Return to Transcripts main page


Tracking Hurricane Gustav; Big Concerns About Flooding on New Orleans' West Bank

Aired September 1, 2008 - 08:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And CNN, a reminder, is your hurricane headquarters. Our correspondents covering this storm across the Gulf Coast region and beyond. We have Ali Velshi on Grand Isle, which is basically surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico, one of those barrier islands out there in the gulf.
Anderson Cooper live in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He lost power about an hour ago there. Same with Rob Marciano atop the roof of the Omni Hotel in downtown New Orleans. And Reynolds Wolf tracking Gustav's location from the CNN weather center.

We start with Ali live on Grand Isle. We have a chance to get a better sense of where you are now that the sun has come up and we see the waters behind you. What's the latest?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, I don't know if you're talking to me right now because this has just kicked up a great deal. I tried to -- I just can't hear you clearly. This surf now has picked up -- last time I reported to you, I told you there was no ground visible around here. In fact, anywhere you see is the tops of trees.

We're looking at 4-1/2 to 5 foot surf -- five-foot flooding area on this island. You can see those houses. Those are raised about 20 feet off the ground. We've got a van here that was pulled over. That's now, you know, a third of the way into the ground. (OFF-MIKE) blowing around quite a bit. Grand Isle was to the north. It had (INAUDIBLE) behind me to the south is the Gulf of Mexico. We are probably (OFF-MIKE).

CHETRY: All right. We just saw Ali frozen in time for a moment. He is reporting in some unbelievably strong winds and rain right now. We'll try to get him back in a couple of minutes. The conditions in Ali's location are too rough to park a satellite truck. So, we're using really a cool piece of technology to bring his live reports.

It's called a BGAN. It's about the size of a laptop computer. And it creates an Internet connection by linking up with the satellite that enables our field crews to hook their cameras and mikes up to a computer and go live just about anywhere in the world.

Again, of course, that is also subject to technical glitches especially when you're staring into the eye wall of a hurricane. So, we're going to check in with Ali Velshi again throughout the show. But we just got knocked off from his location -- John. ROBERTS: You know, I'm actually pretty surprised, Kiran, that the signal lasted as long as it did. And if there is that much water around where Ali is, any vehicle on the ground, obviously, a satellite truck would be in serious trouble, and I'm wondering this morning just exactly what Ali Velshi is going to say to the rental car company later on today.

As many as 100,000 people have decided to ride out the storm along the Gulf Coast. Up to 10,000 of them in New Orleans. About 2:30 in the morning, New Orleans' time, we caught up with one guy who decided to ride it out with little more than a pitcher of beer and a pool cue at a place called the Cajun Pub.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where I live. This is what I love. If I got to go somewhere else to be alive, I'd rather not be alive.


ROBERTS: That bar had a foot of water in it after Katrina hit by the way. Let's turn now to our Anderson Cooper. He's live in the French Quarter this morning, which did not see a lot of flooding during Hurricane Katrina. It was areas to the east and to the north that did.

But Anderson, you lost power a short time ago. And the real concern is that if you're to lose power to those pumping stations to keep Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River out, then you could be in some serious trouble if there were to be some overtopping of those levees.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's what happened before, you know. As you know, John, they have built gates now. The idea of the gates in the canals is that basically to stop any storm surge coming the opposite way through the canal. And flooding New Orleans has happened before when 80 percent of the city was flooded.

So they built these gates that if there is a storm surge coming, they can close down the gates. The problem is, if they lose power, they're not able to pump the water that is in New Orleans from the rain and other things from actually getting out of the city. So, losing power is a big problem. They do have generators, though. And even in the French Quarter, some of the hotels which have remained open, mostly for reporters and police. A lot of police are staging at various hotels. They have their own generators.

But we have seen power outage in this area in the French Quarter. I'm not sure about other parts of New Orleans. We simply don't know. It was interesting hearing from that guy in a bar. The one bar and restaurant that we know that was open -- and they claim they're going to try to stay open as long as they can is called the Oceanic Grille.

We actually stopped in there last night around 11:00 in between some of our live shots just to try to get some hot food because there's no place else around. It was filled with reporters. I saw Katie Couric. Shepard Smith was over there. A lot of CNN crews and also a lot of police officers. So, it's sort of the last place open in the quarter.

And I don't know if they're open for breakfast or not, but I doubt it. But it's interesting. Right now, we are in kind of a lull. There's very literal rain at this point. A little bit of wind. It must be one of those bands of the storm. We're seeing the storm kind of breaking up a little bit as it's moving closer to shore. But it's very strange.

