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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 9/28/22

Guests: John Copenhaver, Michael Grunwald, Sam Bloch, Peter Robbins, Bob Henson, Nikki Fried


Hurricane Ian has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane. Earlier tonight it was reported that it may be on its way to being a Category 1 storm. Hundreds of grocery stores and thousands of businesses remain closed as Hurricane Ian moves through Florida.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Alex. We are going to continue the live coverage as you said. Thank you very much, Alex.


O`DONNELL: And we are continuing our live coverage of the situation in Florida as Alex said. Hurricane Ian has now been downgraded to a category two storm. The hurricane made landfall just after 3:00 p.m. today in southwest Florida as a powerful category four storm, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States.

Hurricane Ian is causing record levels surges, potentially as high as 12 feet in Fort Myers and Naples, Florida. More than 1.9 million people are without power tonight, that is almost 10 percent of the population of Florida. That means over 90 percent of people in Florida to have electrical power.

The number of people without electrical power is expected to rise as these slow-moving storm cuts across Florida with hurricane-force winds. A major concern right now and overnight would be flash flooding caused by the heavy rains. More than two feet of rain is predicted in some areas, officials are warning residents to shelter in place if they have not evacuated. As many cities today are suspending rescue efforts until the storm passes.

We`re going to begin with NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins for the latest.

Bill, what is the situation now?

BILL KARINS, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: We are watching a storm that is weakening overland, but we still have areas that are losing power at this hour. We know we have people who need rescuing, need help from us. So, from what happened during the day today. So, that is the situation as we go throughout these overnight hours. The center of the storm is over Sebring, Florida. It is about halfway across the Florida peninsula.

The winds are starting to die down, that`s why we are at a category two. They probably won`t weaken that much, they will still be close to a category one at daybreak or strong top tropical storm. So, the wind damage is going to be mostly tree damage at this point, minimal roof damage, and gas station awning staff like that. We still have power outages from the Orlando area southwards and over towards Volusia, the Melbourne area, heading up to Cocoa Beach, those are areas that could have some power outage problems during the overnight.

As far as the flooding goes, this is really the story as we go throughout the overnight. Flood watches are everywhere in green. This area in the moon down here, we have already had reports of 20 inches of rain. This is a slow-moving storm, roughly about eight miles per hour, that is the speed that you walk.

So, imagine walking across 160 miles of Florida, that is roughly going to take you a good 12 hours or so. That is why we have these epic rainfall totals, a possibility at least of 24 to 30 inches in a few spots. The areas, this is rain addition null to what we already had.

This area all in maroon that`s color here, that`s 10 inches plus. That is all the beach areas from Volusia County, all the way up here to Jacksonville and back down I-4 through Stanford, Florida, Orlando, Disney Theme Park, Universal. That is the potential for extreme flooding, life-threatening type flooding.

Here is a water view of the storm. We are seeing improving conditions in south Florida, even Naples, the water has started to retreat after this record storm surges earlier. About 5 to 6 feet, we also think that the worst storm surge, we haven`t had confirmation because the gauges stopped working, in the Fort Myers area. That`s where we think we could`ve gotten up to 12 feet of storm surge, that is a lot of water and a lot of homes.

Also Cape Coral, very low elevation, they probably had a similar storm surge, we are talking dozens, thousands of homes that have water on the first floor levels if they were not elevated enough.

So, this is the latest from the Hurricane Center, we got hundred mile per hour winds, just about getting down there now. A category one during the overnight, still strong winds all the way north of Daytona Beach, Volusia County, 53 mile per hour gusts. By the rule of thumb, once you get over 50, that is when you have to get isolated power outages.

So, we will see some strong gusts overnight, especially near the Orlando area out towards this area. Here`s the problem, Lawrence, we are not done with the storm. It`s not just going to harmlessly go away, once it exits the coast than we are going to take this back up towards savannah, maybe Charleston.

Likely as a tropical storm, there is an isolated chance that we could have a second hurricane landfall. It should not be a major hurricane, but still could be a category one which would still cause problems in the Carolinas.

