Return to Transcripts main page
Irma Decimates Parts Of The Florida Keys; More Than 60 Percent Of Florida Remains In The Dark; Marco Island Reopens After Taking Direct Hit From Irma; Death Toll Rises To 10 In Cuba. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired September 12, 2017 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:30:00] BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEMA: -- that I have said 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.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You're listening to Brock Long. He, of course, is the FEMA administrator. We've just gotten the first update on what their plan is to tackle the crisis throughout Florida, as well as other states.
A couple of headlines to share with you.
He says the good news is -- well, this is actually Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, who said the good news is the weather is cooperating but they are constrained by geography. They need to get aircraft in the air to get eyes on the situation -- the scope of this crisis.
Brock Long said something very interesting, that Irma is such a unique event and very different than Harvey for a bunch of reasons. Primarily, that it affects so many more states than Harvey did, which he said were 50 counties. This is several states.
And he said that it's just complicated with all the different governors and emergency managers, including the Seminole Tribe, but they are tackling all of that. He said their biggest goals right now, of course, are life-preservation and power restoration.
We've got a new number there. Fifteen million people, they estimate, are without power -- 15 million.
On the right side of your screen right now you're looking at aerials coming to us from one of our affiliates. This is a checkpoint.
This is the last point in -- on the peninsula of Florida before you have to go over the bridge to the Keys and this is where residents are being asked to show the yellow sticker to prove that they are residents of the Keys and that they can return home, so it's just starting now. As you can see, so many people are desperate to see what condition
their homes and all of their belongings are in.
So, of course, we find Chris in Big Pine Key. That's much more remote and further west.
So, Chris, great to have you back. What are you seeing at this hour?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. First, to the audience, we apologize. This is not the most sophisticated transmission equipment we usually use. There is no satellite service, there's no power here, there's no water.
So what you're seeing in Key Largo, it's terrible there, but that's still the best case scenario (rooster crowing). The only thing that's working here in real time is the rooster, OK?
And this is the good news. We picked this scene because this family and a couple of the boys are outside. They live -- their house is here. They're just dealing with devastation and being back to raw basics of their life.
This is ground zero just a few miles away from where Irma had that eye touch down in Cudjoe Key, and the devastation is unlike anything else that we have seen.
This is the best-case scenario -- these homes built on pillars that survived. But closer to the waterline the water went right through the first story of a home just like that. So, plus those pillars up onto it, still flooded out, so that was at least 15 feet of water.
And what we just heard in that briefing, the coordination is there. It's amazing what we've seen on the way down. We came down with the first set of first responders, Task Force Two from Florida. They're here but penetration is the issue.
They just got here last night. The National Guard came here and cleared some of the roads.
We were with the men and women. If you want, you can show some of the footage of them going door-to-door all night. None of them slept.
They came down here after a really tough trip and they went right to it because people were still here. And the homes that they saw looked like they were sucked out from the inside. There were boats in yards that didn't belong.
They had to walk down in incredible heat and humidity. Even this morning the bugs are here in force. It sounds like a small little inconvenience but it's going to be real for them -- the heat, the humidity. That's their reality.
And the light is just coming up. We're going to be going around this Key and others to show you how people are going to try to get by and it will just make so clear why people can't come back here yet, Alisyn. So let's deal with another hit area, if you're still seeing me.
The mayor of Jacksonville is Lenny Curry. You just heard them say in the briefing they're worried about Jacksonville.
Two reasons. One, they got hit hard. Two, they weren't expected to get hit so the preparations and now the ability to help isn't the same.
So, Mr. Mayor, if you can hear us, what's the situation there right now?
LENNY CURRY, MAYOR, JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA (via telephone): Yes, good morning.
Yesterday was all-day rescue mode. We -- you know, we evacuated the most vulnerable and at-risk areas -- mandatory evacuations. Unfortunately, there were some people that were still in those areas after the tropical storm left.
What we learned yesterday morning was that we had a category three storm surge in the tropical storm and we quickly moved with our first responders, secured state assets in the morning with Gov. Scott, the president, the administration -- were able to send in help and spent the day rescuing people.
And right now, we have no reported fatalities and the men and women -- the first responders and the people of Jacksonville did their jobs.
[07:35:00] CUOMO: And we're with a group of first responders like that down here and they're going door-to-door. It is slow work and the context then presents the next question.
What are you looking at in terms of timing before you know the situation, the condition, the status of all of the residents and the timing on when you'll be able to get back basic services?
