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Florida Keys Cut Off as Officials Assess Damage; Monster Storm Leaves Extensive Flooding in Orlando. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 11, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: still churning. After slamming Florida along its entire length, Irma moves north as a tropical storm, hitting Georgia and the Carolinas with high winds and high water and putting millions more people at risk.

[17:00:18] Unexpected flooding. Much of Florida's coast is inundated by storm surges up to eight feet, including some areas where the onslaught was not expected. The city of Jacksonville is seeing the worst flooding on record.

Cut off. The Florida Keys, hit first by Irma as a Category 4 hurricane, are now cut off. The only way connecting the string of islands is blocked. And there's no electricity, water or cell service.

And powerless. More than 6 million are without power in Florida. In some areas, officials need to make sure there's no risk of gas line explosions before restoring power, and the White House warns some areas could be in the dark for weeks.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news. Irma is bringing danger and misery to millions more people. Now a tropical storm, it's ripping through the southeast with strong winds, heavy rain and storm-surge flooding. Every major city in Florida from one end to the other has been affected, and the storm is now lashing Georgia and South Carolina, where there's a flooding emergency in Charleston.

There's record flooding in Jacksonville, Florida, and the water is expected to rise. The pounding in northeast Florida was somewhat unexpected. Twenty-five people were rescued in Daytona Beach after they were caught in a sudden onslaught of wind and rain. There were another 125 rescues near Orlando.

Where the storm has passed, officials are trying to assess the damage. And the White House is telling evacuees to stay put. The Florida Keys, where Irma first made landfall, are cut off by debris blocks. The only highway connecting the islands and part of it has buckled.

In southwest Florida, where the second landfall came, Marco Island is without power and water. Throughout the state, trees are down, roofs are torn off, wires are down, and power is out for more than six million customers. Officials say parts of Florida could be without power for weeks.

The big international airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are closed due to damage. I'll speak to Florida Congressman Al Lawson. And our correspondents, specialists and guests are standing by with full coverage.

Let's go straight to Miami first, where the storm knocked down trees, knocked out the power and turned streets into rivers. CNN'S John Berman is on the scene for us. So John, what's the situation there right now?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You can see it all around me, Wolf. I'm in Coconut Grove, the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami near a very popular Maltese bar. This is the Marina here where a big chunk of the Marina pushed up onto the ground behind me. Boat after boat, they were carried up by the storm surge in a much larger boat that broke free a boat that put it up here, a storm surge of five feet here in Miami.

You know, the Florida governor, Rick Scott, had a chance to do an aerial tour of much of the state today, and there was one word he described to say what he saw: devastation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): As Irma churns northward, it leaves a torn and tattered Florida in its wake. A path of destruction that runs its entire length from Key West up to Jacksonville. Millions are without power and a countless number of others are stranded in or away from their homes.

Before the assault on Florida, Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean as one of the Atlantic's most powerful hurricanes on record, pummeling islands from Antigua to Cuba and leaving behind devastation on a different scale.

Then making landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm. Grinding northward, Irma pounded Naples and the rest of southern Florida.

(on camera): Water waist-deep in some places there.

(voice-over): We felt the power of Irma firsthand as it bore down on Miami. The force ripping the roof off this apartment building. Water rushing through the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that the thing is going to be come out of the ground.

BERMAN: In Fort Lauderdale, homeowners watch helplessly as their tree topples.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!

BERMAN: As Floridians emerge from shelter to survey the damage, the images are staggering. In Jacksonville, historic flooding. Streets underwater.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had our trucks. They were -- they were overflowing.

BERMAN: National Guard troops say they worked to rescue 24 flooded homes in Orange County, Florida.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Our brave members of local, state and federal law enforcement, the National Guard, military members have been working around the clock to save people's lives. We've got rescue teams with all sorts of equipment, trying to make sure we don't have any -- we don't lose anybody.

[17:05:15] BERMAN: As first responders deployed to help the most vulnerable, the reality that disasters: like these bring out the population's best...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you!

