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Monstrous Cat 4 Hurricane to Make Landfall in Florida in a Few Hours Time; FEMA Administrator Gives Update on Category 4 Hurricane Michael. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world this morning as we track this monster storm.

It is not just the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. this year. It is the strongest to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history, and that's at least a century and a half.

Right now Hurricane Michael is battering the Panhandle with wind and rain that will only get heavier until the center makes land fall four or five hours from right now.

SCIUTTO: Making matters worse, if that's possible, Michael still getting stronger. Overnight it crossed the category four threshold. Now it's top sustained winds 145 miles an hour.

We have reporters and crews up and down the East Coast. Let's begin with CNN's Erica Hill. She is in Destin.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, guys. Good morning. As you mentioned, strengthening overnight and a lot of folks are waking up here to that sobering news. In fact local officials I've checked in with said not a lot has changed overnight except this is a category four. And there will be wind, there will be significant rain and a storm surge here in Destin that they are absolutely concerned about.

In fact all areas south of Highway 98 are a major concern. This is the evacuation zone that we are in. And again, folks here tell me you can't say it's mandatory evacuation. They want you out, but they can't pull you out of your house. That's why they go around and they talk to people individually.

Here in Destin, that actually means going around to boats in the harbor and telling people it is time to leave. There is one man we know of who's riding it out on a sailboat. The marine sergeant is actually checking on him this morning. And we'll find out if he plans to stay through this category four.

The latest word from Governor Rick Scott, it is very clear. Take a listen to what he has to say who folks -- to folks who have decided at this point not to leave.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: If you are in a coastal area, do not leave your house. The time to evacuate in coastal areas has come and gone. Listen to local officials. If you are in inland county, you may have one last chance to seek shelter, but only do so if local officials say it's safe. Again, if you made the choice not to evacuate, please find a place of shelter. Seek a place of refuge.


HILL: There are 54 shelters across this state. We can tell you in Walton County alone, we know that 500 people are sheltering there. And just to give you a sense, too, when we're hear even if you're inland wait and listen to local officials, this is going to move further inland as we know.

Another major focus for both local officials and for state officials are the bridges. So just behind me is the Marler Bridge. This spans a half mile between Destin and Okaloosa Island on over into Fort Walton Beach area. Once the winds hit 39 miles per hour, the state says that is when they need to close the bridges.

And what's really important is for people who decided not to leave in some places there is one way in and there is one way out. And that means they could be trapped for some time. As we know first responders can't get out there to help you during the storm and depending on the damage in the aftermath, they may not be able to get out there for some time as well.

Just about 40, 45 miles east of where I am is Panama City Beach, and that is where we are expecting to see this storm roar ashore. Folks preparing there. That's where we find Dianne Gallagher -- Dianne.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, we just got a pretty big gust of wind here. And we have just been told Bay County emergency responders are at this point no longer going to be responding to calls because it is about to get too dangerous for them.

Now we actually ourselves had to move. I'm in a much safer location a little bit further inland on the island. We were on the beach. When we went to sleep last night, it was a strong category two storm. Michael, by the time we woke up, was a category four storm and the structure we were in, that location probably could not withstand that.

And there were a lot of people in that same situation, Erica, who woke up this morning in Panama City Beach and suddenly the place they plan to ride the storm out, if they chose to stay, was perhaps no longer safe for them to do that.

Now again we're kind of in a little bit of a break. We've been dealing with this since about 4:00, 3:00 this morning, these bands of wind and rain. Some of the trees have been bending a little bit and coming back. At this point again we're in a little bit of a lull here, but we are further inland on the island. We're looking at the storm surge of between seven and 11 feet in

Panama City Beach and rainfall could be between six and 10 inches. So this is a major water event in addition to the intense winds we're going to be feeling here.

