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Hurricane Dean Batters Mexico; China Airlines Jet Explosion

Aired August 21, 2007 - 08:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the good news on that is I think they put about 12 models out at the National Hurricane Center. And then they put them in a computer, they combine them all, and they figure out what the forecasting track is going to be.
And I checked on those models last night. Every single one that I saw seemed to have it passing either right at the Texas border or right underneath Texas. So I don't think there's a real good chance that this thing is going to be coming toward the United States.

Welcome back, everyone.

I'm Rick Sanchez, along with Kiran Chetry.

We're happy to be here with you all morning long, since 5:00 this morning, following this hurricane just as it started to slam up against the coast of Mexico. And now it's starting to actually go inland. Or at least the eye is, not the entire storm.

The entire storm is the size of Texas, right, as you kept referring to it? And we're still seeing some of the effects.

As the eye breaks up, the storm will start to weaken. It's now a Category 3. When it came across, it was a Category 5, but that, by no means, means that it's still not the kind of storm that can do a lot of damage. In fact, most of the time, you get your most of your deaths and most of your severe damage after a storm goes inland, as was the case with Gilbert.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And we're still talking about sustained winds maxing out 125. So it is still a force to be reckoned with this morning.

Hurricane Dean now slamming the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. And there are already reports of a storm surge, roofs being ripped off of homes, hotels affected, as well as ancient ruins and oil installations, all of them in danger. In fact, the largest state oil company deciding to shut down production of its rigs. Its offshore drilling has now stopped. And we're going to check in on the impact on that a little later.

But meantime, the National Weather Service just downgrading this to a Category 3, a major hurricane still. Max winds 125 miles per hour. And it made landfall as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm, winds as high as 165 miles per hour, with gusts at -- topping out at 200.

Our team coverage continues.

We have Rob Marciano. He is in Puerto Aventuras. That is the area of the Mayan Riviera that is extremely popular with tourists.

Harris Whitbeck in Chetumal, referred to in some ways as a border town of Mexico and Belize, right around there and about 40 miles from where the eye wall made landfall.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta. And Jason Carroll is in Cancun. And our Reynolds Wolf tracking all of it for us from the CNN weather center this morning.

SANCHEZ: Let's go to Rob Marciano. He's in Puerto Aventuras, or Puerto Aventuras, joining things -- following things there all morning long.

Within the last half hour we got some light, so now we can see behind you, Rob. Bring us up to date. What's going on?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I heard you say that it's now a Category 3 storm. You wouldn't know that here.

If anything, things have gotten a little bit more hairy as far as the surf is concerned. This has been the main sight that has just been amazing to me and my crew the whole morning long, how this Caribbean ocean -- Caribbean Sea, I should say, just continues to inch up, seemingly teasing this wall right here and splashing up against it at times.

But off in the distance, 80, a hundred yards away, we've got 20- foot breakers coming in here and just a whitewash of what typically be a beautiful aqua green/azul calm sea. Definitely a different story today.

We've seen all sorts of damage along this stretch of beach, along this hotel property. And as you know, there are several like this, hundreds, in fact, that lie in the Mayan Riviera and up to Cancun also.

You go well south of here, towards Tulum, towards those ancient Mayan ruins, and then south of there you get more into a little bit more of a wilderness area, which is the good news. Maybe more of a natural buffer. But no such buffer here. These waves continue to crash in, all painted in white as they just -- this part of the Caribbean Sea has been completely churned up.

Winds have not changed all that much. Continue to the east, the southeast -- or east/northeast, I should say, with gusts hurricane strength. But our sustained winds certainly, like they've been all morning long, have been more a tropical storm.

If I keep turning towards the sea, it's because if there's one thing I've learned in storm watching or storm chasing, I learned this when covering a storm in the Pacific Northwest. When you have these huge waves roll in, sneaker waves that can literally take you out to sea no problem. Never turn your back to the ocean. So, it's a nervous habit I have when I have these big-time waves this close to us.

Still a lot of tourists here, Rick and Kiran. Just riding out the storm. You know, a lot of hotels have just done what they had to do to make people safe. Unfortunately, there's going to be some damage when this thing all blows through, but the winds have not let up and certainly the surf has not let up here in Puerto Aventuras whatsoever.

Back to you guys in New York.

SANCHEZ: It's amazing to watch the difference in the wave action behind you there, because earlier, Rob, it didn't seem -- and here is what is funny about that. And maybe you have a meteorological answer for this.

When Kiran and I first went on the air and we actually saw on the loop that the storm was touching the coast of Mexico, we would of thought that you would of seen a lot of wave action behind you, that you would have actually started to see the storm pushing the water up. But it's not until now that we're seeing that, as opposed to an hour ago.

Why is that?

MARCIANO: Well, now we're starting to get more of an -- more of an onshore component. Now all of the winds are trying to filter that area of low pressure. We're getting more winds that are off the ocean, as opposed to just kind of scraping the coastline in a parallel fashion. Now they're more of an easterly component, and that just pushes the water and me with the wind a little bit farther inland.

