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AMERICAN MORNING

Hurricane Dean Category 5

Aired August 21, 2007 - 06:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the medical concerns that people are faced with as they deal with power outages, as well as injuries due to the storm. Jason Carroll is in Cancun and our Harris Whitbeck is in Chetumal.
One of the things that is also interesting when you're dealing with hurricanes is often times where it decides to make landfall can make all the difference, as well in terms of devastation. When we saw Wilma, maybe it wasn't as strong as this one, yet where it hit was a very, very active and busy tourist area. The area we're talking about in Chetumal is very rural. They call it sparsely populated. Even though the hurricane force winds can extend 60 miles out, the actual ground zero of where it hit is not a big tourist destination.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And that's Chetumal. Let's take you a little further north, about 150, 160 miles. There's Rob Marciano who's following things there for us.

What are conditions like there right now and have they changed since the last time we talked to you 20 minutes ago, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The only things that's changed, Rick, is that it's not raining quite as hard. It is raining, but it was coming down, as you saw, not only sideways, but coming down in a hurry.

It is still blowing about the same. We feel the same wind direction out of the north northeast it feels like. And we've got it blowing at tropical storm force winds right now. Probably 50 miles an hour or so.

Over my left shoulder is the Caribbean and that has been getting more angry as the night wears along. We'll pan off and show you some of that sea. And I'll shine some of this light on it.

These waves have gotten very large over the last 30 to 40 minutes. They are breaking over what is a rock and reef area that protects a lagoon. That lagoon is completely over washed. So we are very close to these breaking waves. But on a normal day, we would easily be a couple of hundred yards away from the normal surf zone.

You can see this water is encroaching upon this rock and reef surface, getting through this secondary sea wall, which we don't expect it to get that much closer to us. But storm surge (INAUDIBLE) big breakers that are coming in. Oh, my goodness, look at that. I mean yesterday these were just gently rolling in at, you know, one, two, three feet high and now we've got easily 10 foot crests coming in here. White caps on top of that. That is not something that any surfer would want to be messing with, that's for sure.

So a storm surge here of about 10 feet above a normal tide. Coincidently, this storm came in just a couple of hours after high tide. So certainly for the south of us, where the center of Hurricane Dean has made landfall, surge there is certainly more high. But as we pointed out earlier, most of that surge is going to occur in a wetlands natural reserve. So a great natural buffer that will take the brunt of this storm. But it is so large and so strong, certainly up and down the Mayan Riviera and the Yucatan coastline, they are feeling the effects of this.

The other slight good news with this category five, as we struggle to find good news, is that if it made landfall right here to the north of me, you've got the Cancun hotel zone. And those hotels are really high. And if you go up 15, 20, 30 stories up, that increases the winds another 10, 15, 20 miles an hour. So it almost adds another category to it. So we'll have to see what happens as the morning progresses and the sun comes up and the winds begin to wind down and see what kind of damage this did to this area and to the south. But we'll just have to wait out the storm until that happens.

Kiran, Rick, back to you.

SANCHEZ: When's sunrise? Hey, Rob, when is sunrise? When are we going to be able to see some of those pictures? Because you're essentially still in the dark there.

MARCIANO: Yes, sunrise is about 6:30 local time, so 7:30 your time. It's going to be a while. So thank goodness we have these high powered lights and we have electricity. So when the electricity goes out, if it does go out, our shot is going to suffer. So we're going to be a couple of hours here where we're going to have to use artificial light to show you what's going on.

SANCHEZ: And the kind of flooding that we've seen in areas, you know those kind of rapid flooding situations, flash floods as they're often called, we won't see those that much there around the Yucatan Peninsula because it's, for the most part, flat, right? But if this storm continues into parts of Mexico, we could see those problems, just like we did yesterday in Oklahoma with the remnants of Erin, right, except probably exaggerated here because of the size of this storm?

MARCIANO: That's certainly true. You know, one thing that tropical storms often -- they kind of get downplays because they don't have the winds. But over history, history has showed us that tropical storms do just as much damage with flooding situations. Texas saw Tropical Storm Allison back in 2001. One of the worst floods in Houston history with fatalities there. And now Erin, which looked like nothing going into the Texas coastline, creating all sorts of headaches. Tropical moisture is really the number one killer when it comes to hurricanes. It's not the wind. It's not even the storm surge. It's the inland flooding.

SANCHEZ: Yes. MARCIANO: So, yes, that is going to be a concern as this storm moves inland. Again, the good news with it is that it is moving quite rapidly. So even though there's a potential for a tremendous amount of moisture to fall in, if it continues to rip across the Yucatan at 20 miles an hour, it won't have that much time to sit and pour down rain in one place. It does get somewhat more mountainous as you go inland in the southern part of the Yucatan. And, of course, as you go up in elevation, Rick, as you know, that creates potential for mudslides. But that's more of a concern down in Honduras, Nicaragua, more Central America. But we'll just have to wait and see what kind -- the amount of rain that this storm brings as it moves inland.

SANCHEZ: We're going to be watching all of it. And, Rob Marciano is certainly one of our key note guys today. We're going to be checking back with you, Rob, from time to time to bring you viewers up-to-date on what's going on as we follow this breaking story this morning.

CHETRY: Reynolds Wolf is tracking Dean's path live in the CNN Weather Center.

