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Hurricane Irene Coverage: Hurricane Irene Batters Virginia Beach; Storm Surge Becomes Primary Concern; Interview With Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley; Unprecedented NYC Evacuations

Aired August 27, 2011 - 18:00   ET



Happening now, Hurricane Irene hammers the East Coast of the United States. After slamming ashore in North Carolina, it's sending heavy rain and powerful winds through Maryland and Virginia. Now starting to knock on the door right here in Washington, D.C., where I am.

The storm has claimed at least six lives so far. And more than a million households have already lost power. Millions more are bracing for the impact, especially in New York, where there's a fast -- first- ever evacuation and bus, subway and rail service has been halted.

Our correspondents are deployed all along the East Coast to bring you the kind of storm coverage you can find only, only on CNN.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer with a special edition THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to Maryland, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland specifically. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is standing by.

Set the scene for us this hour, Chris. What's going on along the beaches of Maryland?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, (INAUDIBLE). We're starting to feel some of the outer bands of that hurricane. What we feel here is - (INAUDIBLE) the waves start coming in a lot more strongly. Things will die down for a while. I think that's some of the bands that are starting to hit this area. And then as it is right now, some of those, those bands start coming back through and we get heavier winds and heavier storm surge coming up the beach here.

Where I'm standing, a lot of this was beach when we got here this morning. Quickly it's already risen several feet. I was talking to the mayor. He said one of the big worries in this area is when you go past some of these homes that's built right here on a the beach, there are a tremendous amount of homes built further down that are built on a cliff.

At this point their worry is not so much the wind, this is not going to be the kind of storm here where the wind is going to do catastrophic damage. But what they are worried about is, it is moving so slowly, and it's going to hit right before high tide which comes about 3:30 in the morning here, that they are worried that there may be so much water brought into the areas quickly that it could erode a lot of the soil that these homes are built on a cliff.

So he's been going around today trying to make sure, you know, people have left their homes or if they haven't that they are at least aware of the risk that they are taking by staying inside, Wolf.

BLITZER: Even though everyone was strongly urged to leave, where you are as you say, Chris, there are some people who say, you know what, they think they can ride it out?

LAWRENCE: Yes, exactly. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the winds aren't going to be catastrophic winds. They are not talking about a category 3 or 4. And so sometimes that can lull people to sleep when you hear Cat 1, or hear the wind speed is decreasing. People think they don't think this is something where I necessarily need to leave the home. Obviously, for a lot of reasons it be a very emotional decision.

But the problem is you won't know about that storm surge really until it's right on top of you. The real worry is with the brunt of the storm coming at night, in the dark, and then high tide coming about 3:30 in the morning, it can bring a tremendous amount of water in here in a very short amount of time.

BLITZER: So the real fear right now is flooding right, Chris, is that what you're saying?

LAWRENCE: That is the primary fear, Wolf. The winds are not to the extent that were feared maybe even a few days ago. The risk from the wind damage is not what they are worried about here. They are very worried about the water and how much water is going to come in to this area.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence in Chesapeake Beach for us. Chris, thank you very much. Be careful over there.

Let's bring in the governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, joining us on phone.

Governor, what's the latest information you're getting about your state, Maryland and Hurricane Irene?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY, MARYLAND (via telephone): Wolf, do me a favor. Tell Chris to get the hell out of that water, would you?

BLITZER: Yes, I thought that --


O'MALLEY: Right now, the initial bands are starting to lash us, as you saw from Chris's report. We've done a lot of preparation. We have National Guard that are forward and around the state, especially on the lower shore. Now the tidal surges are always tricky in the Chesapeake Bay. We don't believe that those surges will being a greater than what is being forecast and that's kind of confirmed by our bay pilots as well.

But, we have probably about 5,000 citizens who are in shelters around the state right now. We have approximately 40,000 customers without power all across our state. The saturation of the ground is such that, you know, these trees and as the wind picks up and as the rain picks up will no doubt take down more power lines. That's going to be a big, big challenge for us as we recover.

But actually, in terms of the storm hitting us, when it is off of Ocean City at around midnight tonight, it will actually be kind of between the high tides, so that is fortuitous. We're prepared and we are urging everyone to stay inside.

BLITZER: What are your biggest fears, Governor?

O'MALLEY: Biggest fears?

