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Hurricane Irene Coverage: Ocean City, Maryland Feeling Irene's Wrath; Interview With D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray; NYC Emergency Services Prepare to Assist Flood Areas; Interview With New York City's Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno

Aired August 27, 2011 - 19:00   ET



Happening now, Hurricane Irene lashes Virginia Beach with violent winds and pounding rain. At least eight people are now confirmed dead. More than a million homes without power as this monstrous storm marches up the East Coast.

Maryland is in the next city in line. The city of Ocean City evacuated as the mayor warns holds out that this is not a hurricane party.

And buses, subways, and commuter rail all halted in New York as hundreds of thousands are evacuated from the city now bracing for Irene's impact. We have reporters standing by all along the East Coast of the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer with a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're watching this hurricane unfold here in the United States.

Let's go right to Ocean City, Maryland. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is standing by. It's beginning to feel the wrath of Irene.

What's going on?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the winds have become strong, so strong that the mayor has told the police to stop patrolling the streets of this town. He says if emergency calls come in, they will be considered on a case-by-case basis. What they're really worried about here is the water. You can see it behind me. The waves are simply immense.

Ordinarily, there's about 30 feet between the sand dunes and the high tide mark. Right now, the water is right up against the dunes. It's an extraordinarily rough -- sometimes it is coming it halfway up the dunes.

You can see some of it bursting through a snow fence right now. The mayor says that already there is some flooding in downtown Ocean City. He expects that to get worse as the storm gets closer, and as high tide approaches. That is scheduled for about 7:30, about a half- hour from now.

Most of the people have indeed left Ocean City. There were about 200,000 people here. Most of them did evacuate. The mayor estimates that less than 300 are here now, but he had a very clear message for them.


MAYOR RICK MEEHAN, OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND: My message is it wasn't a good decision, but if you're here, stay inside. Do not venture outside. This is not a hurricane party. This is a very serious storm.

I think everybody's reacted responsibly up and down the coast. We urge them to do the same. Be safe, keep yourself safe, and do not put our emergency personnel in danger. That is a mistake.


MESERVE: So, that was the mayor of Ocean City here. Once again, most people have left. The mayor is saying don't come back even after the storm passes until you get the OK from city officials. They want to go around and assess just how much damage this storm does. It's really just kicking up here hard right now. They're expecting to get much worse, probably the worst won't hit until midnight or a little bit after.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Just be careful over there, Jeanne. Our viewers are obviously worried when they see you holding on for life in Ocean City, Maryland, now. Be careful. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is standing by live in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

It looks a lot better there, but I'm sure it's not going to be that much better in the coming hours -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it's been getting steadily worse with every passing hour. If you just look at what we see out here, that was a landing that just a few hours ago was clear. There was no water there. Now, you see how the ocean has rushed in and has taken that landing.

Right now, the only thing protecting the casinos that you see over here which are boarded up is the sand dune that I'm standing on right now. This is the reason why New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, has been repeatedly saying that if you're not heeding the mandatory evacuation, you should have gotten out. And if not now -- now is definitely the time to get out.

But, obviously, there are still some people who are still here. In fact, there are a number of seniors who are still here, still holding out. We actually found an apartment building where 92 seniors, Wolf, are still holding out saying they have no intention of leaving.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We come from hearty stock. We ain't moving.

CARROLL: You're not moving?


CARROLL: Clearly that is the case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's it. There's the best reality show you're going to get.

CARROLL: But in all serious not, are any of you concerned about the storm?



CARROLL: Sorry, what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only my children. My son says he's going to have me committed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But he lives in Georgia, so what does he know?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not frivolous about this. We take this very seriously. But the alternative is a nightmare.

CARROLL: The alternative being -- being in a shelter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not only a shelter, not knowing where we will be. Not knowing where we will be. Our health does not permit -- most of the opportunities that have been offered to us. And I think that's serious. We haven't heard anything from the top level that takes that into account.


CARROLL: So, wolf, you heard from the seniors there. They have no intention of leaving. We're going to keep checking in throughout the night. They just feel as though they're going to be safer where they are now than rather be taken to a shelter that might be an hour or more away.

