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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Hurricane Charley: Continued Coverage As Storm Treks North
Aired August 14, 2004 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: In Iraq, military attacks on insurgents in Najaf could resume any time now. Negotiations with rebels loyal to renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr failed today. Al- Sadr's Mehdi army has been battling U.S. and Iraqi government forces in Najaf for more than a week now.
It looks like two Greek sports stars won't compete in the Olympic Games. The Greek Olympic Committee withdrew its top two sprinters today, because they skipped a mandatory drug test on Thursday. The International Olympic Committee plans a Monday hearing on the incident.
The U.S. can boast of a new Olympic gold medal, in swimming. Michael Phelps, on a quest for eight medals in all, won a gold in Athens today in the men's 400 individual medley. His time of 4:8:26, setting a world record. Fellow American Erik Vendt won the silver.
Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.
Now, back to our coverage of what's now being called a tropical storm Charley. Our meteorologist Orelon Sidney is tracking it from our weather center. Hi again, Orelon.
ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot. We're still looking at the storm system moving up the eastern seaboard. Looks like the center is going to be working offshore, excuse me, at least into the Chesapeake Bay a little bit later on.
Right now, the center is continuing here, north of Wilmington, about to make its way towards Norfolk. And then I think for a short time, it's going to be out, kind of half on/half off the coast as it moves through the Delmarva.
We're currently now looking at visible satellite image, and that's what you would see if you could go out into space and look down on Earth, that's what it would look like right now. All the white puffy clouds, of course, indicating the big thunderstorms. And you can see that it's continuing now to rotate.
You guys in Greenville, North Carolina, you are going to be a lot better off here in about half an hour, as that storm, the heaviest rains and the heaviest thunderstorms now start to move to the north of you.
But it's going to do downhill in place likes Roanoke Rapids and continuing again up to Norfolk and Newport News. Be prepared for gusty winds and frequent lightning, as well as we're looking at some heavy rain. We're continuing to see showers and thunderstorms now, working towards Richmond. Continuing also to work towards Norfolk.
Heaviest rain, remember, is down to your south. We still have tropical storm warnings in effect all along the East Coast, from the Merrimack River, southward down to South Carolina.
Take a look at some of the most recent intense hurricanes, as far as the damage estimates. Look at hurricane Andrew, back from 1992, and really, just far and away the most dangerous and the most deadly -- well, not the most deadly but the most certainly costly storm, $34 billion in damage. Hugo is next with nine billion, and Agnes and Betsy, Camille is down here at six billion; all of this adjusted to 2000 dollars -- the year 2000 dollars.
This is something we're going to certainly keep an eye on as far as Charley is concerned, because it's not done yet, continuing to work its way up the coast. It could bring some very heavy rain, and some local flash flooding. We'll keep an eye on that. The National Hurricane Center is going to put up a new advisory in an hour. I'll bring the information to you as soon as I get it -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks very much, Orelon. We know you will.
Well, the brunt of hurricane Charley pounded ashore near Punta Gorda, Florida. Emergency and rescue teams are there searching through the debris and the damaged buildings looking for victims. Our John Zarrella is in Punta Gorda; he joins us live. Hi, John.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredericka. That's exactly right. As the day has worn on, still no more indication of what those search and rescue teams, those urban search and rescue teams have found. But this is the kind of debris that you are seeing behind me. Now, these are shops, but this is the kind of debris they've got to search through as they're looking for people who may be holed up somewhere.
This is a beauty salon here at a strip mall that's just off of 41, the main route into and out of -- the north/south route, that is -- through Punta Gorda.
And down to the left of that, another shop, that one a vacant shop. And as you continue down, it's more of the same, one after the other. There's a sundry shop, with cards in it. And all, of course, of the glass, all these glass windows completely blown out. Pretty much a total loss here in this particular building; the ceiling is down. Part of the roof is actually off, you can actually see the light coming straight down from that roof that's now been blown open, the top blown off.
And again, as I said, this is what they're seeing in many, many places all around Punta Gorda. And to get a real, their arms around it, it is going to take some days, the magnitude of this.
