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More Coverage of Hurricane Gustav

Aired August 31, 2008 - 22:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez. Welcome now to the world headquarters of CNN here in downtown Atlanta. We're going to be following Hurricane Gustav for the better part of several hours. We're going to be starting by showing you the hurricane itself.
There's that loop that we often refer to. Go ahead, put it back up, Roger. I want to look at that thing once again.

All right, there you see the storm. You see the tip of Havana right there, right? And that's actually the province of Havana. It's the western side of the country. That's where Hurricane Gustav tailed out from. Then it's gone into the actual Gulf Coast.

There it is spinning right now. And some -- by the way, some very warm waters that are also warm -- you know, because some waters can be warm on top and then cold later on in the middle or in the bottom. This is a place where the water stays warm as you go down. That creates a place of intensification as you're going to be hearing from Jacqui Jeras later on when we're able to talk to her.

Now, there are several things that we're doing for you right now. We're going to be in contact, obviously, with our own experts here, our own meteorologists. We're also going to be talking to the National Hurricane Center and we're going to be talking to you directly to tell us what's going on.

As a matter of fact, bring that around, Dave. Bring that camera around. I want to be able to show the folks what some of the folks have been saying. We've got a lot of comments tonight. We're going to be on the air doing the news and while we're doing the news, we're also going to be talking and communicating to you, whether you're on, or whether you're on MySpace, or whether you're on Facebook. We're with you as well as and a bevy of other places where you can text and reach us.

Because I think that's what's key to making this next hour work. It's us communicating to you, through you and with you, which is kind of a different way of -- certainly a different way of doing cable news. I want to start with a couple things.

First of all, Dave, go ahead, come over my shoulder here. I want to show them something. This is something that came in just a little while ago. These are comments we're getting now. This is from Gulfport, Mississippi. Somebody just sent me this note. This was in Facebook? No. This was on twitter -- In Gulfport, Mississippi, evacuated from NOLA, saw a heavy storm band just a couple of hours ago. He's reporting to us that it's been quiet then. So there are people all over the country.

And by the way, people who are communicating with us are also communicating with themselves and they're telling us now -- go to the big board, if you can, Dave, go to the big plasma over there. Look at the big plasma. Look what it says across the top. Let me see if I can find this one here. See it? It says, "During Gustav text messaging is best. Register your family and friends...," this is important information, folks, ""

And this is coming in from someone obviously, Antonio Vivace, with the Red Cross. So, that's the situation there.

As we go back and forth to, you know, my laptop, where I'll try to keep up with folks on Facebook and MySpace, we're also going to be going to twitter on the big plasma. Dave's going to be over my shoulder over here.

And now, let's start off by talking about some of the things you're going to be seeing. I'm going to be telling straight for you and show you some of the areas that we've been highlighting throughout the day. The area that they're talking about. You know I know what you want to know is -- Rick, where is the storm going?

All right. The storm is going in that general direction. You notice, right? There's New Orleans. So, it's not going for New Orleans. So, you're thinking, some of you who may not have been watching our meteorologists explain this throughout the night. Well, does that mean that New Orleans is in the clear? No, it doesn't. And here is why.

You're talking about a storm that's going in this direction, right? That means the storm goes like this. Follow me here. The storm is going like that. That means this area right here, that right quadrant, as they also call it, is where you're getting the most intense storm winds. The hurricane force winds as they also call them.

How far out do they go, right? Let's suppose the storm came in right there. How far out do those hurricane force winds go? Here's the answer -- 65 miles, say the experts at the National Hurricane Center, which is pretty much the distance between where the storm is going to hit and the edge of New Orleans right there.

So, the area around New Orleans will be getting hurricane force winds, maybe right there, oh, a Category 1. Maybe in here, OK, closer, a Category 2. Category 1 there, Category 2 there, Category 3 if it comes in as a Category 3 in that area right there. So, let's move away from that now.

And talk about something else which I think is extremely significant that we've been watching because for a month now, everyone's been talking about the price of gas and what the effect might be. Well, guess what? This could be real bad news for gas in particular in the United States. Why? Let me show you another map.

Look at this here. Isn't this remarkable? This is the biggest concentration of oil rigs in the United States that I just drew that -- that quadrant or that rectangle around right there. You see that? OK. And where is the storm going? Right in that direction, right?

So, look at that and if it stays in -- out there for any period of time, that means more intensification in those warm waters. They're definitely talking about possibly a lot of damage in that area around the rigs. We're going to be talking to experts throughout this show who are going to break that down for us, specifically in terms of what kind of rigs there are, who could possibly be out there, and what the total effect might be in the end.

Let's start off by going to our own experts now. Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is joining us.

I guess first question right out of the chute, Jacqui, is when do they expect at this point that this thing will make landfall tomorrow?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Tricky question as always, Rick. If it stays at its current forward speed and doesn't slow down at all, if we keep moving to the northwest without deviating from this path, at 17 miles per hour, we could have landfall as early as, say, 6:00, 7:00, tomorrow morning.

But the trick is that we think this is going to start to slow down just a little bit as it gets closer to land. So that's going to push that window back a little bit. So, you know, maybe 6:00 to noon, we're going to be looking at landfall.

