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New Orleans Mayor, Louisiana Governor Hold Press Conference
Aired August 28, 2005 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Katrina is not backing down. This storm is now a Category 5. The city of New Orleans is among many other cities in Louisiana and Mississippi that are bracing for this powerful storm. We're waiting to hear from the mayor of New Orleans, with an update on Katrina and whether or not this city is going to be issuing mandatory evacuations. So far, it's just voluntary, but there's been a lot of calls for mandatory evacuation. We'll see if that happens.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Twenty-five years, Betty, since a major hurricane -- made just a couple of notes here, 25 years since a major hurricane...
NGUYEN: Hit New Orleans.
HARRIS: ... made a direct hit on New Orleans. The city has never borne the brunt of a Category 4 or 5 storm. City lies on average six feet below sea level.
NGUYEN: Which is a big problem here.
HARRIS: Surrounded -- surrounded on three sides by water...
HARRIS: ... the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, Pontchartrain, Lake Ponchartrain.
Let's bring in Brad Huffines now. And, Brad, give us, again, a bit of a reset. Where are we right now in terms of this storm's life?
BRAD HUFFINES, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, as we're waiting for that press conference, Tony and Betty -- in fact, we also heard there's a press conference at 10:00 in Mobile -- we may not carry it live, but in Mobile also, for emergency management, discussing possible evacuations and shelter information for Mobile, south Alabama, this part of the area, too.
We're focusing on New Orleans, because New Orleans has a large population, and it looks like New Orleans may very well be the epicenter or near the center of the storm.
Right now, what we're seeing is the first rain bands already starting to come ashore near Port Sulphur. Some heavy rains. And remember, we're evacuating hundreds of thousands of people out of New Orleans. And as this rain band continues to move its way north farther and farther, it will slow down the evacuation, so if you're getting out, get out, get on the roads quickly, and try to beat some of this rain. Because this rain -- this isn't going to start and then lash through the next 24 hours. The first rain band of several coming your way, and that will unfortunately slow down some of the evacuation process.
Don't forget also, storm surge, 10 to 15 feet possible, all the way from Biloxi to Bay St. Louis, to the eastern coastline of Louisiana. Also, storm surge of up to 10 feet possible in and around Mobile Bay, as the water continues to blow up as the storm moves ashore in either southeast Louisiana or southern sections of Mississippi. Once again, these rain bands are coming ashore from the hurricane that is now siting here. Notice that cloud mass there. Lots of clouds here.
Remember, Tony and Betty, the strongest part of the storm is right there in the middle. This is what we are most concerned about. Imagine that being a 25-, 30- 40-mile wide F-3 tornado coming your way. That gives you an idea as to the strength and the devastation of this storm. So again, if it moves in where we're expecting it to move in now, we will have very serious impacts on the city of New Orleans, hence the press conference coming up, guys.
HARRIS: OK, and Brad, let me just follow-up with this. FEMA Director Michael Brown, Betty talked to him a short time ago, and he said, if the storm strikes just right, it could be absolutely devastating.
HUFFINES: Right, exactly.
HARRIS: So, help us understand, if the storm strikes right.
HUFFINES: Or wrong, as the case may be, exactly. Depending upon the angle of the storm -- and, Tony, you and I talked about this a bit earlier -- as this storm moves towards the coastline and especially toward the city of New Orleans, if the storm continues on a west- northwest track and then turns, and the storm's center goes near Morgan City -- which is still possible, by the way -- that means that still we see hurricane-force winds in and around New Orleans, we still see storm surge flooding, especially in the coastal areas, but that will make a lesser effect of some of the devastation that is possible in New Orleans.
The worst-case scenario, though, is that storm coming from a south-southeasterly direction, moving up this way, the eye of the storm moving in. And as that eye -- remember, the strongest part of the storm is along the eye and just to the right -- and that's why the storm surge, if that storm goes in where it's expected, right about here, then that storm surge will continue all the way across the shoreline as far east as Destin, Florida, and that's when we start seeing the real problems in and around New Orleans, because of the rivers, the waterways, all that salt water being pushed up from two directions now, from the south here, then from the east here. All that water starting to converge in a city that's 70 percent below sea level, protected by levies, but if the water rises high enough, it can inundate some of the levies, or even stop the process of draining out the city. Pumps drain the city. As the rains fall, pumps keep the water out by draining into Lake Pontchartrain. If Pontchartrain becomes backed up, if the Mississippi River becomes backed up, the water has nowhere to go, except just everywhere.
HARRIS: One other point. New Orleans can still be hit, but there is a better side, a better-case scenario for New Orleans getting hit by this storm, is that correct?
HUFFINES: There is. If you're on the left side of the eye, for instance -- let's show the forecast animation behind me. The storm continues, at least the forecast track is for the center of the storm to move right around it or right over New Orleans. If the storm is just a bit to the right, it makes it worse now for Mobile, all right? Right now, if the storm moves from where it is now to the right, this is going to be bad for a lot of people, from Pensacola to Mobile to Biloxi, to Gulfport, to New Orleans. If the storm moves a bit left and the brunt of the storm surge move across the southern parts of Louisiana, for instance, near Homel (ph), Louisiana -- still lots of population here, but much less population west than from New Orleans east.
So the best-case scenario for New Orleans is for it to move off to the right or to east. The worst-case scenario for Biloxi and Mobile is for it to move to the east, or to right. So we're hoping it keeps going west, and comes in somewhere between Lake Charles and New Orleans. You hate to wish bad upon somebody...