And as someone who has been through hurricanes both as a reporter and also just kind of hunkered down inside homes, it can be very disconcerting when you're inside and all of a sudden, you know, it seems like nothing is really happening.

And this is one of those times people are prone to come out and kind of look around. It is best that people stay inside at this point. This is probably just a very temporary lull. It will be interesting to see the storm tracks that you guys are showing. But, at this point, in the French Quarter, it's kind of surreal, because it really doesn't seem that bad right now.

ROBERTS: And, you know, Anderson, sometimes it doesn't tell the whole story to look at the picture. And you know, we only get like a small little shot of it. I remember in 2005, I came out from the parking garage at the Hilton Hotel as the winds began to die done. And then, I said to myself -- well, this doesn't look so bad. Then we heard the report of a levee breech and we went over there into the Lower Seventh Ward. All hell was breaking loose. So, what we see now doesn't necessarily say what we're going to see later, correct?

COOPER: Absolutely. I mean, you know, we're all in different locations. We try to have people in as many different locations as possible. You just looked at Ali Velshi's live shot in Grand Isle. It is a completely different story down there. He's really bearing the brunt of this thing.

So, again, we're trying to cover this as well as we can from where we are. It's a little difficult at the height of the storm to be driving around. We're basically in this location. As soon as we get the sense that the worst has passed and it's safe enough, we'll start driving around, trying to see especially those levees on the West Bank.

As you know, John, from when you reporting down here before, I mean, those are the levees that are really untested. Those are the levees that people are concerned about because that is where the storm is coming from. And if there's flooding that's going to occur, it is most likely going to occur from there because those levees really have not been fixed up, repaired.

You know, there were a lot of promises about rebuilding levees bigger, better and stronger. A lot of work has been done on levees, but not on those levees. And even the work -- the levees that work has been done on, they're not supposed to be completed until 2011. And that is a very long way off.

And as you can tell now, the rain is starting to increase again. The wind is starting to increase. So, again, we're now in one of those bands, one of those outer bands of rain very different from what it was just two minutes ago when I was talking, John.

ROBERTS: Yes. It looks like your lull is pretty much over. Anderson, thanks very much. Stay safe. We'll check back with you.


CHETRY: All right. Now we turn to Rob Marciano. He's live from the rooftop of the Omni Hotel in the New Orleans French Quarter this morning.

And it is amazing, just Anderson, not too far away from your location. You're getting far more winds.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we're up higher. And that's the key. You know, when we talk about hurricane-force winds and we give these numbers -- category 1, category 2, category 3, those are winds that are pretty much at the height of the storm over water where there's much, much less friction.

So, whenever you get down into the ground around buildings or near trees, that slows down the wind dramatically. We're up above for the most part top of the French Quarter about six stories high on this rooftop. To my left is the quarter, pretty much completely dark because power has gone out in that general direction. And now the winds after a brief lull have picked up once again.

The winds have shifted just a little bit. A little trick we do in the field. If you turn your back to the wind which is this way, the storm is going to be due to your left. And it has shifted a little bit and the storm now seems to be a little bit more due south than just south and southeast.

So, give you a little vantage point here. Here's downtown. You go west of us across Canal Street. There are still lights that are seemed to be on in parts of downtown. And then towards the Mississippi -- Jim, I don't know if you can get all the way over here -- now things are really picking up.

About a quarter mile -- less than a quarter mile down there, it is the Mississippi River. And you can actually see white caps on the Mississippi going against the current. So that is certainly something that officials have be worried about.

You better believe it that downstream where the Mississippi River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico, and things begin to fan out in that delta, that that surge and that -- those whitecaps and waves are pouring up against that current. And that's where you see the most storm surge.

Will we get a surge that will breach the levee here right around the French Quarter? That's unlikely. It would take a super storm to do that right at the right angle. And the good news with Gustav is that although it's coming in at the right angle to see that sort of surge, it's one, a category 3, it's not a 4 or 5, which would be huge. And also, it's going to head just enough west so that we don't see a damaging surge here.

But south and west towards the Harvey Canal, the West Bank, where those canals were not touched by Katrina, they weren't really built up that much either. So there's still some worry as to what kind of surge will come up those canals, which have been manipulated by man.

You know, the swamps of southern Louisiana act as a buffer for these storms and their storm surge, fanning out and buffering that Gulf of Mexico. But since we've built these channels and canals and shipping channels and pretty much rerouted the Mississippi, that natural buffer is no longer there.

