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The Situation Room

Now, Ian Unleashing Catastrophic Storm Surge, Winds, Floods; Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Gives Update On Hurricane Ian; Extremely Dangerous Hurricane Ian Pushing Deeper Into Florida; Ian Slams Florida With 100+ MPH Winds, Record Storm Surge. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 28, 2022 - 18:00   ET


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We'll get a favorable response on that.


REPORTER: Yes. Mr. Guthrie mentioned this earlier, but, yes, this is obviously a big flooding event, and a lot of these places might not have flood insurance. Give a sense of, I mean, how exposed a lot of these people are who don't have coverage from flood insurance.

DESANTIS: Not yet, but I think the issue is significant in the sense that these are not people that necessarily live in a, quote, flood zone. They live, and they ask, the realtor says you are not in the flood zone. Well, they are not going to get the flood insurance. And then I totally I understand why people don't do that. But just because you are not in a, quote, flood zone does not mean that you are not at risk for a catastrophic event like this. And so I think you are going to see some, clearly, how many, that remains to be seen.

Now, there are programs that FEMA has to try to provide relief for people, but it is not going to be a commensurate to having had a policy. And so this is an issue that we are going to have to deal with. But I do think it will be something because we deal with this and other storms across the country, including Florida, when you have this about the homeowners policy will cover certain things, but the flood policy covers probably the most significant risk for most homeowners in Florida given the risk of flooding that we have in so many different parts of our state. So, we're sensitive to that. There is, obviously, going to be some folks that are going to be in need of support and relief and we are, obviously, going to work as best we can.

I will say that people have been asking about some of the overall homeowners insurance with like citizens. Citizens, I think, right now, they're between 6 and 7 billion of surplus, their modeling based on paying out a lot of money and claims for this was that they would still have between 4 and 5 billion in surplus. And so they view themselves as being able to weather this. Individual carriers, they have to go through a stress test to be able to have their policies approved. And so this year, they had tested under a direct impact on Tampa Bay and what would happen. And so they have policies. They have reinsurance. We have our WRAP program and, of course -- WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have been listening to the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, warning that Hurricane Ian will cause damage throughout the entire state as it continues its brutal assault right now. The storm making landfall as a very powerful category 4 hurricane, packing 150-mile-per-hour winds.

Let's get right to the hurricane disaster zone right now. CNN's Bill Weir is on the phone joining us from Punta Gorda, not far from where Ian made a second landfall just a while ago. What are you experiencing now? What are you seeing there?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Wolf, it's the back end, southern end of this eye wall. It's just now coming over Punta Gorda. And we are seeing the wind pick up after we had sort of a reprieve from the eye. We didn't have a clean eye where we saw blue sky, but it calmed down enough for people to come out and check some damage and walk the dogs and then head back in and hunker down for the rest of the storm, which is not yet done with us.

And we are seeing again just massive wind gusts kicking up. We are taking shelter in a hotel at a time when there are sort of (INAUDIBLE) to even open the front door because of the pressure that it creates. It could lift it right off the hinges. And so we are watching through the window and really worried about the storm surge that is going to come as a result of the back end of this storm.

This morning, it was sucking all the water out of the harbor here and now it is putting it back in rapidly. And we got predictions of up to 17 feet of storm surge, which is just incomprehensible even for a town like Punta Gorda, which has been through a horrible storm back in -- 18 years ago with Hurricane Charley. and they hardened their infrastructure, they hardened their building codes. They think they are ready for this one but we are not going to really know. So, this thing blows past then we can really get an assessment of the flooding damage. Wolf?

BLITZER: Glad you got inside. Bill Weir reporting for us from Punta Gorda in Florida right now.

I want to bring in Jennifer Gray at the CNN Weather Center for us right now. Jennifer, tell us why, you know, Bill had to go inside, he couldn't report any longer from outside, it was simply way too dangerous.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we have seen Bill reporting all afternoon, and he has basically been on the eastern side of the eye wall. So, he had the eye wall come through earlier today. He actually got inside the eye for a brief moment. We saw him out reporting in the last hour or so. He was walking around. The skies brightened up a little bit. And now he is on that back edge. And what you hear us talk about it all the time where we have the eye wall come through, which is the nastiest part of the storm, and then you're in the eye. Things get calm and then you have to get ready for the back side of this.

So, bill is basically in round two of Hurricane Ian and he is experiencing winds very strong, possibly more than 100 miles per hour yet again.


I know he is inside his safe place. But just outside could be experiencing winds of that magnitude. He had winds earlier today of more than 100 miles per hour for more than an hour and a half, Wolf. So, he is in this yet again. And as slow as this storm is moving, he could be in this for a couple more hours.

