Return to Transcripts main page


Covering Hurricane Gustav

Aired August 31, 2008 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: New Orleans, locked down. Hundreds of thousands have fled. But have the lessons of Katrina been learned? Is New Orleans ready for Gustav?

COOPER: And good evening, I'm Anderson Cooper. I want to welcome viewers from around the world, watching on CNN International right now, to a special edition of "A.C. 360," live from New Orleans, from the French Quarter. A city largely deserted. A city whose future could hang in the balance tonight. With Hurricane Gustav headed this way, we have supporters and contributors fanned out throughout the area. Among them Drew Griffin watching the levees here in New Orleans. Gary Tuchman is in New Orleans East. Ali Velshi is in Grand Isle, keeping a watch on Gustav's impact on oil drilling in the Gulf. We also have retired general and CNN contributor, Russel Honore, who guided the recovery after Hurricane Katrina and Chad Myers tracking it for us. Chad, what's the latest on the storm.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the latest, is Anderson, is you're still really looking at these outer bands rolling through your area. And this is the issue that we're going to have for the next few hours. I mean, you're going to have one band after another. And as the bands get closer to what is the center of the eye of the storm, the bands are going to get more violent. They're going to get winds of 60, 70, and eventually maybe even 80, 90, 100 miles per hour, even for you in New Orleans.

Now, that said that's going to be bad for tonight, knocking out power and such but you're also going to have the threat as these bands rotate in, some of these storms, individual storms will be rotating as well. And that's the ones - those are the ones that really will have the potential for tornadoes. We've had had that one tornado warning way up there up near Baton Rouge. That's probably the story for tonight. More stories I think we're going to have about this. There are going to be personal losses, New Iberia, in Houma, in Morgan City, that's U.S. That's state route 90 here, all the way down across parts of southeastern Louisiana. That's where the biggest lost is going to come from. That's where most of the homes are going to be damaged because that's where the category 3 may be a category 4 gusts, that's where they will be as the storm makes landfall for tomorrow.

There's one more thing. This is going to be an economic disaster for part of the oil services industry as well. It's Port (). This is something that none of you ever hear of. This is where 90 percent of all the offshore deep water oil comes from. It gets on a ship. It gets on a pipeline whatever but it comes through this port. This port is right in the way of a 130 miles per hour wind. And even only 15 percent of U.S. imports come through this port, there's an awful lot of oil and the oil services sector, all the services that come from here go out to all those other rigs and fix the rigs when they're broken. This port is going to be literally shut down and probably in some type of ruin. And that is going to put a real hurt on the oil industry. Who knows where the oil goes tomorrow when the oil services and the oil futures go up and open tomorrow on the New York Stock Exchange. It is going to probably end in Chicago, it's also going to be probably something in the, who knows, well above $4 where we're talking now. And some people in the 3.50s. But I think it's going to be a short while when we see the damage (Port Buschon) is. It's just going to be a real wreck down there. Anderson.

COOPER: We'll check in - will talk to Ali Velshi a little bit later in this hour about that. He's down there in Grand Isle. We're coming to you tonight from the French Quarters, an area that didn't flood during Katrina. It's an area largely deserted tonight. The stores and bars boarded up. Some people have literally locked themselves inside their homes to ride out the storm. But most have fled. Now, all weekend we've seen roads clogged with cars as hundreds of thousands of people heeded dire warnings from state, local as well as federal officials.

Mayor Ray Nagin estimates as many as 15,000 residents who needed help have already evacuated on buses and trains, something they did not have on hand when Hurricane Katrina hit. Now, the police estimate as many as 10,000 people may stay put. The truth is, no one knows for sure. If you have not already gotten out, time has just about run out. There are no shelters of last resort this time in the city of New Orleans. There's no superdome. There's no convention center. There's a heavy police presence on the streets, heavy National Guard presence as well. The mayor has warned looters, they will be arrested and taken directly to jail. So far, coordination of various agencies seems much improved from Katrina. President Bush had this to say earlier today.


PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The American people will stand with you and face this emergency together.


