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The Situation Room
Idalia Now A Category 2 Hurricane, Still Strengthening; Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) News Conference On Hurricane Idalia; Urgent Evacuations Under Way As Idalia Set To Slam Florida; Soon: Dangerous Winds, Storm Surge For Town In Idalia's Path; Judge Asks Both Sides For Additional Briefs On Meadows Case. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 29, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: As we stand by for an update from Florida officials, let's get right to the breaking news. Hurricane Idalia is growing strength and the urging threat it is posing to Florida's Gulf Coast.
We are covering this storm as only CNN can, with correspondents fanned out all across the danger zone and weather experts tracking Idalia's power and its path.
First, to CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, we do have a new forecast out. Give us the latest.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: 100-mile-per-hour storm now. A hurricane hunter has been flying through the storm, found a much lower pressure. That lower pressure has significantly now increased the wind speed around the storm itself. 100 miles per hour, but gusts could be 120, and then the landfall about 20 miles farther west than it was forecast to be. The cone shifted about 20 miles farther to the west, closer to Tallahassee, making significantly more wind damage there as you shift that cone farther and farther to the left.
But something else I've noticed there, Alex, we are seeing lightning now around the eye. That means that the storms are getting stronger, they're getting bigger around the eye itself, which means the storm is not losing strength. In fact, it's going the other way. When you see lightning in the eye, it's getting stronger. So, wind gusts around 30, Sarasota.
Every time you see one of these cells, though, head over your home, that's when the wind is going to pick up. And then the cell goes by, the wind is going to be completely gone. There is not going to be anything left for.
What the deal is with this whole storm is that, as it moves up into this Big Bend area, that's where the catcher's mitt effect is going to happen and we're going to see all that water get caught with the storm surge that. And that surge is going to be 15 feet high. And if you're on land and right there along the coast, that's where it's going to be the worst. So, yes, this is the area here that we're going to see right there, those 10 to 15foot surges, maybe 7 to 10, and even for Tampa, about 4 to 7 feet, because by tomorrow afternoon, this gets here and the wind is blowing into Tampa Bay. So, you're not getting the surge now, Tampa, but you'll get it probably 18 hours from now. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Let's listen in.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): -- made. And we had mentioned this in terms of what the models were showing. They put it at a westward shift. So, the impact is going to be further north, and it is going to bring more direct impacts into counties like Leon, Jefferson and Wauchula County if it continues on that.
Now, these things can move over the next 24 hours, but it seems like most of these models are at agreement about the general area. So, it's definitely going to hit the Big Bend. Everywhere in the Big Bend is going to get storm surge, is going to see major, major impact, whether the eye wall is hitting you or not. So, please prepare for that. It is going to be a significant, significant impact to that region of Florida.
Now, if you are in an evacuation zone and you've been directed to evacuate, particularly if you're in a low-lying area or coastal area in that Big Bend region, now is the time to do it. You still have a little more time. If you wait much longer by the time we get in further into tonight, the weather is going to get nastier and nastier, and we're looking at an impact of the eye wall arriving sometime tomorrow morning. So, you've really got to go now. Now is the time. If you don't, if you stay hunkered down tonight, it's going to be too nasty tomorrow morning to be able to do it.
Now, if you do choose to stay in one of the evacuation zones, first responders will not be able to get you until after the storm has passed. That's right. They're not going to be able to get there until after the storm has passed. So, please make decisions that are best for you and your family.
And, remember, you don't need to travel hundreds of miles away. You don't need to outrun the storm, simply getting to higher ground, in a shelter, a friend's house, hotels, any of that will work. A lot of times you can do that within your own county, but you certainly are thinking more about travelling tens of miles rather than needing to do hundreds of miles.
The National Hurricane Center advisory includes that if this storm hits at high tide, storm surge could reach 10 to 15 feet in some areas of the Big Bend. That is life-threatening storm surge. That is storm surge that, if you're there while that hits, it's going to be very difficult to survive that. So, please take appropriate precautions.
We do have counties, a total of 28 counties have now issued some form of evacuation orders, including more recently Alachua, Hamilton, Leon, Nassau, Putnam and Sumter.
[18:05:00] Know your zone on that. Typically, these are going to be zones A, some bill be zone A and B. And if you're in an area, certainly the coastal areas, barrier islands, and then if you're in areas that are low lying or near some of the rivers, you likely would be advised to be evacuating at this time.
We are already seeing impacts in Southwest Florida. We're seeing storm surge. I mean, the eye of this storm is probably 100 miles or more off the coast of Southwest Florida, and yet those outer bands are already showing significant impacts. So, you're going to see impacts all up and down the West Coast of Florida as the night goes on and as we get into the wee hours of tomorrow morning.
We have been working with the folks for the evacuation. So, the tolls have been suspended in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake Pasco, Pinellas and Sumter County. That started at 4:00 A.M. this morning. That will continue until the event is concluded.
