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CNN BREAKING NEWS

State of Emergency Declared in Louisiana

Aired August 28, 2005 - 09:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The constitutional committee signed off on a final draft of the document after weeks of negotiations. Earlier this morning, Iraq's Sunni leaders vowed to defeat the constitution in a November referendum.
In southern Israel, at least 21 people have been wounded in a suicide bombing at a Beersheba bus station. The two most seriously injured victims were security guards who were suspicious of the man and approaching him.

It is Sunday, August 28th. Good morning from the CNN center in Atlanta. I'm Tony Harris.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Betty Nguyen. We want to thank you for starting your day with CNN.

For those of you just joining us this morning, hurricane Katrina is a dangerous category five storm making its way across the Gulf of Mexico. If you live along the gulf shore, now is the time to leave. Landfall is expected in the next 24 hours. Katrina is about 250 miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi River with winds up to 160 miles an hour. And forecasters predict those hurricane winds will be felt throughout the southeastern shoreline.

Now thousands are evacuating especially from the New Orleans area. Here's a look. Traffic away from the coastline is bumper-to- bumper. But emergency officials are still worried that not enough people are taking the warning seriously.

HARRIS: A category five hurricane is about as bad as it gets. It can be very deadly and cause catastrophic damage. CNN meteorologist Brad Huffines is in the CNN weather center, while our Jeanne Meserve is in New Orleans as people leave town in a hurry. Let's start with Brad and Brad, if you would, give us a reset if you would, on the story.

BRAD HUFFINES, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let me show you what it's doing right now. Notice the center of the storm, a very well-defined eye, 160 mile per hour winds. As you mentioned about 250 miles or so off the coast of New Orleans. As this storm continues to track to the west-northwest, eventually turning northwest and eventually north, the National Hurricane Center says they have a very high confidence in their forecast track of the storm. It was fairly unpredictable for a while.

Now it's starting now to funnel into what looks to be a fairly predictable track, which means the hurricane warning in effect for Morgan City all the way across the shoreline of Louisiana and across the coastline of southern Alabama and Mississippi. This does include the city of New Orleans and all inland counties in south Alabama, south Mississippi and across the southeastern parishes of Louisiana. That's resetting the stage.

Here's moving ahead. With winds of 160 miles per hour now, the storm is continuing to move to the northwest. It is forecast to make landfall anywhere in the category, strong category four or weak category five status. Right now the landfall is around 160 miles an hour possible. That's in and around New Orleans. Let me show you right now what radar is showing us. The first bands of rain are now starting to sweep in and across southern sections of Louisiana, not quite in New Orleans yet.

Let's zoom into what we're seeing in New Orleans and around the rest of southeast Louisiana as those rain showers and rain bands, some very heavy rains are coming in. We're zooming in now. What you're seeing is of course again, no rain here yet. Jeanne Meserve, you saw her in sunshine moments ago. But also I want you to notice how much water is around this part of Louisiana. The inlets and deltas, all places when the winds blow that storm surge, that saltwater in, storm surge expected to be anywhere from 18, 20 feet above the current water level. The National Weather Service says storm surge could be as high as 25 feet above the water level at the time the storm hits.

So that's how serious this storm is. That means residents, 25 feet below or 25 feet above sea level or below need to seriously consider evacuating and even to Mobile Bay, we're expecting to see storm surge between eight and 10 feet which could be the highest surge reported ever in Mobile bay. Talk about this storm more coming up this half hour.

HARRIS: All right. Brad, thank you. Appreciate it.

NGUYEN: As hurricane Katrina lines up to make its second assault on the southeast, President Bush has already declared a federal state of emergency in Louisiana. FEMA is coordinating all disaster relief efforts in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. The agency has positioned supplies and emergency rescue teams for quick response in any area that gets hit. FEMA Director Michael Brown is in charge of coordinating Federal disaster relief activities and he joins us now from Washington. I have to tell you, category five storm, boy, that is really something to worry about. How are you preparing for this?

MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, Betty we actually started preparing for this about two years ago. We had decided to start doing catastrophic disaster planning and the first place we picked to do that kind of planning was New Orleans because we knew from experience, based back in the '40s and even in the late 1800s, if a category five or five hurricane were to strike New Orleans just right, the flooding would be devastating. It could be catastrophic. So we did this planning two years ago. And actually there's a tabletop exercise with the Louisiana officials about a year ago. So the planning's been in place now. We're ready for the storm. But I'm more concerned right now, not about our readiness, but about the individual people in Louisiana. I understand that there are, you know, voluntary evacuations right now. I'll tell you this personally. If I lived in New Orleans, I'd be getting out of there. I think it's time to leave now.

