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American Morning

Wilma Slams Into Florida as Category 3 Hurricane

Aired October 24, 2005 - 8:59   ET


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You, can't -- you can literally -- you can't see anything out there. It's absolutely gray in the distance, as you can see from the shot. Right, there's a portion of a wall, a dividing wall, that fell on part of the satellite truck, too.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right. So we're seeing a lot of that sort of damage. It would be great to get a sense just of where this storm is. I mean, we kind of thought this thing was going to move through by now, but nearing the top of the hour, I mean, it shows no sign of letting up.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, literally you have two more small eye walls to go, and then you are completely in the clear. And literally, absolutely in the clear.

I want to do a radar tour here real quick. We'll do a reset at the top of the hour. It's 9:00, AMERICAN MORNING, on CNN right here. Extended hurricane coverage.

The eye wall itself is to the east now of Miami, also into Hollywood, Florida, and back up to the north. Let me do a little bit of a circulation here. We'll zoom in.

Heavy, heavy rain showers and thunderstorms around Card Sound Road, right along the 18-mile stretch into Florida City. Farther to the north, this is where Hollywood, Florida, is, where we've seen so much damage reported there from our -- from our Allan Chernoff.

Back up farther to the north, almost to Boca, more heavy wind squalls, at least 100 miles per hour. And now back to where you guys are, I'm surprised you didn't get a break for a few minutes, because it appears that there was a break in between this eye wall, this outer band, this outer band, and now there's just this little bit left, literally less than 15 miles left.

Has it been coming and going a little bit?

COOPER: It doesn't feel like it.


ZARRELLA: No, it hasn't felt like it at all, Chad. It's just been, as Anderson pointed out, absolutely relentless. What you see here is what we've had for the better part of an hour now.

COOPER: Yes, and we've actually just -- I mean, you can't stand out there any longer. We're actually now in a sort of protected alcove.

MYERS: Yes, good.

COOPER: But, you know, you walk 15 feet out and you just get blown right away.

MYERS: John, what can you -- what can you relate this to? What kind of storm?

ZARRELLA: I tell you, you know, from being where I was in New Orleans, this is much worse than New Orleans. I think this is much worse than what we experienced in Dennis.

I was sitting here just wondering whether, you know, this thing actually re-intensified as it came to -- came ashore, because it's just -- you know, they said it would come down to 120.


ZARRELLA: But boy, this is really kicking.

COOPER: You know, I think a lot (INAUDIBLE) wasn't going to be quite so bad, it was going to kind of be such a big storm. You know, it was going to kind of dissipate. This is probably -- this is among the worst that I've seen up close.

ZARRELLA: Yes, absolutely, among the worst I've seen up close. Again, we were pointing out before, you really can't be out in it much worse than this. This about as bad as it gets. And again, I'm just surprised there isn't more structural damage, at least right around here. But there may well be in other places.

COOPER: It's a very wet storm, too. I mean, there's not a -- right now, I guess, yes, it's pretty wet.



ZARRELLA: And it's that whiteout that we see now. It's really just a whiteout condition now.

COOPER: Yes. Phil (ph), pan over there.

The visibility is maybe 100 feet?

ZARRELLA: And no more than that. No more than that.

COOPER: I'm very curious to see the beach and the water. You know, the beach was gone the last time we were out there. That was more than an hour ago. I can only imagine at this point how much -- if that storm surge has gone up anymore.

MYERS: And you can't see that now because you're too far behind the -- behind the dune now? COOPER: Yes, there's no way. I mean, we've got visibility maybe 100 feet. We're probably about 150 feet from the water. And there's absolutely no way.

ZARRELLA: Oh, we can't see the Gulf of Mexico at all -- Chad.

MYERS: Right. And I don't want you walking out there. That's not what I was asking, because if you've already lost the railing, then it looks like that structure is probably not holding up all that well.

ZARRELLA: No, you're right. No question about it.

You know, we're seeing a lot of the metal come down, the awnings, the pieces of the canopies that are holding up the screening starting to come down. All of the screen up and down the building now, as Phil (ph) is panning up there, you can see that -- and, you know, we're now -- that's the protected side, Chad. I don't know what the other side of the building looks like.

MYERS: Absolutely.

COOPER: There's an interior courtyard at this hotel. Apparently there's a lot of debris inside there. And as John was mentioning, one part of the wall had fallen down.

I think we're showing you a shot now of the interior courtyard. A lot of things they had stored there I guess have been (INAUDIBLE).

You know, as soon as this -- as this wind dies down a little bit more we'll be able to venture out a little bit more and see what kind of damage we're talking about. But it's -- I'm really stunned by how relentless this is and how constant.

ZARRELLA: It's such an expansive hurricane. And I guess as it got closer to shore, Chad, it actually expanded.

MYERS: It did. The eye wall expanded a little bit, but now it's been downgraded to a Category 2 and 110 miles per hour. But do I think there are probably wind gusts in excess of that.

We had a wind gust not that far south-southeast of Key Biscayne to 127 miles per hour. Wilma is now moving to the northeast at 25 miles per hour, and it's located about 45 miles southwest of West Palm Beach. That entire area there going to see the brunt of that eastern eye wall, the worst part of the eye wall.

Guys, you're still on the back side of the eye wall for another 15 to 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes before the -- I mean, it is a sharp line. I wish you could see it. It goes from wind blowing sideways and rain to just an absolute cutoff with no moisture left in the storm whatsoever.

So at least you have that to look forward to. And I tell you what, I'm very glad you guys are out of that wind, because now that -- now that pieces are coming off, this is when it gets dangerous, because you don't want to be out in this.

And now, that said, you guys had the eye for a while. You didn't have any wind. People were coming outside. We don't want that to happen.

This is going to happen. The eye wall -- the eye itself is going to come over many of the cities on the east coast, from Boca, right on down to Hollywood. That wind is going to stop. And then people are going to think it's over, and it's not even close to being over, because all you have to do is look to see what you guys just experienced.

