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The Ghost of Katrina; Shuffled Schedule; Isaac Soaks South Florida; Isaac Eyes Gulf Coast

Aired August 27, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The ghost of Katrina. Almost seven years to the day, a brand new storm with the same path and the same timing barrels towards New Orleans.


MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS: If you're called upon to leave, you should leave. We will not say it lightly. We have seen the results of people thinking that they somehow are stronger than storms.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane fears haunting the GOP convention in Tampa, too -- a shuffled schedule amid worries that this major storm strike on the Gulf Coast could overshadow Mitt Romney's big night.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Tampa, Florida, for this week's GOP convention. I am sitting in the CNN grill, a special CNN location just a short walk away from where Mitt Romney is scheduled to accept his party's nomination on Thursday night.

But this schedule has been changing because of Isaac. A lot going on down here, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, we're going to check in with you in a few minutes.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin, back here in New York. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. So let's get started.

Up first, it appears Tampa will escape the wrath of Isaac, but the storm is still flexing its muscle as it moves through the Gulf of Mexico this morning. Take a look at that.

Isaac expected to reach hurricane strength before striking the Gulf Coast this week. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are al under a state of emergency right now. The tropical storm battered the Florida Keys Sunday with torrential rain and powerful winds on its way to becoming a full-blown hurricane. Warnings are now up from Florida's panhandle all the way to New Orleans and people there are bracing for possible impact on Wednesday, seven years to the day that hurricane Katrina devastated that city.

CNN's Rob Marciano is live in New Orleans with all of the details for us this morning.

What is the very latest there?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Zoraida, they're prepping for the storm as you heard from the mayor earlier. They are asking for volunteer evacuations in the city, outside of the city in Plaquemines and part of St. Charles Parishes. They're outside of the levee system, basically.

There are some mandatory evacuations, but basically until this thing is forecast to become a category 3 storm, they're not going to pull the trigger on mandatory evacuations here. At least that's what's we've been told, and they have better plans in place than they had in 2005. That's for sure.

All right. Let's run down the numbers as far as what the latest is on this storm, give you the 5:00 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Let's look at a satellite picture as well. The thing hasn't really blown up in intensity very much. It's gotten a little bit better organized, but still, 65-mile-an-hour winds is what they're clocking at right now, and it's about 400 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi and obviously heading into this direction, west-northwesterly, moving at 14 miles an hour.

OK, let's get right to the track and give you the latest from the National Hurricane Center. A number of our models actually go west of New Orleans. They've shifted the track slightly over the last 12 hours, but basically, it's going to take -- the forecast is for it to take a straight line towards New Orleans, but that margin of error goes all the way to study Pascagoula or Mobile Bay, and certainly all the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana, as well. The timing of which will be Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.

One notable change in this advisory is the strength, because it hasn't really organized very quickly, right now we're anticipating, forecasting, and certainly hoping that the category strength remains a category 1. We'll have to wait and see on that. There are your watches and warnings. The watches have been extended off to the west.

We are right now set up shop at the 17th Street Canal, one of two canals where the levees broke after hurricane Katrina came through back in 2005. The Army Corps of Engineers have done a lot of work since then.

You remember the desperate effort of helicopters dropping sandbags, trying to plug the hole at the 17th Street canal and also the industrial canal. Both of these areas have been shored up with both flood walls and elaborate pumping systems, and they're confident that, certainly, a category 1 storm will be no problem, category 2 storm, it will be tested, and category 3 storm -- well, that's when the question marks come in. But at this point, all is a go here in New Orleans.

Zoraida, back to you.

SAMBOLIN: We're happy to hear that. But, boy, on the seven-year anniversary, it could cause a lot of panic there. Thank you very much, Rob. We're going to continue to --

MARCIANO: And the track --

SAMBOLIN: Yes, go ahead.

MARCIANO: And the track is eerily similar to Katrina as well, although we don't anticipate the same strength. But you're right, the timing and the track is definitely a little bit strange.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, Rob Marciano. We'll check in with you later.

And with Isaac now looming as a potential disaster for the Gulf Coast, people in the Florida Keys are breathing a bit of a sigh of relief there. Isaac huffed and puffed, producing high winds, heavy rains. It caused some flooding in the area, but it could have been a lot worse.

CNN's Jim Spellman is live in Key West, Florida.

