Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

State of Emergency Declared in Maryland; Interview with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; New York City Preparing for the Worst; Hospitals Evacuating Before Hurricane Irene; U.S. Military on Defense Against Irene; Historic Storm Closes in on East Coast

Aired August 26, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, GUEST HOST: Our breaking news, Hurricane Irene closing in on the East Coast. This monstrous storm -- this is one of the things that we've got covered from every angle, all the way up and down the East Coast of the United States.

Wolf Blitzer is off tonight. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I cannot stress this highly enough. If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now.

Don't wait. Don't delay. We all hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now, we're going to go straight to Mary Snow, who is in New York City, which is certainly in the eye of the storm. We've been reporting all day that there could be big problems there in the Big Apple -- right now, how is it going, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, not the kind of news that New York officials or New Yorkers want to hear, that a hurricane warning is now in effect for New York City.

And you just heard the president speak about this hurricane. New York had asked the president to declare some emergency assistance. And the president did declare -- have an emergency declaration for New York, meaning that the city and state will get federal help.

But this is an unprecedented move in New York City today, Joe. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ordered, for the first time, mandatory evacuations in low lying areas of New York. And this encompasses areas that affect between 200,000 and 300,000 people. This out of caution and concern about high water and heavy winds.

Earlier, throughout the day, there have been some evacuations taking place in hospitals and nursing homes, but things were turned up a notch earlier this afternoon when those mandatory evacuations went in effect for New Yorkers.

Also, another unprecedented move, New York is shutting down its transit system tomorrow, beginning at noon, meaning that all subways, buses and commuter lines going into and out of the city will be shut down out of an abundance of caution. And the MTA had said that it could not guarantee the safety of passengers -- millions, by the way, every day -- using the rail and its bus systems here if winds were above 39 miles an hour.

And there was a big concern and there is a big concern about flooding in the subways. So those two steps being announced just hours ago here in New York.

JOHNS: Mary, let's talk just a little bit about the high rises in New York City. Obviously, a big concern for the authorities there. There are going to be very strong winds blowing throughout the city.

What are they doing?

What are they saying?

SNOW: Yes, and, you know, a big concern for people here, Joe, because New -- hurricanes are so rare in New York City. Again, we don't know the exact path. It's too early to say the impact on New York. But high rises are a big concern, with windows and the threat of them being broken.

And what city officials have been telling people is that the risk is higher for people who are living in floors the 10th floor or above. And they're advising people to get away from windows and be in areas that are not near windows.

They're also, you know, asking people to leave the city, not travel and if they can ride out the storm with relatives, you know, that would be the best case scenario.

But they really are saying what the president had said, that they are assuming the worst -- they're hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst.

JOHNS: Certainly. And that's one of the things we're going to have to get to and talk a little bit more about today.

Thanks so much, Mary Snow.

And we'll be getting back to you. Obviously, it could be a long couple of days in New York City.

The storm's landfall may be just hours away -- and Chad Myers, in our Hurricane Headquarters in Atlanta, I guess we want to turn to you now and get some sense of where that storm is, what, out, apparently, near Savannah, Georgia, but way off the coast thus far.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. Right. Way off the coast of Savannah, but due east of Savannah and about 220 miles south of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Atlantic Beach should be the bull's eye for the eye landfall here tomorrow morning.

You cannot wait until tomorrow morning to get off the beach or to get away from Morehead City. The conditions will be so bad by 4:00 a.m., you will not be able to drive anywhere. Right now, the conditions are going downhill because the outer bands are already onto North Carolina with tropical storm force winds. So from there to the eye, a couple hundred miles. And then it continues to go up to the north from there.

Here's what I've built for us. For forecast wind speeds, tropical storm in the green, hurricane in the yellow. The hurricane force winds around the center of the eye and Atlantic Beach by 7:00 tomorrow morning. That is 7:00 a.m. Saturday. You need to be out -- obviously, out of there before that, if you're going to do that.