They know it's catastrophic. The emergency manager here very early today told me, this was his hurricane Andrew, this was catastrophic to the people here. I talked to a gentleman and his son just a few minutes ago, who came up to us, looking for water. He has four kids and his wife. Their house is OK. They've got some holes in the roof, but the roof didn't come off. He has no water, he's got no food, he has no electricity, no gas, nothing, and he's not sure how they are going to get through, waiting to see what kind of help they can get. There is no place that they can go.
And the rumors are spreading, just like the rumors that spread after hurricane Andrew. He came to us saying, my God, we hear there are two more storms coming our way. The same kind of thing rippled through the community back then in '92, when people were frightened that not only this one, but another one was coming their way. So you add fright on top of it, and rumors on top of what's going on, and you can tell the kind of emotion that is running here, and that paper thin strand between people just losing it and those that are holding on, as this damage assessment goes on here.
So very, very difficult times. You can't overestimate -- you can't really overestimate how bad it is here for the people here in Punta Gorda -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, John, indeed, it's a fragile state in which to be in.
Earlier, we talked with the PIO at the sheriff's department who talked about national guardsmen, who were starting to walk around the Punta Gorda area. Do you have an understanding as to whether they are a part of the search and rescue mission, or are they just trying to offer protection to some of those properties, to keep any looting from taking place, the kind of looting we saw after hurricane Andrew?
ZARRELLA: Exactly. And that's exactly right. You get the national guardsmen are out to protect property, to protect lives, and in fact that's what that gentleman told us. He said he wouldn't leave his house anyway, because he was afraid looters would come in.
And so yes, the National Guard are out, particularly in the hardest hit areas, to make sure that they can protect the property and protect the lives of the people who are still in those properties from any potential looting that might take place.
But as of this point, fortunately, we've heard no reports, no stories of any of that taking place here in Punta Gorda.
WHITFIELD: All right, John Zarrella, in Punta Gorda, thanks very much, where they are assessing the damage and still searching for the missing.
Right now, it's a very different situation in places like North Carolina. Let's go there, where our Bob Franken is, and he's now seeing the sun peak through the clouds and also enjoying a bit of the view of the high surf. He's with us live by phone from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, due east of Wilmington, and north of where hurricane Charley came ashore. Well, it wasn't so mild just a short time ago there, was it, Bob? BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it wasn't. But the devastation that John Zarrella described in Punta Gorda just sharpens the feeling of relief here. The entire storm lasted just a little bit over an hour. It moved through fairly quickly. And of course, by the time it got here, it had been reduced to a tropical storm, and there were just gusts of winds that never even got close to the 73 degree mark, which would have moved it into the hurricane category.
And as a result, the damage was minimal. About the most lingering after-effect is the fact that power is out in a lot of places, including now the spot from which I speak. But people were never ordered to leave, and most people who had not finished their vacation stayed, as a matter of fact. The beaches have people walking up and down, and the surf is very rough, too rough to go into the water right now. At one point on the beach, there is a lifeguard's chair that was blown over.
But none of the devastation that can accompany a very severe hurricane here. In 1954 and then again in 1996, when there were category four hurricanes, this entire barrier island, which is what Wrightsville Beach is, the entire island was completely underwater. The city just submerged, except, as somebody pointed out to us, the police department. In this particular case and that police department officials who have gone through this so many times, said all the signs pointed to the absence of a need to have a mandatory evacuation, which of course causes all kinds of problems.
The worries of flooding, because the storm went through so quickly, are minimal also. So this was one, unlike the past and unlike what happened in Punta Gorda that really ended up being just a minimal distraction here at Wrightsville Beach -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, Bob Franken, thanks very much, from with Wrightsville Beach. I know that people there are breathing a huge sigh of relief, even though they are still trying to assess any kind of potential damage out there.
Well, before Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, Charley brushed by parts of South Carolina. There, mandatory evacuations have emptied the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, crowded with some 180,000 tourists and residents. That evacuation order has now been lifted, but much of the area is still without power. Our David Mattingly is in Myrtle Beach, and joins me by telephone as well. And David, what is taking place there?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the sun is shining, it is a beautiful day to be on the beach, but there is a lot of cleaning up to do in Myrtle Beach, and all along the Grand Strand, as they call it. This is the state's biggest tourism area. That evacuation order that sent 180,000 tourists and residents packing last night has been lifted. But if people decide to go back right away, they might find that the electricity is off and the phones aren't working, and that their hotels may not be open for business just yet.
