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Hurricane Gustav: 170 Miles from New Orleans

Aired September 1, 2008 - 04:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: We understand that the estimate is about 10,000 people are left in New Orleans. We have been talking to some of them this morning. They have various reasons for sticking around. Some of them even we saw in a bar smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and shooting pool, if you could believe that.
Louisiana National Guard has set up command centers in the city as well. Still looking for some of those holdouts, trying to help them if they can. They've been broadcasting evacuation messages in English, Spanish, as well as Vietnamese.

I will turn to my partner, Reynolds Wolf, who has made it in here and been covering this storm all weekend with you. And here we are again covering it some more, Reynolds. But that point I talked about, some people here, oh, it's going to the west of New Orleans, it's not going to be a direct hit, that's a good thing. That is not a good thing.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. I mean, like, you know, we were talking the other day, it's kind of like a prize-fighter -- a right-handed prize-fighter. I mean, you want to watch out for that right hook. Well, this storm moving a little bit more to the west of the city, it's going to be -- for example, that line is going to be going west vicinity, which is the latest path. The National Hurricane Center brings that direction.

We have a prize-fighter swinging back and going, hitting on the right-hand side. That is essentially what is going to happen with New Orleans. They're going to get the brunt of the wind, the brunt of the -- of course, the rainfall. They're going to catch the real fury of the storm as it comes ashore.

You'll remember, during Hurricane Katrina, that passed farther off to the east. So New Orleans at that point wasn't even a direct hit when it came to Katrina. It actually just got the weakest side of the storm. And you -- how can you possibly forget the damage that you had there with that storm back in -- just a few years back.

Right now what we're seeing is the storm again chugging its way to the northwest. The latest path we have from the National Hurricane Center, T.J., shows the storm with those winds of 115 gusting to 140. It's about 174 miles from New Orleans.

You'll notice the winds right around the 120 miles per hour as we get to 8 a.m. Monday. And the forecast brings it just due south of New Orleans. And then you'll notice the storm deeper inland. And when it's away from its primary power source, that warm water from the Gulf of Mexico, it's going to begin to weaken.

And as we fast forward into Tuesday, and then even into Wednesday and Thursday, you'll notice very little movement, in fact, T.J., you can see three days of this storm moves roughly less than 100 miles, and that's when the water is really going to begin to pile up.

You're going to have a real threat, not at all from the winds, because those will begin to subside, but that water is going to begin to pile up. You'll remember what happened with Fay in parts of Florida and Alabama, and even into south Georgia, imagine that really happening in places like, well, northern Louisiana, and especially in far eastern Texas, where you really can't handle that kind of rainfall.

It's going to be interesting to watch and see what happens. And it's going to turn into a huge flooding story.

Something else we're seeing at this time, if you happen to be tuning in, say, from New Orleans or maybe even Baton Rouge, you're seeing some of the outer bands beginning to move right through parts of the French Quarter.

A few French Quarter -- a few scattered showers here and there, a few raindrops. Heavy precipitation remains offshore. The strongest winds on the way and they'll be there at least by mid-morning.

T.J., that's the latest I've got for you. Back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Reynolds, we appreciate you. We know you're keeping an eye on it. We will be checking in with you a lot.

WOLF: You bet.

HOLMES: We'll see you here soon.

Our Chris Lawrence, we've been checking in with him also this morning, these overnight hours. He has been up all night, still up in New Orleans there with New Orleans Police.

And once again, set the scene for us, and the scene is one of a ghost town.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: T.J., it's almost like something out of a movie, like some apocalypse scene out of some weird movie. If you think of a city this big, this empty, literally we can look at -- you know, we can look uptown, we can look downtown one way, and it is the same thing all over.

About the only thing you'll see on the street is occasionally there will be a Humvee going by that some of the National Guard and then some of the New Orleans Police cars. We just saw a K-9 unit go by just a few minutes ago. And they are still on the street.

And even though we have heard from some officials that they are treating everyone on the street like a criminal, you'll be arrested on sight, we've seen a little -- a lot more discretion. Officers still able to use their common sense in the field.

There were some people earlier who were packing up to leave, got a very late start, sun had already gone down, well past curfew. But they were clearly getting their cars ready, putting some stuff in their cars to get out of town.

And the officers, you know, obviously did not arrest them, asked them if they needed any help, and, you know, just moved on with their patrol. It is a very different scene than what we saw three years ago.

I remember being with a group of police officers literally under siege on their rooftop. I remember in the middle of the night, shots whizzing by us, the officers returning fire, just an incredible amount of fear and anxiety from the officers' point of view.

This time around, very calm, very cool, very professional -- T.J.

HOLMES: You know, that's a good thing. And I'm glad you can actually give us those two different scenes. You have the perspective from three years ago and you're getting it now, a much different scene, a much better scene.

Chris Lawrence for us, we appreciate you this morning, buddy.

I want to turn now to Ronald Dufrene (ph), he is one of those that we've been talking to this morning that has just refused to get out of the area. He is a shrimper there in Lafitte, Louisiana.

