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Hurricane Rita

Aired September 24, 2005 - 02:00   ET


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it is going to be high tide very early in the morning, if indeed, in those areas of this island, which is really the larger areas that are protected by this seawall, where there is a lot of development. Are they worried about the storm surge at that point? Is it going to pour over like so many people had feared?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, it certainly could, but I doubt it. I think the heaviest storm surge is going to be on the right side of the eye as it moves in to Louisiana the storm surge map does show that most of this is actually going to be east of Port Arthur, east into Lake Charles, that is where the 10 to 14-foot storms surge will be. Port Arthur, right over to Holly Beach, Cameron, and all the way over to Lake Charles. That is your 14, maybe 18-foot storm surge.

But Galveston, I think your storm surge will only be about 5- feet, maybe as much as 8-feet and with the 17-foot wall, I think, maybe you'll get splashing over it, but you are not going to get it breached.



CALLEBS: I think one thing people also concerned about if indeed this is moving as slow as you said, (AUDIO GAP) a great deal I presume that is also going to cause some flooding as well.

MYERS: Sean, that is going to be probably the biggest story, after this goes by. This storm, although it is moving at 12 m.p.h. right now, gets to about Texarkana and literally stops. There is going to be a high pressure that is going to kind of look like a big banana.

And that high pressure is going to stop it from going east, stop it from going west, and stop it from going north. So it bumps into this bump, bumps into this high and it stops and for 72 hours it is raining here. And some computer models now putting out 25 inches of rain in the area from Port Arthur, northward, right up the Sabine River, right into Texarkana, Shreveport, maybe as far west as Dallas, maybe as far east -- could be inches of unexpected rain in New Orleans before that storm finally just diminishes intensity and kind of washes out.

COOPER: Wow, that is going to be miserable for the people thinking that storm just sitting here for days and days and days. MYERS: Yes, yes.

COOPER: Chad, we're going to check in with you shortly. Sean, with you as well. Right now, let's get back to Aaron in New York.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. I was just thinking of what Sean was talking about, about the building collapse, that wall collapsing of the building in Galveston. In all of these cities, all along the coast, things are happening and as Gary Tuchman mentioned, in fact, at some point when the light comes up tomorrow they're going to look very different than they looked tonight. And we'll just have to wait and see how much damage has been done all along the Gulf.

In Baytown, Texas, tonight, Randi Kaye -- I guess it is early this morning now -- Randi Kaye is in Baytown.

When last we saw you, you were basically just trying to hold your ground.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that is exactly what I'm still trying to do, Aaron. It is hard to believe , you know, here in Baytown we are about an hour west of Beaumont. So it is really hard to believe that we are actually on the weaker side of the storm, because we're seeing some pretty hefty wind gusts right now.

I talked to the city manager here in Baytown a short time ago, and he told me right about this hour is when they were expecting gusts to get pretty high. They were expecting maximum gusts over night tonight of about 80 m.p.h., they thought. I don't think we're there yet obviously, I think we have a ways to go. But it certainly is pretty strong right now.

Believe it or not, we're in sort of a funky power situation here. The power in our hotel is back on and even the power in a couple of signs around on the streets here is actually back on, which is very interesting. Also the flag poles here, they are still standing. They're 10-feet deep into the ground. Although we did lose the Comfort Inn flag, but we still have the United States flag and the Texas flag still there.

Over here we still have these palm trees. It is pretty hard to turn, actually, into the wind. But if you take a look at those palm trees, Aaron, you remember when we talked a little while ago, those palm trees certainly weren't blowing in the wind as wildly as they are now.

There is also, I know there has been a lot of talk about debris and things flying around in the night. And what we're hearing a lot of are just strange noises. We think a dumpster back there in the distance is being push, actually, by the wind. It's doors swinging open, but also actually being pushed.

We have seen the transponders going out. We are not only seeing the transponders and the lights in the sky turning bright blue, but also hearing them. So it somewhat concerning out there. This is a community that has experienced many hurricanes over the years. Carla is something that they still talk about, Hurricane Carla, back in 1961. And Aaron, it was a very different picture here back then. From what the fire marshal tells me, it was mostly rice fields. And those rice fields has now been replaced by subdivisions. So it is a very different picture here. Many of those people living in those subdivisions, though, I'm told did evacuate. Which is very good news.

And also the power plants and the oil refineries and the plants along the ship channel here, where Baytown sits on the Houston ship channel, that 50-mile stretch of waterway, about 200 plants, they also have shut down trying to prepare just in case Hurricane Rita comes in real strong, make sure there isn't any damage there, Aaron.

BROWN: All right. You've done a lot of reporting actually on the refiner situation, which is, for good reason, of great concern to people all over the country, because it impacts the price of gas, which will go up. And we'll see how much.

It is not quite as simple -- it actually is sort of simple to shut them down. It is not very simple to start them up.

KAYE: Right. In fact, we talked to the manager of the Shell plant and he told me -- there is another transformer that just blew -- sorry about that. He told me that in fact they shut down their plant in about 24 hours, but it could take them anywhere from five to seven days to actually get the plant going again. And the other issue is depends on how much damage might occur out in the ship channel and whether or not they'll even be able to get the oil that they need, not only to refine, but also the oil that they need to actually run their operations.

So, they said they could be shut down anywhere from a week to a few months, it all depends on how much damage there is. Here in this area, more than 25 percent of the oil is produced, for the world, right from here -- the gasoline.

BROWN: Just so people are clear on this. The oil, the crude comes in on tankers, and it goes out in pipelines?

KAYE: That's correct. It goes out to different parts of the country and for different parts of the world out by pipeline. But it comes in on these ships and he said they can only run for about five days before they need more oil. So if that oil can't go in, we're really in trouble here.

BROWN: And obviously it is quite windy where you are. It doesn't look to be as rainy as its been in other scenes we've seen tonight.

KAYE: No, it is not as rainy as other areas, but this is probably the most rain that we've seen. You know, there has been a lot of talk about this storm once it hits the land it is going to stall over the area. We're not sure how much rain we're actually going to get here. They are expecting a storm surge of anywhere from 10 to 13 feet they thought. They think they could get in some of the lower-lying areas here, in the Baytown area, they could get anywhere up to a foot of rain.

