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Flee or Face "Certain Death"; Is Palin Like Obama on Pakistan?

Aired September 12, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's down from 75 percent in July, maybe because the price has gone down just a little bit.
Let's go to Abbi Tatton right now for another angle of the breaking news.

She has some firsthand I-Reports that are coming in involving these long gasoline lines -- Abbi, what are we seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it's not just in Texas. Around the Southeast, we've been getting pictures in like this. People are hearing that prices are about to skyrocket with this storm, leading to scenes like this at gas stations.

This is College Station in Texas. Carl Norton had an hour long wait this afternoon. But elsewhere, as well -- Alpharetta, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina.

We're hearing from these I-Reporters that there's rumors flying, that people are cueing up to get gas because they think that at any moment, these prices are going to be increased by the gas stations.

Further afield, as well, this is a gas station, Kangaroo Express (ph), in Indiana, where the sign on the gas pump says please limit your purchase to 10 gallons. This has been going on in the last 24 hours from the parent company, who said that they're taking a proactive approach to what they call a limited supply. But what we were told by this I-Reporter, Curtis McNealy (ph), is it's just breeding a sense of paranoia in the people purchasing gas and they were just going back for more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi.

Stand by. I know you're getting a lot of these I-Reports coming up.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news -- a killer storm sends out a wall of water that could top 20 feet. Hurricane Ike takes direct aim at Galveston, Texas, where some residents have been warned to flee or die.

Coast Guard helicopters sent to rescue dozens who didn't get out in time, but even the choppers have their limits in this kind of storm.

And we're also keeping our eye on the presidential race. Sarah Palin in the spotlight.

Does John McCain's running mate sound more like Barack Obama when it comes to hunting down al Qaeda terrorists?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A mass killer moving relentlessly toward the Texas coast right now. The likely point of impact, the sea level city of Galveston. Fifteen foot waves already crashing over the seawall, but the storm surge may be much, much higher.

The most exposed residents warned to evacuate or face certain death. Left behind but further inland, a thousand prisoners in a single story jail. Aerial rescues are underway, but one daring rescue mission had to be called off. The Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force unable to reach 22 people aboard a huge freighter adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Ike is a massive, massive storm and may cause damage to a broader area than even Hurricane Katrina. Authorities are evacuating those who can't care for themselves and are stockpiling millions of meals and millions of liters of water for the hurricane zone.

The Gulf Coast is already being battered by Ike, but the worst is will only a few hours away, as this killer storm barrels toward Texas.

Let's go to our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman. He's in Galveston standing by.

Also standing by, our CNN contributor and retired U.S. Army General Russel Honore. All that coming up.

But let's get the latest forecast that has just been released. Chad Myers is at the CNN Headquarters with that.

What are they telling us right now from the National Hurricane Center -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A hundred and thirty-six miles away from Galveston. And so that's the center of what is a very large eye. A hurricane hunter now just through the eye with a 60-mile around diameter eye. That will probably shrink over the next few hours. That will pick up the wind speed, just like a skater with her arms out goes slowly. You bring those arms in, the skater goes quicker.

Well, you bring your arms into a hurricane, the center goes quicker. But it's still 105 and forecast to go to 110.

Look at the size of this. This is actually a visible satellite -- what the satellite sees. When we add colors, .that's just -- that's kind of an infrared image to see how cold the tops are, how tall the storm is.

But this thing is almost all the way from Western Florida and is now into parts of Mexico. That's how large this storm looks now. So, yes, it's going to make landfall in Galveston. I think that's a certainty, right on the island, probably, as a category two, 110 mile per hour storm. And that's going to be terrible. And that's going to be a huge storm surge.

But Houston, Texas is still going to see winds overnight and tomorrow morning to 95 miles per hour. It's going to knock out windows. The high rises downtown are going to be knocked out. I mean windows are going to be all over the place. I remember a couple of other storms, glass was in the streets of Houston for days. This could happen again. And an awful lot of people without power, too -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, hold on for one second. We have the mayor of Houston on the phone. I want you to join me in the questioning.

MYERS: Sure.

BLITZER: The mayor, Bill White, is joining us right now.

Mayor, you just heard Chad. It's pretty scary, what's going to happen in your city, the fourth largest city in the United States. Tell our viewers what you know.

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: Well, we are prepared for the storm, but it's going to be a disaster. No matter how prepared you are, when you're talking about 100 mile an hour winds and 15-foot storm surge, then we have been doing everything possible to start with reducing the risk of loss of life. That means...

BLITZER: Yesterday, mayor, we spoke with your police chief. And he said about a half a million people were told to get out of the Houston area. But that would still leave at least a million-and-a-half others there.

Do you think enough people were told to leave this time?

WHITE: Oh, sure. I mean, actually, there's -- it's far more than a million-and-a-half. That's just within the city limits. And within the metropolitan area there are several millions more. Well, the -- you know, there are risks, too, that are involved in mass evacuations if people don't have the appropriate food, shelter and accommodations. And with the benefit of hindsight, if there is a tree that comes down in somebody's bedroom, it would be -- that person, if they would have known that, should have evacuated.