NGUYEN: Do you think they should require mandatory evacuations as of right now, maybe even perhaps yesterday?

BROWN: Well, our planning models show that people need to begin to evacuate at least 48 to 72 hours beforehand. The governor makes those decisions and the mayors will make those decisions. I'm just saying that I think, regardless, because the size of the storm, its rapid intensification, you need to get on that highway and start leaving now.

NGUYEN: Now let me ask you this. You're talking about these evacuations and how important they are. Are we just talking about New Orleans or are we talking about the whole state here?

BROWN: No, we're talking primarily New Orleans and those parishes south of there. I mean, the storm surge in a category five, can easily exceed 20 feet. You have areas that are already below sea level. We have photographs that show, graphically show what that means. If you go into the French quarter, we're talking about a storm surge that is on the tops of those buildings. It's very, very devastating. So people need to take the storm seriously. Let me put it this way. I've got rescue teams, urban search and rescue teams, swift water teams that are moving in there right now to be prepared. You don't want them to have to come and rescue you. So you need to get out of the way of the storm now.

NGUYEN: Because it's going to take some time for those emergency crews to actually get out to the folks who need them, correct?

BROWN: You raise a very good point. We always tell people to be prepared, to wait in your homes for upwards of 48 hours because it may be a while before a firefighter or a first responder can get to you. In this case, if the storm continues to grow, the devastation is widespread as we anticipate it to be, it will be even longer. Some areas may be cut off where we have to use boats and other means to get into some of the areas.

NGUYEN: When we talk about devastation, possible devastation with Katrina, a lot of people think back to Camille, 1969 where it killed some 256 people. Do you see the storm as being just as dangerous, if not more?

BROWN: I see it just as dangerous. You have the additional factor of the new population that has moved in. You know, during Camille, there were approximately 60,000 people left homeless. So we can easily see those kinds of numbers again. That's why FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and President Bush are taking this storm so very seriously. This is exactly the kind, as I called it yesterday a nightmare scenario that we've been planning for and anticipating.

NGUYEN: You mentioned a nightmare scenario. Hopefully that won't come to fruition. But the reality is, the category five storm is headed in that path of New Orleans and those coastline cities there in Louisiana and Mississippi. Are your teams, is FEMA ready for this? Because you guys have been pretty taxed lately with all the hurricanes of last year and this year's busy hurricane season?

BROWN: Well, we have been taxed. You know what? Now we're still doing recovery operations in Florida. I've got a long-term recovery office down there. And some people have been trying to second guess how FEMA responded and recovered in Florida. But let me say to a whole bunch of critics. We are ready. We're going to respond and we're going to do exactly what we did in Florida and Alabama and the other places. We're going to do whatever it takes to help victims. That's why we've already declared an emergency. President Bush had no reservations about doing that. We're going to lean forward as far as possible and do everything we can to help those folks in Louisiana and Alabama or Mississippi.

NGUYEN: Mike Brown, FEMA director. We want to thank you for your information today.

BROWN: Thank you, Betty.

HARRIS: And Betty, we're going to take everyone to the ground right there to New Orleans. Jeanne Meserve has been there all morning for us, doing a wonderful job, in sort of assessing the situation and giving us a firsthand account of the evacuation efforts. Jeanne, as I turn things over to you, we can tell you that, at 10:00 Eastern time, just about an hour from now, under an hour from now, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, will speak to the press and give us an update on evacuation plans.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we do know, Tony, that he has been considering whether or not to make the voluntary evacuation a mandatory one, many things to consider there, including some legal implications. The weather forecast, the tracking of the storm, but first and foremost, the safety of the citizens of New Orleans which number about 500,000 people.

Some people clearly are listening and paying attention to what we've been hearing this morning, the message to get out of town. I'm at one of the interchanges where you can access I-10, which is one of the evacuation routes. And if you look over underneath the overpass over there, you can see that traffic has slowed down considerably. It's gotten much more congested in the couple of hours that we've been standing out here this morning, people definitely growing a little bit shorter of temper. I've heard more horns. I've heard some loud voices. So people starting clearly to understand the risk they're facing here.

It was mentioned earlier that right now, you'd never know from looking around that we had a hurricane pending. And it's true. There are a few clouds in the sky, but really not much. The wind is beginning to pick up. That's probably one reason why you're starting to see flights canceled at the airport here. Of course a lot of people went to the airport to try to get out of town. Some have found their flights canceled, tried to get on other flights, found them overbooked. In a matter of hours I'm sure, nothing will be flying in or out of that airport. That simply will not be a way to get out of the city.

