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CNN SUNDAY NIGHT

Hurricane Katrina Bears Down on Gulf Coast

Aired August 28, 2005 - 23:00   ET

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


AARON BROWN, ANCHOR: Good evening again from New York. I'm Aaron Brown. We welcome our viewers around the world tonight.
Here in the United States, we are awaiting what may very well be the worst storm, or the worst hurricane, of our lifetime, a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on the Gulf of Mexico, on New Orleans, Louisiana, on Biloxi, Mississippi, on Mobile Alabama, and the areas around, the storm expected to come ashore early tomorrow morning.

Jacqui Jeras is in our Weather Center in Atlanta, joins us.

I gather you've just got some information from the National Hurricane Center, so why don't you lay out what you got?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All right. Yes, the 11:00 advisory just in, Aaron.

And we're 100 miles away, approximately, from landfall at this time. The storm is holding winds at 160 miles per hour, and the pressure has remained steady over the last number of hours. So we're just kind of holding at status quo, at least for now.

So we're looking at a Category 5 hurricane, so once again.

Now, conditions along the coast are beginning to deteriorate very rapidly. These outer bands have been hitting all day, but now we're starting to see some of the very strong winds begin to kick in. (INAUDIBLE) tropical storm force winds 39 miles per hour-plus to be tropical storm.

We've seen plenty of 40s now. There you can see Grand Isle at 41 miles per hour. We've been seeing some 30s a little farther up to the north, if you can head, there, you can see Port Sulphur, 35 miles per hour, 31 miles per hour. And we've got a few hurricane-force wind gusts just offshore. So we're going to start to watch those hurricane-force winds arrive. They extend out about 100 miles from the center of the storm, and that's just about the exact location. It's about 170 miles, by the way, away from New Orleans at this time.

Tornado watch in effect across eastern Louisiana, lower Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. We're going to start to see some gusty winds kick in with these squall lines around Mobile. Also we've seen some around Pensacola, 20-, 40-, 50-mile-per-hour gusts can be expected there.

The forecast cone, the cone of error (ph) begins to get a little bit smaller here. And there you can see, no shifts in the forecast track. Looks right on target. Still looks like it's going to be going right over New Orleans, but still a little bit of room on either side of this line, but a lot of certainty of it, where it's going to be hitting now.

We're expecting that timing to come in the overnight hours tonight, probably before dawn. We think it will be over New Orleans sometime between 7:00 and 10:00 in the morning.

BROWN: All right, Jacqui, let me ask a couple quick things, all right? You said early there that the pressure hadn't changed. What does that mean to me?

JERAS: Well, when the pressure drops, that's a good sign that the storm is intensifying. If it rises, we could be seeing a little bit of a cycle of it weakening. We don't expect any significant changes of it rising or falling. It's probably still going to be a strong Category 4 or 5 at landfall.

BROWN: And I think it was Max Mayfield who said earlier, the difference at this point between a 4 and 5 is the difference between being hit by an 18-wheeler and a freight train, which is to say, not very much.

Has anything significantly changed in the last six hours?

JERAS: Not -- the only thing that has really changed, nothing has changed with the forecast track or the intensity forecast. But what has changed are the conditions on shore now. We're starting to see those stronger winds, hurricane-force wind gusts, and, of course, the steady rainfall. So it's all downhill from here.

BROWN: Jacqui, thank you. I expect you got a long night ahead. Appreciate your work tonight.

Jacqui Jeras, who is at the Weather Center in Atlanta.

David Mattingly is what would normally be one of the great plum assignments in the news business, but isn't necessarily so tonight. He's on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. And David joins us again by videophone. David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, what we're seeing on Bourbon Street, there was one bar that was left open into the night tonight. We went in there, and we found some residents of New Orleans and stranded tourists as well. They were all there, getting what was probably going to be there last cold drink and their last hot meal of their stay here in New Orleans for quite some time.

They were all telling us how they had particular strategies of staying in hotels that were here in the French Quarter. They were going to try, they were deliberately trying to find a hotel room that was going to be high enough above the flood waters but not so high that they would affected by the wind.

So a very specific strategy that a lot of people were following. I met people from New York, from Boston, from Texas, from California and Philadelphia, all of them with the same story. They had plans to get out of here, but their flights were canceled, they weren't able to rent any rental cars here, because they were all taken out of New Orleans.

And they're trying to make the best of the situation, going out, getting a cold drink tonight. But tomorrow morning when they wake up, the storm will be here, and they will have this sobering headline in the lobby waiting for them, "Ground Zero," to remind them just how serious a situation everyone is looking at here.

BROWN: David, let me interrupt you there. We'll come back to you before the hour is over.

Max Mayfield is available to us now. Mr. Mayfield, as most of you know, is out at the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables.

