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Hurricane Katrina Downgraded, Still Deadly

Aired August 29, 2005 - 03:00   ET


BONNIE SCHNIEDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning everyone. I'm Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the CNN weather center. Hurricane Katrina is now a Category 4 storm. It has been downgraded from a Category 5, but please by no means let this be a note that this is something to be less concerned about.
A strong Category 4 can be devastating and we're expecting that exactly to occur with Hurricane Katrina. Right now the maximum winds are at 155 m.p.h. and the location of the center of the storm, 70 miles to the south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River, or 130 miles to the south-southeast of New Orleans.

The movement has picked up just a little bit. It has now turned towards the north, near 12 m.p.h. We're expecting this motion to continue, but a turn to the north-northeast is expected later on, on into Tuesday, after the storm makes landfall.

So, on this forecast track, the center of the hurricane will be very near the northern Gulf Coast later this morning, but of course, we're seeing those conditions gradually deteriorate right now. And once again, the maximum winds with Katrina, 155. So the storm is now a Category 4. A Category 4 is still incredibly powerful hurricane.

One other note, according to this latest advisory, Katrina has not shrunken in size. Maybe it has gone down a little bit in intensity, but not in size. We're still seeing those hurricane force winds extend outward from the center of the storm, 105 miles. Hurricane or tropical storm force winds, rather, extend outward of 230 miles from the storm center.

And incidentally, we do have reports of those hurricane force winds, in the form or wind gusts, already occurring on the coastal sections of Louisiana. In Grande Isle in the southeastern section of the state, where we're getting those southern parishes really picking up some strong winds. We've had wind gusts reported at 75 m.p.h. in Grande Isle. I reported earlier, a wind gust further to the west of that, into Southwest Pass (ph), of 101 m.p.h. So that is what we had reported from an ocean buoy.

So, once again, Katrina is now back down to Category 4 strength. It is good news before it makes landfall for it to weaken just a bit, but we're really not expecting more weakening than this. This is still a very expansive, a very powerful storm. But it is now Category 4. That is the latest from here. We'll keep you updated if we have any other changes or updates.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's take a moment on this, Bonnie.


HARRIS: We understand -- OK, great news, that it has weakened. Do we understand why it has weakened? Because I'm hoping that perhaps we could see a little more weakening before the eye of the storm passes over some populated areas.

SCHNEIDER: Well, really I would just say it is very difficult for a hurricane to maintain itself at Category 5 status.

HARRIS: I see.

SCHNEIDER: So we have what we call these eye wall replacement cycles, where there the storm will kind of come together and then come apart a little bit, and regenerate themselves. So, we could see some more fluctuations. And you know, we're talking about the difference here -- I'm just looking here -- we have Category 4, the maximum wind speed on that is 155. So we're at the top of the scale right now for a Category 4.

HARRIS: I see.

SCHNEIDER: Just one mile over, Tony, we're back to Category 5.

HARRIS: Oh, brother. OK.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: And where it is hanging around there, is it is churning there in the Gulf of Mexico.


KAYE: The water there is extremely warm.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

KAYE: Which is fueling the power of this hurricane.

SCHNEIDER: We've had reports of water temperatures well into 90s. And you're talking abut the warmest water you can get. Little to no wind shear; remember the wind shear are the winds that can kind of guide the hurricane in a certain direction. And if you have a lot of wind shear or winds coming in a different directions, that rips apart the thunderstorm tops. That rips apart the clouds that are really supporting this convection, or thunderstorm activity. So, we don't have that right now.

KAYE: Right.

SCHNEIDER: So right now, we're just looking for the storm fluctuating, teetering, on that Category 4 to Category 5 status.

KAYE: But the longer is stays there the greater chance that it could be that it could bump back up?

SCHNEIDER: It's possible. We could see the storm become again a Category 5 before landfall. We're getting closer and closer to landfall, so as time goes on, you know, let's hope that doesn't happen. But it's a slight fluctuation.

Katrina, I just want to mention, once again. Please don't let this, you know, make you feel more comfortable with it, getting outside or anything like that. It is still a dangerous storm and we're just talking about a slight fluctuation here. But still just as large and still quite powerful as a Category 4.

HARRIS: Bonnie, you want to stick around? Richard Knabb is coming up in just a moment. You want to stick around for a couple questions?


HARRIS: OK, Richard Knabb is with us now from the National Hurricane Center.

Richard, good to talk to you again.


HARRIS: We want to keep in mind that it's a good sign. We don't want to -- it is a good sign that the storm is weakening. But as Bonnie was just mentioning, you can't get but too happy about this because it is still a very, very, very, very powerful storm.

KAYE: Strong storm.

KNABB: Right. Well, we'll take any weakening we can get at this point.


KNABB: But certainly if it is only a slight weakening and at this point doesn't make a whole lot of difference in terms of what the potential impacts on the coastline and points inland are going to be.

