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CNN Tonight

Hurricane Idalia Intensifies As It Nears Florida Landfall. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 23:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Some news just in to CNN: Eleven people have been sent to the hospital after severe turbulence on a Delta flight. That plane was traveling from Milan to Atlanta and the turbulence happened about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta's airport. Both crew members and passengers were hurt in this incident. We'll have updates as we get them, and we'll get them right to you.

But that's it for me in "CNN Primetime." We have much more coverage of Hurricane Idalia with Laura Coates and "CNN Tonight," which starts right now. Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Thank you so much, Abby. It's a night we've got to follow the news. Thank you so much. And good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates and this is "CNN Tonight."

Our breaking news, a brand-new forecast for Hurricane Idalia, the storm rapidly intensifying as it's lashing Florida ahead of what is feared to be a catastrophic landfall on the state's west coast in just a matter of hours. Potentially deadly storm surge and hurricane conditions expected not only tonight but also tomorrow. Officials say that the surge could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Idalia is now a Category 2 with maximum winds of 110 miles an hour. It's now forecast to become a powerful Category 4 before landfall tomorrow morning. We've got 49 Florida counties that are under states of emergency as we speak and as they are waiting to see what the next few hours will bring. We'll be covering everything as only CNN can tonight.

We've got teams out across the entire storm zone. We've got Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center, Carlos Suarez is in Tampa, Brian Todd is in St. Marks, Florida, and Gloria Pazmino is in Clearwater. I want to get right now to the brand-new forecast with Chad Myers in the Weather Center. What's happening?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Just a new banner from the National Hurricane Center just saying that this will be a 130-mile-per-hour Category 4 at landfall. And so, that's not going to change the surge much. Some surges have gone from 10 to 15. Now, they pushed them up to 12 to 16. Let me show you where they are. There is the eye and it is a dangerous eye. When you see an eye on a hurricane, it is either really remaining very, very strong or gaining strength. And because we haven't seen an eye all day, now we know that this is in the gaining strength category. Hurricane hunters are flying back and forth through it.

But look at that impressive eye right there. The storm is just gaining more strength. So, going from 110 to 130 just in the next really nine hours is going to be an impressive intensification here as the Category 4 right there, not that far from all of our reporters that are up there in that Big Bend area.

Here's the rainfall, though, on the radar. It actually can be seen from Tampa and also from Key West. Some of these storms here on this outer band, they could contain some tornadoes tonight. Make sure you have a way to get your warnings tonight.

Something else here, though, I think. One hundred and ten-mile-per- hour winds and even gusts all the way across the Florida-Georgia line. And then finally, a hurricane still for Jekyll, for New Brunswick, all the way there, to almost Jacksonville, Florida. Because the storm is going to be moving so quickly, not losing a lot of strength, those winds will stay with the storm. And so, therefore, those winds will continue to knock trees down, knock power lines down.

This will be a massive cleanup effort when it comes to hundreds of thousands of pine trees that exist up here in the northern part of Florida trying to get them out of the roadways.


I suspect probably 100-mile-per-hour winds all the way to I-10. That would certainly put a kibosh on any travel across there until they get those trees out of the way. This will be a real long duration power outage event.

And then we're going to take a look at how much rainfall is going to come in Georgia and through the Carolinas. So, you have to be very careful where you've evacuated to because there will be flash flooding here in those 6 to 10-inch rainfall areas just to the north along the same line.

Lots of things going on, lots of moving parts, and I'm afraid that a lot of these parts are going to really go badly for the next few hours here until landfall happens somewhere just after sunrise tomorrow.

But up here on the top, up near St. Marks where our Brian Todd is, now we're looking at a very significant, significant landfall when it comes to that storm surge.

COATES: Chad Myers, it is 110-mile-per-hour wind. Thank you so much. We'll keep everyone on and focused about this. CNN's Carlos Suarez is in Tampa where the police chief warned residents, turn around, don't drown. Carlos, are you seeing some signs of Idalia's arrival?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, there is no doubt that we are seeing this hurricane pass the Tampa Bay area just offshore here. We have been at this location since about noon. And this is the worst of the weather. It has been raining for the better part of an hour. And the wind has picked up.

