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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Category 2 Frances Churns Toward Florida

Aired September 4, 2004 - 05:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: The fury of Frances. The hurricane barrels through the Bahamas and is now headed on a slow but steady path toward Florida's east coast.
From the CNN Center here in Atlanta, this is a special edition of CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is September 4, 5:00 a.m. along the Florida coast.

Good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Drew Griffin. Here's what's happening, now in the news:

It's lost a bit of its punch, but Hurricane Frances still a big storm and on track for the Atlantic coast of Florida. Frances lumbering now at just six miles an hour, right now raking the Bahamas. The storm 150 miles east southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida. It's considered a major rainmaker, which could be the big story here: up to 20 inches in some places. And it's expected to make landfall in Florida as early as this afternoon. We head live to Florida straight ahead.

Former President Bill Clinton says he feels great, ready for heart bypass surgery next week. Clinton talked by phone from his hospital bed last night. He told Larry King he was optimistic about his recovery, and said Republicans aren't the only people who want four more years. You'll hear the conversation later this hour.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited hostages wounded during that catastrophic shootout in southern Russian between troops and hostage takers. The siege at the school ended with more than 250 hostages killed. Many of the dead are children. Twenty-seven hostage takers and 10 Russian soldiers also killed.

And there's apparently been a big bounce for President Bush. The president has an 11-point lead now over Senate John Kerry in a "Time" magazine poll taken during the Republican convention. That poll gives President Bush 52 percent, Senator Kerry 41 percent, Ralph Nader 3 percent.

NGUYEN: Now to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center at 5 a.m. Eastern. Hurricane warnings are in effect for Florida's east coast, from Florida City north to beach -- or Flagler Beach, including Lake Okeechobee. Hurricane Frances is 45 miles east of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, about 125 miles east southeast of West Palm Beach. It's moving at six miles per hour, very slow. Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for parts of 16 Florida counties, about two and a half million people.

And Hurricane Frances has been beating up on the Bahama islands for hours now, just creeping along with its top winds now down to 105 miles an hour.

GRIFFIN: Yes, but it's still wide, wet and wild. Expected to make landfall as early as this afternoon between Melbourne and West Palm Beach, Florida.

CNN's Sean Callebs is in West Palm Beach, right in its path, waiting for Hurricane Frances.

Sean, what's the conditions there?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Drew you touched upon it a couple of minutes ago, that Frances may be a storm that is really remembered for the amount of rainfall it is expected to bring to Florida.

Yesterday, during a briefing late in the day, state officials said that when Charley came through three weeks ago, they knew exactly where the eye made contact with land, exactly what time. Well, this storm is so massive -- the size of Texas -- they said when it comes ashore, it -- you're not going to be able to pinpoint down to one city, not even to one county. This is going to cut a wide path of destruction as it moves its way into the state.

But we've been out here for a couple of hours right now, and this is what we're getting. Pretty steady winds, probably somewhere around 25, 30 miles an hour. But no rainfall at this point.

Now, overnight some squalls from those outer bands have been coming in, punishing the area. No damage yet, but we'll give you an idea of exactly what's going on as we shoot down the main road here in West Palm Beach. You can see some of the palm trees being tossed about a bit by the winds. Some of the signs here as well. But certainly things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better.

A little but about this county: 1.3 million people live in Palm Beach County. About 80,000 in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, which you see across the intercoastal waterway. Under a mandatory evacuation -- we can tell you, the road -- 1-95, the turnpike north, the past 24 hours or so, extremely crowded.

But they're also running into some problems down here. There are 25 shelters that have been opened. The night before, at least 1,900 in one shelter. Another concern: gas shortage. It's going to be very difficult to get gasoline in the service stations now that the storm is beginning to make its presence felt in this area. So if anybody is trying to make the 11th-hour dash -- if they haven't filled up their tank, Drew and Betty, it could be very difficult.

GRIFFIN: Sean, I want to ask you about this level-2 hurricane situation. Because we -- you know, we have a lot of people who are watching in those shelters, a lot of people in hotels who have left there. A lot of them may have thought if this was just a level 2 they might have ridden out.

They cannot get back to their homes, is that correct? They should not even try.

CALLEBS: Well, exactly.

The mandatory evacuation remains in effect. One thing that the hurricane officials -- the people monitoring the storm have repeatedly -- look, it may be downgraded somewhat, but this is still a mammoth storm and it's going to cause a great deal of trouble.

I'll give you one idea why people shouldn't try to make a ride back home. When the rain does come, it's certainly going to flood. Florida is a very flat state. Down here in the southern portion of the state, there are a lot of canals. If you're trying to get back home and the road is flooded, you may not be able to determine where exactly the road ends and the canal begins. You could drive off into one of those, and that certainly can be a catastrophic situation.

