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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Gustav Weakens to a Tropical Storm; 17-year-old Daughter of Sarah Palin Pregnant
Aired September 1, 2008 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just after 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 Central here in New Orleans. Tonight as you heard the Mayor say, a better story so far no doubt about it. The danger not yet over but abating, it is one of two breaking stories tonight.
The other one is political.
First, let's catch you up on Gustav. The levees holding, better in some places, worse in others, several locations may be holding just barely though in Plaquemines Parish that threat seems to been receding.
We've seen leakage, we've seen some seepage along the industrial canal, overtopping across the area. You see those pictures. A private levee badly eroding in Plaquemines Parish, southeast of town; although as we just said CNN has learned the situation there is improving.
And just moments ago we learned the 17 street canal gates here in New Orleans are being closed. That is critical to keep water from Lake Pontchartrain from flooding into city. Those are the gates we're looking at right there. There's the picture of that; we're keeping up a close eye on that late development.
We're going to have correspondents tonight across the region over the next hour in the Weather Center and also then on Larry King at that midnight hour on the east coast.
Also tonight, within this hour, Barack Obama, it is an exclusive one on one interview on what his campaign is doing to help the area and his take on how the Bush administration is doing this time around.
Now, along with Gustav, there's the other breaking story which kind of got a lot of attention on day one in the Republican convention in St. Paul.
Word that Governor Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant; the campaign announced that. We'll look at the political repercussions if any, and what it says if anything about how closely John McCain checked up on the governor before making her his running mate.
And also the question of should this even be a story discussed in a political context? We'll talk about it.
We begin though, with the storm, north-northwest of Lafayette and dying down but a monster when it arrived. Take a look.
COOPER: The fury of an unstoppable force. Gustav roared toward the Gulf Coast as a monster storm, a Category 3 hurricane that had already killed some 20 people in the Caribbean; sustained winds, 115 miles-per-hour. Landfall came mid-morning when the eye crossed near Cocodrie, Louisiana, a town about 85 miles southwest of New Orleans.
Although Gustav was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane by then, its destructive power would pound the coastline for hours.
CNN's Sean Callebs was in the middle of it.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The winds have really picked up with the last hour. The rain is just pouring down here.
COOPER: The high winds downed trees and power lines and sent debris flying across the streets of New Orleans, and above them, as I found out during a live shot.
This has been a large evacuation, excuse me. Watch out. Oh!
The greatest threats weren't only from the skies, they came from the water. Gustav's storm surge crashed into the city's levees with white-capped waves washing over the industrial canal sending small amounts of water into the Lower Ninth Ward. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the levees should remain stable.
Mayor Ray Nagin told CNN of another concern.
NAGIN: We have two large navy ships that were in there for scrap that have broken loose. Now, they're pinned against the wall right now, but if they get loose and they start to bang around on some of those canal walls, we could have a major problem.
COOPER: The hurricane left nearly 500,000 Louisiana households and offices without power. And while the damage could reach into the billions of dollars, New Orleans and dozens of communities were spared the devastation from Katrina.
President Bush commended the nearly two million people who complied with voluntary and mandatory evacuations.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's hard for a citizen to pull up stakes and move out of their home. And face the uncertainty that comes when you're not at home. And I want to thank those citizens who listened carefully to the local authorities and evacuated.
COOPER: By day's end, Gustav continued to batter the Gulf Coast. Near nightfall, there was a report a private levee in Plaquemines Parish was in danger of being breached. All in all, hurricane Gustav was bad but as all of us witnessed exactly three years ago, it could have been so much worse.
COOPER: And we have just gotten a word that the storm -- hurricane Gustav has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. So, again, still further deterioration of the storm, further weakening of it and that is certainly good news, being downgraded now to a natural tropical storm.
Let's check in with "360's" Drew Griffin who's on the scene at Plaquemines Parish, which over the last couple of hours has gotten a lot of attention because of the president of -- the parish president, saying they need help there to shore up a failing levee.
Drew what's the situation?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you must -- you have to say it worked that shoring up took place almost immediately. You remember during hurricane Katrina when there was dropping those big sandbags in the levee and it was being washed away. Well, here they took thousands of little sandbags and put them right on top of that levee and actually stopped the overtopping that caused so much of the panic.
There was also a problem on the St. Bernard side of this. It's a private levee, it's a non-Federal levee, but where a gate was not closing properly and they were able to close that.
The key here was that they rushed the scene with so much intensity that they were able to actually stop this from eroding further, which would have caused a lot of flooding, especially on the Plaquemines Parish side.
We have some video from that earlier today, but I think, Anderson, the story here was, number one the problem was not that big. And the response was incredibly huge and they were able to actually stop this from becoming a major event.
COOPER: And they're going to be working on it throughout the night?
GRIFFIN: Actually, I think they've left. We saw the National Guard pull out about half hour ago. It's actually too dark to be working on the levee tonight.
