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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Hurricane Coverage; Mandatory Evacuations Zones All Along East Coast in Preparation for Hurricane Irene; Storm to Hit North Carolina Coast in Morning

Aired August 26, 2011 - 21:00   ET

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


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, is this the worse case scenario? Hurricane Irene so big you can see it from space.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Irene is passing over the horizon from us now. She's definitely a big storm and people in her way better batten down the hatches.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MORGAN: About to slam down into the East Coast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I cannot stress this highly enough: if you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Sixty-five million people in danger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BEV PERDUE (D), NORTH CAROLINA: To all the people in eastern North Carolina, good luck and our prayers are with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Mandatory evacuations, time to get out is right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: You have to get out.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: We've never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn't be doing it now if we didn't think this storm had the potential to be very serious.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MORGAN: We're tracking this monster minute by minute and going live into the storm zone. This is PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.

(MUSIC)

MORGAN: Good evening.

We're covering every angle of hurricane Irene tonight from North Carolina, with landfalls expected in a matter of hours, to New York City where unprecedented mandatory evacuations are under way in low- lying areas at every borough.

Thousands of flights are cancelled on the East Coast. JFK is closing to international arrivals tomorrow at noon.

Major highways are closing down, as I speak. There are unprecedented shutdowns -- transit system in New York and Philadelphia.

Atlantic casinos and hotels are shuttered.

Broadway is going dark for the weekend.

So, will this storm be the big one that millions of people now fear?

I want to begin in North Carolina with CNN's Brian Todd who is right in the thick of it.

Brian, what's going on where you are? It looks pretty rough.

We seem to have lost -- we seem to have lost Brian there. It is rough down there. Communication is hard.

Brian, you're back, I think.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you hear me, Piers? Can you hear me OK?

MORGAN: I can, Brian. You just keep talking.

TODD: OK. We're going to show you the storm surge here. (INAUDIBLE) rain, wind. (INAUDIBLE) pushing up against the pier. (INAUDIBLE) impacted by the storm. (INAUDIBLE) if you're not out of here by now, you can't be able to get out. (INAUDIBLE) people don't stay out here for long, Piers.

MORGAN: Brian, we can't hear you well, but what we can see is most extraordinary scenes behind you. We're going to try to make that connection a bit better.

We're going to go Chad Myers. He's at the CNN weather center.

Chad, we can see there from Brian Todd the power of this hurricane and it is clearly heading as you've been predicting now for a while right down the East Coast.

Tell me exactly what we are looking at as we speak now. CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're looking at a hurricane that's actually getting a little bit stronger tonight. It's getting its act together. There's the eye of the storm.

Our Brian Todd right here Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington. I just saw a gust there of 50 miles per hour. So, he is almost as close as you can get. This is the closest pass that he will get. The storm will eventually move on up toward the Cape Hatteras region which is northeast of him.

But he's really now -- look at all these waves, wave after wave of significant rainfall moving into Brian's location. And that's why it was so difficult much he's right there at that point -- so difficult to get that communication.

Wilmington now has picked up over five inches of rainfall and literally hasn't even started. We still have 12 or 15 more hours, Piers, of more heavy rainfall. There could be a foot of rain right where Brian Todd is. You have the water coming in from the ocean and another foot of rain trying to wash down the rivers, significant flash flooding is going to occur right there.

MORGAN: Chad, to try to comprehend the scale of this. I heard you earlier and it startled me to say that this hurricane, this storm, is bigger than the size of Europe. Is that right?

MYERS: That is absolutely correct. Let me show you a satellite right here. I measured it myself last night because I didn't believe it myself. I went on to Google. I plotted it on Google.

If you go from the northern edge where the cloud cover is here, all the way back toward Charleston and down to the south and you circle that, you get a square mile, mileage bigger than France, Spain, all of northern Europe, all of Germany, all the way over to where my parents are from, from Hungary and Czechoslovakia area, all the way down and including Italy.

So, you could cover up the entire main continent of Europe with that storm right there.

MORGAN: Incredible scenes. Now, obviously, there's a lot of focus in the moment on New York City. Not to belittle everywhere else that's going to get hit by this. But, clearly, New York has not been hit of anything of this magnitude for a long time.

Looking at all the charts and we've talked to you everything we talk to you. But you're the guy who knows this stuff. What's the probability right now, Chad, if these charts are accurate of this doing a direct hit on New York City?

