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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Tracking Hurricane Wilma

Aired October 23, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is a special "LATE EDITION: Tracking Hurricane Wilma."
Tracking Hurricane Wilma -- after pounding Mexico, what can Florida expect from this powerful storm? We'll have updates from the areas hardest hit. And find out what preparations are in place for those still bracing for the worst.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): We are asking people to monitor the storm, to pay close attention to instructions and also to have three-day supply of food and water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Boarding up in south Florida -- is the Sunshine State ready for the rain and winds?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The CIA leak investigation -- Washington bracing for indictments. Are the president's top aides in trouble? We'll get expert analysis from former U.S. attorney general Richard Thornburgh and former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis.

It is 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 10:00 a.m. in Cancun, Mexico, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Baghdad.

Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this special "LATE EDITION."

Over the next three hours, we're going to cover every angle of Hurricane Wilma. The 21st named storm of this hurricane season is moving slowly, but it's still very dangerous with south Florida projected to take a very serious direct hit.

We'll check in with CNN reporters in the hurricane zone in just a moment.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Lisa Sylvester at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Now in the news, south Florida watches and waits for Wilma. The Category 2 hurricane is headed toward the state after a deadly sweep across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Landfall in Florida is expected tomorrow morning. Forecasters say the storm could be a major hurricane with winds topping 110 miles an hour when it slams ashore.

Searchers in Nigeria have found the wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed last night. The plane with 117 people on board went down after taking off from Lagos. It was headed to the country's capital city. A number of high level Nigerian officials were believed to have been on board the Boeing 737. So far, there's no word of any survivors.

Also today, Nigerian officials say the wife of President Obasanjo has died following surgery in Spain. The Spanish foreign ministry says Cella (ph) Obasanjo was rushed to a hospital in Marbella (ph) last night. Details are not clear. An autopsy is planned. Obasanjo was 59.

Those are the headlines.

I'm Lisa Sylvester in Atlanta.

Now back to CNN's "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer for the very latest on Hurricane Wilma's path.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

After spending the weekend battering the Yucatan Peninsula, Hurricane Wilma is grinding its way toward southern Florida right now. Let's go to our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras in CNN hurricane headquarters in Atlanta to find out the latest information, a new forecast just issued by the National Hurricane Center.

Jacqui, what is the latest?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, no big changes, Wolf.

So if you've been watching and staying with us throughout this hurricane, no big changes in the forecast track or the intensity. But still there is some uncertainty.

The storm has started to pick up a little bit of forward speed, it's moving to the north and the east at 8 miles per hour. We're expecting that to gradually accelerate as it heads toward Florida. And believe it or not, this storm could move as fast as 40 miles per hour, which will have a huge impact on the winds of the storm as it gets closer to the Florida peninsula.

Also, note some of these outer bands getting very close to the Florida Keys, and they can expect conditions to gradually deteriorate throughout the afternoon. In fact, tropical storm force winds may arrive as early as late afternoon into the evening hours.

Right now it's a Category 2 storm with winds of 100 miles per hour. But intensity is expected to increase a little bit and we could get back up to a Category 3 storm.

So a major hurricane is still a possibility here. We need to prepare for that across the Florida peninsula and across the Keys.

And hurricane warnings have been issued. And it's not just the west coast of Florida that needs to be concerned. The east coast of Florida also needs to be worried because this will still be a hurricane once it gets to the other side of the coast because the weakening is not going to be that rapid as it moves over land because it will be moving so very quickly.

The showers and thunderstorms have been hitting Florida on and off over the last couple of days. But here is one of those steadier bands that will be moving in within maybe three or four hours, possibly affecting the Dry Tortugas.

Here is the forecast track. It's expected to continue to push to the north and to the east and really get in somewhere between Fort Myers down toward Naples, possibly a slight bit farther to the south of that. And even the Florida Keys are within this cone of uncertainty. It's possible that the Keys could get hit with the eyewall.

So as the storm approaches, really need to pay very close attention. In fact, I know everybody in the Keys starting to evacuate. We've even told our crews that they need to get out of there as conditions go downhill for tonight.

And look at the forecast track, there is still a Category 1 once it gets on the other side of Florida. So, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale and Miami can experience hurricane 1, Category 1 type of conditions.

Also, rainfall will be quite heavy, four to eight inches widespread. But we could see some locally heavier amounts, up to 12 inches of rain as it moves across.

So a very large storm, Wolf -- even those who aren't getting affected directly by the eye of this storm will certainly be feeling the impact. It's about 400 miles across. So everybody across central and southern parts of Florida will feel the effects of Wilma -- Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of people on the east coast of southern Florida, whether in Miami or Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, those areas, they think they might get off relatively easily, but they're going to have some serious problems there, albeit they won't necessarily have that surge coming in from the ocean.

JERAS: Right.

But they are going to be getting some surges, that eye gets a little bit closer. Because remember, once the storm moves over this way on the north side, they're going to start to see the winds move this way. So those waves certainly are going to be on the increase. Winds easily at hurricane force as this gets close in on them.

So they're telling people who are going to be evacuating, they need to do that as far north as Orlando, that that's -- really they need to get at least that far to get out of the path of this storm. And Category 1 certainly enough to cause some large branches to go down and get some power lines down.

So problems certainly on both coasts of Florida.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui, thank you very much. Jacqui Jeras.

We're going to get back to you.

We're going to go right to FEMA headquarters down in Florida. The federal government working to make sure its response to Hurricane Wilma is not a repeat of Hurricane Katrina.

Joining us now from Tallahassee is the FEMA point man in Florida, Justin DeMello, he's joining us right now.

Mr. DeMello, thank you very much for joining us.

Is FEMA ready this time?

JUSTIN DEMELLO, FEMA: Yes, it is, sir. We've been preparing for this for a number of days now. The original forecast had landfall on Saturday, so we started preparing for this event on the Monday, Tuesday time frame.

We have pushed a large number of truckloads of commodities to various areas in the state. We have also prepositioned teams, both medical teams and urban search and rescue teams, throughout the state.

There is a close coordination going on between -- from the federal government side, state side and local side, and we have entered what we always call is the unified command. In this case here, it's the Wilma command, which Governor Bush is the incident commander of. Craig Fugate, the director of the state of Florida, is the lead for the state emergency response, and as well as myself on the federal side.

We have come together with a good solid plan, prepositioned as much as we could do without putting it in harm's way and ready to respond to this event.

BLITZER: Where are you bracing for the worst of this in terms of prepositioning your people and your equipment?

DEMELLO: Actually, over the course of the last few days, the track has been varying as far as -- from south Florida to the central part of Florida.

We have positioned most of the teams and the assets in the periphery of what we believe to be a strike in the southern third of the state. The advantage of that is it keeps those commodities and those response folks out of harm's way and that immediately following the storm -- and when I say immediately, within minutes and hours of the storm passing, those commodities and those teams will be embedded into the disaster area.

BLITZER: What lessons did you learn from Katrina that -- things that went wrong in that particular case that you are using now as far as Wilma is concerned?

DEMELLO: Well, the state of Florida, after Andrew, really built a strong organization here and a strong response component.

It's a pleasure to work with them, it's an honor to be a part of the Wilma command.

I believe that every disaster, you learn a lesson -- Andrew obviously was a big impact for the state of Florida. Last year, the four disasters that occurred here in the state -- always lessons learned from every event.

We did learn some lessons from Hurricane Katrina.

However, I believe that from the very beginning of this season, we were prepared for the other disasters that have occurred earlier in this year.

BLITZER: Justin DeMello, FEMA point man in Florida right now.

Good luck to you, good luck to everyone in Florida. Right now they're getting ready for Hurricane Wilma to go through that southern third of the state.

Thank you very much.

Hurricane Wilma already causing significant damage and destruction in Cuba. Let's bring in our Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman. She's standing by on the phone.

What's happening there now, Lucia?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Good morning, Wolf.

Well, it's been raining very heavily on and off here in Havana. We're hearing thunder. It's very, very cloudy, and getting more and more windy.

In Pinar del Rio Province, which is just to the west of Havana, it's even worse.

In fact, there were freakish tropical tornadoes that were -- especially yesterday evening in Pinar del Rio, caused precisely by the atmospheric conditions created by this hurricane. It was incredible.

It destroyed dozens of homes. Tobacco houses, also, were destroyed. People say they've never seen anything like this in more than 60 years -- all of this because of the incredible conditions created by the slow moving storm, which is finally moving near us now.

There is expected to be flood flooding. In fact, there already has been some flooding in Pinar del Rio on the western tip of the country. The rivers are overflowing their banks. Their roads have been cut off.

This is going to continue throughout the day and by tomorrow, authorities are warning that there could be serious storm surges here on the northern coast and even in Havana itself.

BLITZER: Half a million Cubans have been evacuated. Do they have the shelters and the food, the medicine, the supplies ready to deal with that kind of large evacuation, Cuba, being, as you well know, a very poor country?

NEWMAN: Yes, it is a very poor country, but they're very well prepared for these sorts of emergencies. They have a lot of experience doing it.

And they bring -- they evacuate people very quickly at their rudimentary shelters. The food is rudimentary too. It's not the meals ready to eat -- nothing fancy, but enough to keep them alive and going for the days that it takes for the emergency to pass.

And a half a million people, yes, have been evacuated. The storm, luckily, is not going to make a direct hit on Cuba, though. It is moving toward Florida. But it will cause some damage and some problems -- probably power will be out for a day or two.

But they are prepared, as best they can, and people are in place. In fact, yesterday, wolf, I saw a Second World War amphibious vessel -- Soviet-made amphibious vessel parked on a highway in Pinar del Rio, just waiting to move in, in case there is an emergency to rescue people.

BLITZER: All right. Lucia, take care, be careful over there. Lucia Newman, we'll check back with you as well.

Several areas along Florida's southwestern coast are right now bracing for a direct hit from Wilma, among them, Sanibel Island.

That's where our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff is awaiting this hurricane. It looks look a lovely day right now, Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it couldn't be nicer here on Sanibel Island -- extremely quiet. And, as you can see, the sun has come out. And even here, a couple of surfers trying to catch a wave, enjoying just a fantastic day over here.

Even so, the police are not taking any chances. In fact, in about 50 minutes, they are going to prevent anyone from coming on to the island except for emergency workers.

Over the past day, full time residents here have been able to use these passes in order to go back and forth on to the island and off the island. But, come noon time, the passes will be worthless for now.

There has been a mandatory evacuation in effect here. The police have been going door to door urging people to get out. And the vast majority of people have been doing just that. Just about everyone is gone.

But there are about 40 residents who have said they are not going, no matter what happens. That's about 1 percent of the population, a bit less. Wolf?

BLITZER: What excuses are they giving? In the past, some have refused to leave without their animals. What are they saying to you?

CHERNOFF: Exactly. Pets, the No. 1 reason. Also, some folks want to watch over their property. But the truth is, there is going to be nothing they'll be able to do if, in fact, the storm hits here hard.

Last year, Hurricane Charley did significant damage, $720 million worth of damage to homes and businesses here. This is, after all, a barrier island so it can be very vulnerable to storms.

BLITZER: How are you planning on riding out the storm, Allan?

CHERNOFF: Wolf, We're going to be riding in our vehicles out of here come this afternoon. This is not where we will ride out the worst of the storm. We're heading back to the mainland and then we'll make a decision.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's a smart decision. Before I let you go, briefly, that sky looks so impressive over you. Maybe your cameraman, your photographer can pan out and show us a little bit of the sky because its blue now, but it is going to get pretty awful very soon.

CHERNOFF: Absolutely. In fact, this is the nicest day that we have had in three days here on Sanibel Island. We had overcast skies the past few days. But, as you can see right now, just a gorgeous blue day here on Sanibel.

In a way, it's sort of a shame that more people can't enjoy this right now.

BLITZER: The calm before the storm.

Allan, thank you very much. Be careful. Everyone should be careful over there and get out of this path of Hurricane Wilma.

This programming note: At 1:00 p.m. Eastern, we'll be hearing directly from the Florida governor, Jeb Bush, regarding the precautions his state is taking in anticipation of Hurricane Wilma.

That's coming up during our 1:00 p.m. Eastern hour. With Florida's southwestern Gulf coast in the path of the storm, we'll head back to Sanibel Island. We'll talk with the polices chief there about preparations under way. Our special "LATE EDITION: Tracking Hurricane Wilma" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Sanibel Island is just off the coast of southwest Florida, near the city of Ft. Myers.

A mandatory evacuation is under way now.

Joining us, the police chief of Sanibel Island, William Tomlinson.

Chief, thanks very much for joining us. Some people, we hear, are refusing to leave. What if anything can you do about that?