BERMAN: ... and worst. Looters robbing a store of tennis shoes in Miami, where most of the city is without power. The state's largest power company says it could take several weeks before power is fully restored.

Now a powerful tropical storm, Irma is weakening, but drenching Georgia and flooding parts of Charleston and other coastal areas. That's well over 40 million people facing Irma's ripping winds and torrential rain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: There was something said by the White House homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, today that really stuck out to me. He said the areas of the most acute concern for the administration are Key West and Jacksonville. You couldn't get two points in Florida further apart than Key West and Jacksonville. It just shows, Wolf, the scope of this storm and not confined to Florida. Simply pounding Charleston, South Carolina, right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That jumped -- that jumped out at me, as well. Thanks very much.

Let's go to Jacksonville right now. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is on the scene for us. Kaylee, what are you seeing?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the waters of the St. Johns River continue to roll into downtown Jacksonville. We're about two blocks inland from the banks of the St. Johns River right there, and it's hard to believe, as striking as these pictures are, but the water has actually receded just a bit in this area. You can see by the debris about a block ahead of me, that's how far the waters have actually come back. But officials say don't expect this water to go anywhere any time soon.

This is an evolving situation, a serious situation, one that people here have never quite seen before, Wolf. It's so striking to see these waters of the river downtown. As I'm told, the narrowest part of the river is right there over those trees there, so that's why you're seeing these streets so easily flooded.

But it's not just this street. It's streets blocks to my left and blocks to my right, Wolf. This is truly unbelievable to see. And we haven't felt much rain today. I've been out here for about six hours. We felt a couple of drops a few minutes ago, but it's been the wind that has been unrelenting. I's that wind that sprays the water up on us. That's what we've been feeling all day. But with that wind, you recognize the power of the storm surge that has made this historic flooding possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Awful situation there in Jacksonville. Kaylee, thanks very much. Kaylee Hartung, reporting for us.

The city of Jacksonville has seen bad flooding before, but not quite like this. The flooding surpasses the previous record, set in 1864, with major roadways and city squares clearly underwater. Right now, the amount of water hitting the city was unexpected.

Let's bring in the mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us. What does Jacksonville need most urgently right now?

LENNY CURRY, MAYOR OF JACKSONVILLE: Wolf, we are in rescue mode still. When Irma rolled through, throughout the night, the information that was while we -- while Irma was a tropical storm when she hit, the storm surge is the storm surge of a Category 3 hurricane.

So we quickly mobilized and moved our search-and-rescue teams into getting people out of areas we had asked them to, frankly, to evacuate. We've got state assets helping us, and we're just trying to do everything that we can to get people safe.

I've been out around the city today, and have witnessed these heroes getting people out of their homes, and it's going to continue.

BLITZER: Are there enough state and federal, local resources on the ground, Mr. Mayor, in Jacksonville at this point?

CURRY: The governor of the state of Florida, Rick Scott, we were on the phone earlier this morning. He mobilized resources immediately. Our local fire department and rescue workers were already on it. Sod yes, we are. Our men and women are getting it done.

We're asking the people of Jacksonville not to take this lightly. If they think that, as the tides go down, that these floodwaters are going to be recede from their homes if they're on a second story, it's not going to happen any time soon. We've asked them to call our local city helpline if they need help. And obviously, if it's an emergency, call 911. Put a white towel or a white flag there or something that represents that on your home that we can see from the road, so we can come get you.

BLITZER: A lot of people from south Florida actually decided to evacuate they were going to evacuate to Jacksonville, which raises the question, was all of this a surprise for you and other authorities? Was Jacksonville prepared for the enormity of this storm?

[17:10:04] CURRY: We were absolutely prepared, and you're seeing that work in action right now. We started strong voluntary evacuations on Wednesday. I told people, "These are voluntary, but they're going to be mandatory. And I'm giving them to us this early, because there's going to be so much traffic coming through our city with the south Florida evacuations."

