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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Katrina; Hurricane Hospitality

Aired August 29, 2005 - 01:00   ET

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


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: In the eye of the storm, New Orleans and the central Gulf Coast brace for Hurricane Katrina.
I'm Randi Kaye at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris.

Our special coverage of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina continues.

Let's give you the very latest information on the storm as we know it at this moment. Hurricane Katrina is still a massive Category 5 storm, the most powerful type of hurricane in regard to damaging wind speeds. That's prompted mandatory evacuations.

The southern Gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are all feeling the hurricane's effects, but nowhere is the concern more profound than in New Orleans, the largest city in the area and one that is below sea level. Still, people are trying to flee. For those unable to get out of the storm's path, emergency shelters, such as the Louisiana Superdome, are set up and operational, and so are we.

CNN crews are out and about this hour along the Gulf Coast. We'll have live reports from Biloxi, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama, as well as New Orleans.

KAYE: And here at the CNN Center, the Weather Center, meteorologist Bonnie Schneider joins us now with the very latest on this storm Katrina -- Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: OK, Randi, Tony.

Just want to show you the latest wind speeds. These are happening moment by moment. We can tell you exactly how strong the wind is. And currently in Grand Isle, I've been watching this, the wind is really picking up. We're getting wind speeds that are at 45, 47 miles per hour. Remember tropical storm force is 39 miles per hour or greater. So we're seeing beyond that already in Louisiana.

Incidentally, just want to mention one other fact that I noticed. Some of these rain bands that have yet to make their way onshore, like to Biloxi and even towards Mobile and Alabama, there is wind contained in these storms that are getting as strong as what you saw in Grand Isle, 45, 47-mile-per-hour winds. So the winds right now in Biloxi are about 30 miles per hour. They will pick up in intensity really in the next hour. So if you're watching from that region, expect that to occur. Incidentally, right now, our storm, Hurricane Katrina, is a Category 5. Maximum winds are at 160 miles per hour. Landfall is expected this morning somewhere along the southeast coast of Louisiana. But because the storm is so wide, we're really concerned areas further to the east and further to the west, as well, because those hurricane force winds stretch outward on either side 105 miles.

Another concern when you have a big hurricane, or any hurricane making landfall, is storm surge, especially when you're talking of an area like New Orleans that's below sea level. Storm surge could be record-breaking numbers here, as high as 20, possibly even 30 feet. Imagine that height of water coming on shore. Incredible! And even as far to the east, we're getting storm surge major concern, also, towards Florida and then back out towards central Louisiana. And maybe even towards those southwestern parishes we're likely to get some very strong storm surge.

Another factor just to mention is tornadoes, a byproduct when the storm comes on. You have winds going in all different directions when a hurricane comes onshore, on land, and it could really combine and produce tornadoes.

And, incidentally, back about a year ago when Hurricane Ivan made landfall, we saw the tornadoes break out 150 miles from the center of the circulation of the storm. So we could see tornadoes over the next 6 to 8 to 10 hours break out all the way back out towards Georgia, towards Florida. We have to really keep a close eye on this watch box, because it's likely to extend further to the north, further to the east as time goes on. So we'll be watching that as well.

Lots of factors to contend with when you're talking about such a powerful Category 5 storm. This really is a history-making storm. Unfortunately, conditions out on Louisiana's coast and in Mississippi's coast are going from bad to worse. I'd like to say they're improving, but you can see the storm maintains hurricane strength when it goes as far north as even northern Mississippi. I mentioned Jackson, Tupelo, places like that, all the way up towards the Tennessee border, you're going to be feeling the force of this hurricane and beyond into the week ahead -- Tony, Randi.

HARRIS: All right. And, Bonnie, we know you'll be watching it for us all night long.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

HARRIS: Appreciate it. Thank you.

KAYE: And you know all day long and all evening long we have been bringing you reports from our affiliates who are along the Gulf Coast just to give you a little bit of flavor and see what they're working on and the stories that they are gathering out there in the field.

Now we want to bring you one story from our affiliate WPMI, reporter Josh Bernstein. He is along the Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Alabama area. And about 15 minutes ago, he filed this report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSH BERNSTEIN, WPMI-TV REPORTER (voice-over): More serious here. We just drove on 182 from Gulf Shores down to Orange Beach to the Perdido Pass, and we're now back heading west on 182. We're back in Gulf Shores right behind a police cruiser and an ambulance was just in front of us.

And the water has now crossed 182. That is not a good sign. It is only, what is it, almost midnight, and this storm isn't supposed to make landfall until the early morning hours. It is not a good sign that the water is already across Highway 182. And it's not just a little bit of water, it's really starting to cross over.

Further down, further west on 182, down by the Gulf State Park where they had that breach, or multiple breaches of the road with the water during Ivan, that section of roadway washed out. Well that section of roadway now is covered with sand. It's almost like you're driving through a snowstorm with your high beams on. You can see -- you hear the sand pelting the car. It's very difficult to see.