And that's kind of the window that we'd like to give because we don't want you to focus on that one hour, because, as you know, those tropical storm force winds have already arrived. The showers and thunderstorms have already been there, along with some funnel clouds that have been reported just south of New Orleans, then towards the Baton Rouge area. So, the impacts have already begun.

And you can see that on satellite just how huge this storm is. You're talking about those hurricane force winds that extend out about 70 miles from the center of the storm. These are the latest statistics. If you haven't been keeping track, we want to keep you up-to-date here. It's a Category 3. It's a major hurricane, 115 mile per hour maximum sustained winds.

The location -- and this we put the location on here from the updates from the location fixes every time we get an advisory from the Hurricane Center. So this is the mileage as of 8:00 Eastern time, 7:00 Central. This is going to be updated probably 30 minutes from this time. So, keep track of it.

Let's go ahead and show you the track and where we think this is going to be going as those showers and thunderstorms continue to arrive along with the threat of tornadoes. There you can see that cone of uncertainty really narrowing down, bringing it to the west of New Orleans. I want to show you a great graphic, Rick, because you were talking about this and who's going to get hit with what kind of winds. And this is a computer model forecast of what we're anticipating. And these are the peak wind gusts. Not the sustained winds. These are isolated gusts.

And let's go ahead and flash this, Dave, the Category 1 winds. There you can see them moving into the New Orleans area. As you get closer towards Baton Rouge, we're talking about Category 2, maybe Category 3 gusts. And then over here, towards Lafayette, you folks are going to be, even be seeing Category 3 or 4 wind gusts. So, all of these certainly some potential for some major destruction from the wind, not to mention that storm surge.


SANCHEZ: What about the -- what about the places that are just a little bit east of New Orleans at this point? If New Orleans is going to be getting the least of the hurricane force winds, that would be Category 1 storm winds, what about places like Biloxi, Mississippi and parts of Alabama, where people are just as concerned? What are they going to get?

JERAS: Well, as tropical storm force winds extend out more than 200 miles from the center of the storm. So that's going to go way beyond Biloxi and certainly we'll be seeing tropical storm force winds and gusts, and that's in the range of 39 to 74 miles per hour. And that wind gusts going to cause some significant problems including power outages and trees down.

SANCHEZ: I have probably 100 questions in my mind that I could ask you right now, but we have a couple of hours to get through them. And by the way, so do folks who are e-mailing me right now on, so do folks on MySpace and Facebook as well. So, we're going to be going through those as well.

Let's do this now, though. Let's go over to Anderson Cooper. He's been standing by in NOLA. And boy, he's been there before. He's telling the story again tonight. He's probably got a pretty good sense of what the mood is there with some of the folks who've stayed behind.

What is it, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, thankfully, there's not too many folks who've stayed behind. The government estimates say as many as -- or little less than 10,000 they believe in the city of New Orleans, as many as 90,000 to 100,000 in all of southeastern Louisiana.

But most of the folks who are here right now are hunkered down. And we've seen a couple people kind of straggling by, just kind of, you know, taking a break in between these rain bands. We've got a big rain band about two hours ago. The wind is just now starting to pick up. So, we sense another band may be coming soon. But right now, there's no rain. So, I've seen a couple people out walking their paths. But we're really talking about a handful of people. And you know, they plan to just hunker down and stick it out. At this point, there's no point in trying to escape New Orleans. If you are here now, you better just stay here. They've had massive evacuations, the largest evacuations in Louisiana state history for a hurricane. So, they feel pretty confident about where they are.

But the big question is these levees, Rick. As you well know, you're going to be covering a lot of these in the next couple of hours. There's levees on west bank. They are untested. They are not built up. They have not been built stronger or better. And there are just spots where there are big gaps in any new levee construction. So, there's real concern about that.

As you know, Rick, in the last hour, I talked to Ivor van Heerden. He's with the LSU hurricane expert. They have computer modeling. They have modeled out. They sent the idea that there are about 90,000 people left here in southeastern Louisiana. They modeled about 100 people will drown.

Those are very ominous. Those models can be wrong, of course. And if people who are listening to this, who still have power, just stay indoors, stay in the safest location. Let's prove those computer models wrong. But that was some ominous warnings indeed that we heard in the last hour, Rick.

SANCHEZ: You know what was really almost bizarre in terms of its timing -- earlier tonight, I had a handoff from here to you in New Orleans and I think you -- this was your first shot right out of the bat here, you're starting off with your hurricane coverage. I don't think you are on the air more than a couple minutes and suddenly, bam, you get walloped. What was that like? What were you thinking?

COOPER: It was the strangest thing. I mean, we have set up this location, you know. We're all planning for the storm arriving a couple hours from now in terms of, you know, getting out of the rain and getting to the safest location possible. But we were standing out getting ready for the 8:00 broadcast you just tossed off to us. And literally we see the sky turn black. I mean it's the kind of thing you see in movies of this ominous black cloud coming. And all of a sudden, boom, we got knocked off the air.

I mean, it started pelting with rain. It was this outer rain band and the rain was so thick in this band, our satellite literally could not get the image or our communications through. So, we are knocked off the air for a good 10, 15 minutes. Luckily, you were there to cover for us. But I've never seen anything like that -- just getting knocked off the air and just watching it approach.