We expect this bad weather to go well into the night and into tomorrow where really the concern for the Tampa Bay area, really all of Hillsborough County, is going to be the storm surge associated with this hurricane, the flooding that is going to come out of this.

As we head into tomorrow, the concern from emergency officials, what Chad was just outlining there a few minutes ago, at least in this part of Florida, is that we're going to see this hurricane pass us by.

It's going to push all of this water into the Tampa Bay. And then you're going to see all of this rain that is going to fall over the next 6 to 12 hours. And then you need to mix into that high tide, king tide. One once those three things happen, that is when they believe we are going to see some significant flooding out here.

We are talking about a storm surge anywhere between 2 to 4, even 6 feet when all is said and done. And so, emergency officials really have spent the better part of the day trying to get folks that live in these low-lying areas of Hillsborough County to go ahead and move inland. They want them to go to a hurricane shelter. They want them to get away from these low-lying areas.

We know that there are two mandatory evacuation orders that have been in place for the better part of the day. One of those orders is right here in Hillsborough County, which again is home to the Tampa Bay area. The other is just to the west of me, that's in Pinellas County, that is home to St. Pete as well as Clearwater, and we're told that there have been some reports of flooding there.

Again, right now, Laura, this is the worst of the weather that we have seen, though when you take a look at the radar, of course, it explains why it's happening. We have that hurricane that is now off to the west of the Tampa Bay area.

Having, again, spent the better part of the day out here, we were talking to a number of folks that came out to this location and they told us, look, we don't think it's going to be as bad considering how things are right now. So, a lot of the folks that we came across told us, look, we're not going to evacuate, we're not going to go inland.

That's a message that emergency officials really don't want to hear because the concern going into tonight and then tomorrow is that then we're going to start seeing this storm surge.

And so, the last thing that emergency officials want are for folks to be complacent and to be out and about thinking that the worst of the storm has passed us by, which by and large will have, but the impact that we're going to see when it comes to this storm surge and all of this flooding, we're not going to see until sometime tomorrow morning into the early afternoon. Laura?

COATES: I mean, anywhere from 2 to 6 feet of storm surge. Carlos Suarez, thank you so much. Brian Todd is here with us in St. Marks, Florida where the National Weather Service is warning that Hurricane Idalia is an unprecedented event, like no storm ever seen before in that area. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura, in just a matter of hours from now, this place where I'm standing is not expected to be very safe. We're in the town of St. Marks, Florida and a local emergency management official told us a short time ago that the entire town of St. Marks is expected to be flooded when the storm is at its peak on Wednesday morning.

What we can tell you is that we're right by three bodies of water. This is the St. Marks River, the Wakulla River is just down that way downstream, and the Apalachee Bay is just beyond it. You can maybe see some of the flashes of lightning over my shoulder as the storm approaches here.

Because the Apalachee Bay has never seen a storm as strong as a Category 3 in recorded history, there's no real barometer to tell how this area is going to be able to absorb the hit of this storm when it comes ashore.


But again, what we're told is between 6 and 9 feet of storm surge is expected to push this water from the St. Marks River, kind of like a snow plow, up into the town of St. Marks. And again, as I just said a moment ago, the entire town is expected to be flooded at least to some degree in the coming hours.

There is an emergency evacuation order in effect. We were told that sheriff's deputies have gone door-to-door in this town trying to get as many people they can to leave. And what we're also told is that they did get a pretty good response in Wakulla County where we are from residents in the coastal areas.

One of the emergency management officials told me they got a good response as far as the number of people who decided to take the advice and leave.

I asked one emergency management official what he would tell people who want to stay here. He had a one-word answer. He said, don't. But he said, if you do, make sure that you have at least three to four days-worth of provisions because it might be tough to get to you. You might be isolated because, again, this town could be cut off by the flooding. Laura?

