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Devastating Destruction Across the Florida Keys; Paradise Lost as Irma Decimates Caribbean Islands. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen a hurricane like this.

[05:59:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I started crying, because I didn't realize how bad this was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FEMA estimates well over half the homes in the Keys had major damage. And one in four destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to go home. I want to see that we have a home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest challenge we have right now is just the lack of power, the lack of water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A humanitarian crisis quickly growing in the Caribbean.

REP. STACEY PLASKETT (D), U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: This is not anything that we could have been prepared for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The goal is to get people back as soon as possible. We're just not prepared to do that at this hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While we may be down, we're not out right now.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, September 13, 6 a.m. here in New York.

The Florida Keys are still reeling from Irma. Folks who evacuated are returning this morning but seeing nothing but devastation. The people are beginning the heart-wrenching task, though, of cleaning up there.

So here's what we know at this hour. The death toll from Irma is 55 people, 24 of them killed in the U.S. That includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And another 31 storm-related deaths across the rest of the Caribbean.

Nearly 5 million people are still without power in the southeast at this hour. The vast majority of them are in Florida, including the hardest hit lower Keys. FEMA estimates 90 percent of homes in the Keys are damaged or destroyed.

All 113 miles of the overseas highway to the Keys is open. But officials do not want residents coming back en masse. They are telling people in the Lower Keys to stay away, because there is still no power, no water. Florida is doing its best to get fuel back to areas with shortages. So ports are reopening. The Florida Highway Patrol is providing escorts for the fuel trucks to get to the hardest hit areas of the state.

Meanwhile, President Trump has announced that he will travel to Florida tomorrow to survey all the damage himself.

Now, where is Chris? Well, Chris is in Florida. He is in Big Pine Key. But all communications there are down. Chris has a satellite phone, which at the moment is not cooperating. However, he already filed this piece for us on all of the things that he saw yesterday as he and the search-and-rescue group that he's with made this trek to the farthest, most remote island on Key West.

So here is what they encountered.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The destruction you haven't seen. The first key, Key West, disabled by Irma. No power, water, gas. No hope for better any time soon.

And yet these scenes, backed up by the fact that so few lost their lives, a better than expected outcome. But each step closer to Cudjoe Key, where Irma's evil eye made landfall, devastation. Blocks of debris, down power lines and mutilated memories, tempest-tossed. More severe than anywhere else in Florida.

First responders of Task Force Two in Florida doing search-and-rescue have never seen anything like this.

(on camera): How do you make sense of all these houses are gone and then this house is standing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Luck of the draw, I guess.

CUOMO (voice-over): Big Pine Key. Not a big pine to be seen here. Houses splintered, gone. Boats everywhere, reminding streets were rivers for hours. Ground littered with personal effects. One tape, a surreal suggestion. Yes, that says gone with the wind.

(on camera): I mean, it looks like you had a crew with sledgehammers in here who are angry at somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're right. Mother Nature does what she wants when she wants to. So the eye hit. So that's why we're focusing our primary search efforts here.

CUOMO (voice-over): Another house blown off its slab and collapsed. A search dog gets excited. The saws and anxious looks come out. Thankfully, nothing worse than spoiled meat this time. Each block can take hours to clear: shouting, sawing, searching, sweaty, sleep- deprived saviors work all day, into night and day again.

Everywhere you walk, a horror of the unknown. And yet, for all that's lost, people remain. They come to us shell-shocked and with the same request: to use our satellite phone, to call and tell loved ones they're alive. This young family lost their home. Solace in survival. A beautiful son who will still have a future.

But this is so hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't get in. The water's still in the house. I can't even get in there yet.

CUOMO: More come, desperate to tell their kids they're OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Jess, I'm alive.

CUOMO: To tell siblings they made it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Incredibly awesome, brother. Me and Mom are OK. Kind of wiped out down here. We'll get in touch with you whenever we can. But we're OK. All right.

CUOMO: This mother and son have each other and their sense of humor.

(on camera): You're the best thing I've seen all day. I want you to know that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blind for how long?

CUOMO: No, no. The best I've seen all day.

