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Hurricane Katrina Heads Towards New Orleans

Aired August 28, 2005 - 17:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredericka Whitfield. Now in the news, time is running out for people in the path of hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is now under a mandatory evacuation order and those who can't leave are being sent to shelters such as the Super Dome.
Iraq's draft constitution will go before Iraqi voters on October 15th. The document was finished today without the support of Sunni Arab leaders. Sunni negotiators rejected the document because of differences over Federalism and strategies to rid the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein Saddam Hussein Baath party.

In Israel, a Palestinian suicide bomber wounded two guards today at an Israeli bus station during the morning rush hour. It's the most serious terror attack since Israel removed its settlers from Gaza and parts of the west bank last week.

You're looking at live satellite images of hurricane Katrina, the monstrous category five storm is on a direct approach to the central gulf coast with the eye wall expected to make landfall early tomorrow morning near New Orleans, Louisiana. The city's 485,000 residents are under a mandatory evacuation order. Interstates are jammed headed north and west. Those left behind will try to endure what could be the fourth category five storm to hit the U.S. since record keeping began. Katrina is expected to bring a storm surge of at least 20 feet. The latest information now coming from meteorologist Jacqui Jeras who has the latest update. Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The advisory just in Fredricka, and we've got winds of up to 165 miles per hour. That's still a major category five hurricane. It's down a little bit, but there's not that much difference in the damage, 165 and 175, is going to be doing. We're going to have some fluctuations in intensity. Hurricanes typically do this. It's very hard to sustain a hurricane with those 175-mile-an-hour winds and hopefully we'll continue to see this go down, but it can certainly go back up before making landfall. So keep that in mind. We'll continue to see some of these fluctuations.

It's about 150 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the mouth of the Mississippi River, about 225 miles away now from New Orleans. It's moving northwest ward at 13 miles per hour, but we are expecting it to start pulling a little bit farther on up to the north as we head into the evening and overnight hours for tonight. We're starting to see some of that bad weather roll in. We've had a couple of hours already of some of these squall lines pushing over lower parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, even heading into the Florida panhandle. We just have a new tornado warning which has been issued. This one is for George County in southeastern Mississippi, and Mobile County in southwest Alabama. This does not include Mobile proper. This storm is just to the west of you and it is moving in a westerly direction. There you can see the warnings, the counties that are highlighted there. It's moving westward around 25 miles per hour. Lott, (INAUDIBLE) Snow, Tanner, Big Creek Lake and Tanner Williams are all in the path of this storm. You need to be taking cover now. There are no tornado watches in effect, but we very often will get some very weak tornados spawn off out of a tropical system and we may be seeing a tornado watch possibly issued later on this afternoon or this evening.

Here you can see the forecast track. We've seen a very minor, minor change. It's just been nudged a little bit to the west, but nothing very significant. Remember, we still have this margin of error. We're maybe 12ish hours out from landfall. That's on the lower coasts and that would be closer to late morning, maybe early afternoon by the time this thing heads towards New Orleans. Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: And, Jacqui, one more time, we're looking at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time on Monday of a portion of that storm being over land, but we're talking about the first -- the more significant eye wall winds and water hitting New Orleans potentially at about what time?

JERAS: That's going to be in the predawn hours, I think, overnight tonight Fredricka. The tropical storm force winds, some of those gusts have already arrived, tropical storm force sustained winds. That means 39 to 74 miles per hour. That is expected already this evening. The hurricane force winds we think will be arriving overnight. And landfall still a little bit of a window, if you make me give you a time, I would say sometime between probably 3:00 and 7:00 in the morning and that is central time that I'm referring to.

WHITFIELD: And again, the areas that need to be concerned about, any potential tornadic activity?

JERAS: It's mostly going to be in this area, but all these spiraling bands that move around, so across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are probably going to be a little more likely -- it's up to the National Weather Center or storm prediction center if they decide they want to issue a watch.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui Jeras, thanks so much.

