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Category 4 Hurricane Charley Aims At Fort Myers, Fla.; Richard Codey Press Conference; Shasta Lake Fire

Aired August 13, 2004 - 14:29   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Charley is growing stronger, more dangerous and it is changing paths. In the past hour, the hurricane center in Miami changed it from a Category 3 to a Category 4 hurricane. And forecasters say it's moving toward Fort Myers, instead of Tampa.
Still, Charley's threat not being taken lightly to the north of Tampa.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck is watching things from there -- Harris.


As you know, a Category 4 storm can have the potential for causing a lot of flooding. Fourteen-foot storm surges expected in many low-lying areas of this part of the western coast of Florida. For that reason, the authorities have asked nearly two million people to evacuate their homes on coastal communities and, particularly in mobile home parks, because the Category 4 storm has the potential for completely destroying mobile homes.

As I said, nearly two million people have been traveling toward shelters, toward the homes of friend and family, away from Tampa since yesterday. Several CNN crews were able to witness many vehicles on the highways and interstates leading east of here since yesterday.

And again, the authorities have been all day taking to the airwaves and taking to the radio, urging citizens who are in these communities to get out of the storm's path, although the storm will hit south of here now, it still is expected to cause lots of flooding, with potentially lots of damage here in the Tampa Bay area.

Preparations for the onslaught of Hurricane Charley, of course, have been going on for a few days now. We've even, as late as around noon today, we were able to see people still boarding up storefronts here in downtown Tampa Bay, buying supplies and basically just preparing for what could be a very, very long night here in the Tampa Bay area -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Harris Whitbeck in Tampa -- Fredricka.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Tampa isn't the only Florida west coast city expected to bear the brunt of Charley, but Fort Myers, as well. And that's where we find Dan Sheldon of WBBH. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SHELDON, WBBH REPORTER: The winds are just howling. I can't even describe how hard the winds are blowing. Just a few minutes ago, we actually wandered out close to the water, as close as we can get. The wind almost knocked us down, and I weigh close to 200 pounds. That is how hard this wind is blowing out here right now.

Let me just step out of the way and you can get a feel for what the Gulf of Mexico is doing. It is just churning up. We've been talking about storm surge all day, and as we sat out here over the hour to half hour, we have watched the Gulf of Mexico start creeping closer and closer to us, probably gained about 100 yards in just the last hour.

Let me also pan over. We are in a good shelter spot right now. But we're going to pan over and let you see some of the palm trees just to see the power of the wind that we are experiencing out here. I'd say some of the Gulf gusts, we're experiencing are 50, 60, maybe 75, 80 miles per hour at this point, which is one the reasons we're about to take shelter.

And things are very treacherous, which is why, like you have said, people need to start moving up, which is exactly what we're going to do. We showed you our shot earlier from our fifth-floor room. That's where we'll be broadcasting from the rest of the day, safely, inside and above the storm surge.


WHITFIELD: All right, that was Dan Sheldon of WBBH in Fort Myers, Florida -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to keep you up to date. We're going to check in with the National Hurricane Center, Orelon Sidney up in the Weather Center. We've got the capability of looking at some web cams all along the beaches in this part of Florida to get a sense of what's going on there as well. We'll take you on a tour of that. We're all over the storm, so stay with us.

Ahead on LIVE FROM as well, round two. Golf's best players are teeing off in Wisconsin, where the weather is a little better than it is in Florida, although not so great.

And Colin Powell had an unusual photo-op today with a cat. We'll explain that one, as well.


WHITFIELD: The National Hurricane Center is tracking Charley. Deputy director Ed Rappaport joins us live from Miami, Florida with an update on this storm.

And so far, Ed, how far off the West Coast does it appear Charley is right now? ED RAPPAPORT, NATL. HURRICANE CTR., DEP. DIR.: Charley is just off the West Coast now. It's only about 30 or 40 miles offshore, which means that the center is going to come over land in the next two hours or so, and preceded by the worst of the weather here. So in the hour or so, there's going to be a rapid deterioration in conditions.

This is the Sanibel area, Charlotte Harbor, Fort Myers. That area is going to receive the worse of the weather with Charley, winds of about 145 miles per hour in that narrow eyewall and a storm surge that could be from 10 to 15 feet. That's what we're showing here in this graphic here. The red area is storm surge of about 10 feet or higher.

WHITFIELD: Wow, and so we've seen that Charley has taken a turn over the past hour with Fort Myers, as you said now, really, kind of being targeted by Charley, but just because of that, these wind bands and rain bands are really far reaching. It doesn't mean Tampa is out of the woods at all, right?