(voice-over): They'll need both to make it through the next few weeks and months.


CUOMO: Even speaking French, the message is clear. "I made it, and I will never stay for a hurricane again."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The main thing I said, "I don't care even if we don't have a house." We can rebuild, but as long as we were safe, you know?

CUOMO: Here and what was once paradise, so many say they don't know when they'll look at the sky the same way again.


[06:05:00] CUOMO: All right. Hey, Alisyn, I'm not sure. You know, it's not unusual to have communications problems. All right? We were not using the normal sophisticated equipment that we do. And that's part of it. It's nothing to be concerned about.

To be concerned about is why we don't have the coms. Powder -- power, water, OK, gasoline. They are all in such spare supply right now that this is about time and management of temper. The place looks, as you've seen, post-apocalyptic. OK? We thought we understood it from what we saw on the mainland. Then we thought we understood it from what we saw in Key West. But it is so much worse as you get closer to the eye. Whether it's Cudjoe Key where it came ashore or here in Big Pine Key, we've seen nothing like this.

In fact, I've never seen anything like this from a hurricane. Katrina, we saw it because it was a combination effect of different things. But when FEMA says that 90 percent of the homes may be damaged or destroyed in the Florida Keys, two things.

One, that assessment is largely coming, Alisyn, from the first responders that we're with and their associated organizations. So we've been there in real time. They can't know what the situation is yet. They can't know whether everyone is accounted for yet.

As you saw in the piece, Alisyn, people come running up to us to use our sat phone. They haven't heard from anyone. They haven't spoken to anyone. So this is a very tenuous situation down here in the Keys.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood, Chris. It's great to have the satellite working at the moment. Obviously, everyone knows that it is spotty. But gosh, your piece was so telling. Because you see the desperation in people's eyes. Obviously, they're sad for having lost all of their belongings, but they mostly want to tell their loved ones that they're alive and that they're OK. And they just run up to you, you know, desperate to be able to use this satellite phone. So thank goodness we have that equipment and we are connecting families. Because there are still so many families even today at this hour who don't know if their loved ones made it out OK.

So, Chris, obviously, we will be showing everything that you're seeing and everything that you've uncovered in the past 24 hours to us. But let's -- right now we want to go to Bill Weir. He is also in the Keys. He is also in Big Pine Key. He's on a boat.

Bill, tell us everything that you've seen over the past 12 hours.


Yes, we are actually off Little Porch Key. We're further west of Chris by a couple of miles. But we harbored here in between these -- these Keys. And it's just been an unbelievable journey to get down here.

We left Key Largo yesterday morning, as you know, and motored our way down and stopped along the way. We stopped at Matecumbe Key and saw some of the devastation there. Then we went ashore at Marathon, which is the second largest, most populous key. And it was -- we weren't 50 paces in, and our jaws were on the sand.

We stopped at a place called Sea Point Condominiums. Stopped, because from the distance, it looked like all of the windows had been blown out and the curtains were fluttering in the wind. It turned out it was drying laundry. And we thought, oh, there's proof of life. Fantastic. And we went up to this place and realized that the entire pool, which

is in the post beautiful spot right on this point, the pool had buckled almost like there had been an earthquake. You know, the deck collapsed into itself. Posts were there. And while some of the keys don't have beaches or sand, this one did. And all of the sand had been shoved up into the lobby of this place.

I mean, the sand came up to the midway point on an elevator in the lobby, and the bellman's cart was on its side, buried in sand. And upstairs you could hear the generator running.

And we went up there. I found a guy by the name of William "Gub" Richardson who rode it out. And the first thing he asked was "Could you please tell my family I'm alive." So here you go, Gub. Here's our exchange yesterday. Talk a listen.


WILLIAM RICHARDSON, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I just felt a couple of -- I felt the whole building moving a couple of times.

WEIR: But here's what I want to show. And this is what I think people are going to love. What was the first thing you did after the storm blew over.

RICHARDSON: We put that flag out.

WEIRD: Look at that, Jake.

RICHARDSON: Let people know we were still here and alive.