CURRY: Well, we're working on it with our power company -- our utility -- and we've got commitments from Sen. Rubio and the president, the federal government, and Gov. Scott's been amazing in securing those resources. But we have the resources that we need -- the financial resources that we need to move now and we can work to get our reimbursement on the back end.
The most important thing for us is first, saving lives, which that's what the mode we were in yesterday, and we being the rebuilding process today.
The flooding in Jacksonville is not going to subside overnight, you know. This could take days or even up to a week before people start to see the flooding subside from their neighborhood.
CUOMO: What's your biggest concern at this point, Mr. Mayor?
CURRY: Well, yesterday the big concern was people's lives. I mean, we really -- literally, our first responders and the people of Jacksonville jumped into rescue mode.
It was amazing for me. I went out into the vulnerable neighborhoods and I -- and I -- and I saw these men and women pull these big public safety trucks in the neighborhoods that they couldn't drive in. These big tires -- they couldn't even get in. Drop the boats in and go and save people's lives.
So while we move into recovery today I want to make sure that if there's anybody that stayed in the neighborhood on the second floor of a home thinking these floodwaters would subside, that they're not going to subside soon and that they call us. Continue to tell them to call us.
We've got no reported fatalities at this point. So I continue to -- while we -- we're not in crisis mode at this moment. We handled that yesterday. I want to ensure that we continue to keep people safe as we move into recovery.
CUOMO: Thank God that the most important measure of this storm, thus far, is very low in the United States, which is lives lost.
Let me ask you something. It's great to have you on the show but with all the power outage what's your level of confidence that people who need to be hearing you are able to get any of the information?
CURRY: Yes. Well, we are messaging through every outlet that we have, you know -- T.V. We've encouraged -- we encourage people on the front end to have batteries so they can get radio communications.
We're going to be announcing places today where we can distribute food and water. And we'll be going in the neighborhoods, frankly, and checking on people and working hard. Look, most of the state is without power so this is a major -- this is going to be a major statewide crisis.
We did secure assets on the front end, had people staged to begin the restoration process, so we're just going to work aggressively and do everything that we can to take care of our people and get them back up and running.
And what you -- you know, what you learn in these events is something we should know -- we should pay attention to every day -- unfortunately, sometimes it takes this -- is the most important thing that we have is each other.
CUOMO: We are all in it together. That is the message that resonates out of everybody's mouths and hearts in this situation so far.
Mr. Mayor, let me let you get back to it. Thank you for being with us and good luck to you in Jacksonville.
CURRY: Thank you. Be safe down there.
CUOMO: You know, it sounds trite but it's true, Alisyn. The worst of human nature requires the best -- the worst in Mother Nature requires the best in human nature and we have been seeing it. But you know what? Even Jacksonville is way ahead of the game of
where they are down here.
You can hear, you know, the pitter-patter of a helicopter that's coming through. It's the Coast Guard. They're doing their initial surveillance here.
You know, the people who made it, like Griffin and Darwin, this family across the street. It's really not known whether or not local authorities were even able to ascertain that they survived.
And, you know, as we see these missions start to fly over -- that's -- I don't think that's Coast Guard. That's National Guard.
As they start to fly by this is the first wave of assessment. They are coming overhead and taking a look -- that's a Navy chopper -- to see who's still there, what's the situation, how can they coordinate services?
And the people who will receive that information are people like Task Force Two who we are with. And we watched them work all through the night making their way through debris like this up to a doorway, knocking on it, sometimes hearing a response, having to figure out how to get to those people. Many of them have resources, many of them don't.
And the reality is no power for weeks or longer. That is a very hard life in this kind of heat and humidity. That's why they're telling people to stay out.
[07:40:00] Then they have to figure out either how they get people like this to leave, which isn't going to be easy, or how do you get them to be able to sustain life here. I mean, there's some really big questions they have to deal with.
CAMEROTA: Well look, it's very comforting to see the choppers already up -- it's 7:30 -- trying to get those assessments. And, I mean, from what we've been able to see they're moving with alacrity in terms of getting those people some help.
So, Chris, we'll be back with in a moment but joining us now is CNN senior national security analyst Lisa Monaco. She served as White House Homeland Security adviser under President Obama. Great to have you here --
LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's good to be here.
CAMEROTA: -- with all of your expertise.
When you look at what Irma is going to require in terms of the federal response, where do even start? What do you see here?