You guys had the backside of the eye, and the winds are going to come from the other direction. They were coming from the south, then they're going to come from the north for you, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale by the sea, all the way up into West Palm, and down even into Miami. The winds are going to shift direction 180 degrees.

Everything that was torn off the building is now going to get picked up and thrown the other way. So you need to be inside and away from all those windows.

Guys, I think you can attest this is probably the strongest back side of an eye you've ever seen?

ZARRELLA: Yes, absolutely, no question. I was going say that, the front side of this storm was nothing compared -- the backside, this is the most incredible backside of a storm that I've witnessed.

COOPER: There's also -- you know, you talk about how when it stops it was going to completely stop. When it started, it just -- I mean, it went from zero to, you know, 100 in no time flat.

When we were talking to you we were in the eye. Within, you know, two minutes or so, all of a sudden, boom, that storm surge came up. We had to pull back, and the winds whipped up. It was remarkably quick.

MYERS: And it's going to be remarkably quick for the winds to stop in the eye in Dania, in Hollywood, in Opa-locka, in Miami. And then all of a sudden, down to nothing. And the other direction, it might take an hour, it might take two hours for the eye to come across now that the eye is 60 miles wide. It's moving at 30. You do the math.

It could be a two-hour lull. And then the winds are going to be coming back out, and I'm really afraid people are going to be out in that. And we just don't need that. We don't need to have people out in that flying debris.

Miles O'Brien is back with us now.

Miles, I see things blowing around at your location as well.

What do you have? MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Chad, I'm in the north (ph) side of the building, which is a good place to be. If you look out there, you can see what we're talking about here.

This is still -- you said it's now Category 2.


O'BRIEN: But, you know, it would be very difficult for me to tell the difference between what we're seeing. Maybe a little less wind. I still don't want to go out there, though.

MYERS: Right, no.

O'BRIEN: But discretion is a better part of valor here. Let me walk over here and show you what's going on.

That's -- that's the Gulf of Mexico. Here's an inlet that takes you into the intercoastal here on the west coast of Florida. And I've been showing you these -- we've been looking at these structures over here as slowly, but surely pieces of the roof just start peeling off.

And it does occur to me, Chad, that what happens is, as things loosen up through the course of the storm, the most dangerous time can be right about now as the wind continues and it's had enough time to do its damage. And so we're being very careful about where we're standing right now.

Take a look, though. We're in a condominium complex here. I'm looking at it right now. It's fared pretty well, except for beneath the ground, the underground parking area.

Residents here were not silly enough to leave their vehicles there. But there's four to six feet of water all throughout that underground garage, as you would expect in a situation like this.

The area around us is debris-strewn. Lots of uprooted trees. The road which allowed us to get in here at about four in the morning is now impassable. Water has overtaken it.

I don't know how long that will last, how long that high water will persist. Maybe Chad Myers can give us some insight on that.

But at this point, Chad, I would not -- just looking at it, you couldn't tell the difference between the absolute peak of the wind. So when you tell me it's coming down, I believe you. But I still -- I still am not ready to go out and test it myself to make sure. I think it's still a little too strong.

MYERS: Well, I can show the structure of the hurricane very well on the radar, Miles. You can clearly see -- and I'm going to walk, I'm just going to back up and let the director take this picture.

The structure of the eye, one outer band after another, after another. Here is the red, the most dangerous eastern winds here right up along just the northern county here. That would be Brevard County. The -- Broward County.

The entire area here right around Lake Park seeing the eastern winds. And then one, two, three areas of yellow here where the storm has been spinning around one outer band, or, for that matter, it could be an eye wall. Many hurricanes have more than one eye wall.

By this point in time I suspect it's just an outer band. But it's one, two, three, and maybe even four. Another one here, one, two, three. And it's ease to see as they turn to the yellow.

Now this storm has just about pushed offshore. There's I-95 right there. The heaviest winds are just about in the Atlantic Ocean.

So what I was talking about, what I was stressing, is that now the winds have died off in Dania now the winds have died off in Opa- locka, at least a little bit. They're going to almost die off completely.

But then on the backside -- and we've been watching you guys for five hours it seems like now -- I've even lost count how long that wind from the other direction has been beating you guys up. And it's going to be beating up the eastern coast of Florida as well after a lot of things are already -- well, not attached to buildings the way they were a couple of hours ago.

I mean, wind gusts to 105 to 110 right along that I-95 and turnpike corridor. They're going to see an awful lot of damage and more still to come. It is not done yet. Even when your winds stop in the next 10 minutes, you have a lot more to go -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. We hope that people are listening to that call. As we've reported, Chad, the first U.S. death associated with Wilma, in fact, on the east coast of Florida, and perhaps because people there were so focused and everybody paying so much attention to what was happening on the west coast, the full breadth of this storm wasn't fully appreciated.

Let me remind you where I am. Naples, Florida, is the location here, southwest tip of the Florida peninsula. I'm standing right on the beach here, right beside an inlet in a condominium complex. This is some of the priciest real estate in all the United States.

The median price of a home where I stand is $1.5 million. It's 30 miles to the south of where I am.

An even pricier spot, Marco Island, Florida, lots of very expensive real estate there. And if there's a good news component to all of that, many of these high-end homes that have been built in recent years are built to fairly exacting hurricane standards.

Joining me now is the police chief from Marco Island, Florida, Chief Roger Reinke.

Chief, how are things going there right now? Have you had to respond to many calls overnight and into this morning? CHIEF ROGER REINKE, MARCO ISLAND POLICE: We were out on the road until the winds prior to landfall made it unsafe for our officers to be out there. At that time, most of the calls were related to false burglar alarms. We did not have many people on the road, meaning many -- many travelers during the -- during the storm.

Right now we're undergoing some pretty severe winds. We're on the backside of the eye wall. There's a strong, heavy band coming through right now with heavy winds and heavy rain.

