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Hurricane Rita makes landfall at Texas/Louisiana Border

Aired September 24, 2005 - 05:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ...nearly the force. It certainly wasn't a category 3 hurricane at landfall, and winds now down near Anderson Cooper where he was, we just got a report of the wind gusts at 104, and that's in the rain. So that rain is going sideways. So many times you do get a dry hurricane where there are bands of dry spots. There just has been no dry spots for you at all for you guys, at all, for hours and hours and hours.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Gentlemen, stay right where you are. Let's keep those pictures up right now. We're at the top of the hour, 5:00 a.m. eastern time, 4:00 a.m. central time right now. Let's give you a bit of a recap of where we are at this time. Hurricane Rita making landfall at 3:40 a.m. eastern time, as you can see, with devastating effects. Lake Charles and many areas just devastated by the landfall. Winds, sustained winds, we understand, Catherine, of 100 miles plus. Chad Myers is in the CNN weather center here in Atlanta.

You see Miles O'Brien, who is with us from Lumberton, Texas, and Anderson Cooper in and out, just being hammered right now in Beaumont, Texas. We can tell you that the path of the storm is such that what is happening right now with Anderson in Beaumont is moving toward Miles. And, Chad Myers, it has been just an awesome sight to see this storm make landfall and cause the kind of damage with the kinds of winds. Anderson Cooper describing the scene as just a white out of wind and rain and water. It has been devastating to see.

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about some of the damage we have seen over the last couple hours. About half a million people now without power in parts Texas. We've heard of some buildings destroyed in Lake Charles, windows blown out of buildings. Three buildings caught fire in Galveston earlier this evening. And Gary Tuchman is also with us tonight by video phone. There he is. Who has also been describing an enormous amount of damage where he is. Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Catherine. We're here in Beaumont, Texas. We're a little distance away from Anderson, another part of town, the downtown section of Beaumont, the entertainment, restaurant, club, bar section which has been quiet, as you might expect, all night. Conditions over the last 15 minutes have improved for the first time in the last couple of hours. I don't know, I'll have to ask Chad this question, perhaps we're out of the worse in Beaumont?

But we've had the worst of it for over two to three hours with windows breaking and businesses surrounding us. The windows inside the buildings -- we're inside a restaurant, -- bending and moaning and we've been staying away from them because we've been expecting them to break at any time. They haven't broken.

But the roof kind of collapsed and has been leaking inside the building, the second floor. We're on the first floor. The second floor, part of the building has lost part of the roof and leaking into the first floor. There's extensive damage everywhere. We can see it from the block we're on. We can't venture much past this right now because of the conditions. We were talking about the rain a short time, Miles was mentioning that.

I have now clocked 13 hours and 15 minutes of continuous rain showers. It hasn't let up at all. It has been a continuous shower. And I find that very unusual too. I don't remember that happening before, where it just never stopped. Usually you have these bands that come in, the heavy rains, and then it stops for like an hour, then heavy rains again. But this is continuous, immense amount of rainfall here in Beaumont, Texas.

Earlier today we were in Port Arthur, 50 miles to the east. A lot of fear of storm surge there. It's still not clear what kind of storm surge they've had. They were talking about 20 feet of storm surge. But they chased everyone out of there, I'll tell you that much. It's a city of 57,000 people. We saw nobody when we left, not even the local police, the fire department were there. They went to Lumberton, where Miles O'Brien is right now, and they got out of the town.

We can tell you one other thing we've been talking about today, did more people end up leaving because of Hurricane Katrina? Undoubtedly, no question about it. Because one thing we saw, not only were people evacuating en masse, these cities, but they were very fearful, very sad scene. People came up to us when they recognized us, who we worked for, the fear in their eyes. "How far should I go, what should I do?" That's something we've never seen before in any evacuation over the years, because of what happened in Katrina. Back to you.

HARRIS: Gary Tuchman. Thank you, Gary. To Anderson Cooper now, also in Beaumont, Texas. I'm not going to ask a question. I don't believe you can hear me. Give us -- well we can see it for ourselves.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I can sort of hear you. It is still -- the winds are just constant now. It is just whipping. It's like a thousand needles, as you're trying to pan out here. I'm going to try to get over there because there's -- you can't even look into it. You cannot look to where the wind is pointing because it is just too extreme. And the few times you can glance, it is literally just a white wall in front of you. You have no sense of how far it goes.

And as you walk out, the winds just pick up. I'm going to basically stay behind this. But you really get a sense of how fast the winds are moving. Again, it is this solid mass. This must be the height of the storm for us. I couldn't hear what Chad Myers was saying earlier, nor could I hear what Gary Tuchman was saying, he's elsewhere in Beaumont. But right here on the Neches River, this for us is probably as bad as it has been. And I just hope, seeing the storm as powerful as it is right now, I fear for anyone who may still be out on that roadway, who is just in their car. I can't imagine being in a car stuck on the side of the road in conditions like this.

This is probably our last broadcast, because I think we're going to just now go inside where it's safe. But I'm glad we were able to at least get on the air to show you what we think for us is the height of the storm. I don't think we've been able to broadcast in these kind of conditions, so I just want to thank all the technicians here. I don't know how they did it, but they got us up and hopefully when we see you next, the storm will have died down.

CALLAWAY: All right, Anderson. Thank you so much, Anderson. Stay safe. Fantastic job tonight. And amazing that you were able to get back up. Bye, Anderson.

HARRIS: Boy, one of the stories we've been reporting this morning is the story of a fire in Houston, Texas. Let's go to our affiliate station KPRC and our reporter there on the scene, Priscilla Kwan. Priscilla, can you give us an update on that fire?

PRISCILLA KWAN, KPRC CORRESPONDENT: Houston fire fighters are still working on the hot spots that continue to flare up in this apartment complex behind me. They do have most of the fire out, but those hot spots continue to flare up. The fire is contained to just one apartment complex, but the main concern here are these nasty winds in this area, 40- to 50-mile-per-hour winds. They are afraid that the embers might go to other buildings and the fire would spread over there.

