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Eyewall Of Hurricane Ian Coming Onshore Now; Hurricane Ian Nearing Category 5 Status; Storm Surge Already Producing Record Water Levels In Naples; NHC Forecasting "Catastrophic Storm Surge" Up To 18 Feet; More Than 2.5m Floridians Under Evacuation Orders. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 28, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing this big busy news day with us. No time left to run Hurricane Ian is here. You see the dramatic pictures here and it is a monster. The storms eyewall now coming ashore, and if nothing changes it will hit land in Florida as a category for a bit later.

This hour and on the ground frenzy in the state of Florida, millions of residents now under mandatory evacuation orders. The entire state faces flash flooding, and then, record shattering storm surge. Water officials say as high as 18 feet, enough to swallow two SUVs stacked one on the other. One official warning that if you are caught in that surge, you simply will not survive.

Let's get straight to our correspondents on the ground beginning with CNN's Bill Weir. He is in Punta Gorda. Bill, what are you seeing now? And what are you told to expect quite soon?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this whole community is really bracing for the worst, John. Those new numbers this morning suck the pit of the stomach. Everybody here trying to think of fathom what a 17-foot storm surge looks like. But we're on the backside of the storm now. And you can see this is sort of the reverse storm surge.Locals never see this exposed seabed here. We're looking at crab traps, and oyster beds blown around in the wind with the rest of us here. But of course, the water as the storm comes ashore, will fill in very fast.

We're right next to Hurricane Charley sushi bar, which is named after the storm in 2004. That came right up the Peace River here, much tighter eyewall there as a category for that basically rip the roof off of the new emergency operation center here in Punta Gorda, and had this whole community completely rethink what it's like to live on the coast.

This is the first town in the state of Florida to adapt a climate change coastal adaptation plan. It's been in the works for over 10 years. It had an update just a couple of years ago, they're buying up vulnerable properties and converting them into public spaces. They move that emergency operation center to higher ground. The building codes were tightened up as well, about half the town was laid to waste there. So, this is a real test now of adaptation on a warmer planet, when we get these bigger, faster, wetter storms, John?

KING: And Bill, you mentioned Charley, obviously a memory there and something that forced that smart adaptation attempts at adaptation by the town. The storm surge in Charley back in 2004. It hit us a cat 4 six or seven feet was the maximum storm surge then. When officials now talk about maybe double that the sense of the preparation and the fear.

WEIR: It's palpable. I just talking to a few folks who are been here a long time. We're here for Charley. And you could tell the seriousness in their tone, very much in contrast to folks. I was talking to at St. Petersburg yesterday, who were planning for their hurricane party. This as the superlatives do not do justice to the idea. This will be the strongest natural force to hit this part of the country in recorded history.

So, we don't know what that means yet. Nobody knows what a 15 and 17- foot storm surge looks like because there's never been anything close to it here. We are right under, my photojournalist is taking shelter under U.S. 41, which is the oversee highway, you can follow all the way down to Key West.

And so, we're trying to use that as a gauge of how high does that water come up to the bottom of the roadway there. It's just too hard to fathom right now. We actually talked about this morning, should we try to get east of I-75 tried to get to higher ground. But at this point, the governor and basically conventional wisdom is saying, you got to shelter in place, you got to hope for the best and hunker down right now, which is what we're prepared to do.

Our hotel is just a minute dash away when things get rough here right now. And this is just the coming attractions. It's hard to believe that these wind gusts which are maybe 40-50 miles an hour are going to triple in the next couple of hours. Intensification is the watchword of new warmer planet where these storms get out in this warm water and just stomp on the gas.

You can see behind me, we just had a palm tree come down a few minutes ago, and then beyond me there in Charleston Harbor sailboats that are bottomed out because of all this reverse surge. The forces of nature, John, it is so humbling to see up close.

KING: It is humbling up close, Bill. And I'm going to get to Chad Myers in a minute and he'll walk through the science, but the reverse that you noticed there. Again, somebody watching at home it doesn't understand how these storms work. They might see that low water and think well at least you're starting from a low point. But walk through again what you're seeing those crab traps, the oyster beds in the essentially the storm is taking the water away for now, but it will be returned and then some quite soon.


WEIR: Exactly. If you think about this storm, we've been staring at that that circle on the screen for so long, like a giant circular saw in the sky. We're on the side that is pushing all of the water away from this part of harbor here. But then depending on where it makes landfall and that's the key, you know, the difference between 10 or 20 miles is where it makes landfall could be all the difference for positioning in terms of the flood that follows as that.

