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Hurricane Idalia Barreling Through Florida, Georgia; National Guard, Search & Rescue Teams Deployed. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 30, 2023 - 12:30   ET



ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: ...into these areas that don't deal well with flooding to begin with, especially Charleston Harbor. The big concern there is as those waters rise, it's really going to start to push inland into the communities. You also have the potential for some tornadoes as we go through the afternoon not only for areas of Georgia, but also South Carolina. We have seen some very heavy rain move across portions of southern Georgia.

We have several flash flood warnings, including a flash flood emergency across the city of Valdosta due to all of the heavy rain that has pushed through these areas. When that ground is saturated, it doesn't take much of a wind to bring down trees and power lines. So you're looking at about 350,000 people without power across these two states alone. And that is expected to spread farther north as the system itself continues to move off to the north and east. So, those power outage numbers also likely to go up in the coming hours.

Most of the heavy rainfall going forward is going to be from Valdosta up through the outer banks of North Carolina. A lot of these areas looking at four inches to even six inches of rain. But there will be some spots that could pick up eight inches or even 10 inches of rain before this system finally exits back out over the open water. Because of that, you do have that moderate risk of excessive rainfall across many of these areas, including Georgia as well as the Carolinas.

So unfortunately, Dana, again, when you look at both of these factors, it's not just the rain, it's also the wind component too. So even though this storm has already made landfall, it's well inland, you're going to have impacts for the next several hours across the rest of these states.

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF 'INSIDE POLITICS': Thank you so much for that. That is really the key that people even if they feel like they are in the clear, you have to be prepared for the water. A lot of people have been through this before, but this feels that this is potentially worse. We're actually going to go to the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who is speaking about the state of things in his state.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (on camera): Particularly in the northern part of the state, so far, there have been 262,000 accounts that had lost power, have been restored. And there are more than 250,000 accounts that are currently out of power and in need of restoration. As you'd imagine, the counties that have the highest percentage of power outages are the counties that were in the main pathway of the storm -- counties like Dixie, Levy, Taylor, Suwannee, Madison, Jefferson and Columbia.

Utility workers are actively working to restore power in all affected areas. And they have started doing that as soon as it was safe to do so. So those restoration efforts are ongoing. We do anticipate you could have -- that these power outage numbers could go higher, but the restoration numbers are going to go higher as well.

All eight Urban Search and Rescue teams are deployed. Our National Guard has folks in places like Taylor County. They are getting on scene there to do things like clear major pieces of the roads and get debris that has been knocked around. So there's a lot of moving part there, kind of a ground zero. So, we have got a National Guard unit there. General Haas can talk more about that.

National Guard is active including with Rotarywing Assets. Florida Fish and Wildlife has both boats and vehicles enroute to the affected areas. And Florida Department of Transportation has been conducting cut-and-toss operations starting at the southern part of the state as the storm moved through southwest Florida, clearing those roads and then moving all the way up north. And so, they are enroute to clear all the way up to Taylor County.

Right now, Tampa Airport is going to reopen for incoming flights at 4:00 p.m. By 3:00 a.m. tomorrow, it will be fully reopen. Gainesville Airport will reopen tonight and Tallahassee Airport will reopen first thing in the morning. The Ports in Tampa and Manatee are currently undergoing assessments. And when those assessments are concluded, they will be able to resume operations assuming all is well, which we anticipate it will be.

There are, as of now, no confirmed fatalities. And those fatalities are things that get confirmed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement through medical examiners. We do not have any confirmed fatalities yet.

If you have any questions about how things are unfolding in your area, you can go to for updates. The Florida Division of Emergency Management will continue to update that website with all the latest information. We have really good retail in terms of all the counties, I think, other than the Big Bend Proper. The Tampa Bay Area, things are good. Leon County is doing well. We're still assessing what is all going on, on the ground in the places that had the initial impact.

And so, we're probably going to be -- I'm going to try to get down to some of those counties today, but we got a lot of people that are going in offering assistance from the state perspective, helping these counties be able to stabilize the situation.


