Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ian Leaves Catastrophic Destruction Across Florida; Florida Officials: At Least 15 Known Deaths from Hurricane Ian; Biden: Hurricane Ian Could Be "Deadliest" Hurricane in Florida's History; Kremlin to Host Ceremony Annexing Russian-Occupied Ukraine. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 29, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Florida man Mike Ross was riding out the storm inside his mom's house in Bonita Springs when he spotted a stray cat clinging to an air conditioning unit. That's he went outside and waded into the flood waters. Mike's mom captured the rescue on camera. His girlfriend posted it. They say they're keeping the cat and naming him Ian.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Right now on THE LEAD, Ian strikes, decimating parts of Florida's Gulf Coast and still on a deadly path as authorities begin to assess just how many lives have been lost. The high waters, homes, buildings and roads ripped apart, ongoing search and rescue missions, and the damage is not just along the coast.


Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with our national lead and the first look at the death and devastation left behind by Hurricane Ian across southwest and central Florida. This same system first made landfall in Cuba, then onto Florida's west coast. Now, Ian is about to strengthen and make its third landfall.

Let's show you what Ian has done already. This is Fort Myers Beach this morning. Chunks of metal and trees thrown across the streets, buildings ripped apart, cars destroyed a. Resident who has lived there his entire life said this is the worst hurricane he's lived through.

Also, barrier islands have been cut off near Fort Myers. All the bridges have failed and massive sections of the Sanibel causeway were washed away by the storm surge, severing the only connection Sanibel and Captiva Islands have to the Florida mainland. Search and rescue crews have been deployed, including the U.S. Coast Guard, to check on people who chose to stay behind and ride out the storm. Almost every person in this county, Lee County, is currently without power. Just a small fraction of the 2.6 million customers in the dark across the state of Florida right now. Lee County sheriff says he cannot give a definite assessment of the

number of deaths, but he believes at least five people have been killed so far. CNN knows of ten other storm-related deaths in Florida.

Officials expect that number to go up, as does President Biden.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history. The numbers are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life.


TAPPER: Florida Senator Rick Scott also noted yesterday many times more people die after the storm than during the actual storm. That's because of falling power lines, falling trees, electrical accidents from items such as generators.

The risk from Ian is nowhere close to over. It has weakened to a tropical storm but it is expected to gain strength over the Atlantic and become a hurricane once again before battering South Carolina tomorrow.

Our teams are spread across the hardest-hit regions of Florida to cover this historic storm.

Let's start with our Brian Todd who has been surveying the damage traveling down Florida's west coast from St. Petersburg, south to Naples.

And, Brian, water has started receding where you are. What did the water leave behind?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what it left behind, Jake. Take a look at these apartments here, ground floor on Gulf Shore Boulevard. Just completely tore out the facade of this one, as well as this one and several others. We could do a sweep all the way down the street and you would see similar scenes.

This is the kind of damage that's being assessed right now as rescues are continuing today.


TODD (voice-over): Up and down Florida's west coast today, residents facing flooded homes, neighborhoods under water, streets littered with abandoned cars, roofs torn off, roads blocked by flooding and debris after a stormy night of tearing winds, rushing water and last-minute escapes as category 4 hurricane ripped through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden the house flooded. It just started going deeper and deeper, and by the time we were walking out, we were mid-thigh in water.

TODD: The Naples Fire Department carrying out water rescues, even though some of their own stations were flooded. First responders even spotted on jet skis.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We've never seen a flood event like this. We've never seen storm surge of this magnitude.

TODD: Bill Hogan says water reached two or three feet in his house. He thinks the boat on his lawn came from two blocks away.

BILL HOGAN, FLORIDA RESIDENT: Which would give you some sense of, you know, how much water was here. There was at least three feet of water throughout the whole street.


TODD: Fort Myers among the hardest hit from the waterfront to downtown, to inland neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lost everything we had -- pictures, memories, gone.

TODD: Fort Myers Beach now a debris field. In Port Charlotte, flooding at a hospital's ICU.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got people out of the ICU. The problem then ended up being that the water gushed down the stairwells and onto other floors.