So, when you have winds this strong, Rick, my goodness, it can do amazing things, even with all that water behind you. And that wind just pushes the water right up even against a receding tide, which really has been the most amazing thing to me, but it's also been the most secure feeling, to know that at least you have the tide working with you and trying to push this water back. But it continues to pound up against these seawalls, and I can just imagine what it looks like to the south, where the winds are even stronger.

Rick and Kiran.

CHETRY: And Rob, a quick question about storm surge, because whenever we talk about hurricanes, we hear that term used a lot. And some of the reporting saying that we could be looking at a 12-to-18- foot storm surge in some areas.

After that initial rush of water, does it stay or does it recede quickly?

MARCIANO: Well, it all follows the wind. I mean, we've seen storm surges come in, and, you know, it's not like a tsunami. It's a fairly progressive thing. And it is something that, you know, if you're light on your feet, you can back away from and get out of its way as long as you're paying attention.

So, it comes in, and then once the winds turn -- and the winds, you know, if they turn offshore, which they can do, not necessarily with the position we're in right now, but depending on your position when a storm rolls in -- if they turn offshore, I remember in Hurricane Wilma, when we were on the Florida coastline in Fort Meyers, winds turned offshore as that thing went towards Miami and the ocean went out. You couldn't look even farther beyond the lowest of low tides. So, it can work the opposite direction, but it all follows the wind, and right now the winds really haven't changed that much and there's an onshore component, so the sea and the waves continue to batter up against this wall -- Kiran, Rick.

CHETRY: All right. Rob Marciano for us at Puerto Aventuras in Mexico right now, getting battered by the waves, by the rain and by the wind right there as he deals with the effects of Hurricane Dean, now a Category 3.

Rob, thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: Let's see if we can go ahead and get that camera in position, because we want to talk a little bit about what Rob -- what Rob was just saying.

Reynolds Wolf is going to be joining us here in a moment, but what he was saying was, earlier on, when we went on the air for the first time and the hurricane was essentially right there -- go ahead and give me some power for this thing and see if we can get some -- have you got it? There it is.

Sorry about that.

All right. Let's use this right here. OK.

When the hurricane was right about there, where I'm putting that spot right there, it was still enough offshore that, remember, this is a circular motion. Circular motion.

So if you just take this piece right there, just from there to there, right, just that little piece right there -- now let me take that off -- what you're getting is the wind pushing in that direction. So, in other words, it's no the going in an easterly, just as Rob was describing. It's not going like that. All right?

It's going more like that. So you don't get that big wave effect that he was just describing that he is getting now.

But as the hurricane moves over here, where it is right now, well, now, make that even bigger and that is what you're getting. So you see? Right there, you're getting the wave actually going right into -- so when we talk about the storm surge, the wall of water, as we often refer to it, that's what we're talking about.

Come back to me right here. It's that wall of water that's going like this, as opposed to like this, and that is what Rob was actually showing us behind him at the time. Reynolds Wolf joining us now at the severe weather center. He has been following this all night long.

It's just fun, you know, to be able to see and explain these things that you guys, for years, have been trying to make us -- help us understand, actually to see it play out like that, why it takes a little longer to get that wave of water up on the coast, isn't it, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, it certainly is. I mean, you illustrated it beautifully.

Early, when Rob was first out there and you had the strong northerly winds -- because these storms do in the Northern Hemisphere move in a counterclockwise fashion. So, they were getting sandblasted earlier, and now that we're getting those winds that are coming in from the back, from the east side, that is where the water is beginning to pile up, as you've mentioned time and again.

The latest we have right now, Rick, is a Category 3, as you guys were talking about. I don't want anyone to get some false sense of complacency because there's a Category 3, because Katrina, remember, when that came onshore it was a Category 3. And we all know, all know very, very well the catastrophic events that unfolded from that that we're still dealing with today.

Now, as this made its way onshore as a Category 5, there's some places farther to the south that we have not gotten good reports from just yet. That's going to come in time. And I'm sure that the devastation there is going to be just -- just unbelievable.

For the time being, you'll notice, especially over the last couple of frames from this animation, you'll notice the eye vanishing altogether. That is because it is no longer over the open water, it's no longer able to draw energy from that warm Caribbean water. And once it pops over to the other side of the peninsula, it is expected to gain a little bit more strength.

And we can expect, Rick, as we take a look at the path for that storm, which we've mentioned again and again is a Category 3, as it makes its way back over to open water, right -- I'd say by 2:00 p.m. Tuesday it should be more than at the halfway point across the Yucatan, then into the evening, it should cross back over as a very strong Category 1 or a very weak Category 2. Then by 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, winds of 110 miles per hour.

But look. Look at this. From this increment, you have some 12 hours -- from 200 a.m. -- or rather, just getting -- 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, we're looking at still gaining enough strength to get right up to major hurricane status, back to a Category 3 when it makes landfall on Wednesday afternoon, with winds around 120 miles per hour.

