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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ian Unleashes One Of The Most Powerful Storms Ever On Florida's West Coast; "Chaos": Hurricane Ian Pounds Florida, Trees Down, Cars Submerged; Tampa Mayor: The Worst Is "Yet To Come"; Storm Surge Breaking Records, Could Be Up To 18 Ft In Some Areas. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 28, 2022 - 19:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, catastrophic storm Hurricane Ian tearing through Florida tonight, bringing with it life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic wind damage.

This is the scene right now in Punta Gorda. Trees whipping, winds topping 130 miles an hour.

And across Florida, right now, there are people trapped in their homes. Entire homes being flooded out, people swimming inside. The rainfall now is being measured in feet. One city hit hard is Bonita Springs, part of that city are now completely underwater. The storm surge has knocked homes completely off their foundations as well.

And to the south of there, the city of Naples, cat 4 winds there have completely demolished buildings. Look at how high up that -- obviously you never know what's in these waters now. You've got chemicals and everything in the middle of these towns.

According to forecasters, the storm surge reached more than 6 feet, flooding cars and homes, even leaving rescue crews stranded. The water was so high that officials had to wade through it to rescue people who did not evacuate.

And let us show you one astonishing image from just before Ian came ashore. Look at that. It's almost like a tsunami was coming. The winds and the storm actually sucked all the water out of the way. Usually it's many feet deep there and obviously returning with a vengeance.

We have heard just how catastrophic the damage is from the storm. If you compare Hurricane Ian to Hurricane Andrew, which was the most devastating hurricane to ever hit southern Florida, Andrew's eye was 20 mile as cross. That is a massive storm. Ian's eye is 40 miles across, double, double the size of the last most powerful storm to strike Florida. We have a team of reporters standing by. And I want to bring with

Randi Kaye in Punta Gorda, Florida, which is really taking the brunt of this right now.

Randi, what is the latest where you are?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the winds had calmed down for just a moment. I thought maybe we were going to get a break here. But we are not. They are still quite strong coming through downtown Punta Gorda where we are.

But if you take a look at here what's going on, this has been going on down for hours. We are just a few blocks away from Charlotte Harbor, Erin, which is where the storm surge would be coming from. The ocean's going to push -- the storm is going to push the ocean water into that harbor, and it's going to come right into downtown Punta Gorda where we are. But if you take a look at what's going on, winds probably more than 100 miles an hour.

We're also seeing quite a bit of rain, as you can see. I actually put my glasses on just for some protection from what's going on here. But you can see there's debris that's been flying through the air now for well over an hour. There are some trees down.

There is nobody to speak of on this street here. Mainly because of how it feels and how difficult it is, the conditions are out here. We know that people have been told to evacuate. They did evacuate, we understand. But about two-thirds of Charlotte County was under evacuation orders. And you can see why. They said that now is certainly not the time to try and leave if you haven't left already, you should be in an interior room.

We just wanted to show you exactly what's happening here. The eye did pass over us earlier, Erin, and it was so calm, the birds came out, and it's hard to imagine that now on the back side of this storm this is what we are experiencing.

And this is why people, they warned people not to go out when the eye comes through or even in the eye wall not to come outside because this is what happens on the back side. So, the conditions are -- this is a violent, violent storm.

They experienced Hurricane Charlie here back in 2004. And that was really more of a wind event, not really a rain and storm surge event. This seems to be everything all in one, to be honest with you. It is very difficult even just to stand in these winds and getting pelted by the rain.

But, again, we just wanted to show you why it's so important that people do evacuate and take good care in a storm like this, Erin.

TAPPER: And, Randi, just -- we still have your shot, I know it kind of comes in and out given the conditions you're in. But where are you even able to seek shelter? Obviously I see a brick wall, so you found as safe a place as possible.

But how do you feel where you are, especially as you talk about the debris that you've been dealing with?


KAYE: Yeah. There's been stop signs and pieces of aluminum that have been flying down the street. Also some pieces of palm trees. We saw some metal that was bent around a fence here earlier.

But we are right now just on the edge of the first floor of this parking garage. And we can just duck right in. We are upstairs earlier when they were talking about the storm surge. So we got a little bit higher up on the third floor of the parking garage.

