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CNN TONIGHT: Cajun Navy Volunteers Helping In Search & Rescue Efforts; Naples, FL Officials: Recovery Will Take Weeks If Not Months; Hundreds Of Thousands Of Russians Rush To Borders Amid Draft Fears. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 29, 2022 - 21:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Stay with CNN, for the latest updates, on Hurricane Ian.

The news continues. So, let's hand it over to Laura Coates, and "CNN TONIGHT."


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: John, thank you. It's so good to see you. Please stay safe, and keep us informed, as you're doing so well. Please.

I am Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

Listen, one of the most catastrophic storms, in Florida's history, possibly the deadliest, regained strength, to become a Category 1 hurricane, tonight. South Carolina, is now bracing, for Ian's wrath, sometime, happening tomorrow. And the very latest, on its track, in just a moment.

We have yet to learn the full scope, of the destruction, caused by Hurricane Ian, in Florida. But what has certainly come into focus, today, truly is hard to find words for.

At least 17 people have died so far, and that is linked to Hurricane Ian. President Biden warns, there could be substantial loss of life, perhaps more killed by a storm in Florida than ever before. But it's really too soon to know more.

And also, too soon to say that the danger has now passed. I mean, there is debris, everywhere. There's water everywhere. Power lines are down. Trees had been shredded. Boats thrown on top of one another. Countless homes destroyed, entire buildings washed away.

Fort Myers Beach took the brunt of Ian's wrath, as it came ashore. Look at this before and after that's showing the main drag there. Estero Boulevard, it's now largely covered in sand. A popular restaurant called "The Whale," badly damaged, with surrounding homes, and businesses completely wiped out.

John Berman got a firsthand look at the devastation, from above, with the Sheriff of Lee County, which includes Fort Myers.


BERMAN: All that debris is littered everywhere. These were buildings? This was the building right there?

CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY SHERIFF: There were buildings, restaurants, and what used to be the Fort Myers pier.


COATES: "What used to be the Fort Myers Pier." I mean, entire sections of the Causeway connecting Sanibel Island, to the mainland, are now destroyed, which cuts off all vehicle access.

Our Bill Weir was able to make his way, to Sanibel, earlier today. And he'll describe what he saw, when we go to him live, in just a moment.

All bridges, to neighboring Pine Island, they've also failed. Emergency responders are facing so many great challenges, to rescue those, who are still trapped. I mean, more than 700 confirmed rescues, just so far, in the state. But many more are likely.

You can see what appears to be Military members, who are pushing one of their Humvees, submerged in floodwaters, just south of Tampa.

And Florida's governor saying that it's going to take years, years of effort, to rebuild and try to come back. But, right now, it's all about rescues and relief.

We're going to have full coverage, with the latest, from the ground, and in the sky, over the Atlantic.

Tom Sater is at the CNN Weather Center, tracking where Ian is, and where it's heading next.

Brian Todd, he's in Naples, Florida, which took a very big hit, from this storm.

But first, I want to bring in our Chief Climate Correspondent, Bill Weir, who is right now, in Fort Myers. And he just got there, after seeing some of the hardest-hit and most cut-off areas, today.

Bill, it's good to see you. We need you on the ground. Just minutes ago, you got back from North Captiva Island. Tell me, what did you see there?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, it was really interesting. We went right to the sort of the bullseye, of the storm, and the Barrier Islands around that, including Sanibel Island, and North Captiva, as you mentioned there. But the most striking damage was in a place that we're looking at here, which is Saint James City, on Pine Island. And what struck me, about this trip, out there, on Sanibel? You know about the bridge being blown down. But a lot of the houses there looked pretty good. They escaped pretty unscathed, because of the quality of the construction. This is a high-end neighborhood, for lack of a better term.

Same on North Captiva, it's, there's no cars. It's a golf cart sort of community. You need a boat to get there. And so, the homes there were sturdier. But the folks, the working-class folks, living in pre- fabricated housing, or these mobile homes, were so vulnerable, especially to a Category 4, like this, Laura.


And the destruction there, at Saint James, is breathtaking. You just - it's the - you can - these are human lives, sort of spread out, all over the ground. And if you forget that? You think this place just has to be bulldozed, what can be salvaged here? But then you have to realize (ph), these are people's lives. And some people did not want to leave the storm, and they certainly don't want to leave now, even though the destruction around them is unlivable, frankly.

COATES: Did you see people, when you were out there, in the devastation that needed to be rescued?

So, I mean, obviously, you were on this location. You were able to get there. But what were you seeing of people, who either were unable to leave, for whatever reason, or desperately needed help? Was there a way to get people rescued? Those efforts are underway in other places.