So for more updates on this, I'm going to bring up Kevin Guthrie from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

KEVIN GUTHRIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (on camera): Thank you, Governor. So far right now, the biggest impacted area that we have following up on what the governor said is -- seems to be in Perry. Right now, we know we have a couple of businesses that have caught on fire. A few that have roofs knocked off of them, maybe potentially one collapse. We're getting some conflicting information on that. But we have crews that are there, working hand in hand with Taylor County Sheriff's Office and Taylor County Fire Rescue. So that's going on.

Madison County is another county that has been impacted. They have a lot of debris on the ground. They have about 99 percent power outages in that particular county. So again, we do have resources heading in that direction. Again, I'll let General Haas talk about that. He has got one of his task forces heading in that direction as well. So, other than that very specific detail, we continue to search, secure and stabilize areas that we can do that in.

Most of what we're doing here in the Big Bend area is initial search. I will say this. I know we don't anybody from the CFO's office here, but in search and rescue in Fort Myers, we were able to clear a lot of houses very quickly because of the footprint of Fort Myers. Up here in the Big Bend, you may have two houses that are on a five-mile road, so that's going to take a very long time to clear those. Now, we have more than enough assets, more than enough resources to get that done in a timely manner, but I just want to go ahead set expectations. Some of this is going to take longer than what we experienced with initial search and rescue at Fort Myers, just again because of the landscape.

We're going to have to do a lot of tree cutting and a lot of push emergency access to get into those areas to then do the securing and stabilizing. But we are working through all of that. We have maintained communications with all our counties. We did have a couple of 911 Centers that went down briefly for about 20 minute to 30 minutes. But again, all 911 calls have been answered. There are some minor backlogs in Taylor County and Madison County that again local officials are working through. And then we're supplementing those resources to help them get through those calls as quickly as possible.

I will reiterate that even though there, we have 911 calls, there's no one in distress that has not been taken care of. The ones that were in distress, we got folks to immediately. We have a lot of people that have called 911 saying, "I'm trapped in my house. I'm OK. But I need help." So, they are 100 percent OK. We are going to get to those folks just as fast as we can get our emergency access teams into them.

The State Emergency Response Team will continue to work around the clock to meet the needs of all the survivors, support our first responders, and initiate an efficient recovery process to communities impacted by Hurricane Idalia. We are actively working with our law enforcement partners to continue to conduct search and stabilize, as I have already mentioned. We have a recovery team that's already in the EOC. We, here at the Division of Emergency Management, we activate our Recovery Team the exact same time that we activate our Response Team. So, our Recovery Team has already been working for several days getting ready for this. They are already conducting windshield assessments throughout the State of Florida. We'll go into -- the next phase of this will be individual damage assessments, where there are -- I'm sorry, initial damage assessments where those are done at the local county level in a little more detail to get numbers that will then roll up with us. We already have FEMA that is standing by ready to do what we call joint damage assessments. So they have teams here already ready to go for that.

So, you're going to see a very, very quick response on the recovery side of the house to do individual damage assessments and what should also refer to as public assistance damage assessments. That's where we check public infrastructure, city, county buildings, things of that nature. So again, all of that stuff will be unfolding most likely as soon as tomorrow, so that we can get the recovery process jump started here in the State of Florida.

As always, we could do that without the leadership of the governor and the objectives that he sets for us. So again, governor, thank you so much.

DESANTIS (on camera): OK. General?

MAJ. GEN. JOHN D. HAAS, FLORIDA ADJUTANT GENERAL (on camera): Good morning. Thank you, governor, for your leadership and support of your Florida National Guard. Director Guthrie, thank you again for the great work your team is doing to protect Florida citizens. As we continue to assess the damage landfall caused across the State of Florida, our thoughts and prayers remain with the impacted -- the impact of the storm on the folks.


