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Hurricane Katrina Slams into Gulf Coast; Hurricane Katrina Flood Waters Pouring Into New Orleans, Levee Breached; Now Tropical Storm Threatens Tennessee, Kentucky; Survivors Plucked From Rooftops in Flooded New Orleans Neighborhoods; Extensive Flooding in Biloxi

Aired August 30, 2005 - 04:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: We welcome you back to this special continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath. It is 4 o'clock in the East; 3 o'clock in New Orleans, where the Army Corps of Engineer are meeting right now to try and make some very important decisions. Let's try and pass along to you some of this information that we've been gathering.
Officials are telling us that a levee that holds back part of Lake Pontchartrain has been breached. They say it is a two-block span along the 17th Street and Canal Streets area. This is a potentially devastating problem because the Crescent City, as you may know, is below sea level.

Now authorities in New Orleans have been talking about possibly evacuating two hospitals in the area. One of the biggest hospitals, Tulane University Medical Center, but we have just now learned that those plans have been put on hold. That the two hospitals will not be evacuated and the reason that they're not going to be evacuated is that the water is rising, but not rising that fast.

Now, here's an interview we did just moments ago with some folks who were talking to us about that very thing.


KAREN TROYER-CARAWAY, V.P. TULANE UNIV. HOSPITAL: We don't have any confirmed reports of casualties at this time. Our biggest concern is rising water. Our hospital is in downtown New Orleans and we did not get any accumulated water from the storm, when the storm actually occurred.

But within the past two hours the water has been rising at the rate of an inch every five minutes. We now are completely surrounded by six feet of water, and we're getting ready to get on the phone with FEMA to start talking about evacuation plans.


SANCHEZ: Obviously, we'll try to work that angle of the story, about a potential breach on the levee in the Lake Pontchartrain. Flooding also affecting Biloxi, Mississippi. And as you can see in these shots, streets literally turned into lakes. It is confirmed at least 50 people have died along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Also, Alabama officials are going to be out later this morning. They're going to try to survey the damage.

And check out this bridge. As you can see an oil rig broke free from its moorings, that was under construction, and wedged itself underneath the bridge in Mobile. Trucks carrying hazardous waste use the bridge rather than using a tunnel.

We're also going to be keeping a very close watch on what this deadly and dangerous storm continues to do. We've got complete coverage on Katrina, which has not been downgraded to a tropical storm. Our Ted Rowlands, he's in Biloxi, Mississippi. Adaora Udoji, she's standing by in New Orleans.

And our Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider, is standing by in our weather center to bring us up to date on what the storm could still be doing.

Take it away, Bonnie.


Well, I just also want to talk a little bit about New Orleans. Because even though the National Weather Service there is not reporting, because it is down, as are many of them in the area, we're still getting some fairly strong winds in the region. We've seen some gusts of about 25 m.p.h.

And remember, the wind can move the water and the situation with New Orleans, as we've been telling you all along, it's like a bowl, sits below sea level. The flood wall, the Mississippi River one side, Lake Pontchartrain on the other, so right between two bodies of water. We had the heavy rain and we certainly saw the gusty winds. But we're continuing to see those breezy, windy conditions. So the possibility exists just for a continual threat for more flooding, aside from the levee situation that we mentioned earlier.

I just want to mention that the wind moving the water is not going to help things. And until Katrina completely moves out of the way, this could still be a concern just with the breezy conditions that are out there right now. And very fragile conditions with New Orleans.

Katrina, right now, is a tropical storm, has been downgraded. Maximum winds are at 60 m.p.h. Most of the winds I've been tracking here have been about 45 m.p.h., at times.

Just want to talk about rainfall totals. We've been seeing a lot of rain in Tennessee overnight tonight, and into Kentucky. These are rainfall totals over the past 12 hours. So some of them closer to the center of the storm, which the last advisory had it near Columbus, Mississippi. It has probably shifted a little bit since then.

But notice, near -- here's Tupelo, Mississippi -- so near the Mississippi boarder we have the heaviest rain into Tennessee. And then a little bit further, on the eastern half of Tennessee, near Chattanooga, rainfall totals are slighter than that. But remember, this storm is not through and the rain continues over Nashville, for example. And we're expecting that rain to continue towards Kentucky, as I mentioned. And then back further to the north, through the Ohio Valley, over the next day or so.

