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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Katrina on Course for New Orleans

Aired August 28, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Gaining strength, forcing mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. A Category 5 hurricane bears down on the Gulf Coast. We'll have the new advisory from the National Hurricane Center in just moments.
Plus, boarding up, heading out, fearing the worst. Will this storm be as devastating as Camille?

Hello and welcome to CNN LIVE SUNDAY. I'm Randi Kaye, in for Fredricka Whitfield. We will have a series of live reports as we all brace for Hurricane Katrina.

But first, other headlines now in the news.

After a long and bitter debate, Iraq's constitutional committee has signed off on a draft constitution, and it's now before the country's National Assembly. The move comes after some amendments were added, in hopes of appeasing the Sunni Arab minority. But some Sunni negotiators are still not happy with the document, and they're calling on the United Nations and Arab League to intervene.

A suicide bomber targets a bus station at rush hour in the southern Israeli town of Beersheba. Israeli officials say 21 people were wounded, two seriously. Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the bombing as a terrorist attack.

Rap music mogul Marion "Suge" Knight is recovering from a gun shot wound. Police say he was shot in the leg overnight at a party in Miami Beach, celebrating the MTV video music awards. The wound is not considered life threatening. So far, there's no word of a motive for that shooting. Knight is the founder of Death Row records.

We begin with two words coastal residents never want to hear, category five. Hurricane Katrina now threatens to bring catastrophic damage to coastal Louisiana and Mississippi. This monster of a storm is now at the most powerful level for a hurricane and it's taking aim at a wide swath of the Gulf coast and that includes New Orleans, the city six feet below sea level. Mandatory evacuations were ordered there just a short time ago.

Meteorologist Brad Huffines is keeping track of the very latest developments and he's with us now at the CNN weather center. Brad, how's it looking?

BRAD HUFFINES, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Randi, it's not looking good, because the National Hurricane Center latest update and advisory shows winds now to 175. This is sustained winds to 175 miles an hour in this hurricane. This does not mean now, that it will move ashore as a 175-mile-an-hour hurricane, but right now it is. And it still shows it will likely hit landfall as at least a very strong category four or possibly a category five hurricane.

This hurricane continues to because of its path, spread warnings from the Florida/Alabama state line along the shore line of both Alabama and Mississippi, including all of southeast Louisiana, shore line and inland across the southeast parishes of Louisiana as well. That means that hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours in this warning area all across southeast Louisiana, as well as south Alabama, as well as south portions of Mississippi.

The latest on Katrina from the 11:00 advisory, Eastern time, that is, 175-mile-an-hour winds, moving west-northwest at 12. It has picked up a little bit of speed now and that puts the hurricane moving inland somewhere around New Orleans. So notice that the storm continues to move out and inland, it should, the eye wall move right around the New Orleans area sometime late tomorrow morning, possibly midday. But again, at 12 miles an hour, it has picked up a little bit of speed. If it does increase in its speed more, it could very well move into southern Louisiana sometime in the late morning -- actually, the early morning hours, anywhere from 5:00 to 8:00. If it slows down, it will be later. But the forecast right now is for it to make landfall as a category five 160-mile-per-hour hurricane.

Here's what we're seeing right now on Doppler radar, live Doppler radar using Titan. What we're seeing is areas of very heavy rains encroaching now, getting closer and closer to New Orleans. But remember, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of coastal residents in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi right now are trying to hit the streets, are trying to hid the roadways. That means that as the rain showers move into New Orleans, also places like Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, where storm surge could be anywhere from 10 to 15 feet, up to 10 foot storm surge for Mobile, watching this storm carefully. Randi, we'll have another update in a few minutes.

KAYE: And Brad, just tell us if you would, how does this compare to Camille which hit that area back in 1969, in terms of size and power and strength?

HUFFINES: This storm right now is about two millibars, a meteorologist concern (ph). That's how we measure pressure. It's like a ruler with a thousand marks on it. Right now, with Camille being a 909 millibar storm when it hit landfall, this storm is now a 907 millibars, which shows that right now this storm is more powerful than hurricane Camille. And you know the devastation, and that was east of New Orleans. If this storm lays true to form and does affect New Orleans in the worst case scenario, which is very possible now, the damage can be worse than hurricane Camille, with a stronger storm, more storm surge and much more flooding. Because remember, 70 percent of New Orleans is below sea level, Randi, 70 percent of the city below sea level and a storm surge of up to 25 feet. That's incredible.