New Orleans could see its long-held worst fears realized. Hurricane Katrina has the city directly in its sights, as you've been hearing and the massive category five storm has the potential to devastate the area. Despite the mandatory evacuation order underway in New Orleans, getting out has been no easy journey. Our David Mattingly is in New Orleans and he joins us on the telephone. What are you seeing and experiencing there David?


WHITFIELD: All right. Obviously, a lot of wind and some of the outer bands of that storm are already hitting the New Orleans area, and that's affecting our cell phone reception there from David Mattingly, so we'll try to straighten that out and then get back with him when we get that sorted out.

President Bush meantime is joining emergency officials in urging people along the gulf coast of Louisiana and Mississippi to heed the warnings and head inland now. Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president pledged to marshal all the resources of the Federal government to help those areas about to be impacted by hurricane Katrina.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate the efforts of the governors to prepare their citizenry for this upcoming storm. Yesterday I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana, and this morning I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana. This morning I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Mississippi. These declarations will allow Federal agencies to coordinate all disaster relief efforts with state and local officials.

We will do everything in our power to help the people and the communities affected by this storm. Hurricane Katrina is now designated a category five hurricane. We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to gulf coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials.


WHITFIELD: So as far west as New Orleans, as far east as Biloxi, Mississippi, those are the areas that are apparently being targeted by hurricane Katrina. Let's check in in Biloxi, Mississippi as our own Jonathan Freed. He's on the phone with us right now and Jonathan, what are you experiencing right now?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fredricka. Well, I should update you on my position as we've been doing for the last couple of hours. We have been on the road -- we left New Orleans about 4 1/2 hours ago. And we are now, I would say, no more than 35 miles east of the city. That's 35 miles. The sky has darkened over in the last little while, and it's been raining off and on reasonably heavily. And it is bumper to bumper traffic. I'm looking at three lanes of traffic heading east and we are crawling along. I could be -- if it wasn't raining, I could be outside walking next to the car, more or less and keeping pace with it.

WHITFIELD: And what interstate are you on Jonathan?

FREED: Interstate 10.

WHITFIELD: And that's the same interstate that a number of people out of New Orleans were heading east as they were also getting instructions to head either west or north, but a lot of folks from New Orleans are heading that way, not knowing that Biloxi, Mississippi, is still an area and that surrounding area that is being threatened by hurricane Katrina.

FREED: Right. We're actually on our way to Biloxi right now. That is for the time being where our satellite truck is located. So our teams are moving that way so we can hopefully plug in and do some on-camera reporting for you from there. It's slow going. As I said, it's taken us Fredricka 4 1/2 hours to go about 35 miles. So we are definitely living the evacuation experience with everybody that has waited until this point to do it. You can tell that people are frustrated. But it's calm. You're not -- there are no horns honking. People are just determined to get out of town.

WHITFIELD: And are you getting a sense from people that the majority of those who are the roads are trying to get, perhaps, out of state or at least as far inland as possible, or are they making their ways to some of the shelters, the many shelters that are being set up in the Biloxi area as well?

FREED: That's a good question because we've had a mix of answers and occasionally is surprised me. Some people who live closer to the water are moving a little bit farther inland, but still comparatively speaking close to the water because for example they have a family member living there. One family said, well, my mother lives in Slidell and that's the general area that we're in right now, but people are talking about how it's right on the water, and in terms of storm surge, it may not be much safer than where they were living 20 miles away. Some people, some people clearly are thinking about moving from where they live, but I think it's important for people to bear in mind, think about where you're going. Where you're going may not be much safer than where you're leaving. So heed those warnings. Listen to what the officials are saying. And do the right thing.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jonathan Freed, thanks so much and best of luck as you make your way to Biloxi, Mississippi. Jonathan said he's in Slidell just outside of New Orleans and we have on the telephone with us the mayor of Slidell, Ben Morris. Mr. Mayor, can you give us a sense as to what you're experiencing? Jonathan explained that the skies are rather dark, feeling a little bit of rain. What are you seeing and experiencing?

