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Florida Begins Recovery Efforts After Hurricane Irma; Interview with Congressman Carlos Curbelo. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's really nice. So he is trying to help others while he's stranded there. But Kristin, how did you feel about Clint deciding to fly back to board up your restaurant as Irma was approaching?

GASKINS: Absolutely. You know, it's a little nerve-racking when you are sending your husband into a category five storm not knowing what that's like. It's was really scary. For us, that's our livelihood. That is how we make our money. That's our restaurant. He had to go down there and make sure it was OK, make sure that our staff was OK. Everybody on that island he was stuck and he needed to go be that support team for the people down there, you know, that work for us, and make sure our restaurant was going to be safe.

So I was confident in his decision, but you never really know what situation you are getting into, obviously. We were hoping he would be back here in a matter of days and it looks like it will be a couple weeks at this point.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my goodness. It's not as if you stayed behind in an entirely safe place. You're in Charleston, South Carolina, that's had its own great flooding as a result of this. What were the conditions like for you and your son.

GASKINS: It's actually a daughter, but it was not as bad as what he experienced, but it's a little nerve-racking. We live right on the water in Charleston and all day yesterday just watching the water come closer and closer and closer to the backdoor. I didn't think it was going to be as bad as Matthew from last year and it was actually worse, and it wasn't even a hurricane here. It was just a tropical storm, but it was six feet from my backdoor. At one point I thought for sure it was going to keep coming and come in. It was a little nerve-racking, not fun to be by yourself in that at all.

CAMEROTA: Yes, no kidding. And also as you mentioned, you are newly pregnant, so that adds a nerve racking quality and complications to all of it. But we are so happy that you weathered it well. We hope you are reunited with Clint as soon as possible. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us this morning.

GASKINS: Absolutely. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, best of luck to you.

Meanwhile, we're following a lot of news so let's get right to it.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Irma is no longer a hurricane. The National Weather Service isn't tracking her that way, but she's still doing damage. She's dumping rain onto parts just north Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and continuing to move. We'll continue to track that.

We do have some new numbers. We just heard that 15 million people are without power as a result of this storm, the majority of them, of course in Florida. The duration is the issue, and we are going to get through that. The good news in a situation like this, and it is somewhat surprising, there hasn't been a tremendous loss of life. Yes, in the Caribbean there have been over 30 deaths, and remember, we are still in the discovery phase. We don't know the hard numbers yet. But at this count five people lost their lives in the United States from this storm. Where we are now at ground zero in the Florida Keys, we're in Big Pine Key just miles from where Irma came ashore, literal where the eye came ashore, 120 mile-an-hour sustained winds, it could have been so much worse.

So we have those new numbers. The good news for people in the Keys is that the tops Keys are going to start letting people back in -- Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada, they are going to start letting people back in, but only residents and business owners. And believe me, nobody else would want to be down here. The question is whether or not those people will want to stay once they see what is going on.

We are showing you this scene this morning because this is actually the good news. The Tabacco family, their home stands. Yes, the utter devastation around it is there, the ironic license plate on that Camaro of "try again" is now going to be a motto for this entire community. But they are still here, they're safe, the rooster is crowing like crazy. So that is the good news. We saw so much worse here.

And it gives context to the Pentagon saying as many as 10,000 may still need to be rescued. They say may because they don't know. We are here with task force two, the first responders from Florida for this region, and they just don't know what's going on. They got here last night and they worked all night long. Run some of the footage of us being out with them as they did search and rescue house to house, hot, humid, arduous work, but they were finding people who were still here, people in need, at a minimum wanting to use their satellite phone. There's no power, there's no cell service, there's no Internet, there's no modernity here. All the things we take for granted are not here right now.

But they worked all through the night. They are out there doing it right now. We will rejoin them after the show to show their efforts. So the point is they still don't know the true depth of what has happened, who is still here, who isn't, God forbid, what they need. You're going to hear choppers overhead all morning. It's the first sets of eyes that they're getting in some of these areas. So that is the reality right now. [08:05:11] I want to bring in someone for you. Darwin, come in here.

Darwin Tabacco, how are you?


CUOMO: Met you here obviously, and you were able to make it through the storm. How was it for you guys making it through?

TABACCO: It was scary, but we just kept up hope. You know, there's not much you can do except prepare and hope for the best.