O'BRIEN: You say that you haven't had many calls for help. As I understand it, I think in listening to our reporters there, Anderson Cooper, John Zarrella, 90 percent of those who were asked to evacuate did, in fact, evacuate?

REINKE: Yes, that's our estimate, about 90 percent. And that has helped us quite a bit.

We had one call of a person who had wandered out during the -- while the eye was passing over the island. And then he got caught out when the bands on the backside of the wall, the wind picked up. Some officers went to bring him back to the station here to safety. Other than that, we haven't had any other calls for rescue.

O'BRIEN: All right. I assume he was OK?

REINKE: Yes. .

O'BRIEN: All right. What is your concern now as you see that we've been talking about the storm surge there and the possibility of flooding? Have you seen much evidence of that?

REINKE: I have not seen a great deal of evidence of the storm surge. We may have escaped the worst part of that, being a little bit north of the center of the eye wall. But we have not been out on the road for probably about two to two and a half hours after the backside of the eye wall passed over the island. If anything, the winds are stronger.

The initial -- when the initial eye wall went over we had east winds which pushed the water, kept it away from the island. And now we're having northerly winds. So it's -- I don't believe we're going to have an issue with the surge.

But we are having some heavy rain. I know we did have some standing water on the roadways when we were out two hours ago. So I assume that's going to be multiplied with the additional rain that we received.

O'BRIEN: Chief, any reports of significant structural damage?

REINKE: Our initial assessment -- fist of all, we're without power. And we've had -- our initial assessment showed some trees down, some structural damage. Not significant, but, of course, if it's your house, any structural damage is significant. But again, we have not been able to go out and assess anything with the backside of the eye wall. And it could be worse than we were able to find while the eye passed over us.

O'BRIEN: Chief Roger Reinke, with the Marco Island Police Department, thank you for your time, sir. I know you're busy. And we wish you well as you try to weather the remnants of Wilma as she passes through.

Let's get back -- just a remind to our viewers, you know, we really have reporters at every station along the way here from Key West, into Marco Island, Everglades City. John King is there right now. Naples, where I stand, Fort Myers, and then of course on the east coast of Florida. And that's all augmented by our affiliate coverage that's helping us out.

And in addition, we have Hurricane One, our mobile unit which is a specially outfitted SUV that has the capability of reporting back to us as it makes its way through the storm.

Jason Carroll is on Hurricane One for Wilma, and he joins us as he's making his way eastward out of Naples.

And this -- as I understand it, you've changed your route a little bit, Jason. Explain what happened.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now we are leaving the east Naples area. You're traveling along with us in Hurricane One along Interstate 75, I-75, more commonly known in the east parts as Alligator Alley, as we track Hurricane Wilma east. We are heading east right along with her.

In terms of what we're seeing out here on the roadways (INAUDIBLE) video here, but along I-75, a lot of wind damage. Much of what we saw in the Naples area as well. Still heavy winds rocking the car back and forth, which is why we are moving along cautiously, moving along slowly.

In terms of much of what we saw in the neighborhoods there in Naples, not a lot of structural damage, which is certainly good news. Much of what we saw was minor flooding in some of the neighborhoods. In one neighborhood we saw the water almost coming up to the front porch of one house. That water almost at knee length, not quite there.

Also, a lot of heavy wind damage, mostly downed trees, downed power lines -- downed power lines. That's much of what we saw in the Naples area.

Right now, once again, though, you are traveling with us as we head east, trying to find out -- assess the damage. As the hurricane moves east, we are moving east right along with her.

Back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. That's CNN's Jason Carroll reporting to us from Hurricane One as he makes his way ever so carefully across the state of Florida, sort of traveling with Wilma.

Wilma is a fast-moving storm, about 20, 25 miles an hour. And that is significant. Chad Myers will explain.

It's sort of -- it's one of those situations that it's just like a lot of things with hurricanes. It giveth and it taketh away, doesn't it, Chad Myers?

MYERS: It sure does, Miles. I mean, the whole area here, as the storm came onshore we had a tug-of-war between warm water and a little bit of shear. We thought maybe the shear would tear the storm apart, and it didn't. The warm water was more important, and the warm water made it go from 110 to a 125 storm at landfall.

I mean, the whole thing is about give and take. And unfortunately, this hurricane is taking a lot from the east side now of the peninsula of Florida.

It's just about to eject onto and into the Atlantic Ocean, right along the beach here. Part of it just north of Boca still onshore, right along Boca to Deerfield Beach. Seeing it move offshore. And the winds are going to be stopping.

I don't want you going outside, because an hour and a half later the winds are going to be slamming in from the north. And then from the south, from Miami, down to Key Biscayne, and just offshore here, that looks about, oh, Key Largo, and the just off about Card Sound Road.

Still seeing some heavy squalls. And more winds still coming into the Keys.

I am concerned still for the folks in Key West. If you weren't with us a half an hour ago, the mayor of Key West said most of the town was under two to three feet of storm surge, and the water was still coming up. We are going to try to get back with somebody there at the Key West, at the EOC, or with the mayor in the next half-hour or so to see if that water is actually coming down, or is it really, really devastating the town of Key West -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Chad Myers. I appreciate that.

And, you know, Chad, before you get away, we've been reporting that the first U.S. death associated with Wilma occurred on the East Coast, Coral Springs, north of Hollywood.

MYERS: Right.

O'BRIEN: And in a sense, I guess that doesn't surprise me because, quite frankly, when you looked at the storm and you looked at where it was headed, the presumption was that it would weaken more significantly than it has by the time it got to the East Coast. It hasn't, has it?

MYERS: No, not really. But when you look at the map, south of Marco Island, other than Everglades City, Miles, there's just not much there.

I mean, it did take a very strong hit into Key West, into the Big Pine Key area. Also into Marathon. But it came into possibly -- if there's going to be the best spot in Florida for a storm to come in, it came into the best spot.