But, of course, this is exactly what emergency officials do not want to hear, Wolf. They want everyone who's in these low-lying coastal areas to get out. But, clearly, that won't be happening for all the residents here in Atlantic City -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's nothing authorities can do to force these elderly to leave?

CARROLL: Absolutely, Wolf. The authorities have been by that apartment building at least four times today, telling these seniors that they've got to get out. And telling them that where they are may not be safe.

But again, you heard what these seniors said. Some say that they have been through many storms in the area, and they feel as though they are safer where they are, which is the reason why they're not leaving.

And in fact, Governor Christie specifically mentioned the seniors who are here in Atlantic City who are refusing to leave. And that group that we found of 92 may in fact be some of those seniors that he was referring to.

BLITZER: I assume, Jason, all the casinos in Atlantic City are shut down, right?

CARROLL: Absolutely correct. Let me show you, Wolf, if I can. You can see where some of the casinos here are boarded up.

All of the casinos in the city have been shut down, 11 casinos. That's only happened two times in history, Wolf -- once in 1985 during Hurricane Gloria, and once during 2006 during a government shutdown. That is the only two times the casinos in Atlantic City have ever been shut down. Now, you can add Hurricane Irene to that list.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll's going to get a lot of wind and rain and flooding in the coming hours. We'll stay in touch with you, as well, Jason. Thanks.

Let's bring back our meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers at the CNN hurricane headquarters.

Update our viewers who may just be tuning in right now, Chad, where the storm is, where it's heading.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It has just exited North Carolina, very close to the southern end of Virginia Beach.

And so, this is the hardest weather you're going to get in Virginia Beach. This is the peak gusts. These your peak winds right now. And, eventually, the eye will go by, and your winds will shift directions. It will come from this way in about three hours as the eye goes by.

And this is going to be the case, Wolf, all up and down the coast when the eye gets close to you. That's your peak wind. And all the way up even from Cape May, you'll go across Delaware and all the way up to Sandy Hook and then eventually into New York City.

So that's the potential and that's where that eye will be. That's where your surge will be the biggest. And right now, the surge in the Chesapeake very close to Hampton Roads and Norfolk, Chesapeake, right at five feet. And this is bringing water up very high in that naval air station area.

The water is not getting all the way up to Baltimore and into D.C. because the surge will be pushed back the other way by the winds coming this direction. Something, though, that I just found out on the map right down here behind me is that we do have a brand new flood warning now for Baltimore. And also all the way through D.C. -- Ann Arundel, P.G., parts of Montgomery County, even into northern Virginia.

Flash flood warnings means warnings -- flooding is happening. You cannot be driving around because sometimes the flooding will just take over the car. It will take over a roadway. And so they're asking you, please stay off the roads. Just stay home tonight. Find a good book, find a movie. Just do not go out in this flash flooding.

Here's the tick tock, we call that every hour by hour, we'll do it every three hours. Here's Saturday right now, 8:30, it's moving on up. So is the eye. Ocean City, you're already going to get in about the next hour, 50 to 60 mile-per-hour winds. That's where Jeanne Meserve was.

Getting to Atlantic City, there's some just offshore winds of 60 to 70 mile-per-hour winds. There's New York City. You get 60 to 70, and that happens at 5:30 in the morning. There are even some -- orange here, that's Sandy Hook. That's a 70 mile-per-hour sustained wind moving right up into New York City.

And, Wolf, when all of this wind at this point when it's very close to -- about I guess that's north of Wildwood, just south of about Long Branch. This is when all of that water is going to pour into New York harbor. We're already up one foot, we just started.

And I believe that the surge in the city, in the Battery Park area, especially into the East River area because water will be coming in the sound, as well. And those two things will converge in the east river. Some of that surge could be eight or more feet. We don't know yet. We'll have to still watch.

But the surge in New York City will be significant.

BLITZER: What's left of Irene after it goes through New England I assume will head into Canada. How worried should the folks in Canada -- in Canada should be?

MYERS: Sure, let's -- we have it through here. Boston, you'll get 60 mile-per-hour winds. And that will be 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. It's going to move right on up into about Nashua. And then right to Portland, you see those -- that's 60 to 70 along the coast there; Kennebunkport, right through Portland, Oregon.