BLITZER: All right. Jennifer, I want you to stand by. CNN's Randi Kaye is also in Punta Gorda right now. She is out there right near -- you are protected. You are near the building where you are staying. Is that right, Randi?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I am on the first floor of this parking garage. We came downstairs just to show you what it's like out here. I see a stop sign that has been pushed over. I'm hearing myself in my ear but I will do my best to describe what I'm hearing. The wind is incredible out here right now. We did have the eye pass over and it was very calm. There was no rain. But right now, we are getting the worst that we've seen.

If you look down the street, if you can, over here, Jerry, look down here, you can see there is a little bit of the metal is wrapped around the power line there, there is a tree down, and then on the other side, there is that stop sign that has completely fallen. But these winds we're told are on the other side. They came on the other side of the eye. So, we are experiencing this.

We're told this is going to last for several hours. And this could still bring with it that storm surge, Wolf, that they were talking about. I spoke to our weather team. We didn't see the storm surge on the front end, but we still could see it on the back end.

This is why you just heard the governor speaking. He has 1,300 high water vehicles. They are very concerned about flooding here in downtown Punta Gorda certainly. And from what are seeing right now, this is a very, very difficult situation, a very bad situation. We are not far from Charlotte Harbor, which is where the water pushed in from and the storm surge will come from there into downtown Punta Gorda where we are, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Randi, I want you to be careful over there and go inside. Obviously, if it gets worse, it looks pretty ominous right now. Stand by.

I want to go back to Jennifer Gray at the CNN Weather Center. So, tell the viewers what Randi is experiencing right now. I know that this hurricane landed at 150 miles an hour. That's a monster category 4. If it would have landed at 157, that's a category 5, that's the highest category. What is she experiencing right now in Punta Gorda?

GRAY: She is most likely experiencing winds close to 100 mile-per- hour gusts. And just like Bill, she's been experiencing that for much of the afternoon. What an exhausting experience for not only our reporters out there but the people that maybe didn't evacuate and they are living through this and you still have several more hours to go.

You are experiencing torrential rains across this area. Look here. You can see these areas of bright red, orange and yellow. This is where the heaviest rain is. We are seeing rainfall rates at three inches an hour, sometimes even more.

So, the possibility of flooding is there. We already have a flashflood warning going on right now for this huge area from Port Charlotte all the way up to, say, Sarasota, where we could see the potential for major flooding not only today in the days ahead, but we have seen very strong wind gusts, Wolf, anywhere from 120, 125-mile-per-hour wind gusts in these areas right around where Bill and Randi are and points to the south.

So, you mentioned that this made landfall at 150-mile-per-hour winds. That ties Charley, which made landfall at 150 miles per hour, but this storm is much, much bigger. And so the impacts for this storm is going to be much more far reaching than Charley was.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Jennifer. I want to go back to Randi. She is in Punta Gorda right now. Randi, so tell us about the wind conditions that you are experiencing right now.

KAYE: Wolf, we are experiencing the worst winds that we have seen here. On the front end, it was nothing like this, before the eye came. That was about 2:00 or 3:00 this afternoon. And now, we are seeing things flying down, whoa, literally flying down the street in front of us. And the water is -- it's like BBs hitting your face. It is quite strong.

BLITZER: So, what I'm hearing from you, Randi, it's worse now --

KAYE: We did get a warning --

BLITZER: Go ahead.

KAYE: -- about the wind, that they were hazardous. And that's why we're staying close to the inside of the parking garage so we can duck in at any time.


But, certainly, this is definitely the worst that we have seen, Wolf. And we thought, you know, like many people do, once you see the eye and it's clear and quiet and we saw the birds come out, it was a completely different scene just within the last hour, and now this.

You can see it, Wolf, it is -- you can see pieces of debris flying around on the street. As I said, some of the street signs are down and a lot of the palm trees are down, as well. So, anybody, any of the businesses that were boarding up downtown and putting their sandbags in, we'll see how well that holds up against this kind of wind, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the wind is horrible right now, worst it's been.

Stand by, Randi. Jennifer Gray is still with us over at the CNN Weather Center. What do we know about the speed of the winds right now in Punta Gorda?

GRAY: Well, she is right on the eye wall. So, you are going to be experiencing the strongest winds within this storm. This storm still has winds of 140 miles per hour. So, she is likely experiencing winds close to that right now. And just looking at her pictures, you can tell that these are the strongest winds she has experienced throughout the entire course of the storm that she has been out there, so likely experiencing winds close to 140 miles per hour.

