tv NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt NBC September 8, 2017 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
breaking news tonight. bracing for impact. a ferocious hurricane wider than the entire state closes in on florida. a direct hit with catastrophic winds and storm surge. an ominous new warning from fema. >> i can guarantee you that i don't know anybody in florida that's ever experienced what's about to hit south florida. >> tonight a massive emergency operation. thousands packing into shelters, and hospitals on alert. miami a virtual ghost town and fears are growing on florida's gulf coast as the latest track just in shows the storm ticking to the west. al roker is here with brand-new details. "nightly news" from florida begins right now. hurricane irma.
this is nbc "nightly news" with lester holt reporting tonight from miami beach. good evening. the iconic miami beach on a late summer evening virtually empty tonight as florida braces for impact with hurricane irma. at this point a bit over 36 hours until the storm's landfall here in the u.s., a small westward shift in irma's track may make little difference at this point. the reality is florida has no place to hide. let me show you why. the storm is far wider than this long, narrow state, so virtually everyone is likely to feel irma's punch albeit at varying intensities. it's also gut check time for those who have held off evacuating. road traffic is heavy and flights out are canceled or booked solid. every new image and casualty figure coming out of the battered caribbean underscores why this powerful storm is so feared. as we start to feel the first winds ahead of the approaching storm we want to get
the latest from our team on the ground here in florida starting with kerry sanders. kerry, good evening. >> reporter: lester, the national hurricane center has just issued and urgent warning. no place in the florida keys is safe. hurricane irma could hit there as a category 5. further north on both the east and the west coasts of the states and on mostly deserted south beach here, the message is dire. if you have not left and you can, get out now. >> put all your family members in here. >> reporter: tonight throughout south florida chaos as more residents race against time to escape irma's wrath. >> very concerned, very concerned. >> reporter: on gridlocked highways searching for gas that's becoming harder to find. at the bus station, passengers with tickets but no buses. >> they can't even give us an e.t.a. on the buses. >> reporter: an estimated half million people heading to more than 40 shelters today. when you see the destruction in the caribbean, do you now wish maybe you'd left? >> yeah, i suppose so. >> reporter: some people finding there's m
hurricane irma with winds of 155 miles per hour double the size of florida's most destructive hurricane, andrew, in 1992. >> we're running out of time. the storm is almost here. if you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now. this is a catastrophic storm that our state has never seen. >> reporter: coming with irma, a deadly storm surge up to 12 feet. southwest florida could see the most flooding. in just six inches of water, a car engine stalls, two feet and the car is floating, three to six feet, life threatening, in part because of everything floating in the current. at nine feet the water is above the first floor. despite the dangers, some residents staying put like richard crisler who made sure to secure all the boats at his marina club. >> i have a gut feeling i haven't had before. this one is really scary. >> reporter: some of the most vulnerable, the residents in trailer parks who cannot afford to leave.
