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Hurricane Katrina Lashes the Gulf Coast

Aired August 28, 2005 - 19:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: As Hurricane Katrina moves closer to the Gulf Coast, is there enough time for those in danger to find shelter?

From the CNN Center in Atlanta I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We continue with our coverage of Hurricane Katrina. A massive storm that the mayor of New Orleans describes as a quote, "Once in a lifetime event."

Katrina remains a Category 5 hurricane at this hour with top winds registering at about 165 miles per hour. One of the greatest fears for the low lying city of New Orleans will be the storm surge, which forecasters predict could reach 28 feet.

With the potential for so much wind and rain, the director of the National Hurricane Center tells CNN that Katrina has the potential for what he called a large loss of life.

For the latest on Hurricane Katrina, let's join meteorologist Jacqui Jeras who is in the weather center right now with the latest coordinates on Katrina. Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Fredricka, we're kind of estimating right now, to give you a better idea of where the storm is, we're awaiting that next advisory from the National Hurricane Center which will be at the top of next hour but our computer system is estimating that it is about 190 miles away from New Orleans at this time. It is moving to the north and west around 13 miles per hour and those outer bands have been hitting southern parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida throughout much of our afternoon hours now.

And those are starting to pick up in intensity and they are becoming much more widespread throughout the area. The maximum winds in the northeastern quadrant of the storm, 165 miles per hour but gusts will be common in this area between 20 and 40 miles an hour. We're expecting tropical storm force winds to be arriving really any time along the Gulf Coast so we'll continue to check those for you and as soon as we start to see that, we'll bring that new information to you.

We do want to show you new product. This is coming in from our Titan system and this is going to estimate power outages from this storm and here is your time clock right up here. This is Eastern Time, by the way. I know you guys are Central but we've got to switch our computer system over for it and we'll do that so 9 o'clock Eastern Time you can see some of these yellows beginning to pop up. That already spreads into the New Orleans area. That's some scattered power outages which will be possible already later on this evening.

We head into the overnight hours and it becomes a little bit more widespread. Some of these dark areas down here and way down towards the coast. This is extreme, an extensive power outages. As we head towards dawn, about six o'clock tomorrow morning, you can see that moves almost all the way up to the Mississippi state line and see how it starts spreading out also eastward down to Gulfport into Biloxi and expecting some scattered outages by then. By 12 noon Eastern Time, so 11 o'clock Central tomorrow, we will see widespread power outages in this area. Also, you can see some of these outer bands where they're forecasting some of those scattered power outages as well and that is getting even closer towards the Jackson area by 12 noon tomorrow. So we are going to start to see some very significant changes, we think, over the next 12 hours or so.

The forecast track still bringing it right on the money, unfortunately, into the Big Easy and the one other thing I want to point out to you in this forecast track map that there is still some margin of error. It could go a little to the east, it could go a little to the west of New Orleans and that could make a big difference here on where the worst of the damage is going to be.

Either way, I think everybody who lives in this region along the Gulf Coast will see very devastating conditions and could see at least tropical storm force winds out 400 miles from the center of the storm. The hurricane force winds go out 100 miles on each side, so that's 200 miles from edge to edge of this storm where we'll see winds of at least 74 plus miles per hour.

It will move inland, it will weaken, but looks still a four way up here and then back to tropical storm but it will be a slight problem in the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys.


WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui Jeras, thanks so much.

Well, never before has a Category 5 storm scored a direct hit on New Orleans. CNN's John Zarrella is live outside the Superdome where thousands of people will be riding out the storm. Our affiliate KCRC is helping us bring this live shot and moments ago, John, you had almost 2,000 people who were lined up outside. They are all in now?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they moved a lot of them in to get out of the rain and the squalls that have come so all of that, and the lines that we saw back here are gone.

But yeah, there are at least 10,000 inside, another 2,000 inside. Over here is where a lot of the people are going. You see some people who have just arrived still coming and getting in line over there and up on time here you can see up on the catwalk still the line is moving and people are moving pretty good now.

Hey, Robert, how long you been in line?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About an hour and a half.

ZARRELLA: Hour and a half. Why'd you decide to come here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (unintelligible)

ZARRELLA: No way to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (unintelligible) and the only place to take refuge is the Superdome.

ZARRELLA: You feel safe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Safe enough. If it's the Superdome, it's the super home.

