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Hurricane Pummels Florida Panhandle, Strongest On Record. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:09] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, breaking news, the monstrous storm that just won't quit. Michael is on the move. The devastating hurricane at this hour lashing Georgia, Alabama, and on its way to the already hurricane ravaged Carolinas. Michael slammed ashore near Mexico Beach, Florida, at midday today, making landfall as an incredibly powerful life threatening category 4 storm with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. Those are the sustained maximum winds.

We're showing you here the catastrophic winds of Michael's eye wall as it tore into Panama City beach. They predicted this storm was going to be one for the books, and it already is. The strongest hurricane to hit the Florida panhandle in reported history, and the strongest storm to hit the continental United States since Hurricane Andrew more than a quarter century ago.

Marked by its devastating winds, of course, the storm ripping off the roof of this hotel, I mean, honestly, like it's a toy. But the greatest danger to life is massive storm surges. It's always the water, huge walls of ocean water topping 14 feet in some areas and as bad as this is that we're seeing here, the danger is far from over.

Our reporters are spread out across the panhandle tonight to give you some perspective. I want to begin, though, with Scott McLean. He's out front tonight in Albany, Georgia, where the hurricane is headed right now. Scott, what are you seeing there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Well, you can see the wind, you can see the rain really starting to come down. Within the next hour, maybe hour and a half is with when we're going to start to see really the peak of this, the worst conditions to come and perhaps an even more telling sign is actually right over there behind me that dark building you see in the distance there. That's a waffle house and it is closed. It closed about an hour ago.

If you've been through hurricanes before, you know that one of the most reliable places to stay open is the waffle house restaurant. So perhaps that is a sign of just how severe this storm is and how seriously they are taking it. We're talking about wind gusts 70, perhaps even 75 miles per hour and sustained winds of 40, maybe 50 miles per hour. That is important to note because I spoke to the fire chief earlier today and he says, look, first responders, they will not be going out responding to calls once winds reach 35 miles per hour sustained. That could be potentially a two-hour window where if you call 911, nobody is going to come and respond.

Of course we knew that this hurricane was going to hit and hit hard along the coastline but perhaps not as many people expected it to reach this far inland. The schools in this area and Albany, they are closed today. They are expected to be closed tomorrow as well. But this area is not evacuated. There's another one of those gusts coming up, Kate.

But when I asked officials why this area was not evacuated, they said, look, you have to drive a very long way in order to get out of, really, the affected area, and so you'd have to go quite far to really get out of harm's way so it's simply not practical in this case. Of course the more vulnerable people were asked to leave. For everybody else, though, they want them to stay inside of their homes.

In this area, if you live in a mobile home or less sturdy structure, of course they want you out to be staying with friends or going to one of the shelters that they've set up. We know there's a couple hundred shelters in -- a couple hundred people, excuse me, in those shelters. Officials they are expecting those numbers to rise as the worst of this weather really starts to rip through this area, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Scott, I mean, I can just see those gusts there are looking brutal where you are, and it's really amazing to think that this started early today, heading through the panhandle and now just beginning to hit you. I've been watching you throughout the evening and it's -- these bands are just really starting to come your way. Can you describe where you are? I just want to make sure you're safe.

MCLEAN: Yes. So, we're actually just outside of a hotel right now, because we want to keep the power as long as there is power in this area. We're just on the outskirts of Albany, but that center of that tornado or that hurricane, excuse me, it is coming straight for this area, and so that's why we're seeing, really, those really strong gusts of wind, these really strong bands of rain. They are concerned about flash flooding in this area. They think that river flooding, perhaps, because it's such a fast-moving storm may not be as big of a concern, but flash flooding certainly is. And so, over the past couple of days, they have been providing sand, providing sandbags for people, they're trying to protect their homes for whatever may come their way.

But one more thing to point out, Kate, is that it's not just people that are going to be affected by this. It is an entire industry. This area is very big for agriculture. We're talking about pecans, we're talking cotton, peanuts, things like that and they are expecting multimillion dollars in losses from this hurricane, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Scott, thank you so much. Looks like it's just about beginning for you. We'll stick close to you. Thank you.

I want to go from Georgia now back down to Florida where John Berman is out front in Panama City where there is catastrophic damage.

[19:05:04] Oh, man, John, I can see it right behind you. You've been in it all day and this is what's left afterwards.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Kate. I almost can't believe that we're hearing Scott McLean from Albany, Georgia right now. He's beginning getting hit by the storm. When it doesn't feel that long ago that I was standing outside in 100-plus miles per hour winds. The winds here in Panama City did reach over 100 miles per hour sustained winds for quite sometime, gusts of 120 miles per hour and we have had a chance now to assess some of the damage nearby.

