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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Katrina Projected to Hit New Orleans

Aired August 28, 2005 - 08:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, if you're just waking up this morning, a new advisory from the National Hurricane Center is out. Hurricane Katrina has strengthened to a massive Category 5 storm just within the hour. Good morning everyone, out there. I'm Betty Nguyen.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: 155?

NGUYEN: Well, some reports show 160 miles per hour. This is a major storm and if you are in ...

HARRIS: You got to get that.

NGUYEN: ... the path of the storm, you've got to get out of there.

HARRIS: Okay, all right, I'm Tony Harris, good morning, everyone. Meteorologist Brad Huffines is in the CNN weather center and he joins us with the very latest on the storm. Good morning, Brad.

BRAD HUFFINES, CNN METEOROLOGIST: In fact, we are just looking up here and the minimum central pressure, for those who are meteorologists understand that something around most low pressure areas in the summertime maybe 1,000 millibars, 1,005 millibars this storm has a central pressure of 908 millibars. And the lowest land falling hurricane's central pressure that we have that's hit the United States was I believe an unnamed 1935 storm, is that right? And the central pressure was 892 was the central pressure.

So far the storms that we've found so far, if this storm hits as a 908 millibar storm it could be the second lowest pressure ever to hit the U.S.

Now, of course Category 5 hurricane now doesn't mean it will hit landfall as that. But here is what it means. In general a Category 5 hurricane means that winds are above 155. In this instance, 160-mile- per-hour winds moving toward the City of New Orleans, moving towards southern Mississippi, moving towards south Alabama and the rest of southeast Louisiana as well with a storm surge which is between 18 to 20 feet on average, but the National Hurricane -- the National Weather Service says that the storm surge in and around southeast Louisiana could reach 25 feet.

That means -- now listen to me what a storm surge is, that's the surge of saltwater pushed up along the shoreline when the wind is blowing the saltwater up against the shoreline. So what will happen is of course water will start to inundate the low-lying areas first. River will not be able to flow out. Rivers will have to flow out of their banks because of the water coming upstream. So because of the storm surge between 20 and 25 feet possible in southeast Louisiana, that means if you live anywhere from 25 feet above sea level, lower, you need to evacuate, anywhere in southern Louisiana also anywhere across sections of southern Mississippi.

You see the storm there. The eye there is very well-defined and think of this not necessarily, obviously a hurricane but those who live in the plains, or those who are familiar with tornadoes think of this as a massive -- the eye itself, about 30 to 40 miles wide, as a massive F3 to F4 tornado coming towards southern sections of Louisiana.

That's one of the ways, folks, we can really give you a sense for how dangerous this storm is. Once again, imagine an F3 or F4 tornado coming your way that is 20 or 30 miles wide. That explains Hurricane Katrina. We'll be talking about Katrina and I'll have updates as often as we get information in here on CNN.

NGUYEN: Brad, let's put this in perspective. You talked some numbers there, storm surge 18 to possibly 25 feet.

HUFFINES: Right.

NGUYEN: New Orleans, below sea level. What kind of devastation can that city, unfortunately, expect if it does hit?

HUFFINES: Once again we talked about the Big Easy being lucky over the past several years. Still may be lucky. The last major hurricane landfall in and around New Orleans, the worst was 1965 Hurricane Betsy.

Hurricane Betsy left 60,000 people homeless. Hurricane Betsy left 60,000 people homeless and this is New Orleans right there. Notice as we are zooming into New Orleans, what you are seeing now, what you can't see is the topography, the Mississippi river right there that curves around it, what will happen if the storm continues its present track the City of New Orleans, 70 percent of the city is below sea level.

That means that first the water will be pushed back up the Mississippi River. It could very well likely move over the tops of the levees, depending on what the water level is right now and how high the levees are in New Orleans.

Because that's the way that we've built New Orleans. We built it protected by levees or big walls of dirt, walls of gravel and sand. Very high-tech frankly, but if the water comes up and over the levees because of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, bringing the storm surge up your way it could very well likely flood much of New Orleans. We'll be watching this and have updates ...

NGUYEN: Brad, let me ask you one more thing. It is a Category 5, this is a massive storm or will it be a Category 5 when it hits land or is there a possibility it will be downgraded? HUFFINES: There are many possibilities that this storm will likely fluctuate. Because right now it's the bottom end of Category 5 status but even hitting as a Category 4 storm -- I'm trying to take your minds out of the Category 4 or 5. Think of the wind speeds. The difference between a strong Category 4 is 155 miles an hour, that's where you cross to a Category 5. What's the difference, frankly, between 152 and 158, 4 and 5. It's still a massive storm.

NGUYEN: Very powerful any you cut it. Brad, thank you. And of course we'll be going back to you all morning long.