She is experiencing the torrential rain along with it. The wind is just driving that rain towards her. And this storm is moving very slowly, Wolf. So, it's not like she is going experience these gusts and then move on and it's going to improve rapidly in the next hour or so. You can see it's barely moving, the storm. So, we are going to experience more than 100-mile-per-hour winds for the next several hours. And so it is going to be potentially -- I mean, it's going to be devastating for this area if you think about the wind speed equivalent to, say, an EF-2 tornado for hours on end for a huge area of the state.

BLITZER: This is extremely dangerous situation right now. Jennifer, stay with us.

Derek Van Dam, our meteorologist, is in Bradenton, Florida, just south of Tampa for us. Set the scene for us where you are.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: : Wolf, the extreme wind warnings that get issued by the national weather service that Randi and that Bill have probably had flash up on their phones, those are saved for only the most extreme moments. They don't issue those lightly. And, clearly, the way that we are getting whipped around and battered by this violent wind is enough reason for us and the National Weather Service to issue those extreme wind warnings.

Look, we are on -- you have to bear with me. We are on the back side of this storm. And it has been -- it has been phenomenal to see how the winds have changed and how that's impacted Bradenton where I'm located. First, the powerful easterly winds that literally sucked the river dry, the Manatee River had no water. The water bed was exposed. And then the wind shifted on the back side of this and we started to see the water starting to re-enter the Manatee River. That is the full force --

BLITZER: All right. It looks like we just lost our signal with Derek Van Dam. We will get back to him, a CNN meteorologist. We want him to be very, very careful as well.

Let's go back to Jennifer Gray -- let's go back to Randi Kaye in Punta Gorda for us right now. What's the latest over there, Randi?

KAYE: Wolf, we are still at that same area in the garage here. You can see things flying down the street still. We are just going to move our camera so you get a better look of what is happening. We come this way. We will just be careful as we poke around here. If you come this way, you see what's going on.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Randi. I know we are working on your signal. We'll reconnect with you.

Jennifer Gray is at the CNN Weather Center. What's the assessment over there?


What's the latest forecast? How long is this going to continue along the lines of what we have seen in the last several minutes?

GRAY: Well, Wolf, it's really -- it takes your breath away. So, the alert that Derek was talking about, the high wind warning that they all received in that message, it said to seek shelter as you would -- treat this as would a tornado is what the message said that went out to people in this area. That's what they are experiencing. They are experiencing winds equivalent to what you would experience in a tornado.

But this is lasting for much, much longer. And so those wind of 100 plus are going to last for the next -- at least the next hour. The storm is not moving very quickly at all. It's only moving at about eight miles per hour based on the last advisory.

So, you can see the storm right here, the wider view, the eye is collapsing quickly, indicating that the storm is weakening, but it's 130 miles per hour right now moving to the north-northeast at eight miles per hour. So, right around that center we're going to get winds topping 100 miles per hour still as this storm has pushed inland. More than three hours ago is when it made landfall.

So, the track is going to continue on this northeastward journey. People need to be on the lookout if you are in Central Florida as well, as it crosses the state. We are going to see this still be a category 1 most likely when it's on top of Orlando. So, we have a long way to go, Wolf. This storm is moving at a snail's pace.

BLITZER: Yes, it's moving very slowly, which is -- obviously, it makes it even more dangerous. And it moves across the state of Florida towards the east. Stand by, Jennifer. We are going to get back to you.

Randi Kaye is still with us. I hope we've reconnected our signal, Randi. Can you hear me okay?

KAYE: I hear you.

BLITZER: All right. So, give us the latest. I know you are in the safety -- relative safety, I should say, of this garage. But outside, those winds are very ferocious.

KAYE: yes, they sure are, Wolf. Let me show you. If we could just peek out here just a little bit, as long as we're feeling like it's safe, we could see what's going on here. There is a whole of debris across the street. That was not there earlier today. We can see some of the street signs, as I was mentioning earlier, have also come down. Some of the alarms are going off. You can hear them around town.

That's a car wash. If you take a look -- Jerry, if you can look over there, that's a car wash over there with those -- you can see the water just racing towards us. That car wash has been closed all day. Earlier you could see it when we were in the eye and it was very -- it wasn't a blue sky, but it was much calmer here and the birds were out.

We are very close to Charlotte Harbor. Charlotte Harbor is where Hurricane Charley came racing across, didn't bring anything like this in 2004 as a cat 4. What it brought was a lot of wind. Whoa. It brought a lot of wind but not so much of a storm surge. And that is still what they were expecting here in downtown Punta Gorda. A lot of people thought that they had escaped the storm surge, and I guess that's still possible, but they are still predicting anywhere from 12 to 18 feet here.