So it will be interesting to see what happens down around where Ali is, down around Vermillion Bay and South Central Louisiana as this storm comes ashore. But certainly another strong rain band coming in right now, Kiran. We have recorded winds over 50 miles an hour, and right now it's certainly gusting at least 40. And power out in the French Quarter. Power seemingly still on in spots of downtown. Back to you.

CHETRY: Rob, can you still hear me?

MARCIANO: I got you.

CHETRY: When are you going to have a better sense of whether or not they dodged a bullet, whether you're out of it?

MARCIANO: I think we have to wait until this thing makes landfall. And, even then, because we're on the right side of the storm, we will continue to have onshore wind right through the landfall. So, that will, one, still create a surge until the eye passes well inland and that might not be until later on this afternoon and tonight.

And, two, oftentimes, not only the right front quadrant, which is what we're in right now, but the rear quadrant as well. The path of the storm, that can also be very, very damaging as far as wind goes. So, I wouldn't say out of the woods completely until at least afternoon as far as storm surge goes and then how much wind damage comes with this storm, we won't know that for sure until later on tonight.

And I think with us being this close to the center and wind extending 70 miles out of hurricane force winds, extending 70 miles out to the north and east which is where we are, we're going to see significant damage in the New Orleans area, especially in the western part of town.


CHETRY: Rob Marciano for us on the roof there in the -- wiping off the lens. You know, we needed to do it because the rain and wind certainly hitting the cameras and the crew as well. Rob, thanks.

ROBERTS: You know, difficult to know, Kiran, even after the storm passes immediately whether or not you've dodged a bullet. It looked that way after Hurricane Katrina, and then we got the bad news afterwards.

And Reynolds Wolf there at the hurricane headquarters in Atlanta.

And Reynolds, we're wondering, could this be a repeat of Hurricane Katrina or might this be like Hurricane George in the late 1990s which passed very close by New Orleans, created a lot of wind and a lot of rain but didn't do any significant damage.

WOLF: Absolutely. You know, you can even throw Rita into the mix, too. I mean, Rita came relatively close but ended up right along parts of the Louisiana and Texas border.

With this one, John, we're going to go back in time very quickly with Google Earth, and what we're going to do is show you the present track that we have for Gustav. Forecast track brings it right near Ali's location -- Ali Velshi's location and then into parts of Louisiana.

If you look at Rita back in 2005 going right to parts of the Louisiana and Texas border, but then you compare that of course -- as you mentioned, John, the Katrina track, which actually came just to the east of New Orleans, which means that New Orleans actually was affected by the weakest part of the storm, and of course we know all the damage that ensued afterwards.

In this situation, we're actually having the strongest point of that storm that will be affecting parts of New Orleans with Gustav. So, Gustav, out of all, could actually be the worst.

Right now, some of the strongest winds we're seeing have been moving through places like say Grand Isle, Ali's location. Right now, we're getting a little bit of a break in terms of precipitation. But this island, ladies and gentlemen, is completely covered in water at this time.

If you happen to be from the Midwest, maybe you're from the northern plains, you happen to see those homes on the Gulf that drop on the stilts, there's a reason why they're up there. It's because when you have weather like this, that storm surge rushes in, you're going to have those issues.

Meanwhile, we go back towards New Orleans where -- let's see Anderson was there moments ago, Rob was on top of the Omni Hotel. The rain really beginning to pick up, the wind, too. Anderson, when he first started the shot, didn't have a whole lot of activity. Now, the wind is beginning to come through. And so, too, is the rain. It's going to be something they'll be dealing with well into the afternoon and the evening.

Back to you, John. ROBERTS: All right, Reynolds, thanks very much. Of course, the closer to the storm center you get, the higher the winds become. We saw what was going on with Ali Velshi there in Grand Isle.

Our Sean Callebs is about 8 miles closer to the storm than Rob Marciano is. He's in Harahan in Louisiana, just about 8 to 10 miles west of the downtown New Orleans area.

And Sean, things look like they're getting going pretty good there.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, things are --have definitely picked up within the last half hour. We'll be back in just a minute to tell you why an area that wasn't punished by Katrina is very vulnerable right now.


ROBERTS: 17 minutes after the hour. And there you go. Some pictures from Grand Isle, Louisiana, right there along the Gulf Coast to me. You don't get any closer to Ground Zero than you do with that picture right there.

Our Ali Velshi is on Grand Isle this morning.

And Ali, you're starting to really feel the effects of that storm, not just from the storm surge. It's been blown in by the winds but also structures are starting to come apart.

