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Hurricane Isaac Reaches New Orleans as a Category 2

Aired August 28, 2012 - 23:59   ET


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: Good evening. We're here in Tampa, but the real action tonight is happening down in New Orleans, and Anderson Cooper is live there with Hurricane Isaac. Anderson, straight to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, AC360: Piers, thanks very much. Yes, I'm here with meteorologist Rob Marciano. And you know, let's just give -- for folks who haven't been tuned in to this very carefully, what we're looking at over the next couple hours.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're looking at a hurricane that made one landfall across the mouth of the Mississippi, one of the southernmost spots in the northern Gulf Coast. And now it's kind of over water again, but making a -- about to make a second landfall near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

New Orleans on the north side of this, so that's the worst side. That's why we've been getting hit with these sheets of heavy, heavy rainfall and wind -- wind that's been gusting over 60 miles an hour. With that, over 2,000 people already without power.

COOPER: Yes. And Chad Myers joining us, too. Chad, in terms of just big picture, over the next eight hours here in New Orleans, I mean, until I think about 8:00 AM, you were saying before, what are we looking at, and for folks in this region?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, on and off, exactly what you're feeling right now. And when a rain band comes over your area, whether it's New Orleans or Biloxi or Mobile, whatever, that's when the wind will come down with it. When the rain stops because you're in between bands, the wind literally stops, as well.

The eye will travel to the north and to the northwest, probably right over Baton Rouge, to the west of New Orleans. But that actually is a bad thing for New Orleans because that puts New Orleans on the bad side of the eye, the forward side of the eye. So you get the movement of the storm, although it's slow, but you also get all these rain bands coming off the ocean and filling up New Orleans.

Now, I just checked, New Orleans proper, where you are, Anderson, now has had 3 inches of rainfall since it started, and that was only maybe three hours ago. So there's an inch an hour or so.

We're looking at these heavy, heavy rain bands coming in. There's New Orleans, the port of New Orleans, right there where you are. The heavy band will end probably in the next 15 minutes, but there are more -- many, many more -- bands rotating around the center with their eye on you, Anderson.

COOPER: Chad is saying many more bands of rain expected. This one's going to end in about 15 minutes or so. Chad, are you still anticipating, though, about 20 inches of rain total here?

MYERS: I absolutely do. And in fact, I even have a little bit of a scarier number for you. This is a map that's kind of difficult to look at, a lot of colors here. But let me draw it out for you.

Here's New Orleans proper right through there. And as it moves ahead -- Shawn (ph), go ahead and move that ahead -- we have all this rain down here across parts of the delta. Shawn, go ahead and move that. No, I guess that's not going to happen. But we will -- yes, absolutely -- at least 20 to 25 inches now of rain in the Mississippi delta.


MYERS: Yes, it's just -- it's incredible because the storm simply is not moving.

There it goes! I knew it would start to move here a little bit. Just have to kick it for us.

Everywhere you see -- and I know it's hard for you to see anything -- New Orleans to Slidell, all the way up through Alexandria, back down south, that's 10 inches plus in that entire area right there, ten inches covering almost the entire state of Louisiana. And all that water has to go somewhere. It will clearly cause flooding.

COOPER: I want to go to Ed Lavandera in Grand Isle in a moment. but Chad, when are you anticipating landfall in Grand Isle?

MYERS: The outer north part of the eyewall has made landfall now. But the center...


MYERS: ... of the eye has not made landfall yet, so we're not quite there with the Eddie Lavandera live shot. I'm going to pan up here where you can find the center. It's a very, very large eye. And you can talk to Rob about what that means.

The eye probably 60 miles around, which means there's not anything going on in the middle here. There's no rain. There's no wind. Maybe you can even see the sky. You might be able to see the stars and the moon.

But as this eye gets smaller and smaller and smaller as it moves to the northwest, the winds here will pick up, as well. This storm, although just now an 80-mile-per hour storm -- we call this land, but there's not much there there. There's not much land. There's more bayou, more water, than there is land.

So this thing isn't going to slow down just because we think it goes over land, like a regular -- like a regular hurricane. You put this thing over land -- Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic -- storms slow down. You put this over a swamp or the Everglades or the bayou, it's not going to slow down at all.

I have Eddie Lavandera now. Back (INAUDIBLE) just lost Anderson again, with some of those rain bands.

