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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Katrina Devastates the Gulf Coast

Aired August 30, 2005 - 01:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: We want to start this next hour with pictures that describe a unique aspect of the aftermath of this hurricane. We want to take you now to parts of New Orleans, Ninth Ward, to be exact, an area that is literally under water. And because it's under water, they're using boats to try and rescue people from that region.
You're seeing the outline of what is that rescue operation. Our own correspondent, Adaora Udoji, has been following it for us, and she's joining us now live to top this hour.

Adaora, bring us up to date.

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Rick.

We're in Elysian Field, which is northwest of downtown New Orleans, and you're taking a look right now at a boat that rescue workers are bringing in from an incredibly flooded area, up to six, seven feet of water, of people who have been trapped. Many of them -- we spoke to some who have already made it to shore -- saying that the water came rushing in somewhere around noon today.

Again, another boat we're seeing here. It's incredible risk. We've been here for not even two hours, and it's been boat after boat after boat, bringing families, infants, many children, dogs, carrying their bags of things that they could grab, some people telling us that their houses are totaled, some people telling us that they were in attics, that they made phone calls with their cell phones, in fact, saying their cell phones didn't work, that their cell phones only worked to call 911.

And joining us here is Lieutenant Colonel Keith Lacazel. He's of the Wildlife and Fishery Enforcement Agency in Louisiana. And he made the long trek from up further in northern Louisiana to come down here and help out.

So can you tell us, where are you, and what's happening now here?

LT. COL. KEITH LACAZEL, LOUISIANA WILDLIFE AND FISHERY ENFORCEMENT AGENCY: Well, right now, we're up on the Interstate, (INAUDIBLE) here at Elysian Fields, just as you said, just northwest of town. And we're getting people out of this flooded area. We've got about 75 boats deployed throughout the New Orleans area. We've got about 100 men that are now deployed in this area. And we're spaced out at different locations, just getting people out of the water.

UDOJI: How many people have you seen come out?

LACAZEL: I have seen, since I've been here, several hundred have been brought out tonight, since I've been on the scene here. I was told that the fire department had gotten probably about 300 or 400 out before then, but they advised that there's still a lot of people out there. And, you know, we brought in probably 200 or 300 more in the last couple hours.

UDOJI: And what kind of shape have the people been in? What kind of injuries (INAUDIBLE)?

LACAZEL: We only had so far, we had one injury. We had a lady with an injured foot that we just brought out and transported her out a few minutes ago. Most of the other people are very tired, of course, and wet, and very glad to be out of the water. But none of them that we have seen come out of here have been seriously injured. I understand that there's a person with a broken leg that we're getting out from further down off the Interstate.

UDOJI: And how far and wide do you think this flooding has gone? How many blocks, if you could sort of break it down for us?

LACAZEL: It's just the entire -- most of the entire area of New Orleans from the uptown areas, not really flooded over in that area, but from the Quarter on out into Elysian Fields toward Franklin Avenue, everything going toward St. Bernard Parish, all of that is pretty much under water.

UDOJI: From what we understand, St. Bernard Parish has been particularly hard hit, somewhere roughly around 40,000 homes under water?

LACAZEL: That's correct.

UDOJI: And you don't have a great sense of where we are right here at Elysian Fields, how far it goes, but when you talk about that area, we're talking about miles, and we talk about five miles of homes under water, 10 miles. I'm just trying to give us a much more specific sense.

LACAZEL: We're probably talking about 20 miles, a 20-square-mile area here, probably, when you talk about all of this part of New Orleans, across the Industrial Canal, on into that area over there, probably 20 square miles (INAUDIBLE).

UDOJI: And what are your biggest concern, when you're sending your crews out here -- it's pitch black -- in the various boats that they have? All of them have motors. What are the greatest concerns that you have for them?

LACAZEL: Right now, it's power lines, it's visibility, of course. We're working at night now, we're using lights. You've got low-hanging lines, you've got trees that are submerged, limbs. You've got vehicles that are submerged, all kind of trash and debris that's floating out there that they have to watch out for and make sure they don't run into those lines or run into some of that underwater debris. UDOJI: And how many boats are out there now, and how many men and women, officers, do you have?

LACAZEL: We have, as I said, we -- at this location right here, I think we've got about six boats out. In this area right along the Interstate here, we've got about 25 boats that dispersed from this area. We've got another 10 boats that are over at the Lower Knifeport (ph) area, and we had about five boats that were back in Medery (ph), getting some people out of a nursing home over there.

UDOJI: Out of a nursing home?

LACAZEL: Yes, there was a nursing home over in the Medery area...

UDOJI: Which is north...

LACAZEL: That's north...

UDOJI: ... west of us...

LACAZEL: ... (INAUDIBLE)...

UDOJI: ... here.

LACAZEL: ... that's correct. Northwest of us, on the other side of New Orleans. And we got a call as we were coming in today, when we got into Kenner-Medery area, that they had a nursing home that people needed to be evacuated from. So five of our boats went in right there, and then the rest of us pushed on this way.

UDOJI: And where are you taking these people? I think, as I was saying, we've been here about two hours, and there's been at least 100 people who have been pulled out of their homes, out of their flooded homes. Where are they going?

LACAZEL: NOPD is picking them up at this location...

UDOJI: New Orleans Police Department?