KAYE: That doesn't sound very good for the city of New Orleans. All right. Brad, thanks very much. Katrina could rewrite some of the record books along the central Gulf coast. Only three category five hurricanes have made landfall in the United States since records were first kept. They include the unnamed Labor Day hurricane of 1935, Camille, which devastated the Mississippi Gulf of Mexico in 1969 and hurricane Andrew which slammed into south Florida in 1992. Hurricane Katrina could spell disaster for New Orleans, a city that rests below sea level, as Brad was just telling us. Just a short while ago, the city's mayor issued a mandatory evacuation order. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in New Orleans with the very latest on the evacuation efforts there. Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Randi, he had asked them to go before. Now he is telling them they have to go. He said in a press conference just a short time ago that it was most likely that the levies that protect -- levies, excuse me, that protect the city are most likely to get knocked out by this, electricity likely to go, water service likely to go. He said the city would have the authority to commandeer vehicles to get people out of the city. And if necessary, they would have the authority to commander your buildings to use as shelters.

For the moment, there is only one shelter that they're talking about. That is the super dome, the home of the New Orleans Saints. Well, it's going to be home to thousands of people in a couple of hours from now. It had already been designated as a special needs shelter, people who needed medical care. But now they're saying if you cannot get out of the city, if you do not have any other option, get yourself to the Super Dome. If that gets full, then the mayor holds out the possibility that they will indeed commandeer some other buildings. He wouldn't specify which ones and put people inside those.

He has reached out to the churches in the community. He has asked them to help find the infirm, find the elderly, create a buddy system, make sure everybody is looked after and taken care of. And he asked for the city to pull together. I can tell you, Randi, from some reporting we've done on the homeland security beat, that in fact that just might happen. It's often found that in times of crisis, the best in people comes out, not the worst.

For instance, after 9/11, you didn't see people running down the street knocking each other over. Rather you saw people stopping, pausing, picking people up and helping them along. You saw a massive donation of blood. You saw people donating their skills and whatever else might be necessary to help in the effort, given what's happened in other disasters, that is exactly what might happen here. But for the moment, a very scary time for the city of New Orleans. As you've mentioned, it is below sea level, protected by those levies. Those levies might not stand up to this surge. There might be massive flooding here in the next 24 hours or so. Back to you.

KAYE: And Jeanne, from what I understand, I-10, the main highway out of that area is gridlocked. So do people there have any other options?

MESERVE: There are some alternative routes. The governor mentioned some of those in the press conference. They're urging people to take advantage of them. We aren't too far from the I-10. We don't have a perfect vantage point, but it looks to us as though there is some movement. It's tough going, but there is some movement. (INAUDIBLE) at it. It's pretty slow. It is slow, yeah. The governor did also mention that she had a conversation with President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: This is a very dangerous time. Just before we walked into this room, President Bush called and told me to share with all of you that he is very concerned about the citizens. He is concerned about the impact that this hurricane would have on our people. And he asked me to please insure that there would be a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: And I can tell you that not everybody is heeding the order to leave. There are some people in our immediate vicinity who show no indication that they're planning to get out of town. Floodwaters can rise very quickly. I remember watching a flood of the convergence of two rivers many years ago. I was astounded at how quickly the water came up. It was a little eerie, when it reaches a certain level, it hits all the car forms and there's this sort of deafening racket going on as the water goes up. But some people are lingering. The message today from the mayor, from the governor, don't linger, get in your car, get in some form of transportation and get out of here if you possibly can before this storm hits. Randi?

KAYE: One reason why some of the people may be lingering, too, as I can see behind you, that the skies are certainly still clear there.

MESERVE: They are. So people might get up and have the perception that there's nothing big going on. There is a wind that's picking up, but it's nothing extraordinary at this point in time. So you're right, people walked out, looked out their window or looked out their door, were getting their cues from that. They might not think there is a crises at hand. If they are watching their televisions, if they are listening to their radios, they have to know it.

KAYE: All right. Jeanne Meserve for us live in New Orleans. Thank you. We'll check back with you a little bit later on.

Well, south Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf coast awaits Katrina. Many people in those areas still have very vivid memories of hurricane Camille. It is the storm by which other hurricanes in that region are measured. Camille made landfall on August 17th, 1969 with winds around 200 miles an hour. The storm surge was 25 to 30 feet in some areas. Homes and businesses were flattened. Highways were ripped apart and trees were uprooted far inland. Camille killed 256 people in its deadly rampage. Thousands of people were left homeless.

