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Charley Speeds Up to Category 4 Hurricane

Aired August 13, 2004 - 15:29   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Our live coverage continues of Hurricane Charley zeroing in on Florida's West Coast. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien at the CNN Center in Atlanta. At this hour, Hurricane Charley is stronger and more dangerous than ever, a Category 4 storm packing 145-mile-an-hour sustained winds. The storm is barreling in on the Gulf Coast -- Candy.

CROWLEY: An expected landfall in the Sarasota-Charlotte County area. Forecasters now say the storm surge could reach 20 feet. That is the height of a two-story building, threatening to wash away anything and everything in its path that's not nailed down.

O'BRIEN: Fearing the worst, hundreds of thousands of people in the storm zone fled to safer ground. Local airports are closed, along with many vacation spots, including Disney World. And Governor Jeb Bush already has asked the president to declare a federal disaster emergency.

Meteorologist Orelon Sidney has been in the Weather Center tracking this thing from the start. She has the latest for us -- Orelon.


As you reported, in the last half-hour, we're now watching the center of the storm just off the coast now. These are the Barrier Islands right here. Here's Port Charlotte -- or, excuse me, here's Charlotte Harbor, Port Charlotte here to the north. And you can see that the center of the storm now is just scraping these Barrier Islands.

There it is. That that's center. There are the strongest thunderstorms, the highest cloud tops, and the orange and the yellow right in here. And you can see that those very outer edges are now starting to scrape those regions.

We did get wind gusts. The last hour I looked, reports of up around 49 mile-an-hour wind gusts. That's tropical storm-force wind gusts, but that was at Fort Myers and Orlando. These locations are getting much, much stronger winds, obviously hurricane force.

Probably not going to get any reports out of here for a while. But those areas are definitely under the gun right now. Definitely going to see a problem there. This is a little bit different perspective showing you the storm moving in. Here is the big trough of low pressure that's been affecting the track of the storm, actually pushing it now, we think, to the north and east. It will be affecting Orlando this afternoon, up towards Jacksonville, and then probably continuing along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

Anywhere the land juts into the water could have a problem. Places like perhaps Wilmington, parts of North Carolina. Donna, believe this, in 1960 actually passed through Rhode Island, Block Island, Rhode Island, with hurricane-force winds once it followed a very similar track across Florida.

So not out of the woods yet. We took a little bit of a different vantage point. We wanted to show you Orlando now getting some of those rain bands move going through.

And look at the East Coast. Interstate 95, Titusville, just off to your west, you've got a very, very strong squall there in one of the rain bands. Tornado watch is in effective until 5:00 p.m. They will reissue another tornado watch, probably moving in a little bit further north as we go on through the evening.

It's not over yet. It's just gotten started -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Orelon, remind us, what you have is a counterclockwise rotation of wind, correct?

SIDNEY: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: Which means that the storm surge and all of the -- the portion that this is worst of it actually is sort of south of the eye wall? Is that correct?

SIDNEY: Well, it depends -- all of it depends on how you orient the storm to where it's making landfall. I'm going to see if I can advance this a little bit and give you a little better perspective here.

Depending on how the center of the storm comes in, here now is Charlotte Harbor. You can see that the water coming in from the southwest would be the worst case scenario. There's the harbor, and there's actually the Peace River that continues up about like this.

It looks now as if the winds are more backing. The winds are coming around counterclockwise. As the center of the storm passes through, then, the winds will start to come up through the south. And that's when you're going to see the greatest storm surge.

So we're not concerned about storm surge too much now in Charlotte Harbor. That's going to be once the center passes and the winds start to switch around.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's -- Orelon, stay close.

Let's get down on the ground, shall we? Trey Radel is in Naples, a little south of that area, all the attention you're focusing on right now. Nevertheless, I was making that point about that counterclockwise rotation. And there it is, case in point. That's what happens as that swirl of rain and moistures comes and bears in on the southern end of where the eye is making landfall.

Trey, big significant difference in conditions than when we last saw you.

TREY RADEL, REPORTER: Yes. And you know what? As a matter of fact, when you watch some of those bands on the radar, as you see them come in, we're feeling them here on the ground.

One minute, it'll be pretty relaxed, the rain isn't too hard, and then you get this: it's starting to pour right now, and you can feel a little bit more of those wind gusts coming in. And those wind gusts can be certainly dangerous.

