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CNN NEWSROOM

Hurricane Michael Leaves Devastation in Florida Panhandle. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 11, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: So we're going now, we have, I believe, we're in touch with another colleague on the ground there.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Chad Myers, are you with us in the severe weather center? Because our signal keeps -- we keep losing it with Brooke and Brian. But Brooke was talking about that right turn of the storm, and it was just, you know, just right in the bull's eye there was Mexico Beach.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, the flight path that she's been taking all along the beach showed the big empty space which is where Tindal Air Force Base was, and we could see the overwash of that beach there. And we expected it to be just as bad here in Mexico Beach, and it is.

It's breathtaking to realize that there's a couple of city blocks there where buildings used to be, homes used to be. And then you take a look at some of the newest construction that's on the beach itself, on pilings, on pillars, and those oceanfront homes are still there. But behind those oceanfront homes was where all single-story ranch type buildings. Where we hope no one seeking shelter during this onslaught of the water that came through here.

This was surge. This was wind. This was equal to about a 30-minute ef-2 tornado being right over this entire area. 150 miles is an equivalent of a strong ef-2 or ef-3 tornado. If you're in Texas or Kansas, this lasts 30 seconds. This wasn't 30 second. This was 30 minutes. This was the water pouring into these canals and through these people's homes and tearing these people's lives apart.

There's also another area down south of there, we're going to get to Port Saint Joe, going to get to WindMark. We're going to get to these other areas here. The shots you're seeing here break your heart. It really does. We talked about Mexico Beach. And you think it was a beach, but Mexico Beach is a town. Mexico Beach is a town. When you want to see sleepy Florida, there's only a couple of places left that haven't been built up with, you know, 26-story skyscrapers.

Just beautiful things here. The El Governor was right there, I could see it. I heard that the El Governor was actually demolished but I could still see it standing. There may not have been a roof on there, but it will essentially can get be rebuilt here.

I don't know what I can do with this. Not very much, guys, so I really can't play with my map. Are these still live pictures? SCIUTTO: These are pictures just moments ago from a chopper above.

MYERS: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Can you point us out where on the map this was and where this was in relation to where the eye wall of the storm hit?

MYERS: Sure. Here's the little canal, right here is the little inlet where people put their boats on and then you would take this out into the deeper water. You can see that. These are the homes here right now, all the way back through here and almost to the roadway that don't exist anymore, all of these homes, single story.

Along the beach itself, obviously, mandatory to put them on stilts, but not behind the dunes because they were built back in the '50s and the '60s. This was a town that really was -- you walk in there, and it felt like you walked back into 1965. Sure, there were some other places that had been built a little bit more modern, but this was quintessential Florida that doesn't exist anymore.

All these homes can be rebuilt. We didn't lose a lot of the beach, I can tell that by these pictures here. The beach is still there, the dune even still looks like it's still there, but one home after another here, all the way along the highway, this highway going down this way, will take you down toward Port St. Joe and to the newer residences down there around WindMark, but this -- it's devastating to see this. It's devastating to look right over all this and realize what we have left here of Mexico Beach.

Brooke is going to fly around. There's another couple areas here. We're going to go to Wewahitchka, we're going to bounce down, we're going to drive around down there, but the problem is we can't go any farther because there's no farther signal towers down there. So that's why we're taking video now. Brooke's going to fly about 10 miles back. She's going to send that video to us and then we'll go back to her here in the next hour or two.

This is a process when you don't have cell towers.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, you just -- and Chad was showing us there the satellite pictures of Mexico Beach before the storm, and you see just how many homes are no longer there. That's a lot of families who lost all or most of what they had. Let's just hope that lives were not lost in that devastation. We're seeing there.

MYERS: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Thank you, Chad Myers.

We have our Erica Hill on the ground, on the coast as well.

Erica, tell us what you've been seeing.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So -- and we're about 30 miles away. So folks who were just with us a short time ago actually saw Brooke in the chopper with her team pass over where we are in Panama City Beach. We're at a marina called Pirate's Cove Marina, it's on grand lagoon. And as you can see from the damage behind me we know that the top recorded wind gusts in Panama City, there wasn't a separate recorder here in Panama City Beach, were 129. We also know that the equipment to gauge the speed, the strength of those winds actually broke at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday. So it could have been higher.

[10:05:05] But when you look at the damage behind me here, and Chad could probably weigh in on this as well, this looks much more like what you would see after a tornado. And I say that not only because of the way the metal is twisted. I mean, there are boats in here, we've seen a number of people come by this morning, especially since the curfew was lifted at 8:00 a.m. local time, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, to check on their boats.

