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Bracing for Isaac; Proceeding with Caution

Aired August 28, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bracing for Isaac. The massive storm hurdles towards the Gulf Coast, taking aim at New Orleans.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, we're on a wing and a prayer. You know, lot of prayers.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Proceeding with caution. With one eye on Isaac, Republicans get ready to formally nominate Mitt Romney at their convention tonight.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Tampa, Florida, at the CNN grill. This is the site of the Republican National Convention where the action gets going today. I'll have more in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: We're looking forward to that, John. Thank you. I'm Zoraida Sambolin, back here in New York. It's 5:00 a.m. here in the east.

Let's get started. Up first, tracking Isaac. We just received the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.

So, let's get to Karen Maginnis for the update. She's live in Atlanta.

What can you tell us?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It looks like it's still at tropical storm intensity. But we're looking at still dry air along this northern edge. Still over very warm water in the Gulf of Mexico. The water temperatures here are slightly above where they should be for this time of year. But this southern edge and the western edge forming fairly nicely, and according to the National Hurricane Center, even though this is still a tropical storm intensity with 70 mile an hour winds, it's expected to make it to hurricane intensity or category 1 hurricane and perhaps make landfall around or in the vicinity of New Orleans.

Here you can see out here, jutting along the southeastern coast of Louisiana and as it makes its way on shore gradually, as you well know, it will weaken in intensity to tropical storm strength. But until then, we're looking at the potential for as much as 20 inches of rainfall.

Once again, here's Apalachicola, Pensacola, here's New Orleans in this white shaded area, 10 to 20-plus inches of rainfall. Severe flooding and significant storm surge are possible. We're going to keep you updated as long as this takes and keep up updated on what happens with tropical storm Isaac.

Back to you, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Karen Maginnis, we really appreciate it. Thank you.

And, right now, New Orleans is squarely in Isaac's path, with landfall expected tonight or early tomorrow. Seven years to the day after hurricane Katrina.

Take a look at the satellite view. Isaac's creating anxiety al along the Gulf Coast. It's expected to hit New Orleans with 100 mile an hour winds that could create storm surges of six to 12 feet as well. Thousands of people in Louisiana, as well as Mississippi and Alabama have already packed up and hit the highways.

Isaac directly threatening more than 5 million people this morning. And CNN has got Isaac covered like no other network.

David Mattingly live this morning, he is in Gulfport, Mississippi. But we're going to begin with Rob Marciano at the port of New Orleans. How is the situation there, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's quiet right now. But the winds are kicking up. We got our first drops of the outer rain bands late last night, probably around midnight. We've seen a sporadic drop. But no significant squalls coming through -- as you probably saw in the satellite picture, a lot of the moisture behind the system. And there's going to be significant moisture on the front and eventually the backside too.

So, 70 mile an hour winds with this thing. Even though it's not a hurricane, it's a significant storm with a huge circulation. What we've learned in the past in storms like hurricane Ike that had a huge circulation, of course, Katrina which had a massive circulation, is that the large circulation storms, especially the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, can really put up a storm surge.

So, that's what we're most concerned about, especially on the east side of town and up through Biloxi, Gulfport, the areas that got hit hard with Katrina. And then the double whammy will be the rainfall that we anticipate before, during and after the storm passes. Because, it has kind of been slowing down somewhat, and it will continue to slow down once it makes landfall later on tonight and tomorrow.

Yesterday, we talked a lot about the pump situations, the souped up levees. I managed to get a fly over with the coast guard yesterday. It gives you a look at how enormous the project was that they've built up over the last seven years -- $11 billion spent on this with massive flood gates and canal closures and the pumps that can pump in some cases 150,000 gallons a second. It's truly incredible.

While I was up there with the coast guard, I was reminded, you know what, if the walls fail, well, the guys that I'm flying with are the ones saving your life. They're ready to go too. Listen to this.


PILOT: We train every day and we train how we fight and we fight how we train. And hopefully, we won't have to use those skills but in this case we're ready and we have crews ready and available to be ready to respond.


MARCIANO: They are ready. They're hoping, of course, that another Katrina doesn't happen. We don't anticipate that, especially with the souped up levee system.

But still, as this makes landfall likely tomorrow night or tomorrow on the exact anniversary of seven years ago of Katrina that has a lot of people anxious. Still, only voluntary evacuations here in the city. But outside the city walls, guys, mandatory evacuations and those people are on the move from low-lying areas and some of the areas outside the protected levee walls.

Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: got to tell you, we can really hear the wind in your microphone there. I don't see it, but I can really hear it. We're going to check in with you shortly. Thank you very much.

And the massive storm is triggering warnings along the wide stretch of the Gulf Coast, including the entire Mississippi Cost. Some spots are all too familiar with this type of disaster. Katrina's storm surge totally smashed homes in places like Waveland, Gulfport and Long Beach on the eastern side of the storm. And let's not forget that it killed more than 200 people in that state.

So seven years later, these places are in the same dangerous position.

David Mattingly is live in Gulfport, Mississippi, for us this morning.

And, David, are the people there ready this time around and heeding all the warnings?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are watching this storm very closely. But a lot of people here have already decided that Isaac is no Katrina, even though it's following a similar pattern, similar path. They're looking at its intensity thinking that he's not going to be anything like the destructive power that they saw with Katrina, when so much property here along the waterfront was destroyed, all up and down the Gulf Coast. Particularly here in Mississippi.

But since then, there's been a great deal of rebuilding. They built up bigger, stronger, tougher, more resilient, able to stand up to storms better than they were before Katrina.

So, you're seeing a great deal of confidence now. Not just in the communities that had to rebuild their infrastructure but individuals who had to rebuild their homes as well.



CORKY HADDEN, HOMEOWNER: You look at what's happened the past 200 years, this house should be high enough to sustain that.

MATTINGLY: Twenty-four feet?

HADDEN: It's 24 feet above sea level.



MATTINGLY: So, you're looking at houses now that are much higher above sea level, houses that are made with cement and steel instead of wood frame houses. People confident that they can staph up to what this storm is going to be dishing out. But everyone waiting to see what the storm surge is going to be here. They're bracing for a lot of rain. So, there's going to be some flooding around here.

Also the possibility of tornadoes. So even though there is confidence that their houses and buildings will be standing, they know that there's no such thing as any building that is truly hurricane-proof.

SAMBOLIN: You know, it seems like that's what everybody is worried about now. The fact that this is a big water event as well.

David Mattingly live for us. Thank you very much. We'll check back in with you as well.

And right now, a hurricane warning is in effect for the entire Alabama coast. And even if Isaac continues on its track towards New Orleans, areas like Mobile Bay could see four-foot storm surges. Mandatory evacuations have already been ordered for parts of Baldwin and Mobile Counties in Alabama, where tropical storm force winds expected as early as this afternoon.


GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY (R), ALABAMA: We always have to remember that what we're trying to do is protect the lives of the people of in area. Everything else is secondary.


SAMBOLIN: We're checking in on all these states for you in the next half hour of early start, we'll talk with Mobile Alabama mayor, Sam Jones, as his city braces for hurricane Isaac. And as the Florida panhandle prepares for Isaac to arrive with hurricane strength, other parts of Florida are recovering from the damage caused Monday by tropical storm Isaac. The storm knocked down trees Monday in Fort Lauderdale, flooding shut down the Sawgrass Expressway in nearby Sunrise.

And in Vero Beach, Isaac spun off a reported tornado that -- look at that -- caused damage to three mobile home parks.


ANTHONY DIPIAZZA, VERO BEACH RESIDENT: We heard like a freight train x like a jet plane coming over close by. She asked me what was that? I said that's a tornado.

JOYCE MARRACCINI, VERO BEACH RESIDENT: The door flew past me and glass was flying and I was sitting on my bed doing paperwork and watching a movie. And all of a sudden, things were flying.


SAMBOLIN: The county sheriff says it's a miracle that no serious injuries were reported. As Isaac barrels through the Gulf of Mexico, here's what it looks like from space. Take a look at these images.

NASA's satellite imagery showing the massive storm system as it moved past Cuba and the Florida Keys over the past couple of days and into the Gulf where its sights are now set, as we've been telling you, on New Orleans.

And coming up in our next hour, we'll hear live from FEMA director, Craig Fugate, who is monitoring Isaac from Tallahassee, Florida. It's still a storm at this stage of the game, Isaac is. But we're monitoring all the developments for you.

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

BERMAN: Thanks, Zoraida.

And down here in Tampa, it is let get ready to nominate the Republican National Convention, set to take off in full day while everyone keeps a careful eye on the Gulf Coast. And buckle up down here, keynote speaker Chris Christie says he may not stick to his script.

Special guest Jessica Yellin for a preview live from the CNN grill in Tampa.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you in New Orleans. You have a tough couple of days in store here. These are live pictures that we're showing you now, Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. It's a bit windy out there right now.

