THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR SEPTEMBER 10, 2017 AND WILL BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST (voice-over): Hurricane Irma crashes into the Keys. The monster storm will tear through Florida's west coast. Whiplash winds over 100 miles an hour, torrential rain, tornadoes and a dangerous storm surge still to come.
The storm has already decimated the Caribbean, strengthening again overnight. The category four juggernaut larger than the state of Florida. Nearly seven million told to evacuate across three states. Already hundreds of thousands without power.
Our team is spread across the storm zone and the FEMA administer is standing by with the latest details, storm track and forecast. We have moment-to-moment coverage, breaking details, and the facts that matter this week.
From ABC News, it's a special edition of THIS WEEK -- Hurricane Irma, monster storm.
Here now, chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to this special edition of THIS WEEK.
All eyes now on that monster storm. As we said, Hurricane Irma has already decimated islands across the Caribbean. The whole state of Florida now facing what could be its worst hurricane ever.
Massive size, ferocious intensity, at least 24 hours of danger ahead.
Right now, Hurricane Irma officially a category four, with winds clocking in at more than 130 miles an hour.
The eyewall, where the winds strike hardest, is over the Florida Keys. You see those winds whipping right there. And those winds not the only danger.
Already, we've seen tornadoes reported across South Florida. That danger will continue throughout the day. And the entire west coast of Florida facing potential deadly walls of water.
Naples first in line, then Fort Meyers. A 10 to 15 foot storm surge possible there. And tonight, Tampa, St. Petersburg, as vulnerable storm surges as any cities in the world. They're going to feel Irma's full force.
Our ABC news team is deployed across the storm zone.
And right here with me, chief meteorologist Ginger Zee -- and Ginger, you've been on this for days. Right now, the story Key West.
GINGER ZEE, ABC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: Key West. And all of the Keys, really. But mostly just east of Key West, where the eyewall is. We just got this brand new video in, George, because some of the only people that did not leave, storm chasers. And this is Simon Brewer, one storm chaser who was trying to get a wind gust there, knocked to his feet.
We've already seen gusts of at least 106, probably up to 130 with this category four storm likely making landfall as we speak.
And so now, three foot storm surge already reported in the Keys, already reported in Miami. Nearly 70 mile per hour gusts as far north as Miami, but you focus in and that Big Pine to Marathon, there's that bridge that goes between, that is taking the brunt of that eyewall right now.
As this moves north, everybody needs to know the path. And that's what everybody has been tracking. The tornado watch that's included. And the warnings that have already been popping up this morning, including large population centers.
So even if you're far from the center, the threat is on from central Florida south already.
But let's take you through the timing. 2:00 p.m., we've got it just south of Naples. The water has been pushing all day at that point. And that's why storm surge will begin and not end until Monday night...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And as we said...
ZEE: -- (INAUDIBLE) Tuesday.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- that could be 10 to 15 feet.
ZEE: Ten to 15 feet, a place like Captiva or Sanibel, some of these really great vacation spots or places that people actually live along the coast. Populated places like Tampa. Monday, 2:00 a.m.. So that's overnight tonight into early tomorrow.
Still a category three, hugging the coast of Florida, making it to Tallahassee, weakening quickly as it makes its way into Georgia, eventually Alabama and then Tennessee.
So so not until Wednesday into Thursday, do we start to really settle things down and move it away.
But the storm surge, you just said it, 10 to 15 feet there. Miami already seeing three. It could see up to 15 feet. Marco Island is a place I think is very vulnerable. Anna Maria Island and areas to the north near Sarasota.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Ginger, standby.
A lot coming up, as you said.
The story right now is in the Keys.
We want to go to the Keys right now.
On the phone now is Roman Gastesi, the Monroe County administrator.
Tell us what you're going through right now.
ROMAN GASTESI, MONROE COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR: Well, thank you just for having me on.
Right now, we are on -- I'm located in the Upper Keys, the northern part of the county. So we're getting some pretty strong gusts, but we're doing fine. As you can imagine, we have cell service, so we're doing pretty good.
We heard from our friends down in Key West about a half hour ago and they were getting clobbered. But they're doing well. Their spirits were high and they're safe. So we feel good about that.
And our friends in Marathon, we heard from the sheriff. He's bunkered down and the -- he did take a little video of some flooding that he sent us and then he went offline, too.
But he was (INAUDIBLE) good spirits and we're going to be fine.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's good. That is good to hear.
And one of the reasons you're going to be fine, if, indeed, it does work out that way, is because of the precautions you took to get everyone out of there.
GASTESI: Absolutely. And folks, listened and we're glad they did, because there's going to be a lot of damage.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And do you have a sense of when you're going to be able to get out there and see just how great the damage is and how much rebuilding is going to need to be done?
GATESI: Well, I'm surrounded by a bunch of firefighters and police officers and a couple of military folks and I can't keep them indoors. So they're going to be out of here soon.
We have also got a weather guy embedded in here. And he's showing us all the bands. And as soon as it opens up, these guys are going to fly out of here.