Clearly, the winds and the rain picking up a little bit more here at this hour. But -- think about it. I mean, these are just the very outer bands of this storm. It is hours before the eye is going to make landfall, and we are not exactly on one of the barrier island beaches. That's out there.

But it's really getting punishing out here, and it is only going to get a lot worse, guys.

NGUYEN: All right. Stay safe. Sean Callebs in Florida, thank you so much this morning.

GRIFFIN: Let us get an update now on the path of the storm. Joining us, James Franklin of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

James, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us what the very latest position is, where it's headed and how fast?

JAMES FRANKLIN, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, Frances is located near Grand Bahama Island. It's been battering that island for quite some time, and the Abacos. Moving northwest about five miles an hour -- five, six miles an hour.

We do expect Frances to bend a little bit to the left, turn to the west northwest and get very close to the Florida coast in about 24 hours or so. So very late tonight, or early Sunday morning.

GRIFFIN: Charley made a -- a swift turn and also escalated right before it hit the Florida coast a couple of weeks ago. Is there any indication something like that could happen and does the fact that it's moving so slow also mean it could change direction?

FRANKLIN: Well, when storms slow, that means the steering currents are weak. And we do expect, before the next day is over, that they'll be a few wobbles in the track, just as there have been. But generally, we expect the turn to the west-northwest. Now, Charley did strengthen rather abruptly prior to landfall. Right now, it doesn't look like Frances is going to do that. It doesn't have a very well-defined inner core, and without a well- defined inner core, things don't happen all that fast. We do think there could be a little bit of strengthening, but we expect it to remain near the Category 2, Category 3 threshold.

GRIFFIN: And will this continue -- on the current path, will it continue moving up and towards, like, Alabama?

FRANKLIN: Well, we expect it to west northwest, across the Florida peninsula, and then most likely get into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico and affect the Florida panhandle again, perhaps, in another two, two and a half days.

GRIFFIN: And we're talking about a rainmaking storm. What -- what are your estimates as far as what Florida should be expecting over the next day, day and a half?

FRANKLIN: Well, what we're looking for in Florida is something, like, six to 12 inches. Probably in the Bahamas they're going to get close to 20 inches, a little bit less.

We do expect that Frances will speed up just a little bit as it makes that turn to the west northwest and as it moves across, and that would help the rainfall totals a bit.

GRIFFIN: All right. James Franklin, the National Hurricane Center. We of course will be relying on the Hurricane Center for the next couple of days as we watch this move on.

The hurricane having a major impact on airline operations in Florida. For example, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Melbourne airports -- they are all closed for now, at least. Jacksonville, West Palm and Miami International are operating, but many flights are canceled.

If you are heading in or out, check your flight, either by phone or on the Web -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Now we want to take it to Orlando, Florida, we where we meet up with meteorologist Orelon Sidney with a look at the weather there.

Orelon, we just saw Sean Callebs in West Palm Beach. What's the situation there in Orlando?

ORELON SIDNEY, METEOROLOGIST: Well, if you are here in Orlando, it would be hard to believe that there's actually any hurricane on the way. The winds have freshened a little bit. I'd say they're maybe about 10 miles an hour, 5-10 miles an hour. But remember, we're in the center of the state, and wherever the storm goes in -- right now it's a Category 2 storm -- once it makes landfall, especially as disorganized as it has become, my expectation is that it would rapidly de-intensify.

The wind is not going to be the problem with this one. You're not going to come through and see, you know, lots of things blowing around. You may find some tree damage; you may find signs down. And, of course, trees go down, then you can get power-line damage.

But in general, this, I think, is going to be a rain event for much of Florida that's not along the coast. As you get into central Florida, the northwest part of Florida as the storm tracks across, the rain is going to be the story.

It hasn't started to rain here. Landfall is not expected until later on tonight. But with the situation as it is -- and we're not so concerned about the winds -- as the rain gets going and continues, that's going to be the problem.

The forecast last night for the Orlando are was for about a 60 percent chance of rain today, 100 percent chance tonight. So once the rain gets going, that's what the folks here in Orlando are going to have a problem with -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Orelon, let's talk about that rain a little bit more, because I was reading some reports that were saying in some areas, maybe up to 20 inches of rain?

SIDNEY: Oh, it's certainly possible. Especially with tropical systems, once -- and once they start to die, they basically rain out. And a lot of their moisture starts to come out in the form of rain.

I would think that most of the rain areas are going to be a lot less than that. My guess, again, 6 to 12 inches, 8 inches not out of the question. Some localized areas that have a -- maybe a pretty good thunderstorm over them with some strong downpours could see rainfall up over 15 inches. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see some very localized heavy rain amounts, perhaps as much as that.

NGUYEN: How much of a problem is this going to be for the folks who are still trying to recover from Charley? Are they still saturated in some areas of Florida?