But just look at these shards of metal. They're twisted. Some of them look like ribbons. We've been hearing things flapping in the breeze throughout the morning. And what's remarkable is buildings just on the other side of this are untouched. Buildings behind our camera here are untouched.

A gentleman who I spoke with who lives across the street and decided to weather the storm at his home, he's OK. His wife decided to evacuate once the sheriff knocked on her door yesterday and went to a shelter in Panama City. He said at one point he was watching the shards of metal come off of the building as he was watching the storm here. His wife was saying she had never seen anything like this before.

We put our drone up earlier so we could see some of the damage around this area. Brooke got some similar shots, too, but it really just gives you a sense of the devastation. We're about 30 miles or so from Mexico Beach. It is nearly impossible, as you heard from Brian and Brooke, to get into Mexico Beach right now.

Let me give you a sense of what it was like for us to get here. So we were in Destin, a little over an hour away. We drove early this morning. As we got into Bay County, power lines down, no power. We could see that. The alerts on our phone immediately started going off. Among them, boil water alerts. Also alerting us to a curfew. And we had to be very careful driving, especially with our satellite truck, because the wires are very low. The last thing you want to do as you know is be near a live wire, especially when you're dealing with a satellite truck.

Going very slowly we saw all kinds of debris, trees down, which you would expect, giant billboards signs you see on the side of the highway. Those were down. But again, what was remarkable in some areas, we passed by a mobile home park that didn't seem to have a lot of damage, and then right next to it, we would see major damage in a parking lot. And then on the other side of the road, boats that were untouched, which again just makes you wonder what happened here in terms of tornadoes.

The woman who I spoke with who lives across the street from the marina, who sheltered in that -- she evacuated to the shelter in Panama City, tells me that when she was in the shelter yesterday, there was a tornado warning. They ushered everybody into the hallways and she said that she believes the tornado passed by them. She said people came into the shelter afterwards saying that their homes had been in a tornado.

So there's still a lot that we're trying to learn. And as you both pointed out, the lack of communication is making it really tough, not only for us to speak with people, but for people here on the ground to get in touch with loved ones. We know that first responders and officials are having a very difficult time with their communications because the cell service issue. So all of that is contributing to really what we know and what we don't know at this point.

And that's why it's so important to do things like getting Brooke up in that chopper so we can get a better sense of what is waiting when people can get in.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Well, Chad Myers, you make the point about what looks like tornado-like damage. Chad Myers said that --

HARLOW: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: In terms of wind strength, it was like a 30-minute-long tornado. And of course tornadoes --

HARLOW: Yes, two or three, right.

SCIUTTO: Tornadoes don't last 30 minutes. They last seconds.

HARLOW: That's true.

SCIUTTO: And we're seeing the effects of that.

Erica Hill, thanks very much.

Joining us now by phone is the president of America's Cajun Navy, John Billiot. He's in between Panama City and Panama City Beach.

John, you know, you guys are great, you're always there in the wake of these storms. Tell us, have you seen something like this?

JOHN BILLIOT, PRESIDENT, AMERICA'S CAJUN NAVY: To be honest, we've been doing this since 2005. I have never been scared of a storm a day in my life. And this one right here put the fear of God into me. It gives me the goosebumps just talking about it. When we were coming back from Panama City Beach yesterday, probably about 12:30, 1:00, with the evacuees, we loaded them up in a military truck, and we were crossing the bridge when about a 100 to 125-mile-an-hour wind.

I never thought that a big box-type military truck would go airborne like what I saw yesterday. We went back to the hotel where we were staging at. I witnessed -- if you can check out my live video, I witnessed so much damage. They're saying that a tornado did pass, but I say that's bull crap because I think that a tornado did pass. Just the walls to our hotel, I mean, I witnessed kids getting hurt. A lot of glass shattering.

As soon as the weather had slowed down a little bit, I ran to the emergency room, there was like eight of them. I'm going to be honest with you. I have never seen this before.

HARLOW: Wow. John, the fear of God. Your words.

[10:10:02] And you have been through a lot. And you have helped people through a lot. And that is how you felt. What is your mission right now? I know you're between Panama City and Panama City Beach right now. Maybe you guys are going to make your way down to Mexico Beach, which is just, in the words of our friend and colleague Brooke Baldwin, gone. What are you doing on the ground right now? What is mission number one for you and your colleagues?