Florida National Guard is fully mobilized with approximately 5,500 soldiers and airmen supporting hurricane response efforts. Post- landfall, Guard elements have been providing support to our state and local partners with mission sets including reconnaissance, search and rescue, damage assessment, and route reconnaissance operations. Our 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team is heavily engaged in Florida's western coastal counties, primarily conducting ground search and rescue and route clearance operations.

In fact, Florida Guardsmen are conducting high-water vehicle rescues in Hernando and Taylor Counties. Likewise, our 164th ADA Brigade is conducting similar missions throughout our central and northeast counties. We maintain additional immediate response forces available to rapidly reinforce our presence and capabilities in areas with greatest need, like Taylor County. We are embedded with each of our impacted county Emergency Operation Centers and remain ready to provide support as requested.

As briefed earlier, the Florida National Guard is currently -- has 2,400 vehicles, including high-water and high-mobility vehicles, 14 (inaudible) aircraft conducting planned Urban Search and Rescue operations this afternoon and 23 small watercraft on hand to support (inaudible) operations as needed. Additionally, Florida is receiving assistance from other state National Guards. We are expecting two truck companies, one from South Carolina and the other from Tennessee. And we are also preparing to receive three UH-60 helicopters from Kentucky.

At the same time, Maryland, Tennessee, and Colorado are standing by to -- in case we need additional air assets. We remain grateful to our fellow guard states for their assistance and support. Your Florida National Guard is prepared to accomplish any mission required by the Florida Department of Emergency Management, and we stand ready to support our state, fellow citizens and our neighbors in need. Thank you.

SECRETARY JARED PERDUE, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (on camera): All right. Thank you, Governor DeSantis, for your continued leadership. Thank you, Director Guthrie for your continued partnership as we respond to this event. Several days ago, we began preparing. We have had our crews and equipment stage for the last 36 hours. Immediately after landfall when the storm passed through, we began pushing those crews into the impacted area.

Over 700 crew members, which includes 100 bridge inspectors, 1,100 generators, and 250 pieces of equipment. We have been moving these resources into the impacted area, so that we can quickly address their needs, get the cut-and-toss operations taken care of and support the life safety mission. In the main area of impact, we have nearly 1,000 bridges that have been inspected. We're really focusing our efforts close to the coastline initially. We have several major roadways that go over the Steinhatchee River, the Suwannee River and others.

Right now, State Road 24 going into Cedar Key is impassable because of high water. State Road 51 going into Steinhatchee is also impassable because of high water. But our bridge crews are inspecting most of the bridges as we speak and we'll be finishing those operations within the next hour. We've made a lot of progress. We're going to continue to do so. We have moved the generators that are needed into the area. Most of the traffic signal assessments have been completed. We have about 50 locations left to complete and we will be deploying generators for those traffic signals that need power.

As we continue to respond to the storm, all 13 of our Traffic Management Centers across the state will continue their 24/7 operations, inputting real-time traffic data into Florida 511. Again, that is the most accurate and timely information you can get for traffic at We have 185 Road Rangers that are continuing to patrol our interstate system and responding to motorists as needed.

One thing to remember, there's still high water in a lot of areas of the state. If you see water over topping a road, please do not drive through it. If you see water, please stop, turn around, go a different way. It can be really dangerous to drive through flooded roadways. Thank you, again, Governor DeSantis, for your leadership and support as we respond to this event.

DESANTIS (on camera): OK. So we're going to have -- all these assets are in motion. So you're going to see a lot of efforts at power restoration. You're going to see the roads cleared in the really significantly affected areas. That's going to increasingly happen. And we're going to do whatever we need to do to help these local communities get back on their feet. Any questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What time did the eye cross into Georgia?

GUTHRIE (on camera): That's a good question. I'll have to look that up.


DESANTIS (on camera): Yeah, I think it was probably within the hour, within the last 30 minutes or 40 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, at what time did it become too dangerous for people in that Big Bend area to evacuate?

DESANTIS (on camera): What would you say?

GUTHRIE (on camera): Probably, the last evacuations probably happened somewhere between midnight and 2:00 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And do you have an idea of how many people might have stayed in the house? (inaudible) there was a form families filled out.

