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Tracking Hurricane Rita

Aired September 23, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, hours away now from a hurricane, Rita smashing into a coastline, Texas and Louisiana, and already the tragedy and terror have begun.
Two dozen dead near Dallas when a bus full of elderly evacuees explodes, we'll hear from an eyewitness.

Parts of New Orleans under several feet of water, again, after a levee gives way.

And, we've got the latest with reporters and mayors all along Rita's path, all that and more next on LARRY KING LIVE.

A couple of program notes, because of the severity of this storm we will be with you live all weekend, Saturday and Sunday night.

And, following this program at ten o'clock, Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper will co-anchor a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" from 10:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m.

With me here in the studio is Sam Champion of WABC-TV. He's their expert weatherman.

We'll be checking with our own reporters, our own meteorologists and mayors along the way.

A quick phone interview with Mayor Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans; what's the latest on the flooding in the 9th Ward, mayor?

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS (by telephone): Well, Larry, this nightmare just continues for us. You know, we've got a levee system that's been, you know, over topped. There's water coming over the top of it. The water started to dig down into two or three ruts and we've got significant flooding in the lower 9th Ward, probably three to four feet at the moment.

KING: Are you expecting the worst, mayor?

NAGIN: Well, I'm not expecting the worst but it just depends upon what Rita does at the end. If it gets a little closer to Lake Charles and closer to us, then our concern right now is a storm surge.

We really can't take anything more than about a six or a seven- foot storm surge in New Orleans. And then the winds, we're going to at least get tropical force winds and hopefully not hurricane force winds.

KING: Good luck, mayor, carrying on 24 hours a day, Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans.

Let's go elsewhere in New Orleans to our own Jeff Koinange. He normally covers Africa. They got him in a different spot for the past three weeks. Jeff, where are you and what do you see?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: Right now we're in New Orleans itself, Larry. But earlier on, just like the mayor said, we were in both St. Bernard Parish and also Orleans Parish and I tell you, Larry, this is more than overflow we're talking here because the water was rising so fast.

The first hour we were there the water was up to our knees. By the second hour it was up to my waist in some parts so obviously there is some breach going on in some part.

And the residents there are very, very worried, very perturbed because this is an area that had been flooded during Katrina, had dried out most of last week and now has started to flood again. One can only imagine what it's going to be like in the coming hours -- Larry.

KING: Sam Champion, is Rita doing what you thought it would do?

SAM CHAMPION, WABC-TV, N.Y. METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. We watch these storms moment by moment, Larry, and as they shift and change and weave a little bit we adjust our forecast to them.

This has been really true to forecast. If you remember over the past couple of days that we've discussed this storm, it was somewhere in -- start from central Texas all the way up to Louisiana. And, as it's far out in the gulf it just is a natural assumption that that cone is going to be much wider. As it got closer the forecast was narrowed.

The National Hurricane Center has been very good on pinpointing where they think this storm is going to go and kind of letting those areas on the south Texas coastline get a breath right now while we focus on that north Texas coastline toward that western part of Louisiana.

KING: And, Galveston not as bad as expected?

CHAMPION: Galveston, not as bad as it could have been. We were looking at the storm two days ago because at that point they were facing maybe a direct hit from the eye but they're going to be on the western side of the storm.

The eastern side of the storm, the winds and the rain and the waves and the storm surge much worse on that eastern part of the eye. If you're on the western part of the eye, Galveston is already getting winds. They're coming off land, which is really good for them.

It takes that water that's in the bays and instead of backing it up in the bays it pulls it out a little bit so they're not getting that push of water into Galveston right now.

KING: Governor Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, is with us on the phone. How ready is Louisiana for Rita?

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA (by telephone): Well, Larry, we've got 4,000 National Guard troops and their equipment from Louisiana and from other states staged in three communities in the peripheral area of (INAUDIBLE) and Lafayette.

Task Force Rita's headquarters is in Alexandria Parish. Emergency officials from (INAUDIBLE) parishes are there. Those are the two parishes that are taking the brunt of this. They'll all direct their initial rescue and recovery operations from there.

And, the Louisiana National Guard has placed communications units ready to quickly move into the storm zone. You know we lost communications after Katrina and that became the very big problem. But we'll get a firsthand view of Rita's wrath and it will help us to guide the first responders. We've equipped them with satellite phones.

The state police are already on double shifts. They've added troops into southwest Louisiana standing by ready to respond and we have 135 boats with 135 people poised on the edge of the storm cell.

KING: Governor, are you beginning to think you're snake bit?

BLANCO: Well, you know, Larry, this state has never been under so much stress. We got it from the east. We're getting it from the west and unfortunately the north is going to get it also because it's expected to rain some 20 to 25 inches up in the Shreveport (INAUDIBLE) areas.

Our people are responding. They've embraced the evacuees from southwest Louisiana. As you know, our shelter still held people. We're worried about housing. We need to get our Katrina evacuees into more permanent housing or better housing than shelter existence.