NGUYEN: Well, of course.
HUFFINES: ... but you want it to go in where there's less population and easier for people to evacuate quickly.
NGUYEN: But Brad, Max Mayfield with the National Hurricane Center has said that this has the potential for a large loss of life in the storm. If we can put the storm back up on the radar, and talk to us, I know it's a little bit of science, but this is a well-defined storm, isn't it?
HUFFINES: It's a very well-defined storm. And that eye that you see -- these eyes go through what we call eyewall replacements. The eye will move along, at times it will recenter itself. And then when it replaces itself, it sometimes replaces stronger, sometimes a bit weaker. That's why it was impossible for the Hurricane Center earlier to talk about this storm and to say it will hit as a Category 4 or 5.
Let me show you what's behind me now on the satellite picture. Notice that eye is very well-defined. It's a very large eye for this hurricane.
NGUYEN: Are you surprised at that all?
HUFFINES: Not really. These storms, once they become this well- organized, these well-defined -- and the reason that it's hard to forecast is because there's very little upper-level wind flow through this part of the Gulf of Mexico. If we were to have upper-level winds, then it would actually take some of the energy from the eye and suck it out and pull it away, and the storm would start to get weaker.
But as of right now, there are no winds, except surface winds, and some what we call troughs and ridges that help to guide these storms. Nothing to really take the energy from the storm. So what this storm has is nothing to take the energy away, and warm water underneath to continue to keep the storm very strong. And there is a possibility now still that the storm could strengthen, though the closer it gets to the shoreline, the likelihood of it strengthening past 160 is slim, but not all the way impossible.
NGUYEN: Oh, goodness, no one wants that.
Let's look at the big picture now. We're talking a lot about landfall, and that of course is very important. But we were talking to Bonnie Schneider yesterday and she said, well into Tuesday several states are still going to feel the effects of what could still be a hurricane over land.
HUFFINES: In fact, that's why the Hurricane Center has issued not just these hurricane warnings along the shoreline. Local weather service offices then began issuing hurricane warnings for inland parishes in southeast Louisiana, inland counties in southern Mississippi and southern Alabama. In fact, the weather service in Birmingham just issued an inland tropical storm warning from western parts of Mississippi as far east as Birmingham, up through and into then northeast Mississippi, near Tupelo. So a tropical storm is possible from northeast Mississippi through northwest Alabama. As you know, I'm the chief meteorologist at the ABC and CNN affiliate in Huntsville. So when I get back there, we look like we have a busy week as well, because this storm will cause problems as it goes ashore.
HARRIS: So if you go back to Louisiana for a moment, it's not just New Orleans, so we're talking about Baton Rouge.
HARRIS: We're talking about Lafayette...
NGUYEN: Where people are evacuating too, Baton Rouge. Is that a smart move?
HUFFINES: Well, the good news is, Baton Rouge is inland, so storm surge isn't a problem in Baton Rouge.
HUFFINES: There is a problem, though, with heavy rain.
NGUYEN: Right, and the flooding.
HUFFINES: You have tornadic winds, because these things frequently do spin out these tornadoes once they move ashore, and when they spin up these tornadoes, then that can cause swaths of isolated damage in the broader swath of damage. Remember now, where the strongest amount of most damage is going to be is along the -- right in the eyewall, and just to the right of the center of the storm. So don't get panicked when you see that big cloud mass come your way. It's that center of the storm, and within about 70 or 80 miles of the center of the storm that you've really got to worry about, and of course in the storm surge.
Again, the winds are going to blowing from the south. Hurricane- force winds, forcing this salt water up into the shoreline of the western Florida Panhandle, into south Alabama, south Mississippi, and all across the Louisiana shoreline. So you're going to be affected by this storm anywhere within 100 miles to east of where this storm's center is.
HARRIS: Boy. All right, Brad. Thank you.
Let's take this live picture of I-10 west. Folks heading out of New Orleans. The contra flow system in effect. Once you get past that little bubble of congestion to the top left of the screen where the live bug is, the contra flow system actually takes full effect in all of the lanes. One, two, three, four, five -- eight or nine of the lanes there.
NGUYEN: Many lanes.
HARRIS: They will all be heading out of New Orleans.
But there it is. The traffic heading out. And that has picked up since we joined you this morning at 7:00 a.m. We're seeing more traffic now on those lanes heading out of New Orleans, and that's good news. Because we have a -- well, we believe that in just a few minutes, when we get to Ray Nagin, who is the mayor of New Orleans, we are likely to hear that the voluntary evacuation is going to be -- become a mandatory evacuation, and all of the folks in the area are going to have to get out of New Orleans as soon as they can, which brings to mind questions of how folks who can't move, who can't, for reasons of infirmity, elderly folks, how they are -- the homeless people -- how are they going to get out of the city? And maybe we'll get some answers to that when we hear from the mayor of New Orleans in just a couple of minutes.
NGUYEN: Right now, we want to speak with a man who is not getting out of harm's way. He has decided to stay. We are joined on the phone by Fred Westenberger. He owns a radio station in New Orleans. And my first question to you is, you've seen all the coverage. You have weathered the storm through Camille and Georges. Why in the world would you stay?
FRED WESTENBERGER, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Well, a couple of reasons. We have -- we have a very elderly lady with us that we are concerned with. She can't be moved, mobilized very easily.
NGUYEN: This is your wife's mother?
