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Hurricane Irene Coverage: Irene Lashes North Carolina Coast; Washington Braces for Irene; Irene Disrupts Northeast Travel; New York Cancelling Incoming Flights; Gov. Christie Tells New Jersey Residents 'Get the Hell Out' From Beach Areas; Hospitals Evacuating Patients; IReporters Uploading Images of Hurricane Irene's Effects; Virginia Governor McDonnell Interviewed by Local Media Outlet

Aired August 27, 2011 - 12:01   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, we want to welcome our international viewers this hour.

Sixty-five million people could be in harm's way this weekend in North America as Hurricane Irene sweeps up the East Coast of the U.S. Parts of the region haven't seen a storm like this in two decades. From North Carolina into New England, bracing for Irene.

Right now, Irene is battering North Carolina after making landfall a few hours ago near Cape Lookout. The winds, rain and surf were brutal as Irene slammed ashore, and right now, more than 200,000 people in North Carolina are without power.

Two storm-related deaths are reported, one in North Carolina, another in Virginia. The nation's biggest cities, including New York and Boston, are bracing for the worst.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: If you are in an area where your governor or mayor has said there's a mandatory evacuation order, please abide by that order. And even if you're not in an evacuation zone, please know this is a big storm that covers a lot of territory. Be prepared. Have some food, flashlight, batteries, extra water, the sorts of things that will help you get through in case -- particularly power is out for some period -- some period of time.


WHITFIELD: All right, we've got reporters and live crews up and down the U.S. East Coast to bring you the very latest on Hurricane Irene. Reynolds Wolf, John Zarrella, Brian Todd are in the bull's-eye right now along the North Carolina coast. Athena Jones is in the nation's capital, Washington. And Rob Marciano and Poppy Harlow are in New York.

CNN's Reynolds Wolf is feeling Irene's fury as it batters the North Carolina coast right now. He is in Kill Devil Hills, on the outer banks. You can see the wind on those outer bank -- outer bands of that storm right now slapping him around there. Reynolds, give me more specifics. What's going on?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. The latest we have here, really not much at all in terms of rainfall. In fact, I can't feel a single raindrop at all. What I can feel, there was a lot of sand that continues to get picked up from the beach, driven right towards the -- the side of the building, right towards our camera, too.

I can also tell you that behind me, now at the Atlantic, we have a lot of white water also being pushed towards shore. Some of that actually crossing over parts of Highway 12 to our south, completely covering the roadway. And, when you keep in mind, Fredricka, that much of the island, much of the outer banks is only about seven to 10, even 11 feet above sea level, it's going to be just a matter of time before much of that is actually cut off completely due to the storm surge.

You can see just following (INAUDIBLE), water has been coming up all the way to the dunes in many locations. The wind has also caused power outages. As you mentioned, over 200,000 people without power across the Tar Heel State. Those numbers, I guarantee you, are going to increase. And the thing that's interesting too, much of the wind we're getting at this, is coming directly off the Atlantic, everything just roaring this direction.

Later on, when that center of circulation pushes a bit farther to the north, it's going to be coming from the backside. So you have things like light poles, you got things like traffic lights that have been weakened a little bit by the initial winds, are going to have the old heave-ho when they come the opposite direction. Now, you might see a lot more -- many more (INAUDIBLE) very least in terms of those power outages.

What you might be seeing appears to look like a mist right in front of the camera lens, an occasional mist. That's actually a cloud of sand that gets picked up and cast right towards the lens cap. When the rain does come, and it has been intermittent, as we mentioned, and that's typical when you have these outer bands that move through the area, it comes down in a sheet and one incredible torrent, visibility almost zero at times. Right now, though, again, plain and simple, the sand.

For our friends who happen to be a little bit farther up the chain, up towards the Delmarva Peninsula, our friends in Long Island, New York, the Jersey Shore, a lot of this is coming your direction. Whenever you hear the warnings, the watches, you really need to take heed. You need to get in cover.

We're going to wrap things up here, but first, we need to send it to my friend, John Zarrella, who is a bit farther to the south, in Atlantic Beach. John, take it away, my friend.


You know, I -- I want folks up in the northeast, if you live along the water, to just take this picture in for a minute and digest what you're seeing, because what you're seeing is water from the Sound, from the Bogue Sound, right out there, which has actually now come inland.

So what happened was, as the wind direction shifted, first we had the storm surge from the Atlantic Ocean coming in. And then, as the wind shifted from the east to the west, now the Sound is being pushed right up into these houses here all along -- this is Atlantic Beach, Moorhead City area.

And you can see, I'm walking out into this water here. It's come down actually quite a bit. It still was up to my knees a little while ago. It's not quite that high any longer here. But look how high it was earlier. All of this debris was pushed up out of the Sound, over the road, onto the other side of the street during the course of the height of this within the last couple of hours.

We were on the air an hour ago. The water was coming up into the garage over on this high ground over here. It's gone down considerably now.

But the wind is still kicking up. We're still getting that force of -- of wind pushing from the west to the east. For hour after hour, just driving the Sound up onto Atlantic Beach, under the north side of Atlantic Beach.