LACAZEL: That's correct, New Orleans Police Department is picking them up at this location and taking them in to the Super Dome. That's the big shelter here.

UDOJI: And as we know, there are roughly 9,000 people, or somewhere about there, that have been hunkering down in the Super Dome overnight, from what we understand. Of course, they have no power, like anybody else in the city, that the air conditioner has gone, and, in fact, there was some damage to the roof, and so it's leaking. We can only imagine that's an incredibly difficult place to be tonight, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Adaora, let me, if you could, maybe you could pass along some information for the benefit of at least one viewer who was able to contact us. If you have the official still there next to you, would you share with him the following address, 4754 Dianne (ph) Road. That's in the Ninth Ward, I understand.

UDOJI: 4754 Dianne Road in the Ninth Ward, and someone's calling in saying that they need help, Rick?

SANCHEZ: Well, they say that it's actually a neighborhood where there are many people who need help, including a woman who is in a tree, and several other people in different houses around there who are on their rooftops.

UDOJI: Here, our anchor is, Rick Sanchez, is saying that a caller called in, saying that they were stuck in the north ward, and on Diana Street?

SANCHEZ: That's 4754...

UDOJI: Could you say that again?

SANCHEZ: ... 4754 Dianne Road. I wonder if he's familiar with that area.

UDOJI: Dianne Road. And he was just asking whether or not you have folks down there in the Ninth Ward, or whether that's the fire department and New Orleans Police Department that are down there.

LACAZEL: (INAUDIBLE)...

UDOJI: Because the rest of your operations are happening there, as we speak, right?

LACAZEL: That's correct. (INAUDIBLE) some of our units that are down there and have been out and down there since late this afternoon, taking people out of that area. And we do have those 911 calls coming in, and this information is coming in, and we are, you know, getting to them as quick as we can. And it's a big effort by ourselves, New Orleans Fire Department, New Orleans Police Department, many other local city agencies from all over the state of Louisiana have come down, and everybody's focusing right now on trying to evacuate people.

UDOJI: Looks like you're going to be here for the long haul.

LACAZEL: No doubt about it.

UDOJI: Rick? Thank you very much, Lieutenant Colonel.

Rick?

SANCHEZ: If there's a headline out of that interview that you just so well conducted, Adaora, it's when he described to you, when you asked him to try and give us a sense of how large the area was. Did he say a 20-square-mile area? That -- those were his words, were they not?

UDOJI: Indeed. He's just asking...

SANCHEZ: Go, go... UDOJI: No, exactly, he did describe -- he's just commenting on your estimating that perhaps we're talking about 20 square miles of folks that are under water. I mean, that's generally what the police (INAUDIBLE) about this point?

LACAZEL: That's what I would estimate it, and I'm not terribly familiar with the area. There's probably some of the local officials that will give you a lot better idea. But just based on what I have been told by some of our wildlife enforcement officers who are from the area, familiar with the area, it's a very large area.

UDOJI: Not to mention how many of your men and women who are out there now have been deployed to various areas here in and around New Orleans.

LACAZEL: That's correct. We have some of our own personnel who live in this area whose houses are under water and everything. And they're on the clock right now, working, and then they've got to worry about that situation.

UDOJI: We also have the helicopters. Rick, I'm not sure if you can hear that, but we've been listening all night to helicopters going back and forth. And clearly going about rescue efforts, not only on the ground but also in the air.

SANCHEZ: And what a job it must be, if we're talking about an area that expansive. We can certainly understand now why they're trying to get to as many people as they possibly can. But certainly it's a daunting task, and there are many people who, unfortunately, may have to wait, maybe an hour, maybe several hours, maybe till morning, until they are rescued.

Adaora Udoji, bringing us the very latest information by talking to officials there who are, as we speak, efforting these rescues that you've been watching.

Let's do this to try and get a sense now of what exactly has taken place there in New Orleans. Let's go to Bonnie Schneider. She's over at our Weather Center, our meteorologist.

We know this. We know that New Orleans essentially is like a soup bowl...

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right.

SANCHEZ: ... and that in that area that we're talking about, obviously, it's concave. So it would fill up with water. Is that water that has filled that up essentially the storm surge that you meteorologists...

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

SANCHEZ: ... and you, Bonnie, have told us so much about?

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. It's a combination of the storm surge and then just the heavy rainfall that kept on occurring throughout the course of the storm. And what's interesting, when you talk about rainfall with a hurricane, it's -- I think this is really interesting, because it happens in a couple of different ways.

We see the storm right now moving further to the northeast, the center of circulation there, Columbus, Mississippi, and the movements to the northeast, on a fairly rapid pace. So we're getting that rain that's intensifying more towards Nashville, Tennessee, and up back towards the eastern sections of Kentucky.

But draw your eye here on Memphis, Tennessee. They're getting a different kind of rainfall, what we call the training effect, meaning that the rain isn't necessarily moving across or moving from one way to the other. The rain is just coming down, and it keeps on coming down. And that's when we talk about flooding, because we get that constant rainfall heading in that direction with these strong bands, feeder bands of rain, and that's exactly what we've been seeing with this system.

So we're going to continue to see that teeming or training rain over Memphis as the feeder bands just continue to circulate. In fact, as you put this into motion, you'll see -- there it is, you can see these bands just ripping right on across.

