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Hurricane Coverage of Gustav: Gulf Coast Bracing for a Killer Storm

Aired August 31, 2008 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hurricane Gustav, a Cat three killer heading this way.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: You need to be scared. You need to be concerned. And you need to get your butts moving out of New Orleans, right now. This is the storm of the century.

COOPER: New Orleans locked down. Hundreds of thousands have fled. But have the lessons of Katrina been learned? Is New Orleans ready for Gustav?


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone, I'm Anderson Cooper. I want to welcome viewers around the world who are watching on CNN International as well to a special edition of AC 360 live from New Orleans, from the French quarters. A city largely deserted, a city whose future could hang in the balance tonight.

And I just want to tell you literally over the last four or five minutes or so, the sky here has just turned black. It is not supposed to be so dark so early. Literally, three or four minutes ago, we suddenly saw, I'm assuming, the outer bands of this storm starting to move in.

That's a live shot of what we are seeing and this sky is getting darker and darker by the second. And this is ominous, indeed. This is literally as if nightfall has suddenly occurred.

Over the next two hours, we're going to give you the most complete coverage of what is happening with Hurricane Gustav. The outer bands of the storm, apparently they weren't supposed to come until the next several hours from now, but perhaps over the next two hours or so, we're going to be seeing some dramatic developments.

Hurricane Gustav has already killed some 20 people in the Caribbean. It is just now starting to rain. And that, of course, is the beginning of it all.

The storm is getting close. You just need to look at the sky to tell you that.

Within the next two hours of our broadcast, we may begin to feel some very strong winds indeed. You can see the winds actually starting to blow, the trees are starting to blow. This is not what we expected, frankly, for several more hours.

With Hurricane Gustav headed this way, we have reporters fanned out throughout this area. Among them, Gary Tuchman is in the Ninth Ward; Abbie Boudreau is monitoring the homeless situation, people who may have remained in New Orleans. As many as 10,000 people may still be here; Ali Velshi is in Grand Isle keeping a watch on Gustav's impact on oil drilling in the gulf; Wolf Blitzer is in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where Gustav has altered the Republican National Convention already; also, retired general and CNN contributor Russell Honore, who got into recovery after Hurricane Katrina, joins us; and Chad Myers is tracking the storm for us.

Chad, I got to tell you, it is a little bit shocking to see what is happening right now. What is going on?

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: It's there, Anderson, and there's a tornado warning south of you by about 10 miles with this same cell. And it's a big cell. It's coming in from the east. It's going to be right on top of you, probably within the next 15 minutes. Probably less.

I'm not exactly sure where you are there in the city. But you need to be taking cover, not so much away from the winds or damage, but you're going to get an awful lot of rainfall with this.

There's those cells coming in from the east across New Orleans. I assume you're probably right there. The tornado warning is well to your south. The circulation, the potential tornado is down near bell shock (ph).

This is way, way south of you, but still people do live down there. I hope no one is actually still there right now. So that tornado warning is going to go probably about the next 45 minutes or so.

We'll keep you advised. You need to be getting all of your crews ready for this impending storm. They're coming in probably the next few minutes.

There is Gustav here. The very latest numbers, 115 miles per hour. That is the 8:00 advisory now. It is getting closer to shore and as it does get closer to shore, then they'll start pushing big winds, big waves on shore, maybe water into Lake Pontchartrain. Maybe that reverse flooding again possibly as we get water in Pontchartrain, water wanting to come out some way. It can't go out through the west. It has to go out somewhere else.

We do look like we've got 115 mile-per-hour landfall south of New Orleans. That is the good news, south of New Orleans. But New Orleans is on the right side of the eye, probably somewhere in a Category one wind, not a Category three wind.

That will be reserved down here to Houma. And then all the way back up to Lafayette, this is going to be the area that gets pounded with the wind. The problem is, Anderson, because you're on the right side, not only will you be getting an awful lot of the wind on the storm surge as well, but you'll be getting rainfall.

New Orleans could pick up 10 inches of rain. And if those pumps can't keep up, there could be flooding, fresh water flooding from rainfall not from the storm surge itself. An awful lot of things can go wrong and probably many will that we haven't even thought about yet -- Anderson.

COOPER: And tonight --

MYERS: Anderson, I don't have you.

SANCHEZ: All right. I'm going to pick you up, Chad.


SANCHEZ: I'm being told now that we've lost Anderson's picture, so we're going to be continuing to take you back to the French quarter whenever we can.

Pardon me, I just sat down moments ago when I was told that we lost that shot.

The area that did not flood during Katrina, an area largely deserted tonight.

Let's go to Drew Griffin. He's standing by now with more information.

We've been keying in on these levees and that's really what we want to find out about. And I'm noticing, too, Drew, that you already got some rain coming in. There's some serious rain bands. Where are you? Describe your location and take us into the story about the levees.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, before we get to that, we just lost the -- I think that was a transformer that locked. It's unbelievable. Just within the last five minutes, I'm now just getting in here, there's sunshine and then this band came down.

I'm looking up. Before we get to the levee, I want to pan over and you're going to be able to see (INAUDIBLE) it's showing (INAUDIBLE).

