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AMERICAN MORNING

Hurricane Dean Update

Aired August 21, 2007 - 05:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, "AMERICAN MORNING" CO-ANCHOR: Breaking news -- Hurricane Dean roaring into Mexico right now as a category five, the strongest -- the size of Texas.
New pictures and live reports from the storm zone on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome.

It's another big day weather-wise. We are tracking Hurricane Dean on this Tuesday, August 21st.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You notice we're on a little bit early, an hour early, as a matter of fact. The reason we're doing this is this is a potentially catastrophic hurricane. Those are the words that are being used by the National Hurricane Center to describe it.

It's a hurricane -- there's the loop right there. You see the eyewall?

The eyewall seems to be going right for an area called Chetemal.

By the way, we have Harris Whitbeck, one of our correspondents, what's going to be standing by there.

And then you go a little further to the north, you see Cozumel, where part of the bands are hitting, as well. Cozumel and Cancun also being affected -- famous tourist destinations.

And we've got Rob Marciano, who is going to be standing by in that area.

So we've really got this thing covered. It's going to be happening right now as we go on the air.

CHETRY: This is a category five, the strongest hurricane that forms. This is -- we're talking about sustained winds at 160 miles per hour. And they are considered monstrous. They're also considered rare and, as Rick just said, catastrophic, potentially.

The eye of the storm slamming into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It happened about 20 minutes ago. There you see the video.

Dean is the size of Texas and its bands of rain and wind have been battering land overnight. Nearly 100,000 tourists making their way out of resorts in Cancun and Cozumel. Airliners flown in at the last minute.

But the city of Chetemal is expected to get the worst of it.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck is there.

We will check in with him in a few minutes.

First, though, we want to go up the coast a bit to Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. That is south of Cancun. It's in the middle of what is called often the Mayan Riviera. And it's, in the passable years, become an extremely popular tourist spot on the peninsula.

Our meteorologist, Rob Marciano, is riding out the storm there -- Rob, what's it like?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the winds, just in the last hour-and-a-half, Kiran, have really picked up and freshened out of the north-northeast. You can see -- you can see the palms are blowing behind me. Rain hasn't been that big of an issue. It's been coming in in waves all night. That is typical of the outer band at a head of this system. Right now it's not raining at all.

But it is -- it is blowing pretty good.

Behind me, you can just barely see the surf off of it -- but just -- that will become a little bit more apparent as the sun comes up.

But already from yesterday, we've seen a surge well over six feet and it's been encroaching more. And the breakers those (INAUDIBLE) seas, you know, typically the waves that roll in here are, you know, two, three, maybe four feet high. But we can easily see those to be six, eight, maybe even 10 feet high. And that will become more apparent as the night -- as the morning rolls along.

So here we are. It's tough to say just how far from the center we are, but fair enough to say that we're at least 50 miles to the north of it and it's blowing pretty good. Easily tropical storm force winds here and strengthening up as we speak.

The good news with what this system has done, it looks like what's going on between here, Tulum and them Tulum south to Chetemal, there's a big national reserve there, nothing but wetlands. And those Mayan communities that do live there, they pretty much have been evacuated, for the most part.

So if we can get this into (INAUDIBLE) nudging it a little bit farther to the north, Chetemal might not very well see a direct hit from that. And that would be a good thing.

We're not getting a direct hit from this system right here in the Mayan Riviera, but we certainly are getting battered by the wind.

At this point, power is still on in this particular area, but we'll see it lapse over the next couple of hours -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And what are the emergency plans in effect right now? Are most people gone besides news reporters and meteorologists like yourself?

MARCIANO: Well, some of the hotels have been closed. You know, a lot of the hotels in this tourist zone are owned by big conglomerates. And there'll be four, five, even six or seven hotels owned by the same company. And what a lot of them do, they've kind of congealed, or they've condensed their populace or their guests into one or two of their, say, seven or eight properties to kind of keep everybody in one spot.

This is one of those properties with one of the big conglomerates where guests are hunkering down in this area, if they haven't already moved inland. There is no mandatory evacuation in this area, but it's safe to say yesterday, when the sun went down, this area pretty darned quiet. Folks took heed to the warnings and headed inland or headed out on planes if they could get out.

That's the other issue here is tourists who wanted to get out yesterday, not all of them could do that. And they are riding out the storm on what was supposed to be their vacations -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Rob Marciano.

We'll check in with you throughout the course of AMERICAN MORNING today.

He's in Puerto Aventura, just south of Cancun on the Mayan Riviera.

Thank you.

And coming up a little bit later, we're going to be speaking to some of the tourists who decided that they were going to ride out the storm. They didn't want to necessarily stop their vacation early, and so they are in some of these places, both in the Mayan Riviera as well as parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and Belize.

So we're going to be hearing what it's like for them and getting some I-Reports a little bit later in the show -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Kiran, let's talk a little bit about what this hurricane can actually do. And I think it's important because, you know, you mentioned just a little while ago that this thing is the size of Texas. This is a big storm.

But which part of the storm actually can do the damage?

Now, you're looking at the hurricane as he cuts across right there.

I want to be able to show you something now. There you see the eyewall right there.

You see it over Chetemal?

That's the line that it continues to go in as I draw the arrow, right?

Now, as you look just above that area, this is important, because you wonder well what's the part of the hurricane that could actually do a lot of damage?

You know, you always hear about that quadrant and that's the quadrant right there, right to the very top.

Why is that?

Well, it's because that water is being pushed in that direction, just above the storm. And the area that we're talking about -- if you draw that line again from Chetemal, just above Chetemal, all the way to Cozumel, is 60 miles, all right?