County emergency management officials tell us crews are working to clear roadways. We've seen a lot of trees and power lines down, and some localized flooding. Power companies reporting almost 100,000 customers without electricity along the coast. They have already started working on restoring some of that electricity. Clearly, Charley was significantly weakened but it still packed a brief punch as it made landfall here in South Carolina as a category one hurricane. Localized winds ranged from 70 to 80 miles per hour, and those winds carried a lot of rain, dumping it in a very short period of time.
The storm surge, usually a problem in this situation, was not a problem this time, however. Charley arrived during low tide, greatly reducing the risk of flooding and beach erosion -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: All right, David Mattingly, thanks so much for that report from Myrtle Beach.
And we'll have more of our special coverage right after this.
WHITFIELD: Well, parts of Florida saw the worst of Charley, and there, volunteers are expected to play a tremendous role in disaster recovery efforts, but state officials warn those roles need to be well coordinated.
Alex Amparo is head of Florida Governor Jeb Bush's Committee on Volunteerism, and he joins me from the emergency management center in Tallahassee, Florida. Good to see you, Mr. Amparo.
ALEX AMPARO, FLORIDA COMMITTEE ON VOLUNTEERISM: Hi there. How are you doing.
WHITFIELD: So -- I'm doing pretty good. So in what capacity are you hoping volunteers could help?
AMPARO: Pardon me. Could you repeat that question?
WHITFIELD: In what capacity do you hope that volunteers might help?
AMPARO: Well, there's a tremendous role for volunteers in this effort. Initially, they're working -- we're working with voluntary agencies, non-government agencies, faith-based organizations that are working as we speak now to meet the needs of disaster victims. It could be in feeding lines, it is helping them remove debris from their -- from their yards. In multiple ways, it's happening as we speak.
WHITFIELD: And at the same time as you do that, you want to make sure that there's a coordinated effort, right, so that their efforts, the volunteers, don't conflict with your staffers?
AMPARO: Absolutely. What we're working now is coordinating this effort of volunteer agencies and people who want to volunteer with the first responders who are out there, working diligently on search and rescue missions. It has to be a coordinated effort. That's why we're encouraging everyone who wants to volunteer to contact or to register on our Web site, www.volunteerflorida.org. We're also encouraging the public that wants to donate and help these organizations that are helping those survivors right now. The most effective way to help them right now is through a financial contribution. You can also go to that Web site where you'll see a list of organizations that we're working with currently to help those disaster survivors.
WHITFIELD: And explain to me how vital it is to have volunteers help in efforts like this?
AMPARO: It's tremendous. In my years in working in this industry, business, without volunteers, we cannot recover. And we recover a lot quicker with the use of volunteers and the use of -- and the help that voluntary agencies do.
Volunteers have a wonderful sense of compassion to a community that is very vulnerable at this stage. And we don't see disaster recovery without volunteers or voluntary agencies and faith-based organizations.
WHITFIELD: So is there sort of a crash course to help these volunteers prepare that you all put them through, so that they can indeed meet all the needs of those who need it?
AMPARO: Ma'am, we encourage people who want to volunteer to affiliate themselves with an organization. We're coordinating this effort and we want it to happen as most efficiently as possible. In terms of training of volunteers, we encourage that through a disaster relief organization such as Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the Southern Baptists, all these organizations and many more that I haven't mentioned are just doing a wonderful job. And so we're really trying to support them.
Again, though, before people show up on site, they have to confirm the need.
WHITFIELD: But even if you're not part of an organization and you are somebody who wants to volunteer, it's as simple as going to that Web site for some instructions on what to do next?
AMPARO: Absolutely. If you're not, we try to affiliate volunteers with an organization. If that's not possible, when you register, we try to match the needs that -- the requests that we're getting from counties with the registrations that we've gotten online. So please use that as a first step.