Katrina has a lot of rain. It's a large area. It's a large storm still. We still have tropical storm force winds outward of a 100 miles from the center of the storm. So very windy conditions and very easy downpours of rain that will just continue.

This red box that you see here. It's a tornado watch box. All through the overnight period we've seen Doppler indicated reports of tornadoes. Especially in Alabama, I've seen numerous ones for those as well. And also this box does extend as far east as the Carolinas. So once we start getting into the daylight hours and the atmosphere starts heating up, we're likely to see a pretty good threat for the potential for tornadoes to break out.

And remember, as the storm moves to the north and to the east, that watch box will likely move to the north and to the east. So if you thought, oh, Katrina is just a problem for New Orleans and for Gulfport. It really isn't. It's likely to bring some flooding, very heavy wind and rain for much of the Ohio Valley. And then later on, into Wednesday, we'll be talking about Pennsylvania.

Of course, the situation will be downgraded quite a bit by then. We're expecting by, I believe, later on this evening the storm to just loose its tropical -- not loose tropical storm status and just become a tropical depression. But still it's going to bring a lot of wind and rain.

SANCHEZ: If you have a non-essential job and you feel like you don't need to go to work, it probably would be a good idea to stay indoors on day like this.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: Especially, if you are in there around Tennessee and Kentucky, huh, Bonnie?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, and I also just want to emphasize, again, because a lot of folks see the situation in New Orleans and it is hard to imagine it may be for your area that you see such flooding. But remember, it doesn't take a lot of flooding. You could even have six or seven inches of water on the road and that could cause a major problem.

So, if you're into Kentucky/Tennessee, where we've had reports of flash flooding already tonight and into tomorrow, and you see water covering any portion of the roadway, you do not want to cross it. Because you cannot determine how deep that water is, just by sight.

SANCHEZ: As some have already learned in parts of New Orleans. Bonnie, we thank you for that.

Our live coverage begins this morning, though, with the situation that is unfolding in New Orleans. This is probably as dramatic a scene as we have been seeing anywhere. That, following news that there is possibly a breach on the levee at Lake Pontchartrain, that is pouring more water, still, into a city that is already flooded. You're hearing comments now from the mayor of New Orleans, saying that, in fact, 80 percent of the city may be underwater. This as more and more reports continue to come in about the flooding.

That's why what we want to do now is try and bring in some of our correspondents who have been checking on this situation. None better than CNN's Adaora Udoji, who has been telling us exactly what's been taking place in a very specific place; where there have been some miraculous rescues taking place with boats, trying to get people out of areas, where they are either on top of their houses, on the roof, or stuck in their attics. Let's take you now to Adaora Udoji and she can bring us up to date on what's going on there.

What is it, Adaora?

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question, Rick, miraculous recoveries are exactly what's been happening here. And Ellis Field, which is just northwest of downtown New Orleans.

And you can take a look down, we're actually standing on the interstate highway. And you can see that there are some rescue workers and the people who are actually sitting along the side of the on ramp are people who have been rescued from this area that is massively flooded.

Six feet, at least, we are told, underwater dozens, if not hundreds, of homes. They are just beginning the understand the extent of the flooding in this area. And so far we're told there are roughly 500 people have been rescued from their homes. As you said, Rick, many of them trapped in their attic or standing on top of the roof for hours on end; some of them since 5 a.m. yesterday morning.

We are told, so far, no serious injuries; lots of scrapes and bruises. One man with a broken leg, but no fatalities at this point. We've seen entire families, men, women and children, lots and lots of children coming off of these boats barefoot. Just carrying whatever it is that they could take out of their house. There are roughly two, three dozen rescue workers using boats, as you can see.

It's very treacherous in these waters. They don't know if there are submerged cars, power lines, all kinds of debris in the water. So they have been moving systematically and very slowly.

Again, though, not clear exactly the extent of the flooding in this area, although we were told by one official, possibly as much as a 20 by 20 mile area of homes underwater.

Further west from here, in Metterly (ph), there is also tremendous flooding. And in St. Barnabas Parish, that you have been talking about all night, there is an estimated 40,000 homes that are underwater.

And some of these areas, we've been told, rescue workers cannot get to, because A, the waters are rising in some areas, as you were mentioning. But in some places there is actually lots of flooding, but then you have clear road, to they can't take in boats, they can't take in cars. They're going to have to wait.

And again, the rescue workers are still sort of corralling among themselves, because navigating the city has just been incredibly difficult. And I'm sure when the sun comes up in the morning they are just going to see, you know, extraordinary extent to the damage here.