The problem is, as it came across the best spot, it ran into all the big cities, which now turned it into the worst spot. So, what kind of looked earlier this morning like the best case scenario now looks like the exact opposite. And isn't that ironic, how Katrina kind of did the same thing?

Katrina made a right-hand turn, missed New Orleans. We said, oh, great, missed New Orleans, best case scenario. And then the wind came in from the north and from the northwest, flooded all of those canals and levees, and then it turned it in -- it turned into an absolute nightmare, worse than worst-case scenario that we ever could have thought of, and that's kind of what this storm is doing now.

We know that there is extensive damage all of the way from Coral Gables, Homestead, right on up I-95 and the turnpike, right on up even into the gulfstream and even into Boca now at this hour. The areas now are calling in with some other damage reports, and they're coming pretty fast now -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Chad Myers, thank you very much.

We never cease to be humbled by these storms on so many levels, on so many dimensions.

CNN's Allan Chernoff has been riding out the storm from Hollywood, and he can attest to that damage that Chad was just talking about, seeing it firsthand.

Allan, what can you tell us?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Miles, I'm standing looking right at the ocean right now just behind the beach. And the fury of the waves now is just astounding. I don't know if there's a sailor in the world who would really want to be in the ocean right now, right here on -- right by the Hollywood Beach.

Damage to our hotel quite significant. A pane of glass shattered through into the lobby. Also, a pane of glass broke in the hotel's restaurant.

It is now entirely flooded, that restaurant. The roof of the restaurant also partially ripped off, and so rain has been ripping in there.

I can tell you the roof right now has moderated quite a bit. So the winds not too bad at the moment, but the damage suffered here quite -- quite significant.

A fire hydrant knocked out in the front. Water has been spewing out into the streets. Part of a palm tree fell onto an SUV of one of our cameramen. And there is sand literally plastered everywhere, all of the windows against the side -- the oceanside (INAUDIBLE), and also the pool side.

And there are soaked sand dunes by the pool and also by the tiki bar here. Although I can see the roof, the grass roof of the tiki bar has held up just fine. It's covered with wet sand, but it's doing OK -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Allan Chernoff in Hollywood, Florida. It sounds kind of harrowing there.

Let's check in now at the hurricane center, which is also feeling the effects of this directly. Ed Rappaport is there.

And Ed, as you've watched this storm move across Florida, as Wilma has moved across Florida, what's been the biggest surprise to you?

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Really no major surprises. What we are hoping here is that people now have learned their lesson from what a Category 1 and Category 2 hurricane can do. Most people have not experienced that. They've either been on the periphery or been on the edge, or heard stories.

But in this case, all of south Florida is experiencing at least Category 1 conditions, Category 2 in some sports. And there may even be a spot -- a place or two that had Category 3 winds.

O'BRIEN: Ed, as this storm is moving quickly, and as it has moved, did it -- I was under the impression that it didn't lose strength as much as you had predicted. That's not so?

RAPPAPORT: No, we thought that actually it would be Category 2. But we were concerned yesterday that it could get stronger, so we advised everybody to prepare for Category 3. And unfortunately, that's what we wound up with.

It's now back to Category 2. Our last advisory dropped the winds back down to 110 miles per hour. That's Category 2. And we think there will be continued gradual weakening over the next day or two.

O'BRIEN: Perhaps the most troubling thing we've heard this morning is when we spoke with the mayor of Key West. He indicates that there's fairly widespread flooding there. What reports are you hearing at the hurricane center?

RAPPAPORT: I don't have anything new beyond what you've got. We at this point, of course, are relying primarily on the media to give us updates as well.

O'BRIEN: OK. Tell us what's ahead now for Wilma. What do you anticipate now?

RAPPAPORT: The center will be emerging from the Florida coast by noon today, and there will be a couple more hours on the backside of hurricane or near-hurricane-force winds from the area St. Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade County. But then by early to mid-afternoon, conditions will be improving as the storm moves out to sea very quickly.

O'BRIEN: Ed Rappaport with the National Hurricane Center. Thank you very much.

Let's check in with the mayor of Palm Beach, Florida, or is it West Palm Beach? I'm not sure. All right, West Palm Beach.

Mayor Lois Frankel. I wanted to get that right.

Mayor, good to have you with us. How are things going there? What kind of reports have you had about any sort of damage?

MAYOR LOIS FRANKEL, WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, we're actually in the most ferocious part of the storm right now here. In fact, I've moved into a safe room in my police station.

The wind is really blowing very, very strongly out there. It's too early for us to get any reports, because we have lost -- the phone lines have gone down, even went down at our emergency operating center. And power is down throughout the area.

So as soon as the wind lets down -- and we think it's going to be a very quick storm. As soon as there's any break, we will send out law enforcement and fire protection out. We'll do an assessment of the city while there's a lull in the storm, and then we'll wait for the back end of the storm.

O'BRIEN: How many evacuees did you have in West Palm Beach? Were you able to track that pretty well?

FRANKEL: Well, last report, there were about 5,000 people in shelters. And we have a capacity for 75,000. So I think a lot of people really took this storm pretty lightly.

We did not evacuate the coastal areas. So that may be one of the reasons for the light -- light crowd in the shelters. We only ask really ask people in mobile homes and in substandard housing to leave their houses.

O'BRIEN: Well, and this, of course, begs the question, on the East Coast, the sense we're getting here is it's getting a little more hit than anticipated. Did this catch you and some of the communities there a little bit off guard?

FRANKEL: It didn't catch me of guard or the city. I mean, we were prepared. We have been prepared. We have been notifying our constituents this past week to be ready for a major storm.

I think what we saw were people with hurricane fatigue. We have had to prepare for so many hurricanes in the past year. And this is the third major hurricane that's come through our area in 13 months. And we've prepared probably for five or six more.

