Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Catastrophic Destruction across Florida as Ian moves North; NHC: Ian Expected to become Hurricane again Later Today; Ian Hammers FL with Record Storm Surge, Rain, Powerful Winds; FEMA Preparing for Possibility of Thousands of Displaced Families. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 29, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing this chaotic and sad news day with us.

Ian intensifying again after leaving much of Florida scarred and soaked. This hour, it is still dumping water over a giant chunk of that state. This a stunning and sad view of Fort Myers from above you see it right there rows of houses quite literally swimming in storm surge.

Just moments ago, word of the first confirmed hurricane related death in Osceola County. 14 million people, 14 million people right now, under a flood advisory. The scale of destruction is hard to comprehend. We are learning more by the minute and any minute from now President Biden - a briefing on the scope the devastation of this storm.

Millions of Floridians right now without electricity, Lee and Charlotte counties in Southwestern Florida knocked entirely off the power grid that according to Florida's Governor. Emergency responders working through a backlog of calls for help for some that help won't get there in time.

In Naples scenes of desperation first responders wading through shoulder high water to carry drag people to safety. And in Orlando regret for not following orders to get out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't man the evacuation going off on my phone but I like OK we're going to be all right. We're going to be all right and I kept saying we're going to be all right we're going to be all right you know I'm saying but what was wrong? I was wrong about I knew it was going to be this bad. Oh, they got me and my family ahead of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Let's begin in Southwest Florida Fort Myers where the storm submerged entire city blocks. CNN's Randi Kaye has been touring the devastation all morning and she is there a lot for us. Randi, what are you seeing?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there John. We are in downtown Fort Myers. We've spent a little time this morning in North Fort Myers. But this is downtown this is - these are the streets that were completely flooded yesterday. And here's what we found.

This is a piece of sea wall, just look at the size of this. We're a few blocks off the water. So that's how far this traveled and those pieces back there, traveled in the water. And you can imagine the force that it would have taken for this kind of piece of stone to move.

And if you just look at Downtown Fort Myers here, there's metal that's been strewn around, there's more pieces of concrete as we were driving through none of the power - none of the stoplights are working there stop signs that are down. Here's just more debris.

This is going to take quite some time all the way over here now another giant piece of seawall, trees down all over downtown. It is such a mess here and also on the way we had to cross a bridge. And there was, I don't know, half a dozen, maybe a dozen boats that had also been lost in the storm. They were stacked just piled right on top of each other.

But we also spent a little bit of time in North Fort Myers as I said, John, we were in this coastal community, and they were completely flooded by the Caloosahatchee River and the pictures there the people that we spoke with.

We spoke with one woman John an 85-year-old woman who said it just took seconds for the water to come up to shoulder height. She was tossed around and with the furniture in her own home. That was just it was being flooded. So moved all around, threw up against the wall. She was taken to the hospital by a neighbor.

And it was really all about neighbors helping neighbors. The fire teams were there this morning. That's good. They were doing some search and rescue this morning. No fatalities, at least as of now in that community but it really is about neighbors helping neighbors and now they have to figure out John, what to do.

What do you do in a city like this? You have to put it back together. But more importantly, these people who have lost their homes, they have to figure out how to dig out dry out and what their next steps are John?

KING: And Randi to that point you mentioned during the city center now the city center more of a business district you are in a residential area today. We will have throughout the hour all of these stunning statistics about you know, once in 1000 year flooding. The swath and the depth of this storm how much water was dumped on Florida? You have done this for years you have a considerable experience just from your own eyes in walking through these communities in terms of the punch Southwestern Florida has taken describe it.

KAYE: It's a severe punch. It's a knockout to be honest with you. I mean, there's a lot of people that we spoke with that have never ever seen a storm like this. We were outside on the backside of it last night. I've never ever experienced a storm like this having lived in Florida for years now and covered hurricanes.

But many of these people who we spoke with this morning, they have lived here for years and they've never seen anything like it. They were talking about a wall of water coming through breaking through their windows breaking their doors down. They were screaming and many of them were running for their lives trying to get out of there.


KAYE: They left their pets at home. They were coming back to get them this morning. It is a real. It was a real force. It was a real violent storm that came through. It's nice to see him in a downtown Fort Myers at least is coming alive. There's a lot of people out there's even a pizza place open.