Sir, we appreciate your giving us some time. Now I've started with everybody that I've talked from the New Orleans area who has decided to ride it out, the first question I've been asking them is why?

RONALD DUFRENE, SHRIMPER: Creature of habit, I guess. You know, it's just -- been doing it for so long now I just -- you know, just since I was a child.

HOLMES: Now, when you say -- yes, you say you've been doing it so long, I assume you're from that area. How long have you -- really, how many years have been going through this to where you -- you see these storms come and go and you're still standing?

DUFRENE: I've been shrimping in this same boat right here since 1980. You know, we've -- me and my father (INAUDIBLE). And I feel just as safe and as comfortable on this boat as I do anywhere else, you know?

HOLMES: Now has there been any -- or was there any point when you got the forecast -- you've been watching all of this coverage about this storm, was there any point where you actually considered, OK, this one looks pretty serious, looks pretty bad, maybe I should take off this time?

DUFRENE: I mean, the thought is always on your mind, you know? I guess it's never a good choice. We worked on the last minute, with the city, sandbagging most of the (INAUDIBLE). And lot of times it's too late. And I sent my family out.

HOLMES: But what does your family think about you sticking around? You said you've sent them out, you're certainly concerned about the storm, you're concerned for their safety, they have to be concerned for yours?

DUFRENE: (INAUDIBLE) you know, I did -- (INAUDIBLE) my daughter, you know, she (INAUDIBLE) my wife left last night (INAUDIBLE) away to my father's house. And you know, I kind of (INAUDIBLE) you know, she just didn't want to leave. She didn't want to leave me, you know. She didn't want to leave because she was scared what would happen to me. And she wanted -- she didn't want to stay, she didn't want to go, you know?

HOLMES: Now is there any...

DUFRENE: I mean, she rode out storms on here, you know, as a child with, you know, the last, I guess, 10 years they've been evacuating, you know. (INAUDIBLE) she hadn't been keeping them.

HOLMES: Let me ask you one more thing here. Again, like you said, you've been through this so many times before, so many years. Is there anything about this one that seems different, feels different, in the coverage you've seen?

People have certainly gotten out now, and certainly we had Katrina three years ago, but is there anything that feels different or a little scarier about this one at all to you?

DUFRENE: It was pointing right at us, you know, a couple of days ago when it crossed Cuba, you know, it kind of jumped back at us, you know. And it got your attention, you know. And officials were a whole lot more concerned than normal it looked like. I rode Katrina out about three years ago in the same place.

HOLMES: All right. Well, Ronald "Jug" Dufrene, riding this one out. He has ridden them all out before. He rode out Katrina. Sir...


HOLMES: Go ahead, sir.

DUFRENE: I have a couple of buddies (INAUDIBLE) a good friend of mine down south of me, about -- I guess about 30 miles south of me. And they are riding it out in a house. It's pretty well-built, but I'd rather be on this boat than in a house (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: Well, Jug Dufrene, you've been through it plenty of times before. We appreciate you giving us some time here this morning. But thank you so much and we wish you the very best in riding this one out as well.

DUFRENE: I sure appreciate it.

HOLMES: All right. Well, there you go. We've heard so many different stories and different reasons for why people sticking around -- excuse me, riding out this storm. We have another one here, another man refusing to evacuate. Says he is not going to leave his home.

This story is going to get to you. I've seen this one, about a man, he was actually caught in Katrina with his wife. Lived through that one. CNN's Gary Tuchman with this story. You don't want to miss this one.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russell Gore knows there is a mandatory order, but he is not leaving.

(on camera): How long have you lived in New Orleans?


TUCHMAN: And how old are you?

GORE: Fifty-two.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): He's a proud New Orleanian whose reason for not evacuating is sad and startling. The reason involves this woman, his wife of 18 years, Cindy.

GORE: She meant the world to me, man, the whole world. That was everything to me.

TUCHMAN: Russell lives in this home in New Orleans East. It's the same home he rebuilt after it was destroyed during Katrina. He and Cindy were going to evacuate then but he saw cars not moving on the interstate.

GORE: Everything was just crowded and jammed up. And we went there looking and thinking about it. You know, we've got a brick house. We can withstand the wind.

TUCHMAN: But floodwaters started pouring in the house. At first it was only a foot. Russell told Cindy to climb up these stairs into the attic.

GORE: And about 10 minutes later, man, she started begging me to come up in the attic because water had reached my waistline. Ten minutes later, man, I had like almost nine feet of water in my house.

TUCHMAN: Russell and Cindy Gore were trapped like so many people in New Orleans three years ago.

GORE: I jumped up and ran, grabbed her, and sat her down, and I said, Cin, don't panic. I said, Cin, we're going to be all right. She sat down beside me, next thing I know, I was talking to her, she leaned over and she was dead. I did everything I've seen on TV that they do to survive a person, and tore her shirt off, beat her in the chest, breathe in her mouth, she was gone.