WEIR: Yes, there are. There's both the Coast Guard, which we saw, using helicopters, to come in, and airlift people out. I know they had a couple dozen, this morning. I don't know the total for the day.

But we were with a bunch of volunteers, guys from the Cajun Navy, Project Dynamo, and some others that we're going to meet one of these members, in just a second. But these are guys, who were here, on their own dime, on their own time, just to try to save Americans.

And we saw this, the Cajun Navy, I rode with guys, back in Hurricane Katrina, and we informally called them that. They became more of an official non-profit, in recent years. But it was so inspiring, to be with people, who just wanted to rush into the teeth of this, and try to save as many people as we could.

The haunting thing, one of the quotes, of one of the guys we were with today, from Project Dynamo? And he is an amazing figure, who has spent, last few years, trying to rescue Americans both, from Afghanistan, and Ukraine. He's on vacation here, because he's a Floridian, and he's out there.

And this is a guy, who worked in Military operations, and Intelligence. And he said, "I just believe there are hundreds of bodies out there, we just haven't found yet." So, it's not just not only looking for proof of life, it's trying to figure out the true devastation as well. But the people that we did see, we rescued one couple that their children had been worried about them, called them. They're so grateful to get out, of Saint James City.

Folks on Sanibel, in one case, the husband wanted to go, the wife wasn't ready to go yet. And again, they were relatively comfortable, given that they didn't suffer that much devastation.

On another island, there were about 30 people, in North Captiva, who rode it out, and everyone's accounted for, and they don't want to be rescued.

So, it's really a tale of two storms, based on how your structure held up, how your shelter held up. But bottom line, no matter where you live, there's no water, there's no electricity, there's no cell service. And so, life is going to be very primitive, regardless of the ZIP code, or the wealth of that particular neighborhood. It's going to be brutal for a long time, Laura.

COATES: Yes. Bill, I'm glad that you speak about this, because I think one of the things that's not being talked about, enough, and the devastation, in those areas, as you talk about, really, is unbelievable.

And the tale of two different areas, ZIP codes and beyond, I mean, just the idea of what economic inequality can do, in terms of being able to weather a storm, and the recovery, in an effort to try to rebuild, in some way, how your home could withstand the winds and everything else? There's just so much around this topic. And we have to keep focusing, on these stories.

Because the natural disasters will continue to occur, I know, from your reporting. You're a climate expert, as well. But some of the issues that exacerbated are manmade problems, as well, in terms of the inequities we have. So, we'll have to keep focusing on these stories.

Bill, stick around. Because, you talked about going to Sanibel Island. There was a member of the Cajun Navy, and an Incident Commander, named Jay Carter. And he's actually with you, at your location, right now. I want to bring him into this conversation.

WEIR: Come in, Jay.

COATES: Because, as you talk about the importance?

Jay, please come on in. I'm so glad that you're here. I'm so glad, to think about the work that you're doing. I just have to know. I mean, while we're talking, we're seeing all these images that are just devastating, to think about.

Can you just help people understand what motivates you, to go in, and the so-called Cajun Navy, and how invaluable it really is? I mean, is there an alternative? Is there other help coming? Or is that what motivates you to be there now?

JAY CARTER, INCIDENT COMMANDER, CAJUN NAVY: Honestly, I just know there's a need. I mean, that's really the most basic answer possible.

But I hope, one day, if my kid ever needs something, there's somebody, like me, somebody, like you, that's willing to come get them. And that's really the bigger picture, for me, is being willing to just help my neighbor, man, help out a friend, and that's what it's all about.

People's lives are in danger. Without people like us, without people like Aerial Recovery Group, and PCCR, this doesn't happen. I mean, so these guys are willing to come out, and give their time, and put themselves at risk. So, I'm very thankful for all of them as well.

COATES: And everyone's thankful for that.

WEIR: I should mention, Laura. All these guys had to--

COATES: Go ahead, Bill.

WEIR: I just wanted to say, Jay is a firefighter, a veteran firefighter, for years. These are guys, who have the hearts of first responders.

CARTER: Thank you, sir.

WEIR: A lot of ex-Military, and just a sense of service, which really impressed me.

CARTER: Yes, sir. Thank you.


COATES: I mean, thank you, for saying that. And it is so true.

And speaking of that, I mean, Jay, you sent us a still image, of your team, rescuing an elderly gentleman. Can you just tell us about that moment? The audience is seeing it. Tell me about what happened.

CARTER: On this particular incident here?


CARTER: I'm so sorry.

