Return to Transcripts main page


Irma Decimates Parts of the Florida Keys; Hurricane Evacuee Searching for Missing Family; Federal Officers Provide Briefing on Hurricane Irma. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:10] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're marshalling the full resources of the federal government to help our fellow Americans in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's devastation. Let's hope everybody survived. It's horrible what we saw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will stretch the resources quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still in a rescue mode here and had the flood, and it's just been devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will recover. We will rebuild.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a story of tragedy. It's a story of resilience.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Chris Cuomo. We are in the Florida Keys. This is Big Pine Key. But it will be known now as ground zero.

We are just a few miles from where Hurricane Irma made landfall, where that eye did the most punishment in this part of America, 120-mile-an- hour sustained winds. That's what happened here.

We've picked a scene for you this morning of the good news. This is the good news. Tremendous property damage. But the people who stay here are alive in that home. Their home is still standing.

Being someone who made it through and still having a home, those are rare commodities down here. And we will show you. Because now we know the truth of the situation. The current standing of Irma is no longer a hurricane. She's not being tracked as that anymore.

The death count, five people have lost their lives in the United States because of this storm. At most recent count. Again, we are still in the discovery phase. Thirty-six lost their lives throughout the Caribbean.

In terms of power outage, that is the big blow from this storm in our country. Seven million customers throughout the southeast. Now, remember, customer is a household. It's not people. OK? So there's many more people who lost power. Seven million customers. In Florida alone, 6.2 million customers. That means that about two-thirds of that state is in the dark this morning. All right?

So the good news, some of the Upper Keys are going to reopen. There are a lot of people who live here who did evacuate, and they want to get home. They want to see what's going on, especially when they start seeing the images that we're going to bring you this morning. And they can start to get back in Key Largo, in Tavernier, in Islamorada. Only to be able to get back. But only a resident. Only a local business owner. And there are going to be people checking. We saw that, as we came back.

We have Bill Weir is in Key Largo. He'll show us the reality there on the ground. The Pentagon says they may have to do...

CAMEROTA: OK. So listen, obviously, Chris is in Big Pine Key. OK? That is the farthest point that we can tell that a reporter has made it. You can see how remote where he is, is. He made it with the first responders.

Hold on a second. So we're trying to get Chris's signal back. But as he has told us all morning, the communications there -- he is so remote and he's not even using -- there's no cell service. He's using, I think, an old-style satellite phone. So we will get back to him as soon as we possibly can.

Because of the extent of the damage in the Keys is so bad that the Defense Department said they believe 10,000 people rode out the storm there and may need to be evacuated.

So, obviously, it's impossible to really know if that number is accurate, 10,000 people. But if so, they don't have water. They don't have electricity. Their houses may be, obviously, destroyed.

So we are going to be watching right now for a FEMA hearing. That's where we will get all of the latest details on numbers. I mean, the amount of people who are, today, along the east coast without power, it's more than 6 million households.

So, FEMA will be telling us all of the latest in terms of what the human toll has been, as well, as far as they've been able to make it out.

So Bill Weir is also in the Keys. He is in Key Largo. And Bill Weir joins us now to tell us what he his seeing this morning around him -- Bill.

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. Yes, we're about to set sail here on a sort of figurative and literal journey into the heart of darkness. We're going to try to leapfrog Chris and go even farther south to Cudjoe Key, where the most devastating winds hit with Hurricane Irma.

Let me show you around our home for the next couple of days. This is a 50-foot fishing boat. These are -- these are common down here. This is sport fishing heaven. And our captain, Captain Bam-Bam is going to take care of us. We've got a dingy where we'll be able to go ashore and investigate exactly how these communities fared. We're going to head through this channel. We're on the bay side. We'll be heading down past Marathon.

Captain Bam-Bam told me he took the -- he took the dingy out yesterday and did a little -- a little reconnaissance to see how the water is and says you're not going to believe what's floating out here.

Of course, we see what's on the land devastation. But if you can imagine, these are tiny little islands so, so much houses and boats are blown off of the Keys into Florida bay, are stuck in the mangroves.

We'll be bringing that to you throughout the day as we journey south.

So the good news for the people in the Upper Keys today is that Monroe County says they are going to open up Key Largo, and Tavernier and Islamorada. If you have a yellow resident sticker, let locals back in and business owners, to get their shops opened. So some sense of normalcy can come back. Still no problem. Still no running water. It is primal living down here, where a bucket of ice will bring tears of joy if someone offers it to you.