This was a gas station. You can see the corrugated metal awning that was above here simply torn off, twisted about, metal everywhere, and, you know, strewn about is some of these pieces of debris that were really projectiles all during the storm and what made it so dangerous to be walking about. We also have a different view, I think it's still light enough to show you, of some of the other damage in and around Panama City beach.

Down this street here, as we pan around, you can see some of these pine trees snapped in half. The power lines now down, these roads very difficult to navigate. Even still, I have to say, there are many, many people about now. A lot of people driving around, trying to check out the damage, maybe returning home, which is why on our phones, just a short time ago, Kate, we got one of these alerts where your phone beeps like crazy and it said that a mandatory curfew is in place as of now in this county until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. Violators will be arrested. They don't want people out on the streets now and there simply are too many people going around looking at all this damage, Kate?

BOLDUAN: I mean, because all you have to do is look behind you. With that coming down behind you, you know there's power lines down, you know there's -- I mean, there could be gas leaks. There's -- I mean, it all -- there's the initial hit and then the aftermath.

John, thank you so much. We'll get back to you. Appreciate it, Berman.

So some of the worst damage that we are seeing so far is coming out of Mexico Beach, Florida. Joining me right now on the phone is Mexico Beach Councilwoman Linda Albrecht. Councilwoman, can you hear me?

LINDA ALBRECHT, COUNCILWOMAN, MEXICO BEACH (through phone): Yes, I can Kate. Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. I really appreciate you jumping on the phone with me tonight. You evacuated. You are safe. You followed the evacuation orders, but when you look at some of these pictures that we're seeing of some of the worst destruction, really, that we've seen yet from Hurricane Michael, being in Mexico Beach, your hometown, what are you thinking?

ALBRECHT (through phone): I am drained. The tears have been flowing all afternoon. It is -- it's something that I've never been -- I couldn't even imagine how frustrating and debilitating it is. It feels like a nightmare. Somebody needs to come and shake you up and wake you up. And looking at the pictures, I'm thinking, there's not a house left in that town. We're only, like, three miles by two miles. I can't even imagine. I know somebody who's six blocks away from the Gulf of Mexico. Their house is under water. And I don't know about my house.

I've had people say I'm sorry about your house, but I haven't had any specifics. I don't know if it's under water. I don't know if it's just torn to shreds or if a miracle happened and it's half there. I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Look, there's always the chance that there's a miracle but you're right across from the beach and what we've seen and heard from folks is --

ALBRECHT (through phone): Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- it seems there's a good chance you're going to be looking at something pretty bad to return home to.

ALBRECHT (through phone): Yes. I'm expecting the worst. I know you shouldn't be. I know you should be optimistic, but at this point, I am expecting the worst and I will be thrilled if I see any glimmer of hope.

BOLDUAN: Have you had a chance -- and I know getting in touch with folks has been tough. Look, we've been trying to even get in touch with our correspondents, it's been hard sometimes because of cell phone service has been down. Have you had a chance to check in with any friends or neighbors who stayed behind and see how they're doing?

ALBRECHT (through phone): I actually don't know. I don't know, personally, anybody who stayed behind. I do know some that were staying behind and left yesterday. About 10 of them left this morning. So, I do not know of anybody.

There is a couple that we're trying to get ahold of and nobody has been able to locate them. I'm hoping that they left. So, I don't know. I'm just hoping and praying that when the police go around for search and rescue, that they will be able to rescue some of those people that have chosen not to follow their recommendation.

BOLDUAN: Look, the scenes that are being described to us and some of the video that we're seeing, I mean, we're talking about roads that are completely impassable. Even as the initial danger has gone away. Do you have any sense, Councilwoman, when you're going to be able to get back in to check on your home?

[19:10:11] ALBRECHT (through phone): Well, the police -- I'm hoping to go back tomorrow, because the police, once they finish search and rescue, they were going to notify the city administrator, and she was going to notify all the essential employees to come back to work. And since I'm on the council, I would be able to return with them. And so, my goal -- now, I'm six hours away, so my goal is to go tomorrow.

My concern is I have to make sure that the roads between here and there are open so I can get there. And if I find that they're not, then I won't be able to leave until Friday. So, I'm hoping by Friday afternoon, I will be there.

BOLDUAN: Councilwoman, were you able to take important things with you when you had to leave? Probably pretty quickly to get out of harm's way.

ALBRECHT (through phone): Well, it was interesting, because Michael just developed. You know, usually, you watch it coming across the Atlantic from Africa. This just developed south of the Yucatan. It just developed.

And Friday, it was a thunderstorm. Saturday I thought, OK, it's going to be a major storm. But nothing a hurricane. But the boat captains shared, and they said, there's something going on here. There are a couple of boat captains I know who were very concerned about Michael. And they said, I don't know what it is, but don't let it go. This is going to be major.

