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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hurricane Rita Comes Ashore

Aired September 24, 2005 - 06:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: ... making landfall a little after 3:30 in the morning. And as you see, Lumberton, Texas, where Miles is this morning, obviously very hard hit.
Category 3 storm when Rita made landfall. We are waiting, though, obviously, for first light to determine the actual damage that has been done.

Port Charles in Texas looks like it's going to be -- Port Charles, rather, in Louisiana looks like it's going to be a big focus of this storm. Again, waiting for first light.

Let's get right to our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, who's been tracking this storm really for days.

Chad, good morning to you. It came right on the Louisiana-Texas border.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It did.

S. O'BRIEN: How bad does it look at this point for those areas most affected?

MYERS: For that area Cameron Parish really hit pretty hard, probably a storm surge in excess of 10 feet and still coming up because the storm is still pulling water out of the Gulf of Mexico and pulling that up to the Lake Charles area like you said and then back even into Port Arthur and Beaumont, although we don't have any really reports -- all of the gauges we have that are coming out of the rivers, they just stopped working at some point during the night, I assume because the winds got to about 120 miles per hour and the gauges lost their antenna to be sending the signals back.

But there you go. There's Beaumont right there. Port Arthur pretty much in the clear now, although winds are still gusting to 80. We're not seeing that big heavy band. Where you see the red is the heaviest wind is.

Still, back into Lake Charles, winds gusting to 50 to 60 right now. That's kind of an estimate because there's no equipment left in Lake Charles either. That's broken. The radar there broke about 2 a.m. in the morning.

So you know, when you get this kind of thing coming on shore, you're going to get damage and you can get damage to government equipment; you get damage to the weather service equipment. So we're kind of in the dark there at times. We have been for awhile. Lumberton right there getting part of the eye wall, although it's now really breaking itself up, Miles, in that Lumberton storm at this point. Beaumont getting out of the storm. Anderson Cooper will be coming out of his bunk pretty soon, we hope. And that whole storm has passed on by Lake Charles.

And really, now we'll slide you over to New Orleans. There have been showers here in New Orleans, and some of them have been spinning. Those spinning storms have had tornado warnings on them for a lot of the night. There must have been 25 tornado warnings since midnight -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Port Arthur in Texas, Chad, is what we're looking at and Lake Charles in Louisiana, another focus as well. We're going to check in with our reporters. As you know, Chad, they're everywhere there this morning. And again, we're looking for first light.

Chad, before I let you go, can I ask you some questions?

MYERS: Sure.

S. O'BRIEN: When a break -- you know, often you talk about the storm rolls through and then there's sort of a break and all the people who are out there kind of get to rest for a moment. We didn't really see that in this storm. Why not?

MYERS: No. I think it was because it was actually dying in intensity. The storm was almost getting smaller as it was getting into colder water. And so those breaks that it had went away.

Plus, it was over the warm Gulf of Mexico for so long, it didn't gulp in that dry air like we see it has one of those big breaks now on the south side. When you get those little bands that come through, those little areas of dry air that will sneak into the storm. And the storm looks more like a saw blade for a buzz saw. And you get one finger and then another finger and another finger. This thing was just a solid round mass, and that mass was full of rain, and it just moved right onshore.

S. O'BRIEN: Now, when it moves on, it slows a lot and it gets weaker. Why doesn't it just move through? I mean, why is there potential for this storm to sit there? Because the implications of doing that, of course, are huge. Not only for these towns that have already been affected. And we don't really know just how badly yet but also for New Orleans, where they're really concerned about storm surge and then additional rainfall.

MYERS: Well, they had six foot of storm surge in New Orleans because the wind had come from the east so long and pushed that water into Lake Borgne, which is that little lake there and then into Lake Pontchartrain and filled up the entire east side of New Orleans. The levees went up. A couple of those levees couldn't handle that extra pressure and broke yesterday. That was the breaking news of yesterday.

Why does it stop? Because there's a kidney shaped high pressure to the north of it. There's a lobe of high pressure here. The top of the high pressure is up into Arkansas and then another lobe that comes down like this.

It's almost like a pillow. And this thing can't go any farther than that pillow. It's going to hit that high pressure, stop. And some models actually have it doubling back on itself, coming back through Houston, one having it coming back through New Orleans and then pushed on down south and back into the Gulf of Mexico.

Pictures out of Lake Charles now from just a new video out of that area. Not really seeing too much, obviously. A lot of the power is out. The lights are out in that area. And if you had the wind gusts to around 115 -- and we think that happened at Lake Charles. We know from Rick Sanchez a little bit earlier, that there was structural damage in downtown.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Certainly structural damage. Lots of debris has been reported so far and a lot of trees down, as well. So, again, we'll get full reports on exactly how bad it is where the storm hit.

Chad, thanks a lot. We'll check in with you again.

We want to check in with Anderson Cooper. He is in Beaumont, Texas, about 35 miles from the coast. And Anderson is pretty much in the heart of that storm. He filed this report just a few moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": The winds are just constant now. It is just whipping, and it's like thousands of needles is working you as you're trying to stand out here.

I'm just going to try to get over there because there's -- you can't even look into it. You cannot look to where the wind is pointing, because it's just too extreme. The few times you can glance, it is literally just a white wall in front of you. You have no sense of how far it goes.

And as you walk out, the winds just pick up. I'm going to basically stay behind this. But you really get a sense of how fast the winds are moving. Again, it is this solid mass. This must be the height of the storm for us.

I couldn't hear what Chad Myers was saying earlier, nor could I hear what Gary Tuchman was saying. He's elsewhere in Beaumont. But right here on the Neches River, this for us is probably as bad as it has been.

And I just hope -- seeing the storm as powerful -- the storm as powerful as it is right now, I fear for anyone who may still be out on that roadway who is just in their car. I can't even imagine being in a car stuck on the side of the road in conditions like this.

This is probably our -- probably our last broadcast, because I think we're going to just now go inside where it's safe. But I'm glad we could at least get on the air to show you what we think for us is the height of the storm. I don't think we've ever been able to broadcast in these kind of conditions. So I just want to thank all the technicians here. I don't know how they did it, but they got us up. And maybe hopefully when we see you next this storm will have died down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: In fact, Anderson Cooper went in and got some shelter just moments after he filed that report for us. We're going to check in with him a little bit later this morning.

You'll recall that Galveston, Texas, was held up, really, as a model of good evacuating and good evacuation plans. David Mattingly is in Galveston this morning. Let's take a look how they did when the storm passed through.

