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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hurricane Michael Hits Florida. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:06] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Nick Valencia, stay safe. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Eye of the storm. Michael makes landfall as the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in more than a quarter century, with winds clocking in at an incredible 155 miles an hour.

Wall of water. Michael's storm surge inundates coastal communities with as much as 14 feet of water, washing away homes in its path. And inland, flooding fears as the storm's relentless rain continues to fall.

Without power. Hurricane Michael has cut electricity already to more than 150,000 customers, a number that could grow into the millions as the storm churns north. One utility is warning that customers could be without power for weeks.

And catastrophic damage. Michael is like a slow-moving tornado as it moves inland with potentially deadly winds stretching hundreds of miles and now taking direct aim at Georgia and the Carolinas.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Hurricane Michael grinding across Florida right now, heading toward Georgia, after making landfall just shy of a Category 5 storm. It's the strongest hurricane to strike the Florida Panhandle on record. And the strongest storm to make landfall in the continental United States since Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.

And this weather disaster is still unfolding right now. National Weather Service director Louis Uccellini is with us, live this hour. And our correspondents are in key locations as we cover the breaking hurricane news this hour.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Panama City Beach for us. Brian, what's the latest where you are?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're just now able to venture out and assess the damage. Look at this house where the roof just got completely ripped off. You've got cinder blocks there toppled over. Now we're going to show you this house over here, this green house.

Look at that roof, got completely torn off there. We had some video from earlier showing this actually occurring as this roof got completely torn off. We're still getting some pretty strong gusts. This roof got completely torn off, and that piece of it over there, we believe, is that part of the roof that got sheared off.

We were just told by our CNN Weather Center that this area just got caught by the western eyewall of Hurricane Michael, the storm that is still just devastating this region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Hurricane Michael is ravaging the Florida Panhandle.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Hurricane Michael is upon us. And now is the time to seek refuge.

TODD: Heavy rain and sustained winds pulling homes apart, flooding rivers. Ripping railings from the ground. Collapsing beachside homes. Leaving a wake of destruction in its path.

The Category 4 storm picked up intensity in the Gulf as it barreled inland, making landfall with winds of up to 155 miles per hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. It's starting.

TODD: The eye made landfall around 12:30. The storm's biggest threat is the devastating flooding it brings, with expected surges as high as 13 or 14 feet.

The streets of Apalachicola already dangerously under water. The northwest coastal town hit with a 6-foot surge even before Michael made landfall. Responders unable to reach those in need as waves crashed down along and on top of major highways.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There is going to be a killer -- a killer storm surge in this event. Nine, 10, 11 feet, no one's 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.

TODD: Florida officials hammering home the message. The storm surge alone can kill you, but it is now too late to evacuate.

SCOTT: The time to evacuate in coastal areas has come and gone. The worst thing you can do now is leave and put yourself and your family in danger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We're still getting some pretty powerful gusts of wind here, and officials tell us this is still one of the most dangerous periods during the whole cycle of the storm, even when the eyewall passes like this, because this is when people are deceived into thinking they can actually come back into these neighborhoods and go back to their homes and assess damage.

You've got downed power lines all down this street, and still people have tried to venture back. Wolf, it is simply too soon to come back into these neighborhoods.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting for us. We'll get back to you.

Millions of people are still in the storm's path. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, is tracking Michael for us.

Jennifer, there's a new forecast just out.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right, Wolf.

This is now a Category 3, strong Category 3, at that, 125-mile-an-hour winds. But get this. This is a Category 3 storm rolling into Georgia as we speak, from the south. I can assure you, that's never happened, as long as records have been kept for a storm this strong to enter Georgia from the south. This is incredible.

[17:05:12] We are seeing very strong winds still with this, as it moves off to the north-northeast at about 16 miles per hour.

So I want to show you the radar. And you can still see that eye holding together pretty well. It is closing in a little bit, as expected. That's what happens as they approach land and start interacting with the land.

But we are seeing that tornado watch box in effect, and so we are going to have the possibility of tornadoes. We're also going to see incredible amounts of rain on top of the very strong winds. A lot of trees in the south, they're going to come down. The branches are going to snap. We have Category 3 winds with this in the state of Georgia. And so we could see quite a bit of damage as we -- as we start to see this enter some of these small towns in southern Georgia.

There's an extreme wind warning, which is basically just a long- standing tornado warning, because the winds right around that eye are still incredibly strong, and so there's a warning for those winds.

