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INSIDE POLITICS

Hurricane Report from Destin; Hurricane Report from Crawfordville; Hurricane Report from Panama City Beach; Apalachicola Police Chief on Storm. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 10, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:22] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this important day with us.

The window to evacuate is closed and now the Florida panhandle bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to hit the region in more than 150 years of recordkeeping. The category four storm making landfall within a matter of hours. It could be the strongest hurricane on record to hit Florida's Gulf Coast.

Hurricane force winds of up to 150 miles an hour. Torrential rains pummeling towns like Panama City Beach, Apalachicola, Destin and Pensacola.

The Florida governor, Rick Scott, saying, if you made the decision not to evacuate, you have no choice now but to stay inside.

President Trump had a briefing just a short time ago with the FEMA administrator, Brock Long, the Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielson. More than 30 million people across six states are under hurricane or tropical storm warnings and watches. This storm expected to swamp some areas of the coast with up to 14 feet of storm surge.

CNN's Brooke Baldwin is live for us in Destin, Florida.

The city there expecting, Brooke, five to eight feet of storm surge. Conditions will be at their worst between now and 6:00 p.m. Tell us, how's it looking there?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, just in the last I would even say a couple of minutes, the rain has really picked up here in Destin. I mean normally -- I grew up in Atlanta. I came down to Destin to vacation with my family. Gorgeous -- gorgeous blue waters, right, and stunning blue skies. It is the stark opposite of that right now.

We're here in this area of Destin, it's called Harbor Walk Marina. We are on the inland side. There's this $10 million berm that separates us here safely from the Gulf of Mexico. I say $10 million because when I've been picking up the phone today and calling all these people who live in the Destin area, who have grown up in the Florida panhandle, you know, they say to me that the benchmark really is 1995 and Opal. And when you listen to all of these experts, they're saying that this -- and you just said it, John -- this is the worst storm, the strongest storm to hit the Florida panhandle in a century. And they're saying that because the way the wind is whipping -- and, of course, you know, the hurricane, with the counterclockwise winds, the speed at which it will make landfall, the eyewall making landfall will be even stronger than Opal.

The headline for so many people down here is that a lot of people heard kind of over the weekend, maybe a hurricane is coming, and then, wham, overnight it went from category two to category four, and so many people, including where we're staying, vacationers, people just didn't fully anticipate, they are riding it out.

Further east from me is where it's really going to get much worse. And that is where Gary Tuchman is in Crawfordville, Florida.

And, Gary, you tell me, how's it feeling where you are?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we've had like two hours in a row of torrential rain now, and we've seen something very interesting on our journey around this area, these cars and these boats parked on the side of the road. The reason these cars and boats are here, the owners have left the area. In front of us is the Gulf of Mexico, about two miles. Behind us, about one mile, U.S. 98. The people who evacuated were going to U.S. 98 and headed to points north (ph) to get away from their homes here but they've left their cars and their boats here hoping that when they come back their cars and their boats are still here.

What I can tell you is the reason we're here and not close to the Gulf of Mexico, where we were last hour, is because literally while we were talking, within five minutes flood waters started rushing towards us and we decided to pull our cars out before our cars were under water. But that's what traditionally happens in a hurricane, particularly in one as volatile as this.

I mean this is something to keep in mind, that in the history of recorded weather observations, there has never been a category four hurricane in the Florida panhandle. Florida is a hurricane magnet. People who live here know all about them. You learn about them in school. You learn how to take care of yourself, to get to hurricane shutters. It is a common occurrence in the state of Florida to have hurricanes, to worry about hurricanes.

But here in the panhandle, since 1950 they've had three major hurricanes but they were all category threes. The most recent, 13 years ago, Hurricane Dennis. And this very area where I am right now, Crawfordville, Florida, which is east of Panama City, which is south of Tallahassee, Tallahassee is in that direction, this area got heavily damaged in that category three hurricane 13 years ago. So people are just really concerned what could happen this time. Many of the homes are high, built on stilts. Some of the homes are 40 feet tall because they know how venerable they are. But there's a lot of worry here as this hurricane continues to come in, the rain continues to fall, the winds are coming in and out right now, but within two hours -- we know this from covering these hurricanes -- it will not stop, and it will be the worst part of it, and it will be the moment of truth for the people who live in this area.

John, back to you.

[12:05:00] KING: Gary, stay safe as you keep us posted. That moment of truth is coming.

Let's go now to CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Panama City Beach.

