Guest: Marty Van Veet, Buddy Dyer, Max Mayfield, Toni Jennings
RANDY MEIER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Welcome back to MSNBC. Live pictures right now out of Fort Myers, Florida, WBBH, our NBC affiliate there. Now I just want to tell our viewers, normally you‘d see Dan Abrams coming up with “THE ABRAMS REPORT.” Not tonight. Hurricane Charley now a deadly hurricane packing winds of 145 miles an hour. There you can see what it looks like. Some sustained gusts there. There‘s that roof starting to go.
CONTESSA BREWER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Whoops, there it goes.
MEIER: In that 80 to 90 mile an hour range right now.
BREWER: Well, Hurricane Charley made landfall about 4:00 p.m. Eastern time in Florida and it landed at Port Charlotte. But obviously there have been some very strong gusts in areas in and around Fort Myers, as far up as Tampa, Florida. They‘re seeing widespread flooding. The shelters are full. Two million people urged to evacuate. Many of them did. As you can see now, live pictures. This is why authorities really wanted those residents to get out and away from the coastal areas.
MEIER: It‘s interesting to watch this. Many of the people and many of the assessment teams who were trying to get a handle on damage haven‘t been able to do that, clearly because the storm‘s power is still so intense they cannot get those assessment teams in there, probably until later tonight, maybe in as far after midnight.
And the storm did what they call a twist on them. It started out heading in a northerly direction, along that west coast of Florida. It looked like it was going to impact and we had the news this morning. It looked like it was going to impact somewhere around Tampa, right in that area. It did a loop, heading inland quicker than it thought, coming in right about there where you saw that Fort Myers area, Port Charlotte, as you pointed out. The winds and the storm surge now to category four, incredible, 145 miles an hour.
And the storm surge, Contessa, they were talking about eight, 10, possibly up into that 18-foot range of really it‘s a wall of water that comes in because that hurricane pulls the water up and then presses it out over the land.
BREWER: ... which obviously in those low-lying areas is very dangerous for anyone who has not evacuated. We want to go now to MSNBC‘s meteorologist Sean McLaughlin, and, Sean, at last check it looked like the eye of the storm had moved past interstate 75 there in Florida.
SEAN McLAUGHLIN, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know that area well, right down along the beach area, just a little bit inland. It is now just a few miles, about 15, 20 miles east of Sarasota right in there. Still a well-defined eye and eye wall. This is the area of the strongest winds and the heaviest amounts of rain right there in the middle of hurricane Charley. But look at these feeder bands. In fact, look at that. That‘s the east coast of Florida, all the way stretching back off the west coast of Florida. All way across the Florida peninsula now, this storm is just dominating the central portion of the Sunshine State.
But this is not the end. In fact, it is only the beginning. Let‘s go to the watches and warnings still in effect for hurricane Charley. It‘s going to move basically up the northeastern seaboard of Florida and then in through the Carolinas. There‘s still a hurricane warning in effect now over on the east side from Cape Canaveral area all way up Cape Kennedy, all way up to the Santee River in the South Carolina area. That‘s hurricane warnings.
Now the weekend outlook on Saturday, boy, it looks like some heavy flooding as it continues to trek through the central part of the state. Expect hurricane-force winds in excess of 74, 75 miles an hour. A lot of flooding and then here comes the Saturday impact up and down the Carolina coastline as far north as Washington, D.C. Look for flooding and very strong winds, rough seas along the Carolinas. It‘s kind of a triple dose of weather, -- triple dose of rain this weekend. That‘s because this cold front has just stalled on the Atlantic seaboard. It is raining now in New York and what‘s forgotten about all this coverage of Charley is the old tropical storm Bonnie.
All of that moisture is ahead of Charley and it is going to produce anywhere from four to six inches, serious flood threat basically from the Carolinas as far north as Maine. So, this is a major impact all weekend long. It is a busy weekend here on the eastern seaboard and it is going to be a wet one. We‘ll have more on the latest on the track of Charley. He is moving north at around 20 to 25 miles an hour, continues to zip through the central part of the coast. Orlando still in its sights.
MEIER: Sean, let me go back to that radar loop for you and I want to ask a question in terms of its intensity. Now that it is well on shore there, will Charley lose some steam as hurricanes often do when they hit land or is this one so massive? And, again, I think these—correct me if I‘m wrong, as it loses steam it also the miles per hour go down and those wins, do they de-categorize it at that point? Do they bring it back to a category three or a category two?
McLAUGHLIN: They‘ll continue to maintain the focus of the wind speeds. It‘s hard to tell once it moves inland whether or not it‘s going to maintain its circulation. That‘s what‘s going to maintain that hurricane status, as long as it gets continuously fed, very moist, unstable air. Now the fact that we have those hurricane warnings from the cape all the way up in through the Carolinas is because, look, again, this thing is already the entire width of the state of Florida.