We've also worked with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to make sure all hotels will allow you to bring your pets. Don't leave your pets behind. You've got to take them with you. And these hotels are going to be understanding of that. All the counties have at least one pet-friendly shelter as well. So, please take care of your pets, very, very important. They need you in this type of circumstance.
Uber has also announced that they will be offering free round trip rides to and from evacuation centers with a value up to $35. You can use the code Idalian Relief to be able to claim that. We want to thank Uber for stepping up and helping.
We have all eight urban search and rescue teams with almost 600 personnel ready to deploy to help with search and rescue efforts. Hopefully, that's not necessary. Hopefully, everyone heeded the warnings. And, hopefully, nobody ends up in harm's way when the storm hits. But we know that's likely to be a necessity to have some rescues so these folks are ready to go. They're located up and down the state and they are going to go where they're needed. And we really appreciate having them. We also have additional search and rescue personnel that are going to be augmenting the USR teams.
We've been working with counties to make sure they have the resources they need to deploy. We've received 400 active missions that we are coordinating. We've either fulfilled or will have those fulfilled today and be ready to go when the storm hits tomorrow. We have 1.1 million gallons of fuel that's staged and ready to deploy. We don't know what the fuel situation is going to be like. Sometimes it can be bad, sometimes not as much. This will be able to fill gaps if those gaps exist.
There are over 50 shelters throughout the state that are open and every county that has any type of evacuation notice does then open at least one shelter for people to go to.
Our Florida highway safety motor vehicle has five Florida licensing on wheel mobiles and six mini mobiles ready to deploy to impacted areas to help residents replace important documents, such as driver's license. Hopefully, that's not going to be necessary. If you end up in that situation, we want to have folks that are going to be able to help you out with that.
We've deployed 250 Starlink internet devices. We have another 500-plus staged and ready to go and we will likely put those into place soon after the storm passes by.
Many school districts have announced school closures for today and for tomorrow. So, please just check with your county. But if you're in the path of this storm, it's a pretty good bet that the schools are not going to be open tomorrow. We also have 18 state colleges and 6 universities that are not having school tomorrow as well.
As the winds become stronger today and into the night, Florida Department of Transportation will be coordinating with FHP and local law enforcement to close bridges once wind speeds reach 40 miles an hour or more. So, just keep in mind with that, with any plans that you have, once the wind gets to a certain point, those bridges are not going to be safe to traverse. And Florida Highway Patrol will work with local officials to make sure people are kept safe.
We have been in contact with many states that have offered their assistance, and we're grateful for their efforts. We've already have National Guardsmen from both Tennessee and South Carolina. I want to thank them for stepping up and helping us out. And we also have called up 33 ambulance strike teams with over 200 ambulances that are ready to surge in any of the impacted areas.
So, this is crunch time right now. We're going to get hit with a major hurricane. It will be sometime -- the eye will arrive onshore sometime tomorrow morning most likely. And it is going to have major impacts, particularly along Florida's Big Bend region. So, listen to your local officials. Take the appropriate precautions to protect you and your family. And once the storm passes, we will have help that will be on the way.
And the form of power restoration, we were able to go to Wildwood and Central Florida to meet with all the Duke Energy personnel that have been pre-staged there to help with Duke Energy and their power restoration efforts. We've got close to 30,000 people that are in the state of Florida staged for power restoration efforts. So, that's going to be a priority, to be able to get the power back on for folks. Obviously, search and rescue, to the extent that's needed, those guys are going to be ready to go. And Kevin and his team have a lot of staging of food, water, the things that people need when normal services are interrupted.
So, everybody hang in there. This is going to be something that will leave significant impacts, and particularly in this part of the state. You've really got to go back to the late 1800s to find a storm of this magnitude that will enter where this one looks like it's going to enter tomorrow. So, we don't really have historical analog in anybody's memory. So, it's likely to cause a lot of damage, and that's just the reality. So, be prepared for that, be prepared to lose power, and just know that there's a lot of folks that are going to be there to help you get back on your feet.
Okay. We're going to hear from Kevin Guthrie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, governor. Good evening, everyone. As the governor said, it's crunch time --
MARQUARDT: All right. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida issued warning Florida residents, warning about the significant damage that this storm is about to cause. Hurricane Idalia now a Category 2 hurricane, going to make landfall, he says the eye wall will hit Florida tomorrow in the morning. DeSantis warning of what he called a major, major impact by this hurricane, not mincing any words, telling Floridians, you have got to go now.
I want to bring back in CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, we just heard from the Florida governor. He said that this is going to hit the Big Bend. That is that area, of course, between the panhandle -- the Florida panhandle and the Florida Peninsula. And he said now most of the models are in agreement when it comes to the track of this hurricane. What did you hear in there?
MYERS: I also heard him talk about the surge and how we haven't had that in so very long and that is true. Anyone who has lived here has seen this type of hurricane. And if you said, oh, I lived through something, or Hermine or whatever, it's not even close to what we're going to see tomorrow morning.
