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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Ivan 65 Miles Off Coast of Alabama

Aired September 15, 2004 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We are tracking hurricane Ivan as it comes ashore in the Gulf, aiming pretty much for Mobile, Alabama. The National Hurricane Center is out with their latest forecast and advisory. CNN's Orelon Sydney has been combing through it over the past couple of moments. She joins us now from the weather center. Orelon.
ORELON SYDNEY, METEOROLOGIST: Thanks a lot. I have some pretty - the most important news for those of you in Dothan, Alabama and what I'm going to do is I'm going to let you look at this radar a second and I'm going to step out and go over to our VIPIR machine and explain to you what's going on.

We have a tornado warning that has come out for Houston (ph) County in southeast Alabama and that does include Dothan and the city of Cottonwood. Now the reason this is important is because in the city of Mariana (ph), which if I can make this thing work the way I want to, is right down here, this area apparently has had some problems with a tornado.

We have unconfirmed reports that a trailer park has been destroyed in this area in the city of Mariana. Once again, that is unconfirmed reports. Now I'm going to zoom in a little bit tighter as we go on up into Alabama. The city of Dothan should appear on the map and this area now is expected to be under the tornado. The tornado is expected to be in downtown Dothan at 15 after the hour. That's the top of this hour. So in 15 minutes, we're looking at this tornado, which you can see it would be in this storm here that is headed now to the northwest. This is expected to move over the city of Dothan after already causing some unconfirmed damage south of that in the city of Mariana. So once again now, that's a tornado warning for central Houston County and southeast Alabama that does include Cottonwood and Dothan and I hope that we end up finding out that this was not a confirmed tornado. But we do have reports that there may be some real problems in the city of Mariana. Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll be watching that very closely, Orelon Sydney in the weather center. Thank you very much. And as we said, that the National Hurricane Center is out with their latest advisory. They now put the eye of Ivan 65 miles off the coast of Alabama heading to the north and to the east, which jives with everything that Orelon has been telling us all throughout the night, jives with what Rob Marciano had to say in Mobile. With Rob there in Mobile is CNN's Anderson Cooper. Anderson, what's the latest from there?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, what we have noticed here just in the last couple minutes is that the wind gusts not only are getting stronger and stronger, but they seem to be less of a lull in between each one of them. You used to get these huge gusts of wind and then it would kind of die down for a long period of time. Now the rain has just kicked up literally over the last couple of seconds.

But now the winds are just picking up increasingly and you're not getting much of a lull in between. It's just whipping constantly. It's getting a little bit harder to stand up. I'm actually parallel to the wind. If I turn perpendicular, I could show you, the wind actually hits you a lot harder. But it's definitely picking up but as you just said, I mean this thing is still far away. I didn't hear how many miles it was offshore, but we anticipate for another couple hours of just building winds with every couple of minutes. It's just getting harder and harder here. Miles.

O'BRIEN: Anderson, it's 65 miles offshore and you are what, about 20 miles up into the bay, correct?

COOPER: That's correct, yes. It's 85 or so miles so we got a while to go. (INAUDIBLE) last I heard it was 14, 15 miles an hour, 12 miles an hour something like that. So we got a couple of hours. I mean I can't really even imagine how fast the winds are going to get. I mean we're - these winds are (INAUDIBLE) 55, you're talking sustained winds and we got gusts a lot higher than that. But I can't even imagine what 135 mile an hour winds feels like. If this is what 50 mile an hour or 60 mile an hour sustained winds feels like, it is just going to be an awesome and a terrible thing. It's going to be a very interesting night.

O'BRIEN: Yes, well, I guess by my mathematics here, it could be as long as five hours before the eye is where you are and as you say, if at this point, five hours out, you're getting this kind of wind, that is something to really consider isn't it?

COOPER: Yes it really is. And you know, I wonder what it looks like down on the street. I mean we had cameras there before. We've taken them away, really because just for safety. But I imagine there's got to be flooding already and the rain isn't (ph) coming down really strong, especially in the last hour or so. I mean everyone out here, the whole crew are drenched. So I can only imagine already the streets here in Mobile, they got to be seeing some level of flooding and of course as we've been talking about all night long, the concerns about that storm surge, how high is it going to get? We're pretty high off the ground, but this hotel is only 12 feet above sea level. If the storm surged 15 feet, it's going to flood out at least the lobby of this hotel Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Anderson Cooper, stay close, stay in close contact. Hopefully we'll be seeing you all throughout this evening, but given what's going on there that might be difficult. The man who leads the team that issued that latest advisory I was just reading from, which indicates the storm is about 65 miles offshore, is Max Mayfield. He joins us now from the National Hurricane Center in Miami which he heads. Mr. Mayfield, 65 miles offshore, about 12 miles an hour. By my math, that means five hours before the eye is ashore. Is that about right? MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: That's about right, but you can see that those strong winds are already coming on shore. The condition will continue to deteriorate, really don't want to focus just on that eye. That storm surge is going to start pushing in as soon as the winds come in from the south on the east side of the eye.