So, they dodged the bullet there.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning to you, Zoraida, and it's a good morning here in Key West because they really, even though we got lashed with high winds and heavy rains for most of yesterday afternoon, they escaped any serious damage.

They really did take precautions. The first thing was to try to get as many people out of the city here as they could and off of the Keys. There's only a two-lane road, 120 miles up into the mainland of Florida. That was very successful, only about 20 percent occupancy here in the hotels.

For people that stayed behind, they were sure to take precautions, too. This storm shutters businesses have here, these all went up the day before yesterday and it was pretty much a ghost town in downtown. Other businesses put up plywood like this, and in typical keys fashion, they had made a party out of it, "life in paradise" here.

And even during the storm, people kept in good spirits, and as soon as the main body of the storm went out, people were in the bars partying in Key West. That's what they do here, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's good to hear, Jim, that everybody's also respecting Mother Nature. We'll also be check in with you throughout the morning. Thank you very much.

So, let's get back to John. He is in Tampa. How is the situation there?

BERMAN: It was a rainy morning coming in here, Zoraida. The rains falling, the winds blowing, about 30 to 40 miles per hour, but not too, too bad. There has been lots of shuffling here at the Republican National Convention because of the storm, though, changing around the schedule. Let's look at a live picture of the floor, just so you can see what it looks like inside the hall, where later today the convention will convene for a very short time, about 10 minutes. They will open the convention, but the big events start ramping up tomorrow. That's when the party bestows the formal nomination for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and the crescendo will build through Thursday night when Mitt Romney delivers his big acceptance speech to a national audience in prime time. That's unless Isaac intrudes somehow again.

We have a special guest with us here this morning. It's chief White House correspondent, my friend, Jessica Yellin. She is here in Tampa to talk about everything that's going on here.

And, Jess, if you could just run down quickly for me what the new schedule looks like.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, they've made a bunch of changes, as you know. They've collapsed the schedule from four days to three because of Isaac. That's why I'm wearing my hunter boots. There are more important changes than that.

So, Ann Romney is still speaking. She's speaking tomorrow night, along with Chris Christie, New Jersey governor, and Bobby Jindal. We just heard Rob Marciano talk about Louisiana. Well, the governor of Louisiana, as you know, is a huge Republican star. He's slated to speak Wednesday night, but he's declared a state of emergency, so we don't know if he's definitely going to show up, for example.

And then, on Thursday, that's when Mitt Romney accepts the nomination or is slated to, but we'll see Marco Rubio speak and now Jeb Bush has been moved to that night. But all of it's sort of a little up in the air, because if it really does slam in New Orleans, there's an optics problem. You don't want to be celebrating here while something bad is happening here.

BERMAN: Right. They probably have more decisions still to be made as this week goes on. What about Donald Trump? He was supposed to be here this week.

YELLIN: I know, Trump got canceled. But guess what, don't worry, he is speaking to the Sarasota Republican county party, and they issued a statement saying that Trump is bigger than Isaac. So, apparently, Trump trumps the weather.

BERMAN: A legend in his own mind, no doubt.

Now, of course, you cover the White House on a daily basis. You are our chief White House correspondent. As they are looking at this convention, there's a new ABC news poll out showing Mitt Romney up by one point.


BERMAN: What does the White House think about this convention?

YELLLIN: They believe the Romney campaign and Romney will get a bump, and that's what happens out of conventions. They're hopeful that because the president's convention happens right after this, he'll get a bump too.

But there's a special dynamic here, which is that Romney has been trailing in large part because of his likability, his personal likability challenges. And this convention gives him a big opening and opportunity to introduce himself, introduce his family, introduce more about his personal life. So that's something they're focusing on, and they've unveiled a web video attacking him, saying look, he's got a Hollywood-style triage unit coming in to repackage and sell it. I think we have some of the b-roll we can play, if it's up there.

But anyway, it's very funny and they're saying, basically, don't buy into the hype, don't buy into the story -- do we have some of the sound? -- of Romney as this new face you're going to see this week. They're calling it a convention reinvention.

BERMAN: I imagine the convention reinvention is a term we will hear all week from the Democrats.

Jess Yellin, thanks so much for joining us. We will talk to you over the course of today and all week here at the convention, very excited.

And coming up, in the next hour, we're going to talk to Tampa's mayor, Bob Buckhorn. We're going to ask him his thoughts about the RNC scheduling delay. Of course, no real convention activity today. We'll see what he thinks and the latest weather forecast here in Tampa.