SIDNEY: Well, you know, that's part of the problem. A lot of Florida is saturated, and a lot of the state is so flat that whether you're saturated or not, it doesn't take that much to get much flooding problems. So that is going to be a problem.

One of the things we noticed around here that I think is going to be trouble -- if the power goes out for some people, and they have generators, they may have a problem because there's not a lot of gas available. A lot of the gas stations are going to close down this morning right around sunrise. So once your power goes out, and -- in this area, you're probably going to have a pretty hard time getting any relief from that, because the generator problem, with the gasoline situation, that's going to be a real problem for the Labor Day weekend.

NGUYEN: All right...

SIDNEY: Betty.

NGUYEN: ...CNN's Orelon Sidney in Orlando this morning. Thank you so much. We'll be checking in with you a little bit later,

Hurricane Frances has pummeled the Bahamas. On the phone with us right now is Coralie Adderly, chief of hospital administrator at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau.

Good morning to you.

CORALIE ADDERLY, PRINCESS MARGARET HOSPITAL: Good morning.

NGUYEN: Well, give us an example of what has happened to that area. We know that the hurricane came through within the past few hours. What are you experiencing?

ADDERLY: Well, here we now still having some gusts of wind, a little bit of rain. During the midday and afternoon hours yesterday, we had a number of downed trees and we had some challenge with some of our roofs here at the hospital, midday -- about midday yesterday.

NGUYEN: Are you experiencing any damage -- extensive damage? Have you had to move people to different hospitals? I understand there's only two hospitals in the Nassau area.

ADDERLY: Yes, there are two hospitals and we've been in communication with our sister hospital down the street.

No, we have not had to move any -- anyone, either within the hospital or to another hospital. We did have some roof leaks, but there have -- we are going to assess the external perimeter of the building at sunrise this morning. But it was not significant enough that we had to move anyone.

NGUYEN: Are you getting many patients coming in from the areas around Nassau because of this storm?

ADDERLY: Actually, no. Persons are not really out and about. We had a couple very minor injuries come into our emergency room. We unfortunately had one death early yesterday morning as a result of servicing of a generator. But other than that, we have not seen anyone coming in for -- no significant arrivals into our emergency room for service. We would be expecting that probably later today into tomorrow.

NGUYEN: What about emergency crews trying to get out to those in need of help? Is there a problem with that? Are there downed trees in the roadways, power lines and whatnot preventing these crews from getting to the people who need them?

ADDERLY: Actually, the crews have been out during the night. We're advised, in fact, crews were here during the night here at the hospital and cleared the access ways into our hospital. So as sun rises this morning, we will -- because our staff are expected -- relief staff are expected in at 8 a.m. And we've been assured that they should have fairly easy access into the hospital as the relevant agencies have been clearing the roads throughout the night.

NGUYEN: It sounds like you've sustained some minor damage there at the hospital. Any indication as to the damage elsewhere? Extensive damage in any areas?

ADDERLY: I could not speak to that. I'm not aware of what would have been happening elsewhere, other than what we might have heard on the news reports.

NGUYEN: But you're not getting any massive calls from a particular area because of the damage there?

ADDERLY: Oh, absolutely not. No.

NGUYEN: All right. Coralie Adderly, chief of hospital administration at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. Thank you so much for your information this morning.

And this is the calm before the storm in Florida. When the hurricane does hit, conditions will get bad and fast.

Here are some numbers people can call for help:

The Red Cross number is 1-800-HELP-NOW. And the response center is 1-866-GET-INFO. These numbers are on the screen if you want to jot them down this morning.

Now, for more information on Hurricane Frances as it bears down on Florida, you can log onto our Web site at cnn.com. You'll also find links to relief agencies and advice on how to prepare for the monster storm.

GRIFFIN: It's been an incredibly busy 24-hour news day. We're going to have an update on the situation in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the town where that deadly school siege took place. There's new information coming out about this. We'll have the latest on the situation from Russia.

And former President Bill Clinton in a New York hospital this morning. He is preparing for heart surgery. A live report coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: August 13, 2004: Hurricane Charley ravaged Florida's Gulf Coast, upgrading from a Category 2 to a Category 4 hurricane in just 90 minutes. Winds topped 180 miles an hour in Punta Gorda. Power was knocked out, businesses destroyed and cars tossed around. Twenty-five people were killed, while thousands were left homeless. Charley is estimated to have cost over $4 billion in damage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I'm meteorologist Rob (AUDIO GAP). Hurricane Frances remains a strong Category 2 storm, but it is a wide storm and it's going to affect a lot of people. Moving very slowly, it will make landfall it looks like along the Florida coastline.