WEIR: Is this the kind of storm that might make you move up to the mainland?

RICHARDSON: I don't want to go through another one, but I'm not moving out of the Keys.


RICHARDSON: No. I don't want to go through anything stronger than what we've been through.

WEIR: Right. But the chances are you might. That's part of living down here in the beautiful Florida Keys.


WEIR: I'm lost. I don't know.

CAMEROTA: I don't know if Bill can still hear us.

WEIR: I may have lost them.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, I mean, that was the moment -- well, look, I think that that captures exactly what we've seen, Chris, where you are, too. People, this is their lifestyle. They love the Keys. So many people have affection, obviously, for South Florida and the Keys. They vacation there. They have honeymooned there. And to see everything destroyed is heartbreaking to them and to all of us.

CUOMO: No, I hear it.

CAMEROTA: Do you hear us, Chris?

CUOMO: No. Right here.

Yes, I got you, Alisyn. And you're making the exact right point. I mean, just take a look at the house behind us -- just take a look at that house behind us, if you can see us.

I've never seen anything done by a hurricane like this. It is completely hollowed out. And where Bill is in Marathon, it's bad. But it ain't Big Pine Key. And this isn't, you know, a competition for catastrophe. It's just to understand the scale of what they're going to be dealing with here.

We're talking about years of rebuilding. We're talking about months of restoring power and water, essentials for life. And that's the big concern, is about how do you keep people's heads level? How do you keep people OK? How do you allow them to live?

I mean, when we were talking to people yesterday, they'd come up. They'd have a big smile on their face, Alisyn. And it's almost like a form of PTSD. You know, a little bit of light play about being in the Keys, and you know, this was something. And then, when they get to talk to their families, you take a moment and you get to connect with their eyes, they break down almost to a person.

Look at what they lived through here. It's unlike anything I saw. Up there in Naples, that was all for show almost, the wind. You know? It is really about this destruction of lifestyle. And I don't mean that in a frivolous way. Can you work? Can you take care of your kids? Can you get to where you need to go? Do you have sewage? Very basic things. And it is devastation everywhere.

The first responders have not slept. OK? My crew has not slept since we got here. You can't. There's so much need. They're asking these first responders for so many information. Because they're blind down here.

Imagine in today's world, where our kids seem to be able to operate the space shuttle from our iPhones when they get them. Now all of that's gone. They're working on two-way devices, word of mouth. So there is -- you can't overstate the complexity of the situation and the urgency of it. That's here in the Keys. It's not a world away. OK?

But literally, you go just 150 miles, and you're in a different reality. Now Miguel Marquez is in Miami. They got hit. They flooded. But the difference in infrastructure and capability and ability to turn life around is night and day.

Miguel, what are you dealing with in Miami? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's very much like that,

Chris. Look, as tough as it is down there where you guys are right now, Miami, for all the flooding and for all the wind and for all the damage they had here, it is in recovery mode. But it's not there yet.

This is an intersection on U.S. 1. No lights at the intersection. Some lights started to come on just as we were getting to go live here in the immediate area. But still they have to have police cars in certain intersections around town just to get -- to make sure that people are stopping and treating it like a four-way stop, essentially.

Florida Power & Light says along the east coast, they hope to have lights on by the end of this weekend. Along the west coast, they hope to have lights on by the end of next week, next Friday. Except for those areas that were hardest hit by the storm. Severe flooding, tornados, that sort of stuff. That will take longer.

Gasoline also a big issue here. This station obviously closed, wrapped up the pumps. You can't get gas here. Even if the electricity comes on, they may have gas, but they don't have electricity to run the pumps. Even if the electricity comes on, it then takes time to reset the pumps and get things going. You know, we stopped for gas along the way from Punta Gorda to Miami yesterday. It took two hours to get gas, mainly because you had to go inside and pay. The gas pumps are very slow. Everything is just slow. Everything takes a lot more patience here in recovery mode. But it is going to take time.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Miguel, thank you very much. Look, obviously, I mean, all up and down Florida they're in dire straits. Whether or not they're on the mainland or in the islands.