TODD: The causeway to Sanibel Island breached in several places. Anyone who stayed there now cut off from the only link to the mainland. More than 2.5 million customers lost power with repair crews just beginning to fan out. Officials warning residents that hazards remain.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You have power lines that are down. You have trees that are down. You have a lot of hazards right now.

TODD: And it's not just the west coast.

DESANTIS: Some of the flooding you're going to see in areas hundreds of miles from where this made landfall are going to set records.

TODD: Damage extending well into central Florida. Orlando saw more than a foot of rain, prompting high-water rescues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy mackerel. This trailer here is actually under water.

TODD: And residents at a nursing home evacuated. In Kissimmee, trapped victims brought to safety with airboats. This family is saying they lost everything and were taken out a window. Another woman wishes she had evacuated before the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard the neighbor screaming. I looked out the window, their car was submerged. So we tried to get the vehicle out, but it was too late.

TODD: Even in the east, Jacksonville and St. Augustine seeing coastal flooding and strong winds. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And from our position here in Naples, we can show you another angle. We got a drone up in the air on, the stationary position not far away from me. We've got a drone looking down, Gulf Shore Boulevard here. You can see some of the debris and damage down the street and the swath of where the storm came in as we've been reporting.

At least 15 deaths as of now attributed to the storm here in Florida. Of course, officials are saying that that number is expected to grow. As we've been reporting, Ian is not done yet. It's targeting another state, believed to be ready to hit South Carolina tomorrow, again, as a hurricane -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much.

North now to Lee County, Florida, where at least five people are reported to have been killed in the storm. CNN's Randi Kaye is live for us in Ft. Myers.

And, Randi, you're learning more about water rescues around you.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jake. We've learned as of this morning about 500 people have been rescued here in Lee County where Ft. Myers is and also in Charlotte County where Punta Gorda is where we spent the day yesterday. That's according to the state's emergency management.

It's unclear how -- what condition those people were in or if any of them needed to be taken to the hospital. But certainly, Jake, they are lucky to be alive.


KAYE (voice-over): Homes under water, roofs shattered, boats scattered across waterways.

Ft. Myers, Florida, so battered by Hurricane Ian's unrelenting winds and destructive storm surge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just devastating to see my neighborhood like this.

KAYE: It was unrecognizable to residents who emerged after the storm.

Sydney Van Horne and Kylie Jones returned to check on their Fort Myers home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That thing used to be way over here. The fridge was turned the other way, flipped up against the wall.

KAYE: The flood and wind damage they found was much worse than they expected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just smacked us really hard and, you know, we fled to my mom's. Now we're homeless. KAYE: Those who stayed describing alarming conditions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just tried to keep everyone calm the whole time. It was very scary to have the water and the river flowing underneath us all night long.

KAYE: Some neighbors spent the morning checking on each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was about two foot all through, yeah.

KAYE: At least five people are believed to have died in Lee County where Fort Myers is located, the sheriff's says. Its beach devastated by a 10-foot storm surge. Almost 90 percent of customers in the city of Fort Myers are without power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't think it was going to be as bad as it was. I don't think anybody really did.

KAYE: Officials repeating the same message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay inside because it's not safe to be out moving around.

KAYE: Fort Myers officials reminding residents a stay-at-home curfew is in effect.

DESANTIS: Today is about identifying the people that need help who may still be in harm's way.

KAYE: Keeping people off damaged and debris-filled roads crucial for first responders.

BIDEN: These are dangerous missions and I'm grateful for the brave women and men, federal, state and local governments working as one team, risking their lives to save others.

KAYE: The Coast Guard already rescuing over two dozen people in the area throughout the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very dangerous operation for them, as you can imagine. Things don't look the same as they did before. You have downed power lines. You got lights that are out, fires in the area.

KAYE: Saving lives, the priority, even before officials can begin to assess the damage.


DESANTIS: You stabilize, you provide the help with people, but you want to get back to semblance of normalcy as quickly as possible. And it's going to be harder in some areas than others.