WHITFIELD: All right. And on the Internet, one more time, that address is www.volunteerflorida.org. And you also said there is a phone number that people can make some kind of financial contribution. And what is that?
AMPARO: It's 1-800-FL-HELP1. And I'll say that again, 1-800- 354-3571.
WHITFIELD: All right. Alex Amparo, thanks so much. And you all are looking for volunteers. Got a figure on how many you need? AMPARO: At this point, what we're doing is the registration. As we identify the opportunities, we're matching them. We're in this for the long haul, so we encourage people to stay with us as we go through this process.
WHITFIELD: And this process could take weeks if not months. So the more help you can get, the better. And for those of you who may want to lend a helping hand to the folks in need in Florida, that Web site, again, is www.volunteerflorida.org, or the number is 1-800-71- HELP1, which is also 1-800-354-3571, right, Alex?
AMPARO: That's right. That's it.
WHITFIELD: Alex Amparo, head of Florida Governor Jeb Bush's Committee on Volunteerism, thanks so much.
AMPARO: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Well, Orlando International Airport has now reopened. Commercial flights resumed about an hour ago. Flights had been on hold for much of the day, after Charley's winds ripped off sections of the airport's roof, and littered debris across its taxiways. But the taxiways are now clear, thankfully, and our Gary Tuchman is looking at the damage in Orlando. He joins us live.
What's it look like out there, Gary?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, the Park Lake Presbyterian Church has been in this east Orlando neighborhood since 1925, and for each and every one of those 79 years, and probably a lot longer, church goers on hot, sunny Orlando days would get shade from a huge oak tree right next door to this church. But those days are now over.
This is an example of what we see all over central Florida. Huge trees that have been downed from the winds from this hurricane that came through here last night, around 9:00 Eastern time.
This tree is about 50 feet tall. And you can get an idea of the power of these winds, which were clocked at 105 miles per hour at the international airport. Just look at this piece of earth that was ripped out of the ground. I'm 6'1", and this is taller than me. This shows you -- the grass is still even in here, but the earth was ripped out, and the tree ended up on the ground. And everywhere we drive from here to Daytona Beach, which is 60 miles to the east of here, we see trees down, we see power lines down, and lots of roofs. We see roofs that have been taken off of buildings, roofs that have been taken off of homes. Most of it partial damage, very little catastrophic damage. But no one expected any damage, because we're here in the interior of Florida. These people obviously very surprised.
As you mentioned, the airport -- it's not only damaged the Orlando International Airport but also the Executive Airport, that's the airport where people fly their private planes. We saw many planes that were toppled over from the damage from hurricane Charley. Now, today, as people were clearing up, the weather got very bad again. People who weren't experienced with hurricanes were asking me, is the hurricane coming back or something? Torrential downpours for a couple of hours today. At least one funnel cloud was spotted, and that certainly delayed cleanup activities here in the area.
But this is a very remarkable system for this reason. Usually, when there are warnings, people on the coast prepare for it, they know it's coming, they've been talking about it. But here in Orlando, there were thousands and thousands of people who came here to get away from the Gulf Coast. They did not expect this. And especially in Daytona Beach, where we spent the night last night, the hotels were virtually 100 percent full with people trying to get away from the hurricane, who ended up getting hit by 100 mile per hour winds -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: So, Gary, a lot of superficial, cosmetic damage there, but we're talking about winds that were upwards of 90 miles per hour there in Orlando. You talk about how people were very surprised, because these are the kind of winds that you would ordinarily experience on either coast when a hurricane threat is there.
TUCHMAN: That's right. And we're very grateful, as are all the people here, that there wasn't catastrophic damage. But it's very widespread, and you see it everywhere you drive along that 60-mile trek, and still, Fredricka, tens of thousands of people in central Florida without power.
WHITFIELD: So no reports of serious injuries?
TUCHMAN: There's one death, a very sad story, a little girl driving with her family near Orlando, and a huge truck from the wind blew over, landed on top of their car, and this little girl, who was 4 or 5 years old, was killed.
WHITFIELD: Oh, OK. Thanks so much. Gary Tuchman reporting from Orlando.