COOPER: The anguish and anxiety over Gustav's impending arrival is being felt in places all around this region. It's being felt 1,200 miles away as well, in Minnesota's twin cities, the Republican National Convention set to open tomorrow will now be an abbreviated session without the president or the vice president.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to go from a party event to a call to the nation for action. Action to help our fellow citizens in this time of tragedy and disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Hurricane Gustav's ripple effect is also being felt on the world oil market. Chad Myers mentioned a moment ago, the Gulf of Mexico is home to about a quarter of all of the petroleum produced in the United States. Right now, most, if not all, of those facilities are shut down, the workers have been evacuated. Still, great concern about the levees here in New Orleans. Can they hold? Drew Griffin with CNN's special investigations unit is keeping them honest. Drew, what do we know?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that over here on the west bank, I'm in Gretna, Anderson. And there is major concern for one levee, in particular which is just flat out not ready. Nobody is disputing that. And the problem is that Hurricane Gustav can throw a sucker punch toward this area. One that is not felt in Katrina, it's called the Harvey Canal. And as you're about to see, the folks on the backside of that canal are really worried.


GRIFFIN: First, let's show you the good news. This is the Harvey Canal. And that's new and that should help a lot of people. What it is is a butterfly gate. Those yellow barriers, they will close this way and stop the surge from coming past this point, past the gates and heading upstream. The problem is, everything below this is basically unprotected.

Here is that new levee and it's massive. You can see, once it is complete, it's going to offer a greater amount of protection here on the west bank. But the problem is, it's not complete. Nowhere near complete. Look. This is the levee here. It's a makeshift pile of crumpled dirt topped with some sandbags. And the fear is, that if a storm surge actually comes up in here, 12 to 18 feet, it could flood the west bank. This is what most of the Harvey Canal channel levee looks like. Not even any sandbags, just really a pile of dirt. Jefferson Parish councilman Chris Roberts says it's really unacceptable. Because if this storm hits as predicted it's not going to hold. And are you going to be ticked off if tomorrow we're under water?

CHRIS ROBERTS, JEFFERSON PARISH COUNCILMAN: Absolutely. This project should have been decades ago. It's very unfortunate that it's not. We've done everything in our power to try and hold this to the line to make sure this happens. It's an unfortunate situation. However, I can tell you, though, the one positive is that our floodwall, when it's done, hoping that we don't have anything problems in this storm, will be the best engineered floodwall that you can possibly have because it takes into consideration all of the lessons learned from the barriers. But that will be a moot point if we end up with 10 to 15 feet of water tomorrow.


GRIFFIN: And Anderson, that strengthening project for that particular levee has been - they've been talking about it since Hurricane Betsy, back in the '60s. The problem is there's been such complacency over on this side of the river because they haven't had any major flooding like they had in Katrina and before, but this time, they are expecting flooding. They will just have to wait and see how bad it is.

COOPER: And how big are those gaps? I mean, the gaps where there's not any new levee at all?

GRIFFIN: It's huge, Anderson. I could have run for a half mile along that one dirt levee. And south of there, in Plaquemines Parish, which is on the other side of that wall, there was hardly any levee at all. In fact, the dirt was even lower and there were just a couple of sandbags on the top. It really is exposed. Like I said, they do have complacency or they had complacency about it, because the water never pushed up from that side. What they're expecting with Gustav or what they were expecting is that water this time will push up. But that surge will come from south to north, through that canal. And if it does, it has nowhere to go except into the west bank.

COOPER: Drew Griffin, keeping them honest tonight. Drew, thanks very much. We should also point out that even though the work that's been done on the other levees, the levees that were breached, or some over top or some just simply failed during Hurricane Katrina, there is still real doubts about those levees. They have not been fully tested. So a lot of people just simply holding their breath tonight to see what the storm brings in terms of storm surge. Now, all day we have seen thousands of Gulf Coast residents heading out, emergency crews moving in, joining us now is Retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore. He, of course, directed the military relief effort after Hurricane Katrina hit.

General Honore, thanks for being with us. First of all, what do you make of the evacuation efforts as you have seen them proceed thus far?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the state and federal folks have done a magnificent job, along with the city and parish presidents. But we just have to continue to remind folks that the evacuation, a good evacuation is get you off to a good start. But an evacuation is like the pregame show. The hard part of this is going to have to happen as we fight through the storm, as it makes contact on landfall, the loss of power, flooding, and all the infrastructure failure that will occur if this thing comes ashore as a category 3.

COOPER: They have said, city officials, state officials, have said there may be as many as 30,000 people in need of evacuation. They estimate, the help with evacuation, they say there maybe 18,000 out on buses and trains. They say there may be as many as 10,000 who remain. How much of a problem is it the fact that we don't know the exact number of the folks who are still here?