COATES: Brian Todd, thank you so much. As we're following Hurricane Idalia, everyone, it is forecast to make landfall near Florida's Big Bend area. Let's go out to that very area with storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski. He is in Perry, Florida. Jeff, you have been driving through this Big Bend area all night. What are you seeing so far?

JEFF PIOTROWSKI, STORM CHASER: I'm doing fine so far. You know, a lot of people have left this area, the Big Bend area, luckily, but there are still a lot of people here, not only on the coast but inland where I'm at in Perry. It's just in the last 10 minutes when the brand new 11:00 advisory have come out, you just heard breaking weather, and that is the National Hurricane Center has now upgraded from Cat 3 landfall to Cat 4.

Winds sustain 142-miles-an-hour, gusts to 161-miles-an-hour. This is going to be a catastrophic wind event similar to Hurricane Michael, which was (INAUDIBLE) back a couple years back, back west. I chased that storm also.

So, you're going to have about a 30-mile wide, approximately 30-mile wide damage path of catastrophic damage from here all the way back to Northwest of Jacksonville. It'll be a hurricane, a strong hurricane all the way into Southeast Georgia, South Carolina as it rockets northeast across this area.

The main problem is going to be 15. I haven't seen the latest storm surge, but I'm anticipating a very small, narrow area immediately east of the hurricane track near Perry and back southwest here. There'll be a very small, narrow area, probably 20 feet storm surge. It was 15. When you go up in categories, this is going to get you up closer to 20. It'll be a very narrow area, maybe 5 miles wide, probably topping to 20-foot storm surge.

Then that -- then that massive wind is going to be about 30 miles path going northeast. And if you look northeast of Perry on a map locally, you look at it, the towns, I'm going to name some towns, they're going to be in a direct path of extreme damage. It's going to be Dowling Park, Live Oak, Mayo, Jasper, Lake City. And you continue northeast to the northwest of Jacksonville, St. George, Fargo, Highlands.

And then over in the southeast coast there, you're talking about Kirkland, north of Jacksonville, Woodbine (ph). So that areas are going to have a major damage path.

But I can tell you, in the state of Florida, I've talked to state EOC operations, and I can tell you they've got an ARMADA (ph) between state EOC. We've got Coast Guard standby. We've got helicopters. They have emergency ambulances from a number of states. They are already in the state waiting to respond. We have 10 urban search and rescue pre- deployed waiting to move in as soon as the hurricane passes to go and find people. We have air boats that are going to be deployed.

So, we have massive resources in the state of Florida that are waiting to rush in here and help clear the roads. And there's going to be probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of pine trees that will have virtually every road in this area -- I anticipate and based on my past experience in this area, that when you get the winds at this high, you're going to have trees all the roads in the Perry area, southeast of Tallahassee, and all the way back down to Cedar Key.

We have this big forest area here along 98. This whole area will be impassable. There'll be -- every road will be impassable. I can just tell you it will be impassable shortly after sunrise.

It's going to make landfall now. I'm literally 10 miles before it's going to make landfall. I'm in the right side, the dirty side of the eye. So, winds here in Perry -- unfortunately, the bad news I've got for the town of Perry, now it looks like you're going to take the brunt of the hurricane with winds of 130 to 160 with massive catastrophic storm surge coming into the Perry. It probably will pass Highway 98. Normally, it stops at Highway 98, northwest-southeast oriented, probably pass 98 and locations along this area.

COATES: The idea -- I mean, you said 20-foot storm surge is possible.


The idea of 130 plus mile-per-hour winds and in location you are, for people who think they know what these storms might be like, does this compare to anything you've really been chasing before?

PIOTROWSKI: No. So, we're going to have two record breaks. So, at Cat 3 -- we've never had a strong hurricane up in this Big Bend area. The highest has been Cat 2. So, Cat 3, we're in uncharted territories. So, Cat 3. Now, we're talking Cat 4. So, we're breaking two records. The first, Cat 3 hurricane in this area of the Big Bend. Now, we're forecasting Cat 4. So those are going to be two record-breaking, historic, we've never had happened since we know of in the mid-1800s, late 1800s.