Now, look, they have structures that are OK for this. But up until about an hour ago, we were still seeing people who, again, woke up to this category four storm and started panicking. The Facebook page of the sheriff's office was full of people saying, I don't know what to do now. I'm in a mobile home park, I thought I could ride this out. Or I'm in a small one-story home, I thought I could get on my roof and now I'm afraid. I don't know where to go.

[09:05:04] Now, look, they have 54 shelters open around the Panhandle area for people. Some of them here in Bay County were already full. Now they opened additional ones to sort of deal with that. But at this point we are in a shelter in place. I've received two emergency notifications within the past hour and a half letting us know you got to stay where you are. It is not safe for you to leave right now.

Again we're starting to see the wind come back again. This is the best it's going to be all morning. It's only going to get worse from here, and we are aware of that, Erica. But look, unfortunately, I have seen some cars on the road this morning who are driving. We did see people out last night, again, who seriously said to me, I have ridden out a cat two before. Not that big of a deal.

For some of them, if they are not awake yet, I mean, they're waking up to something that is a much different scenario here in Panama City Beach.

HILL: And that is so true. The people you speak with, Dianne, I know you've done this, too, who say, I rode out a category two. I was here for X storm. I can get through this one. The message here is exactly the same as what you're hearing in Panama City Beach from local officials. Just because you may have been here for another one does not mean that you can ride out this storm.

I will say local officials here telling me they were heartened by the response they saw for the initial evacuation order. They were happy to see lines at gas stations. They say people were actually cooperating, being helpful and polite to one another. But they like that they were heeding the warnings because they will often say, you know, during Opal, and that is a sentence that starts a lot of different reflections.

It's about how people listened or didn't. One official telling me we had people because they waited so long to evacuate during Opal in 1995 riding out this storm on I-10 or on I-65 and that is the last thing they want. So when they see people moving, that is a very good sign. But again officials I spoke with here this morning as well telling me this has changed overnight. This is now a category four.

And Jim and Poppy, it will be interesting to see how much that has changed for some of the folks who thought that they could ride this out overnight because as we know now that window has closed for many people to evacuate.

HARLOW: OK. Erica, thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: CNN meteorologist Chad Myers tracking this monster storm from the CNN weather center.

Chad, what strikes me about this is that there was not a lot of lead time on this, at least in people's attention span.


SCIUTTO: And then over the last 24, 48 hours, those warm waters there strengthened the storm. Was that surprising?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It did surprise me because yesterday at this time I was saying it's going to be 125 plus or minus 10 percent. That's typically what you get in a 24-hour forecast. It could be 10 percent higher, 10 percent lower, depending on if the eye gets exactly there or not. And we're well above 10 percent, 10 percent of 125 would have been, well, be 137. And now we're looking at 145.

The eye is getting a little bit bigger, though. I can see this on the satellite picture now. As the eye gets a little bit bigger, kind of like the ice skater putting her arms out as she's spinning on one leg, may slow that spin just a touch. We're getting much more shallow water right now where we are. We're in very deep Gulf of Mexico water.

Now we're on the shelf. The shelf doesn't have as much heat content as the deep water did. So we'll have to see whether it does lose a little bit of intensity. At least we could hope for that. We do have a tornado watch, though, on the northeast quadrant. That includes Panama City, Apalachicola as well.

We'll zoom you in to our reporters. One in Apalachicola. Every time you get one of these bands to go by, your winds are going to go from 30 to 60. And next hour, it's going to be 40 to 70. Next hour 50 to 90. And so that -- as it gets closer, every single one of these bands is more impressive than the last. So that's where we are now. Backing our crews out of the way, getting them away from the water and such because, you know what, this isn't worth losing any lives over here.

Hopefully you're out of the way and just watching from home. We'll have pictures there with an unmanned camera. You can just watch it all you want. There you go, Panama City. You're probably still the middle where this is going to make land fall. And there you go, nine to 14 feet right around Apalachicola and points east ward. That would include Mexico Beach as well.