It doesn‘t have a lot of miles to go until it gets out into the Atlantic and it gets warmer water. It gets more moisture and then here we go again. If it might be able to intensify, maybe tomorrow afternoon, tomorrow night and then start skipping up through the coast. But this thing is putting down a lot of water right now in the central Florida area.
BREWER: Sean, it is not just the winds and the rain now. Also there is a danger from tornadoes as well, correct?
McLAUGHLIN: Yes. In fact, the last couple of hours, there have been several tornado warnings north and south of Orlando. Now Jacksonville, just last hour was under a tornado warning. Several outer bands, these outer rain bands keep moving through the Orlando-Jacksonville area, producing tornadic activity and you can see right here, this is the live radar. There is another very strong severe areas of thunderstorms moving in and around the Orlando area. So yes, tornadoes definitely an effect from this. In fact, three people lost their live this morning from tornadoes associated with Bonnie. So, we‘re not even talking about tornadoes yet associated with hurricane Charley. So, it is just a severe situation down there.
BREWER: It looks like this is going to be an ongoing story throughout the weekend. Sean McLaughlin, thank you.
MEIER: All right. Well, earlier today, some two million people were urged to evacuate for higher ground. If Floridians chose to see stay, well, time as you can see from that radar loop, is up. Hurricane Charley arrived category four with vengeance. Tampa Bay missed the hardest part. Our Ron Blome is there with a look at how Tampa is faring as the outer fringes of that hurricane start to touch Tampa—Ron.
RON BLOME, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: And we‘re really starting to feel the winds. They‘re coming instead from the ocean, from inland as the storm swirls counterclockwise in. The mayor of Tampa held a news conference about 45 minutes ago and she said, look, even though who storm didn‘t hit here as you‘ve been projected, we want people who evacuated to stay in the shelters. You were going to stay there anyway, so stay overnight so we can get a feel on any disaster or any problems that may have taken place here, any problems with utilities. In fact, the water was shut down to some areas because they didn‘t want to have any contamination if there were any ruptures.
But the real story though of course is down at Fort Myers, Port Charlotte. That‘s where the storm came ashore with a vengeance, 145-mile-an-hour winds as it hit Sanibel Island, 107-mile-an-hour winds on the back side of the eye at Punta Gorda. We‘re hearing some reports through the local media, just monitoring them, of some trailer home parks in DeSoto County that lost a lot of roofs. And of course trailer homes do not stand up under category two plus winds and we had a category four come ashore.
There is a report of a roof being severely damaged or blown off of an evacuation shelter in DeSoto. That‘s about 45 miles inland moving up from Port Charlotte. Some damage there, a lot of trees down. But, again, we don‘t have any casualty figures. Now Governor Jeb Bush held a news conference about 15 minutes ago from Tallahassee. He said they do not have any handle on the dollar amount of damage. That‘s something they‘ll pull together tomorrow morning. There was a figure being bandied about this morning that said it could be $15 billion in damage, but that was a worst-case scenario.
That included the storm pushing straight into Tampa Bay, filling the water up behind us to several feet above my head, having 10 feet of salt water downtown Tampa. That didn‘t happen because the storm came down to the south and so the counterclockwise swirl put the storm surge over Sanibel Island and a lot of popular resort areas down there but it didn‘t hit up here. As the mayor said, we‘re so glad it missed us, we feel relieved. But we‘re also pained by the suffering that we know that is taking place to the south down around Fort Myers as Charley pushed ashore.
Now the other thing that is happening is Charley is still a hurricane, sliding down to a category two in terms of strength, not officially downgraded yet and it‘s going to move into the Orlando area over the next couple of hours. So they‘re going to see some heavy rains and a lot of spin-off tornadoes have been reported throughout the area. That‘s the story from Tampa Bay. Back to you.
MEIER: All right. NBC‘s Ron Blome in Tampa Bay. Thank you very much, Ron.
BREWER: As you might imagine, with two million people being urged to evacuate, the shelters are swelling. Of course there were those facilities where people really couldn‘t be moved. We want to talk with a hospital spokesperson, Marty Van Veet with Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center, joins us now on the phone from Fort Myers, Florida. And Marty, can you tell us how you prepared for this storm and what it is looking like now outside?