That's an important number to watch today, as we follow this thing. That is how far the sustained hurricane winds actually extend, from the center of the eyewall on up. And I'll draw that area again. That's what we're going to be watching. And remember, Chetemal -- this is where Harris Whitbeck is. Conditions there apparently are pretty bad, so we're going to try and get to him whenever we can.

When the producers tell us he's up, he's ready to go, we'll go to him. If we lose the signal, we lose the signal. So be it.

And this is the area over here where Rob is. You just saw Rob reporting for us just a moment ago.

So we've got that area covered. That's where we're going to be taking you throughout the day.

In fact, let's go to Reynolds Wolf now.

He's -- he knows an awful lot more about this, as a matter of fact, and he's going to be trying to pick up some of that data that he's getting from other meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center.

Take it away -- Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, you did a great job describing that. You're right, is going to be the top half of the storm that really carries the sheer weight of the water, of the wind.

Think of this as being a giant ball that has just been rolling downhill. And that's the momentum that this has been gaining as it's been moving through the western Caribbean. And it is going to be the top half of this, just south of Cozumel, where you're going to have winds that are going to be in excess of 155, 160 miles per hour. We're not talking about gusts here, ladies and gentlemen. We're talking about sustained winds.

You couple that with the idea that this is just one big giant limestone platform. The topography in the Yucatan Peninsula is incredibly flat. So this wind has virtually no obstructions whatsoever. So it's going to sweep right across this peninsula and cause all kinds of damage.

Rick was talking about the storm surge. Yes, that's going to be quite impressive, too, because the wind that is going to actually push that water up, pile it up as it crashes right onshore south of Cozumel. So you're going to see some flooding inland.

Now, flooding in terms of rivers, that's not going to be much of a big deal, because a lot of the water that you have in the Yucatan is actually underground. We're talking about limestone here, so you have those sinkholes. You have what they call sinotes. So in terms of any flooding like that, you're not going to see much of it.

The wind is going to be the big deal. And then, of course, the salt water coastal flooding, that will be an issue throughout much of the morning hours and at least through midday.

Now, we're expecting the storm, Rick, to make its way right across the Yucatan, emerging back out into the Bay of Campeche as a category two. So it's not going to lose a whole lot of strength. Still an impressive hurricane. Not a major hurricane by that point, but still amazing that it's going to retain that kind of strength over being this -- over being over this peninsula, away from its key source of power -- that warm water -- for that length of time, and then deeper into the Bay of Campeche strengthening a bit more. Still winds of excess of 100 miles an hour -- Rick, let's send it back to you.

SANCHEZ: Something else that I was thinking about, Reynolds, this morning when I was getting ready to have my conversation w you, I checked on the National Hurricane site. And they've got a little place there where you can actually check tides.

And I found the tide is at 3:40 aamm, which was, what, about an hour and 20 minutes ago.

WOLF: Yes.

SANCHEZ: What does that mean for the storm surge?

Does it increase it, for example?

WOLF: Oh, no -- no question about it. You're absolutely right. I mean obviously at this point, it's going to start listening a little bit. The tides will begin to drop. It reached that -- it reached that peak at high tide, but then starts dropping back. But when you have just a little bit of a high tide and then you have a storm surge that will be 18 feet or greater, yes, that's -- that's like putting a little bit more flame on top of -- or, rather, a little bit more gas on a fire. It's going to really accentuate things and cause more issues.

A lot of salt water flooding along the coast. And that does not bode well for many people in the Yucatan, no question.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that's called the -- by the way, this is the state of Quintanauo (ph), as it's referred to in that area, and that's the area we're going to be watching today.

High tide could make it probably -- it seemed to say, when I looked at the research, about another 25 feet. So if you add the 25 to the 18, I guess if you do the math, it could be a much bigger problem, though it was at 3:40, so it comes down, right?

WOLF: Absolutely. Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: By now it's probably half of that or something like that.

WOLF: Oh, no question. There's always going to be exceptions to the rule. I mean you're going to have a few places where it's going to be a little bit higher and a few places where it will be a little bit lower. This is pretty much a benchmark, Rick, anywhere just a little over 18 feet. In some places, I have no question, it's going to be much higher, maybe 28 feet or so, maybe even a little bit more than that. Obviously, less in other spots.

But it is going to be devastating for many people.

SANCHEZ: Wow!

All right, hey, Reynolds, we'll be -- obviously, we're going to be talking to an awful lot over the next four hours, so save your voice.

We'll get back to you -- Kiran, over to you.

CHETRY: All right, thanks, Rick.

Well, thousands of people have left their hotels and homes along the coast. Ground zero could be the town of Chetemal, Mexico.

And that is where Harris Whitbeck is live.

What is it like there this morning -- Harris?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, as you can see, rain is coming down strong. The wind have been picking up quite a bit in the last hour or so.

This is really, as you say, ground zero in terms of where the storm came in. And from here, it'll head practically straight across the peninsula and to the Bay of Campeche.

The main concern in this part of the country is the damage that the wind can cause. Campeche is the main population center in the southern peninsula, the Southern Yucatan Peninsula. About 140,000, 150,000 people live here.

Most of those people were evacuated. The Mexican government has been making a serious effort over the last couple of days to make sure that everybody gets the information they need so they can get out of here. The one concern was this Mayan community that Rob Marciano mentioned, that is living in a natural reserve just north of here. Thirty-five hundred people, members of the Mayan Indian community there, were evacuated to shelters because their homes were just too flimsy to support the kind of winds and rains that we're -- that we are facing now.

Flooding not so much of an issue here because of the limestone earth -- the limestone that really sucks all that water in. But, again, once this passes, once daylight comes by, we can see how much damage the wind -- the wind will have caused here in Chetemal.

CHETRY: All right, Harris Whitbeck at what really we're calling this morning ground zero of this storm, in the southern Yucatan Peninsula, Chetemal.

Thank you.

We'll check in with you again a little bit later.