And Chris was talking about sort of this feeling of paradise lost there. You know, that those islands in the space of 24 hours have been thrust back 50 years. You know, they don't have any technology. They don't have water at the moment. They don't have power. They can't communicate with each other. And we're seeing that all throughout the Caribbean, as well.

[06:15:10] So there's another thing to talk about, and that, of course, is there is some looting that's going on. People are desperate on some of the islands in the Caribbean. And that's where we find Clarissa Ward. She's live on the island of Guadeloupe with what the situation is there.

Clarissa, what have you been seeing?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So Alisyn, this is really the staging ground, if you will, for rescue and aid efforts to some of the hardest hit islands in the Caribbean, specifically the island of St. Martin's. Over the past few days, about 4,000 people from St. Martin's have passed through here. This is kind of a processing center at the airport. And all of them, or many of them who we have spoken to have really downright frightening stories, Alisyn.

Because in addition to the horrors that they witnessed of surviving the storm, of not having any power, of not having any water, of having to ration food, they've also been contending with a pretty desperate security situation. I spoke to several people who described gangs of young guys kind of marauding around town, looters, burglaries. They said that all the stores have just been smashed apart. All the food, all the things from the drugstore, for example, have been taken.

And so that has really compounded an already desperate situation.

The French president, Emanuel Macron, because Guadeloupe and St. Martin and St. Bart are French territory, he actually spent the night in St. Martin, trying to show force, trying to show support, saying, "We're going to rebuild this place."

But make no mistake, this is going to be a hugely complicated effort. Two hundred thousand people across the Caribbean in need of aid. Ninety-one percent of the buildings on the island of St. Martin alone have been damaged, many of them wiped out. It's a desperate situation. It's going to take a lot of money, a lot of patience and a lot of coordination, Alisyn, between different countries.

Because of course, while the French are in charge of St. Martin and Guadeloupe, the Dutch also have territory in St. Martin. The Americans and the Brits have the Virgin Islands. This is going to be a massive cross-cultural and highly expensive exercise.

But for now, Alisyn, the real focus is on trying to get people out who still want to get out. There are still thousands of people on St. Martin. The situation, while aid is starting to get in there, is still very desperate indeed, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Clarissa, thank you very much for that update. So let's talk about that. Let's talk about how to get aid right now to the people who most desperately need it. So we have officials joining us from the Virgin Islands to tell us what they're doing, next.


[06:21:27] CUOMO: I know it may seem like you now understand the full extent of Hurricane Irma and what she did and what the numbers are with power outages. But until you have seen what is going on down here in the Florida Keys, and not Key West, because they got lucky by comparison. They have huge problems with power and sewage. But until you see what's going on here, you can't understand how great the need is, emergency need for the people who are here and the people who want to return.

And this is not the worst of it in the Keys. The Virgin Islands, Cuba, terrible. We have Representative Stacey Plaskett on the phone right now. She's in St. Croix. She represents the Virgin Islands in Congress.

Can you hear us?


CUOMO: Good. Please, take us through what the situation is there. It's hard for us on the two satellites that we're on. So just tell us what's going on.

PLASKETT: Great. Thanks so much for having me. Good morning, everyone.

I'm here on the island of St. Croix, which is south of St. Thomas and St. John. St. Croix was, thankfully, not hit in the manner in which St. Thomas and St. John were.

As you guys are aware, Hurricane Irma came from the north, swept across St. John and then hit St. Thomas. Really, we got practically the eye of the storm while it was a Category 5. So although we have most of our infrastructure passing to code, we lost -- we could never have prepared for a hurricane of that force, and we lost really essential buildings on the island of St. Thomas and St. John.

Our hospital is now -- the roof came off of the hospital. Airport, the terminals appears as if it was been blown out from the inside, grenades were tossed inside. Air traffic control, government facilities. It just goes on and on in terms of the devastation.

We however, unlike some of the other islands that you've shown in the Caribbean, are part of the United States. We're all American citizens. So FEMA has been working very closely with our governor, with our local emergency management system even before the storm to prepare for this, so we have provisions. People were embedded here, Department of Defense. There were naval ships, three ships. One parked away and staged ready to come in once the hurricane was passed.