And then into Atlantic, Canada, this is Monday night. That's how it continues to move Monday night from about almost into Halifax -- although I think you're probably 30 to 40 miles per hour. And then it gets up into Newfoundland and then it gets cold enough that it dies off.

BLITZER: We have a lot of viewers in Canada. They're going to be watching this closely, as well.

Chad, thanks very, very much.

President Obama's closely monitoring this storm. He addressed his concerns during a visit today to FEMA headquarters here in Washington.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be a long 72 hours. And, obviously, a lot of families are going to be affected. What we heard -- the biggest concern I'm having right now has to do with flooding and power. It sounds like that's going to be the enormous strain on a lot of states. And that means eight days, even longer in some cases depending upon what the track of the storm is. So, we're really going to have to stay on top of the recovery -- response and recovery phase of this thing.


BLITZER: A historic hurricane, I think it's fair to say.

Also, an unprecedented evacuation from New York City. You're looking at live pictures right now from Times Square. Rain's coming down. This hurricane is on its way to the Big Apple.


BLITZER: New York City, you can see the Statue of Liberty. It's getting dark in New York right now. An unprecedented evacuation of parts of New York City, including some of the hospitals.

Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

The hospitals in Lower Manhattan, elsewhere, they've basically been evacuated, right?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, it is called Zone A. And that is the zone of New York City. We're talking Lower Manhattan, places like Staten Island, Coney Island, where there could be flooding

And so, they evacuated those hospitals. Wolf, they got the call or the e-mail from Mayor Bloomberg's office yesterday morning and they were told by 8:00 Friday night, in other words, about 12 hours, you need to have your patients out of there.

And I must say, I watched the evacuation from one of them, and it really was quite orderly. They were bringing people out in stretchers. They were bringing people out from the intensive care unit. They were bringing premature babies out in those little isolettes, putting them into ambulances and bringing them to other hospitals. And, Wolf, as you can imagine, this is really, you know, difficult to the hospital. It also traumatizing for the patients. You know, obviously, they're already sick, and now, they having to go to another hospital.

And we caught up with one woman whose brother has a brain tumor. And he was about to start a brand new therapy to get rid of this cancer when he was told that he would have to leave the hospital.

Let's take a listen.


EILEEN FINDLER, SISTER OF HOSPITAL EVACUEE: It just feels like, what else can you throw into this, you know? It's bad enough to live with this diagnosis and try and get the medical help. And then, you know, it's everything that you try to do, you keep getting slapped back down.

So -- but you know, we'll get him to a hotel tonight. And, you know, have an aide and we'll just weather the storm there.


COHEN: Now, this woman's brother, he had to leave NYU hospital. And, Wolf, to our knowledge, this is the only hospital that actually kept some patients. Fewer than 10, but the doctors decided that these patients were so critically ill that to move them was way more dangerous than to keep them there.

Now, I want to show you where the hospital is in relationship to the East River. There's the river. There's FDR Drive, and then there's this hospital. So, it is quite close.

So, if there are storm surges that go over the highway and come into the hospital, their generators are in the basement. Of course, I know they have a backup plan, but that hospital is really close to the water. And we'll be keeping up with them to see how those patients are doing, not to mention the doctors and nurses who are staying to help take care of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Heroic efforts. I applaud what they're doing -- the doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators.

Thanks very much, Elizabeth Cohen. We'll stay in close touch with you.

As this hurricane begins to bear down on where I am right here in Washington, D.C.., the nation's capital, I'll speak live with the mayor, Vincent Gray. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're reporting from Washington, D.C. You're looking at live pictures of the U.S. Capitol. It's raining in Washington. It's been raining for hours. It's only going to get worse. There were some wind gusts, already 30, 40 miles an hour.

Joining us now is the mayor of Washington, D.C., Vincent Gray. We're standing out here on our balcony overlooking the U.S. Capitol.

We've got -- look at how empty those streets are, Mayor. There's no one on the streets basically here in the nation's capital. What is the forecast? What are you bracing for here?

You have 600,000, 700,000 people who live in D.C.?

MAYOR VINCENT C. GRAY (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: We do. We have 600,000 people who live here. We're bracing for a lot of rain. We expect a lot of rain, up to maybe four inches over the next few hours. We're expecting winds up to 35, 40 miles an hour.