ON THE PHONE, VELSHI: Yes. You just missed it by a minute. The garage just flew off the building that we're on. I mean, I don't think the garage was the part that was meant to stick around. When I say we're in a secure house, the garage was just a fly-away roof, but it's gone. That camera shot that you're looking at right now is unstaff. We pulled everybody inside right now because these gusts are remarkable.

We've (INAUDIBLE) pulled away by them. As Reynolds said, we do seem to see a little bit less precipitation and a lot more wind. It's very, very heavy. The storm -- the level of the water seems to be steady at about five feet, so we don't think we're getting a lot more right now. That's the good news. Hopefully, this is as much water as we're going to see. But it is blowing hard out there. We're expecting to see a little more damage as soon as it clears up. I don't know if you can see those winds, but they are really blowing, John.

ROBERTS: Oh yes, yes, they're starting to. Ali, is it possible to move that camera around a little bit to give us a picture of the roof or at least a part of the roof that blew off there.

VELSHI: Yes, (INAUDIBLE). We're going to move that a little bit and just show you where the roof was. I'm going to just go out there with it. Stand by for a second.

ROBERTS: All right. Be careful, there. VELSHI: You can see me now in front of the camera. (INAUDIBLE). There's the water right there. (INAUDIBLE)

ROBERTS: Obviously, we're having a difficult time hearing Ali because he's out there in what look to be at least 80-mile-an-hour winds and the microphone just can't handle that sort of torture. But that was the part of the roof there that was in the water that got blown off just a little while ago.

Ali said the structure that he's in actually has straps that are tying down the roof. And it's a very well built structure, there's no question about it. But when you get in wind and you get in storm surge like that, the potential to just suddenly have something catastrophic happen goes up exponentially.

Ali, standing out there in the wind. It looks to me like it's about 80 miles an hour where you are. What's it feel like?


ROBERTS: Hey, Ali, I'm sorry, if you can hear me, Ali, walk back inside just a little bit because we can't hear a thing you're saying. There's just too much wind noise. Can you walk back in a couple of feet or so and describe the situation.

VELSHI: I've gotten a little bit out of the way. You know, (INAUDIBLE), is because our camera shots that are staying with us has roped us off. We want to really stay out of this. These winds are strong enough to make those who are good-sized people worry about being blown away. So, that's what it feels like. (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTS: All right. Ali Velshi for us on Grand Isle.

And Ali, I can tell by seeing the amount of wind that's blowing there that this situation actually in that area could have been far, far worse. And I'll tell you, you're actually fairly lucky that things don't seem to be as bad there as they could have been, but obviously still a very, very, very dangerous situation.

You're watching continuing coverage of Hurricane Gustav coming ashore live from the bull's eye of the storm on Grand Isle in your hurricane headquarters, CNN. Stay with us.


CHETRY: Live look now at the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. Local time 7:24 in the morning. And there are some big concerns about flooding on New Orleans' West Bank. That's where our Sean Callebs is live in Harahan, Louisiana.

And Sean, right now, how concerned are they that the banks could overtop and that we could be looking at flooding.

CALLEBS: I think people are extremely concerned about what's going on right now. If you look, the winds have really picked up over the last (INAUDIBLE). The rains just pouring down here. And what we're talking about here, Jefferson Parish, West Bank is an area that wasn't punished by Hurricane Katrina.

This is an area that didn't have a catastrophic flooding but the big concern just the south of New Orleans proper, south of the Mississippi River on the West Bank, those levees there, urban levees in many places, levees that have been worked on by the Army Corps of Engineers, and this wind, this rain, I mean, you can see what it's doing right now.

I think people are very concerned that the -- where Ali is. The water could push up from there, basically swamp these levees and flood that area. And what would it do to the psyche of this city if that happened? It could be horrific.

And you've got (INAUDIBLE) over the last three years, and I got to tell you, Kiran, all I can think about, while I watch this wind and this water whip, for all the people we've interviewed who is tired, who have spent so much emotionally and financially trying to make something of their lives again, trying to make something of this city but knowing this storm coming through right now could simply devastate all of that.

So this is a very, very serious day for New Orleans. It's going to be -- I wouldn't go -- it wouldn't be too much to say it's going to be historic by the end of the day to see is this city going to get through it, can it survive the damage from this hurricane.

CHETRY: Yes. And, Sean, what are the local officials telling you, if anything, about what the preparation is, what you should do if you're there now?

CALLEBS: Well, if you're here now, you've stayed too long. That's the bottom line. Mandatory evacuation. We know that close to 2 million people got out of the city in a very orderly fashion over the last 48 hours.