The third category is going to be possibly the highest storm surge ever recorded in this part of Florida. So, we're going to break three records tonight. We'll see what the pressure gets down to. That could be the fourth record we're going to break tonight.

So, we could break at least four records that have never been broken here in this part of the state with this hurricane. It's going to be the new benchmark bar going forward in history. We've never seen this. They were in unchartered territories.

COATES: Jeff Piotrowski, thank you so much. Please stay safe. Keep us all informed.

Our next guest is John Hines. I want to go to him right now because he's a local inn owner in St. Marks, Florida who has decided to stay in spite of a mandatory evacuation order. John, thank you so much for being with us today. We have video out right now from inside your hotel. Can you tell us how you are preparing right now?

JOHN HINES, OWNER, SWEET MAGNOLIA INN AT ST. MARKS, FLORIDA: Right now, it is just a waiting game. There is not much that we can actually prepare any more than we already have. Excuse me. I'm sorry. And, you know, the building is 100 years old, poured concrete walls, and has withstood everything that has come so far.

COATES: Is that why you're staying now? You've been through storms before. But you have said that this feels perhaps different. Are you anxious about what could happen in spite of the structure and the integrity of that building over the 100 years?

HINES: I serve a mighty God. And so, I put my faith and my trust in him. I do what I can to prepare, and everything else is up to the Lord Jesus. COATES: Have other people in the area left? I wonder what it's like in the surrounding community right where you are, if you need help or if anyone's there to assist you or you to provide it for them. Are there other people around you?

HINES: Yes, there are. There are people in town.

COATES: About how many?

HINES: I am not exactly sure. I have not been out very much in the past four hours. We've honestly been working here, getting things prepared as much as possible. You know, we have a generator. Our second floor is 12 feet above ground. So, you know, it would -- in order to get water up where we are would be catastrophic, more than what they're talking about even. So, at least to my knowledge.

COATES: Let me ask you, what kind of supplies do you have? You're hearing from some officials who are saying at least have two to three or even more days of provisions in case there is help needed and they can't get to you right away. Do you have supplies where you are?

HINES: Yes, we do.

COATES: What kind?

HINES: I was raised in the Hocking Hills of Ohio. And so, I have always stocked up two to three weeks-worth of food. We have paper towels, toilet paper, extra water, a water filtration system. So, we are, I feel, as well prepared as we can be for the situation we are in.

COATES: Have you had to weather a storm in this area before? I know you have this poured concrete building and you don't have the concerns about perhaps the integrity of that building. But is this from lessons learned where you had not had the preparation before? Is that why now you feel more prepared?

HINES: This is the first storm that we have actually been here. We bought the building in September of '19. And Michael had went through a year before, put 4-foot of water in the lower portion of the building. Besides having to restructure drywall, the building withstood it. And that's part of the reason we stayed, I've got to be able to open windows and doors if the water does get high. Otherwise, it will bust everything out.

COATES: John Hines, please stay safe. We will be thinking about you and really concerned, and I hope that everything will be okay for you as well. Thank you so much.

HINES: Thank you.

COATES: We'll be right back, everyone, with so much more on our breaking news tonight. Hurricane Idalia already lashing Florida. Officials are fearing it could be a dangerous once-in-a-lifetime event. We'll go live to Clearwater, Florida where CNN correspondents are standing by seeing heavy wind and rain. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COATES: Breaking news tonight, Hurricane Idalia barreling toward Florida's west coast with what could be a life-threatening storm surge. CNN's Gloria Pazmino is in Clearwater where peak storm conditions are expected to happen around midnight, just about 40 minutes from now, with a surge that could reach 4 to 7 feet. Gloria, what are the conditions like right now along the coastline?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, listen, we have been here all day and it has gotten worse and worse by the hour. The wind has significantly picked up. And just in the last few minutes, it was raining in sheets. But as you can see now, it's not raining as hard, and that is what we've been seeing in the last hour or so. It just comes in and out. And what we're experiencing is those outer bands of Hurricane Idalia as it travels up to the coast.