MARTY VAN VEET, SOUTHWEST REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Sure, Contessa. Obviously being in Florida, we were well prepared for storms like this and, you know, we brought in additional fuel. Typically our hospitals prepare for a three-day period to be able to have food, water, fuel and so Forth. So, we were well prepared for that. I can tell you that right now here it‘s—I won‘t say calm, but it‘s certainly much calmer than the 130 mile winds we saw earlier today. We do have downed trees in the area and debris is pretty well scattered throughout both of our facilities. We‘ve lost some, you know, some doors and boarded those up and we‘re just really weathering the storm well. I just—I have to say our team is great at both of our facilities, both Gulf Coast Hospital and Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center. The morale of the staff is good and they‘re just very focused on patient safety and taking care of the people that we‘ve got.
BREWER: We saw a shot from Fort Myers just a few minutes ago of a roof being blown off by the winds out there now. Are you still seeing strong winds, branches being blown off trees, doors coming off of the hospital?
VAN VEET: At the current moment, we‘re not. But what we understand is that the bands surrounding the storm will probably hit us again within the next two to three hours and they‘re predicting, again, very strong winds and also a lot of rain showers with that. And, of course, you know, the storm surge that everyone is waiting for with, you know, potentially 10 to 18 feet of water coming in with that. We haven‘t seen the effects of that yet.
BREWER: Obviously you are on the phone now so your communication lines are still up and running. What about the power situation?
VAN VEET: Our power has been off since about 2:30 in the afternoon.
We‘re on full generator power for the facilities.
BREWER: There we‘re seeing the video now if you look on your screen of that roof in Fort Myers coming off. You can see those gusty winds coming on that. The storm came on at 145 miles per hour. Marty, were you scared?
VAN VEET: Personally, yes, I was very scared. I‘ve been in Florida for 25 years and I‘ve never seen anything like it. But a lot of our folks that have lived here a lot longer than me haven‘t seen anything like it either because I‘m sure as you‘ve been reporting throughout the day, hurricane Donna was the last one to hit Fort Myers really severely and that was a category three back in 1960.
BREWER: I‘m curious, did you tell your off-duty staff to stay home or did you actually bring people on in anticipation that they might be needed in the day to come?
VAN VEET: Our hurricane preparation divides our staff into teams. We call them the A team and the B team and the A team is informed well in advance when they need to be here. And, of course, to prepare to be here throughout the duration of the storm until the roads are safe to travel. So it was quite a sight. I got up here at the hospital this morning at about 3:15 and watched as our A team staff trickled in with sleeping bags and pillows and everything you would need to weather a storm until the roads are passable.
BREWER: I‘ve been in some of those evacuation shelters sometimes. Sometimes it‘s a little bit of a party atmosphere, seems like a camp out or a childhood sleepover. Is there any sort of that feeling in the hospital right now at all?
VAN VEET: I think there is just a tremendous amount of team spirit and camaraderie. You know, I mean, obviously it is a serious thing taking care of patients and we‘ve had our challenges. We did have to relocate patients that were in rooms that were southerly facing. But, you know, we did that in teams as well and, you know, I wouldn‘t call it a party atmosphere, but I would say our staff is just—they‘re very dedicated. They‘re very focused to taking care of patients and I would say the mood is upbeat. I will tell you our daycare center probably has a party atmosphere. We set up a daycare for the staff who have children and had no place else to bring the children in order that their parents could come to work. And I think that has been party atmosphere but I‘ve not had to baby sit.
BREWER: Well, and that‘s always a good thing. Marty Van Veet, the hospital up there in Fort Myers, Florida. Thank you for your time.
MEIER: Watching hurricane Charley very closely. You‘re watching MSNBC. Our coverage continues right after the break.
BREWER: Look at this video, just coming into MSNBC, hurricane Charley jumped to a category four storm quickly from a category two earlier this afternoon. Winds, when the storm made landfall, estimated at 145 miles per hour. They first slammed in to Sanibel island and then made landfall on mainland Florida at Port Charlotte. Now up past Sarasota there about 15 miles east of Sarasota, east of interstate 75 there in Florida. Of course, people were told to evacuate the Tampa Bay area earlier today because those storm surges were expected to reach up to 20 feet.
MEIER: And you can see the radar there, Sarasota now getting the worst of it. Fort Myers to the south got the worst of it just an hour or so ago. Let‘s take you live now to WBBH out of Fort—you know what? Let‘s switch to WFLA out of Tampa. Again, Tampa was the earlier point of impact. Let‘s listen in live now to see what they‘re experiencing on the north side of those inland winds as they hit Tampa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... once again that had been blown around. Once again, thankfully in this area, at least, no significant damage. However I can tell you we‘ve been listening to numerous reports out of Charlotte County about some fairly significant damage down there, numerous downed trees, some high storm surge, some people on the barrier islands report a storm surge, perhaps as much as 10 feet, which isn‘t as high as they had predicted earlier, but it‘s still significantly high, and once it becomes safe for us to do so, we‘ll be able to drive down there, try to get you some video and do a better assessment of the damage. Bob and Gail?