COATES: We're watching - yes.

CARTER: I was not on this rescue.


CARTER: I couldn't see it from my distance. Yes, ma'am. I was not on that particular incident. So that was some of my team members there.

We worked through the night, from the time the storm started moving, just off of the coast. We actually snuck around the West Coast side. And our team split up, in different groups, so that we could reach more people. And this was actually some of Aerial guys here that were out doing this rescue, so.

COATES: Can you tell me, what it was like, from some of the rescues you did do? I know there was a couple, from Pine Island. Others, as well. I mean, I think that we're trying to get a sense of what it's been like, what were the struggles, to try to get people to safety? I mean, was that - it's the waters? Were they exceedingly high? Were the winds?

What conditions, did you actually go out in, to give us a sense of what people are up against now, to execute these rescues?

CARTER: Yes, ma'am. The water was the biggest issue. That was the biggest issue everywhere that I saw.

We had for the family that we saved, the elderly gentleman that was an amputee, and his wife, they were struggling. They gave a call to their daughter. She had gotten the call, about 12 hours, prior to talking to us.

And the water was rising. They were panicking, thought they were going to die, had no way to get out, had no way to go, and the phone cut off. And they had no idea if she was allowed or not.

So, she panicked. She called as many people as she could. She got no answers. Nobody would go out. The water was rough. It was really hard to get out on that channel.

WEIR: Yes.

CARTER: You remember how rough it was.

WEIR: Yes.

CARTER: So, she gave a call out to us, to Cajun Navy, to Ariel, to PCCR, to Dynamo. And we grouped together. We formed a team, and we went out, and got to them, and were able to call her on the phone. And she got a family member, to meet us back at the marina, and pick up the family, and pick up the lady and her husband.

WEIR: And Jay wouldn't leave. We were dropping them off. And we were going to go back out, and try to go to Sanibel, at this point. And he insisted, we got to take care of this couple, which just shows he completing the job there, as well.

But again, I'm interested, let me jump in with a question here, Laura, forgive me for that.


WEIR: But that what you didn't see with us on Sanibel was one partner wanted to leave, and the other did not. And it seemed like there was a bit of shock going on, like you understand - do you see that a lot, the effects of the storm--

CARTER: Yes, sir.

WEIR: --where people don't know--

CARTER: Yes, sir.

WEIR: --what to make of their surroundings, and how desperate they probably need to get out of those places?

CARTER: Well, I mean, to be honest with you, I mean, this is their home. This is everything that they built. This is everything that they love and everything that they know. So, it's really hard for them to just walk away from that. Even when it's destroyed, even when it's devastating, their feelings are hurt? They just they want to give up? But they don't want to leave their home.

WEIR: Yes.

CARTER: And I can understand that. We have things at home that just can't be replaced.

WEIR: Especially when you're at your most vulnerable, right?

CARTER: That's right, absolutely.

WEIR: Yes.

CARTER: Absolutely.

WEIR: But Laura, what he said to me, as we're walking out to the boats is, "For me, it's a Thursday. For them, it is the worst day of their lives."

CARTER: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

WEIR: And we walk into that, with that amount of empathy, I think, it goes so far, for folks who need that help.

COATES: Yes. It's so important and true. And I think that sometimes people miss or where people have a tendency, whether they think so or not, they tend to judge the decisions to leave or not. They tend to say, "If I were them, this is what I would do."

When we put ourselves, in that position, knowing full well, just look around what you're seeing, it is impossible, for someone, to be, from where I'm sitting, or across this country, and know what that is like, in that moment, that decision to make, and how unbelievably hard it is.

And I'm noticing around you. I mean, you're working against all of the natural elements. Now, it's in darkness. Now, it's in darkness, no power, not even the benefit of daylight, to see the destruction, or perform the different services.

Where are you headed next, Bill? Because, right now, I mean, you have been hopping around, and seeing different areas. And, of course, this has impacted so many parts of Florida. Where are you both headed next?

WEIR: Well, I'm just going to wake up, and see where the day takes us. That's kind of how we roll. I don't know.

CARTER: Yes, sir.


WEIR: We've been in this little bubble, on the boat, all day. I don't know what's happening, in the rest of Florida, right now. I'm eager to catch up, on other communities, and what they're going through. I'm just obviously interested, in chasing human stories, like these, and reminding people that we're all in this together, at these moments.

CARTER: Yes, sir.

WEIR: So, I don't know about you guys. You guys were actually talking about running missions, tonight, in the dark, which would be--

CARTER: Yes, sir.

