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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Frances: Tropical Storm Still Crawls Across Florida Peninsula

Aired September 5, 2004 - 17:30   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: One hurricane related death is reported in Florida in the Bahamas. Two hurricane related deaths are being reported in this 700 island chain which was first hit by what was hurricane Frances. Our Karl Penhaul joins us via video phone from Freeport, the Bahamas, there and Karl, what kind of damage assessment is already under way?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, still very early to talk about full damage assessment. The emergency services have been moving around all morning, and we've accompanied them in part of the morning and also part of the afternoon, but still a long way from putting together a full damage assessment together. What we have seen of course are roofs ripped off, shingles torn off other roofs. Many, many trees fallen and the power lines are still very much down, no electricity on Freeport as far as we can make out and according to the police right now, only partial telephone services and no cellular phone services right now.

But what they are emergency services have been concentrate doing today is getting towards the west of the island to try and do an assessment there in what is probably the most low lying part of Grand Bahama. We tried to accompany the police on that trip, but we got part of the way and about 1 1/2 or 2 feet of water is still lying across the main highway there. We had to turn back because along with the tropical storm-force winds that were still blowing and are still blowing here in Grand Bahama, torrential rains were also lashing down on the island, but certainly if the tide rise and fall some one would expect some of that tidal surge to disappear and probably by tomorrow, towards the rest of the island the emergency there will be over and the emergency service in other parts of the island can put together a systematic damage assessment.

But as you mentioned, yes two deaths in the Bahamas, one in Nassau, an 18-year-old as he was trying to fix a power generator here on Grand Bahamas, a 35-year-old man drowned. His body was recovered today. He was discovered yesterday lying in water. But an 80-year- old man is still missing, still no word on his fate. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: I wonder because getting around and communications are indeed a challenge right now. We're talking about 700 islands that make up the Bahamas there. Is there some real concern that perhaps the death toll might be higher than the two already reported?

PENHAUL: Police who are the lead agency and looking into deaths and disappearances here, they don't seem overly worried in that respect at the moment because they have had police, they did strategically place police units around the island so that they were able to respond more quickly, t think that there are any more deaths out there, although obviously the fate of that 80-year-old man still a concern, but certainly getting around the island is going to remain a problem for some time to come.

The only way really that the patrol cars have been moving around today is by sending a bulldozer in ahead and so the bulldozer can clear debris and also clear fallen trees and that way the patrol call can follow in behind, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Karl Penhaul, thanks so much for that report via video phone from Freeport, Bahamas.

And we'll have more on Frances coming up. But first (INAUDIBLE) right now.

More than a dozen injuries are reported in Japan, but there's no word of serious damage following a pair of earthquakes. The quakes were centered off the Japanese coast.

And there's confusion today about reports of a former Iraqi military leader being captured. Iraq's top information official earlier reported the capture of Izzat Ibrahim al Douri (ph), deputy commander of Saddam Hussein's armed forces. But Iraqis defense minister now calls that report baseless and the Pentagon says it can't confirm the story either.

Russia says it has a suspect in custody in connection with last week's school massacre in Beslan. State-run television says the unnamed suspect was part of the group responsible for the school hostage crisis which ended with at least 338 hostage deaths.

Now let's check in again on what is now tropical storm Frances. Our Jacqui Jeras is in the weather center. Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Fredricka, Frances downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum winds around 70 miles per hour right now. The center of circulation is getting very close to Tampa at this hour.

We're going to zoom in here and right into the Tampa Bay area, there you see some of these bright yellows here, that's some very heavy downpours, just checked the Tampa area, we're looking at wind gusts right now around 42 miles per hour and the FAA website is reporting that just in the last 10 minutes that the airport is closed there, and that the Naples airport closed about 20 minutes ago. So certainly don't want to be getting in and out of there. You don't want to be driving around here. You want to be hunkered down inside your home at this time. We still have a very high threat here of flooding as these rains move on through. You've got a flash flood warning which is in effect as well.

Let's go back to our other maps and I'll show where all the flood watches are in effect. There you can see, it extends all the way across southern parts of Georgia into Alabama, almost all of Florida under the watch and then you can see those warnings in the darker green areas at this time. You can see a good seven to 10-inches, maybe up to 12. Locally a little bit heavier than that. Now as this makes landfall, this is going to be moving up the coastline here or up across the southeast and these are forecast rainfall amounts for Monday.