KAYE (on camera): And, Jake, if there's any question about the power of this storm, just take a look here behind me. We're at the Fort Myers yacht basin. Look at these boats, they were docked, they were in the marina here and they are no longer in the marina. The storm tossed them right out. We were on city streets that were flooded yesterday.

We saw huge cement pieces of the dock that had traveled for blocks from this marina, from this area into the city, Jake.

KAYE: All right. Randi Kaye, thank you so much. Randi Kaye in Fort Myers.

The National Hurricane Center expects Ian to continue strengthening and to become a hurricane once again in just a few hours. It's a tropical storm now off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.

CNN's meteorologist Jennifer Gray is in the weather center for us.

Jennifer, where is Ian right now exactly and how strong is it expected to get as it regains strength?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So right now, it's just off the coast of Orlando. You can see that little swirl there. The storm is quite disorganized right now, as you can expect. But it is starting to get back together again, right now with winds of 70 miles per hour. We only have to get to 74 before this becomes a hurricane once again.

But keep in mind, tropical-storm-force winds extend hundreds of miles from the center. We're already seeing tropical-storm-force winds all along the coast of Georgia, South Carolina, and very gusty winds extending inland. A lot of these trees in the southeast have big tree canopies, so we're going to see a lot of trees go down probably over the next day or so, a lot of power lines down. Do expect more of that.

So, this is going to make landfall most likely as a category 1 storm along the South Carolina coast. Jake, you know this. This is a very vulnerable area as well, the low country. This is a very low-lying part of the southeast coast.

Charleston floods very easily, and so when you get potentially 5 to 7 feet of storm surge, into that part of the coast, downtown Charleston could be under water. We could be looking at another very, very scary situation here, even with not a very strong storm.

This will be a category 1 storm, but sometimes the impacts from storms, even if they are a category 1, can be very, very big. So we're looking at 4 to 7 feet of storm surge potentially right around Charleston. Once you get to Savannah, it's 4 to 6. That's significant as well.

Water is going to be pushing up into these rivers, these inlets, the intercoastal, and all of these areas, the people that live around know that they flood very, very easily. And so, we are likely going to see a lot of water inundation across the southeast coast.

So winds are already starting to gust across this area. We're already seeing tropical-storm-force winds, likely seeing hurricane-force winds by the time we get to tomorrow morning. And then, Jake, this making landfall around midday tomorrow. TAPPER: All right. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.

Right now, no one can get on or off Sanibel Island. Governor DeSantis just took a tour of the area. He said Sanibel experienced, quote, biblical storm surge. Sanibel just off the coast of Cape Coral and Fort Myers. What these rescue teams and others are up against. That's next.

Another big story right now. Vladimir Putin is hours away from one of the largest land grabs in Europe since 1945. What is Putin's annexation and absorption plan? That's ahead.

But first, a time-lapse view o Ian moving in. A traffic camera in Sanibel Island captured this, giving us at least some perspective of the ferocious storm surge that Governor DeSantis called biblical, and the force of this storm.

We'll be right back.


TAPPER: This just into CNN. Stunning new drone footage of the Sanibel Island Causeway or what's left of it. You can see entire sections of the highway just missing, now sitting in the Gulf of Mexico. Other sections of the road are buried in the sand.

This road is the only access to the barrier island of Sanibel outside of Fort Myers by road vehicle. Right now, rescuers can only get to Sanibel Island by boat.

Let's bring in Mary Mayhew. She is president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association.

Mary, thanks for joining us. You manage a network of hospitals across the state of Florida. We understand some along Florida's west coast are damaged.

How extensive is that damage? And are people okay?

MARY MAYHEW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, FLORIDA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: Well, obviously, the focus for our hospitals in the southwest Florida area is on taking care of patients, responding to the needs in that area as the search and rescue operations are under way. Thankfully, most of the hospitals did not deal with any damage to their facilities. The biggest challenge, of course, is their dependency on infrastructure utilities, the electrical grid, water supply.