My big guest concerns are those downed power lines and the flooding, also some of the coastal flooding. We actually effectuated some pretty good evacuations, Ocean City and also Kent Island, the ones that your reporter Chris was talking about. They are actually higher up on the cliff, down there in Calvert County. Those were folks, you know, because of their proximity to the cliffs and the erosion and the like were in danger.

Biggest concern is always for life, and the protection of life, and so people need to stay of the roads. I think people are treating this storm with the respect that it's due. And a big challenge will be getting the electricity back on once she passes through. Also, there's likely to be a whole lot of beach damage. And so we're keeping an eye on that, and hanging tough with our neighbors in Virginia who are experiencing the same thing right now.

BLITZER: You know, a million customers already, Governor, have lost power in Virginia and in North Carolina. You say what, 30,000 so far in Maryland. But you know it's going to go into hundreds of thousands very, very quickly, right?

O'MALLEY: Well, it probably will. I mean given the saturation of the ground, and the wind knocking over trees. There will be lots of people without power tonight in my state and fortunately we have a lot more crews on hand ahead of this. I have been working with the utility companies for two to three times as many out of state crews are here right now than were here on the advent of Snowmageddon, which you might recall from last year.

BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures of Chesapeake Beach area. And area you know well, Governor, a lot of people are worried about those beaches. This was supposed to be one of those weekends where tourism would bring a lot of revenue for people who live in Maryland. Unfortunately, that is not happening right now. Are you getting the support from FEMA, from the federal government that you need? O'MALLEY: I'll tell you what, Wolf, FEMA has never been better. We had a conference call with all of the states, Secretary Napolitano was there, Director Fugate and President Obama. Our federal government has treated this storm with tremendous amount of professionalism and preparedness. And everybody is really leaning forward. And it makes you very, very proud of the committed people in our federal government that are doing so much to help all of us up and down the Eastern Seaboard here.

BLITZER: Let me ask you one political question and then I'll let you go.

When you hear Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas, say you know what the federal government should not be in the FEMA business right now.

What do you want to say to Congressman Ron Paul?

O'MALLEY: Well, you know, I think these are those emergencies where we all remember, regardless of political party that we're stronger together. And that, in fact, the reason we have a federal government is so that when lives are threatened that we can come together and we can protect one another, and you're seeing an example of that right now.

I'm very proud of the response of our federal government and the Obama administration. It is a 1,000 percent improved over what FEMA used to be.

BLITZER: Very diplomatic answer from Governor Martin O'Malley. I thought you would say something rougher on Congressman Paul.

O'MALLEY: I'm focused on the storm. Focused on the storm.

BLITZER: This is not a time for politics, even though I tried.

Governor, thanks for coming in. Good luck to you, to all the people of Maryland, all the people of the East Coast of the United States. We are watching it closely with you. Appreciate it very much.

O'MALLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Our meteorologists and severe weather exert Chad Myers is over at the CNN Hurricane Headquarters with the latest forecast coming in.

What are you picking up, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm picking up now for Maryland, significant flash flood warnings for P.G. County, parts of Anna Arundel County, even into Northern Virginia, Fairfax, Manassas. We have seen between three and six inches of rainfall in that D.C.- Northern Virginia area, and into Maryland, as well. More rainfall from Philadelphia all the way down. Literally, Wolf, it is raining from this storm in New Hampshire and it is raining in South Carolina. The size is bigger than most Nor'easters like the governor was just talking about. The storm is exiting North Carolina. It will quickly get back into water. Not very warm water so it's not going to regenerate much, but at least it won't do much. It won't go up or down.

We have to see more of this rainfall rain out. Then we need to see some dry air get sucked into it from the mountains and that will begin to kill the storm off as it travels up to the north. From Dover all the way here through Delaware very heavy rainfall. From Rehoboth all the way down to Ocean City, rain and just pounding waves. Really taking away a lot of the beach here. That will continue.

This big red box, that's a tornado watch box. Nothing else to worry about some of these storms could actually be spinning and as they spin they could bring a tornado on shore. Here's Washington, D.C. Here's Baltimore. There's the big red square. Almost all the way down to Richmond, Virginia with that new flash flood warning that was just issued.

Here's the storm. It is spinning off the coast. There's the eye getting into the water again and it will move up. This track has not changed. The forecast from the Hurricane Center has been stellar. Another government agency that just did a fantastic job with this storm. And 70 mile-per-hour winds, even into Connecticut. That's going to bring down trees.