But the water was receding when they left and they had already placed a lot of sandbags on the top. So they felt comfortable this will hold through the night. Even though I got to say this Gustav is still packing a powerful rain punch here. The rain event has just not stopped for several hours.
COOPER: Yes, and we still have occasional hard bands of rain coming through. Drew I appreciate it.
Let's turn now to Lafayette. Gustav now a tropical storm, to the north of it, "360's" John Zarrella on the ground there.
John what's the scene? JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, same as what Drew is reporting. It's dry now here, but periodically we have had the rain bands continuing to come in and the gusty winds come in. But the local officials here are telling us that, boy, they think they did pretty well all things considered.
Now, there was one neighborhood, and we just got some pictures in from a neighborhood in north Lafayette where several trees came down, the neighborhood was hit pretty hard, perhaps by one of these microbursts down bursts of winds; perhaps a tornado, no way to know exactly right now.
But tragically one person in a house there that a tree went through was killed. A young 27-year-old man killed here in Lafayette when a tree went through his home. That is the only report of any injury or death here in Lafayette.
Now, earlier today, we also had one of our other colleagues go down south of here, about 50 miles. Ed Lavandera, have managed to make it all the way into Morgan City southeast of here. And we were fearful that there might be considerable damage as you got closer to the coastline.
But the good news there as well, just minor damage. No flooding. Some power poles down, some transformers down, power lines down, some awnings that had been knocked over; but just minor damage and no serious flooding there.
And finally here, Anderson, we're on the Vermillion River and all day we have been watching as the Vermillion River has actually been coming upstream. Down that way is the Gulf of Mexico and Vermillion Bay. And because of that counterclockwise rotation of the storm, it's actually been pushing the water up the Vermillion River all day long.
These trees behind me usually are high and dry. They're under about four or five feet of water here. That's how much water has come up during the course of the day. There was some fear of potential for flash flooding earlier in the day when we had 3 to 5 inches of rainfall here in a matter of three hours. That fear has abated now, not so much of a concern anymore.
The problem with that Anderson is, a lot of people are out on these roads tonight, going home. We've seen lots of traffic already, and that's just down right dangerous, because it's very slick conditions out there and we're still getting those gusts of wind.
So folks, if you're out there, stay inside. Don't go out on the roads -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, nothing to see, particularly this time of night.
John thanks for that and more now on the words just in, Gustav is a tropical storm.
And for the latest, let's go to the Weather Center, Severe Weather expert Chad Myers. Chad, where is it? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Down to 60 miles-per-hour just south of Alexandria, Louisiana. And so still moving, moving at 11 miles-per-hour. As long as it keeps moving, the flood potentials is going to be a little lower.
Hear yourselves it's what we're still seeing here, you're still seeing that weather in New Orleans and also down Plaquemines Parish where Drew Griffin was. That's just one outer band still with you. We've had some flooding around Alexandria, the rain just about ready to stop there. Pineville into the south it's done.
The winds though are still coming in from the south on this east side of the storm. And so all of this wind blowing into Biloxi and New Orleans and Baton Rouge, blowing water onto the north shore.
Now I know Mandeville, the entire coastal part of Mandeville, is under water right now, but the water does not get all the way Monroe. It does not get all the way pushed past that road.
The reason why they're closing the gates there of northern part of New Orleans is because they expect this water to slack, this wind to slack and all that water may slosh back toward New Orleans. That's probably not likely for a few hours but they took those precautions just in case.
Here are the wind gusts that we found. Ali Velshi, our reporter there, had a 105-mile-per-hour wind. Baton Rouge, 91; Lafayette, 77; and New Iberia all the way to 76 miles per hour.
There's Gustav, it's gone, it's moving up into Oklahoma, the Arklatex, the Red River will get some rainfall. Let it spread around a little bit; that won't be all that bad.
Now we want to turn our attention to Hanna and also to Ike because these storms have moved a little bit. These are the 11:00 advisories and they've moved this storm a little bit further to the east.
We were only about to Holden Beach for our eastern part of the cone at 5:00. Now we're almost over to the Cape. We're moving it away from Florida a little bit as well and pushing it into, that's about Wild Dunes, Isle de Palm, that's the center but that's at a category 2 at about 90 miles per hour.
Ike is also going to be a category 2 and it's going to be somewhere into the Turks and Caicos by Saturday. That would be right there, there's the Bahamas and there's Florida. Where it goes after that, we're not sure -- Anderson.
COOPER: We'll be tracking it no doubt. Chad, thanks.
Again, tonight the blog is up and running. Join the conversation; check out Erica Hill's live reporting during the commercial break. You haven't seen that really. Just head to ac360.com and follow the links. Our storm coverage continues after the break and frankly throughout the night. We're going to go next to Grand Isle, one of the barrier islands that took a terrible beating. Ali Velshi has been there all day in the eye of the storm.
