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Florida Braces for Direct Hit from Cat 5 Irma. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired September 9, 2017 - 02:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome everyone, this is CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Irma, I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isa Soares in Miami, where Hurricane Irma is already making her presence felt.

HOLMES: And we'll check back with you, Isa, shortly.

Meanwhile, Irma making access on Cuba's coast late on Friday local time. It's already gained strength as hurricane 5 storm and now pushing northwest towards Florida. Sustained winds, 160 miles per hour. Irma not expected to weaken before hitting the Florida Keys early on Sunday, that makes it a very unusual and powerful storm.

The window to evacuate closing quickly. For the countless drivers who did heed the call to get out, there is only one way out and that is north. But it's slow going, bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching to the horizon, as you can see there.

Now, Irma, one of the largest storm recorded and those who are staying around taking a huge risk. Emergency shelters are already filling up with those who can't or won't leave their home area.

The storm has left at least 24 people dead across the Caribbean. The totality of destruction in some places, quite simply mind-boggling. Have a look at these images on your screen now, from the island of Barbuda. Just extraordinarily.

Let's take you now to Miami, that's where we find out Isa Soares, where the rain is starting to fall, the storm is on its way to that very populated city -- Isa.

SOARES: Very much so, thank you, Michael. Just 24 hours until Hurricane Irma begins and makes landfall here but we're already starting to feel it, Michael. Not only has it been raining quite severely in the last 20 minutes but we also see the wind starting to pick up.

To my right, we're next to sea by Miami Beach and it's become much more, much more stormier here. This is not just the weather changing but the mood in Miami. We've gone from one of preparedness to one of being slightly more agitated, people slightly more worried about what's to come.

That is because authorities to trying to tell people and remaining people the scale of the Hurricane Irma that's coming and what they should be considering. They're telling people, look, if you want to leave, now it is time to be going but really seeking shelter, not getting in your car and filling up the tank and driving north.

Why?

Because the motorway, as Michael was saying, is just chockablock. It's a standstill in many ways. You're seeing bumper to bumper. So authorities telling individuals it is you're staying in Miami, hunker down, be prepared or seek one of the more of the 30 shelters here in Miami.

Let's get more on the strength of Hurricane Irma and the route and path it's taking. We have an update on the hurricane. Karen Maginnis joins us now.

Karen, what's the latest?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Isa, we have, to me, two very worrying things. The information I'll give you is the very latest from the National Hurricane Center. If I was observing this from the perspective of Florida, I'd want to know what's it doing now and what's it going to do in the future.

Two concerning things to me as I watch this, 24-48 hours ago we were watching Irma barreling along as this grand category 5 hurricane. And as it has now moved across the north central coast of Cuba, it has made landfall there so we can only imagine the kind of destruction associated with it.

But, now the National Hurricane Center has issued its latest advisory --

[02:05:00]

MAGINNIS: -- and it hasn't changed, meaning the intensity did not change once it made landfall. Typically we see that. So still at 160 miles per hour, gusts up to 175.

The other worrying thing to me is that it had been moving to the west- northwest at about 16 miles per hour, then we saw it move 14 miles per hour to the west northwest. And now we're seeing it move to the west at 12 miles an hour. So it's slowing down just a tick.

Now it is interacting with land here so that may account for it.

Do you remember Harvey?

Harvey slowed down. Harvey meandered, we're not going to see this meander, it's going to continue to trek. But the slower it moves, the more rain we'll see. So it's going to be substantial. Now look at this particular track, National Hurricane Center, right across the Florida Keys. And there we see a secondary rainfall in the vicinity of Naples.

I've been saying over and over, don't follow where the eye makes landfall because everybody's going to see hurricane force winds. So the vast majority of the peninsula of Florida.

All right. Let's draw this line right down the center of the Florida peninsula. We had seen early on these landfall areas right around Miami in that vicinity but, now, both the European model and the North American model are in amazing agreement, that it is going to be a West Coast Florida system that will impact millions of people.

I did see some of the tower cams, of different places like Tampa Bay, don't see any cars on the road there. West Palm Beach, no cars on the road there. I'm glad; it appears that people have been heeding the warning.

And, yes, Isa and Michael, the wind has picked up and so has these outer bands moving on shore. It's only going to get worse from here -- Michael.