HARRIS: Brad, thank you.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters. Now, coming up in just a few moments we'll take a closer look at are why the threat of a direct hit by Hurricane Katrina could be devastating to New Orleans. Then at 8:30 we'll check in with the mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi, the city 64 miles from New Orleans is also at great risk to sustain significant damage from Katrina and at 9:00 Eastern, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency discusses the contingencies plans for those impacted by the storm.

NGUYEN: First light in Louisiana reveals the streams of traffic. We've been showing it all morning long as thousands evacuate New Orleans. The Crescent City lies in projected sights of an ever- growing Hurricane Katrina. Here is a live look at the traffic on the right side of your screen. CNN's Jeanne Meserve joins us live from New Orleans with the latest on evacuations there. We're seeing folks heading to the street but not everyone is heeding the warning.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is correct. Not everybody is but a number of people are. My indicator is just going downtown and talking to some of the restaurant owners said they were seeing about their quarter of their usual business and also the traffic we've been seeing this morning, it's early here in New Orleans but there's been a steady flow of traffic on to the evacuation routes to take people out of town.

Katrina is a big whopper of a hurricane, as you've heard, moved up to Category 5. A lot of people do not want to meet her face to face, they are trying get out of Dodge.

As I mentioned, evacuations, which started yesterday, continue this morning and are likely to get even more powerful and large, as the day goes on, right along with that hurricane. Traffic patterns have been changed a little bit to create more outbound lanes. That system appears to be working fairly well, although gasoline is at a premium. A lot of stations have simply been pumped dry. Rental cars very hard to come by.

I know we had a wait of about an hour at the counter yesterday to get our vehicles. The airport is still open at this point in time. However, some flights are being canceled and overbooking has become a problem. We talked to one traveler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm trying do-to-keep myself from going crazy. It's been a long road travel. My daughter was supposed to start college at Loyola University and we were called and told we had to get her out and evacuate the premises immediately, which we did. We had a 4:10 flight out. That flight left us, they overbooked the flight. We were not able to get on. They put us on another evening flight which was overbooked as well and now told us we cannot get back home until Monday, which we just find out five minutes ago was canceled as well. So we have nowhere to go. I am not well, I'm sick, and my daughter is not feeling too good herself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Flooding, of course the real worry here because this is such a low-lying area. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has moved teams into place in Louisiana and Mississippi. We've seen some National Guard troops moving around and I'm sure that all of these preparations are intensifying this morning right along with that hurricane. Back to you.

NGUYEN: Jeanne, as far as the preparations go, this thing called contraflow is in effect, which means that they have turned the highways all in one direction, one direction out of the city, especially New Orleans which is in the path of the hurricane. But we're seeing on some of these camera shots we're showing that only one lane or one side of the freeway is open, like you see here, the right side. What is happening on the left side and why isn't it being opened?

MESERVE: Well, you'll have to excuse me because I'm totally unfamiliar with the highway system around New Orleans. From what I have been able to gather from looking at the maps and listening to some of the local broadcast. I think that you have to get over on one side of the highway if you're going in one direction, if you're heading west another side of the highway if you're going north. So it's simply trying to flow people in the right direction, as I understand it. Generally speaking, from everything I've been hearing, the flow seems to be going amazingly well. I've heard people talking about traveling at very high rates of speed once they get out of that long line that you seem to be looking at from that one locked camera position.

NGUYEN: It's a long line but as you mentioned it is it flowing. You're not seeing cars parked on the freeway which is definitely a good sign as many more continue that evacuation route. Jeanne Meserve, thank you for the information out in New Orleans for us.

MESERVE: You bet.

HARRIS: In advance of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush has already declared a state of emergency for Louisiana. For New Orleans at six feet below sea level the threat of a direct hit is chilling. And there is the problem as CNN's John Zarrella reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New Orleans is all about attitude, from its music to its streetcars and riverboats it oozes charm. It's a city that moves a bit slower, saving its energy to party a little harder. It is also a city that flirts with disaster nearly every hurricane season.

WALTER MAESTRI, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: It's going to happen. We can't continue to beat the odds. We've beaten the odds for a long, long time now.

ZARRELLA: Walter Maestri is the Jefferson Parish emergency manager. Of the 1.3 million people living in metropolitan New Orleans, he is responsible for nearly half a million. Which during the hurricane season leaves him with many sleepless nights. Maestri says he is keenly aware that there is little he can do to keep people from falling victim to a natural disaster or to save his city. The possibilities play out in his mind over and over again.

MAESTRI: And very, very rapidly, within a ten-hour period, you know, the metropolitan New Orleans area is totally devastated, gone.

ZARRELLA: Several expert studies and computer models show New Orleans even more vulnerable than anyone previously thought. Maestri says levees and flood walls designed to protect the city from moderately intense hurricanes might be overtopped and fail in just such storms.

MAESTRI: The way it is described, we describe it here as Lake Pontchartrain has now become Lake New Orleans.

ZARRELLA: In 1998, Hurricane George brushed New Orleans, going inland to the east in Mississippi. A fairly powerful storm, it was not on the order of Betsy, which in 1965 killed 61 people in New Orleans, flooded the city and led to the construction of the floodwalls. But had it struck, the death toll from George might have been horrific.

