Return to Transcripts main page


Continuing Coverage of Hurricane Gustav. RNC to be Abbreviated Due to Hurricane Gustav

Aired August 31, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer here in St. Paul reporting. I want to go right to the CNN weather center. Jacqui Jeras is standing by.
Only moments ago, Jacqui, the National Hurricane Center released a new forecast. But for viewers who are just tuning in right now, share what we know about Gustav.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we know Gustav is a major hurricane. It's packing winds at 115 miles per hour. It's showing signs that right now, the storm is strengthening. The pressure has dropped in the center of the storm, so we expect these winds to be going up in the next six to 12 hours or so.

It's getting closer to the coastline now. We're only about 300 miles away from New Orleans and it's about 250 or so away from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

And so if it stays on this forward track, we could have landfall say, tomorrow mid to late morning, or into the early afternoon hours or so. Conditions are starting to go downhill and things are becoming very critical to these folks in Louisiana.

Now, check out the forecast cone because this is really shaved down very significantly. Earlier in the day, our cone extended way out here, even beyond Galveston Bay. And now, that is has been narrowed down to include the Louisiana coastline, and New Orleans just barely in that cone of uncertainty now.

But that's not better news for them, unfortunately, because we think the storm will still be close enough that they'll be receiving at a minimum sustained tropical storm force winds, possibly some category one hurricane wind gusts. And a category one hurricane has winds of 74-plus miles per hour. So, they're going to be on that bad side of the storm where the strong winds come in from the southeast and push up the water.

So storm surge will be a great concern. It could be as much as 12 to 16 feet above normal tide. But if the timing of this storm comes in when we think that will, it will not coincide with high tide. So, that's a little bit of good news.

This is the radar picture and you can see the impact being showed (ph) all long forward as west coast and some of these outer bands now getting close to the Louisiana coastline. We think the tropical storm conditions along the Louisiana coast will start moving in in just a couple of hours from now.

So category three, that's the strength that we're predicting now for impact. What does that mean to you? Well, in a category three storm, winds are between 111 to 130 miles per hour. Storm surge typically would be nine to 12 feet. But because of the size of this storm, the unique topography and also all of the rivers and canals in southern Louisiana, we think the storm surge will be higher than this. It could be as much as, say, 10 to 15 plus feet.

What happens with the wind? Structural damage will occur to small residences. Large trees will be uprooted. Mobile homes just leveled, causing flying debris with this. Low-lying escape route are cut off about three to five hours before the arrival of the center of the storm. And so, that tells you how quickly that surge begins to move in.

So this is a very powerful storm, Wolf, a very large storm. And even though we talk about that cone narrowing down from Louisiana, everybody from Texas to Florida will be feeling the impact of this storm. And after we get that main impact, we're going to be dealing with a very significant flood issues across the gulf coast as well.

BLITZER: Jacqui, stand by. John King is here. He's been looking at the map.

John, the Mississippi River, New Orleans -- this water that's the surge that's going to go up that Mississippi River, that's the real source of flooding, more flooding in New Orleans right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You have the river. You also have Lake Pontchartrain, Wolf. I'll pull it out on the map, you can take a peek.

And this red line in the middle is the current path of the storm. As we come closer into the city of New Orleans, New Orleans is built on the river, right by the river for a reason. And you can see, as the river winds up, and Jacqui talked about it, you'll see all these smaller bodies of water as well. Those are canals, many of them built for industry purposes.

But see, the lake is up here. This is the lake up here. And water came in from Katrina this way. You see these circles. These circles were levee breaks in the Katrina catastrophe three years ago. This orange here is the Lower Ninth Ward. So many Americans became aware of the devastation there.

But you see the river flowing through the city and then you see these canals as well. And there's so much of New Orleans in this area is based on these streams, some of them natural streams, some of them Industrial Canals built to move things through the city. But you can see the river bending up and up as you come all the way down and the river will come down. And that is one of the worries.

This storm, though, Wolf, as Jacqui has been explaining, is coming from this path out here. And that is -- this marshy area here is normally are designed to stop the surge of the storm. Much of this area, in addition to worrying about this storm and the levees after Katrina, much of this area was also devastated back on those days in Katrina. And General Honore would know better than I, as to the restoration of the vegetation which is part of the effort to cushion the storm surge, to keep it from coming up. You see the river coming up and you see these circles here.