ZARRELLA: Better than the alternative, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better than the alternative of being sucked up by Katrina.

ZARRELLA: Thanks. Good luck. You take care.

So you heard it, Superdome, super home. That's what it's going to be for these people at least through Tuesday. That's apparently the plan that they're not going to be able to get out before Tuesday and quite frankly, a lot of that is going to depend on the weather and how much water there is here. The reality is that they expect that the first floor, the field level, is going to be underwater, perhaps several feet of it. All of the people are going to be up in the stands and hunkered down in the stands for the next couple of hours.

Look right behind me here you can see a lady in a wheelchair waiting to go upstairs. And we have seen a lot of people arriving at the bus station bus stop periodically because what the city did was they had designated pick up points for the city buses to go for people who needed to come to the Superdome. Remember, they have rehearsed this, tabletop exercises, computer modeling of the worst case scenario, what would happen, what they need to do to save as many people as they can that can't get out of the city and there are upwards of 100,000 people who do not have the wherewithal, the ability to leave the city so many of them, again, are here.

And you see another line of people down the street there who are making their way here just having been dropped off, I believe, by another bus down at the other end of the Superdome entrance here so again, Fredricka, we're looking at at least 12,000 people here and it took a long time to get them in as we've been saying, because authorities had to go through all the belongings slowly, checking for things like firearms and alcohol, which they did find and have confiscated.


WHITFIELD: And John, your interview with Robert, is that kind of indicative of the attitude you're finding out there? He's calling the Superdome now the super home. He is taking it all in stride. Is that how most folks out there are doing it?

ZARELLA: Yeah, I'm quite clear that's their attitude right now. What it's going to be like a couple days from now, any evacuees who are stuck in a place of refuge for any length of time, particularly if the power goes out and it's hot, you know, nerves get frayed, tempers start to flare, they want to get out and the National Guard and the police here are not going to be able to let them out because there may not be anywhere for them physically to go. There may not be anything left for them to go home to in reality.

WHITFIELD: Wow. It's remarkable. Okay, as you say, maybe at least 12,000 people in the Superdome who will be riding out this storm and giving you busloads people more behind you making your way in. There's no telling just what the capacity might end up being.

John Zarrella at the Superdome in New Orleans, thanks so much.

Straight ahead, we'll check in with Max Mayfield at the National Hurricane Center for the latest on Hurricane Katrina's progress.


WHITFIELD: For an update now on the path of Hurricane Katrina, let's head to the National Hurricane Center in Miami where we found the director, Max Mayfield. Thanks so much for sticking around with us, Max. What is the latest on where this storm is and if its path in anyway has changed from the last time we talked?

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Fredricka, it may wobble a little bit to the east or the west but overall it is moving northwest at about 13 miles an hour. We are very confident it is going to turn up more towards the north during the night and tomorrow and the rain bands are already spreading over portions of the hurricane warning area that you can see right here. There is some tropical storm force winds within those bands. Conditions will continue to deteriorate tonight and it's going to be a long, rough night in southeast Louisiana and an even rougher day tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: But at the same time, as you underscored earlier, it's the wind and the rain that is most severe, just east of the eye wall. Why is that, and if it is indeed the case, how much more significantly powerful are we talking than the western portion of the storm?

MAYFIELD: Well, the eastern side will likely have the strongest winds. That's likely where those 165 mile per hour winds will be and we're saying we should expect some fluctuations but even if it weakens a little bit, we're still talking Category 4 and a Category 5 here. So it's very, very significant no matter what happens here in the next 12 hours or so.

Those winds are really important in regard to the storm surge. And I know there has been a tremendous amount of focus in New Orleans as there certainly should have been here just southeast of Lake Pontchartrain, but some of the highest storm surge values will likely be in the less populated areas there on the Mississippi coast. We don't want to talk about those folks. I hear that criticism after many hurricanes. Some of the less populated cities don't feel like they get proper coverage here so we want to be sure that people know that we're talking about storm surge values similar to Hurricane Camille back in 1969 on the Mississippi coast and very significant storm surge values even east along the Alabama coast in the Florida Panhandle.

WHITFIELD: All right. Max Mayfield, thanks so much. We'll be checking in with you as well as at the top of the hour we'll be getting the latest advisory from your center, the National Hurricane Center.