If there is anything positive to say about this situation here, it's what you heard from Michael Brown, the head of FEMA who said very specifically, this is something they've been planning for. This is one of those top disaster scenarios, a major hurricane hitting the city of New Orleans. They have pondered this. They have planned for this. And now they are putting in the resources that they hope will be adequate to respond to this, those urban search and rescue teams, the medical assistance teams, the tarps, the tents, the water, the ice, all the things that become so critical in the wake of a hurricane. But, of course, the thing we're most waiting for now that is 10:00 press conference you mentioned from the mayor where he will tell us whether or not he is going to make it mandatory for people to get out of his city. Back to you, Tony.

HARRIS: OK, very good Jeanne. Thank you very much. Now let's get the latest from the National Hurricane Center. Forecaster Ed Rappaport joins us from Miami. Ed, good to see you. Category five now, talk us through that, what that means and maybe we should just start with wind speeds.

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER FORECASTER: Category five has wind speeds that begin, sustained wind speeds that begin about 160 miles per hour which is what we have now. There are some higher gusts. We don't know yet whether this category five intensity will be maintained all the way to landfall. But nevertheless, it will be a major hurricane, at least category three. We're forecasting category four or five at this stage. Winds of that strength are strong enough to cause extensive potentially catastrophic damage to structures, even well-fortified structures. In addition, those winds will be driving ashore the storm surge we've been talking about, perhaps in excess of 20 feet.

HARRIS: Oh, my. OK, so, just -- I'm trying to create a frame of reference for folks. At what wind speeds, generally speaking, can you as an individual, I know it's different for different people, but at what wind speeds can you be blown over? What are we talking about?

RAPPAPORT: It's very difficult to stand, in fact we don't even want people out driving in category one conditions. In fact, tropical storm winds will blow cars around, make it dangerous.

HARRIS: Tropical storm force winds?

RAPPAPORT: Can blow cars around and that's why all emergency precautions and preparations usually must be complete before tropical storm force winds arrive. That will be later this evening along the southeast coast and then in the overnight hours. So today's the day, during daylight hours, particularly in the first half of the day, that the preparations should be completed first in the southeastern Louisiana, which is closest to the storm.

HARRIS: Ed, before I lose you, I know our window's going to close up pretty soon here, but give me a sense of the latest information on the storm's path.

RAPPAPORT: We continue to forecast that the center will come ashore in southeastern Louisiana during the a.m. hours tomorrow and be near, over or (INAUDIBLE) New Orleans during the early -- late morning to early afternoon hours. We've been focusing on New Orleans, that's very important. But I want everybody else to understand that this storm has 100-mile wide hurricane force winds. So other towns and cities are at risk as well.

HARRIS: So we're talking about towns in Mississippi. We're talking about towns in Alabama.

RAPPAPORT: Potentially. Just a slight deviation to the right brings the hurricane force winds into Alabama. There's even some risk as far as the Florida panhandle and that's why hurricane watches are up, out in that area as well.

HARRIS: Ed Rappaport, the National Hurricane Center. Ed, thank you. Good information. Thank you.

And our e-mail question of the morning -- is it worth the risk to live in areas where natural disasters happen, such as hurricanes and earthquakes? What do you think? Send us your thoughts, weekends@cnn.com. We'll share some of your responses a little later this hour.

NGUYEN: You know, Tony, when a storm comes ashore, we have all of our reporters positioned ready to capture that moment and everything that's being experienced with those high wind and the rain. Well, let me tell you this. The Associated Press service has evacuated all of its employees from the New Orleans bureau. So this tells you how strong of a storm this is. Katrina is a category five, a very dangerous storm and even reporters are getting out of the way.

HARRIS: My goodness. All right. So I think you have a sense now of just how strong this storm is and what a phenomenon it is not only for weather casters and meteorologists, but for folks around the globe as we've been listening to this morning. Folks from around the globe are interested in what is happening with Katrina. We will continue to update the path of the storm, the wind speeds connected to Katrina throughout the morning. You're watching CNN SUNDAY MORNING. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And for those of you just joining us, hurricane Katrina is now a category five storm. Thousands of people are taking evacuation warnings seriously in Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina is on its way toward the coastal Gulf states packing 160 mile an hour winds.

No new talks are scheduled between Northwest Airlines and its mechanics union. Mechanics went on strike a week ago to protest salary cuts. The airline say it can rely on replacement workers indefinitely. And rap music mogul Suge Knight is in good condition after being shot in the leg in Miami. Knight was attending a party for the MTV video awards. Police say witnesses haven't been able to provide much information.

