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Hurricane Isaac Threatens Gulf Coast; Republican National Convention Begins

Aired August 28, 2012 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This Hurricane Isaac is getting closer and closer, closer and closer to the Gulf Coast, New Orleans clearly at risk right now.

Elsewhere in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, we're watching this here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We want to welcome our viewers back. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're also monitoring what's going on at the Republican Convention in Tampa.

I immediately though want to go to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's joining us from New Orleans right now.

The weather is getting uglier and uglier, Anderson. What's it like right now?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is bad. It's not so bad.

We had an outer band of the storm that came through about 10 minutes ago while you were doing the roll call still, really heavy rains.

I'm here with CNN's Brian Todd.

Probably saw the heaviest rain we have seen about 10 minutes or so ago. Seemed to have kind of lightened up, and now the rain is basically just falling straight down.


This is obviously much more of a rain event than a wind event at this point and this what they expected it would be. The governor was saying it will be the pumping stations that will be key, because they're not sure if they will work to full capacity. If they do, that's great. But even if they do, the rain could exceed their capacity, so there could be some isolated flooding in New Orleans, even if the levee system is working. The rain will be key here.

COOPER: Also, that storm surge, we're right on the Minneapolis River in the port area. You can see a couple whitecaps, just a sign of just how strong the wind is at this point.

We do anticipate the wind to pick up though a lot more over the course of the next several hours. But, again, we're expecting a lot more rainfall. I have heard estimates anywhere from 12 to 20 inches of rain.

TODD: That's right. What our Rob Marciano said hours ago is they could get three inches of rainfall an hour. It look like it's coming down at that capacity now. It is going to get worse. It will really be the rainfall probably more than storm surge or possible overtopping from the lake that will really do the damage here.


COOPER: I think we have a connection with our reporter in Grand Isle. I think it's John Zarrella who is over there.

What is the situation, John?

Ed Lavandera, I'm sorry.

Ed, what is the situation in Grand Isle?


Anderson, the Grand Isle, we have had just a little while ago if you have been watching over the course of the last hour or so one of the strongest bands just hit us rather intensely about an hour or so ago. In between that, it has weakened up.

All the homes you see behind me just a little while ago we couldn't even see, the sheets of rain were just whipping through here so intensely, that our visibility had been cut down dramatically. All of that had been completely obscured. We couldn't see it.

But now we're able to see those homes. We're looking back toward the northward where you are, Anderson, here in Grand Isle which about 60 miles South of New Orleans, and this is really end of the road here in Louisiana as you come down from New Orleans, this is it. We're looking back over this way where Hurricane Isaac is coming toward us.

But we can see the storm surge. Right now the winds are still pushing out of the north. You can see that storm surge still pushing water out of the bay back onto the island. But everything seems to be under control right now. I spoke with the mayor here in Grand Isle just a little while ago. He and his team here in Grand Isle are driving around the island, right now, doing a little bit of a survey.

A lot of the roads -- this is very low lying area. A lot of roads have already started to become overwhelmed with water, and that has made driving along this area between Grand Isle and back toward the north towards New Orleans where you are treacherous if not simply impossible today. We

will be watching here throughout the rest of the afternoon, Anderson, towards the south here where the storm surge is expected to come out of the Gulf, at some point, and they're anticipating here we could have several feet of water across several parts of the island. Back in 2008 during Hurricane Gustav, all of this was covered in about three feet of water. We will be watching that closely, Anderson.

COOPER: It was interesting, Brian, the amount of rain we had just about 10 or fifteen minutes ago, it really just gives you an idea of the power of the storm that is still to come. I think we're just starting to get a little bit of taste of it. But this is very early hours.

TODD: You and I have been out in these things many times. When these squalls come, you can barely see and you can barely hear anything. It is very powerful.

They are telling people don't go out in this stuff, if you're curious, or whatever, just don't do it. We saw some people by Lake Pontchartrain earlier. The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, is telling these people don't come go there out of curiosity or anything else. Just don't come out in this stuff.


COOPER: I think that's really important for people who are in this area to realize, just the length of time we're going to be seeing this kind of rain just in terms of their own preparations. I think a lot of people in this city are prepared, certainly have taken it seriously and certainly a lot of lessons have been learned since Katrina.

TODD: Absolutely they have, Anderson.