We'll show you when and where in just a few minutes. CNN SATURDAY MORNING will be right.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Our top stories:

Former President Clinton admitting he is a little scared about his heart bypass surgery next week. He spoke by phone last night from his New York hospital room with our own Larry King. Clinton says he checked into a hospital after experiencing tightness in his chest and shortness of breath.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin visited the hospital where victims of the terrorist school siege are being treated. Russian news media reporting at least 250 hostages killed in that crisis. Many of them were children. And the total doesn't include Russian troops and suspected terrorist who also died. The hostage siege ended in chaos yesterday after militants set off explosions and Russian commandos stormed that building.

Hurricane Frances, huge and slow. That could be a devastating combination. Frances now a Category 2, lumbering its way through the Bahamas. It's carrying 105-mile-an-hour winds and traveling at six miles an hour. It could come ashore late tonight or early tomorrow.

NGUYEN: And for the latest on Frances and where she is at this moment, we want to take you to Rob Marciano in the weather center.

Good morning, Rob.

MARCIANO: Good morning, Betty. Good morning, Drew.

They're feeling the effects this morning across the eastern southern shoreline of Florida. From Fort Pierce to Fort Myers to -- well, Fort Lauderdale, we're looking at rainfall. Some of it has been heavy at times as these rain bands spiral their way in. And we've hand north and northwest winds in some areas gusting over 30 miles an hour. So already beginning to get gusty or squally as these rain bands continue to spiral in.

You can kind of see the center of this thing, just out there -- pretty much right over Grand Bahama. Moving very slowly, and because of that -- well, it's going to take awhile to make landfall and, I mean, there's even a chance where it sits out there so long and takes it a completely, you know, different path than what we're forecasting. But it's going to be, at least through this afternoon, most likely late tonight or early tomorrow morning by the time this thing reaches shoreline.

And here's why: we're moving northwest at six miles an hour. We're 125 miles to the east of West Palm Beach. So do the math there -- I mean, even if it was moving at 10 miles, it would have to, you know, take at least to get -- to get ashore here. So, it's -- it's going to take awhile.

Winds 105, and that makes it a Category 2 storm -- a strong Category 2 storm on the Saffir Simpson scale. Here's what we expect it to do over the next -- well, 24 hours. Landfall just to the north of West Palm Beach, up through Melbourne, and then decreasing in intensity, moving pretty much right over Orelon Sidney. At least that's the forecast track. And then re-emerging in the Gulf of Mexico -- probably not spending enough time there to redevelop or strengthen much more than a tropical storm. It is -- if it -- as it does make landfall, it's going to be moving slowly, so a tremendous amount of rain is going to fall. That's really going to be the main effect with this.

And it's a pretty wide storm. Hurricane-force winds extend over 100 miles out, mostly to the north and east of the center of the eye. But when you think about Charley a few weeks back, which was a Category 4 storm, but the winds were really only about 30 or 40 miles out from the center. So this not as strong as a Category 4, but certainly it's going to affect a lot of people with hurricane-force winds, Betty and Drew, going out over 100 miles an hour. That is a -- that's a wide wind field.

So that doesn't really matter where the exact center of this thing goes through; it's going to affect a lot of people about 100 miles on either side of the center of the eye. We'll keep you posted throughout the morning.

NGUYEN: All right. Thank you, Rob.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Rob.

NGUYEN: First, Hurricane Charley. Now, Hurricane Frances. This double whammy is stretching the resources of relief agencies.

We'll hear from one of them right now. On the phone is Michael Spencer in Vero Beach to talk about what the Red Cross is doing.

Good morning to you.

MICHAEL SPENCER, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Good morning, Betty.

NGUYEN: I was reading this morning that you guys -- the Red Cross -- is launching the largest effort ever. Tell me what you're doing to prepare for this storm.

SPENCER: Right now, our main focus is making sure people have a safe place to stay. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) opened up over 100 shelters all across the state of Florida. And I visited those shelters yesterday, and they are filling up right now. So we are opening more shelters as the weather does allow the -- the conditions are beginning to deteriorate here.

NGUYEN: Looking at 82 shelters, and you're opening up more because the need?

SPENCER: Yes, we have over 100, actually, open now. So, over 30,000 people are currently in shelters. That was as of last night. So that number has grown tremendously. And that's our main concern, is making sure these people have a safe place to stay. And then as soon as the storm passes, we'll be moving more relief supplies in to make sure these people have a hot meal.

NGUYEN: Which is good news because it shows that people are adhering to the warnings and taking up shelter.

Also want to ask you though -- with Hurricane Charley coming through, now Frances, are you just stretched thin?

SPENCER: We are. We've had to move additional resources in from the interior parts of the country, and all the way from California. We've moved over 200 emergency response vehicles, and those vehicles are already loaded with over (UNINTELLIGIBLE) meals. So as soon as the storm passes and it's safe, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're helping these people when they need us the most.

NGUYEN: But that could take a couple of days, couldn't it?

SPENCER: Well, it -- the rate it's moving right now, it's moving so slow, and that's one thing that we're worried about is large amounts of rain.

