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Almost 7 Million without Power; Florida Keys Hit by Irma; Charleston Floods from Irma; Government Response to Irma; Florida Governor News Conference. Aired 10-10:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:51] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

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

And in just the last few minutes all around me these streets have begun to be cleared off. There in the distance, you can see that yellow utility truck. Such a welcome sight here in this city.

But moving trees and getting power lines operational not going to be nearly enough in the Florida Keys. That is a scene of devastation right now. FEMA just told us that their initial estimates are that 25 percent -- 25 percent of the homes are destroyed. Two-thirds of the homes are badly damaged.

And our Chris Cuomo, who's been on the ground there tells us he thinks those estimates -- those estimates might be low. No power. No food. No drinkable water. Just some of the issues for the people who chose to ride out the storm there in the lower keys.

In the upper keys, some people have begun to return home, Poppy.

HARLOW: These pictures, John, that we're looking at out of the Florida Keys are stunning. I mean it is just this morning, as Chris and his teams and some of our other teams are starting to feed in these images of completely burned out houses, structures just ripped off, down to just the initial beams. It's remarkable to see.

You've also got Senator Marco Rubio, who is asking officials, John, at this point to consider evacuating the lower Florida Keys, as he notes, as you did, no potable water, no energy, poor access to health is a recipe, in his words, for big problems. You spoke last hour to one of the folks who helps run things down in The Keys. He didn't think that that was necessary. But Senator Marco Rubio does.

You're looking at aerial images of some of the devastation.

Let's go to our Ed Lavandera for more on what he is seeing.



Well, you know, the real question here and the one thing that people are going to be dealing with the most for the longest period of time as well is that the power outages throughout the state, across the region, the southeast region. You take into effect as the storm has moved north, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Nearly 7 million people without power right now. And, of course, the most of that, the brunt of that, is here in the state of Florida where there's more than 5.5 million people without power.

So we have seen here, we're in Naples, Florida, in the southwest corner, the eye of Hurricane Irma came through here. We have seen crews going around beginning that process of re-establishing power in neighborhoods. In fact, in one neighborhood, late last night, as we were driving back from another location, we saw one small little pocket of businesses around a marina where the power had come back on. But this is a task that is going to take some time.

In fact, we were also on Marco Island, a popular tourist destination, home to about some 17,000 people, Poppy, and the police chief and the fire chief opened up access, the bridge on to the island. You can get on to the island now. They're allowing people back on. But they're urging people to stay away if they can. As long as there's no water, there's no electricity, they say it's, you know, it's a very kind of dire situation there on the island and it complicates things if everybody starts coming back.

So they're actually asking people, urging them, if they can, to stay away. A lot of seasonal people as well who might have second homes or just stay on the island, you know, part of the year, so those types of people they're probably urging even more so to stay away if they can.

Of course, there's a great amount of interest in getting to their homes, seeing what kind of conditions and cleanup they have to do. But that power issue and that water issue of major concern throughout the state right now.


HARLOW: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for being there and bringing us those pictures. We'll get back to you very shortly.

We are getting some new images in from Key Largo and some of The Keys and they're pretty stunning this morning, John.

[10:05:03] BERMAN: They sure are, Poppy.

And, you know, we're putting that number up on the screen, 7 million customers without power. That doesn't tell the story. The southeast, there are 15 million human beings without power right now, and that includes not just Florida, but also Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, you know, as this storm has moved up the coast. That's the power story.

The destruction story really in the Florida Keys. Our Bill Weir rode out the storm in Key Largo and now is on a boat heading south giving us just an amazing perspective of the scene there.

Bill, what are you seeing?


Yes, we finally made it down here to lower Matecumbe Key. And this is where sort of the dirty edge of the storm, that northeast edge of the storm slammed ashore. We're a little far away for you to see, but I'm trying to look through the glass and it looks like some of the fishing boats, some of the yachts that were lined up there took some hits. There's some trees down. We saw a boat moving around just a moment ago. That's a good sign that there's people down here and they're able to free them.

But look at this. If you look at this water, first of all, this is a picture-perfect day in the Florida Keys if not for what we're experiencing here. This is the kind of day fishermen and divers dream of, with one exception. You see how this water looks like -- looks like dirty dish water. On a day like this, it would be 100 percent visibility. And you could see the tarpon swimming around in here. They got, you know, the Mahi Mahi and dolphin fish over on the Gulf Stream side.