So, not only is it the air, but on the ground, the equipment pre-positioned all over the county so we can clear the streets. So, it is going to be quite an effort this afternoon, most likely.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Mr. Gatesi, I know you have a big job ahead. Thanks for taking a little time with us this morning.
I want to move up the coast to Miami. As we said earlier in the week, Miami expected to take a direct hit. The storm moved west, but Miami is still getting some whipping winds. And Gio Benitez is there -- Gio.
GIO BENITEZ, ABC NEWS: Hey, there, George. We are really feeling those winds. I'm going to take this out for a second. But I've got to tell you, George, these winds have really been intensifying more and more and more. That's what it's been feeling like. In fact, the National Weather Service sent out an letter and said up in high-rises, you're probably looking at 100-mile-per-hour winds.
Now, I've been looking around here, because the big danger in downtown Miami are all these buildings with all the glass. I've been looking around and I don't yet see any sort of windows broken. And that may be because of the very, very strict building codes here after Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.
This entire skyline was just really destroyed by Hurricane Andrew's winds. So, we're going to see how it fares in this one.
But you can just see, look at these trees, they have been getting destroyed all day long. And we've been looking at that, because that's really a measure of how intense these winds have been.
The rain just keeps coming down. I'm not sure when this is going let up because it certainly feels like it's gets much more intense.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, you can sure say that, but you should tell everybody, you're in one of those buildings that has been reinforced.
BENITEZ: That's right. Absolutely. This is one of the buildings that was built after Hurricane Andrew. It was built 10 years ago. Let's just turn the camera real quick. You can see, we are surrounded by hard concrete here. And these windows are protected. They are hurricane impact resistant windows that we have here. And I'm actually tethered to a rope to make sure that, you know, I don't fall down and I'm protected here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, let's get away from that balcony.
BENITEZ: ...in this situation with this particular building.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Gio. We see you tied in there. Thank you very much.
Want to go across town now to Amy Robach, also in Miami. Amy, all morning long, also tornado warnings.
AMY ROBACH, ABC NEWS: Yes, it has been a very serious and dangerous situation here in downtown Miami since the moment we woke up around 4:00 this morning. We heard the howling winds. And now we are seeing those wind speeds increase dramatically. We've had wind gusts up to 71 miles per hour. Hurricane force is 74, so we're just about there.
And we're 100 miles away from the eye of the storm. And we're really feeling the brunt of Irma right now. Can you hear the wind and see what is happening to the trees down below? They are breaking off, flying across the streets. We have street signs flying, debris flying. It is very dangerous out there. I have even seen construction, cement blocks moving.
So, these winds are incredibly strong and incredibly fierce. We are on a balcony six floors up. We've got concrete walls on both sides of me and above me. So, we're in a good position to show you all of this. But it is really remarkable to see just how strong these winds are.
We know, according to WPLG, our sister station, nearly 500,000 people in Miami-Dade County without power right now, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Amy, we see those streets are empty. And there was so much concern earlier in the week. Miami did evacuate.
ROBACH: Yes. Most people evacuated. There were evacuation zones that kept expanding. In fact, we had to move our hotels twice because they kept evacuating people from those low lying areas.
We have about a three-foot storm surge right now. Biscayne Bay is right on the other side of me, and I can see the white caps and there is concern in a couple of hours that we'll have more flooding in these streets right here.
But again we're up above ground right now.
We already have some flooding going on in some asphalt areas. In fact, when the winds start whipping, it actually creates waives down there. So, it's -- most people are gone. It looks like a ghost town. I have seen a few people come out and try to take a look and have to go back inside. It's really rough out there, especially on street level. No one should be down there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We can see that. OK, Amy, thanks very much.
As the storm moves, so did world news anchor David Muir. He's now in Naples expected to get hit hard this afternoon, David, especially with that storm surge.
DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Yes, huge concern, George. You're absolutely right. The storm surge here, they're predicting anywhere between 10 and 15 feet. And keep in mind, Naples is only three feet above storm -- sea level, I should say. We're already feeling significant wind gusts right now.
These are the outer bands of the hurricane actually reaching here in Naples. They're expecting -- and we're about five, six hours away from this, sustained winds of 100 miles per hour or more. And when you have winds at that level, the National Weather Service will tell you to expect tornado-like damage.
You know, they saw this on this very day back in 1960 with Hurricane Donna, significant damage when Donna made landfall right here near Naples. It's unclear if this will make landfall or hug the coast as it goes up. The warm water obviously going to fuel this hurricane.
And as you know, George, you have been studying the models with Ginger all morning long, we're on the right side of the hurricane. They call it the “dirty side.” It's going to be the most dangerous part of this hurricane. And I should point out that those hurricane-force winds extend 80 miles out from the wall.
So that's 160 miles wide. They're expecting significant damage here in Naples. And the governor of Florida telling me the last 24 hours, this could be the most catastrophic hurricane that Florida has ever seen. We'll be here straight through the end, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, David, did the word get to Naples in time? Do you get the sense that that city was really prepared for what they're facing?
MUIR: You know, I talked to the mayor of Naples just a short time ago. And you -- George, you know the track of this storm changed 24 hours ago, yesterday morning. There was a lot of concern about whether or not people would heed the warnings, have to evacuate Naples.