Boarding up and heading out, gulf coast residents aren't taking any chances. We'll find out what else they're doing to prepare for hurricane Katrina. Plus, we'll have a weather update on the great storm's latest track. CNN LIVE SUNDAY continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: CNN is your hurricane headquarters. We are watching a category five hurricane, hurricane Katrina, as it makes its way toward the city of New Orleans, expected landfall, about 5:00 to 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is on the phone with us now. Mayor, good to have you with us. I would imagine this is a very busy day for you. You have just put in place mandatory evacuations. Is that possible at this hour?

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: It is possible and it's in effect. And we are encouraging all of our citizens to leave the city of New Orleans. This storm is enormous. It's coming up in a direction that most people have dreaded, 175-mile-per-hour winds with storm surges of over 20 feet. The problem we have with this storm, if those storm surges are that high, they will top our levies and there will be lots of water in the city of New Orleans.

KAYE: What type of planning have you done, because from what I understand, you've been planning for the big one for a long time. I mean, this is a storm that would force the gulf waters up the Mississippi delta, over those levies that you just mentioned, which protect the city. So what type of planning is in place for this?

NAGIN: The main thing we do is concentrate on the people issues. How do we plan in a manner that evacuates as many people as possible, and secondarily, we deal with individuals who have special needs. They may have medical needs or dialysis or what have you, and then thirdly, we have about 100,000 residents that rely upon public transportation solely. So we have to have a strategy for dealing with the individuals that cannot evacuate and that's the mode that we're in right now.

KAYE: We've seen a lot of pictures of the sick and the injured being evacuated. What about people who don't have any means, people without cars, people who are tourists who can't get a rental car or can no longer get a flight out of there. What's being done for them?

NAGIN: The tourists is a different issue. The mandatory evacuation basically exempted any hotels because we know tourists are having a difficult time getting out. As far as residents who cannot leave because they don't have the financial means, we have provided free bus services this morning where we have about a dozen sites throughout the city that are picking up individuals for free and transporting them to the Louisiana Super Dome, which is the, you know, the facility of last refuge.

KAYE: What about the elderly and those too frail to get out on their own. Is there any effort to go door-to-door and make sure these people aren't lost in the storm?

NAGIN: Yes. Since the mandatory evacuation was issued, we have our police and fire units going throughout all the neighborhoods with their loud speakers and their sirens and they are assisting senior citizens in getting to the pickup places for our public transportation.

KAYE: I know you don't want to think about what could be after the storm, but the picture is grim, if this does indeed happen. No electricity, no clean water, possibly for quite some time. What are you imagining will be the job trying to restore the city of New Orleans?

NAGIN: It's going to be enormous. The city of New Orleans is built in a bowl, if you will, where we're below sea level, so as soon as the levee systems are breached, if you will, there will be a tremendous amount of water anywhere from 15 to 20 feet of water in some parts of New Orleans. Our pumping systems at that point will not operate. But we will have the national guard will come in and we'll figure out a way to get the water out. But it's going to take us several weeks. But the real issue that I don't think the nation is paying attention to is that through the city of New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico, we probably deal with almost a third of the nation's domestic oil that is produced. And that will most likely be shut down. So this can have a significant impact on oil prices going forward.

KAYE: I would imagine that in a case like this, you sort of have to walk that -- you definitely have to walk that fine line between doing the right thing, ordering this massive evacuation, yet not creating panic. So what is the mood there in the city and how do you walk that line?

NAGIN: Well, we started to basically with the voluntary evacuation, which set the signal and then it was reiterated throughout the past couple of days and as time goes on, we just escalated the rhetoric, if you will. And today we ordered the mandatory. So people knew this was coming --

KAYE: And what is the situation, before I let you go here, what is the situation with the national guard? Because from what I understand, a lot of your national guard is in Iraq. So is the shortage going to affect you?

NAGIN: We're not thinking that it's going to affect us. We just spoke with the general over the national guard and he has 1,500 troops ready to be deployed, with another couple of thousand that they can tap into pretty quickly.

KAYE: All right. Mayor Ray Nagin, thank you so much for your time. We wish you the best of luck as you face this storm. As you said, most of you have feared. Good to talk with you.