But we worked through the last two days getting people evacuated from the southwest region. We also received hundreds or thousands of Texas evacuees and I think everybody is pretty well (INAUDIBLE) because now we're getting pummeled by the storm in many regions of the state. Our entire coast has been affected by these two storms.

KING: Thank you, governor, Governor Kathleen Blanco.

Let's go down to Miami and our friend Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center. All right, what's the read right now, Max?

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, Larry, it's weakened a little bit but still a very powerful category three hurricane and I think the best analog to this is probably Hurricane Audrey back in 1957.

We're really becoming concerned with the storm surge flooding here still near and to the east or where the center crosses the coast and if it stays on track here toward the Texas/Louisiana border, we'll likely have 15 feet of storm surge along the coastline to the east here.

Cameron, Louisiana is right here and that water is going to be pushed all the way off (INAUDIBLE) lake, possibly up the (INAUDIBLE) river there towards the Lake Charles area and that's, you know, over 25 miles away from the coastline. And, you know, if it goes a little bit to the west of that, well then Sabine Lake and the Port Arthur area will get the highest storm surge.

KING: What weakened it?

MAYFIELD: Well, we're really not sure exactly yet but we had been forecasting it to come down and the water temperatures were not quite as favorable as they were over the central Gulf of Mexico.

The upper level environment is also not as favorable but we sure don't want to minimize this because remember Isabel two years ago, it weakened from a category five down to a category two hurricane and yet we had tremendous storm surge flooding and power outages from that wind as it moved inland.

KING: It can't pick up though from a category three to a four when it hits land can it or can it?

MAYFIELD: No, once it makes landfall here the winds will start going down. What we're -- well, a couple things that we're concerned with here this red area you see behind me represents the most likely area of hurricane force winds and that will likely head up towards probably Lufkin, Texas.

But we don't have to have hurricane force winds to cause trees to fall down and power outages, as we learned in Isabel and other hurricanes. So, I would expect power outages over a pretty large area there.

And then after two to three days the steering currents forecasted will just collapse and it may sit around there and cause very, very heavy rains over portions of extreme eastern Texas and western Louisiana.

KING: We'll be checking back with you later in the hour, Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

You're watching LARRY KING LIVE and we'll be right back with lots more to go and lots more to cover as we do it around the clock 24 hours a day on CNN. Don't go away.


KING: Let's go to Beaumont, Texas to Anderson Cooper, who keeps on keeping on. The storm path looks very dangerous for where you are, Beaumont/Port Arthur, is that true Anderson, look bad?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you know, the people here are expecting that, Larry. I talked to the mayor. I talked to the chief of police in the town a short time ago. All the police are on duty, some 200 officers. They all showed up for duty. They have emergency personnel in an energy building, which is a pretty secure building.

We're actually very close to city hall right now. The winds have really picked up here just over the last half hour or so. It is nothing compared to what we are going to be seeing though over the next several hours, Larry. The rain, you know, falling almost straight down, occasionally horizontally.

You know it's when it gets really horizontal it starts to get really stinging and that's when you know things are getting very, very bad. But right now it's still kind of a waiting mode. The wind is definitely picking up, Larry.

You get a sense of the power of this storm that is out there. Every now and then a gust will come. It definitely gives you a sense of the power of this storm but it is not yet full arrived in all its fury -- Larry.

KING: Are you going to get a direct hit?

COOPER: We don't know. I mean the last report I heard was sort of the Port Arthur area. Port Arthur is about 20 miles south of us. Port Arthur, people say it's going to flood. Beaumont is a little bit higher ground. We feel pretty confident about where we are but we expect to get pretty close to the eye if not a direct hit.

But, again, this thing can change, you know, you never know with these things. It could change, wobble one way or another, at the last minute. Most of the people here though at least have evacuated, 110,000, 115,000 people in this town. The mayor says he thinks about 95 percent of them are gone -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, Anderson, Anderson Cooper, by the way, will be co- hosting a four-hour special with Aaron Brown at the top of the next hour.

He mentioned Port Arthur. Let's got Lumberton, Texas where the mayor of Port Arthur, Texas, Mayor Oscar Ortiz is standing by. How bad are you going to get it, mayor?

MAYOR OSCAR ORTIZ, PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS: Well, I'm afraid we're going to get it real bad, Larry. They tell me that the eye of the hurricane is directly right in the middle of the city of Port Arthur.

Right now we're 35 miles away from Port Arthur and we're having some awfully big gusts here in Lumberton. As a matter of fact, one section of where we're here broadcasting lost their power just a few minutes ago and these gusts are coming in and when they come in they come in very strong. So, if I'm getting strong gusts here in Lumberton, 35 miles away, I'd hate to see what my city is getting right now.

KING: Thirty-five miles which way?