We talked a lot today and yesterday about how New Orleans wasn't under a mandatory evacuation order. But seven parishes in this area are under mandatory evacuation orders. That's not insignificant. There are a lot of people heeding these orders and getting out of here.

COOPER: There's also a dusk to dawn curfew in Plaquemines Parish.

TODD: That's right, Plaquemines Parish. And the mayor is saying even though the city is not under mandatory evacuation, if you're in those parts of the city that are outside the levee areas, get out. You still may have a little time to do that, not much.

COOPER: I want to just check with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, who is not too far from where we are.

She's in Jackson Square, in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Soledad, when I was there earlier today, preparations were well under way, people nailing everything shut. What are you seeing there?


Very few people on the streets here really. Occasionally someone will walk by with a dog. I think the big concern, as you know, Anderson, is that storm surge, it's the idea of the storm camping out as Chad was just describing for 24 hours or so, certainly rainfall, and then storm surge.

Earlier today we had a chance to go see what they call the wall, and its actual long name is the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier at Lake Borgne and it where the Intercostal Highway and Lake Borgne meet up.

The problem as you remember during Hurricane Katrina was that that Intercostal Highway basically became this giant basic channel so the storm surge could basically rush into the city under that bridge and basically flood parts of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward and even Saint Bernard Parish.

What they have done is create this wall. It's 26 feet from the water up, 200 feet down, water down and runs for two miles across from New Orleans across Saint Bernard Parish. The goal is when they close the big gates, there are three massive gates, when they close them, we saw them close those gates today, basically shuts that down.

There's no channel. That should they are hoping block any storm surge that will rush up as it did and potentially damage the city of New Orleans. It basically moves the perimeter, Anderson, about 13 miles outside the city so the water cannot rush in. For a lot of people here, you and I have both talked to folks quite a bit since we have been here, they feel very comfortable because we know the hurricane is going to be Category 1, maybe 2, as Chad has been talking about.

But also with this new $1.1 billion structure, they feel like something like that could really protect them from storm surge.

COOPER: Yes. A lot of people have been talking this may be the first testament, although with a Cat 1 storm, really won't be probably the full test people would like to see so they have the full confidence for moving forward in the future. We will check in with all our correspondents. We have a lot of correspondents all throughout the region. Stay with CNN for full coverage of the storm.

Right now, let's go back to Wolf though in Tampa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Here at the Republican Convention, Anderson, what a contrast to what you're seeing there on the Gulf Coast.

What's going on behind me, I'm on the convention floor right now, they're twisting and they're shouting. Right now, Mitt Romney is the Republican presidential nominee, and Paul Ryan will be the vice presidential nominee. They're celebrating. They're also getting ready for the big speeches.

We just got some excerpts from Ann Romney's speech, what she will be saying later tonight. We will share that with you -- much more coming up. Two stories, two very, very different stories, a celebration under way here in Tampa and potential disaster along the Gulf Coast. We will be right back.


BLITZER: All right.

Paul Ryan is about to be named the vice presidential nominee by acclimation. He's the only candidate for vice presidential nominee. He is about to get that now. Mitt Romney is the Republican presidential nominee. All of that is official.

Let's go to Candy Crowley. She's up on the podium watching what's going on.

Candy, what are you seeing up there?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We just saw the floor demonstration of what we have known for many months will happen. Now we're getting into the meat of the evening where folks begin to talk.

We have just some gotten excerpts from Ann Romney's speech, she and Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, tonight really the main speakers. She will do at least according to the excerpts we have exactly what we thought she would do, which is talk about her husband in a way that begins to reach out to folks and say here is what he's really about.

One of the passages that sort of struck me was when she says: "I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage. In the storybooks I read, there were never long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming all at once, and those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called M.S. or breast cancer." Of course, Ann Romney has had both.

"A storybook marriage," she says, "not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."

Basically theme seems to be, at least again according to these excerpts, this is the man, that's the recurring theme through some of the paragraphs we're seeing, this is the man that can lead America back to prosperity. This is the man and interspersed in that refrain are very personal stories from Ann Romney.

Again, she's a kickoff witness, as you will, if you will, to those not just in this hall who already voted for her husband really in the roll call vote but to folks out there on sitting on their couches, here is what my husband is about. She is prime-time star of this three-day-long effort to reframe really the answer to the question who is Mitt Romney, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Chris Christie will be the keynote speaker, the very outspoken governor of New Jersey. She will speak before him. He will then kick off his remarks. And we're bracing for who knows what Chris Christie might say. Any indications, Candy?