SANCHEZ: Are there a lack of boats, of vessels? Is there any way they can call out to people who maybe have some boats with shallow hulls that might be able to help in this rescue?

UDOJI: I think it is a combination. There is certainly a lot of that going on. In fact, we met a young man not long ago who said he did pull out his canoe and they were trying to paddle away from the house. But there was just too many of them. They couldn't get everyone in the boat, back and forth. And so they were very glad to see these folks here.

The rescue workers are coming in from all over the state. And even we've heard that some are expected to be coming in from other states, like Texas, for example. So there is going to be certainly a huge influx of rescue workers in the next couple of days as the need becomes much more apparent.

Just one very, very quick note, on Tulane Hospital. We actually spent the night there last night. And this morning, after the storm had started and most of it had passed, by noontime, they were actually feeling pretty relieved because there was no flooding at that point. They were on emergency power but things seemed to be going terribly well. And now, of course, we're hearing that they are underwater. And that, in fact, they are concerned that their emergency power may be affected by that flooding and they would be out of power, which is why they are talking about evacuating.

When we last left there were roughly 200 patients who were in the hospital, mostly critical care patients. They have a neo-natal unit. We met a family, for example, whose son had just had open brain surgery on Thursday. So, obviously, a lot of concern over there as to what is going to happen to those patients.

SANCHEZ: And they say that the water is continuing to rise and that there maybe problems with the levee as well. So adding problems on top of the unfortunate situation that they're dealing with right now.

Adaora Udoji, live for us there in New Orleans. Thank you so much for bringing us up to date on that.

Now, despite the dire situation in New Orleans, there are those looking to profit from the misfortune of Hurricane Katrina. CNN's John Zarrella now, with more on the flood waters and the looting that is taking inside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Water lapped against houses, streets became rivers, motorists tried driving through it. Some made it, others didn't.

On one flood-prone stretch of Interstate 10, cars bobbed in it. One driver was pulled from his vehicle just before it went under.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was driving I-10 westbound, trying to get to Kenner, to the Williams Boulevard exit and I didn't see the water. It blends in with the gray of the road and I just drove right into it.

ZARRELLA: Katrina slid to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city, which is below sea level, the bone-chilling consequences of a direct hit. But it was bad enough. Ask Charlie Wegman (ph). Two feet of water surrounded his house.

CHARLIE WEGMAN, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I'm 64. I've never seen this area flood like this. I've never seen this much flooding anywhere in this area, in all my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not even for Betsy.

WEGMAN: Not even for Betsy.

ZARRELLA (on camera): New Orleans is a bowl and as the rain continues to fall and it has been falling all day, the bowl is filling up. Nearly every street has some degree of water on it. Behind me, water ankle deep to knee deep. This Allegiance (ph) Field. At the end of Allegiance (ph) Field is the lakefront. It's impassible. We can't get there.

(Voice over): All this water was just from the rain. Some spilled over the levies that protect New Orleans. While the city staggered, some took it as an opportunity -- an opportunity to loot. They poured out of a supermarket, shopping carts loaded. For as bad as it is in New Orleans, the cliche is indeed appropriate. It cloud have been so much worse -- John Zarrella, CNN, New Orleans.


SANCHEZ: By the way, before we do anything else, let's try and bring you up to date on one of the developments that we have following for you, this morning. And that information that we had received, you may have seen it during an interview that we were conducting here with an official from Tulane University Hospital, who told us that she had learned that there had indeed been a breach at the levee on 17th Street and Canal, which would be part of the levee that holds back, of course, Lake Pontchartrain. Which would be a huge problem.

Well, we at CNN have just spoken to an official with the New Orleans Fire Department, who is telling us that he can indeed confirm to us now that there has been a 200-foot break in the levee that surrounds 17th Street Canal. So obviously he is referring to the very same place that we were telling you about in that interview.

This would obviously be a very serious problem, because Lake Pontchartrain is above the city of New Orleans; New Orleans being below sea level. Just how massive that break is, what kind of water is flowing out of there, we don't know. But it certainly is disconcerting to officials in New Orleans and something that we hope to hear more about in the coming hours.

We're also in Mobile, Alabama for you this morning, where downtown streets were awash with floodwaters. And winds from the storm's outer bands literally ripped an oil rig loose. Right now, Mobile is under dusk to dawn curfew and CNN's Ted Rowlands, he's live in Mobile with more on what's going on there.