TUCHMAN: Russell says doctors told him she died from stress. (on camera): So, Russell, how long were you up here for?

GORE: I was up here a day-and-a-half before she died. And I stayed here a day-and-a-half after she died.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Russell was rescued by boat. He's an artist and photographer who is currently helping give food and water to the poor and homeless in New Orleans. One would figure after all he went through, he'd be gone.

GORE: No, I'm not planning to evacuate.

TUCHMAN: He knows he should have left the first time with Cindy, leaving without her gives him a feeling of guilt. Today is the three- year anniversary of the day she died.

GORE: I guess, when I'm on the other side of life, I'm not on the beginning side of life, I'm on the other side of life.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Why not just go, go away for a couple of days and come back?

GORE: This isn't a party, dude. This is personal. Until you have someone that really -- that you loved like I loved, die in your arms and do without, it's just like losing a son on the battlefield.

TUCHMAN: Do you feel like you owe it to her to stay here?

GORE: I feel like I owe it to her. I ain't running.


HOLMES: Yes. Everybody has their own reasons. He has his as well. Certainly different reasons, and like he said, this is personal to him. Stay here. We're continuing to cover this monster storm that is moving towards the New Orleans area of the Gulf Coast region. Our Anderson Cooper is in that area. We'll check in with him in just a moment.


HOLMES: And a live picture here as things are really getting to moving in New Orleans right about now. We're getting the reports of those wind gusts and how the wind is picking up in certain areas because Gustav is on the way, some of those outer bands starting to reach the Gulf Coast area.

This is a live look from -- courtesy of one of our affiliates of Lake Pontchartrain there in New Orleans. We've been watching some of the reports from our reporters -- affiliate reporters this morning. But the water continued to pick up as you see there.

We'll continue to keep an eye on things, of course, happening in New Orleans, but really, all over the Gulf region, just not New Orleans going to be affected by this storm. We want to turn now, our Anderson Cooper has made his way back down to the New Orleans region, actually was there for the Hurricane Katrina anniversary that was last week. Is still there working on this particular storm as well. He actually spoke with one of the foremost experts, if you will, on the impact of hurricanes on this particular region. Take a look.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We have worked a lot with Professor van Heerden in those terrible days and weeks after Katrina. And it's -- I would say it's great to see you again, I'm sorry that we're seeing you under these circumstances.

The levees on the west bank, what do we expect?

IVOR VAN HEERDAN, LOUSIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, these are levees that haven't been tested. They unfortunately are very low. The system is not complete.

There are some levee sections that are only five feet high. The earthen levees that are going to be facing a very, very well-developed wave feel from the winds, and with the water levels right at the crest.

So between -- from the west bank of New Orleans all the way across to Morgan City, almost 50 miles, we're going to see communities potentially go under water from levee overtopping them and potential breaching.

COOPER: Do we know how deep under water they'll go?

VAN HEERDEN: Some of the initial models are suggesting some communities could go five feet under water.

COOPER: In terms of oil production and the entire Gulf, this has major impact?

VAN HEERDEN: Yes. Not only does it have an impact on offshore structures and then the LOOP facility where oil is imported in the United States, but we have hundreds and hundreds of pipelines that come ashore through Louisiana.

It's going to be very significant shoreline erosion. So that means potential pipeline rupture. So we could see -- you know, Louisiana has 40 percent of the domestic production of oil and gas, shut off for an extended period. Obviously gas prices could skyrocket.

COOPER: For days now, officials have been saying, look, this is a serious storm, you've got to get out. I've not heard them give numbers of potential fatalities. You actually have it modeled out of how many people you think may drown.

And we should point out there, there may be as many as 10,000 people in the city of New Orleans. But Lieutenant Governor Landrieu, in our last hour, was saying there may be as many as 100,000 people in all of southeastern Louisiana.

VAN HEERDEN: Our initial estimates were about 96,000.

COOPER: People remaining?

VAN HEERDEN: Yes. And that would mean probably about 100 would drown or die, unfortunately.

COOPER: So your computer models show, you think, as many as 100 people could drown?

VAN HEERDEN: Yes, that's from one of our graduate student's studies, yes.

COOPER: What is the takeaway from all of this? I mean, what is the lesson -- we know the lessons of Katrina. I'm not sure all of them have been heeded. What are the lessons of this storm already?

VAN HEERDEN: Well, what we need to take away from this, we have to restore the coast. You know, we got Katrina and Rita. This is the final wake-up call. If we had restored this coast, if we had managed the Lower Mississippi River in order to enhance wetlands growth, we wouldn't be having this.

COOPER: Because those wetlands act as a natural barrier.

VAN HEERDEN: They knock the stopping out of the surge, the barrier islands trip them up, the wetlands, the marsh, knocks it down fairly significantly. But we used to have tens of thousands of acres of cypress swamp. And when the surge hits this, it's like a barrier. It just falls.