>> reporter: authorities detaining the homeless to protect them against the storm. throughout the day last-minute shopping for crucial supplies. police helping to manage out-of-control lines at this home depot. one man about to buy the last generator at this store giving it up to a woman for her sick father's medical needs. >> an angel from god is what he is. >> reporter: another urgent threat, the dike on lake okeechobee. 40,000 residents advised overnight, evacuate. fears the dike could breach causing katrina-style flooding. in south florida trash collectors urgently picking up debris that could turn into projectile missiles in hurricane-force winds. and at zoo miami, pink flamingos moved indoors. all 3,000 animals will shelter in place. now with the storm less than 16 hours away, normal bustling coastal communities including famed south beach virtual ghost towns. kerry sanders, nbc news, miami. i'm gabe gutierrez
airport where today emotions ran high and patience ran out. this woman separated from her luggage when her flight was canceled, her chemotherapy medicine inside. she and thousands of tourists stranded in south florida as irma takes aim. >> i don't know what to do. >> reporter: manuel echevarria and his family aren't sure where they'll ride out the storm. >> i'm extremely worried. i have two kids. i need to take care of my family. >> reporter: over the last few days miami has had almost double the usual flights to get people out. american, delta and united all adding extra trips. >> we're working very, very hard to accommodate thousands of people coming through here. >> reporter: after stranded travelers spent the night here -- >> we've been here through katrina, wilma, nothing really frightening as this. >> reporter: this afternoon hundreds were bused to emergency shelters. >> i want to reiterate that our airport is not a shelter. >> reporter: today,
[000:05:59;00] left the port of miami after thousands of tourists were suddenly dropped off in the middle of their vacations. >> they didn't even give us an option. they didn't give us any option. they just basically told us that they're just going to let us off in miami and we basically had less than a day to figure out. >> reporter: natasha allen was on a five-day cruise for her honeymoon. >> i was like literally crying. we had one day where everything was nice and then the next days on the cruise was chaos. and everybody was really upset. >> reporter: tonight some hoping desperately to make the last flights out. others hunkering down far from home. airlines are now starting to wind down operations throughout florida including miami, ft. lauderdale and orlando. after all the chaos we saw here earlier today, it is now eerily quiet, calm before the storm. lester? >> yeah, gabe, that picture says a lot about where we stand right now. let's go to al roker. he's been tracking
this thing. i mentioned at the top of the broadcast, a wobble to the west, what does that mean in practical terms? >> we've got 36 hours and it could wobble again. don't focus on the center. take a look at the cone of uncertainty. because that really tells you the story. let's give you where it is right now. it is still a category 4 but just barely a 4, under a 5. 345 miles southeast of miami. 155-mile-per-hour winds. it's slowed down now moving west at 12 miles per hour. look at what happens just before landfall right around the keys. it briefly becomes a category 5 storm again, then comes on shore during the day. this is going to take all day and on through monday to clear the state of florida. it will be on the ground for a long time causing a lot of damage. and a lot of that damage coming from the storm surge. we're talking about on top of what's already there, all that wind and rain being pushed on shore upwards of a foot of -- 12 feet of storm surge in southwestern florida, 5 to 10 feet here in the eastern part of florida, 3 to 5 feet as you get up to tampa bay.
and the bad news, storm surge is going to be coming in just about high tide sunday at noon because it slowed down. so this could really be catastrophic. >> bad situation, all right. al roker, thank you, al. as that forecast track takes to the west, alarm is growing tonight on florida's southwest coast bracing for a disaster. from here in miami beach, we want to swing across the state to the emergency preparations under way on sanibel island, florida. nbc's kristen dahlgren is there for us tonight. >> reporter: along florida's west coast tonight there is new urgency. what many thought was a miss now has models shifting this way. >> we're not as far away from the center as we had originally thought. >> reporter: grace and frank mazarella scrambling to finish storm preps on sanibel island. >> my family wants us out of florida totally, but that's a little bit difficult to do right now with traffic. airlines are all booked up. >> reporter: officials going door to door to make sure residents, especially the most vulnerable, were not
lulled into a sense of >> i'm just thinking about my family, my wife and puppy. >> reporter: the biggest issue here may be the storm surge. a wall of water coming ashore leaving all of these low-lying homes under water. search and rescue teams are ready for anyone who doesn't get out in time. >> pretty much anything that's going to help us gain access to something or someone is on this vehicle. >> reporter: route 75, the major highway out of florida's west coast is backed up for miles. gas supplies are dwindling. some places are running out of sandbags. the velos family from port charlotte is evacuating but couldn't find a place to go. >> all the hotels in gainesville, ocala and lake city were all booked. there was no room available. we had to sleep at a rest area with our kids. >> reporter: while others can only hope they didn't wait too long. >> by the grace of god, we'll survive again. >> reporter: almost 2 million people call southwest florida home. when you add in tourists, that number
goes way up. where we are, the storm surge could get up to 12 feet, and lester, that water could go way inland. >> kristen dahlgren, thank you. as we speak hurricane irma is battering the bahamas on its path here to the florida coast. we've seen the devastation this massive storm is capable of after it tore through the caribbean leaving death and destruction in its wake. and now yet another hurricane is taking aim. for the latest nbc's rehema ellis in nassau. >> reporter: early this morning hurricane irma slammed into the southern bahamas. authorities say those evacuated may have nothing to go back to. in the turks and caicos powerful winds snapped utility poles and crushed cars. the storm has already been deadly in the u.s. virgin islands. today catastrophic images are coming out of st. john. >> all these islands are in dire need of help. we need food. we need water. we need clothes.