Also tonight, the Ninth Ward, nearly obliterated the last time; hanging on tonight.
And a "360" exclusive; my conversation with Barack Obama. I spoke to him just a short time ago. We talked to him about John McCain's choice, now a controversial choice of a running mate. Questions about her experience and his experience and his reaction to this storm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My understanding is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has I think 50 employees. We've got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tornado. Right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Check this out, Gustav's wrath even felt in Florida, the storm caused this tornado in Pensacola. IReporter, Kevin Rockwell shot this with his digital camera today.
The fury of a hurricane is awesome to behold, terrifying as well. Ali Velshi demonstrated that today from Grand Isle, Louisiana where he was battered by Gustav's winds and rains. Ali is going to join me in a moment to talk about what he witnessed and endured.
But before he does, we want to just give you a glimpse of some of what he went through throughout the day. Take a look.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The garage just blew off the building that we're on. I don't think the garage was the part where we meant to stick around. When we say we're in a secure part the garage was just a fly away roof but it's gone.
COOPER: Ali, standing out there in the wind, it looks to me like it's about 80 miles an hour where you are. What does it feel like? [inaudible]
Ali, I'm sorry, if you can hear me, walk back inside because we can't hear a thing you're saying. There's just too much wind noise.
Velshi: We are roped off. (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Grand Isle, Louisiana, you see our Ali Velshi standing there. We know that Ali cannot hear us, so we're going to stay up on this live shot to give you an idea of what they are experiencing there.
They're trying to talk to us. Let's see if we can hear him maybe just for a moment.
VELSHI: They've been heading east for last 12 hours. This is heading south. I don't know what this means but these are definitely the heaviest winds we've had. I just want to let you know, you can see this rope here, I'm tied around this pole and I have a rope over here.
We're in Grand Isle and I think we're going to have to get off right now. We will wrap it up. Back to you.
VELSHI: Anderson, that's the kind of 24 hours it's been here on Grand Isle. A tiny little sliver of an island on the Gulf of Mexico; this went from being an island to being completely overrun by the Gulf of Mexico.
By the time the sun came up, we looked off the deck we've been reporting off of all night and it was just Gulf all around us. It was waves and water and that's what happened all day.
We turned the camera around tonight just to show you this is the house that kept us safe overnight. It did withstand the hurricane but for that roof you saw falling off and a few other things happening, this is the house that we stayed in.
It trembled, it shook, but in the end, this is where we stayed, this is where we got to it. Sadly as the waters recede here on Grand Isle, we understand there's been a great deal of damage. We've seen it around us. There are electrical poles all over the places. There are houses entirely destroyed and there are people who are going to head back in the next few days to try and get their lives back together -- Anderson.
COOPER: Let's hope Ali can get some sleep tonight. Ali, great job all day; remarkable work.
Hurricane Katrina put the Lower Ninth Ward on the map at least on a lot of people's radar by nearly obliterating it three years ago. The neighborhood overwhelmingly African-American was victimized once by the storm and in the eyes of a lot of folks around here by the shamefully slow and inept relief and rescue response.
Gustav, by comparison, has been merciful so far. It's triggered some flooding, unleashing terrible memories.
"360's" Gary Tuchman reports.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a short distance from the sign that welcomes Katrina survivors back home to the Lower Ninth Ward, water gushes under and through a flood wall. The wall stands between the industrial canal and a neighborhood that had slowly started coming back to life after hurricane Katrina.
It's nothing like it was here three years ago.
Although on the other side of the wall, water that may be six feet deep floods an industrial area in what is considered the Upper Ninth Ward. From a highway overpass, you get an idea how much flooding there is. But it appears that little if no residential property is under water.
The flooding occurred despite the fact that the rains didn't seem as plentiful as the winds.
This is the Mississippi River front here in New Orleans. We're just outside the French Quarter and here is the rock levee that protects the city from the Mississippi River. You can see it's holding.
Bourbon Street was a barren street. The overwhelmingly successful evacuation left the French Quarter emptier than it's been since the days after Katrina. In New Orleans east, which was devastated during Katrina, there was no flooding but there was wind damage.
This is something that will give you an idea of the indignity that many people here face. These people live in a FEMA trailer still here from Katrina. They're redoing their house. But during this storm, a huge tree has fallen on top of the house.
There is roof damage to Russell Gore's New Orleans east home. But he lost his wife in this very same house after it was inundated by nine feet of water during Katrina. This weekend, he told us he would not evacuate because he felt guilty that he and his wife didn't leave last time.
RUSSELL GORE, KATRINA SURVIVOR: When you have someone that you loved like I loved die in your arms and do without, it's just like losing a soldier on the battlefield.
TUCHMAN: You feel like you owe it to her to stay?
GORE: I feel like I owe it to her. I am not running.
TUCHMAN: And now that the worst of this storm is over -- do you feel your wife is watching over you?
GORE: That's who's helping me right now, no doubt.