My biggest concern is the water, the rains still coming down, six to 10 inches of rainfall on top of these areas that have already seen significant rain. Philadelphia this month, Wolf, has had 13 inches of rain. Those trees are in saturated ground. You get a wind gust like we're expecting to 60 miles per hour and those trees are going to fall on homes. That's the biggest concern I have. When the winds really pick up you need to be on the inside of your home somewhere safe just because these trees will be going everywhere.

BLITZER: If you're in New York City, Chad, and you're in one of those high rise buildings and let's say you live on the 20th floor of one of those buildings. What do you do? Do you just ride it out even though you're high up, or you try to go down, down sort of lower level?

MYERS: Well, there's a couple of schools of thought. I really put lot of time into this. The higher you go, the higher the wind speeds will be; 20 percent higher at level 30, or the 30th floor, 20 percent higher than at the surface.

If you get up to about floor 60 or 70, you're talking about 30 percent higher. Let's just say winds will be 60 miles per hour.

At the top of that building you're looking at about 78 miles per hour. But now, you and I have been in New York City enough to know that a 60 mile-per-hour wind, at the surface is going to be funneled through those buildings. And the wind tunnel effect may make the bottom 10 floors 100 miles per hour. So, I understand how there's going to be more potential wind up above but I also think that there could be more potential damage down below as those 100 mile-per-hour winds going through the wind tunnels, especially through TriBeCa and Lower Manhattan and Midtown, picking up trash, picking up little stones, and breaking the windows.

The windows really be able to withhold, they will be able to withstand things. The windows are strong enough. But they are not made to with stand a pebble being thrown at it, shot at it at 80 miles per hour. Or your neighbor's lawn chair that he didn't take off his balcony thrown into a window, that's more of a concern than anything else.

BLITZER: They are like projectiles. They can cause enormous damage and risk a life. All right. Chad, stand by. We'll get back to you.

We're covering the storm from New England to North Carolina. Complete storm coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM when we come back.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures here in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Capitol. You can barely see it. I'm here at our Washington bureau, on a balcony, overlooking the U.S. capital. You can barely see the capitol. The outer bands of Hurricane Irene now beginning to reach the nation's capital here in Washington, D.C. Stand by we'll have much more on what we can expect where I am in Washington.

I want to go to Virginia Beach, Virginia, right now. CNN's Amber Lyon, is joining us.

Amber, what's going on in Virginia beach?

AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm out here in Virginia Beach and the center of Hurricane Irene is about two hours south of us, but we're definitely already feeling very intense effects of the storm. Look how ominous the sea looks out there (AUDIO GAP) tremendous waves. Lots of wind and rain and the wind pelting you.

Unlike the Outer Banks, south of us, the City of Virginia beach doesn't have sand dunes to protect it from a storm surge. This is a city with a population of more than 400,000 people. It's a popular tourist destination for people living up on the Northeast. The boardwalk is lined with hotels, restaurant, bars. It's definitely taking a big financial hit if a storm surge is to come over here and enters the city.

If I could have you step over here and show our viewers. Over here on the balcony, we're witnessing breaking news. Look at that water. The storm surge is coming up here. We've even see sometimes when it's been approaching this boardwalk and going over the side, and that's a big concern for residents that this water will enter this city. Once again 400,000 people, all very nervous about the looks of that seawall.

BLITZER: So, do most of the people in Virginia Beach, Amber, are they there? Are they riding it out in their homes, their apartments or have they left?

LYON: Well, Wolf, some people are riding it out in their homes. Other people -- we're here on the ninth floor of our hotel. A lot of rooms here at this hotel are filled with local residents who were scared they would lose electricity. (AUDIO GAP)

Sorry, the wind gusts are getting pretty strong here. We're quite -- we're going to lose electricity. They were scared they were going to be in an unsafe situation. This is obviously a very stable hotel. They left their homes to come and stay what would normally be filled with tourists, but now filled with locals, Wolf.

BLITZER: Amber be safe over there. We'll stay in close touch with you. Amber Lyon reporting from us in Virginia Beach, in Virginia.

Let's bring in the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. He is joining us on the phone right now.

What's the latest as far as Irene and Virginia, Governor, is concerned?

GOV. BOB MCDONNELL, VIRGINIA (via telephone): You just heard the report from Virginia Beach, that is our immediate concern. The southeast part of our state, there's over a million people in that area, 500,000 in Virginia Beach. A lot of people are experiencing hurricane force-winds now and will for the next several hours.