Now, the big question is those levees. And the levees (INAUDIBLE) failed. They have been pushed to the (INAUDIBLE) roll back up. They are spending millions and millions of --

SANCHEZ: Obviously we're having a tough time listening to Drew. This is amazing. I mean, I left my desk -- let's go ahead and lose the picture of Drew if we can.

I feel bad. But you know, I know he's got the report that he's prepared for us and he was trying to take us through this situation.

The upshot of all of this is that when I walked away from the set a little while ago, we didn't know that the weather was going to turn so suddenly. And we'll bring Chad back into the conversation in just a little bit. But all of a sudden within the last five minutes, the system has apparently blown through New Orleans.

It's taken Anderson off the air. And as you can see, we tried to go to Drew and it's taken him off the air as well. What it doesn't stop us from doing is this -- going to Drew's report that he diligently prepared for you on exactly what the effect could be on these levees.

Let's go ahead and roll that now if we could, Raj (ph).



GRIFFIN (voice-over): Now living in a new home in the Lower Ninth Ward, Valeria Schexnayder says after almost three years of work, three years after Hurricane Katrina wiped her neighborhood out, she has no faith this new wall protecting the Lower Ninth will hold.

(on camera): There's the levee right through the wall.

VALERIA SCHEXNAYDER, NEW ORLEANS: That is the wall over there.

GRIFFIN: And that's what you're telling me is built to the same old standards?

SCHEXNAYDER: The same old standard it's built. And I really don't have that much confidence in it that -- in which if a hurricane comes and it's something like Katrina again, a Category four or five, it will not hold.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): This is a story about a life-saving barrier and the confidence or lack of it, of those who must depend on it. Here on the other side of town, a report out this year says this levee might not hold in a disastrous storm, even though it was built up and strengthened.

And a local TV station found in rebuilding the flood wall here in St. Bernard Parish, workers substituted waste newspaper for the sponge rubber material that was supposed to be used. The Corps of Engineers says it is not a structural integrity issue, but it certainly doesn't help anyone's confidence.

Three years after Katrina, billions spent on repairs and improvements and New Orleanians are left wondering if they are any safer.

SCHEXNAYDER: If something like Katrina hit again, we will be washed out.

GRIFFIN: Could that possibly be true? No chance says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hope Task Force leader, Karen Durham-Aguilera.

KAREN DURHAM AGUILERA, TASK FORCE LEADER, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: What we do know that we got a hurricane this season, we're far better off than we were when Katrina hit.

GRIFFIN: Even critics agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Orleans is safer. We want it to be even more safe.

GRIFFIN: And that is the big question. How safe is New Orleans and how safe should it be? The American Society of Civil Engineers sent this letter to the Army Corps, basically saying the levee system surrounding New Orleans is being built too low.

The engineers point out that dams and bridges are built to withstand catastrophes that happen only every thousands of years. While the levees, well, they're being built to withstand only a so- called 100-year storm. The answer from the corps -- that maybe a good thing to talk about down the road but right now, the goal is to withstand a 100-year storm. And just reaching that level of protection is still three more hurricane seasons away.

DURHAM-AGUILERA: We can't go fast enough. I mean, this is an incredible amount of work to do in a relatively short amount of time. So all of us who live here hope we don't get another hurricane for a few years so that we can continue to improve the system and get more work in the ground.

SCHEXNAYDER: Almost three years and we're still looking like Katrina down here.

GRIFFIN: Back in the Lower Ninth, because so many of her neighbors' homes floated away, Valerie Schexnayder now has a clear view out her back window of that new levee wall, the one she can only hope will hold the next once in a lifetime storm.


GRIFFIN: Now, Rick, that's the dilemma. They need the levees to be built in the higher standards now. Obviously, they just ran out of time.

And here on the West Bank is an even bigger problem I'm going to tell you about in the next hour. But again, if you can hear me now, Rick, this thing just popped up. This is a live shot and it's really starting to feel like a hurricane.

SANCHEZ: Yes. You know, I was just, during the break or during your report, I turned around and screamed at Chad back here who's handling the weather for us. And I said, look, is this just a system that's isolated, or is it part of the storm itself? And you should know, Drew, and he said, yes, these are the outer bands of Hurricane Gustav making their first entrance into New Orleans proper.

Drew, good job. A yeoman's work out there. Sorry we had to interrupt you at the beginning there. We just couldn't hear what it is you were saying.

Here's what's interesting about this. What's interesting about this is these outer bands could already begin to knock out electricity in some parts of town. Well, why is that important?

It's part of the message that we've been talking about since we've been on the air explaining what you have to do as a citizen to try and get away from this thing or deal with the consequences. The consequences are, as General Russell Honore joins us, are, that you may not have power or electricity as early as tonight.

LT. GEN. RUSSELL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You could 12 to 15 hours, sometime 18 hours before the actual eye come ashore in Louisiana, you can lose power, you lose television, you lose your situational awareness, you lose your air conditioning. So those people who stayed behind, if their electricity blinks and it probably won't come back on, because the workers who will do that have been evacuated waiting for the storm to come in and then come back in.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that's what's interesting. You think, well, you know, it might be a flicker and they'll probably get it back on. The workers are gone. They're not coming back until things settle down, right?