So we did have very powerful winds across the coast. Tyndall Air Force Base, a gust of 130 miles per hour, and that's before the gauge broke. And so we definitely had winds stronger than that. Panama City airport, 129. And of course, crews will be out as soon as possible to assess the damage as soon as they can safely do that.

But look at this. We are going to have rain all night long in Georgia. Some areas getting 4 to 6 inches of rain. And then it's going to push in by tomorrow morning. It will be in the Carolinas, South Carolina, North Carolina, still windy conditions, torrential rain in an area that has already been waterlogged by Florence, just a couple of weeks ago.

So we're expecting 6 to 10 inches of rain across southern Georgia. We could see 2 to 4 inches just to the south of Atlanta, maybe even more. It's very hard to predict exactly where those rain bands are going to set up. So if one of them sets up on top of you, say over the city of Atlanta, we will have even more rain.

So this is basically the best estimate of rain, as far as we can tell, with this storm pushing to the north and east. It is a fast-mover. That's why the rain totals aren't as high as what we saw in Florence. But it still has a lot of moisture, and it has a lot of momentum with it coming off of that warm Gulf of Mexico.

We have watches and warnings in place. We have hurricane warnings still for the Florida Panhandle. One just dropped off. And you can see for southern Georgia, the tropical storm warnings go all the way up into the Carolinas. There's actually storm surge of 2 to 4 feet possible across portions of the Outer Banks. And so this is going to impact the Carolinas, as well. Don't want you to get your guard down.

Of course, the track there still 70 miles per hour. By 2 a.m. in the morning. And then a 45-mile-an-hour storm by the time we get into tomorrow afternoon. So this is definitely far from over. Category 3 entering the state of Georgia from the south is something else.

Of course, we definitely still have that storm surge to contend with. We've had the storm surge across the Florida Panhandle. The water will continue to rise until that storm has pushed out and then the water will slowly start to recede.

So Wolf, even along the coast, even though the skies are starting to clear, we still have those dangers in place, and big-time dangers inland. Portions of Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.

BLITZER: Danger is enormous. Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, thank you.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's in Tallahassee for us.

Ryan, Hurricane Michael still very powerful. And as we've been pointing out, extremely dangerous.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about that, Wolf. And we've seen these powerful wind bands that were on the coast, making their way in here to Tallahassee. But the worst is still yet to come.

And what the officials here are very concerned about are these trees that line all throughout Tallahassee. As I mentioned before, the worst of the storm is yet to come, but we've already seen big tree limbs like this fall off these big trees. But if these storm winds continue, and they get up into that Category 4 force, 100 miles or more, these entire trees could topple down into these streets. That's why you see these streets bare, hardly anyone on these streets at all. They have been told to stay inside, because the danger is still yet to come.

We're also concerned about power outages, as these trees start to topple, they're going to take power lines with them. Already 20,000 customers here in the Tallahassee area are without power. This is also a spot where many of the people that were on the coast

came to seek refuge. So the population here in Tallahassee has swelled. This is really the first major population center where Hurricane Michael is about to hit. Wolf, the worst is still yet to come. We've had moments of calm here over the past hour or so. That's expected to change within the next two hours. Things here are only going to get worse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles on the scene for us. We'll get back to you.

[17:10:00] Let's go to our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman, who spent the day south of Tallahassee. What are you seeing now where you are?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- about 40 minutes from Tallahassee. But there is absolutely no way to get to Tallahassee right now. If you were having a baby, if you had a family emergency, you could not get there, because of all the things blocking all of the roads.

Right here, for example, you have this tree that came down about three hours ago. After this tree came down three hours ago, this tree came down an hour ago. And they're working on that to clear the road. But there are more trees behind that, so you can't condition on that road.

In this direction behind me, there are trees on the road blocking it also. In this direction, which is to the north, which is not towards Tallahassee, but another direction, there is flash flooding. There is water that just, all of a sudden, built up. It was part of the surge that was expected to be up to 14 feet. It wasn't quite that much.

But as you drive in that direction, all of a sudden, the water just flows up and is at least five feet deep, and it may be deeper than that.

So this gives an idea of how dangerous the aftermath of a hurricane is. You have water that you can drive into there. You have trees that you can crash into here. And we have a sunset that's occurring exactly two hours from now at 7:10 Eastern Time. And where the water is, for example, there's no blockade right now, Wolf. You can just drive into the water.

So we just want to stress that. We say that in other hurricanes. But it's a serious problem right here in the Florida Panhandle right now. Lots of water on the roads and lots of trees, also.

BLITZER: Did most of the people where you are, did they evacuate or are they still there?

