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THE SITUATION ROOM

At Least One Dead as Catastrophic Hurricane Hits Florida; Interview with Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, Florida. Aired 6:- 7p ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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. About 200,000 customers are powerless along the Panhandle right now, and hundreds of thousands more may lose electricity before Michael's assault on the Southeastern part of the United States is over.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following all of the breaking news on Hurricane Michael and its rampage across the Florida Panhandle and beyond.

It hit land near Mexico Beach, Florida with the intensity of a tornado, packing winds up to 155 miles per hour. That's nearly Category 5 strength. Michael's winds remain fierce and very dangerous right now.

As the storm moves to the Northeast, impacting Alabama and Georgia, tens of millions of people in multiple states are in the hurricane's path tonight. We have correspondents all across the storm zone, along with our hurricane experts, as we cover the breaking story.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's in Panama City Beach for us in Florida, not far from where Michael made landfall.

Brian, this is the most powerful storm on record to ever, ever hit the Florida Panhandle.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf, and we're feeling the effects of it right now.

First-responders are just now venturing out to see who needs rescuing. Just a short time ago, we were here as they pounded on that door of that house right there. You can see the wall and the cinder blocks there just completely sheared off. Part of the roof collapsed over there. This part of the roof sheared off. And there's a water leak over there. This area still not safe to venture out in for the residents, but the first-responders are just now getting out into these areas. If you look at this house behind me right here on Surf Drive, there's a dramatic video from earlier today of what happened to this house.

Part of the roof got sheared off. Part of the second floor got torn off, part of the wall just came completely off, as we walk you toward that showing you some of the video earlier.

We were told just a short time ago that Hurricane Michael's western eyewall clipped this area. So this is just part of the damage that we're just now assessing as this hurricane still churns through 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 barrelled inland, making landfall with wind of up to 150 miles per hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. It is 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 underwater, the northwest coastal town hit with a six-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 is going to survive that. Low-lying areas -- the Gulf of Mexico is kind of like a basin of water all being pushed on people. And if you are 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: Florida officials telling people it is still dangerous, too dangerous to venture back into your neighborhood, but as can you see, people are not heeding those calls. They're walking around.

This is something people are warning against right now, Wolf. These neighborhoods not out of danger yet.

BLITZER: Especially as it begins to get dark over there. All right, Brian, thank you very much.

As Michael has moved east, the Florida capital, Tallahassee, has been getting hit.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is there for us.

Ryan, so what are the conditions like now?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we honestly thought things were going to be much worse in Tallahassee at this time of night than they actually are.

It seems as though the storm has taken a path that kind of brushed right by Tallahassee. And even though we are seeing pretty heavy wind gusts from time to time, that sustained heavy wind just has not come to Tallahassee for an extended period of time.

But that doesn't mean it hasn't been dangerous at times. I want to show you an example of what we have been dealing with here.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Right now, the Florida governor, the Florida governor, Rick Scott, is speaking, updating us on what is going on.

[18:05:03]

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SCOTT: ... as a monstrous Category 4 storm with winds of 155 miles per hour.

Following the landfall, I requested that President Donald Trump issue a major disaster declaration to allow federal resources to flow quickly into the impacted communities. I spoke with the president earlier today, and he has committed to make every federal resource available to help the recovery.

Hurricane Michael is the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has ever seen and one of the worst power storms to ever make landfall in the United States.

We heard of significant impacts at the Tyndall Air Force Base and many communities along the coast. As Hurricane Michael continues its destructive path through the Panhandle and leaves our state, we're turning 100 percent of our focus on search-and-rescue and recovery.

But we need every family to help with this. Listen to local officials. We could still have flash flooding and tornadoes. We heard of two devastating tornadoes in Gadsden County. The weather is still extremely dangerous. Do not take a risk. Be safe.

We also need people to be very safe with generators. Do not put a running generator in your home. It is not safe. Do not get out on the roads until you are told it is safe. We need the roads to be open for first-responders and search-and-rescue to do their jobs and save lives.

If it is not safe to leave your house, don't leave it. If you and your family made it through the storm safely, the worst thing you can do now is to act foolishly and put yourself and your family in danger or keep law enforcement and rescue workers from saving lives.

Our law enforcement and first-responders are heroes and are leaving their families to help others. We cannot thank them enough. As I said earlier today, we are deploying a massive wave of response. We will be sending help from air, land and sea.

This includes thousands of responders for power restoration, medical search-and-rescue, law enforcement, food and water distribution, and every other critical resource. I was briefed by the U.S. Coast Guard today and they are prepositioned in Tampa and Mobile with critical assets and resources.

