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FEMA's Initial Estimate: 25 Percent Of Homes In Keys Destroyed; Seven Million Plus Customers Without Power After Irma; Florida Races To Refill Gas Stations; U.S. Stocks Expected To Climb As Irma Weakens; Lower Keys Face Hurricane Destruction; Key Largo has Less Damage; Rubio Suggests Evacuations. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman in Miami.

And as bad as it looks around me, even with all of these trees down everywhere I look, it could be worse. How do we know that? Because it is worse. Much worse in the Florida Keys. FEMA just told us initial estimates are that 25 percent of homes there were destroyed. Twenty- five percent. Sixty-five percent were damaged. No power. No communications. Little to no drinking water. Search and rescue teams are now getting in. The Navy is on the scene flying in supplies. And in the northern keys, some residents and business owners are slowly being allowed back in.

HARLOW: So this record-shattering former category five hurricane is just now starting to reveal some of her worst damage. The depths and the breath of it, especially across The Keys, as John just said. You've got seven million customers without power this morning. And not just across Florida. This now includes parts of Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas because of Irma. And this morning, six deaths are being blamed on Hurricane Irma since it struck the lower keys on Sunday.

We have our crews, our teams of reporters, spread out from one end of Florida up through the other. A little bit later, we're going to take you to show you the flooding in Charleston, South Carolina.

Up first, though, let's go to our Chris Cuomo. He is in Big Pine Key, Florida.

And, Chris, there's a tweet from Senator Marco Rubio this morning calling for evacuation of some of the lower keys because there's no water, no energy, no access to help for them.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think that that is the reality.

Here's what we've learned being here. First of all, what's over our shoulder right now, this is the best case scenario on this key. Massive property loss, but the home is still standing and the Tabaco (ph) family is intact. That's the best case scenario. The numbers that John just put out there, I doubt them. And here's

why. Because they can't know. We are with the first wave of first responders, Task Force Two from Florida. They are the eyes and ears for the coordinated authorities. They just got here. They worked throughout the night. They weren't even supposed to work until daylight this morning because it's too dangerous. They didn't care. Or, really, they cared too much. They went out door to door, hour after hour, in really terrible conditions finding people, checking in, giving them sat phone communication so they could get to their families. Everywhere we went there is utter devastation. Homes are there but nothing was left untouched.

And then there's the big issue, time. No power. No gas. How do you rebuild? No water. No sewage. How do you survive? How do you sustain normal life? How long can you make it like this? That is what informed the senator's proposition, that maybe it's not about whether you come back, it's about whether or not you still need to get out.

Now, this key spirit that you hear about, the Cong (ph) spirit, that's the Tabaco (ph) family. He's not going anywhere. He says that he's got what he needs. He can sustain for however long he needs to. That is a very bold assumption. It's going to be very hard here for a long time. We'll be sending in pictures throughout the day of what they're dealing with here on the ground, Poppy.

HARLOW: We're so glad you're there, Chris. Thank you for that. We appreciate it very much.

John, it's pretty incredible to see. I mean it's just this morning, as the sun came up, that we're starting to see the reality of the breath and the depth of this devastation along the keys, John.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, no doubt about it, Poppy. I mean, obviously, people are getting a much greater sense of the scope of damage done. And the recovery crews are just getting on the scene to fix what they need to fix. You know, even in this neighborhood where I am in Coconut Grove, we look around, all the trees down here.

It's interesting. You know, you think about power lines being held up by polls in some parts of the country. Most of the lines here were underground. But when the trees toppled over, it uprooted the lines and pulled them out and still knocked out the power. Not to mention the water mains.

But we're seen the crews poking around here over the last few hours and they are going to be able to start to get to work soon, which will be a big relief for the people here. Because imagine a city the size of Miami that is pitch black at night. No traffic lights working. Or 60 percent of the traffic lights are out. I haven't seen one that's working. I'll put it that way.

We were driving through last night. It's just so difficult to get around. And the people here, you know, are waking up, moving about, trying to get their lives back in order, but there is still, Poppy, so many things standing in their way. HARLOW: Right. Do you think, John, because of where you are, you know,

was ultimately hit by what is being classified as a category one, and because Miami and downtown Miami didn't get the brunt of it, that there is perhaps a misunderstanding for a lot of Americans on how bad this is for some folks, especially as we're learning right now in The Keys?

BERMAN: Look, I think the pictures from The Keys that Chris is starting to broadcast, that Bill Weir has been broadcasting, are important to see for the American people, to know just how damaging this storm was.

[09:05:08] In fact, we now have Bill Weir up with us. Bill, who rode out the storm in Key Largo, in the upper keys, where people have been allowed back in today. Bill is now moving south on a boat.

