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FEMA Estimate: 25 Percent Of Homes Destroyed In Keys; Almost 7 million Customers Without Power; Search And Rescue Ops Begin In Florida Keys; Floodwaters Inundate Historic Downtown Charleston. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:25]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. The sun is shining in Florida and with that we're getting the first look at the full scope and scale of the devastation that Hurricane Irma is leaving behind.

The Florida Keys have been in large part cut off and the scenes that are now emerging, just heartbreaking. CNN's Chris Cuomo was one of the first reporters to make it in. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The farther we get down U.S.-1 deeper into the Keys the worse the situation is. Everywhere we go, everything has been touched by the storm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The head of FEMA is backing that up with some pretty stunning figures. Here's Brock Long just a short time ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Twenty five percent of the houses initially have been destroyed and 65 percent have major damage. Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted in some way or another. This is why we ask people to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: FEMA's initial estimate one in four homes throughout the Keys have been destroyed. One of the biggest problems in the aftermath of the storm power. More than 7 million customers in the storm's path are in the dark today. Most of them in Florida. Officials warn that it could take weeks to get it all back online.

We've got our reporters, Bill Weir, is on a boat actually approaching some of the furthest points into the Keys. We're having some transmission issues and we will try to get Bill Weir up. Chris Cuomo, we are also hoping he can join us too. A lot of transmission problems. We are trying our best to get everyone up and get our reporters so we can bring you the view from the ground. When we get them back up we will have that for you.

But as we were discussing the massive -- one of the big problems is widespread blackouts across the southeast and that is number one concern and priority right now according to the head of FEMA.

About 7 million homes and businesses are without power across five states and FEMA estimates that actually really means some 15 million people are in the dark. The numbers are staggering. What does this massive operation to get the lights back on look like?

Joining me now is first off, CNN Chad Myers, taking a look at all of this. Chad, what are you seeing from your view?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Florida doing very well today although it is hot and muggy and anybody working outside in Florida is going to have a rough day of it. Heat index is going to be over 100.

So, the weather has moved away. We lost a lot of trees here in Georgia as well but Florida clearly the bull's eye of where the power lines are down. There are so many. It's hard to imagine a number of 6 million or 7 million residences, not just people, but 7 -- 6 million to 7 million either businesses, residences, house, apartment, and usually not one person lives in one house.

So that's why you're saying how many more people are actually affected. Not going to have any more power lines down today. I think this is. You may see one or two trees fall down in Georgia because the ground is so soggy.

If it's soggy in Florida as well, but those trees are pretty much in the ground better than these tall, Georgia pines that can get blown down here. We've seen rainfall totals over a foot of rainfall in parts of Florida and Georgia.

Thirteen rivers still at major flood stage right now. The biggest wind gusts we had was in Naples, 142 miles per hour. Marco Island somewhere around 130 and then we didn't get anything after that. Atlanta, Georgia got 64 miles per hour yesterday.

So here are the numbers, Florida, 5.5 million, Georgia, 1.2 million, and North Carolina, 76,000. Here's how this works. If your line to get back up to your house will also fix 3,000 other houses, you're going to have the highest priority. That's called triage.

If the power line is in the middle of the street, but your street only has three homes, you will be last to get your power on. I know you can't see me anyway on your tv but maybe hear me on XM Radio as well. That's how it works.

That's how they triage the numbers up, Kate. That's how they try to get all these people on line as fast as they can, but then if your power line is down in your yard, oh, this is going to take weeks. BOLDUAN: And I mean, it all -- obviously, you go for the big population centers where most of the outages are quickly, one thing we heard from the Florida power company, but from a county commissioner down in the Keys, Chad, we also heard that she said we expect it to be ten days before there's power again in Key West.

She also said this morning in the lower Keys, kind of Bill Weir is headed, it would be up to a month before the power is back up. The big reason is exactly what you're saying. They've got power lines, hundreds of power lines down in that. They first have to clear the roads to get them in.

[11:05:12] I think Chad, if you can hold with me, because I want to head over there, transmission is pretty tough. I think we might have Bill Weir connected with us right now. Bill, do you have me?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hi, Kate. Can you hear me?

BOLDUAN: Got you. Tell me what you're seeing, man?

WEIR: Got you. OK. Yes. We are anchored in Lower Matakumbri Key. We are about a mile-marker 72 or 73. That is the U.S. 1 and looks like there's a traffic jam right now as there's -- we've been watching big earth movers get the sand that Irma spread across U.S. 1. You could see it over there.

