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Hurricane Ivan: Eye Landfall Predicted at Gulf Shores, Alabama

Aired September 16, 2004 - 00:57   ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone, as we continue our coverage of Hurricane Ivan, about 45 miles ashore of Gulf of Mexico. Mobile, the expected main target, although this is stretching, what, four states?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is. And as a matter of fact, hurricane force winds are anticipated in excess of 100 miles from the center of that eye. Tropical force winds about -- approaching 300 miles.

So this is obviously a big storm that's going to affect an awful lot of people tonight. And we have got people stationed all along the coast to give you a sense of what's happening, doing the "kids, don't try this at home" reporting, which standing out there with a calculated risk, we should tell our viewers, because we're getting a lot of e-mails with lots of questions about the risks that our reporters endure, essentially trying to give you a sense of the power of this storm, this Category 4 Ivan, with winds -- sustained winds at its core in excess of 135 miles an hour.

Nothing to trifle, that.

CALLAWAY: Thankfully, a lot of people evacuated that area. But some people have decided to ride out the storm. And on the phone with us now is Jonathan McConnell, who is in Mobile, in his home.

Jonathan, are you there?


CALLAWAY: Well, we're doing a lot better than you are. What's the situation where you are now?

MCCONNELL: For the most part it has picked up a great deal from a couple of hours ago. The tops of the trees are definitely moving a lot more. It's very windy. I'm not exactly sure what the sustained winds are right now. And the rain obviously has picked up a great deal.

We can no longer see any grass or anything like that in our front yards, so conditions have definitely gotten a little worse.

CALLAWAY: You're in a home. I understand that you've boarded up your families' homes as well.

MCCONNELL: Yes, ma'am, we've had two sets of grandparents, I guess, and then a sister's house. We're quite a few homes, actually, so.

O'BRIEN: Are you concerned about a tree falling down on your house, John, have you gone out and tried to -- well, you probably shouldn't go out to check it out, but did you think about that? And are you concerned about that right now?

MCCONNELL: Yes, sir. We've got about 30 pine trees within our yards that we're watching those very closely. Actually, sleeping in the hall, close to our chimney so that -- just in case once does fall on the house. It was kind of made our own bets which one we think will go if one does.

O'BRIEN: Well that's pretty good advice to be in a hall and near a chimney and all that.

CALLAWAY: Who is there with you?

MCCONNELL: I've got my father who is here with me, and then I've also got a friend from my school up at Auburn who decided he's not going to let me try this at home by myself, so he decided he'd drive down and join the festivities, I suppose.

CALLAWAY: Did you send your grandparents north?

MCCONNELL: Both my grandparents -- my grandparents from one side are up in Auburn, and the other one -- my grandmother -- tried to make it up to Memphis to be with her -- one of my cousins, and she did not make it.

She -- after sitting in the car for three hours and made it nowhere, she turned around and came back home.

CALLAWAY: Do you have power now?

MCCONNELL: No, ma'am. We've been out for about three hours. Three or four hours now.

O'BRIEN: What -- at this point, do you have any regrets staying put?

MCCONNELL: At this point I do not. We are three miles from my church which is where the shelter we would go to right now, and we really have not -- it's accessible, I guess -- mostly main roads that are going to stay open unless, you know, the emergency crews decide not to maintain them.

CALLAWAY: Jonathan...

O'BRIEN: And what about -- what about people nearby? Do you know what they have done? Have you talked to neighbors about what their plans were?

MCCONNELL: Most neighbors -- its really about half and half. Some have left and some have decided to stay. Pretty much everyone has boarded up. Then, of course, some houses you see -- and -- they have done absolutely nothing to it, you know, so... CALLAWAY: And you understand the worst is still to come?

MCCONNELL: Yes, we do realize that.

CALLAWAY: Do -- can you hear the winds at this point?

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. It's not a problem at all. It kind of reminds you that it's there about every single time you try to...

O'BRIEN: I wonder where you are -- you're nowhere near a window, right?

MCCONNELL: Not one that's not covered.

O'BRIEN: Yes, OK. So you really can't give us a sense of what that sound is, but it -- everybody always talks about that distinct howling sound.

MCCONNELL: It is, and especially on corners of your house it's kind of a whistle...


MCCONNELL: We were actually about -- as soon as the power went out, we went and sat on the front porch just to watch it come in, and it was -- the whole time just a constant -- just there.

CALLAWAY: Well, Jonathan you -- you and your family have you lived there long? Have you been -- has your family been through a hurricane before? Do you understand what this will take?

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. We -- my grandparents house, which is actually down really close to the water -- actually they live on a canal -- that one, they were at during Frederic.

And they've been there for almost 40 years and then this house we've been in over -- almost 20 years and so we are here now. The only -- my sister just bought a house in January, and it's in midtown right now so...


MCCONNELL: ... by itself.

CALLAWAY: Well, good luck to you and your family. We'll be thinking about you tonight, and maybe we can check in with you later and see how you fared and hope your home and everything comes out of this with as little damage as possible.

MCCONNELL: Well, thank you so much, and ya'll have a great night.

O'BRIEN: All right, Orelon Sidney is up in the weather center.

Orelon, I've got some questions for you. And I don't see a stumper here yet. Do you have a couple of things you want to share with us first before I start quizzing you?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let me show you a couple of things and then we'll go on to the questions. I did want to show you some of the advisories that are out across the Southeast.

First of all, now, here, of course, is Ivan. The center now is 40 miles off the coast of Alabama. That way you know where it is. Here is our tornado watch box. This is in effect until 2 a.m. local time. I believe that's 2 a.m. Eastern time. I'll have to double check that.

But the Storm Prediction Center is going to issue a new watch, and that's going to be pushed a little bit further to the north and on toward the east. And you'll see that throughout the day as we go on through tomorrow.