And we're also going to talk all morning about this eerie hurricane forecast for the gulf. Isaac could make landfall near New Orleans, seven years to the day after hurricane Katrina. And we want to talk about how this will impact the celebrations here in Tampa, the GOP rollout and Mitt Romney's big night -- not to mention the people on the gulf coast.

So, stay with us. We are live in Tampa on EARLY START.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY, everyone, live from the convention in Tampa. It is now -- let me look at my watch -- about 14 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

And despite some nasty weather here this morning from tropical storm Isaac, the Republican National Convention is set to kick off its first full day tomorrow, not today.

Mitt Romney will be making his official debut this week as the party's presidential nominee. The candidate was at church in New Hampshire yesterday with his wife, Ann, who will join a long list of Republican leaders taking the stage this week.

I am joined right now by Republican strategist and CNN contributor, Ana Navarro. And, Ana, there is a fresh-new poll out from ABC News this morning -- ABC News and "The Washington Post", which shows Mitt Romney with a one-point lead heading into the convention. That's got to be a good place for the Romney campaign to be before they even do his official rollout here in Tampa.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he's certainly made up ground, but it's going to be a neck-and-neck race. We are going to be fighting this out to the end.

This is an important week for Mitt Romney. It is really his party here, his coming out party. He needs to show himself. He needs to open himself up. He needs to make the sale with the American people and see if he can bump up those numbers.

BERMAN: One of the issues he was talking about over the weekend may surprise people. He's been asked about health care and the women's vote right now. I want to play some sound where he really touts what has become his controversial Massachusetts health care plan.

Let's take a listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With regards to women's health care -- look, I'm the guy that was able to get al the health care for all the women and men in my state. There is talking about it at the federal level. We actually did something and we did it without cutting Medicare and without raising taxes.


BERMAN: Sort of interesting to hear him talk about the Massachusetts health care plan in terms of women's issues or at all.

NAVARRO: Look, I think he needs to do it. He is president with the Massachusetts plan, it is his baby and he needs to be proud of it. It's awkward when he's not proud of what -- when he's trying not to talk about it. But it just comes across as odd and uncomfortable. He needs to boast about it. It's an accomplishment.

We're no longer in the Republican primary. We are now in a general. He needs to win those independent votes. Start talking about it, Mitt, and talk about the good aspects of it, because it is your plan.

BERMAN: There is a new CNN/ORC poll out which gives us a sense of what voters overall think about Mitt Romney, and on some of the issues that matter, the economy, he is enjoying a slight edge right now. Look, 50 to 46 on the issue of who better can handle the economy, 52- 42 on who can best handle the deficit.

Interesting, though, that on the issue of taxes, that Barack Obama has a four-point lead.

NAVARRO: That is very interesting. The economy was going to be the issue, but it's turned out to not be the only issue, but it's very important that Romney has got that lead that he has currently and he needs to grow that. He needs to sell himself as what he's been calling himself, the comeback artist.

BERMAN: Four points on the economy isn't a huge lead.

NAVARRO: No. It's almost within the margin of error.

BERMAN: Exactly, not with the message he's been trying to deliver. I was surprised.

NAVARRO: And also not where we are in the economy. Where we are in the economic discussion continues today, and with Obama's record, you'd expect those numbers to be further apart.

BERMAN: One of the things that may be keeping it close are these so- called personal trades. On our poll, we had some really interesting numbers here about judging the character of these two men. On the issue of who is in touch with women, just a huge lead for Barack Obama, 60 to 31. On who cares most about people, 53 to 39.

And this bottom one is where this election is being fought right now, in touch with the middle class, Barack Obama 53-39.

What can Mitt Romney do this week to change these numbers?

NAVARRO: I think Mitt Romney needs to show who Mitt Romney is. I think Mitt Romney needs to get the American people to know him and trust him. To trust him, you first have to know him. I think they still know, we still know precious little about Mitt Romney. He's not a guy that's comfortable emoing, as we know now in 21st century politics.

He's got to start talking about himself. He has to give us a vision. He hasn't given us a vision.

This speech, this convention is so very important because this is the shot. He needs to bat it out of the ballpark. No ifs, ands, or buts.

BERMAN: All right. Ana Navarro, we'll be talking with you throughout the morning. Thank you so much. Great to see you here in Tampa, your home state!