So heavy rain for Tennessee, and now we're also getting some reports of tornadoes, at least Doppler-indicated tornadoes, as far to the east as North Carolina at this hour. So just be careful anywhere in this vicinity, because we could see tornadoes break out. We're under a tornado watch for a good portion of the Southeast.

The track of Katrina continues in this fashion. We're moving to the northeast, and eventually the storm will push far enough north that it'll become extra-tropical. But not at this time. It is still classified as a tropical storm. And anywhere in this vicinity, we're talking about rainfall totals three to five inches on top of what's already happening right now. So that's a lot of rain.

We already have reports of about eight inches of rain in some parts of Kentucky, and naturally, with the storm coming in on the Gulf Coast, this is pretty good distance that you're talking about. So this is the current track of Katrina, and that's what we're expecting.

Here's another look at that rain, and just to mention the tornado watch continues for parts of Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and even parts of the panhandle of Florida, not out of the woods yet for this.

So we'll be watching for the tornadoes to break out, and the flooding, which is going to be a concern.

SANCHEZ: Bonnie, thanks so much, Bonnie Schneider for bringing us up to date from our own Weather Center. And we'll certainly be checking back with you.

And we do have now an update to bring you. CNN can now confirm that there have been 30 deaths in the area of Biloxi, Mississippi. Once again, 30 confirmed deaths now in Biloxi, Mississippi. That's that area of Harrison County that we've been telling you about in Mississippi.

Gulf Port, we know, was also affected, and there has been one wire report indicating that there are as many as 50 people who have died in Harrison County alone. They're including Gulf Port as well. This report that we're confirming to you now is only in the Biloxi area, and we can say now that 30 people have died there.

Wow.

Well, New Orleans may have dodged the full frontal assault of Hurricane Katrina. To its east lies the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast that we were just talking about, parts of Mississippi, and then a little further to the east, Mobile, Alabama, as well.

It is a dawn-to-dusk curfew that folks have been following there, and that's where we find CNN's Ted Rowlands, who's joining us now live. He's got the very latest from what officials are telling him, and what he's been able to see and hear himself, around Mobile, Alabama.

Ted, what do you have?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, here in Mobile, as you mentioned, we have the curfew, and the police are patrolling the streets here, the power is out. They're warning folks not to expect power to be back on for a number of days and possibly weeks. It is going to be a monumental job.

But the real concern here is not necessarily this area as much as it is the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and they're already talking here in Alabama about helping out their neighbors, because there are a lot of concerns and a lot of questions. You mentioned Biloxi, and the 30- plus dead that CNN is confirming. They expect that that number will go up, according to officials here that have talked to people on the ground.

The problem, unlike the situation ongoing at this hour in New Orleans, where there's an active effort to get people out, it is rural there, and it is difficult to get to, and rescuers have yet to fully comprehend the damage, not only in Biloxi, but in other cities. Biloxi was hit very hard, some buildings totally destroyed, some partially destroyed. There is flooding. And there is a lot to be assessed in Biloxi.

But it is also these other areas, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Waveland. These are small communities in between New Orleans and Biloxi that have not been fully assessed. They're communities with populations ranging from 6,000 to 17,000. And there is real concern tonight, is when they -- what -- of what they wait -- will find once they are able to go in there and assess the damage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN NODINE, MOBILE COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Gulf Port and Bay St. Louis was ground zero, and it's unfortunate we cannot get into those areas yet. Spoke briefly with Haley Barbour over in Mississippi, and it seems as though they cannot get the rescue operations down in that area as of yet. And so tomorrow morning, we'll probably see more of the devastation that has been put forth by Katrina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: And those rescue efforts are expected to go into full force at daybreak. The question is, how many people of those in those communities heeded the warnings to get out, and how many stayed.

Here in Mobile, streets flooded, power will be out for some time, as we mentioned. There was a curfew instituted from dusk until dawn because they want people off the streets, and they also are warning people that have evacuated not to come back to their homes until a few days have passed to give rescue crews their space to get to the power back on and to get people in harm's way out of harm's way.

There was an oil-drilling platform here in Mobile that broke loose of its moorings and went into the Cochran Bridge. That has caused some relative damage as well to that bridge. They're not sure of the extent of that damage, so they've completely sealed off that bridge to traffic until they can assess the damage.

Safe to say, Rick, this is going to be a long few days and weeks in this area, in this region, as they really assess the damage from Katrina and then start to rebuild and repair that damage as they come across it. But a lot of folks are going to be up a lot of days and getting into these communities and trying to help folks that have been hurt by this devastating hurricane.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Ted, something just clicked in my mind when you mentioned the oil rig. Do you have any sense yet of the damage to -- I know the oil rig that you just mentioned is one that they were repairing, and it wasn't out in the Gulf itself. But do you have any sense yet of what type of damage we might see, not only to the oil rigs themselves, but also to some of the areas that handle the oil refineries, for example there around Alabama and Mississippi?

ROWLANDS: Yes, we haven't heard specifics on that. There have been some reports that have been unconfirmed as to lost oil platforms and people that have been out of communication, but that has not been confirmed. We just really don't know. Lot of questions yet.

And, you know, you see that ongoing effort going -- in New Orleans, where they're, you know, they have 70-plus boats and hundreds of personnel. It isn't really the case right now in Mississippi, because these are rural areas. It's just not that easy, and it's dangerous. So they're waiting, a lot of these search and rescue folks, for first light. First they had to wait till the storm ended, and now they're waiting for first light to help them out. And they are really concerned about what they're going to find tomorrow morning.