Getting out of town while the getting is still easy. You're looking at live pictures of New Orleans, where traffic is moving in only one direction away from the coast. As hurricane Katrina barrels towards shore. We'll continue to bring you the very latest when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KAYE: Updating our top story, hurricane Katrina is slowly churning its way toward southeast Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coast. It's now an extremely dangerous category five hurricane with landfall expected tomorrow. As Katrina threatens that region with catastrophic damage, its effects still linger in Florida.

The hurricane was a category one when it hit south Florida three days ago. Parts of the region are still without power and storm victims are still lining up for ice, drinking water and gas. FEMA Director Michael Brown says the potential for loss of life and property from Katrina could be worse than hurricane Camille back in 1969. 256 people died in that storm. CNN's Gary Nurenberg is at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., a very busy place, I would imagine, Gary.

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Randi. FEMA's been on a 24-hour footing since the middle of last week, staffing here the national response coordination center, the place where the national response plan comes together. In the rooms here, representatives of agencies as diverse as the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Public Health Service, DOD, the Coast Guard, the Red Cross, other volunteer agencies, all talking to each other to make sure they have what they need and make sure that they have what they need in place before landfall.

One official here said it is quote, going like clockwork in large part because of the experience the agency has had with hurricanes the last couple of years. FEMA says it has been helped enormously by that early presidential disaster declaration for Louisiana. The formal declaration allows FEMA to spend funds that allocate resources that otherwise would have to sit there until the disaster strikes. This means that teams and material are already in pre-selected staging areas from which they will be sprung to the particular areas where they're needed when the hurricane strikes.

That staging area includes materials for example like generators, plastic sheets, water, ice, meals ready to eat and roofing materials, essentially anything that you might use after a hurricane strikes. Advance teams from FEMA are already at command centers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and others are on the way in addition to FEMA representatives. National disaster medical teams are en route, some of them already in place. These are the agencies that have those MASH-like hospitals, that can respond to emergency needs.

And in addition, urban search and rescue teams have been called in from the Midwest and from as far away as New York because of the likelihood that their particular skills will be needed when the hurricane strikes. We're approaching a key point in this day when at noon a national teleconference of all the agencies involved in planning for this hurricane gets together. That teleconference will happen at noon. We'll report what happened. And one additional note, Randi. We told you that FEMA is happy with that early presidential declaration of disaster for Louisiana because it frees up funds. We're told that the president may issue a similar declaration for Mississippi within just the next few hours and of course when that happens, we'll let you know. KAYE: And we have to ask, because there has been much concern raised about FEMA's resources. This has been a record year for hurricanes. How are the resources holding up? Any idea in terms of how much they've already been called on to do?

NURENBERG: Don't know what the exact dollar figures are, but we can tell you that last year in Florida alone, FEMA spent $5 billion. But officials here insist whatever that it takes, it takes. And they'll get the job done.

KAYE: All right. Gary Nurenberg with a live report from FEMA for us. Thanks, Gary.

We are keeping a close eye on hurricane Katrina, as it continues to grow. We'll have a live update on the forecast when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Hurricane Katrina is picking up speed heading toward the gulf coast. We want to remind you that at 12:30 Eastern time, we are expecting to hear from President Bush, expecting some remarks from the president. And you can hear those live on "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer. In the meantime, let's get the very latest on the storm from Brad Huffines. From what I see Brad, the storm is moving faster and getting stronger.

HUFFINES: Yes, it has intensified, 11:00 advisory, 175-mile-an- hour sustained winds. That makes it an intensifying category five hurricane. We also have a press conference by the way for residents of Mobile in south Alabama at noon Eastern, 11:00 Central time. The emergency management officials are supposed to have a press conference in Mobile to discuss possible evacuations and shelter information for the Mobile area.

So we've been really spending a lot of time or New Orleans. But remember, we have a lot of evacuations occurring for people that live in south Mississippi and south Alabama, because the storm surge from this storm could very well affect Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Titan radar, you're looking at live National Weather Service Doppler radar from around the southeast and it's now showing one of the first rain bands still coursing inland as the storms are moving from the northeast to the southwest. The band itself is getting closer and closer to New Orleans.

So people in New Orleans, this is not necessarily the beginning of the hurricane itself, but in some of these rain bands, some of the heavier rain cells, can have wind gusts to above tropical storm force. So these rain showers need to be taken very seriously, because there are some very heavy downpours in and around these individual cells and those are moving toward New Orleans now, should be in the New Orleans metropolitan area within about 30 to 45 minutes with heavy rains, brief gusty winds, you might even see the sun come out before the cloud shield comes your way. And the cloud is obviously arriving right now, just to the south of the shoreline in Mississippi and Louisiana here, moving toward New Orleans. Here's the forecast as we continue to show those hurricane warnings in effect. Not just for the shoreline of Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi, but also inland hurricane warnings across the inland parishes of southeast Louisiana and the inland counties in south Alabama and south Mississippi.