Meantime, in Belize City, another area that is going to be hit hard by the winds of this category five, in Belize City this morning, they've closed all of the hospitals and the government is now urging people to leave the area, saying that Dean will prove to be too strong for the city's shelters.

SANCHEZ: This is an interesting story that we're about to share with you. This is a story that comes in from an I-Reporter, as a matter of fact. The fellow's name down there is Kevin Canning. He's a Canadian tourist. He's on vacation in Belize City.

Right now, he's at a hotel and he's on a beeper. And there's a couple of questions that we want to ask him about this.

And, by the way, this is going to be a somewhat personal interview, as you'll -- as you'll understand as we progress in this thing.

Hey, Kevin, have you got us, first of all?

Are you there?

KEVIN CANNING: Yes. Yes, I can hear you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: How is it going?

CANNING: It's going good. You know, we're hanging in here. It's, you know, we're obviously in -- in a hurricane, so we're doing the best we can.

SANCHEZ: Anything fall down yet?

Anything go boom?

Any storm surge?

What are you seeing?

CANNING: You know, so far, I actually just had one of the maintenance guys, he took me up on the roof. You know, we're going above -- 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, I -- 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.

SANCHEZ: Hunker down and make sure everything is closed -- no windows open, nothing like that, OK?

CANNING: Yes, absolutely...

CHETRY: Hey, Kevin, does that...

CANNING: They have a room that basically, if it starts getting bad, where they're going to move everyone, which is above ground and no windows. So, we haven't had to use it yet, but they have it ready.

CHETRY: Now, you got here two days ago. Two days ago, we knew that Dean was making its way, possibly, to this area.

Why did you decide to go ahead with your vacation?

CANNING: Yes. Can we -- you know, we did know that. But basically what happened is, you know, for personal reasons, we had a vacation planned with the family. And, you know, we weren't going to let a little hurricane get in the way and ruin our vacation. And we decided to do it anyway and just wish for good luck.

CHETRY: We also are showing a picture of you with your mother. You wanted to make sure this vacation was special, it was something that you got to do with the family because your mother is battling cancer right now.

What is -- what is her situation?

CANNING: Yes, that's correct. I mean, not to get melodramatic, but, you know, she does have liver cancer, which, if you know about the disease, is -- is a tough one. And what we're doing is with the family doing a, you know, a nice vacation, just -- just where we can, you know, when we have the time together. So, you know, we decided to do it and we decided to just make the best of it.

SANCHEZ: Wow!

I'll tell you, you decided you wanted to be with your mom because this may be the very last time that you get to spend a special occasion with her, right? CANNING: Well, that's the thing. I mean it's, you know, like I said, not to get melodramatic, but it's, you know, it's the last vacation and this is -- this is why we're here and, you know, if we can't be on the beach, at least we can be together.

SANCHEZ: It's not about being dramatic, man. It's about loving your mom, and that's a good thing. And we thank you for taking time to talk to us this morning. You're a good guy.

CANNING: Yes, not a problem. I appreciate it.

SANCHEZ: Good luck, all right?

Let us know how things are going.

If you need anything, call us here.

CHETRY: You know, so the good news, too, is that hopefully -- and they can enjoy the back half of their vacation when this passes.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

CHETRY: I mean a lot of these resort areas are used to a pretty quick cleanup, as long as the hurricane hasn't done anything devastating.

SANCHEZ: As a matter of fact, that's another part of the story that we're going to be focusing in on in just a little bit, what happened in Jamaica.

Remember you and I were on the air yesterday and we were talking about where's the pictures from Jamaica?

What's going on?

Apparently they did have some pretty extensive damage, but down in the low lying areas, they seem to be OK. It's more up in the mountains where they had a lot of...

CHETRY: Right.

SANCHEZ: ...some of the landslides, as we call them.

CHETRY: Exactly. Landslides, mudslides, but who's counting?

All right, we're going to have much more. We're going to be talking to a couple of other tourists who are not cutting their vacation short, as well, both in Mexico, as well as Belize, coming up a little later.

SANCHEZ: Gutting it out -- we'll have it for you.

Stay with us.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back.

Boy, we're talking about breaking news and there it is. You can see it. The size of Texas -- Hurricane Dean now a category five as it makes its way onto the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize.

We want to welcome our international viewers that are joining us today to continue watching this coverage.

We have you covered. We have correspondents that are actually out in that storm, from Cancun all the way down into Belize, including our I-Reporters this morning.

SANCHEZ: Yes. As a matter of, Harris Whitbeck -- you see -- you see the eye of the storm right there?

It's going over a little place right there. It's called Chetemal. I mean Chetemal obviously doesn't have the same kind of population as Cozumel or Cancun, nor is it as well known.

All right, here's some of the first pictures that we're getting from the area now.

Tell me again, Michelle (ph), where this is.

This is Puerto Aventura. Puerto Aventura. At least that's how they say it down there in Mexico.

We up here would probably say Puerto Aventura, right?

Those are the first pictures coming in. Remember, we're talking about winds -- sustained winds of up to 160 miles an hour or more, making this a category five storm.

As you look at this beach, consider the millions and millions of dollars that they've poured into this project since Wilma. Wilma devastated Cozumel and Cancun, so much so, the government had to come in and dredge sand from offshore to rebuild the beaches. You know...

CHETRY: And that was in 2005...

SANCHEZ: That's right.

CHETRY: ...that Wilma hit.

SANCHEZ: That was a 165 mile an hour storm, I believe.

CHETRY: Right. But when it made landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula, it only hit at 125 miles per hour. So this could be even more devastating. However, this area of the Mayan Riviera, the Yucatan Peninsula, this part, at least, is not bracing for a direct hit, as they were with Wilma.

SANCHEZ: Yes, you talk about some of the archeological areas here, some of the famous places like Tulum, for example... CHETRY: Right.

