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American Morning

Hurricane Dean Slams Mexico; 'God's Warriors'

Aired August 21, 2007 - 07:00   ET


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My cameraman Walter says I can't touch it. One of the other technicians tried to touch it. At this point, we're just trying to sort it out.

CARROLL: It's not at the point where, you know, you touch it and you're shocked so badly, but it's at the point where you literally cannot lift it up.


CARROLL: We're trying to sort it out, get to the bottom of it. Something obviously has happened to it.

SANCHEZ: Something is amiss.

We thank you, Jason Carroll, for bringing us up to date on that. And I hope you guys are able to resolve that issue.

Doesn't that sound weird?

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: It does. As well, we're not able to check in with Rob Marciano right now or Harris Whitbeck for similar reasons. They're right in the thick of things at the -- as Hurricane Dean closes in, and they're having trouble reporting as well. But I'm sure we're going to get details as soon as they are able to once again come up with the cameras and the video.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.


CHETRY (voice over): Breaking news. Direct hit.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's going to be a pretty intense five or six hours. I can tell you that.

CHETRY: A Category 5 Hurricane Dean slamming Mexico's Caribbean coast right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind is howling outside. Police say (INAUDIBLE) are on their own.

CHETRY: Live reports and I-Reports from the storm zone.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters on this AMERICAN MORNING. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: And welcome. Thanks for being with us once again.

It is Tuesday, August 21st.

I'm Kiran Chetry. And we're tracking Hurricane Dean.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And I'm Rick Sanchez, sitting in for John Roberts.

Boy, what a morning we've had. We've been -- you know, just as we started to go on the air this morning at 5:00 in the morning, which seems like 10 minutes ago, as fast as things have been moving, this Hurricane Dean, a potentially catastrophic storm -- that's what the hurricane center in Coral Gables is calling it -- started making its way along the coast of Mexico.

Well, as you can see, it's now hit the coast and, in some parts, it's doing quite a bit of damage. We have been struggling in some cases to try and get you as many reports as we can. But, you know, as you can see from the conditions, it's not easy and, in some cases, not safe for some of our correspondents and for some of the people on the ground who have been trying to reach us on their cell phones and have successfully in many cases to tell it us what the scene is there right now.

CHETRY: And as we're talking, it was about two and a half hours ago that it made landfall. The eye wall moving ashore 4:30 a.m.

It was just north of Chetumal, which is the capital of the Quintana Roo. That's the Mexican state that houses all of these areas of tourism. Very popular areas like Cancun and Cozumel.

Our Rob Marciano is in one of those areas, an area known as the Mayan Riviera, Puerto Aventuras. He is on the phone right now.

And what changed since we checked in with you last that you were unable to get a shot for us?

MARCIANO: A couple of things. For one thing...

CHETRY: We can barely hear Rob.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I don't think this is going to work.

We -- and by the way, let's try to explain to you what is going on with Rob. We had a shot up for Rob, but apparently the winds have just gotten so strong right now, they had to take the shot down.

Why don't we do this, Michelle. Let us know as soon as we get him up, and we'll just pop him right back up.

In the meantime, let's go to Atlanta. Reynolds Wolf is watching the situation there for us. It almost sounds -- and this is just judging, Reynolds, from what Kiran and I are sensing out here talking to our correspondents -- that things are really starting to intensify there a little bit in some of these areas.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, no question about it. But the thing that's going to be so frustrating for Rob is -- and we've been touching on this all morning long -- is there are going to be moments where it's almost tranquil and then you're going to be hit by one of those bands again, those feeder bands that are associated with these big storms.

So, he's going to have, again, times where the winds are going to be at 20, maybe 30, then those gusts that are going to pop up near a hundred miles per hour. So he, obviously, is being hit in one of those bands.

Let's take a look and show you right now the structure of this enormous storm as it's crossing over the Yucatan. It weakened just a little bit. In fact...

SANCHEZ: Hey, Reynolds. I'm going to interrupt you for just a minute. Stay with us.

WOLF: Do we have him.

SANCHEZ: You might be able to -- yes, apparently we got Rob back.

WOLF: Good deal. Good deal.

SANCHEZ: So let's see if we can pop him up.

Rob, are you there? Rob Marciano?

MARCIANO: Yes, I'm on the air, Rick. We're having a hard time getting not only a video, obviously, the cell phone on the fritz as well.

This Caribbean -- now we're just starting to get a little bit of daylight breaking through, at least lightning of the skies, and it is revealing a torrent sea. Hard to believe what the Caribbean looks like on a normal day or even just yesterday and what dawn is breaking and bringing now.

Scenes from a perfect storm, things like that. Huge, huge breakers rolling in, nothing but foam and 15-footers crashing upon the shoreline, crashing upon some of the structures that this hotel had -- well, one would think safely enough away from the shoreline, but not on a day like today.

As this water continues to encroach upon us -- and we are still well above the water on a fairly protected area with the seawall, but if that situation changes, then we'll back off. But what is amazing to me is this storm -- and Reynolds can probably chime in on this -- likely (INAUDIBLE) a little bit as it moves inland. And theoretically, weakening.

But we're getting more of an onshore flow now. The winds are beginning to turn a little more (INAUDIBLE) highest surge probably (INAUDIBLE), which theoretically showing to be about 10, 15 feet or so in my area. But the tide, at least the tide tables, should be receding as the water continues to move in. So, we're fairly fortunate that an upward (ph) push of wind right now is not corresponding with the high tide, which occurred about three hours ago.