Brian, what are you seeing there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we're getting some very, very strong bursts of wind here. It's really deteriorating here in the last few minutes. A lot of rain coming down now. But the rain is really not going to be the issue, at least initially. It's going to be the wind event here creating storm surge. You can see the surge behind me. This is at about maybe six feet we're told. Nine feet can be deadly. It's going to get to nine, and then it's going to surpass that in a little bit. It's going to maybe between 11 to 13 feet. We're getting a strong band of rain now here.

What you have to look out for, if you're out in this stuff, and they're telling people you can't really be out in this, and we're going to have to retreat inland, by the way, in a couple of minutes to get away from this, but what you have to look out for now, when the winds start to kicks up like this and when it gets -- when the cat four really gets on to shore in earnest, is debris flying off roofs, shingles flying off roofs. I can see a lot of things flying around right now. So you've got to kind of keep your eye out on the periphery.

We're talking about a lot of people also having to evacuate, but not enough for local officials. They say about 4,000 people have taken shelters in several shelters in the Florida panhandle, but that's really not enough to satisfy local officials. They really wanted to get more people in there. But at this point, John, it is just too dangerous to move. They say, do not to try to move in this at this point. It's going to really intensify in the next few hours when it gets to category four status, when it really makes -- when the eyewall makes it to right where I am. And we're going to have to move inland a few blocks from here just to take cover from it.

But they are saying that the evacuations -- they think they went well. They think a lot of people got out. But they are worried about the tourists. Usually these -- these beach areas populate just, you know, the population just explodes in the summer and there is still a lot of residual tourists here from the summer months.

I talked to the mayor of Destin yesterday. They think they still had about 40,000 tourists there and they were worried that those people may not quite understand the gravity of this storm and may not have gotten out. They are worried about people who are sticking around, who may not be from here and don't know what the conditions are and how quickly they can deteriorate, as we've seen here just in the last few minutes, John.

KING: Brian Todd in Panama City Beach. As Brian -- follow your own advice, Brian, start to move away from that water. You can see the strength of it behind you and the worst is yet to come.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is also in Panama City Beach, Florida, and you can see right there -- Dianne, you can see the conditions getting worse by the moment. Bring us up to speed.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, and I apologize. I'm having a hard time hearing you. I think that you just tossed (INAUDIBLE).

We're getting some very strong bands of wind and rain that are coming through right now here in Panama City Beach. Some of the strong -- these are definitely the strongest that I've felt all day long. In fact, I was just saying, the raindrops almost feel like little needless on my -- both hands right now, it's so intense at this moment.

If you kind of take a look behind, you can see all of the trees bending with it. Even some of the palms are starting to sway just a little bit, which you know just how firm those trees are in the ground.

Now, we're still at least an hour and a half to two hours away from this eyewall coming across here at Panama City Beach. So this is definitely not the worst of it. It's just going to get worse from here on out.

John, we're in Panama City Beach. We're an island. At this point we can't get off the island. We're here. We've got to ride the whole storm out here because they closed the Hathaway Bridge because the wind got too bad during -- for anybody to drive across it. About an hour and a half, almost two hours ago, emergency responders in Bay County stopped responding to calls because of then conditions.

Now, look, about 12,000 people live in Panama City Beach. I talked to the city manager. He thinks that roughly half of them decided that they wanted to ride this storm out.

This is my second location of the day. I started the morning out there on the shore. But when I went to sleep last night, it was a category two storm. That's what was forecasted. By the time we woke up, way before the sun came up, it was a category four, which means that there were likely hundreds, if not thousands of people in Panama City Beach who did the same thing. And by the time they woke up, because they weren't doing before this on television, it may have been too late for them to get out of the homes and do a last-minute evacuation.

The conditions are getting a lot worse here. We're talking about rainfall between six to 10 inches. A storm surge of seven to 11 feet. And, again, these gusts of wind that are coming through. We've already had some of the drains on the building that we're in right now be ripped off by these winds right now from Michael. And that was early on before these gusts were like this. I keep looking up because there are a few more around here. And there's some additional debris.

When we were out on the beach, there were people who had gone and cleaned up all of the debris that was out there, the trash cans, anything that had been left. But when we came inland, further on the island, there's no one who's done that. My producer, Devin Sayers (ph), went around and looked and there were plenty of people who had left trash and other projectiles, including a couch not too far from here, to make sure that we were trying to be safe. But we can only do so much in this area.