HONORE: Right. I mean, the power companies they are holding their forces back and the big impact now are those people who stayed behind. And as we saw before Katrina, lights go out 12 hours before landfall. Now, that pain is going to be spread from Houma, Louisiana, all the way up to Baton Rouge and into Lake Charles. People could start losing power as early as first light in the morning or during the night.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you -- let me have a conversation with you, because I think it's the one that a lot of people want to hear, about what's going on with these levees.

You heard my interview with H.J. Bosworth, who is an expert, who says, look, they really didn't do much. They bolstered them, but they possibly or probably aren't where they should be to withstand a Category four or five hurricane.

You saw that report that Drew filed right now. People are out there, writing to us, and saying why can't we get this right? Why can't we structure these levees in such a way to stop hurricanes from being able to flood the city? Your answer?

HONORE: OK. We started focusing on this after Katrina.


HONORE: After Katrina, the focus on where were the breaks. So we went to the place where the breaks were. And when I say "we," I'm talking about the city government.


HONORE: Because a lot of these are collective decision on what should be done when, based on if there's another hurricane coming after Katrina or weren't coming a year after Katrina. So the focus is on the 17th Street Canal. They focused on that area down in St. Bernard Parish and down in Plaquemines Parish where the Mississippi River levees broke.

So if you concentrate on what was broke, then you go back into places like the vicinity of the Lower Ninth Ward and you go to -- they put a superstructure levee in there. That is a fine levee. The problem is, again, is there's so much time, there's so much work that can be done, and there's so much time and space and tasks.

SANCHEZ: Let's be clear to our viewers. The levees that were affected by Katrina are not necessarily the levees that would be affected by this particular storm...

HONORE: Absolutely.

SANCHEZ: ... but it's coming in at a different angle.

HONORE: Absolutely. So you fix what was broke based on Katrina, that's where you fund it. That's where you get the priority. That's when people want to get folks back into the Lower Ninth Ward or get people back in the lake area. So that's what you fix first. But you got over 300 plus miles of levees in the New Orleans, Plaquemines or St. Bernard Parish alone.


HONORE: We're talking about -- and some of them are private levees. Some are owned by states, and some of them -- the primary levees at Caldwell (ph) is a Mississippi River levee.

SANCHEZ: Yes. That really adds clarity to it because I think a lot of people when they hear these conversations about levees, they're thinking to themselves, well, you know, why can't they fix that one levee or that other levee? It's not one levee. It's a series of levee and there's many of them, and they are very complicated.

Stay there, general. We're going to come back to you in just a little bit.

Let me let you know what's going on with Anderson Cooper, by the way. It was a surprise to all of us here when suddenly we lost a picture because these outer bands of Gustav started coming into the area around New Orleans.

Our producers are telling us or telling me in my ear here from New York that they made contact with Anderson. They can see him just fine. We're just trying to fix the audio connection now.

And as soon as we do that, hopefully we'll do that in the next couple of minutes during the break, we'll come back in just a little bit and Anderson will continue his programming. If not, you're stuck with me.

Meanwhile, Wolf Blitzer is going to be coming up in just a little bit, too, to bring us an update and a lowdown on this complicated situation that Republicans find themselves in, whether they're going to go have at least a part of their convention while at the same time be sensitive to all the goings on that's going on there in the gulf coast. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: -- often referred to it here in the broadcasting when we show you exactly where the hurricane is and where it seems to be heading. Let's do this. Let's go over to Chad Myers.

Chad, you know, this thing suddenly came full force and nobody expected it would be there. At least our crews didn't expect it would be there as soon as it was.


SANCHEZ: What exactly is going on in New Orleans?

MYERS: You know, you can always get an outer band that come around and when it comes around, you're not going to be ready for the very first one. Now they're going to be ready for all the successive ones that are coming through.

This was a wave of weather and I'll show it to you on the radar in just a second. There's our live shot. We're still working on the audio. We have the video and everybody is just fine. But we did have wind gusts there through the downtown -- wind gust all the way down even through Jean Lafitte (ph) and the areas there.

The spin of the storm was never in New Orleans. The spin was down to the south and, in fact, the wave of the south, where I don't want anybody to be anyway, that's where the tornado warning was itself. And we didn't get any updates on it. We did see a little bit of spin but now probably down toward Larose, that's where the spin will be right now.

In this little notch through here, I'm finding a tiny bit of spin. I think more than that, this is going to be a 40 or 50 mile- per-hour wind gust that blows through that very well could produce some problems with power lines down already. And there you go.

We talked about this, Rick. We've talked about it. Your power lines go down now. You're going to be a long time in the dark -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: You know what's interesting? As we look at this, we almost think that the hurricane is too far away to have an affect on us at this point. And you, general, we're just mentioning a little while ago, no. I mean, this is when this kind of stuff starts to happen and when it happens, people are literally left in the dark. Right, Chad?


SANCHEZ: I mean, the 50 mile-an-hour winds is enough to do this kind of damage.

MYERS: That's right. You hit a tree, a tree hits a power line and then the power lines are down. And now, the winds aren't going to go down. They're only going to go up from here because the storm is going to get closer and closer and closer. And so, if the power crews aren't going out there and put those lines back up, you're done. If your power's out, well, you can't hear me anyway. Your power is not coming back until the end of the storm.