But we have put the priority, within Texas, of making sure that those individuals who were at the highest risk in the storm surge areas, where you'll see a water wall, had an opportunity to evacuate and had a safe place to go and that the freeways we were clear in order to do so. It was made more difficult, as you know, by the sharp turn north that this storm took within a period of 48 hours.

BLITZER: I want Chad Meyers, our meteorologist and severe weather expert, to join in the questioning, mayor -- Chad, go ahead.

MYERS: Mr. Mayor, do you think that the bayous are going to back up enough that those people that live along them need to go, as well?

WHITE: Well, they don't need to go now because there are tropical storm winds that are coming on. And the most dangerous place to be when you have 40 mile an hour plus winds is on the freeways. We have encouraged people within those flood prone areas to seek higher ground within this community. There are places that have a tendency to flood. There are places that are higher ground within our metropolitan area, which has several thousands of square miles.

MYERS: Do you think the...

WHITE: We do anticipate that -- we do have rescue teams that are on call, that are available and we will be in a position to do some rescues if we need to.

MYERS: Do you think the facts that Rita missed you made people a little bit more complacent?

WHITE: Not at all. I mean this community has responded very effectively to the call for mandatory evacuations. I was out in one of our more densely populated areas in the city, Clear Lake, the headquarters of NASA, where the residential neighborhoods were virtually vacant. Now we did find apartment complexes -- and I and members of the fire department for hours this morning were knocking on doors with bullhorns to make sure that people took advantage of the mass transit that we had available.

MYERS: Wolf.

BLITZER: I know, mayor, you're very busy. I want to just ask one final question. Chad referred to it earlier. Those of us who have been to Houston, we know those huge high rise buildings that you have. I'm really worried about all the glass, potentially, that those windows could be shattered.

What can you tell us about that concern?

WHITE: Well, I think it's a real concern. As you know, we had we had Alisha, where we did, as you referred to earlier, have some of those windows pop. It only occurred on, you know, a handful of the buildings, but that's still very dangerous. That's why we will be announcing shortly a curfew. We did advise our citizens to keep off the streets and people right now are, you know, seeking refuge in their homes and the streets are fairly clear.

BLITZER: When will that curfew go into effect?

WHITE: Well, I won't -- I won't preempt announcement that we'll make within the next hour. But it will be fair to say that it's going to be a, you know, dusk to dawn curfew and it will be tightly enforced.

When we had an even larger evacuation during Rita, we had virtually no looting or people violating each other's property and we're proud of that in Houston.

BLITZER: Well, good luck, mayor. Good luck to all the folks in the area.

We're talking of an area of about four million people, when you include Houston and the metropolitan area.

Good luck to all of you. Thanks very much.

WHITE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman is right on the frontline of this war against Hurricane Ike.

He's in Galveston, Texas -- Gary, you're -- just set the scene for us for viewers who may be just tuning in. You're not standing on a beach, you're standing atop a huge 17-foot wall.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, this is actually kind of a highway I'm standing on. This would normally be very busy, Wolf.

Hurricane Ike is right behind me. Behind me there, immediately behind me, is a 17-foot tall seawall. And that seawall was built to protect the city. It's 10 miles long, 17 feet down. Last night at this time, I saw about 75 yards of beach. The beach is completely gone. And even in the last several hours, these waves have been coming up just like this.

Much of the street (INAUDIBLE) boulevard is flooded. I do want to mention to you, we're taking very great safety precautions. We're not going to be out here much longer. But now we can safely show you the power of a hurricane that hasn't arrive yet. And that's a very important point to stress.

We want to show you, as close as we can, as close as we dare -- we're not going to get too close, because we don't want to get our camera equipment wet. But I want you to listen to this as the waves come up. Just listen.


TUCHMAN: So you can see, that has been happening now for hours. And that's why many of the streets here in Galveston, Texas are already flooded, despite the fact that it hasn't even rained here yet. It's just starting to come down.

A very important thing, Wolf, we've never seen announcement quite like this before. Last night, the National Weather Service said for people who live here in Galveston -- and this is their quote -- for people who live in single family homes that are one or two stories near the beach, they must heed evacuation orders or they face certain death. Now, I just need to emphasize the word certainly is a strong word. It's not a word we would ever use on our own. We don't know if it's certain death, but we do know the fact that they've used that shows just how dangerous the situation is.

The fact is, Wolf, it appears that most people here in Galveston, population 57,000, have evacuated. But this is very important to stress, that the hurricane isn't here yet and this is the conditions we're having.

One other thing I want to show you, Wolf. I'm getting a lot of e- mails from people saying, OK, you're telling us how dangerous it is, why the heck are you standing there with all your CNN people?

I want to show you where we're staying. This is the structure we're staying in. This is a hotel that is built like Fort Knox. It's on a mountain, sort of -- it's a kind of big hill, a small mountain, surrounded by moats, built specifically to withstand serious hurricane situations.

