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Katrina Poised to Make Landfall

Aired August 29, 2005 - 02:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic, but I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious.
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Serious, fierce and dangerous. Hurricane Katrina has millions of people fleeing their homes, hunkering down, hoping for the best, yet facing a possible nightmare.

HARRIS: And welcome, everyone, to CNN's Special Edition Coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I'm Tony Harris.

KAYE: And I'm Randi Kaye. Conditions are deteriorating along the gulf coast. And we are bringing you live coverage of this monster storm.

Then you can expect an early edition of "DAYBREAK" at 4 a.m. Eastern Time.

So let's get started.

Hurricane Katrina is now a Category 5 storm -- the most dangerous designation a hurricane can have. But this isn't just a storm along the coast. Because of its strength, folks all the way up to Ohio could see some very heavy rains.

For those who call Louisiana "home," and are either unable or unwilling to evacuate, are huddling in New Orleans Superdome, and other emergency shelters that are set up.

Meanwhile, those who are able and with transportation, are making their way out of town.

Here's a look at New Orleans Interstate 10, which is backed up by the thousands, trying to flee Hurricane Katrina. And as we said, Katrina is a Category 5. Only three previous Category 5 hurricanes have hit the United States.

HARRIS: And as we say good morning to Bonnie Schneider, let's take a live look now at the New Orleans Superdome, described by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, as the last resort refuge for the thousands of people as it turns out in New Orleans who just for whatever reason can't get out of the city. No transportation, folks who are homeless, folks who are infirm, who cannot get out of the city. This is the last resort hotel.

KAYE: Absolutely. HARRIS: Not much of a stay there. It's going to be quite uncomfortable for these people once the storm makes landfall there and moves up into New Orleans, but there it is, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's true. And you were talking about the steel enforcement. That's something you need when you have such strong winds because most homes, you know, can't maintain themselves when you have such fierce winds coming in.

And we're starting to see those winds pick up. In Hammond, we have winds now that are starting to pick up, into the about 10, 12, 13 miles per hour, but then when you start looking at New Orleans -- check out these winds gusts and maintain wind speeds -- well into the 40s. They're 44 mile per hour winds. Those are very strong winds. If you've just been out during a thunderstorm, you know how strong that feels. Well, this is even worse than that.

And unfortunately, as this storm gets closer and closer, we're going to see those winds just keep on growing and intensifying. You can see the center of circulation for Katrina right now, very wide- eyed there, very well-defined, as well. Remember, the strongest winds are right here in the eye wall -- not in the center of the storm -- but right in the eye wall that surrounds it.

We're also seeing quite a bit of wave height that's being generated by this storm. Waves are being kicked up as high as 60 feet, out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Power outages, I'm afraid, I would think that they are imminent when you have winds that are as strong as they are right now.

Let's talk about what's going to happen as we work our way into the overnight period well into the rest of the day. Today we're expecting power outages to surge from south to north, with the highest concentration right here in southeast Louisiana.

And that's, of course, where we're expecting landfall with Katrina. And that is likely to occur into the latter hours of the morning. We haven't seen that yet. We're already seeing those rain bands come on shore and we're also seeing a tornado watch occur because right here in that northeast quadrant is where we see the strongest, the worst wind, and we're going to see that likely with Katrina. Already those thunderstorms are firing up on shore, onto Mississippi and into Alabama, as well.

So that's why we have a tornado watch, because the potential exists for tornadoes to sprout up, especially once Katrina makes landfall and starts moving up, as well. Storm surge -- a major concern, especially since landfall will be affecting the New Orleans area -- 20 to 30 feet. That's a lot of water coming into an area that's so low already. It's likely to cause massive flooding from this part of the area into the Gulf Coast.

But then further out to the east, we see storm surge, as well. And then back out to the west, we're also going to see storm surge.

A very large hurricane -- not just in intensity, but also in size, Randi and Tony.

HARRIS: OK, Bonnie, thank you.

Well, it's deadly and dangerous. Katrina is keeping the National Hurricane Center very busy at this hour.

Richard Knabb is at the center, and he joins us now.

Richard, good to talk to you again.


HARRIS: I guess I want you to help us, at least at the top of this hour, understand -- people who are making the decision to stay; for example, in Jefferson Parish. Can you make those folks understand what they are now facing in terms of rain, in terms of wind, in terms of storm surge.

KNABB: Sure. Time is really just about running out here. People to take any last minute preparations, so, you really need to be getting into a safe part of the building in which you are staying. Get away from windows, because hurricane-force winds are not far from the metropolitan New Orleans area, and not far from coastal Mississippi and Alabama.

We think on the radar, and its here, that we're seeing the hurricane-force winds in this dense yellow area. So, within the next several hours, in the pre-dawn hours, hurricane-force winds are going to spread over most of southeastern Louisiana and onto the coast of Mississippi and perhaps Alabama. And it's going to be a long period of very bad weather.

Tropical storm force winds, which are already starting in most of the southeastern Louisiana area and coastal Mississippi and Alabama, could last over 24 hours. And hurricane-force winds could last in some places about 18 hours.

