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President Obama Signs Emergency Declaration For New York; Storm Could Slam Major Cities; Some NJ Residents Ignoring Mandatory Evacuation

Aired August 26, 2011 - 17:57   ET


JOE JOHNS, GUEST HOSE: President Obama has signed an emergency declaration for New York.

CNN White House Correspondent Dan Lothian joins me now from Massachusetts, where the president is cutting short his vacation -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president and the first lady and his two daughters leaving a day early because the president believes it's more prudent to be back in Washington.

Before he leaves here, the president tried to convey a sense of urgency, saying to those Americans who are in the pathway of the hurricane to heed evacuation warnings.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Trying to avoid a storm of criticism, President Obama said the federal government was one step ahead of Hurricane Irene.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: FEMA has millions of liters of water, millions of meals, and tens of thousands of cots and blankets, along with other supplies pre-positioned along the Eastern Seaboard. And the American Red Cross has already begun preparing shelters in North Carolina and other states.

LOTHIAN: With U.S. Navy ships ordered to sea to ride out the storm, the president, who suddenly changed his own travel plans, issued an urgent warning to people in the hurricane's path.

OBAMA: You have to take precautions now. Don't wait. Don't delay.

LOTHIAN: President Obama held a conference call with his top emergency management officials and spoke with governors and mayors from states that stand to take the brunt of the storm.


LOTHIAN: On Martha's Vineyard, the threat of Hurricane Irene led to a quick exodus by others, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does get pretty chaotic on the island, so since I'm not a year-around resident, I decided to head back home.

LOTHIAN: Flights and ferries were packed as vacations were cut short.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are cutting our vacation short by three days as a result of the storm. So, yes, we're absolutely unhappy.

LOTHIAN: Those staying behind rushed to a Vineyard Haven hardware store to shock up on emergency supplies.

JOHN WATSON, STORE MANAGER: Started seeing gas cans go, flashlights, batteries. And the last couple of days, as you can see from the shelves here, we are now been pretty bare of the rest of everything.

LOTHIAN: At a local marina, the boats were gone, too.

SHERYL ROTHROGERS, OWNER, EDGARTOWN MARINA: They started realizing that their boats are at risk, and so they started calls to say, "Could you pull my boat out pretty quickly?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two major shelters and two minor shelters.

LOTHIAN: Emergency management officials huddled to prepare for the storm. A robo calling system is ready to be activated.

JOHN CRISTENSEN, MARTHA'S VINEYARD MANAGEMENT ASSOC.: Each town has the ability to call its citizens with an alert message.

LOTHIAN: A dramatic ending to a presidential vacation that balanced bike rides, golf, and social outings with a crisis in Libya, and earthquake, and briefings on the U.S. economy.

JOHN WATSON, MANAGER: Mother Nature is going to do her own thing regardless. There's nothing we can do about it. But we just try to weather it as best as we can.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: White House is trying to show an administration on top of the situation, not only over the last few days getting prepared, but over the last few years. One aide pointing out that the president took part in an exercise, a simulation back in 2009 of a Category 3 hurricane -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Dan Lothian with the president in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. Thanks, Dan.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHNS: New hurricane warnings have just been issued for New York and New England. This as the Carolinas that are already beginning the feel the brunt of the storm.

Let's get straight to the deputy administrator for NOAA, Kathryn Sullivan, on the phone. She is in a plane directly above the hurricane as we speak.

Kathryn, what are you seeing there?

KATHRYN SULLIVAN, DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION: Hi, Joe. We are in one of the intense rain bands of the storm right now as we are talking.

And so I have eight window panes on this (INAUDIBLE) that are just absolutely sheeting and streaming with rain. (INAUDIBLE) not as much as I thought yet at any rate. As we say, one passed through the storm from south to north. That is kind of the easy direction. And we are now getting in position to make our other two passes all the way across the storm. That will take us to about 11:00 tonight.

JOHNS: When you do this, when you fly into hurricanes like this, what are you expecting to get? What are you looking for?

SULLIVAN: Well, NOAA, of course (AUDIO GAP) the responsibility for the forecasts and warnings that everyone is paying such good attention to with this storm.

And to make a good prediction of where a hurricane will go and what the intensity may be, you actually need to have measurements from within the storm itself. Despite the all great information that satellites give us -- and they play an invaluable role on helping us understand what forces will steer and shape the path of a hurricane, to really get the model of the dynamics itself right, we have got to get inside of it.