Then by Thursday, it moves inland. Much weaker. A depression. But remember, there's still a good potential for some flooding as it moves into interior Mexico. Also, Rick, you have to remember, we were just dealing with what was left of Erin, Tropical Storm Erin, into the central plains just yesterday. Widespread flooding, and it wasn't even a depression. So, you know these storms can be incredibly potent even when all that wind dies down.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. Those pictures that we were showing yesterday coming out of Oklahoma.

Good job, Reynolds. Thanks a lot.

Here's where we want to take you right now. There is Chetumal, right? Look at the eye of the storm.

See the eye of the storm? It's going right over Chetumal. Thank goodness, at least for the folks who live there, 140,000 or so, it's just above it, which means that the wind effect isn't as bad. Still, getting a very serious storm and the effects from it.

Let's go now to Harris Whitbeck. That's exactly where he is. He is joining us now. We've got his picture.

Go ahead. Take it away, Harris. Bring us up to date on what is going on up there now.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, the winds continue -- continue about as strong as they have been for the last couple of hours. Very, very strong. Very, very loud.

If one thing is remarkable about being in a Category 5 hurricane, it is the sound. The noise is absolutely amazing.

For one thing, you have the sound of the wind just rushing through these tunnels that are formed by crevices between buildings. You also have the sound of the high-tension cables, the high-tension electrical wires above us that are just whipped around by that wind. And they make a very, very distinctive cracking sound.

It's really actually a bit frightening. We've heard a lot of glass shattering as it falls down off of buildings. We've seen a piece of -- a large piece of tin roofing just basically being blown down the middle of a street which is now starting to fill with water.

Despite the fact that a lot of rain has fallen here over the last several hours, people here are not as concerned about flooding as they are about the wind damage. The winds here are in excess of 160 miles per hour. The amount of damage that sustained winds at that velocity can do, of course, is -- it could be quite large and is a matter of great concern.

Now, we're being told that these conditions will continue for at least another five, five and a half hours. So it will be that amount of time before anybody can really get out and see what kind of damage these very strong winds have done in this community.

We did know earlier last night when this coverage started that most of the residents of Chetumal who had to find a safe place to be apparently had done so. The problem here is that there are many outlying villages, outlying farms and small communities that don't have very good communication in the best of times. So after the winds die down, after conditions permit it, the authorities are really going to have to get out there and see how the rest of this community fared.

Rick, back to you.

SANCHEZ: Harris, we're going to let you go, because, look, things are starting to get a little stronger there. We can tell that the wind is really picking up.

I've got to just tell you, you're doing a fabulous job out there, you and Rob Marciano, joining us from what are -- I've been there. I know how difficult it is to hear yourself even talk, being pushed around by the wind.

Great job. We'll get back to you in a little bit.

In the meantime, let's go over to Kiran.

CHETRY: You know, and it may not look like it as you see those shots from Harris, as well as Rob, but they're really calling the path of Dean a stroke of good luck for Mexico. They are saying that it really hit, the eye came ashore in an area that is sparsely populated, where most of the population had already been evacuated, skipping some of the more heavily populated and major tourist resorts.

It also has weakened, as we said, to a Category 3, but we're still talking winds of 120 miles per hour. They are predicting more weakening though as it crosses the Yucatan.

Right now, let's bring in chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta.

And as we said, they had been able to evacuate because they knew this was coming and they were able to get a lot of people out. But as we also were talking with Harris about, one of the problems is that in some of these outlying areas, even in the best of times, it's not easy access and there is not a lot of ways to communicate.

So, as this thing clears, they're going to be going out to make sure people are OK. And what are they going to be looking for, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly right. And I was a little concerned about Harris there in the middle of the street.

The good news is, as of right now, there have been no injuries, no deaths certainly reported in this area. What they're going to be looking for, obviously, is people who may have been trapped in some way, who may be dealing with rising water and flooding, who may be suffering some of the aftermaths of such high velocities of wind.

There's about -- Harris referred to this, but there's about 1,800 people in shelters right now in Chetumal. right now. We were actually able to get somebody on the phone who is sort of coordinating the relief efforts in this particular area. So, about 1,800 people there.

You mentioned the outlying areas as well, Kiran. About 4,800 people in some of those outlying municipalities.

You're exactly right, it's very hard to get a hold of people. The communication often goes down.

We're also learning that they cut the electricity around 2:00 a.m. They're not sure when they're going to put the electricity back in, but Harris was sort of talking about those electrical wires being whipped around by this wind. That's why they cut the electricity, because electrocution can be a big concern as well.

So, a lot of just sort of preventive measures really taking place right now. But as the day gets brighter and people can actually see things, they're going to go out there and start trying to search for people, trying to rescue people if they need it, and that's what's going to go on over the next several hours.

They expect -- at least what they're telling us -- and Reynolds may know better -- but at least five hours more of sustained winds in this particular area. So the electricity will be down for at least that amount of time, and probably before people start going out there trying to search and rescue.