ORTIZ: I'm 35 miles north and that hurricane is coming up through Sabine Pass. The last report I got a half hour ago says that Sabine Pass will be hit sometime around one, two o'clock in the morning and, if that's true, Larry, than more than likely Sabine Pass will be under water by about that time.

KING: Where are you going to ride it out?

ORTIZ: The wind is picking up now.

KING: Yes. Where are you going to ride it out, mayor?

ORTIZ: I'm going to ride it out at the Lumberton High School. We got our command post set up there and, you know, we got all the mayors there. We got our police officers, our firefighters. We're all ready to go.

I've talked to the -- excuse me to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison just a few minutes ago. She called me from Dallas. I've talked to Governor Perry. They all assure me that whatever Port Arthur is going to need for this thing that they're going to get it to me.

KING: What about the oil refining facilities and the chemical plant?

ORTIZ: That's the thing that scares me the most, Larry. You can see the wind picked up.

KING: Yes.

ORTIZ: That's the thing that scares me the most because we have a lot of pipelines over there with a lot of chemicals in them. The plant managers have assured me that they've buttoned down those refineries as best they can but, of course, if anything breaks loose over there and mingles in with our water, it could become very dangerous for our people.

KING: Are there any shelters open in Port Arthur?

ORTIZ: No, sir. The only place that has some people in it is the big new hospital, the $100 million hospital that we have out there in the wide open. We also have a $20 million medical center that's being built, which I'm very fearful for because it's still a wide open building. It's just standing there in the wide open spaces. So, we could see some damage to some areas that have cost us a lot of money.

KING: Thank you, mayor, we'll check with you again and hope to see you again tomorrow night as well as Sunday night as we -- as we wear this one out.

Is Chad Myers available in Atlanta?


KING: Chad, is the mayor right in his fears?

MYERS: Absolutely. We have an animation that I looked at earlier about Port Arthur and that town literally gets inundated with floodwaters. Only a few of the tops of the buildings are actually sticking out after this thing makes landfall. They are really in the teeth, in the teeth of what we call the storm surge. Galveston, wind gusts there 44; Beaumont about 35; about five and a half hours before the top of the eye wall makes landfall right there, right there at Port Arthur, Sabine and even into Beaumont. It is going to be a very tough night for our reporters there.

Something else, Larry, you haven't really touched on is all this wind that's blowing into Lake Borne (ph) and Lake Pontchartrain from the east. This here is acting like a catcher's mitt, catching all of this water. That's why the water is going up in Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borne and also into those canals. That's one of the reasons why we had that canal levee break earlier today.

KING: He was just there was Anderson Cooper. Let's go meet the mayor of Beaumont, Texas, Mayor Guy N. Goodson, Beaumont a port city of about 114,000. Anderson paints a bleak picture. Do you share that Mayor Goodson?

MAYOR GUY N. GOODSON, BEAUMONT, TEXAS: It's going to be a long night, Larry, no doubt about it.

KING: What's the worst fear?

GOODSON: Our worst fear is the loss of human life. It was mentioned in some earlier interviews we believe we got all of our assets secure for our prior (AUDIO GAP).

KING: Obviously we've lost the mayor there.

We'll take a break and we'll come right back. We hope to get him back. Lots more to go, it happens, don't go away.


KING: In a moment we'll check in with Mayor Bill White, the mayor of Houston, but we want to finish with Mayor Guy Goodson, who got blown off the camera, the mayor of Beaumont. Is this going to be all night into tomorrow, mayor?

GOODSON: Unfortunately, Larry, that's exactly what it's going to be a lot of wind, rain tonight, probably gale force winds through the morning to midday tomorrow.

KING: And where will you be?

GOODSON: I'm going to be at our ops center, along with a lot of our fire and rescue personnel. Our police are here, all 254 of our sworn officers are staying here. We got all of our resources here high and dry. We've got water, sewer, street drainage. We're ready to go back in the city as soon as the storm passes.

KING: Thank you, Mayor Guy Goodson, the mayor of Beaumont.

Let's go to Houston, Mayor Bill White, the mayor of Houston, what Mayor White is the evacuation situation in your city?

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: Oh, my goodness. We've evacuated through this area over a million people. We began evacuating early. We got a lot of people. We went to every nursing home, assisted living center, hospitals. We got them out of the coastal plains first and then a lot of people have gotten out of this city because we're prepared.

KING: What are your experts telling you to expect in Houston weather wise?

WHITE: I'll tell you they'll be a storm surge, of course, less as you know than was predicted about 48 hours ago but there will be a storm surge and then heavy winds and, of course, in the fourth largest city of the United States there's a lot of glass. There's a lot of homes, trees down, power lines down, bayous rising, our waterways rising but we're prepared for it.

Of course, nobody can -- this is very dangerous. You can't control nature but I'll tell you we have a virtual army that we've mobilized here over the last week so that we can respond quickly to those in need.