And so, with that information, then I did start to go around the house and I'd say, OK, my husband passed away last November, and so I'd go into a room and I'd say, what here is a memory that I want to keep of him. Or of me or my parents or my children. And so I really just went one room.

Now, I left a whole lot of stuff I wish I would have taken, but I do have a lot of special memories, and I just didn't grab -- I really thought about each room, what do I want to take for a memory. What do I want to have in two months in my new home.

BOLDUAN: Well, you have those memories and I'm so sorry. I'm so hoping for the best. I will check back in with you and see how things are when you get back in. But Councilwoman, thank you so much for calling in. Truly, truly sorry for it all.

ALBRECHT (through phone): Thank you, Kate. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

ALBRECHT (through phone): Bye-bye.

BOLDUAN: Really shows the human toll on this whole thing. Let's go to Allison Chinchar right now. She's in the CNN Weather Center. Alison, this storm, I mean, the video just says it all. It has been a beast already. What is it doing right now?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right now, the real focus now becomes a lot of these inland cities, as the storm continues to push in. We do know we just got a report in out of Tallahassee. Wind gusts have 61-mile-per-hour and in Dothan, Alabama, that southeastern portion, they're 60 miles per hour and the storm is really is just kind of passing through those locations heading further up into Georgia and then further on from there.

We have tornado watches in effect, in fact, about an hour ago, we had a tornado warning in the city of Atlanta. That's how far some of these outer bands are starting to stretch. So, keep in mind, the center of the storm may still be far enough south, but a lot of these other cities now need to start paying very close attention. Macon, Augusta, Columbia, South Carolina and Atlanta as those outer bands begin to push in. And that's the direction it's going to go. It's going to start to shift off to the north and east heading toward some of those cities and eventually even toward Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, as well. That's why you have all of those tropical storm warnings, Kate, that extend up through into the Carolinas as well.

BOLDUAN: Allison, when is everyone going to be in the clear of this thing?

CHINCHAR: Right. So, for a city, say, like Panama City, really in about the next two to three hours, you're going to see pretty much the end of the storm as it moves further inland. But the storm as a whole, you're going to have to wait a couple more days. We really don't see this exit back out over open water until Friday morning. So again, for a lot of these other locations, say like Georgia, North and South Carolina, you're going to have to wait a little bit longer. Because of that, you still have the threat for tornados.

You still have the threat for flooding because look at this map. You've got widespread totals of four to six inches that could still fall. And Kate, even some isolated locations that could pick up even more rain than that, especially embedded within those stronger thunderstorms.

BOLDUAN: All right, Allison, thank you so much. Really appreciate the update.

Out front for us next, we're going to go to Panama City beach, one of the hardest hit towns on the panhandle. Plus, storm chaser goes inside the hurricane's eye wall, his dramatic images of this life- threatening storm. That's ahead.

Plus, the deadliest force in a hurricane? The storm surge. We'll show you why.


[19:18:38] BOLDUAN: Continue with our breaking news right now, Hurricane Michael still ripping through the gulf coast, the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida panhandle in recorded history.

Out front with me now is Republican Congressman Neal Dunn. He's in Panama City which is part of his district. Congressman, can you hear me?

REP. NEAL DUNN (R), REPRESENTS, PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA (through phone): Yes, I can, Kate. Go ahead.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for getting on the line. This storm was -- is so powerful. Have you heard of any injuries or fatalities from the storm so far?

DUNN: Certainly we have injuries. A large number of injuries, we're concerned about rescue fatalities because of the nature of some of these injuries. Frankly, there are some buildings that are collapsed so, you know, we haven't had a chance to get into those buildings because the roads are still being cleared.

BOLDUAN: Do you know if people are inside those buildings? Do you have information that folks are stuck inside --

DUNN: I assume and I expect -- I actually respond and I assume there are some people trapped in buildings, but we don't know how bad that is yet. We've still got to locate that and I will say, probably one of the worst bits of news is that insult to injury. We found out just a few minutes ago there was some early looting and the sheriff has said he's absolutely not going to tolerate any looting. This is a nice, you know, southern town. We don't do that sort of thing.

And so he put our entire county under curfew, beginning at 5:00 p.m. And we're going to go until dawn, dusk to dawn until he says otherwise.

[19:20:06] BOLDUAN: Yes. The curfew in place now, that's an important thing that we get out to everybody in the county. So, can you tell me a little bit more that you're hearing about if folks are -- it broke up a little bit, if folks are caught in buildings right now?

DUNN: Well, we know the buildings are collapsed. We think they were holding people because of the history and s, you know, we're getting the crews down there but really the roads are impassable at this point. There's trees across every road and their lines, you know, high power lines across roads.


DUNN: So there's a huge amount of work to be done to get the kind of support and resources in the city to really start, you know, up and running a good search and rescue, which we will be doing tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And it did seem because the roads are so impassable that some of this information on injuries and fatalities, I hope not, might be slow to come out as you say. Folks might be caught in buildings right now. Have you been able to get out and survey any of the damage and to see how bad it is?