HONORE: I think when we go back and look at this evacuation, local governments, state governments is going to have an opportunity to step the game up to the next level. That maybe we need to have a system in place where we can document who's where and, you know, the process of trying to register people. We got card swipes. I mean, we got technology that can fix all of that. You know, we are still dealing with this as an agricultural age problem where somebody has to come and sign in or you talk to someone putting something in the computer. All that can be done by card swipe, with driver's license, I.D. cards or the debit card issued by FEMA or Red Cross.

I mean, we can apply technology to fix that problem, to get back at the point of how many people, we don't exactly now, again, that can be fixed by technology. So we need to take it to the next level, I think is one of the lessons we'll see after we get done with Gustav. And a lot of progress was made since Katrina.

COOPER: And a lot of folks are probably surprised to hear that there are places, especially on the west bank, there are gaps on the levees, there was talk three years ago about building better, bigger, stronger. How much confidence do you have in the levees?

HONORE: Well, you know, Anderson, like you, I don't see the levees that were replaced, that what we had over top or a levee was breached. You can see that repair work. That looks pretty regular work. But there's over 300 miles of levee in there. And the priority was what was broken by Katrina. People have got to understand that levee system around New Orleans was probably in danger for a long time. When you go out and inspect it and you look at local decisions on what priorities on what they were going to fix and when they were going to fix it, this is tied up in a whole political system that goes back for years in Louisiana politics. And the Louisiana governors id not satisfied with that levee, they need to work that, and the mayors and the county officials. But those levees in New Orleans went for years neglected prior to Katrina. And all the work that's been done since Katrina can be applauded but it does not put enough resources to cover that 300 miles, some of them private, some of them state-owned, some of them parish-owned. I mean, the levees go the whole gamut in and around Orleans' Plaquemines and Sabine Parish there.

COOPER: Lt. General Russel Honore, a pleasure to talk with you. We're going to check in with you throughout this evening for your expertise. Really no one knows the evacuation or what it is required better than him. Before we move on though, I want to check in also with CNN Sean Callebs who of course was here during Katrina, never really left. He's been based here for much of these last three years. Is New Orleans ready?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's going to have to be. That's the bottom line. I think that the government has asked people here to accept a lot of faith. And let's remember, this is a government that at every level, federal, state and local, let these people down time and time again. It was a trifecta of disasters, if you will. So basically, the government is saying, you have to trust us. Well so far, things have gone well.

COOPER: We have a governor who seems more on top of things, frankly than the last governor.

CALLEBS: Well, there's no question about that. I think clearly, we remember George Bush being briefed - I think he had a thousand yard stare as they were explaining what could happen here. And Ray Nagin, he had a meltdown the storm really hit here. We've seen him very cool, calm and collected this time. However, it's these unknowns that people don't know about. The levees are very vulnerable. You really can't stress that. The general talk about it, more than 350 miles of levees around here. You can't guarantee all that's going to work. It takes one little area to give way and then flood the city.

Now, all day long, I've been thinking about all these people we talked to the past three years, people who have invested everything, emotionally, financially to try and get their lives back together, try and make something of the city. And you know what, it could all be gone tomorrow. If that happens -

COOPER: One of the things that's a tragedy about the timing of all this is that for the last six or seven months that I've been coming down here, folks seem optimistic. For the first time, there seems to be something in the air. You know, the school system has some major renovations going on. There seems like hope has returned in some quarters. And suddenly, this comes along.

CALLEBS: Yes. If you look at the central business district here in the quarter, up in the uptown area, things are good. I mean, tourism is coming back. If you talk to tourists, even at times like this when the economy stinks, people say, look, if I'm going to take a vacation, I feel a responsibility to send some money down here. If I'm not going to give a charitable donation, I want to help the people down there. But if you go New Orleans East, Gentilly, Lake View, those areas, I've been to every nook and cranny of this area and a lot of those areas looked like they did right after the hurricane. And so, it's difficult. No one knows how many people came back. The whole demographic has changed dramatically. They had as many as two percent Hispanic before, and now it's as many as 20 percent. It's a different city and they're putting a lot of faith in the government. And man, it can be a huge -

COOPER: It may be do or die for this city. I mean, if this city fails this test, if the levees fail this test, people may not want to come back and invest money and it may not want to come back and try to start again.

CALLEBS: I talked to Ray Nagin about that yesterday when we were on the air. And said, you know, how can you tell people who have spent everything, come on, give it another chance. And he said, you know, that's a big if. But one guy had the best line. A typical New Orleans line, he said, you know what, you got to keep dancing even if you don't know the steps.

