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Hurricane Gustav Hits Louisiana; Power out in French Quarter Since Daybreak; Some Levees Along Industrial Canal Getting Overtopped

Aired September 01, 2008 - 11:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. Unbelievable water there, as you can see.
Also want to take a moment to get back to -- out to Ali Velshi. He's the one we've been telling you is in Grand Isle, on this little tiny barrier reef with about 10 people left there, because everybody else has gone. But Ali is there to do a little bit more reporting for us.

Ali, what are you seeing now?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the storm has sort of intensified again. We got it the first time around, and then it calmed down for a little while. Now it's changed direction.

So when we first started reporting, the winds were coming from the east, blowing to the west. Now they're coming directly from the south to the north. And the house that we've been in is actually shaking at this point. There's a great intensity to what's going on.

The landfall is sort of west of here, and Chad's been talking a lot about Port Fourchon, which is about 20 miles from here. In fact, to get here, you drive south, you make a left turn at Port Fourchon, you come out to Grand Isle.

We can't get anywhere right now because we have got what looks to be increasing amounts of water, probably about seven feet of water now inside the house. For instance, the main level has now flooded. It had withstood flooding until a couple of hours ago, not even two hours ago.

Now, I should just -- just to let our viewers understand what we're talking about with these oil things, first of all, the price of oil has come down today, probably because it's not a Category 5 hurricane that was hanging around the Gulf of Mexico. But at $112, you've got a lot of space in there.

Back when Katrina hit, oil went to $70 for the first time. So just to give you a little bit of perspective.

The other thing is, you know, 56 percent of the oil that we import into this country -- and as you know, we import most of the oil that we use -- 56 percent of it comes in at Port Fourchon, which is just down the road. One hundred percent of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is shut down. That's a quarter of all our domestic production. So there's no oil flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico. And the issue isn't that there isn't oil flowing in, Heidi. We can handle that for a few days.


VELSHI: The issue is, are these refineries, are these pipelines and are these oil facilities being damaged right now? We will not know that.

Obviously, the betting is that they're not being damaged very much, and that's why you're seeing the price of oil lower. But the bottom line is oil has got to get to refineries to be made into gasoline. And if that starts becoming a problem, that's where you start seeing the price in gasoline increase.

The government has said it will release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which it's done in the past, if there's an inability to get oil from oil facilities to refineries. So that'll take a day or two to figure out. But we're right by that. This is the oil producing heartland of America.

COLLINS: Yes. Boy, and it's unbelievable. I think that you said, did you not, earlier that they are operating those refineries at about 85 percent? Is that right?

VELSHI: Eighty-five percent or more is what we typically run them at, which is why we can't really afford -- because we use that much gas -- we can't really afford to have them not getting oil going in to make gasoline and getting that gas out. And I should tell you, a million barrels of oil go from Port Fourchon every day in a pipeline that ends up in Chicago, and that goes to the Midwest.

That pipeline is shut down. So there's a lot. You're going to feel the pinch of this one way or the other. We just have to cross our fingers that there's not a lot of damage to those undersea pipelines and facilities.

COLLINS: Yes, that's the trick, obviously.

All right. Ali Velshi, thanks so much for that. We'll stay in touch with you of course.

We want to get now to the French Quarter, where we have Rob Marciano standing by to give us another picture inside the area of New Orleans.

And every time we come you to, Rob, it looks like it's getting worse, and then it calms down a bit, and then worse yet again. Pretty typical in this type of situation, yes?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm not quite sure what you said, Heidi, but basically, we've seen the same conditions gradually worsening over the past couple of hours. And I suspect that will be an ongoing trend until the eye gets parallel to us, which won't be for another couple of hours. That's the French Quarter. Power has been out since daybreak. And we've seen some structural damage in some spots as well, with things flying off of buildings, some broken glass in some cases.

And the downtown area here, you can still see some light, so not completely powered out. But certainly wind buffering these high- profile buildings.

Going back into the wind, this is what's been the most problem, is that the winds haven't really changed that much in direction. They've been northeast, they've been east, now maybe a little bit southeast.

And what it's been doing -- the water here, at least from our vantage point, there's the Mississippi River, and the water has been blowing waves up the Mississippi against the current. So a bit of a storm surge here, but not nearly what it might be farther downstream, across the west bank, where some of the canals aren't so battened up.

And on the east side, in the east bank, probably a little too hopeful that, you know, when it starts going to the west, that the east side of the city may very well be saved. The east bank, which was so hammered, and the canal levees so devastated during Katrina, well, as long as we keep these onshore east and northeast winds going, there is only so much that even those (INAUDIBLE) that aren't getting the full brunt of this storm can take.

So, Heidi, I think that's the main concern here. Even though the storm, the eye of it, is passing well to our south and west, we are on the bad side of the storm. We are on the dirty side of the storm. We are on that front right quadrant, which means we get sustained winds at a pretty constant speed, well into and therefore after landfall, which means that this is going to keep up for several hours to come this afternoon.