CHETRY: Sanjay Gupta, thank you.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CHETRY: You know, it's interesting, a sign of the times. We're talking about these low-lying areas and these very remote areas that may not have access to information. Yet, the Chetumal City Web site -- so they have that up -- is reporting power outages due to the hurricane.

They're saying that they don't have electricity. They're also reporting trees down around roadways and sheets of metal, you know, that flew through the air. So, telling people to be careful, but it's on their Web site. You may not be able to access it, but it's there.

SANCHEZ: Good thing. But it's there.

By the way, he makes a great point. I remember covering a story in south Florida that was a hurricane. And as a result -- I believe it was a tropical storm, pardon me. And as a result, it knocked one of those lines down, one of those electrical lines.

The line fell about a half a block away from where a little girl happened to be walking by. But there was a puddle that connected it. Apparently, it conduced, because the water serves as a conductor of electricity.

It charged the water enough that when they stepped into the puddle, she got shocked and died. And she was a half a block away from where that power cord had fallen.

So, this is the kind of thing that really gets people. Most of the people who die after hurricanes, who die as a result of hurricanes, die after the storm goes by with the situations like that.

CHETRY: Right.

SANCHEZ: So this is just really something to keep in mind as we continue to follow this storm as it continues to go inland.

CHETRY: The temptation is there to get out, to look at the damage, but you really should be listening to what your local officials are telling you about safety and evacuation.

We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, the latest on Hurricane Dean, now a Category 3 making its way across the Yucatan.


CHETRY: All right. We want to bring you up to date right now on Hurricane Dean.

This is a live picture from Cancun, Mexico. Things look deceptively calm. The only thing, you're seeing -- you're seeing the waves that are usually a lot calmer than that, a lot more gentle in the water there, splashing up against the side of what looks like a dock. But...

SANCHEZ: It's good news out of Cancun, though.

CHETRY: It really is.

SANCHEZ: Essentially, they're 170 -- 160 to 170 miles away from the eye of the storm. So they have, for all intents and purposes, been spared.

CHETRY: They are considering this a stroke of good luck for all of Mexico, saying that where this made landfall -- and as you can see from the radar picture, it's around 40 miles outside of Chetumal, further down the coast, and not in an area that's usually highly populated area with tourists and with people visiting the area. In the exact area where this hurricane did make landfall, they were pretty much evacuated. So things are looking good.

We still have a ways to go before this is cleared out over the entire Yucatan Peninsula. But right now, things are looking up. Dean downgraded, and the area where it did make landfall is looking like a place that was prepared and capable of dealing with those hurricane- force winds and rain.

SANCHEZ: We're going to be all over it as it moves inland.

And there's a couple of other stories that we're going to be picking up on now, right? CHETRY: We want to update you on a story that CNN has followed for sometime now. And we're getting new information this morning.

Iranian-American -- you may remember her -- Haleh Esfandiari, she was being held in Iran. Well, she is about to be freed.

There it is again. Haleh Esfandiari will soon be released on bail.

She lives in Washington. She is the head of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, and she has been held in Iran since May. She was there visiting her mother when she was detained.

We've been in touch with her husband this morning. We have spoken to him before. And we will have an update for you coming up. But it looks like things are turning around.

A lot of fears about what may have happened, but it looks like she will be released on bail.

SANCHEZ: The other big story that we were following all day yesterday, remember that plane? It was a China airplane. It was engulfed in flames.

In fact, go ahead and put that picture up now. Look at that. That's just blowing up right there on the tarmac.

A huge plane, 727. It had something like 127 to 137 between passengers and crew on board.

And amazingly, they all were able to get off of this plane. There was somebody on there, though, who we want to talk to now, because he's made himself available to us. It's Sergeant Shane Bertrand.

He is a U.S. Marine. He's stationed there in Okinawa, by the way, where this happened. Okinawa, of course, with all its military history associated with it.

He's good enough to join us on the phone.

Hey, Sergeant, are you there?


SANCHEZ: How in the world did you and the rest of your fellow travelers get off of this plane, given the pictures that we're looking at?

BERTRAND: We got off, no kidding, about 25 seconds before the first explosion. So I honestly couldn't say.

SANCHEZ: You mean, the plane landed, you knew there was a problem, and then everybody ran like the dickens before -- oh, there you go. Look at that. BERTRAND: We were already getting our carry-on baggage out, and one of my fellow Marines that was traveling with me actually pointed out that there was a fire on the wing because we were on the wing seats.

And so, just thought, hey, there's crews on the ground that will take care of it. And then he noticed that there was a fire on the other wing as well.

And as we -- you know, after about a minute and a half, we realized that the flames are getting bigger. And I don't hear any sirens and nobody is putting anything out. And it started to get closer to the cabin, starting to get a little worried.

SANCHEZ: You know what's amazing? You know what's amazing? You have been to Iraq how many times now?

BERTRAND: Three times.

SANCHEZ: So, you've been to Iraq three times. You've been in combat, right? You're a Marine.