Members of the news media are staying here. Police are staying here. Emergency officials are staying here. W are staying here because we feel it is safe for us to be here to continue delivering the news. We may be stuck, because many of these roads may be flooded or underwater, but we feel it's a safe risk. And that's why we're here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Gary, standing by.

We're going to be checking back with you.

It's good to know you guys are all taking these precautions.

Our CNN contributor, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, Russel Honore, is joining us now from the CNN Center -- General, you're getting some new information, I take it, on what authorities are planning to do tomorrow?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. The Texas adjutant general, General Chuck Rodriguez, and his troops have positioned themselves in San Antonio. They have a convoy of 500 trucks, many of them geared for high water search and rescue. They have small boats. They have search and rescue teams.

They will launch at the right time in the morning, as soon as they can approach into the Houston/Galveston area and once the eye has passed. And their job is do the ground level search and rescue.

He also has a task force made up of helicopters from both the active and the National Guard, primarily National Guard assets, with special ops capable aircraft, if they need it, to start the air search and rescue once the winds die down.

So they have a tremendous strike force they've put together named Task Force Ike, which is the ground component, that is staged and ready to go in San Antonio in two phases -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And all of our viewers remember, General Honore, when you led the U.S. military into action along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Here's the specific question. Have they learned the logistical lessons of then? In other words, will the military going in be able to get the same radio frequencies as local and state and federal authorities, the other first responders who are coming in?

Will the left hand of the government be able to talk to the right hand?

HONORE: I think they will. The National Guard has invested well in some satellite communications. FEMA has some. I think the will do well.

The issue is the enormity and the size of the scope of how big Houston is and how much of it will get damaged. The old adage -- people need to have three days of food and water on hand if they're sheltered at home could be important.

But I think they've got the capability to go in and do and be able to be talk across structures. They just did it Louisiana. And I think they'll be able to take that capability into Houston and Galveston.

BLITZER: OK, General Honore,

don't go away.

We're going to be checking back with you.

We've got a lot more questions.

We're keeping an eye on Hurricane Ike, as you know. This is a huge story -- breaking news. We're not going very far away from it.

But we're also keeping another eye out on the presidential race. We're taking a much closer look at what's going on on this day, the day after a political truce. We're looking at the running mates, specifically Sarah Palin, facing more questions today about what's going on and Joe Biden releasing his tax returns -- open for inspection right now.

And these are the 17-feet high waves that are coming in up to 20 feet thick. The massive waves already breaking over Galveston's seawall, as you can see. Can it stand up to Ike's monster storm surge?

And a dramatic Coast Guard airlift rescuing those who ignored warnings to flee or face death. But can these choppers get them all?

We're watching all of this right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're going to get right back to the hurricane -- Hurricane Ike. We're watching it very closely just in a few moments.

But there's other important news we're watching, namely the race for the White House. There are dramatic developments today. Among other things, cross border raids by U.S. troops hunting terrorists -- John McCain's running mate is questioned for the first time on national security and at first glance seems to sound a little bit like Barack Obama.

Let's to go CNN's Brian Todd. He's working this story for us.

Why is that the case -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some are interpreting Sarah Palin's comments about Pakistan to be in almost virtual lockstep with Obama. But the McCain-Palin team is pushing back hard.


TODD (voice-over): On possibly the most sensitive national security question of the moment, Sarah Palin is prodded three times.

Does the U.S. have the right to go after terrorists inside Pakistan without the Pakistanis' permission?

Her final answer to ABC's Charles Gibson

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell bent on destroying America and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table.

TODD: Some media outlets say that seems closer to Barack Obama's thinking and President Bush's than John McCain's. The president has, according to an intelligence official, authorized U.S. Special Forces to go after terrorists inside Pakistan without first obtaining the Pakistanis' approval. And Obama has said this.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: If Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out the high level terrorist targets like bin Laden, if we have them in our sights.

TODD: McCain called Obama naive for broadcasting what the U.S. would do in that situation.

When he was asked by CNN's Larry King if he would send U.S. forces after Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to go there and here's why. Because Pakistan is a sovereign nation.

TODD: But the McCain-Palin campaign is strongly denying any daylight between the two. A McCain aide says when McCain said he wouldn't "go there," he did not mean he would not go into Pakistan, just that he wouldn't talk about it. The ad says McCain has never ruled anything out regarding action in Pakistan.

When we asked if Palin's comment about all options included unilateral action without Pakistan's permission, we were told the word all speaks for itself.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: She clearly reserved the option, but as a last resort and something she didn't want to be too clear or explicit about as a would-be vice president of the United States.


TODD: Michael O'Hanlon says he believes that was the right way to handle that situation. O'Hanlon was one of two analysts we spoke with who don't support either candidate. Overall, both say Palin seemed a little thin on foreign policy during that interview, but they say she seemed to have been heavily coached and both believe she will get better in these forums. A big test coming up, Wolf, that October 2nd debate with Joe Biden. A lot of eyes on that one.