All of Gulf Shores, on the island, on 182, on Beach Highway and West Beach Boulevard, the power has been cut.

An update to that fire we told you about earlier and that video we showed you. We spoke with members of the Gulf Shores Police Department, and they confirm that there was a house fire on West Beach Boulevard towards the end. There was -- a fire had to be put out inside that residence. They wouldn't give us an address. They didn't have -- the police officer didn't know the address. He had just come on to shift. But there was damage to that home. They were able to put that fire out.

But right now, the story is the conditions are worsening. It is really deteriorating out there. We are heading back towards -- well, we're still on 182. We're heading back to get out of Gulf Shores, to get across the intercoastal and get to a safer area. Even though it's calm down here, the winds are blowing quite that strong. The water has breached the roadway. The sand is blowing all over the roadway and it is getting dangerous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And there you have it, our report from WPMI, our affiliate there in the Alabama Gulf Shores area, Josh Bernstein bringing us that report.

HARRIS: And, Randi, the National Hurricane Center is of course keeping a close watch on Katrina. And Richard Knabb is at the Center, and he joins us now.

And, Richard, good to talk to you. And Bonnie Schneider is going to be joining us in a second with a couple of questions for you as well. I have to ask you, just in listening to that report from Mobile, are people going to wake up tomorrow morning and be utterly surprised at what this storm has done to that point and what it will continue to do throughout the course of the day?

RICHARD KNABB, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, first I need to make the point that it probably will take well into the afternoon or evening before people can be safely outside to take a look. However, once they're able to do that, in many places where the hurricane is crossing the coastline, and even points inland, they will be astounded at what a Category 4 or 5 hurricane can do.

HARRIS: And give us a sense of what that really means in practical terms.

KNABB: All right. Well, we have some experience with that down here in southern Florida. Back in 1992, Hurricane Andrew...

HARRIS: Andrew, yes.

KNABB: ... made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane and many of the people that work here at the Hurricane Center were directly affected by that. So we're familiar with what that can do. And there were many people who lost their homes, some of which were never rebuilt. A large area of southern Miami-Dade County was devastated. And this is the type of damage that we can expect to see as a result of Katrina.

HARRIS: Bonnie, want to jump in?

SCHNEIDER: We were talking about how the storm will maintain its hurricane status once it makes landfall and even further inland. How far beyond that do you forecast that the storm will maintain itself as a hurricane?

KNABB: Right. Well we want to emphasize that this is not just a coastal event. Because of the strength and size of this hurricane, and the fact that it is moving fast enough to continue bringing bad weather well inland, we think it's possible that hurricane force winds will extend as far inland as central Mississippi during the next 24 to 48 hours. And so it's not just going to be the winds of the coastline, but it could also be winds and rainfall and isolated tornadoes well inland over the next couple of days.

SCHNEIDER: And beyond that, we're talking about some potentially flooding rains even further north of that, like, the Ohio Valley. So this storm will be affecting many parts of the U.S. into the week ahead?

KNABB: Yes, if we look at past storms that have made landfall in the southeastern United States, many of them have caused more loss of life well inland and well after the center crosses the coast because of inland flooding due to heavy rainfall.

And we really urge people to take seriously the fact that this is not just going to be a coastal event and to be aware that heavy rains and flooding could occur in a large area of the southeastern United States during the next several days. And one of the main ways that people get into trouble is by driving over water-covered roadways. And we urge people not to do that. HARRIS: OK, Richard Knabb of the National Hurricane Center.

Richard, thank you.

KNABB: You're welcome.

KAYE: As Hurricane Katrina bears down on the Gulf Coast, keep it here. You are watching special coverage of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: You know very quickly we want to get you to David Mattingly. He's in New Orleans in the French Quarter. And we want to get there quickly because we may lose him.

David, you're in a -- yes, well we can see it, you're in a driving rainstorm right now.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Tony, the rain continuing to fall here in the French Quarter. But there are 10,000 people tonight high and dry, at least for tonight.

One (INAUDIBLE) what sort of city they'll wake up to in the morning. They are sleeping tonight in the Superdome, of all places. The city opened up that facility as the shelter of last resort, and that's where thousands and thousands of people have decided to take shelter. These are people who, for the most part, did not have the means to take advantage of the, or to participate in, the mandatory evacuation and get out of town as authorities had wanted them to do.

Those who were able to evacuate, however, took to the streets by the thousands. The expressways leading out of New Orleans were filled. Lanes that were normally bound into New Orleans were turned around so that people exiting (INAUDIBLE) every bit of concrete they had leading out of the city.

And tonight you could probably see behind me that the French Quarter is empty, something you rarely see even in the wee hours of a Monday here in the summertime in New Orleans. But tonight people taking refuge in hotels, hoping that their rooms are high enough to avoid floodwaters and low enough that they won't be bothered by the high winds that might affect them at higher levels. So tonight everyone has their own strategy, taking refuge where they can, wondering what they will wake up to tomorrow morning -- Tony.