But we're actually not that from our hotel. But they were expecting about 9 feet of water as a result of this storm surge just outside our hotel. So we wanted to get our cars to safety, make sure that we were safe, our cars were safe, and that we could get out of here if need be.

So, as of now, we're going to stay right here and see what happens with this storm. But we are just a few feet away. We can jump inside here.

BURNETT: Pretty amazing.

KAYE: We will do that as soon as --

BURNETT: I'm sure you will. And thanks so much for coming out and talking to us. And, of course, Randi talking about how the birds came out in the eye, and look at what's happening on the other side of that eyewall.

I want to go to John Berman in Tampa where things are obviously now in full force.

John, what are you experiencing where you are?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is the worst we've seen it here in Tampa all day. Nothing like what Randi's seeing in Punta Gorda. But it's been pouring all day here. And now the wind has picked up. I'd say we've had gusts over 50 miles an hour, and it's going to stay like this for several hours over the night.

You can just see the rain whipping everywhere. That's the major concern here. They could get 12 inches to 24 inches of rain over the next 24 hours.

So the freshwater flooding coming from inland through here back out to the sea is the real concern. Everyone says, why don't you wear a hat in the hurricane. It's because it won't stay on my head.

Really, officials don't want people out on the streets here anymore, for obvious reasons. We've seen a lot of police cars, not much else besides that. The reason, you can see a kind of twisted big piece of metal siding that ripped off something on the streets here as the wind just tears through this entire area. And, again, it's the duration here because, Erin, as you can imagine,

the storm moving up the peninsula. Tampa will be in this for many, many hours. Again, not like Punta Gorda, but the concern here is the sustained winds and the driving rain could knock out power, could affect services. You're talking about hundreds of thousands of people in a city like this that could be affected over the next 24 hours.

BURNETT: And, those images we saw of the bay, that it had gone out. It's usually many feet deep at that point. It's like a tsunami, it pulls all that water out, and then it's going to come back in with full force.

BERMAN: Yes. We've seen it go out. We haven't seen it come back in yet. So we just don't know what the storm surge situation will be in Tampa Bay proper, 6 feet, 7 feet was the highest. That's enough to cause real problems in this area, so it is something we'll watch overnight.

BURNETT: All right. John, thank you very much from Tampa.

And I think it's important to mention what John just said. We keep showing those images of the water going out. That water hasn't come back in. So really no sense of how horrible it could get there.

And when it does, it is going to come in with full force and destruction. That's what they're looking at now, usually many feet deep. It's going to come back through there.

Let's go to storm chaser Mike Boylan who's in the west coast of Florida, in Englewood South right now.

Mike, you have been chasing the eye of the storm off the Florida coast today. This massive eye, 40 miles wide. Right now, what are you experiencing?

MIKE BOYLAN, STORM CHASER: I'm experiencing me wanting to get the heck out of town. I can tell you that. I've never seen nothing like this. It's been like a 4 or 5-hour persistent winds, rain. I just can't believe it. Everywhere we go, we see flooding, we see surge, power poles down, power lines down, trees down, flooded parking lot.

I just can't believe what I'm seeing here in such a large area. And this is my home state. So it's amazing to me what I'm seeing.

BURNETT: You have been doing this. I want everyone to understand for nearly 20 years, I believe 18 years. How does this storm compare? I was comparing it a minute ago to Andrew and saying that the eye itself is double the size of what we saw with Andrew, which was, until now, the strongest storm to hit Florida. How does this storm rank for you when you look at the past 20 years of storm chasing?

BOYLAN: I think it's the rainfall I'm just amazed with. This rainfall is just absolutely absurd what's falling right now. I can't tell the difference between storm surge or rainfall. But we went into a neighborhood that we almost got stuck. The storm surge was coming in. I've never seen storm surge in person

like this. I'm telling you when that storm surge was coming in, it came in quick. And there was a lot of -- I bet you every other house, they didn't evacuate.


So, tons of homes are going to be flooded here. I saw water already at their doorsteps. It's going to be a big story just this surge and water.

