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Interview With Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Mayor Jack Seiler; Hurricane Irma Targets Florida; Irma Forecast to Hit Florida as Category 5 Hurricane. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 8, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And, tonight, another powerful hurricane, Jose, is looming in the Atlantic.

Converging paths. Multiple forecasting models now show Irma's monstrous eye striking the Florida Keys first, then whipping its way up the entire state with hurricane-force winds. Officials say the only question is how devastating the damage will be.

And out of time. Florida's governor implores people under evacuation orders to leave now and says all Florida residents should be prepared to flee soon. But, for many, clogged highways and gas shortages are hindering their escape.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Hurricane Irma racing toward Florida and leaving a trail of death and widespread devastation across the Caribbean.

A new forecast has just been released extending the hurricane warnings and watches north on both Florida coasts. Right now, Irma is packing winds of 155 miles an hour. It is on track to make a direct hit on South Florida early Sunday. The storm surge is forecast to be as high as 12 feet, potentially inundating the Keys.

The threat is being called catastrophic and it's prompted what could turnout to be one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history. Officials have ordered millions of people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to flee, but many in Florida are encountering clogged highways and shuttered gas stations.

And, tonight, we are getting a grim new sense of Irma's destruction in the Caribbean, where the storm is blamed for at least two dozen deaths. The islands of Antigua, Barbuda and St. Martin are among the hardest hit, and now they're under a new hurricane watch for Jose, another Category 4 storm.

We are covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including top FEMA official Katie Fox and the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

[18:05:59]

BLITZER: It's not just Florida's coast in danger. There is fear of life-threatening flooding inland as well.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez. He's near Lake Okeechobee in Florida for us.

Miguel, communities there, they are clearly under evacuation orders.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mandatory evacuation orders here and mass evacuations and escape throughout the state.

It is time to either roll the dice and hunker down, or get out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Tonight, Hurricane Irma heading straight for Florida, leaving a devastating trail of destruction across the Caribbean in its wake. Homes and buildings decimated. No water and hundreds of thousands without power. Irma slammed the islands of Turks and Caicos early Friday as a Category 4 hurricane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night was the worst experience of my life. The wind, it was just banging against the wall.

MARQUEZ: The British Virgin Islands also hit hard, what used to be homes now just frames and debris, trees snapped in half and an airport in rubble.

Tonight, the storm is on track to hit Florida early Sunday morning. And residents across the state are being warned, get out.

WILLIAM BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: I don't know anybody in Florida that's ever experienced what's about to hit South Florida.

MARQUEZ: Now what could be one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history is under way.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: All Floridians should be prepared to evacuate.

MARQUEZ: Thousands of motorists on roads headed north while others crowd airports for the few remaining flights out. Some who are staying are pouring into shelters.

SCOTT: This storm is wider than an entire state and expected to cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUEZ: Now, I tell you one issue here in the center of the state, Lake Okeechobee, is not maybe the storm itself, but the rain it may dump on here.

It is a slow-moving storm and dumps tons of water on the lake and the watershed north of it. It could threaten those 143 miles of levees protecting all that water from spilling out and it could have a massive difficult disaster on our hands just where we're standing right now here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Miguel, we will get back to you, Miguel Marquez reporting for us.

Let's get some more on all of this.

FEMA's acting deputy administrator, Katie Fox, is joining us once again.

Katie, thanks very much for joining us.

What are FEMA's top priorities in these hours before this monstrous storm hits?

KATHLEEN FOX, ACTING DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: FEMA's top priorities are to really echo what the state and local officials have said, which is to follow the guidance of your local officials. If they tell you to evacuate, get out.

Do not mess around, do not delay. Do precisely as they say to keep you safe.

BLITZER: At this point, Katie, are there any significant changes we potentially could see as far as the hurricane's path to make things better or worse for Floridians?

FOX: You know, I think, as you just heard in the previous report, this is a massive storm and so the entire state right now is in the path.

And it's been a little bit difficult to predict a couple miles here or there. So, I would just say, you know, follow the advice of your local officials. Make sure that you have your supplies, your emergency preparedness kit, and that you're ready to follow those orders.

BLITZER: At this late stage, Katie, what should Floridians, residents, visitors in Florida be doing right now if they haven't evacuated?

FOX: You know, it depends on where you are exactly. Some people are in higher ground and they have good places to shelter and that may be the safest place for them to be. So, again, follow the advice of your local official.