CROWLEY: Well, I talked to a couple of folks yesterday. And they said, yes, you know, Chris Christie is hugely popular in the conservative base of the Republican Party because he is an in-your- face kind of guy, he's taken on critics, and they love him for that. But I was also told, listen, part of this is about again reaching into the living rooms, reaching to the independents, reaching to those swing voters. Remember, they said Chris Christie is a Republican in a Democratic state. They say last time they looked at the polling numbers, he had about a 50 percent approval rating in New Jersey. May not sound great, but there aren't that many Republicans in New Jersey.

They say, look, he has a history of working with independents, and of attracting independents and swing voters, as well as Democrats. You will hear part of that Chris Christie as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, everyone. They're formally nominating -- Steve King, the congressman from Iowa, nominating Paul Ryan as the vice presidential nominee for the Republicans.

This is going to happen by acclimation. They will not do a former roll call or anything along those lines. It just happened by acclimation. So that's a done deal right now. There's Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader.

Let's listen in briefly to Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Delegates and alternates, pursuant to rule 40(a), a motion to nominate by acclimation is in order. The chair recognizes our distinguished friend from Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, I move that Paul Ryan from the state of Wisconsin be nominated by acclimation by this Republican National Convention as its candidate for the office of vice president of the United States.

Mr. Chairman, Paul Ryan believes in America.


MCCONNELL: Without objection, the previous question is ordered.

The question is on the motion that the Honorable Paul Ryan be nominated by acclimation. All those in favor signify by saying aye. Those opposed say no. In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it and the motion is agreed to without objection.

The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table. Delegates and alternates, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to announce that Paul Ryan has the overwhelming supported of this convention to be the next vice president of the United States.


MCCONNELL: The chair appoints the following great Americans to sever as the escort committee for their brother.

BLITZER: All right, it is official now. Paul Ryan is the vice presidential nominee for the Republicans. Mitt Romney is the presidential nominee for the Republicans. Jim Acosta is on the floor getting some reaction from a family member.

Jim, what have you got?


I am with the nominee's son right now, Josh Romney. He joins me on the floor for the California delegation.

Josh, your mom is going to be speaking here in just a couple of hours. Have you had a chance to look at her speech? Can you give us a preview?

JOSH ROMNEY, SON OF MITT ROMNEY: I can't give you a preview. I haven't seen the speech. I just talked to her, though. She said it's great. She's really excited to give it, I think maybe a little nervous, but very excited. And it will be fun to see her tonight.

ACOSTA: She was saying earlier today she has never given a prepared speech before, something that's kind of been written for her, but she's very natural out on the stump. Where does she get that? Is it just from being in a political family all these years? You obviously can do it as well.

ROMNEY: It's funny. My mom as a child was very shy. I inherited that. I had my mom's shyness as a kid and we both grew out of it.

She grew out of it, and she became very outgoing, a real people person, and she loves it. She loves being on the campaign trail for my dad. So, yes, she has been doing it a long time and has gotten really good at it.

ACOSTA: And your uncle Scott over in the Michigan delegation announced the delegate total for the state of Michigan. This is sort of becoming a family affair for the Romneys. How does that touch you? Is that kind of an emotional moment for you?

ROMNEY: It is really neat to have a lot of the family here. We have a lot of cousins, second cousins and third cousins.


ACOSTA: How many cousins do you have?

ROMNEY: I couldn't count them. So it is fun to have so many people here that are supporting my dad and mom.

It is just a of fun. It's overwhelming to have such great support in our family and elsewhere. You look at the crowd out here. It is just really overwhelming.

ACOSTA: You are a Utah delegate. That's right.

Josh Romney, thanks very much. I appreciate it. Yes, he just told us that a few moments ago, that he is a part of the Utah delegation. We think that's where he is heading in just a few moment -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He lives in Salt Lake.

Let's go to Dana right now. Dana is on the floor.

Dana, you're getting reaction from some Ron Paul supporters in Pennsylvania?


We were discussing earlier the fact there were a lot of Ron Paul delegates here and they put their vote in for Ron Paul, but it wasn't announced from the floor.