But the spirit of the people here, some who haven't eaten, people who are sleeping, you know, no air conditioning. The mosquitos are back after the storm, as you can see one go by. They're living literally moment to moment.

And then there's so much concern about, as you mentioned, Alisyn, all the unknowns. How many people are down south? Now, you did mention a lack of water and electricity down there. The good news in Key West, at least in theory -- we haven't gotten confirmation that they're working. They do have a desalination plan. They do have a power generator down there that can handle about 60 percent of capacity on Key West, which is where most of the people in the Keys live, maybe 30,000 population down there.

So hopefully, those things are keeping those folks -- they're keeping those folks alive down there until the USS Lincoln. The aircraft carrier can go down. You know, who -- what Navy man doesn't want to do a stint in Key West, right?

So the affection for this place, when they're in trouble, they send an aircraft carrier.


WEIR: I've been hearing from so many people, Alisyn, around the country. It seems like, you know, the Keys is, like, one of those places, sort of like New Orleans in Katrina, where people have a soft spot in their heart. They've either vacationed here. They've got relatives who retired down here, and everybody is desperate to say, "Hey, could you check on my relatives in Plantation Key? Could you" -- Facebook pages of missing people, and they don't know if they perished or if they're like the rest of us, they just can't get a cell signal. You saw that with Chris. We're relying on these BGANS, you know, to

bounce off the satellites, which can be difficult, especially while we're moving on a boat. But we're on our way. And fingers crossed that what we mostly see is physical devastation and then the human survival is like what Chris found, where people are there, but they just need help.

CAMEROTA: Yes. We pray that is what first responders and you, on your recon mission, find.

But Bill, explain to us, how -- what's the process of the Upper Keys opening? So now people are going to be allowed to come back. And what's this going to look like? I mean, is this -- is this just going to be a deluge of people? And -- and what happens when they get to their home and realize that they're uninhabitable?

WEIR: It's baby steps. You know, the people who have stayed here -- yesterday, I was walking around. I actually went to check on our friend, Ana -- Ana Navarro's home. She's got a place on Key Largo. And so we had to park the car and walk through her neighborhood because there are so many downed power lines and trees. And I met about a half a dozen people saying, you OK? Are you all right? They wanted to show pictures of the storm and say, "Hey, do you know where I can get a -- do you know where I can get a hacksaw? You know? Do you have any kerosene?" And so once, you know, the business owners come down, and they can start opening up, those people can get resupplied. And it's just little by little. You clear a road today and hopefully, you know, the Florida power company can come down and move the downed lines.

And so, yes, it will -- it will be crazy. It will be like, you know, opening the doors of a concert or something. You know, there have been cars that have been frustrated, sitting there, waiting for the go ahead. But, finally, at least the Upper Keys are open. I mean, when you think about it. I've been coming down here on vacation for 20 years. The idea that the Florida Keys is closed, you know, just is -- it's hard to fathom. But at least the Upper Keys, hopefully, will be open today.

CAMEROTA: Right, right. That's what I was imaging, Bill, frankly, that sort of stampede at the opening doors of a concert. That is what I was imagining. We'll see, because they're now open. We'll see what happens in these next hours. Bill, thank you. We'll check back with you, obviously.

Joining us now is a man named William Rose. He packed up his truck and his boat, and he evacuated from Key West. But his mom, his stepdad, his grandmother and his aunt did not leave. And he now cannot get ahold of them. For all intents and purposes, they are missing.

William, thank you so much for joining us. Can you just tell us, what was happening with the storm on Thursday, when you decided to pack up and leave and why your relatives didn't?

WILLIAM ROSE, HURRICANE VICTIM: Hi, good morning. Yes, Thursday morning I woke up about 6:30 in the morning to finish packing up my boat and all the other totes that I had put in my boat. I had 10, 12 cases of water. I had gone to the local Winn-Dixie, and Winn-Dixie had stocked up on, I think they said, over 25,000 cases of water. They had water stacked all the way to the back. And my girlfriend is -- used to work there. So she was very familiar with the locals.

And they -- anyway, like a long story short, they had plenty of water. And it had flown off the shelves faster than I had ever seen before. It was also late, and so we had a lot of people in town. The roads were crowded. You had to wait 15, 20 minutes to even turn left or right on U.S. 1.

As you guys know, your reporters should know, it's a two-lane road. There's not very much room. And especially with now all the debris in the way, it's going to make it very difficult for moving around, maneuvers and the people who trapped -- and the people who are...