KING: How good is the communication system?

WHITE: Excellent. We're in a major communications center here where we have a control center, state of the art. We have video feeds. We have everybody here from medical institutions to the fire and emergency responders, electrical utilities so that we can marshal all the resources of this community.

And then, in the places you covered, the Astrodome, Reliance Center, we have staged massive amounts of vehicles allowing amphibious rescue. George R. Brown, which you covered for Katrina for so long, a good job of covering, we have a whole medical center that's there.

KING: Hang in there, mayor, Mayor Bill White, the mayor of Houston.

Let's go to Austin, Texas, Governor Rick Perry joins us.


KING: At this point, is Texas as prepared as it's going to be, governor?

PERRY: I believe so. We've been practicing these types of events for over four years now and we learn from each one of them. Sometimes they're exercises. Sometimes they're the real thing as tropical storm Allison (ph) was some three years ago and dumped $5 billion worth of damage on Houston. We had the space shuttle disaster. We had the Queen Isabella Causeway that was a manmade disaster.

So, all of those exercises together and good coordination, as you just got through talking with Mayor White, the county Judge Eckels in Houston, when you go over into Jefferson County, Beaumont into Port Arthur and Mayor Ortiz, those are great people who have been wonderful to work with. And, I think our message tonight is to those people who, number one, are in that strike area to be prepared, you know. They've reached the places of safety. And, to the loved ones of those folks know that we're going to do everything possible to make sure that our search and rescue starts as quickly as we can after this storm passes.

We got over 5,000 National Guard troops. We got some 2,000 Department of Public Safety troopers, game wardens, other law enforcement that are ready to respond, as well as some substantial number of federal troops that are being coordinated to go in and I think it will be one of the most successful search and rescue type operations in Texas history as this evacuation has been.

It's been nothing less than biblical in its proportion but also very professionally done and you move two and a half million people over the course of 36, 40 hours just it was phenomenal. I know there was a little frustration out there but these people did the right thing by getting out and getting out early.

KING: Kevin Brady, a Houston area Congressman, is faulting some gas shortages. He said we have thousands of people with no fuel or food, no shelters, no cots, no security and when the winds start hitting tonight these people are going to be stuck. Is he right?

PERRY: Well, I don't know what his current time of his analysis is. We had those phone calls early this morning in a big conference call here and our emergency management folks have been responding to that all day, so hopefully the vast majority of those people have reached a secure location and the types of resources that they need are at hand.

KING: When was your most recent contact with President Bush?

PERRY: I think I talked to him this morning and we'll see him again tomorrow afternoon as he comes into Austin. So, I think I talked to him four or five times in the course of the last 48 hours, so we stayed in very close contact as we have with Secretary Chertoff and a number of the military operations that are ongoing in assisting us.

KING: What about your concern about your refineries?

PERRY: Well, obviously that's a great concern, Larry. I mean that's two things. Number one is the environmental impact that could occur with a direct strike and the negative impact on those facilities.

And then there's the impact of the economy. Twenty-five percent of the unleaded gasoline that's manufactured in the United States is right there along the gulf coast, so it could have a very negative impact on the economy.

But these guys are professionals. They know what they're doing. They've faced storms before, maybe not one of this caliber but hopefully this thing will slow up a little bit before it hits land and we'll get a little bit of a break. But, I think we're as prepared as any state in the nation and I want to say how proud we are of the emergency management folks and the local officials in particular along the gulf coast that have responded in such a professional and disciplined manner.

KING: Thank you, Governor Perry, thank you very much.

PERRY: You're welcome.

KING: Hang in there. Governor Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.

Sam Champion, these evacuations are they just -- they just say evacuate? I mean it was miraculous in Texas.

CHAMPION: It was huge in Texas. Larry, we have such huge communities on coastal areas and we owe those people a way to get out of that town safely and in a timely fashion.

An evacuation plan has got to be more than just get out of town. You need to tell those people where they can go. You need to tell them where there's going to be supplies for them. You need to...

KING: There's only a certain amount of highway.

CHAMPION: Well, then we need to have other highways because if you're going to put people in harm's way in a coastal area where you know the chances are there's going to be a tropical storm or a hurricane of that strength and you have a growing population, then you need to make plans to get that population out of that area.

KING: But they said they were going to cut the highway program.

CHAMPION: All I'm saying is an evacuation plan for people needs to be more than just telling them to get out of town. You need to tell them how to go, when to go and it needs to be structured.

KING: Back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't forget, Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper will host a four- hour special at the top of the hour.

And we'll be here live Saturday and Sunday night and we'll be right back.


LARRY KING, HOST: We of course have reporters all over the area. Sam Champion of WABC-TV is with us in studio. On the phone is Mayor Randy Roach, the mayor of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Mayor, I saw Senator John Breaux last night of your great state and he said he feared for his hometown of Lake Charles the worst. Do you?