HOLMES: Just extraordinary, isn't it, just the sheer size of this storm. Karen Maginnis, thanks so much, appreciate it. We'll check back with you shortly.

Meanwhile Irma leaving the island of Barbuda barely habitable. About 95 percent of buildings damaged some way or another when it hit as a category 5 on Wednesday. At least one person died.

We got some CNN drone video showing almost every house ripped open or completely destroyed, damage caused right across that area. Just have a look at that. Our team in Barbuda says it is pure destruction and desolation, residents are in shock. Listen to how some of them survived.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I witnessed Hurricane Louis but it was never like this. This one is the worst and the most devastated. Done more damage to Barbuda than any other storm that we in our whole life have experienced.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom cried and my brother wake me up. I was frightened. I didn't know this was going to happen to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me and my family of seven, including an infant of two months, had to shelter in a closet. Before the hurricane force winds began, we were already -- the roof was already gone from our premises and we had to go for shelter.

My main concern right now is how we are going to survive after this. Every house, every infrastructure, every utility that is here is completely damaged and gone.

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HOLMES: And Barbuda not safe yet, either. Hurricane Jose, yes, another one expected to hit there on Saturday as a category 4 storm. Officials trying to evacuate anyone left.

Now Michael Joseph is the president of the Red Cross in Antigua and Barbuda. He joins me now from the capital, St. Johns.

Let's start with the fallout from Irma, what are your most immediate needs there?

MICHAEL JOSEPH, RED CROSS: As it stands right now, we've gotten the immediate need covered, primarily because we did evacuate the entire island of Barbuda. So there's been this outpouring of support from the locals in Antigua and Barbuda.

We've been having food coming in left, right and center. We've had clothing, we've had baby supplies, toiletries. So the immediate needs are being attended to. I think most importantly what the Barbudans need right now is Barbuda as they know it.

And that shelter, that getting back their livelihood, going back to what they know because as it stands now, they're pretty much in Antigua and Barbuda not doing anything that they would normally do --

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JOSEPH: -- in Barbuda.

HOLMES: Tell me a little bit more. We see the pictures but try to give me a sense of what is left there in Barbuda.

What is there in terms of infrastructure and businesses?

JOSEPH: There is nothing left in Barbuda. It's not 95 percent damage; I think the better word is 95 percent destroyed. There's no damage, damage is whether you can repair something, this is desolation. We're talking about building everything back from basic. It's almost Barbuda being pushed back into primitive days.

You've got to run the entire electric grid, you've got to replant plumbing lines so you can get water. You've got to rebuild schools, churches, homes. You have got to give fishermen boats. The entire country we'll have to build again. So everything that would have been accomplished over the many, many years until 2017, it's all back to square one with Barbuda.

HOLMES: It just defies belief when you put it that way. Tell us a bit about the spirit of people there, the willingness to rebuild it, the determination.

Are you already detecting that?

JOSEPH: Yes, I mean Barbudans are very proud people. This is what they know, their heritage. This is something they'll fight for. So to wake up one day and have to come to the realization that you're going to have to move everybody from the country and you're going to have to go into another country and pretty much just be there with a new life.

So Barbudans themselves, they're ready. They're waiting, trying to figure out how they're going to rebuild and when. As a matter of fact, some of them, even 95 percent of the buildings that are destroyed, many of them still want to live in whatever is left. That's just how much pride they have and the love they have in Barbuda.

HOLMES: It's a remarkable spirit. I have to mention, though, Hurricane Jose.

I mean, after dealing with something like this, the devastation, what is it like to know that another one is on the way?

JOSEPH: I think that's why the government made the decision to evacuate an entire island. We consider what happened after Hurricane Irma to be a very, very fortunate and miraculous event, the fact that you have 95 percent of an entire country destroyed and only had one fatal death.

So the government wasn't going to (INAUDIBLE) ordered everybody evacuated so we can ensure safety and security because there isn't absolutely any for another category 4 hurricane. If this was to run over Barbuda, which it's going to, I can guarantee you, the number of fatalities would have significantly jumped from one to possibly 50, even 100 in a single night.

HOLMES: That's a very good point.

I guess, you know, if you and I were to talk a year from now, maybe two years from now, what do you think or hope Barbuda will look like?