And based on what others have said, I heard General Honore say earlier, these were the levees that were damaged last time. And obviously, the Ninth Ward the heaviest damage right here. But to listen to General Honore, I believe he's worried much more now about the western side of the city, over this way where there are other levees, as well, that were not impacted by the Katrina storm three years ago.

So, as we watch at the places where we know the devastation happened before, there's also a levee system all along the waterway in here as well, and that could be, if the storm stays a little bit down this way more, Jacqui was explaining the punch of the winds when the storm comes in. We'll have to keep closely follow the track of the storm as we look at what we know happened three years ago, we could also have to worry about down here as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. John, stand by. Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore who led the U.S. forces into New Orleans and the entire region right after hurricane Katrina. All of our viewers remember the heroic and important work, General Honore, you did last time. You're now a CNN contributor.

Those barriers along the Mississippi River that's supposed to stop the Mississippi River from going overboard onto the property that both sides, both banks of the Mississippi River, are they strong enough to withstand what's in store for them right now?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, again, if the surge comes in, I think Jacqui was saying 17 to 18 feet, the surge is just water that is lifted up by the effect of the waves coming in and the wind bringing that water in, if it's able to have an effect and it overtops the levees from the Mississippi River, last time a big violation of the Mississippi River occurred down in Plaquemines Parish. And New Orleans was flooded based on Lake Pontchartrain and the Industrial Canal. It wasn't a violation of the Mississippi River during Katrina. It was a violation of the Lake Pontchartrain and Industrial Canal.

Further down the river, in Plaquemine Parish, we had some violation of the Mississippi River levee which caused parts of Plaquemine Parish to flood. But in the city of New Orleans, we did not have a violation of the river itself. It was the canal and the 17th Street bridge and the Industrial Canal out in St. Bernard Parish.

The issue this time is that as this storm comes in, a bigger wind damage, a possibility of a bigger surge on the western part of the city, which did not get stretched much the last time, and then as that storm moves toward Baton Rouge and toward Lafayette, it brings in a big -- the eye of the storm could bring in a large area of low-lying areas, farming areas primarily, small towns that could be easily cut off by a series of bios (ph) that are designed to carry water out, if we get two feet of water in an eight to 10-hour period there, combined with the eye of the storm, then this could isolate the entire part of Louisiana south of I-10, which is pretty low-lying area, subject to flooding.

And what would be the impact if it went into Lake Charles and into Houston. So, we got a bigger geographical area. Not large population other than Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, large populations. What would they do without two, three, up to five days without electricity? Those are the areas that concerning me now.

BLITZER: Because, General Honore, you got to assume with the rain, the wind, the storm, everything that's going on, they're going to lose power in that whole area, right?

HONORE: Yes. And we've -- we've invested well in communications. From what I've seen, we underinvested and may not have invested at the local level. And this is local and state business. And powerful enough generators to run our courthouses, to run our local shelters that want to pick up people off the street or people who could not evacuate in our hospitals. I'm concerned about those hospitals we were talking about earlier, whether the generators in there are large enough to keep those hospitals running in the event they lose total power so they can keep those patients and take care of them. That's why when the governor said mandatory evacuation, we've got a link to what the governor said, mandatory evacuation, to the hospital director saying, we have a shelter in place. And that's another level of policy that needs to be refined.

To me, when the governor says evacuate, you ought to evacuate because the consequences of that is those people in that hospital have put themselves in the hand of the hospital administrator who's now making judgment on weather, who's making judgment on the evacuation plan. That's the job of the governor and the parish presidents, over (ph).

BLITZER: Listen to this, our affiliate WDSU is interviewing Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans right now. I want to listen in to this interview.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We moved probably about 18,000 people, which is consistent with the number of people who registered for the city assisted, you know, plan. And it seems -- we seem to have moved just about everyone who needed and stated that they need to be moved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: I hate to use the term surge, but did you see a surge in people after you...

NAGIN: Yes, we did, but mainly on the highways. You know, that night, as a matter of fact. You know, and I came out pretty strong about the storm. I was really concerned about it, the footprint, the intensity, the fact that it was growing to a category five. And I just didn't feel like people were -- had a sense of urgency about them.