You know, the wind is only one threat of a hurricane. There could be tornadoes, flooding, storm surge, all those other things. So we have to look at those conditions to make sure it's safe for our volunteers to be out there.

NGUYEN: All right. Michael Spencer with the American Red Cross in Vero Beach, Florida, this morning on the phone. Thank you so much for that -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Heart problems for former President Bill Clinton.

NGUYEN: Why doctors decided to admit him right away and prepare him for surgery. We have a live report. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of this is genetic and I may have some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate. So, for whatever reason, I've got a problem and I've got a chance to deal with it, and I feel that I've really got -- let me just say this: the Republicans aren't the only people who want four more years here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: That's a good attitude.

Former President Bill Clinton wakes up this morning in a New York hospital, where he's waiting to have heart bypass surgery.

GRIFFIN: CNN's Maria Hinojosa is live outside New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Good morning to you.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN URBAN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Drew and Betty.

Well, we don't know if he's awake or if he's resting, but he is here at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, which is about 40 blocks north of his Manhattan office, which is in Harlem.

Now, the bypass surgery has been postponed until some time early next week. We haven't been told what day it will happen, and we've been told that we won't get any more updates until after the surgery is completed. But the president -- former president saying he is optimistic.

Now, because he knows about the outpouring of concern, both nationally and internationally, the former president called in to CNN last night and spoke to Larry King, saying that he -- perhaps there might be some genetics to blame because of this heart problem, but that he himself -- Mr. Clinton may have been a little bit too careless about his eating habits in the recent past, saying that he needed to lose the 10 pounds that he had gained on his book tour in the past several months.

He said that he's a little scared about the surgery, but not too much. And now the former president has become something of an expert on -- on bypass surgery and actually is giving a little bit of health advice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I think if people have a family history there and high cholesterol and high blood pressure, they ought to consider the angiogram, even if they don't have the symptoms I had.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: That's a...

CLINTON: There is some chance of damage there, but it's like 1 in 1,000. And I really think it probably saved my life and I'm very careful to my physician, Dr. Bart Arkanal (ph), the great people in Westchester County who did that, and then these people at Columbia Presbyterian.

KING: Thank you.

CLINTON: I feel just grateful. I guess I'm a little scared, but not much. I'm looking forward to it. I want to get back to -- I want to see what it's like to run five miles again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HINOJOSA: Now, the former president wife's, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, came here yesterday, broke her schedule from Upstate New York. Says that the president is spending some time playing cards in the hospital behind me, that he is in good humor, that he wants to get back into fighting form very soon.

President Bush also called here last night, telling former President Bill Clinton that he is holding him in his thoughts and prayers.

And Senator John Kerry also saying that he extends his best wishes and prayer to former President Bill Clinton. Of course, the former president also keeping his humor up saying that it is not only the public that wants four more years that he is expecting four more years and many more after this surgery, which will happen once again, sometime early next week. But we have not been given an exact date -- Drew, Betty.

GRIFFIN: All right, Maria, thank you for that, from New York.

NGUYEN: Well, we have much more coverage right now of Hurricane Frances and all that comes with. The hurricane is now a Category 2 storm, but still packs winds of 105 m.p.h. Hurricane warnings stretch along the entire Florida east coast. Frances was 125 east-southeast of West Palm Beach, moving at 6 m.p.h.

GRIFFIN: President Bill Clinton is undergoing heart surgery. It will happen sometime next week, according to Maria Hinojosa. We don't know the day yet. He is hospitalized, as we just reported, in New York.

He experienced chest pains, shortness of breath. That is what brought him to the hospital. He did speak with Larry King last night, a former heart bypass survivor as well. And the former president attributing his condition to bad eating habits and perhaps some genetics.

NGUYEN: Russian President Vladimir Putin visited victims of the terrorists siege at a school in southern Russia. More than 500 people are hospitalized. The death toll is at least 250, many of them children. The three-day drama ended in chaos when Russian commandos stormed the building after terrorists inside the building set off explosives.

GRIFFIN: We'll have much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Frances is poised to be big, bad and ugly. The hurricane rips through the Bahamas unleashing powerful winds. It is now headed on its slow march toward Florida's east coast.

From the CNN Center here in Atlanta, this is a special edition of CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is September 4, 5:30 a.m. on the Florida Coast; 2:30 a.m. out West. Good morning to you.

GRIFFIN: I'm Drew Griffin. This is special coverage. We decided to go on about a couple hours early for this storm and we're going to let you know what is happening right now in the news.

NGUYEN: The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center at 5 a.m. Eastern, hurricane warnings in effect for Florida's east coast, from Florida City, north to Flagler Beach, including Lake Okeechobee.

Hurricane Frances is 45 miles east of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island and about 125 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida. It is moving at 6 m.p.h. Pretty slow. Mandatory evacuation orders are in effect though for parts of 16 Florida counties, about 2.5 million people affected there. Now, updating Hurricane Frances...