WEIR: --super-hazardous, given that there's no, the pilot lights, and the channels that guide boats, out, in this really shallow Gulf--

CARTER: Yes, sir.

WEIR: --is really treacherous. It's all this stuff floating out there. So, are you going to go out tonight?

CARTER: Oh, we're actually--

WEIR: Are you going to get a little bit of that?

CARTER: We're actually talking about that. We've been up since 4 o'clock, on Wednesday morning.

WEIR: Yes.

CARTER: We ran rescue missions, all night, last night. The whole team is tired.

WEIR: Yes.

CARTER: But we want to push through. We want to help everybody that we can help. So for every minute that we rest, there's missions, that's not going on. There's somebody that's suffering. And that's just the way we look at it. We want to be out there as much as we can for them.

COATES: That's unbelievable! What a - what the spirit and the heart! Did you say - how do people reach you? I mean, you mentioned that they were trying to call their people. How does one find or reach out to be able to get the help from you? Is there just a number they're contacting? Is it word of mouth? Are you hearing about it? How do people try to get your help?

CARTER: Well, to be honest with you, it's kind of a mix of things. And that's how we want it.

We want them to be able to reach out to us in any way possible. If we get the - I'm the Incident Commander, and I get phone calls all day long, from people. Our crew that's working remotely gets phone calls, all day long, from people.

You can also go to The menu page there, you can ask for help. You can donate. And you can volunteer your time. So, there's multiple ways that they can reach out.

And the community, the community is amazing. What's really special to me, is when we save someone, their entire family tells everyone else, "Hey, the Cajun Navy, Aerial Recovery, PCCR, they came, and they helped us, in our darkest moment."

And the next thing you know, we're getting phone calls left and right, more and more people say "Hey, I heard that you helped her family. Could you do the same for us?" And that's a special moment for me, knowing that it was--

WEIR: And let me throw it to - plug into one of your partners out there today,

CARTER: Yes, sir.

WEIR: Another nonprofit, which has spent last couple of years, rescuing Americans, from Ukraine, the occupied territories, and from the Taliban, in Afghanistan. Incredible organization!

CARTER: Bryan is amazing!

WEIR: Bryan is amazing!


WEIR: So yes, these - I'm putting these guys--


WEIR: --into my family's address book. If I ever go missing, on one of these stories?

CARTER: We will come get you.

WEIR: Because I would like to know that--


WEIR: --that these guys are out there, looking for me, after watching them all day.

COATES: Jay Carter, Bill Weir, thank you so much. Thank you. It is so heartening to see the spirit that this is done in. Please, keep us posted, on what's happening, and please stay safe.

There's much more to come tonight, on Ian's aftermath. But first, to where it's headed next? Over the Atlantic, now, and it's gaining strength again.

Right back, with a live update, from the CNN Weather Center, next.



COATES: Well after slamming Florida, in what could be one of the largest natural disasters, in the entire state's history, Hurricane Ian is now making its way, up north, tonight.

Ian has once again, intensified into a Category 1 hurricane, and its taken aim, at South Carolina, and Georgia, as well. I mean, Charleston County has already declared a state of emergency, residents are preparing for a storm that could hit, as early as tomorrow morning.

Tom Sater is live, in the CNN Weather Center.

Tom, what is the latest? It's traveling.


COATES: What's happening now?

SATER: Well, let me begin with a radar, Laura. A little bit of good news, if we can find it, on this extremely sad day, today.

The rain is moving out of Florida, finally. And that's good news. You can see it off in areas to the northeast. Now, we do still have a little bit of a northeast wind up here. So, we still have a little bit of a surge, just going on, or at least continuing to keep the water up on the shoreline.

But just a terrible day, where we had several areas, with one in 1,000 year rain events, one to two feet almost of rainfall. And, of course, all the water rescues, from everywhere, from Orlando, and Kissimmee, and Winter Park, over to St. Augustine, up toward Jacksonville.

But let me show you now, where we are. The current position, and this will pretty much show you everything you need to know, 250 (ph) miles south of Charleston.

Almost everything you need to know is by looking at these watches and warnings. In red, and here we go, from Cape Fear down through all the coastline, of South Carolina, and you get down to near the border with Georgia. That's a tornado warning. Now, it's still a warning, down in Florida, but it's off shore.

Now, we have, of course, tropical storm watches. We have tropical storm warnings. Look how far inland they go. This is going to shock some people, Laura, I think.