Now, that we're almost to sunset, we're going to see the shear slacking off. And so, all of a sudden, this storm is going to really explode in intensity from 100 to likely 120, 125, as forecast. That's exactly what we expected.
But the winds are picking up here. Sarasota, even towards St. Pete, you are still almost 180 miles away and you're still seeing 30-mile- per-hour winds. And as the storm goes by, those winds will pick up. But as the storm goes by tomorrow, all of a sudden the wind is going to blow into Tampa Bay and even cause a surge there.
I know we're talking about all of this surge up here, but there will be surge into Tampa Bay. The way the wind is going to go, it's going to go under the bridge and the water is going to pile up in Tampa proper. So, that's something to think about.
As the storm gets here on land, it's still going to be a very healthy storm. We have hurricane warnings all the way into Georgia because there will be hurricane conditions probably as far north as Valdosta. And there will be wind, not just rain or even some of these areas where you see lightning. The rain is going to be six inches deep in this entire zone. So, that's going to cause freshwater flooding, not the saltwater flooding that we talk about when it comes to storm surge.
And the surge that we have here is a different kind of surge because the land is so flat. And even though we're talking about 10 to 15 feet, we're talking about three to five miles worth of saltwater coming onshore here because the land is flat. So, all of a sudden, you don't see this just stop at the beach kind of surge. It's going to go all the way inland.
And then also here, everywhere where you see purple here, Alex, that's 110-mile-per-hour gusts or more. And, yes, there are hurricane gusts, in red, all the way to Jekyll Island. That's New Brunswick. And this is almost up to Valdosta, Georgia. So many trees are going to be in the way, that all of you trying to come back home tomorrow or the next day, you're going to be in traffic jams because the crews are going to have to clear those trees from the roads. It's going to be a power line mess and also a tree line mess.
The northern part of Florida is just a beautiful place when it comes to live oak, big tall pine trees. And the big tall pine trees are going to be a problem.
MARQUARDT: It really is a stunning area. And the governor putting that in -- putting what we're seeing into stunning historical context, saying you have to go back to the late 1800s for another example of a hurricane entering Florida the way that Idalia is.
Chad Myers, stay with us. Thank you very much for that report.
Now, Hurricane Idalia is expected to unleash tropical storm force winds in the Tampa Bay area within minutes from now.
CNN's Carlos Suarez joins us live from Tampa, Florida. So, Carlos, how is Tampa preparing?
CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, at this hour, there are two mandatory evacuation orders that are in effect. One of those orders is here in Hillsborough County, which is home to the Tampa Bay area. The second evacuation order is just to the west of us in Pinellas County. That is home to the Clearwater and St. Pete area.
Going into tomorrow, the concern at this hour is still the flooding that we might see with this storm. We're talking about a storm surge of anywhere from four to seven feet. And this time tomorrow will have taken into account some of the rain that has already started to move through the last couple hours as well as high tide, and, of course, all of that water being pushed into the Tampa Bay area.
Now, a number of hurricane shelters have opened in Hillsborough County and in Pinellas County, all in anticipation of this storm making its way north just off the coast of the Tampa Bay area. The county sheriff, as well as the city's mayor, they all talked about the threat that this flooding poses for folks even if we don't get a direct hit, which right now it seems the storm is going to pass by. Here is what they said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the storm surge that ends up taking their lives. Keep you and your family safe.
MAYOR JANE CASTOR, TAMPA, FLORIDA: And so we don't want anyone to wake up, see the blue skies and think that we are done with Idalia. That is not the case. And that probably will be the most critical element tomorrow, will be that storm surge.
Mother Nature wins every time. So, if you have the opportunity to evacuate, and you can, you should.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SUAREZ: And, Alex, we are starting to hear some reports of some flooding out in Pinellas County. Again, that's to the west of us here. We're told there is apparently flooding taking place there. This part of Southwest Florida, this part of Tampa Bay is used to a lot of these hurricanes being a flooding concern.
We were at this very same location last year when Hurricane Ian moved to the south, and there was some flooding, though it wasn't as bad because the Tampa Bay area was not directly hit by this storm. And this time around, it appears the storm is going to stay off the coast.
We're told that all of these hurricane shelters that have opened in Hillsborough and Pinellas County can house up to 20,000 people. Though, right now, Alex, it appears not too many folks have decided to leave hair their homes for those locations, though they possibly could have just moved in further inland.
MARQUARDT: Mother Nature wins every time, as the mayor says. All right, Carlos Suarez in Tampa, thank you very much.
Just ahead, we will go to Florida's Big Bend region where Idalia is expected to make landfall. CNN correspondents and a top emergency official are standing by to join us live.
MARQUARDT: Hurricane Idalia now packing sustained winds of 100 miles per hour and bearing down on Florida.
CNN's Bill Weir is in Steinhatchee, on the Gulf Coast, in the Big Bend region that we've been discussing, where Idalia is expected to make landfall. Bill, we just heard from Governor Ron DeSantis. He says it's been the late 1800s since we've seen a hurricane hitting an area like this one is expected to.
