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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Tracking Hurricane Wilma

Aired October 21, 2005 - 19:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Live from Naples, Florida, bracing for Hurricane Wilma, the monster Category 4 storm pounding Mexico and heading this way. 360 starts now.
Good evening again. From the beach in Naples, Florida, a city very much on alert tonight and on the move as well, a mandatory evacuation already under way in parts of this city. At this moment, here's what's happening.

Hurricane Wilma is battering the island of Cozumel. It made landfall as a Category 4. Storm winds 140 miles per hour. A powerful storm that's slowed to a crawl, moving northwest at about five miles per hour. That's creeping along for a hurricane of this size. Cancun and Akumal took a beating when Wilma blew through Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Fierce winds, monster waves taking a toll on the resort area.

Wilma now expected to make landfall in Florida sometime Monday. First, mandatory evacuation orders issued already today. We have got reporters across the Caribbean and Florida tonight: Susan Candiotti in Cancun, Mexico; Lucia Newman in Havana; Gary Tuchman in Key West; and Rob Marciano in Sanibel, Florida. A lot to cover. We'll get to all of that shortly.

We begin in Cancun where CNN's Susan Candiotti has been braving the wrath of Wilma all day. Take a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A relentless pounding of Wilma as it pummeled the coastline of evacuated seaside hotels. About 20,000 tourists put out of harm's way, as residents holed up in schools, and hotel ballrooms in the center of town. Not since Emily in July have conditions been so bad. CNN clocked winds of nearly 130 miles an hour at one hotel. About 40 straw tiki huts on the beach were swallowed into the surf, looking like toothpicks in the waves.

(on camera): There is debris in the roadway. Look at this pole over here on the left. That's a traffic light just bent over, and is sitting on the highway, with the wind and rain whipping around it. The force of the wind strong enough to blow out one of these windows on a hotel balcony. Poles for this fence ripped out of the grounds and it's just whipping back and forth.

Relentless pounding from wind gusts doing a number on what used to be a nightclub. You can see the covering is sheared off. All that's left is the frame. Listen to that canopy at Pat O'Brien's. It almost sounds like gunfire.

(voice-over): Back at a hotel, chandeliers sway precariously from the ceilings, a glass-walled foyer bursts under the pressure. Pieces of sky roof wobbled, cracked and eventually crashed to the floor, one right after the other. And the word is the conditions could last another day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: You know, the landfall might have come about 60 miles south of here at Cozumel, but it feels like that eyewall is right nearby. In fact, it is close, and we clocked the winds here just a little while ago at least 150 miles an hour. The roar is so strong, I can barely hear myself talk.

And we noticed just a little while ago that the palm trees seem to be curving ever so slightly counterclockwise. You hate to give human characteristics to a storm, but Wilma is one mean one. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: I thought you were going to use a different adjective there, Susan. How long has it been -- the kind of conditions you're seeing now how long have they been lasting for and how long do you expect them to last until because this thing is moving so slowly.

CANDIOTTI: Anderson, if you're talking to me, I cannot hear you.

COOPER: All right. That's what I thought. Susan Candiotti reporting from Cancun. Wilma is taking its time, making its way northwest slowly, as I said, about five miles per hour. That is inching along at a pace that's giving everyone in its path plenty of time to prepare. That's perhaps the good side of it. In Cuba they're making the most of the lead time. Here's CNN's Havana bureau chief, Lucia Newman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A loudspeaker announces a hurricane alert is in effect, urging the people of this fishing town in Cuba's southwestern coast to speed up preparations for the evacuation.

EDIBERTO LUGO, BATABANO CIVIL DEFENSE CHIEF (through translator): We're expecting waves of five, six, even seven meters, which poses potential danger for this area, so we're rushing to conclude the evacuation.

NEWMAN: In the city of Pinar del Rio, coastal residents like Mypu Martinez (ph) and her son are relieved to spend the next few days at least in this school, a shelter about an hour inland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two years ago when my son was born, the sea inundated my town, you can imagine the desperation to be surrounded by water, so they say leave, we leave, she says. NEWMAN: In historic old Havana where the rain isn't expected to let up until at least next week, the worst threat isn't flooding.

(on camera): Here the dilapidated, overcrowded buildings, like this one, soak up the rain for days. And when the sun finally comes out and they begin to dry, they often crack and just simply collapse.

(voice-over): Those who are waiting out the storms in one of a thousand state-organized shelters will have food, water and medical attention. What's harder to supply is patience to ride out this slow- moving storm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN: And, Anderson, at this very moment, Cuban state television is broadcasting those very same images we just saw of Cancun and Cozumel, and that's just increasing the angst now. From what we understand, this storm is not going to start moving towards us directly until Sunday although, according to Cuban chief meteorologists, there could even be flooding as early as within the next 24 hours -- Anderson.