O`DONNELL: Bill, take us away from their. What happens in the next day and what happens in the days after that? How far north will the effects be felt?

KARINS: Thankfully, it is going to fall apart and it begins to head into the Appalachians. Anytime you get a tropical system, those areas are very concerning with flash flooding.


So, we don`t have to worry about the wind problem, maybe some winds, 50, 60 miles per hour, just enough for some power outages on the coast. Storm surge could be an issue. One of the rivers in our country that is different in all the others is that it flows from the south to the north, the St. Johns River. We have a lot of heavy rain in Florida so we have rain going into the river system, we`re going to have that storm surge coming in as we go into Thursday on Friday.

So, we`re going to have water flowing out, and the same time in Jacksonville, the water being coming in from the ocean. We could have some unexpected problems, especially downtown Jacksonville. That is one of the main concerns in the days ahead. As we watch the heavy rainfalls, that storm surge map is here, we saw this today. The pictures you see from Naples, those 5 to 6 foot storm surge, that hurricane center is saying that the area from about Savannah southward through Jacksonville, maximum of 3 to 5.

This is worst-case scenario. But, it is possible that we could have problems and damage done, even from the storm in Florida as we go throughout the next few days. In all of our computer models, -- it looks like it could do this. They are targeting areas towards the Charleston area. Myrtle Beach seems to be the northern extent that we have to deal with. We will see how it all plays out, but eventually we will be dealing with another landfall and significant rain, a chance of flooding.

Florida is different, Florida has that sandy soil, it`s okay for the wealth, but once we get heavy rain heading into the Carolinas and southern Appalachians, that is a different ball game. That is the rain that collects in the valleys and mountain passes, it heads into the small streams. That is when you can get life-threatening flash flooding even from a tropical storm.

O`DONNELL: Bill Karins, I always learn something from your reporting about this, I`ve been watching it all day today. Thank you for your invaluable contributions all day. I really appreciate it.

KARINS: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, there are nearly 2 million people without power in Florida right now. Joining us now is Peter Robbins. He is the spokesperson for the Florida Power and Light Company.

Thank you much for joining us.

Let`s frame it on the positive side. More than 90 percent of the people in Florida still have power as of now. What do you say to them? What should they expect over the next day? Is it possible that more of them lose power?

PETER ROBBINS, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT CO.: Thank you for having me, Lawrence. Definitely, it is definitely possible that more will lose power. I mean, this storm, while it is weakening and moving out of our state, hopefully over the next 24 hours, it is far from over.

So, we tell all FPL customers, keep their guard up, make sure they are ready for the storm, keep their emergency plans in place. We`re trying to tell folks to stay off the roads if the weather is bad, make sure that they are monitoring their information. Make sure they`re ready in the event that they could lose power.

And while 90 percent of the state may still be on, southwest Florida took a major hit today. We are going to have intense restoration efforts in that area. They are going to start right away.

We`ve got 19,000 men and women, small army of people from 30 different states ready to go, and work around the clock until all of our customers are reconnected.

O`DONNELL: How long do you think it will take? Based on what you know now, of course this could easily change depending on the damage assessment tomorrow, based on what we know now, what is your estimate to the people who don`t have power in the worst-hit locations tonight in Florida? What can you say to them about when to expect power restored?

ROBBINS: You know, Lawrence, you pointed to it, until we get in and do those damage assessments, it is kind of difficult to get a number or a period of days that they are going to be without power. We will certainly provide those estimates as we get into those areas and get a better picture.

In some cases, we`re going to be able to repair equipment and get folks back online that way. In other cases, we`re going to be rebuilding the infrastructure of the electric grid in some of the hardest hit areas. Obviously, that will take longer. We`re big on using technology to do those damage assessments. We will be able to get drones and even a fixed wing air craft to take pictures of the damage in areas where we can send people because of floodwaters.

So, hopefully, that will speed restoration when the floodwaters recede, we can get into those areas. Certainly, we are going to be slow down by the weather and by flooding. We may expect the damage to the extensive.