People in south Florida are doing their best to cope in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The storm flooded streets, knocked out power, damaged homes when it hit Thursday. Now distribution centers are set up for people to get food, water and ice and the lines are stretched for miles. Reporter Gary Nelson with CNN affiliate WFOR has that report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY NELSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the staff of life, ice and water and two days after Katrina, here comes the national guard trying to meet a need of biblical proportions.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: As soon as the news got out and the information got out that we were here and issuing supplies we've had a steadily line probably over 2 miles long.

NELSON: 2 1/2 miles of misery, two by two the cars come. Thousands of those Katrina has left needing. And amid such great need, only two ice and water distribution centers in all the county.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's pretty good. At least we have this one here. I think these guys are doing a great job.

NELSON: It beats nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It beats nothing, that's for sure.

NELSON: While some wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, others were complaining about a need unmet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they need to do is have different outlets that people can go, different spots in the city so that they don't have to go across town. I mean, at least four or five spots, at least.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is, why don't they have more distribution centers set up instead of waiting in these lines and cars overheating?

NELSON: And imagine people who don't have a car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. It's horrible.

NELSON: And lots of folks with cars couldn't get water here. Unless they have a truck or an SUV, the foul water is too high. Mayor Carlos Alvarez showed up, handed out some ice and water and said he feels your pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can certainly empathize. I don't have electricity. But as power comes on, we'll see the lines diminish. NELSON: But at the moment, the lines remain long. The misery, the need remains real.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: That was Gary Nelson reporting from our affiliate station WFOR.

NGUYEN: Meanwhile, there is other important news to tell you about this morning including a bomb blast in Jerusalem. This just days after the Gaza withdrawal. Is it a sign of more to come? We go global next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're leaving. We're packing up and leaving out of here tonight or in the morning, right Luce?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, in the morning at 11:00.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been through Camille. So we're not going through another one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: She is leaving. She is getting out of there. She's a very smart woman. We're going to be talking right now to Gunter Preuss who is owner of Russard's (ph) restaurant, which is in the French quarters in New Orleans, one of the areas that could be right there directly in the path of this category five hurricane called Katrina. Gunter's on the phone. And Gunter, I hear that you are not evacuating. Why is that?

GUNTER PREUSS, NEW ORLEANS RESTAURANT OWNER: Well, for one reason, we have to board up the restaurant. We have to board up the house. And actually, there's nothing you can really do. I'm going to check into a hotel, park the cars, high up in the garage and just weather this whole thing out.

NGUYEN: So you're going to check into a hotel. Wouldn't it just be a little bit safer by getting in the car and heading out of town?

PREUSS: Well, you know, you're talking to a very strong-headed German.

NGUYEN: Apparently.

PREUSS: So you know, you have a house. You have a large business. So my thing is maybe it's very dumb to even think about this. I'm just protecting my property.

NGUYEN: So what's the fear? The fear is that, once you head out of town it will take too long to get back in so that you can look at the damage? PREUSS: No, no. The roads are pretty much open, what I've seen in both directions, towards Baton Rouge or towards Mississippi. We also hope that this thing, a little bit what you would say, I'm just looking at it to the right, maybe go over the gulf coast. But anyway you're going to look at it, I think we're going to get a lot of water and a lot of wind.

NGUYEN: Are you fearful of this storm, because this is a category five, a massive storm.

PREUSS: It is, yes. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

NGUYEN: Yet you're going to stay and go to a hotel?

PREUSS: Yes.

NGUYEN: All right Gunter. Well we wish you the best of luck. Please stay safe and we spoke earlier with the Red Cross folks and they said make sure you have a disaster kit with you that has flashlight and some food and things like that. So best of luck to you.

HARRIS: It is that time of the morning again to check some of the other stories making news around the world.

NGUYEN: There has been a new burst of violence in the mid east this morning and here to talk about that is Anand Naidoo from CNN international desk. Good morning Anand.

ANAND NAIDOO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and thanks. Yes, there's been another suicide bomb explosion in Israel, this time in the southern city of Beersheba. At this stage we're hearing that 21 people are wounded, two of them seriously. We'll get the latest now from CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney. She's in Jerusalem. Fionnuala.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed Anand. This explosion happened at about 8:30 local time. As a man was about to board a bus at Beersheba's central bus station, two security guards approached him thinking he looked suspicious and it was at that moment that the man detonated the explosives, killing himself and as you say 21 others including those two security guards who are critically injured.

Now of course this bombing happens just after the recent disengagement by Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister of settlers from Gaza and parts of the west bank. Of course it refocuses attention on the Palestinian authority, pressure on the authority building, not just from the Israelis, but also from the American government led by President George W. Bush, who wants to see the Palestinian authority tackle the terrorist groups, Hamas and Islamic jihad. Indeed, Hamas claiming responsibility for this bomb attack, saying that it was caused because of what they say are recent Israeli aggressions and killing of Palestinians who are suspected terrorists by Israel in recent weeks. Anand.