NAVARRO: Let me tell you, this isn't easy for me -- 5:00 a.m. isn't easy for me, but I'm very glad to be here.

BERMAN: We're glad you're here. We'll talk to you more in a little bit.

Zoraida, back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

Well, tropical storm Isaac threatens New Orleans. It also continues to threaten the GOP's convention schedule. It could also impact what you pay at the gas pump. Christine Romans with more on that, coming up. And check out the latest storm track on Isaac. It is projected to be a category 1 hurricane when it makes landfall west of New Orleans, early Wednesday morning. We are watching this, the very latest for you.

You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: It is 22 minutes past the hour. We are minding your business this morning.

Oil and gas production already being suspended at some facilities in the Gulf of Mexico because of that approaching storm. Take a look at that. Christine Romans has some new details for us about what this could mean for gas prices.

Actually, we're talking about multi-layers, aren't we? It's not just about the gas prices.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is sort of the central nervous system of the American gulf oil production. And don't forget -- it's oil that's refined into gasoline. They used some of those refined products to make chemicals, so you here have basically the nerve center for gulf energy and energy products-related production.

And so you've got huge shutdowns happening right now. I mean, you've got people being taken off of these rigs and platforms. You have nonessential, all nonessential personnel being moved out of the region.

A quarter of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has already been suspended. I'm telling you right now, it will probably be all of it in the next 24 to 48 hours. That's about 333,000 barrels per day, 39 platforms evacuated, eight rigs evacuated.

You're going to see those numbers rise. And here's why -- we haven't seen a storm like this. It's actually -- John Berman said eerie. I would say creepy, the similarities between this storm and hurricane Katrina.

You haven't seen as serious of a track for this area since Gustav in 2008, I think. At that time, I was down there and you had a complete shutdown of the Mississippi River, the lower Mississippi River. You had all of those refineries, chemical facilities, everything just had to stop.

Then all of the gasoline comes through there on all of these pipelines, so you will have a disruption to production in the United States and probably to gasoline supplies, and that's why we'll be closely watching what happens to gas prices. That's a story for maybe another couple of weeks down the road, because right now it's just making sure people don't get hurt.

Another interesting and sad layer to this is there was a deadly fire over the weekend in Venezuela at the second largest refinery in the world, 41 people killed there. That refinery is shut down. It's a reminder, this is a very dangerous business, and when you have storms or you have fires in Venezuela, all of those things are disruptions to a market where the world uses an awful lot of oil and disruptions certainly, certainly can cause prices to move.

SAMBOLIN: That's the one adding the insult to injury, right, because that then has a trickle-down effect. But we were talking earlier about Gustav.

ROMANS: Right.

SAMBOLIN: In 2008, it was worse. But every year, we kind of see this situation, as soon as it reaches the tropical watch.

ROMANS: Right, right. These companies, they say safety is a first priority. They don't want to lose their platforms, they don't want to lose their people, and they are -- this is a fire drill that happens every year during hurricane season, so they certainly know how to get people out and when they should get people out, and they work with an abundance of caution.

So you will see a lot of people and facilities shutting down, people moving out of the region and oil production will -- a quarter of oil production in the region is shut down right now. You're going to see that number get much bigger over the next few hours.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So we know you're going to continue to track that for us and we will be talking money.


SAMBOLIN: We're talking safety now and I think that's really important.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

SAMBOLLIN: Thank you very much.

It is 25 minutes past the hour. It's hard to believe, but tropical storm Isaac could take nearly the same path that hurricane Katrina did seven years ago, folks, actually to the day. More on the storm's projected course is coming up.

And our iReporters are watching the storm. This from Scott Siegel showing the rain and the rough surf in Pompano Beach, Florida.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Seven years later, a fateful feeling of deja vu as tropical storm Isaac heads for New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR MTICH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS: The timing of this storm coming on, as fate would have it, the anniversary of Katrina, has everybody in a state and sense of alertness, and that is a good thing.


BERMAN: Tough call here in Tampa with the Republicans wrestling with this scenario -- what happens if a major hurricane hits New Orleans before Mitt Romney's big convention speech on Thursday?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone.

