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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Hurricane Katrina

Aired August 30, 2005 - 00:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, I'm Rick Sanchez.
As we go on the air this morning, it appears Katrina is going to be forever remembered as one of the deadliest storms to hit the U.S. in recent history. The Associated Press is now reporting that 50 people are dead because of this weather phenomenon that is now a tropical storm. And even now, Katrina is not going away quietly. In fact, still causing havoc. And we're going to be taking you to some of the places that are being affected as we speak. That's why we're going to be staying on the air on this story.

Hurricanes reveal themselves over time, and there is still much to be learned. We hope to be able to learn some of that information and pass it along to you over the next several hours.

First, a look at one of the many dramatic rescues taking place in Louisiana. There it is, look at that picture. The U.S. Coast Guard basically pulled a man off of a roof and then hoisted him up in a Coast Guard helicopter.

In Mobile, this picture, a bridge that got hit by an oil-drilling platform. And speaking of oil, the U.S. Coast Guard is conducting aerial searches for some missing oilrigs. The Coast Guard says Katrina set adrift one, possibly two, unmanned offshore oil-drilling units in the Gulf of Mexico.

We're going to be keeping a close watch on what this deadly and dangerous storm is doing right now. We have complete coverage of Katrina, which has now been, once again, downgraded to a tropical storm.

Ted Rowlands, he's going to be in Biloxi, Mississippi. Adaora Udoji is going to be standing by for us in New Orleans to try and make sense of what's going on there with all those pictures of flooding that we have been looking at and sharing more with you.

But first, let's begin with our meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider. She's in our Weather Center and trying to give us a sense of what is left of this storm.

Bonnie, over to you.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All right, Rick.

Well what we're looking at now is still some very strong wave heights that are affecting coastal areas of the Gulf Coast. Even at this hour, even after the storm has passed to the north, we're still seeing wave heights six to eight feet. So small craft advisory certainly continues, but I don't think anybody is going to be heading out in the Gulf of Mexico anytime soon because of Katrina.

And as we take a look at some of the rainfall that we've seen over the past 24 hours, it's really impressive and really incredible, because now we're not even talking about a hurricane anymore, it's a tropical storm. And this area, I just want to point out here north of Clarksville, Tennessee, towards a little bit the west of Bowling Green, Kentucky, we have eight inches of rain in the past 24 hours. This actually started yesterday when the hurricane was down to the south.

And what's going to happen with these rainfall totals you see in the past 24 hours through the mid-south, through the Tennessee Valley and the Ohio Valley is add three to five inches on top of those numbers that you saw. So the rain is going to stretch all the way to the northeast and even affect states like New York and Pennsylvania. This storm is definitely not through with the eastern half of the country just yet.

And here's where we can expect some of the heaviest rain, through the Ohio Valley, into places like Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. So it's going to be a lot of rain that we have to contend with, certainly, before things are all said and done with Katrina.

If we could go back to our other sources now, I can show you the track of Katrina. Right now the storm is still a tropical storm with maximum winds at 60 miles per hour. So still a strong tropical storm. Right now the center is near Columbus, Mississippi and it's heading to the northeast.

Here's what we can expect for Tuesday. By 8:00 p.m., the storm moves towards the Ohio Valley into the lower sections of Ohio near Cincinnati. And then, eventually, by Wednesday, we're talking more of just a strong area of low pressure.

But still, remember even if we get tropical storm force winds with this storm, winds above 39 miles per hour, we could still see branches knocked down and trees even being knocked down, at least parts of the ones that are kind of hanging on by a thread. So I think we're going to see some more problems with power outages as well.

The bulk of the situation right now is down here in Mississippi, up towards Tennessee and Kentucky. That's the area that's under the gun.

One more thing to note is we still run the risk of tornadoes. We have seen tornadoes pop up here and there throughout the evening into northern Georgia. So keep in mind that we're going to be watching for the threat of tornadoes as Katrina continues to move to the north- northeast. Moving fairly quickly, about 22 miles per hour -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: We should mention, Bonnie, that oftentimes when we refer to these tropical storms, or a hurricane, we're usually talking about their sustained winds. But from time to time you have some occasional gusts that can often do an awful lot of damage. And I suppose there's a lot of people watching us right now that wonder whether, not only tornadic activity, but gusts alone that can do some damage to their homes. I imagine it can, correct?

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. It doesn't even take that strong a wind gust to knock down a tree. But even though the storm is still considered a tropical storm, 60-mile-per-hour sustained winds are very strong and certainly can knock down tree branches and certainly can knock down power lines.

But you're right, Rick, we could see gusts even stronger than that. And Katrina has a history of producing very strong wind gusts. Even before the storm gets close to the center, even further away we've had those tropical storm force winds extending hundreds of miles. So, yes, I think that is going to be -- the wind is going to be a factor, as well as the heavy rain.

SANCHEZ: Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider, she's going to be staying with us throughout the morning and bringing us up to date on what's going on now with Katrina.

Mobile, Alabama is nearly a hundred miles away from New Orleans, and Katrina's eventual landfall, but the damage from the storm is unmistakable. Downtown streets awash in floodwaters there, winds from the storms outer bands literally whipping an oilrig loose. Right now Mobile is under a dusk to dawn curfew we learned.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is live in Mobile with more.

