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Interview With Florida Governor Rick Scott; Hurricane Irma Targets Florida\; Florida Keys Bracing for Storm Surge Up to 12 Feet; Interview with Mayor Craig Cates. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news in the national lead.

It is becoming clear today, much clearer, that Florida is a cannot- miss for this monster hurricane and a potential catastrophe. Hurricane Irma, the newest forecast puts Miami right in the path of this storm, and all of South Florida, and eventually the entire peninsula, for that matter.

This is the approximate size of Hurricane Irma. It is huge, 400 miles across. The entire Florida Peninsula would easily fit inside the hurricane. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for hundreds of thousands of people up both coasts of Florida.

The governor today pleading with people to get out.

And we are getting a glimpse of the pain that could be ahead for the continental U.S., these pictures of Hurricane Irma just raking across the Caribbean. Take a look at this, to try and give us an idea of the size of the storm headed towards it way.

CNN is covering Irma from all angles today across the Florida coast, and at the airport, and on the road.


SCIUTTO: I want to give you an idea of the physical size of Irma here.

You get a sense of it looking at the map. Here's Cuba here. This is the entire breadth of the storm coming towards Florida. Let's get into some of the numbers there.

If you look at the center of the storm, about 140 miles across, hurricane winds in that 140-mile zone; 140 miles sounds like a lot. Let's compare it to Florida. This is the I-4 Corridor, goes from Tampa here to the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast. That's just 132 miles. So hurricane-force winds here, 140 miles across in Irma, wider than

the entire width of the state of Florida. This will get you as well. The entire breadth of the storm, it's about 375 miles with at least tropical storm strength winds.

To give you an idea of that compared to the state of Florida, this is I-95 going from the top of the state all the way to the bottom. That's only 352 miles. So, hurricane-force winds here, 140 miles across in this storm, that is wider than the fat part of the state of Texas.

And north to south here, I should say, it's actually 382 miles from the top of Florida to the bottom along I-95, the tropical-storm-force winds in this hurricane, 370 miles across. So as it comes this way, and as Allison just told us, there is really no question, a 100 percent probability based on the models that this is the path it's going to take and hit Miami, the southern part of Florida here, and, most likely, based on the models, continue up this way big enough to swallow the state of Florida both longways and at the width of the state.

Truly an incredible fact there.

Allison, storm surge, we talked to the Florida governor. He talks about 12 feet of storm surge. That's just -- as you said earlier, that's an entire story of a building. That's the height of your house. How far across the state are those kinds of numbers going to be a danger?


ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: OK, so it's going to start in the southern half of the region.

Again, we expect the track to take it from the southern point all the way to the north. So when we talk about the storm surge, your higher amounts are going to be further south, OK?

Now, when we're talking about, say, Key West and into Miami, this is where we're going to talk about that storm surge being up around that 10-foot range.

So, again, here you can see Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach down to Key West. That's the five-to-10-foot range. Naples down toward Key West, this is actually going to be six to 12 feet.

Now, this may be surprising, Jim, because, typically, when we talk about the strongest section of the storm, we talk about the northeast quadrant. Think of a clock, the numbers 12 to 3. That would be your strongest point.

But for storm surge, it's a little different in this case because of the drop-off. On the eastern side of Florida, the drop-off is pretty steep down into the ocean, where on the western side of the state, it's much more gradual. So that storm surge can allow to come in at much higher totals than it

would on the eastern side. So, again, it really doesn't matter, Jim, whether you're on the eastern side of the state or the western side to state.

We're still going to be looking at pretty substantial storm surge amounts for both sides.

SCIUTTO: No question. Allison, thanks very much.

And I know we told you last week how big Harvey was as it came to Texas. It was big, but Irma is bigger. Much bigger. Historically bigger.

And as Irma closes in on Florida, I want you to listen to an urgent message tweeted by some Miami Beach firefighters today. Here is the warning they sent out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, our primary concern right now is that you evacuate Miami Beach. But we will be here for you after the storm.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Kyung Lah joins me now live. She's in Miami Beach.