So, we are in the heaviest winds and rain that we have seen throughout the day on the front side of this storm, Wolf. We weren't experiencing anything like this. We were a little bit higher up but we could still see what was going on. We didn't see things flying around like we are here. And nobody, not a single person, is on the street. A little bit earlier there were still some people walking around, just curious.

You can look down here. Jerry, if you would, just pan down here. You can see there's a tree down in downtown Punta Gorda. So, we'll see how the businesses fair. It is a remarkable storm that we are experiencing, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Randi, we're going to keep your camera up over there, so don't go too far away. We will get back to you, just want you to stay safe, obviously. You are in that garage. We are looking at the live pictures obviously coming in.

I want to bring in Kevin Guthrie right now. He is the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Kevin, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing.

What can you tell us about what Randi Kaye in Punta Gorda is experiencing right now?

KEVIN GUTHRIE, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, your meteorologist hit the nail on the head. The back side storm surge and the back side winds can be actually worse than the front side storm surge and the front side winds. I believe you guys showed a graphic maybe about six, seven hours ago where those winds on the back side were approaching 170 miles an hour. So, yes, much more storm surge on the back side, much more devastating winds on the back side.

BLITZER: So, it's still though a category 4 because it's 150 miles an hour. If it goes to 157, then it's a category 5, is that right?

GUTHRIE: That is correct. And the National Weather Service changes these things all the time. And they may very well change this to a cat 5 later down the line.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this in Florida before, especially the west coast of Florida?

GUTHRIE: Well, I was here for Hurricane Michael, as you remember, Wolf.


But this particular storm, no. This has a Charley feel to it but Charley was about one-fifth of the size of this storm right here. So, this is a much larger, much more dangerous storm than Charley ever was.

BLITZER: And I've looked at the pictures, the size of Charley back in 2004. It's a very small chunk of what Hurricane Ian is going through right now. This is so much larger. How much larger is it?

GUTHRIE: We are hearing it's about four to five times larger. That has not been through any quantitative analysis but, again, this is just some estimate, so, four to five times larger or maybe even bigger.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a real dangerous situation, very, very hazardous, indeed. Kevin Guthrie, thanks for all you're doing, thanks so much for joining us. Kevin is the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Bill weir is in Punta Gorda for us also right now. Give us the latest where you are and what you're seeing.

WEIR: Well, Wolf, we're literally barring the door from the wolf that is Hurricane Ian, different kind of wolf than the one I'm talking to, sir. But this is -- look at this. This system here, we had to -- folks here had to rig up with cords to hold this shut because we don't have any power and it is a magnet that holds the door shut.

So, just a few minutes ago, we literally had four people holding this door against these winds and you can see through there, Wolf, just what's happening. And this little hotel pool is whitecaps on it even though it's surrounded by a wall. And this is much more violent than the front edge of the eye wall than we saw, you know, for most of the late afternoon.

Now, this is scary, frankly. And this, of course, is the side of the storm that people are worried about bringing storm surge and bringing floodwaters up into Punta Gorda and the low-lying areas around. The red zone has something like 60,000 people in it, according to the emergency managers in this county. They have no idea how many people evacuated, how many people stayed.

Earlier today, there were no major calls for help but it wouldn't have mattered because nobody can come out in this and help you if you do need it. So, right now we are just sort of hunkering down, holding the door, Wolf, and then when this passes by, the storm surge, flooding won't be as bad as originally feared. I have lost communications with you. So, sorry if I don't hear your next question.

BLITZER: All right. You won't hear it but we'll get back to you. We'll reconnect that signal. Bill Weir is inside right now. He is safe inside. Obviously, outside -- it's too dangerous to be outside right now. This is live pictures coming in from Punta Gorda in Florida. You can see the horrible winds coming in, the rain.

This is a very dangerous situation. Just a little while ago, the Florida governor, DeSantis, says it's a very hazardous situation and it's about to get worse. So, it's ominous, indeed, his words.

All right, we are going to continue our breaking news coverage, much more coming up as Hurricane Ian batters Florida right now. We will, of course, check back with our correspondents reporting on the brunt of the storm on the back of the hurricane's eye wall.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're back with our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Ian's assault, and it's a brutal assault on Florida right now, a very, very dangerous situation unfolding in Punta Gorda where the back side of the storm's eye wall is pounding the area with fierce wind and rain.