And we'll have more of our special coverage of hurricane Charley and the aftermath, when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back to our special coverage. We want to join WTVT, our affiliate, with their special coverage. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Main Street, in downtown Wauchula. Some of these buildings are so old, you see the roof collapsed on that one. They date back to the Florida cracker trail days. Wauchula a very old town. You can see the extensive damage to these storefronts on Main Street in Wauchula, as we roll down Main Street here. Wauchula, the people tell me, that it was hit very hard. The winds were very strong.
The good news, as of right now, the information, only six minor injuries in Hardee County. The hospital in Wauchula received some damage, but they are seeing people who are injured, but again, only six minor injuries reported in Wauchula.
All power is out in Wauchula. That includes Bowling Green, Zolfo (ph) Springs. So there is no electricity in this, and emergency officials are urging people to stay off the roadways, so that emergency crews can get in here and restore power.
I just got off the phone with the emergency operations manager. He tells me that Hardee County can expect to be without power for up to seven days. For up to seven days without power in Hardee County.
And look, as we roll down the street here, some of these older trees that are uprooted. You know, we had the situation where we had the saturated ground and all the heavy rain weakened the root structure. When these high winds came along, they just uprooted all these trees.
You're seeing metal debris on the parking lots, on the ground. This is Main Street apartment, just out of downtown Wauchula. Look at that power pole that snapped and hit a car.
Now, the people that were here at this apartment complex rode out the storm in there, and they describe it as the scariest thing they have ever experienced. A lot of children in there with them and so forth. They were out of power when this rolled through, and when that power pole came down, luckily, those lines weren't charged because the power was already out in Wauchula.
And look at that clouds. Now, this is about the time, around noon time today, that a heavy thunderstorm rolled through Wauchula. And look at that cloud, the dark skies you see as we roll and see the debris over here to the left side of your screen. Again, these are very old buildings. They took the faces off these buildings.
Now, the good news is that these buildings weren't totally exploded and destroyed. Remember, hurricane Andrew, we saw homes and buildings that looked like they had been hit by bombs.
The damage here is more like you would see with widespread high wind as opposed to very isolated tornadic activity. This would be a wide swath of wind, if you will.
This glass that you're seeing -- this is J. & J. Jewelry Store (ph) on Main Street. The whole glass taken out of their window here as it crashed, and another view down Main Street in Wauchula, as you see the traffic moving without traffic lights. During the rain that came about 12 noon, people had to retreat from repairing their damage, and of course as Jim Webber (ph) just told us, some of these areas expecting another round of bad weather from heavy thunderstorms, so people need to keep their eyes to the sky.
The situation here in Hardee County is just one that isn't good, it isn't good at all. People are without electricity, they don't have water. Again, emergency food and water will be given out, is being given out, if not now, very soon. In the parking lot, in the parking lot of the Cash n' Carry (ph) on U.S. 17 in Wauchula. Emergency housing available at Wauchula school, near downtown Wauchula.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that emergency housing available at Wauchula elementary school. That was Lloyd Sours (ph) reporting. We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: All right, that update coming from our affiliate WTVT.
Now, to our continuing special coverage. Florida is reeling from the worst of hurricane Charley's fury. President George Bush has declared the state a major disaster area.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow, I am going to travel down to Florida to visit with those whose lives have been hurt by hurricane Charley. Just want them to know that our federal government is responding quickly. We have got aid stations in place. FEMA federal officials are on the ground, working with state and local officials. Many lives have been affected by this hurricane. And I know you'll join me in sending our prayers to those people who look for solace and help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The president is in Iowa, campaigning for reelection today. He plans to tour some of Florida's worst hit areas tomorrow with his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won't be going to storm-ravaged Florida immediately. He says he's doesn't want to disrupt the recovery efforts there.
In a statement released from the campaign trail in Oregon, Kerry extends sympathies to the victims of hurricane Charley, and he promises full support to President Bush and his brother in helping Floridians rebuild their communities and their lives.
