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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Charley: Continues North-Northeast As A Tropical Storm

Aired August 14, 2004 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have more on the aftermath in a moment. But first, a look at what's happening now in the news.
Overseas, no truce in Najaf, Iraq where peace talks have broken down between Iraqi officials and supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. Iraq's chief negotiator says all efforts were exhausted, and he announced military operations will resume in Najaf to restore the order there.

A wildfire in northern California has now consumed more than 9,900 acres. Eighty homes in the Reading area have been destroyed. The fire is now 80 percent contained. Firefighters predict they'll have it fully contained by Monday night.

At the Olympics, two star sprinters from Greece have been suspended from their teams after missing a mandatory drug test. The Greek Olympic committee board removed the athletes pending a final decision by the international Olympic committee on Monday.

Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.

Now back to our top story, what is now tropical storm Charley. Our meteorologist Orelon Sidney is tracking it from our weather center -- Orelon?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot.

We just got the advisory from the National Hurricane Center. The 5:00 p.m. advisory has just come out. Charley is still a tropical storm. And to my surprise, the winds have held at 70 miles an hour with higher gusts, still expecting it to weaken over the next 24 hours, obviously.

And it's still moving now to the north-northeast at, I think it was 30 miles an hour. Do bear with me because I'm reading this for the first time on the air here.

Maximum sustained winds are 70, moving north-northeast at 30. The pressure has come up pretty dramatically. It's up to 1,000 millibars. Sea level pressure, general average sea level pressure is 1,013 millibars, so this is not much of a low pressure system anymore, at least as far as it was in the past.

It's currently at 36.0 degrees north longitude -- or latitude, 77.0 degrees west longitude. That's 75 miles south-southwest of Norfolk, Virginia.

So about to exit North Carolina, about to head up towards Norfolk, Virginia, and on its current course, it's going to pretty much pass east of the Washington, D.C., Baltimore area, probably bumping along the Chesapeake Bay affecting some of the outer banks of Maryland, on into Delaware and then continuing northward through New Jersey.

I think the next major land area that we're going to see it affecting is probably Long Island. And I think it's going to -- if it continues on its current track, it's probably going to make a pretty good shot at Long Island, probably cutting Long Island right in two, not literally, obviously, but bisecting it with its path and then moving on into Rhode Island and Connecticut.

But again, it's not going to be much of a storm as far as it was in the past. Obviously it's not a category one or four hurricane anymore, it's a tropical storm. But you still have to worry about what we talked about earlier, gusty thunderstorm winds, potentially tornadoes and heavy rain.

Now because it's moving so fast, we have less of a threat for flooding, which is excellent news. But you could you still see some localized flash flooding in the area. So I don't want you to let your guard down yet.

Even though things are getting much, much better, you still are going to have a pretty good storm to deal with. Even in places like D.C. and Fredericksburg, you are going to see a sloppy night, lots of rain and possibly some gusty winds as well even though the brunt of the storm is going to be going off to your east.

Folks in Dover, you're probably going to get a pretty good area of thunderstorms moving through. And your weather in Norfolk just about to start really going downhill over the next half an hour or so.

I'm going to get this all updated for you and have it for you a little bit later in the half hour.

WHITFIELD: All right, Orelon. And you still said a chance of tornadoes even though the tornadoes are on the east side of that storm primarily?

SIDNEY: That's correct. That's primarily. Remember you can get tornadoes on any side. Chiefly you're going to look for them in the right, front quadrant of an area of low pressure.

Depending on its motion, you take it and kind of cut it in half twice and then that right front quadrant is where you generally will find most of the action. But that doesn't mean you can't get tornadoes in other parts as well.

Don't forget. We've got a chance for some pretty good urban flooding, and so we could have problems even from that. It's possible you could see some trees down because of these gusty winds and that would generate power outages. So we're still not out of the woods yet. You still don't want to let your guard down as Charley continues to work up the Eastern seaboard.

WHITFIELD: All right, Orelon Sidney, thanks very much in the weather center where as Charley makes its way in to Virginia. One of the last places it made a pass was Wrightsfield Beach, North Carolina. And that's where we find our national correspondent Bob Franken. He is in Wrightsville Beach with a view of how things are looking there -- Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, it was a quick pass, remarkably quick pass. An hour to an hour and a half and it was gone.

