Return to Transcripts main page
NEW DAY SATURDAY
Irma Zeroes In On Florida With 155 MPH Winds; Irma Threatens To Batter Florida With Monster Winds And Rain; Millions Evacuate Florida As Irma Batters Cuba. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 9, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Irma is a Category 4 now with 155-mile-per-hour winds and it is barreling through the Caribbean churning straight to Florida.
Good morning. We're so grateful to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul standing by in Atlanta. Victor Blackwell is live for us in Miami. Good morning, Victor.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Christi. In just the last couple of minutes we are seeing more of those flashes of lighting, getting more on those winds. Florida Governor Rick Scott is urging anyone in evacuation zones to leave right now. Get to the shelters.
Don't hit the roads and try to get far north of getting to Georgia. Get to the shelter that's closest to you and available. Irma is just hours from delivering a major blow to Florida.
The National Weather Service warns that this could be the last chance for people to leave and get out of the way of this destruction that's on the way. Irma has already pummeled the Caribbean.
It's still happening right now to Cuba. I want you to look at the destruction left behind in Barbuda. This could be what is coming to Florida. Imagine this. Here's what we know right now.
More than five and a half million people across the state have been ordered to evacuate. It could become one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history and already there are more than 10,000 people who are dealing with power outages.
You could see the wind at least evidenced here by the jacket that's showing why there are outages so early. Some shelters in Miami-Dade could have already reached capacity. We know that some of those pet friendly shelters have already reached capacity.
Let's go now to meteorologist, Chad Myers, live in the CNN Weather Center. Chad, let's talk about the track because we have talked a lot about this as an east coast storm but increasingly this is a threat to the west coast as well.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No question, 120 hours ago, five days ago, we've waited for the turn. We said look, there's going to be a turn. There's going to be a turn. When will it happen?
Well, originally the models said it would turn somewhere in Bermuda into Bahamas and then on up the east coast, but that didn't happen. Now we know that turn is going to be later.
The storm is continuing to crepe to the west and now the turn looks like it may come and get over Key West and Cape Coral and Fort Myers as a major hurricane. Now, the storm did get torn up overnight. That is terrible news for Cuba. That is terrible news for the Cuban Keys.
That area there really got torn up overnight, significant winds 160 miles per hour. Now this thing is down significantly. The highest wind gusts I can find is about 135, but the hurricane center still hanging with 150.
But the storm is not nearly as colorful. Look, the purple is gone. We're down to red, but the water here where it's going is again, very warm. I suspect that purple will come back in the forecast is for landfall Category 4, 150-mile-per-hour storm very close either Big (inaudible) or right over Key West, maybe Cajole Key, get a map if you don't know where the places are.
They're beautiful and they may not be so beautiful tomorrow afternoon as this thing makes landfall. I go there all the time. That's why I will tell you every single Florida key. Here is the storm on radar right now.
We are getting weather into Key Biscayne, Homestead, all the way down into the Keys. Still seeing some weather here almost to about that's ocean reef right there. That's Key Largo.
And if you're driving out of the Keys, that might be a little bit tough. You'll see lighting in the air, but it's still time to get out of the Keys.
Now the warnings and watches have extended all the way into Georgia today and even a hurricane warning for Tampa overnight because the storm has shifted slightly to the west. This is the European model coming off of Cuba running right over to the west of Tampa, Sunset Key, and then right up here into the Fort Myers.
There are so many elderly people that may not be able to evacuate here. This could be 140 over Fort Myers into that Southwestern Florida and then it goes to Tampa at 115, and that's kind of new.
Yesterday, I thought Tampa would be 85. Now I think 115. The American model takes it just to the east of Key West somewhere over Big Pine and then finally up to the north and maybe toward Ever Glade City.
Now that's a big shift. From Ever Glade City or Fort Myers, that is 30, 40 miles when it comes to east west distance farther to drive, but that is a big shift and a big help to Fort Myers if the American model does come true.
