Return to Transcripts main page


Hurricane Michael Leaves Devastation in Florida, Georgia, Carolina; Roads Blocked, Washed Out in Mexico Beach Making Rescue Difficult; Hurricane Michael Ripped Apart School. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 11, 2018 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:17] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

It's becoming hard to put into words the devastation left behind by Hurricane Michael. Grim assessment from Florida's governor today, "unbelievable devastation."

The sun coming up today to really offer the first look at the beating that mother nature brought on the Florida panhandle. This is what is left of Mexico Beach, where the storm made landfall. Entire blocks. Just look at that, entire blocks bare. Homes, buildings, just gone.

Hurricane Michael is the strongest hurricane on record to strike the panhandle. It's also one of the most powerful to ever hit anywhere in the United States. The winds, horrific. The storm surge, equally catastrophic. Some areas left in ruins. More than half a million homes and businesses without power. Of that, some of those folks could be facing weeks and weeks before it's restored.

And Michael didn't stop there. Now a tropical storm, it's roared through Georgia and into the Carolinas. An 11-year-old Georgia girl is one of two confirmed killed by the storm. Search crews are fanning out today in search of more victims.

CNN's John Berman was there through it all. He's joining me now.

John, you were in the thick of it yesterday. And you're in the middle of it now. What are you seeing?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I'm in Panama City now, Kate. This is where the western eyewall passed over 100-mile-per-hour sustained winds, gusts of 120. I'm in what I think was a conference room of an office building here. You can see the table here. But look up. Look up. There's no ceiling. The roof was blown clear off this cinder block building. It's just gone. You can see the debris strewn everywhere inside here and through what was some kind of door into a wall. There's just the outdoors with the furniture and wood and metal and cinder block everywhere.

And this is Panama City, which did not see the worst of the storm. This was the western eyewall. The center of the storm, as you said, passed over Mexico Beach. Winds there probably 155 miles per hour. Simply devastating. Our Brooke Baldwin got a chance to see it from the ski. The first helicopter to pass over, and city blocks, complete blocks, just gone. Nearly every home, every dwelling damaged or completely destroyed.

We're getting word there's the National Guard on the ground now. They're going around, checking for people. There were people who decided to ride it out. There are not many, we think, but maybe a few dozen there on the ground. We're trying to get a sense of the situation there. And Brooke is there seeing what she can find out.

As of this morning, there were some 500,000 customers without power still in three states, Florida, Georgia, also Alabama, North Carolina. That power, they're working to get it back on. It's going to be slow going. We have seen crews out trying to clear the roads, but there's so much damage here, Kate. As you said, it's going to take some time to rebuild, in a place like this, the surroundings I'm in, they're going to have to start from scratch. There's nothing salvageable at this point in so many of these buildings. And people now, you know, we had one of the shop owners from the store next door come over and you could hear the crying, saying everything we had we simply lost -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And, John, you spoke with a member of the Cajun Navy this morning. A volunteer network who's come onsite and has been onsite to help rescue people. The scope and scale of this seems to have even left them speechless.

BERMAN: Yes, really interesting, because I know you have covered the Cajun Navy before also. This is a group of volunteers that sprout out after Hurricane Katrina. They took matters into their own hands. They travel to scythes where they know there will be devastation and the need for volunteer rescues.

I spoke to a member of the Cajun Navy, who was in Callaway, Florida, between where I am and Mexico Beach, also an area very, very hard hit. Listen to him. Listen to not just his words but listen to the tone in his voice. You can see and hear he was struck by the damage.


JASON GUNDERSON, VOLUNTEER, CAJUN NAVY (via telephone): It's very hard to explain. The only way I can explain it through my eyeballs is a third-world country war zone. It's beyond recognition and of being repaired. It's survival mode out here. And it's very scary. It's very surreal. It's heartbreaking.


[11:05:00] BERMAN: Surreal, scary, heartbreaking. And that's worse off than where I am. Where I am is Panama City, which had it bad. This building is destroyed. It's worse there in Callaway and even worse in Mexico Beach -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It is hard to wrap your mind around what we are seeing from these images from the ground where you are and from the air. Thanks, John. I really appreciate it. It's amazing to think what

happened in just a 24-hour period.