MAYFIELD: Appreciate it.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much.

Well, let's head on to Biloxi, Mississippi as Max was explaining, that is an area that could be experiencing some storm surge of at least 10 feet. Rob Marciano is there. The storm surges could bring about just as much damage as any kind of significant winds could to other areas. Right, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's certainly the case and it was the storm surge that killed the most people back in the granddaddy of them all in this part of the world, Hurricane Camille back in 1969 so they certainly don't want a repeat performance of that and there have been mandatory evacuation orders put in place that if you don't leave they'll force you to leave or make you sign a release form that basically takes the responsibility off them and helps them identify your body if that should be the case later on today and tomorrow.

If you are hanging around here, here are some tips for hurricanes and they go for a lot of storms as well.

First of all, go to a structure, obviously a mobile home not a good idea, go to a structure without windows. If you have windows, go into a center area that doesn't have windows because 100 mile an hour winds will start to break windows. No need to tape them or crack the window, that's a myth, that's not going to help anything.

And don't go outside during the eye of the storm. If the eye happened to pass right over you, and right now it looks like it's going to go over New Orleans, don't go outside when it gets calm because often the worst part of the storm is back side of the eye as that comes through.

And floodwaters also can often be contaminated, so you don't want to be playing around and certainly not drinking any floodwaters either.

Right now, timing of landfall is between four and seven tomorrow from the mouth of the Mississippi River, eventually into New Orleans at seven to 10 a.m. and then shortly after that, if it remains on its current track and position.

As far as hurricanes that have come through this area, you mentioned Camille back in 1969. After that it was Elena in 1985 and 1998 was George, but none of them were as big or as strong as this storm and if it wobbles at all to the right, Fredricka, we'll be in a world of hurt.

Here's a look at the ocean. It is very calm right now, although you can hear rumbles of thunder off in the distance. Another squall lime is about to head through so we'll look for the conditions to start to go downhill and these waves start to get bigger. Obviously, if we're looking at a 10, 15 maybe even 20 foot storm surge, this is pretty much right at my ankles. So this is not going to be a good place to be come tomorrow. We expect to move out later on tonight. A curfew has been enforced for those people who are hanging around for whatever reason at 9:00 p.m. and most folks will be cleared off the beach at that.

Big time - a lot of casinos here, Fredricka. That's a huge issue and most all of the casinos have to be floating by law so it's quite possible that some of them could actually break off from their moorings and be floating around here for the next couple days, so folks are worried about that also.

Another squall about to come through, Fredricka, I'll toss it back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Rob Marciano. It seems almost certain that some of those floating casinos would break away from their moorings and another reason folks should not be playing around those floodwaters after the fact, because especially in those coastal regions you're talking about a lot of snakes and perhaps even a lot of gators that may be floating around in that floodwater as well.

We'll have more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina right after this.


WHITFIELD: From his Texas ranch today, President Bush commented on the massive storm approaching the Gulf Coast. Mr. Bush took part in a video conference call with state and federal emergency officials to assess preparations for the storm and its potential aftermath.

He also urged anyone in the potential path of Hurricane Katrina to move to safer areas.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT (video clip): Hurricane Katrina is now designated a Category 5 hurricane. We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials.

WHITFIELD: And after Katrina makes landfall, it could take weeks for many places to get their power and water services restored. FEMA and other emergency teams are standing by, ready to spring into action to help hurricane victims.

Our Gary Nurenberg joins us live now from the FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC. Gary?


By making emergency declarations early for the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the administration freed up federal money to help those states and help localities that are spending big money to prepare for this hurricane.

At a national video conference at agencies primarily responsible for the weather, the president this afternoon underscored that federal commitment to states.

BUSH (video clip): I want to assure the folks at the state level that we're fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm to help you deal with the - with the loss of property and we pray for no loss of life.

NURENBERG: Only half an hour before the president made those remarks, the director of FEMA was asked whether it is reasonable to think there will be no fatalities. Michael Brown responded that is not a reasonable expectation.

MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: We take the storm very seriously. A hundred seventy five mile an hour winds, last report I saw about 15 minutes ago. Most facilities, unless they are specifically designed for a Category 5 hurricane will not survive 175 mile an hour winds.

NURENBERG: That is the message that has been coming out of FEMA for days, even if you are a hurricane veteran and think you are ready, you are probably not. Fredricka?