If you have got the FEMA app, take a look at that emergency checklist. Double-check it, make sure you haven't forgotten anything. Do you have your medications, do you have food and water for your pets? Make sure that you're ready to go. If you have some spare time, you could look at ready.gov and do some training on where to help until help arrives.

Be ready to help your neighbors, because we know, looking in Houston and every place else, that neighbors are often the ones who are the most useful right in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

[18:10:05]

BLITZER: Does FEMA right now, Katie, feel overextended, given what you have just gone through with Harvey in Texas and Louisiana?

FOX: You know, this is what we do.

We prepare for the worst, and then we're ready for it. So, we are marshaling all our forces across the Department of Homeland Security, certainly within FEMA, and really across the federal government. We're working with our state and local partners to increase our forces and be ready for whatever may happen.

BLITZER: It's going to be a Category 5, we're told, once it hits the Keys, as it moves up through the entire state of Florida.

There is going to be an enormous amount of power outages. Right? What are folks going to do if they lose power for days and days and days?

FOX: You know, I think we're going to, again, have to take the advice of the local officials.

But as you can, be prepared. I have heard lots of guidance coming out from those officials about charging up your freezers and your refrigerators. You know, if you have a generator, make sure that you have got some fuel for it.

And I also always recommend having a hand crank radio so you can stay tuned to the weather alerts and what those officials are saying.

BLITZER: What do you anticipate? You're an expert in this area. Are millions of people in Florida going to be without power?

FOX: The estimates that we have seen so far is that there could be tremendous amounts of power outages.

BLITZER: Well, what does that mean, tremendous amounts?

FOX: I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but, you know, there are a lot of -- this is a massive storm and there could be a lot of folks in Florida without power.

BLITZER: And would that last for days or weeks?

FOX: You know, it really depends on the magnitude of the storm.

I mean, as you have heard, this is a Category 5 storm with incredibly strong winds. And it really remains to be seen what happens with the infrastructure. But it could be a little while.

BLITZER: Are there enough shelters open right now, Katie, and do they have enough clean water, food, other supplies, medical equipment that the people will clearly need?

FOX: My understanding from the state is that they have what they need in terms of shelters. I know that in the last couple of days, they have marshaled a volunteer force of 17,000 to supplement the regular force of shelter workers.

And we have got pre-staged food and commodities ready to supplement the state as they need. But my understanding is that right now they're in pretty good shape.

BLITZER: Katie Fox is the acting deputy administrator of FEMA.

Thanks for all the important work, Katie, you and your colleagues are doing. We're all grateful to you. Appreciate it very much.

FOX: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: Let's bring back Louis Uccellini. He's the director of the National Weather Service, who has been with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

When the water is warm as it approaches Florida, the power of this hurricane is only going to intensify.

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: The source of energy for these storms is the warm oceans, and it's now approaching another warm pool of water, open water, less friction.

So, this -- and we have seen now during the day this tendency to start intensifying again. We are predicting now at 160 miles an hour at landfall in the Northern Keys. So, it's feeding off the energy of the warm ocean. It remains, it remains a very dangerous storm. We can expect the destructive storm surge and heavy rainfall as it hits Florida and moves up.

And the other aspect of this that we need to emphasize is the when you get this powerful a storm making landfall, you have to worry about the tornadoes in that northeast quadrant of the storm. So...

BLITZER: There is going to be the power of the hurricane and there is also going to be tornadoes that are developing?

UCCELLINI: You get these tornadoes that spin up very rapidly in the section of the storm. In this case, it will be the northeast sector of the storm.

And that's just another part of the threat that this storm -- that people are going to be facing as this storm makes landfall. We have heard it now. You have just heard it from FEMA. I want to reemphasize, it's the local officials that are making decisions to save lives. And people have to listen to them. This is an incredibly dangerous situation. BLITZER: So, when you say there could be tornadoes developing from

the northeast part of the hurricane, that's the part that's going to hit presumably areas like Miami, right?

UCCELLINI: Miami and then all the way up the coast.

BLITZER: Are you saying, Louis, that there could be tornadoes in the Miami area?

UCCELLINI: We're saying that within that whole northeastern sector as it moves up, we have to be particularly cognizant of the fact that that's what tornadoes usually spin up. It could happen on the back end of those bands as well.

So, this is one of the meteorological threats we're emphasizing as the storm makes landfall and moves up Florida.