Along with our thousands of rescue workers, local law enforcement has nearly 1,800 personnel ready to deploy. Right now, utilities are reporting more than 192,000 homes and businesses without power. We will have updated numbers out to you throughout the night.

So let's all stay safe, stay alert to weather updates, and watch the storm closely through the night. The entire nation and world have watched as this monstrous storm has devastated our Gulf Coast and Panhandle. The love and support we have received from so many has been overwhelming, and we are greatly appreciative of all of the resources and prayers that have been offered.

On behalf of the Gulf Coast and the great state of Florida, I want to thank the nation for your prayers. Following the storm, we must all come together and work together. During disasters, Floridians take care of each other. We saw this after Hermine, Matthew, Irma and Maria.

Floridians are strong, Floridians are resilient. We will recover and we will do it together. Florida is unbreakable and we will get through this together. Hurricane Michael cannot break Florida.

Visit FloridaDisaster.org for information on shelters and emergency assistance. You can visit FL511.com for current road conditions. Families can also call the state emergency information line for assistance. Follow @FLCERT or @flgovScott on Twitter for live updates. BLITZER: All right, we're going to break away from the Florida

governor, Rick Scott, outlining the enormity of the disaster that has unfolded in his state throughout this day.

John Berman is with us. He's joining us from Panama City Beach.

John, you have been there all day. You are getting a first look at the enormous damage. Give us some perspective on what you are seeing.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we finally got a chance to leave the area where we tried to ride out the storm, and about half-a-mile or a mile from our hotel, we came upon this, which was a gas station and a Subway location. And you can just see that it has been destroyed.

The awning here, such as it was, all twisted apart. And, you know, you can see all of the twisted metal littered about the ground here. This was the stuff that was the projectiles, these weaponized pieces of metal that were flying everywhere during the storm here.

You can get a sense of just how strong the winds were. Sustained winds here in Panama City Beach of 100 miles an hour, gusts of 120 miles an hour, and east of here, Wolf, as you have been saying, the winds hit 155 miles an hour when it made landfall near Mexico Beach.

[18:10:05]

And this is just one perspective, the twisted metal like this. I'm going to ask the camera to take a turn here and look down the street that this is bordering. And you can get a sense of another type of damage here. All of these trees, all of these beautiful pines snapped in half.

The power lines, you can see twisted to the ground there and simply sagging. At this point, we have about 200,000 customers in the Panhandle without power. That number seems low to me based on the damage we're seeing. I have to believe there are more people without power. We will soon get a sense of just how widespread the power outages are, but you heard Governor Rick Scott say people need to be patient.

One thing you can't see from this camera angle that I think is unfortunate and that the governor would not like to see is there are a lot of people out there driving around, trying to assess the damage for themselves.

People have left their homes. It is dry now, which is unusual. I finally dried off after a day of being soaked. It is dry, so people think they can go drive around, but it is not safe. Scenes like the one you saw with the downed power lines everywhere. People need to be very, very careful before trying to either return home or trying to get a look around. Now is not the time for that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. John Berman, thank you very much.

I want to go back to the Florida governor, Rick Scott. He is answering reporters' questions.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... all of them did, though. Have you heard from those facilities in DOC? What is their status now that this is starting to clear out?

SCOTT: Sure.

We have -- we have heard some different corrections and prison facilities, and we're -- you know, we're following up, trying to make sure everybody is safe.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SCOTT: I can give you -- we have some damage at some facilities. What I have been told so far has been some roof damage, and so we're sending teams to make sure everybody is safe.

QUESTION: But as far as the inmates are concerned, they're secure?

SCOTT: I have not heard anything that they're not, no. But we -- I have heard that there's some damage with some roofs. And so, I mean, there's -- as you can expect, there's a lot of -- you know, if you look at the path, there's a lot of roof damage in that path.

So the big thing right now is, we're getting feedback. Where we have problems, we are sending search-and-rescue teams right away. So people are -- they're very aggressive right now. These teams are getting out there to assess the damage and to provide any resources anybody needs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, guys.

SCOTT: Thanks, everybody.

BLITZER: All right. That's Rick Scott, the Florida governor, updating all of us on the latest developments in his home state of Florida, the disaster, this hurricane that's unfolding right now.

We are joined on the phone now by the city administrator in Mexico City -- Mexico Beach, Florida, Tanya Castro.

Tanya, thank you so much for joining us. I know your community was hit very hard.

The video damage coming in from Mexico Beach is absolutely devastating. Do you know how many residents decided not to evacuate?

TANYA CASTRO, CITY ADMINISTRATOR, MEXICO BEACH, FLORIDA: Yes, thank you for having me.

