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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Jeanne: Melbourne, Fla., Lashed with Winds, Rain

Aired September 26, 2004 - 06:00   ET

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


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: The wind and the fury of Hurricane Jeanne. This is a live look at what people in Melbourne, Florida, are facing at this moment. For the fourth time in six weeks a hurricane is slamming into the Florida coast. Hurricane Jeanne sends a body blow to a state still trying to recover from a string of other storms. Howling winds, rain that just won't stop and hundreds of thousands right now without electricity. From the CNN center in Atlanta this is a special edition of CNN's SUNDAY MORNING again.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go again.

GRIFFIN: September 26th, 6 a.m. on the Florida coast, 3 a.m. out west. Good morning, I'm Drew Griffin.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen. Welcome to this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Hurricane Jeanne is unleashing extensive damage across Central Florida right now, six hours after storming ashore with top sustained winds of 120 miles an hour. Just an hour ago it was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane with top sustained winds of 110 miles an hour. This is Florida's fourth hurricane in six weeks. Now, before plowing into Florida, Jeanne washed over the Bahamas. Some neighborhoods there are under as much as five feet of flood water. Take a look at these pictures. But there are no reports of deaths or serious injuries. That is some good news this morning.

Meanwhile, a military court in Iraq has handed down a 25-year sentence against a U.S. soldier convicted of killing an Iraqi national guard soldier near Tikrit last May. Army Specialist Federico Merida had earlier pled guilty to murder.

A general in the Iraqi national guard is in U.S. custody this morning on suspicion of ties to insurgent fighters. Now, just two weeks ago the general was chosen to lead Iraqi forces in the Sunni Triangle, which is an area plagued by insurgent attacks, but that general had not been confirmed to the post.

GRIFFIN: Take a look at how it looked as Jeanne made landfall. The center of the eye reaching eastern Florida 11:50 Eastern time last night, a Category 3 when it came ashore. Top winds 120 miles per hour. Landfall near the southern end of Hutchinson Island. That's five miles southeast of Stuart, 40 miles north of West Palm Beach. And it's near the spot where Hurricane Frances arrived on September 5th.

NGUYEN: We want to talk to Rob Marciano now because he has been watching this all through the night. First Frances came along this path, now Jeanne. Folks in the area really need some relief. ROB MARCIANO, CNN WEATHER REPORTER: Well, they'll get it probably tomorrow but right now this storm has been very, very slow to weaken. It is still a Category 2 storm with winds of 110 miles an hour. It will continue to weaken slowly but as we've been talking about all night, this is a large storm, as large as Frances. It is moving faster than Frances but it is stronger than Frances and I'm afraid that some of the damage - most of the damage from this storm is going to be more extensive than that from Frances. All right, the weakening is happening, you can see the eye wall beginning to collapse somewhat, that's good news for the folks in Florida. The forecast track, now, will take this thing to the west coast, which is something we haven't examined a whole lot the past 24 hours.

Folks who live in Tampa northward and then into Tallahassee are going to be on guard here. Category 2 storm with winds 110 miles an hour, will decrease in intensity somewhat. Westerly movement of 13. Actually just barely north of westerly is the kind of direction this thing is taking. So there you go. Towards Tampa, probably still a Category 1 storm when it gets there later on this afternoon and tonight, with winds of 75 miles an hour so it will be a stormy day in Tampa for sure with some damaging winds as far as power outages and tree limbs down in and around the Tampa area and possibly some flooding with rainfall and some winds coming off the Gulf of Mexico there. Now the Gulf itself in this area, which was churned up quite a bit from Ivan, a lot of rainfall from Ivan, and the rivers flowing out of this into the Gulf of Mexico, because of that the waters over there not that warm. Barely 79 or 80 degrees, we need it at least to be 80. 82, 83 or 84 would certainly help this intensify again, but right now it doesn't look like that's going to happen and the forecast is to bring it across the Appalachia Bay during the overnight hours tonight as, likely, a tropical storm.

These are the most intense wind gusts that we've been able to find as far as the reports are concerned. Vero Beach, 122 mile an hour wind gusts. Sebastian, 113. Lake Worth, 94. Boynton Beach 87. And West Palm Beach 69 degrees. One other point, guys, 2004 an amazing season. This is the sixth major hurricane of the season. What this graphic depicts, what it says, and you can take this to the current date. There hasn't been a major hurricane to make landfall north of Palm Beach since they've been keeping records. Between Palm Beach and the South Carolina coastline, never had a major hurricane to make landfall. Frances ended up in the same spot. Frances was a Category 2. This one was a major hurricane as a Category 3, so, this season and this storm making history on a number of counts.

NGUYEN: And not the kind of history Floridians want to make.