Kyung, authorities really want to make it very clear -- they couldn't be clearer -- get out now, because the fact is, when this storm hits, they can't help you.


You're essentially on your own. The Miami Beach Police Department saying that emergency services will stop once winds reach 39 miles per hour. When you think about all the numbers you were just talking about, that's really nothing.

The message from them, get out today.


LAH (voice-over): Hurricane Irma now careering towards Florida, expecting to make landfall over the weekend, leaving catastrophic damage and a rising death toll throughout the Caribbean in its wake.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This storm is wider than our entire state and is expected to cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast.

LAH: Residents in Miami-Dade County waiting in long lines for shelters and boarding up their properties, filling sandbags to help protect against the expected three-to-10-foot storm surges. Despite mandatory evacuations, some saying they will hunker down and wait it out.

SCOTT: Do not put yourself or your family at risk. If you have been ordered to evacuate and are still at home, please go to a shelter.

LAH: But as millions of Floridians do try to escape the storm's path, airports and roads are jammed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got boarding passes and everything, and no calls back. You get here and the plane has been canceled.

LAH: Airlines increased flights to Miami and other nearby airports to help with demand, but many airlines' last outbound flights are scheduled today.

And the mass exodus from South Florida, potentially one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history, is causing heavy traffic on interstates and long lines at gas stations, with police escorting gas pumps to refill empty pumps.

BERNARDO MELO, EVACUATED MIAMI: Now I'm taking this seriously because I realize that it's twice the size of Andrew. It's too much not to -- you know, put my family at risk and get out.

LAH: Florida isn't the only state making preparations. Georgia and the Carolinas have declared states of emergency, with mandatory evacuations in Georgia along the coast starting Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a complex forecast. Anybody from Alabama to North Carolina should be watching this storm very closely.


LAH: Back live here at Miami Beach.

You're looking at one of the biggest concerns here, the storm surge. They have had an infrastructure explosion, a population growth since Hurricane Andrew.

The Miami Beach police reminding people here that this is an area that floods. People who die in a hurricane die by drowning from the storm surge -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: The danger is very, very real. Kyung Lah in Miami Beach, thanks very much.

Joining me now on the telephone is Florida Rick Scott.

Governor Scott, your state is facing a lot today and in the coming days. Thanks very much for taking the time.

SCOTT: Well, thank you for getting the message out that, if you're in an evacuation zone, you have to get out.

Just think about it. We love our families. I love my family. I want to keep my family safe. Everybody has got to focus on keeping their family safe.

So, if you're in an evacuation zone in Florida, you need to get out now. If you're in the southern part of the state, you need to make sure you're off the roads. You need to start your evacuation before midnight, because you need to be off the roads, because this storm is coming. It's not days away. It's hours away now.


SCIUTTO: You have been getting briefed regularly by your emergency managers.

I know you just had a briefing within the last hour. What are they telling you are the worst-case scenarios on the coasts, both on the Atlantic side and the Gulf side?

SCOTT: Here's what's different.

Everybody remembers a little bit about Andrew. I went through Andrew when I was in business. I had to evacuate to a hospital. Andrew was not a storm surge storm. This is a massive storm.

This is bigger than our state. It goes coast to coast. It could hit more one coast to the other right now, because it's still moving a little bit. The winds are going to be 150-miles-per-hour plus. But we're going to see possibly as much as 12 feet, 12 feet. Think about that. That's above your house. That's above your first floor, 12 feet of storm surge.

And what happens, when the storm surge comes in, it rushes in. And then it goes back out. You can't survive. It's very difficult to survive 12 feet of storm surge.

But even six feet is life-threatening. So, that's what is different with this one. We're going to see storm surge so far, we know, in the southern part of the state. And so we have got -- you have got to evacuate. If you're in an evacuation zone, you have to get out.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because you mentioned that the storm is as wide, wider than the state. Where is safe for people to evacuate to? Is there anyplace truly safe in Florida from the fury of this storm?