>> reporter: heartbreak also on the island of barbuda. tour operator craig ryan using his boats now on a rescue mission to transport hundreds to safety. >> the road work has been washed away. it really looks like a complete disaster zone. >> reporter: authorities now warning people to get out because another category 4 storm, jose, is on its way. back in the bahamas, a couple vacationing from wisconsin couldn't get a flight out and are doing their best to keep family informed. have they called you, have they said they're worried about you? >> we've been texting a lot back and forth. >> reporter: hurricane irma is barreling north and people here in nassau are bracing for impact tonight and into tomorrow. lester? >> rehema ellis in nassau tonight, thank you. back here in florida there are serious fears whether some of miami's buildings and infrastructure can withstand the blow from hurricane irma.
from low-lying areas atop high-rises. miguel almaguer has the latest on the looming dangers. >> reporter: tonight a clear view of trouble on miami's horizon, a sea of construction cranes with no time to take them down. officials who operate two dozen cranes say the 360,000-pound steel structures are built to withstand 145-mile-per-hour winds, but there's fear tonight irma could knock them down, which is why they're designed to spin. >> they will blow whichever way the wind is blowing. they will turn just like a weather vane would on top of a house if you had one. >> reporter: that's what happened as irma passed through puerto rico, though during superstorm sandy this one collapsed. from sky to sea, first responders are bracing for the worst. with a storm surge that could reach ten feet, the height of our drone, the national weather service says buildings could be washed into sea.
some could be uninhabitable for weeks, even months. were flattened by andrew's storm surge and powerful winds. now south florida's new building codes will be put to the test. so will critical operations like hospitals. during harvey, some were forced to evacuate as floodwaters rose, but here in miami the largest hospitals plan to stay open. >> we're expecting the worst. we've got a lot of hurricane andrew veterans here. this is bigger, broader. it is a big unknown. >> reporter: this weekend 9 million could lose power. the electrical grid could be crippled for weeks. two nuclear plants preparing to shut down. dire forecasts predicting disaster and now a region scrambling to stay on its feet. tonight at construction sites all across this city, crews say all that can be done has been done. these cranes can shoot hundreds of feet into the air. they'll face a test
like never before. irma is clg >> a blossoming skyline we're looking at with new eyes tonight. miguel almaguer, thank you. you need only look at the ocean a few hundred yards behind me to appreciate why miami beach is among those places under a mandatory evacuation order tonight and, no, we will not be in this spot tomorrow. the anticipated storm surge rapidly rising waters will rush inland are of high concern here, forcing some tough but prudent choices by first responders. it is business as usual at miami beach's fire station 2, but by tomorrow night station 2 might be this seven-square-mile island's sole lifeline. the three other stations are closing for the storm, their apparatus to be relocated to the mainland. virgil fernandez is fire chief. >> what we want to do is make sure our equipment is able to respond afterwards. so we'll keep a
contingency here at one of our fire want to mess up our equipment and then not be able to respond. >> reporter: today firefighters ready their gear for search and rescues that could be necessary, but the city has also announced first responders will not be responding at some point. >> after 40 miles an hour, we can't safely send personnel out in the street. >> reporter: residents planning to stay have been warned. when you hear those warnings, what do you think? do you stop and pause? >> i think about it. everybody panics. but i try to remain calm. you know. i take it as any other hurricane. >> we're hoping for the best. you know, we're preparing as best as we can. >> reporter: the approaching storm a twist of fate for chief fernandez who returned from aiding the harvey recovery in texas just a week ago. people think that you guys are all powerful. >> and unfortunately, we'd love to be, but we, too, have our