WHITIFIELD: All right. Very serious warning to take note of. Gary Nurenberg at FEMA headquarters. Thank you.

While south Louisiana and 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 being 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 on its deadly rampage. Thousands of people were left homeless.

Well, as the Gulf Coast prepares for the worst, aid efforts continue in Florida after Katrina passed across that state on Thursday as a Category 1. Reporter Gary Nelson of CNN affiliate WFOR has an update from Miami.


GARY NELSON, WFOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the staff of life, ice and water and two days after Katrina, here comes the National Guard trying to meet a need of biblical proportions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as the news got out and information got out that we were here issuing supplies, we've had a steady line probably for two and half miles long.

NELSON: Two and a half miles of misery. Two by two the cars come, thousands of those Katrina has left needy. And amid such great need, only two ice and water distribution centers in all the county.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I think it's pretty good. At least we have this one here. I think these guys are doing a great job.

NELSON: It beats nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It beats nothing, that's for sure.

NELSON: While some wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, others were complaining about a need unmet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they need to do is have different outlets people can go at different spots in the city so that they don't have to go across town. I mean, at least four or five spots. At least.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is why don't they have more distribution centers set up instead of waiting in these lines and cars overheating.

NELSON: And imagine the people who don't have a car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. It's just horrible.

NELSON: And lots of folks with cars couldn't get water here unless they have a truck or SUV the foul water is too high.

There Carlos Alvarez (ph) showed up, handed out some ice and water and said he feels your pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can certainly empathize. I don't have electricity but as power comes on we'll see the lines diminish.

NELSON: But at the moment the lines remain long, the misery, the need, remains real.


WHITIFIELD: And many viewers are answering our call for pictures showing the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Bill Fant sends us this picture of boats being toss around at a marina in Coconut Grove, Florida.

From Bruce Gilling, we get a view from the Miami Bridge. You can add to our hurricane coverage by sending us your stories, video, and pictures. Just log on to Please include your name, location and phone number but do not put yourself in harm's way to get any of these images.

Straight ahead, an update on how those along the Gulf Coast are reacting to Hurricane Katrina. You are watching CNN LIVE SUNDAY.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Here is a quick look at what is happening now in the news. After several delays, Iraqis - Constitutional Committee has delivered a final draft constitution to Iraq's National Assembly. Sunni negotiators still object to key provisions but Iraqis will vote on the charter in a referendum dated for October 15th.

A suicide bomber blew himself up today at a bus station in southern Israel. Twenty one people were injured, two of them seriously. Two Palestinian militant groups have claimed responsibility. It is the first suicide attack since Israel withdrew Jewish settlers from Gaza and the West Bank.

And if you were looking for some good news about the gas prices, well, you're going to have to keep looking, because nationwide today the price at the pump is the highest ever again, the fourth record high this year.

Coast to coast average, $2.63. Prices may level off a bit over the Labor Day weekend but don't count on a significant plunge.

On now to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Gary Tuchman is in Gulfport, Mississippi, an area that is likely in the path of Hurricane Katrina as it continues to encroach on the Gulf Coast, and Gary what are you seeing and experiencing now?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, we are experiencing something that I never had in the hurricanes I have covered over the years. This is a hotel swimming pool. Inside the swimming pool, three bottle nosed dolphins. They have been brought here for their safety. Two miles behind us is the beach. There is an outdoor aquarium. It was determined these dolphins were in peril staying at the aquarium, so they took this pool, treated it with saltwater, gave it some other special treatments, and now these three dolphins, one male and two females, will be swimming in this pool and riding out this hurricane.

This is the very same area that got hit hard by Hurricane Camille in 1969 and on the path to get hit by a Category 5 once again.

With us is Moby Salangi (ph). He is the president of the Marine Life Oceanarium, two miles down the street here. It is amazing watching this. Fifteen minutes ago they came in on stretchers, each of these dolphins, dumped in the pool. Is this a good place for them to be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sure is. I think it is better than what they would experience when the hurricane comes in.

TUCHMAN: Tell me why this is safe for them, this special tank you have at the oceanarium down the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we are expecting a 20 foot tide and then Hurricane Camille, that wiped out our aquarium and with the news stories that we are hearing, they are better off here, five miles away from the aquarium.