TUCHMAN: Russell Gore's relieved, as are many people in the city of New Orleans.
COOPER: You checked in with him, he's doing okay after the storm?
TUCHMAN: He's doing okay. He admits he was scared. It's just a very interesting phenomenon. It's hard to blame him if you haven't walked in his shoes. So the fact that he stayed there, it's what he had to do.
COOPER: There was a lot of anxiety though and very understandable anxiety in the face of the storm. The fact that 90 percent, 95 percent of the folks in southeastern Louisiana evacuated, the biggest evacuation in the state's history, that tells a lot.
TUCHMAN: And there was such an ominous feeling in the city this weekend with the National Guard patrolling the streets in their jeeps and their weapons and the police and then everyone going. It was just like a ghost town; it had a very strange feeling.
COOPER: I'm glad you weathered it okay and appreciate all the hard work you've given us over the last days.
TUCHMAN: Thank you.
COOPER: Last day or last weekend I should say here in New Orleans.
Gustav is blamed now for more than 60 deaths in the Caribbean. I thought it was only 20 but it turns it was 60 deaths in the Caribbean.
Now it's claimed some lives here in the United States. At least seven deaths in Louisiana are believed to be storm related, including two people killed in Baton Rouge today when a tree fell on their house. They could not be saved.
There are rescue workers looking for other victims who may need help. "360" MD Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at that.
MIKE GUILLOT (PH), DIRECTOR, EMS EAST JEFFERSON HOSPITAL: We're going to help a lady stuck in her vehicle.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Today, Mike Guillot's goal that no one dies. As director of emergency medical services at East Jefferson Hospital during a hurricane, today will pose a special challenge.
GUILLOT: It was a house burning but it came out as five houses burning. And that potentially could have been a whole neighborhood burned down.
GUPTA: He takes me out on patrol, right as the worst of the storm starts to hit. You can hear the pounding rain. And you can feel the entire vehicle shudder.
In an area where nearly two million live, there is no one on the road.
GUILLOT: It is very quiet.
GUPTA: A major American city on a holiday weekend, no one really to be found.
We get a rare look at the levees.
GUILLOT: This is the 17th Street canal.
GUPTA: In the middle of a hurricane.
GUILLOT: We're hoping that levee holds. If the levee doesn't hold, we're in trouble. It's scary. This is scary, because this is high. If that section broke, that section on our side of the parish break at any time, that's high. That's a lot of water.
GUPTA: Mike Guillot has been here through Katrina and other storms. He is one of the guys we hear about. He is one of the guys who always stays.
The governor has been on, the mayor has been on saying evacuate. I think it's only fair to say you're still here. Did you think about leaving?
GUILLOT: No. You know, I've been a paramedic my whole life, since I was 20 years old. So, you know, I don't think about leaving.
But my priority is just to make sure my family and my wife's safe, my kids are safe. As long as those things are in place, you know, I look at it this is our job, and I don't see it as something heroic. It's just our job to do.
GUPTA: But it is heroic. Staying and trying to protect people from this, an angry Lake Pontchartrain.
The only way we could be out here is with the assistance of EMS. They have brought us out here to show us what they're concerned about. You can see it behind me, all this water over here that is really kicking out of Lake Pontchartrain. There are levees all around, the water is nowhere near full yet but the concern is that it might get there.
They are patrolling right now in some of the worst conditions to try and see if anybody needs help. But at some point, even the EMS is going to be told, enough it's time to go in. We're almost there.
It's been a challenging day. But this area just west of New Orleans has a better chance because Mike Guillot has chosen to stay.
GUILLOT: If you want to go back out again, we can do that.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: A lot of folks just riding it out, because they want to help other people during the storm. Are hospital staff still on stand by even though the storm has blown through; even though it's now downgraded to a tropical storm?
GUPTA: They have a system they've set up over the past week. An A team, a B team. The A team is going to be there for seven days total. Although it's interesting they had a lot of National Guard at Jefferson Hospital today and they started to let some of them go.
So I think they were getting some of the alerts. And they were downgrading some of this. I saw people walking out with their air mattresses leaving for home and they were quite happy because it was earlier than expected.
These hospitals, the one I was at had 60 doctors on staff who were all in the hospital spending the night; a lot of them volunteering to do so. They were quite committed.
COOPER: Well, the memory of hurricane Katrina so strong in people's mind. You were saying that EMT, his aunt died in the storm.
GUPTA: Yes, it was really remarkable. We were driving around and he said part of the reason I decided to stay here for three years, because so many people have left this town as you know, was his aunt had died there and he was the one who actually went in with an ax and got through the attic, found her body and checked it out.
He said, look, there was a terrible thing that happened. I'm going to do everything in my power not to let that sort of thing happen again. He's just a remarkable guy and a lot of people like him.
COOPER: Sanjay, I appreciate all your hard work. You've been up for a long time. Get a little bit of sleep now.