HARRIS: OK, so let's talk about this again. Now I understand from talking to Bonnie and Brad Huffines, and Rob Marciano, that there are several paths that this storm could still take and impact New Orleans. That there is a more favorable path and then there is a least favorable path. Can you talk us through that?

KNABB: Well, certainly there is great concern, not for just New Orleans, but all southeastern Louisiana, coastal Mississippi and Alabama.


KNABB: And how to characterize what's good and what's bad for any of these areas is difficult to do right now. We could see a lot of wobbling as the center approaches the coastline. But in any case, near and to the right of where that center crosses the coastline we're going to see very large storm surges, perhaps greater than 20 feet in some areas. And even if the center passes to the east of New Orleans, we're still not confident that the waters will not overtop the levies. That still could happen. So, people should not let down their guard at all, at this point. And the fact that because Katrina is not just an intense hurricane it is a very large hurricane it is going to take all day for this circulation to pass over the coastline and into the inland areas. So, it probably may not be until Tuesday morning before people can safely go out to survey the damage.

KAYE: Wow.

KNABB: And even then you have to be very careful, because the aftermath of a storm can be very dangerous outside.

KAYE: And speaking of circulation, the winds actually go counter clockwise, correct? Around the eye? So anything to the east of where this actually makes landfall is trouble.

KNABB: Yes, when a hurricane crosses the coastline you get on shore flow. And right near the eye, in the eye wall, that is where the water is pushed on shore and that is where you get the abnormal rise in the water levels that we call the storm surge. And that can extend a good deal eastward from the center. So, a large area is going to be impacted by storm surge. And even to the west of where the center crosses the coast the water could still be pushed into Lake Pontchartrain and some of that could make its way into the city of New Orleans.

So, a large area here. Still the potential for some significant storm surge and we could see some wobbles in the track. We often do as the center approaches the coastline. So we can't pinpoint where its going to cross the coast just yet.

HARRIS: And one more quick one and then I'm sure Bonnie has a couple of questions for you, Richard. With the weakening of the storm that we have seen, has the path changed at all? And -- well, let's deal with that one first. Has the path changed at all?

KNABB: Just slightly. We think we are seeing a due north motion now, at about 12 m.p.h. So that is a slight change from the north- northwest motion. So it seems to be taking this gradual turn to the north and then the north-northeast. But again, as it does that, it can wobble back and forth.

HARRIS: Right, right.

KNABB: But we still expect it to gradually turn to the north- northeast later today.

HARRIS: With the weakening did it pick up any speed?

KNABB: Well those two things are kind of happening at the same time. Again, that weakening is extremely slight. I wouldn't read too much into that just yet.

HARRIS: Right. KNABB: But we do increase, a gradual increase in the forward speed as it moves ashore.

HARRIS: And, Bonnie, you have a quick one for Richard, or do we --



SCHNEIDER: Richard, do you think some dry air kind of mixing with the hurricane, is that where we're seeing that slight bit of weakening?

KNABB: Yes, that maybe an effect of it interacting with land, but that can fill back in at any time rather quickly. So I wouldn't read too much into that just yet. We can see these little structural changes. We've only got a couple of satellite images that could show that and it could fill back in.


KNABB: And if you look at the radar imagery, it shows a pretty solid area of rainfall and heavy winds throughout the entire circulation. So even though some of the cloud tops have warmed a little bit there on the west side, they are still a solid area of tropical storm force winds on both sides. Hurricane force winds as well, which we think are in this area and now onshore in southeastern Louisiana.

HARRIS: Yes. All right, Richard, I'll take your phrase, we'll take whatever weakening we can get.

KAYE: Absolutely.

HARRIS: Good to talk with you again. Thanks.

KNABB: You're welcome.

KAYE: So what's the situation like down on the ground in New Orleans at this hour? CNN's Jeanne Meserve has been in the Big Easy now for more than 24 hours. She has been telling us earlier today that the weather had been holding up. I had been speaking with her as of 11 o'clock, actually yesterday morning, so coming up on 24 hours ago.

And Jeanne was telling us that the traffic was flowing rather heavily outside that city. She was along the highway there and we could see the traffic behind her throughout the day. And it was quite a sight. So, we're going to check in with Jeanne as soon as we can get her on the line with us.

In the meantime, we want to check in with Susan Roesgen, at WGNO, our affiliate. And she's across from the Superdome there, in the New Orleans area, on the phone, in her hotel.

And Susan, tell us what you're seeing from your perspective there?

SUSAN ROESGEN, REPORTER, WGNO: Well, a lot of folks sort of milling around in the lobby and many more on the third floor. The hotel has asked everyone to leave their rooms and to gather on the third floor in a series of ballrooms. The hotel management tells me they have about 3,000 people here, tourists and locals. And the locals include employees at the hotel.

And they've asked folks to just bring a pillow and a blanket from their room and to try to make themselves comfortable and lie down. Not many people really sleeping, as you might imagine, too much to think about.

But the weather right now, outside the hotel, in this part of downtown New Orleans, right across from the Superdome, is not too bad. It is a little bit muggy, a little bit breezy, but we haven't had anything resembling a hurricane yet.