limitations. >> reporter: the city beach plans to stage most of its fire vehicles and equipment, is just a short drive across a causeway. they hope that they'll be able to use the undamaged vehicles to return as soon as the weather begins to calm and get to work in recovery and rescue. there's much more still ahead here tonight from florida including force of nature. what's it like to be inside a hurricane? we'll show you the sheer power of the winds now threatening to blast ashore here. also, the country music star killed in an air tragedy on his way to a concert performance. we'll be back. needles. essential for vinyl, but maybe not for people with rheumatoid arthritis. because there are options. like an "unjection™". xeljanz xr. a once daily pill for adults with moderate to severe ra for whom methotrexate did not work well. xeljanz xr can reduce pain, swelling and further joint damage, even without methotrexate. xeljanz xr can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections, lymphoma and other cancers have happened.
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financial advisor can do for you. back now from miami beach as this entire state braces for a force of nature that is hard to fathom, any hurricane, especially a category 4 or 5 can be devastating. we asked nbc's tom costello to demonstrate the power of hurricane-force winds and how well the u.s. is prepared to withstand them. >> reporter: tonight, irma's ferocious winds have the potential to wreak even more havoc than cat 5s andrew, katrina, rita or wilma. to better understand how to protect life and property university of maryland wind tunnel researchers re-create hurricane-force winds. this is now a category 1 storm, 80 miles per hour. we're looking at some damage to unanchored mobile homes, trees and shrubs. this is now a category 2 storm. 100-mile-per-hour winds. there is no way you can stand in this. significant damage to roofs, to windows.
this is now a category 3. 115 miles per hour. the wind is pulling my cheeks and my skin back. anything that isn't tied down would be uprooted and torn from its foundation. after just a few minutes in cat 3 winds last year the engineers said enough. it's just absolutely exhausting to stand in those kinds of winds. today irma at 155 miles per hour is among the strongest hurricanes ever recorded. even homes built to national standards can come apart in just 100-mile-per-hour winds. across florida, the toughest new building codes require designs to withstand a cat 3. >> there are building codes that are in place particularly after hurricane andrew in florida that really helped homeowners build back stronger. >> reporter: but the reality is that very few older homes and buildings are likely to withstand the fury of irma.
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but when we could live to. prudential. bring your challenges. as we continue to track the threat from hurricane irma here on the florida coastline, we're also monitoring another deadly disaster. the strongest earthquake to hit mexico in more than a century. cameras captured the moment a powerful 8.1 magnitude quake struck off the coast. the force felt by some 50 million people. at least 50 are dead, but that toll could rise as rescuers continue to search the rubble there. and tonight the music world is mourning the loss of country star troy gentry, one half of the award-winning duo montgomery gentry, killed in a helicopter crash hours before a concert in new jersey. the chopper went down early this afternoon in a wooded area near an airport in medford taking the lives of both gentry and one other person on board.
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we're back here on miami beach. al roker before we go off, give us a late tracking update here. >> okay. still 155 mile-per-hour winds, category 4. however, just before it makes landfall on sunday, late morning or afternoon, it will be a category 5 coming across the keys. but again don't focus on the center. look at the cone of uncertainty. anybody within that cone a possible strike. >> and it's a lot of people. al, you'll be with us all weekend. nbc news will be with you all weekend. i'll certainly be here in the morning on "today" and then full coverage around the clock on msnbc. thank you for watching. i'm lester holt. for all of us at nbc news, our team on the ground across this region and around the world, thank you for
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