And just explain for people, we talk about this storm being the size of Texas. An enormous storm as it moves through. How much of that is the intensity of the 160 miles per hour winds that we talk about in a category five?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, plain and simple, the closer you get to that center of circulation in the eye is where you're going to have the strongest winds. Obviously, the farther away you get from the eye, the weaker the winds become. But, still, we're talking about even -- shoot, you can have damage with winds of say 39 miles per hour, which is tropical storm force. So even as far north as Cancun, and even to the extreme northern tip of the Yucatan, you're getting some strong winds. Obviously the farther south you go, the winds will be stronger.

And right now the eye itself, as you can see on our radar, our satellite radar, is actually moving well on shore and it's moving at a very rapid pace. That's one theme you're going to hear throughout the morning is how fast this storm is going. And the latest path we have from the National Hurricane Center has that storm zipping right across the peninsula, losing a little bit of its intensity, as expected, being away from the warm ocean water. And by the time we get to 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday, winds will drop to about 110 miles an hour. Still, a formidable force, but weaker.

Now what exactly will a cat five do to the shore? What is it going to mean for the people in the Yucatan? Well, here's how it goes step by step. We're talking about winds in excess of 155 miles per hour. We've had gusts up to 200. Storms surge in excess of 18 feet. Many buildings will be destroyed. We're expecting trees to be downed, signs knocked down. Massive evacuations can be expected on low ground within 5 to 10 miles of the shore line that may be required. And considered the Yucatan is a very flat area, that is something that I hope many people do take heed. Now how much farther is the storm going to go? What are we looking at for its duration? Well, as we fast forwarding into 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, the storm still as a category two in the Bay of Campeche, the extreme southern part of the Gulf of Mexico, and then coming on shore. In fact, well into central Mexico at 2:00 a.m. Thursday with winds around 30 miles an hour just as a depression.

But one thing I really want you to remember when it comes to this storm, guys, we're talking about a rotating storm on a rotating planet. And any time it crosses land or interacts with different currents in the air above or rather in the water below, it's going to affect the track of this storm. So this is just an idea.

Forecast. You have to look at that cone of uncertainty. This still could move more to the north. It could still drift more to the south. I will tell you this. If it stays more to the south and on land, it's going to weaken much, much faster. Should it pop out into the Bay of Campeche and back into the Gulf of Mexico, it's going to have that possibility to strengthen even more.

Now if it sits out there in the Gulf of Mexico and begins to just sit, stalls, it has the chance of really strengthening, becoming much stronger than a category two. Best case scenario is that it either stays on land, dies out quickly or it just moves quickly across, right across the gulf and right into Mexico where it dies out altogether.

None of these scenarios is perfect, but far and away I'd say that is definitely the best one.

Back to you.

CHETRY: And the fact that it's quick moving, 20 miles per hour due west as opposed to Wilma that sat for more than a day over the Yucatan Peninsula.

WOLF: It can make a world of difference, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Reynolds Wolf, we'll be checking in with you throughout the morning. Thanks so much.

Right now, though, we want to check in with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in Atlanta with more on what emergency personnel are going to be dealing with as they try to help people who were not able to get out.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and I know, because of what's happening in the past, Sanjay, I've been reading a lot of wires recently about FEMA getting really geared up for this thing in case it turns into the Texas coast, for example. What are you learning?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well same thing. I mean, obviously, a lot of preparations going on. And this particular region is a region that has dealt with these sorts of hurricanes before, as you guys have mentioned.

Look, from a health care standpoint, you really separate this into immediate, sort of short-term and long-term concerns. The hospitals are up and running there right now and they have to deal with things like traumatic injuries, near drownings, electrocutions in the immediate sort of term, if those sorts of things happen. Sort of shorter term, you know, you deal with people who are dehydrated who are out in the elements.

Hospitals sort of prepare for all these things, including the longer terms in different ways. I mean you need things like tetanus shots, because people may step on nails. You also need lots of chlorine. You were mentioning just a little bit ago, Rick, the floodings and the contamination of water is a real concern to make sure you just have simple chlorine tablets in that area so that people can sterilize their water and make it potable, drinkable in some way. Those things are important. But that's happening right now. It's going to happen for probably a couple of weeks still to come.

CHETRY: What about this specific area that we're dealing with as we talk about the Yucatan Peninsula? Is there anything specific to that area in terms of emergency health concerns?

GUPTA: Well, we've been on the phone with some of the folks down there. A couple of things to consider. One is that they are putting up a lot of shelters. A lot of shelters are being -- buildings that exist now are being converted into shelters. The way that they determine that a building will actually be a good shelter is whether it withstood previous hurricanes. Specifically Wilma. If it withstood that they say, you know what, this building's probably good enough. We're going to turn this into a shelter.

On the flip side of that, this is a rural area, as you know. There are a lot of poor people there. There are a lot of homeless people there. It actually takes health care personnel getting out of their cars, on to the ground, walking around, talking to people, urging them to evacuate, urging them to get to some of these shelters now, you know, or even yesterday before the brunt of this thing really hits this area. So that's been ongoing as well.

What we're hearing, talking to people down there, is that most people are complying. Again, very rural, very impoverished area. Getting these people into shelters has been a priority. And it looks like, at least from some of the contacts we've talked to, they've been pretty successful at that.