When firefighters first arrived, they weren't sure whether there was anybody inside this building. They weren't sure whether people evacuated as a result of Rita coming on its way here. But they say they didn't see anyone standing in the street hollering at them, screaming at them, saying that their loved ones were stuck inside. So, as far as for the firefighters are concerned, they don't believe there are any injuries and there are no injuries to the firefighters either.

Again, the winds are at 40 to 50 miles per hour. We were even concerned about raising the pole out of our live truck, because we weren't sure whether the winds could actually tip over our live truck. When we're inside editing video for this story, the live truck as you can imagine, was just rocking back an forth. So again, Houston firefighters are on the scene of this apartment complex. They're working on the hot spots now. No injuries so far, but they say the apartment complex is destroyed. We're live in Houston, I'm Priscilla Kwan, now back to you.

HARRIS: OK, Priscilla, thank you.

CALLAWAY: We told you at the top of the hour about the reports of damage we're hearing out of Lake Charles, Louisiana. And our own Jason Carroll is at a hospital there in Lake Charles. Jason, can you hear me? JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can hear you now, yes, absolutely. Let me just give you an update. What we've done is we were outside, we had to move inside. The hospital administrator said it just wasn't safe enough. You didn't need to stand outside very long to figure that out. Debris was flying everywhere. I mean, most of the power at this point is out in the Lake Charles area, pitch- black outside.

But, what was so strange for us was to stand there and, despite the pounding rain, and despite the fact of the thunderous wind, you could still hear things cracking and breaking in the distance. Unclear if those were trees or debris that had broken off from a building that is now flying down the street. But, you could hear it everywhere. As I'm standing in this corridor, still, I can still hear every now and then a crack, a breaking of something in the distance, but because it's so dark outside we can't tell where it's coming from.

What they've done here is they've sealed off the windows with tape, but even as you're standing here, as the wind gusts come by, the glass almost looks like Plexiglas. It's sucked in, it stretches in and out with each gust of wind. So you move back, obviously, further away for safety, but to watch that happen, something to really see. At this point, we're really still getting hammered, very, very heavily. Heavy winds, heavy rain.

We have tried to reach out to the command center. They are down. They lost power. They're on emergency power. We have been unable to get in contact with them again. At last word, they told us most of the people in the city have, in fact, heeded the evacuations, which were mandatory evacuations, which were under way at least for 48 hours and upwards of that at this point. Thankfully, most people got out.

For those people who have stayed, they have been told obviously it's too dangerous to go outside even to open the door at this point and step outside at this point. So if you're at home, they're saying you simply have to stay there and make the best of it. Go to the highest point in the house. You're experiencing some flooding, although it's the wind at this point we're really experiencing, being on the eastern half of this storm. They're also saying at this point put some sort of number on the outside of your house indicating how many people are inside. That way if emergency crews come by and you're trapped they know how many people they have to look for on the inside.

We're at Christus St. Patrick hospital, where people are basically just -- the nurses and the staff, doctors that are here -- are basically doing what they can just sort of hunkering down and trying to wait for this to pass. In terms of the patients that are here, only four patients that are here. They have a critically ill patient. They are running on emergency power here. They are being cared for. That is not a worry at this time.

What is the worry is that wind that is outside that is just -- I know you can't hear it, but even as I stand here, I'm looking at this window and sort of backing up and moving away as I talk, just because it's that wind that I think is going to be doing a lot of damage out there, and I think we're going to be seeing it at daybreak.

CALLAWAY: All right, Jason, I'm glad you're safe. Miles O'Brien, not so sure you are safe, standing there in Lumberton, Texas, with no protection from the wind that's blowing your way. What's the situation?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first I want to tell our viewers I'm about (UNINTELLIGIBLE). ...Try to illustrate what is coming through here. The power of this storm, it's literally, as the gusts come through, they're lifting me off my feet. I have to get down real low, for fear of becoming a human sail here. Tremendous amount of wind and just absolutely filled with rain.

There is not a break from the rain. Not break in the rain at all. And it's been like this for hours. We've been talking about how well the evacuation has gone. Ninety percent evacuation. Jefferson County, has about 200,000 people. If it's 90 percent evacuation, there still are 20,000 people that are in their homes right now in these two counties that go all the way down to the coast. There are a lot of people riding this out in their homes who in many cases may be regretting their decision to do that right now.

We told you a little while ago about the chief of police here and his officers going out to get one family that was in a house when the tree came down, family of six. They're okay. There's a shelter of last resort at a nursing home where they have a generator. It will be very interesting to see what kind of damage has been left. They told a wild tale of driving through with trees down, they had to cut through six trees, one tree went down before them as they tried to do that rescue. So, clearly, Lumberton, even the fact it's 50 miles inland is not enough to shelter it from this storm.

HARRIS: Boy, Miles. You know, the brunt of this is still to come for you. I mean, I want it tell you to grab a wall or something just to brace yourself. I understand what you're doing there, but I guess you understand what I'm suggesting to you.

O'BRIEN: Don't worry. Here's what I can do. Let me show you, three steps and look, see, I'm under a portico and I'm protected. That's the key here is you got to have a good fallback position, which is what we have here. So...

CALLAWAY: Hey, Miles...

O'BRIEN: ...This brick building. Go ahead.

CALLAWAY: Just curious, you've been at this location for some time now. The building where you are, has there been any damage there?

O'BRIEN: No. Well actually I was standing there and one of the asphalt shingles fell down on me. That was kind of a wake-up call. Because...

CALLAWAY: I guess so. O'BRIEN: I didn't see it coming. And that's the point here is that -- excuse me while I hoist up my waders -- the point is you've got to be careful in the darkness. It is particularly dangerous. What I do know is that I've got a good, clear shot of this parking lot, and I know that there's nothing over there, because we scouted this out beforehand and knew the wind was going to be coming this way. That's north, that's south. Anderson Cooper and Gary Tuchman 15 miles that way.