HARRIS: But, Richard, you can't win this. If you're in a traditional home, a two-story home with a basement, and you're in this bowl, that is New Orleans, you can't win this.

KNABB: Well, what you have to do if you are in an area that could flood due to storm surge; and if you're still there, you want to get up as high as you can in your building to get away from the storm surge; but not so high, for example, a high rise, that you would subject yourself to even stronger winds because they're going to increase as you go up several floors into a high rise.

So, you want to get as high as you can away from the surge, but not so high that the winds increase. And get into an interior portion of the building.

KAYE: Richard, can you talk about the pressure of this storm. It's been changing in the last few days, and why is that so key? Because it has been dropping in recent hours. KNABB: Right. Well the pressure has been fairly stable. For a Category 5 hurricane to maintain its intensity for as long as this one has, is not all that common. And if it continues to be Category 5 during the day today, that would be highly unusual. Although, Ivan did it last year. And the pressure has been below 910 mill bars, which is very rare, for several hours during the past day or so.

When the pressure is rising, then that could be a sign that the hurricane might be weakening, and we just haven't seen that yet.

HARRIS: OK, Richard, as we look over your shoulder there, how wide -- how big is this storm?

KNABB: Well, we often measure the size of a hurricane in terms of the extent of hurricane-force and tropical storm-force winds. The hurricane-force winds, we think are contained within roughly this area, about 100 miles in any direction from the center. And tropical storm-force winds extend outward much farther than that, perhaps 200 or so miles from the center of circulation. So this is going to be a hurricane that impacts a large area, not just at the coastline, but well inland. And it's possible that hurricane-force winds could extend well into Mississippi during the next day or so.

HARRIS: Richard Knabb, National Hurricane Center. Richard, thank you again.

KAYE: Those of you being affected by Hurricane Katrina are our citizen journalists. You can see the damage Katrina left behind in southern Florida last week. A roof slammed into picture window shutters that Lori LaPoint had just put up.

And this, from Wes Roddy, in Doral, Florida, shows a tree from ripped up.

Now that Katrina is a Category 5, you can imagine there will be plenty of trees just like that one right there.

We are inviting more citizen journalists to share their perspectives and photographs and video. So logon on to and be sure to include your name, location and phone number. But please, do not put yourself in any danger trying to capture these images.

HARRIS: Also, be sure to check out our gallery of video from this storm on our Web site. Just logon and click on for that and more information about Katrina.

Quick break, and we'll back with more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina.


KAYE: And we are watching very, very closely as Hurricane Katrina is making its way toward the gulf coast. Last, we checked in with our Bonnie Schneider in the CNN Weather Center. She was telling us about these waves that she was seeing far off the coast that were about 60 feet high. So, very, very concerned there.

And I think right there we are showing you a live picture of the superdome, which is serving as a shelter for many of the folks there in the New Orleans area.

We want to get back to Bonnie and take a look at what she's seeing now on the very latest radar.


SCHNEIDER: OK, here's what we're looking at, Randi. We just got a report in of a wind gust of 101 miles per hour in Southwest Pass in Louisiana. That's between Pecond (ph) and Marsh Island, well along the shoreline here, down in the (inaudible). It's south of LaFayette to the southwest of Baton Rouge.

So we're seeing these really strong wind gusts emerging where we're still pretty far away from the storm. It's not even really raining too bad in Southwest Pass. Pretty small area there, but just to let you know right here on these barrier islands, just out on the south central areas of Louisiana.

We are seeing some very strong winds emerge with Hurricane Katrina. And the storm has not made landfall yet. This is just the beginning of those winds intensifying and picking up.

We already have tropical storm-force winds on shore now that are well inland into New Orleans as well and the hurricane-force winds -- winds that exceed 74 miles per hour or greater -- will be occurring over the next couple of hours. We heard that from the experts we've been talking to at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

So, here's the look at Katrina right now. A powerful Category 5, maximum winds 160 miles per hour. It's really a worse-case scenario -- what we really hoped would never happen. Its such a large hurricane, hitting the southern areas here, into the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans -- under the gun. So is Mobile, Alabama. And so is coastal Mississippi, especially north and east of the storm is where we have some of the strongest winds outside of the eye wall. We have the most intense winds there.

We mentioned the wave heights. They're up to 60 feet, out into the gulf. And getting closer to the shore, we're seeing those wave heights pick up to 15 and 20 feet as well.

Tornadoes are likely when you have a powerful hurricane making landfall, or even a minimal hurricane. We have shifts in the wind and that could create some spin in the atmosphere. Next thing you know, you'll see some tornadoes popping up.

I mentioned last year -- we've been doing a lot of comparisons back to Hurricane Ivan of last year, when we had tornadoes break out 150 miles from the storm's center. That's certainly a possibility with Katrina as well.

So many folks in the southeast will be watching for the potential of severe weather in the form of thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes.

Also, I just want to quickly mention we have very strong storm surge -- 20 to 30 feet possible. It's just an impressive storm -- a powerful one that's just bearing down on Louisiana. In the next few hours we'll start to see those hurricane-force winds.