COOPER: OK. We'll keep that in mind over the next couple of hours and days. Sean Callebs. Thanks. We'll be checking in with Sean a lot. You can also go to the "A.C. 360" blog for a ton of blogs. Folks from New Orleans. I blogged earlier today. Sean has as well. Just a lot of different people's perspectives and also people we met three years ago during Hurricane Katrina. We asked them to take the time to put a blog. That's at Come join us for that.

Coming up, we're going to talk to Gary Tuchman with a man who refuses to evacuate. And the reason may surprise you. Also, we'll take a look at Gustav's effect on the Republican National Convention. It was supposed to start tomorrow. It still will but it will be a very different kind of convention, at least tomorrow. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: And welcome back. Our coverage continues. We are live in the French quarter. The rain has kind of died down. It's just kind of a slight drizzle. If you were watching about an hour ago, the top of our hour, we were literally knocked off the air by this heavy band of air that came through. We're going to try to stay on as long as we can throughout this night and well through tomorrow as well. Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras for a look at the levee situation and also how it may be affected by some of the storm surge. Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, first of all, like you mentioned you're kind of on the back edge of this rain now. You're going to be looking for some better conditions. But out here we got another band. So that is probably, maybe an hour or so away from hitting you. So you'll be seeing another round with the stronger winds beginning to push in. But yes, we want to talk about the levee system. You know, General Honore and Drew Griffin both filed excellent reports there in talking about it.

But this is an awesome map that we got from the (Times), a newspaper there in New Orleans, highlighting four major areas of concern where these levees could be breached. And all of them here on the east side of town. And this is what we call the west bank, though, area. Here's one, up by Lake Pontchartrain, number two, number three and number four. Number four is the area that Drew was talking about. This is the Harvey area and basically they haven't finished building this and protecting it. So if this floods, this is going to be filling up, this entire area we believe, now number one, basically the big issue here that is going to be the storm surge. There's really no barrier there to prevent the surge from coming in and inundating. If this happens, that will be getting into the ninth ward area. Number two and number three, also missing barriers here and storm surge should get in and that will be filling in St. Bernard Parish. So this is a big area that we're going to be talking about. That storm surge, the winds are going to be pushing in from the south and east this time. And that's going to be pushing up that water directly up the Mississippi River. Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jacqui Jeras, we'll continue to watch the levees. We also want to talk to Prof. Ivor Van Heerden from LSU. We talk to Prof. Van Heerden from Hurricane Katrina. He's here. He's going to join us shortly.

The hurricane's hits are out of harm's way We would love to hear from you. Send us an ireport. Just go to or type I-report at into you cell phone. Don't take any risk in filing these I- reports. You can do it from wherever you are, just kind of want to see what you're seeing as this storm approaches.

This year's GOP convention is going to be anything but conventional with all eyes on Gustav and the Gulf Coast. Republicans announced today that they are scaling back and toning down, especially tomorrow. Our Wolf Blitzer is watching them literally rewrite the script as we speak in St. Paul, Minnesota. He joins us now. Wolf, tomorrow's going to be a very different day at the republican convention than we thought. WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Right. It was supposed to be the opening kickoff, the president, George Bush, the vice president, Dick Cheney, they were all supposed to be here. They've cancelled, the only thing they're going to do tomorrow is have a purely opening session. They're going to gavel it to order and then do some business, involving credentials. Some of the stuff that they need to do to nominate a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate.

Earlier, we did see Laura Bush on the stage behind me. She came in briefly. She's going to be here tomorrow. W don't know if she's going to speak. We know that Cindy McCain is on her way here and Governor Sarah Palin, the vice presidential running mate. She's is on her way to St. Paul as well. But tomorrow, there's not going to be any politics. And that was ordered by John McCain personally. He now is the leader of the republican party. He didn't think it would be appropriate to do politics s usual at a time of a national emergency, a crisis, a city, perhaps, under water, and a whole area along the Gulf coast in potential harm's way. So they've eliminated the politics tomorrow.

As far as Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are concerned, Anderson, they say they're going to play it by ear. They're going to see what happens tomorrow and then they'll decide what to do. Tuesday, they'll see what happens on Tuesday and then decide Wednesday and Thursday. The only other thing they legally need to do is go through the roll call and formally nominate McCain and Palin to be the republican ticket to challenge Obama and Biden on November 4th. They can do that relatively quickly if they have to. They would like to get back to some sort of formal schedule, some sort of formal convention. That's not going to be possible if the devastation is really serious. They don't want to be seen as partying and having a good time if there's a crisis along the Gulf coast. They're playing it by ear and they'll make decisions literally, day by day. Anderson.

