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New Day Sunday

Ida Intensifies Into Dangerous Category 4 Hurricane; U.S. Embassy: "Specific, Credible Threat" At Kabul Airport; Tornado Watch Issued For Parts Of Gulf Coast As Ida Moves Closer. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired August 29, 2021 - 07:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: So grateful to have you with us here. Welcome to NEW DAY. I'm Christi Paul.


We are watching two major stories this morning, starting with Hurricane Ida strengthening into a dangerous category 4 hurricane taking direct aim at Louisiana. And the National Weather Service is warning of life-threatening storm surge and catastrophic damage.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is standing by with the latest.

PAUL: Also developing this morning, the U.S. embassy in Kabul is warning of a, quote, specific credible threat to U.S. citizens near the airport. President Biden is warning another attack is highly likely.

This special edition of NEW DAY WEEKEND starts right now.


PAUL: Well, we're so grateful to have you with us on this Sunday. It is August 29. Thank you for keeping us company here.

Hi, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Hey, Christi.

PAUL: All righty.

So let's talk about hurricane hunters right now. They are doing hourly updates at this point as Hurricane Ida zeros in on communities on the gulf coast.

MATTINGLY: Now, Ida is already a powerful category 4 storm and it's still gaining strength.

Now, it will make landfall today bringing as much as 20 inches of rain to some areas with the potential for destructive storm surge and strong winds. Now, yesterday bumper to-to-bump traffic stretched for miles as people left their homes for safety. Now, a strike today would fall exactly 16 years after Hurricane

Katrina ripped through the arena. It's a coincidence not lost on many who decided to leave their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katrina, hey, I had to -- I had to stand in the water and slept on a bridge for two days. Now, I'm going to do that again?


PAUL: FEMA trucks and generators are in the area as well. Take a look there. The National Guard has also been deployed.

Now, earlier this morning we spoke to local leaders who say people who stayed behind may have a long wait if they need help.


CYNTHIA LEE SHENG, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA: We will have search and rescue immediately, but the problem is, it's the road, it's one road in, and that road often gets flooded over and is impassable. So it's a very difficult search and rescue mission for us.


PAUL: CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar with us now. And this is important because we've gotten to that stage of this storm where we're getting updates every hour as opposed to every three hours. So, I know you got one at the top of 7:00. What are you hearing?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I really wish I could tell you things were slowing down or that things were getting better, but it's doing the opposite. The storm has strengthened again. Last time we spoke, sustained winds were 145. They're now up to 150.

I want to point out that we've now hit the point where we're within 150 range. Seven miles per hour stronger and this will be a cat 5. So, we are seven miles per hour off from being a category 5 storm right now. We are on the high end of category 4.

Forward movement to the northwest at about 15 miles per hour, rapid intensification, by definition, is 35 miles per hour increase in less than 24 hours. This particular storm did 45 miles per hour in just eight hours. And it's done it in the most recent eight hours. So, I cannot emphasize enough it's strengthened. It's done it very quickly and very recently.

The hurricane hunters are out investigating the storm. They're going to do another full sweep to keep an eye on it and keep giving us updates every hour. At least until their mission is done.

We are starting to notice more of these outer bands really starting to push inland. So, the rain is going to get heavier. The bands are going to get stronger and they are going to get more frequent over the next several hours.

True landfall of this storm is expected around 1:00 p.m. eastern time or noon central time, which is local time just to the west of New Orleans. But I say just to the west because really not that far to the west.

Here are some of those outer bands. Again Slidell, New Orleans, you can see these starting to slide in. Storm surge numbers are also starting to go up. These are not peak. These are just where they are at now as the storm is approaching.

You have several numbers here in the two to three feet range. However, those numbers are going to keep going up. These are the peak numbers of where we expect them to be throughout the morning and early afternoon. The pink area here including grand isle, 12 to 16 feet.

If you went to bed last night, these numbers have changed as you are waking up. Most of these numbers have gone up one, maybe two feet from where they were yesterday evening. So, not dramatic changes, but not in the direction we were hoping they would go.

Eight to 12 feet for the purple areas here and four to seven for Biloxi. Winds are going to be a big factor with this. That's why we talk about power outages. In fact, we got word that the national weather service in New Orleans may have taken a power hit and are using generators as backup.


