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Hurricane Ivan: Eye Predicted to Make Landfall Within Hours

Aired September 16, 2004 - 00:00   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome as we begin our long overnight coverage of Hurricane Ivan, which is going to rip ashore within the next hour or so.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien, we're watching Hurricane Ivan about 60 miles offshore, could be coming ashore at least the eye, within the next couple of hours. In the meantime and ahead of it already hurricane force winds up and down a 300-mile swath, four states on the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico.

CALLAWAY: Ivan is ripping its way ashore at Mobile, Alabama. In fact that powerful storm has killed nearly 70 people in the Caribbean, already taking its first two lives in the United States. Two people were killed by a tornado in Panama City Beach, Florida and a truck driver was injured by a tornado in southwestern Georgia. Nearly 2 million people were ordered to evacuate endangered areas along the northern Gulf coast. Heavy winds, powerful storm surge and driving rain are battering the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and of course the Florida panhandle and as Miles said, the eye of the hurricane is still offshore, should be hitting land within the next two hours.

O'BRIEN: All right. We have reporters up and down the area of course in Mobile, Pensacola, Panama City, Gulf Shores, New Orleans, Biloxi, you name it. We have people there. We will check in with our affiliates all along the way as we ride out that storm. Now of course Orelon Sidney is up in the weather center. She's got her hands full but she's been handling it very well as always. Orelon, what's the latest on Ivan?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot. Well, the latest news of course is that the storm is -- the center of the storm is just off the coast. You saw at the top of the last hour, the bottom of the last hour, 55 miles south of the coast of Alabama. You can see now that we do have a tornado watch still in effect. There's the center of the storm.

I wanted to show you something interesting we saw a little bit ago. The eye started to open up here on the southwestern side and I was optimistic that we might see the wind speed go down but that hasn't happened just yet, 96 miles now from Pensacola. That's the center of the storm. We're going to look at some of the wind speeds here, Fort Walton Beach, these are sustained winds now are in the 30 mile an hour range. And as you get down closer towards the center of the storm, you start to see things go up, 33 at Gulfport Pass Christian (ph), that's where I believe Hurricane Camille came ashore in '69, currently looking at 31 mile an hour sustained winds and you could of course see some very heavy rain and thunderstorms extending out to the north and east. Look at these.

When I came in about 7:00, I looked at these and thought, my God, those are super cell thunder storms. That's what they look like, but they're not. Those are the kind that you see way back in Oklahoma, but what's happening here as that eye starts to work towards and we get that right front quadrant to lift up onto the land, the wind actually slows down a little bit, starts to pile up and when it piles up it piles up into big thunderstorms and that's what we've seen here. We have had reports of damage and injuries in Panama City.

We have had reports in Marianna (ph), which is here in the Florida panhandle and Dothan earlier was under a tornado warning. I have not gotten any reports from there as far as damage is concerned. But you can see, this is that main first band that's coming in, first band that's very heavy thunderstorms that will be producing potential tornadoes throughout the night tonight. Tornado watch box now is in effect until 2:00 a.m. central time and when that one expires, they're going to put out another one, probably a little bit further off to the north and the east. We will see that probably throughout most of the day tomorrow as the storm continues to track onto the north.

So it's not over yet. We are certainly not out of the woods. If you're tracking the storm, 29.5 degrees north, 88.0 degrees west, winds of 135 miles an hour moving to the north at 12 miles an hour -- Miles, Catherine.

O'BRIEN: Orelon that earlier report of possible damage among some mobile homes in that part of the world, have we gotten anything further on that?

SIDNEY: I haven't heard anything yet and I'll certainly check and see. A lot of this information coming in is preliminary and we have to wait for some storm reports. But that was actually David Mattingly's crew that reported that they had their own report of potential damage to the city of Marianna. We do know that two people, I believe we had two fatalities in Panama City from a tornado earlier and the tornado threat will continue throughout tonight and into tomorrow.

CALLAWAY: We just said a few minutes ago, the details on the tornado that hit their in Panama City, again on that outer band, that outer eastern band of the storm and as you said, that's where we're going to see a lot of the tornadoes spawning off that side, right?

SIDNEY: That's exactly right, because as this moves on in, remember that the wind speed is going to start to slow down but it's not going to slow down immediately and so what you've got is these winds coming in, getting just a tad slower. And then come (ph) these winds right behind it and it just kind of piles up on top of each other, piles up these big thunderstorms.

So that right front quadrant is where you find most of the rough weather. Notice I said most because we still have quite a bit of action here on the southern side of the storm. Look how symmetrical this is. A lot of times as the storm starts to come inland, you'll start to see it get kind of asymmetrical. But this one is really holding itself together and it's just like a big buzz saw as it moves across the coast.