You know, Floridians are very resilient. They've lived through this before. But this certainly was one of the biggest ones I've ever seen and many others have ever seen John.

KING: That is part of the heartwarming part and the day after when people come together and try to help each other including opening up a business so that people can eat as they go about it. Randi Kay on the ground for us in Fort Myers Randi thank you!

And again to understand the scope, but the depth the breadth, Florida is a giant state. Let's go north down a little bit to the west to Inglewood, Florida. CNN's Carlos Suarez is right there. Carlos the hospital there is closed. You're right on a beach front community there. What are you seeing?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. So we are right now in a mobile home community where the damage is really widespread. The folks that live here are showing up to their homes for the first time since this storm, and they're just seeing all of this destruction out here.

We'll take a quick walk out here so you can see what I'm talking about. That tree right there took up that one mobile home there. All you keep hearing are all of these awnings. The metal is the sound that you can hear throughout this place. The sound of chainsaws are also underway because folks have started to take cut up some of the trees out here.

If you see some of the other debris that just litters the outside of these mobiles homes will walk this way here. And you'll see the front windshield of that car there just smashed right there, couple Arby's behind there. And then you can see the downed power lines.

We're told that they had just finished an upgrade, like an upgrade to that part of the mobile home community. And it just washed away and all of that. The destruction out here really is widespread. It's incredible. We tried to make our way a little bit more West.

We were trying to get out onto the coastline there. The flooding is just way too bad. Driving down I75 and cars are just left on the side of the road. Water is all over the place. Rescue crews are trying to get some of these cars out of the way. Folks in this part of Southwest Florida really are dealing with a great deal of just heartache and devastation.

We talked to a woman and her daughter, she just moved into her home six months ago, they evacuated figuring that this was going to be that bad. And as you can see here, it's pretty much all gone further that way. Let's just take a quick walk so I can show you the other side of this mobile home community.

There are two more places just across from where we are. And those are just as bad. And a lot of folks keep pulling up here asking if we know how some of their neighbors are doing. That woman right there she's putting up some plastic tarp --.

We talked to her just a few minutes ago. And she was telling us that's someone's house that she knows. They don't even live there and they're doing them the favor of putting up a plastic tape. You can see the damage out front out here. And then further up here.

Same thing here just one home is gone. That other home is gone. It's really John, something else having covered plenty of hurricanes in my early career here in Southwest Florida and then in Miami is just pretty bad.

KING: And to that point Carlos, you started in the Tampa area yesterday, you've made yourself a major way a little bit to the south here and to the west closer to the coast. You mentioned your experience. You show a car windshield, you know that's a couple $1,000 you show a mobile home that's tens of thousands of dollars. What you are seeing piece by piece is the thousands then millions then ultimately billions and the weeks and the months and for some people years of what comes ahead.

SAUREZ: Yes, no, that's exactly right. And I got to tell you, everyone's attitude at least that we've talked to this morning. They're just happy to be alive. Every single interview every single person we've talked to have said it was bad. They evacuated. They said it was loud.

The rain never led up. All of this they made the argument you can replace. A lot of them said they're going to stay put because Florida is home John?

KING: Carlos Suarez on the ground for us. Sad but critical reporting thank you Carlos! We'll check back in a bit later. Joining me now on the telephone is Chief Tracy McMillion. He's Fire Chief Director of Emergency Services for Fort Myers. Chief we spoke yesterday you said you were preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Where did you come down on that scale?

TRACY MCMILLION, FORT MYERS FIRE CHIEF: So good morning! For the City of Fort Myers we actually - we did OK in comparison to some of the areas like I said Ian was a one for the record books for sure and to be able to get hit like we got hit I'm so happy to do some driving with our city manager and assistant city manager this morning doing some damage assessments.


MCMILLION: And I'm pleased to see all the folks out there's a lot of registrations matter. There are boats that are on roads that they're definitely not supposed to be. There are no docks, you know, miles off the road. So we got hit pretty hard, but it's encouraging to see our folks out there.

It's encouraging see people with, you know, good attitudes, good spirits, working together to make things happen. But we got a long road of recovery ahead of us. But I'm pleased, which is a crazy word to say, but I'm pleased that we came out OK, in the city of Fort Myers.