Residents of Florida's Gulf Coast had been watching Charley for more than a day, when it suddenly gathered enough strength and turned east quickly. Here's how it unfolded, as reported by some local affiliates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've heard the phrase "rapidly deteriorating weather" a lot this afternoon. We wanted to kind of show you what that looks like from up here. These are the 60- or 70-mile an hour gusts. I can tell you what that sound was that you heard in the studio a few minutes ago. We lost a satellite dish up here. We're about to lose an antenna over there.
At the southern most point, waves crashed out of the ocean, hitting anyone standing too close. It's a powerful sight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty crazy. I've never seen anything like it before. I've never seen the waves come over the wall like that before.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down the street, debris crashed out of the water, carried by angry waves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had some winds probably pushing 60 miles an hour. We've got a lot of breakers coming over our seawall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 50 miles south of the strike zone, Craig and Bill, before we get into some video, I want to show you the breaks in the clouds over. For about the past hour and a half, we've been experiencing a very violent feeder band, some very strong storms that went through here... 75 mile an hour winds, a lot of driving rain, and this stuff hurts when it hits you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here on Venice Beach, which is roughly about a half an hour, 35 minutes north of Port Charlotte. And right now, the winds are picking up quite a bit. A rough estimate, maybe 20, 25 miles per hour, coming out of the north. The rain is starting to get a little bit heavier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are bands of the storm, across us, behind us right now. You can see that they're moving fairly rapidly. Like I said, boy, 15, 20 minutes ago, there was hardly any wind here at all. But now, it's definitely picked up.
WHITFIELD: That report coming from our affiliates, a variation of them. Well, the latest on Hurricane Charley is straight ahead, but first, here's a look at what's happening now in the news.
A breakdown in peace talks with fighters loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The interim Iraqi government says it has exhausted all efforts, and military operations against al-Sadr's forces in Najaf will resume.
Two more Americans have died in Iraq. A soldier and a marine were killed in action, in separate incidents. They were in Iraq's Al- Anbar province. 935 American troops have been killed to date in the war in Iraq.
And word this afternoon that former Representative Bill Ford, a Democrat from Michigan who served 30 years in the House, has died at the age of 77. Ford left office in 1995. Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.
WHITFIELD: Now back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Charley, it is now a tropical storm. But before it weakened, Charley battered the South Carolina coast with wind gusts of up to 90 miles per hour. The storm is still threatening floods and tornadoes as it passes over North Carolina and into Virginia.
But the worst destruction was in Florida. Governor Jeb Bush toured some of the worst hit areas by helicopter. He says the aftermath reminded him of Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. Body bags have been ordered in Punta Gorda, just north of Ft. Myers, on Florida's west coast. Florida officials say the city was ground zero for the storm. At its worst, the hurricane's wind gusts topped 180 miles per hour in that area yesterday.
Well, it's been a very busy day, and yesterday as well, for our Meteorologist Orelon Sidney...
WHITFIELD: Well, thanks a lot Orelon, appreciate it. Well, Federal Emergency Management Officials already are getting to work in Florida to help the many communities there recover. Mike Bolch is FEMA's federal coordination officer. He joins me by telephone from Tallahassee. And Mr. Bolch, we heard earlier during the FEMA press conference that your primary focus right now is search and rescue. And so, how are you going about doing that?
MIKE BOLCH, FEMA FEDERAL COORDINATION OFFICER: Well, we have several teams of urban search and rescue specialists who are going through the hardest impacted counties of south Florida at this time, with local officials. They have their own transportation. They have high water vehicles, and they're going house to house, making searches for people who are stranded or people who are injured and need assistance.
WHITFIELD: And then, also, those who have special needs. Medical supplies are beginning to trickle in. How are you able to distribute that to those who need them?
BOLCH: We have several disaster medical assistance teams in Florida right now. They've come from different parts of the United States. We're working in conjunction with the State of Florida and the local officials to get those individuals and their specialties out into the field, and also get needed medical supplies and things like that that they need to the disaster victims -- again, based on where the most need is.
WHITFIELD: Now, because FEMA reported earlier that a big problem you're encountering is impassable roads, or in a lot of cases, the lights are inoperable, so you're discouraging people from getting out and about. But then, how are you all able to maneuver all these obstacles to get the aid out?