KAYE: Bonnie, before we let you go, what exactly qualifies as landfall?

Because we see so many bands -- and these outer-bands of the storm, so when is it actually considered landfall?

SCHNEIDER: Officially, landfall is when the center of the storm -- the center of the eye of the storm -- makes its way over land or a barrier island. And that's where you get very tricky. A lot of people, when they see the eye wall come on shore, they consider that landfall. Certainly, that's not a good situation as well. But officially, the landfall is when the center of the eye comes in over land.

And since the eye, roughly at this time, is about 25 miles wide, we have to wait until it comes in about half that distance and then we would declare it would be landfall officially.

But when you're talking about a storm like Katrina, obviously the center of the storm, anywhere just even in the vicinity of it, is going to be just devastating.

KAYE: And when the eyes comes to shore, it can also be tricky because it lightens up and it actually looks much calmer out there and it can fool a lot of people, who really think its over.

SCHNEIDER: Right. For a brief period, people run outside and they're excited that it's all over, but it's so not. Because as soon as that eye comes through -- remember it's calm in the center of the storm. And it also feels very warm in the center where the eye is. Just on that eye wall is the most fierce storms that you can imagine. The strongest winds and just the heaviest rain -- blinding rain most likely.

So, yes, that's definitely a situation where people need to stay inside and don't go out looking. Don't get curious. This isn't something you want to see up close. Just stay inside where it's safe.

KAYE: Absolutely. Great advice. Bonnie Schneider, thank you.

HARRIS: As Hurricane Katrina makes landfall, the storm's winds and rain bands span for many miles in St. Tammany Parish. East of New Orleans is Candace Watkins. She is the mayor of Covington, Louisiana. Candace is on the phone with us.

Candace, how are you?


HARRIS: Well...

WATKINS: I mean I've been better.

HARRIS: ... Yes, I'm sure you have.

Give us a sense of what you have been doing this day?

WATKINS: I spent most of the day at the emergency preparedness center with Parish officials, just going over and over, you know, where the storm is, being prepared, getting all of our emergency equipment spread throughout the city, and just, you know, trying to tell people to leave, and that kind of thing.

HARRIS: How have you done that? Have you called folks? You sent some of your emergency personnel into some of the neighborhoods to just knock on doors?

WATKINS: No, in our area, because we're north of the interstate, an evacuation was called for everything south of I-12. We're north of I-12.

HARRIS: I see.

WATKINS: Part of our city is very near I-12. And so -- my official message was I am not encouraging anyone to stay. So we did that through local access television. And our Parish president put out a phone call yesterday to the people south of the interstate and the people in Covington who are most in danger.

HARRIS: Mayor, how many people could be affected by this?

WATKINS: Oh, God. Hundreds of thousands, a million people in our area.

HARRIS: Hundreds of thousands. A million people.

WATKINS: If you count New Orleans, Jefferson, the lower-lying Parishes, St. Tammany is 200,000.

HARRIS: How far away are you from New Orleans?

WATKINS: We are about 40 miles near -- the Causeway Bridge is 24 miles long. We're eight miles from the Causeway -- that's 32 and about another eight to New Orleans.

When you get off of the Causeway Bridge, you're in Jefferson Parish. You're right there. So we're 30 miles -- (inaudible) miles from Nuddery (ph).

HARRIS: Candace, there's so much that we don't know at this point about -- we don't know. We can't predict exactly what this storm is going to do. Is it that unknown that is most worrisome for you?

WATKINS: No, I think it's pretty much the cold hard facts of watching a slow-moving bomb approach.

HARRIS: A bomb?

WATKINS: And, oh yes. I've never been through a storm like this. I've never lived through a storm like this. I have no idea what to expect.

And like I explained to your producer, I'm at a high school right now with several of my friends and my husband and our son. I sent the rest of my family away yesterday. My parents, who are 80 and 83, just moved down here last week from Little Rock. And the timing wasn't real good. So, yes, it's like watching a slow-moving bomb and not knowing.

We have a -- there's a rather famous meteorologist in New Orleans area. His name is Nash Robertson (ph). Oh, I guess he's in his 80's now and has retired long ago. And his prediction to someone in our emergency preparedness area was if the storm made it to the 90th parallel, there would be a chance of it turning toward Morgan City. And it's, you know, everyone kind of laughed at him (inaudible). But he's not been wrong that often, and so I've been praying for it to move to the 90th parallel and hit an area with a little bit less impact. It's very hard to wish this kind of thing on anyone else.

HARRIS: Right.

WATKINS: But the Morgan City area has a much less dense population than we have.

HARRIS: Candace, can you help us understand why people choose to try to hunker down and ride this out?

WATKINS: I'm here because I have to be.

HARRIS: Right.

WATKINS: As mayor of the city. Like I said, my husband and our son are here because he didn't want to leave me. And a lot of people just stayed because they don't know better. If I were not a city official at this moment, I would not be here.

HARRIS: How did you not know better?


HARRIS: How do you not know better at this point, given all of the coverage -- I'm sure your emergency warning system has been blaring the message -- how do you not know at this point?