Around Birmingham, Gadsden, down to Alexander City we have high wind warnings in effect. That means winds are going to be high in that area either right now or expected to become high in that area. You're looking at sustained winds of 25 to 40 miles an hour, with gusts to 65 miles an hour.

A high wind watch is in effect from the southern portion of the Appalachians through the Atlanta metro area, down into Macon. They're looking for winds in the Atlanta area. And those warning -- or watch areas, 25 to 30 miles an hour and gusts to 50 miles an hour. So this area is going to see some dangerous winds tomorrow.

Take a look a little bit further to the east. And we do have these green areas. These are flash flood advisories that have been -- or flood warnings that have been in effect since Frances. Of course, any more rain is going to exacerbate the problem. Not so concerned about South Carolina right now.

And southwards, you'll see there's some action down in Florida as well along the coast. That area could see some rain tonight that could cause problems stretching across the western coast. So we've got lots of action, not just the landfall, but also the potential for flooding and high winds through much of the Southeast -- Miles, Catherine.

O'BRIEN: All right, the first one is a softball -- hit it out of the park, and then we're going to get to Anderson.

Candy in Kansas City asks Orelon this: Why does a hurricane gain or lose strength just before hitting landfall? And why is this hurricane season producing so many strong hurricanes?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: OK, I can answer the first one -- the last one -- first. Beats me.

I think a lot of people would like to know the answer to that question. There are a couple of -- I've heard a couple of theories.

My personal feeling? Remember that the past three years we haven't had very many landfalling hurricanes at all. It's been hard to find any that struck the United States coast.

This year, we're kind of, I think, making up for lost time. We're seeing a lot more. So I think its just part of randomness over the past three years not many landfalling hurricanes.

This year it looks like the bottom is going drop out. There are some theories that we're coming into a decade where we will see stronger and more frequent hurricanes kind of like the decade of the sixties, and so that could be a possibility as well.

The first part of the question, again, I think was why do hurricanes gain or lose strength before landfall?


SIDNEY: Well, there's lots of reasons for that. You could run into windshear. For one thing. If you get say a front off the coast or something like that could start to take some of the storm and shear it out.

What we saw with this one is a little bit of dry air got in trained (ph) into the storm. We started to see some drier air get pulled in and around. It doesn't seem that it's weakened; it certainly hasn't weakened the wind speed. It's still 135 miles an hour.

A storm could also move over cooler or warmer waters and that would increase it or decrease it, or maybe in the case of places like Jamaica where the storm went just to the south, a whole lot of people were doing a whole lot of praying.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, whatever it takes. Orelon Sidney, thank you very much.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

CALLAWAY: Anderson Cooper is still with us in Mobile. Anderson, can you hear us?

All right I believe they just lost ISB, which is understandable where the conditions are flooding there.

O'BRIEN: All right we're throwing around this nomenclature -- that's interruptible feedback, which is basically your earpiece which allows them to hear us as well as the producers and as we see the team scurrying to reconnect them, we will bring it over to David Mattingly. He's over toward Panama City.

A couple of hundred miles, really, from the center of things, but still getting a battering there, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're seeing wind gusts now exceeding 50 miles an hour and they're coming pretty strong and pretty regular now as this storm moves closer.

We're actually about 150 miles from Mobile Bay, probably about 100 miles from where the eye of Ivan will eventually make landfall, so we're 100 miles away on the eastern edge, and yet look at what we're having come down here.

This big white sand beach behind me now looks like a big river. We've had a great deal of water coming up through the dunes here on the beach and then moving with the wind down the beach this way.

In the last -- since the wind has been getting so hard we've been watching here we've seen four by eight foot sheets of plywood tumbling like tumbleweeds across the beach headed down that way at a very rapid, rapid speed.

We also saw just a few minutes ago a very large pipe rolling in the surf heading that way also with the wind. So, again, dangerous conditions continue to persist out here. This after the day began; this storm began, with two tornadoes that touched down killing two people.

One of those tornadoes touched down just a couple of miles away from here, destroyed a couple of buildings, a couple of businesses. Again taking a life in that touchdown. Authorities here are saying there have been five confirmed tornadoes spotted in Bay County alone.

Again two of those touching down and each of them claiming lives here in Bay County. But, again, right now all eyes on the beach. This is where this town makes its money, and this is what they're going to be keeping an eye on through the night as Ivan comes in.

They're hoping that Ivan will be kind and leave this beach as it was just a few hours ago.

CALLAWAY: David, to give people an idea of exactly where you are and Panama City as you say is one of the favorite places for people to go in the spring and the summer, especially spring break.

Panama City there so many incredible condos but also restaurants, nightclubs as we've seen on televisions where all the spring breakers go. Very close to the coastline. They're very close to the beach itself.

Are you seeing any damage yet there along that area?

MATTINGLY: Yes, we are on the beach where all the spring breakers like to party. In fact, just a little ways down the beach there is where MTV has their big party at spring break. This area is in somewhat of a transition.

For years it was a lot of mom and pop motels and hotels around here. Those are all disappearing, being replaced by high-rise condos. And our camera crew, the people who are bringing you the pictures right now, they are actually sheltered somewhat by one of these large condos. They have a big awning out here, very substantial so they are out of the wind a little bit. That's why the camera is not shaking while I'm standing out here getting pushed around by the winds.

But, there are not that much -- there's not that much of a distance between the buildings and the surf right now.

There's a short little patch of dunes covered with sea oats. Those were all put in after Hurricane Opal came through and did a lot of damage to the beach back in 1995. Those dunes are holding steady right now; we have seem some waves go up over onto the dunes. Again, a sign of what may be coming as this storm comes ashore.

O'BRIEN: David, as we watch that foam just kind of kick off the breakers there you really get a sense of that wind. But anybody who's...

MATTINGLY: Watch this.