The mayor telling me that he believes most people did heed the the call, that this is much like a ghost town. There's an arena not far from here, the Germain Arena, where people are huddled, hundreds and hundreds of families. It reminds me, quite frankly, George, of being inside the Superdome back in Katrina.
I remember just being there with the families and waiting for the storm to hit, the roof beginning to rip off over our heads. And I can't imagine what it is like to be in there, the thousands of people waiting for this storm to come in.
Because 100-mile-per-hour winds for several hours this afternoon is going to be a tough ride for the people here in southwest Florida.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It is going to be a harrowing afternoon. David, thanks very much.
I want to move up to coast now, senior meteorologist, Rob Marciano, in Sarasota. They're feeling it already.
ROB MARCIANO, ABC SENIOR METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, George, just when I said it would be a relative cakewalk here, the winds and the rains just started howling here. So we're still a good 10 to 12 hours when the core of Irma is expected to get here in Sarasota.
We are near the bay, you know, the entire west coast of Florida is susceptible because they have bays and bays and bays. Fort Myers has it, Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Naples. We talked about Tampa, just a stone's throw from here, that very susceptible from all of this water that, yes, has some barrier islands, but they are low, they are evacuated, they will be inundated with water.
Storm surge models are saying that the water here will get up and over this area, potentially up and over my head. Panning the camera over here, I mean, it just -- it is water until the eye can see, obscured by some of that rainfall that is now windblown and wind-driven.
And, yes, that's not the ocean, my friends. That is the bay. Beyond that is the Gulf of Mexico. And all that water is going to push up in this area, not the mention this rainfall now that is starting to come down. These areas, rain on just a typical summer thunderstorm, Tampa Bay and Hillsborough, Pinellas County, especially, and Sarasota County here too.
So we're talking about a double whammy, triple whammy actually when the core of those winds get here later on tonight. And, George, at this point, the track is focused right over where I stand here. So and that will come at nightfall, which, on top of all things, makes it even more frightening.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, hard to believe you're still hours away from the worst.
Tampa Bay, as Rob said, expected to get hit very hard. That is an especially vulnerable city. T.J. Holmes is there.
And, T.J., you have got a lot of low-lying land there.
T.J. HOLMES, ABC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you said, especially vulnerable. That's the issue here. Look, like Rob was just saying, a good hard rain, and they get flooding. This is a flood-prone area. But now you're talking about storm surge?
And the issue here for folks, this is 700 miles of coastline, pristine coastline. People want to be here. They want to live here. In fact, they have been seeing some of the greatest population growth year after year in this Tampa area.
So now you've got 4 million people living here. And this is where they're living, George, right? This is the Hillsborough River right behind me that dumps out into the bay that's behind me. But all -- they are sitting on water. That's a hospital, actually, right behind me.
A lot of people there could not be evacuated. They have those storm windows, those hurricane-resistant windows they say. And some people are going to have to ride it out right there. But keep panning over this way.
And what they have is growth. They continue to build. They have a huge $3 billion project that was just approved not too long ago. You see cranes. You see the downtown. What's happening is this is a bustling area where people want to live.
And part of the reason that people keep coming here is because they have not had a major storm, a Category 3 or above storm here in some 100 years, since 1921.
This is what everyone feared -- what would happen if this place gets hit directly, or even close to directly, by a storm that large?
Well, we are about to see it now.
We have shelters that are open here and many of them -- half of them that we know of -- are full. Twenty-one thousand people have heeded the warnings. They have made it to shelters. We just got word not too long ago that Uber has now offered to give people free rides to shelters right now.
The city has stopped all of its service right now, but Uber, if you need a ride, folks, if you're in the Tampa area, they will give you a free ride to one of these shelters.
But the risk there -- this is a shallow bay. So all this wind -- these five -- the five to eight foot storm surge and all this wind that's coming is going to push this water into areas that were already prone to flooding in the first place, George.
And now they are getting what is the nightmare scenario that experts and analysts have been warning about for years and years and years.
And one other note here. They actually warned the city about this in a study not too long ago, what would happen if they had a direct hit from a hurricane. They talked about a couple hundred billion dollars in damage could possibly be done to the Tampa Bay area if something like that happened.
We don't know if that exact scenario will take place. But this is the fear that they've had for a long time. And that's why anxiety levels keep raising and raising and raising as we continue to see these models, George, and see exactly where this storm is going to go.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, that worst fear may be coming true right now.
TJ Holmes, thanks very much.
Right next door, St. Petersburg.
Eva Pilgrim is there.
EVA PILGRIM, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: As you heard T.J. talking about, that major concern here is because this area hasn't seen a hurricane in such a very long time.
So some of the building codes that we've seen in Miami that have strengthened that area, that are protecting it currently from these hurricane force winds, a lot of the buildings here don't have that.
We've been talking to several homeowners, who tell us that they are very fearful that their homes will be underwater. They are aware that they have been living on the edge for a very long time and they have been very fortunate.
They are afraid that this storm may change all of that.
We actually talked to some people here in this marina that we're at this morning. They're actually living on their boats. And a lot of these people had chosen, up until this morning, to stay.