TUCHMAN: You were telling us that your oceanarium during Hurricane Camille was almost destroyed except for two huge tanks which these dolphins were in, but then the determination was that this was a safer place. Have you ever done this before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes we have. In Elena we brought them here. It was a Category 4 and it had a direct hit for Gulfport and so we used the swimming pool and it is pretty safe.

TUCHMAN: Six dolphins total. Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. We have three at the Holiday Inn and three at the Best Western and they're getting a free treat.

TUCHMAN: Getting a free treat, there's no question. But I presume you are very worried about them because you also have sea lions and seals which were moved to another location.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. We put them in cages, they can stay out of the water. They are in a warehouse. We have moved our birds out, sent them out eastwards, so we have protected ourselves as best as we can.

TUCHMAN: Dr. Salangi (ph), thank you very much for talking with us.


TUCHMAN: We want to tell you about Gulfport here. The airport is closed. People have been evacuating very orderly. They are very concerned here. As we said, there are 130 people who were killed just in this area during Hurricane Camille back in 1969. More than 250 total. Those were 180 mile per hour sustained winds, this right now 165. But 165, 180, it will likely cause tremendous damage and the people here are very aware of it. Most of them are gone. The people who are at this particular hotel are people who are seeking shelter who have nowhere else to go.

So for the dolphins I say goodbye. Back to you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: I am still fascinated about the dolphins and the special refuge made for them. What kind of precautions or measures had to be taken to change over the water. Are they in saltwater? They can't possibly be in chlorinated water, can they?

TUCHMAN: I don't know how well you can see this but I can pick it up, and taste it tell you unequivocally this is salt water now. WHITIFIELD: Wow!

TUCHMAN: They treat it with saltwater. There is still some chlorine in it because I can taste that, too, but we are told this is completely safe for these dolphins and every once in a while they come up and they look at us and they look a little curious and they told me before, Dr. Salangi, that if we want to we can jump in the pool and swim with them. So not only can we swim with them, tourists can have fun, but he says it is good for these dolphins who are a little scared not to have human contact.

He wants to go in so maybe later we'll take a little swim.

WHITFIELD: Oh that's nice. Gary Tuchman, I guess you figure if it's good enough for the dolphins, it's good enough for you to taste, huh? All right. Thanks so much.

From Gulfport, Mississippi and special precautions, or measures, being taken for those dolphins and other marine life. Jacqui Jeras is in the Weather Center where we are just under 30 minutes away from the next advisory, right?

JERAS: That's right. We're anxiously awaiting that and as soon as we get that information, of course, we will bring that in to you. We saw Gary Tuchman there in Gulfport and so we're going to check in on the conditions because there are so thunderstorms offshore. Now these are moving this-a-way.

There we go. We put it into motion, you see they are not heading towards there exactly but it's part of the outer bands, so the whole area, the individual storms pushing this way but the whole area is eventually going to be pushing on through here, so watch for thunderstorms to be arriving maybe in an hour or so. Winds are 14 miles per hour. We are getting some gusts around 24 miles per hour around Gulfport.

Expecting gusts to 20 to 24 very easily throughout this area as those thunderstorms continue to pull onshore. There you can see the eye, here's the eye wall, the worst part of the storm and then you can see these outer bands continue to feed on through.

Dave Hennin (ph) putting a track on it for us away from New Orleans, about 173 miles, we'll get more specifics from the Hurricane Center at the top of the hour. The last advisory had winds of 165 miles per hour. That was the maximum sustained winds with a few gusts.

If it stays on the current track, it looks like it's going to take just over 14 hours for it to get to New Orleans and we're looking at early tomorrow morning likely making it's way on the coast and the late morning to early afternoon when we see this think blow through the Big Easy.

There you can see the satellite depiction, just a huge storm. About 450 miles, approximately, wall to wall, where the tropical storm force winds. The hurricane force winds about 200 miles across, that's about 100 miles on either side of the storm.