O`DONNELL: Do you have everything you need now? Or are you in negotiations with FEMA for more help?

ROBBINS: You know, we are constantly tweaking our plans based on the path intensity of the storm in advance. What we see on the back end, obviously we have federal, state, local partners. We work very closely with the counties here in the state of Florida.

One of the greatest things about the utility industry is that we have each other`s backs in these scenarios. We are able to draw on utilities from all of the country, we have crews coming from as far away as Minnesota to help us restore power here in the state of Florida. We love that folks are willing to say goodbye to their loved ones and drive down here and help us restore power.


And we`ll take good care of them, we are ready to work hard for them. So, we`ve got a lot of work ahead of us but we are certainly ready to do it.

O`DONNELL: Peter Robbins, Florida Power and Light, we have a long day ahead of you, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

ROBBINS: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And joining us now from Naples, Florida, is Ali Velshi, who has been leading coverage from Florida all day and into the night tonight.

Ali, what is the situation there now?

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is interesting because the water has receded. I started the day in his parking lot and there were cars lined up on either side, parked parallel to the road. They got washed out, the storm surge came in here. Now you can see that there is no tarmac, this is all the sand from Naples beach.

The water is all gone and in fact most of the water certainly in this area has receded. It is not dry because they`re still flooding and there`s a curfew, and there is a mandatory evacuation. The police have asked people to stay off the roads. But it looks like we are seeing the back end of it. Just as you were talking to bill, one of these outer bands start to whip up. You realize that the winds are still really high. All of those lineman that you are just talking to the official about can`t get to their trucks and get up and start repairing things.

One of the things you start seeing when you come here, I drove several hours to get here, you see convoys of these electrical utility people who are driving in from all of the country. When you stay in a hotel as a journalist covering a hurricane, you often say with people who are electrical workers. They can`t get out there and deal with that right now.

So, the power outages is affecting and are going. The weather is not terrible, but in other parts of the state there is still heavy rains and winds coming down. There`s going to be more trees coming down and more power outages. This is still a tough night. We have probably seen the back about here in Naples.

We have residual winds and the water has gone back to the Gulf of Mexico. For the rest of Florida and going into the Carolinas and Georgia, later on in the next few days, this is still a very rough and difficult, uncertain time.

O`DONNELL: Ali Velshi in Naples, stay safe, thank you very much for joining us, Ali. We really appreciate it.

VELSHI: My pleasure.

O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Bob Henson. He`s a meteorologist and contributor for the Yale Climate Connection. He is the author of, "Thinking Person`s Guide to Climate Change".

Mr. Henson, what do you see when you look at the vulnerabilities that Florida has and vulnerabilities in some of the ways that development has occurred there? What do you see when you look at this storm pattern tonight?

BOB HENSON, METEOROLOGIST: Well, Florida, of course, has been the center of development patterns for more than a century, that has just continued to breaking a pace. To put this in perspective, the searchers that we have seen, the last time we saw something tropical was Hurricane Donna, which was back in 1960.

Now, the population of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples combined was about 20,000 people. Right now, it is more like 200,000. Incredible developments since the last storm that was comparable to this one.

O`DONNELL: What are you seeing as a meteorologist with the strength and patterns of the storm?

HENSON: Well, one thing that is the hallmark of our changing climate that we have seen is rapid intensification. As it approached Cuba, it went barely from a hurricane into a category three landfall, then held his strength and came off of Cuba, overnight last night it went from a category three on the edge to a category five. So, two rounds of rapid intensification.

We know other storms in the Atlantic and elsewhere that this seems to be a trend as far as intensifying quickly. In many cases, what used to be a category three or four storm is now a category four or five as a result of warmer oceans. We also can pretty much add a foot to all the surge levels that we are seeing. Sea level has risen over the last century.

So, you can simply take a storm like donna 60 years ago, we have six inches more water simply because of climate change. Of course, that only makes flooding worse. It takes you from being at the edge of the house to being underwater in that house.