There are a couple of people here still contemplating whether or not they will ride out the storm on their boats. We've been talking to people who live here, who are now deciding that they're going to ride out the storm in a car, in a concrete parking garage not too, too far from here.
We, of course, have tried to convince them that there are shelters and other safer options nearby that they should go to. But a lot of these people, you know, this storm shifted west really just yesterday. So they have had to change what they thought was a safe plan -- George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Boy, staying in those boats just does not seem safe.
OK, Eva Pilgrim, thanks very much.
We're going to take a short break.
Florida Governor Rick Scott and FEMA Administrator Brock Long are standing by. we're back in two minutes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is the scene in Key West overnight. You see those transformers blowing up as the winds come in. Key West and the entire Florida Keys getting hit so hard right now as the eye wall of Hurricane Irma hits.
And we are joined now by the Florida Governor Rick Scott. He comes to us from Tallahassee this morning.
Governor, thank you for joining us this morning.
What can you tell us about what's happening in the Keys right now?
GOV. RICK SCOTT, (R) FLORIDA: Well, I spoke to the keys just a little bit ago. They're getting pounded.
The -- the person I spoke to still has cell service and actually has the internet, but what they're worried about is the other part of the island -- he's in the north part, the other part of the island is getting flooding, a lot of waves. He's worried about the storm surge.
I mean, if you look at -- we're going to get it. We're going the get everything. We're going to get all the winds of Andrew. We're going to get this across our whole state, because it's so big. But we're also going to get the storm surge.
This state has never seen a storm surge like this. I live in Naples. This is going to go up our west coast. We're going to have 10 to 15 feet above ground level of storm surge. There will be a little bit less as it goes up the coast, but you know the west coast is very, very low.
So, I ask everybody to -- the most important thing is to pray for us. We have done everything we can to be prepared. I'm sure there is something else we could have done. I know a lot of people want to donate. If you want to do a $10 donation go to -- text disaster at 20222. And we're still asking for volunteers. We have opened over 4,000 shelters. We're going to need volunteers to help us distribute food. You can go to VolunteerFlorida.org to volunteer as the storm passes.
So we're going to just -- just pray for us. I talked to the president today. I've talked to him pretty much every day. He said he'll be praying for us. He's a -- offered every resource there is of the federal government. I tell you whether it's what we're doing here in Tallahassee, our first responders, the federal government, we're going to make sure every person in the state is taken care of to the extent we can. It's hard to do it during a storm, but as soon as that storm passes, our first responders will be out there doing everything they can to take care of every person in the state.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor, you could not have been more clear in the warnings you gave people across the south of the state, now the entire state. Do you have a sense of what difference that made, especially in the Keys?
SCOTT: I hope so. George, we don't have the exact numbers of how many people stayed in Keys, but think about that. I mean, they're going to have, you know, 130-mile-an-hour winds. They're going to have 10 to 25 inches of rain. This is a low-lying area. And then on top of that, the potential of 15 foot of storm surge. So, I hope everybody listened. I hope that's true along the west coast. I was looking at the traffic cameras around the state this morning, and people are off our roads. They're hunkering down. I hope they all got to high ground and got to safe places.
We opened up over 400 shelters around the state. We kept opening them yesterday. So I hope people are -- it's -- now it's late. But I pray that everybody got to safety.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your biggest worry right now?
SCOTT: My biggest worry is the people that didn't evacuate and they don't understand the risk of the storm surge.
George, last year, we got storm surge up in the panhandle. And this water just comes in. And it just fills up your house. And then it goes out. And people -- this lady -- I can tell you a story about a lady, she was -- she wanted to stay because of her pets. She was in a one-story house. The water got to three feet, she knew she wouldn't survive. Thank god when she left her house to try to get away, there was a high-water vehicle just leaving and she got -- she survived. Of course, her pets didn't.
But, I just hope people understand that this storm surge is just deadly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Well, governor, you did put out those warnings. Thank you. I know you have a big job ahead the rest of the day.
I want to bring in Brock Long now, the FEMA administrator. And Mr. Long, we just did heard the governor say he's getting every resource he needs from the federal government. You are deployed across the state, across the region.
BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Our goal is to help with Governor Scott's response and recovery goals. And in order to do that, we have been leaning forward for multiple days. We basically pushed everything we can forward, including three days' worth of commodities into the state. We have teams, incident management teams, power teams ready to go. We actually have liaisons in a multitude of counties that are about to take the brunt of the storm.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have got now landfall in the Keys. That's, you know, likely to be the hardest hit area in Florida, long-term recovery there.
LONG: Yes, so anytime you're in that northeast quadrant of the storm as it's moving north, that's where the winds that define the intensity of the storm typically are. That's where the storm surge is going to occur. And that's where tornadoes typically occur as these systems come on-shore.
The problem with it is, is it's going to skirt the west coast and drive storm surge not only from the Keys but well up the coast of Florida. So, it's a worst case scenario for Florida on the west coast.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, you know, FEMA is now spending, what, $200 million a day responding to both Harvey and Irma, despite the fact that Congress just approved a big tranche, I guess, what, $15 billion on Friday. This need is going to go on for a long time.
