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Hurricane Gustav Weakens; Interview With Barack Obama

Aired September 1, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from New Orleans tonight, a city where people are finally breathing a sigh of relief.
Tonight, two breaking stories -- first, a tense waiting game, but hope on the horizon. The city of New Orleans appears to have made it through its first major challenge since Hurricane Katrina arrived three years and three days ago.

But, back then, this is right about when the levees started failing. They seem to be holding now, better in some places, worse in others, perhaps, in several locations, holding barely, but the immediate threat is abating. We have seen some seepage along the Industrial Canal, overtopping in some areas, a private levee badly eroding in Plaquemines Parish southeast of town, several hundred homes in jeopardy there, National Guard, local crews trying to shore it up at this very moment tonight.

We have correspondents tonight across the region and in the CNN Weather Center.

Also tonight, Barack Obama in a 360 exclusive on what his campaign is doing to help the area and his take on how the Bush administration is doing this time around.

Along with Gustav, the other breaking story that's upstaged day one the Republican Convention in Saint Paul: word that Governor Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. We will look at the political repercussions and what, if anything, it says about how closely John McCain checked up on the governor before making her his running mate. We will also talk about whether this should be a story at all.

A lot to cover tonight. The blog is up and running. We're live for the next two hours.

And we begin with the storm, last reported 35 miles north- northwest of Lafayette and barely a Category 1. Now, that was from 7:00 p.m. National Weather Service bulletin. We can expect a new one within the hour. And we will bring you an update on that.

Gustav came close enough to threaten this city, but far enough away, it seems, to spare it the very worst.


COOPER (voice-over): The fury of an unstoppable force -- Gustav roared toward the Gulf Coast as a monster storm, a Category 3 hurricane that had already killed some 20 people in the Caribbean, sustained winds 115 miles per hour. Landfall came mid-morning when the eye crossed near Cocodrie, Louisiana, a town about 85 miles southwest of New Orleans.

Although Gustav was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane by then, its destructive power would pound the coastline for hours.

CNN's Sean Callebs was in the middle of it.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The winds have really picked within the last hour. The rain is just pouring down here.

COOPER: The high winds downed trees, power lines, and sent debris flying across the streets of New Orleans and above them, as I find out during a live shot.

(on camera): This has been the largest evacuation -- excuse me.


COOPER (voice-over): The greatest threats weren't only from the skies. They came from the water. Gustav's storm surge crashed into the city's levees, with whitecapped waves washing over the Industrial Canal, sending small amounts of water into the Lower Ninth Ward.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains, the levees should remain stable. Mayor Ray Nagin told CNN of another concern.

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We have two large Navy ships that were in there for scrap that have broken loose. Now, they're pinned against the wharf right now, but if -- if they get loose and they start to bang around on some of those canal walls, we could have a major problem.

COOPER: The hurricane left nearly 500,000 Louisiana households and offices without power. And while the damage could reach into the billions of dollars, New Orleans and dozens of communities were spared the devastation from Katrina.

President Bush commended the nearly two million people who complied with voluntary and mandatory evacuations.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's hard for a citizen to pull up stakes and move out of their home, and face the uncertainty that comes when you're not at home. And I want to thank those citizens who listened carefully to the local authorities and evacuated.

COOPER: By day's end, Gustav continued to batter the Gulf Coast. Near nightfall, there was report a private levee in Plaquemines Parish was in danger of being breached.

All in all, Hurricane Gustav was bad, but, as all of us witnessed exactly three years ago, it could have been so much worse.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: It certainly could have been a lot worse.

We're still getting some heavy, very heavy, rain bands sweeping this area. It comes and goes. We actually may get knocked off the air. It's a strange thing. Sometimes, we're able to broadcast all through a hurricane. But, with the last couple days, we have been watching, these heavy rain bands have knocked us off the air several times.

The rain is so thick at times, our satellite signal simply cannot get through it. So, if we do get knocked off the air, Erica Hill will take over in New York, and will try to come back to us as quickly as possible.

We're waiting now, as I mentioned, for a new update from the National Hurricane Center. We are going to check in shortly with Chad Myers for the latest read on where the storm is now.

But, before we do that, let's go to Plaquemines Parish, just downriver from us about 20 miles, where a private levee is the focus at this hour. It's been overtopped and possibly eroded to a dangerous point, leaving a lot of land and several hundred houses in potential harm's way.

360's Drew Griffin Drew is there, joins us now with the latest.

Drew, what's happening?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you, things were very wild here about 4:00 this afternoon, when a canal that separates Saint Bernard Parish and Plaquemines Parish, it was -- it was blown apart on both sides. There was seepage here on the Saint Bernard side coming underneath the railroad track gate that was closed on the levee.

And on the other side was where the real panic came from, overtopping of the levee. I think we even have some video there. The Plaquemines Parish president was on the radio begging for anybody to come down with sandbags. They didn't have any. And, unlike Katrina, everybody was working together.

And, within about 15 minutes or so, untold agencies were down here with so many sandbags, that they actually solved the problem, and they also opened up another gate to relieve the pressure on that. So, it was for a very brief of moment of time that all those homes were threatened. But I think the real story down here is how well- coordinated all these government agencies are for this storm. That was a complete difference for Katrina.

I don't know if I can still hear you or not, but I just want to tell you about the conditions here. We're still getting pelted, as you can see. We thought this baby would be gone -- gone by now, but it is really still coming in hard -- Anderson.

COOPER: Drew, you have done a lot investigating the situation with the levees. Overall, how did they do? GRIFFIN: I think, at the end of this day, you have to say the levees performed well.