So, again these are the things that are expected to happen. More and more people are going to experience power outages as we go through the rest of the day. We are also talking tornados, waterspouts and damaging winds from some of those outer bands. A tornado watch is likely to come out at some point today for areas of Louisiana and perhaps even Mississippi.

Here is a look at the outer bands as they continue to push in throughout the day today. You're going to see that rainfall start to spread inland. So, again even though we've got some of those outer bands and, obviously, the heavy rain will be closest to the coast, those rain bands are going to affect a lot of areas even farther inland.

And, OK, sorry. Just got word. We have a tornado watch for areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that just got issued.

Here is a look at the flash flood threat -- obviously, again, Phil and Christi, this is going to be the biggest target point along the coast, but we mentioned Nashville, even Lexington, Kentucky, they're going to get several inches of rain out of this storm as well.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, Allison, we have been doing this for a couple hours now. Every single time we check in with you, the storm is getting stronger, the warnings are getting more dire, the storm surge seems to be going up. Please keep us posted.

CHINCHAR: Will do.

MATTINGLY: There is no question about what is coming.

All right. Let's go now to CNN's Derek Van Dam live in Houma, Louisiana.

We heard from Allison. We know we are hours from landfall, but I think based on what we've seen, when we talked last hour, you were definitely feeling the impact of Ida's outer bounds?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, listening to Allison give those real-time updates really chilling, sending chills down my spine because we know that we are in the direct path of this monster hurricane. In fact, Phil, I used to tell my kids that monsters don't exist, but now we are staring one down. Just 100 miles from where I stand in the Gulf of Mexico, a terrifying sight for people walk waking up this morning, especially if you decided to ride out the storm.

Now is the time to shelter in place and look after each other because the weather will deteriorate quickly. We all know that. Anywhere water touches, whether it's from the sky or from the ocean below, will be impacted by this particular storm.

A very sobering statement from the governor of Louisiana stating that this could potentially be the most powerful hurricane to strike Louisiana since the 1850s. That is incredible. Some benchmark storms here, of course, Katrina and what happened in 2020.

I want to show you what they are doing to protect the parishes of southern Louisiana. They are closing the floodgates. Take a look at this video. A lot of manual labor goes behind that. But these are important because they are there to help protect cities from the surge of water from the Gulf of Mexico.

The big question on everyone's mind, where is that water go from there? And what about the inland flood threat?

The Weather Prediction Center has a high likelihood of extreme flash flooding across this region, and we know that it's not only the coastal communities. The storm does not stop at the coast. It moves inland, and this rain threat and flood threat is real. We talked about the tornado watch that was issued just moments ago that is common with land falling tropical systems of this nature as well.

The entire Louisiana national guard on stand-by ready to be deployed in a moment's notice once it is safe to do so and mandatory evacuations and curfews are in place where I'm located in Houma, Louisiana. It is going to be a long and grueling 36 hours for my crew and I. We have safety. But we will tell you the stories as the story unfolds in the hours to come.

Back to you.

PAUL: Yeah, safety first.

Derek van Dam, you and the crew take good care. Thank you so much. Let's go to New Orleans. CNN's Nadia Romero is there.

Nadia, wishing the very best to you and the crew there as well. We are now five miles -- or seven miles per hour away from a category 5. What are you seeing?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is happening so quickly, and that's what got a lot of people in trouble here. So we're on Bourbon Street, right, in New Orleans. This is where people come from all over the world to finally see this area in the French Quarter.

Take a look around me. No one's out. On a normal Sunday morning after a Saturday night of having fun, you would see this street filled with people, even if it was raining. But we know there is hurricane on the way.

Take a look. There are preparations that have been happening all throughout the weekend. Sandbags are in front of many of these businesses. They were boarding up all day yesterday.

But you heard Allison talk about rapid intensification, and that has been such a challenge here on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter because people plan to be here for the weekend, right? They took time off work. They spent a lot of money. They wanted to come out and have fun.

And there is always this will it or won't it when we talk about hurricanes. Will it actually accumulate to something major, will to make landfall? So, a lot of people decided to risk it. Come out, be in New Orleans, enjoy their vacation knowing that hurricane was a possibility.


And now, for many of them, it's just too late to leave, too late to evacuate. We heard from Governor John Bel Edwards who said last night, wherever you lay your head tonight is where you should plan to ride out the storm.

Listen to what one couple said. They are celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary. They flew in from Oklahoma City and now they will be here for the storm.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as we landed, we got the hurricane warning. And so we decided to stick it out. We are staying at a nice hotel. You know, we are used to tornados. First time for a hurricane. First time for everything.


