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Fuel Shortages, Gridlock Threatens in Florida; New Forecast Puts Miami in Line for Direct Hit by Monster Storm. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 7, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Collision path. After tearing through a series of Caribbean islands, bringing death and destruction, Hurricane Irma is on a collision path for Florida. Millions of people are now at risk from this catastrophic storm.

[17:00:20] Storm surge. Alongside a hurricane watch, South Florida is under a storm surge watch for the enormous wall of water that could be pushed ashore, bringing deadly flooding as high as a House to coastal areas.

Fleeing Florida. Hundreds of thousands have been ordered to flee their homes. Many more aren't waiting to be told to evacuate. Highways heading north are clogged, and fuel shortages could lead to gridlock.

And White House interviews. A CNN exclusive: sources say Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team wants to interview White House staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the misleading statement was drafted about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, the new forecast that's just coming in for Hurricane Irma, pounding the Caribbean with winds of 175 miles an hour. The epic storm, one of the most powerful ever, is taking aim at Florida, and hurricane watches have been declared in the southern part of the state.

The mayor of Miami Beach calls Irma a nuclear hurricane, and Florida's governor warns it's a catastrophic storm like the state has never seen. Mandatory evacuations are spreading. So far, 650,000 people in the Miami area alone have been ordered to leave, and others are being warned to be ready on short notice.

Countless Floridians aren't waiting to be ordered out. Highways are clogged with people heading north, but fuel shortages could further snarl the exodus. Georgia and South Carolina also are ordering coastal evacuations starting Saturday.

Spurring the urgent warnings, the trail of destruction and devastation and death already carved out by Irma. The prime minister of Barbuda says 95 percent of the buildings there have been destroyed. The island of St. Martin was devastated, and the storm knocked out power to a million people in Puerto Rico.

Still in Irma's path, the Turks and Caicos islands and the Bahamas.

I'll speak with Congressman Ted Deutsche of Florida and the director of the National Weather Service. Our correspondents, and specialists and guests, they are all standing by with full coverage of the storm and other stories breaking tonight.

Let's begin with the breaking news. A new forecast is just coming in for Hurricane Irma. Our meteorologist, Tom Sater, is at CNN Severe Weather Center. So what's the latest, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, just a few minor changes. Again, what we have is a formidable hurricane, Wolf, no doubt. We're losing time now because those that have a evacuate have to do by tomorrow morning if they're going to do this.

Now, I will show you a significant change, at least 20, 30 miles when it comes to the track towards Miami, which could be significant for Miami and everyone, Monroe County, Miami-Dade and elsewhere.

We are now watching the storm surge start to plow into the Turks and Caicos. That's why they were evacuated, looking at at least 15 to even possibly 20 feet or more in some areas.

The warnings extend across the Bahama islands, but this is new today, and this, Wolf, is significant. These watches posted by the National Hurricane are not just slapped up on the U.S. without considerable discussion and analysis of the data. It costs millions and millions of dollars to place a hurricane watch somewhere in the U.S. because of the federal, state, the local need, the equipment, the personnel, and the evacuation process that's taking place and, of course, closing up businesses and so on and so forth.

This will become a warning as time rolls on. We will see more watches extended up the East Coast and the West Coast, because again, keep in mind, this storm is so large, once it makes its way to the southern tip of Florida, the entire peninsula will be covered with tropical storm-force winds.

I want to point out here the tracks. A couple of them still deviate down to the south over Cuba. Almost ready to kind of erase that, but we cannot knock that possibility out.

But again, the spaghetti plots are different than the European and the U.S. models. So we look at all of them. And again we continue to see quite an array and focus along that east coast.

The difference in the track from the National Hurricane Center from yesterday to today is quite interesting. But for planning purposes, I just want everybody to look at this color codes. This is when the tropical storm force winds meet your area. You do not want to leave on Saturday, driving through Florida with tropical-storm-force winds. So you want at least want to leave, I'd say at the very latest if you're even considering, Friday morning. But everybody needs to consider this. Here's why. [17:05:05] The path now, shifting back westward. Twenty-four hours ago, we saw a 60- to 70-mile shift to the east, and now it looks like it's shifting. Even though it may be just 20 miles, it puts Miami right in the worst possible position. Because when you look at the formidable storm, the strongest winds, the strongest storm surge, the bands of heavy rain are always in that north, northeastern quadrant.