And, of course, with that, we'll have some flooding perhaps and tree limbs coming down. And then, I'm sure some power outage associated with that.

BLITZER: Probably a lot of power outages.

What about flooding? Because there's always concern the Potomac River could overflow. How worried are you about that?

GRAY: I'm less worried about that than I am about the power outages. And, you know, maybe some flash flooding with our, you know, our drains and whatnot here in the city.

One of the good things is we were able to give out 6,000 sandbags to people. So people who may live in areas where there's a water problem, they'll be able to augment what they have with the sandbags.

BLITZER: Especially in Georgetown, for example, we've seen flooding in Georgetown over the years.

GRAY: We have.

BLITZER: You don't think we have to worry about that?

GRAY: Well, I don't think it will be as pronounced as some of the other issues we'll face. We've got the Anacostia River. We have the Potomac River. And we could see some water coming up as we've indicated in those areas. But that's a small part of the geography of our city.

BLITZER: What about the whole issue of the emergency? You've declared an emergency here in D.C. Has the president approved emergency aid to Washington, D.C.?

GRAY: We have not gotten any official word on that, but I have every reason to think that that will be approved. I was on a conference call with the president yesterday morning. And he was -- he pledged his full support to those governors and the mayors that were on the phone.

I think he will be with us all the way. I'm glad he has come back in order to be a part of our effort to battle Irene also.

BLITZER: This may be the nation's capital. But as you and I know, a lot of homeless people live in Washington, D.C. We see them on the streets all the time.

What have you done with these people?

GRAY: What we've done is opened up the shelters. Normally, the shelters for individuals are open from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. We've indicated that the shelters will stay open 24/7 during this time.

We've also opened up a few additional buildings. We've got some recreation centers in the city that have been opened up. Not only for people who are homeless, but if families find themselves in distress, as well.

BLITZER: You know this because we've spoken. I'm worried about the elderly here, the sick, who may not have any loved ones who are taking care of them. Have you gone house to house to make sure that they're OK?

GRAY: You know what, we have. I checked in with our office of aging services. Not only have they been in contact with many of our seniors, but they've actually taken sandbags out to the homes of some seniors who could be in a situation where water would become a problem.

So, we've connected with as many people as we can. We will continue to do that, and we ask people, you know, if they find themselves in any distress to pick up the phone and call 311.

BLITZER: Three-one-one?

GRAY: Three-one-one.

BLITZER: No sleep for you tonight, right?

GRAY: Probably not.

BLITZER: You'll be up all night.

Mayor, thanks very much. Good luck.

GRAY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Keep up the good work.

GRAY: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: I know New York City also bracing for Irene's impact. There's been an unprecedented evacuation, and all transportation service for all practical purposes has been halted.

I'll speak with New York City emergency management commissioner when we come back.


BLITZER: New York City bracing for Hurricane Irene.

Let's go to New York right now.

It's tracking or we're tracking the hurricane as it pushes up the East Coast, closer to us here in Washington, D.C. The storm is only 35 miles south of Norfolk, Virginia, packing winds of about 80 miles per hour. Eight deaths have now been confirmed. More than a million people are without power.

New York officials are warning several thousand people under evacuation orders to get out now before the storm is expected to hit the Big Apple tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Yorkers, we like to think we're tough and we can handle anything. We are tough, but we're also smart. And we're smart enough to know that we don't mess with Mother Nature, and we are prepared for the storm. We'll be prepared for the aftermath.

But during the course of the storm, New York should either evacuate or stay indoors.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York, at one of those evacuation shelters.

What's going on over there, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rain coming down a little bit harder, Wolf. And we are in Lower Manhattan, which is in the evacuation zone. I don't know if you can see it, but in this park in Lower Manhattan, which is virtually empty except for a police car coming through. It's been going around this area with a loud speaker telling people that they should evacuate, warning them about Hurricane Irene.

Just want to show you the water now in the Hudson River. It's going to be high tide in just about half an hour or so from now. And those rising waters, again tomorrow morning, is what is the big concern, because it will be high tide at 8:00 a.m. The real brunt of Hurricane Irene, though, the impact of it is expected to be felt tomorrow morning.

