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Devastating Destruction Across the Florida Keys. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 07:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've never seen a storm like this. From Jacksonville to Key West. I mean, that's the length of the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are very anxious. People really want to get back home. It's just not safe yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throughout the state, some 15 million people are still without power.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's devastating. Imagine. You know, this is everything for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to run out of money in a few weeks. The massiveness of this storm is going to take a lot more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty bad. Most of my friends lost their homes and don't have anywhere to go. And it's pretty devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Caribbean is in desperate need of aid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our top priority is our communications, food, water.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: We've got a lot of work to do. But everybody's going to come together, and we're going to get this state rebuilt.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Chris Cuomo here in the Florida Keys. This is your NEW DAY. Show them the sky, the magic of the Keys, the beauty. Even in this fuzzy shot. It's fuzzy because communications are just not up down here. There's no power. There's no water. There is no sewage. There's no Internet. It is -- it is impossible to describe the despair that they're dealing with, especially where we are in Big Pine Key.

We have some of the latest numbers to update you on about Hurricane Irma and her reckoning. Fifty-five lives lost. Twenty-four of them from the United States. Five million customers still without power. Four point three million of those in Florida. The good news, they have restored power to two million customers. So

there is progress to be had, and it's important to seize on that when you're looking around with so much despair. FEMA, though, they have a number that they're putting out about how many of the homes in the Keys have been affected. Ninety percent. Destroyed or damaged.

The problem with that number: I'm not sure how they know. I'm not sure how they can be accurate about who is here, how they are and what there is to do. I know they've been flying over it, but you have to be on the ground. And we're with the men and women who are doing that now, been relaying the information. And they haven't made it through all of the areas yet.

Something like this, they're seeing all the time here. And it takes hours to search a single block.

This is the story of what we've been seeing with the first rescuers in the hardest hit part after Hurricane Irma.


CUOMO (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, downed 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: Yes, you're right. Mother Nature, she does what she wants when she wants to. This is where 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.

[07:05:05] CUOMO: To tell siblings they made it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things are 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 in what was once paradise, so many say they don't know when they'll look at the sky the same way again.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So Chris, look, it's just amazing to have your eyes and your crew on the ground there for us so that we can see all of this and, you know, with our own eyes see what the rebuilding is like.

But we should just also let viewers know that up until about a minute before the show started, we didn't know if you were going to be able to join us. Because the situation is so precarious. I mean, communications obviously are down. And it's just so touch and go there for the people who obviously stayed behind. So give us your impressions. I mean, what's -- what's the most startling thing that you've seen in the past 24 hours?

CUOMO: Well, look, the best answer is that it's hard for me to answer, because we haven't slept. Because these first responders work like men and women possessed. And they are. We're waiting for one of the leaders, one of the assistant chiefs to come from this Task Force Two in Florida. His own home got hit and hit hard. His wife and their two young kids are dealing with it in his absence, because he is here for the people of the Keys. So imagine that being on your head and your heart to start the job.

It is so hot and humid. There's no power. That means there's no AC. There is no water. There is no sewage. There is no fuel. So getting anywhere is risky. We don't have the gas to get home to rebase right now. We'll figure it out. We're with the first responders. We don't want to use their gas.

But life is so hard here, Alisyn, and you don't get it looking at mainland Florida, which was terrible, by the way. It is not in any way to mitigate what they are dealing with. But when FEMA says 90 percent of the homes are affected, damaged or destroyed, this is what we're talking about. This is what people want to come home to right now. And we get it. You and I are homeowners. We get that, you know, home and hearth matter.

But there is no life down here right now. The assistant chief is actually coming down the street right now. So hopefully, we'll be able to get him on. But I'll tell you, Alisyn. I was at Katrina. I was at Rita. I've covered other big hurricanes. This is different.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, Chris, look, you somehow made it to Big Pine Key, just through, you know, with the search-and-rescue guys. Amazing that you were able to make it that far. I understand you also made it to Key West, which is even farther you were able to see. But is it your sense that it's Cudjoe Key, where the eye crossed, that is the most devastated of everything you've seen?