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These folks are very familiar with sea and sky. They live off the waters in a lot of ways. This is a big angler spot. It is the height of scallop season. So, they're used to storms, but maybe nothing like this because the waters have never been this warm ever in recorded history. They're almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit here.
This, of course, the result of heat-trapping pollution, burning of fossil fuels, which, by the way, the Biden administration being sued by a bunch of groups for opening up the gulf to more drilling. That will happen in the next month. That's the backdrop here. But the familiarity with this kind of storm in this region is what worries officials. And I know of a fact there's at least a couple of people who refuse to evacuate this part.
And then about 50 miles, as the crow flies south of us, is Cedar Key. We talked to the mayor there who is imploring the hundred people who are steadfastly refusing to move, to please, for your own sake, leave now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR HEATH DAVIS, CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA: We're here to beg our citizens to heed this warning. This storm is worse than we've ever seen. All emergency services will stop. We can't allow our employees, our staff and in this case because our community is so small, our friends and our family who go out into this storm, as bad as it's going to be, and put people in danger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WEIR: Alex, it was less than a year ago that Hurricane Ian caught so many people by surprise when it took a turn, hit Lee County, and the biggest casualty number came from storm surge. These waves that lift cars off the ground and turned construction into flotsam just take you off at the knees. That is what folks are worried about in these low- lying communities like this one.
You can see across the river over here, this is the Steinhatchee River. There are some homes that are up on stilts. You have got to imagine that the storm surge would still get in their living room up there. Many more other residences here are down, low to the ground, pre-fab construction, older stick construction as well. So, here, you're just hoping that it's minimum loss of life when this thing comes ashore later tomorrow morning. Alex?
MARQUARDT: You certainly are, that scene very possibly about to change very, very soon. Bill Weir in Steinhatchee, Florida, thank you very much.
Now, let's get an update on the situation in Tampa. Joining me now is the city's emergency manager, John Antapasis. John, thank you so much for joining us.
We know that you've got a lot on your plate right now. It's a very busy time. What can you tell us about your emergency preparations in the Tampa area right now? How many people still need to get out of there?
JOHN ANTAPASIS, TAMPA EMERGENCY MANAGER: We've spun up our emergency operations center, full-scale activation earlier today at 8:00 A.M. We've been actually preparing for this storm over the weekend, getting all our action items in place, whether that's on our public safety with Tampa Police Department, Tampa Fire Rescue, as well as our Public Works teams to be able go out post-storm and get that debris off the roadways so our first responders can get in and assess the damages. But, again, those evacuation orders have been made and we've been pushing that message to get our folks out of those areas.
MARQUARDT: Do you have a sense of how many people still need to evacuate?
ANTAPASIS: Yes. The message has been out. A lot of people have heeded that warning. We've been pushing it out on all different methods, whether that's going out on social media but also even our law enforcement officers going door-to-door to really ensure that message is out and how serious it is to get out of those areas.
MARQUARDT: A lot of discussion, of course, about the danger of the water that's coming, the storm surge. Just how dangerous could this storm surge be in your area, particularly if residents are not fleeing?
ANTAPASIS: It is dangerous. I mean, we saw with Hurricane Ian how life-threatening the storm surge can be for these type of storms. Unfortunately, for our neighbors to the north, it is going more directly to that Big Bend area, but we are going to see life- threatening storm surge potentially as the storm leaves our area. And one of our biggest messages is don't just run back to your house when the storm passes because the surge from the bay is going to come back in after the storm passes in the Tampa Bay area.
MARQUARDT: Tampa has in the past narrowly dodged the path of hurricanes, for a century, in fact, including the absolutely devastating Hurricane Ian last year. So, how much more vulnerable does that make your area?
ANTAPASIS: We're a coastal area. I mean, we know we have our vulnerabilities. We love our beautiful days in Florida, in Tampa Bay, when it is sunny. But we know when these storms come, we have unique vulnerabilities of flooding from storm surge and heavy rainfall.
So, we know our low-lying areas. We know what areas are vulnerable. We plan for this every season starting June 1st. We update our procedures, learn about past storms. But you are right. We've been in our emergency operations center form Hurricane Irma in 2017, Ian last year, and now with Idalia. It's been three years. So, we know our threats and we're always at the ready that when these situations occur, we know how to respond.
MARQUARDT: All right. John Antapasis, wishing you all the best in Tampa, Florida. Thank you, sir.
ANTAPASIS: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: Turning back to the Big Bend region at risk of catastrophic hits by Hurricane Idalia, we're joined by the sheriff of Levy County, Bobby McCallum. Sheriff McCallum, thank you so much for joining us. We do know how busy you are, how much is going on. I want to talk about Cedar Key in particular. We just spoke with our Bill Weir in Steinhatchee, just north of you. Cedar Key and other areas could see a catastrophic storm surge, we understand, as high as 10 to 15 feet. How worried are you? How dangerous is that storm surge going to be?
