LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And we get an update now on our main story of the day, Hurricane Irma. We can now confirm that there are two dead from the hurricane in Hardee County, Fla., due to a car crash. For now, we turn to Vice Admiral Karl L. Schultz. He's the Coast Guard commander for the Atlantic area. The Coast Guard is on the frontlines of emergency response to hurricanes. Hello, Admiral Schultz.
KARL SCHULTZ: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We have been hearing reports of huge waves near the Keys. What do you know about the situation so far?
SCHULTZ: Well, there's a lot of uncertainty. Clearly, we know what the weather's telling us, Lulu. There are large waves. There's high risk for surge. They're starting to feel some of that in the Keys. That's going to be a large challenge in South Florida, particularly the Keys in southwest Florida. We're very concerned about that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm assuming that with the hurricane in full force, you can't put out to sea. So what is the role of the Coast Guard during a hurricane?
SCHULTZ: Well, the role - the hurricane - we are a first-responder agency, a federal agency. In the state of Florida, we are here to support the state government. And we have been positioning resources to be in a position to be as effective as possible, first with Irma's passage through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And we're involved in response out there. And then now with Irma approaching South Florida, making landfall in the Keys earlier today, we have been, you know, positioning our forces here, getting our own people to safety, getting our capabilities, our aircraft, our boats and ships out of Florida so they can come back immediately, as soon as possible, after Irma's passage safely to determine what the needs are of the citizens of Florida. I suspect there'll be some rescue work. We'll - after the rescue work, with state, federal, local partners, we'll be focused on reconstituting the ports. But we're in a little bit of the uncertain phase right now, as Irma's just making landfall.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are there any search and rescue operations underway at this point?
SCHULTZ: We actually flew a helicopter out of Mobile, Ala. I'm actually in Mobile here today as we watch the storm move through here. We flew a helicopter. It's what we call a Jayhawk, an H-60 with a C-130 top cover because of the weather. Rescued four people off a sailing vessel about 60 miles west of Sarasota, Fla., last night. They were hoisted off that vessel and brought up to the Florida Panhandle just because of some needs to refuel. We actually refueled the helicopter first there and then brought them back and refueled again because of the distances involved.
That's one of the challenges, Lulu - is we are north of Florida with our assets both on the East Coast - here on the East Coast up in the Savannah area and over here in Mobile, waiting to get in behind the storm. And that's unusual. With the recent response in Harvey, we were in the thick of it in Houston, in Louisiana. Here, we have to sort of wait until we can come in behind the storm. We're also approaching with sea-based assets. And the Navy has capabilities that are flowing, as well. So it's some uncertainty. But, collectively, we're posturing to be able to respond.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, sir - how many ships, planes, personnel do you have deployed that will be available for Floridians?
SCHULTZ: But we flew - we sorted out what we call some surface action groups of sorts to the west side of Cuba. We've got ships that - you know, one to the north. And they will be coming in behind. We'll probably have the first Coast Guard Cutter with embarked helicopters showing up off the Keys sometime tomorrow before sunset - another ship the next morning. We hope to get some aircraft into this state. It does not look like that's going to happen today - but start pushing some aircraft potentially into Florida tomorrow. So, again, the uncertainty is the challenging part right now because we're ready, have that bias of action to go. We just can't go yet.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Vice Admiral Karl Schultz of the U.S. Coast Guard. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.