SANCHEZ: ...where all the tourists go. And, you know, I mean, you know, that...

CHETRY: Chichen Itza. We know about those ancient structures.

SANCHEZ: Well, and it's been there for thousands of years so you wonder if -- if it'll be affected. They've probably been through a couple of hurricanes in the past.

But that's what we're going to be watching. You see the loop on the left. We'll continue to show you that throughout the next four hours. And then you see -- whenever we get breaking pictures, or I should say brand new pictures, we're going to turn them around and show them to you right away and give you as best or as apt a description as we possibly can.

CHETRY: And that location where we're seeing the palm trees nearly blowing horizontal, that is where Rob Marciano is located.

So we're going to check in with him. It's the area they call the Mayan Riviera, a very popular tourist spot south of Cancun.

We have more pictures from the storm front, as well.

And our Alina Cho has some of the best images that our I- Reporters have captured of Dean making landfall and the destruction this hurricane left behind -- good morning, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

CHETRY: Good to see you.

CHO: Good to see you, Kiran and Rick.

We've been watching these overnight, you know?

And as you saw before the break, I know you guys talked about Kevin Canning. He and his family are in Belize, and really decided to ride out the storm because his mother is sick. And so it's really the story behind the story. The pictures are amazing but when they...

SANCHEZ: How many other people out there like him, right?

CHO: That's right, you know?

And so our first I-Report comes to us from Playa del Carmen in Mexico. In came in at about 7:00 last night. The source of the video, if you can believe this, is 12-year-old Dakota Ross-Cabrera, a little girl. She shot these pictures from her digital camera.

Pretty good, huh?

And we actually spoke to her father. He said it was OK to credit her. Dakota and her family are vacationing in Playa del Carmen. And in what they are calling a secure house with hurricane shutters. You can really see the waves crashing in there.

Dakota told us it's very windy, rainy and "kind of scary." She's never been in a hurricane before, but they are certainly ready.

They're still waiting for the power to go out. It hasn't gone out yet. And they say they have plenty of food, so that it very good news for them.

Our other I-Report this hour comes in from Grand Cayman. Jonathan George is the source. He actually rode his bike down to the coast to shoot this for us. You'll see as the camera turns around, there's some flooding, wind damage. And that building that you saw just to the right there is actually a church that -- in fact, it was so windy, that he fell down at one point off of his bike.

But he said that the worst seems to be over. Of course, the storm passed through Grand Cayman Sunday into Monday. So no major damage there, thankfully.

And, of course, we want to remind you, stay safe. But if you want to send us your I-Report, you can go to cnn.com, click on I-Report. Pretty easy to get it to us. And we will put it on the air.

And we're watching the best stuff all throughout the morning and we'll be back with you in the next hour -- Kiran.

CHETRY: It sounds good.

Amazing pictures.

CHO: They really are.

CHETRY: You can see the wind from the Grand Cayman.

Thanks, Alina.

CHO: Sure.

SANCHEZ: I'm being told that we have somebody else to talk to now.

It's Patrick Jones.

He was in Belize City.

I believe he's now moved to Corozal.

Hey, Patrick, are you there?

PATRICK JONES, COROZAL, BELIZE: Yes, I am here.

Good morning.

SANCHEZ: What's the conditions there?

What are you seeing? JONES: Well, right now I'm at the -- I'm actually in Corozal, a town that's just near to the Belize/Mexico border. And the wind is just howling on the outside right now. A lot of rain, so we are experiencing the fury as much as we can experience at the moment, of Hurricane Dean.

So as far as Belize is concerned, we are grateful that the storm, that the eye of the hurricane, made landfall something like about 40 miles east-northeast of Chetemal. So that spared us a lot of the strong winds and the rain that accompanies this hurricane.

SANCHEZ: Well, that's a...

JONES: But I was (INAUDIBLE)...

SANCHEZ: That's a...

JONES: ...it was still just howling a lot.

SANCHEZ: Let me just stop you for a minute, because that's important. You're giving us an awful lot of information. A lot of folks here in the United States are just now waking up. They're trying to come to grips with this thing.

You just said that it passed east-northeast of Chetemal.

Now, we see Chetemal right there. The good news is -- and you just explained it -- that the eyewall of this storm is above Chetemal. That means the weaker winds, if you could use that term, are going through Chetemal, not the stronger winds of the storm.

That's important, right?

JONES: That is so. That is very much so, because they, as we all know, for hurricanes, the northeast quadrant is usually the ones where most of the destructive power or the force of the hurricane is.

SANCHEZ: So...

JONES: So we're fortunate, if you can call it that, that we are located on the back side, if you will, of the hurricane. So we are not getting the full fury of Hurricane Dean.

SANCHEZ: So go ahead.

Before we let you go, describe to us what you are getting.

What do you see?

What kind of damage have you seen?

How much water was pushed up, if any, and how much rain have you been getting?

JONES: Well, the rain -- we have not been able to -- to leave from the hurricane shelter that we are at at the moment. But from the reports that we are getting in through the defense force and the police who are on patrol out there, we are being told that there is a lot of debris on the streets, primarily branches torn off trees. And a couple of the streets, they are blocked and they are impassable at the moment, not so much -- not a lot of flooding being reported at this early stage right now, bearing in mind that the eye just made landfall like about 45 minutes ago.

But we expect that there to be some localized flooding. So we are prepared for that and we are waiting for that to happen.

SANCHEZ: That's -- I'm going to interrupt you for just a moment, Patrick, because I was just told we got some of the video courtesy of yourself. You sent us this video. That's the shelter where you are staying, as a matter of fact, and those -- that's what it looks like in there right now.

Describe that for us just a little bit.

What's going on in there?

What kind of people are you meeting and how are they holding up?