But as we're motoring in here, man, you can feel -- it's just an eerie sense to come ashore in places we haven't seen yet. You're sort of cringing with anticipation as to what we might find.

But this is well beyond the drivable stretch of The Keys. They're allowing people down to mile-marker 73. Any idea, captain, what mile- marker we would be at here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're at like 73.

WEIR: We're at 73, OK.

All right, so, yes, so they can drive up to here, but no further south and west.

These are some, as you can see, some really impressive homes and with that price tag comes some sturdy construction. So I see some roofs are intact. Not the case -- oh, dolphins. You see these dolphins right in front of us. That just -- you'll see the dorsal fin.


WEIR: There's one to the left there. Oh, gorgeous. Oh, they're right in front of us. Three of them. Three of them just popped up, the dorsal fins.

Hey, guys. Glad you survived. It's beautiful.

Yes, it's so crazy to think that this sea is the same one that caused so much destruction. It is paradise today.

We're coming up close here. I'm seeing some downed trees, but at this point, nothing too startling. And we did see some proof of life. Somebody moving around in a boat a second ago.

So as I was saying, they're letting folks in up north, up in Key Largo and Tavernier and Islamorada as long as you are a resident and can prove it. And that's such good news for people who need a community to pull together. You need the hardware store to open so you can, you know, get the tools to clear your property and start rebuilding.

You need food, obviously. There was one place open in Key Largo, Tower of Pizza, and people were crying with relief as they were served sandwiches and pizza, which was such a creature comfort after days without any power, without any food.

So, yes, take a look over here, guys. We can -- we're starting to see a lot of tree damage. The big pines that are endemic to this part of The Keys, you can see, you know, on the storm side of them have been stripped away.

Wow, look at this. This one's coming down. But this is, you know, this is landscaping. This is -- it could be so much worse. If you've seen the pictures coming out of Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean where it looks like a bomb site. There's somebody's --


WEIR: Port Antigua, I'm told by Captain Bam Bam is where we are now.


WEIR: Oh, yes. Now we can get a look into the backyards.

BERMAN: Hey, Bill -- hey, Bill, can you still hear me?

I think we may have lost -- I think we lost Bill Weir there, which is too bad. Getting a remarkable, a remarkable tour from the water of the Florida Keys right now. He thinks he's at about mile 73 on the water side. On the roadside, you cannot get past that point. So he's past the point where you can get to by driving right now. So this is the only way we can see that.

And just to recap what Bill is saying, because so far what he says he has seen, you know, landscaping issues. That doesn't diminish the damage that was done. This will be devastating for the people who live in those areas. But trees down, shutters broken, you know, wet floors. That's nothing compared to the problem of having lives lost.

[10:10:13] And so far at least, what Bill has seen, is reparable. And that is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And that really coincides with what we heard from the county administer of Monroe County not long ago who told us this was a hurricane. We've been through hurricanes before.

The question we still don't know the answer to is in some parts of The Keys that we haven't reached yet, was Hurricane Irma different? When it was -- is it more than just another hurricane? Is the damage something greater than perhaps we fear right now, Poppy?

And as Bill moves south, as our Chris Cuomo gets around more, that might be a question soon we get some answers too, Poppy.

HARLOW: Indeed. Pretty amazing to see in real-time withes him, right, John, as he's coming up on these keys for the first time that anyone who doesn't live on them is seeing the impact of Irma. We'll get back to Bill for more on that in just a moment.

I do want to take you, though, to the Caribbean, because some of these Caribbean islands just got demolished. You've got a death toll, at least 36 people are now dead through the Caribbean because of Irma as it struck as a category five storm. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, is there right now helping in the relief efforts of the French islands of St. Maarten and St. Bart's, both devastated by Irma.

The Dutch Red Cross, thigh morning, says Irma destroyed a third of the homes on St. Maarten. But as our Cyril Vanier told us on the French side of St. Maarten, 65 percent of the homes there destroyed by Irma.