The current stats, 175-mile-per-hour Hurricane continues to move toward the shoreline, moving right at New Orleans. This is the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center. And this forecast track has not changed an inch, putting the storm near New Orleans tomorrow morning, as a category five 160-mile-per-hour hurricane. It could have, Randi, up to a 25-foot storm surge. That means whatever the level the salt water is right now, take that and add 25 feet to it.

KAYE: Wow.

HUFFINES: If you live 25 feet or below, above sea level. You have got to get high.

KAYE: You sure do. And on top of the hurricane, we have to worry about the tornadoes, as a result.

HUFFINES: Exactly, because to the right of the eye, you normally see the worst weather, and that does include the heaviest storm cells, the heaviest squalls of rain, and some of these rain squalls, not just among the shoreline, but inland as the storm tracks through Alabama and Mississippi, you could see an outbreak of tornadoes in the cells as well. So, we don't just stop watching the storm when it comes ashore, then it could become an inland headache. It could be a hurricane as far north as Tupelo, Mississippi. That's possible -- Randi.

KAYE: All right, Brad, thanks very much.

Stories in headlines now. Hurricane Katrina churns toward the gulf shore, a raging category five storm, a massive coastal evacuation now underway. And FEMA is preparing for what could be catastrophic devastation. We have reporters stationed all along the gulf coast. So stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters for complete coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

Iraq now has its draft constitution. The committee writing it signed off on it today, over the objections of Sunni-Arab negotiators. They called the document illegal and want the United Nations and the Arab league to intervene. Barring that, the document will get an up or down vote in a nationwide referendum October 15.

Palestinian authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is condemning today's suicide bombing in southern Israel. Twenty-one people were wounded in the rush hour attack at a bus station in Beersheba. The bombing has raised pressure on Abbas to crack down on militant groups.

Back to New Orleans. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation as Katrina threatens catastrophic devastation. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is there -- Jeanne. MESERVE: Randi, 4,000 National Guardsmen have been mobilized. FEMA has prepositioned 18 medical disaster assistance teams, also three urban search and rescue teams. But the one thing that really tells you just how dangerous this situation is, the mayor calling for an evacuation, a mandatory evacuation, of the city of New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAGIN: We are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic, but I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious, and it's of the highest nature. And that's we've taken this unprecedented move. The storm is now a Cat 5, a Category 5, as I appreciate it, with sustained winds of 150-miles-an- hour, with wind gusts of 190-miles-per-hour. The storm surge most likely will top our levy system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Everyone who can go should get out now, says the mayor. The mayor said that the city will have the authority to commandeer vehicles to get people out of the city. They also will be providing some transportation to those who can't get out to the Super Dome, where a shelter has been set up, a shelter that he warns will with time become quite uncomfortable. If that reaches capacity, then the city will have the authority to commandeer buildings in the city and turn them also into shelter facilities. You heard the mayor saying just a minute ago, the levies are not likely to last. He has talked about electricity and water also getting knocked out here. In the meantime, people are -- some people, at least, are taking -- paying attention to what's being said and are leaving down. Traffic has become very difficult along some of the evacuation routes. Gas is very hard to come by. Rental cars are impossible to find at this point in time, and flights out of the city now are becoming increasingly difficult. And so some people simply are not going to be able to leave. Amongst those, the tourists, the mayor acknowledges that some people will have to weather this in their downtown hotels. Randi, back to you.

KAYE: And Jeanne, will you be one of those people? Because in a case like this, a lot of viewers wonder, well, in a mandatory evacuation, why are we there? So, tell me where you are in relation to where this storm might come ashore?

MESERVE: Well, I'll be moving my location. Right now we're near one of the evacuation routes, but we expect to go back down closer to the heart of the city. I haven't determined exactly what our location will be. We'll be looking for someplace safe. Let me say, I will not be in violation of that mandatory evacuation order. The mayor did make special provisions for certain kinds of people to stay in the city, the media, amongst them, also people who work for utilities, obviously people who work in fire and rescue and so forth. And people who work in the hotels who will have to provide what services they can to the people who have no choice but to stay in New Orleans this afternoon.