MEIER: There you go. Clearly the situation in Tampa not as they had anticipated and that is good news. You actually saw some people on the beach behind that WFLA reporter as he was giving his live report there.
BREWER: Earlier today, we saw a press conference with Governor Jeb Bush and he said, look, the first step today is to protect all of Florida‘s residents who may still be in the line of Charley‘s path there, Orlando coming up next in the direction there. He said that earlier they were expecting damage up to $15 billion. But that was based on a computer model earlier this morning where the storm would actually hit the—the eye of the storm would hit the center of Tampa and from the storm surge through Tampa. Well, now, of course, with the twists and turns that the storm takes, that may be very different.
MEIER: And just before the hurricane Charley bore down on some Florida residents, they refused to heed the call of authorities urging them to flee. Karen Grace, reporter with WFLA has more now from Apollo Beach, Florida for us.
KAREN GRACE, WFLA: You know, when we first went live with the story here at Apollo Beach, it was very calm and it was actually quite a beautiful day. We ran into a couple of surfers. Now, you know that the threat has pretty much diminished, we do still have some rain. As you can see, it‘s pretty soggy out here. The waters, as I want to show you, were pretty calm earlier today. It is a different story right now. People tell me all the time that they see ripples similar to these. Of course, I‘m not from here. But looking around, I can definitely notice a change in the pattern in the water right now and earlier today a lot of people were mostly concerned about a possible surge of 15 feet, possibly even 10 feet. That has now died down, that threat altogether.
And we want to show you earlier today how people were preparing for that threat.
GRACE (voice-over): Three-year-old Daisy has never seen a hurricane. Hopefully, she won‘t anytime soon. Her family is seeking safety away from the shore before hurricane Charley strikes their home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten feet, we‘re OK. But anything over that, it will probably come into the house.
GRACE: Across Apollo Beach, boats are tied down, rocking on unusually calm waters. Residents continued to secure their homes before splitting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hoping the best. I don‘t want to definitely come back and find water in my house. That‘s the main thing I‘m concerned about. The winds, yes, I‘m a little concerned about. I think we‘re on the protected side of the canal. We got the houses right over on the other sides.
GRACE: Others are not so fearful. They hope hurricane Charley pays a more passive visit and they‘ll patiently wait to find out for themselves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t think it‘s going to be that bad. Historically we‘ve been pretty lucky here and I think—I‘m going to play the odds game again. I think we‘re going to be OK.
MEIER: There is a brief look back earlier, the thoughts of people as they prepared in the Tampa area for hurricane Charley. And you know what, they were lucky. Hurricane Charley bearing to the south, now going east and to the southeast of Tampa. They won‘t get the worst of it. Still, they will get a lot of rain and some serious winds.
BREWER: We are staying on top of the path of hurricane Charley as it makes its way across Florida and our coverage will continue right after this break. Stay with MSNBC.
MEIER: Hurricane Charley, a category four, an area that was skirted, Tampa. Tampa, Florida was the direct impact site this morning. The hurricane turned inland earlier, more turning toward Fort Myers, but still Tampa Bay will feel the effects. The winds there are coming from inland and not from the ocean side. Still, a lot of rain will fall. You know, a lot of things in covering a hurricane like this is, we get our live shots where the technology allows us to get them, where the storm isn‘t so bad and right now, that‘s Tampa. Let‘s go to NBC‘s Jay Gray. He‘s monitoring the storm developments out of there for us. Hey, Jay.
JAY GRAY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Randi. They did dodge a bullet here in Tampa. The initial forecasts were for the strike point to be here. It was a bit further south. We‘re still getting some rain. The winds picking up from the outer bands. I‘m going to step out of the way so you can get a real feel for the elements right now. Again the strike point to the south. We‘re hearing that when it came ashore near Sanibel Island, that the winds were at 145 miles an hour, sustained 160 -mile-an-hour gusts and now we‘re learning there was a wall of water. That water 15 feet high. It‘s the strongest storm that ever hit this area.
GRAY (voice-over): Charley‘s early calling card was along Key West. High winds, big waves, and a pounding rain battered the area. As Charley brushed the Keys and barreled toward the Florida peninsula, the storm gathered strength, growing to a category four hurricane, a major storm with sustained winds at 145 miles an hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody needs to hunker down, get through this. It‘s going to be a daytime event. They‘re going to be able to see what‘s going on and it‘s going to be very frightening for the people who are going through the storm.
GRAY: There was a massive evacuation effort under way all along the Florida Gulf coast. In many areas, those orders to leave were mandatory. More than a million people packing whatever they could and moving to higher ground, looking for any way to ease the tension, but realizing this storm is anything but a game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s frightening.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think everybody‘s taking pretty much good precautions around.