MYERS: It's not a doomsday scenario. It's not the worst that possibly could ever happen. But what we have, part of this size, part of the size of the storm. This is 250 miles around. And just in a radius from middle to here and to here. That means the winds will be blowing for hours in the same direction here. That will pile water up. Think about taking a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and trying to cool it of with your breath. You just blow on it to get the top cooled off. You're blowing little ripples of that coffee or tea to the other side.

Well, now, take it to be 100 mile-per-hour breath and keep blowing on it for the next 12 hours, you have a lot of water going in all in one direction. So, there's the direction here -- spinning by Atlantic Beach.

You do have landfall by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning and all the way -- this is 7:00 on Saturday night. The wind are now in New York City blowing 39 miles per hour into the harbor and also now into the Long Island sound. All of that is going to funnel and puddle, basically, right over the East River and into New York harbor.

So, we'll get rid of that, we'll put it together. Remember that, that's 7:00 p.m. Saturday. Ocean City, 2:00 a.m. is your landfall. The storm doesn't even get to New York until 10:00 a.m. the next day. I can add that up. That's 15 hours of the wind blowing the same direction, pushing that wave of water into New York harbor and literally flooding parts of Manhattan.

MORGAN: Absolutely extraordinary. Chad, as always, superb analysis. We'll come back to you later in the show.

But, for now, Poppy Harlow is in Lower Manhattan, (INAUDIBLE) unprecedented mandatory evacuation tonight.

Poppy, we've never had a mandatory evacuation in New York City. You live in the area that's being evacuated. What's going on? Are people leaving? Are New Yorkers who are known for their resilience if I may dare suggest stubbornness, are they taking this advice? Are they leaving?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are stubborn and resilient but we know when we have to go. As the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said today, Piers, this storm is the stronger than all of us. We are leaving immediately after your show. I'm packing up my apartment a few blocks from here and I am leaving to go more inland in Manhattan.

They are leaving. They are heeding the warning.

You got a hotel right over here to me on the southern tip of Battery Park, the Ritz-Carlton. They're moving every single one of their hundreds of guests out into other hotels.

I spoke to a lot of residents here that are leaving, they're packing up. Some are going to schools that are turning into shelters. There will be 91 shelters here in New York City.

Mayor Bloomberg has called in 900 soldiers, the National Guard, 100 Army vehicles to try to help. Police officers will be down here.

Where I'm standing right now, Piers, just to give you a sense, will be covered with water. No question about it, starting early Sunday morning. The mayor's office told me the storm surge, get this from just a few feet behind me that water is going to come up six to 12 feet, and that is if we stay category 2.

MORGAN: Wow.

HARLOW: If this storm intensifies, as we just heard from Chad, can you believe it? Six to 12 feet. And, Piers, you know New York well. You know Ground Zero well. Ground Zero is five blocks from where I am. It's in the eye of this storm at this moment. It's shaped like a bathtub. You have the memorial there and you have much of Ground Zero which is not built up yet.

I was on the 70th floor of tower one a week ago. It's not enclosed with glass. It is literally open with netting around it. Can you imagine that being right on the water in this storm?

MORGAN: I mean, clearly, people, I wouldn't say are not panicking, but certainly even the cool New Yorkers are beginning to think what is going on here? What is going to happen to us?

How would you describe the mood of people on the streets in New York right now?

HARLOW: I think it's let's get down to business. Let's get out of dodge, if you will. Let's get out of this neighborhood. It's not just New York City, it's Staten Island where I was earlier today. I was at a hospital one of the biggest in all of New York City. They were evacuating each and every patient.

And, Piers, to give you some perspective, in 150 years of that hospital being open since 1861, they have never evacuated.

So, the city has never experienced anything like this. And it's getting more urgent by the hour. Tomorrow at noon, all of MTA is shutting down. New Yorkers don't generally have cars. People get around on buses and on the trains. Those are all shutting down completely.

I asked the mayor's office will you have any emergency vehicles to help people if they don't get out by noon, and they said no.

MORGAN: Wow.

Well, Poppy, I would suggest you get the hell out of there. Thank you very much.

HARLOW: Got it.

MORGAN: The Army Corps of Engineers has a huge role in disaster response. They put together a street by street prediction of what a storm surge would do to New York and it won't make anyone in the city breathe easier.

Joining me now is the commander of the Corps of Engineers, Atlantic Division, Brigadier General Duke Deluca. Brigadier General, thank you very much for joining me. A lot of people now making some pretty forbidding comments from the president downwards. What is your view? What is the sense you're getting about the reality of this hurricane and in particular a direct hit on New York City?

