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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ian Strengthens To Category 1 Hurricane Again; Biden: Hurricane Ian Could Be "Deadliest Hurricane In Florida's History"; Widespread Destruction Hampers Rescue Efforts In Fort Myers; Ginni Thomas Sits For Long-Sought Meeting With Jan. 6 Committee. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 29, 2022 - 17:00   ET



BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: This is just the beginning of such a painful stretch for so many folks.

It's your house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I told Pat (ph), there's no way I'm walking in that building over there. There's snakes, there's pirates and alligators and alligators and alligators.

WEIR: But this is still important.


WEIR: We're here now. It's like something came down hard on your cardboard.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if I can open it.

WEIR: Isn't it locked?


WEIR: OK. It's got to go, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me try the tough one.

WEIR: That's weird. Does it work in the inside? Can we reach around?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can over the glass here.

WEIR: Right over here.

I think it's wedge against the frame.


WEIR: Wide (ph) open. But you can (INAUDIBLE).


I got you here. Hold in my arm.


WEIR: I got you. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. South of the pool, I don't know. I doubt it.

Wow. You want to see it? It's amazing. Mom said, I want to see this, but it's absolutely amazing what that water here.

WEIR: My goodness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is disgusting.

Once it's done, what do you think? Is it done?

WEIR: I hope so. I hope to see. I know you're so hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. My guess is that there's people worst of than us. All those people out there in synagogue (ph). All those people that don't have a second home to go to. Wow. It's amazing, too.


WEIR: Isn't it?


WEIR: The way this describe this with the stepping in here, it's just --


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And our thanks to Bill Weir for that report.

I want to go live to Orlando, Florida now in CNN's Ryan Young.

Ryan, tell us what you're seeing there.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, so much pain in this area. People are upset about the loss of their possessions. We can show you this right here, this little lake that it crossed its banks very easily and that water came into a roadway.

There was someone who was trying to drive down the street got their car stuck. This is something that we saw over and over throughout Central Florida.


YOUNG (voice-over): High floodwaters, homes damaged, people's entire lives uprooted by Hurricane Ian.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our house flooded, it just started going deeper and deeper. And by time we were walking out, we were mid-thigh in water.

YOUNG (voice-over): These images show how powerful Hurricane Ian was when it slammed in the Southwest Florida as a category four storm, bringing with it disruptive wind, record rainfall and storm surge reaching 12 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is devastating to see my neighborhood like this.

YOUNG (voice-over): More than 2 million customers left without power as of Thursday afternoon. Florida Power and Light says restoring power in Fort Myers and Naples will take longer than in other parts of the state due to the scope of the damage.

DAVE REUTER, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT SPOKEPERSON & CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER: You know, our goal here is to get the power back on as quickly as possible. But most importantly, we're going to do that safely.

YOUNG (voice-over): While crews work to restore power, first responders continue to search and rescue dozens of people from the floodwaters in southwest Florida. And in Central Florida crews are using airboats to pull people from their waterlogged homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Went to sleep, about 6:00 when we woke up I heard a neighbor screaming. And when I look out the window, their car was submerged.

YOUNG (voice-over): Hurricane Ian swamp this hospital in Port Charlotte from both above and below, forcing hospital employees to move patients.

DR. BRIGIT BODINE, INTERNAL MEDICINE SPECIALIST IN PORT CHARLOTTE, FLORIDA: Very, very quickly we got people out of the ICU. The problem then ended up being as water crashed down the stairwell as you see there and onto other floors.

YOUNG (voice-over): And the flooding isn't over yet, Governor Ron DeSantis warning the water will continue to rise.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): St John's River all the way up potentially into Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, the amount of water that's been rising and will likely continue to rise today, even as the storm is passing, is basically a 500-year flood event.


YOUNG: Jake, we've seen so many first responders working overtime over the last few days. We were told all their off days have been canceled as you can understand. And there are people who've been walking by and saying thank you to them. But you can understand over the last few hours they've been really needed, especially with all the water rescues that have happened. We've lost count at this point about how many times we've had to go out and help people.