GRAY: As the storm continued to grow, many were glued to the radar, waiting to see exactly where Charley might deal its most vicious blow.
GRAY: And right now that is to the south. In fact, we are getting some very new information from the strike zone. I can tell you right now the initial indications are more than 300,000 people are without power at this time. Also, important to note in DeSoto county, which is to the south, one of the 49 evacuation centers in the state where 1,000 people had moved to higher ground, the roof was ripped off of that convention center. They are scrambling to move those people into the high school there in DeSoto county. No word of any injuries there. That is the good news. But again, there appears to be some very severe damage to the south of Tampa and we are not out of the woods yet. We‘re being told that we should expect some very intense rains here in Tampa and we could still, on the backside of this storm, see winds at over 100 miles an hour. In Tampa, I‘m Jay Gray. Now Randi, back to you.
MEIER: All right, Jay. Thank you very much. Be safe there in Tampa. Again, that storm to the south of Tampa right now but clearly those folks will be impacted in that area.
BREWER: We‘ll be back with more on hurricane Charley after this break. Stay with MSNBC.
BREWER: And you‘re looking at a live shot right now from Tampa, Florida, where residents there are very fortunate that they escaped the brunt of Charley‘s wrath as it landed in Florida. Right now heading up through central Florida.
MEIER: Earlier you can see the radar loop. This is live radar loop, heading towards Orlando at this hour.
President Bush has already declared a major disaster area in the state of Florida. Several counties included in that. Federal funds already on the way for those folks. They‘ll be able to get low-cost loans. They‘ll be able to get grants for immediate housing, as well as insurance, home repair grants, as well.
BREWER: Damaging storm. But also a deadly storm. In fact, we have reports now of one accident, one death in central Florida, where wind gusts are so strong, as you might imagine, and a tractor-trailer crossed a highway, fell on top of a car, killing a child passenger there.
There was a death in Jamaica as Charley passed by Jamaica and three deaths in Cuba there. That‘s where NBC‘s Mark Potter joins us on the phone from Havana outside.
And I know, Mark, a lot of damage there for residents to clean up.
MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Right. And the clean up is going very quickly. We‘ve seen throughout Havana road crews and military personnel out all day long, moving trees and limbs off the streets in the capital city.
Power is back on in some parts of the city. And we could also see clean-up going on in the rural areas, where downed power lines and roof damage appears to be—appear to be major problems.
As you mentioned, civil defense officials do, indeed, say three deaths appear to be linked to the storm here in Cuba. Those are in the Havana area. They also report four injuries in this area, one of them serious.
Also 65 homes in Havana are said to be destroyed, some 500 damaged.
Now west of Havana, in a rustic fishing village known as Puerra Via Coba (ph), there is considerable damage, because that is where the eye of the storm made a direct hit before heading offshore, bound for the U.S.
Several homes there that we saw were destroyed. One house belonging to the Santa Maria family literally exploded in the hurricane winds.
Ten people were living in the house at the time, but they were able to escape and hide from the storm. As it worsened, they went to next-door and hid in a bathroom, potentially saving their lives.
In the grand scheme of things, all of this is not to be considered catastrophic damage, but in the western portion of Cuba, it is serious, and the clean up and the damage assessment continues.
An irony, Cuba, the eastern part of Cuba is going through a severe drought and can certainly use the sort of rains brought by a hurricane. But this hurricane was to the west, and it brought no relief to the area where most of the—the water was most badly needed.
We‘ve been asked about Guantanamo Bay and the detention facility there, what effect the storm had on it. Same scenario. That‘s in the far east of the country. The storm was in the west, and so the storm had no bearing on Guantanamo Bay.
Again, clean-up very clearly under way here. The sky is blue. The weather clearly has passed. But they‘ve got some work ahead of them in certain parts of this country.
Back to you.
BREWER: NBC‘s Mark Potter there, near Havana, Cuba.
And as we mentioned, Hurricane Charley, Category Four storm hurricane, expected to remain at hurricane strength as it crosses landfall. Right now, Orlando is the next city in its path.
We want to go now to MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin, with more on what is next for residents of Florida—Sean.
MCLAUGHLIN: Contessa, I was looking at my watch, counting up the hours now. We‘re over three hours since Hurricane Charley made landfall, down just outside of Fort Myers.
And look at the circulation. It‘s still very, very impressive. Counterclockwise circulation now. Granted there‘s the eye. It has started to extend now, wobbling, slowing down just a bit. But it‘s still cruising to the north at around 20 miles an hour.
And this thing is getting—look at these rainfall bands, how widespread apart they are. That‘s Everglade City to the south, and the uppermost rain band, the north most rain band is now past Jacksonville.