KAYE: And what is the mood there among folks there in that hotel? Is there sort of this camaraderie with people? We're all going to ride this out together? Or are people somewhat concerned?

ROESGEN: I think they are resigned. Certainly these are people who were watching it and for one reason or another watching the storm on the television and listening to the reports on the radio and perhaps they decided that they didn't have time to get out of town. They are here, they are resigned to being here. And you know, this is really slow torture for New Orleaneans, when you have to just watch and you know that right outside the window there is nothing too terrible yet, and you wonder what more might come.

Over in the Superdome, that is a totally different situation. The media has not been allowed inside the Superdome, but it is filled with really the poorest of the poor in this city. Many elderly, many children, many sick, often people on dialysis and oxygen. And they were allowed to bring just a few personal possessions. They had to wait an hour -- they had to wait outside in the rain for hours just to get in. So that situation over there is probably not nearly as comfortable as it is for the guests and the employees here at the Hyatt.

KAYE: And, Susan, you work in that city. You know that city well. You know what the problem is with the levies now. And looking at those levies, maybe 10, 12 feet high and possibly storm surge as high as 30 feet. You know what could happen there, to your city. Are you surprised at all, we're hearing so many reports of people who have chosen not to evacuate?

ROESGEN: No, I'm not surprised at all, because again, this is a very poor city. By some estimates 140,000 people do not have cars. About a quarter of the residents have simply no way to get out.

I talked to the mayor a couple of days ago, Mayor Ray Nagin, there is not plan to use city buses to try to get these people out. He knew they were stuck, and they are stuck. You talk about the levies and the tidal surge, which is what we really fear. Earlier tonight I was down in the French Quarter and you know, some people are still partying on Bourbon Street, a lot of tourists. And you know, those people, tourists with Daiquiris in their hands on Bourbon Street have no idea that the French Quarter is one of the lowest spots in the city. Eight to 12 feet below sea level, already. So even a good hard drenching in a summer afternoon rain causes flooding there.

So, you know, we call this the soup bowl, between Lake Pontchartrain, to the north and the Mississippi River to the south, and with coastal erosion we don't have much between us and Katrina.

KAYE: Frightening thought, thinking about those tourists in the French Quarter, just hanging around just looking for some fun there and having no idea what is headed their way, as you mentioned.

Susan Roesgen, thank you so much for your insight there tonight.


HARRIS: Let's take a few moments and talk to CNN's Jeanne Meserve again.

And Jeanne, you are making your way through the city of New Orleans to your location. I believe it is a radio station in New Orleans. And is it a little odd to be driving through that city with such a reputation. Susan was just mentioning it a moment ago, with such a reputation for its night life to see this, at 2:15, in the morning, to see the streets bare and vacant?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we weren't down by the French Quarter, where I imagine the partying may still be going on. We're more in a business district over near the Superdome.

Right now, actually, I'm in a shopping mall, making my way up to that radio station. And I found something kind of interesting. While I was walking through the mall there are three police officers with bedrolls in a vacant storefront here. They tell me that the three of them have watercraft, jet skis and flap (ph) boats. And they have put those in a nearby parking garage. And the plan is if the water gets high they at least will be able to get to their watercraft and get to whoever might need help and might be able to do something in a situation where most people can't.

HARRIS: That's, you know, that is so interesting. When you think about what this city may look like, given what we're hearing as the worst-case scenario here. What the city may look like, that might be the mode of transportation. The way that you can get around in the city over the next two, three, four, five days. Who knows?

MESERVE: You're absolutely right. Earlier in the day I had been over near the levies, there is a fire battalion that is stationed just about a block away, in the French Quarter. And we check in with them. And they were bringing a couple of boats into the firehouse. That they anticipated they would have to leave. What was kind of interesting about my conversations with the people there, they said they were going to have to evacuate, eventually, they felt. If the storm lives up to advance billing and moves their actual fire equipment out of the firehouse. They'd have to, they said, put it in parking garages or possibly on entrance ramps to the highways. The firemen would evacuate the firehouse. They would go to a hotel.

And I asked, well, gee how could you respond to something. They said, frankly, we can't until the water gets a little lower. And they could get either back to the boat or back to their equipment could get around in the city.

HARRIS: Jeanne, in your long and wonderful career, have you given any thought to what it is going to -- the experience of covering an event like this? And you've covered great stories.

MESERVE: I have. And I have to tell you, I was zipping some e- mail around to some family tonight, as things were getting worse. And saying, I thought this really had the potential to be the biggest story I had ever covered. And you know, I honestly hope it won't be. This would be such a tragedy for this city if it unfolds as some people believe it might. But, yes, this is potentially just -- catastrophic, is the word that is used over and over again. And I can't think of a better word for it.