Ted, how's it looking at this point?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as active as things are in New Orleans, things are quiet here in Mobile. They will wait for first light before they continue the clean up efforts here. There is no power here and as you mentioned there is a curfew in effect. They do not want anybody out on the streets here in Mobile. There is real concern about the Mississippi Gulf Coast cities and the inability for search and rescue crews to get there to assess the damages.

They do have folks in Biloxi and we have seen some images out of Biloxi all day yesterday and into the night. And Biloxi was hit extremely hard. Death toll there at about 30 at this point. That is expected to go up. Buildings partially or totally destroyed in Biloxi. And the streets have become rivers there as well. Flooding extensive in Biloxi.

There is also real concern about the cities around Biloxi, in between New Orleans and Biloxi, along the coast. Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Waveland. These are all smaller cities with populations between 6,000 and 17,000. And it has been very difficult for crews to get in and assess the damage there.

The hope is, is that the vast majority of the residents left those cities and heeded the warnings before Katrina came in. Those that tried to survive, it is feared, may not have succeeded in that gamble. And when first light comes they will check those places out in earnest to assess the damage. But people are very concerned about the possibility there.

Here in Mobile, streets did flood. It causes significant problems downtown and the power there, telling us, will be out not just for days but possibly weeks in here.

You mentioned that oil drilling platform. It hit the Cochran (ph) Bridge. It came off of its moorings. This was not out in the Gulf; it was actually being worked on here. But that shows the force of Katrina. It brought the platform off of its moorings and into the bridge. That bridge impassable. They will deal with that, as well, beginning at first light.

A lot of work ahead, not only tomorrow but the weeks -- or days and weeks to come, Rick. The real devastation of Katrina is just now starting to set in along this area. One sobering note, we can pass along. They have asked for help from other states. Specifically cadaver dogs are on their way from Miami, Dade and from Tennessee, to help with the search along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

SANCHEZ: Ted Rowlands, following that story for us from Mobile, Alabama.

And when we come back we will continue to try and keep you updated on two developments. One, of course, is that levee break that may have taken place across the southern border of Lake Pontchartrain, leading into New Orleans.

And then, just how many people are potentially trapped in their homes as the rising flood waters continue to go up in that area around St. Bernard Parrish? We'll examine that as well. We'll be right back.


SANCHEZ: We want to show you two images. The first one is a graphic representation of what the radar is now showing of what is left of Hurricane Katrina. Essentially, a tropical storm, as you can see the area it is going through now is parts of Tennessee.

Now, let's give you the second image. And the second image is the actual shot -- this is a live picture you are looking at now -- from a tower cam of Nashville, Tennessee. This is the area that is about to be affected by the storm and it could be affected in a big way. It they do indeed get a lot of rain, as some are saying might be the case.

Michael Mach is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, Southern Region Operations, in Forth Worth, Texas. He's joining us now by phone to give us a sense of what the folks in Nashville and perhaps along parts of western Kentucky, as well, will be facing.

Michael, over to you.

MICHAEL MACH, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: Well, the precipitation shield has shrunk just a little bit during the early morning hours. And generally is encompassing an area that covers a large part of the state of Tennessee and Kentucky. And then there is a fairly strong line of thunderstorms that are generally occurring now along the Appalachian Mountain Range.

We expect the area to expand again by the mid morning to early afternoon hours. In fact, it will be a threat for isolated tornadoes over parts of Virginia and North Carolina by this afternoon as well.

SANCHEZ: Why is this storm still so large, as we look it on that loop there?

MACH: Well, it is -- as you know very well, it is a very strong storm system there. And it is generally associated with an atmosphere that has been very volatile and conducive to continuing to maintain it in this very large and tremendous form, even after it made inland earlier today.

And we expect it really, the storm, to continue in its massive size as it moves up toward the Great Lakes and Northeast part of the country as well by this evening.

SANCHEZ: So as we look at this loop, does that mean people as far away, let's say West Virginia, maybe parts of North Carolina. I'm looking at Charlotte there on that map, that looks to be getting some outer bands as well. People as far away as the East Coast are getting rain as a result of this massive system?

MACH: Well, just generally it is just moving across at its most eastern point along the Appalachian Mountains, but it will expand to encompass a part of the Eastern United States later this afternoon and certainly by tonight.

SANCHEZ: Wow, that is large. Michael Mach, we thank you for bringing us up to date on this situation.