And we‘ve got tornado warnings in effect for portions of North Carolina. So this is just a very wide expanse of people being affected by Hurricane Charley.
So let‘s advance this now and talk about where this storm is going next. Like you said, Orlando is definitely under the gun, and Hurricane Charley, the window of movement looks like this.
Later on this evening, it‘s going to be passing through Orlando, and then tomorrow morning, we‘re expecting a second landfall. We think that the center of this storm is going to push off the Florida Peninsula, off in through—just off the Carolina coastline and then make landfall again by tomorrow morning.
And the Saturday impact looks huge. We‘ve got 40- to 60-mile-an-hour winds, maybe even greater. A lot of rough seas along the Carolina coastline. Again, big vacation spots here. The Outer Banks going to get slammed yet again, and flooding possibly from Florida as far north as Washington, D.C.
Now this is just a triple dose of rain here. That‘s because this cold front has been stalled.
Why Charley is moving up the eastern seaboard. Again, the Jet Stream, a big trough in the Jet Stream, bringing the central plains, temperatures in the 60‘s and 70‘s all week. Well, it‘s locked this cold front right here in the eastern seaboard, and it‘s pushing the remnants of Bonnie, the remnants of Charley all the way up the Atlantic seaboard.
So, there is going to be a serious rain and flooding threat all the way through Sunday night in through Monday. So, that‘s the latest.
Again, Orlando is now definitely under the gun. There is Orlando right there. There is the center. And again, like we‘ve been talking about all long, you don‘t want to be on the north or east side, the northeast side of a hurricane.
And if it continues this track over the next few hours, let‘s say 20 to 7, I‘d say past 8, 9 p.m., it‘s just going to be knocking on the door in the south—in the south part of Orlando, and they‘re going to get hammered yet again. They‘re already getting hammered by severe weather on the outer rain bands.
BREWER: OK. Sean, we‘ll check back in with you in a few minutes.
MEIER: NBC‘s Don Teague joins us now for an update on how the Tampa area is faring in the face of Charley. As you saw that radar loop there, Charley is getting closer to Tampa as it makes its way through the central part of Florida.
Don, what do you have?
DON TEAGUE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: But fortunately, closer on the east side of us instead of out at sea, which would have been a lot of trouble here.
I can tell you President Bush has already declared storm-affected counties in Florida as federal disaster areas. Residents here, in and around Tampa expected a direct hit here. Instead, all day we‘ve had relatively light wind and rain as Charley took that unexpected turn.
TEAGUE (voice-over): Charley made good on its threats to become a major hurricane, brushing pasts the Florida Keys this morning, then gaining strength throughout the day.
By early afternoon, Charley was a Category Four storm, packing 145 mile-per-hour winds, making a surprise turn toward Fort Myers and Port Charlotte.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re talking about an 18-foot storm surge.
TEAGUE: NBC‘s affiliate, WBBH, brought viewers the dramatic turn of events live.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our message to you now is urgency and safety.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Fort Myers police department has ordered its officers to seek safe shelter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People need to start moving up, which is exactly what we‘re going to do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only way you can get off the island is if you swim off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time is up, Santa Belle and Captiva. Get into your safe room right now and hunker down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to see the power of the wind that we are experiencing out here...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mandatory evacuation area...
TEAGUE: For days, authorities had warned residents along Florida‘s west coast that Charley would be a dangerous storm. Boarding up their homes and businesses and moving to higher ground.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can get off the island. Whether it be by boat or by car, we‘ll get off.
TEAGUE: In the Tampa area, which had expected a direct hit from the hurricane, 350,000 people fled low-lying coastal areas. But many, like the McKee family, decided to stay and ride out the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They‘re saying the worst thing we have to worry about, I guess, is the 10- to 13-foot storm surge and we—hopefully, it‘s not going to get up that high. If it does, there‘s not much we can do. It‘s too late for us to get out of here.
TEAGUE: The McKees and others along Tampa‘s coast were spared the major force of the storm. But there are reports of serious damage further south and east, where Charley‘s turn across Florida took many by surprise.
TEAGUE: Certainly has been a surprising day here now.
Now we do expect to see some rain and some higher winds here as some of those feeder bands approach our area from the east side now. But nothing like what was expected today.
And honestly, I doubt we‘ve had a gust more than 20 miles per hour throughout this day. It‘s been very calm here.
But I want to show you a real sign of how authorities here have sort of understood that the major threat has passed for Tampa.
We‘re going to show you a shot taken from what we call a mass camera. This is the street along the boulevard here. We expected those streets, fully expected, if you had asked me this morning, I would have bet you money that they would have been under six or eight feet of water at this time today.