So as the system stays, more just toward, I would say, just toward the west of Miami, then they're putting Miami and the millions of people even northward in that range.

As we continue to go along, let's take a look at the European model and the U.S. There have been some changes with this, as well. They have all shifted a little bit westward.

Yesterday, the U.S. model was a little bit more off the coastline, and it still is. And it still brings it up toward landfall near Savannah. That's still a big possibility. So everyone on alert on, of course, the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia.

But for the European, a week ago, last Thursday this model was still south of Miami. And here it is again today. So you've got to take that in consideration, this grasp it has on the environment.

If we get in closer, and take a look at each one, it is quite interesting. And this is probably the worst-case scenario, although there's going to be suffering anywhere. So there isn't a great outcome, any way you look at it.

But again, with those stronger winds, as this moves in toward Key Largo, this is our problem spot for the strongest winds, the greatest storm surge that could be -- and I think it's conservative to say ten feet, really. I mean, we could see 15. The Turks and Caicos are getting 20. It depends a lot on that slope of the ocean floor.

But again, this is going to be a problem. This is going to be like winds near the center of an EF-3 tornado. And we know what that does when it hits any community in the southern plains or anywhere in the U.S. But consider those kind of winds around that center of the eye, hour after hour after hour all the way from the south to the north, straight up the center of Florida.

The other model, of course, we're going to be watching is the U.S. model. But again, as the European moves in, you are not safe in Key West, as well. As the winds wrap around, you're going to see a storm surge on the northern side coming in, as well.

But real quickly for you, here's the U.S. model, and this is a little different. Still has a very close landfall near Fort Lauderdale. This is much like Matthew last year that scoured the entire coastline, keeping the catastrophic damage offshore but creating quite a bit of activity and damage, as we know, well into the Carolinas.

BLITZER: Yes, clearly, it could be a worst-case scenario for Miami, Miami Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, up towards Boca Raton and Palm Beach. We're watching that area very, very closely. We're going to keep checking back with you. I know, Tom, you're

getting more information all the time. Stand by.

This path of destruction carved across the Caribbean by the hurricane, Hurricane Irma's, adding great urgency right now to Florida's preparations for one of the most powerful storms ever. Our Brian Todd is joining us from Palm Beach right now, not far from the president's Florida estate at Mar-a-Lago.

Brian, officials are sounding some very dire warnings.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf, because we're standing in a spot now that could take a direct hit when Irma comes ashore in earnest on Sunday.

This island behind me, the barrier island Palm Beach, could be inundated. They could see five to ten feet of storm surge, which would inundate this area behind me, including as you mentioned, the president's winter White House, Mar-a-Lago.

Mandatory evacuations are going to be ordered in a few hours. This comes as people throughout south Florida are getting a harrowing preview of what they could see. People seeing very disturbing images of what Irma did to the Caribbean.


TODD (voice-over): This is the kind of devastation that has hit the Caribbean and could be headed directly into Florida. Flooded roads and buildings in Antigua, cars and boats ruined in St. Barts. Trees torn apart in St. Thomas, the destruction seen from the air, extending for miles across St. Martin. Barbuda took a direct hit; 95 percent of buildings are estimated damaged or destroyed.

GASTON BROWNE, PRIME MINISTER, ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: What I saw was heart-wrenching. I mean, absolutely devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roof is about to come. Yes, there it is.

TODD: Hurricane Irma has maintained 185-mile-per-hour winds for longer than any hurricane in recorded history. Almost 16 million people are in the potential path of the storm.

Puerto Rico suffered high winds and flooding, leaving a million without power and 56,000 without water. The storm churning near Santa Domingo the Turks and Caicos, with the Bahamas and Cuba up next.

Tonight, Florida officials urgently warning citizens statewide to get ready.

MAYOR BARBARA SHARIEF (D), BROWARD COUNTY: If you choose to remain in your home, please rush your preparations to completion today. Emergency personnel will not be able to assist you once sustained tropical-storm-force winds arrive.

TODD: Some interstates seeing heavy traffic as mandatory evacuation orders now cover the Keys, low-lying parts of southern Florida.

[17:10:03] GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I cannot stress enough, do not ignore evacuation orders. Remember, we can rebuild your home. You can get your possessions again, but you can't get your life back.

TODD: Gas has become scarce in some places. Around 40 percent of gas stations in Miami-Dade County are out of gas, according to Gas Buddy. Some fuel trucks now getting police escorts.