I am in -- it's all relative. These are calculated risks, but we have fallback positions. We can go inside to the command center if we need to and our satellite truck, fortunately, is also being protected by the police headquarters. So, you know, it's part of telling the story, but it's also -- at a certain point, you've got to know when to fall back.

HARRIS: OK. Miles, appreciate it. Really do. We want to take you now to the National Hurricane Center. And Max Mayfield, as you know, is the director of the center. Max joins us now. Max, we want to give Anderson and we want to give Miles as much information, and everyone at home, as much information as we can, as to the current path and when they might start to see a bit of a break in this ferocious activity.

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: OK. Sorry. I've talked to so many people, I can't remember who's in what city right now, but I can tell you, you can still see the northern side of the eye wall here is very, very intense. Over Beaumont and extending eastward to nearly to Lake Charles here, so, you know, that's going to eventually spread on inland. But the winds are still strong, well to the south of there, even on the back side. I think as long as those winds remain strong and out of the south here, that storm surge is going to keep piling in here, especially in the area around Cameron, Louisiana, northward to Calcasieu Lake.

CALLAWAY: Chad, we know you want to jump right in there. You've been on top of this storm all night long.

MYERS: Well, we're concerned about that storm surge, Max. I was wondering whether you have access to any river gauges or buoys that we don't have access to? Do we know that the water is coming up?

MAYFIELD: I think we lost the one gauge down there that we had been looking at, and I can't really tell you what that water is doing now. At least our storm surge simulation shows the water still coming up. Just because the center is on shore here, people shouldn't think that water is not still rising. It is on the east side of the eye, and, you know, it's not going to have a chance to drain back out until those winds really slacken off, and that's going to be well into the afternoon.

MYERS: We've had reports of major structural damage in Lake Charles. Have you heard of damage anywhere else?

MAYFIELD: No. You've probably heard more of that damage information than I have here tonight, but we should, you know, I would think start getting a lot more here as the sun comes up.

MYERS: Catherine?

CALLAWAY: Are you expecting to make any changes in the amount of rainfall from this storm or in the storm surge at all, over what you've seen over the last two hours?

MAYFIELD: I think the rainfall, you know, 10 to 15 inches here is going to hold us over the next 24 hours or so. What we're concerned about with the rainfall is, you know, three-, four- and five-day periods. It really does slow down or loop around. That's when we're going to have the real problem. If that occurs we could still get up to 25 inches. The storm surge, with the radius of maximum winds around 15 miles or so that we had at landfall, probably not going to be quite as high as we've been forecasting earlier. May not get up to 20 feet, but it may be 13, 14, 15 feet, in some areas.

HARRIS: Max just a quick question. A mistake to think that, since this storm has made landfall, it will quickly break apart?

MAYFIELD: That's right. It will probably lose about half intensity in 12 hours or so. We need to remember that we almost always have loss of life well after landfall, you know, from the wind, the trees falling down on the cars or on the people, and then from that inland freshwater flooding.

CALLAWAY: Max Mayfield. Thank you so much for being with us throughout the night and keeping us up to date on this storm.

HARRIS: OK. The mayor of Morgan City, is that what you're telling me? The mayor of Morgan City is on the line with us. Mr. Mayor, thank you for being with us. What is your name, please?


HARRIS: Tim Mott, all right. Mr. Mayor, give us a sense of what you're seeing and what reports you're getting about how your city is holding up?

MOTT: OK. We are still experiencing tropical storm winds, so we haven't seen any hurricane force winds. But, I'll tell you, it's been pretty steady, and it's been going for a good while now. We also have rain bands. Right now we're not experiencing any rain, but it comes and goes as these bands pass. It's probably been in the four-inch range, something like that.

CALLAWAY: Do you still have power?

MOTT: We've got probably about half the city on, half the city in dark.

CALLAWAY: We've been hearing some bad reports out of Lake Charles. You're south of Lake Charles, right?

MOTT: We're slightly south, but we're a good bit east of Lake Charles, Probably 120 miles or so east of Lake Charles. CALLAWAY: And what about the state of your city before this storm hit? What about evacuations and who was left in your town?

MOTT: We didn't evacuate in Morgan City. We were most concerned about storm surge, and we have a good levee system. We're kind of similarly situated to New Orleans. We're completely surrounded by water and consequently completely surrounded by a levee system. So our big concern was storm surge and of course getting the rain water out of the city by pump. So far, we've made several trips out to the waterfront to check the river levels, continue to monitor that. The National Weather Service indicated we should expect a storm surge in the 10-foot range. Right now the water level in Morgan City in the river is at about plus six. We continue to watch that.

CALLAWAY: Have you had any reports of 911 calls, that kind of thing, in your town tonight?

MOTT: No. We've had several calls for transformers sparking, lines burning, that type of thing. So, the fire department stayed pretty busy tonight, as has the electrical crews.

HARRIS: Mr. Mayor, how did you fare with Katrina?

MOTT: With Katrina -- I was just speaking with a police officer who spent the night on the road in both cases, and he's telling me this one he thought was a little more intense.

HARRIS: This one. That Rita?

MOTT: Rita is a little more intense for us. I think the big difference is, we're on the east side of the storm and, of course, for Katrina, we were on the western side of the storm. So, you know, it's just -- the difference that you have to deal with. We probably were actually a little closer to Katrina's landfall as the crow flies, you know, we might have been 90 miles, whereas here we may be 120, 130 miles away.

CALLAWAY: And here, we have Chad Myers for you. I know you have some questions for him, I know he wants to talk to you.

MYERS: Mr. Mayor, I do want to talk to you. I want you to know your winds are still out of the east-southeast here. And you don't really have your surge yet as you would as the winds come out of the southwest later on in the storm, getting through Sweet Bay Lake and then on up into your city. So, don't let your guard down just because the eye is onshore. As your winds shift that's when your maximum surge is going to come onshore, probably still four, maybe five hours away.