We had about 280 residents who made the decision not to evacuate.

BLITZER: And what is their status now? How are they doing? CASTRO: Well, we have begun search-and-rescue efforts, so I don't

have exact numbers at this point. But we -- those efforts are under way.

BLITZER: Have first-responders been able to reach these people who clearly need help?

CASTRO: They are now -- since the danger has passed, our priority is now to begin that effort, and they should be -- I expect them to be on the ground now, out there working.

BLITZER: Have you heard anything from state and federal officials who might be able to help as well?

CASTRO: Yes, yes.

We have had -- we have lots of support from state and federal officials, and we appreciate all of the support they are providing.

BLITZER: Were you and other residents of your community in Mexico Beach in Florida given enough time to prepare for a storm of this magnitude, 155 miles per hour, a major Category 4 hurricane?

CASTRO: Our emergency operations center did a great job getting the word out quickly. It was a fast-moving storm, but we -- they called for evacuation early, and I think that helped to save a lot of lives.

BLITZER: How long will it take to -- for power, water, other basic infrastructure to be restored?

CASTRO: It is going to be a while, and we just ask the residents to please be patient with us. We want to get you back in as soon as possible, but we must make sure that it is safe for you to return.

It may take days before we can get folks in, and it may take days to weeks before we have utilities restored to the homes that remain.

BLITZER: So you don't want people to start returning to their homes, at least not yet?

[18:15:01]

CASTRO: No, we do not. It is not safe to return at this point.

BLITZER: Because we're showing our viewers, Tanya, block after block of really catastrophic damage in Mexico Beach, and people, I'm sure, are already asking, will it ever be the same?

CASTRO: It will. We're a very close-knit community. We are family and we are resilient and we will rebuild our town. It will return.

BLITZER: Have you ever experienced anything like this before?

CASTRO: I have not. I have not.

It's -- as you said, it is catastrophic. BLITZER: It is so sad, too. Have you heard of casualties, anything

along those lines?

CASTRO: Not at this point. I have no information on that at this point.

BLITZER: What is your basic message right now?

CASTRO: Our basic message is to just be patient with us, let us begin -- you know, let us complete search-and-rescue efforts, and then we will bring crews in to start cleanup and damage assessment, and we just need people to be patient. Don't try to get back into your homes until we give the word that it is all clear to come back.

BLITZER: Tanya Castro is the Mexico Beach city administrator.

Tanya, good luck to you. And good luck to all of the folks there. If there's anything we can do, clearly, we would be anxious to help. Obviously, this is an enormous, enormous disaster. Thank you so much.

CASTRO: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: All right, let's check in with storm chaser Ben McMillan of WeatherNation right now. He's in Panama City Beach for us.

You have captured, Ben, some amazing images of this storm. Update us.

BEN MCMILLAN, WEATHERNATION: Yes, Wolf.

The power of the center of this storm as it passed just to the east of Panama City Beach, sparing some of the worst damage, luckily, for this area, but not so much for areas to the east, as you just saw, but the center of that storm, more in the video, palm trees, everything was shaking, everybody was blowing around.

All of that flying debris created a huge hazard. We were able to take shelter safely, but then the big concern turned to recovery and getting out of the areas that were impacted. We saw what looked like a war zone.

As we were exiting the area, there was trees down, there was debris everywhere, and some of the residents that were coming out from their homes, the people who had stayed, didn't even recognize their own neighborhoods.

BLITZER: Give us some perspective, Ben, because obviously you have been in the middle of hurricanes, you have been in the middle of tornadoes. Give us some perspective on what you saw today.

MCMILLAN: Wolf, the hurricane is just a much larger machine than a tornado. All that heat that the ocean provides, that energy, makes it one ferocious machine, and that's what you saw today, all that ocean energy plowing into the Florida Panhandle, probably the strongest storm this area of Florida has ever seen.

So it caused significant damage. And our thoughts go out to everyone that was in the path, and we hope they can get back to normal life soon.

BLITZER: But it is obviously going to take a while. What are you seeing right now where you are in Panama City Beach? Are people coming back, or are they heeding the advice of everyone, all of the authorities, don't return to your homes, at least not yet?

MCMILLAN: Well, most people are heeding that advice.

We had one person actually try to leave their neighborhood after all the debris came in, after the trees came in, and their car got stuck in a water area, which was not something they could see. They drove right into it, and that vehicle was left unusable.

So we don't want you to try to leave your home. We want you to stay and wait for first-responders, wait for utility crews. They will come to you and start getting you out.

BLITZER: All right, Ben McMillan, thank you so much. Good luck over there.

And, to our viewers, I want you to stay with us. We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:10]

BLITZER: We're back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Michael.