BLITZER: We'll be watching that closely.

Another comment she made, not in the interview, but in a separated location in Alaska, involving the war in Iraq, that's being dissected right now, as well.

TODD: That's right. Now, she was speaking to her son's Army unit that's deploying to Iraq. And she said: "You will be there to defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans."

Now, some have interpreted that as linking 9/11 to Iraq, which, of course, has been kind of debunked as a theory. The McCain-Palin campaign says she was only referring to Al Qaeda in Iraq, not the entire country, certainly not Saddam Hussein's regime. But, Wolf, it gives you an idea, everything this woman says now is being picked apart pretty heavily.

BLITZER: And we're getting some more excerpts from yet another interview she gave. And we're going to share that with our viewers coming up.

Thanks, Brian, for that.

Compared to most U.S. senators, Joe Biden is certainly not a wealthy man. The Democratic vice presidential nominee has made his tax returns public.

Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, who's been going through those IRS returns.

What are you learning -- Allen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we are standing in Lake...

BLITZER: Hold on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Taylor Lake right here.


BLITZER: All right, Allan, I'm going to cut you off for a second, because I'm not hearing you and I assume our viewers aren't hearing you, as well. Stand by for a moment. We'll get that microphone fixed, we'll turn it on or whatever we have to do.

Stand by. We'll get back to politics in a moment.

Right now, we want to get more on Hurricane Ike. The deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, Ed Rappaport, is joining us live.

Mr. Rappaport, tell us what's going on right now, because, I haven't seen this big of a hurricane in a long time.

ED RAPPAPORT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, that's one of the distinguishing features about Hurricane Ike. The intensity is not the strongest we've seen. It's in the category two range. It could still make it to category three before landfall in less than 12 hours. But its large size and large expanse of wind means that there's going to be a very extended storm surge in terms of area and also a very deep storm surge, not unlike what we saw in Katrina.

Katrina was a little bit stronger, but continue parable in terms of size, and that's what helped generate that very large surge websaw during that storm.

BLITZER: And when do we now anticipate that Ike will make landfall and where?

RAPPAPORT: Now, at this stage, it looks like we're going to get tropical storm force winds occurring at the coast now. In fact, the most recent observations from Galveston say that those winds have arrived. And that means we've reached the point now where very little outdoor activity can be done in preparation for the hurricane.

Hurricane force winds by around sunset will reach the coast and then the center come ashore, perhaps at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, at this point, it looks like near Galveston Island. The problem, of course, is most of the weather is going to extends from there northeastward from Galveston Island. And we'll expect a storm surge perhaps 15 to 20 feet. It will cover all the way up to the Beaumont/Port Arthur coastal areas and a little bit into the Southwestern Louisiana, as well.

BLITZER: Well, we know that Galveston has that 17-foot seawall that was built decades and decades ago. Is that going to be enough to save Galveston, or do you anticipate that all of Galveston could be underwater?

RAPPAPORT: The problem is that the seawall does not fully enclose the Galveston area. This is the coastline. Here's Galveston Island. Here's the rest of the coast in Southwest Louisiana down to Galveston Island. We expect the track of the center to go somewhere across Galveston Island in this area. All these colorized areas in yellow and green are, where we're expecting storm surge of 15 to 20 feet.

The problem for Galveston is that the waters can come around the backside. And so at this point, we expect that there will be very few places -- maybe just a couple blocks on Galveston Island itself and then northeastward from there on the Boulevard Peninsula that that will not be underwater at some point during this hurricane. So, basically, storm surge from near Galveston Island northeastward will cover the ground at some point, all the way up to the southwestern Louisiana portion of the map and extend inland as far as 15 to 20 miles, we'll see the storm surge extent.

BLITZER: Well, what about Houston?

RAPPAPORT: Houston's a little farther back on our map. And it will stay dry from the storm surge. But if the center of the track comes -- the center of the storm comes near Houston, they will still get winds to near 100 miles per hour. We're also expecting five to 10, locally, 15 inches of rain. The storm surge will come up across Galveston Bay and up toward the rivers toward Houston. But the main threat for Houston itself, for downtown area, will be the wind.

KING: Good luck, Ed Rappaport. We'll check back with you. Thanks very much.

Wow! almost all of Galveston -- you heard it right here -- is going to be underwater as a result of this surge coming up not only over the seawall but around the area, where there is no seawall.

We're going to be speaking momentarily with the mayor of Galveston. She's standing by live. Stand by. We'll get to her in just a few moments. We've got a lot more coming up.

Our reporters are covering this monster storm. Some people are getting out with their pets on wave runners. Others are staying put in the path of Hurricane Ike. What's going on?