A lot of developments taking place as well on this story, many of them involving drama unfolding in places like St. Bernard Parrish, down in New Orleans. We'll have updates from there. Stay with us. We'll be back.


SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back to CNN's continuing coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And as that continues, by the way, as a tropical storm.

We've been updating you on the rescue efforts in New Orleans overnight. But there are also stories of survival that are coming out of places like Mississippi. Here now, Jonathan Freed from Biloxi.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With the wind pounding the Comfort Inn, in Biloxi, Suzanne Rogers job...

SUZANNE ROGERS, COMFORT INN : Do you need another bed, a roll away bed in there with you guys?

FREED: making the hurricane refugees here feel as comfortable as possible. But around noon on Monday, it was Rogers who needed consoling.

ROGERS: Let's go, Earl. We're going. Where's Molly?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got her. I got her.

ROGERS: Come on! Come on!


FREED: When a gust blew out the window in her hotel room.

ROGERS: And all the windows on both ends of the third floor are busting out.

FREED (on camera): What did it sound like? ROGERS: It sounded like a boom!

FREED (voice over): Rogers has lived in Biloxi all her life. A life marked by the last monster storm to come through these parts, Hurricane Camille in 1969, when Rogers was just nine years old. And says a storm surge almost drowned her and her family.

ROGERS: As it was coming in the front door we had to go the back of my aunt's house, while the water was filling up. And I can remember it filled all the way up to my neck, as a little girl. And there was no where for us go.

FREED: Rogers says the fear she felt on that day remained buried, until now.

ROGERS: What just happened to us upstairs? I was scared. Very, very, very scared. It just put me in the mind of Hurricane Camille.

FREED: But Rogers managed to push her fears aside by focusing on the people taking shelter at the hotel, who need her help. Jonathan Freed, CNN, Biloxi, Mississippi.


SANCHEZ: The very latest on this situation when we come back. Also, we're going to be keying in on the situation in New Orleans as well, where some of the evacuations continue as we speak. We'll be back.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. We continue our coverage of Tropical Storm Katrina now, and right now the New Orleans Army Corps of Engineers, we're told, are meeting to discuss a levee breach. By the way, the mayor says he doesn't have good news to share either. Officials are telling us that levee that holds back Lake Pontchartrain has indeed been breached.

It's a two block span along 17th St. and Canal St. This is a potentially devastating problem because the Crescent City area is below sea level. The mayor tells our affiliate, WWL, that 80 percent of the city is underwater and one fire official has told us that he has seen at least a 200 foot breach on the levee.

Obviously information is still being sorted out but very significant.

Flooding also affecting Biloxi, Mississippi. As you can see, many of the streets have literally turned into rivers. It's confirmed at least 50 people have died along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And Alabama officials are going to be out later this morning to check out this bridge. As you can see, an oil rig broke free from its moorings and has wedged itself underneath the bridge in Mobile. Trucks carrying hazardous waste use the bridge rather than use a tunnel.

We're following Tropical Storm Katrina as it's making its way across parts of the southeast. Some states are seeing huge amounts of rain and thunderstorms and even tornadoes. Let's check in now with meteorologist Bonnie Schneider, just to get a sense of what the storm still has in it and what it could possibly do to the people in those regions.


BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Rick, I have an update I'm holding here. The latest advisory just came off the printer. Right now, Katrina has weakened a bit. Still a tropical storm but maximum winds now are at 50 miles per hour or near 50 miles per hour. That is a decrease from 60 miles per hour that we had earlier this morning.

Now we are expecting further weakening with Katrina over the next 24 hours and eventually Katrina will become a tropical depression later today, so keep that in mind. The center of circulation is about 35 miles northeast of Tupelo, Mississippi, so we've seen that movement.

Speaking of which, the movement is to the north-northeast near 18, so the storm has slowed down a bit since the last advisory but the faster forward speed is expected in the next 24 hours. So once again, the maximum winds with Katrina are now at 50 miles per hour. This tropical storm has weakened a bit and it's likely to weaken even more.

I just want to show you here on our VIPIR System where we're seeing the most rain and some very strong winds still associated with Katrina. We have sustained winds right now in Nashville and in Memphis, around 25 miles per hour. We've seen steady rain, I'd say over the past four or five hours for both cities, but some wind gusts are very impressive. In Memphis, a very recent reported wind gust, 45 miles per hour and in Nashville, 40 mile per hour wind gusts. So that's strong enough to knock down trees and definitely create some problems.