ROMERO: So there you have it. They have to stick out, ride out the storm. We spoke to another large group of friends and family members who came

from New Jersey. They told us that they had to ride out Superstorm Sandy a couple years ago, they were without power for two weeks.

They tried to catch a flight yesterday morning, but everything was booked up. They thought they had more time. So a lot of people coming out to Bourbon Street, gambled, and they lost. They will be here riding out the storm in their hotel or they may be eventually evacuated to a shelter -- Christi, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, things just moving so fast right now. Nadia Romero on the ground in New Orleans, thanks so much.

Now, 16 years ago today, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Southeast. It left devastation, left destruction all in its wake. Local officials, though, insist the region is far more prepared this time around for what Louisiana's governor warns could be the strongest storm to hit the state in more than 150 years.

Now, I'm joined by Lieutenant General Russel Honore. He was the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina leading the military relief effort after that storm.

General Honore, thanks so much for your time.

I want to start with what we're seeing right now given how this has escalated, kind of nearing on the verge of a category 5 hurricane. What is your advice to people who decided to stay, who have decided to not evacuate at this moment?

LT. GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, first of all, I would say, advise them say, advise them be aware of the surge water if you are along the coast, and even folks inland, pay close attention to the local weather warnings for tornados, because at the end of the day, the tornados cause most of the wind damage that occurs during these types of hurricanes.

So beware and stay alert and protect yourself in your home to a safe place with the tornado warning, tornado watch, tornado warnings, and you only get five to seven minutes in many cases. So keep that local radio and watch the warnings because they will cause a lot of damage. And be aware of the tidal surge. Be aware to move to a higher place and check on your neighbors.

At this point in time, you need to hunker down and keep your communications up as best you can if you are going to need help after the storm passes.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, one of the questions that we pose over the course of the last couple of days is with local officials. Clearly, it is different than 16 years ago. There have been tens of billions of dollars invested trying to strengthen levee, reinforce the levees since the major breaches during Katrina. But you told my colleague Jim Acosta yesterday, you still think we might see some levees over top.

How confident are you that there won't be major breaches here? HONORE: It's all up to the storm. We are talking about a potential of

a category 5 effects, which means at a category 5 you are going to get -- end up with more tidal surge from the wind and it will push more water in.

Our levee system was structured around a category 3. So we may see some over-tipping of levees and the gates well-engineered. The Corps of Engineers have done a superb job with that. But anything built by man can be destroyed by Mother Nature.

So everybody needs to keep their heads up, stay alert, follow the news because there will be some -- there will be flooding. It's a function of not much and where. There will be flooding in south Louisiana.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, you make the point, there is no predicting exactly what's coming, but there is preparation. You know, you were praised for your team's response to Hurricane Katrina when most people saw the federal and state response lackluster.

Based on what you have seen thus far, how would you rate the preparedness on the local, state, and federal level for what's coming aground here?

HONORE: I tell you what. This team is well oiled. Our governor and our national guard have refined techniques and procedures, working with FEMA, region 6, and FEMA headquarters in Washington. I think they have done a superb job, what we call leaning forward.

They have pre-positioned stocks in Baton Rouge, pre-positioned ambulance companies.


They are working with the governor to determine what other DOD assets may be needed. They requested helicopters for backup. I can tell you from looking at the number of helicopters, they may need a lot more. We ended up with over 200 helicopters after Katrina in search and rescue. But more will com as required.

There is a quick line of communication between FEMA and the governor's office, and what they ask for, they will get. Everybody is very responsive at this point in time. Big comply point in Alexandria that FEMA is putting in with generators and ambulances and tarps in Baton Rouge. Things are moving in the right direction. Right now, the unknown is where the most damage will happen and what is going to be the impact if the levees hold will determine the number of folks that need rescue.

The hotels in New Orleans are in a lot better shape than they used to be. Most have generators now. The restaurants have generators. So, we are a lot more resilient than we were going into Katrina. Communications is so much better.

You know, when we went in Katrina, people were familiar with texting. But Facebook, Twitter as much as folks joke about them as a distraction, they provide a lot of information to people. People could cross-talk and stay aware of what's going on.

But power is going to be a big problem. There will be people predicted by the -- most experts that may be you out of power for a couple of weeks. So, that's going to be painful. But we'll recover from it.