DUNN: So, only video. I've stayed in the emergency operations (INAUDIBLE) in the county and it's just -- the last few hours of seeing the counties north and east. We're seeing, by the way, we have, probably, 17, 18 counties to the east of us here that were on the wrong side of the storm, the hard side, and there's devastation over there that just can't be believed. So, you know, it's -- to characterize that is going to be a real (INAUDIBLE) and, you know, I think there's going to be some sad stories over there in the east side.

BOLDUAN: I sure hope --

DUNN: Stay away. That's the message, though.

BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you. The message.

DUNN: I wouldn't be coming into any of the counties to the east of us. That's not helpful to have more people who are stranded and unable to care for themselves.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, you're absolutely right on that. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. I know you've got to get off and --

DUNN: We appreciate you helping us out, you know. She had to do that. Of course, as soon as right now, our TV stations are down, our radio stations are down --


DUNN: -- so you're a huge asset to us and we are grateful.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Congressman. And any more help, please let us know and we'll get the word out. I really appreciate that you coming on.

DUNN: We'll be talking tomorrow, I'm sure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, sir.

DUNN: With better news, I hope.

BOLDUAN: I hope so as well.

DUNN: Thank you. Take care.

BOLDUAN: We're going to go from Panama City with the Congressman right there but I want to go to Miguel Marquez who's in Southport, Florida which is just north of Panama City where the Congressman is. Miguel, wow, look at that devastation behind you.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it is everywhere, Kate. This is -- this was an apartment 12 hours ago on top of this house here. Not only was it completely ripped off the top of this house, the roof of this house is gone. This gentleman right here, Bill Duke, actually stayed in this house with his very sick wife during this storm and she's actually still in the house because she is so ill, but this entire area -- this is a bayou. This should be four or five feet less right now but all of that water rushed up into the bayou from the storm surge and is now getting out.

Look at the trees across the bayou there. Just snapped in half, and we have seen that throughout this area. Everywhere north of Panama City, essentially, we were actually trying to get to Mexico Beach, impossible. There are so many trees down, there are so many lines down. We've got the power lines here along the road.

Those are about to come down. There are also power lines that have been crossing the roads. The power line here to Mr. Duke's house is also down. Just devastation everywhere. People coming out of their homes now because, like Mr. Duke, his wife is too sick to travel. We talked to other people who didn't have the money to get out. Other people thought it wasn't going to be so bad. But now they're walking out. The temperature is starting to drop a little bit tonight.

There is no electricity in this area. It is going to be a cold and long, wet night in this part of the Florida panhandle. Just a real devastation here, trying to get to Mexico Beach now, just an impossibility. Kate.

BOLDUAN: And I don't know if you've had a chance to speak with Mr. Duke about it, but his wife being in there, I mean, is she -- is it safe for them to be in that house right now?

MARQUEZ: It is not ideal, certainly. He can get her out. He can get her into -- she has a truck that he's able to get her out to. Let me just ask Mr. Duke, is the plan to get your wife out tonight?

BILL DUKE, RESIDENT: No, we got a bathroom and a bedroom that's real still intact.

MARQUEZ: The temperature's meant to come down to about 60-something degrees tonight, it's going to be a little cool.

DUKE: Well, we may -- I'll have to talk to her and see how she feels, but we've got a motor home that we can stay in and stay dry, and stay warm.

MARQUEZ: Well, thank god the motor homemade it but the home didn't. Very good luck to you.

[19:25:00] He also says he has insurance, homeowners. He doesn't know whether it's going to cover the hurricane, the wind, the flood, and this bayou that should be, you know, four, five, six feet less than it is right now. It just rushed up and made life even worse. Kate?

BOLDUAN: I am just so sorry for him and his wife but I guess we have to say so thankful when you see what devastation was done to their house and that they're at least OK.

Miguel, thank you so much. Please bring their story to us again.

MARQUEZ: You got it.

BOLDUAN: Out front for us next, incredible images just coming in again and again inside the eye wall of the storm here. Storm chaser Reed Timmer, who took this video, has been with us throughout this busy hurricane season. He's my next guest.

And defying orders to evacuate, my next guest tells me why he is now regretting that decision.


BOLDUAN: Breaking news. After hammering Florida, Hurricane Michael is moving on to its next target. The monster hurricane is now slamming the intersection of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama after making landfall in the panhandle. The storm, still a very powerful and dangerous category 2 storm at the moment, winds of 100 miles per hour at this moment.

Out front with me now, though, A.J. Smith, he is the Sheriff of Franklin County, Florida, which includes the city of Apalachicola. Sheriff, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: Sheriff, can you hear me?