O'BRIEN: How soon will that be before that - those southerly winds really kick in, that storm surge really starts to play out.

MAYFIELD: Well, it will be a gradual thing. The closer the eye gets, the higher, the more it will push inland there. One thing for Anderson is there a center that comes into the west of Mobile Bay, that's when we're going to get that 15 to 16 feet of storm surge up in the northern part of the bay there. If the hurricane comes in right up the middle of Mobile Bay or a little bit to the right of that into Baldwin County, it will not be nearly as bad there in Mobile Bay. But at this time, it looks like it's maybe a little bit to the east and due north but still too close to call whether it's going to come right up Mobile Bay or a little bit one side or the other.

O'BRIEN: Boy, it's amazing how, when all is said and done, just a, really a couple of miles either way could really make a difference.

MAYFIELD: Well, it can in Mobile Bay, I don't want to deemphasize what's going to happen all the way up, the rest of the Florida panhandle. They're going to have storm surges and tremendous wave action all the way through Apalachicola into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico.

O'BRIEN: Is the storm changing its strength, strengthening at all or is it pretty much the same?

MAYFIELD: No Miles. The good news there is it's not strengthening. In fact if you look at the radar that's behind me here, the eye wall is eroding away on the southwest side, so it may even weaken a little bit, but I don't want to overdo that end (ph) because it's still an extremely dangerous hurricane.

O'BRIEN: And just help us out. We've been trying to come up with benchmarks for people to try to understand this particular storm. Do you have one in mind?

MAYFIELD: Opal is probably the best example for the people in the panhandle. That was a marginal category three hurricane back in 1995. It was a large hurricane and it had a big impact. It made landfall near Pensacola, but tremendous wave action and storm surge all the way through the Florida panhandle.

O'BRIEN: People listening right now, give us your advice. If you're where Anderson is for example, and you're getting that kind of a taste of hurricane force winds or they're just about to come in there. Should you stay put.

MAYFIELD: ...getting worse.

O'BRIEN: It is getting worse, stay put? MAYFIELD: Well hopefully everybody's already outside that storm surge evacuation zone and in a higher place like Anderson is there. If the rains really get bad over your location, you need to do the same thing for wind and the hurricane that you'll do for tornado, get into that inner room and closet with no windows. If you have to, put a mattress over your head and you'll get through it like that. But it's going to be a long, long night for the people in advance of this hurricane.

O'BRIEN: And do you have a sense that people really heeded the calls this go around? I think, my guess is that having seen the two previous storms, people are really paying attention to this and taking these warnings very seriously.

MAYFIELD: And (INAUDIBLE) Caribbean along with the loss of life that has already occurred with Ivan. I think that has prompted people to heed advice of those local officials, at least let's hope so.

O'BRIEN: All right. What's your biggest worry right now?

MAYFIELD: We have to consider everything and the storm surge, the wind, the rainfall and the tornadoes are going to be on these outer rain bands for the next day or two.

O'BRIEN: May Mayfield heads the National Hurricane Center, has a long night. He and his team there, keep up the good work. Thank you.

MAYFIELD: Thank you sir.

O'BRIEN: All right. As we reported earlier, nearly two million people have fled their homes in four states to escape Ivan. Some have left the state that they belong to. Some are riding out the storm in hotels. There are 85 shelters in Alabama alone. We were just a little while ago about 16,000 people are in them tonight. Here's CNN's Chris Lawrence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Morgan Griffiths (ph) first five months have been pretty routine, but all that's been interrupted by hurricane Ivan. And it's because of Morgan and her three-year old sister that this family decided to leave home, waiting out the storm in a Pensacola shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it would have been just me and my husband, I would have stayed in the house. I mean I wanted to stay in the house. But I thought if a tree comes down in the middle of the nursery...

LAWRENCE: Melissa Griffith says it would have been easier to pack up for some nice hotel, maybe another state where they still have power. But the decision to stay was about money as much as safety.

It's too expensive to leave. I mean if you leave you got the hotel expenses. You got the food expenses. You got the gas. After this is over, Friday, I still got bills to do and I still got to pay bills. LAWRENCE: Now this being the Florida panhandle, a lot of people here are no strangers to big storms. As water surges onto shore, residents have all but abandoned their homes near Pensacola Beach and more than 1,500 have packed this shelter alone. Sailors were forced to evacuate the nearby naval station but they've been pitching in to help the families here. Now one day, all of this will only be a story to Morgan Griffiths, but it's one her mom can't wait to tell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your first hurricane was when you were five months old and you lived through it too.

