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Irma Batters Florida And Weakens To Tropical Storm; Irma Leaves 5.8 Million Without Power In Florida. Hurricane Irma Devastates Parts of Florida Due To Flooding. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, I really can't believe the breath of this storm. It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that it affected all Florida. It's like election night when you hear from every county and every city in Florida because each and every one of the matters.

You know, we had the storm surge here, six feet, flooding this street where I'm at right now. We had 100 mile an hour winds, a category one storm here in Miami, but it hit for hours and hours and hours. And that's just part of the story. A million people without power in Miami-Dade today. That will be a giant story in and of itself, yet that's only a small slice because we have you in Naples, we had the storm hitting up in Jacksonville and Gainesville and up in Tampa where Anderson is. And Anderson, in a way Tampa was one of the biggest fears yesterday as that storm moved up the west because that storm surge could have been so devastating.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you know, it was a very different story. Not what they were anticipating 48 hours ago when they thought it was going to be mostly east coast and then Tampa suddenly got the alert that this storm had moved to the west and was coming directly towards Tampa. So there was a lot of concern here, as you said, not only about the hurricane force winds that they were expecting could get as high as 130 miles per hour. Thankfully, that did not happen. They did get hurricane force winds of course, but not to that height.

But the concerns about the storm surge, we're still waiting for reports of flooding in the Tampa Bay area, I'm talking about Clear Water, St. Petersburg, Tampa as well, there is often flooding here, some 650,000 homes and businesses without power.

But you can see just from the river, and we're watching this very closely, because it does seem to still be rising a little bit here. It has not topped the banks over there. That's one of the markers that we've been watching. You know, when the water was moving out during the early part of the storm when that counterclockwise movement of the storm when it was really hitting you badly, John, the winds were sucking all this water out. It had dropped about 10 feet or so. So all that water has filled back in now.

But we're still waiting for reports of flooding, definitely seeing police vehicles moving around. They're trying to assess the damage. There's still a lot to learn about what has happened here. And folks are just waking up, obviously. There are still bands of rain, bands of light wind, nothing severe, just kind of irritating, unpleasant, particularly for those people, John, who have lost power.

CUOMO: Well, also, Anderson, it makes it harder, and John knows this, as well, makes it harder for people to get out there and do the work of search and rescue. That's what this residual weather is doing. But that's where we are, the parts where we are that's the story. Here in Naples it was about the gusting wind that was a very big deal. I had never seen anything like that, let along stuck my nose in it.

But the damage wasn't as bad as could have been feared. As the storm surge wasn't as bad. And yet we saw a drone footage and they haven't been out into some of the parts of Naples yet. There's going to be a lot of flooding, a lot of homes that are affected.

So let's bring in Chad Myers. This storm was longer, stronger in duration than they could have ever imagined, not over yet, although we do have an update.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, not over yet. Tropical storm now, 70 miles per hour, but life threatening flooding occurring right now anywhere from Tybee Island all the way down to Jacksonville. This is the area that has been pushed in the water and pounded all night with rain, now salt water surging eight feet deep. This may be the highest surge we've seen other than maybe Marco Island and Everglades City. We know Everglades City really got hit with a 10 to 15 foot surge.

But this is the area, this morning, this is the focus, a flash flood emergency for Jacksonville downtown. The water has never been this high. Hurricane Dora, 1964, it was a foot lower than it is right now and it's still going up. For Tybee Island and for the Savannah River, it was 12.4 in Matthew. It's going to 14.4, two feet higher than Matthew, because of the way the surge is working.

Now, eventually, it moves to the west of Atlanta, all of Georgia, South Carolina will see wind gusts above tropical storm force today. They will still bring down winds, that will still bring down power lines and trees. But look at the winds in Naples, we watched you go through this, Chris, yesterday, 142, Marco officially 130, after that we don't even know if it got higher than that. From about Big Pine to the original landfall, 120 miles per hour in the lower Keys, and we know many of the lower Keys roads are now still impassable, so you can't go back and forth, you can't get back to Key West, don't even try.

CUOMO: It's also one of the reasons, as much as we appreciate the opportunity to do this kind of broadcasting and reporting I can't wait to get off camera and try and get down to Marcos Island and see what's going on there.