This is a big city. It is an important city. It's a vibrant city. It is a piece of America. That the whole world is aware of. Everybody knows about Bourbon Street, everybody knows about the jazz, everybody knows about the cultural influence that New Orleans has had. And not to mention it's great cooking. And it would really be tragic if the city is put under water tonight.

HARRIS: Boy, that's saying something. Jeanne Meserve, thank you, Jeanne.

MESERVE: You bet.

KAYE: And we'd like to remind you that Hurricane Katrina has been downgraded to a Category 4. That just in to our CNN weather center. Bonnie Schneider bringing us that news. Downgraded, but Bonnie also warns to not let that fool you.

There it is. Hurricane Katrina on the live radar making its way toward the Gulf Coast. You are watching special extended coverage of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina.


HARRIS: To Biloxi, Mississippi now and Jonathan Freed.

And Jonathan, I'm just sort of curious, how concerned are officials there, in Biloxi, that this storm might seriously impact the gaming industry there?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a tremendous amount of concern about that, because the casinos, which are floating casinos were built to withstand winds of around 150, 155 m.p.h. and storm surges of around 15 feet. And it looks like we're going to be dealing with something that going to be really testing those limits for the first time. So it is not clear how those casinos are going to be affected.

You are talking about a huge industry here. There are millions and millions of visitors every year, that come through Biloxi, largely to visit the casinos. So it is a huge industry here, developed over the last 15 years or so. Everybody just waiting to see what is going to happen there.

HARRIS: And Jonathan, I'm looking behind you. You are getting a little more activity it seems to me?

FREED: We are getting a little bit. Thank you for noticing that.

HARRIS: Yes, sure.

FREED: It has indeed been picking up. And those of us that have been standing out here for the last few hours, you are playing a waiting game. You are wondering when is it going to come? You know it's coming. You know the trouble is coming and you are waiting to get on the other side of it and hoping that nobody around here gets hurt.

But is has started to come in now, and you sort of go into that mode as you cover something like this; of realizing OK, it's coming now. And you just have to be alert, because you never know when a gust can come, even though it is still several hours from being really in the thick of it. You never really know when something is going to happen.

HARRIS: All right. Take a moment on this. Have you, I just asked this question of Jeanne Meserve. I'll ask you. Have you given any thought as to what it is going to be like, feel like, the experience of covering this storm as it rolls in with full impact and with just a couple of hours?

FREED: I have been thinking about that. I covered this sort thing before. But nothing of this magnitude. And I'm trying not to allow myself to think that I know what's coming. Because I think that could be dangerous. I'm assuming that this is completely uncharted territory and I really want to keep myself and all of us here, the crew here, we're all trying to stay on guard. We're trying to stay relaxed and alert, but not to get cocky, because you have covered a couple of these things before. Nothing like this.

HARRIS: And you know, there's nothing you can do once this thing, once the winds get up to 39, 40 and beyond.

FREED: Yes, there is nothing that you can do about. You pick your camera position. You hope that its going to shelter you for as long as you can. The idea for us, of course, is to stay on the air, to keep people informed to let them see what's going on. But you also don't want to place yourselves in danger. So you try to position everything so that you can stay on for as long as possible. But as you pointed out, you never know when its going to happen, which way it's going to go when that gust is going to come. So, you just have to roll with it.

HARRIS: Oh, boy. OK, Jonathan Freed. Thank you, Jonathan. Appreciate it.

KAYE: Katrina is being called dangerous, the big one, even a slow moving bomb. As you just saw from Jonathan Freed, the rain and wind are hitting Biloxi.

Just a bit east is the Jackson County seat of Pascagoula. Daryl Goldman is the emergency communications coordinator for Jackson County and he joins us now by telephone.

Good morning, and tell us how Pascagoula is doing.

DARRYL GOLDMAN, JACKSON CO., EMERGENCY MGMT.: Well, right now, we're seeing winds between 20 and 30 m.p.h. and we've seen one gust up to 45. We know it's going to get greater. We've had pretty steady rainfall for about the last hour. And it is just a wait and see, now. We know within the next couple of hours it is going to get really nasty out here.

KAYE: It sure is. Tell us about the evacuations in your area. We saw the highways just absolutely jammed along the coast there. What has the evacuation efforts been like in your area?

GOLDMAN: Well, we've had a mandatory evacuation for areas south of Highway 90 and all the low-lying areas since 8 a.m. this morning. And the people that were wise and had already seen this thing coming and been on the road, they got out of here early. And so very, very little congestion. Well, we had some bumper-to-bumper stuff. We had some tie ups with the tunnel over in Mobile, it slowed things down for a while, but everything pretty well opened up and everybody that was going to get out of here seems to have gotten out without any difficulty.

KAYE: And oftentimes we also see curfews put in place when we're waiting for a hurricane or also in the aftermath of a hurricane. Do you have some curfews in place?

GOLDMAN: We have one in place here from 10 p.m. tonight, until 6 a.m. in the morning. And that will continue on until further notice. That's to protect the homeowners, of course, that have left town. And you know, hopefully that -- you know, people will respect that and we won't have any difficulty with it.

