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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hurricane Michael Makes Landfall with 155 MPH Winds, Near Cat 5. Aired 4:15-4:30p ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:09]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin with the breaking news.

New images just in of Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane to hit the continental United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Just look at this. Moments after Hurricane Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida, winds ripped apart an entire house. What's left of it is there floating in floodwaters. And there are scenes like this across the Florida Panhandle right now.

Hurricane Michael did something we rarely see. The Category 4 storm actually picked up steam as it made landfall. The storm reached 155 miles per hour. Its intensity is now just two miles per hour away from a Category 5 status.

Towns on the Panhandle taking a beating, as Hurricane Michael races onshore. More than 30 million Americans in six states are under tropical storm watches and warnings right now, a long night ahead as this monstrous Hurricane Michael continues its destructive path.

Also happening right now, stocks keep sliding, the Dow closing down more than 800 points.

But let's go back to the storm. We have a team stretched across the Florida Panhandle to show you this unfolding natural disaster.

Joining me now on the phone from Mexico Beach, Florida, is Patricia Mulligan. Her daughter captured the dramatic images of a sea of destroyed homes that you're seeing there.

Patricia, first of all, most importantly, are you and your daughter safe?

Patricia Mulligan, can you hear me? Are you there?

All right. We lost Patricia Mulligan. We're going to try to get her back.

But, in the meantime, let's go to Brian Todd, who is in Panama City Beach, Florida.

And, Brian, tell us what the situation is like where you are right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake.

We're getting to a point now where first-responders and other city officials may, may be able to start coming out and looking at some of the damage and looking at maybe some people who need to be rescued. Possibly, they could start venturing out in the coming minutes.

But, again, that's a little dicey. We're not out of -- totally out of danger yet, as some of the damage is just now being assessed. I can show you some of these trees came down over here. There was a tree that snapped in half over there.

There is a railing over here that just snapped right off of a deck and a fence was compromised, was just broken in two just down the street a short time ago. We're still getting some gusts of wind, still getting some power lines shaking here. We did hear some transformers blow here earlier today.

So it's still, you know, a pretty dicey situation here with damage assessments, with storm surge also. Storm surge is still going to be an issue here, because they expected it maybe to get up to 13 feet in some areas. The city officials here say that they are pretty pleased with their level of elevation, which might protect them from some of the storm surge, but that's not going to be the case in other areas like Mexico Beach and places east of here.

Storm surge is still going to be a big problem in the coming hours. And, again, it could get to 11 to 13 feet, maybe even 14 feet, in some areas, Jake. Some of these are low-lying areas right off the beach. We're only about a block-and-a-half from the beach here.

But, you know, again, these areas still could experience some flooding. And, you know, even though the eyewall has passed here and it hit near Mexico Beach not too far from here, people here and officials here who are experienced with hurricanes, even though they haven't had one this powerful, say that you cannot let down your guard at a time like this.

Do not be deceived when you hear news that the eyewall has passed, again, downed power lines, downed trees, very hard and very dangerous to navigate through at times like these, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Todd.

CNN anchor John Berman is in Panama City Beach, Florida. That's just northwest of where Hurricane Michael made landfall. John, you watched conditions deteriorate quickly where you are.

What's the situation now?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The situation now, as Brian was saying, is the winds have begun to die down substantially. Nothing like it was about two hours ago, where I have to tell you, for 45 minutes, I have never felt wind like that, sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour.

And we are 20, 30 miles away from where the eyewall, the center of the eyewall made landfall. So we had sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour, with gusts above 120 miles per hour.

And, Jake, if you can see behind me, there's this metal railing that was there. I think you can see it leaning over. The winds just simply toppled it, pushed it over inch by inch by inch, until finally the concrete at the bottom there that was holding it down simply gave way and it simply fell over.

[16:05:01]

After the storm, when the winds began to die down, because it wasn't safe to move around here at all -- I was guarded by the edge of the building here. But after it died down, somehow, I was able to walk around the parking lot here, and one of the things I found was this, which is a giant light, which I think was blown off this building here.

I can't be sure, but it was right in the middle of the parking lot, simply blown down. So these were fierce, fierce winds. And one of the things that was truly remarkable, Jake, as we got here yesterday, and a lot of people did choose to ride out this storm.

Panama City Beach has a population of about 12,000 people. The city manager told me he estimates about half the full time residents chose to stay. One of the reasons was, was because yesterday, midday, they thought this was a Category 2 storm, even though the forecast says it could get stronger. They thought it would be a Category 2.