And we as a country, as a nation, need to understand the value of Louisiana, oil and gas, the port facilities and so on. And let's get the Mississippi River back into the wetlands and restore the coast so we don't have to go through these sorts of disasters.

COOPER: Dr. van Heerden, you were right about Katrina. We're going to pay close attention to what you say over the next couple of days. And I'm sure I'll be seeing you again. Thank you very much. I appreciate you...

VAN HEERDEN: Thank you very much, Anderson.

COOPER: ... coming all the way down here, risking the storm to be here. I appreciate that a lot.



HOLMES: And of course, Anderson Cooper certainly chronicled the destruction in New Orleans during Katrina. He is certainly, as you saw there, back for Gustav. His reports from New Orleans on "AC 360." Again, you can see that tonight, 10:00 Eastern time. Now certainly a big concern with these storms in the Gulf, oil production, so a lot of it, a quarter of the U.S. oil comes from the Gulf Coast region. So many of those oil rigs were damaged during Katrina. We'll see how they stand up this time around.

Our Ali Velshi is actually in Grand Isle. It's the onshore space for the offshore oil operation. He has been there -- he says it just lost power, they just lost power at Grand Isle. We're going to try to get him on the phone and get back to him right after this break.


HOLMES: Yes, we are keeping an eye overnight here on Hurricane Gustav, which is making its way towards the Gulf Coast. There it is. The latest on it, it's a Category 3 storm, about 115 mile-an-hour winds, about 170 miles out from New Orleans, expected there some time around midday.

Now our Ali Velshi, who certainly covers all of the business dealings for us, he is covering what is going to -- may turn out to be a pretty big business-related -- economic-related story here. And that, this storm, how much damage it could do to the offshore drilling that happens there in the Gulf Coast -- or the oil production, I should say.

Ali Velshi is in Grand Isle, which is the -- as you described to me, Ali, it's the onshore operation for the offshore operation, if you will, in the Gulf Coast. You said you all have just lost power there in Grand Isle.

Set the scene for us, tell us what's happening.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, T.J., we're -- you know, if you look at where we are, we are on a barrier island which is about 100 miles south of New Orleans. So we're fully expecting to get hit hard and really this is about the time we expect it to feel Gustav's sort of -- some closer bands coming on shore.

We've been getting hit since about 9:00 or 9:30 Eastern. But it really just kicked up about five minutes ago very suddenly. We sort of really felt some shaking, heard some really, really loud noises of wind. And then the power on the island all went off.

Now it's not like there's a lot of power, but there were streetlights and there were sort of lights we could see on the horizon. It is now pitch black.

Now I'll just give you a scene of where we are. We are in a home that is owned by a shrimp processing -- the owner of a shrimp processing business here. He's about a quarter mile down the road. That's his operation.

So we're in the home with him and with a captain from the fire department. So just as I was calling in to tell you what was going on, I heard the fire captain get on his ATV and immediately just take a whirl around the area. He says that we haven't flooded yet. We're very low-lying on this island. We're fully expecting to flood. They're expecting up to 15 or 20 feet of storm surge, or at least up to 10 feet of storm surge where we are. We haven't got any of that yet.

So we're relatively dry other than the fact that it has been raining heavily since 9:00. But there is no power here. There also aren't too many people here, T.J. Most people evacuated by the end of Sunday because they knew this would come.

And we have a very narrow road that goes off to the mainland. That road is now underwater, in Leeville. The other thing is just a few miles away from me is Port Fourchon, that is -- as I've describe to you, T.J., that is the onshore sort of headquarters, if you will, for all of the offshore drilling, and that is shut down.

Fifty-six percent of all our imported oil comes through Port Fourchon. That has been shut down. Almost 97 percent of all of the oil coming out of the Gulf of Mexico is shut down. That is a quarter of all the oil we produce in the United States every day.

So operations here are shut down. There is one other thing, there is a pipeline that takes crude oil from Port Fourchon up to -- which is just a few miles from where we are, up to Chicago, a million barrels a day. That has been shut down as well.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, that is four sites in Texas and Louisiana, three of them have been shut down. So oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico have pretty much ground to an entire halt. And we now at Grand Isle have no power.

HOLMES: And, Ali, give -- before we let you go here, one more thing, and you and I talked about this a bit over the weekend. We can sustain a shutdown for a couple of days, the market can't.

How nervous are the people you've been talking to, a lot of those who work down there, I know a lot have been evacuated as well, but how nervous are they that we could see damage to a lot of these oil rigs?

Again, like you say, if we shut it down for a few days, we could sustain that, but the problem is if we have damage and it is shut down for an extended period of time.

VELSHI: That is correct. If we shut down for a few days and we can switch it back on, you know, mid-week or Thursday or Friday, that's fine. You know, Katrina caused a lot of damage around here. So people were very concerned.

The whole idea that this Category 3 over the Gulf as opposed to Category 5, which Katrina in its later stages, is a lot more assuring for Gulf operations. What Katrina did is it toppled some of those platforms and rigs and it churned up the pipelines that were under the ocean, made them into spaghetti.