But wait, 100-mile-per-hour winds or more. So not just Florida, but Georgia, Tallahassee, Macon, all the way on up to Albany. And then we get into the area that's already wet from Florence, and you're going to see wind gusts there of 60 so (INAUDIBLE) from a land falling hurricane (INAUDIBLE) watches, tropical storm watches and warnings all the way posted from the Carolinas all the way back into Florida as it goes on.

We do have hurricane hunter aircraft in the storm right now. If anything changes with these numbers, I will break right in -- guys.


HARLOW: Good. Yes.

SCIUTTO: It's amazing these hurricane strength force winds will extent inland all the way --

HARLOW: All the way.

SCIUTTO: To the state of Florida.

HARLOW: Yes, into the Carolinas.

SCIUTTO: Back in Carolinas.

HARLOW: Yes. With all the rain. And we do have one of those NOAA pilots who's going to be with us flying into the storm for eight hours on end joining us in a little bit.

Chad, thank you for everything, to you and your team.

With us now is Robert Carroll, District Two commissioner in Bay County, Florida.

[09:10:04] We appreciate you taking the time this morning. We know how busy you and your teams are. And let me get right to some news that just crossed. And that is, sir, that apparently the county officials there are unable to respond to calls for help at this point from some folks due to the intensity of the storm and the rain already. Is that right?

ROBERT CARROLL, DISTRICT TWO COMMISSIONER, BAY COUNTY, FLORIDA: Yes, ma'am, that is correct. It's too dangerous for our first responders to be out. So therefore they've made the call. And we will get to them as soon as we can. As of right now, no one needs to be on the roads.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, this is an incredible thing is that so often with these storms, Robert, you give the warnings. You give fair warning to folks. You tell them get out now, you tell them that they'll be putting rescue teams at risk if they stay. And yet many people don't heed those warnings. I suppose the trouble now is that it's too late for many of them to leave.

CARROLL: Yes, that's correct. We open the shelters. We had to continue opening shelters because they kept filling up. People have left so hopefully had listened. They've left. The call volume is low so hopefully everyone has gotten the message. All we can do now is sit and wait. And then after it's over we'll get out and evaluate and get to anybody that needs us.

HARLOW: I know you've said it is too dangerous for even the first responders to be on the road right now. Does that mean that any of those temporary shelters that have been set up that may be, you know, less than a mile away from some folks home that decided to stay home that they shouldn't even attempt at this point to go to those shelters?

CARROLL: We have asked everyone to shelter in place. We're starting to get some really strong gusts and it's just the safest to stay where you're at. They've waited this long. They just need to stay where they're at and be safe.

SCIUTTO: Do you feel a bit -- because this storm is kind of 11th hour strengthening here as it's gotten closer to the coast has made it bigger than a lot of folks expected. Chad Myers, our meteorologist, said that just a few moments ago. Did you feel like you had too little time to prepare for this?

CARROLL: Yes, absolutely. I think it snuck up on all of us. We were all watching it a week ago. And, you know, we see these storms every year, but this one really --

HARLOW: Right.

CARROLL: It caught some people off guard.

HARLOW: OK. Commissioner Robert Carroll, thank you for being with us. And good luck to you and your team, and all those first responders that will again be out there helping folks.

SCIUTTO: Yes, hang in there. We'll be thinking of you certainly. We're going to continue to cover this story on top of all the breaking news out of Florida. Category four, that means 140 miles an hour and up. Hurricane Michael lashing the Panhandle as we speak. FEMA will be giving an update in just moments.


[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Right now, Hurricane Michael barreling towards the Florida panhandle. The monstrous category four storm, that means 140 miles an hour, winds and up, would be the most powerful hurricane to hit this area of the state of Florida in history.

HARLOW: It's incredible. Right now, you've got winds topping 145 miles an hour. They are, if you can believe it, expected to get stronger before making land fall. In just a few hours, let's go to our colleague Gary Tuchman, he's in Shell Point Beach, Florida.

