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Concern About Levees, Industrial Canal Overtopping; Power Out in Baton Rouge, Command Center for Storm in Louisiana

Aired September 1, 2008 - 14:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A sure sign of trouble in New Orleans. The city avoids a direct hit from Gustav, but an indirect hit is still putting maximum strain on the levees there.
Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien, reporting for you from New York today -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Don Lemon in East Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, where the winds are kicking up as Hurricane Gustav rolls in.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

All right. CNN is your hurricane headquarters. We're following the latest developments on Gustav.

I want to give you some updates now. We're watching a second band come through in the New Orleans metropolitan area. And speaking of the New Orleans metropolitan area, I'm told about 435,000 people here are without power in the metropolitan area, and it may not be Wednesday or until much later on in the week that they're able to get their power back.

Also getting some New information into the CNN NEWSROOM about Baton Rouge. That's where the command center for all of this is set up, where the governor has been, also where the secretary of Homeland Security has been, Michael Chertoff, the Sheraton hotel, where many of our crews are staying and where many people went for shelter. And also the Hyatt hotel there, they're also without power. So I imagine they're dealing with the same sort of winds and rain there without power.

Also, the big problem here of course that people are concerned about is -- they're concerned about the levees and about the Industrial Canal overtopping their banks. Our Chris Lawrence has been stationed at the Industrial Canal, where there's been some overtopping.

And we heard from the mayor, Chris, Mayor Ray Nagin, that there was a barge actually that got loose there that went -- broke from its moorings. Is that true? Are you hearing that?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don, we were over on the other side of the Industrial Canal. Now we're on the side closest to where the Lower Ninth Ward is. This is the area that flooded back in Katrina that washed away right into the Lower Ninth Ward. You can see just by the height of it, you know, with this wind pushing this water very, very forcefully down the Industrial Canal. We're just south of where the Industrial Canal meets the intracoastal waterway, and that is what the Army Corps of Engineers kept saying was a very big problem spot for them.

It was the area they were going to keep their eye on because there is no structure or barrier that is blocking any surge from Lake Pontchartrain right into the Industrial Canal. That structure will be built, but that structure is still several years away.

Also, some of the floodwalls along the Industrial Canal they were trying to keep a close eye on. One, the western side, they were sandbagging, trying to shore up its stability. Another, they were worried about some seepage.

You can look over there just past the "Do Not Enter" sign. You can see the floodwall there, and you can see there is some seepage there coming from the bottom of that floodwall spilling out. It's not big, but it is there.

Also, there is another bit of seepage further down the wall. It's hard to see from here.

But again, as you come back over, you can see the barge out there in the water with the boat. You can see the bridge crossing over and, again, the Industrial Canal. This is an area that people will be keeping a close eye on as we go forward, trying to make sure that this overtopping doesn't turn into something a lot more significant -- Don.

LEMON: Hey, Chris, real quickly, because I've got some breaking news I want to get to, but I've got to ask you, the big problem last time for Katrina, Lower and Upper Ninth wards, flooding, seepage from that canal, and also from the 17th Street Canal. Are you seeing any of that? Are you able to see that?

LAWRENCE: Say that again, Don, about the 17th Street Canal and here?

LEMON: I'm wondering if you're seeing any flooding into the upper North, Lower Ninth wards from the water that's overtopping or from that seepage.

LAWRENCE: We have not. We drove through the Lower Ninth Ward to get here. We came down, drove all the way through the Lower Ninth Ward, and then came back up to get up here. We did not see any significant flooding. It's wet, but it's not flooding yet, which is a very good sign for the folks there.

LEMON: All right. Chris Lawrence, thank you.

I'm being told that our Gary Tuchman is in the Lower Ninth Ward. We're going to get to Gary in a little bit and talk to him.

Thank you very much, Chris. Meantime, I want to get to some breaking news. And we want to get to Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne Meserve is actually stationed out at the headquarters in my hometown of Baton Rouge, where she's getting the latest developments.

As I understand, Jeanne, you're starting to see some significant damage there.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, I'm at the joint field office. This is sort of the nerve center for the federal government here. FEMA has set up a huge operation. There are representatives from any number of federal agencies, as well as some state agencies, and they have lost power here. The lights are out.

I've been asking some of the people heading in our direction if they're able to work on their computers. They say, well, if they've got battery power they can, but a lot of them have lost their ability to work on computers.

Took a quick glance down the hall. It looked like the big screens that have been giving them the status report on the storm and its progress, as well as feeds of news reports, it looks like that is out at the moment. We were told yesterday that there were emergency generators here, but as yet they do not appear to have kicked in. There's a little bit of battery-operated emergency lighting up.

People just kind of milling around here, coming to the front door, trying to get a glimpse of what the storm looks like outside. But clearly, the ability to get work done, at least temporarily, has been injured by the lack of power.