Because even though it's very disorganized? And, of course, the National Hurricane Center is showing us that we do still have a center, and it's a warm core, which means it's still a hurricane. Until we can better-define now, where that center actually is, I mean, we know where it is, but it's kind of discombobulated, where the track will be. Now, here are those winds, coming into the northeast. So, we still have a little bit of a surge here. But you can start to see the rainfall, now, picking up coastal areas of Georgia, and toward parts of South and even North Carolina. All of this heavy rainfall is on that northern flank. And that's what we saw in Florida.

So, that rain is going to be moving in ahead of our landfall. And here it is, a Category 1, tomorrow afternoon, maybe sometime between 1 and 3, puts it right near Charleston, historic Charleston, which floods easily, with four inches or five inches. And now, we're going to be looking at some pretty good winds and heavy rain. But it's just to the north of there. So, maybe they miss out on some of the heavier surge.

COATES: I mean?

SATER: But they're not going to miss out by much.

COATES: Well, I mean Charleston, is right on the water. You mentioned the idea, they're flooding easily.


COATES: We've seen the damage coming out of Florida, and the proximity, obviously, to the coast.


How about the storm surges? I mean, is that equally a threat, in places, like South Carolina? Are we talking about the amount of rain would be enough, but the storm surges? I mean, you've told us so much about that. Is that a real risk there, too?

SATER: This is a big risk. This is a big deal. It's called the "Lowcountry," for a reason. So, when you have four feet to seven feet, in along that coastal area of South Carolina, into Charleston, it's going to push that water well inland, and flood Charleston.

How far in will it go? I mean, we still have areas of two to four, three to five, and coastal areas of Georgia. But when you focus in on the coastline of South Carolina? Here's Kiawah Island. Here is Charleston.

Now, yellow is three feet, OK? You get into this area of orange, we're talking six feet. This is mainly a marshy area. Again, of course that's OK, where we have some areas of red, which is nine, and it can absorb that.

But you get into areas of the Ashley River, you get into Wando and Cooper, this goes well inland. So, I think, a lot of people are going to get shocked. And if you live anywhere, in these rivers, I wouldn't just sandbag. I would pack up what you can, and try to get inland, a little bit, because we don't want to get shocked, like we were, down in southern Florida.


SATER: I mean, we knew what the forecast was for the surge.


SATER: But to see the pictures, it's hard to wrap your mind around it. And then, you toss in a good six inches, seven inches, eight inches, of rainfall, in some areas?


SATER: This is going to be a big deal, and well inland, toward Columbia, and up to the north, toward parts of Raleigh, North Carolina, as well.


SATER: So, it's not over with yet. And it'll make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane. So again, take this extremely seriously.


SATER: And sad news though, for areas like Charleston.

COATES: Of course.

SATER: To see that flooding,

COATES: We'll keep on the story. And we'll keep on the hurricane. We want people to be safe.

SATER: Sure.

COATES: Tom Sater, thank you so much.

SATER: Sure.

COATES: Everyone, ahead, many Floridians did choose to stay in their homes, to ride out this deadly storm. And that's despite all the warnings. Well, among them, our next guest, a mom, with four children. Why her family decided to stay put, and what their last 24 hours have been like? We'll talk about next.



COATES: Many Floridians in the path of Ian evacuated. But many others did not.

One of the people, who decided to stay is Juju Gurgel, who is a mom, of four, including a 1-year-old. She rode out the storm, at her Fort Myers home, with her family. And thankfully, thankfully, everyone is OK, including the dog.

But look at this video, she took. I mean, trees are uprooted, downed power lines. There's damage everywhere.

And she joins me now.

Juju, thank you for being here. And it's very good to see you, in the light of what we're seeing here, right now. I've got to ask, what was, it like to ride out this storm?

ON THE PHONE: JUJU GURGEL, RESIDENT WHO CHOSE NOT TO EVACUATE DURING IAN: Well, I've been here basically, my entire life. So, I've seen a lot of hurricanes. And that's what us Floridians, do. We ride it out. We stick together. And we just prepare. We are people that we are very positive, but we prepare for the worst. And we are going to build it back, better.

COATES: Juju, I certainly hope so. And I'm so glad to know that you and the little ones are doing OK.

I wonder, and based on what you said? I mean, for many people, they saw this, and thought this is another hurricane. They've heard the reports in the past. You've weathered many in your past, you said. What was the reason you decided to stay? Was it, you didn't think it would be as bad as it was? Was it unexpected?

GURGEL: Well, like I mentioned before, we prepare. This is our home. And we prepare. And that's what we did, this time, just like all of the other times, just like Charley, just like Irma, we prepare.

Of course, this time, our coast took it really, really bad. Fort Myers Beach took it really, really bad. Thankfully that it was just buildings. Like I said, we'll build it back.