Let me check, control room. Where are we headed now?

All right, so as John was describing, as you're looking at these images of Mexico Beach, I think it's easy to understand that getting in or out of Mexico Beach right now is nearly impossible. The roads in blocked or washed out. You can only imagine how difficult it is. The Cajun Navy this morning saying going the distance of something that should be 15 minutes is taking something like four hours in certain circumstances.

So this morning, CNN's Brooke Baldwin was able to get up in a helicopter, to get aboard the helicopter and take a tour of Mexico Beach to get a view from the air. Here's what she saw.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You can see, you know, home after home, what was a home just flattened. So many of the homes I'm looking at made of wood. And you know, when you think of the sheer force of those hurricane winds clocked at 155 miles per hour, the bull's eye. Chad talked a lot about how the hurricane took that right turn, and this is precisely where it took the turn. Mexico Beach is a town about two miles wide by three miles long. It's not huge. But it's this quaint little seaside town. About 1,000 people live here year- round. And I have no words.

I see some people. I see about half a dozen people on the ground. I can see some official emergency vehicles. You know, we wanted to get in. We wanted to -- because the roads were impassable and you can understand why just by looking at the pictures, we want to land the helicopter and go drive to tell the stories of the few people who did choose to ride this thing out. Fortunately, I think most people heeded the evacuation. It was a mandatory evacuation in this part of the panhandle and most people did leave, but there are more than a dozen people who did decide to hunker down.


BOLDUAN: You can't even tell where the roads are anymore there. It's unbelievable.

Let me get to Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center for more perspective on this.

Chad, this is -- was projected to be where landfall -- where the storm could have made landfall. What happened that led to what looks like a town obliterated?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, 54 hours before the storm made landfall, the Hurricane Center had it right within five miles of where it landed. Now, they had it at 120 miles per hour and it landed at 155. I get that, but for 54 hours out, missing that by five miles, that's an impressive forecast, let me tell you. What happened? The video sow see here is storm surge, also wind

damage, but we know there's more surge involved here because this is a beach town where the very front houses bought the little old houses and put up big Houses on stilts. But behind that front row, there are all these ranch homes that have been there for 30, 40, 50 years. The ranch homes are gone. The houses that were on stilts, they're still there. But honestly, there's probably six houses from the main highway all the way to that front house that's on stilts. Every single one of those ranches that you see there's gone. That tells me that was a water issue. That was a push of water smashing all of those homes and pushing the boards right into the street. In fact, and even into the canal that's not that far to the north of the main highway.

So a couple things happened here. The storm itself got a lot bigger than people thought it would, 120 compared to 155. I think I would still get out of there at 120, to be honest, but you do what you can do and what you can afford to do.

The storm did make landfall with the western eyewall in Panama City, but the eastern eyewall, the one we're always more concerned with, right over Mexico Beach. Just a little to the north of Port St. Joe. So you get the wind and surge and all that. But then it kept going and kept going over to like Wewahitchka and all that. That was the area that could see as much damage but not surge damage. Just winds, trees knocked down all the way, to like Blountstown, that's the area you'll see a lot of damage inland. 20, 15 miles inland that you don't expect. Hey, I don't live on the water. What could go wrong? A lot of things did go wrong. So that's what we're seeing here. These are amazing pictures.

[11:09:59] What happened here, when we got to Mexico Beach, the helicopter didn't have a signal anymore. So we got here, all of a sudden, Brooke's signal started to break up like that. We knew we couldn't go any farther south because we didn't have a cell tower to send the signal back to because all the cell towers down there are gone. They're literally blasted away. So put the cell tower down. Don't worry about that. You take video and fly and take more video. You land, interviews, whatever. You get back up in the air, you turn around and fly 10 miles back toward Panama City where you do have a signal and send it all back. So that's where Brooke is right now. That's what she's doing. We'll look for her. She's absolutely fine. That's what she's doing now.