They were expecting the storm surge to come in and be 10 or 13 or 15 feet high. Instead, there is traffic going down those roads, because they have opened some of the bridges to let people back into their homes. Because, for the most part, they say the danger, at least from the storm surge, has passed in this area.
Really an amazing turn of events.
And at the same time, as we‘ve seen, parts of the central part of the state are being battered by what still appears to be a pretty well-organized storm.
So, we expect to see and hear about quite a bit of damages—or damage coming from those parts of the state. But the big surprise here in the Tampa area, the storm that was expected to make a direct hit missed once again.
MEIER: A testament to the unpredictability of these hurricanes.
NBC‘s Don Teague in Tampa. Thank you, Don.
BREWER: While Tampa may have escaped, Orlando may unexpectedly get hit hard. We want to go now to Orlando mayor, Buddy Dyer, who is—whose city really is right in the path of Hurricane Charley.
Mayor, thank you for joining us.
MAYOR BUDDY DYER, ORLANDO: My pleasure, Contessa.
BREWER: What‘s happening right now in your city? What are you seeing?
DYER: Well, we‘re experiencing heavy rain, and the hurricane is probably 70, 90 miles southwest of Orlando. We anticipate that it‘s been - - that it is and will be a Category Two when it comes through here, which means that‘s probably 80 miles an hour winds for a couple of hours.
BREWER: OK. And I know that the major amusement parks have shut down, right? SeaWorld, Universal, Disney?
DYER: They all shut down around lunchtime today. They did a half-day, and everybody returned to their hotels.
BREWER: What do you tell tourists in that—and your city in particular has so many tourists there. What do you tell tourists to do when you know a major hurricane is heading your way?
DYER: Well, just as all of our residents, we tell them to stay off the roads. We tell them to get to a safe area, and for the most part the hotels are all very safe places to be in times of natural disaster or natural emergency.
BREWER: Now Orlando is in central Florida. Typically cities in the central part of the state don‘t get hit as hard as the coastal areas, obviously.
What did you do to prepare? And were you taken off guard by the twists and turn this storm took?
DYER: We were not taken off guard. We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
But you‘re exactly right. The Orlando area, central Florida area has not experienced a major hurricane of this type for over 40 years. Donna in the early ‘60s was the last hurricane that come through at Category Two strength.
And interestingly enough, took largely this same path. And we did not think we were going to get a direct hit today. But with the turn, we‘re ready for it.
BREWER: Well, we certainly are hoping the best for your city as we—as we watch Charley approach Orlando. Orlando mayor, Buddy Dyer, thank you for your time today.
MEIER: This is, Contessa, a great example of how that state prepares statewide for a hurricane like this—this and the good reason you do that, because you just never know. These hurricanes are unpredictable, as we‘ve seen today.
BREWER: They‘ve certainly had a lot of experience with them, an experience today many people will never forget.
Our coverage of Hurricane Charley will continue right after this break.
MEIER: You‘re watching MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of Hurricane Charley.
There is a live look at Tampa that dodged the bullet of Hurricane Charley as it veered south and then east and missing Tampa by—Tampa Bay, by the most part, hitting Fort Myers and the area in between very hard, though.
Reporter Jeff Patterson of NBC‘s Tampa affiliate, WFLA, filed this report just minutes ago from Venice Beach, Florida. That‘s south of Tampa.
JEFF PATTERSON, WFLA CORRESPONDENT: Well, it‘s slowing a little bit here. We‘re in Venice Beach. We started out our day here and then we went down the coastline, if you will, down towards Gasparillo Island (ph), Palm Island, out towards Boca Grande.
We were there on the causeway as the eye of the storm was coming over Boca Grande. We have some video that we can show you of our experiences, just trying to get from here in Venice down there to Boca Grande.
We saw a number of trees that had fallen down, some of them near the roadway. We didn‘t see any major trees that had fallen across the roadway. However, we did see some power lines that had fallen near the roadway.
We did also notice that the power in the area was still on, and so that, of course, means that the power lines that were down near the roadway presented extremely dangerous situations for the people down there.
We didn‘t see any major damage to any homes. We did see some screened enclosures around pools that had been damaged. Some signs and some awnings that were down, and a number of businesses in the area.
But thankfully, we can report that at least down in this area, Sarasota County, down Venice, towards Boca Grande, we didn‘t see any major structural damage towards homes.
We also noticed, and you can probably see if you want to come back to us live, there are some people out here on Venice Beach, and there have been some people, a few people who have been weathering the storm out as we‘ve been driving around this afternoon, just trying to get you some pictures of this storm.