COOPER: Lucia, in past storms, has bad has the flooding been? And -- I mean, is it just in Havana or where is the flooding at its worst, usually?

NEWMAN: It's usually at its worst if it's this kind of storm that comes from the Yucatan Peninsula, on the far western tip of Cubs, Pinar del Rio province. But at other times, these storms, which are very fickle, have taken a sharp turn and gone right through Havana, and even all the way to Varadero, Matanzas Province and caused havoc, destroyed hotels, crops -- everything in their paths, so it's really much too early to say that we know exactly where this is going -- Anderson.

ANDERSON: Well, of course, hopefully let's hope the people are able to make the most of the time they do have to prepare. Lucia Newman, thanks very much from Havana.

CNN's severe weather expert, Chad Myers, has been closely tracking Wilma for days now from the weather center in Atlanta. Let's check in with him now. Chad, what's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Anderson, I think for the last hour-and-a-half, this storm has absolutely stopped, which is the worst possible scenario for Cancun and Cozumel. The onshore shore flow now at Cancun, probably 120 miles an hour, maybe a little bit less than it was earlier, because it's interacting with the land, but the onshore flow -- there's Cancun right there, and there is the island of Cozumel, the area and the air.

The winds are blowing right onshore, destroying the seaside area here, all the way here from what they call the hotel zone all the way back up into old downtown Cancun. And then an offshore flow for Cozumel, blowing right into where that downtown is, which is on basically the little alley here, the little -- where the ferry goes back and forth across this, right into Playa del Carmen.

And so as that area and that wind is blowing onshore, 120 miles per hour, for hours at a time, I don't expect that this eyewall that we're seeing here with Susan Candiotti, I don't think that's going to move now for probably the next six or eight hours. The same type of eyewall conditions for six or eight hours -- that's a duration type of damage, where one shingle comes off and then that tears off another one.

And if it would stop, you would be fine but by the time you've had six hours of that, you've lost the entire roof or, for that matter, all the windows in a hotel. The hotel zone is really going to get battered there in Cancun.

The storm does some spend time over the Yucatan, and that may be really bad news for Cancun, but that could be really good news for the United States because the more time it spends away from water or the eye not on water, then that's going to make the storm a bit less strong by the time it gets into North America, or into Florida, at least, so maybe 80, 90 miles per hour instead of a Category 2 at 120 miles per hour. We'll see -- Anderson.

ANDERSON: Chad, at this point -- and I know, you know, it's a point that's far away and hard to tell. You know, where is it projected to go? When is it expected to get to the U.S.?

MYERS: Well, we'll take a look at the numbers. At 2:00 p.m. tomorrow it's still over the Yucatan Peninsula, 2:00 p.m. on Sunday finally getting back into the Yucatan Channel, which is where the warm water is again. So that's why it's bumped back up to a Category 2. And then accelerating quickly by Monday to the shore here. There's Naples, there's Fort Myers. Right up there is Sarasota and Tampa, and so nothing -- none of those cities -- out of the cone of possibility for later on this week.

And the amount of time it spends over water, it's going to get stronger. The amount of time it spends over land, it's going to get weaker.

We'll have to see what happens to those folks in Cancun, because they're in a bad way right now.

COOPER: I can't believe what you said earlier about that eyewall just sitting there...

MYERS: Stopped.

COOPER: ... on Cancun for six -- I mean, that's incredible. Six to eight hours, that's unthinkable.

MYERS: It truly is.

I mean, if it's moving 20 miles an hour, it's a quick blow, you do some damage and it's gone.

But if it sits there for half a day even, I can't imagine the damage.

COOPER: All right. Chad, thanks. We'll check in with you again later on 360.

Still ahead tonight, more live coverage of the fury of Wilma whipping the coast of Mexico, at Cancun right now. Florida Keys just barely above sea level, there's only so much hunkering down they can do -- there's that hurricane word everyone always uses -- hunkering.

The fearful Keys face Wilma as best they can. We'll take you there.

And other people run away from hurricanes; you're going to meet a man who is running toward them. Hurricane hunter, that's what they like to call themselves.

We'll explain ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Your world in 360 now.

Evidence is beginning to mount that Syria was involved at a high level in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al- Hariri last February, and with the evidence mounting, tension is beginning to mount too over how the U.S. and the world ought to react.

In a speech delivered this afternoon at the Ronald Reagan Memorial Library in California, President Bush made reference to a special investigator's report into the Hariri murder that was delivered yesterday to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The report suggests that it is -- strongly suggests that the politically- motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement.