WESTENBERGER: My wife's mother, right. And also, we have a radio station, and we'd like to try to keep it on as long as we can. And we have one of the people, that is my son, that's going to be an operator if in fact we have power and he can get to the area where the station is located. And actually, we all have made reservations at the Hilton hotel, both my son, who will be going to the station, if he can get there, and my wife and I and my mother-in-law. And the worst part is the flooding that could be, and I think the Hilton hotel is high enough where I don't think the water is going to go up to 150 feet.
NGUYEN: Yeah, that's good information, because advisories have been saying that if you cannot get out of the city, like tourists, for example, who cannot get out of the city, and are stuck in these hotels, at least try to get to rooms on the third floor or higher. Is that something you've decided to do?
WESTENBERGER: Yes, we have. And we know that even if the power goes out, at least we're high and dry, and the only thing we might be suffering is some lack of food. And I think we can all survive that for a while.
NGUYEN: Now, you have ridden out Camille and Georges. Give us some perspective on what you've been through, what you've seen, and what you're expecting with Katrina, which is a Category 5 as of right now.
WESTENBERGER: It's hard to comprehend Katrina, really, because whatever the others were, it wasn't that power, at least that expected power. So -- but I still think regardless of the power, where it's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, being either out of town, which is best choice for most of the people, because not everybody can go get a room in a high-rise hotel or motel. So I think, if you can't do that or not able to do that, then obviously the thing you want to do is get out of town.
NGUYEN: Are you seeing those around you heeding these warnings? We've been watching all morning the traffic flow.
WESTENBERGER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Most of the people on the block have left. There's a couple of families that have still stayed here, that are going to stay here in the location here where we are. Our next-door neighbor, we have given her a key to our house. We have a two-story house. She has a one-story. So if for some unknown reason, the waters get really high, she can come over to our house and live on the second floor.
NGUYEN: Have you heard from the city, what kind of assistance is being provided to those folks who simply cannot leave, especially the elderly and people who are just too ill to leave?
WESTENBERGER: Well, many of the homes that house the elderly have bussed their people out yesterday, to the Baton Rouge area, to the Houston area, and wherever else they might bring them. So that's -- I understand that Mayor Nagin has made arrangements in the Superdome for people that can't otherwise go anyplace else. That's the only extent that I've heard of other than people that are getting hotel rooms or have already made reservations for hotel rooms.
NGUYEN: And we hope to hear more from the mayor in that news conference, expected any moment now.
Fred Westenberger of New Orleans, we appreciate your time. Do stay safe -- Tony.
HARRIS: A couple of menu items before we take a quick break. The National Hurricane Center will issue its latest hurricane advisory. That's coming up in about 45 minutes. We're expecting that at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, and as Betty just mentioned, we're standing by for a press conference any moment now from Ray Nagin, who is the mayor of New Orleans. When that happens, we will take you to New Orleans live. We're coming back with more of continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina, on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.
NGUYEN: This is a live picture in New Orleans as we are waiting for the mayor, Ray Nagin, to hold a press conference, where we hope to learn whether or not he will call for mandatory evacuations of that city. Right now, it's just voluntary. Yet we've seen so many people take to the roadways today and head out of town, which is the best move, because Hurricane Katrina is a Category 5 storm, packing winds of up to 160 miles an hour. And New Orleans, the shoreline of Louisiana and Mississippi, right in her path. And of course, we're going to continue to follow this all day long. And we will bring you that news conference any minute, when it happens live.
HARRIS: On the ground there in New Orleans is our Jeanne Meserve. And Jeanne, we are starting to hear from folks who we were able to raise on the telephone this morning, that folks are very, very concerned about this storm. They've talked about their history with Georges, they've talked about their history with Camille, that they cannot imagine the power of this storm. Are you hearing some of the same things? I know you're sort of strapped down where you are, but have you heard some of that?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I have heard some of that, I have. But I can also tell you that I've talked to a few residents here who, at least yesterday evening, were sort of shrugging and saying, you know, so many times they've told us the big one is heading for us, and so many times it's veered off at the last minute. And those people, as of last night, were planning to stay in their homes. Now, I'd love to reach them again today and see if their minds have changed, because the storm has intensified to much.
But as I indicated to you earlier, there's a wide range of reaction here. There are those people who I just spoke to you about, who are quite cavalier about this, who believe that they'll be able to ride this out, and that it may not be as big as everyone believes it might be. But then again, you have the highways behind me, which are clogged with people trying to get out of town. So a variety of reactions.
HARRIS: Jeanne, if you could, sort of talk us through the morning from your point of view. When you started with us this morning, how much traffic did you see? And has it picked up? Has it intensified? Are folks definitely heeding the warnings and starting to move out en masse?
MESERVE: There seem to be indications that it has. One of the members of my crew drove over there a short time ago and said, as far as the eye could see, when you were right on the evacuation route, you could see cars. I also know of someone who is trying to travel across the country and having a very slow go of it. A route that we traveled very quickly at about 4:30 this morning.
So clearly, things are picking up. More and more people are packing up and leaving. But not all of them -- I mean, there's a guy who operates a business here, who I know is staying. We met someone over in a hotel lobby near here a short time ago. He's going to ride it out. So a variety.
I think more people are paying attention with this number, this big number, 5, means something. You've heard the head of FEMA saying, get out, get out now. We'll see what the mayor says. That may provoke an even bigger exodus from the city.