We have one of the larger health systems in Lee County. We are -- several of their facilities are without water, because of the disruption in the local public water supply. That, of course, is creating significant challenges. Hospitals have to have water to stay operational. So we are today working with -- the state is working with local officials and the hospital to transfer, to evacuate a number of patients in those facilities.

TAPPER: What about the patients? Where are they being moved? MAYHEW: Well, again, this is heartening. Around the state, hospitals

have been coming to the aid of their colleagues. We have identified beds, both in the region and around this state, where hospitals are ready to accept patient transfers. They are offering up ambulances, air transport to help support -- this is a very sophisticated, well- coordinated effort to safely evacuate and transfer patients.


Of course, the priority is to support transfers locally so patients can stay close to home and to their families.

TAPPER: Do you worry that the hospitals in your network that are now out of service might prevent you from providing critical care in these hard-hit areas? As you know, many serious injuries come not just during the hurricane but in the days afterwards.

MAYHEW: We're still in the throes of we don't know what we don't know. And that is certainly, as hospitals are examining all aspects of their physical structure, evaluating for water damage, we have other areas of the state that may still see and experience flooding.

And then, of course, it's the hundreds of search and rescue operations that are occurring right now where there will be a need for hospital care. You know, again, we all take for granted sometimes what we have at the ready and at our access until it's not there. Our hospitals of course are 24/7 operations, so it is not just, as you said, what is happening today, but it's their ability over the next days and weeks and months to ensure that they have access to services for their patients, for their communities.

Of course, it's not just hospitals. We have nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes that are being affected either from damage as a result of the storm or the lack of access to water. That is affecting the whole continuum of health care services in that region. Now, thankfully a lot of resources -- Governor DeSantis, his team has resources station North Dakota nearby counties. They were deployed in the early hours today to be there to help all these health care providers respond to the situation and to the pressing needs.

TAPPER: All right, Mary Mayhew, thank you so much. Mary Mayhew with the Florida Hospital Association.

New drone video coming in shows a marina in Fort Myers and boat now sitting atop each other after Ian came through. A resident told us everything is pretty much wiped out. We're going to have more from Florida's west coast and beyond, that's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Ian. Some residents are now returning home now that the storm has moved across the state and is going across the Atlantic Ocean. They're going to see what is left behind of their home. CNN's Carlos Suarez is live in Englewood, which is north of Fort Myers

in south of St. Petersburg College.

How bad is the damage where you are?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the damage out here is pretty bad. Every single person we talked to is returning home for the first time, and this is how things look.

Debris litters this entire community, twisted metal, parts of roofs, as well as what we believe to be what's left of this carport. Just on the other side of this property that home right there is missing its roof. And then on the other side is a car that was parked. Its front windshield busted in.

Everyone that we talked to out here told us they made the decision to evacuate. They did everything they were asked to do, and now they're coming home to see that they don't have a whole lot left. They are packing up their belongings, they're trying to figure out where to go next but they say they're going to rebuild because, for them, Florida remains home -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Carlos, thank you so much.

Today, President Biden visited FEMA headquarters where he received a briefing on the damage from Hurricane Ian. The president then declared Hurricane Ian could possibly be the deadliest hurricane in the history of the state of Florida.

Let's bring in Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Secretary Mayorkas, you were there. As President Biden said, he's hearing early reports of significant loss of life. Tell us what you can about that.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Jake, the president has moved so very swiftly, both in anticipation of and in response to Hurricane Ian. He issued an emergency declaration before the hurricane hit landfall so we could pre-position assets and get our resources and capabilities ready to respond as swiftly as possible. He also, when the hurricane hit, issued a major disaster declaration so we could bring additional resources, and that is indeed what we have done.

We have FEMA, the United States Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. We have thousands of people deployed to Florida and that's just the Department of Homeland Security.

The president has issued a directive that this be an all-of-government response so we can address all of the affected Floridians. We spoke of what we have done thus far. We are in a search and rescue operation and moving swiftly to response and recovery.

We informed the president of all that we have done thus far under his direction, and he of course made it very clear that he wants us there not just today, not just there tomorrow, but until the recovery is full and complete for everyone impacted.