MARCIANO: No, at least it will be a better - likely to be a better hurricane season for them next year.

NGUYEN: Next year.

GRIFFIN: Let's hope so.

NGUYEN: That's a long time away. Thank you, Rob. Well, right now we want to hear from you this morning. If you are in the path of the storm and if you are able to email us, please send your questions to Rob about the storm, all you have to do is email us at wam@cnn.com and let us know what's happening with Jeanne in your area right now. Again, the address, wam@cnn.com.

And we want to remind you that CNN has reporters stationed all throughout Florida to bring you the latest on the storm. Live coverage coming from Daytona Beach, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce and Melbourne.

GRIFFIN: We're going to go to two of those guys now in the eye of the storm, Anderson Cooper and Chad Myers being blown around in Melbourne all night. Morning, guys.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Drew. Good morning, Betty. Yeah, it has been a very long night indeed. We've been out here for about 12 hours and the winds are still extraordinarily strong. It is just brutal out here. We want to give you a sense of kind of the speed the winds we're seeing. We're right now in kind of a protected zone. We're kind of protected by this wall right here. We're just going to step out just, you know, two or three feet and you can see sort of significantly the difference, the winds really just coming right here. And what we've been seeing really for the last, say, three hours or so is sort of the winds changing directions, which makes it very difficult to try to keep broadcasting because you're in a protected area one minute and suddenly you're no longer protected.

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know, I love working with you, but, next time can't we just meet in New York? We always have to keep meeting in Florida. The folks in Florida have had enough. They told us last night they're tired of boarding up, they're tired of putting their dogs in kennels, they're tired of all that and, in fact, they're sick and tired of it so maybe this can be the last one, but obviously, if this is the last one, 2004, it goes out with a bang. It's been a big storm.

COOPER: Well, this has been our - Betty and Drew, this has been our concern, really, all day long. As we came into Melbourne yesterday, you know, I guess 18 hours or so ago, a lot of the town, some places had boarded up, no doubt about it, but there were a lot of, you know - McDonald's was open. There was a Taco Bell, there was a Domino's Pizza and this was like at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and you saw people out on the street and we really got the sense that though several thousand people did seek safety in the city and public shelters, a lot of people decided to just - they weren't going to evacuate, that they'd had it, they had sort of storm fatigue and they decided they were just going to hunker down in their homes and that's what they've done. I don't think people realized the storm was going to be this bad and this strong.

MYERS: Correct. And especially south of here. Obviously, we're in Melbourne, but to the south of here, into Sebastian, into Vero Beach, places like that, really even hit harder than we are and we won't even know how hard until we get up there or down there tomorrow to actually see it. COOPER: And that's been the problem because, you know, for a lot of the emergency personnel, the police, they patrol as long as they can, but at a certain point they've got to stay indoors for their own safety and only as the winds begin to die down can they really assess the damage, Betty.

GRIFFIN: OK, Anderson and Chad Myers, there in Melbourne, Florida. That's about halfway down the coast, just south of Cape Canaveral. We'll be back to them all morning long. Betty?

NGUYEN: Well, now we want to get more on the money problems Jeanne is causing all around Florida. David Bruns is with the Florida Emergency Management Center and he joins us now by phone. Good morning to you.

DAVID BRUNS, FLORIDA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT CENTER: Good morning.

NGUYEN: Well, first off, I know it's still early but talk about some of the damage that you've been able to assess so far.

BRUNS: We have only fragmentary reports at this point. It's much to early to get any kind of damage assessments but it does seem clear from just the reports we're receiving from emergency operations personnel around the state and from shelters that there has been some level of damage, particularly in the east - on the east central coast. We're hearing, for example, reports of roof failure and a special needs shelter in St. Lucie County, another shelter in Brevard County that had to be moved. An emergency operations center in Indian River County, the building it was in took a pretty serious hit. If that's happening in special needs shelters and in schools and in those kinds of locations, then obviously it's having an impact on homes and businesses as well.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, and it appears that may be a bit widespread. Let's talk about the problems for your crews as they start to go out when daylight comes up this morning. What are going to be the major problems? Obviously, debris, debris from the previous storms and the debris that's being whipped around in this storm.

BRUNS: Debris, power lines, access to some of these areas, flooding is going to be a problem. The big problems are going to be getting a good accurate damage assessment on the coastal barrier islands. In many cases it's going to be very difficult to get around and get crews out to the barrier islands. A lot of those assessments are going to be made by air.

NGUYEN: So it's going to take a little while. Let's talk a little bit about the folks who have sought shelter. We are learning that not as many, perhaps, did seek shelter this time around. That's going to pose a huge problem.