KAYE: What's also curious at a time like this, when many people can't even get their cell phone to work, when a storm as big as Hurricane Katrina is heading that way, how will you stay in touch as a member of the emergency team? How will you stay in communication with your crew to try and keep others safe?

GOLDMAN: Well, we've got all sorts of radio communications, satellite phones. I've got an amateur radio set up downstairs that we're in touch with various places throughout the country. And that will stay up running when everything else fails. But, you know, we've got sat phones and trunk, radios for all the people up here. We're pretty well covered. I don't think we're going to have any difficulty as far as communications is concerned. We'll be able to stay in touch with each other through the duration of this and well after, as long as we need to be.

KAYE: Can you tell us, Darryl, what the situation is for the casinos? By law, they have to actually floating on barges there, off the coast. What has been done to secure those?

GOLDMAN: Those, as I understand it, are engineered to have a certain type of tie-down when the tides come in. They can actually break loose their moorings and still be secure. I know we've had a few episodes in the past (INAUDIBLE), have broken loose, but they don't drift away. They are still anchored. But they don't seem to want to come up on the beach. When we had Camille, everything that was out on the water, ended up on the beach or on top of buildings.

And the casinos stay out on the water. I think what will happen here is unless we have a real catastrophe down in Harrison County. They'll probably be back up and running during the week. I'm sure they're pretty hopeful for that.

KAYE: Well, speaking of Camille, you had 200 m.p.h. winds there, flattened buildings, tossed boats. What will you do if you see a picture like that following Hurricane Katrina? How quickly you clean up your area?

GOLDMAN: Well, I was here in 1969. I was stationed at Keesler, in the Air Force. And I spent the night watching the world blow away right in front of me. And it took forever back then. I think that all of the counties working together down here have more resources between them to get things cleaned up. They've had more experience with this in having, of course, endured Camille. Learned a lot of valuable lessons even back in those days. Forty years later, here, we go again. I'm seeing so many parallels to what I saw back then with Camille. Including the precautions on TV and radio this morning. It sounded almost identical to the warnings that we were given back then.

KAYE: Sure.

GOLDMAN: And deja vu is not any fun when you are looking at something like a number five coming at you.

KAYE: No, especially when you have so many more people living in that area now. All right. Darryl Goldman, emergency communications coordinator for Jackson County. Thank you. And best of luck to you.

GOLDMAN: OK, thank you.

HARRIS: Before we go to break we want to set our line up for you, for the rest of the morning. Starting at the top of the hour, 4 o'clock, a special edition of "Daybreak" with Carol Costello. And then "American Morning" gets started an hour early, at 6 a.m. this morning with Soledad O'Brien in New York City and Miles O'Brien, depending on where we can find him. He's in -- we believe he's in Baton Rouge.

KAYE: Last we checked, yes. He tried to be in New Orleans, but he had a few problems there.

HARRIS: Tried.

KAYE: So he got out for safety and for other reasons.

HARRIS: That's our line up this morning. We're going to take a quick break and come back with more of our coverage of the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Katrina.


KAYE: It is packing powerful wind and rain. Hurricane Katrina nearing New Orleans and the central Gulf Coast.

Good morning everyone. I'm Randi Kaye at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

HARRIS: And good morning everyone, I'm Tony Harris.

Let's get the latest on Hurricane Katrina from Bonnie Schneider upstairs in the CNN Weather Center. Good morning, Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: Good morning. I was just taking a look at those tornado watches that's been extended until later this afternoon, at least until noon, but I have a feeling it's going to be extended even further. As you can see here on the map, it encompasses parts of Louisiana, back down through Mississippi, Alabama and then right here into the Panhandle of Florida. Florida not out of the woods yet. We could see some severe weather in terms of tornadoes as the storm comes onshore and we're expecting Katrina to make landfall later this morning. Already getting powerful wind gusts and plenty of heavy rain.

Take a look at our live radar picture now and you can see as we sweep around we're getting real time lightning and we'll even zoom in closer to show you some of the heaviest rain that we're seeing across Louisiana right now so it's really, really looking bad as we get those heavy downpours in the New Orleans area and then further to the south as well.

We're pushing in now so we can get an idea of where the strongest storms are. Notice the areas in bright red or orange. That indicates that teeming rain where it really comes down heavy and hard and that's what we're seeing right now. To the north of the city, back further as well, we're also getting some strong wind gusts, sustained winds right there in New Orleans at 51 and we've got some winds that are picking up further to the north as well.

It's really impressive, actually, as we've been watching this throughout the overnight period that we saw winds starting off around 25 miles per hour in New Orleans. Earlier this evening. Now we're getting winds up to 51 for sustained winds but we've had gusts that are even higher than that. Some of it has been reported as high as 75 miles per hour as well, into Baton Rouge, which is further away from New Orleans, so that's the picture now.