SHERIFF BOBBY MCCALLUM, LEVY COUNTY, FLORIDA: Extremely worried. We've been through a lot of storms over the years in law enforcement and then here in the county a long time, and we've been through a lot, but nothing like we expect to see with this storm. That storm surge is just unbelievable.
We're trying to convince the folks of Cedar Key and Yankee Town and (INAUDIBLE) areas that are along our coast to please evacuate. They're about to run out of time. As I sit here now, the winds, our first counter bands of winds and showers are starting as I look out my window here in my office. That's beginning to start.
But we've been trying to encourage all of our residents on the coast to come into our shelters. It's getting now to the point where it's too late. You're going to be in for whatever you're in for. And, unfortunately, it does not sound good.
This is a huge geographic county, Levy County is over 1,400 square miles, a bit of coast line and, of course, Cedar Key, Yankee Town, our coastal cities and towns. We're extremely worried about this one.
And, again, we're going to get the hurricane force winds no matter how this wobbles. It's really too late in the game at this point. But no matter how it wobbles, we're going to get the hurricane force winds. And then, as has been said, what comes after that, we expect around noon tomorrow that we're going to have a high tide with the potential 10 to 15 feet of storm surge. So, those are deadly amounts, deadly circumstances that come together around noon tomorrow.
And, of course, we expect the hurricane winds and the hurricane to come in sometime during the night, after 1:00 A.M. or so.
But that is a significant worry. And we can't get to you. Our emergency rescue units, our deputies, we can't get to you when these winds get 35 to 45 miles an hour sustained. So, we're getting into that period where it's almost too late, as we speak.
MARQUARDT: I can hear that fear and some resignation in your voice. You talked about those efforts to get people to leave. Where do those efforts stand? And do you have a sense of how many people have decided to stay behind?
MCCALLUM: We have three shelters open currently. I don't know the latest numbers. When I left the emergency operations center to do the interview, I think we were probably a little over 200. We've got a special needs shelter open at Bronson Elementary School, and we have general population shelter open at Bronson Middle High. And then we have opened the shelter at Williston Middle High School. So, we have got the shelters, we've got room, but, unfortunately, the numbers are still low from those who really should be getting out of harm's way. We're about past that point of no return now.
We've had deputies and detectives in the Yankee Town, (INAUDIBLE) area, Cedar Key has, again, going door-to-door, trying to get an idea of who is staying and who's not, encouraging people to please get out. So, we've been doing that all afternoon, this afternoon. So, we're not encouraged about that fact that people still seem to be wanting to ride out the storm, as they've done in the past. And this is not a storm. This is not a surge that you can afford to do that.
MARQUARDT: Sheriff, what more support do you need from Governor Ron DeSantis and from FEMA as this storm bears down?
MCCALLUM: We have FEMA representatives in our emergency operations center currently. Governor DeSantis was here with us yesterday. And he has fully supported us with state resources. Our FDLE commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner, he has agents in our EOC, Commissioner Mark Glass, Colonel Gary Howze of the Florida Highway Patrol, we have been in contact today. We have extra troopers. We have FWC, Florida Wildlife Commission, here in the EOC, and they have units available.
We also in Florida -- our sheriffs, we have a strong Florida Sheriffs Association, and our Florida sheriffs work together. We have a Florida Sheriffs Task Force. They are already preparing to mobilize and come to us, as needed. Sheriff Grady Judd in Polk County has already planned to send us 30 special operation deputies to help us in search and recovery tomorrow. That's a fully sustained group. We have that same coming maybe from Bay County as well and around the state. Our fellow sheriffs work good together. We have this task force and those calls have been made. They're just waiting to see what we need and when we need it.
MARQUARDT: Well, Sheriff, thank you very much for your time. Our thoughts are certainly with you in the coming hours. Sheriff Bobby McCallum in Levy County, Florida, thank you, sir.
MCCALLUM: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: And coming up, we will go live to the National Hurricane Center for an up-to-the-minute forecast on when, where and how hard Idalia will hit.
MARQUARDT: Our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Idalia continues, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pleading with residents to evacuate from the Big Bend, where the storm is expected to make landfall in the coming hours.
CNN's Brian Todd is in St. Marks, Florida, about 20 miles from Tallahassee, where we just heard from the governor. Brian, what is happening there as the hurricane approaches? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, in the next several hours, overnight tonight into tomorrow morning, where I'm standing is not expected to be a safe place. Because what we're told is, in the next few hours, about six feet of storm surge is expected to push all this water from the St. Marks River up into this area. A local official just told me this entire town of St. Marks is expected to be flooded in the next few hours. Mandatory evacuations are in place. But time is quickly running out for people to get out.
TODD (voice over): Idalia's first winds lashing Key West as much of Florida braces for direct impact.
MAYOR KEN WELCH, ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA: Time is running short to make sure you're prepared for this storm.