The winds are expected to pick up tonight. Virtually, the city has been so eerily quiet with the mass transit shutting down earlier today. The subway and bus system that carries millions of people, this has been an unprecedented shutdown.

Also, you know, people just really preparing for the storm and stores seeing lines with people waiting in line to buy supplies.

Here in Lower Manhattan, people were told to evacuate by 5:00 p.m. There are some that took the mayor's words very seriously, including this couple who left earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the mayor announced that we had to evacuate, we kind of knew that we were already going to evacuate. So we were prepared. And then we went to whole foods, got a bunch of food. And we just got a hotel. So, it's just a day and a half. I don't think it's going to be that bad.


SNOW: One other thing, Wolf, is that -- an area of concern are the high winds. They are expected to pick up later. If those winds reach 60 miles an hour, bridges out of the city will also be shut down.

And also, you know, power is a question and a concern. There is the possibility that New Yorkers have already been warned that power may be shut down at some point because of this storm.

And as a precaution here in Lower Manhattan, buildings have stopped running their elevators because there was concern if power went out that people would not be able to get out if they were stuck in an elevator. Now, there are buildings that are not in the evacuation zone that are being told that they, too, will feel -- see this happen later on as this storm approaches New York City, that buildings are not going to be running elevators for the fear that somebody might get stuck in them.

BLITZER: Mary Snow from New York, joining us. Thank you, Mary.

Let's stay in New York.

Joining us now is the commissioner for New York City's Office of Emergency Management, Joseph Bruno.

Mr. Bruno, thank you very much for coming in. Are you ready in New York for Irene?

JOSEPH BRUNO, COMMISSIONER, NYC OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MGT.: Well, we're certainly seeing Irene dig in. At 9:00 tonight, we expect the arrival of gale force winds. I think that we have worked long and hard on having a coastal storm plan. And I think we are executing it well.

Of course, we don't know what's going to exactly happen here in the next 10 to 12 hours as Irene passes by.

BLITZER: What are some of your worst fears, Mr. Bruno?

BRUNO: Well, one of the things we planned for and most concerned about is storm surge. We expect surging in areas of four to eight feet. We also are very concerned about the winds. We expect winds at 55 to 75 miles per hour, sustained, with gust up to 95 miles per hour.

The storm is now a category 1 hurricane. It is - has winds of around 85 miles per hour. So it will lose some intensities as it comes here. But this is the type storm we've not seen in New York in a very long time.

BLITZER: How many people are going lose power in New York City, you think?

BRUNO: Well, there's no way to know. I can say that we have mostly in the Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens an underground system. So we should not see too much involved with losing power for those with rainwater involved.

The problem is those in the coast, lower Manhattan, and other parts of Manhattan and parts of Staten Island and along the Rockaways. We could affect hundreds of thousands of people that could lose power. And in those areas, many of our power distribution systems are overhead lines which will be affected by the high winds.

BLITZER: How long will the subways remain shut down? I know you closed them at noon today.

BRUNO: Well, the subways are not run by us, they're run by the MTA, state agency. But they are - they shut down around noon.

According to Jay Walther, the chairman of the MTA, he has indicated that on Monday they do not know how much damage they're going to have, and they're going to do all they can to bring them back as quickly as they can. They have not set a timeframe on when they'll be able to do that. That is a big danger.

Wolf, I mentioned one other thing with regard to our main concern. We spend a lot of time worrying about health care facilities, nursing homes, adult care facilities, and hospitals in the zones.

And we did an awful lot of work and preparation that up to this point we feel confident that we've removed everyone who had to be moved out. It was a big undertaking for many of our agencies, both city and state. So I feel good about that, and I do feel in that regard we've done very well.

BLITZER: You really haven't had a hurricane in New York since 1985 or so. And you've evacuated, what, 370,000 people. How do you do that?

BRUNO: Well, we had the 1985, which was Gloria, did not hit New York City direct. It hit mid-island. This storm, as it's tracking, looks closer to the city. We evacuated them by the mayor going and being very strong and telling people that they must evacuate and gave them some very set time.