NAIDOO: Fionnuala, I just want to turn away from the violence and politics for a moment to Ariel Sharon, something very close to home for him. His son Omri has been indicted. What's that all about?

SWEENEY: Well, this has been an ongoing saga here in the Israeli media for some time. Omri Sharon has been part of an ongoing long police investigation into corruption charges and a scandal that he took bribes in order to facilitate election money to help his father Ariel Sharon be elected. Now, Ariel Sharon, the prime minister had himself been the focus of such claims for quite some time. But it had been decided some time ago, by the authorities in Israel, not to charge Ariel Sharon with anything, that there was not enough evidence to indict him. But Omri Sharon now facing charges himself, but this had not been unexpected completely anyway Anand. It had been expected that some charges would be brought against him and he would face trial.

NAIDOO: All right. Thanks, Fionnuala, Fionnuala Sweeney there in Jerusalem. That's all from me. Back to Tony and Betty.

HARRIS: Anand, thank you.

NGUYEN: Coming up this morning, for those who choose to stay behind and brave the storm, like the gentleman we just spoke with, the Red Cross has some life-saving tips. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUFFINES: I'm meteorologist Brad Huffines from the CNN Weather Headquarters. What we're looking right now is a Category 5 hurricane. Katrina moves through the northwest, very strong hurricane with 160- mile-an-hour winds. And it looks like as of right now this storm will be making landfall just after high tide. The good news is that the tides are only about a two to three foot variation along the coastline of southeast Louisiana. The bad news is, as the tide is trying to go out, the water will actually be blowing in, because of the storm surge from the hurricane. In fact, this storm is right now a 908 millibar hurricane.

To give you an example of a storm with a central pressure close. Hurricane Camille, 1969, made land file as 909 millibar storm. So, as of right now, this storm is as strong as Hurricane Camille as it continues to push toward the shoreline. Hurricane warnings across the Louisiana coastline, including the inland parishes of southeast Louisiana, southern parts of Alabama, and Mississippi as well as a tropical storm, and inland a tropical storm warning now just being issued and inland a tropical storm warning across parts of central Alabama and northeast seconds of Mississippi. Meaning the tropical storm conditions are expected in as far as Birmingham Alabama, as Tupelo. Mississippi.

Meanwhile Titan Radar showing no rain yet here in New Orleans. But we are seeing scattered showers now developing and moving toward the southeast parts of Louisiana. But, as the storm surge continues to blow in as the hurricane move ashore, expect storm surge flooding from New Orleans to Lyman, Biloxi, Gulf Port, Mobile, Bay, possibly seeing some storm surge flooding. We'll watch this and have updates in just a few minutes.

NGUYEN: No doubt a very serious storm. Thank you Brad.

Southeast Louisiana is bracing for what could be a hurricane disaster. All parishes in the region are under a hurricane warning. President Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana. The declaration allows FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and assistance. Now, behind Hurricane Katrina, National Guard troops have been mobilized in south Florida to distribute food, ice, and bottled water. After Katrina knocked out power and flooded streets and home, people actually lined up for miles to get their hands on those supplies. Nearly 700,000 customers are still without electricity. Katrina came ashore in south Florida as a Category 1, just a Category 1 storm, on Thursday. It is now a Category 5 -- Tony.

HARRIS: The expected landfall of Hurricane Katrina is tomorrow morning. So at this point, evacuation from southeast Louisiana is still voluntary, but the warnings are growing more urgent. New Orleans lies in the projected sights of an ever-growing Hurricane Katrina. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is there.

And Jeanne, we're standing by for a news conference from the mayor of New Orleans. Is that correct?

MESERVE: That's right. We expect that in a half hour's time. We expect him to tell us whether or not he's going to call for a mandatory evacuation of his city. Some of the parishes nearby already have done that, but the city's a totally different matter, half-a- million people living in the city. It's going to be a logistical challenge to (INAUDIBLE).

Let me tell you, right now, it's quite lovely here in New Orleans, very sunny, blue skies. We do see clouds, they're starting to move a little bit faster. We're starting to get winds picking up a bit, an indication of what's commingling our way. Another indication, a shelter is opening up, it's at the Super Dome. This is a shelter for special needs people, they're going to accommodate 200 to 400 people, they have doctors and nurses on hand to take care of them. But, they're calling that a shelter of last resort.

What they really want for people to get out of town and some people, not all, clearly, but some people have been doing that. We've been watching the traffic from our vantage point, here. It has picked up this morning. There is more and more congestion as people learn the incredible strength of this hurricane that is bearing down on top of them.