SANCHEZ: Go ahead, general.

HONORE: Also, when those bands increase to 75, 80 miles an hour, which could be eight, 10 hours before the storm, expect the cell towers to start going down.

SANCHEZ: So then there's no communication with cell phones?

HONORE: Right. So the things you depend on to talk with, to watch TV and to listen -- so it's important for those who have stayed behind who still have power, make sure you've got the radios or batteries ready so they keep situational awareness, because this thing will start shooting off tornadoes and you want to go to the safest place you can if you decide to shelter in place. It's very important throughout the night.

SANCHEZ: Chad, you still there?

MYERS: Yes, I am, Rick.

SANCHEZ: You know what I think people -- when I'm sitting at home and I see that there's a hurricane that seems to be heading for a particular area, what I always want to know is, where is it going and how far will it be from where I live?

MYERS: Right.

SANCHEZ: Can you give us if this storm stays on the projected path that it's on right now, and I know it can change, I'm not trying to assure anybody of anything, where would it go through and how far would that be from New Orleans?

MYERS: We're probably talking now left or right on the area of the storm no more than 25 miles. So we know where it's going now.

It's going to go right over Houma, which is well south of New Orleans. But that still puts New Orleans on the east side, on the north of the bad side of this hurricane. So the winds at 115 won't be quite to New Orleans. They will be -- they'll be confined down here, well down south of New Orleans but it will drive itself right on up and all the way through the back -- all the way up into Lafitte.

Let's bring it back here. Oh, let's go to Google Earth. OK. I'm just yelling at here.

Here's where the winds that we're talking about here from the forecast trek. I kind of put it all in perspective.

There's New Orleans right there. Category one, may be a Category two wind gust in New Orleans. That's OK. You can deal with that.


MYERS: You can deal with 75, maybe lose a couple of windows but you're not going to lose massive amounts of building or building material because of a 75 mile-per-hour wind gust. Down here, Category three, four, and possibly a Category five wind gust, that's where you're going to lose an awful lot of structures. You're going to lose everything.

We're going to talk about this little area down here, where most of the oil that comes off the Gulf of Mexico in these very deep waters comes into this little port right there. We're going to talk about that and how that can really affect our oil coming up in the next few days, because this storm is forecast with a Cat three or Cat four sustained winds, a Category four gust for sure, which means 150 miles per hour.


MYERS: That's going to knock down most everything. I mean, it's a gust but it only takes a gust to do the bad stuff, right? And it's right over the shipping port, right through there, the oil from all the deep waters, all the deep water wells all has to come through here.

My boss, Peter, said, great. The oil that you use that comes through you and goes to your tank has to change planes right there. And that's where all the water, all the air comes in, and all the water comes in. This water level is going to come up. We're going to lose an awful lot of structures here in a very important oil importing area there across Louisiana.

SANCHEZ: Chad Myers, we thank you so much. Good detailed explanation.

General Honore, thank you as well.

I understand we've been able to reestablish contact now with my colleague, Anderson Cooper, who we lost there, we lost technically, I should say, for quite a little while. We got him back. There he is.

Anderson, take it away.

COOPER: Yes, Rick, thanks very much. A little storm, I guess, hit us a little sooner than we anticipated. Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu is with us.

Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us.

Is New Orleans ready?

LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU, LOUISIANA: We're as ready as we can be. I think the evacuation up to this point has been really good. Everybody has been cooperating. There's has been a lot of good communication between the federal, state and local officials. And the people have responded really, really well. But as we like to say --

COOPER: Completely different from Katrina?

LANDRIEU: Well, it's been very different. I mean, a lot of mistakes, you know, have been corrected. A lot of lessons have been learned. But, again, you know, which really we're trying to transmit to people who are still here, this is not a storm to play around with. This is a very bad storm. We expect that the damage is going to be very significant.

We really can't predict at this point in time whether it's going to be a three or a four, but it's going to hurt. And so, you know, people need to move.

This was just the pre-game. And I think we're as well prepared as we can. But you know, the storm is the real game. And so, we'll see how well prepared we are tomorrow when it hits us.

COOPER: And, do you know how many people are still in the city -- in the New Orleans area?

LANDRIEU: Well, in the New Orleans City itself, based on the estimates of the police chief, we think about 10,000 statewide. We think the numbers reflected. We have been able to evacuate about 1.9 million people. There are two million people there.

COOPER: That's more than 90 percent of the population?

LANDRIEU: Yes. That's more than 90 percent of the population, but that means there are probably still 100,000 people. So tonight our message is, you know, you've got a very small window to move yourself out.

It's been a clarion call from everybody from top to bottom. Now is not the time to think that you can ride the storm out, so please go ahead and get out of here. You've got a little bit more time left but not much.

COOPER: How worried are you about the levees, particularly these levees on the West Bank? I mean, all of the attention has been on other levees. They have really not been tested. They weren't really tested during Katrina.

LANDRIEU: Yes, there's no question about it. I mean, there's really no way to know. I mean, we're all a little bit nervous. This storm is hitting us from the other side this time. And the way the storm's moving, it gives us some concern which is why we're being so vigilant about continuing to ask people to get out.