Ted, how are things looking there now?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Katrina has moved on. There's no rain and no wind at this point, Rick, obviously. And they're really still assessing the damage, and not only here in Mobile, but along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And there is real concern, not necessarily here in Mobile, they think that they survived pretty well. There is real concern about Mississippi Gulf Coast cities. Of course we're in the Alabama Gulf Coast here.

But there is real concern in places along that Gulf Coast that they haven't been able to get into. And they are fearing that, depending on how many people did not heed the hurricane warnings and stuck around to try to ride Katrina out, they are very worried about the fate of those people. And they do expect that the death toll, which the AP is reporting about at 50 at this point in just one county, they expect that that death toll could go up significantly.

In Biloxi, Mississippi there was widespread damage from this hurricane Katrina, not only in town, but around the area. Flooding, significant damage to buildings, some of them totally destroyed. And there is concern tonight that the death toll, as we mentioned, may go up in the next few days.

And the real concern is the communities like Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Waveland, these are communities with populations about 6,000 to 17,000, it's fairly significant. The key is how many of those people decided to try to ride this thing out. The initial reports out of those communities, according to one local official here, those reports are not good. The one person said of Bay St. Louis -- quote -- "it has been devastated and just wiped out." They have not been able to go in and see the significance of the damage and, again, to see how many people we left behind.

Here in Mobile, it was streets being flooded and power is out for pretty much the entire city. And they fear that the power is going to be out in this region for days, possibly weeks, as they come in in full-fledged, full force tomorrow to try to rectify that. But they're warning folks a) don't go back to your homes if you have evacuated. And b) if you are here, sit tight and get ready for a possible long haul in terms of living without power.

You mentioned that oil-drilling platform here in Mobile, which came loose out of its moorings. This was not an active oil-drilling platform. It was docked here. It did break loose, though, and it slammed into the Cochran Bridge, which was a local bridge here. They've had to, obviously, shut the bridge down until they can assess the damage there. Just one of the many things that folks around this area are going to be dealing with, not only for the next few days, but weeks and months to come.

Katrina has left a huge mark. It is going to be, financially, very significant. And it is going to be a lot of work for these people, not only their own homes, but for businesses, as well, to rebuild in Katrina's wake -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Ted, let me ask you about the storm surge in Mobile Bay. As a matter of fact, Jenny (ph), if we could, could we put that map back up that actually shows the bay itself so we can try and give a sense to the viewers? What kind of tidal surge or storm surge did we get in Mobile Bay in the end, Ted, or do we know?

ROWLANDS: Well, it wasn't as -- well, what we do know is it wasn't as significant or as bad as the dire predictions had it. They were talking about 20-feet surges. It didn't get to that level. However, that said, the downtown area was flooded out to points where some folks that we talked to exceeded anything they'd ever seen.

But the real significant damage from this surge didn't happen here in Mobile. And, as I said earlier, the real concern is those other Mississippi Gulf Coast communities where they haven't been able to get in there, assess the damage and see how many people tried to ride it out and how many people did not make it. And that's the real concern is those folks that may not have made it. The death toll, they expect, the AP saying it's 50 now, they expect it's going to get higher and higher as the days go by.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and we've been checking that death toll, as a matter of fact, in just the last hour or so.

Ted, we thank you so much for bringing us up to date there in Mobile. We'll be checking back with you.

Meanwhile, authorities in Louisiana began their post Katrina damage assessments around 4:00 p.m. Central Time Monday afternoon. And while no -- quote -- "official death results" or reports have been tabulated so far there, the Louisiana governor, that's Kathleen Blanco, believes it's an inevitability. Thousands of New Orleans proper are stranded from standing floodwaters. And the pictures coming out of south Louisiana's parishes are speaking volumes. We're talking about places like St. Bernard Parish, Ward 9.

It's going to get worse before it gets better. That's the early account from FEMA director Michael Brown on the situation in New Orleans. Veteran FEMA staffers say that the damage they have seen so far from New Orleans alone is some of the worst that they have ever seen since they have been doing this.

Wires are reporting 50 people have been killed by this storm thus far, as you just heard Ted allude to moments ago. By the way, most, if not all of these people who have perished have done so in the area of Biloxi and Gulfport. That's in an area called Harrison County for those of you familiar with that part of Mississippi. Louisiana's Governor Blanco says she believes they have lost lives there as well, but no deaths have been officially confirmed.

To get a better idea on the level or severity of damages, the American Red Cross says it's mobilizing the largest relief operation in its history. And that their post Katrina effort going on right now is larger than all four of Florida's hurricanes last year combined.

Aerial footage shows many streets and houses underwater. Boats from nearby Lake Pontchartrain floating by. Part of the flooding is rain from Katrina itself and accompanying storm surges that we've been telling you about. But water topping a levee on the crescent city's east side spilled over somewhat, adding to the flood as well, although those levees didn't break, as some had feared could possibly happen.

Again, 50 people have been rescued so far, we're told, in New Orleans' lower ninth ward, and that's been hit very hard by some of those high waters.