Rob Marciano is there. He says he's experiencing a bit of wind this morning. He's monitoring the situation. We're still monitoring what is tropical storm Isaac, but expect it to become a hurricane here during the next 24 hours.

Fourteen minutes past the hour here. Welcome back to early start. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman live at the CNN grill in Tampa, the site of the Republican National Convention. We'll have more from this location in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Looking forward to that, John. We're tracking tropical storm Isaac this morning.

Take a look at the satellite view here for you. It's on a collision course with New Orleans. It's picking up steam and slowing down making it a serious rain threat now. It could make landfall by tonight or early tomorrow, seven years actually to the day after hurricane Katrina.

Here's how Isaac is tracking right now. It has the potential to be a category 2 hurricane by the time the eye passes over the Crescent City -- John.

BERMAN: Zoraida, thanks.

We're a stone's throw from the convention. We have a live picture here to show you of the floor of the convention right now. It's a big day for the Republicans, highlighted by Chris Christie's keynote address.

Maybe the biggest speech of all is from Ann Romney, the wife of the former Massachusetts governor. And we did learn overnight that he's coming to town today, maybe a little earlier than we expected. Of course, all the speculation is he may make an appearance inside that hall tonight.

CNN's chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin is joining me right now.

And, Jess, what do we can expect today from Ann Romney?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: From Ann Romney herself, I think that her purpose is to warm up her husband. You know, one of the big challenges is that the GOP is focusing on these voters who want to think that the president isn't doing enough. They want to vote against him.

But they just like him and they don't know if they like Mitt Romney as much. Ann Romney's job is to make them like Mitt Romney enough to vote for him.

BERMAN: There's a glaring number from the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. The question is, who do you like more? Who do you find a more friendly and likeable person? President Obama leads Mitt Romney 61 percent to 27 percent. YELLIN: It's a huge advantage and it's an advantage that Ronald Reagan had back in his reelection campaign. That's one of the reasons they felt that he won. Something the Obama people also think that the president had.

So, Ann Romney's job tonight is to explain a little bit more of who her husband it as a man, as a person. So folks get to know him.

BERMAN: It used to get a sense of how important they think this speech is obviously, and Mitt Romney is coming to town today. Obviously, they want some kind of great picture there.

Now, there's a lot of talk here in Tampa and around the country about what will the Republicans do if Isaac turns out to be a really bad storm. The question becomes how important is this convention to them? Do they need to be doing every night of this convention?

YELLIN: They do. I mean, first of all, they're doing every night that they can. So -- and there's -- the truth is that not every American is paying as close attention this time around, as they have in the past.

Pew has come out with a poll that shows people are less -- paying less attention and less interested in the actual convention speeches than they are in the party platform itself. I think that's a reflection of the fact that most Americans are pretty hip to the fact that these conventions are highly produced, everything is packaged. So people are more interested in sort of what the party broadly stands for.

But people will still be paying attention if not to the speeches to how we all cover it. It will get out. So it matters.

BERMAN: You know, 40 million people still watch the speeches when they happened, or more than 40 million people. So, I do agree with you. I think they still do matter and can really move the needle.

One of the few things that can move the needle as it gets closer to Election Day.

YELLIN: Definitely. If they mess up, that gets out too.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent, glad you're here as always.

There is some other political news to talk to you about right now. A source close to his office, tells CNN that former five-term Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter is now battling for his life. The source claims that Specter was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer around six weeks ago.

This is not the first cancer scare for the 82-year-old in the past 20 years. He's overcome a brain tumor and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He's been very sick, in the past. You know, Arlen Specter, we hear today, very, very sick -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Very sad news. Thanks, John. Coming up: officials warning that Isaac could be a Katrina-like event for oil production. Rigs shut down as the storm bears down. And how much could you be paying for gas by Labor Day? We are minding your business. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START everyone. I am John Berman, live at the CNN grill in Tampa where they're holding the Republican National Convention. Action really gets going today. And we will have more from here in the next half hour.

SAMBOLIN: We're looking forward to that, John. I'm Zoraida Sambolin here in New York City. It's 22 minutes past the hour.

We are minding your business this morning.

Oil and gas production being cut down sharply out of the Gulf with Isaac fast approaching.

Christine Romans is here, tracking the shutdowns of rigs, refineries and the platforms.

We talked about this yesterday. Has it grown?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely has. The emergency drills are in effect and we started seeing the eastern platforms, the eastern part of the gulf being shut down. And now, you're seeing wide ranging shutdowns of all the facilities in the Gulf of Mexico and inland as well, of refineries, chemical facilities. We have the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. There's a lot of energy infrastructure there.