I have two of them from the state of Pennsylvania, Tom Broza (ph) Brian Dockerty (ph).

What do you think about what happened here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I just wanted to see the chairman keeping it fair. And I just wanted to see the yeas and nays on the rules. I knew it was going to be very close. I just wanted to record the numbers and I wanted the chair to announce it. He didn't.

I am disappointed in that. But that's the way the cards fell.

BASH: And what about you? I talked to you earlier. You're not happy.


I think if the state chairmen of the state parties from across the nation were willing to announce those votes, the chairman of the national convention should have announced them as well out of fairness.

BASH: We should tell our viewers you knew beforehand his name wouldn't be announced from the podium because of rules of the party, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct. Through the rules of the party, he was not going to be officially nominated and they were not going to announce him on the stage.

But what they did was every state announced how many votes that Ron Paul got. And there were a number of states where he had a majority.

BASH: Right. One last question. You're both here as Ron Paul's delegates. Are you voting for Mitt Romney in November?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the way I was treated here today, I felt like I was picked on a lot by a number of different people, so I'm not too happy about that. And, you know, if I was well-received and no shenanigans, I would have maybe considered it in November.

BASH: What about you?

But I am a loyal Republican, but I'm independent-minded. I want to watch Mitt Romney's candidacy to see whether he will adhere to what got into the platform and see what -- because I want to have a voice in his candidacy and his eventual administration and then I will make my decision.


BASH: Thank you so much.

They will be watching carefully. As you can see, these are two examples of Ron Paul supporters who are not thrilled, to say the least.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very, very much.

All right. We're going to continue to watch what's going on here on the Republican Convention floor. Big speeches coming up later tonight.

A very different picture though coming in from the Gulf Coast, including in New Orleans on this, the seventh anniversary of Katrina. We will go back to Anderson Cooper and his entire team. Take a look at these live pictures coming in from Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.

Much more of our coverage from Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. You see the water beginning to come over the sides of the road. It's a disaster that is unfolding over there. We're watching it all very closely. A very different picture here in Tampa. Stay with us. Our coverage of both of these stories continues after this.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Isaac. You're looking at a live picture of Lake Pontchartrain. You can see the storm as it is hitting Lake Pontchartrain.

Brian Todd, you were out there earlier today. What was it like out there earlier?

TODD: It was a very violent storm surge.

It was just when it was getting started. I'm sure it's worse now. You talked about flooding there now. It was starting to flood there. There were some people hanging out at the edge of the lake, even though the mayor said do not go out there. He was telling people don't go out there, even if you're curious about it, it's your first time out, it is very dangerous. We're now told there are really some violent surges and there's flooding near there. So it's a very dangerous situation if you're near there.

COOPER: It's one of the things that -- and we're going to talk to Chad Myers in just a moment, but it's one of the things in a storm like this, which is going to go on for so long, people are cooped up in the house a lot.

And suddenly a band will come through. The rain will pour down really hard. And then right now, we are in a relatively -- there's -- the clouds are kind of almost breaking. It's gotten a little lighter. There's the temptation to kind of want to get outside.

TODD: It can be very deceiving.

And, as a matter of fact, between one of these rain bands a couple of hours ago, there was a pop of blue sky and almost sunlight out here, so you really do have to be careful. And people don't necessarily realize the danger that they're under. The police were threatening to arrest people on Lakeshore Drive right along Lake Pontchartrain. They are taking this very seriously. They say everyone should.

COOPER: And Chad Myers is joining us from Atlanta.

Chad, it's the water that kills most people during a hurricane, right?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Certainly, absolutely. Unless you're outside and get hit by lightning, I mean, you're talking about being washed away in some of this surge. And that's why we've tried to stress so much that this might not be a great wind-maker.

And don't categorize this thing as a Cat 1 wind. This is a major surge-maker. His is going to push 18 feet of water in some places, I am convinced. We already have eight feet at Shell Beach. Shell Beach is right here on the bottom part of Lake Borgne. This is almost an impossible map to figure out where you are.

But Anderson, you are right there. There's the band that just went by you now. And there's another band just another, say, 20 minutes away from you. And the wind with the next band will be stronger. Every time you get a new band come by, it will be stronger than the next. That will happen all the way until 8 a.m. in the morning. That's how far we are from the closest approach.

And then the winds will shift direction, because you're going to be very close to the eye.