LONG: Yes, you're right. And, you know, it's interesting. So the -- the key to a great response and recovery is solid communication. And, you know, I want to -- I want to express that the Congress has been working very closely with us.
I'm in great communication with the White House and homeland security. We've all been working together. They realize what needs to be done to give me the enduring authority to push forward and not only, you know, help Texas but also Florida, and don't forget about the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I wanted to ask you about that. The storm has already passed through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Clean up, recovery beginning there.
LONG: Yes, so luckily we got Jose out of the way. It shut us down for about 24 hours yesterday. And we had to batten down the hatches. We couldn't do the search and rescue that we wanted to do. But, you know, today is all about turning the corner and giving them a bridge -- you know, a bridge to recovery.
And so, you know, they have had massive power outages, not only in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and we have got to get the power back up. But it's going to be a long time. And that's the key to restoring routine.
STEPHANOPOULOS: FEMA Administrator Brock Long, thanks very much.
LONG: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What a scene in Key West early this morning. The rain coming down in sheets. Reports now that everything is underwater in the Florida Keys, and that Hurricane Irma has now made landfall in Cudjoe Key, still a Category 4 storm.
What's the latest, Ginger Zee?
ZEE: Yes, so the center, and that is all kind of semantics, because they've been feeling the effects for hours, right? We've seen that extreme wind warning, which is still in place for the Florida Keys. One hundred and fifteen mile-per-hour winds still possible. And it is moving north relatively slowly, northwest.
And you can see those very strong outer bands on the outside of the Keys.
So the NWS is saying even if it goes calm, remember, that means you're in the eye. The back side of this storm can still be very dangerous and still have gusting winds well above hurricane force.
Speaking of hurricane force, for the next two hours, from now through about noon, Miami is being warned that one of those squalls is going to be coming through. You could see 80 to 100 mile per hour gusts easily for the next couple of hours.
And look at Naples. We stopped our clock there at 3:00 p.m.. A projected gust of 125 miles per hour. This is not even taking into account, look at West Palm Beach, 72. Vero Beach, 60.
So even if you're on the far east side of the state, you don't get away from the hurricane force gusts -- George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And yesterday, Ginger, the storm had been moving west. Now it seems to have turned north again.
ZEE: Yes. And so it's making its northward turn that we anticipated the whole time. Every mile counts in this. And that's why, you know, it's -- had it been just straight over kind of Islamorada, more so than Key West, it would have gone more due south-north over Florida.
But now it's going to hug the coast and looks to affect Naples and places like Bonita Springs, with heftier storm surge in that 10 to 15 range that you were talking with the governor about.
Coming up to Tampa, the timing is overnight tonight. For Sarasota, those really highly populated areas, so very scary overnight into tomorrow morning. And then eventually Tallahassee by tomorrow or Monday afternoon and then Tuesday finally making its way into Alabama.
One thing to just note with all of this is that this is for hours on end. So just because it's just starting and you're in Naples and they just got a 75 mile per hour gust, this is going to be for the next 10 hours.
And so you really need to stay indoors. Don't start looking around. Don't start saying it's got to be over soon.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And don't be lulled by that calm...
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- that first calm. OK. They're already feeling it in Fort Meyers. It's going to move all the way up the west coast.
Tom Llamas is in Fort Meyers -- what are you seeing and feeling now -- Tom?
TOM LLAMAS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, George, well, I was just listening to your conversation there with Ginger. And we're starting to feel some of those tropical force -- if not hurricane force wind gusts right now.
This is Lee Boulevard. This is a pretty busy intersection here in Fort Meyers. You can see it's empty. But some people are actually driving at this hour, which is really dangerous.
As those gusts pick up, as those winds pick up, we've been noticing some of the palm fronds from the trees above us are starting to rip off, all the dead ones. You can see some of the debris over here.
Now, we're in front of a strip mall, a concrete structure strip mall. It's been boarded up, getting ready for the storm -- George, when we spoke to you earlier today, around 6:00 in the morning, you may remember there was this giant wind sign right here that was blowing in the wind. That's already come apart. And we haven't even gotten close to the brunt of the storm yet here in Fort Meyers.
Also¸ across the street over there, you see the power lines. Right now, they're holding up. We don't know how much longer they're going to hold up for. There are already power outages throughout Lee County that have been reported by FPL and other energy outlets here in this area. And there's already been one death close to us. In a couple of counties north to us, a car accident caused by this storm so far.
So people need to stay off the roads right now, because it's starting to get dangerous.
And every now and then, we'll get hit with a burst. Like I said, it's either tropical storm or hurricane force wind gusts and it's getting worse and worse than when I spoke to you, obviously, a couple of hours ago, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It does look like people are staying off the roads right now.
And Tom, you came to Fort Meyers straight from a week in Houston, Texas with Hurricane Harvey. And the experience in Houston really did have an impact on those in Florida, made sure they took this seriously.
LLAMAS: Oh, no doubt. We spoke to so many people who said that they saw the images out of Harvey, all those people suffering in the flooding.
And then, of course, there was the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew down in Miami and people had to relive some of those awful memories down there in south Florida.