[12:10:08] We've seen some things fly at this point. We're starting to see leaves fly off. If you can take a look out here -- again, I'm not sure how much you guys can see behind me, but the trees are starting to bend quite significantly here in Panama City Beach.

And, again, I focus on these palm trees because they are so sturdy. These are strong, strong trees. To watch them blowing like that up top, when you start to see them bend and/or snap, those are the kinds of winds we are expecting here in Panama City Beach.

Now, again, the problem is, is, John, so many people who didn't evacuate. They do have shelters that are full at this point, but they had plenty of shelters that still had room as of this morning. And I talked to so many people yesterday who said that they thought that they could ride this out. They figured that a cat two was no big deal because they had ridden out Opal, or they had even ridden out Eloise (ph), but they've never experienced a hurricane like Michael in the panhandle of Florida because since we have been recording hurricane strength, we haven't had a hurricane as strong as this one hit this area.

So the advice right now is for everyone to shelter in place, get into a middle type area away from windows, of course, and just make sure you have a plan. The rescuer said that once the storm stops, they will be able to come out and help you. But during the storm, you're on your own. Stay in place right now.

And, John, again, I apologize, I cannot hear you. I'm not sure if you guys are talking to me right now or not. Everything's kind of wet and the wind is very loud. But that's sort of our situation. All right, it's calmed down a little bit. That's our situation here in Panama City Beach right now as we wait for the eyewall to come across this area.

KING: If you can hear me, Dianne, please stay with us.

I want to bring CNN's Jennifer Gray into the conversation from the CNN Weather Center for the important context.

Jennifer, as we begin to see Dianne, and we begin to see the conditions worsen behind her, and yet Michael has not made landfall yet, help us understand, Jennifer, as things get worse, when the worst is still to come where Dianne is.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right, the worst is yet to come. Conditions will deteriorate extremely quickly. This storm is about 50 miles from the coast and it's very important. You see all those trees swaying behind her. A lot of these trees, most of them, especially in the Florida panhandle, once you get into Georgia, they still have their leaves on them. Those trees are going to snap. There's no way that these trees are going to withstand 150-mile-per-hour winds. Those limbs are going to become projectile missiles. So anyone in their home that is not shuttered up, that did not put their shutters up, stay away from the windows, and especially when this storm heads inland, be very, very careful. Trees are going to be falling all over the place -- all over the -- yes, go ahead.

And also I want to make it clear that this should be no surprise to people in the panhandle. We've been talking about this becoming a major storm since it developed. It developed on Sunday. And on Monday we've been talking about that this is going to become a major storm.

It strengthened to a category four, but we were talking about 130 miles per hour winds on Monday. Now it has 150-mile-per-hour winds. This is a strong storm. It is nothing -- it is something you want to take very, very seriously.

Dianne, I want to urge you to be very careful, especially as the winds pick up, with those trees behind you. They concern me a little bit. But just talk about what you're experiencing. Talk about fi you've experienced any water come in. I don't know how far you are from the coast. Have you experienced any surge or anything like that?

GALLAGHER: We moved inland because we were so close to the coast and it is so low lying there. Obviously it's, in some places, just one or two feet above sea level and it just wasn't safe for us. There is some water over to the left of me, but it's interior water. It looks to be a stream. And it hasn't really gone up that much. It's mostly being blown out by the wind.

I've been in contact with the city manager, though, and he was talking to me about the wind blowing up -- wind like this -- blowing up those waves and that being sort of the foreshadowing of this storm surge that they are going to see. And as you well know, Jennifer, it is forecasted to come in right around high tide as well here. So there is additional concern for those low-lying areas because the water is already going to be in high tide, in their minds, mitigating the issue even worse.

You can probably see here, it will die down a little bit, but we're experiencing now a steady wind, no matter what, even when we're not getting these large gusts. We kind of said we knew that the hurricane was beginning to come in when we first heard the howling wind with just a little bit of light rain. And really since that point, we have just had these big gusts of wind.

But those who are still staying out there on the coast with eyes on the ocean have talked about just how large the waves are right now and how high off the water it's starting to come.

[12:15:08] GRAY: Right. And the worst of it for you is going to be within the next two to four hours because once that eye comes onshore, things -- depending on where you are in relation to the eye, the center of the storm, if it goes right over you, of course you'll have that lull period.