We've been focusing so much on Florida, but people who live in Alabama and Georgia, into Tennessee into the Carolinas are going to be dealing with some serious flooding we think as you head into Monday. This big orange bullet here where we could be seeing a good six plus inches of rainfall. You head on up towards Atlanta, maybe two, three inches here, Macon pushing the four inch range. Put this into motion, advance you into your Tuesday and some of these same areas getting clocked once again in the 24 hour period from about 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning until 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. You can see another six inches of rain. Take a look at that Atlanta, extending on up towards charlotte getting into the mix by Tuesday, so this certainly going to be affecting a lot of people.

Why are they going to be getting all the rain when the storm is heading over this way over to the Gulf of Mexico? It's going to be making its way on up to the north. Once it does so, stay in the tropical storm strength likely for tonight as it moves back over open water. It will intensify once again and there you will see it reaching likely hurricane strength.

The official forecast has it back as a category one when it makes landfall maybe some near Apalachicola. Again, you want to keep in mind that forecast track could change a little bit. You don't want to always focus right here on this line. Take a look at the cone here. There is a little bit of margin of error there, so you just don't want to focus right on that one specific spot. As we know this tropical storm is very huge, so even where it does make landfall it's going to be affecting a lot of people on both sides of that line. These are the latest watches or the warnings. They have changed as of the top of the hour.

We've got tropical storm warnings where we used to have hurricane warnings and now hurricane warning posted across the whole big bend area and across much of the Florida panhandle and that is for that second landfall likely to happen sometime tomorrow in the morning. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Jacqui, these kinds of storms often deliver a one- two punch, meaning those tornado warnings already one in south Georgia as you explained in Wayne County, might there be an expectation that there would be more tornado warnings?

JERAS: Actually, Mike, could you hand me those, the latest tornado warnings. Two got two more that just came in the last couple of minutes. The Wayne County one expired. Most of the tornadoes that develop out of hurricanes are relatively weak. A weak tornado can cause some damage. The latest warning is for Atkinson County and Coffee County in southeast Georgia. This is a radar indicated tornado. So a warning means that a tornado has actually either been spotted by someone or that Doppler radar is indicating rotation that a tornado could happen any time. We've got a tornado watch which is in effect across much of central, northern parts of Florida and it does extend into southern parts of Georgia as well and that's going to go on into the evening hours for tonight and we'll probably see another one issued as well after that.

WHITFIELD: OK, thanks so much, Jacqui Jeras.

Let's go along the coast of Florida and head down to West Palm Beach and there we find our Sean Callebs. Not long ago it was kind of sunny and looked a little calm even though you guys are still preparing for other bands of wind and rain, but it looks like it's still holding out for you there.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's still holding up not as good. You can see some of the devastation behind us from Frances of course rolled through here over the past 30 hours with those hurricane force winds but really of course the brunt of the hurricane has moved on a long time ago. But you're right, kind of pan up there Mike and you can see that the clouds are getting significantly grayer, perhaps that band, you can see the clouds still blowing in from the southeast as well, clearly still the outer edge of that hurricane, just a mammoth, mammoth storm continuing to affect this area. We're getting some breezes that have been kicking up.

We talked in the last hour also about the curfew that is supposed to be going on here in West Palm Beach. But basically it is an exercise in futility at this hour. There are people out all over. I went down a bit ago to the intercoastal. There are actually a couple guys out there fishing as well. So perhaps some people not getting the tail end of the storm perhaps the attention it needs. Here's perhaps another reason. You can see still palm trees falling. There's one now being balanced by a power line there just at the end of the street.

It's interesting, the area where we are right now apparently has electricity. You can see that there are porch lights on in a number of the houses along this area. Of course Palm Beach County, 1.3 million residents. We know right after the storm virtually all of them without power. But it's clearly been restored. Emergency crews have been out to doing what they can, trying to determine just how serious the situation is.