While it was here, it had already diminished in velocity and had become a tropical storm, so it was manageable. About the biggest damage we were able to spot was one lifeguard chair along the beach had been pushed over. Power outages happened. As a matter of fact, they're still dealing with that, but nothing of any huge magnitude.

The police had decided, based on a variety of weather forecasts that this was not worthy of a mandatory evacuation. So they made it voluntary and virtually nobody took them up on it. In fact, it was remarkable just how normal things were and are.

Now that it's past, it has left behind some breezes, a little bit of high surf and just really a nice day actually on the beach with a lot of people returning to the beach. Quite a contrast to what has happened in the past.

Wrightsville Beach is a barrier island. It means it's quite vulnerable. And when there have been category 4 hurricanes in 1956 and in -- excuse me -- 1954 and 1996, the entire island has been submerged, the entire city underwater.

Nothing like that happened here. Ended up with a few puddles, a little bit of minor damage and a big sigh of relief -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Bob Franken, quite a contrast but a welcome one. Thanks very much for that report from Wrightsfield Beach, North Carolina.

Well hardest hit when Charley was a hurricane, a sizable hurricane, a category four, was Punta Gorda, which is on the southwest side of Florida. And that's where we find our John Zarrella. He's keeping a close watch on the assessment teams out there now.

And John, we tried to talk to a FEMA director earlier, but because of the bad cell phone services down there, we were unable to maintain that conversation.

That's part of the big problem isn't it? When an area is ground zero, cell phone service and regular mainland phone service is usually out or interrupted seriously? JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. In fact, the cell phone I'm on talking to you right now is cutting in and out, and I'm catching every few words you say. But I got the gist of what you had said, the FEMA director.

And absolutely no question that communications are a big, big problem here, not only cell phone communications -- sometimes they work; sometimes they don't -- but just any kind of utility service at all.

Electricity is out. Water is out. People are being told to boil water here, get bottled watered if they can. Obviously that means no air conditioning, no lights, no refrigeration, nothing.

It's candlelight although they don't recommend that any longer. It's better to get some of those glow sticks or flashlights because candles have a tendency to fall over, and then you have another problem like a fire on top of what you've already experienced.

We're inside of, again, the shopping plaza, this strip mall. You can see down the end of the hallway, all of the roof tiles on the floor here. And as we look up, you can see the hole in the roof.

And of course that roof is corrugated aluminum roofing. That's what you find in a lot of these places here on the southwest Florida coast and in many other communities. And that corrugated aluminum is literally spread all over the roadways now from roofs that have blown off.

All the debris here, more of the ceiling tiles and up in -- more holes in the roof blown through here. And this is really more what typifies what we're seeing.

But this is one of those interesting things about hurricanes. Look at the cards that are absolutely sitting perfectly, greeting cards, get-well cards. There are some sunglasses hanging on a row. There's pens hanging down here not even moved, not even damaged one bit by the winds of the hurricane as it moved through.

So you see these kinds of things where you would think certain things would be totally obliterated, but yet inside that shop most everything is pretty much untouched -- not knocked off the shelves, pieces still standing on the shelves perfectly in the back.

So it's phenomenal when you think about the power of nature and that capriciousness of the winds that blow through on these storms and what they can do. All of this, yet that is still standing there.

But the serious business of beginning to clean up, beginning to dig out is fully under way here. The search and rescue teams in full gear here. I talked to metro Dade-Miami team that is here. They're working around the corner here. That is where they are assembling and getting their team in gear.

There are teams from all over the state of Florida who have mustered to come here, a team from Hillsborough County, some 65 strong, was here earlier today. That's a county north of here. And they were the ones who went through the condominium building that was behind us here where they found some elderly people who were OK but dazed and needed to be moved out because it was a condemned building.

So yes, indeed, everything from that recovery, from the digging out has begun, but it is going to be a very long, very tedious process.

We talked to one gentleman who came here with his son, literally the two of them looking for food and looking for water and looking for fuel because the family is out of everything. He's got four kids.