But then you have the backside to contend with. And if you are just on the east side of that storm, it is going to be a period of, say, one, two, maybe two and a half hours where you are going to have extremely high winds, well over 150 miles per hour, and you're going to have torrential rain. That storm surge is going to continue to rush in. The Panama City area, and points to the east of that eye. And so there's going to be a period of time where you are going to experience the worst of it.

And it's not going to be over quickly. It's going to last maybe an hour or two hours. So the people that are -- that are along that area, that are east of the eye, that could be in the Panama City area, the Apalachicola area, St. Joe, keep that in mind. And then, once the storm heads to the north, that's when it will start to slowly get better for you guys, but then continue to worsen for people like -- that are in south Georgia where they could experience a category two by rush hour this afternoon.

KING: Dianne, if you could stay with us as well and explain the conditions. I'm just going to ask the control room, if we can, if we can just split the screen for a second and let's see Jennifer in the Weather Center, keep Dianne in the shot.

Jennifer, if you could just show us where Michael is now, vis-a-vis Panama City, if you will, as we watch Dianne go through this again, the conditions worsening quickly, but Michael is still how far away?

GRAY: Yes, Michael's about 50 miles per hour, maybe 45 at this point. And you can see the eye of the storm right here. Here's Panama City right here. And so there's that outer edge of the storm in relation to Panama City. When storms are this big, they're going to wobble. So this could wobble a little bit to the east or west by the time it makes to it Panama City. So it's going to be crucial to see, if they're on the west side of the storm, that, of course, is the better side. You're still going to have hurricane force winds, but the surge won't be like it will be on the east side because you'll be getting an off shore wind.

But the hurricane force winds extend 45 miles from the center. So Panama City is guaranteed to get these hurricane force winds. But the east side of the storm, generally speaking, is the dirtier side. But you can see how symmetrical this storm is. So even very close to the center, you're going to get those incredible winds on either side, east or west. But this storm could wobble a little bit, like I said. Here's Mexico Beach. Here's Apalachicola, where we're already seeing six feet of storm surge there. And the storm surge is expected to double. It could be 12 to 13 feet of storm surge in that area. And all of this coastline from the east of the center, all the way across through, say, Apalachicola and the big bend of Florida, they're all expected to get about eight to 13 feet of storm surge. So that's going to go into the second level of people's homes, John.

KING: And so, Dianne, to that point, you mentioned so many people stayed behind. So many people thought this might only be a cat two, which is a strange way to put it, but only a cat two. Any idea when are they being told they might be able to get services again? How long after Michael passing would it be before they can get first responders, they can get emergency supplies if they need them? GALLAGHER: So, John, according to the emergency responders, as soon as

the storm passes, they want to get to the main priorities, which is going to be clearing the roadways for hospitals, for the homes where like -- where elderly people may be, things like that. But the number one priority is making sure that there is a clear path to emergency services, like the hospitals in the various parts of the area. They're also going to try and make sure that if there are any particular parts of the island that are known to have flooding or have already had serious calls out needing help that they weren't able to attend to during the height of the storm, that they can go there.

You have to understand, those emergency responders are hunkered down as well right now waiting, so they can be healthy and uninjured and able, with vehicles that work, to come and get people at this point.

The bridge, Hathaway Bridge, is closed right now, so they're not able to get to the mainland or from the mainland. Again, not that anyone should be on the road whatsoever right now. It's difficult to stand, and we still have, as Jennifer put it, two to four hours to go of this. So, sadly, initially, we did see some cars on the road when they weren't supposed to be. I haven't seen anything like that in the past 30 minutes or so.

But, you know, I think about some of the people that we met yesterday, John, and there was a woman named Karen who came up to us when we were doing live shots on the beaches. Karen sent her dog to Alabama because she was afraid she couldn't take it to a shelter, but she was going to stay in her home because she says I don't have much and I'm going to get some sandbags and I'll be OK. She lives in a one-story home, John. I'm very worried about Karen right now because she was very upset. And at that point we knew it was going to be a bad storm, but not to this degree.

[12:20:13] So there are a lot of people like her who come from modest means. There are a lot of reasons why people do not evacuate storms. It's very easy to sit there and tell everyone to get out and that is what people should do, but there are reasons why they don't. People are handicapped. They have medical issues. They're injured. They're poor. And Karen had some of those issues and said I just don't think I can do it. I am hoping she got to the shelter. We tried to get her to a shelter. She wanted to go and do the sandbags before. But I think about people like that right now, if this is just the beginning of it.

