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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Special Edition: Tracking Isabel

Aired September 18, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Hurricane Isabel in action, lashing and drenching parts of the East Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we are in the eyewall right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very dangerous out here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's getting exhausting to even keep your footing out here.

ANNOUNCER: Our correspondents have been in the eye of the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ANNOUNCER: We'll have live reports on Isabel's power and path, the damage done and the threat ahead.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll be monitoring the situation.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush on storm watch in Camp David, as much of Washington hunkers down and waits for the worst.

This is a special edition of JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS: Hurricane Isabel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Lin in Atlanta. Judy is off today. Hurricane experts are warning, don't underestimate Isabel. The storm unleashed driving rain and pounding winds on North Carolina's Outer Banks, and this hour it is churning up the coast like a sand blaster, as one storm watcher put it. More than 500,000 homes don't have power. Officials say flooding could pose even more danger.

First, let's go to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, and CNN's Brian Cabell -- Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, it looks as though we have seen the worst of it. The winds here have been steady for the last two or three hours. But I don't think it's going to get much worse. But it's been pretty bad here. Take a look above me here. This is the motel we've been staying in for the last couple of days. And a good part of this wall has ripped off, along with some insulation.

Some frightening moments, just about two hours ago. Let's call in one of the guests here, as a matter of fact. Her name is Jenny McKorkle (ph). She's a local.

You were a little frightened, I guess, awhile ago?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I was really scared.

CABELL: Were you worried that maybe something else might happen to this building?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir, I really was.

CABELL: ever been through a hurricane before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, sir. This is my first one. I've been through a flood but nothing like this.

CABELL: What do you like about it, and what don't you like it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like everything falling from the building and blowing everywhere and the car is shaking. But I feel comfortable and safe with a lot of people in the motel and we're all together. So I think we'll be OK.

CABELL: you say you have a mobile home on the Outer Banks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir.

CABELL: Any concerns about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm afraid when I go back, it won't be there.

CABELL: Thank you very much. Best of luck to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're welcome.

CABELL: Once again, it looks as though the worst of the winds are over. We probably had low category one winds here. As you can see across the street, most of the buildings here have held up. There were a couple of construction sites that did not hold up so well. There's been flying debris.

The road has been flooded about a mile north of here. The road is flooded over. You can't pass.

You take a look behind us, as well. That is the Oceanside. And the tide has gone out somewhat at this point, but the waves are still very high. But once again, Carol, it appears as though the worst is over, at least this is as bad as it will get.

Carol, back to you.

LIN: I hope so. Brian Cabell, thank you very much for reporting in. You and your crew take care out there.

Let's find out what Isabel is, in fact, doing. Is Isabel actually slowing down, Orelon?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, she's slowing down and speeding up. She's slowing down in wind speeds. The winds are down to 95 miles an hour but the forward motion is speeding up. It's up to 20 miles an hour now, which is good news. The faster it goes, the less rain it's going to drop in one location. And that's going to minimize the flooding, which is going to be the big problem with the storm.

Not a wind storm. You did see a little bit of damage. We saw some broken windows. We've seen trees down, especially some reports from emergency management, lots of trees down, lots of power out across the Carolinas into Virginia.

But this really is the story. The story is going to be the rainfall that's going to continue tonight and into tomorrow. We do have 77 mile an hour wind gusts reported at Hampton at the last hour. That's just to the north of Norfolk.

You can see, the center of the storm now working right into the tornado -- or excuse me, the hurricane watch box area that's in effect until 8 p.m. tonight. Still going to be something that we have to watch throughout the rest of the evening, certainly.

Heavy rainfall all the way out towards Charlotte, but this stuff is going to be heading northeastward or northwestward rather, more than anything else. We'll keep up with this, of course, throughout the hour -- Carol.

LIN: You bet. All right. hank you very much, Orelon.

Moving on, it is still not over yet. In fact, CNN's Jeff Flock has been on duty in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina since before dawn. He is standing by for us now with the latest from there.

Jeff, you have taken the brunt of it, I'm sure. How is it going out there?

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been quite a day, yes. I think pretty much the worst is gone, and I had the opportunity, I think, the precipitation for a portion of our show is definitely over here. So just a lot of wind left, and not all tremendously that strong.

So I changed clothes here. So finally I'm, for the first time all day, dry.

Well, I see we've got our fellows that have been chasing this storm. Go ahead and pop out here, Mark. This is the hurricane intercept research team. Check out this -- Mark lost his hat. You see that? I don't know if you saw that. Mark just looked like he lost his hat there.