HARRIS: And we understand that that press conference is going to begin in less than five minutes now. Gas, is that an issue there?
MESERVE: Is what an issue there, I'm sorry?
HARRIS: Gas and the availability of fuel to throw in your vehicles and get out of town?
MESERVE: Yes, very definitely an issue. And it's sort of ironic, because there are refineries all around the city. But so many people were trying to move out of town last night that the pumps were simply pumped dry. There was nothing left. And as we drove over this morning, we saw any number of gas stations with, you know, "no gas" signs right out in front. So that's potentially going to be an issue as the evacuation moves forward here.
HARRIS: Hey, Jeanne...
MESERVE: I have heard -- yeah, go ahead.
HARRIS: I was just wondering, a little earlier, when I saw you in that same picture, your hair was blowing a little more. Have the winds died down?
MESERVE: You know, they do appear to have done so for the moment. And let me look at the clouds. A few more have moved into the area. They still look like they're starting to move a little faster than they were. But the wind definitely down. And no rain at all here yet. But it's coming.
HARRIS: OK. Jeanne Meserve for us in New Orleans. Jeanne, thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you.
MESERVE: You bet.
NGUYEN: Exactly right about that. It is coming. So let's find out exactly where Katrina is with meteorologist Brad Huffines. Brad, when we spoke a little bit earlier, about, I don't know, an hour and a half earlier, we mentioned that Katrina is 250 miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi River. Where is Katrina now?
HUFFINES: Katrina continues to move to the west-northwest, actually northwest around 10 miles an hour. An hour ago, it was 250, or two hours ago 250 miles out. Now, it's closer to 230 miles. And if it continues about 10-mile-per-hour speed, that will put the storm right along the shoreline. It's just simple math, 220 miles, 10 miles per hour, 22 hours from the shoreline. So as the storm continues with a very well-defined eye, with the latest advisory, 160-mile-an-hour winds. The National Hurricane Center, in fact, will have another advisory -- now it's 10:22, 10:23 -- and they'll have another advisory in just -- within the half an hour. We'll have that as soon as they issue that.
The storm continues to push as a Category 5 hurricane for the shoreline of Louisiana and southern Mississippi. And again, we are not just concerned for Louisiana. We are also waiting for word from a press conference in the Mobile area, where emergency managers and emergency officials are going to be announcing plans for possible evacuations and also possible sheltering of south Alabama residents along the shoreline there.
So again, we are really focusing on New Orleans, but let's not forget, it could affect anywhere from Mobile, Pensacola, as well as Biloxi, Gulfport, and of course New Orleans.
NGUYEN: A lot of times when we're watching these hurricanes, Brad, they'll make a sharp angle, or a sharp turn to the right or to the left.
NGUYEN: Are we in the point where that can happen, or has that already passed?
HUFFINES: Well, if you remember Hurricane Charley, we talked about Tampa, Tampa, Tampa, seemed to have been the landfall possibility, and it did move. It didn't really turn, it just veered slowly. And that's what this storm could still do.
Notice that as the storm continues to move, anywhere along this path, if it veers a little farther to the right, then it will make -- and continues that motion -- the worst part of the storm misses New Orleans. Or if it goes a little bit to the left, the worst part of the storm misses New Orleans. But as of right now, the Hurricane Center, at least they say their forecast, they are very confident in the forecast -- it's not frequent that they do that, but they have done that today.
NGUYEN: OK, Brad Huffines, thank you so much for that information on Katrina, which is now a Category 5 storm.
We are waiting to hear from the mayor of New Orleans, who will be holding a press conference in just a couple of minutes from now, on whether that city is going to order mandatory evacuations, because as you well know, New Orleans is right in the path of a Category 5 hurricane called Katrina.
We're going to take a short break and be right back with that.
HARRIS: And let's take you to New Orleans now, where the press conference is under way with Mayor Ray Nagin. We'll get the updated information on his city's preparedness for Hurricane Katrina.
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: ... storm is intensifying, and is still pointed toward New Orleans, and there's not a meteorologist or an expert that I have talked to that says that this storm will not impact New Orleans in a major way.
As a result of that, I am, this morning, declaring that we will be doing a mandatory evacuation. And I'm going to read the evacuation order to the public.
The National Weather Service has indicated that Hurricane Katrina will likely affect Louisiana coast, with tropical force winds and heavy rainfall by this evening, whereas because of anticipated high lakes and marsh tides, due to the tidal surge, combined with the possibility of intense thunderstorms, hurricane-force winds and widespread severe flooding, Governor Blanco and I, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, have each declared a state of emergency.
Now, therefore, I, as mayor of the city of New Orleans, pursuant to the authority granted by L.A. Rev Stat 29-727 (ph), do hereby promulgate and issue the following orders, which will be effectively immediately, and which will remain in effect until the earlier of five days following the date of this issuance, or the declaration by the governor that the state of emergency no longer exists.
Point one, a mandatory evacuation order is hereby called for all of the parish of Orleans, with only the following exceptions. Essential personnel of the United States of America, state of Louisiana and city of New Orleans. Essential personnel of regulated utilities and mass transportation services. Essential personnel of hospitals and their patients. Essential person of the media. Essential personnel of the Orleans Parish criminal sheriff's office and its inmates. And the essential personnel of operating hotels and their patrons.
Unless covered by one of the aforementioned exceptions, every person is hereby ordered to immediately evacuate the city of New Orleans. Or, if no other alternative is available, to immediately move to one of the facilities within the city that will be designated as a refuge of last resort.