They already got hit overnight with the storm surge from the Atlantic coming on. We saw a lot of debris over there. Now, they're getting the storm surge here.

So, again, if you live near the water up in New England, up in the middle Atlantic States, take note, if you decide to stay, of what you might be experiencing -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And John, for the most part, people did heed those mandatory evacuation orders where you are. Every now and then, there are stories of die-hards. Is that the case there?

ZARRELLA: Yes. You know, we did met -- we saw somebody in an upstairs window in one of these places here. But, during the overnight hours, there was nobody on the streets here, just the police. We saw a few people out and about this morning. but, a lot of the roads -- there's only one main road leading in here, Fredricka, and with this water that's come up, the road is actually impassable in places, so it may be very difficult, certainly, if you don't have a high vehicle to -- an SUV or something like that, it's going to be awfully difficult to even get off the island now.

But -- but to answer your question, yes. A lot of the people did heed the evacuation orders, mandatory evacuation here. Curfew in place at 8:00 last night, and many, many people, majority of them, did go ahead and -- and get off of this island. And, obviously, for good reason. They were smart.

WHITFIELD: All right.

ZARRELLA: Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: John Zarrella, thanks so much, and Reynolds Wolf, both our correspondents there along the North Carolina coast.

We're going to go to stay on the North Carolina coast now and to Topsail Beach. It's a popular vacation and residential spot right along the shore. At the moment, the beaches are, of course, a lot emptier than usual. People were urged to get out before the hurricane hit. Most did.

Let's find out from Mayor Howard Braxton, who's joining me right now on the phone, what is happening there.

So, Mr. Mayor, I spent a lot of time on Topsail Beach, covering lots of hurricanes, the destruction of Topsail Beach that has happened so many times before. What's the expectation now?


Well, you know, the -- the storm has passed us now, and we -- but we're still getting high winds and heavy rain. So, even though it's passed us, we still have to be very cautious.

WHITFIELD: And where are you? Where are you staying safe right now?

BRAXTON: I'm at the emergency operations center just outside of Surf City, actually in Surf City. We're off the island.


BRAXTON: But we're very close by.

WHITFIELD: All right. You and your family have quite the history of Topsail Beach there. What is the expectation of how Topsail may have endured Irene?

BRAXTON: May have enjoyed it?

WHITFIELD: May have endured it.

BRAXTON: Oh, endured it. Everybody was ready to leave, I think. We've all been through storms before, but they take heed and they believe no matter if it's a 1, 2, 3 or 4, whatever the category is, they treat it as a -- as a 3 or 4 or 5, and they are prepared for it. You'd never take these things lightly.

WHITFIELD: So you had no problem evacuating people from Topsail?

BRAXTON: No. We did a voluntary evacuation, and people just said, we're getting off. And, of course, we did have people to stay, and that was their decision to make. And, last night, it was really not that bad. We didn't have extremely high winds, but we did have high winds. WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Mayor Howard Braxton of Topsail Beach. We wish you all the best. And, of course, all the landowners there along Topsail, we wish them the best as well.

Thanks so much. Keep us posted. Maybe we'll check back with you tomorrow and see how things went after you get your firsthand assessment.

BRAXTON: That's great. And we hope we'll be right here and we'll be cleaning up.

WHITFIELD: Excellent. All right. Thanks so much, Mr. Mayor.

Let's get the latest on the path of Hurricane Irene now. Of course, it is still along the North Carolina coast.

Our Jacqui Jeras live here from Hurricane headquarters. So, Jacqui, give us an idea right how do things fare?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know, this stays a very strong Category 1 storm at this time and it's moving north, northeasterly. You can see it here on the radar picture as it's moving through the Pamlico Sound area and heading on through the outer banks on this path. So we do have this heavy rain threat, we've got a very strong wind right now, a lot of surge being reported as well.

Take a look at this from You almost can't even see it anymore. The power lines are swaying, lots of damage reports coming in now and hundreds of thousands of people without power in both North Carolina and Virginia as well.

Let's take this city by city and show you who's going to get what and when. And, keep in mind, when you take a look at the timeframe on here, I'm talking about the peak of the storm. This is such a large storm and the rate that it's moving, many of you are going to be dealing with this for 12 to 24 hours easy.

All right, so Virginia Beach, we're looking at the height of the storm for you between 4:00 and 7:00 tonight; Ocean City, Maryland, between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m., so overnight, when you're trying to sleep. And then Long Island, this is probably going to be happening, let's say, mid-morning into the early afternoon hours for your peak. And then Boston, looking for the words conditions mid-afternoon, before everything moves out of here as we head into the morning hours.

A couple of other things I just -- oops. Sorry about that -- that I just want to point out and -- and talk about the -- the size of this storm. The -- the cloud field on this thing is more than 800 miles wide, and this is stretching with rain bands from South Carolina all the way up into New England already.