Our biggest concern, revised estimates of the storm surge up to five to seven feet, that would be a record, that would put water in a lot of places. And fortunately, we had mandatory evacuations along those low-lying areas in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and others over the last day or so, and that was the right decision.

So we're very concerned about storm surge. In some areas have had, Wolf, often inches of rain so far and now the high winds come in. We're very concerned about trees. We've already had two deaths in Virginia as a result of trees falling on apartment and tree falling on a car.

BLITZER: One of those deaths was a little boy in that apartment building when a tree fell and killed that boy. What else can you tell us about that, Governor?

MCDONNELL: Well, just tragic. This morning, an 11-year-old boy killed in an apartment. A tree fell on his house, his mother was in the house and it's just a very heartbreaking accident in Brunswick County a tree falling on a car.

We expect tremendous additional downed limbs and trees. We got 617,000 customers, which is over a million people, half in Richmond and the other half or more in the Hampton Roads, area without power. We expect much more of that over the next couple of hours and over the next four hours it's the tidal issues at Hampton Roads that are of the most concern.

BLITZER: I'll ask you the same question that I just asked Governor O'Malley, of Maryland.

Are you getting everything you need from the federal government, from FEMA, from the White House, or are they not showing up?

MCDONNELL: No. It's been a great partnership. I was on the line with the president today, yesterday; Secretary Napolitano, the day before. We have 40 FEMA officers in the Richmond Emergency Operations Center. I met with them today, spoke with them.

We've got tremendous state resources deployed. We had a state declaration of emergency on Thursday. President Obama approved my federal declaration last night. So it is been quite a week.

You know, we've had fires in the Great Dismal Swamp, we had an earthquake on Tuesday, and today we have a hurricane. Our emergency responders are having their hands full. But in coordination with the local officials and local mayors and sheriffs they are doing a great job.

BLITZER: How many people in Virginia already, already have lost power? We've heard a million between North Carolina and Virginia. A million customers meaning there's a lot more people involved because two, three, four, five people live in a home.

What's your latest estimate?

MCDONNELL: The latest estimate in the last hour was 617,000 customers and that's about two and a half people per customer household. So we're looking at well over a million at this point. We think there's a lot more to come.

We just tell people, look, it's going to be awhile getting it back. Dominion and the co-ops have extra resources that will be deployed as soon as it's safe to start repairing tonight and tomorrow. People will have to wait several days or so to get this done because safety is first.

BLITZER: What's the forecast for Northern Virginia, the suburbs of Washington, D.C.?

MCDONNELL: With the path of this storm, we literally have about two-thirds of the land mass of the state that's affected, but well over 75 percent of the population that lives along that 95 corridor from Northern Virginia, D.C. suburbs to Richmond and then to Hampton Roads. So most people are going to have some impact here.

We're expecting potential tropical storm-force winds, and several inches of rain in Northern Virginia. They've been feeling that since the middle of the day and there's more to come. We expect the effects of the storm to last until about 6:00 in the morning. Some residents of Virginia will have tropical storm force winds until 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 in the morning.

BLITZER: We're looking at these live pictures of Virginia Beach that surf that's coming in. It's pretty dangerous. The flooding problem in Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads, some of the other areas in near Norfolk, how big of a problem will that be, the flooding problem?

MCDONNELL: That's our major immediate concern, Wolf. Again the storm surge, five to seven feet would be near a record. There are areas in Norfolk which we expect eight to nine feet above the mean low watermark. Most of those areas that were subject to mandatory evacuations, so hopefully people are away from those areas.

There's a number of tributaries feeding into this South Hampton Roads area, that will have days of rivers and creeks cresting. This problem will continue. The immediate problem is the next four hours with this storm surge, you saw those pictures. It's very likely that we have some significant flooding in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads.

BLITZER: One final question, Governor, before I let you get back.

The U.S. Navy, the largest port in the world in Norfolk, some of the other areas in your state, did they successfully manage to get all of those ships out to sea to protect them or are there still some stuck?

MCDONNELL: No, they are all out. I actually flew over yesterday. I was down in Virginia Beach and Norfolk and Hampton, meeting with the leaders down there, their operation center. Flew over it, everything is gone. They had to go several hundred miles out to get out of the path. Coast Guard vessel, some are in the vicinity to be ready to help people. The port of Hampton Roads is closed, and our great folks of the Navy are out of harm's way, again away from their families for a couple of days until the storm passes.