David, good morning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

About two hours ago we were just absolutely getting soaked out here, but now the rain has pretty much dried up. We've got a good, steady breeze blowing right now, not anything near hurricane force winds right now, though.

For the last hour we took a little bit of a drive around town just to see what has happened here and what has not happened here. Remember early on, Galveston was pointed out as possibly -- possibly one of the ground zeroes of this storm. They were so worried they were going to have catastrophic damage that they took a lot of effort to evacuate their population here, 90 percent of the people heeding the evacuation warnings and going off to the mainland.

Well, now the island is pretty much deserted except for a couple of thousand people who stayed behind. Those who stayed behind didn't see that much of a storm because of the way the -- it tracked off to the north of us here. We did not nearly get the severe winds and severe rain and flooding that they thought they might get earlier in the week.

What we did see, we saw some downed traffic lights, we saw some downed power lines, we saw some minor flooding but nothing to the point where any roads were impassable.

But also, in town, there were still some small pockets, areas where the lights were still on. So the electricity wasn't out over the entire island. It's out in the area where we are and over most of the areas, but as you go into town there are still some areas where lights are still burning brightly, looks like nothing has happened at all except maybe a summer storm going through.

There are a lot of very old trees here. A lot of the large limbs of large trees are still intact. There are small limbs on the ground on the streets that we were driving through.

One of the biggest sources of property damage actually came from a fire last night. Firemen had to rush from here at this site where they've hunkered down for the storm, they had to run over to the civic center, where they have parked their equipment for its protection during the storm. They went to fight the fire.

There were three buildings involved, well involved at the time that they got there. The winds at the time were acting just like a blast furnace, just feeding that flame. They were coming out the tops of the buildings. They were well involved. The best they could do was make sure that those fires did not spread to the buildings around them.

And that's what they were able to do. So the firemen going out in this storm to take care of that fire and preventing further property damage.

So as of right now, this island, which was preparing for the worst just a couple of days ago, did not come close to seeing the worst of this storm -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Showing pictures, David, while you've been talking of that fire and the firefighters really having to do incredible amounts of work in the heavy winds, hauling their gear around. Obviously, not great conditions for them. You can see the fire blazing out of control.

I want to ask you about that flood wall. Do you remember you did that walk for us and showed us, really, how that wall was going to protect at least parts of Galveston, they were hoping? You say they dodged a bullet. How did that flood wall hold up?

MATTINGLY: Well, that flood wall is 17 feet high. As of late yesterday, the last forecast they got before this storm came in was that they were only going to see a flood surge, a storm surge -- and we're getting some of those gusts of wind coming back in now. They were only going to see a storm surge of about seven feet above normal, something well below what that flood wall would be able to handle.

We actually expected to see some waves crashing up against that wall and doing some spectacular geysers up the side, but nothing at all like that happened. It was because of all of this wind. It was actually flattening the water out, so there wasn't much wave action at all. So the waves crashing over the tops of the seawall in dramatic fashion didn't happen at all with this storm.

There was some flooding. There was some minor flooding in the areas that aren't protected by the seawall. And that flooding was actually beginning well before darkness fell here. There was some minor flooding reported at the west end of the island. There has been some mild flooding reported all around the island in different areas.

But again, when you look at New Orleans, that set the standard for severe flooding when it comes to storms like this. Nothing at all that comes -- nothing here even approaches what we saw there. So here, very minor flooding. As soon as that tidal surge goes out and back to sea, it will probably take all that water with us. S. O'BRIEN: It certainly is all relative. David Mattingly for us. David, thanks. We'll check back in with you again. As the light comes up, it will be interesting to see really just how much damage has been done and how many people are without power this morning. Thanks, David.

Let's get right to Miles O'Brien. Miles is reporting for us this morning from Lumberton, Texas. And we have seen pictures of Miles where he's essentially being blown across the parking lot or wherever he is, coming in occasionally to get a little bit of shelter.

He joins us by phone. And they're having some, as you can imagine, some technical difficulties, because the wind is really, really strong. We'll see if we have our connection with miles.

Miles, can you hear me?

All right. Well, it's a satellite phone. We're having a little bit of difficulty. You're going to have to bear with us as this storm is still quite -- quite strong and it's going to impact our technical issues today.

Let's get right to Ted Rowlands. He's in New Orleans this morning. And of course, all eyes on New Orleans even as this storm was not really headed directly for New Orleans because of concerns about flooding. We saw it flooding on Friday, yesterday afternoon already.

How's it doing today, Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, so good, Soledad. People keeping their fingers crossed throughout the night, hoping that the levee would hold, holding the water in Lake Pontchartrain at bay.

As you mentioned, yesterday things did not go so well and there was some concern. Yesterday morning, we had a levee break which flooded the Ninth Ward lower Ninth Ward again. This was an area that was devastated after Katrina and it is still underwater now. They were not able to go in and fix that break in the levee because of the weather conditions yesterday. The winds were too high, and it was raining.

That said, overnight there was some real concern that more levees would break. We have not heard of any problems overnight. We did not get much rain. The winds were manageable, as well, here. So some very good news for a city that could use it.

And the hope is that they can get in there, fix the other levee and start again trying to pump this city dry and start rebuilding this city that is just devastated.

S. O'BRIEN: Ted, you know we're showing some pictures of, in fact, that breach yesterday, and you see the water sort of flooding right over the levee. It was a big concern. It was a big concern. The mayor said that, you know, just another nightmare on its way. Psychologically, how is the city doing? I mean, a one-two punch, really? And how many people are actually still in New Orleans?

ROWLANDS: Well, not many. And that's -- that's the saving grace here. Of course, the stakes are much lower this time around, because the city is essentially evacuated and because there was so much property damage the first time around, there's really not much you can do to some of this property.

But you mentioned the psychological damage. We -- one guy walked by us today and said, "My house flooded twice in the Ninth Ward."

You can just imagine what people are going through and the thought of having to start over with the pumping process and the clean-up process in some of the areas where they had made so much headway was really depressing, and the mayor alluded to the fact that this was their worst nightmare.

Overnight, though, I think things have really cleared up in terms of the dismal outlook. And if things can stay as they are now, they'll have an opportunity to go fix that levee and start pumping the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard's Parish, which also received some water, and get back to the daunting task of rebuilding their city.

S. O'BRIEN: I want to ask you about the satellite. As you talk, we can see the path of Rita right now. We're showing it live, and we'll continue to. You know, about an hour ago, it really looked as if, because the storm is so big, that New Orleans was just getting pummeled by the bands. What was it like for you there an hour ago?