So, as you've been going through reporters throughout the city, and we'll be monitoring the situation, it's definitely not going to get any better anytime soon.

COLLINS: Yes, it certainly doesn't look like it, Rob. OK. We'll stay in close contact with you, of course.


COLLINS: We want to head on over now to Ed Lavandera. He is standing by in Lafayette to tell us a little bit more about what he's seeing there.

Ed, we haven't heard from you yet. What are you seeing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're kind of -- we're on the western edge of everything, so we've kind of been out of harm's way for a while. But we've just seen in the last hour the rainfall starting to pick up and the wind starting to pick up where we are, and what we're anticipating over the next couple hours is that the eye of the storm to start making its way toward where we are based on what we're seeing on the radar images. And of course this is an area west of New Orleans and south of Lafayette that was severely hit by Hurricane Rita, and floodwaters caused quite a bit of damage and flooded several towns south of Lafayette, south of Interstate 10, toward the Gulf Coast.

And that is of great concern again today, as many of the people who lived through all of that have vivid scars and memories of what they experienced three years ago. And many of them taking the evacuation orders seriously.

As we've been driving around yesterday and today, we have seen that the roads have been deserted. Everyone who wanted to evacuate left fast, they left early. There were very few procrastinators, so it was odd to see that yesterday, a full 24 hours virtually before this storm hit, that many of the roadways were already quiet and people who had already made their decision to leave had already left.

Having said that, there still are a great deal of people who have decided to ride out these storms not only here in Lafayette, but also in small towns south of where we are, New Iberia, Morgan City, places like that, Abbeville, where we will continue to monitor closely. Floodwaters reached several of these small towns three years ago, and given that this is a direct hit essentially with Hurricane Gustav, we can only suspect that the floodwaters and the flood levels will continue to rise here in coming hours.

So we will monitor that closely. But Lafayette now experiencing winds starting to pick up and the rainfall starting to fall here in Lafayette -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, we can certainly see it in your shot there.

All right, Ed. Thank you for that.

In the meantime, we are going to take a very, very quick break and come back with all of our coverage, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back. We're coming to you live from the French Quarter in New Orleans.

I want to check in with CNN's Gary Tuchman, who joins us on the phone from the Lower Ninth Ward.

Gary, what are you seeing? We're getting reports that some levees along the Industrial Canal are getting overtopped.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, that's absolutely right. I'm standing next to the levee right now, and not only is it being overtopped, but there are cracks in the bottom of it.

And we're going to have to get driving right now because a power line has gone down near us. I'm going to continue talking to you. There are cracks in the levee and the water is overtop, and parts of the Lower Ninth Ward is now flooded. Stop signs are underwater, a railroad crossing sign is underwater, and the water is just pouring through. Like a torrent of water is pouring through.

When we got here, there were some New Orleans police here, and they got out of here quick. They got out of Dodge, and they advised us to do the same.

We stayed long enough to take some pictures which we'll feedback via satellite shortly. But I can tell you, it's a deluge of water that's coming through the levee and over the levee, and I think it's just a matter of time before the Lower Ninth Ward, which was so devastated during Katrina, and still looks devastated from 2005, is flooded once more again. I don't know if it will be as extensive, but there is certainly going to be a lot of flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward. We're already seeing some of it as the water pours over.

COOPER: Gary, can you tell us exactly where this is in terms of, you know -- before the Lower Ninth there was a barge that hit a levee. We all saw that school bus that was crushed by the barge. Where are you exactly?

TUCHMAN: OK. Well, the levee -- part of the levee that was breached during Hurricane Katrina was kind of -- I don't know if you can put up a map of the Lower Ninth Ward, but just the west side of the Lower Ninth Ward. This is more of the northwest corner of the Lower Ninth Ward.

I'm actually looking right now. We've parked our car on top of a bridge that goes over the canal that separates the Lower Ninth Ward from the western parts of New Orleans, and that part of the levee that broke last time has not breached yet, but the water -- I would say the water has about 12 more inches to go before it's over that part of the wall.

But the northwest part of the Lower Ninth Ward, that's the wall that's being breached right now. And like I said, it's not just water that's pouring over, it's water that's going through it, too. It's hard for us to get close enough to see if there are cracks in it, but there must be if the water is going through the wall.

COOPER: Well, when you say it's going through the wall, can you describe that more? I mean, is it going through a crack or is it seeping?

TUCHMAN: It's hard to explain. It's like spurts of water. It's not seeping.

It's spurts of water that are coming out of the bottom of the wall, like squirting out. At the same time, there's water, as the waves come through the water, it comes over the wall.

We'll send pictures back to describe it, but it's coming through the wall in spurts and over the wall, just torrents of water that are being blown over the top of the levee wall. And it really reminds me of what I saw in Iowa and Missouri earlier this summer, where the whole (INAUDIBLE) part of the Lower Ninth Ward is now getting flooded very rapidly.

COOPER: All right. We're going to have to monitor that situation very closely. I know one of our other freelancers, Dave, took some shots of that. We'll try to feed that in from his video camera.