Michael Brown spoke last hour on your show. He's the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He did say that this is a scenario that they have been rehearsing for and planning for several years, this idea of a catastrophic hurricane hitting New Orleans. So, they do have some plans in place. They're starting to execute those and they are prepositioning material and personnel to respond once this big whopper of a storm hits the city of New Orleans. Geography, of course the thing that makes the city vulnerable, much of the city below sea level. A levy system around the city, but one that that not be high enough to handle the tremendous surge that's expected with this hurricane. Tony, back to you. HARRIS: Oh, Jeanne, very good. Thank you very much. Jeanne Meserve in New Orleans for us -- Betty.

NGUYEN: As we mentioned Katrina has been upgraded this morning to a Category 5 storm. And the folks in Louisiana and Mississippi know all too well what that could mean. Hurricane Camille, which was also a Category 5 storm, pummeled the region in 1969, killing 256 people. Joining me by phone now for more on the storm preparations is Kevin Titus with the Red Cross.

And let's take a moment to talk about Hurricane Camille, devastation to the area. Does Katrina bring back eerie reminders?

KEVIN TITUS, BILOXI RED CROSS SPOKESMAN: Yes, it does. I'm talking with folks here, many folks have gone back to Camille. And unfortunately some people, you know, they just don't realize that the population has changed. We've had a lot more growth in the area since Camille and so people need to take the storm seriously and regard of what survived Camille, you know, they need to take this seriously and if they're asked to evacuate they need to do so and have, you know, a family communication plan in place so that they're able to keep in contact with loved ones by having, you know, a designated contact out of the area that's going to be affected.

NGUYEN: You mentioned a lot more people in the area which means a lot more people at risk. What kind of preparations is the Red Cross making to prepare for the onslaught of people who may need shelter, food and all of that comes with a storm like this?

TITUS: Well, Betty, the Red Cross in preparing for this, and we've got a number of personnel and other resources that have been positioned. You know, we're working on opening shelters. Some have been opened further inland and will be opening more today for those people that are ordered to evacuate and don't have family or friends to go to. The Red Cross will have shelters available for them. But we encourage people, you know, this is the day that they need to finalize their preparations and get out. You know, the Red Cross has got a number of folks here to help, but we need to be able to have folks do their family communication plan, have their disaster supplies with them and heed these warnings seriously.

NGUYEN: Yeah, that evacuation window is closing by the minute. Do you think people are taking this storm as seriously as they should?

TITUS: Well, fortunately a number of people are taking the storm seriously as they appropriately should. You know, in looking around we've seen a number of people evacuating. We've seen a number of homes and businesses that are taking proper precautions and boarding up their windows. And you know, those are all good things to do and we want to make sure that, you know, the people watch the media and listen and that they follow the evacuation orders that are done. And that they -- so they're able to keep their family safe and give those other families, you know, outside the affected area peace of mind that they are going to be in a safe place.

NGUYEN: Yes, very good advice. Watch closely. Take those evacuation routes and know shelters are set up for people who need assistance in this storm. Kevin Titus with the Gulfport Biloxi Red Cross. Thank you for that information -- Tony.

HARRIS: Betty, Keith McGee is on the phone with us. And Keith's a New Orleans resident.

Keith, are you there?

KEITH MCGEE, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Hello?

HARRIS: Good morning. Can you hear me OK if? Keith, can you hear me OK? Keith McGee, are you there? Oh, we lost him? OK. We'll try to get Keith back on the phone. What's interesting about Keith's story his wife was just released from the hospital a couple days ago after having back surgery. And now Keith and his wife are preparing to evacuate. If you can imagine, put yourself in her place, for a moment, how difficult a trip that is going to be getting out of New Orleans.

They're packing up and heading out as fears of floods and much more from Katrina ride high. Straight ahead we talk with Senator Mary Landrieu about what's being done in her state now and what's being done to prepare for the aftermath.

And at 10:00, we are standing by to hear from Ray Nagin the mayor of New Orleans and we'll find out if plans are being made to order a mandatory evacuation out of the city of New Orleans. We'll be right back with more CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Keith McGee is back. Keith, are you there?

MCGEE: Yes, I'm here.

HARRIS: You're a life long, life long New Orleans resident, correct?

MCGEE: That's correct.

HARRIS: So, you can give us a sense of what it's like to live down there under this constant threat, every hurricane season, that...

MCGEE: Yes, it's a pain.

HARRIS: It's a pain?

MCGEE: Oh, yeah.

HARRIS: Because you live with this threat, don't you?

MCGEE: Well, it's like you say, lifetime resident so you've got to get used to it or expect it.