MYERS: Everglades City, too.

CUOMO: But can we get on the island -- right, we're going to try to spread out there. Ed Lavandera is going to one. We'll go to the other, we'll coordinate, easier access, because there is still a lot of unknown. [08:05:03] And as Chad was just pointing out, it ain't over. A

tropical storm is no joke, more than enough to incapacitate a city and to cause death.

So let's bring in Al Sandrik. He's with the National Weather Services. He's in Jacksonville. And we hear about this wrong kind of history, Al, the most storm surge they've ever seen. Is that true, and what is the situation?

AL SANDRIK, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICES: Right, good morning, Chris, thanks very much.

Yes it is the highest storm tide -- surge on St. John's River since October, 1846. We didn't have gauges on the river, then, but we had extreme damage on the St. John's River at that point. Our real concern right now is we have record water in the entire St. John's River from downtown Jacksonville, southward through the city of Palatka. The winds on the St. John's River are now coming to a southerly direction and that wind is going to push that water northward into the city of Jacksonville at the same time we are approaching high tide.

The water can't get past Jacksonville. It's got to go up and over the banks into the San Marco, Riverside, South Hampton, Landon Park, and downtown areas. So, basically, we are looking at four to six feet of water possible along the east bank of the St. John's River, and as we start getting into some of the neighborhoods, about two to four feet of water in the streets. We are asking people to not try to get out in the flood waters but to evacuate. This message has been coordinated with Jacksonville emergency management.

CUOMO: Vertically evacuate, tell us what that means and tell us why people need to stay out of that water. They'll see two to four feet and say, well, I can handle that.

SANDRIK: Right. Two to four feet of water is extremely dangerous when you're talking about the weight of water and the fact that this water could be moving swiftly. Also you don't know whether electrical circuits have malfunctioned and putting electricity into the water. So what we prefer people to do to get as high as possibly can in their home. If they have second story, go to your second story and stay there. But this will be or already is a storm tide of record in that area and it's going to get worse as the winds flow from the south.

We have a very dense observation network on the St. John's River, and we've got good observations along there. We are seeing a response with the gauges leveling out in the south part of the river. We have southeast winds in Jacksonville that tells us now that the water is being pushed northward up the St. John's River towards the city of Jacksonville.

CUOMO: One quick reminder, obviously, Al, you know this all too well, people are going to hear, it's not that much wind, at least it's not that dangerous. Water is what kills you in a hurricane. It is responsible for well over 90 percent of the deaths. It's the water that kills you, it's the winds that get the headlines. What are we talking about, Al, in terms of duration? How long before first responders start to get out there and address people in need?

SANDRIK: That's the other problem. Forecasting storm surge is a bit of an art. The fact of the matter is we do not see how it will hit the downtown Jacksonville area until 1:58 p.m. today. So the water will be rising naturally from the astronomical tide. It will probably be for some time this afternoon before work levels go down appreciably in this area.

CUOMO: So it's going to be some time before they can get out there. How are you staffed in terms of search and rescue, having the boats, having the high water vehicles, having what you need?

SANDRIK: Well, that's question for Jacksonville emergency management, but I will tell you we had been messaging this with them for a long period of time. That one time where we thought we're going to be seeing the hurricane come very close to the St. John's River we had actually messaged with them the possibility of record flooding.

So we've been talking to them for several days and county emergency management I'm sure is prepared for it. I know there have been some swift water rescues reported to us, already. So they're out there and doing what they need to do.

CUOMO: Yes, we heard some flash flood warnings in effect. We heard about some rescues. Thank God so far we heard about nothing terribly tragic. But as you said it is early. All right, Al, we'll stay on it. As there's information that people need to know -- yes, Al, please.

SANDRIK: OK, just for Chad Myers, we are getting significant reports of flooding in the city of St. Augustine, too. So when you're talking your message, it's probably all the way down Flagler Beach and seriously impacting the summer haven, marine land, and St. Augustine areas, as well. In fact, we know St. Augustine is significantly flooded.