LAWRENCE: By this time tomorrow, they'll know they made the right decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: But first they've got to make it through this night. The family is huddled up together in the building behind me which has been converted into a shelter. The Pensacola civic center is one of the largest buildings in this area, but we are also just a little over a quarter of a mile from the ocean. Right now we're seeing incredible gusts of just gusting up. The rain has been blowing horizontally and the entire area here is totally in the dark. The power is so completely out as far as we can see. The Red Cross is inside. They're very worried for the evacuees about flooding. They have now moved all the evacuees up into about the second and third floors and they have also pushed them closer to the middle of the building just in case this wind starts punching holes in some of those windows. Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, Chris, that would be a bad bit of irony, if the shelter ended up being in harm's way. Is this because it's more severe than they anticipated?

LAWRENCE: Well, the structure, the civic center itself pretty much very near the water, but it is a huge structure. Picture a stadium. The hurricane is not going to severely damage this structure. It might knock in some windows but it's a huge structure. It's very sturdy and it's also one of the largest structures in this area. In an area like this, a smaller town, you don't have some of the bigger venues that you might have in say Tampa or Miami. This is a place that can hold a great number of people. We heard that there are as many as 1500 people inside.

O'BRIEN: 1,500 people as we saw, a lot of families, a lot of young babies. It's going to be - it's going to be a long difficult night inside there. Was there a lot of tension, a lot of nerves? What's the general mood of folks inside?

LAWRENCE: Earlier, a lot of people - it depended who you talked to. For people who are going through their very first hurricane, many of them were very nervous, did not know what to expect. We talked to one woman who's lived in this area for some 60 years. She's been through them all. She named them all for us, all the hurricanes that she's been through. She said she feel safe and one of the young girls told us how weird it was in that they're huddled up in this shelter with all these people. They said everyone is scared, but we're scared together, which somehow made it just a little bit easier to deal with.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it must be nice to know that there are others in the same position. Chris Lawrence, joining us from Pensacola. Thank you very much. Appreciate that. We're going to take another break and check in with all of our reporters along the Gulf coast as hurricane Ivan, category four storm now 60 some odd miles offshore moves inexorably 12 miles an hour right toward Mobile Bay. We'll keep you posted on its progress all throughout the night. Stay with NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to keep you up to date on hurricane Ivan. The National Hurricane Center just released its latest advisory. Here's what we know. Hurricane Ivan is a category four storm, sustained winds in excess of 135 miles per hour, moving toward the Mobile Bay area, north and easterly at about 12 miles an hour, now about 65 miles offshore. We have two reported deaths as a result of tornadoes in the Panama City area as a result of hurricane Ivan. Ivan already of course a killer all throughout the Caribbean as it made its way towards the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Joining us now from Panama City is CNN's David Mattingly who has more from there where one of the big concerns, as you can see is beach erosion. First of all David, before we get into that, let's just talk about those fatalities that we know about. A couple of tornadoes touched down nearby.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. As you see right now, we're getting a lot more wind and rain and it was just one of these kinds of bands just like this that came through at 5:00 Eastern time hour. Authorities here say they confirm sightings of five separate tornadoes in Bay County. Two of those touched down causing extensive damage in different parts of the county. When those two touched down, each of those caused a fatality. These people we're told were inside of buildings and the tornadoes affected those buildings, tore the buildings up and killed them inside. Still no identities have been release. At this point, they're still assessing the damage, but there's widespread power outages here in Bay County as well as to the north of here. Of course, to the county north of here, we've also heard reports in this last hour of another tornado touching down, possibly affecting a trailer park, but again that has not yet been confirmed.

Again, the story right here on the beach is the tidal surge and the flooding and the beach erosion they're afraid they might see from this. I can't tell you how important - something hitting me here in the leg - a lot of debris coming here through the water. This beach is so important to this area, because this is what everybody comes to see, the sugar white sand beaches.

This is the biggest destination for spring breakers in all of the United States. They've been attracting about 400,000 students in the month of March for spring break here. So naturally a lot of money is depending on that. They're a little worried that if there are any long-term problems with the beach or any sort of long-term repairs that need to be made here, that it will start to cut into the spring. The spring breakers will decide they want to go somewhere else, like it there and then they won't come back, because apparently where you go on spring break is a very trendy thing. And they're worried that if the spring breakers don't come back this spring, they won't come back sometime in the future. So a lot of long-term concerns as well as short-term safety concerns as this weather continues to come in here. Miles.

O'BRIEN: David, when we last checked in with you, the water was not nearly that high. Is that something to do with strictly the tide or is it because of the increased winds and the beginning of the surge?