O`DONNELL: Please explain to our national audience why a hurricane loses force as it goes overland? Bill is another meteorologist who is telling us that it is going to go out to the ocean again, it will pick up some steam on the ocean. When it comes back in and when it starts moving over the Carolinas, they eventually just peter out over land. Why is that?

HENSON: Yes, it`s basically because a hurricane is a heat engine, it draws energy from the very warm oceans. As a hurricane develops, the tropical storm does, the winds going over that warm water allow water to evaporate, that puts heat in the atmosphere, and create showers and thunderstorms.


You essentially get a chimney of heat in which the storm has coalesced. When makeovers overland, there is more friction, it reduces the winds at the surface, and you are taking away the heat that drives that heat engine. So, it is a blessing, fortunately, hurricanes weaken as they tend to come onshore. Sometimes you have this ocean effect where hurricanes very with saturated water, saturated landscapes like the Everglades for instance.

We probably don`t have that in this case, but certainly it gives off this, especially the warm water in the stream. You could not only be a tropical storm, but may approach hurricane strength again.

O`DONNELL: And what do increasing ocean temperatures mean for this phenomenon?

HENSON: It is something like adding jet fuel. The warmer the ocean, the more energy to hurricane has to pull off of. Basically, you need waters to be about 79 degrees Fahrenheit to give a hurricane enough energy to develop. If you have water well over that then we have waters on the order of 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, just off the coast of Naples, so that is like jet fuel.

Moreover, sometimes we have oceanic heat, those low temperatures at the surface, extending down maybe 100 feet, which means when a hurricane stirs up the water it doesn`t pull of cold water like it might otherwise would. When hurricanes pass over those bubbles of ocean heat, like Katrina did in 2005, they can really take off. That was somewhat of the case with Ian, it went over an area very high oceanic key content.

O`DONNELL: Bob Henson, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

HENSON: My pleasure. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, we will get a live report from Tampa. We will talk with Florida`s top Democratic official in the state, when our breaking coverage of Hurricane Ian continues after this.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, I spoke with Governor DeSantis for sometime. My team has been in constant contact with him from the very beginning, and the mayors of Tampa, St. Pete, and Clearwater. And my message has been absolutely clear, we are on alert action. We have approved every request that Florida has made for temporary assistance and long-term assistance.

We have a scheduled -- everything we can possibly do for the governor. We have put up shelters, they are ready.


O`DONNELL: That was President Biden earlier today.

Joining us now from Tampa is NBC News correspondent Ellison Barber.

Ellison, what is the situation there at this hour?

ELLISON BARBER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, things have really not intensified in the last hour, so it seems things are going in the opposite direction here. We have seen the wind slowed down a bit. We have seen the rain let up a little bit. That being said, officials in Tampa still are telling residents that they are in for a long night ahead and they have a lot of concerns about the possibility still of storm surge and flooding due to consistent, sustained rainfall.

We have seen a lot of reports from Tampa police warning people to stay off of the roads, even though we have not heard of significant property damage in the area, there are things like street lights that have fallen in the road which can be, if you are in the wrong place at the right time if you will, incredibly dangerous, catastrophic for people, warning people to stay off the roads because things like that are still happening, power outages, things like that as well.

But in the bay, we were having issues earlier with people going to be on towards the bay where the water had receded and reverse storm surge to sightsee. We said please do not do that, that decision could be catastrophic. There is a bit of a feeling amongst officials, we`ve heard the mayor say this, where they feel like Tampa can have almost a sigh of relief that they dodged a bullet if you will. The night is not over yet, there still could be a broader impact from the hurricane outside of the cone.

But, obviously, what they were anticipating here 24 hours ago with the storm, it made a direct hit, things have changed dramatically and we will see with the rain not so strong as it is in other parts of Florida, certainly the wind not nearly as strong either -- Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Ellison Barber, thank you very much for that report. We really appreciate it.

Joining us now is Nikki Fried. She is Florida`s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services. That is an elected position and the only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, as I understand it.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I want to go right to your jurisdiction in agriculture. Florida is an agriculture state. It has images of having all sorts of other resort aspects in a retirement communities, but you have the orange groves there, you have so much agriculture, especially in central Florida where this hurricane is headed.