MATTINGLY: Can you see this, Miles? This is what happens occasionally -- there will be a big wave that crashes up the beach. See it looks just like river and then the wind will take it and just push it down the beach here and of course when you have this kind of water moving it's taken an awful lot of sand with it.

I don't believe that sand is going to reverse direction and come back this way. So this area clearly losing out at this time, at least for the moment to Hurricane Ivan and this storm surge.

O'BRIEN: You can almost hear the Chamber of Commerce sighing as they see this happen, but I mean anybody who has lifted a four by eight piece of plywood can attest to what you've talked about at the beginning of this live shot and the concern that we have for you out there with that kind of stuff being blown in your direction.

How much of that stuff is out there?

MATTINGLY: Well, it is dark out here, so we don't know exactly how much is flying through here. We've seen the big pieces as they roll in. Here comes another wave right now. We've seen the big pieces as it's rolling down across the surf and you talk about our safety; we are taking precautions here. I am in between two small dunes here. And I keep looking behind me checking the surf watching my back as I'm talking to you. So, we're not foolhardy out here, we actually are taking some very calculated chances. Thank you very much...

CALLAWAY: One of the things that would be on that beach is...

MATTINGLY: More that -- I'm sorry.

CALLAWAY: Some of the things that were on the beach -- it looks like there's not much beach left. There were a lot of huts and things where people. You know there's jet skis, wave runners, those kind of things. This is a very popular tourist area. And David, it just doesn't look like there's any beach left.

MATTINGLY: Well, as far as all of the jet skis and things like that, that -- two days ago we saw people coming in with heavy equipment taking out all of the structures that were out here on the beach. Everything that you would associate with the business of tourism that was out here like all the deck chairs that are rented and things like that, they came out and got all of those so those would not become projectiles in situations just like this.

Now as I told you before, I was doing live shots out here yesterday standing about in this same position, and you would be able to look out and see about 300 yards of beach. The waves are cresting and smashing in about where the beach ended -- sorry it's getting a little bit difficult to talk. Every time I open my mouth I get a big mouth full of sand coming out over the dunes here.

But, again, you can see where the waves are breaking. That's where the beach was yesterday and now all of that water is just coming this way, getting caught by the wind and being brought down this way. That's why you get that river effect occasionally while we're standing here.

CALLAWAY: All right David, thank you very much. We'll check back with you a little bit later. That's David Mattingly in Panama City in what is left of the beach there in Panama City. Of course the...

O'BRIEN: Let's go -- let's move to Mobile. Mobile Bay, of course is the focus of the eye right now. The mayor of Mobile, Michael Dow is on the line.

Mr. Mayor, first of all, are you in the command post right now and if you could just give us a sense of how things are going there right now?

VOICE OF MAYOR MICHAEL DOW, MOBILE, ALABAMA: Well, I am in the command post and we're sort of in a wait and see mode. I think we're probably still an hour or so away from finding out what -- you know -- the more full impact of this can be but. And I'm optimistic.

I'm more optimistic at this point than I was several hours ago. And I don't really know why...

O'BRIEN: What gives you that optimism and could you just give us a sense of what kinds of calls you're receiving right now, you know, emergency calls and your ability to respond to them?

DOW: Well, the calls are fairly quiet. Everybody is just kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) amongst themselves. Kind of nervously talking about things and the calls are not coming in, you know, real frequently.

So I really think it's a little calm, maybe, before the storm if you want to call it that. I'm -- it's a big eye -- the huge size of this eye kind of interests me, not being a scientist or not really understanding all the ramifications of it, I like the fact that the eye is very large and its kind of drifting a little eastward and I don't like that for my eastern brothers and sisters, but it just appears to me there may be a little, a little something there we can cross our fingers on. And that's all you can do in these kind of situations is you know just hope that things are not as they otherwise could be.

CALLAWAY: Mayor Dow, what do you know of your situation now as far as power outages, how your facilities are doing...

DOW: Well we've lost about I think 93,000 persons are out of power in this area right now.

O'BRIEN: And that's about half the population, right? About 200,000, Mayor?

DOW: Well, the MSA (ph) is about 500,000.

O'BRIEN: Total 500,000.

CALLAWAY: What are you hearing about damage there?

DOW: Can't really assess. We've had some people on the streets a little earlier and they're coming back without a lot of incident/damage reports. We're not getting a lot of information at the center right now that's -- you know got trees uprooted and massive damage so that makes me a little optimistic.

And -- but then again we're an hour, hour and a half away from knowing more about the impact, but at this point I think I'm a little easier than I was personally two and three and four hours ago. And maybe that could change in a very dramatic case but I'm hoping it's not.

CALLAWAY: What has been your experience with hurricanes, Mayor Dow? Were you there for the last one that blew through there, Frederic?

DOW: I was in Camille and Frederic and of course I've been the mayor 16 years so that's about 100 dog years and that's a lot of potential hurricanes.

O'BRIEN: That's a long career. Let me just ask you this: as you're there in the command center, is your family safe and sound? Are you worried about them? What are your personal concerns?

DOW: Oh, I always make my family up and my wife is in Tuscaloosa with the kids and the extended family is up there and we just don't mess around with this in my family. If a hurricane is coming, they go.

O'BRIEN: We've been talking to a lot of people riding it out. A lot of people, you know, wear that as a measure of pride in this part of the world that you know -- made it through Camille, made it through Frederic, I'm going to make it through this one.

Is that something you wouldn't advise people to do?

DOW: Well it's not my style, it's not my family's way of handling these, and I encourage people to go. I tell people, look, fill your car up with gas. If you have to sleep in your car, eat potato chips, sleep in your car, have a party, but do it up north. (LAUGHTER)

CALLAWAY: Well, Mayor, stay with us. Don't go anywhere because we have Anderson Cooper who is in Mobile with you and he has a question he wants to ask you -- Anderson, can you hear us?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hey, Mayor. We spoke earlier. It's good to hear from you again.