What will -- what will be analyzed, Anderson, was whether or not the levees performed well under a test, or whether Gustav just didn't provide that test that tells us that the levees are indeed much stronger than they were during Katrina.

Certainly, the levees held, whatever you would have to say, and that's all that people care about here. And they're still holding. That big concern we talked about last night, the Harvey Canal, I was there about 4:00, and it was holding just fine. Everybody is, like you said, breathing a sigh of relief, but still holding in some of that sigh, because this is obviously not over yet.

COOPER: Yes. And, also, of course, 12 hours from now, it could be a whole different story. So, we are going to watch that very closely throughout the night.

We will check in with Drew throughout these next two hours as well for the situation now in Plaquemines.

Let's turn now to Lafayette, the storm just north-northwest of there right now.

360's John Zarrella is on the ground.

John, how is it?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Anderson, well, a lot better than it was a few hours ago, but, like you said just a few moments ago, people were really breathing a sigh of relief. And that's certainly exactly the case here. It could have been so, so much worse here.

But Gustav was really rapidly losing its punch by the time it got here to Lafayette, down to a Category 1 hurricane, probably just barely. And, you know, look behind me here. You can see that the water is still very, very high.

Those trees back there, Anderson, that's normally dry land. So, the water came up five, six feet very rapidly. That's the Vermilion River. And down that way, towards the Gulf, is Vermilion Bay. And because of that counterclockwise circulation, the water is still being pushed up Vermilion Bay, up the Vermilion River. So, again, but it seems to have leveled off a bit.

Now, our colleague Ed Lavandera managed to make it about 50 miles southeast of here late this afternoon all the way into Morgan City. And we were very concerned, as you got closer to the Gulf, that there might be some extensive flooding, there might be some bad damage down that way, but, just like it is here, very, very little damage, some power lines down, some power poles down, aluminum awnings that were ripped off, but overall, very little damage all the way down, New Iberia and all the way down into Morgan City. So, this part of Louisiana, at least, some very, very good news, that this storm, again, Anderson, as we have been saying right along, could have been so, so much worse had it actually come ashore as a major Category 3 hurricane.

Anderson, again, about 40 percent of the power is out in the city here, and we did have one death when a tree fell on somebody's house here. That is a tragic story. But city and local officials are telling us, listen, we think we did pretty, pretty well -- Anderson.

COOPER: John Zarrella, try to get dry. We will try to check in with you throughout the next two hours, same with Drew.

With Gustav now inland and dying, Hanna is next, with Ike not far behind, if you can believe it, two more potentially major storms coming.

Let's get now the latest on all three from the Severe Weather enter, CNN's chad Myers.

Chad, it's hard to believe there are two more storms right behind this one.


And you know what? Probably, Josephine just came off the African coast. Now, that is still 10 days away, and it doesn't have a name. It has a number, but not a name just yet. We will focus on the G. Then we will go to the H, then we will go to the I. Here's the G, Gustav, dying as it goes.

Winds are still about 50, 55 miles per hour. We expect it to be downgraded from hurricane status to tropical storm status at the top of the hour, at the 11:00 advisory.

There is an Alexandria in there, Louisiana, and you are getting pounded with very heavy rainfall. Some areas there have picked up almost 10 inches of rainfall tonight alone. There are your squalls, Anderson, in New Orleans, although many of those just sliding a little bit farther off to your east. That may help you out with your live signal for the next couple of hours, although certainly another squall coming through your city not out of the question.

Baton Rouge, you're 27 miles an hour, not so bad -- Biloxi, up to about 37, 38, with a gust there -- and Mobile down into the 20s for tonight. That's the story now for Gustav, as it moves away and on up into Arkansas. Now, we need to keep this thing moving. If it decides to stall, it is going to be a flood maker for the Arklatex right here.

As long as it keeps moving, and it spreads that rain out, that is great news. It's going to have to just keep on going all the way up into Missouri and spread that rain as far as it can. The next storm is the H storm, Hanna. It's already a hurricane. It's already 80 miles an hour, not just a hurricane. And it's forecast to move to the northeast. That's a pretty quick movement, but it could be anywhere from the Carolinas all the way down to Florida. I just don't know yet. It's still too early to tell, because this thing is still going to the southwest. It has to stop, turn around, and then come back at us this way. And that's 100 miles per hour you see right there. That could be near Tybee. That could be Wrightsville Beach. That could be all the way down to Jacksonville and Saint Augustine. We just don't know yet.

We have to wait for it to stop going south, turn around and come back the other way before we know where it's going to head. And, then, for here, this is Ike, Tropical Storm Ike, way out, still, into the Atlantic Ocean. But there's Friday. There's Saturday, 90 miles per hour. Maybe Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, we will see, before it eclipses Florida.

And then let's up it just not get back into the Gulf of Mexico, because it could turn right back up and do the same thing here, right back up in a very Gulf Stream, right into the Gulf of Mexico. And then it could be a Cat 2 or 3. We don't know just yet.

This is still many, many days away, Anderson, and there are still many unknowns, because we don't -- why is it -- why is it such a big unknown out there? Because it's a big open ocean, with no one sending up weather balloons out here. We don't know exactly how the winds are going in the atmosphere here. This is just literally -- for now, five days out, it's a guess.

COOPER: Chad, I want to ask you, just very briefly, about the track of Hurricane Gustav. What made it change? Because, a couple days ago, you had the mayor saying this was the storm of the century. That certainly motivated a lot of people to get out of the way.

There's some concern here among officials I talked to that, you know, the cry-wolf syndrome, that everyone said, look, it is going to be the storm of the century, the mother of all storms, and, then, all of a sudden, it doesn't seem so bad. So, what exactly changed?