WILLIAM TOMLINSON, POLICE CHIEF, SANIBEL ISLAND: Well, we'll pay very close attention to the track of this storm. If we think that it's serious threat and it is eminent, we'll go door to door and talk to those people individually. And we think we could persuade most of them to leave voluntarily at that time.

BLITZER: What about people who may be elderly or sick or don't have vehicles. Are you looking for them right now?

TOMLINSON: Yes. Yesterday the city of Sanibel, along with 150 volunteers, went door it door identifying those people with special needs and no transportation.

And we've either already relocated those people or we have them on a list to be relocated if necessary.

BLITZER: A lot of tourists normally at Sanibel island. I assume most of them have gotten out of there. But are there still some left?

TOMLINSON: We hear there are a couple of pockets of -- some of the tourists left, but we believe -- again, we'll go specifically to those people and address that this evening.

BLITZER: What about you and other members of the police force, emergency medical personnel? Where do you guys ride out the storm?

TOMLINSON: Well, if it looks like a direct hit, we'll also relocate. But we won't relocate until the very last minute. We feel we have an obligation to make sure the property in Sanibel is safe. And we have an obligation to effectuate that.

BLITZER: Are they telling you when you'll start to get the rain, the wind, the outer bands of this hurricane at Sanibel Island?

TOMLINSON: Our understanding is that we'll receive some of that pre-storm coming late this evening.

BLITZER: Late this evening. That will -- when we'll start to see the effects of the hurricane beginning, albeit modestly, and then it will pick up overnight?

TOMLINSON: Yes, that's what we hear.

BLITZER: What about traffic problems and getting out of that whole area of the west coast of Florida and southern Florida? Are you experiencing the kinds of problems that we saw earlier during Rita, the buildup to Rita in Houston?

TOMLINSON: No. We haven't seen that. We've had a very orderly evacuation on the west coast of Florida. And I believe that's partially because the state and the local counties have taken it seriously and basically phased in evacuations for vulnerable areas.

BLITZER: Since this hurricane is projected to cut across the whole southern part of Florida, lower third, shall we say, where are people driving to? Where are they going?

TOMLINSON: We're recommending people go north, so I think most people are trying to get to Orlando and above Orlando at this time.

BLITZER: And the projection is it's going to be relatively OK up around the Orlando area and further to the north?

TOMLINSON: Yes. Based open the current predictions, that's true.

BLITZER: How many times have you gone through this drill in Sanibel in recent years?

TOMLINSON: Well, last year, Hurricane Charley hit us almost directly, so we have a lot of experience dealing with that just recently. But we've been practicing and having -- we've had a plan for over 20 years and how to evacuate and how to educate our population.

BLITZER: When you saw those -- the video, the pictures coming in from Cancun, Cozumel, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, it was pretty awful. But you don't necessarily need those reminders to explain to the residents in Sanibel Island what potentially is at stake for them.

TOMLINSON: No. That's true. We have a very well-educated population. And what we do is we continue to educate them specifically on the storms. And reminders such as Katrina, Rita, and Wilma do nothing but help us reinforce that.

BLITZER: Chief, thanks very much for joining us. Chief William Tomlinson of the Sanibel police force. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone down there.

Jacqui Jeras is joining us from the CNN hurricane headquarters once again.

Jacqui, we're standing by for a briefing. Ed Rappaport at the National Hurricane Center about to update us on what's going on. But for viewers just tuning in, it looks like Sanibel, Naples, Fort Myers, they'll take the first hits, although I think the Florida Keys certainly are by no means out of the woods.

JERAS: No. Not yet. I mean, it's still entirely possible that the Keys could even get the eye wall of this storm. We're just not 100 percent sure exactly where it's going to go at this time. We still have, oh, probably a good almost 24 hours before landfall. But we think that the hurricane-force winds could be arriving as early as dawn tomorrow.

And exactly where this goes is going to have a huge impact on who's going to get the worst of the storm, because if you're going to be on the north side, it won't be nearly as bad. You're going to have more of that offshore flow, and the worst of the storm surge, of course, is going to be on the south side of that storm system. And depending where it hits, too, there's a lot of little inlets and a lot of little bays here.

And that could funnel up that water, and we could be talking about a very significant storm surge. Right now our best estimate is somewhere in the Naples neighborhood, but it could be farther south than that. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui.

We're standing by, Ed Rappaport of the National Hurricane Center about to speak with reporters. Let's listen in.

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: ... particulars now. It is currently centered 280 miles to the southwest of Key West, Florida. That's about 340 miles from the southwest coast of the Florida peninsula. The long-awaited turn to the northeast has occurred. Acceleration is beginning. The hurricane moving to the northeast now about eight miles per hour.

We think that there will be further acceleration during the day today and tonight, so that by tomorrow morning, the center is going to be along the shoreline, likely of southwestern Florida. Here's the forecast. Here's the center of the hurricane. Here's where he think the center will be, give or take, tomorrow morning near daybreak. Again, the forecast has some errors inherent in it, and track could be a little bit farther north or to the south.

But along this forecast track, landfall tomorrow morning on the southwest coast. As the center comes ashore, we're going to expect hurricane conditions, but they're going to be preceded by tropical storm conditions likely beginning not long after dark in the Florida Keys and spreading northward and eastward, southwest coast of Florida by midnight. And overnight hours into the southeastern part. Problem with this wind is it's going to be driving a very high storm surge across the shoreline in both the keys and the southwestern part of Florida.

On the forecast track, you can see it crosses the Florida peninsula, with the center coming ashore here. We have most of the storm surge to the south, to the right of the hurricane, with as much as 8 to 13 feet of storm surge expected. Now, this whole pattern shifts if the center of the track, the track center moves up or down. So at this point, the worst of the surge would be on the extreme southwest part of the peninsula. But if the track is off by only 30 or 50 miles and comes up to here, then we bring that strong storm surge into Naples, Marco Island, perhaps even the Fort Myers area.

Very concerned about the Florida Keys because of their particular vulnerability. In a moment we're going to have Billy Wagner from emergency management in (inaudible) County talk about that. Before we do, though, one last point, southeast coast is certainly going to be affected by the hurricane, too. At this point, we expect that this will be a category 2 hurricane at landfall.

But with forecast uncertainty of about a category for a 24-hour forecast, we're advising people to prepare for category 3 just in case. If we're lucky, it will weaken to category 1. However, the southeastern part of the peninsula can expect category 2 conditions possible, category 1 conditions likely. Now, I do want to bring in Billy Wagner to talk about an update from the Florida Keys.

BILLY WAGNER, MONROE COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thank you, Ed. Good morning, everyone.

We currently have mandatory evacuation for the entire Florida Keys. We started our phased evacuation process four days ago and had to put it on hold, and resumed it yesterday. I'm very, very concerned about our response in the Keys, especially the mobile home residents.

Hospitals have been evacuated. Only the emergency rooms are presently open, and they'll be closed tomorrow. Actually later this afternoon. Our emergency services will be very, very limited later this afternoon. We have completed our special needs population evacuation and (inaudible) in Miami. By the way, that facility is our designated Red Cross shelter and is presently open.

Key West Airport is closed to commercial and private traffic. It is open for emergency traffic. The Marathon Airport will be closed later today. Traffic out of the Keys is extremely light. Anyone choosing to take advantage of that should do it immediately. And I can't urge them more. The impact will be very similar to what we experienced during Hurricane Georges. Everyone must remember that Georges' primary impact was in the lower Keys, Key West, and up to the middle Keys. This system is going to affect the entire Keys.

In regards to the festivities that have been postponed in response to this event, you can find this information on our web, flakeys.com. That's flakeys.com. And this will be updated throughout the event. I'll turn it back over to you. Thank you.

RAPPAPORT: We'll take some questions now.

QUESTION: Can you tell me a storm that you would compare this to for the people in Broward County, when the last time they had something of what you're anticipating?

RAPPAPORT: We haven't had a storm -- the question was when is the last time we had a storm like this, particularly for Broward County. We have not had hurricane conditions over Broward County in recent years. And so this could be one of the more important events in several decades there depending on the intensity.

Again, all of the southeastern part of the peninsula, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and mainland Monroe, as well as the Keys, are likely to experience hurricane-force winds, at least some gusts. There is a potential for Category 1 sustained winds and even Category 2 sustained winds in the southern part of the peninsula.

QUESTION: Dr. Rappaport, I think one of the messages that forecasters are trying to drive home, especially at this hour -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- is that right now the center of circulation or the landfall is important. But at this point this is such a large storm and the potential for it to be a Category 2 hurricane, maybe even Category 3, folks at home really need to know that this is going to be a strong storm, correct?

RAPPAPORT: The question was about the size of the storm and the importance of the storm.

And, yes, this is a hurricane, for example, that's smaller than Charley. We all saw the devastation that Charley caused as a Category 4.

Yet this storm, even though it's weaker, will have a larger storm surge because its circulation is much bigger. So even with a weaker storm, you get a larger storm surge.

In fact, if we switch to another view here, with the center coming ashore somewhere in southwestern Florida, this circle is about 80 miles wide. That's not even as wide as the hurricane force winds.

So we're going to see a sloth of hurricane force winds that's perhaps like this. And I'll try to do it with two lines here. It covers much of the Florida peninsula. And with that, particularly on the south side where the water is being driven on shore, we're going to have the high storm surge on the order of eight to 13 feet, perhaps eight feet in the Keys.

QUESTION: Could you compare this storm to Hurricane Andrew for people who live specifically, say, north of Kendall (ph) Drive?

RAPPAPORT: Very different storms, of course.

Andrew was extremely intense, mainly south of Kendall (ph) Drive.

But north of that area, and up through Broward County, hurricane conditions during Andrew were only on the order of Category 1. So this could be similar to what they experienced, but for Broward County could actually be stronger than what they experienced for Hurricane Andrew.

QUESTION: I know that you're urging the evacuation in the Keys and yet you've got Fantasy Fest rescheduled now for Tuesday. Many of the people who are going to profit off of Fantasy Fest have got to stay to prepare. WAGNER: Well, I certainly hope they're not staying to prepare. Because one thing about it is we have to analyze what the impact is from this system. And hopefully we can postpone it to a point to where we can have all our visitors return soon. But right now we have to see what the impact is going to be.

QUESTION: A lot of people think of this as a fast, hard punch, not lasting that long because we're seeing it's going to move quickly across the peninsula. What would you say to people who are considering it to be a quick hard punch?

RAPPAPORT: The question was about the duration of the event.

And while the hurricane is going to be moving quite fast, 20 to 25 miles per hour, we do have an area of nearly 400 miles in extent of tropical storm force winds. And so we divide that out, we're talking about at least 12 hours, maybe 24 hours of some rough weather over south Florida.

QUESTION: A lot of folks over in the southwest coast of Florida are curious to know when will the weather start to really go south over there?

RAPPAPORT: The question is when will the weather deteriorate in the southwest coast.

Probably during the late evening hours or overnight, and very quickly in the overnight hours.

The first bands are not likely to reach that area until close to midnight. That's when they'll start seeing tropical storm force winds at least in squalls.

QUESTION: For residents in the southwest, should folks who have secure structures leave their homes and head inland at this point, and possibly tie up traffic? Or should they stay hunkered down if they are in hurricane protected homes?

RAPPAPORT: OK. Last question was what should the people in the southwest coast do.

The most important thing for people to do there as everywhere is to follow the advice of local emergency management officials. They're the ones who are familiar with the local area and with the conditions to be expected.

Thank you.

BLITZER: Ed Rappaport and Billy Hunter. Billy Hunter from Monroe County dealing with the Keys, the emergency evacuation there, mandatory as we know by now. Ed Rappaport, the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

This is a serious Category 2 storm, could go up to be a Category 3 by the time it hits the west coast of southern Florida -- emerging on the east side of the southern part of the state, either a Category 2 or a Category 1.

Lots of concern unfolding right now.

We're going to continue our discussion of Hurricane Wilma. We'll get an update on where the storm is heading and its projected landfall. All that still to come.

Also, up next, the check of what else is making news right now, including the latest violence in Iraq.

Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: Hello. I'm Lisa Sylvester at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Now in the news, Hurricane Wilma is now a Category 2 storm, yet it's expected to re-intensify over the next 24 hours. After a violent visit to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula over two days, Wilma is now heading for Florida, and it's forecast to make landfall sometime tomorrow morning with winds possibly topping 110 miles per hour.

In Nigeria, we have new video of that passenger plane crash last night. Crews are now combing through the wreckage about four hours outside of Lagos. But so far, no word on any survivors. The Bellview Airlines flight disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff. One hundred and seventeen people were on board. The Nigerian president's office tells CNN several high-level Nigerian officials were believed to be among the passengers.