Well a port, as you might imagine, is supposed to be to a city next to water, but not underwater. And Mobile, Alabama is finding itself dealing with some very serious flooding as well.

Jim Walker is Director of Alabama's Department of Homeland Security. He's joining us now from Montgomery.

We were just talking to Ted Rowlands, Mr. Walker, and he seemed to be telling us that things could have been a lot worse. Is that your assessment?

JIM WALKER, DIRECTOR, ALABAMA'S DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well that's true. I mean Alabama is obviously feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most dangerous storms in U.S. history. We were expecting a storm surge greater than we received. But you know the experts were pretty accurate. We got between 9 and 12 feet. I mean our threat in Alabama was the storm surge. What we had this time was the water and the wind was not as great. Our neighbors to the west got the wind. And I want to say that I've been following your coverage. And I know that Governor Riley has spoken with Governor Barbour and Governor Blanco in Louisiana. I want you to know that on behalf of Governor Riley and all of the citizens of Alabama, our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends and neighbors to the west of us. But that doesn't dilute the fact that we have our challenges here on the coastal counties of Alabama, particularly in Mobile and the southwest corner of the state.

SANCHEZ: Well, let me ask you this, is there a possibility, because certainly most of us in this business have covered these things for quite a while, and oftentimes we really don't know what the damage is until day two, sometimes day three. Do you think there's a possibility when you guys go out tomorrow you might be surprised to find out there's more damage or less damage than what you think there is right now?

WALKER: Well, that's just it, you know, I mean we're continuing to get updated figures. Right now in Alabama we have over 345,000 residents without power. We've got 66 shelters that are active. We've got over 5,300 citizens in shelters. We've got special needs shelters with over 36 folks there. But we've done a good job. Governor Riley has assembled a very good team. And you know this is not our first rodeo. This is our third hurricane in less than a year.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

WALKER: And if there's one thing that we're able to do in Alabama, it's to prepare. And we've got teams that are pushed forward. Tonight we're doing only emergency services. We've got folks positioned so that first light tomorrow we can get the structural engineers on the Cochran Bridge. We can begin assessing better the damage in southwest Alabama, Mobile and along Gulf Shores. We do know that we've got some challenges that we've got to deal with.

And Katrina is still in Alabama. Right now it's north of Tuscaloosa. We're still seeing wind surges in the state 50 miles an hour or better. Fifty-four of our counties are under a tornado warning. And so you know we're not out of this yet, but we certainly didn't bear the brunt that our friends to the west did.

SANCHEZ: So right now, I believe it's far to say, just from this conversation, that you've got a pretty good sense of what the assessment is there. And the assessment is that there may be some damage, but you pulled out of this thing a lot better than you anticipated?

WALKER: Well, you know I think that we'll know, obviously, more tomorrow.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

WALKER: We were able to do an evacuation along our coastal counties. We think that's made a notable difference to our citizens. There were still some rescues today. And what's sort of remarkable is how well we are all working together in this post 9/11 era. I mean counties using all of the resources at their disposal, as are state agencies. You know we had a water rescue today with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources rescued a pregnant woman and five children down in Bayou La Batre. And so all of the players in the state are now starting to work together.

And players from around the region are working together. I know that Governor Riley is going to deploy 800 or so National Guardsmen from Alabama to our neighboring state of Mississippi tomorrow to help them with debris removal, traffic control and other missions that Governor Barbour may need in his state.

SANCHEZ: Jim Walker, Director of Alabama's Department of Homeland Security, giving us a firsthand account of the situation there in his state of Alabama.

We thank you, Mr. Walker, for taking the time to talk to us, sir, and good luck tomorrow when you get out in this area.

WALKER: Well thank you very much -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Jackson, Mississippi took Hurricane Katrina's best shot as well. There are some 350,000 Mississippians without power tonight, we're told. Many in the Magnolia State are comparing Katrina to the monster of 1969, which will, for many residents there, always be remembered as simply Camille.

Jacob Ray is Mississippi's Assistant Attorney General. He's joining us now live on the phone with more.

Tell us, if you would, Mr. Ray, how bad the situation seems to be in Harrison County, because it seems, from all indications, that that's where the brunt of the storm was felt?

JACOB RAY, MISSISSIPPI ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, that's the reports that we're receiving at this time. It appears that the brunt of this hurricane was felt on the coast. As it moved in inward, it was still an extremely strong hurricane. And we received damage pretty much as this hurricane took its path through Mississippi.

SANCHEZ: Do you know, sir, to what this is being attributed? Because we know, as you said, as many as 50 people have died in that region, according to The Associated Press. Is it as a result of the flooding or is it structural damage or do we know yet?

RAY: Right now it's too early to determine that, and information we're receiving is about the same as what you're receiving at this time. We haven't -- we're having -- you know emergency crews are getting down there and in as close as they can and trying to relay information back to Jackson.

SANCHEZ: By the way, let me just ask you for our own purposes here since we're a news gathering operation, as we speak. We are attributing this to The Associated Press, but can you confirm to us that indeed there have been as many as 50 deaths in the Harrison County area?

RAY: I can't. I cannot. I cannot confirm that at this time, myself, no -- sir.

SANCHEZ: What are you hearing that has taken place there then?