BURNETT: And obviously in Tampa, we haven't even see the surge come in as our John Berman is reporting. The water is still out. So that is still to come that devastation.

You took some video earlier today, Mike, of the eye wall. I believe just a little bit ago this evening. And I'll show it to everybody. This is literally the eye wall right around the calm of the eye. Then you've got that intense storm around the eye.

What was it like then?

BOYLAN: We were driving and we were trying to get to Port Charlotte and Charlotte Harbor. I couldn't even see. I'm not exaggerating.

I'm going 5 miles an hour. The truck started going backwards. My buddy Phil's with me, and I was like the truck's moving.

So we parked it at the Dollar General. We hid there for a while. It was relentless. I've never seen anything like it. I went to Ida last year. We went to, a couple in Louisiana, we have Delta, I went to Zeta and Ida. I've never seen anything like it.

This storm was big, it was wide, it was strengthening at landfall. And I've been doing a long time. And the gulf, the gulf is hot, and we see these storms just explode in the gulf lately. They go from nothing to cat 5. This is probably likely going to be a cat 5.

BURNETT: All right. Mike, thank you very much. Pretty incredible to get your context on this that you've been doing this for 18 years and still sort of --

BOYLAN: I don't exaggerate. I just can't believe it. I told Phil I want to go home, I've seen enough. I can't imagine what people are going through right now that are inland.

We're talking a major hurricane well inland. And there are folks inside of Florida right now probably wondering what in the heck's going on.

BURNETT: Right, right. Who would have thought they were safely out of harm's way. Well, please stay safe, Mike. Thank you for talking to me, but please stay safe. If you want to get out, get out.

BOYLAN: Yeah, we are. Thank you for having me.

BURNETT: All right. I want to go to Tom Sater now in the CNN weather center.

Tom, you know, you heard mike talking about this. He's just never seen anything like it. Just sort of in shock, I think, fair to say. How dangerous is this storm right now?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's a category 3. That's the latest at the top of the hour and the advisory. As he mentioned, this is going to be a hurricane well inland. In fact, it could have hurricane-force winds as it exits out on the East Coast.

So when you look at the eye, and it looks like it's collapsing here. This is an infrared satellite imagery. But look at the brighter colors. These are the colder and the higher cloud tops.

This bright purple here on the northwestern flank west and even coming back around is still developing tremendous thunderstorms, which means its engine is still purring. It might not be on all eight cylinders, but it is purring along.

We still continue to see some dangerous surge. In fact, in Naples, the surge got up to 7 feet today, and then the gauge broke. So we may never know just how high it was there. Bonita Springs got hammered.

I really think tomorrow when we get aerial pictures from around Fort Myers region, even the harbor down southward, it's going to look like Hurricane Michael. I'm not kidding you. That's how deadly this system is, and we're just going to start to see pictures by tomorrow.

But even in Fort Myers, even right now, their surge is at 7 feet. Earlier they had a surge of 7 feet in just six hours.

But now here is another problem. When you look at the wind gauges, Venice, it's broken. Fort Myers, no longer working. We're getting wind gusts higher than 128, 130.

Naples, we're not getting information in this entire region anymore. It could be just power outages. It could be more than that.

When you look at the winds, this is one we didn't know about until recently, Cape Coral, 140-mile-per-hour winds. We're still seeing surge coming in on the south side. We've got over almost 1.6 million without power.

We believe this number will most likely double, if not more than that. In fact, we could have 3.5 million as this moves toward the Orlando area, which could still be at hurricane strength toward Orlando, getting off toward the coast.

We've got warnings now up on the Georgia and South Carolina coast for surge and tropical storm effects. So, again, it's going to re-emerge. But the strength and the angle of approach, instead of just cutting right across central areas of Florida, it's really encompassing the entire state.

And it's not just the hurricane winds that extend outward, 50 miles on each side, all right? That's 100-mile-wide swath. There's over 350 miles of tropical storm force winds. The entire peninsula will have tropical storm force winds.



SATER: The issue now is the heavier rain bands are on that northern side. So when you get 12 inches to 24 inches of heavy rain on that northern flank where everything is firing up, and then you get those hurricane force winds, trees can only withstand so much, so they're going to down, and we're going to have much more in the way of power outages.