And that was a lot of -- that caused a lot of the damage. So there is a lot of hope. There are refineries that are shut down. There are people in place to shut those that are not shut down already, if they need to be shut down.

So, you know, very, very cautious and very nervous, the people we've been speaking to. But the bottom line is they don't think it's going to be as bad as Katrina. So that's the good news for us.

HOLMES: All right. That is some good news. Cautious but still a bit nervous. Our Ali Velshi. Ali, you hunker down. You take care of yourself there. I know you're going to have to ride this thing out. But you take care of yourself. We'll be checking in with you again. All right, buddy?

VELSHI: Thanks, T.J.

HOLMES: All right. And that was supposed to be a pretty big party today in Minnesota getting under way. Not going to necessarily be the case, going to be a lot different at the Republican National Convention.

We'll be updating you about that. Also, we'll be heading back to New Orleans, more live reports about what is being described right now as a ghost town and for good reason.


HOLMES: Hello to you all again. Coming up on 4:30 now here in the a.m. on the East Coast. And Gustav is on the way, getting closer and closer to the Gulf Coast of the U.S., expected around midday to hit somewhere west of New Orleans. We are showing you live pictures here.

We are monitoring several of our affiliates who have been helping us tell this story. It certainly looks calm in that top right picture that you see, in that bottom left, that's Lake Pontchartrain that is normally a placid, a tranquil place, that is not the case today.

Gustav, starting to see some of those outer bands certainly having some effect on the Gulf Coast region. Our meteorologist Reynolds Wolf has made his way in here with us to help us tell this story.

What is the very latest now, give us the numbers?

WOLF: All right. T.J., the very latest we have, winds 174 miles -- rather, winds of 115 miles, gusting to 140. The center of this storm is 174 miles from New Orleans since the last update. And to give our viewers an idea of how big this storm is, take a look at some of the outflow, especially to the west and to the east.

It goes from, say, Galveston back over to -- gosh, parts of central Florida, and goes as far north as, say, Memphis, even up into parts of Kentucky, and as far south as just near Cancun, just near the Yucatan Peninsula.

And what we anticipate with this storm is to possibly strike (INAUDIBLE) as it gets closer to shore. Currently it is still a major hurricane. Winds of 115 is a Category 3 storm. We expect it to gear up a little bit with winds about 120 before landfall, making landfall south of New Orleans sometime around midday, mid-morning, perhaps.

And then, as it -- once it gets onshore, it is expected to die down in terms of those wind speeds, going with winds of only, say, 100 miles per hour as you get to 8:00 on Monday. The reason why it's going to die down is because it's going to be away from its primary power source, being the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

And then it pulls into parts of north central Louisiana and then back into extreme eastern Texas and Louisiana. And that's where you're going to be seeing the possibilities of some flooding. It could be some big-time flooding.

One of the big things you're dealing with, New Orleans, at this time, and places south, some scattered showers beginning to move in. You'll notice some of the outer bands beginning to feed their way to the west and to the northwest as the storm edges ever closer.

It's going to be intermittent. If you happen to be in this area, you're going to have a few breaks where you might see a few drizzles here and there. And then, crushing rain coming down for a little bit.

Did kind of a little bit of a stop as that feeder band comes through. It's kind of a pulsating effect with this storm. And not only is it a pulsating effect, these outer bands can bring the rain, they can also have some wind, but they can spawn a few tornadoes.

In fact, we've had a few tornado warnings this morning in places like Baldwin County, Alabama. I would not be surprised to see many of these. One good thing about these tornadoes, and it's very seldom you find anything good about a tornado, is that the tornadoes associated with tropical systems are usually relatively small, they don't last that long, the problem is, though, that they tend to be rain-wrapped.

So it's not like seeing a tornado out in the Great Plains where you usually have a great field of vision, you can see them a long way away, these are very hard to see and they can cause a great deal of damage.

Speaking of damage, the winds alone getting much stronger, tropical storm force winds coming in from the north near Lake Pontchartrain. Winds are in 44 miles per hour. Everything is spinning around that center of circulation.

T.J., you know, Ali Velshi is without power, one of the reasons why people throughout much of the Gulf Coast are going to be without power is because these winds are going to knock over these trees, these trees near power lines, knock over the power lines, and then you have a domino effect of people sitting there in the darkness waiting and watching and hoping.

Back to you.

HOLMES: Well, we are doing a lot of waiting and watching and hoping ourselves here right now as this storm moves closer. Reynolds Wolf, we appreciate you. We'll see you again very shortly.

WOLF: You betcha.

HOLMES: We want to head back out to Juan Kincaid, he is with one of our affiliates, has been helping us tell this story. He is with WWL. He's on the New Orleans lake front.

And those winds still picking up for you out there, Juan?

JUAN KINCAID, WWL REPORTER: Picking up a lot more, T.J. The last time we talked to you, about 45 minutes ago, the wind speeds have increased by about 10 miles per hour. I mean, it's getting difficult to shoot some pictures out here.