MYERS: Well, I think it missed New Orleans by 35 miles. From really New Orleans being in the eyewall, it was 35 miles to the south.

And to predict a storm two-and-a-half days out, when Mayor Nagin was saying, get out, I mean, to miss it by only 25 miles, that's a pretty good forecast. I think the Hurricane Center did amazing with this forecast.

What actually caused that slight turn to the left was a small piece of high pressure that came down from Arkansas, across Arkansas, into Louisiana, and it just kicked it. It kicked it just a little bit to the south of New Orleans.

And we're going to wake up tomorrow from pictures from our affiliates in Houma, in Montagu (ph), and we're going to see a lot of damage. We're not maybe going to the mother of all storms, but we're going to see damage like we're not seeing in New Orleans, like we're not seeing in Morgan City. Houma really took the brunt of this storm, all the way through the bayous, pushed water into Montagu (ph). We know that, all the way up. It was called U.S.-90.

And we don't have pictures of that tonight. We're not going to god down there. It's too dark. We have crews that are going to go there tomorrow. But it's still pretty dangerous to get there. Power lines are all over the place. Trees down across the road.

COOPER: All right.

MYERS: And, basically, the sheriff is saying, please don't come here. It isn't safe.

COOPER: Yes. And there's still a curfew here in New Orleans as well. Mayor Nagin said, look, don't try to come back in tomorrow.


COOPER: But we're going to talk to the mayor live on this program tonight.

Chad, thanks.


COOPER: We will check in with you again.

As always, the blog is open. To join the conversation, go to our new Web site,

Much more hurricane coverage ahead, including reports from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We have not forgotten about Waveland and Bay Saint Louis, all those places we spent so much time in three years ago, which took such bad damage the last time around.

Also, the awkward political questions after revelations that the 17-year-old daughter of John McCain's choice for vice president is pregnant. We will explore the political implications and whether or not we should be talking about this at all.

Also, an exclusive interview with Barack Obama.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I didn't want to be is a distraction just for a photo-op. What we're going to do is examine over the next couple of days the severity of the damage, how we can be most helpful. If I can be helpful by going down there, I will be down there in a hot second.



COOPER: Some flooding damage in New Orleans. Luckily, most of New Orleans has been spared the worst. Again, we're kind of still holding our breath a little bit, want to see what happens overnight. Hurricane Gustav altered the Republican National Convention. You all know that by now. The GOP scaled back today's opening session in Saint Paul, Minnesota. First lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain both spoke from the stage, urging all Americans to help the hurricane victims.

Those sentiments were shared by the presidential candidates as well. Senator John McCain was at a disaster relief center in Ohio.

Senator Barack Obama was in Wisconsin, where he joined me for an interview. I spoke to him earlier, when I was still in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, standing in front of some of the debris that is still in the Lower Ninth Ward from Hurricane Katrina.


COOPER: Senator Obama, in the last several days, I know you have talked to officials at the federal, state and local level. How do you assess their response to this storm?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, clearly, we have learned some lessons from three years ago.

You were there three years ago, and you remember the heartbreak and tragedies that we saw unfold. Every conversation I have had indicates that the state, the federal, and local municipalities have coordinated them -- themselves well.

We have seen the evacuation of two million people, with relatively few glitches. So, I'm pleased, so far, in terms of the response. I just got off the phone with Secretary Chertoff. He indicates that they are now in the process of doing aerial surveys. They are in the process of activating search-and-rescue for people who may not have observed the evacuation order.

But it appears, at least, that so far, we have been doing what we need to do. And I'm very pleased that, so far at least, we're not hearing reports of loss of life.

COOPER: One of the biggest problems last time around was -- was FEMA, the federal government response. Are you confident? Do you believe that the Bush administration has in fact acknowledged and learned the mistakes of Katrina?

OBAMA: Well, the key is that they started planning early, which is something that, obviously, they did not do last time. So, you started seeing buses and -- and evacuation plans in place well before the storm hit.

I was proud of the fact that some of the changes that we made in Congress -- for example, I passed a bipartisan bill on family locator systems -- that was activated during Gustav -- that we had put in place assurances that we would have plans for evacuating people with special needs. That was put in place.

So, a lot of the front-end planning that was done, I think, clearly paid off. But it's a little bit too early to tell whether or not the back end of the crisis, in terms of housing, in terms of dealing with flood damage, if there is any, whether small businesses and homeowners are getting the relief they need right away, whether that's being dealt with.

And -- and the other thing that I think we have got to once again look at is, how are we doing on things like wetland restoration? We can't be going through these kinds of crises every year or every two years.

COOPER: I'm coming to you tonight from the Lower Ninth Ward. Behind me, there is storm damage from Hurricane Katrina. The storm damage folks are seeing behind me now, that's not from this storm. This is from three years ago. It's still sitting out here in the Lower Ninth Ward. It used to be a vibrant community, not a rich economy community -- rich economically, but rich, as you know, culturally and socially.

There were a lot of folks here who are still spread around the United States who would like to come back. Do you think New Orleans has been forgotten, and what would your administration do differently?

OBAMA: Well, I -- it hasn't been forgotten by me, because one of the pledges that I have made when I was a senator, and one of the pledges that I intend to keep as president, is to make sure that we rebuild New Orleans and its vitality and its place in American culture.

There's nothing like New Orleans. And the truth is, is that we have been too slow. There was a report today -- or maybe it was yesterday -- in "The New York Times" indicating that the Road Home program, hundreds of millions of dollars that had not ended up being utilized just because of red tape and bureaucracy.