CUOMO: Did you give any serious thought as a family to not being here for the storm?

TABACCO: We did but we had so much to try and protect and we have so many animals, we have got six cats and chickens. So we wanted to stay and protect our animals because they are part of our family, too.

CUOMO: Did you have a moment of doubt during the storm?

TABACCO: There were a couple times I did, but once we just all got settled in, we were all calm. Me and my brother actually slept through it.

CUOMO: That's impressive. The water that came through here, we're seeing it marked around, it got pretty high. What did you see?

TABACCO: The water came up to our last step. We're actually on the highest elevation here, we got pretty lucky. But further down there it's lower, and they weren't.

CUOMO: We know you lost things but you still have one another. When you were able to get around and look at some of those houses that looked like they were sucked out from the inside, what did you think?

TABACCO: We were blessed. We didn't lose anything, I mean, we lost a lot of stuff outside, but we didn't lose anything on the inside of our house, which I am real thankful for. A lot of people lost everything.

CUOMO: Tell the audience some of the different scenes of blocks and what the houses are like elsewhere.

TABACCO: There are still homes blown off the stilts. There's power lines down all over the place, trees completely uprooted. Peoples' businesses flooded, and septic fields flooding. It's just terrible.

CUOMO: One of the things you were talking about this morning is you were explaining to me to look at the tops of the trees, Dave, if you want to show them, and your father was saying, I believe, that he thinks there was some tornado activity down here, that it wasn't just the hurricane.

TABACCO: Oh, there were definitely two tornadoes that hit Big Pine, and that's even more relevant if you go down U.S. 1 and some of the other streets like Gator Boulevard and Wilder.

CUOMO: Do you have concerns about staying now? You know you are not going to have water or power for a long time.

TABACCO: We are not worried about that. We have out propane grills. We're working on fixing our generator. Everybody in the community is helping each other out. There's a lot of people that stayed, and everyone that stayed is helping each other out.

CUOMO: That is going to be key.

TABACCO: We started clearing the roads themselves and people are bringing out their machines. People have been bringing water to people that need it, giving food to people that need it. Everyone in the community has just been helping each other out.

CUOMO: It's a beautiful thing to see. We wish you good luck and we will be here with you as long as we can. Darwin, thank you very much.

All right, so that's the Tabacco family, they made it through. Let's go to Bill Weir. He was in Key Largo where they're starting to let some people back in now. Whether or not they stay, that's going to be the next chapter of the story. But now he's in a boat making his way down towards where we are deeper do the Keys where the devastation even gets worse. Bill, how is the ride so far?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you what, Chris, if these were happier times I think you would enjoy my ride here. We are on a 43-foot fishing boat just picking our way out of Key Largo. For the last half hour it has been this sort of maze of, you know, sunken boats and lines that were crossing channels. We had to cut them and retie them in order to pick through. But now we are out into Florida Bay and headed towards your way.

And this is -- it's hard to believe this is the same ocean that did all this devastation. Look at this. Glass today, absolute glass. It remains me of going into New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain, the calm after the storm. And our captain has done a little recon and he has already reported there are sunken boats and pieces of houses up in the mangroves. So we will let you know what we see as we go through the Keys. So many people reaching out to social media. Hey, check on Sugarloaf Key. What is going on down in Cudjoe Key. That's what we are out here hoping to do.

But yes, as you mentioned, much to the relief of many who have been anxiously itching to go back and see what is left of their homes and their boats, they are going to open up the upper Keys, that is Key Largo, and Tavernier and Islamorada up to Mile Marker 73. You have to have a sticker that says you are a local or business owner in here.

[08:10:05] And you know, the folks at least who have any kind of power back in Miami, you're up for a trip back in time, a trip back to when the Spanish first found --

CUOMO: We lost Bill's shot. It's not about a safety issue. It's just about coms. It's hard to get a shot on a moving boat anytime let alone when you have such interruption of connectivity that we have right now. Bill has been storytelling the back and forth about romanticism and reality. There's no question that there is a storied culture down here, whether it's conch culture, and there's a resiliency and an individualism and a desire to stay, and that's all great. But in times like this it can also be a liability because life here, romanticism aside, is going to be really hard for a long time.