Now, as you see, we have another one of these lulls where we don't have the same sort of wind intensity. To tell you the truth, at the beginning of the morning, when we were out on the beach, the wind that we have right now, this sort of easier wind, these were the stronger gusts that we were experiencing. So to watch what we thought was strong go to be our break in just a matter of a few hours really does, at least for us, show how quickly this storm moves.

Last month I was in North Carolina for Hurricane Florence, and even in the heart of it, now, I was in the northern part of North Carolina, in New Bern, so we didn't get smacked with the winds like John Berman did down in Wilmington, but I didn't feel any winds like this during that, when I was in New Bern in North Carolina. No winds like this whatsoever. It is already stronger than what I felt wind wise in New Bern. And that blew boats out of the water with the flooding.

So what people are dealing with here in Panama City Beach, again, is something they have never experienced before. No matter how many hurricanes you may have ridden out, you've never ridden out something like Michael.

KING: Dianne Gallagher for us in Panama City Beach. Dianne, stay with us. We'll stay in touch throughout the hour.

We're going to take a quick break. But as Dianne notes, Michael's punch beginning to land and the storm is strengthening, yet to make landfall. We'll continue to track Michael, it's path toward the Gulf Coast. We'll be back in just a moment.

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[12:26:11] KING: Live pictures here's. Panama City Beach, Florida. Michael's punch beginning to strengthen. Michael still offshore. Hurricane force winds of 150 miles an hour or more coming. It's a category four storm now. That's the scene in Panama City Beach, Florida.

Up the coast a bit is Apalachicola. The police chief there, Bobby Varnes, joins us on the phone right now.

Chief, I understand you're already getting several feet of surge and water in there. Give us the latest on the conditions on the ground in Apalachicola.

BOBBY VARNES, APALACHICOLA POLICE CHIEF (via telephone): Well, right now it's -- the winds are extremely high. It's probably as bad as I've ever seen it. And I've been here 39 years. And it's -- it's blowing hard right now. The water's up. It's -- I figure the surge we'll get even more in the next few hours, but it's pretty bad here.

KING: It's been a few years, but I love your town. I've been there several times. They have gritty (ph) people, a lot of shrimp, other fishermen and the like. Tradition is people don't leave. How many people do you think are still in Apalachicola?

VARNES: I would probably say probably 60 percent of the people stayed.

KING: Sixty percent of the people stayed. And what services are available to them right now if they needed help?

VARNES: Well, right now there's no emergency services. (INAUDIBLE) to help. When we get a call, and that's probably (INAUDIBLE), because it's just too dangerous. But there's no ambulance service, no medical, so they're pretty much fixing to be on their own until it lets up.

KING: And projections right now, you should be looking for rain in the ballpark of six to ten inches, a storm surge in the ballpark of nine to 14 feet. You mentioned you've been there 39 years. What is that going to do to Apalachicola, if that's what comes through?

VARNES: It's going to be devastating. It's (INAUDIBLE) just about the whole downtown will probably be flooded. Boy, that's -- I mean we've talk to numerous business and all that downtown, that's the business area of the town. It will be under water.

KING: And, chief, when you say 60 percent, you think, stayed, how much of that is stubborn pride, if you have another term for it, give it to me, people just decide they're going to always try to ride these out, and how much of it is, as some people have been telling us in the last day or so, that, well, we thought it was going to be a cat two, not a cat four and they're caught a little bit by surprise.

VARNES: Well, I think a lot of it here is every time people do leave, it's not bad and they take it for granted. Instead of listening, it got stronger and they got caught.

KING: And, chief, population of about 2,300, am I right, Apalachicola?

VARNES: Oh, it's more than that.

KING: Chief --

VARNES: I don't know the exact number, but I think it's a little more than that.

KING: OK, chief, stay with us, if you can.

VARNES: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, is also in Apalachicola. And you see him out there now bracing in the streets.

Derek, if you can hear me, tell us what you're seeing?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, John, good afternoon.

Listen, we're in Apalachicola and we have sustained hurricane force winds where we are. But what's the most surprising and the most astounding to be quite honest is how quickly the storm surge has taken over this town.

Look at the streets behind me. You can see we've had measurements within the past hour of about six and a half feet above low tide. So high tide hasn't even occurred yet and this water is still filling in this area.

[12:29:59] We've seen submerged vehicles. We've had dumpsters floating by us. We've had all kinds of debris. It's, frankly, just getting a little bit difficult to stand up in these conditions.