So, we came out pretty strong and called it the mother of all storms and all sorts of stuff. And it got people's attention. One lady was chiding me a little bit at the union passenger terminal today and she said, "You scared the crap out of me." I said, "Well, I'm glad I did. I'm glad you're here and I'm glad you're leaving."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: Well, to quote you, you said, "You need to be scared."


NAGIN: Well, you know, whatever it takes. And we tried to ramp up our rhetoric, if you will. But this was a sincere concern but I'm still not comfortable. I think the west bank is still at risk. And that was the area that I felt there was more complacency. So, hopefully, we're in much better shape and we won't have to rescue as many people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: What kind of shape are we in with our infrastructure with a storm like this?

NAGIN: It's the first time it's going to be tested since Katrina. I think that on the east bank, I think, we're in pretty decent shape, as long as the storm doesn't come east to west and fill up Lake Borgne. The weakness, of course, is on the west bank and that's where we're going to find out in a couple hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: You know, one thing you said that you were able to get 18,000 people out of here but we had anticipated all this time that there were about 30,000 people.

NAGIN: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: So, you think they got out on their own or they're going to hunker down and...

NAGIN: We're going to find out. But the 30,000 was an estimate based on some surveys that we've done. And what we think has also happened is that the faith-based community and neighbors have taken some people out also. So it seems to have worked. We'll find out after the storm if our thoughts are correct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: State police said earlier today that they estimated about 200,000 people evacuated from New Orleans. Does that jibe with what you think?

NAGIN: I think it's many more than that. We thought we had about 327,000 people. Police chief and I were debating that just a minute ago. We think, at a maximum, we may have 10,000 people left in the city. It is a true ghost town.

If there's any area where people did not evacuate, it's probably people who have means, people who live uptown, that they've never really flooded. And they were out walking their dogs this morning and had no intention of leaving. So, God bless them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: Folks up by Audubon, I know they have huge generators and stuff (ph). NAGIN: Oh, they've got generators, they've got security, they've got guns, I mean, they got everything. So, you know -- but, you know, we're going to protect everyone's individual property rights. But the area I was most concerned about was the west bank. I think we got it done there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: What do have you to say to our residents who moved away after Katrina, I mean, who are now looking at us now evacuating once again and maybe they were considering coming home after a relatively quiet couple of years?

NAGIN: You know, I think that this storm -- I don't want to jinx us in any way. But, you know, if I'm looking at the tea leaves and looking at this storm, I think we're probably going to have some flooding on the west bank. I don't think we can get away from that unless the storm goes to a category two or category one.

I think the levees are going to hold on the east bank for the most part. You may have some flooding in the lower areas of New Orleans east and in St. Bernard and probably the Lower Ninth Ward. But everywhere else, I'm betting, is going to hold. And I think that's going to send a tremendous signal to everybody that the levee work that was done, even though it's not complete, is in good shape. We're protected. And I think the rebuilding is going to take off one more time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: After this, you think?

NAGIN: I think so. I think so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: And how do you figure that so confidently?

NAGIN: Because I think people are waiting to see if these levees are real. They don't -- they didn't necessarily trust -- I mean, we've had reports -- you've done reports that the 17th Street canal was leaking, that the corps of engineers, the scientists from California that say they don't know what they're doing. So that has impeded this recovery.

And then keep in mind, we still have about 25 percent of the rural home checks that still have not been processed. There's a lot of pent-up money and there's a lot of lack of confidence. And now that we've tested the system, I think the recovery's going to take off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: How about the port? This seems like it's going to have a pretty big impact on our port.

NAGIN: I think the port is in a position now where we need to make some critical decisions. We've taken some hit. We've got a barge that with oil and all that good stuff. But there's a tremendous opportunity with this Panama Canal expansion. But we need to get a deep water facility. And I'm advocating for us to link up with Plaquemine Parish and link the port of New Orleans to Plaquemine, build a deep water facility now and then link it with rail and let's go after some of this rural trade. And I think New Orleans can become one of the premiere ports, again, in the country and in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: Mayor, where are you going to ride the storm out?

BLITZER: Mayor Nagin is speaking to our local affiliate WDSU. They're wrapping up that interview right now. You heard him offering hopeful signs that maybe this time they'll do a little bit better. But you know what, there's a lot of different conditions with Gustav as opposed to Katrina three years ago.