Eddie, you are in the eye. How many eyes have you been in in your lifetime?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A handful. And I tell you what. After the long evening that we've had here today, Chad, seeing those stars and the moon perhaps would be a very welcome sight.

You know, one of the things that we're dealing with is the home that we're inside and we've been hunkered down in throughout this storm here in Grand Isle, Louisiana, sits on the highest part of the island, a ridge that cuts through the island.

But that doesn't mean that the water hasn't been swirling all around us. And here in the last hour-and-a-half or so, the water is really starting to come up.

Here's a couple of things that I'm looking at. If you look there at the house there, you'll see a couple of lines of bricks, and then where the siding of the home starts. Water right where we're standing over is the garage to the house, which is already taking in water. If that water reaches up to that siding, then the house on the ground level starts taking in water.

When we were at the peak of this storm just a short while ago, that water was starting to creep up very close to that siding, which was a little bit disconcerting at this point. You know, we're on the second story, so we'd be fine. But that's what we're watching.

And now things have kind of settled down. It was amazing to see just how quickly the water was going up. And I'm talking in the matter of about 30 minutes, the water had gone up about a foot where we are. So we will continue to monitor that.

As we get closer to this eye, I'm hoping that that give some time for the water to recede or at least stop rising for a little while, and then we'll see what the back half of this storm has to bring to the area where we're at.

You know, and Chad, it's just impossible to kind of tell and gauge or get a real sense of just how much damage the hurricane here has caused. We know that some city officials -- we've seen some trucks with lights on making some passes now that things have settled down a little bit.

We have heard some reports of some roof damage and that sort of thing. It doesn't sound terribly extensive, at this point. But the storm surge and the level around the island is definitely something that will be an issue as we wake up tomorrow morning.

MYERS: So it came from the bayou. It didn't come from the ocean. It didn't have a surge like you'd expect. It was actually coming out of the swamp because that's the wind direction you had. Now that the wind direction's going to change, you're going to get a surge from the other way.

LAVANDERA: Yes, that'll be interesting. I think it has caught a lot of people by surprise here on Grand Isle that throughout most of the day -- and I think this was at the angle -- and I think you were talking about this a little while ago. The angle that the storm was coming across and cutting across the coastline here, the wind came from the north the entire time, blowing in everything from the bay.


LAVANDERA: And that caught a lot of people by surprise here.

MYERS: Yes, it sure did. All right, Eddie. I'm going to let you go because I got my shot back from Anderson. And it's been a little bit spotty, so I'm going to let Anderson go. I see you standing there, getting wet, Anderson. It's really blowing where you are.

COOPER: Yes, it sure is. And you know, Chad was talking about the eye of this thing being really big. What's the significance of that?

MARCIANO: Well, it's pretty much the MO of this storm has been its big circulation. And it's really been its downfall. I mean, if you were looking for this thing to explode in intensity, it's why it took so long for it to get its act together. The circulation was so broad, and then once it finally got a little bit closer to land, a little bit of friction kind of helped it bring its arms in, like a figure cater.

But the overall structure is still that that's -- that's pretty large, and that's why this eyewall, this eye is so big, as well. I don't know what it looks like on the satellite. I'm not sure it looks like the classic eye because it's not that strong of a hurricane, but it certainly is wide.

That means that the outer reaches of this thing reach a little bit further inland. We're just at the fringe of where the hurricane-force winds extend, about 60 miles out from the center. So New Orleans might not get, you know, sustained winds like that, but we're getting gusts for sure.

COOPER: And I think I just noticed the lights on the bridge just went off.

MARCIANO: Oh, yes.

COOPER: All night -- or let's walk over there, if we can, a little bit. Whoa! I don't know -- did you see that?


COOPER: That was a big, I guess, transformer that just blew, kind of a greenish, bluish light that just lit up this whole area. But the lights on the bridge over the Mississippi here just went off. They had been on. I think we're about -- and you could -- I don't even know if you can see that bridge anymore from your vantage point on the TV, but it -- the -- those lights -- I guess half the bridge lights just went off.