It's about half past the hour right now. I'm John Berman. We are live in the CNN Grill, just a short walk away from the floor of this Republican convention, which has been delayed by a day because of Isaac, which is lashing out in the gulf right now -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're going to continue to check in with you, but first of all, we're going to talk about Isaac. Republicans in Tampa are dodging a bullet, that is where John Berman is, as the track of tropical storm Isaac moves away now from the convention city. That storm, though, continues to strengthen. Landfall is expected along the Gulf Coast tomorrow or, perhaps, on Wednesday.

Forecasters say Isaac will be a hurricane by then, possibly hitting New Orleans seven years to the day that Katrina nearly destroyed that city. There is a mandatory evacuation order in effect for about 60,000 people along the Louisiana coast this morning, including all of St. Charles Parish.

CNN's Rob Marciano is live in New Orleans. And Rob, when we were talking earlier, you were mentioning how eerily similar that path is as it hits Katrina last time. Could you talk to us a little bit more about that?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, especially yesterday afternoon when we were looking at the latest track. All of us were kind of had a flashback to Katrina when it made its first landfall across Southern Florida and then kind of dove south of the keys and then blew up into that Category 5, at one point a hurricane. Thankfully, this isn't the strength of Isaac.

It's not even a hurricane yet officially, but certainly, the track of it heading towards New Orleans and last -- yesterday at this time, it was actually just supposed to go to the east of New Orleans, towards Biloxi, and that was the exact same track that Katrina took. Well, now, the fortunate part is we're not a hurricane yet. We'll probably be one.

Likely won't be a Category 3 at landfall like Katrina was, but the forecast track is centered a little bit more towards New Orleans. Let's break down the satellite. We'll give you the latest, because the 5:00 a.m. advisory has just come out. As I mentioned, it's not a hurricane yet, 65-mile-an-hour winds, but it's moving to the west- northwest towards the mouth of the Mississippi. It's about 400 miles away from that point right now and a lot of warm water in between here and there. So, we do think it will strengthen. How much is still a question. Here's the forecast without the Katrina comparison to give you an idea of where we expect this thing to go, and that cone of uncertainty -- there's still a lot of uncertainty with this forecast.

Anybody from mobile bay all the way to Lake Charles, Louisiana, needs to be on guard with this thing as it makes its approach tomorrow night into Wednesday morning. We are live camped out at the 17th Street Canal near Lake Pontchartrain. This is one of the weak spots during Hurricane Katrina where the levee broke and started filling New Orleans up with water.

The other weak spot, the industrial canal, which hit the lower ninth wall ward there, and you remember the dramatic video of choppers scrambling to dump sandbags in to plug the holes in the levee as well. The army corps of engineers has done a whole lot of work since then in a very short period of time.

We've got some pictures of some of their work as well as they strung over 100 miles of levees and storm walls up around the city and beefed up canals and elaborate pumping stations, one of which is right behind me, that they claim can withstand a category 3 storm. They said that before Katrina as well, but this certainly is a much more modern and much stronger structure than we've seen.

So, because of that, the mayor has not issued a mandatory evacuation for New Orleans yet. If it becomes a forecast that would make a Category 3 possible or likely, I think they may trigger that, but right now, voluntary evacuations inside the levees, outside in St. Charles and Plaquemines Parish, there are some mandatory evacuations there in much lower terrain.

Obviously, New Orleans still susceptible to this. Gustav, Zoraida, a hurricane back --


MARCIANO: 2008? Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it was 2008.

MARCIANO: 2008. This may very well take more of a path like Gustav, which did some damage here in New Orleans as well. So, watching both of those comparisons very strongly as well. Oil platforms, you know all about that.


MARCIANO: They've been evacuated, some of those. That trend will probably continue throughout the day today as we wait on Isaac for tomorrow night into Wednesday.

SAMBOLIN: You know, that's exactly what we were talking about, it's safety first. You know, in 2008 with Gustav, you know, everybody was evacuated, this time also as well. And you know, let's not forget, 1,800 people died, you know, during Hurricane Katrina.

So, hopefully, everybody's heeding the warning. We'll talk about that a little bit later, what you've seen, if everybody's really listening to stay away, get away and be safe. Thank you, Rob.

Shaken but barely stirred. People in the Florida keys were bracing for the impact of tropical storm Isaac. They did get heavy rain and a lot of wind in that area, but it turns out, Isaac was just warming up at that point. CNN's Jim Spellman live in Key West, Florida, with the calm after the storm. What's the situation there, Jim?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Officials went out and assessed what happened after several hours of high winds and heavy rains. They found no serious damage here in the keys. That's good news. They have a real system down here. They're used to it. First, you try to get as many visitors off of the keys as you can. There's just one two-lane road and a 120-mile trip back to the mainland of Florida.