BLITZER: We have got some new video from Barbuda in the Caribbean. I want to put it up and show our viewers. I want you to watch it.

Take a look at the devastation, Louis. Take a look at this. Look at the video. You can see it right there of what happened there.

[18:15:03]

This island was basically devastated, 95 percent, we are told, destroyed in what once was a very, very beautiful Caribbean island. Look at these pictures.

Is this what we can anticipate happening in South Florida?

UCCELLINI: This is exactly where the eye passed over, passed over this island. This is where the forces are maximized around a hurricane. It's within the eye wall. That's what you see, OK, is that kind of destruction with these kind of winds.

We are predicting winds that will be slightly lower than what it was when it went over this island, but we are just talking about 10-miles- per-hour, 15 miles-per-hour difference in sustained winds. You can see the kind of destruction these kind of winds can cause.

We should be very concerned for those areas where this eye will pass over on landfall.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment. Louis is going to be with us, Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service.

Patrick Oppmann is in Cuba for us right now, where this storm is really developing.

Patrick, be careful over there, but tell us what you can.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, just since the last time we talked, Wolf, the first major squall has come in, rain blowing sideways. We can no longer see the islands off the coast. It is really blowing

here. I think it's just the beginning of this very powerful storm, Category 5, coming to this section of Cuba.

And I think it's just the beginning of a very long night.

BLITZER: When we spoke just a little while ago, Patrick, it seemed relatively calm, pretty sunny, almost like a normal day. And all of a sudden, this has developed. What are they saying in Cuba right now? How much time do you have before the real hurricane develops? Because this is just the outer, outer circle of it.

OPPMANN: Yes, these are just the outer bands. We're not supposed to get the worst of it probably until early tomorrow morning.

But all day long, they have been telling people here, the coastal areas of Cuba, this part of Cuba, that it could flood, that the wind is going to come like this, and it's going to be very strong and that people need to evacuate. There will come a time when they will no longer be able to evacuate. That time has now come.

You can't drive in this. You can't walk in this kind of weather. And it is just going to continue to deteriorate. For people in Florida who are still on the fence, these are the beginning of the conditions that they will face.

This is not the full force of the storm by any measure because, remember, the storm is passing by Cuba. It's not going to hit Cuba the way it's going to hit Florida. And I have to say, you know (INAUDIBLE) I'm leaning into the wind now.

And a half-an-hour ago, there was almost clear skies. And we have seen this come in. It's blowing the trees. I can no longer see the water out there. And it is a very much changed situation and it happened within the space of just a few minutes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, just a few minutes. Stand by, Patrick.

Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service, is looking at images that we're showing.

When you see this going, this is just the beginning for the Cuban people.

UCCELLINI: That's correct. It's just the beginning.

And they're on the south side of the storm. So, it will be the north side of the storm and then the east side of the storm as it makes the turn that's actually going to be the worst part of the storm. So, they're being brushed by the storm and they're on the south side, not the worst part. And you see what's happening already.

BLITZER: Patrick, very quickly, there are millions of people over there potentially in harm's way in Cuba. Are they prepared for this? Have they evacuated? Are they in shelters?

OPPMANN: So, the Cuban government says hundreds of thousands of people across this very long line have already evacuated.

Tens of thousands of tourists were taken off the islands behind me from the hotels there, the beaches and taken to other parts of the island or to airports where they can fly home early to cut their vacations short. Other Cubans have gone to stay with relatives, have actually gone up into caves in the mountains.

So, everybody who is going to evacuate probably at this point has done so. Other people here in this town where I am have said they are going to ride it out, that they have moved their furniture up to high levels. They know there will be heavy flooding here. And this is a dangerous storm, but for many people, they just want to be in their homes to try to protect their belongings.

Of course, this is a very poor country. So, when a storm comes to Cuba the way this storm is coming, it can have a devastating impact, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know, Patrick -- and I'm not going to bother you too much longer because I know the situation is getting awful over there -- what the condition is at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Gitmo?

The U.S. has significant number of troops there and clearly some prisoners as well.

OPPMANN: Absolutely.

And they were hunkering down this morning. Because they're a little bit further to the south, probably the worst of the storm is going to miss them.

I'm on the north-central coast. So, we're getting a lot more of the storm. Of course, the Cuban government has said every bit of the coastline, the northern coastline was going to be affected. The whole length, they said, up to Havana, probably perhaps was going to get some sort of weather.