RAPPAPORT: No, but by comparison, it's going to be a much better day and evening up there in the Tampa area. They're going to be on the, what we call the weaker side of the storm and away from the worst of the weather. This is a very compact hurricane, so very intense, right near the center. Here's the track of the center as we're forecasting it now, strongest storm surge just to the south and east, again, as much as 10 to 15 feet in this rather limited area, but there's a significant population here.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and a significant population that refused to evacuate. We talked to someone with a fire department in that region a little bit earlier, saying that a number of the people who refused to evacuate are mostly elderly people, which is going to make it that much more concerning for those emergency workers.

RAPPAPORT: That's right. And right now, we got to the point where the hurricane force winds are just off shore. This is the time to be in as solid a structure as you possibly can, not the time to be venturing outside.

WHITFIELD: With this storm about 30 or 40 miles off the coast then there then from Fort Myers, your predictions on when that area might start to feel the brunt of that storm.

RAPPAPORT: Well, conditions are beginning to deteriorate right now. Hurricane force winds will be moving ashore within an hour, and then the worse of the weather in about two hours, first in the Sanibel area, and then moving inland from there.

WHITFIELD: And we're talking about storm surges of up to 12 feet, and oftentimes it's the storm surge that does some of the most significant damage. Is that how you see it this time?

RAPPAPORT: Well, historically the greatest loss of life in hurricanes has been storm surge, and we're concerned in this case about this very high storm surge that will be accompanying Charley. In addition, we have winds that are strong enough to do structural damage, so it's a good time to be in the safest structure, in an interior room if possible in the building.

WHITFIELD: Now, let's talk about your concerns, once that storm then brushes by or carries over some of those coastal communities, then going inland, over land in Florida, and then possibly picking up on the other side in the Atlantic along the coast.

RAPPAPORT: That's right. This hurricane is strong enough that we may see hurricane-force winds extend along the track very close to the center across most of the peninsula, again, right near the center and exiting off the northeast coast in the next 12 hours or so. They are now hurricane warnings up on the east coast of Florida, extending northward.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ed Rappaport, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

RAPPAPORT: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And now to continue on to a political storm of another sort in New Jersey, we're hearing some responses now coming from the rather abrupt resignation of James McGreevey, and now we're hearing from Richard Cody, who is in West Orange, New Jersey. We want to take you there live right now.


RICHARD CODEY (D-NJ), STATE SENATE PRESIDENT: Yesterday, the governor pledged to facilitate a reasonable transition of power. I, today, also pledge to make this upcoming transition as smooth and as orderly as possible.

This is a time for all of us to pull together as one united people. In the last 12 hours, I've reached out to leaders on both sides of the aisle to let them know that my primary concern during this period is the continuity of the New Jersey state government.

This is the time for the people's business, not for partisan politics.

I am honored to take on this responsibility and will put my complete effort to the task ahead. The residents of the state of New Jersey deserve and will receive no less.

I am humbled by the many words of encouragement I received from the Senate caucus, numerous other state leaders, and everyday citizens I've had the opportunity to speak with.

I will not disappoint them.

Thank you.

Your questions?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, if this, in the governor's words, is the right thing to do, for him to step down because incapable of being governor any longer, why shouldn't he step down right away?

CODEY: The governor made a decision to step down on November 15th. And according to the constitution there will be the regular election in November of 2005. He's very simply following the constitution, as I am required to do as well, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He could step down now, can't he?

CODEY: As I said, he made the decision. He made it without any input from me. He informed me of that decision. And we're bound by that decision, and we're bound by the constitution, sir. And the constitution relates to both Democrats and Republicans in these kinds of situations, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But do you feel he's capable of governing for the next three months?

CODEY: I think he's capable of governing and giving a smooth transition over to the next governor.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We're looking beyond the first (INAUDIBLE) and we're actually looking at the possible (INAUDIBLE). Is that something you're going to have to (INAUDIBLE)?

CODEY: In regards to what, sir?


CODEY: Being employed by the State of New Jersey?

WHITFIELD: All right, we've been listening to Richard Codey, Democratic state Senator in New Jersey. He is going to become the acting New Jersey governor now that Governor James McGreevey has decided to step down officially mid-November. That term would continue until January, then a new election would be held -- Miles?

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Fredricka.

Charley is headed toward Charlotte, that's Charlotte Harbor. And that is the place where Hurricane Charley, now a Category 4 storm, seems headed with its tremendously strong winds. A big storm, a storm to pay a lot of attention to.

Christy Arnold with us on the line right now. She is near Charlotte Harbor, which appears to be the bullseye point for Charley. What do see and hear right now, Christy?

CHRISTY ARNOLD, REPORTER, "CHARLOTTE SUN": Right now, the skies are starting to turn a little bit darker. The winds have started to picking up a bit. So at this point, we're just bracing and getting ready to face Charley here.

O'BRIEN: All right. And where you are right now, do you have a sense that people have evacuated? There was some talk earlier about the fact that so much focus on Tampa Bay and more northern landfall might have left a lot of people still in their homes in your part of the world.

