. That water has all returned plus. We're still waiting to get figures on storm surge, and the situation with flooding, as you know. Tampa, even in heavy rainfall, has areas that floods. Off surge and out. We've been seeing police going out. They're basically assessing any kind of damage. We'll obviously bring you any reports about as they come in.

CUOMO: All right, Anderson. I mean, obviously, the job just beginning for those first responders. And for a lot of them, they're still not able to get going, because the storm is still pounding. Storm surge, the story in Tampa, the story here in Naples.

But let's get to Chad Myers. Because again, people are waking up this morning and saying, 'Oh, what did Irma do?" No, it's what is she doing? What are you seeing right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The center of circulation north of Tampa by about six miles, in fact, 70 miles west of Sara Sidner in Daytona. So nowhere near the eye. And we saw overnight what she was going through. Honestly, 80- or 90-mile-per-hour gusts.

Here's the center of circulation as we push water on shore here, bring it back down and push it toward Anderson. The center right about there. So this is the storm surge across the northeast coast of Florida, into Georgia, about eight feet. Because the water has been piling up for so very long.

Because the eye went just to the east of Tampa, the surge in the Tampa Bay expected now somewhere around three feet. And the eye is so far gone. We didn't really get the surge in Tampa like we had in Marco or like we had in Naples, which went up about eight and a half feet in about 15 minutes, so that was pretty significant. But the story today is Jacksonville, Daytona, St. Augustine, all the way to Brozic (ph).

Well, I had about five more minutes' worth of stuff to say about this forecast, but Anderson, I've got to toss it back to you.

COOPER: We'll get back to you on that. Chad, thanks very much. About three feet of storm surge. Chad saying that is much less than expected. They were anticipating here in Tampa five to eight feet. Fearful of five to eight feet. But again, three feet in a city like Tampa, some areas, no doubt, will be flooded, and we can see this river is much higher, you know, a couple of feet higher than it should be in a normal day.

I want to bring in Brynn Gingras, who's over in Orlando, where the winds have been -- have been pretty strong even now. Brynn, what are you seeing?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson. I'm curious what Chad has to say as far as the wind gusts here in Orlando, because we are getting some strong ones. In fact, the sign that is above our hotel, if you imagine sort of an enormous, circular coffee-table-size sign, that just got blown off and right into, practically, our live shot. My producer right now is hunkered behind a pillar. And my photographer behind a statue at this point.

You can see, if I turned my body to it, I'm like a parachute to the wind. That's how strong these gusts are. That's kind of why I'm staying towards the camera, because I have to have some sort of strength. And now we just had a big awning, if you heard that crash, Anderson, a huge awning from our hotel just shattered down as we're talking right now.

So it's not over here. That's the point. I've got to mention that right now, as we're talking, there are rescue efforts going on right now with the National Guard and the Orange County fire and rescue just west of where we are. There were 24 homes that got flooded very severely. Everyone in there had to be rescued. So can you imagine those emergency personnel trying to get everyone out of their homes safely as these winds are so strong -- John.

CUOMO: I'll take it, Brynn. Be careful out there. You know, don't let the wind get you.


[07:10:12] CUOMO: J.B. -- J.B., sorry about that, buddy. I stepped on you. You know, Brynn's reality, as well or better than anyone. For you down there, you know, Miami was supposed to be spared. Not only that it gets spanked but the duration. Every time I would look at the coverage, you were either going to somebody or dealing yourself with just interminable waves of wind and rain.

JOHN BRENNAN, CNN ANCHOR: It was hours upon hours upon hours of wind above tropical-storm-force, above hurricane-force for a period of time. A hundred-mile-an-hour gusts at the tops of those high rises. We had those two crane collapses.

And Chris, where we're standing right now is Brickell, the Brickell neighborhood, Brickell Ave. And I can't even describe to you how weird it is here this morning. Just flat-out weird.

We are starting to see a few cars go by. But normally, at this time this place would be packed. This is the financial district of Miami right now. As I said, Brickell Ave. Yesterday it may as well have been Brickell River. Where I'm standing, covered in four feet of water. This was the area that had the storm surge higher than five feet.

It came from over there. Biscayne Bay is over there. It pushed up over the seawalls and just came gushing to where I'm standing right now. And then as far as back as you can see and down that road, water just flowing down the street.

Walking through here this morning, we've got car alarms going off. We've got building alarms going off. It's just incredibly strange. No one going back to work. But a few people you've seen driving by, coming in to check out the damage, maybe seeing if they can get home.

Officials here say just wait. Let them clean up. Let' them clean up what they can. But Miami, I think that they feel like they missed the brunt of the storm. It wasn't a Category 5 eye wall impact. But I think they were surprised by how long they had to sustain their resistance and really, the damage they're just getting a sense of a million people still without power.