SCOTT: Well, the biggest risk we feel right now is the storm surge.

If you're out of the evacuation zone and you go to a shelter, we have shelters all over the state. We're opening shelters in all the impacted counties other than, of course, the Keys, Monroe County, where we had to evacuate everyone.

Go to a storm shelter. You have got security there. We know the buildings are safe. You have got food, you have got water. So go to a shelter or go to a friend's house. But if you get away from the storm surge and you get away from the areas that might flood because of 10 to 12 inches of rain, then we believe that you're going to be safe.

But we're going to keep you informed. We're going to do everything we can to get you out of harm's way. We're still fighting to get more fuel in the state so people can evacuate. I have done law enforcement escorts to the carriers to get more fuel

here. We're getting some more fuel from the Panhandle down to Central Florida. You can go to and look at our highway system. You can go to Gas Buddy, their app, to see where the gas is.

We're fighting to make sure we have enough fuel so everybody can evacuate. But we will get you out, but you can't wait.

SCIUTTO: I know it's difficult to predict, but when you get briefed by your emergency managers, what do they predict is the worst-case scenario for Florida as it gets hit by this storm in terms of damage, extensive damage, numbers of homes damaged or destroyed?

SCOTT: Well, clearly, if you look at the numbers of homes, it will be clearly be the areas that are more populated.

But both coasts, they're worried about the storm surge. The biggest concern I have is the storm surge. And we also have -- we have Lake Okeechobee. And we have evacuated the communities just south of there because the Corps of Engineers said the lake is not going to be compromised, but we might get some spillage of water over the lake because of the wind and the amount of rain.

So, we're going to -- I'm focused on every county. I have talked to sheriffs, I have talked to mayors, I have talked to county commissioners and emergency management individuals all over the state.

We do constant calls. My next call with all emergency managers is 5:15 and we will go through, what do you need? I'm getting calls from mayors about shelters, from all sorts of things, but we just keep solving any need anybody has. That's my job. I want everybody in the state to be safe.

SCIUTTO: Governor Scott, I have heard your heartfelt pleas today and I know this is something very personal for you. We're watching closely. We wish you the best of luck.

SCOTT: Thank you. Jim. And thanks for helping get the message out.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

You heard Governor Rick Scott there in Florida talk about the danger to this state from storm surge. That's what really keeps him up at night. And I'm going to show you why that is.

This is a map of the storm surge hazard area, the danger area, in the event that a Category 4 hurricane hits Florida. That is what the prediction is, that when in the next 24 hours it comes up the southern part of Florida here, it's going to be Category 4.

These areas here in red, that that is a risk of a storm surge of nine feet. That's three feet taller than me, about the height of your home or one story of a building. All along here, now, this is mostly the Everglades, but you get up to populated areas here, including Tampa and St. Petersburg. That's why these areas are calling for mandatory evacuations. That's

why, here in Tampa, U.S. Central Command, that's the headquarters of the U.S. Military. That's where the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are run out of. 4,000 to 5,000 service members there, they were evacuated as well. That's a measure of the real risk.

You can also see as you come down here, Miami. Extremely populated areas, the storm surge expected to be three to six feet. Still an immense danger going up to West Palm Beach as well. Many of these areas under mandatory evacuation.

Take a look the Florida Keys because some of the greatest danger there, again, the color red, that's talking about a storm surge of nine feet or greater. There's no margin for error out there. You get one foot of storm surge, you're under water so we're talking about immense, immense danger. And a reminder, this is for a category 4 hurricane hitting there. All of the models predicted Irma, when it hits the southern part of Florida, it's going to be category 4.

One of the questions, I should remind you, and Allison Chinchar was talking about this before. The strongest part of the storm, it's the northeast end because the winds, it spins counterclockwise, depending on where it comes in this band here. That'll show you whether it's the West Coast or the East Coast who gets hit worst, but all of them are going to get hit.