And that's the story of many, many, many people here, either homeless or displaced or just trying to get by for the foreseeable future, Fredricka, if you can hear me.

WHITFIELD: Yes, I can. And John, when you talk about the search and rescue teams that are out there, can you describe for us the methods, which these teams are using?

I know Miami-Dade you mentioned oftentimes they use a special team of dogs. What are you seeing in terms of these teams and how they're coordinating?

ZARRELLA: Right, well we have seen exactly that. Now, they're probably -- I don't know exactly how they're being coordinated, but they have command posts set up in different parts of Punta Gorda and they are certainly taking their instructions as to what sectors of the city certain teams are going into.

But in fact, yes. We did see the dog teams that were here, the cadaver teams, the teams looking for human beings who may be trapped in the rubble. But the dogs were pretty much just standing by.

They weren't physically using those teams right here in this location where we were, but in other locations they have been using those teams as they begin to dig through the rubble and try to find any survivors that might be in some of those trailer homes which were the hardest hit, in particular, where they're just really getting to today, in the afternoon hours, to start digging those trailer parks out.

And this area is dotted with trailer parks, which is a very difficult situation because those, in fact, were the hardest hit areas, people who didn't evacuate those trailer homes, who should have but did not get out -- Fredericka?

WHITFIELD: And there are a lot of trailer home parks. They were talking about 31 of those parks, some of which have something like 1,200 units in one park alone. So it's a pretty significant number there for Punta Gorda.

Thanks very much John Zarrella at what's being called ground zero of that storm when it was a category four.

And Charley made its way through the state of Florida and then on the other side of the Atlantic up the South Carolina coast, where it was still a hurricane even though it was downgraded to a category one, still frightening and potentially damaging nonetheless.

Our David Mattingly is in Myrtle Beach, which saw some of the remnants of that storm even though it was a category one -- David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. It was significantly weakened. But Hurricane Charley, when it made landfall was still a big cause of concern here on the South Carolina coast.

The national weather service now tells us that wind gusts were exceeding 90 miles per hour when that storm hit the South Carolina coast. And of course it was carrying some blistering rain.

Charley's latest rampage, however, proved to be very brief, moving quickly to the north, downgrading to a tropical storm. But it left all kinds of localized flooding, downed trees, blocked roads, widespread power outages. And there is a lot of cleaning up to do right now in Myrtle Beach and, in fact, all along the grand strand, as they call it.

It's the big tourism area of the South Carolina coast. And this was supposed to be one of the biggest tourism weekends, the last big tourism weekend of the summer.

So of course they lost that, and they are looking to find ways, many hotels looking for ways to reopen as early as tomorrow.

But again, a lot of work to do, a lot of people in the dark, tens of thousands of people reportedly without power. The power companies here working to get that power restored.

A lot of work to do in what turns out to be just a beautiful afternoon after that terrible weather went through earlier today, so many people getting out on the beach and trying to enjoy what's left of it -- Fredericka?

WHITFIELD: Wow, a lot of work to do, but it sounds like, David, they have the conditions in which to really count their blessings, don't they?

MATTINGLY: Absolutely, in fact when this storm came ashore, it came through at a time when there was a low tide. If there had been a high tide, there might have been a problem with a storm surge. But because it was low tide, there was really no concern whatsoever about flooding. There was no, at least from the tidal surge, there was no concern after all about any sort of beach erosion.

In fact, there doesn't seem to be any reports of that happening, again no reports of any serious injuries. And people here counting their blessings.

WHITFIELD: Good news, like to hear that. Thanks so much, David Mattingly, joining us on the telephone from Myrtle Beach. And we're going to take a short break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Well thousands of people living in Hurricane Charley's path evacuated when they were told to get out of the way. But storm chaser Jim Reed headed straight for Florida to experience the storm firsthand.

And here's what he and his buddy captured on videotape when the hurricane struck Port Charlotte.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM REED, STORM CHASER: OK, right now, the time here is roughly 4:37. We are watching a neighborhood disintegrate. This is Hurricane Charley.

For the past five minutes or so, we have been experiencing winds in excess of 100 miles an hour. It is tearing off roofs.

Behind you!