A very bloody Sunday in Iraq. Ten people are killed in separate incidents, but also left dozens of others wounded.

In one incident, five soldiers suffered wounds in three separate bombings in Baghdad. Also today, the U.S. military confirms that four American civilian workers were killed in an attack on September 20th north of Baghdad. The U.S. military did not say why it did not report the deaths earlier.

Those are the headlines. I'm Lisa Sylvester in Atlanta.

Just ahead when "LATE EDITION" continues, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest on evacuations in Florida ahead of Hurricane Wilma.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're watching Hurricane Wilma.

It's still a Category 3; it could go down to a Category 2. It's moving closer and closer toward Florida. We'll have a complete update on that coming up very, very soon.

But, even as the United States braces for yet another hurricane, some legal storm clouds are potentially gathering over the White House. Washington is bracing for possible indictments in that CIA leak investigation, indictments that could come down any day now and may involve high ranking officials in President Bush's inner circle.

Joining us now to talk about that and more, two guests. Dick Thornburgh served as the United States attorney general under the first President Bush. And former Clinton White House special council, Lanny Davis, both good friends to "LATE EDITION."

Thanks, guys, very much for joining us.

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, the CIA leak investigation: the grand jury expires on Friday. It convenes on Wednesday. A lot of speculation that after Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel, the special prosecutor, briefs the grand jury, gets their request as early as maybe Wednesday, there could be indictments.

What do you think?

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it was a rather curious development this week. The independent prosecutor opened up a Web site. And I think that's an ominous development for those people who have been targeted by the grand jury. You don't open up a Web site if you're ready to shut down an investigation.

BLITZER: But the reason why that is significant is that, if there are indictments, there will presumably be a lot of pieces of paper, a lot of documents that are released. And by having it on a Web site, everybody has access to it at the same time.

THORNBURGH: Exactly. Since he's indicated no predisposition to file a report, in the absence of indictments, clearly if there were to be no indictments, it would be a simple one word or one paragraph release.

The prosecutor has his job to do. He's got to find out who did what and whether any of those actions violate federal laws. They could be substantive laws or they could be laws relating to the investigation, obstruction of justice, perjury, what have you.

But he's done an exemplary job of preventing leaks from his own office, for which I compliment him. So, we're left to kind of speculate as to what's going to happen.

We're only getting leaks from lawyers who are representing some of the potential defendants.

That's called a spin.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what we're getting.

Lanny Davis, you dealt with this extensively during the Clinton years. Listen to what the president said this week about the so- called chatter, the background noise. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is some background noise here. A lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining. But the American people expect me to do my job and I'm going to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You lived through these kinds of moments in the Clinton White House. How much of a distraction is there as potential indictments hover over top of officials.

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, first of all, President Bush and President Clinton seemed to be able to compartmentalize and focus on the job. But their staff is highly distracted.

And, certainly, Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have to be very, very anxious.

The political misjudgment here has been established irrefutably. Trashing a wife who worked at the CIA in order to criticize Ambassador Wilson on the merits of his trip was a huge political misjudgment.

And she needs to have an apology from the president for Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby regardless of what Mr. Fitzgerald does after this is over.

On the legal issue, if they were trading on information that was already in the public domain that came in from outside sources, then it looks like Mr. Fitzgerald is left with whether there were inconsistent statements, which would constitute perjury or obstruction.

But I still don't know whether he has a crime regarding the deliberate revealing of an overt agent.

BLITZER: In a 1982 law -- that's a very specific law, there is a high hurdle that you have to overcome to go forward. But, as is widely the case in these kinds of investigations, the secondary alleged violation is the conspiracy, perjury, obstruction of justice.

That might be an easier route for the prosecutor to take.

THORNBURGH: Well, that's the gospel according to Lanny Davis -- that the cover-up is worse than the offense. And that's lurking in the background of any grand jury investigation.

If there is false testimony given or there's an attempt to corrupt any of the witnesses or evidence that is presented to the grand jury, that's a very serious offense because it undermines the integrity of the whole rule of law and investigatory process.

So, that may be what Mr. Fitzgerald is looking at. If so, it will disappoint a lot of people because I think lay persons tend to look at that as kind of piling on -- kind of a game of gotcha.

BLITZER: Martha Stewart, as you know, went to jail not because she was engaged in illegal insider stock trading; she went to jail for lying to the FBI, for perjury, if you will. And that's very similar to what a lot of people suspect is going to happen now. THORNBURGH: And don't get me wrong, that's a serious offense. It just is sometimes looked on the general public as being derivative of what really the wrong was.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a moment. We're going to continue this conversation.

We're going to also have much more on what is going on with Hurricane Wilma. That's coming up. More of our conversation with Dick Thornburgh and Lanny Davis. Plus, tracking Hurricane Wilma.

Our special "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to continue to bring you up-to-date information on Hurricane Wilma. We're tracking that.

But we're continuing also our conversation with Dick Thornburgh, the former U.S. attorney general, and Lanny Davis, the former Clinton White House special counsel. Lanny, what's your assessment? What's going to happen in this CIA leak investigation?

DAVIS: You know, I think that Mr. Libby appears to be in more danger...

BLITZER: Scooter Libby, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is the chief of staff for the vice president.

DAVIS: Just based on what the New York Times reporter Judy Miller wrote that seems to be undisputed, he sat over breakfast and he read from and shared with what might have been intelligence information. The mishandling of intelligence information that all of us who get some kind of classification status is a crime. He seems to be more at risk there.

It sounds to me like Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby were trading on information when they mentioned that Ambassador Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and that may not reach the level of the crime about, as I said, revealing a covert agent. But it doesn't change -- my question is what were they thinking of?

If they wanted to go after Ambassador Wilson, why not go after him directly on the merits? Why go after his wife? That's what mystifies me as the massive political misjudgment that led to this entire crisis.

BLITZER: I think one of the motivations was in that New York Times article that he wrote, the op-ed piece, he said in there, and he was very precise, that vice president's office wanted more information about the Niger or the uranium, the yellow cake, and as a result of that, you know, he was asked to go.

He never said that the vice president asked him to go, or anybody on his staff. This was a CIA decision. Apparently, his wife, who worked in non-proliferation at that point had, threw out his name suggesting he go, but that deeply irritated the vice president's staff that he was suggesting that they may have had something to do with his going to Niger.

THORNBURGH: We'll know soon enough. But, you know, your mention of the New York Times article and the conduct of the newspaper is, resonates with me and the CBS "60 Minutes Wednesday" investigation we carried out. Because there are characteristics that hold over here.

You've got insufficient supervision of reporters. She was supposed to be off this case altogether. And a failure to identify sources to her superiors. And those are practices that CBS News repudiated after our examination of the story on the alleged documents dealing with President Bush.

BLITZER: And you were in charge of that post-mortem, that investigation. Unfortunately, guys, we have to leave it right there. But I'm suspecting both of you are going to be back on "LATE EDITION" next Sunday because there's going to be some dramatic developments...

THORNBURGH: One way or another.

BLITZER: ... this week. And we'll be all patient. We'll watch. Dick Thornburgh, Lanny Davis, thanks to both of you for joining us.

THORNBURGH: Thank you.

BLITZER: More of our special "LATE EDITION" coming up right after this. We're covering Hurricane Wilma. We'll give you the latest information on where it's going. This is a live picture from Sanibel Island in Florida. That could be a target of Wilma. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's much more ahead on our special "LATE EDITION." Our special coverage of Hurricane Wilma continuing right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll check in with CNN reporters in the hurricane zone in just a moment.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

SYLVESTER: I'm Lisa Sylvester at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are the top stories now in the news.

Mexico's resort-lined coast is reeling after two days of pounding from Hurricane Wilma. And we have new video of damage in the region -- at least two deaths are being blamed on the storm there. Wilma is picking up steam as it thunders toward Florida. Forecasters say it could be a Category 3 storm by nightfall, with winds topping 110 miles per hour. The border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been rocked by a pair of earthquakes, possibly aftershocks from a powerful quake that struck earlier this month.

Officials say the overnight quakes had magnitudes of 4.9 and 5.2 and killed at least five people. Nearly 900 aftershocks have been reported since a 7.6 quake on October 8 killed more than 53,000 people in Pakistan, and another 1,300 in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The Red Cross says there is no word of survivors in the crash of a Nigerian passenger jet that took off from Lagos last night. This is the latest video from the crash site about 20 miles outside of Lagos.

One hundred seventeen people were on board the plane. Officials say pilots lost contact with the control tower five minutes after takeoff. Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash.

That's the headlines.

Now back to "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer, Hurricane Wilma and Florida's preparations to face the storm.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

Let's go right to the CNN Weather Center, our hurricane headquarters.

Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, standing by with the latest details on the path of Hurricane Wilma -- Jacqui?

JERAS: Well, Wolf, Wilma has picked up speed today. It's now moving to the north and the east at eight miles per hour.

But it's going to start to go a little bit faster than that as the upper-level winds pick it up and drive it towards Florida's peninsula or possibly still even the Florida keys.

It's a Category 2 storm right now, maximum winds at 100 miles per hour. However, some slight strengthening is still possible as it's moving over the warm loop current in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane warnings have been posted for the Florida keys and the Dry Tortugas and for much of the southern peninsula, from Longboat Key southward and from Titusville southward.

And the reason why both coasts are under a hurricane warning is that the storm is moving very quickly, so it will not weaken much as it moves across the peninsula.

And we'll likely be experiencing Category 1 conditions on the east coast of Florida, while we'll be experiencing 2, possibly 3, on the west coast.

Where exactly the storm is going -- still some question marks. It will have a dramatic impact on you depending on where you are in Naples or extending on up toward Ft. Myers. Right now, our best estimate is that landfall will be on Monday morning as a Category 2 hurricane, but already feeling the impacts of the storm, here you can see the Florida Keys, there's Key West, there's the Dry Tortugas.

An outer band is getting very close, so they'll start to see the showers and thundershowers pick up. And we think tropical storm force winds could arrive as early as this evening -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What about the winds? Talk a little bit about the winds, Jacqui because people are getting ready for the surge; they're getting ready for the rain, but let's specifically talk about a Category 2 and maybe this could be a Category 3 hurricane -- what, winds over 111 miles an hour?

JERAS: Right, that's what it has to be in order for it to become a 3. And that's a possibility. And we always want you to prepare for one category higher than what the official forecast is.

And the forecast has it as a powerful 2, but could go up to a 3. And that's considered a major hurricane.

One of the other big factors with this storm is that forward speed. We were talking with Ed Rappaport from the National Hurricane Center earlier this morning and he said that, as it continues to accelerate in forward motion, this storm could be moving as fast as 40 miles per hour, 40 miles per hour, that is bookin'. That is faster than what you would be driving in a normal city, for example. I want to show you this animation, our forecast graphic of the winds.

There you can see the hurricane. This is the track it's expected to be taking to the north and to the east. Now, if the storm stays in its intensity with 100 mile-per-hour winds as it moves in forward speed -- if it goes as fast as 40 miles per hour, you have to add that into the momentum of the storm.

So, winds over here in that right front quadrant, as we would call it, would be as fast as 140 miles per hour. But you get to subtract them on the good side of the storm, so winds over here would be as light as 60 miles per hour -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So, I guess it's fair to say that some people will be experiencing a major hurricane and others will be experiencing a tropical storm.

JERAS: If all of this comes together that's exactly right, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jacqui. We're going to get back to you, soon, Jacqui Jeras at our hurricane headquarters.

Evacuations in the Florida keys have already begun. They've been under way for days now in anticipation of Hurricane Wilma.

Kareen Wynter is in Key West. She's joining us now with final preparations there.

If they're not out by now, Kareen, I assume it's too late.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, in terms of the shuttle buses that have been going off the island. But the people here, Wolf, quite frankly say they're staying put.

I heard you talking about the wind factor and other areas, just a short time ago. Well, here it's picked up quite a bit. In fact, just a short time ago, we had workers come out.

They took off the signs here, just in anticipation of Wilma. And the winds are much stronger on the south from where we are here. We're sandwiched in between all of the buildings, so it's providing some protection.

But A lot of restless residents are now here. You can see the traffic flowing in downtown Key West, people who have been waiting day after day for Wilma's arrival -- call it nervous energy or maybe just another Sunday here at Key West, but they're out; they're about

And the weather here couldn't have been more beautiful, the start to the day very, very sunny skies, clear conditions, not a lot of rain at all.

But, Wolf, get this, there are already reports of flooding at the other end of the street as a result of high tide early this morning. And that's what has officials really concerned because Wilma is expected to strike during high tide and the potential for severe flooding there, some injection pumps, injection wells which will be sucking the water out. It goes about 100 feet deep in the ground so we'll have to see in that helps out, again, when the storm hits this area.