And I think citizens are just getting tired of getting ready and putting up shutters. And I think a lot of people just felt like they were going to ride this through. I hope they're right, because I think there were quite a few folks who did not secure their homes like they should have.

O'BRIEN: Hurricane fatigue. That is a dangerous and completely understandable phenomenon. We are talking, when you look at all of Florida, this is the eighth big storm in 14 months. An extraordinary period of time.

What do you do over time to guard against that from happening again?

FRANKEL: Well, I can tell you from -- I think -- I know from the city's point of view -- and I would say this is probably true of the other municipalities in the county -- we learned a lot from our -- from the past hurricanes, a lot of lessons. We are very prepared in terms of being able to respond from a governmental position. But you do need the help of citizens, because the more citizens are prepared the less government ends up having to respond in the recovery.

I think, you know, people are just going to have to use their common sense. What we do in the city is we have what we call a code, a 911 reverse code, 911 system, which is telephone calls. And I personally made telephone calls throughout this week to our residents, just telling them, get ready, we've got a big storm coming, giving instructions.

We hope that a phone calls just from the mayor gets people to do what they need to do. Of course, our local media do a very, very good job. And they have really been giving good information all week. And then, you know, you just have to hope that people have common sense.

O'BRIEN: Mayor Lois Frankel, the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, we wish you well. Hope everything is good. When you get a chance to go out and assess the damage there. The wind is beginning to die down here. I can safely say that now.

Just looking out beyond there -- Jerry (ph), if you can pan over there, you can get a real sense -- I don't know if you can remember, just about 10 or 15 minutes ago when we panned over there, those trees were getting battered. It looked like a giant leaf blower was clearing leaves on the lawn there. And it's definitely been throttled back significantly.

We should remind our viewers that in about 30 minutes' time, the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, will be holding a news conference and he'll do his best to give us a broad, statewide assessment of what we know very early on on the damage reports.

Of course, it's very early, as you just heard, listening to the mayor of the West Palm Beach. They have not had the real opportunity yet to get out and do a firsthand damage assessment. Ed Rappaport at the Hurricane Center said they're relying on the media, those of us out here, to give them a sense. So we're still trying to assess what Wilma has wrought here. It's still a little bit early, even as the wind begins to die here in Naples. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Miles O'Brien reporting to us from Naples, in Florida. Thank you so much, Miles.

It's been now three hours since Hurricane Wilma made landfall. The center of a very strong Category 3 hurricane hit around 6:30 this morning near Cape Romano, 22 miles south of Naples, in Collier County, where miles has been. We have been, over the past three hours, witnessing pounding waves, lashing wind and rain. Reports also of debris flying all over the place. Storm surges also a major cause of concern and could be potentially dangerous.

This storm, though, very fast moving. The National Hurricane Center saying that it will leave Florida by noon. It has been weakened now to a Category 2 hurricane and bearing sustained winds of 110 miles an hour.

On Marco Island, we find Anderson Cooper and John Zarrella, that have been covering the story for us from there. John?

ZARRELLA: Hi, Zain. Well, you could have fooled us that it's fast moving.

COOPER: I know. It's been really relentless winds for the last hour or so. But as Miles said, we're about just a couple south of where Miles was. The winds have died down significantly, although they're obviously very strong.

ZARRELLA: And it's getting a little bit lighter, too.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, the visibility, which was probably about 100 feet before, you can now almost, from where we are, almost see the water. That's probably about, you know, 100 yards or so away. So it's definitely improving.

ZARRELLA: I think one of the things that's going to be interesting with this hurricane is the scope of the damage. Because it had such a wide eye, it expanded so much. I mean, there's two- thirds of the state of Florida that's just getting absolutely pounded.

COOPER: Yes, and it's a little deceptive where we are see. Because, I mean, what we're seeing, it seems like pretty minor damage. You know, the roofs -- a tarp roof blowing off, some screens blowing down. But the buildings here, the hotels on this beachfront, are very steady, very well-built.

ZARRELLA: Yes, and you go to other parts of the state and you're not going find this that. And you're going to have a lot of, I think, some very serious and significant damage all over. But here, again, yes, it's been -- we see awnings are down. But for the most part, structurally, the place is intact.

COOPER: Yes, you know, in a little while, we hope to go over to the water and to go to the ocean just to get a sense of that storm surge, where it is. Because about an hour, hour and a half ago -- I guess about an hour and a half ago now, the beach was completely gone. The water had finally just come up. As soon as -- when we were in the eye, there was still plenty of beach. As soon as that eye wall passed, we got that back side of the eyewall, the beach was completely washed away.

ZARRELLA: And that just really -- we were slammed when we got hit with that back side, the eyewall. When you talked about the eye -- people on the East Coast now, the real concern, that eye's coming over the East Coast. Somebody goes out, takes a look around, and that's when you run the risk of death and injuries.

COOPER: Although I must say, we had some issues with Chad Myers, because he had told us it was going to be 15 minutes.

ZARRELLA: That was an hour ago, wasn't it?

COOPER: We're still kind of looking at our clock, waiting for this thing to be completely done. But he was right on about that back side of the eyewall. He said, you know, it's a few miles away from you. And boom, he was absolutely right. So I'm sure our clocks maybe are just a little bit off.

ZARRELLA: Yes, so will you consent to see that -- Zain.

COOPER: A picnic.

MYERS: Well, maybe not. Yes, the back side of the eyewall is literally right on top of you. That's why your skies are getting lighter. And maybe it will be two hours now, but you'll see some peaks in sunshine in between just a couple of light gusts of maybe 20. And that's it, guys, you're done.

ZARRELLA: Yes, we can see it now. You can almost see those peaks of sunlight that you're talking about, Chad.

COOPER: Yes, clouds are almost breaking a little bit. And you don't actually see the sun or anything, but it's definitely lighter and minute by minute seems to be improving, which is certainly good news.