Had a chance to talk with the mayor, the police chief, they say this is an area that really fared perhaps a lot better than they thought it would. Of course, some of that is luck, but the brunt of the storm moved to the north but they also say it was good preparation and people took those warnings seriously and they can't overstate just how important that was. They said that Charley hitting the west coast three weeks ago causing more than 20 deaths and more than $4 or $5 billion in damage clearly on the minds of the people in this area with a massive evacuation to the north.

We know some service stations are apparently also opening back up at this hour too. We'll try and get you more information on that. Some flooding in this area, an called pineapple grove, not terribly far from where we are. But other than that, storm surge didn't affect the area, no tornadoes in the immediate area, no serious injuries, Fredricka. This is one area of the state that is really counting its blessings at this hour.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And when you talk about folks seem to have really heeded the warnings there in West Palm Beach, meaning the majority of the folks maybe even on the street where you are did evacuate most of those homes, you know, are empty. I know you talked to a couple residents earlier, but are they a minority of folks who stayed behind?

CALLEBS: They clearly are. That was one street over and we talked to several people and there were only a couple of homes that we know on that street. We presume the people aren't home back here. Everything is still all boarded up except for the damage that the hurricane caused. Really 80,000 residents here in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. And after listening to the mayor and the emergency operation center that is set up, they really believe that a lot of people got out of the way. They saw it coming, knew it was the size of Texas with that very defined eye until basically the 11th hour. This really had the potential to be quite a killer.

WHITFIELD: Sean Callebs thanks so much, from West Palm Beach.

Let's go up to Tallahassee, Governor Jeb Bush is speaking there. Let's listen in.

GOV. JEB BUSH, FLORIDA: they don't go a certain way, but the fact that now I think probably 16 million Floridians know not to follow the line but to follow the cone is good enough for me and that was a huge advantage that we had for this storm and we appreciate everything that you do. We really do I'm proud as a Miamian that you're located here in Miami. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take questions now (INAUDIBLE).

BUSH: OK.

QUESTION: Governor, I hate to use the I-word but with hurricane Ivan headed our way, do you think Floridians can take within three weeks yet another hit?

BUSH: Well, we hope it doesn't happen. And I'm going to follow the line on Ivan for now, rather than the cone. We've got to focus first on the relief efforts for a lot of people that are hurting right now. And that's going to be our efforts. If and when another storm comes, whether it's this season or next they will come, and we will be prepared.

We have, not only are we proud of the National Hurricane Service and the work that's been done here, I'm really proud of Craig Fugate's team and the local emergency operations teams that exist around the state. They are well organized. They're really tired right now. Another storm would test them but they're up to the challenge. And FEMA is up to the challenge. I've been so appreciative of the Federal support that is being mobilized right now for Frances and is in the state because of Charley and you know a third storm, we'll take it on. We're a resilient state. We just hope it doesn't happen. QUESTION: Governor, as you look at the map that (INAUDIBLE) covering every corner of Florida now. How many counties in the 67 have you declared as disasters? And also do you think in any sense that the storm that either doesn't come that everybody is a little (INAUDIBLE).

BUSH: The state has been declared a disaster area. If there is enough damage, we will for FEM reimbursement alike, we will expand it. So if people have damage to their homes, they need to call 1- 800-621- FEMA. So that -- they'll get support they need.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BUSH: You mean just storm? I would call it storm amnesia, hurricane amnesia. We don't have that anymore. We may have had it up until this year because we dodged a few bullets. We dodged Floyd. We had a few years where there weren't any significant hurricanes. I don't think that's a problem anymore in our state.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

BUSH: Well, we want to coordinate the distribution because antitrust laws don't allow for these companies to be able to talk to each other about the distribution of diesel and gasoline and we want to make sure that we get the gasoline and diesel as quickly as possible to the right places so that we can recover as fast as we can. So, for example, what we're doing right now is, thanks to the work, again, of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is hopefully going to open up port Everglades tomorrow. We have -- we've had truckers already that have flown down, already have taken out some 50 trucks' worth of gasoline to go to selected areas where the emergency operations centers around the state have identified as priorities. One example in Palm Beach County which you might be interested in would be, that according to what we heard when we were up at (INAUDIBLE) there, their wastewater treatment facilities are being run on diesel. And if they run out of diesel, that creates serious health hazards and environmental problems that need to be avoided.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

BUSH: [ speaking in Spanish ]

WHITFIELD: A huge job ahead for this governor, Florida still trying to recover from more than two dozen deaths and billions of dollars in damage from hurricane Charley just three weeks ago. And now, this state is facing yet billions dollars more of damage from Frances. But you heard Governor Bush say just moments ago, they'll get through it as they are, quote, a resilient state.