BLITZER: Kareen, you have a good place where you'll be riding out the storm?

WYNTER: You just look took a look at it, this hotel right here. We're hoping that we stay safe. And again, Wolf, these buildings are pretty sturdy, so we should be safe in this very location.

BLITZER: All right. We hope so, too. Be careful over there. Kareen Wynter, we'll check back with you. Thank you very much.

Sanibel Island in Florida is expected to be one of the targets of Hurricane Wilma.

That's where our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff is standing by.

Allan, people are -- those who have left, I assume, have left by now, but as you told us earlier, there are some diehards who are remaining.

CHERNOFF: Absolutely, there are some people who are still here and, in fact, enjoying the beach right now. We've got about seven surfers down in the distance. So, they're having a great time with the waves that have been coming on in. So, still a number of people on the beach, but certainly the majority, the vast majority of people have already taken off, gone over the past few days.

There's been a mandatory evacuation in effect here on Sanibel for 24 hours now. And in fact, the island is now off access, no one permitted to drive onto the island across the causeway, except if it's an emergency worker. Otherwise, no one permitted on the island.

The police are hoping everyone will be off the island shortly, but of course, there are a couple dozen who say they are staying no matter what.

BLITZER: Allan, do those houses where you are, along the beach -- do they look sturdy enough to withstand a category 2 or category 3 hurricane?

CHERNOFF: I'm told that the building code here is quite strict, tougher than most of Florida. During Hurricane Charley, apparently, there was no one building that was entirely destroyed, but there was severe damage.

In fact, on the island as a whole, and it's about 15 miles long but not very wide, $720 million worth of damage. So, certainly, some of the homes can be very vulnerable even if they are built well.

BLITZER: Allan Chernoff reporting for us. We'll check back with you. He's on Sanibel Island.

Still ahead here on our special "LATE EDITION," we'll speak live with the Florida senator Bill Nelson. He spent time chasing Hurricane Wilma earlier in the week up in a hurricane hunter.

We'll ask him what he saw and whether his state is ready for what is about to hit it. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: In the aftermath of Katrina, is the federal government better prepared to handle hurricanes now? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in our program.

Up next, though, Florida Senator Bill Nelson chasing the storm, literally. We'll ask him what it was like to witness Hurricane Wilma from a hurricane hunter up in the sky. You're watching our special "LATE EDITION: Tracking Hurricane Wilma."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're getting some new video, and this just coming into CNN from Cancun, Mexico. That's where Hurricane Wilma spent much of the weekend literally hovering over that beautiful resort area, and the Yucatan Peninsula. Hurricane Wilma causing extensive damage up and down the Yucatan Peninsula in Cancun, Cozumel Island, and elsewhere.

You can see the destruction in Cancun, and of course, people looking at these pictures in Mexico can only assume what happened there is about to happen in parts of Florida, as well. We're watching Hurricane Wilma continue to move across the relatively warm waters now of the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida.

Let's bring in Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat, of Florida. He was aboard a hurricane hunter plane earlier this week, flying directly over Wilma. He's joining us now from Jacksonville.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us. Is your state prepared?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Florida is prepared, and Florida is accustomed to hurricanes. It's a great relationship between the federal, state, and local levels, so they're prepared. FEMA wasn't prepared after the four hurricanes last year, and we've had a lot of problems with FEMA, and that's why we did the Senate investigation, and they blistered FEMA in a report. Of course, they did nothing to make it right, and unfortunately, it took the tragedy of Katrina to expose the fault lines in FEMA.

BLITZER: What assurances do you have that the federal government will be better in dealing with Wilma in Florida than it was dealing with Katrina in the Gulf Coast?

NELSON: Because they have a professional running FEMA now, Chief David Paulison. He's formerly from Miami-Dade County. He's got a direct designee in Florida that I have spoken to both of them. They assure me that FEMA is prepared, they are pre-positioned, and I think they are.

BLITZER: What about the National Guard, the military in Florida? I assume you'll be needing some help in the aftermath of Wilma. What's happening on that front?

NELSON: Well, the Florida guard has, of course, gone through this over and over. They're about the best prepared anywhere. Remember, after all the trouble in New Orleans, they finally sent in part of the Florida Guard, and they started helping with other Guard units to establish order there. Florida Guard is ready. They're pre- positioned. You're not going to have any problem with the Florida Guard.

BLITZER: We saw you earlier in the week, and we spoke to you earlier in the week from aboard that hurricane hunter flying directly over Wilma, but you were flying at very high altitudes. You're used to that; you're a former astronaut. But take us inside that plane. Tell us what it does. Tell us what you saw, and what it felt like.

NELSON: The G4 is chock full of computers, and they drop 25 of these instrumented packages with a drogue (ph) shoot (ph), and that sends back data real time to the airplane, as the package is falling to the surface of the water. And then they beam that information, Wolf, real time, off of a satellite, back to the National Hurricane Center.

So the data that goes in to the new update on the computer model from which Max Mayfield makes his prediction is all very recent data, and there's just a constant hum of activity up there. You're looking out the window. You're looking out into the soup so you don't see much. Quite a contrast, by the way, from what I saw from space looking down on a hurricane. It's a beautiful sight from that vantage point.

BLITZER: So what you're saying to me is that these hurricane hunters are invaluable, as far as dealing with forecasts, dealing with hurricanes?

NELSON: Exactly, and that hurricane hunter is down this morning, or this afternoon, getting maintenance, because they've been flying twice a day, eight and a half hours each trip. They have to get maintenance, and they don't have another backup aircraft. They have to go to the Air Force. I'm going to try to help get them another aircraft, Wolf.

BLITZER: Get them some more funding. Let me read to you from the October 11 Miami Herald: "Since Andrew" -- Hurricane Andrew way back in the early '90s -- "breakdowns in weather observing equipment have regularly handicapped forecasters. Hurricane hunter planes were grounded, buoys were left broken, weather balloons weren't launched in key regions in the Caribbean. Advances in the science, meanwhile, have been slowed by chronic under-funding." Any indication that's about to change?

NELSON: Yes, sir. I just spoke to Senator Stephens and Senator Inouye. They are big fans of Max Mayfield and the National Hurricane Center staff. I think you're going to see -- we're going to stop these cuts to the National Weather Service and get them what they need.

BLITZER: We -- go ahead, finish your thought.

NELSON: This is a matter of life and death to people to have an accurate prediction.

BLITZER: Give us a ballpark number, how much money are you talking about with the Senators from the appropriations committees?

NELSON: Well, we're talking about six or seven additional people for Max Mayfield. You're talking about another plane or a part of a plane that they can share with others. You're talking about these buoys. They have the new instrumented packages called (inaudible), so you're talking probably $50 million to $75 million.

BLITZER: Let's talk briefly about FEMA flood insurance. You can't get flood insurance unless you get it through the federal government. There were almost 200,000 claims for flood insurance, projected payouts come to $10 to $30 billion, but $2 billion have been received in premiums. So what's happening on that front? It looks like you've got a serious deficit there. NELSON: There's going to have to be some major changes, Wolf. Look, 60 percent of New Orleans residents under sea level had no federal flood insurance. Now, that's inexcusable. We've got to change that. Otherwise, guess who picks it up? It's the American taxpayer picks up the tab. So people are going to have to start buying flood insurance or else suffer the consequences.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to everyone in Florida, the Sunshine State.

There's not going to be a whole lot of sunshine over the next 24 to 48 hours, but we're with you, we're watching every step of the way.

Appreciate it.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're standing by to hear from the Florida governor, Jeb Bush. He'll be speaking live about the preparations for Hurricane Wilma, that's coming up at the top of the next hour, 1:00 p.m. Eastern here on our special expanded edition of "LATE EDITION."

Also ahead, evacuations under way in the Florida Keys in anticipation of Wilma's arrival. We'll talk with the mayor of Key West about preparations there.

Also, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest in Nigeria, a plane crash that happened earlier today.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: Hello, I'm Lisa Sylvester at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Now in the news, just a day from now south Florida is expected to be taking a beating from Hurricane Wilma. The storm is moving toward the state after battering Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Forecasters say when Wilma reaches Florida, it could be a major hurricane with winds topping 110 miles an hour.

In Nigeria there's no word yet on any survivors in the crash of a passenger jet. The plane went down last night after taking off from Lagos. The Boeing 737 was carrying 117 people, some of them believed to be high-ranking Nigerian officials. Search crews discovered the wreckage earlier today.

From Iraq, there's word that four American civilians working in that country were killed late last month in an attack north of Baghdad. U.S. military confirmed the deaths today. The victims were in a convoy that had gotten lost just before the attack.

Those are the headlines. I'm Lisa Sylvester in Atlanta. Straight ahead on "LATE EDITION," Wolf Blitzer will get a live update on preparations for Hurricane Wilma from the mayor of Key West -- it's coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION: Tracking Hurricane Wilma."

A huge responsibility in times of hurricane dangers falling on the shoulders of local officials. With us now the mayor of Key West, Florida, Morgan McPherson. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

Looks pretty calm, looks pretty normal right now. What are you bracing for?

MAYOR MORGAN MCPHERSON, KEY WEST: Everything, you know, the unknown, and we have done great preparations for both pre- and post- hurricane. We're not only ready for it, but we're going to be ready for it when it leaves, too.

BLITZER: We see traffic behind you. Have most of the people left the Keys, or are they still around?

MCPHERSON: No, I think this time a lot of them stayed, unfortunately, because it was an important decision to be made, but we'll be ready and they'll be ready.

BLITZER: When you say they'll be ready, average people, where are they going to ride this out?

MCPHERSON: Most of them in their homes. We have shutters and different precautions that they've taken, and they're going to ride it out at home.

BLITZER: What does a mandatory evacuation mean if people can simply ignore it?

MCPHERSON: Well, I mean this is America, and everybody has a freedom of choice. We make a declaration, but it's up to them to make a good choice.

BLITZER: Well, what happens if they stay and they get hurt, is it their fault? Is it someone else's fault? There's a lot of criticism of these people for ignoring these kinds of orders.

MCPHERSON: Absolutely, and you know, their safety is now in their hands and not in the city's hands, and so everybody can just make the best of it at this point.

BLITZER: When you say most people are just going to ride it out in their own homes, do they just think this Hurricane Wilma is going to head further to the north, Naples, Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island, that area, and the Keys will come out okay?

MCPHERSON: Well, I think that's part of the consideration, and just another consideration, and this isn't the first or the last storm that's been through here. And they've made it in the past, and they think they can make it in the future.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MCPHERSON: I think that when there's a mandatory evacuation, I've asked my family, my wife and my kids are gone, and I think that's an important thing to do, and that's what I'd urge everybody to do.

BLITZER: Well, assuming that people will stay for whatever reasons, they don't believe all the warnings, they've got pets, cats, dogs or whatever, or they simply think it's going to be a thrilling adventure, what kind of preparations do you have in place right now to deal with the aftermath of Wilma?

MCPHERSON: Well, fortunately, for us, like I said, we're pretty good at this. We've had a few in the past, so our contractors are standing by, ready to make sure that any dangerous materials or any dangerous debris is removed first thing, work our way and get the electric system online, and make sure that everything that needs to be taken care of for our infrastructure is in place, so we can move on and have a great festival coming up.

BLITZER: Are the bars, the restaurants, the hotels still open? We have seen reports, seen some video of people sticking around almost in a party-like atmosphere. Is that happening in Key West?

MCPHERSON: No, there's some in that mode, but most people are pretty sober-minded right now and they're battening down the hatches and at home.

BLITZER: And they're getting ready for this storm.

When do you think they'll begin to feel the start of this? There was a huge festival -- we see some of the people getting ready to participate in almost like a Mardi Gras festival in Key west.

What exactly is this festival

MCPHERSON: What exactly is the festival?

BLITZER: Yes. What it is the festival -- and I assume it's been called off.

MCPHERSON: Yes. Fantasyfest is a festival. It hasn't been called off; it's been postponed. We're looking at Wednesday to start the activities. We feel that we have a good plan in place to get our city ready.

And this is a tourist economy, tourist culture and we're ready for the tourists to come down and enjoy what we have. In light of weather and perfect conditions, we'll make it happen.

BLITZER: Morgan McPherson is the mayor of Key West.

Mayor, thanks very much. Good look to all of your people down there, the tourists and everyone else.

MCPHERSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Jacqui Jeras is at the CNN hurricane headquarters, our meteorologist with the latest tracking of this storm.

Jacqui, update our viewers on what we know.

