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Florida Bracing for Direct Hit from Monster Hurricane; Florida High-Rises Built to Withstand Hurricanes; FL Governor Preps as Irma Barrels Towards U.S.; Storm Chaser Says Irma Bigger Than Any Other Hurricane; Interview with Miami Beach Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] PHILIP LEVINE, MIAMI MAYOR: I agree. Listen, we don't want them out here. You'll see a lot of them. They're not swimming because it's prohibited right now. I just spent a little time with our ocean rescue folks. They're trying to tell feel to evacuate and at a certain point this afternoon, our lifeguards will be leaving and bunkering down in shelters of themselves.

You know, I've been all over the city today, Chris. I went to some senior centers and talked to a 92-year-old woman in her little apartment and I spoke to her in Spanish and I said, you need to leave, a and she said, Mayor, I'm not leaving. I want to stay here. I said, what can I do? I want you to leave. She says, I have water and food. But I said Ana, here's my cell phone number. If you have a problem, call me. She said, Mr. Mayor, here's my cell phone number, you call me if you have a problem. They're tough.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: They're tough. They're storm savvy and they are the greatest generation for a reason and you have to respect that. But what do you have in place? Brian Todd was reporting and saying there were concerns that the shelters for seniors and who need access to power, especially to motivate different systems that are assisting their own bodies, is that true? What's in place for them?

LEVINE: Well, certain condominium buildings are going to shut down power and air-conditioning and water. Some of the senior centers, I don't believe they're going to do that. But we are trying everything to convince them. We have bussed out there, trolleys. We're trying to get them to come on. I just met with a group of homeless people on the beach, they're in a big group and they said, Mayor, thanks, we're going to go on the bus and we're going to the homeless shelter. So we have challenges but we also have some success stories.

CUOMO: And look, we get it. You lived it. You were through Andrew. You know how bad it can be and we also get that sometimes, luckily, we're wrong. And it doesn't turn out to be what it was. And these people are storm savvy and House proud. And we get that. I get it. I get why they don't want to leave home, but what is the message to them about the burden they might become by making the choice they think is the right one for them.

LEVINE: We tell them, you should be safe, not sorry. But what they have to realize sf and we're telling them is that at a certain point, starting like tomorrow night when this hurricane really comes in and on Sunday morning, our first responders will not be here. There will be no public services for them. There will be no one for them to call. They need to listen and get to a shelter. Because at a certain point, Chris, we can't say go to a shelter, the window closes, now it's time to bunker down.

CUOMO: When's the best guess about when 911 will not be an active emergency line? How long are you expecting the window to be?

LEVINE: We think by Sunday morning, late saturday night, Sunday, that may come to an end. We're hoping that they listen, get to an evacuation center. We have plenty of them. You can bring your pets with you. We have shelters where you can take your dogs and cats. We have transportation. But that's coming to a close. Please leave.

CUOMO: Best guess from the government experts and NOAA and those who have been giving you information on a steady flow about how long they expect the storm, Irma, to be present in this area, present in a way that would keep first responders from getting out and do what they do best.

LEVINE: We're hearing anything from five to 10 hours. That's a long time. That's an eternity. Our first responders, our police chief today, he said let me tell you something, Mayor, he says, we're going to be out there as fast as we can as soon as this storm ceases to protect the residents and the wellbeing and the resources of our city.

CUOMO: As we said, we're here to be a resource, not a burden. As information comes out during this storm, let us know, we'll get it out. You know we're covering it like an army of ants. And I also know that you're going to be very active with search and rescue. I know that matters to you. A bunch of us have volunteered our time as well. When we're not working, we'll be there doing whatever we can, including going to the homes of the first responders, making sure their families are OK, reporting back, so they can have presence of mind while they're out there saving the rest of us.

LEVINE: Thank you for your service to our city, Chris.

[14:33:42] CUOMO: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

All right, we're going to take a quick break. You got Mayor Levine and so many local leaders. They're on 24/7. He can't leave because he has to be here for everyone else. But in the mandatory evacuation centers, in those areas, it's a different reality.

