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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Hurricane Wilma Coverage

Aired October 23, 2005 - 21:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tonight, Hurricane Wilma barrels toward Florida, due to slam onshore around daybreak. The monster storm left death and destruction in its wake on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. We've got the very latest on Wilma's path and power with reporters and mayors all along the storm front, next on a special LARRY KING LIVE.
Welcome back to this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Larry is off tonight. I'm Anderson Cooper in Marco Island, Florida, straight in the path of this killer hurricane. We have reporters and mayors and weather people all across the globe on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. First, let's check in for the latest on the storm with Chad Myers who's at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Chad, where is Wilma?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, if you kind of make a triangle from Tampa and Key West and Havana, kind of south and just west of all of those cities here, really begin to see the eye now taking hold. It's in some very warm water which we call the loop current, or eventually it is just called the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream comes in through the Florida Straits and then turns hard to the left on up between the Bahamas and Florida.

That warm water causing the storm to get a little bit stronger. The storm itself now beginning to be able to -- you really see almost the entire eye wall from the Key West radar so that's how we know that it's getting so close.

At a progress of 20 miles per hour the western part of the eye wall makes landfall somewhere around 5:00 in the morning. The eastern part, what we're obviously concerned about, could be closer to Key West in four, maybe five hours, but a little bit longer than that to make some all the way up to Marco Island where you are or possibly down here in northern Monroe County, which is part of the northern part of the Keys and Florida Bay.

There is rain on radar now. There is also the potential for some tornadoes tonight. We have tornado watches in effect for a lot of Florida. Rain coming through Key West right now. Rob just talked about the first squall that he's seen in a while coming through Ft. Myers. That's that squall for him and then the potential for tornadoes in these much larger storms.

There's been sunshine for much of the day in Florida. The sunshine warmed up the ground, that warm ground can now make some twists as the air wants to rise in the cool part of the night now and we get enough rain to get enough moisture to get some twists, you can always get some small tornadoes.

Anderson?

COOPER: Chad, you say the storm is quickening. What time do you anticipate it making landfall here in Florida?

MYERS: You know, it depends where you are, clearly, because Key West sticks out there so far, I mean, literally 90 to 100 miles to from where you go to Key Largo all the way down to Key West, so they're going to get the weather first. If you get a little bit farther to the north, where you are, it could be six hours before you really see the worst of your weather. It could be eight hours.

But I certainly think it's going to be before sunrise everywhere along the west coast and then it's going to charge across the east coast. Anderson, this is not done once it hits Marco Island or Naples or wherever it hits on the west side. It's going to do Category 2- type damage from Melbourne right on down through West Palm, even down to Boca because nothing is going to slow this storm down. The only thing you have across the southern parts of Florida are the Everglades and some farmland. There are no mountains there to tear it up.

So it's going to be really a hard-hitting storm from really almost Miami-Dade through Ft. Lauderdale right on up the east coast of Florida as well. Do not forget about that if you live on the east coast and a lot more people do than live on the southwest coast.

COOPER: First to get hit, Key West. Let's go to Gary Tuchman who is standing by in Key West. Gary, is Key West ready?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, you may see behind right now, Key West is ready, most of the people are inside their houses or have evacuated, but there are still partiers in this city who are rolling down the streets, these guys singing some songs and this is something I can tell you, with all the hurricanes we've covered, I've never quite seen before.

There are so many people who have decided not to leave. Not only decided not to leave, but have decided to have fun. It's estimated that of up to 28,000 people live here in the City of Key West, 85 percent have decided not to evacuate. Right now we're between squalls but the winds have picked up.

We're having tropical storm force gusts. The city fathers here have been told to expect sustained tropical force winds within this hour and by around 2:00 a.m Eastern Time, which is five hours from now, they're expecting sustained hurricane-force winds and they're very concerned ...

COOPER: Why aren't they evacuating?

TUCHMAN: I'll tell you why they're not evacuating and the key word, Anderson, is conch, c-o-n-c-h, that's what the natives of Key West are called very affectionately, referring to the sea creature, the sea delicacy, they're called conchs and you talk to the conchs here and they say they are very proud, they haven't evacuated before. They haven't been hit by a major hurricane since 1919, they don't feel the need to leave and therefore they've decided not to leave.

Now we heard the mayor of this city yesterday, he went door to door imploring people to leave but most people decided to stick it out and one important thing, Anderson, and this is another reason why a lot of people aren't leaving, the nearest shelter is 150 miles away in Miami. There are no shelters at all in the Keys because it's not considered safe to stay here.

COOPER: Sam Champion in New York, the WABC-TV meteorologist, what do you say to the people in Key West?