HARRIS: And, David, we can see that you're in the rain, but we don't seem to notice a lot of wind. Has that been an on-and-off feature of the evening for you?

MATTINGLY: Yes, and it seems like whenever the camera is on, the wind is off. But it has been happening occasionally tonight. Looking very calm right now.

In fact, this is the kind of rain you would see in New Orleans just about any time. There's a saying here that if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it'll change, because they always have very quick rainstorms coming through here in the summertime. But this rain very different. People looking at it very differently tonight knowing that it's just a precursor of some very serious things to come.

HARRIS: David Mattingly for us in New Orleans, the French Quarter.

David, thank you.

KAYE: And we want to get you right now to Bonnie Schneider who is in the CNN Weather Center with the very latest on the track of Hurricane Katrina.

I guess, Bonnie, the strong hurricane winds could be felt, what, as early as just a few hours from now along the coast?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, right now, looking at the clock, it's 1:15 Eastern Time, so 12:15 Central. So I'd say within the next couple hours for sure.

We're already getting strong winds. Certainly in Grand Isle we have winds clocked at 47 miles per hour. And we talk about hurricane force winds, that doesn't necessarily mean these 160-mile-per-hour winds that are in the eyewall here, but winds that are greater than 74 miles per hour.

Remember when Katrina made landfall in Florida, it came in as a Category 1, so the winds were what we'd call minimum strength for a hurricane, but did tremendous damage, knocked down trees. And incidentally, that's how, unfortunately, the deaths -- most of the deaths that occurred in Florida were related to trees falling on cars. So we're watching for those strong winds to come in.

It's kind of good that it's happening at the middle of the night for some of the stronger winds. People have been evacuated in some areas. And in other areas, they know this is not a time to be outside.

Let's take a look at the track and show you what's happening. We're expecting the storm to make landfall in the morning hours, somewhere here in the coastal parishes of southeast Louisiana. Once the storm comes on shore, it's likely to pass through or near the city of New Orleans, and then pass further to the north, up towards Jackson, Mississippi, where it's likely to maintain its hurricane strength up to a Category 2 hurricane.

So we're still talking about a powerful hurricane, even after it's through with Louisiana and heads towards Mississippi and eventually further north as well. We're likely to see flooding.

This is a fairly slow-moving hurricane right now. The movement is to the north-northwest at 10 miles per hour. And we'll be watching, obviously, how it interacts with land, because that will change things. But in the meantime, the main thing to know, this is an extremely powerful storm, a very large storm, Category 5 with maximum winds at 160 miles per hour. That's where we stand right now -- Randi.

HARRIS: Boy.

KAYE: All right, Bonnie, thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

HARRIS: Quick break and we'll come back with our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina, seemingly on a direct path for a direct hit on New Orleans. A quick break and we're right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Folks in New Orleans trying to ride out the storm in a hotel have been evacuated to a fifth floor ballroom. These are the accommodations for those staying in the New Orleans Sheraton Hotel this morning, guests trying to make the best of what is sure to be a long day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here on vacation, actually, and couldn't get home, so here we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's incredible. I would never expected this to like ever to like happen on our vacation. We knew there was a storm on the way, but never to this like extent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just devastating. This is the first time in 30 years that I've been on vacation and run into something like this. It's dramatic here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It a little scary or just wait and see how it goes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's scary. You know it's scary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Scary all right.

HARRIS: Yes.

KAYE: So what are area hotels doing to help out visitors and/or local New Orleans trying to ride out this storm?

Vivian Deuschel from Marriott Hotels joins us live from Washington, D.C. with more on their hurricane efforts. Good morning, Vivian, tell us what you are doing to help accommodate people there along the Gulf Coast.

VIVIAN DEUSCHEL, V.P. PUBLIC RELATIONS, RITZ CARLTON HOTELS: Good morning.

Well, the Marriott Corporation has approximately a dozen hotels in the New Orleans area, including the Ritz Carlton New Orleans is one of our most familiar. We have almost 600 rooms occupied of a 700-room hotel. And that consists of people that were not able to get out, people that evacuated from their homes and a number of our staff who are working and who have been allowed to bring their families in so that they can work and help the guests as best they can during the storm.

KAYE: And when we're talking about this storm, we're hearing a lot of reports about a very, very high storm surge, 20, 25 feet possibly. Where are you putting these folks in the hotels there, because there is a lot of concern, certainly at this point, about some of the lower floors flooding?

DEUSCHEL: Well the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans is just right on the edge of the French Quarter. The lobby, actually, doesn't begin until the third floor. So all the guestrooms are above that. And what we've done is used the main ballroom as the gathering place where we're feeding people and they still are allowed to use their guestrooms. We have dogs, we have cats and we have people. So you can imagine it's quite a scene.

KAYE: I've been out there during some of these hurricanes where you lose power, you have no electricity, you can't shower, you can't do anything. The guests, certainly they're safe, but a little bit grumpy. How do you plan to deal with all of that?