Want to take a look at the parking lot here at the building that we're hunkered down at right now, at some of the debris that has been thrown into the parking lot. And a lot of Naples is like this, debris strewn all around.

And if we look up a little bit on a banyan tree -- that's a pretty common tree here in southwest Florida -- you could see, if you can, even with this rain pelting that camera, where part of it is starting to split. And it's that type of stuff that falls right off of the trees, and certainly dangerous if there are cars or people anywhere around.

We're going to look at some of these other palm trees here to really show you exactly how much that wind is blowing. And we're actually going to have to hold on here. I'm going to grab the cameraman.

Sorry about that. But this certainly signifies the kind of wind gusts that we are dealing with here.

Power out in some parts of Naples, power out in Marco Island. That's just south of Naples. And the power is out -- emergency service workers are only responding to cases that they have to. They're evaluating it call by call because, as they've told us, they do not want to go out on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are the words that they have used.

So, again, here in southwest Florida we're taking a beating.

O'BRIEN: All right. Trey, I'm going to hang on to you as long as we can here. I'm afraid your camera's about to go south, and I would invite your photographer, if he has a handkerchief, feel free to wipe the lens there so we can see you there.

Give us a sense. Do you have any -- thank you. Much better. Now we can see you. Give us a sense, if you would. Do you have any idea how big these gusts are right now?

RADEL: No. Quite frankly, I have no idea what the speeds are. But I can tell you, that I'm just shy of 200 pounds, six feet tall, and I'm having a heck of a time just trying to -- to stay put here, because this wind is knocking me off balance.

I'm going to have to hold on to the rail, actually, as we continue to speak with you, Miles. So whatever they are, they're tough.

O'BRIEN: All right. Stay there for a second.

Orelon, what do we know about where Trey is right now as far as the wind gusts that he's encountering right now?

SIDNEY: Right. He's in Naples, and I just asked Dave Hennan (ph) to check with the National Weather Service station hourlies that come out. They come out at the top of the hour, but in a situation like this, they'll put out specials to indicate the wind speed and the wind gusts.

The last we got was a 400 knot wind gust. That was at the top of the hour. They may not be reporting wind speeds now.

They may have lost their anemometer. There may be a problem with them reporting in. At this point, we don't know.

I was trying to get an idea just looking at the kinds of situations that he's in, if I could get an idea of the wind speed. But it's very difficult to tell from the picture. But the last report we had at the top of the hour was 40 knots. It's about 43 miles an hour, but I'm sure that it is worse than that now. We're just not getting reports from that particular station at this time.

O'BRIEN: Yes..

I think -- I think, Trey, you're probably in excess of 43 knots now, certainly gusting at that level. And Orelon I think would bear this out, that you may be -- you're fairly far south of that eye wall, and where the eye is going to make landfall. But you're really going to get a licking there, aren't you?

Trey, you got me? Can you hear me?


O'BRIEN: All right. I'm just...

RADEL: Yes, I'm sorry. I lost you there for a second. I've got you back now.

O'BRIEN: All right. You back with us? All right.

And the only point I was trying to make is that -- and we need to stress this. We focus a lot in our coverage on where the eye is headed really, but really it's a big swath of turf that is in jeopardy here. Give us a sense, how big or these objects you see that are blowing through there?

RADEL: Well, to give you an idea, again, if we could take a quick look at this debris, these are pretty large branches that have just broken off of these trees, snapped off and thrown around. When we were out and about earlier, again, power lines down now. And those power lines, certainly -- it was actually a pole that fell.

Now, those are certainly planted into the ground, concrete, whatever it may be. Pretty strong. And one of those was knocked down. While I was in the car driving, I don't know, about an hour, hour and a half ago now, the car was shaking.

For any of you now watching, if you've ever seen a news crew out in the field, you see that sometimes we put those very large masts up into the sky in order to have a live shot. I was in side the live van and the mast was shaking so bad from the gusts of wind that it felt like it was going to knock the van over. Quite frankly, I felt seasick, it got so intense at sometimes.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That -- kids, don't try that one at home.


O'BRIEN: Keep the mast down and seek another way to get your live shot back in there.

What other precautions have you been taking? You actually came off the beach, didn't you? And we can only imagine what it's like there.