Washington, D.C., what about you? Take a look at this. The rain is starting to come down now. We'll watch this pick up in intensity for today, and I think the tropical storm force winds are going to be arriving by late afternoon. There you can see some pictures of that surge. That's going to be a problem potentially all through the Chesapeake Bay into Delaware Bay, as much as four to eight feet. And check out Philadelphia. You're starting to get the showers and thundershowers, as well as New York City.

New York, one thing to keep in mind for you, we were talking about how if this heads right into your city, we could have major problems with the wind. We think it's going to move just to the east of you so your winds will probably be somewhere in the range of 55 to 75 miles (INAUDIBLE), and that's in the terms of gusty. New York, your winds arrive this evening, the height of it overnight tonight and through the day tomorrow and then it will start to subside by the evening.

We'll talk more about some of the specific cities coming up when I see you again, Fredricka. A flooding rain, a big concern, and we'll talk about that for Philadelphia, at least, when I see you again.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Jacqui.

And, of course, in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, many states declared emergencies well ahead of the storm. We're going to take you up and down the East Coast to give you an idea how many states are preparing for this.

And the U.S. military involvement. It, too, is playing a role in Hurricane Irene.

And of course we're going to check in with our local television affiliates along the East Coast. You're looking at live pictures right now of WUSA in Washington, D.C. and how they are covering this ongoing storm.

Much more, straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: All right, continuing coverage now of Hurricane Irene, as promised. I want to show you what some of our local affiliates along the Eastern Seaboard and how they're reporting it right now.

Let's listen in to WUSA in Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- you go there five bags (ph).

BRITTANY MOREHOUSE, WUSA REPORTER: I would say much more sort of wait and see, even kind of a sit back and laugh and watch the storm pass through. And that is kind of, you know, what we've been saying all morning, the nature of Alexandria here. They've been there, done that. They know the routine, and they're going through it right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang loose, Alexandria. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're just chilling out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, Brittany Morehouse, reporting live from Alexandria, where they're cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking it easy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They wouldn't soon forget, you know, rowing down the streets the last time that they --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They know how to do it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They know how to do it. They're fine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it is scary when you're not used to having that kind of flooding and needing sandbags.


All right, Monica (INAUDIBLE) joins us, who's nice enough to come in and talk about travel issues. Obviously there's plenty. We talked to the airport's authority just recently and they said, you know what? It's about time. The flights are getting started to cancel --


WHITFIELD: OK, we're continuing to monitor how our affiliates are covering this storm all along the Eastern Seaboard. You were looking at Washington, D.C., where they are still waiting for the brunt of the storm.

Right now, I want to take you to North Carolina, to our affiliate News 14 Carolina, where a good part of North Carolina is already feeling the effects of the outer bands of Hurricane Irene. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- grounds, and why would we be in a horse stable during hurricane coverage? Well, there's more than 80 horses from the coast here in Raleigh riding out Hurricane Irene, like this horse here. And actually I've met Marilyn Beers (ph) from Havelock, and she joins me now.

This is Shiloh, and they've made the trip -- hi there, buddy -- trying to ride out the storm. Tell us, what brings you here to Raleigh?

MARILYN BEERS, RESIDENT OF HAVELOCK: I wanted to get out of the hurricane. I didn't want my horse to be in a hurricane. The winds were going to be 100 miles per hour, and I couldn't see him standing in a pasture in that kind of weather. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what have you heard? What's been the latest that you've heard from home?

BEERS: Back at home, there's trees down, power's out, but the water had stayed down. So that's good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so, when are you going to venture back out and -- and head back east?

BEERS: I think tomorrow morning, we'll see what the roads are like, see if we can get back to where we live and then go then.

WHITFIELD: All right, that's Raleigh, North Carolina, where the coverage there continues. A lot of people who are along the coast of North Carolina moved inland to Raleigh, and you saw right there that young woman was talking to a woman who was talking about protecting the horses inland.

All right, meantime, Hurricane Irene making its way north from the North Carolina coast. Virginia, too, is bracing. Let's check in with our affiliate now, WAVY, there in Norfolk, Virginia. Let's listen in.

They're talking to the governor there of Virginia, by the way, right now.

GOV. ROBERT MCDONNELL, VIRGINIA: -- there's been minor reports of standing water in the roads and trees being downed. But, yes, as you know, and people really need to know this, we've closed down the midtown tunnel. We closed the Hampton Roads bridge tunnel. The Bay Bridge tunnel is in the process of being closed, and some of those will be closed until sometime tomorrow, Midtown tunnel maybe until tomorrow night.

So, people need to know that those major arteries will not be available because they're too dangerous because of the winds and the -- and the flooding. But, overall, people seem to be doing exactly what they're supposed to.

I talked to Mayor Sessoms this morning and the Virginia Beach EOC is doing well. But the worst of this is still to come. People need to know, just because it's downgraded 85 miles an hour, there are very dangerous hours still to come, with tornado warnings and heavy -- heavy rains and flooding potential is a great significance.