The very nice thing we saw is that the people of the city adhered to what his warning. We saw people coming into our shelters which are now about 71 shelters, eight special medical leave shelters, 65 evacuation centers. People are coming in larger numbers, and they are adhering to his warning. We also think we said strongly to people that you should evacuate for the following reason - one, you should protect your own life, and this is a matter of life and death.

Additionally, you should protect your health and safety. If you get sick and we can't get into you, you may die because of that.

And lastly, you should not put first responders in jeopardy who have to come in and protect your life and save you and put their own lives at risk. I think the people of the city of New York are very respectful of those three positions.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying, Mr. Bruno, is that if someone wants to come to New York City tomorrow either by plane, bus, car, or any other way, they're not coming to New York tomorrow. Everything basically, ACELA, all the Amtrak, all that's shut down?

BRUNO: Yes. It's not a wise news move to come to New York City tomorrow. Tomorrow we'll experience from this evening into likely the late afternoon winds that will begin at 39 miles per hour, rise to 55 to 75 miles per hour with gusts of winds over 90 miles per hour. And then around 5:00, we'll see the windy diminish, the rain end and hopefully we can get back to cleanup and enjoying our city.

BLITZER: One final question.

You've heard the criticism already that the mayor shut down the subways too early, noon today, could have kept them over for six hours, another seven or eight hours. What do you say to that criticism?

BRUNO: Wolf, I want to make this very clear -- the mayor does not run the subways. The subways are run by the MTA, a state agency, and the MTA chair Jay Walther made that decision. He has good reasons to make it, it's part of the plan of his agency, as well as ours.

He has to get his equipment out of the surge areas. In order to do that, he does not have - he does not have areas to park these in lots and open areas, he doesn't have enough room. Particularly, many of those lots cannot be used because they will be inundated.

So he was faced with the idea of taking all of the equipment out of service. Parking it in stations so the whole system had to be shut down and then faced the idea of getting his folks back home safe.

So I - I'm not going to criticize him. I think he made an executive decision. That's what we all have to do.

And again, the mayor does not make that decision. He leaves that to the chairman of the MTA.

BLITZER: Good point.

Joseph Bruno, commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management. Good luck to everyone in New York City, Mr. Bruno. Thanks very much. BRUNO: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Maryland is feeling more of Irene's power right now. We'll get a live report when we come back.


BLITZER: Chesapeake Beach in Maryland. You're looking at those pictures that just came in. Chris Lawrence is reporting from Chesapeake Beach.

Chris, I got to tell you, a lot of our viewers are happy you're no longer in the water. You're outside. They were worried about you. But set the scene for us, tell us what's going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. I definitely decided to take the governor's advice and come on in.

But I got to tell you, it's no drier here on solid grounds than it was in the Chesapeake Bay. Now that the storm is moving into Virginia Beach, we are really starting to feel some of those bands that are coming through. A lot of wind, a lot of rain which is to be expected.

The worry here is not so much the wind. They don't think it's going to be any catastrophic damage from the wind. But they are afraid that if that onshore flow of wind (INAUDIBLE) they are worried about how much water is going to be pushed into this area.

We've already started to see some of the roads that were flooding. There is a mandatory evacuation here for any of the homes that sit up on a cliff within 100 feet of the edge of the cliff.

But I was just talking to the mayor, and he was telling me from his observation of driving around, a lot of people do not look like they took that warning. It looks like they decided to stay in their homes. Granted, leaving their house in a situation like this is a very, very emotional decision. That can't be underestimated.

But again, here in Chesapeake Beach, there's a worry about how much water there is here. How much soil it could erode up on the cliffs that those homes are built on, and how much flooding could occur down here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. What do they expect? This is not the worst yet. They're expecting it to get worse in the coming hours. Is that right, Chris?

LAWRENCE: Much worse. With the hurricane down there, the eye of it sort of hitting - starting to hit Virginia Beach, we really haven't got the full force yet. That's going to come overnight. That said, that's one of the scariest things. Pretty soon we're really going to get the winds in there. I'm also been keeping track of how the U.S. military plans to respond to this earlier today (INAUDIBLE) how troops respond to this hurricane. That's tens of thousands of National Guard troops that governors all along the eastern seaboard have available to them. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Stay safe over there, Chris Lawrence, reporting for us from Chesapeake Beach. Appreciate it.