We're staying on top of this story. General Russel Honore is going to be standing by. Jacqui Jeras at the weather center is standing by. Much more of our coverage is coming up right after this.


BLITZER: And welcome back to St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the Xcel Energy Center where the Republican National Convention will begin tomorrow. Albeit, with a very abbreviated business session, no politics tomorrow. That word from Senator John McCain and his campaign and the Republican leadership given what's happening.

And tomorrow around noon or 1:00 p.m. Eastern, hurricane Gustav is expected to hit land around New Orleans and the gulf coast. This is a category three storm right now. As a result of the potential devastation, the Republicans have decided to curtail their activity, at least tomorrow and then take Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on a day-by-day basis.

We're covering this story from all angles, political bombshell here as a result of hurricane Gustav.

Maria Cino is joining us. She's the president and CEO of the Republican National Convention.

Maria, I know this is not what you planned, but this absolutely essential given what's happening, a natural disaster three years almost to the day after Katrina.

MARIA CINO, REPUBLICAN CONVENTION CEO: Absolutely, Wolf. First and foremost, our prayers go out to those in the effected area. We want to be very cognizant and see what happens over the next three days. I think it's really important.

We heard Senator McCain earlier and asking us to be just go -- call to service. And it's ironic that the first night of our convention tomorrow, the theme is service. Serving one's self greater than oneself, and I think that's exactly what he's asked us to do.

BLITZER: There's two essential legal pieces of business you have to do to nominate a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate. The first thing you'll do at 4:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow when you gavel this convention to order and you'll get the credentials and you'll do all that business.

The second piece of business is essentially (ph) to have a roll call and to formally nominate a presidential and vice presidential candidate. What day -- that's supposed to happen on Wednesday, is that right?

CINO: That was the day it was supposed to happen. And as you just said, tomorrow, we will be looking at party business only, probably starting about 2:00, 2:30. And at that point, we'll pass the platform, the rules and our credentials. And then recess and determine day by day when the role will be.

BLITZER: So tomorrow night during primetime television, there's going to be nothing going on here.

CINO: We will probably end tomorrow about 5:00 or 5:30.

BLITZER: Local time, which is 6:00 or 6:30 on the east coast.

CINO: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) Center Time.

BLITZER: All right. I know John and Gloria Borger want to get into this conversation as well.

KING: What you can tell us about -- I know there's a lot is still being planned but I know that Senator McCain has asked and the campaign has asked and you're working on getting the delegates involved in fundraising, perhaps other service efforts. What can we expect to see over the next 24 hours or so when you know your political schedule is curtailed?

CINO: Well, John, right now we're looking at a variety of different service things that we can do -- obviously, looking although at gathering goods and necessities that folks will need from the affected areas, looking at gathering in a large warehouse or place to start packaging goods, ship those goods down for relief.

We're also looking at fundraising opportunities to be able to raise money that will help with any relief projects that are needed, looking at, working with several charities right now and those are to be determined where we can send money, have not only our donors but also the delegates and our visitors here, even friends that we've made here in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: How can you take partisanship out of the convention? Conventions are all about partisanship. Are you looking down the road, looking at some speeches saying, take this out, take that out, stop the attacks? What are you doing in your boiler room right now to...

CINO: You know, Gloria, honestly, right now first and foremost we are looking at day one, and looking at that as an opportunity to do our party business, and really, again, having our thoughts and prayers go out to those folks. We have not looked any further than that.

People say we have been planning this for a long time -- we have, we've been planning this for 18 months. We picked this site over two years ago. So, we've been here a long, long time. But as I say to everybody, we're prepared to do whatever we have. And we can do it probably on -- maybe on a second's notice but pretty much on a couple minutes notice.

BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear you saying is, you'll have this abbreviated two, 2 1/2 hour session tomorrow, strictly business -- legal business you have to do. And Tuesday, you may have nothing. Wednesday you may come back, depending on what happens with this hurricane. And Thursday you wrap it up is that a fair ticktack, as they say?

CINO: Well, I think, again, to be determined. I think Rick explained it best, Rick Davis today. Basically we'll assess on Tuesday morning, where we are and what's happening and what really needs to be done, given what happens with Gustav and make a determination by noon if there will be a session and what that session will include. And we'll do the same thing on Wednesday and Thursday.