But again, we're still seeing a lot of activity. We had about eight tornados last night, a few more today that did damage. We still have a tornado watch in effect. And that will be another issue going forward.

BURNETT: So, Tom, when you say it could stay a hurricane all the way across the peninsula, I mean, that and of itself is pretty stunning.


BURNETT: But what does it mean for where it goes next, right? Because then it doesn't need to reorganize fully, it's still a hurricane, right, and then it's going to hit again, right?

SATER: Well, it's interacting with the land. And dry air is trying to infiltrate the system from the southwest. I believe when it's closer to the coast, it'll probably drop down to tropical storm.

I don't think it'll have the mechanics it needs to get back to hurricane strength back into the open waters, because we've got some very dry air that's dropping down, a trough, if you will, and that's helped guide it across Florida. What's really interesting, and I don't think many people realize this, that trough would dry air dropping down created what we call red flag warnings for fires from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, into northern Florida today, there was a fire threat because the air is sinking the air is so dry.

But here is the problem, it's the flooding rains. Take the hurricane landfall out of the equation. This is disastrous in its own effect. There will be many, many more water rescues in areas to the north.

BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you very much.

And next, we're going to go to Fort Myers, the city that has just been devastated by Ian so far. The storm surge that they've already had there, so powerful that entire buildings, multistory buildings were completely ripped up by the foundation.

Plus, a hurricane hunter who took this terrifying video as he flew through Hurricane Ian today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There goes the signs. There goes the beds. Holy cow. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: He says today's flight was the worst of his career. Why?

And rescue crews tell CNN they're being inundated with water rescue calls tonight. You heard Tom mentioned that. I'm going to speak with a member of the United Cajun Navy Search and Rescue about how bad it really is.



BURNETT: We're following the breaking news in Florida where devastating winds are lashing Bradenton, which is just south of Tampa. That's where John Berman was as the hurricane is slowly crawling inland.

Derek Van Dam is in Bradenton tonight.

And, Derek, what are you seeing there?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, you know, Erin, we're seeing now the city streets go dark, aside from some generated lights from generators. I'm fearful for people tonight in the central portions of the Florida peninsula with what they're going to experience as we are plunged into darkness. I think over 1.5 million customers are now without power. And that number is going to continue to climb as these ferocious, dare I say, violent winds continue to just batter this area.

I know the eye has moved inland, but it still feels like the storm is feeding off the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, giving it some energy. Because the eye is east of us now. It should be relaxed in these winds, but it has been relentless. Maybe it's the slow nature of this storm.

Think about what it did, Erin, when upon its arrival, another rapid intensification at the worst time possible, spinning itself up like a top and then releasing its energy in the form of cat 4 winds over 150 miles per hour.

Just an incredible gruesome and grueling day for the people and the residents who live here. We have seen transformers pop behind us, lighting up the sky, providing almost a bit of a fireworks show, and then at times we were witnessing this phenomenon I'd never even heard of called reverse storm surge when the winds were so strong it was literally taking the water out of the Manatee River that's just behind me here and the Bradenton harbor, just incredible.

Now that the winds have shifted, that water is now coming back in, and the normally dry areas that we earlier today are starting to fill back in with water. But I am fearful tonight for what people are going to have to endure as this storm crawls inland.

BURNETT: All right, Derek, thank you so much. It is worrisome because so many of those people inland, no doubt, were

simply just not expecting this to be this way. No matter how many warnings there were, there are just going to be a lot of people who aren't prepared.

Let's go to Fort Myers city manager Marty Lawing.

And, Marty, what is the situation like in Fort Myers?

MARTY LAWING, FORT MYERS CITY MANAGER (via telephone): It's still pretty rough. We have still some very strong winds, definitely tropical storm force winds, sustained winds and probably some hurricane force gusts as we speak. And still some strong rains coming down as well.

BURNETT: Yeah, it's what everyone just keeps saying is that it is relentless and continuing. It doesn't pass. The storm surge where you are, I understand, is so bad that you had structures ripped from the foundations, swept away. I know that one of those was not far from where you are right now.