Reynolds, where -- give me an idea, you know, where is the eye of this storm relative to us? And is an east wind accurate as far as what I'm feeling right now?

WOLF: East wind right now, Rob. I would expect that to continue at least the next 20 to 30 minutes or so. You also might get a little bit of a break as the storm rolls westward.

Now, you brought up a really good point about the eye. You were asking about the eye, where is the eye? Well, what is left of the eye is just to the north of Chetumal, but I'll tell you, I would not be surprised if we get a statement from the National Hurricane Center at any time downgrading the storm, because the eye is almost -- well, almost completely obscured.

It looks like it's just fallen altogether, which is typical for these storms when they come on shore. So that would be something certainly very interesting, to garner that information hopefully fairly soon.

But Rob, at your present location, I would expect the wind to continue. You're going to have, as you know, and you are so familiar with these storms, you're going to have that pounding, pounding surf that continues.

You mentioned those 15-footers, all that foam that's coming in from that angry Caribbean Sea. At times, though, the rain will be driving as well. But then, I would say in the span of, say, two or three hours, you guys should be actually experiencing a little bit of sunshine, much better conditions there.

However, that's when all kinds of things are going to fall apart for places like Campeche, on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula. So, you at that point will be in the storm's wake and you'll have full steam on the other side of the Yucatan, into the Bay of Campeche.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Reynolds...

WOLF: Yes?

SANCHEZ: I'm being told -- stay with us, by the way -- you, myself, Kiran, and now Rob. There we go.

I was told Rob is going to try to fix that shot. The shot had been down. He was talking to us on a cell phone, and now it looks like -- that's the IFB, that's what we call it in this business. CHETRY: That's how he hears us and he hears the show.

SANCHEZ: And he's putting that in now.

CHETRY: It's amazing that any of that equipment is working in those winds and that rain, anyway.

Are you hearing us, Rob?

MARCIANO: Yes, I got you now. We're plugged in.

SANCHEZ: Well done.

MARCIANO: I -- mixed minuses (ph). So I might have to pull my ear piece out so I can speak without having my own self talk to me. But now you can see what dusk is beginning to reveal behind me.

Winds still generally coming in the same direction, although a little bit more onshore now. And these waves are crashing a little bit closer to us.

They are still a good 10, 12 feet below us where the water is coming up, but look at that. There's nothing but foam out there.

That would typically be, you know, this gorgeous aqua blue and no wave. And today, it is just a pounding surf of angry Caribbean. It is just amazing to me. And the sea spray that's coming off and just pounding us is amazing as well.

Once we get a little bit more in the way of light we will be able to show you some of the structures that just normally jut out into the beach well away from the surf zone. They're actually in the surf.

So, this certainly is an amazing sight and it gives you one -- you know, there are so many facets to a hurricane that reveal its strength. You have the wind, obviously. You have the torrential rain. You have the storm surge, which we're seeing a bit right now, and then on top of that surge, you have these waves.

And when you talk about a Category 5 storm that has rolled across the Caribbean for days on end, and those winds continue to build those waves and build those swells, and those swells continue to build and work their way in, powered by that strong 160-plus-mile-an-hour surface wind, and then all that energy gets banged up against the shoreline, then this is the result. This is certainly a fascinating sight.

All right. I've got myself plugged in. I'll put it back to you guys, Rick and Kiran.

Back to you.

SANCHEZ: Well, it looks like you're getting, what? If we were to measure that wind from the distance it's coming -- and this is important because it will tell us how fast this hurricane is moving -- has the wind gone from a westerly direction -- in other words, east to west -- now is it coming more from south up to north where you are, Rob?

MARCIANO: Yes -- no, that's a good point. We haven't -- I'm waiting for that to happen. But I suspect that the eye itself has to get a little bit farther inland for that to happen.

We're still looking at an east-northeasterly wind. And that's probably the main reason that we have seen these waves and this water continue to push up closer to us, even with the tide receding.

So, once that wind does turn a little bit more southeasterly -- you know, I've been up all night, so this is kind of -- I kind of have to draw circles in my head to figure out the circulation. But once we get it going southeasterly and southerly, like you mentioned, probably not for a couple of hours, Rick, until the center of that circulation is a little bit farther off to the west.

Look at this. I hope it happens soon, because we may have to back off. This water is getting a little bit close.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And that's important, because what that means is, in answer to the question, that we're going to be getting sustained winds in that area for quite a long period of time. So that cumulative effect of the storm is going to continue, which is what we're going to be watching, which gives us reason to follow it even more carefully.

CHETRY: And we'll check back in with Reynolds Wolf.

Rob, by the way, great job. And as the circumstances allow, we will check back in with you throughout the rest of the show.


CHETRY: Rob, again, is in the area usually packed with tourists along the...

SANCHEZ: Now it's just packed with Rob.

CHETRY: Exactly.

But as Reynolds said, we're going to start to see that eye break up a little bit. This is usually the case when the hurricane then hits landfall. It starts to break up, weaken a little bit, but then coming out the other side of the Gulf, we're expecting it to gain strength again.

So, we're going to continue to check in with the track of the hurricane, but right now, some of the implications on the ground when it comes to making sure that people who are caught in this are taken care of.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in Atlanta right now.

And I understand you have some new information on how emergency personnel are helping respond to some of these areas where people, where evacuees are seeking shelter after Dean.

What's the latest, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, one of the biggest -- I'm sorry, I hear myself in my ear there. We've got about 4,000 troops from the Mexican army actually on the ground in that area, close to where Rob just was where you saw him reporting. And important.

