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Strongest Hurricane To Hit The Florida Panhandle Crashes Into The Coast. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:11] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

The storm is hitting as we speak. The strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history lashing the coast line right now with hours still to come before the center of that storm comes ashore.

Hurricane Michael has top sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. That means we've got gusts that are even faster than that, enough to drive a storm surge that could top 14 feet potentially.

HARLOW: Wow.

SCIUTTO: Catastrophic is the word from the National Hurricane Center. Florida's governor says the time to flee the coast has come and gone. Frankly it's just too late to go now.

HARLOW: And we have our entire team spread across all of the danger zones. Our reporters and crews. Let's begin with Gary Tuchman, he joins us in Shell Point.

Gary, look, it has gotten markedly worse for you there in the last hour.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy and Jim. Things are getting bad quickly and the worst is still yet to come.

This is Shell Point Beach, Florida, Wakulla County, Florida. And a very vulnerable area. This area where we're standing -- this town only has 300 people. It's a fishing town, it's a boating town, it's a tourist town. But it got decimated 13 years ago when the last major hurricane came through here, Hurricane Dennis. And there is a lot of concern.

I think what gives us some comfort from covering hurricanes all these years we always see curiosity seekers lingering, staying behind, deciding not to evacuate. And even with a limited advanced notice of this -- we didn't know we'd have a category 4 hurricane which has never occurred to recording weather history in the Florida Panhandle. We didn't know about until today. We didn't know it'd be category three until yesterday.

We didn't know it was a major hurricane until a day and a half ago. So there wasn't a lot of advance notice for people to leave but what we're seeing is people have scattered. This is a ghost town right now. This area like I said was underwater 13 years ago. People were scared when that happened. They rebuilt. And we talked to one person who lives here before we left about 15 minutes away from here who evacuated away from the Gulf of Mexico, which is just about three blocks away from here and she fully expected not to be able to come back here and see her home the way it is before she left.

So that makes it very sad. But I will tell you right now, there is a lot of concern here. The situation is dire. We can't sugar coat it. This isn't the worst it's going to be. 145 mile-an-hour winds, very dangerous especially for these homes that sit right along the Gulf of Mexico here in Wakulla County, Florida -- Poppy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Do you have a sense -- I mean, because they don't have a history of this there, Gary.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Were there requirements? Legal requirements code to build homes and businesses to withstand winds of this strength?

TUCHMAN: Yes, there certainly are requirements for the sturdiness of these homes. Not all these homes, though, are high enough to survive this. We'll give you an example right here. This home over here is about 25 feet. This one to the right, we're looking, is 40 feet tall. So it gives you an idea, these people are hoping they can survive the storm like this. But this is unprecedented. And that's a very important point to mention.

This is the state of Florida. This is a magnet for hurricanes throughout history. But here you are in the Panhandle of the state from Pensacola to the west, Tallahassee to the east, and they've never had in recorded weather history a category four hurricane before. So this literally is unchartered territory.

SCIUTTO: Gary Tuchman, thanks for staying there with us. A lot of danger for the crews involved who are sticking along the coast line here.

Dianne Gallagher, she's also on the coast line in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Dianne, what do you see in there?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, we came inland to Panama City Beach because we were on the coast line. And look, when it became a category four hurricane it just became too dangerous for us to stay in the location we were in. Just about 30 second ago we experienced some of the strongest gusts of wind that I had felt since about 3:00 this morning. We've been out here, steady rain, the rain has picked up and gone down.

We can feel almost when you talk about these bands coming in from Hurricane Michael here in Panama City Beach. Now look, about 12,000 people live here. A good chunk of them did get out of town. We're on an island, we're connected by a bridge to the mainland. But there was still plenty of people yesterday afternoon, yesterday evening, last night, who were walking around enjoying the beach and the sunset saying that they could definitely ride out a category two. No big deal in their mind.

Well, at this point, Bay County first responders are not going out on calls right now. They said they'll come after the storm. But at this point it's become too dangerous. Now within -- within, excuse me, Panama City Beach, the mayor says that he thinks that so far so good. They're OK. Now look, everybody is stuck with the short notice. Michael formed really, really quickly.

I just want to kind of point out here, the wind is starting to push the rain one direction. It's coming down another direction. So we're starting to get that very typical hurricane rain from all sides right now.

[10:05:04] But the mayor says they think they're going to be OK in good conditions. Several of the shelters here are completely full right now. That's a good sign but I can tell you I talked to a lot of other people last night who said I think I'm just going to ride it out in my home. Again we went to sleep and it was a category two hurricane. When we woke up we had to move ourselves. The hope is that they did the same before the sun came up -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: No question about that, Dianne. Thank you so much to you and your crew who is out there .