GUPTA: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: Ahead on "360," breaking news about President Bush's speaking role at the Republican National Convention.
Also, presidential politics getting personal; more on Sarah Palin's pregnant teenage daughter. What it could mean for the race for the White House?
And later, one on one, my exclusive interview today with Barack Obama as the candidate shares his thoughts about hurricane Gustav.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It's a little too early to tell whether or not the back end of the crisis in terms of housing, in terms of dealing with flood damage, if there is any, whether small businesses and homeowners are getting the relief they need right away, whether that's being dealt with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Some additional breaking news on a night that already has plenty.
We are getting word that President Bush will speak to the Republican convention in St. Paul, this from GOP sources. He's slated for tomorrow. He was scheduled to speak today; that plan almost literally blown away by Gustav.
Presidential candidates are also watching the weather. John McCain today praising Americans who are sending aid and Barack Obama also spoke about Gustav. He joined me for an exclusive interview earlier from Wisconsin. I interviewed him from the Lower Ninth Ward.
As you'll see there's debris behind me. That's not from Gustav, it's from hurricane Katrina and it hasn't been cleaned up in the past three years.
COOPER: There's some 1.9 million people who evacuated, the largest evacuation in this state's history. A lot of folks right now listening to you in hotel rooms, in shelters, sleeping on their friend's floors or on their friends' couches.
What is your message to them as they hope to return here soon? What is your message about what the U.S. Government needs to do for them?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, our thoughts and prayers are with them. And obviously, this is an extraordinary thing to have to go through, particularly for families who had to go through this three years ago, had to rebuild and now to have to leave and all the stress that's involved there. So we're thinking about them.
One of the things that we're doing right away through my campaign is activating our entire donor base, a couple of million people, to start donating cash to the American Red Cross, to start activating volunteers, if they are necessary.
We've got tens of thousands of people who are ready to help. America is going to help, but we have to make sure the federal government also is ready to help.
So I'm going to be staying on FEMA and other relevant federal agencies to make sure that people are getting the relief that they need.
One last point I would make, Anderson, just one last point that I want to make. I know there are going to be a lot of people who are anxious to get back, and in conversations that I've had with various officials, including Secretary Chertoff, I think it's important to understand that it's going to take probably a couple of days before people are able to make a clear assessment that the levees held and that things are safe.
And so I would urge people, as difficult as it may be, not to start immediately trying to get back home but to give it a couple of days to ensure the safety of your family and yourself.
COOPER: You guys have done a remarkable job with your donor base raising money on the political campaign over the Internet. Do you have any sense of what kind of response you've gotten thus far for the Red Cross from your supporters?
OBAMA: What we know is we've had tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who have connected to the Red Cross through our Web site. We don't obviously know what kind of tally that will bring.
We'll probably know by tomorrow if, you know, we have had a quarter million people or 300,000 people who donated, obviously that can end up being a significant amount. And that's the kind of help that I think the American people across party lines want to provide to those who have undergone this very difficult situation.
One other point I want to make about the federal response. I think that there are a lot of people who are still going through depression, still have mental stress and mental health issues resulting from Katrina three years ago. One of the things I would like to do is find out what kind of counseling systems we have in place so that families who are going through these difficult times have the kind of support that they need.
COOPER: That's a huge problem obviously as you know here in New Orleans; the number of mental health professionals had dropped dramatically since Katrina.
And I'm coming to you from the Lower Ninth Ward. Behind me there is storm damage from hurricane Katrina, the storm damage folks are seeing there right behind me.
That's not from this storm, this is three years ago. It's still sitting out here in the Lower Ninth Ward. It used to be a vibrant community, not rich economically but rich, as you know, culturally and socially.
There are A lot of folks here still spread around the United States who would like to come back home. Do you think New Orleans has been forgotten and what would your administration do differently?
OBAMA: It hasn't been forgotten by me because one of the pledges that I've head when I was a senator and one of the pledges that I intend to keep as president is to make sure that we rebuild New Orleans and its vitality and its place in American culture. There's nothing like New Orleans, and the truth is that we have been too slow.
There was a report today or maybe it was yesterday in the "New York Times" indicating that the Road Home program, hundreds of millions of dollars that had not ended up being utilized just because of red tape and bureaucracy. The American people are generous and they understand that during moments of crisis we need to come together and provide people help. But what we haven't seen are the kinds of efficient programs that get to the people that need help right away.
COOPER: John McCain was here on Sunday in Mississippi looking over preparations for the storm. You chose not to come in advance. Why did you choose to do that and do you have any plans to come in the days ahead?
OBAMA: You know, our experience, this just happened when the flooding in Iowa and along the Mississippi River occurred. With the Secret Service operation that we have around me these days, what happens is that when we land anywhere, there has to be coordination with local law enforcement officials and it ends up drawing away resources from people who need to be doing the kind of job that they're doing to help folks on the ground.