[18:20:08]

U.S. diplomats, for the first time since I have lived here, six years now, evacuated. They were allowed to evacuate. They didn't have to evacuate, but the State Department said if diplomats wanted to leave from the embassy in Havana, they could do so. And many people took them up on that offer.

Of course, this storm is going to continue to go along Cuba tonight and tomorrow, and then go up into Florida. So, it just shows you how quickly the conditions can deteriorate, Wolf, and become quite a scary situation.

BLITZER: Patrick Oppmann, one of our courageous journalists.

We have journalists all over the path of Hurricane Irma right now.

Thanks very much. Be careful over there. We will stay in close touch. Get some shelter. This is only going to get worse for you, for the people of Cuba over the coming hours.

We're going to take a quick break, resume our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:42]

BLITZER: This was the scene only moments ago in Cuba. Watch this, Hurricane Irma beginning to hit Cuba. That's our correspondent Patrick Oppmann, been reporting in sunshine until a little while ago. Then, all of a sudden, he was caught in the wind and rain.

This shows you how quickly the bands of rain and wind can hit. Patrick now is safe. He's under cover, but there he is. You saw what was going on.

We're going to check back with Patrick shortly.

There is a new forecast that's just been released extending the hurricanes warnings and watches north on both Florida coasts. The storm now is expected to be a Category 5 when it first makes landfall over the Florida Keys.

Let's go back to Florida right now. The mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Jack Seiler, is joining us right now.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

You look at that, all of a sudden, what happened to Patrick Oppmann, if there are folks in Fort Lauderdale, your beautiful city, who are thinking about riding it out, maybe they see pictures like that. And that's only the beginning of what we can anticipate. This hurricane is only beginning over there, the outer bands.

Maybe they will get some second thoughts and decide it's not too late to leave.

What do you think?

JACK SEILER, MAYOR OF FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA: No, you're 100 percent right, Wolf.

Between the visual of this storm, with the immensity of it, the intensity of it, and then to see it just firsthand like that right on the screen, this storm looks just outrageously huge from space. It looks huge from the ground.

And then to see what it just did to your correspondent, it's scary. And we have been warning our neighbors, we have been warning our visitors, and we have made sure that we have been ready and prepared for this storm for several days.

And CNN has put a spotlight on it and has made it known to everybody that this storm is coming. BLITZER: When is the last chance, Mayor, for the folks in Fort

Lauderdale -- and a lot of our viewers have been there right along the Atlantic -- when is the last chance to get out?

SEILER: Well, we have been telling people tonight. We want everybody in their higher, dryer, safer space tonight.

And, so, we have got police officers out on the causeway bridges. I was out on the beech earlier today. I was just down on the beach about an hour ago. And we're trying to tell people that unless you're there for a specific reason, this is an evacuation zone. You know Fort Lauderdale. It is a barrier island on the east side that is all subject to flooding.

And then as you move with about 200 miles of navigable waterway, we have low-lying areas. So, in essence, we're telling people if you are in a low-lying area, if you're in a flood zone, if you're on that barrier island, please move to higher, dryer ground and get yourself situated tonight in a safe space.

Go with friends. Go with family. But please get off that barrier island. Don't put us or our first-responders in a difficult position.

BLITZER: What if some of these folks, older people, for example, can't get out of harm's way right now? What are you and other authorities, local authorities, state authorities, federal authorities, doing at this last minute to save these people?

SEILER: Well, we have been communicating for days. I mean, as you know with this storm, we have watched this storm move across the Atlantic. We have watched it go from island to island. And every time it hits this warm water, it gets bigger.

So, we have had a massive campaign going commensurate with this storm, just a massive campaign to educate and inform our neighbors. We have had very good success. And I think they understand that, look, this is not one you want to ride out in your condominium on Fort Lauderdale Beach. This is one you want to get out.

The biggest misconception I have been hearing is well, I'm on the third floor of my condo or I'm on the floor fourth of my apartment house. Can I stay?

And I explain to them, you might be above that surge -- that water surge line, but guess what, your lobby is not. Your elevator shaft is not. All your infrastructure is not. And when all that gets wet or when all of that gets underwater, you may be stranded. Now you become your own first-responder, because our first-responders can't get to you. Our first-responders can't access the elevator to get up to you.