MATTINGLY: Well, we -- you know, it wasn't bad. We got some rain and we've had some wind. And it's raining now. About 10 minutes ago was the worst we had. And we didn't know what to expect. And we, quite frankly, expected a lot more rain. And we may get more, depending on what -- the remnants of Rita and where it moves and where it stalls out.

But at this point, the rain, the three to five inches of rain from the tropical storm that was forecast for New Orleans possibly coming overnight didn't come. It didn't materialize, which is great news and is exactly what this city needs. Now they need some time to get in there and repair that breach. Whether they'll be able to do that today or at what point today, who knows, because the wind is still pretty strong here this morning, and it will probably be a little bit before they get there and repair the damage.

S. O'BRIEN: Some good news out of that. All right. Ted Rowlands reporting for us. Ted, thanks. Sunlight comes up, we'll take a look at exactly how bad it is in New Orleans, as well, this morning.

Want to check in with Rob Howell. He is back on the ground. He was up in the hurricane chase plane not too long ago. He's a CNN producer and he is in Marietta, Georgia, this morning.

Rob, good morning to you. You're back on land now. What were you looking at, what did you see and how did it look? ROB HOWELL, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Soledad, we passed through the eye wall about three times, and we were able to take a reading each time.

Obviously, you saw as the storm approached land, it began to weaken. While it sped up, it began to weaken. We drove through. It was very a tight eye wall so that the -- on board the plane here, we were able to -- you know, there was turbulence, but we were able to hold onto our seats.

The interesting thing is I'm flying with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance here. They're usually out of Keesler Air Force base. They've obviously been moved to the Dobbins Air Force base.

They've never had a rest ever since Katrina hit. They -- they were moved right on to following Rita. And a lot of these folks have lost a lot of their own homes, I think, back in Louisiana -- excuse me, Mississippi.

But there's some interesting things that just happened. We were the last flight to pass through the eye wall before it hit land, and there was a special request made from President Bush. He personally wanted to have the last reading from the eye wall, the intensity of the storm basically, as it made land.

So the 53rd Air Weather Reconnaissance, excuse me, made another pass so that they could get a reading three miles off land and three miles on land and report back the exact readings what the storm was doing as it hit land -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Rob Howell for us. We're going to check in with you again as you get some more of that information for us. Obviously, the president making a request to see exactly with what strength that hurricane has now hit land.

Hurricane Rita, as we mentioned, made landfall just about three hours ago. Is the storm losing strength now? It's time to check in with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Max Mayfield is there for us.

Hey, Max, good morning. It's nice to see you.

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Good morning, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Bring us up to speed on Rita. What's the strength now? Where is it right now?

MAYFIELD: Well, it did make landfall as a Category 3 hurricane. And the Air Force Reserves that you were talking about there did a fantastic job for us all through the night, as they always do.

The center of the hurricane right now is located right here, just a little bit to the northeast of Beaumont, Texas, still moving towards the northwest. It is definitely weakening now, and it is probably down close to a Category 2 hurricane. But we don't want to let people think this is the end of it here. The storm surge is still going to be coming on shore here as long as we have the strong southerly flow here on the east side of the eye. That's probably going to stay up very high most of the day. The winds will come down, but, you know, we'll still have additional power outages as it moves inland. And we'll likely have 10 to 15 inches of rain here over the next day or two.

And then the longer time periods, we've got to worry about it slowing down. In four to five days' time, it will be somewhere up here in northeastern Texas, southwestern Arkansas. And if it does stall out there, we will have some very high rainfall amounts. And people need to be very careful because we often have loss of life well after landfall from people driving their cars through flooded out roadways in the heavy rains.

S. O'BRIEN: So you're thinking that four or five days this storm is going to make pretty minimal progress up into Texas?

MAYFIELD: Right. The wind is not going to be a problem at all here. By tomorrow afternoon, it will probably be down to a tropical depression. But the rains could still be with us here for several more days.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Max Mayfield. He is at the National Hurricane Center. Thanks for talking to us, Max.

MAYFIELD: You bet.

S. O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it.

We want to get to Sanjay Gupta in St. Charles, Louisiana. Several -- Lake Charles, Louisiana, excuse me. Several critically ill patients who couldn't be evacuated are being cared for at Christus Hospital. CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining me by phone.

How did the medical center survive the storm? And what kind of shape is it in?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It looks like it's done pretty well overnight, Soledad. There were some reports originally from the police department there may have been some damage to the building.

We've been just checking with the administration, you know, scouring the building themselves. They say the roof is still intact. That was a concern that maybe some of that had been lost and some windows blown out.

You know, it was interesting. You know, just to sort of be inside the building, it just all of a sounded like a big freight train was right going by outside. The wind was just clawing at the windows trying to get in and it, you know, just sort of seemed like it was bursting at the seams. But for the most part, it seems like everything is intact. We, I think like a lot of other people, have just lost all of our capabilities in terms of satellite and all that. Just too much wind last night. But I was just listening to your previous guest. Right now over here it seems like there's a lot more wind than there is rain for the most parts.

The patients did well overnight. They had been on emergency generator power now since yesterday, late afternoon. That emergency generator power has maintained. There's been relatively no flooding in the hospital itself. And the patients are still being well cared for, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Sanjay, how many doctors and nurses have stayed behind? And how many patients are actually so ill that they cannot be moved and are also staying behind?

GUPTA: Well, there was less than half a dozen patients before, you know, sort of midday yesterday. And then there were a couple of patients who came in with injuries.

Interesting story, just to give you a sense of what a hospital has to do in a hurricane. A gentleman who had been boarding up his windows, fell and severely fractured his leg and needed an operation.

Unfortunately, no orthopedic surgeon in the hospital. There are 50 staff members, but one of them is not an orthopedic surgeon. So actually the neurosurgeon, the brain surgeon on duty, basically had to do the operation on this gentleman's leg. And that's just the reality of what happens to a hospital in a hurricane.

But about 50 staff members, doctors, nurses, techs and four chaplains as well at this Christus Hospital here in Lake Charles, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: What's the mood like, Sanjay? I recall, of course, our conversations when you were at Charity Hospital right in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and what a different scene it sounds like.

GUPTA: Yes, you know, a huge difference between here and there. You know, over there, there was flooding. There was no power. There was no water. There was really nothing. They were running low on food supplies, as well. They had patients that they were bagging for days on end because they required breathing machines and there was no power to be able to fuel those breathing machines.

