Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Hurricane Ian Rapidly Strengthens, Takes Aim At Florida; Mandatory Evacuations Issued For Hillsborough County At 2PM; Kremlin Admits To Mistakes In Putin's Military Mobilization. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2022 - 11:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Boris Sanchez picks up with AT THIS HOUR right now.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Buenos dias. Hello everyone. Right now Florida is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Ian. Some mandatory evacuations were announced just minutes ago. And we are likely to hear from the governor of Florida within the next hour. We have a new forecast track just ahead. Plus, the Kremlin conceding that mistakes were made with its military mobilization, as protests there grow. And there are new rules that could require airlines to disclose all fees upfront. That's what we're watching for At This Hour.

Thank you so much for sharing part of your day with us. I'm Boris Sanchez. Kate Bolduan has the day off. We begin with the Sunshine State not looking so sunny the next few days. It is on high alert, as forecasters now expect Ian to rapidly intensify into a major hurricane and the next 24 hours. That's before it makes landfall somewhere along Florida's West Coast. Ian poses a formidable storm surge threat too especially for the Tampa Bay area. Let's begin with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. He has the latest hurricane center advisory. And Chat, something I found interesting here, officials were saying that there's a higher than usual unpredictability about how strong this storm is going to be and where it's going to land.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: True. And I think we're just getting -- just we're anxious. You know, we want this to be perfect. We want all the models to line up and say this is what's going to happen. And that hasn't happened. Few models on the right, few models on the left, not really agree. So an 80-mile per hour storm at the 11 o'clock advisory just two minutes ago, the storm does move up across Cuba overnight and into the southwestern part there of Florida with winds and waves already on shore by 8 o'clock Wednesday morning. There will already be wind, but the storm is still growing.

Where does it go from right there? That is the question. The cone gets very large. Does it go left or does it go right? Because that makes an entirely different forecast for everyone if it stays out into the ocean a little bit the Gulf or does it turn to the right. We have raised there the Tampa surge, possibly five to 10. But that is all dependent on where the storm center goes. Here's the wave forecast, Boris, 30 foot waves in the Gulf of Mexico, 30 feet. Now they're not going to come on shore at 30. But they can come on shore it 10 to 12 for sure and then possibly getting up there toward the big bend with the rest of that surge.

There'll be surge in Tampa. There'll be surge in Port Charlotte. Now if the storm and we don't want this to happen, if the storm is south of Tampa, there'd be inverse surge, so all of the numbers that you see here, all of the forecasts could change with a change in the track. The United States, the American model is running right now. It'll be done soon. And then the European model will get done about 2 o'clock.

One thing both models agree on, there's a lot of dry air in North Florida. There's going to be a lot of rain across parts of Central Florida. But as soon as this dry air wraps itself into the storm, the storm begins to die. For me that can't happen soon enough, but it will begin to die as we start to tear apart the storm. There is the heavy rainfall, regardless at least a foot of rain in many spots. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Good reason, good reason for that anxiety you mentioned on the west coast of Florida. Chad Myers, thank you so much for that. We should note a mandatory evacuation order has just been issued for parts of Hillsborough County, Florida, including the city of Tampa. Residents there right now we're filling sandbags and boarding up ahead of the hurricane. We saw long lines outside of stores as people stock up on essentials like bottled water. Let's take you to Tampa now in CNN's Carlos Suarez. Carlos this weekend, you and I were talking being Floridians about how often people there don't really get concerned about anything less than a category five or category four storm. It seems like they are heeding the warnings now especially with this new evacuation order in place.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Boris. So folks, the entire morning had been coming out here to collect sandbags. And just a few minutes ago, you could hear everyone's cellphones going off. Because that emergency alert we're now talking about that evacuation order for a part of Hillsborough County. The alert also said that storm shelters are going to be opening and that all of this takes effect at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

We are at one of three sandbag distribution sites that have been incredibly busy the entire morning. Folks, first started showing up to this location around 5:36 in the morning, and they had been filling up these sandbags the entire day. The concern ahead of Ian was that storm surge, the possibility that even without a direct hit Hillsborough County is going to see some severe flooding considering you've got the Gulf of Mexico on one side and you've got the bay on the other.


Pinellas County is surrounded by water on both sides. And so the folks we caught up with here said they're trying to get their preparations done. They're trying to get everything ready. And they just want their homes to be safe.