Seventy-eight percent of oil production has been halted by the end of yesterday. You'll probably see more of that today. Almost half of natural gas production is shut down, 346 platforms have been evacuated now and 41 rigs have been evacuated.

A lot people keep asking me the difference between a platform and rig. A rig can move. You can move a rig. It costs an awful lot of money to move a drilling rig or oil right. The platforms -- there are hundreds of platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of those are being shut down right now for the sake of the people who work on them and also because you've got to make sure you secure that supply of oil and make sure you don't have any leaks.

There's a picture of the rigs, there's a picture of where the storm is coming. We also have a graphic courtesy of JPMorgan that they sent out to clients yesterday that shows sort of the three recent memory hurricanes have taken through this critical energy infrastructure. Rita, Katrina and now this storm.

Gustav also came right through the heartland here. Now, this storm mimicking with slightly less intensity but mimicking that path. People who work in the energy field -- they have seen this before. They know they have to protect loss of property and more importantly loss of life. That's what they're doing there.

You will see gas prices increase, Zoraida, maybe 10 cents over the next week. You have a Venezuelan fire. The death toll from that is now 48 from that refinery fire in Venezuela, now this big storm. You'll have disruption in the supply of gasoline. It will mean higher prices at the pump for American consumer.

OK. The most important thing is they make sure no one is hurt, injured or killed because of that storm coming through the energy path.

SAMBOLIN: That's true. Safety first. I was telling you I was trying to find good news -- and you were covering the drought in the Midwest.

ROMANS: Right.

SAMBOLIN: I find an article saying that the farmers were happy that some of the water was headed in their direction as well.

ROMANS: August is bean month, soybean. When you get good amount of rain, that's good for the soybean. The corn crop is already cooked. It was literally cooked in July.

Yes, rain is good for soybeans but not 20 inches in a row of rain.

SAMBOLIN: We have up to eight inches nonstop.

ROMANS: So, they're doing the rain dance with all kinds of asterisks and caveats. They want rain but not too much rain.

SAMBOLIN: Unfortunately, we're seeing Mother Nature cannot be controlled.

ROMANS: That's right. You are right.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Christine, thank you very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: It is 25 minutes past the hour. Isaac about to test the brand new multibillion dollar system of levees, pumps and floodwalls surrounding New Orleans. We're live in New Orleans next for you.

If you are leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time. Look at that. That was Rob Marciano standing near the -- I'm sorry. That's another reporter. I thought it was rob. Rob is out there. So he's going to bring us that live report for you.

You can get us on your desktop or mobile phone any time.

As the Gulf Coast braces for Isaac, we're getting iReport showing life getting back to normal in south Florida. Like this one. This is from feel great now which shows choppy waters off Fort Lauderdale Beach, right after Isaac.

Send us your Isaac eye reports but please be safe as you're doing this. We don't want you to become the story. Go to Look for assignment tropical storm Isaac.


SAMBOLIN: On the verge. Isaac very close to becoming a hurricane with New Orleans right in its path.


MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS: Category 1 and category 2 storms can bring significant damage in terms of wind, water or electric.


BERMAN: The GOP pressing on in Tampa despite the storm. Republicans wrestling with The tone as the party prepares to formally nominate Mitt Romney here tonight.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman. Live at the CNN grill in Tampa. This is where they're holding the Republican National Convention, with the action really getting started today and we'll have more here in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: We are looking forward to that, John. Finally, a lot of action I'm hoping for today. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 30 minutes past the hour. First here, Isaac on a collision course with New Orleans right now. It is still a tropical storm, and it's slowing down over the warm gulf water. Isaac could make landfall tonight, maybe early tomorrow, seven years to the day after hurricane Katrina.

Reporter, Blake Hanson, from our affiliate, WDSU, joins us from the shore on Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. What's going on there right now?

BLAKE HANSON, WDSU REPORTER: Hey, good morning, Zoraida. As we just started here, a big wave came over the edge. We're at the base, the south end of Lake Pontchartrain. A lot of heavy waves are coming along the seawall here. It's not within the levee protection area where we're at right now. Police have closed off this area to the public. But, since we've been out here for about the last few hours, it's certainly getting worse.

Winds are picking up. A couple of hours ago, it was about maybe 35, 40 miles per hour, and that's clearly picked up since. Some of these waves are now starting to spread on to the roads out here. It's draining as of now. But obviously, you can imagine, they will be tested, those drainage systems. We're about 50 yards from a levee.