BRIG. GENERAL DUKE DELUCA, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Well, obviously, it's a very serious storm. Thank you very much for having me on tonight, Piers.

And we are contributing to the team effort and I want to highlight the Corps of Engineers is one component of a federal, state and local team that's work took prepared for the storm and then to respond immediately in mitigation and recovery.

And FEMA is in the lead for the federal government, and state and local elected officials are the leaders and the managers of this effort, and the federal team works in support of them.

I think there's been lot of great risk communication and a lot of planning for the worst while everybody here, including us, hopes for the best. This storm itself is our contributions to the hurricane modeling with NOAA have allowed us to develop the tracks and follow them.

This particular storm right now is following the track that the hurricanes Bill, Edna and Gloria have followed in the past. And it doesn't mean it's going to stay on the same track. We're watching it very closely with NOAA and keeping track and adjusting that track model the whole time.

I think behind me is a graphic from our core map viewer that shows the current track as it is and then the infrared shot of the storm itself.

Right now, the centerline impact shows that it's going happen right around the Nassau County-Suffolk County line on Long Island. Yesterday, that line was through right (INAUDIBLE) and almost right at the direct hit of New York. So, if this storm moves a little bit west, it could be. If it moves a little bit east, I think it will make people certainly in New York and Long Island breathe easier, although that leaves Boston, of course, and Rhode Island and Massachusetts that could bear the brunt.

So, we're tracking it closely. We're modeling it. Our modeling also contributed to something called the hurricane evacuation models that have helped inform state and local leaders and federal agencies as they made recommendations, and then course those state leaders made decisions about evacuations -- some of them unprecedented.

MORGAN: Poppy Harlow, my colleague, was saying earlier that she's in Lower Manhattan, people are suggesting there could be a surge of water between six and 12 feet high in parts of Manhattan, including Ground Zero. Is that a likely prospect, do you think from everything you're now looking at?

DELUCA: Well, in a worse case scenario, 12 feet is possible. But, right now, given the track the storm is on, given the wind speeds we're measuring, the speed of the storm itself, what we see in our projections are sadly there is a timing issue. Timing is everything. There is an astronomical high tide, a moon tide, if you will, that's' going to be occurring in New York at the time that the hurricane is about to make landfall.

So, there's about a one-foot increase over a normal high tide at the Battery. And right now, it looks to us like there's a four to five- foot surge that will accompany this storm at the Battery. That means about a five or six-foot surge at that level. That's not 12 feet. But, of course, that's based on the current track of the storm and its current intensity. Something that changes from hour to hour as your weather people have been talking about all day.

MORGAN: I mean, obviously, with Katrina in everybody's minds, the city of New Orleans just couldn't cope with what happened there. There are serious concerns that the reason everyone in authority is getting so publicly, not panicky but certainly very concerned about New York is that it's not really geared up to take this kind of surge.

What is your view from a military point of view?

DELUCA: Well, as a partner with New York City, Office of Emergency Management, of course, in the state of New York, the FEMA regions. Of course, there are three FEMA regions in the area -- region one in New England, region two here in New York and Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. And, of course, region three, which is the Mid-Atlantic States -- Virginia through Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The preparations here are good. The capacity is actually very good. New York City as an emergency management planning organization and -- or a city that has the capacity to act on its own is an amazing resource.

I mean, this is an incredible workforce in terms much police, fire, emergency responders. You have tremendously talented team here, Commissioner Bruno and Mayor Bloomberg. This is a city that can take a lot of actions on its own and they are already doing so. I think you can see that in the steps they have taken, so far, in advance of the storm. But, sort of, I think are more aggressive --

MORGAN: Brigadier General --

DELUCA: -- more informed than we've seen in the past. Yes?

MORGAN: I'm going to have to leave there. But thank you very much indeed.

DELUCA: Thank you for having me.

MORGAN: When we come back, I'll talk to President Obama's point man on Hurricane Irene.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I cannot stress this highly enough: if you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now. Don't wait. Don't delay. We all hope for the best but we have to be prepared for the worst.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: President Obama today warning the East Coast to prepare for the worst of Hurricane Irene. There are 65 million people at risk. Can the government possibly pick up the pieces of this massive storm? That's the question for Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, who joins me now.

Mr. Fugate, President Obama seemed pretty serious there. Have you been personally briefing him on Irene?

CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Yes, we have. Actually, the day of the earthquake, we briefed him and then we've been briefing him each day after.

MORGAN: And is there a good reason for him to sound so serious? Are you beginning to feel now that it's almost inevitable that New York City, for example, will take a direct hit?