It's been pummelling, pummelling through Florida, the Florida Panhandle. It is now moving into Georgia, with millions of people are in its path.

CNN's John Berman is in Panama City Beach for us right now in Florida.

John, tell our viewers what you are seeing. The destruction certainly looks awful.

BERMAN: Yes, we just had a chance to get out of where we tried to ride out the storm, Wolf, and we didn't have to get very far, not a half-a-mile or so from our hotel, and we came upon this gas station which has a few shops here, and you can see this awning, the corrugated metal just torn off and now twisted debris simply everywhere.

It is really a mess. It's going to take some time to clean up, and it goes back some way. And this was not the only place we saw. I can look across the street there and see shingles blown off the building across the street. And we look down this avenue here to the side here, and we will point the camera down that way.

And you can see all kinds of trees down as well, trees down, power lines down. The updated power numbers here, nearly 400,000 customers in the Panhandle and beyond have lost power already. And like I said, I expect that number to go up, because we drove by, not over, we drove by a number of downed power lines on the street in just the mile it took us to get here.

There are a lot of cars out now on the streets, Wolf, people going out, maybe trying to return home, maybe to assess the damage for themselves. It is not a good idea. It is not a good idea to be out driving now.

There's all kinds of standing water, all kinds of debris littered everywhere. And the first-responders are out now also. We have seen emergency vehicles streaming by, trying to go to get to people who very much might be in need at this moment, as this storm has passed through Panama City Beach, but it will be sometime before we have a real sense of how much damage was done here, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. All right. We will get back to you, John. Thank you very much.

[18:25:02]

I'm joined once again by the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini.

What is next in the residents in the path of this monster storm?

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: Well, this has obviously been a devastating, historic storm.

It is still a very dangerous storm. It is moving into Georgia, moving right towards Albany, Georgia. We have flash flood situations developing. We have extreme wind warnings out, tornado watches and warning out.

It is going to be a rough night for Central Georgia and then up into the Carolinas.

BLITZER: Because it is still a hurricane-strength storm.

UCCELLINI: It is still a hurricane.

BLITZER: Even though it is going over land, as it goes into Georgia, it is still, what, at least a Category 2 or 3?

UCCELLINI: It's a Category 3, 115-mile-per-hour storm. And it will be decreasing its winds, but it is still carrying a lot of punch with it and it's going to be a dangerous storm all night.

BLITZER: Do you think people were prepared for the enormity of this monster storm?

UCCELLINI: Well, the National Weather Service has been working with federal, state and local emergency management officials and public safety officials five days in advance of the storm.

You can see that they were prepared for it. The state of Florida issued a state of emergency two-and-a-half days before the storm. You heard about people being -- having prepositioned assets, getting utility companies from all over the country, you know, prepositioned. And now the first-responders, these brave souls going out in the

middle of the night, these first-responders and recovery teams who are also prepositioned, are already out, you know, looking for -- over the situation and being there to rescue people who need to be rescued.

BLITZER: This is the worst hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle ever, at least until -- since they started doing some surveys as to how strong this hurricane is.

And it is the worst one to hit Florida since, what, Andrew back in 1992.

UCCELLINI: Right.

And the difference between -- that's absolutely correct, but the difference is you have the entire emergency management community from the federal down to the local levels prepared and responding to this storm even now, even as we sit here.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You are saying, Andrew, they weren't prepared for it?

UCCELLINI: They were not prepared. The reaction to it was after the storm made landfall. It took about three, four days to get the whole churn going to respond to the devastating damage of that storm.

You are seeing remarkable differences now in the way we're responding to this. It is still a devastating storm, human misery associated with that, and we can't let our guard down overnight into tomorrow, because there's a lot more to come as this storm moves into the Carolinas.

BLITZER: Is it unusual to see an enormous storm like this -- we're deep into October already.

UCCELLINI: Yes, this is the first Category 4 storm to make landfall in October since Hurricane Hazel in the early '50s, so this is very unusual for this to happen this late into the season.

BLITZER: And, you know, a lot of people are worried that the disaster is only just beginning right now.

UCCELLINI: Well, people are getting out and seeing how bad it really is. And as the storm moves into Georgia, you have got all of these trees that, you know, are certainly at risk, and you get these big trees falling, damaged houses, damaged cars, blocked roads.

It is going to be really bad even as this storm is moving inland into Georgia.

BLITZER: And in terms of strength, worse than Andrew, right?

UCCELLINI: Yes. Just the central pressure of this storm is two millibars lower than Andrew. The winds here are categorized just below a Category 5. It took about a year to do the full assessment of Andrew, to get that

declared as a Category 5 storm. We are going to be doing a lot of post-analysis and assessment on the data for this storm to see exactly the magnitude of it as it came in.