So it no doubt played a role, hopefully, in some people evacuating.
But the problem here, George, is that a lot of people that they were in a safe area until Hurricane Irma shifted west. Even though that cone of uncertainty was massive, some people thought they were OK here and they evacuated at the last minute.
That's why the shelters are so filled up right now -- 27,000 to 30,000 shelters here in Lee County alone -- you can see the winds picking up right now. And a lot of people thought they were going to be OK, even some people in mobile home parks. One guy we talked to yesterday said he was going to ride out the storm because he didn't think it was going to be that bad.
He then evacuated and now he's in The Germain Arena in the upper deck, in section 101, sleeping between two chairs. You know, these are basically stands to watch the hockey games. And he's 74 years old, George. He's going to live in that arena for the next couple of days.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It is going to be so tough for so many people.
Tom Llamas, thanks very much.
The Red Cross serving so many in those shelters across the street.
I want to bring in Craig Cooper right now, a spokesperson with the Red Cross.
Craig, I think you're coming to us from Miami this morning?
CRAIG COOPER, SPOKESPERSON, THE RED CROSS: Good morning, George.
Yes. I'm over near Miami International Airport.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And tell us exactly what you all are dealing with right now.
COOPER: Well, you know, we are -- you know, we are very, very busy group. The Red Cross has been gearing up for this storm for the better part of a week. We have well over 1,000, probably 1,500 volunteers and responders from in state as well as out of state.
You know, obviously everybody initially was anticipating that the storm was going to track toward the east side of the state. I came down to Miami to help support the activities here. But the beauty, of course, of the Red Cross system is that it's very scalable. And we have shelters and evacuation centers open all over the state. In fact, in six states down in the southeastern United States.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There had been some concern earlier in the week in Miami that you had run out of volunteers. Do you have the kind of resources, do you have the people you need?
COOPER: Well, you know this type of disaster is bigger than any one agency, so the short answer, George, is yes, the Red Cross certainly does have the human resources that we need. We partner very well with the county and state agencies.
Florida does a phenomenal job of staffing up and operating their own shelters and evacuation centers. So, here in Florida, it is very much a partner operation.
But we do have many, many people here on the ground that are, you know, in place, waiting for the storm to pass. We have over 200 of our emergency response vehicles that are ready to go, tractor trailer loads full of supplies that are staged and ready to be brought into the disaster zone as soon as it's safe to do so.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your greatest need right now? And how can people watching at home help?
COOPER: Well, George, right now, the key thing really is financial support. We know that people in this kind of situation, they rush to their pantry, they rush to their closet to see what type of donations they can make and put on a box truck and send down to the disaster zones. And that is a noble and very good cause.
But the best thing to do to help the Red Cross is a financial donation. You can do it very easily by going to RedCross.org, you can call 1-800-RED-CROSS. But the easiest way of all is just to text 90999, put the word Irma into the text, and you'll make a $10 donation that's charged back to your cell phone. And we do honor donor intent, so the funds that you designate for Irma will be used for Irma relief.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that can make a big difference.
Craig Cooper, thank you very much.
I want to bring in the mayor of Naples, Florida right now. Bill Barnett joins us on the phone.
And Mayor Barnett, it certainly does appear right now that your city is going to get the worst of this.
BILL BARNETT, MAYOR OF NAPLES, FLORIDA: Yes, it does.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And what is your biggest worry right now? Do you feel like you're ready?
BARNETT: Well, I have felt like we're ready all week. As the week progressed, a lot of our residents, heeded the early evacuation warnings and, and left. And, we went into mandatory evacuation two days ago in the city of Naples.
And, I think -- as you were just talking about a minute ago, I think that Harvey had a tremendous impact, unfortunately. But people were so aware that this could be a reality and this could happen to us, whereas with Wilma, they were lackadaisical. And they just -- you know, it was like, yeah, we don't believe you kind of scenario. With this, it's a great sense of awareness.
We in the city, our city staff, emergency responders, everybody trained and everybody had plans from the beginning of this, which is, going on now, to -- through the storm and then, we have a plan in place, of course, we're not going to know what the damage is until tomorrow, probably.
But, we definitely have a plan in place for cleanup and whatever is going to face us, which is unknown as you know.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you ever dealt with a storm like this?
BARNETT: Not like in, no. Wilma was the last one that I dealt with. Charley just missed us. I was here for that. But, no, the only comparison I have for this is Wilma. And from the looks of it, and watching and listening to you and everybody else, I mean, and seeing it, this is just a monster.
And, I can -- I will tell you that there -- everybody that was here is in Naples, I have not heard from any constituents or any emails about people needing any shelter or anything like that, which is surprisingly good, because we have 27 shelters open in Collier County, and I think everybody's basic needs have been met.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we know you have done everything you can. We're thinking of you. We're praying for you. Mayor, thanks very much for your time this morning. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a scene in Miami right now, 100-mile-an-hour winds. You see those palm trees swaying, even though that is not the worst of the storm. That's Miami right now.
Miami police waning that their officers are now sheltered in place. They're not able to respond right now anyone in trouble.