Now here's where we expect it to go as we go throughout the day. Look at this. Still, category three storm northern part of Mobile Bay 8:00 a.m. on Thursday. That is amazing to see a storm that strong, that far inland, but remember the forecast is for hurricane force winds to extend as much as 150 miles inland. If I'm not mistaken, that's close to Montgomery, Alabama.

That is a big chunk there of real estate that could see hurricane force winds by 8:00 p.m. Thursday, tropical storm force somewhere to the south of Birmingham and then the storm expected to take a turn to the northeast and bam, it's going to hit the Smoky Mountains here and there it's going to stay until it dissipates. That's the current forecast, rain, rain, and more rain expected for western parts of Virginia and eastern Tennessee.

CALLAWAY: Ivan making it difficult to flee north, just about nowhere to go.

SIDNEY: Certainly is. I think the only place you can go is up.

CALLAWAY: All right. Thank you, Orelon.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

CALLAWAY: Let's check in with Anderson Cooper who is in Mobile, Alabama, being punished by the rain and the wind there already. Actually, it looks Anderson like you're hiding behind a plant for protection at this point.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Catherine, it's getting pretty bad. Rob Marciano was out here a second ago. The winds were about 69 on his little machine. We're not sure how accurate that is but they are definitely picking up and it's just getting worse and worse here by the minute. We have seen some extraordinarily strong gusts here. These planters are like 600 pounds or so. One of them was just ripped up and ripped off. It's down there a little bit. We think this area is a little bit more secure so we feel pretty confident right here. It's actually blocking some of the wind for us.

But it is getting very nasty out here. The rains though, as you can see, I mean the rain is really pouring down. The last report we had which is about a half an hour old now, said there wasn't a lot of flooding problems just yet in downtown Mobile. But they're certainly expecting that, especially with that storm surge coming in here, but hour by hour, minute by minute, this storm is just getting worse and worse. We're really not sure how much longer we're going to be able to stay on the air or stay out here. But the winds just picking up. It is an awesome sight to see. I thought it was bad a couple hours ago, but I was wrong. I mean this is unbelievable and it is only just going to get worse. We ain't seen nothing yet -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Anderson, I was with you that whole night when you were live on the east coast of Florida when Frances came in and it was just hours and hours of sustained winds. How would you compare this to Frances? COOPER: This is much worse. I mean that was really the first time I'd sort of been inside a hurricane. This feels much worse. You know I don't know from a scientific standpoint which storm is bigger. I'm told this storm may not be as strong, but it is a very big storm and they cause a lot of problems. But I can tell you on the ground, it feels a whole lot worse. I mean these winds, that storm was so slow moving. This is a faster moving storm, faster moving hurricane, about double the speed I think of Frances at last count and the winds are really just - they'll knock you off your feet.

If you're standing straight up without having your feet wide apart, they will pick you up and knock you down. At this point, I can only imagine what it's going to be when these winds top 100 miles an hour which we are anticipating here after the midnight hour as the morning progresses. So it is - it's really an awesome sight. I mean it is a terrible sight and it is terrible what is going to happen to these areas and other areas and at one point one has to feel for the people who are living through it, but to see mother nature at its full force is, it makes you feel insignificant I got to tell you.

O'BRIEN: We should remind viewers where you are. You're up on a fourth floor deck at a hotel there and you're kind of surrounded by walls so some of what you're experiencing wouldn't be accurate to what's going on in the ground. First of all, explain that to where you are and then as you look at that hotel, you see any damage yet, any windows, anything indicating that there's a lot of damage in the area?

COOPER: Yes. Haven't seen too much damage yet. Some of the windows have been buckling. We've been thinking about tying down some of the doors in the rooms that we're using. We're on a deck basically as you said, on the fourth floor of this hotel. The hotel still, actually looks like a hotel, doesn't really have - well they got a little bit of electricity left it seems so part of Mobile don't have electricity.

We are told though that the ground floor, the lobby of this hotel is about 12 feet above sea level. They're already sandbagged. They are anticipating water in that lobby, no doubt about it. They're expecting some sort of a storm surge, a little bit of a lull here which is nice. But yes, we feel relatively good about where we are. The camera, the crew is about 30 feet from where I am. They're actually sheltered though. They're dripping wet, but they're sheltered from some of these higher winds.

But these winds are just ripping through. I mean it's not because we're up four stories. These winds are whipping through downtown Mobile and they're going to be whipping through all night long. The reason we're up on the fourth floor is to get away from the water, the possibility that - there's my hat - the possibility - I don't want to lose the CNN hat. I paid a lot of money for that, the possibility that the water would rise so we figure if we get on the fourth floor just so that if there is flooding we can at least continue to broadcast, continue to show you what it's like out here in the storm.

CALLAWAY: I don't know Anderson, you might be losing your priorities if you're worried about your hat at this point. O'BRIEN: I think a hat is an important thing right about now, actually, hang on to the hat by all means, hang on to the hat.

COOPER: And you guys, I don't know if you can see, I mean this winds are just whizzing right across. I'm not sure how well it's coming across. I have never seen anything like this. It is really gusting.