ARNOLD: Well, though a lot of the attention was focused on the Tampa area, our local emergency management officials have been preparing for this all along. Evacuations of the barrier islands began last night, and they were urging evacuations in the downtown Punta Gorda area, as well as some other parts of Charlotte County.

And then at about 11:15 this morning, there were mandatory evacuations of the entire downtown Punta Gorda area. So, the evacuations have been in place. Our shelters are filling up, if not already completely full. So, I think people have been taking it seriously for the most part. Of course, there's always going to be a small percentage who don't. But for the most part, everyone is taking it serious and getting ready now for Charley to come here.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, we're certainly glad to hear that, that all of this was in place. Just walking around the streets right now where you are, is it pretty well deserted?

ARNOLD: It is. I was in downtown Punta Gorda this morning -- which is actually where I live, before I was evacuated, as well -- and it was pretty much just a ghost town. Most of the people on my street had either left or were just hiding inside, basically. All the businesses had been shut down. The streets were pretty much empty.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christy Arnold, who's a reporter for the "Charlotte Sun," be safe, and thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

ARNOLD: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: All right -- Fredricka.

ARNOLD: Bye, bye.

WHITFIELD: Well, from a hurricane on the west coast of Florida to wildfires now on the west coast of the United States. A blaze at Shasta Lake in northern California has burned 7,500 acres and destroyed at least 67 homes.

For the latest, let's go to our Miguel Marquez who is in Shasta Lake. What's happening right now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's happening now seems to be mostly the clean up of a very large fire. They've updated those figures just a bit: 8,030 acres at this point. The Bear Fire has eaten up south of Shasta Lake here 67 homes, 30 outbuildings, and 10 vehicles. Sixty percent contained, they're saying.

And this is one neighborhood that was hit the hardest. It's a ravine. We're on ravine drive, and it's a ravine which acts like a channel or a chimney for fire and for heat. As these things burn, they burn uphill very quickly. You can see a crew up there getting on the fire poles and getting that thing -- getting the electricity back up in this neighborhood.

What I was surprised to see this morning, as we came in very early, that a lot of the electricity is on in this neighborhood already, and some fire crews in here, as well, that are putting out hot spots in this neighborhood, as well.

This fire was sparked by an individual who was mowing dry grass with a lawn mower, and it sparked it off. He has been cited, and people I talked to in this neighborhood are sharing some of their frustrations with the way this fire started.


LEE SEELY: I don't think anybody would intentionally do anything as dangerous as that, but perhaps that individual didn't know. But I can't pass judgment. I don't know. I'm sure there's some contempt there for someone being that negligent.


MARQUEZ: I can tell you when people are off camera, the words get a lot more colorful for the individual. Authorities are not naming who that is right now, for obvious reasons -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Miguel Marquez, thanks very much, from Shasta Lake -- Miles?

O'BRIEN: All right, on the line with us now as we continue our coverage of Hurricane Charley, Category 4 storm, is Gary Vickers. He's with the Florida State Emergency Center in Fort Myers, which is on the receiving end of the brunt of Charley as we speak and in the coming hours.

Gary, just bring us up to date. Give us the big picture: What you know about evacuations; how successful those evacuations have been.

GARY VICKERS, FLA EMERGENCY MGMT. SERVICE: Hello, Miles. So far as it is, 250,000 people have already been evacuated from this county from their homes, and we're extending the evacuation further north all the way through Bradenton and Manatee County itself.

O'BRIEN: All right, that's a significant swath of turf there.


O'BRIEN: Did folks cooperate pretty well on the evacuation order, given the fact that we were focusing so much of our attention on possibility of Tampa being the target?

VICKERS: Well, everyone is evacuating, as far as I -- you know, I mean, I would encourage everyone, if you've been ordered to evacuate your home, the best thing to do is evacuate. Don't try to sit and wait it out, because this is a killer. This is a, you know, Category 4 and a finger of God, pretty much.

And it's also a blast of wind from Howard Stern's ass.

O'BRIEN: Oh, boy. All right. Thank you very much. Let's end that call, and we will take a break from our Hurricane Charley coverage.

Head toward a drier climate. 2004 Summer Olympic Games are officially underway. The opening ceremony began last hour in Athens. Hundreds of drummers were to march into the stadiums. Greek mythology is playing a big role in the big-budget extravaganza. The world's greatest athletes will represent their nations for 16 days of competition.

Whistling on the greens. Second round play in the PGA Championship is underway. Golf's best players are teeing off at the Whistling Straits course in Haven, Wisconsin. But the world's number one ranked player is having a few problems.

CNN Sports's Patrick Snell, live from the course with the leaders and the latest on today's play. Patrick, how's it's going there today?


Welcome back to Whistling Straits. An enthralling day two in progress. Yes, Tiger Woods has just begun his round. More on him in just a minute.