And Gary, I know you have some video of that. We'll try to feed that, get that on the air as quickly as possible. So Gary, try to head back and then give us that video. We'll also send some other crews out to that region to try to monitor the situation in the Lower Ninth Ward.

That, of course, the area that was so completely devastated by Hurricane Katrina, an area which is still slowly, slowly, ever so slowly trying to rebuild.

Let's check in with Jeanne Meserve, who is in Baton Rouge, also monitoring the situation with the levees.

Jeanne, what's the situation where you are?

Jeanne Meserve, can you hear me?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... on the Industrial Canal. What they've been told by the Army Corps of Engineers is that there has been wave overtopping of the flood wall on the west side of the Industrial Canal, and they believe that a railroad bridge on Clayburn Avenue is contributing to this flooding because the bridge is down. The Port of New Orleans is going to be raising that bridge, and the Army Corps of Engineers is hopeful that that is going to alleviate the problem.

In addition, we're told by a FEMA spokesman that the Coast Guard is now checking out of course two barges loose in the Industrial Canal, and they also have an assessment team on site trying to get an on-the-ground picture of exactly what is happening there. Again, going back to the representative of the governor's office, he says at this time there have been no breaches of levees reported in the state. They are expecting some overtopping in (INAUDIBLE) Parish, however.

COOPER: All right. Well, it's important to point out that we're trying to feed in this video right now that one of our drivers, Dave, took of this levee. Gary is saying he saw what seemed to be some spurting out of water, not just overtopping. But, Jeanne, from what you are hearing officially, they're saying at this point it's just overtopping. Is that correct?

MESERVE: That's what they're saying, but Gary obviously is on the scene and maybe seeing a little more than they're hearing through the Army Corps. They are saying they do expect some minor flooding in the area, but they characterized it as minor.

They also do say they do expect some overtopping of the sea wall along the lakeshore in New Orleans because of wave action there. So, clearly, they do expect some water in the city. Gary's on the scene. He probably has even information than they do at this point in time.

COOPER: All right. I understand we're showing now video of the overtopping. This is video that was taken by one of the folks that's working with us, Dave, who took this just a short time ago. He showed it to me briefly in his camera, though I have not seen it completely.

I think it just shows overtopping. What Gary Tuchman was talking about, we are trying to get his video as soon as he is able to come back to our location and feed it on a satellite truck.


COOPER: All right. I want to check in with Sean Callebs, who's in Jefferson Parish at the emergency operation center.

Sean, we're hearing reports from the industrial canal of overtopping of levees there. Gary Tuchman saying he saw what appeared to be, whether it's cracks or he wasn't sure exactly how to describe it, but some sort of water spurting out from -- that wasn't an overtopping of the levee, it actually seemed to be coming through the levee.

Are you hearing any of those reports? What are you hearing?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we talked to the Army Corps of Engineers, a spokeswoman we've been dealing with for a better part of a year now with, Amanda Jones. And she confirmed exactly what Gary's saying.

It's an area in the western section, and she refers to it as water splashing over. But look, this is important for a lot of reasons. I think that Chad just hit on one.

We're going to get six more hours of wind and rain, and it's very difficult to say what that is going to do to even the most rock solid of levees. And certainly, these things are in question. No one knows to what degree they have been tested over the past three years since the corps has done all of this work.

Now, granted, there are not a lot of people living down in that area, but there's been so much work done. Now, think about those street names. We've all been down those streets, Anderson, and one of the first ones is called Flood.

So it's an indication, look, it floods down there a lot. People know what's going to happen. Let's hope it's not the catastrophic flooding we saw three years ago, but just a little bit further down there's MLK Elementary School, and that has been such a promising school for a system that has just been so blighted. The principal there, she is just a firecracker.

I think back when we did an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev back in October, and she met with Gorbachev at that school. And it is not terribly far from that area that Gary is talking about right now.

And secondly, we brought an engineer down to that levee last summer. There was water that was on the road adjacent to the flood wall, and a lot of residents thought, look, if water is seeping underneath, is this a problem? Well, the Corps of Engineers told us time and time again, no, we're confident that that is a water main break, that it's not water coming from the Industrial Canal.

And that's certainly believable because the system of sewers and water have simply been devastated in the aftermath of the storm. However, the engineer wasn't quite sure of that.

If you remember the way that flood wall goes in a very perpendicular way, and then that -- the earth kind of comes down in a much more forgiving fashion. Well, he put his hand on that dirt and he felt it was damp, and he was convinced that perhaps there was some water coming underneath there. I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but certainly this is something that people are going to have to watch extremely closely for the next six hours, as this area gets punished by wind and rain.

COOPER: Hey, Sean, stay with us.

We want to go in -- Chris Lawrence is joining us now. He's actually down at the Industrial Canal.

Chris, where are you and what are you seeing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're on the Interstate 10 overpass, just past the (INAUDIBLE) fields exit, and I can tell you that the Port of New Orleans is under water.