MOTT: We'll be continuing to watch that.

CALLAWAY: All right, mayor. Thank you for being with us. We hope to check back with you when the light of day comes to see how that town fared.

HARRIS: That town and a lot of towns. Anderson Cooper is on the line with us right now and Anderson, give us a sense of -- well, we're hoping you're exactly square in the middle of that eye, and maybe you have a bit of calm. But, somehow I don't think so.

COOPER: No. It's still pretty bad outside. We've actually just called it a night. A city manager kindly opened up a door for us in a city building, so we are actually just camped out in the lobby, kind of just, you know, sopping wet and glad to be out of that storm. I don't know. I don't know if I was coherent the last few times I talked to you. I couldn't really hear what you were asking me.

But I have never seen a storm at its height like that for such a sustained amount of time and just -- I mean it was so eerie. There's no lights around and, you know, one car head lights and that's basically the only light we had. It literally was like a snowstorm, this complete blizzard, complete white out. Then, of course, it's not snow, it's water and it's wind and, you know, you really get a sense of mother nature's power of this storm. And, you know, we all saw with Katrina what a storm like this can do and the havoc it can wreak.

I just, you know, I hope and I pray that tomorrow morning when the sun comes up and the winds die down, and we know it's still going to be raining, but we're able to get out and the police are able to get out, I hope people are okay. When you see it up close and you see it that close, you realize how small we all are and how quickly we can all, you know, succumb to a storm like this.

HARRIS: I've got a question for you. One of the things that you do so well and one of the things we do here is we try to change perspectives, shift perspectives. Have you had occasions to think about the folks that might have stayed behind and tried to ride this thing out? Have you thought about the emergency personnel who are charged with, sort of, making sure that the homes that are left behind, that the streets, the businesses, are taken care of? Have you had occasions to think about the pets that may have been left behind? I'm sure you have.

COOPER: Yes. I talked to the Beaumont city police earlier tonight and he said, you know, people's property will be protected, lives will be protected the best we can. They have all their officers on duty. I think there are some 250, 240 officers, all of them showed up for work. They are all in a secure building and I'm sure are eager to get out there as soon as they can, as soon as these hurricane force winds stop and, you know, start patrolling and start helping people. I know the 911 calls they have been receiving in Beaumont -- because I talked to the fire chief a while back -- he said that at that time they were mostly people calling in to report possible fires from transformers exploding. The great majority of people in Beaumont left, there's no doubt about it. There were 110,000, 115,000 people in the city. The mayor said he believes some 90, 95 percent of the people may have gone. But, you know, these people who did stay behind, you know, probably the people who didn't have as much access to vehicles, didn't have some place to go, and, you know, the construction of their homes is certainly something which -- you know, when you see the winds the way they are and just imagine being in one of those homes where, you know, it could -- the roof can get blown off or bits and pieces blown off very easily. So I hope they're in a safe place in a small room, in their bathrooms, maybe even in their bathtubs and, you know, figured out a way to make it through that's going to be a little longer and then the thing is going to die down, we hope, here in Beaumont.

CALLAWAY: Anderson, not just the wind, but we heard you talk about several times during your live reporting tonight the relentless amount of rainfall that was falling and as you described it, just a wall of rain?

COOPER: Yes, and it just keeps going. I mean it does not stop. All of us who have been covering this -- I have a crew of about six or seven people now -- we're completely wrinkled and, you know, it's just a constant steady pounding of rain, sometimes more intense than others. But the amount of water I think is more than any hurricane I've seen.

In other ones that Chad and I have done together, you could go through periods of time where the rain almost stopped completely. But it has been relentless, it has been nonstop, and you think it's going to let up and then it doesn't. It just seems to get worse. It looks like things have died down a little bit from when we were broadcasting, but it is still very nasty out there and probably will be for quite a while to come.

CALLAWAY: All right, Anderson. Thank you so much for being with us throughout this. You have to be exhausted, if not from anything, just standing out there in that type of wind and rain for so many hours for us.

HARRIS: And Anderson and Catherine, I'm looking at the preview monitor right now of Miles O'Brien, and Miles is getting hit with gusts, and he is literally having to duck down to get low to try to lower his center of gravity like that so he isn't blown away. I've been watching you do that the last couple minutes. I don't know that you can sink low enough. The wind is really coming in on you.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we're getting to the point. We're getting on the edge of the point where it may not be a wise idea to be standing out here. I feel like I'm being pressure washed, Tony. It's unbelievable, just a solid sheet of water and the parking lot now behind me is flooding. We just watched a steady rise of the water here. This is the wettest hurricane I've ever seen. It has just not stopped.

We've said it over and over again, but clearly there's going to be some implications far beyond the coastal areas because of all the rain involved, and the possibility forecasters are telling us -- I have to get down -- if I stand up, I might end up like a human spinnaker, somewhere where I don't want to be -- but the forecasters are saying that this storm, as it moves inland, is going to stall out. So what you're talking about is rain, although maybe not horizontal, still coming down for a couple, three days.

And that is a prospect that has got to worry this entire region, because it's just hard to imagine the amount of force and power and water that is just being dumped down here in the city of Lumberton. What I'm seeing now, probably the early hurricane force winds, we've got asphalt shingles coming off the roof, -- I'm sorry, what did you say?

CALLAWAY: We didn't say anything.

O'BRIEN: OK, we've got three or four trees down, and we've got a structure that went down there, signage and so forth. Yes, go ahead, Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Absolutely not saying a thing. I believe your piece may be acting up a little bit, Miles.

O'BRIEN: OK, yes, things do act up in these storms. But what we're seeing now, I think, is the beginning of the kind of weather that was enough to drive Anderson inside. So, we're going to be watching it very closely here. At this point we're going to hold our position. As I told you, all I have to do is take a few steps and I can get into a -- that is a relief, I'll tell you. It's a lot easier to talk out here because that -- it's like a jet engine that is constantly running overhead, that sheet of water and it only seems to be getting worse.