And our Parish leadership is a lot more well-trained and the federal government put a lot of money in helping them establish emergency operation center. Most of our government officials have gone to schools provided by FEMA on how to prepare and respond to disasters.

So, we are a lot more resilient, but we never faced a category 5 in recent years with the amount of population we've got inside the cone of uncertainty. And we have between Baton Rouge and New Orleans over 150 chemical plants and that storm is going right over them.

This is an unknown. We haven't had this happen before with that many plants inside the cone of a category 4, 5 at landfall. By the time it gets to that space, it could still be a category 2 coming into Baton Rouge.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. There is still a lot of uncertainty. One thing that is not uncertain is the scale of the storm.

But, Lieutenant General Russel Honore, you know better than anybody about what's coming next. We appreciate your time, sir. We appreciate it.

HONORE: Be safe. Take care of your neighbors and volunteer. Help the Red Cross. Help somebody, Cajun Navy, help somebody who's doing the front line work, please.

MATTINGLY: Absolutely. Thank you so much, sir.

PAUL: A very good reminder there from General Honore.

Okay. Up next, a warning from the White House. Another terror attack in Kabul is highly likely.

Also, they signed up to serve, they paid the ultimate price. We're going to tell you more about the heroic U.S. service who members killed in the airport bombing.



PAUL: I want to give you the latest picture here of New Orleans. On the left-hand side of the screen, obviously, the radar as we see this category 4 just barreling towards the coast. The outer bands, you can see, are already starting to impact the state just now. We are going to continue to track the latest on Hurricane Ida. But it is important to note that the storm surge is described as unsurvivable.

The National Weather Service has said Ida could leave parts of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for weeks or months. As we see the storm strengthen yet again for the third hour in a row as of 7:00 we are just seven miles per hour under a category 5 characterization. So still cat 4, but that's low close we are to a cat 5. We'll keep you posted, obviously, throughout the day.

So, President Biden is doubling down on his promise to hunt down anyone involved in the terrorist attack in Kabul and, quote, make them pay.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, and President Biden vows to strike targeting ISIS-K will not be the last strike. Now, the Pentagon says two high-profile targets were killed and another was injured in that drone strike. The president also says another attack in Kabul is, quote, highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours.

Now, the latest terror threat comes as the U.S. is racing in the final moments to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan ahead of Tuesday's August 31st deadline.

PAUL: CNN's Natasha Bertrand is with us now.

Natasha, good to see you this morning.

We know the president was explicit about the terror threat at the Kabul airport. What is the White House doing at this hour in response to that threat?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the White House is warning that the U.S. reserves the right to retaliate against anyone who might be planning future attacks against that airport. The president, of course, releasing a statement yesterday that he has instructed his commanders essentially to hunt these terrorists down and make them pay.

Now, he is also instructed his commanders to take every possible measure to ensure force protection in the next 24 to 48 hours as the U.S. continues to draw down its forces in Kabul ahead of that August 31st deadline.

Now, the Pentagon did carry out a drone strike on Friday just less than 48 hours after that -- on Saturday, less than 48 hours after that terrorist attack killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members and did kill two ISIS members that the Pentagon said were valuable targets.


But Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby did say yesterday that the U.S. is not going to get complacent here, all those they were high level planners who had the possibility of planning further attacks against U.S. forces, the threat continues and is very real. Take a listen.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Make no mistake. Nobody's writing this off and saying, well, we got them, so we don't have to worry about ISIS-K anymore. Not the case. As I said earlier, the threat stream is still active, still dynamic. We are still laser focused on that and force protection and we aren't thinking for a minute that what happened yesterday gets us in the clear. Not a minute.

But do we believe that we hit valid targets? Bad guys would can do bad things and plan bad missions? Absolutely.


BERTRAND: So the U.S. has not released the names of those ISIS fighters killed in that drone strike. And that's because U.S. officials tell us that that is because they want to reserve the right essentially to, you know, plan future attacks against future ISIS commanders and don't want to give away the game here.

So while the U.S. now is entering the most dangerous phase according to what officials tell us ahead of that drawdown with forces limited outside that airport and as they continue to try to evacuate thousands of Afghans who want to leave the country, they are preparing potentially for the worst.

They are preparing for a potential attack against forces stationed outside the airport. They are taking all possible measures to protect U.S. troops there because, again, we only have a couple of days left before that august 31 deadline. But the threat is very real and that is part of the reason why they are issuing these very stark warnings to ISIS leaders about definite retaliation if they take any future attacks against the forces stationed outside that airport.