It is expected to continue to gain strength and speed and make landfall on Wednesday morning. So, conditions here are shifting rapidly, literally minute to the minute. It is very windy, it has been raining, and this is a mandatory evacuation zone. We're in Clearwater Beach, which is part of Pinellas County. This is one of the counties that told people here to get out.

Now, I just want to give you a sense of where we are. The ocean is in that direction, about a half a mile to the edge of the water. We can't see it now because it is absolutely pitch dark. But in this direction is the street inland. That is where people have been heading.

In fact, I spoke to a man earlier today who was walking the length of the beach, kind of checking out conditions between -- before things got bad, and he told me that even though there was a mandatory evacuation order here, he was riding out the storm at his home. He told me he lives 5 miles inland, and he's used to this kind of thing.

Now, that is the problem with this area and the hurricanes. Florida is used to seeing hurricanes but, usually, they hit the eastern part and the southern part of the state. Now, we're preparing to see Hurricane Idalia hit the Big Bend to the north and the west side of the state. That is where we are expecting to see the biggest impact.

And so, even though people maybe used to it, the reality is that this is a very dangerous storm. It is a serious business. It means that you have to take cover if you haven't already evacuated and you have to be prepared.

You asked me about the storm surge. That is what we're worried about here. If that ocean indeed comes anywhere to where we are right now, 4 to 7 feet of water is catastrophic amounts of water that could cause serious damage to property and lives. There are an awful lot of residential and hotel properties here in this area. So, the next several hours are going to be critical as the storm continues to gather strength, as it travels along the Gulf of Mexico, picking up speed.

As we know, those waters, extremely worn. That is acting as jet fuel for the storm, giving it strength as it continues to travel and approaches the coast of Florida here. Laura?

COATES: Gloria Pazmino, as we are watching, the wind battering the trees behind you and it really is still hours away from full peak. Please stay safe. Thank you so much.

I want to go now to St. Petersburg, Florida where the streets are already flooding. We're joined by St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch. Thank you so much for being here. Mayor, I have to ask you, what are you telling your residents and what are you expecting because we're learning 4 to 7 feet, potentially, of storm surge? How concerned are you about what's happening? Frankly, there are people who are refusing to even evacuate.

MAYOR KENNETH WELCH, ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA: There are. Good evening, Laura. You know, Gloria had it exactly right, we're about 25 miles south of where she is in Clearwater down here in Petersburg, Florida. And what we've told folks from the initial projection is that we need to run from the water and hide from the wide. And when we have Cat 4 hurricane now, even if it is 100 miles west of us, we still expect to get that 4 to 6 feet of storm surge. That will be devastating.

What we try to tell folks and part of the issue in Florida is we have so many new people to Florida that haven't dealt with the hurricane before. You know, just look at our neighbors down in the Fort Myers, Santa Bell area who less than a year ago had almost a similar situation where the hurricane was not projected to hit them straight on, but at the last minute made a turn, and they will be recovering there for decade, at least.

And so, it is powerful folks need to respect it. And we've asked folks that are in our evacuation zone A to evacuate and move to higher ground. In our city, you don't have to go 100 miles away. You can go 10 miles away and move to safety. And we're urging folks to do that.

COATES: You know, you're right, when you think about the number of people who are now newer residents to Florida and might not have ever seen anything like this except for on their televisions, might not have a realistic expectation of what the power of this storm might be.

But you mentioned people going inland more. How has your city prepared, mayor, if people are trying to get to those locations? Are there shelters? Are there supplies? Where are they located?

WELCH: So, St. Petersburg is one of 24 cities in Pinellas County. In working with those cities and with the Pinellas County government, we issued evacuation orders about 18 hours ago, and that's for folks that are in those low-lying areas.