TUCHMAN: It was an amazing thing today, Wolf. We traveled all over this area east of Panama City to lots of small towns. And I was stunned and also gratified by how empty all the towns were.

Yes, people didn't know this was going to be a strong Category 4. But they did know it was going to be a major hurricane for a few days. They are hurricane-savvy in this state and we found that most of these towns were almost empty when we arrived in them.

BLITZER: All right. Gary, thank you. Gary Tuchman on the scene for us.

Let's go to CNN's John Berman.

John, you're in Panama City Beach, not very far away from where Michael made landfall a few hours ago. We saw you live on CNN at that time. It was an extremely dangerous situation for you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We had sustained winds of over 100 miles per hour for a long time: 30, 45, maybe even an hour long and gusts of 120 miles per hour.

You can see this big light post that was behind me during the shot simply bent over, leaning over. It didn't topple all the way. Not everything fared, as well. When we were on TV during the worst of the storm, we saw this railing being bent over in the force of the storm. Let's show the video of that. As you can see, the wind just bearing down on that railing. And now, as you can see, it's just gone completely. It's just toppled over. It pulled the concrete basing right out, and it's fallen. Fallen into the bushes below.

It was the force of the wind and the length -- it was 100 miles per hour for such a long time -- that even that metal railing couldn't withstand itself.

I had a chance to walk around the parking lot here a few minutes ago to get a sense of what other damage was done. And one of the things I found was this. This giant light that had blown off the building here, along with all kinds of siding that was flying around like projectiles, pretty much the whole time.

You know, we had 120-mile-an-hour wind gusts here. When people went to bed yesterday, we've been saying this all along, they thought this would be a Category 2, maybe a Category 3 storm. It turned out to be a strong, powerful Category 4 storm, with these winds.

And people now are just getting a chance to go out and look at the damage in their own yards. They shouldn't go out on the roads. And just as we look around here, we see all this debris, Wolf. There's a house which we can't see, because it's just too hard to get the camera angle on. But there is a tree leaning into a house not far from us. I think people are going to have a lot of cleanup to do over the next several days when it finally is safe enough to go out and see how bad things really are -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not safe yet, by any means. All right. John Berman, thank you very much.

Joining us now, FEMA's deputy administrator for resilience, Daniel Kaniewski.

Mr. Kaniewski, thanks so much for joining us. What are your biggest concerns right now? DANIEL KANIEWSKI, FEMA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR FOR RESILIENCE: Well, our

focus is on life safety. It's making sure that all of those who sheltered in place are appropriately taken care of, to make sure that we have search and rescue teams that can get there just as soon as possible. As well as the shelters, making sure that everybody who's in the shelters is appropriately cared for. That life safety here is and will remain the priority in the near future.

BLITZER: Well, do you have what you need on hand to deal with all those issues?

KANIEWSKI: We do right now. We prepositioned a lot of assets, including commodities, personnel and equipment, to just outside the area. So when they -- when this area becomes accessible, we'll be pushing those assets in to assist those in need.

BLITZER: This storm is moving very quickly. How far inland does this threat -- and it's a serious threat-- extend?

KANIEWSKI: Well, certainly, Georgia is going to be next. And Georgia hasn't seen a storm like this in quite some time. We're looking at a Cat 2 storm going into Georgia. That is -- alone is a severe impact to that state. So this isn't over yet. We have to get through Florida. We have to get through Georgia. And more states to come.

[17:15:09] BLITZER: The storm strengthened so quickly from a Category 2 yesterday to nearly a Category 5 today. And that appears to have caught a lot of residents off-guard. Did that rapid intensification hurt your ability, FEMA's ability, to respond to Hurricane Michael?

KANIEWSKI: Well, it certainly makes it a challenge for all of us. It makes it a challenge for us and the federal government. It makes it a challenge for the state that's trying to manage their responses. But it also makes it a challenge for the individual. If the individual saw three days ago that there was a tropical depression entering the Gulf of Mexico, they probably weren't all that concerned. But yes, as it rapidly intensified and we realized how bad this really could be, it caused a quick reaction, not just by us, but all those individuals who realized they need to seek shelter or evacuate.

BLITZER: When are the first responders going to be able to reach those areas along the coast where Hurricane Michael made landfall? First made landfall?

KANIEWSKI: Sure. Well, it's going to be after the tropical-storm- force winds die down. And also, we need daylight. So it looks like tomorrow morning, we should have the winds have died down and there will be light. So tomorrow morning, we're hoping to get our first glimpse, one, to make sure that we can see what's going on. But two, more importantly, to make sure those first responders help those in need.