I didn't hear the first part of the interview so if I'm asking a question that's repeating I'm sorry; I apologize. The winds here are making it a little bit difficult to hear you.

I'm wondering, though, if you're going -- what kind of reports you have of any structure damage. We had a car going out -- we heard about trees down, we heard power lines down and we had some video of two homes that were on fire. I wonder if you had heard about that, what you know about how your town is doing right now?

CALLAWAY: Mayor, did you hear Anderson?

DOW: No, I could not hear him.

CALLAWAY: All right, he's just asking you if -- if you've had any reports of damage, severe damage. He's had reports of a couple of homes on fire and some structural damage. He wants to know what you know from the command center there.

DOW: Yes, we had a short period of time where the winds were too high for the fire trucks to get out on the street and that's what happens to you when the winds get up to around 60 knots and then the fire trucks can't maneuver.

At this point not extensive damage. We've had some reports, but I've been very optimistic and kind of surprised at the lack of very, very heavy -- and a lot of damage reports, so I'm somewhat optimistic about that.

CALLAWAY: Do you know what the calls -- we're looking at one of the fires in Mobile now. I know it's difficult for these trucks to maneuver in that kind of wind, but do you know the cause of the fires?

DOW: No, I don't have the many details for that. And certainly by the time you call me back I can give you a more calculated report on that if that's of interest to you.

CALLAWAY: Well, it's a dangerous situation with power lines down and things like that.

O'BRIEN: It clearly is.

DOW: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Mayor could you just do me a quick favor, just kind of paint the picture that you see before you right now. Who is in the room, what are they all doing right now? DOW: Well, again, we're anticipating this thing as an hour to maybe an hour and a half from its max and people are -- you know, they're tired. They've been here a long, long time. And they're talking amongst themselves, kind of nervously talking and drinking lots of coffee; I see some big yawns and you know just anxious, anxious people.

CALLAWAY: Wanting it to be over, I'm sure.

DOW: Absolutely. Willing to do what they've got to do. I mean they're ready to go.

CALLAWAY: Well Mayor Dow, we hope to check with you in a couple of hours and see how things are going there in the town of Mobile as Ivan creeps ashore.

O'BRIEN: Best to you and your city, sir. We wish you well.

DOW: I'll have a detailed report next time you call. We'll fill you up.

O'BRIEN: All right.

CALLAWAY: All right, thanks.

O'BRIEN: Thank you sir.

CALLAWAY: Gary Tuchman is now standing by in Alabama. Another state effected by the storm. He's in Gulf Shores, one of the most beautiful places in the world, Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Certainly not beautiful now, Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Gulf Shores is not beautiful now, you're absolutely right. This city is at the very southern portion of the state of Alabama, right along the Gulf of Mexico, a beautiful beach resort is getting pummeled by these rains and these winds.

It has now been -- it has now had the torrential rains for about nine hours straight and is taking its toll. We're standing in a parking lot of a hotel just across the Intercoastal Waterways from the barrier island of Gulf Shores beach. This parking lot is (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's a river that is just flowing into the direction of the wind.

Behind me there is a tree that fell about an hour ago behind us. Other trees are bending and we hear cracking from these winds which had hurricane force (UNINTELLIGIBLE) still not anything like we expect to see a few hours from now when the eye comes across it is expected (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the brunt of the storm, the eastern part of the eye wall and that's why we're using this video phone -- it allows us to pack up very quickly and get away from potentially hazardous areas (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the satellite truck.

We usually use (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a little more careful where you set it up. We've been told by emergency operations officials here in Baldwin County that the fire station in Gulf Shores, which is just behind us, has lost its roof, it's on the barrier island, and that its door is blown in, it is now flooding.

There is a big problem with flooding in the beach area. We are told that one (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is now in the streets in the beach area. We are also told that lots of big trees are blocking the major arteries, particularly Alabama Route 59, which runs along the beach here and almost all of the 140,000 people who live here in Baldwin County just across the Mobile Bay from Mobile, Alabama are without power.

That's not a surprise, but what might be a surprise is what could happen in the hours to come when the forces of these winds (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now the gusts are about 70 miles per hour and are expected to reach 135 miles per hour.

O'BRIEN: Gary, you admitted last time that you're standing right beside a fallen tree on the assumption that there won't be another fallen tree there. Have you had much in the way of debris? Any indication, just looking around you, at the structures of visible signs of damage?

TUCHMAN: No. As a matter of fact, the hotels we're standing near have not lost any portions of their roofs. However, when we were on the beach before, right across the Intercoastal Waterways, there was absolutely nobody anymore.

I told you before, Miles, it was really amazing. I've never seen compliance like this. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) one civilian on the barrier island of Gulf Shores beach. And it was a good thing because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the building and there are just a lot of new construction there -- beautiful new construction but there are also old homes on stilts and they were starting to lose their roofs before we even got (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Here we see tree debris that's floating down these rapids that you can't see because it's so dark. But it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that hasn't occurred yet, however, we fully expect it to occur.

CALLAWAY: All right, what about flooding, quickly, Gary? Any sign of that there?

TUCHMAN: Big problem with flooding. I could tell you right now in this part you obviously see the flooding on the beach four hours ago it was up to our knees. There are big problems with flooding on the beach area.

We're just across the Intercoastal Waterways, as I said, from the beach area. The street, which we're standing near, Route 69, is flooded. It's going to be a big problem here early this morning because there has been no let up at all. There's been a lessening of the winds over the last nine hours but the rains have not stopped since about 5:00 Eastern time this afternoon and it is just continued.

CALLAWAY: Gary Tuchman in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And we'll be back with you in just a little bit. We're going to take a break now and when we come back, going to read some of your e-mail. We have quite a few. Hundreds.