CALLAWAY: All right. Miles, thank you very much. And thank you very much for stepping behind some cover there. A lot of people concerned about your safety right now. Randi Kaye has been in Baytown. We talked to her not too long ago. The winds were starting to pick up there. Not as severe as where we have seen miles and seen Anderson, but Randi on the phone with us now, what's the situation in Baytown now?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Catherine, they've picked up enough to drive us inside. I mentioned to you in our last live picture that we were going to have to possibly put our satellite dish down because it was just wobbling during that last live shot, which is not a safe thing to have going on. So we moved inside to safer ground until we wait out some of these really strong winds passing through right now. This is the worst that we've seen.

We've been out there about five or six hours, and we've had a lot of wind and a lot of rain, but this is certainly the worst of it. Spoke with the city manager, though, and the good news is that all they're seeing here in Baytown so far -- we won't know really until daylight -- but all they're seeing right now is some downed power lines and a lot of people without power. But for the most part they haven't seen any severe flooding.

They were expecting a possible storm surge of anywhere between 10 to 13 feet. Parts of Baytown are pretty high and parts are pretty low. So, it depends on where you live, on what's going to happen here.

CALLAWAY: What about the refineries there, Randi? I know one of the largest ones is not too far from where you are.

KAYE: Right. We're just a few miles from the Exxon/Mobil refinery, which is the largest in the United States, and they've shut all of the refineries down, because Baytown sits here on the Houston ship channel. And there's about 200 refineries and chemical plants along there, and a lot of them house some pretty some lethal chemicals, chlorine, ammonia, crude oil, and if there was any type of accident or any type of leak caused by some of these pretty severe winds or possible flooding even -- the Shell plant we visited yesterday is just about a mile from the water, so they were ready for anything, they said, and they were leaving a few employees behind.

Some of them have more than a thousand employees, and they were just going to shut down and leave some security and, of course, some environmental experts just in case there might be some type of accident there. But they're hoping, fingers crossed, and if there is, they say they're prepared to deal with it.

CALLAWAY: The effects will be felt around the country. Randi, thank you very much. Randi Kaye for us, in Baytown. It is 5:30 in the morning now, eastern time. Guess we should get everyone up to date on where we are.

HARRIS: 3:40 a.m., eastern time, Rita made landfall. Devastating effect. Lake Charles. We've heard from a number of our correspondents, Jason Carroll, Rick Sanchez in Lake Charles. And that area pretty much devastated by this storm. Everyone waiting for first light just to see how bad the damage actually is in Lake Charles. A category 3 storm made landfall at 3:40 a.m. this morning.

And then, as we've seen in reports and pictures out of Galveston, Texas, where there was a fire there; Houston, Texas where there was a fire there that's kept the firefighters very busy. You've just heard from Randi Kaye in Baytown. Also as you take a look at the radar right now, many areas, Galveston, Lake Charles, Sabine Lake, just being devastated, overrun by this category 3 storm with intense winds, 85 mile-an-hour winds. Some gusts of over 100 miles an hour. Anderson Cooper being forced inside by the strength of the winds.

Miles O'Brien may shortly have to go inside as well. Randi Kaye being forced inside, now. She can't keep up her satellite truck any longer, having to go inside because of the power of Rita right now as it has made landfall on the Gulf Coast...

CALLAWAY: We have about...

HARRIS: Louisiana and Texas.

CALLAWAY: That's right and we have about half a million people without power right now in Texas. And it doesn't look like they're going to be getting it any time soon. One of the things we were concerned about when the storm hit, fires of course. Not able to fight those fires, and as Tony mentioned there were -- quite a fire was burning in Galveston, Texas, earlier tonight. We also had an apartment fire in Houston. Representative Gene Green is on the phone with us now in north Houston. What can you tell us is the situation in Houston now?

REP. GENE GREEN (D), TEXAS: We're one of the ones without power. We've been without power about an hour. I was actually at the command center this afternoon, to see how everything was organized. And once the storm is finished, or at least we can get the folks out there, they'll be either in east Harris County, part of our congressional district -- I have Baytown, Pasadena and the east county area -- or over into Beaumont, Port Arthur area.

CALLAWAY: How do you feel that Houston is going it to come out of this? Is it too early to tell from what you're hearing, what you're being told about what has happened in Houston over the last five hours?

GREEN: I think what we'll see is, even though we're 110 miles away from where the eye is coming ashore, we'll see lots of our trees damaged. You know, depending on how quick it is to get the power back, a lot of folks are going to be not more than just inconvenienced but I don't see much from the wind except for the trees.

CALLAWAY: All right.

HARRIS: Representative Green, this is Tony Harris with Catherine. Just a quick question. You have to take a broader view of this storm and talk to us, if you would, about what you believe the impact will be of this storm on -- boy, I guess the oil industry, the oil infrastructure, the gas infrastructure, refinery infrastructure there along your coast?

GREEN: Well, coming on Katrina, it damaged the offshore production so much. This just moved a little further to the west where we also have platforms off, you know, western Louisiana and Texas, so we'll see that problem with the crude oil. The concern we had is I have a congressional district that -- we produce 25% of the refined product, and all those refineries were shut down as of Thursday, because they could have had more damage to them. Now, that was because of the storm surge concerns, so I think once the wind dies down, we'll see those refineries back up much more, depending on their damage.

Without the high water flooding we saw at the refineries along the Mississippi, hopefully we'll be able to get back up quickly.

HARRIS: How quickly, do you think?

GREEN: Well, it takes 72 hours to ramp down a refinery, and so you have to start it back up. I would say probably at least 72 hours, plus get the personnel out of them maybe, you know, worried about their own homes that are damaged. But I know the industry is going to get it back because, one, they're losing money every day that refinery is not open.

HARRIS: That's right.