And those are all I assume first responders, supply chains, might be some residents in there trying to make their way south. This is about the limit you can drive, but when we came in here it was obvious what kind of damage the waves did, that storm surge.

There is some wind damage on the roofs, but for those who are familiar with this stretch of U.S. 1, there used to be a very popular restaurant right there called Mr. Lobster, it is completely gone.

And most of it is scattered over on the other side of this Antigua harbor and as Rod pans over, you can see those big shipping containers that used to hold the seafood and the kitchens for that place.

You can see them, you know, they were pushed across, sunken boats through the canal here. Sea grass and lobster traps from the Atlantic side, ocean side, blown over the highway into people's yards. Some boats shoved up into the mangroves.

The good news is we're seeing so much activity here, proof of life, people -- as we came, as we motored through the harbor, people with their storm shutters open, their generators going, you know, stuff drying on their railings, people waving cheerfully.

I think right here, all things considered, pretty good. We weren't able to go ashore yet. We did ask the folks if they had diesel they can spare, gasoline is the most precious commodity these days.

Ice being a close second. But all kinds of activity here, Kate, as people move from search and rescue and the initial shock of what they've seen at their properties, to cleanup and recovery. BOLDUAN: Absolutely. I mean, we've heard from the Defense Department saying that they've got something of an estimate that maybe some 10,000 folks might have to be evacuated just from the Keys because things are getting even worse and worse there. If you can still hear me, Bill, I wanted you to give us a sense --

WEIR: I'm losing you on the satellite.

BOLDUAN: So tough. Bill, I just want -- for everyone that watched you, you've been in the Keys since before the storm hit and you've had some -- you have some truly emotional and startling imagery and conversations you had with folks who stuck around and who stayed by and who stuck it out, and who you've talked to. I want to get your sense as you're trying to travel further into the Keys and possibly get onshore what that's been like?

WEIR: It's been really striking. I tell you, there is very little self-pity and a whole lot of resolve what we're seeing this morning. As we were coming out of Key Largo, we had to pick our way through a maze of a tangle of boat lines and sunken boats that we had to navigate around and you saw people here and there.

We motored past a guy named Mark whose family owns the Caribbean Club, if you ever saw the movie "Key Largo" with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall that was the setting for the thriller which starred a hurricane as well, and I said you got any messages for anybody, he said we're open.

This is just stuff. He didn't use the word "stuff." You can go to my Instagram and see exactly what he said. We will rebuild. He said, hey, CNN, tell America the Keys will rebuild and we'll be back and back in business.

So, you're hearing that again and again. We haven't gotten down to the most devastated areas, down at Big Pine Key, and Kudro Key where the eyewall came ashore. That we understand is really the most devastated part and we're hoping to find more proof of life down there.

But up here, people are just itching to get back to work, to get back to their homes, and get on with normal life. It's going to be difficult. No power down here. Very little communication. In fact, my satellite phone dropped out so I can't hear you anymore. But signs of hope and resolve thus far in the upper Keys. I'll send it back to you -- Kate.

[11:10:04] BOLDUAN: It is so striking. Bill can't hear us but how beautiful it is and that image behind him and what a long road the Keys, up and down the Keys, these folks have to get back into their homes and get back into their businesses and rebuild.

Bill Weir bringing us some amazing stories and images throughout and he will continue on his work. They need gas and diesel and trying to travel down that is one of the toughest things to come by. We will get back with Bill as soon as we can. Coming up for us, though, survivors on the hard-hit Caribbean islands are facing dire situations. They are pleading for help after Irma devastated that region. Left at least 36 people dead. Remember, this hit the Caribbean on Wednesday. They need help and help now.

Plus, on the political front, you're looking at some new developments on the Russia investigation, we want to bring to you a new report says that some of the president's lawyers wanted Jared Kushner out of the White House. Why, you ask. We'll tell you. It's coming up.

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[11:15:06]

BOLDUAN: All right. Continuing to follow the aftermath of Hurricane Irma as first images are coming in of how truly horrible the devastation is in parts of the Keys just starting to get some of the images coming in, many of them cut off.

Want to bring in right now hopefully joining me on the phone is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator, can you hear me?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA (via telephone): I can. I was on a few minutes ago and got cut off and I apologize. Cell service as you can imagine in parts of the state is spotty.