You had about 1,200 Americans from St. Maarten and Puerto Rico who were evacuated ahead of this storm. And you can see some of the damage from these islands all the way from space. Look at some of these images that we're catching. Astronaut Randy Bresnik tweeted this after the -- of the Turks and Caicos from space.

Let's talk with Kelsey Nowakowski (ph). She's lived in St. Thomas for two years.

Kelsey, can you hear me?

KELSEY NOWAKOWSKI, ST. THOMAS RESIDENT (via telephone): Yes, Poppy, good morning.

HARLOW: Good morning. I'm glad that you are holding in there and you're doing OK after Irma. Just debrief for us. What's the situation on the ground in St. Thomas right now?

NOWAKOWSKI: Right now we're trying to just get food and water out to the places that were hardest hit. We have fuel shortages, so a lot of people can't make the drive to the few grocery stores or gas stations that are actually open and that have food and gas. So we have supplies coming in from all over Puerto Rico. A lot of private businesses and we have a lot of people on the island of St. Croix, 40 miles south, sending care packages over, lots of water.

But it's hard to communicate right now because most of our cell service is down. So we don't know where it's needed. So at this point we're just trying to distribute based on where people tell us the damage is the worst and where people lost their roofs or their entire home.

HARLOW: Yes. But let's show people one of these images that you tweeted. Sort of the before and the after. I think we can pull that up, guys, of the storm. As soon as we do, I'll let you know. But what is needed right now? Because one of -- there you go. There are the images, the sort of before and after. Of course, it's bright, sunny on the top and below is after the storm. I know you've said that because the power's down, the credit card

machines are down, so only the folks that had cash on hand are able to go to the few grocery stores that are open, are able to get even some of these supplies.

NOWAKOWSKI: Correct. And there are FEMA distribution centers. As far as we know right now, FEMA's not going door to door yet because the roads aren't cleared enough. And we have Marines on islands now that are trying to clear roads so more than one car can pass at a time. It's very tricky getting out there. But for people who didn't take out a good amount of cash before or who didn't have that type of money, they're just relying on whatever distribution sites they can find.

HARLOW: What are officials telling you, Kelsey, about what it's going to take to get power up and running for more folks in St. Thomas, get some of those -- I mean get cell service restored? You see all of those downed cell towers and power lines.

NOWAKOWSKI: Well, I've -- I think cell towers will be the first thing that come back up from what officials are telling us. But in terms of electricity, down in town, even though the town's flooded, a lot of the poles were protected by buildings, so they didn't snap. So as you go up -- St. Thomas and St. John are very mountainous. So as you go up these hills, there's just power lines strewn over hills everywhere, over the roads. And a lot of people are cutting them because they're trying to get them out of the way, but that's going to slow efforts to get the power back up.


NOWAKOWSKI: So, when Hurricane Marilyn hit, it was four months before the power got back on.

[10:15:02] HARLOW: Wow.

NOWAKOWSKI: So it could be months and it's going to take skilled electricians coming from the mainland to help.

HARLOW: There are, as I understand it, Kelsey, two cruise ships right now at the port in St. Thomas evacuating people that want to leave. Is that what you're seeing? And are you getting on one?

NOWAKOWSKI: I'm not getting on one. I saw one cruise ship coming down the mountainous town this morning, but I have heard that there's another ship coming. I'm going to stay and try to help the police efforts and whatever I can do reporting wise to get more information out there.

But, for the most part, just tourists are allowed on those boats first because we had a lot of people stranded here. Our airport's still not running. So people are just trying to get to St. Croix or to Puerto Rico so they can get out of here. But those boats are going to be taking people either to Puerto Rico or the cruise ships are going to Florida.

HARLOW: OK. Kelsey Nowakowski, thank you very much for all these pictures and all of this reporting on the ground. It helps us get our head around -- all of it. We appreciate it. Thanks, Kelsey, and good luck.

So you have about 15 million people right now across the southeast without power. Much more on those outages, when it's coming back, next.

And you're looking at some images out of the Florida Keys. We're going to take you live, speak with folks in the Florida Keys, especially those lower keys that have experienced the brunt of this devastation. Much more as our special live coverage continues.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some rescue guys came by, so they've got a phone and I can call to let you know that we're OK. Love you. Talk to you later. Bye-bye.