JONES: Hundreds of people have taken refuge at the Corozal Community College and other places designated by the government as being sturdy enough to withstand hurricane force winds.

I was speaking to an elderly woman earlier. She came here and she came here just to pass the time. Her home, she felt that it was sturdy enough. But she came out and she brought her children -- her grandchildren out here -- for them to sort of experience what it would be like to go through a hurricane and for them to be among other people and to share in the whole camaraderie, if you want to call it that, of being -- weathering something as big as a hurricane, such as Hurricane Dean.

SANCHEZ: Well, they're going to be weathering it all right.

Patrick Jones, we thank you for, really, a couple of things -- for getting some of those pictures to us, for providing us with really excellent information. You're obviously well informed about hurricanes.

We thank you and maybe we'll be able to check back with you. We're going to be on the air for a couple of hours this morning.

Thank you, sir.

CHETRY: So we have some of those pictures coming in from the shelter. They said that it looks like half the town of Corozal has lost electricity, but they don't think the rest of the power supply will hold because of these winds. They're talking about debris littering the streets, as well as some other problems -- branches down, pets wandering. A lot of people had to leave their pets, so they could go to these shelters.

SANCHEZ: Yes. CHETRY: Hopefully this will blow over soon and they'll be able to get out there and asses the damage and get back in.

SANCHEZ: You know, it looks like, you know, as he said, it looks like the worst of the damage is going to be above him, and that's -- the onus on us this morning, for you, is to try and get you reports from those areas, as well, the areas in those northeast quadrant where they're really getting whipped with a lot of winds and they're getting that water being pushed in their direction.

As we get anything on that, right away, we'll bring it to you.

And we've got plenty of correspondents there.

CHETRY: Absolutely.

So stay with us.

We are tracking Hurricane Dean, making landfall now as a category five on the Yucatan Peninsula, the eastern side. We're continuing our breaking news coverage of some extreme weather today on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: One of the things that we've been wanting to do, ever since we started following this storm is, really, get a better sense of what's going on in that area, because everybody's been to Cancun, it seems. Cancun or Cozumel -- it's a vacation destination for a lot of Americans. So that's the area we've been trying to key on, and we've been trying to get you information from there. And I think we're about to be able to do so.

CHETRY: That's right. We're talking about just south of Cancun, right now, what they call the Mayan Riviera -- Puerto Aventuras, Mexico. It's south of Cancun, and this is a huge tourist spot. It's grown by leaps and bounds, hotels popping up all over within the last several years. The Mayan Riviera, as it's called.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano is riding out the storm there.

And Rob, they are talking about 160 mile-per-hour winds, at times hitting gusts of 200. What's it like for you?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're not quite there, but I can tell you this: Hurricane Dean has made landfall just to the south of where I'm standing and we are feeling the effects, no doubt about that. It is blowing sideways and now the rain is coming down.

Take a look at what's going on behind me: this surf, just in the last twenty minutes, has come up about ten feet. I'm going to shine some light for you, and you get an idea just how angry that sea is. Yesterday, these waves were coming in two, three feet high, and now they are breaking in six, ten, even twelve feet high. An angry Caribbean, no doubt about that. Right now we have winds that are blowing easily tropical storm force, and we've been getting some puffs that have definitely been over hurricane-force winds out of the north, which tells us that that center of the storm is due south of us and heading inland right now.

As it does so, it will weaken, but with Category Five winds of sustained 160-plus, it's not going to weaken enough. This thing may remain a Category Three or Four, a major hurricane, all the way through the Yucatan, before it reemerges in the Gulf of Mexico.

As you mentioned, Kiran, this is a heavily touristed area, extremely popular, gaining popularity. Hurricane Wilma, two years ago, just tore up this stretch of beach, and now here comes Dean, doing much the same.

The only good news with this storm is that it's moving quickly -- 20 miles an hour due west. Wilma just sat and spun and just peppered this coastline, hours on end -- over a day -- 26 hours. This thing, hopefully, will have come and gone within just a matter of five or six hours. But it's going to be a pretty intense five or six hours, I can tell you that.

Kiran?

SANCHEZ: Rob, boy, you're hanging in there. Let's do this, real quick -- let's just welcome again our international viewers -- people now watching us from around the world as we brace for what Mexico is about to get hit by, which is a potentially-catastrophic Category Five hurricane with winds of 160 miles an hour.

And you're seeing Rob Marciano, right there, who knows a thing or two about weather, since he's a meteorologist. In the area where that eye wall is going to be pushing the water -- now, he's 160 miles due north from the eye of the storm, which is good and bad -- good because of the distance, bad because he's north of the storm, which could create a problem.

Now, I guess what we need to know at this point, Rob, as we look at you is, are there any people that you've seen this morning and last night, before you checked in for the night -- were there still a lot of people mingling around the hotels, or did most of the tourist population get out?

MARCIANO: Those that -- many of them tried, Rick, and couldn't. I can tell you this: when we came in a couple of nights ago, our flight was relatively empty. But there were tourists, most of whom were Europeans who had traveled all night, unknowingly that there was a major hurricane about to hit their vacation, their honeymoon, their ten-year anniversary, whatever it may be, and they had a look of shock when we landed and the flight attendant said, Be safe during this hurricane. They had no idea, but what were their choices? Get back on the plane and fly 15 hours, 20 hours, home, or stay here and ride out the storm.

So those folks have chosen to ride out the storm. A lot of them have rented a car and moved inland. But as you can imagine, the inland infrastructure of hotels just isn't what it is along the Mayan Riviera and the hotel zone of Cancun. There's just not enough rooms inland. So there have been a number of shelters that have opened up. The Mexican federal government does many of the same things that the U.S. government does in these emergency situations.