KAYE: Earlier in the day, Jeanne, you had mentioned there were still some people, it is New Orleans, so some people were still sort of partying, I guess, as you put it in your area. But, Curtis Mayfield from the National Hurricane Center has said that there is a potential for a large loss of life here. Do you think that people really understand how deadly this can be?

MESERVE: You know, I think there are some people who just don't get it, who won't acknowledge it. I just had a brief conversation with a couple of guys who are hanging out in a business near here. They said they have every intention of staying here through the night, and through the storm. And they are not that far from Lake Ponchartrain which, of course, is one of the really high risk bodies of water in all of this. So, there are some people who, no, are not taking this to heart. But there are many who are, and the roads and congestion you see on the roads are testimony to that.

KAYE: Well, let's hope more and more of them do. Jeanne Meserve, thank you for the live report.

In advance of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush has already declared a state of emergency for Louisiana. For New Orleans, at six feet below sea level, the threat of a direct hit is chilling. There's the problem, as CNN's John Zarrella reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New Orleans is all about attitude. From its music to its streetcars and riverboats, it oozes charm. It's a city that moves a bit slower, saving its energy to party a little harder. It is also a city that flirts with disaster nearly every hurricane season.

WALTER MEASTRI, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MGMT: It's going to happen. We can't continue to beat the odds. We've beaten the odds for a long long time now.

ZARRELLA: Walter Meastri is the Jefferson Parish emergency manager. Of the 1.3 million people living in metropolitan New Orleans, he is responsible for nearly half a million which, during hurricane season, leaves him with many sleepless nights. Meastri is keenly aware there is little he can do to keep people from falling victim to a natural disaster, or to save his city. The possibilities play out in his mind over and over again.

MEASTRI: I mean, very, very rapidly, within a 10-hour period, you know, the metropolitan New Orleans area is totally devastated. Gone.

ZARRELLA: Several expert studies and computer models show New Orleans even more vulnerable than anyone previously thought. Meastri says levies and floodwalls designed to protect the city from moderately intense hurricanes might be over topped and fail in just such storms.

MEASTRI: The way it's described, we describe it here is, Lake Ponchartrain has now become Lake New Orleans. ZARRELLA: In 1998, Hurricane George brushed New Orleans, going inland to the east in Mississippi. A fairly powerful storm, it was not on the order of Betsy, which in 1965 killed 61 people in New Orleans, flooded the city, and led to the construction of the flood walls, but had it struck, the death toll from George might have been horrific.

MEASTRI: Stop for a second. The greatest disaster that any of us have looked at in the United States was 9/11, 2001. About 3,000 people died. Forty-four thousand if George makes the direct hit on New Orleans.

ZARRELLA: Meastri estimates most of the dead would be people who, for whatever reason, did not or could not evacuate. Left trapped in the city as the water rises. The problem is, population has mushroomed. Evacuation routes are limited.

And New Orleans is like a bowl. The city sits below sea level, on three sides there's water.: The Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi River. Jackson Square, the cathedral and just about everything else in New Orleans would be underwater, 12 to 15 feet of it. In the storm's aftermath, water would sit in the city for an estimated six months. Pumps needed to get the water out would be themselves under water. And it would take up to 120 days to rebuild it. In this worst-case scenario, Meastri's vision is chilling.

MEASTRI: While we're rebuilding the pumps, we're getting everybody who's still in here, and who's alive, out. And we're gathering the casualties, we're gathering the fatalities, and getting them out of here.

ZARRELLA: Every building in the city having been submerged to one degree or another, would have to be structurally analyzed. For months, no drinking water, no sewer system, no electricity. There are ideas, and some plans to save New Orleans from this doomsday vision.

The levies and floodwalls surrounding the city can be raised higher. That would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. Another thought? Wall off a portion of New Orleans. The area behind the barrier would include the government center and French quarter. For now, the only hope is to escape the city. Given the new studies, the evacuation order may come even for moderate hurricanes. It will take 72 hours to get 65 to 70 percent of the people out, if everything goes smoothly.

MEASTRI: This is the one agency in government that not only is allowed to pray, it's demanded. We've got calluses on our knees in this business.

ZARRELLA: Divine intervention good fortune, the whims of nature, whatever it is, it is all that separates this city on the Mississippi from Walter Meastri's nightmare.