LEMON: Now, Jeanne, I understand that the power was out at the Sheraton hotel, also at the Hyatt. Many people go to hotels there when -- for shelter when the storms come through. And I'm hearing the power is out there as well.

Did you speak, did you actually speak to Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary?

MESERVE: Yes, I spoke to him early. I haven't spoken to him since the lights went out. Had a brief exchange with his spokesman, who indicated that wherever they are in this complex, they were without lights, too, at least temporarily.

When I did speak to him earlier, he had hoped to get air assets, Coast Guard air assets up in the air to start doing surveillance. I just checked with somebody here at the joint field office asking if that has happened yet. They were uncertain.

That's the sort of thing that the Coast Guard can choose to do unilaterally when they feel the weather conditions are right. And they hadn't gotten confirmation here as to whether that had happened yet.

Secretary Chertoff saying that as of 40 minutes ago, that things appeared to be holding up. No reports of levee breaches. Some concern about the ongoing rain and the kind of flooding that might bring, and certainly a warning that these things can take twists and turns. And we may not yet be out of the woods.

LEMON: John Zarrella is in Lafayette or Alexandria?

All right.

Our Jeanne Meserve joining us from Baton Rouge.

Jeanne, thank you very much.

Baton Rouge very important. It's important to note if they don't have power, that's an issue, because that's where the command center is for the entire storm for the state of Louisiana. A lot of people from New Orleans and from all the areas all over Louisiana are there trying to get the latest information, and if they don't have power, that's going to prove problematic.

Meantime, we want to get to Lafayette, Louisiana, and we want to get to John Zarrella, because we're hearing that there are some wind gusts in the area.

John, the winds really picking up here. I can barely hear. But what are you seeing where you are?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don. Just within the last hour or so the winds have really started to pick up.

You know, we're not really getting any solid wind measurements here. I'm going to have to step out at some point to get a better measurement for you but, you know, the way this storm is tracking, it's literally coming right up Route 90. So places like Houma, Louisiana, Morgan City, New Iberia, and then we're next in line here in Lafayette to feel the brunt of this storm in the next three, four, five hours.

You can see -- look out over here. This is the Vermilion River we're looking at. You can see all those big, tall trees in the background there, some fine, nice homes on the other side.

Of course, the concern is, as the hurricane force winds approach here, that a lot of these trees may snap, you may have a lot of damage from trees. Certainly power lines going down. We still have power, though, here at the hotel we are at.

One of the concerns that the emergency managers have here is that when this storm continues to move inland, as it continues to dump a lot of rain, they're saying that this river, while it looks really low right now, that by Wednesday it may crest in some places here in Lafayette at upwards of 16 feet. You can see the seawall, Don, is still -- it's about 14, 15 feet down to where I'm standing.

There's really no water up at all. It's very, very low, the tide right now. But they are concerned that come Tuesday, into Wednesday, as all that water that is being dumped by this storm up river gets down here, that there may be some real problems. But again, we do have power here, it's still in Lafayette, but we may still be several hours from seeing the core of this hurricane coming over us -- Don.

LEMON: All right. John Zarrella, I can tell you, you're probably going to see the core really, really soon. Lafayette about 45 minutes' drive from Baton Rouge, and I'm being told -- thank you, John.

I'm being told by our Chad Myers now that the outer eye wall right over Baton Rouge.

(WEATHER REPORT)

LEMON: Chad Myers mentioning Baton Rouge, and I hope the power hasn't gone off. My mom and my sisters, my entire family is there. So if you guys can see me, please be safe. I love you guys and I don't want you getting hurt during this hurricane.

In the meantime, talking about Baton Rouge, I want to go to our Abbie Boudreau, who is in Baton Rouge now. And I understand -- I mean, really, it's coming down there. And she's seeing lots of winds.

Abbie, I had a conversation with your producer last night, Scott Zamos (ph), as we were driving to Baton Rouge. He wanted to know if the roads were safe. Obviously you made it there safely. And tell us what you're seeing now.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm actually at the FEMA command center, and about 15 minutes ago we were sitting in a media room working on a report for tonight, and the lights start flickering, and then all of a sudden, boom. We hear this enormous sound outside, right outside our door, and it looked like part of a huge roof just came either flying off of the building next to us, or part of the building that was down the street from us, or whatever the case is, and it landed in the parking lot. And we could feel the impact.

And then within seconds later, all the lights went out. And I'm in the command center, literally, as we're walking back to the media room. We see Secretary Chertoff. I mean, there are major -- there's a major amount of people. We have about 500 officials that are here, important people, big-time decision-makers, all at the FEMA command center.

Just moments ago when I was waiting to talk to you, the lights started flickering back, and, boom, they came back on. We don't know if it's a generator. The lights are still -- like, I'm looking at the lights and they're flickering.