Point two, in order to effectuate the mandatory evacuation at the direction of the mayor, the city -- the chief administrative officer, the director of homeland security for the city of New Orleans, or any member of the New Orleans Police Department, the city may commandeer any private property, included but not limited to, buildings that may be designated as refuge of last resort and vehicles that may be used to transport people out of the area.
The city attorneys directed to file this declaration promptly in the office of the clerk of court, and with the secretary of state.
Signed by the mayor of the city of New Orleans.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you. But we are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic. But I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious, and it's of the highest nature. And that's why we are taking this unprecedented move.
The storm is now a Cat 5, a Category 5, as I appreciate it, with sustained winds of 150 miles an hour, with wind gusts of 190 miles per hour.
The storm surge most likely will topple our levy system. So we are preparing to deal with that also. So that's why we're ordering a mandatory evacuation.
This morning, the Superdome has already opened for people with special needs. If you have a medical condition, if you're on dialysis or some other condition, we want you to expeditiously move to the Superdome.
At noon today, the Superdome will then be opened up as a refuge of last resort, where we will start to take citizens that cannot evacuate.
But let me emphasize, the first choice for every citizen is to figure out a way to leave the city. And I'm asking all of the churches. We sent out a fax to all the churches that we could this morning, basically alerting them to exactly what we're doing, and asking them to buddy up, to find members in their congregations, to check on the senior citizens or a citizen who may not -- who may not have the means and is totally reliant upon public transportation to get around.
We will have pickup sites that the Regional Transit Authority will be -- at noon, they will start to make runs from the pickup sites to the Superdome, to get people into the Superdome as a last resort. Keep in mind, a hurricane, a Cat 5, with high winds, is most likely will knock out all electricity in the city, and, therefore, the Superdome is not going to be a very comfortable place at some point in time. So we're encouraging everyone to leave.
But if you can't leave, here are the 10 sites, that starting at noon, that you will be able to go to and there will be RTA buses that will pick you up for free.
The first one is EJ Morris Senior Center. Andrew Pete Sanchez at 1616 Caffin Avenue -- and we will give the media a list of this. The next one is Frantz in the 9th Ward at 3811 Galvez Street. The next one is Warren Easton in mid-city, at 3019 Canal Street. The next one is Augustine in mid-city at 425 South Broad Street. The next one is S. Williams in uptown at 3127 Martin Luther King Boulevard. The next one is McMain uptown at 5712 South Claiborne. The next is Rabouin in the CBD at 727 Carondelet Street. The next one is Arthur Monday Center at 1111 Newton Street on the West Bank. The next one is the O. Perry Walker High School at 2832 General Meyer. The next one is Abramson in New Orleans East at 5552 Read Boulevard. And the next one is Sarah T. Reid High School in New Orleans East at 5316 Michoud Boulevard. And the final one is the New Orleans Mission at 1130 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard.
For those of you that want to evacuate and you want to know what shelters are available throughout the state, I would ask you to call the 1-800 number that the state police have set up, which will field any questions that you may have on routes or shelters, and that number is 1-800-469-4828, 1-800-469-4828.
The only other thing I will add before I turn it over to the governor, is that, you know, take precautions on your home. You may want to fill your bathwater -- your bathtubs up with water, just in case when you come back to your homes, if there's no running water, so that you have something to come back to. And make sure, make sure, that you check on your neighbors. It's very important, particularly the senior citizens, that we check on them to make sure that they're OK and that they're not too frightened, and that we assist them before we take off.
This is an opportunity in New Orleans for us to come together in the way that we've never come together before. This is a threat that we've never faced before. And if we galvanize and rally around each other, I am sure that we will get through this.
God bless us.
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: Thank you, Mayor.
I want to reiterate what the mayor has said. This is a very dangerous time. Just before we walked into this room, President Bush called and told me to share with all of you that he is very concerned about the citizens. He is concerned about the impact that this hurricane would have on our people. And he asked me to please ensure that there would be a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.
The leaders at the highest ranks of our nation have recognized the destructive forces and the possible awesome danger that we are in. And I just want to say, we need to get as many people out as possible. The shelters will end up probably without electricity or with minimum electricity from generators in the end. There may be intense flooding that will be not in our control, which would be ultimately the most dangerous situation that many of our people could face.
Waters could be as high as 15 to 20 feet. That is what the Miami National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center, has shared with us. That would probably be ultimately the worst situation. We're hoping that it does not happen that way. We need to pray, of course, very strongly, that the hurricane force would diminish. But just remember, even if it diminishes to 1, there were six people lost in Florida when it was a Category 1 hurricane. So there's still eminent danger. There seems to be no real relief in sight, and it has been startling to see how accurate the path was predicted, and how it is following the predicted path.
So we have no reason to believe right now that it will alter its path.
Hopefully, you know, it could move just a little bit in one direction or another and not keep New Orleans in its sights. But we don't know that that would happen. That would be -- we would be blessed if that happened.
Right now, I think it's important that we all get out as expeditiously as possible.
Now, we just flew over here and viewed the situation on the interstates. I-10 in the interior of the city is gridlock. It is total gridlock. I am asking people to look at alternate -- alternate routes. And I have Colonel Henry Whitehorn here who can talk about it more specifically as well. And again, I have General Landrineau with the National Guard.
We are ready, prepared to do all that we can. We have our people deployed.