CALLAWAY: Well, are you pleased with the evacuations that you had in Houston? A lot of suffering along the highway there, as people tried to get out of town. Looking back on that, are you glad you saw the type of evacuation, the number of evacuations, or would you have liked to have seen that take place differently? GREEN: Well, two days ago we thought the storm was going to be, you know, just south of Galveston and that would have made the Houston area and our ship channel and our industry the dirty side, and so that's why we literally had about 2 million people move away from the coast and even from the southern part of the city of Houston, and I think we could do better.

We learn from every storm, we learn from the problems they did in New Orleans. In fact, not only in our district, but our county and our city made sure our nursing home residents and our disabled had options to where they could be evacuated. So we learned that we have to be proactive on that. In fact, I was at a nursing home today to make sure everything was fine. But I think we need to look at pre- positioning fuel for our evacuees.

We didn't do that as well, and we're asking both the state of Texas and FEMA to pre-position fuel for people coming back. Hopefully when they're returning in the next few days, they will leave wherever they are with a full tank, but if it's gridlock like what we saw, we don't want to have the same problem in reverse.

CALLAWAY: That's why I bring this up. Because, you know, there is discussion about having a better plan next time. What will be the first thing you do tomorrow morning?

GREEN: Well, the first thing we're going to do is evaluate where we are at, in our own district, so I can go to the state and also to FEMA. Because we have people on the ground now, we have regular military, we have our national guard, of course all our first responders for our city and county that have been pre-positioned literally in the Reliant/Astrodome complex. So they will be dealing with the problem we have in Harris County or moving to the east because of the damage both in the southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.

But that's what we'll do once the winds die down and people can safely travel. The concern is that not everybody should come back home because, one, the power is out. So if you're coming back, you're not coming back to power. Hopefully, our utility companies, both CenterPoint for the Houston area, and Entergy in the Beaumont and Louisiana area, will be able to have the power back up as quickly as possible.

HARRIS: Representative Green, all right, let me go off the beaten path for a second. Evacuation drills, why not institute as a civil exercise -- you just mentioned that we learned something from all of these storms. Why not find out ahead of time if our evacuation plans will actually work? Why not institute an evacuation drill? We give everybody a half a day off or whatever is necessary and we try the plan out?

GREEN: If we have any more storms like we've had in Katrina in Louisiana and this one, you're right, we need to. You know, our EMS personnel and our emergency services folks war gamed this, but they don't typically get the people involved, our constituents. But, if we continue to have these storms, I don't know if we need to have a drill. We're going through the drill in real life, seems like, the last three weeks in Louisiana and Texas.

HARRIS: Yes. Representative Green...

GREEN: And we learn from every one. We've learned from this one, we learned from the problems in New Orleans, you know, and hopefully we have not had the number of deaths that they did in New Orleans.

CALLAWAY: Well, with the type of things that were happening along Interstate 45 and 10 over the last 24 hours, I can guarantee you there are some people who might be very supportive of some type of drill to not have to go through what they went through on that highway.

GREEN: I think we'll, you know, we'll analyze it and see our problems and I can tell you one is, when people, you know, spend 10 hours in a car, creeping down a road, you to have fuel options for them.

CALLAWAY: All right. Representative Gene Green, thank you for being with us. Good luck to you, and we hope that is mostly good news tomorrow, as you venture when the sun comes up.

HARRIS: David Mattingly is with us now. David Mattingly, there he is in Galveston, Texas. David, give us a sense of the situation on the ground where you are right now.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, since we last talked to you, the rain has just about stopped here. There's still drops blowing in, but it's mostly dry wind gusts we're seeing right now. We took, this last half hour, last 45 minutes, the opportunity to drive around and try to see what's out there right now.

We drove into town, and we're find something some small pockets that still have electricity right now, and as we were driving into town we did find some area where there was some very, very minor street flooding. It was nothing to the point where you couldn't find a street that was impassable or anything like that. This town has a lot of very old, large trees. Of course there are some tree limbs down, but they were rather small limbs. We didn't see any large tree limbs blocking any roads or anything like that or any uprooted trees from this storm.

So this is turning out to be a whole lot better than what they feared just two days ago when they issued the mandatory evacuation order. It may be that the big story out of this storm for Galveston will be how successful their evacuation was when they got 90% of their population off this island and to the mainland and to safety. Of course, that came at a time when they thought they were going to get a category 5 or category 4 storm with the eye going just south of here, meaning the worst of the storm might have been coming here.

So they were very worried at the time. Even the mayor had asked for 1,500 national guard troops and a couple of search and rescue teams to be on the standby to come onto the island after the storm. But the way things are right now, I really am not sure if they're going to need any of those troops or any of those search and rescue teams. But again, some minor flooding being reported. We did see some power lines down in some places. There was one telephone pole that was smoldering. Apparently some of the lines had crossed and started a small fire there.

Earlier tonight there was a fire, a couple of buildings burned down to the ground. The firemen went out in the wind and rain. They actually went to their fire engine, which they had taken to the civic center parking deck for protection. They pulled out of there, went down and made sure that none of the other buildings around were catching on fire. You would think that with all of this rain and all this water from the hurricane, that fire would not be a problem, but when these buildings get damaged, maybe some sort of electrical fire starts, the building starts to burn, all of this wind just sort of acts like a blast furnace, feeding that fire.

Those three buildings really almost went completely to the ground, very well involved when firemen arrived. But they were able to keep other buildings nearby from going up in flames as well. So, we're hearing from the public official you were talking to about lessons learned. The big lesson they've learned here was how well they can get their population off this island when the threat is coming. We'll see when the sun comes up how widespread, what kind of damage we really have here.

HARRIS: All right. David Mattingly for us in Galveston, Texas. David, thank you.

CALLAWAY: Some of the worst damage that we've heard over the last few hours has been coming out of Lake Charles, and our Jason Carroll has taken refuge in a hospital there. He's telling us a lot of wind damage, and the rain continues to fall there. Jason?