HARRIS: Well, when was the last time -- well, no, no, no, let me ask it this way. How concerned are you about this particular storm? MCGEE: Well, I tell you, I've never fell this way about one before. The last we had was Dennis and I set out until it stared to turn. But, this one I have a --- just don't feel right about it, so I think we're going try to get out of here.

HARRIS: In your gut, you have a sense that this one could be a real problem for you and the rest of the residents of New Orleans?

MCGEE: Yeah. Actually I do.

OK. But you have a complication here that makes getting out a little tricky. Your wife recently underwent back surgery. When was she released from the hospital?

MCGEE: Friday.

HARRIS: On Friday. And this is not -- there's no such things a minor back surgery, Betty, but this was rather complicated back surgery, wasn't it?

MCGEE: Yeah, very, very complicated.

HARRIS: OK. So describe the procedure. Because we're talking about a disc that was -- well, you explain it.

MCGEE: Well, the -- she had a nerve on her L-5 disc and it was pressing on the (INAUDIBLE) disc what they had to do was in there cut part of it out so as to give the nerve some freedom, take the pressure off of it.

HARRIS: All right. Keith, this important because now you have to place her in a vehicle of some kind and get out of the city, correct?

MCGEE: Yeah. Well, we're go -- we've the a shot, because it was hard for her even to move much less step into a -- I have a truck. So it's going to be a little tough.

HARRIS: So, you have a truck?

MCGEE: Yes, sir.

HARRIS: How are you going to manage this?

MCGEE: I don't know. We'll see here in a little while. Because it's getting kind of -- the window is closing quick.

HARRIS: Yeah. But, I mean, you've given this some thought. I mean, you haven't been saying well, we'll figure it out within we get there. But, what are you going to do? What -I mean, is this -- is this -- what is this -- is it a flat back truck? What?

MCGEE: No, it's a (INAUDIBLE) 50. So it's a...

HARRIS: OK. So what are you going to do?

MCGEE: Well, there's a few guys that can give me a hand with her. It's not so much as getting in there as trying not to hurt her.

HARRIS: Right.

MCGEE: Because the least little bit of -- you know, a jar could cause some problems.

HARRIS: All right, so a lot of pain medication I'd imagine.

MCGEE: Yeah, yeah. She's taken a few.

HARRIS: How is she feeling, from her perspective? She can't be looking forward to this.

MCGEE: No, oh no, not at all. She doesn't want to leave home. Her parents are her, as a matter of fact we're at the house -- her parents house now. But it's tough on everybody.

HARRIS: All right. Do the best you can. Get her out as safely as you can with as much comfort as you can. Keith, thanks for asking some strange questions from me, I acknowledge.

NGUYEN: That is a difficult situation there. You have to hand it to him. Hopefully they can get out safely and with as little pain as possible.

Let's get to our top stories this morning. A slow, but steady, exodus from New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina bears down on southeast Louisiana. It is still a voluntary evacuation from the city. But Katrina continues to strengthen. It is now a Category 5 storm with top sustained winds of 160-miles-an-hour.

In other news around the world, Iraq's national assembly has adjourned, without taking a vote on the new constitution. Negotiators signed off on a new charter after minor amendments were hammered out.

HARRIS: And now, back to our coverage of Hurricane Katrina. It is now a Category 5 storm and the evacuation out of New Orleans is underway. Joining us now on the phone a Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.

Senator, good to talk to you.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Thank you so much for covering it, because it's such an important, you know, evacuation that's underway and has been underway, actually, for a couple of days and it's a very serious storm.

HARRIS: Well, Senator, how are we doing? You think we're getting the message out in terms of the severity of the storm, putting as fine a point on this as we need to?

LANDRIEU: I think we are. Thank you so much for your coverage. Of course, all of the radio and television stations are really urging people to leave. This is now a Category 5. The current weather would belie that because it's beautiful and sunny, but of course it is the calm before the storm and it is headed directly, it looks like, to the greatest New Orleans area.

HARRIS: Wow. So what are your greatest concerns having sort of acknowledged that is your greatest fear, that it is heading toward New Orleans? What do you do...

LANDRIEU: Tony, for a while -- for a while now our congressional delegation and leaders have been urging the country to really focus on the fact that the gulf coast is the working coast. It's the only energy coast in America and the infrastructure that we have down here that supports the whole nation is quite extensive and extraordinary. There's 6,000 people that work in the Gulf of Mexico on any one day. This marshland drains 2/3 of the United States, produces 40 percent of fisheries, and we need some infrastructure investments for exactly this purpose, so we can get people out after having contributed so much to the nation. So, it really is quite something to see, this whole region, try to evacuate. The interstates are bumper-to-bumper. Back roads are bumper-to-bumper. The governors, of course, of all of the states, Mississippi, Louisiana, doing the best they can. Local elected officials are very experienced, but still it's hard to explain to people how much it takes to get two million people out of low-lying areas.