Randi Kaye is on the scene for us. Set the scene where you are, Randi.

KAYE: Wolf, just take a look at these pictures. I'm going to let the camera and this video speak for itself, because it is quite a sight here in downtown Punta Gorda. We are seeing probably -- these are definitely hurricane force winds. I know that Jennifer Gray was saying possibly up to 100 miles an hour. It is really pounding this area.

Earlier, it was much quieter here. We had the eye pass over us and things had definitely calmed down. Now, it is much, much worse. We are seeing debris flying down these streets and also some of the trees are down as well. If you look over here, you can see some of the debris out there.

And we also are expecting still some of the storm surge because we are not very far from Charlotte Harbor, which is just on the edge of downtown Punta Gorda, and that is where that storm surge, which is still expected, maybe even 12 to 18 feet, will come.

There is a good reason why the businesses here had spent days in downtown Punta Gorda trying to get sandbags and boarding up their businesses because of how bad -- give me a second -- of how bad this is supposed to be.

That house, believe it or not, even through all of this, Wolf, the screens, the screens are still holding up on that house across the way, yet I have seen stop signs down, street signs flying around, trees are down. It is -- you can see the signs over there just wobbling. Palm trees are down. These winds are serious. This is a violent, violent storm.

On the front side of the storm, Wolf, before the eye passed over us, it was much, much less than this. It certainly wasn't good weather. It was pretty bad. But this is nothing like what we saw earlier. We wanted to come down and play it safe but also show you why it's so important that people hunker down for a storm like this, Wolf.

We just wanted to make sure that you could see what's happening here because this community has been through Hurricane Charley. This downtown Punta Gorda was devastated by hurricane charley in 2004, but it -- that was a wind event. That wasn't a rain event or a storm surge event. So, this is a completely different beast for this community.


It's no wonder that the governor has high-water vehicles and search and rescue teams on standby here, because they were probably needed. There are still people who didn't evacuate. About two-thirds of this community was ordered to evacuate, two-thirds of Charlotte County. It's unclear if they did, Wolf. If not, you better hope that they are in a safe place with a storm like this rolling through here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And what's making it even more and more dangerous and potentially more deadly, the National Hurricane Center reporting that it's moving very, very slowly, this hurricane, Hurricane Ian, and only eight miles per hour. So, that means it's hovering over your area for an extended period of time, potentially, Randi, causing a lot more devastation and danger. But go ahead and give us your sense.

KAYE: I'm sorry, Wolf, I couldn't hear you there.

BLITZER: All right. Can you hear me now?

KAYE: I hear you.

BLITZER: All right. But it's moving very slowly, this hurricane, at eight miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. That means it's hovering over Punta Gorda for an extended period of time, potentially causing a lot nor destruction and danger. Is that what you sense?

KAYE: Yes, that's certainly what it's going to feel like here. We were told that this is a very slow-moving storm. And that's why we talk about Hurricane Charley, because Hurricane Charley was a fast- moving storm. It was moving at about 25 miles an hour. It just raced right across Charlotte Harbor, right through downtown, devastating this town. In fact, former President Bush was able to land his helicopter here. It was so dry here after that storm.

This a completely different animal. So, it does feel like it's just sitting right on top of us and it's going to be here for a while, we're told. Certainly -- and if it's at this rate and this pace and rain and wind at this force, this is going to be a heck of an experience for a lot of people here.

I can't imagine people who maybe have never experienced a hurricane before, some of these first-time Floridians, they come here for, you know, the sunshine, they come here to live on the water, they don't expect to get this kind of water. So, it's certainly an experience.

There is no sign of clearing, no sign of letting up. I mean, I'm watching the water come right at me. And I'm also concerned because we are in this garage and we can even see that even the drains are starting to back up a little bit. And I did speak to the emergency management earlier and they were saying that there was concern about sewage backing up possibly. So, it's going to be interesting to see exactly what happens here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Randi Kaye on the scene for us, we're going to get back to you. So, stand by, Randi, be careful over there.

I want to bring in Jamie Rhome right now, the acting director of the National Hurricane Center. Give us a sense, if you don't mind, Jamie, of what Randi Kaye is experiencing right now in Punta Gorda.

JAMIE RHOME, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Actually, the conditions are probably quite bad. You can see the center moved onshore, made landfall earlier today in Punta Gorda. So, she is probably experiencing some of these very intense bands and definitely hurricane-force winds.

BLITZER: And how long is this going to continue because it's a slow- moving hurricane, right?