By Friday, I said, "I told you this was coming. You need to go."

And then we woke up this morning, and we had the information that the surge -- storm surge impact was going to be this significant in those areas. We used that information, and we mobilized our teams and continue to do that to put the safety of the people of Jacksonville first.

BLITZER: I guess the question is, Mr. Mayor, did you expect the worst flooding ever in Jacksonville?

CURRY: We didn't have information that gave us the worst flooding ever. We did have information that told us that there would be a Cat 3 storm surge and a tropical storm.

But what we did know is that this was going to be a serious weather event, that this was going to be life-threatening. We told people that, and we made it mandatory that they leave. And these are the areas that are being impacted now. Low-lying areas, the zones that we evacuated.

But what's most important now is the people that are there, that we continue to get them out of there, and get them into shelters and get them into safe places.

BLITZER: As bad as the damage right now...

CURRY: So while we didn't know specific...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Mayor. Finish your thought.

CURRY: So while the information did not suggest a Category 3 storm surge, we certainly prepared for the worst and communicated that with people, asked them to leave, asked them to go to shelters and be in safe places, and had our rescue teams ready and mobilized; and we moved immediately, and we continue to move.

BLITZER: Lenny Curry is the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida a beautiful city, an important city in Florida, in the country, I should say, as well. Mr. Mayor, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Jacksonville. We'll stay in close touch.

CURRY: Pray for us, and we're going to keep working hard. Thank you.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Thank you.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Al Lawson of Florida. His district, by the way, stretches from Jacksonville all the way across north Florida to Tallahassee. Congressman, how extensive is the damage in your district?

REP. AL LAWSON (D), FLORIDA: It's pretty severe. I really -- I really would like to congratulate and thank Mayor Curry for all the work they've been doing down there. This is a magnitude damage that we really never thought would happen in Jacksonville. And for the quick response that we had in Jacksonville, it's very significant, and the rescue mode to save as many people as we possibly can.

You know, Wolf, it's hard to believe that the most devastating damage is in Key West and in Jacksonville. That was not the way it's supposed to have been predicted.

So throughout the district, you know, we have, in this district, a lot of people on food dependence program. So it's very important that, you know, we petition the federal government through the state of Florida to make sure that people on Food Stamps will be able to get a hot meal, and that they would not be turned around when they go to restaurants and so forth, because they have young kids and it's very significant.

So we're still in the rescue mode here in Jacksonville, and the flooding has just been devastating. I know the mayor was out on boats today, you know, rescuing people. You know, so we're not in recovery yet but still in rescue mode.

BLITZER: In addition to getting food to people, those who need it, what's your other biggest concern in the coming hours?

LAWSON: Well, you know, health care is making sure that the hospitals are functioning well to get the people there. And as I hear from colleagues across the country, you know, they are ready to get back in Washington and vote for emergency assistance. What we really need, we need Florida to join -- what, Jacksonville to be with other counties for emergency relief that I think that we can get. So funds can actually come down to help the city through the state of Florida so we can -- can get in this recovery stage.

BLITZER: We wish you and all your constituents only the best. Good luck, Congressman. Congressman Al Lawson, Democrat of Florida.

We have a lot more coming up in the breaking news. As Irma moves north, communities left battered by the storm begin to assess the damage. We're going to take you to places where there has been very significant impact.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:17] BLITZER: The breaking news. Irma, now a tropical storm, bringing damaging winds, rain and flooding to the southeast. There's record flooding in Jacksonville, Florida, right now. And Georgia and South Carolina are also now getting hit. In the areas where the storm has passed, officials are assessing the damage.

CNN's Brian Todd is on Marco Island in Florida for us, southwest part of the state. Brian, what are you seeing there? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a lot of debris and damage all

over this place. Wolf, this is the Goodland neighborhood of Marco Island. We're told that this was really a neighborhood that got much of the brunt of the storm when it hit yesterday as a Category 3.