MAYOR RANDY ROACH, LAKE CHARLES (via phone): Well, Larry, it looks like -- based on the information we have it looks like the -- this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is going to come ashore right there in Cameron, Louisiana, which is just about 25 miles -- 30 miles south of Lake Charles. So we're watching the radar right now, and it looks like the eye is approaching the coastline just below Lake Charles. So we're bracing for the worst.

KING: How ready are you?

ROACH: Well, we think we've got everything battened down. We've got everybody out of town that wanted to leave. And we certainly stressed and emphasized the need to leave as a result of the approach of the storm. So we're ready. The main thing is going to be the damage, and assessment and recovery. That's what we're going to be trying to focus on. And that's really what we're, as we watch this storm, we're already with our public works and our police department, sheriff's department and our fire department already mapping out what we want to do and how we want to try to approach how we deal with the damage after the storm passes.

KING: Mayor, you're the nation's twelfth largest seaport, refineries, casinos and the like, all of them in big trouble?

ROACH: Yes, Larry. I hate to say that. But we have CITGO as our -- actually the fourth largest refinery in the country, and CITGO is closed. We also have Conoco, which is one of the large refineries. That's also closed. I know that some of the refineries just to the west of us in the Beaumont, Port Arthur area, I think they also closed, as well.

And of course you know as a result of Hurricane Katrina, with the closure of the refineries there in the southeastern part of the state, obviously it's going to make a tremendous impact on the supply of gasoline at least in the short-term. It's going to take awhile after the storm passes for these refineries to gear back up again. It takes a lot to close -- to shut down a refinery. And we got word yesterday from our local operators that they had actually completed the shutdown of the plant so that their employees could actually take precautions and evacuate with their families.

KING: Thank you, Mayor. Stay safe. Mayor Randy Roach, the mayor of Lake Charles. He mentioned Beaumont. Let's go back to Beaumont and Anderson Cooper.

Anderson, watching you and the wind and the like, are you going to be able to co-anchor four hours from there?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I think I'll get pretty wet, but I think so. We actually have several positions set up so that if this position becomes untenable we can move to another location and stay on the air. You know that's the key, Larry. These winds keep on shifting. They're coming from the north.

But Chad Myers has told us they could be also coming from the east at some point and then from the south. So as we follow this storm and as we work through this storm we have to always be aware of the shift in the winds, and you have to be in a position that if all of a sudden the winds shift you don't find yourself caught out exposed. So we try to plan these things very carefully as much as we can, but yes, we'll be on the air four hours. I anticipate being on the air longer through the dawn. We want to try to bring this storm live to our viewers as best as we can.

KING: Don't you have any fear?

COOPER: Certainly. I think anyone who says they're not afraid is a fool or a liar or probably both. But you know we take a lot of safety precautions. We have buildings nearby us, which we can seek safety behind. And you know we feel pretty good about the spot we're in.


KING: All right we had (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I hope he's all right because it looks like he got blown off the screen. Chad, are his fears warranted?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, Larry. His winds will probably pick up in the 100-mile-per-hour range there, Beaumont now, on the north side. They're still seeing north winds now. But as the eye moves to the northwest, makes landfall, his winds will shift to the east. And if he really does get eye landfall or eastern eye landfall they will eventually maybe come out of the south and the southeast.

The storm could be turning a little bit to the right making the Sabine pass maybe the ground zero, if you will, and then turning it up toward Lake Charles, but we'll zoom into a couple of spots for you. The northern eye wall right here at 12 miles per hour. That's a little over five hours from making landfall right now. Now that's not the center of the eye, but still you get the idea.

And Lake Pontchartrain getting filled up with water, just check some of the buoys there. The water is up now six feet compared to where it was this morning because the wind continues to pound itself into this little catcher's mitt right here, right along the northeast coast there of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm looks a little ragged, the Hurricane Center getting their planes out of there at this point, getting too close to land to really do too much now.

But Port Arthur over to Lake Charles 10 to 14 foot storm surges. Some spots as that water works its way up the rivers, Orange, West Orange, Port Naches (ph), Bridge City, all of those forgotten little towns, you guys are going to be under 10 to 14, maybe 20 feet of water.

KING: I understand we got Anderson back. Where did you go, Anderson?

COOPER: I went about two inches this way. A gust of wind came and the ground is a little bit slippery, probably not a great time to say what I was saying. But we do feel pretty good about the spot we're in. We're not looking to take any chances. I'm not going to do anything that endangers the good people that we're working with. So you know we'll stay out here as long as we can, as long as it's safe. We want people who are locked in to their homes who have no way you know to follow the storm to see it for themselves, not feel like venturing out to see it for themselves. They can watch it on television, Larry.

KING: Anybody watching you in that area will not go out I am sure. Why is he getting it east and west, Sam?