But you know, up to date, everybody has been doing pretty well. Everybody has been listening and the response from the rest of the country has just been terrific, and we're very thankful for that.

COOPER: We've been following very closely the work on the levees over the last three years. But these West Bank levees really have not -- they haven't been worked on.

LANDRIEU: Well, that's true. First of all, they weren't damaged during Katrina on the West Bank side and so their focus hasn't been there. And the levees that aren't being repaired are still not completed. Those weren't scheduled to be completed for...


COOPER: 2011.

LANDRIEU: The projection is until 2011.

COOPER: Right.

LANDRIEU: So we have a huge amount of risk here. And the most important thing, of course, is saving people's lives. People can do that by getting out of the way. The loss of property is another thing, and you're not going to know about it until the storm actually hits and we'll see what kind of ferocity it hits us with and exactly will at landfall.

COOPER: What about law enforcement presence of National Guards? I mean, a lot of folks have already been deployed.

LANDRIEU: Yes, that's true. We have 1,750 National Guards deployed in New Orleans alone, which is twice the size of the New Orleans Police Department. And in partnership with the NOPD and the fire department, of course, all of the law enforcement department in the metropolitan area we feel very good. They've done a tremendous job and everybody is really gearing up and ready to go.

All of the assets are deployed and we're ready to respond, we think, to whatever is going to happen. But, of course, these are very unexpected events and, you know, every hurricane is different. We just don't know until it hits, but we're expecting pretty severe damage at this point and hope it doesn't happen.

COOPER: At this point, though, if someone hasn't evacuated, it's too late?

LANDRIEU: Well, I think you got a little bit more time, but you're getting close, like, in the next half an hour, 45 minutes. And once tropical storm winds start coming in here, we're expecting those later tonight, you're going to have some very difficult times.

And the governor has been very adamant about this, as has the mayor, as has Secretary Chertoff, that, you know, the problem is, if you stay and this storm is really as bad as we think it is, we may not be able to get to you in a brief period of time. And, of course, depending on what kind of damage we have with downed electric lines, of trees, or damaged housing facilities, it's going to be a very difficult time for a couple of days for us.

COOPER: You heard today from Obama. You heard today from --

LANDRIEU: I did. The governor and I both have received a number of calls from -- President Bush called the governor this morning. Senator McCain has called, Senator Obama has called, Senator Biden had called -- all of them to express their concern for us and their well wishes and, of course, to offer assistance they may have, as have governors from across the country.

We have had personnel from the National Guards from every state in the union call us, and it's just been a terrific thing. And, you know, of course, on behalf of the people of the state we are really thankful to the people of America. They've really been great. We appreciate it.

COOPER: Lt. Gov. Landrieu, we appreciate you taking your time to talk to us.


COOPER: Thanks a lot.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

COOPER: Good luck.


COOPER: Our coverage is going to continue over the next, well, hour and a half. And then our Rick Sanchez is going to take it over from Atlanta.

We're going to try to stay on the air as long as we can through this storm, through the night, and well into tomorrow. Really the crunch time is probably going to be very early in the morning tomorrow.

We're trying to scout out some various locations where we think our truck might be safe so we'll all be able to be out live, continue on the air all through the worst of the storm. But as you can tell, it is very hard to predict.

You saw the storm approach right at the top of this hour, knocked us off the air. That was actually just very thick rain bands. Literally our satellite could not get through the thick rain that was falling and that's why we got knocked off the air.

We'll try to stay on the air throughout this next hour and a half of this 360 special. When we come back, we're going to talk, go to Wolf Blitzer and look at the political side of all of this -- a major effect on the Republican National Convention the storm has already had. We'll talk to Wolf about that, coming up.


COOPER: The storm is almost upon us. Gustav is affecting the Republican National Convention as well.

Our Wolf Blitzer is watching them rewrite the script, literally as we speak, in St. Paul, Minnesota. We join him now.

Wolf, what's going on?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's a major, major change. I've never seen anything like this before, Anderson. The Republicans have decided that they're going to go forward with opening their convention here in St. Paul, Minnesota but it's going to be very, very abbreviated. They'll do what they have to do legally to get the ball rolling. But it's up in the air exactly how far they can go.

The only thing we know right now is that tomorrow, Monday, they will gavel the session in, they'll do some preliminary business credentials, stuff like that and then they will immediately recess. The president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, they were supposed to be coming to St. Paul. Both of them have canceled to be on top of hurricane Gustav.

As far as Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are concerned, they're going to see what Gustav does and whether or not it will be appropriate to resume the schedule in some sort of fashion. The only other legal business they really need to do is do the roll call to formally nominate John McCain as their presidential candidate; Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, their vice presidential candidate. They'll do that at some point.

They're really hoping that the damage won't be as extensive as feared and they'll be able to resume the convention on some sort of way on Tuesday or at least on Wednesday. But it's something that they're assessing. Clearly, Anderson, it would be inappropriate to see dancing and partying and hoopla going on while people where you are, in New Orleans, along the gulf coast are suffering.

I will say this, there's a brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll that literally has just been released, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and it was taken completely after the Democratic convention in Denver and after John McCain announced that the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, would be his running mate.