BLITZER: Let's hope it passes quickly and the destruction won't be that great and fatalities -- hopefully, it will just be what it is right now. Although, I fear for the worst.

Governor, thanks very much. Good luck to all of the people of Virginia. Appreciate it very much.

MCDONNELL: Thanks, Wolf. I think people were prepared and we appreciate getting on, so people stay safe. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Keep up the good work. Thank you.

MCDONNELL: Thank you.

BLITZER: From North Carolina they are feeling Irene. They are suffering widespread damage. We're going back to North Carolina when we come back.


BLITZER: CNN's John King is in New York city right now. He's driving.

John, where your exactly? We're looking at live pictures. I think they are streaming in from your car.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the pictures are streaming live in from my iPhone on a stream box. We're actually just driving just past JFK Airport. We heard a plane landing. We know commercial traffic has been significantly restricted. Once the weather gets worse here in New York most flights will be cancelled.

We're on our way out to Long Beach and we just drove up from D.C. And one of the good things that we've noticed on the way up is that most people seem to be heeding the advice of local officials. Because the roads are largely deserted. We made our way up through Baltimore, through Delaware, through New Jersey. Now into New York, and very few people on the roads.

Stopped at a rest area at one point and the lights were flickering, that was a few hours ago. Storm is still behind us, as you have been talking to the correspondents down in Virginia and on the Maryland beaches. So, already you do you see some evidence of power outages that are likely to come.

You've been talking to Chad repeatedly about one of his concerns, is that there's already so much saturation. As we've been driving through the city, you know how you come up and you come over the bridges, you're on the edge of Brooklyn. Now we're driving out, out to the beaches. You see a lot of water on the side of the roads already, in low-lying areas.

Again, the storm is several hours behind us. It's raining, of course, but the real rains and the heavy winds and rains are hours behind us. And there is not a lot of places for the water to go. If you have that huge surge in these low-lying areas, you can see a lot of trouble for the houses in these areas. And, obviously, for the businesses in these areas, and then the larger problem as you've been discussing with Chad if the winds remember as bad as they thing and the flooding is as bad as projected in the urban areas behind us as well.

BLITZER: Amazing the technology. Pictures are not great. I at least get a little flavor, so what I'm hearing you say is that already raining in New York. The outer bands have already reached New York City where you are. It's only going to get worse. When do they think the worse will be in Long Beach, in New York City, elsewhere in the greater New York area?

KING: Well, they expect the rains to intensify over the next several hours and it will be overnight. We're expecting now until the early morning hours, 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m. to be hit the hardest. If you are looking that is 12 hours from now, or 11 hours from now. The rain now is a moderate rain.

If you look at the side of the road, we are splashing through puddles already in these areas, and with the heavier rains behind us, and moderate rain now assuming it intensifies as it has been. And when we were coming through, obviously it was raining harder where you are now where we left hours ago. That's falling essentially. Then the heavier storm behind that. We're splashing our way through.

So, in these low-lying areas, and the expectation, I heard you talking to Susan Candiotti earlier. The expectation is that Long Beach, where we are headed, could be in the direct path of the storm. And then the question there is, if it makes landfall here, what is the path then towards more urban areas, and what are the flooding issues.

And, again, already you see saturation on the roads and you have to assume with another 12 hours or more of rain even after the storm hits more rain after that. If it is as intense as they predict you can already see evidence that they will have at a minimum flooding issues here, which will mean power issues and some property damage issues. And then we'll see what the winds and the rain bring, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers live pictures of the Statue of Liberty. Rain is only going to get much more intense in the coming hours. We'll check back, John, with you as you head towards Long Beach, in New York.

Let's stay in New York. Mary Snow is in another part of the city down at Battery Park.

Mary, what is going on where you are?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is really eerily quiet here, Wolf. And take a look out in the New York Harbor. You just mentioned we are right in front of the Statue of Liberty. On an ordinary Saturday, this New York harbor would be filled with boats. But as you can see, it is so quiet. That's the scene around the city.

The mass transit system, coming to a grinding halt earlier today with all subways and buses shut down at noon time today. And people have been ling up in stores, getting supplies, water, battery, bracing for this storm and, really, now comes the wait.

There are 370,000 New Yorkers who were told to evacuate by 5:00 p.m. many heeded that call, took the mayor's advice and left. But not everybody, down here in lower Manhattan Battery Park in the evacuation zone, but there are some New Yorkers who say they are staying put. Here's one of them.