BOLCH: Well, our teams are highly trained. Many of them have done this before and experienced this type of situation. And again, they go in with special vehicles -- vehicles with enough power and enough ground clearance that they can get to where they need to go. And additionally, we have air access from helicopters and airplanes that are doing surveys.
So we're able to get around. But we do it with the utmost caution. And again, we're doing it in conjunction with the state. And the State of Florida and the local officials have done a great job on identifying locations where the high water lines exists. WHITFIELD: Now, communication is a big problem. Phone lines are down, cell phones aren't necessarily working in all regions. So how is FEMA trying to help facilitate, once you reach people who have survived this storm, how do you help them get the word out to their friends and family that they're OK, that they could be crossed off the missing persons list?
BOLCH: Well, we're using several mechanisms -- one, the news media has been very cooperative in helping get the word out. The news media have come to our briefings and have put the word out for disaster victims to call FEMA for assistance, and also to call their local emergency management agencies. So word is getting out and people are starting to call and let us know what type of assistance they need.
WHITFIELD: Now, after Floyd in North Carolina, we saw this kind of sight. We saw campers set up for temporary residence, which actually ended up, you know, being more than months, but into years. After Hurricane Andrew, we saw tent cities. What are you all envisioning for the hardest hit areas throughout Florida, particularly along the west coast?
BOLCH: Well, right now, we're working out a long-term strategic plan for housing. We're also bringing in assets. We try to stay away from using tents, because that's really not an optimal thing for people to live in. There's not a lot of privacy. We need something that's more safe and secure and sanitary for disaster victims.
WHITFIELD: For example, what would that be?
BOLCH: Well, hotel rooms, other accommodations that are around, vacant dormitory rooms, places in local communities that could put them up, shelters that are outside the affected areas. And also, as you said, there may be some amount of trailers or mobile homes that we bring in and set up a location for people to live in.
WHITFIELD: So, for example, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibilities that you'll take advantage of the some 117,000 hotels in the Orlando area. Even though that's relatively far away from Punta Gorda, you might take advantage of that kind of opportunity?
BOLCH: Well, yes, that is one option that's available to us. We really don't like to separate families. We like to keep people near their base of support with their people who they live nearby and their relatives. But if that comes to it, we'll make sure that people have a good, clean, safe place to live.
WHITFIELD: All right, Mike Bolch, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. We know you all are very busy. And I know the warning was going out from FEMA that for those who do have running water in various parts of Florida, you need to boil that water just to make sure that it is safe. Mike Bolch, thanks so much. Now we're going to join our affiliate, WTBT, right after we take a short break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: We continue our special coverage. Florida Governor Jeb Bush got a bird's-eye view of the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley as he toured his state in a Blackhawk helicopter today. He said the damage is so bad, it brought back memories of another devastating storm, Hurricane Andrew.
GOVERNOR JEB BUSH, FLORIDA: Once we approached Punta Gorda and saw a community destroyed, in essence, I mean, particularly the mobile home parks, it's just, you know, it's hard to describe, seeing an entire community totally flattened. And that's what happened in many of these mobile home parks. And then, to see the sheriff's department lost its roof... there are no police stations, there are no fire stations operable right now.
Clearly, this was where the center of the storm hit. And as we approached it, coming up the coast from Lee County, you could see it. And it brought back very vivid memories for me personally of going through Andrew and seeing a similar type of destruction. This is a different -- in one way, in that the destruction crosses communities here, too. I mean we've not... the inland counties also have had a very similar type of destruction in the path of Hurricane Charley. So there's a lot of work to do.
BUSH: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: What about casualties?
BUSH: We have not gotten -- other than the fact that the emergency operations director knows there are casualties. They can't get, as of yet, they can't get the search and rescue teams out into every possible place to be able to quantify the number of deaths. But if you see the devastation from up above, it would be a total shock that there weren't deaths, and it's really, really sad.
BUSH: Yeah, the storm, as the storm approached, this community, like the other coastal communities, called for mandatory evacuations, as was appropriate. We were in total communication with the emergency operations center here, as well as in Lee County, and Sarasota and Collier. So you can't plan for the unforeseen. God doesn't follow the linear directions of computer models. And these are powerful storms that don't -- don't behave in any kind of way that you can say with certainty where they're going to go.