All the phone lines were down. Most of the computers were not working. All the TVs that people were watching and from different parts of the states and different states, all those shut down. I mean, it was black as you could possibly imagine.

We tried cracking open the door, and the doors were flying open and flying shut. I mean, this is definitely -- right now the winds and the rains are the most powerful they've been since we have been in Baton Rouge. They're not letting us go outside. We're just having to watch from the door at this point. But luckily, the lights are back on and the command center is up and running.

There was not chaos or anything like that. People were controlled and managing themselves, and knew exactly what their role was. But lots of, you know, concerns of course from the command center wanting to get back on track.

And we're following this. We're following this storm. We'll have a whole lot more. Just keep with us here at CNN. We're watching it from every angle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A man who knows the New Orleans levee system like the back of his own hand is General Russel Honore, and he's joining me now. We're going to talk a little bit about this levee infrastructure, some of the hotspots that we've been talking about over the last couple of days, and concerns that we've had.

So General, here we go.

We've got Lake Pontchartrain here. Here's the city of New Orleans. And here's that Industrial Canal.

We're going to zoom in. And tell us a little bit about what's been happening here, what kind of concerns that we still have. It's the Claiborne Street area where we're having some of this topping down here.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. For the record, the Corps of Engineers and the local levee boards are the experts. I know enough about it to tell you that the pressure that was put into the Industrial Canal from the surge this morning, that there's been no report of breaching of the levee.

There's some splash-over. Some people call that overtop, and that's just splash-over. But the levees are holding, and if we have seen the peak of the surge, then the only thing that could change the condition there now would be how much water fall that would affect localized flooding inside the city.

And the other unknown is, as the winds shift, which I hope you will talk about in a minute...

JERAS: Absolutely.

HONORE: ... what impact that might have along Lake Pontchartrain.

As of now, as of a few minutes ago -- I'm monitoring the Corps of Engineer reports out of New Orleans -- they had not closed the gates at the 17th Street Canal, which was a critical part of Katrina... JERAS: Right.

HONORE: ... but we know what affected that was a 17-foot surge into Lake Pontchartrain. That event didn't happen, hasn't happened, and the probability of it happening goes down as the storm moves west.

JERAS: That's right. The center of the storm right now is pretty much as close as it's going to be getting to the New Orleans area. So we're actually going to watch this continue to move northeast -- or northwestward, and so the winds should be subsiding, at least in intensity a little bit.

As we go away, let's zoom in here and let's go over to the Harvey area, because this has been one of the hotspots that we've been worried about. And the canal there, they've been doing some reconstruction, and basically this levee is only built to sustain an eight-foot surge. But we've seen a little bit of good news out of this one now.

HONORE: Last reported a couple hours ago, people on the scene reported on WWL that they had seen the water at the Harvey Canal gate receding. That's good news, and hopefully that trend continues.

JERAS: Yes.

HONORE: As we look at New Orleans, things are pretty stabilized. There will be rain effects, and as the winds shift, where could that continue to keep pressure for a few more hours, that if there is a weak spot, we saw a point on the canal as along the levee where some water was seeping up out of a spout almost. That's kind of normal along levees, but another -- the longer that goes, the more danger we have in having a break.

JERAS: All right.

HONORE: As long as the wall holds we're in good shape.

JERAS: All right. Well, let's talk a little more about those wind shift possibilities coming up, and we're going to also talk about the rainfall, because freshwater flooding is going to be a big issue with this storm as well. And then upcoming, 12 to 24 hours in particular, and we'll get to that about 30 minutes from now -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, Jaqui Jeras and also Lieutenant General Russel Honore, giving us some great information there.

Here's what's weird. The winds, I mean, they've been blowing one way. And we just got one that sort of blew back the other way, which was kind of weird and shook us here.

We're really -- you can see exactly what's going on here. I know I keep saying the winds are picking up, but they absolutely are here.

I want to get you to some breaking news, some new video. This is out of Houma, Louisiana. There is a structure fire. We believe it's a house on fire. Not exactly sure what caused this fire, but of course in situations like this it could be any number of things -- a ruptured gas line, it could be electrical, and who knows exactly what happened. This video is courtesy of our affiliate WFTV out of Orlando. We certainly appreciate them helping us out.

And if you want to know how WFTV out of Orlando has this video, that's because everyone is in this area tracking Hurricane Gustav as it makes its way across the Gulf Coast and then continues on up into the rest of the country. But there you are looking at that structure fire.

Breaking news, new video just into the CNN NEWSROOM. This is what happens with storms like this. A number of things can be sparked.

Tornadoes can be sparked from this, and also you can get fires because it can break gas lines and what have you. So we never know what's going to happen. You want to make sure you stay tuned here.

