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INSIDE POLITICS

Flooding in Jacksonville; Irma's Latest Path; Key Largo Resident Rides Out Storm; Military Personnel Helping with Irma Relief; National Guard to Reopen Airport. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Irma, now a tropical storm, but her winds and water making a mess in every corner of giant Florida. The Keys got hit first. Jacksonville is flooding today.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my wife jumped up and said, I think something just broke. Yes, well, it broke.

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KING: The Caribbean islands took Irma's most powerful punch. At least three dozen dead. Homes and businesses, flattened.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the families with us on this anniversary, we know that not a single day goes by when you don't think about the loved ones stolen from your life. Today our entire nation grieves with you. And with every family of those 2,977 innocent souls who were murdered by terrorists 16 years ago.

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KING: That was President Trump this morning remembering 9/11. There were ceremonies at Ground Zero in New York, at that sacred field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And you just heard the president there at the Pentagon.

We begin, though, with Tropical Storm Irma. Tropical Storm Irma now churning northward, also spreading west and east. The massive storm more than 400 miles wide, impacting millions of people in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. Still bringing storm surge, flash flooding and punishing winds.

For much of the southeast, this storm won't be packing the power it did over the Florida peninsula this weekend. But Irma has affected every major city across that state with the threat of flooding and dangerous winds forced a mass evacuation of more than six million people.

Irma hit the Florida Keys as a category four hurricane, leaving waters full of hazardous debris and, as you can see there, some lose boats. Officials there say bridges must be inspected for safety before anyone can return to The Keys by car.

In Miami, the winds were so strong, this roof of this small apartment building ripped away. For context, the sun is shining now in Miami.

Farther up the western coast, Marco Island absolutely hammered with wind and rain. An astounding video there. Winds like this can rip trees from the ground, snap power polls and power lines. Utility companies say more than 5.8 million homes and businesses have lost power. The head of FEMA says some won't get electricity back for weeks.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my bed.

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KING: Back in the Caribbean, most people don't know where to begin for the clean-up. You just saw there on the island of Tortola (ph), in the British Virgin Islands. At least 36 people have died across the Caribbean as a result of Irma.

As we mentioned, no major city in Florida is escaping the wrath of this enormous storm.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Jacksonville, where there's severe flooding.

Kaylee, tell us what you're seeing right now. And I can tell, just by looking at the shot, and the winds are picking up.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, severe flooding, historic flood levels already and authorities say it will get worse. And these gusts that we expected, they continue to hit us.

What's interesting to see, though, dry ground right here behind me. I'm in the middle of downtown Jacksonville, outside the Omni Hotel. And you just have to swing a couple degrees around for this streets to look like a boat landing right here in the middle of town as the waters of the St. Johns River flow up into downtown Jacksonville, right up Hogan Street. Water and International Streets to my left. A familiar block. If you're familiar at all with downtown Jacksonville, The Landing, a very popular watering hole, is now under water.

And this, John, is just the beginning. High tide here will be at 2:00 p.m. So authorities say these historic flood levels we're already seeing, they will continue to rise. Maybe four to six feet above that high tide level here. Now here, in downtown Jacksonville, you can't go east from here.

You've got the south side and then the barrier islands of Jacksonville Beach and (INAUDIBLE) Beach, familiar vacation spots for many. But the bridges that go east, they are closed. They are closed to any traffic trying to go that way. Authorities doing all they can to get people off of those islands. Westbound traffic is allowed for any people who try to ride out the storm there.

First responders in position to make rescues if needed. We learned from the sheriff's office here, they were making some waist-deep water rescues already today. But, again, John, the caution, as we see the fellow right here to my left with his cell phone out observing this site downtown, the caution is still so high here, John, as you can feel -- as you can see the wind gusts that I am feeling. And these water levels will continue to rise.

KING: That's amazing, just two feet apart that shows the unpredictability.

[12:05:01] Kaylee Hartung in Jacksonville. And as Kaylee just noted, important to remember, the high tide is still a couple of hours away. We'll keep an eye on Kaylee and the Jacksonville situation.

Hurricane Irma has been historic by any measure. It's the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. It was a category five storm for three days, remained at that highest level on the hurricane scale longer than any storm in the satellite tracking era. Packed sustained winds of 185 miles an hour for 37 hours. That's another record.

Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us from the CNN Weather Center with the latest on Irma's path.