MYERS: Then the winds are going to be coming from the west rather than from the east. This is still a big-time problem for the people that aren't protected by levees tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: Ed Lavandera, who's in Grand -- in Grand Isle, Ed, what are you seeing there? How's the wind?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, you know, we had that one strong band. I think it's been probably an hour and a half ago. And I think we're starting to get that -- that second of the strongest bands that we've seen. It is just now starting to pick up. And that visibility is beginning to drop down again here in Grand Isle.

And if you look just across the street from the home that we're at, we're also starting to see a little of that rooftop start to shred a little bit in the strong winds that we've seen hit here in Grand Isle. So we're keeping our eyes on all of this. That is about the extent of the deterioration that we've seen. Most every structure that I have seen from where we've been seems to be holding up extremely well so far. The power lines are, some of them that I see are starting to sway a little bit. And obviously, that will be disconcerting. That will be the things that just kind of complicate matters here, especially for emergency crews as they try to navigate the roadways.

But you can see the wind is starting to intensify here again as what Chad alluded to, that -- that next band of this rain starting to make its way. And what we're going to be looking out here, Anderson, if you look back out over these homes. The Gulf of Mexico, and the hurricane is just out there. It will be coming at us from that direction. So we'll be watching that storm surge.

And what happens here from time to time, as we make our way around the rooftop where we're -- the second-story house -- of the house that we're staying in here, this is looking back towards you into the bay side of the island. Those homes here in just a little while, as the rains pick up and start swirling all around us intensely, we'll basically lose the ability to see those homes. So it's incredibly dramatic just how intense the rain becomes here in a very short matter of time. And it really clouds the visibility, which obviously makes things much more disconcerting as you stand here and know that things are going to start swirling around as they become kind of dislodged because of these high winds. It is just a matter of time before some of this debris starts flying around and whipping around this area pretty well -- pretty good, as well -- Anderson.


Hey, Chad, if you could bring up just kind of a map -- I don't know if you're able to -- of the waterways. Because we're right now on the Mississippi. But just to give a sense for people who aren't from this area of what the dangers from the water are in terms of where the storm surge might come from?

MYERS: Sure. Absolutely. Eddie Lavandera just had a 61-mile- per-hour wind gust. And he is much closer to the center or the eye than you are. There's Grand Isle right there. And let me turn this on. These will be wind gusts. We'll see Grand Isle got a 54 gust right there. Fort Pilottown, about 51 miles per hour.

Now we'll pan out here, zoom out. And we will kind of take you to the real threat. What's the threat, I think, of where is this flooding going to come from for you. I guess that's the question.

The flooding comes from New Orleans if something fails. If there is a levee that didn't work. If there is a gate that didn't close properly, if there's water that gets into Lake Pontchartrain from Lake Borgne, and let me pan out here. I'll get out one more time. And we'll try to draw all these places for you.

You are -- clear this, too. Eraser. You are right here. You are in New Orleans proper. Here's Lake Pontchartrain up here. There's a lot of water now piling into Lake Borgne. And this is the problem that we had with Katrina. It piled into Lake Borgne, and then it spilled into Lake Pontchartrain. Lake Pontchartrain filled up 11 feet higher than it should have, and then that Lake Pontchartrain water spilled into New Orleans proper.

That has literally been fixed with all of this billions of dollars' worth of improvements, as long as they all work properly. MRGO getting filled up now, where it has the little outlet where the water goes out if you want to take water out of New Orleans and dump it into the ocean as fast as you can. That is now eight feet above where it should. There are protections there for the Lower Ninth Ward.

We're already eight feet above where we should be, Anderson. We've just started. If this continues to go like this -- this is the surge problem we talked about -- this surge could literally be significantly higher than even the hurricane center has forecast.

OK, OK. I hear you, Anderson, but it appears that your mike may have gotten a little bit of water in it. This happens a lot of times. I did so many hurricanes with Anderson in the past. You try to keep your stuff dry, when the rain comes in sideways, everything gets wet. The truck gets wet. The microphone gets wet. You can take the little -- the sponge -- you take the sponge that's on the top of the microphone and you can squeeze it out, put it back on.

Eddie Lavandera, you're right down here, right here in Grand Isle. Again, I'm going to toss it back to you, because you are now in your second big band. What kind of wind are you feeling at this point?