SANCHEZ: Do they -- you know, I know you've traveled all over the world and we have this image or this visual script in our heads of what a hospital should look like compared to the ones that we have here in the United States, right? What about the hospitals down there? Are they prepared to be able to deal with something like this if it, indeed, turns catastrophic?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, it's interesting, a lot of hospitals sort of become the sort of hospitals of their area. They sort of fill the need. So while they may not be able to do a lot of things that other hospitals in other parts of the world can do, as far as dealing with some of the things after a hurricane, after these sorts of storms with, you know, again, near drownings, electrocutions, just the traumatic injuries, pretty good at that.

And they're not planning on evacuating the hospitals right now. That's something else that's come up, you know, in various areas after natural disasters, planning and getting the hospitals out. They think the hospitals are going to be able to with stand this. They're going to keep them open.

They're going to keep them open to be able to take care of people who may need their services. There's about 15 hospitals in the region. And while I can't speak for every single one of them, they are better designed to take care of these sorts of things than they might be for some other sorts of medical problems.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, we thank you, as usual, for bringing us some great information. We appreciate it.

GUPTA: Thank you. Sure.

SANCHEZ: Let's take you right into the eye of the storm now. As a matter of fact, let's put up the loop and you'll be able to actually see where the hurricane is gone. And we've been talking about this area in the past. It's Chetumal. You see it right there. That's where the eye is going. That's also where Harris Whitbeck is standing by.

Harris, tell us what's going on there right now.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Rick.

The winds seem to be gathering in intensity. They seem a lot louder, a lot stronger. Let me try to step out of here and see if we can show you the effects that those winds are having. The street behind me is one of the main streets here in Chetumal. Normally it would be buzzing with traffic in downtown.

You can see an awning on a corner restaurant there that all night long we've been watching this awning and just kind of almost placing bets to see if we could determine when it's going to just be ripped off of that side of that building there. The wind has become a lot faster, it seems, a lot stronger. And the building where we are, it's a hotel. It's a very, very solid-looking building made out of concrete. Has massive concrete walls. But we have heard a lot of plate glass falling around us, which would be to expect (INAUDIBLE) these very, very strong winds.

The concern here is not so much with flooding, it's more about the damage that the winds could produce to this town. The city has about 130,000, 140,000 inhabitants. This is the regional capital. Most of the buildings are not that high. They don't go beyond four or five stories in height. And they do seem to be pretty well constructed here.

One of the concerns is what's happening a bit north of here in this natural reserve that we've been talking about. There's a Mayan Indian community that lives there. About 3,500 people who live in very, very flimsy houses. And the government, the local authorities here were concerned about them enough this morning to order their evacuation to shelters and have them set up in area schools.

Those schools where the shelters are also made out of concrete blocks. They're considered to be pretty sturdy, pretty basic, but sturdy enough to withstand these storms and winds of this intensity. Or at least that's the hope of the authorities. We'll have to see how they all fare once it's daylight and once we can get out and about.

SANCHEZ: Harris Whitbeck is right in the eye of the storm. I mean he's right there in Chetumal following the situation there for us.

And you know, Harris, one thing that we need to keep in mind, I know we don't have a lot of time here, but this is important. When people watch hurricane damage, it's the cumulative affect of the wind. It's not one giant gust that comes down, comes through and knocks down a building, per say. It's the effect of having many wind gusts over a long period of time, correct? And that's what you're going to be seeing there.

WHITBECK: That's correct. That's correct. And the wind has been blowing hard now for a couple of hours. I would suspect it would continue to do so for quite some time. So you're absolutely right. These very, very strong gusts of wind, which are pretty continuous, can have a very, very detrimental effect on some of these structures down there.

SANCHEZ: Harris Whitbeck watching things for us. We thank you, man, for hanging in there. You're right at the place -- you know, when you follow these storms and, you know, you and I have covered these in the past, you basically get the desk at CNN, or whatever news organization you work for that tells you, you're going to be here, you're going to be there and you're going to be there. And you get an x that you go to. You don't know if the storm's going to turn and you're going to end up being at the eye or 160 miles from the eye. Harris apparently drew the short straw or the long straw, depending on how you look at it.

CHETRY: Exactly, depending on how tough you are and where you want to be.

Speaking of a place where they're experiencing a very, very strong hit from Hurricane Dean right now, we're talking about Belize. Cora Zale (ph), a city there. We had one of our i-Reporter who is on the ground there. He is saying that the full furry is being felt right now. We're going to take a quick break and we're going to check in again to find out how it's hitting Belize as well as Hurricane Dean tears through the Yucatan Peninsula. Much more when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, where we are watching Hurricane Dean, tracking this monstrous storm, the size of Texas, a category five. That's the strongest they come. Slamming the Caribbean coast of Mexico right now. We are taking in new pictures all morning long and we're also getting a good look at some of the damage that Hurricane Dean left behind in Jamaica. These pictures were taken in the Kingston area. Kingston, an area that was hard hit on that island nation. It was not a direct hit, but you can still see trees and power lines down. Homes all but destroyed. There you see a car upended. It looks like the back half of it is leaning up against a building. Streets covered in debris.

SANCHEZ: What's that?

CHETRY: I know -- that -- what exactly . . .

SANCHEZ: It looks like part of a building just came down. The wall just gave out.

CHETRY: They're reporting two fatalities, by the way, in Jamaica as a result of this storm. In one case, an elderly man was killed when his home collapsed. Another person instruct by flying debris. And they're still dealing with power outages in much of the country. But as we said, they did not get a direct hit and there are some good signs. The airport in Montego Bay reopened last night. That allowed tourists that were still stranded to get home.