WATKINS: Well, in our area, because we're further away, the message has not been as hard as the message is to the City of New Orleans.

HARRIS: I see.

WATKINS: I mean that's extremely obvious. HARRIS: Yes.

WATKINS: In our area further away -- and you know, there's an entire generation of people in the New Orleans area who have never been through a storm like this. We can watch Ivan on the news and we can see all of the horrible pictures. And like I said, if I were not the mayor of the city, I would not be here tonight.

It's just very hard to believe that something like that is going to happen to you.

HARRIS: Have you been in contact with the folks at FEMA? And have they been able to tell you anything that has been helpful in terms of planning for this? And looking ahead to how you handle the aftermath of this storm?

WATKINS: I have not been in touch with FEMA. The parish officials have been. Our Parish President Kevin Davis and all of his staff have done an excellent job of preparing for this and for planning for the aftermath.

We're looking at -- I have an idea what to expect tomorrow, but probably most of my main arteries -- my roadways -- will be under lots and lots of trees, that kind of thing, downed power lines, and those kinds of things. And we eventually just realized, you know, we don't have a pre-established contract for someone to come in and clean that up.

And we're hoping for some help from FEMA on that kind of thing. And, of course, they're bringing commodities and all the standard stuff that they do.

HARRIS: Mayor, the best to you and your city, and to all the people in your city. Boy, we'll say a prayer.

WATKINS: Yes, we need your prayers. We really do.


WATKINS: I've wanted national notoriety for Covington for a long time.

HARRIS: You didn't wish for this.

WATKINS: This is not what I had in mind, no.

HARRIS: Right. OK.

WATKINS: It's a wonderful place. I hope everyone whose listening still heads to Covington to come and visit when this is all over.

HARRIS: Candace Watkins, the mayor of Covington, Louisiana, with us.

We'll take a break. We'll come back with more of our coverage of Katrina, set to make landfall, what Randi, in four or five hours?

KAYE: Yes, already the outer bands are striking the coast.

HARRIS : We'll take a break. We'll be right back.


KAYE: We want to check back in now with one of our affiliates, WBRZ, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We have reporter Veronica Mosgrove, who just filed her report from a truck stop, telling about people trying to get out of that area.

Let's take a look.


VERONICA MOSGROVE, WBRZ REPORTER (on camera): Here's the deal in Port Allen. I'm at Love's truck stop and within the past 10 minutes, the rain has started and the wind has picked up and the one thing I noticed when I drove up is that there were all kinds of cars that were parked. Many people sleeping in their cars. And lots of people stretching their legs.

I caught up with one family from New Orleans, Maria Alby (ph) joins me now. And when I walked up, you said it's been a slow ride.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it has. We left New Orleans about 8:30 this evening and it's been pretty well bumper-to-bumper once we got down on the interstate. And it's really been a slow ride. And it was raining and the winds were kind of picking up as we got on the highway. And we just tried to make the best of it and hope that all our lives will be spared. I mean everything that we left behind can be replaced. You know, our lives are more important than anything, so, I just thank God we were able to get out when we did. Because a lot of people were less fortunate.

MOSGROVE (voice-over): For our viewers out there, many of them from the New Orleans area, you told me that you live near Lake Pontchartrain. What was that like when you left at 8:30 tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the rain was just starting to come down and the winds were starting to kind of get a little heavier as we were kind of loading up our vehicles to head out. And pretty well, you know, as we got further down the road, it was picking up even stronger. But, you know, when we came towards this way, we could tell a difference.

MOSGROVE: Now, I know that you left behind a daughter and a grandchild. Why didn't they evacuate with you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, she claimed that she was going to go and stay with her baby's dad's family because they live in a brick home. And that she would feel safe there. And I wanted to bring her, but she said, you know, she was going to go ahead and stay over there.

MOSGROVE: You've got to be worried sick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am. She's called me a couple of times already and said the power went out a few times and it was really raining hard right now over there and the winds were real strong.

MOSGROVE: Where are you headed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're headed to Houston, Texas. We're just taking a little break here in Port Allen.

MOSGROVE: Yes, yes. Take a little break and stretch out and fill up our tanks again. Well good luck to you and I hope that everything works out with your daughter, back in New Orleans. Take care. Have a safe trip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. You all too.

MOSGROVE (on camera): Thank you.

Here at Love's, surprisingly, they have regular gasoline. They do not have super and premium. And when I asked the manager, I said that's kind of unusual. Normally they would run out of regular gas first. He said, I know. He goes, but I can't explain it. So they do have regular gasoline here at Love's truck stop.

The other items that people are coming in and asking for: bread and water. Supplies are limited, but this place is staying open 24 hours, so people can come here and get gasoline and some supplies.

Back to you in the studio.


KAYE: Well, this is certainly the kind of story where everybody has a story. So we want to bring those to you. We're sharing that one with you from Veronica Mosgrove at WBRZ, our affiliate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

New Orleans appears to be a key target for Hurricane Katrina; and as we said, a Category 5 hurricane is the most dangerous.