DEUSCHEL: Well we're trying to do things like show movies in the ballroom, serve popcorn. We have games. We've been through this drill before, certainly not for a Cat 5 storm, but certainly New Orleans is used to bad storms, so there's a certain amount of things in place. But at the end of the day, there's nothing we can really do other than to reassure the guests that we're going to try to keep them as safe as possible.

Most of them are very concerned about being able to communicate with their families. We're taking the names of their family members, so that if they're not able to phone out, that tomorrow we'll be able to phone their families and let them know that they're all right.

KAYE: And at this point, if anybody is looking for a room, can you help them at all?

DEUSCHEL: No, no more rooms. We can't take any more reservations at any of the hotels. At this point, if you're there, you're safe. And we're not able to accept any more people.

KAYE: All right, Vivian Deuschel from Marriott Hotels joining us this morning. Thanks -- Vivian.

DEUSCHEL: You're welcome.

HARRIS: And, Randi, all along the Gulf Coast, residents who, for whatever reason, haven't been able to get out or decided just to stay put are hunkering down as best they can.

Our Kathleen Koch filed this report from Mobile, Alabama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well this city of nearly 200,000 people is literally holding its breath tonight. They have been getting ready for this monster hurricane. The state has been getting ready for days. Pre-positioning National Guard troops and supplies in the two coastal counties of Mobile County and Baldwin County.

And we've run over the list of supplies. It's amazing, 290,000 bags of ice, 250,000 gallons of water, 652,000 meals ready to eat, the military MREs, 110,000 tarps to put over damaged roofs. Fourteen rescue teams are on standby. Twenty-six shelters have been opened throughout the state. The nine in the Mobile County area already have some 1,500 residents hunkered down.

A big part of the story today has been the roads in and out of Mobile filled with traffic flowing eastward from the New Orleans area, people fleeing the storm.

We went into a local restaurant and we found a couple of families who had just left New Orleans headed to, of all places, Disney World in Florida. And they say this was an evacuation they normally would not have made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK CROZIER, EVACUEE: We stayed for several of them and we've always -- it's always been, you know, uneventful. And right now they're excited because they're going to Disney World. So they don't know the difference.

But I went through Frederic here in Mobile. I lived in Mobile when Frederic hit and we lost 100 trees. So that was scary. And I'm -- and this is much stronger. That was 125 mile an hour, this is 175, so you know this is going to tear houses down. So it's just not -- if you can get out, you need to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: The Mobile Emergency Management Agency right now has a mandatory evacuation in for the lowest lying areas of Mobile County south of here where some roughly 56,000 people live. Police have been going door to door, banging on the doors, asking people to leave. And if they don't leave, getting the names of next of kin. Now the area where we are, as you can see, we're in downtown Mobile, this area residents are strongly urged to leave because this area tends to flood. So that affects some 128,000 residents. But from what we're told, roughly half the people in the city of Mobile generally do not evacuate. So right now still a potentially dangerous situation here. This area still under a flood watch, a tornado watch and of course a hurricane warning.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, Mobile, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And we want to get right to Bonnie Schneider in CNN's Weather Center who has some new information for us just in to the CNN Center on some wave heights expected with Hurricane Katrina.

SCHNEIDER: Right, Randi and Tony.

I thought this would be impressive for people to really visualize how large this storm is and some of what it's doing already out on the ocean.

We have some -- well, we have reporting that in the eyewall, that's right here, you can see it here in the center of where the circulation is, we're getting wave heights as high as 60 feet. Unbelievable! Imagine that in the ocean. The highest wave height we've ever had recorded here was for Ivan, that was last year. That's one of the biggest in history, and that was 90 feet. So you see already Katrina is creating some incredible waves.

Ninety miles south of Mobile, Alabama, we have 40-foot waves and 15 -- I'm sorry, 20 miles south of Gulfport or Pascagoula, Mississippi, we have 15-feet waves. So already we're seeing really this storm, this massive Category 5 hurricane kicking up the heights in the ocean for the waves. And it's going to be a major concern certainly as we talk about storm surge and we talk about what this storm is going to be doing.

Also just want to mention why we've seen such a strong burst of energy and why this storm intensified so quickly. It has to do with our loop current. The current that brings the very deep warm water into the Gulf of Mexico and leaves pockets or spin-offs of eddies swirling about. And that's little pockets of water, whirlpools of warm, deep water. And as a storm passes over this warm current, it really just ignites it. And that's what we saw with this storm Katrina and that's why now we've got a Category 5 on our hands.

I'll talk more about the loop current and more about Katrina in just a bit.

HARRIS: I love that graphic there. You introduced that to us on Saturday.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, and really we were talking about what could happen, how big could this storm get? That's back when Katrina was a Category 3. HARRIS: Yes.

SCHNEIDER: And it's exactly the way things shaped up.

HARRIS: Well I want you to spend some more time on that. I love that. I just...

KAYE: I do, too. And she's talking about -- you're talking about, Bonnie, waves that are 60-feet high. I mean you're, what,...

SCHNEIDER: Incredible.