And we just got the -- we just heard, in broad terms, at least, the 11:00 update. And if I heard it right, Max, not much changed, and nothing looks particularly good.

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: That's right, Aaron. There's no big, significant change at all. The winds are still Category 5 strength. There's some chance that it'll weaken a little bit, but people should expect a Category 4 or 5 hurricane to make landfall early tomorrow morning.

BROWN: I asked you this when we talked earlier, and we had some technical problems, we couldn't really get it on the air. But when we talked last week, there really wasn't an indication that this was going to turn into a monster storm. What happened?

MAYFIELD: Well, we had in the case in that it would indeed become larger in size, and you can pretty (INAUDIBLE) predict the bad. And we had a good idea, in fact, I think our forecaster gets some real credit here for forecasting a major hurricane, a Category 3 hurricane. We don't have a loud scale (ph) in forecasting wrapped (ph) intensification.

Last night at this time, we had a Category 3, and the bottom dropped out, and it'll became a Category 5 overnight. That's something that they computer models can't predict, and the official forecast doesn't either.

BROWN: Just, I think it's helpful for our viewers not only in the impacted areas but around the country and in this hour around the world, to have some appreciation for the enormity of the storm we're looking at. We have had storms like this make land, what, three other times in the last 70 years?

MAYFIELD: Well, essentially been keeping records, even back to the 1800s. We've had three Category 5s that we know of, the Labor Day hurricane in the Florida keys, and that's in '35, Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi coast in 1969, and then, of course, Hurricane Andrew in south Florida in 1992. You know, what really counts here is what happens on landfall. And this, you know, it may be a cat 5, it may be a Category 4, and no one can really say for sure. Either prospect is not good.

BROWN: The difference between a 3 and a 5, in terms of the kind of damage it can cause, the (INAUDIBLE), the intensity of the winds, the amount of rain it can produce, the storm surge, all of that is what?

MAYFIELD: Well, it does go up exponentially, and the stronger the wind, the, you know, it'll be, the storm surge will be much higher, the damage, the structural damage will be tremendously higher.

But again, the difference between a cat 4 and a cat 5 is the difference between being run over by an 18-wheeler and a railroad, you know, train. So it's not good either way.

BROWN: What are you looking at in the next five hours? What is it that will sort of pique your interest? Or are you just sort of expecting the freight train to roll through?

MAYFIELD: Well, the freight train's going to roll through here. There's some chance here from one of the (INAUDIBLE) satellites that this inner eyewall that we've been looking at all day and all night here may be getting its inflow cut off. Looks like these outer rain bands may be forming into an outer, what we call a concentric eyewall pattern here, and that may choke off the inflow into that inner eyewall, which, in which case, it would weaken the hurricane.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the windfield may expand even more, and that will mean the storm surge will be over an even larger area.

BROWN: We'll check in with you again, Max. Good to talk to you. Thank you.

MAYFIELD: OK, thank you, sir.

BROWN: Max Mayfield at the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Florida, just outside of Miami, or in the Miami area.

Well, it looks like the eye of the storm is going to pass near or right through New Orleans, and as Mr. Mayfield just said, we're not really sure how well defined the eye is going to be at this point. There are some things going on in the atmosphere that could change it.

The storm itself is going to affect people well beyond that. Residents of Mobile, Alabama, certainly qualify as hurricane veterans down in the Gulf. They are well aware of what is approaching.

Kathleen Koch has been covering their story tonight, and she joins us. It's nice to see you. You look reasonably dry.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we had a few bands here, but we haven't had a lot of heavy winds, heavy rain here yet. But they're certainly, Aaron, beginning to batten down the hatches here in this city of nearly 200,000 residents.

The latest things that they're planning right now, they've announced that they're closing the main road to Dauphin Island. That's an island at the mouth of Mobile Bay to the south of here. There are two tunnels under Mobile Bay from the city. They've shut down one, and they may tomorrow morning make the unprecedented decision to shut down the other tunnel.

There are some 1,500 residents who are in the city's nine shelters. And then also the U.S. military is doing its best to get its assets out of the way of this monster hurricane. Some of the bases, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to the east of here, they've moved 40 F-15 fighters to bases in Texas and New Mexico. They've also moved out F-16s, their C-130s.

To the west of here, there are two frigates that were moved from Pascagoula Naval Station in Mississippi. Those were sent out to sea to avoid the wrath of the hurricane. Then Pensacola Naval Air Station, that again is to the east of here in Florida, they have not yet made the decision to move their aircraft. They were simply hammered by Hurricane Ivan last year. They suffered damage to 90 percent of the buildings at that base. They're still waiting to see whether or not, again, this storm does take that move to the east, which obviously the people of New Orleans would like to see, no one here would like to see.

But Aaron, we still hear people saying here, Pray for the people of New Orleans. Pray for everyone on the Gulf Coast.