KING: I understand the context, you're giving important context. It is devastating to see the property destroyed. It's devastating to see the water damage. But those things even though it costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of time those things can be replaced. As we speak this hour do you have any sense - do you have people unaccounted for? Are you - do you believe there are any fatalities in your area?

MCMILLION: So in the City of Fort Myers, as it stands, right at this moment, you know, things can change, so dynamic. At this moment, we have search and recovery efforts out there. It does not appear to in the City of Fort Myers to have any fatality at this point.

So we are truly blessed about that. However, you know, these are things that could develop later, as we figure out more uncover more. But in the City of Fort Myers, it appears as far as a human element is concerned, we came out very well. And we're so thankful for that.

KING: And one of the ways you will get that context is the water has to recede. And then you need to restore things like electricity. So if there's anybody out there maybe who can't charge your phone, who can't get to - can't call to get the help, any sense of what lies ahead of you in the next day or three in terms of dealing with the emergency search rescue response challenge?

MCMILLION: Oh, absolutely. And that's what we're doing. Now we're setting up different ways to create, you know, forms of checking, making sure, you know, our friends and family and neighbors can be part of our network in our search efforts is not just our responders and, and city employees, there's also our community.

So we're actually utilizing social media to actually see how we're doing and see if there's any issues and problems, not just a 911 system. So over the next couple of days, we're hoping my fingers are crossed, that we don't discover anything that's, you know, in a negative light.

We're hoping that the positivity that we're seeing in these early hours continues through, and then we can do with the damage to impact the dollars. But the human is what we're really concerned about. So we're really hopeful that that does not change over the next couple of days.

KING: Amen, we share those hopes, Chief as you do. You talk about; again, understanding you're talking about the human toll, you're hoping you're hoping that in Fort Myers City, things are OK, if you move farther out in the county, you know, the Causeway to Sanibel Island, not far from where you are, has been destroyed.

Do you have any sense of you move more out to the coastal areas in the barrier areas? Whether it's talking to friends and other departments or other colleagues? Is it the same situation there? Do you - do you believe it is just we're showing this causeway right now, just this horrific property destruction? Or do you have questions about unaccounted for missing people in any of those areas?

MCMILLION: Yes, you know, I can't really, you know, discuss that as far as what my knowledge is on that because I don't really know. I have reached out to, you know, my counterparts, my fire chiefs how you do on what's going on.

And so those conversations last night, it really seemed like they had some challenges ahead of them. And they were concerned about those very issues that you brought up. But as far as any factual as far as what that looks like in those other areas, I hope to get on the phone later this afternoon and talk to them and figure out and hopefully have some good messages.

But I think they got hit a lot harder and a lot more impactful than our particular area. So it would not surprise me if there were some, some challenges in those areas.

KING: And in terms of equipment, whether it be physical equipment to help you with search, recovery, moving debris in the like supplies to keep first responders fed and warm out there. Do you have everything you need at this moment?

MCMILLION: Yes, we have a great network with our Lee County EOC with a request, and we have so many different businesses and owners who understand the magnitude of this that have been volunteering to, you know, to bring food.

We have, you know, contractors who are taking their equipment and actually helping us to clear roads along with our city staff. So the resource streams, they're coming in there. It's just great, great to see how as a nation and country state, that we would actually put all this together with the resources.

So at this moment, we're doing very well with resources and getting those resources out to the places that they need to help our people. KING: Chief Tracy McMillian grateful for your time sir. And as I said yesterday, I'll repeat it today. If anything changes you need to get a message out or you need somebody to raise a flag for you. You know how to find us.

MCMILLION: Thank you so much. I appreciate all you're doing.

KING: Thank you sir best of luck in the days and hours ahead for you. Another glimpse last night at the Hurricane Ian's just simply raw power this is Port Charlotte hospital wind from the storm slicing the roof of an intensive care unit clean off.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That the storms can be pretty bad however, we weren't quite expecting it to be this bad. At about 160 patients in the house and our roof blew off part of the roof on the ICU, the ICU. So, of course we had torrential rains coming in, which then went down the stairwell which then went on to other floors.


KING: There were 160 patients, 160 patients in that ICU one of the doctors though telling CNN folks are in surprisingly decent spirits.