LAVANDERA: You know, Chad, it's really starting to pick up in the last 20 seconds. The intensity has really picked up. Just over to my side -- see if you can get a shot of it again -- some of the siding on this rooftop is starting to peel away. A big chunk of it just blew off into the street. And just as quickly as you start talking. What's fascinating is just how quickly the wind speeds can fluctuate. You know, you talk about those gusts. All of a sudden, just you get a sudden thrust of wind that just almost knocks you off your feet.

And now you can see some of the damage there on that rooftop just across the street from where we are. It's kind of slowly starting to peel away. I think that's what happens, is that these storms, it just takes hours and hours of beating that it takes on these homes. And that's why everything here just kind of starts to slowly deteriorate.

And I imagine that over the next few hours that's what we'll see to a rooftop like that. That's the only damage I've been able to see from our vantage point right here. And, you know, everything else seems to be holding up rather well.

We'll toss it back to Anderson now.

COOPER: Another minute than throw to break. OK.

Hey, Chad, sorry. As you said, water kind of gets into everything. So the mikes are spotty. Trying to just stay on the air as long as we can. We know we have a lot of hours ahead of us.

In the port area where we are right now, if you want to pan over, you can see the Mississippi River. You can already see with the wind picking up, definitely getting more white caps on the river. This whole area is shut down.

TODD: That's right, Anderson. What we're told by Port Authority is that it's shut from the mouth of the Mississippi up to Baton Rouge. Very, very significant. I mean, you know how busy this port is. Huge volumes of commerce come through here: goods, oil, other things. And it's a constant stream. This thing being shut down for at least probably, what, two days. That's very significant for areas way up the Mississippi and St. Louis and around there.

COOPER: Obviously, airports in this region have also been shut down as Amtrak service in this region. They did not do contra-flow, which is getting people to evacuate by changing the direction of the highways, allowing more people out. They decided that, given the strength of the storm, they didn't feel it was necessary.

TODD: That's right. No mandatory evacuations for New Orleans. I think New Orleans was the key here. If New Orleans needed to be evacuated, that contra-flow probably would have been put into effect, just because of the volume of population going out. They don't feel like they need that here. Seven parishes under mandatory evacuation. I guess they have enough avenues out, normally, to get them out. And hopefully, all these people are getting out now.

COOPER: It really is, though, and again this storm is not as big as Hurricane Katrina was in terms of the wind strength, and as Chad keeps pointing out, it's important to not just think about this as a Cat 1 in terms of the wind but really as a strong surge in the storm. But really, a lot of lessons in terms of leadership have been at the state, the local, even the federal level.

TODD: It's amazing. I mean, almost every -- just about every day the governor and the mayor of New Orleans have been out there with very, very detailed information. News conference after news conference, they're putting the word out there, very proactive. You know, a lot of that is being protective on their part, politically and otherwise.

But they also know how important this is. They've got to get the word out. They've got to get to as many people as possible, and they're doing it. I think you're seeing the effects of them. There's been no panic. And, you know, we'll see how -- how the storm comes, and what they do after to patrol -- patrol around and see where the hardest-hit areas are. But so far, the leaders here have been very proactive. And people are heeding their warnings. COOPER: Yes. They have been having news conferences with basically all of the officials together on one podium, which again, is you know, kind of not something you saw seven years ago. And it seems much more orderly and much more controlled.

We're going to have a lot more. You get a sense of just these bands that keep coming. Right now, there's been a real lull. The wind has really died down now, and we'll just continue to follow it over the next several hours and several days, frankly.

Our coverage continues. We'll have a lot more with Wolf Blitzer after this break. More live from Tampa from the Republican National Convention. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: All right. We're watching what's going on here at the Republican National Convention. It's obviously a dramatic moment, because only a few moments ago they formally nominated Mitt Romney to be the presidential nominee of this party, Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, to be the vice-presidential nominee.

You saw them. Erin Burnett is with me. You saw them dancing, partying. They're just getting going, because later tonight, the real celebration will begin with Mrs. Romney will be speaking, Chris Christie will be speaking.

And you know, earlier in the day, I had a chance to speak to the five Romney sons.


BLITZER: The Romney five, over at the CNN Grill. They spoke emotionally about their dad.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about your dad for a moment. Because he wants to be president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's just crazy.