BLITZER: Because it was 155 miles per hour. That's a Category 4, but 157 is a Category 5.

(CROSSTALK)

UCCELLINI: Two millibars away.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you are saying in the post-analysis, they could change that?

UCCELLINI: Right.

There's a lot of data that's been taken that we will get our hands on and be able to analyze over the next several months and be able to make a full assessment.

BLITZER: You are also very helpful for us. Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, thank you very much.

UCCELLINI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

As this hurricane is still doing damage, the rescue and recovery operation is only just beginning.

Coast Guard Captain Rob McLellan is on the phone for us right now.

Thanks so much for joining us.

When is the Coast Guard going to actually be able to start to begin deploying resources?

CAPT. ROB MCLELLAN, U.S. COAST GUARD: The Coast Guard has already commenced damage assessment and search-and-rescue operations.

We currently have fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft en route to the affected area and we will continue urgent search-and-rescue throughout the evening.

BLITZER: So, give us a sense, Captain, of what this operation is going to look like from your perspective.

MCLELLAN: This one is going to be a complex and very dynamic response operation, requiring the use of a wide array of resources, including aircraft, shallow water response teams, pollution responders, maritime transportation system experts.

This will be a joint response operation with our local, state and federal partners.

BLITZER: How long do you expect search-and-rescue operations to last?

MCLELLAN: Hurricane Michael is a historic storm. We're just commencing response operations and damage assessments, which will help determine how long rescue and response operations will take. So I can't give you a clear answer on that.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen a storm like this one?

MCLELLAN: I've assisted with and directed numerous hurricane response operations. This is an historic storm. Each hurricane is unique though, requiring tailored strategies to ensure effective and efficient responses.

BLITZER: The storm certainly seemed at least, Captain, to have caught a lot of people on the Gulf Coast by surprise. Were you given enough time -- I'm talking about the U.S. Coast Guard -- to prepare?

MCLELLAN: The Coast Guard prepares for hurricane season year around. It takes -- we take comprehensive measures and train our people year- round to prepare for hurricane season. Though Hurricane Michael was a rapid-developing storm, we were ready.

BLITZER: What's your biggest challenge right now?

MCLELLAN: Our biggest challenge is going to be seeing what the damage is on scene and what strategy we have to use to get out there to the people. With that said, we have a multitude of aircraft that will be flying now and throughout -- for the duration of the response to respond.

BLITZER: What kind of aircraft?

MCLELLAN: We have C-144 fixed wing aircraft, H-60 and 65 rotary wing aircraft, and we have a Hercules aircraft that will be flying, as well, at a higher level to help assess and deploy search-and-rescue equipment.

BLITZER: Captain Rob McLellan, Coast Guard sector. Thank you for joining us. Thank all of the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard. They're doing life-saving work right now, and we're all grateful to you. Thank you very much.

MCLELLAN: Thank you, sir.

BLACKMAN: ITZER: Captain Rob McLellan.

Joining us now, Scott McLean. He's in Albany, Georgia. I take it you're already getting pounded over there, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Of course, people expected the worst of this to really hit the coast, but I don't think a lot of people inland in Georgia where I am right now expected it to still be this strong by the time it got here. That eye continues to move toward Albany. Though it is obviously

continuing to weaken, it is still quite strong. The worst of it here we should be feeling in -- (AUDIO GAP)

BLITZER: All right.

MCLEAN: -- to come. They're expecting widespread power outages here.

And you know, people who have been around hurricanes or have lived through hurricanes before know that one of the only things that reliably stays open is often the Waffle House restaurant. If it gives you any indication, Wolf, that building back there, that's a Waffle House; and it closed up just at the top of the hour. I was there when the workers were leaving. They said they would reopen in the morning, so that might give you some indication of just how bad they are expecting this to be.

We know that wind gusts here could reach 70, maybe 75 miles per hour. That is hurricane-strength wind gusts. In terms of sustained, we're talking 40, 50 miles per hour.

That's important to note, because I spoke to the fire chief earlier -- you can really see the wind whipping through and the rain coming down, as well. But the fire chief said first responders will not be going out, Wolf, once winds reach 35 miles per hour sustained.

So there could be a period, perhaps as long as two hours, where if you call 911, no one is coming to get you. That is dangerous. I asked officials, you know, why not just have everyone evacuate? And they say, look, it's pretty simple. In this area there's not very many places you can go that are close to here where you could get out of the affected area. And so it is simply not practical to have everybody evacuate this area.