And adrift in the Gulf of Mexico -- the Coast Guard trying to rescue 22 people aboard a stranded freighter. The dramatic story straight ahead.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The very latest forecast for Hurricane Ike shows the storm remains a strong category two, with sustained winds of 105 miles per hour, gusting to 125 miles per hour. Ike could come ashore as a category three. We just heard from the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

Even with Hurricane Ike a couple of hundred miles away -- it's no longer a couple hundred miles away right now. It's about 120 miles or so away right now. Authorities so far have rescued more than 120 people stranded by rising seas along the Texas coast. The Coast Guard says half of those rescues have been carry out by helicopters.

And high seas drama -- broken down and directly path of Hurricane Ike. A nightmare scenario for the crew of a Cypress flagged freighter. The Coast Guard says it's simply too dangerous to attempt a rescue right now.

Let's go to Galveston right now, the seawall.

And Gary Tuchman is standing by. It looks so ominous where you are. And we just heard Ed Rappaport, Gary, say this could make landfall right over Galveston Island, where you are, on top of that seawall.

Set the scene for viewers who might just be tuning in.

TUCHMAN: Wolf, we have no doubt that Galveston will be inundated with water. It's a relatively small island -- 57,000 people here. And we've seen the pictures and the predictions that almost all the streets could be underwater by the time this is over.

That being said, as we pointed out the last time I talked to you, we're staying in a 15-story hotel. So we don't expect that we're going to have any problem with the water or the winds, because this is not a category four or five wind event.

However, it's going to be severe flooding. You can see already on the water here, this is called Seawall Boulevard. This is a 17-foot seawall that normally -- 17 feet down to the beach and then there's another 100 yards of beach. The beach has disappeared. You just see the waves come in.

I want to show you something unusual. Look at the clouds in the sky, these black clouds that are swirling around. At first we looked at this and yes, the clouds are very ominous when a hurricane is coming but this is particularly ominous. Those aren't just clouds. That is smoke from a fire that has broken out. Fire officials are on the scene right now. We'll know more about the fire shortly. But you right now have hurricane clouds combined with smoke from a fire, and that's been one of the concerns is a lot of the oil and petroleum industry around here. We're not sure if that's where the fire is coming from. Indeed, that is an issue here.

I want to show you one more shot here that I find very interesting. Last night, we were doing a live report right on top of the seawall. Like I said, we could see 100 yards of beach and these are the steps that take you down to the beach, ten steps now completely covered with water. And what's most amazing about this, Wolf, is it still hasn't started raining yet. The hurricane is still a great distance away and many of the streets here in Galveston, Texas, are underwater right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to speak to the mayor of Galveston momentarily. And I want you to join me in the questioning if we can, Gary. But those -- the smoke behind you, do we have any idea? It looks like maybe some sort of oil related fire that could be going on, it looks so dark and ominous and such a huge area.

TUCHMAN: Yeah, that is a great concern, Wolf. We're hoping to find out soon. We actually have a crew going to the scene of the fire right now. We're told it is not a house fire. We're told that it may indeed be something to do with the oil industry. We'll find out shortly. Just being told now in my magic ear here that it's a storage area. We're not sure if it's related to the oil industry but it's a storage area. It's not a house fire. It's important to point out when we were in New Orleans for Gustav, we had fires in the French quarter.

It's a major concern for firefighters if fires break out and when the conditions get so bad, they can't fight them. Right now they can still fight them because the rains are not coming down. The latest information they told me, the firefighters can't get to the scene. They're not able to put the fire out despite the fact that it isn't raining or we don't have the hurricane force winds. They can't get to the site right now. It is continuing to burn as we speak.

BLITZER: You'll find out what kind of storage center. Together you and me, we're going to speak to the mayor standing by. She's got her hands full as you know. Hurricane very similar to this one to Hurricane Ike brought catastrophe to Galveston a century ago.

Let's go to Carol Costello looking at this part of the story.

The similarities, Carol, are all too chilling right now.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm telling you, Ike is on pretty much the same track as that hurricane long ago. Galveston virtually underwater. It's deja vu all over again and not in a good way.

Back in 1900, Galveston was the Houston of Texas, the big city until it was literally wiped out by a hurricane. 7,000 people died 108 years ago. We can be sure of one thing, that part of history will not be repeated.


COSTELLO: This seawall is the final line of defense between Hurricane Ike and the city of Galveston. The wall is massive. 17 feet high, ten miles long, and in some places 20 feet thick. And it's going to be tested.

With Hurricane Ike yet to reach the city, water is already spilling over the top. Galveston is especially vulnerable to flooding because the city rests right at sea level and this wall wasn't always here.

This film taken by an assistant of Thomas Edison's just gives a glimpse of the devastation of the hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900. Nearly 7,000 people died, almost a sixth of the city's population. Over a century later, it still stands as the deadliest natural disaster in American history. Up like Hurricane Ike, the storm of 1900 moved over Cuba and intensified in the Gulf of Mexico. On September 8th, it smashed into Galveston with winds over 100 miles per hour and a surge higher than 15 feet. Author Eric Larsen wrote Isaac's storm, the definitive book on the hurricane.

ERIC LARSEN, AUTHOR: I can't underestimate the devastation. It was absolutely appalling and you had people burning and the courses of their neighbors. It was a horrendous scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been watching the water cresting the wall.