But basically what you're seeing is Lake Pontchartrain on the edge of the Lakeview area that if you remember three years ago, this was the body of water that basically flooded almost the entire part of New Orleans.

You know, so it's large body of water. Right now it is basically topping the shore right here. Over the last 30 minutes, T.J., the rains have started to pick back up. We went about an hour without any rain, and that made a huge difference.

Now it's a combination of really sharp, biting rain, and of course, an amazing amount of wind right now. I checked with our weather department, they said the wind gusts are about 52 miles per hour. I would be willing to bet they're probably a little bit more than that right now.

So once again we're getting all kinds of signs and probably no more -- no better place than right here on the lake front that this storm is not that far off our coast -- T.J.

HOLMES: It is not. Those outer bands are making their way. And yes, no matter what some wind gauge or radar says about how much of that wind is picking up, you are standing in it, so you are certainly feeling that. And, Juan, we appreciate you. We'll let you go there.

Things are certainly picking up for him there, and folks in New Orleans and that area as we see. And this thing is really starting to arrive. Again, midday, maybe mid-morning, even, we heard from our Reynolds Wolf, this thing could arrive.

Now the flooding from Katrina that we all remember that happened three years ago was caused by serious design flaws in some of the levees. Our Sean Callebs now talked with an expert who actually studied levee design.

Take a listen.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katrina was a powerful storm. But it shouldn't have caused so much devastation. Eighty percent of the flooding that destroyed New Orleans could have been prevented. That's according to an eight-month study by the National Science Foundation. ROBERT BEA, U. C. BERKLEY ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT: That's the essence of the story, is to say that undesirable, unanticipated breaching in the levees is what brought us to our knees.

CALLEBS: Bob Bea, a Cal Berkley researcher, is one of the authors of the study. During Katrina, almost all of the water that poured into the heart of New Orleans was driven south, down canals leading from Lake Pontchartrain. Scientists say the reason flood walls and levees gave way is simple.

BEA: Well, we were trying to do this in a cheap way, save money.

CALLEBS: We now know a design flaw by the Army Corps of Engineers allowed raging water to eat away soil far below the water line. The Corps had drilled sheet piling 17.5 feet into the ground to guard against erosion. Scientists say it wasn't nearly deep enough.

BEA: Today we're driving them to deeper than 60 feet.

CALLEBS: The Army Corps of Engineers says it won't comment on the study until it has read the entire document. Even with poor levee design, massive floodgates now going up along Lake Pontchartrain would have provided tremendous defense against flooding, according to the report.

But don't blame the Corps for that. Scientists say years of quibbling, back and forth among local governments, killed floodgate plans.

BEA: Well, it's petty. We have been dysfunctional. We've forgotten really what the name of the game is, and that's to protect the public.

CALLEBS: The Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, hit hardest by flooding, the study says in large part because the Army Corps used cheap, porous soil instead of more stable clay on earthen levees that eroded quickly. Bea knows firsthand of what he speaks. He lived in New Orleans in the 1960s and saw his home flooded by Hurricane Betsy.

So with the new flood protection plans going on, would he move back?

BEA: The answer is no. I wouldn't come back here and buy a house. I would come back here and rent a second floor apartment, which says I would proceed cautiously.

CALLEBS (on camera): The scientists concluded that not only was all of the massive flooding predictable, it was preventable. That for decades warning signs were out there, they were simply ignored.

Sean Callebs, CNN, in New Orleans.


HOLMES: Well, there was a big party that was supposed to kick off today in St. Paul, Minnesota. President Bush was supposed to be there. He won't be. Instead, President Bush is trying to tend to the situation we have going on in the Gulf Coast region.

This is him yesterday visiting the FEMA headquarters in Washington. That agency's director, David Paulison, says he is confident that that agency is ready, that that agency is supplied and pre-positioned for any humanitarian aftermath. I'm talking food, water, tents, cots, generators, all of that good stuff, say they are ready for it this time, certainly in contrast to what happened last time around with Katrina.

But President Bush is urging people in New Orleans to do what they're told, to do -- get out for their own safety.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to the people of the Gulf Coast is this storm is dangerous. There is a real possibility of flooding, storm surge, and high winds. Therefore it is very important for your to follow the instructions and direction of state and local officials.

Do not put yourself in harm's way or make rescue workers take unnecessary risks. And know that the American people stand with you and that we will face this emergency together.


HOLMES: And again, as I mentioned, big party, the president was supposed to be there, Republican National Convention, convening today in St. Paul, Minnesota, supposed to be a big celebration, as we see so many of these conventions are, not going to be the case certainly for this convention. And the president's plans have changed, he will not be there. He is now going to Texas to monitor this storm.

Now the Republican National Convention, they have lots of issues here. They are going to take care of the official business. They have to gavel in. They have to do the official business of at least nominating Senator McCain.