It is really hard to imagine what it would be like to be standing in the middle of the ocean during Hurricane Irma, but that's basically what you're doing if you do stay down in these areas on the Keys. And CNN's Bill Weir, he's made it down to Key West today, the southernmost tip of Florida.

Bill, we know that island. It's only four miles wide. Its only access to the mainland is via bridges. They're concerned about those bridges. And yet, where you are, a lot of people refused to evacuate. How is that?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the Conch Republic as they are known down here. Fiercely independent, a bit stubborn, some would say -- others would say foolhardy but Duvall Street is a relative ghost town. There are still a few of the never-leavers, the locals who are there, but this place if you've ever been here on a Friday night is generally packed.

We're across the street from Sloppy Joe's, which Ernest Hemingway used to hang out here. And of course he wrote about the sea as a dual nature. Lamar, which is paradise, Elmar, the ocean that can sink your boat and take away your house. And ironically, Hemingway's old house may be the safest spot on Key West once Irma comes ashore.


DAVE GONZALES, ERNEST HEMINGWAY HOME AND MUSEUM CURATOR: This is a national historic landmark. It is the rock of the island. It's built out of 18-inch blocks of limestone.

WEIR: So if there is a hurricane hunker, it's Papa's old house?

GONZALES: This is the safest place to be. We're also located at 18 feet above sea level, one of the highest points in the Florida Keys.


WEIR: Dave Gonzales is also taking care of Hemingway's great-grand cats, the six-toed cats that are famous at the place right there. But there are all sorts of so many other kinds of animals. And of course human life is the main worry.

The prison on Block Island, which is just north of Key West, is one of the only real category 5 structures in this -- on this island. They've got 400 prisoners there, most of the sheriff's deputies and several hundred animals will be riding out Irma -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: You know, I imagine some folks at home are saying, look, it looks perfectly sunny there. But that often happens with storms like this, it is literally the calm before the storm.

Bill Weir, stay safe. It's not going to be easy where you are.

WEIR: Yes, we're headed to -- we're headed north before she blows ashore. We just wanted to check in with these folks and then get to higher ground.

SCIUTTO: Smart move. Bill Weir, thanks very much.

Joining me now is the Key West mayor, Craig Cates.

Mayor Cates, thanks for coming on. We know you've got a lot to face in your community there in the coming hours and days. I want to ask you this because there is great concern about those bridges to the mainland, really the Keys' lifeline to the mainland, them being washed out with boats. The only way to escape. How does your community survive this?

MAYOR CRAIG CATES, KEY WEST, FLORIDA: We're definitely concerned about the bridges, you're absolutely right, but Key West, we're fortunate that we do have our own electric generating plant for backup, and we do have a dissolutionation plant that could make water -- a certain amount of water, but we don't use it, we use wells out of Florida city and homestead. But if we had to, we could do that temporarily.

But that being said, that is one of our largest concerns is definitely the bridges that could damage. We've got 42 bridges that connect Key West to the mainland, and any one of them could cause a serious problem for us.

SCIUTTO: Now Key West is under -- the Keys are under a mandatory evacuation order, and yet many people are staying behind. In your view aren't they putting not just themselves but others at risk by staying?

[16:20:05] CATES: No. They're absolutely putting others at risk. We've been trying to tell everyone, but some people won't leave. They want to stay here with their homes and their belongings, and I'm sure they will go to high ground, to a strong building to get through to the storm and they want to be the first ones here back at their properties in case they get damaged. So that's something that will never change, but we have been warning them that the hospital is closed down. There is nobody here to help you. If you get injured, you won't be able to get airlifted out or anything. So if you do stay, stay inside your building, stay inside a safe building. Don't come out in the storm.

SCIUTTO: But, Mayor, I know that you and the residents there are tough, they've weathered difficult storms before, but this one is different. I wonder if this time your concern that there is potential damage from this storm that the community cannot rebuild from, recover from?