MAESTRI: Stop for a second. The greatest disaster that any of us have looked at in the United States was 9/11/2001, about 3,000 people died. 44,000 if George makes the direct hit on New Orleans.

ZARRELLA: Maestri estimates most of the dead would be people who, for whatever reason did not or could not evacuate, left trapped in the city as the water rises. The problem is population has mushroomed, evacuation routes are limited.

And New Orleans is like a bowl. The city sits below sea level, on three sides, there's water. The Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi river. Jackson Square, the cathedral and just about everything else in New Orleans would be under water, 12 to 15 feet of it. In the storm's aftermath water would sit in the city for an estimated six months. Pumps need to get the water out would be themselves under water. And it would take up to 120 days to rebuild them.

In this worst case scenario, Maestri's vision is chilling. MAESTRI: While we're rebuilding the pumps we're getting everybody who is still in here and who is alive, out and we're gathering the casualties, gathering the fatalities and getting them out of here.

ZARRELLA: Every building in the city having been submerged to one degree or another would have to be structurally analyzed. For months, no drinking water, no sewer system, no electricity. There are ideas and some plans to save New Orleans from this doomsday vision. The levees and flood walls surrounding the city can be raised higher. That would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. Another thought, wall off a portion of New Orleans. The area behind the barrier would include the government center and the French Quarter. For now, the only hope is to escape the city.

Given the new study, the evacuation order may come even for moderate hurricanes. It will take 72 hours to get 65 to 70 percent of the people out, if everything goes smoothly.

MAESTRI: This is the one agency in government that not only is allowed to pray, it's demanded. We've got calluses on our knees in this business.

ZARRELLA: Divine intervention good fortune, the whims of nature, whatever it is, it is all that separates this city on the Mississippi from Walter Maestri's nightmare. John Zarrella, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Man.

NGUYEN: Puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

HARRIS: Behind Hurricane Katrina, tired, hungry, sweaty South Floridians are getting at least some relief. National Guard troops have been mobilized to distribute food, ice and bottled water after Katrina knocked out power, flooded streets and homes, people lined up for miles to get some of the supplies.

Nearly 700,000 customers still have no electricity. Flooding remains a top concern with parts of three towns still underwater. Residents plowed through flooded streets without traffic lights searching for open grocery stores. Man, whether you live on the coast or the plains, your home could be in an area prone to natural disasters. Our morning e-mail question asked this -- is it worth the risk to live in such areas? Tell us what you think by sending along your e-mails at weekends@cnn.com.

NGUYEN: I want to get the latest now from the National Hurricane Center. Forecaster Ed Rappaport joins us from Miami. And Ed -- Brad Huffines joins us as well, he's our meteorologist here today and he is going to be asking questions along with me. So let me start first of all.

This is a Category 5 storm, huge, massive, powerful storm. Do you have any kind of timeline? What is your estimate right now on when it will hit land?

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: At this time the center is about 250 miles off shore from the mouth of the Mississippi River. Here is the center and here is southeastern Louisiana. It's moving to the west-northwest we expect it to turn to the north, that means landfall tomorrow morning, likely on the southeast coast of Louisiana, although if it shifts just a little bit to the east it will have more of a direct impact on Mississippi, with the New Orleans area having its greatest impact probably late morning into the afternoon hours tomorrow.

NGUYEN: We were just listening to a story there from our John Zarrella about the nightmare situation there in New Orleans. If this does, the city takes a direct hit from Katrina, as you look at this, do you worry about what is going to happen to New Orleans?

RAPPAPORT: We're very concerned and not just for New Orleans, again, as we emphasize this isn't just a point. It's a large storm. In fact, hurricane-force winds span about 100 miles across, so that's a rather large area, swathe that will have extensive damage. We're particular concerned because of New Orleans' vulnerability. As we all know, this may indeed become "the Big One" for them.

HUFFINES: Ed, this is Brad Huffines from the CNN weather center. I want to ask about storms intensity right now. The storm has an inner pressure of 908 millibars. Hurricane Camille made landfall as 909 milllibar storm. What type of fluctuations are expected with this storm moving ashore or do we really know outside of where it is right now?

RAPPAPORT: That's a good question. We will expect fluctuations. It's right now a Category 5. I don't know exactly what the landfall intense sit going to be. Clearly, it's going to be a major hurricane. Three, 4, 5. Most likely a 4 perhaps a 5. There are conditions along the coast, offshore that might cause a little bit of weakening. But that shouldn't be -- well, we hope it will occur but it is not going to make a major difference in the devastation we see.

HUFFINES: One of the points we were trying to make a point there's not much of a difference at 4 at 150 or 5 at 160. It's still a major hurricane. Can you comment on the difference -- when you cross line there is no magical difference. It goes from 154 to 156, for instance, right?