KAYE: ... six foot? HARRIS: I'm -- yes.

KAYE: So that's 10 of you stacked up.

HARRIS: Insane.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's way -- that's -- Randi, that's way out and into the ocean in the center of the storm.

KAYE: Sure.

SCHNEIDER: So really incredible, just incredible.

HARRIS: OK.

KAYE: That is.

HARRIS: Boy.

KAYE: All right, Bonnie, thanks.

HARRIS: Bonnie.

Take a break and we'll come back with more of our continuing coverage. As we go to break, want to show you a live picture. This is Biloxi, Mississippi, and I believe that is Jonathan Freed's camera. Jonathan is nearby. He is, isn't he, he's nearby? OK. We'll check in with Jonathan in just a couple of minutes as our continuing coverage -- there you go.

KAYE: He's trying on...

HARRIS: Good to see you. All right, Jonathan. We'll be back.

KAYE: Go inside. Dry off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And you are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. It is still a monstrous Category 5 storm with sustained winds of up to 160 miles per hour. Can you wrap your mind around that concept?

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Massive.

HARRIS: One hundred sixty-mile-per-hour winds on its current track. The eye of Katrina is barreling towards the coast and is expected to make landfall in or near New Orleans later this morning. Officials are warning of storm surges of up to 28 feet. As much as 15 inches of rain could lash New Orleans.

Those conditions have led to a mandatory evacuation of the Big Easy. It's anything but easy right now. Much of the city lies below sea level, and officials feel barriers around it will be breached. Roads and highways, as you can see, out of the city are bumper to bumper with residents making their way to higher ground.

KAYE: This massive, dangerous hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Some people are in hotels, others are in shelters, but millions have evacuated. Tourists and residents alike left the coastal and casino town of Biloxi, Mississippi.

And that's where our Jonathan Freed is. And he joins us by videophone with more on the long and stressful evacuation.

Jon, you and I talked many times this afternoon. You were continuously rerouted back and forth. You talked to some other folks when you got out of your car to see how they were doing. But it took you, what, about eight hours to get there from New Orleans?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It took us a good eight hours to get here. Normally, Randi, it would be about an hour-and-a-half drive. It's about 100 miles, as far as the interstate goes. As the crow flies, it's only probably 75 miles from here to New Orleans. But it was a good, healthy eight-hour drive, and it was an excruciatingly long event.

The highway, about one point, both sides of the highway were jam- packed. They did what they call the contraflow operation, where the westbound lanes were turned into eastbound lanes and they were routing cars everywhere. But the thing that I found most remarkable was how people just remained calm. There were no horns honking, there were no fists in the air, people were just happy to have a way to get out of town.

And the rain is just almost on cue. The rain is starting to pick up here in Biloxi right now. And we're seeing bands of rain being carried across in front of the light that I can see here. And this is right about the time that we were warned that it would start to happen and that the weather here would begin to intensify. And it's coming down even heavier now, as we speak, so right on time.

KAYE: Jonathan, what about the evacuation efforts there, just particularly in that area, have people heeded the warnings?

FREED: Well, we were talking to officials earlier today, and I want to get my numbers right. They were telling us that there were approximately 1,500 people that were in shelters at that point, but that only one of the shelters here was full. Now this was as of a couple of hours ago. And they were saying, based on that, they didn't really have a handle on whether or not people had heeded the warnings and gotten out of here or whether because the shelters were not that full it meant that people were deciding to stay in their homes. They were hoping to pass that word along to remind people that this storm is just too big. And if you are in this area, you really need to be in a shelter or gone.

KAYE: And many of the people there still likely remember Hurricane Camille from back in 1969 taking the lives of about 256 people there in that area. So they certainly know what's coming their way, and this could be even worse.

FREED: They do. And I was speaking to one woman here about an hour ago. She works at the hotel. And she told me that as a 9-year- old child they were living about three blocks from the water. And she told me a horrifying story. And we were hoping to get her out here to talk to us. We may be able to do that, if not, I doubt at this hour, given the hour, she's undoubtedly gone to bed, but perhaps tomorrow.

She told me a story of how the water just burst open the front door of their home. And she said that she remembered it, now again, she was 9 years old at the time. She said she remembers the water coming up to her neck and that her family having to escape up through the trap into the attic of their home. And at one point her father disappearing under the water, them being worried for him. Everybody was fine in the end. But she said these are images and an experience that just terrified her and that they will never forget.

KAYE: I'm sure. And as you were telling us that story, we are looking here at some pictures from the devastation following Camille. And that is absolutely frightening, especially when you think about what Hurricane Katrina could be bringing your way.

So, Jonathan Freed, please take care, and we'll continue to speak with you throughout the morning here, Tony.

FREED: All right, thank you.

HARRIS: And from Biloxi let's take you back to New Orleans now and show you pictures just in to CNN. A live picture now of the Superdome there in New Orleans where it is the refuge of last resort for a lot of folks in New Orleans.