That's a huge part of the relief organization, something known as DN3 -- DN, as in Nancy, 3. That's Defense Against Natural Disasters. It's one of the most important functions of the Mexican army, to take care of the Mexican people like this.

This is what they do -- they try and get people into shelters. Obviously, a lot of that has already happened.

There are several hundred shelters in the area, existing buildings, for the most part. But that's been a large part of their sort of defense preparedness from the Mexican army standpoint.

Now, there are other relief organizations that have sort of pre- positioned themselves as well. We've seen this in the past. We saw this in the tsunami in South Asia, we saw this in other natural disasters. For example, in Pakistan, relief organizations sort of preparing themselves, planning not just for today and tomorrow, but for the next several days and weeks to follow. But the Mexican army, a huge part of these relief organizations.

CHETRY: Right. So what about the status of the shelters right now in the area? Are they impacted by the hurricane?

GUPTA: Well, it looks like -- sorry. I have a little problem with the audio here.

It looks like what we're hearing is that, for the most part, they seem to be withstanding this. And a large part of them being able to withstand it is that they've been tested before.

Many of these shelters actually has survived. Wilma, for example, they're being stocked with all sorts of supplies, including food, water, chlorine tablets, for example, to try and make the water drinkable. Again, days and weeks from now, tetanus shots, things like that.

But also, you know, this DN3, this sort of -- the Mexican army, they are really getting involved as well, providing a lot of the transportation, for example, but also already planning, how are we going to reconstruct roads, for example, if necessary? How are we going to reestablish communication services, if necessary?

Last time, one of the first times they were actually really in full gear, was after the Mexico City earthquake in 1985. And they've been not only in Mexico, but they actually came in part to the United States after Katrina. So they are used to dealing with this sort of thing. They're going to be getting people into shelters, and that's going to be a large part of the name of the game over the next several days.

CHETRY: Sanjay, thank you. We'll check in with you again a little bit later.

Right now we want to talk about the impact on the oil industry. We got word -- our Ali Velshi has been tracking this for us as well -- that some of the biggest companies, oil companies, state oil companies in Mexico, have decided, because of Hurricane Dean, to stop the drilling and to actually shut down production on the offshore rigs. These are the rigs responsible for extracting most of the nation's oil.

What type of impact has that had so far this morning, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's having a bit of an impact on the price of oil, which actually has been dropping over the last couple of days because of the fact that traders were thinking that Dean wouldn't hit the most productive part of the Gulf of Mexico. But, in fact, the Mexican state oil company Pemex has now evacuated pretty much everybody from the Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico, and there's a lot of oil in there. There are more than 10,000 workers who have been evacuated from those rigs and platforms.

Now, as you know, it's hard to get people off those rigs and platforms. They have to seal up everything. You can't just evacuate a rig or a platform. You actually have to seal it up so that if that rig or platform comes off of its moorings, there is not going to be oil all over -- all over the water.

Then they have to be evacuated by helicopter. So, it's something that has to be done ahead of time. That does shut down oil production.

Right now, we've got oil prices a little bit higher. Gasoline, natural gas prices a little bit lower. Natural gas and oil typically come from the same wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

So we are watching that.

We also have damage estimates from Jamaica starting to come in now that the storm has rolled over Jamaica. It looks like it will be $1.5 billion in damage to Jamaica. Obviously, the hit on Mexico is going to be harder, particularly the lost oil production. But we'll keep an eye on that, Kiran, and let you know as this develops.

CHETRY: And that's amazing. You're talking about some 10,000 workers. All of them have to be taken by helicopter, or just...

VELSHI: Everybody has to be taken off by helicopter. They start evacuations with nonessential personnel, and then they leave only the people who have to be there until the last minute.

During Katrina, I was on one of these rigs in the Gulf of Mexico as it was being evacuated. The biggest helicopters take 12 or 15 people. So when you think that some rigs have a hundred people on them, just to empty one rig requires so many helicopter trips. And there are only so many helicopters that operate to be able to do this, these helicopter taxis.

So, it's a big undertaking and they can't leave it until the last minute. You can't have people on the water in the Gulf when a storm is coming.

CHETRY: All right. So, among the things that we're going to be -- thanks, Ali, by the way -- that we're going to be talking about as we assess the damages and the impact, the oil prices. The cost that you pay for gasoline could be affected because of the situation, Hurricane Dean, as it makes its way over the Yucatan.

SANCHEZ: And it's obviously great for the helicopter business, by the way.

We're going to take a break right now because we're going to just try to get a couple of commercials in. But obviously it's a busy morning. We're checking in back with the reporters -- or the correspondents that we have down in the area where the eye of the storm is.

Harris Whitbeck has been following things there for us. We'll get back to him.

We've got some I-Reports. We'll get back to tracking the storm and tell you what they're saying at the National Hurricane Center down in Miami.

All of that. Stay with us.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back, everyone. Rick Sanchez here with Kiran Chetry.

We've been following all morning long the developments with Hurricane Dean, what has been seen by folks down at the National Hurricane Center as a potentially catastrophic hurricane. That's important.

We're talking about winds in excess of 160 miles an hour as it's starting to hit the coast right there in Mexico. You see the area there. You see the loop.

It shows where the hurricane is spinning. That's the eye of the hurricane right there. It came in a town called Chetumal.

What was the population of that? Something like...