Some neighbors here told us that they had seven-foot storm surges just down the street a little bit. Houses here had water about three to four feet, maybe waist-high. Look at some of the damage here. That part of the metal roof just got torn off of that home there. I mean, this is -- this is really seen all over this neighborhood. There is debris all over the place.

Look over there. You've got these -- it's just downed trees that are going to take a long time to clear out here. This digging out process, of course, is just beginning, because we're less than 24 hours off this storm, but we're told that hundreds of people live on Marco Island, at least in this section of it, year-round, but only about 40 chose to ride it out. And thankfully, no serious injuries here.

We can also talk about another place we went to not far away from here, Bonita Springs, Florida. It's about halfway between Ft. Myers and Naples, a stoic little community that's kind of sandwiched between those two cities. Well, we went there earlier today and saw just some devastating flooding, most of it hitting a mobile home neighborhood called the Bonita Estates.

And the -- when we got to the edge of the neighborhood, we came upon a lady who was a caretaker of the mobile home, and she was visibly worried. She said, "There's an elderly couple in there deep into the neighborhood. They didn't want to leave. I don't know if they're alive or not. They might have drowned." She was visibly shaken by this. So we got directions from her as to where the couple lived, and she gave directions. We walked through this neighborhood, really trudged through it, because the water was waist-deep in most place. And the water, by the way, is almost dangerous just to be in, because it's so just toxic. It's got, you know, oil all over the place, other chemicals, garbage.

And we get through there. We go a mile into the neighborhood, finally get to these people's houses, and we knocked on the door of this one elderly couple's house, and they're OK. They had ridden out the storm. The woman is 88 years old. Her husband is 93. He has diabetes and Parkinson's Disease. They did not want to leave. She said it would be just too difficult to get him out.

But, you know, they had a close call. The water was lapping at the -- toward the top of their step. Others in -- we have some video of it -- other mobile homes there were completely inundated. At least one we saw was completely overturned.

So this is the kind of stuff that they're waking up to today in this region of Florida, Wolf. And the you know, one, the mayor of Bonita Springs told me, quote, "We're just trying to get our arms around this at this point." He was sending people out to that neighborhood where we were, sheriff's deputies and others, just to check and see if people were alive, Wolf. So this is what much of this region of Florida is dealing with.

BLITZER: A very awful situation. All right, Brian. Thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is on the road in Bradenton, Florida, on the state's Gulf Coast. She's joining us right now.

Dianne, what are you seeing?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, sort of similar really, Wolf to, what Brian was saying. I want to give you a look from our roaming coverage vehicle, and you can see it on the side here lots of downed trees in Bradenton. They experienced quite a bit of those high winds coming in from Irma, those big guests.

And so today, since they were under curfew until about 3 p.m. in this area, you've seen a lot of people out kind of chopping up those vehicles. And we have to be very careful going through that, because they're also dealing with a lot of sewage spills in this area. A lot of the standing water is, unfortunately, mixed with sewage. Some of that has to do with the trees that are coming up.

We can kind of go through this neighborhood here, but you can see on the -- lining the streets, lots of trees. Lots of palm trees, fronds (ph), things like that. Much of this is the reason why more than half the county does not have power.

And if you see here, a little bit earlier today, we were at the base of the street. We're going to stop a bit. This tree here caused a massive sewage spill. The county and other workers coming in, trying to get this fixed right now, because they don't have water. They don't have electricity.

Now, I can tell you that they were trapped, this family. I spoke to them a little bit earlier. They were trapped in their home, so they went on the Facebook, asking if people had things that could help them get the tree, you know, away from their driveway so they could get out. Neighbors came. They -- you can see people already out on the Jet Skis at this area at this point now. But neighbors came. They brought over fuel. They got this together. They got it out of the road, because it was blocking the street.