BLITZER: And at some point we assume John McCain and Sarah Palin, the vice presidential candidate, the governor of Alaska, they'll show up on this stage behind us, is that right?

CINO: I think it were to be determined.

BLITZER: Really? It's not even certain that they will show up?

CINO: Again, I believe that that is the plan. Obviously, this is -- as, I think Rick said so eloquently, and this is a long-fought primary and this is obviously something that Senator McCain would like to be at, but I think we're going to look down the road in the next couple of ...


BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, because I know you have to get going. It's different that podium than the Democratic podium that we saw in Denver last week. And explain briefly, we'll show our viewers the podium as you're speaking. What was the point that you were trying to make?

CINO: You know, it's been 30 years since we've been in the Midwest, which was kind of ironic, it was 1976 and we looked at traditional family values. We looked at where it coming - "Minnesota Nice" is the theme of Minnesota.

And what we did as we, I think, came with a much simpler stage and a podium. It's much closer to the ground, the closest it's ever been, four feet high. It's much smaller podium. And I think what you'll also see behind it is a huge H.D., first H.D. video screen of that size where we'll be using a lot of video. And it's the hope that we have a lot of ordinary individuals that will be talking about what they've done for service, what they've done for peace, prosperity, reform.

BORGER: And could we possibly be seeing Senator McCain being beamed into us on that video, maybe even every day if he's not here?

CINO: I think we're hopeful that he will be here at some point, but again, we're going to take it one day at a time. BLITZER: Maria Cino, thanks very much for coming in. Maria is the president and CEO of the Republican National Convention. But much more important, she's from Buffalo, New York, my hometown as well. It's always good to have a fellow Buffalonian in a position of power and authority.

Maria, thanks very much for coming. Good luck with your convention.

CINO: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Maria Cino.

We're going to take a quick break. Much of our coverage is coming up.

We're going to go to the scene, to New Orleans. We have our reporter standing by. Gary Tuchman is there, Don Lemon is there, Ali Velshi is there. We're going to update you on what's going on. We'll check in with Jacqui Jeras from the CNN severe weather center. Much more of our coverage of this hurricane right after this.


BLITZER: Looking at the Louisiana delegation, it's empty right now. A lot of those delegates from Louisiana no doubt are not here in St. Paul right now. They're back in Louisiana or they've escaped. They've gone to Mobile or to Memphis, other areas. They're not going to necessarily be so directly impacted by hurricane Gustav which is a category three right now.

It's moving towards New Orleans and the gulf, expected to hit tomorrow around noon, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, late morning, early afternoon. And it could be, repeat, could be even more devastating, even more powerful than hurricane Katrina, which ironically, tragically hit almost exactly three years ago.

We have several reporters standing by with all the latest information. I want to go to Gary Tuchman first. He's in New Orleans.

Gary, tell our viewers where you are right now, what you're seeing, what you're hearing. Set the scene for us.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, I'm in the heart of downtown New Orleans. And there really is a sense of fear and foreboding here. And you can't blame any of the people because of what they've gone through. I was here the day before hurricane Katrina. I came here and I came to Gulfport, Mississippi.

People were concerned. They knew Katrina was a powerful storm but there are a lot of people still going about their business. Certainly not anywhere near close to the total population evacuated.

Here today, it is like the twilight zone because you still have a beautiful. This is a very comfortable day -- low humidity, it's not hot, it's partly sunny, but there's nobody on the streets whatsoever. The only people you see standing are members of the National Guard, you see police coming back and forth with their lights on. So it's a very strange feeling.

Most people, indeed, have evacuated. They're scared. They have every right to be because of what happened. What's interesting, though, this is the most unique non-evacuee I've ever talked to. I talked to a man today who has not evacuated and asked him, "Why aren't you evacuating?" He lives in New Orleans east, it was devastated during Katrina.

He said he was with his wife during Katrina. They wanted to evacuate but there was too much traffic on the highway. They decided to not. They felt they would be safe. Their house flooded, his wife died. He's been in mourning for three years and now he says he feels too guilty to leave without his wife. He's going to stick it out in the very same house. A lot of sad things, stunning things and a lot of people here are very scared.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: What a heartbreaking story that is. Gary, I've been getting a lot of emails, questions from viewers. They're very worried about you and our other reporters and producers and camera crews. You're staying put, I take it, in New Orleans. Where are you going to ride out this storm and how are you going to make sure you and our other CNN personnel are safe?