Obviously, those with health conditions, those that are a little bit more vulnerable, they have been advised to get out, but for everybody they are saying, look, stay inside of your homes. If you live in a mobile home or a less stable one, go to one of the five shelters that they've set up in this area.

And one other thing to point out, Wolf, and that's that it's not just the people that are going to be affected by this pounding wind and potential for flash flooding. It's also a big industry, the No. 1 industry in this state, which is agriculture. They've already been hit hard by Irma and Matthew in recent years, and they're expected to get hit hard again with Michael.

We're talking pecan trees perhaps pulled out by the roots. We're talking about cotton crops completely destroyed. They are just about ready to be harvested right now. And so you have, you know, these crops that are ready to be pulled out of the ground, and all of a sudden you have this weather come through. It is going to be a massive, multi-multi-million dollar damage we're talking to crops in this area, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. From Georgia it's going to move into the Carolinas, as well. Scott McLean, be careful over there. We'll get back to you.

Want to check in with our meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's in the CNN Weather Center. So show us what 's going on in Albany, Georgia. This hurricane is already beginning to hit over there, but then it's going to move further through Georgia into the Carolinas.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You're exactly right. You can see Albany right here, and they're just about to get in some of the strongest winds. So the winds where Scott is now will be picking up within the next half hour or so as the center of the storm passes, most likely just to his west. So he'll be just on the east side of the storm.

[18:35:13] And it's going to continue to churn all across Georgia as we go through the overnight hours. We could see areas with four to six inches of rain easily, in a very short amount of time. This is all going to happen overnight.

And so zooming in just a little bit, you can see the center of the storm right there starting to collapse. It is showing signs of weakening very, very slowly. But this is still a Category 3 storm with wind gusts of 130 miles per hour, and that's before the gauge broke at the Air Force Base along the coast.

And so this is continuing to be a very powerful storm. This is still a Category 3 storm, a major storm across Georgia; and it's going to push to the north and east by the time we get into tomorrow morning. North and South Carolina are going to be inundated with more water. They've been water logged since Florence. A lot of the rivers are still running a little bit high. So we could see four to six inches of rain across some of these areas. It's really all going to depend on, Wolf, where the bands set up and where we see some of that training, which is where showers and storms run over the same place over and over. We saw that during Florence.

This one is going to be moving quickly, which is good news, but it still has a lot of moisture. It has incredible amounts of wind with it, and so we're still going to see a lot of trees down, power lines down. We are going to see some flooding.

The Gulf Coast along the Panhandle, they're finally able to assess the damage, but now that the storm is pushing to the north, new fears and concerns for people in Georgia and the Carolinas as we go through the overnight hours.

BLITZER: And as you say, it's pretty extraordinary for a hurricane as it moves inland to remain a hurricane, Category 3 -- Category 3 hurricane as it moves through Georgia right now.

GRAY: Right. It's been 120 years since we've had a Category 3 roll into Georgia, since 1898. And so this is extremely rare.

And when this storm was crossing just into the Georgia -- crossing right over the Georgia state line, it was still a low-grade Category 4. And so that's unprecedented. This storm has really held together. It came up quickly. It -- it has held together, and it has a lot of rain and wind with it even now still.

BLITZER: We're going to get back to you, Jennifer. Thank you very much. Jennifer Gray helping us appreciate the enormity of the storm.

We are now just beginning to get some sad news. One confirmed storm- related death. We'll update you on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:19] BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on Hurricane Michael.

Tonight, Florida's governor is urging residents to stay off the streets as officials begin to assess the damage for this historic storm.

We're also getting some very sad news. The first storm-related death. Within the last hour, a man died after a tree fell on a home near Greensboro, Florida.

Let's go back to Jennifer Gray in the CNN Weather Center for us. So walk us through what we're seeing about this hurricane, its path right now, Jennifer.

GRAY: Yes, and the trees down, Wolf, has been one of the main concerns all day long that we've been talking about. The trees are going to come down. If you have tall trees in your yard around your home, be very careful, as well as trees falling on cars, as well.

The storm is still pushing across portions of Georgia. You can see some of the strongest winds right around Albany right now. The worst of it is not over for you.

Tallahassee is on the backside. We have gotten some very strong winds there, some very, very heavy rain, but that is going to be in the clear before too long.

The storm is moving very, very quickly, and so a lot of these places will experience these very strong winds, and then it will be over within, say, half an hour or an hour. So that's the good news.

But the bad news is the storm is still very, very powerful. This is still a Category 3 storm with winds well over 100 miles per hour. So we're still going to get the very strong winds and the heavy rains all across Georgia and the Carolinas throughout the overnight.