MARCIANO: Well, you know, we were saying that, you know, we could barely see those lights to begin with. And this is a huge bridge (INAUDIBLE) the G&O (ph) bridge that connects greater downtown New Orleans with the southeastern extent of the city and parishes. And at times when the rain was coming down sideways, you could barely see those lights. And we were going to illustrate that, and sure enough, the lights went out. So there's some more customers -- this one a pretty big one -- that's without power here in New Orleans.

COOPER: I talked to some folks in Amerini (ph) about 45 minutes ago. They still had power. So it'll be interesting to see how much of New Orleans and downtown New Orleans still has power. Last count we heard, more than 200,000 people, though, in the area without power.

MARCIANO: Yes, that many and that many more to come. And then, you know, how much surge we get from this is going to be the other question. We're near the Mississippi River, which, you know, is not going to overtop the levees here. The river itself has been low because we've seen this -- we've had this terrible, terrible drought. So that's created its own sort of problems.

The outflow from the Mississippi has been much less, and we've actually seen the river back up a little bit more than we might normally because the current's so weak. It's actually flowing against or upstream because the winds have been pushing that way.

So a number of rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico are acting the same way tonight. We have a storm surge that's pushing into those rivers that's making for the flow that's not allowing them to drain like they should into the Gulf of Mexico.

COOPER: Yes. And we still anticipate the worst -- the worst of the storm in some areas still to come.

We're going to take another quick break. Our coverage continues on the other side of the break. We also want to talk about what this storm means for people farther inland in Baton Rouge and elsewhere.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: Hey, welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Isaac. I'm Anderson Cooper in the port area of New Orleans. We've just gotten word that the president of Plaquemines parish, Billy Nungesser, who you may remember from the BP oil spill, played such a prominent role, and a vocal role -- his house, the roof, or at least part of the roof has blown off. He joins us now on the phone.

Billy, what's going on with your house?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PLAQUEMINES PARISH PRES. (via telephone): Well, I stopped in to change clothes. We were wet from going down river. And the couple that was staying there with my fiancee, we got about a two- foot hole into the roof. The water's flowing into the house. The back wall of the house actually buckled and the water is coming through the light sockets like you were standing there with a hose. That's the same kind of damage we received on Katrina.

And I'm just blown away that that sort of damage from this supposedly category 1 storm. I was just shocked when I stopped there to change clothes and saw the damage, that the siding's all off the house. And I've got a brick home, and to see the water -- the wind pushing the water through the wall is just incredible.

COOPER: So how much water do you think you have in your house now?

NUNGESSER: Well, it's pouring in through the ceiling. I didn't get up in the attic. There's somebody there trying to patch up the area that -- where it's coming in. But I just stopped to change clothes and had to head up the highway.

But it's -- the whole front yard is covered with debris, and it's very hard to see because the wind and rain is blowing so hard. We've got power poles all over the highway all the way down south. I couldn't make it any further south (INAUDIBLE) because we had reports that the Mississippi River was coming over the banks.

And it was starting to come over, but the Corps has assured us now that that peak at 7:00 to 8:00 o'clock, and the river will stop dropping.

You know, Anderson, we had had a historical low river and had salt water problems right before this storm. We never dreamed that this storm would push water up the Mississippi River to where it would be a foot or two from coming over the banks.

COOPER: Even before the storm, you had a problem with salt water coming up the Mississippi, right?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. We have to stop that operation and move those barge for this storm and at the river badge, we were walking on before the storm in the seal of water. This storm pushed that much water up to Mississippi river to bring it to the top of the levees. We were worried about our back levees, never dreaming that we would look at the Mississippi river, waves washing over this river levee for this type of storm.

COOPER: Billy, you've seen a lot of storms. You've been through a lot of storms. There is a curfew I should point out in Plaquemines parish, just to dawn. How does this storm compare so far to other storms you've seen?

I think we lost Billy Nungesser. We will try to re-establish contact with him. But we have Chad Myers with us.

Chad, you heard the president of Plaquemines parish Billy Nungesser saying water pouring through his walls through the electrical light sockets like it was a spigot. You know, not clear how much water is actually in his house but he seemed very surprised, given the strength of this storm, to see that much water in his house.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Let me tell you exactly what happened to our friend Mr. Billy there. There was a squall that came off of an eye that was trying to form south here of the river, the Mississippi delta. This is the end of the Mississippi. That squall was right there and put down a wind gust at an oil platform of 106.9 miles per hour. That was the wind gust there. And then that cell rotated right in to Plaquemines parish and right over Mr. Nungesser's house. And that's how he can't understand how a cat one can do that because he didn't get hit by cat one winds. He got hit by cat two winds for sure -- Anderson.