I called Secretary Rice this morning and instructed her to call upon the United Nations to convene a session as quickly as possible to deal with this very serious matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, today as well, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that the U.N. Security Council will consider imposing international sanctions on Syria.

"The international community has to take a stand," Mr. Straw said. That's a direct quote.

Christi Paul from Headline News joins us with some of the other stories we're following tonight.

Hey, Christi. CHRISTI PAUL, HEADLINE NEWS: Hey, Anderson.

A bomb scare disrupted parts of central Washington, D.C. today.

Police detonated suspicious packages in a car near the Capitol building after the vehicle's two occupants said they had an explosive inside. The driver of the car is in custody. No explosives were found.

The mother of the three boys who died in San Francisco Bay has pleaded not guilty to murder. Authorities says 23-year-old Lashaun Harris was seen throwing three children into the water on Wednesday. Relatives have said she's mentally ill, and her lawyer, while declining to comment on that, said Harris is on suicide watch.

The Kansas Supreme Court says illegal underage sex cannot be punished more severely if it's homosexual. The unanimous ruling frees Matthew Longam (ph) from a 17-year prison sentence for having sex with a teenage boy when he himself was 18. Had either of them been a girl, the maximum prison term would have been 15 months.

President Bush and Nancy Reagan dedicated a new exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library today: the Air Force One most used by the former president. During his speech, President Bush likened Reagan's struggle against communism to the current war on terror.

And finally, a story that's one of the 10 most popular on cnn.com -- a carjacker in South Carolina was foiled by a quick-thinking driver and his hot cup of morning coffee. When threatened at gunpoint, the driver slammed the car door into the carjacker's legs and threw scalding coffee at his face. After a scuffle, the suspect ran off.

Well, Anderson, probably no lawsuits against that hot cup of coffee.

Back to you.

COOPER: Yes. No doubt Starbucks will be sponsoring that person very soon.

Christi, thanks. See you again in about 30 minutes.

I want to show you a live shot right now, Cancun, Mexico. The storm has come ashore there in Cancun. Category four storm, very strong winds, in excess of 100 miles-an-hour have been clocked. And it is moving at five miles per hour.

As Chad Myers just told us, it is essentially sitting on Cancun. And the eyewall of that storm is going to be there for the next six to eight hours, he predicts -- an extraordinary length of time. And it's going to be very difficult and there's going to be a lot of damage in Cancun most likely.

The Florida Keys have seen their share of hurricanes certainly. Residents were asked to start leaving the island today.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is standing by in Key West, 109 miles south of where I am here in Naples.

Gary, what's the scene there?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Anderson, 90 miles north of Havana, Cuba.

Beautiful city, Key West, but very vulnerable to the possibility of a major hurricane. The highest elevation here, 18 inches -- yes, inches -- above sea level. And there's one way in and there's one way out.

And that's why this city, the mayor and the councilmen are going door to door trying to urge people to evacuate.

A mandatory evacuation of residents will take place, could be as early as tomorrow, most likely no later than Sunday.

Now, one issue they have here, the mayor and the city councilmen, a lot of the locals who are known affectionately as conchs, named after that delicacy that you eat, but conches very often are very proud and do not want to evacuate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you guys think about this storm?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be a five.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be a five.

Are you going to stay or are you going to leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys are going to stay, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're ready to weather it out?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You conchs don't leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say we're conchs, we're tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're conchs, we're tough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: That was Mayor Morgan McPherson (ph) talking to that family. That family does not plan to leave.

The mayor is also a conch. However, his wife and children have evacuated. He's going to stick around and take care of city business. But very interesting thing about that mayor -- he lived here most of his life, but he's only been mayor of Key West, the city of 30,000, for two weeks, so a lot of pressure on his shoulders -- Anderson?

COOPER: Certainly is.

All right. Gary, thanks very much.

CNN's Rob Marciano is standing by in Sanibel, Florida. That's about 30 miles northwest of where I am in Naples. Let's check in with him now.

Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, a beautiful night here, as it is down in Naples. The Gulf of Mexico, San Carlos (ph) Bay behind me, all is calm.

You know, Katrina, Rita -- they definitely have everybody on high alert this year.

But remember Hurricane Charley last year came through this area as a category four storm and just tore apart Punta Gorda.

Well, as Wilma spins and slows down, the question is, you know. what's it going to do? That's what everybody here wants to know. That's the headline of this morning's paper: "It's Anybody's Guess."

Well, I can tell you that the meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center, they have a pretty good idea and they say it's likely coming here.