CUOMO: And look, it's the right question, and it is a relative assessment. Key West is not as bad as it is here. It's bad. Not having power, water, sewage. I cannot underestimate what a huge hit that is to civilization. But they are better in terms of abject destruction.

And then as you move up the Keys, we've been to all of them now, to Cudjoe, OK, which people haven't heard of before, but they'll never forget it now, because Irma, it's bad. But then this Big Pine Key, we had not heard about. And then when the first responders said, "No, that's where they tell us we need to start, they haven't left here yet, this Task Force Two." Now they have, like, 200 people with them and all this equipment. The caravan that they have with them is amazing.

But you know, they've only looked at maybe half of it. All right? So that's the perspective. And Alisyn, I'll get back with you in a second, but we have somebody whose time is very valuable. Heather Carruthers. She's with Monroe County Commissioners' Office, OK? And she's going to be in charge and help rebuild and assess down here.

Heather, thank you. I know how busy you are. Thank you for joining us this morning. Where is your level of confidence in the knowledge that you know what the extent of the need is in the Keys and places like Big Pine?

HEATHER CARRUTHERS, MONROE COUNTY COMMISSIONER: That's a tough question to ask. You know, we're going, as you probably know, search- and-rescue teams door to door to figure this out.

Big Pine Key is the lowest lying area of the Florida Keys. And that's why you're seeing the kind of damage that you are there. We know that, you know, frankly, as your -- your spot just showed, communication is a huge issue for us. You know, we're hoping to get that cell tower, cell service back today. And that's going to be extremely helpful in moving along with this recovery. Utilities are a great recovery.

But for a lot of folks between Cudjoe, Big Pine, and Marathon, we have to find temporary housing for them. And that's going to be a big issue, too. You know, one of the things that -- about the Keys is that everybody loves the Keys. And we have a lot of folks. Some folks may not be primary homeowners there. So hopefully, they have another place to be.

But -- but what you're probably seeing is a lot of damage that the people who actually live and work there and keep the Keys moving. So we need to make sure...

CUOMO: He's here right now.

CARRUTHERS: Safety. That they are safe and that they can eat. They can sleep in comfort. We've got to get power back. We're working on that, you know. We're working from the top of the Keys all the way down. And we're going to put this back together.

CUOMO: Well, look, here's what we know from being here on the ground with your first responders. We were with Task Force Two down here, and we've seen the National Guard. The coordination is exemplary. I've never seen better from federal, state, and local. And I've been on the ground for a lot of these.

The issue, and when I heard that FEMA 90 percent number, that's why I'm asking you the question, Heather. Because penetration is the issue. We're watching these men and women. I've never seen anybody work more doggedly than they are. I'm actually worried about them, you know, for how hard they're working night after night. I can barely have words come out of my face, let alone rip open, you know, what's left of a home and save people and watching them do it hour after hour.

But I can't believe that you've gotten intel on all of the areas except from above. Am I wrong about that?

CARRUTHERS: Well, we've got teams in every single area. Don't forget, we've got side (ph) municipalities. We've had people go through all of those municipalities on our call last night and found out, for instance, that Islamorada is clear throughout -- throughout those municipalities.

We really doubt that 90 percent number just because of the length of the Keys. It's so -- it's so long. And we don't know what they really mean by damage. You know, is it significant damage or is it, you know, lost shutters or an awning that ripped off?

So from the air, it may look worse, because so much debris is covering what we're seeing. We know that the city manager in Marathon yesterday said that as they started actually getting back into neighborhoods and getting the debris out of the way that -- that things looked better than their original assessment. And we hope that that's going to be the case as we go through this.

But you're right. We won't know until we literally go door to door. And we've already started that process.

CUOMO: All right. Heather Carruthers, thank you so much, as always. You let us know what information you want to get out. We'll vet it, and we'll help in any way we can. Thank you for joining us.