SAM CHAMPION, WABC-TV METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, it's difficult because those folks have lived through storms for a very long time, most of them, and they watch us forecast them by categories and they kind of deem that when you hear a Category 1 or 2 storm moving in their direction, they just don't see -- tend to take it seriously. They have survived storms of that category or have been bounced around by storms of that category before.

The problem is that we still have plenty of warm water with this between where this storm center is now and where it's likely to make landfall. The last known estimate on this storm is that it is strengthening right now. It could strengthen again. It is at a borderline Category 2/3, so what you say to these people is you certainly wish they would take it seriously and evacuate from those areas.

There is, it has been pointed out by Gary, no safe space in the Keys and that's three hours away from Miami. You don't get the opportunity to evacuate during a storm and if this storm were to take a jog slightly to the south, which is also possible, what you have is a terrible situation. So you try to really encourage these people that it can be more than a Category 2, that your forecast is not perfect, that there's a lot of room for error here and you try to tell them to prepare for the worst and kind of get out and get out of the way of the storm.

The problem is, it's been a very active season, they've seen a lot of these, they have a tendency to be kind of a little blase about a storm like this moving by them and it's difficult to get them to pay attention to.

COOPER: What's the biggest mystery about this storm right now for you, Sam?

CHAMPION: I think the biggest mystery for me is the third Category 5 storm in a season going from what was a fairly mild Category 2 storm to an all-time record pressure. You know, it was just about 12 millbars away from the all-time record pressure. It is the record pressure in the Atlantic but it was Typhoon Tip, I think that had the record pressure on the planet. The record low pressure. And it was just 12 millibars away from that.

The explosive deepening of this storm in October, the third Category 5 storm, makes me afraid of this storm until we see it gone. The lingering of this storm off the east coast of the U.S. by next week and does it even link up a little bit with Alpha and cause some problems on the Eastern Seaboard in winds and rain.

We're not done with this storm until probably Wednesday or Thursday of next week, Anderson, so all that tends to make me very nervous.

COOPER: It's an incredible season and this storm has been hard to predict. We'll have more from Sam Champion and a lot of other people and also mayors and our correspondents all across the region when we come back. Special edition of LARRY KING LIVE is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Anderson Cooper sitting in for Larry. We are joined by Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. Max, where is the storm now?

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, Anderson, it's about 155 miles WSW of Key West right now, moving towards the northeast at miles per hour but it's really going to continue to increase that forward motion all through the night and will have to be onshore near daybreak tomorrow morning.

COOPER: Chad Myers saying that the storm is getting better organized. What does that mean?

MAYFIELD: Well, just looking at the satellite imagery behind me here, you can see that it looks quite impressive and more so than maybe four to six hours ago, even. The reports we're getting from the U.S. Air Force hurricane hunters out there really make it look like it's going through a little strengthening here. Bump the winds up to 110 miles per hour. That's right on the borderline between a Category 2 and Category 3 and this could very well become a Category 3 hurricane.

COOPER: All day long people here in Florida have been saying 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, it sounds that it's getting quicker though. Does that mean earlier in the morning?

MAYFIELD: It may very well be a little bit quicker now for the absolute center but things are going to go downhill well before then because there is such a large circulation and as we see a hurricane accelerate, it's really difficult and somewhat misleading to try to slice it to thin and say exactly what minute it's going to cross the coast or so.

I think it'll be a little bit before 8:00 now but the track looks good and where you are there, being with the storm surge is going to be greatest near and to the south where the center crosses the coast and we're forecasting nine to 17 feet of storm surge. It comes into Collier County near -- in fact, this is Marco Island right here. There is Naples. The most impacted locations would be Chokoloskee, Everglades City, Goodland and all the way down here to Flamingo on the south tip of the peninsula but just a little shift to the north here and then that storm surge, the high storm surge would include Marco Island and maybe even up to the Naples area. COOPER: Still a Category 2. Does it stay that coming onshore or is it borderline Category 3?

MAYFIELD: Well, it's borderline right now and we always are taught in our classes with the emergency managers to tell folks to plan on the possibility of one category stronger so I think the wisest thing to do right now would be to go ahead and plan on the possibility of a Category 3 hurricane.

The strongest winds -- Category 3 winds, if we have any by the time it makes landfall, will be on the south side and we should start seeing a big change in the wind field here in the next six to 10 hours here as it moves out packing toward the northeast and the strongest winds, by the time it gets to the coast, will definitely be on the south side of the track and that's going to be most likely to the south of your location there but will include portions of Collier County, mainland Monroe, maybe Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

COOPER: Max, thanks. We'll check in a little bit later on. Jeanne Meserve standing by just north of me in Naples. Is Naples ready, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be pretty much. Not everyone got out of here. Not everybody heeded the mandatory evacuation order. I will tell you that this evening Collier County officials put out an urgent appeal for anybody in a mobile home to get to a hardened structure. They say whether you're in the evacuation zone or elsewhere in the county, there is a real risk of tornadic activity with this hurricane because they tell me, of this cold front that's coming down from the north and meeting up with the hurricane.