COOPER: Is that right?

Now, Piers Morgan is also joining us from Tampa - Piers.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Yes, Anderson honestly, this has really taken over from events here.

What is it like, in reality where you are now, you say -- I think I heard you say three inches of rain so far. I think you're expecting 20. But how have you seen in the last hour in particular the atmosphere changing around you?

COOPER: Yes. And let me bring in Rob Marciano for that, meteorologist.

Piers Morgan is asking how we see the atmosphere changing in the location that we are in. Let's give you a little tour, Piers. Right now we are underneath, basically, like an outdoor patio kind of thing that's been protecting us from the rain. Let's just step outside here for a little bit and you get a sense of the kind of wind we are seeing. The Mississippi river is off to our left. New Orleans itself is more -- downtown New Orleans, the French quarter is down in that direction. But looking over to the light, you really do get a sense of how just much water is pouring through here. It's kind of -- because of the buildings, it's kind of a whirlwind created by the various buildings.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it does redirect the wind, it accelerates it in spots and knocks it down in others. So, we are not getting very accurate wind read. But I can tell you this that just a while you were talking to Billy Nungesser, the winds were shifting just a little bit. And the rainfall that was pouring off the one piece of shelter that (INAUDIBLE) under, now it feels like it's coming from this direction as opposed to this direction.

So, to be basic, you know, whether you stand with your back to the wind, you point left, that's where the center of the storm is. So, we know the storm is moving in that direction towards the south central coastline.

COOPER: Is that easy how to know that?

MARCIANO: Yes, that's it. Sometimes, it can be that easy. So, this -- that little wind shift tells us on the ground that the center of the storm is passing us to our south. So, we knew this hours ago that we wouldn't get the core, center of the storm. Grand isle is getting that. But it's good in that we don't think the hurricane-force winds which extends 60 miles out or about 80, 90 miles from the center, we won't get those sustained hurricane-force winds. The rainfall, my goodness, we're getting that.

COOPER: And Piers, we've been seeing a lot of the transformers kind a blowing in the last 40 minutes or you know. I just saw another one off of the rise and across the river. So, more and likely, you know every time you see that, there's probably more people losing power. The last count we had was more than 200,000 people without power. But by morning, who knows how many people will be without power by the morning. We will continue to follow it, Piers.

MORGAN: We're going to take a short break now and come back more of the coverage. I think the key thing when I come back, Anderson, is get to you, Robert, and talk about exactly what the people in New Orleans could face over the next few hours. And also, how the new reinforcements are holding up to what is going to be a bigger and bigger barrage.

So, we're back after this break.


MORGAN: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage of hurricane Isaac. You're looking at Gulfport Mississippi where the rain is beginning to lash very ferociously there. And the real impact of the hurricane is now being felt all over that region.

Let's go live to Anderson Cooper and Rob Marciano who are in New Orleans.

Anderson, I know it is getting stronger, stronger for you there. The key question would be, the New Orleans, especially those who lived through Katrina would be, what can they expect over the next few hours? How bad is this going to get for the people, do you think? And I suppose crucially, how do you think these reinforcements, which are multibillion reinforcements, are going to hold up to what is now going on?

COOPER: Yes. Well, there's no doubt, you know, the system that is in place now is better than it's ever been. I mean, the levees that were here before were not constructed properly in some places and we saw failures in hurricane Katrina (INAUDIBLE). It wasn't a matt of the water pouring over the top. It was a matter of the levee actually failing and breaking the water going through and that's what flooded much of the city. So they poured $10 billion into this system.

You know, it hasn't truly been tested with the same power of the storm as a hurricane Katrina. This will be a test. There's no doubt about it. But you know, I think it's going to be a long night for people here. You know, there's going to be a lot of people without power. It's going to get very uncomfortable for people.

But folks here have been through storms before. And they know what to expect. You know, they've hunkered down. They bought - a lot of people bought supplies, did what they could to prepare for this thing. They got generators, if they can afford them or they can find them, have extra gas for these generators. But it is going to be a long night. A lot is, you know, things gone bump tonight. Without electricity, you don't know what is out there in the dark swirling around in the air.