Bill, what are you seeing?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I see the kind of day most fishermen dream of. This is glassy calm seas as we pass Islamorada. We'll take you over here and show you the coastline. We had to pick our way out of Key Largo. So many sunken boats, so many twisted lines, so many, you know, vessels that had broken loose and shoved into the mangrove. So we're getting a sense of that.

But we're so indebted to our captain here on the Sea Spirit. It's funny, you know, you never know what you're going to find when you come to these kinds of stories. I met his girlfriend, Tiffany, the other day, if you were watching. She was checking out the devastation. And I said, boy, we'd love to get a boat if we could get down to the lower keys and see what's going on. And she's like, ah, my boyfriend's got a boat. And here he is.

How are you, Bam Bam?


WEIR: Feeling good?

JAMENEZ: Yes, we are.

WEIR: Brandon Jamenez is his name. Middle linebacker in Key Largo High School football. So we're going to call him Captain Bam Bam for the rest of this journey.

And you're really taking a risk with us, man. This is your livelihood right here. And if we hit some giant bit of (INAUDIBLE), it could be devastating, right?

JIMENEZ: Yes, it can. but, you know, fishing for a living is a risk. So we do what we got to do to survive. And we're just going to go down there and check out and see what we find.

WEIR: And you want to send a message to folks around the country who love this stretch, right? JIMENEZ: Yes, we do. You know, we're resilient down here in the

Florida Keys. We're going to rebuild. We're going to be right back in business. And, you know, our doors are going to be open shortly. So, come down and see us and come fishing.

WEIR: What you have -- a little -- we've got something in the -- that's just a float, so that's OK. What have you heard from the -- through the Coconut telegraph about how other captains made out, how things are going to be when we get further south and west?

JIMENEZ: You know, a lot of people got lucky in Key Largo. Further down south, I heard the destruction is pretty bad. You know, there's a lot of sunken boats down there. In Key Largo there were some boats that were lost. But, you know, it's about preparation. You prepare and you hope for the best, you know?

WEIR: Right. Right.

Well, we're in for a long journey into the heart of darkness, Captain Bam Bam, and I really appreciate it. Our viewers appreciate it as well.

Let's go back up here and take a look around. Got to stay out of his way.

You see the sea grass blowing around. It's so crazy to consider this is the same body of water that caused such destruction, because today it couldn't be more peaceful. Watching the flying fish skim across and the (INAUDIBLE).

But, yes, the folks in the upper keys will finally be allowed back in to check out their damage, check out their homes in Key Largo and Islamorado, (INAUDIBLE). Only up to about mile marker 73 or so. And it's got to be so frustrating for everybody who lives below there. It is literally a black hole of communication. Chris Cuomo, as you know, is on Big Pine. We're going to try to get down to Cudjoe Key, where really the most powerful winds took. But we'll be giving you updates throughout the day on CNN.

Poppy. John.

BERMAN: Bill, I'll take it from you. Thanks so much.

Bill Weir on a boat with Captain Vandam (ph) and the Vandam (ph) family tradition proving to be a hard target. Bill, thanks so much.

Joining me now from Key West, Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

You know, Mr. Administrator, thank you so much for being with us.

Let me get right to the news from Senator Marco Rubio today who's suggesting that maybe you ought to consider a mass evacuation of the Florida Keys at this point. As many as 10,000 people. Do you think that's necessary, sir? ROMAN GASTESI, MONROE COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR (via telephone): Absolutely

not. I don't know where that's coming from. That's ridiculous. And we're making due. We're -- everybody's helping out, bringing down supplies. The folks in The Keys are very resilient. We were ready for this. There is, obviously, a lot of damage, but we'll get it done. Evacuation -- I have no idea. I would love to talk to the person or persons or somebody that's even discussing that because that is absolutely ridiculous.

BERMAN: All right. So what is the area of greatest need in The Keys, sir?

GASTESI: Just water and supplies. And they're coming down. They're coming down by the plane load and the truck load and we'll be fine. This was just a hurricane, guys. I mean this stuff happens. We live in the tropics. We expect these things to happen. You know, we don't want them to happen, but this is the price of living in paradise.

And we're prepared. We're getting things done. We're on a call right now getting everybody coordinated where everybody, you know, gives an update on what's going on. And we will rebuild.

[09:10:09] There's hurricanes every year all throughout the world. So, you know, we'll get this done. The electricity will get back up. The power. The sewer will start flowing and the water will start flowing and we'll be up and running in no time.