MATTINGLY: As the storm gets closer, the surge is starting to develop here. We haven't seen high tide yet. When we do some of the local authorities said that we should be prepared to move. So we're keeping a very close eye on it. It's been holding steady for about the last half hour, maybe the last 45 minutes. We're going to see as the night goes on, we're told that the high tide here around 11:30 or so central time so we'll be keeping an eye on it as those high tide conditions come in. But right now the wind and the rain are starting to pick back up, a clear sign that Ivan is still coming, coming toward this way. We are on the far eastern side of it and already we are seeing some very dangerous and deadly conditions, Miles.

O'BRIEN: And it seems that just looking behind you there, it's hard to tell because it's not lit up so well, but it seems like there's a fair amount of debris in that water.

MATTINGLY: There is a lot of debris in this water. I'm going to wade back out here, see if I can grab some for you, if there's anything out here. At the moment it doesn't look like there is, but I've seen four by fours floating by here. I've seen wooden signs floating by here, all of it coming from up the beach up that way. Surprisingly it's not too far up the beach where MTV holds its spring break party at least in these parts. So this area of the beach very familiar to those hundreds of thousands of spring breakers who come by here. Of course this would not be a familiar sight at all to see this beach underwater. There should be about 300 yards of bright white sand behind me, but as you can see right now, it's all sea foam and water right now and probably going to see a whole lot more of it as the night goes on.

O'BRIEN: CNN's David Mattingly. Thank you very much. David is in Panama City, Florida as he says, on the far eastern portion of Ivan, as Ivan comes ashore. Of course as we've been pointing out to you all night that right side of the eye, because of that counterclockwise rotation, is where you really get the storm surge and so we'll stay focused on that part of the world as well as the rest of that swathe of shoreline in the Gulf of Mexico as the evening progresses.

Now when dawn breaks tomorrow morning, they'll be a lot of work to do for folks all across Alabama, all those other states that are being affected by hurricane Ivan. Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, will probably have some work to do on his house and then he'll have to get right to work, trying to get some help for all the folks who need to rebuild. Senator Sessions joins us on the line now from his home in Mobile. First of all, just give us a weather report from where you sit, Senator. SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R) ALABAMA: The winds are picking up. The wind is blowing pretty horizontal clearly and so you're worried it will seek its way around the windows and get in, although I've checked. So far, so good. Lights have been off about 6:10 but keep coming back on, although a good bit of the city has already lost electricity. We have a lot of trees. Mobile is a lush city and as he wind blows, more and more of those trees will knock the power lines out.

O'BRIEN: And how close are you to Mobile Bay where you sit right now sir?

SESSIONS: Oh, it's about seven, eight miles to the bay. We're maybe 35 or so miles north of the coast.

O'BRIEN: So you're fairly well out of harm's way and feel really safe where you are.

SESSIONS: We feel relatively safe. A lot of people in my neighborhood here just little patio home community, have left. Some are still here.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about the plans. First of all, do you feel like the state had a pretty good plan in place in advance of all this and that the evacuations went relatively smoothly, as smooth as could be expected.

SESSIONS: Yes I do. Governor Riley was very clear and unequivocal. He said that it's not safe to be in the lower areas, the beach areas south of ITN (ph) and for the most part, people have complied with that to a very large degree and yesterday the roads were crowded. I think less so today, because most people really moved out yesterday. I was at the emergency management center earlier today, where you have Sheriffs Tillman (ph) and the chief of police Sam Cochran and all them chiefs and sheriffs and city officials from the whole area and they have a centralized communication system. We're much better at that than we've ever been before. Building codes are better than we've seen before. But it's still going to be a lot of damage.

O'BRIEN: Give us a sense now, I can only imagine what it's like to be in FEMA right now trying to respond to disaster after disaster after disaster. How concerned are you that the Federal government is stretched too thin? It might have some difficulty responding in a proper way to folks there in Mobile and the ones that are most affected by this particular storm.

SESSIONS: That's got to be a factor. Mr. Brown with FEMA, the director was down (AUDIO GAP)

O'BRIEN: All right. Senator Jeff Sessions, thank you very much. I think we're losing him there, apologize for that. I'm sure you understand, communications difficulties. Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama riding the storm out, about seven or eight miles from Mobile Bay at his house in Mobile. Maybe we can check in with him a little later, get a report on how things are there. We're going to take a break. When we return, we'll go back to Mobile Bay. We'll check in once again with Anderson Cooper, see how things are doing there. And also we'll check in with Gary Tuchman who is in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Once again, to the right of the eye of that storm I'm sure he's getting a battering there now as well. Stay with us as NEWSNIGHT CONTINUES.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: In just a matter of a few hours, hurricane Ivan, category four storm, sustained winds in excess of 135 miles an hour. It's eye will come ashore on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps right up the middle of Mobile Bay, unclear at this moment. Nevertheless, all across the shores of the Gulf of Mexico right now, they're being battered by hurricane force winds in advance of the arrival of Ivan's eye.