RHOME: Exactly tight. And this is the story that we feared. This is the story that we forecasted as Ian approached and collided with Florida, it would slow down significantly and effectively just crawl across the Florida Peninsula. And what this means, what this means is that the risk of heavy rainfall and flash flooding along the I-4 corridor or for points along and north of the track tonight and tomorrow is very high.

BLITZER: So, what parts of Florida do you suspect, Jamie, are going to get the worst of Hurricane Ian?

RHOME: First of all, for wind perspective, the parts right here, Sarasota, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers getting heavy, heavy wind, as we speak, still category 4 force winds, 130 miles per hour at its peak. The areas to the south already experienced or are experiencing the significant catastrophic storm surge that we advertised in our product. So, you saw the images unfolding in Naples, very sad situation. And then places along and north of where it tracks across the state of Florida, that's the I-4 corridor, is going to experience significant rainfall overnight and the potential for flash flooding.

BLITZER: So, the next 24 hours in Florida could be so, so dangerous to not only people along the coast, the western coast of Florida, but throughout the state?

RHOME: Exactly. And now the sun is going down, too. So, people have got to stay put.


They've got to stay put. And when the sun comes up tomorrow, people are going to want to venture out of their homes and look around. I really caution you not to do that. We lose a lot of people after the storm pushes ashore as they get out and try to look around, they drive their cars in the flooded streets, they encounter downed power lines, all sorts of hazards. So, please stay in your home tomorrow even though it may be tempting to come out.

BLITZER: I know you have been with the National Hurricane Center quite a while. Give us a sense, Jamie, of how devastating this Hurricane Ian is compared to others you have had to deal with.

RHOME: For portions of the Florida coastline who haven't experienced a major hurricane like this in quite some time, some of these places haven't experienced major hurricane in 100 years, it is historic. And the storm surge down here in Naples is going to be absolutely historic when the sun comes out tomorrow and we get a sense of the full gravity of the devastation.

BLITZER: Awful situation indeed. Jamie Rhome, the acting director of the National Hurricane Center, thanks for all your important work. We'll get back to you, of course. We really appreciate it.

And to our viewers, stay with us as we continue to track Hurricane Ian's life-threatening strike right now unfolding on Florida and the extreme winds tearing through Punta Gorda right now. Stay with us. You are looking at live pictures.



BLITZER: In Florida right now, the danger and the destruction from Hurricane Ian is only just beginning. This monster category 4 storm pounding the state's west coast with the back of its eye wall unleashing fierce winds in Punta Gorda. We have been seeing extraordinary pictures there as this disaster unfolds.

I want it bring back CNN's Randi Kaye. She is in Punta Gorda for us right now. I don't know if you can hear us, Randi, but if you can, tell us what you're seeing, what's going on.

KAYE: Hi, Wolf, I can hear you. We are still looking at the situation here in downtown Punta Gorda. It is still really bad. Can you hear me, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, we hear you fine. Go ahead.

KAYE: Okay, they hear us fine. Jerry, let's go over and take a look here at what's going on. Take a look downtown here. This is still -- the winds and the rain, Wolf, have not let up here in downtown. There is -- whoa. There is debris flying everywhere. Trees are down. It almost feels like it's actually getting worse. It is just hanging over us. As you said, it's going to be here for a while and that's how it seems. It's not letting up. Look, there is debris crashing all around us and the winds are quite strong.

I could step out for just a moment to give you an idea on just how bad it is, Wolf, there is -- I could see there is a stop sign down and some trees rolling away. It kind of ebbs and flows a little bit. But the streets, it's amazing. We still have not seen that storm surge, although they have told us that it would come possibly on the back side of this. But, as you know, earlier, within about an hour ago, there was the eye passing over us, Wolf, and it was so much calmer than what we are experiencing here right now. The rain is actually painful as it hits you. I'm glad nobody is out on the street here.

Whoa. Oh, boy, huge gust. We're okay where we are. We are just at the edge of this parking garage in downtown. But we are not far from Charlotte Harbor, Wolf, which is where a lot of the storm surge, if it does come, will be coming from. We are just a few blocks away from that. And we parked up high on this -- in this parking garage because we are concerned about the flooding, which we have been warned about.

And it's a good -- here comes an emergency vehicle. Let's get a shot of that. It looks like an emergency vehicle coming down. It's amazing that they are out. It's a storm chaser, storm seeker out there. So, there are a few brave people out there. But, of course, Wolf, as you know, authorities encourage everybody to either evacuate before the storm or get into an interior room to stay safe where they could ride this out.