FUGATE: There's going to impacts and, again, the hurricane center has said that this forecast track is pretty much not going to change. We expect to it make landfall in Carolina and go up the East Coast. So, we're going to see impacts. That's a given. Just how bad and where still needs to be determined, but we're preparing as state and local officials are preparing based upon this forecast.

MORGAN: I mean, are your being overly cautious, post-Katrina? I mean, not that anybody would possibly blame you for doing that, but some people are suggesting as a slight overreaction this time to make sure that that kind of thing couldn't possibly happen again?

FUGATE: Well, I don't know about that. This is how I've always been operating. This is how we did it when I was in Florida.

This is what we do here in the president's administration as we bring the team together. We get the team ready. We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. But we're not going to wait to find how bad it is before we get ready.

MORGAN: What is the biggest concern for New York City? Is it structural damage or is it from potential flooding?

FUGATE: I think, really, the concern in New York City is going to be how much storm surge we get. I think that's the factor that for the mayor and his team been looking at why they are ordering evacuations.

Now, we could get wind damage and power outages. But I'd say, in the borough areas those areas are susceptible to flooding and storm surges are primary concern right now.

MORGAN: And, obviously, Mayor Bloomberg has already ordered some evacuations and the governor as well. Clearly, there are sections of that area which are being evacuated. For people not in those sections, is it sensible now to be thinking about getting out of there if you can?

FUGATE: Well, I think that's a decision that's case by case. But, really, what you want to do is make sure if you're not in the elevation zone, you got supplies in case the power goes out or there's disruptions in the water. And you know where a safe place to be in the building.

Again, we're not looking at the type of wind damage that causes the type of devastation we've seen in other storms. But we probably will see some damage, we'll see power outages. But the principle threat for life safety right now is still going to be storm surge and flooding.

MORGAN: I mean, as always you're FEMA headquarters seems remarkably calm there, Craig. Are you feeling calm about this? Do you feel like you're on top of it?

FUGATE: Well, again, I look at this and what the team here has worked for to get ready. Again, right now, the primary activity has been evacuation. Other than Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, you know, the mainland has not been hit and that's going to change tomorrow. And I think you'll see that we've been working and prepared to get ready.

But as it starts, the damages, we're going to see the operations increase here as well as at the state and local level.

MORGAN: Who funds this kind of thing? Because, obviously, we've been hit by a series of natural disasters that have been very costly recently. Is there enough money in the kitty for this? How much of it is federal? How much of it is state? How does this work?

FUGATE: Well, when we talk about disasters and we'll just talk about what government is doing when you do have disasters that are declared by the president, it is paid for by the U.S. taxpayers. But it's a shared expense with state and local taxpayers. Federal government cost shares about 75 percent. State and local is 25 percent of that.

But that's something again as taxpayers we do pay for. That's part of our responsibilities to each other as citizens when times hit. But we also got to remember we have a lot of volunteer organizations that count on donations of folks to do the services they provide.

So, yes, disasters are expensive but it is part of our shared responsibility to come to each other's needs when disaster strikes.

MORGAN: Are you confident the people of New York in particular are listening in a tentative enough way? I heard someone make a joke, but it's probably half a joke that New Yorkers do tend to be quite obstinate when people tell them what to do. Are you getting encouraging signs that evacuation and so on are being taken up by New Yorkers? FUGATE: Yes, I do. And I think, again, the mayor and his team have been, you know, pre-matter of fact why they are doing it and why they need to do it. And I think people are listening to that.

There's always going to be people that second-guess or delay, but I think overall people under this is a situation they need to get ready for. And at least they're paying attention to it. And hopefully, they'll do the things that will minimize the loss of life and, hopefully, they've gotten ready before we get the storm in the area.

MORGAN: Well, I know that FEMA is in good hand. Good luck. We'll be, obviously, watching as it transpires hour by hour.

FUGATE: All right. Well, thanks, Piers.

MORGAN: My next guest does indeed think the biggest risk in the hurricane will come from the New Yorkers. They survive terror attacks and blackouts, you may well underestimate the power of the hurricane.

Nicholas K. Coch is the professor of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences of Queens Colleges, University of New York.

Professor Coch, you think that maybe New Yorkers having been through so much may not be that keen to evacuate?

PROF. NICHOLAS K. COCH, PROFESSOR OF COASTAL GEOLOGY, QUEENS COLLEGE: Well, I don't think that they take things seriously. They feel that they've been through so much. And they also feel that hurricanes are something that happen on coasts with palm trees. And that's where they are wrong.