COATES: I'm looking at this, and thinking about it, as a mother, myself. And I cannot imagine, having to do this, and try to go through it.

You have four children. You have your dog, as well. I mean, some of them, very young. What was it like being there, with your children? You must have had your own fears, your own concerns. But, as mothers, we have to make sure that we're not always showing that, and trying to comfort our children.

What was that like, in your home, when that happened?

GURGEL: We were very safe. That's what we do. We boarded up. We made sure that we are safe. And we are. We make sure that we are at the elevation level that if waters rise up, we are safe. And that's exactly what we did. We make sure that the elevation levels, out of our home, are on the level that even if we have a surge, we are safe. And it's exactly what we did.

Anybody can go on the website, on a FEMA website, and check their elevation level. And if the news (ph) tells you that your home is going to be on the elevation, with a surge that you need to evacuate, then you need to do that. So, that's exactly what we did. We checked our level, and our home was safe, and that's why we stayed.

And so, for everybody in Zone A, I believe that most people in Sanibel got evacuated, and people in Zone B also got evacuated. And then - and that's it. We were in an area that later on were told to possibly evacuate that maybe we would see surges, in certain levels.

And we made sure that our home was safe. And we were safe. We didn't see any flooding whatsoever in our home. We then - we don't have any damage, in our home. And that's what we do in Florida. We prepare.

So, the areas that needed to get evacuated, they got evacuated. There were cars, going around telling people, to evacuated, in those areas.


GURGEL: That did not happen in our area.


GURGEL: So, we prepare, and we made sure that we are safe, which is exactly that what I did as a mother of four. And we are safe.


COATES: Juju, I'm so glad to know that. And thank you for joining us. And make sure that I hope you continue to be safe.

We're looking at the devastation, from the video footage. And unfortunately, not everyone had the same result that you did with their homes. And I'm glad now that yours was safe, and that there was the information, to allow you to prepare, appropriately.

As we're seeing though, all across Florida, and across the coast devastation, everyone out there you can see that sometimes the preparation is nothing compared to the storm, and the wrath we're seeing continues, the devastation, we're not quite sure everything.

We're going to head down the coast. We're going to check in on Naples, and the rest of Collier County as well. The Mayor of Naples says the impact there is devastating. Let's see what he means, next.


COATES: In Naples, Florida, the historic pier is still standing. But as you watch video, of the pounding, it took? Frankly, it's a wonder how it is even still standing.

The storm surge tore through Marco Island. And after it ripped through downtown Naples, you're talking weeks, if not months for recovery. Rescue crews use jet skis, trying to get to people. And, at times the water has actually been up to your waist. It's that deep.


For those that firefighters could not reach, the only option, which is still a dangerous one, was then to walk through the floodwaters.

Our own Brian Todd, is in Naples, tonight.

Brian, we're looking at the devastation. We're seeing the footage, as well. I mean how bad is the damage there that we're talking about? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, you just mentioned the phrase "Weeks, if not months." That's exactly the phrase that officials, here in Naples, told us it would take to recover, from this, from the storm's hit of this city.

Take a look. And this is what we're talking about. Look at these ground-floor apartments, here. This is all, from the force of water. This is not wind damage. This is the storm surge that came up, and just tore out the facade, of these two apartments, on the ground floor here.

We talked to a young lady, who lives on the second floor here. She said she didn't believe anybody was in these apartments, at the time, this happened. She was here. She rode it out. But she said the water was really forceful.

I can show you, at least kind of a relative indication, here, of what they - what she told me the - she said the water levels were up to the level of a street sign that's out there. And she pointed it out to me. And it's about this high, from what she told me. So, this was the force of the water that came in.

We're about 150 yards, 200 yards, from the beach. And it came over an elevated beach, to tear through these apartments.

City officials here have said that the property damage, to the city, itself, will range probably in up - to around $20 million. They believe that property damage, just to personal property could extend up to $200 million. And one city official said, that is a conservative estimate.

So, this is what you've got here, Laura. And these scenes are just strewn, throughout the city. There are several apartments that go all the way down the block that are just like these. We would show them to you, if it was daylight. I could kind of walk along, and just show you just the extent of the damage here.

But if anyone was in these apartments, they were in real danger. Now, again, the young lady who lives, on the second floor, here, told us, she did not believe that anybody was in these two. But there could have been people, in some of these others, Laura. So, you get a sense of not only the damage, but the danger as well.

COATES: Are you seeing rescue efforts, around those apartments, as well? I mean, I know it's not daylight. Are you seeing people going in and out to check? Or is it just too precarious, right now, to do so?