What is going to mean to the agricultural industry in Florida?

NIKKI FRIED, FLORIDA COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE: Well, thanks, Lawrence, for having me on today. As you just said, Florida is number two in regards to agriculture, second largest driver for a state. And so, right now, we have been monitoring it. It is not just for all commodities, we don`t have a lot that has been harvest, but whatever is in the ground right now, we see so much of this hurricane, it is a water event. I was talking to individuals that oversee all of our animals and livestock, transporting them into safe areas.

We also have to make sure that as we are seeing power outages, that our dairy farms still are up and running to make sure that cows get food and milked. We are also seeing the Department of Agriculture. We are part of the search and rescue missions, including the distribution of food and water across the state of Florida.

O`DONNELL: So, we have watched the governor of Florida step up in a standard way the governors do throughout the country with this looming crisis in his state which was a public health crisis, a murderous kind of storm headed for his state that could easily kill people if they stayed in place.

It is a very, very different approach then he had to the murderous coronavirus hitting Florida where he was doing exactly the opposite and telling people that there`s nothing to worry about, they did need masks. They didn`t need vaccinations. They didn`t need any protection at all.

Is there any sense that he is now taking the position basically of the Dr. Fauci of this hurricane warning?

FRIED: You know, Lawrence, here in the state of Florida we have hurricanes that have hit on a consistent basis, or threaten us on a consistent basis. When it comes to hurricanes, we all put aside politics. This is something that we all come together about, we step up to the plate, and this is something that he recognizes is going to be a catastrophic losses, property damage across the entire western part of our state, power outages as you have reported earlier tonight.

This is a time when we put politics aside. We work together across the aisle, and it is important as always to show leadership, to make sure that you are a transparent, that you`re providing as much information as possible because if people were not evacuated, even those who didn`t, we are still hearing numerous, hundreds of 911 calls of people that are stranded, if those people did not words from the governor and we didn`t have emergency operations up and running, not only would you see the property damage, but you would`ve seen catastrophic losses of life.

So, this is something that again, we put politics aside, we work together, and this is a test of a governor, making sure that they are standing up and they are ready for this emergency. And, so far right now, we are getting through it, as Florida always does during hurricanes. We are going to have a tremendous large aftermath of cleanup, restoring a property and we`re going to have a lot of people that are going to be displaced for the foreseeable future.

O`DONNELL: Commissioner Nikki Fried, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We appreciate it. Thank you.

FRIED: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, the latest on Hurricane Ian`s expected path overnight into tomorrow and how far north it will reach. We`ll be right back.



O`DONNELL: Our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Ian continues. It is been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane. Bill Karins reported to us earlier tonight that it may be on its way to being a Category 1 storm.

We are going to Orlando now where we are joined by Jesse Kirsch our NBC News correspondent in Orlando. Jesse, what is the situation there now?

JESSE KIRSCH, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Lawrence, you can see heavy rain coming down -- sporadic, strong wind gusts. And this has been going on for hours now. The situation continuing to deteriorate here. And what I want to stress, and I just heard from my producer Brian, according to our climate team we`re still probably around 11 to 12 hours from the peak impact that we are going to feel from Ian here in Orlando as the storm continues to make its way north and east through the middle of Florida.

And you can see already conditions deteriorating here, which just speaks to how intense this storm is. That it is still so far from here, so many hours away in terms of the absolute strength. And yet, we are already seeing a serious impact.

As of 2:00 p.m. eastern time this afternoon, officials had said people should no longer be driving on the streets. So at this point, people are likely sheltering in place, riding out the storm where they will spend the duration.

We have not yet seen any significant power outages in this area, the cell reception is holding strong and you can see we`re getting another good gust here right now.

The bigger concern here than wind gusts -- we do expect the wind to be topping out around 90 miles per hour, the bigger concern here is the potential for more than two feet of rain.


KIRSCH: And that could lead to flash flooding which we know can go from bad to impossible in an instant -- in a flash as you might say.