Early this morning we're in front of a hospital and a man and a woman showed up, they were in desperate need. Why? Because the water was blocking the hospital, the woman was going into labor, were able to help them get around the blockades and get to that hospital. So you understand today was a day so many people felt stress, so many people saw flooding they've never seen before. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Young in Orlando, Florida, thank you so much for that report.

FEMA officials say that Lee County, Florida where Fort Myers is located was hit the hardest by Hurricane Ian. And the damage there is catastrophic. Officials there believe at least five people have been killed by the storm. Search and rescue efforts are ongoing and nearly 90 percent of people are without power. CNNs Derek Van Dam is in Fort Myers for us right now.

Derek, tell us what kind of damage you're seeing.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: Yes, Jake, you know, I can echo that we have our teams as we arrived at Fort Myers today, we witnessed widespread to catastrophic destruction. In fact, some of the roads were impossible to pass through because of the flooded streets and neighborhoods that we saw.

What you're looking at behind me is the power of Mother Nature, the power of the storm surge that just rattled this particular location at the fort Meyers Yacht Basin, just incredible to see how these yachts were lifted up. But, you know, aside from the financial implications of this, it shows the full force of what storm surge can actually do. And I think this is important for you to see it from the air because it actually took some of the docks in this particular yacht basin and brought them into downtown Fort Myers. And that just shows you that the water was actually pushed that far inland. We've all seen those visuals as well.

You can see some boats that have been positioned between buildings, just completely taken away from their positioning in this particular Marina. And we spoke to residents who rode (ph) this out and what they said was a terrifying moment for them and their families. But the most scary part for them going forward is that they have no way to communicate with people because electricity and communication remains down. This is the first time today for my crew and I that we've actually been able to communicate with the outside world because all comms, aside from satellite communication, has been taken down for us.


The mayor of Fort Myers actually saying that this looks -- his city looks like a war zone. And I can echo that because we have witnessed those exact things in and around Fort Myers. And you're just looking at a small taste of what this city is going to have to endure in the days and weeks to come as they go through the cleanup and recovery process. But believe me, it gets worse the closer you get to the coast, because as we know, this has been a triple threat with the storm, not only the storm surge, which you're witnessing the damage behind me, but also the flooding that is still receding about two feet above normal high tide levels right now in the neighborhoods leading up to Fort Myers Beach. Jake.

TAPPER: The Lee County officials we're hearing said that they've received roughly 200,000, 200,000 911 calls from people in need in that area. But the widespread destruction --

VAN DAM: No, no, we're not left.

TAPPER: -- is impeding rescue operations. I'm not sure if Derek's able to hear me now. It sounds like maybe we had a comms issue.

Derek, can you hear me?

VAN DAM: I can hear you, Jake.

TAPPER: Anyway, what I was saying was, so, Lee County officials say 200,000 911 calls, but they can't send the first responders to everywhere in the county because of all the devastation.

VAN DAM: Well, the water is still inundating the neighborhoods. As I mentioned, it's two feet above normal high tide right now. And the problem is that it's virtually impossible to get to those impacted areas that have been hit the hardest, not to mention roads and complete roadways have been washed out. We have witnessed that on our drive into Fort Myers today. We couldn't even get to Fort Myers Beach because it was basically impossible.

TAPPER: All right. Derek Van Dam in Fort Myers for us, thanks so much.

We have a breaking update now from the National Hurricane Center. So let's go right to Meteorologist Tom Sater in the CNN Severe Weather Center.

And Tom, as Ian went out to sea it became a tropical storm, it was downgraded. What's the status now?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We've got ourselves a hurricane once again and ready for its third landfall. Cuba first knocking out power to the entire country, then, of course, we know in southwest Florida. That angle of approach we talked about the other day was such strength and power would go across the entire peninsula.

Would it continue to keep some sort of circulation and strength? We knew that by the time it got off to the coast of the northeast that we would still have some tropical storm force winds. But a lot of times, Jake, when they interact with a landmass they fall apart. This has now become a hurricane, it's 240 miles south of Charleston. We are looking at an early afternoon landfall.

