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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Katrina

Aired August 29, 2005 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. Welcome to a special extended edition of AMERICAN MORNING where we are tracking Hurricane Katrina who has made landfall about 45 minutes ago. It made landfall as a category 4 storm. All over the Gulf Coast people are waiting and watching. They're prepared to see what this storm will bring. Let's get right to Chad Myers. Chad's got the very latest on Katrina.
It's still a category 4 storm, Chad. Does she look like she's getting stronger or weaker?

CHAD MYERS, METEOROLOGIST: You know, we always talked about that little eye wall. When it gets smaller, the storm will actually spin faster. And I've seen a little bit of shrinking of the eye wall itself. Kind of like a top that spins faster in the middle or a skater that when she brings her arms in actually spins a little bit faster.

I want you to see this line here. We can drop this breaking news bug real quick. This line is actually the direction that the storm was going overnight. Until about midnight and then look at it leave the line and look at it turn to the north. Boy, that would have been amazing if it didn't turn but this is what the forecast models were saying that it was going to do.

And the turn actually really helped out New Orleans. I'll get rid of that line. Just a piece of tape but you get the idea. That line really turns the storm toward the north and the northeast. An important distinction between a devastating storm for New Orleans and now winds at 85 miles probably going to about 100 to 110. But, New Orleans, you could of had those winds to 140.

You are on the backside, which is always we call it the easy side of the eye. There's not really an easy side of a category 4 storm. Winds now at Lake Front Airport 87 miles per hour. But the heaviest part of the storm is here east of New Orleans and going to slam into the Mississippi/Alabama coast line in about four hours.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Surely, Chad, for the folks who are in New Orleans, though, you're not suggesting that they're off the hook in any way, shape, or form. As you mentioned, a category 4 storm.

MYERS: Correct.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I mean this, you know, they've said killer storm.

MYERS: Yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: This one, flooding is going to be a huge problem.

MYERS: Yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Winds are going to be a huge problem.

MYERS: But, Soledad, if this storm had traveled to the west by 40 or 50 miles, and the water really did breech over the Mississippi Levy, water in that could not have been pumped out fast enough. Those pumps would have been bogged down and water could of been in New Orleans for eight months before they could pump it out. And this is not that scenario.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Not quite so dire.

MYERS: Yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thanks. We'll check in with you again.

Let's get right back to Miles

Hey, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, we're in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which is where a lot of people evacuated to about 80 miles west of New Orleans and, more importantly, about 50 feet higher than much of New Orleans. I'm at the campus of Louisiana State University and a couple of miles from me right along the banks of the Mississippi River, that's where we find CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles, good morning.

It is getting pretty bad here. I mean the winds along the Mississippi really picking up. It's getting to the point where, you know, you cannot look into the rain. It's that stinging rain that really hits you pretty hard.

I want to show you what the Mississippi looks like right now. We're seeing white caps on the Mississippi River. And the water has been slamming into this crane which is on a barge which is sort of parked here. But we have been seeing water just slamming into that, pouring over the edge of it and that crane starting to move back and forth, which as these winds pick up, is a big point of concern, what's going to happen to that barge. That is something we are watching very closely.

We were down at the shore about 45 minutes ago. And judging from where the water is, it looks like the water has raised several feet already. It's past the point where we were standing before, so that water has already started to come up. We're probably a good 60 feet off the water levels, so we're fine where we're standing here. But as you can see, as these outer bands of the storm coming really picking up with the wind, making it more and more uncomfortable to be here. We've seen a couple of people coming out, Miles, you know, sort of just wanted to see for themselves what it was like. They last a few minutes and sort of scurried off. It is getting very unpleasant out here.

Now I'm not sure how it compares to where you are just a few miles away, Miles, but I hope it's a little better where you are.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, I think it's probably a little better where I am.

But even as you spoke, we're getting this huge sheet of rain. So I think you're about two miles away from me and that's about as long as it took for that to get to me here.

Thank you, Anderson Cooper, also in Baton Rouge.

Of course, Baton Rouge is where the command center is for the state of Louisiana. The governor, senator, a lot of the political leaders and people who are in charge of picking up the pieces after what happens this morning happens are here. And, of course, among them, the federal officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The director of that agency is Mike Brown. He joins us now from that command center.

Mr. Brown, good to have you with us.

Just bring us up-to-date on what sort of reports you're getting in from the various authorities in these hard-hit areas.

MIKE BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, I've talked to the state emergency operations center and, of course, they're up and running full blast. But I've also got some people embedded in the New Orleans emergency operation center. They've lost power as you've reported. They've lost power in the Super Dome. And so our medical teams are there to help those people as they deal with that situation.

I've had reports of, obviously, windows beginning to break. The roofs and other things beginning to fly. So the storm's beginning to have that impact that we anticipated it to have.

As you heard from your meteorological reports, it continues to shift a little bit more to the east. Of course my concern has always been Biloxi in Mississippi as the storm begins to make that northeastward turn up there. So we've got people pre-positioned all the way from Atlanta over to Ft. Worth to move into all of those areas as the storm continues to make landfall.

MILES O'BRIEN: You know it's interesting, Mr. Brown, I'm not sure if people fully appreciate when you say pre-positioning. The logistical challenge that is involved in all of this. I was driving into New York City on Saturday through Allentown and I saw probably 30 utility trucks headed out, Con Edison, headed down presumably in this direction to help out. Give us a sense of how strategically placed assets are and if you have enough people in place to handle something as extensive as this could be.

BROWN: Well, we've got enough people and commodities in place right now for a three to five day surge capacity. But what I've ordered my folks to do is to jam that supply line up as far back as Ft. Worth and as far back as Atlanta so as those supplies begin to run out, we can continue to feed those in here as long as it takes.

I was out last night kind of surveying Baton Rouge and just kind of getting my bearings. And I, too, also saw the utility trucks already beginning to line up. Because that's one of the most I mean in addition to the life saving efforts that we do, the medical efforts that we do, it's getting that power back up that's just as critical too. The power runs the convenience stores for the gas stations so as people begin to move back into their homes, their neighborhoods, they've got to have gas to get back in there.

And I want to remind folks too, that as this storm, even through it is continuing to weaken a little bit, there's still going to be power outages, there's still going to be tornados, there's still going to be high winds and damage, it's still going to be very dangerous to move back into those neighborhoods. So please don't do that until the authorities give the OK to move back in.

MILES O'BRIEN: Mike Brown is the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He joins me from about five miles from where I stand in the command center at Baton Rouge.

Thanks very much. We'll check back in with you later. Thanks for that update on where things stand right now.

And I should tell you, Soledad, as I toss it off to you, it's getting significantly worse here. Clearly Katrina is on her way. Not that we didn't know that already but we seeing the proof of it right now.

Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, we can certainly see the conditions deteriorate.

Miles, thanks.

Let's get right to Kathleen Blanco. She is the governor of Louisiana. She joins us from the Baton Rouge hurricane command center.

Nice to see you, ma'am, thanks for talking with us this morning.

I guess there's good news, which is from the latest models, it looks as if the storm is starting to curve a little bit to the east, which means New Orleans is not direct on the path. What have they been telling you in your briefings about what you can expect damage wise?

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: Well, we know that we'll still suffer considerable damage. There will be a tremendous amount of property damage. There will be some light flooding in some areas. Perhaps we won't be impacted with that storm surge that was so dreaded and caused us to necessarily do a mandatory evacuation. We don't know yet.

We still have a long way to go throughout this day. We are watching. We are worried, of course. We hope that everyone is safe and Louisiana citizens have moved out. I'm very proud of the way that we were able to get an evacuation done so quickly. There are a few people still there.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, I was going to ask you about that, if I may. I mean 80 percent by some counts. Eighty percent of the people who are people who are used to these kinds of storms, maybe not of this magnitude, packed up their stuff and heed the evacuation orders. You must be very happy with that number.

BLANCO: Yes, I am very proud of our Louisiana citizens. I think they are storm smart, as I like to say it. But sometimes, you know, we see near misses and we have calls for evacuation. It's frustrating to get up on the highways with so many people. But, in the end, our people are worried about themselves and their families and that's who we want them to worry about. We want them to be safe.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let's talk about some of the preparations that you have in place right now. I know the National Guard is set. What will they be doing if they need to?

BLANCO: Well, just as soon as the brunt of the storm moves more inland, the National Guard will do damage assessments. We'll have air missions coming in behind the storm. And we'll be doing search and rescue, in necessary. We hope that there aren't too many people out there who will be in need of rescue but it often happens.

We will be working with FEMA. We appreciate the president's call to us, giving us all the resources with Mike Brown and all of his team of people. It's critical for us at this time that we have that knowledge and that security that our people will be taken care of. It's going to take a while to get all of the damage repaired, but it's easier to repair damage than it is to restore lives.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. Understatement of the day certainly.

Governor Kathleen Blanco, thank you for your time this morning. I know you're really busy. We appreciate it.

BLANCO: Thank you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We want to check in with Gary Tuchman. He is roving the Mississippi coast. He's in Hurricane One. That's CNN's official vehicle for hurricane coverage.

Gary, give us a sense of exactly where you are right now.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we're in Gulf Port, Mississippi, and this is where the eastern eye wall is expected to land. We're right near the beach right now, near U.S. 90. This is our Hurricane One unit. It allows us to transmit live pictures during a hurricane. On type of this vehicle is a gyro that's always moving and that's why we have can always have the live signal. This is the same technology we used during the beginning of the war as the military vehicles were crossing the desert.

But we want to show you some of the damage here that we're seeing in downtown Gulf Port. Very serious damage already. I'm going to open the door for a second and get out and show you, this is downtown and that's a boat that has washed up on the street.

This is not the strongest part of the hurricane yet. And you can see how the winds are coming in. This road is completely flooded. This road is usually very crowded this time of day.

But this is the street where this boat is right now. This is not the water. The beach is about a hundred yards in that direction. And I (INAUDIBLE), it's very treacherous and it's only going to get worse.

Back to you, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Gary Tuchman for us really out there. And you can see, even though we can't get a really good shot of what's behind him but standing on the street with a boat behind him. And as he points out, it is really only the very beginning of this storm. It's going to get much worse. We'll check in with Gary at Hurricane One as we continue through the morning.

Coming up next, the very latest on the path of Hurricane Katrina. We'll take you live to the National Hurricane Center. That's in Miami.

And then lots of travelers are going to have to ride out the storm in hotels. We're going to talk to a woman who's stranded in New Orleans. Find out what her story is. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody, to our special coverage of AMERICAN MORNING, coming to you. An extended version this morning. And we are certainly your hurricane headquarters as we track the path of Hurricane Katrina this morning.