GUTHRIE (on camera): Yeah. So on this particular one, we did door to door because it was just a little bit different scenario with much less people. So Florida Highway Patrol and local Sheriff's Office agencies again down at Levy County had about 100 people that stayed at homes. And then, anecdotal -- or, I shouldn't say anecdotally but up in the Taylor County, it was more in the 50-ish range that was confirmed. But I'm sure other people did stay as well. But, it's a little bit different way to do it (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) say that Florida or Tallahassee has dodged the bullet with...

DESANTIS (on camera): Well, I think if you look, if we were sitting here last night, we had a track that was bringing the eye maybe into Leon County and then they shifted that this morning. And so, I would say Leon, this was -- from where we were when it was going there, this is the shift Leon wanted for sure. I mean, you go out there, I mean I have been out. There's been rain and wind, there's some debris, but nothing I think like if that wall would have impacted Tallahassee, I think you would have seen significantly more damage. So that bend northeast really helped Tallahassee and Leon County. .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any kind of bridge damage like we saw (inaudible) at the Sanibel Island, like we saw there?

DESANTIS (on camera): So, I am going to let Jared come up. I don't think we identified that. There are, of course, in the Tampa Bay Area, some of those bridges were closed. Some because of water, some because of wind, but structurally, I haven't gotten any reports that they are problematic. And then, as you get in closer to kind of the ground zero, those bridges are not passable, but that's primarily because the water is overflowing. Is that accurate to say?

PERDUE (on camera): Yes, that's accurate, governor. I'd say we're still in the process of doing damage assessments. We haven't seen anything anywhere close to what we saw (inaudible) Sanibel Island. For the locations where there's still high water, we have to wait till the water recedes to really find out what's going on there. But, we have not seen any major damage yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you seeing any significant river flooding inland, whether it be Suwannee or I guess, it can even go to the St. Johns (inaudible)?

DESANTIS (on camera): Where do we -- I'm sure we are.

GUTHRIE (on camera): So the short answer is, we're starting to see some reaction. All of this rain is going to have to drain into those basins. So usually what happens in these incidents is, we don't see the actual river action for 24 hours, 48 hours, sometimes as much as 72 hours after the fact. The St. Johns River is a very slow-responding river. If you remember back during Hurricane Ian, that almost took 45 days to correct itself on that particular body of water. So again, it's going to take a little bit of time for them to completely react, and then obviously, go back down.

DESANTIS (on camera): Yeah, I will say I mean, the one thing of this, the storm moved a little bit faster than some of the other ones have moved. Some of these things will just dump water and they go so slow. This one moved a little faster, which is at least when you're talking about the flooding, it's a little bit better than when they are slow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) -- I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it look like for recovery for some of the counties that were hit particularly hard, like Taylor and Suwannee? I know like -- Calhoun County was still a mess four months, five months after Michael.

DESANTIS (on camera): Well, we're going to -- we're in the process of doing those assessments (ph). Of course, stabilize, rescue, recovery, whatever needs to be done right off the bat, power, save lives, all that, that's without saying. But then, there will be damage assessments to see what all we're looking at in terms of damages in each of these counties. There's going to be debris, of course. That's going to be something that's going to need to be done. These counties are not going to be able to afford that on their own, of course, even with 75 percent cost share with the federal government.

And so, I would imagine that the state would want to help these fiscally constrained counties, the legislatures wanted to do that. We may be seeking better cost share as well, but yeah, there's going to be things that are going to need to be taken care of. And these are the counties along the (ph) Big Bend, they have very small budgets, and expenses like this are not things they could absorb the way some of the wealthier counties could. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just saw actually that the -- there was an oak tree that fell on the governor's mansion here in Tallahassee. And is your wife and kids OK?

DESANTIS (on camera): We're fine. In fact, she called me probably about 45 minutes ago and told me this was a really I guess ancient oak tree split in half and part of it fell.