Our Adaora Udoji is riding the storm out in New Orleans, and she joins us live with more.

KAYE: Adaora, how are you holding up there?

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're doing okay, Randi. I have to say we're actually inside at the Chilane (ph) University Hospital and Clinic, in their lobby because we've been having trouble getting our signal out.

And the bottom line is, I mean, we've been talking to doctors and nurses and paramedics and police officers, all who have been coming through the hospital at some point today. They are definitely preparing for the worst and hoping that's not going to be the case. It's not been business as usual here today. Most elective surgeries and procedures have been put off. They have been focusing all of their attention on the people who need it the most.

We're looking at some pictures right now of some nurses and some paramedics who were actually moving the emergency room, which is on the first floor here. And they're real concerned about flooding. They are moving the emergency room from the first floor up and to the third floor.

They have here a critical care unit. They have a neonatal unit. And in fact, they started the day with 120 patients, but that number has shot up probably closer to about 200 at this point. In part, because some of the smaller hospitals that are south of here just weren't able to cope. So they sent some of their patients here.

As well as, there are some evacuation centers, like the dome, where they have opened the doors and where people have been going to seek safety and some of those people feeling ill have been sent to this hospital, which at this point, really resembles much more of a bunker or a dormitory, Randi, in that you have dozens and dozens of doctors and nurses and support staff, and even some of the members of their families, who are sleeping here tonight.

So, you have air mattresses all throughout the building as they sit and wait and see what this hurricane is going to bring in the morning -- Randi.

KAYE: All right. Our Adaora Udoji, live for us in New Orleans there. Thanks very much -- Tony.

HARRIS: Really got to tell you, it is good to talk to Jeanne Meserve again, and she is on the phone with us.

When we first talked to Jeanne, it was yesterday morning and we were just bracing for this. And Jeanne has been driving through the city of New Orleans.

And Jeanne, give us your perspective as you try to get to the location where you'll be joining us in just a couple of hours this morning,.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Tony, at this point it isn't as bad as I thought it would be. We are out driving on the streets. All the street lights are still functioning.

We haven't seen any significant tree branches down. In fact, I've seen only a few leaves that thus far have been stripped off the trees.

It's a little eerie to be downtown. I see one emergency vehicle making its way along, but there's virtually no traffic, as you can imagine. I certainly don't want to encourage anybody to get out on the street with these comments. But it really just isn't that bad here yet, but we all know it's coming.

HARRIS: And you're right. It is coming. And you've been following this as closely as anyone. And you know as well as we do that once this storm makes landfall and moves up the Mississippi and moves into New Orleans, we're looking at what is potentially a real, catastrophic event.

MESERVE: Absolutely. And that's exactly why they've called for mandatory evacuations and why so many people have been smart enough to get out of town.

This is a low-lying city, as I'm sure you've heard over and over again, surrounded by these levees that they just don't think are going to be able to hold up to this battering.

You know, I did manage to grab a couple of hours' sleep. And when I woke up, I wasn't sure if we'd have power. I didn't know if we'd be able to get out of the hotel. The prognostications are just so grim around here at this point in time.

But right now it's wind, it's rain, but not as severe as many a storm I've been out in -- yet.

HARRIS: Yes, have you noticed much of a police presence? We know that National Guard troops are in the area. We know that specifically they're at the Superdome. Have you noticed much police presence on the streets?

MESERVE: We are in the vicinity of the Superdome, actually. And I have not seen any police cars.


MESERVE: I saw one ambulance. We saw some other trucks on the side of the road that looked to us like it might be bringing in some sort of relief supplies. And we also have seen a couple of utility vehicles parked on the side of the road.

But I have not, at this point in time, seen any police at all. But they've got a big city to cover here.


MESERVE: And frankly, we haven't been out on the street that long, so I might not expect to see them.

HARRIS: Is the Superdome going to be your location in a couple of hours?

MESERVE: No. We're heading for a radio station. We hope -- it looks like we're going to be able to get there. This is a radio station that has pledged that it is going to stay on the air through this hurricane as best it can. Clearly, radio stations are absolutely key in a situation like that, because quite frequently television service will be knocked out, and people rely on their radios to hear from emergency officials about what they should be doing and what the situation is.

So, they are performing a real community service here by trying to stay on the air. So, we'll be chronicling their efforts to do that.

HARRIS: I know we'll be talking to you throughout the morning. Hope to see you soon, Jeanne Meserve in New Orleans for us. We'll take a break and come back with more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina.


KAYE: And we want to check in once again with our Bonnie Schneider, who is in the CNN weather center.

And Bonnie, I know when we look at your radar, you don't want us to focus on that thin, red line that's heading straight towards New Orleans, ...


KAYE: ... because really that whole coastal area there is going to be affected by those ...

SCHNEIDER: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And we're already seeing those effects. We've been seeing live pictures of deteriorating weather in Louisiana right now, in Mississippi. And this is really just the beginning. There's a whole lot more to go, since the storm has not made landfall just yet.

I have some reports now of some very high waves. Just want to let you know.