BLITZER: Yes. We can see a lot of debris, Randi, flying around on the street right next to you. So, it's a good thing you are on the inside of that garage over there and protected for all practical purposes. Stay with us. We want you to be safe. We are going to get back to you.

Bill Weir is not very far away from Randi. He is also in Punta Gorda for us. Tell us what you're seeing, what's going on where you are, Bill.

WEIR: Yes. We are sort of peeking through this door, trying to take comfort in the fact that this hotel has category 4 hurricane-proof glass. That's what they say. We're finding out in real-time as we try to bar this door manually. The power is out so the magnetic lock isn't working. But we have just seen the most intense wind through this window in the last hour, way more severe, it seems like, than what we saw through the front edge of the storm now.


And this little swimming pool here that's been sort of steadily emptied by these winds. You can see it. It reminds me, I was -- I did a story at the University of Miami, they have a hurricane tank where they try to simulate the impacts of big storms on cities, buildings, vehicles, and this reminds me of that, only it's sort of a little model in the middle of the worst hurricane. One of the worst I have ever seen.

I was in Katrina. I was in Michael and Maria in Puerto Rico, and this is a different level of scary considering the storm surge they are warning us about, considering we didn't think wind speed would be as important as that storm surge.

Oh, geez. Both of them are now -- something just flew in front of the window and scared me. So, yeah, this is it. I am afraid I don't have any communication. The cell towers are probably going down in these gales. And so, any sort of communication, calling back to the control room,

hearing Wolf's voice, you're hearing your voice, Randi, unfortunately, we have lost that power for right now. So, who knows what comes next in terms of getting those communication lines back open right now. But I feel frustrated that all I can show you is this porthole into the storm.

And I feel sick in my guts to what we'll find once this thing blows through. We'll stay here for you and try to get back to we can talk to each other.

But I'll send it back to you guys.

BLITZER: All right. Just be careful over there.

Bill Weir in Punta Gorda for us right now. Doing a really, really important work for us and for all of our viewers.

Right now, I want to bring in the Charlotte County, Florida, Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller.

Patrick, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing. I know your county includes some of the hardest hit areas now, including Punta Gorda where we're seeing these awful incredible images of the wind. How dangerous are the conditions right now?

PATRICK FULLER, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR, CHARLOTTE COUNTY, FLORIDA: I can't overstate how dangerous the conditions are right now. We have category 4 hurricane-force winds, life-threatening storm surge potentially in our harbor and along the shorelines, flooding rainfall. Those conditions are nothing that you want to be out in or anywhere near much.

Hopefully, our residents heeded our evacuation orders, evacuation zone. I fear some is not. For those, I hope that they are seeking shelter, they are hunkering down. These are life-threatening conditions.

BLITZER: I covered a lot of hurricanes over the years. This is awful indeed.

Your county, I understand, Patrick, just enacted a curfew starting at 9:00 p.m. tonight. What are you most concerned about, especially as darkness falls?

FULLER: Well, we don't want the residents emerging from their homes at all at this point. Conditions are far too dangerous. As you know, there is very, very intense wind out there.

The water, you know, we are very concerned about storm surge and flooding rainfall. There is absolutely no reason for anybody to be out and about. Hopefully, the curfews, individuals need to be hunkered down. There is no reason to be out in the elements now. This is a life-threatening storm. One of these storms you hope you see once in a lifetime. They need to take it seriously. BLITZER: So, what should people do if they are inside their homes and

the water is rising and the winds are blowing apart parts of the windows in their homes?

FULLER: Well, you know, with wind you really need to get the interior of your home, away from the windows. Try to put as many walls between you and the exterior of you home as possible.

Water, obviously, you want to get away from that as much as possible. Go to the highest point in your home. If you have not made the decision to evacuate, now it's too late. Find the highest point in your home. If you see rising water, stay safe.

BLITZER: Be careful yourself over there, Patrick Fuller, the emergency management director, Charlotte County, Florida, that's where Punta Gorda is. We will stay in very close touch with you, Patrick. Thanks so much for all you're doing. Thanks for all you're doing.

I want to go to Bradenton, Florida, right now. CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is on the scene for us. He's on the streets.

What's it like there, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Wolf, it was like this storm was a spinning top on its final approach to the Florida peninsula. It spun up. It really started to strengthen near the center. It rapidly intensified and then it pushed its way inland and brought the most intense winds at its peak point and that was the worst-case scenario that we had all feared. The National Hurricane Center fearing the same thing using the words like catastrophic in the lead-up to storm and now we are starting to realize those words are coming true.

If you think about a hurricane of this magnitude, you got a tornado, right?