So the sandbagging has begun in Fort Myers. Firefighters are in downtown with a big pile of sand trying to load up sandbags for just about everybody down there. They have a new machine this year expediting things.

Things can flood in Fort Myers, depends on the winds and how much rain come in with this storm.

Up the road a piece in Punta Gorda, Florida, where we mentioned Charley came in, that was ground zero last year. FEMA City, where 446 trailers have been in place, where people have been victimized by Hurricane Charley, still over 1,000 people there trying to get their lives back together. They may have to evacuate because depending on the county, will depend on the evacuation.

Here in Lee County tomorrow, all trailer homes south of the river will be on a mandatory evacuation starting at noontime tomorrow. Also, all the barrier islands here under a mandatory evacuation starting at noontime. This is one of them, Sanibel Island.

So, all the bridges to these barrier islands will be under contra flow. All the traffic will be heading inland. That's a good thing because Fort Myers area is one of the worst places as far as evacuating people during a major hurricane, it can take 50 hours to evacuate this area and they're starting about 50 hours before this storm is scheduled to make land fall sometime Monday afternoon -- Anderson.

COOPER: Lessons learned from Katrina, no doubt. Rob Marciano, thanks.

Ahead on 360 tonight, how will the animals in Naples weather the storm? We're going to get the story from, well not exactly from the horse's mouth, but the man who's running the zoo here. They have a plan already to evacuate them.

Also, tonight most people trying to get out of the way of the storms. We'll show you some storm hunters, some hurricane hunters, some of the video they shot from back in Katrina, it's pretty hair raising stuff. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You're looking at live pictures of Cancun. The eye of the storm there has come ashore. The eye wall there. Chad Myers saying it is going to last for six to eight hours. That eye wall just sitting in place, moving about five miles an hour, an extremely slow moving storm, no doubt, causing a lot of damage there right now.

With Wilma on the way, Florida authorities are urging residents here in Naples to get out of the city. Many won't or simply can't.

And there's one group of locals who are hard enough just to get indoors, let alone out of town. They are the 200 inhabitants of the Naples Zoo, just as much in danger as any other Floridian.

David Tetzlaff is the zoo's director. David, thanks very much for being with us. How many animals do you have?

DAVID TETZLAFF, DIRECTOR, NAPLES ZOO: 200 animals of roughly 70 species inside 45 acres.

COOPER: So, do you have a plan to evacuate them?

TETZLAFF: No evacuation. Zoos have to be self-contained and deal with everything on the allotted space that you have.

COOPER: Because there's a danger in evacuating them of killing the animals and stressing them out. There's actually a...

TETZLAFF: Absolutely. You have to think of the animals and the shock to their daily lives and their routines. Certain animals, actually, this might surprise people, you actually leave them in their enclosure. Animals that do not represent a public threat, such as an Impala antelope or say a kangaroo because these are prey animals in the wild and...

COOPER: And how big an enclosure are you talking about?

TETZLAFF: You know, thousands of square feet is what they have.

COOPER: OK.

TETZLAFF: So, there's plenty of area to either hunker down by a tree or behind hill or something, but when it comes to the potentially lethal animals, our venomous snakes, our big cats, those animals go in very secure areas to weather out the storm.

COOPER: So, do you have to move some of the animals into different locations within the zoo?

TETZLAFF: Absolutely. Those of our big cats, our lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, etc., most of them do have access to hurricane proof buildings. I'm talking concrete walls, concrete roof. The ones that don't have access to that, they go in a traveling cage, basically a large cage on wheels, and then they get pushed into a securer area.

COOPER: Do animals and this is probably a stupid question, do they know a storm is coming? I mean, there was all this talk during the tsunami of animals, kind of, having a sense something was going on.

TETZLAFF: Animals do have a sixth sense and I think humans do too, if we have time to use it or try to use it, but with animals, I think, a lot of their attitudes and their, either nervousness or calm, basically falls back on the relationship they have with their keepers and handlers. An animal that has a consistent life and is comfortable is going to deal better with a storm than an animal who is insecure and afraid.

COOPER: So it's important not to stress them out too much.

TETZLAFF: The minimal stress that it would take.

COOPER: All right, well, good luck to you David Tetzlaff. I appreciate it and good luck out to all your animals.

TETZLAFF: Thank you. Appreciate it.

COOPER: All right, thanks.

We have a lot ahead. We're going to check on Wilma's location coming up next. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fierce winds and plenty of fury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see the waves again crashing over you, many of them going up about 20 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurricanes Wilma batters northeastern Mexico. Is this a sign of what's to come in Florida?

Hurricanes are his passion. He risks life and limb for pictures like these, but why? Meet the man who's running towards Hurricane Wilma. 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back, we're in Naples, Florida, tracking the monster hurricane that is taking it's time to make it's way to Florida's coast.