And I'm joined now -- we're going the talk more about this now with our chief business and economics reporter Rebecca Jarvis, chief political analyst Matthew Dowd.
And, Rebecca, let me begin with you. We just heard from the Mayor Barnett. He doesn't know what the damage is going to be like, none of us know what the scale of the damage is going to be like. We know it's going to cost a lot.
REBECCA JARVIS, ABC NEWS CHIEF BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS CORRESPONDENT: If the estimates are right, George, this will be the costliest storm in U.S. history. Hurricane Irma now potentially going to cost $200 billion. That's back to back with Hurricane Harvey, which could cost as much as $180 billion. That would be back to back two of the most expensive storms in history, even greater than Katrina, which cost $160 billion.
You have to think about the area that this storm is tracing right now, some of the most populated areas, 8.5 million properties in potential risk in this storm's way. You also have the crops. Florida is a place where we get orange juice from, a number of our produce products come from Florida, $1.2 billion in crop damage is estimated right now. And that ongoing issue, the fact that there are major gasoline outages in this area, that fact that a number of businesses have shut down, the fourth largest shipping port in the country has been shut down as a result of this storm.
So, getting back to business is going to take a long time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, and that's even though the biggest city in the state, Miami,you are seeing get hit hard by wind right now, but spared the worst.
JARVIS: Spared the worst, and yet you have this all up and down the west coast now. There are gasoline outages in those locations where people have rushed to get out of town as a result of this storm, but still, you have very likely going to see huge, huge economic implications from the storm that could really expand into the national economy and you could see it show up in some of those GDP figures going forward as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Matthew Dowd, you were advising President Bush during Hurricane Katrina. This is a real strain on the entire political system.
One of the good news things we've seen here is the effectiveness of local -- state and local officials preparing for this hurricane (INAUDIBLE).
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, many people forget that Hurricane Katrina, horribly tragic, three weeks later, we had Hurricane Rita.
So in the midst of Bush's presidency, within three weeks, we had two major hurricanes that had tremendous impact in this.
I think when you look back on this, one, the lessons learned that people learned from Katrina and the way that was responded or not responded to in that, and two, how important the local action and local decision-making and local authority is, from the city to the state.
The two governors, Governor Abbott and Governor Scott, have both responded very well to these hurricanes. Governor Scott has been all over this.
The city officials have been all over this.
And I think secondly is the president's response in this, which I have to say is Mother Nature doesn't discriminate and isn't partisan and they expect our leaders not to discriminate and not be partisan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And President Trump has really emphasized supporting those local officials.
DOWD: Absolutely. He's been on the phone, he's done the visits, he's been on task on this and all this.
And I even think in the midst of this, when he made that deal on the debt ceiling and the funding, the initial funding for FEMA in this, he did it in a very bipartisan way.
I would say in the midst of all this tragedy, this has been the president's best week of his entire presidency.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, you've got a personal connection to this, as well. Your dad in Fort Meyers?
DOWD: My dad -- north of Fort Meyers in Venice, which is right where the eyewall is going. He refused, he's stubborn, an 83-year-old man, refused to go. And he now is in his closest with mattresses around -- around his closet, holed up. And he knows he's going to be there at least for the next 12 or 24 hours.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He has a long day ahead.
I want to bring in Craig Fugate right now.
He's the former FEMA administrator.
He served from 2009 to 2017.
You're in Gainesville right now, Mr. Fugate.
Thanks for joining us right now.
Talk about kind of the lessons that you learned from your experience and how they can apply here.
CRAIG FUGATE, FORMER FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, I think you're already seeing that, is after Katrina, we learned FEMA can't wait until the governor makes formal requests.
So Brock and his team have been moving stuff. They've had people in the (INAUDIBLE) working as one team.
But the other important lesson we've learned is we can't build it back the way it was. We're going to see tremendous devastation. But this will be an opportunity to build back for future risk.
And we've got to be smart about these investments, because these disasters are getting to the point where it's going to start reaching the point, we can't keep paying for them the same way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you know, we may be seeing the benefit of that right now in Miami, as hard as they're getting hit by those huge winds right now. All the changes in building codes and building regulations after Hurricane Andrew have made a difference.
FUGATE: They are making a difference. And we're going to see exactly how much difference as we look at older construction versus new.
But I need to tell you about another area we're not talking about that's very vulnerable.
We have large manufactured housing populations, many of those retirement communities, as you start moving into central and north Florida. They're all under high wind, hurricane force winds and tornado warnings.
So as much as we talk about the storm surge, we've got a lot of people in wind and tornado areas that have been ordered to evacuate. As that moves north, we're going to see those impacts increase, as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got multiple dangers right now. You've got hurricane force winds. You've got the possibility of tornadoes. And it cannot be emphasized enough, this concern about storm surge.
FUGATE: Yes, storm surge -- water is the historically big killer in these hurricanes. That's why, again, I heard you talking to folks that are staying on their boats. We know that most of the deaths we saw in many of our hurricanes have been on people that have been out at sea or on boats, even in the harbors. That's not safe.
Again, death by drowning is what we talk about when we talk about storm surge. And you've got to move to higher ground.