Virginia Beach, 7:00 p.m. or so tomorrow night, with the closest approach to the eye right there. That will push some water from Hampton Roads all the way up into the Chesapeake. Not a big storm surge there, but at least a little bit of a surge possible and flooding in Virginia Beach.

If you're flooded all the time with a small tropical storm, you need to be out of there, as well.

Having talked a lot about Hampton Roads, but you are just as vulnerable there.

Ocean City, 2:00 a.m. Sunday. And then Long Island, 10:00 a.m. Sunday night.

It is now forecast to be a very minimal hurricane, category one, or possibly even a very strong tropical storm, as it moves into New York City. That comes in on Sunday, Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m., right over Long Island.

And then one more stop for you. The closest approach to Boston will be 3:00 p.m.. We do know, we've heard from a computer program called Azis (ph), that almost 46 million people, Joe, will experience 50 mile per hour wind or greater with this storm. That's a number I can hardly put my head around.

JOHNS: So we really haven't seen that much change of a change in the track at all over the last, what, 12 hours?

MYERS: No. The track has stayed --

JOHNS: Nothing new?

MYERS: Yes. No, the track has exactly stayed the same. The intensity of the storm has come down a lit bit. This storm has in train, we call it, a little bit of air, dry air. You don't see the big purples anymore. The purples are gone. We still have some yellows and oranges. The purple, though, really indicates a strengthening hurricane. The oranges and the yellows indicate kind of a weakening hurricane. And that's where we are now.

This storm is over the Gulf Stream. It may not be done yet. So do not let your guard down.

JOHNS: Now, Chad, I want you to stay right there for a minute, because we've got -- we've got Brian Todd apparently driving in a car down the East Coast -- Brian, can you hear me?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: yes, I can, Joe.

JOHNS: Now, tell me --

TODD: (INAUDIBLE).

JOHNS: Where are you?

What are you seeing?

TODD: Well, we're -- we're driving just south of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, on Interstate 95. We're heading toward Wilmington, North Carolina. We're hitting one of the initial bands of rain, we believe, from the hurricane. We looked this up on a -- on a satellite map a short time ago and it appears we're getting one of the initial bands of rain from the hurricane.

You know, the officials here in North Carolina are very concerned about the entire eastern half of the state, they've said. They've said that they have to, you know, they're worried that this is going to affect about 3.5 million people from this Interstate, where we are, and all points east. So it looks like we're hitting some of the initial bands of now as we head toward Wilmington and the coast, where it's going to make landfall.

JOHNS: And where do you plan to end up or are you just going to keep going -- Brian?

TODD: We're going to get as close as we can.

Our plan right now is to head to the Wilmington area and transit from there as soon as we can. And we're going to get as close as we possibly can. We are supposed to hook up with some National Guard units by Sunday morning, as they try to rescue some people and -- and give aid to some of the people affected. But that's projecting ahead.

Right now, we're heading toward Wilmington and the area where this is going to make landfall. We're going to get as close as we can.

JOHNS: Chad, is --

MYERS: Brian, hey, this is Chad Myers. I want you to know that you're in for some flash flooding down there. And you need to make sure that you and your crew remain safe. There's an awful lot of rain coming in. This eastern part of North Carolina will be -- this is where you are right there, that orange dot.

That eastern part of North Carolina will be flash flooded almost everywhere. So the crew, everyone else that's with you and the people around you need to stay safe. The people of North Carolina are in for some big time flash flooding, with almost 10 inches of rainfall expected in the next 12 hours -- Brian.

TODD: All right, Chad --

JOHNS: Now, Brian --

TODD: All right, Chad, thanks very much.

JOHNS: Brian, I have to ask you, also, the question here, looking at those pictures, as I see you driving along the road, are you on an evacuation route?

TODD: That I'm not sure of, Joe. This is the major interstate going through North and South Carolina. And if it's an evacuation route, it's certainly not jam-packed, I can tell you that. Traffic is moving along smoothly, as it would normally. We're headed south. But looking over to the northbound lanes, it's about the same. So I -- I'm not positive if this is an evacuation route --

JOHNS: OK.