The American people are generous, and they understand that, during moments of crisis, we need to come together and provide people help. But what we haven't seen are the kinds of efficient programs that get to the people that need help right away.

And one of the things that all of us have to recognize is that a government can't do everything, but one thing it can do is help communities recover after a flood, whether it's in Iowa and Des Moines or whether it's in New Orleans and Louisiana.

And that is going to be one of my highest priorities, making sure that we respond immediately after a storm, but, also, that we're putting in the levee systems and the pump systems that are necessary to survive a Category 5 hurricane, that we're dealing with wetland restoration, and that we are helping people rebuild their homes and their businesses, so that these communities can get back on their feet. We have been waiting too long. The time is now.

COOPER: John McCain was here on Sunday in Mississippi, looking over preparations for this storm. You chose not to come in advance. Why did you choose to do that? And do you have any plans to come in the days ahead? OBAMA: You know, our experience -- this just happened when the flooding in Iowa and along the Mississippi River occurred.

With the Secret Service operation that we have around me these days, what happens is, is that, when we land anywhere, it -- there has to be coordination with local law enforcement officials. And it ends up drawing away resources from people who need to be doing the kind of job that they're doing to help folks on the ground.

So, what I didn't want to be is a distraction just for a photo- op. What we're going to do is examine, over the next couple of days, the severity of the damage, how we can be most helpful. If I can be helpful by going down there, I will be down there in a hot second.

If it turns out that what local officials and those in charge recommend is that we do our work through our Web site and through activating volunteers and donors, that's what we will do. The main thing is to get help to the people on the ground.

COOPER: And, Senator Obama, my final question -- your -- some of your Republican critics have said you don't have the experience to handle a situation like this. They in fact have said that Governor Palin has more executive experience, as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state of Alaska.

What's your response?

OBAMA: Well, you know, my understanding is, is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month.

So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years. And, certainly, in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina of how we handle emergency management, the fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak, I think, indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.

COOPER: Senator Obama, thank you for your time.

OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Anderson.


COOPER: We will have more with Senator Obama in our next hour.

I should also point out that we extended an invitation to Senator McCain to talk about Hurricane Gustav and the response to it. So far, he's declined. It's certainly an open invitation, though.

Next on 360, the latest from the Republican National Convention. And the big news on Governor Sarah Palin's daughter, 17 and pregnant, could it help or hurt the GOP? Or is this a story that the media should even be talking about? Is this off-limits? We will talk about that ahead.

Later, emergency patrol -- 360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with rescue workers looking for any possible victims of Hurricane Gustav -- the latest from the storm zone coming up.



OBAMA: Let me be as clear as possible. I have said before, and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off-limits, and people's children are especially off-limits.

This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president.


COOPER: Barack Obama making it perfectly clear the candidates' families are off-limits. He made that remark after it was revealed the 17-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate, is five months pregnant. That's not the only new development involving Governor Palin. There are also new details about what's being called trooper-gate by some, although, at this point, it's just allegations.

For more on both, let's go live to CNN's Kyra Phillips in Anchorage, Alaska.

Kyra, you went to Alaska to look into Governor Palin's background. A lot is unknown about her on the national stage. There are a lot of stories circulating about her, about her kids. Then, today, there was this story about her daughter. How has it all evolved today?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting to hear the talk around Alaska, Anderson. People are wondering about her values, her character, her parenting. All of that is coming up now.

And we were sent out here, like you said, to investigate her background, trooper-gate. The stories of this child, it started initially with a lot of Internet chat and even pictures that were circulating. The talk was, was the governor's brand-new baby that of her daughter's?

And there was even a picture of the governor circulating, saying, she, look, she's supposed to be six months pregnant, and she doesn't look six months pregnant.

So, once we started asking questions, we hit the ground here, the McCain campaign came forward and made a statement boldly and said, look -- that is -- Trig is the governor's brand-new baby. But here's something else. Her daughter is pregnant. I apologize. I have lost contact with you, Anderson. So, we will try and reconnect with you.


COOPER: No. I'm sorry. No, Kyra...

PHILLIPS: There we go. I can hear you now.

COOPER: I hear you, Kyra. I thought you were tossing to a sound bite. I'm sorry.

PHILLIPS: Oh, that's OK.

COOPER: There's a storm going. It's a little hard for me to hear you.

Governor Palin and her husband released a statement today. And I want to read it out.

They say: "We are proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support."

What's the reaction you have been hearing in Alaska?

PHILLIPS: That's a good point.

Yes, they immediately came forward and made that statement. * COOPER: "... proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support."

What's the reaction you've been hearing in Alaska?

PHILLIPS: That's a good point. Yes, they immediately came forward and made that statement. And after that happened, the talk was, you know, can she be a mom and have five children and keep care of that home and also be the vice president of the United States? And even more so asking the question, is she true to her values? And this is the response that we got.


FRED DYSON (R), ALASKA STATE SENATOR: To me it makes her more human. And my guess is that's how the public is going to react.

GERAN TARR, ALLIANCE FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE: Even in the best of circumstances with the best family and a loving family where they probably had the conversation that this type of thing can happen unexpectedly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIPS: So now there's the unknown, Anderson. Will this revelation affect the McCain campaign, if at all? Even one adviser on the Republican ticket sort of sarcastically said, "Well, I don't know. I'm not a psychic."

And the other topic of conversation, you know, she's a staunch reporter -- supporter, rather, for abstinence in school, not sex education. And now she has a 17-year-old daughter that is pregnant. And other Republican supporters have said, "Well, OK, let's see what she's made of. This is definitely going to put her to the test. And let's see if she is true to those values."