City officials think that there may be as many as 10,000 people still left in the city. But, right now, if you chose to ride this out and you need help, and you call the emergency operations center here, Jeff Parish, where we are, they would not come out to help you.

I mean, that was spelled out very clearly. They will not risk the lives or injury to go out when the storm winds reach tropical storm strength. So if anybody did choose to ride this out and they're having second thoughts now, just got to cowboy up, because it's going to be a very, very, long day.

CHETRY: It sure is. All right, Sean Callebs for us there in the west of the French Quarter, west of the downtown getting blown around as we've just seen. Thanks a lot, Sean.


ROBERTS: And he looks like he's getting almost as much wind as Ali Velshi is right down there along the Gulf Coast.

Coming up on 28 minutes after the hour. Our next guest is keeping a very close eye on Gustav. James Carville just evacuated his family from the storm zone.

CNN political contributor James Carville joins us now from Washington.

James, you had just moved back down to New Orleans. You still continue to have a home out there in the Washington area as well. What are you thinking about as you watch these pictures this morning?

ON THE PHONE: JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that the City of New Orleans -- I'm optimistic -- I think will be fine. I think the levees that we're built will hold. And it goes to show you what happens when you have the proper kind of public investment.

I'm very worried about the West Bank, and I hope people in the country understand that whatever happens is going to be in large part because we've allowed -- our nation has allowed the coastline of Louisiana to deteriorate to the point where we don't have the buffer that we used to have.

This storm when I would have been in college would have been a bad storm but would not have nearly the consequences that we're going to face here. So, it's a kind of teaching moment for the country.

But I'm optimistic and I give the authorities and the president and the Congress and everybody some credit here if these levees hold because I think our flood protection has been built back up in New Orleans. So, I have optimism that we're going to be fine, the City of New Orleans. I'm very worried about all of our friends who live west of the Mississippi River in the south, Terrebonne, St. Mary, LaFourch, parts of St. Charles and Jefferson, I'm worried about.

ROBERTS: And as you said, James, a lot of controversy over the state of the coast. And because they've reined in the Mississippi River there, the Mississippi Delta doesn't get replenished with silt the way it used to, and so that whole area is sinking. In terms of the federal response, though --


CARVILLE: Yes, right. That's the biggest ongoing environmental disaster of the country, you're right. So thank you for saying that.

ROBERTS: Right. Yes, I think they're losing, what, a football field a second there of territorial along the Gulf Coast.


CARVILLE: Yes, football field every 50 minutes, yes, sir.


ROBERTS: Yes. Hey, are you more satisfied with the federal response this time around?

CARVILLE: I am. And the local response. I think that the city has done better, the state has done better, and I think the federal government has done better. And you know, it is -- I choose to live there. That's the greatest place to live in the United States. Storms are a way of life we grew up with. I mean, if we have the proper flood protection and building wetland back and we have the right emergency response, which it looks like we're getting better, come on down. We're going to be fine.

ROBERTS: Right. You know, James, if I could turn to just a little bit of politics here because we are here in St. Paul at the Republican National Convention where the schedule has been truncated, only essential business being done today. They want to show respect to those folks along the Gulf coast who may be so heavily impacted by this storm. But at some point this is going to get going again. And of course, a big focus is the acceptance speech by John McCain to become the nominee of the Republican party and for the very first time in history, a woman will accept the mantle of the vice presidential running mate.

What are you thinking of the pick of Sarah Palin, James? I ask you this question, when we take a look in the context of a CNN opinion research corporation poll which shows 75 percent of registered voters believe that McCain chose Palin to help win the election.

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, what I think - I don't think very much of this pick. And whether or not she's picked to help win the election, if certainly that was true when John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson, when Ronald Reagan picked George H.W. Bush.

So, he picked somebody to help win the election that is not really qualified to be president. I mean, this is a picture of the city hall where she was mayor like three years ago. It looks a little bit like a bake shop to me. And I think that the country, as they get to know more about this, they're going to find this to be a very curious pick, if you will. I'm not - I like Senator McCain personally. I don't - this is kind of - I'm befuddled by this pick, frankly.

ROBERTS: There are some people who say that she actually has more executive experience than either Senator Obama, Senator Biden or Senator McCain because none of them have ever really run anything.

Is there a case to be made for that?