Let's bring in Congressman Curbelo. And I know your understand this reality, and the job of government in times like this is to inform, to influence and to inspire. And the third one of those is going to very important because people are going to get frustrated here, Congressman. They just are. This is going to be hard and hard for a long time, long after this story is at the top of the headlines.

REP. CARLOS CURBELO, (R) FLORIDA: That's right, Chris. And we were down in the Florida Keys yesterday to assess the damage. Thankfully the structural damage that I saw in Key West was not as bad as I had anticipated. But the true tragedy here is going to be the financial toll that this is going to take on so many people who work in the Florida Keys. A lot of them live paycheck to paycheck. People who own small businesses, just today, Judah Silva of King Seafood in Marathon, one of my favorite stops, asked me, please, when can we get back? We need to rebuild our lives. We are afraid we're going to lose everything.

The truth is local law enforcement is in no position right now to guarantee the safety or security of anyone in the lower and middle keys. That's why they are only opening up to Mile Marker 73. So to those people who are worried and frustrated, I understand, but right now the best thing that you can do is remain calm and be patient because going down or attempting to go down to the middle keys or the lower keys is simply not safe. There are downed power lines. There's obviously no power anywhere, no cell phone service. So if something were to happen to you down there you would be stranded, no one would be able to find you, no one would even know.

That's why I am supporting our local law enforcement, the sheriff's office, Roman Gastesi, the county manager in Monroe, and urging everyone to try and remain on the mainland, stay calm. We will get you down to your home or your businesses as soon as possible, but it's still not safe.

CUOMO: Key West was a pleasant surprise, you know, obviously in a very qualified situation where it still got hit hard, but that's the big population center and that was the big concern. And it was better there than expected.

However, as you go up the Keys, Marathon, as you mentioned, here in Big Pine, they got hit harder than expected. Cudjoe Key is where they had the actual eye wall of the storm come into closest contact, 120 mile and hour sustained winds. The stuff that we're seeing here, Congressman, we're with the first responders of Task Force Two. They are the first set of eyes for a lot of the coordinated resources, and the devastation here cannot be exaggerated.

CURBELO: That's right. We werent able to get on the ground there in the Marathon area, but the C-130 that we flew did try to drop down to about 2,000 feet, and we were able to see a lot of evidence of storm surge damage, boats on land. So that middle area of the Keys from Marathon to Cudjoe is going to need a lot of help to rebuild because they don't only have to rebuild financially. They actually have to rebuild a lot of physical structures, which, as you have displayed this morning, Chris, suffered quite a bit of damage.

I already spoke to Kevin Brady. He's the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee this morning, and he has committed to allowing me to work on a tax relief package for south Florida, for other parts of the country also that have been impacted by storms like the Houston area, but that is going to be very important to helping these people rebuild their lives and really reenergizing and revitalizing the Florida Keys.

I'll tell you briefly, one of the most striking things about yesterday, obviously I represent the Keys, I'm down there a lot, it is one of the most vibrant and lively places in the world. And to see it dark and quiet and almost like a ghost town down in Key West, that was tough to witness.

[08:15:04] CUOMO: Well, look, I mean, that is the reality, and people have to face it. They need to know that it's real so they can make informed decisions about what to do with their own lives, and people can who are watching this weren't affected by it, you know, thank God, they can figure out how to help.

Now, Dave, I want to show something before we get back to you. Alisyn, you see these guys, local sheriffs, OK? They waited out the storm. They were helping everybody else. Now, they are coming back to check out their own home. They didn't even have a chance to come and check on their own things because they were worried about everybody else, and that is a big part of this story that should not be ignored.

The first responders, they leave their homes. They are locals. And they are there four everybody else and they are just now going back to see.

Now, they got lucky. This is not the worse that we hear. Damage around it, he had some stuff ripped off the front of his house, but he's off on stilts, so the water largely missed him. But we'll show you homes probably on the show tomorrow where even though they were up on stilts, they still got water going through their first floor. That's how flooded it was.

And there's one other point that's going to matter, Alisyn, right now, everybody is hitting on all cylinders of coordination and that's great. And in the immediacy, you never want to project too far forward because the reality right now is enough to handle.

But we'll remember what happened with Superstorm Sandy, politics can creep into what seems crystal clear in the moment. They can play politics with money. They can attach other things to bills, and that can delay help, that will be unforgivable in a situation like this. As bad as Sandy was, the combination of Harvey and Irma is going to create even more need. Politics cannot spoil it and that's why we got to stay on these stories.