Here's what's happening at this moment. Wilma is pounding the island of Cozumel, where it made land fall as a Category four storm this afternoon. Wilma has slowed to a crawl, moving northwest at about five miles per hour, she's expected to linger in the Yucatan Peninsula for another 24 hours.

Cancun and Okuma took a beating today. Fierce winds, monster waves lashing the resort area. Covering the storm from Cancun and Naples, Florida, my location tonight. CNN's John Zarrella is standing by in Miami. Chad Myers our severe weather expert is tracking Wilma from Atlanta, let's check in with Chad right now -- Chad.

MYERS: And the storm really has not moved at all since we talked last. And it hasn't moved much in about two or three hours. The eye wall, itself, parked itself right over Cancun, Mexico. I can get a lot closer here.

Hurricane Hunter aircraft just in the storm right now. They found a flight-level wind from the northeast, right on this side of the eye wall, 141 miles per hour. Now, you have to subtract a bit, 10 or 15 to 20 percent for what it -- to mix all the way down to the ground.

But that northern eye wall right over Cancun now, right over the old town, right over the hotel zone, itself. That's just getting pounded at this hour.

This actually is a radar from about an hour and a half maybe or so ago, because that radar site is now out of commission. The winds blowing off shore here blowing right into Cozumel or Cozumel or whatever you want to call it.

There's the island. The eye itself went right over Cozumel and it is going to continue to be right on that northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, Contanaroo (ph), right on back until Saturday afternoon, that's tomorrow still, what's that 19 hours from now, finally coming off the island, coming away from Cozumel, coming away from the Yucatan Peninsula.

And then by Sunday gathering some strength. This is warm water here, and then losing a bit of strength before land fall, although we'll have to see.

The longer it stays in contact with land, the slower the storm's going to be. If this thing doesn't get contact with land for very long, gets back out into the ocean, back out into that Gulf warm water, we could probably could have a Category 3 back on our hands.

Right now though still at 140 miles per hour, that's a Category 4, hitting Cancun at this hour.

COOPER: Chad, at this point, is it possible this whole storm could just break apart?

MYERS: If this storm goes to the west or southwest, for that matter, and parks itself over the Yucatan, in fact, it could, it could actually lose all contact with the water and if it does that it could get down to maybe a tropical storm or even a tropical depression, get back into the Gulf of Mexico and come across with maybe 50 or 60 mile per hour winds.

I was just handed, Anderson, I don't think you can see it, but I was just handed the 8:00 advisory, and maximum sustained winds, according to the hurricane center, still 140 miles per hour with higher gusts affecting Cancun right now, just devastating damage.

COOPER: Wait a minute, did you say sustained winds at 140 with higher gusts? That's incredible.

MYERS: Yes, absolutely. That is incredible. That's Andrew-type damage, the damage that we saw with Andrew in Homestead, is the damage right now that's being done in the Cancun area.

Now, a lot of the Mexican homes are made very sturdily with concrete blocks, stucco concrete, even shingled roofs that are concrete as well, but obviously there are a lot of other structures that are not nearly build that well.

COOPER: Have we seen 140-mile-an-hour sustained winds anytime recently? I mean, did Katrina have that?

MYERS: Actually, Katrina had one 175 sustained when it was out here in the loop current and then it obviously went down significantly before it hit the St. Bernard's Parish and then on up into Bay St. Louis. That was down to about 115 to 120 when it made land fall.

COOPER: Wow, that's incredible. All right, Chad, thanks very much. We'll check in with you a little later in the program.

Hurricanes and levees, we want to talk about that, two words in the post-Katrina world that could make a lot of people head for the hills, understandably.

Not all dams are created equal and we just don't know if Wilma will pack Katrina's devastating punch at this point, but for those who live near a levee, there's little comfort in uncertainty.

John Zarrella has been speaking with them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): South Bay, a tiny town on the shore of Florida's Lake Okeechobee, like the other towns around the lake it's protected by a massive earthen levee. The 140- mile-long Herbert Hoover dike.

The dike was built in response to a hurricane in 1928 that pushed the lake over its banks and killed 2,500 people. The government vowed that Okeechobee would never kill again. For years, people here thought they were safe, thought they didn't have to worry about the levee. For many, that has changed since Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're worried about that dike, you know. And we can't predict, because we ain't got no control over that.

ZARRELLA (on camera): How come you're going to leave?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because of the dike. I don't trust the dike.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Jim Hammond works for the Army Corp of Engineers, which is responsible for the Hoover Dike.