JERAS: Well, what we know is that -- we're worried about the Keys, by the way, too, Wolf -- just listening to the mayor there, some of those people hanging around -- this is not a good idea.

I'm very worried about the Keys. And it's still possible that they could get the eye wall of this storm, as it gets to its closest approach to the Keys. It's been picking up some forward speed, too, so this has been evolving over the last hour and a half.

Based on the satellite, what I'm seeing is that the storm looks like it may be picking up in momentum a little bit. Also, take a look around the outside of the eye. Look at some of these purples that are beginning to popping up once again.

These are some signs that the storm is intensifying. The 11:00 Eastern time advisory that came in, winds at 100 miles per hour, maximum sustained. But right now, this storm is moving over what we call the "loop current" and basically, it's a big pool of some really warm, really deep, warm water.

And so this is why it's possible that this storm could intensify once again to a Category 3 storm. It's very possible that could be happening over the next 6 to 12 hours. So, we'll be watching it very closely.

And that's why, even though the official forecast has this as a Category 2 at landfall, we want you to prepare for a 3.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Dry Tortugas, across the Keys, and from Longboat Key all the way to the south from Titusville -- all the way to the south because both coasts are expected to experience hurricane conditions because the storm is going to be moving so very quickly.

And because we're a little uncertain as to how quickly it's going to pick up speed and ultimately how fast it's going to go, there is a lot of uncertainty still also what time the storm is going to be hitting. Right now, our best estimate is 8:00 in the morning tomorrow as a category 2.

It's entirely possible that this storm could make landfall overnight or a little bit later on in the morning. So, I want to you watch this throughout the day today if you can to your hurricane headquarters.

But if you have a small window, watch, when the 5:00 Eastern time advisory comes in, because we're going to get a whole new package deal. And if there are any changes in the forecast track, that's when it would be happening.

I'm going to advance you into time and just give you a heads-up for what the future holds. Besides hitting the coasts here, the storm will continue to push up to the north and east very rapidly.

And there's the potential we could deal with another landfall in the northeastern U.S. You can see the cone of uncertainty swiping through parts of New England, although best estimates at this time would bring it through the Canadian Maritimes some time late on Tuesday or early Wednesday.

BLITZER: But since the waters, as you go further north, up the Atlantic coast, get colder and colder, that hurricane or tropical storm, depression -- whatever it winds up being -- that's going to really slow it down?

JERAS: Well, I don't think it will slow it down, but it will reduce the intensity of the storm.

See the hole in the middle? That's the signature for a tropical storm rather than a hurricane. And it's possible it could become what we call extra tropical, but it would still be a very strong gale force storm at that time.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui, stand by. Thank you very much.

Let's go to the National Hurricane Center for some more specific information.

Joining us is Ed Rappaport. He's the deputy director. Thank you very much, Ed, for joining us.

Give our viewers in south Florida, actually most of Florida, if you take a look at that whole area, potentially, that could be affected, give our viewers a sobering thought what they should be ready for.

RAPPAPORT: Category 2 conditions is what we're forecasting. And Wilma is now a Category 2 hurricane.

What that means is near and to the right of the center, perhaps extending out 50 to 75 miles, there will be hurricane force winds, and right now, the forecast track is something like this. So, much of the southern part of the peninsula and the Florida Keys will have hurricane force winds.

What we're most fearful of, though, is that on the south side, there will be water driven ashore of the storm surge -- could reach 8 to 13 feet along the southwestern coast and potentially five to eight feet in the Florida Keys.

BLITZER: What about on the east coast of southern Florida -- Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach -- will they get significant surge?

RAPPAPORT: Not likely. We do think there will be a two-foot surge, perhaps as high as four feet, driven up some of the canals on the southeast side.

But mainly, it's going to be a wind event for southeastern Florida, Category 1 conditions -- potentially category 2 winds in southeastern Florida.

BLITZER: You were quoted earlier -- or at least one of your colleagues was quoted at the national hurricane center as saying this is going to move through Florida and build up speed like a rocket.

What does that mean?

RAPPAPORT: I think what was referred to there was the forward progress of the hurricane. We recall that the hurricane stalled over the Yucatan peninsula. And now it's made that sharp turn to the right that was expected and it's beginning to accelerate, moving 8 miles per hour.

By the time it gets to Florida, it will be moving 20 to 25 miles per hour and could accelerate significantly even beyond that. What that does is it gives us less time to get ready.

We think landfall will be along the southwest coast, probably near daybreak tomorrow in the vicinity of Naples to Marco Island, Ft. Myers, with the worst of the weather being from there southward.

BLITZER: But southward because of the nature of this hurricane. And as it moves -- Jacqui Jeras explained to us -- as it moves at, let's say, 20, 30, 40 miles an hour, that's going to accelerate the impact for people to the south of the eye wall.

RAPPAPORT: That's right, but we are incorporating that forward speed into the estimates and forecast for wind speeds. So, we're forecasting Category 2, potentially Category 3 on the south side of the hurricane.

Some hurricane force winds on the north side, but a much stronger storm to the right, to the south of the center, than to the north.

BLITZER: Is Florida -- you live there, you know this state quite well -- are they ready for this?

RAPPAPORT: I would hope so. This is the fifth or sixth, at least, hurricane that we've been preparing for, for the last two years.

I know that, based on what I've seen around the community here, people have been preparing; gas lines have been along for several days now. And we have here have our shutters up at the hurricane center. I've got shutters up at home. Hopefully everybody else is ready.

We are concerned about the Keys, though. We understand that the amount of people leaving the Keys is less than expected. There was a mandatory evacuation in place there. And we're concerned, because of the storm surge and the wave action there.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Ed Rappaport. We're grateful to you and everyone at the national hurricane center for all of the critically important information.

We'll check back with you throughout the day here on CNN.

Joining us now on the phone is the mayor of Ft. Myers, Mayor Jim Humphrey.

Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.

Ft. Myers could take a direct hit. Are you ready for that?

MAYOR JIM HUMPHREY, FT. MYERS, FL: Yes, we're ready. and from the report we're receiving, either Ft. Myers or Cuyoga (ph) County, Naples will receive the direct hit.

The track brings it right into just between Ft. Myers and Naples.

BLITZER: It could come in as a Category 2 but maybe even a Category 3 with winds of more than 111 miles an hour.

Have most of the people gotten away? Have they evacuated or are they staying put?

HUMPHREY: Well, quite a few have evacuated, but I'm also concerned that there's quite a few residents that, because of the wait, have just stayed there. So, we're going to today, again, encourage the mandatory evacuation, particularly along the river because, as you said, we have to prepare for a category one above what is anticipated.

And, looking at Charley last year, it increased a category just before it hit land.

BLITZER: Is it still time for people to get in their cars and start driving north?

HUMPHREY: Oh, no, not the cars. They'd go to shelters.

BLITZER: It wouldn't make any sense just to get in your car and start driving toward Sarasota or someplace further north?

HUMPHREY: We're not recommending that, because as you said, it really is not enough time, even though it's not expected to hit here until 8:00 a.m., I'm afraid, with the winds coming in before that, that it would not be safe to try to drive away.

It would be better to go to one of the shelters we've provided.

BLITZER: What kind of shelter opportunities are there in Ft. Myers?

HUMPHREY: We have quite a few shelters to include the schools, which already have water and food available. We're asking everyone, of course, to bring their blankets and their pillows.

But we have, and we actually have a pet friendly shelter, because so many of our residents, we were afraid, would not evacuate, if they have to leave their pets behind.

BLITZER: So, you don't want people to try to just ride it out in their own apartments or in their homes. You want them to actually make their way to one of these shelters, where they will be safer. Is that right?

HUMPHREY: Well, that's right. Principally, though, those that live along the river. Now, if they live inland some, even though we're concerned about the wind being at 95 to 110 miles an hour, those, most of those residents could really stay in their homes, but those along the river with the tidal surge that's going along with it, and are concerned about the flooding in that area, we're asking them to evacuate.

BLITZER: Mayor Humphrey, what I hear you saying is that, and I'm surprised to hear this, is that the enormous impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi, that you would have thought that people would be so scared of even the word "hurricane" that they would try to get out as quickly as possible. A lot of people in Ft. Myers are not necessarily all that scared.

HUMPHREY: Well, because basically, first of all, we're above sea level, even though certain areas along the river are below ten feet. We still have safe evacuation areas. We have an excellent preparation program. Our emergency office operations led by the county really have prepared us. We have transportation for those that do not have their own transportation. We have special needs shelters.

So we feel that, with a hurricane such as this, even though this, Wilma, has been so unpredictable, that we are prepared, but we have encouraged people to evacuate. We evacuated my mother to Atlanta. We've evacuated other people on a volunteer basis, but you're right.

People just do not want to leave their homes. They're concerned about what's happening, and when they see the speed of Wilma, we know that it's to go through Ft. Myers at greater speeds than 20 knots. So they anticipate the storm won't last that long, at least through our area.

BLITZER: One final question. We are almost out of time, Mayor. What about cooperation with FEMA and the federal government? Are you getting everything you need from Washington at this stage?

HUMPHREY: Yes, we are. In fact, they've been on-site at our emergency -- I mean our emergency operations center for several days, both the state and FEMA, and we feel there's excellent coordination there.

BLITZER: Jim Humphrey's the mayor of Ft. Myers, a beautiful town. Thanks very much, Mayor, for joining us. Good luck to you and everyone in your community. And just ahead, their districts are battle-hardened from past hurricanes. We'll talk with two Florida Congressmen about Wilma's potential impact on their constituents, and what's being done to help residents weather the storm. Our special "LATE EDITION," tracking Hurricane Wilma, will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture from Sanibel Island in Florida, the calm literally before the storm. This is a lovely day for now, but in the hours to come, it's going to get really, really bad in that area up and down the west coast of south Florida, and it's also going to be bad hours later on the east coast of south Florida as well.

Floridians know what hurricanes can do, and they also know the cost. Joining us now, two Congressmen from Florida, in Orlando, Republican Congressman Mark Foley and in Miami, Congressman Kendrick Meek, one Democrat and one Republican. Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us on our special "LATE EDITION."

Congressman Foley, I'll begin with you. You've weathered through a lot of these storms in the past. Do you feel confident that the people of Florida are ready right now?

REP. MARK FOLEY (R), FLORIDA: Without question. I mean, we've been through this drill many, many times. Frances, Jeanne, Charley, Ivan, Dennis, Katrina. We've prepped. We're ready. People I think have taken this a little lackadaisically, and they saw it stall over the Yucatan, and decided, well, maybe it's not coming in our direction. But this thing's on its way. It's coming fast, and it looks like it will get some additional speed once it makes landfall.

BLITZER: Congressman Meek, what about you? Are you that confident?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Well, we feel pretty confident right now that we're going to get a good part of this storm. South Florida has been preparing now for the last four to five days, and now the storm is starting to pick up speed.

We know here in south Florida, three of the biggest counties, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, have some of the most able emergency management teams that are on the ground, and plus the Florida National Guard is on standby at Homestead Air Force Base.

BLITZER: Your district respects Hollywood, Hallandale, Broward County, parts of Miami-Dade, I believe. There are some poor pockets there. There are a lot of elderly people, a lot of people who need special assistance. Are they ready? Has the community done everything that should be done to help these people?

MEEK: Today in Miami-Dade County, the shelters just opened at noontime. Special-needs shelters, one in the middle of my district, Edison Senior High School plus the Miami-Dade County Transportation Department and Broward is actually providing rides for special needs individuals to make it to those shelters. The buses are free. The transit is free at this time.

As you know, Wolf, just like New Orleans, it wasn't the individuals financially able to evacuate family and friends, but those individuals who could not evacuate and those are the people that the government is focused on now. But we're asking family members to reach out to your family members that you know that need help at this time, and if they need to come in with you or they need to go to a special needs shelter where they can get assistance, the time is now.

BLITZER: What about in your district, Congressman Foley? It's a little bit further in the north, up in the north central part of the state, Palm Beach County and around there. What about the poor people, the elderly, the sick, those who don't necessarily have the freedom to move where they want?

FOLEY: Well, that's what Governor Bush and the emergency management, Craig Fugate and others have been working on the last four days, getting people that are in harm's way into hardened shelters, getting them prepared, evacuating nursing homes. I also represent Punta Gorda, so of course we're used to this. Charley made landfall August 13, '04, and we've really been inundated if you will, through my cross-section.

The big concern, too, is Lake Okeechobee, the rim around the lake and the impact that that could have with the weakening condition, if you will. So the Corps of Engineers has been out there. They've monitored the dike. Things look safe. But we are monitoring the storm extraordinarily carefully.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from the September 17 Washington Post, Congressman Foley, since it deals with your district. "FEMA City is a dusty, baking , treeless collection of almost 500 trailers that was set up by the federal emergency agency last fall to house more than 1,500 people made homeless by Hurricane Charley."