O'BRIEN: ... we are getting a little sensitive and I'm sitting there watching that planter wondering if you're in the right place.

CALLAWAY: Yes, you just said one went over the side there a moment ago.

O'BRIEN: It's hard to imagine a 600-pound planter being lifted by the wind.

COOPER: Yes. It's hard to imagine. I'm actually tethered to a rope, just for - we want to take all the safety precautions we can. We feel as I said - I mean I don't want to say (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we feel very good about where we're at and every minute we are checking the security to make sure safety is the most important thing for us right here. We want to keep everyone safe. When we feel it's too dangerous, we'll go inside and we'll come back when it is. But for now we feel we're all right where we're at.

CALLAWAY: All right. Anderson, we will check in with you in just a few minutes. Right now though we're going to go to David Mattingly. He's standing by in Panama City, where there have already been a couple of fatalities from tornadoes there and it looks like you're right in the ocean there.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right and it's coming in much closer to our cameras by the hour. We're standing out here. We just got hit by this Frisbee that was floating into the surf. We're getting a lot of really stiff breezes right now. I'm going to toss this up in the air so you can just get an idea of what we're dealing with standing out here. There it is, gone. The winds are continuing to pick up. These are sort of similar to the conditions we saw around the 5:00 Eastern time hour when a band of severe weather came through and dropped several tornadoes on Bay County, killing two people here. The dame we're told was extensive. There are widespread power outages in this county right now and probably will be through the night.

Also through the night, here's what we're taking a look at is what you should be looking at right now is the white sand beaches. Instead we see a bunch of white sea foam and water, this whole area, this entire beach is flooded right now. Now imagine, what a stark contrast this is right now to what you would see say in March during spring break. This is the biggest spring break destination in the country. In March in the spring, this beach is flooded with college students and high schools students having a good time, coming here spending lots and lots of money but right now this beach is flooded, everyone wondering how this white sand beach is going to hold up under the storm surge, the full storm surge that is expected later tonight as Ivan continues to come in. Catherine. CALLAWAY: You know David, there's a problem with erosion all along the Gulf of Mexico there and Panama City in the last 10 years has spent millions and millions of dollars building up that beach and making it a lot longer, has to be a lot of concern about what this kind of storm is going to do to that, especially there where there's not a lot of dune.

MATTINGLY: That's right. They know what can happen to this beach, because back in 1995 when Opal came through, a category three, Opal passed to the west of here, so got the worst of that eastern edge wind and that hurricane. There were businesses - we talked to one bar owner on the beach who said the waves actually came into her business, took the kitchen out of the building and took it out to sea. They never recovered the kitchen after that storm.

So everyone very familiar with what can happen to this beach and funny you should mention the dunes. Back in '95 during Hurricane Opal, I'm getting hit by a 4 by 4 here. Lots of debris in the water right here. During Hurricane Opal, they didn't have dunes like this. They built up these dunes and put - planted sea oats here. This is a way as another barrier just in situations like this. So we're going to see, we're going to test these dunes and see how well they work tonight, how well they protect the property and how well they can hold the beach here Catherine.

O'BRIEN: You know, we haven't. It's Miles sitting right beside Catherine but we haven't talked a lot about that, but the fact is, those dune lines are the best protection that mother nature can afford with this high surf. And where you find buildings built on the waterside of the dune lines, you usually have a big problem with damage in the wake of these storms and when people have put in coves and set backs and put the buildings behind the dune lines, they tend to weather it pretty well. What's the situation there in Panama Beach? Obviously you've got dunes there up and down the beach. Are they protected by those dunes?

MATTINGLY: Well, you could see how big the dunes are. They're not as big as what you find in some other areas. From where this dune begins, where the vegetation is, to where the property actually begins, the building here, I'd say about maybe 20 yards. It's not that big and again they developed these after 1995 after Hurricane Opal came in here. There was some situations along this stretch here where Hurricane Opal caused such bad beach erosion that there was water from the Gulf of Mexico going between the hotels and all the way to the other side to the road, flooding the road that leads in and out of here. They're not expecting to see anything like that but again, that's still very fresh in their minds as this hurricane comes ashore tonight.

CALLAWAY: All right. David, thank you very much. We'll be back with you in just a few minutes with more about the situation there in Panama City and that area certainly Miles, I know you know this, just a little bit west of Panama City, some very expensive real estate and I know there's a lot of concern in that area as well.

O'BRIEN: A lot of it on stilts but nevertheless, a lot of folks who are very concerned tonight. Rob Marciano, our - he is our weathercaster of the storm this time. They've all been getting a chance to experience what they predict and what they talk about firsthand of late, probably more experience than they'd like. And he's in the same spot where Anderson was just a few moments ago. I know you had an anemometer, a wind gauge but did you break it? Did you actually break it?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, I still have it Miles. We've had wind gusts solid 70 now so and you know with this hand held device, it's not nearly as accurate as the real deal so could easily be gusting higher than that, certainly feels like that. It always does.