A bigger picture showed you where the storm center is. Notice here the center of circulation or the eye of the hurricane, some of the pictures from the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center indicates a little bit of weakening going on but not much. This is still a powerful Category 4 hurricane with maximum winds at 155 miles per hour. Remember when we talk about Category 4 and Category 5, Category 5 is just the strongest that it could possibly be. Category 4 still pretty strong as well. Our meteorologist Dave Hennen plotting these points for me here and we can see here now we've got -- it's hard to make out that number there, the distance in miles getting closer to New Orleans but as you can see, the rain bands still coming in and making for some very strong wind and rain.

Also just to mention we've had reports from ocean buoys where the center of the storm is in the Gulf of Mexico. Wave heights as high as 65 feet. Sixty five feet wave heights. And then offshore off the coast of Mississippi we've had wave heights of 20 feet. So these waves are high and strong and we're still expecting that storm surge up to 18 feet or more even, especially down towards the southeastern coastal parishes of Louisiana.

A powerful storm and a very large one once again. Just to remind everyone that this storm is not only going to affect New Orleans, we've been talking a lot about that. Alabama, Mississippi and even parts of Florida will be well-affected by, unfortunately, Katrina because of these northeastern quadrant we get some of the strongest winds and this is just the beginning.

The storm has not made landfall yet so it is a powerful storm, Category 4, maximum winds at 155 and remember that even though it's been downgraded just a bit from Category 5 to Category 4, this is still a large storm. We have hurricane force winds that extend outward from the center of circulation 105 miles on either side. All around we're getting those strong winds and then we've got tropical storm force winds that extend outward from the storm center 230 miles, so a large storm and a powerful one.

Just a quick look at the track to show you that once the storm comes inland it remains a hurricane. Doesn't even weaken that much. We're still talking about a hurricane into tonight, 8 p.m. tonight. Eventually this area of low pressure that will be eventually the remnants of Hurricane Katrina will be affecting so many states in the U.S. especially here in the Southeast.

So Katrina, one storm, affecting so many. Tony?

HARRIS: OK. Bonnie, thank you.

St. Tammany Parish is one of many parishes where emergency officials have set up shelters for those fleeing Katrina. We are joined now on the telephone by Kevin Davis. St. Tammany Parish president. Kevin, good to talk to you. KEVIN DAVIS, ST. TAMMANY PARISH PRESIDENT (on phone): Good morning, Tony.

HARRIS: Quick question. Do you wish you had more time?

DAVIS: Certainly we do. I wish it was degrading even faster than it was. We're right now about 25 miles from Downtown New Orleans. We're across Lake Pontchartrain on the north shore. We've got about 215, 16,000 people who live in our parish. We think probably about half of them at least evacuated in the low-lying areas and we're getting winds now to about 45 miles an hour and things are increasing as time goes by.

HARRIS: Hey, Kevin, how prepared are you?

DAVIS: I think that we've done everything we can here in our emergency operations center and in our parish. So now we're working on our recovery issues of getting out of here tomorrow evening -- or I guess it's this evening, I guess we're in Monday morning already. I'm losing track of time. And I think everybody heeded our warnings and moved out of those low-lying areas.

HARRIS: So when you say you're as prepared as you can be, what does that mean specifically, what did you do?

DAVIS: Actually, things such as informing the public of exactly what was going on so they could go to some of our shelters. We have over 1,500 people in shelters right now. They are all full. Our special needs shelter for our citizens, elderly and the like, Red Cross is here with us to help our citizens, mobilizing everything, moving equipment.

We have cities in my parish and they have mobilized their equipment, get it to higher ground so we can get back in those areas after.

HARRIS: Kevin, do you have all of the supplies that you would like to have in those shelters?

DAVIS: At this point we do. You know, you're always trying your best. The Red Cross really, I can't say enough about -- they've done a great job for us, helping us feed us and get us through this and we're anticipating. What are we going to see as daylight comes, the destruction like, and then I'm sure we're going to need a lot of assistance.

HARRIS: Okay, those are some of the nuts and bolts of this storm, but give me a sense of what you're feeling, what you're thinking as you sit there well aware of the fact that this storm is bearing in on you?

DAVIS: It's scary. I mean, quite honestly, frightened by tomorrow morning when I look at the parish as a whole and see what damages we're going to have, possibly homes and the like. My biggest fear is I don't want to lose any life here in St. Tammany so hopefully that won't happen. We can rebuild homes and the like but that's my biggest concern, truthfully.

HARRIS: Are you concerned that you might and does that allude to the fact that you've got folks who have decided to sort of ride this out?

DAVIS: Yes. I'm sure in some of my low-lyings, I've watched the media, also. I've got some low-lying areas that I saw people earlier today said they were going to stay in those areas. I'm just hopeful that as this water -- it's coming up, (INAUDIBLE) to us goes right out to the Gulf and it's been rising since about 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock last night through this morning.

We're talking about tidal surges anywhere from 15 to 22. That's -- we've never seen that. We've seen nine feet which was devastating on our coastline, but 15 to 22 I just can't even imagine.