SANCHEZ: Ted Rowlands, following the story for us from Mobile, Alabama. We do thank you, Ted, for bringing us up to date on that. And we should mention, as Ted said, much of this information is going to be coming in over the next couple of days. But at least a quarter of the nation's oil is either produced or processed in the areas that we have just been talking about, of Alabama, Mississippi, and the area around New Orleans in Louisiana as well. So this is a very important question economically for our country as well.

We at CNN have been bringing you updates on that as we get the information as it comes in throughout the morning.

Meanwhile, tropical storm Katrina, that's what it is now, still moving across the Southeast, where there are several thunderstorm watches and tornado warnings.

Michael Mach is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, Southern Region Operations. He's in Fort Worth, Texas. He's been watching it from that vantage point. And he's joining us now by phone to bring us the very latest on what he's been able to find out.

Michael, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

MICHAEL MACH, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE (on phone): Hey, good morning.

SANCHEZ: What do we know at this point about Katrina?

MACH: Well, we know that the (INAUDIBLE) circulation is now moving into the Tennessee Valley and will soon, by daylight, be into the Ohio Valley region. And there is a tornado watch that continues for much of the states, as Alabama to about, oh, midmorning, as there is a line of thunderstorms that's currently moving toward the Montgomery and the -- just east of Birmingham, Alabama, area at this time.

SANCHEZ: We're looking at the loop. Our viewers are looking at the loop now, showing on radar what this storm looks like, and it's still very concentric for a non-hurricane, is it not?

MACH: Yes, it is quite extra-tropical, as they would say, in its configuration there. It has, of course, lost its identity as far as the eye and things like that. But it is continuing to weaken as it does continue to lift through the north at about 20 miles an hour this morning.

SANCHEZ: As we look at this storm, and as people who are watching us now in places around Birmingham and Nashville and parts of Kentucky and Memphis look at this storm, they wonder, Well, it looks awfully big on the map, but how big of an area do you have to be in near the center of this storm to actually be affected by it at this point?

MACH: Well, certainly within 100 or 200 miles of the storm center itself, you can certainly feel some very gusty winds there. Right now, the main threat for significant thunderstorm activity, as I indicated, in that line of cells that are currently moving across eastern Alabama. SANCHEZ: So if you're within 100 miles of the center of this thing, you could be affected, and it's a good idea to stay inside and don't be near a window.

MACH: Absolutely. And that would probably continue at least through between now and daybreak as well, as the system continues to weaken as it moves to the north.

SANCHEZ: There you have it, Katrina, as she stands now, and we'll also continue to follow the aftermath of Katrina and the drama that continues to unfold in places like New Orleans and along the coast, along Mississippi and Alabama as well.

This is our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. And we're going to be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We have some information just in to CNN that we can now share with you, and that is, that in the area of Biloxi, Mississippi, we have confirmed that there are 30 deaths as a result of an apartment complex. The folks who we understand have passed away were all in that area around the apartment complex. Specifics not yet known.

We also have confirmed from Mississippi authorities that as many as 50 people have died just in the Harrison County area alone, but that, by the way, would include Mississippi, so it may include those 30. It may not as well. Many of these numbers come in throughout the morning, and we're going to be sharing them with you.

But the Associated Press, The New York Times, and Mississippi authorities have been talking about 50 deaths in Harrison County. That would include both Gulf Port and Biloxi, and we don't know if it's including or not including the 30 deaths that we at CNN have now confirmed in an apartment complex in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Well, despite evacuation warnings, many residents of New Orleans have chosen to ride out hurricane Katrina.

What we want to share with you now is something that happens when you cover storms like this. It's an emotional moment, not just for those who are stuck in this situation, but many times for the reporters as well who are following the drama, oftentimes, if they're near their own hometowns.

Listen now, if you would, as we share this with you. It's CNN's Jeanne Meserve, talking with our Aaron Brown. This happened about two hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): As I left tonight, darkness, of course, had fallen, and you can hear people yelling for help, you could hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come. But for tonight, they've had to suspend the rescue efforts. It's just too hazardous for them to be out in the boats. There are electrical lines that are still alive, there are gas lines that are still spewing gas. There are cars that are submerged. There are other large objects. The boats can't operate.

So they had to suspend operations and leave those people in the homes.

As we were driving back, we passed scores of boats, Fish and Wildlife boats that they'd brought in. They're flat-bottomed. They're obviously going to put them in the water just as soon as they possibly can and go out and reach the people who are out there who desperately need help.

We watched them, some of them, come in. They were in horrible shape, some of them. We watched one woman whose leg had been severed. Mark Biello (ph) one of our cameramen, went out in one of the boats to help shoot. He ended up being out for hours and told horrific tales. He saw bodies. He saw (INAUDIBLE) -- other just unfathomable things, dogs wrapped in electrical lines that were still alive, that were being electrocuted.

The police are having radio problems, at least they were earlier this evening. They didn't have enough boats. They put out an appeal to various police who had personal boats to bring them to the scene, but the problem was, the people who had the boats couldn't get to the boats to bring them to the scene to go out and rescue the people.