If you can take a look down there and get a better look, John, if you can try to push in just a little bit, you can see the tremendous flooding that is going on right here at the Port of New Orleans. I don't know if you can swing over, but you can see how that water is just lapping right over that wall right over there. Just a few minutes ago we were down on the ground in a lower angle, and we could see that water just rushing by.

It's hard to tell from up here, but if you can look down there and see some of those railroad signs, and some of those "Do Not Cross" signs, those signs are at least six, seven, eight feet off the ground, and they are almost completely submerged in water right now. It's hard to get our bearings up here, but we do know that this was a major point of concern for the Army Corps of Engineers going into this storm.

We know that there is no structure built that would block a surge of water from Lake Pontchartrain into the Industrial Canal. We also know that the western flood wall of all the Industrial Canal, they had been sandbagging that to try to shore it up for stability.

The eastern side of the flood wall had shown some signs of seepage before this happened, so it is something they were going to look at, and they called it the weak point in the system. Here we are now. We can see a tremendous amount of flooding down here -- Anderson.

COOPER: Chris, stay tuned. I want to see if we can bring back in Sean.

Sean, I don't know if you could hear what Chris Lawrence was saying, but -- OK. I'm told we can't. We'll try to get Sean going.

Chad, what is the significance of what Chris Lawrence has been telling us? I mean, there's a difference between regular flooding. I mean, flooding that happens in storms.

This is New Orleans, after all. This is an area that floods. That's well known. There's a difference between flooding, the normal kind of flooding, and then the flooding that we saw after Hurricane Katrina, where levees fell.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And at some point in time they may kind of run together, Anderson.

I'm afraid that we are now filling up Lake Pontchartrain from these winds that have been coming in from the east and from the southeast, and that's why we have such a high watermark here in the Industrial Canal.

And I really need to get back to Gary Tuchman for him to clarify what he is seeing because there's a big difference between overtopping the levee here. If water is just going over it, that's probably OK. If water is going through it and there's going to be a gap, that means the entire depth of Lake Pontchartrain is going to be the depth of the Lower Ninth Ward.

If you can stop that break, stop a breach and get overtopping, there will be water, but the water in the canal will be 10 feet higher than the water in the Lower Ninth Ward. And that's what we need to be seeing. And some of the terms that Gary was using, kind of breaking through, really, really concern me.

We are filling up this basin. We are filling up an area that's below sea level. That should be no surprise to anyone that if you push enough water into an area that's below sea level, some parts are going to break. Some part of this bubble, of this wall, is going to break.

The levees probably can't handle it everywhere. We will see what levees can handle it and what levees can't. And it's going to be that factor that you -- this is the reason we wanted you out of New Orleans in the first place, because it's just unpredictable on where this might -- might fail.

It might fail on the south side. It may fail on the north side. It may fail on the Industrial Canal.

I'll tell you what, our General Honore is in the building, and he knows this city like any person that has lived there for years and years and years. General Honore is going to tell us about what he is hearing about possibly barges being loose. I mean, how do you not move all of the barges out of the way when you know a storm is coming?

A tugboat may be untied, moving around and bouncing off these sea walls, bouncing off these levees and these walls. How can that be not taken care of before the storm? Again, just all of these questions that General Honore can talk to that probably very few of us with not firsthand knowledge of years and years on the ground there can really get to.

The picture you see here, this is what's called overtopping. Over there, you see that right here? That's OK. The water is still behind that wall.

If it splashes over, that's a couple of gallons. We're not talking millions or billions of gallons. If that little piece right down there, if that little piece of concrete right there goes away, then you have four feet of extra water coming down, because that's about how tall that water is, about that wall is. Well, many of these walls are much higher than four feet.

The general is joining me right now.

And General, come on up, sir. Can we talk a little bit about this?


The caution you just gave is, there are two pieces, because reporters are seeing a piece on the ground. And I'm glad you clarified the term "overtop," because that piece that's showing there now, this, combined with anything that might be coming out of the water, like a barge -- and we just heard a report from WWL in New Orleans that there is a barge in the Industrial Canal, a couple miles long where mostly affecting, near the ninth ward.

MYERS: And that's normal for traffic.

HONORE: It's normal for traffic, but the next level of protection we have to do, the next storm comes, we need to get those barges out of the city. All those barges and tugs should have been moved up river. So that's a lesson learned. We'll have to capture it for the next time, because that barge could come now and violate what we are seeing, that water as it gets to the levee.

That's kind of normal, as you described. The levee is working. But anything -- that sustained wind or another two-foot surge, then you get continuous flow over the water, and that is a real threat for flooding. But right now, that's about as dangerous as we want to see this and hopefully we've seen the worst, because any more surge comes in there, and then we could get a continuous flow of water over that levee.

MYERS: Didn't a barge make the first breach in the Katrina levee?

HONORE: If it wasn't the first, it was a contributing factor, a loose barge in that river.

MYERS: And we haven't figured that out yet.

HONORE: Again, we fixed a lot since Katrina. That's another area we have to work on fixing.