And again, the question is, how much water -- where is the flooding going to be from this rain? Even if levees -- you know, the levees will likely hold, given the power of the storm, but how much water is going to be pouring on the ground? Chad Myers said 20 to 25 inches in this short amount of time, as Rob Marciano keeps pointing out. There is going to be water on the ground. There is going to flooding discretion on how much it is and exactly where it is.

MORGAN: And Anderson, no one knows better than you do from Katrina the total breakdown in authority and inability for people on the ground to know who was in charge and the ability of those in charge to make decisions which are going to help.

From what you've seen since you've been back there with this hurricane and this storm now go to hurricane, do you believe that the authorities have got their act together? Do you get a sense of a proper line of command, people taking the right decisions? What do you feel?

COOPER: Well, you know, every disaster is different and, you know, until people are testing with the kind of level of storm they had with Katrina, it's hard to compare. But certainly the level of leadership that we've seen at all levels, at the local level here, there's a new mayor at the state level, the governor Bobby Jindal, even he FEMA responds, the federal government responds, it's a different story than it was seven years ago. It's a very different city that it was seven years ago, very different leadership of the state and the local government. Ad I think you are already seeing that. And we will see much more organization, a much better flow of information. Joint press conferences with the governor and with the mayor. There seems to be, without a doubt, a lot more coordination and probably nobody could talk to that than the president of Plaquemines parish, Billy Nungesser. I'm sure, Piers, if you were able to get him back on the phone. But if he is on the phone, that would be --

MORGAN: Yes. I've actually got him right now. And so, I'm going to go to him straight away.

Billy Nungesser, you are the Plaquemines parish president. You actually lived through Katrina. Tell me exactly what is happening in your home right now.

NUNGESSER: Well, my home is seeing the same damage. I actually rode out Katrina. And I ran for parish president because no elected officials came to Plaquemines parish. We didn't even know, nobody knew that we were even alive in the parish. And I got angry and that's what made me run for public office. But my home seeing the same damage, the wall moving, the roof being blown, there's a three- foot hole in my roof. I'm seeing the same type of damage for a category one than I saw for that. That's not an indication on the bill spent on levees. For instance, we have over $1 billion that I signed with the colonel of the court last month to stock the levees in our parish. It took that long to get them engineered designed, and get right of ways. That work will be done in the next three to five years. We needed time without storms to get them in place, much like what was done in New Orleans.

MORGAN: Billy, explain to me what exact legal is happening in terms of the water coming into your house. Explain the power and describe actually what is going on with your brick work. You were telling me on the break quite dramatic details about that.

NUNGESSER: Yes. The wind -- the gust of wind blowing against the back of my home which sets right above the Mississippi river, you can hear the boards cracking and the water -- the wind is blowing the water through the bricks, through the wall, and the light sockets in the wall are spraying you like you had a hose there.

And that's what we saw from Katrina, that that water -- that wind was pushing that water so hard, it was going through the cracks in the bricks and coming into the home. And that's exactly what we're seeing. And with every gust of wind, moves a foot or so, like it w as breathing in and out. And we had to completely rebuild after Katrina and we're seeing the exact same thing happen for a category one storm. So the winds obviously are a lot higher.

MORGAN: And tell me Billy, is this the worst storm that you have seen in New Orleans since Katrina?

NUNGESSER: Yes, that in (INAUDIBLE) absolutely is. All of the power lines are down all the way south and we couldn't even make it down to south Plaquemines. Remember, Plaquemines parish sticks out in the Gulf 50 miles. Katrina crossed Plaquemines parish before it hit New Orleans. So, we're took the brunt of this storm on that one and we are going again for this storm.

MORGAN: How do you feel the local people are fairing with this one? Obviously, a little more warning than last time. Do they feel confident in the local and state, and federal authorities that everything has been done that can could be done to protect them?

NUNGESSER: Yes. Anderson saw after the BP spill, the flock is - we all got together and work as team. Been able to that under all of the hurricanes and this one as well, we have met several times leading up to this storm. We helped each other out parish to parish. And I believe, this is for the governor, the mayor and the other parish president. We've got a great team effort and that's how we attack the BP spill and that's how we're attacking these storms.

So Anderson is exactly right. It is a lot better cooperated spirit among the government officials.