TUCHMAN: We're broad to work here at CNN, well, for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reason is they take care very good care of us, our personnel behind us and the security people. They make sure we stay in safe hotels. We drive very safe vehicles. Those of us who have covered hurricanes for many years know not to drive around in the worst of the hurricane. But we keep our trucks that broadcast live in safe places. And we generally -- obviously you can't be 100 percent safe. There's no guarantees. But we're pretty much sure we're 99.5 percent safe.

WOLF: We hope, of course, and pray for everyone.

Don Lemon is on the scene.

Don, you had a chance to speak with the mayor, Mayor Ray Nagin?

DON LEMON, CNN NEWS CORRESONDENT: I certainly did. I spent part of the morning with him, Wolf, going through the city and going to some of the shelters here and some of the places where they're taking people so they can get out of town.

Real quickly, I can attest to what Gary's talking about. Very cool here. The wind is starting to pick up. The sun kind of going behind the clouds for the very first time. We can definitely feel something is coming here.

I want to show you -- you were talking about police presence on the street, Gary was. You can see the police on the street here and the National Guard, members of the military. A short time ago there was a briefing here by probably about 100 police officers. What they're doing, Wolf, they're about to go out into areas and start patrolling areas because that curfew is going to kick in today at sundown. Just during the time that curfew's going to kick in, the last people to be taken out of the city are going to be taken from this terminal.

You are right. I spoke to the mayor earlier, spent part of the day with him. He appeared confident but things can change in a matter of hours.


LEMON (voice-over): Mother of all storms, storm of the century. Was that strong language?

RAY NAGIN, (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: It was very strong but at that time it looked like it could be that strong. Category 5, landing within 30 miles west of New Orleans. We are on the worst side. So at that time it was the right call. And it's still the right call because this storm still could do a lot of damage to our city.

You going to Memphis? That's your family? What's up, doc?

LEMON: During Katrina you were an exasperated man. It's no secret. You're walking around today and looking confident and you're smiling.

NAGIN: Yeah, it feels good to know we helped so many people. The plans we've been practicing and implemented went well. We have great people we're working with and I don't know if anybody could have done it better.

LEMON: As you look around, this is before -- this is before the storm, right? It hasn't hit yet. So do you think your demeanor will change over the next couple of days, next couple of hours?

NAGIN: It just depends. I mean, if we're to the point where we've gotten most of our people out and not rescuing a lot of people, I think we'll be able to focus on recovery. If we have to go into heavy rescue mode, then it will be another challenge.

LEMON: People are saying -- honestly, what is going through your mind right now? Because this is unprecedented to have a city of this size, to have people bussed out, by train, and then I have never seen people flown out of a major city in preparing for a disaster.

NAGIN: It's surreal for me because this is the second time we've evacuated this entire city for a disaster. You know, unfortunately we've had a lot of practice at it. And, fortunately, we're doing it well.


LEMON: That was the mayor just a short time ago. I asked him about where he was going to ride the storm out. He and some of his people in his office say there are three places in the city where they could possibly ride that storm out. They don't want that going out to the general public. But I can say one of those places is most likely city hall because they think it will be safe there. Plus, they need to be able to get information out, Wolf.

Looking at the police officers about to go out on the street, many of them patrolling now for that curfew, this is a direct quote from the mayor. He said if any looters will go directly to jail. He said, Angola. Being before Louisiana, if you know about Angola, you don't to want go there. He said you'll go right to the big house, right to general population.

BLITZER: Yeah, he was tough when he made that bold announcement just earlier in the day.

There's a curfew that's about to begin in New Orleans, a dusk- to-dawn curfew. As Don just said, anyone caught looting in that city goes right to this maximum security facility at Angola, thrust into the general population. If you even think about looting, don't do it. For your own good, if you're watching and still in New Orleans right now.

Ali Velshi is reporting for us.

Ali, tell our viewers where are you and when part of the story you're covering.

ALI VELSHI, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in Grand Isle, a barrier island well south of New Orleans, probably about 100 miles south. So if the storm is 300 miles from New Orleans, it's about 200 miles from us. We'll get it first. It's an island connected by one roadway to the mainland and that road will get covered up or at least the route back into the mainland will be covered up.