BRUNS: I don't think we have accurate or up to date information on exactly how many people are in the shelters. We did see a pickup. We did see some additional people coming into shelters in the closing hours of Saturday evening, so it could be that there's more people in the shelters than we had originally thought. It's very hard to tell at this point because the people who are in those shelters have other things on their minds right now besides filling our forms and submitting them to our database.

NGUYEN: Well, hopefully more people sought shelter that's being reported at this hour. Let's talk about the strain, the financial strain on you guys as you prepare for all the cleanup, all the relief efforts.

BRUNS: This is - this has been a tough season and there will be a substantial amount of financial impact that the state and local citizens will have to bear. On the other hand, there is a great deal of relief in - relief assistance on its way, both federal money, insurance settlements. The state itself has an aptly named "Rainy Day Fund" that the legislature is discussing dipping into for the purpose of helping in hurricane relief.

NGUYEN: All right. David Bruns with the Florida Emergency Management Center. We thank you for your information this morning. Take care -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Well, speaking of the costs of this hurricane, it's not only going to be measured in damages but the loss of tourism. Florida a big tourist state, the airports closed, they seem to be closed once a week now, Orlando International, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood, Melbourne, all closed. Coastal ports shut down, including the Port of Miami, Port of Everglades, Palm Beach and Port Canaveral. And of course, the theme parks are closed. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Seaworld and Busch Gardens. This isn't exactly the hot time of year but they do make money and tourists do flock there in the off season as well.

NGUYEN: No doubt. This morning we want to give you some numbers. Hopefully you have a pen and a piece of paper to take these Florida emergency hotline numbers down. The state volunteer and donations line. It's on your screen. The number is 1-800-354-3571. For volunteers and people wanting to donate, you can call 1-800-354-3571.

ANNOUNCER: October, 1998. Hurricane Mitch and its heavy rains caused some 10,000 deaths. It stalled over Central America for several days, shredding homes with 180 mile per hour winds and creating floods and mudslides. Mitch then drifted north, now a tropical storm, it made landfall in South Florida, killing two people, before moving back out into the ocean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Well, good morning and welcome back as we continue our rolling coverage of Hurricane Jeanne. Want to give you some more emergency hotline numbers for the State of Florida. Elderly services, that number is on your screen. 1-800-963-5337. People in Florida needing elder services can call 1-800-963-5337.

GRIFFIN: Eric Philips is in Orlando, Florida this morning, a place that's been hit a couple of times. We're going to go there now live, Eric. Are you with us?

ERIC PHILIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm here with you this morning, Drew, how are you?

GRIFFIN: Good. What's the conditions there?

PHILIPS: Well, I can tell you that here in Orlando we are just starting to feel the effects really of this storm. What we've measured so far here at this particularly location has been wind speed between 25 and 30 miles an hour. We're expecting that that could get worse in the coming hours. We're told by emergency management officials that they have seen wind speeds between 45 and 50 miles an hour. But that is still not as bad as they thought they would see here as the storm has taken a cut across the state instead of that northward trend that forecasters thought it would take. But you can see from the trees that are right here behind me that certainly the wind is picking up, the rain is sort of coming at us at a sideways motion. It sort of feels like - like you've heard many of my colleagues describing to you, like pin needles coming at you. The force of the wind pushing the rain on you. Emergency management officials told me that the main concern was flooding here in Orlando, the fact that they could have gotten eight to ten inches of rain, the ground is already saturated and they were saying that flooding could be a main concern. It still is a main concern, but, again, because of the way the storm has turned, they're saying although it looks kind of bad right now, it's not as bad as they first thought that it would be.

They have not gotten any reports of power outages just yet. It's still early, however. The storm is not finished. Nor have they gotten any reports of people being displaced from their homes, lots of damage, that sort of thing. So we're keeping an eye on this. This is just the beginning of the story here in Orlando. Drew?

GRIFFIN: Eric Philips, so far, so good. Thanks for at least some encouraging news from Orlando. Betty?

NGUYEN: Time now to go to Fort Pierce, one of the areas where Jeanne just stormed ashore this morning. We want to go to Gary Tuchman who is there with the latest on damage and what's happening right now. Good morning, Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Betty. We've been out here now for twelve hours doing live reports in Fort Pierce, Florida and for twelve hours we've had buckets of rain falling on us except for a two hour and fifteen minute span when the north end of the eye came over Fort Pierce Florida. It wasn't completely calm because it wasn't the center of the eye, but it was virtually calm, five to ten mile an hour winds and no rain for a good period of time, and that's when we ventured out in the car to see the damage, and the damage here in St. Lucie County is extensive. There are railroad crossings down, traffic lights, trees, power lines. But the most extensive damage, according to emergency officials here, many roofs have been damaged, some just torn off the top of houses. People calling 911 saying their roofs have ripped off their houses and they were sitting in their cars for their only protection.