Anderson found a good spot here, protected somewhat by this large pot here. We don't want to get too close to the building. There are these lampposts that line and line the hotel and the ones just in the corner here are getting loose. So we're a little nervous about that. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We've all been predicting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) watching from the comfort of an office with no windows and whether we like to admit it or not, whether we like to see the depth, the destruction that these things bring, we all want to experience a true - whether he wants to be out here at least to get a taste, but I feel like a bit of a hypocrite that I spend most of my time telling people how dangerous these storms are and how you shouldn't be out in them and yet I can't resist. Amazing the power.

O'BRIEN: Don't be too hard on yourself because what you are doing is helping people understand precisely what we've been trying to tell them, which is being where you are is something to be very cautious about. I have the sense that folks in Mobile have done just that, just based on your own experience Ron. You haven't seen anybody out walking around right.

MARCIANO: No, no, nobody wandering around just to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tough to even just to peer over this wall.

CALLAWAY: Have you seen any debris Ron?

MARCIANO: Not a whole lot of debris right here, although this may be the last shot we do from this position. We've got wind gusts now over 70 miles an hour so 74, we're up to hurricane strength now without a problem. Debris not an issue because we're on the fourth floor of a building. That's why we're concerned about things sliding off the building and possibly from other buildings. There's construction going on down the way and a couple of huge cranes that certainly have me worried but they loosened those big cranes up and just let them blow in the wind like a wind vane so they just blow parallel to the wind. I guess they can handle it no problems. This is amazing. You guys (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are you still there?

CALLAWAY: We're sitting here. We're just watching you survive, thinking maybe it would be a really good idea to change locations.

MARCIANO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it's getting a little gnarly out here (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CALLAWAY: All right. We'll check in with you in just a little bit Rob. Sounds to me like they need to be...

O'BRIEN: You know, that's a dramatic turn there, just watching even in that, the course of that one particular live shot, suddenly that gust came in there, just sheets and sheets of horizontal rain. Rob was talking about not seeing anybody out in the streets, but there are plenty of people riding out this storm in their homes. John McNeil is a resident of Mobile, Alabama. He rode out the Hurricane Frederick and is doing just the same right now. He lives very near the Dog River in Mobile, the western side of Mobile Bay. He joins us on the line right now. John, first of all, what are you seeing and hearing from where you sit right now?

JOHN McNEIL, MOBILE RESIDENT: Well we lost power about 10:00 and so you can't see much unless we turn on some car lights or spotlights and whatnot, but it's been for the last hour and a half it's been pretty tough. We're hearing some pine trees snap as we did during Frederick. That's the big concern is pine trees snapping and just a lot of debris, a lot of limbs down and then these squalls coming through, think I'll go back inside - it's just - unlike Frederick, this is a very wet hurricane. We didn't have rain during Frederick and this is a lot of rain.

CALLAWAY: John, where are you in Mobile? How close are you to the bay?

McNEIL: I am about right at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a little over a mile, 1.2 miles from Mobile Bay on Dog River. Dog River is about seven miles south of downtown Mobile where Rob is. We're about seven miles south just down the bay on the western bank of the bay, Dog River and my house is about a little over a mile up the river from the bay.

CALLAWAY: And you stayed through Frederick. Why did you decide to stay through this one?

McNEIL: That's a good question. Everybody asks that. My house - we're very comfortable here so, a good sturdy house where the only concern we'll always have is the rising tide and the water and this, I think the last report that we heard was that the storm has made a little bit more of an eastern trek so hopefully the tidal surges that they're talking about, that 14, 18 foot tidal surge won't materialize.

O'BRIEN: John do you have any regrets right now as you encounter this storm and get a good taste of it and aware that you got many more hours to go here.

McNEIL: We know that we've got a good ways to go before the worst part gets here, don't have any regrets so far, hope that I have this conversation in about 10 hours with you. We still don't have any regrets. One thing about staying here, where we live, we're only about 10, 15 minutes from downtown Mobile by car but it's a fairly rural area where we are on the river and if weren't here, it would be a long time to get back to our house once the storm passes. We've got several generators here. We've got plenty of fuel for the generators and the diesel and gas we've got supplies stacked in here and we're ready. We've got a couple... CALLAWAY: We're going to take a break. We'll check back with you throughout the evening, see how you're faring through this storm John, good luck to you. That's John McNeil, a resident of Mobile, Alabama, who made it through one hurricane, thought he'd try to make it through another one.

O'BRIEN: Sitting on the shores of the Dog River, riding the storm out, John McNeil and he's among many people doing that tonight and we wish them all well. Stay with us all throughout the night as we continue our coverage of Ivan. We'll be back with more of it in just a moment.