CARROLL: Absolutely. Both wind and rain. Just want to give you an update very quickly. We just got off the phone with Lieutenant Gordon Fontenot. He's with the Lake Charles Police Department. They are getting reports of a terminal at the Lake Charles airport, one of the terminals may have sustained severe damage.

Also, they're getting reports of a possible collapse of an overpass. These are reports that are coming into the Lake Charles Police Department. The problem is they are like we are at this point, and they are bunkered down, and they have been unable to get out and make a visual inspection of these reports that are coming in. But they are hearing these reports.

They have been unable to get out there and take a look, just because at this point, it's just not safe. You know as we've been talking about, all night and all morning now at this point, we took refuge inside this hospital here, Christus St. Patrick hospital, simply because there was too much going on outside, in terms of debris flying by. The wind was simply too strong. Hospital staff said, "Look, you can stay outside, but we're locking things up and battening things down. If you're outside, you're staying outside."

We decided for safety's sake we would come inside. The wind has been relentless for the past several hours. Lake Charles, at this point, really still taking a beating.

CALLAWAY: I don't know if I'm hearing things, but it sounds like we can hear a howling. Is that the wind?

CARROLL: Yes. It is. You're really hearing it. You can imagine if you can hear it on your end with this cell phone and I'm in this corridor, imagine what it sounds like here. That's what it is. That is the howling of the wind. There are two double doors, glass doors, at the end of the corridor, and I can tell you when the wind really kicks up it looks like Plexiglas. The glass itself actually bends. It's ebb and flow with the wind. It's incredible to watch. It's obviously not something you want to get close to.

CALLAWAY: Who is in the hospital with you?

CARROLL: At this point it's mostly hospital staff who are standing by, waiting in the event that there are any patients that need to be brought in. There are four critically ill patients that are here. The hospital is operating under emergency power at this point, so they are being cared for. No concerns for those patients.

CALLAWAY: All right, Jason, thank you very much. Stay safe, stay inside that hospital. The reports are not good out of Lake Charles, right?

HARRIS: Jason describing unrelenting winds. Chad Myers, we -- if you're in the middle of this, as a number of our reports and correspondents are, and our anchors are, you want this to end, but may not end for a while?

MYERS: Not really, not for Lake Charles. They got the eastern eye wall right here. So, even though there's no real rain showers in this picture, the wind is still spinning around the eye which is located not that far from Beaumont now. Not that far east of Beaumont, probably 30 miles. And so the wind is still coming in right here for Beaumont, for Anderson Cooper, on up to Lumberton a little farther to the north, it is still coming in as well.

If you were a little bit farther to the south and east of there, actually in the eye it itself, then yes, the wind has let up. But it's going to come back from the other direction in no time. I have a couple tornado warnings I want to get to you. It's St. Helena Parish and Tangipahoa Parish, in Louisiana, including the County of Amite in southern Mississippi, tornado warning until 5:00 central time. And then for southwestern Lincoln and eastern Franklin, until 5:15.

I checked out both of these storms on the Doppler radar and there's spin in the atmosphere, not that there's a tornado on the ground, just that there is some spin out there, and that spin could actually cause a tornado to touch down. The one here, Tangipahoa, right about here up to the south and southeast of Hammond, you can see a couple rain showers coming into New Orleans Parish and Orleans Parish as well this morning. Not as much rain, though, in this area in New Orleans as was just to the west of the city.

About 30 miles west of the city, two to three inches of rainfall and there has not been that much in New Orleans, although some of the rainfall gauges along the river do have about four inches in some spots from the scattered showers. You can see some of these are big, bright red things, so there could be heavy showers coming in and out of New Orleans all day today.

CALLAWAY: Yes, Chad, just for people who might be waking and joining us now, a category 3 Rita makes landfall about 3:30 eastern time. Can you show us? It was on that Louisiana/Texas border at Sabine Pass.

MYERS: Yes, between Sabine Pass, which is very, very close between Galveston and Cameron, Louisiana. Galveston down there, Cameron, Louisiana, right here. Here's Port Arthur. There is the Sabine Pass. Just on the Louisiana side is where the eye actually came in on shore. Right back there behind me. Right about there is where the storm came on shore, and now it has traveled only just really a short distance because it's only been on shore for about two and a half hours. Back there.

CALLAWAY: All right. Thanks, Chad.

HARRIS: One more quick question. Chad, we've talked about this before, but I'm really interested in your perspective again on this. We talked about it during Hurricane Katrina. The science of it, as it comes together, you're teaching us a lot about these storms. Are folks like you learning a few things?

MYERS: At this late date, after being on the air 12 hours, no. Just how long I can actually stay awake.

CALLAWAY: You've been fabulous for us. Thank you for staying. You were supposed to be off, like at midnight, and he has stayed with us to get Rita on land. And we appreciate you walking us through.

HARRIS: I'll ask that question again in a couple days.

MYERS: I'm asleep.

HARRIS: Exactly. All right, Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You bet.

CALLAWAY: CNN's Ted Rowlands has been in New Orleans throughout the night, a city that the last thing they need are more wind, more rain. Ted, can you hear us?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I hear you, and we're getting some rain now, but it has been relatively dry, which has been good news. It has been windy off and on. For the most part this storm has bypassed New Orleans, and that is very good news, considering where we were this morning, it looked very dire.

Very early this morning, at 10:00, a levee broke and the lower 9th ward of the eastern side of the city flooded again. This was an area that was devastated during Katrina, and it is still under water now because of that levee break. They were not able to repair the levee. Tomorrow they're hoping to get out there and make some repairs and then pump that side of the city or start to pump it dry again. They're crossing their fingers that overnight a surge will not breach the levee on the western side which would flood potentially downtown again and put New Orleans back at square one.

Most of the folks have left town, so the potential lives that would be in danger, that's not a factor now. The property really isn't a factor either, because most of the damage has been done. But you can imagine after getting this place dry at last, the psychological nightmare that people would go through some of these people have gone back to what is left of their homes. At this point they're keeping their fingers crossed. We have no reports of any more levee breaks since this morning.