Category four hurricane. I hope I'm recording. This just came in on us right here. Hurricane Charley, August 13th, 2004. If you want to know what it looks like inside a category four hurricane, this is it.

I'm wondering if we got hit by a tornado. I don't know. Straight line. Yes, I'm all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Well, that was Jim Reed and a buddy. And I bet you're wondering why in the world does he do this. Well, he's on the telephone with us from Tampa to explain exactly why you decide to take such a huge risk.

Jim, either you're a real thrill seeker or you've got a death wish. Which is it?

REED: Well, I'm neither. I'm a professional storm chaser an extreme weather photographer. I've been studying hurricanes for several years. This was my tenth. And I was looking forward to learning as much from this as possible.

WHITFIELD: And so what did you learn?

REED: Well, we confirmed the fact that you should never take forecasts for granted even though something may appear originally to be a category one or category two hurricane, it's going to do what it wants to do. And that means if it's going to become a category four, it's going to become a category four.

And also, we confirmed that the direction of these types of storms can be very erratic.

WHITFIELD: This was a deadly storm at a category four. It can be deadly at category one even at tropical storm strength. But you all decided to leave the comforts of home. You were in South Carolina right?

REED: That's correct.

WHITFIELD: You headed toward Florida when you heard that this category four was on the way. And you know, besides trying to learn something from your own personal experience, what really was your objective?

REED: Well, when we left Columbia, when I left Columbia, South Carolina, it was only a category one hurricane. I think that's important to note. And we were originally anticipating only intercepting a category two hurricane.

When we approached Tampa, we were getting updates from our weather center and our lead meteorologist John Davies had said, it looks like it's going to become at least a category three. So we were learning literally mile by mile.

WHITFIELD: Now you really do have a fascination for nature's wrath, don't you? I understand that you live in Wichita during what's notably a tornado season. You live in South Carolina during the hurricane season months. Is that right?

REED: That is correct. It makes it easier and more sensible, logistically, to be able to cover storms like what you said, tornados in the spring from Kansas and hurricanes from South Carolina.

I'm still writing notes on Alex. I'm a bit alarmed that the season is as busy as it is already.

WHITFIELD: So what do you do in terms of your equipment and protection? What precautions do you take? And what are the tools you feel like you have to have to carry out this job that you've assigned yourself?

REED: First and foremost we have reliable communication. We carry a satellite phone. We carry a cellular phone, and we communicate with meteorologists who are not at the location where we are, so getting objective, safe information.

We use a reliable vehicle. We use reliable equipment to document the events. And you want to make sure you've got things that may sound simple but are actually quite critical, water, your forecast equipment.

We had radar actually inside our vehicle at the time.

WHITFIELD: So the video that we are looking at shot from Port Charlotte, it looks as though, at one point, you may be in a garage or a carport type area.

Did you just arbitrarily pull up to somebody's property or how did you make these arrangements? REED: Yes, no you're absolutely right. Where things went wrong, we had scouted the area and we were preparing to document the landfall of Hurricane Charley when it accelerated. And quite frankly, the nine previous hurricanes I had covered took much longer to go from say, 75 or 80 miles per hour to 100.

This seemed, or at least felt to us at the time, that it rapidly -- winds strengthened rapidly and gave us very little time to take appropriate cover. So the carport that I believe you see in the video is what we refer to as a shelter of last resort.

WHITFIELD: You may have heard a number of emergency crews who have talked, you know, post this hurricane, talk about the risks that they, emergency workers end up having to take when there are people who, for whatever reasons, decide to stay when the storm is threatening.

Do you ever think about how your jeopardizing other people's lives while you're jeopardizing your own?

REED: Absolutely, and I think everyone should take that in to consideration.

We are proponents of people evacuating when they're instructed to do so. I know everyone wants to stay in their home and kind of ride things out. I think it's a natural desire to kind of curiously experience a storm.

But hurricanes are a much more violent, unpredictable event. And I think if you're told to evacuate, you need to evacuate. And for us, we also tried to work hand in hand with the emergency management people, the law enforcement officers, the firemen. And we personally witnessed...

WHITFIELD: Yes.