So what I didn't want to be is a distraction just for a photo-op. What we're going to do is examine over the next couple of days the severity of the damage, how we can be most helpful. If I can be helpful by going down there, I will be down there in a hot second.
If it turns out that what local officials and those in charge recommend is that we do our work through our web site and through activating volunteers and donors, that's what we'll do. The main thing is to get help to the people on the ground.
COOPER: And Senator Obama, my final question, some of your Republican critics have said you don't have the experience to handle a situation like this. They've in fact said that Governor Palin has more executive experience as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state of Alaska. What's your response?
OBAMA: Well, my understanding is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has I think 50 employees. We've got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute I think has been made clear over the last couple of years.
And certainly in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post Katrina of how we handle emergency management. The fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak I think indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.
COOPER: Senator Obama, thank you for your time.
OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Anderson.
COOPER: One quick note, we also asked Senator McCain to be on "360" to talk about the response to Gustav, he said no thanks. Our invitation, of course, always remains open.
Just ahead, learning from past mistakes. A report card shows why just about everyone seemed to get it right this time, at least up to this point.
And later a candidate controversy, maybe, Sarah Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant; critics and supporters weighing in.
COOPER: That's Bristol Palin on the right holding her baby brother. Bristol is the daughter of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin who was tapped on Friday to be John McCain's running mate.
The 17-year-old teenager is five months pregnant it turns out. The news shocked some of the political world today and came during the opening session of the Republican National Convention. The question is what, if anything, does the pregnancy mean for the presidential campaign and should it even be an issue?
CNN's Kyra Phillips has the latest from Anchorage, Alaska.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 17-year-old Bristol is Governor Palin's oldest daughter, a high school senior. She's been seen at campaign events in the last few days holding her baby brother Trig. What we didn't know then, she's five months pregnant. The father's name is Levi and they intend to marry.
The parents issued this statement --
"We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love support."
Prominent Republicans in Alaska and beyond have been just as supportive.
FRED DYSON, ALASKA STATE SENATE: She's a human being like everybody else and it certainly doesn't mean that your kids aren't. To me it makes them more human. My guess is that's how the public is going to react.
PHILLIPS: Aides to Senator McCain said he was aware of the pregnancy even before he chose her mother for his running mate and didn't even consider it relevant; Nor does Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
OBAMA: I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off limits. And people's children are especially off limits.
PHILLIPS: But to some, the pregnancy is a political issue. Her mother supports strong family values and teaching abstinence but not sex education in schools. Abortion rights activists say they won't comment on Bristol's case, but it does underscore the need for teaching teenagers about sex.
GERAN TARR, ALLIANCE FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE: Even in the best of circumstances with the best family and a loving family where they probably had the conversation that this type of thing can happen unexpectedly.
PHILLIPS: Why not support abstinence only?
TARR: It doesn't educate teenagers about how to prevent STD transmission.
PHILLIPS: According to Tarr, Alaska has one of the highest teenage rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the country, although the rate of teenage pregnancies has dropped sharply.
We asked a man who knows Governor Palin well. Can she juggle being a mom and vice president of the United States?
DYSON: She's a very capable person and very bright. And tough without being abrasive, and I don't know whether she can do it or not. Time will tell.
PHILLIPS: Now the unknown. How the revelation of Bristol's pregnancy will affect the McCain campaign, if at all. In the words of a senior adviser to the Republican ticket, I don't know, I'm not a psychic.
Kyra Phillips, CNN Anchorage, Alaska.
COOPER: So is the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter anybody's business? Should it even matter or be discussed.
Joining me from the Republican National Convention from St. Paul Minnesota with their thoughts, my colleagues CNN's John King and Candy Crowley. Candy, why did the McCain campaign decide to come forward with the news of Palin's daughter's pregnancy now?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple reasons. First of all, there's a hurricane going on, so that tends to sort of become the news and it's a good time to drop bad news.
Why did they particularly do it now when they probably would have rather have done it later? It is because the blogs were going wild with stories that the baby that the governor had recently was actually her daughter's. So they felt they needed to put this out to say wait a second, the daughter does happen to be pregnant, but the baby belongs to the governor.
So frankly, it was two things coming together. But you put this out at this point because there is other news going on. You hope it gets drowned out but obviously it doesn't.
COOPER: John, how do you think this is going to play out? I think a lot of folks, or probably a lot of reporters, myself included, are uncomfortable with this whole subject. This is a 17-year-old young woman who is basically not in the public eye by her own volition.
What do you make of it? How do you see this thing -- where does it go?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's dangerous territory for us, Anderson and it's a difficult situation for the Palin family.
What you hear from everybody here, including the people in the McCain campaign and of course they're pushing back aggressively on some of the reporting, because it's in their political interest to do so, is that there's two issues here.