RADEL: Miles, I'm losing you again here.

O'BRIEN: All right. Are you back with me?

RADEL: I think you asked me about precautions?

O'BRIEN: Well, I was going to ask you, you told me -- when we last spoke, you mentioned you were on the beach and that you moved inland. So we can only imagine what it's like there. But what that hints at is the kind of precautions that you and your crew are taking right now. Right now do you feel like you're fairly in much of a safe place to ride out this storm and yet report on it?

RADEL: Yes. At this point, the building that we are in right now is an older building, concrete. I feel safe here.

I'm with the rest of our CBS affiliate reporters here in southwest Florida in our Collier County bureau. And I feel safe. The beach area, though, not so safe.

A little bit ago, when we were there, if you're still with me -- I hope you are -- when we were there, people really weren't taking this too seriously. There were quite -- there were probably 30 to 40 surfers out in the water when Charley started to move on to shore.

Some of those surfers were thrown into the Naples Pier, which is a pier that extends out pretty far into the Gulf of Mexico. And they were thrown in. Firefighters, as well as police officers, had to dive into that water to pull them out. This is no joking matter. It can be very dangerous at times. I understand our -- we're getting a little clouded here. We're going to go ahead and wipe off one more time.

O'BRIEN: Well, I'll tell you what, Trey. We need let you go because your station has been very generous with your time, WINK, down there in Fort Myers. And we thank you very much for your time and want to invite you to be safe.

We just got word from the weather department that it appears Charley is now headed toward Fort Myers, which would mean a little more of a dogleg to the right and farther to the south than we had been saying. We've been saying the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, which is Punta Gorda, which is a little bit north of Fort Myers.

Let's send it up to Orelon Sidney, who's up in the weather center, and get the latest on all that -- Orelon.

SIDNEY: Thanks a lot, Miles.

I was taking a look at that myself. And I think what may be happening here is that we have a little bit of a wobble of the center.

Of course, what we're doing, we're splitting hairs here, as you said before. When your winds are this strong, does it really matter where the center of the storm is? Well, it does in the sense that that's where your very strongest winds are. And that matters as far as landfall, actually calling a landfall. I still think it's going to be somewhere here, maybe just west of Port Charlotte.

When you get a situation like this in the center, sometimes you can get a little bit of a wobble, kind of like a washing machine that's off balance. It starts to wobble around a little bit and can give you the impression, maybe that it's going in a little different direction.

So I have to keep an eye on it over the next few frames. But it does look like it's continuing to rotate right up those Barrier Islands, again, towards Port Charlotte. I'm looking at this peninsula here as a potential area of landfall. And you can see that it's really close to the coast right here.

Look at this. Some folks, if there's anybody left here, are certainly going to get in the clear when this moves across.

Still, holding the winds now at 145. Still holding a Category 4. And still a long way to go before folks in this part of Florida are out of the woods.

O'BRIEN: And one point to make here, Orelon. The path of this particular storm, it has such a northerly component. It almost has -- you almost get the sense that it's going to kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the coast as it goes along. In a way, that could really be a worst case scenario along the west coast of Florida.

SIDNEY: Well, we certainly hope that doesn't happen. What we were -- we put our heads together here, and of course the official track from the Hurricane Center still shows that it looks like it's going to make its way on in.

As it start to interact with land -- and, remember, it's also interacting with that trough to the north -- it may decide to take a jog or two. The center of it, again, I think is moving pretty much almost due north now.

Again, it's hard to tell, but it looks like it's pretty much all due north. And I then think it's going to continue to move northeast because there's that trough up there.

Remember when you went outside this morning, Miles, how nice and cool it was here in Atlanta?

O'BRIEN: It was quite nice, yes.

SIDNEY: That trough that's pushed the cold air southward, that cold air is right across the northern part of Florida. And that cold air is going to shove the storm off to the northeast.

When it starts to get its influence in will determine when we actually get the center of the storm to make landfall. But it's going to be somewhere very close here between Charlotte Harbor and Sarasota. And it looks like it's going to be sooner, rather than later -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. An awful lot to consider when you're trying to forecast something like this. Orelon Sidney, thank you very much.

We'll send it to Candy in Washington.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Miles.