QUESTION: Governor McDonnell, that brings us to another question, realizing that the storm is -- hasn't even really completely gotten to us at this point. What -- what are we doing right now to keep in contact with people to make sure that people realize that, you know, this is an emergency, stay safe? You know, how -- how are -- how are you at this point trying to ask them to heed that warning?

MCDONNELL: Well the -- this call and many others like it is what we need to do. And I appreciate your having me on because, right now, it's important for people that have power to watch their TV, and if they've got batteries, listen to the radio to make sure they're following the most recent track and looking at tornado warnings and other things that might occur.

And also to go to and right there, they can find out everything from shelters. We have nearly 100,000 shelter -- capacity shelter set up -- people -- capacity shelters set up around the state. There are ample places to go all over Hampton Road. And if people will just make sure they're personally informed -- and then be good neighbors. If they see something going on that needs help, call 911 for legitimate emergencies and call their local non-emergency numbers available on that website if they need help for something else.

QUESTION: Governor McDonnell, regarding the power situation, Dominion Virginia Power, I think, reports 114,000 customers at this point without power. And Irene is going to make a major impact up and down the East Coast in terms of people losing electricity. So how are we coordinating the response when this storm finally blows out and it's safe to go out and -- and work on those lines? Are we going to need a lot of help from other crews out of state, and what is your role in trying to get that all together?

MCDONNELL: We've been in constant contact with Dominion. They're actually here in the operations center. They are -- they are in Virginia Beach, at the operations center. I went to Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Hampton yesterday and they are regularly in touch with Dominion and the other co-ops that serve the region.

You know, we're expecting far more than the 114,000 or so reported. I think it's up to about 150,000 as of noon. And the problem is, of course, is North Carolina and Maryland and other neighboring states are going to have their own problems. So we'll have to have people from other places if we need extra capacity.

Dominion's already planning on that. I've gotten personal calls from Governor Perry in Texas, Governor Scott in Florida and others, saying hey, we're here to help you. Let us know what you need.

So they're going to do the best they can, but I had -- I have to say, for our residents, they need to know that despite the great efforts of these power companies who will be out even during the storm, that it may take days to restore all of the power or longer, depending on how many outages we have and people need to be patient. They need to help one another, be good neighbors. Hopefully they've got ice or they can buy ice after the storms and do everything they can to be self-sufficient.

But, again, if you have legitimate emergencies, 911. Non- emergencies, call 211 and we can help.

QUESTION: All right, call 211. And we want to -- we want to continue to remind people of that call, 211 for non-emergencies right now.

WHITFIELD: All right, you're listening to a conversation there with Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell. He is talking about the precautions that people need to be taking and, at the same time, he says that that state is looking to be able to help about 100,000 people in terms of shelters, if it comes to that.

Meantime, you're looking at live pictures right now, as well from our affiliate WJLA. What city do we think this? This is Atlantic -- all right, this is Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, actually.

I don't know if you were watching any of the coverage yesterday here on CNN where you saw that that pier jutted out quite prominently into the ocean. Well, right now, according to our affiliate reporting there, a good portion of that pier has been knocked down. You're only seeing a portion of what was the original pier there at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Of course, we'll continue to follow the developments there. Thanks to our affiliate coverage as well, WJLA providing those live pictures.

Meantime, Irene is certainly disrupting lifestyles all along the Eastern Seaboard, and that includes airline traffic, bus traffic and, of course, subway service, particularly in the big cities of New York and even Philadelphia. We'll have the latest news on travel along the Eastern Seaboard coming up.


WHITFIELD: All right, our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene.

Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, could also feel the impact of Hurricane Irene and it could span an entire 24-hour period.

CNN's Athena Jones is there right now in Washington, joining us live. I understand -- and we can see it right there -- you're already starting to feel some of the rain. How significant is this thus far?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the rain just started up here maybe about two hours ago and, so far, it's not too strong. We expect to see the heavier rains and winds come later this afternoon.

But people are preparing. In fact, we just got a report that President Obama has just arrived at FEMA headquarters to take a look at what they're doing to help people prepare for the storm and to respond to the storm.

The city is helping by handing out sandbags to residents who want to protect their homes or businesses. They distributed about 7,000 sandbags yesterday. They ran out and so they had to stop at about 5:00 P.M., but they've started up again today. They're limiting people to five bags per household.

Another bit of news to report is that the last transfer of patients from Walter Reed Medical Center to the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda was moved up to this morning. It was scheduled for tomorrow, but instead between 7:00 and 9:00 this morning they moved about the last 18 patients from that center, just to get ahead of the storm. There are some of the more wounded warriors. Some of them were in critical condition. But they moved them in 18 ambulances. That happened between about 7:00 and 9:00 this morning -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. And, Athena, real quick, I can't help but notice the Washington Monument behind you. We know that it suffered some cracks from the earthquake earlier in the week, 5.9 earthquake. What are they doing, if anything, to kind of brace it for what could be some pretty significant hurricane force winds?

JONES: Well, the big news on that happened yesterday when the engineers were out trying to plug the holes that were created by the earthquake on Tuesday. They were stuffing -- they were jamming this flexible insulation into those holes to try to plug it up and then prevent any leakage or further damage.