John Zarrella, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KAYE: And just under an hour from now, we will be bringing you live remarks from President Bush on the situation with Hurricane Katrina. You can watch those remarks live right here on CNN during "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer. And just after a quick break, we are going to hear from Jim Ballow, who is with the Louisiana's office of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness. We'll get an idea from him exactly what's being done to prepare Louisiana and the city of New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina.

Be right back right after a quick break.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Keep watching CNN, you hurricane headquarters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Thousands of people in New Orleans are boarding up, fleeing the city ahead of Hurricane Katrina. Joining us now on the phone to explain what's being done before this massive storm hits is Jim Ballow with Louisiana's office of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness.

Jim, good to talk to you again.

JIM BALLOW, ASST. CHIEF OF OPERATIONS HSEP: Hello.

KAYE: Let's talk about the plans for the big one, as it's being called there in New Orleans. What role has the office of Homeland Security taken in planning for this?

BALLOW: Well, planning has begun a long time ago with this. With this unfortunate -- anticipation of something as this happening. We've planned (INAUDIBLE), the catastrophic planning and various types of preparatory events and exercises. And what we're doing as we speak now, priority is to respond to parish officials, local elected officials, who have the primary responsibility for the safety of their citizens, and for filling their requests for support, resources and so forth. That's our primary. No. 2 is, assisting evacuation routes with the state police, assisting us, and us them, to move evacuees carefully and flowing well through the interstate and evacuation routes. And then we're going to have on-call missions as needed. And we're trying to preposition commodities, other resources and emergency response materials that we think we may need if the storm maintains its current path.

KAYE: What kinds of things do you think you will need and what can be done about getting them to this area faster?

BALLOW: Well, it's obvious things. You have water, you have food, you have medical supplies, or search and rescue assets to remove people if they're stranded and so forth. These things are anticipated, we have our resources in the state available and prepositioned, near as possible, to respond without becoming a victim themselves. And we also have FEMA. FEMA commodities have been prepositioned in various parts of the state and are being moved as we speak to be in position to assist.

KAYE: What about people who may refuse, even though that might be hard to believe, when a Category 5 hurricane is heading that way, but what about people who refusing to evacuate? Can you do anything about that.

BALLOW: Well, unfortunately we don't have a policeman or soldier per citizen try to compel them to evacuate. So, we do our best to show them to evacuate. If they do not, there are shelters of last resort. Refuges of last resort in various places and these potentially affected area. And those -- or for those who don't want to leave, they have somewhere they can go to ride the storm out. Those places are not very comfortable, they're not necessarily equipped with electricity and food and so forth, but they are a place to be refuge -- to be refuge from the storm. You know, and if they're there, and the storm does hit, it'll be search and rescue efforts conducted in those areas if need be.

KAYE: And as we continue to look at these live pictures on our air of the main highway, Highway I-10 heading north out of the city of New Orleans there, tell us, as we discuss the worst case scenario, most of New Orleans would end up under 15 feet of water, no electricity, no clean water, and sewage for maybe as long as six months. What can you do about that in the aftermath of a storm like this?

BALLOW: Well, things such as that have been discussed, and of course, we hope that doesn't come to pass. But if it does, there are contingencies to drain water from New Orleans, being the bowl shape that it is, there are contingencies to try to relocate businesses and personnel and reestablish the port, reestablish things the best we can. Those plans are extensive and ongoing, a little too in-depth to go into at this point. But there are such plans being discussed and have been discussed before this happened.

KAYE: All right, Jim Ballow, with the Louisiana's office of Homeland Security. You have a big job ahead of you. We wish you the best in your efforts there, in Louisiana.

We're going to take a quick break, and on the other end of this break, we will hear from Brad Huffines with the very latest on Hurricane Katrina as it churns its way through the gulf of Mexico.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Keep watching CNN, you hurricane headquarters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: All bets are off in Mississippi, where casinos have shut down ahead of Hurricane Katrina. Those gambling barges sit right on the water. Coastal residents also have been urged to evacuate. More now from affiliate station WPMI in Biloxi, Mississippi

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEON PETITE, WPMI REPORTER: Tourists came to Biloxi this week looking to gamble, but they're not willing to bet on a hurricane. Folks in Gulf Port and Biloxi are cashing in their chips and getting out of town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We leaving. We packing up and leaving out of here tonight or in the morning, right Lis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, in the morning at 11:00.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We done been through Camille, so we not going through another one.