We want to, of course, go right back to Florida. And on the ground we -- actually, no, we're not going to do that. We are, as I understand it, now going to talk to -- OK, we are going to go back to Tampa, Florida, north of where we were before.

This, of course, is Harris Whitbeck, our correspondent there.

Now, we're told that it's not going to hit Tampa anymore. I'm wondering what the scene is there now -- Harris.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, we're about 120 miles north of Fort Myers, which, as you know, has taken the brunt of the hurricane right now. The situation here nowhere near as intense as it is down there. But authorities here are still taking lots of precautions.

We understand that statewide, 205 shelters have been opened. About 25,000 people are in those shelters now. And the authorities are telling people in this area, too, that if they have not evacuated their homes at this point, to not do so, that the best they can do at this stage is to just sit at home and ride it out.

The situation here, of course, is much calmer. There is a very light rain and light gusts of wind. But the authorities are concerned that if people try to get back on the roads now and try to leave their shelters, if they are shelters, to return to their homes, they might face problems because the tropical force -- tropical storm-force winds associated with the hurricane that will hit the Tampa area are still quite strong and could cause sever damage, especially to vehicles on highways and the many bridges and causeways that are in the Tampa area -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Harris, you know, what are authorities saying just particularly in the Tampa area, other than stay where you are? Do they expect that there will be heavy damage there? I mean, is it sort of an all clear?

WHITBECK: Well, there is definitely not an all clear yet, Candy. As you know, this story has been changing rather quickly.

Just a few hours ago, we were expecting the eye of Hurricane Charley to hit right here in Tampa -- in downtown Tampa, where we are standing. Within a matter of hours, the situation changed, the hurricane started veering off in another direction. But, again, the authorities are insisting that Tampa is certainly not yet out of the woods.

There could still be strong winds here, and there could be some flooding associated with that storm. So the authorities are saying to people, stick where you are, either stay in the shelters or stay at home. Don't go out on the streets.

CROWLEY: So who is doing all -- I mean, is it -- obviously, the power is still up there. It seems to me that, you know, where before we were just sort of talking about a city that was barren, are people pretty much doing what they've asked them to do, stay off the streets, stay where you are?

WHITBECK: Yes, they are off the streets. We were able to go out earlier today, and the streets are virtually deserted.

Now, there is, as you say, electrical power, things are in that sense. I mean, there are basic services going on, and that isn't a major problem. But the streets are deserted. People do seem to be heeding the authority's call to stay off the streets, at least until this storm passes.

Again, the authorities insisting that while the eye of the storm won't pass through Tampa, or is not likely to pass through Tampa at this hour, the winds and the rains that are associated with that storm certainly can have an effective here in the Tampa area.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Harris Whitbeck in -- watching Tampa for us.

We're talking a lot about those shelters, so we want go to Ed Lavandera, not too far from where Harris Whitbeck is, in Dunedin, Florida.

Tell me what you can, Ed. Is that a full shelter? What are people doing? How do they pass the time? What are they hearing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're probably pretty bored, although they have been paying quite a bit of attention to this latest news and they're obviously very happy to hear it, at least for the sake up here, that the storm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the brunt of it drifting a little bit south. You know, a lot of people wondering just exactly when we're going to start feeling the effects of this hurricane.

Quite frankly, we really haven't felt much so far. A little bit of drizzle outside now, but this is a far cry from what people here were expecting.

This is one of almost 200 shelters that have been opened up across the state. More than 16,000 people, we understand, have been put in these shelters or have come to these shelters so far. But they do have room for much more.

However, at this point, with Hurricane Charley, the first effects starting to come onshore now, it's doubtful that many more people will be able to get in -- these people. A couple of hours ago, state officials were urging people to get to these shelters, if they were going to go, as quickly as possible, and that the sense of urgency was really building.

So as, you know, the storm coming onshore now makes it a little bit more difficult and much more precarious to even start getting out on the roadways to try to make it to one of these shelters. And that's exactly what, you know, emergency officials are worried about.

As the rain starts coming and the flooding begins, they're hoping that most people who were going to get to shelters did make it there in time so that they can just wait it out here. And as Harris was talking about, you know, up here I think we're seeing the same. There's not an exodus here of people trying to leave. They seem content just to wait out the storm here and see what happens over the next 12 hours or so -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Ed Lavandera, waiting out the storm with a lot of Floridians.

CNN will be right back.



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