CHETRY: About 120,000, 130,000 people. Most of them did evacuate and got to shelters, get to areas where they were told to leave, I believe west of the area. Not a terribly populated area. They consider it very rural.

They're talking about luck in terms of the fact that it did skirt south of the highly, highly populated tourist areas of Cancun, Cozumel. And they are still taking a beating this morning, as we saw from our pictures with Rob Marciano, who is there on the Mayan Riviera.

SANCHEZ: Speaking of pictures, there you go.

CHETRY: We keep seeing various members of the crew walk in front of the camera. But they were having trouble, the last time we checked in with them, about 15 minutes ago. And there we see another person walking by. Everyone else has gone pretty much, either holed up in some of the hotels that have now turned into shelters, or they're out of the area. But we have our crews there.

SANCHEZ: But the eye of the storm is south of that picture you're seeing right there. You see that, Chetumal? It's right above Belize City. And the eye of the storm is passing just above Chetumal, and that is where we've been following the storm with one of our correspondents who happened to draw the short straw and getting the assignment.

In fact, we're getting information from that crew, right, that they're starting to see an intensification of winds and that they're hearing a lot of broken glass, is what they're saying.

CHETRY: Yes. Harris is on the phone right now.

Harris, can you update us on what you're feeling?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. The last 30 minutes or so, the winds have picked up even more, which is -- which is hard to believe. The winds are just absolutely extraordinary.

We've heard a lot of flying debris, heard a lot of glass shattering around the building where we are, which is we're basically in the parking garage of a hotel here in Chetumal. And we understand that these conditions here might last another six hours.

I asked the meteorologist over at CNN International, he said that it could be another six hours before the conditions here lessen. So it's just -- it's really hard to imagine what we're going to be coming across, once we're able to get out and about and see what kind of damage there is here.

Again, the winds picking up tremendously. The rains have not abated either. And it just seems to be -- it seems to be getting worse here, if that's possible.

CHETRY: What is the status of people living in the area? Did they -- were they able to get out? Was there an organized evacuation ahead of Dean?

WHITBECK: Yes. The evacuations were ordered -- or, I mean, communications about the situation started last Friday when the Mexican government first heard -- I don't know if you heard that, but that was a piece of -- it looked like a piece of signage from the building where we're staying that just fell about, oh, I'd say maybe 20 feet from where...


CHETRY: Yes, we certainly heard the clattering.

WHITBECK: Anyway, just to explain that to you.

But I was saying the Mexican government heard last Friday that the hurricane was going to be coming this way, and it started at that time to organize evacuation plans and to start organizing the schools that serve as shelters. It is believed that most people who had to get to a safer place did so. Again, we won't know for sure until we can get out there and see for ourselves.

Many people live -- who live in Chetumal work for the government here. This is the state -- the regional capital. So many people have access to information, but there are also lots of very small plots of land, small farms in the outlying areas where people have very little communication, very little access to information. And it is those people that we would be most concerned about at this time.

CHETRY: Right. And how is communication going right now? Are they listening over radios? You know, is there any way for people who are in those areas to find out what they're supposed to do?

WHITBECK: Well, this area is really so isolated. And so for that, very few people have access to television. And radio communications are rather limited as well if you're not into city proper, in the city of Chetumal.

As I say, the way I see things coming down, the way these winds have picked up now, it's going to be several hours before people can actually physically get out and see what people need or what is really happening.

CHETRY: All right.

We have Harris Whitbeck reporting from the parking garage of the hotel.

And as we heard, even as we were hearing his report, the clattering of signage, windows breaking, as they brace themselves for what could be at least six more hours of battering of Hurricane Dean.

Harris, take care and thanks -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Talk about somebody who has been in the eye of the storm a couple times in her life. Christiane Amanpour is joining us now.

She has this fabulous in-depth documentary that she has been working on for us. It's called "God's Warriors".

And I was watching you last night with Larry. And what I found fascinating was, it's so easy to externalize extremism. It's always the other guy's extremism. But you're looking at this really universally.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are, because, look, we've obviously been exposed to a certain kind of religious extremism since 9/11, and that has been the al Qaeda type, the radical wing of Islamic extremism. And then we decided that, actually, religion is on so many people's minds these days, whether it be Jewish, whether it be Christian, or Muslim.

We have probably tended to think as the world gets more modern and developed, religion gets further away from public life. But actually, the opposite is happening right now. And while the modes and the tactics are completely different, each religion believes on the fundamentalist wing that the word of God must be part of the public debate, part of power and politics as we enact them today.

Tonight it's going to be called "God's Jewish Warriors". We're examining the settler movement and how they've impacted the politics there. And this is something that's been going on now for 40 years, since the Six-Day War back in 1967.

And it's really something that's very relevant, because this is also going to be part of an eventual peace settlement. Can one get over one of the obstacles to peace?

So, we know because we've seen over the years how very difficult it is to uproot the Jewish settlers from someplace like Gaza. This piece that we're going to show you now is about a potential problem also if they come to do that in the West Bank.


AMANPOUR (voice over): Amona was founded in 1995, despite what was then the Israeli government's stated policy: no new settlements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the same kind of process that went back in the '70s. They had officials who were sympathetic, who would help them out. And these little clumps of mobile homes sprung up all over the West Bank, over a hundred of them.

AMANPOUR: According to an official investigation, for more than a decade, government ministries spent millions on the unauthorized outposts by bypassing procedure and violating Israeli law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then a few of them, the settlers, said, OK, we're here, the government hasn't pulled us out. Let's start building houses.