SANCHEZ: You know, it's funny, all of a sudden, I started getting all these e-mails on and Facebook and MySpace. And everybody -- is Anderson OK? Is Anderson OK? I didn't have the answer to that yet. We went on with the show. And there you were once again. But -- all right. Job well done, Anderson. We'll be talking to you and get some sleep tonight. I have a feeling you're going to be working a lot of hours tomorrow.

COOPER: Yes, I think so. It's going to be a long night and a long day for all of us. Got a great crew here. So we're looking -- we're ready.

SANCHEZ: All right. Anderson Cooper reporting to us there from New Orleans. By the way, there's a -- there's another effect to this thing. And I don't know if you've heard about this yet. But this thing is really sending shivers through the Republican convention. There's a lot of folks there trying to make decisions now as to what they're going to do for the rest of the week.

The problem is -- the problem is they don't have enough data to be able to make those decisions. And that's where the answers lie, right there, in that loop that you're looking at with that storm. What we know right now is, it will be effective tomorrow. Exactly how? We'll tell you on the other side of the break. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: And welcome back to the world headquarters of CNN. I'm Rick Sanchez. We know now that Gustav will in fact have an effect on the Republican convention in St. Paul. We know that tomorrow it will be felt. It is very unlikely that the President will show. In fact, the White House made that decision earlier in the day.

There are some Republicans who told us throughout the course of the evening that they still kind of have their fingers crossed that this thing can work its way out. But at least for tomorrow, it looks like they're going to slam down the gavel and then pretty much take a break and make decisions day to day.

Here now with the very latest on what decisions have been made thus far, CNN's Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rick, you can see right behind me that preparations are under way for this convention to start tomorrow. But that belies the reality that Gustav means that things have come to a screeching halt here.

In fact, the McCain campaign has asked state delegations to cancel their parties. Instead, they're working on charity drives for the hurricane. And the candidate whose motto is country first is trying to make the best of it.


BASH (voice-over): A hurried campaign trail detour to Mississippi's hurricane emergency center and an announcement that the Minneapolis convention to officially make him Republican nominee will now be dramatically different.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to go from a party event to a call to the nation for action.

BASH: After two days of intense debate, John McCain and Republican Party leaders decided to scrap Monday's long planned opening lineup. President Bush scheduled to be Monday's headline speaker will no longer attend. Neither will Vice President Cheney. Instead, Republicans will hold a truncated two-hour afternoon session Monday, only to take care of official business, like adopting the party platform. The rest, up in the air.

MCCAIN: I want to thank all my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats and we say, America, we're with you.

BASH: Addressing a Minneapolis press conference via satellite, McCain made clear the red meat politics that surround any convention atmosphere will no longer be tolerated.

MCCAIN: I hope and pray that we'll be able to resume some of our normal operations as quickly as possible but some of that is frankly in the hands of God.

Never again, never again, will we experience such mishandling of a natural disaster.

BASH: McCain has spent months using the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina to separate himself from the unpopular president.

MCCAIN: If I'd have been president of the United States, I'd have ordered the plane land at the nearest Air Force base and I'd have been over here.

BASH: Now an attempt to show he'd be different.

MCCAIN: The coordination and the work that's being done at all levels appears to me to be excellent. And I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated.


BASH: Campaign officials say the only thing that they really must do here is officially nominate and approve the McCain-Palin ticket because legally that's the only way to get some $85 million in public funding for the general election, but like everything else right now here in the Twin Cities, it is unclear when or how that's going to happen.


SANCHEZ: All right. Thanks so much. Dana Bash following that story for us there from St. Paul. We, really -- what we're doing tonight is really the marrying of two stories that do, in fact, intersect. One of them obviously having to do with all things related to a hurricane that will probably affect the U.S. coastline between probably in the a.m. hours and most likely before or at noon, according to all indications that we've been looking at now.

And we're getting plenty of comments on it. Now, I just want to share a couple of them with you right now. This is FreeFelon. He writes to us, "I think that anyone who is able to leave and still stays, anything negative that happens is an exercise in Darwinism." Obviously being very critical of those people who are not heeding the mandatory evacuation.

And then we have this one coming in. It says -- this is from Andy Carvin. He says, "Good luck with everything. We've got tons of volunteers working on our Gustav social media project." That's how many people are actually connecting with each other tonight, talking to different people around country, and specifically in that area around the Gulf Coast to try and help each other out. This is a big story with a very big political effect.

Let's go convention politics now with CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Alex Castellanos, a Republican consultant, both coming to us from St. Paul, the site of the GOP convention.

Guys, let's start with this decision as we understand it so far. Gloria, start us off. Is it a reasonable decision and will it be seen that way by just about all people on both sides of the aisle?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they had no choice. I think this is clear -- conventions are parties, they're celebrations. Part of this country is bracing for a terrible storm. We know what happened three years ago with Hurricane Katrina. I think they made the right decision. They're also talking about trying to pull some political ads. And stop the -- stop the partisan bickering at least for a few days while the country kind of focuses on helping these folks in the Gulf Coast. I think it was the only decision they could make and the right decision.