I don't know that it fell on like the residence per se. I think it was a little bit off to the side, so that's going to be cleared. I don't know if they are going to have to cut down the whole tree. If they do cut down the whole tree, that's just going to be more room for my kids to hit baseballs in. And so, in some respects, for us, even though the tree was nice, we'll probably make do and be quite all right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you comment on some of the healthcare facilities in these smaller counties? Did any of them have to close for (inaudible)?

DESANTIS (on camera): So, I'll let Kevin do -- I've spoken with a number of the main chains who had closed hospitals in the Tampa Bay Area. They're all doing very, very well. Most of them are going to be reopening today if they haven't already done that. And of course, they have a footprint further up into the nature coast. Do you want to talk about the others?

GUTHRIE (on camera): Yeah. So, we did have a couple of (inaudible) facilities and nursing homes that did have to do some evacuations, but they did that as a part of the evacuations that we called for two days ago. To date, as of this minute, there have been no reports of any issues inside the health and medical industry, whether that's assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, or hospitals. So, everybody is reporting what we would call green and they're good to go, and everything is all right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And just as a follow-up, do you know -- (inaudible) how many patients would have had to -- residence would have had to be transferred?

GUTHRIE (on camera): Yeah. I don't know those numbers right here. We can get with the Agency for Health Care Administration, Secretary Weida or even Secretary (inaudible) figure out what those numbers actually were.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you talk about the discrepancy between some numbers that are being reported on fatalities and citing FHP and you saying that there is no fatality?

DESANTIS (on camera): So, right. So, there's a process for confirmed facilities. It just goes through law enforcement and medical examiners, and then they do that. And so, that has not been done yet where we've had a confirmation. Now, I know there's unconfirmed reports. Those may end up becoming confirmed. And then, of course, we deal with this in every storm, what is a fatality that is a direct result of the storm versus what would be something where you have a fatality that's unfortunate, but may not necessarily have a causal factor with the storm.

For example, in Fort Myers beach, people -- there were fatalities because of that storm surge. No question. Well, if you're out the day after the storm and you're picking up debris from the yard and somebody has like a fatal heart episode, does that count as a storm- related death? So they always argue these things backwards and forwards. But when there are confirmed fatalities, those fatalities will be put out by the authorities. But there's just a process that goes through with that.

Now, the unconfirmed, I think there have been unconfirmed reports of traffic fatalities and that may be storm related, it may be not. Obviously, it was happening within the time that the storm was either approaching or was on target in these various parts of the State of Florida. OK. We'll have more updates as the day goes on. We probably will end up visiting some of these areas as soon as it's safe to do so, and we'll be assessing on the ground and mobilizing any additional resources as is necessary. Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have another briefing tonight, sir?

DESANTIS (on camera): Probably, yeah.


BASH: You were just listening to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his team who are dealing with the hurricane that is there, that made landfall earlier today, and is there dealing with the aftereffects. Specifically, he talked about the idea that 250,000 people in the State of Florida still do not have power. He did say 100,000 lost it but then have had it restored. He also mentioned the -- if there is a silver lining here and that is that this hurricane is going faster than perhaps they had anticipated which the governor said could help with the dreaded storm surge and flooding.

I want to go now to Leon County. That was one of the counties that the governor was talking about. It happens to be where the governor is. It is where Tallahassee is. Vincent Long is the Administrator there. Mr. Long, thank you so much for joining me. Do you agree with the assessment? I wouldn't say he's breathing a sigh of relief because it's really bad. But just specifically, where you are in Leon County, maybe it could have been worse?

VINCENT LONG, LEON COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR, FLORIDA: Well, thanks, Dana. And yes, it could have. I think, as you just heard from the governor, we were really spared the brunt of Idalia. We've been tracking the storms since it was a tropical depression over the past -- what started last week and really preparing because the -- all of the forecast and the tracks really had it coming right at us, and it gained power and intensities rapidly as was expected and then came in just about 60 miles east of us here in Leon County.