In fact, there's a tornado warning right now in the Atlanta metro area, just a couple of miles south of downtown. And that's what we're going to see. Tornado warnings are going to be popping up with this. It's very common with tropical systems.

So if you're in the Atlanta area, definitely seek shelter. Get to your safe room. If you have a basement, get into that. Get away from windows. That's going to be the most important place -- the most -- the safest place for you over the next half hour or so. So the storms are going to continue to fire up. We're going to get a

lot of heavy rain. We could see some flooding, because this rain is going to fall in a very short amount of time. And then as we get into tomorrow morning, it's going to go into the Carolinas, South and North Carolina. Areas that got so much rain, we remember, just a couple of weeks ago from Florence, will continue to get rain tomorrow, and then it will start to push out.

But, Wolf, the winds, the rain and the tornado threat will be very real throughout the overnight hours.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. All right. Thank you very much, Jennifer Gray, with that report.

Joining us on the phone right now, the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida, Andrew Gillum. He's also running for governor of Florida.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. What's your -- the biggest fear right now, the biggest threat from this storm in your community?

MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM, TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA (via phone): Yes, thanks so much, Wolf.

Coincidentally, I'm actually out in a utility vehicle right now with some of our -- one of our utility workers as we take observation of what the damage looks like, particularly to our electric utility system.

[18:45:12] And what we're seeing is there are trees down everywhere. That really remains our biggest threat. As just reported, these bands of wind come through, and because the ground is saturated, you know, trees come down. It doesn't take many to disrupt the power grid system. We've got right now, Wolf, about 60,000 customers in our area that are right now without power.

We are just now putting back on the streets our EMS, our fire, our police, and then some limited utilities to make its way through the community to observe and assess what the damage is at this point. We're not in the clear. We want folks to still be mindful and observe our request that people stay off the roads and remain in their homes until we can get an all clear that it is safe and that streets are passable and we don't have live wires on the ground.

That remains our biggest threat at this time, but it really could have been a ton worse for us, and we are sorry to see some of the impact that has happened across our region, and considering the power and intensity of the storm are hopeful that there won't be more fatalities associated with this dangerous storm.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Of course we hope that. Let's see what happens.

Mayor, the storm intensified rapidly over just a few days. Were residents of Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida, and across the rest of the panhandle from your perspective given enough warning about the potential for truly catastrophic damage? GILLUM: Well, I'll tell you, this thing came on us quick, this storm.

Sunday I was in south Florida on a different mission and got word that this thing was looking like it was going to make its way our way, and immediately got back here. Between that evening and today, we really had to ready ourselves rather quickly.

On the good side, I will tell you in my community -- I mean, we felt really prepared for this storm event. We were able to very quickly get over 100, 150 utility workers from across the state of Florida and really across the country, as far away as Nebraska, here on the ground, ready. These are the same crews that we're going to deploy in the morning to deal with some of the reconnecting that will be necessary to get our utility system back up and going.

Now, whether or not that was true all across the panhandle, I really can't say. I think that story is still yet to be told once we get an assessment of the range of damage that has occurred across the Northern Panhandle of Florida.

BLITZER: When will the first responders, mayor, be able to reach people in need?

GILLUM: Well, I tell you, in our area we have just lifted -- probably 30 minutes ago lifted the restriction on our first responders to be able to respond to -- to 911 calls. So our trucks are rolling again in our area. Now, for parts further west of us, it will be difficult to tell how quickly they will be able to get into places along the coast that experienced the extreme storm surge. Clearly it will be much more challenging for that part of our state to get first responders in, but as we repair our community, we are prepared to stand ready to assist others in the recovery effort.

BLITZER: Mayor Gillum, good luck to you. Good luck to all of the folks in Tallahassee and throughout the Florida panhandle as the storm moves through Georgia, heading towards the Carolinas. We wish everybody good luck right now. Thanks so much for joining us.

GILLUM: Absolutely. And a speedy recovery for everyone. I hope they (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: Let's hope indeed.

I quickly want to go back to CNN's Brian Todd in Panama City Beach for us. It's not very far away where Michael made landfall.

Brian, you're seeing lots and lots of damage?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are, Wolf. You just heard the mayor say it. We heard Governor Scott say it a short time ago. They are warning people do not venture into these neighborhoods because it is still so dangerous. This is the reason why.

Look at these power lines that are down, kind of flopping around in the wind. We are still getting some very heavy wind gusts here, and these power lines that we have to keep our distance from here are still very, very dangerous, still kind of flapping around. This house we've got to show you. This is on Surf Drive. It looks

like half of this house was basically torn off, this roof. Earlier, there was just some incredibly dramatic video of this happening. While it was happening, a local resident shot some video of it. You can see the powerful force of the storm as it hit this house, as it ripped off what looks to be almost half of the structure there.