SANCHEZ: There's that shot again. That looks like part of a -- like something just washed down on it, right? I mean when you look at that picture, I mean I hadn't -- have you seen these pictures?

CHETRY: No, because we talked about this yesterday, that it was coming through as we were on air yesterday and we were not getting some of these pictures. There were a lot of reports, phone reports, as well as some wire reports. But it takes a while in some of these instances, in some of these report areas as well, to get these type of pictures in. So these were the first ones this morning. The tourism board that was reporting little damage to the north coast, and that, of course, is home to many of the island resort areas.

SANCHEZ: Yes. They're saying the damage is actually more inland in this case, because that's where the hills -- obviously anybody who's been to Jamaica knows there's a lot of hilly areas there around Ocho (ph) and Negrille (ph) and parts like that.

See the hillside right there? And that probably is part of that wash that you were talking about yesterday that may have caused some of this damage.

CHETRY: Alina Cho is also joining us and she has some of the best images of the storm that our i-Reporters are capturing.

And you have an i-Report actually from Kingston.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, the damage there, as you know, they're just cleaning up, you know. And as we were saying earlier, it's really the story behind the story. The pictures are amazing. But when you hear the stories behind them, that's really incredible. So our first i-Report this morning comes to us from Kingston, Jamaica. They're cleaning up there, as you just heard, after the eye of the hurricane skirted the southern coast, as you've been hearing. They really just narrowly avoided a direct hit.

Take a look at this. You can see the rain coming down. The winds picking up. The video comes to us from Javon Hartley (ph). She shot this video when the worst part of the storm was blowing through the island. Hartley lives in Kingston, tells us that trees fell on her generator, but thankfully that generator is still working and she is using it right now for power. That's good news, because power is out in much of Jamaica.

But the airport in Montego Bay, you just heard, back open. So tourists who were stuck there can finally start thinking about getting home.

Now our next I-report, really an emotional story, comes to us from Kevin Canning (ph). He and his family decided to stay in Belize City, about 100 miles south of where Dean is making landfall, because his mother has liver cancer. They really wanted to make sure this family vacation was not canceled. This is from the fifth floor of their hotel. Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, Canning spoke to us by phone and told us how they're doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN CANNING, I-REPORTER: So far, I actually just had one of the maintenance guys took me up on the roof. You know, we're about -- you know it's only about 60, 70 knots right now. Really heavy rain, obviously. You know, it's just getting stronger by the minute, basically.

SANCHEZ: So are you OK?

CANNING: I'm OK. You know, there's no reason to fear. You know we're totally safe, I think. Of course, I've never been in a hurricane, so we don't know. But so far we feel safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: And our final i-Report comes to us from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The source of that video, 12-year-old, Dakota Ross Cabrerra (ph). She actually shot these pictures from her digital camera. We spoke to her father. He said it was OK to give her credit for these pictures. Dakota and her family are vacationing in Playa del Carmen. They say they're in a secure house with shutters.

Now little Dakota told us, it's windy, rainy and "kind of scary." She's never been in a hurricane before, so you can imagine what kind of experience this is for her. They are ready, they say, as of last night. They were still waiting for the power to go out. It hasn't gone out yet. And they have plenty of food. So that is very good news.

But, Kiran, as you know, these few people who are sending us these i-Reports are riding out the storms in these places. But more than 100,000 tourists have fled vacation spots in Mexico, including Cancun. So a lot of people getting out. But a select few staying. And they're sending us their i-Reports. Of course, we want everybody to stay safe. But if you want to send us an i-Report to cnn.com, click on i-Report and you can do that.

We'll be back. We're watching all of the pictures and we'll be back throughout the morning with more.

CHETRY: Very fascinating pictures. Good for the 12-year-old. She just stood out of her hotel and -- it wasn't as bad when she took those.

CHO: It wasn't. It wasn't, to be fair. But brave little girl for doing that and sending it in. And, of course, we're giving her credit.

CHETRY: Future photo journalist.

CHO: A person in the making.

CHETRY: Alina, thanks so much. We'll check in with you a little bit later.

CHO: Someone else who is serving as an i-Reporter this morning is Patrick Jones. He is in Corozal, Belize. He's actually the manager of LOVE television station, which is out of Belize City.

And as we understand it, since we checked in with you last, things have gotten -- this is the northern-most town in Belize, right on the Mexico border, and things have gotten a lot worse. What's going on? What's the latest, Patrick?

PATRICK JONES: Well, at the moment, the wind is really howling outside. It's blowing really hard from our vantage point at the community college here in Corozal. We can hear things being blown about on the outside. We can only imagine the damage that has been caused. Because when the winds were just picking up, there were lots of debris on the streets, branches being blown off. There are more reports that we have got -- people's houses have lost their roofs and what have you. We are just waiting now for the winds to die down somewhat first to actually get out there and sort of like survey the damage and get the first pictures of what Hurricane Dean has done to northern Belize.

CHETRY: OK. So what were -- you said that you thought a lot of people did heed the government warnings. Where were they told to go and what were they told to do as Dean started to close in on your area?

JONES: Basically what they were told is that everybody in low- lying areas that were prone to flooding and people, particularly on the coast, they were just told to head inland. And a lot of people. They did not need to be told a second time to get out of the way. They realize that this was a serious hurricane and everybody packed up and headed for the interior, for the Likia (ph) district, which is like 70 miles west of Belize City. And most people heed that.