All right, so folks out here, it seems that well, you know, they're going to try to get as many bags as they can -- SANCHEZ: Carlos we're going to stop you there. And we're going to go to Governor Ron DeSantis right now from Tallahassee to listen to this update. Here he is.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Really, really big hurricane at this point, the diameter, the width of it is about 500 miles wide. So if you look at the cone, and if you look at where they have the landfall going, I think the landfall is still Levy County. The impacts are going to be much, much broader than that. Of course, that track is still uncertain, it could absolutely wobble further into the peninsula or even further away from the peninsula.

You will see storm surge in places like Southwest Florida, even though the storm is projected to be 100, 150 miles off the coast of Southwest Florida. And so you look in Collier County, they've already issued mandate or voluntary evacuations for some of their coastal communities because the storm surge is likely to be significant given how big the storm is. A tropical storm warning has been issued for a portion of the Florida Keys from the Seven Mile Bridge south to Key West.

Hurricane and tropical storm watches have been issued from Inglewood south to Naples. We also have storm surge watches in effect from Pinellas County down to the Florida Keys. Those watches are anticipated to become warnings later today. Now some counties have begun issuing evacuation orders or voluntary evacuations. The important thing for people to know is to know the zone that you're in. You will have counties probably throughout this morning and indeed this afternoon, identifying areas that are vulnerable for evacuation. So you should anticipate that if you're on counties in Florida's gulf coast.

Of course as you go further north and Florida, there is a little bit more time before those decisions have to be made. So as we get into the northern Florida and into the panhandle, those decisions may not be today but certainly for Southwest and Tampa Bay. Be on the lookout for that because I know we've been conferring with a lot of the local officials, those are going to happen. The way to go is to go to,

That will be able to allow you to look to see whether you are in an evacuation zone. And so if they do call for an evacuation of say Zone A and you're in Zone A then you know that and you can take the appropriate action. The Florida Department of Transportation is now suspending tolls at facilities in the Tampa Bay area. The Polk Parkway in Polk County, Mid Bay Bridge and Okaloosa Spence Parkway and Okaloosa Garcon Point Bridge in Santa Rosa and of course all the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas, Byway, Sunshine, Skyway Selmon Expressway, I-4 connector in Hillsborough as well as Alligator Alley down in Collier into Broward counties.

And as we continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Ian, we may do more toll suspensions in other parts of the state if that is warranted. Some school districts have announced school closures for this upcoming week. And you may see more as the track becomes more certain. If you want to look at the most updated information regarding schools, you can get that at, that's

The Florida National Guard has activated 5,000 Florida guardsmen as well as 2,000 additional guardsmen from Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina that have been activated to help. We've also have five urban search and rescue teams that are activated. We have Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission mobilized and ready to support needed efforts. And of course the U.S. Coast Guard is also willing and able to assist in both preparation and response.

Of course, we've declared a state of emergency for the entire state given the uncertainty that exists. Of course as we go every hour, we get a little bit more certainty in the general area and we know that this is going to have major impacts on Florida's golf course -- Gulf Coast. We've issued waivers of weight restrictions for commercial trucks to ensure we have ample fuel and resources coming into Florida, make sure you're prepared.

There's no need to panic buy. If you normally don't drink a lot of water, you know, you may not need to go on buy 20 gallons of water right now. So just do what you need to be prepared. We were have been in contact with some of the major retailers like Publix and Walmart, they are constantly resupplying. I know Publix did way more.


SANCHEZ: We're going to pull away from this press conference. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, urging residents to do what they have to do to prepare as Hurricane Ian takes aim at Western Florida. And the center of that cone of uncertainty right now is Tampa, Florida. So let's speak to the mayor of Tampa right now. Jane Castor joins us live. Jane, we appreciate having you right now. I know it's a busy morning for you. Hillsborough County, which includes your city just issued a mandatory evacuation order for part of the county beginning at 2:00 p.m. today. Should everyone in that area be preparing to leave? What's your assessment?

MAYOR JANE CASTOR (D), TAMPA, FLORIDA: Yes, we are asking everyone to go ahead and make those plans to leave in from the Zone A which basically is all the waterfront. We have about 126 miles of waterfront just in our city alone. And so asking them to go and stay with a family friend, you don't have to evacuate far, you just need to get away from the water. The storm surge is really the concern here. Our adages always hide from the wind and run from the water. So we're asking everyone to go ahead and while the weather is cooperating, just get out of those hot water areas.