RAY: That's basically all that we're hearing is there have been deaths. Not exactly sure what the number is. But our focus is more on getting down there to get the prices down. So when these people start to make their way back home, we're assured that their basic needs are met when they get back and not paying six or seven dollars for basic needs such as milk or basic food supplies.

SANCHEZ: Yes, gouging is another part of the story that we're going to following as well throughout the morning.

Jacob Ray, Mississippi's Assistant Attorney General, good enough to join us this morning. Sir, we thank you.

RAY: Yes -- sir.

SANCHEZ: And good luck tomorrow as you go out there and assess the damage.

RAY: Thank you so much. Yes -- sir.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

Punishing winds and rain from Katrina tearing off parts of the roof of the Louisiana Superdome. That's where 10,000 people were trying to ride out the storm. The stadium is considered the most solid of the city's 10 shelters. The Superdome is the world's largest steel constructed room unobstructed by posts, as it's described. It's enormous. The dome covers 9.7 acres. It's 273 feet high, has 102 restrooms, which breaks down to about a hundred people per restroom. And we are learning that there was some structural damage on the building itself, but nothing major, as it's being reported.

You're watching CNN your hurricane headquarters. We are staying with this story throughout the night and we'll bring you the very latest. I'm Rick Sanchez. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back, I'm Rick Sanchez. This is our live coverage that begins this morning in New Orleans, where lives are feared lost, despite no official death reports as of yet. This, while thousands may remain stranded from flooding in and around the crescent city. The preliminary damage reports coming out of New Orleans and outlying parishes does seem to be devastating, as are the pictures.

CNN's Adaora Udoji is live. She's following the story.

We're getting reports, Adaora, from places like St. Bernard Parish and Ward 9 that seemingly entire neighborhoods are underwater. What can you tell us about those areas? ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no question about that, Rick. In fact, if we could just -- I'm not sure if you can pan down. We're here in Ellison Field (ph), which is just a couple of miles northwest of the city, and they've just pulled another family. It's like there's at least three or four adults and two children who have just been taken out of one of the flooded areas.

This is an entire neighborhood. They're not sure exactly how far north it expands. But they actually found out about how flooded and how badly it was flooded in the area, because, Rick, people were calling from their attics on cell phones pleading for help. And some of the folks who live in the neighborhood, their family members were calling trying to find out anything about what had happened to them, because, of course, they haven't been able to get into contact. As you know, telephone lines are down. Cell phones extremely spotty.

We have about two dozen rescue workers out here. You have firefighters, police officers, wild fishing and wildlife agents who have come from way far up north and Louisiana who are down here working on boats. They are going house to house.

And, as you can tell, it is pitch-black, incredibly dangerous. They're not sure -- here we have another boat that's just coming in. And we've been here about an hour. And I've got to tell you, Rick, every time a boat comes in, every time they're bringing in some families, we've seen at least three or four different families in the past hour. One family of five, they had two infants, they were trapped out here in this neighborhood.

And this is not the only place, as you mentioned, also far -- much further south to us in the ninth ward terrible flooding down there. That, of course, is near the French Quarter. Not clear how many people who are trapped in their houses in that area either. And again, we're northwest of the city and northeast of the city, excuse me. And northwest in Metairie, you also have some terrible flooding.

And the big problem, we've been hearing this all day, Rick, is that the rescue workers themselves are having trouble getting out. And not only do they need to get out but they need to get the equipment out, meaning the boats, in order to go through these neighborhoods. And again, it is very dark and they're just not sure exactly how many people are trapped.

In this particular location, at Ellison Field, again, northeast of the city, one of the officers told us that they have pulled out at least 300 people in the last couple of hours. Many of them minor scrapes and scratches. One man with a broken leg, they say a dislocation. They have not found any fatalities. But ominously, one officer said to me not even a half an hour ago, that they do believe that there are certainly some people who just didn't make it -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: That's amazing, Adaora. Stay with us, if you could, Adaora, we're going to be talking about this for a little bit. This seems to be where most of the drama continues to unfold on this night.

And we were just looking at pictures moments ago of someone literally being hoisted onto a helicopter as the helicopter's pilot had to negotiate around those power -- take a look at those power lines and just how close they are to the man who's being hoisted on to this helicopter as they pull him from the roof. This is earlier, before it became dark in that area, as you're reporting to us now, Adaora.

So what I'm wondering is these people who are being pulled out now by boat, where are they coming from? You mentioned something about them being in their attics. Is that where most of them have been trying to get away from the hurricane in their own homes?

UDOJI: I mean in these particular areas there's clearly some people. In fact, one of our producers, one of Anderson Cooper's producer was riding down a highway and they heard reports that there may be some people trapped. And they stopped and they said you could actually hear people screaming for help.

And you clearly can't see it now, but these houses are of different sizes and they seemingly are different levels above the sidewalk. But again, we're looking at houses that are at least six feet underwater. So it's hard to tell where some of those people may have been hiding in their homes. Obviously the highest point being the attic. And so many of those people probably sensing or seeing the lights of the rescue workers and screaming and somehow managing to get out.

We're just not knowing exactly how these rescue workers are getting them out because they're down there hard at work. And when they get them out, then you also have the problem of trying to figure out how to get them into the city. It's not an easy thing.