And we're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Back now to our continuing coverage of Frances, now a tropical storm. However, in some places along the Florida coast it's still feeling like a hurricane, even though the sustained winds are 70 miles per hour now. In Fort Pierce we find our Jason Bellini and Jason, how is it looking out there now?

BELLINI: Hi, Fredricka. Well the wind is still blowing pretty hard, but no rain at the moment. But I can tell you, this place really looks like a boat graveyard and some really beautiful boats and yachts here that many people, over half the people I'm told lived on their boats in this marina, and just devastating. There are 20 boats currently missing.

No one knows exactly what happened, if they sunk or whether they just drifted downriver because the docks last night broke away from the moorings. They were 4 inch concrete pillars that are embedded in the ground that held these docks in place. Many of them snapped and these boats on their docks flowing down river and hitting boats in another dock, another pier, and we just surveyed the damage, and it's just some really ugly scenes where boats crashed into one another, hit one another midway through, split in half in one case. There's some very -- damage that doesn't look very repairable and I spoke with a few people who said there's no way. They're going to have to start from scratch now after what happened to their boats.

This all happened after 1:00 a.m. As the storm came through here this area has hit very hard. We've seen a lot of trees down in this area, the worst damage we've seen is definitely been here at the seaport. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: so Jason, can you describe for us the geography there a bit of where this marina is? Surely it's not in an inlet or intercoastal water way with this kind of damage, is it?

BELLINI: Well, it's on a river that is between, between an island where there are residences and where people are not currently allowed to travel. The bridge is blocked and on the other side of that island is the ocean. So this river is relatively calm place most of the time and that's why most people felt like this was a safe place to keep their boats in most types of storms. Everyone of course evacuated their boats knowing that this was going to be dangerous -- a dangerous place to be. And that many of the boats likely will be destroyed or sank. But few people here thought the damage was going to be as bad as it was here. Fredricka

WHITFIELD: Jason, there's a curfew in effect in many coastal communities. Is there one in place where you are?

BELLINI: We're told that a curfew is in effect. We're not sure how long that is going to remain. But nonetheless we're seeing people out on the streets and people who have been imagine cooped up in their houses going out to look around, people who don't live on the boats coming to see what's happened. It's really just a sight, all these destroyed boats that crashed into one another. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: So I asked you that because all these folks who have come out to kind of check out the damage, et cetera, are they being stopped by law enforcement authorities? Is there any concern at all about the folks who have come out? And you know, the potential danger that there still may be, particularly for looking at all this damaged property?

BELLINI: Well, in this particular area by the river, people seem to be wandering around without any trouble. But there are a lot of police vehicles on the road. We just saw a National Guard truck with some very heavily armed national guardsmen patrolling around. But at the moment, they may not just have the number of patrol cars out there. I think that people are coming out of their residences on foot to come take a look at things but not straying that far. But certainly people in their vehicle are being questioned, especially if they're trying to cross over into areas where the damage is particularly bad like the islands across from this river. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Have you learned much by talking to the residents there about how they fared through the storm? We know what happened to a lot of the boats that they own there on the marina? But how about them and their properties, their homes?

BELLINI: We've gone around Fort Pierce and there's some areas that have been badly hit. Any time you have a big storm it seems there are certain neighborhoods that for whatever reason just get plowed down and there are others that remain untouched. We've gone through some commercial areas where we saw gas stations with their entire canopies collapsed over and walls of various businesses seem to have been knocked around and signs certainly all crashed out on the main thoroughfares here in Fort Pierce, but then we also went by a lot of homes which were heavily boarded up and they seem to be OK. Right now I'm looking at one building that's right here by the river and all the windows which were not boarded up, all seem to be in OK shape. The building doesn't seem to be damaged at all. But then again you go across to other areas and there's just devastation on the streets. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: The damage indeed can be very sporadic with hurricanes as well. Jason Bellini, thanks so much for that report out of Fort Pierce.