However, there is another situation. You've got 45,000 people who have bought tickets. They've booked these expensive hotel rooms. What are they going to do now? What is the mood like in town? Our Rick Sanchez asked the governor about that, the Utah governor. Take a listen.


GOV. JON HUNTSMAN (R), UTAH: Well, I think it really is an extension of John McCain's worldview, and that is simply that country always comes before party. And when you have a very dangerous situation like we have in the Gulf Coast, and many people who are threatened by it, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have a political party and to have all the pomp and pageantry associated with what otherwise would be going on here when, you know, there are Americans who deserve for everyone to focus on their well-being at this point in time.

And I think that is very much on John McCain's mind right now.

SANCHEZ: What happens in -- OK, I get that certainly for Monday, which is the day that this thing kicks off. Apparently you're going to hit the gavel and then stop and then take it day by day. What happens Tuesday or Wednesday if this thing really comes ashore and starts doing some serious damage into parts of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, et cetera?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think you've got a lot of people here who otherwise have day jobs, as I do, governor of another state, I remember after Katrina, we were the very first state to accept evacuees after that devastating storm.

So I suspect based upon what we see over the next 12 to 24 hours, you're going to have a lot of people who first and foremost are going to look at how they can help relieve suffering and improve the conditions of fellow human beings.

SANCHEZ: So even if it means stopping the convention all together and not having all of the keynote speakers?

HUNTSMAN: Oh, I think absolutely. I think -- I think that all is secondary. I mean, the reason that we're here is to formally nominate our party's candidate for president and vice president. And beyond that, you've got a lot of defining of various messages, which obviously is important.

But nothing is more important than taking care of fellow human beings during a time of need and crisis. And that's where we find ourselves right now.

SANCHEZ: Does not having George Bush speaking tomorrow help the party or hurt the party?

HUNTSMAN: I don't think it's of any consequence at all. He would have made his appearance. And I think he would have electrified many of the party faithful here. And that's always a great thing.

But listen, we live in the real world, and we're watching a real world incident and emergency play out. And it just so happens to be during a political convention.

SANCHEZ: Is George Bush a net loss or a net gain?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would suspect that in terms of bringing the party together, he is a net gain. He has always been very good, played very well with the party faithful. And I think many were looking forward to seeing him and hearing from him. But everybody will move on and focus on the most important issue of all, and that's how we help other human beings in a case like this.

SANCHEZ: And -- but, Governor, you think perhaps by the end of the week this thing could maybe just be abridged somehow, maybe shortened so you can get some of the important stuff out of the way? I mean, it won't be blown out all together, so to speak, will it?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think that's exactly right. I think becomes a truncated convention. You do that which is absolutely critical and essential to the do the business of the party gathering at a party convention, and then you move on.

Everyone has things to do. We have states to run. The campaign moves forward with not too many days left. And we will have done what needs to be done. The next 12 to 24 hours I'm sure will determine exactly what the position of this convention will be and look like in the days to come.

SANCHEZ: Jon Huntsman is the governor of Utah and a wonderful, good-looking background there behind him. We thank you, Governor, for taking time...

HUNTSMAN: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: ... to talk to us.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Rick, I appreciate it. Take care.


HOLMES: Yes. Rick talking about that wonderful, good-looking background that may not be used much really this week, given this storm. So they are going to take it day-by-day. We'll see what happens with that convention.

Well, Barack Obama got his convention last week, of course. He was nominated officially by his party. But politics aside right now for both sides in this heated campaign season. Right now they're all focused on what's happening in the Gulf Coast and the people there.

Here's Barack Obama now talking about the Gulf Coast residents and that they need to as well get out of there.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to find out first from folks on the ground what is going to be most helpful. You know, we don't want to solicit a bunch of canned goods that can't get there, or, you know, bottles of water that -- where they already have water.

So we're going to wait and -- for over the next 48 hours to find out what would be most useful. I think we can get tons of volunteers to travel down there if it becomes necessary. And so that then the question is, you know, what people on the ground think they need. And once we determine that, then I think we can activate, you know, an e- mail list of a couple million people who want to give back.


HOLMES: All right. Well, again, stay here with us. We're keeping an eye. We will stay here live for you as we keep an eye on Hurricane Gustav, Category 3, that is heading towards the Gulf Coast right now.

Certainly in times of distress people turn to so many things for help. They turn to the government, they turn to families, they turn to friends, and sometimes they turn to God, stay here.


HOLMES: Well, so many times people do, they turn to their God. They turn to prayer in troubled times. And as the dark clouds began to gather over a small Louisiana town, people there answered back with a message to the heavens.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because in Jesus' name we, Lafitte (ph), command you, lord God, to hear my prayer. We, with all of our faith and love for you, lord God, we the people of Lafitte know you are who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What they just had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wasn't prepared to leave. And I have these big dogs and a sick little cat. And people stayed and made it and I just felt like I could.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Try and be safe. All right. But leave it right here, Ronnie (ph). (INAUDIBLE) case of water comes up without (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has got (INAUDIBLE) room right there. He calls (INAUDIBLE). And that's the main thing I want to protect. So I'm doing everything at the last minute, I've had so much to do before the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) so the people know we're here. So if this does -- you know, that's how it is when you ain't got money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are in God's country now, Lafitte rebukes you, Gustav. The sun will shine -- the sun shines here on a rainy day, amen.