And so we have made it very clear to people that, hey, doesn't matter if you're on the fourth floor or the 20th floor. If you're on the barrier island, if you're in a low-lying area, just please move to higher, dryer ground.

[18:30:09] BLITZER: I spoke earlier with the mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine, who said all the hotels, all the retail, all the restaurants, everything, is shut down. It's like a ghost town over there. Is it the same along the Atlantic coast, the area of Ft. Lauderdale?

SEILER: The majority of it is. We have a few bars that have always stayed open and traditionally stayed open until the last minute. They'll be closed. I actually talked to one of the bar owners when I was leaving the beach tonight. They're closing down.

But as of tomorrow, when all the effects start to come on shore and we start to see the bands and the wind, and as I've said from day one, the storm surge is my biggest concern. When we start to see those issues tomorrow, we'll have a curfew in place, and we'll be very strict in terms of enforcement. We do not want people coming onto the causeway or crossing the causeway coming onto the barrier island.

And more importantly, after the storm, we don't want to see looting. We don't want to see people taking advantage of those that have been disadvantaged by the storm. So, our police have been told if they need to take whatever necessary measures are to keep the barrier island free of people during this curfew period. If someone stays in their unit, they're going to stay in their unit. We're not going to criminalize that.

But we have encouraged every single person with the same message that you all have had. This is a serious, serious storm. And all you've got to do is watch your coverage of Cuba right there to recognize 150, 160 mile-an-hour winds, rain, and my big concern, a storm surge with a potential high tide with an east wind. We could see five- to 10-foot storm surge.

BLITZER: The mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Jack Seiler, good luck to you. Good luck to all your folks over there. Good luck to everybody in Florida right now. Thanks so much for joining us.

SEILER: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate the coverage.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on the breaking news as Florida braces for a direct hit by a catastrophic storm. We're tracking Hurricane Irma with the latest forecast, then we'll go live to Florida, where officials are making a final last-minute appeal to residents to get out or get to a shelter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:36:48] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, a new forecast for the killer Hurricane Irma, now on track to make a direct strike on South Florida early Sunday with a storm surge up to 12 feet.

Let's go back to our meteorologist, Allison Chinchar. She's getting more information.

Allison, hurricane warnings, now they've been extended farther north on both coasts of Florida.

CHINCHAR: And Wolf, that's likely going to continue as we get closer and closer to that landfall. More and more counties are going to be added to that list.

So if you think to yourself, "My county is not under a watch or a warning yet," that may change. Don't plan your evacuation plans based off of that. Because as we get closer to landfall, more of those counties will be added.

One of the big differences we noticed in the latest advisory was the shift. It takes the track further west about 12 miles. That may not seem like that much, but that could end up being the difference between a landfall over Miami or a landfall over a place like Key Largo. So, every little bit of a shift counts at this point.

Now, winds right now, 155 miles per hour. Winds have increased up to 190 miles per hour, and the forward movement west at about 12 miles per hour. It's going to be entering incredibly warm water over the next 24 hours. That is going to allow this storm to intensify back up to a Category 5 storm.

We expect the winds very early Sunday. We're talking, say, around midnight to 4 a.m., to be around the 160 mile-per-hour range. One hundred fifty-seven by the way, for reference, is when we make that flip back over to a Category 5.

So, it's expected to be a Category 5 as it goes over the Florida Keys. Then when we get back to the main peninsula here, it's likely to go as a Category 4, and then weaken very quickly after that point.

Storm surge is going to be one of the big concerns with this storm. We're talking West Palm Beach down towards Key West. We could be looking at storm surge of five to 10 feet. Further north of that, stretching up towards Cape Canaveral, about three to five, three to six feet. Tampa, down towards Sarasota, three to five feet. And then again, Naples down towards Key West, this is where we're going to have the highest amount of storm surge, expected around eight to 12 feet. Keep in mind, a single-story building is, on average, 10 feet tall. So, you're talking the entire first story of a ranch home, for example, underwater. Very similar to what we saw in Houston during Harvey.

Here's a look at those watches and warnings that we talked about. They have now extended further north, places like Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa under a hurricane watch. Sarasota, Siesta (ph) Key, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, under a hurricane warning. But these are going to shift north as we get closer to that landfall.

We talk about some specific cities. Take Miami, for example. In order for them to start feeling those tropical-storm-force winds, that could arrive as early as 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. Hurricane-force winds could arrive as early as 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Total rainfall, about six to eight inches possible over the coming days.