Miles O'Brien's in Baton Rouge and he has his there you go.

What's the wind speed, Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN: Yeah, well, you know, I'm trying to get this thing to work. Quite frankly, Soledad, I'm kind of blocked here by a building, so I need to go out here. I'm going to go out here a little more.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: OK.

MILES O'BRIEN: Try to give you a sense of it. It's really blowing out here though. As you can see, look Jack, can you get a shot of that rain? It's almost horizontal there. Of course, as you can see, there are people just driving through here. There's no evacuations mandatory or otherwise here in Baton Rouge. And there are 30,000 students here, Soledad, who are well dare we say, perhaps having a hurricane party or two, I suppose. But not, of course, a laughing matter.

Right now, you know, we're still talking only about 20 mile an hour gusts. Right now I just get about four miles an hour there. So the wind is still just starting to pick up here.

Got to remember where we are, though. We're talking about 80 miles to the west of that eye. We did that on purpose so that we would have a better chance of being able to broadcast and give you a sense of it without being shut down. So far that plan seems to be working. Dare I hex it by saying that, of course. But so far, this has worked out pretty well.

You know, 40 feet above sea level, that doesn't sound like a lot but that is 50 feet above many parts of New Orleans. So in many respects this is a good place to be, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yeah, you know, we certainly have seen and the lights a lot better than when we started this morning, Miles. But the conditions really deteriorating which, I guess, obviously, the storm is getting closer and closer. It's made landfall.

But as you talked about, we're talking about that marshy area which is land but then it's water and land and then back over water again. How bad do they think it's going to be where you are?

MILES O'BRIEN: Well, it's hard to say. You know, it's a huge storm. I mean there was a point in time yesterday where one edge of the storm had sort of touched the first parts of the gulf and the bottom end was still in Cuba. That's a huge, huge storm. Much bigger than Hurricane Andrew. Andrew was kind of a tightly packed, ferocious storm.

In this case, you've got the potential for hurricane force winds upwards of a hundred miles from the eye and that would put us right where we are right now, Soledad. So we're watching it. It could get pretty hairy here. Not as bad as being say where Rob Marciano is right now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, we're watching it from all fronts.

Miles, thanks. We'll check in with you again. And, of course, they're keeping a close eye on Katrina at the National Hurricane Center. Let's get right to Ed Rappaport. He is there this morning. He's the deputy director.

Hey, Ed. Good morning to you.

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about this storm surge. Chad was saying as the storm now turns to the east, you breathe a sigh of relief because it looks like the storm surge won't be as great. Does that mean the potential for the levies to overflow, which had all these pretty dire potential of flooding and the toxic problems that could come out of that, does that mean that those have all been avoided now? That they're in the clear?

RAPPAPORT: Well, I need to clarify. While the track has turned more to the right, it's still moving the hurricane's still moving almost due north. And what that means is that we still have a great deal of risk from about the New Orleans area eastward.

They are two different threats here. On the right side will be the highest storm surge. Perhaps 20 feet still. That will be over on the Mississippi gulf coast to Alabama. Not quite so high in Florida Panhandle. On the west side where there's a north wind, will be driving the water from Lake Pontchartrain southward towards New Orleans.

The only good news is, they're going to be on the weaker side of the storm. And the hurricane's a little weaker now. It's not a category 5 anymore. But the storm surge could be 10 to 15 feet still on this west side which is near the tops of the levies in the New Orleans area.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, near but I guess that's all the difference in the world. Because at some point yesterday, and earlier this morning, we were talking about potentially 28-foot storm surges, which, of course, would go over those levies by a 11 feet or so. They're 17 feet high if I'm not mistaken. So 15 feet, as bad as that would be, certainly is a huge improvement.

RAPPAPORT: Well, we're still expecting surges of at least 20 feet on the right side. The difference is that the center appears to be moving just to the east of New Orleans. And so the surge is going to come in to the east of New Orleans. The highest surge. But there will be significant surge on the west side.

And you're right, the question is now, will it make it to the tops of the levy. And we'll have to wait another hour or two to see.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And you basically are saying it's now become Mississippi's problem to a large degree. I know everything that people were concerned about in New Orleans, to some degree, it now becomes an issue in Mississippi.

I want to ask you and Chad also, if we can bring Chad Myers in as well. We haven't talked a lot, Chad, about the damage as it moves inland because, of course, we're focused on the Gulf Coast at this point. What are we looking for people who are not right on the coast but a little by bit of the ways in. When it hits land then it weakens, so it's very good news.

MYERS: It weakens a little bit, Soledad, but not enough. This entire storm is going to move 150 miles inland still with hurricane force winds mainly on the east side, as Ed was talking about. But there will be power outages all the way up into Tennessee. Possibly if the storm continues to turn right, possibly all the way to Atlanta.

Ed, I have a question for you though because I've been unable to find any working water level stations in Lake Pontchartrain. As you were saying, I'm very concerned with this water situation pouring in with these east and these southeast winds into Lake Pontchartrain and then the winds from the north on the other side of the eye pushing it over the levy actually flooding New Orleans from the back side. Do you have any water levels at all? They all seem to be broken to me.

RAPPAPORT: Yes, we don't have any real time observations at the moment. We'll check on that for you. But at this stage I don't have any water heights. We are concerned for just those reasons you mentioned, the water coming in from the east and then from the north possibly going over the levies towards New Orleans. It's going to be very close.

MYERS: And you have waves on top of that, Soledad. You know, we talk about a storm surge of 20 feet but there may be a 20-foot wave on top of that storm surge too. So you add 20 and 20 and you get some dangerous levels.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Wow, that sounds really, really bad.

All right let me ask you a quick question before I let you go. At what point do we see the storm hitting where some of our reporters are? In New Orleans, in Biloxi, where we really see the eye wall hitting?

Ed, can you . . .

RAPPAPORT: Yes, yes, I'll answer. Sure. The next two or three hours the weather will be going down very deteriorating very quickly in New Orleans there. They're going to be right on the edge of the northwestern eye wall it would appear. So the worst of the conditions will be before 11:00 a.m. or so their time. And then the weather is going to be at its worst around noon local time as we get up towards the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Ed Rappaport.

Ed, thanks, as always. He's the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. We'll check in with you again.

Let's get back to Miles O'Brien. He's in Baton Rouge for us this morning.

Hey, Miles. Good morning again.

MILES O'BRIEN: Hey, Soledad. Yes, I'm just going around checking the wind speeds out here. It's picking up quite significantly. I was just as a matter of fact, this guy right here who just came in said he almost got clocked by a mobile sign with his car. Why don't you hey, tell me quickly, what happened? Where were you driving when this happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down Perkins Avenue. MILES O'BRIEN: And what happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind is blowing signs off the gas stations, so they're out on the street. So the police are, you know, putting their police cars there and barricading the sections where the signs are blowing down.

MILES O'BRIEN: Wow. And, I mean, right here, we're a bit protected. We've got the stadium here. We got kind of some protection around us. I guess there's a little more wind than we think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. On avenues where there is no tree line, the wind is crossing it, just blowing straight down the avenue. So any signs that aren't secured like on gas stations, are coming off and flying around.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes. And are people out in the street? Are there quite a few cars out there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's hardly any. There's just a bunch of police cars pretty much it and, you know, one or two scattered vehicles here and there.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Hopefully not too scattered. All right, thank you very much.

Let's get to New Orleans. Jeanne Meserve on the line with us now. She's not too far from the Super Dome. Kind of near the quarter in that whole part of the world where there's lots of concern about flood surge topping over levies.

Not quite there yet, Jeanne, are we?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, we aren't. I'm monitoring the water level in the street. It has not come up significantly. It looks to me with a good pair of boots you could still get through the water. And some places that are on the uphill rise still actually have no puddling on them whatsoever.

If you hear some rattling in the background, I'm holding what used to be a Venetian blind that now is just a shambles in hand. It's an indication of what's flying off of these buildings. Windows are beginning to pop. Things like this. (INAUDIBLE) the wind. Also big pieces of roof and (INAUDIBLE) chunk of concrete coming off a buildings here.

It's really sort of spectral because the laws of gravity are totally denied here. The wind keeping things aloft for (INAUDIBLE) periods of time and they just sort of float like ghosts above the landscape here. And occasionally you'll even see a bird out here struggling, trying to make headway and obviously failing completely.

But the flooding situation at this point in this location does not appear too serious. But no power. Not power at all. Just some emergency lighting up here and there. Miles, back to you.

MILES O'BRIEN: You know, Jeanne, you were breaking up a little bit. Did you say that concrete was flying off of buildings?

MESERVE: We did see one big hunk of concrete that appeared to come off a building near us. But we have not see anything but that one incident. Most of it is roofing pieces of corrugated steel and things of that (INAUDIBLE) be picked up by the wind.

Remarkably, from at least my current vantage point, is looks like most of the street signs are intact. I haven't seen any light poles go down. I haven't seen any trees go down.

But it's pretty intense here. The visibility is very low. There is a tower. I don't know how far away from us it is but we could see it earlier. Now it's totally obliterated. It almost looks like you're in a snowstorm. Everything around you is white, white, white from heavy, heavy sheet of rain that's coming down all over the city of New Orleans and beyond.

Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. And hopefully, aside from yourself, you're not seeing anybody on those streets, right?

MESERVE: No, absolutely not. No people. No traffic. I took a glance over at the Super Dome to see if I saw any kinds of activity there. Emergency vehicles parked around it as they have been. But no movement on the streets at all.

MILES O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve, please stay safe there in New Orleans as you bear witness to Katrina's arrival here. We're bearing witness here in Baton Rouge as well. We've got reporters all along the Gulf Coast giving you the latest on Hurricane Katrina. CNN is your hurricane headquarters. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It's exactly half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING. We're CNN, your hurricane headquarters, and we are certainly following the breaking news as the center of Hurricane Katrina moves along the eastern edge of Louisiana right to Mississippi.

It's a Category 4 storm right now, wind speeds of 145 miles an hour. Extremely powerful, the storm not only capable of knocking down large trees and ripping off the roofs of buildings; it can even knock down homes.

We've got reporters in Mobile, Alabama; in Biloxi, Mississippi; in New Orleans, Louisiana, and all over the place. Chad Myers, as well, is watching what's happening in Atlanta at the CNN Center.