So we are getting down a little bit now in fact. So we are cutting through the storm with radars, with microwave radiometers, with probably 40 different instruments called dropsonde that we will release from the airplane. They will descend through the storm making vertical profiles of the wind speed, the temperature, the pressure, the humidity.

All of that gets fed to the National Hurricane Center's forecast models to help pinpoint and make more precise the physics that the models are representing and the calculations that they do that become their predictions. We don't have weather stations on the ground beneath us. We have an ocean. You have got to get into the storm to make the measurements and keep the models on track with good predictions.

JOHNS: Well, are you able to make any analysis, assessments about the storm on the spot or do you have to wait until it runs through computers back at home base? In other words, have you seen any changes in the storm that you can tell to us live right here on CNN right now?

SULLIVAN: You really do need to wait to assimilate all of the data, because the storm is absolutely huge. It's literally hundreds of miles in diameter.

So what I see at any given moment at one point in the storm doesn't give us the picture that we need to really say to you what's happening, what's going on with the storm. We have penetrated the eye once and it did appear to this air crew that has flown through this storm many times in the last week that the wall of the eye was less organized than they have seen it on other flights.

That visual indication will get added to all the measurements. You will within the next hour or so hear updates from the Hurricane Center that includes some of the data from this flight. And they will give you the best understanding of what's going on and what the likely next 12 hours, 36, 48 hours are with Hurricane Irene.

JOHNS: I didn't hear you very well there. Did you say the wall of the eye is less organized than the crew has seen it before?

SULLIVAN: Yes, that's not uncommon. As a hurricane goes through its many days of evolution, there are events called eye wall replacements where the wall of thunderstorms that makes up the eye at some point sort of disintegrates and a new one arises and replaces it. You don't want to make too much of that observation.

It's just that you're not talking about a steady wall, like the wall of your house. You're talking about a very dynamic wall that forms and reforms through the history of the storm.

JOHNS: And as you look out the window, if you're looking out a window, what is it that you're actually seeing with your own eye?

SULLIVAN: Well, you're not seeing out any of our windows right now, because they're absolutely sheeted over with water, so just milky gray on all of the window panes with streaks going by. We're doing about 200 miles an hour. We're at 11,000 feet.

You can maybe tell from my voice it's bumpier in these rain bands that we are in right now. This is not a picture postcard stuff. This is the middle of a rain band of a hurricane.

JOHNS: Now, you have actually walked in space. Give us some sense as to whether it's scarier in space doing something like that or scarier flying into the eye of a hurricane.

SULLIVAN: Well, I don't find either of these particularly scary.

I am with a superbly trained crew in a well proven airplane. If there was anything scary going on, we would knock off the flight and get the air crew and the airplane back to safety, so this is -- scientific inquiries like space shuttle flights or hurricane hunter flights are the things I thrive on. They are probing the way our planet works and translating what we learn from those probes into useful information that helps all of us live healthier and more viable lives.

Lives and livelihoods, that's what NOAA does. We protect lives and livelihoods for Americans through weather forecasts and warnings. I find it more fascinating than anything else to be a part of that great scientific undertaking that means so much to the American people and the American economy.

JOHNS: Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, thanks so much for that.

Flying into the eye of a hurricane just a walk in the park for her.

Now CNN meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN hurricane headquarters.

You heard what she said. Is that about what you expect to hear at this point?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Without a doubt. We have a ragged eye wall at this point. Yesterday we had a beautiful eye wall about 2:00 in the morning. I was even online tweeting about how that eye wall just looked so beautiful at that point in time.

And now you don't find an eye. You don't see a spot in the middle of this satellite that is an eye. And that happens when an outer eye wall tries to take over for an inner one or what happened with us today. This thing gulped in a bunch of dry air. See how there is no cloud cover right there? That's a gulp do dry air that came off the coast of the Atlantic Coast from Georgia and got gulped into the storm. And so that almost killed it for a while.

But what I want you to think about this storm, considering it is 300 miles or so, north, and south, east and west is that right now this hurricane although only probably about an 80-mile-per-hour storm, barely a Category 1, is an ice skater with her arms out and the leg out and spinning very slowly. But all of that energy is still there.

That potential energy is still there for this hurricane to pull its arms in. And if that hurricane with all of this potential energy on the outside pulls itself together and gets that energy wound around a core, which would be the eye wall, this storm can clearly again go back into Category 3 hurricane status.