MYERS: What about the levees put down into this -- what we call a marshy area -- that are not deep enough, that are not supported enough and the water scours underneath? Is that still going to be a problem?

HONORE: I think you've got some pretty good engineering going on right here. I walked those walls last week, a week ago. And a big T- wall structure, well constructed. You just get a pretty good picture of them here. Those are in pretty good shape. That is some of the walls you are seeing that are being challenged there now by the surge. But this is a surge. This is not water that comes from flooding. So it came in the Industrial Canal.

The other piece that is worth reporting is that there's not been a big surge in Lake Pontchartrain yet, which created the problem on 17th Street Canal the last time. So this is a surge coming out of the Gulf, coming in through the Industrial Canal, through -- it's affect of the eye the storm coming. So I hope this is the worst case we're going to see. Right now we're just going to keep our fingers crossed that the surge doesn't get any higher. Because right now we'll get some trickle of water in the Ninth Ward, but if we get a steady flow over that wall, then that will be called flooded.

MYERS: Dave, can you go to our shell beach graphic please? General, I want you to talk about this as well. Shell Beach, down here, down along the river; this is a ten-foot surge right here. Ten foot high. This is where we should be down here on this blue line.

HONORE: That's normal.

MYERS: That's normal. That's kind of tide fluctuation. Just in the past how many hours -- 16 hours there, we've gone up nine feet in one place. Does that concern you? Is nine feet significant?

HONORE: If it's in an area like Shell Beach that will normally experience surges from big storms and things like that, not a big deal, because the water will go in and come out.


HONORE: The area we have to worry about now is if the water gets in and gets inside of a levee system surrounding a town like New Orleans, which is surrounded by some 200 miles of -- over 300 miles worth of levees.

MYERS: Three hundred miles?

HONORE: Yes, sir.

MYERS: No kidding. This -- New Orleans, the bowl that we know as New Orleans, north and south and east and west, 300 miles has to be protected?

HONORE: That is what it takes to protect the greater New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plactimum (ph) Parish. Some of those are private levees. So we're talking about a significant amount of threat. As you get over west of New Orleans and you get into the lower parishes, there are a lot of bayous. The water comes in, it could flood, and it flows out. When you get water inside of Orleans Parish -- listen to me now, that's the problem, because the levees are designed to keep the water out, also keep it in.

So that is a deal with the pumps. Right now, at the 17th Street Canal, up at Lake Pontchartrain, they're not reporting any issues right now.

MYERS: We're going to go to it. Hold on. Zoom into the eye. Dave said he's got it right here.

HONORE: As of ten minutes ago, the Corps of Engineers -- I listened to their report that there was no threat from the Lake Pontchartrain. So this water you see coming in from the Industrial Canal is fed in from the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

MYERS: So you think that's what our problem is right now.

HONORE: That's where that surge came from. That surge came from the Gulf of Mexico through the Industrial Canal, which also connects in with Lake Pontchartrain. But the lake has not had a significant effect. The lake had a 17-foot surge during Katrina.

MYERS: Right.

HONORE: Here we're seeing, what, a 14-foot surge that's come first through the canal. It is not to say that the water still can't have an effect overall on the lake. But right now this is not a repeat of Katrina.

MYERS: Right.

HONORE: Where the lake, Pontchartrain had a surge. This surge is coming up the Industrial Canal.

MYERS: All right, general. Glad you're with us tonight. We're going to need you all day long. Heidi, I know you have something you want to get to as well.

COLLINS: Yes, Chad, actually we do. We have Bob Anderson. He is a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers joining us on the telephone to give us the very latest from where he is. If I understand correctly, Mr. Anderson, you are in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Tell us a little bit about the situation there.

BOB ANDERSON, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Well, again, we're working with the folks in New Orleans. We've got a number of folks on the ground in the city, closely monitoring the surge and the flow of the water. And so that's the current status. Right now, we have some minor wave -- or actually not minor, but some wave wash over a few of the areas, but nothing has been breached at this point.

COLLINS: OK. It might be worth repeating right about now, as we continue to look at these live pictures from our affiliate, WDSU -- that's out of New Orleans that we're watching right now. We are looking at some of the levees being overtopped right there. Explain to us once again, quickly, the difference between overtopping and breaching, so the people understand.

ANDERSON: Right. Well, the levees have been reinforced and strengthened, as have the flood walls, so that they can withstand some overtopping, but if enough of a surge were to hit and continuously cover and overflow the levees, that could lead to what's called a breach, where the levee actually breaks.

COLLINS: OK. I think General Honore touched on something that was interesting. Maybe you can take it even further for us. These levees, as he said, are designed to keep the water out, but they also then keep it in. How does that become a problem?

ANDERSON: Well, again, the whole system has been reinforced and strengthened, including the pumping stations, which are -- we expect, will be able to keep up with the flooding. And there will be localized flooding, but the overall system should be able to keep the city protected to a large degree.