TODD: But it's really hard to believe it wouldn't be one of them because this is really the major thoroughfare going through both North and South Carolina.

JOHNS: Right. I've got you.

OK, Brian Todd, be safe out there and check back with us and tell us what you see and what you hear.

At every level of government, officials have been issuing urgent warnings about the tremendous dangers this storm poses. Millions are at risk.

Joining me now, Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano.

Madam Secretary, thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

When you look at this monster storm going up the East Coast of the United States, what's your biggest concern at this time?

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, it's a big storm. It's going to cover a lot of large geographic area, a lot of population. And what -- one concern I have is that once the storm has immediately passed, that people don't forget about the after effects. There can be flooding. There can be surge. We think there could be a lot of power outage associated with that.

So it's going to be a whole series of events. And what we've been preparing for is that cascading series.

JOHNS: Right. And power outages obviously is a concern for national security and national security installations -- army, military, what have you.

What are you doing to handle the power outages as they may affect the first responders? NAPOLITANO: We've already been working with the first responders, the Department of Defense, with all of their installations up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. We have been moving assets out of the way of the storm. We've been prepositioning things so they could come in immediately after the storm passes to provide aid and assistance to the people who live along the storm's path.

So there's been an awful lot of work done in preparation over the last few days. And one of the things we're reminding people of today is that they -- they are part of our team. And they need to be prepared, as well. You can go to ready.gov and find a convenient list of some things to take care of. That means not only for those who live right on the coast, but also those who live inland, because, as I said earlier, flooding and some surge flooding at the back of this storm is -- is highly likely.

JOHNS: Another issue that we've been talking about here in THE SITUATION ROOM for a couple of days is when we had the earthquake, it was difficult to get through on cell service.

Are we going to be able to make telephone calls?

And what would you tell people to do in the alternative, if cell service is not working very well once the storm hits?

NAPOLITANO: Well, what was interesting there was that the first responders in the earthquake were all able to communicate with each other, at least as far as I am aware. So the cell service failure was an after effect of everybody trying to use their cell phone simultaneously.

So we urge people to use other means of communication, if they can. We think that there are a lot of ways that we need to think ahead and prepare for in case you can't use your cell phone to call a family member, how you get in touch in case you are separated.

JOHNS: Let's talk a little bit about other forms of communication. One of the things that we've been discussing is using social media, using e-mail and so forth.

Are you encouraging that and are there any guidelines you can give people?

NAPOLITANO: Yes. And we are encouraging it. And the guideline I'd give is common sense. Do what you must and think ahead. Have a plan for yourself and for your family members so that, let's say you have to evacuate, other family members will know that you are safe and know where you've relocated to.

JOHNS: We've also seen, in some of the states and localities where this storm is expected to pass over, budget cuts over the past weeks, months, even the past couple of years.

How are people supposed to deal with a huge potential emergency like this at a time when they're cutting back on emergency service and perhaps even in the area of first responders? NAPOLITANO: Well, this is where, you know, people really see their government at work and -- and why it is that we want to sustain the improvements that have been made over the past years.

But I can say this from a -- from a federal government perspective. And that is, the availability of funds under the Disaster Recovery Act or the Disaster Recovery Fund will not be a limitation on our ability to respond. And I've been in touch with mayors and governors all up and down the Atlantic Seaboard over the past few days and none of them have mentioned that as a limiting factor. Everything possible is being put in a -- in a smart and effective way and a plan, in a coordinated way, into preparing for the storm.

JOHNS: No need -- on the ground level, we're already hearing from people who are refusing to heed evacuation orders.

What is your message to them this evening?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I would ask them to reconsider. Those -- those warnings, those requests to evacuate are not given lightly. We know they cause hardship to people.

But when the able-bodied evacuate, that enable -- that enables us to focus on those who need special assistance -- evacuating the elderly, nursing homes, evacuating the sick, hospitals, evacuating communities that need special help.