Here it's a different sort of mood. The generators have worked. There doesn't appear to be significant flooding. The doctors and staff, for the most part, have remained dry. Some have had to go from inside to outside several times for separate things. But for the most part, the mood is they're still weathering it.

I think it was pretty frightening last night, to be sure. It was -- again that wind and that freight train sort of feeling almost going by outside and just being relentless for -- for just so long here. It just was unbelievable.

It's still going on now. Is the roof about to fly off? Are windows about to bust? Hasn't happened as of yet, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, well, we certainly hope it's not going to happen. You know, you talked about the hospital going onto generator power yesterday afternoon, Sanjay. Was that sort of just preemptive or was it so bad by early afternoon that the hospital had to turn on the generator power because you lost actual power?

GUPTA: It was so bad by early afternoon that the hospital, it just did it automatically. It's a switch that actually triggers when power is lost within a few seconds. Those emergency generators kick in.

So all that sort of early afternoon and mid afternoon you could just hear all the transformers just going. There would be these loud booms. That was explained to me. It wasn't a noise that I'd really heard before. It almost sounds like a gunshot. But what it was, was these transformers going. They either pulled out of the ground or lines just breaking. Essentially, power being lost.

And I guess by sort of late afternoon, enough of those transformers had gone, enough power was lost that the hospital had to automatically, as it does, had to switch over to generator power.

Now, those generators are actually fueled by diesel fuel, which was interesting to me, because here in the hospital you have lots of diesel fuel to be able to maintain generators for several days. You also have a lot of compressed oxygen. That's also potentially a combustible thing. And if there is a sort of an Achilles' heel in all that, that is probably it, the concern about fires or explosions from that compressed oxygen, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I can imagine. That would certainly complicate things not only for the patients and the doctors but any rescuers who had to kind of work in those conditions, too.

Sanjay, thanks. We'll be interested to see when first light comes up just how bad it is right outside the hospital where you are.

Sanjay Gupta joining us this morning, and he is reporting from Lake Charles in Louisiana.

Miles O'Brien -- speaking of rescue efforts, Miles O'Brien, who is in Lumberton, Texas, has been dealing with high winds and actually having lots of technical problems because it's really affecting our communications abilities. But earlier this morning, he spoke to some rescuers who were not only hunkered down but on the job again as the storm came right through Lumberton. Let's listen to his interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: There was a tree down on a house, a family of five inside. They got a call here and they went out in the midst of this, into the teeth of this gale to literally cut them out. And it was quite a scene.

I'm going to believe with the police chief, Norman Reynolds. First of all, you got the call from them, big tree down on the house. What did you do at that point?

NORMAN REYNOLDS, POLICE CHIEF: Well, we got our maintenance crew, and two patrolmen and the mayor and I went down the road. It's north of town, about three miles down that road, to try to get the family of six out of the house. Had five trees that had to be cut up that had fallen over the road as we went in.

M. O'BRIEN: So five trees just to get there?

REYNOLDS: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Once you got there and saw the house, was it in pretty bad shape?

REYNOLDS: One end of it was crushed by a large tree.

M. O'BRIEN: The family, I guess, was pretty lucky to dodge that one.

REYNOLDS: Very lucky and very -- very shook up.

M. O'BRIEN: Mayor Don Zarat (ph), when you drove through your town, try to describe what it was like tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's -- it's just an eerie feeling. Everybody -- it's just all black and wind is blowing, and things are flying around all in the area.

M. O'BRIEN: It must have been hard just to even see the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was hard to see the road. It looked like it was the trees and everything and the little limbs they were just growing out of the road. It was...

M. O'BRIEN: At one point you saw even kind of a scared deer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, we saw a scared little doe deer running alongside the road.

M. O'BRIEN: Were you worried about your personal safety at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you have to be concerned about your own self, also. I mean, if you -- if you get hurt out there, you can't help anybody else in the process. And you're out there cutting trees out of the middle of the road and other trees are leaning over. It's pretty eerie.

M. O'BRIEN: Chief, you told me that there was a tree that actually fell down right in front of you.

REYNOLDS: Yes. As we approached it, it fell down in front of us.

M. O'BRIEN: And at this point what goes through your mind? REYNOLDS: Glad I hadn't gotten quite that far.

M. O'BRIEN: What -- tell me, when you finally got to the family, what did they tell you about their ordeal?

REYNOLDS: They just didn't think it was going to get this bad. Realized they didn't -- they should have left a few -- earlier and were very, very grateful.

M. O'BRIEN: You brought the family -- you have an emergency shelter in a nursing home, which is just a couple of buildings down from here. I know they're safe and sound now. Maybe they'll talk to us in a little while. I imagine they're fairly shaken up by this ordeal.

REYNOLDS: Yes, they are. It was two grandparents, a mother and three children.

M. O'BRIEN: And you know, we don't want to -- at this point, there's not much people can do. But this brings up the point of why it is dangerous to try to ride these things out.

REYNOLDS: Very, very true.

M. O'BRIEN: You -- you told me before that you had about a 90 percent compliance rate on evacuations. That still means you're getting some calls. There's 10 percent of your population is out there. What kinds of calls are you getting?

REYNOLDS: We're mostly getting calls of trees down. We had to go out earlier and cut trees off the main highway.

Alarm calls. We've had to go and bring two or three more people into the shelter. Most of our calls are just calls that don't involve dangers to persons, just property.

M. O'BRIEN: You've got about 10 people in that shelter now?

REYNOLDS: No, I think we've got eight.

M. O'BRIEN: Eight people. Mayor, the -- what, we're about 40, 50 feet above sea level here. And there wasn't concern about storm surge. But with this rain coming in, a lot of flooding that I'm seeing right here. Did you see a lot of evidence of that as you drove around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I didn't see a lot of evidence of flooding, but we have some low areas in the city, so we are expecting some.

M. O'BRIEN: This area pretty high where we're standing right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is pretty high, it sure is.

M. O'BRIEN: D id you get a chance -- I know that some of the emergency and police personnel from the communities of Port Arthur, further south down by the coast, are staged here. Did you get a chance to see them and see how they're doing over there at the high school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't seen them since about 7 this afternoon.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. What, in general -- can you remember a storm like this one that has barreled through this area? I mean, Carla in '61 maybe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I remember. It had devastation everywhere with it.

M. O'BRIEN: At this point, based on the damage you've seen, is this city going to take a big hit?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. I think we -- we will take a big hit. But we won't know until we can see. We get some daylight so we can move around and the weather improves where we can get out.