Taking with it, the amount of rainfall that we have seen. We're not going to see, you know, two or three months worth up to the north, but in Charleston you only need, you know, four or five inches in a flood. And we're looking at a high amount that's going to carry it well inland as well. I mean, the entire southeastern coastline is pretty much going to be inundated with a surge again, it's not going to be what we saw in southwest Florida. But in Charleston, you toss in five, six, this has got to seven feet of a surge. The entire downtown historic area is flooded, and not just by a foot or two, it doesn't take much to flood and then you toss several inches of rainfall on top, it's called the low country for a reason. Inundation maps are already showing us in yellow here, this is three feet in yellow. And if you see any orange, we're getting up to six feet, which we have, there's Kiawah Island and Charleston up to the north.

Look how far inland that the surge now moves in on the southeastern coastline. Now, some of this is marshland, that's fine, but not when you get into Charleston and all these tributaries and waterways as well.

The Winfield is another big story here. The Winfield now, Jake, is 600 miles. I mean, we knew that it was going to encapsulate the entire peninsula of Florida, that's twice the size and width that we had at landfall, 600 miles. So, every time the system underwent rapid intensification right before landfall as well, every time it went through one of those eyewall replacement cycles and reorganizes, and now that is generated to a category one hurricane, the Winfield continues to expand.

So not only are we going to have more water rescues, I mean it's all across areas of North Central Florida to the northeast. It's just it's mind boggling. The 10s and 10s of 1000s of personnel that are out search and rescue in every city that had been inundated with, you know, 15, 20, 25 inches of rainfall. The hurricane winds now in red move into the Charleston area and points to the north.

So, what it's bringing with it? St. Augustine still has a gust of 49. Savannah has got a gust of 49. You got, you know, Tybee Island and Simon, we're going to find this eyewall, and this is a pretty good indication, Jake, of what we're looking at for tomorrow afternoon if this composes right and a track shifted just a little north now of Charleston, it's going to carry these winds up through several states.


We've got eight states right now where the river levels are at or above flood stage already and that's part of the problem that we've been dealing with, with all the water rescues from areas of Acadia to Orlando to Winter Park and, of course, Kissimmee. I mean, the list goes on and on, it's just unbelievable what we've been witnessing, and so terribly sad.

TAPPER: And it's going to get worse. Tom Sater in the CNN Severe Weather Center, thank you so much for that update.

A tragic update now, the death toll in Florida from Hurricane Ian is now at least 17. Today, rescuers are doing what they can to reach people who are still trapped by the floodwaters as far inland as Orange County, home to Orlando.

But first, listen to the Lee County Sheriff from the Fort Myers describing the situation he saw today while taking a helicopter tour of Lee County. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA: There's really no word that I can say to tell you what I seen. The Fort Myers Beach area buildings, major, major homes and buildings completely washed away with vehicles in the water, vehicles in the bay.



TAPPER: That is a stunning look at the Sanibel causeway, you're looking at right now. That's right outside Fort Myers from our affiliate WBBH. The causeway is the only way to reach the barrier island of Captiva and Sanibel by car. Meaning, as of now as of last night, the island is completely cut off to any road vehicle access. They can only get to Sanibel by boat.


Less than 200 miles to the north is Sanibel stunned Orlando residents, northeast really, had been waiting to evacuate flooded areas which have received up to 16 inches of rain. CNN's Don Lemon joins us now live from Orlando.

And Don, you've been out with some rescue workers checking in on residents. What are they finding? How are the citizens of Orange County doing?

DON LEMON, DON LEMON TONIGHT HOST: Hey, Jake, this is what they're finding really. I mean, this -- we're in the neighborhood, this is the middle of downtown Orlando. And you can see the cars stuck here. This water actually has receded.

And we're just a couple of blocks from Lake Yola. And I believe some of this is from there, obviously some of it rain water, but inland flooding, inland flooding, and they're seeing this all over the place. And earlier, they're saying (INAUDIBLE) was up past the street signs here, the traffic signs in the neighborhood.

And we went out today to get rescue, but with some of the people from the Orlando Fire and Rescue go out and look for people, many of them stayed, some of them didn't want to go, even when they came in to rescue them after the flooding what they said just moments ago.