On a side note, when we drove south from Cancun yesterday, the federal police were out with M-16s. I mean, they were patrolling the streets, There was a huge problem with looting back in Hurricane Wilma, along the hotel zone. And they certainly have taken precautions for that, and they have also tried to take care of their own.

I mentioned that there is a national reserve just to the south of me, and hopefully this storm will do most of its damage in there. But there are some native Mayan communities that are in there -- thousands of them -- three, four thousand people, I'm told, have been evacuated from that area before this storm moved in. So the Mexican government taking the precaution to keep folks safe. They certainly don't want a repeat of Hurricane Gilbert, back in 1988. That was a Category Five storm, a similar path, similar strength. It took 300 lives, as it stretched across the Yucatan, and hopefully that won't be the case today.

But this is a dangerous storm, no doubt about it. It's pretty rare to get a Cat Five making landfall in one spot once. To do it twice -- that is certainly a rare event.

CHETRY: It's interesting -- you brought up a few things, historically speaking. You talk about the rarity of a Category Five -- only three have ever hit the U.S., since they started keeping records. And when we talk about a Category Five, today, we're talking about 160 mile-per-hour winds, at times, gusting to 200 miles an hour. And that's important to note because when Wilma did so much destruction, we were only talking about 125 mile-per-hour wind. It seemd like some of the colder air was able to slow that and take some of the energy out of Wilma.

So what are we talking about when we say 160 mile-per-hour storm hitting land, in that area, Rob?

MARCIANO: To put this in perspective, when we talked about those sustained winds, those are maximum sustained winds at the strongest part of the storm. So typically we don't see what we call verification or measurement of that wind on the ground when those storms move inland. For instance, Hurricane Katrina officially came in at a Category 3, but we didn't have much measured wind on the ground more than 100, 110 miles an hour. So today, with this storm moving in, even though right now we're getting winds that I would estimate blowing right now at about 50 miles an hour, 45 miles an hour, I mean, imagine this, I'm having a hard time standing up in what's a 50 mile an hour wind.

One thing that we reporters often do, it's just human nature, we tend to overestimate what the winds feel like. And it's not easy to stand up in hurricane-force winds. It's nearly impossible to stand up in 100 mile an hour winds. So to report from that situation, you have -- you really have to be behind a brick wall to do it safely.

I won't be surprised -- I don't think we're going to see measurements of 160 miles an hour, that's a short answer to your question, Kiran, but any -- all you need to do damage are winds over 50 miles an hour. We will get measurements over 100 miles an hour on some of the land borne measuring stations, I'm pretty confident on that. Because of that, I mean, this thing's a beast and it's coming in and it's going to do a word of hurt on the Yucatan.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Rob Marciano, following things. Let's give Rob a break. I know after awhile the sand alone huts when it's whipping off of that beach. And there you see it behind us right there. You see -- let me see if I can get a little bit out of the way over here. I'm going to move back a little bit. You see the storm, you see Chetumal. Rob is just above Cozumel there. There's about 160 miles between right there and where Rob is, which is a little closer to where my hand is right now. So that's the distance. Remember, again, the sustained winds, the 160 miles an hour that, Kiran, you were just talking about a little while ago, goes to about right there. Just below Cozumel. Anything after that is going to be much less. But still, as he said --

CHETRY: You're talking about 200 mile per hour gusts now, so that can do some damage. You don't need many of those. But one saving grace with this storm, as Rob mentioned as well, is that it's moving quickly. 20 miles per hour due west, as he said, with Wilma when they saw all that destruction.

SANCHEZ: Do you know what that's a good thing for? Do you know what that's a good thing for? Economically speaking, because it's not hovering and sitting there, that means they won't get as much beach erosion. Which means people at the Chamber of Commerce are going, Yes, at this point. But the big thing of course is --

CHETRY: We're also watching --

SANCHEZ: Human lives.

CHETRY: As well, we're also watching the impact on the oil industry, a lot of those oil installations are in that area as well as the ancient ruins. So a lot going on this morning as we continue to track Hurricane Dean. We're going to take a quick break, American Morning will be right back.

SANCHEZ: Jason Carroll's in Cancun, we're going to go to him as soon as we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back, Rick Sanchez here with Kiran Chetry. We are following what is, well, news in the making. This is Hurricane Dean. It is pounding the coast of Mexico as we speak, making landfall right there in the area just below Cozumel, for those of you who have been to that area. CHETRY: Right, in fact, Dean, the leading edge of the eye wall made land fall at about 4 30 this morning, just north of the town of Chetumal, that's about 100, 150 miles from Cozumel, in the area that is a very popular tourist destination. And right now, Dean is dealing what's sure to be a devastating blow to the entire Yucatan Peninsula as well as Belize. Right now, there's an estimated 20,000 tourists that are still in Cancun. They went there for vacation, of course a popular spot with tourists around the world.

SANCHEZ: Right.

CHETRY: Unable to leave. And we're hearing reports, actually from our own Jason Carroll, who joins us on the phone. Apparently security guards at some of the hotels were trying to prevent people from leaving, ostensibly for their own safety, but they actually chained and barricaded exits. What's the situation, Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, that's exactly what happened to us at the Grand Millennia (ph), Cancun hotel. We were inside trying to get outside and basically they physically restrained us from leaving. They locked the doors, said, You can't go outside. It's for your own safety and -- but just to give some perspective of where some of these guys are coming from, you have to remember, two years ago, when Hurricane Wilma blew through here, it caused massive amounts of devastation. And I think psychologically, that still resonates with a lot of the people who live here. Not just the tourists, but the people who actually live here and are charged with taking care of the people, one would hope.