And actually that's one of the biggest problems we've had with Katrina has been downed trees early on when the storm first made landfall. This is a live picture of Nashville, Tennessee. Early this morning, it is still dark out there but you can see that tower cam just shaking about because the winds are pretty strong and the rain is coming down, so it's a good morning to just try to stay in and sleep late if you can if you're in Nashville this morning.

Let's talk about Katrina as we go back to our other computer sources. We'll show you where Katrina is headed. Here is a look at our satellite perspective. As we put this into motion you can see how Katrina becomes less organized and really less impressive on the satellite perspective. But here is another vantage point. The Mid- Atlantic States. We're going to be talking about that today as a threat we may see some tornadoes break out. Remember, we get the worst of the weather, the northeast sections of the storm, and this is where we might see some tornadoes break out later on this afternoon, especially with the heating of the day.

The cloud covers associated with Katrina extends all the way far north and east towards Washington, DC, some spotty clouds, Pittsburgh, also see it with Katrina as the storm kind of stretches out and pulls to the north-northeast. Again, the movement is now at 18 miles per hour, a little bit slower than what we saw earlier this morning.

Another vantage point of our current radar situation. Some very heavy downpours currently in Nashville, Tennessee, back out towards Jackson, Tennessee, between Nashville and Memphis. And then further ahead of the storm, we're getting some moderate rain here in Atlanta but once again, we still have the watch box, this red outline here. This indicates the favorable conditions for tornado development. We had Doppler indicated tornadoes throughout the overnight period but I think later today, as this watch box shifts a little north and east, we're likely to see some more of those possibly pop up later on.

Just on quick last look at the track. The storm quickly will move by 2:00 a.m. Wednesday. You can see it's already moving a little bit faster and moving away to the north and east and looking at this picture it looks like the track shifted just a little bit to the west but I'll have to take a closer look at that.

The main thing to notice is that we're going to see some very heavy rain along the path of this storm, three to five inches in some isolated areas, and remember, that rain still coming down in Kentucky and Tennessee. Rick?

SANCHEZ: The proverbial meteorologist dilemma. Is it a shift or a wobble?

SCHNEIDER: It looks like it's just a slight wobble. I'm just looking at it right now with my eyes - the first time I'm looking at it since the advisory came in and it's actually just automatically updated by our computer, but the main thing to note, though, anywhere in this vicinity, in the Ohio Valley we're looking at some good flooding rain, some heavy downpours, and some strong winds but Rick, the big news is Katrina has weakened, the maximum winds, 50 miles per hour now.

SANCHEZ: All right. Bonnie Schneider, we thank you for bring us up to date on that. And for sharing some good news with us, which a lot of folks have been wanting to hear.

There is grave concern in Gulfport and the surrounding area of Harrison County, Mississippi this morning. More than 50 people are dead. CNN's national correspondent, Gary Tuchman, has more now from Biloxi.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a day that felt like it was never going to end. For hours, in Gulfport, Mississippi, we had sustained winds of 135 miles per hour. It was devastating to the town of 71,000 people.

(voice-over): We went through the town as the hurricane was nearing its completion to get a look at some of the images. And much of Gulfport underwater. U.S. 90, the beach road, right along the coast, was under 10-12 feet of water. But even five miles inland, much of the town was underwater. Homes, businesses, used car lots, all floating in water. We saw at one point a police officer with five people. We asked, why was he with five people in a truck in the middle of all the water. He said he rescued them, they couldn't swim in the waters near their house.

We talked to another police officer, asked him how the city was doing. He said he hadn't had time to look because he had to deal with looters. So that's what's going on in Gulfport, Mississippi. Devastated town. It will take an awful long time to clean it all up. How long it will take is anybody's guess at this point.

(on camera): One silver lining story we want to tell you about, though. There's an aquarium right on the beach in Gulfport. It was deemed that it was unsafe for the bottlenose dolphins, six of them, to stay there. It was felt that they would not survive. So last night they were brought to a hotel about four miles inland. They treated the pool with saltwater. They put the dolphins inside the swimming pool. While the winds were blowing at 135 miles per hour and all havoc was outside, I walked back to the swimming pool and the dolphins were, to coin a phrase, swimming merrily, having a fine time and we're happy to report that those bottlenose dolphins are okay.