And to get sandbags, the line was two hours long at a location near Orlando. Flights and cruises are being cancelled and at least one Miami hospital has started evacuating patients.

Authorities say the most exposed nuclear plant, at Turkey Point, sits 20 feet above sea level and weathered a direct Category 5 hit from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. But no one wants another disaster like the Fukushima meltdown, where a tsunami knocked out the cooling system while the reactors were still hot.

ROBERT GOULD, FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT: We will safely shut down these nuclear plants with the -- well in advance of hurricane-force winds.

TODD: Even the winter White House, Donald Trump's treasured Mar-a- Lago estate at Palm Beach, whose stucco walls have weathered countless storms since it was built in 1927, could be in the path of the unpredictable storm.

SCOTT: Look at the cone. The cone has our entire state. And this thing's bigger than our entire state right now. So take this seriously.


TODD: And starting at 10 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, mandatory evacuation orders will be in place for this area, especially the area behind me, the barrier islands of Palm Beach, those low-lying areas. That's going to cover about 123,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders. But another 138,000 are going to be under a voluntary evacuation notice, Wolf.

And again, people here, just like they are throughout the state, are being told by officials, do not call first responders during the height of the storm on Saturday and especially on Sunday, because they are not going to be able to get to you in those conditions.

BLITZER: So all of Palm Beach is going to be evacuated as of tomorrow morning? Mandatory evacuation, is that what I'm hearing?

TODD: Well, Wolf, you have to specify between Palm Beach right behind me, this barrier island, the lower lying areas. That's going to be under mandatory evacuations starting at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

West Palm Beach, some of that is going to be under mandatory, but most of that's going to be under voluntary evacuation orders tomorrow. West Palm Beach is a little bit higher elevation. So they are, you know, not insulated, but they're a little safer than the people right behind me on that barrier island.

BLITZER: Yes, Palm Beach as opposed to West Palm Beach.

All right, Brian. Thank you very much. We'll get back to you. Stand by.

Right now the core of this extremely dangerous storm is passing near Haiti. CNN's Paula Newton is on the scene for us over there. So Paula, what are the conditions like right now getting ready for this hurricane?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've had a few hours now of some fairly severe gusts with some rainstorms, but the worst is yet to come still for Haiti. The good news, Wolf, is they're not taking a direct hit. Bad news is that even the southern edge of this storm could do catastrophic damage to Haiti.

This is one of the places that's most ill-prepared for this. Wolf, we had local officials here on the northern shore tell us, "Look, we are not prepared for the storm, and not only are we not prepared for the storm, we're not prepared for the aftermath."

Critical supplies that were supposed to come from the capital, Port au Prince, are still not in place. People are not heeding evacuation orders. At risk Wolf, about 100,000 people in low-lying areas, and that's for the storm over the next 10 to 12 hours. After that, Wolf, we're still waiting to see what the flooding does and if it triggers those mudslides, those deadly mudslides that we saw from Hurricane Matthew in the south of this country last year that killed hundreds of people, literally swept families away with their homes.

It has become a real problem here, Wolf. And still no understanding -- it's been unsettling -- that there is any preparation here. And quite frankly, Wolf, right now it's too late. People already have to hunker down as best they can and just wait it out.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope for the best in Haiti, which has gone through so much over these many years. Thanks very much, Paula, for that. We'll get back to you, as well.

Joining us now, the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini.

Louis, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So you -- you've been involved in a lot of these hurricanes. A Category 4 or a Category 5 storm hitting Miami, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, that area with millions and millions of people, what would it mean?

UCCELLINI: Well, we have to understand, too, it's only hitting that area; it's coming in on an angle to the coastline, which makes it particularly dangerous for the storm surge on the eastern side of the low.

The very strong winds. We're still predicting that the storm will maintain its intensity to at least a Category 4. Very strong winds. You can't evacuate up in winds like that.

So very concerned about the response to this storm. The emergency management community is taking all actions to local officials, to state officials to get people out of harm's way. But it's a very dangerous storm both from a wind perspective and from a water perspective.

BLITZER: Louis Uccellini's going to be with us throughout the two hours here. Stand by.