But if you look out over into the parking lot area out there, I'm sure if you can see it clearly, but the rain is certainly blowing out there, just on the pavement. But you know, if you stand out here long enough, it hits you pretty hard. It feels like it is just kind of -- sort of like nails on your back, if you keep your back into it, which is obviously the most preferable way to stand out here in a hurricane.

BROWN: Randi, stay safe here. It is going to get tough for a couple of hours. Baytown is about miles or so to the east of Houston. Miles O'Brien joins us for the first time tonight. Miles is in Lumberton.

I guess we're letting Zarrella dry off for a bit?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Zarrella is taking a break. This is really starting to whip here, Aaron. We're talking right now abut 30, 40 knot gusts and the eye wall, as you have been saying, as it comes across Sabine Pass, is about 90 miles away. So we are -- as they say, it is about 85 miles swathe of hurricane force winds. And we're at the leading edge of the tropical force right now.

So in the next few minutes we're really going to get a battering here, because we're told, as you know, that there is 120-m.p.h. winds in that swathe, 85 miles around the wall of Rita.

The power is out here. We had a generator, we thought, at the police station, here. That's gone out. I just talked to some of the police officers, they say about 90 percent of this community of about 9,000 evacuated. They haven't heard a single call from anybody, anybody riding out the storm.

We are about 30, 40 feet above sea level here. So we don't anticipate seeing any storm surge here, but the rain is just coming down in sheets now. I don't know what kind of rain Randi was experiencing there. But just sheets and sheets of rain, which is causing a lot of localized flooding here. I don't see any signs, just looking around here, of sign damage. But was I say, I'm just kind of on the leading edge of those strong -- uh, hurricane force winds.

This is the main street back here. We're kind of just watching for the usual kinds of things that go first, the signage and so forth. So far everything is intact here. But I think we're just at the beginning of lies ahead here. It is going to be kind of a long haul for the next three hours, Aaron.

BROWN: I see, Miles, I've had a sense of that we're sort of at the end of the beginning. That we're moving into a new phase of this. It is the middle phase. It is the nasty phase. It is going to go on for several hours. You are going right out in it. And that is sort of the moment we find ourselves in right now.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, I've been thinking about, as I woke up, just a little while ago, trying to get a little bit of rest. We ran into earlier today, much of the emergency services, the police and fire for Port Arthur and some of the communities down right on the coast there, where storm surge can be a real big problem.

And they have evacuated all of their equipment here, their fire trucks and their police officers and their police vehicles. And they're going to ride out the storm in this part of the world and then as soon as they feel that it is safe they are going to head back in. But they said that as they (AUDIO GAP) there were several hundred people who against their better advice -- and they literally told them to put their licenses in their socks so they could identify their bodies -- stayed, decided to ride out this storm.

And I was just thinking about, while we're just experiencing the edge of this, what that must be like, 90 miles down and more importantly about 40 feet below us. It is hard to imagine what is going on right now.

BROWN: Miles, it is good to have you with us for a while. Actually, we heard a report, I don't remember the city, but someone said, OK, well, if you want to stay here, you don't want to evacuate, write your Social Security number on your arm, so that we can identify you if that need be.

Gary Tuchman is in Beaumont, Texas. Beaumont has been battered. That is where Anderson is also. Beaumont has been battered for a good length of time here.

Gary, it doesn't look any more pleasant right now.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, I would say that at this point it is the worst we've seen so far, this is a meteorological maelstrom right now. All throughout downtown Beaumont, where we are now, shutters are coming off of buildings, glass breaking from office buildings. We see canopies from banks and a gas station nearby, they have already come down.

These are things we are used to seeing, but one thing I never get used, no matter how many hurricanes we're in is this sound. It is a sound that sounds like jet planes are flying above your head. Even though you know that is the sound of the hurricane moving in. Your instinct is to look up and think where's the airplane. Obviously, there are no airplanes flying, but it is a very eerie sound when you hear what sounds like airplanes.

Behind me is something very interesting. The clock says 1:13 a.m. and that is what is amazing, that despite these conditions, which have continued to deteriorate, which we have now up to 80 m.p.h. gusts here, the power is still on here in Beaumont. This is one of the few times I ever remember this much rain, this much wind, and this much power.

It has now been raining constantly hard for 10 hours, since 3 o'clock Central Time this afternoon. Of course, we aren't even at the worst of it yet, according to Chad, that is still a couple of hours away here, for Beaumont. But the conditions are very bad.

We haven't see, except for one guy on a bicycle about an hour ago, anyone on the streets whatsoever. No cars coming down. We're in the heart of downtown Beaumont right now, where normally, this area where I'm standing right now, according to the people who run the stores on this block, and the restaurants, there usually 50 to 60 bikers out here. There are a couple of biker bars, some restaurants, a dance club. And right now, of course, with these conditions, it is eerily quiet. We are glad to see that there really is nobody out here. Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: Just because of the video phone that you are using it is a little hard to tell exactly where you are. Are you in the middle of the street? Are you standing right basically in the middle of the street?

TUCHMAN: That's a good point, Aaron. Right now, I am standing in the middle of a cobblestone street that at night becomes a pedestrian mall or a motorcycle area. Yes, this is the middle of the street where normally on a Friday night you'd never be able to stand because motorcycles and people would be coming up and down this road.

BROWN: Gary, thank you very much. Gary Tuchman, who is in Beaumont, Texas. Gary is covered a bunch of these hurricanes out of our bureau in Atlanta.

Sean Callebs is in Galveston, Texas tonight. It has been a very active night, though we suspect that when light comes across the Gulf tomorrow, we'll find out about a lot of things, like you've experienced, wall collapses, a fire over here, a roof coming off over there.

CALLEBS: Yes, it is kind of odd, because I'm sure we're going to see damage that is this bad or worse in a lot of the areas. It is just that perhaps we've been lucky. We went in to ask the officials the latest information and when they went in that is when the fire fighters are running out of the elevator and just using instinct we followed them to see where they were heading. And that's how that happened.

The building collapse, basically, the authorities just pulled up to where that was on 23rd Street. They got out, took a look at it; got back in their vehicles and left. At this point there is really nothing else they can do. They didn't even bother cleaning the streets. There is so much debris out there.