If you have a 75-mile-per-hour wind and a cat 1, you get a one when it comes to damage, like one gutter. You get a cat 4, you get 250 times that one gutter in wind damage alone. And we were very, very close to what could have been a cat 5. And even Andrew at the time was not a cat 5 at landfall at the time. They went back, and years later, they re-evaluated what happened in Homestead, and they said, hey, this couldn't have been a cat 4. This was a cat 5. So this very well may have the same -- the investigations they have to do to see what happened to the houses, how big the surge was, and all that.

And that's where we are now. And we just hope that the people here that were in Mexico Beach or points southward were not in those little one-story ranch homes, the beautiful ranch homes that have been there for 50 years. You can't trust them. Even if they're brick, we hope people didn't trust them and got someplace a lot stronger.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

And also Chad makes an important point. This is part of just what we need to tell you. This story is far from over for many reasons. One of them being that the images coming out are slow coming out because communication is so difficult. There are people to tell their stories. It's hard to get them on the phone. Believe me, we have been trying and it's so difficult to get a cell phone reception out. We have reporters trying to make their way in on the ground, and it's hard to get them on the phone. They are working on it, and we'll, of course, bring it to you, but it's one little example of just how devastated the area is.

Another city that was so hard hit, as we have been talking about, John Berman was there, is Panama City. This is what left behind of Jinks Middle School. Look at this video. Hurricane Michael's winds just barely shy of a category-5 strength, as chad was pointing out, ripped apart much of that school.

Joining me now by the phone is Britt Smith, the principle of Jinks Middle School.

Mr. Britt, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for calling in. I really appreciate it.

You evacuated ahead of the storm, and thank goodness, after what we're seeing in the aftermath. First off, how are you doing, and how is your home?

SMITH: Well, I'm doing fine. Fortunately, we took the advice that came from emergency management services because we live in an evacuation zone, we evacuated. Came down to my daughter's house in Bradenton. So that part is good. As far as our home, I live in Lynnhaven. It's devastated. We're waiting on an update, but according to some of the neighbors that we have that stayed there, they have trees that are on houses, roofs that collapsed, water in homes. It's really bad.

BOLDUAN: And I have heard a few stories we're getting out is Lynnhaven is another town that has been brutally rocked by the storm. Do you have any idea of when you're able to get back to see what's left?

SMITH: No, at this point, we're listening to emergency management services. I know that Sheriff Ford and that crew, that they're busy trying to take care of the most important things, which are the people that are there. The roadways still have to be cleared. There are power lines down. Debris that's in the road that has to be cleared. There's a lot of work that needs to be done before they have a sudden influx of people that are coming in to the community.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the school. These images, I'm not sure if you're able to see them as we're playing them from where you are. When you saw these pictures of your middle school, what did you think?

SMITH: It's heart wrenching. I know what the school means to our kids and our community. And to see that type of devastation on their school and realizing that that devastation not only is there at their school but also with their homes because the kids live nearby. They have walked out of their apartment complexes. We have been keeping up with people on Facebook. They have the second floor of some of the apartments are just gone. Roofs are gone. So it's a tough situation.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Smith, it must be so hard, so hard to see this.

SMITH: Well, it is. Because you want to reach out, you want to help. And we spent -- I spent this morning just reaching out to people, just trying to make contact, see where people are, what they need. We have a great, great staff there at Jinks Middle School, and they live in the community where we serve kids. They have been going door to door, checking on kids, checking on families. We have been lining up social work support to come in to assist. Just to be ready, because this is the type of situation that, with all of this devastation, we know that while we have contractors that will come in and rebuild the homes, we have to rebuild the kids and their emotional wellbeing.

[11:15:48] BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you. I read this morning that your school actually welcomed in children who was displaced by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. That was almost exactly a year ago, and now you and your students are now in a very similar spot. I mean, are you able to make sense of this right now for your kids this morning?