CATES: No, I don't think that there's any storm that we can't rebuild from. We'll be back up and running, I'm sure, in a short period of time. I can't say exactly how long until we have the actual impact, but it looks like it's going slightly east of us and we're going to get -- you know, the forecast 120-mile-an-hour winds, but hopefully we're not going to get the full 155 or the category 4 storm.

And when it comes from that direction, the tide surge will come from the bay side, and that's the best chance for -- coming from that, it won't build up as high as it could be coming from the ocean. So all of those things are kind of working in our favor and we're keep and hoping that they work out, but we're prepared for the worst. And we're locked down. We got our category 5 buildings where our first responders are and be ready after the storm to come out and help whoever we can.

SCIUTTO: Well, Mayor Craig -- Craig Cates, we wish you and the community the very best. Thanks very much.

Traffic is bumper to bumper heading north on almost all of Florida's major highways as millions of people try to flee in what is quickly becoming the largest mass hurricane evacuation in U.S. history. But what about the people who cannot leave? Some shelters already at capacity.

Please stay with us.


[16:26:44] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. As Hurricane Irma closes in on southern Florida, some of the last flights are getting out before the storm. Just hours earlier, Flight Tracker showed the hundreds of flights departing Florida, almost all of them headed away, headed north. At one point last night, there was so much air traffic in southern Florida, a ground stop was issued at Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, and Orlando airports.

Now you can see right now, this is current, there are far fewer planes flying out of Florida. Miami International Airport is supposed to see its last flight, its very last flight leaving two hours. Ft. Lauderdale's last flight is for 8:00 tonight and Orlando will start shutting down commercial operations tomorrow at 5:00 p.m.

Authorities desperately trying to make use of this critical last chance period and convince defiant residents to listen to those evacuation orders and to leave now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attention, attention, attention. Evacuation is mandatory.


SCIUTTO: I don't know how the message could be much clearer than that. That is police in West Palm Beach today going door to door, in effect, there.

CNN's Brian Todd is there right now.

Brian, Palm Beach County, a high concentration of elderly residents there. Are they getting special help to get them out of harm's way?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, they have a special shelter set up for these people to go to. As far as special help, it looks like many of them are going to have to rely on their caregivers for that. There might be some public transportation available for them, but it's kind of scattered because they've got to get as many people to these shelters as they can. They said they want everybody to get to them and they want to help everybody and not just have a special emphasis on the elderly but they do understand that elderly people need special care. And that is a huge worry because some of them don't want to go. Some of them who do are not easy to move.

A short time ago I just talked to a person who runs a small in-home care center. It's a care center for Alzheimer's patients. He's got only four people in that care center. It's not much bigger than a small house, and he's moving them from one of his facilities to another, not to one of the special needs shelters. But they do say if you're going to a special needs shelter, you've got to bring your caregiver with you because they do not have the personnel.

Moving all of these elderly people, hundreds of thousands of them who live in Palm Beach County is a huge task, they're doing it as much as they can, but, Jim, it is a real struggle.

As for the actual physicality of this, you talked about and you showed that video of the cars coming, the police cars trying to get people out of the street. This is what they're concerned about, the storm surge. It's going to come right here on the intercoastal waterway. Five to 10 feet of storm surge, we're told.

Now this is low tide. We're about eight feet above the water. But it's going to -- at high tide, we're only about four to five feet. When it's high tide and you get five to 10 feet of storm surge, plus the wave activity, washing over here, this is going to be inundated. That's why those police were going door to door in this neighborhood just now, telling people to evacuate. Over there on Palm Beach, that is another area where they're trying to

get people out of. The mandatory evacuation has been in place since this morning. They want people out of there now, they want people off the roads by tomorrow morning -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Brian Todd, there -- it is that storm surge. That is the warning that keeps coming up.

Let's move up north now to the city of Davie. That's near Ft. Lauderdale, just north of Miami, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She represents this area. She joins me now.