That is, obviously, going to be tested as well. There's been all of those improvements since hurricane Katrina. Billions of dollars poured into the levee system here. The flood gates shutting at this moment. And, it will be a full test later today as these waters continue to rise here -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Hey, Blake, are you anywhere near those concrete walls that they had built? HANSON: Yes. We're near some of them. In fact, when we came up this morning, a lot of those were closed. They were already closed. They started doing that yesterday early in the day. There's gates all over the place. There's flood gates that have been built. They're closed off at this moment.

They're making sure that they keep those closed early. And so, we've got probably about a few hundred yards this way. Those are closed off. They're going to fully get a test today as this water is continuing to come over --

SAMBOLIN: You're getting drenched.

HANSON: -- and pound the seawall here. We are.

SAMBOLIN: Are the folks hunkering down? We keep on reading that some people are saying, you know what, this is not as serious as hurricane Katrina. We're going to hunker down. What are you seeing there?

HANSON: You know, that's generally what we are seeing. Yesterday, we had a chance to go to the some of the grocery stores, some of the improvement, the home depot, the Lowe's. We went out to those locations. A lot of people we asked are just battening down the hatches, are ready to ride this one out. Generally, from looking at the roads, we're seeing similar things.

There are those mandatory evacuation areas. Not in Orleans parish but in Plaquemine's Parish, in parts of Jefferson parish (ph), in low- lying areas outside the levee protection district. But in Orleans Parish, at least, and most of the parts of Jefferson Parish (ph). Most are prepared (ph) to ride this one out, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Blake, is there an incredible amount of confidence that these levees are going to be able to sustain whatever comes their way?

HANSON: Yes, there is. You know, New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, yesterday held a press conference, and confidence was a word that was thrown around a lot during that. They were joking around. Obviously, they don't take this in a funny light, but, they seem very confident that all of the improvements that have been made since hurricane Katrina are in place and that while they will be tested, that they will hold up.

So, within the city of New Orleans, they're pretty confident that this levee system that has been tested and has been improved since hurricane Katrina is going to stand, be possible hurricane Isaac.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Blake, I know that you are prepared for the weather, but we're a bit concerned about you as well. So, be safe. Blake Hanson live from our affiliate, WDSU in Louisiana. Thank you for that.

And hurricane warnings issued in three states along the Gulf Coast, including the city of Mobile, Alabama, which was hit hard by hurricane Katrina back in 2005. The city could see up to 18 inches of rain. And local officials have ordered an evacuation of residents in low- lying areas. That's starting at eight o'clock this morning. Mayor Sam Jones joins me now over the phone. Mayor, are you there?

MAYOR SAM JONES, MOBILE, AL (on the phone): Yes, I am.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you so much for joining us. I know that you're very, very busy there. What is the status in your area?

JONES: There's not a lot of wind so far here. And, we don't see a lot of rain. So, we haven't gotten what we're expecting yet.

SAMBOLIN: And, what are you doing to prepare for what is headed your way?

JONES: Well, we have evacuated areas this morning. We will be evacuating low-lying areas, especially those in several watersheds that's really right on the bay and also on the river here. So, we will be doing that and our law enforcement folks will be going out trying to make sure that that's being enforced.

The other thing, we're encouraging people as the rain comes in, not to move around, to try to stay out the highways and also to be very cautious of what's taking place. We expect that we'll have a lot of rain. We expect we'll have a lot of wind and some storm surge. We're trying to prepare for that.

SAMBOLIN: You know, we've been talking a lot about this being the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina. And so, we're curious as to, in your area, what has changed since then and how are you better prepared to handle this storm headed your way?

JONES: Well, every time we experience a hurricane, we learn something. Quite frankly, Katrina was not something that hit Mobile very hard. We actually wound up being in the place where many people were staging the help that Mississippi coast and Louisiana coast. But, I think we've had some -- prior to that, really, really more severe (ph).

So, people here are truly aware of what's taking place. We only wish they would heed out warnings and heed those warnings (ph).

SAMBOLIN: And are you prepared, again, to help other areas as well?

JONES: We are. It's something very consistent on -- one area really goes and help another, because we know sooner or later, we all will be confronted with this.

SAMBOLIN: Now, I know that when Katrina hit, you were elected mayor shortly thereafter, September 2005, and your city suffered millions of damage back then. Are you concerned about that and having sufficient funds or getting sufficient aid?