BROWN: How far is Pensacola from Mobile?

KOCH: Pensacola from Mobile, gosh, probably 10, 15 miles here. Again, there are bridges, there are also these tunnels that go under the bay.

BROWN: OK, Kathleen, stay safe out there. The long, wet, windy night ahead for you. Thank you very much.

Lieutenant Rob Wyman, who's with the Coast Guard's Eighth District Command -- I know about this as a former Coast Guardsman, and I know what they do when a storm hits. He joins us by telephone.

Back in 1969, Lieutenant, a hurricane Washington coming through, and somebody said, Get on board, because we're going out to sea. It was the most unpleasant experience I can imagine, but it's a necessary one, right?

LT. ROB WYMAN, U.S. COAST GUARD (on phone): It is a necessary one. And we've -- we have a quite a few of our own vessels that are at sea this evening in the Gulf of Mexico out of harm's way.

BROWN: And the reason you do that, and you're sending them, in many respects, right into the storm, is, it's a lot safer out there than it is ashore?

WYMAN: Well, it depends on where you are in that storm path. And part of what we try to do is get our vessels under way, out of the ports, out of their home ports, and get them out of the storm's direct path. So we have quite a few that are to the east and the west of the storm path. And what we try to do is position them where we can get them very quickly back in as soon as the storm passes, to be able to provide humanitarian assistance.

BROWN: How's -- something the Coast Guard is particularly good at, I say proudly. How fast, when did you start moving them out? And when do you anticipate moving them back in?

WYMAN: Well, we have vessels and aircraft that are stationed along the entire Gulf Coast, from the Florida panhandle all the way down to the Texas-Mexico border. We started moving vessels and aircraft over the last few days. And even as of this morning, we had aircraft that were still flying the Gulf Coast, still doing searches. We started to video- and photo-document flood damage that was coming in ashore in the Grand Isle, Louisiana, area, early this morning.

So we have positioned those assets out of harm's way, and in addition to those that are traditionally stationed in this area, we have upwards of 40 aircraft from along the entire Eastern seaboard. We have aircraft that are flying in from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We have aircraft from Elizabeth City, North Carolina. And we have others from Miami, Florida, and even Houston, Texas, that are all on standby, all ready to come swooping in as quickly as they can, as soon as this storm passes, because they're -- without this storm decreasing in strength and with the picture that it's painting right now, we have every expectation to be in need of rendering immediate assistance as soon as we can.

BROWN: What will be the Coast Guard's role in all of that? What is it that you expect that the Coast Guardsman and -women will be doing?

WYMAN: Well, we're going to blanket the impacted areas with as many resources as we can, to render immediate humanitarian assistance to the people that need it in those impacted areas. If there are people who were not able to get out, if there's people who are trapped in their homes or on their rooftops, we're going to be there to try to do what we can to get them out of harm's way.

In addition to rendering that immediate assistance, we are going to be doing everything that we can to assess the waterways. The Coast Guard is the (INAUDIBLE), the federal agency that's in charge of maritime homeland security, and one of our traditional missions has always been maintaining the (INAUDIBLE) aids to navigation along the waterways and the coastline. So we're going to be getting in there as quickly as we can to assess those waterways, determine what type of damage has been done to them, and then get the aids to navigation back in place to get the channels marked safely so we can get commerce moving again as quickly as possible.

BROWN: Who's, who at the federal level, at this point? There's been so much change in sort of who everybody, in the chain of command, if you will. Who, is FEMA coordinating all of this now? WYMAN: Well, the Coast Guard has the lead for conducting our search and rescue, maritime search and rescue operations, and the maritime aspect of ensuring the safety and the security on the waterways, maintains Coast Guard. But we all fall under FEMA as well. We are under the Department of Homeland Security, and we are working side by side with FEMA. We've been in contact with FEMA throughout the various FEMA regions that are covering this area. We've been in contact with them throughout the day.

We are aligning very closely with them. They also have resources that are coming in to provide immediate post-storm assistance.

And part of what we're doing is working not only with FEMA but as well as with the states to find out what their immediate needs are going to be. And we're going to continue to work with them to get as many resources into the right places, to get the necessary aid moving as quickly as possible. So we all work closely together.

BROWN: Lieutenant, I can tell you're high and dry in St. Louis tonight. You got Coast Guardsmen and -women who are out there in cutters, bouncing around like a cork in the water. And I can tell you that, because I was one of them a long time ago.

Hopefully the efforts won't be too terribly great, but I know you'll be up to it. Thanks for your time tonight.

WYMAN: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE) the worst 24 hours I ever spent in my life in 1969. It was horrible.

We're probably six, seven hours away from knowing exactly what Katrina is going to bring to New Orleans and thereabouts. We're going to check in with the Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans. They are getting ready, everyone in New Orleans, and the area is getting ready.