Just to give the context -- last week, the polls showed before the convention, 47-47 for Obama and McCain; in our brand new poll, 49 for Obama, 48 for John McCain, which suggests there really has not been much of a bump for Barack Obama as a result of his convention in Denver last week. And it also suggests that a lot of people out there are sort of pleased that Sarah Palin was selected by John McCain as his running mate -- fascinating numbers. We'll continue to watch all of this. We'll stay on top of the political story.

And I'll leave you with one final point, Anderson. What's happening where you are, potentially could be a game-changing event depending on how it unfolds, what's going to happen with the Bush administration, how McCain responds, what Barack Obama responds. It's one of those potential a game-changing political events in the race for the White House. So, there's a lot going on here and we'll stay on top of it for you and all of our viewers.

COOPER: It's a remarkable week both on the storm front and on the political front. Wolf, thanks very much. We'll check in with you in the next hour.

President Bush says that the levees protecting New Orleans are stronger than ever. But frankly that doesn't give a lot of confidence to people going on here. John King is watching the levees and the threat they're about to face. He's actually watching it from the Republican convention post in St. Paul, Minnesota wit the magic map.

John, what can you show us?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, unfortunately, we have to use our map for this purpose, but it does have the technology. I want to bring you in here.

First, you see the path of the storm here, Chad Myers outlining it earlier. So, I want to take you in, all these blue dots off in the water here, these are natural gas and oil drilling installations. And you can see the path of the storm, that is a major threat to the all these oil and gas-producing sites right here.

But let's move in on the city of New Orleans, Anderson, as you are there today. I'm sure you're revisiting all your memories from before. And three years ago, these were the problem areas, these orange circles along the map. These are where you had breaches or breaks in the levee system before. There's Lake Pontchartrain up here, the Industrial Canal that comes down, and, of course, right here, the Lower Ninth Ward which was devastated and remains devastated. This was the area that took the punch of Katrina three years ago.

I was just listening, you had Lieutenant Governor Landrieu on, and the forecasters all think, the threat this year, because the storm path is down here, the threat this time could be these other levees, to the west of the city and further south of the city. So, you see the Mississippi River coming through here and you could see the river bends and twists, and comes all down in here, additional levees that could be tested, again, depending on the path of the storm and where the punch from the turn comes.

And as you come back out here, you see the path again; the red line here is the projected path of the storm up to Lafayette up here, to Texas, of course, Beaumont, Texas over this way, Baton Rouge here. So, as we watch this storm, the pain of Katrina was up here. The question this time is if the storm stays on this path, is more of these levees to the south and west of the city.

But as we continue to watch it, as you full well know, if the storm takes an unexpected turn or the punch reaches as far north as the lake, that is a key question here. Have all the repair -- is all the repair work down here up to standard to withstand this new storm? It's a big political debate, Anderson. At the moment, though, the big question is not the politics, but the safety.

COOPER: And that, John King, appreciate that. The safety, that is, of course, a huge issue. As you just heard what the lieutenant governor say, there may be as many as 10,000 people still in the city of New Orleans. Now, over the last couple of years, the homeless population in New Orleans has actually kind of exploded. And whether or not those folks and many others who are in dire circumstances even in the best of times, whether they have actually evacuated, that is an open question. We've seen on the buses, that the city and the state have organized -- which they never had by the way, during hurricane Katrina -- as many as 15,000 to 18,000 people have been taken out by bus or by train. So, early on, about three or four days ago, they said they had 30,000 people who might need taking out. So, again, they simply do not know the exact numbers of how many people are still remained.

Abbie Boudreau has been finding some folks who are living on the streets who've decided not to leave. She joins us now -- Abbie.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATION UNIT: Anderson, I'm actually standing in an abandoned house in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. And charity groups are concerned that homeless people might be trying to ride out the storm in buildings just like this.


MIKE MILLER, UNITY OF GREATER NEW ORLEANS: Hello, hello, homeless outreach.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): It's after midnight and Mike Miller's job just got started.

MILLER: Hello, hello.

BOUDREAU (on camera): Oh, wow. I mean, it looks like someone could very well be living here right now.



MILLER: Hello, hello, homeless outreach.

BOUDREAU: Come, look at this.

(voice-over): Miller works for Unity of Greater New Orleans.

MILLER: Watch out for nails.

BOUDREAU: A nonprofit group that helps the homeless.

(on camera): Watch out for the glass right here.

(voice-over): We go from one abandoned house to the next...

MILLER: Obviously he's not here now. And now he's got is dog food.

BOUDREAU: ... in search of anyone left behind.

Do you think homeless people will try to ride out the storm in abandoned buildings like this?

MILLER: Oh, yes. Absolutely, absolutely. BOUDREAU: Miller fears not enough has been done to help evacuate the estimated 5,000 people who live in abandoned buildings.

MILLER: Many homeless people who stay in and out of 71,000 abandoned and blighted properties, how do you find those people? Many people of those will be missed? And is that the kind of thing you can only count after a body toll?

Hey, my friends.

BOUDREAU: Then we meet this man, the only one left under the bridge.

MILLER: (INAUDIBLE) whereabouts.