We want to show you computer animation, we just got this in now and imagine yourself, you're looking this way. You're standing near New Orleans, there's the Gulf of Mexico and watch how the sky conditions change as we head through the night for tonight. There you can see a lot of lightning strikes out in the distance, the waves beginning to kick up. The rain is going to be making its way onshore and become steadier through the overnight earlier tomorrow morning. This is 7:00 Central Time, 8:00 Eastern Time. And there you can see that we are pushing this onshore by then and then heading towards New Orleans late in the morning, continuing through the afternoon hours and it's going to take several hours, we think, for the hurricane force winds to move out of the area. And it'll take a number of hours beyond that for the tropical storm force winds to begin to blow out. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui Jeras in the Weather Center. Thanks so much. Well, very far east of New Orleans, and even further east from Gulf Shores, Mississippi is Biloxi, Mississippi, which is also one of those gulf port towns in the path of Hurricane Katrina, and Sergeant Jackie Rhodes with the Biloxi police department is with us there on the beach and we heard, sergeant a bit earlier from our Rob Marciano there on the beach reporting that people are being told if they are going to stay and ignore the mandatory evacuation, they have to sign releases that they are going to be there at their own risk.

About how many folks have you had to get those kinds of releases signed by?

SGT. JACKIE RHODES, BILOXI P.D.: Actually, we are pleasantly surprised that we haven't had to do that with a whole lot of people at all. Most of the people are realizing this is an extremely, extremely dangerous storm and they need to get out of town so we haven't had that problem at all so far and we're very pleased with that.

WHITFIELD: Very good. So we saw a little bit earlier there were some people who were hanging out on the beach who seemed to be enjoying the surf because I guess it is deceivingly rather calm right now. How concerned are you about the few people like that?

RHODES: We're extremely concerned. In fact, there will be a curfew in all of Harrison County, including the city of Biloxi starting at 9 p.m. Central Standard Time tonight. So after 9:00 p.m., anyone that we find on the street that is not authorized to be there is subject to arrest, so that won't be a problem much longer. We'll be clearing everybody off the beaches and out of harm's way.

WHITFIELD: What are your greatest concerns and worries at this juncture just a few hours away from landfall of the eye wall?

RHODES: Our biggest concern is people will not take this storm seriously. We keep saying it over and over again and we appreciate you guys putting the information out how serious this storm is. This is more powerful than Camille. Camille was the last major storm on the Gulf Coast. WHITFIELD: Were you around for Camille in '69?

RHODES: I actually was in Florida for Camille and we got quite a bit of it in Florida, also and we have a tendency to forget when something doesn't happen so if I can say anything to everybody, let's don't be nonchalant. Let's take this storm very seriously. If you haven't already evacuated and you're in a low-lying area, you need to leave because once the storm hits, you won't be able to leave, we won't be able to get to you to help you leave.

WHITFIELD: Well, does it take you aback that there would be an awful lot of people complacent given this has been a rather active hurricane season this year and we're coming off the heels of a very active hurricane season last year.

RHODES: That's true, so as I said, we haven't had a whole lot of people taking it nonchalant. Most people are taking it seriously. They realize the extent - it's already been a killer when it hit South Florida and this is its second landfall and it was only a Category 1 that hit South Florida. It is a Category 5 now. That's a very serious storm.

WHITFIELD: It is indeed. Sgt. Jackie Rhodes in Biloxi, Mississippi, with the police department. Thanks so much for taking the time out and be safe as you continue to ride out the storm, too.

RHODES: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much.

All right, let's head far west now, from Biloxi, Mississippi and make our way to New Orleans, Louisiana, which is expected to be possibly ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. Our David Mattingly is there. You have been making your way throughout the city from the French Quarter and just outside of it, where are you right now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, you can probably hear by the noise of the partying and the music I am in the middle of Bourbon Street at the last bar that is remaining open and the daiquiris are flowing, the pizza is being sold at a rapid pace, people here, most of them tourists, believe this will be probably the last cold drink and the last hot meal they have for quite some time.

Again, most of these people are tourists so they have hotels to go to. They just felt like they weren't taking a chance by coming here tonight. Curfew will go into effect shortly, so this place will close and Bourbon Street will be uncharacteristically dark on a Sunday night here in the French Quarter.

I had a brief conversation with the press secretary of the New Orleans mayor's office and she tells me that the evacuations went better than they expected. She wasn't able to characterize it any further with any percentages of people that they believe got out. She said that they were very happy with the way the evacuation passed (ph) the rest. And everyone now, even the people that sounded like they were having such a good time there in the background, they are very mindful of what is coming this way. All of them have already made contingency plans to go back to their hotels, to hunker down as much as they possibly can. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Well, David, as you talk to a lot of those people there on Bourbon Street, are any of them expressing to you that they have plans to make it over across town to the Superdome where already at least 12,000 people have signed up and made their way inside for shelter?