The historical record of New York shows that it was directly hit by hurricanes in 1821, and in 1893. And we felt that the great 1938 hurricane, even though it was 70 miles away out on Long Island, caused considerable damage in the city.

So, here we have a track that we're not quite sure exactly where it's going to hit. The right side of the hurricane will be the most dangerous side and, right now, it looks like that might be on Long Island.

However, I think that we under estimate the wind damage. Remember when you have wind and you speed up the wind like if you have a hose and you squeeze the hose, the water goes faster. The same thing happens between sky scrapers. And that sucks the windows out.

We've seen that in the hurricanes in Houston. The streets are littered with glass. And the strength of those hurricanes in Houston was about the level that we're expecting to come in.

Now, this is a very wide storm with a big radius of maximum in winds. It's also moving relatively slowly and could considerably die out as it hits the colder waters because, generally, the only way to really hit the south shore of Long Island is to have a hurricane that's moving at least 35 miles an hour forward. So, we will have maximum surge because New York is in the right angle and thing right an simple a killer in terms of surge, because as the hurricane moves in, the winds at the front of the hurricane push the coastal waters westward. And into that right angle and you can't push water into a right angle without it going up. So, we're going experience much higher than predicted by our computer water levels.

And now, if the winds stay 80 miles per hour or even if they decrease to 80 miles an hour, we're going to see significant wind damage. We've had an awful lot of rain and we have a heck of a lot of more rain to come. And that's going to soften the soils and the trees are going to go over and the power lines will go over.

So, we're going to have a three ring circus no matter what happens in the level of the storm.

MORGAN: Professor, obviously a lot of people will be on the East Coast, listen towing, pretty gloomy picture you're painting here. From the historical perspective, you studied a lot of hurricanes in your time.

COCH: Right.

MORGAN: Is it going to be as bad as many people are prophesying here? What is your gut feeling from everything you've been hearing?

COCH: My gut feeling it won't be as bad because I think the storm will start as it starts to shear as it moves over the colder water, because it's not moving fast enough. However, when we look back at these older hurricanes, there were category ones and category twos. You know, people make a big mistake when they use this numerical scheme, because a given hurricane of a given scale, if it comes in at high tide, comes in with a lot of rain, it's going to have a very different thing than one that comes in at low tide and the ground is dry.

In other words, we rely far too much on the Saffir-Simpson scale and we better look at the other seven factors that determine the actual destruction. Are on the right side or left side of the storm? How fast is the storm moving? The faster it moves, the faster the winds are on the right side.

So, we do not have a realistic picture of expectative hurricane damage and that is a dangerous thing.

MORGAN: Finally, if you would give me a one word answer -- if you're in New York now, should you leave?

COCH: If you're living under an altitude of 30 feet, yes.

MORGAN: Professor Coch thank you very much indeed.

Coming up next, two all-star storm chasers, and another man who heads into storms others are leaving, Sam Champion.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MORGAN: Breaking news on Hurricane Irene. I want to go straight back to Brian Todd, who is in North Carolina, the heart of this storm. Brian, can you hear me and what is going on now?

TODD: I can hear you, Piers. We still have a mild storm surge.

Really concerned about the entire eastern half of the state of North Carolina. You can see what they are talking about. This is not even the heart of the storm yet. That's coming on for several hours on shore in this region. But you can see how violent the surf is getting.

An Official here told me a short time again they're really worried about this storm surge kind of over-washing these beaches, these dunes here in this part of North Carolina on the beaches, and then just heading in to town. So it's going to get a lot worse in the next few hours, Piers.

MORGAN: Brian, tell me what it actually feels like. I've never been near a hurricane. What does it feel like right now, for you, standing in the middle of this thing?

TODD: Well, you know it's exhilarating and frightening at the same time. You've got -- I have to say, it's fun to be out in these things, at least it is for me, because it really -- it's a great experience of nature. You really do respect the power of nature when you're out here.

And -- but it is disorienting. You've got winds whipping all around. You have to keep your eye out for flying debris, parts of roofs flying at you. That's been an issue not yet here. But I've covered hurricanes in the past. You got to always keep an eye around you for any flying debris. And some of it is fairly large.

Here, you've also got sand whipping up in your face. You've got -- the water is very warm. The rain is very warm. But it's just pelting your face. Sand pelting your face. And it can be disorienting. But, you know, you tend to take your bearings and get used to it after a little while.