Naples could be looking at tropical-storm-force winds to arrive around midnight tonight. And hurricane-force winds, Wolf, could be expected as early as 8 p.m. tomorrow.

[18:40:07] And this is going to be a long thing for a lot of these cities, where you're going to be dealing with those intense winds and heavy rain for hours as it moves over Florida.

BLITZER: Looks like that whole state is in danger right now. Allison Chinchar, stand by. We're going to get back to you, our meteorologist.

Let's go back to CNN's Patrick Oppmann in Cuba right now, where the first bands of wind and rain are hitting. Patrick, it seems like it's calmed down a little bit since we saw you a few minutes ago. It's coming in waves, right?

OPPMANN: That's absolutely right, Wolf. It's not blowing it hard. There's no rain. But, you know, just about 15, 20 minutes ago when we last spoke, it was a very different picture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPPMANN: Yes, yes, yes. Let me put my jacket on. Whew!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OPPMANN: Wolf, I didn't have a rain jacket on when this squall hit, because it had not rained a single drop here all day long. We haven't seen any rain. And it just goes to show how quickly these things can come out of nowhere.

So, if you are in Florida awaiting this storm, don't be outside. Don't be near the water. Don't be in a place where something like this can surprise you.

You know, we're on the weak side of the storm. The storm is not expected to make direct landfall here. It is passing off the coast. Cuba is actually missing a bullet here. It's going to strike Florida as a much more dangerous storm. For that intensity, that brief moment there, we were just -- it felt like a jet engine. I could not get the jacket on. I was having trouble standing. It just goes to show how quickly conditions change, how dangerous a hurricane can be.

And it's only beginning here, I suspect. Throughout the evening and into tomorrow morning, we will get more moments like this, where it just comes at you in a wave and there's very little you can do to defend yourself against it. The power of Mother Nature is really an incredible, but also very scary thing.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Patrick. Be careful over there. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Cuba.

Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service, is with us.

Explain what we just saw in Cuba. Because this hurricane is moving north of Cuba, but the outer banks are beginning, showily but surely, to have an impact.

UCCELLINI: Yes. So it -- as the storm moves to the west and it's rotating counter-clockwise, these bands spin off. And what looked like what happened, happened to your correspondent was he got hit by one of those bands. And they do come on real fast, and very powerful winds and very heavy rainfall associated with them.

BLITZER: And that's only a tiny fraction of what we can anticipate in Florida.

UCCELLINI: Right. Well, it's -- Florida will be on the what we call the wrong side of the storm, on the north and east side. So as it comes in, they will actually have the movement of the storm plus the rotation contributing to the winds. To be in the stronger winds and the strong storm surge, as well.

BLITZER: This is very, very frightening, I've got to tell you. All right, stand by.

Louis is going to be with us. The breaking news, in the meantime, continues. We're going to get a live update from Miami. What will hurricane-force winds do to the many construction cranes dotting the city's skyline?

We're also getting new images of the incredible devastation the storm left in the Caribbean. A CNN crew has just landed in Antigua. We'll get a live update.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:59] BLITZER: The breaking news right now, the latest forecast shows Hurricane Irma slamming into South Florida as a monster category 5 storm. That's the same strength that devastated some Caribbean islands and killed at least two dozen people.

CNN's Leyla Santiago has just landed in Antigua.

Leyla, you were in Barbuda just a little while ago, an hour or so ago. Tell our viewers what you saw.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, as we were flying in, we certainly saw devastation. We're going to show you aerials that we captured while we were coming into this once Caribbean tropical island surrounded by turquoise water. And then when you get on the ground, you not only see the devastation, you feel the desperation of the people there, people who are trying to still get out at this hour, actually, many of them evacuating to where we are right now in Antigua.

You know, as we talked to the last few people still on the island of Barbuda and we were asking them to just describe what Irma was like, one man described it like a lion roaring. Another person said it was a monster. And so, now, the question is, what will Jose do? What will hurricane Jose do to that island and the people who have already lost so much?

Most people left Barbuda with just one bag because their things were destroyed. Their homes were on the ground. Their lives just kind of scattered out onto the roads. If you could tell that some of them were road -- some of them were flooded. So, you know, when you see it, it is pure devastation. And this is

among people who will tell you, we are used to hurricanes, but we have never seen anything like this. And when I asked them, what do you tell someone right now in Irma's path, everyone immediately said, get out, get out now.