LEMON: We're also told that many people decided to stay. What are they saying when they get on the boat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, a lot of them are, you know, they want to stay because it's their home, it means a lot to them, you know. And a lot of these people they've lost a lot. So, you know, those who do come into the boat are very thankful that we were there to aid to them, you know, give them aid and help them.

LEMON: Lieutenant, are you surprised when people don't want to leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am but I can understand, you know, this is everything to them. This is their home, their belongings. You know, it's just it's devastating to see, you know, what they go through. But you know, at the same time we have a job to do and we have to keep that in mind. And you know, their lives are the number one issue.

LEMON: Yes. And if you look here -- I mean, look, there's the folks right here, Lieutenant, the mailbox, and then the car --


LEMON: -- still in the driveway and --


LEMON: -- imagine a malfunction with the battery, whatever, and the lights are still on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we've run into that all day. We started -- when we started this morning, it was in the pitch dark and all the cars were just, all of them, alarms going off, lights going on, no control at all.

LEMON: Yes. Some of them, you can just barely see the top of the roof.


LEMON: And they said that they rescued more than 200 people today and they expect to do more in the coming hours. The rain has slacked off a little bit, Jake, but it can pick up at any moment.

But again, look, I was out there yesterday and I saw members of the fire department going in and fire trucks with bull horns asking people to get out before the storm got bad, and they said you know, you're -- within the window, if you don't get out now you're going to be here, and if the rain comes and starts to flood, we won't be able to get to you.

Well, today they woke up, the pumps weren't working, the electricity went out, and some of the people had to leave because the water was coming into their homes. But as you know, you've covered the stories, people don't want to leave their homes for some reason and they end up getting stuck, and then the folks have to go out and risk their lives to try to get them and that's what those people from the emergency workers are doing, risking their lives in order to get people who refuse to leave, either for mandatory evacuation order or a voluntary one.

TAPPER: All right. The heroic first responders, Don Lemon reporting on their work live from Orlando, Florida. Thank you so much, my friend. Appreciate it.

Just south of Orlando, Hurricane Ian left behind devastating an extensive flooding in Osceola County. Drone video from Kissimmee showing a hospital parking garage partially underwater. City residents they're being urged to shelter in place as first responders continue the rescue operations as you just heard Don describing. At least one death connected to the storm has been confirmed in their county.

Let's bring in Osceola County Emergency Director of Bill Litton.

Bill, thanks for joining us here in the early stages of assessing the extent of damage and flooding throughout the county. How bad is it from what you understand? And tell us what you're seeing now.

BILL LITTON, EMERGENCY DIRECTOR, OSCEOLA COUNTY, FL: Well, good evening, Jake. It's been historical. It's been a worst case scenario for us here in Osceola County. We're rejecting the last several days 10 to 15 inches of rain.

We're closely approaching that 14 inch mark today. But we've had areas of Kissimmee, parts of our unincorporated area flood that we've never seen before. The Kissimmee video that you showed was one of our hospitals here, Austin Regional, which is our trauma two level center was surrounded by water this morning. Our rescues could not make entry.


Some of that area has resided now, which is good. The ambulances have our retained service there now. We actually had another hospital that was taken on water and emergency room this morning, too. So we're fortunate, but we've been doing a lot of rescues and subdivisions and both our county and city of Kissimmee in moving those persons out and getting shelter locations throughout the day today. So thank you, for our firefighters and our law enforcement personnel for making those rescues today.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the first responders in Kissimmee because they've been rescuing people from the dangerous floodwaters all day. I want you to take a listen to how one county resident described her family struggle for safety. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We managed to get as many people as possible out, like literally, we were carrying, my husband, my children, we were carrying other people's kids above our heads. The water reached like to our chest. People were trapped inside, elderly, wheelchair.


TAPPER: Elderly people, children trapped, are you hearing a lot of these sorts of stories as well?

LITTON: Yes, throughout the day, Jake, we've been hearing these stories and working through these and making the saves as we can make these. So, we're fortunate to have our city partners and county partners to be able to pull these individuals out of the water. But like we said, this has been a historical event for us.

We're still tracking people out of our river ages (ph) to be a historical marker of over 63 feet of water. So we call for a self- evacuation of the area about three days ago knowing the history and what we'd known from Hurricane Irma in that area, so we're required to do that. But now knowing that it's going to be a historic mark with this storm.