HARRIS: And Senator, do you ask yourself on days like this, there have been other days like this, when storms have been approaching, do you ever say to yourself, what an odd place to build a city? There's the Gulf of Mexico on one side, there's the lake on the other. And then there's the Mississippi River?

LANDRIEU: Well, you would think that, except that, without the city, we wouldn't have had a nation 300 years ago the mouth of the Mississippi had to be strategically settled to basically create the United States of America. There would be no country without this strategic port. And this port serves the greatest port system in the country. There wouldn't be any trade or any way to get grain out of Kansas without it. So, it's not like we had much of an option, here. We're not sunbathing on the coast, we're producing energy and creating wealth for the nation. So, we've asked for some money to come back to this area to be invested in and to restore our coastline. Hopefully now with the attention, people can understand what we're talking about.

HARRIS: Yeah. A little historical perspective there. We appreciate that. Senator Mary Landrieu, thank you for taking time to talk to us (INAUDIBLE).

NGUYEN: Let's talk about some geographic perspective now. We're going to be joined on the phone by Jeannette Ruboyianes. She's with the Days Inn on Grand Isle Louisiana, which is the state's only barrier island.

And Jeannette, a lot of people are picking up and leaving I assume you're staying?

JEANNETTE RUBOYIANES, DAY DREAM INN, GRAND ISLE, LA: We're trying to get out of here.

NGUYEN: OK.

RUBOYIANES: We're trying to, and we make it or not we don't know.

NGUYEN: Now, do you have people in the Days Inn there that were hoping that that would be their shelter for the storm?

RUBOYIANES: They -- fortunately they left yesterday.

NGUYEN: So, as you prepare to leave what are some of the obstacles that you're facing?

RUBOYIANES: Well, you know, our whole life is here. Everything we own, our business, you know? It's -- this is, you know, our world. And you have to leave it behind which, I mean, a majority of people have to. It's really difficult. And you know, it's part of the price you pay for living in paradise.

NGUYEN: This place is called the Day Dream, it's -- I imagine it's just a beautiful place. And the fear is that when a Category 5 storm comes through, just the damage that it could cause, a lot of people that we talk with decide to stay because they want to be there and available to pick up the pieces right away and not be stuck in shelters. You're not so worried about that are you?

RUBOYIANES: No, I'm not. Because when you -- after a hurricane and the devastation that it causes, there's not much you can do. Yes, you come back, you start picking up the pieces. But it's so overwhelming. I've only have been doing this for years. And you know, the natives and people who have lived here for such a long period of time have been doing this forever. And it's exhausting. And you really, when a hurricane comes you hope for the best. You hope it dissipates in the ocean, you know, at times you -- it's like you just want it to anywhere but here. You don't want anybody to get hurt, but on the other hand, you are are -- you just -- you don't like to run from your world, your life.

NGUYEN: Exactly. That is your home, that's your livelihood. And a lot of people, I think you kind of mentioned that, worry that New Orleans is going to get the big one, like we've been talking about all morning long. Do you have that gut feeling that this is the big one?

RUBOYIANES: Yes. Yes. I have been feeling that for a while. I thought this would be the year that we were going to get hit.

NGUYEN: OK, that being the ace, what are you waiting on? Why are you talking to us? Why aren't you on the roadway right now in.

RUBOYIANES: Because, you know, this is the catch-22. You have to look at the traffic getting out. Are you going to be stranded on the road? Are you going to get more gas went this runs out? These are, you know, obstacles that you face.

NGUYEN: Right, it's the reality of the situation. Well, Jeannette Ruboyianes with Days Dream on Grand Isle, Louisiana, we appreciate your time. Wish you the best and stay safe and get out there as soon as you can -- Tony.

HARRIS: And 9:52 Eastern time, right now, we're waiting for a news conference with the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. We're expecting to begin 10:00 Eastern time. When it does, we will take you to New Orleans live for the news conference. We'll take a break and come back with more CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Just enough time to say thank you for joining us for a very, very business Sunday morning.

NGUYEN: Yes, and there is more to come. We are standing by for a news conference from the mayor of New Orleans to talk about an update on Katrina, which is a Category 5. And also we're listening to hear whether there's going to be mandatory evacuations for folks living in New Orleans. Right now it's voluntary, but as you've seen all morning long, people are hitting the streets and getting out of the area. So, when that happens we will bring it to you live.

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