We'll have surge all the way up and down the east coast from Indialantic Beach all the way down to West Palm. Miami, you're now filling up Key Biscayne. I checked one foot above where you should be right now/
Storm is nowhere near you, but the winds are blowing in from the east and blowing that water in right now. Here's what the forecast winds look like. Miami, by later on today, you are already in tropical storm to hurricane even though you are close last night.
[06:05:03] I was watching some video last night the winds were blowing like 40. So, every time a weather band comes by, you're going to pick up wind where it's white, that's a hundred or more.
That's Naples, Fort Myers, Venice, all the way up towards Sarasota, Tampa, Gainesville, and then finally dying off as it gets into Georgia. So, let me -- I'm going to roll you through a couple scenarios here of what I believe is going to on here.
Here's the storm right here. Just off of the Cuban coast and it's going to come in here into Florida somewhere. These are the big keys here all the way down to Key West. So, the weather comes through here and it comes up here into Cape Coral.
Let's move you ahead. Key West, the Air Force Base here. I saw yesterday, a bunch of air planes flying overhead here in Atlanta. I'm sure they were evacuating all of these naval air stations and bases here across parts of the south. Get those planes out of the way.
There's Key West right there. There's Summerland, Big Pine Key through here and then you get the Missouri Keys and you get up across the 7-mile bridge. But here's where I'm so concerned about.
There are so many people here in Cape Coral that lived along canals. You put a little boat on the canal. You have a way to get off here and go fishing. Well, those canals are going to fill up. They're going to be 12 feet higher than they are right now.
What does that mean to your house, though, your house is probably 4 feet higher than that canal. That means your house is going to be underwater. Something else I'm very concerned about, no one else is talking about this.
If we put 12 feet of water into the everglades where does it go? I'm concerned that there's about a 4-foot levee, maybe 6 in this area right here keeping the everglades wet and keeping the concrete jungle here dry.
If we put 12 feet of water over a 5-foot levee, I think we're going to flood parts of western cities from West Kendall, possibly, you know how high your levee is to the west so you just if you need to go or not.
This is still 24 hours away, but there's always something, Victor. There's always something that we forget about when it comes to a major storm like this. When it comes to Katrina it was the storm hit gulf port, great, it's gone. New Orleans had a couple of wind gusts and all of a sudden, the levee broke from the backside and we lost 1,000 people. So, there's always something you have to think about. This is one of them.
BLACKWELL: Yes. Chad Myers, thanks so much.
The comparisons to Andrew, may be a problem for a lot of people. Craig Fugate, who was the former FEMA director and the people of Florida know him very well for his work here before moving to the federal government said that Florida has not seen a storm like this since the 20s.
So very few people alive who have ever experienced anything like this in this state. Now as we discuss the shift to the west. We do not want people here in Miami to believe that they are out of the worst of this.
Because this city is and should be bracing for lasting damage as Hurricane Irma threatens to slam the city with the winds and the rain that are coming.
CNN's Rosa Flores is standing by. Rosa, it's important to reset and tell the people how the city is preparing.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, good morning. This city and city officials have sent a very clear message from the get go. If you are in an evacuation zone, you must evacuate. Officials here ordering more than 660,000 people to evacuate.
Now we saw empty shelves, people packing their cars heading north, and we saw people go into shelters. This county, Miami-Dade, has capacity for about 100,000 people to go into shelters.
City officials tell us that at least 23 people are in shelters that's in 43 shelters seven at capacity and there are those folks who decide to ride the storm at home. Some of them people are in homes. Others are in boats.
You see the boats that are behind me, the ones that are next to the bridge that's lighting the water here, I talked to one of those people and the man says that he plans to ride out his -- this storm in his boat. He says that he has gone through many, many storms before. He says this is my house. I plan to stay. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES ALBION, RIDING OUT HURRICANE ON HIS BOAT: Really tie everything down you can. Nothing that will fly away. Nothing that's going to get damaged and make sure you have lots of water and batteries and provisions and sort of have some knowledge of boating experience.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FLORES: Now he also says he took in a homeless man to make sure he had a place to stay, but Victor, as you know, with storms we will have surge. [06:10:09] We will see high winds so staying on a boat is definitely what public officials are saying you shouldn't do -- Victor.