JOSEPH: A year or two, I'll tell you that we probably just finish with the electric system; we've probably only rebuild 20 percent of the infrastructure that's needed a year from now.

It's so much. And it is being hopeful, this is me, saying this (INAUDIBLE) on a Saturday, we are able to get huge international donations. If we're able to get influx of all the materials we need, if, within the next three months we get everything here, then in the next three years we would (INAUDIBLE) Barbuda 25 percent of where it was the night before Hurricane Irma.

HOLMES: You know, you talked earlier, Michael, about the spirit of the people, the determination to rebuild. But give me a sense of the emotions that people must have been going through. I just can't get over looking at the aerial pictures and the totality of the damage and how much heartbreak that must have brought to the people who live there, for whom this is home.

JOSEPH: I mean, I can imagine it was devastating for Barbuda but it was even more devastating to Antigua as well because we were up in communication with Barbuda up until 10:30 that night and the communication just went. So there was no warning. No one knew what was happening on Barbuda until the time (INAUDIBLE) --

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JOSEPH: -- hours later, then he reported back to Antigua, the picture and their report of 95 percent destruction. The entire country went into silence and disbelief that something so tragic could happen in less than 16 hours.

HOLMES: Absolutely extraordinary. Michael Joseph with the Red Cross, St. John's, Antigua, Barbuda. Thank you so much. Appreciate you sharing the feelings of the people there and the optimism, the spirit, the determination to rebuild, extraordinary stuff. Thank you very much, Michael Joseph.

JOSEPH: You're welcome.

HOLMES: All right. Unbelievable, isn't it, when you look at that.

We're going to take a short back. When we come back Hurricane Irma dropping torrential rain all over Cuba. We'll show you how this monster storm is getting incredibly even stronger. We'll be right back.

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HOLMES: All right, I want you to take a look at these images. They're from the Dutch side of St. Martin's, showing the destruction --

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HOLMES: -- left by Hurricane Irma. The Dutch Navy tweeted that the island had been hit with huge damage and more could be on the way.

We've been talking about Hurricane Jose, now a category 4 storm and it could pass close to St. Martin in the next 24 hours. A double hit, extraordinary stuff.

Meanwhile, Irma has strengthened back into a category 5 and is set to slam the U.S. state of Florida. Hurricane Irma now battering parts of Cuba as we speak and it has regained the wind speeds that make it that category 5 storm.

Even before it made landfall, Irma was bringing torrential rain to the country. Our Patrick Oppmann has more from the Cuban coast.

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PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So here on the northern central coast of Cuba, we continue to feel these feeder bands coming in, these squalls. They're bringing a lot of rain and wind.

This one is not that strong. Earlier tonight, though, I was nearly blown over. A storm came in and, really out of nowhere, I didn't even have time to put my rain jacket on, it was incredibly forceful. I've covered plenty of hurricanes and yet nothing like this has ever happened to me where I just could not get my jacket on.

Out of nowhere, rain came in that was pretty much blinding and it knocked out -- that squall actually knocked out power in the area where I am in Cuba, where we've seen a lot of evacuations over the last day or two.

So conditions are going to continue to deteriorate here as we get into Saturday, as the storm moves in closer to Cuba before heading the Florida. People say they are prepared here but of course until the storm actually hits, we won't know how prepared Cuba is. But people at this point really don't have any other option. If they haven't fled and if they haven't evacuated, then they need to stay put because the storm is coming -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Cuba.

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SOARES: That was Patrick Oppmann there for us in Cuba, really who's felt some of the brunt of Hurricane Irma as we been hearing from our weather meteorologist, Karen Maginnis, is saying that really Cuba is feeling the brunt of Hurricane Irma.

But also the outer part of the hurricane is being felt in Bahamas. Let's go now to Stefano Pozzebon. He joins us now.

Stefano, what can you see, what can you hear? Give us a sense of what is happening on the ground where you are.

STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: What is happening right now is that we are experiencing torrential rainfall that Irma has brought to so many other parts of the Caribbean.

And until about half an hour ago when we were starting to see -- of course, rainfall that brings further concern for the people of the Bahamas, given how flat and tiny this little archipelago is, Isa.