SMITH: Yes, I got you. Go ahead.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. Just give me an assessment from your perspective, Sheriff. How bad is the damage in your county right now?

SMITH: It's catastrophic. There are roads washed out, trees down, I mean, it's bad. We're pretty much isolated right now.

BOLDUAN: What do you mean by isolated? Like, you yourself, even emergency crews can't get out and about if you need to?

SMITH: You can't get out. We have an east, west and a --


SHERIFF A.J. SMITH, FRANKLIN COUNTY, FLORIDA (via telephone): -- trees down.

[19:30:01] I mean, it's bad. We're pretty much isolated right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Can you describe? What do you mean by isolated? You yourself, even emergency crews can't get out and about if you need to.

SMITH: You can't get out. We have an east, west, and a north road that come into the county. They're all impassable right now.

BOLDUAN: And in terms of the damage, is it trees down, it's washed out? Describe catastrophic for our viewers from your perspective.

SMITH: Many, many trees down, roads washed out. It's bad. And you know, we're a coastal community, our county is coastal, and we, you know, we have one main road, Highway 98, which goes the length of the county on the coast and many places, it's, you know, washed out, covered up with trees.

BOLDUAN: Sheriff, if folks are in need, if there's an emergency right now and they're calling for help, can you get to them?

SMITH: Yes, if they're in the county, we can get to them because I have deputies that are positioned in each community. Apalachicola, (INAUDIBLE) St. George Island, we have deputies there. They weathered the storm, they rode it out there. We just can't go in between. BOLDUAN: Got it. You have been through a lot of hurricanes in your


SMITH: Yes, I have.

BOLDUAN: Can you put this in perspective of how this one compares?

SMITH: This was my worst.

BOLDUAN: What makes it the worst in your mind?

SMITH: The damage. If you have any of your crews here, they can start videoing some of the damage.

BOLDUAN: Probably part of the problem is the same exact thing you've been talking about, Sheriff. It's hard for our crews to get around because of all the roads being so impassable, just like you and your deputies are up against right now.

SMITH: Yes, that's exactly right. I mean, we've been through hurricanes but never where we were completely cut off like this.

BOLDUAN: What's your message to folks tonight if they can hear this in the county?

SMITH: Well, we've -- we have a mandatory curfew, sunset to sunrise. I hope people stay in. And tomorrow, while we're trying to get, you know, we start clearing, we've got to get crews in here from the state and just stay out of the way, stay home, you know, businesses can't operate until we can get traffic flowing again, so just stay out of our way, help us get cleaned up quickly, and by staying out of our way, we can do it much quicker.

BOLDUAN: Have you heard of any fatalities or injuries yet in the county?

SMITH: No. The only thing we had, a lady was -- during the storm, a limb went through a window and struck her in the head. She had a laceration on her head.

BOLDUAN: OK, I guess we're going to call that good news right now.

SMITH: Yes, exactly.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Sheriff. Appreciate it.

SMITH: OK, thank you. Have a good evening.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. You too.

OUTFRONT with me now, AccuWeather storm chaser Reed Timmer, and he rode this one out.

You were riding out the storm in Panama City Beach, Reed. I'm going to show our viewers some of the video that I just couldn't believe, that you shot at the height of the storm, some of the most remarkable images. We'll show our viewers whenever we can pull it up, this gas station that you're watching and it looks as if this whole thing is just going to give away at some point.

What was it like being there in the height of the storm like this?

REED TIMMER, ACCUWEATHER STORM CHASER: Well, initially, we were in the heart of panama city beach and we had to head to the east because the eye wobbled a little bit to the east so we wanted to get into the heart of that eye wall. We knew that if we were on the western side of the eye, the storm surge wasn't as much of a concern, but still with those extreme wind speeds gusting over 150 miles an hour, we had to watch out for flying debris, the absolute power. You can't put it into words. The winds were gusting much higher than that.

You can see debris flying through the air in the distance. It reminded me of my old tornado intercept days except it lasted a lot longer. You can almost see the curvature to the flow and you can hear those miniature speed by and the vehicle was bouncing up and down.

You definitely felt for the people that were losing their homes and you also hope that everybody had evacuated that storm and we knew that just off to the east, the east side of the eye, that was the most dangerous part of the storm. That's where the strongest winds were, the worst of the storm surge, areas like Mexico Beach -- up there, but water with debris littered on top of it. Roofs sticking out of those flood waters and just absolute devastation as far as I can see in the Florida Panhandle.

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, Reed, a couple points, it looked as if you were caught up in a tornado. That's almost exactly what I would envision it looked like. Talk to me about the damage that you're now seeing.

TIMMER: Yes, it's like chasing a tornado but there aren't any escape routes when you're in an eye wall like that.