MATTINGLY: Well, the mayor did make exceptions for hotels being allowed to stay open and for the tourists who are stranded so the tourists that I've been speaking to, they've all got hotel rooms. Quite a few local residents that live here in the Quarter that I've run into have also made arrangements at local hotels. They did this days in advance thinking that something bad might be coming along to disrupt their lifestyle here and they were probably making a pretty good decision by getting a hotel room.

But I'm walking down the street right now as we speak and I am looking up these old buildings. If we have as much floodwater as they say they will I have to wonder how long this infamous party stop in the French Quarter will be in the dark and I also have to wonder how some of these old buildings might survive. This is a very old area, some of these buildings dating back to the 1700s.

How could they possibly survive a catastrophic flood the likes of which they have been discussing for days now?

WHITFIELD: Yeah well that was going to be my follow up question about some of those hotels that have received the okay from the mayor's office to stay open. Many of them are only three or four stories high. I would imagine, perhaps, the hotels that are a little bit taller might be better places for some of these folks to stay just because of what's likely to be the storm surges of up to 28 feet, David.

MATTINGLY: I don't see a lot of activity in the smaller hotels here in the French Quarter. A lot of them are completely dark. If there is a light on then I looked in and I didn't see anybody inside, so it's possible the smaller hotels, the buildings that would not fair well in flood have decided to shut down and people decided to move out.

I have been through the lobbies of some of the major hotels here, talking with some people. They are from all over the place, California, Philadelphia, telling me that they feel confident that they will be safe while they are here, but one question in their mind is if the flood does come in, how long are they going to be stranded here?


MATTINGLY: Their concerns are for days from now when the food might start running out and patience might start running out so everybody now thinking ahead particularly - I don't know if you can hear the rain just pounding on my hood here but it's really coming down now in the French Quarter, reminding everybody of what's coming along.

WHITFIELD: All right. David Mattingly, thanks so much and it might be daybreak before the outer bands of the eye wall make their way across New Orleans. Thanks so much. More of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina right after this.


WHITFIELD: People along the central Gulf Coast are bracing for a catastrophic blow from Hurricane Katrina and the Category 5 storm's winds have decreased slightly, just by about 10 miles per hour, to 165 miles an hour but Katrina is still the most powerful storm to threaten the Gulf in decades.

In New Orleans, a city that stands largely below sea level, a mandatory evacuation order is in effect, but time is running out for people to escape ahead of Katrina's arrival.

President Bush is urging people to get out of the storm's path. He has already declared Louisiana and Mississippi federal disaster areas.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already dispatched aid teams to Louisiana and Mississippi. FEMA has also delivered some supplies to the storm's expected path. With me now from Washington to talk more about FEMA's planned relief efforts is Patrick Rhode, he's the deputy director of FEMA. Good to see you.

PATRICK RHODE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FEMA: Good to see you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: You all knew that this storm was going to be serious and potentially devastating, already putting some of your personnel in place. In what capacity do you have folks in place and what will they be able to on the onset?

RHODE: Well, Fredricka, we have an awful lot of people all over the South right now, particularly in those areas that we're going to be most impacted. We have teams right now as we sit here, we have teams right now that are with us in Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, those are urban search and rescue teams, those are disaster medical assistance teams, those are all sorts of teams prepared to deliver those life-sustaining commodities that we know the residents who are going to be the most impacted are going to need the most.

WHITFIELD: What are some of those life-sustaining commodities you're talking about?

RHODE: Some of the commodities we're talking about are going to be the cots, the blankets, the water, the ice, the meals ready to eat, basically anything that you can think of. Some of the pharmaceuticals, some of the medical supplies, that's why it's so important right now that we have our teams in position. We basically have pre-positioned to the point that where we have leaned forward about as much as we possibly can ahead of this storm and now the trick is going to be to make sure that all of our own people are safe through the evening hours so the beginning first thing tomorrow morning or as soon as the storm actually lifts all of the impacted areas that we can begin that critical distribution.

WHITFIELD: Well, likely we talk about the kinds of expected storm surge and potential wind damage in these gulf shore areas. Is FEMA making or taking into account the potential for having to set up trailers or temporary housing for a number of these people?