Let me just give you (inaudible) in terms of what we're experiencing. I heard Rob talking about some of those sustained winds that they've been dealing with. We've been dealing with that here as well, certainly probably not as strong as what Rob is dealing with a little bit to the south of us. Just the strong winds, we've had a chance to survey the immediate area and have not seen a lot of damage, so that certainly is good news for the folks here in Cancun. We've seen some downed trees, things like that. Nothing near the devastation that was seen here when Hurricane Wilma blew through here.

I know you gave a figure that some 20,000 people still here, still holding out, but on Friday, the governor said, Look, we don't know where this storm is tracking. We might take a direct hit. My advice is, everyone who is here, should get out. And 70,000 people did evacuate, that according to the Secretary of Tourism, 70,000 people between Friday and yesterday did heed warnings and did get out. So those who are staying, they are basically holed up in hotels, which have become makeshift shelters. After Hurricane Wilma, a lot of these hotels were rebuilt stronger, the folks here say better, better to withstand strong storms that come through here.

Kiran?

SANCHEZ: Alright. There you have it. That's the situation coming from Cancun.

A lot of people wanted to find out what was going on in Cancun, because a lot of folks in the States have family members who are vacationing or planned to vacation down there. The good news at this point though is it's far enough away from at least the heart of the storm to sustain the kind of damage that we saw last time when Wilma blew through there. That's the good news. And we hope to be able to bring you some of that good news. Jason Carroll, we thank you. Let's go over to check more on Dean's track now. Reynolds Wolf is following things over from CNN Center. Hey, when do we get the next advisory on this thing by the way, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The next advisory is coming up fairly soon, although we're getting some -- all kinds of information that comes in all the time as we get current observations from the National Hurricane Center, we are delivering right to the viewers.

I want you guys just to take a look at this from the satellite. This thing nearly -- really obscures the entire Yucatan. I mean, nearly covers the whole thing. This is a big tropical wrecking ball that is just rolling its way on shore and this thing is just a monster.

We measure these things by terms of their interior pressure, their central pressure. And just to let you know, the 906 millibar central pressure is the ninth lowest on record for an Atlantic Basin hurricane. What that means, that's -- it's incredibly powerful. This is a historic storm. It's also the third lowest at landfall, behind the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane in the Florida Keys and Hurricane Gilbert, that we've been talking about, that landed back in 1988 in Cancun.

Dean is also the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the Atlantic Basin since Andrew of 1992. Now we're expecting that storm to continue its trek to the west. In fact, it should zip right across the peninsula very quickly. As you get to 2 AM on Wednesday, 2 AM, we're looking at winds still of 110 miles per hour, then deeper into the Bay of Campeche, still at Category 2 status. IT is going to be a rough time to say the very least. And just to give you some more perspective, when Katrina made landfall, it was a Category 2 hurricane. Category 2 hurricane at landfall. This again, Cat 5, so we're going to be seeing all kinds of problems. No doubt, quite a bit of flooding. The wind is going to be very difficult, the closer you get to the center of circulation, the stronger it's going to be. We're talking sustained winds of 160 miles an hour with some gusts, Kiran, up to 200 miles per hour. Let's send it back to you in New York.

SANCHEZ: You mentioned something that's important, but you didn't clarify it and I think you should probably clarify this. There's two ways of measuring the strength of a hurricane. One is the winds and the other one is the pressure. The pressure that you talked about, just for explanatory purposes for the viewers, is how fast it's spinning, right? Isn't it -- it's like when a ballerina does a pirouette, when she's going the fastest, right?

WOLF: Basically the lower the pressure, indicates how strong the storm is. It really doesn't indicate the speed of how fast it's going to spin. It's just a kind of a barometer, of you want to use that term, of just how strong this thing is.

SANCHEZ: And the tighter it's wound, the faster it goes around in circles, right?

WOLF: Absolutely. Absolutely. And usually of course the lower it is, the higher the storm surge is going to be, the stronger the winds that we've been dealing with this morning.

SANCHEZ: Right.

WOLF: So it all adds together.

SANCHEZ: And you just said it was 160 -- what did you say it was? You said it was one of the lowest or highest pressures you'd seen on record for awhile?

WOLF: It was one of the lowest -- just to give you the fact, it is the third lowest at landfall behind the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane and of course Hurricane Wilma that fell -- that struck back in 1998. So again, we're talking the storm of historic proportions here.

SANCHEZ: That's impressive. Hey, Reynolds, thanks for the explanation as usual.

WOLF: (inaudible).

CHETRY: Well thousands of people have already left their hotels and homes along the Mayan Riviera, that's a very popular area along the coast, where a lot of hotels and resorts are. Some of them have now become storm shelters as the potentially catastrophic storm slams the Yucatan. As many as a dozen tourists may be sharing a single room right now. And Ground Zero is near the town of Chetumal, Mexico. There you have it.

It is an area that's actually pretty rural and sparsely populated. They had about 130 residents -- 130,000 residents in Chetumal, right now, at least we're hearing reports that the electricity is out. Harris Whitbeck is there live. Is that still the case, no electricity right now, Harris?

HARRIS WHITBECK: Kiran, electricity is out and also the winds are strong enough to be causing some damage on some buildings. We're outside a hotel that is built out of very, very thick, heavy concrete walls and those seem to be standing up. There's a lot of plate glass that's been flying around, crashing down around us, we can hear it in the distance. A lot of the security guards who are still here have -- are carrying around these huge flashlights and are trying to determine what exactly is falling around us. Just behind us is a street that normally would be very busy. This would be like one of the main thoroughfares here in downtown Chetumal. Of course practically deserted at this hour. There is debris flying around, the wind really picked up since the last time we talked, just a little under an hour ago.

The wind and the rain -- the wind sounds very, very loud and this -- it's been -- I guess it's been about under an hour since it was declared that the eye had passed over this zone. Kiran?