[19:35:01] The damage that we saw once that eye wall moved on to the east and we lost the whiteout, complete whiteout conditions, you couldn't see anything right in front of the vehicle at the peak of the eye wall with winds gusting up to 150 miles an hour. But then as the eye wall moved to the east, we saw damage everywhere. There were power poles that were snapped in half, damage that you see in a tornado damage path except it was far more widespread.

And then we went north of Panama City Beach to Panama City and that was even worse. That's a little bit further east. They were a little bit closer, the core of that western eye wall and then just to the east of there, the Tyndall Air Force Base and down to Mexico beach, down to St. Joe, the storm surge caused so much devastation. I really hope that nobody stayed behind, especially at Panama City Beach east.

BOLDUAN: Yes. When we talked yesterday, you said that -- you had said that you think this hurricane could intensify, even though it was a cat 3, you knew it could approach a cat 4, it became a cat 4 and then almost hit the point of becoming a cat 5 it was so powerful today. I mean, what can you say about this storm now having gone through it?

TIMMER: Well, every storm is unique and this one was unique as well. Florence was very different with the river flooding lasting almost weeks in advance of that, a slow-moving storm, weaker when it came in. But this one came in fast, it's a compact storm. In terms of the pressure, there are only a few other hurricanes in history that have come in this intense, Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Katrina, the 1935 hurricane are on par with the intensity of this storm and when a storm comes in that small and compact, like a buzz saw, you know with a compact eye like that, it's likely going to be winds up near 200 miles per hour in gusts.

The damage surveys are come out and will determine the final categorization but I easily could see this being a borderline category 4, even a weak category 5 storm.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, and for folks who have lived there a long time, they keep telling us they have never seen anything like this and they said they lived through a lot of these hurricanes.

Reed, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

OUTFRONT for us next -- OUTFRONT for us next, storm surge, the deadliest and most destructive force in a hurricane. We're going to show you why.

And we also go to Panama City Beach, one of the hardest hit towns to talk with one man who stayed behind and rode out the storm. Why he now wishes he would have evacuated.


[19:41:22] BOLDUAN: Back to our breaking news right now. Hurricane Michael still ripping through the Gulf Coast, the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida panhandle in recorded history. Just want to show you this video, a roof ripped off a house in Panama City, Florida, with sustained winds of over 100 miles per hour earlier today.

Our Brian Todd is OUTFRONT in front of that same house right now.

Brian, what are you seeing there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, just a short time ago, we talked to a gentleman whose mother-in-law owns this house. He came back here with his wife, the lady's daughter, so assess the damage and his wife was crying when she saw her mother's house here. What he told us was that this area back here that got torn off in that video that you saw, that used to be the kitchen and the living room on that second floor right there.

Look, that just got completely sheered off. Part of the wall got torn off there, a car on the other side was damaged when a lawn mower flew out of a driveway area and smashed into it.

The part of the roof here that was torn off, you may not be able to see it because it's 75 yards down the street, but it's that light piece of twisted metal in the distance over there, that got tossed all the way down there. We've had first responders venturing into this neighborhood to see if they can clear some of these houses, to see if anybody needs help.

I talked to a person from the beach patrol not long ago who said they have had to pull three or four people out of these houses in the neighborhoods, not necessarily because they were trapped but because they simply had no shelter. The roofs were torn off their houses or they were otherwise so severely damaged they were uninhabitable.

Now over here, Kate, what we can show you is, again, another roof torn off this house, the whole side of it over there but where the cinder blocks are was also ripped away and you can see some of the debris just inside that sliding glass window there, you know, again, these houses are just in shambles, and there are also dangers here tonight that you can not see.

We smelled gas on the side of this house a short time ago. These gas leaks are going to be a huge problem as people try to get back into these neighborhoods. That's why the governor and others are telling people, do not come back into these neighborhoods tonight. It's too soon to do it.

We just talked to a sheriff's deputy who came here and he's very frustrated. He said, look, you know, there are tons of people out here now trying to get pictures, rubber necking, they want to shoot their own video that they want to go viral, bad idea, because of these power lines that are still down and still -- we're still getting some pretty heavy wind gusts, flapping around in the wind.

So that's a danger here, Kate. They are warning people, it is way too early to try to come back to these neighborhoods.

BOLDUAN: We just hope that people are listening and heeding these warnings but clearly the message is not getting through completely quite yet.

Brian, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Now, officials are warning tonight, also, of a deadly storm surge. It is very much still a risk at this hour.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT with us with that.

Tom, we're seeing roofs ripped off of houses from the winds. We've seen that throughout the day. But talk us through one of the deadliest dangers in a hurricane, the storm surge.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the wind is a very real danger, but the water is what causes the most destruction, because of the storm surge. There's several reasons why it's particularly pronounced in this area.