Chad, good morning to you. As we mentioned, Category 4 storm. As much as it's a downgrade from an earlier Category 5, it's still a deadly storm.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Still a very strong, 140 to 145 on the eastern eye wall. And a couple of new updates here from Pascagoula civil defense: wind gusts to 113 miles per hour.

And now from the weather service out of New Orleans, for St. Tammany Parish and the counties of Hancock and Harrison, tornado warnings in effect for you. Not because there's a tornado on the ground but because your wind speeds now equal that of an F-1 or an F-2 tornado. The entire area under tornado warnings right through here because of that potential for that wind to continue to grow.

Here's the land. Here's the rain. Zoom in a couple of spots for you here. The eye went right over southeast Louisiana. Now the eye wall is not actually the western eye wall, not that far from eastern suburban New Orleans. That eye wall continues to travel to the north, and as it does, every time we get closer, Biloxi, Gulf Port all the way over, even, to Bay St. Louis, that wind is going to get stronger with every one of these lines as it moves on by.

You see the land up here. A couple of offshore islands. And there's your radar again, coming up here. You would think that maybe we'll lose a little of intensity here because, well, it's over land. There's not much land in southeast Louisiana. There's just an awful lot of swamp land there, and that does not slow down a hurricane. You almost need a mountain range to slow it down or at least some big area of dry land. And it's not obviously that.

There is Pascagoula. And that little line right there that just pushed on by, that was your 113 mile-per-hour wind gusts. There's Pascagoula again, moving through Mobile, as well, today.

The storm itself made a right-hand turn in the overnight hours. It was destined to go right between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and then turn, and it turned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. As it did that, it put New Orleans on the easy side of the eye. There isn't really such a thing in Cat 4, but at least it's easier than the Easter -- eastern side of the eye.

Here's Rob Marciano's location here, the Comfort Inn in Biloxi, about four to 15 miles -- 14 to 15 miles inland. We have our reporters in good shape. Do not worry about them. We're not putting them in harm's way. But you can see the flooding there from the rainfall already, and there's an awful lot more rainfall to come. Rob is still 60 miles from the center of the eye. There's a lot more of this to come.

Back to you guys.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow. You can certainly see the flooding and you can also see the rain, which has been alternately described by many of our reporters this morning as almost horizontal as the wind blows it right through. A pretty good picture of that. Again, live picture from Biloxi, Mississippi. Rob Marciano is there. We're going to check in with him in just a little bit.

First, though, let's get right back to Miles O'Brien. He's in Baton Rouge.

Hey, Miles. Good morning again.

MILES O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: Thanks, Soledad.

Baton Rouge, of course, the capital of Louisiana, the second largest city in this state. And at least in this instance, it's sitting relatively pretty. Forty feet above sea level is where I am right now. That's a significant improvement over New Orleans, which of course is below sea level.

And as Chad just put it on the easy side of the storm. Once again, that's a relative term here. We are talking about a storm that is so big. Hurricane force winds could extend a hundred miles from the radius of that eye as it comes ashore.

So this is going to be right on the cusp of hurricane force winds here. And of course, the Mississippi River comes through town. So there's a possibility of flooding. Somebody who's watching that very closely is the mayor of Baton Rouge, Melvin "Kip" Holden joining us now.

Thank you for standing in the rain for us, Mr. Mayor. We appreciate that. Give us an update? What are you hearing from your -- the authorities in Baton Rouge? What are you hearing from people? Are you weathering the storm well so far?

MELVIN "KIP" HOLDEN, BATON ROUGE MAYOR: Yes, so far, so good. We have about 3,000 people who have evacuated. A lot of those people have come from New Orleans. But right now, we are mainly concerned about downed power lines and trees and possible flooding later on today.

M. O'BRIEN: You mentioned the downed power lines and the trees. We've been watching these trees here, trying to almost take a pool as to which branch is going to come down. That's going to be a significant problem in the outlying areas. We talk about flooding and topping the levies in New Orleans. But the loss of power over time can be a real big problem.

HOLDEN: Depending on the magnitude, we have estimates of anywhere from one week to three weeks, based on power outages. So right now, the energy companies right now have been waiting. They are not moving anybody out right now. They're going to wait until the storm subsides. Then they'll make an assessment.

That assessment also will be made in conjunction with the governor's office so we can get a full idea what we need to do in order to alleviate some of the problems people will be confronted with.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, Baton Rouge, as I said, kind of sitting pretty. Higher elevation. You're not right smack dab on the coast. Nevertheless, you've encountered some problems with hurricanes in the past? HOLDEN: We have, and we've had some very serious storms. I can go back to my childhood and, frankly, in my house we did not evacuate. And a lot of people did this time, but we stayed there. And windows were blowing out, and the ceiling tile really fell to the floor. But thankfully we had a little cinderblock business. And we went out in that business and stayed the night.

But really, the people here have heeded the warnings. And we are in much better condition now because of technology than what we used to be in terms of how do you predict a storm.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, that must have been quite a night going through that years ago. That's the kind of thing people remember all their life and take that into account as they make decisions.

HOLDEN: Yes, you do, because when you look outside and you see power lines virtually on fire. When you see the windows just blowing out and all of those things, obviously, is very frightening.

But again, here, we've been able to avoid a lot. There is grave concern still about New Orleans. And whatever happens here we're also going to very much working with the mayor of New Orleans to try to provide what resources they may need there as well.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, in the news this morning, there seems to be a glimmer of hope, a little wobble which might send it away from a direct hit on New Orleans. And nevertheless, though, the potential there truly -- catastrophic is an overused term but it does apply in this case. Is this region ready to handle something like this?

HOLDEN: We're not sure, because we now are dealing with what I call the "X" factor hurricane, because nothing has been of this magnitude. So what we're trying to do is make an assessment. And after this passes through, then we'll go and see what other adjustments can we make? Are they areas whereby we might be able to tighten up some things to really get even more prepared?

But let me tell you one thing. The people that have handled emergency preparedness throughout this state are second to none. They've been in these situations before, and it is getting better.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. With that, Mayor Kip Holden, thank you very much. Appreciate you being with us, getting a little wet with us. And good luck to you and your city as you endure Katrina.

The "X" factor storm, he calls it. Rob Marciano, I think you're getting a good dose of that right now there in Biloxi, Mississippi -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Miles.

It's really been getting bad the last 20 minutes to 30 minutes. The squalls now are becoming more frequent. The down time is virtually nothing. We've got now sustained winds over 50 miles an hour with gusts of hurricane strength. Take a look behind me. You get a good idea just how much those trees are getting pounded and blown around by these winds. Tree limbs have been coming down; transformers have been exploding around this area. And it's getting to a point where hurricane force sustained winds are going to become more likely.

We have two cameras set up for you. We do expect, probably, to have to get out of -- get out of the storm at some point entirely.

Let's go to the second camera. It's on the third floor of this building which faces the south and the east. You can see the sign, the hotel there. And there are pieces of that sign already starting to loosen up and threaten to fly off. And when that happens, they're going to become missiles. So we're protecting ourselves from that happening, at the same time, trying to bring you the pictures.

Shelters, Miles, as of a couple of hours ago they moved a couple of the shelters because of the threat for flooding on the Wolf River. South of I-10 widespread power outages now, as I suspect the winds down there are even stronger than they are here.

We are about six miles north of the coastline. I-10 runs that way from west-to-east. And the winds right now are blowing from east to west. So that has remained constant. When we start to get a bit of a shift, either from the northeast or southeast, that will kind of help determine -- help us determine where the actual location of this storm is.

Folks are obviously nervous here. The hotels north of I-10 are packed with people who have evacuated from south of I-10. They've brought their pets. And you know, that's -- actually, if there's one thing that's kind of comforting from this storm is that the pets that are around the hotel kind of bring a bit of a sense of calm.

But right now, it's anything about that, Miles. Winds continue to pick up. And we're getting close to hurricane force sustained right now. Right now, sustained at about 50 miles an hour.

And one other thing I want to show you. This light pole right here is steel. See how it's flailing around up there? When we were in Hurricane Ivan last year, a Category 3 storm that came on shore just east of Mobile, light poles like this one, concrete steel poles that were bolted down into the concrete, were literally snapped off their foundations.

So it's not just flimsy signs and aluminum overhangs from gas stations that are going to start to unravel here but likely steel poles and steel structures like this one here.

So things are getting -- things are getting worse, Miles. I don't know how other else to describe it here in Biloxi, or just at least six miles north of the coastline away from the storm surge but certainly not away from the winds.

Is Chad there? Is Chad anywhere close by? I heard him say something about how much -- what the observations were like in other parts of Mississippi. And I'm curious if we've had reports of wind gusts in other areas. Do you have any notable wind gusts that you've heard of, Miles? In either Mississippi or...

MYERS: Rob?

MARCIANO: Yes.

MYERS: Rob, this is Chad. Pascagoula, the emergency management officials there, 113-mile-per-hour wind gusts as this one arm of the feeder band went by. That same arm moved by you about 45 minutes ago. Your wind gusts could have easily been a hundred miles an hour right where you're standing.

MARCIANO: I believe it. Holy smokes! Over a hundred? I believe it. It's not going to get any better.

MYERS: No. There are more bands headed your way, as well. And as each band gets closer and closer and as you get closer and closer to the eye, your winds are going to be higher in sustained winds and, obviously, higher in gusts, as well, every time a feeder band goes by, so be careful out there.

MARCIANO: Will do.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. Those numbers are amazing when you hear those 110 mile an hour winds. I'm sitting here holding my little anemometer up here, thinking whether it would read anything at 110 miles an hour.

So far, the situation here in Baton Rouge, nowhere near that. As we say, we're sort of on the easy side of the storm. We're well above sea level and there's no mandatory evacuations here. But we're still, as you can see, we're still seeing the full effects of Katrina. And the worst is yet to come.

More of our special coverage after just a moment.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: This is the picture of Katrina, Katrina making her presence be known here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We're about 80 miles west, northwest of New Orleans. And as we're told, Katrina's eye wall is going to go a little bit to the east of New Orleans. That might be good news for the Crescent City.

In the meantime, a lot of people who evacuated from New Orleans, myself included yesterday, have come here, because it's high ground and on the so-called easier side of the storm, the left side of the eye wall.

Having said all that, we just talked to the mayor. They're very concerned about trees being down, the power outages, which of course, are inevitable and, of course, the swollen banks of the Mississippi River. And that's where we find CNN's Anderson Cooper -- Anderson. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Yes, Miles. This may be the easy side of the storm but it does not feel very easy right here on the banks of the Mississippi River.