SANCHEZ: Mayor, what does that look like? What does that -- does that storm surge look like for Tampa Bay? Because I've heard from experts that say that a direct hit isn't even the worst case scenario, the worst case scenario, is it being offshore and then those areas getting completely inundated? What kind of damage are we talking about?

CASTOR: It really is, you know, that's the worst case a little offshore, where they're bringing -- where the storm is bringing all of that water into Tampa Bay, which as you know, is very shallow. And so those storm surges could be anywhere 10 to 15 feet and possibly higher as well. So that clearly will be very impactful and devastating for certain areas. So again, we have to get our citizens, our visitors out of those particular areas and up to high ground.

SANCHEZ: Mary, you and I will know Floridians have been through a lot of storms in the past. Many of us are headstrong when it comes to leaving behind our homes in the face of a storm. For those that may be more hesitant to leave, what's your message to them ahead of Hurricane Ian?

CASTOR: Well, you certainly can replace personal possessions. You can't bring anyone back to life. And I think these last couple of years with the super storms, if that hasn't shown us how devastating Mother Nature can be. Mother Nature always wins and this storm is going to be a very impactful storm, whether it's offshore, or it comes closer to Tampa Bay. And so there -- this is nothing to mess around with. If you can leave, just leave now. And we will take care of your personal property.

SANCHEZ: You're right Mayor, Mother Nature has an undefeated record. The main hospital and trauma center in your city, I have to ask you about this, that hospitals in a flood zone. And there's real concern that the facility could wind up underwater. Talk to us about that. What preparations are underway there?

CASTOR: Yes, I've been in close contact with John Couris at Tampa General Hospital. And they actually have a unique water shield offense, if you will, that they have put around Tampa General Hospital that will stop the water from coming in up to four feet. Now this is the first time it's going to be tried. So we'll see what occurs there. But even in light of that there will be some evacuations not only from the hospitals, but from our ALFs and some of the nursing homes as well. So we're on top of that ensuring that everyone in our community is as safe as they can possibly be during Hurricane Ian.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we're hoping that that experiment that project at the hospital goes well that the first time they're trying that. I did want to ask you governor DeSantis warn Floridians against panic buying. Obviously we know folks are going to rush to store shelves. Do you feel you have everything you need right now from a resource perspective? Is there anything you would want folks to know in that area about what they should get?

CASTOR: Now we are incredibly well prepared. As you know, Florida has been through this. I spent 31 years as a police officer in the Tampa Police Department. So we've been through a number of these storms. We're in close contact collaboration with the county, with the Tampa Bay area, the state and even FEMA. And we have resources staged for electricity, bringing individuals linemen in from other states. We have evacuation mobility in place. So we have those resources ready to go. And we will be putting them into action at the appropriate moment.


SANCHEZ: Mayor Jane Castor as Hurricane Ian rapidly intensifies and heads potentially in your direction, we appreciate you taking time. We know it's going to be a few busy days. Let us know how we can help in the next few --

CASTOR: Thank you. I appreciate that Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course thank you so much mayor.

Coming up, an unexpected admission from the Kremlin admitting to mistakes in the mobilization of reservists as protests continue to grow in Russia, we'll take you there for a live report, next.



SANCHEZ: We're following a developing story in Russia this morning. A gunman opening fire in a school killing at least 15 people including 11 children. Russia's news agencies reporting the gunman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Let's go to London now when CNN's Clare Sebastian, she's following the latest developments. And Clare, apparently investigators say that this attacker had some Neo fascist Nazi sympathies.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, this is an angle that the Investigative Committee which is the branch of Russian law enforcement that handles major crimes seems to be pursuing. It's been reported that he was wearing a helmet and black clothing that had Nazi insignia on it. He has been named by the way as a local man who was born in 1988, an ex-pupil of the school where the shooting happened according to investigators.

The investigative committee looking into what it called his Neo fascist views and Nazi ideology, they've been carrying out a search of its -- of his home as well. Now that is an area of the investigation that the Kremlin also picked up on today, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that the person involved in the shooting apparently belonged to a Neo fascist organization, President Putin said to be deeply mourning the loss of these lives and what the Kremlin is calling a terror attack.

Now Russia has had recent -- sort of recent series of school shooting several in the last few years causing President Putin last year to tighten gun laws, the Kremlin saying today that it will look again at those gun laws. But as you said, Boris, the Neo Nazi leanings, potentially of this suspect is what they're focusing on at the moment.