BEN MORRIS, MAYOR: That's the first signs that we have of the approaching storm. It's starting to rain a little bit now. The wind's picked up, 15, 20 miles an hour. So it's going to get ugly fairly quick here. We expect tropical force winds by about 7:00 tonight, and most probably hurricane force winds right around midnight.

WHITFIELD: Now, you're just across the bridge from New Orleans.

MORRIS: We're about 25 miles from New Orleans as the crow flies. We're on the other side of Lake Ponchartrain (ph) from New Orleans.

WHITFIELD: So you're feeling is whatever New Orleans were to experience with this, you all in Slidell are feeling the identical experience just about, right. MORRIS: It's going to be a little different here, but we're going to take whatever New Orleans takes.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, you'll feel the same kind of impact, but, perhaps, is Slidell, the infrastructure and its sea level distance, perhaps, a bit different from New Orleans being that it's below sea level?

MORRIS: No. We have some areas right at sea level, some a little bit below. I think the highest point in our city is about 15 feet above sea level.

WHITFIELD: So what are your greatest concerns now, then?

MORRIS: Well, the people that didn't get out of here, the people that's locked up on the interstate. They're going to be sitting out there in hurricane force winds fairly soon especially if it's moving at three miles an hour, which doesn't surprise me at all.

WHITFIELD: So where will they go? If they're stuck on the interstate --

MORRIS: I would suggest that they don't get off it until they get well north of us and keep on going, because we don't have any authorized shelters in our city because we're so low. And we're expecting a storm surge coming across the lake of somewhere between, I'd say, 18 and 25 feet, depending on where the storm goes.

WHITFIELD: So your recommendation to people, when you say move inland, how many miles inland are we talking? Because this storm --

MORRIS: No, I didn't say inland. I said north.


MORRIS: Inland is -- it's still low. Once you get into Mississippi --

WHITFIELD: Isn't that one and the same?

MORRIS: ... go up some.


MORRIS: But our biggest fear is water here, people drowning in place, plus the catastrophic damage to residents, et cetera.

WHITFIELD: All right. Slidell Mayor Ben Morris, thanks so much for taking the time out. We'll check in with you throughout the evening, and best of luck as you hunker down there.

Our hurricane coverage of Katrina continues as New Orleans residents head out of town. The brunt of the storm may hit just hours from now. We'll get an update on Katrina's path from the National Hurricane Center next.


WHITFIELD: Taking a quick look at the headlines for hurricane Katrina. The category five storm is looming just off the coast of southeast Louisiana, packing winds of up to 165 miles per hour. The eye could reach land by sunrise and the storm could slam into New Orleans by mid-day tomorrow. New Orleans is under a mandatory evacuation order and everyone who is physically able to travel has been ordered to leave. The city is preparing for up to 15 inches of rain and a storm surge of up to 28 feet, a wall of water that would overwhelming the city's levee system. Worst case scenarios predict the bowl-shaped city could be submerged under as much as 30 feet of water.

In Texas, President Bush is urging everyone in the storm's projected path to head for higher ground. Mr. Bush says he's spoken with the governors of all of the affected states. He said the Federal government will do everything it can to assist people affected by the storm.

Back east in Florida, aid efforts continue after Katrina passed across the state on Thursday as a much weaker storm. Reporter Gary Nelson of CNN affiliate WFOR has more from Miami.


GARY NELSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the staff of life, ice and water and two days after Katrina, here comes the National Guard trying to meet a need of biblical proportions.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: As soon as the news got out and the information got out that we were here and issuing supplies we've had a steadily line probably over 2 1/2 miles long.

NELSON: 2 1/2 miles of misery, two by two the cars come. Thousands of those Katrina has left needing. And amid such great need, only two ice and water distribution centers in all the county.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's pretty good. At least we have this one here. I think these guys are doing a great job.

NELSON: It beats nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It beats nothing, that's for sure.