MYERS: All right, I need you to do something for me and for the viewers on the East Coast of Florida. You experienced probably the strongest back side of an eye I have ever seen, clearly any one that you've ever been in. Now the people of the East Coast are in the eye. They are seeing that the skies may be lighter, their winds have died off to almost nothing, right?

Now, another hour, hour-and-a half from now, the other side is going come. And for the viewers that weren't watching then, tell them what they're going to experience and why they should not go outside now and try to do things in the eye.

COOPER: That's a great point, because, I mean, it is dramatic. You know, when you're standing in that eye, it is so deceptive. There were a bunch of people on the beach here. And you just heard from the sheriff here in San Marco, in Marco Island -- he said they had go and rescue someone who had come out during the eye, stood around, and then got caught, unable to get back to their home. Because when it changes, when that -- when the eye passes and that back side of the eye wall comes, I mean, we're talking about a minute or two. And it suddenly becomes a very dangerous condition.

ZARRELLA: And there's no question, Chad, like you were saying, that this is, without a doubt, the most powerful back side of a hurricane certainly that I have ever experienced. And it is something you do not want to get in. And it's relentless, as Anderson was saying. And you get that durational damage because it just keeps coming at you and coming at you. And people just do not want to be out there fooling around with their satellite dishes or anything.

COOPER: And we have -- John and I, you know, have been through a lot of these storms. We have a pretty high tolerance for this kind of thing. I mean, we pulled ours back pretty quickly after that back side of the eye wall started to come. The winds are really dangerous and just non-stop. You know, sometimes with these storms, you get a gust of wind and then you kind of brace yourself through it and grit your teeth, and it will kind of let down. Not with this thing. This thing just kept going.

ZARRELLA: No, because the front side was deceptively marginal. I know when you got up and I got up, you were asking me how it was, and I saying, well, it's, you know, it's bad. And then the back side was just a magnitude or more greater.

MYERS: Right.

COOPER: Yes, it was -- it will be interesting later on to go back and look at some of the images. Because, you know, I'm curious to see how it was in the other spots where our correspondents. But Chad, I can tell from here, this was -- it was unlike any -- certainly any back side of the eyewall that I've ever seen.

MYERS: Well, now picture, if you will, a front side that was 50 miles per hour stronger than what you saw. That's Miami, that's Opa Locka, that's Fort Lauderdale, that's Hollywood Beach, that's Hallandale Beach. Things getting torn off buildings with a 50-mile- per-hour wind stronger than you had, and then an equal back side of the eye. So now you have an awful lot of things flying around.

And in the top right-hand side of the screen, WSVA in Cooper City, Florida -- we've been watching this vessel here. It's not foundering, but I'll tell you what, it's not doing very well. I think it just lost probably one of the lines coming off the stern. Because it was side to the wind, now it's stern to the wind. And it looks like those waves are now breaking into the cockpit. And we'll probably see this boat going down. Obviously, maybe batteries onboard pumping water out. But we'll keep our eye on that.

This is the type of damage we're going to be seeing all across the East Coast of Florida. The East Coast of Florida actually getting harder hit than what you guys had out there. So imagine that. And those pictures that we're going to have later on today, from all of our affiliates and all of our people over there will be distressing for a lot of folks that have loved ones in South Florida.


ZARRELLA: Yes, we worry about that, too. A lot of us that work in the Miami bureau, we're here, our families are over on the East Coast and Davie and Cooper City.

COOPER: And I don't think anyone in Miami was really anticipating that. I mean, we were -- I was down there just yesterday. Restaurants were open, and sort of the life of the city was continuing on.

ZARRELLA: And it was very much a last-minute thing with a lot of people yesterday. People that we know that decided at the very last minute, well, maybe we ought to put our shutters up. Fortunately they did, but there were so many more who said, oh, this is going to be a Category 1, we're not going to worry about it. And now look what they're facing.

COOPER: And even when I drove by yesterday from Miami to here, I mean, the roads are pretty much empty. There were large numbers of people really moving in any direction. People were kind of staying put, I think, and thinking, well, you know what -- I do think that, that idea of hurricane fatigue is really an important thing, because I think a lot of people -- I mean, I know I'm personally just sick of it, can't stand the thought of any more, and I was trying to think, you know, would I have evacuated from this storm if I was living here, and I can understand why a lot of people didn't. They're just kind of tired of it, and figuring, you know what, I'll take my chances.

ZARRELLA: Ride it out. And ride it out. And most people inland are told, don't evacuate. You're better off in your house. You stay in your home. If you live on the coast in a storm-surge zone, you evacuate for the water, but not so much for the wind.

So, but yes, that hurricane fatigue has just got everybody. And in South Florida, people are just sitting there going, enough is enough is enough, and they just don't want to -- they did, they just basically said, look, maybe it will be a one or two, I'm not going worry about it.

COOPER: Yes, and I certainly understand that, Chad. It's one of those things, and you constantly fight against, try to tell people, you've got to take this seriously, but after a little while you can only take so much.

O'BRIEN: Well, I think people misunderstood the role of the Everglades. People see the Everglades out there, and they think that's part of Florida, and that's going to slow down the storm the same way the Yucatan Peninsula did. Even if it's a three, it will be down to a one before it hits Miami. That certainly did not happen.

The Everglades were no match at all to a Category 3. They're basically flat. I don't know if there's a tree taller than 12 feet. Certainly no hills that would slow a hurricane down, and then it just rolled right across the Everglades, into Homestead, into Florida City, straight up, even through into Miami, into Coral Gables, and now we're hearing the damage all of the way up and down along I-95 and the Turnpike.

And we have a shot from Aventura (ph), Florida, WPLG, our affiliate here. You can see a little bit of this tree getting the uproot. I can't tell what kind of tree it is. Maybe it looks like an olive tree, because you can see the spikes on the tree itself, but not one of those trees that's going to hold up in this type of wind. Palm trees hold up so well, because at some point in time, before a palm tree falls over, all of the fronds just get torn off, and it's just basically a stick standing up there.