GRIFFIN: We're going to tell you the rain bands have reached Florida. Our reporters are getting wet in some areas. The center of the storm, though, still hours away from landfall, maybe even a half a day.

NGUYEN: Possibly, Frances is a Category 2 hurricane, with top winds sustained at 105 m.p.h. And it is expected to come ashore late tonight on Florida's Atlantic coast.

We want to go now to Sean Callebs, who is on the front line in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the winds picked up last time we spoke with you.

How is it now?

CALLEBS: Well, Betty, it has actually died down just a bit, you can kind of tell. We had a little bit of rain within the past 15 minutes or so. But really you heard Rob Marciano talk about these shredded bands that are sort of making their way to land right now. And we must be in one of the lulls, because right now it is just a very pleasant West Palm Beach morning. But certainly that is going to change.

For the most part, this town and Palm Beach, just across the inter-coastal waterway, have become ghost towns. But 80,000 people live here, 1.3 million in the county. The lion's share of those had headed the mandatory evacuations and they have moved on.

To give you an idea of what the winds are doing, we can take a shot at just down this road here. A lot of trees down through this area, some of the tall ones are Royal Palms, they are also some coconut trees.

And one resident, who just lives down the street, who is going ride out the storm said that the city had actually come through and picked many of the coconuts, concerned that perhaps these hurricane winds could dislodge them, turn them into projectiles. But that is today's biology lesson for you.

And one other thing that the state has talked about a great deal, this storm has four things that really concern them. Sustained hurricane winds, it could punish the state for 12 to 18 hours. It is also going to bring an immense amount of rain. And some areas they're predicting as much as 20 inches.

It is also going bring a storm surge in this area. It could cause a great deal of problems. We talked to one resident who lives down here and he said that even a mild rain can bring flooding.

It they're also concerned, Betty and Drew, that it is going to spawn tornadoes, too, once Frances does make her presence known in the state.

GRIFFIN: OK, Sean, thanks for that. Farther up the coast from you is Kathleen Koch, she is in the historic city of St. Augustine, a very low-lying city surrounded on, I think, three sides by water.

Kathleen, that could be trouble if this rain comes in the amounts that Sean was talking about.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Trouble with a capital T, that is for sure, Drew.

Let me show you a headline in the local paper that really does capture the sentiment here. They're saying: "I just wish it would get here." And if you look at the business behind me, one of the many that are in this historic downtown area and boarded up, very same sentiment: "Fickle Frances, please make up your mind."

You can see that there they have already sandbagged that building in the front. These kinds of preparations have been going on for days. When we got here on Thursday there were many businesses already boarded up.

A lot of people in the process of boarding up, obviously, like in much of the state there is becoming a shortage of items like plywood, generators.

They have opened up three emergency shelters here in St. Johns County, a county with about 150,000 people. An emergency call center is also handling calls from people who have concerns about the storm.

No mandatory evacuations here, though. They have recommended that people who live in mobile homes and in RVs consider going to higher ground; anyone in low-lying areas also. And then that same recommendation for people with medical conditions who might need electricity in order to survive.

One thing we have been seeing also, unfortunately, in the last couple of days of people going out onto the beach, that is just east of here, and swimming and trying to surf in the very large waves. Something officials really caution against because of the severe rip currents that can occur.

We are relieved here, the residents are relieved here, to see that this has dropped to a Category 2. The last hurricane that hit here was a Cat 2, back in 1964, 40 years ago next week. It dumped a lot of rain, a lot of flooding. So that is the main worry here as well -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Do you find people, because it is now downgraded, or turned into a Category 2, that people are ignoring some of the warnings? KOCH: Not really. It was really astonishing again, by Thursday, how well-prepared people were in this area. I think what it will mean is you will probably have more people riding out the storm in their homes, in their businesses.

The business that we showed you, with the sign, Fickle Frances, they indeed are planning on riding out the storm in there. But so many of these old business buildings downtown, buildings built in the 1600, 1700, 1800s, they have withstood a lot and then people are counting on them doing the same this time.

GRIFFIN: All right, Kathleen, we'll watch you, as you watch and standby there a Hurricane Frances comes ashore.

The hurricane, of course, having a major impact on airline operations, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Melbourne, those airports are closed for now, at least. Jacksonville, West Palm, and Miami International are operating, but you are going to have to check you flights because a lot of them are being canceled. The airport is telling you to call ahead.

NGUYEN: And you mentioned Orlando, well it is not a coastal city, but with Hurricane Frances coming a lot of things are shut down. Walt Disney World, the Orlando Airport and the Space Agency's big launch pad just east of Cape Canaveral.

We have Orlando Fire Chief Robert Bowman on the phone to discuss the situation there.

Good morning to you, Sir.

ROBERT BOWMAN, ORLANDO FIRE CHIEF: Good morning.