TAPPER: So what can you tell us about loss of life and also cause of loss of life? Because obviously, a lot of individuals chose to stay behind and, as we know, a lot of individuals lose their life after the hurricane has gone when they go outside and horrible things happen.


What can you tell us about that?

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Jake, we are starting to receive the reports, of course, of loss of life, as was anticipated. Tragically, that has materialized. We're very concerned that the numbers will increase as the assessments and as we learn more.

But it is so vitally important that people listen to local officials and follow the direction that they receive. People cannot consider themselves invulnerable. This storm is very likely to have historic impacts. It's breathtaking to see impacts that already have occurred, and we cannot overemphasize the need to listen to people in positions of responsibility, listen to the experts, and follow their advice.

TAPPER: Last night, you approved the waiver for the Jones Act, which is going to allow a British oil ship to bring diesel to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona a few weeks ago, this comes after several days of delay while the ship was waiting for permission to dock.

Do you think Florida could see a similar situation?

MAYORKAS: Well, the Jones Act waiver that I issued, Jake, last night was to address the diesel needs of the people of Puerto Rico. And over the last few days that careful assessment of what they need and what American vessels could supply was under way by the Department of Homeland Security and the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and Defense.

We're going to bring to bear whatever the people of Florida need to save lives. That is our ultimate responsibility, and to help them respond and recovery. We're going to do everything it takes for as long as it takes.

TAPPER: All right. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, thanks so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Coming up, St. Augustine is on the opposite side of Florida, along the northeast coast. This is what people there are experiencing right now. Take a look at that. The power and deadly force of Ian and the climate crisis that is igniting and intensifying these storms. That's next.


[16:36:30] TAPPER: Continuing our coverage of Hurricane Ian and its impact in central Florida. This is Orange County, the Orlando, Florida, area, more in the center of the state. All day we've watched as the flood waters there have gone up and rescue teams are going door to door saving people trapped in their homes.

Joining us now is Jerry Demings. He's the mayor of Orange County, Florida.

Mayor Demings, what's the latest in Central Florida. Do you have reports of deaths or major damage?

MAYOR JERRY DEMINGS, ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We're very, very fortunate here that we have not had any reported deaths. In terms of damage, yes, we had damage. But things were bad, but they could have been a lot worse. And I say that because it had been projected that we would have as much as 24 inches of rainfall across our country, 1,000 square-mile county. We averaged about 12 inches of rain, which did result in some localized flooding.

We had only a few areas that had major flooding that occurred here within the area. We have about 216,000 households without power at this time, but we had no one who ended up without water.

And so that put us in a much better position. In terms of damage, yes, we had a significant number of trees down, power lines down, et cetera, but no significant structural damage occurred across the county. In fact, we're very optimistic that as soon as this weekend we may see our theme parks reopen for business.

TAPPER: Although I do understand your county received a record number of emergency phone calls since Hurricane Ian moved through the area. What kinds of calls were going through?

DEMINGS: Well, we talk about our first responders. The sheriff's office received twice as many calls during the last 24-hour period as they would normally have received. Our fire department has received almost three times as many calls because of rescue efforts, evacuation efforts to get those who were in some at risk or vulnerable neighbors out of harm's way into our shelters. We have just about 1,000 people now who remain within our local shelters. Not withstanding any of that, we expect that only about another inch or so of rainfall to occur, which puts us in a very good position where we should see all of the tropical force winds out of the county by -- sometime between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. tonight.

TAPPER: What resources can people refer to in your area, especially for those who came to Orange County from Tampa?

DEMINGS: We have a very easy way for individuals to access information about available shelters. They can simply dial 311 in our community. And there's a bank of operators there who will refer them to an appropriate shelter. If there are persons with special needs, we have designated special needs shelters. We have a little over 200 people who have various health issues in our special needs shelters.

At those shelters we have physicians and nursing staff that's capable of taking care of their needs.


TAPPER: All right. Mayor Jerry Demings of Orange County, Florida, thank you so much for your time today.