KING: We are bringing you the very latest on Ian. The President of the United States just arrived at FEMA Headquarters he is getting a briefing. We will hear from him later this hour. Ian is a hurricane again it has moved across the Florida peninsula. Look at that view from space right there as the storm rolled over Florida yesterday its size simply breathtaking.


KING: Ian has already put entire communities under threat destroying bridges swallowing streets, sweeping away homes. 2.6 million people, 2.6 million people are without power right now. Storm surge spiked to a record 12 feet in some communities in Florida.

The Governor Ron DeSantis, calling the now tropical storm a 500 year flood event. A fraught moment early this morning, a nurse on her way to work, tried to drive and got caught as you see in the floodwaters. This in Orlando, a reporter from the CNN Affiliate WESH intervened to safer in Kissimmee near Orlando the storm forcing people to scramble for safety just a short while ago one of the city's commissioners describing a mad dash for shelter.


JANETTE MARTINEZ, KISSIMMEE CITY COMMISSIONER: Right here across the street that's cool. That's right here that shelter is cool. We managed to get as many people as possible out like literally we were carrying my husband my children. We were carrying other people's kids above our heads. The water reached like to our chest. People were trapped inside elderly wheelchair.


KING: Shocking satellite imagery shows extensive power outages across the state. The image on the left, taken Monday before Ian made landfall, the one on the right from this morning nearly one in four Floridians again 2.6 million people currently without power.

We want to show you the FEMA Headquarters shot right now the President of the United States has just arrived the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He spoke to the Governor of Florida again this morning, the White House officials say there is close coordination between the state the Democratic President, the Republican Governor.

Again, the President will receive a briefing on the storm and the federal resources being deployed. And then we will hear from the President a bit later this hour. We'll bring you that as soon as it comes in to us. In the meantime, let's check in with CNN's Chad Myers. He is in the severe weather center. Chad Ian has made its way his way across the state. What's the very latest?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know we're not yet a hurricane. We're at 70 miles per hour. But a few hours ago, we were at 65. And now most of the hurricane that will be a hurricane later today is offshore. So this TS tropical storm will become a hurricane again.

But let me show you what the tropical storm force winds. There's no hurricane force yet. Tropical storm force winds all the way down to here and out to here. The size of the tropical storm force winds really much larger than the whole storm was when it did hit Cuba.

Remember, we're going to have a third landfall because Cuba, Southwest Florida and now predicted as a hurricane, South Carolina. South Carolina, you are now under hurricane warnings. And that is going to be with surge of maybe four to seven feet.

You put four to seven feet into Charleston and the entire downtown floods. And then you have all this rain that's going to be coming in as well. All of a sudden, you're going to have some problems there across parts of South Carolina, it will be a 50 or 60 mile per hour storm for a while, then it's going to get into the Gulf Stream and things are going to get a little bit interesting.

The Gulf Stream is very warm water, kind of like what it happened all the way down by around Key West and then eventually moving on up here either from about Little River all the way down possibly to Savannah. I don't yet know where this thing's going to go because honestly, we haven't known where it's going the whole time. The models have not been all that good to be really honest.

You know, they've done what they've done in the Hurricane Center has done what it could do. But this is what you have left here. All of this rain from Port Charlotte, all the way up to Daytona onshore flow in Daytona raining hard for the Carolinas possibly even towards the Savannah four to six inches of additional rainfall.

And that's if it doesn't slow down if it does slow down we could get more than that. Here is what the rainfall looks like right now pouring onshore with this rain from Savannah all the way up the coast. And then we're talking about the low country here, John.

It's called Low Country for a reason from Charleston up to Murrells Inlet up to Seaside all the way to Little River for that matter. I mean a little bit higher ground and North Myrtle but that's about it. This will push some water into those back bays into those inlets and cause that backside flooding even on the inter coastal something I want you to keep watching for. Pictures out of Fort Myers Beach they're devastating. They truly are. They're just coming out of there right now. We're working on getting them on TV. It's bad.

KING: It is bad and I just - Chad I just want you to reinforce the point in the sense that we're trying - today is the day where we're figuring out how bad? How bad it is in the State of Florida? But there are a lot of people in Georgia, South Carolina and up the coast who need to keep their eyes looking forward, right?

MYERS: And without comes without electricity it's very hard to get anything out of there. You know, it's very hard to get information out where is it bad. Where's it the worst? How can we get our crews there? How do we get pictures? How do we get a drone? How do we do anything if you can't talk to each other?