When we come back, we're going to check in with the preparations of first responders and what those -- what is happening to help people leave and what is happening to those who decide to stay. Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right, CNN is in continuous coverage of what is to come here. This is a beauty, rights? I mean, this is Miami Beach. It's gorgeous. Here's the problem. These people, many of them are tourists, but they should not be here. This is a mandatory evacuation zone. There's a window of about 24 hours. In about 24 hours from now, this beauty belies the beast of Hurricane Irma, which is coming this way. It is no longer an if. That is the word from NOAA. It's obviously the national organization that is going to monitor what happens with this. It comes from the governor and the FEMA, federal government side. Everyone's saying it. It's no longer if. It is when Irma gets here and how.

So, if you're in a mandatory evacuation zone, it starts to become incumbent upon you to take that decision seriously and get Out. If you decide to stay -- and the government can't really force people to leave, at least not in an effective way -- you have to make sure that you have enough supplies for about 72 hours, water, food, obviously, but also batteries and things where if you have a need, you can fulfill it yourself. The first responders cannot come during the storm, even when you call 911. Down here, they have one of the best teams in the business. But during the storm, they have to hunker down. After the storm passes, which we're being told is anywhere from five to 10 hours, that's what the mayor of Miami Beach just told us, five to 10 hours, there is no help available. You'll have to fend for yourself in what could be disastrous conditions.

So, we have Kyung Lah at another part of Miami Beach with a very important part of this story. All these high-rises here in south Florida, people say, wow, they must be vulnerable. These are not normal high-rises. The construction standards, the windows, they're different here, and different for a reason.

Kyung, what do we know?

[14:40:36] KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are different for a reason. They were brought up to a certain and new and stronger code after Hurricane Andrew. That was in response to what this state saw after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 but there's still a problem with all of this. And let me explain why, Chris. I want you to take what is a larger view of the place that you're standing. This is Miami Beach. You talked about what draws tourists there, the skyline, it is glitzy and packed with high-rises. It is booming with development and business. And this is precisely what makes Irma more deadly today than it did maybe 25 years ago, and why it could hurt this area so much.

Take a look at the bill at what happened in 1925. This is a picture, historical picture of what Miami Beach looked like. A completely different place. It's almost no high-rises there. This is one year before a category 4 storm hit in 1926. When Hurricane Andrew came here, this area saw many more high-rises, but what it was, was a wind event. Irma is a wind and water event, a storm surge event. The population here in Miami Beach has grown 35 percent since Hurricane Andrew.

Chris, you talked about those building codes. Yes, the high-rises are able to withstand much more but there has been so much development. You can ask anybody in Miami Beach, sometimes it floods on a sunny day. Storm surge a major concern. We've seen people putting up protection across Miami Beach but the word we keep hearing from Miami Beach officials is prepare for flooding -- Chris?

CUOMO: Boy, I got to tell you, Kyung, those points are all so salient, so relevant to what's going on right now. And they will be major factors in what happens here ultimately when Irma comes along.

So, thank you for that.

And we just heard, in the briefing from the White House, they said, you know, after Harvey, after Irma, after Jose and the other storms that are coming along the way, we will have to rebuild smarter. And that's just not blind optimism. It is practical because you need to build to suit the new challenges. They started doing that ahead of the curve here in Florida for obvious reasons but they're still not where they need to be. As you heard Kyung Lah report, it often floods in areas around here on normal days, normal situations. What's going to happen with Hurricane Irma? That's why there's such a sense of urgency.

We're going to shift here in about 24 hours from slathering on sun block to putting on and hunkering down with hurricane gear. Because that's the dramatic nature of the change.

We're going to take a break. When we come back, what preparations are in place and what remains for those who make the decision to stay. Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:44:24] RICK SCOTT, (R), FLORIDA GOVENOR: We know there are problems with fuel at our gas stations. State law enforcement are providing escorts to gas trucks to get them through traffic so they can get through the stations faster. These law enforcement escorts have continued through the night, and they'll keep going as long as they can.

For gas stations in evacuation zones, we need you to stay open as long as you can so people can get as much fuel and get out. We will arrange police escorts for your employees so they can get out safely. We need gas stations in evacuation zones to stay open as long as possible so we can get people out.