We'll take a break first. Around the world, this is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. If you look carefully, every now and then, you can see big waves, kind of angry- looking waves, coming up. And eight hours or so from now, somewhere in a window of about -- from about 7:00 to 10:00 tomorrow morning, we now expect the hurricane to hit New Orleans.

As Max Mayfield said a short time ago, there are some signs, some -- little bit of science that tells us maybe the eye is going to deteriorate a little bit, which is both good news and bad news. It's not certain it's going to happen, but, well, you have, and you can see in the lower right down there, is a very well-defined eye of that hurricane. And there's some indications that that may deteriorate a little bit, which probably, in the broad view, would be helpful.

No one is anticipating this is going to be any sort of picnic, however, certainly not Peter Teahen of the American Red Cross. He's in, he is in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and he joins us now.

What are you prepared for? What do you need?

PETER TEAHEN, AMERICAN RED CROSS (on phone): Well, the American Red Cross is prepared for the worst. We're here to make sure that the families who are entrusting us to help them when this all is over with that we're here to help them. And we're doing that by opening up shelters all over the Gulf state areas, as thousands of millions of people are evacuating, so that they have a safe and secure place to stay the next few nights.

BROWN: How many, how many shelters do you have operating?

TEAHEN: We have, the number right now is growing every day, so no -- the more the people show up, the more shelters we open. So I really can't give you an accurate count.

BROWN: Are we talking about dozens? Are we talking about hundreds?

TEAHEN: We're talking dozens...

BROWN: OK.

TEAHEN: ... dozens, in multiple states.

BROWN: And are you prepared to feed those people when they're there?

TEAHEN: Absolutely. You know, we're -- people bring their bedding and their pillows because it's a temporary shelter, but we feed them, we have staff there making sure that they're taken care of and emergency needs are met.

BROWN: And who coordinates all of this? Is this done at the local level? Are local Red Cross volunteers coordinating all of this? Or is there some national office that's coordinating all of this? Or are you doing all this when you're not talking to me?

TEAHEN: Well, you know, I'd be really busy. But quite honestly, all (INAUDIBLE), all Red Cross responses start at the local chapter level with the local volunteers. They're supported from the state and a regional basis, and then get support from the national level. We'll have over 2,000 volunteers coming in from all over the United States to help the local Red Cross volunteers and chapters perform the services that we'll be delivering over the next several weeks and months.

It's an incredible effort of volunteers from all walks of life who take time from their personal lives to say...

BROWN: Yes. TEAHEN: ... We need to help people who are in real need right now.

BROWN: We mentioned this, Peter, in a slightly different context about an hour ago, but there's a tendency, I think, for certainly those of us in the media, and I think in many cases those who are watching. We pay attention to these things in the 24 hours or the 48 hours before, during, and after, and then our minds were -- work on to other things. We -- there are other stories that come up, and we tend to travel with them.

You all stay behind, as people have to put their lives back together.

TEAHEN: You're right, and it takes a long time. It's not days and weeks or months. The Red Cross is still responding on disasters from six to 10 years ago, making sure that families' needs are met. And we do it all by not only the volunteers that come and help the local chapters, but it is in tremendous partnerships, partnerships like with the Southern Baptists, who help us do the feedings.

And we'll be able to prepare a half a million meals a day to help feed the people who are affected by this disaster. By unions that come in and help us, by voluntary organizations. But most important, by the partnership we have with the American public that you mentioned. Those are the individuals who donate to the American Red Cross, that allow us to provide this service. And this disaster relief operation will probably be the biggest natural disaster relief operation the Red Cross has ever seen, and will cost multimillions of dollars.

BROWN: I suspect at the very least, Peter. I also suspect we'll talk again. Thank you very much for your time.

Michael, if you can put those numbers up quickly one more time and give people one more chance to look at them. If you'd like to be helpful to the Red Cross, 1-800-435-7669, or go to their Web site, www.redcross.org. Again, they'll be there long after we are, in many respects, and long after your attention has moved on, and ours too, to other things.

Jacqui Jeras joins us again from Atlanta.

I gather there has been some -- not really changed in the sense of the hurricane, but some change in the overall climate picture.

JERAS: Well, we have a tornado warning right now, Aaron. It includes southern sections of New Orleans coming into the suburbs, including the city of Shawmette, Orleans, and St. Bernard Parishes are under tornado warnings right now. There you can see it.

This is the storm. It's moving very rapidly off to the west at about 50 miles per hour. So Doppler radar indicating some good rotation here, a possible tornado on the south side of New Orleans, Aaron. BROWN: Just so, help me understand. Are the two events related? Is it the hurricane that is spawning the tornado, or is -- are they separate events?