COLLINS: All right. We sure do appreciate your expertise in all of this as people continue to understand what is going on in the wake of Hurricane Gustav. Bob Anderson, spokesperson with the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Thank you Bob, for that. I want to take a moment to get to Jeanne Meserve now, and learn more about what she is seeing and hearing around her. Hi there, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I there Heidi. What we're told by the U.S. Coast Guard is that two old Navy boats that were being scrapped broke loose from a company called Southern Scrap, Inc. They are now pressing against the pylons at the Florida Avenue Bridge, which crosses over the Industrial Canal. According to the Coast Guard, the bridge is not in jeopardy. They tell us that the Gulf Intra-coastal Agency has launched some boats. They're apparently experts in securing breakaway barges and ships and they are, we are told, en route to try and rectify this situation.

But once again, the bridge, itself, does not appear to be in jeopardy. I was just going to say, they too have heard the reports of a barge being loose. The U.S. Coast Guard not confirming that at this point in time.

COLLINS: Very good. Excellent to hear that. Jeanne Meserve reporting for us this morning. Thank you, Gene, for that. I want to take a moment to get to Rob Marciano. Once again, we've been seeing some pretty incredible pictures coming from him. And once again I can see him on the monitor, before we pull him up. We are seeing the same thing right now. Rob, I don't know if you can hear me, but take it away. Tell us what you have.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are taking a bit of a punishing, but the rain, at least, has for now taken a breather. But the wind has not. It's been on-going for several hours now and really hasn't let up at all. If anything, it has increased somewhat. To my left is the French Quarter. Check it out. There are the tops of the buildings. We've seen debris, from time to time, being torn off and peeled off some of the tops of those buildings.

It's really a surreal sight, in some cases. You stand here and think hey, I'm on the outer wall of maybe an old time European or Medieval City. Then on this flip side, just past Canal, there are the modern high rises of New Orleans, which continue to take a beating from this wind, which has switched a little bit from time to time. We've had a little bit of shaky work here. Jim Castell (ph) and Jeff Kim (ph), by the way, working the lens for you and doing a heck of a job.

There's the Mississippi just a stone's throw. If I had the wind with me, it would be a stone's throw. But we're in the teeth of the wind now. You see white caps there, but even more so just downstream. Can you get that, Jeff? The white caps coming right at us, they're going against the current. The Mississippi River wants to flow the other way, around that corner to the Gulf of Mexico, and there you go, river storm surge, with the winds pushing that water up against where it normally would be coming from.

Mississippi levees, it's not a problem. We'd really need a monster coming for us to worry about that. Certainly, the canals that we've been discussing and on the east side of the city, an area we thought wouldn't be a problem, because the storm was going west. Continual punishment of these onshore east winds, southeast winds now, Heidi, these things really have to let up soon or we're going to see some structural damage to the weakened levees. And I have a feeling it's going to keep up for several hours to come, because the center of the storm, from what I can tell, isn't even parallel to us yet. So going to be a long afternoon for sure. Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes, and it's so weird to hear that wind just whipping, whipping, whipping around you. Then all of a sudden we hear almost nothing. So your description of those gusts is really great, and also a live shot up above you to the left now of those white caps that you're talking about, too. Pretty incredible stuff.

Rob Marciano for us in the French Quarter. Rob, thank you. We'll come back to you shortly. For now another break here in the CNN NEWSROOM. We're back in a moment.


COLLINS: Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM. We are, of course, covering Hurricane Gustav this morning and there is an awful lot to cover. We have our correspondents fanned out all over the place and our meteorologists on board and working hard right now. We want to go straight out to Gary Tuchman, who is in the French quarter, to talk a little bit more about what he's seeing. Obviously you're getting blown all around, Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, we're having mixed news here from this hurricane here in the city of New Orleans. We just made a trip to the Lower Ninth Ward that was so devastated during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and unfortunately there's bad news to report there. The levee there, that's around the lower ninth ward, which was breached in 2005, causing devastation in the neighborhood, is now breached in a different area than Hurricane Katrina.

We were just there. What we saw -- the levee looks like a cement wall that stands up, and it separates the Industrial Canal from that section of New Orleans. What we're seeing is water coming over the top and water spurting through the bottom of the concrete wall, and starting to flood portions of the Lower Ninth Ward. We see stop signs that are under water, railroad crossings that are under water. Now, it's certainly -- and we've got to emphasize this -- not as devastating as Hurricane Katrina, but that in itself is a bad sign, because the storm is -- the center of the storm is nowhere near here.

We, frankly, haven't had a lot of rain. The winds have been very strong, but this isn't nearly the amount of rain I saw, for example, during Hurricane Dolly on South Padre Island in Texas several weeks ago. So we don't know how much worse it's going to get, but we couldn't stay there very long, because there's so much pressure from the water against the wall that we felt and police told us that that walls could explode at any time, and that's why we got the heck out of there. Heidi

COLLINS: Yes, I'm glad you got out of there and people out of there as well, obviously. Once again, reminding everyone, we've had nearly two million people evacuate this area. Obviously, thankful for that. There are still some people who have decided on their own to stay and to ignore, if you will, those mandatory evacuations. So we are staying on top of all of it. Again, Gary Tuchman reporting that the Ninth Ward now is starting to flood. One of the levees has breached in a different area than was breached in Hurricane Katrina. We'll be watching that very, very closely with him.