We know fuel is important, and we are doing everything we can to get more fuel here. I've worked with the White House. I've worked with the EPA, I've worked with FEMA. I've worked with everybody, Department of Transportation, everybody to get more fuel into the state and then get that fuel out to our stations.

Three tanker ships delivered fuel to Port Tampa Bay yesterday for resupply efforts, each delivering 1.2 million gallons of fuel. And as of 6:00 p.m. last night, 8.4 million gallons of fuel was shipped into port Everglades and more than five million gallons of fuel was shipped into Port Tampa Bay. State law enforcement continues to escort fuel supply trucks from Port Tampa Bay, Port Everglades and Jacks Port to stations in your community. We are aggressively moving to move excess fuel to communities in the north central part of the state. However, if you're in an evacuation zone in south Florida, you need to

leave now. Port Everglades will be closing tonight for safety and gas will no longer be resupplied into much of southern Florida after the storm hits. Until after the storm hits. Again, if you are concerned that you can't get out because of whatever reason, traffic, fuel, whatever it is, 1-800-342-3557. We will do everything we can to get you out, but you cannot wait.

Shelters. Last night, I directed all schools to be closed, K-12, state colleges, universities, all to be closed. All state offices, we're closed effective today through Monday. This is to ensure we have all the space we need for sheltering and staging. Floridians have to have access to every place they can for shelter. Shelters are available, and you should follow the directions from local officials to go to the shelter that fits your needs.

Volunteers. Over 17,000 people have volunteered to help in this. I think, first off, thanks, everybody, for volunteering. The -- we need more -- I know we're going to need more. I want to thank everyone who's opened their hearts to help and we can't thank you enough. If you want to volunteer, go to volunteerFlorida.org to sign up for volunteer opportunities.

National Guard. All 7,000 members of the National Guard that are available have been activated as of today. Every member available has been activated in advance of this storm. They are working hard to get people -- they are working hard to make sure we all get to safety.

Utilities. They are actively prepositioning resources throughout the state and in neighboring states. We know how important power is and we're going to do everything we can to get the power back on after this storm hits. It's a little harder to get preposition when you have the whole state being impacted by this storm.

I want to thank the governors of other states --

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHORCACUOMO: We've been listening in to a press briefing with the Florida governor, Rick Scott. He talked about the big concern right now is people are doing this mass exodus from Florida, is a fuel shortage and he urges the gas stations, his direct message to them was, stay open as late as you can.

Let's listen back to what else he is saying.

SCOTT: This is a catastrophic storm that our state has never seen before. Remember, we can rebuild your house, you can get your possessions again. You can't rebuild your life and your family. Protecting life is our absolute top priority. No resource or expense will be spared to protect life.

Florida's tough. Florida's resilient. Florida's unbreakable. Let's all stay together and help each other. We are an amazing melting pot of loving people and I'm proud to be the governor of this state.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CABRERA: Obviously, we're having problems with that signal. Some technical difficulties there. We apologize for that.

But again, the message from the governor there, get out, get out now. Do not risk it. This is going to be a catastrophic storm that will encompass all of the Florida panhandle. They are expecting some six million people or more to be in the path and the threat of this monstrous hurricane, currently a category 4, as Irma moves much closer to Florida and the mainland United States.

Joining me now from Key Largo, which is the southern-most tip of this area that could be affect, Reed Timmer. He is a storm chaser for AccuWeather.

You are what your organization calls an extreme meteorologist. You've been through a number of other major weather systems, but are you doing anything differently this time around because of the size and the strength of Hurricane Irma?

[14:49:44] REED TIMMER, ACCUWEATHER STORM CHASER: I'm not doing anything differently. We always prepare for the worst-case scenarios when we're out here chasing these tropical systems but we know this storm is very different from the rest we've chased. I've chased Katrina, Harvey, Rita, Ike, several hurricanes over years, in addition to tornados and this one is a different monster. The wind speeds are much stronger. We measured 140-plus-mile-per-hour winds at Rockport when we were there covering the eye wall of that hurricane. This is likely going to be stronger. Than that in terms of wind gusts wherever that eye wall does set up. We're in Key Largo, the northern most part of the Florida Keys. Right here behind me, normally you would see the light that would illuminate Miami. I am standing in the water right now and it is very warm. There's very warm water off the coast of Miami so the scary thing is that this storm would even intensify on its approach here to south Florida.