JERAS: Well, it's related to the hurricane. There's a lot of vorticity, or a lot of spin in the hurricane, and so we get these little offshoots at times. There's also a little friction between the storm itself and the ground that helps spin the rotation also.

BROWN: (INAUDIBLE)...

JERAS: We had a watch across much of the area too, by the way, not just in the Louisiana but Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle all had that threat tonight.

BROWN: Jacqui, thank you, and I've added a word to my vocabulary too tonight, vorticity. I'll work that into a conversation one of these days.

Our coverage of what appears to be, by all accounts now, the storm of our lifetime continues after this short break.

This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Coming up on 11:30 in the East, that's 10:30 in New Orleans. And that's a shot of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, a shot you're familiar with by now.

The hurricane expected to come ashore perhaps 7:00 tomorrow morning, or at least in a window between 7:00 and 10:00.

The mayor of New Orleans estimates that a million people have left the city. There's about 460,000, 470,000 residents of New Orleans, about a million people live in the greater New Orleans area, the suburbs around New Orleans. There are about a third of them, roughly, if my math is serviceable tonight, have left the city. They have gone mostly by car in a very slow ride out of town.

It's been impossible to fly out of town since about 1:00 in the afternoon. Airlines don't want to fly in, because they don't want their planes stranded there. And so you can't, couldn't really fly out.

Rental cars have been hard to come by. Hotel space is pretty much gone. There's a theory in these sorts of things called vertical evacuations, that is, you go, you try and get a hotel room on the 15th floor, up, where the water's not going to hit you.

Hotels in New Orleans are full, by and large. In many cases, employees of the hotels are there, spending the night, what's expected to be a long night there. Twenty to twenty-five thousand people, it's estimated now, have gone to the Superdome.

I don't know if we have a shot of that from earlier. The Superdome, for those of you not familiar with the city, is the football stadium and the convention stadium, giant domed stadium in the city. They expect it to flood, at least down on the floor, but they also expect that people will be reasonably comfortable inside there, bathroom facilities and not much else there.

Dusk-to-dawn curfew in effect for the city of New Orleans tonight, and not much different as you work your way across the Gulf to Biloxi and Mobile, all anticipating Katrina coming ashore early in the morning tomorrow morning.

Jacqui Jeras, we were talking to you earlier about the hurricanes that this has spawned. We have a little more information the hurricane itself, what it's doing, where it's going, the path it's taking, how it's changed or not changed. Why don't you run through some of that stuff for us now?

JERAS: OK. Well, it really hasn't changed very much at all, Aaron. It's still seen right on track, exactly where we thought it's going to be going. The intensity and the wind speed has stayed relatively the same, 160 miles per hour. It's about 100 miles now, though, away from the coastline.

There you can see the eye very clearly on radar. There's Grand Isle. That's about 85 miles away. So we're expecting landfall nine hours, probably, or less. Should be arriving in New Orleans, I heard you mention that 7:00 to 10:00 time frame, that's when we think it'll probably be in the Big Easy tomorrow morning.

But keep in mind that just because that's the time when landfall is going to be taking place doesn't mean it's going to be the quick- time that you're going to be seeing the hurricane-force winds. They're already starting to move in along the coastal areas. And it could be upwards of maybe even six hours that you'll be experiencing these steady, pounding winds, an unbelievable amount of time to be facing a hurricane like this.

Forecast track is bringing it right near New Orleans. And we've been talking a lot about New Orleans itself. But keep in mind also that Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula, even Mobile will be experiencing an incredible storm surge and flooding. And also those hurricane-force winds will be extending all the way out there, as well.

Here you can see some live data coming in right now. Sean Morris (ph), a meteorologist behind the scenes, helping us out. Those are all those tropical storm-force winds. That's 39-plus miles per hour. And we're starting to see these 40s up around New Orleans. So this is well inland.

This storm is huge, by the way. And we've compared this storm to other hurricanes that have made landfall. We talked about Andrew, we talked about Charley. This storm is twice as large as those storms, and equally as strong.

BROWN: Jacqui, can you go back to -- I don't know if you literally have control or this or not -- the map that shows basically the entire Gulf, Brownsville, Texas, over on one side and Pensacola over on the other. Can you go back to that map?

JERAS: Yes, go back to that in one second. We're going to have to change sources here, so Sean will get that for you.

BROWN: OK. I just -- I -- what I want to do when we get there is just take a look at that map and talk about which of those cities are going to experience how much of this storm. I suppose they'll all experience some of it. They're all going to get some wind, they're all going to get some rain. I mean, they're...

JERAS: (INAUDIBLE).

BROWN: ... they're going to get some, they're going to get some wind and rain. I'm driving directors crazy when I do this. They're going to get some...

JERAS: That's OK.

BROWN: ... wind and rain all across the region. But in terms of...