Mark, you should know better than that. You spent a lot more hurricanes than to lose your hat like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're usually inside, though, aren't we?

FLOCK: That's true. You spend a lot of time. Mark and his team have been tracking this storm. And what they've used is their mobile wireless radars to get yourself right into the eye wall.

LIN: Right.

Jeff Flock, OK, we lost the shot with Jeff Flock. But you can see what the situation is out there. It's terribly windy, as these winds are beginning to die down but still extremely strong.

Let's see if we can go to Virginia Beach, actually, where Isabel managed to pound the end of a pier into the water. Actually, we're going to held on Jeanne Meserve.

Right now, we want to give you an update on the number of evacuations in some of the areas. In fact, more than 140,000 North Carolinians were evacuated from the coast. About 2,000 of them fled north to Topsail Beach, and that's where we find CNN's Ed Lavandera. That's where he is stationed.

Ed, what's the latest there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the entire storm, we've been on the southern side of this storm and forecasters and people who know a lot about hurricanes tell you if you have to be in one of these storms, perhaps the safest and the most secure place to be is on the southern edge.

There had been concerns here on Topsail Island that these dunes that stretch along the beach here might have been eroded because of the surf and the storm surge that was supposed to hit this area rather hard. But as you can see, everything here has stayed intact.

We've spent most of the day driving up along the coast here, along North Carolina, and we have found that most buildings and most homes have been holding up very well in this storm.

We've seen strong winds that have been maintained like this throughout the day, steady rain as well. But we've talked to several officials as we've driven along. No one, really, on the roads today except for us, quite frankly. So everything looking pretty good. A couple of areas where there's a little bit of flooding. But for the most part, the people in this area of North Carolina can't complain.

By the way, in fact, we heard some people on the radio talking about how they should perhaps change the name of Hurricane Isabel to Hurricane Fizzle. At least, that's how some of the people here on the southern edge of this storm feel like -- Carol.

LIN: You bet. All right. Thank you very much, Ed Lavandera. Still, we've seen a lot of the damage that has occurred from Isabel. No fooling Mother Nature when it comes to a lot of the preparations that had to undergo. In fact, you've seen a lot of dramatic pictures today. But we want to go to Virginia Beach, where Isabel managed to pound the end of a pier into the water like we said before.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve standing by in Virginia Beach -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, Isabel is not a fizzle here, as you can tell. The wind is really whipping. It's really picked up here just in the last few minutes.

Look behind me. You see this incredible surf, and it's coming over this boardwalk here. All of this ground sludge in front of me is that sea surf that has been brought...

LIN: All right. We apologize for the loss of transmission, but in a way it adds to the drama of the story. Because you can see the difficult conditions in which our reporters are working.

We're going to try to get Jeanne back if we can, and certainly if it's safe for her.

In the meantime, we want to move further north to the nation's capitol. The federal government shut down with only emergency personnel required to report for work.

Our Wolf Blitzer is standing by there in our Washington bureau with more on the situation there.

Wolf, high and dry there. Good to see you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's dry inside. It's getting wet outside very quickly, the rain beginning to increase, the winds intensifying here in the nation's capitol.

People did not necessarily have to go to work, including more than 300,000 federal workers. They were told they could stay home today. The buses are shut down. The subway is shut down.

The president got out of town very quickly himself, the president deciding early on this is a good time to head up to the hills, namely the Kantocka (ph) mountains in Maryland, about 70 miles or so outside Washington. He left via helicopter with the first lady, the special guests the president had was King Abdullah of Jordan.

They held a little press conference earlier today at Camp David. The president spoke about Hurricane Isabel, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm assured that the Homeland Security Department is in close contact with the state's emergency preparedness offices. We've got pre-positioned equipment in place. Proper warnings have gone out. And the communication systems are up and running, so that when the storm hits, the response for the citizens will be an effective response.

Of course, I'll be monitoring the situation. I'll be in close contact with the emergency management people. All right. Get going before it starts raining.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As a precaution, the local authorities shut down the metro system. The subway here in Washington, as well as the buses. They simply didn't want people to go out and assume they would be able to get on the metro. They were especially concerned about people being blown in, perhaps by the wind onto the tracks of the metro. So the metro is shut down. Bus service has shut down in the Washington D.C. area.

People are going home, if they're not home already. They expect over the next several hours, Carol, the rain to really intensify here, perhaps three to six inches in the greater Washington D.C. area.

Winds, gust winds could reach 60 maybe even 70 miles an hour.