JIM HAMMOND, ARMY CORP OF ENGINEERS: We're about an elevation of 32 feet here.

ZARRELLA: Like everyone else in South Bay, Hammond is watching Wilma, but he doesn't see a repetition of New Orleans.

HAMMOND: Absolutely not the same animal. Again, we are at a much higher elevation, above sea level, they're below sea level.

ZARRELLA: But the levee has had a history of problems. It leaks. In the mid 1990's it leaked badly. Sandbags had to be used to plug it up. At the time, Colonel Terry Rice was the man responsible.

COL. TERRY RICE, RET., ARMY CORP OF ENGINEERS: It got serious because we started to see piping, which means actually soil was leaving the levee and it could actually undermine the whole structure of the system.

ZARRELLA: A major rehabilitation project is planned, but hasn't started yet. Until then, excessive rain, which could happen if Wilma continues on its current path, could put dangerous stresses on the Hoover Dike.

An independent engineering study in 1998 found, quote, "At a lake level of 21 feet, a dike failure would likely occur at one or more locations." And, quote, "The potential for human suffering and loss of life is significant."

Colonel Rice doesn't think it's likely, but won't rule it out.

RICE: And if there is a breach that's going to be catastrophic, it going to be a breach near one of the cities like South Bay or Clewiston, because that's where the people live. There is going to be property damage. There would be loss of life.

Is that going to happen? The probability is very small.

ZARRELLA: It may be a small probability, but it's enough to worry people in the small towns along Lake Okeechobee, towns protected by the Hoover Dike.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: Now, there's are a couple of computer models that actually take Wilma right over Lake Okeechobee, but still the Army Corp of Engineers is not worried, don't think Wilma will be catastrophic and not cause them too much trouble.

But yet, they have pre-positioned heavy equipment around the levee. They have also pre-positioned repair materials. And they tell me that just as soon as the winds subside, they'll have teams out, Anderson, surveying just in case there's any damage to the Hoover Dike -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, John, thanks very much. See you again later on this weekend.

Coming up tonight on 360, we've got a lot of ahead.

Ever wonder what being inside a storm is really like? Talk to a man who's been in an awful lot of them.

Also, tonight living in the American state of denial, why millions of Americans choose downright dangerous places to build their homes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just grabbed it, and I grabbed it, and it was just thrashing. I remember like the feeling, it felt like slimy and I was just holding on as hard as I could.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And a little later shark versus surfer. Book makers would have given this surfer no odds. You'll meet someone who beat it. No one beats a great white or do they? You'll meet someone who did just that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Looking at live pictures of Cancun, where the storm is hitting and hitting hard, moving extremely slowly to the northwest at about five miles an hour at this point, likely to stay on land, that eyewall, that northern eyewall just hammering the downtown area where a lot of the hotels are right now in Cancun, just brutalizing, 140- mile-per-hour sustained winds. And we're not talking about gusts; we're talking about sustained winds. That is a monster storm..

I want to bring us back to Naples, Florida and introduce you to Sally and Artie Pratt. They've lived here in 29 years, in good weather and bad, and here they intend to stay, at least that's what they're thinking now. They're here to talk about their decision. Thanks very much for being with us. There's a mandatory evacuation for parts of Naples, but you plan to stay. How long is that decision -- I mean, how long are you going to stay for?

ARTIE PRATT, NAPLES, FL. RESIDENT: We've boarded up our house, and plan to stay. We have a daughter that lives here, so if worst comes to worst we'll move. She lives a little bit more inland, but right now, you know, it's -- prudence is the right ...

COOPER: Do you think it's just too early at this point?

SALLY PRATT, NAPLES, FL. RESIDENT: Yes, it's really too early and we really don't have enough information to decide exactly what we're supposed to. We are supposed to get out under the mandatory evacuation by 8:00 Sunday morning as of now, and we're going to go our daughter's probably at that time, yes.

ANDERSON: Your home is right on the beach about three miles from here ...

A. PRATT: Well, we're inland. We're on inlets, about three miles from where we're standing right now.

ANDERSON: OK, but it's facing water. About how high are you off the water?

S. PRATT: Not that far.

A. PRATT: I'd say -- probably don't want to go there, but I'd say probably five or six feet.

ANDERSON: Have you ever -- have you had flooding before? Have you weathered storm?

A. PRATT: Well, we went through Hurricane Andrew ...

ANDERSON: OK.

A. PRATT: ... which was '93.

ANDERSON: Right.

A. PRATT: And we've been very, very blessed and very lucky.

ANDERSON: Were you in the house for Hurricane Andrew?

A. PRATT: No, we evacuated.

ANDERSON: Oh, you did evacuate.