Other side of the big buzzsaw comes around and brings all of that Gulf of Mexico water on shore, up into these rivers and canals. So many folks have these dream homes right on the water. That's why you come and live in these places. About half of this town are retirees, town about 15,000, over half of them are seniors, active seniors, a lot of them know their way around a hurricane.

But again, it's hard to fathom what we're up against and your heartbreaks. Because you realize when you cover these storms, when the wind dies down, and the sun comes out, the nightmare is not near over. It's just beginning when it comes to flooding and mold damage and insurance fights and all of the lost productivity that comes with businesses being shut down. It's going to be really tough. We're keeping an eye on a couple big building cranes for a huge resort that's going up over there, whether those can survive 150 mile an hour, sustained winds. We'll see, we'll see.

KING: We will see. Bill you and your crew stay safe. All of our people on the ground stay safe. We will check back in in the hours ahead. I'm going to get to Chad Myers in just a second. But I just want to show you. This is the Tampa Department of Transportation camera. Tampa considerably to the north where Bill Weir in Punta Gorda.

Tampa expected not to get the brunt of this storm, but still this storm has winds 80 miles across and you just see the winds and the water moving in Tampa already, again the eyewall has come ashore. The storm itself will come ashore soon.

And for that, let's get to CNN's Chad Myers in our severe weather center. Chad, start with where Bill just was and what you're seeing on the path at the moment? And then we'll walk through what to expect in the hours ahead.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's Coriolis force at its finest that edits worst moment. The storm obviously spinning like this in this direction. And so, Bill is still on this part of the storm. It is still going to be blowing offshore, taking that water and pushing it away.

Now, if the storm was just to go all the way do straight and it's not, but Bill would always be on that offshore side. This storm is going to be moving on up toward the northeast. And so, Bill will get on the onshore side and that's what is going to be most damaging. That's when the water will be coming in.

We already know the water is in Naples, it's moving into Fort Myers because here's the onshore part. Bonita Springs, Fort Myers not quite up to Port Charlotte yet because you're on that north side. Here's what Naples' pier looks like. I was looking at this couple hours ago, you could see the sand. Now you can hardly see the bottom of the pier. It's been crashing over that pier for quite some time.

At least the people are gone. They were people watching that for a while. But the 12 to 18-foot surge that is going to be the problem because many of these homes in these areas, Cape Coral and like, they're only three feet above sea level. You put an 18-foot storm surge on top of a three-foot groundwood, all of a sudden, the water is up to your gutters or more.

We already seen Naples 5.72 surge. So that's one-third and the storm, isn't even - it's not even on shore. That's one-third of what we thought already. Then Tampa, negative 3.59, I have some pictures of what Tampa looked like, and it looks an awful lot like what Bill was just showing you. The water is flowing away. It is going out of Tampa Bay. And for the good news is for them, they're not going to get much of this backside, so it's not going to come in a lot.

Like, you know, like this down, here is going. This is going to be a 9, 10-foot surge in places that are already above ground. If you get all the way down toward the sea surface, down towards sea level, that's where that significant number, 18-feet it's hard to imagine, 33 miles per hour in Fort Myers right now 48, and Venice 60 mile per hour gusts there as the storm comes on shore. This is a disturbing map, John.

This purple area right here is 110 mile per hour wind gusts and more before this thing finally begins to die out. This entire area will see category two winds. And then here your depth back into category one and then farther away from that you're into just tropical storm winds. But that's a very large area, that's going to lose so many trees, will lose so much power. Power may be out for weeks or months.


Simply, this is now we are moving, and I wrote about this. I wrote about this in Charley. You know, you get anxious about the storm, you get worried about the storm, and then it's sad. And as a reporter, I got too sad quite early seeing all the people that I was visiting in Punta Gorda covering their stories. They're retired. They didn't have anything else in their life except their home and their small little boat on a canal. And they lost it. I'm afraid, we're going to have more stories like that coming up here.

Hurricane warnings now in effect for the eastern part of the state of Florida because the winds will be coming onshore here in hurricane force. So now, we're kind of covering the whole state. Not a lot of time, not a lot of room for the storm to die, John?

KING: We will check back in throughout the hour. Chad, it's just depressing and frightening when you look at those maps. Chad Myers with the context for us. And let's get to somebody who's on the ground right in that purple area. Chad was just talking about Alvin Henderson. He's an emergency management manager in Cape Coral, Florida. Mr. Henderson, I know you're busy. So, we are grateful for your time. You just heard Chad lay it out. You heard Bill Weir, who is in Punta Gorda. What are you being told where you are? What to expect in the hours ahead, how bad? ALVIN HENDERSON, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT MANAGER, CAPE CORAL: This is probably going to be one of the worst hurricanes that we've seen by all indications currently. The 30-mile diameter of that eyewall is starting to make land here in the local area. For us here in the City of Cape Coral, we're expecting to see that within the next 30 to 35 minutes.