That is not the forecast. I'm just telling you, that's the potential. The forecast is for it to be a very large hurricane. It will be a Category 1, but for hours, Joe, I'm talking like 12 hours, we will have tropical-storm-force, we are talking 39 to 40 miles per hour or more, in New York City and also here along the shore here of Jersey, and all of that will pour water, push water into the New York Harbor.

That pushing of water causes storm surge and that surge is going to be equal to a Category 1, maybe almost a 1-2. And that means not one-two punch. That just means a strong Category 1. And when that happens, parts of New York will begin to flood. Parts of the city will begin to flood. All of that around here could get water. Certainly Battery Park will be underwater. Certainly some of the areas here off to the east. This is the Hudson River. Here's the East River. This is basically a landfill in the first place.

Some of the small spots there, those lowlands could flood with all of this water getting pushed into the harbor, trying to go up the Hudson River. Hudson River doesn't want to go that way. It wants to go this way. So the water comes up. That's the potential for so many hours of wind blowing in the same direction -- Joe.

JOHNS: So the new World Trade Center site, for example, is that one of the areas that could be affected by more water if it comes inland?

MYERS: Well, certainly, because they dug it out. If you go there, if you go up from Wall Street and you walk right to the site and you can basically look over that -- I don't know what -- I guess it's probably just plywood fence they put there, you can look down. You can see it goes down, I don't know, at least 30 or 40 feet down there.

And if the water pours into that area it will go right down to the basement, no question about that. There are pumps down there, but it will go down there for sure.

JOHNS: Great.

OK, thanks so much, Chad. Appreciate that.

Mary Snow now in New York City.

Let's talk about a little bit more about preparations there. Obviously, you're going to have some issues, evacuations. People will not be able to get around in transit. They are even shutting down the subway system?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that is a first, Joe.

The city says that it will start shutting down subways, buses, the commuter trains that come into and out of the city. It will start shutting down at noon tomorrow. Because it will take about eight hours for the entire system to come to a halt.

You just were talking about the concerns about storm surges with Chad. That is a big concern here. And that is what prompted city officials to order what the mayor says is the first ever mandatory evacuations that will be affecting between 200,000 and 300,000 people.


SNOW (voice-over): Signalling the urgency of the threat from Hurricane Irene, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the city's first ever mandator evacuation for more than 200,000 residents in low- lying areas of New York City.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: The sun is shining, but don't be misled. There is a very dangerous storm headed in our direction.

SNOW: Another unprecedented move, the city is shutting down its mass transit because of the potential of high water and heavy winds. All subways, buses and commuter trains running into and out of the city will begin shutting down at noon on Saturday.

Because a hurricane hitting New York is so rare, people like Professor Nicholas Coch, who studied hurricanes for years, worries about New Yorkers ignoring potential danger.

NICHOLAS COCH, QUEENS COLLEGE: There really is. As a New Yorker, I know the people I live with. And I have the expertise to evaluate it, but these people, even though they are bright and they might be science-oriented, do not understand what being in a hurricane is.

SNOW: Maybe not, but New Yorkers are stocking up on supplies, like batteries, candles and flashlights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's never been like that. Even when it was the blackouts, it wasn't this much of a traffic like that.

SNOW: Among those shopping for supplies, New Yorker Yvonne Lewis (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I think it comes and goes, the fear. I'm just concerned because I live in a high-rise. And I want to know am I supposed to evacuate after the ninth floor? I don't know. So I have got to look into that.

SNOW: There is an increased risk for the people on the 10th floor and higher. And they're advised not to go near windows during the storm.

Some people are just living. Heather Builderback (ph) lives in Lower Manhattan. She moved up her family's travel plans to avoid being in New York.

(on camera): What makes you nervous?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's just the unknown. It's just really not something the city has experienced in a long, long time, and just not knowing how strong it will be once it hits.


SNOW: And, Joe, I have to tell you lifelong New Yorkers are saying they have never quite seen the urgency with these kinds of hurricane warnings. Some were questioning, is this just one big overreaction?

But nobody really wanting that I spoke to anyway to take that chance and not take necessary precautions. And people like Heather Builderback (ph) you just saw leaving on her own. Other New Yorkers who are under that mandatory evacuation have until 5:00 tomorrow to leave those low-lying area.

This is one of them. We're in Battery Park. This is especially vulnerable to those storm surges and flooding. And also one other concern, Joe, is bridges. And the state is taking a close look at this. And the governor has said that if there are sustained winds of 60 miles an hour or more, that the bridges out of the city will also be shut down -- Joe.

JOHNS: A lot to think about there and certainly, I have heard from a couple of New Yorkers who are pretty skeptical about all of this, too, but you still have to take those precautions just in case.