MONACO: Well, really, what we're seeing and what we just saw from Brock Long, the FEMA administrator, is just an incredible scale that's going to be required for the federal response. FEMA, of course, is the hub of that response and is the coordinator for it and the different elements of the federal government can come to support and be the spokes of that response.
We're going to see the need, as you saw -- the power crews. That's the Energy Department helping to get restoration crews in there working with other states and affected states.
We're going to see the need for housing recovery and housing assistance.
CAMEROTA: I mean, for a long time, right?
CAMEROTA: I mean, this is the part that always blows my mind. The housing -- they might not be able to rebuild their houses for months.
CAMEROTA: They will have to be in shelters.
MONACO: That's exactly right. I mean, this could have a real impact, clearly, on efforts to rebuild, efforts to find assistance and support for those who have been displaced. You know, hundreds of thousands that we're seeing are now being -- have been displaced.
The health implications and the environmental implications here. The toxins that are potentially in those floodwaters.
So there is really a response that's going to be required and a recovery effort that's going to draw on all elements of the federal government.
CAMEROTA: You had to deal with hurricanes --
CAMEROTA: -- when you were a national security adviser. I mean, obviously, this is just -- you know, everybody always warns us the worst may still be to come --
CAMEROTA: -- because now there's all sorts of life-threatening issues even after the storm passes.
Is it possible that 10,000 people -- I mean, this is the number that we keep hearing -- in the Florida Keys may have to be evacuated? If they can't have water -- access to water and power, what would an evacuation even look like of 10,000 people?
MONACO: I mean, obviously, that's a massive logistical feat. There will be effort, of course, to get supplies in there, whether it's generators, whether it's subsistent supplies, water, and the like. And what you'll see is all elements of the federal government coming together to do this.
You saw DOD, the Department of Defense. The National Guard will be called upon to deliver some of those logistics.
So this is really a response and a recovery effort on a massive scale that is going to be required not just days, not weeks, not months, but potentially years to come.
CAMEROTA: Well, we just got the FEMA briefing. We heard Brock Long say give us a new number in terms of how many people are without people. We had heard households -- that there's, you know, upwards of six million but that's not people because obviously, they recalculate how many people are in each house.
But the new number we heard is 15 million people --
CAMEROTA: -- at this hour without power.
How does the federal government help them?
MONACO: Well, what comes into play here is the mutual assistance compacts that all the states have with each other, and that is something that can be drawn upon for any type of disaster, whether it's severe storm, severe snow, et cetera. You see states having these mutual assistance compacts that can help send power crews from other states.
And what the federal government can do, and the White House, and what I did when I was Homeland Security adviser is help coordinate that response. Draw on the sectors like the Energy Department overseas with the energy sector, et cetera. Bring those stakeholders together to try and get them to contribute from all across the country.
CAMEROTA: Well, Lisa, great to have your expertise and to walk us through what will be happening over the next hours and days. Thanks so much for being here in the studio --
MONACO: It's good to be here.
CAMEROTA: -- with us.
Chris, we want to go back to you now on the Keys -- in the Keys -- and tell us what's happening in your area.
CUOMO: All right. So we have all this discussion, Alisyn, about logistics and resources but on the ground it's about realities and life is very hard on the ground in the Keys. Living without power in an environment like this is very difficult, let alone as a lifestyle.
You know, one day, two days is one thing. Weeks, something else.
Let's bring in Robert Gould from Florida Power and Light. And obviously, we need you to give us information, but let me give you some first. We're here with that first wave Task Force Two here in Florida doing that initial assessment for you and many of the cement stanchions remain here in Big Pine Key and in Marathon, even. Even most of the wooden ones. The lines are down but the -- you know, the bricks and mortar, that level of infrastructure seems to be relatively intact, Mr. Gould.
[07:45:16] ROBERT GOULD, VICE PRESIDENT, FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT COMPANY: Yes, that's a huge, huge fact. I heard you earlier talking about that. I saw your shot just a second ago and that cement pole standing. That to us is a gorgeous thing to see.
We've invested about $3 billion in our network over the past 10 years in that very type of thing, replacing wood poles, putting in concrete poles. Shortening spans of wire between concrete poles so that if a tree or a palm frond hits it, it slides off rather than bring the entire section down.
That is huge to have the backbone in place. And what we're seeing is encouraging. This is really the first major, major storm in a decade that is going to test all those investments.
Now, please don't misunderstand. We're by no means changing our view at this point because we need to complete the assessment. But when we see transmission structures standing -- cement and steel-reinforced structures standing and not on the ground, that is huge in terms of the ability to restore power quicker for our customers.