That's the map I want. Take that pull, go ahead and get rid of me there. We don't need to see me here. Brownsville, Texas, Corpus Christi...

JERAS: I can get out of the way too.

BROWN: ... Houston, are they going to feel it?

JERAS: Houston could be getting some of the strong, gusty winds, but the strongest of winds in a hurricane are always on the east side of the storm. We talk about the northeastern quadrant. So if we took a line and we divided into four, this is the area that's going to have the worst of it. So Houston, really not a big deal for you.

But we could see some very strong storm surge and gusty winds all the way over here into the Big Bend of Florida.

BROWN: Right. So you get up into Pensacola up there, and they could very well feel it.

JERAS: Oh, definitely. In fact, they're under a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch right now. Their storm surge could be six, 12 feet.

BROWN: Jacqui, thank you. And thank your -- thank the folks who I just made jump through hoops to find that map again.

JERAS: He's smiling (INAUDIBLE)...

BROWN: I appreciate it...

JERAS: ... (INAUDIBLE)...

BROWN: ... I appreciate it very much. David Mattingly is in the French Quarter of New Orleans down on Bourbon Street. This would normally be, even on a Sunday night on Bourbon Street, pretty busy time. It's not now.

David, we see a straggler or two behind you every now and then, but not much more.

MATTINGLY: The only traffic coming through here right now are the New Orleans police. Occasionally we'll hear a loudspeaker in the background as they're warning people they need to get off the streets, they need to take shelter, and they need to make plans to ride this storm out as it's coming in -- (audio interrupt) ... morning.

This is a place that's known to be a place where the party really never stops. And I have to tell you that the party has stopped, and they don't know when it's going to start again. We went into the last bar that was still open and saw people as they were trying to get their last cold drink and their last hot slice of pizza.

And we found that there were lots of people from other parts of the country, tourists here had been -- (audio interrupt) ... and they were just making plans for the night to come. They were saying that they wanted to find hotel rooms that were high enough to get away from the floodwaters, but low enough not to be affected by the winds.

And they were saying that they were just trying to make the best of this situation. And everybody knows that it is going to be bad.

BROWN: David, I know this question's going to come up, and I ask it reluctantly, because I don't like reporting on reporters, to be honest. But what are your plans?

MATTINGLY: We all have plans to hunker down on our own when it gets a little too hairy to be outside. And we're not exactly sure what that threshold is going to be yet. But we all have plans to meet on one particular floor of the hotel that we're all staying at.

And we will try to continue broadcasting out of that hotel using phone lines and battery power and the types of situations that we have right now, not the normal kind of video that you usually see, but the things that come in over the phone lines that doesn't look quite as good a quality as what you would see with the regular video.

But that's what our plans are. And again, we don't know what that threshold is that we will finally turn tail and go inside and hunker down, but we will be doing that.

BROWN: Over the last hour and 40 minutes or so that you and I have been talking back and forth on and off, has the weather changed much?

MATTINGLY: When Jacqui was talking about that tornado warning, we all started looking up at the sky, because that would be happening south of here. This is the central business district area of New Orleans.

About that time a thunderstorm started rolling in. We started getting a lot more rain.

Earlier today, actually, we were seeing much more intense action with some of those early bands were coming in. We were standing out by the Mississippi River, and some 30-mile-an-hour winds and some fairly intense rain at times.

Now it's more steady, something you'd more associate with a summer thunderstorm, something that people here are very familiar with. But everybody, of course, knows that this is just the beginning of something much worse to come.

BROWN: David, you don't need to tell you to stay safe. But to you and to all the people you're working with, and we've got a lot of people down not only in New Orleans, but in Baton Rouge and in Mobile, Biloxi, and across the Gulf tonight. Stay safe down there.

MATTINGLY: Aaron, I have to tell you that all of us over in south Florida, when Katrina went through the first time, we all came away with a great deal of respect for this storm at that time. We're not going to make a second -- the -- make a mistake the second time of underestimating what this storm can do. So we are fully prepared for what might come.

BROWN: That works for me, David. Thank you. I'll talk to you later.

Thank you, David Mattingly.

(INAUDIBLE) this time of year, if you're in this business, one thing to do is to chase hurricanes. And we were chasing one down in Florida -- I'm sorry, in South Carolina. And a producer said to me in my ear, You don't look nearly wet enough. It was raining and blowing so hard I could barely speak. That's what these guys are going through and are going to go through.

In the hour ahead, we're pretty comfortable here in New York. The coverage of this storm continues. We'll take a short break first, as you look at pictures of New Orleans in the hours before. What will it look like 24 hours from now is the question I think we all want an answer to. And unfortunately, I think we're going to know it soon enough.

Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The road into Biloxi -- I'm sorry, into Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tonight, Interstate 10, traffic moving. It has been moving, but not very fast, people making the drive from New Orleans and the areas around New Orleans west and a little bit north, safer ground, though not necessarily safe ground. They're certainly burning a fair amount of gasoline doing it.

The Bush administration said tonight it's monitoring the situation from a petroleum, from a gasoline point of view. Made no decision on whether to release gasoline or oil, more correctly, from the strategic petroleum reserve.

It did, as I recall, release a little bit of oil from the reserve after Hurricane Ivan, but no decision yet. About a third of the country's oil supply comes through the Gulf, and that's pretty much shut down now, not just what would be drilled out in the Gulf of Mexico, those stations have been shut down for about 48 hours. But there's also a fair amount of refining capacity, and that all has to be shut down as well.

Simply getting from point A to point B today, from -- if point A was New Orleans and point B was almost anywhere else, has been an extraordinary effort taxing the patience of an awful lot of people.

Jonathan Fried, who's normally based at our Chicago bureau, but found himself starting the day in New Orleans and ending up in Biloxi, and can give us some sense tonight of how the -- how that ride goes, beyond slow.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN FRIED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron.

I can tell you that I was sort of a test case for being an evacuee today. I woke up in our hotel in downtown New Orleans, and, as fluid as these situations are, we found out that our assignment was to move into position here in Biloxi today, to ride out the storm here.

So this was about the same time that the mandatory evacuation order came down for the city of New Orleans. So we were in the position that everybody else was in town of leaving around mid- morning, closer to noon, and just trying to get out of town any way that we could.

So we started out by trying to get towards Interstate 10, and it was bumper-to-bumper the entire way.

BROWN: I'm sorry, Jon.

FRIED: Sure.

BROWN: What -- along the way, were there -- were the gas stations open? Were the -- I can see from the pictures here the toll booths were wide open. That would be irresistible to some of us. Could you stop and grab food? Convenience stores open, that sort of thing?

FRIED: Well, it was very difficult to do that, because basically, all the lanes of traffic were clogged. And at one point, they were doing what they call the contraflow of traffic, where they commandeered the lanes that would normally go in the other way and head them all in the same way.

That's an interesting experience, because you can't really see the road signs. And especially if it starts to rain, if it starts to get dark, unless you know the area, you could very easily get somewhat confused along the way.

We were watching people. They'd pretty well taken anything that they could, Aaron. We had seen people with, you know, loaves of bread just thrown on the dashboards of their car, people making sandwiches as they went, with their pets on their laps, things tied to their cars. You can imagine what the scene looked like.

But one of the things that struck me was how calm everybody was. This was not like the morning commute, where people are looking for any opening on the highway and trying to cut somebody off to shave 30 seconds off and get to the office that much earlier.

Everybody today was calm. Nobody was really passing anybody else. And just -- they were just content to be getting out of town, or at least to be trying to do that.

BROWN: Jon, have you chased one of these before?

FRIED: I've chased a few of these before.

BROWN: OK.

FRIED: And this one is different. This is what's been on my mind. But when you look at the size of this one, and how quickly it's moving, and the potential behind it, even though I've been in them, it still gives you pause.

BROWN: Yes, I think, in truth, it is, it's given us all pause tonight. I mean, there's a -- you know, in this business, here's my confessional moment, there is a tendency towards hyperbole at times. This ain't one of those times, folks, I mean, we're looking at the kind of storm, basically, you know, what happened in '35, what happened in '69, what happened in '92. This one, in terms of its size, if not its sheer power, we don't know exactly what its power will be when it hits the -- hits land, but in terms of its sheer size, is larger.

The potential for destruction is enormous. And that is not an exaggeration, that's not hype, that's just the way it is. And particularly to a city like New Orleans, which, as we've talked about, is essentially built like a bowl and will collect this enormous amount of water that's going to come ashore over the next 24 hours, it's hard to know precisely what we're going to find tomorrow night when we talk to you again, whether we're going to find a city that is quite literally destroyed, or extraordinarily damaged, when people will be able to come back. Will it be days or weeks or months? And what is it they'll come back to?

And we're not prone to hyperbole here, and those of you who join us a lot know that. But that's the situation that we find ourselves in tonight, as the storm is bearing down on the Gulf. And it's not just New Orleans, but because of the geography of New Orleans, that is of particular concern.

Jon, thank you. Jonathan Fried, who is in Biloxi and made quite a journey there. Edward Price is the mayor of Mandeville, Louisiana, which is about 25 miles or so to the north, and he joins us now on the phone.

What are you thinking about tonight, Mayor?

MAYOR EDWARD PRICE, MANDEVILLE, LOUISIANA (on phone): Well, I'll tell you, it's an eerie call right now. There's no wind, there's no rain. It's 10:45 our time. And, you know, we don't really feel the -- just what's happening to the south of us right now in New Orleans or around Lafourche Parish, or even what's happening in the Gulf.