SANCHEZ: Well, how big a hit will this be in terms of introducing the country as I'm sure they planned to, Alex Castellanos, to Sarah Palin? I mean, this is, by all intent, going to be her coming out party so to speak, wasn't it?

ALEX CASTELLANONS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: It's supposed to be the coming out party, but, you know, this convention and this party, they've hit the hold button right now. Politics is supposed to be about the differences between the two parties, right? To force us to make a choice. And when something like this happens, people don't want to talk about the differences. We want to talk about the things that unite us, the things we're all concerned about.

So, interesting that the McCain campaign was moving. It was actually gaining ground in the last couple of days in a couple of surveys. He had inched up into a tie or even ahead in a couple of surveys with Obama, despite Obama's fantastic speech in Denver. So, all of a sudden now, boom, that momentum is arrested.

BORGER: And Rick, you're still going to get to meet her. You may get to meet her in a different way. You may get to meet here on a videotape, or McCain may speak to the convention on a videotape and let her come to the convention. I mean, you know, everything this campaign is doing right now is hour by hour. And they are tracking that storm just like you are in the NEWSROOM, Rick. SANCHEZ: But I tell you, Alex just hit on something that I think most people would find extremely curious. How is it possible that there's a Democratic convention, which normally gives that party a big bounce and instead, as we've been sharing our CNN numbers throughout the course of the day, that bounce is pretty much been all but eliminated and the Republicans haven't even started their party yet?

BORGER: You know, I think the last time a presidential candidate got a huge bounce, and correct me if I'm wrong, Alex, may have been 1992 with Bill Clinton. The reason is that these folks have been campaigning for a couple of years. People are not needing to be reintroduced to Barack Obama or to John McCain.

So, I think, no matter what kind of a speech you gave, it's unlikely that you would get a huge bounce out of it, because independent voters, some of those who are undecided, may be deciding. But they're just not going to do it overnight. This is a very divided down the middle country. And I think this race is going to be one at the margins.

SANCHEZ: Alex Castellanos, some people are going to look at this and say, well, tomorrow, it was the representation of the Bush administration at the dais. They were the ones who were going to be speaking. And it may not really be a big loss for the Republicans because some Republicans don't want to associate themselves with the Bush administration -- understood.

But what happens beyond that, though? Let's go in to Tuesday now, Wednesday. Let's suppose this thing strikes the United States? Do you continue to put it off? Do you continue to cancel it? Or do you just somehow condense it?

CASTELLANOS: I think the next couple of weeks, if this storm hits the way it appears to be, 440 miles wide and a Category 3, and if it's as tough on those poor people in the Gulf Coast as it appears to be, and we know it's going to dominate the news for the next few weeks, and it's not going to be politics.

So, I think at some point this convention may decide -- do its business, make sure John McCain gets on the ballot, make sure that the party rules for -- so that the party can continue to operate for the next four years. Get the stamp of approval. And then you move on to the campaign. McCain was going to go out there after this and, you know, sell the McCain brand, not the Republican brand, not the Bush brand. And so, again, you don't take the convention, the party, the campaign, off hold and start moving forward.

SANCHEZ: Hey, guys, that's great. Thanks so much, Alex Castellanos and Gloria Borger. Thanks so much for your input.


SANCHEZ: Very much appreciate it.

We know what you want at home as you're watching us right now. Where is the storm? How close is it to the United States? Where is it going to hit? When is it going to hit? Will I be effective? Do I know somebody who is?

Those are the questions that you're probably asking yourselves and those are the questions that we're going to be answering over the next several hours. Stay with us. There's the loop. We'll get more data.

We're touching base with folks at the National Hurricane Center. And as we get it, we'll share it with you. And we also expect to get information from many of you who are there in the eye of the storm. In fact, just reach us by going to, or as well to MySpace and Facebook. We'll be right back. Stay us.


SANCHEZ: All right. Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez. Some of the very first pictures are coming in. This is from WVUE. It's just a shaky picture. It shows some of the areas. As you were hearing my conversation with Anderson Cooper just a little while ago. Remember, these are bands of rain that come through from time to time, as well as powerful gust that is contained within these outer bands. And you see the camera shaking? Folks, that's a camera on a podium right now that's being moved around because of this.

So, it just kind of gives you an idea of what's on the way. Obviously, over the next couple of hours, it's going to intensify and we're going to be here to bring it to you. We've got cameras positioned all throughout the coast. And those pictures will be coming your way as we get them.

By the way, one of the guys who running the heart of this thing. Dave, you got me? Watch this. This is Ali Velshi. See this right here? Go and tell them. You got to help me read it. I took out the name he had put on here for privacy reasons.

But this is Ali who just sent me this e-mail moments ago. He says, "Rick, winds are whipping up and rain has started here. We're at this fortified house with the owner." Name excluded. "Who runs a shrimp processing operation. The local volunteer fire captain. There are fewer than 10 people left on the island. If you're not off now, you're basically staying."

Now, remember, he's going for -- he's in Grand Isle. Grand Isle is the very place where the forecasters are saying this thing is making a beat for at this point. And he's going to be reporting to us. That's what he just told me. We're trying to get a signal in to him. And hopefully in the next couple minutes, you're going to be able to -- oops, there he is. We got Ali Velshi popping up now.