AMANPOUR: Nine of these permanent houses were built for nine Amona families living in cramped trailers. Among them, Edit Levengers (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I walk around here with my children and tell them, "This is the hill that Abraham climbed. This is where Jacob had his dream."

It's not something that was once upon a time. It's alive and now.

AMANPOUR: But Peace Now, an Israeli organization that opposes the settlements, wanted the nine houses torn down.

Draw Etkers (ph) filed a lawsuit arguing that the Amona homes did not have official permits and that they were built on privately owned Palestinian land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no law there. I mean, there is one law. This is the law of the occupier. If you're stronger, you grab, you take.

AMANPOUR: The settlers' response? They had a legitimate deal with nearby Palestinians, who feared for their lives if the transaction were ever made public.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Our land was bout bought and paid for. The Arab owners got their money.

AMANPOUR: But the court ruled that the nine permanent homes were illegal and ordered them demolished. On February 1, 2006, thousands of protesters and thousands of security forces came to Amona.

Both sides prepared for confrontation. As Israeli soldiers and riot police moved forward, violence erupted. Demonstrators were beaten. Soldiers and police were pelted with rocks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We wanted to protest the demolition, but nobody intended to harm anyone.

AMANPOUR: No one was killed, but there were more than 200 casualties, soldiers and settlers. All this over nine houses on a tiny plot of land.


SANCHEZ: You know what is fascinating about that as you watch it? She was using a biblical rationale for what she believes. In other words, it's my God that tells me I can do this. Where does that leave the state?

AMANPOUR: Well, precisely. And that is the question that we're exploring throughout these three series over the next three nights.

And that is the question. Yes, religion, obviously, has a role in people's private lives and, to an extent, in public life as well, but at what point do you say, well, we can't, you know, create laws to satisfy everybody's religious beliefs? So it will take committed leadership, courageous leadership which goes beyond an individual interest group or whatever type it might be.

SANCHEZ: That's fascinating. Good stuff. Really look forward to it.


SANCHEZ: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much.

"God's Warriors," reported by Christiane, begins tonight right here on CNN. "God's Jewish Warriors" is tonight at 9:00 Eastern. "God's Muslim Warriors" tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. "God's Christian Warriors" Thursday, also at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks again, Christiane.

Kiran, back over to you.

CHETRY: And we are continuing to track Hurricane Dean, a Category 5, as it made its way across the Yucatan Peninsula. Still blowing across that right now. And we are getting our first sunrise pictures. That sun coming up right now on the Mayan Riviera. And there you get a look at the angry surf, as Rob Marciano has been describing in the dark for us this morning.

We're going to check back in with him at first light and get a chance to see how just much damage is being done by Dean. Keep it here. AMERICAN MORNING rolls on.


CHETRY: These are the first pictures as sun breaks through on the Mayan Riviera. It's Tuesday, August 21st. I'm Kiran Chetry, along with Rick Sanchez who is in for John Roberts today. And we are continuing to track Hurricane Dean. This is the calmest actually we have seen, that live location from Rob Marciano's camera this morning.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and by the way, this is not a place -- it's not like we're looking at the Pacific here, folks. This is not a place that usually has that kind of wave activity. So this is very different for the area that we're talking about there, just south of Cancun and Cozumel. Rob Marciano is joining us now from Puerto Aventuras. He has been following the situation there and he is going to be able to bring us up-to-date on what is going on there as daylight finally breaks.

What is going on, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Rick. I think you described that accurately. That this is pretty much the calmest as we've seen it in the past couple of hours. That's for sure. I took a walk down some of the property now that the sun is coming up. And walls like this -- and by the way, there are another wall and layer soil that goes town close to the ocean. That's gone now.

So this cement and stone wall, several of these along this property, have been blown to bits and scattered up, in some cases, up against other buildings on this property. And there are docks, I don't know, Dave, if those -- if these huts come into view here.

These are either some of the more expensive rooms on the place or massage, I don't know. But they typically just kind of perch their way out onto the beach, not into the ocean. And they are surrounded by water now as this storm surge reaches its full fury. The docks and landings that would typically connect you to these huts are gone. So already a tremendous amount of damage done on this piece of property, which is tens, if not over a hundred miles away from the center of Category 5 Hurricane Dean.

So you just -- once again, just when you think you're out of the action, just when you think you are far enough away from the storm to where you're not going to see a lot of damage, once again, Mother Nature humbles us and shows you just how huge and ferocious nature can be. And this ocean you see behind me, the Caribbean Sea, as Rick pointed out, typically a beautiful azul, aqua blue, calm water.

Today, nothing more than a whitewash and whirlpool and a torrent of waves that continue to roll in. And you know, it's interesting to watch. Even though this is a hurricane, these big waves, they kind of roll in on sets.

I mean, I'm not really a surfer but I know a little bit about waves and what surfers like. And they wait for these sets of big waves to roll in and right now we're in a bit of a lull. That may very well change. That is an amazing sight to see, no doubt about that.

Winds have not changed a whole lot and continue to be east- northeasterly. The tide is going down but the surf continues to push in. So that means that as this storm move inland and kind of fills in, and Reynolds will tell you this, when that eye -- that center of circulation rolls to the west of us, all of the air basically is trying to get into the center of low pressure, kind of like a vacuum.

All that air is just trying to rush in there. So now we're seeing that air being pulled into that center of circulation. And guess what, the water is being pulled inland with it and that is why we're seeing the highest storm surge yet.