People are out there in the night. One EMS worker told us that the water was rising. And I can tell you that when we came back into the city tonight, it certainly was higher here. Whether it's rising in that neighborhood as much as it has here, I don't know, Aaron.

AARON BROWN, ANCHOR: Jeanne, let me walk through a couple of things.

Are they able, are authorities able to, in any way, communicate with these people who are stranded and scared and hungry and cold and desperate?

MESERVE: They aren't tonight. When the boats were in the water, as the boats went around through the neighborhood, they yelled, and people yelled back. But Mark, when he came back, told me that some of the people they just couldn't get to, they just couldn't get to them, they couldn't maneuver the boats in there. Because this had happened before, in Hurricane Betsy...

BROWN: Yes.

MESERVE: ... there were many people who kept axes in their homes, and had them in the attic in preparation for this. And some people were able to use those axes and make holes in their roofs and stick their head out or their body out...

BROWN: Yes.

MESERVE: ... or climb out completely. But many others clearly didn't have that. Most of the rescuers appeared to be carrying axes, and they were trying to hack them out as best they could...

BROWN: Well, one...

MESERVE: ... to provide access and haul them out.

BROWN: I'm sorry, what, what...

MESERVE: There were also Coast Guard helicopters involved in it, Aaron. We could see them flying overhead.

BROWN: Yes.

MESERVE: It appears that when they saw someone on a rooftop, they were dropping flares to try and signal the boats to get there.

BROWN: Is there any sense of -- that there, that there's triage, that they're looking to see who needs help the worst? Or they're just -- they were just getting to whomever they could get to and getting them out of there?

MESERVE: I had the distinct impression they were just getting to whoever they could get to. I talked to one fire captain who'd been out in his personal boat. He said he worked an area probably 10 square blocks. He'd rescued 75 people. He said in one instance, there were something like 18 people in one house, some of them young. One, he said, appeared to be a newborn. And he said other boats were working the same area at the same time, also picking up large numbers of people.

And he doesn't believe they got all of them, and that's just one 10-block area. I don't know how big the area is. I haven't been able to see any...

BROWN: Yes.

MESERVE: ... footage from the air. But it appears to go on forever. It's hard for me to comprehend how many people might be out there and how many people's lives are in jeopardy, or how many people may already be dead.

BROWN: That's, it's -- just stay with me for a bit, OK? This, it's what is -- for everybody right now is very difficult is, there isn't what we refer to in the business as a wide shot. We can't get, authorities can't get, we can't get, we can't give to those of you who are watching tonight that wide picture of what these scenes are like.

Can you, what kind of neighborhoods are we talking about? Are these middle-class neighborhoods? Are they, are the homes structurally sound? What are we talking about?

MESERVE: Well, the area where I was, and, you know, I don't know what the other neighborhoods are like, but this was a poor neighborhood. These were very humble homes. Most of them appeared to be only one story high, with then some small attic space above them. These people are people of not much means. Some of them, I would guess, do not have cars and didn't have the option of driving away from here. Some of them, I would guess, did not have the money that would have bought them a hotel room.

BROWN: Yes.

MESERVE: Clearly, there were many warnings to evacuate, and people were told there was shelter downtown, and I can tell you that the rescuers tell me that everybody they picked up regretted their decision to say where they were. But clearly, getting out of their homes would not have been easy for these people.

BROWN: How far from downtown, or the center of New Orleans, were you working?

MESERVE: It's a little hard for me to judge, because we were traveling in such peculiar circumstances, at a very low rate of speed, having to maneuver around the boats that are on the highway. And I might mention that the exit ramps and the entrance ramps to the highway are now going to be used as boat ramps to get those boats into the water to get out and rescue people.

It's a little difficult for me to judge. I would guess, you know, somewhere between -- maybe five miles, I would say, to the east of the city.

BROWN: The, you talked about all the water there and that there are boats there. Do you have any sense of how deep that water is?

MESERVE: Well, I can tell you that in the vicinity where I was, the water came up to the eaves of the house. And I was told by several rescue workers that we were not seeing the worst of it, that we were at one end of the Ward Nine part of the city, and that there's another part unaccessible by road at this point where the roads -- the houses were covered to their rooftops. And they were having a great deal of problem gaining access down there.

The rescue workers also told me that they saw bodies in that part.

BROWN: Any, you mentioned earlier that the water seemed to get progressively deeper. Now, walk away from this if you don't know. It's just a question of tide moving in and tide moving out?

MESERVE: Well, I can tell you that the people who were rescued with whom I had a chance to speak told me that the water came up very suddenly on them. They said most of the storm had passed, and what apparently was the storm surge came. Some of them talked about seeing a little water on their floor, going to the front door, seeing a lot of water, going to the back door, seeing more water, and then barely having time to get up the stairs.

One man I talked to was barefoot. He hadn't had time to put on shoes. Another woman was in her house dress and flip-flops.

As for the water tonight, and how fast it may be going up or down and, you know, I may not have the most current information about the tides, but I can tell you that downtown here, the water seemed to be, I'd say, six inches or so deeper than it was when I left earlier this afternoon. It may be a totally situation, different situation...

BROWN: Sure.

MESERVE: ... out where those houses are. But I can tell you the water certainly did not appear to be going down.