They want all that to happen before the storm. For the people who stayed behind, they have these premade storm shutters. This go on to the buildings. They put up wood on other buildings. They're just about back to life in paradise here in Key West. They were partying as soon as the rain stopped yesterday, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jim Spellman live for us, thank you very much.

We're going to head back to the Republican National Convention. John Berman is hanging out there for us this morning. How's the weather situation there? You went in pretty early this morning.

BERMAN: It was rainy and windy but not that bad, Zoraida. Some exits off some roads were closed down, but by and large, you can get around here in Tampa this morning. However, the storm is forcing Republicans to do a lot of shuffling and make some changes to the schedule, which could change even more, depending on where Isaac decides to go and how strongly it hits.

So, who is in and who's out? Here's a quick rundown of the changes right now. The convention will formally convene today at 2:00 p.m. eastern, but it's only going to remain in session for about ten minutes, because officials are concerned for the safety of delegates and other visitors.

Then, tomorrow night, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, he will be giving the keynote address at the convention. That is Tuesday night, prime time, depending on the path of Isaac. On Wednesday night, we expect to hear from Paul Ryan, the vice presidential pick for the Republican Party.

And then on Thursday, that, of course, when Mitt Romney will give his formal acceptance speech, and he will officially, after all this time, become the Republican nominee. Now, we have a new CNN/ORC poll, which talks about where things stand right now in this race. That poll says that while Mitt Romney may be a better manager, President Obama might be more in touch. According to the poll, 53 percent of likely voters say the president cares about the needs of people with 40 percent feeling the same way about Mitt Romney. The president also leads Romney when it comes to being in touch with the middle class and on women's issues. Romney has a four-point advantage over President Obama on managing the government effectively and a six-point advantage on having a clear plan for solving the country's problems.

Coming up in an hour, we're going to have a conversation about all of the security here in Tampa, the secret service, the police on the ground, the demonstrations, and how the weather might be affecting that. I'm going to talk to Dan Bongino (ph). He is a former secret service agent. He served in three presidential administrations.

He's also the Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Maryland. So, he knows a lot about what's going on now in terms of security and in terms of politics. That should be a very interesting discussion. Let's get back to Zoraida in New York.

SAMBOLIN: Hey, John, I have a question for you. Do you sense that there are any regrets about changing the first day of the convention? Have you heard anything about that? Or do they just feel that was the right decision given what was headed that way, potentially?

BERMAN: I think they had to make that decision given when they made it. The storm was -- looked like it might come close to Tampa. They have a problem here with storm surge. There could be flooding and with wind. And so many of the delegates are staying in areas that aren't exactly right here near the convention center.

They have to drive over causeways and the like and they didn't want those buses on the way here being battered by wind. So, it was a decision they had to make. I'll be talking with Tampa mayor, Bob Buckhorn, the next hour, too, and we can ask him that very question -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And what's happening today then in lieu of the fact that they've canceled what was supposed to be happening?

BERMAN: I don't know! I'm going to go look for delegates at the bars. No, I can tell you one thing that won't be happening here, though. It's interesting. You know, Donald Trump was going to make a big splash here at this convention, but, he was scheduled to do it tonight, Monday night.

Now, he won't be here. So, the Donald's been canceled. He did attend an event yesterday in Sarasota. He was named the Statesman of the Year in Sarasota, Florida. So, you know, the Donald got a little love, but not so much love tonight at the Republican convention.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, we'll check back with you shortly. Thank you for that update. It is 39 minutes past the hour here.

And, an earthquake storm. Hundreds of quakes, one after another rattling the West Coast and shaking a lot of nerves. A look at the aftermath and at a video as buildings shook. That is coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: One of my favorite cities in the world. Good morning, Miami! It is 83 degrees right now. A little bit later, we're going to continue with your stormy weather, and it's going to be 85 muggy degrees for you.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-three minutes past the hour. We're very happy that you're with us this morning. John Berman is live in Tampa with the republican National Convention. We're going to check in with him in a moment, but first, let's get to our top stories with Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again. Let's start with this tropical storm Isaac, still just a tropical storm, but everyone's concerned about what sort of hurricane it will be.