BLITZER: When you think about it, you've got five guys. You grew up. And all of a sudden, potentially, he could be the president of the United States. I mean, that's going to obviously change all your lives, if that happens.

TAGG ROMNEY, MITT'S SON: Yes, but not really. Because at the core of what our family is, we're a family and we love each other. And whether he wins or he doesn't win, those things won't change. And, you know, the values that my dad taught us of integrity and hard work, humility, loving your neighbor, those things will still be at the core of what we do and how we live our life and, you know, how he -- how much or little he succeeds in business or how much or little he succeeds in politics won't really affect the family long term. BLITZER: You probably help him more -- you're the oldest -- in terms of his political campaign than the other -- four other brothers. Is that right?

T. ROMNEY: We've all been -- we've all been very involved. I've taken leaves from work or quit jobs in the past. This time I've got a full-time job.

BLITZER: Just helping him.

T. ROMNEY: Helping him. But all five of us are out on the trail, trying to do what we can and go to fundraisers and speak at rallies.

JOSH ROMNEY, MITT'S SON: If you'd looked here, that answer would have been yes.

BLITZER: You went with your dad to Jerusalem, because I saw you at the King David Hotel. That was a pretty important, not only the London part, the Jerusalem part, the Poland part, that was a pretty important trip for you.

J. ROMNEY: What was interesting for me is how informed people were about the American elections over there. And people came up to me, I mean, and grabbed me by the shoulders with tears in their eyes: "We need your dad as president."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is in Israel.

J. ROMNEY: This is in Israel, and just said, "We need him." And that's when it really struck home to the fact that, you know, people all around the world depend on an American president who understands the economy and also the importance for America for a strong foreign policy in our leadership of the world.

BLITZER: How important was this for your dad? I know you've been to Israel before, but this current trip?

J. ROMNEY: Yes, I think it was very important. He met with a lot of leaders over there in Israel and Poland. I think it really helped him form some of the issues and understand some of the turmoil that's going on over there. I think it was very important for him.

BLITZER: And John Boehner, speaker of the House, he's going to be speaking here, as well. He said your dad was shy, humble, doesn't like to talk about himself. Is that the same person you know?

CRAIG ROMNEY, MITT'S SON: I think so. I mean, he's -- I wouldn't exactly call him shy, but he is a humble guy. And he doesn't like to talk about his achievements, but fortunately, he has a lot of people he's met throughout his career who do like to go out and talk about what -- you know, the amazing accomplishments he has, whether that's -- you know, as governor, as a business leader, as the leader at the Olympics. He's had some tremendous success.

BLITZER: And so when you hear these negative things that his political critics out there throw at him, and you know that some of them, a lot of them aren't true, what goes through your mind when you hear some of the awful suggestions out there in some of these ads or whatever?

C. ROMNEY: It's obviously difficult to hear people criticize your dad, you know, especially knowing what kind of man he is, a man of such great integrity and character, but we understand that that's part of the political process. We understood that that was what was going to happen when we got into this race. That's something you just have to deal with, and kind of let it roll off the...

BLITZER: How open should he be in his speech? There's going to be tens of millions of people Thursday night listening to his speech. How personal should he get versus substantive policy kinds of stuff? What would you like to see as far as a mix is concerned?

T. ROMNEY: It needs to be a good mix. He doesn't want this to be an "American Idol" contest based on -- based on personality and popularity. He wants it to be about the issues that matter, getting the 23 million Americans that are out of work back to work. Bringing our debt down. Those are the things that -- that's the reason he's running is to fix those things.

At the same time, he recognizes people want to know who he is, and so he'll share with people and let other people talk about what drives him as a person.

BLITZER: On the polls, you've seen these polls, Matt, on the likability. President Obama seems to be more likeable among voters, potential voters than your dad is. You like your dad a lot.

MATT ROMNEY, MITT'S SON: I love my dad. You know what...

BLITZER: Why is there -- does he have this problem as far as likability is concerned?

M. ROMNEY: For me, it's really an issue of people getting to know him. I don't think people really know him that well yet.

BLITZER: He's been around a long time.

M. ROMNEY: He's been around, but so has President Obama. And people have seen him in lots of different settings. People haven't seen my dad in a lot of different settings. We see him as a father and as a grandfather. And you wouldn't believe how great he is with my grand -- with my kids, his grandkids. He's just -- they absolutely adore him. And people will get a chance to see him in a different light.