On the East Coast, you often have a sharp coastal shelf that will help hold back the storm surge a little bit. On the Gulf Coast, it tends to be much flatter, and that allows the water to just come in unimpeded and just race across the land, doing all sorts of damage there. Look at this map from the National Hurricane Center and you get an idea of how many places are at risk. There's Apalachicola right over there near Mexico beach right here. And you can see all the red there, that's where it's really the worst.

[19:45:02] But let's put those colors into a real world perspective. The blue is the smallest amount. That's only about a foot. On a normal house, that's probably not going to come inside. It's not going to do that much damage. But by the time you get to the yellow color, now you're talking about three feet.

That's enough to affect many vehicles outside if your house isn't elevated a little bit, it could start coming in the front door. By the time you hit orange, it's as tall as me. That's enough in many homes to go in and wipe out the bottom floor. Flooring and wallboard and furniture and electronics and all sorts of things people would have there, and by the time you hit that red color, now you're talking about nine feet or more.

That could easily get on to the second floor of some homes out there and before all is said and done, you may actually have some degree of structural damage and failure to some of the houses out there -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And, Tom, is this mainly a coastal threat? I mean, how far inland can this go?

FOREMAN: That's the big misconception. People think it's all about the beach. The beach matters, yes, people get hit there very hard, but look at what we're talking about here. Storm surge can easily follow creek beds and marshes and swamps and rivers and rush dozens and dozens of miles inland, still causing damage. So much so that there is a company out there that did a breakdown on all of this and what they found was that more than 84,000 homes, according to core logic, could be affected by the storm surge from this storm alone -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Wow. Tom, thanks so much. Important perspective tonight. The threat not over.

OUTFRONT for us next, I'm going to speak with one man who chose to stay behind and ride out the storm with his wife, his son, their two dogs -- why he now regrets that decision.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I made the wrong choice, but we honestly -- if I would have known how bad it was going to be, we would have left.


BOLDUAN: I'm going to show you some live pictures now from Georgia where Michael is moving through the state as a category 2 hurricane. We're going to do back to the ground as the heavy rain and the fierce winds arrive. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:51:13] BOLDUAN: Continuing now with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Michael which ravaged Florida today, and is now making its way into southwest Georgia with a bang. A category 2 storm with 100 mile per hour winds.

Scott McLean is in Albany, Georgia, for us.

Scott, how's it looking now?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not great, Kate. We are really starting to see the worst of it and it is expected to stay this way for the next hour or two, or even beyond that. The winds, the county, is measuring them at 41 miles per hour, sustained gusts into the 50s.

That's important because I just got off the phone with the fire chief. He said within the last hour, first responders are no longer responding to 911 calls. And they have gotten some of them, so you can imagine how scary that is for the people who've actually called. They want people to stay off the roads and stay into their homes.

You know, we've been watching this wind. We've been watching this rain come down. This tree right here, we've been watching this in particular because it seems quite amazing to us that it has not snapped yet, or at least branches of it have not snapped because it has just been getting absolutely pounded by this wind and this rain. It has all its leaves on it still. And so, it is really catching all that wind and rain.

The county is also reporting a lot of power outages, 7,200 in this county, expected to grow. There are power crews from out of state that have come into this area to help with outages in this part of Georgia. They're stationed and ready to get the power back on for those people as soon as this is over. And they're hoping the worst of it passes in the next couple hours, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Scott, sorry if I missed you saying it. Are there evacuation orders if place where you are?

MCLEAN: You know, I asked the same question, Kate, why were there not evacuation orders in the county? And the emergency officials here say, look, given where Albany, Georgia, is, it's simply not realistic to send people elsewhere because you'd have to go a heck of a long way in order to get out of the affected area and out of the danger zone.

And so, instead, they said, look, if you're vulnerable, yes, you should be thinking about evacuating. You should be getting out. If not, it's best to simply stay in your homes. If you don't have a stable home to stay in, you need to either be staying with a friend or staying in one of the five shelters that they've set up.

But given where this place is, it's simply not realistic given the size of this storm. You can see it on the radar there, to have people evacuate all that way.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely.

All right. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it, Scott, stay safe. Check back in.

I want to get back to the devastating destruction that has occurred across the Florida panhandle tonight. Really just getting our first images of what it looked like, what happened earlier today.

Darius Flanagan, he's joining me now from Panama City.

Darius, can you hear me?

DARIUS FLANAGAN, RODE OUT HURRICANE (via telephone): Yes, ma'am.

BOLDUAN: Your video that we saw from earlier today, it shows some of the damage at your house. What does it look like outside your window now?

FLANAGAN: Let's see, if I went to look out my front window, there would be a fallen tree that landed over my cars. Look out the back, the roof is removed and the shed roof is also moved and it's caved in.

BOLDUAN: How is your family doing? What was it like riding out the storm, Darius?

FLANAGAN: Some of us are praying. Some of us were just not that nervous, but then again, there was one of us, sometimes a few of us, our first time. To be honest, it was -- some of us were panicking and some of us were calm, treating it like if it was nothing, staying here.