As you can see here in the Gulf of Mexico, where the storm is situated right now, right around this area in the Gulf, we're getting wave heights as high as 65 feet. It's just hard to imagine waves that tall, but that's what we're seeing.

Also, 20 miles from Gulfport, Mississippi, we have wave heights reported by ocean buoys in the water in the Gulf of Mexico at 20 feet. So, some pretty high waves there.

Also, just want to mention that Baton Rouge just had a wind gust report of 85 miles per hour. And look where Baton Rouge is on the map. Pretty far off from New Orleans, but still, the winds are firing up pretty strongly even around the City of New Orleans.

Here's the distance for the eye wall, just so you can see some of the strongest winds are back through here, further south, 102 miles. So, we're expecting some of these strongest winds to come on into the New Orleans area in the latter part of the morning. But we're likely to see the hurricane force winds precede that, because hurricane force winds are winds that extend outward from the center of the storm about 105 miles. As you can see, they're working their way onshore. That means winds as strong as 74 miles per hour, or greater.

And we're getting gusts that high right now, but we're talking about sustained winds, so we'll be seeing that over the course of the next couple of hours, if not sooner than that.

Now, in the meantime, let's talk about where this storm is headed and what we can expect.

Take a look at this perspective. This is starting us off early in the morning. And as we look back, we can see into the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans, from the coastline of Mississippi, Louisiana, what the weather looks like just to the naked eye.

And this is not something you want to go outside and view, because it's unsafe to be outside. So, take a look at it from our computer's standpoint.

And here's where the storm, it comes on land, out into the outer parishes of New Orleans further south of that, and then it comes through. And you can see we're expecting the storm to come onshore and then further, move further inland as well.

So, it's going to be a storm that will affect a great area. And not only will it affect once it's inland, but just coming onshore, the storm surge will be very, very high and very intense, especially right here in these southeastern parishes of Louisiana.

Right along the shoreline we could see storm surge as high as 30 feet. That's an incredible amount of water.

I was mentioning earlier when you asked, what is storm surge? And you're probably wondering, why all this water? Why does it get so high, and why does it come onshore?

Well, imagine the circulation of a hurricane as a big bowl of water. And you take a spoon and you're stirring and stirring. And then along the edges of that bowl, the water rises.

That's exactly what happens with a hurricane with the water from the ocean, or with the water from the Gulf of Mexico.

So, as that water is rising along the sides, the entire force of it, or the entire large bowl of water that you're stirring, imagine that's coming for you right here along the southern Gulf.

So, that's what we're seeing, this wall of water coming through. It does surge. It does get stronger. And the waves also increase as they get closer to land. As that slope underneath the ocean gets higher and more of an incline, the waves kind of rise up. And we'll be seeing those high waves, as well.

We're already getting those 20-foot waves, as I mentioned, just 15 miles right here, south of Mississippi.

So, unbelievable. It's already starting now. The winds are increasing, the rain is increasing and certainly the flooding will be on the way as well.

HARRIS: Waves of 65 feet. Storm surge, 30 feet.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

KAYE: Hard to believe.

SCHNEIDER: And wind gusts right now, I mentioned there was a report of 85 mile per hour wind gusts in Baton Rouge.

Further to the south, we've had a wind gust in Southwest Pass, in oceans, we reported a wind gust as high as 101 miles per hour. So, just fierce winds, and the storm hasn't made landfall yet.

HARRIS: Thank you, Bonnie.


KAYE: Thanks, Bonnie.

Emergency services all along the target zone are on high alert.

Joining us now on the telephone from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is Kevin Cowan of the Louisiana National Guard. And lieutenant, thanks so much for joining us.

Tell me what your role is going to be here right now and also when Katrina actually does make landfall.

LT. KEVIN COWAN, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD, BATON ROUGE: Well, right now, we're sort of in a holding position. We've done all that we can do, and we're just waiting on the storm. And once the storm does pass, we have our teams in place that are going to assist with getting the disaster recovery started.

KAYE: Can you play any role, as it stands now? We're hearing about many people in some of the low-lying areas, some of the parishes, refusing to evacuate and choosing not to evacuate.

Can the National Guard do anything to help that?

COWAN: Well, it's usually in the people's best interest to evacuate. But you cannot force someone to leave their home.

The only thing that we can do is hope for the best. And if they weather the storm and end up being stranded, hopefully when the storm passes, we'll be able to send out some search and rescue teams to recover those people that have gotten stranded in the low-lying areas and bring them to a safe shelter.

KAYE: So, even in the case of a mandatory evacuation, you can't go in there -- authorities cannot go in there -- to get these people out.

COWAN: I'm sure that if it was determined necessary, that could happen. But typically, it's not the case.

Usually, with enough persuasion, the people will go ahead and leave peacefully.

KAYE: And have you been through a hurricane before? Have you yourself personally been through one in that area?

COWAN: Yes. Actually several.

KAYE: And what do you remember about the experience? And what are you expecting this time around, knowing what's heading your way?

COWAN: Well, comparing it to the other ones that have come through, this one looks like it's going to be a little bit stronger.