So one of the reasons that we ask people to evacuate is so we can to focus on those communities and so we don't put our own first responders at risk to go in and save people.

So we want to keep loss of life to zero, if we can, absolutely to a minimum. And that's the reason these evacuation orders are given.

JOHNS: Earlier today, President Obama had a conference call with a number of governors, mayors and leaders from areas that could be affected by this storm.

Were you on that call?

What was the president's message to these people who are dealing with the crisis?

NAPOLITANO: I was on that call. I've been on several other calls with the president. And his message was that the federal government was standing behind our first responders and local communities "110 percent," was the phrase that he used. We know that cities, towns and states are the first, they're on the front lines. They're the first to respond. The federal government, however, is here to provide support and backup.

JOHNS: Just by coincidence, I think, CNN did a CNN/ORC poll, which was released today, which gave us a little bit of an indication of how people feel they're prepared for a big emergency on the East Coast. And I just want to put it up on the screen and show you the results of this poll. You know, things like having a stockpile of food and water, in the Northeast 36 percent, yes; the Midwest, 39 percent; the South, 55 percent; the West, 46 percent. It's fascinating, almost, how people in the Northeast seem to be less prepared than people in some other areas.

Why do you think that is?

NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, I don't know why that is. But perhaps one reason is that the Northeast really hasn't been hit by a hurricane for many, many years. And I think, given that people forget how big a storm these are and what kinds of impacts they can have.

We've already seen this, this spring with flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes throughout the Midwest and the South, that it's been a -- it's been a very bad weather year. We've been able to manage all of those disasters, work with communities across the country. I think at one point, we had 28 states in the country that had major disaster declarations in effect.

But the Northeast was largely exempt from that. So now it may be the Northeast's turn, unfortunately. We ask, again, from the Mid- Atlantic up, North Carolina north, for people to take that extra step, be prepared, think through what you need to do for yourself and for your family.

JOHNS: Madam Secretary, Janet Napolitano, thanks so much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll be checking back with you.

Please get back to us if you have any updates, as this hurricane rides up the East Coast.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you very much.

JOHNS: Riding out Hurricane Irene -- find out what the army is doing. We'll talk to a recruit who sent us this photo of Topsail Beach in North Carolina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: We're following the story of Hurricane Irene as it makes its way up the East Coast of the United States.

Joining us now, Brian Hissem, an iReporter who sent us this video this afternoon from Topsail Beach, North Carolina.

Brian, what's the scene from where you are right now?

BRIAN HISSEM, IREPORTER: Right now, it's pretty crazy. I mean it was calm, as if the calm before the storm. You got the gusts from the outer ring of the hurricane. Now it's completely raining and the surge is way up.

JOHNS: All right. So now you're in the army. You're there for training, even though Camp Lejeune is largely considered a marine base.

HISSEM: Yes.

JOHNS: But why are you not being evacuated?

HISSEM: I don't think there's that big of a threat, to be honest.

JOHNS: So you are not afraid?

HISSEM: Not at all.

JOHNS: And you're planning on staying?

HISSEM: I'm riding it out right here.

JOHNS: Wouldn't it be easier to just move away?

Or are you just doing this because, you know, it feels sort of macho?

HISSEM: Well, I don't know, maybe a little bit of both. You've got to set the standards for the marines, you know. But honestly, it's -- I've through a hurricane. I was in Hurricane Charlie down in the Keys. And I kind of have an idea what to expect.

I'm kind of worried about the construction of the place I'm staying at. But other than that, you know, what are you going to do?

JOHNS: Got it.

So what are you training for?

And do you know if the other military personnel around Camp Lejeune are being moved out?

HISSEM: It's not a mandatory evacuation. But I know they cut today early, or Friday early, to pretty much get out if you wanted to. If not, stay in your billet. If you wanted to stay nearby, they're not going to force you to leave. Because, I mean I've got training, so I have got to be back Monday morning, you know, at 7:00 a.m..