RAPPAPORT: That's right. And what we are expecting is extensive to potentially catastrophic damage and that's going to many structures along the coastline and extending inland, we're going to expect hurricane force winds well inland. We're going to have rainfall threat inland. A lot of trees are going to come down, perhaps millions of trees will be knocked down. And if your home with large trees, you may want to get away from that as well.

The first risk, of course, is going to be the storm surge. Much like Camille, we could have a surge in excess of 20 feet along the coast. You must get away from the coast now. NGUYEN: Ed, you mentioned Camille, which really devastated the area there, the same area that Katrina is headed toward. Let's look at the big picture. We've been talking about landfall in New Orleans and all of these cities in the path. The big picture, this storm is not going to just putter out as soon as it hits land, correct?

RAPPAPORT: That's right. There will be some weakening but we expect major hurricane conditions, if indeed the center comes across southeast Louisiana major hurricane conditions spread all the way northward across the New Orleans area and areas to the east and west. You mentioned Camille, don't want people to think this is just going to be if they are in Louisiana. They didn't have as much as Mississippi did. Think about what Mississippi had and that's what you are potentially facing in southeast Louisiana.

NGUYEN: And as this comes ashore, of course, everybody is concerned about storm surge, looking at some 18 to 25 feet, Brad?

RAPPAPORT: That's right, very strong winds are going to drive the water ashore, and it's going to start to occur pretty soon, actually, in southeastern-most parishes of Louisiana and most lives lost come because of the storm surge. We're very concerned about that in this case.

NGUYEN: All right. That's Ed Rappaport with the National Hurricane Center. We want to thank you for that information. Actually, Brad, I thought you had a question about storm surge. But we can continue with you as we talk about Katrina, this Category 5 storm.

Brad, talk to me about the storm as it's gaining -- is it going to continue to gain in strength before it hits land or are we expecting, I don't know, it's kind of hard to predict with hurricanes but could it possibly be downgraded?

HUFFINES: It is possible it could go either way. And what I want to talk about is the storm surge, we talked about that a lot. And sometimes I don't think that residents especially along the shoreline, we have thousands of residents that join the shoreline of the southeastern U.S. every month, new residents. Let me show you what storm surge means by showing you this graphic.

I have a graphic of a potential eye of landfall of the hurricane as it comes ashore. Think of the winds on the right-hand side of the eye now, to the right of the eye is where we see the worst damage, devastation and highest storm surge. That means that the saltwater, the gulf water being pushed by the storm, imagine like a glass of water and filling it up and as you blow across the surface, the water will leave the glass. That's what's happening here and will likely happen across the southeast parts of Louisiana into southern Alabama and Mississippi as the wind continues to blow the water back to the shoreline the water that's trying to leave the rivers, for instance, the Mississippi River as it goes past New Orleans, that water will have no place to go, so some of that water as the storm surge continues to blow the gulf water up into the mouth of the rivers, then those rivers will start to back up, leave their banks and that's what causes the storm surge flooding, plus the fact that some of these waves, that may be 10, 15 feet above average some of the waves could be breaking another 10 or 15 feet so the storm surge is that wash of saltwater that is blown ashore, backs up the rivers, causes tremendous devastation and Betty, can also be topped by waves that are 20, 30, 40 feet high.

If you remember the I-10 picture we showed you during the hurricane last year, Ivan that blew the bridge right off. That's the storm surge you have plus the waves. You could see water 40 or 50 feet above where it is today.

NGUYEN: It is incredible. Storm surge is just one component out of a hurricane. You've got the winds and then you've got the rain. There's a lot to take into account. Brad we thank you for the information and we'll be checking back with you.

HARRIS: And maybe when we get back to Brad he can spend a little time on Mississippi because that's on the leading edge of this storm. We're spending a lot of time on New Orleans and Louisiana for obvious reasons but as we just heard a moment ago it is Mississippi that will see the impact of this storm first.

And we'll talk to the mayor of Biloxi in just a couple of minutes. Let's take a live picture again, residents leaving New Orleans in a hurry. It is giddy up time. Louisiana's governor ordered all interstates to have one way traffic for drivers heading out of the city.

NGUYEN: We're keeping a close eye on Hurricane Katrina as it continues to grow and we'll have an update on the forecast in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Well, we hope you in New Orleans are getting this and getting packed out and getting out of town as quickly as you can. This could be the big one. Katrina has been upgraded this morning to a powerful Category 5 storm with top winds of 160 miles an hour, Betty. And it's taking aim at Louisiana and Mississippi. Now, that includes the City of New Orleans, people there getting out of town, the interstate highways are looking at I-10 right now, have been made one-way for evacuations. The mayor urged residents to board up their homes, stock up on medicine, gas, get out of town as quickly as they can. As orderly as they possibly can but quickly. Katrina is on a path to make landfall near New Orleans early tomorrow morning.