So, we will see that heavy push of strong winds, 100 plus mile per hour winds move ashore to us, as at I will come across, you know we'll have a brief period of potentially sunshine. And that's a area of concern that we have to make sure that our community understands the fact that this has a very well defined eyewall that, you know, after the initial surge, we're going to have some nice clear weather.

But then, on the backside of that eyewall, we will see very rough weather coming back through the city, and then having that strong storm surge pushed behind it. So that's the outlook that we're looking at currently. Obviously, we're planning for the worst-case scenario. But hoping for the best scenario to come out with this for our community.

KING: We share that hope for the best, but you've had to suspend emergency services citywide because it's simply not safe out there. They will resume normal operations when winds get below 45 miles an hour. What is the best estimate on when that will be? And for somebody out there in the community who may not have evacuated, who needs some help. Is there anything available to them or they must hunker down and wait?

HENDERSON: At this point, if they have not evacuated, unfortunately, they're going to have to hunker down and wait. It is just not safe for us at this point to put any type of first responders out onto those roadways, it would be a catastrophic response for them. So, in the best interest of our first responders, they're all hunkered down in their respective fire and police stations throughout the city.

And we're anticipating that that 45 mile per hour sustained winds will subside sometime tomorrow morning early between 5am and 7am, where we could then quickly return to our field operations and start doing what we call our first push of trying to clear out the major roadway arteries within a city, start getting a quick impact survey and start to see the impact that Hurricane Ian has on our city.

KING: Your community of about 200,000 people, there are 330,000 people without power across the state right now. Any idea what the latest numbers are in your community?

HENDERSON: Not the present time. As you can imagine, we have our that is going off, sometimes coming back on. There are sections of the city already now without power. It's just going to progress to obviously a major power outage affecting the infrastructure, if you will, as the hurricane makes its way across our city.

KING: What is your sense of the community in the context? If you listen to Chad, you listen to our correspondent Bill Weir, you know, this happens, unfortunately too often. People say, oh, well, yes, I was here when Charley came through and I made it and so I'm OK I'm going to stay put this one of course, twice, maybe three times the storm surge. Are people listening this time? Or do you worry sometimes they think it wasn't so bad last time, I'm OK.


HENDERSON: We always worry about complacency, but also, we've enjoyed a large increase in our population as well. So, we have a lot of our community here. Their experiences type of a hurricane for the first time and not really knowing what to expect what we've been asking, and you know, what we've been seeing occur is our neighbors' helping neighbors around our city.

We're the people that have been here and seeing those effects and the damage that can occur during those hurricanes, helping out new residents understanding, you know, when to put up the shelters and what to do to appropriately prepare yourself, and then also understand the importance of heating those evacuation orders when they were issued by the county.

KING: Alvin Henderson is the emergency management manager in Cape Coral, Florida. Sir, appreciate your time today. We wish you the best in the hours ahead. If there's anything we can do to help, including get the word out in any way that's necessary. Please pick up the phone and find us, we will be here in the hours in the days ahead. Appreciate your time, sir.

HENDERSON: Sure. Thank you very much.

KING: We continue obviously to track Hurricane Ian and you see some of the pictures there, sobering statement this morning from the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. To people across the state, buckle up.


Gov. Ron DeSantis, (R) Florida: So, this is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days. Probably we think now it will be exiting the Peninsula sometime on Thursday. So, this is going to be a rough stretch. We're here to respond to the areas that are affected once the storm has passed.





KING: A very latest now on a quickly developing catastrophe, Hurricane Ian's eyewall now as you see swirling over Florida, particularly the southwest part of the state. My colleague CNN anchor, John Berman, is live for us in Tampa right now. John, where you are in Tampa, you're beginning to see intensifying over the past hour.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. The winds are picking up, but it's the rain here, John, has been pouring and then pouring more all morning long. And this could last another 24 hours or so. They're expecting anywhere between 12 inches of rain and two feet of rain here in Tampa. I was speaking to the mayor of Sarasota, which is not far from here. And he told me that 10 inches of rain is enough to float a car. Imagine twice that. So that's the freshwater flooding that they're concerned about.

And there are warnings of dire flooding over much of the Florida Peninsula, Tampa, Orlando, all the way to Jacksonville. So, you can see three separate threats that they're dealing with. Yes, these 155- mile per hour winds that could make landfall soon south of here the storm surge as well. That could be devastating. But then the freshwater flooding that could last for a day, maybe two days.