BOLDUAN: Totally understandable and I appreciate -- I know John and Poppy were speaking to you and John wanted to continue that conversation. First off to reiterate what John Berman was saying to you and I hope you heard it the first time, thank you, to how much you have done to get the word out to raise the alarm and to try to inform the public and also the -- your constituents in Florida for how dire the situation is before and after.

RUBIO: Yes. I mean, I don't think I'm owed any thanks. Putting up a tweet or whatever is nothing compared to the people that are out there and I know you didn't mean it that way, but there's people out there, you know, risking their lives. They're the real heroes here.

We were just most of them their names we'll never know but some of the images of the rescues going on in Northeast Florida is an example in the water yesterday, just breathtaking. We have such incredible men and women in our service and we're just awe struck by their courage and skill.

BOLDUAN: Senator, there's so much widespread need throughout the state. I mean, power is obviously the singular biggest issue facing the entire state. Is your biggest concern the Keys at the moment?

RUBIO: Well, you know, it is, in the sense that I do think we've got some people down in the Keys that have at this point no potable water, so there's no fuel so they've decided now, look, I stayed, I'm living in a place that's not safe, I don't have water, running out of food, no fuel.

Do we either have a plan to get them assistance quickly and/or if they want to be moved to a safer place, the ability to do so? You know, I think perhaps I made the mistake earlier today, used the term to evacuate because that's a sensitive term in the Keys.

We are not talking about forcing people to leave, but certainly having resources available relocating people short term if they choose to do so. A lot of people wanting to come back and that's going to start happening today as well, but the Keys are a challenge.

Both because of geography and the damage they suffered. Geography it's hard, a long drive be the roads just got cleared today all the way down, and hopefully that sort of assistance will be forthcoming and most would prefer to stay them if we can find them service.

BOLDUAN: I know that you're able to view some of the damage from the Keys yesterday. I think you were aboard -- with the Coast Guard along with Senator Nelson. Do you think a lot of folks who want to try to get back into the Keys right now, do you think that's a mistake?

RUBIO: Well, you know, kind of depends on where you're going. Certainly, I'm not one to say someone as a free citizen of this country to go back and see their property they have a right to do so as long as they're not getting in the way of emergency efforts.

I think it's important people understand the conditions the further south you get are pretty dire and potentially dangerous. You have downed power lines, obviously, no power running through them at this point, but you do need the capacity on the roads to get the crews down there and to get assistance down there.

And so again, I mean, the damage in the Keys were real and I think the long-term damage, the Keys are very dependent on small businesses from the bait shops to the charter boat captains and everything in between.

BOLDUAN: President Trump has -- President Trump has said, Senator, that he wants to head down to Florida. Do you want him to come? If he does, what do you want him to see?

RUBIO: Well, that's a great question. I do want him to come. It's always helpful when the president of the United States comes and I think we'll do so in a responsible way like they did with Texas, and that's a challenge here, what do you show them? There's so much.

We've never seen a storm like this, from Jacksonville to Key West, the length of space. Usually a storm will hit one community or one part of the state. It's hit everything. So that's a great question. I haven't thought about exactly what to show him, but there's so much to see and such a variety of damage in different places.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, you have seen a lot from this storm, from bird's eye view and on the ground. You've also seen, of course, the destruction from hurricanes and storms in Florida's past. What is most striking to you about Irma?

RUBIO: The scope of it. The statewide storm. You never -- you know when you usually say a hurricane hit Florida you say where, Miami, did it hit Tampa, Jacksonville. The answer today is yes. It hit them all.

And so, when you think about it, we've never that I can recall, I don't believe in modern history, had a storm that impacted Jacksonville and Key West and Marco Island, Southwest Florida and Central Florida and to some extent Southeast Florida, and hurt the agricultural industry in the central part of the state.

[11:20:06] I mean, it is a massive storm that hit multiple places in one state over 24, 36-hour period.

BOLDUAN: You put it in pretty stark right there. Senator, I really appreciate you jumping on always especially when Florida is still facing the aftermath of something like this. We appreciate it. Thank you.

RUBIO: Well, can I just say thank you guys for your coverage. You guys have been a huge voice in all of this providing coverage and informing a lot of people and, you know, watching some of your reporters out there in the middle of the storms almost blown away a couple times, we'll talk about politics another day, but the word out on this is critical and, obviously, all of us down here are grateful for it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Senator. Really appreciate that. I'm sure all of our folks on the ground heard and appreciate that. Thank you so much.