"Almost a year later, most are still there angry, frustrated, depressed and increasingly desperate. While the badly damaged town of Punta Gorda is beginning to rebuild, and even substantially upgrade one year after the storm, many of the area's most vulnerable people are being left badly behind."

Is that right?

FOLEY: Well, they're not being left behind.

But there is no question, construction has been slower than we hoped. Getting supplies and materials have been delayed. People still have blue tarps on their roofs.

It's been a tough, tough period. Those people are in trailers right now and those could be subject to significant damage depending on where this storm comes.

But it's not just FEMA residents. It's people that live in that region of the state that are in manufactured housing that do have some fear and reasonably so, because it's a very difficult place to be in a storm, when you're in a manufactured house.

So we're concerned about those in FEMA village. We're concerned about the elderly.

But Governor Bush, again, and FEMA have worked very, very hard to get people out, to move them to shelters, advising them accordingly, providing transportation, working with the sheriffs and all the local emergency management teams to ensure the safety of as many people as possible.

BLITZER: Well, final question to you, Congressman Meek -- are you confident that the federal government, FEMA in this particular case, is with you and all of your constituents, doing what it has to do to prepare for Wilma?

MEEK: Well, I can tell you, Hurricane Katrina came across my district, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz's (ph) district and many others, and they weren't able to make FEMA claims afterwards because it didn't meet the threshold of number of homes that were damaged.

So a lot of my constituents are still with damaged homes. A lot of my constituents are still displaced. I feel that there's a lot of work that needs to be done on FEMA and our response to emergencies. That's the reason why we're asking for a Katrina independent commission so that we can go from lessons learned.

We do have people still in trailer parks at this particular time, a year later after last hurricane season -- that's something that we have to work on because that's a part of the recovery process that the federal government is a part of.

So hopefully we'll be able to get a better and able FEMA, but I believe as it relates to our resources here locally on the ground, I think that we're more prepared than any other state, any other local community, as it relates to responding to a storm.

But the federal response, we need a lot of work and, unfortunately, it's on the job training.

BLITZER: All right.

Kendall Meek, Mark Foley, two congressmen from Florida right in the hurricane path.

Thanks to both of you for joining us. Good luck to both of you and all your constituents.

"LATE EDITION"'s special coverage of Hurricane Wilma continues right after this break.

And remember, we're standing by to hear live from the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He was known to many as J.J., but his leadership style was not nearly as casual.

As part of CNN's anniversary series "Then & Now," our Africa correspondent Jeff Koinange takes a closer look at Jerry John Rawlings and where he is today. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was only 31 years old when he seized power in what he called a people's coup in Ghana in 1979.

JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS, FMR. PRESIDENT OF GHANA: Ghana (ph) is looking up to you.

KOINANGE: It was Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, the man known to many simply as J.J., later installed himself as president and would go on to rule Ghana for the next decade as a strong-armed dictator.

RAWLINGS: You can buy someone's loyalty.

KOINANGE: Early in his second decade of power, Rawlings changed course, looking to the West for aid and introducing a series of economic reforms. He was elected and then re-elected as president before he gave up power voluntarily in 2001.

The flamboyant Rawlings, a qualified helicopter pilot, still takes pleasure in flying himself around, and continues to play an active role behind the scenes, rallying Ghana's fledgling opposition.

RAWLINGS: I don't have any regrets because by our intervention, and the sacrifice that we made, as painful as it was, I know that's what saved the nation.

KOINANGE: He's also busy writing his memoirs and says he'll soon be publishing his account of his sometimes turbulent rule.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from Florida Governor Jeb Bush right at the top of the hour.

We'll take a quick break.

Our special "LATE EDITION" will continue after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a special "LATE EDITION: Tracking Hurricane Wilma."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: Floridians in these areas should remain vigilant. You may find that the weather looks inviting and peaceful this weekend, but looks can be deceiving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Floridians keeping a watchful eye on the approaching storm. Is the Sunshine State ready for Hurricane Wilma? We'll get live reports from around the region as residents prepare. And let's go right to the Florida governor, Jeb Bush. He's about to speak to reporters with an update. They're waiting for the other officials to walk into this room, and you see the Florida governor right there. Let's listen in.

(UNKNOWN): We will be doing a turnaround quickly following this briefing. We appreciate your assistance in helping us reset the media room. I think we have everybody. Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for being here.

This is the Sunday 1 p.m. update briefing for Hurricane Wilma. Right now, as of 7 a.m. this morning, the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee has activated to a Level 1. This is a full- level activations. All support functions are reporting. We are on a 24/7 operational schedule. At this time, I'd like to turn the podium over to the governor of the great state of Florida, Governor Jeb Bush.

J. BUSH: Thank you, Mike. Good afternoon.

First, our thoughts and prayers are with our neighbors in Mexico as they begin to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Wilma. Based on the latest forecast, Wilma will likely make landfall as a Category 2 hurricane in southwest Florida and Florida Keys Monday morning. Wilma's projected fast movement will result in hurricane- force winds across the state from coast to coast, including the Keys.

Tropical storm-force winds will be felt as far north as the I-4 corridor. Hurricane warnings are posted on the west coast from Longboat Key, which is in Sarasota County, southward, and hurricane warnings are also posted from Titusville and Brevard County southward on the east coast. Hurricane warnings are also in effect for Lake Okeechobee. Tropical storm warnings and watches are posted along the rest of the east and west coasts of our state.

Flood watches have also been posted for most of the peninsula. Storm surge will also be a concern in southwest Florida, the keys, and the areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee. Please listen to local officials during this day, and take action. Mandatory evacuations are under way for all Florida Key residents. I cannot emphasize enough to the folks that live in the Florida Keys, a hurricane is coming, and a hurricane's a hurricane. And it has deadly-force winds, and while there have been evacuations over the last 14 months and there's not been a hit, perhaps people are saying, I'm going to hunker down.

They shouldn't do that. They should evacuate, and there's very little time left to do so. In Collier County, mandatory evacuations are under way for residents west of U.S. 41 and south of U.S. 41. Voluntary evacuations are under way in Lee County for non-residents and at-risk populations, and in Okeechobee County for non-residents and residents in mobile homes. If you don't have to evacuate, now is your last chance to stock up on supplies and prepare to shelter in place. We anticipate heavy power outages and flooding, and make sure you have enough food and water and medication for three days.

To make it easier to evacuate, the tolls have been suspended on Florida's turnpike from U.S. 1, the Florida City interchange in Miami- Dade County, to its northern end at the I-75 interchange in Wildwood. Also, their tolls have been lifted for Alligator Alley, Sawgrass Expressway and northbound only on the Homestead extension. The Florida Highway Patrol reports that traffic is flowing smoothly. Patrolmen and women are stationed on the roads throughout southwest and southeast Florida to assist motorists.

Twenty-three general shelters are currently open, with more scheduled to open this afternoon and this evening. There are 20 special-needs shelters for the frail and elderly that are open in southwest and southeast Florida. For those who don't wish to leave their pet behind, and I know a lot of Floridians love their pets, just like I do, pet shelters are now opening as needed. And you can check with local emergency officials for locations.

As we brace for another hurricane, please remain considerate of your neighbors and fellow Floridians, especially in regard to fuel. As of 10 a.m. this morning, there was more than 220 million gallons of fuel, diesel and gasoline, in our ports, which is a higher than normal amount of gasoline. Over the next three days, more than 131 million gallons will be arriving to Florida's ports on 29 ships. That is an adequate supply of fuel for everybody.

However, as you experience spot outages in southwest Florida, please remain patient. Currently 2,400 National Guardsmen are mobilized, and 3,000 are on alert. The Guard has ten Chinooks and 24 Blackhawks immediately available for search and rescue and lifesaving operations. These are coming from our own state as well as Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and New York. Eight DMAT (ph) teams consisting of 35 to 55 doctors, nurses, and EMTs are staged in Orlando, and an additional nine teams are ready to be launched as needed. Florida has 200 trucks of ice, 225 trucks of water, and 86,000 meals ready to go.

And that does not include the support that we know is coming from FEMA, which more than doubles that amount of volume of support that we expect whenever it's safe, to be able to provide to the citizens that will be impacted by this hurricane. We do appreciate the federal government's readiness to provide support to our state. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, this is a team effort. And we're so thankful for FEMA's preparation with us side by side. Later today as the storm gets closer, we'll be sending a letter to President Bush asking for a major disaster declaration. We say it time and time again that the most dangerous time is after a storm. Also during a storm, it's important for people to stay safe.

We had 14 deaths before and after Katrina, which, you know, was only a hurricane, Category 1 storm. All hurricanes are dangerous. And people that were outside during the storm lost their lives, and people lost their lives by using their generators inside their houses. There are a lot of Floridians now that have generators because of the experience of last summer. It is important to follow the instructions properly so you can keep your family safe and yourself safe. This is the time to stay tuned to local emergency officials for specific evacuation orders, road closures, general information, and shelter openings.

Remember, evacuations are done at the local levels, so heed the advice of your local political officials when they ask you to leave. I appreciate everybody's patience as we have awaited and prepared for this storm. We can't say it enough. All storms are dangerous, and Floridians must be cautious and prepared. If you don't mind, I'm going to say a few words in Spanish as well.

BLITZER: All right. while the governor is speaking in Spanish, let's bring in Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist at the CNN's hurricane headquarters for an update on the specific movement of Wilma right now. Jacqui?

JERAS: Well, Wolf, we're seeing two things right now that I'm a little bit concerned about. It looks like the storm is getting stronger at this time. Here's the latest satellite imagery. And check out some of these purples that you see on the top side of the storm, and also the eye itself is becoming better defined and really starting to close in and get a little bit tighter. And these are all signs that the storm is intensifying.

Right now, it's a Category 2 with 100-mile-per-hour winds. But it is possible that this could jump back over to a 3 as it's moving over what we call the warm loop current, some very warm waters. There you can see the warnings which are in effect. And we heard Governor Bush talk about evacuating. How much time do you still really have? We're talking about maybe six hours before we think the tropical storm-force winds are going to be arriving in the Keys.

So that is right around the corner. You have to rush everything to completion right now. And we're not just concerned about the west coast of Florida. We're also concerned about the east coast of Florida here, as we'll likely still see hurricane strength on the opposite side of the coast. And so places like Ft. Lauderdale, up towards West Palm Beach will likely see Category 1 conditions as the storm moves over the peninsula. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jacqui, while the governor continues to speak in Spanish, we're going back there momentarily. He's going to be answering some questions as well. Give our viewers a sense of evacuation right now. We heard from one mayor just a little while ago. Evacuation means, as far as he's concerned, getting to a shelter. Not simply getting into your car and driving north.

JERAS: That's right. As I just mentioned, time is very limited, so getting to a shelter is probably going to be your best route. But we're advising that if you are trying to get out of town and you're still thinking about being in your car, first of all, listen to your local officials. Whatever your local emergency manager tells you to do, that's what you should do.

If they're telling you still to stay put, then stay put. But if they say you still need to evacuate, then you need to do that. But if you are getting out of town, per se, we think you need to go at least as far north as Orlando to be safe from the storm.

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui. Thank you very much. We'll get back with you. Let's go back to the governor, Jeb Bush. He's resumed speaking in English. CRAIG FUGATE, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: All I can tell the people in the Keys that are going to ride this one out, one of these days your luck is going to run out.

And unfortunately I think that tomorrow may be a day where your risk of seeing hurricane force winds is the probably greatest of all of these storms.

Today, as the governor says, is a day of action. And you're not going to be able to delay that decision much longer. That window will close.

But our unified command with FEMA, the Wilma command, the state and federal forces have been preparing.

Today we are moving.

We are already starting those teams south and into the areas that we can get to safely. And as the hurricane approaches the coast and as that storm begins to impact the areas, we are working in continued communication with those counties that are going to be first of the brunt of this, but also to continue this message that this storm is not a coastal storm alone.

It will move inland to much of our rural part of the state, south Lake Okeechobee and then through the very populace areas on the east coast, as well as throughout much of the Florida Keys.

So as this situation develops, as the governor says, you need to pay attention to your local officials.

But understand that this team, Wilma command, with our state and our federal partners are right now moving resources as we can approach where this storm is going to make landfall with the anticipation that as it hits tomorrow and conditions begin to improve, we will be following behind this hurricane.

An important component of this will be the search and rescue teams.

At this time, I'd like to ask our chief financial officer, Trevor Gallagher (ph), briefly to give you an update on where these search and rescue teams are and the compositions.