TAPPER: All right. Bill Litton, thank you so much and best of luck in your task.

Coming up, we're going to talk with the mayor of one of the hardest hit cities in Florida, Fort Myers. After touring the damage, the county sheriff said there were no words to describe it. Stick around.



TAPPER: As Hurricane Ian heads from the Atlantic back to the East Coast, cities on the east coast of Florida are experiencing the storm's rough. And St. Augustine, south of Jacksonville on the west coast of Florida, flooding remains a problem and has now strengthened back from a tropical storm into a Category 1 hurricane and it's taking aim right now at Georgia and South Carolina and North of Florida.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina ahead of landfall. Nick, tell us what conditions are like there where you are.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Jake, right now they're just bracing for the worst of it to come into the overnight hours and early morning hours. We're here now at Myrtle Beach State Park where you can see the waves behind me are already pretty rough. You'll see local residents coming out here to check out the conditions.

Local officials here have put in a double red flag warning, meaning, they don't want people to get into the ocean. It's actually, you know, having covered so many storms in the past. Pretty surprising not to see anyone in the ocean right now. Usually see one or two surfers testing their limits but not today.

Hurricane warning is in effect, wind is a factor. You can see gusts of wind probably about 25 miles per hour, sustained winds at about 15 miles per hour. Light drizzle but really the major stuff is expected to come into the overnight hours and early morning hours.

Just a short time ago, I did talk to Horry County Emergency Management. They tell me that they are in wait and see mode knowing that Hurricane Ian is making its way towards the South Carolina coast. They say they have yet to activate, fully activate their emergency operation center but that is only a matter of time as local and city officials here are worried about the potential of flooding as Hurricane Ian bears down on the South Carolina coast. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, thanks so much.

Coming up, we're going to talk with the mayor of one of the hardest hit cities in Florida, Fort Myers after touring the damage. The county sheriff there said there were no words to describe what he saw. Stick around.



TAPPER: The death toll from Hurricane Ian is now at least 17. And that number tragically could rise as we learn more about the damage and devastation. You're looking right now at aerials from the Fort Myers area. You see boats tossed around like toys, pierce, broken into pieces, roofs, ripped off homes, the pictures look like they're from a war zone.

Hurricane Ian could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history. That's what President Biden said after he received a briefing on the hurricane damage at FEMA headquarters earlier today.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who's at the White House. Kaitlan, tell us more about what President Biden had to say.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, he had this briefing behind closed doors and then he came out. He thanked those who have been working around the clock at FEMA. But he also warned that after that briefing that there could potentially be substantial loss of life from Hurricane Ian.

And, of course, he said these are early reports. We don't exactly know what these numbers are going to look like, Jake, because these officials are still serving the damage on the ground of what happened in Florida. But that is a blunt warning coming from President Biden.

And we know that one of the officials who's going to be on the ground helping Florida officials sort through this damage, assess the damage tomorrow is going to be the FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. That was something that the White House announced today shortly after President Biden spoke with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The second conversation that they have had in recent days about what's happening on the ground in Florida and what the federal government can do to help, Jake. And overnight, President Biden did declare a major disaster. He approved a major disaster declaration. That really helps free up federal resources and opens up all of these federal programs to help people who are on the ground obviously dealing with such immense loss as you can see from these pictures.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, is the President making plans at all to visit the state and survey the damage?

COLLINS: Yes. Obviously, a consideration for any president going to a scenario like this is they have to consider the own footprint that they bring, you know, big presidential motorcade. A lot of resources on the ground are diverted to a presidential visit that's why you don't often see them go right away.


But President Biden did say he plans to go there. He plans to go to Puerto Rico, which was battered as well by storms in recent days. And when he was asked, you know, what's his relationship like with Governor Ron DeSantis, who on the political front, they certainly have taken their hits at one another. He said he believes that question was irrelevant. He said their political differences don't matter at this time.