I just want to show you, a little bit earlier, we showed you a crane that was on a berm (ph), and we were a little bit concerned about what might happen to it. I want to show you what has happened to it. And this is the thing that can cause real problems.

This crane is now flying loose. It was pointed completely in the other direction about half an hour ago. It has now been untethered, and this crane with a ball is just flopping around. And if these winds pick up much more, this could cause some serious damage to these lights over here and to this bridge. It is, obviously, a pretty big concern.

And if you pan down, you can see them. And there's -- that thing is just loose. There's no control over that right now. We're going to back away a little bit, because I'm concerned about this thing. It's just flying around.

The winds have really picked up here significantly over the last half hour or so. It feels to me that this may be, for us, the worst part of the storm or at least over the next hour. This may be the worst for us.

The wind is -- I don't have a wind meter, so I can't tell how strong it is. But it is blowing the range of (ph) completely horizontally. You cannot look in a northward direction. Visibility is down. It's hard to even tell. It's maybe a hundred feet visibility for us here.

And there are white caps, significant white caps on the Mississippi River that are just blowing into that barge and have actually knocked this out. And I'm sorry, that have knocked this barge into the bridge that we are standing on, and I don't know if the -- if the barge is floating loose or not.

But it is -- let me look over here. Yes. The barge, it has completely -- it's just knocking into the bridge down here. The bridge is pretty secure, so I'm not too concerned about the bridge itself, but it's very possible that barge could become completely untethered.

The other object of concern, that's the bridge. The I-10 bridge over here as we move across. Watch out for this. There was some traffic, if you can believe it, some semis crossing over that bridge in the last 20 minutes or so. In fact, you can see a car right now, trying to cross over that bridge. That is certainly not a good idea at this point. No cars should be on the road. Police have been saying that now for several hours. There are just a few people who are not paying attention to that.

You can really see the water has -- actually, if you can come over here, let me show you. There's a buoy that has blown ashore on the Mississippi. We're on the east side of the Mississippi River. That buoy, it must have been in the last hour or so, because we have not -- I have not seen that until now.

And then if you pan up, that's the USS Kidd, which is a naval -- it's a memorial for the Navy. It is in dry dock, as you can see, but the water is actually starting to come up underneath that ship.

We were not expecting huge amounts of storm surge here. We had heard of 28 feet storm surge in New Orleans. Chad Myers had been telling us a little while ago that we probably will not be seeing anywhere near that kind of storm surge here. The real concern is the wind and the rain and any flooding that may cause. And we are seeing significant wind and significant rain at this point.

And you know, again, this is supposed to be the easy side of the storm. But as I said earlier, Miles, it does not feel very easy at all. I'm going to toss it back to you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Anderson, so much for easy. I guess that's a very relative term.

I should point out, you know, I'm only a couple of miles, if that, from where Anderson stands. It just goes to shows you how capricious these things can be.

I'm protected -- you can't see it, but on the other side we've got -- there's a big building there. And beyond it is the LSU Tigers stadium, which is a big barrier. And then there's this shaft. I'm getting kind of a wind tunnel effect down here as this goes north-to- south.

But it's not nearly the kind of effect that he's feeling there. I think we're somewhat more protected here.

This is a campus of in excess of 30,000 students. And they're getting a few days off. The man who called those days off is Sean O'Keefe, who is the chancellor of the university. And if that same name sounds familiar to you, it is the same Sean O'Keefe who was the NASA administrator until not too long ago.

Sean, come -- step in a little closer for us. First of all, tell us is the school secure, ready? Kids where they should be, as best you can tell?

SEAN O'KEEFFE, LSU CHANCELLOR: Absolutely. We've had a couple of days' worth of preparation time. And the emergency services response from all the unit here, around the state, the local community and certainly here on campus have responded just beautifully. So we're about as battened down as you could hope for.

M. O'BRIEN: You didn't evacuate the campus. That was not -- as a matter of fact, there are no mandatory evacuations I know of in Baton Rouge. Why not?

O'KEEFE: Well, this is an area where all the evacuation coming from New Orleans, passes right to the -- through the city, as well as going west towards Lafayette and Houston. So you've got a lot of traffic moving through. This is one of the central sites for special needs evacuation points for the state here on campus, as well as this is one of the more secure places for a lot of students living on campus to just kind of ride out the storm.

M. O'BRIEN: And that's -- I guess that's what we're seeing. We see some people. There's some kids right there that are, you know, kind of getting a little taste of Katrina. Nothing too dangerous out here.

O'KEEFE: Lifelong memory.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, a lifelong memory. I mean, in an hour or so it might not be a wise idea to step outside. Have your -- the police force here, have they had any problems this morning? Any power outages, that kind of thing?

O'KEEFE: There was a power outage earlier this morning. But in talking to the folks here just about an hour or so ago as well as the LSU police department chief, everything has been, really, about as well controlled as we had hoped for. And the damage has been predicted, but at the same time, nothing that is unmanageable.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. This seems to be the place to be. Baton Rouge is, as they say, the easy side. That remains to be seen, whether easy side is apt, as Chad Myers called it. Sean O'Keefe, the chancellor of Louisiana...

O'KEEFE: Nice to see you again. Wish we could have met on different circumstances.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, yes. Me, too. Chancellor of Louisiana State University, Sean O'Keefe. Thanks very much.

Let's go back to the Big Easy. From the "easy" side of the storm -- we'll put that in quotes, -- to the Big Easy, we find CNN's John Zarrella. He is very near the French Quarter. And we hope in a safe place in the hotel right now, because that is a place where clearly he'll be very susceptible to some flooding as these levies, as they say, might get topped over in an hour or so, depending on how the storm goes.

John, what are you seeing there?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, what we are seeing looking up this tenth floor window here in the French Quarter area is that swirling wind just continuing to just circulate in all directions, coming off of the dome next to us. There's -- it's that white out now, that absolute sheet of white pounding off the buildings, slamming against the sides of the building, rain pouring off the sides of the buildings for the last couple of hours now.

We heard a report from Mayor Nagin on local radio here, saying that in the hotel that he is in, that they have lost some windows in that hotel. We don't believe we have lost any windows in this hotel yet. He also was saying, the mayor, that there is a report that the levy in one particular spot -- I'm not clear where it was -- may have been over topped and that the pump station in that particular area is now out of commission.

So, again, here in the Big Easy, it is not that easy this morning. We are beginning to see some of the worst of what Katrina has to offer and could dish out here. Again, the storm perhaps a little bit to the right of us. We should be very close to that left western eye wall and still just a tremendous pounding that we're taking here.

So again, Miles, reports from the mayor, at least, that windows blown out in the hotel that he is at and that at least one pump station down and perhaps the levy breached or overtopped in one particular spot. Not sure whether that's on the north shore by Lake Pontchartrain or in another location -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. John Zarrella, we appreciate that report. Please stay safe where you are.

We're getting some sketchy reports right now. And you'll recall the main evacuation center in New Orleans is the Super Dome, home of the Saints normally. Apparently, the Super Dome is leaking, has sprung a leak. Don't know how extensive it is. We're going to try to raise our reporter from our affiliate WDSU, Ed Reams, who's inside the Super Dome, that after a break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Let's get right to Ed Reams, who's an affiliate reporter. And he's got word on the Super Dome leaking. That, of course, is where an estimated 10,000 people have camped out as they wait for the hurricane to pass.

Let's get right to Ed. Ed, good morning.

ED REAMS, WDSU CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

As you may be able to hear as I'm talking to you in the background, if you hear these sounds like banging, something banging against some metal, that is actually pieces of the roof, the roof here at the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans about to possibly peel off the top. We've been dealing with it the past 20 minutes.

We first started hearing a lot of banging on the top of the roof. Then what was supposed to be a waterproof roof started raining inside part of the Super Dome. And now as we're looking up -- I'm looking up right now and I'm seeing parts of daylight now through the top of the Super Dome. It keeps getting larger and larger. So it looks like one section of the Super Dome roof may soon peel away from the actual stadium.

S. O'BRIEN: Ed, let me interrupt you there. Can you interrupt you there? Let me ask you a couple of questions. How big is the section of the roof that looks like it's beginning to peel off the Super Dome?

REAMS: I would -- I would say it's probably 1/12th. If you look at the circumference of a circle and you divide it into pie and you divide it into 12 pieces and took one of those twelve pieces, that would probably be about the size of what we're looking at right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow. Well, when you consider how many tens of thousands of people can fit inside the Super Dome, that is a very large chunk of that roof, by your estimation, that's about to come off or looks like it could peel away a little bit.

Now, take me back to the problems with the water proofing, or I should say lack of water proofing. People inside, when did they realize there was a problem? Did it just start to pour on the inside or was it sort of just dribs and drabs and leaks?

REAMS: It started as just a little sprinkle, and then gradually started turning into more like an afternoon summer storm. And then it started pouring, more like a faucet coming out in one section.

Folks noticed. They started feeling drops and then started hearing all the noise and have moved over to the other side of the Super Dome, just trying to get away, should this part of the roof fall or peel away, part of it may fall down on to the floor. That's why they're trying to move out of the way to avoid that.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. A couple more questions for you. One, can you tell what authorities are trying to do right now? I mean, in the storm, I can't even manage that they could even think about getting out there to try to secure it in any way.

REAMS: Yes, Soledad, I don't know if you can hear in the background, is that banging. Authorities are right now moving people over to the other side of the dome and scrambling to try to see how they can address this problem.

Oh, now we -- now we can see daylight, Soledad. I can see daylight out of the roof of the superdome, straight up out of the roof.

Rain, wind is now starting to pour into the roof of the superdome. This is only going to probably get bigger because we have another two hours before even the worse part of the storm hits our area.

S. O'BRIEN: Ed, I've got to tell you, we cannot really hear the banging behind you. I know you've asked me a couple of times if I can hear it, and I cannot.

REAMS: OK.

S. O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of how the people are reacting inside. If this piece has now peeled off, as you're describing, are people starting to panic? As you point out, you've got two hours to go, minimum.

REAMS: Right. I think they are concerned. A lot of people are getting underneath the terrace level, which is a concrete re-enforced structure which is underneath another set of bleachers. They're moving away from the open area of the Superdome, and also over to the other side of the Superdome, where there appears to be no damage. Everyone is just kind of looking up in awe that this is supposedly the safest place in New Orleans and this is now -- this Superdome is succumbing to this super storm.

S. O'BRIEN: Do they seem to be panicking? Is everybody calm? And do authorities seem to be in control? Do they have the crowd control? I mean, you've got 10,000 people with all their belongings, trying to move from one part of the Superdome to another.