Almost 10,000 people leaving the resort island of San Pedro and (INAUDIBLE) keys and other keys, other villages that are right along the coast. And they packed up and they just left early. And that they are safely riding out the hurricane in the interior of the country away from all harm and danger.

CHETRY: You know, and it seems that the good news is, what we've been getting from the National Hurricane Center, is that this is looking like it's going to blow over rather quickly. We have Hurricane Dean moving at a good clip, about 20 miles per hour headed west. So while it is probably not fun to endure time in one of these shelters, like we're seeing there, families with children holed up in these schoolhouses and colleges, hopefully it will pass over quickly and they'll be able to get things somewhat back to normal, Patrick.

JONES: Well, that's the good thing in that we know that we're not going to be holed up for very long. And the people in the shelters, especially here where I am, they are really making the most of this. They came prepared. They're either playing board games or they're sitting around telling stories or just listening to the radio and just passing the time. So nobody is really bored here. It's exciting for them. They're telling stories. The children they are -- those who are falling asleep there are blissfully asleep and not knowing what is going on, on the outside.

CHETRY: Yes, that's the time when it's great to be a kid, right? The storm's exciting. Parents get to do the worrying.

Patrick Jones reporting for us from Corozal, Belize, this morning. A place getting hit with some of the outer bands of Hurricane Dean this morning. Thanks for being with us, Patrick.

And again, we're continuing to track the latest on Hurricane Dean. Made landfall just under two hours ago on the Yucatan Peninsula. We have reporters up and down the coast and we are continuing to track this storm. The strongest storm there is, a hurricane category five, Dean. We'll be back. AMERICAN MORNING continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: And we welcome you back. You're looking at what we often call somewhat affectionately the loop. On days like this, we're going to be focusing on that loop. It shows exactly where this hurricane is going. As we go on the air right now, as many of you are waking up, you're waking up to a Category 5. Some call this a monster storm. The National Hurricane Center is calling it a potentially catastrophic storm that's hitting the coast of Mexico and parts of Belize as we speak.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: That's right. It is Tuesday, August 21st. I'm with Rick Sanchez. I'm Kiran Chetry. Thanks for being with us.

Hurricane Dean, the size of Texas. We're talking about tropical storm winds extending some 160 miles out. So the outer bands are having just as big an effect in some cases as some of the places closer to the eye wall. But this thing stretches all the way from where Rob Marciano is right now. This is in the Mayan Riviera of the Yucatan Peninsula, just south of Cancun, all the way into Belize.

Rob, you've been riding out the storm in Puerto Aventuras. This is along the Mayan Riviera. We have watched you get progressively more wet and wind blown as the morning has continued. What does it feel like right now?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It feels wind blown and soaking wet, but that's just part of the business. This storm now inland and moving quickly. But the winds on the back side of this system could easily be just as strong as the front side.

What we're seeing now, in just the last few minutes, is an increasing surge. Just to give you the idea of the lay of land here, there are levels of walls, rock and coral that make up where we're standing and we are still about 10 feet above where the surf zone is, which is about 10 feet above where it was this time yesterday. So we have seen a surge this morning, no doubt about that, with, with this on-shore push of this hurricane.

More impressive than anything, it's the transformation of the Caribbean over the last 24 hours that we have seen. Yesterday those beautiful crystal clear blue-green waters, a gentle rolling of one, two, three-foot waves. Look at that. Wow. Sea spray everywhere. Huge waves crashing into the rock and coral reef and walls and encroaching on our position. But certainly we are high enough to where this shouldn't be an issue. If it does become one, we have an exit strategy, no doubt about that.

Mexico, as a rule or over the past couple of days, as had an exit strategy. They have moved tourists and moved locals inland, if they so choose. We are in an area that is not under a mandatory evacuation by any means. But we have in a hotel, which owns a number of hotels up and down this stretch of beach. What a lot of hotel proprietors have done is they've condensed their hotel population. Instead of being stretched out five or six, they put them into one hotel so they can keep track of their guests that way, those that haven't left. There's been many who have tried, thousands of who tried and couldn't get out and are just riding out this storm, which is pounding the shore line right behind me, no doubt about that.

It is making its way due south of us by less than 100 miles heading into that natural reserve and that is the is the good news. Some impressive waves coming in here at the moment. I'm not sure how will you can see that behind me. This Caribbean is certainly angry. And once these winds turn on shore, they probably will, we might have to reassess where we are. But we'll have plenty of time to back off if we need to.

That's the latest from the Mayan Riviera -- Rick? Kiran?

SANCHEZ: You might still be getting the worst of this over the next hour. What you're probably getting right now -- and you're there so you can tell us -- I'm going to put this in the form of a question -- are what? Tropical storm winds and possibly hurricane force gusts from time to time? Is that the best way to describe it?

MARCIANO: I think that's very accurate, Rick. We haven't had hurricane force sustained winds. As Kiran mentioned coming into me, the core of the winds from this storm are 60 miles out in either direction. We're about 80 miles from the center of this storm, if not more. So we are out of the cone of hurricane force sustained winds. But we have certainly seen gusts as the squalls come in.

The winds will be turning, I suspect, as this thing continues to motor inland and become a little more on shore. That will push this water up just a little bit more and I think the way of action will be even more impressive. We should see sunlight here in about an hour, which will light this up even better for you. Certainly an issue.

The bulk of the heavy surge with a Cat 5, you can get up to 15, 20 foot. In Katrina's case, we've seen even more than that. Most of this surge is heading into nice, natural bumper zones to the south of me, which is a swampy natural reserve, which has taken the brunt of this storm.