This is Gary Tuchman, CNN, in Biloxi, Mississippi.


SANCHEZ: Some information that we've been working on for you, trying to decipher this new development about a possible breach on Lake Pontchartrain, or on one of the levees on Lake Pontchartrain. Let's do this now. Let's talk to Lieutenant Kevin Cowan. He's joining us from Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge.

Maybe he could possible shed some light on this. Lieutenant, what do you know of this potential breach on Lake Pontchartrain. We're told it's around 17th and Canal.

LT. KEVIN COWAN, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD (on phone): I hear it's pretty large so there's been briefings going on, meetings on what the next step is going to be. Army Corps of Engineers, other agencies are also going to be out there this morning as soon as possible to survey the area along the levee systems and make a decision of what needs to be done next to remedy the problem.

SANCHEZ: For those of us who don't understand the levee system in New Orleans, could you tell us what it would take for you and others in the state to consider this a catastrophic situation.

COWAN: Well, as you probably have spoken at some point during the storm, New Orleans is actually below sea level and in order to protect New Orleans from the constant rain that we get and the tropical storms and hurricanes to keep the flood waters out, they have a levee system that's built around and for the most part it does just fine.

Well, unfortunately, this is not that situation.

SANCHEZ: Well, let me ask you this. Is a 200 foot breach significant in your view, or is that something that is reparable?

COWAN: It's definitely significant but it's something that the Corps of Engineers is going to have to address when they make their survey, make an assessment and they'll have the best means by which to fix that problem. We have the Louisiana National Guard on standby with their heavy duty equipment, they can come in and assist so we're just waiting. As soon as we can get these teams out, we're going to send them.

SANCHEZ: How much of the water in Lake Pontchartrain might have already escaped if there's a significant breach?

COWAN: It's hard to tell. It depends on how deep the water is at that point. The actual width, and the water flow. So it could be millions of gallons.

SANCHEZ: But you are confirming for us that indeed there has been a breach. You just are not able to characterize it for us other than to say it is large, right?

COWAN: It's - correct. We haven't gotten an actual report of any of our officials sending this information but according to other reports, yes, there is a breach near 17th, like you said.

SANCHEZ: And you say that the Army Corps of Engineers is going out - do you know if they've assessed it yet or they're going to be assessing it?

COWAN: They're going to be assessing it. They've been brainstorming in meetings since last time we were on the air, addressing the issue and deciding what their best plan of action would be to do the assessment so that they don't waste any time and get the problem fixed.

SANCHEZ: I imagine it's - well, if you have a leak and you need to seal it, you need to patch it up so it stops, right? And I guess that in the end will be what their ultimate goal will be.

COWAN: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: Wow. What a situation. Lieutenant Kevin Cowan with emergency preparedness there in Louisiana. Thanks so much, sir, for sharing your insight on this and we wish you and others the best of luck.

COWAN: Thanks a lot.

SANCHEZ: We're going to take a break. We're going to continue to try and develop some of these ongoing dramas and stories as they come into us right here on our continuing coverage of CNN's Hurricane Katrina coverage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We do welcome you back to CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It's now a tropical storm. Its strike on Mississippi has killed at least 50 people, we have confirmed. It's also caused some catastrophic damage in the state's coastal areas. Rob Marciano has a look, now, at some of the devastating images and the damages in just Biloxi.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): Hurricane Katrina roared ashore across the coastline of Mississippi today with 135 mile an hour plus winds.

And with that came some serious destruction. We experienced the storm about six miles inland and still a wide range of destruction from the sides of our hotel, to the roof of our hotel being blown away.

But closer to shore, closer to downtown Biloxi, pictures coming in are just unbelievable and in some cases homes completely wiped off their foundation. The combination of wind and a massive, over 20 foot storm surge led to the pile-up in some cases of 20, maybe 25 cars on top of each other.

Other homes just kind of hollowed out, some other homes not even touched. Casinos damaged as they've tried to float freely in the Gulf of Mexico.

(on camera): We'll get a better look at it as we survey the damage tomorrow, but as of tonight, the pictures we see are not good.

Reporting from Biloxi, Mississippi, I'm Rob Marciano for CNN.


SANCHEZ: By the way, the concerns surrounding Tropical Storm Katrina now weigh heavy on states like Tennessee and Kentucky and parts of Arkansas and Pennsylvania, where the possibility of tornadoes spinning off from Katrina's storm bands are real and we're hearing reports of flooding in parts of western Tennessee, for example, so given that, let's do this. Let's check back with Randy Harris, who is a spokesperson for the Tennessee Emergency Management system.