We are expecting up to 12 inches of rainfall and about up to 20 feet of sea rising -- and sea level rising. This could bring concern for the people, especially in the southernmost islands of the Bahamas, which are the ones that are really feeling the burden of Irma's passage -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, of course and you've been talking about the rainfall and concerns over wind. One of my friends been talking about how powerful those winds have been in the Bahamas.

What is the government doing in terms of evacuation?

How is their grand plan, how did that work out?

Because when we think about the storm surges that we keep on hearing and how high this will be, how does that pan out for the ones on the ground?

POZZEBON: Yes, absolutely, the government has been planned an evacuation plan for six of the southernmost islands of the archipelago. They were evacuating between Wednesday and Thursday, in what was the biggest evacuation operation that the Bahamas emergency management agency has brought to date.

And yesterday, we were able to visit one of the shelters here in Nassau where those people, the displaced people from the southernmost islands were brought to. They were able to -- they were welcomed into one of these shelters we mentioned and camp beds.

And we spoke with a few of them, they were pleased with the actions of the government. They felt that the government has organized a successful evacuation plan but, of course, a lot of concern for them for what they could find.

Ones, probably next week, they'll make their way back to the homes, what they could find there that Irma has swept over the island -- Isa.

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SOARES: Stefano Pozzebon, do keep us updated on the situation. Of course, keep safe for us. We'll be in touch with you in the next hour or so.

Here in Miami, we have seen rain -- it's been really raining quite heavily in the last hour or so. Winds have also begun to pick up and the water here to my right has gotten much, much nastier and much more ferocious.

Derek Van Dam is monitoring the situation on the ground. He joins us now from Miami Beach.

Derek, we've had more than some 5.6 million people in Florida ordered to evacuate. That is a staggering amount. That is a quarter of the population. From what I've been seeing since I've been here, the majority of people have been heeding those warnings.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, without a doubt. Proof is in the shot right behind me, Isa. This is Ocean Drive; granted it's 2 o'clock in the morning local time here but this city street would normally be packed with cars, people leaving bars and restaurants.

It's a Friday night, it's the height of summer, more towards the tail end of summer but rather a very popular time for visitors within this area. Really, the only cars that we've seen, a few people that decided to stick out the storm, other media personalities here and cops patrolling the area as well.

A lot of incredible things that have happened here. We've already felt the first kind of feeder bands that have started to filter in into the Miami-Dade County region. It was incredible how quickly the weather changed. The winds started to gust 35-40 miles per hour, over 50 kilometers per hour. The temperature dropped nearly 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It was incredible just to feel that sudden change of temperature and the winds. That is just a sign of things to come.

Of course we've got the coastal storm surge that we need to pay very close attention to. Not only the east coast, we've been talking about that a lot but also the west coast. The National Weather Service has extended both hurricane warnings and storm surge warnings from Brevard County on the east coast all the way just north of Tampa on the west coast. So that was new within the past hour as well.

And we look, as meteorologists, at just incredible detail, the computer models that continually come into us. And some of the latest information, one of the European models that we look at, has a delayed landfall with this hurricane.

And what makes this significant is that, that means it has the opportunity to travel a little further along those warm waters just into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the models, if we're to believe them, shows that westerly track getting shifted a little bit to the west, that means maybe a landfall and hurricane just south of Tampa. Not good news for Tampa or for the Naples region.

That will bring winds there easily in excess of 200 kph or 120 miles per hour. The other thing about this is the enormous size of the storm and the fact that hurricane force winds will extend to the other side of the Florida peninsula.

So with this landfall moving further and further west, we'll feel the effects not only on the west coast but also on the east coast as well. So this is going to impact the entire state of Florida. And if you have evacuated, good for you; if you've stuck around, you've got a long two days ahead of you -- Isa.

SOARES: Like authorities have been saying, Derek, this is not time to be dithering. If you haven't decided, perhaps you should hunker down and seek shelter before it makes landfall in less than 24 hours or so.

Derek Van Dam there for us, thank you very much. We'll touch base with you throughout the hour.

And after a very short break, we'll get an update on the Hurricane Irma, its path, its strength but also that rainfall that Derek was talking about, what should Florida expect? We'll have much more after this short break.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

HOLMES: And welcome back everyone to Orlando, Florida, where we continue our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma. It's about 2:30 in the morning here but still lively out on the street of this city.