One, it's a family matter and the Palin family will have to deal with that and she wants to be the vice presidential nominee so you cannot have everything private. You have a small zone of privacy, perhaps, but of course this is in the public domain.
The other thing is her public record. One of the things the McCain people are furious about is connecting the fact that Governor Palin is for say abstinence only in terms of sex education with this. They would say maybe this would make her more a fan of abstinence. She's having now an issue in her family; to connect the two in their mind is, as one put it to me a long time ago, a bit ridiculous. But this is all going to play out.
Here in the hall today, the response was overwhelmingly favored. They said this is a family matter. They believe she's handling it in the right way and again the enthusiasm among grassroots conservatives for this ticket is pretty encouraging for the McCain campaign so far.
COOPER: Candy, what do we now know about what's going to happen at the convention tomorrow?
CROWLEY: Well, they're still deciding at this point. Look, they want to go forward with a full agenda but they want to wait overnight, as we are waiting overnight, to see what actually happens.
As you know, the last time around with hurricane Katrina, we found out only hours after everyone declared that New Orleans had dodged a bullet that in fact it had not. So they are waiting till tomorrow morning.
We do expect that President Bush will appear at some point in the convention, via satellite. And give a truncated version of what he was going to say here had he appeared in person. So they would like to go ahead but they're waiting to make that final decision tomorrow morning.
COOPER: John, what are you hearing behind the scenes about how the McCain campaign thinks this is impacting them, this storm is impacting them? Obviously that's not something they would publicly talk about, the politics of this all, but this is a presidential campaign and I'm sure they think about it.
Does it work in their favor, does it work against them, does it help Barack Obama, does it work against him, do they know?
KING: They don't know is the best answer and there are people with competing opinions within the campaign. On the one hand, this was supposed to be opening night of the convention.
George W. Bush was supposed to be here in the hall. He is, of course, popular with Republicans but unpopular in the country as a whole. So there are some at the McCain campaign who think missing that night is no great loss. And perhaps even a benefit to the McCain campaign.
At the same time they acknowledge that Barack Obama had a highly successful message event last week, at the Democratic National Convention for four nights with huge television audiences and they need a national platform and a TV audience to counter that message and make the case for John McCain.
However, given the storm, they knew they had no choice. So they've tried to do the best they can. They've raised close to $2 million now I think for hurricane relief efforts. You saw Senator McCain in some of the pictures packing care packages.
They believe they did the right thing on Monday. They are hoping to get back into their political convention on Tuesday after a morning meeting to check in with Gulf State governors to make sure that those governors believe that the political environment allows them to go forward -- I'm sorry, the weather environment allows them to go forward with the political events here.
COOPER: It's been A presidential race unlike any other in history and it continues to be for one reason or another.
Candy Crowley, John King, thank you very much; staying on top of it all.
COOPER: Up next, another update on Gustav, now a tropical storm and two other storms barreling toward America.
Also we got a report card on the response from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin from Washington, the Bush Administration, the governor and others; now compared to back then.
You're watching "360." Stay tuned.
COOPER: That is Gustav, back when it was a hurricane. The breaking news now it is a tropical storm.
For the latest on where it is, where it's going, why it's still something to be respected, let's turn to severe weather expert, Chad Myers. Chad what do we know?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, it's going to move over to Pineville and up towards Shreveport, right up the Interstate. And it's going to keep moving way. The farther it goes, the lower your winds are going and the less chance you're going to have of tornadoes tonight.
Also, the winds are slacking, and so is the storm surge. We did have a storm surge, almost ten feet in your area, especially off to the east, right around the coast there. We talk about Lake Borne, we had about 10 extra feet of water and that's now coming down and that's helping you out a lot right now.
Winds are 60-miles-per-hour gusting to only 70. It's not the only problem we're talking about tonight, not to look ahead too far, but there's also Hanna, H-A-N-N-A, out there and tropical storm Ike, both forecast to be Category 2 hurricanes by the weekend -- Anderson.
COOPER: OK. Chad Myers, thanks very much for that update. Chad had been working long hours today, we appreciate that. Chad, I want to bring in Sean Callebs, who has really been based here, had been covering this story, the storm winds of Katrina which had continued to blow for these last three years and even though Gustav has taken its place right now, those winds of Katrina can still be felt here.
[Video and Audio out]
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And as you can see, this is what happens when we cover hurricanes.
I'm Erica Hill joining you from New York. We were just talking there, you heard Anderson Cooper about to talk to Sean Callebs. What can happen though as you know from watching CNN's extensive hurricane coverage, is that when we're covering a storm, oftentimes, it may seem like most of that storm has passed, it doesn't always pass. In fact, some incredible rain bands can easily knock out our satellite.
We want you to take a look back at the day that has passed.
Here's Jeanne Moos now with more.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An ominous pulsating blob, jiggling drops on the lens, and time once again for reporters to vie for the title of most weather-beaten.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming ashore right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good grief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big concern.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flooding where I am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's some debris starting to blow around and we want to get out of the way.