PETITE: For people who live and work in Biloxi, the stakes are much higher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm nervous. I would like to keep -- like, skip across, just keep going. Because of the fact this is my job, you know, and I've almost been here for two years. And, you know, my insurance is fixing to kick in in about a week, and I do not want it to blow the boat away. I don't want anybody -- no casinos getting blown away, because these are people's jobs.

PETITE: Where the storm will make landfall remains a crap shoot. The only sure bet is to board up and leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are in full preparation. We're preparing for the worst, and of course, hoping for the best. But we're starting to get a lot of the things out of our fort, the building in front of our boat, get everything thing off the floor. We're making arrangements to get all of our cash off the boat before we close.

PETITE: The last major hurricane to directly hit this portion of Mississippi was nearly 20 years ago. Hurricane Elaine, a Category 3 storm, hit Biloxi in September of 1985. In

Biloxi, Leon Petite, NBC 15 News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: For the latest on Hurricane Katrina, we check back in with CNN meteorologist Brad Huffines -- Brad.

HUFFINES: Randi, we have a very strong storm system right now. Let me show you what's happening right now on Doppler Radar. Presently, Doppler Radar showing this area of rain showers now moving into southeast Mississippi. As this area of rain continues to move in, some pretty heavy downpours are right now falling in and around south New Orleans metropolitan area, especially along some of the outer banks. I should say the islands toward Grand Isle, toward Port Sulfur, pretty good downpours. This is really the first rain band that decided to come ashore. And as this rain band continues to move on in, we are seeing some pretty good wind gusts out of these individual cells.

Now, don't forget we've been talking about a 20, 25-foot storm surge in or around New Orleans. As the storm continues its current track, we could see a storm surge of up to 10 to 15 feet across the coastline of southern Mississippi. Even into southern Alabama, we have a potential storm surge of up to 10 feet, especially up through Mobile Bay. So, again, we have a press conference coming up in just a few minutes. I'm not sure if we're carrying it here on CNN, but Emergency Management officials are about to announce in Mobile -- in Mobile, what residents there need to do because of the approaching storm coming toward south Alabama, south Mississippi as well as sections of southeast Louisiana.

Here's the latest on the storm as it continues to move northwest, or west-northwest at around 12-miles-an-hour. The storm continues to pack winds of 175-miles-an-hour. And that storm continues now to blow clouds and heavy rain showers down along especially southern portions of Louisiana, right now.

Latest inland, tropical hurricane warnings. Inland, I should say, inland warning, remember, traditionally we've had hurricane warnings along the shoreline, but this does include inland warnings for parts of south Alabama, including Mobile, including southern sections of Mississippi also as far west as near Morgan City, Louisiana, toward New Orleans, inland hurricane warning, that means that hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours in these counties that you see in red. Again, it does include the inland counties in south Alabama, in south Mississippi, and also southeastern sections of Louisiana.

With 175-mile-an-hour winds from the latest National Hurricane Center advisory, this storm is still moving toward the west-northwest. Expect it to take that northwest eventually, northerly turn toward New Orleans. And so far this storm has been right on forecast for the past 36 hours or so. So this storm, there's no real reason for us to expect that the storm will veer. Although it's possible the cone of uncertainty means that the center of the storm could possibly hit anywhere within this red zone.

What, of course, what we hope for is the storm continues to go a little bit farther west, move ashore somewhere near Homel (ph), Louisiana, not that we wish ill upon anybody west of New Orleans, but if the storm hits around this part of the shoreline, then New Orleans gets a glancing blow and not this direct hit that is still forecast.

And Randi, that's why we're worrying about the devastation in New Orleans. We're still hoping for a glancing blow. But again, as we say in Emergency Management, you pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.

KAYE: Absolutely, and we also have to prepare for flooding which will be a result of the hurricane. We spend so much time talking about the winds, but those floodwaters will also be a real problem.

HUFFINES: Yeah, you need to run from the water and hide from the wind, that's what the weather service says. KAYE: And that's what you're telling us today.

HUFFINES: Exactly.

KAYE: Because, actually, just a few inches of water -- surging water can actually take a person down.

HUFFINES: Right. And we're talking about storm surge flooding of up to 25 feet in the New Orleans metropolitan area. That's again, you look at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and add 25 feet to that, and that's why they're asking folks who have to be locked into New Orleans to get to third floor or higher if you have to stay.

KAYE: OK, we'll leave it there. Brad Huffines thanks very much. "Late Edition" is next with the latest on Hurricane Katrina.

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