CAMEROTA: And William, sorry to interrupt you. But I do want to get to that. Because in terms of the people trapped, I just want to find out how we can help you find your family. The last time -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that you spoke to your mom, was midnight on Sunday.

That morning, you had gotten, I think, a text from her saying something to the effect of, "This is terrible. I'll never do this again. I'm so glad you got out." So...

ROSE: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Then what happened?

ROSE: Well, when I got that message, that -- the whole situation finally hit my heart that this could be a storm of a lifetime. And they were -- the home that they're in is safe. It's a two-story home. It's about 12 1/2, 13 feet to the bottom of the floor from the ground level. And then the canal water level is two foot below that.

So in my head, I know the water had to come up 15 feet to get in the house. I was not certain whether the water was going to go into the house, but the worry was in my mind.

I knew if they stayed together, there was a bathroom in the center of the house where they could all huddle together if the roof were to get ripped off. I personally had given my stepfather materials that he need to bolt his roof down before the storm came, which I had given him on Wednesday.


ROSE: So my stepfather had prepared his house. And he felt confident that his house was strong enough to withstand the storm of a lifetime.

CAMEROTA: And so, William, I mean, the best-case scenario that, of course, you're hoping for is that they stayed in the bathroom. They weathered the storm. And you just can't get ahold of them., because there's -- the cell service is down.

ROSE: Correct.

CAMEROTA: But you have no idea?

ROSE: I have no idea. But I'm staying -- trying to stay positive, trying to keep a positive attitude. Trying to keep high spirits. As long as I keep a positive attitude and keep looking up, every day will be a good day. And just trying to stay positive. Not put the thought in my mind that this could potentially be worse than it is. I'm just trying to stay positive that it's just the satellite towers that are out and that there's no communication.

CAMEROTA: When you last talked to your mom, what was that conversation like?

ROSE: The conversation was about the house. I wanted to know, because on the offseason when I'm not lobster fishing, it's also Bill's home. I wanted to know the condition of the home at the current state. The winds were gusting upwards of 90 miles an hour. She said the doors were shaking, the windows were shaking. I asked her if the walls were breathing, if the walls moved four to six inches on the gusts. She said the walls were staying solid and had not moved.

I asked her if pictures were falling off the walls, if the house was shaking that bad. She said no, that was a negative. She said the roof wasn't flapping. So I knew that was good. Really needed to stay together, stay strong and kind of stay awake during the storm. So if anything were to happen that they could be awake and alert and handle the situation correctly.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that's good advice. And how about your friends? I mean, I know that you have a whole bunch, obviously, of friends in the Keys also. Have you been able to get in touch with anyone?

ROSE: No. We use -- we all downloaded this app called Zelo. I'm sure some of you out there are familiar with it. Some of you may not be. It uses very little communications, satellite reception to communicate. We lost touch -- I lost touch with one of my very, very good friends, Kristen Tregara (ph) and a good friend of mine, Tanner Trivett (ph). They are both with their families in separate rooms. Kristen Tregara (ph) is on the Gulf side of the road. My buddy, Tristan -- or Trivett (ph), sorry, is on the ocean side of the road.

[07:15:09] Last time I talked with both of them, they were OK, safe. They had plenty of water, plenty of supplies. Their shelter that they were in, which is their home, was doing fine. Everything was OK.

CAMEROTA: So, William, I'm sorry to interrupt. But what's your plan? I know that if you don't hear from your family and your friends in the next little while, what are you going to do?

ROSE: Well, my boat is ready. I have over 30 gallons of gas and five-gallon gas cans in the back of my truck, as you've seen in the pictures; and my boat has 25 gallons of gas in the gas tank. So I have plenty of fuel to make it to Cudjoe Key, Florida, and Key West and make it back to Miami. And if I need to, I'll make that trip in tomorrow.

CAMEROTA: OK. William Rose, thank you for taking the time. Obviously, our thoughts are with you. We're praying that you do connect with your family and friends somehow in the very near future. Please keep us posted as to their whereabouts and safety. OK?

ROSE: I will. Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: OK. We'll speak again.

Meanwhile, the remnants of Irma are inundating several states in the southeast. Downtown Charleston, South Carolina, where Irma's heavy rain and storm surge showed up, that of course, caused widespread flooding.

So CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Charleston. What is the situation there, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, good morning, Alisyn. Large parts of the low country are under water this morning. And before you say, OK, this happens in Charleston every time during a heavy rain event, it does but this time it's a little bit different because of debris like this. This is the kind of debris that is just sort of strewn everywhere, all across this downtown, historic area.

The local newspaper saying the last time flooding was this bad and this widespread in this part of Charleston was during Hurricane Hugo, which was almost 30 years ago. The paper may have forgotten that thousand-year flood back in 2015 that was very widespread here throughout the entire state.

But we did speak to some county officials here in Charleston to tell us. About 100 people spent the night in -- be split between two shelters. And the good sign this morning, though, you may see some of these guys in the yellow vests. They're cleaning and pumping out this water just in the hour or so that we've been here. This water has almost all together receded -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Nick. Thanks so much for walking us around there. We can see the debris and see all the challenges there.

So more search-and-rescue teams are heading to the Florida Keys in just a few hours. One group consists of medical disaster teams, and they, of course, will provide medical treatment.

So CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is with them. She's live in Orlando for us with more. What's the plan, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, the plan is that dozens of medical assistance personnel are going to be flying from here in Orlando to Key West. They're called DMAC teams, Disaster Medical Assistance Teams.

Behind me, you can see the team from Hawaii has already gathered, and more folks are due to come in. They're going to go to Key West, and they're going to assess the situation. And then they do searches and they provide medical assistance. Teams of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, all sorts of medical assistance teams.

Now, Alisyn, they'll be coming in on C-7 military planes. These are gigantic planes that can carry not just people but lots of equipment. The vehicles that you see behind me over there, or hopefully, you can see behind me. Those vehicles can get on the plane. Boats can get on this plane. It can carry huge amounts of vehicles, equipment and people to go help the folks down in the Keys -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: That is so great, Elizabeth. That's what they need. I mean, exactly that kind of equipment and all sorts of manpower. So thank you for being there and, obviously, we'll track your progress, as well.

We are, as we've said, awaiting a FEMA briefing. This will be the first time this morning that we are getting actual information and real numbers of who they think are still trapped in the Keys, of what the plan is to get them water and needed supplies and life-saving details.

So the severe flooding in Jacksonville is also forcing rescue crews to spring into action there. We're going speak to the mayor of Jacksonville with an update next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: Here is the FEMA update we've been waiting for.

ELAINE DUKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: ... Customs and Border Protection and Department of Defense have deployed significant assets to the area to assist in search and rescue. We're very pleased that the weather is allowing this effort on search-and-rescue.

We are constrained by geography. And our bases of operation are more limited than our response to Hurricane Harvey. Yet we are working to get as many aircraft in the air as possible. I urge everyone impacted by the storm to continue to pay attention to your state and local officials. They will let you know when it's safe to return home. Be patient.

The federal government effort is working closely with our state and local partners in our response and recovery efforts. I would like to thank President Trump and Vice President Pence for their attention to this storm and their concern for the communities that are affected. The White House and the entire cabinet have been very supportive of the first responders and the survivors of Hurricane Irma. A storm of this magnitude needs a team effort. And we've seen tremendous response from our federal partners.

Nearly 22,000 federal personnel are ready on the front lines, and more continue to deploy. We face a long and challenging road ahead, but the Department of Homeland Security, our federal, state, tribal and local partners, will continue to stand with the people affected by the storm. Whether you are in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico or

the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are here for you, and we are here for the long haul.

While we are ramping up operations in Florida, for those of you in Texas and Louisiana, affected by Harvey, we are still with you. I actually spoke to Governor Abbott yesterday and will continue to support the state rebuilding efforts.

I would now like to introduce Chris Krebs, the assistant secretary for infrastructure protection (ph) at DHS, who is currently running our national protection programs directorate. He'll talk to you about power, water and communications in Florida. Thank you.


Very briefly on the ground in Florida, we are looking at a little over five to six million customers without power. That translates to about 15 million people without power.

Department of Homeland Security is working very closely with the Department of Energy and the local utilities to get the crews back in there, do damage assessments, clean up debris and hang new lines.

I do ask that everyone have patience. This is going to take some time to restore. And in some circumstances, it will be a situation about rebuilding. Hurricane-force winds can significantly damage infrastructure. Those crews are still down there right now, getting a sense of what is going on, on the ground.

Now, with power out, power pretty much drives everything. Lights are out. There may be impacts on local water and wastewater treatment facilities. Most of those facilities should have generator and fuel supplies for a number of days. However, it is a priority. Once it's safe to re-enter, it is a priority to get those electricity crews back in on the ground.