BLITZER: What's your message to residents who are riding out this storm, including those who may be waiting for help from first responders? KANIEWSKI: Well, for those who have rode it out and need help, please

dial 911 if the phones are working. If the phones are not working, you need to get a message out that you need help.

Those first responders will be going house to house, certainly neighborhood to neighborhood, to make sure that those who desperately need help will get assistance.

We have a bunch of assets on the scene, certainly by tomorrow morning, when those winds die down. That's going to include helicopters and high-water vehicles to make sure we can get into those areas that might traditionally be unaccessible [SIC].

BLITZER: What about the power outages? There's going to be a lot of it already starting hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, when all is said and done. How long can residents expect to be without electricity?

KANIEWSKI: Short answer, days or weeks. In the areas that we can gain access to. And by "we" I mean state, local governments. The utilities, as well as the private sector. Most of these power companies are owned and operated by the private sector. They need to get access. To get access, that means the debris has to be removed from the roads. And they have to have their linesmen get up and repair those lines. So, again, it depends where you are. But days or weeks.

BLITZER: Well, are power crews, including from out of state, on the way?

KANIEWSKI: They absolutely are. And we've been working closely, again, with both the public utilities, as well as the investor-owned utilities to make sure that those assets are nearby. They're pros. They know this. They have a mutual aid compact. There are power crews coming from all over the country, frankly, and they're ready to go, just like we are, to help those in need.

BLITZER: Give us some perspective, Mr. Kaniewski, because you're at FEMA; you're an expert in this area. How awful was this hurricane?

KANIEWSKI: Well, still to be determined, right? But all indications are, it's going to have a devastating impact. I mean, this is 1-mile- an-hour short of a Category 5 hurricane, hitting an area that's never had a hurricane like this before. So when you have an unprecedented storm hit an area, you can pretty much rest assured that there is going to be significant damage.

Let's just cross our fingers, hope that most people sheltered in place in the right place, and hope that those who needed to evacuate did evacuate in time.

But like I said, we'll be there. We, the federal government, state governments and local governments are going to be there to help those disaster survivors.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, any final message you want to send out there?

KANIEWSKI: Well, let's just make sure that everyone doesn't take -- take action too quickly. Meaning don't leave your home if you don't have to. As you just saw in the previous report, there's a lot of debris. That debris is dangerous. Stay away from it. Stay -- if you're in a safe place, stay there. If you need help, search-and- rescue teams will be there as soon as they possibly can be.

BLITZER: Daniel Kaniewski of FEMA, thank you so much for what you're doing. Thanks for what FEMA is doing, as well. We appreciate it.

KANIEWSKI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's turn now to the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini, who is with us right now. It's a pretty awful situation. We've never seen anything like this, a hurricane, nearly a Category 5, hit the Panhandle of Florida.

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: And do it in October, which is another unique aspect of this. We haven't had a landfalling Category 4 storm anywhere in the United States in October since Hurricane Hazel in the early '50s. So this is a unique situation, a very dangerous situation.

And the main message I'd like to leave is that the story isn't over, as we see. This hurricane's still intact. We still have hurricane- force winds. Great circulation system moving right towards southwest Georgia. Very dangerous. So we have dangerous wind situation inland with the tall trees that have been noted. We have got hurricane -- I mean, tornado watches up throughout southwest Georgia and northern Florida. A very dangerous situation.

[17:20:06] BLITZER: Because it came in at 155 miles per hour. That's a Category 4. But if -- a Category 5 is 157 miles an hour. This was almost a Category 5.

UCCELLINI: Right. It came close. And, in fact, we'll still be evaluating all the data. It's going to be a lot of data we'll be looking at over the next several months before we make a final determination. But this was a very, very powerful storm.

BLITZER: Why was it such a surprise?

UCCELLINI: I -- I don't think it was a surprise.

BLITZER: Because earlier in the week, a few days ago, it was a tropical storm. Then maybe a Category 1, and then all of a sudden 2, 3. Overnight it became a 4.

UCCELLINI: OK. So we -- on Sunday, pointed out that this storm had the potential of becoming a major hurricane. By Monday, we were actually predicting landfall as a major hurricane.

We've been working with the states, the federal government, the local officials behind the scenes. And the state of Florida has had a state of emergency issued for the past two-and-a-half days. We knew this was going to be a dangerous storm situation. It was

going to develop very rapidly over very warm waters over the Gulf of Mexico.