O'BRIEN: Hundreds -- and we appreciate them -- so keep them coming and we'll share them with you and pose a few questions to our folks out in the field and up at the Weather Center after a break. Stay with us.


CALLAWAY: Welcome back everyone. We continue our live coverage of Hurricane Ivan. He's not ignoring me; he's actually reading your e-mail...

O'BRIEN: No, I'm sorry. I'm ensconced in e-mail.

CALLAWAY: And we're going -- we're going to read a few in just a moment.

We want to tell you, though, that the winds have picked up so incredibly in Mobile where Rob Marciano and Anderson Cooper are that they were actually going to move locations and we will check with them in just a few moment once they get set up again.

O'BRIEN: They're going to find a hardier potted plant to hide behind. I think that was probably -- they realized that was probably not the best place to be.

CALLAWAY: Especially since one of the potted plants that they were hanging on to flipped over the side.


CALLAWAY: So, not a good sign.

O'BRIEN: Fortunately, it was to wind of them. All right, let's bring Orelon Sidney in. Orelon, it is now time for you to impress us with your knowledge.

Peter Korst and I'm not kidding -- you do impress us with your knowledge. That is no joke.

SIDNEY: Oh, thank you very much.

CALLAWAY: And you explain it where we all can understand it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, which is another thing -- which is another thing that can be difficult for the likes of us. Here, so first of all let's get to Peter Korst, who is in Beloit, Wisconsin: Explain this eye wall deterioration -- could this larger eye wall reform as a larger eye wall and possibly stall the eye wall and gain strength?

CALLAWAY: Good thinking.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he's been thinking a lot about this. But basically as a -- well, you know the question. You go ahead. SIDNEY: Oh me, now? I can answer this one real easily.

O'BRIEN: I knew you could.

SIDNEY: No. I mean I'm not trying to be facetious. You know it's really true.

O'BRIEN: That's OK.

SIDNEY: What meteorologists have discovered over the past few years is what's called an eye wall replacement cycle and what you're basically looking at is very strong hurricanes generally have two eye walls.

You have an outer eye wall, something like that one, and then you have an inner eye wall, which is smaller.

Now the inner eye wall gets choked off, basically, from all of the juice that keeps it going. It collapses and the outer eye wall takes over. Then the outer eye wall starts to shrink and we talked about that before -- when it starts to shrink the wind speed goes up and a strong hurricane can go through that eye wall replacement cycle many, many times before it makes landfall and generally what you will find is that the storm will be stronger after its gone through a cycle.

This one did it several times, especially when it was in the Caribbean, around Jamaica. You kept seeing the winds they'd drop back to 150 and then the next advisory they'd hop up to 165 and then they'd drop back again to maybe 145. And then back up to 150.

Those were eye wall replacement cycles that it was going through. It may be going through something like this now but I don't know, because it's hard to give that dry air pulled into it and I think that's more of a feature of it coming on close to land, picking up the drier air and then making the landfall. I don't think it's necessarily going through a cycle at this point but I'm certainly not an expert in eye wall replacement cycles -- there's probably only a few in the whole world that really are super knowledgeable about that stuff.

But the short answer to the question is probably not.

O'BRIEN: All right. Susan in Huntsville has this one for you: Please report the effect of winds at various speeds. If winds are 40 mph, what may be expected? At 60 mph, at 75 mph? At what speeds will shingles be blow off roofs, will trees likely be blown over -- what height trees at what speeds? All right, Susan is getting a little too detailed there. But basically give us, if you could, some rules of thumb so we have an idea of what kind of wind speed we're seeing.

In other words, basically what she really wants to ask is what speed would it take to knock Anderson off the roof there, right? That's really what she's after.

SIDNEY: I guess we found that out because Anderson is off the roof now. At 70...

O'BRIEN: Right, so we know what that is, right?

SIDNEY: That's right. As a matter of fact, Mobile is gusting the last I saw was 78 miles an hour. Right off the top of my head I can't come up with too many things but I can tell you this, if you look at -- on the Internet at the Beaufort Scale -- hold on just a second I'm getting the Saffir-Simpson Scale. This is the Fujita Tornado Scale -- I'm afraid that's not going to help me much.

But if you look on the Internet for the Beaufort: B-E-A-U-F-O-R- T -- it takes winds from zero at calm and tells you going all the way through to hurricane force what those different things would do.

That's how they used to determine what the winds were, whether or not a flag would be fully extended. Whether it was difficult to walk without assistance. Things like that and that goes up to the gale force.

Then of course once you're at gale force you get into the Saffir- Simpson Scale and that's a whole different ballgame. A Category One Storm, for instance, not going to cause a whole lot of wind damage. You're not going to see a big storm surge.

You may find some small limbs down; some small trees might go down. As you go up through Category Two and Three, once you get to Category Three, you start to get some structural damage possible and that's when a major hurricane is, Category Three, Four and Five.

As you get up into the Fours and Fives you can get catastrophic damage. That's something like Hurricane Andrew. Here we are, I've got the Saffir-Simpson scale here. Thanks, Chance (ph). That's something like Hurricane Andrew. You get destruction like a tornado over huge area.

But generally as far as winds are concerned I can tell you from my experience in Orlando with Frances I was very surprised that I was able to stand up in winds that were gusting at 40 and 50 mile an hour range -- that was quite surprising to me, but once you get up in the 60s and 70s as we saw with Anderson and with Rob, it becomes very difficult to stand. Almost impossible to stand -- to feel the sting of the rain on your face.

It's very, very uncomfortable. And then of course as you go beyond that you certainly don't want to be outside. You know what I'm saying?

CALLAWAY: Orelon, we're going to show you right now some of the damage that wind is causing in Mobile. In fact, when Rob and Anderson were moving this is some of the video that was shot just a few moments ago -- some of the damage that is taking place in Mobile and granted it's very difficult to see because there's just not any power there in Mobile.