They woke up this morning, it was already a Category 4, and then they got nervous, and it was too late to go. So, they simply had to ride it out. And when it made landfall, it was just two miles short of a Category 5 storm -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, John Berman in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Let's go back on the phone now to Mexico Beach, where we are joined again by Patricia Mulligan. Again, her daughter captured these dramatic images of a sea of destroyed homes.

Patricia, are you with me?

PATRICIA MULLIGAN, STORM VICTIM: Yes.

TAPPER: OK. First things first. Are you and your family safe?

MULLIGAN: Yes.

TAPPER: OK, good.

Tell us what you're witnessing around you right now in Mexico Beach.

MULLIGAN: Well, right now, the water is receding a little bit. There's, I mean, not very -- there's no intact houses that I can -- well, one. Pretty much all the houses are missing roofs, siding.

My brother's boat capsized over here. He owns the marina, and all the -- the docks are gone. The water came up to the level of the palm trees, just before the fronds.

TAPPER: If you had to estimate how deep the water is in these images we're looking at that your daughter captured from just minutes ago, how high do you think that is?

MULLIGAN: Well, it went up to the top of a palm tree. And palm trees, these ones are standing about 12 to 15 feet. And it -- the water did go up to the top of a roof. So...

TAPPER: Now, a lot of people are probably wondering, so I'm going to ask you, why did you and your family decide to ride out the storm?

MULLIGAN: Well, we didn't think it was going to be this bad. And we are in a very good, secure place. We're in a condo, four-story, that's solid, construction block. I mean, it's concrete block. It's got, you know, hurricane windows. I mean, so, you know...

TAPPER: What message would you like to get out to emergency officials in Florida or in Washington, D.C., about what Mexico City -- I'm sorry -- Mexico Beach, Florida, is going through right now?

MULLIGAN: Oh, devastation. This is total devastation.

I mean, my brother also has a house on the beach that's gone. I mean, there's nothing left of it.

TAPPER: So we are looking at the images that your daughter took earlier. And it just -- it looks like just an entire neighborhood, block after block, of homes where the water is up to the roof. The homes are completely underwater.

MULLIGAN: Yes.

TAPPER: Normally, what does it look like there? What should we, what would we be looking at right now, were it not for Hurricane Michael?

MULLIGAN: You would be looking at some very beautiful homes. You would be looking at a lot of nice boats. You would be looking at, you know, just beautiful beach neighborhood, gorgeous. Not now.

TAPPER: And what -- what is the last time -- how long have you lived in the area?

MULLIGAN: I just moved up here from Miami two-and-a-half years -- I mean, two-and-a-half months ago. And I lived through Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.

TAPPER: How does it compare? How does this storm, how does Hurricane Michael seem -- they're saying this is the strongest storm.

MULLIGAN: Same.

TAPPER: It seems as strong as Hurricane Andrew to you?

MULLIGAN: Same. Same. Same. Same devastation. Same winds. The building we were in is huge. And it was shaking. It was vibrating and rocking. So, huge.

TAPPER: The concrete building that you're in was rocking?

MULLIGAN: Concrete building. Very scary. Very, very scary.

TAPPER: How old are your -- how old are the people in your family, I mean, the children?

MULLIGAN: Well, Tessa (ph) is 12. And I have my brother. We're all adults.

TAPPER: OK. Everybody is doing OK?

MULLIGAN: Yes, yes, yes. No, we're all fine. We're all fine. And we have -- we even have water damage up here. The water was coming in underneath the doors and underneath the windows.

TAPPER: Four stories up, you have water damage?

[16:10:00]

MULLIGAN: Yes. Yes.

TAPPER: How about your neighbors? Are they all OK, as far as you can tell?

MULLIGAN: They were with -- well, they were with us. They were -- live next door, because these are all also vacation homes, a lot of them. So, you know, a lot of these aren't even -- have people living in them.

TAPPER: And, Patricia, when you look out at the devastation outside your window, is this something you think will take weeks, months, years to fix?

MULLIGAN: I would say -- I would have to say at least as long as it did for Hurricane Andrew, and that took months and months and months. Could be even years.

TAPPER: All right. Patricia Mulligan, we're glad that you and your family are safe. Thank you so much. Stay in touch.

Let us know if you need anything and you're not being -- you're not able to get through to the governor or federal authorities.