We're going to go over here,, over to the Warner Bayou East, and let you see, because this water over here, the bayou, Wolf, this is what they were afraid was going to be the problem, because they'd heard about the storm surge from Irma that was going to come and threaten them. They were all prepared for flooding, but it was the winds, of course, that got this particular area. Bradenton, I can tell you that we're going to be going to -- trying to go to one of the islands that has been closed up until recently, the bridges -- it's right across the bay there -- to see and survey the damage there. And we perhaps will be able to get a little more information on just what they're experiencing on that island pretty soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dianne, thank you. Dianne Gallagher driving around. We're getting some new video just coming in. Take a look at this:

flooding in Orlando, Florida. Wow, you can see the damage already done in Orlando, Florida. Apparently, this is only just the beginning. Look at this video coming in, courtesy of WKMG in Orlando. You see the streets underwater over there.

And it's like that not just in Orlando, but in so many other parts of the state, especially in Jacksonville, Florida, right now.

[17:25:07] We'll stay on top of this. There's a lot more coming up, including new dangers, new damage as Tropical Storm Irma moves inland with tropical-storm-force winds. We'll have an updated forecast and a lot more on the breaking news coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Looking at these live pictures coming in, video from Orlando, Florida, where Hurricane Irma has left extensive flooding. Take a look at the streets there, now covered with floodwater. You can only imagine -- you can see some of the oil slicks that have developed, as well. Potentially all very dangerous, very, very dirty. We're going to have a live report from Orlando. That's coming up.

[17:30:26] Irma, by the way, is now a tropical storm, spreading high winds and flooding from Florida to the Carolinas, and west across Georgia and Alabama, as well.

The Florida Keys were first to feel the fury of what was then a Category 4 hurricane here in the United States. Now the islands are cut off. The only highway running through the Keys is totally blocked.

CNN's Bill Weir is joining us live from Key Largo right now. So what's the situation like there, and what are you hearing about the rest of the Keys, Bill?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, last hour we were in one of the richer neighborhoods in Key Largo, where most of the homes looked unscathed. You know, a few scattered bits of landscaping, the boats toppled. This is -- this is what it's like for the lower tax brackets, a trailer park here, really set in paradise. Right on the other side of that damaged, destroyed motor home, you can see is the Atlanta Ocean, and it washed this way. And it gives you just such a vivid picture of the shattered lives.

You can see the markings. We remember this from Katrina and other disasters past. Those are the markings, 9/11/17 at 2:37 they searched that trailer looking for bodies. The zeroes indicate no bodies found, thankfully.

But these little human touches. Some angler's visor managed to stay on the throttle handle through the storm as the boat was shoved up this way. And the waves, as they came across, as Irma crested and came across, they took these scattered bits of human lives, of families and pushed them right up against the overseas highway. This is Highway 1. Key West is that way. Miami that is way, and this looks like the kind of litter you'd see on a beach the way it laps up.

But I just found something that absolutely broke my heart here. It's this lovely Chinese chest, and I opened it up, and there's a baby book, and it's full of family photos. A baby book from the 1950s. I mean, these are the -- these are the kind of the memories. You know, we talk about stuff and insurance, replacing all the stuff that was lost in this storm. It will end up costing, you know, tens of billions of dollars.

But that's an indication of the humanity at the center of this, and right now, there's so much concern over lost humanity. Officially, only a couple fatalities so far in the Keys, but Facebook has lists of hundreds now of people now who are missing. And we don't know whether they -- they are perished in the storm or they're like the rest of us: they just can't get a cell signal. I mean, I'm using a satellite phone here, because everything south of here -- we're at, like, mile marker -- I believe we're around 88 or 87 here, and everything south of us for 80 miles, it just gets harder and harder. And so you have to physically go find your family member, and the roads are impassable. Even the waterways have so much debris in them it's sort of perilous to navigate through that. There is a dusk to dawn curfew.

Right now the Navy is sending in the USS Lincoln, the aircraft carrier, naval personnel, to help out with humanitarian aid. But the search-and-rescue effort right now is -- really weighs most on the minds as people wonder about their loved ones, Wolf, and what became of them in Irma.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking development, and that's just one little part of the state. I can only imagine what's going on throughout the state.