The best thing people can do right now is simply stay home, stay off the roads. And local and national authorities are telling everyone, be careful because of flooding. Also be careful the day after. If electric power lines go down, there's always the possibility of electrocution. So people are being told basically to stay home and relax.

LIN: Well, Wolf, you might take some of that advice yourself. We saw some pictures earlier today.

One thing I always admired about you, Wolf, is your love of firsthand reporting. We want to share our pictures with our viewers here. There you are. Young man, what are you doing out there?

BLITZER: You know, Carol, we went out to check what was going on around the Jefferson Memorial. Our viewers can take a look. This parking lot, by the way, is normally packed. There are tourists all over the place. This town is a ghost town right now, Washington D.C.

At the top of the hour, on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," I'll go outside and I'll show our viewers what's happening here in the nation's capital. As bad as what it is going to be during the 5 p.m. hour, I can assure you it's going to get a lot worse as the night goes on.

LIN: All right. Well, then maybe you'll tell us who won, you or the umbrella. Wolf Blitzer, reporting at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: There was a close call last hour for CNN correspondent John Zarrella.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Elizabeth City, a few cars -- watch out for the piece of wood! Watch out! Plywood flying down the streets now. I just want to make sure that my cameraman, John Cowells was out of the shot there. I didn't know which way that piece of plywood was flying. But as you folks can tell, I'm sure quite graphically now, the situation here is that, certainly, we are under the gun now in Elizabeth City.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIN: Winds of Isabel today gusting upwards of 100 miles an hour. These are the risks that crews are taking to cover this story. In fact, John and his crew are along the coast in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Our coverage of Hurricane Isabel continues in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: Well, Hurricane Isabel is playing havoc with airline schedules all along the East Coast.

CNN's Patty Davis has more on the nation's airline travel delays with an exclusive report from the FAA's command and control center in Herndon, Virginia.

Patty, what do you have?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we have right now is right now, air traffic controllers are routing a lot of that traffic around to the west of Isabel. As you can see, Isabel churning her way up the East Coast. And those little airplanes there, the black airplanes, are the traffic that's been routed around it.

We are also told that there's some traffic that is going over the top of her, at 20,000 to 30,000 feet, and pilots are reporting smooth sailing.

Now what's really helping is there have been a lot of cancellations by the airlines.

Now we're joined by FAA administrator Marion Blakey. Tell us about the delays. Just how bad are they because of Isabel?

MARION BLAKEY, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, certainly we're seeing delays in Philadelphia and La Guardia. So the New York, the East Coast, we're having some delays.

Of course, we've had a lot of cancellations, so that has eased up traffic. But for example, the amount of volume we're able to handle at La Guardia is about 50 percent of what would normally be going in and out. So you do see that.

And then you've got thunderstorms, of course, in the Midwest that have created almost a line. So we're having delays in Minneapolis, Dallas, Fort Worth. You're seeing, you know, a real effect of another front, in addition to Isabel. DAVIS: This is not a good day to be an air traffic controller, in other words.

BLAKEY: Well, it's actually something that we're monitoring pretty smoothly right now. But certainly it is having an effect on aviation.

DAVIS: Now, we're just hearing here at the command center that Washington Reagan has shut down, basically, for the time being. Also, basically shut down Norfolk, Raleigh-Durham, some other airports in North Carolina.

BLAKEY: Yes.

DAVIS: And you're really counting on radar here to keep these pictures that are behind us going and to keep your eye on what's happening across the country. How can you be sure with all this wind that you're going to keep these pictures coming in?

BLAKEY: Well, you know, we work very hard to use satellites as well as radar to make sure that we're getting the best possible information that's coming in. And because we have a lot of different types of radar with different kinds of capability, it really does form a complex picture.

I also would point out that, you know, this command center is a part of a network. The U.S. Department of Transportation has a command center that monitors all forms of transportation, and this is one part of it. So you're getting information from a variety of sources, and when you put it all together, it forms a pretty impressive network that we can count on.

DAVIS: Now how many towers have you had to evacuate? I know at some air traffic control towers, we've seen some evacuations.

BLAKEY: We have. We've had a handful of those. And of course, any time the winds get very high, we really have to take people out of the towers, because some of them are as high as 30 stories. And when you get 65 knot winds, it's not safe to be up there.

So yes, we will begin evacuating when the winds hit those kinds of facilities. So we'll see them moving in and out.

DAVIS: All right. Thanks, Marion Blakey, administrator of the FAA.

This is the busiest travel day of the week, Thursday. So luckily, a lot of airlines have canceled their flights, and the FAA is better able to handle this hurricane as it affects air traffic right now.

Back to you.