Ali, tell me what's going on, tell me what you're seeing around you and what are folks expecting there.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Rick, this has changed very dramatically for us in the last 10 minutes or so. It was sort of calm and we could sort of feel a few rain drops. Now you can see it's coming down very heavily. We're looking over here and seeing the wind. You can't see much behind me because it's dark. But about a quarter mile behind me is the Gulf of Mexico. And as you and I discussed earlier, standing on the Gulf a couple of hours ago, I could see two dozen oil rigs. This is a center of oil offshore activity for the Gulf of Mexico. Port Fourchon is very close to here. That's a major servicing area for all the offshore ports. That's where the helicopters fly in.

There's also something called L.O.O.P. -- the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, which is about 20 miles offshore that, you know, we import a lot of our oil here, Rick. And about 56 percent of it comes right into L.O.O.P. That is shut down. The Gulf of Mexico oil operations are shut down. A pipeline that takes oil from here to Chicago, a million barrels per day, has been shut down. Three of the four strategic petroleum reserve operations are shut down. Oil in this area is shut down completely now.

We've also got fisheries around here, shrimping on this island. When we showed up two days ago to do the story about oil and business down here, there were shrimp boats all over the place. There isn't one anywhere around here. They're 60 to 90 miles north of here. They're gone. Everybody is battening down and people are out of this place. There are very few people staying here as I told you.

We're at the home of Dean Blanchard. He runs a shrimp processing operation. He built this house to withstand the hurricane. It's got steel beams. It's got steel right into the ground. Everything is screwed in, not nailed. He's got those straps on his roof. It's screwed down too. He says we're going to withstand this hurricane so we're here with him, with the fire captain. We're hunkered down. We're ready for this thing to come in. We thought it would be overnight. But as you can see from looking at me now, these outer bands are with us already here in Grand Isle. And I don't know whether it's going to lighten up between now and morning, but it probably, in fact, just as I am talking -- look how much heavier it's just become.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, hey -- and yes, you're there. I mean, you're in Grand Isle. You're at the very place that all these forecasters are saying is going to be directly impacted if the storm stays on its present course. I want to show you something. Ali, stay with me.

I started doing a little research last night and I was enthralled when I came to some of the Web pages out there that describe in detail just how much of our oil infrastructure comes from that area where you are right now. OK, there's the picture. I've asked Roger in the booth here to put it up on the telestrator.

OK, you see those? See all those red things that you're looking at right there? Those are all oil rigs, folks. And this right here -- let me do the line of where the storm is going again, right. So this area here is going to be impacted. Again, one of the biggest concentrations in the United States of where these oil rigs are.

As we look at that picture, most of us being neophytes for this stuff, you are not, Ali. You've got a pretty good picture, experienced, as you know exactly what impact this could have economically on us and has had in the past. First of all, let me start with just a simple question that some people might have.

What happens to an oil rig itself? The actual apparatus, when it's hit by one of these storms if it's a category 3 or so?

VELSHI: Well, they shut down well before that. Even if it comes in as category 1. The oil companies want to be the first off from here. So what they start doing -- let's say there's 100 people who worked on one of these platforms and that's what it sometimes averages out to. They evacuate nonessential personal, essential personnel lock down that wall. It's called tripping the hole. They lock it down. So that if that thing is pulled off its mooring, the oil from the well doesn't leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Then they evacuate.

They got to do this by helicopter. So, there's helicopter taxi services. A few blocks from here is the Exxon Mobil heliport. They bring these people into land. They house them on land or these guys go home for a little while. These are guys who work two weeks on and two weeks off. So, those facilities are secure. But what happens is that the storm goes through the Gulf, and it can churn those things up.

I mean, there was a rig I was on three years ago right before Katrina hit. That rig ended up 160 miles off course. It was brown off. And these things are -- they're really attached to the ground. So that's what happened. Now, that means that that oil production is shut down. And you know how much oil we use in America. We can't afford that oil production to be shut down for too long.

Second problem, Rick, is if that oil doesn't get to refineries or if any refineries get damaged -- we've already seen I think six of them shut down in the neighborhood now, it means gas doesn't get out.

SANCHEZ: Hey, I'm going to just stop you there for a minute before you get into the conversation about the refineries, because I also asked our crew to put together a map showing where the refineries are so people get a better picture of that. And this is the bulk concentration of refineries right here in the United States.

Once again, and look again at what we're looking at. Again, the path of the storm as it's projected right now, and look where the refineries are. Let me ask the question again. Now, put the conversation you were just having with us about oil rigs together with the conversation about refineries. What's the impact?

VELSHI: Well, the refineries are a big impact because that is specifically the gasoline that gets to Americans. And our refineries run at 85 percent to 95 percent capacity all the time. So if they have to slow down, if the pipelines are damaged or the refineries don't get enough oil, they slow down in their production.

Here's where the strategic petroleum reserve comes in. If oil is not getting to the refineries, the government says it will loan -- and this is how it works. It loans oil to the oil companies until the oil flows again, and then the oil companies repay the government. We have 700 million gallons of oil in the strategic petroleum reserve so that's enough for quite a while.