[10:20:49] HARLOW: Irma was huge and spread far north. Right now, you've got water being pumped out of the streets in Charleston, South Carolina, because they had flash flooding overnight there as a result of Irma.

Our Nick Valencia is there with some of these folks.

I mean it has flooded into the homes, in places where they're not used to flooding like this, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean residents of 30 plus years here in Charleston say they've never seen anything like it. We're hearing the words hurricane Hugo being the last time that flooding was this bad here. And that's saying a lot, Poppy, because you have to remember the thousand year flood that happened in 2015, Hurricane Matthew and the damage that this historic part of Charleston experienced, and now the effects of Hurricane Irma, which was just so big that even here in Charleston, South Carolina, it was affected.

Residents here like Mr. Richards, David Richards, joining us here.

Tell us what it was like last night.

DAVID RICHARDS, CHARLESTON RESIDENT: Well, it was yesterday afternoon, yesterday morning really, it -- you know, a lot of rain in the morning, a lot of wind, nothing too dramatic. And then around 11:30 or so --

VALENCIA: People were saying between like 11:30 and 1:30, yes?

RICHARDS: Yes, it's just remarkable. In front of my house on Broad Street, the streets were clear. The tide started rolling in, like something I'd never seen before. An hour later, it was two feet.


RICHARDS: Pretty much close up -- right up next to our door. And it, obviously, saturated and flooded a lot of these homes that are lower than mine, sadly.

VALENCIA: Yes. Can you make that out (INAUDIBLE). Mark Beal (ph) -- I'm just going to have our cameraman pan to just off here to see that water level line. We're talking about three feet high. I mean what's your home look like this morning?

RICHARDS: Well, we were -- we were above the -- above this mark. We're raised up.


RICHARDS: So we were not in this situation, fortunately for us, unfortunately for them.

There's a lot of homes that are lower, obviously. This area of town was developed later, so it wasn't as high as the area that we are, which is, you know, three or four blocks from here.

VALENCIA: What about historically? Because you've lived here in this community a long time. And some residents are telling me the storms feel different. What do you think?

RICHARDS: Well, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't say that the storms itself is -- when it's occurring is different, but it's just the nature of the storms every year coming our way.

VALENCIA: The results.

RICHARDS: The results, absolutely. I mean this is devastating for a lot of people in town. Businesses are getting damaged and --

VALENCIA: You see people behind us pulling out their remaining belongings.

RICHARDS: Yes, Where are they going to go? I mean it's just a shame. There's nothing they can do. It's going to be weeks, months before they can get somebody in to do repairs. And, you know, when's it going to come again, you know?

VALENCIA: David Richards, thank you so much for taking the time with CNN.

RICHARD: Yes. All right.

VALENCIA: WE know there's so many others affected in places like Florida, Georgia, our state there in Atlanta, where we are -- our team is coming from. But even here, so far away in the Carolinas, also feeling the effects of Hurricane Irma.

One of the good signs, the sun is out, though we do see some signs of rain clouds here, though here's the good news, looking down that street there, Poppy, that water was high just about an hour ago and it's slowly starting to come down. So that is the good news, it's starting to recede.


HARLOW: That is good news, Nick, thank you. And those residents are lovely for stopping and talking to us and sharing their stories in the middle of pumping out their homes and these streets.

Nick, thank you so much.

And, John, let me send it back to you in Miami because I know we're waiting for the governor, Rick Scott, to begin his next press conference with an update from Jacksonville, John.

BERMAN: Yes, and, again, this is going to require an enormous government response. It requires a neighborly citizen response. And now there is an enormous military response as well.

I want to get to the Pentagon and Barbara Starr right now to get a sense of where that stands.



Well, it is a combination of state National Guard and, in fact, federal troops. One of the biggest symbols, one of the biggest levers of that kind of military oomph is the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, now off the shore of Florida and beginning those helicopter flights, those rotating helicopter flights to the coast. They are trying to bring aid. They're trying to do search and rescue, find people in The Keys if they can.

I see Governor Scott appears to be starting his press conference now.

But these helicopters are trying to scout out what the damage is, trying to see if they can establish airfields where they can run continuous helicopter operations trying to provide assistance.