Rain has been coming down very steadily for a long time. The ground simply saturated. At some point in the near future we're going to get to the point where there is really no where else for this water to go. I think that is where we are going to start seeing some flooding the higher areas. When I say higher, the highest point on this island is only about 22 feet. But we know there is flooding on the east and western area that are not protected by that flood wall -- or sea wall, that extends 10 miles on this barrier island, that is about 31 miles long.

And on the bay side, where this wind, as Chad has been explaining to us, is blowing in, we've had some people come back in and they tell us that already flood water is up pretty much about calf level on some of those streets back in there. So, certainly that has got to be very disappointing news.

And we have talked to I'd say probably a dozen families that indicated they were going to stay here for one reason or another, including some that live near the bay.

And there was one couple, they wanted to leave but yesterday they saw just how bad the interstates were. They don't have air conditioning in the vehicle. It's broken at this point. And the wife of the family has difficulty breathing so they choose not to try to make that run into Houston or Dallas or something like that, to ride this out.

They were somewhat concerned about it. They did everything that they could. And they are close to a shelter but the real concern is that this water starts moving up into their -- no one wants to see anything like we saw in the New Orleans area. Although, certainly what Chad and everybody has been telling us this evening, that is not going to be a concern. But it has to be terrifying for some of those families that are trying to ride this out.

We've talked about the noises we hear out here. Well, in a house with maybe a candle and things hitting the side of the house, maybe shingles blowing off. It has got to be a very, very tough evening.

BROWN: I suspect that is true.

Somebody can check on what the weather is like in Houston. Houston is only about 50 or so miles from Galveston.

CALLEBS: Exactly.

BROWN: I'd be interested to know what the weather is like up there. You filed the story for us yesterday, I believe, about a young man, a 30s-or-so fellow who lived in a high rise and he sort of gotten his six packs and his chips and his food and he was going to ride it out. Do we know anything about that building and whether those building are OK?

CALLEBS: Yes, his name is Philip Plingie (ph). And he is in a building not really far from where we are now. And he was only concerned about the storm surge and from everything we've been hearing it is not even a factor at this point.

That building is basically a fortress the way he describes it, and this is a guy who is in the building business. He understands a bit about it. He wasn't that concerned about weather like this. If they would have had hurricane 5, Category 5, then it would have been of much greater concern for him.

But this is somebody who is going to pull those aluminum shutters closed, lock himself in and just wait until the power went off. And if things did get bad, if they had winds of 120, 130 m.p.h. that maybe peeled those back he had a bedroom well inside and he was just going to hunker down there.

There's that word, "hunker" down, I was trying not to use. I'm sure that -- we tried to call him earlier.


CALLEBS: And the cell service is almost nonexistent here. We didn't reach him. We tried to call about four of the people we have spent time with. The only person we could reach was someone with the Galveston Independent Public School District. The school district here has its own police entity, which is responsible for overseeing the shelter and to give you an idea of how many people left this island of 60,000 people, a few hours ago there were only 61 people in that shelter. So really a good indication that people did heed the warnings. They did see the pictures from Louisiana and they got to safety.

BROWN: Sean, thank you very much. Sean Callebs in Galveston.

We were wondering about the situation in Houston. Houston is about 50 miles or so from Galveston. A little bit, mostly to the north. It not an awful night there, and it is not a pleasant night there. Peak winds at about 51 m.p.h. and it looks pretty rainy. The other thing you notice about Houston, which is, after all, the fourth largest city in the country, it's empty. I mean there is nobody out there tonight, at 1:15, 1:20 almost in the morning Central Time.

We see one car moving down the street in Houston, Texas tonight. So a lot of people left Houston yesterday, as you saw. And they're getting -- they're getting whacked. They're not getting whacked like Anderson is getting whacked down in Beaumont and the people in Lake Charles are going to get whacked by this thing. But it is not an altogether pleasant night, 50 m.p.h. winds, peak winds, are not pleasant.

Jay (sic) Osborn is a business owner, a Texan, he is -- it is Port O'Conner, Texas, isn't it, Mr. Osborn?


BROWN: And what's the weather like there? You're a little bit west-south Galveston, sort of between Corpus Christi and Galveston, right?

OSBORN: Yes, sir.

BROWN: What's it like?

OSBORN: It's blowing about 10, 15 m.p.h., it's not too bad.

BROWN: Ten, 15 m.p.h., sounds like a perfectly pleasant night. You almost want to go out and fly a kite or something, compared to what other people are having. It is raining hard?

OSBORN: No, no rain at all. We got pretty lucky actually.

BROWN: That's remarkable. What do you do for a living, sir?

OSBORN: We have a restaurant here in Port O'Conner. And I have some trucks (INAUDIBLE).

BROWN: Is the restaurant open?

OSBORN: No, we closed down a couple days ago. We spent a couple days getting ready and we let the employees now took off and we were evacuating and we saw it looked like it was going to miss us so we just hung around.

BROWN: This time you guessed right.


BROWN: Mr. O'Conner (sic), thanks for joining us. We're happy for you that while a lot of people are going to have a lot of cleaning up to do, it sounds like things at your end of the world are pretty good.

Chad Myers in Atlanta, here's my question.


BROWN: Port O'Conner isn't really that far from Galveston, I mean, it is not like 150 miles away or something.

MYERS: Close.

BROWN: But the weather is all together different.

MYERS: Yes, it is probably 120 miles away, though.

BROWN: Is it? Its that far?



MYERS: It is. And obviously the winds have been coming off shore and if the winds are coming from off shore, we've talked about this too, about the bad side and the easy side. There is more friction on the land, obviously, more trees, more hills, more buildings. So you don't get as much wind if you have friction compared to this wind just ripping right off the water.

And talk about ripping off the water, see that white dot right there? That's about Cameron or Calcasieu Pass, they just had a wind gust there, measured by an automated station, of 112 m.p.h. So, that is one side of the storm to the other, 112, the highest gust so far, Aaron.

BROWN: Just the length, I guess, length is the right word, the length of the storm from west to east.