Well the damage from storms like Frances can seem pretty overwhelming, and behind every single building you see ripped apart lies a very specific story. Earlier today reporter Gene Apadoca (ph) of our affiliate station WFOR interviewed a man who escaped with his life but lost his dream.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GENE APADOCA: You're from Stuart, and we understand just from watching the reports up there it's pretty bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's real bad. I left yesterday at 8:00. I tried to weather the storm out. I own a gym a block away from the ocean. And I hunkered down in there with my dog, and police, Martin County sheriffs came and asked me to leave, they physically removed me from the gym and I went to my house in Sewall's Point and we just tried to hunker down, it just got just bad, real bad.

ADADOCA: You were talking about your gym being destroyed, basically? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday morning at 8:00, I went over to check on the gym. The police officer had the bridge blocked but they allowed me to go on it. I had to get some keys and to going over the bridge, the Hummer almost blew off into the water. It was just crazy and I was scared. I've never been that scared in my life. I went through Andrew down here. I was born and raised down here. I moved to Hutchinson Island ago, start a gym and a new life up there and here I'm back in town.

APADOCA: What were the winds like? What was the debris like? Give us an idea for those folks --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trees, huge trees, trees that you would never think -- probably sitting there for 50 years were just flying away like nothing. The water, the water had come up so high, there's a little area called Jensen Beach by Sewall's Point and a lot of people are hunkered down there. They didn't want to leave. It's real artsy type of place and trailer parks, I feel there is going to be some deaths up there. They really are. Everyone was watching. We just didn't think it was coming our way. No one does (ph). You always hope that the last minute, but it's bad, and it's just bad. I'm shocked. I really am.

APADOCA: You were talking that you brought a sign with you, what is the sign?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things I had, I grabbed my pictures and had this sign right by the door at the gym when you come in my gym, it's called ocean fitness, and we put Hutchinson Island a little piece of paradise.

APADOCA: And you said this is probably one of the last things you have of your gym, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, yeah, that's it. I called a friend up there, they can't get on the island, but just I know my machines and my weights are just all over the road. And I'm a block up from the ocean, I think that's what hurt me. I set that gym up so people could be on a treadmill and look out over the ocean.

APADOCA: Very difficult. You also said that -- obviously, you came down here because your mother's down here and you wanted to check on her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all born and raised here. My dad coached football down here at Edison. He just passed away about two months ago. I was just born and raised down here. I used to hang out here at this Thunderbird Hotel. I used to train back on the beach back here and it was instinct to come here and figure it wasn't so bad. I'd get a room but I'm been driving around since last night and I came in, a friend let me park the car in front of his house in Ojis (ph) and I slept in the Hummer last night with the dog. I found two hotels over on Miami shores, but they wouldn't let me bring Major in. He's a little big.

APADOCA: And you said you brought some photographs just to make sure that you had those with you because they're important photographs and some clothes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were hanging on the walls of my career of 25 years of training sports people and movie stars and stuff and I had them on the wall. So I just grabbed them off, that's basically what I really went back for, just a couple little things. But as soon as I went, the police officers let me on that bridge, the Hummer almost 6,000 this car weighs, it was picked up and this is at 8:00 in the morning yesterday, just was picked up and I felt like it almost just lifted right off the causeway. And that's the first time I realized the brunt of it and my girlfriend has a house in Sewall's Point on Periwinkle Street, Bonnie and she didn't want to leave. She's got a lot of nice stuff in there.

APADOCA: Is she up there still?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, she got down behind me. But I'm going to tell you something, you people out there, your possessions, man, God gives you a life and you can always get new stuff. I've seen so many people with these little stupid dolls and I know I got some pictures and stuff. But don't go back in your houses, get out. Let this be a lesson for you. I'm a big strong guy. I grew up on the streets here and I played ball, I played football and I've never been scared. And for the first time in my life when those police officers let me on the island, I thought hey, I got my Hummer and the car almost was literally lifted off the ground.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Lots of devastating losses just like that, much of it however throughout Florida. Anyone has yet to see. That's going do it for this hour for me of our coverage of Frances. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More of our continuing live reporting with Carol Lin coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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