Marty, obviously, you're still in the midst of this. But how much damage has this storm already caused?

LAWING: Well, it's quite a bit. And our teams, for the safety of our employees, we've not sent them out to do full damage assessment at this point. So, we will do that as soon as the winds get to a level that is safe to send people out. But we -- just from what we can see here, our city hall is not real severe, but we know that when winds like this and the storm surge like this, we've not seen a storm this strong in years. And so, we were prepared for it to be fairly significant.

BURNETT: So far, you know, we keep hearing about the storm surge, right? In Tampa all that water has gone way, way out in the bay, and still hasn't returned. In Fort Myers, I know you have seen some storm surge already. Water's rising more than 8 feet, I understand, in just the past hours. And your overall surge, Marty, my understanding, could be as high as 16 feet. What would that mean for Fort Myers?

LAWING: What we can see now is on our riverfront, on Caloosahatchee River, that means that the water has crossed the seawall and is about -- extended about one block from the river.


And at that first block it's about 1 foot deep with the rain continuing like it is, it could definitely extend further into our downtown area.

BURNETT: Devastating. Marty, thank you very much. I appreciate your being able to speak with us. And please stay safe.

LAWING: Okay, thank you.

BURNETT: All right, sir. Next, we're going to talk to a hurricane hunter who has flown through 76 storms over the past six years, and he says this one was the worst of his career. So, why? What is so different about this storm?

Plus, I'm going to speak to a woman who decided to ride out the storm. She is trapped now with her children, her fence gone, AC units gone. How is she doing tonight?


BURNETT: These are live pictures out of Florida, Punta Gorda right now. Hurricane Ian is right now over the entire peninsula in terms of the winds, bringing life-threatening storm surge, devastating winds, now a category 3 hurricane.


It is inching inland going across the entire Florida peninsula. Made landfall as a category 4. More than 1.6 million people are without power. A number which our Tom Sater says will more than double.

And we are having reports of people already trapped inside their homes as the waters have risen so quickly. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said it's going to take time until first responders are even able to go out.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, FLORIDA: Until the storm passes, they are not going to go into a situation for rescue and put their own folks at risk.


BURNETT: Bill Weir's in Punta Gorda, Florida, tonight. And you're right in the midst of it. What are you seeing?

And it looks like we have -- his shot froze there, as we said, really right in the middle of it. So if we can get back to him, we will do that. But he's in the full force of those winds as we speak.

So as we wait for him, I want to go to Nick Underwood who flew through Hurricane Ian today as one of NOAA's hurricane hunters. Let me just show you part of the video that he posted.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, there goes the -- there goes the beds. Holy cow!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You good back there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, we're good.


BURNETT: Nick is with me now.

Nick, 76 flights, six years of storms. You say this was the worst of your career. It makes me terrified to even watch that. But the beds are thrown to the ground, everything spilled. What was it like?

NICK UNDERWOOD, NOAA AEROSPACE ENGINEER, FLEW THROUGH HURRICANE IAN TODAY: It was definitely the roughest flight that I've been on. As you said, that was my 76th hurricane penetration. So it's 76 times into a hurricane and back out the other side.

And out of all of those, that was absolutely the worst. There was turbulence, both up and down and the lateral turbulence, which is honestly the most unsettling part of it. It was something else.

BURNETT: So, you yesterday, when we show you video from yesterday compared to the video you went through today, you actually experienced a storm that literally was moving, had strong winds, but then just floored it, right? What happened in that 24 hours?

UNDERWOOD: So, our flight yesterday, the storm was coming off of the coast of Cuba. So it was getting into that warm water in the Gulf of Mexico and it really started to ramp up. And just this morning on our flight as we were flying through, it was intensifying up to that strong high-end category 4, and really just had all the right conditions in place. Not a ton of wind sheer, and that's what allows these storms to really grow in size and intensity.

BURNETT: So when you talk about going through 76 storms and you're talking about how disturbing it was today, not just the up and down turbulence but the lateral turbulence. And you say that's much more disturbing, I think everyone can instinctually understand why, although no one can probably imagine tolerating the turbulence that you do, absolutely horrifying. But what is it that makes this storm different? We've been trying to understand why it is so unprecedented. Why it is so strong.