TODD: It's a good question. Because, the Police Chief here, Pete DiMaria, and also rescue officials, in other nearby towns, are telling people, "Don't come back yet. Do not rush back to your homes. It's too dangerous. And if you get hurt, we have other priorities, for rescue, and we're not going to be able to rescue you."

We have seen people coming in and out of these areas, checking. And again, it may not be too treacherous to maybe come in and out of one of these places that you're on the ground floor. But even then, people who are veteran first responders know that even when you go into a place, like this, there are shards of glass, all over the place. There could be downed lines, exposed wires, things like that. These are not safe places to go.

COATES: Yes. Thank you, Brian. That clarifies, and it's just heartening to know this as well.

Everyone, Naples, as you know, is the county seat of Collier County. And the Sheriff's Office was in the air, today, assessing the flooding, in one of the most vulnerable parts of the country.

I'm joined by Collier County Commissioner, Rick LoCastro.

Commissioner, thank you for joining us here, this evening.

Look, the hope was to finish rescue, and search efforts, before dark. Here we are, in the darkness. Has everyone been accounted for?

ON THE PHONE: RICK LOCASTRO, COLLIER COUNTY, FL COMMISSIONER: Well, I can't say, if everyone has been accounted for. Because, the struggle, we face here is, when we strongly suggest people to evacuate, and they don't. And then, we lose cell phones, we lose internet, and all types of reachable coverage.

Unless you're going door to door, which we did a lot of today, in Collier County, and had a lot of neighbors report, "Hey, we have an elderly neighbor. They decided they didn't want to evacuate. Can someone go check on them?" We did a lot of that today.

I will tell you, I'm very - I was very impressed, with what Collier County did, in the way of evacuation. Much like your last reporter says, a lot of people aren't here. I spent the whole day, all throughout my district. And that the people that are here, were all dragging out couches and carpet. And they had four feet to five feet, in there, flooded in their homes, of their apartment.

What's going to happen is once power and things like that are restored that bring a lot of the evacuees back, they're going to be horrified, at what they find here, in some places.

This was all about catastrophic storm surge. We've had hurricanes before. You lose your roof. You lose your pool cage. I'm not making light of strong hurricanes. But, at times, when you have that you can go back into your structure, and if power is restored, you're cooking dinner.

Water is so devastating, just like fire, just like tornadoes. It's a different type of catastrophe. We have never seen storm surge, to these proportions, before.


And, just in 2017, we had hurricane Irma come through here, with very high projected storm surge levels. But because the storm changed a little bit, in our favor, the storm surge was much less than what was initially forecasted.


LOCASTRO: This time, what the meteorologists forecasted? I can tell you, I personally saw every inch of that storm surge, and what it did to my county and the districts that I'm the Commissioner for.

COATES: Commissioner, is there clean drinking water?


COATES: Is there power?

LOCASTRO: Yes. So, we have full drinking water. And I will tell you, that actually was a pleasant surprise.

Because, during Hurricane Irma, and I don't - I wasn't a commissioner, at that time. So, I don't know the reasons. We had no pressure. So, the water was fine. But you just couldn't get the pressure out of it.

Water, showers, everything's working perfectly. Today, we made a lot of progress. We restored - we had power restored, in some key areas, of Collier County.

I live on Marco Island. It's a big piece of my district. Marco Island got hit very hard, by storm surge. If you're familiar, with Marco Island, we kind of consider this a resort town. But we do have plenty of people that live here full-time. You can't escape storm surge here. And so, this place was devastated. The entire island is still in the dark. Cell phone service, and even texting is somewhat sporadic. I'm impressed, I'm talking to you now.


LOCASTRO: But on the other side of that bridge is where I spent the bulk of my day-to-day, and the rest of my community. Power was being restored. We have a very aggressive plan, to pick up a lot of the debris, people that are dragging stuff out to the street.


LOCASTRO: And it's things like that, that will start to restore the community a bit. I mean, the structures? That's going to take maybe more than months. I'm hearing, the weeks and months?


LOCASTRO: And I'm thinking that's very conservative.

But some of the basic necessities that people really need, we're trying to get those restored back. But we do have water, and we do have water pressure, which has been a huge positive.

COATES: Yes. Commissioner Rick LoCastro, thank you for being a part of the program, tonight. And keep us posted on what's happening. It is heartening to know that there is at least the drinking water. And we're still hearing so many wonderful stories, about human relations, and people being able to help one another, and to look out for one another. So please, I hope that will continue.

We will watch for any major new developments, on Ian, and we're going to bring them right to you here.