CALLAWAY: That is terrific news, Ted.

HARRIS: All right. Ted Rowlands, thank you. So, here we are. 3:40 a.m., category 3 storm, major hurricane, 85-mile-per-hour winds, gusts of over 100.

CALLAWAY: One-twenty.

HARRIS: A hundred and twenty miles an hour.

CALLAWAY: That storm, Rita, hitting right there on the Texas/Louisiana border, as you said, about 3:30 this morning eastern time, on the Sabine Pass. Most of the damage we're hearing, everyone, has been from the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. And we've had a couple of fires breaking out throughout the night in Galveston, Texas, and an apartment fire in Houston. Overall, though, it does look like from where this storm made landfall, just east-northeast of where it made landfall, we're seeing some of the heaviest damage.

HARRIS: And, Catherine, it's going to look like -- perhaps tomorrow -- one of the amazing stories is going to be that the evacuation plan, never mind the fact that there were terrible delays, terrible traffic jams, several accidents, the tragic story of the bus exploding and the loss of life connected to that -- it sounds like one of the stories, one of the good news stories to come out of this is going to be that the evacuation plan, for the most part, worked in this case.

That there were several lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina put into effect this time around when the National Hurricane Service made the prediction and started to chart the course of this storm, when initially it looked like it would slam into Galveston, Galveston was evacuated, that other areas along that Texas/Louisiana border, those areas were evacuated. We understand now that Lake Charles -- we're probably going to find out at first light that Lake Charles has been heavily damaged by this storm.

We'll still have to wait to see just how much damage was done in Sabine Pass and some of the other areas, Beaumont, Texas, also Lumberton, where Miles O'Brien has been overnight, and we mentioned Beaumont, where Anderson coop hears been for most of the evening. CALLAWAY: We need to remind everyone this is far from over. We have a hurricane that is on land and it is going to sit there for some time, as the high pressure system is going keep all of that rain falling on this area. Some 25 inches of rain expected. Chad Myers, you know, last thoughts on this tonight?

MYERS: You know, it's kind of ironic that this storm is moving so quickly now, 12, 13 miles per hour, moving very quickly on shore and on up into parts of eastern Texas, and then it's forecast to absolutely stop. Stop over Texarkana and Shreveport and that entire area. The high pressure you were talking about, stops the storm and actually pushes it back south. And it may actually exit back into the Gulf of Mexico again before the end of the weekend.

CALLAWAY: That is unbelievable.

MYERS: That is absolutely unbelievable. The storm surge comes through, blows all of this water to Port Arthur, to Lake Charles, and then the storm stops. This is kind of a raw map, but it gives you the idea, a NOAA map, right here from Texarkana, through southwest Louisiana, into Louisiana itself. Twenty-four inches, 24.55 is that number. That's the peak rainfall number. Everywhere you see that's blue, the forecast is for over 15 inches of rain in the next three to five days, right there. And this could spread left or right, because the storm just may not stop. It may sneak a little one way or sneak a little another way before it gets pushed back out into the Gulf.

CALLAWAY: Do we know how much rain has fallen? I know, with this kind of wind, nothing is working, right? But we're hearing...

MYERS: ...going sideways.

CALLAWAY: Right, right. Kind of hard to measure anything. We've heard Anderson and Miles, who have been through so many of these, talk repeatedly about the wettest hurricane they've ever seen.

MYERS: Right.

CALLAWAY: Never seen such wall of rain just relentless for hours.

MYERS: It really didn't have the breaks. A lot of the storms that Anderson and I have been through, it will rain for an hour then let up for another hour, and rain for 50 minutes, and back and forth. This thing had a solid wall of rain, an entire rain shield, as it came on shore. And we do have some Doppler radar estimates. How they do that, the Doppler shoots for a long time and sees okay, red, yellow, a little bit of blue, and it can add up how much it thinks has come down. Some of the Doppler estimates are around 10 inches.

If the rain is going sideways, it's difficult to measure. If it's in your rain gauge, it may be blowing out the top or whatever. The hurricane center and also all the National Weather Service offices all have these wind proof rain gauges that they'll be able to tell how much rain came in. The storm now moving away. I think Lake Charles out of the rain for quite some time. There's a big dry area here. A lot of dry air got gulped in, off the Hill Country of Texas, got gulped into the storm and rotated itself, wrapped itself into this area here. We've noticed all night long that the southern half of this storm really wasn't filled in. It never had a southern eye wall for most of the night, and it still doesn't. There you see Beaumont seeing some rain showers now. And there's not much. There are not many cities up here east of Lake Charles, north of Beaumont. It is really a very rural area.

CALLAWAY: What did you say, it's moving now as it hit land? It's fully on land now?

MYERS: Northwest at 12.



MYERS: And then it's going to go to zero.

HARRIS: How wide is that? The whole storm, you're in the center of it and it's...

MYERS: Yes, we measured it, probably, I don't know, four hours ago, and it was 375 miles across, from tropical storm force wind to tropical force wind, 375 miles across.



HARRIS: Okay. Nothing else out there that you can tell us about?

MYERS: You know, there are a couple of tropical depressions out there...


MYERS: ...but nothing that has any formation whatsoever. There is Philippe. Philippe is out there, kind of affecting Bermuda, but that's a completely different storm. That was the P storm after Ophelia. Then there was no Q storm at all, because there are not enough Q names. I guess you've got Quentin, but not too many other ones, so then it went to R. The next one, if there is one, hopefully not, but there probably will...

CALLAWAY: Gentlemen, we're not even done with Rita yet.

HARRIS: That was a throw away question. I didn't expect there would be an answer, and then there's more activity out there.

MYERS: Well, it is boy-girl-boy-girl, so the next one's Stan.

CALLAWAY: Chad, thank you so much, again, for being with us throughout the night. CNN's coverage just beginning. HARRIS: It really is.

CALLAWAY: There's a lot more -- Miles O'Brien is going to take us through the early morning hours here.