REED: ... a number of officers and firemen who there who were trying right up to the last possible minute to help people.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, Jim Reed, thanks for joining us on the telephone. The videotape you're seeing there shot by him and his friend who's a meteorologist.

But people at home, do not try this at home if you happen to be in an area where there is a mandatory evacuation in order.

And we'll be right back right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HURRICANE FLASHBACK)

COMMENTATOR: September 12th, 1979, hurricane Frederick swept across the fragile coastal reaches of Alabama and Mississippi. Witnesses say the category three storm leveled parts of Mobile, making it look like a bomb went off.

Frederick caused millions of dollars in damage to southern Alabama alone. With the added destruction in Mississippi and parts of Florida, Frederick proved costly indeed. Damage was more than $2 billion.

(END VIDEO CLIP, HURRICANE FLASHBACK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Well, Charley's rampage across Florida and the Carolinas has caused a huge amount of destruction and left almost one million people without power in Florida alone. Hundreds of thousands of Florida power and light customers lost their electricity.

Patricia Davis is the company spokesperson, and she is on the phone joining us from Miami.

Good to hear from you, Miss Davis.

PATRICIA DAVIS, SPOKESPERSON, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT: Hi.

WHITFIELD: So how many people do you believe are without power?

DAVIS: Well, we have -- as of noon today, we estimate approximately 650,000 homes and businesses are without power.

WHITFIELD: And mostly in the southwest section of Florida?

DAVIS: Customers in southwest, south central and northeast Florida have been heavily impacted by Hurricane Charley.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

DAVIS: And the major damage, of course, was done as Charley made landfall in southwest Florida.

WHITFIELD: So I know you all are working feverishly to try to restore power. Bit since you are experiencing a lot of downed lines, there are some areas that are just not going to get it anytime soon.

So, for how long do you expect the majority of that 650,000 homes and businesses to be without power?

DAVIS: You know, although we're making some progress, particularly in some of the areas that weren't as heavily damaged, we're still making some aerial assessments. And we have folks out on foot patrols trying to determine what equipment we need and where we need it the most, and what areas can actually be rebuilt or repaired to receive electricity because, as you know, some areas are just totally devastated and they can't accept the power.

WHITFIELD: And it makes it difficult for your crews to get to some of these areas right, because so many roads are impassable?

DAVIS: Sure, that is an issue. But we have a well-rehearsed storm plan and a very well trained workforce of some 10,000 men and women that are going to be working around the clock to rebuild and restore power until everyone is back in service. WHITFIELD: And well-rehearsed plan particularly because of the lessons learned after 1992's hurricane Andrew?

DAVIS: Absolutely, many of us here in Florida remember hurricane Andrew and what it took to get our lives back together. So for us here at Florida Power & Light, we feel our customers' pain, and we've all been through it.

This is not just a restoration effort for us. This is a way to get our customers' lives back together.

WHITFIELD: Well, disaster relief is kind of becoming old hat for you all in Florida. You deal with tropical storms and hurricanes all the time and the threats of. But does this also mean that you welcome or you're even getting some help from other states, other jurisdictions?

DAVIS: You know, we are getting some additional field personnel who will be arriving throughout the weekend; and some have already arrived from other utilities as part of a mutual aid assistance program.

And if needed, FPL will secure additional resources as other utilities in the southeast who are confronting this same storm are able to release their workers.

WHITFIELD: Now, having power outages like this, especially as night falls a bit later, can also be potentially dangerous. Because not everybody had battery-powered flashlights, it means that many people will be resorting to candles, and that can be a problem.

So what kind of advice do you have to a lot of these residents to try to keep themselves safe?

DAVIS: Well, we are hoping that everyone will please stay far away from downed power lines, flooding and debris. Stay inside. This is not the time to go out and walk around in puddles that you may encounter because there may be downed power lines in the puddles that you can't see.

So don't walk in standing water. Don't venture out in the dark because you might not see a power line that could still be energized and dangerous.

We want our folks to be safe. We're also asking people to please stay off the streets so that our crews can get through the neighborhoods and start getting this restoration effort going at full speed.

WHITFIELD: All great advice. Patricia Davis, PIO of FPL in Miami. Thanks so much for joining us.

DAVIS: Thanks. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And best wishes to your efforts.

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