COOPER: It's interesting to hear people saying, well, can she care for her family and her children and also be vice president? You never hear those questions being asked about a man. I mean, I don't know if this is sexist or simply a double standard, but I've yet to hear Barack Obama ask, "Well, can you be a father, take care of your family and also be president of the United States?"

Anyway, what is the deal on this -- these allegations about abuse of power? You know, first of all, just to be fair, anybody can make allegations. The devil's in the details, and you got to see proof. Is there any proof around these allegations, what's happening?

PHILLIPS: I want to talk about Troopergate. But just to emphasize the point that you just made, Anderson, I think whether it's politics or journalism, as women, we always have to juggle so many things: as parents, as wives, as professionals. We definitely, after breaking the glass ceiling, we love having all these opportunities.

But at the same time, you would hear, you know, Gloria Steinem say gender is a huge issue. And there is still a lot of sexism out there, and so unfortunately, that does come forward many times in these discussions. So we'll probably see a lot more talk about the fact that she's a woman, a mom, and trying to become the vice president of the United States.

Back to Troopergate. Well, yet again, another investigation that we've been trying to find out more information. Did she use her political rank to influence the future, or the profession, the job of her former brother-in-law, who is a state trooper?

He's in the middle of a custody battle, or was in the middle of an intense custody battle with her sister. And now these revelations are coming forward about a phone call, about pressure, possibly, that was put on the commissioner to fire this trooper.

We're learning more that she's got an attorney that's representing her now, and there may be a phone call that we will learn more about. So a lot of things coming forward, which we expect, of course, in a presidential campaign about one's character, decision making, values and how it's all going to fold into the outcome of this election.

COOPER: Well, you know, it's not my job to defend her, but I know the response from the Republicans has been, look, a lot of this is just political -- politically motivated attacks on her, and you know, the key is to see facts. Let's hope in the next couple of days we can actually find out what the facts are.

Kyra, I'm glad you're there. Thank you.

Barack Obama reacted to word of Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter, saying that candidates' families are off-limits. We showed you that sound bite.

The story, however, is making news. For more on Palin and the Republican National Convention, let's head up to St. Paul, talk to my colleagues, Wolf Blitzer and John King.

Wolf, how -- how is this story, this pregnancy of a candidate's daughter, playing out?

WOLF BLITZER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Well, a lot of people, Anderson, are certainly talking about it here in St. Paul, certainly, all over the country.

It's unclear how it will -- it will play out. A lot of people will truly be sympathetic to her and to her family. This kind of situation happens in the best of families, as Kyra just mentioned. And I suspect that there will be some who will defend her, will support her, come to her strong support.

There will be others who will say, you know what? There's a standard here for her that she -- that certainly suggests she's being hypocritical, given her stance on some of these issues in support of abstinence-only education, as opposed to full sex education in high schools, or whatever. That certainly is going to be a big debate, a revived debate over that issue.

But it's clearly a subject. I think what is clear, Anderson, is that Barack Obama is very strong statement, saying lay off, lay off the family, especially lay off the children. I suspect that's going to influence a lot of people who normally would have been critical of Governor Palin.

COOPER: Well, let's keep in mind this is a 17-year-old young woman we're talking about who is not in the public eye, never want -- you know, never made any effort to be in the public eye. It does seem kind of odd all of a sudden she's now making headlines.

John, we learned -- what do we know about this, I guess some are calling it Troopergate, these investigations? I mean, anybody can make allegations. What are the facts?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the McCain camp said they looked this very closely, Anderson, during the vetting process. A.B. Culvahouse, a veteran, powerhouse Washington attorney, led the vetting process for the McCain campaign. They say they looked into it, and they are convinced that neither the governor nor anyone in her family did anything wrong.

But there is an ongoing ethics investigation in Alaska. She has hired an attorney about three weeks ago, we are told. And what they're saying, the McCain campaign, tonight is if it were you or me or anyone else, even if you knew you were 1,000 percent innocent, of course you would hire an attorney. We need to let this process play out.

But the McCain campaign is aggressively tonight distributing news clips and other statements which they say makes clear that even officials involved in the investigation say there's no allegation the governor herself picked up the phone and tried to do anything wrong.

Well, we'll let this one play out. Unlike the daughter, which is a difficult family issue, this one is an allegation about public misconduct. The McCain campaign says it is convinced beyond any doubt that she did nothing wrong, and we'll follow this one as it plays out.

COOPER: So Wolf, a senior McCain adviser, Tucker Eskew said, and I quote, "This attorney is part of a week's-old effort to provide this governor defense in a series of outlandish, politically motivated charges."

And how worried are they about these -- these stories that are now coming out about Governor Palin? I know -- I know Senator McCain had only met with her once, I guess, before he seriously started to consider her, and then there was the second meeting.

Are some folks in the McCain campaign saying that she wasn't vetted enough, or are they fully behind her?

BLITZER: No, they're saying that she was fully vetted, that she spent hours being questioned by attorneys and others for the McCain campaign. And they say she has nothing to hide. She welcomes this investigation.

They also are making very serious charges against the former brother-in-law, the state trooper, that I'm not going to get into specifics about, other than to say there was a bitter, bitter custody battle, a bitter divorce. And they say that there were serious problems with this individual who still, by the way, has his job as a state trooper.

But they're saying she is totally, totally clean on this one, and they say they thoroughly vetted it. And they feel pretty comfortable that she'll be able to survive and thrive as a result of this investigation in Alaska.