CUOMO: I think Chad is listening. We'll make sure to relay the information to him. Thank you very much, and allow us to return the favor. Anything you need, please come our way and be safe, OK? And be safe.

[08:10:07] SANDRIK: Thank you, Chris, we really appreciate the opportunity.

CUOMO: Thank you. Thank you for making our jobs easier and for helping so many get through this storm.

All right, let's get to Drew Griffin. He's at Fort Myer in Florida. He spent so much time with people in the shelters in trying to figure their way through this storm. What's the latest from there, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, you know, the misery continues here. This is the roadway that people are trying to get out of the shelter now. Several of them have stalled where the road dips down. We had to come in a few different ways just trying to get to the shelter because so many people's cars have been stalled as they try to evacuate. They spent the night here -- hey, can you talk to us for a second? How was that night? We're on live TV, so let's keep in clean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was not pleasant. The whole thing hasn't been pleasant.

GRIFFIN: Power went out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that was no big deal.

GRIFFIN: Roof leaked?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. When you got here, they weren't ready. People stood out there for five and a half hours in the heat, some people passed out. They couldn't get in.

GRIFFIN: Was it frightening at night when the storm was coming through or did you feel safe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt safe. A lot of them were upset, and no one was talking to you. The place was clanging and banging and stuff was flopping around outside, and you didn't hearing anyone saying, you know, it's just shutters. There were never any updates.

GRIFFIN: Scary. Would you do it again, though, I mean, you lived through it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from Michigan. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll bug out sooner and get the hell out of state.

GRIFFIN: That was probably the best idea. All right, guys, we'll let you go. Good luck getting through that water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was going the other way and then it doubled backed on it and came to the west and screwed our plan up.

GRIFFIN: Chris, that sounds familiar. It screwed our plan up, too, didn't it? We're going to let him try to drive out of here in this water. But as we see these hurricane Irma refugees, you can see this fella here just coming out of the shelter, now. They're all trying to leave this dome of safety.

And I don't know, George, can you peel up to the top and see the roof damage, Chris. I don't know if you have a monitor, but during the storm, the roof started peeling off. It was never a structurally issue, but it scared people. It did start raining. They had to move some people down on the ground. So the issue, the problems here at the Germain Center Arena in Estero, Florida, outside of Fort Myers, just continue as people try to get over this storm. Chris?

CUOMO: The loss of power, the not knowing what was going on feeding the frustration, and now the anxiety of wanting to get home and maybe water in places won't let you and can be very dangerous if you persist. So we'll keep an eye on it. Drew, thank you very much. John Berman, back to you in Miami.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much, Chris. We just had a welcome site here in Miami. We had a caravan of utility crews and tree cleanup crews drive by just about 30 seconds ago. They have a lot of work to do here. Even as they begin to clean up here, there are still cities in Florida dealing with the brunt of the storm. Our Brynn Gingras is up in Orlando right now. And Brynn, you had to move inside because it simply wasn't safe to be where you were outside, any more.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. Where we were standing our live position was behind some concrete barriers of our hotel. But above them were awnings, we had street lamps, and we had even the sign of this hotel that came crashing down really during our last live shot.

So we just wanted to play it safe from this hit and talk to you from inside as you're seeing the wind blowing outside our windows. But it is subsiding a little bit, so much so that I am seeing a lot of emergency vehicles actually get out and about and try to respond to any calls that they're getting. I do know from Orange County fire and rescue that they have rescued more than 100 people within one hour from this area. So it definitely got some flooding and some major issues in this Orlando area, even though we're not by any of the coasts.

What I do expect in the near future, John, in the Orange County Convention Center, there are 1,500 emergency vehicles that came here from all over the country ready to respond after Irma hit, and I expect all of those guys to get out and respond to the hardest hit areas, John.

BERMAN: They could be moving south very quickly, maybe even in the Florida Keys, that's what we heard from emergency management pros down here. Brynn Gingras in Orlando, thanks so much.

Let's go over to Tampa now and Anderson Cooper. Hey, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, we talked a lot, John, about first responders, and we're now just starting to hear about some of the things they have to respond to during the nighttime hours, and really even today they're going to be responding to a lot of calls. I want to have you meet some folks from Coral Springs, Florida which is just north of Fort Lauderdale. And this was a real team effort. Lou Falco was a dispatcher, Sergeant Scott Myers and assistant fire chief John Whalen all join me now.