We were told by our CNN weather team that the western eye wall of Hurricane Michael caught this area pretty much square in the jaw a few hours ago, and this is the result of it. You know, seeing that video, kind of just really it jumps out at you as for the -- just the sheer power of storm when it hit, when it was at its real strength, and this is the result of it.

[18:50:11] Now, first responders have been able to venture out. We did see them knocking on a door here at this house to my left. They could not find anyone in here. They've been checking houses all throughout this neighborhood.

We asked them as they came out a short time ago, did you find anyone? They think these houses are vacant. We did see them checking this house as well. We do believe this house is vacant.

But again, you can see all the way down Surf Drive here, and what this Jeep is doing, what others have been doing over the last couple of hours, this is what the governor and others are saying don't do it. Don't venture back into these neighborhoods because, you know, it is still -- there are dangers that you don't see.

We smelled gas here a short time ago. These gas leaks are very, very dangerous. Look at all the downed power lines down there on Surf Drive.

And again, you still see someone way down the street driving there. We've seen curiosity seekers here looking at the damage. And this is -- the governor and others can't emphasize enough that that is just not the right move to make. They are saying, basically, stay in place until you're directed to come out when it's safe to venture into these neighborhoods.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, be careful over there yourself. We'll stay in close touch.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:01] BLITZER: Breaking news, at least one person is dead in Florida, and tornado watches and warnings are now posted across Georgia as Hurricane Michael moves inland. The storm made landfall over the Florida panhandle as a strong category 4. Tonight, gulf powers warning that many people on panhandle may be without electricity for weeks.

Let's check in with CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's in Southport, Florida, for us. What are you seeing there, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is due north of Panama City and just utter destruction. We are trying to actually get to Mexico Beach, but this is the sort of stuff we're seeing all the way along. We had to stop here because what -- it was hard to go any farther, there were so many lines down.

This is a small bayou. These are just homes -- the roofs ripped off, the homes themselves sort of imploded. We saw stores along the way with the front doors completely blown out. Somebody came up to us a little while ago and said their home is just completely destroyed.

Look at the electrical lines along the way here. They are just completely on their side, in many cases, along the road. Trees in this area snapped in half like -- literally like a twig. I don't want to be cliche here, but it's absolutely incredible how many trees, hundreds if not thousands of trees, many of them across the roads here.

This is a very small bayou. There was a big storm surge that went in here and this is still water that is coming out of this bayou right now. If you look back toward the far end of it, you can see just the number of trees in this bayou that have been broken off. Many of those have gone into homes in this area.

People are coming back into this area or coming out of their homes just literally shell-shocked, not quite sure what they're going to do now, trying to get to loved ones, desperate to get from one place to another, but they are blocked by trees, by downed wires. One woman I spoke to that was blocked here a short time ago says she was trying to get to her father. She was in tears because she had tried every way to get there and it was just impossible.

People really, really concerned now that night is falling. It's gotten a little cooler this evening as well, so it's going to be a long, cold, wet night for a lot of people here in Southport but certainly Lynn Haven, which is just south of us was hit very hard, Panama City, and then Mexico beach is several miles to our east here. So, this is going to be a very long night here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will be. We see those downed power lines, it's an enormous, enormous threat.

Miguel Marquez on the scene for us, thank you very much.

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

Your biggest fear right now?

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: Well, it's going to be a rough night in Georgia. Storm is still intact and heading up. Flash floods, extreme winds, taking down more trees, more wires, tornados are possible, and even in the outer banks of North Carolina, they're going to be dealing with storm surge conditions. So, it's going to be a rough night and I'm proud of the men and women

of the weather service who are working with these public officials to keep the community safe.

BLITZER: So, this could go on not just tonight but tomorrow and for several days, especially the power lines.

UCCELLINI: Yes. I mean, the impact of this will be felt for days or weeks, and you're already seeing the folks who have been preparing for themselves to get out there and help the people and they're now going out there and they're dealing with very dangerous situations.

So -- but they're ready and responsive and hopefully it's going to make a big difference.

BLITZER: And it's amazing how much cooperation, everybody's working together in an environment like this.

UCCELLINI: It is an amazing thing to see and watch and be part of, actually.

BLITZER: And I know the National Weather Service is doing critically important work. We're grateful to you, Louis. We're grateful to all the men and women of the National Weather Service for the important, critically important work that they do and helping us get ready for a crisis like this. It's an enormous situation.

UCCELLINI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service.

We're going to continue CNN's special breaking news coverage of Hurricane Michael.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.