And the mayor of New Orleans is going to be joining a conference call with the other surrounding parishes. A lot of New Orleans is in Jefferson Parish. But there are a number of other parishes that include bits and pieces of New Orleans but the mayor is going to be on the phone with the surrounding parishes and they will decide in short order whether to order a mandatory evacuation of the city and some of the surrounding parishes as well and once that decision is made we understand that the mayor, Ray Nagin, will speak to the gathered press. And we will all get an idea of what the future plans are for New Orleans and how these evacuation plans are moving along. NGUYEN: And even though it's not mandatory at this point, the mayor said please, voluntarily evacuate. And you see the folks doing that right now. Tony, we've been talking a lot about Louisiana and Mississippi which are in the storm's path. But Brad Huffines has some new information now on Mobile, Alabama. What do you know about that area, Brad?

HUFFINES: Local statement of the National Weather Service in Mobile says record storm tides possible in Mobile County. We'll read this in comparison as the storm continues to move across and up towards southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and southern Alabama that record storm tides, that means that the water brought about by the storm surge could very well bring the highest tide tides into Mobile Bay ever seen, Hurricane George in 1988 brought water levels up to 8.3 feet to Bayou La Batre, and nine feet in downtown Mobile, and this could be higher than that.

That's the breaking news out of the national weather service in mobile. Record storm tides could affect all of southern Mississippi. Tony, you mentioned that earlier all of Mobile Bay and up to Mobile included. That means if you live in New Orleans all the way to Mobile, you need to seek higher ground, if you live basically New Orleans area below 20 to 25 feet below sea level, southern Mississippi around 18 feet or below and if you live in southern Alabama evacuate of course if you live anywhere ten feet or below sea level. Because of the storm surge and record storm tides possible as the hurricane continues to move ashore as a Category 5 hurricane.

Again, hurricane warnings, southern Louisiana, southern Alabama, southern Mississippi, 160 mile an hour winds and here is the quick forecast as the storm continues to push toward the coastline of Louisiana. Forecast continues to call for a landfall sometimes tomorrow morning, likely after 2:00 a.m. Affecting portions of southeast Louisiana and all of southern Mississippi and southern Louisiana. Guys?

NGUYEN: All right, Brad. We'll be checking back with you soon.

HARRIS: And you know, Betty, one of the other things we want to do throughout the course of our coverage of this storm, we want to check in locally and find out what is happening on the ground there in New Orleans. Let's do that right now, check in on the coverage from WDSU in New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's going 55 north up towards Jackson, Mississippi. The left-hand side, which would be west or eastbound coming in, people that would normally coming in from baton rouge towards the city that, is going out. You're looking at a picture. These are all people in line going towards Baton Rouge, going towards Texas, Houston, Texas, wherever they're going, Lake Charles, Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That is this long line.

This is the first time since 3:00 a.m., four and a half hours into our morning so far out here on I-10 and Clearview that it has been at a virtual standstill and probably only going to get worse. If you're leaving, the earlier the better. Because more people are going to be leaving as the day progresses and they realize the severity of this storm. Now, we're going to give people a little cheat sheet, kind of a crib note. What we've experienced and listened to the drivers and talking to state police, if you're coming from New Orleans east, if you're coming from the west bank, uptown New Orleans, it may be good not to get on I-10 and just ride it out the whole way. That's what a lot of people are doing and the contraflow, where you begin the contraflow is getting backed up because it's only one lane.

If you're watching, what you may want to do is come out here in Clearview and get on at Veterans' or Airline Highway. Clearview is open, Roop (ph), like you said, Veterans' is open, Williams is open. So take Airline Highway or Veterans Boulevard as far as you can, and then get on, because really, if you get on the interstate, you're going to be backed up past Bonneville, almost to the 17th Street Canal trying to get into the contraflow system. So if you are headed towards Baton Rouge and you're taking I-10 west to Texas or that area, the smartest play will probably be to get on Veterans' or Airline Highway and take those out as far as they can take you and then get on the interstate and get into the contraflow system.

Now, talk about getting worldwide attention, we've been here all morning, we've been doing reports for you all, our colleague, Ed Reams (ph) in Algiers has been doing hits as well. We've been doing hits for London, England, a TV station there and this is a story obviously when you have a Category 5 hurricane coming at your city it's just fascinating to everyone around the world.

The meteorologist that we were talking to there kept talking about how pretty of a system it looked like. I heard Margaret Orr (ph) say that as a meteorologist it's a beautiful hurricane system. You just don't want it coming toward us. Sadly, it looks like it's going to come that way, but just to give you a little perspective we've been doing traffic reports as far away London, England, talking about what's going on here, how people are evacuating, how people are handling it, kind of putting it in perspective for different people around the country and even the world. That shows the severity of what could possibly happen here in the next 36 hours.