As we focus on Mobile Bay, which appears to be the bulls eye right now for Ivan, just a few miles one way or another can have a big effect on how much damage will be caused to that city of 200,000. CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano is there. He's seeing the storm up close and personal, long way from the computers here in the weather center. Let's talk to folks, Rob, about what a difference a jog to the right or a jog to the left might make for Ivan.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it will be huge Miles as you implied for the folks here that live in Mobile and also our signal getting out of here. If this thing comes up on the western side of us, we're going to be in that right front quadrant. That means higher winds, more rain and a greater storm surge. Right now, we're in the safety, so to speak, of the fourth floor of the hotel, well above any sort of storm surge.

The bottom floor of this hotel is at 12 feet above sea level and we could see a storm surge in excess of 50 or 60 feet. That means our satellite truck could be under water within the next few hours. If it goes up the gut of Mobile Bay, we'll then be on the west side because a lot of people don't know this, but Mobile itself is on the west or northwestern side of the bay.

If it comes directly up the center cut of the bay, which is pretty much where it looks like it's heading right now, then we would be on the western (INAUDIBLE) side and that means that we'd see less wind and less water, which means that we will be able to broadcast a little bit better overnight tonight and the folks who live in downtown Mobile in the western suburbs would be spared the brunt of this storm. But either way you slice it, it's going to be a major hurricane and everybody within a 50 mile radius of it is going to get a good punch.

O'BRIEN: And it's worth underscoring that point, Max Mayfield was quick to say that as we focus on Mobile Bay, this is obviously something that is very widespread, at least a 300-mile swathe, needs to be paying very close attention to it. Do you recall off the top of your head Rob, in the case of hurricane Frederick 25 years ago, did it just go right up the middle of the bay or did it go to one side or another? Do you know? MARCIANO: Actually, it came the opposite. It came from the southeastern area and it came up towards the northwest. So if anything, Frederick's storm surge - this storm surge could be worse than Frederick, because it came up - it came up from the southeastern quadrant and then it quickly had north winds to push that water out.

If we get this thing to come up, either to get the western side of the bay, we'll have south winds for a greater period of time. As Max Mayfield implied, that will pile up the water across the north bay, which is where, by the way Miles, all the causeway bridges are that get you to the Florida panhandle and some of those are real close to the water and you get a surge on top of some waves of 15 feet or so and that interstate is going to be under water.

O'BRIEN: Have you had a chance - is your wind gauge working at all? Do you know what you're clocking there right now?

MARCIANO: I don't have it on me, but it was clocking about 65 miles an hour for a wind gust. The latest report out of the Mobile airport, which is still reporting thank goodness, really has only a - now has winds just gusting over 50 miles an hour. So we're on the fourth floor of this building. We're getting a bit of a wind tunnel effect. That happens in cities where there are buildings close together. So a 65 to 70, 75-mile an hour wind gust is certainly conceivable.

Miles, I can tell you this, winds down the field are typically over estimated by folks around here, because it always feels worse than it actually is. Hurricane force winds are not meant to be fought. That's why it's such a frightening situation and a lot of times if it feels like it's 100 miles an hour, it's likely only 50. Right now, we're probably getting 65, maybe 70 miles an hour around the corner of this building.

O'BRIEN: All right. Rob Marciano.

MARCIANO: Yes, and by the way, Miles, not even -- I'm not even, you know, in the deep of it. Here you go.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.

MARCIANO: Not there yet. So we're still projected here a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You might want to stay tethered to the building, Rob, when you do that next time. All right.

Thanks very much.

These guys worry me when they start doing that.

Let's go a little to the right. Remember, we're telling you, the right side is the thing that is of most concern, because that storm surge is going to be lifted up, that big mound of water that is literally sucked up by the eye of a hurricane and gets pushed ashore as the hurricane comes ashore, in this case because it is a Category Four storm.

Could be 16, perhaps even 20 feet in excess of whatever the water is now. Of course, the water is approaching high tide, as fate would have it.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is in Gulf Shores, Alabama. That's about 60 miles to the southwest of where we just heard from Rob.

What's the latest from there, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles (ph), we're to the southeast of where Rob is standing right now, and we're right across the intercoastal waterway from the Gulf Shores Beach, where we spent much of the afternoon and early evening before evacuating when the waters started climbing towards our waist, between our knees and our waist.

Flooding was a very serious problem even before the rain started coming down heavy, and the winds started picking up.

We've had gusts of up to 70 miles per hour. About 15 minutes ago, I don't know if you can see, because it's so dark. This tree fell right on the spot where we'd been delivering our live report. We figured this is a safe place to stand right now, because the likelihood of another tree not falling in the same spot where this tree just fell.