[10:25:02] BERMAN: Right.

All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Let's listen to Governor Scott.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: The -- you're just praying that everybody's alive. We're still having -- I've been talking to the people down there. We're still having in The Keys issues with getting the water started back up, sewage, and their power back up. We've been sending the Department of Transportation down in The Keys to inspect all the bridges, because even though you can see that people are traveling, you're not sure that on the bridges they can take any significant weight. And so our Department of Transportation is working on that. And -- but we've got to get people their power back down there. We've got to get the sewage system back working. So we're doing all these things.

So today I had the opportunity with the mayor to tour the flood damage here. And there's so many areas that you would never have thought would have flooded have flooded. So you -- you know, I talked to people -- I came to a shelter last night with Tim Tebow and you talk to the people and, one, they're very appreciative. I've been in shelters, Pensacola, you know, Mockly (ph), and here, and I can tell people are very appreciative. But they appear -- they're just shocked how the flood came in. What it teaches you is that when we have a disaster like this, you really need to watch the weather and you need to listen to your local officials. Follow the weather. You can do national or local weather, but follow it. And then, on top of that, if they say to evacuate, you need to evacuate.

You know, I tell everybody, I've said this for the last week, is that, you know, we can rebuild your house, you can get your possessions again, but you -- don't lose a family member, don't lose your life. You don't have a chance to do all the things you want to do with your family going forward.

So, you know, as far as I can tell, I mean we were shocked yesterday when the flooding started happening here. So what I immediately did was I know the mayor was focused on this and the sheriff was focused on this, but I sent Fish and Wildlife officers. I sent over 60 officers right here as fast as we could to help with rescue. I think the mayor will talk about what they did. But I think with everybody here, I think they rescued over 300 individuals. And thank God that everybody helped everybody here. So that was -- that was important.

Fish and Wildlife brought boats with them and we've got search and rescue efforts continuing around the state. I'm praying that when people get to see the damage in The Keys, we don't lose anybody else down there. So you just -- you know, my primary job is keep people safe, and that's what I focused on this whole time.

As you know, the storm moved and so we -- we tried to be as aggressive as we can, opening up shelters. We opened up almost 400 shelters around the state. The Red Cross, the National Guard, Salvation Army, churches, everybody came together. And when you go to these shelters, people are so, so appreciative. They're so -- the people are so nice to them. And we have pet shelters. We have special needs shelters. We had people show up. We needed more nurses for our special needs shelter. Early on we started seeing a big increase in number of people with special needs who were going to our shelters, which was -- which is all positive.

We have a lot of power out in the state. Every day I've been having calls with the utility companies. I talked to the big utility companies this morning. I talked to Duke, TCO (ph) and Florida Power and Light this morning about how to get power back as fast as we can. We're -- I think the latest numbers -- at least the latest numbers I saw -- we might have some while I was up in the helicopter -- was about 60 percent out still I think it is are out of power and -- but we've gotten a lot restored. We have over a million restored already. So hopefully the number is going to come down.

I think what you're going to see today all around the state is you're going to see more resources. And the reason that is, is that, if you think about it, this impacted the whole state. So it's hard to preposition all the assets you'd want to position if this storm just came from one coast to the other. But even with that, I think we're having over 30,000 -- I think the number's over 30,000 individuals from out of state are helping us get our power back on.

Fuel. I've been talking to -- I talked to the ports this morning. I talked to the -- to make sure we're getting the fuel out. We have some fuel in our tanks. We already have the carriers out getting that fuel today with escorts to get it back to the gas stations. We have talked -- I talked to the Coast Guard this morning. I've got a call into the Army Corps of Engineers because they have to open the ports. We've got tankers, both ready to come in to Tampa Bay and Everglades, which is where our biggest fuel is, but some fuel comes into Port Canaveral and some coms even here to Jackson Port. So we're doing that.

We -- so we will be doing what we've done after last disasters. We'll be doing probably two days of call with our utility companies saying, what can we do? What can we do? What can we -- how can we help you, because people want their power back.

[10:29:59] I've gotten a lot of phone calls from nursing homes and assisted living that they're having issues with their generators and so we're doing everything we can to help them get either generators, fuel, power back on, but that's one of the issues we're dealing with aggressively.