He is joining us live from Nashville. Mr. Harris, thanks for joining us. What are you hearing there and what are your concerns for Nashville, Tennessee.

RANDY HARRIS, TENNESSEE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OFFICE (on phone): Well, Rick, we're continuing to watch the storm, we'll watch the track of the storm, we are monitoring our OECs across the state. Have not had any major flooding or major damage this time but we're still preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, you got a little bit of the best news, I suppose you could say. The new advisory came out and it said that the storm has weakened somewhat. I imagine it's expected but still, it's good to hear, huh?

HARRIS: It certainly is. The winds have died down a little bit, they're a little bit less than they were and it's still raining and we're still monitoring from this end.

SANCHEZ: For people who don't live in such an area with hills like you are in there, can you explain to them why you're so concerned about flash flooding in this region?

HARRIS: Well, with the hills the water seems to run downhill and the lower areas, it congregates there and that's - we have a lot of areas, populated areas that are in the lower-lying areas. When the water comes down from the hills and the mountains it makes it hard on folks in the lowlands.

SANCHEZ: Do you want people to go to work tomorrow even if they don't have essential jobs?

HARRIS: Well, I think that everyone has to make that decision themselves and look at the situation and see how it is in the area that they're in. Of course we do caution them about water, not to try to go through any standing water or rushing water. Just be cautious and take care if they do move out - move to work or out of their homes.

SANCHEZ: I understand that many of the schools are going to be closed tomorrow, though. Is that correct?

HARRIS: We have schools in middle Tennessee and the west Tennessee area are closed as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the children.

SANCHEZ: Well, I got to tell you, usually it works as a catalyst. You close the school, that means either mom or dad are going to have to stay home with some of these kids so usually it means there's a lot of people who won't be going to work tomorrow, one way or another right?

HARRIS: It certainly does and it may be a very well-deserved holiday for them,

SANCHEZ: What are you going to - what are people there - and I can't ask you to be a psychologist, obviously, but I imagine you have a lot of friends and you have a family yourself.

After seeing what this storm has done in places like Alabama, Mississippi and parts of Louisiana, what happens to someone who is about to be the next one hit? What are you all thinking?

HARRIS: Well, I think that you look at the destruction in places like Biloxi and the Gulf Coast and you have to be concerned about the results of it here. We're still looking at the possibility of tornadoes, some flooding and things. Hopefully it won't be anything like the devastation that we see down there but we're very cautious about looking - watching the weather.

SANCHEZ: I bet you it makes you respect it a little more, huh?

HARRIS: It certainly does. It's amazing what Mother Nature can do.

SANCHEZ: Mr. Harris, you're very kind to take time to talk to us. We wish you the best of luck, sir, and we'll be checking back with you.

HARRIS: Thank you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: We're going to take a break now and we're going to back with more news regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and what Tropical Storm Katrina can still possibly do to areas like Tennessee and Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

We'll be right back.


SANCHEZ: As we come to the end of this hour, it may be a good time to take a look at perspectives of history in this particular case. The City of New Orleans hasn't felt a direct impact of a major hurricane since 1965, narrowly avoiding disaster a few years later, that was in 1969, August 17th and 18th, to be exact.

What we're talking about is a Category 5 hurricane called Camille. It devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and the Alabama coasts. The storm created gusts of more than 200 miles an hour. That's estimated since every piece of modern equipment was really destroyed after that and really they didn't have state-of-the-art measuring systems back then.

It brought the highest storm surge ever measured in the United States. It also, Camille did, wiped out every coastal structure from east of New Orleans all the way to the Florida Panhandle. Camille killed 143 people along the Gulf Coast and nearly that many in the flooding that followed as it moved north.

Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 are considered the only Category 5 storms to hit the U.S. mainland. Interestingly enough, Hurricane Andrew did not kill many people. Certainly Camille did.

We still don't know what Katrina in the end has done. They're still counting up. They're still measuring. They're still trying to save people who are stuck in their attics in places like St. Bernard Parish and places like the Ninth Ward just outside of New Orleans.

We at CNN are dedicated to following this story through and we'll continue to do so for you.

Tony Harris follows me in just a little bit to bring you the very latest on our coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I'm Rick Sanchez. Thanks so much for being with us. We'll see you again. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


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