I was down in Homestead after Andrew, and they were just a bunch of sticks. Well, two years later, they were all palms again. The palm fronds got torn off, didn't kill the tree, didn't knock it over, and now they're all fine, but trees like this not made obviously for South Florida, I'm afraid -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, as a matter of fact, Chad, take a look at these palm trees right here. If we can get -- Dave, can you get a shot of these things, the palm trees up there? I don't know if you can even heard me.

Dave? Hey, Dave, can you shoot these palm trees?

Look what's happened there, Chad. It's just what you're talking about. The palm fronds have all broken off, and it's hanging down kind of like a pom-pom. Eventually with a little more wind, those will be those sticks that you're talking about. Over there you can see the classic palm tree thing. I'm on the back side of the condo, Chad, and I wanted to tell you this.

We're going to be here for a while. That's our road out. The only way out. So, you know, send food. No, we've got plenty of provisions here, we're set, but we are definitely seeing on the back side here a lot of flooding, because as I've shown you, there's an inlet that goes right along here, and on the back side there's kind of the intercostal, what is coming, is as you can see the wind is coming back around the condo as the storm presses on, and it's bringing a tremendous amount of water on to the back side of this building. If you look at the building itself, I've been talking about it all night, all night and morning, Dave, just show them, if you could, how it's built. It's really fared very well, but you can see why, it's built like a battleship, like a bunker, if you will, poured concrete. I don't even see a single window out.

But on the back side now, they're getting a good dose of wind at this particular spot. As a matter of fact, this a little while ago would have been a very safe place to stand. It's now getting a lot windier. Our satellite truck is on this side. We might have a harder time staying on the air at this location now than we did in the teeth of the storm. So it just goes to show you that as time goes on there really isn't a safe place, a safe harbor from hurricane.

MYERS: Miles, is that recent flooding, or did you just walk over there to that flooding? O'BRIEN: This here? This happened fairly recently, right? When did we discover this? Nobody can even hear me.


O'BRIEN: It's new flooding, yes. It is new flooding, according to Ritchie Philips (ph), our producer on site here. So I guess what we're talking about here is the water from the intercostal coming behind, as opposed to the Gulf, and I think that probably isn't too much of a surprise, because the water was being pushed in, that bulldozer effect, and as the water came back out, this is where it came back in. So more water inland, and then it came back out. So we're getting it on the back end.

MYERS: Is this area you're in full of canals, where people have their homes backed up to the canals, with their nice little boats backed up to their homes?

O'BRIEN: This is precisely what it is. This is some fairly fancy real estate around here, lots of homes with docks and boats. I didn't see many boats still moored here. I think that people have been smart enough to get their boats out of the way. It is also early in the season, and it is very seasonal down here. A lot of people aren't here yet.

But you look, you know, you see the trees down here and you see the water, there's going to be a lot of flooding damage in some very, very pricey real estate here in Naples, and we're going to have a hard time even getting to it. As soon as the storm passes, I suspect this water will stay here for a while.

MYERS: That's all saltwater flooding, Miles, right, not freshwater flooding from rain? That's actually being pushed back in from the ocean.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to check for you right now.

MYERS: Oh, no, no, don't taste that. Do not do that.

O'BRIEN: No, no, it's kind of fresh, maybe a little brackish. It's fresher water. That's kind of surprising to me.

MYERS: That was not what I had in mind, sir.

O'BRIEN: You know, you have to use your senses when you're out reporting.

MYERS: All right. Well, I need you to be safer than that.

Tell me a little bit about those older buildings that we were looking at before. You were showing us how good the building that was we were standing by. Those buildings built with the '70s with the overhanging roofs, they weren't faring so well. How did they do?

Well, they're still, piece by piece, the roofs are being, you know, dismantled, is what we're seeing. It's not happening like in one fell swoop, but is slowly but surely, shingle by shingle, and I don't have the shot right now for you, but basically if you were to look at it, you'd see a lot of the tar paper starting to come off, and once that happens, you know things start unravels, because you have exposed deck, and you have water coming on the inside, and the integrity of the building goes very quickly.

You know, Chad, Key West is on our mind this morning.

MYERS: It sure is.

O'BRIEN: And I think we made contact with Gary Tuchman, who is down there.

Gary, how are things going there?

When we talked to the mayor, he was telling us about some fairly significant flooding.


And there is a lot of flooding, and one thing we were obviously concerned about here in the keys, because there's only one road in and one road out, is what the roads would be like after this event passed through, and we can tell you right now that we, and lots of other people, are stranded on Key West. If we wanted to drive from Key West to the Florida peninsula, we wouldn't be able to right now, because the town of Key West is cut in half with flooding.

Now we don't know how extensive the flooding will stay. In other words, we don't if tomorrow everything will be back to normal. It's one thing we see a lot of during these hurricanes. For example, we saw it during Hurricane Rita and Katrina. We saw roads completely flooded with seven or eight feet of water, and the next day it's all gone. So we don't know how serious it will be for long term, but right now, we're kind of isolated here on Key West. The only way we could leave would be in a helicopter or an airplane. You can't drive out of here. And many parts of this small island is underwater as we speak.

We can tell you the good news so far is there does not appear to be any casualties here in Key West, and they were hit very hard. Between 2:30 and 4:30 a.m. Eastern Time was the peak, more than 100- mile-per-hour winds for more than two hours, and then we had tropical storm-force winds. There was flooding in many homes. There were some people who were slightly injured, but it doesn't appear that there were any serious injuries. And obviously that's the most important thing. All night long, Miles, even in the hundred-miles-plus winds that we had for a couple of hours, we were able to have a signal. And then when the winds finally died down, our live signal disappeared and, that's why right now we're on the videophone here in downtown Key West -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's interesting that you would lose it at this juncture, after all this time.