COOPER: Wolf, one of the things you and I talked about last week at the democratic convention was whether or not there would be a bounce from Obama's convention. I knew you have a new poll literally that came out I think at the top of the hour last hour, what does it show?

BLITZER: Well, I have it right here. In fact, it shows there was really no significant bounce for Barack Obama despite the huge acceptance speech, 90,000 people or so that packed into that stadium in Denver. The new CNN opinion research corporation poll that's just come out shows Obama right now with 49 percent, McCain at 48 percent. And only a week or so ago, before the convention it was 47-47.

So, it basically stayed the same certainly within the margin of error. And all this poll, this new poll was taken, all of it, after the democratic convention as well as after John McCain announced that Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, would be his running mate. So, our experts who have studied these numbers, Anderson, suggest there really was no significant bump for Barack Obama. If there was, it was balanced by a little bump for the republicans because they seem to like Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.

So this is a dead heat right now, nationally, as far as our poll is concerned. And it looks that way, as you know, Anderson, several of the key battleground states as well. So this is a horse race, and this crisis, Hurricane Gustav potentially could be a game changing situation, game-changing development, unclear who it will help or who it will hurt. But it's potentially one of those things that happened in the middle of the campaign that could seriously, dramatically affect voters' attitudes toward both of these candidates. So, we're obviously monitoring this very closely.

COOPER: All right. Wolf, thanks very much. We'll check in with you in our next hour as well.

No matter how many times people here are urged to get out and if you turned on the television anywhere in Louisiana, local television over the last couple of days, you know, you heard the message, get out. Just about every couple of seconds. No matter what, some people simply will not go. CNN's Gary Tuchman spends the day knocking on doors tonight. He's in New Orleans East. Gary, who did you meet who's actually staying?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, not very many people, that's got news. The bad news is one particular gentleman who we met today has decided he is going to stay here in New Orleans, in an area that was absolutely devastated during Hurricane Katrina. There were flood waters higher than any human being. Many people died, hundreds of homes were damaged. Some of the homes were destroyed. But this one gentleman who we talked with today has decided he has to stay here and it's for a very unusual and sad reason.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Russell Gore knows there is a mandatory evacuation order. But he's not leaving. How long have you lived in New Orleans?


TUCHMAN: And how old are you?

GORE: 52.

TUCHMAN: He's a proud New Orlenian whose reason for not evacuating is sad and startling. The reason involves this woman, his wife of 18 years, Cindy.

GORE: She meant the world to me, men, the whole world. That was everything to me.

TUCHMAN: Russell lives in this home in New Orleans east. It's the same home he rebuilt after it was destroyed during Katrina. He and Cindy were going to evacuate then but he saw cars not moving on the interstate.

GORE: Everything was crowded and jammed up. We went to looking and thinking about it. You know, we got a brick house. We can withstand the wind. TUCHMAN: But floodwaters started pouring in the house. At first it was only a foot. Russell told Cindy to climb up these stairs into the attic.

GORE: About ten minutes later, man, she started begging me to come up in the attic because water had reached my waistline. Ten minutes later, man, I had like almost nine feet of water in my house.

TUCHMAN: Russell and Cindy Gore were trapped like so many people in New Orleans three years ago.

GORE: I jumped up and ran, grabbed her, and sat her and said don't panic. We're going to be all right. She sat down beside me, next thing I know I was talking to her, she leaned over and she was dead. I did everything I seen on TV that they do to survive a person, and tore her shirt off, beat her chest, breathe in her mouth, she was gone.

TUCHMAN: Russell says doctors told him she died from stress.

So Russell, how long were you up here for?

GORE: I was up a day and a half before she died. And I stayed here a day and a half after she died.

TUCHMAN: Russell was rescued by boat. He's an artist and photographer who is currently helping give food and water to the poor and homeless in New Orleans. One would figure after all he went through, he'd be gone.

GORE: I'm not planning to evacuate.

TUCHMAN: He knows he should have left the first time with Cindy, leaving without her gives him a feeling of guilt. Today is the three- year anniversary of the day she died.

GORE: I guess, I'm on the other side of life. Not on the beginning side. I'm on the other side of life.

TUCHMAN: Why not just go, go for a couple days and come back?

GORE: This isn't a party, dude. This is personal. Until you have someone that really, that you love like that love, die in your arms and do without. It's just like losing a son in the battlefield.