Again, as far as traffic, it's bogged down a little bit now, because more and more people with the daylight hours approaching are finally getting on the interstate. So, again, if you are going to leave, leave as soon as possible. As you can see, traffic is at a near standstill here at I-10 and Clearview. And again, don't be afraid to use Veterans' and Airline Highway because those are the best ways to get to the interstate and get into the contraflow system faster and realize this, be gassed up when you get into the contraflow system because really, there are not that many places. The first place, if you go I-55 north is Amepe (ph), then Kentwood, Baton Rouge may be the next best place or actually Gonzales may be the next closest place once he get on I-10. So once you get on, be gassed up or else you could have fuel problems once you get on. We're going to be here all morning and all day monitoring the traffic situation on I- 10. Reporting from I-10 in Clearview, I'm Fletcher Mackel (ph) WDSU news channel six. Ruben and Helena, back to you.

HARRIS: Fletcher Mackel taking care of business for WDSU. NGUYEN: He's got his finger on that traffic.

HARRIS: Traffic and weather together.

NGUYEN: You know, it's a scary situation. As you can see, there are plenty of people out there, they were heeding the warning. But you got to take the right routes or you'll get stuck in the traffic.

HARRIS: And I think you know all that you want to know about contraflow at this point, I mean, it is all lanes out of the city, but as you could tell from that report from Fletcher, there is congestion at various points along I-10, heading west, and so there are different points at which you can jump on I-10, so that you can get into the system and get your way. Most folks I guess are heading to Texas.

NGUYEN: Yes, headed to Texas but he also talked about people as far as England very interested in the storm. This is a massive storm, folks. If you're just joining us it has been upgraded, yes, to a Category 5. Take a look at Katrina, headed for the Louisiana Mississippi coastline. We are going to be watching this all day long, bringing you updates on where she is and where she is headed. So stay tuned. We're going to take a short break right now and be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And from the CNN center this is a special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It is August 28th, what an eventful day.

NGUYEN: Busy day.

HARRIS: 8:00 a.m. At CNN headquarters. 7:00 a.m. along the Gulf Coast where there are hurricane watches and warnings, we're pre- empting HOUSE CALL to bring you extensive live coverage of Hurricane Katrina. And good morning everyone, I'm Tony Harris.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen. We want to thank you for being with us today. As mentioned, we are tracking Hurricane Katrina as that storm makes its way across the Gulf of Mexico right towards the southern coastal United States. Now just an hour ago the Katrina became a dangerous Category 5 storm, that means winds are up to 160 miles an hour. Watches and warnings, as Tony mentioned, are in effect in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Now, in New Orleans people are being urged to evacuate, even though roads out of south Louisiana are jammed with cars, officials are trying to decide how to get those who don't have vehicles out of the area.

And thousands of people in Florida, they are still cleaning up from the damage that Katrina left behind in its first swipe at land. The storm hit Southern Florida Thursday. And the Associated Press reports that Katrina is being blamed for seven - nine, not seven, nine deaths in that state.

HARRIS: Let's bring in Brad Huffines. And Brad, as we look at the radar, it looks like the very tip of that storm, the most extreme outer bands of that storm are starting to lap against some islands - is that barrier island?

HUFFINES: Notice the clouds right there that you're seeing, and then as clouds we are seeing showers starting to develop. Let's switch to what we have behind me, CNN Titan radar, and what we are seeing is the first bands of rain starting now to lap across especially far southeast Louisiana toward Empire, down toward Pilottown (ph), way down toward the very tip right here. Notice that as these rain showers continue to develop, notice how they're developing as the heat of the day is beginning now to affect the weather, weather development so the first bands of rain are now starting to enter southeast Louisiana. The reason that I say this is important is because with all of the evacuations happening now, up the shoreline and up into New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, these heavy rains that start to form ahead will slow down the evacuations. So far we've had a pretty easy go of evacuations because of the clear skies.

But that's starting to change. The first band of rain moving in across sections of southeast Louisiana, towards Pilottown (ph), Empire, Port Sulfur and you see New Orleans in the corner of the screen, with these scattered showers that are developing. These will slow down the evacuations. Please, if you've been asked to evacuate get on the roads now, get as far away from this before the rains begin. And this is the first band. Many bands of rain before the actual hurricane moves ashore sometime tomorrow morning.

HARRIS: Brad, just very quickly. The size of this, I guess I want to ask you a question meteorologically speaking. This is -- how often do you get a chance to see something like this?

HUFFINES: Not that often. In fact, we've been comparing the specific storm toward the southeast coastline with Camille. The last time - this storm has a central pressure of 908 millibars, that is one millibar say measure of pressure like a scale it's one millibar below or stronger than Hurricane Camille which hit Gulfport-Biloxi in 1969. This could be the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. since Camille and only the second or third strongest on record if it hits with the current central pressure around 905 to 910. Again, Camille was 909. This storm right now, 908 to give you an example how strong this is with 160 mile an hour winds.

HARRIS: So scientifically, this is fascinating.