I'm just thankful, Rick and Kiran, that this storm surge did not coincide with the high tide which happened three or four hours ago. So that would have been -- we probably wouldn't be standing right here, I think we can (INAUDIBLE) that (INAUDIBLE).

CHETRY: And, Rob, when we talk about what we are expecting to get, total rainfall from Dean, it looks like anywhere from five to 10 inches in some of these areas. And that is when you trigger concerns about mudslides as well as problems with flash flooding.

What are some of the concerns and what should people be aware of as we look to the rainfall amounts left behind by Dean?

MARCIANO: Watch this. (INAUDIBLE). Here's one of those bigger sets. Yes, flash flooding certainly a concern. I'm concerned about me and my crew with this storm surge cushion (ph). But it has been threatening that -- to do that all morning long, by the way. And after we get a set, they kind of back off. So feel pretty good about where we are.

But back to your question about flooding. This thing is moving quickly. So not a slow-moving storm that is going to stay over one mountainous area and bring in 10 or 20 inches of rain which could easily happen, five to 10 to 15 inches of rain would be a little bit more manageable.

Inland it is more mountainous, that's for sure. If this storm were to be even further south, say, Honduras, Nicaragua, those areas are really mountainous. And that's where history has shown during hurricanes that roll into that area of Central American, thousands of people in that area potentially died.

So we hope that the injury report and the number of fatalities is kept low with this storm. I think the Mexican government has done a fantastic job, from what I have seen, leading up to this event with their preparedness. So I think if there is any way to be prepared for a Cat 5 hurricane making landfall, then the Mexican government has done the best job they can.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And I guess it has to do with terrain. Rob, thanks so much for joining us, for bringing us up-to-date and letting us know what is going on there. You know, the terrain is really the big determinant here. Because in an area that is low-lying, obviously you are not going to get flash flooding, because flash flooding means that the floods are created very fast, very rapidly.

In other words, the water starts shooting down a mountain or shooting down a hillside. Well, you are not going to get that there in (INAUDIBLE) because it's very flats. But, and this is why Gilbert killed 300 people, you will get it as it continues to move inland in some of the areas that are hilly, like just south of Merida, for example.

So that -- and by the way, and that's not a touristy area, so the government hasn't poured a lot of money into it and they're not going to give people there the kind of treatment that Rob is seeing there that they are giving to some of the tourists, for example.

So you know, think of the geopolitics involved in something like this as we go to Reynolds Wolf now to pick up the rest of the coverage and let us know what this...


CHETRY: And we're expecting an update -- an intermediate update anyway by the National Hurricane Center in about 20 minutes. Sometimes they come out early. Are we expecting a downgrade, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I would certainly say so. I mean, for the latest observations that we can see, just from the human eye taking a look at this -- at the satellite. I mean, look at it. The eye you can't even see it anymore. I mean, it's fallen completely apart, which is typical when these systems come onshore.

But even though the eye can't be seen and even though there is some weakening, that is no reason at all to let your guard down. We are still going to be seeing massive amounts of rainfall right across the Yucatan Peninsula.

The wind, sure, that is going to be just catastrophic in some locations, especially where the eye once was, well over 100 miles per hour. Where Rob was, obviously not that great but the surf, you've seen how impressive it is and that is only one small spot on the beach.

Many places up and down the coast from Cancun southward to the Belize coast, you're going to have all kinds of rough surf conditions. Here we have a live image showing you the trees swaying.

These trees can withstand these strong winds. This is what you normally have. And again, the Yucatan no stranger to this type of weather. I mean, it juts out like a big thumb, if you will, separating the Caribbean from the Gulf of Mexico. So not unusual to have these kind of storms.

But this one is massive. Again, if you're just tuning in, this came onshore as a Category 5 and is just pummeling parts of the coastline, expected to make its way right across the Yucatan.

As we show you the path we have from the National Hurricane Center, we can anticipate this thing to move very, very quickly, moving across roughly 20 miles per hour. As we get into 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, should still be a Category 2 storm. We're not talking about a major hurricane by that point, Category 2.

But still winds, maximum sustained winds around 100 miles per hour. There is no doubt that it's going to cause more damage. It crosses over into the Bay of Campeche by 2:00 a.m. Wednesday with winds of 110 miles per hour. One good aspect about it is that it is not expected to stay out over open water for that great length of time.

If it were to stay out there and stall, we could expect this thing to explode even more with power. But as it stands, check this out, Rick. Going by 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, making landfall back into Mexico with winds of 120 miles per hour back to major hurricane status of Category 3 winds. This is going to be just a tremendous mess.

As this storm passes over the Yucatan Peninsula, and, Rick, you pointed this out earlier, with the structure of these storms, you're going to see the wind first come in. If it's moving from east-to- west, you are going to be seeing, of course, the winds from the north first, then coming in more from the northwest, then more of a southerly wind as it spins counterclockwise around that center of the circulation.

So it's going to be the winds, it's going to be the rain, of course, the pounding surf is something that is going to be affecting the peninsula for a good part of the day and into parts of tomorrow as well.

SANCHEZ: It's that cumulative effect that we've been talking about this morning and still going on as we speak. You see it right there behind us. And, you remember earlier in the day, when you and I were talking it and it was just starting to hit that coast where Chetumal is. Watch how far in the eye goes now. And it starts to dissipate. But the eye of the storm is actually inland now and that is where -- and Reynolds made this point a little while ago, that it starts to break up.

CHETRY: You see it break up a little bit. Still moving rather quickly, at 20 miles per hour, which is a good thing in those areas, because they're not getting drenched.