So a mobile home, not a safe place to be. Get out of it. Get to a safer place if you possibly can or get to an interior room.

Obviously storm surge the other concern here. You just heard Max Mayfield say that this storm may come in south of here. That's probably good news for Naples, where this storm surge will be about six feet or so. They tell me the elevation around here averages around 11.

As he mentioned, the place that could really get socked is Everglades City. I was down there earlier today. Average height above sea level of only three or four feet and there were people who were still down there deciding they were going to stay put, some of them because their livelihoods are there, they wanted to be close to their homes and their possessions.

A lot of them saying they felt they were somewhat protected because there are barrier islands between them and the Gulf. They thought that they wouldn't see much wave action and that might keep the surge down to something that they could manage. Maybe a false hope, I guess we'll find out in the next couple of hours, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. We certainly will. Let's go to Neville Koop, a meteorologist with Weathernews Americas in Oklahoma City. Neville, what are you going to be looking at in the next hours about this storm. What are you going to be focusing on?

NEVILLE KOOP, WEATHERNEWS AMERICA METEOROLOGIST: Our particular focus now is on the people we're focus -- we're talking about Wilma's impact. We have a number of marine clients in that area. We have some people in the tourism industry that are down there and right now, as always with these storms, they seem to come ashore during the dark and that adds to the confusion so our job at Weathernews is to help people to deal with these particular threats as they approach.

COOPER: How big a storm surge are you anticipating and how much of an unknown is that?

KOOP: It's always difficult to know exactly what the storm surge will be as it approaches. It depends on the speed of the storm, it also depends on where it makes landfall, so we're expecting somewhere around 10 to 15 feet. Right now that looks like it's what's going to happen.

COOPER: Rob Marciano is standing by in -- Rob, where are you?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I'm in Ft. Myers, just up the road, Anderson.

COOPER: What's the scene there? Relatively calm?

MARCIANO: Well, yeah, it's been a beautiful evening. Since we've set up shop here around 5:00 p.m., there's really only been two bands of squally weather, rain bands that have moved through. They've lasted about 20 minutes. Some rain, some wind and moved on and we're back to a beautiful night.

What has changed probably in the last hour though is the swells have picked up. As you know, the Gulf of Mexico is typically like a pool of water, pretty gentle, not widely known in the surfing community for people to travel down here and catch some big waves and go big.

But the waves have been picking up the past couple of days and even the past couple of hours. So that is telling us that even though we're not getting a tremendous amount of wind and rain that this storm is fast approaching and as Chad and Max mentioned, it's beginning to accelerate, so it looks like ...

COOPER: It's going to get ...

MARCIANO: ... the brunt of this storm at least, it could ...

COOPER: ...going to get nasty, though, pretty soon.

MARCIANO: ... hitting us in the dark -- yeah, it's the worst part.

What's happening where you are?

COOPER: It is always bad during the dark when you don't know when that debris is flying at you, you can't see what's coming at you. We'll check in with our other correspondents all across this region.

Also, some of the mayors we'll be talking to later tonight. A special edition of LARRY KING LIVE continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Larry's off tonight. I'm Anderson Cooper standing in for him.

Justin Demello, the pre-designated federal coordinating officer for Hurricane Wilma, he is in Tallahassee, Florida. Justin, you're working with FEMA. What is FEMA doing to prepare for Wilma?

JUSTIN DEMELLO, FEDERAL COORDINATING OFFICER FOR WILMA: Well, we're working closely with our state partners on preparation for Wilma. Monday, Tuesday is really when Wilma came up on the radar as being a potential threat to Florida. Immediately FEMA started talking with our state counterparts, developing a plan, developing potential requirements. FEMA has pushed into the State of Florida a number of urban search and rescue teams, a number of medical teams, as well as commodities such as water, food and we place those strategically through the state to be close enough to be responsive, yet out of harm's way.

So there's a lot of work that's being done ...

COOPER: Where do you have them? Where are they pre-positioned in the state?

DEMELLO: In the north we have a staging area in Jacksonville Naval Air Station, in the south we have a staging area in Homestead. The state has a couple of different staging areas throughout. We believe they are close enough but not too close to be in harm's way.

COOPER: What did you learn from Katrina that you're trying to execute here, that you're trying to put into place here?

DEMELLO: Well, as you know, Katrina first came through the State of Florida and we did the same preparations for Wilma as we did for Katrina. We were very successful in our endeavors to respond to Katrina as it crossed through the south part of the state.

As always, we learn from all events, whether they're in the State of Florida or elsewhere. We take the experience from Andrew, we take the experience of the four disasters last year and three from this year and we just seem to get better with every disaster.