ROMANS (voice-over): It's well on its way to becoming a Category 2 hurricane and on path to strike the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say New Orleans is in the danger zone, and Isaac could hit there on Wednesday, seven years to the day when Hurricane Katrina hit.

GOP officials now trying to cram four days into three, with hurricane Isaac pretty much shutting down today's events at the Republican National Convention. The convention will gavel in at 2:00 p.m. but only stay in session for ten minutes. Donald Trump was bump from his spot today. Governor Romney is still scheduled to accept the nomination on Thursday.

Another deadly insider shooting in Afghanistan to tell you about this morning. An Afghan army soldier opened fire on NATO troops in Eastern Afghanistan, killing two. Coalition forces returned fire, killing that soldier. Officials have not yet released the dead soldiers' nationalities. It's the latest in a series of green-on-blue attacks against NATO-led troops.

Officials say at least 42 have been killed by Afghan forces or insurgents disguised as soldiers or police.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is changing its position on infant male circumcision. It now says the health benefits outweigh the risks. The group cites new research which found that the procedure may protect heterosexual males against HIV, but they stopped short of recommending circumcision for all baby boys saying this decision is a family matter.

A swarm of hundreds of quakes near the California/Mexico border, the strongest a 5.5-magnitude. The storm centered near Brawley. That's a town about 100 miles east of San Diego. A seismologist saying by last night, they've recorded about 300 quakes.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Oh, my goodness. ROMANS: More than 30 had a magnitude stronger than 3.5, the biggest a little bit larger than what they've seen in the past. One family in Brawley, California got several jolts on camera.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house is coming down!


ROMANS: The teenage kid has a sense of humor. This is the most seismic activity in the area since the 1970s. No injuries and only minor damage reported.

And a thrashing in a little league World Series final, Japan overpowering Tennessee to claim its eighth little league title with a 12-2 win. Tennessee (ph) was mercy ruled in the fifth inning after Japan took a 10-run lead. Twelve-year-old Noriatsu Osaka (ph)was (INAUDIBLE) game with three home runs and a triple. Bravo, Japan.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): It's great and nice watch. They played so hard, right?

ROMANS (on-camera): I know. I love it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

All right. So, Isaac's first target in the United States, you know, the Florida Keys. The storm surge threatens the rest of the Gulf Coast there as well. We're going to get an update on emergency preparations in that state, coming up.

And if you are leaving house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone, just go to


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We are tracking tropical storm Isaac this morning, and here's the latest projected storm path. Isaac expected to make landfall Wednesday morning, possibly as a Category 2 storm.

Meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider, joins us now with the very latest. And Bonnie, we're a little bit confused here, because we're trying to figure out -- this is a tropical storm right now. We know we are not a hurricane. What is the expectation that it will become a hurricane?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A very strong expectation, Zoraida. The National Hurricane Center is forecasting this storm to become a hurricane, and that's because it's moving over warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Keep in mind, we're already getting hurricane- force winds in terms of gusts. They're at 75 miles per hour.

So, as you can see by our track, even by tomorrow, we're looking at a Category 1 storm, maintaining that strength and maybe getting a hair or two stronger as we advance towards an eventual landfall along the Gulf Coast and that will be some time on Tuesday afternoon. The cone of uncertainty is very wide as we go into Tuesday, because the computer models have been fluctuating quite a bit.

Yesterday, they trended a little bit further to the west, and now, we see that the storm will eventually come onshore, and that's why hurricane watches and warnings are posted for the Gulf Coast. We're also anticipating the storm to be a big rain-maker as well for a good portion of the southeast.

Hurricane warnings for Morgan City all the way to Destin, Florida, meaning hurricane force conditions are expected within 24 hours. Zoraida, it's so important for people to make those preparations now before the weather gets worse.

SAMBOLIN: No, absolutely. And a lot of those folks in that area have a lot of experience with storms. So, we're hoping that they heed the warning. I was reading here possibly as a Category 2 storm by Wednesday morning. Is that because of what you're seeing on the models as well?

SCHNEIDER: It depends on how long the storm sits in the Gulf of Mexico and how far west it goes. If it has a longer trip to go, it will be over those open waters longer and that will give it more a chance to intensify, but keep in mind, if this storm is a strong Category 1 right on the border of a Category 2, it is still going to pose a threat to this region.

So, it's not so much on the category number, it's more the winds and also the size of the storm. This is a very large tropical storm.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Bonnie Schneider, thank you for clearing that up for us. We appreciate it.