[08:15:00] COOPER: -- from Coral Springs, Florida which is north of Fort Lauderdale, and this was a real team effort. Lou Falco (ph) was a dispatcher, Sergeant Scott Myers, and Assistant Fire Chief John Weilan, all join me now.

So, Lou, you got a call. The call came in it was about a woman who was giving birth, what was the call?

LOU FALCO, DISPATCHER (via telephone): Well, yes, it's, you know, the life of 911 dispatcher is 24/7, 365 and I want to say thanks for having us on, very proud to represent Coral Springs dispatch. During a crisis like this you never know what's going to happen when a 911- line rings.

Usually it's not positive, this one is very pleasant. Pick up the phone and instead of, you know, a life or death emergency in a negative way, it was a positive, we were going to bring life into the world.

When I picked up that phone, you could hear baby was coming. Dad was very calm though. Mom was in the background vocalizing that baby is coming. My job was to make sure I got the right address.

Make sure I knew exactly what was happening and get our call in on our system and make sure I had the proper units responding. That's what we have to do, make sure we get all the information and get it out and let everyone take it from there.

COOPER: And what time was this, what point of the storm?

FALCO: It was in the middle of when it really started picking up over here, which, of course, it's going to happen. The wind started picking up, really, emergency vehicles weren't responding to, you know, many of the emergencies, but of course something like this, we have to get the team together and get, you know, the vehicles out there and the troops out there to go bring April into this world.

COOPER: Sergeant Myers, Chief Weiland, you guys responded to this. What was the scene when you got there?

SERGEANT STEVE MYERS, CORAL SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): When we got the call to do this, we weren't sure we were going to be able to go and they chose our command vehicle that myself and Chris Hurst were assigned to because of the low profile of the vehicle and the fact that it was four-wheel drive and said if you can make it, we need you to do it. We absolutely went, no problem.

Our crew here at the fire station ran out into the -- their trucks and the bay collected all the equipment that they thought we would need in case anything went wrong, including an OB kit and live birth kit. And we stuffed our little truck full of it.

My driver, Chris and I took off and we had no idea what we were going to encounter. Immediately, as soon as we left the station, we had very heavy winds and driving rain which is usually a problem. We ran across some heavily damaged areas in route to the house.

And we were lucky that we were chosen for that, the regular vehicles would not have been able to get through by any means to get back to bring April into the world. We were able to get back there using our four-wheel drive and driving over some big trees.

My driver, Chris, was instrumental in that because I'm not sure I would have been able to do it. He got us there and we were able to go inside and do what we need to do.

COOPER: How long were you actually there? I mean, was the baby actually -- had the baby been born then or did you actually help in the delivery?

MYERS: I'll let Chris my driver talk about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was holding the stomach of her. The baby wasn't presenting very well at first. Once we got the baby wiped off. He was stimulated a little bit, she came right around, after two minutes, she pinked up real nice, nice beautiful baby girl.

COOPER: That's got to be an extraordinary experience for you all, I mean, from getting the call, you guys able to respond in the midst of this potential tragedy to help bring a new life into the world. It's got to be an extraordinary feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's important was the police department with the bear cabin, they had an armored vehicle that we put the baby in and the mother. We could not put her in the pickup truck by all means. We put her on back board and that was very instrumental in getting the patients to the hospital.

COOPER: Well, it's quite a drive to the hospital for a little baby to be in armored vehicle. Gentlemen, thank you all for what you did, I'm sure they're thankful and they'll want to meet that little girl again, soon. Appreciate your time and appreciate all your efforts to everybody in Coral Springs. Let's go back to Alyson.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, God bless those folks for helping people weather this storm even in emergencies. Thank you very much, Anderson. We'll be back with you momentarily.

So, Irma has knocked out power to close to 6 million people in Florida. What is next for them? We have an update from Florida Power and Light, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:23:29] CUOMO: The sun is out here in Naples, Florida. The worst is over. The rest is just beginning. They saw gusts of 140 miles an hour here, but the storm is not done punishing this state. Let's get to Sara Sidner, Daytona Beach, what's the latest?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, again, winds die down, but now the winds have shifted. Before they were coming right at us right off of the beach. I want to show you what it looked like on Daytona Beach.