We've gotten a lot of winds here in Baton Rouge over the past several years with the hurricanes that come through, and quite a bit of rain. But with our position a little to the north and west of New Orleans and the coastline, usually the storm has subsided a bit, and we don't get the brunt of the storm.

It looks like that we'll probably get some stronger winds, a lot of wind damage and quite a bit of heavy rain.

KAYE: All right. Well, Lieutenant Kevin Cowan from the Louisiana National Guard, we wish you the very best as you await the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Thanks for joining us -- Tony.

HARRIS: The big one, headed for the Big Easy.

KAYE: That's what they're calling it -- the big one.

HARRIS: All right, we're going to take a break and continue with our coverage of Hurricane Katrina. A live picture now of New Orleans Superdome. It can hold up to 70,000, maybe 80,000 people.

We don't know just how many people are inside right now, but there have been lines outside of the Superdome all day today -- folks trying to get in. Folks who, for various reasons, can't get out of the city.

We'll continue with our coverage right after the break.


HARRIS: Heavy rains are already drenching parts of the Mississippi coast. Most residents in the coastal areas are either evacuating or abiding by curfews.

We get the latest now from CNN's Jonathan Freed in Biloxi. And let me look behind you there, Jonathan. All right. The winds are kicking up a bit.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony. They are.

We're starting to see the rain come in, the wind pick up. It's a little bit gusty now.

It had been largely calm for the last few hours, and we were told that right around this time is when we would start to see the rain and the wind picking up, and it would just go on from there.

I'm even getting a little bit of sand that's just kicking up right now. So, it's pretty well happening right when people said that it would.

HARRIS: Jonathan, I understand, from where you stand now, you're looking at a situation that is going to do nothing but deteriorate through the early morning hours.

FREED: You're absolutely right. We are all sort of standing around here.

It's one of those surreal things in our business, where we end up right in the way of something that most people are trying to avoid.

HARRIS: That's right.

FREED: And we're all standing around -- all standing around looking at each other saying, this is going to get worse before it gets better.

And I'll give you an idea of where we're standing. We're at a hotel here, right next to Interstate 10. We're about four miles from the coast.

And over my shoulder here, we're looking across at what is a lumber yard. And it's made of aluminum construction.

HARRIS: Oh, boy.

FREED: So, we are just standing -- exactly, oh, boy.


FREED: We're standing here wondering what is going to happen to this structure. How strong is it? And how has it fared during other storms before?

But, of course, nothing like this has come through here in a very long time.

HARRIS: And the folks there, I mean, obviously I'm guessing -- I don't know this -- but I'm guessing that the streets are absolutely empty, and most of the folks, as we just mentioned, have heeded the evacuation warnings and have gotten out of the city. And those who are still there are abiding by the curfews.

FREED: That's right. The streets are very quiet. People are abiding by the curfew. I was just talking to a representative from the sheriff's department, though, asking those kinds of questions. He's guessing that about 2,000 people here are in shelters. And this is a town of about 55,000 or so permanent residents.

They have millions of tourists that come through here every year, because of the casinos. But about 2,000 people in shelters. All the schools have been turned into shelters.

But they're saying that they're not sure how many people who are in or close to the low-lying areas, whether or not all of them have gotten out. And there's always some concern that some people are erring on the side of staying rather than leaving, if they're sizing up where they live.

And the advice is still, if you're even remotely near a low-lying -- and you should know who you are -- is to really think about getting out of there. It's not too late.

I mean, it's not great. The wind is picking up now and it's late. But there are shelters open, and they're urging you to, please, do not take that risk if you're anywhere close to a low-lying area.

HARRIS: Very good. Jonathan Freed for us in Biloxi, Mississippi. Jonathan, thank you.

KAYE: Lots of us are very curious about the vulnerability of the City of New Orleans. So, we want to bring in Paul Douglas, who is a meteorologist and author of a book called "Restless Skies."

Paul, you have studied hurricanes. You've just published your book, "Restless Skies."

And in that book you touch on the vulnerability of the City of New Orleans. You're joining us now by phone from Minneapolis.

Tell us about what you think. How vulnerable is New Orleans?


Well, most experts think it's a tossup between Miami and New Orleans. Both cities -- probably the most vulnerable cities in America right now, in terms of hurricanes.

KAYE: And what do you think can happen there, knowing that a Category 5 is heading its way?

DOUGLAS: Well, of course, the concern is really a double whammy. It's flooding and flying debris.

As we tell people with tornadoes, it's not the tornado or the hurricane that's going to kill you. It's what's in the hurricane. It's the debris, and the fact that even a pebble, a small piece of glass traveling at 150, 170 miles an hour becomes a lethal weapon.

So, that's why we tell people that you really have to protect yourself from not only the flooding aspect of this storm, but also the flying debris.

KAYE: And Biloxi, Mississippi, also vulnerable when it comes to Hurricane Katrina. Also home to the hurricane hunters, who study hurricanes and the storms.

And you recently flew with the hurricane hunters. Tell us briefly what kind of experience that was, as you actually make your way into the storm.