JOHNS: What kinds of preparations have you made?

HISSEM: Basically, some MREs, water and adult beverages and just wait it out and hope for the best.

JOHNS: Now, I've got to ask you, though --

HISSEM: (INAUDIBLE).

JOHNS: -- when we talk to people in situations like this who are deciding to ride out the storm, the thing that comes to our mind is that if things get really dicey, at the end of the day, it's the authorities who are going to have to come in and pull you out of there. So I guess do you concern yourself with the idea that you may be creating a risk for rescue personnel?

HISSEM: I understand exactly what you're saying. And if you took no preparations, if your home is on the ground level, where it's a low lying area and a storm surge coming in, you -- you're pretty much risking a lot of stuff, because that water is just going to run through there.

I'm pretty secure where I am. And, no, because once you commit -- we're on an island, so once that storm rolls in, there's no help. You're pretty much -- you're committed.

JOHNS: That's for sure, Brian Hissem. I've been out there at Camp Lejeune. And there's not a lot you can do when the bad weather comes in.

Thanks so much.

Really good talking to you.

Be safe and -- and we hope you make the right decision there.

Now we're going to go to CNN's David Mattingly in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina -- David, can you hear me?

What are you seeing there?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, for the first time today, it seems like there is a storm coming. We've had some rough surf today and some clouds. But now the surf is just absolutely pounding through here right now. And look at those black ominous clouds rolling and going all the way to the horizon.

Make no mistake about it, Irene is on its way. And when it gets here, what they're most concerned about out here, with this force of nature bearing down on them, is what's going to happen to these dunes?

That surf, when you have the storm surge, it's going to punch its way through the dunes, up and down the Outer Banks. They don't know exactly where, but it happens every time a hurricane comes through.

When it punches through, it's going to flood the roads and the property behind it. They're also going to have problems not just with the water coming from the Atlantic Ocean. But from the water on the other side of the islands coming from the sound and the bays.

When this storm gets further north, it's going to pull that water on land, as well. Some people call it a reverse storm surge. I've seen it happen in the past. It can flood a lot of streets, make them impassable and, in some ways, be just as dangerous as what you see coming from the ocean.

But just a few minutes ago, we got the latest order from local authorities here reminding everyone that this is -- this area is under a mandatory evacuation. That doesn't mean they're going to come to your house, knock on the door and make sure you're gone.

What they're telling us is, is that when the wind gets to a certain level and the streets become impassable, if you stay behind and get in trouble, no one is going to be able to come to help you. And they're trying to drive that point home right now for the people who are deciding to stay behind.

But at this point, they gave a mandatory evacuation for tourists and visitors. Yesterday, that seemed to be heeded. Today, a lot of residents were packing up, leaving, as well, closing up their homes on the beach and moving to higher ground.

Now, we saw heavy equipment trying to replace sand between some of the gaps in the dunes, preparing as best they can for this big storm that is clearly headed this way -- Joe.

JOHNS: So, David, how far and up -- up and down the coast from you does this evacuation order apply?

MATTINGLY: I mean you can go all the way up to Duck, North Carolina. You can go down farther.

How many people and how large an area is affected by the evacuation order, if you know?

MATTINGLY: If you're on the Outer Banks, you are subject now to a mandatory evacuation order. On a typical day, the Outer Banks can see 250,000 people out here. But again, that involves not just the people who live here year round, but also the visitors.

So a quarter of a million people to move inland is no small feat. But authorities here believe that people are listening and that, for the most part, they are getting out well ahead of the storm.

So they also been giving out traffic advice. They've been advising people when they evacuate to go west, not go north, because this storm is going to be going that way and they'll run into traffic from people in Virginia and beyond who are also trying to evacuate.

JOHNS: A very popular vacation spot there. And I imagine just a whole lot of late August vacations ruined for many, many Americans on the East Coast because of this huge storm.

Thanks so much, David Mattingly, in Kill Devil Hills.