NGUYEN: Let's talk about it, are people heeding the warnings? Even though you inland, are they seeking shelter?

BOWMAN: Yes, they are. I think there are a lot of lessons learned over the years, from Andrew, and the other ones. And you know, we just recently had Charley. So I think people have taken this one very serious.

NGUYEN: What about emergency crews? On standby, are they prepared for this and will they be able to get out to help once Frances does come ashore?

BOWMAN: Yes, the City of Orlando, we started ramping up last night, at 5 o'clock. And our public safety also, you know, having our crews in public works standby. You know, we were prepared for Charley and we really came out with Charley. And we're very prepared, we feel, for this storm.

NGUYEN: Of course, Orlando, a big theme park area, many of them closed, most of them closed as a matter of fact, do you have any worries about these stranded vacationers? Are they heeding the warnings and going to shelters, or are they holding up in their hotels? BOWMAN: Well, I believe that most of the hotels within our region of the central Florida area, I believe they are already at capacity. So I think the people have heeded that, if they're not tucked into the hotels, you know they have left in seek of shelters or they have probably headed north toward the Georgia area, or the Carolinas area.

NGUYEN: What is the biggest concern for you, right now, as you wait for Frances to come ashore?

BOWMAN: Well, it is a waiting game now, you know? It has slowed down, but our biggest concern is going to be the rainfall and obviously the wind effect. Just coming through Charley, we have lost some of our tree canopy. And those trees that have been weakened by Charley, but with the rain and the winds that we will experience, that will be our biggest concern.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. Orlando Fire Chief Robert Bowman on the phone with us this morning.

Stay safe and thank you for your time.

GRIFFIN: It is calm now, but we want to give you a few numbers that you may need later on. You might want to write these phone numbers down, if you need some help later.

The American Red Cross can be reached at 1-800-HELPNOW, pretty easy. The Response Center for the American Red Cross, 1-866-GETINFO. The Red Cross having one of its biggest responses every, gearing up for this particular storm.

And for more on Hurricane Frances, you can log onto our Web site, CNN.com. You will also find links to relief agencies there, advice on how to prepare for this approaching, albeit slowly approaching, storm.

NGUYEN: A lot of information out there for those affected, or who will be affected by this storm. And of course, there is more information to come, right here on CNN. We will have continuing coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: The latest headlines, now. Former President Bill Clinton has heart bypass surgery next week. He is hospitalized in New York after experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. Clinton spoke, by phone, from the hospital with CNN's "Larry King Live". The 58-year-old former president attributed his condition to his former craving for fast food.

Well, sources say another boy accused pop singer Michael Jackson of touching him inappropriately and was paid money to keep quiet. The sources say it happened back in 1990 but the information surfaced when authorities were investigating the entertainer in a 1993 case. Jackson denies the claim saying he would never harm a child.

And Hurricane Frances is taking a slow and powerful march toward Florida east coast. Right now Frances is about 120 east of West Palm Beach, Florida. It is crawling at just 6 m.p.h. and it is expected to make landfall late tonight or early tomorrow morning somewhere along Florida east coast.

GRIFFIN: Rob Marciano tracking he hurricane.

And it is easy to track, Rob. It is not moving very much at all.

MARCIANO: It does, it makes it easy to keep an eye on it that is for sure. But it is starting to pick up a little steam as it heads to the northwest at six miles an hour. There was a time last night when it was only moving about three or four miles an hour or so. It has been taking it slow and sweet time, that is for sure.

And unfortunately, the folks who have been living in the northwest Bahamas have been feeling the brunt of this thing because it has been sitting over them for such a long period of time. Freeport now, Grand Bahama, the Abacos, they really have been feeling the effects of this thing.

Now, the spiral bands beginning to come onshore along the Florida Peninsula. In between the Bahamas and the Florida Peninsula, very warm waters here, 85 degrees in some cases. So that is good juice, good fuel for the fire to possibly have this thing strengthen. But that is not the forecast at the National Hurricane Center.

Right now, they're thinking keep it at a Category 2, strong Category 2 or minimal Category 3 storm, as it makes landfall later today, or even tonight, really. Because it is moving so slowly, it is going to take some time.

Somewhere north of West Palm Beach to just south of Melbourne, and then decreasing in intensity across the peninsula itself. Maybe even reemerging in the Gulf of Mexico, by that time it will be well into late Sunday and into early Monday.

Main effects with this system, obviously, you are going to brace some winds. We do have tropical storm warnings out now for the western part of the southern part of the peninsula. Still Florida City, up through Flagler Beach, we're looking at hurricane warnings that remain out. Meaning hurricane conditions are expected here within the next 24 hours. And we've had, actually, these warnings up for almost the last 24 hours, as this thing has really put the breaks on.