JIM PYRON, NOT EVACUATING: I think Mayor Bloomberg screwed up on the blizzard and now he's trying to be proactive with the hurricane. I think they are making a lot out of something that's really not going to be that big of a deal.


SNOW: And one of the areas also, Wolf, that's in the evacuation zone out in Queens is Rockaway. I was talking to one state lawmaker who had been making the rounds throughout the day, telling me that he was disappointed and concerned that not as many people were evacuating as he expected.

There are no hard numbers about just how many people evacuated. There are dozens of shelters set up throughout the city. You know, you were just talking with John about the flooding. And one other big concern is power and Coned said it will make a decision whether to shut power to some areas.

You know, down here in lower Manhattan one of the things that the mayor has also asked buildings to do, high rises is to shut elevators because there's a concern that if power is cut then there would be people trapped in those elevators.

So many of the buildings including the gentleman we talked to lives on the 21st floor of a high rise. Those elevators were shut down at 5:00 -- Wolf

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, Mary, they are thinking about preemptively cutting the power in New York in order to save it for others? In other words -- go ahead and explain. I'm not clear what that means.

SNOW: The threat is flooding. That's one thing that New York is bracing for. What the way it's explained is that if saltwater gets into the cables could it be very damaging. So if there is extensive flooding there may be a call at some point to shutdown some of the power because the cables would be damaged and that it would be much harder to repair. So that is one thing that they are looking at.

BLITZER: But just to be precise, Mary, they are not telling people who live on the 20th or 40th or 60th floor of high rise buildings don't take the elevator because if the power goes you could be stuck in the elevator. They are not saying that, are they?

SNOW: Yes, they are. You know, there are some buildings to be checked that the elevators continue to run. But here in lower Manhattan for the people who are still here, they are shutting down the elevators because the mayor had asked them to do that and they don't want to take that chance if the power is cut of having people caught one elevators.

BLITZER: What a nightmare of so many millions of people. Mary Snow in Manhattan for us. We'll check back with you. We're also going to check in with Jeanne Meserve, she's in Ocean City, Maryland where she's dealing with Hurricane Irene.

Our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.


BLITZER: Winds are gusting here in Washington, D.C., maybe 30 miles per hour, 40 miles per hour. It will only get worse in the coming hours.

We're standing here on one of the balconies at the CNN Washington Bureau. We're watching what's going on. You can see Capitol Hill behind me. The flags are flying up there. I don't know how much of it you can see. It's overcast, very, very cloudy and it's only going to get worse. The streets, by the way, here in downtown Washington, we're up on Capitol Hill, basically empty, very few cars.

Normally, there would be a lot of cars there, but very few cars driving in Washington, D.C. right now. People are listening to authorities and saying stay home, don't go out.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is in Ocean City, Maryland, which is a very popular resort beach for some of the people who live in the greater Washington, D.C. area, about a three hour drive from the nation's capital. It looks pretty ominous over there, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The winds have really picked up although the worse isn't expected here until around midnight. I just talked to the mayor of Ocean City, Rick Meehan. He told me that conditions have deteriorated to the point where he is stopping police patrols around the city.

If people make emergency calls into the police department they will be considered on a case by case basis, but he doesn't want to put people out here in these dangerous conditions unless he absolutely has to.

The winds as I mentioned are picking up. We've seen a few windows blown out. We've seen other property damage like siding blown off. A few light roofs that are starting to give way, but the real issue here is the water. The mayor tells me --

BLITZER: We just lost our connection with Jeanne. Unfortunately this stuff happens, the technology is great, but these are hurricane, this is a hurricane right now. So occasionally we lose audio and video. We'll check back with Jeanne when we reconnect with her.

Let's go back to Chad Myers, our meteorologist and severe weather expert.

Chad, give us a unique part of this hurricane that our viewers will appreciate.

MYERS: The unique part is how winds changed direction from one side of the eye to the other. Let me take you all the way down here to North Carolina. Earlier today as the storm came in right at about, there that's about Atlantic Beach, the winds were on shore.

Blowing these sand. Blowing all of the water and the waves right along the outer banks. Well, now the winds have shifted direction and they are now pushing around the back side and pushing out so all of this water, which is the Pimlico Sound and other areas of water are now pushed back out.