Well, that storm has already hit the Florida Keys. The area faced power outages and a lot of strong winds, but the storm was kinder than many people expected in that area. The Florida panhandle could be next, and Bryan Koon is the director of Florida Emergency Management, and he is joining us on the phone now. Are you there, Mr. Koon?


SAMBOLIN: Good morning. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us this morning. We really appreciate it. What is the priority for you this morning?

KOON: Well, it's going to be two-fold. One, we're going to be re- checking with the Southern Florida counties to find out any damage assessment they may have suffered yesterday. And now, that we're at first light, our initial damage assessment from them yesterday evening was good. Minimal damage in that things were getting back to normal as the storm passed.

We'll also be focused on the Florida panhandle today, keeping a very close eye on that because as Bonnie said, the storm's path is still bit uncertain, and we want to make sure that the western panhandle is prepared for heavy winds, heavy rain, and potential storm surge.

SAMBOLIN: And how concerned are you about the panhandle and that possible Category 2 hit on Wednesday?

KOON: Well, we're very concerned. The amount of rain that that storm could drop as well as those heavy winds could cause significant damage in that area. And even if the storm keeps the path that it's forecast on right now, Escambia County, that county that has as Pensacola could have tropical storm-force winds for 30-plus hours.

And if we have rains that heavy for that long, you could have some fairly heavy damage as well as power outages.

SAMBOLIN: And I've gone on a lot of the government websites in the area, and you're doing a great job warning people about the intensity, and perhaps, what could happen. Do you feel that folks are heeding the warnings?

KOON: I believe so. Our reports from our retail partners are that people are out buying the supplies they need to get their disaster kits ready. And that they are definitely taking this thing seriously.

The other thing that's been helpful is having the Republican National Convention coverage in Florida, being the media attention paid to the storm has been greater than normal. So, most everybody in Florida is well aware of Isaac's presence.

SAMBOLIN: Well then, there's some good news for you. Now, Tampa escaped the worst as well, but you know, as you very well know, the RNC changed its plans. Were you instrumental in helping them make that decision?

KOON: The governor and I worked very closely with the Republican National Convention Committee on arrangements to help them understand each forecast as it came out and the potential consequences to the Hillsboro and Pinellas area.

That was their decision to make, but we helped them understand the fact that high winds could cause some bridge closures, make travel by bus difficult, and generally, we could have some road flooding and things like that. So, while they made that decision, we did help make sure they had the most accurate, up-to-date information about the potential consequences.

SAMBOLIN: And Mr. Koon, I have one final question for you in case anybody in Florida is listening here. I was reading that the pharmacy, they're not giving people emergency stocks of medicine. Do you know anything about that?

KOON: We did get that report the other night. And right after we had that report, we started working with our partners from the Department of Health as well as the Florida Retail Federation To help them understand what the state of emergency allowed and made sure that all of our retail partners and all pharmacy partners had the most up to date information about that state of emergency so we could correct that situation.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Bryan Koon, director of Florida Emergency Management, thank you for joining us this morning and good luck to you.

All right. Let's head over to John Berman. He is live in Tampa for us. Good morning.

BERMAN: Hey, Zoraida. I'm here at the CNN Grill, which is just a short walk away from the floor of the Republican convention, and I'll give you a quick little weather update here in Tampa. People are walking into the grill here completely soaked. They say it is getting really messy outside, and there's some water in the streets now.

I don't think it will get too, too bad, but it is extremely unpleasant to be moving around Tampa right now. So, probably a good idea that they did call off the festivities today. Now, you want to know what else it's like to experience a Republican National Convention from the inside, besides wet, which it is right now?

You can join the "CNN Election Roundtable" with Wolf Blitzer and CNN's all-star political team tomorrow. Submit your questions to get answers in real-time in a live, virtual chat. This is going to be very cool. That's the "CNN Election Roundtable" tomorrow at 12:00 noon eastern.

You can be a part of it by logging on to It's something you'll all want to do. Of course, you can always tweet us @EARLYSTARTCNN and we'll answer your questions, too -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: It is like being there. Thank you, John.

The day's top stories coming up at the top of the hour. We're keeping a very close eye on tropical storm Isaac, taking an eerie track that's a lot like Hurricane Katrina seven years ago, this exact same week. You are watching EARLY START.