HUFFINES: Scientifically, this is one of these storms that at least close to the shoreline, is one of the strongest that we've seen in several years. Hurricane Gilbert had a stronger central pressure when it was in the Gulf of Mexico, other hurricanes have been this strong, but this is the strongest we've seen this close to the shoreline. Again, if it hits as a 908 or less pressure, it begins to push the lowest pressure storm ever to hit the U.S. Which was in 1935, unnamed storm, at about 10 millibars or less stronger than this one.

NGUYEN: You mentioned Camille back in 1969. That storm killed 256 people. So hopefully the warnings are out, the people will listen to them and get out of harm's way before this comes ashore.

HUFFINES: The areas of good news, we have better warning capabilities.

NGUYEN: More people live there.

HUFFINES: But the bad news is more people live there. A lot more people. Plus this one might affect New Orleans.

NGUYEN: Brad, thank you so much. We'll be checking in.

HUFFINES: Certainly.

HARRIS: As Hurricane Katrina approaches, Louisiana officials are discussing how to evacuate people who can't leave on their own. CNN's Jeanne Meserve joins us now live from New Orleans. And Jeanne, we know there's some updated information that may be available to you. I know we're getting some on what the evacuation plan might be and when that might become a mandatory evacuation.

MESERVE: Well, the last that I heard the mayor was having some meetings this morning, and a decision was expected this morning on whether or not to make it mandatory. I can tell you that a lot of people are heeding the voluntary evacuation order to get out now.

The traffic is definitely picked up. If you look behind me you can see some jersey barriers and traffic cones that have been set up. There's a police officer in the car there barking out to people, letting them know which way to go to get out of town. Because these are, of course, highly unfamiliar routes to people. Traffic has been radically rerouted to allow for more outflow from the city.

There are about 140,000 people, by some estimates, in the city who do not have cars and who do not have the means to buy a train ticket or a bus ticket to get out of town, and the question is what's going to happen to them if the decision to evacuate becomes mandatory? The mayor last night was talking about the possibility of commandeering some buses and putting them on those. Also he's reaching out to churches and asking for their help in getting to the infirm and elderly in particular.

There is a shelter that's been set up at the Superdome here in New Orleans, this has been designated a special needs shelter. And apart from that you're not hearing too much about shelter designations, because so many of the places that usually serve as shelters they're afraid just won't be appropriate when you're facing a Category 5 storm.

So that sort of information still to come here. As I mentioned, still waiting to hear whether or not the mayor is going to call for a mandatory evacuation of the city. He has a lot of things to weigh here. He is of course looking at the forecast, the tracking of this storm. He's looking at the simple geographic realities of the city that he governs, below sea level with water all around it, a levee system that, frankly, may not be tall enough and strong enough to face this kind of challenge. But first and foremost what he has to consider is the safety of his citizens so we're waiting to hear what he's going to do. Back to you. HARRIS: Jeanne, Jeanne just a quick question. Do folks get it? You know, folks in New Orleans has been wait fog are the quote-unquote "big one" for a long time and there have been close brushes in the past. But do folks get that this one is huge?

MESERVE: Well, you get a variety of reactions. I spoke to a couple of people last night who were natives here who said they were getting out of town. I asked one woman while she was leaving, she said, "I can't swim." That's how seriously she was taking it.

But there are other people who are hanging around. At our location we have a place behind us where some people have been partying all night and they're still here partying, not seeing any indication that they're registering just how dangerous this might be, and that they should get out of town while they can.

HARRIS: And the window is literally closing on when you can safely get out of town.

MESERVE: That's right, sooner is always better. Things are ohm going to get more congested. It's only going to be harder to get down those highways. People should take this seriously, they should get in their cars, if they have them, and get out.

HARRIS: Jeanne Meserve, thank you.

NGUYEN: I want to give you an indication of this storm and what kind of punch it's packing. We're getting video in from the affiliate WDSU. Where it shows Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and some students showing what an 18-foot storm surge would look like. You see the numbers right there.

That's a pretty big storm surge, actually it's a large one and especially, we talked about New Orleans being six feet below sea level, this storm surge can be very devastating to folks in the eye or headed or in the path, I should say of this massive storm that is headed straight for the Louisiana Mississippi border.

HARRIS: That makes sense. Anything you can do to visually make the point. Brad was talking about storm surge. You got a glass of water and blow across the top of the glass of water and that's storm surge. That's what it's like. There's a sense of New Orleans being in a bowl. When the water gets too high, comes over the levee and you have flooding.

NGUYEN: Massive flooding. Yes.

HARRIS: And what he says it's not the sense of just the rush of water. What happens is the water continues to rise slowly or quickly at times, but it just continues to steadily rise. So anything that we can do to sort of visually make that point to you.

NGUYEN: Drive that point home, exactly, so that folks can get out of the way.

Hurricane Katrina, Category 5. We'll continue to follow this massive storm but first we'll take a quick break. Stay with CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: This just in to CNN as we have been mentioning all morning long, Hurricane Katrina, Category 5 storm. To talk about how dangerous the storm really is Max Mayfield from the National Hurricane Center released says quote, "It has the potential for a large loss of life."