So that is the big concern for officials here and this is one of the more prolonged gusts we have been feeling since we`ve been out here.

We had a stretch of lightning and thunder earlier. That seem to have passed by us. The wind has calmed down for the moment. But again, for people who are watching this at home and have been following along with our coverage throughout the day.

What we`re looking at right now is the front end of Ian. We have not yet seen the brunt of this storm, it is still the better part of 12 hours away. and you can see though already, that we are dealing with some ferocious weather out here, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Jesse Kirsch in Orlando, thank you very much for that report. Really appreciate that.

And joining us now John Copenhaver who served as FEMA`s southeast regional director during the Clinton administration. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. With all your experience, what goes through your mind and what is your checklist as you watch what is happening tonight?

JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER FEMA OFFICIAL: Lawrence, I think one thing that one of the things that goes through my mind is that as much experience as we have collectively, in emergency management, that each disaster has its own individual characteristic.

You can prepare in general. You can use acronyms like phase, forced deployment or (INAUDIBLE), you can do all of the planning, you can be relatively confident of your response capabilities. But each disaster has wrinkles, has characteristics that are unique.

O`DONNELL: And as you look at this one, what do you think are going to be the unique challenges to responding to this disaster?

COPENHAVER: I think in this situation, just the sheer amount of water. The wind damage is going to be considerable in places, but the sheer volumes of water, both rainfall and the water coming in from the Gulf of Mexico really will pose a major challenge because a lot of things are going to have to wait until the water goes down.

And people that are coming in to help, the equipment that is coming in to help, the trucks and everything else will have to wait until the water goes down. Some of the life saying not but certainly any of the response turning in to recovery will have to wait.

O`DONNELL: Now FEMA has significant experience, extensive experience responding to hurricanes in Florida, the state of Florida. The government has extensive experience with this. Does that help in a situation like this that they can build on the last time they did this?

COPENHAVER: It does, I think that some of the characteristics of hurricane response are pretty much always the same without regard to the intensity. You know that you`re going to have wind. You know you`re going to have water.

A former director of the National Hurricane Center Bob Sheets said that typically you plan (ph) for wind but you run from water because it is the water, it is the storm surge and the flooding that poses the greatest danger to life.

There are similar characteristics for each hurricane event. But it is the unique aspects particular to -- particular area that are going to have to be taken into consideration.

O`DONNELL: Now you were the southeastern regional director of FEMA so you were in hurricane alley. You had more experience with hurricanes in your district than anyone else in any other district.

How did you -- with that experience, what can you tell us about what to expect as the week wears on and the route where this hurricane is expected to go?

COPENHAVER: I can say that it has taken a really problematic route. It looks like it is going to turn and kind of go upstate. And it is going to pass near Orlando, if not across Orlando. That is obviously going to pose a substantial risk to millions of people. And it`s still going to be dumping a lot of water.

I think that one of the things that I am really concerned about here is just the sheer volume of responders that are going to be necessary to be able to do things like get the power back on, to be able to do search and rescue first, but then to begin getting people to shelters, making sure that people in shelters are adequately cared for.

FEMA works very closely with the American Red Cross and several of the other organizations, like Salvation Army and Samaritan`s Purse in ensuring that peoples individual needs are met.


COPENHAVER: It`s just going to be a logistical challenge. It`s huge.

O`DONNELL: John Copenhaver, thank you very much for joining us tonight and sharing your expertise with us. We really appreciate it.

COPENHAVER: One more point, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Please. Please go ahead. Yes.

COPENHAVER: I think that part of the key is going to be planning. And one of the phrases that I wanted to kind of get across to people is that procrastination is not conducive to survival.

O`DONNELL: Say it one more time. Let`s have the people -- because 90 percent of the people in Florida still have power, they can still hear you. And some bad things are coming their way over the next day or two. Just say that one more time for them.

COPENHAVER: Procrastination is not conducive to survival.

O`DONNELL: John Copenhaver, thank you very much. We are writing that one down. Really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us tonight.

COPENHAVER: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, we will go to St. Petersburg for the latest there. That is next.