And the dramatic picture to that is right here from hurricane and someone thought parking their Volkswagen under a restaurant on the sound side would be a safe place to do it. Well, now all that sound water is pushing back over the island and the outer banks are covered in water again, but from the other direction. There's nobody in that car by the way I checked with our photographer there as So here it is. There's the storm. It is moving up the coast, winds will be from this direction all the way up the coast for hours and hours.

In fact, from New York City right now we're still talking 16 hours of wind from the same direction. And that wind from the same direction is going to push the water into the bays. We know there are about five feet of water in the Chesapeake Bay, down to the south. Now near Hampton roads and Norfolk.

I don't expect that water to be up here into Baltimore or the Potomac because by the time the storm gets here and the water could go up the Chesapeake it will be pushed back down and pushed out just like the waters getting pushed out of the sound down in North Carolina.

But here, New York City the threat for you is 16 hours of wind blowing the same direction and already I can check the tides, I'm checking the tide at Battery Park, it's already up a foot higher than it should be and now we have what 16 hours of the winds still blowing and getting stronger?

That surge in New York City, down by the Battery will be tremendous and that's going to be for the next, I would at least the next 16 maybe 20 hours, and there it goes. There goes the storm. Still perfectly forecast to go right over New York City.

I'm telling you, Wolf, we talked about FEMA with a couple of the governors a little bit ago, how well FEMA is doing. I have to give a shout to the National Hurricane Center and the forecast for this. They were spot on since it's been out of the Bahamas, we had the forecast. They had it right on the money.

BLITZER: NOAA, too, the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration. They've done an outstanding job with forecast. Did you see the interview we did with Katherine Sullivan of NOAA. She gave you a nice shout out, Chad.

MYERS: She did. I smiled at that. Thank you so much for that. What a fabulous career there of a flying through a storm in a P-3. That would be quite a pinnacle to my career as well.

BLITZER: Something I'm not doing. All right, Chad, thanks very, very much.

Coming up next, we'll speak live to someone who tracks these storms for a living. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Looking at some live pictures coming in from Roanoke Sound in North Carolina courtesy of our next guest.

Mark Sudduth, he's a hurricane chaser, founder of the website He's joining us on the phone from Roanoke Sound right now.

Give us a little sense how this hurricane compares to some of the other hurricanes that we all are very familiar with?

MARK SUDDUTH, OUTER BANKS NORTH CAROLINA: It's hard to compare it, Wolf. It's unpredictable. It's done the opposite of what we thought it would do and has had many surprises so mainly the intensity forecast. Very unique hurricane.

BLITZER: This hurricane is so unique because of its size not necessarily the wind speed but the size, it covers a huge area.

SUDDUTH: Absolutely. Left Africa more than two weeks ago I think as a strong tropical wave, very large envelope of energy. It grew using the heat of the tropics into a very large hurricane. This is something that can be studied perhaps by meteorologists and college scholars for years to come, a very interesting and very damaging hurricane for a lot of people.

BLITZER: What do we expect? What would you expect like in the next several hours? What should we be bracing for?

SUDDUTH: You know, that's a great question. If anybody has been watching all of the coverage today down in North Carolina and Virginia, that's what's coming up to the northeast. Take that as a hint as to what's coming your way.

The live video here of this restaurant and the Volkswagon underneath that could be places along New Jersey and up into the northeast, New York, Long Island that area. There's no way to predict exactly what can happen, but take a clue from what you just seen in the Carolinas and Virginia as it's all moving into the northeast corridor.

BLITZER: Those are live pictures from your web site How did that Volkswagen wind up there. Tell us what we're seeing.

SUDDUTH: Well, somebody parked it there and I guess didn't know the hurricane hazards, I guess. It's funny because all the geese that were under there a little while ago evacuated a little over to our left.

This is the Roanoke Sound, just a couple of hours ago. You could walk out into the Roanoke Sound hundreds of yards and just be in sand and muck because it has blown it all in that direction, away from where we are.

But the wind changed direction, the gravity let go and everything has come back this way with the wind flow. Now the water is rising rapidly.

BLITZER: Give our viewers in the north, let's say in New York and New England some advice. What should they be doing now?

SUDDUTH: The best advice I can give them is to listen to the instructions from their local officials, and those folks are going to have the information for them to help prepare them for what is to come, especially for recovery.

The local emergency management is the main voice for each community. They have plans in place and a lot of that information can be found on social media. So use it and use it wisely.

BLITZER: Good advice. Mark Sudduth from, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's stay in North Carolina right now. David Mattingly is there. He's in Kill Devil Hills. That's where this hurricane initially made land.