It hasn't made landfall yet, but Hurricane Irene is already paralyzing some of the nation's biggest cities.

Could the storm also cause one of the largest power outages this country has ever seen?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: President Obama says all indications point to Hurricane Irene being historic.

Let's go now to CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers at CNN hurricane headquarters in Atlanta.

And Chad, it does seem like this is going to be a historic hurricane. Does it not?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This has the largest hurricane that I have ever seen when it comes to how far the tropical-storm- force winds extend from the center. Typically, when you get a very strong storm -- and we're talking Andrew and Hugo and even Katrina, those winds were confined to about 100 miles from the center.

This storm expands 250 miles to tropical-storm-force winds. And also, the amount of rain that's going to come down with this will also be a very, very big deal.

Let's go to forecast wind speeds right now.

Here's Charleston, now under a flash flood warning, all the way up to about Wild Dunes as well. And I'm going to put this in, just kind of tick-tock this, just minute by minute.

Atlantic Beach, the yellow here, 7:00 a.m. That's the landfall of the hurricane-force winds. Now, this is 7:00 a.m., Joe, but the tropical-storm-force winds, the green here, already in Hampton Roads, already to Virginia Beach. And watch. For 12 hours they will get tropical-storm-force winds before the hurricane-force winds go.

Now 7:00 p.m. Saturday, 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night, tropical-storm- force winds all the way to Cape Pay. That's 250 miles away.

And then, 2:00 a.m., Ocean City really gets slammed with those onshore winds because the eye of the storm is simply just offshore.

And then Long Island, 10:00 a.m. But even at 10:00 a.m., there were tropical-storm-force-winds starting in Boston, where the heaviest winds don't even begin for another six to eight hours.

So the size of this green mass is when you're 40 miles, 39 miles per hour or more. And it continues to the northeast, and the size is bigger than -- the size from top to bottom and left to right is bigger than Europe. The size is just tremendous.

And what's going to happen with all of this wind coming here for so many hours, even all the way up into New York City, the storm surge is going to be big. I think the storm surge will even be bigger than people expect it.

This is what a computer mile -- has taken everything apart. Took all the houses apart, took all the property apart, and said, what happens if wind like this occurs?

Let's go down here to the Cape Hatteras area. Every red area, that's $1 million or more in damage per census track, or kind of a breakup of some counties. So millions of dollars in damage here.

Up a little bit farther, to the east of Henrico County, and also into Philadelphia, here, this is now the Jersey shore. Millions of dollars in damage here.

But back out toward eastern Long Island and into Connecticut, Rhode Island, and even Massachusetts -- there's Boston, there's Manchester, New Hampshire -- a million dollars or more in every little census track that you see red here. The total loss just from wind alone right now is now estimated at $2.7 billion -- Joe.

JOHNS: That's just amazing. And when you think of it, people so love to live very close to the water because they can see it, they can hear it. But when you have something like this happening, you start thinking twice, don't you?

MYERS: And that number, that $2.7 billion number, has nothing to do with storm surge yet, because we haven't even got to what storm surge might cost in New York City, or Long Island or Connecticut, or Rhode Island, as all of that water gets pushed right up to the northeast with 250 miles' worth of tropical-storm-force winds. That's 10 hours of winds blowing the same way, pushing water in, and just flooding slowly like a rising bathtub.

JOHNS: Chad Myers, thanks so much for that now.

MYERS: You're welcome.

JOHNS: A state of energy is in effect in Maryland ahead of Hurricane Irene. Governor Martin O'Malley says people need to be prepared to be on their own for 72 hours if there are massive power outages.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in Ocean City, Maryland.

And Jeanne, this is a tourism hot spot that a lot of people from the Washington area always go to. And if I think back, it seems like the last time we had this kind of threat it was maybe Hurricane Gloria. Is that right?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was Gloria back in 1985.