MORGAN: Brian, you're obviously right on the coast there, right by the sea. Could you imagine the power that you're feeling and the surging of the water if that is now transported into New York City? What would you imagine would happen there?

TODD: I think they are going have a lot of problems. If this kind of force -- and, again, just what we're seeing is just the milder, kind of outer bands of this hurricane. If some of the full force of this hurricane or at least some of it -- a stronger remnant hit New York City, I think they are going to have a problem. They are going to have a problem with flash flooding. They are going to have a problem with just a lot of, you know, debris flying around people.

And I think the difference between here and there is they are just not quite as used to handling hurricanes in New York as they are here. People here kind of know what they are doing. They know when to get out of the way of this thing. Most people here have evacuated. They've got mandatory evacuation orders for a lot of counties around here.

But you do worry about the people in New York and whether they are going to be ready for this.

MORGAN: Brian, stay safe there. We'll come back to you before the end of the show. Thank you very much.

Now I want to bring in three guys who head into monster storms as everybody else goes running, ABC News weather editor Sam Champion, Discovery Channel storm chasers Reed Timmer and Chris Chittick.

Let me start with you, Sam. It's obviously building up momentum. It's looking pretty ominous now for the east coast, and in particular for New York City. You've been through a lot of these things. What's your take on it, with everything you knowing right now?

SAM CHAMPION, ABC NEWS: Piers, with everything I know right now -- again, this is a storm that because we haven't had anything like this in New York City, New York City needs to take seriously, and indeed it does. And it's -- my impression is this is a storm that will carry water up against the coastline.

We'll have those winds. I think it will be tropical storm if not category one force winds in the city. The problem will be long sustained periods of that wind and that rain.

Storm surge, if it weakens, it will be less. If it strengths, it will be more. But the big point of this -- and what I want to say is based on the track -- the track is responsible for the preparations. The track is responsible for the evacuations. And the track is responsible for the coverage.

Our job is to make people aware of what the outside possibility is with a storm like this, and get them ready to survive it. If this storm were to turn or dissipate or fall apart, fine. At least everybody is OK. That's what matters.

It's getting their attention and getting them ready for this storm. I think this storm will hold together in a very powerful storm for this area, not something that they normally have to see and deal with. And it will roll and flood and take a lot of power with it as well. It will be a real problem over the weekend.

MORGAN: The key question, I guess, for all people in New York -- I'm getting lots of people on Twitter now very, very worried, unnerved by what they are hearing on this show from very expert people, unnerved by what they are hearing from the president and others. What should they be doing, Sam? If you were in New York right now, would you leave the city?

CHAMPION: No. I would do exactly what -- people are watching this very carefully. And they are making plans on where the water will go and what the wind will do. And basically they are giving you the information and telling you what to do. If you're paying attention to it, you're prepared and you know. I would not and will not leave the city. I will be here throughout the weekend, working and covering the storm. But even if I were here, I would probably stay.

You need to get out of the flood plains. Any place where the water that may get in here that's five, six, seven feet high, if it is going to flood your neighborhood, you don't need to be there. If you're in a very tall building, we know that the winds are stronger exponentially as you go up in the building. You don't need to be in the highest levels of those buildings.

If you have an all glass apartment or home or condominium, you don't need to be in the windows of that. You need to find an interior room. Riding out wind, no matter what the storm is, it's going to be the same, riding out a tornado or riding out a hurricane.

You find a protected room inside, as low as you can get, without any windows, and you ride it out. The water is a big concern. So you want to get high enough to get away from the flood.

So again, evacuate those flood areas. Get off the shore line. Let this storm go by. We'll repair the damage. And everybody will get back to life. It really is about being prepared, Piers.

MORGAN: Good advice, Sam. I'm now going to turn to Discovery Channel storm chasers Reed Timmer and Chris Chittick, who are in North Carolina. Guys, you are two of the craziest people in America, because as everybody else does a runner from these things, you head into them. What is your reading of what we're witnessing here with Hurricane Irene?

REED TIMMER, DISCOVERY CHANNEL STORM CHASER: Well, I think what makes this storm really scary is just the population density on the East Coast. And just like Katrina, just like the April 27th tornado outbreak this year, you kind of get that sick feeling in your stomach before it happens, when you know there's going be damage, and you know there's going to be people that aren't listening to the warnings that are at these really low elevations, near sea level, where you just can't survive that storm surge.

I'll drive into tornadoes with our armored vehicle all day long. But I'm scared to death of water. And that's why you won't find us anywhere near that storm surge tomorrow.