BOUDREAU: And in this park, just five homeless people, where Miller says there were 35 two nights before.

Are you scared what might happen if you wait it out and the water comes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't scared of nothing. There ain't no water coming.

BOUDREAU (on camera): What did you say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not going to happen.

BOUDREAU: It's not going to happen?


BOUDREAU: Oh, it's going to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to Texas.


BOUDREAU (voice-over): Guitar Mike, as he calls himself, says he spent three days in jail for staying in an abandoned house. Now he's back on the streets. And like his friend, Mack, he doesn't seem too concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went through Katrina, like I said. I survived that one. If it does happen, I'll survive this one.

BOUDREAU: Frustrating for Miller, who offered to drive everybody we met to the bus station himself.

MILLER: Get on that bus. How you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up, my man?


MILLER: I've been looking for you, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up? How you doing?

MILLER: Where you been at, man?


BOUDREAU: Only this guy takes him up on it.


BOUDREAU: Now, part of the problem is that in buildings like this, they actually survive hurricane Katrina. So people think, maybe this is a good place to actually ride out the storm.

But, Anderson, it's the worst possible place to get ride out a storm. Just take a look at it. It's falling apart. These buildings are old and they're rotting and it's probably one of the most dangerous places that you could be in during this storm.

So, we're just hoping that people got out and that they're not just hiding out in places like this -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. And they are certainly hard to find, they stay off the grid.

Abbie Boudreau, thanks for that.

Coming up: Susan Roesgen checks in at children's hospital. A lot of hospitals have decided not to evacuate. At this point, it is simply too much effort, too dangerous to move some critically-ill patients, we'll talk to Susan.

Also, we'll check in with Chad Myers to hear the latest track of the storm, the rain has stopped a little bit. We got hit hard by one of those outer bands of the storm. Now, we'll in a little bit of a lull and we'll be right back with our continuing coverage of hurricane Gustav.


COOPER: And welcome back to this two-hour special on watching the approach of hurricane Gustav. Now, we all remember how vulnerable hospitals were during hurricane Katrina.

CNN's Susan Roesgen has been at the children's hospital where the emergency plan, code gray, has just taken affect.

What does that mean, code gray?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That means they're ready for just about anything that's going to happen. They prepare for this and they are going to evacuate, Anderson. If you can believe that, they're going to stay here, they believe they're going to be safe enough to ride out the storm.


ROESGEN (voice-over): Tracey Bailey (ph) can't bear to tell her son Cameron about the hurricane that's on the way. Four-year-old Cameron had heart surgery just 10 days ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He knows that there's a little storm coming but as long as I'm here, he's happy, he's calm.

ROESGEN: In 50 years, New Orleans Children's Hospital has locked its doors only once and that was when hurricane Katrina forced them to. This time, the hospital plans to stay open no matter what.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of those situations for us, if every time when a hurricane came to the community or a threat of one, we moved all our patients, I think we would find that some of our patients wouldn't survive.

ROESGEN: When the hospital staff knew a storm was coming, they were ready. The hospital has food and water and generators to keep the power going for three weeks and a backup plan, just in case.

(on camera): Now, if worst comes to worst, and the hospital has to evacuate, here's something it didn't have in hurricane Katrina, a helicopter landing pad.

(voice-over): But the doctors and nurses who volunteered to stay have no intention of evacuating the patients or themselves. There are 80 young children here now, more than half in critical care.

You don't want to leave them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. We're attached to a lot of the babies here. So, it's important not to.

ROESGEN: Claire Drehans' (ph) son, Jude was born prematurely with a heart problem. For the duration of the storm, parents are allowed to stay at the hospital with her children. That's a comfort to Claire and her husband.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's been through a lot of stuff. This is going just to be going another chapter in the book of his life, you know. So, that does give us some strength and some comfort.

ROESGEN: A chapter with an uncertain ending.


ROESGEN: Actually, Anderson, there are 600 people, if you can believe it, staying at the hospital. That's 80 patients plus parents, plus doctors, plus nurses, plus all the support staff. Also, they got a police presence there and firefighters. So, they really think they're going to be OK. And we're going to stay with them tonight, all night, and ride it out with them.

COOPER: Are they an area that's flooded in the past?

ROESGEN: You know, actually, they're in one of the high spots in New Orleans. It's 12 feet above sea level, unlike places like this, that's below sea level. So, they believe that even though they ride out against the banks of the Mississippi River, they won't flood. And if they do, they'll evacuate up to the higher floors.

COOPER: Let's hope so. Susan Roesgen, thanks very much. Stay safe over there (ph) this night.

Next hour, we're going to hear from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He, of course, worked a lot in the charity hospitals during hurricane Katrina. We're going to look at the status of hospitals, other hospitals in the eye of the storm.

We're also going to talk to Ali Velshi who is out in Grand Isle, one of the outer banks really, one of the first places that may get hit. We're also going to talk to him about the economic impact of all this, particularly on the oil industry.

Our coverage, though, continues and we'll check in with Chad Myers for the latest track on the storm. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We've already over the course of this -- last hour of coverage have begun to feel the some sort of outer rain bands of this storm.