MORGAN: Billy, stay on the line. We have Chad Myers in our severe weather center. He's going to tell you exactly what is happening in your area right now.

Chad, tell Billy directly. He's there. He is experiencing this power now, the surging power. What is going on?

MYERS: Yes. Billy, about three hours ago there was a wind gust at little oil platform just south of Plaquemines parish, in the water obviously. That wind gust was 106.9 miles per hour. So, you can't believe that what you're seeing is category one, because what you're seeing is category two.

If that wind gust came right over your house in Plaquemines parish from 106 and translated, that was the direction it was going, that what damaged your home, not a 75 mile-per-hour wind. This was a big gust from a very large cell right in the center at the time.

The storm has now since jogged to the west a little bit and is now going to turn up towards the northwest moving away from Plaquemines parish a little bit, but they are getting in brand Isle right now, very hard again with the north side of the eye wall - Piers.

MORGAN: Very dramatic stuff.

We will take a short break now. When we come back, we're going to talk to General Russel Honore. He was the man who led the response to hurricane Katrina and he will - his reaction to what's going on tonight which is the worst spill may seen in that region since.


MORGAN: Covered a breaking news on CNN. You're looking at live pictures from Gulfport, Mississippi, where hurricane Isaac is beginning to lash on land.

Anderson cooper is live in New Orleans.

Anderson, we just talked to Billy Nungesser. And he's in a home not far from you, clearly feeling the full effect. What I thought was striking is he said it's by far the worst storm they've had their since Katrina. And that he was feeling the same effects on his home from the wind down rain that he felt when he was there with Katrina.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, AC360: Yes. You know, I mean, every storm is different. I think Chad Myers pointed out something important which was that there was a wind gust more than 100 miles an hour recorded out on an oil platform not far from Plaquemines parish. And that - I mean, that's a cat two wind gust.

So, those not a cat two storm. That wind gust is likely what impacted Billy Nungesser --

MORGAN: We just lost Anderson there. It's getting increasingly windy and very rain-driven, as you can imagine.

So, we go back to him unless (INAUDIBLE).

For now we'll go to lieutenant general Russel Honore. He is a retired general. He was in charge in response to Katrina.

General Honore, from what you're seeing so far tonight, how does this compare to what you had to deal with in Katrina?

RUSSEL HONORE, RETIRED LIEUTENANT GENERAL, U.S. ARMY (via phone): Well, Anderson, the effects is what we dealt with after the storm. This pre -- this is the first half of this big event, a weekly and post search and rescue. But observing it at that time, it's almost a replay of the drama associated with Katrina. The difference is that we did not evacuate New Orleans in a deliberate mandatory evacuation. So this is a lot more people in the city than we have in Katrina.

MORGAN: Are you confident that with all of the reinforcements, the billions and billions of dollars that was spent, are you confident we're not going to see any scenes even remotely like the appalling scenes that we saw in Katrina?

HONORE: I would say that the levee is a lot better shape. I will not speculate until this incident is over with because we can have isolated incidents that fair on the levee. And I'm convinced now that anything that built by man can be destroyed by mother nature. So, I think we're in a wait and see mode based on what the protections were. I think we could see with the resources we have, more tidal surge damage. It is another story. I think we could have a lot more water in the city from raining, 12 to 20 inches, some of the prediction, and that could still be a problem for the city of New Orleans.

MORGAN: What is the key thing for the people there to do now as the next few hours unfold and as the rain lashes hard and the wind lashes harder, expecting up to 20, 25 inches of rain to fall in a very short period of time. What is the best advice that you would give them based on all of your experience from Katrina?

HONORE: Yes. Those that have power should and have their radio heaping because this storm and the way it's coming through the city, it's spin out the wind, the girth as well as tornadoes. So people need to be aware now that inside this storm can be some very strong wind damage and more even more tornado warnings that have been given for the area. So they need to stay aware and move to the safest place in the house when they get that warning coming.

MORGAN: If people are hit quite hard in their homes and they want to get out, they fear for their lives, what is the advice then? Should they try and get in their cars? Should they drive and run? What do you do if your home is basically beginning to fall apart?

HONORE: Go to the safest place in the home, gather everybody and you got to put some type of a mattress or something over you and your family and then call 911 and get a-hold of emergency services because the power line most likely will be down outside and it's in the dark. It's best to hunker down in the safest place that you can in a home or go your neighbor's house and call the emergency services.