Hunkering down in a little town that we know very well here in St. James Parish. It is called Vacherie, Louisiana, and our producer who is from New York, Aspen Steib, joins us. Aspen is hunkered down, family members as well.

Aspen, tell us exactly what you guys are experiencing and what going through there and is everything OK?

ASPEN STEIB, CNN PRODUCER: Yes. First of all, we're doing great.

Right now the winds are just picking up. It's absolutely the worst that it's been so far. The winds are just surrounding the home, kind of like what you said. At one second they're going one way, at the next second they're going the other way. It's just the entire house is just surrounded by wind and being battered with rain right now.

We've got reports -- I have an aunt who's a couple of houses away down the street. She's telling me, with about nine people in her home, that the roof off the home next to her flew off. A couple houses away, I have another relative who's across the street from the courthouse in Vacherie, where the roof also flew off the home there. So it's getting pretty bad around here and it's definitely picking up and getting worse.

LEMON: Hey, Aspen, just so our views know, tell them where you're stationed, what other cities around Vacherie are. Tell us about that.

STEIB: OK. I am in Vacherie, and right above -- in St. James Parish, which is located right above (INAUDIBLE) Parish, right where that eye is passing right now, is where we're located.

We're about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans, so that should give you a pretty good locator of exactly where we are. And it's about a 40-minute drive to Houma, 40-minute drive to Baton Rouge from here, and as I was saying, about 35 minutes to the city of New Orleans from here.

LEMON: Yes. There are a number of little towns around here that people outside of the country may not know about. Vacherie one of them, of course very close to here, Ludger, Gramercy, Morgan City, all those places that we're familiar with, Slidell as well. A lot of those towns facing damage.

Hey, real quickly, we just want to make sure, Aspen, that you are safe and everybody in your family is safe. And we wish you the very best. Yes?

STEIB: Yes. We're great. Thanks for asking. We're doing well so far.

We've been in this house for Katrina, we've been in this house for Rita, we've been in this house for Andrew, and I've got five family members who lived through Betsy in the 1960s that are also in this house with me. So we're all doing well so far.

LEMON: Yes. I remember Hurricane Camille, and everyone talks about that, as well as other hurricanes here.

Aspen, we wish you the very best. Thank you very much. You guys keep safe, and tell your family we hope everything works out for them.

Aspen Steib, our producer joining us from Vacherie, Louisiana, which is in St. James Parish.

People have been sheltered throughout the state of Louisiana in state shelters, they are calling them. They're providing services for them.

When we come back in the CNN NEWSROOM, we're going to check in with one shelter in Alexandria, Louisiana.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think people are extremely concerned about what's going on right now. If you look, the winds have really picked up within the last half hour. The rain is just pouring down here, and what we're talking about here, Jefferson Parish. The west bank is an area that wasn't punished by Hurricane Katrina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: CNN crews stationed all over the Gulf Coast and into the state of Louisiana and Texas to bring you the very latest on Hurricane Gustav as it continues to trek upwards north to -- further into Louisiana. In the meantime, we want to go a little bit further up north and west in Louisiana, and bring in our Christine Romans. She's joining us now from an in-state shelter in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Tell us what you're seeing there, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing an awful lot of people and they're still coming, some 2500 at last count. But again, they are still coming in their own cars and by bus. There are an awful lot of first responders here as well, who are hunkered down in a dormitory here with about 500 of their comrades getting ready to go whenever they're told in their ambulances and their first responder units to wherever they need to.

Out here, you got a lot of people gathering for -- we're just seeing the outer bands of the storm, really, so people are trying to stay outside as long as they can before they have to go back inside where there are rows and rows of cots and a really well organized situation in there.

This facility was just completed some two weeks ago and it was built specifically for sheltering from hurricanes. So, it was built with exactly this kind of situation in mind. A lot of children here, Don. I got to tell you, a lot of people had to pack up their kid, either by car or by bus and come here as their towns have been evacuated.

With us is a family, Kesha is here with her kids.

Kesha, you're from South Carolina. You just moved here for a job. It hasn't even started yet. And here you are in the shelter. How old is your baby?

KESHA HARLOW, EVACUEE: He's two months old.

ROMANS: Two months old. And this is Brittany.

And how old are you, Brittany?

BRITTANY HARLOW EVACUEE: Eight.

ROMANS: You're 8 years old.

What is it like being uprooted and coming here with kind of a lot of uncertainty? We don't know how long you're going to be here.

K. HARLOW: It's really crowded and everybody's just trying to do their best to work around it and everybody get comfortable and everything. It's not too bad. We're just all waiting for the storm to blow over

ROMANS: Now, when did you get here?

K. HARLOW: We've been here since yesterday morning.

ROMANS: And where did you sleep last night? K. HARLOW: We slept on cots.

ROMANS: How many -- do you have your cots all lined up for your whole family?