Let's go up north now where the storm again is still hitting. You know, Hurricane Irma nowhere near done. Kaylee Hartung in Gainesville -- Kaylee.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, ANN CORRESPONDENT: John, we've been standing by for the 6 to 7 o'clock hour here in Gainesville, where the worst of Irma was expected. Well, I'll tell you, if that last hour was supposed to be the worst, then you really have to feel like Gainesville was spared. Based on what we saw or what we didn't see here, it supports the idea that this storm is starting to break up.

Local officials tell me they are concerned that, in the next hour, there could be a little bit of activity. Maybe as we catch the tail end of the storm here. But no such 75-mile-an-hour hurricane winds that were feared here.

And yet, the guests that have been through here overnight and in the early morning hours, they've been enough to topple trees all over town. I'm told about half of the city's traffic lights are out. More than 80,000 people in Alachua County are without power, many due to downed trees in this area. Law enforcement resuming regular activity, Chris, but they are saying we're not out of the woods yet in Gainesville.

CUOMO: Yes, no, Kaylee, you've got to stand by. Because the backside of the storm can bring a lot of nastiness along with us. So stand in position and let us know as the situation develops, if it develops.

All right. So let's bring in another one of the first responders who had to deal with some unique challenges yesterday. Lieutenant Eric Harper of the Lakeland police. Can you hear me, sir?

LT. ERIC HARPER, LAKELAND POLICE (via phone): Yes, sir, I can.

CUOMO: Thank you for joining us. Thank you for everything that your men and women had to do during the storm. And now big job, obviously, after it as it starts to move its way past, finally. That's what we're all waiting for some relief so you guys can get out and do your job. What did you have to deal with yesterday and into today?

HARPER: We've got a lot of -- a lot of trees down, power lines down. But one interesting call we can confirm is we had responded to a motorist that called our 911 center that they were trapped inside their vehicle with another adult and two -- two infants.

And we rolled out our MRAP (ph), which is our military surplus vehicle, a rescue vehicle, and we pulled up in about three or four feet of water with our vehicle, pulled up alongside of them and evacuated the two infants from the back seat and the two adults. The water was rushing in and couldn't get out. And we put them in our vehicle and took them to safety. We're just happy that we were able to save some lives last night.

CUOMO: Thank God for you guys. You know, the story of storm surge. What do people need to know? Because even today, people are going to want to get into standing water, get back to their homes. And we keep telling them, the wind gets the headlines but it's not what kills you in a hurricane. People drown. That's the No. 1 cause of death. Storm surge is obviously one of the main culprits contributing to that. What have your -- what is your experience taught you about what happens when people mess with this water?

[07:15:08] HARPER: You know, well, the problem is people can't tell how deep the water is. And they think it's just a shallow -- shallow puddle on top of the roadway. And in this case, it was up to four feet of water, and a small vehicle tried to get through it with you know, a few infants trapped in the back seat.

So I just caution people to stay off the road. Once the hurricane watch warnings are in effect, stay home. Don't go anywhere. In this case, a person was just traveling to a friend's house at about midnight when about the eye passed through. And it could have been -- it could have been fatal if it would have turned out any different. So we're just -- we're just glad we were able to get them to safety.

CUOMO: Today, you're going to have to get out there, obviously, and assess. And as you do so, please see us as a resource. Any kind of information that we can get out for people, let us know, Lieutenant.

HARPER: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. Be well. Stay safe. Look, the situation is far from over. Not only is Hurricane Irma, Alisyn, still smacking people around as it moves north in the state. But as people wake up this morning, so many don't have power. So they had to wait for the sun to come up. They're going to see a really ugly and life-changing reality.

CAMEROTA: Millions, Chris. Millions of people. I mean, I don't have to tell you if Florida will look different today and for a long time. So we'll be back with you in a moment, Chris, but we have to talk about first responders. They of course, are braving these harrowing conditions to try to save people. So where Irma's impact left behind a path of destruction and how they handle it, next.


[06:20:29] CUOMO: All right. You've got Anderson, J.B., and me. But right now, we're following what's happening in Jacksonville. This is just from moments ago. They have a flash flood warning there.

Remember, Hurricane Irma is very much still in full effect. Category 1 storm. Seventy-five-mile-an-hour winds in places. Gusts that could be much higher than that.

Jacksonville has already reported more storm surge than it's ever seen before. It is water that kills you during a hurricane. The previous record was from 1964, Hurricane Dora. So this is a very big deal.

Hold on a second. I don't know if you can hear that. It's coming from this phone. And now it's gone.

So John, let me bring you in. Flooding. If you anticipate it, it's still completely debilitating. What you are dealing with in Miami, you were supposed to be spared. And then next thing you knew, there was water everywhere.

BRENNAN: Look, the only way you can deal with storm surge is to get out before it happened. This area where I'm standing, Brickell Ave., this was in the mandatory evacuation zone. Miami-Dade officials told people to get out of here in the days before the storm, because they worried that what ended up happening would happen.

The storm surge of five feet came from over there, flooded these streets. So they wanted everyone out.