Rick, I'm glad we're not anywhere near the center of this storm. I've been in the eye wall of Category 3 storms and that is certainly scary enough. I can't imagine being in the eye wall or the eye of a Category 4 or 5. I'm glad that the police wouldn't let us go any farther south than where we are right now.

CHETRY: I know you had an all-night journey trying to make your way as close as you could get and held back for safety reasons. Mexican authorities are trying their best to make sure everyone is safe, including reporters who come from the U.S.

Rob, thanks. We'll check in with you again.

It's important to note, it looks like Hurricane Dean is expected to weaken substantially as it makes its way across the peninsula. Anytime the hurricane hits land, it slams on the brakes a little bit. It will reemerge out of the Gulf of Mexico, expected to pick up strength as it hits mainland Mexico. We won't be seeing these types of winds, probably at about 100 miles per hour. And we're talking Wednesday. But they don't believe this storm is going to touch the United States in any way, shape or form at this point. It could always turn, but right now, it's not.

SANCHEZ: But here is what's important in what you just said. Bingo, a lot of the damage doesn't happen right on the coast. A lot of the damage, a lot of the deaths associated with hurricanes like Gilbert -- I want to show you something.

Guy's, follow me if you can. Let's go over here. Because I think if we come over here, we can get a map up. If you look at this map, you'll be able to see what we're talking about in this case.

What Kiran just said is brilliant, because when you consider what Gilbert did, for example -- Let's look at Gilbert. Gilbert goes all the way through that line right there. Let's get rid of that one. Let's give you another. Let's pick red. I think you'll be able to see the color red. Gilbert goes through here, and kills 300 people. A lot of those people, interestingly enough, died as a result of this area here, not necessarily the coast where we're covering the storm from. Why? Because that's where you get the flash floods, right in that area right there. Let me do that again. Right in that area right there, that's where you get the flash floods because you get more hilly and mountainous areas, and suddenly the rains come down. They cause mudslides that can engulf entire villages. That was Gilbert we're talking about. That was 1988.

Now let's look at Wilma. I'm going to draw this one up right here. This was 2005. Wilma takes this track right through here. And these are good comparative storms to what we're experiencing this morning as we're watching this. It takes that track right there, kills about 70 people. By the way, wind speeds for Gilbert were, as I recall, about 180 miles an hour. Wind speeds for Wilma, about 170 miles an hour. There you see the comparison. So the storm that we're experiencing now, which is at about 160 miles an hour, but it takes that route right there. There you see that northern quadrant. So what got hit? Cozumel, the area around Cancun, Muharids (ph) and that's the area where Rob is right now.

Now let's go to the present loop, the one that we're showing you right now so you can see from a comparison standpoint.

Go ahead and put that up if you can, Kel.

There you see the eye right now. It's going in this direction here. The distance of sustained winds, 160 miles an hour that we're talking about, goes just below Cozumel. This area on the out here, essentially spared from the sustained hurricane winds, but not spared from obviously the rest of the storm that's going through there. Winds, as Rob just described, tropical storm-force winds with some -- the key word is "some" gusts that are hurricane force. That's what we're watching for you.

Of course, when we come back, we're going to try and focus on this area. That's the real trouble zone. That's Chetumal. That's where the eye of the storm is hitting. We're going to be all over it for you throughout the morning and we'll bring it to you as it happens with reports up and down the coast, plus inland with some eye reports that we've been talking to throughout the morning.

We'll be right back. Stay with "AMERICAN MORNING."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back now to our continuing coverage of Category 5 Hurricane Dean hitting the Yucatan Peninsula this morning. One of the hardest hit areas is expected to be the town of Chetumal, Mexico. This is 40 miles northeast of the eye.

Our Harris Whitbeck is there now. He's been describing the scene as it has gotten more intense over the past few hours.

Harris, what's it like there now?

Oh, actually, we're going to check in with Harris in just a second, but also joining us from Chetumal is the Felix Gonzalez. He's the governor of Quintana Roo. That is the state in Mexico that houses a lot of the resort areas, including Cancun, Cozumel.

SANCHEZ: This is a fellow who has had to make serious decisions about what to do with the tourists. He's apparently closed some of the roads.

Tell us what you're hearing from some of your officials on the ground, Mr. Governor, as far as damage is concerned at this point.

FELIX GONZALEZ, GOVERNOR OF MEXICO: Hi. Good morning. So far, we have no reports of damage. It's too early to say what damage this hurricane is causing. But we are very sure there's going to be a lot of damage. The winds are very high. It's 160-mile sustained winds that we're receiving at this moment. At this moment, we are almost at the center, at the middle of the hurricane. We expect four more hours of the winds, like the ones we're having at this moment. Most of the city is without energy. And as of now, the communications are working, the telephones are working and we have not, so far, received any emergency calls of our people needing help or something like that.

SANCHEZ: What are you doing for the tourists -- Governor, let me interrupt you for a minute. A lot of folks are watching this news cast right now in the United States. They have friends or family that may be in one of the hotels along Cozumel or Cancun. What would you say to those relatives about their loved ones?

GONZALEZ: Oh, not to worry. The whole state has taken all the safety measures to ensure the safety of all the people of Quintana Roo and also of these visitors. And the tourist zone, which includes Cozumel, Gatamaya (ph), Cancun. It's very far away from the eye of the hurricane. We have some winds in that part of the state. We have high tides. But nothing that could put in danger the lives of the people living in the northern part of the state. The high danger right now is in the southern part of the state, like where we are right now in Chetumal, Carrillo Puerto, and the municipalities in the southern part of Quintana Roo.