BERTRAND: Yes. Yes. Three combat tours to Iraq.

SANCHEZ: And you've survived when so many others haven't. You've gotten out of there in one piece and suddenly here you're on this.

What were you thinking?

BERTRAND: That's exactly -- I actually mentioned that to one of my Marines. I said, "Three combat tours to Iraq I survive and this is how it's going to happen."

SANCHEZ: What are the chances, right?

All right. Take us through now that moment.

And by the way, Kelly (ph), if you can, show that picture again of the people coming down the slide. And look how soon after the last person comes down the slide the plane becomes fully engulfed in flames.

Go ahead and back that up, if you can, while we have this discussion, if you heard me there in the control room.

OK. There it is. The people are coming down the slide, they're coming down the slide, one after another. They're jumping, they're jumping.

Now watch. As the plane is on fire, kaboom! I mean, think about how close they actually came.

Sergeant, if you could, take us inside the plane to the moment when everybody realized, oh, my God, this thing is going to blow. Did everybody start heading for the exit? And did they do so in a controlled manner, or was there panic?

BERTRAND: Controlled is one way not to describe it. That's definitely not a way to describe it.

There was extreme panic inside. Myself, the Marines that were with me, and another Marine from our unit that was in the back of the plane were as calm as humanly possible, obviously. We weren't screaming, yelling or anything, but there was too much commotion around us as it was.

As the flames got closer to the cabin and the windows started to melt and people could smell it inside the plane, obviously, panic spread extremely all throughout the plane. And a gentleman up at the front of the plane sprained his ankle and was having a hard time getting off. So we were having issues going forward.

So people from behind were actually pushing on us, trying to jump over seats. They were screaming, yelling. Obviously, some in Chinese, some in Japanese. And a couple actually in English. But for the most part, none of the Americans were yelling that I noticed of the 13 Americans that were there.

And finally, when we actually got the opportunity to start stepping forward, that's when you could see the smoke coming in. You know?

Obviously, we've already been smelling it. The windows were melting.

We made our way as calmly as possible, and especially because of all the military that we had right there, the four Marines that were traveling right next to me, an Army individual, and a Navy individual and his family, wife and two small children. And we're as calm as humanly possible, just walking forward real slowly.


BERTRAND: And finally got our opportunity to jump off. And I was off the plane less than 25 seconds when the first explosion went.

SANCHEZ: Man, I'll tell you what, well done. What an amazing, amazing story that is. To see the pictures and to hear you describe it, and now we get a chance to see how handsome you are, is just -- is just a wonderful thing.

Thanks so much, Sergeant, for joining us this morning.

BERTRAND: Not a problem. Not a problem.

SANCHEZ: The best of luck to you, my friend.


CHETRY: Twenty-five seconds he said. And when you see the video...

SANCHEZ: It's incredible.

CHETRY: It really is.

SANCHEZ: It's incredible to think that they were running while they were looking behind them and there were flames shooting out through the airplane.

CHETRY: Something out of a movie, and he lived to survive it. How about that? And three tours in Iraq.

So, someone is looking out for him.

We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back, we're going to update you on the very latest. Hurricane Dean now a Category 3, still crawling along the Yucatan Peninsula and making its way across there. Moving at about 20 miles per hour. That's relatively fast moving for a hurricane. Still the size of Texas.

We're going to bring you an update with our correspondents in just a moment.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back and what a morning it's been. Where is this picture from? I can't tell.

CHETRY: I think this --

SANCHEZ: Cancun?

CHETRY: Well, I think this is Rob Marciano's shot just south of Cancun, along the Mayan Riviera, as it's called. Very, very popular tourist destination just south of Cozumel. And you see the storm surge behind, him, as Rob talked about; 12 to 18 feet. Things that used to be right on the beach are now right in the water. Things like the huts that we'll see in a second, some of the massage tables at these popular tourist resorts. But for the most part, that was just a glancing blow on the popular tourist areas.


CHETRY: Hurricane Dean did not do as much damage, in fact, they're calling it a stroke of luck as they look at his path, making landfall in an area that is equally quite sparsely populated, and most people were able to evacuate in time.

SANCHEZ: There we go, we see Rob.

Rick Sanchez here, with Kiran Chetry. We're bringing you the news since 5:00 this morning just as the hurricane made landfall. Rob Marciano is following things from Puerto Aventuras, not far from Cancun, a little bit south of it. He's joining us now to fill us now on what he has been seeing.

Take it away, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Rick, you mentioned the name of this place. This hotel resort property called Aventuras Palace. They are known for adventure. They've got rock climbing; they've got -- snorkeling and kayaking.

In an area behind me, which would typically be a lagoon, and then beyond the lagoon there is a natural barrier of rock and, I guess, coral that separates the lagoon from the ocean. That's all washed out and some of it just pounded away. Now we've got this amazing sight we've been showing you all morning long, which is just -- you know -- I don't have the words to describe it anymore!