TODD: As coastal waters rise, authorities warning of life-threatening storm surge along the Big Bend area of Florida's Gulf Coast.
DESANTIS: Storm surge could reach 10 to 15 feet in some areas of the Big Bend. That is life-threatening storm surge. That is storm surge that, if you're there while that hits, it's going to be very difficult to survive that.
TODD: The Tampa Bay area as well.
SHERIFF CHAD CHRONISTER, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY: There's going to be some flooding and it's going to be worse. We have a king tide. We have four to six inches of rain in a short amount of time.
TODD: Mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders issued for parts of at least 22 counties, including coastal and low-lying areas.
JIMMY PATRONIS, FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER: Don't be stubborn. Take the effort and evacuate to a safe shelter where there is the type of resources you might need.
TODD: But not all residents are sure they want to leave.
Why not evacuate at this point?
JOHN HARGAN, ST. MARKS RESIDENT: My home is here, my boat is here, my life is here.
TODD: The Coast Guard preparing rescue helicopters and boats. Authorities marshalling power line repair crews and high water rescue teams.
CASTOR: We do have high rescue vehicles, but there's going to be a point where we can't come get you when you call. So, make those decisions now.
TODD: Already, some high water spotted along the gulf, like in Ft. Myers, homes being boarded up, dozens of school districts closing, Tampa Airport suspending flights, some stores already seeing empty shelves, and homeowners filling sandbags.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to hit the grocery store on the way home and, hopefully, we'll get through it okay.
TODD: Helen Pantusso (ph) of Tampa is getting sandbags, buttoning up her house and loading up on ice, food, water and candles. Officials also suggest having a flashlight and a radio, charging your phone, gassing your car and checking your cash and prescriptions.
One more suggestion --
PATRONIS: Take pictures of the inside of your house so you can make a photographic inventory of what you're entitled to if you have to file an insurance claim. It's that simple.
TODD: I just asked an emergency management official here what he would say to people who have elected to stay and ride out the storm. He had a one-word answer, don't. But then he said, if people do elect to stay, they have to make sure they have at least three or four days' worth of provisions. Alex, it's going to be a tough few days here.
MARQUARDT: And you heard that man say that his life is there. That's why he doesn't want to leave. And a lot of people are feeling that today.
Brian Todd in St. Marks, Florida, thank you very much.
Now, let's go live to the National Hurricane Center and its deputy director, Jamie Rhome. Mr. Rhome, thank you so much for joining us.
You've been providing updates throughout the course of the day. Do we have any more clarity about when and where Idalia will make landfall? Is there any chance that the storm could still change direction or intensify further?
JAMIE RHOME, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: I think the projected path is pretty well locked in, somewhere making landfall somewhere here in the Florida Big Bend area. Intensification, it's been intensifying all day. It's currently a Cat 2. And all indications from the satellite are that it's continuing to intensify, as we speak. I fear people are going to wake up in the morning and see a powerful hurricane right on their doorstep.
MARQUARDT: And we have heard from the governor and others that parts of Florida could experience storm surge as high as 15 feet. How does that compare to other hurricanes that Florida has seen recently?
RHOME: If that forecast were to materialize, it would be on par to the worst surge that we saw in Hurricane Ian. And I think many people saw the utter destruction that that storm surge brought to the community of Ft. Myers, Ft. Myers Beach. And so that imagery, think about that imagery and just how powerful that surge was for that storm, and imagine it impacting these communities here, especially Cedar Key. I'm really worried about them. There have been reporting that some people are hanging back and that's probably not a wise decision.
MARQUARDT: That was something that was echoed by the sheriff of Levy County, which includes the city of Cedar Key, who we just spoke with. He was very clear that he is scared of what is about to come. How dangerous are you expecting the conditions to get there?
RHOME: Quite frankly, I think Cedar Key could be cut off. It is an island and the water will completely encase it and cut it off. You might not be able to leave for days. You might not have clean water, electricity, be able to access your neighbors. If the worst of this storm surge projection materializes, virtually, every home on that island could be flooded.
MARQUARDT: And the estimate from the mayor is that around 100 residents are refusing to evacuate. What would you say to those residents? Why is this storm different?
RHOME: I would beg them to leave and leave now, not wait until tomorrow, because it won't be time tomorrow. The conditions will spread well out in front, especially the storm surge, well out in front of this system. So, they really have this evening and tonight to make that final decision, and it's going to be an important one if you decide to stay.
MARQUARDT: All right. Jamie Rhome at the National Hurricane Center, we really appreciate your time and your perspective this evening.
RHOME: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: Just ahead, we will continue monitoring Hurricane Idalia as it gathers strength on its way to Florida's Gulf Coast.
MARQUARDT: We are back now with that breaking news out of Florida. Hurricane Idalia now a powerful category 2 hurricane and churning closer to the state's gulf coast.
CNN's John Berman is in Steinhatchee, Florida.