COSTELLO: Larsen saw today's video of water spilling into Galveston and sees eerie parallels to 1900.

LARSEN: I was watching some of the helicopters on beach in Galveston and it was though as I was watching today a video re- creation.


COSTELLO: All those years ago, Wolf, forecasting was fairly new. The man in charge was named Isaac Klein. He did not think Mother Nature would take out Galveston and issued no warning till it was too late. The tragedy did a couple of things though. It now has that seawall because of that hurricane. And those who is predict weather even Isaac cline learned to better predict hurricanes, but it took that great tragedy to do it.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's 100 plus years ago. Stand by, Carol.

I want to show viewers this fire that is now raging in Galveston. You just heard Gary Tuchman talk about it, pictures coming in from our affiliate KTRK. It's some sort of storage facility. And firefighters can't get to the area right now. That's why there's so much smoke coming in.

Let's bring in the mayor of Galveston, Lyda Ann Thomas is joining us right now.

Mayor, what do we know about this fire, if anything?

MAYOR LYDA ANN THOMAS, GALVESTON, TEXAS: We don't know a lot except there's -- there are diesel tanks involved and our troops are down there. They're having a hard time getting to it. Plus the wind, Wolf, is increasing just minute by minute. But we're there. And we're going to do what we can as soon as we can get to it.

BLITZER: We heard the deputy director of the national hurricane center say, mayor, that almost all of Galveston is pretty soon going to be underwater. Are you ready for that?

THOMAS: First of all, I'm not so sure how much water we're going to have. We have a lot right now, but the seawall is holding firm as it always has, and the waves are splashing over the seawall. But the surf itself is still about five feet below the seawall. But we're ready. We stayed prepared all the time for these kinds of storms. This is a big one, but we'll handle it and we'll recover just as soon as we can when it's over which should be over the next 12 hours.

BLITZER: The concern that the national hurricane center deputy director expressed is not necessarily they are protected by the wall but there are other parts of Galveston island that don't have a seawall and water could come in a big way in those areas. Are you concerned about that?

THOMAS: Yes, sure. You're absolutely correct. The west end of the island is completely inundated. Our docks and piers along our harbor at the port of Galveston is under water. The downtown is completely flooded as are some of our neighborhoods. But many of our streets are still passable. And once this storm passes, the water will go down. We will have a lot of damage. We're not looking forward to it, but we're ready to get our damage cleaned up and move forward. We'll know a lot more in about eight or nine hours.

BLITZER: Mayor, our correspondent Gary Tuchman is on top of that seawall right now. And he has a question he wants to ask you. Go ahead, Gary.

TUCHMAN: Mayor, I love the sunny optimism first of all. We are hoping for the best, too. The seawall is holding. Looks like about three or four feet. I just walked back there. About three or four feet, the water is below the wall right now. I'm wondering, the worst is still yet to come. Area talking about six or eight hours from now is going to be the peak. Are you still optimistic when you look at it that way?

THOMAS: We are very, very worried about the topping of the seawall. It is going to top the seawall. And we just don't know what the impact of that will be until it actually happens, but we know that I think the majority of our city will be under water but how much under water, who could tell at this point.

BLITZER: Gary, go ahead.

TUCHMAN: Sorry about that, Wolf. I do want to ask an important question, probably the most crucial question we've gotten. Do you have any idea what percentage of the Galvestonians have left this island for safety?

THOMAS: We think that approximately 40 percent of the island, that was yesterday. A number of people left today. So we don't have an accurate count for you yet.

BLITZER: And Mayor, how many people are we talking about 60,000 people who live in Galveston, or is there a lot more at risk?

THOMAS: We have a population of 60,000. We took out about 3,000 of our citizens who needed public transportation. I really don't want to speculate. I have no idea how many people are still here.

BLITZER: All right. Mayor, we're going to have to leave it right there. You have a lot of work to do. We want you to be careful, all of the men and women who are working with you. The military, the first responders, good luck to everyone in the Galveston area. Good luck to everyone along the Texas coast right now. We're bracing for the worst. Gary, don't go away. We're going to be coming back to you shortly. I want to move on to another big story we're following. We're not going to leave the hurricane for long.

We want to follow the latest developments in race for the white house. Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is weighing in on Barack Obama's vice presidential selection. Palin says the democrat may be regretting his choice of Joe Biden.

Let's discuss this and more with a pair of CNN political contributors, the democratic strategist James Carville and the republican strategist, Leslie Sanchez. Here is what she says in a new part of the interview with ABC News, James. And we'll get your reaction. She says, "I think he's regretting not picking her now," referring to your candidate, Hillary Clinton. "I do. What would -- what determination and grit and even grace through some tough shots that were fired her way, she handled those well." What do you make of that?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, she's probably a little bit better political analyst than she is on foreign policy. I think she's more interested in politics than foreign policy obviously. I wish Senator Obama would have picked is Senator Clinton. We've got a good team on the field and we're all behind it. But she seems to be a little more comfortable in the political arena than the foreign policy.