REAMS: Yes, I would not describe it as panic. I would describe it as concern.

People are -- they've been here all throughout the night, getting to know their neighbors. I think they are looking out for each other, moving everybody and their items to the other side of the dome.

I haven't heard any screams or any shouts of horror at this particular time. There's obvious concern because these folk will have to ride out the storm. There's nowhere for these folks to go. This is where they're going to have to be whether the roof comes off of this dome or not.

The winds outside and the rain is just so treacherous right now, there's simply nowhere else to go. So I think they're trying to salvage or do their best in a bad situation by staying calm and moving to a safer location within this stadium dome.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, there's no place to go. And even if there were another place to go, too late now. The storm's coming, and it has made landfall. And as you point out, it won't be long before it hits and everybody's feeling it.

Well, we'll see -- we're going to check back in with you, Ed, and see what authorities are able to do as far as fixing what Ed Reams, an affiliate reporter at WDSU, describes as a large, one-twelfth the size of the ceiling Superdome peeling away. He says he can see a massive slice of daylight coming back down. And, of course, with that daylight, also lots of rain, because we've got some high winds in that area as well.

That, of course, is where some 10,000 people are camped out. They had gone there in the hopes of finding a very secure and safe location. They're being fed, being sheltered. Don't really have any place else to go, and right now it seems as if they are having some big problems at the Superdome. We'll continue to monitor that side of the story as well.

Let's get back to Miles O'Brien in Baton Rouge this morning.

Miles, you've been listening to what's going on there.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. Wow.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, when you consider, Miles, that they really thought that that would be the safe place to put everybody, I can't even imagine what the plan is if they got to get 10,000 people out of the Superdome.

M. O'BRIEN: I doubt there is a really safe plan. You know, I think -- I think what Ed was just saying about people trying to get under that structure is probably the best short-term plan. But let's just imagine -- Chad, I want to bring you in, Chad.

The eye is 35 miles south-southeast of New Orleans, correct?

MYERS: Just about, 35 to 40, correct.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. And it's moving still, what, 12 to 15 miles an hour? Is that correct?

MYERS: Fifteen miles to the north. You're right on it.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. So we're talking about at least two-and-a-half hours before the eye just gets to New Orleans. And then on the back side, more strong winds. So we're talking three or four hours of pretty strong wind, maybe longer...

MYERS: Yes. And...

M. O'BRIEN: ... that the Superdome will have to endure, correct?

MYERS: And -- yes. And the center, that number you gave, Miles, was 40 miles to the center of the eye, which is where the calm winds are.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. Right.

MYERS: It's only 15 miles to the eyewall because the eye is actually so big right now. So New Orleans, only 15 miles from the very strongest winds. And the new 9:00 update here says those winds are still 135 miles per hour. And we had some wind gusts across Mississippi and Alabama over 100 already.

Here's New Orleans. I will zoom in for you.

The center of New Orleans, to the center of the storm, 40. But look at the eyewall. Look how close the eyewall is to New Orleans, less than 15 miles.

New Orleans, you are about to get your closest approach. Your closest approach of the eye is going to be in about in an hour. You kind of have to do the right angle here.

It's kind of all the Pythagorean Theorem as the eye moves right about there. That's as close as the eye is going to get to you, and also as close as the eyewall is going to get to you. So your winds are still going up from here, at least for another hour, hour and a half.

And now we have 47 miles to about Bay St. Louis, a little bit farther to the north and to the east there of Pascagoula. The east of. Let's say, here's Slidell and the west of Biloxi. So the bad part of the storm here, that's going to be making its way right into Biloxi. And if you do the math, 15 miles per hour, the worse part of the eye gets there in about three hours.

But it goes downhill from here. Here are some of the numbers.

Pascagoula, Mississippi, gusts to 118. Gulfport, gusts to 100. And New Orleans lake front, a gust to 86 miles per hour.

Very concerned that all of this wind blows the water into Lake Borne and also into Lake Pontchartrain, and then the winds coming from this direction into New Orleans, breach that levy that's on Lake Pontchartrain. We've already heard some reports of that happening.

Boy, things are going downhill in a hurry out there.

Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, Chad. I've got to ask you a question. What are the options if that roof starts peeling off a little more? They've just got to keep those people there, don't they?

MYERS: I think basically at this point you get into the mezzanine, because if you take a look at the very upper deck of the Superdome, the very upper decks attach to where the Superdome top goes. And so if you're under that deck, you're still going to be pretty safe, because the top, even fit completely blows off, you get into where they sell the hot dogs and the hamburgers. And those bunkers, basically, they're all concrete in that Superdome.

It was built to withstand this type of storm. Obviously the roof not taking it right now, but I think maybe an hour and a half, if we lose more pieces, there will be no one on the inside where you would watch the game, but everybody on the outside, where the bathrooms are.

Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Chad Myers. Appreciate that. And we hope things go well inside the Superdome, that's for sure.

Gary Tuchman is in our Hurricane One. That's our mobile unit. He's been making his way from Gulfport, Mississippi, generally in our direction. Don't know how far he's gotten.

Gary, where are you? What have you been seeing?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, we're sticking around Gulfport because the damage is so extensive here. It's hard to imagine that this is going to get worse.

We are watching these buildings deteriorate and break down before our eyes. Parts of the metal of half of the buildings that have been coming down flying all over the streets. Much of Gulfport, Mississippi, 70 miles east of New Orleans, is now flooded. The downtown street, US 90, along the beach, completely flooded by six feet of water.

I'm going to try to get out for a second and give you an idea of some of the damage we're seeing here. You can see right here at this railroad crossing that's going down, 10 minutes ago this was still up. Buildings across the way are losing their roofing.

Winds are -- windows all over have started breaking. We're being told by authorities that several people have been hurt from broken windows. Boats have washed up on US 90.

We've seen at least three sailboats in the water. And because the water so deep on the road, just about one mile in this direction the boats are floating up the street.

There is extensive damage. And I've got to be honest with you, we've had to tell the police about some of it. But fortunately no one else is out here right now.

We're traveling in this vehicle, Miles, as you just mentioned, Hurricane One, that has an antenna on top of it that's able to move and track the satellite, and that's why we can show you live pictures while we're moving. But there is extensive damage here, and this is basically right now like hell on Earth.

Miles, back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Gary Tuchman in Gulfport, Mississippi, where he describing it as hell on Earth. It sounds like they are really feeling the brunt of it right now.

Let's get to Soledad right away -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles, thanks.

I want to introduce you to Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She is the senior senator from Louisiana. She's at the hurricane command center in Baton Rouge.

Nice to see you, Senator. Thank you for talking with us.

I know you've been getting numerous briefings. And I want to run through some of the information that you've been getting.

First, the Superdome, you've heard about the situation there. What's the latest that you've heard? And what are they going to do with those folks inside if it looks like that roof is not going to stay on?

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Soledad, this is an extremely dangerous storm. The governor has been saying that, the governor of Mississippi, trying to evacuate people for days. The mayor of New Orleans issued a mandatory evacuation because this was expected.

We were praying for the very best, preparing for the worst. That is why these mandatory evacuations have been in place, urging people to get out of the way of the storm. Obviously, not everyone heeded it.

The police now, who are on standby, the sheriffs, the National Guard, cannot go out in this weather. They would be in danger themselves. So people have to batten down the best they can.

We understand the roof of the Superdome is deteriorating, but the building structure should hold for the next few hours. It's going to be very terrifying for a lot of people, but the command center is fully aware of what is going on.

The problem is, in the middle of a storm you can't deploy your assets. They are standing by -- food, water, ice, electricity. But in some of the 911 buildings in St. Bernard Parish, we know the building itself is gone, the 911 building.

The sheriffs, the local officials are putting their lives on the line right now in those communication shelters trying to do the best they can. So people just have to, you know, do the best they can.

This is going to be a couple of hours for those that are left. Most of the city evacuated. Most people listened to what the police and the governor had pleaded over the last two days to say.

So all I can tell you is, we're going to do the best we can here. And as soon as it's safe to get the emergency personnel out to rescue people, they will.

S. O'BRIEN: I can't tell if your pleased with the evacuations or -- you know, 80 percent or so took off...

LANDRIEU: Well...

S. O'BRIEN: ... and you're talk at a community where, you know, you are a native. You know people have been through a lot of storms and that often makes them complacent -- or if you're frustrated by the 20 percent that didn't heed the warnings.

LANDRIEU: Well, at this time it doesn't matter. What matters is, is that a lot of people did heed and got out. Some people didn't. And the communications center is aware of that. And they're going to do the best they can to rescue people after the fact.

The storm is very serious. It still has not completely hit the areases that we're anticipating. But that is under way now.

It's not a matter of being frustrated. It's just the fact this is a very dangerous storm. But the evacuation plan worked for the most part. But people still didn't heed some of the warnings.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think that because there really hasn't been a direct hit for, you know, what, 40 years or so, that that's part of the reason that people are complacent, they figure, hey, I went through another storm, I'm not worried about this one, I've lived through other big storms?

LANDRIEU: I think part of that is. But also, you know, some people couldn't leave because they didn't have transportation, although there was public transportation, to a certain extent, made available.

But the point is, is that I hope the country will be riveted to see what we've been saying, that this marsh that protects this great Gulf Coast needs to be preserved and invested in so that we minimize the damage caused by these storms. There's nothing you can do to stop them. You can only invest and be prepared.

This is a working coast. People are not sunbathing on this coast. They're producing the oil and gas for the nation.

They are running all the commercial shipping coming up from the Mississippi River that brings grain out of Kansas. We serve as a drainage of water for the nation.

So we are working here on this coast, and we need investments. And hopefully our focus right now today actually is saving lives. That's what our local elected officials are focused on. And we're going to be supporting their efforts.

S. O'BRIEN: Building on the coast, too. And some people have said that's one of the big reasons and concerns that the big storm surge, which looks like, at least some of it, might diminish, might pass -- go past you a little more to the east. But that would be the reason the levies could easily over-flood. And essentially, there were some pretty dire predictions. I know you read them, Senator.

LANDRIEU: Absolutely. But again, people are living on this coast so that we can ship goods out of the United States, so that we can produce oil and gas for the United States. Yes, there are some, you know, second homes and some resort areas, but this is, for all means, a working coast.

We've been here for over 300 years. We've continued to say, please invest in our levy systems. We've got one of the finest in the country. Hopefully most of it will hold up. Some of it may not.