When we left our hotel, which is about five miles from here, you have to drive through incredibly flooded streets. And in fact, our car just stopped. The engine was flooded with water. You couldn't go any further. Luckily, we had a crew that had a car that sort of pushed us forward out of the water and we were able to dry off for a minute and drive through. But as we were sitting there, we did see a couple of vans passing by full of people.

I mean they're using all kinds of vehicles. Basically anything that rescue workers can get their hands on. Because we talked to some -- a captain of the police force here in New Orleans earlier today who was saying that, essentially, before the storm hit, what they did was they spread all of their vehicles out. Some of them went in garages. Some of them went in areas that were not necessarily close but were higher elevated, because of course they too were worried about their cars getting flooded. And if that happened, they weren't' going to be able to go out to these areas and try to find the people.

SANCHEZ: You know what's amazing is, as you tell the story, and you say that there are some people who have actually climbed into their attic thinking that would be the place that they would be able to get away from, one wonders if it's even possible that if they don't have a cell phone, there's no way for police, even in a helicopter, to be able to spot them. So there may still, as we speak, and I think you've alluded to this, be people who are stuck in some of these homes and there may be no way for rescue officials to know that they're even there, correct?

UDOJI: I think you are absolutely correct. And that's why it's so treacherous for these rescue workers, particularly at night, but they're out here trying to find those people. And clearly, because it is so dark, that when these boats are riding up and down the street seeing a light, I'm sure that people are going to start making a lot of noise. And again, cell phone service is incredibly spotty. I mean you sometimes get it, you sometimes don't.

My cameraman is pointing again. I think we've got another boat. And I have no doubt, Rick, that there are certainly more people on that boat also. So it is a very painstaking process of going very slowly, because, again, the boat has to go slowly.

You mentioned those power lines. Not only are there power lines, but when you're driving down the street, you just have debris, huge chunks of wood with just -- and nails that are 10, you know 15 inches long, and you can see those in the daylight, but you can't see that at nighttime.

SANCHEZ: Not to mention...

UDOJI: So these rescue workers have to go very slowly -- exactly.

SANCHEZ: I was just going to mention that those roads are not necessarily navigable. I mean they're made to be driven by cars, not by boats, so there may be a stop sign in a place where that boat propeller is going over and that would only cause more problems. So it must be a perilous task to try and rescue those folks and then get back to a place where they can let them out.

UDOJI: Absolutely. I don't think there's any doubt about that. And what's interesting is when you look at the various boats that are coming in they are all shapes and sizes. Some of them, all of them motor that they have motors. But many of them, some of them are wider. This one looks like it's probably three or feet wide. We've seen some that are much narrower. We saw a two or three foot boat. So, again, they're trying to navigate this very treacherous, treacherous neighborhood.

And they don't even have any idea how far it stretches, at least not at this point. Because, from what we understand, I mean initially they're thinking that perhaps it was not the actual rain of the storm but the storm surge and that it accumulated very quickly even as the storm was leaving the area. But again, all of these things are going to be investigating and taking a look and trying to figure out. But right now the priority is the people.

SANCHEZ: Yes, one final question, just to get a sense, I know oftentimes when I watch television newscasts I want to find out just how big an area sometimes a report is coming from. And it's easy sometimes you can be fooled by a zoom-in, so to speak, where you see a small area and you think to the mind's eye it's much bigger. But could you tell us or give us a sense of just how large, how expansive these areas are when we refer to St. Bernard Parish, for example, or Ward 9, how many blocks is that?

UDOJI: Yes, I think that they are trying to determine it. I mean I asked an officer on the scene even here at Ellison Field and they weren't sure. Because I said to them a neighborhood, are we talking 3 blocks, 10 blocks? They said it could stretch as far as three miles.

SANCHEZ: Wow.

UDOJI: Which would -- you know would be many dozens of potentially of blocks. So they're not sure how wide it is because the water has crept up slowly. And of course I mean we were up all night. We were actually at Tulane Hospital in the midst of downtown, and even as we were moving around afterwards, there was water probably knee- deep in many places.

But coming out again tonight, much of that water had receded, where it may appear that some of these other areas, that water was increasing. So I think that it's an ebb-and-flow kind of situation. But we are talking about potentially -- one officer said, potentially a thousand people, perhaps, could be trapped, but they just don't know.

SANCHEZ: CNN's Adaora Udoji, bringing us what is -- really can only be described as a remarkable report, describing rescues as they're taking place in that part of New Orleans that we have been talking about. Again, mostly referred to as Ward 9 or St. Bernard Parish there in New Orleans where they say there's a possibility that thousands of homes have been flooded. And certainly hundreds and hundreds of people have been in that situation in those homes. Many of them, as you saw yourself just moments ago being rescued.

This is special coverage. We're going to stay here throughout the night on the very latest on Katrina. I'm Rick Sanchez and we're going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back. I'm Rick Sanchez. This is our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. We have been showing you pictures over the last several hours and days and the damage done to the Gulf Coast.