And one thing we saw that was -- oh, I just couldn't imagine being in this situation. One of the boats had managed to pick up a fairly large group of people and had brought them in, and the only land that was above ground were some railroad tracks. And they put them there. And then they had to sit there for what seemed to me to be a couple of hours before another boat could pick them up and bring them in to the highway.

And then when they got to the highway, there was no truck to bring them into the city, and they set off on foot into the city area.

BROWN: If you mentioned this, I apologize. Do you have, and when I say you, I think people understand, I hope people understand, that it's not just you. You're working with a crew of people, photographer and others. Do you have a sense of how many people may be stranded tonight?

MESERVE: No. Nobody has a sense of that. And may I say that the crew was extraordinary. We had very difficult situations. My cameraman is working with a broken foot since 9:00 this morning to try and get the story to you. Big words of praise for them and for Mark Biello, who went out and ended up in that water, trying to get the rescue boats over partially submerged railroad tracks. It was a heroic piece of work by CNN (INAUDIBLE).

BROWN: Our thanks to you for your efforts. It -- you don't need to hear this from me, but, you know, people sometimes think that we're a bunch of kind of wacky thrill-seekers doing this work sometimes. And no one who has listened to the words you've spoken or the tone of your voice could possibly think that now.

We appreciate your work.

MESERVE: Aaron, thank you. We are sometimes wacky thrill- seekers. But when you stand in the dark and you hear people yelling for help and no one can get to them, it's a totally different experience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: As we watched that interview with Jeanne Meserve and Aaron Brown, we should bring you now the very latest figures, or the death toll, as we often call it in this business.

CNN can now confirm that 50 people have died in Harrison County around Mississippi, 30 of them, indeed, were the ones who died in that apartment complex in Biloxi. The rest, around the area of Gulf Port. We don't have specifics as to the deaths, but we can confirm that number. That puts this hurricane certainly as one of the deadliest in recent times to affect the United States. Certainly still not area of -- where Camille is, for example, 1969, it killed 256, 1955, Diane killed 184, Betsy killed 75 in 1965.

Interestingly enough, Andrew, the hurricane, which, as you've often heard, is one of the costliest in the United States, killed very few people.

We're going to take a break, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And because of this vast storm which is Hurricane Katrina, now tropical storm Katrina, we are staying with the story throughout the night and into the wee hours of the morning to bring you the very latest developments as they happen, and much of the drama that continues to unfold.

Welcome back, everyone. I'm Rick Sanchez.

We bring you the latest information as the deadly and dangerous storm affects more and more people, as we learn, as we go. Mississippi officials saying an estimated 54 people have died in five different counties, they say. Massive flooding is causing problems all across the Gulf Coast area.

Here are pictures of a house that was flattened by the storm, and as you can see from this aerial view, there are hundreds of homes in New Orleans just like this one.

This man in New Orleans was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Let's see if we get that picture up for you. There it is. He's up on the roof, and suddenly they're able to hoist him by cable, as officials negotiate some of the power lines -- look how close they come to some of those power lines, as they're able to finally pull him up. And then the Coast Guard official signals to the pilot, Pull me up, pull me up. See if we can stay with this. And you'll see that they actually negotiate the power lines, and then are actually able to get the man on board the helicopter.

As we understand from our correspondents, rescues like this are going on as we speak, many of them in the night, the majority of them taking place by boat now, not so much by helicopter.

People in Biloxi, Mississippi, are wading through rubble and debris there. Hurricane Katrina destroyed several downtown buildings and structures. And, of course, left thousands of people without power.

The storm may have come and gone for New Orleans, but its aftereffects are going to be felt for quite some time, and are, as we speak, being felt.

The city's water supply has been compromised, with a 50-inch-wide water main now severed, we understand. That means safe, drinkable water is not there. You have to use bottled water, or you have to try and boil it. But, of course, most people have no electricity, so they're unable to do that.

With more than a million residents evacuated, and thousands more in shelters, officials are telling people not to go home just yet. So many of them are still in those shelters. And it gets frustrating.

For a perspective on that, Robert Thornton joins us now. He's live on the phone.

Robert, I understand that you're a guard on duty, so to speak, despite not being able to secure your roof. Tell us your story, if you possibly could. Bring us up to date what your drama has been tonight.

ROBERT THORNTON, DEVONWOOD APARTMENT MANAGER (on phone): Well, sir, first of all, (INAUDIBLE) all you guys and stuff, and just (INAUDIBLE) let you know that the few guys that are left, that we are fine. I just made sure that everything is OK with all other tenants and stuff. I just make sure that everything's pretty much going well, just to try to keep everybody calm.

SANCHEZ: Are you -- have you had either structural damage to your particular...

THORNTON: (INAUDIBLE)...

SANCHEZ: ... I think it's the Devonwood Apartments where you are? Is it structural...

THORNTON: Yes.

SANCHEZ: ... or flooding damage? Or both?

THORNTON: Well, it's -- actually, it's (INAUDIBLE), it's actually both, but more structural, because of the bad weather. It's just bad. A lot of roofs and just stuff is just torn off. And there's just a lot of paper, you know, you know, you just really don't know what to do. And I'm just going to...

SANCHEZ: How many people lived in your apartment complex?

THORNTON: You've had approximately, like, about 245.

SANCHEZ: Two hundred and forty-five people?

THORNTON: Yes, sir.

SANCHEZ: And where are those 245 people now?