QUESTION: How about a dollar estimate?
BUSH: No. No. In fact, the estimate that had been referred to yesterday was from a computer model of a different track for the hurricane. Clearly, this is in the billions of dollars -- there's no question about that. But that will be part of this job. What you're going to see here is the primary focus will be on humanitarian aid, for the young mom and her children, who -- she doesn't have formula and she's lost her home, and for the elderly couple that we met coming out here to speak to you.
That's the first priority, is to provide assistance to them. And what you'll see, I think, in a very short period of time, is that FEMA, the U.S. Military, the National Guard will be establishing facilities so people can have a cot to sleep on, if they're homeless, to be able to get formula, to be able to get water, to be able to get food. In addition to that, there will be efforts under way, working with local community leaders, to rebuild, economically, this beautiful part of our state.
In addition to that, we're going to make sure there's no price gouging, that there's efforts, intense efforts to make sure that the personal reconstruction that's going to be required -- because, I mean, if you counted the number of roofs that need to be fixed, it's in the thousands, obviously. But all of this is going to go on at once. And we've trained for this. This is a team effort.
We've got local officials to work with. As Mike said, while this is a day of complete devastation and a real tragedy, and there's a lot of sadness in people's hearts right now, I'm absolutely convinced that within a shorter period of time than what we experienced with Hurricane Andrew, people's hopes are going to be lifted.
QUESTION: Have there been any major mistakes, again, Governor, that's happened in the past of trying to ride out the storm -- that maybe we should learn from that?
BUSH: I don't know the numbers yet. I don't know. I had worried, as governor, that a hurricane hadn't come. I've been thankful for that. But with each passing year, with so many new people moving into our communities, I've always worried about hurricane amnesia. And you have to go through one and experience it to realize that it is going to happen, and when it does, you've got to be out of harm's way.
So to the extent that that message got out -- and I believe a lot of people did heed that message -- that's good news. To the extent that it didn't, you know, will be part of the reason why there's some tragedies today.
BUSH: First of all, when we came in here, what we saw were Broward Sheriffs deputies on the ground already. In addition to that, in terms of the state support -- Guy, how many law enforcement officers from highway patrol and National Guard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
BUSH: Twelve hundred National Guard, 400-plus state law enforcement officers, and then, many of the military force are already here, but many of the sheriffs departments also will be cooperating here in Charlotte County as well as the other impacted areas. And price gouging, you know, we have laws that the attorney general and the commissioner of agriculture, who have the primary responsibility for that, are fully engaged.
And the law will be brought to bear if people take advantage of the misfortune of others in this kind of time.
QUESTION: Governor, what are the other areas of the state that were hit hardest?
BUSH: Well, you can take a swath from here, northeasterly through Aciola (ph), certainly Aciola and Highlands County, De Soto -- to a lesser extent, apparently, to Balusha (ph) and Bravard (ph) County. As the storm left the state, it was not at the same strength. But the surrounding inland counties from here, which don't have the resources that the coastal counties typically have, were severely hit as well -- Polk (ph) County.
BUSH: I'm not aware of that.
QUESTION: Have there been any problems with looting, Governor?
BUSH: Not that we're aware of. Again, the storm hit, and then we had an evening... so it's very hard to make that assessment.
WHITFIELD: Governor Jeb Bush from earlier today. His brother, President George W. Bush, will be making his assessment, seeing the devastation firsthand tomorrow in Florida. And we'll continue our special coverage right after this.
WHITFIELD: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the ground in hardest hit Charlotte County, Florida, on the west coast of Florida, population 151,000. Mike Brown, the FEMA director, is in Charlotte County. He joins us on the telephone. And Mr. Brown, give me a sense as to what you're seeing. I understand that your assessment teams are out and about, but what are they delivering in terms of information?
MICHEAL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
WHITFIELD: OK, Mr. Brown, we're having a really difficult time understanding what you're saying. We know that the cell phone signals are very weak down there. We're going to try and sort that out, and then we'll try to resume our conversation in a moment. Right now, we're going to take a short break.
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