But let's not forget that that this killer storm first swept across Florida as a Category 1 and claimed 11 lives there before heading west and then north. Katrina had its choice of targets before settling on a northerly course and finally making landfall again, unleashing a Category 4 fury with winds of up to 145 miles an hour, from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Florida.

What we want to do now is try and bring it back to the storm itself and what it is doing now. Not only the aftermath of Katrina, but the storm is still considered dangerous, still moving across parts of the Southeast.

Thunderstorm watches, tornado warnings and more are par for the course this morning. Let's check in once again with our meteorologist Mike Musher is joining us now. He's at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Headquarters in Maryland to bring us up to date.

What do we know at this point about what this storm is still capable of doing, Mike?

Mike, are you there? Trying to see if we can still get a sense from Mike Musher. And you can see just the enormity of the storm itself and what it's doing as it crosses over parts of still Birmingham.

We were talking just a little while ago with one of the officials in Alabama who reminded us, as a matter of fact, when we asked him if he was able to assess the damage in his state. And he says, remember one thing, the damage still needs to be assessed in part of our state because the storm is still hitting the northwestern part of Alabama.

Let's do this, let's go over to Bonnie Schneider. She's checking on things for us as well. She's our meteorologist.

See if you could get a sense of -- give our viewers a sense of the question I was trying to ask Mike just moments ago about what this storm still has left in it.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, it has quite a bit left, Rick. We still are looking at a tropical storm with maximum winds at 60 miles per hour. So one of the byproducts that we get when we still have tropical storms on the ground are tornadoes that spin out of them.

If we could go to our other computer source, the VIPIR, I just want to show you something really interesting that's happening right now. We have a tornado warning and we can actually show you, as we zoom into this picture, we'll show you real time where this tornado is. I'll step out of the way. There it is right there.

In northern Georgia, this is in White County in northeast Georgia, and it's a Doppler-indicated tornado that's about producing not -- a tornado nine miles south of Cleveland, or about 10 miles west of Cornelia, moving to the north at 35 miles per hour.

Just want to point out here, when we talk about tornados that are indicated by Doppler radar, you can just see this little curvature here, this is what we look for when we look for Doppler radar- indicated tornados. Kind of a hook echo or a little bow or a little bend in the rotation.

And the reason we get this is when the storms come on through and even when they pass through land they cause a lot of disruption in the energy source in the atmosphere. So we get these little spin-offs. And that's what they're really -- and really basically are.

The winds going in all different directions, eventually spinning to the point where we get rotation and eventually a tornado. And that's what is happening right now in northern Georgia. We're likely to see more of these. The only good thing I can say is that since we're overnight and it's dark outside, we tend to get less tornados at night than we do during the day.

Let's go back to our other source and I can talk more about Katrina and show you where the storm is right now with the latest advisory had the center of circulation near Columbus, Mississippi. But the storm is moving to the north-northeast at about 20, 21, 22 miles per hour.

So it's moving fairly quickly , be encompassing quite a large part of the country, especially the Ohio Valley on into the Tennessee Valley, and then further north, even the Northeast will be affected.

Here's a tornado watch box. This means this is the area where we could potentially see tornados break out. And certainly that's what we're seeing right now. I mentioned that one that was indicated in northern Georgia.

The heaviest rain right now, wow, it is coming down heavy and hard, we have eight inches on the ground in parts of Kentucky at this hour, and three to five inches of rain is expected along the path of Katrina as the storm moves to the Northeast. So keep that in mind.

In Nashville, Tennessee, where the rain is coming down, we're going to see rain into Cincinnati, into Columbus, Ohio, even into parts of Pennsylvania. Here is the track of Katrina. We're still not done with this storm, that's for sure.

By 8:00 Tuesday night the storm moves further up towards the Ohio Valley and then further north even where the temperatures are much cooler. We're going to call it an area of low pressure. And eventually we'll be referring to Katrina as a remnant of the storm.

But right now not at all the case. Still a powerful tropical storm with winds at 60 miles per hour. I just want to mention we're still getting those high wave heights along the Gulf Coast. We're still dealing with storm surge. That will slowly subside as the storm pulls to the northeast -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you the question that people in Tennessee and Kentucky would probably ask you if they could. They would probably say something like this. What could the storm still do to me?

SCHNEIDER: I would say the main thrust is the heavy rain. The only saving grace here is, unlike when the storm made landfall in Florida, the movement is much faster now. It's moving to the north- northeast at 21, 22 miles per hour.

And what that means is, if the storm moves quicker we get less rain. So we're talking about anywhere along this path here, three to five inches of additional rain in addition to what has already fallen. So Florida we saw up to 20 inches of rain when the storm made landfall because it was moving so slowly.

SANCHEZ: So if you're in an area that's particularly hilly or you have that type of typography, then you probably want to be thinking about the possibility of flash floods.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. Well, anytime you have a storm move through an area where you have higher hills or higher elevations, sometimes that can ignite even more quick flash-flooding or quick downpours. So yes, that's definitely a concern.

The main thing to note is the flood threat is about three to five inches in the path of Katrina. But what is interesting about this storm, Rick, is that it's sort of spinning off little mini-storms just to the left and to the right of it. And that's where we're seeing that tornado break out on our Doppler radar that's indicated in northern Georgia.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And that's the most dangerous of all. Bonnie, we thank you so much.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

SANCHEZ: We'll be talking to you again.