Right now, we are still getting gusts of winds but it has slowed down significantly from what it was earlier today. Around 4:20, we got hit with the strongest winds that this town had seen in many, many, many years.

I want to let you see the moment at around 2:00 a.m. when those walls started coming in from the eye.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: It's the strongest winds that we have seen since we have been here on the beach throughout the entire event. Irma's winds are slapping (inaudible) having a hard time because the wind is pushing (inaudible) concrete walls just below me and we're standing on the fifth floor of the Hilton Hotel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:25:00] SIDNER: My face looked like stretch Armstrong there. I mean, it was absolutely difficult to talk and stand up. I want to give you a quick look, Chris, behind me, you're seeing some of those folks who are going to be jumping into those vehicles there.

And as soon as this wind passes, they're going to go out and try to help restore power to millions of people. There's unprecedented number of people without power and unprecedented number of workers ready to take care of that -- Chris.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it. Sara, my hat is off to you. I don't know how you kept your composure and able to speak in coherent sentences during that force of winds hitting you. That was remarkable reporting. We're all glad that you are safe this morning to continue reporting for us. We'll check back with you.

Meanwhile, Irma has left many of Floridians in the dark. The hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Joining us now is Rob Gould. He's the VP and chief communications officer for Florida Power and Light.

Mr. Gould, thank you very much for taking time to talk us. I know you have a busy day. Do you have any sense of how much of that state of Florida is in the dark this morning?

ROBERT GOULD, VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT (via telephone): Well, it's a large part that's in the dark. We extend from the Georgia boarder all the way down north of the keys and we come around toward Tampa. We've got about 3.6 million customers right now that are without their power.

If there's any solace, our automation, the $3 billion that we've invested over the past ten years, has gotten about a million customers, close to a million back on in the past 24 hours since the storm started.

That's not good enough for the people that are without power. It is a massive storm and regardless of all those investments, this storm took a toll on our system.

CAMEROTA: Yes, for sure. We should tell people, I mean, you're obviously not the only power and light company in Florida. You're a big one. There's something like last estimate we got, 5.8 million people without power, so you have line share of that, but not all of them.

Lots and lots of people are suffering. As we understand it, the hardest hit area was on the west coast and it's going to take more than just a simple sort of flip of a switch to give people their power back. Tell us about what's involved in rebuilding. GOULD: Yes. We've prepositioned the largest force, not just in our company's history, but, really, in U.S. history. We have 17,000 restoration workers poised in the territory ready to go. The challenge has been waiting for the wind to subside because our bucket trucks can't find in winds that 35 miles an hour or greater.

As we see the weather subside, we will collapse like a military operation from the north to the south and into the west. What we're fearing that we're going to see is from the west coast, rebuild effort given the devastation that we're anticipating seeing, that could take weeks, if not longer, on the east coast of our territory.

And, frankly, we've been seeing greater impacts as you've just shown in the north, Daytona Beach, Saint Augustine, Flagler County, all those areas are taking a beating, as well. So, we have, basically, our entire service territory under attack from Irma. So, we're going to be aggressive with it, but this is not going to be a very quick restoration, for sure.

CAMEROTA: Understood and that is certainly good information for all of our viewers to share with their relatives there. This is going to require a lot of patience. Rob Gould, thank you very much for updating us from Florida Power and Light.

So, Chris, there you hear it, it is going to take a long time for people's who infrastructure has been knocked out by Irma.

CUOMO: One of the power guys here told me last night, I said how long -- what do you think it's doing to take you, days. Weeks. Months? That's what he said. In many places, they can't begin that work, Alyson, so it's a tall task to say the least.

Now, today is a day to remember tall tasks, though, this is 9/11. The president of the United States is going to remember when that first plane hit one of the World Trade Center Towers at 8:46 a.m.

We will never forget and it's a message to all of us no matter how bad Irma is, we can get through it together. The storm is still real and hitting. After the break, we'll show you the latest.