COOPER: Justin, thanks for joining us. Ken Reeves joins us now. He's senior meteorologist and director of forecasting operations for AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania.

Ken, is there a chance that this storm, Wilma, could surprise us like Charley did?

KEN REEVES, ACCUWEATHER METEOROLGIST: No, Anderson, I don't believe that's going to be the case. There have been a lot of comparisons to Charley. It intensified to a Category 4 right before landfall. This is going to probably be in that strong 2, low 3 category, but we're talking about five, 10 mile an hour difference in wind speed, but in terms of true effect, I think on the southwest coast of Florida, the main concern is going to be storm surge.

During Rita, the water made it in 22 miles in storm surge. This one is not going to have nearly as strong a push of water, but nonetheless, even if it's 10 to 15 feet, it's going to come in pretty far into probably Monroe County and the advantage of that is that it is very marshy and there isn't a lot of population so that area may take the brunt of the storm surge.

There will also be wind on the southwest coast as well.

Along the east coast of Florida, it's going to be a combination of the fairly strong winds and also a little bit of storm surge but the winds are still going to be fairly strong as it exits off into the Atlantic as well.

In terms of rainfall, probably we're looking at an area more to the north where the drier air and colder air has kind of moved into the northern part of Florida and as it interacts with the moisture coming up, there's probably going to be a fairly heavy area of moisture that's going to really bring the heaviest rains, perhaps even in areas you wouldn't necessarily expect, like around Orlando or up toward Ocala. As opposed to when the storm is moving quickly across the southern part of the peninsula.

Now, the other thing is probably along the west coast, believe it or not, just like Charley, it's going to move through and be gone and it wouldn't surprise me if you actually see a sunset tomorrow evening, Anderson.

COOPER: That would certainly be a nice thing to see. We'll be watching for that.

Mayor Bob Benson of Ft. Pierce, Florida joins me now on the phone. Mayor, have your people gotten the message? Have they evacuated?

MAYOR BOB BENSON, FT. PIERCE, FLORIDA (on phone): Yes, they have. Well, they haven't really evacuated other than out on the barrier island and I think this year, because the storm is coming from the west coast we have a lot more people staying because we're not so much worried about the surge but people have built back better.

But I think after two hurricanes last year in three weeks, we've definitely been experienced.

COOPER: What is your biggest worry tonight?

BENSON: My biggest worry is basically, I think, tomorrow morning is, when storms come from the other coast, you worry of tornadoes when the storm exits this area. And also it growing overnight and we know what it did last week overnight, going from a Category 1 to a Category 5, that's scary this time of year, almost unheard of. We're praying and keeping our fingers crossed that this storm will stay down under 110 miles an hour and lose intensity.

COOPER: Let's find out about those tornadoes, mayor. Sam Champion in New York, WABC meteorologist, how big a danger are these tornadoes, Sam?

CHAMPION: Anderson, that's another thing. I mean exactly the way Chad pointed it out at the top of the show, Ken Reeves pointed it out as well. This is a real problem with this storm in particular. All conditions are ripe for big, bad thunderstorms across the entire state of Florida and even if you're not in the path of this hurricane and you're not planning on taking precautions for this storm, you need to know that there are going to be problems with thunderstorms tonight and through the day tomorrow and every one of those thunderstorms is capable of popping a tornado around the area, so you really have to be on alert everywhere in the state of Florida as this storm passes through from tonight until tomorrow morning.

The other thing that Ken pointed out really well, this is a fast mover. It is on the coast by right around daybreak. It is off the coast by 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, 4:00 in the afternoon and then it's moving on up the Eastern Seaboard.

COOPER: Chad, briefly, a stupid question. Why so many tornadoes are caused by hurricanes?

MYERS: Is that to me, Anderson?

COOPER: I'm sorry, Chad ...

MYERS: We have the -- OK. We have spin with the hurricane itself. During the day today, we had sunshine on the coast of Florida. As the storms come onshore one at a time, even in the outer bands, they actually have a little bit of friction with the land itself. Even though there is not much of a mountain range in Florida, there is enough friction and on this part that has been so hot today, called my mom in Orlando, she said it was about 87 degrees today. That's just a stifling kind of day and that gives you more energy for that.

Every time a storm comes in it can pop up and it can actually begin to spin and you can see a lot of these very heavy cells along I- 4 here, across the B-line (ph), even right on down to the turnpike and I agree with Sam, I concur, there will be a lot of tornadoes tonight and also tomorrow, possibly, before the storm ejects into t he Atlantic Ocean.