LIN: That's good to hear. Thank you very much, Patty Davis.

Well, we are going to continue to track Isabel's progress as the storm starts heading inland. We're going to check in with Orelon Sidney at the CNN Weather Center next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: Last time we talked to Orelon Sidney in the weather center, she was saying that Hurricane Isabel was actually speeding up, but that was a good thing -- Orelon?

SIDNEY: That's right, speeding up as far as the forward motion is concerned.

The motion of the storm is northwestward now. Taking the center and kind of extrapolating it out, you're going to find it moving generally northwestward over the next several hours.

The good news is, the faster it moves, the less time it's going to have to drop a lot of rainfall. So the flooding won't be as big of a problem.

The wind speed, though, the actual angular speed that we're used to talking about -- this is the rotation around the center -- has dropped off to 95 miles an hour. So we're starting to see the storm weaken, as expected, of course, as it moves on inland. No surprise there.

What we're going to find, though, is the rain continuing, especially across the Carolinas and then on into Virginia later on tonight. We continue also with the tornado watch (sic) that's in effect until 8 p.m.

Good news, though. Here is an area of low pressure coming in from the west. This is going to move to the Great Lakes by tomorrow, pick up the circulation and probably start to accelerate it out to the north and east. So I don't think it's going to hang around very long. It's not going to be one of these like Floyd that sits and stalls and drops lots of rain.

In fact we're looking for it to track generally northwestward through the Great Lakes tomorrow and then accelerate its way on through eastern parts of Canada, until it becomes extra-tropical on Saturday. And we won't be talking about Isabel any longer -- Carol.

LIN: All right. We'll see. Thanks so much, Orelon.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

LIN: Well, you can stay up to date on Isabel's projected path, and see a photo gallery of pictures from the East Coast, all at cnn.com. You can also sign up for storm watch e-mail alerts. That's at cnn.com/weather.

In the meantime, coming up, we're going to go inside the politics of the California recall, and the threat that could leave Arnold Schwarzenegger feeling lonely. Candy Crowley will be along from Los Angeles.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LIN: U.S. forces were involved in a gun battle today in Iraq, after their convoy came under attack. At least two U.S. soldiers were wounded. Coalition officials say a Humvee in the convoy struck an explosive device, and the soldiers also faced small arms fire. The troops belonged to the 82nd Airborne Division.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi official blames sabotage for an oil fire along the pipeline between Iraq and Turkey. The explosion happened not far from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.

And on a related note, Senator Edward Kennedy today blasted the U.S. decision to go to war. In an interview with the Associated Press, Kennedy described the decision as, quote, "a fraud." He also said the policy was, in his words, "made up in Texas." There has been no response from the White House to the senator's comments. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Los Angeles, where Hurricane Isabel coverage takes a back seat to the California recall blow-out.

While a federal appeals court decides whether to reconsider the delay of the October 7 vote, Democrat Cruz Bustamante is filling the void with a surprise proposal. He's urging fellow gubernatorial candidates to boycott a debate next week, the only face-off Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to attend. Bustamante said leave Arnold in there with his movie scripted answers and have the rest of us go outside.

At least two Schwarzenegger rivals, Arianna Huffington and Peter Cameo, are said to be considering the boycott idea.

Schwarzenegger defends his decision to take part in just one debate, which he likens to the Super Bowl. He says the other forums are just warm-ups.

And a Schwarzenegger spokesman says, "If Cruz Bustamante wants to stand in a parking lot on the hood of a car with a bullhorn, then that is his prerogative, but we will be there to have an adult discussion."

A quick update on the Democratic presidential hopefuls in a campaign news daily.

A new survey of likely voters in New Hampshire gives Howard Dean a double digit lead. Dean got 31 percent in the poll by the American Research Group, followed by John Kerry at 21 percent, Dick Gephardt at eight percent, followed by Joe Lieberman with five. All other candidates registered two percent or less.

Former general and now president hopeful Wesley Clark is already taking some heat from his Democratic rivals. A day after Clark's big announcement, spokesmen for Joe Lieberman and John Kerry say Clark should attend next week's Democratic candidate debate. Clark is scheduled to deliver a paid speech instead of taking part in the forum with other candidates, but a Clark campaign spokeswoman says it's not been decided which event he will attend.

That is it from here in Los Angeles. We want to go back now to Atlanta and Carol Lin -- Carol.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much, Candy. Well, that's it for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Carol Lin in Atlanta. I'll turn it over to "CROSSFIRE's" Tucker Carlson, who's out braving the storm in Washington.

Be careful out there, Tucker.

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