And after that storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came in and they built sand dunes and a long berm down to the beach to try and protect the real estate here. The mayor is very hopeful that's going to hold, but he is expecting flooding, about 25 blocks flooded at the southern end of this city.

Businesses here are preparing, of course. They're taping up, they're boarding up, they're making improvised sandbags and putting them along the doorways in hopes that that will help protect their properties.

We spoke to one store owner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISSY AUKER, BUSINESS OWNER: We have four shops here on the boardwalk. MESERVE: What kind of precautions are you taking?

AUKER: We're boarded up downtown. It's all glass. And here, we've kind of moved, ransacked, empty what we could, and now we're sandbagging, hoping for the best.

MESERVE: How worried are you?

AUKER: Pretty worried. Definitely worried. I mean, this is a big deal.

MESERVE: This is your economic future.

AUKER: Yes, this is it. This is our family. So we're doing everything we can to take care of everything. We'll see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The mayor, Rick Meehan, is optimistic. He says if the city can bounce back, September is a really big month for business.

There are evacuations in effect here. There are a few people on the street, but not very many.

The mayor says he's very pleased. Police have been going door to door, telling people to get out. And if they don't, they're taking their names, their addresses and the names of their next of kin. That may be enough to propel some additional people over the bridge and away from Ocean City before Irene hits.

Back to you.

JOHNS: So, Jeanne, everybody is just about gone by now?

MESERVE: Pretty much. I mean, I'm looking out at some of the major avenues here. And I see an occasional car. I know some of them are emergency vehicles or people who are authorized to be here. For instance, the skeleton staff at facilities like this hotel.

But really, you know what Ocean City looks like on a busy summer day. It's eerie to go down the boardwalk. There is virtually nobody out there except an occasional police patrol to make sure things are safe and secure -- Joe.

JOHNS: Jeanne Meserve, in Ocean City, Maryland.

Thanks for that.

There could be unprecedented power outages from Hurricane Irene. Are crews ready?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Thousands of flights are already canceled ahead of Hurricane Irene. Twenty-two hundred of those are just Delta and JetBlue flights. Several other airlines also grounded flights. They're dropping ticket change fees for people flying from or to East Coast airports.

And PEPCO, the electric company for Washington, D.C., and parts of Maryland, is warning of likely outages during Hurricane Irene. It's robo-calling customers.

PEPCO provides electricity for almost 800,000 residential and commercial customers in Washington and Maryland alone.

Hurricane Irene is washing out an historic event in the nation's capital. The looming storm has canceled Sunday's dedication ceremony for the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Workers are taking down the stage, scaffolding, and 27,000 chairs. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country, including President Obama, were expected to attend.

Sunday is the 48th anniversary of King's "I have a dream" speech. The dedication likely will happen now in September or October.

And look at this. Here's some of the video of the last big hurricane to hit New York City. The year was 1938, and the Category 3 storm made landfall in eastern Long Island. The hurricane nicked in the Long Island Express, caused massive damage. It killed more than 700 people, injured 700 more, and destroyed 4,500 homes.

The great New England hurricane of 1938, Category 3, September 21, 1938. The great New England hurricane was one of the most destructive and powerful storms ever to strike New England.

Now we're going to take a break and come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene.

Now to New York City, where there are mandatory evacuations for five city hospitals in low-lying areas.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us live from New York with the latest -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe, we are talking about evacuations from 22 health care facilities in all, when you count nursing homes and psychiatric facilities. Here are the five hospitals in Zone A -- that's the lowest-lying zone in New York City -- Coney Island, NYU Hospital, VA in Manhattan, and then Staten Island University South and North.

All of those five universities (sic) have to be evacuated because the fear is, is that the power will go out and they won't be able to take care of those patients. And these hospitals just found out about this, this morning, so you can imagine how difficult it is to get hundreds of patients out just -- really, the mayor wants them out by 8:00 tonight.

And I have here with me Andrew Rubin. He's the vice president of NYU Langone Medical Center. You just came up from NYU, and so you've been watching and helping with this all day. How hard is it -- this is unprecedented -- to evacuate a hospital?