There's trees down, there is debris on the road. And of course Ivan is not even ashore yet. O'BRIEN: Well, and its obviously -- this is a very -- literally a very narrow path which they are following as they make way toward higher and safer ground. But you do have the sense, first of all, I see a little bit of power on there which is -- or is that just the reflection...

CALLAWAY: That's the reflection of the lights.

O'BRIEN: That could be the reflection so it's pitch dark. I think the mayor was saying 93,000 customers were without power at this moment in an area, metro area of about 500,000. And there you really get a sense of that wind as it goes across that road there as they make their way to higher ground.

CALLAWAY: Orelon, we spoke with Mayor Dow just a few moments ago and he said he's more optimistic now than he was a couple of hours ago by looking at the eye of the storm and looking at it I don't see much to be optimistic about.

SIDNEY: Well, I think at that point he may have been looking at a radar image that was showing the southwest side of the eye actually collapsed there for I guess about an hour, hour and a half.

It looked like that collapsed but then it looks like it has filled back in so I think he may have been optimistic at seeing that eye wall collapse and that's an interesting feature to me as well. I'm going to have to do some research about that.

But that did fill in and so we definitely expect this storm to be 135 miles an hour going in if not even maybe a little bit stronger but I did find some information for you thanks to Jason and Shawn (ph), my producers, helped me out this evening.

Shingles will go off of a roof if your roof is like mine it will go off at about five miles an hour -- but shingles will go off at 47 to 54 miles an hour. Trees go down at 55 to 63 miles an hour and, of course, trees down means power lines down and that means you're going to find lots of power outages and that's what we expect across not just the Gulf Coast but across all of the Southeastern United States.

Stretching up to Atlanta, potentially up into even parts of the Blue Ridge and the Smoky Mountains. Once tree limbs start going down and trees start going down, the power starts going out and that is going to be a big problem.

Also, remember that the ground is already saturated and a lot of the trees in this area of the country are pine trees and they have very shallow root systems. In fact, my father cut down all of the pine trees on his property because he was afraid of the trees falling over onto the house.

With the wet ground and very shallow roots, you have a lot of problems with downed trees so I think we're going to see some extensive power line damage over the next several days.

O'BRIEN: It's amazing to me how in this day and age with all the technology we have, we have so many power lines just sitting on top of poles and we haven't buried more of them, isn't it? It's incredible, isn't it, Orelon?

SIDNEY: Well, you know in my neighborhood when I was going through high school I guess about 20 years ago, all of our power lines were underground and...

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, a lot of the newer neighborhoods have done that, but...

SIDNEY: Yes, I'm surprised...

O'BRIEN: It's an expensive proposition, isn't it?

SIDNEY: I guess it would be, especially to go back and redo it.


SIDNEY: You know, but when it goes down in a hurricane may be the best thing to do then is to put them under the ground.

O'BRIEN: Instead of putting them back up on the sticks put them underground, yes, precisely.

CALLAWAY: Some other terrain that may prevent that. All right, on the phone with us now we have Paulette Williams. She is with the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency. She's a spokesperson there.

Paulette, can you hear us?


CALLAWAY: We are seeing some video that our Anderson Cooper and Rob Marciano shot just a few moments ago looks like lots of power lines down, lots of limbs in the road, trees down. What are you hearing?

WILLIAMS: That's exactly right. We -- in fact, currently we have approximately 135,000 customers in Mobile County alone without electricity. That's -- that represents about 63 percent of the customers in the Mobile County area without electricity.

CALLAWAY: What are you hearing about injuries?

WILLIAMS: So far we haven't had any reports of any injuries that have come in here. Most of all of our emergency vehicles have been pulled from the streets because of the wind. We are just currently beginning to see the eye wall of the storm move in just to the east of Mobile Bay where we'll be experiencing 100 mile an hour plus winds over the next hour or so.

O'BRIEN: So -- Ms. Williams, this is Miles O'Brien. What happens if you get a call now and somebody needs some assistance? You can't really respond can you? WILLIAMS: That's exactly right. It's very difficult to get emergency responders vehicles out into the streets.

O'BRIEN: I can't imagine how frustrating that would be for people such as yourself who spend their career responding and helping people. What's the advice to folks who get themselves in a tight situation in a situation like this?

WILLIAMS: Well, certainly the best thing they can do is hopefully take care of themselves and try to do what they can on their own for the next hour or so at least until we can get back out and then certainly it's going to be a challenge for us with all of the debris that we anticipate from this severe storm that is moving in.

CALLAWAY: What kind of calls, if any, are you receiving down there at the center?

WILLIAMS: We've just had a few calls in where trees that have blown down on houses and that type stuff, but even some of those were early on and most of the people are you know able to stay in the houses without aid or without going outside.

CALLAWAY: Sixty-three percent without power. What about the areas like hospitals and places like that?

WILLIAMS: Most of those areas, including some of our shelters, are on emergency power at this time.

O'BRIEN: That's a good thing they have that. What is your biggest concern right now, Paulette?

WILLIAMS: Just the aftermath of the storm itself. And really the unknown of what to expect.

I happen to be one of those people -- I guess unfortunate ones -- that experienced Hurricane Frederic 25 years ago, so I kind of have a sense of what to look for in the morning hours, so there's going to be a tremendous amount of debris I'm sure and it's just hard to tell with new construction and building codes the difference in the damage to homes and residential and businesses. In this -- the past 25 years just to see the outcome of that building.

CALLAWAY: As you just said, it's been quite some time since a storm like that has moved through Mobile. Do you think that your agency and the city of Mobile is prepared for the aftermath of this storm?