TUCHMAN: Do you feel like you owe it to her to stay here.

GORE: I feel like I owe it to her. I'm not running.


TUCHMAN: New Orleans east is very dark tonight but it's not dark because the power's out. It's dark because the evacuation appears to have been successful. These are inhabited homes behind me and the people have left. But right here, I'm standing right now in front of Russell Gore's home. Russell Gore still has the lights on because he's still staying and it's getting very late. If he wants to leave, the outer bands came in as we talked about Anderson.

It was uncanny, the timing. This program began at 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 local time. It was sunny at 7:58 Eastern. At 8:00, the clouds opened up. We had the first deluge, the outer band, the more outer bands coming shortly. He has to get out of here if he wants to but I don't think he's leaving. I think he'll stay in the very same house where his wife died three years ago.

COOPER: The memories and the commitment to this area run deep. Gary Tuchman, thank you for that.

A few people know more about hurricanes, the impact to hurricanes in this part of the world and my guest right now, Prof. Ivor Van Heerden. He's the deputy director of the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University. He all but predicted the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We worked a lot with Professor Van Heerden in those horrible days and weeks after Katrina. And it's, I would say it's great to see you again. I'm sorry that we're seeing you under these circumstances. The levees on the west bank, what do we expect?

PROF. IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, these are levees that haven't been tested. They, unfortunately are very low. The system's not complete. There are some levee sections that are only five feet high. The earthened levees that are going to be facing a very, very well developed wave feel from the winds and with the water levels right at the crest. So between - from the west bank of New Orleans and all the way across to Morgan City, almost 50 miles, we're going to see communities potentially go under water from levee overtopping them and potential breaching.

COOPER: Do we know how deep under water they'll go?

VAN HEERDEN: Some of the initial models are suggesting some communities could go five feet under water.

COOPER: In terms of oil production and the entire gulf, this has major impact?

VAN HEERDEN: Yes. Not only does it have an impact on offshore structures and then the facility where oil is imported in the United States, but we have hundreds and hundreds of pipe lines that come ashore through Louisiana. It's going to be very a significant shoreline erosion. So that means potential pipeline rupture. So we could see, you know, Louisiana has 40 percent of the domestic production of oil and gas shut off for an extended period. Obviously gas prices could skyrocket.

COOPER: For days now, officials have been saying, look, this is a serious storm, you got to get out. I've not heard them give numbers of potential fatalities. You actually have it modeled out, of how many people you think may drown. And we should point out there, there may be as many as 10,000 people in the city of New Orleans. But Lt. Gov. (Lander) in our last hour was saying there may be as many as 100,000 people in all of southeastern Louisiana.

VAN HEERDEN: Our initial estimates were about 96,000. COOPER: People remaining?

VAN HEERDEN: Yes. That would mean probably about 100 would drown or die. Unfortunately.

COOPER: Your computer models show, you think as many as 100 people could drown?

VAN HEERDEN: Yes, that's from one of our grad students' studies, yes.

COOPER: What is the takeaway from all of this? What is the lesson - we know the lessons of Katrina. I'm not sure all of them have been heeded. What are the lessons of this storm already?

VAN HEERDEN: Well, we need to take away from this, as we have to restore the coast. We got Katrina and Rita. This is the final wakeup call. If we had restored this coast, if we had managed the lower Mississippi River in order to enhance wetlands growth, we wouldn't have been having this.

COOPER: Because those wetlands act as a natural barrier.

VAN HEERDEN: They knock the stopping down of the surge, the barrier islands trip them up, the wetlands, the marsh knocks it down fairly significantly. But we used to have tens of thousands of acres of cyprus rock. And when the surge hits this, it's like a barrier. It just falls. And we as a country, a nation, need to understand the value of Louisiana, oil and gas, the port facilities and so on. Let's get the Mississippi River back into the wetlands and restore the coast so we don't have to go through these sorts of disasters.

COOPER: Dr. Ivor Van Heerden, you were right about Katrina. We're going to pay close attention to what you say over the next couple of days. And I'm sure I'll be seeing you again. Thank you very much. I appreciate you coming all the way down here, risking the storm to be here. I appreciate that a lot.


COOPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, we want to talk to him next. He is live, checking in with the hospital situation. A number of hospitals have chosen not to evacuate. We'll check in with Sanjay who's outside Tulane University Hospital in a moment. We'll be right back.