Citizens on the West Bank need to go -- if they need to go west, they need to take Highway 90, as opposed to trying to get up on I-10. And we are seeing cars coming in from the West Bank, getting onto I- 10, just creating more gridlock. Take the northern routes. People could go east. There's minimal traffic going east right now. And you can go east, north, and then you can go west.
But you know, it's a lot easier to drive a little longer where you can drive. Right now, you cannot drive in the city itself, up on I-10. We did see, though, that the traffic was moving very well past the urban center area. It -- Kennar -- it blocks up. But after you leave Kennar, if you have enough patience -- and you have to be patient -- then you will have an easy going for the rest of your trip.
But I'll tell you right now, it's creeping and somewhat stopped in the urban center.
Use alternate routes. Highway 61, which is Airline Highway, and others.
I'd like to invite our Colonel Henry Whitehorn to speak to you about that more specifically. Colonel?
COL. HENRY WHITEHOURN, SUPERINTENDENT, LA STATE POLICE: Good morning. As the governor mentioned, we observed the traffic situation here in the city limits of New Orleans. And it's so important that if you have available the evacuation guide, look at those alternate routes. U.S. 61, Airline Highway, virtually no traffic was on that. I-10 east, virtually no traffic on that. U.S. 90, it's heavy, but it's moving. We need to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to look at those alternate routes. If you don't have a map available, you have computer access, go to www.lsp.org. The map is available on the Internet. Please, use those alternate routes. We need your help to assist us with getting the folks out of New Orleans. Thank you.
And also, minor crashes. If you have a minor crash, we noticed there were several chokepoints where we had minor crashes and those vehicles were still in the roadway. If the vehicle is movable, please move it off to the shoulder of the road so that the other traffic can flow through. We need your assistance with that.
QUESTION: Governor, Mayor, are you pretty certain that with the level of traffic and the way it's going through New Orleans, that everybody will be able to get out in time and people won't be trapped on the interstates when the weather gets really bad?
NAGIN: Well, you know, the weather -- once the weather really starts to get bad, if it approaches 39 miles an hour, you know, we're going to pretty much shut everything down. But you have a window right now until the weather gets really bad, which we're anticipating sometime this afternoon, between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, a lot of people still are waiting, have been waiting. And now, when they hear this, I'm sure it's going to spark them to leave. We should be able to get lots of people out.
Will traffic slow down? Probably. But the alternative routes, if they use those, and everybody does not try to go I-10 to Houston, that is the problem. If everybody wants to go in that direction, it's going to create even more gridlock.
QUESTION: Mayor, you mentioned commandeering certain buildings and vehicles. Have you identified particular buildings that the city might focus on? And how would you get people to those buildings under the circumstances?
NAGIN: Well, you know, it's our backup plan. The reason for that is because we have identified the Superdome as our primary, you know, designated center of last refuge. If the Superdome fills, there are other high-profile buildings that we feel that are available and could provide us with some additional shelter.
QUESTION: Like such as?
NAGIN: I'd prefer not to get into that right now.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) based on their inability to be able to (INAUDIBLE) on whether or not the Superdome fills? (INAUDIBLE)
NAGIN: I have no idea. You know, it's my hope that most people will get out. And if we have -- the Superdome can probably accommodate 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 people. QUESTION: Governor, this is the city of New Orleans. You said the president asked for a mandatory evacuation. What about the surrounding parishes? What about Jefferson Parish? What about the other parishes? Do you expect mandatory evacuations of all of the parishes throughout southwest Louisiana because of the president's urging?
BLANCO: Well, some parishes have already declared a mandatory evacuation, particularly those in the low-lying areas. I think that Jefferson Parish has been evacuating, and I would encourage all people in Jefferson Parish to get out of harm's way.
This is, of course, mandatory for the city of New Orleans because of the topography, the geography that we deal with here, being below sea level. Jefferson Parish is in eminent danger itself, because the storm will be coming right through Jefferson Parish as well.
We are talking to the whole area right now, and asking people to use good judgment to keep themselves safe, to stay out of harm's way.
I'd like to invite General Bennett Landrineau to talk to you about the National Guard and what we're doing there.
GEN. BENNETT LANDRINEAU, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: Thank you. Excuse me. Thank you, Governor.
The governor has directed that all state resources be available to the parishes to support the evacuation and to support entities that they might have. All of -- our state emergency operation center is fulled up, manned by state and federal agencies. The governor has directed that we mobilize 4,000 Louisiana National Guardsmen to support the parishes. We're available to support Mayor Nagin, Colonel Livret (ph) and his magnificent team, in whatever support they need. We're prepared to -- we're coordinating with FEMA to make federal assets available. And we are ready and able to assist with whatever missions that the city of New Orleans has.
QUESTION: Mayor, Mayor, what should folks bring to these shelters? And another -- and the second question, how do you prepare? Because we have never been through this. We've been through these situations, but talking about (INAUDIBLE). How does the city begin to prepare for that?
NAGIN: Well, all we can do is basically continue to advise citizens as we get information. This is a once in probably a lifetime event. The city of New Orleans has never seen a hurricane of this strength to hit it almost directly, which is what they're projecting right now.
What we're trying to do is keep the public informed, not create panic, but create an atmosphere of seriousness, and also to present options to the public.