COOPER: All right. Wolf Blitzer, John King. Guys, thank you very much. We'll talk in this next hour also about what's going to happen tomorrow at the Republican National Convention, if we know. I'm not sure all the plans have been formalized. But we'll try to figure that out over the next hour or so.

Up next, the storm and breaking news about another one of the major canals and new action to try to protect it. Also, Mayor Ray Nagin joins me live for an update on how New Orleans did when Gustav hit.

And later wreaking havoc in Mississippi. A live report from the city that got hit hard by Gustav when 360 continues.


COOPER: Shifting winds, breaking news. We just got word the Army Corps of Engineers they have just closed a flood gate on the 17th Street Canal. Now, we were there on Friday, if you'll remember, broadcasting from -- from those gates. They are massive. They keep water from Lake Pontchartrain from rushing into the canal and flooding into the city. You're looking at them.

The gates take about 45 minutes to shut fully. The Corps says it shut them, because even though the worst of the wind from Gustav is done, the wind that does remain is pushing lake water toward the canal system.

Sean Callebs has more, joins us now by phone.

Sean, explain the significance of this.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is an important step. This is something, perhaps, that the whole cornerstone of the work that the Corps has done. If you remember the giant breaches that happened along the blood walls that led to 80 percent of the city being flooded, a lot of it can be traced back to both the 17th Street Canal and the London Canal, as well.

Seventh Street Canal, they had about a 200-foot breach. What happens is the water is pushed down from Lake Pontchartrain, and it basically flows back the opposite way of the canal. And it eats away at the soil, at the bottom of the floodwall, causing the wall to theoretically collapse.

So they put these flood gates up at the head of the canal, right adjacent to the lake, to keep water from going back down into the canal, theoretically causing some severe problems there.

This is the first time, Anderson, they've had to close the floodgates at any of the three canals where they put these floodgates in.

So right now two of the three canals have had the floodgates closed. The Corps has been very open to discussing this throughout the evening. They say this is something that they had planned upon, if need be. Right now everything is holding. It's working the way it's supposed to.

COOPER: Sean, so really overnight, I mean, it could be a different story in the morning. So we're going to have to watch overnight. We're going to have to watch what happens in the morning, because in terms of storm surge, it can often take that long before we really see the full impact of the storm. Is that correct?

CALLEBS: Without question. And let's also remember that a lot of this soil -- we're talking about earth. And these are areas that are just completely saturated at this point. And with this water moving very rapidly, it could -- it could get moving, causing what the Corps calls scouring in that area. So they're going to have to keep an eye on this throughout the evening, throughout tomorrow.

This isn't something that's going to go away overnight. They're going to have these concerns. They're going to go on.

But I guess the real story is the fact that they spent so much time. Engineers basically threw blueprints down in trailers, trying to figure out how they could do this. This had never been done before with these kind of floodgates in these canals. And right now everything is working.

But these are just temporary. By the year 2011 they want to have these floodgates out and something better in place, because this is a problem that has haunted New Orleans since it's been on the map.

COOPER: Yes, and you've been covering it for the last three years. Sean, thanks again.

We want to take you now to Mississippi, where Gustav has battered the coast, flooding highways, cutting off low-lying communities. National Hurricane Center says the storm surge in Waveland reached 11 feet earlier today. A lot of those homes all along the coast, they have been rebuilt. They've been rebuilt higher.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is 10 miles to the east of Waveland, the Gulf Coast city of Pass Christian.

Kathleen, what's the latest there?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Anderson, folks here up and down the Mississippi Gulf Coast where I grew up, tonight are saying it could have been much worse. But I really don't think you can say that they dodged a bullet.

I mean, look behind me. They were clearly grazed by it. And Anderson, it certainly did draw some blood.


KOCH (voice-over): Lashing winds and a ferocious storm surge wreaked havoc on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In Biloxi, all eight casinos shut down as Highway 90 was submerged by the rising water.

Tropical-storm-force winds pushed a massive tree down onto one home where the family had evacuated. Neighbors lost power but didn't mind, as long as Gustav kept going west.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They can have it. That's ugly. We can send it somewhere else. I don't mind.

KOCH: In Gulfport the winds ripped roofs off businesses, tore down signs, and sent debris smashing through the window of a downtown quick loan business. The wall of another building collapsed into the street.

Police tried to clear potential projectiles, while National Guard convoys patrolled the streets, watching for looters and sightseers. Governor Haley Barbour said keeping order was essential.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: One of the reasons that we have deployed so much armed, uniformed manpower is to protect private property.

KOCH: In Long Beach, utility crews wrestled with tree limbs tangled in power lines. In Pass Christian, the storm surge devoured the small craft harbor, sinking some boats and tossing others onto shore. Two million dollars of federal, state and local funds have been spent repairing it after Katrina. The work was nearly done, and oyster season was supposed to start today.

WILLIE DAVIS, HARBORMASTER: This thing is really going to affect a lot of jobs for a lot of people. Because all the seafood dealers and all the shrimpers and, you know, oyster people and stuff like that, they're not going to be able to go back to work right now, when they should be going to work today. So there's a lot of people going to be affected by it, just right here in the seafood industry.

KOCH: Finally to the west, the towns of Bay St. Louis and Waveland were cut off from the rest of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Both Highway 9, near the beach road (ph) and the one access road were closed, clogged with debris and water from Gustav's relentless rain and storm surge.


KOCH: Now both tonight and earlier today...

COOPER: Nearby in Waveland, Tommy Longo -- go ahead. Sorry.

KOCH: Yes, Anderson. Both tonight and earlier today, I did check in with the good mayor here you just mentioning, Tommy Longo of Waveland. And also, the mayor of Bay St. Louis, Eddie Farr.