CALLAWAY: Welcome back to our live coverage of hurricane Ivan which is swirling in the Gulf of Mexico, still offshore about 40 miles. We find CNN's Gary Tuchman on the east side of Mobile Bay joining us live via video phone from Gulf Shores, Alabama. Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Katherine, hello to you. We're being told by emergency operations (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Alabama, that the fire station in Gulf Shores, which is just a couple miles behind us, has now lost its roof and its doors blow in and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not a big surprise. The winds have been very heavy now for the last couple of hours (UNINTELLIGIBLE) been falling for five hours. We left the barrier island and the fire station just a few hours ago. It was already flooded. We're also being told other roofs on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 120,000 people live in this county. Almost all of them are now without power. That's awesome, not a surprise.

We're also told that the main road that runs north south to the beach here in Gulf Shores, all of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is impassible (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with huge trees that have fallen down. As far as any casualties, no word on that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) They are not making calls. They told everyone to evacuate. It appears that most people have. The barrier island behind us, we didn't see any civilians out at all. This area (UNINTELLIGIBLE) most people have headed north, interstate 65 was open in all directions heading north, nothing heading south so people could evacuate. Most people appear to be taking the cue that there looks like an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's been a lot of damage so far and we're not even near the worst part of it yet. Katherine, back to you.

CALLAWAY: Yes, Ivan still about 40 miles offshore then. I'm sure there has to be power outages already in that area.

TUCHMAN: No question about it. In this area where we are, there's no lights at all. The only lights we see are the occasional transformer exploding behind us. But it's completely dark and almost all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 140,000 people live in this county are now without power. As you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) very recently, the most recent one hurricane Frances (UNINTELLIGIBLE) coast of Florida who are without power in many cases still so they know that it could be a long time before they get power back.

CALLAWAY: The rain and the wind there may have distorted your microphone just a little bit. I wanted to reiterate what you said a moment ago about damage to the fire station, that there were no injuries?

TUCHMAN: No one inside the fire station and I apologize for the audio (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a little slower and a little louder so you can hear me. There was no one inside the fire station. The barrier island behind us, Gulf Shores beach evacuate. However, the roof has blown in the fire station. The doors have blown in. It is now flooding but all fire personnel we're told to evacuate the island. No injuries there. As far as casualties anywhere else here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which is just about 40 miles east of Mobile, no word on any casualties yet. But there's lots of damage so far and the worst still to come.

CALLAWAY: You are so correct. Thank you. That's Gary Tuchman, checking back with you in just a little bit in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

O'BRIEN: We have correspondents all along the coast and as we've been telling you, Gary Tuchman is on the right side of the eye sort of southeast of Mobile Bay right now, about 60 miles and we anticipate that he'll be seeing a lot of that storm surge there, a lot of the higher winds. About the same distance to the west of the eye, Biloxi, Mississippi is where we find Susan Candiotti. Over the course of this night, you'd see a marked difference in the amount of wind and rain that she's encountering there. How's it there now Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The wind has been picking up just a little bit. I would say it's very serious, having experienced much worse than this, but we've had a gust of up to 37 miles per hour, which is certainly heavier than we've had all night long. They continue to get reports because of the higher winds however of more downed power lines, some small fires that they've been able to put out, including a house fire, a problem at a restaurant and also they had part of a roof blow off over the emergency room canopy of a local hospital here and they figure that at least 6,000 people have lost power so far. That's going to - that is a number that will probably grow as the night goes on. Here, again we're a bit protected from the storm.

The rain is coming down a bit more heavily now. I can see Interstate 10 off in the distance and streams of rain coming in, but it's kind of hard to show it to you right now because it's a bit too hard to pick up because of our distance from the highway to show it on the video camera. They are - they figure about 3500 people are in shelters right now and at one of them at an elementary school that was used, is being used as an evacuation shelter, guess what happened? The power went out and for a time they were thinking of moving these people in the middle of the night but then they thought more wisely of that of course and everyone's going to stay in place. Obviously if they got flashlights and other things to keep them going to provide some bit of comfort during the night and they'll take care of that if the power's still out. They'll move them in the morning.

So again, they do expect things just as they are where Gary is, to get worse as the night goes on. Certainly flooding is going to be a problem here, because you've got not only the Gulf coast and the Gulf water coming across highway 90 which runs up and down the coastline here with all the hotels and the casinos, but they're also going to experience flooding from the back bay that most people are familiar with here in Biloxi and Gulfport. Miles and Catherine.

CALLAWAY: All right. Susan, you're right. The worst is yet to come. We'll be back with you in just a few moments. We're going to take a break and when we come back we're going to check in again with Anderson Cooper, see if he's still hanging onto that plant.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It looks like it's going to be about 4:00 a.m. Eastern time when the eyes comes ashore there on the coast. In the meantime though, everybody along there is taking a battering already, Anderson Cooper among them. We'll be back and check in with them as our coverage continues through the night. There he is.