You've known me for a long time, Wolf. I'm not into heroics. The reason we're here is this is the main producer of oil production. I'm facing New Orleans as I'm looking at you. A quarter mile in front of me is a bay. A quarter mile behind those trees is the beach, the Gulf of Mexico. I was there a couple hours ago. The surf is up. I could see two dozen oil rigs and platforms. That's part of the 4,000 oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico that make up a quarter of the U.S.'s oil production.

Now, 90 percent of that oil production is shut down. Why only 90 percent? Because on the far west of this, outside the area of danger, there's still some oil rigs operating. The rest of them are shut down.

According to the Department of Energy, Wolf, 25 percent of all U.S. oil production is now shut down. 56 percent of all U.S. oil imports -- and we've known through this campaign, we import a lot of oil -- it is shut down because it comes into a place down the road down here, called Port Buchal (ph), an oil pipeline from where I am to Chicago carrying a million barrel a day is being shut down right now. It will be shut down by this evening. And three of the four strategic petroleum sites are shut down already. So there's a lot of oil production shut down.

The other thing is, Wolf, this is an island of fisherman, 1500 people throughout the year, 15,000 in the summer. It's a ghost town. Almost everyone has evacuated. One of the very few people staying who is not an emergency worker is the resident of this house we're in. We're on balcony of a house, a shrimp processor here. He says he's not leaving. He said he built this house specifically to withstand a hurricane. It's a quarter mile from his shrimp processing facility, which we can look at right now. And he is saying he's staying put. And for now we're staying with him.

BLITZER: Ali, be careful over there. Good luck. We'll stay in constant touch with you, constant touch with all of our reporters, Gary Tuchman.

Don't go away. We'll be coming back to you, as well as Don Lemon, all of you on the scene. We have a lot of reporters watching this hurricane. We're going to continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're here at the Republican National Convention, which will open formally tomorrow in a very abbreviated the session, only business, no politics, according to convention organizers. That order coming in from Senator John McCain as a result of Hurricane Gustav, which is moving through the Gulf of Mexico right now. New Orleans right in harm's way.

Russel Honore, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, our CNN contributor, is standing by. He's joining us.

You heard from our reporters on the scene in New Orleans, what they're saying, you heard from our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras. Your biggest fear right now, General?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The mayor said possibly 10,000 people in the city. That's a significant number. I think in Katrina, from all the services and government agency, we think we evacuated between 60,000 and 70,000 after Katrina, including St. Bernard parish and Plackman Parish. 7,000 people in the city is a significant number. Knowing where they are and being able to get to them if the flooding exceeds their confidence that they can live through that, still could be a major worry.

At the same time, New Orleans is not the main show. The main show will be to the west of the city, as the storm would come and follow Interstate 10 off toward the north and west of the city. So you've got that entire area to do search and rescue in. You've got the people displaced south of I-10 to the north part of the city. You have significant a number of shelters that could be open. That entire region south of Louisiana and south of I-10 most likely will be two to three days, up to six days without power. With 10,000 people still in New Orleans, this could be a real challenge for the National Guard and the first responders and for Governor Jindal.

BLITZER: They say always prepare for the last war. Katrina, three years ago and since then, they've made major preparations to avoid the disaster of Katrina. But this storm, Gustav, is very different with potentially different dangers for that entire area. Here's the question, General, are they ready for the new and different dangers that Gustav presents as opposed to the older dangers that Katrina presented? HONORE: From all indications, yes. They've done the evacuation. They've got good communications. The next step will be, will that communication hold up once we lose power and once we have the effective flooding? I've got all the confidence in the world, knowing the leaders on the ground that they'll attempt to do that.

You have to remember something. If this becomes a disaster, that means the first quarter you lose. The roads are broke. People are dead. Buildings are broke. Communication systems are down because we have no power and the cell towers are down.

A note on that, Wolf. Since the evacuations started, those people that can text message should send texts instead of placing calls. All the people displaced, trying to call home or trying to call relatives, it ties up the digital network. Normally texts will go through when voice will not go through.

BLITZER: General Honore will be with us throughout the night, throughout the week. We're going to rely on your expertise, General Honore. Thanks very much for right now. We'll be checking back with you soon.

General Russel Honore, retired U.S. Army, he led the charge into New Orleans and the area right after Katrina. He's with us right now as a CNN contributor. As I say, we'll rely on his expertise throughout this week. God knows, we're going to need his expertise. So we're going to have a lot more coverage coming up here.