BLACKWELL: Yes. It is certainly a risky choice and it's important, Rosa, that you pointed out some of the people who are deciding to stay versus the people who because of an economic reason potentially cannot drive up to Atlanta.
Listen, there are a lot of people who have this concept of Florida that's it's all driving around solving crimes and golden girls sitting around eating cheesecake. There are some very poor parts of this city where for some economic reasons people feel like they just cannot leave four or five days before a storm.
We'll be talking about that. Also, the homeless population here as well. So, as I toss it back to you, Christi, in the discussion of people deciding not to leave we should also examine why people think they cannot leave.
The city officials are doing their very best to get those people to shelters and give them the support that they need to make sure that they and their families are staying safe.
PAUL: Because there is still room in shelters there and yes, I know they have been trying to bus people there and it is so important for folks to try to get on those buses if they can or to find out how they can if they are not sure yet.
You just don't want anybody staying in their home. Victor, thank you so much. I'm going to talk a little bit about Irma and what she's been doing in the last few hours, lashing Cuba essentially.
Look at some of the images we're getting in from this morning, 160- mile-per-hour winds is part of what you're watching there. In fact, the winds were so strong they broke the equipment that records wind speeds on the island.
The Bahamas are really feeling some harsh rain and wind there as well. Storm surges up to 20 feet in the area and it's the latest pictures we are getting out of Barbuda are just breathtaking.
There's nothing left. Irma crashed that island on Wednesday as a Category 5 hurricane and even in all this destruction, it is just astonishing to think that only one person died.
Those residents, about 2,000 of them are preparing for a second hurricane in four days. Jose has its sights on Barbuda, but those people have all been moved over to Antigua, I believe and they are going to be going to be staying there as they were evacuated from that island because as you can see, there is no shelter to be had on Barbuda anywhere.
So, as Irma moves closer to South Florida, there are concerns the storm's impact on some of the city's construction sites may really do some damage because how prepared are those sites? The vice chairman of a top Miami-based construction firm is joining us next to discuss. Stay close.
BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell live in Miami. A continuing CNN special coverage of Hurricane Irma, which is now a Category 4 storm, very strong storm, a slight downgrade. Two additional miles faster the winds on that front edge of the wall. It would be a Category 5 again.
Maximum sustained winds right now 155 miles-per-hour. Now, Irma made landfall in Cuba as a Category 5 slamming the island with waves as high as 23 feet and wind gusts so strong, they broke some of the instruments used to record them.
And now the south part of this state braces for impact. Irma expected to reach the area by early Sunday.
Let's go down to Meteorologist Derek Van Dam in Miami Beach with more on a specific threat that Irma poses when this storm comes to South Florida. Tornados people will now have to watch out for -- Derek.
DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. If there weren't enough on people's plates down here, right, Victor? That is one of the many multiple threats that are faced across this region. We are on Ocean Drive in South Beach and the beach is literally about 50 feet to my right.
And we have lightning surrounding us at this moment in time because one of the feeder bands that brings in the strong gusty winds, the heavy downpours, and the lightning that you just saw a second ago are about to move on shore once again.
We've had a few of these move in overnight and boy they really change the weather conditions dramatically. Winds pick up. Temperatures drop 10, 15 degrees in a matter of 60 seconds. It can get pretty dicey pretty quick.
Let's talk about the specific threats to this area. We know the storm track has shifted slightly to the west but that doesn't mean you let your guard down in Miami-Dade because we are still going to feel the full brunt of this storm.
Remember, hurricane force winds still expected here within the next 24 hours. Storm surge conditions, the official forecast 5 to 10 feet. That is inundation. That's not about sea level. We're talking about 5 to 10 feet of inundation, water levels above my head. Put that into perspective.