Trevor (ph)?

(UNKNOWN): Thank you, Craig. As you know, the state fire marshal's job is to coordinate all search and rescue.

We have an urban search and rescue command basically set to coordinate all activities south of I-4. And they're broken down into three branches -- the southeast, which is the Keys, southwest and central.

And their job is to coordinate between the local, state and federal resources. That team is planning and continues to plan there at their headquarters in Tampa.

The following urban search and rescue resources are being staged at this time, with additional fire resources to be activated at the point that landfall becomes better defined.

Urban search and rescue command and coordination teams are activated. Task Force 3, Florida Task Force 3 is in Tampa Bay. Task Force 4 is activated in Orlando, Task Force 5 is in Jacksonville, Task Force 8 is in north central Florida, and Swiftwater activation is in Daytona, ready to be flown into wherever they would be needed.

Florida's Task Force 1 and 2 are activated in Miami, and Virginia's Task Force 2 is activated in Orlando, along with Tennessee's Task Force 1, which is in Orlando.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission and the state fire marshal's law enforcement units are unified with all of those urban search and rescue teams.

Thank you.

FUGATE: As -- you know, Justin is over here in the corner -- I should have addressed him up here because, as, Governor Bush has directed us, we don't want any daylight between our federal partners and state partners. We are working as one team.

And as Governor Bush says, we truly bring this to a full partnership of not just turning to the federal government, but we bring our resources together, our federal teams together.

And that's the only way we know how to respond in Florida. It's what we did last year through the hurricanes. It's what we've done this year. And, again, Justin and I are working this and making sure that we're maximizing resources with all the resources of our local, state and federal partners.

Our goal is to meet the needs of our disaster victims. With that, Justin, do you have anything to add?

(UNKNOWN): Just that Wilma command is ready to respond. We believe in responding with strength and speed in lieu of finesse and slow.

So, we'll continue to do that. And we'll push forward regardless of what Wilma brings us.

FUGATE: So, as we prepare to sledgehammer a response, let's have Ben give you the update on what this could be for our Florida residents.

(LAUGHTER)

BEN NELSON, FLORIDA STATE METEOROLOGIST: Thank you, Craig. And good afternoon.

At 11:00 a.m., the eye of Category two Hurricane Katrina was located -- Hurricane Wilma -- my bad -- was located 285 miles to the west, southwest of Key West, Florida.

Maximum sustained winds are near 100 miles per hour. This is a pretty large storm. The wind field of hurricane force winds extends outwards to 70 miles from Wilma's eye.

And the hurricane force winds are out to 200 miles. We expect those wind fields to actually increase as Wilma nears the southwest coast or the keys later tonight and tomorrow morning.

Again, on its path, we're going to begin to see tropical storm conditions in the lower keys early this evening. And those tropical storm conditions, as well as an enhanced threat for tornadoes, will spread into the peninsula after midnight tonight.

The first area of impact in the keys or southwest Florida will, again, experience a significant surge. We cannot rule out the storm deviating either north or south of the skinny black line that the hurricane center has provided.

The surge, therefore, along the southwest coast, a potential of 8 to 13 feet -- if you are in Marco island, Naples or Ft. Myers, you cannot assume that the storm is going to go south of you because there's just not that much accuracy about 24 hours out from landfall.

So, those folks need to prepare for a Category 2 impact, perhaps even a category 3, if Wilma does strengthen a little bit more than expected today.

And storm surge, again, is significant. In the keys, if Wilma deviates a little bit to the south, our expected surge of five to eight feet in the lower keys -- it could even be a little bit higher an that.

So, again, heed the advice of local officials. As was mentioned, this will be an extensive wind field that will go across both the west interior and east coast of our state.

Therefore, we have the hurricane watches up for an extensive part of both coasts, including the keys.

Tornado threats tonight will increase as the spiral rain bands begin to come on shore and flood watches are also in effect for a large portion of the state, particularly in the peninsula, with the four to eight-inch amounts forecast by the individual weather service offices.

Wilma is going to accelerate across the state tomorrow at a speed of probably 25 miles per hour. That will add extra danger for areas along the path of the eye and, especially, to the south of the eye.

And that's our big concern for our areas in the keys. They will be on the south side, or the strong side, of the storm. Our interior counties in south Florida, around lake Okeechobee and then, of course, the east coast metro areas -- hurricane force gusts in the scenario are almost a certainty with that fast motion. Again, now is the time to act, if you haven't already done so. Overnight tonight, conditions will deteriorate rapidly. Governor Bush?

QUESTION: Can you just comment on whether you think the local law enforcement are doing all they can to enforce the mandatory evacuation?

J. BUSH: Craig, do you want to answer that? You know, there's a point past which you can't enforce it, when it becomes unsafe to be out.

So people still have a chance to leave, and they should. I don't know what the actual number of people that are in the impacted areas are, but we're talking about thousands of people.

It makes it a lot easier when people follow the rules. Let's just put it that way. We hope they do.

QUESTION: Any special concerns about Lake (inaudible)?

J. BUSH: It doesn't look the surge is, based on the current track, will be that significant. The lake has been lowered down a little bit. I think it is down to a little -- about 15 1/2.

So, that's actually lower than last summer after the storms when we got up to 19 or 20 feet. So, there's ample room for the lake to hold water.

And I don't think the wind, based on what the Army Corps is telling us in the South Florida Water Management District -- we're going to watch it, obviously, but I don't think there's cause for a New Orleans-like concern or a New Orleans-like event, if that's the question.

QUESTION: Craig, you really issued a strong warning to the people in the keys saying, you know, it's now or never.

I guess I'm wondering, because so many people have chosen not to leave yet, are you anticipating any different preparation for search and rescue teams, or, you know, are you doing anything differently because you think there might be a greater number of people stranded there?

FUGATE: Using the same sledgehammer we developed last year, refined this year -- I actually thought we were going to have to use it in Hurricane Rita -- and the storm actually became a Category 3 about 50 miles south of the keys -- was how close that forecast was.

So, again, this process of -- these urban search and rescue teams the CFO (inaudible) talked about -- we know we have to be able get in there. If their roads are out -- part of the reason you saw all those National Guard helicopters that Governor Bush talked about, that General Burnett and his team are putting together, is we're going to be able to airlift our teams in. So, again, we've planned for all these contingencies. We're not going to be subtle. We're coming in as fa as we can. And probably what we'll have from local officials is -- hopefully, the word they're gong to give us is, it's not that bad; we're OK.

But if we don't have that, we're coming and we're going to have teams in there as fast as we can go.

J. BUSH: What Craig also does is he sends -- I'm not sure if it's the Guard or FDLE agents, but by car, they go into the Keys and they go until they can't go any further.

Hopefully, they go all the way to Key West so we can identify -- the first step is to identify how far we can go by road and then how much needs to be air lifted.

But if you heard the treasurer's accounting of the urban search and rescue, that's a big arsenal, if you will, of support -- larger than what we had available to us last summer.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) yesterday from FWC had mentioned a request of the Navy for some water support. Is that part of the plan, too, and can you illuminate that?

J. BUSH: It's part of the plan, but not for the first wave.

It's part of the plan I think probably two days out. Isn't that right?

(UNKNOWN): Yes.

QUESTION: Did Secretary Casteel (ph) speak to what she's hearing about gasoline down south or...

J. BUSH: Sure.

And she can also talk about the number of power trucks that are -- have been contracted by our companies as well, which might be encouraging.

For those that have gone through these hurricanes, getting power back on is a huge priority.

I feel like a reporter. It feels good.

(LAUGHTER)

(UNKNOWN): There are -- as Governor Bush mentioned, there are 220 million gallons of fuel in our ports.

And we have sufficient supplies at all of the major ports that supply fuel to the southwest and southeast area of Florida.

As we quickly move crews in for the power companies to get power restored, we try to -- we get the ports -- the electricity on at the ports and then we get fuel restored to the evacuation areas as well, which are now the re-entry areas. So they -- as the power crews move down those roads, they make sure that they get power -- the trees removed and the power up and running at those locations as well.

This past summer we instituted a survey mechanism where we are calling all of the -- a representative sample of all of the petroleum companies, retail stations that we have. And we have reported that there are -- that 100 percent of the companies we call are reporting sufficient supplies in fuel in the tanks at the retail stations, except for Charlotte and Lee County, which is down to about 80 percent, which is really -- in that area, 80 percent is a pretty good number because they have no direct port and they get everything by truck from Port Everglades and Port Tampa.

Currently, Port Tampa is the only port that is closed. Port Everglades is closing at 3:00 today, and Port Canaveral is closing later this evening. Even though they are closed to ship deliveries, they are open until the winds get over 30 miles per hour for truck delivery in and out of the land side of the ports.

BLITZER: All right.

We're going to break away from this news conference in Florida, continue to monitor it, hear what the Governor Jeb Bush is saying, go back there as necessary.

But the governor of Florida says a hurricane is coming and a hurricane, he says, is a hurricane, whether it's a Category 1 or a 2 or a 3. Any one of those categories still very possible to destroy a big chunk of its path.

We'll continue to watch this.

We're standing by also to speak with the president of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

We're following the march of Wilma toward Florida. Government and private agencies have been under enormous demands already this year. They're now standing by for whatever Wilma leaves in her wake.

Joining us is the president of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans. She's here in our studios.

Thank you, Marty, very much for joining us.

MARTY EVANS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Thank you.

BLITZER: What are you bracing for?

EVANS: Well, we're bracing for the same storm that Governor Bush was talking about. It's a large storm, major sheltering operations. We've already overnight opened 75 shelters. Right now we're opening additional shelters, up to 100, to accommodate people who should be evacuating, according to their local direction from their local officials.

BLITZER: So those 100 Red Cross shelters, how many people can be accommodated there?

EVANS: Well, we have capacity for about 160,000 between the shelters in Florida and the shelters in Georgia.

We have staff standing by for all of those shelters, staff and volunteers. And we're already up and running and we're ready to move in then as soon as the roads are clear and we can get back in after the storm to begin feeding operations and additional sheltering.

BLITZER: Katrina in recent weeks, Rita more recently, now Wilma.

Is the American Red Cross overstretched?

EVANS: Well, we're stretched.

But I have to tell you that the response from the American public -- we've asked for more volunteers and those volunteers have come. They've been trained and they are on the job right now.

We're still doing emergency sheltering from Katrina. About 4,000 people still in 60 shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi.

And the American public has responded with financial resources.

We need more. We're roughly $300 million short of our projected costs for Katrina and Rita. We haven't added on Wilma, because we don't know what that's going to mean for us.

So we need additional financial resources to do the emergency work that we have to do.

BLITZER: Are funds still coming in as they were before, or has that leveled out?

EVANS: Well, it's leveled out.

We have some funds in the pipeline, things like employee donations with businesses matching those.

But we're now in a campaign asking some of our most -- our strongest supporters to dig more deeply, to give us additional resources to help us do our job. And we're asking the public to make a contribution.

BLITZER: There was some criticism, Dr. Bernadine Healy, former president of the American Red Cross, quoted in the New York Times on Thursday saying that the -- saying this: "Their approach" -- referring to the American Red Cross -- "Their approach to disasters has not significantly changed and they are not prepared for disasters of today and tomorrow."

She wants chapters, for example, to be held more accountable to what's going on.

EVANS: Well, we've worked very hard over the last three years to increase the accountability and the standards.

And I would just suggest that she look at the operations we conducted in the New Orleans -- wake of New Orleans, in Mississippi.

We opened over 1,100 shelters. We staffed those shelters up. We had great partnerships with other nonprofits.

And we audit, we track all of the expenditures. I think it's a very important, good news story, the progress we've made.

BLITZER: You've raised how much money, the American Red Cross, over these past few weeks, starting with Katrina?

EVANS: We have about $1.3 billion in the door. We have another couple hundred million in the pipeline, employee and customer donation programs for example.

We think we're going to be about $300 million short on the Katrina bill, so we have a long way to go.

BLITZER: There was also some criticism on the enormous amount of money that you've raised. To your credit, you've raised an enormous amount. To the credit of the American public, people around the world who have contributed. But there is one critic who says that that has hurt other charities, other useful, productive organizations, because they can't get the money as a result of America's wanting to give it to the American Red Cross.

Daniel Borochoff of the American Institute of Philanthropy said in the Los Angeles Times October 7: "The Red Cross is a brand name, and people automatically pick it up for donations. But there are a lot of other, a lot of local groups who could use assistance and reimbursement, and the Red Cross isn't willing to do that."

EVANS: Well, there are two issues involved. One, the needs are enormous. As I said, we're still sheltering 4,000 people who were Katrina victims and Rita victims. We've had hundreds of thousands of people staying in our shelters. We've provided financial resources to 1.2 million families that have needed those resources. So the needs are excessive.