K. HARLOW: Yes. We've got like four or five cots pushed together and we all sleep together.

ROMANS: So far it seems mostly the mood among the children is pretty good. They kind of feel like it's a vacation or something. Something new.

But, how would you feel to be here four or five or six days?

K. HARLOW: Oh, wow. I'm not looking forward to that. I'm ready to go home tomorrow hopefully.

ROMANS: How difficult is it to having such a new baby in such a new baby -- how old is he?

K. HARLOW: He's two months.

ROMANS: How difficult is it with a brand new baby and such a -- I mean, there are 2,500 people here.

K. HARLOW: Yes, it's pretty tough. I just do the best I can to make sure I feed him on time. That way he's not hungry and I'm not stuck in a big crowd of people and can't get to his food.

ROMANS: Thank you.

Brittany, what do you think about hurricanes?

B. HARLOW: I think it's really a good idea coming here. But, to stay safe, you know.

ROMANS: We'll just all ride out the storm together, right.

B. HARLOW: Yes.

ROMANS: Thank you. Thank you very much.

So, a lot of families just like this family, really people from all walks of life in here who are trying to figure out what to do next. What's happening to their homes. I'll tell you, we're talking with our producer from Metairie. There are a lot of people from there are asking me what's going on. They have no idea what's going on with their homes.

So, a lot of anxiety about what's happening back home. Has there been landfall yet, where has it hit. A lots of questions about specific parishes and we just keep listening to you and relaying what we can to the folks inside.

Back to you, Don. LEMON: All right. Christine Romans, thank you very much for joining us from that shelter in Alexandria, Louisiana. And of course, the kids, your hearts always go out to the children in any situation and especially in a situation like that.

And speaking of children, our Soledad O'Brien did a very moving and wonderfully done documentary after hurricane Katrina on the children of the storm, where she gave kids cameras and they took pictures for themselves and they told their stories.

Soledad joins us now from New York with the very latest on that. And I think she's actually talking to someone who was in that documentary -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Don, absolutely. Thank you very much for those kind words.

We wanted to really get a sense of how the kids, the second anniversary of hurricane Katrina, were coping and the challenges that they saw day to day. And so we handed out cameras.

One of those kids was Deshawn Dabney, he's a remarkable young man who really helped spearhead a movement against teen violence that followed after hurricane Katrina. So, a year after that documentary we're now looking at the third anniversary of hurricane Katrina and Deshawn evacuated again, this time before Gustav, evacuated in a military cargo plane. He's in Louisville, Kentucky, joins us by phone.

Hey Deshawn, nice to talk to you. How you doing?

VOICE OF DESHAWN DABNEY, LIVE FROM LOUISVILLE, KY: I am fine. How are you, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: I'm really well, thank you.

OK. I understand you had to take a military transport out of New Orleans. Tell me how that happened. I also understand when you got to your first stop, there was not enough room for you. So, fill me in on your evacuation, Deshawn.

DABNEY: Yes. At first we really didn't plan on evacuating like they were talking about because we didn't think it was going to be that bad. But then again, we were reminded of what happened with Katrina. So, we was like, you know, this is serious, we got to get out of here.

And we actually left our home Sunday morning. And when we got to the Greyhound bus station, everything went on smoothly. We boarded the buses and everything. But the thing is, when we got to the airport we actually boarded a cargo plane. I think it was an Army plane. And they actually ran out of seats on the plane so I was literally strapped to the floor in the plane and I actually had to ride that way for about two hours or so, because I was -- the initial destination was supposed to be Nashville, Tennessee. But we got word that that was, you know, filled with people. So I think the plane actually landed and then took off again. So it was a pretty bumpy ride but I'm safe and I'm sound in Louisville, Kentucky.

O'BRIEN: I know it's been a tough road for your mom and your uncle. In some ways, you've been a really resilient member of the family and it's been really, really tough on everybody else.

How are they doing today?

DABNEY: My mom and my uncle, they are actually doing pretty fine. We're all just being very strong about it and coping with it the best we can.

But like I said, a year ago when we did the documentary, I'm a very optimistic person and I have a lot of faith so I am very optimistic about the situation and I never look at the situation for the bad of it. Some way, somehow, I'll always find the good in it and I'm very confident that we will return back to the city and you know, be back home because I'm already missing it. You know, as I'm out here in Louisville, Kentucky.

O'BRIEN: You're a senior aren't you? And when does school start, or has it already started for you, Deshawn?

DABNEY: Yes. School actually started on August the 11th. This Friday that passed, made our third week of school.

O'BRIEN: So how was everybody feeling about having to do yet another evacuation in the face of a giant storm coming?