Also, the tornado threat, Victor talked about it just a moment ago. Remember, we've got changing wind directions with height. That shows spin in the atmosphere so it doesn't take much for these small moving or fast-moving feeder bands to come in, spin up and rotate a quick tornado. That often are weaker than some of the tornadoes we would get across the Midwest, but still can cause considerable damage. The other threats here, heavy rainfall, that will lead to flash flooding, 10 to perhaps 15 inches of rain, a foot of rain in 24 hours, this is not the same as Harvey.
Remember, Harvey stalled. It took a long time to move on. This storm is going to move quickly once it finally does make landfall, but no one wants to see a foot of rain anywhere that they live. Right, Victor?
[06:20:07] BLACKWELL: Absolutely. No matter how quickly this storm moves, it's not going to move quick enough for the people here in South Florida. As you see the wind is picking up here and you'll see these gusts as we continue the conversation this morning.
You know, what you see across the city when you come to Miami are so many of the cranes. That's good sign that there is building happening here. There is a construction boom across this part of the state.
Joining me now is Dan Whiteman, vice chairman of Coastal Construction, a Miami-based construction firm that begin preparing for Irma a little while ago. You've got 12 of the more than 20 cranes across the city, right?
DAN WHITEMAN, VICE CHAIRMAN, COASTAL CONSTRUCTION: That's correct. Will power grinds up here in Miami-Dade County.
BLACKWELL: OK. So, let me read for you something that came from the deputy director of Miami's Building Department. The crane arm has to remain loose. It's not tied down. I think we have some video from Puerto Rico, an example of that swaying.
"The arm's counter balance is very heavy and poses a potential danger if the arm collapses." What's your degree of confidence that these will not collapse? I understand that they're rated for 145-mile-per- hour winds.
WHITEMAN: Got total confidence. The cranes were all inspected by third party inspectors. All of the connections were secured over the last four days. The turntables that we talked about weather vaning were all lubricated.
I've spoken to all of the manufacturers and producers of the crane that installed them. We were there as late as 9:00 last night making sure everything was fine and they were all weather vaning exactly as they're intended to.
BLACKWELL: Now again, these are rated to withstand winds of 145 miles per hour. We know now sustained winds are 155 gusts or higher than that. What happens beyond 145?
WHITEMAN: Well, we're confident that regardless, those cranes are going to operate fine. Even though they say they are tested to 145, many times there are safety factors that are built into those calculations and those are guidelines that, you know, have been established for years to, you know, be considered.
BLACKWELL: Now, also from this official with the building department and I'm paraphrasing here suggesting that it may be risky to be in a high rise near one of these cranes at the construction site. Would you be comfortable putting your family in a high rise right next to one of these cranes?
WHITEMAN: I would be comfortable doing it. I wouldn't be there. The reason being there -- there's a greater danger of flying debris damage than there is with one of those tower cranes coming down.
BLACKWELL: Quickly explain for people why these weren't taken down. I mean, it may be near impossible to do so.
WHITEMAN: Even though we've got 12 of them up there, 25 of them in downtown Miami, there are only a few subcontractors are even capable of taking them down. It takes several days to take even one crane down so you would not have time to prepare. Even though we started four days early, we did lower four of our cranes to the lowest possible height by taking sections of them out over the last few days.
BLACKWELL: You would have to close roads to do that anyway, right?
WHITEMAN: Well, you possibly have to close roads. You have to bring in the other cranes to take them down with so you are creating more of a danger by trying to take them down than leaving them up and they're designed to weather vane, that's exactly what they're going to do.
BLACKWELL: All right. Dan Whiteman with Coastal Construction, thanks so much for being with us this morning on NEW DAY.
Now again, when you see these 12 that are with Coastal Construction, more than 20 across the city according to the Building Department, they are supposed to weather vane. You will see a sway. That's what supposed to happen.
So, as you heard from Dan Whiteman, that they've done their best to make sure that everyone stays safe. Christi, back to you in Atlanta.