CHETRY: Okay. Harris Whitbeck, we're going to check in with you. You are right there where it is. And the interesting thing is we talk about the eye wall, is he is right there at Ground Zero, yet his location live right now does not look as harrowing as Rob's up in Puerto Aventuras --

SANCHEZ: Do you know why? Look at it right there. Watch as it goes. He's in Chetumal, that's that arm -- am I covering it? Sorry about that. I did it again. All right. There is Chetumal, right? That's that little orange triangle -- pardon me, square. Now look at where the eye wall goes. The eye wall is actually going just above it. So for all things considered, he's far enough away from it still -- above it, I should say, that he's missing the real important part of the -- the most dangerous part of the storm. And there's even a possibility, and I know we didn't get a chance to ask him this, there's even a possibility that he may have been close to it. Because I don't know what his exactly location is, that he may have actually been within the eye of the storm.

And when you're in the eye of the storm, you're in a vacuum.

CHETRY: Right.

SANCHEZ: And when you're in that vacuum, you don't feel any of those wind conditions.

CHETRY: Hurricane Dean is moving quickly, by the way, as Rob Marciano told us. About 20 miles per hour. Which is a good thing, because it means it's going to be heavy and intense, but it's going to blow out, heading due west. We will continue to track.

But meanwhile, we're going to check in with others who are in the areas where they are really getting battered by this storm. On the phone right now is Aldo Pontecorvo. He is in Merida, Yucatan. He's about 20 to 40 miles from where the worst will hit. Thanks for being with us, Aldo. What is the situation like there now?

ALDO PONTECORVO: Thank you, good morning. Well there is a lot of wind blowing all over and we have a lot of water raining down here. It's actually pouring water down here. And we are inside of the building that we have set up as an operations center in Merida, the state capital of Yucatan, in the Yucatan Peninsula. And we are also -- we are not allowed to go outside right now of the building and we are concerned about the people who were not able to be evacuated from their homes because they rejected the help to be evacuated. We have about 50,000 people still in their houses in the low lands.

CHETRY: So what is the situation for them right now? How -- you're talking about 50,000 people that decided either not to or were unable to seek shelter, what are the biggest concerns for them right now?

PONTECORVO: Well the biggest concern is that most of them are living in low lands and there's going to be a lot of water getting there. So the governor of the state has decided to utilize force to take them out of there and to bring them to shelters because it's threatening to their lives if they continue to be there.

CHETRY: Alright. Is there electricity?

PONTECORVO: Electricity, they're still in, but from time to time we are thinking that we are going to be losing that for quite a long time.

CHETRY: Alright. So within your location right now, you are in the -- he's in the northeast part.

SANCHEZ: Well Merida's got an interesting location. The thing about Merida is it's going to be a little hillier in that area. He's in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, actually far away enough from Cancun. The effects that he would be feeling would be a little like either now or over the next half hour. As opposed to Cancun, where we just saw, which is really feeling the effects right now.

CHETRY: So, Aldo Pontecorvo, by the way, part of a three-member World Vision team that was meeting with the Mexican government officials about getting people ready for this storm. Thanks for joining us and sharing what your situation is this morning as we continue to track Hurricane Dean. Made landfall about an hour and 15 minutes ago on the Yucatan Peninsula as well as the northern parts of Belize. And this one's a Category 5, the strongest storm there is.

SANCHEZ: Potentially catastrophic, that's what the National Hurricane Center says. We've got crews up and down the coast. We've got people we're in contact with there in the ground, regular citizens. We'll be talking to all of them. You'll be hearing their stories. Stay with us. You're watching American Morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back everybody. Rick Sanchez, along with Kiran Chetry. We are following what is news in the making. There is a hurricane, as we speak, which is just battering the coast of Mexico. There you see the eye wall. For those of you just now waking up, it's hitting just above Chetumal. See Chetumal right there, now look down, you see Belize City, that's in the country of Belize, above that is the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

We've got crew through Cozumel, Cancun, I-Reporters in places like Merida, which is just a little bit inland. We've got Harris Whitbeck, who's right there in Chetumal, right where that eye wall is striking as a matter of fact as we speak, and we're going to be getting to all of them as we bring you the information.

CHETRY: So stay with us. The next hour of American Morning starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Breaking news. Hurricane Dean roaring into Mexico right now.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: The wind is just howling on the (inaudible) right now.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: As a Category Five, the strongest, the size of Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: In terms of people who have taken rescue (inaudible) come in.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: New pictures and live reports from the storm zone on this American Morning.

CHETRY: And --

SANCHEZ: We welcome you.

CHETRY: Yes, welcome back once again. Boy, we've already been broadcasting for an hour now. We went on early with a special edition of American Morning because as we speak Hurricane Dean, the strongest category of storm there is of 5, made landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula within the last hour and a half.

SANCHEZ: Now we've been seeing the sights and sounds as it happened and we're going to continue through it over the next hour, by the way.

CHETRY: Yes, that's right. Thanks for being with us. Hurricane Dean, here, if you're just joining us, is the latest. Category 5 slamming Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The National Weather Service saying it is a potentially catastrophic storm with winds at times as high as 165 miles per hour, we're talking gusts close to 200 miles per hour and, as Rob Marciano pointed out, even 100 mile an hour, 55 mile an hour winds makes it difficult to stand. So imagine the type of devastation that can be caused when you're talking about 200 mile per hour gusts.

The situation with thousands of tourists, some were able to make their way out of resorts like Cancun and Cozumel, others are still there and holed up in some of the hotels now being used as emergency shelters. They have hotels, ancient ruins, oil installations, all of them in danger, and we have our team coverage today, Rob Marciano is in Puerto Aventuras, that is along the Mayan Riviera, south of Cancun. Reynolds Wolf tracking all of it for us and getting the latest updates as they happen from the CNN Weather Center. We also have Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta, 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 in Cancun and our Harris Whitbeck is in Chetumal.

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