Now a tropical storm, Chad --

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes.

KING: But walk us through what Florida has seen and what's next.

MYERS: Well, it came onshore, John, very close to (INAUDIBLE), which is just east of Key West, the long island chain there called the lower keys. And then very close to Marco Island and Naples. And overnight, just to the east of Tampa, west of Orlando, right about here right now, the onshore flow still pouring into Savannah and Jacksonville and all the way into Charleston.

Record flooding going on as you just saw there. Records set back in 1860s when they started putting sticks in the bank to see how high the water was. So this was even higher. What you're seeing there in those last pictures, higher than Hurricane Dora in 1964. And certainly for Savannah and Tybee, higher than Matthew that we saw just simply last year.

Here is the rain shield up here in Atlanta and Macon. Anywhere up there you will see wind gusts today, 45 to about 60 miles per hour. That's the story. But it's the onshore flow. And even one tornado warning now just to the north there of Savannah. That's all I guess south of Charleston there. It will be somewhere there between those two islands we see, those two resort areas. Awe do see the storm coming through here. Any time you see one big cell, you could certainly see in the neighborhood of an EF1 or so tornado.

We're watching a couple of things. We're watching the Jacksonville flooding. The Jacksonville flooding coming up the St. Johns because the water is now trying to get out of the St. Johns River. It is funneled through Jacksonville and then out to the ocean. It can't get through this choke point, and that's why it is flooding so badly right now.

If I get rid of this, one more thing we're watching is pool video here. This is what is the stretch. This is from Homestead to Key Largo. We're following the track of this helicopter as it flies through.

This, I believe, looks like -- this looks like Jewfish (ph) Creek. It is a the highest part of this bridge. It is a bridge that used to be very, very low and a opening and closing bridge. They finally fixed that and made it very high. It was a three-lane road, a very dangerous road. Anybody could pass in the middle. And it was a dangerous stretch as they called it. The stretch. And now it is a little bit safer because they did put a barrier in there.

Now we're coming down here. This is going to be Key Largo. This is south. This right here is going towards Key West. They're now spinning around. This would be John Pennekamp State Park as we go up through here.

Now we're going to continue to fly. As we fly this way, the numbers, the mile markers will get lower, all the way until you get to zero, which will be Key West.

We'll keep watching this. As they go further, John, we're going to see more and more damage because we're getting closer and closer to the eye. And it cut out, but it will be OK. It will come back. They're just getting as far as they can and then they'll get the game (ph) back up on the helicopter.

We're going to continue to watch it. I'm going to continue to tape it. And if I see anything significant, I'll jump back on for you.

KING: You let us know, Chad. We'll get back to you if you see anything significant.

MYERS: We'll do.

KING: I want to thank you as well for your marathon work throughout last week and through the weekend. Our viewers were certainly grateful for all your help and guidance.

As Chad just noted, showing you the map, they're heading south toward the Florida Keys. People in The Keys were told they were on their own if they didn't evacuate. That no one would be there to pick up the phone if they called 911. Despite those warnings, Key Largo resident Tim Jones rode out the storm. He took some video during the storm. You see some of it here. He's been through plenty of hurricanes. Says Irma was the biggest.

Tim joins us now on the phone.

You've been through a half dozen of these, maybe eight of them, Tim. Why was Irma the biggest? Tell us about the peak moments.

TIM JONES, KEY LARGO RESIDENT (via telephone): Mainly it was just because she took so long to get through. Typically, you know, 12 to 24 hours and it's said and done. She was here for three full days. We had 24 hours of hurricane plus winds at the marina.

KING: And when you got off -- you live on a house boat, if I'm right, and you got off and took shelter in the marina. Give us the extent of the damage or did you get off a little easier than you thought?

JONES: The marina building we stayed in is actually probably only 15 or 20 feet from the boat. So we were in and out all night long checking on the boats, making sure they were OK. We lost a couple of the pilings that separate the boats, keep them in their slits (ph). Fortunately, we were able to keep the boats from riding up on top of each other. So all the boats survived. And there's a bit -- one of them lost a mast, which is not bad. We lost a couple of sails.

But otherwise everything is good. We've got a lot of clean-up. Aa lot of debris. No power. No water. That kind of stuff.

[12:10:04] KING: People were told where you are, get out. That there would be no emergency services if you needed it during the storm. Why did you stay?