SANCHEZ: That's less populated, right?

CHETRY: Less populated, a little more rural. How are you getting the messages out to people in those areas about where they can go and when it is safe to leave?

GONZALEZ: Well, during the last four days, we were giving all the information needed so everybody could be placed in the shelters to guarantee their safety. All the information was given in the past four days. As of this time, we have radio stations working all night long. About eight radio stations began working at 11:00 p.m. last night. As of now, there are maybe three because all the rest have the -- either the energy gone out or their antennas have disappeared. So we have at least three radio stations left which are helping us to get information of where the eye of the storm is, of where we have to be more careful, the time left for the process of this hurricane. This information is very essential to these -- the people of the area where the hurricane is hitting, the ensurance of what's happening and also a lot of tranquility.

SANCHEZ: We thank you, Mr. Governor, for bringing us up to date on the situation there in Quintana Roo.

We have on the line for us now Douglas Balzoon (ph). He's the owner of a hotel in Gotasol (ph) Bay.

And what's interesting is, as it's been described to us by a lot of researchers, you're seeing a lot of damage there, right?

DOUGLAS BALZOON (ph), HOTEL OWNER: Yeah. There's a lot of damage there. We had to go to town to help rescue somebody who gave us a call on the phone that the house is starting to shake apart. So we drove to town and there are downed power lines. There's a lot of trees down. A lot of sheets of big roofing laying around that have been blown off of houses, and cars shaking. Nobody on the street at all, not even the police. The police said if anybody needs help they're on their own because they're not going out anymore.

CHETRY: You have tourists there at your hotel still?

BALZOON (ph): No. Everybody in the hotel evacuated. Everybody evacuated and they went to the western part of the country, up in the hills where it's pretty safe. They shouldn't have any problem there.

CHETRY: So who is left, you and your family?

BALZOON (ph): Yeah. Me and my family are here. We stayed in the main building which is a concrete building on the second floor, so we're safe and dry here. But it's howling. The wind is howling outside. It is raining a bit, but not too much. And the bay in front of Corozal, the Bay of Corozal, is pretty much dry for about two miles. There's not a drop of water in the bay.

SANCHEZ: Did you lose one of your buildings in the area there?

BALZOON (ph): No, we didn't lose a building. But because the buildings are cement, concrete, but the roofs are attached. It looks like a couple of the roofs may be blown off.

SANCHEZ: And you're still going to be getting more winds for quite a while, as a matter of fact so the...

BALZOON (ph): Yeah. The winds have been blowing for several hours now and the power has been out for quite a few hours, also.

SANCHEZ: So you're talking to us, what, on a cell phone?

BALZOON (ph): Yeah, on a cell phone.

CHETRY: Douglas, are you looking -- well, from what you can gather so far and what you can see from looking out, do you think you've sustained major damage or do you think this would be something that would be relatively easy to clean back up and get going with your resort?

BALZOON (ph): I think -- I think it's pretty bad damage. What I could see, it looks like pretty bad damage.

SANCHEZ: And you're not going to go out there, right? You're still in the hurricane. You're going to have a hurricane going through you for another hour and a half. So it probably wouldn't be a good idea to go and assess things at this point, right?

BALZOON (ph): No, no, we're not going out. We have to go out to rescue that person, but that was about it. That was scary enough.

CHETRY: Who did you have to rescue?

BALZOON (ph): Huh?

CHETRY: Who did you have to rescue?

BALZOON (ph): We went to a relative in town. They had a wooden house and the house was starting to shake apart.

CHETRY: Are they there with you now?

BALZOON (ph): I didn't hear that.

CHETRY: Are they with you now in your concrete structure there at the hotel?

BALZOON (ph): Yeah, yeah, they're with us now in the concrete building so here they're safe.

CHETRY: Wow. As we said, this is an area that is getting hit as we speak by the bands of winds that are coming through with that hurricane. It's very unpredictable. As he said, he's looking out over the bay. That's dry. They're getting winds and rain.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, a lot of times these things come in bands. He's probably in one of the worst places of all to be because he seems to be in just in that area just above Chetumal, as you see it there on the map. And he's one of the folks that's really getting pounded right now.

If you can remember, he's still going through it. A lot of times, we have a tendency to think, woe, he's feeling the hurricane. That's means it's behind them. The hurricane lasts a long time. It's not a tornado. It's a cumulative effect that's felt over a period of two to three hours with the winds bashing and bashing. That's why, in the end, you come back later and you say, oh, my goodness, look at all this. Trees are down, roofs are down. And that's the damage that we'll be seeing in this area and hopefully it won't be worse.

CHETRY: For the latest on Dean's track, we'll go to Reynolds Wolf now in the CNN Center.

We just spoke to Douglas, who is in Corozal, Belize. Where are they, as it stacks up right now, at the eye wall of Hurricane Dean?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let's go to our satellite imagery. You can see just to the south and southwest of the eye is just where you can see Chetumal. People who are tuning in from that area, people in Chetumal, are not getting winds from the north, rather out of the northwest.

Now as that eye passes, they're going to start getting more of a southern breeze. These are twisting winds. As you and Rick have talked about this morning, you're going to have the strong conditions, the heavy rain, heavy wind and you'll have a bit of a break as they bands move through these regions. You're going to get a little bit of pulsing effect with thinks storms.