DABNEY: Actually, it was very dramatic. We all were so worried because not only we were facing a threat of hurricane Gustav three years after Katrina happened, but we were also seniors this year and this is a very exciting year for us. And we have so many things playing out this year and we all were just so worried that everything that we worked so hard for would go down the drain.

So, that was our main concern, that you know, our school may get flooded and we all would have to relocate and make new friends and graduate at a school that's outside of Louisiana, when we all love our school so much and we all wanted to be together when we walk across the stage in May, to receive our diplomas.

O'BRIEN: Well, I know everybody is watching to make sure there's no flood event after. Watching very closely as we monitor the storm. And of course, all of the federal officials and emergency management members who are paying attention, as well.

Deshawn Dabney. Nice to talk to you, Deshawn, and check in with you. You sound great. My best to your mom and your uncle too. And we're going to keep watching what's happening on the ground there in New Orleans.

Thanks Deshawn.

DABNEY: No problem.

O'BRIEN: President Bush reacted quickly to the threat that was posed by hurricane Gustav. He's in Texas, right now to get a firsthand look at the storm response efforts there. Mr. Bush says he's hoping to visit Louisiana as well, but he hopes that it will be at a time that doesn't interfere with emergency operations. He spoke just a short time ago in Austin.

Let's play a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The coordination on this storm is a lot better than on -- during Katrina. A lot of it had to do with the governors. Yesterday, I was on a video conference with the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. It was clearly a spirit of sharing assets, of listening to somebody's problems and saying, how we could best address them.

The federal government is very much involved in helping the state states. Our job is to assist. Mr. Paulison is with me today. He heads FEMA. I do want to thank the state of Texas and other states for welcoming citizens from Louisiana. It's been a huge evacuation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And it has been a huge evacuation. Mr. Bush faced heavy criticism you'll remember, for the federal government's response after Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

So, with the nation's attention focused on hurricane Gustav, it is strictly business today at the paired down Republican National Convention, which is taking place in St. Paul, Minnesota. Speeches by President Bush and the Vice President Dick Cheney, have been canceled. The First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain are expected to speak about hurricane relief efforts. And the rest of the schedule's going to be determined they tell us on a day-to-day basis.

Senator John McCain, the party's presumptive nominee, says it would not be appropriate to hold a political celebration during the storm. McCain and his running mate the Alaska Governor Sarah Palin were in Mississippi yesterday to get an update on that state's hurricane preparation.

Lots more to follow for you as we continue to watch hurricane Gustav's movements. We're going to take you to live shots from Lake Charles, Louisiana, when we come back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Don Lemon.

We want to get to some new video, now. Check out the latest. This is from Dolphin Island, Alabama. That's the latest as the storm went through Alabama there and still continues to go through the Gulf Coast.

Gustav is not over yet. We've been telling you about this impending storm for weeks. Our Chad Myers, and the rest of the weather team and now it is actually upon us and it is wreaking havoc all across the south. Those are the very latest pictures that you are looking at on CNN from Dolphin Island, Alabama. Dolphin Island of course, suffering some from this storm as well as the rest of the coast.

In the meantime we want to take you a little bit west and up to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Jeanne Meserve has been there in close contact with the people who are in charge of emergency operations for hurricane Gustav. And she's going to tell us -- give us some very latest information about what people can do if you are in need.

Jeanne Meserve, tell people what they can do.

MESERVE: Well, Don, first I wanted to tell you that the Coast Guard does have air assets in the air. Commander Ron Labreck tells us that the first wave of four helicopters took off from Mobile, Alabama, at about 11:00 central time, flying over the eastern coast of Louisiana and New Orleans.

They are looking for people in need of immediate assistance. They would try to rescue them. They are also are looking for other large groups of people that may need help, but might not need it quite so immediately. If they do see those large groups a second wave of helicopters is waiting in Mobile, to take off and make those rescues. And then, if necessary there's even a third wave of helicopters ready to go.

They do not have communications with the people on those helicopters. They cannot yet tell us what they are seeing from the air, but you will remember during hurricane Katrina, that the Coast Guard assets were absolutely pivotal. They were the first people who really got a sense of just how devastating the storm was, how widespread it was. They immediately started doing rescues. They learned a great deal about their capabilities and the capability of their aircraft during that mission.

So, we are still waiting to hear exactly what they find and what they see from what the air. The highest priority to do life saving but, of course, if they see any damage to infrastructure that will also be reported in so the appropriate authorities can respond.

I also wanted to update you on the power situation here at the joint field office in Baton Rouge. This is the nerve center for the federal government. Lights went out here for about 20 minutes. Power is now restored. We're told by a FEMA spokesman that a transformer down the street blew up, that that disrupted power but the power company was able to reroute city power here so, they have not needed to activate the emergency generators.

The whole building is wireless. A lot of people shifted to air cards on their computer. But the network that they're using here, did go down for a short period of time. It is now up and operational. The spokesman tells us that this is, quote, "normal operational disruption of the type you'd expect in a hurricane like this."