JONES: You just kind of weigh the options. Like I said, the biggest thing, you know, these are our homes and we live on these houses and these boats, sailboats and cruisers. You weigh the options. I've been through it before. We knew what kind of storm these -- this marina could handle and keep the boats safe.

This one was not predicted to be big enough that it was going to push it past that point. So you weigh the options. You do the math and you go with the answer. And the answer was to stay here. You could better protect the boats, better protect yourself, be here if you need to do something.

Yes, we're on our own now. We did manage to score pizza at a pizza place that opened up a few minutes ago. But, yes, the biggest problem right now is just finding, you know, keeping cool, keeping -- finding, you know, basic services. But stuff's coming online. I want to give kudos to whoever it was, whatever agency it was that came through U.S. 1 this morning and pushed all the debris off so we could at least travel on the highway again.

KING: Right. And we're watching some live pictures as we speak. We're watching some live pictures of a helicopter flying over U.S. 1. And we see the lives pictures. There's Key Largo right now.

You mentioned a pizza place just opened up. But what -- from what you've been able to gather, what's the extent of the destruction, the damage in the area, and what's the biggest challenge at the moment?

JONES: The biggest challenge is getting around. Most of the destruction we're seeing is related to the foliage, to the trees. There's a lot of trees down, a lot of branches down, fencing (ph) down. (INAUDIBLE) side, which is the ocean side of (INAUDIBLE) carports and aluminum and stuff off of the trailers that are on that side of the road. Most of the destruction is on Oceanside. Bayside faired pretty well. Oceanside got hit hard really hard. One of the favorite places to eat down by the fisheries (INAUDIBLE) by three or four feet. A lot of -- a lot of flooding damage there.

But, like I said, mostly it's just debris and trash on the road at this point.

KING: Tim, how many people rode it out at the marina?

JONES: There were six of us all together at our marina and one at the marina next door. So seven. A couple of us left real late in the storm and just got back also. They didn't leave the island. They stayed on the island.

KING: Tim Jones speaking to us from just close to Key Largo, Florida, where he rode out the storm.

Tim, appreciate your time, your insights today, sir, and we're glad you made it safely through the tough weekend. We'll keep in touch.

A quick update before we go to break. Florida's major airports remain closed today as authorities access the damage while Irma makes its way north.

Take a look at this. This is what the skies over the southeast of the United States look like. That's a typical Monday. And then today, air traffic virtually shut down over Florida and most of Georgia. Irma already forced the cancellation of at least 12,000 flights.

More of our coverage in just a moment. We'll be right back.

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[12:17:22] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are storms of catastrophic severity. And we're marshalling the full resources of the federal government to help our fellow Americans in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and all of those wonderful places and states in harm's way.

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KING: That was President Trump this morning pledging resources to help those impacted by hurricane now Tropical Storm Irma. That includes the United States military. More than 10,000 military personnel now already engaged in the response to the storm.

Barbara Starr joins us now live from the Pentagon. Barbara, walk us through what the military is doing to help deal with the impact of Irma.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Sure, John.

You know, most of these are National Guard activated by the governor at this point. But what is taking shape behind the scenes is the possibility of a very significant military operation, in fact, involving the Pentagon. The Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln and several other ships have now arrived and are arriving shortly off the coast of Florida and getting ready to hopefully start operations to help in southern Florida and in the Florida Keys.

Let me pause and remind everyone. The U.S. military, of course, never would just march into some community in the United States. It has to all be worked through the governor, state, and local authorities to offer that military assistance and to have it approved by state and local authorities. It's expected that that will come, final signature on the dotted line not just yet. But everyone's looking towards that.

And what we are looking at is dozens of helicopters off of these ships beginning to start aid flights into these areas, bringing in whatever is needed, food, water, supplies. There are hundreds of military medical personnel on stand-by. That can bring them into these areas, especially down in The Keys, to help with hospitals and medical care, perhaps not being available there for some time until power is restored and things can get back moving.

Now, these ships themselves are already running into heavy seas and high winds, but they are expected to be on station off southern Florida ready to begin operations as soon as later today.

In the Caribbean island, the U.S. military is wrapping up an effort, we're told, to evacuate Americans out of the Virgin Islands. They've already evacuated about 2,000 American citizens out of there. They expect to finish up that part of the operation as soon as today.

[12:19:58] All attention now on southern Florida and the Florida Keys to see where the military can work with the state and local authorities and step in. They are even looking at the prospect of opening up some small air fields in southern Florida so they can get closer to where people need the help and get it to them even faster.