They also did some work -- different workers did some work to the turrets of the Smithsonian castle behind me, also damaged in the earthquake. They tried to secure that to make sure that we don't see more damage there.

So it's been a big week here in Washington in terms of natural events, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Athena Jones, from the nation's capital on the Washington Mall there. And, of course, behind Athena, you can also see a couple of cars getting around.

Well, travel in general along the Eastern Seaboard has been a nightmare, especially since now mass transit is actually closing in the big cities like New York.

Alexandra Steele joins me now with the latest on travel, whether it be by air, whether it be by land --


WHITFIELD: You can't do it right now?

STEELE: That's right. Thanks a lot, Fredricka. Really, this is just incredible.

What we're seeing in terms of travel is an incredible amount of cancellations preemptively. But also preemptively in that (INAUDIBLE), I just want to make -- I'll tell you one little point about what they're doing in New York City. I just got word that potentially New York, Lower Manhattan especially, is going to protect those power lines. So Con Ed may cut off the power to lower New York in advance of the storm moving down these power lines to protect those lines from the salt water that would come.

And there's a lot less damage, certainly will mitigate the potential damage in the end game if the power gets cut off before it goes down on its own. So that's just a possibility.

WHITFIELD: Underground? People don't necessarily know that, that the power lines are underground in New York, and that's why flooding is so incredibly significant and potentially dangerous there.

STEELE: Oh, absolutely. And there's one interesting thing, Fredricka. I don't know if I have time now, but I'll talk to you about it a little bit. The way New York is, it's called the New York bight, B-I-G-H-T, and it's kind of this geographical point, like right angle, and all the water has nowhere to go.

To the left is New Jersey; to the right is Long Island. It's in there that wash of water, just a wall of water, potentially, just an inundation into Lower Manhattan. So that's really some of the potential, real problems.

All right, obviously massive travel disruptions -- that's an understatement. Airlines canceling thousands upon thousands of flights. And one thing to note, if you are traveling, the airlines think they're not responsible for the weather, so a refund to your flight and your ticket, yes. Meal vouchers, no. Hotel vouchers, no. So none of that kind of moving you around and making you more accommodating. That's certainly not the case in this scenario.

Transit systems completely shut down in New York and in Philadelphia. And one of the reasons why they preemptively canceled all the flights and shut down all the airports in and around New York to save just a few of the arrival flights because they don't want people getting stranded in New York because there's no mass transit to take them anywhere after and stuck thee at the airport. Cancellations today so far about 3,000 plus. Tomorrow, preemptively, almost 5,000 we're going to see in terms of cancellations.

So, again, preemptively that's what they're doing. That seems to be the standard operating procedure kind of in the last couple of years with airlines and airports in advance of the storm as opposed to waiting until the storm is on the doorstep they're doing that and, also, be mindful they have to move all of these plans and get them out of harm's way because LaGuardia and also, of course, JFK, what they're in is the most low-lying areas in and around New York. They are in that area that everyone is being evacuated from, that level A.

So, what the expectation is, is feet of water over the runways, just to give you a little mental picture of really what the potential scenario is. So, Saturday airport closures what we've seen today. Again, Newark, LaGuardia, all around New York, also Stewart, that's just north of New York City in the Hudson Valley in Poughkeepsie, New York. D.C. and Philadelphia. Also, Philadelphia expectation closing their airport at 6 o'clock tonight.

And, of course, Sunday airports, this is what we're talking about, a little bit farther north as the storm slowly kind of lumbers into the northeast and southern New England we get into Boston and Hartford and Providence, Rhode Island, Portland, Manchester, New Hampshire even. Even Albany, New York. Believe that? Albany, New York, two and a half hours northwest, of course, in upstate New York, out of New York City, putting out a statement at this international airport yesterday even so high winds and incredible amount of rain.

And, Fredricka, in terms of the rain, that really could be kind of a calling card of Irene. We could see 10-12 inches, 8 inches in Albany, New York. But the problem is not just the rain alone, this has been the wettest August on record, 10-12 inches at the very least --

WHITFIELD: Oh boy, so they're already very saturated.

STEELE: -- for this month. So, that's it -- that's it. The ground is saturated, it can't support these winds and it's so much easier to tumble off the trees, the power lines onto cars and homes. So exponentially the problems really mount up because of the saturated soil and, of course, because of the incoming rain. So, in the end, winds not so much --


STEELE: -- the Hurricane Irene, the calling card of it in the end game may just be the heavy amount of dosing rain, it's so massive of a cloud shield --


STEELE: -- 430 miles wide and it's slow moving --

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness.

STEELE: -- which really is the worst thing that could happen because it's not going to hit and get out. It's going to slowly make its way through.

WHITFIELD: Right. Sometimes that's the worst kind, right? Well, we're going to check back with you Alexandra throughout the afternoon for more on that forecast, the path, as well as how it's impacting travel because it's not over yet.