[18:50:03] They have certainly felt the wrath of Irma and are waiting to see what Jose will bring.

BLITZER: Yes. Jose is the other hurricane that's moving apparently right towards Barbuda right now. The last thing they need is another hurricane as they try to do some Leyla, good work. Thanks for reporting that. A clear warning to all the folks in Florida as well. If you haven't evacuated, you still have a little time. Do it now.

So, what will Irma's winds do to Miami, for example? If that city, it's a huge city, takes a direct hit.

Let's go back to CNN's John Berman. He is on the scene for us.

John, there are a lot of construction cranes dotting the city skyline. What happens to them because potentially if they collapse that could be a huge danger?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a big fear here, Wolf. There are more than 20 of these cranes up around the city. It is a sign of the progress in Miami and just a booming economy here. There is a lot of construction going on.

These cranes are designed to withstand 145 miles an hour winds. That is what we're told. The problem is, as you know, Irma is going to hit as a category five storm somewhere in south Florida. That could bring winds of 155 miles an hour or higher. So, that is above the threshold where these cranes really are safe.

And one of the building officials here in Miami said, I would not advise staying in a building next to a crane. They are telling people if you do live next to one of these cranes, get out, evacuate. They couldn't take them down. It takes five to six days to dismantle them, and they would be in the streets, and they would just clog up the evacuation process. So, that is why they are still standing.

One particular note, the booms, you can see the arms up top. They can't tie them down. Why not? If they tied them down, it would serve like a sail and offer too much resistance and pull everything down. So, they are designed to swing like weather vanes, which can awfully be disconcerting.

If you can see it moving in the wind, we have some pictures from Puerto Rico, you can see one of these cranes swinging in the wind, and I think it scares a lot of people. But that is the way it's supposed to react.

Again, if it gets higher than 145 miles an hour, it could be a real problem. And sometimes, things just don't work out even when the wind speeds are lower than that. You remember, during Superstorm Sandy, not even hurricane level winds in New York City, there was a crane that did partially come down. There were evacuations necessary, 900 people had to leave a building nearby in New York City.

So, you can see why people are watching these cranes so carefully, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the higher you go, the more intense the wind as well.

John Berman in Miami for us, thanks so much for your reporting.

More on the breaking news coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:28] BLITZER: Breaking news, the latest forecast shows Hurricane Irma slamming into south Florida as a category five storm.

Let's bring back the National Weather Service director, Louis Uccellini.

Louis, you've got to give us some perspective on this. Folks are watching right now, and this is a historic moment.

UCCELLINI: You know, we have been here comparing this storm to Andrew. Andrew is 25 years ago. It was a smaller storm than we have here in terms of the size. We have a new generation of Floridians that haven't experienced anything like this. For those people in south Florida, they get hit with this storm. It's a powerful, dangerous catastrophic storm. This will be their big one.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers once again some of that drone video over Barbuda which basically the whole island was destroyed. Look at these pictures. Is this what the people of parts of Florida should anticipate in the coming days?

UCCELLINI: This island got hit by the eye of the storm. Maximum winds, maximum power of that hurricane. Where this eye hits, as it is approaching southern Florida and it does have the potential to re- intensify, you will see winds that can do this kind of damage to buildings that might not be as structurally sound as other buildings. So, what we're seeing is the capacity of this storm to do this kind of damage. So people should take heed of the local officials and follow their instructions.

BLITZER: So the eye, the most dangerous part, where do you anticipate it will hit?

UCCELLINI: Right now, we're predicting it to make land fall in the northern Keys at 160 miles an hour. When that happens, that part of Florida and points north as this storm moves northward, will create a destructive path. We have strong winds, we've got potential tornadoes, we've got very heavy rains and we've got the storm surge right along the coast. You've got all of these catastrophic effects that will be maximized at landfall as it hits southern Florida.

BLITZER: You're with the National Weather Service. You are working together with other federal, state and local authorities right now.

UCCELLINI: Yes. And you are seeing the results of this consistency and message from all of these emergency managers working together. You are seeing the high technology that's come in from the NOAA satellite services. We've got people flying planes into the hurricane tonight and we've got people standing by to check the ports and the ocean service.

This has been a team effort and I'm really part of it and I'm really proud of the National Weather Service.

BLITZER: We're grateful to you and the entire team. Louis, thank you very much.

UCCELLINI: Thank you.

BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

CNN special breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".