BROWN: Is roughly how long now? I was just playing with numbers about an hour ago and I thought around 200 miles. MYERS: Oh, at least.

BROWN: Is it a little than -- yes?

MYERS: Now that is probably the length of the hurricane force winds, or even the -- let's say 60 m.p.h. winds from one side to another, at least 200 miles.

I'm going to go ahead and switch my sources real quick and go back to that map that we had of Port O'Conner. Because that was kind of a telling map to say that, look, this was already all the way to New Orleans, and this is almost all the way to Bryan, Texas. That's 375 miles, we just measured, our Meteorologist Dave Hennen (ph) put that on there for me.

Thank you, Dave.

There is almost 400 miles. And earlier today, Aaron, just as kind of a side note, it was raining in place like Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Tampa, in one of those feeder bands, that was still attached to this storm. So that is another 600 miles from here, that this storm has spread out its arms, or its tentacles, if you will.

There now you see that feeder band now, it is east of Panama City. It just such a large storm; all the way to Shreveport and obviously well into the Gulf of Mexico where we can't see. There are probably showers in here, but the radars won't go that far.

BROWN: And just, again, the one other thing about this storm, once we get past tonight and we do the clean up tomorrow -- "we" do it -- it's not like I'm going to be out there doing it, or for that matter, you are -- the fact is that there is a whole other concern, which is days, literally, days of rain.

MYERS: Well, if you have the miles -- if it's 400 miles across, from one side to the other, and it sits here and it moves itself right to about Shreveport, Texarkana, and it stops, literally stops, there is almost a banana-shaped high pressure. And I don't want to think people start thinking silly, but it has a loop on the west side, a top and then a loop on the east side. And that big almost kidney bean, I guess, better description. Kidney-bean shaped high pressure won't allow it to go any farther.

It won't allow it to go west because there is a high there, too. It won't allow it to go east because there's a piece there, too. And it is going to sit here and rain for four days. Now there's not going to be 100 m.p.h. winds for four days. The winds will be 20, 25. But if you have 25 inches of rain does it really matter?

BROWN: It doesn't matter that much. That's the truth, thank you. Get back to you in a minute.

Miles, Miles O'Brien is in Lumberton, Texas. Miles will anchor "American Morning" there in a few hours. In the meantime, you could see, this is really the best long shot we've had out of there in a while. It doesn't look very pleasant, buddy. O'BRIEN: No, no. Now it is coming in. The rain is horizontal and in sheets and what Chad was talking about, this rain. I think that is going to be the real problem here. I'm already standing in a pretty deep puddle the flooding is really starting to happen here. You know, and part of the reason we came here, Aaron, was that this is, you know, 30, 40 feet above sea level. We thought we'd be protected against the storm surge, but localized flooding as a result of this rain is another matter entirely.

I've been using the wind gauge here, the sustained winds right now, about 40 m.p.h. Chad can double check me on that one. Gusts, a little bit more. I don't know if you can see that flag behind me there. Since we last were on the air, Aaron, just a few minutes ago, it was intact and now it is Ol' Glory is a bit shredded here, on Main Street, in Lumberton. (AUDIO GAP) ... that lies a head, this is really just a small taste of what is coming. And really, just a fraction of the kinds of winds that we ultimately anticipate here.

As we say, like a lot of places, up and down the coast here, people heeded those evacuation warnings. We're told 90 percent of this town has moved up even to higher ground. But there still are stragglers and there are stragglers in places like Port Arthur. And on this dark and windy and rainy night, with that huge storm surge and this terrible storm, you have to think about them, Aaron.

BROWN: We think about all people who, for whatever reason, either because of their work or because they're stubborn, or because they can't get out, are stuck in all of this tonight. And they are about to get the worst of it. I mean, we're really on the edge of the worst of it. And we hope everybody makes it through.

You own situation there; you seem quite out in the open?

O'BRIEN: Yes, pretty much. I'm standing in front of the city hall and police department in Lumberton and they have been kind enough to shelter us here. And they assured us that they felt that this was a good place to be. Out here on Main Street, though, there is -- that is a different story entirely. As you can see, going down Main Street there, that wind just whipping along there. Sheets and sheets of rain and even as I speak it is picking up. You can really feel the power of that storm here.

Good news is, although I just saw a car drive by, I don't know who that was, I think it might have been one of the police officers. I haven't seen much evidence of anybody out and about, trying to see what this storm is all about. I think that the lessons of Katrina are on people's minds here.

You know, people here -- a lot of people here remember Hurricane Carla, back in 1961. But since then, they really haven't had a direct hit here. But places like Sabine Pass, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, the direct hit is happening as we speak.

BROWN: Pretty much. Just for people who aren't familiar, Lumberton is pretty much small-town Texas; 10,000 or so people, give or take, right? O'BRIEN: Yes, great town. Perfect, quintessential Texas town. That's a good way of describing it. Very neighborly, but also a little bit of Texas stubbornness here, the people that have held out have held out despite what you described a moment ago, you know, put your Social Security number on your arm in indelible ink, or put your license in your sock in case we have to recover your body. And they want to stick it out. That is certainly a typically Texan response I would guess.

But this is, you know, we're 15 miles north of Beaumont. So, we're a little bit higher, a little more inland than where Anderson is right now. And this is largely a bedroom community for Beaumont and the oil industry that exists there.

BROWN: Just hang in there. Stay safe there for a bit. You're work day is just quite literally just beginning. Miles, Soledad will be handling "American Morning" coming up in a few hours from now, here on CNN.

Ted Rowlands is in New Orleans. The story of this day, or I guess of Friday, really began in New Orleans, with a lot of rain and a levee break.

You look like it is a breezy night in New Orleans, not at all bad, which is good news for the Army Corps because they can go in and deal with the levees tomorrow.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very good news for (AUDIO GAP) tonight there hasn't been much rain for the last few hours. But the winds are kicking up a bit.

It started very poorly today in New Orleans. A lot of people very nervous because at 10 o'clock this morning, much earlier than expected, there was a breech in a levee that protected the Ninth Ward. And the Ninth Ward is completely flooded tonight because of that breech.