WILLIAMS: I think we're as prepared as anyone. We have a pretty smooth oiled machine here. We have all the agencies represented here in the EOC and are quite conscientiously doing their job and I think we'll bear through this all right and certainly we're already in a mode to receive the support of the state of Alabama Emergency Management as well as the Federal Emergency Management agencies.

CALLAWAY: Well, good luck to you. Paulette Williams with the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency as Ivan is now moving ashore and the next couple of hours will be very telling for your town.

Thank you very much, Ms. Williams, we'll talk to you later.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, yes, thank you.

O'BRIEN: All up and down the coast the shelters are full, the hotels are full. Any place where there is a measure of high ground whether it is the ground itself is high above sea level or if it's just the higher portions of hotels as we've seen in New Orleans the so-called vertical evacuations.

Nevertheless, people are gathering together, riding out this storm in the relative safety of these shelters.

Chris Lawrence is at one of them in Pensacola. When last we checked with him they were having some problems with power outages there. There was some concern about getting people a little safer inside the shelter. What's the latest, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles. We have actually had to move away from that shelter. We are probably now about six to seven miles further north off that water, off that body of water.

Where we were at the shelter was at the Pensacola Civic Center. That Civic Center was one of the largest buildings in the city. It's very structurally sound; it's a huge building; some 1500 people being housed there right now. But that building is also just about a quarter of a mile from the ocean and the winds were just getting way too severe to even stay there.

As we drove from there to here about six, seven miles away to another hotel where a lot of people are holed up here, even a couple of hours ago we could see huge trees just downed across the road.

At one point to get by we had to almost drive through -- drive across someone's front yard just because we were trapped at that point and the police were saying that it was not safe to be out on the street.

So to make our way through we had to kind of get around that tree. But I can only imagine what those people are hearing right now being so close to the ocean, literally just about a little bit more than a quarter of a mile away, even here where we are, six, seven miles.

I can barely keep my head up because the rain is coming in so hard. It's coming in just about horizontally now. And the winds are just ferocious as they gust up -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's just be clear about this for folks. The folks inside that shelter are OK. It was your decision because you were outside and reporting from outside that it wasn't safe to be outside the civic center, correct?

LAWRENCE: Yes, yes, I want to be clear about that. The shelter is huge. A picture of the civic center is like -- picture a very small stadium. There was a huge center area, several levels. The hurricane will not do major damage to that structure.

It would be like a hurricane hitting one of the -- one of the smaller stadiums in a bigger city, so to speak.

The only danger there is there is some danger of flooding. What they did we have heard is the Red Cross has moved everybody up to the upper levels although there is a lot of room on that first floor they were concerned about some flooding so they now moved people up to say the second, third, even fourth levels and they're considerably a ways off the ground so flooding should not be much of a problem there in terms of making their stay any more, any tougher than it already is going to be.

They were also some concern that if they stayed near the window, but this wind which is incredibly strong right now even where we are might shatter some of those windows so they have begun the process of moving everybody more toward the center and clustering them in smaller rooms.

Not having everyone together, but having people clustered in smaller rooms on a high floor near the middle of the inside of that civic center, even though it is very, very close to the water, the sheer size of the building and the strength of the building, and the fact that they're near the middle of that huge building should keep them relatively safe.

CALLAWAY: Chris, that is a very scary situation for those involved. Miles and I were just talking about how frightening it must be for the small children that are there being moved like that.

How many people are there in the center?

LAWRENCE: There were 1500 people in that center. Families from around the Pensacola area. That's about as many as they can handle.

They were cooking -- well not cooking, I should say, but they were preparing sandwiches. They had some milk, they had some water. They wanted to give these people something to eat because, as you said, you've got a lot of kids in there.

We saw a baby that was five months old. Many of the parents had their kids in there. Now some families did think ahead and they brought their own supplies. And this is by no means a full-blown shelter.

When we think of the word "shelter," we sometimes think of established buildings dedicated to people more homeless with beds and cots and things like that.

This is not what we're talking about here. Your bed is whatever blankets you could bring with you, your meal was perhaps a little bit of peanut butter smeared on a piece of bread or whatever you were able to scrounge together to bring with you, so by no means was this a what we normally would think of as a shelter.

CALLAWAY: And a lot of these people had gone to that area, to that building, because it is expensive to move out of your home and move north and stay in a hotel...

O'BRIEN: If you can find a hotel room at that.


O'BRIEN: So it's a difficult thing.

LAWRENCE: Well, yes, and let's be honest, some would -- at least one of the families we talked to was very honest and said it was economics. This storm is an incredible storm, but as one woman told me, you know, when it's over she said I still have bills to pay.

Our lives will go on; we still have to take care of things, and if our home is damaged we're going to have to spend some money to get that fixed. We can't afford to drive around and stay in a hotel and buy food for -- you know -- and eat out for over a week and then come home and have to spend more money. So, she felt that their safest place to go at this point would have been the shelter so that's why they went there.

A combination of safety and, quite frankly, economics.

CALLAWAY: All right, Chris, Chris Lawrence reporting for us on the situation in Pensacola. We'll check back with you later tonight. Thank you very much.

When we come back, we're going to check in with CNN's Susan Candiotti who is in Biloxi and find out how they are faring there. Hopefully a lot better than those in Pensacola.

O'BRIEN: CNN's coverage of Hurricane Ivan continues. Stay with us.


CALLAWAY: Hurricane Ivan apparently hitting land now. Let's check in with Orelon Sidney and find out what the situation is.

SIDNEY: That's right. We're looking now at the barrier islands. Here is Gulf Shores. Here are some of the barrier islands just off the coast. And there is the center of the storm. And the distance between the northern eyewall and Gulf Shores is about 21 miles.

But if you take just the eye -- not the eye itself, but just the northern edge of that eyewall there, you're only about 18, 19 miles from it making landfall. So right now the northern eyewall, the heaviest rain, the heaviest squalls, moving across the barrier island at Gulf Shores currently.