So, we do have shelters all across the county. We have special needs shelters. We have a local transit agency that works with our various fire departments to transport folks to those shelters. So, we've got the facilities that are in high and dry spots. It's not -- it's just a matter of folks using that information, using the knowledge, and when they're asked to evacuate, to go ahead and evacuate.

At a certain point, when the winds -- sustained winds get to a certain point, our first responders will not be able to go out and try to rescue folks. And we've heard those 911 calls of folks who stayed and realized they made a life-changing mistake and help could not reach them. And so, we just try to tell folks, do the right thing, do the responsible thing. You might be in convenience for 24 hours, but it's worth saving your life.

COATES: And gut-wrenching to think about the first responder who cannot get to them, who know, and their calling has been to do just that. But people might wake up and they may be tomorrow realized that the worst may not be over. They might see sunshine, for example, and think it's safe now and they can go back home.

WELCH: Yeah.

COATES: What if people wake up and think that? What do you want them to know?

WELCH: Well, thank you, that's a great point. We've said -- because of the way this storm is moving, we won't see that storm surge for another 12 hours until Wednesday afternoon around 2 p.m. So, we've said, you know, folks, you might see sunshine in the morning, but wait until we get the all clear later in the afternoon after that storm surge comes through the area with again, expected 4 to 6 feet of storm surge.

COATES: Mayor Ken Welch, thank you so much. We'll be thinking of you.

WELCH: Thank you.

COATES: Please stay safe.

WELCH: Thank you. Appreciate it.

COATES: Thank you. Officials are saying that some areas of Florida could see not just 5 or 10 but 15 feet of storm surge, and they're warning that surge is likely not survivable. Stay with us.



COATES: Well, Hurricane Idalia is already causing flooding in some coastal towns, as you can see right here in Cedar Key, Florida. Officials are warning of a life-threatening storm surge of up to 15 feet in some areas.

So, just how dangerous, Tom Foreman, will this surge be and which areas will be hit the hardest? Joining me now is CNN's Tom Foreman. He's at the magic wall to explain it all. So, tell me about this storm surge. Take a step back with me. How does this work? TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Storm surge is always what it's primarily about in hurricanes. People look at the wind, the wind is dramatic. You can get hurt, it can do damage. Storm surge is why they're saying, if you're in a directly hit area, it could be non- survivable in this case. A storm like nothing they've seen since the 1800s with blocked roads, home destruction, massive power outages.

So, how does a storm surge work? Think about the big swirling storm we talk about all the time. Every place that it's contacting the water, it's pushing water in front of it. So, if you're out in deep water out here, it pushes the water in the big circular motion. Well, so what? Because it's deep enough, it just keeps swirling down the water, it doesn't matter.

But when it gets into more shallow area, it runs out of space and the waters is being pushed on the parts going toward land, can't go down anymore, and it starts going inward. And the result is then you have this surge of water that starts pushing in, the longer and shallower the run up is, and it's very long and very shallow in this area.

There's not a big steep drop off out here. It's very long and very shallow. The more time it has to compress, gain energy and come in. That's why we're talking about the storm surge being so bad in this area.

COATES: So, what would this look like in certain areas? How high are we talking about of a storm surge?

FOREMAN: We've adjusted the numbers recently. As you heard Chad said earlier, these are -- these are ticking up a little bit from what we're showing right here. But, look, 4 to 6 feet down here near St. Pete, 6 to 9, and here 7. You get up here to Cedar Key, Mitchell Creek, areas like that, into the Suwannee River up in there. Then you start talking about things coming up in here. It's going to be even higher than that. Maybe higher than 10 to 15 feet.

Important thing to remember, though, this area up in here, ecologically, very important, very important to the people who live there but not that many people living here. Many more people living down here. So, you may only have 6 feet of flooding down here. Huge, huge, huge impact, yes, for the small communities hit up here. It could be absolutely catastrophic.

But in terms of the volume of houses hit, the volume of businesses, the number of people affected, look to the population centers because that's where you're going to really struggle to do things. Getting resources to people who get affected out here, boy, that could be really difficult.