But the saddest story we have to tell here in Fort Pierce, about a mile away from where we are, there is a bridge that goes over to Hutchinson Island, that is the barrier island, it's a very long barrier island; it is in Martin County and St. Lucie County. But on one of the bridges that goes over to the island, two witness called 911 saying they saw a car plunge from the bridge into the Intercoastal Waterway. Well, emergency officials could not go out there, it was too dangerous. They couldn't check it. But I was there when the Coast Guard went out there. They did not spot a car in the water, but they did spot a huge, gaping hole in one of the parts of the bridge where a car could have gone. So they have not confirmed that car fell into the water, but they do believe that's indeed what happened.

2,100 people in shelters here compared to 5,000 last time, but we haven't seen people wandering around. There is a curfew in effect. One of the reasons, they believe, that fewer people went into shelters in this town is because some of the shelters from last time aren't able to be used this time because of all the damage from Hurricane Frances three weeks ago. When we got here, there was plenty of damage still from Hurricane Frances, and now the damage not only doubled, but probably tripled or even quadrupled. Betty, back to you.

NGUYEN: And we can only begin to imagine the pictures as daylight comes up there in Fort Pierce. Gary Tuchman, thank you so much for that report.

GRIFFIN: Rob Marciano up in the weather center. Rob, I want to read an email to you that we have from one of our viewers, very concerned now that this might cross over Florida and go to Destin again. This is Tim, obviously nervous right now in Destin. What is the path?

MARCIANO: Well, they should be nervous after what they went through in Ivan, but it looks like, although we've been shifting this west and farther west and farther west, right now the track is to take it just to around Tampa - there's the center, it's heading this way, and actually back into the Gulf of Mexico. But as we explained early, this water not all that warm, so we don't expect much strengthening. Destin right about here, so you got Panama City, and Destin's right about here towards Fort Walton Beach. I think the storm - the center of the storm is probably going to go somewhere in here, that puts Destin on the good side, and by this time it should be significantly weaker. Destin, north winds, 20, 30, maybe 40 miles hour at best later on tomorrow and not all that much rain. So you go west of Panama City at this point shouldn't see a whole lot, and that's probably good news for the folks who really got beaten up by Ivan.

NGUYEN: Absolutely (ph), Rob. Looking at the map right there, yesterday it appeared that it wouldn't go as far west as it has.

MARCIANO: Right. Yeah, well, it has. You know, these things - we had a huge area of high pressure - folks who live in the eastern third of the country have experienced some fabulous weather the past almost weak and a half, and that's just a big mound of air, high pressure, that just did not let this thing go north and it's going to sneak around the back side of it and eventually sneak up to the north, but you know, so often with forecasting these hurricanes you have to just kind of wait until it finally makes that nudge to the north. We're starting to see that now and we expect it to continue through the day. It would have been nice if it did it a day and a half ago, then it would have curved out to sea, but that obviously didn't happen and Florida's paying the price.

NGUYEN: Once again. And we do want to remind everyone watching this morning, especially if you live in Florida, if you're in the path of the storm and you have any questions about this hurricane, please write in this morning. Hopefully you still have email service. E-mail is at wam@cnn.com and Rob Marciano will try his best to answer all of your questions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Continuing coverage of Hurricane Jeanne. The American Red Cross establishing a number of hotlines for information. You can call one of these numbers. Get info, there it is. Get info if you want to help with donations that number 1-800-GIVE-NOW.

NGUYEN: Want to give you a look now at what Jeanne looked like last night as she just stormed ashore. Some of these pictures are quite amazing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You know, it's interesting, it's no longer a matter of sort of gusts coming and there being a lull, this is just relentless, non-stop, just brutal winds and there's really no let up in sight.

MYERS: Yeah. At this point in time, it is hard to stand up. Remember you asked me, you asked me about 20 miles an hour ago, when is it going to be very hard to do this, and I said about a hundred, and this is pretty hard (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COOPER: Yeah. Yeah. Literally the equipment starts to rip off, too, in these kinds of winds. Got to try to put this back. But Catherine (ph), it's amazing, you know, we thought this thing was kind of -- we thought we had sort of seen the worst of it but this is definitely the worst we've seen so far.

MYERS: Yes, no question about it, and whether this is one squall inside this band -- because sometimes that'll happen. Sometimes you'll get one squall -- sorry, I can't stop...

COOPER: Please, Chad.

MYERS: Sometimes you get one squall that will make a heavy wind even in a light time, in a light squall. But this is obviously one of the bigger ones inside a heavy rain band. Heavy squall.

COOPER: So there's really no telling how long -- I mean, Rob was saying it might last for 45-50 minutes.