JONES: We're always concerned about that. Our system here now, the Emergency Operations Center is prepared to do assessments in that area, and also, work to try to mitigate what we can. But yes, we are concerned about that. That is always an issue for us.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Mayor Sam Jones. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate it and good luck to you.

JONES: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: We'll check back in with you as well.

And, a hurricane warning is in effect for the entire Mississippi coast that is.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): And power crews are already preparing for what they'll be dealing with once Isaac leaves. Southern Mississippi's three power companies have activated their storm plans. They have crews on stand by to respond to power outages in the storm's aftermath.

And people who live there are also stocking up just in case they lose power. The stores are trying to keep up with all of the demand for water, canned goods, flashlights, batteries, and of course, propane tanks.

And as the Florida panhandle prepares for Isaac to arrive with hurricane strength, other parts of Florida are recovering from the damage that was caused Monday by tropical storm Isaac. That storm knocked down trees Monday in Fort Lauderdale. You're taking a look at that there. and flooding shut down the Sawgrass Expressway in nearby sunrise.

And in Vero Beach, Isaac spun of a tornado that caused damage to three mobile home parks. The Indian River County sheriff says he is amazed that no serious injuries were reported.


SHERIFF DARRYL LOAR, INDIAN RIVERY COUNTY: This is clearly a miracle that we do not have any fatalities with the massive and extensive damage that this tornado has occurred.

ANTHONY DIPIAZZA, VERO BEACH RESIDENT: And it was just so quick. I mean, it was only maybe two seconds. It was really, really fast.


SAMBOLIN: The sheriff also says around 30 homes were damaged. His department teamed up with home depot to provide tarps to help cover up all of the exposed roofs in that area.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And coming up just a few minutes from now, we'll hear live from FEMA director, Craig Fugate, who is monitoring Isaac from Tallahassee, Florida -- John.

BERMAN: And, here in Tampa, sell the candidate and show compassion. It is a careful balance for the Republican Party as Isaac barrels towards New Orleans right in the middle of the Republican National Convention. We're live in Tampa with expert analysis coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: These are live pictures that you're taking a look at here from New Orleans. That's our affiliate reporter there, Blake Hanson, standing by, WDSU, and he's been bringing us these pictures all morning on. The situation is changing. That water is really coming ashore hard now.

We're going to go there and give you a report live with the latest in New Orleans and what's happening there. And Isaac is nearing hurricane strength on a collision course with New Orleans. Right now, the storm packing 70-mile an hour winds. And forecasters expect it to make landfall some time tonight or tomorrow morning near New Orleans.

Isaac could be a Category 2 hurricane by then with triple digit winds and torrential rain. As much as 18 inches expected in some areas of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi -- John.

BERMAN: Here in Tampa, it is the first real day of the Republican National Convention after the threat of Isaac essentially forced the GOP to cancel most of the speeches and most of the festivities yesterday. It may still impact this week as it goes on. But I want to talk now about what is planned for tonight.

I'm joined by Ana Navarro, a CNN contributor and Republican strategist from Florida and Erick Erickson, also a CNN contributor and the editor-in-chief of Tonight, we have Ann Romney speaking and Chris Christie. I think we have a sense of what they're going to try to do, but Marco Rubio, your senator, laid it out last night saying what the plan is for these speeches today. Let's take a quick listen.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Mitt Romney is an extraordinary person. And I think at the end of this convention, that's going to be clear to the American people. This is a person that is a father, and is a husband, and as a grandfather, and as a member of his church, as a member of his community has done extraordinary special things, I mean, really important things.

I said the other day, the man and the way he's lived his life as a role model for younger men like myself are trying to balance work and family and responsibilities at home with responsibilities on the job.


BERMAN: Erica, why do we need to learn about Mitt Romney, the man, this week?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Because it's still unknown (ph) for a lot of American people. The Obama campaign over the summer has tried to define him. They haven't done a very good job defining him, but then Romney hasn't done a very good job defining himself. He's been playing to a base Republican crowd, not independence, and they don't really know him.


ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And I think he has a hard time emoting. This is a guy who, you know, was not raised in this Dr. Phil generation that we live in now where we all tell each other our feelings and go around sharing our emotions. And I think what we just got from Marco Rubio was a preview of his speech.

Let's remember that Marco Rubio is introducing Mitt Romney. He speaks right before Mitt Romney, then there's a short video, then it's Mitt Romney's speech.

BERMAN: It seems very clear to me, Ana, that you like Marco Rubio.

NAVARRO: I love Marco Rubio.