Bill Weir, we're going to get back to you, but right now, I want to show our viewers once again these pictures coming in from Orlando, Florida. These are streets now flooded in Orlando. Live pictures courtesy of our affiliate WKMG. You see what's going on in Orlando. In Jacksonville, John Berman has been covering all of this from the very beginning.

John, dare I say that the folks in Orlando and Jacksonville, looking at these live pictures, were not necessarily expecting this kind of flooding disaster?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think part of the story, Wolf, is that this storm spared no one, and if anyone thought they might have it easy, they are finding out otherwise.

Look, think back to the forecasts we got repeatedly from Chad Myers and Tom Sater. The cone -- the cone of the hurricane was always over the whole state of Florida, the whole peninsula. So everyone knew they might be at risk.

Nevertheless, first, the people here where I am in Miami, the Miami area, thought they might get a direct hit. And then the storm kept moving left, and it turned out to make that direct hit on the Keys, where we just saw Bill Weir file that heartbreaking story right there. And then made the turn over the southwest, and then over, over the

peninsula, hitting places like Orlando that was a site that many people from here left for safety. Left Miami to go to Orlando for safety.

[17:35:09] It's the city where they staged so much of the aid for the rest of the state. Trucks, pallets full of water were stored in warehouses in Orlando to be distributed after the fact to the rest of the state.

But now you're looking at these pictures, and you can tell that Orlando was, frankly, not spared. It's still the right place to stage things, because it's close -- closer. It's the middle point. You can get to everywhere you need to go.

And then the fact that the storm went over to Jacksonville and gave that city historic flooding, again, just shows you we're talking about a state-wide event here, Wolf, and one that will take the entire resources of this state and the country, frankly, to recover from.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. John, stand by.

HLN anchor Mike Galanos is in Orlando right now. Mike, what have you been seeing there?

MIKE GALANOS, HLN ANCHOR: Well, I had a chance, Wolf, to go into a neighborhood where there was flooding, and to John's point, many people in Orlando were watching John, Chris Cuomo in the height of the storm earlier in the day, Sunday and did not think we here in Orlando were going to get walloped like we did, but it happened.

In the neighborhood I went to, Wolf, it's about five miles from where I am now. I'm in downtown Orlando. It's about five miles west. Flanking this neighborhood is a couple of lakes and a retention pond. Well, with hour after hour of rain, the water just didn't hold. The next thing you know, the water is pouring into homes, a foot high, three feet high, up to the chest of some people. And this is happening at the height of the storm and the winds, 2, 3 in the morning. So they need help.

So the next thing you know, the National Guard is there, Orange County Fire and Rescue, and they're using boats, and they're getting people out of there. So -- and they were thankful to get out of there. I saw some people waving as we arrived early in the morning on a National Guard truck.

And then the next phase, as we see these, again, pictures of flooding, is what next? This one gentleman that's just so gracious but yet so heartbroken, allowed us into his home. And he said it. It was a lake coming through his home in the middle of the night, just washing away all those things, as Bill Weir was talking about moments ago, that make life good. And that's what people are dealing with, really, across the state.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people in south Florida, whether Miami or Fort Lauderdale, they drove up to Orlando, thinking that was going to be a pretty secure part of the state, to ride this all out. We can these live pictures coming in right now. Significant flooding in Orlando. HLN anchor Mike Galanos, thank you very much. We'll touch back -- touch back to you shortly.

Coming up, the increasingly urgent search-and-rescue effort along the Florida coast right now. We're standing by for an update from the U.S. Coast Guard.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:15] BLITZER: Just getting in some aerial images of a crane that clearly broke atop a huge, new building that's going up in downtown Miami. Take a look at these images coming in to CNN right now. You see. We always worry about these cranes, these huge cranes collapsing in the face of these enormous winds. We know that two cranes actually went down in Miami, a third one in Fort Lauderdale. Take a look at these images just coming in to CNN. Pretty powerful, pretty powerful images, indeed. Damage significant. This is in Miami.