O`DONNELL: MSNBC`s breaking news coverage of Hurricane Ian continues.

Let`s go now to NBC News meteorologist Michelle Grossman. Michelle what is the situation as of this hour and what can we expect?

MICHELLE GROSSMAN, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we are looking at really heavy rainfall and we`re seeing some gusty winds that we see in a Category 2 storm. But it is going to be the rain, we are transitioning to that rain story.

We`ve already seen 20 inches of rain in some spots. We could see up to 30 inches of rain. So this was pretty much the worst-case scenario. We had a very strong Category 4 storm, it was a big storm too. And then we saw that storm surge, heavy rainfall, gusty winds.

Let`s look at the strongest wind gust. We saw up to 135-mile-per-hour winds. So that pushed that salt water onto dry land. That is why we saw all that flooding in addition to the freshwater that was falling from the sky. We saw totals up to 17.29; again we could see up to 30 inches of rain.

This is what we`re looking at right now, a Category 2 storm. You can see all these bright colors here, the brighter colors meaning the heavier rain. And that is what we are going to continue to see because this is moving at a very slow pace.

Good news is it`s not moving at 3 to 4 miles per hour as we thought it would, but it is still moving 7 -- 8 miles per hour. So that is crawling across the peninsula of Florida. And it will do so over the next 24 hours.

So we are going to see tremendous amounts of rain falling and it is falling at night so that is worse. Winds right now, 100 miles per hour, still holding on to it strength. It is inland at this point and it is still a very strong storm. We`re looking at movement northeast at eight miles per hour. And it`s about 50 miles northeast at (INAUDIBLE) Florida.

So we are looking at it in the middle of the peninsula right now. We are seeing a hurricane warning from coast to coast. We rarely see that. And most of the peninsula of Florida is encompassed with some sort of weather right now.

So here is that heavy rainfall, we are seeing those darker colors, especially around that eye. We`re looking at reds, yellows, oranges. And we`re going to continue to see this. We do have a flood threat.

I want to show you this before we end because this is really -- we don`t see this that often. It is a flash flood emergency. You need to heed any warnings, stay high above the ground if you can. Back to you.

O`DONNELL: Michelle, thank you very much for that report. Really appreciate it.

Let`s go now to NBC News correspondent Steve Patterson in St. Petersburg.

STEVE PATTERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Lawrence, we are about more than 100 miles from where that storm made landfall and yet, the wind and the rain here in St. Petersburg has been tremendous.

It is expected to sustain and continue throughout the night, leading to possible wind damage. We are looking at downed power lines, we`re looking at flash flooding. These are all things that local officials are concerned about.

We have heard scattered reports along with widespread power outages -- about 140,000 customers in the St. Petersburg area alone. You expand that out to the entirety of the Metro Bay Area and it is hundreds of thousands of people.

So utility trucks, squad cars is what we are expecting to be out in force tomorrow going street by street for a few reasons. One, to make sure that nobody is trapped, that everybody is ok. But also to check for those downed power poles. Fires that could spring up when first responders, tonight can`t -- maybe officially get to them.

But to also see if there are those scattered instances of flash flooding in neighborhoods and maybe throughout town even. And we expect possibly much more of a punch from the surge as we get another wind gust here.

These wind gusts have been pretty consistent for the last few hours now along with the deluge of rain. Of you add in more of a surge as well, which we could see anywhere from 4 to 5 feet, that would increase the risk for widespread flooding.

That is the number one danger in this area, it always has been since we`ve seen the models change from this originally being the bull`s eye of the storm, now those bands of are still very dangerous.

This area, home to very low laying homes, low-lying businesses. In flood plain areas that would so easily be susceptible to more rain and more flooding. So that is the number one danger. That`s what crews are going to be checking for when they get daylight.

But meanwhile, throughout the night we are expected to get pounded really with more of this rain and a whole lot more of this wind. Dangerous stuff. Back to you.


O`DONNELL: Steve Patterson in St. Petersburg, thank you for that report.