All eyes are now on the rest of the levee system and engineers are keeping their fingers crossed that Lake Pontchartrain can be held at bay. A storm surge is expected later, or throughout the evening. They're watching that very closely at this point, though, I just talked to a policeman. He says there is no reason to be concerned at this point.

And so far, so good, here in New Orleans. And this, like I say, is a city that could use a little bit of good news, especially after the way this day started with another levee breech, Aaron.

BROWN: All right. Ted, was it just that -- I say "just" advisedly -- just that one part of the city that was flooded today, just the Ninth Ward?

ROWLANDS: Well, water also went all the way out to St. Bernard Parish, but this is an area that was completely devastated after Katrina, so in comparison to what has happened, you know, what damage was done. Probably none when you consider that the entire area was already pretty much wiped out. This is on the eastern side.

The western side, which encompasses downtown and the rest of the city of New Orleans is relatively dry. There has been some spillage with some surge, but for the most part the levees have held and they are watching them very closely keeping their fingers crossed that that will be the case throughout the night tonight.

BROWN: Very few people would have any reason to go back to the Ninth Ward, to be perfectly honest. I mean, if you remember the pictures of New Orleans, that is one of the areas that was the most devastated in the days after Katrina.

In other parts of the city, do you see activity tonight?

ROWLANDS: Most of the city is vacant. There is a lot of military personnel, a lot of law enforcement folks from around the country that have been working the search and rescue and helping to rebuild this city. And of course, a lot of media still hanging around here. But for the most part the city has been cleared out. There was mandatory evacuations of course, in place. Some people got out and are hunkered down in their homes, there is not a lot of activity out in the streets.

We're in the French Quarter here and we're just seeing a lot of military folks milling about, but that is about it.

BROWN: Ted, thank you very much. Ted Rowlands in the Big Easy tonight, where tomorrow, or later today, in fact the Army Corps of Engineers will try and repair, as best they can, the levees that were breached. Today we talked, what now seems like quite a while ago, to -- Chad Myers joins us -- to someone with the Army, a brigadier general with the Army Corps and he thought they would be able to make those repairs if the weather cooperated. And it sounds like the weather probably will cooperate.

MYERS: At least there won't be more rain on top of what they had. The real levee problem, Aaron, was that the wind was blowing from the east-southeast for hours. Literally 24 to 36 hours and it is just like -- this is the reason we have El Nino. If the wind blows from one direction in the Pacific Ocean for a long time, that warm water piles up on the western coast of South America and Central America. Well, the wind was piling the water up into Lake Borgne, which is that like right there, that one right there.

And then it was moving into Lake Pontchartrain. It was filling all of the levees, filling all of this low bayou area that was being protected by these levees and obviously a couple of them failed. They were obviously built for maybe four or five foot storm surge protection. And the storm surge that we know of was six to seven feet as that water kept coming in.

Now, this is a different type of storm surge, still part of the storm. But this is like -- acting like a catcher's mitt. If you just think, all of this water coming in it was just catching it and catching and obviously those levees didn't hold. Back out to the west of there though, we've had some severe weather. Severe weather all the way up to Baton Rouge with a tornado warning that just expired about four minutes ago. It has not been extended, so I assume, I assume that this storm has as it moved on by, which is probably that one right there, it actually did not produce a tornado, or they would have extended that tornado warning.

But obviously there is still more weather in Louisiana that we're not focusing on because it is the eye and the eye itself is still well, well, way back out to the west of here, from Port Arthur.

Now this is the Louisiana radar, now we just popped on -- thank you very much, Dave -- this will be the Houston radar, I believe. And the eye wall, itself, now coming onshore, probably another, 45 minutes to an hour, the Hurricane Center will be able to call landfall, somewhere right here in Louisiana. You don't get landfall when the eye wall comes onshore. You get landfall when the center of the eye comes on shore. And that's probably going to be Cameron, Louisiana, or someplace pretty close.

BROWN: We're -- actually on the right side of that screen we see that other computer-generated picture of the hurricane and the eye there still seems to be clearly formed, kind of tightly formed. But looking at the radar map, we don't see it at all. Is that just the difference in the two maps?

MYERS: You're talking about the satellite picture, itself, sometimes?

BROWN: I guess so, yes. I guess that is what is in the lower right.

MYERS: Exactly, OK. But you will notice that even on that satellite picture -- where is it -- right there. That the bottom, the bottom part of the eye is not as deep. It is not as dark. And so therefore you are not seeing the convection wrapping around it.

Typically what happens when a storm gets close to land, Aaron, is that it will just gobble up a little bit of dry air. That dry air comes off the hill country. It came off Corpus Christi, and it came in and it was gobbled up into the storm.

And there you see -- see right here? See how there is not as much purple in there?


MYERS: So there is not convection really going on in there. The hardest part of the storm right now is on the purple side and that is where it is raining. And I'll switch the maps, and that's where it's raining. Absolutely makes perfect sense.

BROWN: It does to me.

MYERS: Well, to me.

BROWN: By now it does to me, too. That's the wonderful thing about it. Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BROWN: Sean Callebs over in Galveston, Texas tonight. And kind of been a long night, but you are hanging in there.

CALLEBS: Yes, and I guess a hint of good news. I'd say that within the last 10 minutes I saw two large fire engines go down the street, back toward the convention center, so we're trying to find out, but presumably those last embers in that one fire -- now we should probably revisit that a bit, because it has been a few hours since we talked about it in any detail.

But hopefully that is all under control now, because it has just simply been pouring here, now, for the last hour or so. You can probably see it through the lights pretty well. Coming down pretty vertical fashion right now, but periodically the winds come in and it blows across pretty well.

But really, I think, tomorrow when we have a chance to take a look at this, as we're going to do with so much of this story. And talk with the fire chief, there is probably going to be a real story of heroes coming out of this. The fact that they were able to get to that area, were able to at least control the fires that destroyed that one building, severely damaged the others, and keep those embers from spreading.

Because the fire chief who we spoke with said that embers were going starting small fires on some of those other buildings, some of those other homes in that area. And this is an area considered quite trendy. And so they were able to knock that down pretty quick. But as this rain just continues to linger and linger and linger. You have to wonder (AUDIO GAP) not so much about the Gulf of Mexico, the sea wall doing its job, but boy over on the bay side, people are talking about some flood waters coming up in the streets.