O'BRIEN: Hurricane Ivan inside of 50 miles by our reckoning. Perhaps three-and-a-half hours from its eye coming across land. Of course in the meantime, there's going to be plenty of difficulty for folks along the coast there as those hurricane force tropical storm winds kick ashore. As a matter of fact, the hurricane force winds are projected to extend out about 100 miles either side of the eye.

We'd like you to participate at this point. We've been talking long enough. Let's have you...

CALLAWAY: Especially if you're holed up in your home there.

O'BRIEN: If you're holed up in your home and you've got the ability to get to the web. Why don't you send us an e-mail if you have any questions, comments, You see it there in the lower part of your screen there. That's the e-mail address and we'll get as many of those questions on. Usually it amounts to a grilling for Orelon Sidney, but I have never seen her not know the answer to one of the questions.

CALLAWAY: We've never stumped here and you know we also get a lot of e-mails from people wanting to know about their relatives there in the coast.

O'BRIEN: Well, that's true too, specific questions on specific places.

CALLAWAY: Yes, so right now Ivan, 40, 50 miles offshore.

SIDNEY: That's right and you jinxed me too by the way. I know how somebody's going to write in with something I have absolutely no answer to. But we'll see how that goes.

Let's take a look at what's happening right now. Again, I'm going to show you some stuff on the VIPIR a little bit later. I'm going to go over and telestrate (ph) for you a few things. But right now, here's Mobile. Here the center of the storm obviously and at the last report, it was 55 miles off the coast and it still looked like that eye center is going to be working its way pretty much northward. I'm going to have to get over here, I think. Somebody's been kind of messing around with one of these telestrators. There we go. We got that little squiggle off.

That doesn't mean anything but I wanted to show you down to the south here, it's very interesting. It looked like there was some dryer air that started working its way into the storm about two hours ago and now it looks like you're going to find an interesting situation with the eye. On the southwest side, you can kind of see a little opening there in the eye wall.

Now what that - is that going to be significant? Is that going to help to slow the storm down some? I can't say for sure, but there certainly is an opening in the eye that's been trying to fill in but now it looks like it may start to close off a little bit. So that's going to be something to watch. That maybe an indication that it's becoming more disorganized but I'll tell you, it's so close to the coast, until I'm not sure that's going to make much of a difference.

Here are the outer - let's see the barrier islands just across here and you can see the center of the storm now, the northern eye wall is just about there. So that distance is just about 50 miles or so and with the storm moving to the north at about 12 miles an hour, that's going to be on the coast in just a couple of hours. So I'm not sure that it's going to weaken very much more to get there. Yes, Catherine go ahead.

CALLAWAY: We talk about the eye of the storm and I look at that. It looks so small compared to what we saw with Frances and I think about what we heard you guys say all last week that it's almost like an ice skater. The smaller the eye, the tighter the spin on this thing.

SIDNEY: That's right. I like to think of it like a tether ball. Remember in junior high school when you played tether ball. There's always some big kid that would wrap it around your neck. Well, that's kind of the way this is. As you go around and get tighter and tighter, the ball of course goes around and gets tighter and tighter as well and moves faster. And that's pretty much what you see.

Now taking a look at some of the stronger storms that are coming into too, just real quickly I wanted to show you just some of the higher cloud tops there, really pretty intense across that northern and eastern eye wall. But then to continue on with what you were saying, it's true. As you get towards the center of the storm, the smaller the eye generally the lower the pressure, the faster the wind. But remember that Frances had a 70 mile wide eye. It was huge.

So this storm certainly not that large but we're still going to see quite a bit of damage because as I'm panning around here and as you can see, we've got some very strong rain bands that are moving into parts of the panhandle of Florida across southwestern Georgia and even up towards Dothan. We had some reports there of some potential damage. So just a very large area, not just the Mobile area, but all of that eastern quadrant we're going to see some very strong thunderstorms tonight. Miles, Catherine.

O'BRIEN: Orelon, this storm though is about the size of Frances, isn't it? SIDNEY: You know what, I'm going to have to take a look real quickly and see because I haven't seen the actual diameter on the storm. I know that the eye is smaller than Frances. I remember at one point, the eye on this storm now is 20 miles across. At one point Frances' eye was 70 miles across which I thought was just amazing. I had never seen anything like that before and was really surprised that Frances managed to be as strong as it was with an eye that big. This one of course much much smaller and the winds obviously much stronger as well.

O'BRIEN: It took quite a long time for the eye to even just pass over a single location, didn't it?

SIDNEY: It did. And remember it actually passed right over the Atlanta metro area but I remember in Orlando it seemed like we waited forever for the center to get there, because it was moving so slow. That is an indication of very weak steering currents and that's what we're going to see, we think, as this storm continues to move on in.