I think people have gotten used to seeing hurricanes come across the Atlantic and have five, six, seven days to be working --

BLITZER: Right.

UCCELLINI: -- with this. These Gulf storms in the fall are very dangerous. They can develop very rapidly. And it doesn't give you those four, five, six days as a hurricane to prepare for it either as an agency or as an individual.

BLITZER: And it's pretty extraordinary that it comes in as a Category 4, a high Category 4, it's going through Florida, and it may enter Georgia as a Category 2, maybe even a Category 3. That's pretty extraordinary. Right?

UCCELLINI: Right. And especially to have the strong winds like that and like is happening right now, we're going to have tremendous tree damage. That's a very dangerous situation, whether you're driving, whether you're in your house. So it's -- this story isn't over yet in terms of the impact that this storm is going to have.

And, of course, we're going to get heavy rains, but with the fast- moving storms, it isn't going to be like what we saw with Florence, but still 4 to 6 inches of rain in a very short period of time creates a moderate risk for flash floods. So we have that to be working with, as well.

BLITZER: We know the damage is going to be devastating in Florida and Georgia, going up to the Carolinas. Do you have any sense as to how destructive this hurricane is?

UCCELLINI: Well, this, of course, we'll have to be doing our assessments across the entire area. But clearly, what we're already seeing is that this is a destructive storm already. And I think tomorrow, when people get out and start making their full assessments, they're going to realize just how powerful a Category 4 storm can be.

BLITZER: Because it's not just a hurricane now. Everybody is worried about tornadoes, right?

UCCELLINI: Right. You've got the tornadoes. You've got very strong winds coming in with the circulation system as it is. And you're going to have a period of very heavy rains, associated with this storm as it moves into the Carolinas.

BLITZER: So do you advise people to get out of there, even now at this late moment?

UCCELLINI: I advise people to listen to their local officials. The local officials are working with us. They make the decisions, or attempt to get the communities and the local individuals to make decisions for their own safety. BLITZER: Louis, you're going stay with us and help us better

appreciate the enormity of this hurricane. That's Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service, thank you very much.

UCCELLINI: Hurricane Michael is moving into Alabama and Georgia as we speak. It's still a Category 3 storm right now with 125-mile-an-hour winds. We'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:50] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour: Hurricane Michael tearing north across the Florida Panhandle toward Georgia right now and the Carolinas, after making landfall as the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. With winds of 155 miles per hour, that's just below a Category 5 hurricane.

Let's go back to CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Panama City Beach for us where we're starting, I understand, Brian, to start seeing some first responders?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Just moments ago, some Bay County Sheriff's deputies have arrived on the scene. They took a sledgehammer to a fence back here, trying to get to that house. They did get to the house, and they knocked on the door. Then they did not get any response and came out.

I just asked one of the deputies if they -- if there's anybody in here requiring rescue. He says they're not sure. They're just checking houses that have very severe damage.

These deputies just went around that side of the house. They may be emerging any moment now. But they just went through this fence with a sledgehammer, so checking some of these houses. And you can see the damage in some of these places here.

Our photojournalist, Adolfo Robiero (ph) and I will walk this way. You can see the roof of that house got completely sheared off on the right-hand side there. There's a lot of cinder block damage on the other side.

Here come the sheriff's deputies here. Gentlemen, did you find anyone?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. All the houses were vacant.

TODD: All the houses were vacant, they say. I'm going to show you this house over here, Wolf. Come on over here, Adolfo, because we have video of this house getting its roof sheared off earlier. Look at that. About half of that house looks to be gone. But that major part of the roof got sheared off. The wall got taken off. The sheriff's deputies moved down the street.

I can kind of show where part of the roof went. We're very strongly suspicious that that is the part of the roof that got sheared off. That large just piece of twisted metal right there, because we kind of match the colors to the roof. And it certainly would project to have landed right there.

So, again, this is just the first chance that these first responders are getting to venture out into these neighborhoods. They're still telling people, Wolf, do not come back to these houses yourself. Between the downed power lines and the gas leaks, just too dangerous.

BLITZER: You know, Brian, I want to show our viewers some video that we have now. Watch this together with us. And then we'll discuss.

All right, Brian. That's the house you're in front of.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Watch this together with us. And then we'll discuss.

All right, Brian. That's the house you're in front of. You can see the roof simply, you know, being torn off the top of that house.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's right, Wolf. Incredibly dramatic video. And, you know, you can see here, if there was anyone inside that house, they could have been injured. We don't believe there was anyone in there.