And Anderson, they say they're doing fine. They've got some wind damage. They've got flooding in homes. But they say they're OK. They're just hoping that the roads open up so people can -- can start getting back in, perhaps as soon as tomorrow -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Thanks so much, Kathleen. Appreciate that. We'll check in with you again throughout this evening.

Louisiana alone, almost 2 million men, women and kids left their homes, moved to higher ground. 360's Randi Kaye is with an evacuee now in Baton Rouge. She joins us.

Randi, what's the situation there?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Baton Rouge was pounded this afternoon for about six hours. There was a pretty good storm surge. But the good news is, is that there haven't been any deaths to report here.

And also, if you take a look out there behind me, maybe you can see those lights twinkling in the distance. Well, that is the petro chemical ally and it's all the oil refineries along the Mississippi River here. And we're told that so far there hasn't been any damage reported there, either.

But I can tell you, just getting into town, it was quite amazing. Take a look at some of these pictures of the downed trees just in downtown Baton Rouge. Downed power lines. Trees down on power lines. About 30,000 people in town here are without power. The roof tops were ripped off. There was some flooding to report in the downtown area.

And unlike New Orleans, Baton Rouge doesn't evacuate. It's a little bit higher than that city, and they have never actually evacuated. Now, as far as shelters go, there are thousands of evacuees from New Orleans in shelters here in Baton Rouge. They are just trying to get some dry time for their families, some beds, some food. Many people here just looking for a good night's rest, leaving their homes behind.

But not all of the evacuees from New Orleans are actually in shelters. Many of them are staying in hotels. And we're joined by a couple of them, Tammy Arseneaux and her son Donnie.

Now, you are staying in the hotel here -- in a hotel here in town. You did not evacuate during Katrina, but you decided to evacuate this time. Why?

TAMMY ARSENEAUX, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: Well, because we decided to leave as a family this time, and wherever my husband's job needs to go, we go.

KAYE: And when you were in town in New Orleans during Katrina, you were actually -- you continued to work. And Donnie, you went to work with your mom. What was that like?

DONNIE ARSENEAUX, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: It was pretty amazing, because we lost power the first day.

KAYE: This was at one of the hospitals in town.

D. ARSENEAUX: And then during that, they didn't have any air conditioning, and there -- and then on the last day we had patients being evacuated on helicopters.

KAYE: And have you had any reports, you know, anything about your home back in New Orleans at all tonight?

T. ARSENEAUX: No, no definite news on our home.

KAYE: There is some power, though, in your neighborhood.

T. ARSENEAUX: There is some power in our neighborhood. We know that there was no flooding in our area.

KAYE: How would you compare this storm to the last one?

T. ARSENEAUX: Piece of cake. KAYE: Really? Now, why is that?

T. ARSENEAUX: Because I'm here, and I'm not in New Orleans. I'm not at work. So I'm out here. There's not the storm surge to worry about this go around, which we thought there would be, which is why there was an evacuation in so many parishes.

KAYE: Right. And you were supposed to actually start school Thursday and even get your braces on, on Thursday? Doesn't look like that's going to happen for you, does it?


KAYE: No. Well, I know you've been quite a -- quite a storm chaser, too, as well? Right? This is your fifth hurricane at age 12, is that correct?

D. ARSENEAUX: Yes, ma'am.

KAYE: Wow. Well, I hope the two of you get home safe and hope your house is OK. I know your husband is here with you, as well. So hopefully, you'll get back home soon.

And speaking of that, there is actually a curfew here in town in Baton Rouge. It started at 8 p.m. tonight, goes until 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. And I'm told that nobody can return home here in Baton Rouge or back to New Orleans, Anderson, without permission from the parish -- Anderson.

COOPER: We'll talk to Mayor Nagin about that shortly. Randi, thanks.

A lot of people in New Orleans heeded the warnings, the orders, fled the city. But thousands chose to remain, as many as 10,000. Their refusal to move has rescue workers risking their lives to try to save other lives.

360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent the day with them, joins us now.

What did you see?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a double-edged sword, because they're being told to evacuate with everyone else, but they are staying often. And oftentimes, putting their own well-being at risk to take care of people.

I think what was most striking is, you know, that around that 1 p.m. time period when it really started to pick up, they said it was the worst part of the storm, they were still going out. Until they got the no-go call, where they couldn't go out because the winds had sustained over 50 miles an hour, they were still going out, trying to help people who were trapped in their cars, maybe, going to the levees to see if anybody was around that area.

COOPER: So people were calling in to 911? GUPTA: There were calls coming in, and they would go out for those calls to specific houses or automobiles until they got the specific no-go command. But that was only for about a half an hour where they couldn't go out at all. So it was happening pretty significantly.

They also went and saw that lake, that Pontchartrain where so much of the water was so rough. And we visited that area, as well, and saw some of the problems there.

COOPER: What's the biggest danger for the hospitals right now?

GUPTA: You know, I think at this time period and for the next several hours, probably not much, which is interesting, because you expect with all the wind and all the rain there would be a lot of problems.

Actually, it's in the hours and days following. People start to go back to their homes. They start to -- you know, start to repair their roofs. They have damage and stuff like that from that and then they go to a hospital over the next few days.

COOPER: People falling off the roofs and stepping on things.

GUPTA: Yes. So it ends up being things that are sort of, maybe, more mundane sounding, not what you expect. You don't get as much of the debris into people, or people into people injuries as you might think. And because there was so few people in this town right now, it was quiet at some of these house calls (ph).

They did a pretty good job, I've got to say. I was here three years ago, not a good job. This time much, much better.