They have spoken twice in recent days. He said that Governor DeSantis actually thanked him for the immediate quick response from the federal government. So that is something we should expect to see. But the White House hasn't announced exactly when President Biden is expected to visit Florida, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

I want to bring in the Mayor of Fort Myers, Florida, Kevin Anderson. He's on the phone. We spoke with him yesterday. Mr. Mayor, I know Fort Myers was one of the hardest hit areas. Can you tell us about the damage you have now seen?

MAYOR KEVIN ANDERSON, FORT MYERS, FLORIDA: We've suffered substantial damage in our downtown area with flooding. I took a tour around the city today, saw lots of devastation with the trees, the power lines, the roof. It wasn't good look.

TAPPER: Do you know of any deaths in Fort Myers or individuals who are unaccounted for?

ANDERSON: No. Within the city of Fort Myers, we have had no reported loss of life. We did, however, conduct upwards of 200 rescues.

TAPPER: As you know, a lot of deaths and injuries in situations such as this happen after the storm passes when people go out and trees fall on them or they have incidents with power lines or other such tragedies. Are you worried that the citizens of Fort Myers might try to return too quickly to their homes and find themselves in dangerous situations?

ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we have trees that are ready to fall, haven't fallen yet, there was a risk. We have power lines that are ready to fall, traffic lights. There's no telling what's in the roadway if you still have flooding. There's any number of items could be in the water. So it's very dangerous to be out there moving around. People really should hold back. Let us get in there and clear the roads, make an assessment and then take our lead.

TAPPER: At one point TV stations in your area were knocked off the air. What can you tell us about the challenge of getting critical information to the citizens of Lee County, of Fort Myers?

ANDERSON: It is -- that is one of our biggest challenges because we're without internet most places, even the cell phone service has been very spotty at times. A lot of people don't have electricity, so they're not watching TV. We're doing our best, use our public safety personnel as they go through neighborhoods to share the information. But it is a challenge.

TAPPER: What does your community need the most right now? And are you getting it from the state and federal government?

ANDERSON: I spoke to both President Biden and Governor DeSantis prior to the storm heading and they've been very supportive with their pledge, the governor's in town today. You know, we need to get our roads cleared. We need to get the utilities backup. And we need to get people rebuilding. Tomorrow we will start with several food, water and ice distribution centers. Hopefully that will help ease what people are dealing with.

TAPPER: Are rescue crews able to reach people who are crying out for help right now? We're looking at images from this morning in Fort Myers and the roads, just look unsurpassable.

ANDERSON: Most of our major thoroughfares have been cleared. So yes, our emergency teams are able to reach a majority of the areas of the city.

TAPPER: We've seen a video of restaurants and businesses nearly destroyed. Are you worried about the long-lasting impact this might have especially when it comes to tourism, which is such a vital part of the Fort Myers economy?

ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely. I am in this -- the core of downtown on the second floor and I could last -- all yesterday, I watched the water come up from the river and flutter downtown. This is a downtown that we have taken the last several decades to rebuild and revitalize. And so it concerns me that a lot of those businesses affected maybe will go dark and then we won't, you know. we will lose that economy and that's not good for the tourism either.

TAPPER: Governor DeSantis went on an aerial tour of the area and he said that the storm surge in Sanibel Island was -- he used the term biblical -- is that what it was like in Fort Myers as well?


ANDERSON: Not so much in downtown Fort Myers. We had about 4 feet. I could actually look down toward the river. There was a FedEx box that I use as a gauge and the water got almost to the top of that box, which would be about 4 feet before it started to recede.

TAPPER: All right, Kevin Anderson, the Mayor of Fort Myers, Florida, thank you so much. Please stay in touch with us so we can continue to shine a light on whatever you and the citizens of Fort Myers need.

ANDERSON: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: New video just into CNN. This is the flooding left behind by Hurricane Ian in Harvey County, Florida that's southeast of Tampa water, nearly reaching the roofs, cars flooded, streets that are basically just now rivers.

Our breaking news coverage continues next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Relief organizations are already working to get help to the victims of Hurricane Ian. Some of those victims left with nothing, only the clothes on their backs.

Joining us now on the phone is Sam Bloch, he's the Director of Emergency Response for World Central Kitchen. That, of course, is the nonprofit founded by celebrity Chef Jose Andres to provide meals in disasters and war zones. Thanks so much for joining us. Your organization posted video as you flew into Sanibel Island. Describe what you saw from the air and on the ground there.