The main part of this storm is not going to hit here until Sunday afternoon and it will hit here. There will be a lot of impact on the city. There are more than 5 million residents, think about that, 5.5 million, actually, who have been ordered to get away and seek shelter, 5.5 million people in a state of 20 million, extraordinary number.

Now Irma strengthened back to a category 5 storm and reached Cuba with sustained winds of 160 miles an hour, that a little less than 260 kilometers an hour, extraordinary wind speed, still in this storm. Irma has killed at least 24 people in the Caribbean.

Got some drone footage you're looking at there, which shows the devastation on the tiny island of Barbuda, where at least one person was killed. When you see that kind of damage, it seems extraordinary, the death toll was just one.

The prime minister though says the island is now barely habitable. About 95 percent of the buildings there were damaged.

Let's take you out now to Miami, where we find our Isa Soares.

And I know the rain has started there, if not the worst of the wind.

SOARES: Very much so, Michael. Yes. You're talking about how, in Florida where you are, in Orlando, you see people out at night still. Well, it's not the case here, it's very much a ghost town. Pretty desolate.

Let's get the latest on the storm's path and the strength as we're seeing this rain but also the wind starting to pick up. Karen Maginnis joins us now.

Karen, in the last hour or so, you were giving us your two concerns while looking at the storm as it passes over the Bahamas but also over Cuba.

When you look at it, what concerns you at this stage?

MAGINNIS: There are several concerns and that is that it has slowed down its forward movement. We saw it just racing along when it was still out over the warm waters of the Atlantic; there was no interference.

[02:35:00]

MAGINNIS: Then it was being interfered by the Leeward Islands, the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. It made landfall over Cuba and started to slow down.

Now a few miles per hour difference doesn't sound like a lot. But as far as rainfall goes -- and being whipped by wind for longer periods of time -- it is devastating. We're seeing some of the outer bands make their way on shore. You'll see a band, heavy rainfall, the wind kicks up. It'll clear out and it will still be breezy and then the next band comes in. This hurricane is still roughly 300 miles to the south-southeast of

Miami. This is a forecast radar. We're going to point out a couple things here. That is, it will bounce off of Cuba, start to make its way more towards the northwest and then move over to Florida Keys. And then look what happens in the vicinity of Naples.

But a double landfall. So it doesn't stay on land the whole time, at least according to the computer models. They're always being revised, they have to, to keep up with the new data that's getting put into it.

Here are some of the rainfall total estimates and through the spine of Florida, take a look at this, in that purple, you could see 10 to 20 inches of rainfall. I want to give you a little more specific view of what we are anticipating.

Take a look at this. We're going to show it to you on our virtual reality. As we take a look across Florida to the south, if this slows down even more, which it could, you could see these rainfall totals increase another 30 percent, maybe 40 percent possibly.

But through the Florida Keys, you could expect over a foot of rainfall. In the vicinity of Fort Myers, Florida, and into Naples and Tampa, maybe about a foot of rainfall there as well. Towards Orlando, 7-8 inches of rainfall possible.

And this is kind of an interesting things. You're probably wondering why north central sections right around Jacksonville and the Okefenokee swamp, which I'd love to go to, going to be a different sort of scenery there after this makes landfall, could see very heavy rainfall.

That's because it's going to be enhanced by the moisture that's driven on kind of the backside of this. A lot of these tropical systems, you see it in the Pacific all the time, they kind of enhance the precipitation.

Still looking at winds at 160 miles per hour, category 5, moving west at about 12 miles per hour. The storm surge is going to be a big deal, this is low-lying area. This is a huge storm. If you put it on a map, it'll be the size of Texas.

But here's that model that I've been telling you about, this European model. There you go, Key West, Naples, those seem to be the target zones. It has shifted from the east side of Florida to the west side.

But, Isa, as we know I've been saying, it doesn't really matter because it's so broad, its impact is going to be felt up and down the state.

SOARES: Thank you very much, Karen, for putting it all into perspective. What officials have been saying all along, stop looking at the path, stop wondering whether it's going slightly east or west, as Karen is pointing out.