HARRIS: And Kevin, one quick last question because I believe this is a story we're going to be covering in the days ahead. Can you tell us why the people you've spoken to who have decided to ride this out, why they're making that decision?

DAVIS: I don't know. I -- we, over the last -- I can tell you over the last three, four years, we've had numerous storms come here and always miss us and I'm afraid maybe that had some bearing.

A lot of old timers, when we had Camille and Betsy, remembered those and say well, we've never had another one like that, I'm going to ride it out here at the house.

So you just don't know.

HARRIS: Well, the best to you.

DAVIS: Thank you so much.

HARRIS: The absolute best to you. Kevin Davis, St. Tammany Parish president. Kevin, thank you.

KAYE: Coming up on 4:00 a.m. here on the East Coast. Just a few hours away from Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the Gulf Coast. CNN is your hurricane headquarters. You're looking at a live picture there of the Superdome in New Orleans, serving as a shelter for many of the folks there. A safe haven as they ride out Hurricane Katrina.

You are watching special coverage of Hurricane Katrina and another live look at Biloxi, MS, also awaiting the arrival. Winds kicking up, storm arriving there already. The outer bands. We'll check right back in and give you the very latest as she makes her way toward the coast. We'll be right back.


KAYE: New Orleans emergency services are preparing for the worst. In the city known as the Big Easy, well, there is big trouble. Our Adaora Udoji is at the Tulane Medical Center with the very latest there for us.


ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Randi. Absolutely. There is tremendous amount of concern throughout the medical profession in New Orleans. We're actually at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic and it's one of the hospitals, one of the three hospitals in the downtown area that is below sea level so they're very, very concerned about flooding and the impact of the winds here in Downtown.

Now at this point, though, it's really just a waiting game. I mean, they've been preparing the last couple of days and particularly today for this storm. There you look, we have some pictures of some nurses here who had to evacuate the emergency room, which is on the first floor, to bring it up to the third floor, again, worried about flooding.

Now they have to see what kind of storm comes in, what kind of hurricane comes in, what kind of damage it brings with it and what kind of -- how much people suffer in various ways and one of those people who is doing some worrying about that is Dr. Michael Kiernan. He is a pediatric pulmonist here at the hospital and you have some very specific concerns.

DR. MICHAEL KIERNAN, TULANE MEDICAL CENTER: I think our biggest concern is flooding right now because flooding will impact greatly how well the hospital functions. We depend on power and when it floods there's a risk of us losing our power.

Of course, like everyone else we can lose our electricity. Externally, we have our own ability to generate power but that's only to a point depending on the amount of flooding that we have so you plan and you prepare but you never really get to do this until it's time to do it. You don't get to practice something this big.

UDOJI: What we're really talking about now is the aftermath. I mean, what's going -- what kind of injuries are people going to suffer and what kind of things are they going to be coming into the hospital for, particular for children. Do you have any specific concerns?

KIERNAN: Well, we do. We have concerns for children and really everyone in the community in the immediate aftermath of the trauma, accidents, people going out, which we don't recommend because it will be highly dangerous with downed electrical power lines and accidents happening everywhere and then water and sewage concerns and then the heat. If there's no power, there's no air conditioning and it's still August in New Orleans.

UDOJI: (INAUDIBLE) heard a lot about today are the snakes (INAUDIBLE) flooding and that brings with it some snakes and are some of the poisonous?

KIERNAN: Yes, we do have poisonous snakes in Louisiana and some of them will be out and about and outside their usual habitat. Again, we're going to, like everyone else, caution people to try to stay indoors as much as they can and hopefully they've prepared themselves with their needs for food and water as best they can for the next few days and to really watch those downed power lines and accidents.

UDOJI: One last quick question. How much sleep have you gotten tonight?

KIERNAN: I managed to get an hour or two in earlier tonight. We're kind of sleeping in shifts and we'll all get a little bit of rest. It's going to be a long few days for all of us.

UDOJI: Thank you very much. That's Dr. Kiernan here at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. He is not alone, there are dozens of doctors and nurses and support staff and with them some of their family members who are spending the night here. It literally looks like a dormitory here. Every corner of the hospital there are air mattresses and sleeping bags and people are trying to get as much rest as they can, Randi, because they just don't know what's coming in the next couple of hours or tomorrow.

KAYE: And Adaora, in a case like this, in a storm like this, a hospital isn't a bad place to be.

UDOJI: I agree with you 100 percent.

KAYE: All right. Well, take care of yourself as the day goes on and we will continue our special coverage of the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Katrina. We have crews all along the Gulf Coast, in Biloxi, Mississippi, in Baton Rouge, in New Orleans. We will hear from many of them as the morning goes on and you're looking there at live pictures from New Orleans.

Not a live picture, a taped picture there of the coasts and the waves as they make their way ashore.

We'll be right back, continuing our special coverage.


KAYE: And we continue now our special extended coverage here from CNN's headquarters in Atlanta as we wait for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. It is bearing down at this hour, getting closer to the city of New Orleans, still in the direct line there.