All right. So that's Heather Carruthers. She's from Monroe County. OK? They're going to be in charge on that governmental level of what's going on. Why do I have the confidence to ask her about the numbers and question the 90 percent? It's not because of what I think. It because of what I've seen, were these two gentlemen. Chief, assistant chief, it's good to have these guys with us. These guys, the chief is running Task Force Two here in Florida, the first responders.

I've been watching your men and women. I can't believe how clean you guys are, by the way. I'm still in the same stuff. You guys look great.

But let's just be honest about what you've been seeing down here, chief. You were sent down here to be the eyes and ears for the government so they understand what the situation is. What have you seen down here so far, and what do you still need to know?

CHIEF JOSEPH ZAHRALBAN, MIAMI FIRE DEPARTMENT: Well, initially upon arriving, we -- we quickly realized we were the first team down here. So we began to gather intelligence. And we were surprised that were were going door to door and we were actually seeing people who stayed behind, who rode out the storm. And initially, they told us to expect 10 to 20 percent of the people. And quite honestly, we didn't really believe it. But when we got down here, we started going door to door. Sure enough, people rode out the storm.

CUOMO: In terms of -- in terms of what you're seeing here, you guys are both very storm savvy. How would you describe what you found on Big Pine Key? ASSISTANT CHIEF SCOTT DEAN, MIAMI FIRE DEPARTMENT: In this area,

complete devastation. Some homes are standing. The majority of them are leveled or completely lost.

CUOMO: Do you think you know yet who's here, who made it, who didn't.

DEAN: On this island, we've done a complete primary search as of yesterday. So we know who the -- state and police. And then we're still making sure we're working with local P.D. for the remaining people that left to make sure where they come from.

CUOMO: How much job is left to do here just for the first responders?

ZAHRALBAN: There's still a lot of ground to cover. As we were working yesterday, we started to see a lot of teams come in. So as they become familiarized with the area. They're going to hit the area. And now you're going to see us start making more progress more quickly.

CUOMO: Biggest surprise for you?

ZAHRALBAN: Probably the attitudes and the resilience of the people that are here.

CUOMO: Do you have a concern about how long you guys can keep going at the pace you've been going at, Scott?

DEAN: No. We're here to help. So we'll keep going as long as they're needing us.

CUOMO: But the -- it's 24/7 for you guys. We're getting a limited first time. I could never do it. I could never keep up with the pace that you're keeping. But it seems like you're lucky if you get through a certain amount. And then it's, well, what do you do for those people, and how do you get power? I mean, how many different boxes need to be checked to get back to normal?

ZAHRALBAN: There's obviously a significant amount of work that needs to be done. The search-and-rescue component of it, especially with the first people on the ground, you want to search them and get as much information and intelligence as possible. We know that there are people that are coming to back us up. So we know that rest is around the corner for us. And as we gather information, more and more resources come. And as we check those boxes, per se, they will ensure that, as those boxes are checked, resources fill the request.

CUOMO: How hard is it for you to deal with the human factor here, the people who are coming up who are so desperate? We're happy to see you. Not everybody. Some who stayed behind, they're worried about looters and stuff. So they're -- they're a little defensive. And that's understandable. These are some -- these are some scary times for them.

But people coming up, the need, the fear, no one knowing where they are. How do you handle that? ZAHRALBAN: It's quite difficult. Because when you see individuals

and you recognize that they are in the midst of a disaster and sometimes themselves don't even realize it because of the -- because of the psyche. You have to make sure that you convey to them that -- you try to make sure that they understand where they are and what's going on. Because even if they don't believe it's an emergent condition today, they have to understand that there's tomorrow, the day after and the week after that.

So they have to have food. They have to have water. They have to be prepared to ride this thing out for the long term.

CUOMO: And, you know, Scott, we were with people in this area yesterday who were saying, "Yes, you know, we're going to stay. We'll see what happens." How do you -- how does that compute to you?

DEAN: They don't want to leave their homes. I understand it. It's going to be a difficult road for them. But they made it through the storm, the hardest part. And I'm very confident, with their resilience, that they're going to keep pushing along and make it through this.