But we can tell you, there's nothing spookier than a hurricane at night. Most of the power is out and it is very dark. Most of the people have evacuated. We're standing outside a hotel right now, which is all the people who've decided their homes on the beach are unsafe, and they've decided this is a relatively safe place, despite the fact that we're still very close to the coast.

You can hear this roar in the air right now. It sounds like that proverbial freight train that we just hear persistently in all the hurricanes we've suffered. But this one especially, Miles, because of the serious wind that continues to come in.

The last time they got a serious hurricane here in coastal Alabama, 1979, 25 years ago, Miles. Exactly a week, a quarter of a century ago, Hurricane Frederick. That was a Category Three. This is a Category Four, and it will be hard for us to believe that we're anticipating winds, since we're on the east side of where this eye is expected to come, of 65 miles per hour more than we're feeling right now.

That's the way it's going to be. It's going to be all night and early morning here, coastal Alabama.

Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Gary. Have you had a chance to put a wind gauge to the winds there to get a sense of where it is right now? I suspect it must be getting pretty close to a hurricane force there right now. TUCHMAN: Right. The wind gauge just before I went on with you, Miles, read 70 miles per hour. And this is the kind of gust we're talking about, where (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's consistently at 60 right now, but it's going 70 or a little above 70 at times (ph).

If we're going to get these 135 mile an hour winds, we're only halfway there right now.

O'BRIEN: I've got to ask you one other thing here, and I'm sure it's on the minds of viewers. Your theory that if you're standing in a place where a tree has fallen, another tree won't fall, is that the lightning strikes twice theory applied to trees?

TUCHMAN: Statistics and probabilities, Miles, but you're right.

O'BRIEN: All right.

TUCHMAN: We can use that cliche, also. We don't think lightning will strike twice in this spot right here.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, you be careful out there. We don't want you to get clocked by -- by any trees there in Gulf Shores, Alabama, as we said, where the real storm surge issue, or the real high winds may be a problem.

Southeast, not southwest. I misspoke leading into Gary Tuchman.

Let's get back to Mobile Bay. Anderson Cooper is there with Rob Marciano. And every time I see you guys stand out there, I think you should be lashed down to the roof there somehow, Anderson.

It's a good thing there are walls on the side there. It's all I can say.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Yes, the winds have really picked up here the last couple minutes. I mean, I know you were talking with Rob just a second ago. I know he's a big guy, but I definitely think the winds are a little bit stronger right now.

We -- I've got some video. Oh, man. I've got some video to show you. We -- Dave Ross and Sean Gibbons (ph), our cameramen, have actually been out, driving around in this weather. They came across a fire. I want to show you that video.

Two homes catching fire. Authorities did respond to that. There were fire trucks on the scene. We don't have any word on any injuries. We hope those homes had been evacuated. Most of the homes -- a lot of the homes here have been evacuated already.

There are a lot of police out on the streets. They are afraid of looting. But at this point, it's hard to imagine anyone looting in this kind of temperature, in these kinds of winds. The winds really picking up now, minute by minute.

And it's actually -- what's interesting is -- you know, it's actually kind of hard to breathe in this -- in this high wind. The -- got to brace here (ph) -- the wind really just -- it sucks the air out of you. It's really quite -- quite something. I've never been in these high winds like this.

I -- I've been trying to get an accurate wind gauge. It's very hard. The equipment I have is -- doesn't seem very accurate. So I can't give you the actual wind count of what it is. But it's -- it's really pretty rough, and it's really -- we're in a little bit of a lull right now.

As you can see, though, these lulls -- it's interesting. I mean, they sort of dip down for awhile, but as the evening progresses and as the storm gets closer and closer -- I'm literally winded. This is weird.

As the storm gets closer and closer, time between these lulls lessons. And these winds are coming on pretty steady now, full -- full blast. It's very hard. You can't even turn into this storm, as you well know. So you really have no sense of what's coming this way. These winds just kind of catch you by surprise.

And you've really got to -- you really just have to sort of lean into it, because you can't even stay upright. You've got to spread your legs really far apart. Luckily, our crew is -- we're in a pretty secure location, believe it or not. I know the picture is probably pretty bad.

I know my mom's probably watching tonight, not that thrilled. But it's actually -- we're very safe. It took a long time to pick this location, and so we feel pretty good about it. As long as the satellite truck stays upright, we're going to try to stay on the air, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, I'm afraid -- I'm afraid we might have a worried mom on our hands there, Anderson.

You know, it's worth pointing out to people that on the last advisory, which is now 40 minutes old, so you can, you know, extrapolate a little bit. But you're about 80 miles from the eye, and you're getting that tremendous battering already, which means it will be -- not only is it very strong, but it's going to be very strong for a very long period of time.