MYERS: You know the lady on the Cajun Navy will be talking to you yesterday, on the show. You said what's, you know, what's the biggest concern? She said that I can't talk to anybody that I won't be able to communicate with my crews, because there'll be no cell towers.

And at least for this morning when I was here, you know, I got here four o'clock in the morning. There was nothing. There was not one piece. There was not one tweet. There was nothing out of Southwest Florida because everything was completely down.

KING: Let's drill down on the point Chad just made and shall we'll check in with you throughout the day. Of course the Charlotte County Commissioner Chris Constance joins us now. He is in Pembroke, Florida. I just want to make clear to our viewers, sir.

You left Charlotte County because of the evacuation was you're in Pembroke, which is over in Southeast Florida and Broward County. But you're in touch with folks back home as Charlotte County, Punta Gorda; Port Charlotte took a very hard hit here. What do you know, number one, a human life any reports at all fatalities back in the county?

CHRIS CONSTANCE, CHARLOTTE COUNTY COMMISSIONER: John, thank you for having me on. Really appreciate you getting the messaging out. Unfortunately, we do have six confirmed fatalities at this time. We have all of our crews out now assessing damage doing search and rescue. It is the biggest catastrophe I've ever seen in my lifetime. I heard the Mayor of Naples you know they had some devastating flooding. Their hearts go out to us for our wind damage. Our hearts go out to them for all the flooding they've had. This is unprecedented and I was in Punta Gorda through Hurricane Charley.

So while that was devastating, this is so much bigger is affecting so many more people. To give you an idea, our four shelters have had to be evacuated because there's been too much structural damage. Of course, the power's out as it is in many places around the state.

And we have no running water to Charlotte County or the City of Punta Gorda. We have main breaks. We have other issues that we're dealing with. So it is so large, so all encompassing. So it's such this is new territory for all of us. And we're just trying to wrap our heads around the scope and breadth of the problem.

I will tell you that the Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronus is currently being briefed at our Emergency Operation Center in Punta Gorda. I know the Governor is intently looking at this. And I do want to thank the President for declaring the disaster because that overtime is going to help us recover quicker.

But it's just - there's so much going on. And there are so many avenues our Emergency Operations Director is just you know covering all the bases but there's so many things to worry about and so many things to mitigate for we're just its big.

KING: It is big, sir. I want to come back. You said at the top you six confirmed fatalities that is new information to us. So I'm just trying to drill down on what you know about that. Individual episodes, six people together can you tell us more?

CONSTANCE: Don't have any more information than that sir just that that was reported to me at our briefings.

KING: At a briefing this morning, I will try to get some more information that if you get any more information, please pick up the phone and get in touch with us. But what let's talk now about the challenges. Obviously, you mentioned how big this is.

Obviously, you still have search and rescue crews out looking to see do you know - you mentioned six confirmed fatalities. Do you have any count any estimate a number of people unaccounted for?

CONSTANCE: It's just too big at this point to even know what's going on during Charlie. Efforts were done over days going door to door marking the buildings, whether there were structural damage, whether there were injuries and you know that they had been located.

So I did see images of mobile home parks, which didn't have damage during Charlie, which have been devastated. A lot of our roadways are impassable because the power lines are down or because there's just so much rain from flooding, that the cars can't be driven through.

And we're pleading with folks, if they're able to hear this, as much as you'd like to return to your homes, please stay away for now because that's, you know that we have to worry about food and water for those that are stranded in the affected zone.

And for those that are there but close to their homes, who want to go back and assess the damage. Please allow our crews to get back there and make sure that the streets are open and safe and give them the ability to move. The critically injured out if they are there and do the necessary repairs so that eventually everybody can go back and do their own assessments.

KING: We're talking if we take the entire county into context of a pretty large community, just shy of 200,000 people. Commissioner Constance, do you have any sense that the emergency responders still there at the emergency center have any sense of how many people stayed behind? How many people they're essentially trying to go through the list and account for?

CONSTANCE: We don't know. I evacuated Tuesday night at about 10:30 and the roads were fairly empty. I didn't have a hard time getting to the east coast. So I'm hoping that either one of two things folks heeded the warnings early and evacuated and the roads were pretty clear or they sheltered in place.