CAMEROTA: But also, in terms of the flooding, I mean, and just how extensive it, obviously in the Keys, those are islands. I mean, you are as far south basically as you can get and then all the way north, I mean, Jacksonville had massive flooding, and they have been dealing with it up until -- I mean, through today. So, officials are telling people to leave their homes now.

We're going to take you there to show you what's happening in Jacksonville.


[08:20:42] CUOMO: Chris Cuomo here in Big Pine Key. Obviously, the Florida Keys is the hardest hit by Hurricane Irma, 120 mile an hour sustained winds.

The owner of the home behind me telling me just one more story of how this community is going to come together to get through this. And went down to the Winn-Dixie, half of it was blown over, there are still a couple of workers in there, giving out ice, giving out supplies, no questions asked. That kind of community, we're all in it together in spirit. That is going to be so necessary down here.

Somebody who has put eyes on this situation and that lived through the storm as a journalist, he's a great resource, and we have him right now, David Sutta from WFOR, a CNN affiliate, CBS 4 in Miami.

So, what was it like to make it through it here in the Keys?

DAVID SUTTA, WFOR CORRESPONDENT: Chris, it was a pretty terrifying experience to get down there. Where you are, I'm actually surprised you were able to broadcast where you are right now. I know that's no small feat because we had to carry everything out to the mainland here to get a cell phone signal. So, impressive that you are able to do that this morning.

I can tell you, coming in, we actually came in behind a bulldozer. There are several bulldozers that were stationed along the Florida Keys and they were literally plowing along, you know, sand, jet skis, refrigerators, you name it. All the stuff that was underneath everyone's house, storm surge is pushing through, they plowed through it. Fire and rescue was going through and cutting down lines. It was just amazing to watch.

We got to Marathon and basically stayed there with the deputies that were basically hunkered down in the gymnasium. Many of them looked shell-shocked. Some of them had already seen their houses completely devastated, and they were just trying to figure out, you know, what the next move was.

They knew they had to get to work the next morning. It was pretty surreal to see the whole thing. The next morning, about 5:30 in the morning, which was yesterday, we just pushed our way as far as we could go and that was Big Pine Key, running over, weaving through U.S. 1, and parts of the roadway are missing and washed out from the storm surge, and it was just a remarkable thing to see.

As we pulled into Big Pine Key, one of the most amazing moments was seeing the key deer on Deer Key, right before Big Pine there. There are only a few thousand of these deer in the area, and they can swim, and I have been told they can swim as fast as 13 miles per hour, which is awesome. They were there. They were survivors.

I don't know how they did it, but you have to think about it, these animals were in the water for an extended period of time dealing with that storm surge.

CUOMO: Yes, we saw a lot of them last night. We came down with Task Force 2, the first set first responders to come in here, and they were the fresh eyes on the situation doing assessments for all the coordinated resources that are going to be needed down here, and the Key Deer, I know they are a big point of fascination, they're a big tourist attraction, I think one of the reasons they swim so fast is that this is one of the only places on the planet where you have crocodiles and alligators, and we saw them in full effect last night also, so you need to swim if you want to survive.

Let me ask you about where you are right now in Florida City. You're seeing the cars, the good news/bad news. People are being allowed back in if they are residents and business owners, but what do you think the impact is going to be if the reality they find, even if they are coming in with the heart filled with the spirit to rebuild, that Conch spirit that we hear about in the Keys, no gas, no power for a long time.

SUTTA: Yes, I think this is a very hard reality that they are about to meet. In terms of the resilience, these are the most resilient people you will meet in America. It's just unbelievable what they go through and are willing to go through to live where they live here.

So, I have no doubt about their resolve. As they come down, I mean, it's a steady stream. These folks are only able to go to points near Islamorada, which is about halfway down. The lower part, they are still not letting people down there because they are still working on the roads and the neighborhoods.

U.S. 1 may be cleared at this point, but the neighbors they have to get to, just as you're seeing down there, we met a lot of people that are situated here, that are stocked up with gas and all kinds of things to go down there and try to make it.

[08:25:02] But the reality is, without cell phone service, without power, there's a limited amount of time you could probably spend down there comfortably, or if you had the resolve to sort of get things done.