Now right now it's going at a pretty good clip, going to the north about 12 miles an hour. It will probably continue to move up through Alabama but once it crosses into Tennessee, it's really going to just stall out. It's not going to go anywhere and then it's going to sit across parts of eastern Tennessee and rain for days perhaps and then the low is just going to have to dissipate on its own down to nothing. Hopefully a front or something will come through and move it along, but it just doesn't look like that's going to happen. So we're not just looking at potentially really bad destruction here on the coast. I can't emphasize how strong this could be. Not only that, but we're also looking at flooding, especially over the weekend as we head up towards the Appalachian Mountains.

CALLAWAY: Not a lot of deviation now from this storm, in other words, this close to shore, what 40 or 50 miles away from shore. Where's the brunt of this high going to hit?

SIDNEY: Well again, I'm going to step away then and I can show you real quickly where the center is going to make landfall. I mean it's so close now until it just looks to me that it would have to - I mean Charley did take that little step to the right you'll remember when it was we thought headed up towards Tampa Bay and it just kind of ripped (ph) right over to the right into the Fort Myers area. But this one I think has been pretty consistent. We aren't seeing a whole lot of problem with this one. It moves - I'll show you kind of a little bit of what it did. There's a little bit of a hop here. It took to the right, right about in there, a little bit earlier, about a hour or two ago and I think what happened, you take a look at the eastern side right here, you can see that that's where the strong thunderstorms are.

Well, sometimes in a storm like this, those strong thunderstorms will cause the storm to actually wobble a little bit, kind of like a washing machine that's off balance and so it can give you the impression, whereas the storm is moving like this, if it gives you the impression of maybe a little hop and then the convection (ph) comes back around and it continues on its path and I'm kind of thinking that that may have been what happened at that point. So if this continues pretty much north as I think it will up towards Mobile, you can see that from the Mobile Bay all the way out across to Panama City, you're going to have quite a bit of an area of very high storm surge, of very high wave damage and very strong wind damage.

When we get up to this point, I did find some very interesting information that you guys might like. From category one to category five storms, the potential damage is 250 times as great for a category five as a category one. Now this obviously is not a five; it's a four. But that will show you the exponential change that you get with each category. There's going to be some really bad structural damage here, just from the wind itself and then of course you're going to have damage from the storm surge along the coast. The devastation is really going to be amazing I think.

CALLAWAY: All right. Orelon, we're going to check in right now and see what the situation is in Mobile with Rob Marciano. Rob.

MARCIANO: Hey guys.

CALLAWAY: Can you hear me Rob?

MARCIANO: Catherine, hey, how you doing?

CALLAWAY: Doing well.

MARCIANO: I'm hear. Listen, I was not able to hear all of what Orelon was saying. North track still at 12 miles an hour, still a sustained wind of 135, because I missed the last - I haven't gotten the last advisory yet, our little portable job. But either Miles or Catherine, can you confirm that we're still at - we're slowing to cat four at 135 sustained mile an hour.

CALLAWAY: Yes, we still are at category four. It's about 40 to 50 miles away from where you are right now.

MARCIANO: All right. Well, we kind of have a good sense of where it is, because the winds haven't changed at all and the winds would change one of two ways. When it's right on top of us or it veers a little bit one way or the other and obviously it hasn't veered much of anything at still moving to the north at 12 miles an hour. All right. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

O'BRIEN: Actually the truth is Rob, we've gotten a lot of e-mails from viewers who suggest eye protection and also helmets for our field crew. So...

CALLAWAY: It looks like though you've stepped in a little bit behind perhaps a wall because you're not as having as much difficulty standing.

MARCIANO: I'd paid good money for a helmet right now. It's a great idea. I mean I thought it was a step ahead that gave by bringing along the ski goggles but we're wearing ski helmets up and down the slopes for good reason. If you have to wear a helmet, I mean you really - here I got being a hypocrite again. It's hard to resist. CALLAWAY: Well, are you standing behind a barrier right now because you aren't having as much difficulty standing as you were a moment ago.

MARCIANO: Well, we're not - we're just going to poke our heads out here a little bit. I'd like to try to get another reading.

CALLAWAY: OK. Good luck.

MARCIANO: I poke out our head out here a little bit, see if we can't get a decent reading. Still blowing pretty good but about the same as it was last go around. I've lost my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm just going to mosey back in, because we can't Q&A. The winds haven't really increased in the last 45 minutes and they're still coming out of the east northeast. So the storm is still that way. It's a little trick that we went through earlier which is if you turn your back to the wind and you look left, that's where the center of the storm. The center of the storm is still out there. It hasn't changed much of a direction. We're hoping to jog a little bit farther to the right but I thought I heard Orelon say that that jog didn't really jog enough. So it looks like we're still directing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I can't hear what you guys - oh you guys are back. You're back. I hear you now.

CALLAWAY: It snapped right back. It's heading your way Rob. We're going to check in with John Zarrella in New Orleans and come back with you in just a few minutes. Please stay safe out there. John Zarrella standing by in New Orleans, where things look calm compared to what we just saw.