John.

KING: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. A reminder of the diversity of the missions faced by the men and women of the armed services.

Barbara, appreciate it very much.

And as members of the National Guard jump in to help those in need, listen here, listen to this guardsman describe conditions while trying to rescue Florida residents whose homes were flooding.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had our trucks. They were -- they were overflowing and we couldn't even get further back there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How were you able to get the families out? You use the boats?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got out on foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On foot?

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KING: Joining us on the phone now, Senior Master Sergeant Nick Seibel. He's with Oregon's Air National Guard. He's at Hurlburt Air Base in Florida. Arrived shortly before Irma hit.

Senior Master Sergeant, just start -- tell me, what's mission number one today?

SR. MASTER SGT. NICK SEIBEL, OREGON AIR NATIONAL GUARD (via telephone): Well, first off, John, thanks for having me talk today. And our thoughts and prayers are with the people in the path of Hurricane Irma.

Right now we -- this -- early this morning, about 6:00 Central Time, we sent out two California helicopters with a C1-30 (ph) in trail, giving it gas while in flight to get an airfield team and a rescue team on the ground at Marathon Airport to do an assessment and make communications with the county emergency manager and start reaching back via satellite communications due to all of these cell networks and landlines currently being down back there.

So they are routing all of that information of the critical needs of all of these medical supplies, food, water, shelter, gas, all of that stuff is being routed through us at this operations center here in Hurlburt Field. And we are working diligently to get all of this stuff ready to help those people out.

Our airfield team down there is currently doing an assessment of Marathon and helping the -- what we have right now, the report is roughly 150 firefighters and our guys down there are clearing the airfield of debris and getting it ready to receive, whether it be military aircraft or civilian aircraft, to bring in all these much needed supplies for the people that are affected.

KING: And do you have any sense, both Marathon and Key West Airports on your mission list, any sense of when they will be ready?

SEIBEL: Well, we've got the initial reports that they should be ready to receive aircraft in the next couple of minutes, whether it be 15 or 30 minutes. We are still waiting to make communications with the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure they are ready to start receiving aircraft at those locations.

KING: That's quick progress. We applaud the work.

And when you -- you mentioned getting in, maybe it's medical supplies, maybe it's food and water. From the radio traffic this morning, what's the greatest need and where?

SEIBEL: Well, it's -- just to be from the reporters that we got, to the north of the southernmost key, from mile marker pretty much 10 to mile marker 50, they are in serious need of -- we've gotten a request for some antibiotics, IV fluids and starter kits, gas and diesel, some highly trained paramedics and some palettes of food, water, and other humanitarian supplies.

KING: Senior master sergeant, you're from the Oregon Air National Guard. Do you have any hurricane experience in the past or is this a first?

SEIBEL: Well, to be honest with you, about a week ago I was in Houston for Harvey.

KING: What's the biggest difference?

SEIBEL: Well, I think, you know, the biggest difference in this one is there's a lot more debris and damage that we are helping take care of. And last week it was obviously just the volume of water that was coming on the mainland.

KING: And you mentioned the two helicopters up this morning. They're available for search and rescue? Is that the idea? Or just from whatever you get incoming for request for need?

SEIBEL: So right now they are working with the county emergency manager and they are providing search and rescue operations from about that mile marker 10 to mile marker 50. So they have para rescue men on board their aircraft that have the ability to be hoisted down to any person that is in need and access their situation and either hoist the affected personnel to safety or help coordinate whatever they need at that location.

[12:25:18] KING: Senior Master Sergeant Nick Seibel of the Oregon Air National Guard.

Sir, thank you for your service and thank you for everything you're doing. It's a tough story when you see these pictures of all the destruction and the like, but it's also heartwarming to hear people volunteering and you're doing military service down there and helping people out. Please thank everybody involved with your operation down there and keep in touch as we go through.

And before we go to break, millions of Floridians without power. But one of the companies responsible for restoring it says they're going to unprecedented lengths to get the lights back on.

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ROBERT GOULD, VICE PRESIDENT, FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT COMPANY: We've got an army of 17,000 restoration workers, the largest we believe in U.S. history. On the west coast, with all what we've seen, we're literally talking about a rebuild that could take weeks.

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[12:30:12] KING: When Irma hit Florida, it hit The Keys first.