And there you have it, a live picture of the Superdome, one of the shelters set up for folks there in New Orleans, a safe haven as they ride out the storm, expecting to hold about 70,000 or so.

HARRIS: About 70,000 people and these are the folks who -- many are poor, many are homeless, these are folks -- many are infirm with various illnesses and health problems and this is that last resort refuge that the mayor referred to earlier. I guess this was yesterday. There it is, the Superdome, usually lit up but right now in darkness and there is great concern that once this storm moves in you could lose power to the Superdome, you could lose air conditioning to the Superdome and then 40, 50 people in that situation, under those conditions, that could be very trying indeed. Let's get the latest now on Hurricane Katrina from Bonnie Schneider upstairs in the CNN Weather Center.

SCHNEIDER: All right. Well, Tony, we were talking about the wave heights earlier and even when you go pretty far from the storm. As far as 310 miles we've got wave heights of 17 feet and as far from there we're getting even bigger wave heights as well.

So it's a really, really strong storm right now. We have maximum winds at 155. Katrina is a Category 4, downgraded earlier this morning from Category 5, but remember, those winds at 155 miles per hour, that's really the differentiation point from Category 4 to Category 5 so this is still a massive, massive hurricane, very powerful indeed and we really haven't seen it shrink in size, the eye center from edge to edge, from wall to wall, has been consistently about 25 miles and we haven't seen that shrink down to some degree.

We've had some detection of possibly a little bit of dry air coming into this southwestern quadrant of it and that may have indicated why we're seeing a little bit of a weakening happening.

But in the meantime, we're just watching it closely because we're going to see landfall later this morning.

Let's take a look now at our Titan radar and we can show you what's going on as we zoom on into the picture. We're seeing those heavy rain bands certainly in New Orleans, and we want to talk about this eye wall because that's where we're getting those strongest winds, about 35 miles right now, getting closer to the coastal areas of Louisiana and that means in about two hours and 45 minutes we'll be seeing those strongest winds.

And those winds right now are at 155 miles per hour. When will those winds come to New Orleans? Well, we're looking at a distance here of about 60 miles and then as far as the time scale goes? It's still going to be a few hours before we see that but just be prepared that we're likely to see those strong winds even into New Orleans as the eye wall gets closer.

Officially, landfall is not officially declared until we get right to the center, the center of the center of the eye and that means right when we're into that center point from 25 miles across right into the center of the circle there, so we'll be watching for that.

We're still going to be seeing certainly the strongest winds on the eye wall but the actually eye itself center passing over land or a barrier island, that's what defines landfall officially for a hurricane.

Taking a look at Katrina now on our satellite perspective, we see such an expansive hurricane that it's going to affect so many areas. This is the latest track, we just updated this for you so what's interesting, one of the things I think is very interesting is the storm maintains itself as a Category 2 hurricane well on into tonight. This is still a hurricane even after it makes landfall. It's still a powerful tropical storm even after it crosses over most of Mississippi, turns a little bit more to the northeast and if you're watching from Tennessee into the Carolinas, even.

Look at this, you may even be affected with some wind and some rain from Katrina because it's such a large storm and it's moving to the north and eventually to the northeast so we're seeing that for places like Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, all will be affected by Katrina before the week is over.

We're going to have more reports in a special edition, early edition of DAYBREAK at 4:00 a.m., so be watching for more updates. We're waiting on that big 5:00 a.m. advisory to see if we get any change in the track or location of Katrina, but right now landfall is imminent and it looks like it will happen later this morning.

OK. Stay tuned, we're going to have a lot more coming up.


HARRIS: And you are watching CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. In the last hour it was downgraded to a Category 4 storm. On its current track the eye of Katrina is less than 80 miles from New Orleans and it's expected to make landfall in about six hours. Officials are warning of storm surges up to 28 feet, as much as 15 inches of rain could last New Orleans. Those conditions have led to a mandatory evacuation of the Big Easy. Much of the city lies below sea level and officials fear barriers around it will be breached.

Roads and highways out of the city are bumper to bumper with residents trying to get out as best they can.

KAYE: Mm-hmm. And the storm hasn't even made landfall but already it is a deadly storm. Hurricane Katrina now being blamed for three deaths, three residents of New Orleans Nursing Home, Tony, believed to have died during a very stressful evacuation. They were apparently on a bus, this is a very fragile group of people. The coroner's office has not determined the cause of death but said that many of the patients onboard that bus were dehydrated. That's coming out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Already three deaths related to evacuation for this.

We're going to take quick break right now and we'll check back in with you in just a moment.


HARRIS: And CNN's complete coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues. Our storm watchers are posted all along the central Gulf Coast and we'll be bringing you live reports from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

KAYE: And it is time now for a very special edition of DAYBREAK with Carol Costello. Good morning, Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you and thanks for sticking with us all night long. It's an awesome job. Thanks so much.

Of course, we'll be seeing you guys later, I'm sure.


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