S. PRATT: No, we haven't had water in the house and we hope we never will, but the roads do flood very badly.

ANDERSON: Is your decision formed at all by what you saw of Katrina? I mean, did that weigh on you?

A. PRATT: I don't think so. I think they have got very good information in the city/county. I mean, we've lived here long enough to listen to what people say. For Hurricane Charley that almost was headed here, we evacuated inland. And, again, I think prudence is the important word. They give you all the information and it's up to you to use it. ANDERSON: So you'll be watching, no doubt, the news reports a lot this weekend?

A. PRATT: Without question.

S. PRATT: Absolutely.

ANDERSON: All right. Well, I wish you both luck. I hope things work out well and whether you leave or not, I hope your house is OK.

A. PRATT: Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: Thank you very much. Good meeting you.

A. PRATT: Right.

S. PRATT: Thank you.

ANDERSON: Just two of the people here trying to make decisions for themselves on whether or not to go. People all over this part of Florida are making those exact kind of decisions right now and watching the weather reports very closely. Christi Paul from Headline News joins us right now with some of the day's top business stories. Hey, Christi.

(BUSINESS BREAK)

ANDERSON: I'll leave it at that. Christi, thanks.

Still to come tonight on 360, we're tracking Hurricane Wilma very closely. We're going to meet a man who -- well, his trouble is his business, basically. He actually goes after storms, hunting. He's a stormchaser. We'll show you some of his remarkable video ahead. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You're looking at live pictures from Cancun, where the storm has come ashore, that northern part of the eyewall hammering Cancun hard and oh so slowly, painfully slowly, six miles an hour or five miles an hour, and it is no sign of leaving anytime soon. It may be over, really for the next 18 or so hours, this part of the Yucatan Peninsula.

I want to introduce you to a man by the name of George Kourounis, who is a stormchaser. He's also the guy who owns the name on the Web site in Canada, www.stormchaser.ca. Is that right?

GEORGE KOUROUNIS, STORMCHASER: That's right.

COOPER: All right. Why do you do this?

KOUROUNIS: I get that a lot. People think I'm either really crazy or they say it's cool. Basically it combines my love of science, nature, travel, photography, all rolled into one. COOPER: Some of the video that we're showing now is from Katrina. You were in Gulfport, Mississippi, a town just completely devastated by Katrina. What was it like being there?

KOUROUNIS: Like nothing I've ever experienced. Katrina was the strongest that I've ever been in. And to actually see the neighborhood around me just crumble apart and just be ripped by the winds, it was just -- it was a surreal experience.

COOPER: You were -- I mean, as we all know, for hurricane coverage, it's all about your location, setting yourself up. It's really almost a science of trying to figure out where to stand, where to sit. You were in a third floor of a garage?

KOUROUNIS: Steel-reinforced concrete parking garage about a half mile from the ocean. Yes, exactly.

COOPER: But at one point in the video, we see you basically on the ground.

KOUROUNIS: That's right. I was moving from one place to another within the garage, and the winds were so strong that you literally had to crawl across the ground in order to not get picked up and thrown by the winds.

COOPER: I mean, you're a pretty light guy. Have there ever been times when you literally felt if I stand up, if I, you know, square my shoulders a certain way, I will be picked up?

KOUROUNIS: Absolutely. There's no way I could have stood up at the height of Katrina. I definitely had to get low, keep the air profile down nice and low. There was no other way.

COOPER: Is there something you see? I mean, for me it's always at the height of the storm, sort of this wall of white that it's -- I mean, it's like -- the only thing I can compare it to is the special effects in a science fiction movie. It's an extraordinary thing to witness up close.

KOUROUNIS: It's like standing in a waterfall that's moving sideways, basically.

COOPER: Hmm, that's an interesting description. Now, you also travel around in this vehicle we have a photo of. It's sort of a high-tech operation. How do you track the storm?

KOUROUNIS: Well, the truck that I have is filled with all kinds of instrumentation for gathering satellite and radar information, all kinds of radios for talking with storm spotters, that kind of thing, and basically ti's a mobile command station that allows me to get to the right place at the right time.

COOPER: Where are you going to be for Wilma, do you know yet?

KOUROUNIS: Don't know yet. I would have been in Cancun if it were possible, but obviously I'm not there. But we'll see. Somewhere up along the coast, not too far from here.

COOPER: All right. George Kourounis. It's www.stormchaser.ca.

KOUROUNIS: Thank you.

COOPER: All right, thanks.