The important thing about it is its strength. It's a category 5; it will make landfall here in Miami in less than 24 hours and it's extremely powerful and dangerous. That's why in the Miami-Dade area we see 23,000 people in shelters; there are 43 shelters or so, seven of which are at capacity.

Let's get more now, what officials are doing on the ground to get people moving and safe. I'm joined now on the phone by Miami-Dade police detective Artemis Cologne (ph).

Sir, thank you very much for joining us. I saw today the police force were out, knocking on doors and telling people to evacuate.

Do you believe the majority of people have been meeting your advice and warning?

ARTEMIS COLOGNE (PH), MIAMI-DADE POLICE DETECTIVE: Hi, Isa, thank you for having us. Yes, absolutely. We did see a big turnaround since yesterday. Yesterday people were a little hesitant but, as of today, we have a bunch of shelters that have been opened up and people are actually taking advantage and going to these shelters.

I think they actually took the severity of this storm serious and they're actually helping us out, they're cooperating and they're going to all these shelters. We saw a big turnaround from yesterday to today as I think reality's actually sinking in.

SOARES: Yes, and when you meet people and you come face to face with those who are saying, I'm just going to stay put.

[02:40:00]

SOARES: What do you ask them, what is your advice to them?

COLOGNE (PH): Like what we've been telling them. Listen, unfortunately there's going to come a time in the hurricane that it's going to be too rough out there, the winds are going to be too harsh and we are going to cease operations. Our officers have to go hunker down themselves. And that's going to be the scary part.

We're going to have to tell these people, listen, if you need immediate assistance, it's not going to be available. And if you're in one of these evacuation areas, it may even take longer for us get to you. So that's the main concern that we have is that once we get the go-ahead to go back out there and start helping and start answering these calls, that these people in these evacuation areas may be even harder to reach.

That's obviously going to delay the process of getting any help out to them.

SOARES: Of course, because when it finally hits and if you dial for help, it may be impossible to get there, of course. You've got several spinning plates in front of you.

What is your biggest concern as we head into those key hours before Hurricane Irma hits?

COLOGNE: The main thing we wanted to get out to everybody was to be ready and to be prepared. The police is going to be out there; we activated as of yesterday at 6:00 in the morning, our Alpha Bravo shift, which is 12-hour shifts. Our whole department is in full uniform.

We have a day shift that will be here 12 hours and a night shift that's going to be the other 12 hours. So we have a 24-hour coverage. Our officers are ready. We will be responding. It's just, once again, when it's not safe for us to be out there, once these winds reach a certain speed, we are going to seize that response time.

And this is a time that hopefully people prepared themselves. They have enough supplies and they've boarded their houses and stuff like that and actually took advantage. And the people who went to the shelters, that's the main concern.

Our main concern is the citizens, the people's safety and it's for that time period we're not going to be able to respond, that's what scares us the most. But as soon as we get the go-ahead, all the first responders will be out there answering these calls and addressing any area of concern that we may have.

SOARES: Sir, I appreciate you taking the time. Of course, the work and the service of all your officers on the ground. I've seen so many up and down the road where I am at the moment. Appreciate all your work and, of course, we're thinking of you, as the rest of everyone in Florida. Thank you very much there for us, Detective Artemis Cologne (ph).

And that's -- it's just staggering when you hear from the detectives how many police officers on the ground, the work involved but also trying to remind people that, in fact, if you're going to hunker down, be prepared.

And also remember, do not call for help because they might not be able to get to you when the storm is at its strongest. We'll have much, much more, of course, after a very short break.

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HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

The outer bands of Hurricane Irma are being felt in Florida this hour. The storm, of course, has already ruined countless buildings, left thousands of people homeless and helpless and killed at least 24 people as it marched its way through the Caribbean.

Now officials in Florida are trying to avoid the same devastation and loss of life. Our Brian Todd with more from West Palm Beach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Entire hillsides wiped out like this one in the British Virgin Islands. Roofs blown off. Coastal buildings shredded. This devastation in the Caribbean is what Florida could be facing as soon as Saturday.

In the Dominican Republic, residents looked shell-shocked at the amount of destruction, with collapsed buildings, downed trees and debris strewn everywhere.

In Barbuda, one victim hid her family of seven in a closet as their roof came off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every house, every infrastructure, every utility that is completely damaged and gone.