MORGAN: General Russel Honore, thank you very much, indeed.

And now, we're going to go live to John Zarrella. He is in Gulfport, Mississippi where we saw those dramatic live pictures earlier.

John, what is it like there. now, it looks very dramatic to us here. You're right in the middle of it. It's going to get worse. Can you describe for me what is going on now?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can see we really are in the midst of what is the most powerful rain band that we've had here all day.

Take a look out there, Piers, as I walk out a little bit, you probably won't be able to see me. But that is the horizontal rain being whipped by the tropical storm-force winds. Through the light, we're seeing a lot of debris flying, small pieces of branches and tree limbs that we're seeing fly around here now. We haven't seen anything this intense at all throughout the course.

And as I step out, Piers, you can probably see I'm moving away from the hotel, that it does get much more intense as I move this way. In the distance, Piers, that's highway 90 which runs all across the gulf coast here in Mississippi. Beyond that, the gulf of Mexico and as the wind shifts direction and begins to move more inland, that's when they expect to see a little bit more storm surge here. That was one of the biggest concerns they had here, was for water.

And as you know, talking to Anderson and Billy Nungesser and Chad, that you've got storm surge flooding and you've got inland fresh water flooding. Those are always the two biggest killers in any hurricane and those are the two issues that, of course, we are dealing with.

But, again, you can take a look and Peter, give them another shot. Give Piers another shot of that wind whipping through the trees and through the lights there.

MORGAN: Yes, you can see it.

ZARRELLA: People walking in the distance back there. Piers, you can see that. Really, it's really blowing now here. Again, definitely the strongest of the winds that we have seen here. And part of the reason for that, of course, Piers, is that the storm is moving away from us. You know, moving to the northwest and we're east of it. So it's pulling away from us as it moves steadily inland in Louisiana towards the New Orleans area.

But, again, as I move out here, Piers, you can see that it's not letting up at all. If anything, it's just as intense as it has been. So a real steady squaw line that we are in right now - Piers.

MORGAN: OK. I want to bring back in Chad Myers at the CNN weather center.

Chad, you've been following this now for a few days. Is it now unfolding how you expected and what can we really expect over the next few hours? I mean, how bad it is going to be? I think what people need probably locally would be some sense of perspective here.

MYERS: This is going to be a very long-term event, Piers. This isn't going to stop. If you're seeing something bad right now, that bad could continue for four to six hours, no kidding.

John Zarrella is right here. That's probably, I don't know, a good -- right here, Gulfport. This is it right here, on Saint Louis, Biloxi. And that's just the one band coming on shore now and I'm not kidding you when I tell you, that's more than 100 miles from the center.

So if it's progressively worse every couple of miles you get towards the center, you can imagine what's happening in Plaquemines parish right now. That's why there was a mandatory evacuation for all 23,000 people. There's just no way to get these people now safely anywhere else. That's why they needed them out of there. They don't want to put the emergency services men and women in danger trying to save these people.

So, if you're going to take this storm or you are going to drive up here towards Baton Rouge, it's going to take 24 hours to go from here to here. That is about 150 miles. It's a slow-moving storm.

You're going to get pounding wind, pound, pound and then you are going to get the rain coming in with the surge for many, many hours. I've already seen surges now at 11 feet out by shell beach. That's Born, Lake Born, and then the lake Pontchartrain, east of there.

But, there is still a lot water in this bayous and people, the water is coming up. The difference between this and what was Katrina, for the people of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, as this is a completely live through able storm. You don't do something stupid, you will live through it. This is completely OK. It's a blow. It's 40 to 60 miles per hour but it's just a blow. Stay inside and stay safe.

The people here in New Orleans in south Plaquemines parish, you are literally, you are in danger if you are not in the right place. That's why nine parishes down here said get out, mandatory evacuation. When they say mandatory, they are not kidding - Piers.

MORGAN: Yes. It's a serious situation.

We're going to take a break again. When we come back, we're going to get to the real crux of New Orleans and the levees, are they holding up? A very expensive refurbished levees. Are they doing their job? We're going to find out after the break.


MORGAN: You are watching live pictures here from Gulfport, Mississippi, with hurricane Isaac wreaking its havoc now over that whole region.