RHODE: We are looking at that. That is clearly going to be an issue. We do believe that given the size of this storm and given some of our experiences last year through the four devastating hurricanes that we saw within Florida that housing is going to be a very critical issue and it's one that we have a task force working on right now. It's one that we work on with all of our federal partners.

I might add that FEMA coordinates the entire federal family's efforts as I know you know and within those efforts we also have Housing and Urban Development, we have the Department of Transportation, Department of Energy and a lot of resources that we bring to the table for housing and for other related issues that we believe are going to be affecting the people through this storm.

WHITIFIELD: It's expected that power will be out, phone lines will be down, people will have a difficult time trying to communicate with one another, let alone try to get information about where some of the FEMA aide might be located, so is there anything or any way that you're conveying that to people right now since they know where to go or how to call for help when the time comes?

RHODE: We are getting ready to do just that, Fredricka. We hesitate to do that just now because we don't want to add expectations within any areas where perhaps the storm will have limited damage, however, it is very important for us to get out our message and that's why we're going to be working with you and many of the other media outlets to ensure that we are getting out that message properly.

We are going to be working through our state and local partners, we're going to be working all throughout the South, you're going to be seeing and hearing an awful lot of FEMA and the federal family at President Bush's urging and I might add to your listeners, too, if I could, Fredricka. I believe you mentioned that Louisiana and Mississippi are operating under emergency declarations.

We also have added Alabama this evening under that emergency declaration and it's through those efforts, through the efforts coming from President Bush, coming also from all of us on behalf of FEMA and the federal family whereby we fully intend to notify the public of all the programs that they may be eligible for and certainly some of the life-sustaining measures that we hope we can all collectively provide.

WHITFIELD: Patrick Rhode of FEMA, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it. RHODE: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And when we come back we'll take you to a small Louisiana barrier island and talk to the people there who remember what it's like to be hit by a big hurricane.


WHITFIELD: Betsy is a hurricane that people still speak of in hushed voices. On September 9th, 40 years ago, Betsy came ashore as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 miles per hour. As CNN's Peter Viles reports, the storm destroyed nearly every building on the state's only barrier island, Grand Isle.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here is a quiet old Cajun fishing village where the fish really are jumping, where Bayou Lafouse (ph) spills into the Gulf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bayou Lafouse is in this area here.

VILES: It's the kind of place where you can see the mayor without an appointment, where men carry knives because you never know when you're going to need to shuck an oyster.

UNIDENTIFIED: Now there's a live oyster! Right out of the water! Fresh out of the water!

VILES: It's a place where old men like to gossip.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We put date and place (ph) to shame on this island. They don't have nothing on us.

VILES: And like to hold on to memories of simpler days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We weren't raised with electric lights. Kerosene lamps. Candles. We used to - when you wanted to go eat you'd go right back down the street from where we standing and I wonder if I can throw a cast net and catch a mullets (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we were kids, someone, a young couple would get married in the neighborhood. Everybody grab a hammer and handful of nails and go build them a house. And they'd have a house to sleep in that night.

VILES: Even today old timers will study the birds and the oak trees that their grandfathers planted for signs of a coming storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the trees got acorns, there's no hurricane. If it ain't got no acorns, then you got a hurricane.

VILES: And what have you got on the trees right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got leaves, no acorns. VILES: The defining moment in the town's history was Hurricane Betsy in 1965, with winds of more than 125 miles an hour, it blew away 90 percent of the town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one can explain what Betsy was like unless you were here.

VILES: The mayor was seven. His father's restaurant disappeared, was later found 15 miles away.

MAYOR DAVID CAMARDELLE, GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA: I remember asking my daddy when he was 37 years old, Betsy, and I was seven and I looked up at him like that and said, Dad, what we going to do? And we said we 're going to start over.

VILES: The whole town started over, knowing someday a storm could wipe it off the map.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sooner or later, I don't know when, but this island will go back to sea.

VILES: These two aren't going anywhere yet. If forced to evacuate they will, but they'll be back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can live off this land. I don't need air conditioning, I don't need - I can live hear as long as there's a grain of sand I will stay on the ground.

VILES: So don't write off this little town just yet. Peter Viles for CNN, Grand Isle, Louisiana.


WHITFIELD: Right now the talk is Hurricane Katrina, more of our continuing coverage right after this.



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