M. O'BRIEN: And Chief, at this point, what kinds of calls will you respond to?

REYNOLDS: Until the wind subsides we'll only respond to calls involving dangers to persons. After that, we'll get out and see what we have in the morning as far as property damage.

M. O'BRIEN: And you just got a call from the sheriff's office saying get ready, right?

REYNOLDS: And in the next 10 minutes, the winds of 110 miles per hour should be here.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm amazed that the cell phones are still working in spite of everything else. No power, no nothing. You've got to be concerned about your personal property, too. Officer Rhodes (ph), your family is safe, I know, but are you concerned?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, my family is safe. And the majority of us police officers here in Lumberton live in Lumberton. So yes, it's hard not to sit here and want to go to your house and check on your own stuff. So yes, it's hard.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not introducing some of the other guys here. This is Officer Chad Wilson. This is Brian...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Irwin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Irwin. He is the building maintenance. And we got Ernie Mason. M. O'BRIEN: All right. The entire team in Lumberton. One rescue on. Let's hope you don't have to get out there again tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hoping.

M. O'BRIEN: Because it's not getting any better in Lumberton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: That was Miles, reporting from Lumberton, Texas, a little while back, talking about the rescue efforts there.

He's right. It wasn't getting any better in Lumberton. In fact, the wind speeds so high, 58 miles per hour reported now in Beaumont, Texas, not too far from where Miles is, that in fact, they're having some huge problems, technical problems with communication.

It looks as if we have established contact with Miles again. Let's check in with him and see if we can actually keep this connection.

Hey, miles, how is it going?

M. O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) I feel like I'm in a car wash. It's crazy. There's quite a bit of flooding...

S. O'BRIEN: Miles, I'm going to stop you there and we're going to try to re-establish this connection, because I know you're on a sat phone and it sounds really muffled and we're having a really hard time hearing you.

So let's see if we can clear that up while we talk a little bit about the status of Hurricane Rita right now. We'll bring in Chad Myers, see if we can fix our connection with Miles.

No surprise, really, Chad, considering the wind speeds right now, even though they've died down a lot since landfall, just how hard it is for some of our reporters to actually make connections and get through.

MYERS: He's going to be able to take that microphone and shake it from top to bottom to get all that water out. That's exactly what it sounded like, like it was just full of rainwater.

This has been a very wet storm so far. Some spots around Lake Charles, 10 inches of rain. Doppler estimated. Now I'm not sure how well the Doppler did overnight, because a lot of this rain was going sideways. But Beaumont to Lumberton. Lumberton right about there.

Here is your heavy band here. This is still the remnants of what was the northern part of the eye wall. Not really an eye wall anymore. There's not really an eye either. It's really getting torn up now. As it hits land, that always happens. The water is the source of its energy. When you lose the water, you lose the energy. You lose the hurricane. Here's New Orleans all the way down through Belle Chasse. And this entire area here is filled with these little storms. They're called mini super cells. They're different than the super cells we get in the Midwest, but they're still spinning.

There must be a dozen counties and parishes under tornado watches and tornado warnings right now with all of this spinning, all the way up through Mississippi and even, for that matter, even as far east, possibly, as Alabama and as far north as Arkansas later today when the sun comes out.

So it's going to be a busy day one way or the other.

S. O'BRIEN: ... about that, Chad. And I certainly think as we get to see the damage because, of course, in some places it's still way too dark to really understand, you know, what's gone wrong and how bad it is. I mean, we won't be able to eyeball it until the sun comes up.

But let's show some pictures if we can. You're looking at now pictures from Lumberton, Texas. This is where Miles' location is. And boy, Chad, we saw him in the heart of the storm just getting blown around to the point where he had to duck low just so he could stay, you know, basically on his feet.

MYERS: We can interpolate from one spot to another with the wind speeds on our screens here. We kind of interpolated that to about an 85 mile-per-hour gust, where Beaumont where Anderson Cooper was, actually was 104. So it really does -- it's a matter of where you are and where you live.

It's also really a matter of how much you're getting protected by a building.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

MYERS: Because you can actually get a wind tunnel effect going and be more than 104. You know a 20 mile-an-hour wind in Manhattan, you get down there on Fifth Ave., it can be a 40 mile-per-hour wind gust in a wind tunnel and you can't even walk up the street. Same kind of thing. You have to really protect yourself where you are. We protected our equipment. We protected our people, and so far so good tonight.

S. O'BRIEN: Speaking of walking up the street, we're showing pictures from Beaumont, Texas, sort of driving down the street. Again, you really can't get a good sense of just how much debris is about. You can only get a little bit because, of course, you can't really see it too clearly.

But I think as the sun comes up we're going to get a good sense of the damage. Clearly, power lost. And I don't think that's any surprise to anybody.

This is Kemah, Texas, which is between Houston and Galveston, Chad, and, again, it looks kind of the same. How high did the winds get here and how much damage do you think they're going to wake up to today?

MYERS: Well, the winds got to about 60 here. Now the only problem is those winds were coming from the north to the south, and a lot of the oil refineries are actually on the west side of Galveston Bay. And as that wind was pushing that water into those refineries, there may have been some overwash into those refineries. We don't know. Obviously, we won't know until sun comes up.

The same story for the northern part of Galveston. For I don't know, five days we've talked about this 17-foot wall in Galveston. Well, that didn't do any good, because the waves weren't coming from that direction. They were coming from the bay side, where there isn't a wall.

There's not much tropical stuff going on there right now. The winds are down to about 30 miles per hour with gusts to around 40, but still, Houston seeing some wind gusts to 54 miles per hour right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Galveston, Texas. We got some pictures there. Since you've been talking about it let's show it.

You know, and I was talking to David Mattingly not long before about that wall and he said, you know, just as you said, the storm surge really wasn't the problem, that they were really concerned that they would be seeing some of that. We're looking at damage. You see clearly some structural damage to some of the buildings and businesses there.

MYERS: Well, you know what? Even if this was a wave or just wind, we don't know yet because I don't know how this damage actually occurred.

But a wave, even a four foot, five foot wave, will have so much more power and devastating effect to a building than maybe even a 90 mile-per-hour wind gust.

So I mean, there could have been some overwash. This could have been on the bay side. I don't know. But right here this looks like probably just structural damage from some type of failure on the facade on the side of the building.

So many brick buildings look like they're made of brick but it's just a little -- one layer of brick stuck to a wood frame building. And that looks like that came off of that -- that base front there.

S. O'BRIEN: So this storm is going to stick around. And that's a concern, because as you have said a zillion times in past hurricanes, it's -- it's after the storm passes through often where most of the lives are lost.