[17:15:03] I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ted Deutsche of Florida. His district includes parts of southeast Florida that could be hit hard by Hurricane Irma.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

How should people in your district -- and we're talking about, what, Boca Raton and other areas just north of Fort Lauderdale, between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, how should they be preparing for this disaster?

REP. TED DEUTSCHE (D), FLORIDA: Well, Wolf, they should be doing several things. First and foremost, they should listen to what the local officials tell them. There is a mandatory evacuation in Broward County for the low-lying areas, mobile homes, the coastal areas, Palm Beach County. That's going to go into effect tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. They need to plan to evacuate.

For people who aren't evacuating, right now, they have to have a plan in place both to secure their homes. They have to have everything they need to get through a hurricane, and they need to make sure that they're prepared the day after a hurricane. Write down all of the information that they need, because there's a very good chance they're going to lose power. Be sure that they have the numbers that they need, and communicate that to their families outside of Florida, as well, so that everyone is aware of what they'll be going through and the steps that they'll be taking to deal with the storm.

BLITZER: We're already seeing, Congressman, very, very heavy traffic on the interstates in Florida. So many people are concerned they won't be able to get out in time if they're not out by now. They maybe have a few hours left. Do you trust the evacuation procedures that have been put in place in your state of Florida?

DEUTSCHE: Well, I think there are two important pieces to this, one the decision to evacuate the areas along the coastline is very important, because as you've been discussing with the experts before I came on, the storm surge could be immense, which puts all of those areas and the people who live there at great risk. So those people need to evacuate from their homes along the coast.

There are people who are leaving the state, but the other piece of this is the shelters that are now open in South Florida, the people who need those shelters who can evacuate from their homes to the shelters for protection, that's another way for them to stay safe.

BLITZER: The people of Florida, certainly, are counting on FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to help with the recovery process, but the agency as you well know, Congressman, is on the brink of running out of cash.

Is Congress going to make sure FEMA is funded to deal with not only the crisis, the hurricane disaster we saw in Texas and Louisiana, but now about to unfold in Florida and maybe in South Carolina and Georgia, some other states up the eastern seaboard?

DEUTSCHE: Wolf, there's -- there's no question that Congress must. This isn't a question of whether or not Congress will. Congress must ensure that FEMA has the resources to be able to continue to help the people of Texas who are, whose lives were devastated by the storm there last week.

But this is a large, dangerous storm with high winds and high storm -- and high surge that's coming up, potentially, right through Florida. Six million people at risk in South Florida alone, 20 million people throughout the state.

I know that FEMA has food and water and generators ready to come into the state, blue tarps ready to help people who lose their roofs, but they need to be funded. And Congress needs to do that right now. We can't leave the people of Florida to wonder whether or not FEMA's going to be there for them. They have to be there for them.

BLITZER: The House speaker, Paul Ryan, says FEMA funds are being quickly depleted, a lot more quickly than normal because everyone seems to be affected by Hurricane Harvey. Everyone who was affected by Hurricane Harvey out in Texas and Louisiana is applying for relief over their smart phones, and do you accept that explanation?

DEUTSCHE: Well, I think that people are seeking relief because of the damage that Harvey caused. We've all seen the horrific images of the floods and people whose lives were turned upside-down, so of course they're seeking -- they're turning to FEMA.

In Florida, we know that if that storm like this comes through the state, that there will be massive damage to people's homes, that the flooding will be dramatic, and that the needs will be enormous. So we're going to have to come together.

Wolf, I was at the emergency operations center earlier today with Governor Scott, and the federal government, the state government, local governments, the nonprofit community, all of them were together figuring out how to address the needs that will exist after the storm comes through, not just to prepare for it, but anticipating what will come next. FEMA plays a vital role in that, and Congress has to ensure that FEMA is equipped to help take care of those needs.

BLITZER: In the worst-case scenario -- and everybody's fearing now that worst-case scenario, according to to the National Hurricane Center -- parts of south Florida where you are could be uninhabitable for weeks or months. Are you worried that some of your constituents may -- may never be able to rebuild their lives?

DEUTSCHE: Well, Wolf, we -- people have seen images from Hurricane Andrew. I remember what we went through after Hurricane Wilma in my own community. There -- there is going to be, if this storm follows the current track, there's going to be massive damage. But that's when the community has to come together, as we have in those other instances, to help ensure that people can get back on their feet.

This could be -- this could be a horrific outcome like we've seen in the islands, but we have to hope that that's not the case. But if it is, then again, we're going to have to all work together to ensure that people get the care that they need.