COOPER: More from Chad, Sam and all the others and our correspondents and mayors all across Florida in a moment. LARRY KING LIVE continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to CNN, your hurricane headquarters. All night and through the day as Wilma bears down on Florida. You're looking at a live shot, Duval Street, Key West, Florida. It looks deserted in there, but as we've heard from Gary Tuchman, there are people still out partying. Eighty percent, he says, of the people in Key West have not evacuated. That is certainly an alarming statistic for the mayor of Key West and for others.

Judy Zimomra is the city manager of Sanibel Island on the west coast of Florida, just north of where we are in Marco Island. She joins me now on the phone. Judy, how are things on Sanibel?

JUDY ZIMOMRA, CITY MANAGER, SANIBEL ISLAND: Hi, Anderson. Well, we have a very successful evacuation. Last year we took a direct hit, we were about eight miles from the eye when Hurricane Charley came through and we're pleased that we've achieved about a 95 percent evacuation rate this evening.

COOPER: How did you get -- when did you start telling them to evacuate?

ZIMOMRA: Almost four days out we used a step up program where we go into voluntary evacuation first for our special needs persons and people who are going to need more time to prepare and get out of harm's way and we go into mandatory, which we're almost 48 hours into the mandatory and we learned a lot of lessons last year and we put those into our plan as well.

COOPER: We're looking at pictures right now of Cancun, Mexico and the devastation there, the flooded streets. Do you think what happened there was a wakeup call to some of the people maybe on Sanibel Island, some of these other parts of Florida, who saw those pictures and said, you know what? We'd better get going.

ZIMOMRA: No, I think we've always had a very aggressive program on hurricane preparedness but I think really for us it was our experience with Hurricane Charley and then more of the Katrina-Rita effect. These pictures, as dramatic as they are, most of our people actually evacuated, fortunately, before these very dramatic photographs came in.

COOPER: Judy, I know you've got a busy night ahead of you and a busy day tomorrow. We appreciate you joining us. Judy Zimomra, the city manager of Sanibel Island, Florida. She is saying about 90 percent of the people have evacuated. Gary Tuchman is standing by for us in Key West. Gary, you had told us 80 percent of the people in Key West have not evacuated.

TUCHMAN: Anderson, Key West is a wonderful place, it's a paradise, but it is a very different place than any place you would over a hurricane. People are fiercely independent. You see people coming on by here. They're partying, they have alcohol in their hands. There are still some bars open despite the fact that there is a mandatory evacuation that has been in place. The fact is that according to the mayor of this city, roughly 80 percent of the 28,000 people are still in town, so it's like a parade going up and down Duval Street, here.

The major reason they're coming up and down the street is to see us and to say hello to us. But as we speak, transformers are blowing, the winds are picking up, the rains are coming and going, and the conditions are deteriorating very quickly, here.

COOPER: Jeanne Meserrve in Naples, have people evacuated there?

MESERVE: Yes, some have but certainly not everybody. I have been trying to come up with a hard number and officials simply don't have one.

I'll tell you, a factor here was what's being called hurricane fatigue. Not just that they've had a lot of hurricanes threaten them and then not turn into much for this particular community, but the fact that Wilma took so darn long.

They heard about how powerful she was and then she stalled over the Yucatan and people here just kept saying, enough, enough, enough. Some of them said they didn't know where to go if they wanted to leave. They might go right -- north and the hurricane would, they went south the hurricane might go there.

So some people simply haven't gone, they just haven't left. Of course, there are always people who are overconfident about these hurricanes. They think they can hold up to anything and they're going to be -- they're going to stay and show how tough they are. We'll see how tough they are.

COOPER: Let's go to Ken Reeves in State College, Pennsylvania. Senior meteorologist with AccuWeather. Ken, is it possible that wind shear is going to weaken this storm before it comes on land?

REEVES: Anderson, it doesn't seem very likely at this point. The actual flow in the upper atmosphere can work two ways. It can either work toward speeding up the storm or it can work toward ripping it apart and in this case it looks like it's going to probably work toward speeding up.

You can see the graphic behind my shoulder here that it certainly is not an uncommon occurrence for Category 3 or higher storms to hit Florida from the southwest in October or November. That is a preferred location.

There haven't been a lot of them since 1965, but they do occur at somewhat of a regular frequency and so it is not uncommon for storms to come racing across the peninsula. Whether they get sheared or not is really more indicative of how the upper level flows are interacting with the storm.

COOPER: Sam Champion with WABC in New York is also joining us. Sam, what is it -- when this storm was over Cancun, it was going four or five miles per hour, now, it's, I guess, near double digits and they say it's going to go quickly over Florida. Why the rapid changes?

CHAMPION: Hey, Anderson, that's a great question. And the reason for that is that it actually makes a little connection with the jet. The jet stream is a fast moving current of air that speeds weather systems across the nation. When a weather system is cut off from the jet it has a tendency to wander a bit. If a weather system hits the jet, it is moved quickly right out of the way. This storm actually has a little interaction. It starts to move across through Florida, kind of feels the jet, the movement of the air, gets picked up and shoved across the State of Florida and then I mean it's just like putting the pedal to the floor, it goes right up the East Coast of the U.S.