O'BRIEN: By comparison certainly. He's dry.


CALLAWAY: Last time I saw you John when you were out covering one of these things, it was a completely different theme.

ZARRELLA: Yes, I'm certainly glad for the break and I feel for those folks over in Mobile. I know what they're going through.

O'BRIEN: Now John, John, the truth is, you are one of these people that - you like to experience them and report on them. I'm not saying you enjoy them because that would not be interpreted properly but nevertheless, truth is, you've had to be in the thick of it.

ZARRELLA: Oh, without a doubt, there's no question about it. I've been through so many in the last 25, 30 years including hurricane Frederick in 1979 in Mobile, exactly where they are. I watched from the tunnel that goes under Mobile Bay, Miles, we were trying to get into Mobile on Water Street and we couldn't. We came out the tunnel, got the exit on Water Street and it was under water. We turned around on the exit. There was a car submerged and two people huddled against the guardrail. We grabbed them, brought them back in the car, went back up the inside the tunnel and spent the night in the tunnel control room, which ended up to be the safest place in Mobile, because you were under the bay.

O'BRIEN: That is a story to tell. Wow.

ZARRELLA: Yes, it was a phenomenal experience and then again in George in 1998 in Mobile when cars were going down Water Street just floating down Water Street there because of the storm surge and the flooding from George, which was a two and hit 50 miles to the west. But here in New Orleans tonight, it is a very surreal experience. This place is absolutely deserted. We're on Decatur Street. To my left is Jackson Square. Over here to my left and if you go over here, all the way to my right side, we've got the Cafe du Monde down here and it's absolutely empty. All the chairs and tables have been pulled inside and it's just a strange experience.

Now the mayor was on the radio a little while ago, local radio here and he was saying that they hope that 7:00 tomorrow morning that they would be able to life the curfew. He was still advising the residents who evacuated, the many thousands of them who left the city, not to come back immediately, to wait until they got the all clear, but that would probably be certainly sometime late in the morning or early in the afternoon.

Down on Canal Street where were a little while ago, there were a lot of folks, the tourists and a lot of the locals who vertically evacuated. In other words, those that did not leave the city would go to high ground just in case the storm turns and makes a move on New Orleans so many of the locals, rather than stay in their homes, because this area is all below sea level, went to the hotels and got rooms there. The hotels are 90 percent full but as we drove along Canal Street just about everyone was hanging out on the street corners, watching and just enjoying the brisk breezed here, very little rain. We had a shower, a little bit of a shower earlier but not a drop of rain right now. We're on that weak side of the storm and 100 miles away and it is a very weak side of the storm. Talked to some police officers who came by a few minutes ago and they were just absolutely shaking their head in relief, saying, wow.

CALLAWAY: Yes, the city the size of New Orleans.

ZARRELLA: We dodged a big one here.

O'BRIEN: Well you know, John, I don't know if you saw it, we checked in with Jason Bellini just a little while ago. He was inside one of those hotel rooms. There must have been about 15 people in there with them.

CALLAWAY: And their pets.

O'BRIEN: And a few pets and he actually reported that there were some adult beverages being imbibed at that location, which I find rather shocking for the city of New Orleans but nevertheless, obviously the difference between what we're seeing there and really kind of a festive party and what is something very serious, really just amounts to just a few miles.

ZARRELLA: Yes, it really is. It's not that far as the crow flies, maybe 50, 75 miles, 75 miles maybe and even not that far from here in eastern, very, the tip of Louisiana and some of those fingers, the Bayous, they're reporting some very, very potentially serious flooding, a lot of roads under water there and that's because of that onshore flow from the hurricane, the back side just bringing in a lot of over wash from the Gulf of Mexico up on Lake Pontchartrain, there's been a lot of flow of water coming in over the lake front there, right up to the edge of the levee, the flood protection levee. So certainly even though we're not getting any wind here. We're not getting any rain here, in the very eastern tip of Louisiana, there certainly still could be some very serious flooding, but nowhere near the catastrophic or devastating event that they are about to face further east in Mobile and perhaps Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach and places like that.

During Opal in '95, there were literally along that road there, that highway 90, highway 98 that runs along the road, there were sailboats and boats that had been washed up on 98 sitting in the middle of the highway and that was after you had the barrier islands that break some of the storm surge. You even had the storm surge broken by those barrier islands but yet sailboats that floated all the way up onto 98 and right along the water there, there were refrigerators, there were bicycles, bicycle helmets, everything that had been blown off and floated off by the storm surge from Opal and that's not even as serious or was not even as serious a hurricane as what they are facing here tonight. So very, very difficult times ahead.

CALLAWAY: All right. John. Thank you John and we'll be checking in with you throughout this night and also when we come back, we're going to talk to a resident who's decided to stay in their home in Mobile, find out how they are faring this storm. We will continue our live coverage of hurricane Ivan when we come back. Stay with us.



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