MYERS: It sure could and if the storm continues to turn right, which it's not doing yet, we could be in the eye wall for an even longer time.

COOPER: Well, that certainly is not good news for us here. But I don't know how much you can see on the camera, but it is literally -- I mean, you look 20 feet away and this wall of white water -- it looks -- I mean it's like a solid mass.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: That's how it looked last night. Let's find out what's happening at this moment. Richard Knabb with the National Hurricane Center joins us from Miami. Richard, good morning. We all want to know, this path seems to be just changing slightly here or there but that makes a big difference in a lot of people's lives. Tell us where this thing is going.

RICHARD KNABB, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Right. It does. The system's moving a little bit farther west before making a more of a turn to the northwest and as a result of that we've had to issue hurricane warnings for part of the west coast of Florida. That's going through the Venice, Sarasota, Tampa Bay area, and we've also extended a couple of storm warnings farther to the west along the Panhandle, including Panama City and Destin.

GRIFFIN: The fact that it is moving west and less of it will be over open water at this time, does it weaken?

KNABB: Well, right now it's inland and it has weakened a little bit since it made landfall, so a Category 2 hurricane right now. However, it should remain a hurricane for several more hours. As it gets close to the west coast of Florida, the center may get over the Gulf of Mexico for a short amount of time. The waters aren't terribly warm in the extreme northeastern Gulf so we are not really anticipating further intensification, but we're still going to see a tropical storm go into Northern Florida and perhaps into Southern Georgia.

GRIFFIN: And then where from there, sir?

KNABB: Well, after that the system is going to continue to recurve around the subtropical ridge and going through the southeastern United States but weakening to a tropical depression by the time it gets to the Carolinas and accelerating. So the wind threat and the possibility for extended periods of heavy rain will diminish a little bit, but we encourage people from the southeastern U.S. to pay close attention to the progress of this over the early part of the week.

GRIFFIN: OK, Richard Knabb at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Thank you, sir, for keeping us up to date.

KNABB: Thank you.

NGUYEN: And we're going to take a quick break right now. Want to stay tuned for our rolling coverage of Hurricane Jeanne.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: A storm-weary state is hounded by yet another hurricane. Jeanne is the fourth hurricane in six weeks to slam into the coast of Florida. Damage estimates are mounting as we wait for daylight to see just how bad it really is. We want to welcome you back to this special edition of CNN's SUNDAY MORNING. I'm Betty Nguyen.

GRIFFIN: I'm Drew Griffin. Let's get caught up on the news this morning. High winds, driving rains, widespread damage. That's what Hurricane Jeanne bringing to Florida right now after storming ashore on the state's east coast. It happened over night near Stuart. Jeanne has toppled buildings, trees and power lines. It's now a Category 2 storm, down a bit, but still dangerous. More than 800,000 people without power. Parts of the Northern Bahamas remain underwater this morning in the wake of Jeanne. The hurricane brought high winds and heavy rains, shredding roofs and flooding neighborhoods, as you can see. There are no reports, however, of deaths or serious injuries in the Bahamas. You can see here what Haiti is dealing with in the wake of Jeanne. An estimated 300,000 Haitians homeless. More than 1300 are dead, caused by flooding from the storm. The U.N. sent in a convoy of relief supplies, but people have been mobbing the aid trucks and looting relief supplies.

And there's word of a deadly car bombing this morning in the capital of Syria. The Palestinian militant group Hamas says one of its leaders was the target and he has been killed. It is not clear if the explosion happened in the man's own car or in a nearby car. Hamas accusing Israel in that blast.

NGUYEN: Now back to mean Jeanne. She has been a devastating storm. First Haiti, now slamming into Florida as a Category 3, although it's been downgraded this morning, correct, Rob?

MARCIANO: Yes. Downgraded to a Category 2, but still having winds of 110 miles an hour. It will continue to be downgraded, or weaken, as we go through time, but because Florida is so flat, because it's so narrow, because it has water on either side of it, typically they take some time before they weaken even further, so it's going to be some time before that happens.

Tornado watches are out. I want to point out a couple of things. We've been talking about the similarities between Jeanne and Frances. They had a similar track and they had certainly similar landfall. At the same point almost three weeks ago to the day. First of all, we'll examine what the track was for Frances. Pretty much - actually, not similar track, because Jeanne did kind of a loop-de-loop, got stalled out here, and eventually headed towards the northwestern Bahamas. But certainly Sewell's Point and Stuart, pretty much the exact same spot where it made landfall three weeks ago. So that is amazing.