And as we look at this picture, we're reminded that there are a number of people who are infirm, who are homeless, who, for whatever reason, just can't get out of the city. They don't have transportation. They can't get out of the city. And that is sort of that last resort there, the Superdome.

And it is -- let me grab my notes here -- it is a huge structure. Yes, here we go, the world's largest steel constructed room. Fifty- two acres that building sits on. Height of 273 feet. And, Randi, I believe it can hold as many as 70,000, maybe 75,000 people.

There is some concern what they're doing is there is a registration area on the floor, on the field there where the Saints play football. And that's set up there where folks come in to the dome and show I.D. and that sort of thing. And then they're being moved to some of the higher seats that are in the dome just to...

KAYE: Right.

HARRIS: ... get them off the floor. Because there is some concern that that floor, that field could flood, you know, once these storm surges that we're talking about spill over the levies and down into the bowl that is New Orleans.

KAYE: And just getting in there was a really slow process this afternoon.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

KAYE: We checked in with our CNN producer Ben Blake who was on the scene there who brought us the first pictures of people waiting in line, really, for hours trying to get in to the Superdome. And he said what was slowing the process down was security.

HARRIS: Right. Right.

KAYE: People had to go through this very heavy security. And he did see that people had removed some illegal drugs. Security officers had removed some illegal drugs.

HARRIS: Knives.

KAYE: Knives, guns,...

HARRIS: Yes.

KAYE: ... in some cases. The last thing they need in there are any problems relating to those types of items. So they're really trying to keep it calm inside the Superdome.

HARRIS: And calm is the word, as we bring Bonnie Schneider in.

Bonnie, we're seeing this shot from our affiliate WDSU. We see the winds having an impact on this shot.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely.

HARRIS: And we know that the winds will only increase in these overnight hours.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. And you know what's interesting, you know that camera is posted, mounted pretty high up. Remember the winds are more fierce the higher you go, the more strong. So that's another reason why we're seeing that camera shaking, mounted, I imagine, pretty high up, as well, looking down at the dome there.

Just want to take a look at some wind reports. These are current wind speeds happening right now, real time radar, real time winds. Notice the contrast. What separates this is just a matter of time, really.

Here's Lake Pontchartrain covered in showers right now. Hammond, Louisiana, current winds 10, 12, 13 miles per hour. Head a little further south to New Orleans, look at these wind speeds, 41 miles per hour. All the way up higher than that, tropical storm force, so not that far of a difference in mileage but a big difference in wind.

And a big difference in rain, because we're seeing certainly heavier rain to the south, as well, with our powerful Hurricane Katrina a Category 5. Maximum winds right now 160 miles per hour. Category 5, really, you may see just one of these in a lifetime. It's very unusual to get storms this strong and that's why when we talk about this storm probably going to break the record books for one of the strongest ever recorded. And certainly large as well.

We've got hurricane force winds outward of 105 miles on either side. And that's really impressive. We also have tropical storm force winds, winds that we're seeing right now in New Orleans currently. That extends outwards from the storm center 230 miles. And since we're talking about a landfall some time in the early hours of the morning, we're likely to see those hurricane force winds, winds greater than 74 miles per hour, in New Orleans I'd say within the next couple of hours.

Here's our track. And we were talking with a hurricane expert down at the Hurricane Center in Miami about how this storm will maintain itself as a hurricane for quite a while. It'll still be a hurricane, even on Monday night when it moves on into Mississippi and on into Tennessee. And we'll talk about that as well as it heads towards even parts of Missouri getting clipped with some of the rain and some of the wind back up towards southern Illinois and Indiana. So this storm is really going to affect a big part of the United States, bringing some wind, rain, certainly, and the threat for tornadoes.

That's another main concern when you have a hurricane making landfall. Remember a hurricane is bringing a tremendous force of winds. And then you have already the winds that are on land. All those winds kind of mixing it up. We get some spin in the atmosphere and then we get the tornadoes pop up. And they become fast and furious. And they can even come miles and miles away from the center of the storm, as we saw last year with Hurricane Ivan, we had tornadoes break out 150 miles from the storm center.

Currently, at this hour, we have a tornado watch that stretches from southern Mississippi, down through Louisiana, and certainly on into parts of Alabama as well. So anywhere in this vicinity watch out for those tornadoes to break out. This watch box will likely be extended and expanded.

Just want to mention also we were talking about the really warm, deep water that ignited Katrina. We were predicting this would likely occur, even on Saturday when the storm was a Category 3. Very deep warm water. It comes in from the Caribbean and the Straits of the Yucatan. You get this warm, deep water sweeping into the Gulf, what we call a loop current. And notice on the back side of this current the arrows kind of go up the coast of Florida on the East Coast. And that's the Gulf Stream that we talk about well up towards the northeast. And when we talk about the warm water coming in from the ocean, it's actually coming straight in from the Gulf of Mexico. That warm water really can provide the fuel to the fire when a hurricane passes over it.