But this is the problem. Oil has to get to these refineries. If there's damage at any point, including the final point which is transferring from the oil through the pipelines -- oil, by the way, moves at 8 miles an hour through a pipeline.

So, once these things get damaged in the north, in the northeast, in the Midwest, you start to see shortages possibly of gasoline and price spikes. So, this is going to affect everybody. We've seen three days in a row of increased prices across the country. Prices are up way higher than that here in the south. You're going to see this affect you. We're going to track oil prices obviously, but you're going to see this effect very clearly. And you can see this weather coming down. This is not a joke. These oil rigs and these refineries, the oil companies are very concerned that something is going to happen to them.

SANCHEZ: All right. I got to ask the questions, too. Ali Velshi, thanks so much, Ali, for bringing us up to date on that. By the way, we're going to be staying on top of the storm's data. I keep referring to that because it's important to note that the information does change. And advisories come out from time to time from the National Hurricane Center.

When we come back, breaking down where it is, where it's going and where others might be affected not even within the actual sphere that we've been describing, that cone of uncertainty, right there. We'll break down the storm with Jacqui Jeras when we come back. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: I'm getting a lot of questions from you as I've been reading during the commercials from different folks on different social networks. And one of the questions seems to be is -- what about the other cities outside of New Orleans. What's going on for example with places like Biloxi and Galveston? Let's go over to Jacqui Jeras, and see if we can get a sense of that.

You know, Jacqui, there was a lot of talk -- it's a good question that folks have been asking us, because there was a lot of talk earlier that this could be more of a Texas storm. Is Texas out of the woods at this point? And, you know, specifically Galveston, Houston, area?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I think for the most part they're out of the woods in terms of getting direct strike from this storm. You know, that's just not going to happen. We're looking at Louisiana here. But the big thing that you need to worry about in Texas is what's going to be down the line. Because after this thing makes landfall, we're talking about some major slowing, if not stalling of this storm. And we could see some very significant flood problems all across eastern Texas as well as into northern Louisiana.

Hey, I want to talk a little bit about what the storm's been doing right now. Well, we just saw Ali Velshi's live shot with the rain starting to come in and the wind beginning to blow. He's right here in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Here's New Orleans, so it's just south of there. And the sustained winds here estimated around 34 miles per hour. And as these thunderstorm lines continue to roll on through here, we could easily see gusts around 40, 50-plus miles per hour as they push on through.

Also, I want to talk a little bit of the timing. You know, we're going to continue to see these outer bands move their way on shore. They're going to become more frequent, they're going to become more intense. Our radar image now is beginning to show us the eye of the hurricane here on the very edge of it. There you can see that eye or that, you know, empty middle where we have the very calm winds of a hurricane.

We're going to put a distancer on this for you, and show you as it reaches out up here towards the coast, it's roughly about 180 miles away. So if you do the math and you add the forward speed at 17 miles per hour that's been doing right now, we're estimating that that's about 10, 10-1/2 hours for now. So if nothing changes in the speed or the direction, we could see landfall as early as maybe 8:30 tomorrow morning.

And by landfall, we mean the center of the eye making its way on shore. The hurricane force winds are going to be arriving in the middle of the night. You know, 2:00, 3:00, maybe even 4:00 in the morning. We'll start to see those really strong winds begin to push through the area.

We're also worried about some additional strengthening here. Hurricane hunters have been flying in the storm. We're starting to see more of an eye on our satellite. We'll have an update coming in very shortly from the National Hurricane Center. And I think there's a good probability, Rick, that we'll see those wind speeds increase. Not up to a category 4, I don't think, but we'll probably get up a little stronger maybe than 115 as our pressure's been dropping pretty significantly, too.

SANCHEZ: Couple of questions for you, Jacqui. First of all, the advisory you mentioned, that's coming up at 11:00, right? They're usually 11:00, so that's 20 minutes away?

JERAS: Yes. We often get it in just a little before the top of the hour.

SANCHEZ: All right. And the other question is, Ali Velshi was telling us just a little while ago that he was starting to feel some of these first bands. He thought they were bands. Are they in fact bands? Are some people in that part of Grand Isle for example going to be feeling something now? And if so, what is it?

JERAS: Oh yes, unquestionably. I don't know if you saw the radar that I had just a little bit earlier. There's New Orleans, Grand Isle right about down in this area. There you can see it. And these oranges and the reds that you see on the radar here, those are the thunderstorms. And that's where you're going to get those gusts around 50-plus miles per hour. And the rainfall more steady now, coming in back behind it. So, he's going to continue to see these storms and the threat continuing here. And also, tornado watch has been issued across the area too so he could see some twisters along with those strong winds rolling in.

SANCHEZ: And confirm for me, once again, because when we come back, we're going to be doing another story on what happened in Cuba. When this thing went through Cuba what was it, correct me if I'm wrong, was it not a Category 4?

JERAS: 4, yes, we had a 4.

SANCHEZ: OK, great. That explains things because we're getting reports in fact that -- we're going to get some video out of Cuba in just a little bit. I want to share with the folks. And I know that there was at least one town that was all but buried by Gustav. We're going to turn that video around. Thanks, Jacqui. We'll be getting back to you.