BILLIOT: Well, we got with the National Guard this morning, and the National Guard, the police department, everybody wanted to stand down. And I told them, I said, if I'm going to stand down, I'm going to go back home because I lost my personal truck and the cargo trailer that I have one of my guys pull it, my truck is towed. My truck is towed. They had sheets of plywood flying off hotels and off of businesses that towed out my truck, busted every window on it. I got big old slash marks.

It looked like somebody would took a grinder to my truck. I have pieces of plywood still stuck in my truck. You know, my military truck, the cargo cover blew off. It ripped and it snapped every single bolt that holds up the cargo cover. So right now what I'm doing is I said, look, I said I'm sorry. I don't mean to jump to conclusions, but our Facebook page is blowing up with rescues. I said I have to do this. I said God put me on this earth to do this. Guess what. I'm going.

And they said, sir, you could possibly be arrested. I said, well, if we're rescuing people and saving people's lives, I get arrested, I said that's no problem. I said America has my back on this.

SCIUTTO: Well, good for you, John.

BILLIOT: And that's what I'm doing right now.

HARLOW: Yes.

BILLIOT: We're not waiting. There's no room for boats. If you have a pickup truck, if you have an SUV, if you have whatever, the ground is dry. It's dry in Panama and Panama Beach. There's power lines everywhere down. I don't think that there's maybe -- maybe a handful of power poles that's still up. Other than that, transformers are shattered on the ground. All of this --

HARLOW: John --

BILLIOT: -- this stuff is still live. We're waiting on Gulf Power to come in and cut the power to where we can start running over these lines.

HARLOW: OK. John, wow. I mean, we can hear it in your voice. You have never seen anything like this.

BILLIOT: I'm scared. I'm --

HARLOW: I know you are scared. And we appreciate you being with us. I'm going to let you get back to doing what you're there to do.

And I think we want to hop over to Chad Myers if that's right, our meteorologist.

MYERS: Sure.

HARLOW: Just to walk us through what you just heard from him.

MYERS: I heard him talk about a mesovortices inside the eye wall. The eye wall is spinning at 150, 145. Whatever it might be where he was. On the inside of that eye wall, there is another spin-up that's happening, almost like a dust devil, but it's not dust. It's rain and wind, and debris and boards. So at points in time, this 145, 150- mile-per-hour hurricane may have had gusts inside over 200 miles per hour.

And that was the swirl that he saw. That's the swirl that sent boards into his truck, that took the topper off of his truck. That when people were scared, they said we've never seen anything like this before, it was the wind blowing in one direction but it was also the spin inside that wind that was also increasing the wind speed in just one little spot. We thought that there might have been four of those little vortices all at one time spinning as this thing went on land.

One more thing I want to talk about, because Erica Hill had mentioned it, about this marina building that was hit by the wind. Think about this, guys. If the wind is dry, it doesn't have as much force if the wind is full of water.

Now think about John Berman's live shot yesterday. When it was windy and the water, you couldn't see through the wind, you couldn't see the trees 15 feet behind him. That was what the extra power came from. That's where it came from. It was a wet wind, a very wet wind, and you even get more power from 100-mile-per-hour wind than maybe a 150- mile-per-hour dry wind.

SCIUTTO: Chad -- Chad, you're saying that those conditions make it feel like a tornado or tornadoes within the hurricane?

MYERS: Absolutely. Yes. They're called mesovortices. They're all around them. They happen sometimes. We knew that one happened near Rockport after Harvey went in.

HARLOW: Yes.

MYERS: Because we -- I watched it online from one of our storm chasers that was down there, and I saw the spin go right through the street. And we said what was that?

HARLOW: Yes.

MYERS: We looked on radar and there was a mesovortices right there.

HARLOW: I remember yesterday, 24 hours ago, on our show, you were showing us, you zoomed in to the --

MYERS: That's right.

HARLOW: I don't want to get the words wrong, but the eye there, and you showed us those little dots and you said these are like -- these are like tornadoes. Well, now we've seen in Mexico Beach because of Brooke what those did. Wow.

SCIUTTO: Well, Chad Myers, thanks very much. We know you're going to stay on top of this. We are getting our first look, as you've seen, just the devastation on Mexico Beach, Florida.

[10:15:06] A town, looks like it was wiped off the map. So many homes there, so many businesses. A lot of people who lost a lot there. We're going to have the latest. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Catastrophic, horrific, war zone. Those are the words from the survivors of Hurricane Michael as they're describing to us this morning what happened across the Florida Panhandle.