Thanks so much, Mary Snow.

Coming up, we will go out to David Mattingly. He is in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. And we will check in with him and see how the Tarheel State is holding up.


JOHNS: Staying with our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene on the East Coast of the United States, I want to go out now to David Mattingly in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

And starting to heat up a little bit out there.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Joe. We have got some rain coming in. We will have to get used to this. We will probably see about 10 inches of rain being dumped by this storm before it's over.

So we will see flooding not only from this rain, but also from the surf here. See where it is right now? Well, that storm surge that will be coming will bring it up much higher, possibly up to here, maybe even up to here as it crashes into these dunes.

And all up and down the Outer Banks, there will be places where these dunes are not strong enough to take the pounding. The waves will crash through. They are going to flood streets. They are going to make some of the islands impassible for a while after this storm has passed.

There's also the problem of what people call reverse storm surge, where as the storm moves to the north, it could pull some of that water that is on the west side in the bay and in the sounds to pull it on to land as well. I have seen that happen before. And that as well could be pretty dangerous.

So they have put out a mandatory evacuation order all up and down the Outer Banks for residents here. They are telling them they need to go. And they're making it very clear that if they say, they're on their own, because if the roads are cut off by the water, if the wind is too strong for any vehicle to be out, then if they get in trouble there will not be any emergency services to come and bail them out.

Officials here want everyone to know if you stay behind, you are on your own, and be prepared to be on your own for about 72 hours. Because this is a big storm, we're going to be seeing hurricane-force winds for about half of the daylight tomorrow. And people now are talking about how much they're already respecting what this storm could possibly do to these islands when it gets here -- Joe.

JOHNS: And that is the real risk, isn't it? People who decide they are not going to pay any attention to the order to evacuate, they end up putting the rescue people at risk, the very people who would come out and try to help them. They probably should have just left in the first place.

MATTINGLY: And those rescue people have a certain threshold. When the wind gets to a certain point, if the roads are impassible, they are not going to be taking the personal risks that they normally would.

This is just too dangerous for people to be outside regardless of what the emergency is. So for people who are staying here and people who are hunkering down, they are going to be on their own. But the people that we have talked to who say they are going to be staying on the island, a lot of them are veterans. They have been through a lot of this before.

They are treating the storm with respect and they feel like they are taking the appropriate precautions -- Joe.

JOHNS: David Mattingly out in Kill Devil Hills, we will check back in with you.

Now I want to go over to Brian Todd still on the road driving south into the storm near Warsaw, North Carolina.

And I can tell you since your last live shot into the program, Brian, it looks like the conditions have really deteriorated.


We are near Warsaw just past the town of Kenan, North Carolina, in Duplin County, driving toward Wilmington, driving toward the coast. The rain has gotten very extreme where we are, as you can see. We are actually coming to you through some really cool technology called Streambox, where we're streaming video that comes out over cell networks.

And then we can send this via the Internet to our headquarters in Atlanta and get it to you. That's how you can see this out our windshield. But, yes, we are in one of those counties where they have mandatory evacuations. This -- officials here in North Carolina are concerned that this storm could impact an area that includes about 20 counties and about 3.5 million people.

The governor, Bev Perdue, is one of seven governors who was on a conference call with President Obama this morning discussing ways that they will deal with all of this. And an interesting comment from the sheriff of Pamlico County, who is not far from where we are, and as you can see the rain really intensifying here, by the way, the sheriff said that he thought that several fishermen and others who have been pulling boats from the water and taking other precautions, and his comment was when these people are concerned, it's really something to be concerned about.

But he says he is confident people in this area will make it through the hurricane because they have experience with this, Joe. They know what they are doing. But right now it's getting pretty extreme and as Chad Myers warned us a short time ago we could be heading into some flash flood zones pretty soon.

JOHNS: How far outside of Wilmington, North Carolina, are you right now? I understand you are Interstate 40 or Route 40? Where are you?

TODD: We are on I-40. We're heading I believe east-southeast toward Wilmington and we are about 50 miles from Wilmington. And these areas again the roads here not packed with cars. The evacuation seems to have gone in a fairly orderly manner, but not many people heading in the direction we're heading in. They're heading in the opposite direction.

JOHNS: Certainly looks like it from that picture. That really is some pretty remarkable technology you have got going on to be able to beam back these pictures of driving on the road on the way to Wilmington. We will be checking back in with you very soon, Brian Todd.