And if Chad is right and it is just going to pour for the next three days, there is just nowhere for this water to go on this barrier island. There is nowhere for it to run off. It's just going to get pretty bad.

BROWN: And just again, those were a couple of old homes that went up and a commercial building, if I remember correctly?

CALLEBS: Exactly, two what are being termed historic homes went up, burned. At least one of those destroyed, and then one business. And it was also right in the shadow of a very large, I believe it was a Bank South building. They said close to 25 floors. So while it went up and basically turned that whole block bright orange, when the storm was really coming into this area. Almost surreal, we asked a firefighter, how do you battle something like this in the middle of a hurricane. With no power, limbs down, power lines down. It just boggles the mind.

Also, we asked him about any kind of cause at this point. And basically what they told us at this point, they have no idea. They just wanted to keep if from spreading. They'll go in and do the forensic work on that sometime in the future.

BROWN: Sean, I think the answer, how do you fight a fire in weather like this is, very carefully. Thank you, we'll get back to you in a moment.

Randi Kaye is in Baytown, Texas. Baytown is important in understanding the story in part because it is home to a large part of the refinery business and chemical plants, as well, right?

KAYE: That is correct, Aaron. Baytown sits right on the Houston ship channel, which is this 50 mile stretch of waterway that goes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston. And that waterway is about, it is lined with about 200 or so chemical plants and refineries, which is critical to bringing the oil in to our country and also not only that, but also refining the oil so they can ship it back out through the pipeline.

So people were very worried about these plants and refineries during Rita. In fact, we visited the Shell plant, just yesterday, in Deer Park, Texas, a little ways from here. And they were shutting down completely. They have about 1,700 employees there. And they were only leaving about 20 behind and that would include security and some environmental experts, just in case there was a problem.

Also, in case there is any kind of chemical leak, there is a group here called the Channel Industries Mutual Aid. And they would respond immediately if there was any type of vapor cloud released from one of these plants.

I could take them -- it only takes them about 24 hours to shut down, but it takes them about a week to get things going again. And we're not sure how bad the damage might be there. They're going to assess that as soon as Rita passes through.

But, Aaron, when I spoke with you last, you said something about how it wasn't raining very much. Well, I think Rita must have heard you, because it is as if she just turned on the faucet. It is coming down pretty good here at this moment. And so is the wind, not just the rain, but the wind.

I've showed you earlier tonight, or this morning, whatever you want to call it -- there were three flags up on those flagpoles. First we saw the Comfort Inn, where we're staying, their flag was on the left pole. It's gone now. The middle pole, the American flag was flying there. And just moments ago, before we came on the air with you, that flag flew into the wind and disappeared. All that is left now, you can see there, that's the Texas flag. That has wrapped itself around that flagpole.

Those flagpoles we're told by the hotel owners, they're about 10 feet deep, into the ground so we're not getting too concerned that they're going to fly away, but they could snap.

We're also a little worried about this pool area over here. These palm trees haven't gone yet, they have only been in there since January. We're not sure what is going to happen there. There is a dumpster in the distance that the winds are strong enough to move. And the pool equipment, though, luckily, has been taken out of that area.

I did speak with the fire marshal, here in town. He said they are only experiencing right now, a lot of downed power lines. But certainly not any fires, just a lot of power out.

But, again, things have really changed here since this area experienced a massive hurricane back in '61. There are a lot more people here, a lot more subdivisions. But apparently, they have evacuated most of them -- Aaron.

BROWN: Randi, thank you. There is a good story there, that you were telling me earlier, we'll come back and hear it at some point, about the plant manager and his son, just back from Iraq. But Bob Dunn is with us. Mr. Dunn is the mayor of Nacogdoches, which we'll cite on the map in a second, so you get some sense of where that is in the scheme of things. There you go.

What's it like there, right now, sir?

BOB DUNN, MAYOR, NACOGDOCHES, TEXAS: Well, things are not too bad right here. We're just getting a few showers and a few gusts of wind from some of the outer bands. And it probably will be later on today before we get any real rain and the winds pick up.

BROWN: When -- well -- before we get to the rain, were people evacuated from this city?

DUNN: Oh, yes. No people evacuated from the city. We had thousands of evacuees come.

BROWN: You are taking evacuees in.

DUNN: Evacuees come into the city.

BROWN: Yes, and how are you housing them? Are there shelters open in the city?

DUNN: That's correct. We have about 3,000 in shelters. All the hotels and motels are full, many people are in private homes and parking lots are actually full. Just about any space where vehicles could stop and park. People, some had been on the road 18 and 20 hours, just getting here. And by the time they arrived here, they are just exhausted. So they just don't want to go any further. So they pulled into a parking lot or something of that nature and just start sleeping in their vehicles.

BROWN: Just a couple of things. How big a city is it normally? What is the normal population?

DUNN: We're about 30,000.

BROWN: Chad Myers, our meteorologist is with us, too. He has a question he wants to whip your way. MYERS: Mr. Mayor, I'm sure you know that you are in the bull's eye of what could be a 12- to 24-inch rain band for the next four days. What are your plans to alleviate the problems that might exist?

DUNN: Well, we have already put our amounts up that show the 50 and 100-year flood limits. So we are already prepared to evacuate in case it is necessary.

BROWN: Are you anticipating that that is likely to happen?

DUNN: We anticipate just about everything possible. But we have been in the midst of a very long dry spell here. So it will take a good bit of rain to saturate the ground before we get any run off. And even though we have two creeks running through town, the Lanana and Bonita, both of those creeks are subject to flooding.

The Lanana Creek flooded in the past, a lot of improvements have been made on it. So it is not as subject to flooding as the Bonita. The Bonita is subject to flash flooding. So we are keeping our eyes out. We have people that will be on look out at all times. So we try to anticipate any problems that might exist, so that we can take care of them. And take care of our people.


BROWN: Yes. OK, I briefly, this may have been my earpiece here, but briefly lost the mayor. Do we still have the mayor? We don't. OK, that was Bob Dunn, who is the mayor of Nacogdoches. And weather is not terrible there.