COOPER: And welcome back. We're live from the French Quarter tonight, waiting for this next band of the storm to hit around 8:00 as Gary Tuchman mentioned a few moments ago, we were literally knocked off the air when one of the outer bands of the storm came along. There was another reporter from WWL, an affiliate here, who was outside when the winds suddenly kicked in, within a matter of moments, they suddenly whipped up. Let's take a look at his video.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bigad Shaban is on the light front.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bigad, you can already see the gloomy weather coming in behind you.

BIGAD SHABAN, WWL REPORTER: Yes, absolutely, Mike and Lucy. Right now we're on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain to my right. 79th Street Canal. Of course, the levee breached there following Hurricane Katrina, certainly devastate this community. To my left, a pretty eerie sight, as you all can see. Those dark clouds coming in. You can already feel the wind, the strong breeze. But actually, believe it or not, it didn't take us long to find residents in this community who are still here, including one man who says he and his wife are not going to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel comfortable, after all the agony of evacuation.

SHABAN: Guys, we're actually getting a strong gust of wind here. We're getting soaked. Lots of rain, the wind really picked up up, the clouds are coming in. Extremely ominous scene. We're going to go ahead and toss it back to you guys in the studio.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely, Bigad. Stay safe out there and we'll see you soon. Incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, get your rain suit.


COOPER: Amazing. We thought we were the only ones knocked off the air. Clearly, those rain bands were so strong, the satellite literally could not get through that strong outer band of rain. Three years ago, 1,600 people rode out Katrina at Tulane University Medical Center. Right now, only the sickest patient are staying put and each is allowed only one family member stay with them through the night. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at the hospital. Sanjay, what's the situation there?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this particular area sort of the downtown area, where so many of these hospitals are located, is an area we know too well, Anderson. You could see behind me over here, first of all the streets are very bare. There's hardly anybody out on the streets. There's some ambulance, there's a string of ambulances in front of the hospital a shot time ago to evacuate the patients. If you look over here to the right. And this is an area again that a lot of people will recognize, very eerily quiet, absolutely no cars on the street whatsoever. And then just to the right is charity hospital. Anderson, that's a place where we spent so much time, three years ago, that is a hospital that is now shutdown.

We are here as you mentioned at Tulane Medical Center. The name of the game today has really been evacuations more than anything else, trying to get as many patients out of here as possible, while leave something of the critically ill patients still here in the hospital, Anderson. COOPER: And Sanjay, we're seeing pictures of you back three years ago. You did such amazing work at Charity Hospital and other places. That area just flooded down there.

GUPTA: Yes. It was really remarkable. There are so many patients on the parking structure here three years ago. And they're awaiting to be evacuated, patients requiring ambu-bagging with air bags into their lungs, for more than a day at a time. It was remarkable. That area had flooded, Anderson. That hospital still has not opened. And the trickle-down effect of what has happened still over the last three years is being felt, even before Gustav. There are patients that the hospitals are consistently full. It's hard to get ICU beds. And on top of that now with this new situation with more evacuations necessary.

COOPER: Sanjay Gupta, staying safe tonight. Sanjay, thanks very much. Sanjay, we should point out received an Emmy for his remarkable coverage of Charity Hospital, for what he did during Hurricane Katrina.

Up next, we're going to talk to Chad Myers, get the latest track of the storm, exactly, when it's going make landfall and what areas are going to be most affected. We'll talk to him and we're going to take a look at my reporter's notebook, three years since Hurricane Katrina, what we have learned and all that we have seen. We'll be right back.


COOPER: we have Hurricane Gustav pictures, i-report pictures from the effects of Hurricane Gustav in Haiti, some of those pictures. Looks like one or two of those might have been from the Dominican Republic as well. I want to check in with Chad Myers at the severe weather center to find out exactly where the storm is now. Chad, we've already had one of those outer bands of the storm at the top of the last hour. What should we expect tonight?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, there's another one not that far to your east. I think you'll be wrapped up by the time it gets there though. Because it's still probably 40 miles still east of you at this point. But on the bottom of the screen, we are finding the eye on the radar now. We always find the eye on the satellite. That's no big deal. But when you can find the eye on the radar. That means it's close enough to land that the radar can pick actually pick it up. Radars doesn't go very far, a couple of hundred miles. And when you see the eye, you can begin to see it right there, that little wiggle right there. That's the area that we're seeing, the eye making landfall probably later into tomorrow afternoon, somewhere between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