We've said, please, let's invest in our coast. So this will be some pictures and some hopefully unfortunate tragedy that will get the country to recognize investment up front could save us all not only money, but a lot of pain and lives in the long run.

Let's just stay focused. The local elected officials are directing this -- this instance. And we're here to help. Again, the governor and the governor of Mississippi had unprecedented cooperation to try to evacuate people ahead of this storm.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, Senator, we're going to ask you to come back and chat with us when the storm passes.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: You'll have an opportunity to figure out what exactly has happened and how effective all the evacuations were. We're keeping our fingers crossed, of course, for everybody down where you are. Thanks for talking to us.

LANDRIEU: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: That was the Louisiana senator, Mary Landrieu, joining us.

Miles, let's get back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad, here in Baton Rouge, campus of Louisiana State University, the wind is really whipping up now. As a matter of fact, it's beyond those trees, but the aluminum roof to that building over there starting to peel away. Lots of debris coming down.

Amazingly, the lights are still on. I do know one important thing. It appears that the utilities are underground.

As Chad Myers maybe aptly put it, this is the easy side of the storm, meaning left of the eye. Easy is relative when we're talking Category 4 or Category 5. If this is the easy side, the hard size is where Rob Marciano is. He's in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Rob, how are things going there?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's hitting bad right now, Miles. Winds easily gusting to 100 miles an hour. We're kind of in a corner, somewhat protected, but right now flashings of the roof and gutter are being ripped off this hotel and being blown over our heads.

Here comes probably the biggest puff we've had yet, right here. That's the biggest puff right there.

Look at these trees. Look at these palm trees flailing. Flailing. And beyond that, an entire forest where trees are snapping in half.

We're trying to get a camera over there, but it's just way too dangerous. We are covered, somewhat protected right now by three sides of concrete. But our heads, it's possible for something to come down on our heads.

Right now, the winds, though, blowing this way, easily gusting over 100 miles an hour. So anything that does fly off will blow that way.

We've got another camera up on the third floor facing the southeast. And it's got -- it's a picture of the side of our hotel, which is also coming apart, but it hasn't come completely down yet.

Also, water is a huge issue. We're seeing rain coming down easily at two inches an hour. So the streets are flooding. And on top of that, the roof and the structure, Miles, is beginning to come apart.

We talk so often about what damage hurricane-force winds can do. But when you get winds over 100 miles an hour, we've already seen that happen. Structures are going to start to be damaged and start to come apart, and we're not even near the center of this thing just yet.

So that's the story right now in Biloxi. And we are six miles from the coastline.

I should also say that we've got word from the National Guard, and Gary Tuchman may have already reported on this, that where we were last night right along the beach, that roadway is covered by four feet of water. So the storm surge is coming in as well. Luckily, we're about 20 feet above sea level and well north of that storm surge. So that's not the issue.

The issue right now is damaging winds and flying debris. We're just trying to keep the crew safe as things start to come unraveled here -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, I know -- I know, Rob, you've thought about it, and I know you have a good escape plan, and I know you have a way to get things buttoned up and safe there if need be.

It seems as if the developing story here is that, after all off our focus on New Orleans, there is a tremendous hit already in Gulfport and Biloxi. Of course you've got to remember that the brunt of the storm hasn't reached New Orleans yet. That's a little bit further away. And that remains to be seen.

Of course we have reports of the dome -- of the Superdome peeling away a little bit. So there is that to consider as the storm passes through there.

Also, you know, Baton Rouge, for those of you unfamiliar with the territory, we're 80 miles mostly west, a little bit north of New Orleans. And as we say, because of that counterclockwise swirl and the fact that we're 40 feet above sea level, this is a pretty good place to be.

Having said that, we've seen Anderson Cooper, who's down by the Mississippi River, which is very close to where I'm standing, but it's an amazing difference in picture. I'm kind of protected here by the stadium and some buildings, and he's out there exposed to the elements.

What's going on there now, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, if you want to switch any time, Miles, I'm more than happy to. It's -- you know, it's pretty bad.

I mean, it's come to the point where I'm facing south right now. Just turning north is very difficult to even stare. But you can see the white caps and the amount of swell.

I mean, this is the Mississippi River. This looks like, you know, it could be an inland ocean or, you know, the sea on a relatively calm day.

This is the Mississippi River. A lot of white caps we're seeing. And visibility is really down, probably down to about 50 feet. It's gotten progressively worse even over the last 15 minutes or so.

And if you've been staying with us with our coverage, as I hope you have, I showed you that barge and that crane which had sort of cut loose. This is the view of that from -- from the river level.

This thing was pointing in the other direction about two hours ago. That crane is now just swinging loose. And this barge is basically pushing up against a pedestrian bridge, sort of a pier out over the Mississippi.

That's where we were standing a short time ago. But, I mean, this thing could be -- could just get pushed ashore. We're really not sure what's going to happen here.

It's a very strange situation to just kind of see this barge. It appears to be floating loose. There may be an anchor there somewhere, but this thing has swung around and could become -- I mean, if it goes out into the river, if it gets pushed out a little bit further, it could just be swept down.

There's a casino boat about, I'm guessing 200, 300 yards down there which you can probably just make out. If that barge got pushed loose, it could very easily go right into that casino boat.

You also -- you can't even see it anymore, but a short time ago we saw a cutter, a ship in the middle of the river that's been there for quite some time, and they were trying to move. And if you look right now crossing the bridge, there's a tractor trailer truck. I mean, that is not a good idea for a tractor trailer truck to be crossing the bridge across the Mississippi River across I-10 at the height of the storm.

This is really as bad as it has been for us. And it's not clear how much longer it's going to remain like this.

As you know, Miles, we're in this northwest part. So the wind is coming to us from the north, the rain is coming from the north. And I want to show you how much, though, the waters of the Mississippi have already risen.

At about -- I'm not sure what time it is now, but about 3:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. local time, we stood out there at the bottom of that pier. And that big tree trunk, that root, tree root you see there, that was -- that was not covered by water at all. And, in fact, I pointed to it and I said, "We're going to use that as kind of a marker of how much the water has risen."

Well, as you can see, it is now almost completely covered, and the water is about 10 to 15 feet farther ashore than it was before. So the Mississippi River clearly is rising. The water's coming on. And visibility just continues to get worse, and these white caps just keep on pounding.

It is very hard to get a sense of how the rest of Baton Rouge is doing. We've been, you know, lucky in a sense in that the storm has moved somewhat to the east, so it's not getting as hard -- as hard hit, but it is certainly getting hit pretty badly, Miles. And I'm sure where you are as well.

You also get a sense of the wind. If you turn around, this is sort of a levy that goes up to street level. You can really see, though, the wind just whipping the water. It's sort of this wall of white that we've gotten very use to seeing. The grass being blown down, and that American flag there, which has been flying, which they forgot to take down, I guess, is still up, which is pretty miraculous.

We thought that would have been gone a while ago. But it is locked up there. We will see how much longer it can last. But as you can see by the amount of wind on it, it's starting to tear just a little bit. But it is still -- still going.

That is the scene from the Mississippi River. We're probably going to go back up on the pier.

But again, look at this thing. I mean, it is just -- it's just swinging around. The top of this crane is just moving around and it is completely untethered. Sometimes with cranes they'll do that so that -- so the wind will take it and so the crane itself doesn't -- doesn't crash or doesn't break in half.

But that thing is just -- it's hitting the pier. It is certainly not a good scene here. But let's hope it does not go out any farther into -- into the river.

And I might be mistaken, but it looks like there's actually some sort of barge in the middle of the Mississippi. I don't know if that's on the move or if that's tethered. But let's hope it is not -- not trying to get down this river at this height of the storm -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Anderson Cooper, thank you very much in Baton Rouge. What a difference a mile or so can make.

We're here on the campus of Louisiana State University, right near where he is. I'm protected, and it's a whole different story.

Take a look at this shot. This is Biloxi, Mississippi, where we've been talking to Rob Marciano. And this is the awning of his hotel there.

He's been describing a lot of damage to building there. And you can see that awning is just about to give way. We'll check back with Rob in just a little bit. He's been telling us a little bit about how he's been covering it while staying safe as well.

Now, you've got 30,000-plus students here at Louisiana State University. And they're getting a few days off from classes, at least.

Heather Joe (ph) and Jacob Russell (ph) join me now. Both seniors.

Did your parents want you to come home, first of all? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They did. And then we told them that traffic was just too bad and we couldn't come, or it would be more dangerous because of the rain on the road and the darkness last night.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. You're both -- you're both from Shreveport.

What is the situation with your parents? They want you home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not.

M. O'BRIEN: And what's -- I understand they became sort of -- they've opened up their doors to a lot of people who have been evacuated. Tell us about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we've got family from New Orleans that are crashing with them. But they told me it would be a fun storm, so just to sit in Baton Rouge, ride it out and watch the show.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I don't know if fun is the appropriate thing to say. Watching this right now, you might draw that conclusion, but there's -- it's a very dangerous storm as well.

Did you -- have you -- have you gotten to the point where you're at all concerned? Do you feel like you did the right thing staying here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'm pretty safe here. If I was in New Orleans, I would be really afraid. But, you know, CNN hasn't said to leave Baton Rouge, or the mayor.

You know, I don't know. But -- plus, we're in a safe apartment complex. Well, it seems safe. So until we're told otherwise, we're just going to stay there.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Good words. Heather Joe (ph), Jacob Russell (ph), seniors here at LSU, getting a little bit of a taste of a hurricane of Category 4 strength.

We'll be back with more of our coverage in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Marc Morial is the president of the National Urban League, but he's also the former mayor of New Orleans. And he joins us a little to talk about what you've been seeing.

MARC MORIAL, FMR. NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: Hi, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. Thanks for coming in to talk to us.

MORIAL: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, I was watching you, and you've been listening to the coverage, and you've been watching the pictures. I mean...

MORIAL: It's devastating.

S. O'BRIEN: ... this is home for you.

MORIAL: This is home, and this is the storm that everyone sort of has feared...

S. O'BRIEN: The big one.

MORIAL: ... really for 40 years since Hurricane Betsy. And so much of the preparation in building better levies, new drainage systems, disaster preparedness plans has been about preparation for a storm like Katrina.

S. O'BRIEN: And still, a lot of the predictions were quite dire, because the truth is the levies are not built for a Category 5 storm, which Katrina was for a little bit. Now it's a 4, strong 4, hitting direct impact.