Gary, we can see the wind whipping you right now. what have you felt and what's expected?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy and Jim, you can't overestimate the fear of the people who live here and the fear of the people who love it here.

We're east of Panama City, Florida, we're south of Tallahassee. This is the so-called dirty side of the hurricane where the strongest winds will come. And the reason people are so fearful and the reason most people gone, there is a mandatory evacuation, is because the elevation here is 10 feet, and the storm surge is expected to be up to 14 feet.

Back to 2005, 13 years ago, a hurricane came through here, heavily decimated this area. As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons homes like this were built. This is 40 feet tall, this house, and this is the new construction. People love living here, but obviously they're very vulnerable.

So there is a lot of concern, mandatory evacuation orders in place. This water back here, this is a canal. This is not from the flooding yet. But when we got here, when the sun came up, it was very low.

And now that's starting to come over the top. So once again, mandatory evacuation in place. Most of the people are gone, that's good news. But that is something we can't emphasize enough, that in recorded weather history, there has never been a category four hurricane to hit the panhandle of Florida, and right here, we're east of where the eye is going to cross, and the winds will be at their highest level right where we're standing. Poppy --

SCIUTTO: Right, quick question now is the area there adequately prepared --

HARLOW: Like the building --

SCIUTTO: In light of that --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Yes, Gary Tuchman, thanks very much. We'll be going now to FEMA in the midst of the presser that is -- just started a press updating on the conditions there.

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: The other thing is that the citizens in Georgia need to wake up and pay attention. Bottom line is, this is going to be the worst storm that Southwest Georgia and Central Georgia has seen in many decades. If not the worst storm that the state has seen, and it's going to pass through and impact numerous counties.

High winds are going to impact, you know, the vegetation that's there, bringing down trees, bringing down power lines with them. They need to be prepared not only Florida, but also Georgia needs to be prepared to see the power off for multiple weeks as this system pushes through.

Another unfortunate aspect is the rainfall that's going to be associated with this storm as it pushes through South and North Carolina. Hopefully the forward speed of the storm will reduce the amount of rain fall that South Carolina and North Carolina sees.

But as you all know, Florence passed through the Cape Fear River and other river basins have yet to recede back to normal river levels. And any amount of rainfall through South and North Carolina is not welcomed. But unfortunately, it's going to be a reality and it's going to cause problems as it pushes through as well. [09:20:00] So right now, FEMA has nearly 3,000 people in the field,

that doesn't include all of our federal partners that are there. We're doing everything that we can to pre-position not only incident management teams and disaster medical teams, but also rotary aircraft ready to go to support search and rescue missions.

We have search and rescue teams staged to be able to move into Florida and to areas highly impacted, but in Florida, but also in Georgia as well. In regards to commodities, you know, the state of Florida has strong capability that we're working hand-in-hand with right now.

You know, they have staging and distribution capability in Orlando, we've staged commodities and teams in Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama as well as in Atlanta ready to move in as soon as we can do so and push through. You know, the great communication just got off the phone with Governor Scott.

You know, the governor is leaning forward, doing everything that he can to position the state to be able to help his citizens. Last night, they made a very good move by using the wireless emergency alert system to let people know that this storm is getting stronger and stronger, and you need to leave.

This is the final call for anybody that needs to get out, try to do so. Those who stick around to experience storm surge don't typically live to tell about it unfortunately. And with that, again, I want to reiterate, it's a whole community effort, not only the response part, but the recovery.

It's going to take neighbor helping neighbor, citizens getting involved that haven't been impacted, donating their time and their money to help citizens recover all the way up to the federal government. So we ask you always to download the FEMA app, go to if you know, receive impacts from the storm.