PAUL: Natasha Bertrand, we appreciate the update so much. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, as Natasha laid out, the clock is ticking. The U.S. is racing to wrap up evacuations from Afghanistan by that Tuesday deadline. The threat of another terrorist attack -- well, it's clearly adding to the already complicated drawdown efforts as American troops prepare to leave the country.

PAUL: We know Afghan citizens who were able to get out of the country are arriving in the U.S. Dulles Airport, one of the locations they are processing Afghanistan refugees now.

CNN international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh, is in Doha.

So, Nick, when we hear this news as well that the U.S. is warning Americans there in Afghanistan to evacuate the Kabul airport because of a terror threat, there are 48 hours left for people at this point to get out of Afghanistan.

How does that alone complicate this effort?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Well, I think it reflects the reality really here that it is exceptionally difficult and has been for a number much days for people to get on the airport, particularly if left to their own devices.

We have heard of people being escorted through, appeared to have reduced as of yesterday, 1,400 people on the airport, as far as we know, from hearing from the Pentagon and they said 1,400 have been evacuate bid the United States in the last 12 hours. That is essentially the evacuation tapering off here.

And the mission quite clearly has changed from the mass evacuations we have seen over the past week with tens of thousands of every day taken out to what is, obviously, what they are calling the retrograde, military speak for withdrawal.

I suspect we don't get much detailed information as to how that retrograde progresses because it is the most dangerous phase of all of this. They are essentially at some point going to have to put the last American on to a plane or helicopter and leave.

They are most likely to not to have to coordinate that with the Taliban, so the Taliban clearly was said by the Pentagon not to be in control of any of the gates of the airport, but eventually at some point, ever course, as the Americans leave, they may be more reliant on the Taliban to secure the perimeter and stop the crowds from rushing on the runway like we have seen before.

As of yesterday, we were informed that actually miraculously the odd individual or family were getting through the gates and getting on to the airport. So it's always been a very fluid situation. It's one in which the U.S. have guaranteed if someone gets on to the airport, they will be able to take them off until the end, but that end, I think, is increasingly closer. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. will want to get too close to that August 31 deadline. I imagine much of the departure will be completed by the end of Monday. That's tomorrow, if not beginning at this stage, too.

So this is a hugely, obviously, symbolic moment for the U.S. military leaving their longest ever war, and it is, of course, happening with this extraordinary rate of evacuation over the past week, a rate that seems to be dropping off dramatically.

Back to you.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, I think a rate that reflects the reality that you've laid out so well.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for the great reporting.

Coming up, life threatening storm surge, devastating winds, widespread power outages, those are the very, very real fears as Ida strengthens yet again. The storm now on the brink of a category 5 hurricane, still category 4, but almost there.

We'll have the latest forecast, coming up next.



MATTINGLY: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for the great reporting. Coming up, life threatening storm surge, devastating winds, widespread

power outages, those are the very, very real fears as Ida strengthens yet again. The storm now on the brink of a category 5 hurricane, still category 4, but almost there.

We'll have the latest forecast, coming up next.


PAUL: So, we're watching Hurricane Ida. You see on the left-hand side of your screen there the radar. It is closer, just closer and closer to Louisiana there, and then you can see the cloud coverage that's coming in over New Orleans right now.

We are seven miles per hour away from a category 5. At 150 miles an hour right now. It takes 157 to categorize it as a 5.


But that's not the only threat. The storm surge, the rain that we're hearing, there is another threat that already involves watches this morning, right, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Yeah, that's exactly right. There are so many elements of this as we've become very clear on over the last couple of hours.

This latest threat, tornado. Allison Chinchar is back with us now.

And, Allison, what can you tell us about this?

CHINCHAR: It feels like it changes every few minutes, guys. Yes, let's take a look.

Sustained winds 150 miles per hour. Christi, as you mentioned, that's only seven miles per hour off from the category 5. It's not out of the question this will get to a cat 5. It may already be. We've got the hurricane hunters in the storm right now. The next update will come out in about 20 to 25 minutes from now.

Moving to the northwest at 15 miles per hour, here is the hurricane hunters. Not one, but two different missions that are out there.

Now, one of the measurements is 161. If you remember from what Christi said, 157 is the threshold. Will they take that reading or split the difference here? We are waiting for that update.