BERMAN: On the issue of likability when you're dealing with President Obama and Mitt Romney, this is what Americans say. When asked who they find more friendly and likeable, 61 percent say President Obama, 27 percent say Mitt Romney. Now, I'm not good at math, but that's a very, very big gap here. Can Mitt Romney close this likability gap?

NAVARRO: And you know something, John, I'm not sure he should try to. I'm not sure that he's going to outjoke or outdance or outjive, you know, or be -- or outlike a Barack Obama. But what he does need to do is establish a relationship of trust with the American people. And in order to trust him, first, they've got to know him.

What they've got to do is trust that he can turn things around, that things will be better with him. Today, they don't know him enough to have that relationship of trust. That's his challenge.

BERMAN: Please, both of you, because neither of you were big supporters of Mitt Romney in the primary process. You were with Jon Huntsman. You were vocally, you know, questioning Mitt Romney?


BERMAN: Do you like Mitt Romney, Erick?

ERICKSON: You know, I don't really know Mitt Romney. I don't know his family. I don't really know him. Am I excited about his campaign with Paul Ryan? Yes, I think he finally has a reason for being that he didn't have. Will I support him? Absolutely.

For a lot of conservatives, you talk to them here, they're saying they really want to beat Barack Obama. He's the guy that they have to do it with.

BERMAN: As a voter at this point, though, how can you not know Mitt Romney? He's been running for president on and off since 2007. He's been in the primary process now for a year, and he's been the presumptive Republican nominee for months now. What more can Americans possibly know that they don't know?

NAVARRO: Well, unlike Erick, actually, I do know Mitt Romney.

BERMAN: Do you like him?

NAVARRO: I met him. I like him, but there's something that's not translating on TV. I like him, but he's not -- you know, he's not a John McCain. He's not a guy that's going to joke and go off the cuff. He's not that type of guy. I like Ann Romney a lot. I think she can be so very helpful in softening up some of his --

ERICKSON: More than they have.

NAVARRO: And I think they will. I think we'll see that today.

BERMAN: Erick, I don't know if you agree with me. What Ana just seemed to say is I like Mitt Romney but, and I really like Mitt Romney. That's not a --


NAVARRO: I go back to the same issue. I like Mitt Romney, and I know Mitt Romney, but I trust Mitt Romney can be better than Barack Obama. And that us the litmus test for me. I don't need to love him. I don't need to want to take a drink a beer with the guy.

ERICKSON: This is the problem that a lot of Republicans have for Mitt Romney is they do like Mitt Romney. Maybe they like the idea of Mitt Romney. They're not sure, though, because he is a very modest person. Even during the primaries, I would say (INAUDIBLE) he's had a real problem relating to people with his wealth issue.

He seems not to want to bring it up. He can't connect on those levels. So, he's having trouble connecting with people. But you know, back in 1996, go back to this. People weren't really sure they liked Bill Clinton, but they really liked the job he was doing. This is the polar opposite now.

Everyone likes Barack Obama, independents do, maybe not Republicans. They don't necessary like the job he's doing, and that's where Mitt Romney can tell himself (ph).

BERMAN: Erick Erickson and Ana Navarro, thank you for this. It's actually really interesting.

If you want to talk more about CNN politics and want to know what it's really like to experience a Republican National Convention from inside behind the scenes, you can join the "CNN Election Roundtable" with Wolf Blitzer and CNNs political team, our whole political team. Submit your questions and you can get answers in real-time.

This is a live virtual chat. Don't miss the "CNN Election Roundtable" today at noon eastern time. You do it by logging on to

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, John. And up next, testing the system that was put in place after hurricane Katrina. A storm coming down the same pike. Is Southern Louisiana ready? Soledad O'Brien joins us live from New Orleans next.

And if you are leaving the house right now, you can watch us anytime right on your desktop, perhaps, on your mobile phone, just go to


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I am John Berman live at the scenic CNN Grill. We are here for the Republican National Convention.

SAMBOLIN: We'll be checking in with you shortly, John. I'm Zoraida Sambolin here in New York. Tropical storm Isaac is on track to make landfall near New Orleans tonight just shy of seven years since hurricane Katrina's landfall. People in and around New Orleans ordered to evacuate if they live outside of storm protection levees.

"Starting Point" Soledad O'Brien is in New Orleans now. She is following all of the preparations there. I know that you are very familiar with this area, Soledad. How are they getting ready for this?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, you can see behind me here in Jackson Square, which is kind of the heart of the touristy section of the French quarter. People have been boarding up some of there buildings, and that is not atypical, but really, I think there are many people who've just left their windows unboarded.