CABRERA: So how are you preparing? How are you going to stay safe?

TIMMER: Well, we have enough food and water to survive for weeks if we do get trapped down here. We've been scouting out structures as well. The whole entire town, we basically have a concrete bunker but it's very important for everybody to get out of the path of this thing. Heed those warning. We're likely going to get out of the path here as well shortly if it looks like it's coming ashore as strong as it is. It looks like right now that track just to the west over the central Keys as well. One issue with the Florida Keys is that you get storm surge from both sides, not only the Atlantic side, but also the Gulf of Mexico side can be worst storm surge or you get the northerlies in areas like Key West which should be on the west side of that track, they're going to have a devastating storm turn. That includes Naples. So that is going to be absolutely devastating.

CABRERA: You talked about the winds, 140-mile-per-hour gusts that you're measuring and the storm surge you mentioned which we're hearing could be somewhere between five and 10 feet depending on where you are exactly. Hu Hurricane Andrew did not see a big storm surge like that. What would you expect to happen should we see those 10 feet of surge that would be encompassing a lot of the areas affected. TIMMER: That's certainly a concern. Right now, is going to be under

water. Likely under 10 feet or more of water. The island of Key Largo, most of it will be under water. So I'd say both are a concern. Both are deadly. The wind of this system and the storm surge and its large size so the water levels will start to rise here in the Keys well in advance of this system.

CABRERA: All right, Reed Timmer, we really appreciate your time. Do stay safe. And we want to stay in touch with you as you continue to track Hurricane Irma moving closer to Florida at this point.

Last check, it's supposed to hit sometime early Sunday morning but we will get an update on the very latest track, the latest models as they are coming into our CNN Weather Center as soon as we come back.

Stay with CNN for special live coverage of this "nuclear hurricane," the words used by one of the mayors there in Florida. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:56:24] CUOMO: All right, just a few minutes from the top of the hour now, so let's reset where we are. This is Miami Beach. I know it's beautiful, got a ton of sun block on. The smell of dad bod burning is on. But this is the beauty that belies the beast that is on its way here. There is no longer an "if," according to all the experts and all the models about whether or not Hurricane Irma is going to hit Florida. It is not an "if." It is a when. And it is a how bad. And even though it is expected to be a category 4 storm, difference between 4 and 5 is only significant to scientists. In terms of how it will affect you on the ground, it is just as severe. The hundred-plus-mile-an-hour winds, the sustained hours, the immediacy goes from the local level all the way to the top.

The president of the United States was just boarding his helicopter to go to Camp David. He wanted to talk about the storm. This is what he said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've prepared at the highest levels. We've prepared at the highest levels. We are prepared. Hopefully, things go well.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: OK. So, the message from the president, we are prepared very well, but you can only prepare so much.

In all of these catastrophe situations, if that's what it becomes, they're always behind the curve, because the need is always greater than the ability to meet it. It takes time, incredible dedication, it strains all resources no matter what is brought to bear. So it is good that we hear about local, state, and federal interaction and interconnection in terms of communication of resource resources and supplies. They have done just about what they can in terms of what we've seen in our reporting.

And yet, if Hurricane Irma is anything like what they anticipate here in south Florida, the need will be great.

So, let's talk to someone who is in charge of saving the rest of us. We got fire chief, Virgil Fernandez.

Thank you so much for being with us, Chief.

That main message, we know it's beautiful here. But these people are not supposed to be here. This is a mandatory evacuation zone. How seriously should this storm prep be taken?

VIRGIL FERNANDEZ, FIRE CHIEF, MIAMI BEACH FIRE DEPARTMENT: It's extremely serious. They call this the calm before the storm. And since Tuesday, the mayor, the city manager, we've been trying to tell everybody the importance of evacuating. And it is critical. There's going to come a time where first responders, police and fire, will not be able to respond to assist those in need.

CUOMO: Let's talk about what the common responses are. Because there are people, we have a lot of viewers in Florida. Thank god for that. We love them. But they need to listen right now. The first back we get is, well, it's --