DOUGLAS: It was amazing. It was like being on a possessed elevator for about 10 hours.

I tell people it was more uncomfortable than it was terrifying.

But these hurricane hunters are amazing. There are 10 aircraft. There's always a plane in the air. The United States is the only country that still flies into hurricanes. We've been doing it since 1943.

Randi, you can only glean so much information from satellites and Doppler radar. You really need to investigate the storm first-hand, fly through the storm multiple times at 10,000 feet. It's a big X pattern.

And these pilots are looking for the roughest weather, the strongest turbulence. They want to be able to pinpoint the pressure, where this thing is going. They drop these little instruments called dropsondes, with parachutes, into the storm, that send back real-time information to the forecasters at NHC, at the National Hurricane Center.

So, this is critical information when tracking not only the intensity, which is much more difficult to predict than the track itself. As a nation, we do a pretty good job predicting the tracks of these things. But will it go from Cat 3 to Cat 5? When will it go from Cat 5 back down to Cat 2?

KAYE: Right.

DOUGLAS: The computer models don't do nearly as good a job with that.

KAYE: Let's talk about inland flooding, because we talk so much about the wind. But how concerned should we be, Paul, about inland flooding?

DOUGLAS: Well, you know, I'm glad you brought that up, because that does not make the news perhaps as often as it should.

With Camille, back in 1969, more than half of the fatalities were inland, in some cases days after this storm hit -- Virginia, Tennessee.

Sixty to 80 percent of all hurricane deaths are from flooding -- freshwater flooding -- well inland, in many cases days after the hurricane comes ashore. What gets the headlines is the wind speed and the storm surge. And no doubt, the storm surge is going to be catastrophic with Katrina.

But my hunch is that, over time, inland flooding may be a much bigger threat. All it takes is six inches of moving water to knock you off your feet.

Two feet of water can float your SUV.

KAYE: Wow.

DOUGLAS: And so, people ...

KAYE: Just two feet.

DOUGLAS: Yes. And people living in Nashville and Louisville and Cincinnati and Cleveland really can't be complacent about this storm. Just remember that with Camille more people were killed by flooding inland, days after the fact, than from the storm surge itself.

KAYE: And tell us real quickly before we let you go, what kind of personal evacuation plans should people along the coast have in place right now?

DOUGLAS: Well, I'll tell you what. Everybody has to take responsibility.

The worst of this is going to strike within about the next five to six hours. If you can't get out, get up. Third, fourth floor would be perfect.

Center of the house or building. A bathtub. Many families survived Andrew by putting the kids -- and in many cases the parents -- into a bathtub. Take a mattress off the bed, put it on top of the bathtub.

If you're in a hotel, a concrete stairwell would be the best place to be, or an interior restroom.

Remember two things, Randi. The more walls you can get between you and your family, the better. And also, the smaller the room, the better.

So, if you just use common sense and think clearly here over the next couple of hours, there's a very good chance that you're going to be able to ride out this storm.

KAYE: Well, let's hope so. Paul Douglas, author of "Restless Skies," thanks so much for your time this morning.

DOUGLAS: Thank you, Randi.

KAYE: Tony.

HARRIS: What great information. KAYE: Absolutely.

HARRIS: That was wonderful.

Let's take a break and we'll come back with more of our coverage of Hurricane Katrina anticipating landfall in the next five to six hours. The outer bands of the storm already lapping up against Louisiana, Gulfport, Biloxi, Mississippi.

Let's go back to that shot of the Superdome, if we could. People there taking shelter. Last resort refuge, as it was called by the mayor of New Orleans.

A quick break and back with more, right after this.


SCHNEIDER: Good morning, everyone. I'm meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the CNN weather center.

Here's the latest on Hurricane Katrina.

It's still a powerful Category 5 storm with maximum winds at 160 miles per hour. Just unbelievable how strong this storm has gotten in a relatively short period of time.

Here's where we're getting some of the heaviest rain. Remember, the storm has not made landfall. We're expecting that to occur later this morning.

But taking a look at our radar picture now -- real-time radar -- we're getting some very, very heavy downpours. These bands of rain that are moving across Louisiana right now.

I'm going to zoom in so we can get a better perspective of where the rain is in relation to New Orleans. Heavy, heavy rain pummeling New Orleans right now, and further south.

We're starting to get some moderate to light rain in Jackson, Mississippi. And I think all of that is on the increase.

Just to mention, also, further to the east we're getting plenty of rain towards Gulfport, Pascagoula. It's going to be a rough overnight. So, just keep that in mind.

In the meantime, we're also watching for this storm to eventually make landfall, as I mentioned, later this morning. A powerful Category 5 storm. The outwards of the hurricane force winds extend outward of 105 miles from the storm's center.

Just to let you know, we are getting some of those wind gusts right now. We've had wind gusts reported as high as 101 miles per hour in Southwest Pass, Louisiana.

So, that's the latest with Katrina right now. Stay tuned. Coming up we're going to have another check of Katrina, give you the latest, up-to-date information here at CNN. We are your hurricane headquarters. Stay with us.


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