And joining us now is Michael Grunwald, climate change and environment reporter for Canary Media. He is the author of "The Swamp: the Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise". Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Michael.

What could Florida do long term in their planning to anticipate obviously the recurrence of hurricanes?

MICHAEL GRUNWALD, CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENT REPORTER, CANARY MEDIA: Well, you know, Mother Nature bats last so, you know, a lot of the choices that were made 50 years ago we`re kind of dealing with them today.

I mean look, we are -- you know, south Florida, it is very low, it is very flat. You know, the sea is getting higher, the Gulf is getting hotter so hurricanes are getting stronger and a lot of these places, particularly on the southwest coast have gotten rid of their natural flood protection in the form of mangroves and other wetlands.

So yes, I mean we`re living in a floodplain, you know what they say about places like that, it is plain that they flood.

O`DONNELL: And were people aware of the decisions that they were making at the time. Were they warned about certain areas that that really shouldn`t be residential?

GRUNWALD: Well look, I think, you know, there were a lot of scam artists who came down here and we`re selling the Florida dream of, right, like you want to buy some swamp land? And you know, wetlands were seen as wastelands and certainly in the dry season they looked like that. You could have paradise down there. And then sure enough, the wet season came and they got wet again.

But look, you look at some of these places where the storms hit -- Fort Myers, Cape Coral -- I mean these are -- they were lies that came true. You know, they came to the swamp land and said hey, you know, we are going to put 200,000 people in Cape Coral which really, I wrote a story about it for Politico magazine which was called "The Boom Town That Shouldn`t Exist".

But the scammers were right, today there are 200,000 people there, even though, you know, at the time it seems completely ridiculous.

O`DONNELL: And now Florida`s governor is asking the federal government, asking Joe Biden for 100 percent reimbursement funding. 100 percent federal government spending for the first 60 days anyway of rebuilding.

GRUNWALD: Yes. I mean look, this is sort of the history of Florida, right where we -- you know, we`re really good at ignoring, we are really good at forgetting, we`re really good at asking for help when we need it.

You know, we have this insurance disaster. My home insurer in Miami just went bankrupt about a month ago, it was the tenth insurer in the last year to go under. And so the state took over my policy, and I`m sure there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people in the same position in southwest Florida.

We are living in harm`s way. We`re not the only people in the country, right. You know, you have earthquakes in other places, and tornadoes. Here, our problem is wind and water. And you know, these things are going to keep coming and as long as we are going to keep bailing (ph) us out.

O`DONNELL: Mike Grunwald, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

GRUNWALD: My pleasure, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

We`ll be right back as our breaking news coverage of the Hurricane Ian continues.



O`DONNELL: Hundreds of grocery stores and thousands of businesses remain closed as Hurricane Ian moves through Florida.

Joining us now from Fort Myers is Sam Bloch (ph), the director of emergency response for World Central Kitchen, which was founded by Chef Jose Andres.

Sam, what is the situation there tonight and how are you going to be able to help?

SAM BLOCH, DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY RESPONSE, WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN: Good evening, Lawrence. We`ve got -- we`ve been tracking Hurricane Ian since it was still a low pressure system off the coast of Venezuela. We have managed to get teams spread across the coast. A kitchen up in Tampa.

We are down here in Fort Myers, we`ve got teams farther down, teams coming in from Miami. We`ve got all of our bases covered because we (INAUDIBLE) very well a lot of the challenge (INAUDIBLE) flooding, rain flooding and the wind speeds that this hurricane brought.

So exactly how it is, we`re going to start moving in tomorrow, but we won`t really know until sunrise tomorrow as to which communities really were affected.

(INAUDIBLE) earlier today and last-minute shift really created a lot of last-minute evacuation. So we are pretty well covered in terms of food, a little bit of comfort, we don`t know exactly what it is, (INAUDIBLE) exactly what they need.

O`DONNELL: Sam Bloch, thank you very much for that report. Really appreciate it.


O`DONNELL: MSNBC`s breaking news coverage continues now on "THE 11TH HOUR" with Stephanie RUHLE.