Hurricane Ian brought record flooding to Florida, producing a 1 in 1,000-year rainfall event. But extreme rainfall is becoming more common than once a millennium. Human-caused climate change is stacking the death in favor of more intense storm.

CNN's Jennifer Gray is back with the CNN Weather Center.

Jennifer, what can we learn about the effects of climate change from watching a storm such as Hurricane Ian?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think we're seeing first hand, Jake, and we've seen this in the last couple years we saw it with Harvey and seeing it now with Ian how much water that these storms can hold. We are seeing just incredible amounts of rainfall, record rainfall with these storms. We're also seeing the storms get stronger and get stronger quicker with that rapid intensification. Now we're seeing more of them and more frequently.

But the amount of water that fell with this storm in particular, the radar estimates that huge area of about 20 inches. And we know that some areas received even more. This is across the entire state, the entire peninsula of Florida.

Look at this. The preliminary rainfall totals, close to 20 inches in North Port. These are some of the totals that we got over the last 24 hours or so, the strongest landfall as well. This one ranks number four, 150 miles per hour. We talked about how it ties with Hurricane Charlie. That Labor Day storm, of course, of 185, taking that number one spot. And then the storm surge. This one did come in at number one with the storm surge. We know also with sea level rise as well, as the sea level starts to rise, it's only going to make storm surge even worse as these storms continue.

Look at these tide gauges. We're still in major flooding across Ft. Myers. It's just going to take a very long time for that water to recede, Jake.

TAPPER: Florida's west coast rarely sees storms of this magnitude. Could that change in the future?

GRAY: I really think it will. You know, we've seen these storms rapidly intensify. We've been talking about with this storm in particular where the winds increased by 35 milers per hour during a 24-hour period.

This storm did it twice. And we see this all the time now. It used to be very rare for a storm to rapidly intensify. And now I feel like with nearly every storm, it's rapidly intensifying right before it makes landfall. What used to happen would be they would start to weaken right before landfall. Now we're actually seeing them strengthen.

Look in just the last couple years, all of these storms rapidly intensify, Rita, 70 miles per hour in a 24-hour increase -- 24 hours. So, it's just really unprecedented what we've seen over the last decade or so. And you have to remember too the damage increases exponentially once you get into a higher category. So, here are the category 4 and 5 good enough landfalls --

TAPPER: Jennifer Gray, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Much more of Ian's aftermath ahead.

Plus, a bizarre arrest -- Maryland couple accused of offering up secret records to Russia. What we know about the army major and his wife facing these allegations, that's next.



TAPPER: And we're just a few minutes away from the latest update from the National Hurricane Center. We'll see if Ian has strengthened again to a hurricane as the current tropical storm prepares to hit Georgia and South Carolina.

But I do want to briefly turn to another important story in the world. Russia has scheduled a signing ceremony for tomorrow to celebrate one of the largest annexations in Europe in recent history, which amounts to essentially stealing thousands of square miles of Ukrainian territory, in occupied parts of the country where fake referendums were held where some were forced to sign at gunpoint.

This even as new video obtained by CNN shows Ukrainian forces advancing on rural areas of Donetsk still held by a variety of pro- Russian militia.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now.

Matthew, how is the international community reacting to this move from the Kremlin, acting as if these referendums are actually legitimate?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Jake, there's outrage being expressed from various circles, Western countries that have been fundamentally opposed to what Russia has been doing. The United Nations secretary general saying it goes against, you know, all of the basis of the international system of rules in the international community.

It was put most succinctly I think by President Biden who came out with an adamant staying that the United States would, quote, never, never, never recognize these territories which are soon to be annexed by Russia to be part of the Russian Federation.

But, you know, in a sense, that's not really the main concern here. The fact is that Russia after this signing ceremony tomorrow intends to incorporate these regions into the Russian federation. A Russian flag in the minds of the Kremlin at least will be planted in that territory, and the Kremlin has said categorically that if it comes down to it, it will use nuclear weapons to defend mother Russia. As far as it's concerned, this territory from very shortly will be part of mother Russia.