But also coming up, we're going to turn to Vladimir Putin's next moves, in Ukraine, as Russians scramble to leave their homeland, when CNN TONIGHT returns.



COATES: Within hours from now, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is expected to host a ceremony, in the Kremlin, to formally declare four occupied Ukrainian territories, as part of Russia. The territories make up nearly 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. The action, of course, is viewed by Ukraine, and the international community, as illegitimate, an illegitimate attempt, by Putin, to further justify his war.

Joining me now is Josh Rogin, foreign policy and national security columnist, at The Washington Post.

Josh, you and I have had these conversation before, about what's going on. This annexation seems like we've been here before.

JOSH ROGIN, FOREIGN POLICY & NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Putin style is that he sets up his next series of options. And what he's doing with this annexation is to give himself two basic options.

One is to establish new facts on the ground, in these two regions of the east, and two regions in the south, to press the international community, to press the Ukrainians, to sue for peace.

The other option is by claiming these as Russian territories, through these sham elections, he's threatening the West, and the Ukrainians that if they continue to attack them, he could escalate.

So, he's giving himself a escalation option and a de-escalation option. The problem is that either way, it's not going to have the effect that he wants, because the Ukrainians are not going to stop fighting, while they're winning. And we've got--

COATES: Or negotiate.

ROGIN: Or negotiate. Because they know that what - if they were to negotiate, and give these provinces to Putin, all the Ukrainians, behind those lines, would suffer horrible atrocities. And that would not end the war, or, and lead to justice or peace.

So, we're going to have a few months more of fighting. Winter is coming, but it's not here yet. So, until that happens, and as long as the Ukrainians are pushed to the offensive, the U.S. and European partners are going to help them press that offensive, so Putin's gambit is likely to fail.

But we don't know which of the options, he's going to choose, the suing for peace, or the escalation. And either one is a pretty dangerous scenario.

COATES: Well, so far, one of the choice he's done, is to have a draft. And you're seeing people, who are leaving Russia, who don't want to be drafted. They are now seeing some cracks in the propaganda machine. What impact is that having, you think, on this decision?

ROGIN: Sure. Well, there's no doubt that after seven months of fooling many of the Russian, not all, but many of the Russian people, into believing his propaganda that this was not a war that the special Military operation was going well, that was going to be over soon? That jig is up, OK?

There's no denying, once regular Russian people, all over the country, see their sons, and fathers, and grandfathers, and uncles, and brothers, herded into a meat grinder, with no training, and no equipment, there's no more propaganda win.

Even the state propagandists can't sit there, with a straight face, and toe Putin's lines. So now, he's just flat-out telling the Russian people, you got to like it or lump it. So, as the pressure increases, inside Russia, again, it could lead to Putin backing down, or it could lead to him pressing the gas button.

And what he wants us to think is that if he escalates enough, that we'll back down. But it's too clever by half, because, as we just discussed, the reality on the ground, in Ukraine, is that the Ukrainians are winning, and this will be the exact wrong time for them to respond.

And I feel bad for the millions of Russians, who are suffering. But I feel worse for the Ukrainians, who are suffering. The Ukrainians are the victims. And the Russians are the collateral damage.

COATES: One thing, you did mention, you mentioned grandfathers. Putin did come out, in a rare occurrence, where he corrected a mistake about the draft, enveloping too many people, into this entire thing.


One of the things, about the, real quick, the Nord Stream pipeline that's been an issue. Is this part of the tactic, to try to, from all offenses, try to fortify the resolve that he thinks people are lacking?

ROGIN: Right. So, to be clear, we don't know exactly what happened, with the sabotage of those pipelines. But U.S. and European officials believe that the Russians blew up their own pipelines, which seems like a crazy thing to do. But again, if you understand how Putin operates, it actually makes perfect sense. Because what he's doing, he's setting up a pretext, so he can say, "Oh, look, I'm the victim." And then, he's also threatening to attack European pipelines, to set the European countries, on a mission, of sending their militaries, all over the waters, to give them busy work, and to increase the pressure on them.

So, while other than Putin and Tucker Carlson? It seems pretty clear that everyone knows that Putin did this himself.


ROGIN: And what that means is that he's playing the crazy-man card, and he's a little bit crazy. But it doesn't change what we have to do. We have to win the war.

COATES: Josh Rogin, thank you so much.

Everyone, we'll be right back.


COATES: Everyone, thank you so much, for watching.

Our coverage of Hurricane Ian, continues now, with "DON LEMON TONIGHT." He is live, from Orlando.

Don Lemon, I'm so glad to see you that you are safe.