So it didn't have anything to steer it. It was kind of a wandering, wobbling storm. You remember when we were talking about it very early on and it had a very small eye, it didn't have a direction. If you look at the actual path of this thing, it did loops, it did swirls until it finally found its strength and got in a good pool or a pond of warm water and then it just kind of flourished.

We knew it would weaken a little bit over the Yucatan and we knew it was going to speed up. If you look back at the predictions that the Hurricane Center put out early on, the timing has changed a lot with this storm but the path, the path is pretty dead on with what everybody was kind of figuring out days ago with this storm.

COOPER: Chad Myers, how is the temperature of the water around here, around this part of Florida, going to affect this storm?

MYERS: Well, it's almost getting on the shelf now and that's not quite deep of water as it had a couple of hours ago but it's still very warm. We're talking Gulf Stream water. If you go swimming in the Pacific out by L.A., the water is not nearly as warm as if you go swimming Ft. Lauderdale, but it is actually still -- the possibility of it still picking up some speed not out of the question. Remember how we talked about how if a storm stalls over one spot, it can mix up the water, Anderson, and that can actually cool some of the water down because you're bringing some deeper water up, but this thing now, because it is moving so quickly, doesn't have time to mix that water up.

Look, three and a half hours, if you draw a line at about 20 miles per hour, that's when the center of the eye wall may make landfall in Key West and then the back side, maybe the clearer part of the eye, may be there in five hours.

Now farther to the north of there, on up toward Naples, that could still take seven hours or so, depending on whether the storm actually just drives itself right into Florida Bay, does it take a little bit of a more southerly course or right up into the Naples or Marco Island area.

So it is not all that far away and now that we're talking about that pick up in speed, everybody needs to be ready now. Basically no going outside anymore. You're done.

COOPER: More of our panel of experts coming up just after the break and more from mayors and correspondents all across Florida. CNN truly the hurricane headquarters. Stay with us for the latest on Hurricane Wilma.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to CNN, your hurricane headquarters. All through the night and all day tomorrow, as we track Hurricane Wilma, bearing down on Florida. We'll check in with Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

Max, what has been the biggest surprise about this storm?

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DIRECTOR: Well, so far it's been on the track. The forward motion has certainly been a problem for us the last couple of days here but so far tonight it's staying right on the track and is increasing in forward speed, so we've kind of learned to expect surprises and it's not all over yet.

If I could answer that, let me wait until tomorrow night.

COOPER: What's the speed of the storm now and where is the worst part, where is the worst side of this storm?

MAYFIELD: Well, it's about -- it's moving to the northeast at 15 miles per hour. That will continue to increase and by the time it gets over Florida it says it's going to take off like a rocket out into the Atlantic. And as it increases in forward speed, the winds will shift somewhat and become more asymmetric and will likely be a lot stronger on the south side than on the north side and unfortunately that means from wherever it makes landfall, most likely Collier County on the Gulf Coast and probably exiting near Palm Beach County and south of there and that includes Miami-Dade, Palm Beach County and the Florida Keys will be the worst areas hit.

COOPER: Why is it going to take off like a rocket once it gets over Florida?

MAYFIELD: Well, the upper level flow is really going to start increasing and we have a cold front and associated mid to upper level trough, very strong winds coming in associated with that trough and that's really going to increase the steering currents and it's going to start flying off here during the day tomorrow and the good news there is that by tomorrow afternoon, or certainly late tomorrow afternoon, most of the strong winds will be well out east of the state.

COOPER: All right. We heard earlier there might be a sunset even tomorrow. That would certainly be a welcome relief. Max Mayfield, thanks very much.

Mayor Morgan McPherson from Key West, Florida is on the phone. Mayor, our correspondent Gary Tuchman saying about 80 percent of the people in your town have not evacuated. Are you concerned?

Mayor McPherson, can you hear me?

Having some trouble reaching Mayor McPherson. Gary Tuchman is standing by in Key West. Gary, the mayor has got to be concerned about his people not evacuating. TUCHMAN: Let me tell you a little bit about this mayor. Very nice guy. He's been in the office for 15 days, Anderson, just was elected as mayor. He has been in Key West for a long time but 15 days and he has this to deal with. We were with him yesterday as he went door to door imploring people to leave and a lot of people said, we're just not leaving. We've been here our whole lives, we haven't left for any hurricanes and we're not leaving now.

And he wasn't going to force them. There's a mandatory evacuation but that doesn't mean they're physically forced and carted off. People don't want to leave, they don't leave, but there's going to be no one answering 911, there's going to be no police or fire officials working. It's their own risk.