CARVILLE: This is the executive experience as mayor of this town, all right? And, look, you can say that John F. Kennedy had no executive experience. You can say that Abraham Lincoln had no executive experience. I mean, I don't know what that means. She clearly comes into this as somebody who, you know, both newspapers in the state question this. If you look at - her own mother-in-law. I mean, the Republican party to me has always stood for sort of stability and people that were really - had a kind of orderly process of picking people. This, to me, is a kind of a very different kind of pick, a very strange pick. I don't know.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, James, thanks very much for your analysis on the political front. And our best to you and your family. I hope that you come through this hurricane all right. Appreciate with you being with us this morning.

CARVILLE: I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: More continuing coverage of Hurricane Gustav on your hurricane headquarters CNN just ahead. Stay with us.


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: The latest update right now on Hurricane Gustav, as you take a look at the French Quarter in New Orleans. That's the back of a police vehicle right now. Pretty much police authorities, news crews and a few stragglers all that's left of New Orleans. Really a ghost town right now as most people - in fact, 1.9 million in Louisiana alone heeding the warnings to get out ahead of this monster storm, a category 3. We have correspondents fanned out throughout the region. CNN's Chris Lawrence is with the New Orleans Police Department, riding with them this morning as they get the curfew enforced right now. Have they had to do a lot of enforcing? Or did most people heed the warning ahead of time, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, most people heeded the warning, Kiran. But I got to tell you, they have been using their discretion. We heard some talk beforehand from some officials that they would be treating everyone as a criminal. Anyone who was out after curfew would be arrested on sight. We haven't found that to be the case. We found them to be using a little bit of common sense. There were some people last night who were getting out very late after the curfew. It was already dark. But they were clearly packing up their cars to go. And the police saw - asked them if they needed any help and let them go on their way. Right now, the police are a lot smarter than us, again showing a little bit more of that common sense. They're already hunkered down. Once the winds kicked up to a certain point, they and the National Guard basically hunkered down for the night.

So at this point, they are not doing any patrols. They are not going out at all to help anyone. But as soon as this storm passes, they're in prime position to get back out in these neighborhood. Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Chris Lawrence for us. Thank you. Let's head back over to John.

ROBERTS: Yes, Kiran, and you know, looking at the pictures there, we're getting sort of a profile of how these hurricanes affect various areas. A live picture there of the French Quarter in New Orleans, where our Anderson Cooper has been reporting all morning. Things seem fairly calm there. You see a few leaves blowing around and the trees and obviously a lot of rain coming down. And he moved just eight miles to the west, a little more open area where our Sean Callebs is. It looks like they're getting very close to hurricane- force winds. And then of course there's Ali Velshi who's down on Grand Isle which is just that narrow little strip of land. And there's a picture of it. That is right along the Gulf coast. It's about 50 miles south of New Orleans. And it's literally underwater there. It's the reason why they build those homes on stilts. Ali, the structure that he's in, a very strongly built. Has hurricane straps holding down the roof. So he's probably fairly safe where he is right now looking at the amount of wind that's blowing there. But some of the other nearby structures like the garage to this house lost their roof. So obviously a very, very dangerous hurricane still as Gustav now the center of circulation of that storm just about to come on shore. Stay with us at CNN. It's your hurricane headquarters.

We have got reporters all across the Gulf Coast including in the heart of the storm right there in Grand Isle. We'll be right back after this.


ROBERTS: And a shot this morning of the French Quarter in New Orleans where the rain continues to come down. And we have got correspondents across the Gulf coast, from the very, very southern tip of Louisiana, Grand Isle, all the way into the French Quarter in New Orleans, where our Anderson Cooper is. And, Anderson, you know, these hurricane-force winds extend up to 70 miles outwards from the center of circulation. What you feeling there in the French Quarter this morning?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The winds are definitely picking up here, as is the rain. I think the last time I talked to you, we were almost in kind of a big lull. There really wasn't any rain at all. Now it's coming down in sheets. It's still not coming down completely horizontally which is a sign of really being in the most intense part of the storm, which we've seen in other storms. But the rain here is getting pretty severe. We're seeing fewer police on patrol. So clearly they are kind of hunkered down, waiting out for this. We've seen a couple of tiles coming off of buildings. But you know, these buildings in the French Quarter have been around for a long time. They have weathered a lot of storms.

So it's a pretty safe area to be in and it's not an area that traditionally floods. But we're getting a lot of wind that's just kind of whipping down these streets. Thankfully most of the people here as we've been talking about all morning have evacuated. Those who have remained, there's about 10,000 - at most, about 10,000, it's believed, according to state and local officials inside the city of New Orleans as many as 90,000 to 100,000 who have still remained behind the coastal areas of southern Louisiana.