Joining us on the phone right now is the U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Karl Schultz, the commander of the Atlantic area, joining us from Miami, the Coast Guard air station there.

So Admiral, tell us about the Coast Guard effort now and this recovery effort. What are you guys doing?

VICE ADMIRAL KARL SCHULTZ, U.S. COAST GUARD (via phone): Good evening, Wolf. The Coast Guard is basically -- today, we've been reconstituting our capabilities across the state of Florida as Irma has moved across state line in Georgia here. We've brought our rotary wing and our fixed wing aircraft into the states. We are, you know, postured for response operations, rescue type work.

We haven't had a high number of those cases. As I'm sitting here, a call just came in for the ready helicopter crew to maybe go out and do a medical evacuation.

We're also keenly focused on reopening Florida's seaports, you know, the seaports, particularly Port Everglades, Tampa are critical nodes for -- for energy products coming in here to South Florida that contribute to the availability of gas and things like that. So we're getting ourself, you know, back saddled up here with our full range of capabilities to support the state of Florida and the Federal Emergency Management Agency here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you involved in the search-and-rescue operations in the Keys? Because we understand that's where the damage could be really, really significant. And they're looking to see if there are individuals who may need to be rescued, right?

SCHULTZ: Well, earlier today, Wolf, I actually overflew the southwest Florida coast and the Florida Keys with -- with Governor Scott. And, you know, we're still assessing the damages. The local first responders -- the sheriffs, the fire departments, the police -- are getting out and doing health and welfare checks on folks. We have not heard a lot of fidelity yet on what the situation is

there. I know there's -- there's been cell phone outages. There's not a lot of connectivity. And we did see -- the good news is that the mainland is connected through the U.S. 1 highway all the way through the Keys, so accessibility on the roads looks good.

We saw many vessels that have been pushed up against shorelines, partially sunk. We saw some wind damage. Mobile homes, RV parks were fairly seriously hit.

So again, I think there's still -- you know, today is the first day where folks are really getting in to understand the situation and assessing the needs.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Admiral, some live pictures coming in from the Keys. We see the extensive damage. And clearly, the further south you go, the more extensive the damage. Look at this is area over the Florida Keys. You can see the roof of that building just simply gone. And that's just one little image.

I know the Coast Guard is doing incredibly important work, and we're grateful to you and your fellow members of the Coast Guard. Vice Admiral Karl Schultz, thanks so much for joining us.

VICE ADMIRAL KARL SCHULTZ, COMMANDER, UNITED STATES COAST GUARD ATLANTIC AREA (via telephone): OK. You got it, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have much more on the dangerous tropical storm Irma, now moving across -- moving inland across the southeast and the remaining threat posed by Hurricane Jose out in the Atlantic.

Plus, the increasingly desperate conditions in areas the hurricane hit when it was a Category 5 monster.

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[17:50:18] BLITZER: We are following the breaking news as Tropical Storm Irma now moves inland, bringing flooding and dangerous winds across the southeastern United States.

There's also growing alarm about the conditions on the Caribbean islands Irma devastated when it was a Category 5 monster. U.S. Navy ships are on station in the Atlantic to deliver food and water to people who have been cut off now for days.

Joining us on the phone is Rear Admiral Jeffrey Hughes. He's the commander of the USS Kearsarge.

Commander, thanks so much for joining us. Tell us how the Kearsarge, men and women of your crew, are helping relief efforts.

REAR ADMIRAL JEFFREY HUGHES, COMMANDER OF USS KEARSARGE, UNITED STATES NAVY (via telephone): Well, good afternoon, Wolf. And thank you for allowing me the opportunity to talk with you.

Now, we're currently under way, on board ship, about five miles south of St. Thomas and U.S. Virgin Islands. First of all, our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey, for that matter.