MULLIGAN: OK.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

MULLIGAN: All right.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Gary Tuchman now. He's live in Crawfordville, Florida, which is southeast of the capital of Florida, Tallahassee.

Gary, tell us about the conditions where you are.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we just actually moved to a new city not far from Crawfordville, Panacea.

And I'm going to tell you why storm surge kills and why it could still kill tonight. This road -- and it is a road -- it's called Surf Road. Ironic name. We drove down this road about seven hours ago before the storm hit. It was an eight-mile drive, and it was fine. And now it's become a lake.

As a matter of fact, behind me, it gets to about five feet deep. And the problem is, there's no barriers here whatsoever. And the sun sets about three hours from now. And someone could come down this road, and the speed limit here is 55 miles per hour, and just drive into this water, and their car can float away.

And that's why storm surge is so dangerous. And that's why so many people were concerned about it when we heard the storm surge in this area where we are, Panacea, which is east of Panama City, where we heard it can be from nine to 13 feet, the surge. It doesn't appear it was that deep.

But, nevertheless, you have water that's five feet deep behind me. What we saw here today, Jake, all over this area, east of Panama City, was people just kind of stunned how strong this hurricane got. We and others reported this was going to be a major hurricane. But we did not know it was going to be 155-mile-per-hour hurricane, a strong Category 4, just two miles short of becoming a Category 5.

Never in the history of the state of Florida, with its Panhandle, have they ever had a Category 4 storm hit the Panhandle in recorded weather history. As a matter of fact, you were just talking about Andrew. This is one of the strongest hurricanes that's ever hit the United States.

So people knew it was going to be a major hurricane. Didn't know it was going to be this strong. But because people in Florida are so hurricane-savvy, Jake, we have found -- we have been driving all over, and we have found for the most part people did evacuate. They got away from the water.

And we have been through lots of small towns in this area, and most of them have been virtually empty. As long as we've been here, we haven't seen any cars passing through here, but I'm absolutely very worried, once the sun sets and it gets dark, that someone could drive through this water, which is now up to five feet deep -- Jake. TAPPER: So just to reiterate this, because obviously there are people who are in the middle of the storm and in the path of the storm and also individuals in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, Gary.

Where you are right now, just a normal road in the Panhandle, there are no lights, there are no barriers, the speed limit is 55. And behind you, the water actually gets as deep as five feet deep? And so you are extrapolating that it would be very easy for somebody thinking that everything is safe to be driving down this street, seeing some water, thinking maybe it's a couple inches, and then all of a sudden they're in five feet of water.

TUCHMAN: Let's put it this way, Jake.

When I was driving down it just now with my crew, it's daytime, and I had to put on the brakes very swiftly when I saw the water here. And also, two miles up the road in front of me, and this is a northerly direction, there was a huge tree in the way of the road. We had to drive around the tree, and we just saw that at the last second.

So, even during daytime, it's sometimes hard to see when you're being cautious and you're a journalist who has been covering these things now for 30 years. You can imagine what it's like for residents who are going back to their homes at night. Hey, I want to want to go home, want to make sure everything is OK.

They drive down here, and this is now a lake. So it's very dangerous, and that is why storm surge is such a huge problem when it comes to hurricanes.

TAPPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, in the ironically named Panacea, Florida, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Stay safe.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is going to give us the big picture now. She's tracking the storm from the CNN Severe Weather Center.

And, Jennifer, explain to us what's happening where our correspondents and crowds are. Let's start with Panama City Beach.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Panama City Beach is now getting better and better by the minute, which is good news.

I know John Berman has been in it all day long, so he will be relieved to know that. We are still getting rain in those areas, but the winds are gradually dying down as this storm heads to the north. It's still very powerful, though, Jake. It has winds of 140 miles per hour, with gusts of 175.

It's moving at about 15 miles per hour. It should be right on that Florida/Georgia/Alabama border by the time we get into, say, the 6:00 hour. And so a lot of people will maybe be driving home from work, and you're going to be in the middle of a hurricane. This will most likely be at least a Category 2 by the time it crosses into Georgia.

[16:15:00] And, of course, it is going to produce very heavy rain. It still has tremendous amount of wind with it, and also tornadoes. That's one thing we have to look for, as well.

There's an extreme wind warning in place, and that's basically a long- standing tornado warning, because winds are going to be as strong as a tornado would be. And so you have those extreme wind warnings that are in place. We have a lot of trees in the panhandle, as well as Georgia. We are going to see a lot of trees go down, the power lines go down, as well.