PAUL: All right. Hey, Victor, thank you so much. Listen, Florida's governor has been very clear about this. If you live in the state, you're going to be hit by this storm. Millions of people it seems thankfully have taken that warning seriously. They are getting out and that's what you're looking at there. A mass exodus from this deadly storm. Here's how one evacuee from Miami, in fact, described her decision to leave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY KRISTINGER, MIAMI EVACUEE (via telephone): It's difficult for me to leave my home. I don't want to displace myself, but this is going to be a big storm and it's going to come in right in Miami.
So, we would watch, (inaudible) we would hope that it would sort of veer to the right or go out to sea and at one point, it just became apparent that this was our window of opportunity to move north so we drove north and I am in Jacksonville today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: She said there is a window of opportunity and she's right. Chad Myers reporting there roads are clear if people still want to still try to get out and gas has been delivered to Florida, which was one of the big problems.
There just wasn't enough at one point that gas has been delivered to many of those areas now in Florida. So, we're going to continue following Hurricane Irma's destructive path that we've seen this morning in Cuba.
We have an update for you from our weather center about where it's going to go and the potency it will still pack on its journey. Stay close.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a serious, serious storm. I called it a nuclear hurricane. This is not something you want to ride through.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a catastrophic 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 you can't rebuild your family. Florida is tough. Florida is resilient. Florida is unbreakable. Let's all stay together and help each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: A lot of thoughts and prayers going to Florida right now as Hurricane Irma is making its way there. I'm Christi Paul in Atlanta. We are so glad to have you joining us.
Victor Blackwell is in Florida, Miami to be specific, and Victor, I know that you are feeling the wind pick up there.
BLACKWELL: Yes. The wind has picked up. But we're getting some pretty strong gust. And I say strong, that's relative compared to the gusts that are going to be felt by this part of the state.
Now, we know that the rain is going to come, flooding expected. I'll tell you this, when I drove to this site about two hours, two and half hours ago, there was already standing water in some sections of downtown Miami. And that was just from a single outer band, a single squall coming through. You can imagine what happens when those inches of rain come to Miami, in Miami Beach.
Let's continue now with our breaking coverage of Irma, a Category 4 storm, a strong Category 4, headed to the U.S. The worst will be coming here in fewer than 24 hours making landfall in Southern Florida tomorrow. Where? There's a range. We'll learn that soon enough.
And people, many of them are staying where they are to face the fury of this storm. Or some people are rushing to shelters. We know that millions of people, more 5.5 million are trying to get out. Airports are being closed. At least 5.5 million has to go out, I should correct that.
Highways were jammed-packed as well. And those who cannot get out, are trying to find space and shelters. We know that more than 40 are open across this county alone. And more than 5.5 million as we the people -- people as we said, under evacuation orders.
This could become one of the largest evacuations in the U.S. history. And Christi, as I send it back to you, and Chad Myers in the Weather Center, where the worst of the storm will go, that's been a gentle vacillation over the last 24, 48, 72 hours.
PAUL: Yes. Absolutely. And again, it's a Hurricane 4. But I wanted to ask you, Chad, because we know that those waters are warm.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, they are.
PAUL: And how long will it take for -- to get to Florida? And is it enough for it to escalate again?
MYERS: I think we're in the Keys tomorrow at this time, 24 hours to get to the Keys. What happened overnight is that the storm will kind of skirted along Cuba, did some significant damage to the northern coast of Cuba. Honestly, the people that were still here received 160 mile per hour winds, not Barbuda-type damage but very close, I mean honestly, because of the way the structures are built and right on the ocean.
But it also took the scheme out of the storm. It brought it down significantly. I know there's a source still saying 150. But I'm looking at the hurricane under aircraft. They're trying finding 150. They're finding 130. And that's helpful for America, terrible for Cuba. So, I'm going to show you what's going on right now.
Victor, you're about to get slammed, so as like pretty much all of Miami.
We're going to take the radar picture here. And I'm going to zoom it in and show you what's going on. There's the eye of the storm, right there, near the Marquesas here, the Cuban Keys as they call here. We're going to move some of these first outer bands into the Keys this morning.