BERMAN: Yes, I don't think anyone doubts your determination and your spirit, sir. We're just trying to get a sense of what the situation is on this, you know, nearly 100-mile stretch of pretty fragile islands.

We don't have many reports yet back from the search and rescue teams. Are you hearing any stories, anecdotally or firsthand, of injuries or loss of life?

GASTESI: Well, let's do this quick timeframe here. This thing happened two days ago. Yesterday was the first full day of folks going out and assessing the initial damage and the initial injuries. And you haven't heard much because there aren't much because people left. I don't know where these 10,000 people were, but I can tell you, I was up and down The Keys for days telling people to leave and most people left. I don't know the number. I can't tell you if it's 1,000 or 10,000, but it wasn't many. And the folks that did stay was like the gentlemen that you just talked to (INAUDIBLE) and they took care of themselves.

BERMAN: But obviously it was super important for you to go up and send that message beforehand. You may have saved a lot of lives by delivering that very message.

So many bridges to get from, you know, the northern key, Key Largo, all the way down to Key West, where you are. What is the condition of these more than 40 bridges?

GASTESI: On the call right now that I just mentioned is the secretary of the transportation for the lower keys -- BERMAN: All right, we have lost Roman Gastesi, who is the

administrator from Monroe County. Just to be clear, Monroe County is the county that encompasses all the Florida Keys. And the message that we just got from that administrator is he thinks -- he thinks things are going well down there. He thinks this is just part of living in paradise. The price of living in paradise, as he says, and he does not want to see a massive evacuation, something suggested, not demanded, but suggested by Florida Senator Marco Rubio. We've also heard that from military officials. He doesn't want to see it. He says that they can get through this and the supplies have started to arrive.

Our thanks to Mr. Gastesi for that.

The rest of Florida dealing with a whole bunch of situations right now. You know, we say 7 million customers without power. That's customers. That's households. There are more than 10 million human beings without power in the southeast. We'll discuss the challenges to getting power back to them coming up next.



BERMAN: All right. This is one of the largest natural disasters Florida has faced. Fifteen million people without power right now, 15 million people without power in Florida and in the southeast.

We are hearing a wonderful sound behind us, which is a bulldozer right now beginning to clean up, getting these trees out of the streets, which will be essential to getting the power lines back up. That's just happening right now.

Let's push in so you can see that right there. That's what needs to happen all across the state of Florida. Get these trees out so the power companies can get in and get these lines operating again.

This is just in Miami. This is a problem all up and down Florida, not to mention Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. CNN's senior international correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is following the situation for us in Sarasota, Florida -- Alex.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the good news is that they are making progress in terms of restoring the power. Overnight almost 2 million customers have gotten their power back on.

Now we do need to make an important differentiation between people and customers. Customers include households and businesses so it's many more people than that. We are here in a staging area for Florida's biggest utility company, Florida Power and Light.

There are some 5.5 million customers here in Florida who still don't have power. Now just to give you a sense of how hard they are working back there, those are sleeping trailers that can sleep 1,800 people. There are people working around the clock to try to get this power back on. Over here, this is now an empty parking lot. Moments ago, it was full of trucks and crews. They are now all gone out there trying to get the power restored. We have spoken with an official from FPL about how hard they are working. Here's what he had to say.


DAVE MCDERMITT, SPOKESPERSON, FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT COMPANY: We have assembled a workforce of 20,000 strong, the largest in U.S. history, and they are working 24/7 to get our customers' lights back on just as soon as possible.


MARQUARDT: The White House is also saying that is has deployed what they are calling the biggest ever army of power workers. Getting people from all over the country, even from Canada. Now the lucky ones will get their power back within hours or days. Many others including down where you are in Miami, John, it will take weeks -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Alex Marquardt in Sarasota. We have the camera still looking at this front-end loader, moving these trees off the streets, Alex, which, again, is the sight that people want to see. We have folks out on the streets actually here watching this because this is exactly what they want and need to get their power back up online -- Poppy.

HARLOW: John, thank you so much. I think Alex made an important differentiation there between customers without power and people. Let's go with the people number. You are talking about 15 million or so people without power because of Irma.

And if you're living in that reality, well, you want to end as soon as possible. Let's bring in someone responsible for ending a large chunk of it. Harry Sideris is the Florida state president for Duke Energy.

Harry, glad you're with us on the phone. You guys have about 1.8 million customers across Florida. As of yesterday, 1.2 million of those folks had no power. Where does it stand today?

HARRY SIDERIS, FLORIDA STATE PRESIDENT, DUKE ENERGY (via telephone): Yes. Good morning, Poppy. I want to start off by saying that we are very fortunate that all our employees and contractors are safe after the storm and our thoughts go out to all the Floridians and everyone in the southeast that was impacted by Irma.