All right, David, we've been trying to stay in touch with you. We lost the audio sometimes. Hopefully, we won't lose it this time.

Tell us what you're experiencing now and what you have experienced over the past several hours.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the conditions are improving out here by the minute. I wasn't able to stand out here without getting pushed around pretty well a couple of hours ago. We just had some torrential rain for a brief period of time.

Now it's just sprinkling. The wind is slowly ratcheting down by the minute. This storm had its way with the outer banks. It is now moving north. What it's doing right now, the shift of wind that you just heard about, pushing the water from the sound back towards the east, pushing it on to land, creating flooding events on the west side of these islands.

And that was expected and it is expected to be a very short-lived event as these winds again will change direction as the storm continues to move to the north. But right now the counties have damage assessment teams in place ready to go out as soon as conditions allow so that they can go out and see what kind of damage there is, what needs to be done to get this island back on its feet and back up and operating.

Already the precautionary warning has gone out to people who live here who want to come back and check on their property. They are telling them don't come back yet. We're not going to allow you back on the island just yet.

They are going to have to wait and see what conditions the roads are in and of course, they still have flooding events that haven't fully run their course. So at this moment just that last punch of flooding from the sound and this storm could finally be done with the outer banks, Wolf.

BLITZER: A million households in North Carolina and Virginia already have lost power. That could be 2 or 3 million people when you add up all the people in those households. How are they coping where you are in North Carolina? MATTINGLY: Well, oddly enough, we never lost electricity here. I was amazed to wake up this morning after listening to those hurricane winds all night long to find out we still had electricity. Blinked a few times today, but we still have the lights on.

Here we are right on the beach, right in the thick of things. So go figure. That's just the way life is in a hurricane. You never know exactly what you're going to get depending on where you are. Wolf --

BLITZER: David Mattingly in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, for us. Thank you.

New England, even New England is bracing for Irene. Ahead, our national correspondent Gary Tuchman in Newport, Rhode Island. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Newport, Rhode Island bracing for a big hit as well in the coming hours. Gary Tuchman is on the scene for us.

Gary, I want you to tell us what's going on in Newport as we watch what's going on. I want to update our viewers. We've now confirmed the death toll, unfortunately, has gone up to eight, eight as a result of Hurricane Irene. But Gary, set the scene in Rhode Island for us.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in New Port, the rains just started about one hour ago and a mandatory evacuation order has gone into effect at midnight. Most of the people of Newport have to be out this area.

Newport they call this sailing capital of the world. It's a great place to do other kinds of boating. There are a lot of wealthy people here. It gives you an idea of the wealth and these boats give you better idea. These are two 130-foot yachts. That's Gavin and Tyler there. Can you hear me? Give us a wave.

Those are the first mates on that particular yacht. Gives you an idea of what goes on in the town of Newport, Rhode Island. Right next to the yachts, by the way, this hotel over here. As we speak, Wolf, there is a wedding party going on inside of there.

The bride and the groom do not want to give up this wedding date. They will always remember it's the day that Hurricane Irene came up the Northeast Coast. But I will tell you right now here in Newport, there are a lot of frightened people because they haven't had a hurricane come through Newport, Rhode Island, or New England for that matter for exactly 20 years.

It was Hurricane Bob in 1991, 20 years ago last week. So they're used to nor'easters. They're used to some flooding when the bad weather comes. But people just don't board up much because they don't experience this. So the mandatory evacuation order is in effect, but here's the problem. This is unusual for us who cover hurricanes. Usually there are one or two places in the United States a hurricane hits, that's where we center our resources.

If you want to evacuate, you live in those areas, you go north, you go west, you go south. Here it's hard for people to go plays. Most people who haven't left don't plan to evacuate. Where do you go? You have to drive three hours to the west or to the northwest to get out of the zone.

In the south, you're in the zone. North, you're in the zone, a little west. And this area Newport has southern-facing beaches. The storm is coming from the south. They're vulnerable to flooding, and there's a lot of concern here as they are just beginning the exploits of what we've seen south of us.

BLITZER: They're bracing for the worst, hoping for the best as we say. All right, Gary, thank you very, very much. We'll take another break.

When we come back, we're going to go to a condominium, a whole condo building in fact where people are simply refusing an evacuation order. Our national correspondent Jason Carroll will join us live from Atlantic City, New Jersey. New Jersey also getting ready to take a hit from Hurricane Irene.