MORGAN: The key question, I guess is -- continue.

CHRIS CHITTICK, DISCOVERY CHANNEL STORM CHASER: I'm saying we got here a couple of hours ago. And like half the beach -- half the sand is washed off the beach already. So it's pretty serious stuff. It's coming in and you got to take heed of the warning.

MORGAN: Clearly from what we're hearing from the experts, a lot of areas that are currently experiencing the hurricane are used to it. And the people that live in that area are used to it and deal with it accordingly. The problem for someone like New York City is they're just not used to it. It's not happened in my lifetime.

A lot of them are very, very unnerved by what they are watching, what they are hearing. You guys have been in the eye of these storms many times. If you were in New York right now -- and I keep repeating this because I think it's the most important question. If you were in the city now, would you leave?

TIMMER: I would probably get out a topographic map and draw a line where there is probably 25 to 30 feet and stay higher than that. You hear about these doomsday scenarios with hurricanes. You hear about New Orleans. You hear about New York City. It's because of the way that their coast lines are shaped.

With this hurricane, if it's moving due north towards New York City, the winds are going to be such that all that water is going to be jammed up a very small river. And the thing that scares me about this storm -- and it also kind of remind me of Hurricane Ike from a few years ago -- is that the circulation is really large. And it seems to have expanded throughout the day.

So you're piling up all that water over such a larger area. And as the storm moves north, even if its winds decrease, it will still take longer for that water to settle down. So as this is moving north, the storm surge could be more significant than how the winds are with the hurricane.

MORGAN: Reed, Chris and Sam, thank you very much indeed. >

MORGAN: Coming up, the man who directed the recovery in New Orleans after Katrina, what he expects from this storm.

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MORGAN: Joining me now is Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. The storm is expected to hit his state some time tomorrow morning. What can you tell me what's is going on right now in your state?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: Right now, Piers, what's happening is that the window for preparation time is really coming to a close, as we anticipate the arrival of Irene. We've done a lot of really good work for the last 24, 48 hours. I think that's the key.

Our local leaders, like the mayor of Ocean City having the courage to order an evacuation and working together with state police and local police. It's actually gone very, very smoothly. People are listening. People are watching. People are heeding our warnings to get out of the coastal areas and out of Ocean City.

And so far, it's actually been going very well. But this is a deadly killer storm, and we have a lot of rough hours ahead of us.

MORGAN: Governor, lots and lots of people now cuing up to say this could be the big one, the one everyone has been fearing, a direct hit along the east coast. Put it in perspective for me. You've been through a few of these things before. Are people right to be as concerned as they are sounding? O'MALLEY: People are absolutely right to be concerned about this. Look, Piers, in modern times in Maryland, we have never ordered a mandatory evacuation of Ocean City. What we have now going on through many parts of our state, sir -- states is mandatory evacuations of low-lying areas. We're more susceptible than most states to coastal flooding.

So this is a very serious and deadly storm. This is the real thing. And people are very right to take it seriously. I mean, for the first 72 hours that this monster hits, families are on their own. So the first 72 are on you. And moms and dads need to make provisions for their families. If they can get out of the way of this storm, that is ideal. If they can't get out of the way of it, to at least be able to have the provision to hunker down for the first 72 hours is critically important.

Because there will be power outages. There will be fallen trees. There will be a lot of debris. This is a deadly and giant storm.

MORGAN: Governor, thank you very much indeed. Good luck there.

O'MALLEY: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: Now I want to turn to General Russel Honore, commander of the military response in New Orleans after Katrina. General, thank you very much for joining me. Are you fearing a similar kind of catastrophe that we saw in Katrina, if this hits New York?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, US ARMY (RET): Well, it could happen, Piers. We had about an 80 percent evacuation of Mississippi and Louisiana before Katrina hit. And what I've seen this afternoon, in tracing my sources, we're having a good evacuation in the coastal areas and the barrier islands in the Carolinas. I'm not quite sure what that evacuation percentage would be when we get into the highly populated areas.

And from results of previous storms, the majority of people that die are the elderly, the disabled and the poor. What I'm looking for government officials to start accounting for is how many people from that vulnerable population are still in these cities.

MORGAN: Do you believe that post-Katrina enough lessons were learned by FEMA, by the government and everybody else involved in trying to control these situations? Do you think lessons have been learned enough to prevent anything like Katrina happening again?

HONORE: I think government certainly has changed. FEMA is a lean forward organization. They get the before the storm happens, and immediately are prepared to start helping local governments. That was a big change that was directed by Congress. And I think we have a cultural change.