COOPER: I'll never forget your work at Charity Hospital during Katrina.

We're going to talk to Sanjay in our next hour, as well, look at some of what he saw today, out with EMTs and others in the hospital.

Sanjay, thanks.

Up next tonight, new word on the Plaquemines Parish levee. A good word for the people living nearby. We'll tell you about that.

We'll get an update on, also, all the areas hit hard by Gustav. And we'll be talking live with Mayor Ray Nagin up in New Orleans, telling those who evacuated tonight it is too soon to come home. We'll get details from him.

We're live, 360 from Bourbon Street. Stay tuned.


COOPER: New details on the private levee that has caused a lot of concern tonight in Plaquemines Parish. We're just now hearing the situation is improving. The parish president tells us, quote, "We have stopped the bleeding." Again, he says, "We have stopped the bleeding."

Residents who stayed in the area were urged to evacuate a couple of hours ago because of concern the levee might fail. The -- the parish president put out the call for help. A lot of folks showed up and started sandbagging it. The work, though, continues right now.

All along the Gulf Coast, insurance claims alone are expected to hit $10 billion, making Gustav potentially the fourth most costliest hurricane in American history.

Tom Foreman shows us some of the hardest hit areas.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, let's look at three hot spots today to give you an overall sense of how and where Gustav hit hardest. And we can start in Biloxi, Mississippi, right along the coast.

This is one of the points of initial impact, where the storm went right over this coastal road, Highway 90, about 100 yards inland. We had water, damage to houses, power lines now. At least one tornado reported.

Then when you move over to New Orleans, all eyes were on Lake Pontchartrain up north and this canal. It's called the Industrial Canal. Water is being pushed in from both directions. You saw pictures of it all day. Be concerned because the Ninth Ward is right over here.

Beyond that, about ten miles south, if you flew over the river and the bend in the river, you would come to the Braithwaite area. That's the one that came up late this afternoon, concern about the levees right in here and the neighborhoods down below it.

Obviously, with the river right here, huge concern about it coming in here or off these little private levees and canals off to the side. That's what they were worried about later on.

The other area we have to look at is the general path of the storm. When you look at places like Grand Isle down here, really on the gulf, very low lying. This is easily hit. A lot of rain, a lot of wind.

But further up the path of the storm, as you went to Houma and Lafayette and Baton Rouge, you saw the same thing. The closer they were to the eye, the more they had that tremendous wind power at work, knocking down trees, taking out power to tens of thousands of people, and leaving many people very nervous as this storm passed through. Even now, as they add up the rain, all along the path up into Shreveport, even into Texas, to see what the final tally will be for Gustav -- Anderson.


COOPER: Tom, thanks. In the days before Gustav hit, Mayor Ray Nagin called it the mother of all storms as he ordered the evacuation of the city. People responded to that. Gustav has been less damaging than feared, no doubt about it. Mayor Nagin is breathing a little easier tonight, though he still thinks it's too soon for evacuees to come home.

Mayor Nagin joins me now, live.

Mayor Nagin, how is New Orleans doing?

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Well, Anderson, New Orleans is coming along. I think we are not totally out of the woods, but we're getting very close.

COOPER: What are -- I mean, the coordination, anyone who watched television could tell the coordination between you, the state and the federal government was completely different than it was during Katrina. What are the biggest lessons you learned, the biggest things you could do this time that you couldn't do back then?

NAGIN: Well, you know, with any event like this, having resources and, I think, having resources coordinated. So from the federal government to the state government locally, we had everything coordinated. We had a good plan. We had practiced it, and our citizens responded -- responded. And therefore, you saw something that was very well executed.

COOPER: Where are the points of concern tonight and over the next 12 hours?

NAGIN: Well, right now the last bit of storm concern I have is with the rain. And also there's supposed to be another storm surge on the west bank near the Harvey Canal, which is one of our weak points.

Other than that, it's just a matter getting the city ready to receive our citizens again. And we're going to start those assessments and repairs first thing in the morning.

COOPER: So you're saying right now, folks who are staying in hotels or shelters, they can't wake up tomorrow morning and drive back here?

NAGIN: No, I wouldn't advise that, because you know, we have downed power lines. We have trees. Our sewer system is not working. The hospitals still have skeletal crews. We still have a lot of work to do.

But Anderson, I would anticipate on Wednesday we can start to receive some of our key businesses and then, hopefully, Thursday or Friday our citizens can come back.

COOPER: Are you worried that people are going to see the pictures of levees holding and the response of this storm, which was a lot better, and say, "Well, you know what? New Orleans doesn't need any more help. New Orleans seems pretty much on its own, seems fixed. They don't need much more federal money"? Are you worried that, because it was a success or seeming success at this point, that down the road it's going to be harder for New Orleans to try to rebuild the levees to the level that you still need them to get to?

NAGIN: Well, I hope not. All we've proven thus far is that we can evacuate effectively and we can handle a Category 3 storm that was downgraded to a Category 2 once it hit -- once it hit landfall. We still have not gotten the big one yet and tested the levees full for the -- where we have a 100-year storm. So we still have a lot of work to do, and I think people will support us.

COOPER: Mayor Nagin, you got really criticized the last time around. You should also get praised when you do a good job, and I'm sure a lot of folks will be coming up to you telling you you did just that. A lot of people very appreciative of the coordination that they saw between you and the state and the federal government.

NAGIN: Thank you.

COOPER: And we appreciate you joining us tonight.

NAGIN: Well, thank you, Anderson, and we appreciate you helping us.

COOPER: Just doing my job. Mayor Nagin, thank you very much.