CNN's John Zarrella has seen more than his share of storms. As Irene rolls north, he knows what a hurricane like this can do. He is directly in the path of the storm and we will speak with him coming up next. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


JOHNS: Want to go back to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN hurricane headquarters for the latest.

And, Chad, we do know and we are about to go to John Zarrella. He's out around Morehead City. Can tell me a little bit about what's going on out there? Because it looks like the conditions have gotten pretty bad.

MYERS: Tremendous rainfall out there right now. It's the same thing that Brian Todd is driving into, literally tremendous rainfall away from the eye.

He has got a 37-, 38-mile-per-hour wind, Brian Todd about a 35-mile- per-hour wind. There is the 39-mile-per-hour gust. I will get you closer to John Zarrella. You will see there's this gust. There's Jacksonville and Wilmington right there. That is where -- eventually where Brian Todd will end up.

And if you zoom in one more time, that beach right there that is Atlantic Beach. That's where John Zarrella is now, one band after another. Then as the bands come in, the winds pick up. The winds always come in with the band of rain. And then when the band of rain goes away, the winds kind of calm down. After that another band comes in and the winds pick up again.

Here's what the wind speed forecast is like right now for Irene, winds tropical storm force all the way through John Zarrella all the way back down to Charleston and then out to the ocean. That is an enormous wind field pattern from this storm. There may not be Category 2, 3 winds in the middle, but there is an enormous amount of tropical storm, two hurricane force winds.

Atlantic Beach tomorrow, that is where John is, 7:00 a.m., hurricane- force winds right along the shore all the way up even to Kill Devil Hills. Virginia Beach, 7:00 p.m., that's your closest approach. And you will see some flooding there as winds blow water into the Chesapeake Bay, on up to Ocean City, Maryland. The storm is offshore for you, but you will still see hurricane conditions along the coast and in Ocean City.

And then finally by 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, Long Island does get its share. Now, you have to understand that the area here in Long Island, Long Island Sound, south of Long Island and right into the harbor at New York Harbor, we will have winds for 24 hours blowing the same way at about 25 to 39 and maybe even 50 miles per hour, pushing all of that water into thank Harbor and making flooding without a doubt, making that coastal lowland surge right into Manhattan and right into parts of Williamsburg all the way over to Hoboken.

We're going to see the same type of surge into parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island, maybe into Narragansett. You take all of that water from Newport, and you take it and you shove it up into Providence, Rhode Island, into a very small funnel. So you have hundreds of miles, over 100 miles, at least, of area near around the Narragansett opening, and you push it all into about a river that is about a half a mile wide up into Providence and you will certainly get flooding up there.

This will be a widespread event, even could see some flooding into Boston as well, Joe.

JOHNS: All right, thanks so much, Chad.

Now let's just go on over and talk to John Zarrella on Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

John, you have covered a lot of hurricanes. Looking at you now, it's looking like it's getting a big rough.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, it's really started to deteriorate within the last hour, hour-and-a-half or so, Joe.

The rain is steady, it's hard. I'm sure the viewers and you can hear the wind blowing, certainly, as Chad was pointing out, low tropical storm force winds. There's nothing that is going to buffet me or knock me over right now.

This is Fort Macon Boulevard here, which runs in Atlantic Beach. And as you all can see, it's very deserted. That's because in about an hour-and-a-half from now, there's a mandatory evacuation in place here. And the police have been going around with bullhorns telling people, you will be off the streets. There will be no cars on the streets. There is a curfew beginning at 8:00 p.m. tonight. And that's it. They are locking down this island. They are not going to let anybody on after 8:00 tonight. If somebody wants to get out, they'll let them go.

You know, Joe, one of the things you always worry about are power lines, and that's one of the things. If we do get a direct hit from this storm, you can see it's crisscrossed with power lines all along Ft. Mason (ph). So one of the issues we'll have to deal with as the storm moves in is power lines falling, poles coming down, lights being -- you know, not working and we have all of those issues that just go with the territory when you're covering hurricane.

Now, the ocean is that way. That's south. The storm is coming from the south right at us. To my left, on the north is Bode (ph) Sound. So as the storm goes by, we're going to get storm surge from one direction as it passes us. The sound is likely to come back from this direction.

So we're very like -- it's very possible here, depending on exactly where we are in relation to the center of the storm, we could get two storm surges here. One from the ocean and one from the sound.

And as Chad was pointing out, the center of circulation, the eye of the storm, will be very close to skip over us by about 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. And the conditions are just going to continue to go downhill from here throughout the rest of the evening and in the overnight hours -- Joe.