For now, we want to move onto Gulfport, Mississippi, where we have Susan Candiotti standing by to tell us a little bit more about what's happening there. Hi Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Heidi. Here we're getting tropical storm force winds, but they're gusting pretty close to hurricane force winds. We've been under tornado watches off and on all day long. Let's take a little walk over here. We are in front of a hotel that has overlooked the Gulf of Mexico. As we move over here, and you see the waves crashing and you see the trees bending over just a little bit, you can see there is, on the other side -- that is actually a highway just in front of the palm trees. That's highway 90 that goes east and west along the shore here.

Now those are the eastbound lanes are covered now by the Gulf of Mexico. That started early this morning and it has not let up. The westbound lanes are still not under water here, and I'm told these roads were recently repaved. So unfortunately they might -- there might be a severe fix up when this is all over with. For now, this area where we are standing now is about 19 feet above sea level. There are about eight or nine feet over sea level during Hurricane Katrina by comparison. So as you can see, there's not too much of a fear of flooding at this time.

Storm surge, yes, maybe up six to eight feet at most. But they're hoping it stays that way and doesn't get much worse here. The people here feel very badly, obviously, about what is happening in Louisiana, because, clearly, Louisiana to the west of us is bearing the brunt of it. We are getting those outer bands here and we are feeling them hard. It is like pin pricks hitting your face as you look into the bad weather.

The only cars we see going by are FEMA and also the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, as well as some police cars occasionally. Wow. Every now and again, you'll see someone walking out here. They shouldn't be. We are under an evacuation order here. There are some home owners who decided to stay put, but, in the main, a lot of people throughout the state have moved out on school buses and their own, moving in with family and friends. About 13,000 people have sought shelter in the state of Mississippi.

For now, it's watching and waiting to see how much wind damage there is, to see how much flooding there is and, in particular, in areas that include bay Waytland (ph), Bay St. Louis, Patchsien (ph) and Hancock County that were hit hard during Hurricane Katrina. That's it for now, Heidi. Back to you.

COLLINS: Susan, obviously very difficult for you to talk because you're getting hit so hard by those rain drops that I'm sure feel like bullets. Susan Candiotti, appreciate that, Gulfport, Mississippi, where she is.

I want to take a moment now to get to our affiliates and listen in to some of their live coverage. WWL talking about the Industrial Bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- these ships that broke loose, proper lashing, proper tie downs, secondary, tertiary -- you need to make sure there's a backup system and a backup system to the backup system. And you probably should have somebody on stand by watching those barges and watching those fleets. Anything that's tied down or subject to breaking loose from the dock or from its berth, there should be a backup system in place.

I saw one again this morning at Perry Street. Apparently something happened there where a line broke loose. There's a tug boat holding that ship in place on the river now. That's a good backup system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Angela, anything else for Gary?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. But thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We appreciate it. Let's continue to look at some of the pictures here for a second, if you don't mind for a second Angela and Dennis. You can continue to see the overtopping. Really the winds have died down at least for now somewhat over here, and the water is still overtopping. If we can pan to the left a little bit, I think this is important, because the key here, if these flood walls do hold, is if any of this water will reach neighborhoods. And you can kind of get a perspective here, as we pan more to the left, how close some of the homes are. This is a very business heavy part of the industrial part of the city. And you can see, as you go farther and farther toward where homes are, really not a lot of water on the ground. Certainly some but nothing right now, right now, that would have us concerned about this causing any -- anymore serious flooding. As we do get a wind picking up and as we take a look back at western wall of the canal --



UNIDENTIFIED: Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Louis (ph) said that she and Arnie Felco (ph) and others were going to take a drive-by to check those neighborhoods, to literally see if water was gathering anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can tell you this. We just talked to James Carter, the councilman who represents some of the area that could be affected by water overtopping this flood wall. He represents much of the Upper Ninth Ward, Bywater. He says he's driven the streets and so far he has not seen anything that concerns him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have more questions about this, I did talk to the Corps Colonel Jeff Beatty (ph) and Major Nick Nazarco (ph) of the Hurricane Protection Office -- just wanted to give you a --

MYERS: We're going to breakaway from this for a tornado warning for Destin. That is Destin, Florida. This is a brand new tornado warning now. The storm is about ten miles to your southeast in Destin, Florida. So still offshore, but moving onshore to you at 40 miles per hour, all part of the circulation around the eye that still is this hurricane. We just had a hurricane hunter aircraft fly through this eye, and they still found at flight level 100 knots. That's 115 miles per hour. That doesn't mean the wind at the surface is 115, but certainly it could be 90.