They have taken in evacuees. But as Chad pointed out, they are right in the center of what will be the final phase of Rita, which is likely to be days and days of rain.

We can go back to Beaumont. We haven't seen or heard from Anderson in a while. And I don't know if that was -- you guys relocated or we just loose you?

COOPER: To be honest I just needed a break. Its pretty miserable out here so we just sat in a vehicle for about 15 minutes and tried to regroup. We have water in all the equipment. So we're trying to maintain it for as long as we can.

As you can tell, the weather is -- it is just miserable out here. It just continues to be sort of non stop, this pouring rain. Just every minute after minute after minute, without any let up. It is pretty steady, pretty constant.

The winds seem to have maintain the same speed over the last half hour or so, I would say. There have been some gusts, some pick ups. I've been sitting in the car for just a little bit just to try to get dry, or at least get a little bit warm, because it is actually quite cold out here. And when you are standing around wet for so long, it gets even colder.

And sitting in the car, the vehicle is shaking back and forth, but it is very hard to get a sense, because of what is happening all around. Because now the lights are completely off here in Beaumont. The only lights that we have are the two lights that we have running off our own generator. But there had been street lights, even the light at the local, I think it's the library, or a library. Those lights are completely off, even it seemed like emergency lighting. Some of these buildings have their own emergency generators. Those seem to be gone as well.

There was an enormous explosion in the sky lighting up a transformer, exploding, and I didn't hear it at all. But really just illuminated this greenish glow for a good length of time. It was very, very eerie.

But Aaron, we've been talking about it, and Chad was talking about it earlier, when there are no lights, it really is disturbing, because you can't see more than 20 feet in any direction. And so we've sort of barricaded ourselves -- we're on a street, but we have these cars in front of us so the wind is being blocked a little bit by these cars. The idea being any debris that is flying toward us would hit the cars before it got to us. That is the theory at least. And let's hope that works.

But it is just constant here. It is non-stop and the worse, I guess, from what I've heard from Chad is not over. We have another two or three hours of this sort of grinding weather. I would be interested to hear at some point if it gets much worse or if it just sort of maintains at this speed? Maintains in these conditions for quite some time, Aaron?

BROWN: Yes, Anderson, we described this a few minutes ago as we're sort of at the end of the beginning. We're in the beginning stages of the middle and the middle is going to be pretty uncomfortable.

Chad? Is Chad still there? OK.

Anderson, we'll get an answer on the how long question you can expect to be really miserable, in a minute.

Sean Callebs is in Galveston, Texas. Sean?

CALLEBS: Well, basically the situation here hasn't changed a whole lot in the last hour or so. I mean, the rain is just coming down, very solid fashion. The kind of winds we're seeing right now, nothing terribly serious, just the kind that have been gusting. We are on, if there is such a thing, the good side of this hurricane.

We know that the crews that have been out there firefighting are all back. Right now we're trying to check in and see what kind of flooding we're having on the bay side of right now.

Of course, leading up, while Rita was churning in the Gulf of Mexico, the real fear here was the punishing storm surge. It is really hard to talk about Galveston, Aaron, and not talk about what happened in 1900. The hurricane that killed at least 6,000 people. So many people who live on this island are people who have lived here for generations. Or they've heard the stories growing up.

We spent some time with a police officer and there is a statue here, a memorial, to all those who died. And basically, when they are going through their training, they start their day right at that statue. They do their sit ups, they do their push ups there. They talk about it. How serious it is to educate people on the dangers of a hurricane. Even if Katrina hadn't happened, I think the people here in Galveston, on this barrier island, would have taken any kind of threat from Rita, extremely seriously. I don't think it would have been that hard to scare or to encourage -- I shouldn't say scare -- or to encourage so many people to get off this island -- Aaron.

BROWN: That hurricane is the stuff in the way that the great San Francisco earthquake is and other catastrophes that have occurred around the country over the year. It's the stuff of local legend. It is literally things -- I was reading about this the other day -- it's -- you learn about it when you are a little kid and you first go off to the first grade, it is part and parcel of the history of Galveston, Texas, as much as anything else is part of the history of that city.

CALLEBS: Exactly. And I think I saw a story Anderson did on it earlier this week. And really the only images, of course are still pictures that come from that. And they're very frightening. If you just look at that. And we spoke with the mayor the other day, Lyda Ann Thomas, who is just a very interesting, neat lady in her own right. But her family goes back to that time. Her family lived through that hurricane. And she talks about all the changes that really were enacted, here, on this island, after that hurricane.

They basically dredged part of the bay. They put sand up in the middle of town, they elevated the city something like 10 to 12 feet. It has gone down a little bit. And even they had old historic homes that are still around here today. And they got those and put them on wheels and in essence put them up on a giant jack and raised those buildings up several feet so they would last.

She says that the people talk about in the old days that you could stand in the middle of town and look straight down and see the beach. Well, you can't do that anymore. You look down and the horizon goes away. So they certainly did everything that technology can allow them to do in the last century to make sure the same kind of punishment doesn't happen to this area.

You can argue all day long about how effective the sea wall is, but certainly it gives the people here in Galveston some solace knowing they have 17 feet if concrete protecting them from the Gulf of Mexico.

BROWN: I was going say, better than nothing. Thank you.

Gary Tuchman is in Beaumont. I hope they, Gary, aren't writing local legends tonight in Beaumont, that Rita doesn't go down in the way that unnamed storm in Galveston went down so long ago.

TUCHMAN: Well, Aaron, I hope not, 1900, 105 years ago, and people still talk about it in the state of Texas, how bad that hurricane was that their great-great grandparents or their great grandparents told them those stories. This will not be as bad.

I can tell you that Beaumont, Texas, where we are right now, is getting hit very badly. Conditions now are as bad as they have been the whole time. Last time we talked to you Aaron, we were commenting it was 1:10 Central Time, and we marveled at the fact that the power was still on. And lo and behold, as soon as we said good bye to you, the power went off. And it has been off ever since.

The city is dark. You can see some lights behind me, that's a generator in an office building behind me. But right now, this is the scary time of a hurricane and a hurricane when the brunt of it hits at night. You just don't see what's flying around. You hear wonderfully. Your sense are enhanced when it comes to hearing, now when you hear things flying to our left, we hear things flying to our right. We don't know exactly what's flying, so you keep a careful eye on to make sure that nothing is flying towards you.