We sent another crew out towards (AUDIO GAP), which is just south of here in Venice, and they also noticed the same thing that we had, some downed trees and some minor damage to homes around there, awnings once again that had been blown around. But once again, thankfully, in this area at least, no significant damage.
However, I can tell you we‘ve been listening to numerous reports out of Charlotte County about some fairly significant damage down there: numerous downed trees, high storm surge.
Some people on the Barrier Islands report a storm surge. Perhaps as much as 10 feet, which isn‘t as high as they had predicted earlier.
MEIER: That‘s reporter Jeff Patterson in Venice Beach, Florida—
BREWER: All right. Now Hurricane Charley is making its way through central Florida. We want to go back to the National Hurricane Center and Max Mayfield there.
And Max, how strong is Hurricane Charley, now that it‘s in central Florida?
MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, Contessa, it definitely is weakening. We don‘t know for sure. But we‘re estimating it‘s probably about a borderline Category Two or Category Three hurricane, about 65 miles to the south-southwest of Orlando.
You can see the very well defined center around here. It looks like it‘s heading right towards Orlando, Disney World and will likely exit the East Coast somewhere near Daytona Beach shortly after midnight.
BREWER: OK. So, Max, what can people in Orlando and maybe even further up to the northeast expect when they get Hurricane Charley hitting their cities?
MAYFIELD: They‘re going to have extensive damage. And I really want to get the word out to people, if there‘s anybody in mobile homes, you really need to seek safe shelter.
You really want to do the same thing here in the core of Charley that you do for a tornado. Get into that inner room, inner bathroom or the closet with no windows and just hunker down until the core of the hurricane moves past here.
BREWER: Max Mayfield at the National Hurricane Center. Thank you so much for your time.
Busy day for him.
MEIER: There you go. The bottom line there, Max said, hurricane now downgraded at least to a Category Two, Three possibly. But it can pick up speed again as it passes over water.
You‘re watching MSNBC, coverage of Hurricane Charley.
MEIER: We want to remind our viewers as you get a look there at Hurricane Charley and some damage to some roofs there. The roof goes. A special tonight at 9 p.m. tonight, hosted by Keith Olbermann. Hurricane Charley. That special, 9 p.m. Eastern Time.
MEIER: There it is, a dramatic view from space. That one speaks volumes. You can see the eye of the hurricane right there. And you also see the remnants of what was left of Tropical Storm Bonnie.
NASA able to shoot these images of the hurricane and the tropical storm from the International Space Station far above the earth. And that‘s what it looks like from above.
BREWER: Really definitely a big mess down on Florida‘s mainland. The damage reports are just beginning to trickle in.
There you see the path of the hurricane.
We just heard from Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center, where he was telling us that it has now been downgraded to a Category Two. So it‘s weaker, but they‘re expecting that it may go across Florida‘s coast and actually hit water again and pick up more steam.
MEIER: And we realize a lot of folks watching MSNBC now have vacation homes in that very area. We‘d love to tell you where the worst hit areas are. We just don‘t know yet. Those damage assessment teams, you know what? They‘re hunkered in. They can‘t tell yet.
Probably until after midnight, maybe even tomorrow morning when the sun comes up, they‘ll be able to figure out exactly what the worst hit areas are.
BREWER: The emergency operations center is where Florida authorities are coordinating the response to Hurricane Charley. We want to go now to the lieutenant governor of Florida, Toni Jennings, who join us now from Tallahassee.
Lieutenant Governor, thank you for joining us on this very busy day, I‘m sure, for you.
LT. GOV. TONI JENNINGS, FLORIDA: It‘s been a long and busy day. But it‘s going to be an even longer night.
BREWER: Tell us...
JENNINGS: Fortunately, this is a fast-moving storm, so by tomorrow, we‘ll be able to start on reconstruction and getting people‘s lives—lives back to normal.
BREWER: Tell us what‘s happening right now in your state.
JENNINGS: The storm has come in, in southwest Florida, the area of Charlotte County. It is crossing the state as we speak.
The central Florida-Orlando area, many of your viewers have probably been to Disney world. The—That area is next to be impacted substantially, probably in the next hour or so.
Heavy winds, 90 miles an hour. Potentially Category Two hurricane coming across, leaving the state around Daytona Beach.
Obviously, there‘s been a good deal of flooding and some property damage in the southwest Florida area. And we‘re just monitoring it.
People have moved. They‘ve—they‘ve sought shelter in the right places, and we‘re just making sure that people‘s lives are not at risk.
BREWER: Florida Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings, thank you for your time today.
MEIER: And just briefly in the few seconds we have left, Hurricane Charley now inland, Central Florida, packing still some severe winds. Damage assessments still to come in.
We‘re watching it for you right here on MSNBC. Continuing coverage, “HARDBALL” coming up next.
Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.