What I want you to also see is the eye is beginning to not be as visible. It's starting to break down a little bit because the storm is losing strength as we speak. Where the storm is over land, it's losing strength, almost like an engine that is about to run out of gas. It's sputtering a little bit. However, please remember, this was an engine that was revved up to maximum potential as it came on shore. We're talking a Category 5.

As we look ahead, and show you the path, the storm is expected to weaken, but it will be a Category 2 storm when it emerges on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula as we get to early Wednesday morning with winds of 110 miles per hour. Sure, it's not going to be a major hurricane at that point, but still a force to be reckoned with moving out into the Bay of Campeche. Remember, we've got a lot of old drilling sites out there. That is going to be a tremendous issue, as well.

For many people on the Yucatan, the wind is going to be a big problem. There will be issues with the saltwater flooding right along the coast, storm surge possible up to 18 feet, if not higher. Many buildings will be destroyed. Obviously, more of this information is going to come to us as we make our way throughout the morning. In fact, a lot of this is not going to become clear to us until we get to the evening or tomorrow.

Where does the storm go from later on today? Deeper into the Yucatan and back into the Bay of Campeche. Thursday morning, it should move into central Mexico and weaken to a depression. Still, as Rob mentioned earlier this morning, even when it weaknesses to a depression or a tropical storm, although the winds won't be as strong, we're still talking about a massive rainmaker, and the potential for mass flooding is going to exist going from the Yucatan and back into Mexico, into central Mexico. Back to you.

SANCHEZ: That's a great point you made at the beginning with the wind variating, especially when you're out there. It's almost like when you have a storm and the wind is hitting it from over here and eventually you see a tree bend over this way. As the storm goes through, then it could actually take it back the other way. And it usually where it knocks things down because it has no root system. Great point. CHETRY: We're getting some new information that we're talking talk about on the other side of the break about oil rigs that have been shut down. A lot of these companies in that area deciding to go ahead and shut down for safety reasons simply because of the intensity of this storm.

We're going to track that and the latest on Hurricane Dean. Stay with us on this special edition of "AMERICAN MORNING."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to "AMERICAN MORNING." We have papers strewn everywhere we are...

SANCHEZ: That's because we've gotten 452 updates in the last half hour.

CHETRY: We are tracking Hurricane Dean. And we want to bring you up to date if you're just joining us. It made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula, the eye wall right there a few miles away of Chetumal. You can see it on our radar picture, 4:30 in the morning. So about an hour and a half it's been battering the entire Yucatan Peninsula, some of the bands going all the way down into Belize. A Category 5, winds at about 160 miles per hour. Those were some of the maximum sustained, although they are reporting gusts of 200 miles per hour.

There is a lot going on everywhere. The effects are being felt as far up as Cancun, popular destination resort. Many thousand tourists were able to get out, but others are still there hold up and they're going to ride this out.

SANCHEZ: That's an interesting part of the story because this news cast that we're providing for you right now is being watched all over the world. And there are international tourists that congregate in that area there around Playa del Maharis (ph) and Cancun and in Cozumel.

Jason Carroll has been following that part of the story for us.

How are folks holding up or coping thus far with this scare and the present conditions being provided by Dean -- Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Let's first talk about the pressing conditions. We're having one of these bands come through at the moment and this one really is one of the strongest ones we've felt so far. The winds are very strong. A lot of rain is falling at this point.

We're having somewhat of an issue, Rick, that I want to tell you about. We were just at the point where we were about to do a live shot for you, but basically what happened was our camera become charged and got shocked so much so that Walter, our cameraman, can't pick up the camera at this point. These are some of the safety issues you deal with. There is a lot of lightening out here. So we are taking that under consideration as we proceed forward. But at any given point, I may have to end the conversation just so we can sort of troubleshoot some of the safety issues that we're dealing with out here.

About the tourists that have remained, some 20,000, as you said. On Friday actually the governor issued a warning when it appeared as if the brunt of the storm was going to be closer to Cancun. He warned tourists to get out. Some 70,000 did evacuate. But in speaking to the second secretary of tourism, she said many of the international travelers didn't hear the warnings, they weren't getting as many news reports about Hurricane Dean. Many of them came in and, once here, were unable to get out. So they had no choice but to stay. Those who are staying are staying in makeshift shelters that have been set up at many of the hotels here.

Many of the hotels learned a very valuable lesson in '05 when Hurricane Wilma swept through here, caused a great deal of damage. Basically, the Committee of Civil Protection went into action after that and oversaw the rebuilding and the retrofitting of the major hotels here in the area to make them better, to make them strong. They feel as though, at this go around, they are better. They are stronger to withstand whatever Hurricane Dean offers this go around -- Rick?

SANCHEZ: Yeah, almost $1 billion just -- almost $1 billion just to bring the sand out of the bottom of the ocean and then rebuild the beaches.

But I've got to ask you a question. Did you say a little while ago that your camera was hit by a lightening bolt?

CARROLL: I did not say -- I said that the cameras somehow became charged. I don't know when it happened or how it happened.

SANCHEZ: Well, what does that mean?

CARROLL: It has become charged such that we can't touch it at this point. So we're working on the issue. We're trying to sort it out, get it all sorted out. My cameraman, Walter, says I can't touch it. One of the other technicians tried to touch it. At this point, we're just trying to sort it out. It's not at the point where you touch and you're shocked so badly.

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