THORNTON: A lot of people, you know, had actually had left before the storm, but the few that did stay, I just made sure, you know, that everybody, you know, just was OK, you know, pretty much with the (INAUDIBLE) and stuff like that, you know. But just -- it just due to flooding and stuff like that, and the structural damage. It was really real wicked, a lot of high, high, high wind, a lot of roofs just torn off. I mean, you know, it was just, like, torn off like it was nothing. When I tell you winds came through, they came through. You know, it was serious, sir, but (INAUDIBLE).

SANCHEZ: Robert, if you would, tell us what part of New Orleans are you in?

THORNTON: Actually, we are located on the West Bank of New Orleans. Actually, it's across, actually across the (INAUDIBLE) Bridge, you know, which is called the West Bank. We are actually the (INAUDIBLE) of New Orleans before we reach Jefferson Parish, sir.

SANCHEZ: And before we let you go, tell us what the area around -- not just your apartment complex, but the area around your apartment complex. How affected has it been by the storm or the surge in waters?

THORNTON: Well, everybody is just down with no power, you know, lack of food and stuff like that.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

THORNTON: And, you know, everybody, they're just trying to get together to become one and just to do what they need to do make it on throughout the night. It's just -- I mean, right now, I'm in complete darkness. I'm just going off of pure adrenaline. And hopefully I will be OK. I mean, that's just me. I will do my best. If somebody need me, then that's what I'll do.

SANCHEZ: Robert Thornton...

THORNTON: (INAUDIBLE). Yes, sir?

SANCHEZ: Robert Thornton, we thank you for sharing your story with us, one of so many in that area around New Orleans, with so many people who are, as we speak, trying to get rescue officials over to them.

He is an apartment complex manager, as you hear, who happens to be in an area that's also been affected. But he seems to be doing OK, and he tells us he's going to be waiting things out.

Well, despite being downgraded to a tropical storm status, more people in the Southeast are having a sleepless night thanks to Katrina.

Let's check in right away with our meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider, who's been watching this for us.

What is Katrina doing now? Is it continuing to go in a northeasterly direction? And specifically where, Bonnie?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now, we're getting a lot of heavy rain in the Southeast in places like Nashville, Tennessee, where the rain's been coming down heavy and hard. We have reports of an inch to about three inches on the ground already. This is a live picture of Nashville right now, and it's very tough to make out. Of course, it's dark out, but we also have the teeming rain happening, thick cloud coverage, and shakiness with the camera. You can see the camera shaking, because we still have those strong winds associated with Katrina.

Going back to our radar picture now, we're going to pull out, and I'll show you that Nashville's really just one area that's affected right now by Katrina. The big picture is, this storm is bringing flooding and heavy rain to a good portion of the Southeast, as far to the west as Tennessee, and then back all the way towards the Carolinas, we're getting some downpours of rain.

So if you're going to be doing some traveling, the best advice is not to. Try to stay off the roads as much as you can, especially in this area, but also towards the Ohio valley, because that's the next stop for the storm.

It's moving pretty quickly, about 20 miles per hour to the north- northeast, and the center of circulation right now, well, the last advisory had it near Columbus, Mississippi, but obviously it's moved a little bit to the north-northeast since then, but it's still a very large storm, and we're still getting very strong winds, especially right near the storm center, where the maximum winds with Katrina right now are at 50 miles per hour, so still a powerful tropical storm that is not through at all with the Eastern seaboard and further inland as well.

Here's the track, the latest track from the National Hurricane Center. We're still getting tracks issued, because Katrina, even though it made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, we're looking at it now as a tropical storm. So the storm is moving to the north- northeast. It will affect states like Indiana, already bringing rain to Tennessee and Kentucky, back out to Ohio.

And then you start heading even further north and east, and into Pennsylvania, parts of upstate New York, cloud coverage and light showers back towards the coastline for New York City and into Philadelphia, but still some very heavy rain wherever Katrina will be tracking.

And we're expecting it to be downgraded eventually to just an area of low pressure, just bringing in some strong winds and some downpours of rain. But right now, this storm is still a dangerous storm, because when you have 60-mile-per-hour winds, that's enough wind to knock down a power line, to knock down a tree, especially a very old one that was maybe leaning on falling at some point. That's all you really need, just to get a strong wind gust, and it can happen.

Another thing to note that we've been watching throughout the night, throughout the early hours of this morning, we've had numerous reports of Doppler radar-indicated tornadoes. Doesn't necessarily mean that a tornado has actually touched down on the ground, but our Doppler radar indicates that the conditions are favorable for these tornadoes. They've been spotted on radar. We're getting a lot of what we call spin in the atmosphere.

So this red box you see indicated here all the way through Georgia, this is an area favorable for tornado development. So even though we're in the nighttime hours, it's still dark out, we could still see some tornadoes pop up. So it's really not a good idea to be traveling in this vicinity tonight, and if you can avoid it, tomorrow morning as well, Rick.

SANCHEZ: And not a good idea, as you mentioned, to be anywhere near a tree.

Most of the deaths reported so far from Katrina, at least the ones in south Florida...

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: ... and some of the preliminary ones, around the Gulf Coast as well, were from people who were close to trees. And you mentioned something about the wind. But oftentimes what does it is the ground becomes saturated with water...

SCHNEIDER: Correct.

SANCHEZ: ... and as it becomes moist, the roots give, correct?