CUOMO: Now, one other thing that matters. Because you guys are machines. But you're also men and women who are down here working. And we always talk about how they're the best of us helping the rest of us and that you're angels here. To a lot of people it sounds like hyperbole. But it's the reality of the commitment. Your house got hit. Your wife, your young kids, they're dealing with it. It's a tone of damage. You're here. How hard is that?

ZAHRALBAN: It's very difficult. Thank God my wife is the backbone of the family, and she's handling all that at home.

DEAN: I already warned him about crying, Chris.

CUOMO: Now, listen, you know, you're both very big men. You feel so deeply, though. And people don't get to see that side of first responders. It's not the muscle; it's not the brain; it's not the know-how. It's the heart that makes this work effective for you guys, and I know that guys are giving you a hard time.

But I have to tell you the response to us has been these -- these are the best among us. And does it give you a sense of satisfaction to know people, they get the commitment?

ZAHRALBAN: It does. But more than anything, it gives me a sense of pride to know that the individuals we have working on the task force and individuals throughout the community are willing to set their own needs aside, their own concerns aside and help their community. I mean, that is what we're here for. That's our primary mission.

CUOMO: Gave you a second. I know it's been hard for you to get coms home. What are your -- do you want to say hello to the wife, say hello to the kids so they know everything's all right?

DEAN: Yes, I talked to them last night so they know we're good. CUOMO: All right. You guys are the best. Thank you very much. We

have some issue that you are obviously freshly showered and have clean clothes on, and we don't. But we'll discuss that. That is the least of our concerns.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for what you do down here and giving perspective that this is far from over. All right? So this is the situation in Big Pine Key. Just one area of Florida. Arguably the hardest hit area. But elsewhere there is great need and despair, as well.

Miguel Marquez, where are you and what's the situation?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in Miami where it is a cake walk compared to what you guys are dealing with down there. It's clearly the Keys have been hit massively by this. But you know, Miami, there was wind; there was flooding. They was lots and lots of lights out. They are coming back along slowly. But still, they're having problems.

[07:20:06] This is one intersection, a major intersection here on U.S. 1. Still, the power is out here. Florida Power & Light says they brought in tens of thousands of workers from out of state, as well as their own working 24/7, trying to get the lights back on. They say by the end of this weekend, most people along the east coast of Florida will have lights. But all communities aren't dealing as well.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cooked the pork chops, chicken and sausage. Done took the sausage off the grill.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Cooking outdoors for many residents in this central Florida town, still without electricity. The only option.

(on camera): How difficult is it to live day to day here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad. And it's hard. We don't got no more meat. When it's gone out, we're done.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): With many displaced by the hurricane, Walker now has eight people living in her house. Today, she's cooking for 12. And she still doesn't know when the lights will come on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You keep calling. They said they don't know when it going to be back on.

MARQUEZ (on camera): So how many times have you called?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've called about 50 times.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Nearly 36 percent of the people here live in poverty. Agriculture, sugar cane, corn field work, much of it temporary, powers the economy.

FONTIL DAITY, BELLE GLADE RESIDENT: As you can see, all our vegetables, we're cooking, and they all is rotten now.

MARQUEZ: Fontil Daity has a wife and five kids. He works translating Creole and English in a local health clinic.

DAITY: It's tough, because I don't have any milk. I couldn't get him milk. Not only is Winn-Dixie closed. But even if I had bought it, I wouldn't be able to store it.

MARQUEZ (on camera): And there's nowhere else for you to go.

DAITY: There's nowhere else for me to go.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The town's main grocery store open. But no power. No meat or milk either.

(on camera): For every day that you're without electricity, how hard is life?

DAITY: Very hard. And stressful. Because you can see how hot the sun is. Imagine you can't turn your AC on.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Here and across Florida, there's not one problem but thousands. Power lines toppled by winds. Some snapped in half. Trees fell everywhere, bringing power lines down with them. Crews from Florida and beyond working around the clock. But the damage widespread and massive.

Water and sometimes ice can't be distributed fast enough here. Fresh food in short supply.

DAITY: I don't know what else we're going to eat. And I drove all the way to Closson (ph) to find some food, but there's nothing. There's no hope.