Obviously, Tampa along with every other city that we're hearing about all the mayors and emergency officials. You're talking to now, John, say you haven't left, stay in place. You have to ride this out. The emergency crews, they can't get to you now. This could be a tough day ahead, John

KING: Tough day ahead, indeed. John Berman, live for us in Tampa. Let's move to the south now to Fort Myers. The Fort Myers fire chief head of emergency management, Tracy McMillion is with us. Chief, grateful for your time. I know you're very busy. You are at least at this moment in the path of this storm, what is the very latest you are hearing? And do you have any concerns that people in the community maybe might not be listening to the evacuation? Is it too late for them to move? What do they need to do now?

CHIEF TRACY MCMILLION, FORT MYERS FIRE DEPARTMENT & HEAD OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (voiceover): Yes, sir. We are in the thick of things. Now is the time to stay inside. When the messages that we're putting out there is to stay in and check in. Talk to your family, talk to your relatives, let them know where you are. In addition to that, we're asking folks to stay away from windows, stay away from opening and get to a central place in your home that's built up by walls fairly narrow. And so, this way you can conquer in and kind of ride this out.

We are in the thick of it. There's not time now to get into the roadways, they are not safe. We as emergency responders have actually begun to hunker in ourselves. We're not responding to calls. So, this really puts us into one of the hardest points of what we call response and recovery, when we have to stand back and wait till, we can get back out there to actually render aid and help to our community.

KING: And Chief, I know when our team was in touch with you earlier in the day, you were concerned that people had not heated evacuation orders. Do you have any idea of how many people - community of about 92,000, how many people are in their homes now and have to wait this out at home?

MCMILLION: So, we don't have a great stream of data for that one of the things that we do know from our county partners who actually maintain our shelters for us, that there's about 4000 people in the shelters that were provided in Lee County, and there was plenty of room. But some of the factors in that that actually give us some false information and how many - actually - people actually left that area completely, maybe went to a hotel versus a shelter.

So, there's really no way to really determine how many folks at this point in time are still in their homes, but that's something that we're going to be aggressive with when the time and opportunity gets available for us to get back on the road and start doing a commercial response with our first responders, law enforcement. You know, fire and also EMS just making sure our community is safe as quickly and aggressively as we can.

KING: Right. Chief McMillion is speaking to us from Fort Myers. I just want to show you a shot from the south. This is an earth cam in Naples, Florida. And Naples, Florida, and you see there you just see the violence starting to pick up in the water there from this. Chief McMillion, I'm showing Naples to your south. You're starting to see obviously, you know, heavier looks like the tide, but it's the storm moving that water right there.

What are you being told as this is to your south in Naples? What are you being told about when to expect the worst and how has that changed? If we were having this conversation 24 hours ago, are you being told things will be a little better or worse than a day ago?


MCMILLION: So, think things are different and I think everybody's on the same page with this when it comes to Ian. Ian is not cooperating at all. So, what we're looking for, we have always set our standard to be able to prepare for the worst initially, as you guys know, as you guys been covering this storm, we're expected to hit Tampa, then it was Sarasota, then was a little bit, you know, more south than that.

So now we're actually seeing that we're still kind of on the dirty side of the storm, we have a better chance of actually getting hit with more AI type of situation. But storm surge is actually increased a lot more.

But you know, good thing our planners and the folks that work diligently and coming up with plans and interacting with the weather channels and working with our county asset, actually did a worst-case scenario plan. So, we are prepared to deal with that storm surge. And that's why we always try to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

KING: When you say you're prepared to deal with that storm surge or you say yourself hunkering down if you get the storm surge, as great as it could be there. A, how high? And B, what's it going to look like when you're able to open the door and go outside?

MCMILLION: See, that's unknown. So, we're not really sure what it's going to look like. And this is one of the things when it comes to storms and especially big storms like this one. We don't know the cards or the hand that we're going to be dealt from hand. But we are ready to actually play the deck and do the best we can to actually make sure our community safe as we go out with recovery efforts.

KING: All right, Chief Tracy McMillion in Fort Myers. Sir, again, as I said, I was speaking to Mr. Henderson in a community nearby. If there's anything we can do to help, anything we can do to get people's attention if needs over the next day or two. Please, please reach out. We'll be here. We'll stay in touch throughout it. We appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

This morning, the President United States, Joe Biden, say he's called the state's governor Ron DeSantis, and several Florida mayors, the president promising to move heaven and earth if necessary to help, telling people in the storm's path please take the warnings of local officials seriously.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The storm is incredibly dangerous you state the obvious is life threatening. You should obey all warnings and directions from emergency officials, don't take anything for granted. use their judgment not yours, evacuate when order, be prepared.