SCHNEIDER: That's right, that's right, especially when you have teeming rain, like what we're seeing right now with Katrina.

I mentioned earlier this morning that what -- you see the storm moving to the northeast, but it's not only doing that, where the rain comes through and that's it, it's done, when you're talking about a tropical system, you have this counterclockwise rotation and what we call feeder bands. And the rain just keeps coming in the same area over and over and over again.

And that's what we're seeing right now as we switch over here into Nashville. The rain just keeps coming. So it's not like you get a rain shower and then it's over. This is just continual rain as the storm pushes through. And even as it moves past a certain area, you could get the backside of the storm, and that will bring more rain and more wind.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that's why tomorrow's story may be the flash flooding in some of those areas. Hopefully not, though. Bonnie Schneider, we thank you for bringing us that update. And we'll be checking back with you.

We're going to bring -- we're going to take a quick break right now. I'm Rick Sanchez. We'll bring you the very latest on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the drama that continues to unfold as well. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We want to start this next block by bringing you a live picture. You're looking live at Nashville, Tennessee. This is a tower cam shot, as we call it. And it provides a shot of the place where Katrina may be affecting next.

So to talk about that, let's take you now to Randy Harris. He's a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management.

And Mr. Harris, thanks so much for joining us. Tell us what you are concerned about tonight for your area.

RANDY HARRIS, SPOKESPERSON, TENNESSEE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT (on phone): Well, Rick, we're looking at the track of the storm. Looks like it's coming up through the west and middle Tennessee area, just west of the Tennessee River. We have several counties have activated their emergency operations centers, and we have some shelters on standby if they're needed.

We do have some flash flood warnings in west Tennessee counties, and we look at -- it looks like the eye of the storm is scheduled to cross middle Tennessee about somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00 this morning Central time.

SANCHEZ: This is as hilly terrain as there is in the eastern part of the United States. So I imagine flash flood, if you get enough rain, would be your biggest concern, right?

HARRIS: That is a big concern. We're looking at the possibility of some tornadic activity. We haven't seen anything yet. Right now, we don't have any major damage or flooding reported...

SANCHEZ: What, what, what, let me, let me...

HARRIS: ... in the state.

SANCHEZ: ... ask you a question. I certainly don't mean to interrupt. But what do you do about a flash flood? Is there any way that you can either prevent it or warn the people that could possibly be affected by it? Do you know what the areas would be?

HARRIS: The areas we're looking at are around the Duck River in south central Tennessee, and some of the smaller streams that normally do flood whenever we have a problem like this. But hopefully the storm will move through fast enough to where he rain doesn't accumulate, and that won't be a problem.

SANCHEZ: That's certainly the best thing that we can hope for. Randy Harris, spokesperson for the Tennessee Emergency Management. Mr. Harris, thanks so much for taking the time. We wish you and yours the very best, sir.

HARRIS: Thank you very much, sir.

SANCHEZ: We're going to take a quick break, and then we have something else that we're going to bring you. We're going to be able to talk to one of our own photojournalists who was there. You may have heard Jeanne Meserve reference him just a while ago, and some of these incredible rescues were taking place there in New Orleans on boat. He went on one of the boats, and he's going to join us next.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: I'm Rick Sanchez. We welcome you back to our continuing coverage here of CNN of Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath, and some of the drama that continues to unfold.

And for a better handle on that, we're going to turn now to a CNN veteran news photographer who has covered wars, he's covered natural disasters, and now he has a story to tell as well about what he saw tonight in Katrina in the area around New Orleans.

Mark Biello is joining us now, our photojournalist, who, we understand, took a boat ride today in that area around the Ninth Ward and saw some incredible things unfolding.

Mark, take it away.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, we got any closer to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming, we're coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you stuck to anything?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you'll be able to grab the rope and we can pull you out?

(END AUDIO TAPE)

MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: ... from some homes in the Edgewood neighborhood, which is not that far from the Super Dome, actually, where a lot of people took refuge.

And what we saw were many people that were trapped inside their attics, inside their homes, from the floodwaters. And these people were being rescued, and just -- there's many, many people that are still trapped inside these homes in this neighborhood.

SANCHEZ: ... hear the people who were trapped calling out, Mark?

BIELLO: Yes, yes. We -- basically, when we went through the neighborhoods, there was still a lot of gas lines pumping natural gas up through the water. We could smell the gas lines still going. And some of the power lines were still hot. But yes, you could still hear the people yelling and screaming and banging on their rooftops, because as the floodwaters rose, they had nowhere to go except the attics. And there's still quite a few people that are trapped as we speak in these -- in this one particular neighborhood. They estimate 300 to 500 people are still trapped inside their homes.

SANCHEZ: We're watching a man now with an axe essentially tearing into the attic of a home. Is that the type of picture that you saw? Or did you take these pictures?

BIELLO: Yes, that's all the video we shot earlier today. And basically, this gentleman was 11 years old back in 1964, when his father...

SANCHEZ: Camille?

BIELLO: ... helped rescue people the same way, by going about in his own private boat, rescuing people from the attic. So he felt that since there was not enough manpower, and the rescue operations are pretty much stressed at this time, he took it upon himself to take his own private boat with a couple friends -- I think the one gentleman's his son -- to see if they could rescue as many people as possible from their homes.

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