We're getting images of damage all along the Virginia coast as well. You see ripped off roofs and debris all along the streets of Virginia Beach neighborhoods. The Virginia governor is warning that a higher than expected storm surge of up to nine feet could hit the area in the coming hours and do even more damage.

We're also seeing widespread flooding in North Carolina where Irene first hit land this morning. At least 10 major roads have now been closed in the state because of high winds, flooding and downed trees. North Carolina's eastern counties are expected to see up to nine inches of rain, more than 7,000 people have been evacuated to shelters in North Carolina. At least right now.

We're continuing our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irene. We'll get an update from the National Hurricane Center when we come back.


BLITZER: All right. The White House says the president has just concluded a conference call with his top Homeland Security advisers dealing with this crisis. It is a crisis, Hurricane Irene. The statement from the office of the press secretary, the president convened a conference call this evening with members of his senior emergency response team including the vice president, Joe Biden, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, the energy secretary Chu, FEMA administrator Fugate, Homeland security adviser Brennan.

The president was briefed, according to the statement, on the current track of the storm. The weather impacts being felt so far, and efforts to preposition response and recovery assets. The statement adds, "the president asked to be kept appraised of developments throughout the night and said he wants the group to reconvene tomorrow morning."

That statement just released from the White House.

One area already being very hard hit, Virginia Beach, Virginia. That's where CNN's Amber Lyon is joining us right now.

Amber, how is it going in Virginia Beach?


We're lucky enough to be riding out this storm here on our ninth floor hotel room. And we actually are with power while a majority of Virginia Beach has been without power for a number of hours now. Luckily this hotel has a generator. But I want to take you out to our balcony to show you a less calm scene than we're experiencing inside. We've seen winds and rains out here. Also if you look over at the storm here and look out there, it's slowly approaching the boardwalk. Now what scares the residents of Virginia Beach is the fact that (INAUDIBLE)

They don't have the sand dunes (INAUDIBLE) that the outer bank have to protect them here. There's nothing keeping that water from every minute that goes by, the water gets closer and closer. (INAUDIBLE) On the other side of this hotel we've seen the water actually enter the street and enter the city. And something that we've noticed out here, Wolf, is the water (INAUDIBLE) the people are out playing. Officials here are telling people to, you know, if you have that desire to get out and - pretty amazing - to do it from inside a building, Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Amber, be careful over there.

Amber Lyon reporting for us from Virginia Beach. Stand by. We'll get back to her, as well. We're continuing the breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.. A new hurricane advisory is out.

Our meteorologist Chad Myers is at the CNN Hurricane Headquarters, we have that advisory yet, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We don't. It will automatically pop up right here. We'll see the numbers change. We may see the wind speed change, although there's a hurricane hunter aircraft in the storm right now. And it found a 95 mile-per-hour wind at flight level which is about 12,000-feet high. So I do not believe we're going to get a lot of change. I doubt we're going to get this taken down to a tropical storm.

And now that it's back over water, it could regenerate, at least have a little bit more energy. Notice when it was just coming into North Carolina today, it was very red which means the cloud tops are very high. The storms were very potent.

Now we've lost a lot of color and when that happens, they're losing convection. You're losing intensity and you're probably losing some wind speed. We'll see what the hurricane center does for that. And I'll just put this on top. When we come back, maybe those numbers will have changed. Amber is right there, right there at Virginia Beach, right there on the "a" of Virginia Beach and the eye of the storm is as close as it's going to get to her at this point in time.

The winds are all offshore in North Carolina and they're all onshore here all the way up the coast. The offshore winds are still pushing the sound water down from the (INAUDIBLE) across even Cape Hatteras, that water is now crossing the road. We've seen pictures of the water from here over-washing the islands. Sometimes, Wolf, if it's severe enough you can actually lose the island itself as the water tries to rush out. Water is rushing into the Chesapeake Bay. There is flooding going on in Hampton roads area. So far, about a five-foot surge there is all I can find.