[09:20:05] I also wanted to thank Governor Scott and all the state and local agencies for all their help. They've been instrumental in helping our citizens in Florida and helping us as we restore power.

As you said, this was a widespread storm. We have 7 million people in the southeast without power. All 35 of our counties in Florida that Duke Energy serves were impacted, that 1.2 million customers out of our 1.8 are out. We've assembled an army of over 9,000 linemen and support crews that they will not stop until we get everybody's power on and we are making progress.

HARLOW: So, Florida Power and Light which is the biggest utility provider across the state of Florida, bigger than you guys, said this is going to be, quote, "The most challenging restoration" in the history of the United States when it comes as power restoration. Is that how you see it, Harry?

SIDERIS: Yes, we have certain areas that have been severely impacted and some that have been a little more fortunate, but we have seen impacts in all 35 of our counties. It's going to be a very hard process to get everybody back on.

HARLOW: What makes it so hard? I mean, for customers, sitting with the frustration of this across Florida, they are thinking of themselves this morning -- I don't get why it's going to take weeks. Explain that to them.

SIDERIS: Yes. We saw impacts, broken poles, transmission impacts, that's the backbone of our system that everything is fed off and we have to balance everything to make sure as we bring customers back that we are not impacting the rest of the system.

We have floodwaters in places. We saw Category 3 wind gusts in Tampa and in the Orlando area, as well as down south near Polk County and Highlands County. So that is severe destruction there and it's going to take time to rebuild the system there.

BERMAN: One of the things that I was reading that Duke has that is interesting, is that about 28 percent of your customers actually now have something that allows you to reroute the power to their lines remotely, which I would assume means they get the power back much more quickly. Is that the case, and if so -- I mean, for the next, you know, natural disaster, is that going to be more widespread?

SIDERIS: Yes. We are looking at expanding that in the future with some investments to make our grid smarter to be able to handle that. Like you said, we are about 30 percent now and we are utilizing that technology to help get our customers on faster and that has been paying dividends.

HARLOW: All right. Harry Sideris, we know you are busy and your teams are busy. We thank them for what they are doing and we echo your thanks to all of the officials across the state of Florida for all they are doing. Thank you.

So, there's another crisis across Florida, not just the power crisis. It is the gas shortage. As of Monday, more than 60 percent of gas stations in Miami, Gainesville, totally out of gas.

Complicating this, not just Irma, another factor is Hurricane Harvey that closed some of the biggest refineries in the country and that affects the supply. Our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans is here with us. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And when you look at some of these cities percentage of gas stations that are out by city, Gainesville 59 percent, Miami 61 percent, Jacksonville, Tampa, you can see it's across that part of the state.

Now we know the port of Tampa Bay opens at 2:00 p.m. today. They tell us they are going to open at 2:00 p.m., and among the first shipments to get into that port will be gasoline. So that could be something there.

Poppy, I can tell you that we have just now the first commercial flight to land at Fort Lauderdale Airport. So, you finally have some of these planes coming in to Fort Lauderdale. So, very slowly business trying to get back to usual.

It's so interesting here how long this will take because of the power outages and gas shortages to really try to get out there and start assessing the damage and getting the recovery part of this started.

Gas prices, by the way, rising across the country because of both disruptions because of the refineries in Harvey, and because of this storm, Irma, you can see that gas has been rising. Florida today in particular, $2.71, just $2.27 last month.

HARLOW: There are also some headlines this morning, "Bloomberg" for example, that say, look, the cost estimate for the damage is nowhere near the $200 billion? Do we know that for sure?

ROMANS: Look, you saw really high damage estimates, and then the storm wobbles. Something called the Bermuda Hyde, it caught a corner of this storm, slammed it into Cuba and it went right over Marco Island.

Now what they are telling is if it had gone slightly to the west of Marco Island, that really terrible part of the eyewall would have caused even more damage to the western part of the state.

And so, you saw the estimates go closer from $172 billion to maybe closer to $50 million. That's one of the reason why the stock market rallied yesterday because the insurable losses look like are not as the worst-case scenario. Futures up again this morning -- Poppy.

[09:25:06] HARLOW: All right. We are watching. The market opens in 5 minutes. Romans, thank you so much.

Right now, federal response teams are gearing up and heading deeper into the Florida Keys. We are getting exclusive access to show you the unbelievable devastation there. Stay with us. Our live coverage continues.


BERMAN: John Berman back in Miami. Just like that the street behind me cleared off so the utility crews can get in there and do the work they need to do. Of course, trees over here still down, clearly more work to do.