HOLMES: Amen, and we hope that holds up. We hope that works, everything is worth a try. People turning to prayer. People turning to all kinds of things. And sometimes just need to turn to your weatherman to see what's going on and let him tell you to get out of town.

Well, we are continuing to stick with this story, continue to update you about what's happening with this storm. I thought we had a live picture there for you. We will get you some more live pictures of what is happening in New Orleans. Stay here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HOLMES: Yes, we are keeping an eye on Hurricane Gustav. We're monitoring our affiliates who have been helping us with this story, our affiliates in the Gulf Coast region, those are the -- sort of that top left side. There you see a reporter doing a report there.

They're updating their viewers in that area and they are helping us tell this story to a national audience, our audience. Also, our Reynolds Wolf there in the hurricane center. He has been keeping an eye on this storm, really, all weekend for several days. And he is still on it for us.

But there -- there it is, you can see it there, Hurricane Gustav making its way towards the Gulf Coast. One of the reporters -- affiliate reporter we've been checking in with today is Jennifer Van Vrancken with WVUE. She is on Lake Pontchartrain, the lake front on the New Orleans north side. And that lake does not look right now that lake is normally looking.


JENNIFER VAN VRANCKEN, WVUE REPORTER: Lake Pontchartrain is a little choppy tonight. You know, it's interesting, this area is normally very calm behind me. There's a seafood restaurant here, people usually sit out, watch the boats come in on a nice, smooth lake.

It's definitely not that tonight. And this is a very early part of what we're going to see from Gustav.

You can see behind me, as I kind of step out of your way, the waves are starting to come in pretty hard. It's choppy now. I would estimate the winds to be nearing somewhere between 30 and 40 miles an hour, probably nearing 40 at this point.

We have really felt it pick up over the night. In fact, really just in the last 10 minutes, I would have to say, I now have to kind of push against the wind. We have had our light blow over several times, so we do start to feel this wind from Gustav coming in.

It's very quiet in this area of the city, and I know a lot of people are wondering, did people evacuate? Well, for two reasons, it's almost perfectly silent. All you hear is the sound of the wind tonight in New Orleans, because many, many people did choose or were asked to mandatorily (ph) evacuate.

So many are watching from other cities tonight, out of harm's way, but there has also been curfews imposed. So everyone who is in the area can't be out here looking at the storm or seeing what the lake looks like.

They are required to be inside, and that's to prevent any kind of looting so that people who have left their homes and evacuated can feel safe that their property will be protected.

The only people we have seen here, in fact, are police cars. There are two in my immediate view. So we see very heavy patrols making sure that there are no problems as this storm moves in.


HOLMES: And from reporters there on the ground, heavy patrols, you see mostly police cars. You don't see a lot of people in town, described on various occasions to us as a ghost town. That's a good thing. The estimate is that about 10,000 people still left in town there.

So most people did get out, some 2 million, we're told, evacuated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Well, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has made his way down to the region. He was answering questions from reporters. Before actually left the Washington area yesterday, we got a briefing from him. But he has made it down to keep an eye on what is happening there in the Gulf Coast.

And our Don Lemon caught up with him. Take a listen.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So when you look around and you see all of these -- the people here and you see the response, what do you think?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think that the fact that people are taking it seriously is a positive sign that we're getting the message out about what it's like to face a hurricane. That -- you know, and I've got to say, some of these people, I think they -- you know, they see the movies or TV and they think, oh, well, all I really need to tie myself to a tree. It's not going to be needed (ph).

LEMON: I've got one more question for you. Do you think that the mandatory evacuation was called fast enough, early enough?

CHERTOFF: It seems to me -- again, from what I see, and I don't like to second-guess these decisions because they're very hard decisions, but it seems to me that it's worked. I mean, as far as I can tell, I'm not seeing a suggestion that people are crowded to get out at the last minute. Again, I can't tell you who hasn't left, so I'm a little bit in the dark on that.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

CHERTOFF: All right.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

CHERTOFF: Thank you.


HOLMES: But again, the word is for the most part, everybody did heed those warnings and get out of town, some 2 million evacuating the Gulf Coast, just about 10,000 left. This storm continues to make its way towards the New Orleans area. There it is. Our Reynolds Wolf is on top of this for us.

I'm going to hand this over to our Kiran Chetry and John Roberts who are going to take it over starting a little early this morning with "AMERICAN MORNING." They certainly will be continuing our coverage of this storm.

But this monster Category 3 making its way now, about 100-plus miles out from New Orleans, expecting it some time around midday, mid- morning possibly, on Monday. Stay here with CNN, your hurricane headquarters.