SAM BLOCH, DIRECTOR, EMERGENCY RESPONSE FOR WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: It's a lot of destruction. A lot of those homes are really quite destroyed and then that island as well as several other islands, the road access, the bridges to those islands are just broken. They're non-existent. A lot of them have been sections of them completely washed away.

TAPPER: How many meals that you bring to the first responders and to the residents who are now essentially trapped on Sanibel Island?

BLOCH: (INAUDIBLE) we dropped about 500 thus far today. We've just landed in Punta Gorda and we reloaded the helicopter and are headed back out the Pine Island, which is, you know, we've identified three trailer parks on Pine Island that have been very badly hit. Our next priority is to get them what they need.

TAPPER: You're, as you just noted, you're back on the mainland in Punta Gorda, which is for people not familiar just north of Fort Myers. You've been to Cape Coral today as well. What have you seen in these places? Does World Center Kitchen plan to set up operations on the mainland at all?

BLOCH: Oh, definitely. We've already -- we're already fully running at about 14,000 meals thus far today. And well, as we continue to get teams all up and down the coast and out on the island, as we continue to find more need, our teams will continue to scale, meet that need.

TAPPER: The Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, did an aerial tour of Sanibel Island. He described the storm surge there, the flooding, as biblical. Is that what you saw as well?

BLOCH: Yes, that helicopter taken off here. Yes, absolutely. The storm surge as the rain and the wind. Some of these areas just really devastated quite a bit.

TAPPER: All right, Sam Bloch with the World Central Kitchen, thank you and thanks for the work you do. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back



TAPPER: After a weakening to a tropical storm, Ian is now once again a hurricane, currently a Category 1 storm targeting Georgia and South Carolina. Our hurricane coverage continues in a moment but I do want to turn to a major development on our politics lead because Ginni Thomas, the conservative activists and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas met today with the January 6 Select House Committee.

Her lawyer stressed it was a voluntary interview, even though members of the panel had wanted to speak with her for some time about her involvement and efforts to overturn the 2020 election results including text messages to the White House Chief of Staff, begging him to keep fighting the results into state lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin, encouraging them to meddle in their respective states slates of presidential electors.

CNN's Jamie Gangel joins us live. And Jamie, what do we know about her testimony today and remind us again why she is perceived as such an important witness.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Can we just say how remarkable it is just to see that picture of the wife of a Supreme Court Justice coming in to testify for the January 6 committee? We have learned that she had a prepared statement. In fact, at the top of her interview in which she made clear she addressed that her election activities were separate from her husband. So she did not wait for a question on that. As you said it was voluntary.

We are told that she cooperated, that she answered every question. But Chairman Bennie Thompson has also told reporters that she still believes the election was stolen, Jake. So after everything we know, Ginni Thomas is still an election denier.

TAPPER: Even though 60 court cases, all the election boards, all the Trump supporting governors and attorneys general and secretaries of state, et cetera, et cetera, no evidence of widespread fraud that would have swung the election in any state.

GANGEL: Including the Attorney General Bill Barr, who said on December 1st, there is no fraud here.

TAPPER: And yet she still believes it?

GANGEL: She does. And I think we should just remind people of the text messages she sent to Mark Meadows. This one, I want to remind people, is after January 6. This is on January 10. And she texts Mark Meadows, then the chief of staff, "We are living through what feels like the end of America. Most of us are disgusted with the V.P. and are in listening mode to see where to fight with our teams. Those who attack the Capitol are not representatives of our great teams of patriots for DJT. Amazing times. The end of liberty."

TAPPER: That's just wild. I mean, that's just untethered from all the facts and evidence.

GANGEL: That's correct. The committee has one more hearing to go. We don't have a date yet. But now I'm told there'll be new information and they certainly have this new testimony from Ginni Thomas.

TAPPER: That's right. There was supposed to be a hearing yesterday but, obviously, the hurricane --

GANGEL: Hurricane.

TAPPER: -- changed the scheduling. Jamie Gangel, as always amazing reporting. Thank you so much.

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Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.