Meanwhile, New Orleans is surrounded by water on three sides, as most of you know by now, just in the reports leading up to this coverage of this storm. It makes it extremely vulnerable to flooding, especially when you think about Lake Pontchartrain. See it right there in the middle of your screen.

On the north side of what is considered New Orleans is that big blue lake there. That's Pontchartrain. It is the second-largest salt water lake in the country. It's about four miles wide east to west, 24 miles from north to south. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which connects New Orleans to Mandeville, is the longest bridge -- or considered the longest bridge in the world standing.

Knowing your loved ones are stranded in a brutal storm is a difficult situation to handle. One woman in Charlotte, North Carolina is experiencing this type of distress now as she tries to -- try as she might to try and get information about her relatives who are trapped on a roof in New Orleans. Cathleen Whitelow-Twitty is joining us now by phone from North Carolina to bring us up-to-date on her situation.

Tell our viewers what you've been experiencing throughout the night if you would, Ms. Twitty.

CATHLEEN WHITELOW-TWITTY: Thanks for taking my call. There is a total of eight people that are stranded in my family. Four adults and four children ranging in age from one year to 75 years of age. That's my mother.

My nephew, C.J., he is in his mid-20s. He has been on the roof along with my 16-year-old niece and his girlfriend. My mother and everyone else is in the attic. It is pitch dark. There are no street lights or anything. There is a lady that's in a tree across the street and other people that are in their attics and on their roof in the neighborhood.

SANCHEZ: Can you tell us where they are?

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Yes. I'm going to give you an address. It's 4754 Deanne, D-E-A-N-N-E, Street in Eastern New Orleans.

SANCHEZ: We're going to -- you know what we're going to do, we're going to try and pass that on to some officials if we possibly can.

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Jenny (ph), if we could, maybe we could get that information and relay it to some of the officials. You know, I think the best they can do, Ms. Twitty, and we've been reporting on this, I don't know if you have been watching our newscast, but they do have some folks in vessels going out, small skiffs, if you will, small boats, to try and perform rescues in some of these areas.

The area that they've been in is Ward 9 and around St. Bernard Parish as I understand.

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Well, it's --

SANCHEZ: Is that the area where your relatives live?

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Yes. It's called the 9th Ward and in particular New Orleans East. The house is located less than two miles from the Lake front, from Lake Pontchartrain.

SANCHEZ: Give us the address again, if you would, 4754.

Boy, we apologize, but we seem to have lost Ms. Twitty as she shares that information with us. These are the kind of phone calls that we have been getting throughout the day, not only from people who are telling us that they have loved ones in an area that they would like to try and make contact with, but also from people who are actually in situations like that, people who are stranded.

We've been trying to get hold of officials. And those officials, of course, doing what they can to get to them. But throughout the course of this storm it's impossible for any rescue officials to try and perform these rescues. That's why they tell people who are in low-lying areas to always evacuate before the storm comes.

Now that things have settled somewhat, it might be a little easier for some of those officials to get in there. And that's what we have been reporting. You saw Adaora Udoji's report moments ago of some the boats actually getting into that area. And we're going to continue to follow up on that.

Let's see if we can get back to Ms. Twitty now. Ms. Twitty, are you back on the line with us?

Ms. Twitty, are you there?

Boy, we do apologize. But here's what we're going to do. Let's take a quick break if we possibly can. We're going to try and re- establish contact with her, see if we can possibly help her out with her desperate situation, trying to make contact with some officials to see if they can save her loved ones who she says are right now stuck in an area, in a house that has been flooded out. And they are still there. It includes her mother and several other people.

We are coming right back. You stay with us as the drama unfolds here on our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I'm Rick Sanchez.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I'm Rick Sanchez. We've been on the phone, as we have been throughout the day , from people that have been relaying information to us. And this person who we are speaking to now is Cathleen Whitelow-Twitty.

She is joining us from North Carolina but she's essentially trying to use us to put out a distress call for family members that she has there in New Orleans, many of whom, she says, are literally trapped in their home and can't get out. I'll let her finish the story from here and take us through it.

Ms. Twitty, if you could.

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Yes, thank you, Rick. The address is 4754 Deanne, D-E-A-N-N-E, Street in New Orleans. It's in New Orleans East, less than two miles from Lake Pontchartrain.

SANCHEZ: When last you talked to your relatives, what was the situation they were in?

WHITELOW-TWITTY: OK. Less than an hour ago my nephew called, C.J. And he was on the roof along with my niece and his girlfriend saying that there are many people in that neighborhood that are either still in their attics or on their rooftops. One lady in particular is hanging in a tree, waiting to be rescued.

SANCHEZ: What is the name of that neighborhood, by the way?

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Right. It's called -- it's New Orleans East. They live off of -- it's one block off of Downman Road between Dwyer, D-W-Y-E-R, and Dreaux, D-R-E-A-U-X. There is no particular name for that particular subdivision other than New Orleans East.

SANCHEZ: When you talked to your relatives, did they say that they had seen other rescues being performed in the area or have they seen authorities there at all?