There's going to be a lot of looking out for one another and a lot of turning to those who can offer support. That's why there has been such a welcomed push to get volunteers. People have signed up already, because whatever happens, they know that we're all going to be there for one another. That's the kind of community that we have.

We know what these storms can do. We've seen it before. And Florida, if this is -- if this follows this current path, it will be a very, very difficult time, but we will work with each other, turn to each other, and we'll get through it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congressman Ted Deutsche of Florida, joining us from Pompano Beach, along the Atlantic. Very quickly, where are you going ride out the storm?

DEUTSCHE: I'm going to be -- I'm going to be home with -- with my family, and we're just finishing securing our own home. Something that I was out with my neighbors doing just before I came over here. And then we'll be out in the community and doing our best to assess what happened and again, to help make sure that people get the support that they need.

BLITZER: Well, be careful and good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Florida right now.

DEUTSCHE: Thank you.

BLITZER: I know this is an awful, awful situation. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

We'll have much more on the breaking news coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Urgent preparations as Hurricane Irma takes direct aim at Florida. We're tracking the storm's path, the latest forecast, much more right after this.


[17:27:00] BLITZER: Our breaking news: Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful storms ever, is carving a path of destruction across the Caribbean and taking direct aim at Florida. Right now mandatory evacuations are under way. Millions of people are being urged to get out of the storm's path.

Let's go live to our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez. He's at a Miami gas station.

Miguel, we're already seeing lots of clogged highways and awful gas shortages.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Across town. We -- driving around Miami I can tell you, it's about 50/50, half the stations open, half of them aren't. This is a marathon, an extraordinarily busy marathon on U.S. 1 right now.

I want to show you the end of the line. It's right here. There are two police officers here on duty who are helping out. They have police tape across the service station so that people can only go in one way.

Now I want to show you the beginning of the line. It is about an hour, probably an hour plus at this point for people getting gas here. It wraps around the block. The governor of Florida saying he's taking extraordinary measures to get more gas in here, including police escorts for tankers bringing the truck to service stations, police escorts for employees of service stations so they can stay open and stay on duty as long as possible, and then they'll help get them out.

Even military transports and coordinated with other states and their tankers, the ship tankers coming into different ports so they can get it in as quickly and as efficiently as possible, load it onto trucks and get it to gas stations.

If you could measure concern in a line, it is this line right here. People clearly concerned, wanting a full tank of gas, waiting an hour or more. We just saw somebody pushing their car into the -- into the service station here. It is -- people clearly paying very, very close attention to this storm and extraordinarily concerned, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an awful situation. People are being told, get out, evacuate, but if they don't have gas, it's going to be hard to drive anywhere, and so many of the gas stations are out of gas and are simply shut down right now.

All right, Miguel, we're going to get back to you shortly. Want to show our viewers some pictures of planes lined up at one of the airports in Miami, Opa Locka Airport, right now. You can see the planes are being delayed, as well. So many individuals, so many people want to get out of south Florida right now to safety, totally understandably, as well.

Joining us once again, the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini. You know, when we hear, Louis, about a storm surge and worst-case scenario, this hurricane hits Florida, the Miami area where there are millions and millions of people, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, what does that mean? Explain what that storm surge, a huge storm surge, would mean to all of those folks.

UCCELLINI: Well, the surge is a part of the circulation of the storm, so north and east of the track of the storm, the storm will be bringing water with it; and it'll actually force the ocean to rise. It brings it with it. And when that surge hits the coast, it inundates a large area horizontally, and above ground level we could see water quickly rise to 12, 15 feet --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: How deep, how far inland?

UCCELLINI: Well, it carries in -- and that's where it gets tricky because if you have your inlets and your bays, it can just follow that water right in. So the inland bays, the areas where people have built canals will all rise, you know, and can actually rise more because the water then gets --

BLITZER: So, that intercostal -- the whole Miami and Fort Lauderdale, that goes up there, what happens to that?

UCCELLINI: It -- you can get rises in the water in the 12-foot range or above, depending on, where that area gets constricted and it happens very quickly and of course it inundates the entire area, houses will flood very quickly. So this is one of the concerns immediately along the coast. You have to get people out, because the surge can just you know, destroy the houses and trap people.

BLITZER: That explains why Palm Beach and Miami Beach, for example, have been told that there are mandatory evacuations under way right now.