NELSON: While some wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, others were complaining about a need unmet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they need to do is have different outlets that people can go, different spots in the city so that they don't have to go across town. I mean, at least four or five spots, at least.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is, why don't they have more distribution centers set up instead of waiting in these lines and cars overheating?

NELSON: And imagine people who don't have a car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. It's horrible.

NELSON: And lots of folks with cars couldn't get water here. Unless they have a truck or an SUV, the foul water is too high. Mayor Carlos Alvarez showed up, handed out some ice and water and said he feels your pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can certainly empathize. I don't have electricity. But as power comes on, we'll see the lines diminish.

NELSON: But at the moment, the lines remain long. The misery, the need remains real.


WHITFIELD: For an update on Katrina, let's head to the National Hurricane Center in Miami and that's where the center's director, Max mayfield is standing by. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Well, let's talk about the evolution of hurricane Katrina. We're talking about a category one that left its path in south Florida from the most recent pictures that we just saw and then it gained strength in the gulf to a category five. Can you blame directly the warm waters of the gulf for this kind of strengthening?

MAYFIELD: That's certainly part of it, but a hurricane is a heat engine. It gets its source of energy from the warm ocean. We've have not only very warm water in the gulf, but very warm water that goes very deep in the Gulf of Mexico. So that energy source is like high octane fuel, if you will. The (INAUDIBLE) environment is very favorable. Everything has come together and this is one of the most powerful hurricanes on record.

WHITFIELD: So even though the outer bands are starting to brush southeastern Louisiana right now, might this storm still have the potential to pick up strength again, even though these winds have been downgraded apparently within the past hour to 165 miles per hour.

MAYFIELD: We don't want to make much out of that at all, the fact that we went from 175 miles per hour down to 165. Yeah, that's a different between run over by an 18-wheeler or by a freight train and neither prospect is good.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. What are the coordinates right now? How far away are we talking about the eye wall landfall? We've heard the numbers of sunrise, a little bit before that. What's your best prediction?

MAYFIELD: Well, the center is 150 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi right now. But the important thing is that the storm force winds are already affecting the southeastern portion of Louisiana. So conditions will continue to deteriorate and the message need to be very clear, that all preparations to protect life and properties should be (INAUDIBLE) completion.

WHITFIELD: So what might folks expect there? Right now, as you described, they're feeling some rain right now. We've heard from a number of people, from our reporters to the mayor of Slidell, that there are people who are almost gridlocked on the highways as they try to make their way out. So what might these people expect weather wise while they try to find higher ground?

MAYFIELD: Well, I think they'll be shutting some of those roads down here the best they can at this time and go ahead and have people seek refuge. If they can't evacuate at this stage, they need to listen to what their local officials are telling them and the emergency managers there in southeastern Louisiana are saying that elevation is your salvation (INAUDIBLE). So they need to get in some elevated building. You don't want to be up in the top of any of those high rise buildings because the winds are stronger a loft than they are down at the surface.

WHITFIELD: Hurricane Betsy in '65, Camille in '69 are some of the closest comparisons being made with the path of this storm. Does it concern you to see these kind of comparisons given that we're talking about a very different time, different structures and infrastructures in place, meaning the endurance of these kind of wind speeds and the storm surges are quite different from 30, 40 years ago?

MAYFIELD: Well, I think it's a really good analogy. The more people talk about Betsy, this is much stronger than Betsy. It's the same intensity as Camille, which was a category five hurricane. Camille hit over in Mississippi. So not only is this a category five hurricane, there's a much larger hurricane than even Camille. So this will have a tremendous impact, southeastern Louisiana, the Mississippi coast, Alabama coast, even over into the northeastern gulf, the Florida panhandle and then those strong winds, the heavy rain and tornados will be spreading well inland over the next few days.

WHITFIELD: All right. Max Mayfield, thanks so much, director of the National Hurricane Center. We'll be checking with you throughout the evening. Thanks so much.

For many people, the lure of living near the coast is irresistible. Coming up, how some places on the coast face an ongoing threat of bad weather and expensive repairs.