This is typically a crystal clear, aqua blue, serene, tranquil -- maybe one- or two-foot breakers, coming in on a typical day. And now we've got these huge, 20, 25-foot swells and breakers coming in, and just churning up what is typically a tranquil sea here.

And this water coming in and busting -- look at this! I mean, just coming right up to protective wall, I guess. There are three tiers that go down. The first two tiers are blown away. That's been completely washed out. And up and down this property line, for whatever reason, this is the strongest spot. There are walls like this, similar to this, up and down the front, that are blown away and rock has been thrown into balconies.

The power of the water, coupled with the power of this Category 5 storm, with winds over 160 miles an hour, has certainly shown its true force here. We're seeing a surge easily over 10 feet, if not 15 feet, Rick and Kiran.

This is all while the tide is being pulled out. That continues to amaze me. We haven't seen any succession of the storm surge at all. It continues to pound the property line here on the Mayan Riviera.

SANCHEZ: I guess looking at this thing economically -- and Kiran, you and I have been talking about this throughout the morning -- they've put millions and millions of dollars into pumping up the sand from offshore to re-create the beaches because Wilma devastated them.

You tell us, Rob, because the storm is going by so fast and because it's to the south of you, it's probably not going to make them have to re-do that again, although I'm sure it will take some effect there, right?

MARCIANO: I think so. The stretch of beach you're speaking of is up towards Cancun, which is another 50 miles or so to our north. Wilma, just over a 24-hour period, continued to scrape away at that beach line. They spent over $20 million trying to restore that eight- mile stretch of beach. The seas will take what the sea wants to take, especially when there is a hurricane.

Down here it's a little bit more of a rocky shore, and then you go south of here, where the hurricane actually made landfall, as you've been mentioning all morning long, it's a fairly unpopulated area and it's a natural reserve in some cases, where there are wetlands. And those are the best things that help buffer a storm, and wave action as they come on shore. If there had to be a spot on the Yucatan for this monster storm to make landfall, I think for the most part, it took a pretty good angle to keep life and property of humans to a minimum.

That said, this storm being so big, there's certainly going to be a tremendous amount of damage up and down this coastline. And just walking this property line, these guys have been terrific hosts to us and given us everything we need in order to make this television happen for you this morning. They're seeing a tremendous amount of damage and it's tough to watch a beautiful property like this be battered like it is, but it's not the only one you can be sure of that. Many hotels and resorts up and down the coastline will feel the hit from Hurricane Dean before this is all said and done.

CHETRY: Just for interest's sake, quickly, Rob, how long before they clear things back up and soon Aventuras Palace is up and running like a normal tourist resort would be along the Mayan Riviera?

MARCIANO: You know, it's -- to watch this hotel and others go into action the past couple of days, bringing all sorts of workers to clear out all -- you know, you can imagine all of the furniture that is outside. All of the things are outside. When you go on vacation that you don't think about, well, that now needs to go inside or be tied down because it will get blown away, and do all sorts of damage. That is a lot of man hours that it took, not only to move all that stuff somewhere, that needed to be stored, but also behind me --

By the way, we have to keep our camera dry, so our camera is situated right, basically on the other side of a balcony, next to a concrete wall, to keep our gear dry. That's one of the reasons we've been able to bring you these shots all day long.

Beyond that all of the glass windows are boarded up. Some of them are hurricane force, some of them are special windows, but not all of them. And they are boarded up just like you would see folks in Florida and folks along the Gulf Coast, folks along Cape Hatteras, boarding up their homes. All this has to be taken down. Everything needs to be cleaned up, a tremendous amount of money and manpower before things get up -- I don't know, Kiran.

I don't know how long it's going to take. But they've been through hurricanes before and certainly with well-oiled machine watching these guys go in action, protecting this piece of property yesterday afternoon. Back to you guys.

SANCHEZ: Rob Marciano, might we say, doing a great job for us out there. We appreciate it, buddy. Way to hang in there. Well done.

CHETRY: We're going to see where this track is going right now, moving north/northwest at still at about 20 miles per hour, relatively a good clip for a hurricane. Reynolds Wolf is tracking it.

Where will Dean go next? And are we likely to see another downgrade as it moves across land? REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's certainly possible. In fact, the way it looks right now, by the time it gets to the other side of the Yucatan, later today or overnight, we're expecting it to be a either a very, very weak Category 2 or a very strong Category 1 storm.

Here's a look at it right now. The eye, you can't see it at all. It's been away from the warm water, it's main power source, so it's losing energy as we speak. It is not necessarily in its dying phase, but certainly in a weakening phase but still packs a big punch. We're talking winds in excess of a 100 miles per hour for many spots around the Yucatan.

Obviously, the farther north you go the weaker the winds will become and we're talking about tropical storm force winds and that heavy surf should continue for some time.

This thing just juts out like a ceiling between two very warm bodies of body, the Western Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. And throughout history this has been a hot spot. Big hot spot for these kinds of storms. Today that storm will continue its march across.