MYERS: Yes. It's called freshwater flooding, Soledad. Saltwater flooding is storm surge because the saltwater from the gulf or ocean or whatever gets pushed up onto the land. And we saw that Bay St. Louis, Waveland, from Pass Christian all the way over to Biloxi and Gulfport. That's saltwater flooding. Freshwater flooding is when it's raining. This storm is going to stop over Texarkana and it's going to rain for days. It may even drift as far south as New Orleans and rain a lot there. They don't need that. They had levee breaks yesterday because of some wind pushing water back into New Orleans.

Some of the numbers up about six feet of storm surge, although not the storm surge you think of. New Orleans is just kind of sticking out there in the Gulf of Mexico, and the water pushed itself up there and caused all that flooding that we saw in those levees.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Chad, we're going to check back in with you again. Again, I'm really interested to see, outside of the fact that, clearly, a lot of people have lost power in a lot of places, just what is the damage they're waking up to today? We'll get a look as soon as we get some pictures from early light.

Chad, thanks.

Let's check in with Randi Kaye. She's in Baytown in Texas. Lots of refineries there. A big concern not only for the local economy but the nation's economy as a whole. Randi joins us by phone.

Hey, Randi, good morning.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad, good morning to you.

We've actually moved inside because the winds right now are just too dangerously high to put our satellite dish up. So we hope to get a live picture up for you just a little bit later.

But right now I can tell you, I just hung up the phone with Ed Hawthorne. And he works with the groups here in town called FEMA (ph), and they pretty much patrol the ship channel, which is lined by about 200 chemical plants and refineries.

And he has been set up in a building that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane throughout the night. And we've been checking with him every hour.

And he said that the industrial sector is all quiet, were his words. He is pleasantly surprised. They haven't received any reports of any chemical leaks or any accidents at any of their refineries or oil plants. And here in Baytown, they have the largest refinery in the United States, the Exxon Mobil refinery.

So that is very good news. Of course, as you said, you're anxious to see what happens at daylight and what we can actually see. They, too, are anxious to get over to these refineries and do a full assessment.

It only took them about 24 hours to shut down. We were there just yesterday at one of the Shell plants. But it could take them, in a case like this, anywhere from five to seven days to actually start back up. So they do expect to be down for some time. But hopefully, if it's not too severe, any of the damage that they may find, they should be able to get up and running fairly quickly instead of any long period of time.

So that is the good news here in Baytown right now, Soledad. We're just seeing a lot of damage in terms of power lines and power outages, a lot of transformers exploding. And that is what we're seeing here. But other than that, we seem to be in pretty good shape, except for some very, very dangerously high winds -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Randi, let me ask you a quick question. You talked about the skeleton staff that's really remaining on these refineries so that they can bring them down and then hopefully, if there's not much damage, bring them right back online as quickly as possible.

How many folks are there? I mean, how many people does it take to keep an eye on the refineries as this storm approaches?

KAYE: Well, I can speak -- certainly speak to the Shell refinery that we visited, which is in Deer Park, just the next town over from Baytown. They have 1,700 employees there, and they were leaving about 20 behind to ride out the storm there in case of an issue. They left some security folks and some environmental experts in case there is any type of chemical release.

So they will all be back as soon as they can. I think the initial team will go in and do the early assessment at daylight after the storm passes.

But there's also the question of how long it will take to get oil to come in down the actual ship channel, how much damage there might be to the pipelines buried beneath the channel. There's a web of pipelines there. So it really depends on if they'll get oil to refine that oil and if they'll even get oil to be able run.

The Shell plant, I know, can only go about five days before it needs oil again just to run. So it's going to be interesting to see if there is any damage at any of these chemical plants.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and as you said, everybody is interested, with first light, to get out there, because the assessment is really the critical part now that the storm has hit and is passing through.

Randi Kaye in Baytown for us this morning. Randi, thanks. She's joining us by phone.

The fire in Pasadena, Texas. It's in a shopping mall, apparently. There were reports that this fire may not be necessarily hurricane related. Still early in any investigation.

But obviously, as you can see and as we have heard from all our reporters all morning, any kind of rescue efforts in the heart of a storm are going to be compromised and certainly complicated when there are high winds and rain. And even, you know, no rescuers really want to be out on the streets. No one should be out on the streets. We're going to update you on this story, again, this fire in Pasadena, Texas, at a shopping mall that's just south of Houston. We'll fill you in as soon as we get more details on what happened there.

Bernard Olive is the Baytown, Texas, fire marshal and also that city's emergency management coordinator, and he's in direct contact with those refinery employees who, as we just heard a moment ago from Randi Kaye, stayed on during the hurricane. He's on the phone, as well, and he's in Baytown this morning. Nice to talk to you, Mr. Olive. Thank you for being with us this morning. How does everything look? What are the reports that you're getting back so far?

BERNARD OLIVE, FIRE MARSHAL, BAYTOWN, TEXAS: Well, we have, of course, large power outages throughout Baytown. And trees down, some lines down but nothing really major. We haven't had any reports of any structural collapse or anything concerning something like that.

S. O'BRIEN: Obviously not daylight yet. Have you had crews out, though, doing assessments or are you going to wait until you can really see what you're doing before you send crews out to look at how bad the damage is?

OLIVE: No. When winds got above a 50 mile-per-hour mark, we pulled in all our folks off the street and told them to shelter in place because we didn't want to take a chance in them getting any of them hurt either.

S. O'BRIEN: How do you feel, all of your efforts in preparing for this storm have gone so far?

OLIVE: I really think it's went quite well, just to be truthful with you.

S. O'BRIEN: Is it because you really learned some important lessons from Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath there?

OLIVE: Well, not only that. But, you know, by being right here on the gulf coast, we've experienced many hurricanes, ever since the town was established back in 1919. And you learn not only from Katrina but from all the storms.

S. O'BRIEN: It's got to be tough, though. I mean, you have Hurricane Katrina slams into the region and then right after that Hurricane Rita. Psychologically and emotionally, how are people doing?

OLIVE: They're doing fine. Of course, we had a massive evacuation of Baytown and of Galveston and Galveston County. So the population of Baytown wasn't, of course, as large as what we would normally have here. The folks that did decide to stay stayed off the streets and inside.

S. O'BRIEN: I would imagine that it was some of the pictures and the scenes from Hurricane Katrina that really motivated people in Baytown and elsewhere to get out, because I know sometimes for folks who live in Hurricane Alley, you don't necessarily take every warning so seriously.