BLITZER: Louis, I want you to stand by with us. We're going to have a lot more questions for you. Viewers are watching this very, very closely. The breaking news, we're following as Florida races to get ready for Hurricane Irma and residents rush to get out of the way. We're tracking the storm's path with the latest forecast, stick around. You're on THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:35:00] BLITZER: Breaking news, Hurricane Irma is carving a path of destruction across the Caribbean, taking direct aim at Florida right now. The latest forecast is out. Let's get a quick update from our Meteorologist Tom Sater at the CNN Severe Weather Center. So what could we expect, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST & WEATHER ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, at the top of the hour we got a new Hurricane track and it did shift about 15, 20 miles back westward but something since we were just focusing on the track that also came out in this advisory. Get this, Hurricane Jose has been upgraded to a Major Hurricane category three, making its way towards Barbuda and Anguilla that have been decimated. I mean, we've heard from the Prime Minister it's barely habitable. And they're looking at the system to come dangerously close. Hurricane watch is in effect and these people have nowhere to go. There is no Convention Center like there was in Houston. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers. It's just, it's hard to imagine that, but it looks like it will pull away but get dangerously close. Now, on Irma, continues to move at a pretty good clip. We're at 16

miles per hour, that's much better than Harvey, which you could out walk at one to two. So, rainfall rates are a little bit lighter, but this is all about wind and storm surge right now. Sure, maybe 100 million people without power but in Puerto Rico, but -- excuse me, a million people. But we didn't get the flash flooding and the major storm surge, there was some. But it stayed away from the Northern Coast, staying away from Hispaniola, getting too close to comfort for the Turks and Caicos.

Warnings in effect for the Bahamas and this is brand new today and this is a big deal. This is the next stage, this is a Hurricane watch which means, it will become a warning in time. We're two and a half days away, but of course, the conditions are going to start to deteriorate quickly and about you know, 24, 48 hours. The spaghetti plots which are different than our European and our U.S. model do show, still the pretty much the same turn to the North. A few still take it interacting with Cuba, that's still possible. The end point on both of these is Savannah, Georgia, which is interesting to note now. But quite a few of the models hug the East Coast.

The difference here is, and I want to make this perfectly clear. 25 years ago, when Hurricane Andrew came in like a buzz saw from due west and slicing across Homestead, Florida. That's a smaller part of a real estate on the angle than what we may have with Irma. But let's remind everybody, $26.5 billion worth of economic loss and damages, 65 fatalities, the storm surge was 17 feet. I know they're calling for ten foot right now, but I think that's just conservative, they're doing that on purpose, they will up that later as it gets a little bit closer.

Now the track from the National Hurricane Center, yesterday shifted to the East, 60 to 70 miles, now back westward a little bit which puts Miami in a worst possible position. Because the worst winds, the worst storm surge is in that Northeastern quadrant. So, as everything circulates around this storm, counterclockwise, you get that surge of water. The walls of the sea coming in on the shoreline, up, up into the canals, into of course all of the streams and the creeks, but also, because the winds are around that eye.

Everybody, I want you to keep in mind now. We're talking about a 175 mile per hour winds right around the eye that does not mean all of Florida is going to have those type of winds. But those Hurricane winds extend 100 miles from the center. So most of Florida is going to feel this.

The storm surge as mentioned will change, we'll talk about that, and later on we'll talk more about the storm surge, everything in blue here and it's kind of hard to see this is North Miami, you got Miami down to the South, Biscayne Bay, everything one to three feet here, you slide down to the South and you'll see the bright colors around Homestead. You're talking six to nine feet in some areas on the coastline and even greater than three to six in some areas. So that's something that will unfold in time, Wolf, and we'll be able to discuss more of that as the storm approaches South of Florida. [17:40:07] BLITZER: Alright Tom, we're going to get back to you. Tom Sater stand by, for that Louis Uccellini is with us, the National Weather Service Director. We talked a lot about this storm surge, you and I've just discussed it. Is it -- is it something that's going to wind up killing people?

UCCELLINI: Well, if people don't take the right steps and to -- like you said, everybody said listen to your Local Officials get out of those areas that were just painted those blues and reds and oranges because the storm surge kills. And if you're in a vulnerable spot, you really don't -- you really don't want to be there. So now's the time to be leaving those areas. They are the most vulnerable with respect to the surge and with this storm, it's going -- it's a very powerful storm, it's bringing a lot of water with it and we have to be very concerned about it.