John, where you are could take a direct hit from Idalia, could become very dangerous. And there is a mandatory evacuation order.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a mandatory evacuation order. The reason for that is the Steinhatchee River, which is right behind me, if you get a storm surge of 10-15 feet, which is what they're predicting, that would be above my head, Alex, unsurvivable. That is what officials here in Taylor County are saying. You can't survive if you're in a low lying area and you don't heed the calls to evacuate. We've been speaking the sheriff's deputies who have been going door to
door to try to convince people to leave. They say most people have gone, and a few who were going to stay behind they were able to convince.
But there are still some people here. This is -- it's a fishing village. These are people who know the water, who have lived with the water and in the water for generations. And some of them just don't want to go.
Still, they haven't seen anything like this really ever before. The storm surge here could be devastating. As you head inland from here, it's all flat. There's barely any elevation at all. So if the water does rise, it could head inland some miles before it stops.
There could be a lot of severely flooded areas. Now, this isn't a highly populated area, Alex, a town of anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people, depending on the time of year. But there's some 20,000 people in the county, Dixie County, which is nearby has 17,000. So tens of thousands of people are very much in harm's way tonight.
Governor Ron DeSantis says the time to go is now. County officials say the time to go is now. They're not going to be able to help you here once this storm starts to bear down in the overnight hours -- Alex.
MARQUARDT: It does not get more black and white than unsurvivable. John Berman, in the path of the storm, thank you very much.
As Idalia closes in, airports in the Tampa Bay area have grounded flights. CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean is following that.
Pete, some airports in Florida now fully shut down. What are you seeing?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alex. You know, the Tampa Bay Airport shut down at midnight. St. Pete/Clearwater just shut down about 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.
But think about this -- so many people have Labor Day trips and travel planned for Disney, for Universal, for Tampa Bay, for the Gulf Coast communities, and this is coming at a really big time for air travel. The TSA says Friday will be the biggest in terms of the number of travelers. Although Thursday, according to the FAA, will be the biggest in terms of flights scheduled in the U.S.
Tampa International Airport closed at 12:01 a.m. and right now, it accounts for about 75 percent of the cancelations nationwide.
I want you to listen now to John Tillacos, executive vice president for operations of the airport. He says: The big concern is not only the infrastructure of the airport but also the passengers who are being inconvenienced and the airport employees, some 10,000 of them. And they are really concerned about flooding there. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN TILLACOS, EXEC. VP, OPERATIONS AT TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: We're looking at storm surge of 4 to 7 feet at high tide, which has the potential to bring water onto the airport. And so we are taking all of the measures that we need to, to make sure we mitigate as best we can the impact of water onto the airport.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MUNTEAN: Here is the issue. TPA is right on Tampa Bay. So, very likely that they will have some flooding there. They hope to be able to do a damage assessment there some time on Wednesday, hopefully opening the airport back up on Thursday.
But, Alex, it's not looking good so far just yet. We're seeing cancelations already come in for tomorrow.
MARQUARDT: It's going to be a very busy weekend.
All right. Pete Muntean, thank you very much.
We will be continuing to monitor breaking news about hurricane Idalia as the storm strengthens off the coast of Florida. But we are also following the latest developments in the 2020 Georgia election interference case. A federal judge is asking Fulton County prosecutors and Mark Meadows' defense attorneys to file additional arguments as part of the former White House chief of staff's airports to get his Georgia criminal case moved from state to federal court.
CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is covering the story.
So, Jessica, what more information is the judge now asking for, and what's the time line?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Alex. So this federal judge is asking for more briefing, and that really indicates here that this judge will not make a decision on whether Mark Meadows can remove his case to federal court any time before Friday. That's because all the briefing on this issue is due Thursday evening.
So, the federal judge is asking here both sides, he's asking this question. He's saying, because Mark meadows is charged with two counts, one of them being that racketeering conspiracy charge that actually consists of several different overt acts.
The judge is saying, well, if just one of those overt acts falls under the umbrella of Meadows as a federal officer, does that alone mean that Mark Meadows can remove his case to federal court? So really that would be a win for Mark Meadows if it only took one act under RICO to let him move it to federal court.
They're going to have briefing on this, and then the judge will take that into consideration. But it's an interesting legal question that this judge is confronting, Alex.
MARQUARDT: Yeah, it certainly is. And, Jessica, there's also a new filing today from the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. What can you tell us about that?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah. So this all relates to how quickly this trial might happen, and if this trial could get splintered among the 19 defendants. So Fani Willis is pointing to one of Trump's campaign lawyers, Kenneth Chesebro. He has asked for a speedy trial. The judge has actually already set a trial date of October 23rd for him.
Now, Fani Willis is saying, wait, hold up, judge, are you already severing or separating Chesebro's case from the other 18 defendants including the former president? She said, if that's what you're trying to do, if you're trying to already separate this case, we want to do a hearing on this. We want to actually argue this issue. Because, remember, Fani Willis really has this goal of trying all 19 defendants in this RICO case together.