SANCHEZ: Oh, fantastic. Like Andrew. Andrew clipped right through the state of Florida, did an enormous amount of damage but never stayed in one place for a long period of time.

CHETRY: CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta is with us as well. He has been talking about the rescue efforts that are surely going to be needed in this situation.

I understand you talked to the American Red Cross about what they're doing to try to help other agencies as well with recovery efforts. What are they saying this morning, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We just got off the phone with them as well. And as you might expect, they're going to work with the Mexican army, which we were talking about earlier.

The Mexican army is in a state what they call DN3, D-Nancy-3. And that basically is a natural defense posture against natural disasters. And so that involves getting people into shelters, making sure they have supplies. We are also learning from the Red Cross they have actually sent in 150 specialized workers, workers who are trained for this sort of thing, search and rescue.

You know, we haven't heard that any of that is necessary yet, but also First Aid, food supplies, emergency supplies. Also the Belize Red Cross is sort of pre-positioned -- as you guys have been looking at that map, you can see where Belize is. They are pre-positioned basically to go in with tents, tarps and additional emergency supplies over the next couple of days and weeks.

They're going to take in all sorts of hygiene supplies as well. You guys have both been alluding to this idea that you're going to possibly have significant flooding, further inland. That can contaminate your water supply. And that is going to be a bigger story over the next several days and weeks.

But you know, getting chlorine tablets, something as simple as chlorine tablets to try and make that water drinkable, obviously very important. So that is sort of what is going on now. It's a lot of sort of preparing and then positioning and then acting, depending on what is necessary.

SANCHEZ: Do they have the medical infrastructure? I know, obviously, yes, I'm not going to try to compare it to what we have here in the United States. But do they have the adequate infrastructure in terms of health care and medicine to be able to deal with this thing when it goes inland, if it causes those flash floods, and if we see the kind of damage that we've seen like from a Hurricane Gilbert that killed 300 people?

GUPTA: Well, as you might expect, Rick, it's hard to make sort of a general statement for an entire area. Even here in the United States you have certain pockets that are going to be better prepared than others.

But here is what we are hearing. We did talk to some of the doctors specifically at the American hospital in Cancun. We have not been able to get a hold of the doctors further south.

What we're hearing is that this is sort of what they are designed to do, to take care of these sorts of traumatic injuries that might be associated with a hurricane, near drownings, for example, electrocutions, but also taking care of infectious disease problems or infections such as tetanus that might also come about.

You also worry about exposure to elements, dehydration, as people may be left homeless over the next several days. So that sort of standpoint, they are prepared. You know, interestingly, Rick, since you brought it up, this part of the country, and further south even, are more known for some of their cosmetic surgeries.

A lot of people go down there for cosmetic surgery, which obviously you're not going to need here, but that is something else that they do on a more regular basis.

SANCHEZ: That is interesting, because it's cheaper.

GUPTA: Exactly.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Sanjay. Appreciate it.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CHETRY: I don't know about you, but that's not where I'd go to get a bargain. You know, that's like not -- cheap surgery, yay!

SANCHEZ: And certainly not during a storm.

CHETRY: Right. Well, we are following the latest Hurricane Dean. Still a Category 5. We're expecting to get an update from the National Hurricane Center in about 15 minutes. We have you covered from up and down the coastline to our CNN weather center in Atlanta. We are going to take a quick break. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back. And there is the loop. There is the hurricane. That's a hurricane as it looks like from outer space on a satellite. Now, switch the picture. You're going to see what the hurricane looks like on the ground there just in Chetumal. And that interestingly enough is just below where the eye of the hurricane went.

What did you say? Did we lose Harris?

CHETRY: No. I think what they're telling us right now is that we just got word, moments ago, that Dean, as expected, when it hit land, when it starred to move inland a little more, has been downgraded now to a Category 3. That is still nothing to sneeze at. We are still talking about maximum sustained winds, 125 miles an hour, capable of doing a lot of damage.

And what you were asking for was our shot from Harris Whitbeck. He is near Chetumal. And there you can see it doesn't matter if we're talking Category 5 or 3, he on the ground is getting pounded right now.

Harris, what is it like there?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, now that the sun has come out, we have a better idea of what has been happening here in the last several hours. The wind seems to be just getting stronger and stronger. The roar is like that of a jet engine. If you close your eyes and not know you're in a hurricane, you would imagine that you are at an airport and the planes are just landing and taking off. The sound is absolutely incredible.

As I say, the wind seems to have intensified and a meteorologist that we spoke to at CNN INTERNATIONAL says that these conditions are probably going to last for at least another six -- five-and-a-half to six hours and it won't be until the winds calm down a bit and the rain stops a bit that we will able to get out and that the authorities will be able to get out and figure out what exactly has been going on here.

I don't know if you can make out much behind me. But there's an awning across the street that fell off the side of a building, behind the camera, unfortunately. We can't turn the camera around because we will lose our signal. But a plate glass window that just collapsed, just -- it came down, I guess, about two stories from the hotel we're staying at.

The building itself is a very, very -- looks like a very, very strong building but there is a lot of glass that has been flying around here for the last several hours. Again, it will be at least another five-and-a-half, six hours before these conditions change and before anybody can really get out safely to see what kind of damage has been done here.