TODD (voice-over): Coastal flooding also a problem on islands like St. Barts. In St. Martin, where buildings are flattened, cars are overturned and streets are blocked with debris, security forces had to be deployed to counter looting. The Bahamas and Cuba now closest to the deadly storm's path with Florida up next.

Forty million people are estimated to live in the forecast cone. Hurricane force winds stretching about as wide as the width of the state of Florida. And coastal storm surges of five to 10 feet are possible.

It is now the final hours in Florida for residents to get ready or get out. Police in West Palm Beach giving residents a final warning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please evacuate.

TODD (voice-over): Mandatory evacuations now covering counties throughout the state, including more than 600,000 people in Miami-Dade alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please go today. Please don't wait until the last minute. We are hoping that you're off the road before the wind comes.

TODD (voice-over): Residents around Lake Okeechobee ordered to evacuate based on revised forecasts. Even if the dike holds, there are now concerns about the massive lake's overflow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be additional impacts from excessive wind pushing some water over the dike.

TODD (voice-over): At Miami airport, more than half of the day's flights were cancelled. And motorists are reporting heavy congestion on some stretches of interstate, with some drive times sometimes taking hours longer than nuclear missile.

In Miami-Dade, over 10,000 have already gone to shelters. Five out of 13 shelters are already full. For those who decide to shelter in place, this advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick a room in your home with no windows. When those hurricane force winds come, bring your family into the home where windows can't get shattered.

TODD (voice-over): One special risk category: the elderly. One home care owner tells us he plans to move his patients soon and, because they have Alzheimer's, they need to be evacuated with care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're confused. So when it's dark, when if it's dark or anything's going on, they're going to ask questions. And it's kind of hard to explain it to them.

TODD: Palm Beach county officials are scrambling to get other members of the elderly population into safe shelters. A county official told me they're sending special vehicles door to door in some cases to pick up people at their homes and get them to safe places and continuing their communications outreach to reach as many members of that vulnerable segment of the population as they can before the storm hits -- Brian Todd, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

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HOLMES: Well, Mexico is dealing with two natural disasters. Difficult rescue operations after a deadly earthquake being compounded by a major storm. We're going to have more from Mexico City next.

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HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

While Florida braces for Irma, authorities in Mexico are grappling with their own major storm. Katia made landfall in Mexico as a category 1 hurricane. A few hours ago it's since been downed graded to a tropical storm. But the wind and the rain still complicating rescue efforts from an earlier disaster, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake late on Thursday night left at least 61 people dead.

Our Polo Sandoval reports from Mexico City.

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POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People in one of the world's largest cities remain on high alert at this hour, fearing the potential for even more aftershocks after a magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook much of Mexico. There were many people here that scrambled for cover after home and some of the familiar landmarks around the city shook and swayed.

What's interesting is, because of the distance from the epicenter, we did not see any major damage here in the Mexican capital. Sadly, however, that was not the case in some of the southern states, like Chiapas or Oaxaca, where many of the fatalities have been confirmed; there are already dozens there. Officials fear that the numbers could even go higher in the future.

Also in some of the neighboring states, more on the northern coast, for example, the city of Minatitlan (ph), we heard from residents who are --

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SANDOVAL: -- describing what it was like fleeing their home and then having them reduced to rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were sleeping and suddenly Mom said, "It's shaking, it's shaking," and we got up but we were not able to get out. It was very strong. My children began screaming and panicked, too, when we saw -- we managed to leave but the whole house fell down.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): On Friday evening, the Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto toured some of the hardest-hit areas, many of those in Southern Mexico, some of those areas really do struggle economically. So some of those people perhaps who had very little do stand to lose the most.

Meanwhile, here in Mexico, as we mentioned, people remain on high alert. Much of the damage that was prevented here was because of some of those building codes that have been upgraded and reviewed after a devastating earthquake that took place here in 1985.

Unlike what took place this week, however, that earthquake was much closer to the Mexican capital -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Mexico City.

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HOLMES: Well, Hurricane Irma is a monster category 5 hurricane and it's hurtling its way toward the state of Florida. We'll look at where the storm is now and just how bad things could get in just a moment. For Isa Soares in Miami, I'm Michael Holmes in Orlando. We'll be right back.