The outer bands are starting to move in. You are starting to notice that heavy rain across areas of Louisiana. We have a tornado warning in effect right here. You can see that pink dot. These are going to become more frequent throughout the day. The thing with the tornado warnings and tropical systems, they spin up very fast. You don't have a lot of warning. That's why you have the tornado watch so you are aware that those things can happen today.

This is valid to 8:00 p.m. eastern time tonight. It includes Mobile, Biloxi, even around New Orleans. Storm surge numbers are already starting to go up. A lot of these areas three, even four feet now.

But this is not the peak. I want you to understand that those numbers are going to continue to go up, especially along Grand Isle in that southern tier of Louisiana, 12 to 16 feet, Phil and Christi.

Again, I cannot emphasize, it's the storm surges, it's the tornados, it's the strong winds. The list goes on and on.

PAUL: Yeah.

MATTINGLY: No question, no question about it.

Allison Chinchar, I know e will be back to you very soon the way this is moving. Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, Allison.

Next, we want to go to the director of the National Hurricane Center. He'll be with us momentarily. Stay close.



MATTINGLY: At this very moment communities along the Gulf Coast are bracing for Hurricane Ida, which is now sustained winds of 150 miles per hour.

PAUL: Sustained. Not gusts. Sustained.

So, the category 4 hurricane is gaining strength. It's been doing so all morning ahead of making landfall in Louisiana later today. And officials say this could bring extremely dangerous storm surges.

CNN Isabel Rosales is in New Orleans this morning with the latest.


ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly 16 years to the day since Katrina hit, we were looking at an extremely powerful major hurricane. Ida is a category 4, 140 miles per hour sustained winds.

But right here on Bourbon Street, the famous Bourbon Street in New Orleans, no rain right now. This is what's known as the calm before the storm. Give it a couple of hours here, and conditions will deteriorate.

But Hurricane Ida will prove to be a test to Louisiana's levee system.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ida has turned into a very, very dangerous storm. As you know, it's now heading for -- right toward Louisiana.

ROSALES (voice-over): Ida is barreling towards Louisiana as a major heroin, intensifying as it moves towards the Gulf Coast.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D), LOUISIANA: The storm is going to be very severe, a category 4 when it makes landfall.

ROSALES: Ida is expected to bring with it 100 plus mile-per-hour winds, heavy rainfall, and according to the National Hurricane Center, an extremely life-threatening storm surge of 10 to 15 feet. Mandatory evacuations were ordered in parts of seven parishes. Another nine issued voluntary orders.

For New Orleans, the storm moved too fast.

MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL, NEW ORLEANS: Time is not on our side. Therefore, the city cannot issue a mandatory evacuation because we don't have the time.

ROSALES: Residents spent Friday and Saturday boarding up homes and businesses and gathering supplies. Those who chose to leave jammed the highways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people are scared. I'm scared. As you go from town to town, the hotels are filled up. So you just riding further and further until you find one.

ROSALES: And on this 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana's governor is isn't downplaying how dangerous Ida will be.

EDWARDS: We can sum it up by saying this will be one of the strongest hurricanes to hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s.


ROSALES: New Orleans is already in a vulnerable position. It's been raining here for weeks, meaning that the soil is already saturated. And the area is prone to flooding from just regular afternoon storms. Now, the National Weather Service does warn that some parts of Louisiana will be uninhabitable for weeks to months after Ida.

In New Orleans, I'm Isabel Rosales.

PAUL: Well, we cannot get away from the fact that it was 16 years ago today that Hurricane Katrina just devastated New Orleans. So much of the Gulf Coast at that point and much of the Gulf Coast, but that was a category 3 storm. Hurricane Ida is a 4. It is on the cusp of a 5.

And we want to bring in now Ken Graham.


He's the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Ken, we are so grateful to have you with us. When you look at that radar at this moment, what does to tell you?

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yeah, it's, you know, a long night really watching this, because that rapid intensification that we have been talking about happened and the hurricane hunters out there now near 150-mile-per-hour winds. So I look at that radar and it shows just how catastrophic this is

going to be. It's a life-threatening situation. You look at this, the center here with those winds, but it's not just the winds. It's the rainfall forecast is life-threatening, the storm surge is life- threatening, all the hazards associated with this hurricane are life- threatening.

So, a catastrophic event underway.