Again, the latest path we have from the National Hurricane Center, 2 p.m. Wednesday -- rather -- today, has it moving into the western side of the Yucatan. By Wednesday, with winds 110 miles per hour, then by 3 a Category 3 storm, by 2:00 p.m. Wednesday. And that should be anywhere between Vera Cruz and Tampico when it makes landfall a second time as a Category 3, a major hurricane.

Although it is weakening we're not done with the storm by a long shot. It is moving into the Bay of Campeche later on, over night, into tomorrow, which is near a big area for the oil industry. So that should be an interesting thing to see, in hours to come.

Let's send it back to you, Kiran.

CHETRY: Did you know we were going to talk to Ali Velshi about the impact on the oil industry next? If not, that was a stroke of luck.

WOLF: That's a little bit of clairvoyance from here.

CHETRY: Thanks, Reynolds.

Ali, we do want to bring you in right now to talk about this. The largest oil company, the state oil company there in Mexico, did shut down production of those offshore rigs. What type of impact or fallout might we see, as the American consumer, from Hurricane Dean?

ALI VELSHI, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: For the moment we're seeing not much. Oil prices back down. Oil and natural gas prices have been fluctuating for the last couple of days. Natural gas is also drilled from many of those same rigs and platforms.

But they have evacuated. Pemex evacuated its rigs from the Gulf of Mexico . These are pictures from Galveston, Texas or rigs off of Galveston, which have been evacuated. A lot of American oil companies have started evacuating those rigs just out of caution. It's an involved process to get those people off of those rigs now.

The International Energy Association has said they don't think that Dean is going to have the impact that Katrina and Wilma had in 2005. They are -- the U.S. is prepared to release its strategic oil reserves. As you know, Kiran, those are four tanks kept in underground in Louisiana and Texas, that are lent to oil companies to keep oil going to the refineries so that gasoline can be made in the event after crisis.

But nobody is seeing that right now. They're saying they're not expecting major impact in oil markets and are reflecting that. For the moment, if this storm remains on the trajectory it's on the Mexican oil operates have secured their rigs and platforms in the Gulf and all should be OK.

CHETRY: Ali Velshi live for us, covering the economic impact. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about the health and medical impact now. Sanjay Gupta is in Atlanta, he's following that for us, with the latest word on injuries, damages in the areas and how some of those officials down there are going to be coping with this.

Take it away, Sanjay.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting. We've actually been able to get them on the phone, which is a little surprising to us but maybe not that surprising after all. The people who are coordinating the entire relief effort in that area, some good news there to report. No deaths, no injuries, at this time. We just got off the phone with them a little bit ago.

You've been talking about the capital city there about 1800 people approximately are in shelters in that area. In the outlying municipalities closer to 5,000 people in shelters. They expect right now, this is how fast this whole process moves along, is that within the next four hours, they expect to be able to start letting people -- release people from those shelters.

A lot of relief organizations as well, we've been talking to sort of standing by. You know? You sort of divide this into the immediate phase, the short-term phase, and the long-term phase. They're standing by to take care of the immediate and short-term phase, which is tents and tarps and blankets and chlorine tablets. They are going to have tetanus shots available for people who might need that as well.

So this is just sort of the ongoing planning that is happening and not only in that particular area but also in surrounding areas as relief organizations are sort of positioning themselves.

SANCHEZ: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta following things for us all morning long. We thank you, Sanjay, as usual.

GUPTA: Thank you. SANCHEZ: We will bring you up-to-date on the latest information as this hurricane heads inland. As you can see behind me, it's in some of the parts of the country now that have a little bit more topography. In other words, a few more hills. Maybe as it even goes more inland it will be in a mountainous area. That is a problem because that's when you get the flash flooding; that is when you get the mudslides and landslides and that is where, often enough, people get killed as a result of these storms.

It ain't over yet. We are all over it. Have been since this morning. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back. Boy, we've been broadcasting about this hurricane for almost four hours now. We've seen not only the hurricane gain strength, but then weaken to a Category 3 and the eye passing right near Chetumal, Mexico.

SANCHEZ: Chetumal has really been the hot center of this thing and that is where Harris Whitbeck has been reporting from all morning long. You see him there, once again.

Bring us up-to-date, if you would, Harris. What is going on there now?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, the wind -- I was going to say the wind had lessened in strength but we still get some strong gusts, as can you see.

The street behind me is flooding. I don't know if you can see that. Across the street, there's a hotel. And the hotel was closed, obviously, the caretakers had stayed there through the night. About 20 minutes or so ago they ventured out and are apparently trying to unclog some drains in that street to prevent the flood waters from rising and entering their hotel.

These are some of the first residents of Chetumal we've seen venture out since dawn broke here. Very, very difficult conditions. Very, very difficult conditions that these people have to endure. Again literally having to wade through flood waters to try to find a drain in the streets that they can unclog, so that flood water doesn't enter their homes.