Let me go live to Anderson Cooper and Rob Marciano, there in New Orleans which is come under three or four inches of rain. They are probably expecting up to 25 inches of rain.

We've lost the shot, actually. It's getting very rough down there. So, we are going to go instead to Ken Holder to the army corps engineer in New Orleans. Mr. Holder, can you hear me?

KEN HOLDER, ARMY CORPS ENGINEER, NEW ORLEANS (via phone): I can hear you perfectly. Thank you.

MORGAN: The key question for people is, how are the levees holding up? These are very expensive reinforced levees put in up to Katrina seven years to the day by extraordinary co-incidence, how do you believe they are holding up?

HOLDER: They are performing exactly as we anticipated they were. They were designed by the army corps engineer and the team here. And that they held up exactly as we anticipated that they would, which is, we are seeing nothing that indicates any sort of danger.

You know, you brought up a really good point and you talked about how most of the system wasn't here during Katrina and now that it is in place and is working. It's now on watch.

MORGAN: They are saying, the local people we've talked to say it's the worst storm, quite comfortably, since Katrina, but no one senses, from an expert point of view, that this is as big as Katrina. Is that the way you're reading it?

HOLDER: Absolutely, and we said that all along. I mean, we have taken a good, hard look at it and said, you know, this system is designed to stand up against a 100-year storm and this is no way, shape, or form a 100-year storm.

Piers, I don't know if you're familiar with some of the work that was done. One of the most important key features is during Katrina, of course, a lot of the flood fighting had to be done within the city and that's just not the case anymore.

We have the surge barrier out at Lake Born, which is 13 miles from the heart of the city. So -- and then there's a 32-foot levee that's out there as well that ties in and that keeps the storm out of the city of New Orleans out of the ninth ward. And then, of course, the premise is 133 miles. We put in at the head of the (INAUDIBLE) canals, we put in three gates and pumping stations where we can now take the water from the city and pump it out. They also keeps storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain from coming into the city. So, -- but it is performing as exactly as we anticipated and everything is working great so far here.

MORGAN: Are you getting any reports from local people yet of injuries or any extensive serious flooding?

HOLDER: We haven't heard any yet. What we have is also a series -- one of the things we learned after hurricane Katrina too is to make sure we had our folks out and embedded where they should have been embedded. And so, we have corps of engineer people in every parish that is affected. And so, we have them out, we have them working. And so, we hear what, you know, is going on right away and we're able to help and adjust and simply we haven't heard that yet. Now president Nungesser is certainly facing a minor challenge and his team seems to be doing very well to meeting that challenge. So, that was really good news. He had the foresight. We enclose highway 23, obviously yesterday and started working on it and finished up today. He had a foresight to come up with this great idea of building a ramp. So, that allowed people to stay as long as they possibly could to see and assess the situation for themselves and then they were able to come over the ramp today.

So we were able to put flood protection in place and they were able to use ramps. So it's working together as a seem that has paid off.

MORGAN: And your advice to local people who perhaps a little bit terrified tonight and wondering what is going to happen, stay inside. But if they start to suffer serious structural damage to their homes, what is the best thing to do then if they can't stay in their homes?

HOLDER: Well, certainly the parishes in which they live all have emergency places where you can go and you can evacuate. And hope -- I would assume -- and most people have made those -- know where those are within their parishes and now how to get there.

I have to tell you, as a communicator, which is what I do for a living, I have never seen such an amazing effort by the parishes, all of them in this area to make just a tremendous effort to make sure their people knew where to go in case of an emergency.

MORGAN: Well, it's fantastic that the community is responding so well. Obviously you all are in our thoughts and prayers for people New Orleans and that whole region coming under this prolonged attack now from hurricane Isaac. It's good to see that everything so far is working as you guyed planned it and I congratulate you and your team. So thank you very much.

HOLDER: Thank you very much and I can't say enough about the role that the media has played, especially CNN. I mean, your crews have been on place and doing what they need to do to let people know what to look out for. You had crews on 17th street last night running in all different --

MORGAN: We appreciate that. We're going to have to go now.

Mr. Holder, thank you indeed for your time.

We're going to take a short break. We will be back after with continuing rolling coverage from CNN. But for now, that's the end of our special coverage on PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.