MARQUEZ (on camera): So what's -- where does the next meal comes from?

DAITY: Just -- no one knows. I don't know. I just put my hope in God.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Mayor Steve Wilson expects full power to be restored by the weekend. Towns across Florida facing unprecedented difficulties.

MAYOR STEVE WILSON, BELLE GLADE, FLORIDA: Belle Glade is probably one of the most diverse cities you will find for a rural community. The first time in the history of Belle Glade we ever had a mandatory evacuation.

MARQUEZ: An historical record they never hope to repeat or break.


MARQUEZ: Now, despite power being out, gas is also in short supply in some places. Even if stations have gas, they don't have power, they can't get the pumps running. Even if the pumps are running, systems need to be set. And it can take hours just to fill up the tank -- Chris.

CUOMO: In some cases, they want to use auxiliary generators for power, but they don't have the diesel fuel. It gets very complicated and circular.

But Miguel, that was great reporting. Thank you very much for getting our hands around the situation. Let's bring in Robert Gould. He's with Florida Power & Light.

Thank you for joining us, especially in such an urgent situation. The numbers that we have most recently is about 5 million customers still without power because of this storm; 4.2 million are estimated to be in Florida. Is that what you know, as well?

ROBERT GOULD, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT: Well, for us, we're making some great progress. We're under two million. We're about 1.9 million customers out of service. We've restored about 60 percent. We're approaching 60 percent of our customers being restored since we got at this. It's about over a day we've been able to bring that many customers back in. That's small solace, obviously, for those that are without power right now.

We're also finding that our -- our rate of restoration compared to Wilma, which is what many people where you're at compare it to, in 2005, our rate of restoration is about four to one faster. So we're making progress, I can assure you.

But it's going to be as slow -- it's going to be a slow go as we get into the latter part of the restoration, just because of the nature of the damage and destruction that we're seeing in some places.

[07:25:00] CUOMO: Yes. We're watching it in real-time. Your men and women are working their butts off. We see trucks everywhere. We see them all day, all night. And there's a whole side story here, Bob, about the money that you guys put into infrastructure specifically down here. The cement poles, the shorter distance between wires and how that may have attributed to this being more manageable than it would have been otherwise.

What about the situation in the Keys? What do you see there in terms of a timetable?

GOULD: Well, the Keys we can't speak to, per se, because we don't serve them. But we do -- you know, we do know that everywhere -- everywhere we go we're seeing the same type of damage. Obviously, they were just devastated down there. But what we're seeing on the west coast in particular is much more encouraging for us than what we had anticipated.

We're seeing some of these cement and steel structures that we've put in over the last decade. They're holding. They weren't on the ground. We're seeing other certain pieces of infrastructure that are in place and ready to go. And that's our backbone. If you think about it, that -- that heavy infrastructure is the interstate highway of our system. That's in place. That allows us to be able to get in faster to restore power, rather than have to rebuild the entire infrastructure.

And that is why we came out yesterday and said, instead of many weeks, we believe we will have essentially restored all customers, particularly on the west coast, by Friday, the 22nd.

CUOMO: All right. There is hope and progress. And we'll keep updating with all the numbers. Give us the information that people need to know. Robert Gould, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

So Alisyn, you know, you see how it all has to work together here. The National Guard has to clear the roads so the power guys can get in there. The first responders have to be there to assess where the houses are and where people still are and their situation. It all has to work together. And the coordination is great. It's just going to take time to penetrate.

And I wanted you to meet these first responders this morning, Alisyn, just so you -- we can be reminded. Not only they're great at their job but they're doing their job under such duress. Not just the heat and the hours. But imagine if your own home had been hit. And you've got a wife and young kids. And you can't be there with them, because you have to be there for everybody else.

CAMEROTA: I know. And they're so modest, obviously, about you know, what heroes they're being. And it was very cute how chagrinned they are by showing any emotion. But Chris, what great stories they have to tell. So thanks. We'll be back with you momentarily.

But for the people who weathered Irma in the Caribbean, what is next for them? What happens when food and water runs out? We have a live report for you next.