You had said that the storm has diminished now to a Category 3 but the winds are still very strong. The rain has not ceased, the rain continues to come down. I would suspect it would be a few more hours before emergency vehicles and the authorities can come out here to get a real assessment of what transpired here over the last several hours, Rick?

SANCHEZ: So those guys we're watching now are looking for the drain, right? He's trying to see if he can scrape the debris off the drain to somehow -- let me tell you something. That's an awful lot of water he is going to hope that can drain through there. I don't think he's going to have an awful lot of luck, do you? WHITBECK: It doesn't look like he is but, Rick, in all my travels in Latin America for so many years, you always see people just doing whatever they can with whatever resources they have at hand to deal with stuff. This guy ventured out. I have been watching him for 20 minutes or so. He literally is using a garden rake to try to unclog this drain.

I mean, the water continues to rise. Can you see it's probably up to above his knees now.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. We got the one guy collecting debris off the top of the water, we got this guy with a garden rake trying to do what he can to see if he can unclog the drain. So the water doesn't go into the area where his house is, you see part of his car is now submerged as well.

Boy, I'll tell you, it's a tough situation. A lot of flooding in that area, that's Chetumal. That's where Harris Whitbeck has been reporting from all day. And you start to see, as day breaks, the effect of this hurricane on the people who live there. Hardships they will have to endure.

CHETRY: Explain what we're looking at that, that image right there, people are desperately trying to unclog these drains as debris washes in and plugs them up, trying to get them unclogged as best they can, get some of that water flowing out, not into their homes. We are going to continue to follow the latest, those pictures tell a lot.

CNN "Newsroom" is just minutes away and Heidi Collins is at the CNN Center with a look at what is ahead.

Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Boy, what a morning, guys. That's right.

Hurricane Dean coverage throughout the day in the CNN "Newsroom". We track the massive storm on its dangerous track slog across the Mexico's Yucatan. Latest on Dean's location, the latest damage, the latest pictures updated constantly in the "Newsroom".

And Space Shuttle Endeavour coming home today, the landing one day early to avoid complications from Dean. You'll see at all live here in the "Newsroom".

Any breaking news when it happens, are you in the newsroom. Top of the hour here on CNN.

Guys, back to you.

SANCHEZ: That's great. Thanks so much, Heidi. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: Right now we're going to take a quick break. AMERICAN MORNING is coming back in a moment with the latest on Hurricane Dean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHETRY: It's time to meet a "CNN Hero", people making a difference in their communities. We've been following stories out of Peru where 8.0 magnitude earthquake last week. But amid all the destruction, there are stories of hope. Fifteen-year-old Ana Dodson left Peru when she was just four weeks old. Now she's returned to help improve the lives of orphans. Anna is today's "CNN Hero".


ANA DODSON: If my parents hadn't adopted me I would probably be on the streets or in an orphanage. I was born in the hills of Cusco, Peru.

My mom first got me when I was 4 weeks old. I really wanted to go see an orphanage in Cusco. I felt a great pull toward these girls who had nothing. And I was like, wow, I could have been one of these kids.

But there was one girl, Gloria, who came up to me and she said, Anna, I know that you'll never forget me, and I know one day you'll help us. That just really made me decide I need to do something.

My name is Ana Dodson. I've started an organization called Peruvian Hearts that helps orphans in Peru.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Hello, Anna. I want to tell you that you're a good friend with a big and generous heart. They have given us vitamins. And we are now in very good health.

DODSON: We have set up a stipend of money for food, and for their education. Each day after school, a tutor comes over for three hours. We've done renovations, painted the orphanage. And there are 19 children right now. The change I've seen in them is amazing.

One girl said, we are now getting fat because of the vitamins!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Anita, I will always carry you in my heart, no matter what happens in life.

DODSON: This orphanage, it is to the point where these girls can dream.


CHETRY: Wonderful story and congratulations to Ana Dodson. If you want to know more about her, or her organization, of if you want to nominate a hero of your own visit us at

Here is a quick look at what CNN "Newsroom" is working on for the top of the hour.


COLLINS (voice over): See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM. Hurricane Dean hits Mexico with top winds at 165 miles an hour. Shuttle Endeavour lands today, one day early due to Dean. Live in the "Newsroom" 12:30 Eastern. NFL quarterback Michael Vick in court next week. He is expected to plead guilty in a dog fighting case.

Searchers say six trapped miners will likely remain buried in a collapsed Utah mine. "Newsroom" top of the hour on CNN.


SANCHEZ: You want to see what the hardships are caused by these storms? I mean, this is a flooding in Chetumal. This poor fellow is trying to unclog the drains outside his building. He is using primitive tools, like a small rake. He's going to have a real tough time with this, as are a lot of people in the countryside of Mexico, as this hurricane works it's way (INAUDIBLE).

CHETRY: There's are some signs of progress, though. They say they dodged a bullet because it did hit an area that had been, for the most part, evacuated. It is also lowering in strength. It is now a Category 3. But it is still a force to be reckoned with and it is still moving over the Yucatan Peninsula. We'll continue to have coverage.