I'm going to see if maybe -- I don't know if Jim can hear me, but I'd like to take some wind speeds from these if it's possible. We're looking, of course, southward at the eye. The winds are calm. But look up here to the north, sustained at Pensacola in the 30s.

Now I did see a wind gust at Pensacola of 96 miles an hour. You can see, of course, as you head down towards the south and west, you get those wind speeds a little bit lower, but generally they're in the 40s. And this is sustained, these are not gusts.

Biloxi reported a gust just a few moments ago of 65 miles an hour. Mobile -- ahem, excuse me, Mobile gusted to 78 miles an hour. Again, Pensacola at 96. And Elgin (ph) -- or I think it's Eglin Air Force Base, 76 mile an hour wind gusts. So very strong winds continuing to work their way on the coast here as we're watching the center of this storm approaching the coast.

It looks like Gulf Shores is going to be the location of landfall. We'll have to wait, obviously for the National Hurricane Center to tell us the official landfall point. But the storm is making landfall as we speak -- Catherine, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Orelon, does this bode well for Mobile Bay? Because what that -- it seems to indicate is that that eastward component of the storm has continued to kick in and its sending it a little bit farther that way which means, of course, you get the left side of the storm in the Bay.

SIDNEY: Well, I'll tell you, its better that its going to the left than the right, but in this particular case the storm surge is going to be the worst after the center moves on the coast because the winds coming around from the south are going to be what pushes the water up into Mobile Bay.

So yes, it's obviously better if the center of the storm goes a little bit east, but look at how close that is. I mean, that's just barely east of due north. So, the center of that storm is probably going to cross over Mobile Bay at some point.

Perhaps not the dead center but they are going to get in the center of it. You can see now that distance there. I can't read it. It looks like about 61 miles there between the center of the storm and Mobile itself.

But this center is going to come so close until it's almost a wash, literally. I mean, it's almost a wash as far as that's concerned, Miles. They're going to get some very heavy squalls. There are probably some squalls in here with rainfall amounts as much as two inches, even two to three inches an hour.

Some very heavy rain amounts coming in and some very gusty winds at this point -- Miles.

CALLAWAY: You said repeatedly to me when we were doing live coverage on Frances that that wall is what we need to be worrying about. Is that the case in this one as well?

SIDNEY: Well, in any hurricane, you always -- people often make the mistake of seeing the first part come through and thinking oh, things are so much better now. Here comes the eye, it's all quiet. But they forget that you've got winds, too coming from the south.

Now, what I've seen with this particular storm, this image isn't going to show it quite as well but if you could take the storm and kind of cut it in half, it looks like most of the action is still on the northern side. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it's moving on inland and you get some what we call convergence, some friction with the ground. Helps to build up some of these stronger thunderstorms.

But you can see down to the south here we don't have quite as much action as far as the reds and the oranges in the radar picture, so generally these storms are a little bit less strong than these, but as we move this whole thing up you're going to start to see stronger thunderstorms across parts of the area.

Look at this -- you can even see some very heavy rains up towards Alabaster, up toward Birmingham, continuing southward down to Montgomery and Troy.

Now do remember that we still have the potential for tornadoes. I'm expecting a new watch to come out from the Storm Prediction Center shortly but look at this line of thunderstorms extending from Troy down through Dothan across the state line into Florida.

These look to be some very dangerous thunderstorms. Wouldn't be surprised if we start to see at least some rotation with some of these thunderstorms and perhaps get into tornado warnings with those as well and then of course continuing back toward the center here in Pensacola and Mobile.

Still a chance for tornadoes but it looks like these outer rain bands believe it or not are a little bit more potent at this point. You can even see some of these here moving to the northeast south of Montgomery you've got to worry about some thunderstorms there. Tornado watch expires at 2 a.m. -- we'll see a new one issued when this one expires.

O'BRIEN: Hey, Orelon quick while you have that up, while you have that up -- quick question from Pamela in Bremerton, Washington. We should -- sometimes we take things for granted here and we assume things. It's a good question though: What are the different colors that we see around the eye. Mostly green but then there's blue and then there's yellow, orange and red. If you could just remind folks what all that means and -- so they could understand a little bit about that that would be good.

SIDNEY: OK, well, in this particular case we're looking at what's called an infrared satellite picture. Or, excuse me were looking at radar. And what that means is you're seeing the reflection of the precipitation as it comes back to the radar antenna.

And what you're seeing in these brighter colors are the higher cloud tops. And the higher your cloud tops generally the stronger your thunderstorms. So your cooler colors, your blues and your greens are showing lower cloud tops, generally less severe thunderstorms.

As you go to the north there's that northeastern quadrant once again right there. That's where you find the very strongest thunderstorms; the highest cloud tops; the most severe weather; the best chance for tornadoes; and generally that's where you find the heaviest rain, as well. CALLAWAY: You know, we should say Orelon that we've already seen that the outer bands -- how potent they are. We had a tornado kicking off on the side there that has already killed two people in Panama City.

SIDNEY: Yes, that's right, and remember that we did have tornado warnings too, over the city of Dothan. I have not seen any damage from that that I know of, but I expect to see numerous tornado warnings continue as we go through the rest of the day.

CALLAWAY: Wow, look at this wind. This is where Anderson Cooper and Rob Marciano were standing about 30 minutes ago. They are now moving to another location but Miles look at the wind kicking up the -- that plant is not going to stay there long, is it?

O'BRIEN: Still have some people there but where they are is a shelter, we should point out, and that obviously out there on that patio which is four stories above the ground which itself is 12 feet above sea level.

That is a little taste of really what is to come and probably really an indication on the mild side because it's still 60 miles away, the eye, of Hurricane Ivan, Category Four storm.

We're watching it all the way continuing coverage here on CNN. Stay with us.



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