From your experiential point of view, what's the answer?

UNDERWOOD: Yeah. You know, 76 flights through 22 different storms. Every single storm is different. This particular one, the things that really stood out to me was that intense turbulence, especially in the western side, which normally is not the strongest part of the storm. Another thing that stood out was the amount of lightning.

We were flying through at night, but once we got into the eye, I was taking photos like it was daytime because there was just so much lightning outside. It's really just those simple factors that really contribute to these storms growing in size, that ocean temperature, the low wind sheer, those kinds of things.

BURNETT: Your tolerance for these things is high. This is what you do for a living. But you're saying today was different than anything else you've been in. At any point were you worried about being in danger?

UNDERWOOD: There's that moment where you're a little worried just because things are bouncing around and moving around you. But then you remember the crew that you're with, the pilots up front are absolutely experienced, the flight engineers with them, the flight directors and meteorologists on board. You think about the ground maintainers who are taking care of the craft before we get into the air.

All these people are fantastic, the absolute best in the business. And you remember how good and how dedicated they are. And any kind of worry that we're not going to make it out of there kind of melts away.

BURNETT: You showed, you talked about some of the images and pictures of the lightning and we showed some of those.


But was that also different, just the fierceness and the intensity of the lightning?

UNDERWOOD: It was certainly really not something I'd seen before. The closest I'd seen prior to that was Laura in 2020. We did a mission when I was over Hispaniola. That was the most lightening I'd seen around a tropical cyclone prior, but until this morning, finally around Ian, sure.

BURNETT: Wow. Thank you very much. Glad you're back and on the ground. It is a work -- it is a work --

UNDERWOOD: Happy to be here.

BURNETT: It's the work that people like Nick and his crews do that enable us to understand what these storms are doing and where they're going. And those flights save lives and communities throughout the storm pass. So, thank you so much.

Now, I want to go to Punta Gorda. I know we were trying to get Bill Weir and he is back. He's on the phone with me now. We've been able to establish communications with him again, though.

Bill, obviously, you are in the middle of it. I don't know if you just heard, Nick, who's flown to 76 of these storms, said this is the worst in many ways that he has ever experience or seen.

What are you seeing now?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Absolutely the same. Yeah, the back end of the storm was much more violent than the front end we watched come in. But, yes, these are not your father's or grandfather's hurricanes.

The oceans are warmer. The oceans are higher. These are engines, hurricanes (INAUDIBLE) storms and scientists have been warning about this for a very long time that the warming (INAUDIBLE) and they've absorbed 90 percent of the heat. (INAUDIBLE).

But now, this is the result. It's going to be these storms (INAUDIBLE) acceleration, right? I heard last night, it was going to be a category 2, when we woke up, already been a category 4. Same thing with the typhoon in the South China Sea last week that

caught people by surprise from 1 to 5 in six hours. And so, that sort of thing is a new normal here.

(INAUDIBLE) adaptation to this new planet that we're living on and these new realities, because of Hurricane Charlie 18 years ago absolutely decimated this town and they were the first to develop a rapid climate, coastal plan that included everything from building codes, to buying up vulnerable public properties and making them public places. So we will see. (INAUDIBLE) communities.

That's all discussions for the future. Right now thinking about families hunkering downs, maybe new Floridians with kids, the uncertainty in this darkness now as I'm standing in total blackout in Punta Gorda, then that becomes days of heat, you know, with no air- conditioning, with no refrigeration. And then comes the mold and then comes the insurance company. So, (INAUDIBLE) a lot of misery to a lot of people down here.

BURNETT: A lot of misery. Bill, thank you very much. As I said, Bill is right in the middle of this so even that cellphone communication was taking some hits.

I do want to say here as we try to squeeze in a break, Bill just raised something really important I haven't heard a lot of and that is there are a lot of people in Florida who weren't there a year or two ago and haven't been through a storm, never mind like this one because no one has, and how does that change things? People who weren't prepared and may have not known how serious to take this kinds of warning.There's been a lot of people who have moved to Florida.