OLIVE: That's very true. I think if we hadn't had a Katrina, that he we wouldn't have had near the population evacuate that we did have.

S. O'BRIEN: So it's good news there. What happens to you now? What do you do this morning? And you're on the phone with the folks who are responsible for the refineries, as we heard from Randi Kaye. They -- if things turn out to be fine, they'll start bringing some of those refineries on. What does your day look like?

OLIVE: Well, I'm not only on the phone. I have them here in the emergency operations center with me. We have face-to-face contact with these folks. And, of course, soon as the sun rises then we can start doing assessments. But by talking to them, the industrial facilities fared fairly well.

S. O'BRIEN: We're looking at pictures of this fire that's apparently broken out at a shopping center in Pasadena, Texas. And I'm not quite sure how close that is to where you are, but I'm curious as a person who oversees emergency management, I mean, you can see even in these pictures at night how strong the winds are and just how this fire is burning really out of control.

How does it compromise your ability to run the emergency systems of your city, any city, when you have a big fire break out, even if it's not necessarily caused by the hurricane?

OLIVE: Well, of course, it taxes any of your system when you have to contend with a 50 mile-an-hour plus wind. And not only the fire in Pasadena but the fire that was in Galveston last night also.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, looking at pictures of these firefighters who are trying to keep the hoses up and, you know, the smoke is just flying over their heads.

I don't know -- did you have going into the storm sort of rules about what you would respond to and things that would just be too dangerous to respond to, frankly, for your people?

OLIVE: Well, we certainly have standard operating procedures that we follow, be it fair weather or stormy weather. And these are sort of the normal things you have to contend with due to the force (ph) winds, fire, heat, things of this nature. Our folks are pretty well trained how to handle that. But if becomes to the point that you have to back off.

S. O'BRIEN: I've got to tell you these pictures that we are seeing, it is just -- you know, you don't use the word fire ball loosely, and this is huge. This is huge. This is this shopping center that is on fire in Pasadena, Texas, just south, apparently, of Houston, and it is a huge problem there. Not sure if it is, in fact, hurricane related, but we're going to keep following that story, as well. The devastation there in that shopping center. No question about it, it's going to be huge.

Want to thank Bernard Olive, joining us by phone from Baytown, Texas. He is the fire marshal and also the man who's in charge of the emergency services for that area there. Thank you for being with us.

Let's get right back to Chad Myers.

Chad, good morning to you once again. And let's talk a little bit about Rita's progress. I have a question for the folks who were on the highway. You know, remember yesterday the story, really, was people trying to get out of town, and they were stuck. They had run out of gas; they couldn't move. What happened to them? It seems like the highways are clear, so they obviously moved out. But did they -- did they get hit by the storm or did the storm pretty much avoid them?

MYERS: Well, you know, I saw a lot of cars still on the side of the highways, on the side of the interstate. But I never saw any bodies. I never saw any people with those.

So I think they all got rides with other people and just decided, "Look, I can't get any gas; there are no gas trucks coming, I don't have a gas can. I don't see a gas station anywhere near here. Can I hitch a ride with you to wherever, to Dallas, to Nacogdoches, to wherever anybody else was going?"

And I think maybe they'll come back for your cars. You're in some spots where the winds were 115. Those cars are flipped over. Those cars aren't there any more. They're in the bayou or they're the ditches, wherever.

But from what I can tell, from what I can see, we saw the nightmare of those cars being stopped and stuck. And after that, after everybody realized, "OK, you know what? I'm not even going out in this," then the roadways really cleared up.

And we saw Miles north of Dallas -- or north of Houston, south of Dallas yesterday, and the roadways were really clearing themselves up. And there was nobody just standing there looking around, waiting for a ride or waiting for gas. Everybody had pretty much evacuated.

They knew don't stay with the car: "The car is worth nothing compared to my life. Let's get out of here like we planned."

S. O'BRIEN: I think in the wake of Katrina, people have really gotten very clear on that, you know, have discovered that, actually, if you hesitate, you can be lost and you can lose your life in these sorts of storms.

Question for you. You know, we've been talking a lot about the coast obviously, because that's the first impact. What about Houston? How is it looking for the folks inland a little bit?

MYERS: Houston had wind gusts to about 60. And I'm seeing the pictures that you're seeing of the fires that we had in Pasadena. There were other fires in Houston. There were fires in Galveston as well.

With the wind gusts to 60, that's just enough to bring the power line down with power still in it. If you get a wind gust of 90, you're probably blowing the transformer, and you're cutting off the power to that line. But a hot line that drops onto an asphalt roof or drops onto any kind of a shopping center or whatever it might be can start a fire.

And you know what? We saw driving rain. About 2 in the morning there was a fire in Galveston that was raging out of control. And it was pouring down rain. And that rain didn't slow that fire down one bit. Fueled by the wind, maybe, a little bit.

But that was the biggest threat, are now live power lines that are still down in Houston. There are probably not too many live ones down in, let's say, Lake Charles. That area is probably completely without power.

You still don't want to go near any power line that's down, though. But if it's sparking, clearly you know that it's live.

S. O'BRIEN: We saw some pictures of Miles not too long ago where he was just being blown around in the high winds there in Lumberton, Texas. And it's really compromised his communications abilities. We've had him on the phone and haven't been able to understand him or he's phoned in and dropped out a lot. So we're trying to get him back up.

MYERS: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: And I just want to mention that.

And again, we're looking at pictures of the shopping center. I mean, looks just like this giant fire ball now is engulfing this thing.

My question for you is why is the storm sticking around? I mean, it seems like Hurricane Katrina moved through. And it seems like this one -- I think Max Mayfield, Chad, was talking about four, five days bringing rain, which of course is going to be a huge problem.

MYERS: Yes. There's a kidney shaped bean high pressure. And think of one end of the kidney bean almost in New Mexico, the other end pretty much in Atlanta, Georgia, and the curved part of that kidney bean, let's say, over Arkansas.

Well, as this hurricane tries to move north, it's going to run into the middle of that high. So on a normal day, it would slide off to the east and get pushed out to sea in two or three days. You remember Katrina went over Buffalo. It went up, kind of went up toward the northeast.

But this one can't do that because of that lobe of the high that's hanging over the eastern part of the United States. It also can't go too far west because of the lobe that's hanging over the western part of Texas. So it's actually going to get stopped right there over about Texarkana.

There are 14 different computer models that we use. We call them the spaghetti maps. We talk about them all the time. About five of them take it west. Five of them take it east. And the other five (sic) take it back into the Gulf of Mexico, pushing it back southward through Houston in about four days.