This is a whole of government response effort. And we're here at the request of the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands, supporting the lead federal agency FEMA. There has just been the response, relief, and recovery efforts. In fact, I had a chance to meet with the Governor to better understand his priorities so that we could best match our capabilities to their needs.

And what we have with us is we're on three large deck amphibious ships right now -- the Kearsarge, the USS Wasp, and the USS Oak Hill -- with 20 Navy and Marine Corp tiltrotor aircraft and helicopters and three shallow draft landing aircrafts, tons of equipment and supplies.

But really, most important, we've got 300,400 sailors and marines from these ships and the 26 Marine expeditionary unit and other commands. But all the services are down here -- Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard. We always come together in a crisis.

BLITZER: Are you still, Commander, searching for missing people?

HUGHES (via telephone): So, currently, we have not had as much search and rescue activity as you might have seen in, say, Hurricane Harvey because the flooding damage was not as prominent. But I'd say we've done over a hundred medical evacuation missions, to include dozens of critical care patients.

And I'll tell you, the lion's share of the work that we've done the last --

BLITZER: I think we may have lost our connection with Rear Admiral Jeffrey Hughes, the commander of the USS Kearsarge, but we want to thank him, thank all the men and women of the U.S. Navy who are on the scene right now. Thank you so much.

We'll try to reconnect with the Admiral. In the meantime, let's get an update on the storm from our meteorologist, Tom Sater.

What's the latest, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now, Tropical Storm Irma, the center is about 150 miles due south of Atlanta, where, now, we're reporting in Georgia already two fatalities, one in a suburb of Atlanta from a fallen tree.

It's nice to see the dry air infiltrate the system. And in the next hour, Wolf, we'll go through the number of records that Irma has just smashed and rewrite in the record books. But a few more records did occur today. Watches are still in effect where the water is high. Until it recedes, we'll lose these watches and warnings.

In red, up in Jacksonville. I mentioned this two days ago when it was 500 miles away from Naples that Jacksonville, with such a large extent of these bands, was going to see that wind coming in from the ocean.

In Jacksonville, on the St. John's River, reaching over 5-1/2 feet. It's breaking the record by half a foot from Matthew last year.

In Savannah, the Savannah River, getting up to over 12 feet. Missing the record from Matthew by just two-tenths of an inch.

And into Charleston on the harbor, water over the battery. Getting up over 9.92 feet. That place is third behind Hugo and then, of course, Matthew.

The extent of the wind and rain field expressing itself outward. It is interesting to note, still a tornado watch in effect for parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. Another record, in a 24-hour period, the number of tornado warnings in Florida, the record was 47, they issued 69.

And for the first time ever in history, a tropical storm warning far north Georgia encompassing much of eastern Alabama, suburbs of Atlanta, all the way into South Carolina.

So again, coming up in the next hour -- we're going to talk more about that, Wolf -- sustained winds are at 50. By tomorrow morning, we're down to 40, continuing to lose its strength. Thank goodness.

There will never be another Harvey or another Irma. Those names will be retired. Thank goodness -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. A good, good point. All right, Tom. We'll check back with you in the next hour.

Coming up, more on the breaking news. After hammering Florida from one end to the other, Irma moves north as a tropical storm, bringing high winds and high water to Georgia and the Carolinas. Left behind, a path of destruction as communities begin to assess the damage.

[17:54:57] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Miles of destruction. Irma pummels Florida from one end to the other. The full extent of the hurricane damage unknown with this still dangerous storm on the move. Now, it's threatening major cities in the south.

Rising tides. Jacksonville, Florida gets walloped with Irma triggering record storm surge and historic flooding. Federal Emergency officials say the city is a top priority right now with water levels climbing.

Hardest hit. The Florida Keys in crisis after taking a direct hit during Irma's landfall as a monster Category 4 hurricane. Tonight, the conditions there are dire and thousands may need to be evacuated.

[18:00:02] And uncertainty. Irma's fury, leaving millions without electricity and many may be powerless for weeks.