What I think that hasn't changed is dealing with the enormity of a disaster, when mother nature break infrastructure, and when people become isolated without power and without water for several days. In this particular area we're looking at, the projected area this storm is going to hit and the enormity of the population, I hope people have taken serious the evacuation warnings that have been given by the local people and get out of the low-lying areas.

MORGAN: You know, lots of people are watching this show, and they're Tweeting me, and they are concerned, and they're anxious. And they are saying, you know, are you guys all whipping this up to much. Is there hyperbole here? I don't think there is. I mean, if it does veer off course at the last moments, that's great and everyone will have been warned and prepared.

But if there is a direct hit on somewhere like New York City, this is going very serious, isn't it?

HONORE: Absolutely. I think we have had a cultural shift in government, because working with hurricanes for about the last ten or 12 years, while I was in uniform, local governments and governors were reluctant to make that decision to evacuate because of the impact if the evacuated people and the storm didn't come.

So I think that's been one big change we're seeing now. But the options of not evacuating people with the warnings that we have now, and the accuracy of the prediction, need to be done.

MORGAN: General Honore, thank you very much indeed.

A question that many people are asking tonight is will their cell phone work in the event of a hurricane. The answer when we come back.

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MORGAN: It's been six years since the United States has faced a hurricane threat like the one that is now facing America with Irene. In that time, we've become more and more dependent on our cell phones. Will yours, work in this hurricane?

Joining me now is Anthony Melone, who is the chief technology officer for Verizon, the largest wireless operator in the country. Thank you for joining us.

Obviously, cell phones have become such a useful tool in any kind of crisis or disaster. A lot of people are asking tonight, will their phones work if this hurricane strikes. What is the simple answer?

ANTHONY MELONE, VERIZON CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER: The simple answer, Piers, is yes. If history is any indication, the vast majority of our cell service will be working throughout the hurricane. We've had tremendous amount of opportunity and experience throughout the past ten years at Verizon Wireless. And we've performed extremely well.

MORGAN: Obviously we're trying to be as useful as possible here. If the hurricane hits somewhere like New York, and there is substantial damage and lots of flooding and so on, if you're safe, is it better to stay off the cell phone network, so that you can allow people who need help to get it?

MELONE: Well, I would say this, Piers. In times of hurricanes, et cetera, if you can make a phone call, generally the network is not congested. With evacuations,, with folks taking care of other responsibilities, the cell phone network is generally not congested in those areas.

But with that said, I think it's prudent for folks to use the phone as needed and make the phone calls short. Use text messaging. Use e- mail, et cetera. And just leave the airwaves as free as possible. It's just prudent for everyone to take precautions.

MORGAN: What happens if the storm is so strong that it starts smashing down your infrastructure in terms of towers and so on?

MELONE: Well, generally, again, the best thing we can do for -- in preparation for a hurricane is to build a foundational network, which we do at Verizon, that's built on reliability and redundancy. So we have that as a starting point. And then on top of that, we build a robust plan to be ready to react.

And none of us can predict what will happen in the event of a hurricane. But in the event some things do happen, we have people in place staged to respond. We have towers in place, portable towers. We have portable generators. We have extra capacity.

And we have what we call cells on wheels, which are portable cell sites that we can deploy and, again, provide service back in an area that has been impacted by storm damage.

MORGAN: Mr. Melone, thank you very much indeed.

MELONE: Thank you.

MORGAN: And we'll be right back after this break.

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MORGAN: Going to go straight back to Chad Myers in the CNN Hurricane Center. Chad, just a few moments left of the show. Bring me up to speed with exactly where we are right now with Irene.

MYERS: We are at an eye of Irene about 180 miles from making landfall. And that will be first thing tomorrow morning. If you want to get out of coastal Carolina, it's almost too late at this point. Plus, you have no time tomorrow. So it's either time to go or time to hunker down and stay there.

There's the eye right there. There's the center. It is moving on up very close to where our John Zarrella is, or right up here toward the coastal sections, right there. And we have another reporter right there, Brian Todd.

Then from Virginia Beach, the wind now pushing waves, water into the Chesapeake Bay. That could cause a little coastal flooding up into the Chesapeake. Then tomorrow, the waves and the wind just blow onshore all day. And watch by tomorrow night, some of that water may be piling up in New York.

Piers?

MORGAN: Well, it's a very worrying situation, Chad. Thank you very much. I think my only advice would be to listen to authorities, to take the advice that they give you. That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts right now.