And when all the models are that confused, that tells us that there's just not enough wind for any of the models to pick up on. That high pressure basically makes no wind. If you're in the middle of a low pressure like a hurricane, there's wind. High pressure has no wind. When there's so little wind, there's no real movement to the storm. And that's what Rita will be caught up into now in the next three days.

S. O'BRIEN: So if this model, one of them at least, pushes it back into the gulf, is that the worst case scenario, I mean, basically backtracking on an area it already hit?

MYERS: The one that actually takes it back over New Orleans would probably be the one that would be the worst scenario, because then it could rain for more days over New Orleans, which they obviously can't use. They can't use the rain one way or the other.

And there's going to be a lot of rain, a lot of water coming down the Sabine River, also down into the Mississippi River. That entire area going to be flooding from top to bottom as the storm stalls.

If the storm doesn't stall and it does parks itself over, I don't know, let's say Arkansas and then slides off to the east, even if it moves slowly, you know, basically let it rain, let it rain itself out eventually, as long as it keeps moving.

But if you remember Hurricane Agnes back in 1972. I keep going back to this one because it's so vivid in my memory. I used to live back up into New York and Pennsylvania there. That storm stopped for days, and it flooded in Corning, it flooded in the Susquehanna Valley. And the river levels were, like, 30 feet above where they should be.

S. O'BRIEN: You know what? I think you're right. I think it could be a huge, huge problem.

All right. Chad, we'll check in with you again. It looks like we have Miles by videophone.

MYERS: Oh, good.

S. O'BRIEN: So let's check in with him and see if we can keep the shot up. Again, as Chad said, huge problems when you're talking about wind speeds that Miles has been experiencing in Lumberton, Texas.

Hey, Miles. M. O'BRIEN: Well, bear with me, Soledad. Can you hear me OK now, first of all?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I can. Yes, I can.

M. O'BRIEN: Excellent. Excellent. We have had a wild hour here, I can tell you that. We had to bring our satellite dish down as the wind picked up here in Lumberton.

You know, we're about 45, 50 miles from the coast from Port Arthur, where the storm came ashore a couple of hours ago. And we have been feeling the worst of it now.

The eye is passing east of us (INAUDIBLE), which, as they say is the so-called clean side. But that is cold comfort to us here, because basically we're (INAUDIBLE) being washed by the constant sheet of water.

I have covered a lot of hurricanes, Soledad. I've never had one that it has rained non-stop. We've been up since 2 in the morning (INAUDIBLE). It has not stopped raining. The parking lot behind is flooding, and the water is driving in a few moments we'll have to move our vehicles as a result of that.

The folks here in Lumberton say that they had a very successful evacuation. Ninety percent of the people left their homes, but the town of 8,700 -- that leaves about 900 people in their homes.

They're getting some calls from people, some in distress, some just reporting trees down. They had to go and rescue one family of six that was in a house where a tree was down. I think we told you that story a little while ago here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Wild storm. I have never seen this much rain associated with a hurricane. I think Chad was saying it may, in fact, be among the wettest of hurricanes ever.

Where here it's 40 or 50 feet above sea level, because we wanted to avoid the storm surge. (INAUDIBLE) here with this flooding that's coming in. Nothing like a 20-foot storm surge. But nevertheless, when there is daybreak here in an hour or so, I'm sure we're going to see a scene of a lot of devastation and a lot of damage -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I have to imagine, Miles, because we can see pictures of this storm where you are. And the wind is just -- it is -- you can tell how strong it is and you can see how it's just blowing through the force of it.

Now give me a sense of where you are exactly. Where are you reporting from?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I am standing right now in front of the city hall in Lumberton. I'm on a -- I'm on a sheltered portico. I was just back here. I was getting in the teeth of it. I'm kind of protected. I'm on the lower side of this building. So we are in a pretty safe place here. We're near the police station. There is no power here. They had a backup generator, but that's failed. So a lot of our systems and backup systems have failed, given the strength of this storm.

So where I stand right now it actually is kind of moderate. But if I step 10 feet back I have a hard time standing up. (INAUDIBLE) hurricane force winds, in excess of 100 miles an hour at this point, and it's becoming worse (ph), Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: You are sort of cutting in and out. And that's -- I think really what it is, is just the wind is louder than you are. So we're not really losing you. We just can't hear you over the wind.

And I want to mention that to our viewers who are -- who are listening to your reports so they can bear with you as we kind of struggle with some of the technical issues.

We've got David Mattingly in Galveston, Texas. And the story in Galveston, boy, what a different scene where you are, David. We just got from where Miles is to where you are. And you are not dealing with half of what he is taking right at this moment.

Galveston, a very successful evacuation. And, really, I think it's fair to say, dodged a bullet in what was certainly predicted early on.

MATTINGLY: Yes. That evacuation very successful. Normally, when we would talk to people -- leaders of communities talking about their successful evacuations, they thought if they got 60 percent of their population out, they were doing good. Well, here in Galveston, they got 90 percent of their population out.

And let's say at the time they put out the evacuation order, they were very motivated to do that. This is a very low-lying island. They've had a history with killer hurricanes here. They know what they can do here to this island, and people were paying attention to the warnings. When they saw this storm building in the gulf, turning into the monster that it is, at the time coming straight for them.

If this storm had gone, the eye had gone south of Galveston, that would have put them on the more intense side of the storm, and everything you see happening up on the Texas-Louisiana border right now would be happening right on this island, and people on here would have no place to go. So really dodging a bullet, a very big and very nasty bullet that would have done catastrophic damage to this island.

And a short time ago, I went walking down to check on the seawall again. We were talking about that last hour, that 17-foot seawall. The water is up. You can still see the water is coming up to the seawall. But the waves, there's really not much wave action at all.

We're still getting quite a bit of wind here. And that wind is serving to just flatten this surf out. So it's like -- more like a fast moving (AUDIO GAP) water that's pushed up against that seawall.

But, of course, at 17 feet, that seawall is more than enough to contain the seven-foot storm surge they were predicting here if, indeed, it got that high.

We went into town a short time ago. We were driving around and we did see some minor flooding on some streets in town but nothing to the point where the streets were impassable. In fact, I was surprised at how easily we were able to get around, suggesting that these hurricane force winds did not do a great deal of damage, if they, in fact, did reach hurricane force winds all the way inside the islands.

So Soledad, community leaders here have to be very happy with the way their citizens responded to the appeal to get out of here and also have to be very happy with the job that's ahead of them right now, because a couple...

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