SANCHEZ: Clare, thank you so much for that update. We want to focus now on Russia's war in Ukraine. The Kremlin is admitting to mistakes being made during the mobilization of reservists after they called up hundreds of thousands to the frontlines. Anti-war protests are growing in Russia as more and more of them look to leave the country. CNN's Ben Wedeman is live and Kharkiv of Ukraine with more. And Ben apparently over the weekend, a record number of Russians crossed over the border into Finland.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, according to one publication, Russian publication, as many as 250,000 have left the country since the mobilization decree was announced. Now regarding that admission, fairly pale admission by the Kremlin about mistakes with the mobilization, we heard Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman say that to cases -- there were cases where the decree was violated and regional worker -- regional governors are working to correct the situation.

It's hard to say, you know, if you look at the situation where two- thirds -- more than 2,300 people have been arrested for protesting the mobilization, we see in Dagestan. There are -- the Republic of Dagestan, there have been massive protests against the mobilization. So this pale admission probably isn't going to go very far to sue the emotions of angry Russians.

Meanwhile, there's a case in Irkutsk, in Siberia, where a 25-year-old man went into an enlistment station and opened fire severely injuring a enlistment commissar there. The Russian authorities have yet to determine a motive. But this does indicate that some people perhaps unhappy with the mobilization or the partial mobilization are taking matters into their own hands, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Difficult to watch some of that footage from the streets. Ben Wedeman reporting from Ukraine, thank you so much. Let's expand this conversation now with former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst and retired Major General Dana Pittard. Gentlemen, appreciate having you both this morning. General, as we talk about what we're watching in Russia, this mass protesting in the streets, how does that impact what's happening in the battlefield?

MAJ. GENERAL DANA PITTARD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning, Boris. Obviously, there is an impact and it's morale at home on the home front that always can affect the soldiers, the Russian soldiers who are on the frontlines of fighting, but also shows how unpopular the war is. The fact that there is a national mobilization and if you think back 120 years of Russian history, there's only been two mobilizations, you know, one in World War I in 1914 and the other at the beginning of World War II. Russia did not have to mobilize during the eight year Afghanistan war.

So this is a big deal. And people are aware voting with their feet, they're leaving. They know that it's a cause that is not sanction and not popular in the country. They also know what's happening to Russian soldiers who weren't well trained. Russian soldiers, their training is going to be maybe two weeks, maybe three weeks. So it is tough.


SANCHEZ: Yes, and Ambassador, from your perspective, with so many Russians leaving the country and with the crackdowns we're seeing in the streets, what kind of a challenge is this for Vladimir Putin? What does this mean for him?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: This is a huge challenge. Putin had to deal with the fact that Ukraine conducted a successful counter offensive earlier this month, he was under criticism from both doves and hawks in Russia. His response was to do this mobilization to conduct sham referenda in Ukraine, and to threaten nuclear use in defense of those sham referenda if the people there decide quote, unquote, to join Russia.

And what he's got now is major, major unhappiness at home. In addition, the chairman of the Duma, Volodin, the chairwoman of the Upper Chamber of the Russian parliament, Matvienko, have both criticized the way these this mobilization is taking place. Members of the regime recognize this mobilization is creating instability at home.

SANCHEZ: And General, the ambassador noted something as Putin has become more desperate, the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine becomes a more real concern. And President Zelenskyy has said he does not think Vladimir Putin is bluffing about that. Do you agree?

PITTARD: Yes, it's hard to tell. But I would not say that. Putin is bluffing. I think he will attempt to use different weapons at his disposal, which includes weapons of mass destruction, which would be biological weapons, chemical weapons, or even nuclear weapons or tactical nuclear weapons. So I don't think that's off the table. And that's a huge concern, not just for Ukraine and NATO, but the entire world.

SANCHEZ: Ambassador, the United States has warned Putin against using nuclear weapons, not a lot of details coming from the Biden administration about exactly what the U.S. response would be. What options are on the table for the United States?

HERBST: I think the most important thing is to let Putin understand that we would not let a nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction strike go unchallenged. If he's convinced of that the chances of him actually using it goes way down. And I think that's, that's the play we need to make to persuade him that is very dangerous for him to do this. We do that by saying we will respond in some dire fashion without explaining precisely what. We also talked to his friends in China, who I think would be appalled that Putin would escalate by using weapons of mass destruction.

SANCHEZ: Ambassador Herbst, General Pittard, thank you both so much for the time, appreciate it.

HERBST: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, there's new CNN reporting linking a top Trump adviser with an operative plotting to seize voting machines. We have details for you up next.