LEMON: Thank you very much Jeanne. I'm going to have to get away from you. Thank you very much. I want to get to San Antonio now. President Bush talking to emergency officials.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BUSH: ... And they'll steer you to the way to help anyway. America's a great country. It's great because we got great people. Nobody's happy about these storms. Everybody's praying for everybody's safety. But I'm confident that after the storm passes and there's a human need it'll be met because of the generosity of the American people and I want to thank you all for setting such a good example.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're very welcome.

BUSH: Appreciate it. Thank you.

All right, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. Appreciate y'all.

LEMON: All right. That is the president in San Antonio, Texas, talking to emergency officials. And we've seen a lot of that.

We saw the Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff doing the same thing yesterday at a bus and train terminal here in New Orleans. And also Mayor Ray Nagin doing the same thing. They want to make sure they actually get out this time, meet the people who are helping, the people who are having to go to other places. Touch them, talk to them and thank them for all of the work they're doing. And tell them that they're sorry for the people who are having to be displaced as well.

In the meantime, we're getting some wind here. I want to go to our Chad Meyers.

Chad, you heard Jeanne Meserve there in Baton Rouge, talking about the transformer blowing, also those helicopters that are going out now and I'm actually quite surprised that they can even go out with all of the wind that's going on from this storm.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I'm not sure they're flying over Baton Rouge, right now as a matter of fact. Because the storm has made a slight right-hand turn since it has made landfall.

For most of the day it was sliding almost just a little bit north of due west. Well, in the past couple of hours I've seen just enough of a turn to get the northern eyewall into Baton Rouge. And that's why they lost power, that's why that one building actually lost their roof.

There's the eyewall itself, right through there. There's the center, still probably west of Morgan City, it's not quite to New Iberia and certainly not quite to Lafayette, yet. But you can just begin to see what was the eyewall northerly drift up, there clipping Baton Rouge. So, everybody that left New Orleans to get to Baton Rouge, now they're feeling probably worse winds than you would have felt in New Orleans about four or five hours ago.

But, the storm continues to move from right to left across the screen here. And it'll eventually get over toward Lafayette and eventually to Lake Charles. But on the other side of the storm, far, far to the right, we have tornado warnings all over the place. Alberta, the town of Alberta here in Alabama, had a tornado in the town for a while and has now slid to the north and northwest. And some of the cells are moving to the north-northwest about 50 to 60 miles per hour. So, there's no chance to be an iReporter on these. Don't go outside. Stay inside because as these cells come over every one of them can be rotating at some point.

Our Allan Chernoff is now over in Lake Charles.

And Allan, it looks like if this northern little jog continues, you may be on the south side of the side of the eye, which we call the easy side. Whereas on the north side of the eye, that force wind is always better, is always higher because you're moving with the wind and you're moving with the storm. You add those two numbers together on your side and you may not be so bad. That's the good news for you.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chad, definitely. No doubt about it that we're certainly getting the easy part of this, thus far.

It's been raining for an hour and a half. The wind right now -- the maximum wind, 16 miles an hour. No big deal. I mean, you can even see over here the weeds are barely being pushed aside. So, really not too much going on here in terms of storm impact thus far.

But, we're told by the National Weather Service, and I'm sure you're seeing this, as well, that later on today we'll be near the eyewall of the storm so we'll get certainly much more wind here. There won't be a lot of people around, though, to witness it because this place is cleared out. The entire parish, nearly 200,000 people, evacuated -- 90 percent of those people, the officials are saying, have evacuated. This partly because not only per the warnings, but also because of three years ago, they got hit head on here by Rita. Major damage and power was out for 12 days. However, we did find one nurse EMT who's planning to tough it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I sent my mom off to my little sister in Tulsa and left the night before last and I had to watch her house. I'll be going back and forth. Being a nurse EMT I kind of leave myself open, also, to help anybody needing help.

My house, I built it -- hurricane structured and I'll just have to -- I have a split floor level and I can hide down there if I have to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHERNOFF: Well, I can tell you also that the fishermen are playing it safe. As you can see over here, this is the port of Lake Charles. There are dozens of shrimp boats over there, as well as vessels that serve the oil rigs. They've all come into port to get shelter from the storm. They don't want to be out in the middle of the Gulf. And if we can just pan over, right over there, you can see a ConcoPhillips refinery, one of the major refineries down here, entirely shut down, evacuated.

So gas production also at a stand still in this region right now. I understand nine refineries in total have shut down.

Chad, Don, whoever it is, back to you.

MYERS: Yes, we heard that even Forrest Gump parked his boat today. So not going out in the Gulf of Mexico in this kind of weather.