Check out the satellite picture. Jeanne, not so much right now, but Jeanne at landfall, about six hours ago, then I'll show you what Frances looked like. Almost identical. I mean, even the cloud canopies sprawling out. We'll superimpose the two and you can barely even tell. Amazing. Amazing how similar these storms were, at least with where they made landfall and how large they were. Hurricane Jeanne a stronger storm in that it was a Category 3 when it made landfall. It's moving to the west-northwest at 13 miles an hour. Winds at about 110. It's 20 miles east of Sebring. Actually, it's probably right over Sebring right now. Not a very populated area, but just to the north, towards the Kissimmee-St. Cloud, in that area, it's definitely getting some more populated areas to the north. And to the north is where that tornado watch is out. Until 5 o'clock today there's a possibility of seeing tornadoes drop out of the sky north of the center. Melbourne, Cape Canaveral, Titusville, up through Daytona as well, and Melbourne and our friends there and our friends in Fort Pierce will begin to see things improve as we go through the next couple of hours. But, slowly, as this thing weakens, slowly.

Tampa the next target, although it looks like it'll skim just to the north. I suspect we'll see close to hurricane strength winds in Tampa. Already seeing gusts to that in Orlando.

NGUYEN: This morning we have been inviting our viewers to send in their question for you, Rob, and we've got one now from Michael. He writes, "I am worried about Spring Hill, Florida, which is in Hernando County, Florida, just north of Tampa Bay by 40 miles or so. I spoke to my mother about an hour ago and so far she tells me that it's worse than Frances. Is that the case there?

MARCIANO: Well, they are going to see conditions get a little bit worse later on today and tonight, so - they've seen winds in Tampa Bay of over 40 miles an hour. They'll likely see winds close to 60, maybe even close to 70 miles an hour. Actually, Spring Hill, unfortunately, looks to be right in the path of the forecast track so they'll probably see hurricane strength winds there. So, yes, it should be worse than Frances was, because Frances, by the time it got over to Tampa and over in the Gulf of Mexico was just barely holding on to hurricane strength. If anything it was a tropical storm, and it was feeding Tampa and Clearwater and St. Petersburg with just maybe 50, 60 mile an hour winds. So, unfortunately for that fellow's mom, Spring Hill is going to likely see hurricane conditions about five to six hours from now.

GRIFFIN: OK, Rob, we have some other viewers writing in. Here's one from Bill. He lives in Mims, Florida, 40 miles northeast of Orlando. "We have been experiencing very intense winds and rains since around midnight. We were here for Charley and Frances and this storm has been more intense but, yet, our power is still on." Good news there from Bill.

If you'd like to write in about your experience right now or have some questions for our Web team, you can write us at wam@cnn.com. We're going to try to answer your questions and also, we'd love to hear what's happening right now, especially if you're in Florida because some of the information is sketchy coming out.

NGUYEN: And we want to go to the ground right now to find out what the situation is in West Palm Beach, Florida, and for that we go to Susan Candiotti. Good morning to you. What's the situation there?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Betty. Well about an hour ago it was balmy with no rain at all, my hood was down, hat was off and then, about 15, 20 minutes ago, a squall came through. We're still getting some of the remnants of that, with a driving rain and much stronger winds. We're still feeling some of those gusts, but then it's going to subside, so I suspect this is going to be the pattern at least through the morning hours. I can tell you, if you were watching my colleague all night long, John Zarrella, driving rain, he was really getting battered about, he and his crew with horizontal rain, in effect. The street that you see over my shoulder was like a river. Now that water has receded a bit, we are seeing police cars driving about, checking things out. A lot of people without power this day. I just got off the phone a little while ago with emergency management officials. They estimate about a half million customers without power. Now, compare that to Hurricane Frances, where at least 600,000 people were without power according to officials and it was only last week that finally everyone got back online.

And we want to show you some pictures because on the way over to this location we drove around a bit and about just only a block from here there was a house that suffered severe damage from Hurricane Frances and in fact, they had a tarp up over the house to protect it from Hurricane Jeanne. Well, when Jeanne rolled through last night, now that tarp is gone. You can see the tatters of it as well. There is a boat(ph) and some damage to the front of the house. Hard to tell precisely whether that is from Hurricane Jeanne, as well, but certainly they lost part of the roof and now the tarp is gone that had been protecting it from the onslaught of Jeanne.

And then as you drive about through the downtown area, anyway, we didn't see very much damage at all, some bent over signs, that kind of thing, however, there are some downed traffic lights, there is structural damage being reported to some buildings but at this point it is far too early according to emergency officials in the darkness to determine exactly what kind of damage they have county-wide. We can remind you that in area shelters about 12,000 people sought those out to ride out the storm and we have no early reports from them, either. 19,000 took shelter during Hurricane Frances just about three weeks ago. They don't know why fewer people came to the shelters this time around. They were conjecturing a couple of things. Either they found a safer place to be this time or some people decided to ride out the storm, anyway, perhaps unwisely, according to emergency management officials here. So what I'm hearing now is that at around 9 o'clock this morning, a few hours from now, authorities hope to have a press briefing after they get their first damage assessments. Betty?