For folks that are still north of this track, they've got time. But they don't have days, they've got hours.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Matt mentioned this deal this week that, thank goodness, the funding for FEMA has come through. The funding for this disaster relief.
But it does seem, you know, not the most efficient way to deal with disasters, to be passing these emergency programs after every time a hurricane or a storm or earthquake hits.
FUGATE: Well, actually, we were doing pretty good. Harvey and Irma are the types of storms we know we need supplementals. But we went all last year through the Louisiana floods and Matthew with the funding Congress provided.
I think we had made success, but I think we've got to continue to re-look at making sure we have FEMA funded to respond to disasters all the time, as well as the realization it's going to take a lot more than FEMA to rebuild. HUD and other agencies are going to be the next groups that are going to need large sums of taxpayers' dollars to help rebuild from these hurricanes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One reminder.
Craig Fugate, thanks for your time this morning.
We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is the scene in Miami, Florida right now. You see those palm trees whipping. 100-mile-an-hour winds now in Miami. And that's not the worst of it in that state. And more than 1 million without power in Florida right now as Irma continues to move up the coast.
I want to talk now to Rear Admiral Peter Brown. He's a commander with the U.S. coast guard. And Commander Brown, thank you for joining us this morning.
You're in Orlando, but you're staging a response for the entire region.
REAR ADMIRAL PETER BROWN, U.S. COAST GUARD: That's correct, George. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain how the entire Coast Guard, not just my command, the seventh district, is preparing for this storm.
So, my command is normally located in Miami, but over the past few days, we have relocated our people and assets out of the storm's path, out of Miami and the Keys and Tampa/St. Pete area. And along with the rest of the Coast Guard we repositioned those assets outside of the storm's path in places in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina -- helicopters, boats, Coast Guard cutters and people from across the country who are ready to respond to our top priority: savoring lives and reopening the ports of South Florida.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And right now, you're prepared to deploy across the region. You have already had to work on the situation in Puerto Rico and south.
BROWN: That's right. My district is also responsible for coast guard operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And those response operations have been going on for several days now.
We have been able to reopen the ports in San Juan and now several others, and are working diligently to get the ports in St. Thomas and St. John open again.
We have allowed ferry traffic to resume. It's a critical way to get first responders and emergency supplies into those islands.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And in some ways, you're stretched so What a challenge to respond to both Harvey and now Irma?
BROWN: Well, many of the same assets and people who responded to Harvey have now reprovisioned and repositioned to be ready to respond to Hurricane Irma. And although the storms are different and their threats are a little bit different, we'll take the lessons learned from our recent experience with Hurricane Harvey and apply it to responding to Hurricane Irma.
STEPHANPOULOS: And, commander, do you have any sense of when you are going to be able to start with those rescue/recovery efforts down south in Key West and then later Miami?
BROWN: That is a particular challenge for this storm. The size, the intensity and the track of Hurricane Irma threaten the entire state of Florida. And so, our assets are primarily positioned out of the state now. And we'll have to drive them, fly them, drive them the whole length of the state of Florida to get to the Keys.
So, our response won't be as fast...
… Hurricane Irma threaten the entire state of Florida. And so, our assets are primarily positioned out of the state now, and we'll have to fly them, drive them the whole length of the state of Florida to get to the Keys. So our response won't be as fast as we would like, but we'll -- it remains my top priority.
We also need to get back to our operational bases, our air station in Miami, our air station in Clearwater, and our cutter home ports of Miami, Key West, and St. Petersburg to return to operations from them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have everything you need?
BROWN: All of the operational assets of the Coast Guard are positioned to respond to this. And in addition, all of the support aspects of the Coast Guard, extra people, and extra logistical support have been made available. And our coordination across the inter-agency, including with FEMA and with the state of Florida have been outstanding.
We'll be ready.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Admiral Brown, thanks very much for your time this morning.
We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our coverage will continue all day long. I'm here with our Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee.
We just heard the Coast Guard is ready. They're ready to deploy as soon as they can. But there's a lot of storm left.
ZEE: There's a lot of storm left. We're actually just started. So we just officially had landfall at Cudjoe Key within the hour. And you can see where the center of the eye is now just south of those southern Keys -- or just north of those southern Keys.
It is transitioning to that more northerly path. So it still is moving north-northwest. We have already seen 3.7-foot storm surge in the Keys. I anticipate that goes up considerably. Four-point-four feet already reported in Miami with gusts well above 80 to 100 miles per hour possible in the coming hours.
The tornado watches, the one that includes or just included West Palm Beach, the warnings are going to be popping up, George, for a while.
Now that track is so important, and everyone wants to know. It's hugging the coast. Am I safe on the east side? Absolutely not. If you're in Melbourne or you're in Orlando or you're in Jacksonville, you're still within the area that could see hurricane-force winds and also really heavy rainfall and flooding.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The entire state of Florida at risk. And we're going to be here all day long. GMA is coming up at 10:00, another edition of THIS WEEK at 11:00. Of course, special editions of “World News Tonight” and that special tonight at 7:00, a"20/20" special.
You can get the latest breaking news alerts all day long by downloading our ABC News app. Have a good afternoon.