So it's a pretty scary thought for us right now.

BROWN: Just let me run through some things quickly with you. How big a city is Mandeville?

PRICE: Mandeville itself is a small city on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, about 13,000 people. But the (INAUDIBLE) the parish that surrounds us is about 40,000 people. So we're a populace of about 50,000 people, almost 60.

BROWN: People stay or people go?

PRICE: Well, in deference to our public, they have chosen to leave, and rightly so, I think, given the severity of this storm.

BROWN: How many people would you say, would you guess, or do you -- does your police department tell you, are still in town? Or in the area?

PRICE: Well, we've driven certain parts of Mandeville. I notice that there are some people still home. But they're in the higher areas, where -- that aren't prone to flooding. The bad thing about this storm is, it's not just flooding that's going to affect us, when you're talking about 150-mile-an-hour winds or 160-mile-an-hour winds.

It's something that (INAUDIBLE). We've had three storms that hit us, Ivan, Isadore, and Lily, and pretty much devastated our lakefront, but never to a really severe point where we had physical damage to homes.

This storm could bring loss of life. And that's the part that we're scared about right now.

BROWN: Well, it's funny you would use the word "scared," because that's the next question I was going to ask you. Are you scared?

PRICE: Well, we're in a state of limbo right now, because we don't see it -- you know, we see it on TV, and we're trying to believe that this is -- that the National Weather Service is telling us the truth. And -- but we're not seeing it. So...

BROWN: Yes.

PRICE: ... I mean, you know, we look over the charts and the scans that they put on TV showing that it's entering the, you know, the feeder bands are entering (INAUDIBLE) area, and we know that it's coming straight for Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans. And the eventuality of that happening over here is foreign to us, because we've missed it so many times.

BROWN: You know, I don't -- I can't tell how many times people have said that in this context. They live in this area or that area, and they know that at some level they're at risk, and they say, you know, It's always missed us, it's always veered away. I guess it's that one time it doesn't veer away that everybody worries about, and I suspect you're thinking about that tonight.

PRICE: Well, we have been (INAUDIBLE) the reality for us was...

BROWN: Yes.

PRICE: ... when Mayor Nagen (ph) really came on and said that New Orleans needed to evacuate, and it had to be a mandatory evacuation. And when a guy like that gets on the, you know, gets on the screen and says, God, this is going to be the biggest thing that ever hit us, you know, even knowing that we had a Camille, and we had a Betsy, when they say that this is going to be the biggest event that we've had, I think some eyes opened and some people looked at it and said, You know, maybe it's time for us to move.

And they did.

BROWN: Well, hopefully safely, and we hope that everyone who stays behind stays safe. And we'll check in with you tomorrow night. Hopefully the phones will be working. We'll see how things turned out.

Mayor, thanks a lot.

PRICE: Thank you so much for your call. Thanks.

BROWN: Thank you, sir. Mayor Edward Price of Mandeville, Louisiana. He is ready for whatever.

At Tulane Medical Center, they are ready for whatever. I think we all want to know, wish we knew, what "whatever" was. We'll check in there and see what they're preparing for. We need to take a short break first as we head towards midnight in the East.

This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We'll check in at the Tulane Medical Center after the top of the hour.

Let me show you a couple of newspapers that have come in, mostly from the affected areas, because this is NEWSNIGHT, and we love papers.

Tough story for newspapers, to be honest. It's -- it'll be changed by the time people actually see it. "The Pensacola News Journal," "Catastrophic Katrina." "New Orleans-bound hurricane to send storm surge over Ivan-ravaged region," so they localized the story a little bit. "New Orleans evacuates," they say in "The News Journal," Pensacola. Thank you guys for sending it our way.

"The Mobile Register" in Mobile, Alabama, "Cat 5 Katrina Coming," tremendous -- that's "Coming." They didn't say it like a Midwesterner, I did. "Tremendous storm will strike Gulf Coast today." "God Bless Us." "New Orleans prays as Katrina bears down." That's the Mobile, Alabama, "Register."

Nationally, "The Washington Times," "Katrina Howls at Full Force."

How we doing on time, Michael? Thank you very much.

"The Cincinnati Enquirer," "New Orleans Flees Monstrous Storm."

And we'll do one more here, "The Examiner" of Washington, "The Big Easy Empties." That's "Big Easy Empties," and a shot of people leaving New Orleans today, the Superdome in the background.

CNN will be on this story, as we say, all night long, with a lot of coverage coming out of Atlanta. Again, the storm expected to make landfall in the early morning, 7:00, 8:00 in the morning. "AMERICAN MORNING" will have that too.

We're glad to have you with us tonight, and we wish nothing but safety for the people down in Louisiana.

Till we see you again, good night for all of us.

END

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