With us now on the phone is Greg Brudnicki, the mayor of Panama City, Florida.

You were with us yesterday heading into this, now you're with us in the thick of it. Thank you for joining us. What is the status of people who stayed there? And what first responders are able to do at this point or not do?

MAYOR GREG BRUDNICKI, PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA: Well, you know, the storm, of course, has gotten a lot worse in the last 12 hours. And before I went to bed it was a three and we were thinking it was going to be a four. And we have been preparing for this. OK. We always prepare for the worst. But we have never had the worst so it's really hard to prepare for something that you've never had before.

So what we're doing now is we're telling people, because we've gone through all the different steps, and telling people wherever you are, stay. Do not leave now. We still have some shelters open, but it's now just about too scary to get out on the road. So we want people to hunker down where they are. You know, we've gone through all the preparation. And we're now setting up for all the aftermath of everything that we need to do for people afterwards.

We do have one fire department in Panama City that can still go take somebody to the hospital right now. That is the only one available in the county if something drastic happens. But it will get to the point that we can't even do that. Because right now we're sitting at about 30 to 35 miles an hour sustained. SCIUTTO: Mayor, I know as you mentioned with this one, it just

strengthened more than folks thought it was going to strengthen.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Even the meteorologists, et cetera. Do you have a sense of how many folks stuck it out? Are there hundreds, thousands? How many folks are in danger now because they are still there as the storm hits?

BRUDNICKI: Two thirds of the county, about 120,000 people, were asked -- they're in flood zones A, B and C -- would you please to leave. As of yesterday, for the last night, we probably only had about 25,000 leave. So the people that are staying -- you know, it's all built on years and years of complacency because we have -- you know, we've said it's going to be bad, it's going to be bad, it's going to be bad for so many years and it never turned out.

And so there -- you know, the odds are that eventually we would get a bad one. And we've got a bad one. So I'm hoping that people just try to keep themselves as safe as possible and that, you know, if there's power lines down, don't go out and look for -- to see what's going on. Just, you know, stay in a safe place, get away from windows. Because eventually when you get those, you know, 100-mile-an-hour winds you can have a projectile that gets blown from your neighbor's yard across the street and go through a window.

So please stay home. And as long as you guys are on telling people that, as long as we've got power, then hopefully they'll understand.

SCIUTTO: Well, you heard that there from a mayor in the middle of it. Please stay home now.

HARLOW: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Shelter in place. That is the consistent advice.

Mayor Greg Brudnicki, thanks very much.

I want to go back to Gary Tuchman now because listen, the storm conditions are changing every moment now. And just the last couple of moments it's gotten a lot worse, Gary. Tell us what you're seeing.

TUCHMAN: Yes, Jim, the conditions continue to deteriorate. We expect that to happen for the next several hours here. What's amazing when we arrived an hour and a half ago (INAUDIBLE) it was calm. And always amazing after covering hurricanes all these years is you think it is not going to be as bad as expected. And then it starts coming down. The bands move in and you realize you're in for a nightmare scenario. And that's precisely, Jim, people are going to experience in this part of the Florida Panhandle.

This particular part of town, Shell Point Beach, only a small population. A very popular tourist area. And the problem is for the people who live in this community in Wakulla County, Florida, this is to the east of Panama City where the eye is supposed to cross and counter clockwise movement of hurricanes means that the east part of the storm gets the highest winds. They call it the dirty side of the hurricane.

So this area is in extreme danger. Plus the most important point to bring, the elevation here is extremely low. The elevation is 10 feet. And it's expected that the surge can go up to 14 feet. So there's a lot of concern for people who live here, people who love it here, may know that this town and this area where a mandatory evacuation order is in effect since 8:00 p.m., most people seemed to have abided by it. But they are aware that this area is extremely vulnerable and the worst is yet to come.

[10:10:05] SCIUTTO: Listen, storm surge is deadly.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: We have been hearing that consistently. You've got to watch out.

Gary Tuchman, thanks very much.

You've been seeing the view from the ground as this storm approaches. We're going to take you up in the air. Now Ian Sears, he is on a plane flying through Hurricane Michael. This is what these folks do. Storm chasers --

HARLOW: Wow. Yes.

SCIUTTO: He's flight director for the NOAA Hurricane Hunters.

Ian, tell us what you're seeing there now with this storm.

IAN SEARS, FLIGHT METEOROLOGIST, HURRICANE HUNTERS: Good morning, everybody. It's a very strong Hurricane Michael. The pressures are still falling. The wind is still rising. And this is a very dangerous situation for anybody in the path. And as the mayor was saying, preparations should be complete and you need to hunker down if you are in harm's way.