And we're also going to be talking to an evacuee who has left or is in the process of leaving New Orleans as we speak. So, we'll be connecting with her. Stay with us. We're going to be right back.


SANCHEZ: All right, here we go. Literally thousands of messages are coming in to us from folks on different social networks including Go ahead, Dave. Show them that one up there. First one says, "I'm doing a great job but I need a little work on my telestrator technique." Fair enough.

Look at this one, though. He says, "I evacuated from Biloxi to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. All the coastal casinos in Mississippi are closed and the hotels are booked in Hattiesburg." That's not really a big surprise, is it now? We expected that, because of the effect of the storm had, Katrina and Rita, on casinos in the past in these areas that they would either pull those out, those barges, or somehow -- or somehow tie them up. So, we see that that's going on now.

Hotels being booked, absolutely. Confirmed. We have gotten reports tonight that places as far away as Memphis, Tennessee have hotels booked. Some say as a result of all the people who have been driving north from the area affected by the storm. Let's go south now and talk about what's going on in Cuba.

We're getting some of the pictures from the stories there in Cuba. Remember, as I spoke with Jackie just a little while ago, this thing was a category 4. It's category 3 now. It was a category 4 when it hit that western tip of Cuba around the province of Havana and the Isle of Youth. Let's get some video now of exactly what the damage was.


MORGAN NEILL, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trees broken in half, homes torn apart. The hurricane ripped into Cuba at nearly category 5 strength. Terrified those in its path.

In all my 58 years, it's the worst I've ever seen, says Eloisa, standing in front of her house, stripped of its roof.

NEILL: Cuban authorities say they evacuated more than 250,000 people in the path of the hurricane. On the southern coast, we saw that for ourselves.

(on camera): Here in the little town of La Coloma, the storm has begun to come in. You can see the water starting to pick up, to move a bit more. Let me take you just a bit this way. Show you how the Cubans here have prepared for this storm. As much as you can prepare for a storm of this magnitude. If you look around, all of these houses are vacant. This entire little town has been evacuated. The only people we've seen here are police and civil defense officials. It's become, overnight, a ghost town.

(voice-over): There was good reason to love. In the town of San Cristobal, those who stayed behind discovered at daybreak, a town devastated by winds up to 150 miles per hour or 240 kilometers per hour.

It was really bad, catastrophic, these men tell us. It tore off all the roofs. There won't be power here for days, they predict.

One official in the Isle of Youth said many people were injured. But specific numbers can't be confirmed. Even as workers start to pick up the pieces, it's clear the devastation left by Gustav won't soon be forgotten. Morgan Neill, CNN, San Cristobal, Cuba.


SANCHEZ: By the way, we were talking about fatalities in that report. So let me bring you up to date on what the fatalities here are as a result of Gustav already.

Even before the storm has touched the coast of the United States, there have already been three fatalities as a result of this storm. These were critical care patients that were being moved. We got this news from Governor Jindal when he gave his news conference about an hour and a half ago, explaining in fact that they were patients that were in a critical care hospital. They tried to relocate them and in the process they have passed away.

The governor says it was obviously a direct effect of what's going on with this storm. There's another question that maybe answered. Go ahead, Dave, if you want to show it. But we're getting a lot of people who are asking us, is it really true that there's another hurricane right behind this one? Can you give a couple of minutes and give us an update on Hurricane Hanna as well? And what the projected path is for that?

Yes, I just spoke to Jacqui Jeras moments ago. The first thing she's going to do is she's going to get -- she's on the phone, trying to get information from the National Hurricane Center now on what the latest advisory is. That's the new data coming out on this hurricane, right now, Gustav. And that's going to be coming up in just about 12 minutes or so. She usually gets the information even before that. So, hopefully, we're going to get at least the highlights before 11:00. Stay with us.

Meanwhile, we want to have a conversation now with someone who has been trying to leave Louisiana, lives in Slidell. I understand that she's now traveling to Atlanta, maybe on the phone. This is Belinda Chism.

Hey, Belinda, are you there?


SANCHEZ: All right. This is Rick Sanchez. You're on the phone with CNN. Where are you now?

CHISM: I'm right about (INAUDIBLE), Alabama.

SANCHEZ: Who's in the car with you?

CHISM: My sister, Diane.

SANCHEZ: Why did you leave?

CHISM: Why did I leave? Because it's too scary to stay. You know, it's supposed to be pretty bad and --

SANCHEZ: I'm sorry. But did you think for a while about staying?

CHISM: No, I didn't. I just hesitated leaving because of the traffic.

SANCHEZ: I was wondering because yesterday so many people reached out to us and said after they heard Mayor Nagin's words late last night, he gave a second news conference, and in that news conference he just told everybody to get out of there and quick, and that they had to do it. Had you heard that speech?

CHISM: Yes, I did. I heard urging us to leave but I knew that the traffic was going to be horrendous. So we stayed until the last minute until we can leave. Now it's smooth sailing.

SANCHEZ: What is the traffic been like for you this far?

CHISM: Very smooth.