But this is just what -- what we were told was that this area got clipped by the western eyewall of Hurricane Michael. And that is a very dangerous place to be, when you've got a Category 4 storm coming in here.

What we can tell you also is that these houses here on this side that got so heavily damaged over here, this is on the beach side. Just beyond this is the beach. And we're still seeing some very, very strong storm surge just a few feet from this house on the other side. We could not venture onto the right side, because what appeared to be some kind of a gas or water leak was there and we didn't want to go too near that.

You go down this street, Wolf, still a lot of danger with downed power lines. You can see the first responders way down there.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd, Panama City Beach, for us.

Let's go further inland right now to Tallahassee, the state capital. CNN's Nick Valencia on the scene for us.

What are you seeing, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.

We're not seeing the chaotic or dramatic images that my colleague, Brian Todd, is in Panama City Beach. But we are seeing streets lined with debris. And let me give a sense of what we're seeing here on the ground.

A lot of Spanish moss, a lot of tree lines -- tree limbs down. These trees a major concern in Tallahassee. It's a beautiful, picturesque, city. Much of that having to do with the trees here, these weeping willows and oak trees. But that has become a very concerning situation for the governor who I spent some time with earlier today.

He's concerned that these tree limbs can turn into life-threatening projectiles. Just see how massive these trees here are that line the main thoroughfares here.

You may be watching this and say, "You know what? Florida deals with a lot of storms. They're used to this kind of severe weather." But not storms like this. In fact, it was just a short time ago that the city of Tallahassee put out than their verified Twitter account that they have not seen a storm like this in a century.

And we are seeing those wind gusts and rain bands in fits and starts. Right now we've been so lucky as to not get any rain, but that wind is starting to pick up.

You see for the most part these streets are empty, save for that debris that's lining them right now. A lot of residents here listened to the evacuation warnings.

But this storm, it crept up on a lot of us. And that's including the emergency managers. They've been keeping their eye on this over the weekend as it was forming from a tropical depression. But then overnight, it jumped from a Category 2 to a Category 4.

I mentioned I was with the governor earlier, and you could tell just looking in his eyes how nervous he was. And I asked him what his biggest concern was, aside from, you know, public safety and trying to keep all the residents here safe. He says the storm surge is the big concern here for emergency managers. Parts of the state that have not seen these types of storm surge ever in their history here, at least in modern history.

Right now in Tallahassee, the conditions, you know, we're lucky right now. It's not raining. We do not expect that to be the case for the rest of the night. In fact, the worst of it here is expected sometime between the 6 p.m. hour, which we're in, and around 8 p.m. is when things are expected to get really bad here on these streets. Right now, though, thank God they're empty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Valencia on the scene for us in Tallahassee, thanks very much.

Louis Uccellini is still with us, the director of the National Weather Service.

Are you surprised when you see the extent of this kind of damage?

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: Given the magnitude of this storm, and given the strong winds creates, obviously, the kind of damage you're seeing here. And then the storm surge itself, wiping buildings out, it's, you know, where -- this is what we expected would happen with this magnitude of a storm. What's going on now with this inland push is that I think the damage

will look different. There will still be more wind-driven, trees down. I was just looking at the latest satellite image. Albany, Georgia, is right in the wrong quadrant of this storm. It's still maintaining 125-mile-an-hour winds; it's moving very rapidly, carrying all its destructive winds with it.

So you're going to see a very extensive area of damaging winds, all the way into central Georgia.

BLITZER: Newer -- newer buildings are supposed to be able to deal with the Category 4 hurricane. But older ones certainly can't.

UCCELLINI: We'll see how it sorts out tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: We certainly will. All right. Louis, stay with us. Don't go too far away.

We're going to have much more on the breaking news, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The breaking news. Hurricane Michael remains a very dangerous Category 3 hurricane with 125-mile-an-hour winds. The center of the storm is moving into southwest Georgia. It was a Category 5 storm, almost a Category 5 storm, when it hit the Florida coast, 155 miles per hour.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is in Destin for us. What's it like there?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the rain, that consistent rain, has moved on from this part of Florida, just enough time before dusk for us to see the damage the western edge of Hurricane Michael caused here in Florida.

This is the Choctawhatchee Bay, and you can see it is churning. We're told that the water is now 4 to 5 feet higher than it typically is at this time of day.

And let me give you a look at what -- some of the damage it's doing. This is Dewey's Seafood Restaurant here. And you look through, you can see the water has just plucked the boards from inside this restaurant. This won't be in service for a couple of days, we're told, although management here, some of the workers, are optimistic that they will be able to get this up and running again.