PAUL: Yeah, talk about that because we talk about the storm surge and people, there are people who stayed who have real faith in the walls that are around them in the flood walls and in the levees and the pumping systems. But that doesn't necessarily help rain, correct? When we're talking about in excess of 15 inches of rain, what would you say to those people that stayed?

GRAHAM: Yeah, you got to be in a safe place because you think about the storm surge and the evacuations that took place and outside those levee systems, but that is a scary life-threatening amount of rainfall forecast. So, you know, you think about this area in red is 10 to 20 inches of rain.

So, our forecast for the center, you know, you get close to the center, and that right-hand side just a devastating amount of rainfall. That's the metro New Orleans area. That's up to the NorthShore, Covington, Slidell, St. Tammany Parish. And the Mississippi coast as well.

And also in Alabama. Look how far away some of these values, 10 inches of rain. So, there could be flooding from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana as well, and all this moisture is going to travel north. This is going to be well inland, places that get heavy tropical rainfall.

PAUL: I want to that tap into your expertise. You were part of this award-winning team that made critical repairs to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. What is your assessment of the levees there now looking at what's in front of you?

GRAHAM: Yeah, really looking at some of this, it's about the levees. I want to go back to the storm surge map, and it really is outside that risk reduction system. I mean, you think about the protection that we have in some of these areas. Outside that have with some of the -- you don't have that tape of type of direction. So, some of those local levees could get overtopped easily in these areas because we are talking 12 to 16 feet of storm surge, mouth of the river to port.

So it's outside some of that risk reduction system that people need to get out of there in those areas from the storm surge, just a life- threatening amount of storm surge. That's water up your pant leg. I mean, you talk about 12 to 16 feet, eight to 12 from Bay St. Louis to the mouth of the Mississippi River, some of these areas, the potential storm surges, the peak is literally water, you know, above the ground and up your pant leg.

So, that's devastating. That's unsurvivable. PAUL: Yeah.

Real quickly, before I let you go, this tornado watch in effect until 7:00 p.m. tonight, mind you, for parts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, that is a very expansive watch.

What is your assessment of the threat of tornados?

GRAHAM: Yeah, Christi, they're quick spin-ups. They are fast. You take the direction of motion and kind of draw quadrants like that, 90 percent of the tornados are in this quadrant here.

So, that's where you are going to see the threat for quick spin-up tornados. You look at these individual cells. Any one of those could produce one of those tornados. So, think how far away that is from the center. That gives you the idea that the impact isn't just about that center point. It's expansive.

And that's so many people need to be ready and watch out for the warnings. They are going to be putting warnings out throughout the entire day.

PAUL: We appreciate you and your expertise. Ken, thank you so much for all the time and effort you're giving us. We need you. Thanks.

MATTINGLY: Coming up next, you just heard from Ken, that was a clinical presentation, 150 mile an hour winds, surge flooding up to 16 feet from some areas. What's being done in the hours before Ida hits, and can people still get out?

CNN's live coverage continues in a moment.



PAUL: Well, of course, just days after heading back to school, districts in the eye of Hurricane Ida are obviously closed because of the storm. We know at least 15 districts and universities in Mississippi have announced they're not holding classes tomorrow.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has declared the state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Ida's rival. That state expecting to see damaging winds and up to two feet of rain.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, officials along the Louisiana coast are warning people who stayed in their homes, Hurricane Ida is gaining strength. It's not just the storm surge and strong winds that are concern. Tornado watches now are one of up for those -- many of those communities.


ARCHIE CHAISSON, PRESIDENT, LAFOURCHE PARISH, LOUISIANA: Should you get some of those 145-mile-an-hour gusty winds here, a bathroom, kitchen, something with no windows that you can hunker down in, should it kind of rough. You know, out of 10, I'm about a 7 right now on the worried factor.


We have made all the preparation s we have in place. I'm confident that people we have, our EOC, whether they're from the National Guard, state police, harbor police, coast guard, our staff, we have done everything we can to protect our community. Now it's in God's hands.

REPORTER: Your thoughts on the system? All these -- the levy protection system, do you think that will hold up? What do you anticipating there?

CHAISSON: Yeah, I have a whole lot of faith in the levy systems. These things have been around since Hurricane Juan, but we've never seen a storm like this before. So, all bets are off. Like I said I have the faith in it but we're going to truly test the system and see exactly what's going to happen.


PAUL: Godspeed to everybody in that area. Stay with CNN. We have coverage for you throughout the day.