And our Victor is right there where that lighting bolt hit. So Victor, I hope you are out of the way. I'm zooming right there to show you what's going on. Here is Key Biscayne. This is the water of Key Biscayne and Biscayne Bay. Here's North Key Largo all the way up here would be just about right there, ocean reef. But the water is pouring out, getting pushed into Biscayne Bay.
As Biscayne Bay fills up with water, that's where the storm surge will get to 6 to 10 feet, all the way through Miami. It will sneak up into the inner coastal waterway. And likely get up into Fort Lauderdale as well as 6 to 10 feet.
Now, that doesn't flood all of Miami, don't get me wrong. But there are areas that are less than 10 feet above sea level. And if you're there, then that's why you've been told to get out. Key Biscayne right here, the little coast way right there, so you're not in it yet. But Victor, here it comes because it will be one of those bands that sweep -- if we stay with you for the next two hours, your weather will change so significantly.
I think people will leave Florida when see that first band. Again, they're thinking, wow, that was the first band, because that will be a big one. There is the eye of the storm right there. It's small, still at 155 from the hurricane center. We'll keep watching it as it exits Cuba and gets into the warm water here of the Florida Straits. There's Cay Sal Bank and there are the Florida Keys.
Where does it go from here though? How does it turn? And what do the model say? Well, you know, first thing, I woke up this morning and I said to my wife, I said, look, you know, Irma does not care if there's a European model or a GFS model. It doesn't know. It doesn't care. It's its own thing. It's its own breathing living thing. We've been saying for days it's going to turn here, it didn't still. And some of days it's going to turn here, it didn't still. And now, it will may very -- may well move right over the Key West and right into Cape Coral, Fort Myers as a major storm. Victor.
PAUL: All right. It's actually Chad Myers. So, glad that you're on. No, that's OK. We're so grateful to have your expertise here. Thank you.
MYERS: You're welcome.
[06:35:57] PAUL: And he of course, talks about what it did to Cuba overnight. We're getting our first pictures in of what Hurricane Irma has done there and how is battered that island. Already major flooding there, we know. Patrick Oppmann is live for us there. Stay close.
BLACKWELL: Breaking news this morning as we continue our live coverage of Hurricane Irma. Power outreaches reported for more than 10,000 people here in Florida as Irma takes its first swipe. I understand that according to Florida power and light here as many as 9 million people could be impacted by the storm as the storm approaches and in the aftermath.
Now, Irma is forecast to make landfall over at the Florida Keys in a matter of hours. The latest is track now puts it on the West Coast of Florida inline essentially for the worst of it, although, Miami is not out the worst yet. We're talking from Fort Myers, through Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa still time to get out. Tampa International Airport says it will be closing tonight at 8:00 p.m. [06:40:19] The way these winds are picking up, do not be surprised if that time is hazing a bit. But keep in mind that that airport is not a designated hurricane shelter. So people who go there and those flights are canceled it's not shelter to be, somewhere they can stay that graded to be safe for those winds.
And now, let's talk about Cuba which is taking the full force of Irma. The hurricane made landfall on the northern coast, bringing with it wind gusts so strong that they destroyed the instruments that are used to measure those gusts.
Let's go to Patrick Oppmann live in Cuba. You've been getting some really rough weather. What are you seeing? What are you feeling now, Patrick?
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Irma continues to lash Cuba, Victor. And to give you an idea where we are, we are in a coastal town where the ocean has just come in and it's flooded out the entire town, continuing here some debris going by.
And right where we are is about 5 feet of water around this house. We're on a second floor. But we are obviously watching with some concern as the water continues to go up. For most of the houses in this town, they are single storey houses. And they have been absolutely flooded in, probably destroy by this storm.
So, even though, Irma is now heading towards you, towards Florida. It is continuing to have a major impact, continuing to cause lots and lots of damage here. We're hearing roofs going off. We're hearing debris flying by. And it has been a devastating storm. But we won't know until the sun comes up how devastating, Victor.
BLACKWELL: All right Patrick Oppmann there for us in Cuba. Thank you so much. Christi, back to you in Atlanta.