BLITZER: She and Senator McCain, Leslie, are saying really beautiful things about Hillary Clinton. It's no great sacrifice because they would love to get some of those disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters on their side.

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's not so much that as up as Hillary Clinton was a formidable candidate. There were a lot of republicans very concerned that it would be an Obama/Clinton ticket and actually, she is not repeating anything that Joe Biden, the vice presidential candidate isn't say himself when he thought Hillary Clinton would have been a better pick. Overall, the Obama ticket rejected a very viable, strong candidate who's probably the best woman to be on that ticket on the democratic side in modern history. And you can't run away from that. I think many women are disturbed by that. It wasn't so hard for republicans to put a qualified person on the ticket. It just increases the importance of gender in this election.

CARVILLE: Maybe it wasn't hard for them to do it, but they didn't do it. It would have been easy to pick Olympia Snow. The party wouldn't let him do that. We all know there were qualified republican women but they didn't make the cut so we don't need to argue that.

SANCHEZ: You know, Governor Palin is exactly the right candidate. She's energized the party. People are excited about this. She speaks to middle class values and it is a classic American middle class rural values against the elite liberalism of somebody like Obama.

BLITZER: The Obama campaign has a new ad that they just released. I want to play it and both of you will discuss. We have a new McCain ad that came out, as well first the Obama ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1982, John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years. But McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an e-mail. Still doesn't understand the economy. And favors $200 billion in new tax cuts for corporations but almost nothing for the middle class. After one president who was out of touch, we just can't afford more of the same.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message.


BLITZER: All right, James, you've been anxious for this Obama campaign to start releasing ads like that. Did this make the cut?

CARVILLE: Yeah. I mean it does. And the remarkable thing about it, it's truthful, which distinguishes it from anything I've seen out of Senator McCain's campaign. It actually it's very factual and it does make a good point. In 1982 is when I left Louisiana and just came back this year. I realized how long a period of time that was. He's been in Washington for quite awhile there.

BLITZER: Listen to this ad, Leslie. Hold on. I want to play this McCain ad and I want you to weigh in on this one. This is the new McCain ad.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was the world's biggest celebrity. But his star is fading. So they lashed out at Sarah Palin, dismissed her as good looking. That back fired. So they said she was doing what she was told. Then desperately called Sarah Palin a liar. How disrespectful. and how Governor Sarah Palin problems they will wrong every day.


BLITZER: All right. Leslie what, do you think of that ad?

SANCHEZ: It's inspiring. It's exactly correct. It's unprecedented to have a democratic presidential candidate working so hard and sacrificing so much time to attack the number two of the republican ticket. It's unheard of. With respect to that previous ad I have to say this. While Barack Obama was playing video games, you have to look at Senator McCain was working on telecommunications legislation which reformed the industry led to one of the biggest sectors in our economy. That's really kind of reforming Washington and something that didn't happen in a democratic congress. Let's just talk about who deserves the credit when it comes to technology.

CARVILLE: Well, I'm sure one of the 164 lobbyists working for him wrote the bill for him so -- SANCHEZ: You know, Wolf I just want to say quickly my family's in Houston. Everybody appreciates the coverage and all that you're doing there.

BLITZER: Good luck to your family. I know, James, you're in New Orleans. How is it over there?

CARVILLE: Well, it's OK. We're getting -- pushing a lot of the waters. As I said before.

BLITZER: We just lost James. The satellite just went down. We wish everyone in New Orleans only the best. Leslie, we wish your family only the best and everyone the best in Houston. This is a serious storm.

Warnings of certain death. Some waited till the last minute to flee this monster storm called Ike. Others had to be rescued. We have new pictures of the stranded fratder in the middle of the gulf. And with water rising in the streets, some still aren't budging. We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just want to alert our viewers, we're getting ready to hear directly from Senator Barack Obama. He's going to be speaking out on what's going on with Hurricane Ike. We'll go there live once he starts speaking. Stand by for that.

We're watching these two stories, the race for the white house as well as Hurricane Ike. FEMA has just announced what are considered to be its damage estimates for this very, very dangerous storm. Kelli Arena is looking into this part of the story.

The storm really hasn't even hit yet, but they have a way of projecting how much damage potentially, Kelli, there could be out there?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They sure do, Wolf. Right now, there's a lot of frustration that not everyone listened when they were told to evacuate especially in those low-lying areas. As you know, I mean, officials can't force people to leave if they don't want to. Now those folks will have to ride it out.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Those people will have to do the best they can to find a safe place to hide and keep themselves out of harm's way and again, I remind them that food, water medicine and radio with a battery or crank will be indispensable tools.


ARENA: Officials say that as soon as it is safe, they will get the helicopters up and boats in the water to start rescuing people. After the storm of course, but they say there are enough meals and blankets and cots and such to deal with the aftermath and certainly enough personnel, but they are bracing for the worst. They say that the first 72 hours after the storm are going to be very rough, Wolf and people could be displaced for quite a while.