We had 130-mile-an-hour gusts at Tyndall Air Force Base today before the gauge broke. So, winds much higher than that. We had reports of winds well over 100 all across the panhandle.

And as we go forward in time, look at all of this rain across Georgia, all throughout the overnight hours. Some areas could pick up as much as four to six inches of rain, in just a very shortly amount of time. So, we're going to see flooding across Georgia and then this rain pushes into waterlogged South Carolina and North Carolina as early as tomorrow.

And so, yes, this storm is a very fast mover, but it still has a lot of moisture. It's pumping a lot of rain and a lot of wind with it. And so, we're going to pick up 6 to 10 inches, not to mention, we still have hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings that extend all the way up into the Carolinas.

And so, Jake, this is far from over. We are now assessing the damage along the panhandle, those coastal areas. But areas inland, don't let your guard down, because it's coming in the next up couple of hours.

TAPPER: All right. Jennifer Gray with an ominous warning there, thank you so much.

Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle on record. Our breaking news coverage continues after this very quick break.

Stay with us.

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[16:20:23] TAPPER: We're seeing some new and shocking images of the property damage caused by Hurricane Michael. The strong winds on the west end of Panama City Beach, Florida, ripped what appears to be some sort of roof covering or tarp off of a motel there.

Let's go now to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's in Tallahassee, Florida, the capital of that state.

Ryan, what kind of conditions are you seeing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's getting worse, Jake. The storm is starting to make its way to Tallahassee. And one of the concerns here, this is a major population center in Florida. You got Florida State University here, of course, the capital of Tallahassee.

We're not so much worried about water. There is going to be a significant amount of rain but we're far enough away from the coast where the storm surge won't be a big problem. It's the wind we're worried about, and that's because of these big trees you see behind me here.

Tree lined streets cover all of Tallahassee. If these winds blow through in excess of 100 miles per hour, it could cause big problems like what we're starting to see, debris like this littering the roads. This is a pretty big stick. Imagine this hurdling through the air at 100 miles per hour. It could cause major damage.

So right now the way people are being advised in Tallahassee is to stay inside, because once the winds kick off, we have had a few major wind gusts, that's when the problems are going to start. The other thing they're worried about is power outages. When those trees start to topple, they're going to take power lines with them.

There is some power outages already being experienced in Tallahassee. The mayor warning people there is a good chance that almost everyone in this community could lose power and to be prepared for that. But, Jake, we are really just at the front end of what is going to be a very long couple of hours here in Tallahassee. As this potential category 4 storm force storm makes its way here to Florida's capital -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Let's check in with the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, right now, Democrat Andrew Gillum, he's running for governor of Florida right now. But he is off the campaign trail, focused on his day job as mayor.

Mayor Gillum, thanks for joining us. What are the biggest concerns right for people in Tallahassee?

MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM (D), TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA (via telephone): Thank you, Jake.

First of all, our hearts are going out to our friends, our neighbors, down on the coast. We have seen those devastating images coming in.

Obviously, our challenge here in Tallahassee is different than that of the coast. It is the winds. We've got almost 50 percent of our community is covered in tree -- tree cover. That's pretty significant for an urbanized area like us.

The strongest of the winds that we're anticipating will only just now be whipping up between now and about 8:00 tonight. And so, what we want our folks to do is obviously to remain in place, remain in shelter, under their own safety and protection, obviously, until this storm makes its way through and its impacts can be assessed and we can make sure we clear roads and streets for emergency vehicles and otherwise to get to folks.

We are going to have power outages. We've already got 50,000 of our customers that are out of power, including the emergency operations center where I'm coming to you from. We have lost our power. But we, of course, have lots of redundancy in our system and are on generation. But we know our customers are going to be out, but we will work

effectively to get our community back up to 100 percent. The only other thing I would mention to you, Jake, is that we are, because we're the closest neighbor to the coast, are going to be housing a lot of our neighbors who are going to be trying to recover from this devastating storm. And I just want them to know, we're going to do the best we can to help them through this time and get back up on their feet.

TAPPER: The administrator of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said today he's concerned not enough people in the path of the storm evacuated. Is that the case in Tallahassee? And do you think more broadly the storm caught Florida a bit off guard?

GILLUM: Well, I definitely think that the storm sort of cracked on us. I mean, Sunday, I was in a different part of the state, you know, on a different mission. And, all of a sudden, we saw these projections coming in that looked like it was going into the gulf, and potentially up our way, and obviously, got back here to help prepare my community.