COOPER: You've got your hood on, you look a little like an oompa loompa. Is the weather getting worse?

TUCHMAN: You saw the Willy Wonka movie Anderson. Yes, we're in the third squall right now and the rains are just starting to come down now again so, yes, we've had a wardrobe change for the second act of LARRY KING LIVE tonight.

COOPER: All right. Gary Tuchman, thanks for standing out in the rain for us. We're told Mayor Morgan McPherson is on the phone from Key West. Mr. Mayor, can you hear me?

Maybe he's talking -- he's got a conch share up to his ear. Mayor, just one more try. This is Anderson, can you hear me?

Clearly having trouble getting in touch with Mayor McPherson there in Key West.

Let's go back to Sam Champion with WABC in New York standing by for us.

These winds that are kind of whipping this thing and churning it up, how much faster can this storm get?

CHAMPION: Well, I think that Max has kind of got the peak of this thing as a 2, 3 and I go with him on whatever he says so I fell that that's kind of where we are. You can pick up a little bit of speed with this thing but then it's going to impact the land.

But Anderson, you know, one of the things we have a chance to do right here is maybe save some lives in South Florida. For the folks who haven't evacuated, for the people who haven't taken precautions because they've been watching the path of this storm and they said, hey, we're not going to get the eye of this storm.

One of the things that we need to have heard from this hour of broadcast, as you've heard the experts, the hurricane experts tell you that some of the strongest winds will be in South Florida, the Dade metro area, the Ft. Lauderdale area, so if you haven't taken precautions against the wind, if you haven't put your hurricane shutters down in Dade and Broward County, you need to do that. And for the folks that are in the Keys and who have thought that they can ride this storm out, you've heard the estimates of the storm surge being anywhere from nine to 17 feet, so if the place that you thought you were going to seek shelter in the Keys does not have an elevation of about nine feet above the watermark and is not in sturdy construction, then you need to find a spot that is because you barely have just a few hours before you get into bad weather here.

So and the folks as far as -- if you live near one of the many rivers or tributaries in Florida that is going to carry extra water, that is going to flood, and you know in a storm surge or in a storm situation that you get two or three feet extra water in your yard, then prepare for that.

If you're one of those folks who just thought, I'm tired of hearing about hurricanes, I'm going to ride this storm out in my home because I don't know where to go or don't know what else to do, there are some things you can do to stay safe in the storm, and it's going to be a rough night for you with all the wind and the rain and the thunderstorms and the possible tornadoes. It will get better tomorrow afternoon, but take precautions that you know if you live in that area that you can take to save your life.

COOPER: Certainly good advice, Sam. Chad Myers also, who has weathered many a storm, Chad and I together, it is at this point, if you haven't left, you should probably stay where you are, Chad.

MYERS: Oh, absolutely, especially with this risk of tornadoes. New, brand new tornado warning with a report by the public of a tornado on the ground near the Hubert Humphrey bridge right there in Merritt Island in Florida. Here's Cape Canaveral. There is the cape. There is the storm. Easy to see right there.

Anderson, you and I spent enough time in Indiatlantic Beach and into Melbourne here. That is not very far from there. That's Coco, that's Cape Canveral, and the storm is moving to the northeast at 15 miles per hour with a tornado on the ground at this hour. That's why this entire area is painted in in red. It will be right over the Kennedy Space Center in about 15 minutes. Back to you.

COOPER: Chad, you've got some very shallow water here, especially south of me around the 10,000 Island area. That means the storm surge could be even bigger in those parts, yes?

MYERS: Certainly to the right of where the eye makes landfall. The best part about northern or the best part of Monroe County itself is that it is a very swampy area. There is not a lot of buildup south of Marco Island. Down here to the south of what we're talking about here's Memphis, keep going guys. Here's Naples and we'll just go right over here. We're talking almost the entire Everglades through here, so here's norther Monroe County.

As you take this and we drive this storm right through here, yes there will be a big storm surge but there really is very little building in here because it is kind of a swampy-like area -- well, we know it as the Everglades, so that would be best-case scenario for everybody living in the south part of Florida.

COOPER: Chad Myers we'll check in with you shortly. A lot more ahead. Stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters, all night long and all day tomorrow as Hurricane Wilma bears down on this state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back to this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Larry is off tonight. I'm Anderson Cooper on Marco Island in Florida, where the winds have already started to pick up. Just north of me, of course, the town of Naples. Mayor Bill Barnett of Naples, Florida, joins me on the phone.

Mayor, is Naples ready?

MAYOR BILL BARNETT, NAPLES, FLORIDA (oh phone): I'm ready.

COOPER: How have you gotten read?