Gary, we've been talking so much about how people there were resistant to evacuating, and yet you tell us it appears, at least at this juncture, that everybody's OK, with a little bit of water.

Hard to say, though, if people are trapped in their homes. We don't know that yet, right?

TUCHMAN: Well, we don't know everything yet, because the sun just came up. We're now talking about two-and-a-half hours ago. So the police are still looking through this town of 28,000 people. But as we've said all day, it appears that only about 20 percent of the population evacuated, and there definitely were homes flooded.

We saw frightened people, a family whose home was flooded. They were rushed to the hotel that we're staying at right now. We also saw a woman, a tree fell on her house and she was rushed by the fire department to this hotel right now. And these are people who were under a mandatory evacuation order. And that's why they were told to evacuate, because things like that can happen.

There was one point, police were telling us, that residents in an apartment complex were waving flashlights on top the roof. They were scared that the water was going to keep rising and that what happened in New Orleans was going to be repeated here. The police knew it wasn't going rise anymore, and they told those people, don't worry, you'll be safe on the second floor of the apartment. But people were getting panicked and that's what they feared.

O'BRIEN: Gary Tuchman in Key West, Florida, where the flooding is rather extensive. And he, along with most everyone there, isn't going to be driving out any time soon. We will keep you posted as there's a good, solid assessment as to the damage and the extensiveness of the flooding there. We have been watching Wilma now for several hours. Extensive coverage, literally coast to coast here in Florida.

CNN, your hurricane headquarters. Stay with us all day and on to the night, as we track Wilma and her after-effects. Back with more in a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back from Naples, Florida. In the midst of Wilma, I'm Miles O'Brien. And take a look. This is the road which brought us into the condominium complex where we're operating out of this morning. It's now a canal. It actually looks like it's getting pretty deep out there. So we're going to be here for quite some time.

I just wanted to show you this. This is one small example of the kind of debris that you get with a hurricane. That's a lethal piece, if it's flown and flying around at 80, 90 miles an hour. And you have a sense of the dangers that are out here when you see a piece like that.

Come on around here and I want to show you what's going on here. This tree came down. Well, that's our vehicle right there. About 10 feet away from our vehicle, And then you can see here -- wow, I'm going -- I don't want to let that thing go. But this is the condominium complex and it's been protecting our satellite truck. It's back in there. But now the wind has reversed, and it's blowing us on this side. So we are still in kind of thick of it. It's just, the storm is changing -- a different dimension to the storm, different wind direction.

Zain Verjee has been watching from the dry confines of Time Warner Center in New York and really has a sense of what we've been contending with all up and down the coast. Actually, not just the coast. Both coasts of Florida affected by this really large and probably, safe to say, more powerful hurricane than we expected, Wilma -- Zain.

VERJEE: Absolutely. I'm feeling a little guilty here in a dry studio with umpteen cups of hot tea, Miles. But as of 9:00 a.m., Wilma became a Category 2 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 110 miles an hour. We did receive one confirmed report of one person being killed in Coral Springs by a tree that fell. Storm surges at landfall were approximately about 12 to 18 feet. That was what was predicted at least. That happened near Cape Romano, about a little over three hours ago, actually.

But what we've been seeing, Miles, over the past hours are just some powerful images of lashing winds and pounding storms that you've described, standing there, holding on to signs as you did in one moment, as particularly painful. But Hurricane Wilma, expected now to leave the state of Florida by around midday.

Chad Myers is with us and he can tell us a little bit more about that. Chad, give us some details, and also explain why it was that Hurricane Wilma lost intensity over the past hours?

MYERS: How it lost intensity?


MYERS: It lost intensity because it lost contact with water. Hurricanes grow because they're in contact with warm water. That's the octane that makes them grow. And because it was over very warm water south of Cancun for a while, it went from a tropical storm to a Category 5 in the highest octane water that there is out there. Temperatures were like 87 degrees.

We still have, though, very dangerous winds from Lauderdale by the Sea, right on down to Fort Lauderdale, and even into Hollywood Beach. The area up here, now that would be Palm Beach County, you are in the eye now. The winds are dying off, I realize that. Do not go outside because this is the other side of the eyewall, and it's going to blow through with the same intensity that Anderson Cooper, John Zarella, and Miles O'Brien saw just a minutes ago.

This is the area that I'm really concerned about. If you're in this area, you're looking outside and going, oh, it's over. It is not over by any stretch of the imagination. In fact now, for later on today, into later on tonight, it does move offshore.

I can actually show you a different graphic that shows you its path on up toward the Northeast. For a moment, we thought that it was going to possibly hit New York or maybe even New England. But this is the latest's Hurricane Center's track. It does not make contact with the United States again. It very well may make contact with Nova Scotia, maybe Newfoundland. But it isn't even in the cone for right now. It is not in the cone to hit the Cape or Cape Hatteras or Cape Cod.

You have to keep watching this thing, because we know how schizophrenic this storm has been for so very long anyway. But there will be very large, lashing waves from North Carolina right on up through the New Jersey shore and even into Kennebunkport into Nova Scotia. One way or another, the waves in the next couple of days, because of that large storm in the Atlantic. It will be still be 75 or 80 miles per hour, the winds there. And the waves could be at least 10 feet, and that could do some beach erosion all the way up the East Coast -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, Chad Myers, thank you very much. We're here in Naples. And I'm looking around for signs of structural damage. We've obviously got this serious issue with storm surge-type flooding here. The wind coming back in the other direction now, on sort of the back side. That's the beach over that way, and the wind is kind of coming in this way.

If you look up on that condominium complex up there, I don't know if you can see it, Dave. There is a significant number of windows and screens that have been blown out. But other than that, we've got trees uprooted in the foreground here. Other than that, we haven't seen anything too extensive, just in the area where can go. We are trapped in here now, because that's our way out. That road is the only way for us to get out. So we're going to here for a while, because it's not safe for us to go there.