We're in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they announced just a little while ago this Republican convention has been abbreviated. We'll explain what's going on, a most unusual development as a result of Gustav.


BLITZER: Welcome back to St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the Republican National Convention. The Xcel Energy Center, where tomorrow late afternoon they will bring this convention to order, but it will be the abbreviated order, only convention at least on its first day, and last maybe two, two and a half hours. Then they will recess, and then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, they're taking it day by day to see what happens with Hurricane Gustav, how it impacts on this Republican convention.

Ed Henry is on the floor right now.

Ed, I take it you're in the Louisiana delegation. You and our producers and our other reporters have been speaking with members of the Louisiana delegation, who are deeply concerned, as they should be, about their lived loved ones, their family and their friends. What are they saying about what's going on and the impact of this convention?

ED HENRY, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There are 47 delegates from Louisiana who are supposed to be here. Some have already arrived this morning. They had a meeting at about noon today to try and sort it out. Obviously, they are watching the news reports. They're worrying about family members they left behind. For example, we spoke to a married couple, two delegates from Louisiana who have children back home with their grandparents. Those delegates wanted to go home and see their children and they wanted to check on their property.

So this hour, in fact, the McCain camp had a chartered plane that's leaving St. Paul that's headed back to the region. It's going to Mississippi, not Louisiana, but it could have delegates from any states from the gulf coast region who want to go back, check on family members. Rick Davis, the campaign chairman from the McCain campaign saying a dozen delegates we think were getting on that plane at least.

What's also interesting, after it lands, after those delegates and others go and land in the gulf coast, they are going to possibly bring the plane back here to St. Paul. So those delegates could take family members, get them out of harm's way. Obviously, these delegates have hotel rooms in St. Paul they were going to be using anyway.

In terms of the actual business, it will not be affected in terms of the roll call vote eventually for John McCain whenever that does happen. If any of the 47 delegates decide to go to the gulf coast and stay there and not come back, we're told alternates will step in for them so the normal process, whenever that starts again, will move forward.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is on the scene for us in the Louisiana delegation.

We're going to continue our discussion of what is going on, get an update on Gustav and much more. We're coming back right after this.


BLITZER: They worked hard here preparing the podium, preparing everything else for this Republican National Convention. Now, it will be truncated, abbreviated, a short session business only tomorrow because of Hurricane Gustav.

Gloria, I've been covering politics a long time and I've never seen anything unfold like this. It's so unpredictable. The political fallout -- it's almost inappropriate to speak of the political fallout given the human tragedy that potentially could unfold, but the political fallout is enormous.

GLORIA BORGER, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: You can't predict it because you don't know what's doing to happen with the hurricane. I think the three of us were talking during the break, this has been an incredible political year where we could not have predicted anything. Would we have predicted Sarah Palin would have ended up on the Republican ticket?

I think the people we've seen here today, the staff of the convention and the McCain staff and Republican national committee, have really made a decision that they really couldn't avoid. They couldn't do on with the political show here, Wolf. They had to change the tone. They made it clear that they were doing to pull back their political advertising. I just heard from a top adviser to Senator Barack Obama who said, and I quote, "We are also monitoring events." They could pull it back. This is not a time to have a political showdown.

BLITZER: John, I think Senator McCain, who is the new leader of the Republicans, I think he'll be applauded for setting this tone, you know what, this is no time for politics right now.

JOHN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: I think all Americans, including his opponent, Barack Obama, would say that is the right call. Everybody needs to have a cease-fire. Our thoughts and prayers are with people on the gulf coast. It's almost crass for us to think about the political calculations, ramifications at this time. We will do that as we watch the storm over the next 24 hours. It is an amazing time. Time-out in politics was the best idea. How that affects the Republicans, we'll see.

BLITZER: Let me wrap up this hour with some programming notes. Rick Sanchez is standing by. He'll pick up coverage at the top of the hour. At 8:00 p.m. Anderson Cooper will be live from New Orleans for two hours, 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. eastern and then we'll be live throughout the night. Rick will be back at 10:00 p.m. eastern. I'll be standing by here in St. Paul tomorrow for "The Situation Room," 4:00 p.m. eastern. Much more of our coverage coming up right after this.