PAUL: All righty. Listen, Miami officials are taking some measures to get some of the homeless people off the streets and in to shelters. We know that there are shelters already to capacity especially those who are pet friendly, but in some drastic cases, they are actually even committing some these homeless folks to psychiatric wards just to get them to safety. I'm going to talk with a man who's giving those very orders. That's next.
[06:46:36] BLACKWELL: Welcome back to CNN special live coverage of Hurricane Irma. I'm Victor Blackwell in Miami.
And our meteorologist Chad Myers said just a few minutes ago that we're about to get slammed here. And the gusts have turned into sustained winds now. And what we saw in Cuba is on its way to South Florida, landfall still several hours out. But we're going to start to see some of that rain.
Again, many hours out from landfall, but so far, more than 10,000 customers have already lost power in South Florida because of the winds from Hurricane Irma. This is now a very strong Category 4, still powerful, life-threatening. Irma is expected to be near the Florida Keys very early on Sunday.
And officials are urging people who have been ordered to evacuate to do that, to leave their homes while there is still time. Don't get on the roads now that's from a Rick Scott, Governor of Florida. Don't head north to those crowded highways or to the airports. But instead go to the shelters nearby. A warning that sparked that Exodus that we know as the people in those areas are trying to get out, 5.6 million in the evacuation order.
So how do you protect people who have no home, nowhere to go, but over the last two days, the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust has been out working to move the homeless into storm shelters, the chairman of the trust, Ron Book is with me on the phone.
Ron, good morning to you. First, just give us a number of how many people, homeless people there are across this area? How many you've been able to get into shelters?
RONALD L. BOOK, CHAIRMAN, MIAMI-DADE HOMELESS TRUST: Well, thank you and good morning to you and to your viewers.
In Miami-Dade, we count our homeless twice a year in what's known as a Point-in Time Survey. We did our August count. But coincidence, a little over three weeks ago. So we know that there were 1,133 people living on our streets, homeless this past week.
And it was not frankly something that we wanted to see happen, you know, that there were 1,133 on our streets. But at least we knew what we were looking at in population. And so, we began our evacuation operations. We're ahead of what we traditionally do with the general population in Miami-Dade County. And we started on Tuesday morning to evacuate our homeless.
BLACKWELL: So we know that you've used a state law, the Baker Act, which allows psychologist or psychiatrist to intervene to allow you to help to move some of these homeless people who refused to go with you. Explain that process.
BOOK: Well, Florida has as you described something called the Baker Act. And the Baker Act says, if you suffer from a mental health issue and medical professional has indicated that you do and then you are also considered and determined to be either a threat to yourself or to others. You can be involuntarily committed to one of our crisis stabilization units, one of our psychiatric units to be evaluated for short-term stay of up to 72 hours.
BLACKWELL: OK. And I understand that you told the Miami Herald that you're not going to tell people to take a sharpie and write their names on their arm. We heard that ahead of Harvey which hit Texas from the mayor of Rockport there. Explain that for us.
[06:50:06] BOOK: Well, look, we know that most communities across this country just like here a lot of people consider their homeless, the least, the last, the lost and the forgotten of their communities. We don't feel that way in Miami-Dade County.
We run an effort called End Homelessness Now. That's what the Miami- Dade Homeless Trust is about. We ran a $61 million year budget to get people off the street currently and get them resettled into housing. With 1,133 we went out and we moved as many off the street voluntarily from Tuesday until Thursday as we could.
But I made it clear, that I wasn't buoyant and my role as chairman with Homeless Trust, I wasn't going to make a statement or an announcement like the Houston mayor did which was those that don't get off the streets, here's what you should do. Get a sharpie outlook, your Social Security number on your forearm because the next time we see you, we will be identifying your body.
That wouldn't going to happen on my watch. And so, we told the homeless if you're weren't off the street by Thursday night, Friday morning, we will going to be out there with the team to begin to involuntarily commit those that would otherwise not save themselves.