NGUYEN: Absolutely, and we are looking forward to seeing that briefing, also, assessing the damage that's been done in that area. Susan Candiotti in West Palm Beach, Florida this morning. Thank you, Susan.

GRIFFIN: People who did not evacuate may be the story of this hurricane. We're going to talk to two of them when we come back. A couple who decided to ride this one out. We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: August 13th, 2004. Hurricane Charley ravaged Florida's Gulf Coast, upgrading from a Category 2 to a Category 4 hurricane in just 90 minutes. Winds topped 180 miles an hour in Punta Gorda. Power was knocked out, businesses destroyed and cars tossed around. 25 people were killed while thousands were left homeless. Charley was estimated to have cost over $4 billion in damage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GRIFFIN: Joining us on the phone is Joan Crabtree. She is in Melbourne, Florida. That's 70 miles north of Fort Pierce and two miles inland from the Intercoastal Waterway. You evacuated, Joan, for Frances, but you decided to stay for Jeanne. Wise idea?

JOAN CRABTREE, MELBOURNE FLORIDA RESIDENT: That is correct. Frances we were worried very much with the storm surge from the river and so we went into Orlando, which is just 60 miles in and on this particular storm we decided to stay because we feel that we were not in the flood zone and the government officials said that it would be (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

GRIFFIN: And there you have it, another hurricane tragedy, her phone line has dropped out there, but Joan decided to ride this one out with her husband, and hopefully all is well there, although they did experience some very, very heavy winds.

NGUYEN: And she sounded pretty calm on the phone, so hopefully everything is OK there. If we can get her back we'll try that this morning, but in the meantime, speaking of phone lines, Florida emergency hotline numbers for you right now. Florida Power and Light, all you have to do is call 1-800-4-OUTAGE if you are experiencing some electricity loss and you need some information about that, call Florida Power and Light, the number is on your screen, 1-800-4-OUTAGE.

GRIFFIN: Want to show you what it looked like in Vero Beach just after midnight when this storm came across from one of our affiliates Don Germaise. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON GERMAISE, CNN AFFILIATE CORRESPONDENT: We're getting too much debris flowing by here. In fact, this is the definition of hunkering down, guys. We've got Stormchaser to protect me in case anything blows but it's just blowing too hard right now and we're also starting to get some swirls, so debris is flying this way sometimes and that way sometimes and it really is too hard to stay safe, so we're OK, we're going to sign off for a little bit, hunker down, we're going to continue to bring you the pictures that you want and you can check in by phone for the evening, but right now it's kind of a little too dangerous for us to be out so we're going to send it back to you guys, and I can tell you, you can see stuff just fly by and it's just scary.

We're going to send it back to you guys in the studio and go break down and hunker down for a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don, one quick question. Some viewers are curious, I'm sure, as to where you go from there. Are you going to stay with Stormchaser there or are you going to move to a different location?

GERMAISE: We're not sure exactly what we're going to do. We're going to discuss it once we get into a little bit of a better safe position. If we think we can take Stormchaser out and shoot some video, we'll do it. If not, there's a furniture store in this Plaza that is boarded it. They've actually got steel shutters over the windows and it's a concrete room. They are hunkered down in there with about 15 or 20 people and we'll probably spend some time in there with them. Those are people who work and live around here and their homes were destroyed or damaged so badly in Frances that they didn't feel comfortable staying there. So they've got a generator inside the furniture store. They are boarded up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Midnight last night in Vero Beach, Florida, as Jeanne was coming ashore.

NGUYEN: Yes, one of the first areas where she made landfall, and you could see that rain was just coming in sideways in sheets. This morning we've been asking everyone, especially those in Florida, send us an email about your thoughts, your concerns, especially your questions for Rob Marciano. This is an observation coming in from a person named Evan. He says "I'm currently living in Port Charlotte, Florida, many now know where that is and winds have been getting more intense as the night continues on. Power is on and off and you can see and hear transformers go out, at one point in time, once every ten seconds. Take care and God bless."

And I think a lot of people out there very worried about their folks, their friends, their family in Florida. We're going to try to get as much information to you this morning right here on CNN.

GRIFFIN: Here's a question, Rob Marciano, from Homosassa, Florida. "Rob, I can't help wondering why with all of our modern technology we can't do anything to kill a hurricane, either in its infant stage or way out in the ocean where it can't do any damage." Rob, is anybody even working on this project?