Right now, we are emphasizing leaving the city. That's what we think is the best thing. If you can't leave the city and you have to come to the Superdome, come with enough food, perishable items to last for three to five days. Come with blankets, with pillows. No weapons, no alcohol, no drugs. You know, this is like the governor said, you're going on a camping trip. If you don't know what that's like, just bring enough stuff for you to be able to sleep and be comfortable. It's not going to be the best environment, but at least you will be safe.
QUESTION: What about the parish prisoners? The prisoners in the jail?
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) What do you think now? People should stay put in the hospitals (INAUDIBLE) or what?
NAGIN: We exempted hospitals because of the concern that if we declare a mandatory evacuations for the hospitals and someone gets hurt, and then the hospital turns them away, that creates a very dangerous situation. So now we've exempted the hospitals.
QUESTION: What about the prisoners?
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) numbers on hundreds of thousands of people who have actually left the area? I mean, I know you're not counting numbers on I-10, but any ballpark figures?
NAGIN: I don't have anything. No traffic counts at this point.
QUESTION: What about the prisoners in the jail right now? Will they just simply stay in the jail?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We -- we have backup generators to accommodate any power loss. Excuse me, Governor. We have backup generators. We're fully staffed. We're under our emergency operations plan. So we're only -- we've been working with the police department -- so we're going to keep our prisoners where they belong.
QUESTION: And Mayor, (INAUDIBLE), have you gotten any indication on how many people are leaving?
NAGIN: I have driven around the city. As a matter of fact, this morning I drove out to the airport, and lots of people are leaving, which is a good sign. And I'm just hopeful that we can get as many people out as possible.
QUESTION: Have they exempted hotels, Mr. Mayor?
NAGIN: Yes, hotels, we've exempted hotels, because what we're finding is that a couple of airlines have canceled some flights, and the tourists that are in town are having a very difficult time finding rental cars. The rental cars are all gone. And they can't find flights. So we've exempted them also. NGUYEN: You've been listening to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, as well as Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, as they talk about a mandatory evacuation, which has been issued for New Orleans. That was something that we were expecting. That's something that the mayor has just announced, saying I wish I had better news, but we are facing a storm that many fear. There are a lot of preparations in the works to get people out of the area. There are 10 shelters set up, including one in the Superdome. And they're asking people, if you don't have to go to that shelter, please don't. Try to go to a hotel out of the city, or someone's house that you know. But please get out of the city.
And this evacuation could be in effect for up to five days, so if you do find yourself in a shelter, they're asking you to please bring enough food and supplies to last for that long.
Now, another bit of information that was very important that we learned in this news conference is that I-10 is simply gridlocked. There is too much traffic on the roadways there. And there is a fear that some folks may not be able to get out of the area in time, because as the weather gets worse, maybe between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. this evening, we heard the mayor say that they could possibly shut down some of these evacuation routes. So we are going to stay on top of all of this for you today, and get you an update on Katrina, which is a Category 5 storm.
HARRIS: But let's bring in CNN meteorologist Brad Huffines right now. And Brad, we've heard the city and state response to Katrina. But I know that you're one of a team of meteorologists who actually consults with FEMA. So talk to us about what FEMA's response is likely to be, and the work that you do with FEMA in helping the federal agency work through hurricane situations like this and other natural disasters?
HUFFINES: Well, Tony, we talked about -- you saw New Orleans' response to Katrina. Katrina's response to New Orleans: The latest update from the National Hurricane Center is winds now, sustained winds estimated at 175 miles an hour. This is the latest update from the National Hurricane Center. Moving west-northwest at 12 miles an hour. Just got this off. Moving towards the west-northwest. Expected that northwest turn and eventually a northward turn up through New Orleans. And that is still the projected path, has not changed, still the city of New Orleans. Needs to be prepared for what could be as high and is right now as high as a 175-mile-an-hour hurricane.
Tony, this is a monster.
Now, in answering your question, I am a -- I've been an adjunct contract professor -- or instructor for FEMA for about 10 years now, at the emergency management training site in Emmitsburg, Maryland. And what basically FEMA's doing right now is they are setting up -- they are already talking, obviously, to the people in New Orleans, not just New Orleans, but all the coastal counties, and all the people that are now concerned about this storm in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And also, FEMA is beginning now to stage their recovery efforts in and around the southeast, in safe places, so that the responders are out of harm's way, so when harm does come, they can then rush in very quickly with the assistance that the local communities need.
I want to remind you of what happens, too, Tony. FEMA doesn't just come in and take over. The communities begin to ask for help when their resources are spent, and that's when FEMA really begins to -- it doesn't really take over, but provide what they're being asked for. And that's why we (INAUDIBLE) things like presidential declarations.
HARRIS: And Brad, there's also this agreement among the agencies of other cities that, if your agency is taxed, you can ask for help and get help from other agencies, from other police departments and emergency services, agencies from surrounding counties and parishes, in this case?
HUFFINES: Right. It's called a mutual aid agreement. And most places now in the country have a mutual aid agreement with surrounding counties, which simply means that, for instance, in New Orleans, when the police force as now are already starting to stretch themselves thin, and then let's say the hurricane does move ashore somewhere near or around New Orleans, where the police force, they first hunker down, they stay safe, then when they can get out and respond, they're on 12- , sometimes 24-hour shifts, and to have help from surrounding communities, who will sometimes come in with police, or fire, or emergency medical services, teams of doctors, power crews, from all over the southeast, will then converge. But especially in the local areas, there are all kinds of mutual aid agreements, Tony, so that when police and fire and all the responders, first responders are working, they're going to work some tremendous hours. Then they have some break coming because of the others that are going to be rushing in to help them, so they can get some sleep, to get back out on the streets.