SAM CHAMPION, WABC-TV, NY METEOROLOGIST: It's the way -- if you looked at the picture that Chad was showing us, it's the rotation of the storm, so depending on where you are, if you just think about a circle of rotation, if you move yourself in that rotation you're catching a different direction of the wind or the speed in it. You can see and actually you -- you can actually see the western side of it collapsing a little bit, but those bands are all spinning counterclockwise, so if you look like it exactly opposite direction of a clock, so as you get closer to the center of it you're going to change the direction of those winds.

Right now where he is, they're coming from the north. As you get closer to that, they'll go east and then they'll go directly from the south. And then he'll have to catch the other side of the eye of that storm, as well.

KING: We had a terrible tragedy happen earlier today. And later in the program we're going to talk with a doctor, chief of emergency medicine at Parkland and a lady or a nurse who witnessed the death of those older people, a tragedy in that bus. We will cover that, of course, in this hour.

And when we come back we'll check again with Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE and again we'll be with you live all weekend on Saturday and Sunday night with regular editions of this program. As long as it's there, we're there.

We'll be right back.


GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: Rita remains a very dangerous storm. Her winds are strong. The storm surge will be high.

REP. TOM DELAY, MAJORITY LEADER: The local, state and federal government are ready for this storm.

GOV. RICK PERRY, TEXAS: We're going to get through this because we've prepared for such an event as this with extensive exercises.

R. DAVID PAULISON, FEMA ACTING DIRECTOR: The federal government is here, and they will stay here until we're finished with these storms.

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: People should prepare a shelter in place.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Officials at every level of government are preparing for the worst.


KING: Let's check in by phone with Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, the mayor of Galveston who was with us last evening. Situation better than you thought Mayor?

MAYOR LYDA ANN THOMAS, GALVESTON, TEXAS (via phone): Oh, yes it is, Larry. We're down to a category one storm here. We're fairly used to this category. Got a lot of winds, 35 miles an hour going up to 75. The tides are up. But it's really -- we're very relieved, although certainly concerned about our neighbors who are going to get hit with this head-on. But we feel a lot better in Galveston tonight.

KING: When do you think your people will be able to come back?

THOMAS: Well, we'll go out early in the morning and assess the island, account for the damage, and depending on how much damage there is we'll get our streets cleared just as quickly as possible, maybe Monday, Tuesday if not sooner. Just depends on what we see in the morning.

KING: You must feel awfully lucky?

THOMAS: We feel extremely lucky, very lucky, and very grateful that this time we -- the storm passed us by.

KING: Thank you, Mayor.

THOMAS: Thank you, Larry. Appreciate it.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas. Back to Beaumont and this time Rob Marciano on the scene giving Anderson Cooper a little rest. What is it -- I don't mean to laugh, but what it is -- I don't know why you guys do this. What is it from your vantage point, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for one thing, Larry, what's different about this storm as opposed to other storms we've been in is that it's been constant. I mean there's been a slow but steady increase in the wind from about 4:00 this afternoon. It hasn't been the bands coming in and a bit of a break, a squall, a break. It's been consistently getting worse throughout the day, so that's one thing that stands out to me.

The other thing that stands out that's different from this storm compared to say a Katrina is the area it's coming into southeast Texas, southwest Louisiana. It may have already been talked about earlier on your program. The lay of the land is so low and the rivers that feed out into the Gulf of Mexico, all that water is going to be pushed up very far inland. So you're going to see some destruction like you saw along Biloxi and southwest Mississippi.

But more impressively maybe is you're going to see that 10, 20, 30 miles inland, possibly all the way to the I-10 border. So for the Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange, Lake Charles area, the trajectory and strength of this storm is almost a worst-case scenario.

KING: Thank you, Rob.

Let's check in now with Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. Max, why did Galveston get lucky?

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NAT'L HURRICANE CENTER: Well, the steering currents (UNINTELLIGIBLE) just a little bit, you know to the northeast of there, but they're not out of the woods yet, Larry. You know as the center moves onshore here near the Texas-Louisiana border the wind's going to come out of the north out of Galveston Bay and that's actually going to push water out of the bay there, and I think that Galveston will likely get some flooding from the Bay side, along with the Bolivar Peninsula.

KING: What about this storm has surprised you the most, if anything?

MAYFIELD: Not much surprises me anymore unless we have too many more major hurricanes. This has been, you know, fairly well forecast. I guess the main fact is that it just -- it got so intense there in the Gulf of Mexico, just like Katrina did.

KING: Sam Champion wants to ask you something.


CHAMPION: Max, I remember in studying all of this it was thought for a long time that you couldn't have two storms this powerful moving through the same area. What do we do with that whole thought and theory now?

MAYFIELD: Well, you know people asking how can we possibly have two back-to-back storms like this? But you know we had four hurricanes -- strong hurricanes hit Florida last year in a six-week period. So we've had two category five hurricanes, you know, in the same year before, 1960 and 1961, so you know, it's not unprecedented.