Let's go to Soledad O'Brien, who's been looking into developments on (INAUDIBLE) -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Anderson, good evening to you. Tonight, we're going to keep you up to speed on what's going on with Hurricane Wilma, obviously. Also ahead tonight, at the top of the hour, some fascinating new revelations about one of America's favorite entertainers. Nine months after Johnny Carson's death, secret FBI files are now revealing something that Johnny Carson never wanted his fans to know: His personal struggle with death threats and extortion at the height of his fame. We've got much more on that story. And of course, as we've said, we're going to follow the storm, too, ahead -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Soledad, thanks. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

When we come back, though, a young woman attacked by a shark, and she beat the shark back. We'll tell you how, in her own words. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Let's bring you right to the heart of the storm right now. CNN's Susan Candiotti in Cancun. Wilma is just lashing the coast. Sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. She's with us on the phone.

Susan, what are you seeing?

Susan, if you can hear me, what are you seeing around you?

Susan, if you can hear me, you're on the air. What are you seeing around you?

We're obviously having a problem getting in touch with Susan.

What you're seeing is this storm, the winds, sustained winds we're talking about, about 140 miles an hour, gusts -- wind gusts in excess of that. It's an extraordinarily powerful storm that is lashing Cancun right now, and as we've been telling you all night long, this thing is moving just extraordinarily slowly, five miles per hour. It's a very slow-moving storm, and it is moving in a northwest direction, but it is likely to stay over the Yucatan Peninsula well into tomorrow. The damage, there's no telling at this point what kind of damage. When we talked to Susan earlier, she had been seeing an awful lot of debris on the streets. She'd already seen damage to the beach area. But from what we understand, the northwest part of the eyewall of the storm is right over the hotel area in Cancun. I want to tell you about what -- an incident that happened in northern California. It's not storm-related, but we think you should know about it. You know, we all have our own peculiar nightmares, but we're willing to bet the nightmare more of us share than any other is the one that a young woman, 20-year-old Megan Halavais actually lived through. It happened just this weekend. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Along the Northern California coast, surf was up. Megan Halavais and her friends were out to catch some good waves.

I'm just paddling around, and then all of a sudden, it just hit me, it was just poof, so powerful, just like hitting me. And I thought at first that it was my boyfriend, Johnny, joking me around, because it was like the last thing I would have ever expected.

And then I felt it hit. And I didn't really like -- I didn't really feel the bite, it wasn't a painful like, it wasn't painful at all, and I felt it, and I turned my body around, and I see just like just huge body and like a huge dorsal fin, like right there, and just like realized that like this was a big shark, you know. And just first instinct, I don't know why, I just grabbed it, and I grabbed it, and it was just thrashing.

COOPER: Megan, a lifeguard and college water polo player, wrestled with a shark thought to be a great white as Johnny and friend David Bryant rushed to help.

DAVID BRYANT, FRIEND OF MEGAN HALAVAIS: We both started paddling towards the event, thinking that we will probably have to start beating on the shark if we had to, to get it to let go. We were paddling to get to her, and right when we get under 10 feet away, maybe five feet away, the shark pulled her under, out of sight, completely gone from the surface.

HALAVAIS: It pulled me under. I didn't have a grip, it just pulled me from my leash, pulled me and my board, and then the leash snapped, and my board came up one way and I came up the other.

COOPER: The board was still intact, and luckily so was Megan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She suffered two pretty severe lacerations to her leg. One on her -- the outside the lateral portion of her thigh, and then one down on her calf, but both of the bites went all the way down to the bone, came very close to her artery.

COOPER: After one close call, will she be hanging up her surfing career rather than hanging ten?

HALAVAIS: I figure it happened once, it won't happen again, so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, we have some breaking news to report to you. The 16-year-old boy arrested in connection with the murder of Pamela Vitale in Lafaeytte, California, will be tried as an adult. He's been identified as Scott Dyleski. A nearby neighbor of Pamela Vitale and her husband, Daniel Horowitz, who, as you probably know by now, is a high-profile criminal defense attorney who's appeared on numerous cable shows -- in particular, Nancy Grace had talked to him an awful lot. Bail has been set, we have learned, at $1 million. Police officers have told CNN that Pamela Vitale was beaten to death on Saturday with a piece of crown molding, a Gothic cross actually carved into her back. Dyleski was running a credit card scam, apparently, and went to Horowitz and Vitale's property to recover some marijuana- growing equipment that he had ordered sent to their address using phony credit card information. Authorities are saying the motive of the murder, though, is unclear. What we do know from the evidence, though, is that this young man took a shower after committing this horrific crime. He is now going to be tried as an adult. That's the new information that we have.

We will be having more of this, of course, tonight, on "NEWSNIGHT," at 10:00 Eastern time. For now, though, our prime-time coverage continues on "PAULA ZAHN NOW" with Soledad O'Brien.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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