BARNETT: Well, I'll tell you, Anderson, you know as we talked the other night we've made about every preparation that we could possibly do. We have a curfew in effect now that's starting in about 10 minutes, be 10:00 our time. We don't want anybody on the streets.

Certainly people have had enough time to do what they need to do to protect it. Certainly to evacuate, which they didn't. Hopefully they are tucked away safe.

COOPER: Do you know how many people did evacuate?

BARNETT: No. And I have no way of knowing that. We just -- we really couldn't take any -- we have no way of taking a count.

COOPER: How many people live in Naples around this time of the year anyway?

BARNETT: You know, our total population is around 23,000 and if you figure that a vast majority of our winter residents are not back, I have to -- I would guess to say 15,000. Anywhere between 12 and 15,000.

COOPER: You lost lives in Hurricane Donna back in 1960. Do you think -- do people there remember what it's like to get hit by a hurricane?

BARNETT: Well, you know there are a lot of old timers that are still here. They have an old timer's reunion here which they just had a couple weeks ago and they do. There are a lot of people here that do remember what it's like and they talk about it but they're still here.

COOPER: Mayor Bill Barnett, good luck to you.

BARNETT: Thank you.

COOPER: The Town of Naples, Florida, a beautiful city just north of here on Marco Island.

Let's check in with Jeanne Meserve who is in Naples, who has been watching evacuation efforts today and over the last several days. Jeanne, A, how is the weather there? The winds here have already started to pick up and what is your sense of the evacuation? How many people do you think have left?

MESERVE: I will tell you first about the weather. It has started to rain here. The winds picked up a little bit. We've seen some lightning out on the horizon but things certainly not too rough here at this point in time.

In terms of the evacuation, certainly in the days I've been here I've seen the population diminish bit by bit by bit but I think the thing that's really sticking with me is the people I met today down in Everglades City, as you've heard, they may get a really bad storm surge down there.

I met a great guy named Speedy Johnson, he runs an airboat business down there. Has nine $30,000 boats down there and he doesn't want to leave them. He says, this is my livelihood, this is where I belong, this is where I'm going to stay.

A lot of people who are staying who have talked to us say it isn't about being a hot dog, it's about staying where their lives are, where their possessions are, where they feel comfortable and where they think they've made adequate preparations for this storm. Anderson?

MESERVE: Gary Tuchman standing by in Key West, where, as Gary has been telling us all evening long, some 80 percent of the people or so estimated not to have left. Gary, the people who are not leaving, are they at least taking precautions? Do they have an inner room of their house they know they can go in? Do they have supplies?

TUCHMAN: They have supplies, they have shutters, they have wood on their houses but the fact is, Anderson, the highest elevation here in Key West, it's very much like New Orleans, is 18 inches above sea level. They're expecting a minimum eight foot storm surge. There is going to be severe flooding.

Five weeks ago, during Hurricane Rita, we were in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas. I marveled at the evacuation efforts. We saw nobody on the streets or in their homes. Today I am no longer marveling at evacuation efforts.

COOPER: Chad Myers standing by in Atlanta for us. Chad, what do you tell people at this point, Chad -- Sam Champion in New York, WABC weatherman, what do you tell people at this point about how to protect themselves?

CHAMPION: Anderson, you know, again, we do talk a lot about these folks in the Keys and they are a specific breed and they've been through these storms before and they feel like they can weather them. If they -- and you hope that if they have chosen not to evacuate, that they've made the preparation, but again, what you tell those people in particular, and it's what Gary was saying. You've got to get up a little bit there.

You don't want to get up too high because the winds pick up a bit as you get high, but you've got to get a little bit higher than the storm surge so if you're expecting an eight or a nine foot storm surge at minimum, then you need to make sure that your concrete-reinforced pilings above the surface there give you about an eight or nine foot elevation.

Then the codes have been stiffened in Florida to withstand certain categories of winds so you want to make sure that these people have a place where the walls are reinforced, where you're either dealing with poured concrete and rebar concrete, that's the beams, the metal rods that run through the concrete when it's poured down there and it's pretty standard in construction there.

So you want them to have elevation, number one, then you want them to have that reinforced concrete structure that they can get into without windows because one of the biggest problems there is going to be what -- and Anderson, you've seen this, I think more than anyone else I know following storm after storm this season, is the projectiles that will take -- you will pick a beam up or you'll pick a pan up or a trash can up and you can blow those things through a wall. I mean, it's unbelievable the damage that those things can do.

So you want them to have those construction minimums. You want them to have the elevation and then just sit tight. If you've decided to be there, sit tight until it's done because no one can really come and help you.

COOPER: Sam Champion and everyone else, we want to thank you for being with us on our panel. All our correspondents and mayors. It's going to be a tough couple of hours. Stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters, as Wilma bears down on the great State of Florida. Our primetime coverage continues all evening and all day long.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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