OUTFRONT next, we're live in St. Petersburg where conditions are expected to worsen until midnight. People who have not evacuated have been told to hunker down, no time to get out now.

Plus, I'll speak to a woman who decided to ride out the storm with her children. She was not in a mandatory evacuation zone, but the storm has become so bad, parts of her home are swept away. We're going to find out how she's doing tonight.



BURNETT: Breaking news, the mayor of Tampa warning that the worst of hurricane Ian is yet to come, asking everyone to shelter in place. The city bracing for the massive storm. They haven't gotten a storm surge yet. John Berman saying that water all but retreating and going to come in with a vengeance with a massive storm surge even as already the winds and water have done such damage.

I want to go to Brian Todd in nearby St. Petersburg.

Brian, what type of damage are you seeing where you are? Even just look at your shot I can see devastation. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is devastation, Erin. We've

just been able to fan out into some of these areas as the brunt of the storm has passed. We know some more of the storm is coming, so we're not out of danger yet by any means, still getting pounded by wind and rain. But we have been able to fan out.

This is the largo area just north of St. Petersburg. We came across this house completely burned out. Check this out. We've been able to throw a bit of a light on it, but room after room inside here is completely devastated, you know?

And it's really unclear whether any of this is recoverable. When we pulled up to the house, the facade of it -- you can see, some of the structure is still okay, but the roof is pretty much all gone here and this area back here completely devastated.

You pull up to the front of the house you saw one burned out window and didn't look like much else was damaged, but when you came around here it was incredible.

We talked to a neighbor who gave us some video of this house when it was actually burning this afternoon. That neighbor told us the people who owned the house were not here at the time, thankfully, and no one here was hurt.

This family had come back. This house has been in this family for generations, had a death in the family, came back to renovate this house and then this happened. Thankfully no one was hurt here.

This was started by a wire, a power cable snapping off a transformer just across the street and then this house completely went up in flames, Erin.

BURNETT: It's a terrifying thing. You think with wind and water you don't think how fire is inexplicably linked to water.

All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much. Devastating there in St. Petersburg.

I want to go to Sarah Dehart. She decided to ride out the storm in her home in Port Charlotte, with eight other people, including five children.


And I want to note, she's not in a mandatory evacuation zone, but the storm ended up being so much worse despite the warnings, that, Sara, I know what you're facing is really terrifying. We have some pictures you sent of what was your -- your pool area, technically. We can see the destruction and devastation there, the roof ripped apart.

What else have you seen?

SARA DEHART, RIDING OUT STORM IN PORT CHARLOTTE, FL, WITH 8 PEOPLE (via telephone): Well, actually, we've seen a lot. We've seen a tree fall right in front of our cars. We've seen just everything blowing around. It's pretty wild.

We're actually from Indiana, so this is our first hurricane. And we were in -- and we were supposed to evacuate. But, you know, we just -- we didn't. But we're here and there's not really been much happened to the house itself, but we did lose half our ac unit outside and the lanai is torn to shreds.

We lost our entire fence around our house. Yeah, it's just a mess out there.

BURNETT: Right. Obviously, still continuing to blow. Sarah, I know you're not alone. You have nine people in your house, young children. If I'm right, you've got five of them. You've got one child as young as 6 with you. What's that like right now? That's got to be really terrifying?

DEHART: It is. They're managing. We did get some activities and some snacks, so they're pretty content. They don't like when they hear stuff hit the house, so -- but we're all trying to stay pretty calm for them. And we're hanging in there.

BURNETT: Sara, I know you said you should have evacuated but my understanding is you're not in a mandatory evacuation zone. But t it was interesting you mentioned this is your first hurricane. You like many others are new Florida residents. What made you make the decision to stay? Was the fact it wasn't a mandatory area why you decided to ride it out?

DEHART: Well, they said it was a mandatory area, but we honestly without absolutely knowing where this is going to go, it's hard to determine whether we should stay or go and be stuck on 75, so we just decided to hunker down and we've got an inner closet that we could all hunker down in if need be, but so far, it's not gotten that far. But we've got the hurricane storm windows and doors. So they've been holding up pretty well.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Sara, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time to tell us what you're seeing and going through. And hope those kids are able to ride it out all right. Thank you.