It was not going to be me signing a suicide note for the homeless in our community which is what we were asking people to do by not getting off the streets. Think about it. We knew two weeks ago --
BLACKWELL: -- because we've got some time constraints. We've got -- Ron, I've got interrupt here because we've got some time constraints. I apologize. Quickly, quickly, just a yes or no here, are you still going out trying to find some of the homeless people here or has that stopped now that we've reached Saturday morning.
BOOK: We are now only taking voluntaries. We stopped our involuntary commitments late yesterday afternoon because we had to let our medical professionals go so that they can go and take care of their families. But we spent the entire day yesterday taking people like there off the street.
BLACKWELL: All right, Ron Book, thanks so much for being with us. I apologize for a time constraints. I'm just talk this back now to Christi in Atlanta.
PAUL: Yes. Victor, I want to get you some of the latest pictures that we're getting in from Cuba as they are just now experiencing really the worst of what they're going to see. There's -- I think Patrick Oppmann there moving or one of his crew members.
But we're talking about possibly 23 foot waves that have already been recorded there in Cuba. And you just see that the side of the palm tree there in 160 mile-per-hour wind. This is the first Category 5 hurricane to hit Cuba in 85 years. These people for the most part, believe I will prepare for it. But when you look at what it's done to Barbuda, and some of the other islands there. We're going to have to take a very close and do some close assessments as to how people in Cuba are handling this.
But again 23 foot waves and Patrick Oppmann saying what you're looking at there, that wind feels like a jet engine hitting you. So we're go back to Patrick in just a little bit as well as we watch Cuba -- watched Irma move beyond Cuba and for the Keys.
And the sports world we should point out, the sports world affected by Hurricane Irma as well. They're doing something about it, Coy Wire.
COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes. Good morning to you Christi. Teams are having to make some major moves all to keep their players, coaches, their staff and their families safe.
[06:53:28] We'll show you who's making moves to where and when, coming up after the break.
BLACKWELL: Hurricane Irma expected to hit Florida early tomorrow morning. I'm Victor Blackwell continuing our special live coverage.
Nearly 5.6 million people in the state have been ordered to leave, to evacuate. Meanwhile, hundreds of FEMA officials are working double shifts now to coordinate a response to what will come after Irma, the aftermath.
Christi, let's go back in to you.
PAUL: All righty. Thank you, Victor. Because we have to remember, this storm is affecting the sports world as well. There are teams that are being forced to change their plans. Coy Wire has more in this morning's Bleacher Report.
WIRE: Yes. Good morning to you Christi. The Miami Dolphins already canceled tomorrow's game against the Bucks. And yesterday's team owner Stephen Ross announcing he's taking the players, coaches and the staff chartering a plane flying them to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, where they don't play until next Sunday, so that team is going to stay there all week to keep them safe and away from the storm, the families as well.
The Jacksonville Jaguars played the Texans in Houston for their season opener tomorrow. And they will stay in Houston after the game. They're going to monitor the storm, evaluate the situation in Jacksonville Monday to see if it's safe for them to return. Tampa Bay, also in Irma's potential pass, so the series between the Rays and Yankees next Monday through Wednesday is being moved to Tampa -- from Tampa to New York to the home of the Mets.
Finally, U.S. Virgin Islands have already been devastated by Irma's wrath as a Category 5 hurricane. And the rebuilding process is just beginning. Basketball legend Tim Duncan was born and raised there in future Hall of Famer is asking for help. He wrote a emotional article in the players Tribune yesterday and called it, don't forget about the islands. He's on a mission, Christi, to help raise funds for relief efforts there.
He's personally donating a quarter million dollars. And he's going to match up to $1 million as well. He is already as of this morning raised nearly $450,000. You can go to youcaring.com/21usvirginislandrelieffund, if you would like to help him out with his efforts.
PAUL: And those people certainly. Thank you Coy so much. Appreciate that.
[07:00:03] So glad to have you with us as we watch Irma come to shore. I'm Christi Paul in Atlanta. Victor Blackwell is in Miami where the sun looks like it's starting to come up, Victor.