COATES: Pretty unbelievable. I mean, I'm looking at this and wondering how it compares to other storms we've already seen, even in recent days.

FOREMAN: Yeah, we -- you know, every -- I've been covering hurricanes for a long, long time and it's -- you can do all the predicting you want. In the end, the water comes in, the storm comes in, you find out what really happens. In the case of Ike in 2008, what we saw really happened was 15 to 20-foot surge in Texas near Galveston, about $25 billion in damage. Hurricane Dennis in 2005, 7 to 9-foot surge on the Florida panhandle, pushing up toward Alabama there, $2.2 billion in damage.

Again, think about where it hit, how much building went on there, because some of these storms are very expensive because we have built a lot in front of them compared to years ago. So, a storm that 50, 60 years ago would not have been that expensive, now is terribly expensive.


There were plenty, plenty way too many lives lost in these two hurricanes, running up into the hundreds, but then we come into the monster that came into my old hometown of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. Don't forget the Gulf Coast communities which were hammered by this 25 to 28-foot storm surge. In the New Orleans area, we had the levees collapsed, which many people called the man-made disaster of it all.

But the result was $75 billion in damage. Close to fourteen hundred people killed. Storm surge is what this is all about. The big heavy winds, they're frightening, and yes, they can do damage, they can kill people, they can do a lot of bad things, particularly the tornadoes at spin-off, but the big damage, the big loss of businesses, homes and lives will come from storm surge.

And that's why these people in these communities are saying you've got to get out now, particularly again in the heavily-populated areas because it's so much harder to get out there. Even if you try to flee, if everyone tries to flee at the last minute -- and now we're past the last minute, we're at the part we have to do the best you can right now, to do it safe -- even if you try to flee then, the roads can become completely clogged even before the storm gets there.

That's why they warn people. And your mayor said a little while ago, new arrivals. Every single year in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, they were saying to people, if you're not from here, please listen, you don't know what this thing is like until you've been through some of them.

COATES: And sunshine doesn't mean that it's over.

FOREMAN: Oh, no. Oh, no.

COATES: And honestly, this was the day, right?

FOREMAN: Yeah, this was the day.

COATES: A commemorative day.

FOREMAN: This was the day.

COATES: Doug and Katrina actually hit your hometown. FOREMAN: It changed -- it changed so many things down there. And again, I always say, don't forget the Gulf Coast because there were towns up there that -- honestly, the gulf side part of those towns ceased to exist. It was as clear as this board, swept away everything there. And how they recovered, miraculous and so painful.

COATES: Tom Foreman, thank you so much for helping us understand all of that. Local officials understandably are now bracing for the very worst as Idalia is bearing down on Florida. I'm going to talk to some on the coast where the damage could be the most severe, next.



COATES: Back with our breaking news, Hurricane Idalia already battering Florida's West Coast ahead of its expected landfall in just a matter of hours now. And now, there is a tornado watch in Tampa.

Joining us now is safety chief and public information officer for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Rob Herrin. Thank you so much for being here today. I mean, hurricane is top of mind, but now there's a tornado watch in effect for Tampa and surrounding areas. What is your biggest concern now at this hour?

ROB HERRIN, SAFETY CHIEF AND PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY FIRE RESCUE: Our biggest concern is still that storm surge. As was stated before, you know, we've messaged to our residents to seek shelter. We've opened shelters. We've made that available.

And now, we're kind of past that point. Now, we're advising residents, stay home, hunker down, stay off the roads, it's too dangerous to be on the roads. So, we're just kind of in a standby right now, waiting to see what results of the storm passing by.

COATES: Do you have all the resources in place to respond?

HERRIN: Yes, we absolutely do. Hillsborough County Fire Rescue has two specialty units in the area, several teams that are ready to respond and do rapid needs assessments, and then other teams that are ready to do technical search and rescue to the areas that might be the hardest hit.

COATES: You know, even when there's a mandatory evacuation, people are going to make their own individual choices, and there will be residents who did not heed the warning and the order to evacuate. What is your message to them tonight?