And we hope that we'll be able to wind down the emergency phase of the operation, which is our focus, so that the other non-profits whose are critical to the long-term community recovery can make their case to their supporters, and we can get their enormous job done as well.

BLITZER: Well, we are thankful to the American Red Cross, thankful for you for coming in. Good luck in dealing with this crisis now in the aftermaths of all of these other crises that we've all been watching. Thank you, Marty Evans.

EVANS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we're going to continue our special coverage here on "LATE EDITION." We're tracking Hurricane Wilma as it moves closer and closer toward Florida. We'll give you the latest track of this storm. We'll also check in on all the other headlines of the day. Much more of our special "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SYLVESTER: I'm Lisa Sylvester at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are the top stories now in the news. Florida's Governor Jeb Bush has just issued an urgent message to residents of the Florida Keys to heed mandatory evacuation orders.

The National Hurricane Center is very concerned about how the Keys will weather Hurricane Wilma. Wilma is gathering strength in the Gulf, and is on course to blast Florida's southwest coast early tomorrow morning. Track the storm along with CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

The Nigerian Red Cross is examining the scattered wreckage of a passenger jet that crashed shortly after take-off from Lagos last night. So far, it appears none of the 117 people on board survived. Nigerian officials say the pilot issued a distress call and lost contact with the control tower about three minutes into the flight. CNN has learned that high-level Nigerian officials are believed to have been on board.

From Iraq, there's word that four American civilians working in that country were killed late last month in an attack north of Baghdad. The U.S. military confirmed the deaths today. the victims were in a convoy that had gotten lost just before the attack.

Those are the headlines. "LATE EDITION" continues with a live report from Key West, an area the National Hurricane Center is now very worried about. Wolf will be back right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're watching Hurricane Wilma move closer and closer to Florida. It's a Category 2 storm, could pick up, still be a Category 3 storm with winds of more than 111 miles per hour. It will seriously affect bought the west and east coast of Florida as it goes through the lower third of that state.

Let's check in with Gary Nurenberg. He's over at FEMA headquarters here in Washington with the latest on how the federal government is preparing for Wilma -- Gary?

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

One of the things that FEMA has known for years, but that was really hammered home by Katrina is the importance of staying in touch with state and local officials. This time, FEMA is doing everything it can to make it happen. It's already established a unified command at the Florida emergency operations center in Tallahassee, has an emergency advance support team in place there, and has already designated a federal coordinating officer to respond to state and local requests as they come in when the storm hits.

Because of the lessons learned in Katrina, FEMA has also distributed 300 satellite phones throughout the state to keep in touch with those state and local officials in case communication systems go down as they did in Katrina. Wolf, you'll remember the federal government simply at points had no idea what was happening on the ground. This extensive effort to keep communications lines open is one thing that is a major difference from the storms that happened earlier this year.

The federal government has already put 300 truckloads of food, water, and meals at two different military bases in Florida. Emergency search and rescue teams are in place now in Miami and Orlando, as are those emergency disaster medical teams which are on standby in case they're needed. Commodities and equipment have been placed in staging areas outside the hurricane zone, ready to be moved in when the storm hits and when officials know exactly where they're going to be needed.

But the planning here, Wolf, gets very, very detailed. Eight specific helicopters have already been designated for rescue work in case they're needed after the storm hits. Those crews are on standby as well. This time, Wolf, the agency says it is treating this as a very dangerous storm and is planning accordingly. This time they believe they've got it right.

BLITZER: All right, Gary. Thanks very much. Gary Nurenberg is outside FEMA headquarters here in Washington.

Let's go to Craig Fugate now. He's the director of Florida emergency management.

He's joining us live.

Are you ready for this storm, Craig?

FUGATE: Oh, yes, sir.

And, in fact, the thing about "unify our commands," we did that four times last year, did it in Hurricane Dennis.

We know that communications is key after Hurricane Andrew. So, we're really, basically, from last year to this year, operating pretty as much as we would normally under Governor Bush.

And we've got our team ready.

BLITZER: Well, communications sounds like a relatively minor part. But it's critical in saving lives. Can local, state, and federal authorities speak with each other on radios, on emergency frequencies during this kind of hurricane?

FUGATE: Well, radio's probably not going to be the most reliable thing. We use a lot of satellite communications now as we've moved into the 21st century.

And, again, we did it four times last year. This will be the fourth time doing it this year. And this lesson was driven home in Florida all the way back to Hurricane Andrew. If we can't communicate, we won't be a team.

BLITZER: What about FEMA right now? Are you confident that they have learned the lessons from their mistakes that resulted from Katrina?

FUGATE: Well, again, that was in another state. I can just tell you, in Florida, I've been working with Justin now for the last three days. We worked together on Hurricane Dennis earlier this year.

We've got a good team here in Florida. We work together. We know that everybody has different capabilities and we maximize that so that our focus here is on the victims.

But FEMA, the state of Florida, we are Wilma command. We are one team. And we've been doing this for, now, our eighth hurricane in the last year and a half.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers -- and I've been getting e-mail on this question -- are confused. You impose, you order a mandatory evacuation from the keys, other areas that could devastated by this hurricane, yet there are individuals who simply ignore that mandatory evacuation and say, you know what, we're staying put; we're not leaving our homes for whatever reason.

Is there any penalty to those individuals for ignoring these kinds of order?

FUGATE: Yes, sir: their life. We do not go door to door and force people at gunpoint. Public safety officials are much too busy for that. But when they choose to stay behind, they put themselves at risk for loss of life. We have seen that happen in these storm surges.

Not only -- on top of that, they're going to put our rescue teams at risk as we go in to get them out. So, people make these decisions, they live with the consequences.

Our job is to make sure if they will leave, they have an opportunity to get out in time.

BLITZER: Well, you make a good point, because not only do they put themselves at risk, their lives at risk, but they also put rescue workers at risk because, you know that the Coast Guard, local authorities, police, firefighters, first responders -- they're going to risk their own lives to save people who have been stranded, people who have ignored these orders.

What do you do in a situation like that?

FUGATE: We, again, give people plenty of opportunity to leave. But it is not a practical matter to go to literally thousands to millions to say, you need leave.

What we do is provide the opportunity to get out. We make sure the resources are there to get out and we're prepared to respond to those people who don't heed the warnings.

And unless somebody wants to go out at and, at gunpoint start making people forced out out of their homes, I don't know what a better solution is. But you have a choice and you have the opportunity and you still have time.

But, again, you are making a decision that's responsible for not only your life and your family's life but for people you may have to call to come get when things go tough.

BLITZER: What about all those people who are either very, very old, who are sick, who need special assistance?

Have you been able to deal with them effectively?

FUGATE: Yes, sir. The biggest problem we have is people who won't call early. But again, both in the lower keys, as well as in the coastal counties, they have been working to get their transportation assets out there, help people that need that assistance.

They are still taking calls from individuals. As Governor Bush pointed out, the special needs shelters are open. And we've been working on this for several days.

So, again, a lot of times what happens is check on your neighbors and friends. If they need help, help them. If you need help to get them out, call your county emergency management agency.

We still have time to change the outcome of this event. But people have to act and we've got to take responsibility, not only for ourselves but our neighbors and make sure we get the resources to people in time.

BLITZER: Craig Fugate is the director of Florida emergency management. Craig, thanks very much. Good luck.

FUGATE: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Coming up: As south Floridians head for refuge from the wrath of Hurricane Wilma, we'll talk with Florida Congressman Connie Mack about his district and how they are preparing for the storm there.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are live pictures from Key West, Florida, people moving about. They're getting ready for Hurricane Wilma. It could be affecting that area very, very soon.

Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION" as we follow Hurricane Wilma.

Florida Congressman Connie Mack is a Republican. He's keeping watch over his district along the southwest coat of Florida, including the cities of Ft. Myers and Naples. He's joining us now from Naples.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

You look like you have a beautiful day there. But it's about to get pretty horrible.

CONNIE MACK, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes. We always have the calm before the storm. And that's what's happening now. But I can tell you, the community is preparing. People are boarding up their windows; they're boarding up their offices; they're getting the supplies they need.

The emergency operation centers both in Lee and Collier counties have been working very diligently to make sure that all the contingency plans are put in place so the people of southwest Florida can be safe.

BLITZER: Is it widely thought that Naples could be right in the eye of this storm?

MACK: Yes, that is what most of the people think, that this will be ground zero for the hurricane. And that could change. It could shift. We saw with Charley last year, as the hurricane came close to shore, at the last minute, it took a jog north, so everyone needs to be prepared up and down the coast of Florida.

BLITZER: Are you confident, Congressman, that all those elderly people and sick people, people with special needs, have been taken care of in advance of the arrival of Wilma?

MACK: I am confident that the emergency operations centers both in Lee and Collier county have been working diligently to make sure that those people have all the assistance they need to be safe.

There is a sense of personal responsibility that goes along with these storms. But everyone who has asked for or needed help is getting it.

BLITZER: What about the very, very poor?

MACK: Well, again, everything is being done to communicate to people in southwest Florida that they need to look for higher ground; they need to evacuate, if they can; they need to find the shelters. And I think that is going to happen.

BLITZER: You're on the budget committee. You're always looking at money. There's been an enormous amount of money spent already this year for all the other hurricanes, especially Katrina.

Are you already looking down the road, as far as Wilma and what it's going to cost Florida? MACK: Well, right now, we're trying to make sure the citizens of southwest Florida take the advice from the governor on down to evacuate if they need to be evacuated and to find shelter.

That being said, I think what we need to do in this country is do what we do in this state and that is to have a catastrophe fund to make sure the funds are available to take care of these needs and not try do it after the event but to actually budget for it.

We know there are going to be wildfires; we know there's going to be earthquakes and we know there's going to be hurricanes. And we need to prepare now for those, not wait until after the fact.

BLITZER: I've asked several of our guests in Florida over the past three hours this question. I will ask it to you as well.

Has FEMA learned its lessons from Katrina? And are they doing what they should be doing now in advance of Wilma?

MACK: Well, I think they've learned the lessons from Hurricane Andrew, from the four hurricanes here in the state of Florida, and from Hurricane Katrina.

They are very well -- I talked to the director just the other day, the communications are in place. The governor has done a great job of managing the evacuations and the hurricane needs here in southwest Florida and in the state.

So I think we're all prepared and now we're waiting for the storm to come in.

BLITZER: What about the White House?

As you know, Congressman Mack, there's been a lot of speculation that there could be indictments coming down this week against top officials involved in that alleged CIA leak investigation.

Is the White House focused on Wilma right now and the hurricane?

MACK: Well, I don't know the answer to that question.

I do know that they are paying attention.

I do know that the people of southwest Florida are listening to the messages that are being put out by the local emergency centers and the local officials to make sure that they take the cover that they need to survive the storm.

BLITZER: What advice do you have for people in your area right now, whether in Naples, Ft. Myers? If they haven't evacuated yet, what should they do?

MACK: They should get the supplies they need to be able to last through the hurricane. They should make sure they have water, food, batteries, radio, and enough cash in case the storm were to knock out power so they have the money they need to continue and put their lives back together.

BLITZER: Connie Mack is a congressman from that area.

Good luck, Congressman, good luck to your district as well.

MACK: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our Web question of the week: In the aftermath of Katrina, is the federal government better prepared to handle hurricanes right now?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hurricane Wilma moving closer toward Florida, having left Mexico. Should be arriving overnight sometime on the west coast and then slicing through the southern part of Florida very quickly.

We'll continue to watch.

Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked, in the aftermath of Katrina, is the federal government better prepared to handle hurricanes now?

Here's how you voted. Twenty two percent of you said yes, 78 percent said no. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's take a closer look now at -- actually, a close look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

Newsweek magazine takes a look at the bird flu. Time magazine focuses in on the great retirement rip-off, as they call it. And on the cover of U.S. News & World Report, a look at America's best leaders.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for this Sunday, October 23rd.

Please be sure to join us again next Sunday, every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, our new time for "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm also here Monday through Friday in "The Situation Room," 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Stay with CNN throughout the afternoon, into the evening, all day tomorrow for continuing coverage of Hurricane Wilma.

We leave you now with some special video -- special for me at least.

Last night I served as the guest conductor for the Boston Pops during homecoming weekend ceremonies at Georgetown University here in the nation's capital.

I was introduced by the real conductor, Keith Lockhart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH LOCKHART, CONDUCTOR: The only Sunday talk show seen in more than 200 countries and territories. But most importantly, he is a Colonials season ticket holder. Ladies and gentlemen, Wolf Blitzer.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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