All right, meantime, some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers were among the first to get to safety ahead, how some of the city's hospitals prepared for Irene. We're live from an emergency evacuation site after this.


WHITFIELD: All right, more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene. The north Atlantic coast takes a beating as that hurricane slams ashore right now and now 65 million people along the East Coast of the U.S. are bracing for the worst as the storm moves north now. Landfall was just hours ago near Cape Lookout, North Caroline. Irene was a category I at landfall with sustained winds of 85 miles an hour.

At least two storm-related deaths are reported in North Caroline right now and one in Virginia. Right now, more than 200,000 people in North Carolina are without power. Irene is expected to arrive in New York City sometime tomorrow morning. The big concern there, of course, flooding from Irene's storm surge. Of course, Irene is going to be impacting a whole lot of lives along the way from North Carolina to New York City. In fact, North Carolina all the way up to New England. CNN's Reynolds Wolf is actually feeling Irene's fury right now as it batters the North Carolina coast. He is in Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks.

Reynolds, we can see the shoreline there. Where are you?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'll tell you all, this wind has (INAUDIBLE) so far. It kind of comes and goes. You'll have a few moments where it's kind of easy and then it picks up once again and when you feel its fury it just takes the breath right out of you.

I tell you Fredricka, this is easily one of the driest tropical systems I've ever dealt with. I know parts of the area have had a great deal of rain. Not so much of it felt here, especially in the last hour or so but, more than anything, it has been just a wind event and as Orlando and Ruiz (PH), our photojournalists are showing you, you can see in the background all the whitecaps as far as the eye can see. It's just something. It's just amazing.

What's also interesting is the field of vision. I mean, just yesterday you could see way off towards the horizon. The horizon just seemed almost endless, just a beautiful, beautiful day. Now, it just kind of stops. It's almost like it runs into a -- just a mist, a misty wall. The wind, as you were talking about, as we've been saying it's just been very, very strong. Now it's picking up sand and moving it. The wind is going to be one of the big components that's going to cause major power outages.

I think you said during your last update, Fredricka, several hundred thousand. The latest we heard, about 300,000 just in North Carolina alone. I would expect that (INAUDIBLE) -- here we go, here comes the wind again -- I would really expect that to pick up considerably and, again, this is what's going to be in store for many people farther up the (INAUDIBLE), farther up the Eastern Seaboard.

We're talking about people in Washington, D.C., along the Virginia coast, obviously the Jersey Shore, back up to Long Island. Of course, the entire state of New York, perhaps even Massachusetts and Maine before all is said and done.

Fredricka, let's hand it back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much Reynolds. Appreciate that.

We're going to check back with Reynolds as soon as we can. All right, meantime, we do have reporters all up and down the East Coast, bringing you the very latest on the hurricane.

Take a look right there at the placement of everyone. Reynolds Wolf, you saw where he is in Kill Devil Hills. John Zarrella and Brian Todd are in the bulls eye right now as well along the North Carolina coast. Athena Jones is in the nation's capitol of Washington and Rob Marciano and Poppy Harlow and Elizabeth Cohen all in New York. Jason Carroll, he's in Atlantic City, New Jersey, so let's get the latest on the path that Irene is going to be taking, go way far north as well from North Carolina.

Let's check in with our Jacqui Jeras first though in our hurricane headquarters and then we'll head on up to New Jersey, too.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right. We will do that. We'll go ahead and tell you where the storm is and where it's going to be going. It's moving through the Pamlico Sound and through the Outer Banks right now, making its way through North Carolina and will be moving towards Virginia Beach later on this afternoon and evening, on up through the cape area up towards New York City tomorrow, into Boston by tomorrow afternoon and then making its way all the way into Canada and it'll be finally done with it here as we head into Monday.

There you can see some of those big waves which have been pushing into the area. We've also been seeing big rain amounts. In fact, flooding could ultimately end up being the biggest story for a lot of folks who just live a couple of miles inland, we're getting as much as three inches an hour in some of these areas, and the threat of tornados. There, you can see the tornado watch which extends near Philadelphia all the way down to Virginia Beach.

This map will show you some of the rainfall totals that we've seen so far across North Carolina and this white area that includes Newburg extending up towards Aurora. This is as much as 15-20 inches of rain being estimated. There are a lot of reports of flooding, getting into businesses in some of the downtown areas of these cities and we'll watch that as it continues to ride on up the coast.

This is the big picture for the forecast wind speeds as we head through the area. Ocean City, Maryland, we're looking at 1-3 in the morning so this is overnight for you. Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, you're going to be feeling the tropical storm force winds here already by this evening, the winds probably somewhere between 45 and 65 miles per hour. Those are going to your gusts.

Large branches from healthy trees are going to come down in this area and then it's heading on up towards Long Island, probably by tomorrow morning. One of the areas we're expecting to get hit very hard is Atlantic City and that's where we find out Jason Carroll. Jason, what's the latest? Some of that rain already moving in along with the wind.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, we've been dealing with a lot of wind out here lately. I've got my trusty wind gauge that I've been using just to sort of monitor the wind that's been going down, sustained at about 30-35 miles per hour. That's what we've been dealing with out here, bands of rain coming through, the churning surf.