CUOMO: Now listen, Robert, we understand that the situation here in the Keys is somewhat unique. I mean, you know, you have very few paths for power and water, et cetera.
But that's going to be one of the immediate pressing issues for you is most of the people got out. There are those who are still here who want to stay and those who want to come back and resume life.
What level of confidence can you give them that that is the right move right now, given how hard a life that they're facing here, not just for days but probably for weeks, right? Looking at six, eight, maybe 10 weeks before they'll have water and power on the regular.
GOULD: Well, there are going to be some places that we are going to be able to rebuild our infrastructure, yet the homes and the businesses will not be able to accept that power. It just won't be practical for the situation.
Now, we're expecting upwards of five million outages that will occur as a result of this storm. Now, we've already restored upwards of those two million -- of about two million outages now. An outage can be something that is repetitive.
We still have about 2.8 customers -- 2.8 million, rather, customers that are still without service and we're going to -- we're just going to have to work at it. A lot of our families and employees and customers are without power -- we get it. We have every intent to be out there 24/7 restoring power. But this was a massive storm and the problem with this type of storm is the psychological element of the skies clear, it's beautiful weather out. It's hot but, at least, it's clear. And then, people start to say wait a minute, why can't I get my power back right away?
We're going to just have to be patient and we ask for that patience because at the end of the day it's still a manual process to restore wire on poles and the like.
CUOMO: All right, Mr. Gould. I'll let you get back to the work. I know you have a lot in front of you.
If we can give you any information that's helpful to you just reach out to the producers that you're in contact with and we'll get you any information we can.
Of course, as you understand, it's not easy for us to get information out. We're barely able to stay on air because of the breakdown in infrastructure.
But good luck to you, sir.
GOULD: Thank you. And above all else, for yourself and others, please be safe.
CUOMO: All right. Thank you, sir.
Alisyn, you know what? It's the right caution. I mean, it is a bizarre situation.
You have a beautiful sky, we say a beautiful sunset last night, but it is such an ugly reality on the ground. And I'm not just saying visually. Oh, there's so many trees down. Life is going to be hard here. It's going to be hard in parts of Miami -- in the developed parts of the state and all the way up to Jacksonville, so south to north.
But then you get here into the Keys and this is very different. This is like, you know, an episode of "SURVIVOR" --
CUOMO: -- that will be here for people.
So that's a big determination to make for authorities. Whom do they let back, when, what do they do with the people who are still here? There's no gas, there's no power.
CAMEROTA: I mean, look, all those calculations are obviously happening at this hour as you -- as you showed us with those choppers flying overhead so they can assess just how bad it is where you are and all the Keys that extend even further west.
So, Chris, we'll be back with you in a second.
But we want to tell the story of a South Carolina man trapped on the island of St. John. How he's helping people on the island as he, himself, tries to get home.
[05:53:35] CUOMO: All right. Chris Cuomo and team now in the Florida Keys. We're in Big Pine Key and we are now able to see the reality of the worst of what Hurricane Irma wrought on this country.
This is ground zero for where the eye of the storm came ashore. There were 120 mile an hour sustained winds. What you saw me and Ed Lavandera dealing with in Naples that got a lot of attention because of the gusts of 140 miles an hour. So that's like one puff, to use the word loosely, versus sustained, and the damage is obvious -- what we will show you after we get out to shoot more of it in the daylight today.
We're here with first responders who worked all through the night. They're the first set of eyes on the ground here to figure out what is needed and who remains.
So let's bring in Ed Lavandera right now. You're in Naples. We went through something there but it is nothing compared to what they went through here.
And I know you've been traveling around. You went to Marco Island to get a sense of the harder hit areas. What did you find out, my friend?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the second time that Hurricane Irma hit the United States was just south of where we are in Marco Island in a small little town of Goodland, Florida. What we saw there is some of the worst destruction here on the mainland in Florida that we've seen anywhere.
[07:55:00] (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Where the Everglades meets the Gulf of Mexico there sits a fishing village called Goodland. The eye of Hurricane Irma chain sawed its way through here.
GARY STRINGER, RODE OUT HURRICANE IRMA ON MARCO ISLAND: Yes, it was like living inside a storm.
LAVANDERA: -- and Gary Stringer stared down the sharpest edge of the storm's blade.
He sat in this room as the 130 mile per hour winds roared outside.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Did you feel like the house was going to get picked up off the ground?