The official track is well to the south of New Orleans. But New Orleans is still in the cone. So think of it this way, if it goes on the current track, right through south of New Orleans, probably talking about category 1 winds, 75 mile per hour winds in New Orleans. Every 10 miles, if this thing possibly goes closer to you, Anderson, you pick up another 10 miles per hour. So maybe you're 85, 95 and then all the way up to 105 or so. That's where the storm is now, 115. The farther it turns to the left, every 10 miles, you lose 10 miles an hour. If it goes to the left tonight, it could wiggles, these things wiggle and wobble. They do all the time. Certainly, it did over in Cuba and it certainly did as it made its way over Haiti. It made a big left hander, almost 100 mile wiggle there but then 10 miles less so instead of 75, maybe 65, 55, 45. And that's why you want it to turn as far left as it possibly can.

The hurricane hunter in the track, in the storm, we're looking at a couple of tracks where Katrina was, where Rita was, and this storm kind of right on a diagonal, right in between them. And we will keep watching it tonight to see if that's where it goes. That's what it looks like right now. The eye, 220 miles from just south of New Orleans, just south of Metterey there at the end of the area where it is right now. We'll keep watching all night long. Moving southwest at about 16 to 17 miles per hour.

COOPER: All right. Chad Myers, thanks for that. We'll check in with you really throughout this night as we try to stay on the air as long as we can. All our reporters all around the entire region. Once the hurricane hits and you're out of harm's way, if you're in this area, we'd love to hear from you, send us an i-report. Just go to or type into your cell phone. Remember, don't take any risks in order to send us some of those i-report pictures.

When we come back, we'll take a look back three years ago. Three years now, what have we learned in the last three years? And we'll also give the latest on the storm, the latest on the evacuations coming up. Stay tuned.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to evacuate because we don't want to take any chances.


COOPER: Well, Gustav is following some deadly footsteps. Almost three years ago to the day, Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the gulf coast. It was three years ago on Friday. And of course, Hurricane Katrina altered so many lives, forever.


COOPER (voice-over): Three years since the storm. The memories still burn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere we look, absolutely under water.

COOPER: This city, this gulf, washed away by the water. In Waveland, homes vanished. Tears remained. Rescuers searched for survivors. They found bodies instead.

They've left some of the windows open so that the house would at least kind of air out a little bit but the smell is actually just getting worse and it's spreading around the neighborhood.

In New Orleans, they waited, they waited. Lied to, let down. Promised help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No food or water, nothing.

COOPER: They lost hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want help! We want help!

COOPOER: These were our neighbors, our countrymen, so long ignored, forgotten once again.

In water-soaked streets, dogs cried for help. Bodies lay abandoned. You do find bodies just floating in the water. There's a man over there who's dead on the top of a car.

Thank goodness for the cops and the firemen. Most stayed, did their jobs. Thank goodness for the Coast Guard who worked night and day. The rescuer's going down. We believe there may be at least two more people in the house.

Slowly the water receded. Slowly, life returned. They searched for bodies. They asked for aid. Months passed, then years. Thank goodness for the volunteers, church groups and charities, students and strangers. We owe them so much. Three years since the storm, much work still remains. The city is strong. Life has returned. But the past is alive. And the memories still burn.


COOPER: Well, the causeway is now closed. The last train has left. So have the buses. State police believe 90 to 95 percent of the population of Louisiana coast has already fled. Many thousands more from Mississippi, Alabama and Texas are gone as well. We started to feel the first real effects of Hurricane Gustav just as we were starting this broadcast almost two hours ago. The category 3 hurricane is still more than 200 miles south-southeast of where I am standing now in the French Quarter. It is heading northwestward at 17 miles an hour. Top sustained winds are 115 miles an hour. If you are hearing this and you are still in the southeastern Louisiana region, it is too late to evacuate. Stay hunkered down where you are.

Not many others are about on the streets, say for cops and National Guard, and we are thankful for them. The mayor has made it clear, they're for law and order. Public safety, not to rescue people who refused to leave town. There are not any shelters of last resort this time either in New Orleans. More than a 1,000 miles away, Gustav is sending shockwaves through the Republican National Convention. In deference to the crisis, opening day ceremonies tomorrow will be greatly abbreviated and, they say, utterly devoid, we're told, of partisan hoopla. Speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney have also been scrapped for now. Plans for other nights are still very much in flux.

Our plan is to continue our coverage as long as we can and well into tomorrow. I'll be back in the next hour, weather permitting, with more, live from New Orleans. Rick Sanchez is up next in the CNN NEWSROOM.