And again, we were spared the brunt. However, we're still in the disaster assessment phase and we will soon be in the recovery phase, and then soon after that, we'll be looking about how we can assist our neighboring counties who are harder hit than we were. We have a lot of experience with hurricanes here in Leon County as we were severely impacted, as you may recall, by Hermine and Irma and Michael in three successive years. So once we get our community back up and running, we'll be looking toward helping our neighbors who again were harder hit than we were.

BASH: Harder hit and as the governor said, lacking -- because they're smaller counties and smaller towns, lacking the resources...

LONG: Yes.

BASH: ...understandably, to do recovery and to do cleanup. What is the biggest threat facing your area as we speak?

LONG: Well, as we gear up and prepare for all the possible threats that could occur and again, having dodged some of the real impacts of storm surge, again, not as much a threat for us as our coastal neighbors, but wind is really what we shelter from here in our community, especially with the abundance of trees that we have here in Tallahassee in Leon County. That constitutes a real threat to us even though it's a magnificent feature in our community. And so, as we get more soaked over this period of time with continuous rain, we continue to be concerned about that.

Downed power lines, of course, and then our thoughts turn to recovery and people using things like generators and using them safely and we can't emphasize enough that without proper ventilation, those generators can be very dangerous and even deadly in just a matter of minutes really. And so, just always important to make that type of emphasis. But again, we're doing the disaster assessments now and very quickly moving into the recovery phase, and very fortunate to have dodged, again, the brunt of Idalia.

BASH: And still those are very important admonitions, not just power lines, but generators for people who don't have power, to use them properly and to understand exactly what the downsides are of using a generator. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And now, I want to...

LONG: Thank you.

BASH: There are some dramatic scenes in Tallahassee. I want to go right to Brian Todd who is there. Brian, tell us what you are seeing there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, an illustration here of why they're not out of the woods in Tallahassee yet. There's still a lot of danger on the streets, on the roads even though the brunt of the storm has passed. Take a look at this. We're on Big Oak Street in Tallahassee, look at the way this tree came down. Our Photojournalist Jonathan O'Beirne is going to follow me over here, as he kind of pans over and shows you this tree. This happened, according to the people who live here, at about 9:30 a.m. this morning. They were inside the house when this happened. And I'll show you just kind of the violence with which this occurred.

Part of the problem here, part of the danger is that these trees are covered in Spanish moss and other things, and it just makes them much heavier when they come down. You have got these downed power lines, very, very dangerous to navigate around whether you're walking around or trying to drive on these streets. But, take a look at this, Dana. Look at this. This is an old pine tree and look at just how much of the roots were uprooted because the ground was saturated underneath this. It took the fence completely off the ground and then just violently slammed into the fence over there.

The couple who lives here, Abila and Curvin Rene (ph), they told me they're OK. They have a child. They have three children. One of them lives with them here. They escaped injury, but they were praying when this happened because the storm was very violent for at least a few minutes when it came through here. And again, this is just an illustration here of why navigating some of these streets is dangerous. And it's dangerous for you to try to either get back in your house if you evacuated or just to navigate around your home. Because just -- again, just walking around, you could step on a power line. It's still very dangerous here and crews are just coming out to assess all of this, Dana.

BASH: Which is a good thing. It sounds like people are heeding the warnings from officials to stay inside even now, that it does seem quiet, doesn't seem rainy, doesn't seem windy. I should note that the governor said one of those oak trees, that's a pine tree, but an oak tree fell on the property of the governor's mansion. It does -- am I right that it still seems pretty quiet there? That residents are complying with the -- with what officials are saying?

TODD: They really are. And a lot of the residents are just kind of starting to venture out of their houses now to assess some of this damage. But many of them did stay in. They were advised that even if you think the brunt of this is past, you got to stay in your house and give crews time to get out and assess some of this, to cut some of the trees away and to try to clear some of the power lines.

Again, you can't emphasize enough how dangerous these power lines are. A lot of these are lying on the ground, some of them could be live still.