MORIAL: The good thing now is that there's computer modeling available that gives local and state officials and emergency management personnel a chance to really look at the flooding effect, the storm surge effect, the wind effect. And I think that the state, city and federal officials should be commended for strongly encouraging this mandatory evacuation.

And also, I give great credit to the people who responded very quickly to leave the community. You have great concern, as I have great concern for the people who could not leave. Many of the people who are in the Superdome simply did not have the wherewithal to leave. Certainly, there are some who probably could have, but they're people without transportation, they're people without anywhere to go. And I'm somewhat shocked that the roof of the dome appears to have been breached.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, we're going to talk about that in just a moment. We've got John Zarrella, who apparently is on the streets, now, in New Orleans. And I want to chat with him about what he's seeing.

John, thanks for being with us. He's joining us by phone. What are you seeing, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): ...wild one.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, John Zarrella, can you here me? This is Soledad in New York. Give us a --

ZARRELLA: Hi, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: -- sense of where you are and what you see.

ZARRELLA: I can barely hear you, but I'll tell you what I can see right now. We're standing on Common (ph) Street and the wind is just whipping down the street. The water is pouring down the street like waves on the top of the ocean, just blowing down the street. There are windows blown out in the building across the street, there are canopies that are down. Up through the manhole covers the water is just pouring out of the manhole covers. It just can't take it.

Again, New Orleans is below sea level to begin with, and what we have seen throughout the last four or five hours is a constant pounding rain. The water is just pouring down the sides of these giant skyscrapers here, as if someone just took buckets and dumped it off the sides of the buildings. Again, the worst of it appears right now to be the water that we're seeing. It has not reached the sandbags that surround the doors of the hotels and the businesses here on Common Street, just a couple of blocks off canal street. It has not gotten that high, yet.

But again, we still have not seen the worst of the storm. And the wind is just whipping through the streets. You can look down the street, and at times, Soledad, you can barely see anything from the pure whiteout conditions that exist here in downtown New Orleans -- Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, John, thanks. Let me ask you to stand by while we talk to Mark Morial again.

A little bit earlier, we heard from Adora Udoji who said it's not even howling -- the wind is screaming.

MORIAL: Yeah, it's a fearful sound when that wind is whipping and you hear things battering, you hear shutters and awnings and things falling.

S. O'BRIEN: But you've heard John's description. New Orleans is below sea level.

MORIAL: It's below sea level.

S. O'BRIEN: It cannot take all this rain. Flooding's going to be a big problem and the wind's going to be a problem.

MORIAL: And John's downtown, where probably it's a little bit higher. I certainly would wonder what the effect of the water is in some of the residential neighborhoods. Certainly it's a lot more severe. And we've just got to wait this out, people have to wait this out. And I think -- I saw Senator Landrieu on, and I think she made a point that I would make, and that is certainly the people of the nation -- Louisiana will need the people of the nation to assist in the recovery efforts and in the rebuilding efforts that are going to take place.

But we also want people to understand how important the economy of southeastern Louisiana is to the nation. This could --

S. O'BRIEN: What's your guess on the devastation here? I mean, it hasn't hit, yet, and you've heard John's description.

MORIAL: I think you're going to have -- it seems like significant property damage, certainly a loss of power. The big "if" is, how significant is the flooding throughout the community, and what effect will that have on property? But certainly at the top is, has anyone been affected, has anyone's safety, has anyone's life been affected. And certainly no one knows at this time.

S. O'BRIEN: The winds are going to pick up, because again, you're not in the eye of the storm yet, and he's talking about windows being blown out of buildings, and -- from what he can see in the middle of the street.

MORIAL: And you'll probably have roofs blown off homes, you'll probably have downed trees. Those trees may hit buildings. Certainly they're going to knock down a whole lot of wires, so there's going to be a loss of electricity, probably television, probably telephone service.

S. O'BRIEN: How do you pay for the clean up? It's a huge bill.

MORIAL: Well, the clean up -- it's a huge bill, but a good part of it is going to have to be borne certainly by the federal government. I know that the state and the city will do their part, but the federal government has an important responsibility and a fund that can be utilized. It's important, I think, as I sit here in New York, as a person who loves New Orleans and loves southeastern Louisiana, that the rebuilding effort is important not only for the people who live in southeastern Louisiana, but for the economy of the nation. Louisiana and Mississippi's economies are closely tied. Oil and gas, certainly tourism, port and shipping, the railroad industry, goods that go abroad, international trade -- are going to be affected. They're going to be interrupted, they're going to be slowed down by the effect of this storm.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get back to John Zarrella for just a moment.

Hey, John, you heard these reports about the Superdome. As it was described to us by an affiliate reporter, a twelfth of the total circumference of that dome ripped off, is what he was describing -- rain coming in, he could see daylight. Any surprises -- a picture of the Superdome not too long ago. Any surprise to you, when you consider that you're out in the elements, that that's going on for the folks who sort of hunkered down at the Superdome?

ZARRELLA: Uh, no. No surprise at all from what we're seeing. It's like, if I step out, I don't even know that you'll be able to hear me as I walk down the street on Common Street. I'm huddled against the side of a massive building here. But the water just continues to rise.

I guess what surprises me, and yet it doesn't, is that we are surrounded by so many tall, big concrete block structures here in the downtown area, in the French Quarter area -- you know, that we're not feeling the absolute full brunt of the wind that's howling. But as I look down the street, the water is up and continuing to rise and just being whipped off the top of the street now. It's just racing down the street. It's probably no more than about a foot deep in places here, but it's continuing to rise. And you can hear that wind howling as I stand on the street corner (INAUDIBLE) white out condition right now. It got very gray, very, very black for a couple minutes, one of the squall lines going through. The cars -- the water is up close to the wheel well on the curbside of most of these cars. Now we're hearing some more debris beginning to slam down on the ground here.

But the big thing, Soledad, again, that I see here, so much more than at least at this point the wind, is this water, this rising water just being blown and whipped around by the wind, because of the fact that we are so shielded from the straight-line winds that you might get if you -- and certainly would get if you were in a more exposed area. It's bad enough here as it is, on the street as I walk along. But it would be so, so much worse.

And as I've been talking to you, just for the last few minutes, the water is continuing to come up -- still hasn't reached the sandbags that are surrounding the hotels and the businesses here, but it's getting mighty close -- Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: And we still have a little ways to go, that's fair to say. John Zarrella is walking down the street, kind of giving us a bird's-eye view of what's going on.

MORIAL: John's got courage.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. John's covered a lot of these. And yes, he's a very brave guy. Braver than most of us would ever be.

You know, let's talk about the Superdome, because he's talking about the problems about flooding. And we've seen a million people -- one million people -- evacuated out of New Orleans. If there are massive flooding problems and if there are, you know, wind damage problems, where are you going to put all these people? Even if it's a third of the people?

MORIAL: These people will not be able to return for quite some time. They -- and it won't be advisable for them to return until after there's been some sort of damage assessment, a recovery effort, to ensure that downed power lines -- a lot of the loss of life, if I recall Hurricane Betsy, occurred in the aftermath of the storm, when people went outside and when buildings, which were not solid and had been affected by the storm, fell down, and power lines affected people. So, it's really going to require --

S. O'BRIEN: What happened to the Superdome? I mean, you've got a building -- if you're in there, and you're one of the 10,000 people, and the ceiling -- or, the roof is starting to peel off, where do you go?

MORIAL: That Superdome is supposed to be stronger than the Roman Colosseum.

S. O'BRIEN: Right. That's supposed to last.

MORIAL: And it was surprising that the roof would be breached. But that certainly shows you how significant this storm is. And I -- inside the dome there are huge ballrooms, there are areas outside of sort of the football playing field area, that people are probably going to have to be transferred to. And if they're in those areas, I think they will be safe as long as there's not a significant breach or compromise of the roof of the dome. But it's a surprising development that certainly is going to require close monitoring.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, a bad surprise, certainly. And for those folks who thought that they were hunkering down in a very safe location --

MORIAL: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: -- they're getting some bad news this morning, and getting probably wet, as well.

MORIAL: Yeah, I think people just have -- we have to continue to pray that there's no loss of life. And certainly I think the rest of the country has to recognize with the power of this storm, it's going to come inland and in fact will dump rain and certainly high winds on other parts of the interior of the United States.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

MORIAL: So Louisiana is just --

S. O'BRIEN: We haven't even started yet, really. The eye is not there, and we're already looking at the damage.

MORIAL: The next twelve hours (INAUDIBLE).

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Mark, I'm going to ask you to stick around, if you -- if we can.

MORIAL: Okay. I'll stay for a minute.

S. O'BRIEN: We're going to keep you right in this chair.

I'm going to get right to Chad. We've got some breaking news about this storm. Hey, Chad, good morning again.

MYERS: Hey, good morning.

I actually -- I want you to keep the mayor there as well. Tornado warning for Jefferson Parish, including Kenner and Metairie, also Orleans Parish, including the city of New Orleans now. The National Weather Service, at 8:32 indicating many, now -- "many reports are coming in stating total structural failure in the New Orleans metro area. Seek substantial cover now. Winds are gusting to over 120 miles per hour."

Here is the storm, what we have now is New Orleans on the easy side -- can you believe that? A hundred and twenty on this side, hundred and forty on this side. Total structural failure -- and I'm wondering how long these levees are going to hold on Lake Pontchartrain.

Rob Marciano's up in Biloxi. Rob, you've got structural failure in some spots, too. MARCIANO: In a big way, Chad. Easily, winds now sustained at 80, 90 miles an hour -- gusts at 110, 120.

Look at this. The undercarriage of this awning is being torn apart. Light fixtures and light bulbs blowing off and flying everywhere. We're protected somewhat by three sides of stucco and concrete. But this structure is coming apart as we speak.

Look at all the debris down here. This is not only from the awning but also flashings from pieces of the roof and the gutter all littering now this area, damaging cars that are parked.

And beyond that, the trees that we keep showing you look like they keep disappearing by the minute. Certainly -- look at that debris. Look at that. The entire thing is coming apart.

Heads up, guys. This is a good spot. All right.

Now the framework of that is wood. So I wouldn't suspect it would begin -- the entire thing would fly away like, say, an aluminum overhang of a gas station.

But, until every piece of that white vinyl is torn off -- it's pretty nasty. I got you. I got you.

Word out of Biloxi -- the police are not coming out. They're down. They're hunkered down. They are not going out to any calls. We've got reports of boats now that are floating down Highway 90, about six miles to our south and to our east. And this piece of structure continues to come unraveled.

Chad, are you there? Who am I talking back to? Miles, Chad, what are the observations you're getting out of Mississippi right now? These winds -- easily 110, maybe even 120, the way this hotel is coming apart.