Allan, stay safe. It is going to go downhill from here, but your winds will be probably 50 miles per hour. Gustav is no Rita for you for sure.

We will look at Hanna, though, coming up in the next few hours, forecast to be a hurricane maybe bigger than Category 1 now from some of the models approaching either the coast of north Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina by the end of the week. I know we're only getting rid of Gustav, but we have to talk about the next one as well -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Chad Myers, thank you very much.

And you know, Chad, Allan Chernoff brings up a very good point. He's talking about those refineries. We talked about all of those oil rigs that are shut down off the coast of Louisiana. And if you look behind me right here over my shoulder, you see the Home Depot, all these businesses, even the hospital, hotels, all of them shut down and that's happening all along the Gulf Coast, all through Louisiana as well.

We're going to talk about the economic impact with our Stephanie Elam coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM. You're not going to believe what it's going to cost economically here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. We're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Don Lemon.

We have some of the very latest information for you from the emergency command center here in Jefferson Parish. I want to bring in my producer, Paul Vercammen. (OFF MIKE) That's why we're stationed here. We have been embedded with them.

What are they telling you about what's going on, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN PRODUCER: There is sort of a palpable shift up there and that is they're now focusing on what they think is going to be a lot of debris clearance. You can see around here that we have seen some of the power lines go down, telephone lines, and we've also seen a lot of brush being whipped around everywhere. FEMA, in particular, is now getting ready to send its troops out in the field and clear debris. They're also getting ready for other supplies --

LEMON: Phase two they call it.

VERCAMMEN: Phase two.

And you can also tell that right where we were, right over here a little while ago, they say that Interstate 10 westbound near Clearview is completely shut down because of one of these snapped poles. And again, that's right in the area. And not far from us, just 200 yards that way. You can see -- and hopefully get some of this video in -- that a Marriott property, they started to have some of the building pried apart. So they very much want to get all this stuff off the road and to get these roads safe before anybody even dares venture to get back on it.

By the way, you pointed out that they did a job here in which they staged so many people. Obviously, many of them first responders. Of the 300 or 400 people who stayed the night with us here last night in this building, 30 percent of them were first responders. We're talking police, we're talking fire, and we're talking about all sorts of other ancillary helpers. You've got people with the water district, sewage, all of them going out right now.

LEMON: Forestry, everybody.

VERCAMMEN: Yes, forestry.

Getting it done from here. And so they thought this out a lot in advance. You were pointing out that they fortified this building first knowing they could keep these people safe.

LEMON: All right. Senior CNN producer, Paul Vercammen, working this story with me from Saturday, actually coming in from Los Angeles. Paul usually covers the wildfires and now he's having to cover this natural disaster as well.

They're trying to get all of this debris cleaned up and you heard them talking about I-10 and the roads being closed and of course the businesses are closed as well. That's really going to cost this region economically and it's going to trickle across the country.

Let's go now to our Stephanie Elam, our business correspondent, to tell us about the economic impact from this storm -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.

Yes, it's one of those days where the New York Stock Exchange is closed for the Labor Day weekend so stocks aren't trading. But oil is trading electronically and ,surprise, the price is falling $4 to a four-month low as Gustav was not as bad as expected from an oil standpoint anyway and the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen.

But plenty of other industries in New Orleans could get whacked by this storm. One of the biggest is tourism. It took a major hit after Katrina and has just begun to recover. But there are plenty of fears that tourists will decide that New Orleans simply may not be worth the risk. And that is a fear there.

As for insurance companies, an early estimate is that they could be on the hook for $6 to $10 billion in damages, way less than the $41 billion in losses that we saw from Katrina, Don.

LEMON: All right. And, Stephanie, you know what? Oil and tourism, two really big economic drivers, especially for the New Orleans area. What else can be affected by this?

ELAM: Something that may be near and dear to your heart. I know you're probably not thinking about it right now, but tabasco -- this is a big product that comes out of Louisiana. Its operations were disrupted during Katrina and Rita. It has reportedly rebuilt a flood control levee and installed a pumping system around its complex that it believes can withstand a major storm.

However, things may not be as sweet for Louisiana's sugar harvesting industry. It accounts for 20 percent of the sugar grown in the United States, about $1.7 billion worth. And the sugar producing areas are in the southern part of the state which of course means closest to the Gulf of Mexico. If the sugar crops survive the storm it should be ready beginning in October. But at this point, for all of these important industries, it's a matter of wait, hope, and see. So obviously, we'll be waiting to see what happens. And it will, like you said, Don, trickle through the rest of the economy, not just Louisiana.

LEMON: Yes and I love my hot sauce, and my Zataran's and everything else -- and my cayenne pepper.

ELAM: Got to have it.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Got to have everything.

All right. Stephanie Elam joining us with the very latest on the economic impact. Thank you very much for that, Stephanie Elam.

Meantime, the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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