And it is a relatively large storm, too. So the impacts are further away just from where the absolute eye makes landfall. And that's part of the state, there's lots of trees. The wind is going to be blowing and it's going to be blowing hard and knocking trees down and power lines and that sort of thing.

Also it's going to dump a lot of rain and a lot of flooding, and so make sure that you are staying safe and not driving through any flooded roads. So this is a powerful hurricane, probably one of the strongest that I have ever flown through.

HARLOW: No question you're bouncing around a lot up there. And for our viewers who don't know, you are up in that plane getting the latest data from the middle of it for eight hours straight which is remarkable.

Look, people went to bed last night, they were looking at a cat two, possibly a cat three storm. They wake up this morning, all of a sudden they hear it is, you know, making its most intense landfall in a few hours. It's a cat four. Are you surprised at how quickly this strengthened?

SEARS: I'm never surprised. It's one of those things that even though it can happen and it doesn't always happen like this, you need to be always prepared for these kinds of scenarios and these kinds of situations where hurricanes rapidly intensify. And so that's one of the reasons why we are doing what we are doing is to make sure that we can provide the best data that we can for the folks who are trying to figure out exactly how strong the hurricane is going to be, how big it's going to be and where it's going to go, make sure that the people that are in harm's way are properly prepared. And it's something that isn't uncommon. It's very hard to forecast.

SCIUTTO: One unusual thing about this storm is that those winds, they are 140, 145 now is that they are expected to sustain even after the storm hits land. How is that possible?

SEARS: I'm not aware of how it is going to maintain its intensity after it hits land. The standard is, once the storm makes landfall, that's the eye in the eye wall. Once that comes on shore, the hurricane should start to dissipate in strength. But that doesn't mean that the impacts aren't going to be large and wide felt for a great deal of time. The winds are still going to be blowing and there's still going to be flooding and there's still going to be storm surge long after the hurricane makes landfall.

So I wouldn't focus on whatever the intensity is, but what are the impacts where you are?

HARLOW: Yes.

SEARS: Are you in a flood prone area? Are you in an area where you're going to have lots of trees down and power lines down? And just keep yourself and your family safe. That's the most important thing and that's why we're out here to help people do that.

HARLOW: OK. Ian Sears, thank you for doing that for all of us and helping keep everyone safe and up to date with the latest information. We appreciate it. Stay safe.

SCIUTTO: A vision of this storm from right in the middle of the storm up in the air. We are following all the breaking news on this hurricane. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[10:18:16] SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There is going to be a killer storm surge in this event. Nine, 10, 11 feet, no one is going to survive that. Low lying areas, the Gulf of Mexico is kind of like a basin of water all being pushed up on people. And if you're still there when that comes in, you're going to die. There's things you can do to protect against 140 -- you know, 135

mile-an-hour winds or whatever it comes in, but you can't protect against flooding. You will die in a storm surge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That is about as severe a warning as you can get from Florida Senator Marco Rubio. You will die if you are confronted with that storm surge.

SCIUTTO: It's a consistent message and defying a lot of folks down here who are saying listen, I'm going to ride it out, stick it out. That sort of thing.

HARLOW: Because there have been so many warnings for storms like this. But this one truly is historic.

SCIUTTO: True.

HARLOW: Chad Myers is with us now, our meteorologist on top all of this. So what are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'll tell you why the storm surge is going to be so bad. And I'll tell you what I saw in Dennis in 2005 right where Gary is right now. We've had wind in this direction now for a couple of days. And all that water is piling up into Apalachee Bay. And our Gary Tuchman is right there, right almost ground zero, although I would suspect Saint Marks again would be ground zero. And that's where the 14-foot of surge will be.

Most of the town of Saint Marks is not higher than 14 feet above sea level. And that's why that surge is going to run into that town. 140 miles per hour right out of the aircraft just now that you just talked to the man inside of it. They put a little buoy outside. It comes down in a parachute. And it found a wind to 140 at the surface, 165 at 7,000 feet. Now no one is living up except him at 7,000 feet. There is the storm right there. We do have a tornado watch on the east side. But the real threat is the surge, 12 feet of surge easy in some spots.

[10:20:07] Also 140 miles per hour will knock down most structures and certainly will knock down most trees that are now sitting in very wet soil because it has been raining for 12 or 14 hours.

There you go. On land at 145 miles per hour somewhere between the 2:00 and 4:00 hour with the center of the eye. Now the eye wall will come on shore a little sooner than that. Let me show you a radar that is -- it's mesmerizing. And you can go on Twitter and you can find the link to this. It's pretty easy.