Communications is also an issue, particularly down in the Virgin Islands. But in Florida, there is some cell service disruption and maybe some wire line disruption, as well. Again, same thing applies. As soon as it's safe to re-enter, those crews are going to be back in there. They should be doing damage assessments late yesterday and into today.

Last thing I would add is that hurricanes Harvey and Irma are linked. With Harvey we had a significant amount of the nation's refining capacity offline, as well as distribution through some of the pipelines through the southeast. As a result, there may be some fuel supply shortages throughout the southeast. That's why last week the secretary issued the -- a Jones Act waiver to allow easier distribution of fuel throughout some of those ports throughout.

[07:25:09] So, I do ask everyone to have patience. We're getting on this quickly, and we'll be here to answer questions. Thank you. BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. So it's very clear to all of us that the president's goal is to take care of people. And, you know, this is a unique event compared to what Harvey was.

Harvey's damage areas were combined in -- confined, excuse me, to about 50 counties within Texas and a few in Louisiana. This one is complex because of the multiple states involved. We also have the Seminole tribe that comes directly to FEMA for support and then also our partners in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Puerto Rico.

So during a complex event like this, it's very important to double down on communications. And what we're doing is to make sure that we have clear lines of communication, not only with our governors but the state divisions of emergency management, as well, including our tribal partners in the Seminole tribe. So we will continue to do that.

As the secretary and Chris Krebs have both said, this is going to be a frustrating event. It's going to take some time to allow people back into their homes, particularly in the -- in the Florida Keys. If you look what happened in Florida, obviously, Monroe County took the brunt of the hit. And a majority of the homes there have been impacted in some ways with several of them destroyed and many more with major damage.

But, you know, so we're having to go down and make sure that it's a safe place for people to return so that we don't have loss of life after Irma passes through.

So, the bottom line is, is that later today, I will be headed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, meeting with both governors to make sure that we're on the correct pathway to recovery there.

Obviously, power restoration is one of the biggest goals, along with -- you know, power restoration is the largest goal right now in Puerto Rico. You know, there were over a million people without power. We've made a lot of progress. And that's down to around 300,000. That will continue to improve.

For the U.S. Virgin Islands, we're directly working with Governor Matt to understand his issues, as well. Obviously, we want to make sure that safety and security is upheld, and we're continuing to work with him to roll in military police through our National Guard partners to those islands to ensure safety and security.

We're also pushing a lot of commodities forward. We've established air bridges through our partners with the DOD and the Navy with the ships that are offshore there. And we continue to understand the life sustainment missions to support -- to support our partners in the Virgin Islands.

Moving to the continental United States, the president, as you all know, moved very quickly to put forward presidential disaster declaration. It's very important, specifically in Florida right now. The county is under individual assistance declarations. There's quite a few. So I want to read those off. Broward County, Palm Beach, Clay, Duvall, Flagler, Putnam, St. John's, Charlotte, Collier, Hillsboro, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, Sarasota. These counties right now, if you're a citizen in those counties, you can go to to begin registering for assistance if you've received damages and are having hardship.

And in some cases, you know, the first line of defense is file your insurance when you're allowed to get back home. File your insurance. Not only your personal insurance but also through the NFIP program, the National Flood Insurance Program if you're a policy holder.

You know, once you return home, please, you know, call your private insurer to activate that policy if you've had damage. We can begin to process -- begin the process to have money flow and to help you in that regard.

The other thing here is, is that, you know, we're also watching the continuing situation in Jacksonville overnight. Jacksonville and the areas around the St. Johns River were heavily impacted. We're still conducting life safety missions in and around that area because of the flooding. We were very aware of it last night and continuing to support our state and local partners there.

Again, this issue is passing through. There's large -- large-scale power outages and almost a million people in Georgia without power today, as well. But we have been working with our partners at the Department of Energy to pre-stage power crews not only in Florida but all over the southeastern United States.

But let me reiterate: you know, it takes a long time for this infrastructure to come back up. It may take multiple days if not weeks in some areas as we've been saying before the storm hit.

So with that, you know, one final graphic that we have up here is our force lay-down to show how dynamic this response is and as the secretary reiterated it's all about communication, clearly identifying how to support our state and local partners. And that's exactly what's taking place today as we start to turn the corner and provide a road to recovery.

So, with that, we'll open it up to any questions.