COOPER: Yes, that's one of the things. I mean, I can't really imagine what it's going to be like. I mean, you know, I thought it was bad two hours ago. I thought it was bad an hour ago. It gets worse and worse and worse.

You know, Rob Marciano was telling me, you know, the highest winds, I guess they've attracted some steam with, about 135 miles an hour. He was just explaining to me that, you know, obviously we're not going to feel that in all areas. That's sort of the -- the upper limit of the sustained winds.

But you know, assuming we're at, like 60, 70 mile an hour winds at this point, which may be on the high end of what we're at, you know, if this thing breaks 100, I can't even imagine what that's going to be like. It will be very interesting to see, you know, what's it like, even trying to broadcast in those kind of high winds.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You might be hearing from Mom then.

Let's talk about that fire for just a moment.

COOPER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: It looked like there were some trucks there. But it also looked like the firefighters weren't doing much to fight that fire, sort of letting it burn out.

I suspect it would be very, very dangerous for them to do their job in these circumstances.

COOPER: Yes, you know, we talked to the mayor earlier tonight. Getting a little bit of a lull here, which is nice. We can actually talk in a normal tone of voice.

Getting -- the mayor was saying they put 1,500 police officers and security personnel on the streets here in Mobile. They have had experience with looting in the past. The mayor keeps saying that people come from out of town, knowing that a lot of homes are going to be left open. So they have a lot of police officers and a lot of emergency personnel on the street.

But you're right, Miles. I mean, you know, in winds like this, it is too dangerous. And authorities repeatedly tell people, whether it's at Florida or here or in any of the states that were under -- you know, a city or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at his point.

And they say that at the height of the storm, if you called 9/11, it's very likely the police are not going to be able to get to you for a very long period of time. And it is simply too dangerous for the officers.

So it wouldn't be surprising to me if the fire personnel who are on the scene simply judged it too dangerous to try to go out there.

What we did see, though, earlier, was a large explosion, a large -- really, the sky lighting up. That was one of those electrical transformers blowing up. Part of Mobile already without electricity.

But surprisingly, the electricity in this port, at least, or at this hotel has stayed on. We're still able to check the path of the storm on our computers. So that's a good thing.

The other thing that Dave Ross and Sean Gibbons (ph) mentioned when they were out. I've got to tell you: the fact these guys were out driving in this condition -- I mean, they are -- they're pretty tough guys.

But there were saying they have not seen as much flooding as they anticipated. They had seen a few power lines. Yes, a big gust right there. They have seen a few power lines down, a few trees down, but really, not as much flooding as they had anticipated at this point -- Miles. O'BRIEN: Well, but it's worth pointing out it's kind of early on that point, to really talk about storm surge just yet. It's a little early in that game.

And as I'm told, you know, the -- the waters of Mobile Bay are very shallow, relatively, obviously, compared to the deeper portions of the Gulf. And that really makes the storm surge a lot worse. And of course, you've got a slightly constricted area of water. So that impact of a 16-foot storm surge is really going to mean something.

I hope you're still able to hear me, Anderson.

COOPER: No, I hear you miles. I'm here.

Yes, it really is. I mean, a 50-foot storm surge, that's where you -- as we've been telling all night. You know, 12 feet above sea level is where we're at right now at this hotel. Fifteen feet is just going to -- it's going to -- it's going to wreak havoc on this downtown area.

But it could be like -- I think Chad Myers, meteorologist, on CNN earlier was saying, you know, a 12-block area downtown Mobile could be affected.

You know, I'm going to look around and see if CNN brought a boat, because it looks like -- I hope it doesn't happen, but it looks like we're going to have some difficulty just getting around tomorrow, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Anderson Cooper, we're going to let you get a little shelter for a little while. And we're going to take a break. When we return, we're going to check back in with all of our reporters. We're all along the shores of the Gulf in the four states affected by all this.

We're also going to check in with Jason Bellini, who is in New Orleans.

Jason, what's going on there?

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're on the 14th floor of a hotel in the French Quarter with a family that had vertically evacuated. We'll have their story, coming up after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: In New Orleans, the advice was either head north or head up. They call it vertical evacuation. It's fairly straightforward. If you want to avoid the storm surge and the flooding, so you take the steps or the elevator on up to relative safety.

CNN'S Jason Bellini is among the vertical evacuees in New Orleans tonight. As a matter of fact, they've crowded into a fairly small space there. Jason, what's the latest from there? BELLINI: Well, hello, Miles. We're actually coming to you from a hotel room, as you can probably tell here. We're on the 12th floor of the Hotel Monteleone, one of the oldest hotels in the French Quarter.