Here is Panama City. That is right where our Gary Tuchman is right there. Derek Van Dam in Apalachicola. Let me zoom into this. You can see the eye. And the eye has something called mezo vortexes. They're little spins inside the eye itself. And if you get run over by one of those dents in that what should be a circular eye, you will get significantly higher wind than the eye itself just around it. Here is what the satellite looks like really close in. Amazing things

that NOAA and NASA have done over the past few years for our data arrival, our data retrieval, things that we can actually see and learn from and know what's going on. It's the surge that will kill you because it is water. I know people are saying you've got a high (INAUDIBLE), yes, it's time to hide. But if you hide I want you to have shoes on, I want you to have clothes on. I want you to have a helmet on if you can. If you don't have shoes on and you have to get out and you can't find your shoes, guess what's in your yard, boards with nails sticking out of them. So be prepared if you're going to hunker down because 140 is going to tear up a lot of stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Hey, Chad, I just want to ask you, because you know this better than anyone. A lot of these conditions here, a storm that was sort of underestimated at the start, it has strengthened as it's gone to shore, big storm surge, reminds me of Hurricane Katrina. It's that -- unless it's far too early to go there. But is that a fair comparison? Folks should be prepared for conditions like that?

MYERS: The difference between Katrina and this storm is that Katrina was in the water in the southern Gulf of Mexico as a cat five and then it was building its storm surge. And as it was coming onshore, it was losing its wind speed but still had its surge. And so if you get over here toward Bay Saint Louis that surge was 26 feet. It was insane. It just -- you can't put your mind around. Two and 1/2 story buildings were getting carried away by the water to those waves that are coming in.

Here we're talking about 13 to 14 feet. That's still very high because most of these buildings are right there on the sea shore. They are not that -- no more than five feet above sea level.

SCIUTTO: All right. Chad Myers, thanks very much. Now get on that still.

Let's go to CNN's Erica Hill, she is on the coast line there in Destin, Florida. Tell us what it's like now.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we're definitely seeing the wind pick up. In fact if I just look at the water here in the harbor behind me you can see -- any time you've looked at the water during a wind and rain event, you can see those ripples across. That is picking up. The rain is picking up as we are starting to feel more effects of the storm. So keep in mind, we're on the west side of the storm, we're about 40, 45 miles west of Panama City and Panama City Beach.

Is that a good thing for folks here? Yes. Does it mean they're totally out of the clear? It does not at all. The storm surge here predicted to be five to eight feet. There is an evacuation order in place for areas south of Highway 98. That's where we find out selves and we know from the governor that they are focusing very clearly on that highway that runs along the Panhandle. And even folks here who have weathered other storms including Opal in

'95, you hear a lot of folks here referenced that. A lot of people have said, you know what, I'm getting out. We know from the mayor that as of 11:00 last night holiday isle, which is just south of where I am right here. Because there are probably about two dozen people there last night. He doesn't expect them all to be there today.

We know of at least one person who planned to shelter on their sail boat in the harbor, just a little ways from me, the sheriff's office has not been able to make contact with that man this morning. They can't get out of the boat right now. They said they can't check on him until after the storm. And this echoes what we hear every single time. You have to leave when you're told to leave because they can't come get you. It is not safe during this event. And that's exactly what Governor Scott said a short time ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: There are 54 shelters that are open across the state. And again, local officials here tell us they were heartened by the response that they saw in the early part of the week when the evacuation order went into place, that people were getting out of town.

[10:25:07] One captain with the sheriff's department for the county telling me people were responding better this time around than they had to the previous three storms. And just in terms of, you know, Jim and Poppy, you were just talking to Chad about this, in terms of the warning, we watched Florence for so long build up as it made its way over into the Carolinas. You have a lot of hearty seasoned the Gulf Coast residents here. A number of them are fisher men including the mayor with a 40-year career as a fisherman, he said to me when we watch this storm we all had to wait and see until it got into the Gulf because that's when we can really tell what's going to happened.

He said as soon as it got into the Gulf, that's when the warnings went out, that's when we started to talk about it. He thinks there was enough time in his area to tell people to get out. He thinks that Tallahassee, in his words, has done an exceptional job. But he says unfortunately, the state has gotten a little too good at preparation in his view because of the history of the storms that they have seen and the last few weeks here definitely an indication of that history -- guys.

HARLOW: Yes. All good points. Erica Hill, thank you for being in the mix of it. We'll get back to you very soon. Erica was just talking about Tallahassee just hours away from getting

slammed by Hurricane Michael. We're going to go there for an update right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)