Obviously, the concern is not just about -- about the wind but the potential for flooding here because I'm standing right by the very iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk. You can see the casinos boarded up, (INAUDIBLE) casino boarded up, the Taj Mahal, we saw them doing some last minute boarding up also this morning. Eleven casinos closed. All the major casinos in this city are closed, the city under a mandatory evacuation. Many concerns about whether or not the ocean will meet the bay in this particular spot and the water will end up rushing into the city here. Also, concerns about the iconic Steel Pier that you see out here. Back in 1944, that pier was badly damaged by a hurricane that came through here.

The state's Governor extremely concerned about people not heeding the evacuation orders for places like Atlantic City. He was extremely angry about it when he spoke during a press conference yesterday. Take a listen.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out.


CARROLL: And, you know, that message goes to some of the people who we saw out here earlier today after the rain steadily starts to come down. Out here in that churning surf, just about 30 minutes ago, there were four surfers. I had an opportunity to walk up to them and ask them why in the world would you be out here in such dangerous conditions. I want you to hear what they said about those conditions and one of the surfers had a message for the governor himself.


CARROLL: I know the surfing lifestyle, I'm from Southern California but you know everyone who is watching this going to be looking at you and saying you are -- you are absolutely crazy and you -- and you're really taking your -- your life in your own hands by doing this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you know what, it's been an adrenaline rush and I think a lot of us live for that. Everyone has a different hobby, this happens to be my hobby as well as my buddies out there so, the adrenaline rush is worth it.

CARROLL: When will it be too much for you out here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too much for me? Tomorrow. Tomorrow it will be too much.

CARROLL: You heard what your Governor said yesterday, you know, when people were just out on the beach, not even in the water. He said get the hell away from the beaches basically and here you are here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. I don't think the Governor's lifestyle is necessarily comparable to mine.


CARROLL: I have a bit of an update for you. Those surfers are no longer in the water. I guess the water finally got just too tough for them today. And, in terms of the Governor, just about an hour and a half from now we are going to be hearing from New Jersey's Governor once again. He will be updating in terms of the situation out here in Atlantic City and other parts of the state as well. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much Jason Carroll, appreciate that. No one can be too cautious, especially right now. So, getting to safety, if that's still part of your plan, whether it involves babies, the elderly, the frail, some of those being evacuated out of New York. We'll explain the methods that people are being assisted.


WHITFIELD: All right, more of our continuing coverage of Hurricane Irene as it makes it way from the North Carolina coast. It is inevitably going to hit Manhattan and New York City area where already thousands of hospital and nursing home patients are being shuttled out of harm's way there ahead of Hurricane Irene.

Our Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joining us live from Battery Park right now, the lowest point of Manhattan, and the place where the storm surge might likely impact first.

What measures are being taken there?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Five hospitals have evacuated from New York City. Those are five hospitals that had to do something, Fred, that's unprecedented, get all of their patients out of the hospital and, Fred, if you count nursing homes and other healthcare facilities, we're talking 22 facilities that had to get their patients out.

We're talking everyone in the intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit. Now, there is at least one hospital, New York University, that still has been evacuating people today. They are finishing up the process.

I spoke to one woman whose brother has a brain tumor. Her name is Eileen Findler and she -- her brother is in a grave health situation. He was supposed to begin a new round of treatment yesterday. They had to delay that because they had to get him out of the hospital.

I talked to Eileen late last night. Here's what she had to say.


EILEEN FINDLER, RELATIVE EVACUATED FROM HOSPITAL: It just feels like what else can you throw into this, you know, it's -- it's bad enough having to live with this diagnosis and try to get the medical help and then, you know, it's just everything that you try to do you just keep getting slapped back down. So, but, you know, we'll get him to a hotel tonight and, you know, have a maid and we'll just weather the storm there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COHEN: Now, Fred, sources tell me that a handful of patients are actually staying at NYU. These patients are so critically ill that moving them would be a far bigger threat than keeping them there. I just want to show you sort of what that means for these patients.

If you take a look, New York University, this medical -- this medical center, is practically on the river. There's the river, the FDR Drive, and then the hospital. If that river overflows, it will go into the basement. The basement is where all the generators are so you can imaging the brave staff that's agreed to stay with this handful of patients that just can't be moved -- Fred

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness, that is incredible.

So, you know, Elizabeth, I wonder if you can kind of give us a, you know, general consensus of where you are as you look around usually this time of day on a Saturday the streets are still teeming with cars and people. Can you kind of paint a picture where you are and -- and talk about how, perhaps, deserted it is?

COHEN: Sure. And you know -- you know what's funny, Fred, is that it's not completely deserted. I mean, I know on a Saturday in August it's usually much more crowded than this but there really are a fair number of people.

And I was just chatting with our photographer. I said, you know, you've been here all day, have you been talking to these people. And he said, oh yes, they said this is all hype, we are staying.

That's what they're telling us.