HERRIN: Hopefully, you're in an area that -- you know, we don't get hit as hard as is predicted. We're still in a 4 to 7-foot storm surge potential. You know, we -- there's a point where fire rescue and law enforcement can't respond if sustained winds are at certain level. And so, we kind of have to stand by, and quickly after those winds subside, send those teams out.

We've ramped up our staffing at our fire stations. So, we've doubled down on the normal amount of people that would be at our fire -- our 46 fire stations throughout Hillsborough County. So, we are ready to respond. Hopefully, we'll -- you can -- you're safe until we can get to you.

COATES: Rob Herrin, thank you so much for your message tonight. I appreciate it.

HERRIN: Thank you.

COATES: FEMA is sending hundreds of personnel into the storm. The former head of FEMA tells us what he thinks they need to be focused on. We'll talk to him right after this.



COATES: We are back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Idalia. It's bearing down on Florida's west coast. As Floridians are bracing for what might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, the head of FEMA spoke today about preparation and the efforts in the state.


DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: We have pre-positioned different types of resources across all three states to include several incident management assistance teams, our urban search and rescue teams, our disaster survivor assistance teams, and they are all ready to pivot to the most impacted areas immediately after the storm passes.

We also have warehouses filled with commodities like food, water, blankets, and medical supplies that are ready to rapidly move into the impacted area at the state's request.


COATES: I want to now bring in former FEMA administrator, Craig Fugate. Craig, thank you for being here tonight. We're watching this storm very, very closely. I wonder what our emergency officials up against with Hurricane Idalia. It is now forecast to make landfall as a Category 4, Craig?

CRAIG FUGATE, FORMER FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, as was pointed out earlier, these areas along the coast don't have high populations, but they're very hard to get to. Usually, you're talking about a two-lane road coming off of the U.S 27, U.S. 19.


You're having to go 20, 30, 40 miles to get to these little communities, and all of that is going to be covered with debris, flooded. So, for the response, it's really about, if people haven't evacuated, they're prepared to go in and try to get to the survivors, but it's going to be very difficult.

And unlike other places, there won't be concentrated populations. It's going to be very spread out. As you saw basically north of Tampa, especially when you get Pasco to Hillsborough County, north of Hillsborough County, you get Pasco to Hernando County, there's some good-sized populations, then it diminishes.

So, search and rescue would be the first priority. The second thing is going to be we're going to have a lot of power outages. And this is a part of the state that has not had hurricane-forced winds in a very long time.

COATES: You know, the idea of the preparation and what it's going to take to not only prepare for the storm itself, but the aftermath, as you described, particularly in rural areas, there's not a whole lot of high populations and trying to get to a dispersed population.

You're actually in Gainesville tonight where there is a lot of concern about the possibility of downed trees taking out power lines, blocking roads, even these more concentrated areas. So, how does something like that really hamper rescue and recovery, knowing FEMA must be accustomed to planning for that, but the landscape of what might be is really at this time indeterminable?

FUGATE: Well, again, you basically take it -- again, we don't focus on the cone. We actually focus on the forecasted impacts. You got tornado watches up now across much of the West Coast. So, FEMA's approach is working with the state. Governor DeSantis and his team really focused on what they're going to need. Florida has a lot of resources. I think the response, the initial rescues, will be led by Florida.

I think FEMA, as you saw -- Administrator Criswell was talking about, a lot of the immediate needs in the aftermath of the storm of helping the survivors get assistance, find places to stay, and do that kind of work. FEMA did move search and rescue teams in. They're joined up with the state. So, it will be pretty much search and rescues first priority, power restoration, damage assessments, and getting people into assistance as fast as they can.

COATES: Craig Fugate, thank you. We'll continue to rely on your expertise in this area. Thank you so much.

FUGATE: Thank you.

COATES: Everybody, stay with us because there's much more live coverage of Hurricane Idalia. It's ahead, including the very latest forecast, reports from the ground, and local residents who are now choosing to ride out the storm. That's all right after this.