They have been told they're pretty much on their own especially for the next couple of hours, if there's any medical emergency or any need. I keep looking around because I do hear some banging. You always want to make sure that there's not any kind of loose debris that's going to become airborne and become a projectile. I think that's a storm shutter banging, though. So most people are just kind of hunkered down waiting for this thing to move past them.

We anticipate the worst of it, I think, John - you know better than I - I don't have access to the same kind of storm tracking that you have, right now because the power is out in the French Quarter. But what we've been told for the next two or three hours this thing should start to get the worst of it and then after that, let's hope the worst is passed. But we're going to try to stay on the air as long as we can, John, from this location. It's a pretty safe location. We can always go indoors if we need to just about half a block away, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Anderson, thanks very much. Looking at the latest satellites, looks as though the center of circulation not so much a defined eye wall as we saw before, it's just a few miles offshore. So you should be feeling the worst of it at least in the next couple of hours.

Let's go back over to New York. Here's Kiran.

CHETRY: John, thanks. We're going to get on the phone now with Ali Velshi. He's in Grand Isle, Louisiana, a small little barrier island, the center of a lot of offshore oil drilling. And he lost - these are some shots from where his location is that were taken a few minutes ago. He was knocked off what we call the b-gann, his ability to transmit pictures to us but he is there on the phone. Ali, what's it like?

VELSHI: John, the wind has definitely changed. It had been blowing east since last night. It's now blowing southeast. It's definitely changing as the center of the concentration is shifting. This is moving over us right now. Very, very heavy winds. I'm actually connected to the house. This wind that you're seeing is actually turning around and all of those who expressed concern about all of us, our safety, we thank you for that. We are roped in. Things are blowing around here in Grand Isle. As I said earlier, there is no danger of anybody being on those oil facilities. They have been evacuated. I can't see them from here because of all the rain, but there were two dozen of them we could see just with the naked eye. The camera turned around. This is now facing west. We can see the water. The water has stopped rising. Everything is covered in water. The Gulf of Mexico has covered Grand Isle entirely.

Looks like it's five feet in height. It's really, really churning up now. These are the heaviest wind, the heaviest gusts that we have seen so far. As we've seen, things are still staying intact, which is good, because these winds are as heavy as they've got so far. We've moved in where we're a little safer and we've established our contact again but moving in to keep safe from the wind gusts, Kiran.

CHETRY: And just quickly, Ali, I know you said you were at 14 feet. That's where you guys were, in terms of being above sea level. Any plans in place for you to move up to that third level?

VELSHI: Yes, we're on the second level still, which is about 20 feet above ground. As I said, the water seems to be about five feet, maybe six feet above ground. So we still have a lot of clearance. We do have a third floor to this house which we can go to still with balconies but we haven't even moved our stuff yet because we're not feeling that danger just yet. This house is standing strong. Everything seems to be structurally sound, so we're feeling pretty safe, Kiran, about 20 feet off the ground. CHETRY: All right. Hang in there, Grand Isle right in the middle of Gustav's path. The latest update we have right now is that this category 3 storm will make landfall soon. It's within 12 miles of shore, according to our own Doppler radar. We're going to keep on this story. We're going to take a quick break. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Driving around here. Look, this is a Belle Drive in Metairie where a carport has fallen on a truck. And so, while flooding isn't an issue, there's definitely damage. There's a fence down. That's on west Esplanade. So these winds, though they might not be as bad as or anticipated or feared they can still do damage especially to some of the structures that aren't as strong and able to resist the wind. These are - let's see, this is transcontinental where we had some downed, I don't want to say trees but its segments of trees, major branches. There's some foliage lying on - this is one of the other reasons why it's not a good idea to come back any time soon - until officials have had a chance to -

CHETRY: All right. Concerns about those downed power lines and possible electrocution in those areas where power lines and trees are down.

Meantime, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says Gustav will be the first major test of the city's partially rebuilt levees. Chris Roberts is a councilman of Jefferson Parish, also a lifelong resident. He joins me now from Harahan, Louisiana. That's where a mandatory evacuation has been ordered like in most places there. Thanks for being with us this morning, Chris.


CHETRY: Tell us a little about what the conditions are like there now.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Well, conditions have deteriorated most of the morning. We had some wind begin coming in around 3:00 a.m. this morning. The wind has gotten worse. We've seen some tree limbs down, major power outages. That's primarily been the problem so far. I know you all have been reporting from Grand Isle. We have some storm surge there which obviously draws some concern as well.

CHETRY: There's a possibility of the storm surge anywhere from 7 feet to 14 feet in many areas around there. Of particular concern, we understand, because of the track of Gustav, is the west bank. Part of that is in your parish. Can you explain what the concern is and what you guys are keeping an eye on this morning as it relates to the west bank area?