Also, when there are problems, who steps in to help? Getting ready for the worst when we come back.


WHITFIELD: More now of our continuing coverage of hurricane Katrina. Not everyone can get out of New Orleans. And that's why the home of the New Orleans Saints is now about to be home to an awful lot of stranded people. Our John Zarrella is at the New Orleans Super Dome. He's joining us now live, thanks to our affiliates there. It looks like the long lines have already formed, and hearing a lot of noise back there, too, John. JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they're all chanting "let us in, let us in." There are actually 10,000 people already inside, another 2,000 in the lines out here. You can probably see the enormous lines. A little bit of drizzle coming down. We've had one of the squall lines move through already. And I'll tell you a little bit about what we're hearing is that because they expect that the floor, the field level of the Super Dome could flood, that there won't be any people on the field level. They'll all be up in the bleachers and the stands. Again, 10,000 already inside, another 2,000 here.

The special needs people are being let in on the other side. There are about 150 national guardsmen and women here, along with 250 local police. They are -- the reason it's taking so long is because they are going through everybody's belongings. And, in fact, we have been told that they have confiscated weapons from people, some bags, as well as liquor. They are not allowing anybody to bring any of that stuff in. And I'm going to bring in Katrice Sneed (ph) who is a local resident here. We talked briefly a few minutes ago, Katrice and how long have you been here?

KATRICE SNEED: I've been out here since 12:30 this afternoon. My daughter was standing in the line when the coast guard and them came and split the line. My daughter came out of the line to call me to let me know they was breaking. She came to get me. They wouldn't let us go back up. I explained to them she was in line. Now, what if she wouldn't have came and got me and I would have stayed down here?

ZARRELLA: let me ask you, why did you choose to come here instead of evacuate? Did you not have a choice?

SNEED: Yes, I did have a choice, but I was waiting on my mother. And she decided not to go and I told her, well, I'm going. If she would have left yesterday, like she was supposed to, I wouldn't be here today.

ZARRELLA: I'm sure many people are in the same boat you're in and probably wish they had gone ahead and left, right?

SNEED: Right, I'm quite sure they had if they had any place to go.

ZARRELLA: This is not where you want to be for the next day or two, correct.

SNEED: No, it's not. I would prefer to be at home.

ZARRELLA: But you're confident that everything will be OK here, that you'll be safe along with all these other people?

SNEED: Yes, I'm very confident.

ZARRELLA: What did you bring with you? What kind of things did you bring with you to get through the next couple of days?

ZARRELLA: I brought change in clothes for three to four days. We have all our personal items, blankets and pillows and stuff and that's about it. We have food. We have water, canned food.

ZARRELLA: And clearly you're concerned about what you might go back to, your home after this is all over with?

SNEED: If Katrina is going to do like they say they going to do, we may not have a home as far as the water and everything.

ZARRELLA: Everything's low-lying here.

SNEED: Yes, everything is. I mean, the area where the streets do flood and they came and did the drainage system, and we had a hard pour down of rain recently, but it did good --

ZARRELLA: This is a lot more than a hard pour of rain.

SNEED: I'm thinking with all the water and rain that Katrina bringing in, there's no guarantee what I'm going to go back home to.

ZARRELLA: Well, I thank you very much for spending a little time with us. I know you've got people holding your place in line over there.

SNEED: My children holding my place in line.

ZARRELLA: Good luck to you and certainly to your family.

SNEED: Can I make one statement?


SNEED: While we're on TV. They're not being fair to the special victims -

ZARRELLA: Oh, you had mentioned that there were some people --

SNEED: There's a lady that's out here with us right now. She has two kids on a ventilator and they're only letting one family member, but these are little babies, and she got her other two kids and her mother and they would not let her go.

ZARRELLA: In the special needs.

SNEED: And that's wrong, because she needs help. She got a newborn and about a one-year old.

ZARRELLA: All right. Thank you very much for passing all that on. Thank you. We - of course