I always think when a hurricane hits at night, the children, children who may still be here in Beaumont. Children who are in shelters miles away and are hearing these sounds and wondering what's going on. And you know that this will produce nightmares for months to come for these children. You hope there is someone around to comfort them.

For us, we're not alone, we're talking to you and we're talking to millions of our viewers and we feel like we have a lot of company. You don't have that feeling. But we do feel for the elderly people and the children who are going through this right now.

Beaumont, Texas, when the sun comes up will not look like Beaumont, Texas when sun was last up there's a lot of damage here, the flooding has already started that's when the rainfall, the rain has been coming up for eleven hours without stopping.

A very unusual amount of rain, most hurricanes including even Katrina, the winds were heavier during Katrina, it wasn't raining this hard for so long before the brunt of the storm came. So I'm very concerned.

But the rainfall, not even talking about the storm surge, but what the rain fall will do when it comes to the end of all this.

BROWN: We'll try and get some answers on that. The wonderful thing Gary about children is that they are incredibly resilient and they deal with all manner of stuff, and they bounce much faster than those of us that are middle aged and beyond can do. Thank you very much.

Chad, Anderson was asking earlier how long he could, they could, and all the people in Beaumont could expect the worst of it, is the simple way to put it.

MYERS: Well the eye wall, the northern eye wall, Aaron is actually on shore the center part of the eye itself in fact is not, it is not quite there yet the hurricane center will make a land fall call probably somewhere around Cameron. Now, I'm going to zoom in. Aaron, I am now going to zoom in, Anderson I see you standing there in the rain and I'm going to kind of zoom into street level here.

We're seeing the rain coming in there still from the north. You still don't have the worst of it yet Anderson, your still an hour and a half away from the end of the worst of it but it then gets better from there. But you are still in the teeth of this storm as the eye wall the western eye wall passes over Port Arthur, probably in the next 20 minutes and over you in the next hour, to hour and twenty minutes.

Where the center of the eye right down here will go ahead and keep moving forward, the center of the eye not quite on land but it would be very close to Cameron Louisiana, when it comes on shore here, in probably about 45 minutes or so.

BROWN: Well so is Anderson able to hear us?

COOPER: Yeah, you know I can hear you and let me tell you it helps to know. I mean one of the worst things about standing here, and I was listening to Gary talking about it and you don't feel so alone, but there is this loneliness in the dark.

I mean we do have people around us there's the crew thank goodness, and a connection to the outside world but there are so many people who -- I mean, it is pitch black and beyond our camera lights you can just not see anything. And every now and then there is a sound, it's cliche to say it is like a freight train. It's also at times like a person screaming.

And you hear it just out in the dark and it is very eerie, you don't know exactly where it's coming from you don't know exactly what's causing it. But it is a very strange feeling you feel very much on the edge of the world. So it helps to hear someone like Chad say that there is an hour and a half left of the worst the worst....

MYERS: He froze up.

BROWN: Yes. Chad, it's an hour of the worst, then its doesn't go, bingo, it's good again, right?

MYERS: No it doesn't but remember we talked about this at length, Aaron, that's there's really only a top half of the eye. We are not really going to have a secondary slam of the bottom half of the eye because we lost it with some dry air that got pulled into the storm. That's where the dry air is right now, right in the bottom half of the eye. So a lot of times if you really do get run over by the eye your winds will becoming in from the east, they will stop. That gets eerie. Then the wind comes the other direction, coming in from the west.

We're not going to have huge westerly component. After the storm goes by Beaumont. In fact the winds are going to die off rather quickly. Although the wind gusts in Beaumont was just 81 m.p.h. New 2 o'clock update a few minutes early, 2 o'clock Central Time. If you are keeping track 29.6, 93.7, Aaron. And it is about 10 miles south-southeast of Sabine Pass. That means the storm is going to make landfall within the next hour, because it is making the northwestern progress at 12 m.p.h. Landfall is expected in the next hour or so here. At maximum sustained winds reported -- from Dave -- thank you very much.

Still 120 m.p.h., Sea Rim State Park reported a wind gust to 101. And we know Calcasieu Pass reported a wind gust 112. That is in this most dangerous part of the eye wall, right there -- Aaron.

BROWN: Chad, it's been a treat. A pleasure working with you for what's been a long time tonight.

MYERS: Thank you.

BROWN: You've been marvelously helpful.

Anderson, take care of yourself out there for the next 90 minutes or couple of hours.

CNN's coverage continues around the clock, 24 hours a day, pretty much it will stay that way throughout the weekend. The next segment, Tony Harris and Catherine Callaway in Atlanta.

HARRIS: And, Aaron, thank you. Our special coverage of Hurricane Rita continues right now as the strong storm's outer wall is coming ashore. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Tony Harris.

CALLAWAY: Hello, everyone, I'm Catherine Callaway. We will, as Aaron, said, be with you live throughout the night, along with our colleagues in the field, especially Miles O'Brien and Anderson Cooper.

HARRIS: Hurricane Rita is crashing ashore, it's outer eye wall is making landfall near the Texas Louisiana border. As the storm approached at least three buildings caught fire in downtown Galveston. A few blocks away a restaurant wall collapsed, scattering debris everywhere. About 90 percent of the residents have left town. Some oil refining towns, including Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas are expected to take a big hit.

You're looking at a picture now from Beaumont, Texas, about 80 miles northeast of Houston, where the streets are just about deserted. And forecasters say tornadoes are possible in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In Louisiana, one meteorologist says tornado warnings are popping up like firecrackers across the southern part of the state.

CALLAWAY: That's right it is just after 3 a.m. on the East Coast, midnight out West and the outer wall of that Hurricane Rita is making landfall right now and you're not going to believe the kind of punishment that our Correspondent Anderson Cooper is taking right now.

HARRIS: And Miles O'Brien in Beaumont and Lumberton, Texas that is where they both are, in the possible path of the storm. Let's get started in Lumberton with Miles O'Brien.

And Miles we have been taking a look at your picture over the last couple of minutes and it looks like you are just taking a real pounding there.

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