The reason why we're seeing so much wind where Rob is, because he's on top of a building. The winds on top of a building much higher than at the bottom of the building, even though at some point you can see some kind of funneling effect here. So now we'll go back over here and show you these tornado warnings as these cells are rotating off the ocean, rotating here as they get in, all part of the same spin that is the tornado -- is the hurricane, but as it comes onshore, it can actually spin down a little bit, cause some friction with the land, and that friction can cause these storms to spin up into a tornado at any time.

These will be near -- it will be near Valparaiso by about 11:10 central daylight time. Right now, the city of Destin, you need to be taking cover right now away from the windows, in the lowest level of your building, if you can. Stay away from anything. Don't open the windows. Don't be an i-reporter. These are too hard to see, sometimes wrapped in rain, which means the whole storm is rotating, there's rain all around it, and in the middle is the tornado. You can't take a picture of anyway.

Here you go. Now, I told you -- I told you I was going to try to get to Hanna at some point, because this is going to affect a completely different area later in the week and probably into Friday as a Category One hurricane, a minimal Category One, but somewhere very close to Charleston as it makes land fall. Remember, Heidi, we talked about this the whole time, the cone could be all the way from Wrightsville beach all the way through Tampa, but let me tell you how good the hurricane center did with the forecast for Gustav. They were on the money five days ago.

COLLINS: Yes, which is awesome. That's really some nice notice there and obviously part of the reason why the nearly two million people were able to get out of the area we are talking about right now. And there's another live shot for you of the area that is overtopping right now, some of these levees. New Orleans obviously is the area of concern right now. We just learned from our Gary Tuchman, the Lower Ninth Ward is apparently beginning to flood. This was breached in a separate place, a different area than Hurricane Katrina three years ago. Certainly something to talk about.

Rod West is on the line with us right now. He's a CEO of Entergy. He is going to talk a little bit about the power situation. Rod, if you can hear me OK, go ahead and tell us the situation, particularly when we're talking about the power and how these levees are going to be handling that.

ROD WEST, CEO OF ENTERGY: Sure. First of all, thanks for having us on and helping us get the word out. As the winds have descended upon New Orleans, it certainly creates havoc with the electric distribution system. Right now, we're just over 350,000 customers out in the region, which is to be expected when you consider a storm of this magnitude. I think it's important to note that Entergy, as well as the Sewage and Water Board, have always been coordinated in its efforts to keep the water pumps high on our priority list.

One of the challenges we have heard about was that Entergy was failing the Sewage and Water Board, in terms of providing power. And I don't think that that was a completely accurate report. The Sewage and Water Board have resources of power, their own generated 25 cycle system. Entergy supplied the backup, as well as their on-site natural gas generation. When the Entergy system goes down, as is the case with the storm, Sewage and Water Board has its own backup systems, which we're happy to say that, at least to date, their systems are functioning.

Even if not optimally, sometimes, the Sewage and Water Board folks are doing an outstanding job of keeping their pumps on. And they know that as soon as the storm passes through, we have nearly 9,000 electric workers who are standing by, waiting for the word that it's safe to come back to the city and restore power. So it's a coordinated effort with all of the agencies, whether they be local or the utility. But we're going to do everything we can, as soon as this storm passes, to get New Orleans back on its feet.

COLLINS: OK. Well, obviously that's going to be the question, as we continue to watch. We spoke with General Honore, who was obviously around during Hurricane Katrina and helped people to sort of get back on board and try to get going with their lives, however long that took, obviously. How many days can you predict that people will be without power?

WEST: -- in terms of number of days, because we aren't done with the storm. And as soon as that storm blows through, we have crews of folks who are going to come to do the damage assessment. And assuming the floodwaters don't prevent us from actually accessing our system, we're going to get the power back up and running as soon as humanly possible. Of course, safety has to trump speed.

COLLINS: All right. Of course. Rod West, we sure do appreciate your time today, CEO from Entergy. Thank you, Rod. We have to get to Gary Tuchman, who is standing by in New Orleans in the French Quarter. Going to talk a little bit more about what's happening there. Hey, Gary, what's going on?

TUCHMAN: I have never covered a hurricane with such a high wind to rain ratio. The winds have been tropical storm-force for hours. We've had very little rain. It's very unusual. That's what makes what we saw today, about one hour ago, so disturbing. We have some new video we want to show you in the lower ninth ward, the neighborhood that was devastated during Hurricane Katrina, because a levee was breached back in 2005. Well, it has been breached again. How serious it's going to get, we don't know, but we had to leave because it was starting to flood rapidly.

Already, parts of the lower ninth ward, stop signs, railroad crossings and homes that are under water. Many of the homes, we must tell you, are uninhabited for the last three years. But the water was actually squeezing through and spurting through the bottom of the wall, and it was also over top. There was so much pressure against the wall, from the water pressing against it, that we had to leave very quickly. Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: All right. Gary, wow, looking at that video just coming into us here at CNN. Thank you, Gary. We'll check back with you later on. Again, talking more about the Lower Ninth Ward, an area of concern right now. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back in just a moment here in the CNN NEWSROOM.