Now take a look at this map, you can see the Gulf of Mexico here. And when I change the slide you'll see, look where this storm is, right over that warm, deep water. So that's why we're seeing it a Category 5 and we're also seeing the storm just really fire up and likely to make landfall as either a Category 5 or a very strong Category 4. So we were talking about this a couple of days ago, the worse case scenario, unfortunately, has occurred. And now we're looking at a massive, tremendous hurricane -- Tony.

HARRIS: Boy. That's it. That's that graphic that illustration that shows it all.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

HARRIS: Bonnie, thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Sure does, sure.

HARRIS: Well just down the shore from Biloxi's beach and casinos is Gulfport, Mississippi. Brent Warr is the Mayor of Gulfport. And as you can imagine, he is a man deeply concerned with Hurricane Katrina and the imminent destruction and the potential loss of life from the storm.

Mr. Mayor, good morning.

MAYOR BRENT WARR, GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI: Good morning. How are you?

HARRIS: Well, well. A better question is how are you? How's your city?

WARR: Well so far -- yes, so far so good. We're holding tight and expecting the worst and certainly praying for the best.

HARRIS: In a situation like this you're preparing for the worst, hoping for the best. The moments now when we're waiting for landfall, you don't know what this storm is going to do. You don't know what tomorrow will bring. Is that making this situation a more angst ridden for you?

WARR: Well, yes, that's probably a good way to put it. You know we've seen severe destruction here in the past. And it's been a long time. I was a young man when Hurricane Camille came through, but I remember it very well. And you know right now it's barely raining here in Gulfport.

And so what we're doing is just kind of watching the news and monitoring things and, you know, we are prepared. We have done our homework and we have a lot of forces standing ready. Now we're just waiting for it to come on through here and do its thing so we can get back to work putting things back together.

HARRIS: And, Brent, you mentioned that you were around for Camille. Is there a sense of dread having history as sort of -- having history there as a model?

WARR: Yes, sir, that's really a good way to put it, because you know this storm mirrors much of what Camille did. It's coming in, the barometric pressure is almost identical. It's coming in about the same positioning from the Gulf that Camille did. You know very, very similar.

One thing that I'm keeping in mind, and I think that all of us know, is we're much more well built now than we were in Camille in '69. We have a very good, you know, southern and international building code that we have followed pretty aggressively. So hopefully the destruction won't be nearly as bad as back in '69.

HARRIS: How many people have you had to evacuate?

WARR: Well we don't -- you know we don't really have a way to tell how many have actually left. The best guess is probably 25,000 to 30,000 people have left Gulfport. That would probably be a good assumption just figuring that you know around 25 percent of the community, most of the people seem to be just holding tight in their homes.

HARRIS: Well let me ask you about that, this is your city, you know these people, they voted for you, why are people deciding to stay, do you think?

WARR: Well a lot of our community rode Hurricane Camille out. And they know the structures that they lived in or that other individuals lived in during Camille that were here then. And I think a lot of the common thought process is well this home made it through Camille, it'll make it through this, and we'll stay here and be fine. And hopefully that's the case. And that very likely is the case for most of them.

HARRIS: Boy.

WARR: You know we just have to hope that that's true.

HARRIS: OK, we'll hope with you. Mr. Mayor, thanks for talking to us. I think we just lost him -- Randi.

KAYE: All right. We want to share with you some information just in. (INAUDIBLE) front is now reporting three residents of New Orleans have already died and Hurricane Katrina has yet to arrive at that city. Apparently these residents were nursing home residents in the city of New Orleans. They were believed to have died during a stressful evacuation from that storm-threatened city of New Orleans. They were apparently on a school bus.

According to the coroner's office, they have not yet determined the cause of death, but many of the patients are being reported to be dehydrated. This was a very fragile group of people on this bus coming from that nursing home.

And just to let you know, when Hurricane Ivan threatened New Orleans back in September of 2004, just a year ago, two nursing home residents had died at that time during the evacuation.

So once again, just in to CNN, three residents of a New Orleans nursing home are believed to have died during a very stressful evacuation from that nursing home aboard a school bus in the city of New Orleans.

We're going to take a quick break, but please do keep it here. You are watching special coverage here on CNN of the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Katrina. And there you have one of the many shelters that will be serving the public there in the New Orleans area. That is the Superdome, normally home to the New Orleans Saints, but now serving many members of the community looking for a safe haven to ride out the storm.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: All morning we have been checking in with folks along the Gulf Coast wanting to see how they are doing. We want to talk now with Deano Bonano. He is in Louisiana. The Operations Chief for the Jefferson Parish joins us now by phone -- Deano.

DEANO BONANO, OPERATIONS CHIEF, JEFFERSON PARISH: Hey.

KAYE: Hi. Can you tell us, you have about half a million residents in your parish there, have they evacuated?

BONANO: Well we're figuring that a good third of those residents have not evacuated. We haven't had a major strike from a hurricane in almost 40 years. So most of the younger population really has no fear of hurricanes.

KAYE: So you're saying a third of your population there.

BONANO: Correct.

KAYE: That's a frightening amount of people who have decided to stay this out.