SCIUTTO: CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is in Apalachicola where Michael's storm surge topped eight feet last night.

I'm curious as you have been down there, Derek, do you see any people? Because we know that some people stayed behind. Where are they now?

[10:20:05] DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: People have navigated the roads here. They shouldn't be because it's still very dangerous. There are a lot of downed power lines and a lot of downed trees making it extremely difficult to get around, but people are curious. They want to know, Jim, how is my property, how are my valuables, how are my neighbors? I'd be curious too if I called this place home.

I am in Apalachicola. As you mentioned this is the Big Bend of Florida's Panhandle. A very susceptible place to storm surge. Let me show you just how susceptible it is. The American Red Cross places these hurricane surge markers just to give an indication of how high the ocean rises above this particular point.

Hurricane Michael, wow, came in with a vengeance, up here. Right? This was enough storm surge to lift an entire sailboat out of the marina. You couple the storm surge with 100-mile-per-hour winds, and this is the result. Look at this behind me. I mean, the visuals are enough to explain what's taking place here, but one thing you have to take note of is that the mast was so tall with the sailboat as it got lifted out of the water, it took down some of the power lines here as well.

This is just one of the many power lines that are down across Apalachicola and Franklin County. That's why the county has 85 percent customers without power at the moment. And yes, where is everybody, Jim? Well, most people evacuated this area. About 2,000 people call Apalachicola home, but some people decided to ride out the storm of course. But remember, it's Highway 98 that you see just above me and behind me.

This is a major bridge that goes to Tallahassee, and it goes to Panama City. Both bridges are closed. The Highway 98 towards Tallahassee has been completely washed out. That makes it inaccessible for people to either come back from being evacuated or to leave to get supplies to bring back to their loved ones and their property here back home in Apalachicola.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, you see it there, downed power lines, so on. That's why it's dangerous. That's why it's dangerous for folks to come back. And again, a lot of the lost lives often happen after the storm.

Derek Van Dam there for us.

HARLOW: That's true. All right. Let's jump over to Dianne Gallagher, our colleague who is in Panama City.

Dianne, as you were describing it to us last hour, and this is I think the common thread we've seen across from all of the reporters on the ground. This looks like the havoc that tornadoes wreak.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A thousand times over. Yes. Before the sun came up and we were trying to carefully drive here to Panama City from Panama City Beach, Poppy. I remarked to my producer, Devon, I was like, I have never seen this kind of devastation after a hurricane in this manner. And look, I know we keep showing this to you, but this is probably our best example, because it's like this on every single block.

It's just these -- the wind has destroyed all of these buildings and just twisted them up. And you know, snapped trees like matchsticks over and over again. We passed a middle school that has been completely gutted. The gym, the only thing that really remains is the remnants of a volleyball net and the backboard is still intact of the hoop coming from the ceiling. Everything else is gone.

At the trailer park right behind me here, I went through, I talked to those residents. Most of them rode the storm out in those mobile homes. And they talked about how scary it was. A 10-year-old girl, Claire, said that it was like riding a roller coaster but much, much worse.

Frank Knight, who was a Katrina survivor, actually had to unpin his wife from a -- when a tree came into their trailer. It was one of three that fell on top of their mobile home. Frank said that for most of them, they never really even thought about leaving because it wasn't an option. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: Why didn't you leave? FRANK KNIGHT, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Because just like everybody else,

didn't want to leave what we had. Basically, I had no choice. Because everything I have is right there. You know, there's -- just choice we had to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: And look, we've seen lots of rescue crews come through here, lots of convoys of utility vehicles. But we haven't seen anybody going back into that trailer park just yet with chainsaws or anything to help them out. So they are still waiting -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow. Dianne, thank you for being there, for showing us, for bringing us all of this. We'll get back to you very soon.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, new information on another story we've been following. The disappearance of a "Washington Post" journalist. We're going to take a closer look at some of the alarming clues in really a disturbing case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:29:28] SCIUTTO: There's new information this morning in really just a shocking story. A U.S. official telling CNN that American intelligence, U.S. intelligence, intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist, writes for "The Washington Post," resident of the U.S., to lure him back to Saudi Arabia and detain him there.

That report was -- the reporter was seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week. He never came out. This morning, President Trump told FOX News that U.S. investigators are now overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're looking at it very, very seriously. I don't like it at all. Now, you know, you don't have American citizens but that in this case doesn't matter. I don't like it. I don't like it with respect to reporters.