[17:40:12] Let me take you back over here. You see this boat actually was on a lift. It wasn't even in the water at the start of the day down on this dock. We're told that the water rose so high that it lifted the boat off of the lift on this dock and slammed over into this deck.

If you see across the bay here, these boards are both from the restaurant and from the dock. This dock is completely useless now. This will have to be rebuilt. But officials here say that, although we're seeing some of this

damage, that they are on the good side of this storm, the western edge.

Now, I've been reminded several times today that, when you're talking about a storm as strong as Michael, with miles per hour, just two away from a Category 5, there is no good side of a storm like this. There is a better side. And that's what Destin has been on.

There have been reports of power outages here in Okaloosa County. There have been reports of trees down and localized flooding. But no major reports of any injuries or needs for rescue.

UCCELLINI: More than 300 people went to shelters across the county. We do know that the airport here will be reopened tomorrow, but they're still assessing the damage across this county. We're seeing some things like this, and some trees down in communities.

We also know that they have been trying to get people to stay away from areas with those downed trees. We know that after the storm is when most of the injuries -- most of the deaths have happen. So they're asking people, especially once the sun goes down, not to go out and explore. So that's what we're seeing here from the far west edge of what Michael has caused today.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Very important. Good advice they're offering. Victor Blackwell, thank you very much.

President Trump is going ahead with a political rally later tonight in Erie, Pennsylvania, despite the unfolding hurricane disaster. But he just spoke to reporters about why he decided to do this, go ahead with the rally, as this major storm is still hitting the southeast.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is in Erie at this rally.

So Jim, what did the president say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

He just landed here in Erie, Pennsylvania, spoke to reporters on the tarmac at the airport where he landed. And he essentially said he didn't want to disappoint the thousands of people waiting outside and now inside this venue to hear the president speak. Here's what he told reporters just a few moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would be very unfair. You have thousands of people that started coming last night. So we're going to do that. And we have a lot of happy people.

In the meantime, we have it very well covered in Florida from the White House, from here. From what's on the plane, and we'll be back very shortly. But it would have been very, very unfair to thousands of people that you'll see over there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the president is doing this in the middle of what is a huge disaster and hurricane response down on the Florida Gulf Coast. It is something that the president criticized Barack Obama for in 2012 when Barack Obama was out on the campaign trail with Jay-Z in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy up in New Jersey.

But Wolf, one thing we should point out, the president did tell reporters and the White House is also telling reporters, said this a few moments ago on Air Force One, that they believe that FEMA is on top of this, that all of the assets of the Trump administration have been put in place, and that essentially, at this point, the president captain really do much more than that. But that he plans to go down to the Florida Gulf Coast on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Wolf, we also want to point out something very interesting that he did earlier this afternoon, speaking about those thousands of people waiting outside the venue here. The president posted this tweet that shows people waiting outside the venue here in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Wolf, one thing we should point out. That picture is the exact same picture I tweeted earlier this afternoon. It was a photograph taken by our photojournalist, Tim Garrity. Apparently, the president feels that our photographs are credible enough to share them with the public and to say this is the reason why he's having this rally here tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Very interesting indeed. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

We're going to have much more on the breaking news, right after this.

[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour's breaking news, Hurricane Michael is moving across the Florida Panhandle into southern Georgia and Alabama. It hit the Florida Gulf Coast this afternoon as a very strong Category 4 storm, the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Florida Panhandle.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray has the latest forecast for us. Jennifer, this is still an extremely dangerous and very powerful storm.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, incredibly dangerous. This is still a Category 3 and it's in the state of Georgia. This actually crossed the border into Georgia, it was still a Category 4. So this is still packing winds of 125 miles per hour as it continues to track to the north.

Now, areas along the Florida coast will continue to improve. You will be able to assess the damage there. The weather will continue to clear minute by minute.

The weather is going to deteriorate as we go across the state of Georgia. This is moving at about 16 miles per hour.

And look at the radar. You can still see that eye even though it is starting to collapse and fill in, which is a sign of very slow weakening with this storm.

But you can see those winds and the rain is right around that center, just to the east of Dothan, and so very possibly experiencing winds close to 100 miles per hour well inland. And so that's why we still have hurricane warnings in place across Georgia, portions of Alabama, and up into the Carolinas.

[17:50:10] This is going to be in North and South Carolina by tomorrow, areas that have already been waterlogged just a couple of weeks ago from Florence.