There's a sense, certainly, in terms of people leaving the city, you know, not a ton of people have decided to leave ahead of the storm and at the airport also. It is tremendous lines of people who are looking to get out. We spent a lot of the day in St. Bernard Parish. Some the of St. Bernard Parish is outside the levee system.

For people there, they've been -- who are outside the levee system, they are evacuating. But for people inside the parish where they were hit very hard, 22-foot storm surge back during Katrina. They say that the improvements to the levee system if they're in the levee system are so good that they feel very confident that they're going to stay. A little anxious, certainly, but confident. Take a look.


O'BRIEN: So, how are you feeling about the storm approaching?

SHERIFF JAMES POHLMANN, ST. BERNARD PARISH, LOUISIANA: I think we're going to be OK. I have confidence in our new flood detection system around St. Bernard Parish. And so, it might get up to a Category 2. So, it's not, you know, a Katrina. That was seven years ago. So, you know, we're going to have some rough weather. Plenty of winds, plenty of rain, but we think we can manage.

O'BRIEN: I remember spending a lot of time with sheriff's deputies in the wake of Katrina. And, you guys worked straight through for really, I think, weeks before you were able to, you know -- how do you feel psychologically? I mean, how is the team doing to have something similar coming back along a similar path?

POHLMANN: Yes. You know, we're good, because we learned a lot from hurricane Katrina.

O'BRIEN: What did you learn?

POHLMANN: Well, we're much better organized. We have interrupt (ph) ability communications. So, we're not -- you know, in terms of communications on an island, we can talk to state officials, local officials, and that's a big part of it. Our game plan is better. You know, we know where the high ground is, and that's where we're going to be embedded with our patrol deputies and the rest of our staff.

We have a facility that has a generator in our executive staff building that has a generator. So, we know that we can base our operations out of that. We have people embedded with office of homeland security here in St. Bernard Parish. The communications lines are much better. Cooperation is much better. And I think the people, you know, they truly understand that catastrophic effects of a major hurricane.


O'BRIEN: Remember, 85 percent of the city, Zoraida, was damaged in hurricane Katrina. One of the things that they are doing has really taken a lot of those lessons learned from Katrina. For example, the last time around, they evacuated the jail and they sent the prisoners to New Orleans, so we know what happened to the city of New Orleans -- from St. Bernard Parish to New Orleans.

So, this time what they've done is ahead of time, they've evacuated the prisoners from the jail. They sent them way out of the way where they're not going to be in danger of being hit at all by the storm or storm surge or anything like that. And, what they're doing is they're planning to move, law enforcement officials will move into the jail, set up with a kitchen and a generator.

And that's what they will use as their headquarters if, in fact, it looks like the storm is much more severe than expected at least at this time -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know, it's really interesting to hear all of the lessons that were learned because of hurricane Katrina. We were talking to a reporter earlier who's at Lake Pontchartrain. And you can just see the water, you know, coming up very strongly on the coast there now or on that lake.

And he was saying that folks are really hunkering down, and that they feel very confident that this levee system will, indeed, be able to sustain whatever it is that heads its way. Are you finding the same kind of confidence there?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I am, and that's for a couple of reasons. Number one, all the money, the billions of dollars that have been put into the levee system. So, that's a big deal. Number two, everyone has been talking about communication. They just feel like they're watching the weather more closely.

They're listening to what their parish officials are telling them more closely. Really monitoring the storm. Number three, what is predicted at this time is nothing like Katrina in terms of strength, and that's a huge difference. Many people here have said to me last night, listen, if we were looking at a Category 3 coming on land, you know, we'd get out.

But right now, Category 1, maybe 2, you know, they feel confident that that something that they're going to be able to withstand. And it will be a, first, test of this upgraded levee system. Maybe not even a great test, of course, right, because that would mean, you know, via a Category 3 or higher, but a test that they would feel comfortable sticking around for.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Soledad O'Brien live for us. Thank you very much. We appreciate that. And minding everybody, it really still is a tropical storm, but they are expecting it to become a hurricane.

So, dangerous but not quite a hurricane, as I said, just yet. Coming, we continue to track Isaac with new information this morning from the National Hurricane Center.

And as the gulf coast braces for Isaac, we're getting iReport showing life is getting back to normal at least in South Florida. Feelgreatnow (ph) sent us this video of the first ship coming back to port in Fort Lauderdale. Send us your Isaac iReports, but please be safe. Go to Look for assignment tropical storm Isaac.