MOOS: Out of the way but not out of camera range. With so much danger and damage, weather man Al Roper was lucky to lose just his hat.
AL ROPER, WEATHERMAN: And of course right now -- sorry. So much for that hat.
MOOS: CNN's Ali Velshi's very first hurricane.
ALI VELSHI: What's it feel like?
MOOS: Then he came back later to Ali's deserted position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We assure you he did not blow away.
MOOS: actually, he couldn't blow away. He was tethered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard Ali talking a little bit earlier, Chad, about the shrimp --
MOOS: Ali wasn't the only one hanging on for dear life. Geraldo Rivera was out with his wind gauge.
GERALDO RIVERA: Over 56 gust here. You can see into the eye of this coming storm, I don't want to get that lens too wet.
MOOS: All day, camera people were wiping, wiping.
Geraldo spotted a guy in the water.
RIVERA: You see right there [bleep] there's a person stranded. There's a person stranded. I'm telling the cops here. He's swimming. He's got a lifeline. He's got a lifeline.
MOOS: Turns out the swimmer had intentionally gone in the water to attach a line to a propane tank to keep it from causing damage.
Geraldo was fearless or foolhardy, take your pick, charging up to levees as water gushed over the top and eventually retreated.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back to you. This is starting to hurt. Back to you guys.
MOOS: Some wind blown reporters.
Pointed out other wind blown reporters in shorts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite honestly, I'm having trouble standing up.
MOOS: Beware of unidentified flying cardboard.
COOPER: Watch out.
MOOS: Better flying cardboards than flying reporters. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I wasn't holding onto this pole, I'd probably be in the Mississippi River by now.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is that Dan Rather?
COOPER: That thing flying around came a little bit close. We're rejoined by Sean Callebs. Thankfully, hopefully, our transmission will work. These rain bands keep coming in to keep knocking our signal off.
Let's talk. Give a report card to some of the major players here. Mayor Ray Nagin? How did he do this time compared to the last time.
CALLEBS: I would give him an A this time. Last time he just had a meltdown; he was on the top floor of a hotel here in town. For the past three years he's been considered aloof and disengaged by a lot of people here. We're surprised he won re-election.
This time, he was cool, he was calm, he was collected. He was accessible; he came back from the Democratic National Convention ahead of Obama's big speech and who knows if the old Ray Nagin would have done that.
COOPER: The Governor Bobby Jindal got high marks this time around compared to the governor last time.
CALLEBS: Kathleen Blanco set the bar pretty low so anything is going to be a lot better. But Jindal really stepped up to the plate quickly long before this became a serious issue. He told the GOP, look if this threatens my state, I'm not going to make my primetime speech at the RNC.
It's the most important speech of his career but this turned out perhaps to be the most important political step of his life so far. He did everything right. He pulled the feds, the state and local governments together. He held daily briefings.
And if this is a sign of things to come for Louisiana, it's good.
COOPER: Let's talk about the federal government response. It's not equal comparison because obviously this storm did not hit New Orleans like Katrina did, so it's really kind of not comparing apples- to-apples.
CALLEBS: I think I would still give the feds a B, maybe it would have been an A but we don't know how FEMA would have responded if a real crisis hit. How would they handle temporary housing? How would they handle an area already stretched thin?
They did do the right thing. It's got Michael Chertoff down here ahead of time so they got the ball rolling. And they said that they had housing ready, we just don't know but they clearly did much better than last time.
COOPER: President Bush seemed to be more on top of it this time, though we don't know too much about the behind the scenes.
CALLEBS: If you remember last time there was so much criticism of Michael Brown and then that video came out where Brown did tell the president exactly what the concerns were. And it looked like the president had the thousand-yard stare. He just sat there and listened; got up, look walked out of the room.
This time he was clearly engaged, he made it clear too. I'm not going to go to the convention. I'm not going to appear to be celebrating or cheering if the Gulf Coast is going to get hit once again.
COOPER: No more photo ops where he said, "Brown, you're doing a heck of a job" or flying over a great distance.
CALLEBS: Yes, exactly.
COOPER: And overall, perhaps most importantly the citizens of New Orleans and south eastern Louisiana?
CALLEBS: Kudos to the citizens here because they got it this time. The warnings came out ahead of time. People didn't pack for two or three days. They got up, they left.
But the bad news is, let's hope this isn't going to lull them into a false sense of security. If another warning comes down, do it again.
COOPER: All right. That is the danger, kind of crying wolf, the mayor saying this was the monster of all storms. It turns out not to have been -- will they heed the warnings next time, let's hope because you never know where these storms are going to change at the last.
COOPER: Sean, you've been doing a great job not only for this storm but over the last three years. Thank you very much.
CALLEBS: Appreciate it.
COOPER: We join Larry King now. He's got a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." Let's go to him for that now.
Larry, take it away.