BONANO: Absolutely, when you consider the fact that we actually live below sea level and we're -- our borders are wrung with what we call hurricane protection levies that are meant to keep the Gulf of Mexico out.

KAYE: Well what can be done about this at this point? Obviously you can't force them out, but what is the thinking behind this?

BONANO: Well, obviously, at this point in time, you know people are going to have to hunker down wherever they're at and hopefully survive this. You know we have evacuated all of our non-essential personnel out of this parish that are going to be necessary to rebuild and restore it. All we have left are emergency workers, our fire, EMS and police. Once this storm hits, we can't get out and help anybody until it's over with.

KAYE: Just to help us understand and help our viewers understand the predicament that these people now are in, give us an idea of what the Jefferson Parish there looks like? How is it there along the Gulf Coast? Where it's situated? And what's the worst case scenario can bring that way?

BONANO: Jefferson Parish is below sea level. It's a marshy area that extends from Lake Pontchartrain to the north all the way to Grand Isle on the border of the Gulf of Mexico. So what essentially happens is all the waters from the Gulf of Mexico are pushed up through what we call the Barricara Basin (ph) right on to all of the low-lying areas. And then, actually, believe it or not, we live below sea level. If it gets over the levies into everyone's homes, we could be looking at as much as 15 to 20 foot of water in some areas in actual neighborhoods.

KAYE: How tall are those levies?

BONANO: In most areas they're averaging 12 to 15 feet. We have them in some areas as high as 20 feet.

KAYE: And so 12 to 15 feet, even 20 feet, not a great match for a storm surge that can be as high as 30 feet.

BONANO: No, ma'am.

KAYE: A storm surge that will push up against those levies and head right in.

BONANO: No, ma'am. No, we use large pumps, drainage pumps that actually pump rainwaters back over the levies out. Once those waters come over those levies, those pump stations cannot keep up pace with that much water coming in.

KAYE: And are you feeling the outer bands of the storm already?

BONANO: Yes, we are. We're sitting here watching our computer scata (ph) system, which measures wind speed at locations throughout the parish. We are now receiving on the southern end of the parish feeda (ph) bans with winds of 50 to 60 miles an hour.

KAYE: Wow! All right, Deano Bonano, Operations Chief in the Jefferson Parish in the state of Louisiana, we wish you the best of luck riding out this storm.

OK. We are going to take a quick break, and we will continue our coverage on the flip side of this break, special coverage as we wait for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Well let's check in once again now with CNN's Adaora Udoji who is at Tulane University Medical Center. And, Adaora, give us a sense of where things stand right now? I guess it's just about 2:00 Eastern Time, 1:00 where you are right now.

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been a busy evening for the folks here at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. This is right (INAUDIBLE) those very vulnerable areas we've talked about so often in New Orleans about how they are in the very low-lying area in the country. And we've been at the hospital on and off for probably the better part of 8 or 10 hours.

And I just want to bring in the Vice President here of Administration and that's Karen Troyer-Caraway.

What's the day been like (INAUDIBLE) really for the worst?

KAREN TROYER-CARAWAY, VICE PRESIDENT OF ADMINISTRATION, TULANE HOSPITAL: We've been implementing our emergency preparedness plan since Thursday afternoon. And today has been exceptionally busy dealing with, not only patient care issues, but also all of the housing issues related to having an appropriate medical staff here and our own staff.

UDOJI: The last couple of hours, in fact, I think that you told us that you had several dozen people coming.

TROYER-CARAWAY: Yes, we've had a number of people come over from the Louisiana Superdome. We've actually...

UDOJI: Where they're actually putting people who are fleeing from their homes fearing that it's not very safe there.

TROYER-CARAWAY: Exactly. We've gotten 63 patients over from the Louisiana Superdome, so they've flooded our emergency room. So we've been very busy over the past hour especially.

UDOJI: And beginning of the day, though, you really did a lot of moving around. You were concerned about the first floor where the emergency room is.

TROYER-CARAWAY: Yes, we ended up moving our emergency department up to the third floor of the hospital, along with a number of ancillary departments. Our pharmacy and linen supply and some other areas, we've had to get up off the ground floor.

UDOJI: Great, Karen, thank you very much. Of course we'll be checking in with her all night.

There have been started the day off with about 120 patients, now they're closer to 200 patients. It really looks like a bunker here because there are dozens and dozens of doctors, nurses and support staff, many of them having their families here. Air mattresses all through the hospital and offices, people trying to get some rest because they just don't know what's coming in a couple of hours, 6, 7, 10 hours -- Tony.

HARRIS: Boy, and that's what is so nervous making, you just don't know what's coming.

We're going to take a break.

Coming up at the top of the hour, 1:57 in the morning Eastern Time, and Central Time coming up on 1:00 in the morning there. We're keeping an eye on New Orleans, obviously. There's the latest radar picture. This storm, Hurricane Katrina, seemingly on a direct path for a direct hit on New Orleans. More of our continuing live coverage right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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