But we were not always certain and communities had to act really quickly to get themselves up to speed. It is my hope that those who need to get out got out. I know we have got six shelters, almost seven, in fact. Seven shelters open in our community, where we're taking in folks. We have taken in people from surrounding areas.

And obviously, we're in position to help our neighbors out. But right now we're just hopeful for everybody's safety and security and the aftermath of the devastation that we're seeing.

TAPPER: And, Mr. Mayor, we're told that the emergency operations center in Tallahassee is offline and using generators right now.

[16:15:04] GILLUM: We are.

TAPPER: That's the case. How -- is power out in the rest of the city?

GILLUM: We've got about 120,000 total customers, and about 50,000 are out. And that includes here at our emergency management center.

Like I said, of course, we're in no trouble here. We have lots of redundancy. That's why these centers are so important in communities.

But we do have a significant number of customers that are out, and we, of course, given the wind conditions we're under, cannot send repair crews out at this time. So if you're out, you will be out until the storm has made its way through, and we're able to get out and assess the damage.

TAPPER: You have acknowledged and you're not the first one, that this storm crept up on Florida in a way. Are you concerned that the state is not fully prepared? Is Tallahassee fully prepared?

GILLUM: Yes, well, I can tell you, Tallahassee is prepared. We pre- staged over 100 utility linemen in our community in advance of the storm. On Thursday, we got another almost 500 total that are expected to be here to assist us in our repairing process. That's six times the normal utility linemen we have available to us. We've also got significant generation here for our lights, for our sewer system and our pumping stations.

So, yes, we're prepared. And it is my hope that our neighbors are also able to get themselves ready for the impact of this storm. Either way, we're going to be here for each other.

This region is a close region, lots of people in my community also have homes down at the beach. Many of the folks in this area are very familiar across this part of the state, we're going to do what we can to be there for each other.

TAPPER: Mayor Gillum, you said about 50,000 of the 120,000 customers in Tallahassee for power are without power right now. That includes your emergency operations center, which is on backup generators. How long do you think Tallahassee will be -- those individuals will be without power?

GILLUM: Well, I mean, many of these -- just to put it in perspective, many of those 50 -- once a circuit goes down, you're talking about, you know, 15,000, 20,000 customers on a single circuit. So those fixes are not necessarily long-term, or long in duration. But we're not going to be able to get to them, obviously, until this major storm has gotten past us and we're able to assess and get our crews out on the streets.

I'm the least bit concerned about that process, because I think we're well-placed to recover from it, and to get folks back up and going. Just by comparison, during Hurricane Hermine, we had 90 percent of our system impacted by the storm. Within 72 hours, we had 90 percent of our customers back online.

I'm not assuming it will take that long in this case, but I'm certainly wanting to warn people that we don't have people online right now getting power restored. It's not safe. Once the storm has made its way through, we look forward to obviously getting out there and assessing the damage and getting the system put back together.

TAPPER: Are you confident that the citizens of Tallahassee are aware that even after the storm has passed, the danger has not? In other words, there are downed power lines, there's flash flooding. There are all sorts of ways that Floridians will die, even after the storm has passed.

Do they know that? Are they aware?

GILLUM: Yes, Jake. That's an important warning, right? I mean, very, very few folks die necessarily in the storm itself. It's oftentimes after the impact that's happened, which is why we sent out warning signals saying, listen, stay in your homes, until you're given the all-clear via our various forms of communication, stay in your homes. We have live wires, you got trees down. You have other impacts. The possibility of other live flooding -- flash flooding in our community.

Once we have been able to assess the damage, we will give the all- clear. And we're all on all social media platforms, we're on public radio, able to communicate with our customers and half still have power themselves in their homes. We're going to do our part. We need everybody to do their part so that we don't have folks who make it through this storm and then do something not so smart that puts themselves in danger and in harm's way.

TAPPER: All right. Mr. Mayor, I'm going let you go back to work. If there is anything you need from the state or from the federal government that the citizens of Tallahassee are not getting, you please let us know here at CNN, and we will do what we can to bring attention to what you're saying. Good luck with the storm.

GILLUM: Absolutely. Thank you all. Godspeed and the recovery for everyone.

TAPPER: Yes. Hurricane Michael continuing its devastation in Florida. We're going to talk to Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, next. Stay with us.

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