Let's check in with Jacqui Jeras in the CNN weather center on the latest on where exactly hurricane Gustav is now -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, about 206 miles away from you right now, Anderson. You're going to continue to see the frequency of these bands come in. It's going to happen more often and they're going, each time likely, become more intense as well.

So, the tropical storm force winds have arrived at least in gusts and the sustained tropical storm force winds really could be arriving at any time. This is a very large storm and those winds extend out well over 200 miles from the center. So, it's certainly beginning to move in on you.

The hurricane hunters are flying into this storm, as we speak, sampling the atmosphere and sending down drop zones and getting a good measure on what the storm is doing. You know, intensity forecasting is one of the most difficult things. And this is the only way we know for sure just how strong this is.

Now, every little bar that you see here, these are wind observations that are taken every 30 seconds on this flight. It's taken off from Homestead Air Force Base. They're not out of Biloxi like they normally are. And we think that's probably because they wanted to get out of the way of the storm. It's color-coded. So, everywhere that you see the orange here, those are winds of at least 60 miles per hour or more. And notice, all of that is in that northeastern quadrant or that dangerous dirty side of the storm that we talked about.

All right. All of these silver measurements that you can see here, these are the actual instruments that they drop out of the plane and we got an animation here to show you how that works. It's like on a parachute and as it drops down through the storm, it takes measurements like pressure, wind speed, wind direction, and temperature. And it will do that at different levels of the storm.

So, it will go back to the recon flight. And it will show you 953 millibars. That is lower than the most recent obs (ph) that we've been seeing, Anderson. And so, that's an indication that this storm could be getting stronger and as a result of that, we could watch those wind speeds increase over the next several hours -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, Jacqui, around what time should we really expect the worst of it to come ashore?

JERAS: Well, I don't think you're going to see the hurricane force winds until, probably, overnight tonight into early tomorrow morning. The sustained tropical storm force winds are really beginning to push onshore right now.

Yes, we have some breaking information here. This is a brand new tornado warning we want to tell you about -- Ascension Parish, also Baton Rouge Parish, including the cities of Oak Hill Place and Baton Rouge. So, a lot of folks who left New Orleans and went to Baton Rouge, and they need to be seeking shelter immediately, getting to the lowest level of the building that you're in, away from doors and windows, and seek shelter. That's until 8:30 p.m. -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jacqui Jeras, thanks very much. Appreciate it (ph).

We'll continue to stay on the air as long as we can. The Louisiana barrier island of Grand Isle offers a very good vantage point on gulf oil production. It is a lousy place to be in a hurricane, particularly this hurricane.

Let's check in with Ali Velshi who is there.

Ali, what's the situation on Grand Isle?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Grand Isle, Anderson is mostly evacuated at this point. Almost everybody who is going to leave here is gone because this storm is tracking toward us and it's hard to get off from here to an island with one road out of here. This is as south as it goes for these parishes. This is Jefferson Parish. Folks are already out of here.

There's two things that go on here. There are oil workers here, and there are shrimpers. The shrimp boats come in here and they get their shrimp in for processing and then they get back out. Well, those shrimp boats have moved north of the intercoastal, closer to you now, to ride out the storm, although, who knows whether that's much safer. The oil rigs have been evacuated. According to the Department of Energy, about 96 percent of oil production in the gulf is shut down. There's still some going on in the western gulf. But that is a quarter of all the oil produced in the United States is now shut down.

There's a pipeline that goes from here to Chicago. Its' 1 million barrels per day, that is shut down. About 50 percent of all the oil that is imported into the United States, and you know how much that is, that is shut down because that all comes in the Port Fourchon, which is just a couple miles away from me.

So, oil facilities are shut down around here. They're secured. That process has stopped right now.

Most of the people have evacuated. This town has about 1,500 people at the best of times. About a quarter mile behind me, just behind those houses that you see is the beach. That's the Gulf of Mexico. The surf is up there. If you stand there, you can see about 24 rigs right with the naked eye.

There are about 4,000 of those in the Gulf of Mexico, Anderson. But they're all evacuated because the oil companies don't want (INAUDIBLE) and the Department of the Interior insists that there's nobody on those rigs, and they're sealed off. So, if damage is done to them, those wells don't leak into water out into the Gulf of Mexico.

So, the situation here is we're expecting those bands to hit us fairly soon and folks aren't taking chances, we happen to be at a house that's been fortified and built up for the hurricane-strength force winds. We're hoping that actually that turns out to be the case -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ali, we'll try to come back to you as often as we can, the weather permitting.

In the next hour of our continuing coverage from here in the French Quarter in New Orleans, we have folks fanned out all around this area.

Drew Griffin is going to examine the levees, not just all the levees in New Orleans, but in particular, these levees in the west bank which are of such great concern. Mayor Ray Nagin is saying the levees there have actual gaps that they haven't been improved there. These levees have not been tested. They weren't tested in hurricane Katrina. And that is where the storm and that storm surge may be coming hardest.

Let's also check again with Chad Myers and Jacqui Jeras for the latest on the storm track. And again, we have reporters fanned out and we'll talk to General Honore, who led the recovery effort in the wake of hurricane Katrina. We'll talk to him, get his expertise on what is being done now.

We'll be right back. Our coverage continues in a moment.