BLITZER: So, if it's a ten-foot storm surge in some places, it could be a 15 or 20-foot storm surge. That would be -- if there are people there who decided to ride it out and not to evacuate to those areas. That potentially could kill them.

UCCELLINI: It could and it makes it very hard to get into those areas to address their safety.

BLITZER: And there are so many high-rises along the Atlantic Ocean down in South Florida. What happens to people who may be stuck inside who can't leave even though they've been ordered to evacuate?

UCCELLINI: This is something that they have to deal with at a local level. People in high-rises, we're not recommending -- it's not recommended that they go higher because the wind speeds is a higher --

BLITZER: The higher you are, the more deadly the wind.

UCCELLINI: So it's really time to get out of those areas.

BLITZER: And if you can't, if you're an elderly person, if you can't move, someone's got to come in and escort you and take you out.

UCCELLINI: And that's what the Local Officials are focusing on.

BLITZER: And that's a big concern I have there are so many older people, retirees were down there, not very noble to begin with and now they're being told you've got a few hours to escape.

UCCELLINI: You have a whole new generation of people since Andrew that's down in that area. They've never seen a storm like this.

BLITZER: Andrew was a 1992, you remember it, I remember it but a lot of folks who have moved to Florida don't remember it.

UCCELLINI: That's correct.

BLITZER: And this potentially could be a lot worse.

UCCELLINI: This could be an Andrew type of wind storm and it could have a stronger surge with it. It's a -- it's a major, major destructive storm, it has to be pay -- you have to pay attention to it and evacuate when you're Local Officials say evacuate.

BLITZER: Yes, I totally agree. Louis will be going with us, stand by. Massive evacuations have been under way now in South Florida and a bit further up the Atlantic Coast, more people have now been ordered to get out. Our National Correspondent Brynn Gingras is on Merritt Island in Florida. Brynn, what's the situation over there?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that there's a mandatory evacuation beginning at 3:00 o'clock tomorrow that's also when shelters are going to open in this area which has Barrier Islands including Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach for example but right now, it's about protecting homes. We have four Distribution Centers open in Brevard County, Florida and you can see these are inmates here from the County that are servicing these Distribution Centers. Overnight, Wolf, 10,000 sandbags were filled, brought to this area. They quickly went out of them and that's why right now we're seeing inmates bagged one by one and then load cars a maximum of ten per car.

Now this line, this is actually nothing compared to what we've been seeing today. We talked to people who said that they've been waiting for five, upwards of six, seven hours just to get their hands on ten sandbags. Wolf, that's how dire the need is for this area to start shoring up their homes.

However, I said that 3:00 o'clock mandatory evacuation in order tomorrow. Wolf, I talked to a lot of people here and no one has said they're actually going to evacuate. Everyone has all of their different reasons whether it be that they have never felt a direct hit from a Hurricane before or they don't want to wait to get back into their home once the storm has passed. But certainly, that warning is out there, it's just a matter if anyone's going to listen to it, Wolf?

BLITZER: Alright, they better listen to those warnings. These are very, very deadly moments potentially out there, Brynn we'll get back to you, I want to go back to Central Florida right now, the Professional Storm Chaser, Ben McMillan is a Field Correspondent for Weather Nation. He's joining us now from Wildwood, Northwest of Orlando. So what are you seeing there, Ben?

BEN MCMILLAN, FIELD CORRESPONDENT & STORM CHASER, WEATHER NATION: Yes, good evening, Wolf, from Central Florida where we continue to track not one, not two, but three Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean. One of which, Hurricane Irma is being considered one of the strongest ever on earth and that's what's causing all of this behind me. We're at the Florida Turnpike and I-75 where two major roadways meet. The traffic has just been slowly moving, trying to get north of the area in enough time, and now to these conditions before they become worse.

BLITZER: It looks like it's going to be really bad up there as well as people try to escape. Ben, we're going to get back to you, stand by for us as well.

Coming up, latest forecast on when and where Hurricane Irma will hit Florida, the growing threat of direct impacts on Georgia, the Carolinas. Also breaking a CNN exclusive, stand by for details on why Robert Mueller's team wants to speak with members of the President's White House Staff.