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Right. My nephew said off in the distance, and he didn't give me, you know, how many yards or miles, he saw a -- something like a flashlight. And they would yell and he had a flashlight that he would wave. But then the flashlight, whoever that was, just went away.

Now when I was on the phone with him less than an hour or so ago, he saw an 18-wheeler and people in the neighborhood began to shine their flashlights onto this 18-wheeler, but I guess that whoever is driving, I don't know if they're trying to survey the rescue vehicle or what, or if it's transit itself or what, I don't know.

I don't know. But I know that they have been in the attic roughly since about 10:00, 10:30 this morning Eastern time. And they made it through the roof late this afternoon.

SANCHEZ: We can tell you this. We have done a little bit of a checking on this, and we do know that authorities there do have the address that you have shared with us and we'll certainly try and check back to see if they indeed are able to go there and not only rescue your relatives but some of the other people in the neighborhoods as well.

Stories like your own we've been sharing throughout the evening and hearing that there is an area where there are boats going as we speak. In fact, hopefully we'll be able to talk to our own correspondent, Adaora Udoji, who has been telling us and sharing these stories with us.

But once again, Cathleen Whitelow-Twitty, we thank you, ma'am, for joining us and sharing that story with you. We wish you the best of luck and we will be checking back.

WHITELOW-TWITTY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Meanwhile, thunderstorm watches, tornado warnings, and more are par for the course this morning. Let's check in with meteorologist Mike Musher, or try to once again, we should say. He's at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration headquarters in Maryland.

Mike, we tried to get to you earlier. Hopefully we'll have a little more luck this time. Are you there?

MIKE MUSHER, NOAA METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Hi, Rick.

SANCHEZ: Mike, bring us up-to-date on what we know as far as this storm is concerned at this point and then maybe we'll check back on what we know as far as what it did when it actually came ashore. But let's start with the present if we can.

MUSHER: Well, it's a tropical storm at this moment. It's centered over northeastern Mississippi. And there is still a lot heavy rainfall across northern Mississippi, northern Alabama, up in -- up through western Tennessee and into western Kentucky at this time.

Meanwhile, there are some feeder bands, lines of thunderstorms across eastern Alabama, into much of western and central Georgia at this time.

SANCHEZ: Can you tell us what -- how you would characterize this hurricane when it came ashore today?

MUSHER: Well, the Hurricane Center clearly stated that it was a Category 4 hurricane, that --

SANCHEZ: Do we --

MUSHER: Go ahead.

SANCHEZ: Do we know why it went from a Category 5 to a Category 4 just before it made landfall?

MUSHER: Well, it's not easy to say why it decreased in intensity. I think what's important here is the forecast was quite accurate, moving just east of New Orleans, up through Mississippi, and this system is going to continue to produce a lot of heavy rainfall over the next 24 to 36 hours, including a good chance for more tornadic thunderstorm cells.

SANCHEZ: I imagine it goes without saying, but Katrina is not a name that we will be hearing again, at least on any lists in the immediate future, correct?

MUSHER: Yes. We probably won't be using that name again. You know, usually those names are retired, I believe.

SANCHEZ: This is definitely one of those retire-able hurricanes. Mike Musher, we thank you, sir, for taking time to catch us up on things and we will be touching base with you.

MUSHER: OK. Thanks, Rick.

SANCHEZ: This is our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina. We're staying with you throughout the night because much of the drama continues to unfold throughout parts of the eastern United States and certainly in New Orleans proper where, as you know, just from listening to some of our own correspondents, there is still quite a drama unfolding with areas that are heavily flooded and people reportedly stuck either on top of their houses, some of them in their attics.

I'm Rick Sanchez. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We are staying with the story throughout the night and throughout the morning, our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina, which is now, by the way, Tropical Storm Katrina.

While everyone else is running away from Katrina, news reporters and camera crews are rushing in to try and bring you the stories, the pictures, the sounds, and in many cases will take your breath away.

Take a look at what many of ours went through.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come with me! Everyone keep their heads up, there is stuff flying around!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guys! We're in store for one nasty storm!

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's like pinpricks in your face as you try to turn north and look into the wind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is whitecapping in the parking lot out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that debris! Look at that!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You find things coming apart!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really, really scared!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cheer up (ph), O'Brien (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. You OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is good?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: It's all about getting the story.

The city of New Orleans hasn't felt the direct impact of a major hurricane since 1965, and narrowly avoided certain disaster a few years later in 1969. August 17th and 18th, to be exact, a Category 5 hurricane named Camille devastated Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Alabama as well.

The storms created gusts of more than 200 miles an hour. That's estimated, since every piece of modern equipment was destroyed at the time, it's difficult to bring you exact numbers.

It brought the highest storm surge ever measured in the United States, it wiped out nearly every coastal structure from east of New Orleans to the Florida Panhandle. Camille killed 143 people along the Gulf Coast, and nearly that many in the flooding that followed as it moved north.

Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 are considered the only Category 5 storms to hit the U.S. mainland. We still don't know, maybe we won't know, at least for another couple of days, just how devastating Katrina has been.

Our coverage of Katrina continues in just a moment. But first, more amazing pictures from this devastating force of nature that battered the Gulf Coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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