Bad news with putting the breaks on is, one it makes the track of this thing a little bit more difficult to forecast. Two, it is really going to dump a lot of rain because these tropical systems always have a ton of rain with them and the slower the move, the more rain that is going to fall in one place.

So, there are the outer rain bands making their way into Fort Pierce, Fort Myers, and down toward Miami Beach. And that will be the ongoing case, Drew and Betty, throughout the morning. Little pulses of rain and wind peppering our correspondents as this thing makes its slow march westward toward the U.S.

Back to you guys, in the studio.

NGUYEN: And we'll all continue to watch it. Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: Sure.

GRIFFIN: A lot of Florida residents worried about Frances have already fled from parts of that state. We have a report now from Alex Alvarez of CNN affiliate, WPLG.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX ALVAREZ, WPLG TV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are starting to feel the rain here along Hollywood Beach. That just started to come down a couple of seconds ago. If you take a look behind me, though, some impressive pictures nonetheless.

This is, we're standing, obviously, along the beach here in Hollywood Beach. You can see this, the water coming dangerously close to one home that located literally right on the ocean. The ocean wall, there, on this home eroding away somewhat.

And if you take a look up toward the window areas of this home you can see the windows aren't covered with shutters yet. They do have their sliding glass door covered with hurricane shutters. I guess something is better than nothing.

Obviously, these residents are not here, inside the home. As you know there was a mandatory evacuation for this part and a lot of Broward County.

If you'll take a look here, these are some seaside bed & breakfasts, they are completely boarded up with hurricane shutters. Again, everybody is long gone from this area. It is very quiet. It is kind of eerie out here.

And if we pan up here, you can see one of the many high-rises here. You can see not every body has left. We just saw those lights come on in that lower corner unit there. So, obviously some people choosing to ride out the storm here in this section of Hollywood Beach.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: That was Alex Alvarez, one of the many reporters up and down the coast we will be relying on, as the storm approaches.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is now in that small town of Beslan.

NGUYEN: Ahead, in a live report, we have the latest on the aftermath of the school siege that left nearly 300 people dead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Nobody wanted to use force, the words of President Vladimir Putin, as he visited some of the hostages wounded in that shoot-out in at a school in southern Russia.

NGUYEN: More than 250 hostages were killed in that firefight, along with 27 suspected terrorists and 10 Russian soldiers. CNN's Ryan Chilcote was at the scene in Beslan, Russian when the shooting started, and he is still there.

What is the situation right now?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the death toll stands at 250 and is rising. No one expects it to stay where it is right now.

The floor of the gymnasium where these hostages were being kept is literally littered with bodies. Some people say they couldn't even see the floor of the gymnasium there were so many bodies inside.

All of those bodies so badly charred that they're probably not going to be able to be identified without doing DNA testing. That is because, of course, of a fire that broke out in the gymnasium as the firefight broke out.

Now, on the hostage taking side, Russian officials here on the ground are reporting that they killed 27 of the hostage takers. They are saying, this coming from the Federal Security Service, that 10 of those 27 were Arabs. But they have not provided any independent verification of that. They are also saying that they arrested three of these hostage takers that were trying to escape in civilian dress.

Now, the Russian president conceded today that some of the terrorists did manage to get away. He has ordered the town of Beslan, that we are in right now, to be sealed off. He has also asked that the regional borders of this Russian region be closed to try and find those people. And lastly, he is saying that they are going to need what the Russians called a mop up operation to find the remainder of them -- Betty.

GRIFFIN: Ryan, this has been a horrific situation. Are there families still waiting, still outside the school or in this area, waiting to find out what happened to their particular loved one?

CHILCOTE: Yes, you know, sure. Probably as many people don't know the fate of their relative, particularly their children inside, as do. And that is perhaps the most difficult part. The very same people that were holding vigil out here on the square, where I am right now, during the siege for two and a half days, are still out here. And they're still trying to get information.

They basically -- there was so much chaos during the fighting that a lot of the people that were hospitalized go brought to the many different hospitals here. And a lot of the dead were immediately evacuated to other locations. So, I spoke with families that have been to all of the five hospitals in this town.

They have been to the hospitals in the nearby town, called Vladikavkaz. They are waiting for the lists of the people that were sent to Moscow. Some people were sent to Moscow as well, some of the very seriously wounded. They have been to two morgues. And now, some of the people are being taken to a morgue in a nearby town.

And I can tell you they are very angry at the government. Both for the handling of this and for the lack of information.

NGUYEN: Yet another difficult day there. Ryan Chilcote in Beslan, Russia, this morning. Thank you.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: From CNN World Headquarters, here in Atlanta, this is a special addition of CNN SATURDAY MORNING. It is September 4, 6 a.m. in the West Palm Beach area.

Good morning to you. I'm Betty Nguyen.

GRIFFIN: I'm Drew Griffin. Thank you so much for joining us on this early hour of our broadcast this morning.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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