And so it really raises the stakes in this conflict. And, frankly, it hasn't been done before, it's not really been something that's happened before, that a country would sort of take land, annex it, declare it part of its own country and say if you attack it, then there could be a nuclear retaliation for that.

So it's a very -- I suppose a very innovative stance of the Russian president but it's also a very, very dangerous one as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew chance, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, a Maryland couple has been charged with conspiring against the U.S. with the Russian government. Federal prosecutors allege the married couple, both of whom are doctors, of providing, quote, "individually identifiable health information to an undercover FBI agent" posing as a Russian government employee.

CNN's Oren Liebermann from the Pentagon with this.

Oren, how did all this come about?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the indictment, back in mid August or so, Anna Gabrielian, an anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins and Army Major Jamie Lee Henry, reached out to an undercover FBI agent who he had they believed to be an official at the Russian embassy and offered to provide private medical information over to the Russians to assist them and help them in pretty much any way they could.

This communication, according to the indictment, continued as they tried to set up a plan here. Gabrielian even asked the undercover FBI agent for a cover story and plans to help their children get out of the country should the U.S. government discover what was happening here in these conversations.

I'll read a bit from the indictment here. It is Gabrielian who said that Henry, an Army major based at Fort Bragg, could be even more help to the Russians by telling them how the U.S. military established an army hospital in war conditions and telling them about previous training the U.S. military has done in Ukraine. In addition, according to the indictment, Gabrielian told the undercover agent she was motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia even if it meant be being fired or going to jail.

According to the indictment and a subsequent meeting it is Henry, remember, the Army major based at Fort Bragg, who provided private health information to the undercover agent that includes the private health information of the spouses of dead U.S. veterans -- Jake. TAPPER: So I Googled his name, and this is not the first time that

Army Major Henry has been in the news.

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely not. Army Major Jamie Lee Henry has been in the news for a very different reason. She is the first publicly known transgender army officer. And she made news, quite a bit of celebrity news of course for this reason and was lauded for they are coming out. She transitioned from male to female, speaking about her journey and her decision-making as well as how that influenced her being a doctor. This obviously a very different part of that story, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

CNN's Bill Weir made his way to a hard-hit area of Cape Coral just south of Fort Myers. Look at that. Water knee high and higher in some spots. The challenge of course as crews try to find people who may be trapped in their homes here. We'll get Bill's report next.

Also ahead, new images of the destruction in Fort Myers, utter destruction. What's going to be a long and arduous cleanup process.

Stick with us.



TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper and we're starting this hour of THE LEAD with a new look at the destruction and devastation from Hurricane Ian across Florida as the current tropical storm moves over the Atlantic, where it is expected to regain strength, once again become a hurricane before moving up the coast of the United States.

This is what Lee County, home to Fort Myers, Florida on the west coast of the state, looks like today. Homes burning. Firefighters unable to get to them. Roofs torn to shreds. Once beautiful oceanfront neighborhoods now littered with sand and debris.

CNN's drone video capturing what is left of the causeway from the mainland of Florida to Sanibel Island. The road is now broken, washed away. Other sections completely submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. That barrier island now completely cut off to all road vehicle traffic. Right now, there are at least 15 known deaths from the hurricane but power knocked out in many locations making it impossible to get in touch with people who may be trapped, may need rescue.

We're going to start our coverage with CNN's Bill Weir who was on the ground wading through the floodwaters in Cape Coral right near Fort Myers.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It's so fascinating now. I've spent the last 36 hours trying to picture what a 17-foot storm surge looks like given the projections as Ian was screaming ashore. But you come here and you realize three feet of storm surge is enough to destroy lives, to take everything. And the sad part is a lot of these folks had no insurance.

But -- oh, my goodness. I'm just feeling with my feet hazards that you can't see. And that's what's so worrying for officials now, concerned about folks who are eager to get back and see what's left of their lives and may accidentally electrocute themselves. There have been fires that have started because of natural gas leaks.

You've got to worry about snakes. You've got to worry about sewage and maybe oil spills. This is just the beginning of such a painful stretch for so many folks.