WHITFIELD: OK, Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. We'll check back with you throughout the day.

All right, so even if you don't live in the path of the storm, you still might feel the effects of its bump. We'll look at what Hurricane Irene could mean for gas prices straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: Ongoing coverage of Hurricane Irene and its path right now. We know its hovering along the North Carolina coast but when it heads north it's going to be heading toward Washington, D.C., Virginia, Delaware and on to New York and into New England.

Let's check in with our affiliate coverage out of the Washington, D.C., area, WJLA servicing the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia viewing audience. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED WJLA REPORTER: -- Irene the National Hurricane Center gives top winds now 85 miles per hour. It will slowly weaken. It's no doubt about it. The center is over land or bay areas now in extreme Eastern North Carolina and it is bound, especially when part of the circulation encounters cooler water with every mile or so it moves to the north, it will weaken a bit but, at this point, for our viewing area it really doesn't matter a whole lot what the central circulation winds are because look how widespread the precipitation bands are and how widespread the wind field has become. Again, top winds 80-85, moving to the north/northeast at 15 miles per hour.

Now this storm will continue to make its move across the area and right now as you're watching on Live Super Doppler 7 radar you can see the areas in yellow indicate the heavier areas of rain.

WHITFIELD: All right, you're listening to the forecast there as they continue to track Hurricane Irene out of WJLA, the Washington, D.C., area affiliate.

Now let's head south to the North Carolina viewing audience where WRAL, right there, there's some live pictures from there, coverage along the North Carolina coast. Irene still kind of hovering along the North Carolina coast.

Let's listen in. I understand they're talking to a resident in the Newburg, North Carolina, area. That was an area that was hit hard during hurricane Floyd a few years ago. Let's listen in.


PATRICK WALSH, WRAL REPORTER: -- finally found it and I was (INAUDIBLE) several days old and I knew it was gone, so.

KELCEY CARLSON, WRAL ANCHOR: Well, our connection is getting a little bit choppy so, thank you again for talking with us again over the phone, Patrick Walsh, and thank you for that video and stay safe and get through the next couple of hours.

WALSH: My pleasure and just be glad you're in Raleigh.

CARLSON: We are. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WRAL ANCHOR: Well Kevin Holmes has been a roaming reporter today, moving from Wayne County, where he saw a huge tree limb down, but almost had an encounter with a tractor trailer rig but he's moved on to Rocky Mount.

CARLSON: And, Kevin, I know that we've -- there has been one death in that area in Nash County. Tell us just what you're hearing and what you're learning from residents and the emergency folks in those areas.

KEVIN HOLMES, WRAL REPORTER: Kelsey, here in Nash County the weather, the strong winds, the downed power lines, the downed trees, they have proven to be dangerous and deadly.

First, I want to show you what's happening. About a stone's throw from where we are right now, you see that power line? That power line is down and it's going to fall any moment now.

In fact, my photographer was telling me he was shooting video of the river, which is right over there, and that power line, we heard a loud crack and, obviously, he ran over this way and we're here just for safety's sake. That's why we're so far from that because those are live power lines right over there.

That proves to be the case throughout Rocky Mount, throughout Ashe Cove County as well as several tree limbs down, several trees down. In fact, investigators are confirming for us right now that a downed tree killed a man in Nashville. (INAUDIBLE) --


UNIDENTIFIED WRAL ANCHOR: Well we apologize --

HOLMES: -- anything else about the situation, we just know a large limb or tree actually fell --

WHITFIELD: All right, here we're looking at live coverage from our affiliate, WRAL, which is based out of Raleigh, North Carolina but they're talking about Hurricane Irene has already caused a number of downed trees in the outer lying areas.

All right, meantime, even if you're not along the East Coast, you are likely to feel the impact of Hurricane Irene in the form of gas prices. Already they are going to be pushed higher, nearly 10 percent of the nation's oil refining capacity is in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Delaware, all the areas that are being hit by Hurricane Irene producing 1.35 million barrels per day.

Those refineries could be offline for several days because of this hurricane. Barge routes are also being disrupted, combining Hurricane Irene and the upcoming holiday weekend well analysts predict that gas prices will rise 15 to 20 cents over the next couple of weeks.

All right, we are continuing to watch Hurricane Irene but there are other stories we are also keeping close tabs on. A powerful typhoon, in fact, has battered the northern Philippines. The heavy rains triggered landslides which killed at least two people. Several others are missing. The storm is now slowly moving toward Taiwan with landfall possible on Monday.

And a wildfire forced some tourists to evacuate a resort near Yosemite National Park. The blaze started on Thursday and has scorched 3,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Authorities say it began when a propane tank on a recreational vehicle exploded.

And the Tea Party, talking politics now, is preparing to hit the road. A nationwide bus tour kicks off today with a rally in California's Napa Valley. The Tea Party Express tour culminates in Tampa, Florida, come September 12th. That's when it teams up with CNN to sponsor a debate for Republican presidential candidates.

We'll have much more of our continuing coverage of other stories plus, of course, Hurricane Irene after this.