JOHNS: And so what kind of precautions do you take to try to remain safe as this storm comes in?

ZARRELLA: We're staying in a hotel, a really big hotel. And -- and it's got some covering you can see over here underneath the portico over here where the cars pull in. And what we're going to do, if we can no longer broadcast on the satellite truck in the early morning hours tomorrow when the winds are so high that the dish is moving like this and we can't keep a signal up, then we're going to go to our portable -- our portable equipment, our B-gans (ph), as they call them, set it up underneath the overhang, try to get a signal out through all this cloud cover and all the rain and wind. And hopefully, tomorrow morning, as we're really getting hammered by this thing, we'll still be able to get signals out.

But we've got food. We've got water. We've got everything that we can -- can keep with us to stay safe.

The question is going to be, when it's all said and done and passes us by here, are the roads going to be littered with downed power lines and trees and poles? And are we going to be able to get out of here come, you know, Sunday. That's just something we're going to have -- that's a bridge literally that we're going to have to cross in a couple of days -- Joe.

JOHNS: All right, John Zarrella. Stay safe. We'll be watching for your reports.

Gas prices are expected to spike as the storm pounds the East Coast. The hurricane is threatening a tenth of the nation's refining capacity. Gas futures trading in New York have already risen 10 cents a gallon. Prices could temporarily increase twice that amount.

Analysts expect Irene to force refineries to shut down just in time for the busy Labor Day weekend.

The warnings of presidents, governors and mayors are not enough to make some people evacuate. Ahead, we'll speak with one man who's ready to ride out the hurricane, even though it means risking his life.


JOHNS: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a stern message for those choosing not to heed evacuation orders in his state. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: This is not like anything you've seen before. And I have heard some dopes on television today saying yes, yes, you know, Category 2 hurricane is nothing more than a bad thunderstorm. You stay there at the risk of your life. It's that simple.

If the track of the storm changes, that's one thing, but it has not changed now in the last nearly 24 hours. And there's no expectation from the National Weather Service at this point that it will. So these people who are going on the news and both on the radio and the television and saying they've seen it all before and they're going to ride it out, those are the same people who are going to be asking General Reece's troops to go in there and try to save them with a helicopter as the water fills up to the attic.


JOHNS: Joining us now is a Ben von Klemperer. He is riding out the storm on Barnegat Light, New Jersey.

Ben, there is a mandatory order here for evacuation. Why are you essentially defying it?

BEN VON KLEMPERER, NEW JERSEY RESIDENT (via phone): Well, my primary residence is in downtown Manhattan just a few blocks from the Hudson River, and I really didn't want to be there either. So this isn't the greatest option in the world, but it's what I've chosen. That's not to say that I won't reassess things in 24 hours' time. But that-- that's the decision I made right now.

It's a pretty decent house here that's on 12-foot stilts. I've got plenty of food, a mountain bike, a kayak, if need be. And I'm just trying to get as much information to see what happens.

JOHNS: I think we're seeing pictures you sent in of you and others perhaps boarding up the property there? Is that what we're seeing?

VON KLEMPERER: No. My property is not boarded up at this time. But I did send in some images from the surrounding municipalities here and did begin to see people, you know, sealing windows and just getting ready for -- for what may happen in the hours ahead.

JOHNS: So what do you say -- what do you say to the governor of the state, who says it's silly and perhaps dangerous to others for you to do something like this?

VON KLEMPERER: Well, I think, in the first instance, the governor is absolutely right, to be out as far ahead of this as we have. But having said that, I made the decision. And I'm just trying to manage the risk as best I can.

You know, as time goes on, if things look pretty dire, I will -- you know, I will process that and do what needs to be done. But I -- I am very appreciative of the warnings that have come from the White House on down, even down to the local officials here telling people to take this very seriously.

JOHNS: Now, what is your plan to get yourself out of this situation, especially if you need help? How do you figure you're going to get out if you decide to change your mind?

Well, my plan is I spoke to someone with a four-wheel-drive vehicle last night, and I was in contact with him. I'm going to wake up tomorrow, and I'm going to make a decision. And if it looks like there's anything even approaching a serious risk, I'm just going to drive off the island. So that's my plan as of now. You know, I think that it may change and I'm confident that will work. It will be interesting to see what happens when the storm makes landfall and I will play it by ear.

JOHNS: Are you there by yourself, or do you have other people around you who made the same decision to stay?