MARCIANO: Well, they tried it - they started trying it back in the 50s and 60s. They had a 20-year project where they went out and they tried to seed the storm, the eye wall, or just outside the eye wall, to try to kill it that way. It didn't seem to work. They had thoughts of dropping H-bombs in there and they determined that the only way to kill a storm in its infant stage with a nuclear bomb would be - you'd have to drop basically 80 bombs a year. So the fallout from that wouldn't work. Now they're talking maybe they can shoot some microwaves into the clouds with some of the satellites, but that's decades away. Really and probably the last thing that may be feasible is to actually lay some sort of biodegradable oil slick on the ocean and limit the amount of evaporation can take place out ahead of the storm, because it's that evaporation and then condensation that releases the heat, that gets that heat engine pumping in the hurricane. But they haven't quite found the right material that's biodegradable, cost-effective and doesn't do anything to the environment and also works, so...

NGUYEN: Right, that's a key. For it to work.

MARCIANO: I'm glad there's somebody working on this stuff, but I got to tell you, the storms that we've had this year, there's just no fooling mother nature. I mean, there is so much power that I almost think we can't do anything about it. But hopefully these guys working on this sort of research can come up with something that would obviously save some lives and certainly millions, billions of dollars.

NGUYEN: Basically all you can do is evacuate.

MARCIANO: At this point, you know, thank goodness we have these computer models that can now give us days in advance notice to get people out of there and aside from, you know, random accidents, there's really no excuse for somebody dying of a hurricane because of, say, storm surge. And that's where everybody has died in years past, is because of storm surge and torrential flooding. And because we give the advanced notice, now, there should be no excuse for anybody dying from storm surge.

NGUYEN: Well, so far this year 70 people have been killed in Florida alone from these four, well, three storms, we'll see the damage coming out of the back end.

MARCIANO: Yes, a lot of them from isolated tornadoes and accidents after, heart attacks, that kind of thing. But storm surge flooding, that's what's killed hundreds and thousands of people in the past and because we have advanced warning because of these supercomputers that they're using in the National Hurricane Center, we have saved thousands of lives the past 20 or 30 years because of it.

NGUYEN: We have another observation that we want to put up on the screen for you this morning. This person, Louis, says, "I live in Brandon/Valrico, Florida, just east of Tampa. 6:39 a.m.," I guess is when he wrote this, "It's getting real windy here. The real storm is not due for a few hours yet, it's still dark and hard to see what's happening. We still have power but I don't expect that to last much longer. The lights are already blinking and we are a little more concerned with this than we were with Frances."

Should he be? This did come ashore, what, a Category 3 storm, now it's a Category 2?

MARCIANO: Well, yeah, he should be concerned. By the time it gets to Tampa, it will be, if not a Category 2, it should still be a Category 1. This is the Tampa radar, and here's the storm, so it's less than, say, 60 miles to the east of Tampa so it'll be there shortly and this part of the eye wall, a very strong part, about to roll into just that area, so they'll start to see wind - they've already seen wind gusts over 40 miles an hour in Tampa, they'll likely see winds of near hurricane strength here in the next couple of hours and it will be a hurricane when it passes just to the north of Tampa.

GRIFFIN: All right, we're talking Lakeland, Plant City, you are next, Brandon, Florida, as well. We'll be back with more hurricane coverage - thank you, Rob - after this break.

ANNOUNCER: Labor Day weekend, 1985. Hurricane Elena stalled off the coast of Florida near the town of Cedar Key, holding it virtually hostage. More than 300,000 area residents fled their homes. As the storm system intensified to wind speeds of 75 to 125 miles an hour. The storm killed four people and destroyed more than 250 homes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NGUYEN: Fourth storm to hit Florida. This time, Hurricane Jeanne. Here's some numbers for you this morning. Florida emergency hotline numbers. The state's emergency information line, that number on the screen, 1-800-342-3557. For emergency information, the emergency hotline again. 1-800-342-3557.

GRIFFIN: Jeanne is right in the middle of Florida. Rob Marciano tracking in the weather center. Rob?

MARCIANO: Tampa is next on the list, guys, or just to the east and north of Tampa. These folks will likely see winds pick up in the next couple of hours to hurricane strength. That is definitely what we're thinking. Orlando has -- had wind gusts of 74 miles an hour already and this eye wall holding together rather nicely. The eye itself filling a little bit, but this storm is weakening very, very slowly. By the way, this is a tropical storm out here, this is Lisa. Keep an eye on that, but it's ways away and as far as tornadoes are concerned, this tornado watch is out until 5 o'clock tonight - this afternoon - potential for tornadoes exist for the north of this system. Keep an eye on things throughout the morning. Back to you guys in the studio.

NGUYEN: All right. We'll be here throughout the morning. Thank you, Rob.

GRIFFIN: And we'll be right back with our continuing coverage of Hurricane Jeanne, after we take a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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