DEHART: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right. And next as the flood waters rise, officials are being slammed with water rescue calls right now. We're going to speak with a member of the United Cajun Navy search and rescue about how bad it really is out there.



BURNETT: Okay, these are the breaking live pictures out of Florida. Punta Gorda, we've been mentioning it throughout this hour is getting pummeled at this hour. Our Randi Kaye and Bill Weir are in the midst of that there. Rescue crews are telling CNN that they're being inundated with water rescue calls tonight, as we hear about this epic storm surge.

U.S. Coast Guard already rescuing at least three people off the Florida coast. And the Cajun Navy is also in Florida tonight helping with the search and rescue.

Joining me now is Keisha Boyd. She's with the United Navy Cajun search and rescue in Brandon, Florida, just east of Tampa.

You know, Keisha, look, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is saying what he should be saying, which is we're not going to be able to send crews out until this passes a bit because we can't put them at risk.

What are you seeing right now? Are your rescue volunteers actually going out?

KEISHA BOYD, UNITED CAJUN NAVY SEARCH AND RESCUE: We have a few on standby. We are currently not at the location. We are -- we are looking out for the safety of our team right now as well.

BURNETT: Yep, I mean, you know, you've got to do the right thing. You can't risk their lives for others.

I know you have volunteers, though, across Florida tonight, Charlotte County as well as in Sarasota. And we just heard someone from NOAA who was talking about having gone through 76 storms and he's never seen anything like this.

So, it is the strongest storm on record to ever hit Florida's coast and he experienced that first hand. Does that change how your team is able to respond with search and rescue?

BOYD: No, ma'am, we just -- no, we just turn our rescue and make sure our safety is first, like I said. And we make sure if we get calls that we can go to those areas, but we just make sure everybody is safe. That's our main goal right now.

BURNETT: Absolutely, Keisha. And what is your biggest concern right now? I know, for example, in Tampa all those waters receded from the bay almost like before a tsunami, and they haven't yet surged back in. We have lot of water still going to come in.

BOYD: Correct. We're worried about communication with our teams as well the surge coming back in and having the flooding, and so we're waiting for those calls, and if we can assist we will.

BURNETT: And I know you're already facing tropical storm winds where you are. We're hearing about a storm that is going to be unprecedented in terms of its impact on the entire state of Florida. What does it mean for you this storm is going to be so powerful and destructive even inland?

BOYD: We're taking all routes possible, and we're sitting tight where we are. So we are just trying to make sure everyone's safe. I keep saying that, and that's just our main thing right now is keeping everybody safe. And once we can get in, we will go in. BURNETT: Right, and I know that's what your group's mission has

always been.


I hope -- I hope you'll be able to do that and I know you have a lot of work ahead of you and for your crews as well.

Keisha, thank you so much.

BOYD: Yes, ma'am. Thank you for having us, ma'am.

BURNETT: All right.

And next, more states along the East Coast declaring a state of emergency because now, Ian is forced to cross over the Florida panhandle remaining a hurricane as it moves north to strike the United States coast again.

We'll be right back.



BURNETT: Breaking news: Hurricane Ian delivering a devastating punch to Florida as we speak. Right now, the storm slamming the Fort Myers area. The winds originally there 155 miles an hour. The eye, double the size of what was the last worst storm to hit Florida. Ian as it has moved in has been downgraded to a category 3 storm but continues to shatter records.

The storm surge is flooding cities across the western coast of Florida. These are the new pictures we have out of South Myers. You can just see that. It's unbelievable. You can see the level of flooding. And in someplace places the surge forecasted to reach up to 16 feet.

One hurricane tracker who's flown to 76 storms in his career said today was the worst flight he's ever had, there was a moment of real fear and said he's never seen anything like the winds or lightening and turbulence. More than one and a half million have lost power and that number will probably more than double.

The danger is also tornados. There's been multiple reports of that, and forecasters say the storm could strengthen again as it moves back to the Atlantic Coast where it will by the end of the week, hit Georgia and South Carolina by Friday.

We'll pass off our breaking coverage now to Anderson.