Those things are 500 yards wide, and their winds are over 110, 111 miles per hour. That would make it an EF3. A hurricane of this magnitude has winds that stretch over 80 miles in diameter, hurricane- force winds. So we literally have an EF2 or an EF3 moving through a large portion slowly crawling through the southwestern Florida peninsula as that spinning top that I talked about a moment ago starts to unwind itself and slowly, slowly but surely loses its energy as it does so.

But we know that the threats don't stop at the coast where I'm located here. It is well advertised, we've been discussing it and forecasting it when the weather center with my colleagues. This storm, as it slowly marches inward, is going to bring that flash flood potential to places like Orlando and interior sections as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Derek Van Dam in Bradenton, we'll get back to you. Derek, be careful over there.

Just ahead, we're going to continue to watch the pounding that Punta Gorda is enduring right now. We'll also check in on some locations in Florida as Hurricane Ian continues its path. It's brutal.

Stay with us. We'll be back in a moment.



BLITZER: We are following the breaking news, the unfolding disaster right now in Florida as Hurricane Ian makes landfall as a monster category 4 storm and has begun churning across the state with potentially very deadly force.

Brian Todd is joining us from Largo, Florida, right now.

Brian, what are you seeing where you are?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, still very dangerous around here. We're being pelted with wind and rain, heavy bursts. But we have seen scenes of real devastation. I'm going to step out of the shot, our photojournalist Michael is going to show you this house.

We came across it. We just saw one burned-out window. But then we came to the back. This place completely burned down, room after room after room. We'll move to your left here.

We talked to a neighbor who said that the owners of this house, they had had this house in their family for generations. They had a death in the family recently and they came back to here on this house. They were starting to renovate it when this happened. And, thankfully, no one was hurt. They were not home at the time.

We have some video that we fed in earlier of the house actually when it was on fire. Some very dramatic video we can show you as we continue to show you this house and the damage here.

You know, it's just not clear if any of this is recoverable at this point. Some of the structures intact, but much of the house is burned out completely.

Now, the neighbor told us that they were working on the house, but not home at the time. But that that transformer right up there that you see on the top of the pole, there was a power line that snapped right off of that transformer and then started this fire. Elsewhere here in Pinellas County, we came across homes in a manufactured home park that had their roofs ripped off.

So we are just fanning out now and seeing some of these scenes of devastation, Wolf. First responders are just barely able to get out at this point. They said they were pulling them off the streets earlier because it was too dangerous. They are just starting to get to some of these areas right now. But, again, a lot of these areas, they won't be able to get to until much later, Wolf.

BLITZER: What other kind of damage in the area? I know you've been traveling around as much as you can safely. What else have you seen as far as damage is concerned? TODD: Well, Wolf, we did, as I mentioned, we saw some houses, some

manufactured homes not far from here in largo that had their roofs ripped off. We've seen debris and downed power lines, downed trees all over the place.

This is not necessarily a safe situation here. You just saw this thing, this slab of metal here blowing around. It's very dangerous to go into houses like this. We've been told this by first responders for years.

When you've got a house like this, you want to sift through, see if you can recover anything. It's still a very dangerous situation because it was a downed power line that actually caused all this damage. There could be some loose lines, some loose cables, very dangerous to go into houses like this.

We were told by Pinellas County Emergency Management that close to 80,000 customers in this county have been without power since this afternoon. Those figures may be updated a little later. Also, a real concern in St. Petersburg where we just were about sewage and -- because the sewage system there was really antiquated and was spilling millions and hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage into the aquifers even before this storm happened.

They did start to renovate it back in December, but this was going to be a major test of whether that sewer system in St. Petersburg was going to hold up. And so, we'll see if it did, Wolf.

BLITZER: How far are you from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Largo, down in Florida?

TODD: We're just north of St. Petersburg so we're kind of between Tampa and St. Pete. And, again, you know, people -- the mayor of St. Petersburg told us they're telling people don't try to come out, even though the wind may have died down here a little bit, Wolf. It's still very dangerous to try to come out in this, because the back side of that storm is still going to be churning in this area. So, people may make the mistake of trying to come out in this weather right now, even though it's still very dangerous.

And, again, standing water, we've been told by officials here, people have to be careful when they're driving through standing water. You should not be doing that. That's what kills a lot of people in these situations as these storms turn through.

BLITZER: We've just been told by the mayor of Tampa that the worst of this hurricane is yet to come. It's only just beginning, all the awful situation that's unfolding right now.

Brian Todd, be careful over there. We'll get back to you. Thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" picks up our breaking news coverage of hurricane Ian right now.