And if these defendants are already splintering off as we've seen here, she at least wants a hearing on it to discuss this issue.
But, Alex, it really does show how difficult it is to try, A, a RICO case, especially with 19 different defendants, all that have their own interests. We're seeing Mark Meadows trying to get his removed. So, it's -- we're seeing the splintering already happen. And we've only heard from a few defendants so far.
MARQUARDT: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much for that report.
For more on this story, I'm joined now by CNN legal analyst Elie Honig and Jennifer Rodgers. They are both former federal prosecutor.
Thank you both for joining us.
Elie, I want to ask you first about what Jessica was just talking about. Is this a reasonable request from Fani Willis to try all 19 defendants in this case at the same time in October?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, Alex. And I don't believe that Fani Willis thinks it's a reasonable request.
Here is the way this works. The right to a speedy trial belongs to the defendant, not to the prosecutor here. So, if the defendant wants to insist on the right to a speedy trial, as Mr. Chesebro and Sidney Powell have done, then, yes, you have the right to be tried under Georgia law in this case by November.
But the prosecutor cannot force people who are unwilling to exercise that right to be tried that quickly. I think what Fani Willis is doing here is, A, she's making a statement, and that's perfectly appropriate to say we're ready on everybody, and, B, she's trying to get clarity from the judge, how many trials will there be and when will they be.
MARQUARDT: Jennifer, do you agree? What do you think the strategy is here by Fani Willis? JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do agree. I mean, there's no
way 19 people can be tried together logistically, even if they were already, which, of course, as Elie, suggested, they will not agree to be, nor should they. I think it's actually foolish of the two of them to want to try a trial in two months.
So I think Fani Willis just wants to get a date on the calendar for the 17 others, which is also another group she'll have to thin down before trial, because even 17 is just not going to happen logistically.
MARQUARDT: So, this federal judge is deciding -- the federal judge, rather, who is deciding whether to move Mark Meadows' case to federal court is now requesting additional briefs about Georgia's RICO law, which is at the center of this case.
Elie, does this suggest anything to you about how the judge may ultimately rule?
HONIG: It suggests to me that the judge is right on the fence here and close to making a decision. And it's a really interesting issue because the determining factor as to whether Mark Meadows and eventually perhaps Donald Trump gets the case over to federal court is were they acting within the scope of their official federal jobs or outside the scope. And what the judge is asking here is he's saying, okay, these defendants are charged with racketeering. The racketeering is comprised of dozens of dozens of different acts. And the judge is asking if I find that some of those acts were within Meadows' job but others were outside of the job, is that enough?
And the answer, by the way, Alex, is we don't know. This specific question has never been addressed by statute, by a case. And so, I think the judge wants to assess the strength of the arguments. He knows he's going to be appealed either way. And I think he's trying to get it right here.
MARQUARDT: And to that point during his testimony yesterday, mark meadows claimed that his actions were all undertaken as part of those official duties, as part of his role as White House chief of staff. Jennifer, I want to get your reaction to Marc Short, the -- of course, the chief of staff to the former Vice President Mike Pence, told me about Meadows' argument. We spoke just yesterday. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC SHORT, ADVISER TO MIKE PENCE: And why was he circumventing all of White House counsel's advice? Why wasn't Pat Cipollone involved? Why wasn't Pat's team involved? Why wasn't DOJ involved?
Instead, Mark recruited outside lawyers who he wanted to listen to. And so I think that undercuts the notion that this was all part of my federal responsibility if I'm not getting counsel from the people hired into your office to serve the White House in that role.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Jennifer, what do you make of that argument?
RODGERS: I agree. I mean, there are kind of two rebuttal arguments here. That's one of them, just the factual issue. You know, he wasn't actually doing the job. He was going outside of it. And then there is a legal issue as well.
So, I think the judge is just going to have to sort through all of this and decide whether he was acting within the scope or whether he overstepped the bounds. And, you know, I think there are facially decent arguments on both sides, but ultimately, the better arguments are on the prosecutor's side here.
MARQUARDT: Elie, what did you make of what Marc Short -- Marc Short told me?
HONIG: I think it was a good point by Marc Short. You know, it's one thing for Mark Meadows to say just sort of generally what I was doing was within the scope of being chief of staff. But when he was confronted on the stand yesterday with specific phone calls, specific statements, it got a lot harder to defend.
Now, Mark Meadows is taking the sort of interesting position here. He's saying the chief of staff is a unique job in our federal government because it's properly both federal governmental and political. I don't know that the judge is going to buy that. But it's going to be like, we said, a novel issue of law and I think a close call by the judge here.
MARQUARDT: All right. Elie Honig, Jennifer Rodgers, certainly fascinating few days and months ahead. Very interesting to see when and how all of these trials are going to fit together.
I'm Alex Marquardt here in THE SITUATION ROOM, filling in for Wolf Blitzer. Thank you so much for watching us this evening.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.