So, thank you so much to the senator. As we have also been noting today, Florida, hardest hit by Irma but it is not just Florida that is coping with Irma's aftermath when you want to talk about the scope of the storm and size of the storm.

This morning, there were emergency flash flood warnings from -- for downtown Charleston, South Carolina. It was a weakened Irma that stormed through there yesterday, but the water got so high, rescue crews were forced to also now it has unfortunately become a scene, take to boats to travel through the city streets.

CNN's Nick Valencia is there and been seeing how things are looking in the light of day. Nick, what are you seeing and hearing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this morning many sections of downtown Charleston were under water and parts of neighborhoods looked a lot like this. One of the last remaining sections of Charleston still under water.

Residents using city provided tubes to pump out some of the water to some of the more hard-hit areas. Brent Jewett, why don't you come over here, man. One of the guys that went through it last night. What was it like, man? People are saying it was kind of scary.

BRENT JEWETT, HOUSSE COMPLETELY FLOODED: Tons of rain and it started and our place will flood with a good rain, but what was scary about last night, it went from probably about a foot of water to about two and a half feet of water in less than 30 minutes. That surge kind of brought the water up quickly. VALENCIA: Remind us. This is a community that you guys dealt with a thousand-year flood, Hurricane Matthew, you just got over some of the renovations and the damage from that. Now this.

JEWETT: We were super lucky we got to buy our house more than about a year ago now, we love it, we love living here and we did a renovation from what was supposed to be three months, took us a year, and then Matthew hit, and then we had to do some cleanup from that and then now this hit.

VALENCIA: This.

JEWETT: So we had about that much water in our house, about three inches of water in our house and we'll just see what the damage is.

VALENCIA: What does things say to you about the storm, the fact that you're up here in Charleston, came through Florida, up north, you look around here and your -- half your community is just now the water is receding.

JEWETT: Sure. We see a lot of this with heavy rain, but I mean this, obviously, is Matthew level, hurricane level, I know it was a tropical storm here, but this is one of the lowest points in Charleston.

VALENCIA: You happen to be living in it, man.

JEWETT: That's it. This is sea water right here.

VALENCIA: How much longer do you think until you finally clear out all that water? What do you think it's going to take?

JEWETT: Well, the city has been amazing. They've put this diesel pump in here. Our councilman was out here with Frank, he's the head of like all the flooding in Charleston, so we can't thank them enough. This will probably lower in another couple of hours. The water in our house, we got that out, my wife and I got that out.

VALENCIA: You have a lot of work to do. Cool boots, man. Right on. The good news here, even though they are feeling the effects look down the street here this morning all of that was covered in water. See the road closure sign just beyond us 30 or so yards. We see rain clouds, but it's a lot better than it was this morning when we started reporting -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That is darn sure, Nick. Thank you so much for bringing us that. Thanks for bringing the story. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up for us, a paradise no more, cries for help from the Caribbean, Irma hit the islands especially hard. Now survivors are dealing with what they have lost, of course, and also fearing that they could be forgotten. We're going to talk to one of them, that's next.

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[11:28:26]

BOLDUAN: From the Keys to Jacksonville, from Daytona Beach to Tampa the entire state of Florida hit by Hurricane Irma. The entire state of Florida now working to begin the arduous task of recovering from Irma.

Let's get the state of play of where things are and the most need is, get a new perspective. Senator Bill Nelson joining me now on the phone. Senator Nelson, can you hear me?

SENATOR BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA (via telephone): Good morning, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good morning, Senator. I really appreciate you coming on. You have been out there, we just spoke with Senator Rubio a couple minutes ago. You both have been out there viewing the damage that you have seen. What are you seeing today?

NELSON: Marco and I were both in the Keys yesterday and on our way to Jacksonville now. I want to tell you, one of the great heroic stories that has come out of this hurricane, Floridians helping Floridians. There's a small catholic university, Ave Maria, east of Naples out near (inaudible) --

Those poor people had no place to go. They had no shelter. The university took them in to their fieldhouse and the hurricane with spinoff tornadoes, completely tearing up the stands and their football stadium, lo and behold, the police show up, with ten elderly patients in a nursing home that had been abandoned and the students of that university --