All the big guns out on the course. Some of them have completed. First of all, let's check in on the fortunes of Ernie Els, the big South African who was a 66 through his first round. His second round has begun, and he's moved to 7 under par. Els, of course, who finished runner up at the British Open recently in Scotland. In fact, twice, he's finished second in this year's majors. He's aiming to put that right. And Ernie, I think, very much feeling as though he has a point to prove.

Now, much expected from lefty Phil Mickelson, who's had a great year. He won Masters, of course, and his round two has been completed. And a mixed day for him. He started at 3 under par, and he pretty quickly got to 6 under par. He, of course, is looking to become the first player ever to have topped three finishes in all four majors in a calendar year.

I can tell you, he dropped three laterally in his round and he ended back where he started, that was at 3 under par after a double bogey and a bogey in the closing holes. So, Mickelson at 3 under. But I've just been hearing him speaking at his post-round press conference, and he said he's satisfied and believes that he will be very much in contention over the next two rounds.

Now, what about the world number one Tiger Woods? He went into it at 3 over par and, with much pressure -- trying to avoid the unthinkable from his point of view, which would be to miss the cut for the first time ever in a major since he turned pro. He shot a 75 in the opening rounds. And I can tell you that he has begun on the first hole, and he remains at 3 over par. So, Woods with much to do if he's to try and avoid the cut.

So, who is the leader? Well, I can tell you that in the lead we have Briny Baird, who has completed his second round. He shot a 69, that was 8 under par. So, we are looking, perhaps, at another first- time major winner, certainly Baird will be hoping. So, it really is an intriguing two-and-a-half days play to come here at Whistling Straits -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you Mr. Snell. We appreciate that. Fredricka has a theory on why he is playing better.

WHITFIELD: Because he is so much more fit -- physically fit.

O'BRIEN: Physically fit.

WHITFIELD: And Phil Mickelson has worked on that.

O'BRIEN: Here is my theory.


O'BRIEN: Hit them straight, hit them long.

WHITFIELD: And I say, now that he has less middle, he can do that.

O'BRIEN: Get rid of the middle. Get rid of the middle.

All right, let's check in with Rhonda Schaffler to see what her theory on why he's playing better.


I do, though, have a new report that details exactly who's getting the most out of President Bush's tax cuts. Give you a hint on this one: It's not the average Joe. Full story, coming up right after the break.


O'BRIEN: Only or 80 so days left in the presidential race.

WHITFIELD: It's hard to believe.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it just flies by.

WHITFIELD: Time flies when you're having fun.

O'BRIEN: Fun. The home stretch, as they say. Of course, it really isn't until after Labor Day that it's the official home stretch.

Nevertheless, a lot of talk about tax cuts.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and I think Rhonda Schaffler has a little bit more on that chitter chatter out there.

SCHAFFLER: That's right. The talk is on who exactly benefited. Democrats have been saying all along, now news reports are more or less confirming what, perhaps, some of those Democrats have been saying, that a new bipartisan report shows there is an issue with who exactly was getting the benefits of those tax breaks.

According to the CBO, President Bush's tax cuts are shifting a heavier burden onto middle class families, and the super rich are getting the biggest benefits.

Taking a look at the numbers. Those at either end of the income scale paid just a little bit less of total federal taxes, but the tax burden on the middle class jumped almost 1%. Congressional and Democratic analysis of the numbers shows the richest 1% are getting 70 times the average benefit of middle class families. The tax cuts average more than $78,000.

Republican defenders of the tax cuts say the nation's richest are still paying the largest portion of their earnings in taxes. So, the debate continues -- Miles?

O'BRIEN: All right, what's shaking on Wall Street today? Does anybody care about the storm there? Does that impact the market at all?

SCHAFFLER: Well, it potentially could. Obviously in a situation like this, you watch some insurance stocks closely. And depending on how bad that storm hits, there will be, of course, questions on rebuilding.

As far as today, though, what's impacting the markets really more than anything else, it's what's happening with oil prices. Stocks barely budging, but oil prices are on the move. And that's one reason why the market's been in a slump.

At this point, oil surging about $1 a barrel, trading at $46.50. You know what that means? It's another record. Adding fuel to oil's hike, news today that an explosion at a refinery in Indiana and signs that China's demand continues to grow. China's crude conception up some 40% in July.

So, because oil's prices continue to rise, stocks fall. The Dow off better than seven points, and the Nasdaq, at this point, is adding a quarter percent helped along by a strong earning's report by Dell.

That's the very latest from here on Wall Street. Miles, Fredricka, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Rhonda Schaffler.

Hurricane Charley takes aim at Florida's west coast. WHITFIELD: And a big concern, the storm surge. How high could it go? We're in depth on the predictions on that and just where the storm is headed, right after this.



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