MYERS: You know, all we have right now from Biloxi is about 94 miles per hour. And 94, obviously, is still big enough to make damage anywhere there, Rob.

MARCIANO: That's a gust at 94?

MYERS: That was a gust at 94 right there, yes.

MARCIANO: OK, it seems like -- OK, I don't want to say calming down, but you know how these come in surges.

MYERS: Yes.

MARCIANO: Every time you get a band, you get a down -- winds from the upper level is coming down and it's calming down just a little bit.

Anyway, that's the latest from Biloxi. This hotel coming apart at the seams a little bit. A quick shot if we could of the camera on the north -- the southeast side. I don't even know what that looks like anymore. I can't even peek around. That's probably the most dangerous side of this hotel right now, the most exposed part where that sign -- I don't know how the Comfort Inn sign is holding apart the way, you know, nailed down pieces of this hotel seem to be peeling off.

MYERS: Hello, Rob, you've got another band here that's to your southeast that's even worse than the one you just went through. Make sure the crew is ready for that. Make sure you're ready for that. You just went through one of the outer bands.

Actually, part of the northern eyewall is still to your southwest. There's Biloxi. Here's the easy part he just talked about. That could be 130 to 140 miles per hour. And that's not that far away. That's less than a half hour away, bud.

MARCIANO: Will we get a break when we get into the bit of calm in the eye or are we going to stay on the right side of the eyewall and just get hammered for the next three hours?

MYERS: The farther you move to the east, like 10 miles to the east, you're in the eyewall the whole time. You may actually see the sun shine. You will be in the eye.

MARCIANO: Oh, that would be nice. But it sounds like it's going to be a rough ride until then.

All right, Chad, thanks for keeping me up to date. We're going to head inside for a bit.

MYERS: Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, guys. I was sort of mesmerized by that conversation -- hearing that discussion about those wind speeds.

The wind has picked up here in Baton Rouge quite a bit. We've got this storm covered all of the way across the Gulf Coast. CNN is your headquarters for hurricanes.

Our show continues in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. I'm Miles O'Brien, live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- about 80 miles west of New Orleans. I'm told by Chad Myers in the Weather Center -- he just reported to us that the worse of the storm has now reached New Orleans.

This is the moment we've been talking about, dreading, anticipating now for some days.

Jeanne Meserve is right in the thick of it. She's not too far from the Superdome. I don't know how well she can hear me.

Jeanne, give us the latest.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, we went over there trying to take a look at the Superdome because we've heard these reports that they were having problems over there.

From our vantage point we can hardly see the Superdome and we're about a half a block away. Whiteout conditions here. Incredible rain. Punishing, punishing winds.

We heard on the radio that they might be trying to move some people out of the Superdome. I don't see how they could possibly do it in these conditions. We could barely put an eye around the corner of the building to take a peek at what was happening over there.

I know there's been talk about the roof -- is there a problem with the roof from where (inaudible) standing and, with this type of condition, we can't possibly see whether there is or not.

I've got some skyscrapers off to my right here and we are just watching them fall apart. The hotel is right there. There's a corner of windows, and that corner, oh, boy, every time we look up, there's another couple gone. Debris flying past us. It's draperies. It's venetian blinds. It's papers. It's bedding.

It's a truly incredible scene here. The flooding on the street has gotten considerably worse. It's to a couple of feet now.

But there's a storm drain down there that I've been watching. A while ago, I could see that water was starting to bubble up back through it. And we weren't just looking at water. There was an oil slick there -- sort of symptomatic of the kind of problems they believe they're going to have after this is all over with all the runoff that's going to be accumulated on the streets here.

Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve, I hope you can hear me. If you can, you talked about the flooding. Do you have a sense from where you sit as to how extensive the flooding is?

MESERVE: How intense the flooding is? We're a little reluctant to move the camera because we're afraid I'll lose our signal. I'm going to step out of the shot a minute, go take a look. You can look at what's happening behind me as I run over and take a look.

It's come up. I would say there's maybe -- in the worse place -- maybe two feet (inaudible) on the ground down there. A lot of debris in it now because of all the stuff that's come off the buildings.

This does look like rain accumulation and like (inaudible) the sewers. This doesn't look like we've had any breach of the levies apparent in this part of the town, at least at this point in time.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Jeanne Meserve, thanks. And apologies to our viewers -- obviously difficult getting that signal in with the worst of the storm bearing down on New Orleans, something that we have been talking about and dreading, as we say, for quite some time.

Let's hope the city fares well, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles.

Let's check in again with the former mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial, who has been listening to our coverage as well. I see your face when you've been hearing some of these things. For example, when Jeanne Meserve talks about the bedding, the windows blowing out and, of course, everything in the room blowing out as well. You seem very, concerned.

MARC MORIAL, FMR. NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: That shows that there's a lot of catastrophe and there's going to be a massive clean-up effort. And Jean and John are both downtown which is going to be affected. But you've got tall, strong buildings. I certainly wonder what's happening out in the neighborhoods where there are homes and houses, undoubtedly trees downed...

S. O'BRIEN: Much less protected.

MORIAL: Much less protected.

S. O'BRIEN: How about folks in the Superdome? You heard Jeanne talk about, and she actually went out in the street to try to see what was going on at the Superdome. She said she was half a block away and couldn't make it out, from half a block away, can't see it.

MORIAL: Right. A lot depends on how significant the breach in the roof is. The dome -- as I mentioned, people can go into the quadrant areas, into the ballroom areas to get out of the bowl of the dome and perhaps get away from the weather but...

S. O'BRIEN: More risky, though, to take 10,000 people and march them someplace else?

MORIAL: Oh, yes, I think so. I think to move people in the middle of a storm, this is only my opinion, would not be advisable unless it was absolutely necessary because you would need buses and people to drive buses and that would not be advisable.

So they're in a very tough situation. We need to certainly pray for them and hope that they're going to be able to ride this out for the next 12 hours or so.

S. O'BRIEN: You heard Chad say that at 8:32 there were reports of total structural failure. That's just complete building collapse. I assume residences and commercial buildings as well.

MORIAL: Yes. A lot depends on where that is. There is New Orleans but then there are a lot of coastal areas in Homa, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Plackman's Parish, which are south of the city, which are literally surrounded by marsh and swamp and bayous. And they're going to be dramatically affected.

The city is a bit more secure because of the levee system. But a storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain which sits on the north side compounded with heavy rain could create flooding throughout.

So I think we've got to all wait and see and certainly hope for the best. The good thing is that my sense is that there's no news as of yet of any loss of life. That's good news. Let's -- I certainly hope that continues throughout.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. I know that there was one official who was quoted as saying, listen, certainly about the Superdome, this is not about creature comfort. This is making sure that everybody is alive on Tuesday. We just want to get people through this storm.

MORIAL: Right. And that dome is probably crowded and I know there's a lot of people there and a lot of children there and certainly they -- their patience is going to be tested. But that shelter of last resort is essential.

S. O'BRIEN: yes, it's never a good sign, though, when the shelter of last resort looks like it's falling apart a little bit. But we'll try to get over there and see exactly what's happening there.

Marc Morial, we're going to ask you to stick around. Don't even think about leaving yet because we're not letting you go. We're going to take a short break. We continue to be your hurricane headquarters as we follow the path of Katrina, a devastating Category 4 storm hitting right now. Stay with us. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Live pictures now. Biloxi, Mississippi, where it's been a rough ride so far. Rob Marciano and his team are there. And he was talking back and forth to Chad Myers just a segment ago. And I hope you caught it. It was rather mesmerizing listening to them talk about these wind speeds that they're able to isolate in those little areas.

Chad, I got to ask you a question. How are you able to know what the wind speed is where Rob is right there? Is that just kind of a computer sort of guessing, interpolating, if you will?

MYERS: Kind of. But the Doppler Radar is actually able to show us which wind direction the rain drop is moving.

Think about when you're sitting at a train track waiting for a train to go by. When the horn blows, the horn is a different pitch on the way to you compared to when the train goes by you. That difference in pitch is called the Doppler Effect. And by looking at the Doppler, we can actually see which way the rain drops are flying in the storm.

Now, granted, by the time we run from Slidell back over to Biloxi, that beam is maybe 1,000 feet in the air but we still have a real good idea how strong these winds are all across the area. And that's how the Hurricane Center keep us up on the wind. They don't have to fly a plane in all the time, especially when it's over land because you do have the Doppler capability. The western eyewall of the hurricane directly over eastern New Orleans right now, Slidell being slammed. There are so many other towns right now that are being hit so hard that we can't focus on because obviously New Orleans is the major focus.

But right along I-12 and I-10, right over the Bay St. Louis and then another band that's about to slap Biloxi here with winds over 120 miles per hour, the big red area still offshore will be on shore in less than a half hour. It gets worse for here, Biloxi, not better. Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad, what's your best guess on when it will be its worse here in Baton Rouge? Do you have a sense of it?

MYERS: You know what, Miles, every time a band goes by, you get bad weather and then there's a miss in the band right here. All your weather is coming in from the east. And there are bands still to your east but then there's a break through here. You've got bad weather now, then a break and then another band of bad weather. But that's still about 45 minutes away.

The farther the storm moves away from you, the less chance it has for those bands to get to you and, obviously, those bands, they get to Biloxi, they get to Mobile, they get to Meridian and they start to slide off to the east. That's why this slapping off to the east as every band comes up is much more dangerous than the slapping on the backside because this here is a slower, a slower wrapping, a slower rotation than off to the east. Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Really great work keeping us informed on this all throughout this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

And Soledad, that pretty much wraps it up for us. And I just -- on a personal note, I have a 12-year-old boy watching right now, my son, who is rather worried that I would be here. Everything is OK, Mora (ph). I'm here. We're safe. We did the story. And be home in a few days -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We're worried about you, too. In fact, we're worried about all our correspondents who are out there today as we watch a lot of the debris flying by.

So, yes, to all of you, including you, Miles, please be careful, stay safe.

The former mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial, big thank you to you.

MORIAL: Thanks for having me.

S. O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate your time this morning.

Obviously, as we hand off our coverage to Daryn Kagan who is at the CNN Center this morning, she's going to take you through the next couple of hours on "CNN LIVE TODAY."

The story's only just beginning, Daryn. It is a mess and it's going to be a big and ugly cleanup, too.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST, CNN LIVE TODAY: Yes, Soledad. Thank you and your team on "AMERICAN MORNING" for their fine work this morning.

END

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