CHERTOFF: We could have over 100,000 residences that are inundated or affected by the flood. There could be millions of people without power in the short term depending on the precise impact of the storm on transmission lines and other power generation facilities.


ARENA: Now, Wolf, as you know the storm has a bigger footprint than Katrina did and the big worry not the wind, but the water, and drainage will be a major issue. The feds say that we could see up to 25-foot surges in some areas. The army corps of engineers standing ready with extra pumps to drain those areas that don't naturally flow back into the gulf. I have to tell you that the homeland security secretary did not mince words. He said this storm falls into the category of worst case scenario.

BLITZER: All right. That is ominous indeed and I am sure an accurate assessment. We will see what happens. Kelli, thank you for that. Kelli will stay on of the top of it for us.

As this monster storm moves in, the Coast Guard is carrying on urgent airlifts, but one rescue was deemed impossible.

And a city built at sea level, some Galveston residents were told to leave or face certain death. We are on the situation right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: As hard as it is to comprehend, some people have still refused to get out of the way of Hurricane Ike. Let's go to Abbi Tatton. She has some I-reports to show us what is going on.


ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, some of the neighborhoods of Galveston already look like this. Video by George Holleran who says he is getting off of the island heading north to safety, but there are some people who are not doing that.

We have been checking in with Matthew Urchel over the past few hours and he says he is staying put. We checked in with him yesterday when he was boarding up buildings and helping friends out and he is going to ride tout storm with numerous animals and two of his friends in a two-story structure. We put it to him there's this warning of certain death of people staying on the island and he said, yes, it made them think twice today, but they decided that they think they are on high enough ground the ride it out. That is what they are going to be doing.

BLITZER: I hope they are OK, Abbi. Thank you very much and we will check back with you as you get more of these I-reports coming in.

Coast Guard helicopter crews have been busy saving people from the rising water. We have on the phone right now Captain Bill Diehl of the Coast Guard to talk about these operations. He is the Houston- Galveston deputy commander for the Coast Guard.

First of all, what can you tell us about the freighter, this huge freighter that is adrift right in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. There are about 22 people, Captain, on board and I know you tried to get there to save them, but you couldn't because of the hurricane.

CAPT. BILL DIEHL, U.S. COAST GUARD: That is correct, Wolf. What happened, they got a hold of us about 4:00 this morning and said they had gone dead in the water. We launched the helicopters and support aircraft out there to rescue them, but when we got there the winds were 80 knots and that didn't make hoisting them off of the vessel possible.

BLITZER: So what the latest as far as you know? Are they okay? Do they have communications or power?

DIEHL: They have power. We were able to communicate with them. They are going to have to ride out the storm obviously. We have a heavy-duty salvage tug, the Schmidt Rotterdam which will come in on the back side of the storm and pick them up around noon tomorrow.

BLITZER: We are showing video from the Coast Guard, Captain, of a rescue operation. I don't know if you are seeing CNN right now, but clearly, they are going into save some folks. You are still doing this or is it too late now to continue these kind of chopper-related rescue operations?

DIEHL: We had to pull back our smaller helicopters or what we call the H-65s and we have pulled them back about two hours ago. The larger ones, the H-60s are still out there. We have the pilots telling us when it becomes unsafe, and they will back out. We obviously go in the Coast Guard going in harm's way, but we do it with a risk analysis and right now we are right at that risk analysis, so pretty soon, we are going to have to pull back. Well, I just got word we are backing up the hilos right now. We probably have saved about 120 people so far today the last time I walked out to see what the status board was.

BLITZER: Well, those are 120 precious lives that you have saved. Do you have enough crew? Do you have enough equipment? Obviously, you are suspending the operations right now, because it is simply way too dangerous, but were you prepared in other words?

DIEHL: We were prepared. We are actually prepared to respond is what we do. And if people evacuate and stuff and then the storm comes in and then we respond immediately afterwards. So we were prepared for that, but what happened this morning is that the storm came in and caught people before the winds got here and we thought that we better go get them now while the window is open, but the window is closed now. So what we will do is to stage the boats and helicopters and as soon as the weather passes, we will go immediately in. BLITZER: The Coast Guard helicopter rescue operations that we saw after Katrina, should we be braced for those scenes with people on top of the roofs with help signs and families? Is that what you are gearing up for?

DIEHL: We are gearing up for the worst. This is an all hands emergency response not only for ourselves, but the state authorities and the department of the defense and everyone is lending all of their resources to this. It is going to be a little bit different from New Orleans, because New Orleans was like a bowl that flooded, but this is a storm surge like a big wave and sit for a while and then flush back out. So we will have a lot of moving parts which will be the complicating part.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you, captain bill deal of the U.S. Coast Guard doing outstanding work for all of us in the rescue operations so dramatic and important. Captain, thank you for saving these lives.

DIEHL: You are welcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: To the viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the breaking news we are following is the colossal force of nature threatening Texas.