In places like New Orleans, this may take -- if it does hit where it does look like it's going to hit, it can be a multi-week process of getting back on their feet. And that's why the responders need the breaks, because they simply can't work 24 hours a day for two or three straight weeks.
HARRIS: Hey, Brad, how big a hurricane was Andrew?
HUFFINES: Andrew was a Category 4 hurricane, winds of I believe 135 miles an hour. Now, actually, they've increased it in some cases the -- remember, the National Hurricane Center went back and said that the winds were up to Category 5 strength in some areas after they've done some research.
HARRIS: Here is why I ask, because that is a situation where that storm devastated South Florida.
HARRIS: And we're talking about hundreds of thousands -- I think the figure is close to 200,000 homes were destroyed by Andrew. We're talking about a storm of 175-mile-an-hour sustained winds here?
HUFFINES: We're talking about a storm of 175 sustained from the latest Hurricane Center advisory, Tony. And so we are talking about a storm that is -- if you take the advisory...
HARRIS: You see where I'm getting at?
HUFFINES: Yes. You take the revised numbers from Andrew, then you add about 10, 15, in some cases 20 miles an hour where the storm is right now.
Now, this doesn't mean that the eye will move inland with 175- mile-an-hour winds, but this will, if you remember the damage from Andrew, remember the devastation from Ivan. The good news is, this is a much less populous area than is South Florida, as far as homes and property go. But it still caused tremendous damage.
This storm is stronger than Ivan. This storm is right now stronger than Hurricane Camille, back when the shoreline was much less populated. You remember the stories, and you've seen the pictures from Camille. In fact, we were looking at some this morning earlier, at some pictures of some of the just structural damage. This hurricane can cause not just trees to be blown down and mobile homes and things like that, that you expect. This storm, Tony, can cause some catastrophic structural damage, from not just homes along the shorelines, but homes inland. Because this is an F-3 tornado. It's a giant F-3 tornado, Tony. This is massive.
HARRIS: There can be little doubt now that, if this course remains on the path that the governor of Louisiana believes it's on, that the mayor of New Orleans believes it's on...
HUFFINES: And that the National Hurricane Center believes it's on.
HARRIS: More importantly, there can be no doubt now that we're talking about levies that will overflow?
HUFFINES: Right. I don't know the height of the levies from the top of the river for instance, the Mississippi River, to the top of the levy.
HUFFINES: But I can tell you it's not 25 feet. I can tell you that as this storm continues to move inland and ashore -- I'm going to go ahead and switch my sources and show you a closer map of Louisiana, once again, what we're noticing what will happen -- first off, these pretty heavy rain bands are coming in right now, Tony. Notice these pretty good rain bands.
Let's zoom in right now to New Orleans, where Lake Pontchartrain is here, you have the city of New Orleans, and what you see on this map and what you may not necessarily be able to make out -- that's good, right about there, let's stop right there -- the Mississippi River comes through New Orleans. All right? So as the water begins to be pushed here -- remember now, you have storm surge winds that -- this wind blows the salt water up toward the shoreline.
The reason that you don't see storm surge on islands like Grenada and places like that, the water actually moves, hits the island, moves around it.
HUFFINES: Or in some cases, if the water's deep enough, it hits land and curls under and goes back. But when you get close to the shoreline, it can't go under, it can't go anywhere but in the river deltas, and again, Lake Pontchartrain, talk about storm surge possible coming in from this direction, this way to New Orleans, and also talking about storm surge possible from the Mississippi River.
HARRIS: Boy, that's a devastating picture. OK. Brad, thank you.
NGUYEN: That is a lot to take in. Winds of 175 miles per hour. This has caused the mayor of New Orleans to issue a mandatory evacuation. But we've also learned from the governor of Louisiana that I-10, one of the major evacuation routes out of New Orleans, is gridlocked.
So let's get a sense of the situation with CNN's Jeanne Meserve, who is there in New Orleans, standing by the side of the road on what exactly are folks doing? Do they realize this gridlock? And are alternative routes available to them?
MESERVE: Well, I think that the city and state officials just tried to make it very clear that they should try to use those alternate routes. We'll see if they avail themselves of that opportunity.
But Betty, I just want to say, this is enormous. For a big city mayor to say, everybody get out, leave your homes, leave your possessions, get out of town, is an extraordinary development. For him to say, we expect the levy system to be knocked out, we expect a total loss of electricity, we expect loss of water service, for him to say only go to the Superdome as a last resort, get out of here, is really quite extraordinary.
NGUYEN: All right. Jeanne Meserve, thank you so much for that information.
And I'm just being told by our producers that the governor of Louisiana has just said that she encourages travelers to go north, because all westbound traffic is basically jampacked. So if you're heading out of New Orleans, take the northern routes, because you're -- that's going to be your best bet to get out in a timely manner.
But you know what, the window of time to evacuate is closing and closing quickly, because we also learned, from the mayor of New Orleans, that when the winds get bad, when the weather turns bad outside, as Katrina comes ashore, those evacuation routes are going to be shut down.
So if you're listening and you're thinking about it, don't think about it anymore, just head out of town.
We've got a lot more hurricane coverage coming up on Katrina, which is now a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 175 miles per hour. You want to stay tuned for that, because CNN LIVE SUNDAY is next with Randi Kaye.
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