VON KLEMPERER: I am in my house by myself, but I talked to numerous people today who either said, you know, they were going to wait and see or that they were just going to stay outright.

I talked to an individual who manages the gas station just a block or two away from my house. He said he was going to close this afternoon, but he aid that he absolutely was not going to leave the island.

Another individual was, you know, simply tying up his boat at a marina nearby, and he seemed to be staying. So the majority of the people I talked to, you know, did seem to either want to stay or, you know, just wait and see.

JOHNS: All right, Ben Klemperer. We'll be watching to see what happens. Let us know how things progress for you.

VON KLEMPERER: Absolutely. Thanks so much.

JOHNS: Several islands in the Caribbean are picking up the pieces after Irene roared ashore this week. In one of our iReports, the Santini family described how they were stranded on the Turks and Caicos Islands for two days because of the storm.

They witnessed flooded roads Thursday on the way to the airport, and when they got there, the terminal had no electricity. The Santinis told how lines of people were waiting for flights. One airport worker said the terminal had been flooded earlier that morning.

This storm is stirring up memories of a storm that thrashed Long Island 73 years ago. That hurricane's fury is not totally forgotten. We'll go there live, ahead. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


JOHNS: Our breaking news coverage continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The trail of Hurricane Irene as it makes its way up the East Coast of the United States. There are fears that history could repeat itself in Long Island.

Our Susan Candiotti is there now with that story -- Susan.


We're out here on the eastern end of Fire Island now. This is Barrier Island to the South Shore of Long Island. And it is hoped that it will provide some kind of protection to the South Shore of Long Island when Hurricane Irene arrives.

You wouldn't believe the number of people that are still out here as the sun is setting, but yes, if they're old enough these people probably might remember the great hurricane of 1938, nicknamed the Long Island Express.

It was a Category 3 storm that claimed the lives of 200 people from here all the way up to New England. Now, compare that to Hurricane Donna back in 1960, which was a Category 2 storm. No lives were reported lost, and forecasters say it's because people heeded the warnings that were given to them.

So of course, the question is are they paying attention this time? Well, certainly, people that live in these beach-side communities both here and on the South Shore of Long Island are going to be under mandatory evacuation orders. Some of them are already in place.

We are hearing from people who say that there are -- they are getting ready, doing everything they're supposed to do: gathering water and food, cash just in case. Because the one thing everyone knows for sure, according to forecasters: there's going to be flooding in low- lying areas. And there will be -- there will be a high storm surge, and there will be power outages.

So people have to know that, and I think by now they do know it, Joe. But for now, they're getting in their last moments of enjoying the beach here. It is likely that this beach will be closed tomorrow on Saturday.

JOHNS: It's really very misleading, too, because it's a beautiful picture. The light seems perfect. It seems like a very calm day at the beach.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. And that's why people are taking it in while they can. And while they'll still be able to come to this beach tomorrow, I'm told by the National Park Service the beach itself, the surf will be off limits, because the surf will be far stronger by tomorrow. The conditions will begin to deteriorate as the day goes on, and people will be told, "Don't go in. Or if you do, you're going in at your own risk."

And the thing is, of course, it always attract surfers. They're likely to be out no matter what. But the order will be in for them to stay ashore.

JOHNS: Susan Candiotti on Long Beach with the quiet before the storm. Quite literally. Thanks so much for that.

The timing of the storm could not be worse for Washington. The city is still recovering from Tuesday's earthquake that damaged the Washington Monument. Now park service workers are rushing to plug cracks caused by the tremor. The fear is that water will seep into the monument itself.

The Smithsonian Museum's castle also took a hit during the quake. Worker hope to keep five decorative turrets on the building from suffering more harm after they were heavily damaged on Tuesday. The castle is the oldest building on Washington's National Mall.

There's no way to avoid a hurricane when it's steaming straight towards you. So people along the East Coast are filling sandbags, nailing plywood over windows, and preparing to protect their homes from the storm's worst.


JOHNS: As we watch the march of Hurricane Irene up the coast of the United States, the state of Maryland is extremely worried about all the possibilities what could happen over the next couple of days.

Our Athena Jones is in the state's picturesque capital city of Annapolis, Maryland, and people there are very worried about flooding, aren't they?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, Joe. You know, it was a beautiful day today. We saw a lot of people out. But we know that it's not going to look at all like this tomorrow, at least from the forecasts.

The Annapolis mayor has declared a state of emergency. They expect three-foot storm surge. And this is already an area place that floods fairly easily, even in just a big rainstorm, let alone a hurricane or a tropical storm. And so people here are taking things seriously.