So, it's going to be interested to see what the next weeks and months are going to be for all of these residents. It's -- we know it's going to be challenging. I don't know if they are going to have to leave for a little bit and sort of get everything back together and then come back down and do what they need to do.

CUOMO: It's a tough call, David. We both know that firsthand because we know the reality firsthand. It's one thing to be house proud and then the whole problem of letting pride overwhelm your decisions for your own safety. We'll see what the future holds down here. It's going to be long rebuilding and there's going to be a lot of resources and more importantly, there's going to be a need for a lot of patience.

David Sutta, thank you very much for having the courage to brave out the storm so you can get information out to people as soon as possible. WFOR, CBS 4, is who David Sutta is with, a CNN affiliate, appreciate, brother.

Alisyn, let's send it back to you. I got to tell you, another factor that they're going to deal with. The Conchs, they know this, but for the first responders, the heat, the humidity, even at night it felt like it was about 90 degrees, and the sweat was immediate.

And you saw everybody we met, nobody had a shirt on last night because it's very difficult to be down here in the best of times in this weather at this time of year. Now, no power, no AC, no fans, no relief.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood.

Chris, I am so glad that David just gave us an update on the Key Deer because I already viewers e-mailing me asking to ask if you saw the deer and whether or not they survived.

CUOMO: They are all over the place.

CAMEROTA: They're all over the place and that they survived all of this.

OK, Chris, we'll be back with you in a minute.

Meanwhile, let's talk about flooding, because people in Jacksonville are set to return home after the raging floodwaters ripped through their city. City leaders are lifting an evacuation order just moments ago.

That's where we find CNN's Kaylee Hartung. She's live in Jacksonville with more.

What does it looks like, Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, yesterday, so many were stunned to wake up to pictures of the St. John's River waters rolling through downtown, right here of Hogan Street. At its worse, the water ran as far as you can see here inland. But now, there's mud remaining, debris. Downtown is drying out.

Such an incredible juxtaposition just a day away from a site that none here had ever seen before. At times yesterday, the waters rolling down here were white capping as the wind was ripping through, it became a wind tunnel formed by these high-rises downtown. But now, those waters have receded back into the St John's River here.

Yesterday, we were so stunned to see onlookers checking out the scene here today, these men very calmly sitting here at the river's edge. I would not have dared come this close to the edge, but, Alisyn, you can still see some of the damage here, that floating dock thrusts up against the seawall there.

Life is starting to return to normal, Alisyn. Jacksonville Sheriff's Department saying they rescued more than 350 people. When we visited some of those residential areas today, water, not even in peoples' yards, and all we could find was up to my ankles at street level in riverside and San Marco. Very welcome news for the people of Jacksonville, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Man, what a difference a day makes, Kaylee. That's just incredible to look at the difference between what was a raging river in downtown and now where you are standing. Thank you very much for that reporting.

So, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, Irma's heavy rain, of course, caused a storm surge there as well, and there was also widespread flooding throughout that city. That's where we find CNN's Nick Valencia. He's live in Charleston.

What's it looking like today, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. Good morning, Alisyn.

This is the scene behind me, just off the battery. These streets are accustomed to flooding but not necessarily like this. There was heavy storm surge that came through here last night, high tide just after midnight. That caused a lot of problems here. Mike Stusnick, you lived through this last night and you live here for 15 years. You've been through flooding. How is this different?

MIKE STUSNICK, LIVES IN CHARLESTO, SC: It came in really fast last night.


STUSNICK: Within 20 minutes --

VALENCIA: Yes, show us. Take us down here.

STUSNICK: In 20 minutes, it was up this high yesterday, and we were just praying that it didn't go all the way into the house and it didn't.

VALENCIA: And some of these houses, you guys just recovered from Hurricane Matthew, the damage, the water damage, the wind damage. I mean, how is your home this morning?

STUSNICK: We're OK. The back is still all muddy. Everything is muddy. We still have electricity, which is good. But we're just going to start cleaning up and deal with it just like Matthew.

VALENCIA: I mean, the fact that you are dealing with it just like Matthew with Irma, I mean, that speaks to just big of an area, of an impact it was to the United States, right? STUSNICK: Oh, yes. I didn't really expect it to be this bad here,

you know? So, we're just thankful that we were able to not get flooded, and everybody is OK pretty much down here.