[17:45:00] BLITZER: Stand by for the latest forecast on Hurricane Irma, we'll have live updates as States order more mandatory evacuations amid warnings that the storm may leave some areas uninhabitable for months.

We're also following multiple breaking stories connected to the ongoing Russia Election Meddling Investigations including new details about Special Council, Robert Mueller's probe.

BLITZER: Our Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown and our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju have been working their resources for us. Pamela, Special Council's Team is looking right now to talk with key members of the White House Staff, what's that all about?

[17:5017] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE AND SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: That's right, there are ongoing negotiations, discussions between Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Team as well as the White House, it's about interviewing some White House Aides were aboard Air Force One on the way back from the G20. And that, of course, is when the initial misleading statement was issued about the meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Junior and the Russian Attorney. At the time that statement said that it was only about adoptions and (INAUDIBLE) were called. Later on, it came out it actually had to do with incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Until what we have learned is that Robert Mueller wants to speak with interview, sit down with some of the White House Aides who were on board Air Force One. We've learned from our sources that the President had a hand in crafting that initial misleading statement and that he consulted with other White House Aids on that plane. We are told initially that it is just a small number of Aides that will be interviewed but the sources we spoke with cautioned that that number could rise as this investigation is ongoing.

And Robert Mueller wants to talk to these people to find out what they knew and when and in any circumstances surrounding the crafting of that statement. Now, it is not illegal to mislead the public. However, we are told that it could go to intent. He wants to know if any information was intentionally left out of the statement and it's interesting to note here that some White House Staffers will actually had to hire lawyers because now they have been sort of swept up in the Russia probe.

BLITZER: The President as far as we know, he has not been asked for any interview, is that right?

BROWN: That is correct. So sources tell us that as of now there has not been a request from Robert Mueller's Team to interview the President. I will say typically in investigation you start with lower level employees and work your way up. But at this point, there is no indication that Robert Mueller has made an act to interview the President.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this Manu, the President's son, Donald Trump Jr., he was questioned by investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee today what, for more than five hours?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And in fact he was asked, I am told specifically about the responses to that Trump Tower meeting including that Air Force One meeting that Pam was just reporting about. And what we are told that Donald Trump Jr. said was he didn't know, he didn't really know much about the White House's involvement, about senior White House Officials, how they came -- they were helping shaping the public of response to the initial revelations that he did meet with Russian Officials in Trump Tower after being promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. And he also said pretty emphatically that his father had no knowledge whatsoever, that he did, in fact, meet with Russians in Trump Tower. He said that his father did not talk to him about it afterward and nothing really happened from there. Now, we should say Wolf, there's still a lot of pressure from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to have a public hearing with Donald Trump Jr.

They believe that he had a commitment with the Republican Chairman of the Committee Chuck Grassley to have a public hearing. I talked to Grassley earlier, Wolf and he told me, he still has not made a final decision yet, he said he still wants to read through this interview transcript that happened today with staff members of the Judicial Committee not with members on the committee. And then he will decide whether or not to have a public hearing after consulting with the Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein on that committee. So, we will see whether or not we have Donald Trump Jr. come forward again. But he put out a statement saying that he believes he's satisfied their inquiry to the fullest extent possible, we'll see if the Senators agree with that.

BLITZER: Would that be a public hearing not just with Donald Trump Jr. but Paul Manafort who was then the Campaign Chairman, and Jared Kushner who was -- who is the President's son in law?

RAJU: There is certainly a push for that. It's a very seems unlikely at this point that certainly Manafort would come forward in a public setting given the fact he's under enormous pressure right now from Bob Mueller's own team but there is a very interest from several committees in talking with Manafort, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as having Jared Kushner come in and also to the Senate Judiciary Committee and also back to Senate Intelligence Committee as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the three of them were at that meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian. Manu, standby, Pamela, standby as well.

Coming up after tearing through a series of Caribbean Islands bringing death and destruction, Hurricane Irma is on a collision course with Florida. Evacuations are underway. Millions of people are now at risk. We have the latest forecast. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:55:00] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, direct hit. Dire warning from Florida's Governor as the State braces for a record Hurricane. The killer storm Irma is closing in carving a huge path of destruction as it turns across the Caribbean, where will it strike next?

Under water, Irma's storm surge is threatening to inundate vast parts of Florida, possibly leaving some areas uninhabitable for months. Hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to flee, millions more being told right now to be ready to evacuate.