HARLOW: All right, there is FEMA administrator Brock Long warning not only of this monster storm, this historic hurricane that is heading toward the Florida panhandle, but also warning residents all the way up in Georgia, saying in Georgia, you need to wake up to this and wake up to the risk here and what this is going to bring --

SCIUTTO: Yes, with Florence, just seems so long ago, but it wasn't long ago --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: And certainly, it was just rain --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Inland, but this is both rain and wind --

HARLOW: Wind --

SCIUTTO: Inland. A lot of folks are going to be affected by this, millions of people. Joining us now is Mike Thomas; he is the mayor of Panama City Beach, Florida, which you could see there is right in the red zone of where this storm is striking land.

Mayor Thomas, thanks for joining this morning. We know you got a lot on your plate. Tell us -- tell us how the city is responding to this.

MAYOR MIKE THOMAS, PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, the city has done everything they can do to be ready. And we've been fortunate, we've got good infrastructure in our city and we're a little short on roads. But right now, we don't need them because it's not helping people here.

HARLOW: So what --

THOMAS: And we're in pretty good shape.

HARLOW: Glad to hear that. What is the position for first responders right now? There are people who failed to evacuate despite the warnings and are calling on your first responders right now. Are they able to get out and help at this point?

THOMAS: Right now, they are. But when the winds get over 50 miles an hour, we aren't sending anybody out. I think we're not going to risk the lives of our first responders to get out and help somebody that chose not to leave. It's just not fair.

SCIUTTO: There's a sort of false bravery, isn't there? Folks saying they're going to stick it out, ride this out. But what happens, I imagine, as you say is, it puts others at risk.

THOMAS: Well, we have a problem with that during red flags in the surf and during hurricanes and everything. But those people have families too, and we're just not going to risk their lives to help somebody that chose to do different.

HARLOW: You know, we heard Governor Scott, Governor Rick Scott of Florida say this morning, his fear is that a lot of people don't realize the impact of the storm surge here, particularly, given that you are the mayor of Panama City Beach.

You know, you look at a six foot storm-surge and what that can do, nine feet can be deadly and you're looking at somewhere upwards of predictions of 13 feet. What's your concern on that front?

THOMAS: We're lucky that a lot of our city, the elevation is pretty good. But along the coast, we're going to catch a lot of grief. The rest of our county, I was county commissioner for several years and we've got some problems at the county with elevation.

But in our city, we're fairly lucky. And it's impossible to say enough for the job that the governor has done. Governor Scott has everybody around us standing by ready. It's like the FEMA man said.

It's -- we're mighty blessed to be in the situation we're in. It's going to be horrible. We're going to get some people hurt, we're going to have an awful lot of destruction, but we've prepared for everything you can prepare for.

HARLOW: OK, well, we are wishing you, everyone there, you know, the best as you make it through the next few hours there in the aftermath. And our thanks in advance to all the first responders. Mayor, thank you.

[09:25:00] You've got watches and warnings for this powerful historic hurricane reaching across six states. The governor of Florida saying, it's too late to evacuate. Our special coverage of Hurricane Michael continues in just a minute.


SCIUTTO: Well, if you're in the storm's path and you haven't gotten out, hunker down. That is the word from the governor of Florida as monstrous Hurricane Michael lashes the panhandle.

HARLOW: People who defied those evacuation orders are now being told that it's too late. Shelter in place as the strongest panhandle hurricane on record in over a century and a half is set to make landfall in just a few hours.

Michael is an extremely dangerous category four storm with top sustained winds of 145 miles an hour and still intensifying.

SCIUTTO: Let's get back to Cnn's Erica Hill, she's in Destin, Florida right in the path there. Erica, how is it looking?

HILL: You know, we're in a little bit of a lull right now, which I'm not going to lie to you, is a nice break, but we are not expecting it to last for too long. I actually want to bring in the mayor of Destin here, Gary Jarvis who is with me.

You're not just the mayor, but you have spent more than 40 years as a charter boat fishing captain here. You know these waters, you know how to look at these storms. When you woke up this morning and saw that now it was now a category four, how are you feeling?