This is a serious storm, upgraded from a Category 4 to a Category 5, headed toward the coastlines of Louisiana and Mississippi and Max Mayfield, again, with the National Hurricane Center has said this massive storm has the potential for a large loss of life. So if you are in the storm's path, get out of there, get to higher ground, take those evacuation routes and be safe out there.

Of course, we've got much more on Katrina, because Hurricane Katrina has been upgraded to that very rare and dangerous status of a Category 5. Winds, just talk about the winds they're up to 160 miles an hour. The storm is about 250 miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi River, and is slowly heading to the northwest at about 10 miles an hour. We've been showing you as well thousands are evacuating the New Orleans area, traffic away from the coastline is bumper to bumper. Here's a picture of that. Folks are trying to get out of the storm's path. This is New Orleans.

Now emergency officials are still worried even though you see the lines here not enough people are taking the warnings seriously. But I have tell you one more time, Max Mayfield with the National Hurricane Center says there's a potential for a large loss of life. So you have to take this storm very seriously.

HARRIS: We are going to break away from our storm coverage for just a moment to tell you about developments, major developments in Iraq.

Iraq's draft constitution has gone before the full National Assembly. The constitutional committee signed off on a final draft of the document after weeks of negotiations. Aneesh Raman joins us live from Baghdad with more on this historic development. Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, good morning. The National Assembly just adjourning moments ago, after the draft constitution was read in full to them. We expect a ceremony of sorts to take place at the residence of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani. It comes, as you mentioned at the end of months of debate and weeks of delays. Finally a draft constitution complete. The main question that has dogged this process all along is whether the Sunnis would be on board. The Sunni minority in Iraq of course, has not only the votes to reject this constitution in the referendum which would start this whole process again but also, bringing them on board is seen as essential to curbing the violence, the insurgency domestically is fueled mainly by Sunnis.

Well, an early glimpse that has not happened. That Sunnis are coming out, objecting to this document. The negotiators involved in the process, the Sunni negotiators saying they did not find compromise, they don't deem this document legitimate so it sets very high stakes, Tony, for the referendum to come. That is the next political benchmark the world will be watching for, a vote by mid- October that if it doesn't mass, starts this entire process again. Tony?

HARRIS: Aneesh, when will we get a chance to read that draft document?

RAMAN: Well, they're just making it public as we speak now. They will print millions upon millions of copies, starting tomorrow, for the Iraqi people, of course, to also read, digest the wording. This is a constitution. It's not easy reading. There are nuances that could have huge implications. So just a matter of weeks for the Iraqi public really to digest it and decide whether or not they want to vote it up or down, Tony.

HARRIS: I'd like to read it myself and see what I think of it. Aneesh Raman, thank you very much, Aneesh.

NGUYEN: And back here in the U.S. we are following a really very powerful storm, we're talking about Hurricane Katrina, Category 5. We got many more updates throughout the morning. So you want to stay tuned to CNN SUNDAY MORNING. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's check in with Brad Huffines upstairs in the CNN Weather Center and Brad, well ...

HUFFINES: The news doesn't get good, unfortunately. We're looking right now at the outer bands of the storm as it continues now to push toward southeast Louisiana. You're looking at Doppler radar. As you know, Doppler radar has a limit as to how far it can see. It's just starting to see the outer bands of the heaviest rains now coming ashore but you're seeing the other bands of showers developing in the very warm air over the warm gulf towards southeast Louisiana. We'll zoom into this now and show you where some of the thunderstorms and the rain showers that will start then to slow down the evacuation process.

That's why you need to hit the roads if you're going to evacuate very quickly, very quickly. Also, we are hearing now that political officials in New Orleans are also telling those who can evacuate, tourists, for instances, to make sure that you are on the third floor and higher, avoid outside windows if you cannot evacuate. But please, if you can get on the roadways and get out, get out of New Orleans and all of the other evacuations being issued from Biloxi to Gulfport to Mobile, very strong hurricane winds coming because of president hurricane.

Category 5 Hurricane Katrina should move ashore sometime between 5:00 and 8:00 in the morning tomorrow morning. The project continues to show the storm moving inland somewhere in southeast Louisiana southern parts of Mississippi, near New Orleans. That's why we're watching New Orleans very carefully. Because the Big Easy seems to have had good luck over the past few years and now the Big Easy may not.

Again, we're watching this storm very carefully. We talked about it earlier, Tony, depending on what angle it hits and how fast the storm is going to and how strong the winds are that can really tell the tale for New Orleans and any other coastal city for that matter, between Gulfport and New Orleans. Tony?

HARRIS: Oh boy, all right, Brad, thank you.

HUFFINES: Thank you.

NGUYEN: And you definitely want to stick with CNN because we're going to go live to the FEMA director, Mike Brown to talk about preparations for federal hurricane relief.

HARRIS: And we'll also talk with a Louisiana senator about what's being done to prepare for the hurricane and the after math. But first a break.

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