STRINGER: Yes, yes. I got the dog and I thought well, here we go. It's going to go. I mean, there's nothing to do.
LAVANDERA: Like Dorothy and the "WIZARD OF OZ?"
STRINGER: Yes, almost -- yes. LAVANDERA (voice-over): As the house shook he heard the cracking and rumbling of a giant tree ripping out of the ground. He opened the door to see the tree had fallen onto the neighbor's house. He was spared.
LAVANDERA (on camera): And at that point you start telling yourself maybe I should have left?
STRINGER: Yes, man. I was telling myself that hours before that.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Emergency officials say some 40 people decided to ride out the storm here in Goodland but there were no serious injuries reported.
The hurricane ripped apart this town that's home to several hundred people. Boats tossed around, trees toppled, and several homes destroyed.
DUSTIN SHEPARD, RODE OUT HURRICANE IRMA ON MARCO ISLAND: It blew out my oil cap here -- the pressure from the water.
LAVANDERA: The storm surge pushed about seven feet of water under Dustin Shepard's home. The water is gone now but the surge brought in fish that aren't supposed to be here.
LAVANDERA (on camera): What do you have there?
SHEPARD: We got a -- we got a funnel fish here.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Shepard works as a charter fisherman and stayed inside his home with his wife and a friend.
SHEPARD: My windows broke on the back side here and, you know, for about a couple of hours, you know, I thought the house might come down, you know. And it got -- it got -- it got scary, you know. It was -- it was something I'll never forget, I'll tell you that much.
LAVANDERA: Friends showed up to hug Gary Stringer, grateful he survived. He might have an incredible story to tell but he just feels lucky that he can walk away.
LAVANDERA (on camera): You took a direct hit.
STRINGER: Yes, but I won't do it again, you know, trust me. If another one comes I'm going to book -- I'm going to book a flight about a week early and I'm going to be on the other side of the world at a tiki bar somewhere, you know. And I'm -- oh, no (INAUDIBLE).
LAVANDERA: You learned your lesson?
LAVANDERA: Well, I'm glad you're all right, man.
LAVANDERA: And, water services and electricity out throughout most of Marco Island there, so that's why emergency officials are urging people that if they can to stay away until those services are reestablished.
Sadly, there's no exact timetable on when all of that is going to happen, so they're urging people to be patient and to come back -- if they can delay that as much as possible come back when they can so you can have water and electricity. That would make things easier for everybody, is what they're urging -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Right. This is going to take a lot of patience. It's the unknown, you know. That's the part that makes it so challenging.
If people knew that tomorrow they'd have electricity that would be easy. We have no idea.
So, Ed, thank you very much for all of that.
The death toll in Cuba is now at 10 after the island took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma as a category five hurricane.
CNN's Patrick Oppmann is live in Havana with more. Tell us how it's going there, Patrick.
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, just a little while ago before the sun came up you looked out over the city, Alisyn, and it was completely dark.
Power is coming back in a few neighborhoods at a time but it would seem that the majority of Cuba's capital city is still without electricity. I know I am at my house. It really complicates life.
So what is happening here is slowly there is rebuilding going on, there is debris being taken out. We're getting some more Internet around the city. The airport is due to be open today so those are the positive signs.
The troubling issues are when you have old buildings like Havana's full of and they get soaked with rain or there's been flooding. When they dry out that's where the real danger is because they can buckle and collapse.
Most of the people who died, Alisyn, died as a result of those building collapses, so a very worrying situation and we'll just have to wait to see what's going to happen here.
CAMEROTA: OK, Patrick. Thank you very much for the update. We hope you get power, and everyone there as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, last Tuesday, before Irma hit the island of St. John as a category five hurricane, one restaurant owner decided to fly back to the island from the mainland to board up the restaurant he and his wife own. That was a week ago and Clint, the man, has been stranded there ever
since, leaving his pregnant wife Kristen and young son home alone, of course, worried about his safety.
So joining us now on the phone is Kristen Gaskins. Kristen, thanks so much for being with us.
What's the latest? How are you doing and what's the latest on your husband, Clint?
KRISTEN GASKINS, HUSBAND CLINT RODE OUT HURRICANE IN ST. JOHN (via telephone): Good morning. I am doing all right. Thanks for having me on today.
So, my husband, Clint is -- like you said, he's kind of stuck in St. John right now just dealing with all the chaos that ensues after a hurricane and just trying to keep the community fed at this point.
CAMEROTA: Well, that's really nice. I mean, so he is trying to help others while he's stranded there.