CHRIS ROBERTS: Sure. As the storm comes in, the wind's going to come out of the south, which is going to push up the Gulf of Mexico into Bayou Barataria, and connected to Bayou Barataria is the Harvey Canal. That area does not have a completed federal levee. It is under construction, not set to be completed until 2011. It was funded after Katrina. There's some major concern for us that we're monitoring the surge in the canal. We feel as though because the storm didn't reach the category 4 or 5 intensity we thought it would be that we're going to be able to manage it but obviously we're going to pay close attention to it all day. This won't be something that we'll know for sure until later on this evening and sometime into tomorrow.

CHETRY: Right, and quickly before we let you go, you guys made the call in about 4:30 in the morning to close the gates of the Harvey Avenue Canal. Explain what that means to our viewers and why you did that.

CHRIS ROBERTS: Sure. What that is, that gate is located which is just about halfway up the canal from the Bayou Barataria to the Mississippi River. That gate was closed to prevent any surge from coming up past that point. There is an earthen levee on the western side. The eastern side is what our concern is. That's where the levee is under construction. So that's the area we're going to pay attention to. There are about 225,000 residents that live in that area between Jefferson Parish and the west bank of the city of New Orleans. So great concern for us. We're going to monitor it all day working with our levee district officials who have done a great job this week to prepare us.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we wish you guys luck. Hopefully they will hold and everything will work out as you guys prepped for. Chris Roberts, councilman of Jefferson Parish.


CHETRY: - talking with us this morning. John.

ROBERTS: OK. We're looking at a picture here from Grand Isle. Don't know if this is - I think this is taped. It was taken a little while ago because just pretty much the worst of the storm is coming in right now. It is live pictures. That's incredible actually that they're still broadcasting a signal out of there, considering what the weather is like. Ali Velshi is with us. Ali, looking at the radar, it looks as though the storm just took a little tiny jog to the west, which is what was forecast to happen. So you should be just about in the worst of it now. What's it like?

VELSHI: A few miles away - (inaudible)

ROBERTS: Hey, Ali, I don't know if you can hear me at all, Ali, but you're in an area where there's far too much wind noise. If you can take a step inside and describe for us the situation, we might be able to hear you a little more clearly. But I don't know if Ali can hear me at all. I tell you what, we can't hear Ali at all. I'll tell you what, we can't hear Ali at all, so we'll take a quick break and we'll try to re-establish communication with him and then we'll try to get back to him. But that is a shot really from ground zero right now of this Hurricane Gustav as the worst of the winds coming ashore, the eye of the storm or the center of circulation at least, less than ten miles away now from the coast of Louisiana. This is your hurricane headquarters, CNN. We're back in just a minute. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Live look in New Orleans now as the brunt of this storm is crawling ashore to New Orleans. Not long from now they should be getting right at the heart of Hurricane Gustav. We already saw the effects from Grand Isle, where Ali Velshi is located. This is a shot of New Orleans, Louisiana, today. A lot going on there. And there are - there is business as usual for some places, including the Children's Hospital in New Orleans.

That's where CNN's Susan Roesgen is live for us right now. They've decided to stay up and running, to continue care for some of these critically ill children as long as they can do it.

Hi, Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Kiran. Yes, it's not really - Kiran, it's not really business as usual out here. We left you kind of abruptly in the last hour when the power went down. It was our own power, it was not the hospital's power. The generators kicked right back in and all the patients are fine, all the machinery is fine, everything they need to get by here is OK. I want to let you know that. It's a little rough outside but it's fine inside. Kiran.

CHETRY: Susan Roesgen for us outside of the Children's Hospital there in New Orleans. We're going to take a quick break. Our coverage continues in a moment.


CHETRY: All right. And right now, the latest on Hurricane Gustav as it's about 10 to 12 miles from shore. There's a shot of Grand Isle, Louisiana, one of those barrier islands just getting pounded. And John, it's far too early to tell if the Gulf coast is in the clear. They did everything they could ahead of time. Now it's a matter of sitting, watching and waiting.

ROBERTS: Well, certainly by that picture, Kiran, it would suggest parts of the Gulf coast are not in the clear. There's a picture of Rob Marciano on the roof of the Omni Hotel as New Orleans gets buffeted around. Susan Roesgen there as well and our coverage continues this morning. CNN, you hurricane headquarters as we follow Gustav ashore.

Let's go to Heidi Collins and Tony Harris now, in the "NEWSROOM."