KING: Are you saying that there could be another one in this area?

MAYFIELD: Well, I certainly hope we don't have another one. But we're still only in September. We've got over two months left to go. I would be very surprised if we don't have additional storms and hurricanes, somewhere. But I can't tell you where they're going to be.

KING: Anything out in the Atlantic now?

MAYFIELD: I'm afraid so...

KING: What?

MAYFIELD: There's a large low-pressure system south of Bermuda that we're watching for possible development over the next day or two. There's also a tropical wave in the eastern Atlantic that certainly has some potential for development.

KING: South of Bermuda would mean the northeast coast of the United States?

MAYFIELD: Not necessarily. Some models drift it westward. Most models pretty much leave it there and eventually eases off to the northeast. So we're not overly concerned with that, but you know we have to watch them all. And we're concerned for marine community, too.

KING: Thank you, Max. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Back with more after this.


KING: Let's check in with Jeanne Meserve who is in Houston. Where specifically in Houston are you and what are you expecting, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, we're by the Reliant Center in Houston. We just got here. The weather at this point is quite calm. There's a little bit of rain, a little bit of wind, but nothing too severe. On the highway as we came here from Austin as we headed east we passed a huge convoy of trucks. I would say we lost count but probably hundreds of them heading in this direction.

We could read labels on them indicating that they were carrying water and meals ready to eat. Some of them were refrigerated. Those might have been carrying ice. There were FEMA signs in the windows of some of those trucks. We also passed a huge convoy of National Guard. I yelled out the window of the car. They told me they were the Texas National Guard. They also were heading in the easterly direction.

They were carrying some water and some fuel and of course a lot of National Guardsmen. Apparently as the track of the storm has tended to the east, authorities are moving supplies and personnel in that direction, so they will be closer to the point of impact and more easily able to respond.

KING: And you'll be staying in Houston through this?

MESERVE: We will through the night and in the morning we'll be deploying outward.

KING: And let's now go to Lake Charles, downtown Lake Charles where Rick Sanchez is located. Rick is in a satellite equipped SUV, which permits him to go places that other people can't go. Rick, what's the story in Lake Charles? And there will be a three-second pickup before he responds -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've been moving around quite a bit. We were down at Lake Charles, literally the lake off of Lake Charles. Now we've moved over to the historic downtown Lake Charles area. Larry, you've been watching. It's actually moved from the lake because it was getting a little dangerous down there.

We're starting to see the water come up. The big fear of course here, as you talked with Max Mayfield, that we are on the strong side of the storm as it moves counterclockwise. It's going to be pushing a lot of wind here and it could be pushing a lot of that water from Lake Charles. This area has flooded in the past and fearing that it could possibly flood again.

What we have been seeing thus far is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) down, trees falling over, power lines down and every once in awhile, Larry, we look up in the sky and we see these big giant blue tints of the sky just lights up. And that happens intermittently and those are transformers that are just going out one after the other. So it's pretty obvious they're going to have some real problems with getting the electricity restored here after awhile. But so far we're riding out. We're looking at it. We expect this to be at least category one, category two hurricane-force winds through the night and into the morning.

KING: Thank you, Rick. Why they do what they do, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Sam? Unbelievable.

We'll take a break and when we come back we'll meet the chairman of the emergency medicine at Parkland Memorial, a very famous hospital. It's where John Fitzgerald Kennedy died and Tina Jones, a registered nurse, both of whom involved in that tragedy today -- earlier today in Houston.

Don't go away.


KING: That's the scene in Galveston, Texas. Joining us now in Washington is Dr. Paul Pepe. He is chairman of Emergency Medicine at Parkland Memorial Hospital -- that famed hospital in Dallas. I said Houston going to break -- the tragedy occurred in Dallas today. Some survivors of this morning's evacuee bus tragedy were taken to Parkland Hospital.

By the way, Dr. Pepe was on the ground in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and he's director of Emergency Medical Services for the city of Dallas. And in Dallas is Tina Jones, registered nurse, who witnessed the bus explosion while driving to her job as a nurse at Baylor University. She also assisted survivors on the scene.

A bus loaded with elderly hurricane evacuees caught fire, rocked by explosions early today on Interstate 45 and it's about 17 miles southeast of downtown Dallas. What did you witness, Tina?

TINA JONES, NURSE, SAW EXPLOSION OF ELDERLY EVACUEE BUS: As you said, I was on my way to work this morning a little after 6:00 a.m. I live an hour south of downtown where I am a nurse at Baylor Medical Center in labor and delivery, and I was about six cars behind the bus when I noticed copious amounts of black smoke billowing from the bus. It started to pull over to the right-hand side of the highway.