We've looked in some of the building lobbies here, and you can see where the water went in on the floor. Parking garages still have a foot of water in some places. You know, there's just nothing you can do, other than get out, Chris. And I'm sure -- I'm sure Anderson, you know, was the same thing of Tampa, where they were anticipating this 10- to 15-storm surge on 700 miles of coastline, really low-lying.

COOPER: Yes, that's right. Even when it was downgraded two days ago to five to eight feet, that was going to be a lot of storm surge. Chad Myers saying this morning he believes there was about a three- foot storm surge. You know, along Tampa Bay, along that 700 miles coastline, where you have so many homes built very close to the ground, not raised up off the ground. Three feet can do a lot of damage.

So there's a lot to assess this morning. We know there's some 650,000 homes and businesses lost power in the Tampa Bay area. And I'm not just talking about Tampa itself, but the Tampa Bay area, you know, Clearwater, St. Petersburg.

I just want to show you, on the Hillsboro River, just -- you know, we've been watching that water go down. You can see now the water has come back, all of it and more. You can just judge by the wall across the way. It has not topped that wall at all, but it's definitely up several feet more than it normally would be. We're going to continue to watch that.

But I want to go back to John.

BRENNAN: You know, it's interesting, Anderson, there's some 5.8 million people without power in Florida right now, including a million in Miami-Dade County, which is why I'm starting to see some people out here, walking around. They haven't been able to watch TV. They don't know what's going on. They want to find out for themselves what's happening and how long it will take to recover.

Joining me now if David Halstead, former director of emergency management for the state of Florida. We've been leaning on you, your expertise. A couple days, I was literally leaning on you so I wouldn't blow away, where the hurricane-force winds were here.

I want to talk about an area which we haven't talked about too much this morning. Because we don't have enough information yet. And that's the Florida Keys, you know, the string of islands off the south here that got the direct hit from the eye of Irma when it was still a Category 4 storm. You were very concerned.

DAVID HALSTEAD, FORMER DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT FOR STATE OF FLORIDA: Very concerned. Because unfortunately, no news is not good news. So what you want to do is get down there as quickly as we can today, and I'm sure those first responders are already hard at work doing that initial search and rescue. They're going to do some initial assessment. Get that information up to the state. Again, the state is not waiting.

The state is going to be moving resources out of the Orlando area, out of probably the West Palm Area where they pre-stage some of those resources typically. And they're going to move those down south. We're going to keep heading south until we hear from Key West that we don't need help. I don't think that's going to be the case. My guess is they're going to need a lot of help.

BRENNAN: They're checking the bridges right now to see which ones are safe to see how much they can drive to get where they need to go. You know, again, Bill Weir, our Bill Weir is down there. We have heard from Bill. He's moving around, trying to get a signal. Hopefully, we'll be able to check with him in just a little bit. Power outages, one of the big issues that so many people in the state are dealing with.

From your experience, how long do you think people are going to have to wait?

DAVID HALSTEAD, FORMER DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: I think, in some isolated cases, we're talking weeks. We've got five million plus without power right now. That number's probably going to go up as the storm hits north through the state. So typically, it's going to take weeks.

[17:25:07] But again, all of the power companies are marshalled. They're in staging areas, and they're ready to move to those hot areas where they need to fix the infrastructure. Infrastructure damage is going to be the critical key to how long this disaster prolongs.

BERMAN: Hey, there are still thousands, you know, of people in shelters. And of course, in Florida, air-conditioning isn't so much a luxury as it is a need in some places. The temperature will get up ever over 90 degrees over days at a time here. People need to stay cool. How will the state be able to make that happen?

HALSTEAD: Unfortunately, we're going to lead on the shelters longer than we wanted to, which means schools can't open. So electricity is the key hub of how quickly the recovery happens. Quicker that we get electricity, the quicker people can move back into homes that are habitable. Now, again, we haven't seen too many shots. But again, there will be more of those homes that are critically damaged, and people can move back in. So we're going to have to find shelter and resources, apartments, other homes for them to stay in. But electricity, that's the key.

BERMAN: And again, you made that point there. We just are now getting a sense of how much damage was done as the sun comes up and people are able to move around. Miami beach off the coast here, they don't want people going back at all. Miami Beach is closed until tomorrow at least. There will be a curfew at all of Miami-Dade again tonight so they can get a sense of the situation and try to fix things. How long will we be in those types of situations.

HALSTEAD: Well, John here's what happens. We don't have power. So people want to come back and check on their homes very quickly. But once they get here, then they're going to demand resources. Well, I'm home, but I don't have food and water, so I need someone to help me. So that doesn't help the situation at all.

So again, stay at home. Wait to hear when you can come back. Check on your home. But realize what you're coming back to. You've got to bring resources with you. You're not going to have food. You're not going to have water.

BERMAN: Pringles. You know, we're on day four of Pringles right now. David Halstead, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time -- Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK, John. Thank you very much for that.

So what will President Trump do today to help Irma victims? Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke is going to join us with an update, next.