And so we're going to see incredible amounts of rain and wind. The biggest issue, of course, a lot of those trees are going to go down across the state. They also have their leaves on them, and so we're going to see trees down, power lines down, and that's a very dangerous situation.

Extreme wind warning right there right around the center of the storm. That's basically just a long-term blanket tornado warning because the winds are as strong as tornados. And so we have that extreme wind warning in place.

We had very strong gusts along the Florida coast, 130 mile-per-hour wind gusts at the Tyndall Air Force Base, and that's when the gauge broke. So most likely winds were much stronger than that anywhere from there to Panama City. Apalachicola even had strong winds as well.

Here is the radar as we go forward in time. Georgia just gets soaked as we go through the overnight hours. We're going to see anywhere from four to six inches of rain, possibly higher depending on where those rain bands set up, which is very hard to predict ahead of time. But wherever those set up, that's where we're going to see localized flooding and higher amounts of rain.

Then this is going to push into North and South Carolina. It's still going to have the winds, and we're going to have a lot of rain with this. Not like Florence because Florence just sat there. This is going to get out, but we are still going to see a lot of water across the Carolinas, a place that is still seeing high river levels even a couple of weeks after Florence.

So look at this. That's your swath of rain. Four to six inches, possibly six to 10 in isolated amounts, Wolf. This is far from over. We are still going to see a lot of wind and rain inland.

BLITZER: Yes, it's moving quickly. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin is along the Florida Gulf Coast for us. She's in Destin, Florida. You know, it's -- as we see this storm pass, the conditions were

unfolding, you've been there all day. Brooke, tell us what you are seeing, first of all, right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, I've been here all day and I will say, Wolf, I'm pretty surprised that the wind is still pretty strong where we are.

We've walked for you all the way to the edge of this dock. I'm, you know, in front of this massive structure to hopefully keep us safer as it is still quite windy out here.

You can see, earlier, it had really kicked up quite a bit. You still can see the White Caps. And if I just get down just a little bit below this dock, the water is still lipping right up to the dock's edge. So it's still coming through.

The good news, though, here in Destin, I mean, look at this beautiful sky. The sun is trying to peek through. I'm sure it will be a gorgeous sunset tonight for people here who are thankful that it could have been so much worse.

You know, before that storm actually took that right-hand turn, a lot of people here in Destin who decided to ride it out were worried. And so that's where they are right now.

If we can spin around to see a little bit of the palm fronds just to give you a quick idea. The wind is still kicking up. This is the hotel I was referring to where a lot of people still here in Destin for vacation decided to stay, not thinking it would be quite as bad as it has been. The storm surge here, three to five feet or so.

But for the most part, people are thankful here. But that is not the case farther north, Wolf, as you, I know, have been talking to people in Tallahassee and talking to Jennifer. The damage assessment is still happening in Mexico Beach.

Everyone here says -- to quote someone I talked to earlier, said it got clocked, Wolf.

BLITZER: We can hear that wind through your microphone, and it sounds pretty strong still right now.

BALDWIN: It is still pretty strong. I mean, periodically -- you know, earlier today when I was doing my show, I was sort of hugging one of these, you know, pieces of the dock because it was kicking us around. And I'm surprised that it's actually as strong as it still is.

BLITZER: It's still a dangerous situation and people are being told don't come back at least yet, right?

BALDWIN: Wolf, I missed the question. I'm sorry, I had somebody in my ear. Come again?

BLITZER: I said it's still a very dangerous situation and people are being told don't come back yet?

BALDWIN: No, don't come back yet. I mean, don't come back yet. We need to make sure the EMS and fire crews can get out on the roads because there still will be some flooding issues. Even here where I am.

But, no, do not come out yet. Make sure you heed the warnings. At least I can tell you that the Destin Airport is reopening tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: All right. Brooke, thank you very much. Brooke Baldwin reporting for us.

The breaking news continues next as we follow Hurricane Michael's march across Florida and now Georgia. Tonight, it remains a very dangerous and potentially deadly storm.

[17:54:56] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Monster storm. Hurricane Michael smashes into the Florida Panhandle, nearing Category 5 force. We are tracking its fast and furious path and the destruction it is leaving behind.

Life-threatening surge. As Michael roared ashore, it unleashed huge walls of water up to 14-feet high. Tonight, heavy rains are endangering millions of people as the storm barrels across land.

[18:00:01] Historic damage. Michael is the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in more than 20 years. CNN is on the scene as roofs tear off and houses blow apart.

And widespread outages.