SANCHEZ: So far, no problems? By the way, I'm interested because we talk to different people. And sometimes they say, I'm stuck in traffic. And sometimes they say no, it's pretty smooth. I guess it all depends on what time you leave. When did you leave Slidell?

CHISM: 7:00 p.m.

SANCHEZ: And what were you, on I-10 first?

CHISM: Yes. I'm on 69 -- was it 69 now? I'm on 65 now. Yes, from I-10 to 65.

SANCHEZ: I-10 to 65 and so far you haven't had any problems.

CHISM: No problem, whatsoever.

SANCHEZ: All right. Hey, listen, thanks so much. Thanks for checking in with us. We're going to be checking in with people throughout the night who have decided to make an exit from New Orleans and points there off. And we'll be bringing you their stories as well.

Let's go ahead and take a commercial, guys, now because I think that update is going to be coming in from the National Hurricane Center in just a couple of minutes. And I want to be able to go to Jacqui as soon as we do.

These are some of the pictures that are coming in now from New Orleans. That's WVUE. The movement I'm told is because of the wind that is hitting the camera, which is on a tripod. It's not like it's on somebody's shoulders. But it just goes to show that the wind is starting to whip through there pretty good.

As far as I can tell, at least in this picture, I don't see any rain bands going through there now. But there are, west of there, if you go a little more closer to places like Thibodaux and Grand Isle. You do, in fact, start seeing some of the first rain bands coming in from this storm. We're all over it for you. We'll get your reactions. We'll bring you the latest data and we'll have it all for you right here. I'm Rick Sanchez. You're watching CNN.


SANCHEZ: We're checking in with you. You're checking in with us. Let's do this now. Let's go to an iReport. This is an iReport we received just a while ago from Chris Sarpy. He wanted to let us know what conditions were like in New Orleans, so he filed this report for us. Let's take a look.


CHRIS SARPY, IREPORTER (voice-over): Here I am, middle of the streetcar tracks. The lights for some reason are still on. There's no reason for them to be on. And see Broadway all the way to Claiborne without a car. There's nothing on St. Charles anywhere. There's not one person anywhere. Storm still about to hit tomorrow morning. Sunday night. There's nothing. No one, nothing. It's a complete dead town.


SANCHEZ: All right. Trying to touch base with Jacqui Jeras now to find out what that advisory is going to say. Doesn't have her hands on it yet. But as soon as she does, we'll -- she does. Hold on.

Hey, Chris, I'm hearing from Jacqui. She just got the advisory in her hand. Let's not go to St. Paul. Let's go to Jacqui and find out. What do you got, Jacqui?

JERAS: Yes. I got that the storm is slowing down, Rick. And this is what we are talking about for that window of landfall tomorrow. It's down to 16 miles per hour in forward speed. And so, you know, this probably isn't going to be hitting by the morning. This is going to be happening by daylight tomorrow. So, that's how vague the National Hurricane Center is saying as well.

They said sometime during the daylight hours. So, we'll just have to wait and see as the storm continues to slow down as it gets closer to the coast. Here are the statistics for you. Still 115 miles per hour. So the intensity has stayed the same. But we found our pressure readings now has gone up just a smidge. So, I think we're going to be staying pretty steady here in the upcoming hours.

Here's the latest track we have. And there you can see the delay. Here's 8:00 tomorrow morning. So this thing still going to stay offshore. There you can see the Grand Isle area up towards Morgan City and continue to push on up towards the north and the west.


SANCHEZ: You know, it's interesting, I was talking to one of my buddies down at the National -- one of my anti-buddies at the National Hurricane Center. And he says when a storm like this slows down, it increases the rainfall exponentially in that same area, which is interesting, and something you and I are going to talk about in just a little bit.

But Chris is telling me we got to hit a cue tone so we'll be back in just a minute and a half. Stay there. We'll be right back to you, Jacqui.


SANCHEZ: All right, welcome back. We're going to be talking about Gustav. We're going back to Jacqui Jeras now just to let her finish up with some of the information she got on that advisory.

And remind me later, Jacqui, that you and I at least in the next hour got to pick up a conversation about Hanna because I got a lot of people e-mailing me, asking me about Hanna. But let's finish off with Gustav before we go there. What do we know?

JERAS: That was actually what I was doing, trying to peek on Hanna, because I don't want people to forget about that, because that could be a problem for Florida and the Carolinas. But yes, we'll talk about that a little bit later on.

What we know is that Gustav is holding steady right now. You know, maximum sustained winds are kind of status quo at 115 miles per hour. But one of the questions that you had was, you know, as we get closer to the coastline and we're forecasting this slowdown, what kind of flood problems are we going to be dealing with. We'll notice as we go out in time here that our icons and our forecast points are kind of scrunched together. So that's your indication right there that this is going to be slowing down and almost stalling out all together.

We have basically an area of weakness between our high pressure off to the east and our upper low on off to the west. And this is going to get kind of caught in between these two. So it won't have a lot of strong steering so it's just kind of sit here we think for a couple of days. And that means major flood potential across much of eastern Texas here and into western Louisiana. So we'll be watching that very closely as we head into Tuesday and into Wednesday. Yes, there's meteorologist Dave Hennen working behind the scenes for me, adding a few more plot points.