Hurricane Georges threatens lives and homes from Florida to Louisiana.
JIM LEHRER: Our hurricane update and to Max Mayfield, Deputy Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Elizabeth Farnsworth spoke with him a few moments ago.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Mayfield, where is the hurricane right now?
MAX MAYFIELD, Deputy Director, National Hurricane Center: Well, right now it's centered about 75 miles West/Northwest of Key West, Florida, but you can see there's still a lot of rain bands that are still moving up over the Florida Keys. It's kind of been wobbling towards the West the last few hours. We think it will resume a motion toward the Northwest. And now we have put up a hurricane watch from St. Mark, Florida, up to Morgan City, Louisiana. People in that North Gulf Coast. need to very closely monitor this hurricane.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How large and strong is the storm right now?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, the maximum sustained winds are near 105 miles per hour, which makes it a solid category two hurricane. We're forecasting that it could become a category three before it makes landfall of the North Gulf Coast. So people need to pay very close attention to this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How much damage is it doing right now?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, I really - the good news is I haven't heard of any loss of life. But it's done a tremendous amount of damage in Florida Keys. A lot of U.S. land is underwater still. There's some damage to the houseboats. Damage reports are really just beginning to trickle in, but so far at least I haven't heard of any loss of life.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What's causing the most damage at this point? Is it the storm surges, the water, the wind, the rain?
MAX MAYFIELD: They've had all three. They've had a very significant storm surge that essentially cut the roads in some places. They've had sustained hurricane force winds for several hours in some areas down there in the heavy rain bands and the torrential rains as well. But now the focus is sort of shifting up into that North Gulf of Mexico.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Where have the winds been the strongest today?
MAX MAYFIELD: In the lower to middle Keys. We've had some reports of gusts to 113 miles per hour near Sombrero Key, which is close to Marathon and is really the lower to middle Keys that got the core of the hurricane with the strongest winds.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Mayfield, is this storm getting stronger now as it heads out over the Gulf?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, it seems like it leveled off here during the afternoon, but it still has, you know, another day and a half or so before it gets close to the North Gulf Coast, so there's plenty of time for it to start strengthening again. And, again, we're forecasting a family category three, which is a major hurricane.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What makes it strengthen over the Gulf?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, the environment is still very favorable. Right now the ocean temperatures are very warm. The only thing that's really kept this from becoming a very powerful hurricane for the last three or four days has been the involvement with the Greater Antile, Puerto Rico, Hispanola, and now Cuba.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When do you expect it to make landfall?
MAX MAYFIELD: It depends on the exact track, but right now it looks like the core of the hurricane will be near the coast sometime within two days' time, so we're talking I guess Sunday afternoon, but it's not just a point here. This is a large circulation of tropical storm force winds - should be getting there possibly even late tomorrow night.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And tell us about a category three hurricane. How much damage can that sort of hurricane do?
MAX MAYFIELD: A category three has winds above 110 miles per hour, so you would expect extensive damage with that. You will have some structural damage, roofing damage, possibly some windows and doors blown out if it does attain that strength. Of course, along that portion of the Gulf Coast, they have a very significant storm surge with the hurricanes as well, particularly most people who die in a hurricane are killed by that storm surge. So some plans, I'm sure, are already underway for evacuation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So very briefly, where's the safest place to be?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, you need to have a hurricane plan, and hopefully people already have one that live on the Gulf Coast. You need to know if you're in an evacuation zone or not. If you are, you need to know exactly where you're going to go and how you'll get there. If you're not in the evacuation zone, you still need to have that hurricane plan, have the storm cellars, the drinking water, the medicine, the flashlights and batteries - all these common sense things - you need to have that in place now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Max Mayfield, thank you very much for being with us.
MAX MAYFIELD: My pleasure.