There are over 570 rooms here, all of them full of people. Some tourists, but many are people from New Orleans who wanted to get to higher ground in case the worst were to occur.

And here in this room is more than one family, actually. I'm with a group. Maureen Miller, this is your group that's here. You -- your friends, your family, these dogs all part of your group that you organized to be here.

Tell me a little bit about that. Why did you decide to come to this hotel?

MAUREEN MILLER, EVACUEE: We think it's one of the safest places to be in New Orleans. It's a very old and strong building. I understand that they have the most generator power in the city. So we're just looking for air conditioning through the storm. And light.

BELLINI: Were you really worried that something could -- bad could happen during this storm?

MILLER: Very concerned. Just seeing like it was a Category Four or a Five hurricane coming very close or hitting, possibly, New Orleans, and yes, we were very concerned.

BELLINI: So how many people are in your group that you organized? You got all the hotel rooms together. Tell me about that, please?

MILLER: I was able to get 12 rooms this time. Usually we can get 15 to 20, so some people did get left out, and that was sad. But a family in each room at least. Sometimes two families in each room.

BELLINI: This is a very nice hotel, and they're letting dogs run around here.

MILLER: Yes. We love that about them. They're pet friendly. I think they had as many dogs as they had people down in the lobby at the show (ph).

BELLINI: I noticed that.

Well, thank you so much for letting us come up here. Thank you, Maureen, and thank you everyone, for letting us visit you in this room. We wish you the best of luck going through the storm.

Back to you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: It seems like everybody's got fairly good spirits there, Jason.

BELLINI: Indeed, it's been a little bit of a party, I have to say. There's -- there's some bottles that are opened on the counter over on the side there. And people have been watching the storm from the television set. Fortunately, there's still power here.

And everyone seems to be having a pretty good time, I have to say. The kids have been running around, playing with the dogs. It's been a real lively room that we're in here.

O'BRIEN: Well, it still is, after all, New Orleans.

All right, Jason Bellini...

BELLINI: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: ... thank you very much.

Using technology to its fullest, getting to us, really, over the Internet, through the WiFi Internet in that hotel. It's amazing technology.

All right. Let's go back and check in now with CNN's Susan Candiotti. She's on the left side of this storm. Biloxi, Mississippi, is her dateline.

Seems like it's worsening there a little bit, Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a little bit, but boy, you can see what a difference it makes to be on the western side of the storm, where it is clearly not as intense as it is with my colleagues over in Mobile, for example, and Pensacola, Panama City and the like.

Here, we are only about 50, 60 miles away from Mobile, and probably the strongest wind gust we've measured so far only about 30 miles an hour.

Now, part of that might be due to the fact of where we're situated. Let me walk you over here. We're right next to a building here, the hotel where we are staying. Trying not to get tangled (ph) up in the cords here. But as you can see, it's concrete construction, so we are buffered a bit by the wind.

Coming back over in this direction, over here this is Interstate 10. Not a soul out there on the highway, understandably so. And there is a dusk to dawn curfew going on right now. Every now and again, you will see a vehicle on the road. But not much traffic at all.

We are starting to get reports now, Miles, of power outages. About 5,500 homes, we are told, have lost power in the Biloxi-Gulf Port area. A house fire's been reported. Part of a canopy, part of a roof over a hospital to the emergency room has been blown away. Part of a roof to a very popular restaurant in the area, about 30 feet of that roof blown off.

So civil defense people have their hands full, already responding to putting out little fires, if you will, as a result of the loss of power, they say.

So they are very pleased with how much response they've had to the mandatory evacuation order. So far, over 3,500 people have reported to shelters. Obviously, they expect that to be a stable number as the evening goes on.

But they are expecting a storm surge here of about 10 to 15 feet and at least a good 10 inches of rain. So flooding is a certainty here.

Back to you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Susan Candiotti, watching the storm, Ivan, from Biloxi, Mississippi.

We're going to be back with a check in the Weather Center, Orelon Sidney watching the storm very carefully for us. We'll take a final check with her for the "NEWSNIGHT" portion of this evening in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. We've been hearing from our reporters along a 300-mile swathe over four states along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico as Hurricane Ivan begins to bear down, specifically coming toward Mobile, Mobile Bay. But that whole area affected by hurricane force winds, storm surge and the like.

CNN's Orelon Sidney has been in the weather center. She has an update for us on precisely where Ivan is and where Ivan is headed -- Orelon.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Orelon Sidney at the weather center, she's not going away. We're not going away. This special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" is. I'm Miles O'Brien, in for Aaron Brown. On behalf of the entire "NEWSNIGHT" team, thanks very much for joining us.

Stay with CNN all throughout this night. We're going to stay up all night long, watching Ivan as it comes ashore. We hope you do, as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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