ANDREW RUBIN, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: This is big. I mean, we've never done this before. We rehearse and drill for this all the time, and we have a lot of people working very hard right now at NYU and all the other hospitals where patients are evacuating.

Every hospital will tell you this -- the first and foremost thing is patient safety. They want to make sure that the patients are safe wherever they're going, whether they're being discharged to home, where they can be taken care of, or to another hospital.

COHEN: And this must be very difficult to do. I mean, you were talking about very sick patients. You're an academic medical center. You take care of some desperately ill people. No one is staying at the hospital, as I understand it. They're all leaving.

RUBIN: They're all going. Each patient is evaluated by the nurse and the physicians to make sure that the transport where they're going is safe, or if they're being discharged to home that they're safe.

But it's not just simply throwing a patient in an ambulance and driving them next door to a hospital on higher ground. Each hospital -- each patient has to be evaluated to where they're going to make sure, one, if there's a bed in the appropriate unit for them. So, if you're a cardiac patient, that you're going to a cardiac unit in a hospital that takes care of cardiac patients.

COHEN: Are you worried about some of these patients?

RUBIN: Sure. We worry about all -- we actually worry about all of our patients, because from the least sick to the sickest, any time you move a patient out of the hospital that wasn't really -- you weren't planning on moving out of the hospital, there's a risk in that.

I mean, we really -- our dean and CEO, Dr. Grossman, felt very strongly. He really did not want to have to do this. This came from the mayor's office. We'll see if it was a good decision when the storm strikes tomorrow.

COHEN: I mean, do you agree with the mayor? Do you need to be sending these patients out? Or do you think maybe it's unnecessary?

RUBIN: You know, I really can't answer that. I think time will tell if it was the right decision, right, depending on whether the Zone A floods as badly as they're predicting? But if it does flood, this could be a big problem for lots of hospitals.

COHEN: But if it doesn't flood -- I mean, if your hospital -- you're brining in all these sandbags. If your hospital ends up being OK, this night be unnecessary. RUBIN: Well, you never know. And I think the mayor wants to be -- to play it safe, and there's no right answer to that question. You know, you want to play it safe, and it's just weighing two bad choices.

COHEN: That's right.

So, as we speak, you are getting patients out there, and we will be thinking about them and about the patients in the other hospitals, and really hoping that this transport all goes well, sending patients to area hospitals, hoping that everyone does well in all of that transport -- Joe.

JOHNS: Elizabeth Cohen with a very serious situation in New York City. It certainly sounds almost unprecedented.

Thanks so much for that.

President Obama is warning Americans to take this storm very seriously. And if you're given an evacuation order, follow it. We'll have more coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The U.S. military is preparing for Hurricane Irene to make landfall.

CNN's Chris Lawrence joins us from the Pentagon with the latest.

Chris, what are you hearing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, the military has now designated about 18 helicopters that FEMA will be able to use in search and rescue operations after the storm. Those helicopters will also be used for surveillance to take a look at the damage and look for people who may be in trouble.

The military has also designated about three bases in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and also Fort Bragg that are sort of incident response centers, where they'll be working with FEMA. Fort Bragg, for example, they've already got more than 200 trucks filled with food, water, medical supplies, things that they can get out to people very quickly from those areas.

The military is also trying to stay out of the way of this storm. The Air Force, moving some of its planes to Ohio. And the Navy has sent about 38 of its battleships out to sea now. That's about 13 percent of the entire deployable battle fleets. So a sizeable portion is now out to sea about 300 miles away. They are going to try to ride out the storm there and then swing back around after it passes -- Joe.

JOHNS: So that's the idea, 300 miles out away from the eye of the storm. Thanks so much, Chris, for all that information. And we'll be checking back with you.

LAWRENCE: Sure. JOHNS: A hurricane hunter plane flying directly above the storm. We're going to talk to that hurricane hunter and see what it looks like from the sky.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)