We've been here all day since early this morning. You see these empty slips behind me. People have been coming in since early this morning and taking their boats out of this smaller dock area into a place, a safer harbor to protect them from the storm.

And that's really been the message from the city to the residents to take this storm seriously and to take precautions. We saw a real run on sandbags the city was providing all throughout the day, with trucks arriving every 20 minutes at first, then later every 40 minutes.

Then they ran out of the 1,600 sandbags they'd handed out. Came back a few hours later with 800 sandbags.

We talked to one resident about why it's so important to get these sandbags to protect her home. Let's take a listen.


JONES: You've got all these sandbags. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To protect my home. To put it on my patio doors, you know, the barriers where the water comes in. Like, I did survive Isabel. And Isabel came all through my house, and my house was totally trashed.


JONES: And so as I said, there's been this mad rush for sandbags when they've arrived. And at this point, the city has told us that they're now rationing sandbags. Six go to residents, and a business can take ten. But we talked to some people earlier who wanted to get 60 for their businesses. These are places that in Hurricane Isabel back in 2003, they found themselves under several feet of water. And so they're really trying to do all they can to protect themselves.

One last thing, Joe: there is no mandatory evacuation, but they've set up Annapolis High School as a place where people can go to shelter in place. There will be buses available for people who can't make it out on their own. And the city is going to be using this reverse 911 call system to warn people.

And so people are taking it seriously, and we'll see what happens here tomorrow Joe.

JOHNS: It's interesting that there's not an evacuation, because that's a very low-lying area where you're standing right there. And I would imagine that not only are there businesses, there are hotels up the hill just a bit. And the water could surely come flowing in and cause huge amounts of problems over the next 24 hours or so.

JONES: It could, and it did. But if you look around here right now, the parking lots are still full. We talked to several people who, for instance, were here for a wedding. One couple was preparing to leave. They were going to go ahead and get out ahead of the storm. Another couple was still deciding what to do.

People are taking the precautions like stacking up these sandbags. But it doesn't look like they're, you know, running for the hills just yet. We'll have to see what happens.

When we spoke to the mayor this morning, he said, "Well, look, we still have 36 hours. And so we'll have to see if anything changes as we get closer into Saturday where we're expecting to see maybe 50 mile-per-hour winds. So we'll see, Joe.

JOHNS: Annapolis is also the home to the United States Naval Academy. I would imagine they're sort of taking all of this in stride.

JONES: I don't know. I mean, they've seen these storms before. And so it's always anyone's guess. What the mayor told us this morning is they would rather people take this very, very seriously, be over- prepared, have too many sandbags, too many batteries, all that sort of thing, and then maybe be able to dodge it a little bit. That's much better than the opposite.

So hopefully, I mean, we've seen a lot of people are taking those -- those warnings to heart. And we'll hope that it turns out OK here, Joe.

JOHNS: Athena Jones in Annapolis, Maryland, thanks so much for that. CNN's coverage of Hurricane Irene rolls next with "JOHN KING USA."

North Carolina's Kill Devil Hills lies in the path of the storm. We'll go there ahead for an update on the stormy weather blowing ashore.

And Libya's rebels begin to erase signs left after decades of dictatorship by Moammar Gadhafi. They're forging a future without the tyrant, even as they relentlessly hunt for him.


JOHNS: A special report on Hurricane Irene starts at the top of the hour with "JOHN KING USA." First, here are some of the other headlines making news today.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the Fed will do all it can to bring high rates of growth and -- in employment back. But he gave few specifics in his speech today in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bernanke put a lot of responsibility on the gridlocked Congress. He said a repeat of the debt ceiling debate will hurt the economy.

Bernanke's comments were enough to fuel a market turnaround. The Dow rose 135 points today after being down more than 200 earlier in the session. The S&P 500 and the NASDAQ composite were also up strongly.

A deadly car bomb at a U.N. building in Nigeria killed at least 18 people. The Nigerian president called it a barbaric, senseless and cowardly act. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said casualties will be considerable. He didn't speculate on who's responsible. The Nigerian capital has been the target of a series of bombings in recent months.

And check out this video from Libya. It shows rebels demolishing an iconic statue, a fist crushing an American jet. The statue at Gadhafi's compound was erected in 1986 after the U.S. bombing of Tripoli and became a symbol of Colonel Gadhafi's resistance to foreign powers.

I'm Joe Johns in THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf Blitzer will return tomorrow for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. In North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts now.