And then I heard an explosion and almost immediately a second explosion and looked and there were flames shooting everywhere. Obviously at that point I didn't know who was on the bus. Luckily there was a courtesy patrol vehicle in the area that had been monitoring traffic on the highway from the evacuees coming from Houston who set out cones to cordon off the area pretty quickly. I put my car in park, saw -- you know, ran over asked him, identified myself as a nurse, do they need help? He said yes, we're having some trouble getting emergency crews through and immediately went over and said what can I do.

KING: Were you very close to the fire?

JONES: When the actual explosion happened I was about six cars behind the bus on the highway. When I went to the scene and started helping the survivors and working with the paramedics, the bus was still on fire. They did, however, get the bus out pretty quickly. They did a great job trying to get that bus out.

KING: Dr. Pepe, I know you're in Washington. What can you tell us about the survivors who were taken to your hospital?

DR. PAUL PEPE, CHMN, EMERGENCY MEDICINE, PARKLAND HOSPITAL: Yes, well I saw most of them as they were arriving. They essentially, amazingly did well. We had 24 people that were killed outright on the bus, of the 40 patients that were on there. And the other 16, we received nine of them. And actually, amazing even though they were elderly people between the ages of 78 and 101, actually, they had a lot of chronic problems they did well. However, we had one woman who had significant smoke inhalation and she was very critical, had to have a breathing tube and was sent up to the ICU.

KING: Isn't that a much greater problem when you're evacuating the elderly?

PEPE: Absolutely. In fact one of the things that was the most heart breaking thing for us in New Orleans during all that period of time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) airport, we had literally hundreds and hundreds of elderly people laid out. It's just something that really we had to sort of work our way through. But it was one of our deepest memories that will hurt us a lot in terms of seeing that happen and it is tough to have to do that.

KING: Tina, what do you think will be the emotional aftermath for the nurses and aides who were on the bus?

JONES: Those are the people I'm the most concerned about. I know what an effect it had on me and I don't have a relationship with those people. I know my life was changed forever this morning. The nurses and aides that were on the bus with those patients, one of them, bless her heart, literally collapsed in my arms. They had to make instantaneous life and death decisions, try to get as many patients off the bus as they could.

And many of them were devastated. You know, could we have gotten more off? Is there anything we could have done to alleviate this problem and help more people off? And it just -- it was just devastating to watch. I feel very -- those nurses and aides, as well as the patients themselves, are going to need a significant amount of follow-up and help with this.

KING: Dr. Pepe, many of those patients had oxygen masks on.

PEPE: Yes.

KING: Do you think that might have played a part in the burn?

PEPE: Yes, I think it was pretty clear. What happened was is that there -- it's going to be investigated, but we think there was some fire that may have been caused because of some brake failure. They had just changed a tire and well -- that's going to be investigated, but there still was a fire. But what happened was is the fire went on, they got people off the bus and then what happened was, as they're getting people off, there was a -- that's when the major explosions occurred.

And that's, you know, one of the problems. But I mean on the other hand the people needed oxygen and it really is an interesting thing that this is a terrible circumstance, a tragedy. And we're very grateful to have people like Tina and the rest of the teams that did...

KING: Yes.

PEPE: ... take care of the people who survived and got them out of harm's way.

KING: I salute you, Tina, thank you very much and Dr. Pepe, thank you. What a sad, sad thing.

All right, Chad, before we turn things over to Anderson and Aaron, what's the latest?

MYERS: One last recap now, 55 miles, the northern part of the eye wall, Larry, 55 miles from shore, winds picking up at Port Arthur and Beaumont and Galveston, winds gusting in to Port Arthur now to 68 miles per hour. There is the center of the eye right there.

Also winds in New Orleans, in Dulac and also back even to Grand Isle, over 30 to 35 miles per hour. Something else I want to show you, too, it is raining in parts of Florida from the backside of these feeder bands. And there is even -- are even some showers all the way down to Port Charlotte, Cape Coral, all the way with these same rain bands that are spinning around this storm, completely, completely...

KING: Wow.

MYERS: ... now filling the Gulf of Mexico.

KING: Sam, we're just about out of time. It's going to be a long night?

CHAMPION: It is a long night. And as we safely go to bed we need to have some thoughts for those folks tonight.

KING: Yes and a long day tomorrow.

CHAMPION: Long day tomorrow and it could be two or three days before it rains itself out in north Texas.

KING: This has been another edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Again, we'll be back tomorrow night and Sunday night and of course Monday and into the week with regular editions of this program.

Normally this is repeated at midnight. That will not happen tonight because of the severity.

So Anderson Cooper in Galveston and Aaron Brown in New York will co-anchor a four-hour special. I hope Anderson holds up through it and Aaron Brown is ready for it. He's got the jacket off.

Mr. Brown, it's yours.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. We'll talk to you tomorrow.

Good evening again everyone. Anderson now is in Beaumont, Texas tonight, about 40 miles inland, and we are working on communications there. We'll hear from him shortly. For all intents and purposes now, we're at the beginning of the hurricane.

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