BOLDUAN: You told my producer that your grandmother who was there with you spent most of the time during the storm, praying in the corner.

FLANAGAN: Yes, she was.

BOLDUAN: That sounds really scary.

[19:55:01] Were you scared?

FLANAGAN: I'm going to be real with you, I was in -- I was right next to her during the situation in the middle of the room, in the middle of the hallway, where she was praying with her daughter, which is my mom, and, well, she made me join hands with her and to be honest, it was -- I wasn't that nervous. I was just going through my phone the whole time, just waiting for it to pass. And, yes, we were all praying as my stepfather and brother were just watching out the window.

BOLDUAN: Why -- what was the decision, why ride out the storm rather than leave?

FLANAGAN: Well, during the time, we thought it was going to hit us with a category 3 or really a category 2. We were just going to let it happen because we're in a brick house. So we were just going to ride it out.

We didn't have much evacuation time. We didn't think about it that much. We were just like, OK, we're going to have it here. And, yes, that was about it for that.

BOLDUAN: Do you -- do you regret, do your parents regret, not evacuating now?

FLANAGAN: Not really. Nothing happened to the interior. I mean, the exterior was destined to happen, but nothing we could have done about it. We're all pretty calm now.

BOLDUAN: Could be a long time before everything is cleaned up. I mean, what are the next couple days going to be like for you and your family?

FLANAGAN: Well, I bet we're going to be out of power. I hear we're out of water. Things have changed. The convenience store isn't going to be like how it was next door.

You can see neighbors across the street, which you could never see before. And just trees are half snapped and stuff. I mean, yes, it's going to be hard to get back to how it was before.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Well, thank you so much for calling in. And thank goodness everyone is okay in your family. I really appreciate the time.

FLANAGAN: Thank you. I appreciate the time.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

We're going from Florida now to Pennsylvania where the president tonight is holding a rally there. He briefly earlier today wavered about going to the rally in the midst of the storm, but ultimately, he decided to make the trip.

Jim Acosta is there. He's OUTFRONT in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the president is right now.

Jim, what did the president say about this decision to make the trip, to go to a campaign rally in the midst of the hurricane?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, that's right. When the president landed here in Erie, Pennsylvania, he talked to reporters briefly and said he didn't want to dissipate the thousands of people who were waiting outside this venue to get into this rally. So he continued to talk about that here at the rally, just a short while ago, saying he obviously wanted to continue with this event because so many people came out to see him.

But, Kate, at the same time, the president did extend his thoughts and prayers to the people down on the Florida panhandle. He pledged the government's full support after the storm passes through.

And the White House has been bending over backwards to try to show the president is on the job, not just delivering a political speech at a rally that he's also talking to people on the ground in the Florida Gulf Coast, in the Gulf Coast region, sending out pictures of the president on the phone with the governors of Georgia and Alabama and, of course, the White House announced earlier this afternoon that he is going to be traveling down to Florida early next week, Kate.

BOLDUAN: But, I mean, but still, in the middle of all this, I heard tonight from a congressman, he thinks people could be trapped in buildings is what they could be dealing with and the president is in Erie, Pennsylvania, right now, with a crowd.

I -- with that in mind, while folks are still dealing with this in a very real way, along the Gulf, something that just happened at the rally, the president made -- did he make a joke about the #metoo movement?

ACOSTA: He did. And let's make no mistake, Kate, while he offered his thoughts and prayers to the people in the Florida Panhandle in the storm region, this has been a thoroughly political speech from almost start to finish. At one point just a short while ago, he seemed to mock the #metoo movement when he said he wanted to say something at his rally here tonight, but that the rules of #metoo would not allow it.

He said, quote, there's an expression, but under the rules of #metoo, I'm not allowed to use that expression anymore. I can't do it.

Then one point, one person in the crowd said, oh, go ahead, Mr. President, do it. He seemed to smile at that and wanted to engage but held back. So, on a night when he was going after the Democrats and calling their tactics a disgrace in opposing Brett Kavanaugh, he essentially made a #metoo joke in front of all of the people at this rally here tonight, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jim, I hope you can still hear me. Did -- am I remembering correctly, didn't Trump not then president, didn't he ridicule President Obama for, I don't know, was it a campaigning or doing some kind of rally in the midst of a storm?

ACOSTA: That's right. That's right. That was back in 2012 when President Obama was running for re-election. Then-citizen Trump, businessman Trump, put out a tweet going after Barack Obama at that time saying he shouldn't go out and campaign when Superstorm Sandy is still causing problems in New York and New Jersey.

So once again, there's a tweet for everything and a storm-related tweet, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Jim, thank you so much.

And thank you all so much.

Our breaking news coverage continues now with "AC360."