You see this big red box right there? That is a tornado watch box. As I drive you up there and get you a northern Virginia radar, you will be able to see how really how much more convection is away from the eye. Typically we think of the eye as the strongest part. That's not always the case. The bigger storms are up here, the storms are rotating. We even had a storm that had a tornado warning on it for a while, just outside of Rehoboth Beach but no confirmed reports that it ever touched down, just a Doppler indicated spin, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chad, a personal question. I'm now here in Washington, D.C., I'm sitting on the balcony at our Washington Bureau. You can see - I guess, I don't know if you can still see, there it is, the capitol. It was raining all day. It stopped raining, pretty much now drizzling a little bit. But I suspect it's going to get a whole lot worse in the next few hours. What should I expect here in Washington?

MYERS: Well, the rotation of the storm brings in dry air bands and then brings in convective bands and they're just all - it's just the big pinwheel or a big saw blade that comes around and around. And sometimes you're in the clear and sometimes you're in the rain. You have many more hours of rain to come in, the heaviest rain is still over Dover, Delaware, right now.

But it's headed to Baltimore and Rockville and all the way into D.C. you're probably another hour and a half from the next heavy band. And when the heavy bands come in with rain, that's when the heavy wind comes down, too. That rain brings down the wind from aloft, talked about the 95-mile-per-hour wind aloft. It's not 95 miles per hour at the surface. But when that rain comes down, when that rain comes down it pulls down the motion of that wind and the rain comes in with a big, big surge.

And most of the time it comes in with an increase in the wind speed. Wolf, we're still at 80 miles per hour, still a category 1 with this storm, moving north-northeast at 16 miles per hour. There's your update right there. So the numbers did change so it is picking up a little bit of forward speed. Not that much, though. A big fast-moving storm would be 25 or so.

BLITZER: Bottom line, if you live in the Washington D.C. area, and Maryland, Northern Virginia and it stopped raining pretty much, you should not be lulled into thinking this is over with, this storm. You know, and we can all go out to the movies or something. It's a whole different situation.

MYERS: That is correct. Because I can take and draw - here's Wilmington. Here's Columbia, and here's Baltimore. This red zone here all the way from northern Virginia all the way back down to almost Richmond and up into Washington, D.C., that's buoy, then across the bridge over into Delaware, all those red areas, those are all flash flood warning areas where flooding is occurring. It's not like a tornado warning where it might be occurring. When those boxes are up, flooding is happening somewhere.

BLITZER: All right. We're standing by for the new advisory from the National Hurricane Center. We'll get back to you, Chad. Also, the sights and sounds of Irene.

Much more of the breaking news coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here is a look at remarkable images coming in from the East Coast, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, traffic lights swing in the wind as Hurricane Irene blasts through. In Waterville, New York, people look out toward the choppy surf caused by the oncoming hurricane.

Here in Washington, workers board up Apple store in Georgetown. And in Ocean City, Maryland, water from a deserted parking lot pours into a storm drain. Pictures coming in it from the East Coast.

We'll get a lot more of that. That does it for me.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you very much for watching. We leave you now with some of the sights and sounds of Hurricane Irene slamming the East Coast. We'll have the latest on the storm's track, only seconds away.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am definitely evacuating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm getting kind of frightened about this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Monster Hurricane Irene threatening more than 50 million people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The waves are going to come crashing over this boardwalk. They're going to end up with water and waves pounding the other side of these buildings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's definitely a sense of panic with some people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm trying to stock up on the smart stuff, not too many things that will spoil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you leaving early because of the storms?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are. We are leaving a day early because of the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our plan now is to leave. Unless we hear that it's significantly weakened.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You need to stay in your shelter. You do not need to get out whatsoever. This could continue for many more hours, absolutely guarantee there will be a lot of flooding from this. You can see how the wind is really picking up here now. Right now at the vogue sound that has come inland here, and there goes the camera. You can feel the wind and the rain.

MESERVE: Hold on. We've got to move up the shore a little bit. We've got waves coming right up to our feet. Excuse us as we dance around this.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: These effects we're getting right now, mostly wind. These gusts are far and away some of the strongest we've had so far. We're beginning to see -

Take a look this way. Nothing but - it the sea is absolutely all churned up, whipped by this wind. Again, we're getting hit with some of those strong gusts right now. High tide passed quite a while ago. I'm actually surprised to see the water up still this high, but you can see just how rough it is. It's really just pounding away.

ZARRELLA: You can see how as I'm standing out here the water is up above my knees here.