But the destruction looks -- it just looks like annihilation here. Going to St. Thomas, St. John feels as if it's the end of the battle when you're walking through.

But Virgin Islanders are really pulling together in this respect. Although all of our utility has been lost on St. John, St. Thomas had about 70 percent utility loss, we are trying to recover. Last night we lost one of our linemen for our -- our power company working on the lines, trying to restore power in some of the critical areas of downtown Charlotte Amalie. He was in the the Sugarus State area. And so the recovery continues.

While our local government is working with the federal government in terms of managing, bringing in the resources from the federal government, maintaining rule of law, helping with security, setting up distribution centers, Virgin Islanders themselves have pulled together.

As I said, St. Croix is a staging area. I've been on the ground in St. Thomas, spent several days there. The other day was able to go to St. Thomas and St. John on a fast boat 40 miles away from St. Croix, going over to St. Thomas. And it looks like a flotilla on the water, Chris, Alisyn, with individuals who are packing up ferries, boats, bringing provisions over, taking generators, batteries. When they are there and taking everything off, bringing individuals back onto St. Croix from St. Thomas and St. John. People are also very self- organized.

[06:25:28] People are also very self-organized. When I went to St. John, where there had been -- before we got communications, people were confusing what was happening on St. Martin with what's happening on St. John. While, of course, there's always people will take advantage. The people of St. John are collecting debris themselves, barging things out, setting up evacuation of those that needed to leave the island. It's been an incredible thing to watch.

But it's going to take a tremendously long time. We'll probably be without power for many months here in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And there's the issue of schools. Where are the young people going to school? Many will go to family in the states, going to the island of St. Croix. We have a huge logistical issue that our governor is doing a yeoman's job of trying to take care. And we've really gotten great support from the federal government.

CUOMO: What is -- if you can still hear me, Stacey, what is your biggest set of concerns in the near term, in the next few weeks, next few months?

PLASKETT: In the near time, short-term, our concerns are of course going to be making sure that people have what they need, the basic necessities.

You know, we live on an island surrounded by water, but it's not water we can drink. But if you look at St. Thomas and St. John, they're completely brown. Our ground is brown from the salt blast that has just engulfed the island. It looks as if everything had been burnt off.

So having provisions -- shelter, food, water, as you talked about earlier on other islands, gasoline, petroleum. Those are the concerns that we have on the short-term.

Medium term, of course, it's going to be the building that needs to be done. How do we prepare ourselves as an island for -- we're still in the rainy season. There's still other hurricanes coming. And also bringing things back up.

But in the long term, one, better left -- ensuring that we're not forgotten as Houston and Florida begin working on tax relief for hurricane efforts. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Talk with the chairman about ensuring that the Virgin Islands is included in that. Have had conversations with Speaker Ryan as well as Leader Pelosi to ensure that any other additional supplementals include the Virgin Islands.

But this is -- we're heading now into October. We're going into our tourist season. Because we've had enormous economic crises here in the Virgin Islands, we've been relying heavily on tourism. And for St. Thomas and St. John, it appears as if they're going to be losing a tourist season. We're trying to route things to St. Croix. But we need to think long term about how are we going to sustain ourselves economically and financially, as well.

CUOMO: All right. Stacey Plaskett, thank you very much. That was a very helpful report on what is going on there. We will stay in touch. You know how to get us. Tell us the information that needs to get out. And I appreciate you being on.


CUOMO: So that's Stacey Plaskett, telling me about what's going on in the Virgin Islands. You have a very similar situation here in the Florida Keys to what you were just hearing described in the Caribbean. Except there's a material difference.

People here are having a great expectation of things getting back to normal quickly. They're not used to having no power, no water, no sewage, no ability to get around. And most importantly, no ability to communicate. So we're going to take a break now, and when we come back, to see how people respond to the ability just to tell others, their loved ones that they're OK. They haven't spoken to them in days. There are families all over our country, all over the world waiting to hear if their loved ones are OK. We have that message for you this morning.