Again, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit this part of Mexico. The last time a hurricane even came close to this was back in 1975 when Hurricane Carmen hit the area. Back to you.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Harris, Rick here. You are our closest correspondent to this eye of the storm. So we'd like to stay with you a little bit. My first question is, I guess, why is there someone driving a car next to you there on your right? Is that a crew person or are people being allowed to drive around in these conditions? Which wouldn't be real smart now, would it? WHITBECK: No, no, no, no, no. That's another crew. There are three TV crews here at the same location and they've been trying to move their cars. At one point, we were trying to move a car at night to try to get some light to try to use the car's headlights to get some light to be able to show you what was going on behind us.

But no, there is no traffic on the streets. It's extremely dangerous to be out driving. The street is also beginning to flood. It's not a major flood but there is enough water on the streets to make it extremely dangerous. That, plus the wind, it would be very easy to overturn a car in these conditions.

SANCHEZ: What is Chetumal like? Most people have never of Chetumal, unlike Cancun and Cozumel. How would you describe it for us?

WHITBECK: Chetumal is a small town. It has about 140,000 residents. It is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo. To be very honest, it's kind of a dismal place. It has nothing to do with the beautiful beaches, beautiful resorts that you usually associate with this part of Mexico.

And really, I actually covered a hurricane here, I'd say, about eight or nine years ago now. I was just talking to the manager of the hotel about it. It turns out at that time, I, too, spent the night right outside the hotel lobby because there were no rooms.

It seems nothing has changed since then, Rick. We're not too far from the border with Belize so there's a lot of -- the feeling is that of a border town. It's kind of iffy in some parts of the town, again, not really a place that many tourists would choose to visit if they knew what it was really like.

SANCHEZ: Harris Whitbeck, following things there for us. He is as close as anyone to the eye of the storm. And light has just broken there so we're really seeing the very first pictures of him and what he is having to deal with in this situation. We'll be getting back to him from time to time.

But I think it's also important to give them a break from time to time. These guys are getting really are pounded by this stuff.

CHETRY: That's why we are seeing some of the other crew from various television networks walking behind as well, trying to move locations. As we said, he's about 40 miles northwest of where the eye made landfall -- 40 miles east of where it made landfall. But it's important to note that extending 60 miles out from the eyewall, you're still getting hurricane force winds. And when you are talking about...

SANCHEZ: Sustained.

CHETRY: Sustained. And maxing out even higher at times. Dean, a Category 3 now, which means that the maximum sustained winds you are looking at 125 miles per hour with some of the gusts even higher. They expected a downgrade as it made its way more over land as opposed to the warm open waters that fuel it.

And right know we're going to be talking with Scott Wallace (ph). He is in Bacalar. This is Mexico as well. It's about 22 miles northwest of where we just checked in with Harris Whitbeck.

An American living in Mexico, and as I understand it, you guys are hiding out in the storage room of your house right now. What does it feel like?

SCOTT WALLACE (ph), BACALAR, MEXICO: It's not as comfortable as you might wish. About 2:00 in the morning local time, we batten down. Things were blowing pretty hard. And we've been kind of hanging out on some mattresses on the floor with candles and so on. We were expecting to see an eye sometime locally around 5:00 or 6:00 this morning, but it has just continued to strengthen. I think we're seeing the worst we have seen at all so far right now.

CHETRY: Well, why did you guys decide not to evacuate?

WALLACE: A couple of reasons. We have a couple of dogs and that complicates things. And our home was constructed with the idea that a hurricane would come and we would have this safe place. So we chose, like a number of our other neighbors, to stay around.

CHETRY: So you're saying that a lot of people in your area of Bacalar decided to stay?

WALLACE: Yes. Bacalar is a fairly small town, maybe about 18,000 people, mostly Mayan and Mestizo Mexican. It has a population of a hundred or so Canadians and Americans. So almost everybody stayed here.

Most of the tourists evacuated but I think the homeowners and local residents either went to some of the shelters at the schools if their homes are not constructed of concrete, or like ourselves, you know, find the safest place in the house and stick it out.

CHETRY: All right. Well, you, again, are waiting this out. You're in the storage room of your house. You have a few more hours before the worst of this is going to pass over you. Scott Wallace, an American living in Bacalar, Mexico, about 22 miles northwest of Chetumal. That is right around the area where eyewall made landfall.

Good luck to you.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And he is talking about the eye of the storm going over him. I mean, he said, you know, we were expecting that things would calm down when we got the eye of the storm, but it hasn't happened yet. I mean, this is one of these folks, many of them do that when they are going through a hurricane.

They get excited about the fact that the eye might actually pass over them, which is, as they say, described as a vacuum where you don't get wind going in one direction or the other. It's kind of a mysterious thing.

CHETRY: Right. And then it's the bands of wind and rain that continue to hit for hours afterward that can do...

SANCHEZ: On the backside.

CHETRY: ... a lot of the damage. Right. All right. So we are going to continue to follow this. As we said, hurricane being downgraded now to a Category 3. It was a Category 5, the very strongest. We are going to take a quick break and when we come back, we're going to have much more on the other side.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. We've been tracking him all morning, Hurricane Dean making landfall at about 4:30 a.m. Eastern time, about 40 miles from Chetumal. And there you see it right now. The eyewall is now 40 miles northwest, making its way back out over the Yucatan Peninsula, heading into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and then hitting mainland Mexico as well.

It doesn't look like it's going to have any impact on the United States unless it takes a major turn. Right now it's moving at about 20 miles per hour north-northwest.

SANCHEZ: Yes. The good news on that is that I think they put about 12 models out at the National Hurricane Center, and then they put them in a computer. They combine them all and they figure out what the forecasting track is going to be.