SMITH: No. You can't make sense of it. It is -- what you do is take the situation and what we have to make certain that our kids know is that we must be resilient. Resiliency is important. It's important life lesson that we all have to learn. So we're going to take this experience, we're going to help our kids and our community to learn from it, and we're going to be better as a result. But at this point, there's no making sense. It's just, how do we get together, how do we recover? You know, again, our governor, he talked about and said that, you know, we can rebuild homes, we can rebuild lives. We have to rebuild our kids and their emotional wellbeing.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Well, I can tell you right now, you have a whole country that's here with you guys to rebuild when you can get back in there and for the poor kids.

Thank you so much, Mr. Smith.


BOLDUAN: I appreciate your time. And let us know whatever we can do to help and whatever you need in terms of getting the word out to the community and to the country. I appreciate your time. SMITH: I appreciate it. Our kids need to know that our current

situation is not our permanent one. We'll be better. I appreciate the support.

BOLDUAN: Very important perspective.

Thank you so much.

We'll be right back. We have much more to come. Hopefully, getting a new view, a new perspective from on the ground in Mexico Beach. We'll be right back.


[11:21:46] BOLDUAN: All right, I want to take you right now to the ground, Mexico Beach. I believe we have Brooke Baldwin. It's a shaky signal, but she's on the ground.

Brooke, what are you seeing?

She's there on the ground, as you can see. Communication, though, still very tough. We'll try again and again try to get a firsthand perspective on the ground. Brooke Baldwin is there for us.

Right now, I want to go back to Panama City. John Berman is there speaking to folks on the ground.

Hey there, John.

BERMAN: Yes, all morning long, I have been looking at this print shop behind me and looking at some of the destruction inside. The roof blown clear off.

A few minutes ago, the Hernandez family, who has been running this print shop for decades, came and got a chance to see the damage for the first time.

Robert Hernandez, three generations, by the way, Robert, Raul, and Christian.

When you got a chance to come here and looked inside, tell me what you thought.

ROBERT HERNANDEZ, PANAMA CITY RESIDENT: I couldn't believe it. The loss, like this here is our second home. We have been here -- I have been in the printing business for 40 years. With my son for 20 years. And I just don't know what to tell you. I just came, the only thing I could do is pick up my own personal papers and get whatever I can, and just kind of walk away and just put it in the Lord's hands.

Want to talk to my son?

BERMAN: The name of the print store, before I talk to you son, is DTJ Printing, Dedicated to God?

HERNANDEZ: Yes, sir, when we purchased this business from the previous owner, we had to change the name. Me and my son, we talked about it. We came up with that name, Dedicated to God. And you know, put god first before everything. And that's why we put it. It's not to use god's business or anything. We only tell everybody only if they ask.

BERMAN: Just very quickly, Raul, your feelings as you look at this?

RAUL HERNANDEZ, PANAMA BEACH RESIDENT: I'm a positive person, so I'll be honest with you. It's a great loss, but I'm just looking to move forward. It's a tremendous loss. It's like he said, this is our bread and butter. We have been here for 20 years. We open 8:00 to 5:00 and stay late, come in early if we need to. And we do it with joy. So now we just have to mentally absorb the fact that we have to figure out what we're going to do now. That's where we're at. But like you said, the Lord is going to provide for us. He always has. So we're going to be positive about it and be happy we got breath and that our kids and everybody is OK.

BERMAN: I'm so happy the three of you are OK, Raul, Robert, Christian.

Please take care of them. They need you.

Thank you so much for being with us.

Kate, I'll go back to you.

[11:24:58] BOLDUAN: You're so right, John. And that optimistic perspective right now is something I think everybody can use when they're looking at that stuff, the printing shop behind you.

Thank you, John.

And thanks to the Hernandez family. We really appreciate it.

We'll be right back. We have much more to come as the stories are just coming out of what's happened on the ground in the panhandle and beyond. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everybody. Here's the view from above. We're starting to see the full extent of really the catastrophic devastation from Hurricane Michael after it slammed into the Florida coast, the panhandle.

After it slammed into the coast, it headed straight to the state capital, Tallahassee.