BLITZER: Because I noticed that, and let me let Ben weigh in. You're the youngest, right?


BLITZER: Craig is the youngest. All right. But you're still a young guy. When I -- when I was with him, private time, he is very likeable. He's very open. He's got a great personality. But sometimes he holds back when he gets out there before the camera. And you know, I think that's a potential problem out there, because I covered Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, when you saw him behind the scenes, in front of the scenes, he was Bill Clinton. Your dad seems to be reluctant to really open up once the cameras are rolling.

B. ROMNEY: Yes, I'm not going to presume to -- to try to give him any advice on this. I think myself, not necessarily the political expert on this, as well, but you know, I think he's letting himself be out there as much as he can. And I think people are going to get a chance to know him, especially at this convention. People are going to get a chance to see him and my mom, so they'll get a chance to form their opinion for themselves.

When people get a chance to see him on the campaign trail, when they actually get a chance to see him speak in person, he is so animated, so passionate. It really makes a big difference.

BLITZER: Yes. And let's talk a little before I let all of you go about the five of you. Who wants to follow in your grandfather's footsteps and in your dad's footsteps and be a politician? Raise your hand right now.

T. ROMNEY: I'd like to follow my grandfather's and my dad's footsteps, just not the political part.

BLITZER: Because everybody keeps suggesting you...

T. ROMNEY: No, it's Josh that they usually suggest.

BLITZER: What do you think?

J. ROMNEY: I think each of us are just really focused on getting my dad elected. I haven't really thought beyond that.

BLITZER: Sounds like a politician right there.


BLITZER: That's what all the politicians say when I ask.

T. ROMNEY: Someone asked me the other day if it was important for my -- for my grandfather's legacy for my dad to win. And the thing that I stress is, my grandfather's legacy wasn't about politics or business. It was about the way you treat people, the way you raise your family, the way you live your life. And that's -- that's what all five of us are trying to emulate and trying to walk in those footsteps. The other stuff doesn't matter merely so much.

BLITZER: And so nobody wants to acknowledge that they have a political ambition?

M. ROMNEY: No ambition.

BLITZER: No ambition?

M. ROMNEY: None.

BLITZER: You want to be -- you're a doctor. You're doing your residency right now. Radiology?

B. ROMNEY: That's right.

BLITZER: Do you ever think of, like, becoming a chief medical correspondent on CNN or anything along those lines?

B. ROMNEY: How do you get those...

BLITZER: Sanjay does a pretty good job. He's a neurosurgeon, but maybe you've got a potential out there. We don't know.

One final thought from each of you. And let me start all the way over here with Craig. Give me a final thought. Two months to go, basically, between now and election day. A thought about your mom and dad as you go forward.

C. ROMNEY: You know, just extremely proud of them at this time. You know, they've come a long way. And my mom has fought through her disease. My dad has -- has been, you know, tirelessly campaigning and getting his message out there about getting the country back on track and we hope -- wish him success.


J. ROMNEY: I think they're doing this for all the right reasons. They care a lot about people and helping people, and that's why they're in this. My dad does not need this for his ego or anything like that. He's in this to help people who really are struggling in this Obama economy.

T. ROMNEY: And I hope people get to know how generous my mom and dad are and how kind they are and how important it is for them to reach out to others and try to lift up the lives of others around them.

M. ROMNEY: You know, there are a lot of different opinions, a lot of different factions, but the thing that unites us, really, is our concern about the economy. We all need the economy to get better. And as I look at my mom and dad and their challenge over the next few months is to convince voter that he really can fix the economy; he can turn it around.

B. ROMNEY: I want to say, I love my mom and dad so much, and I am -- I'm so proud of them. And I really think we need them in the Oval Office for -- for lots of reasons.

BLITZER: You guys are five great sons. Whatever they say about your mom and dad, they raised five terrific sons. How many grandchildren, 18?

T. ROMNEY: Eighteen. BLITZER: Eighteen grandchildren.

T. ROMNEY: They're making all the noise back there.

BLITZER: I just met some of them. All pretty precocious and very, very adorable. Guy, thanks very much for joining us here in the CNN Grill.


BLITZER: My conversation earlier in the day over at the CNN Grill.

John King is standing by. John, I really enjoyed spending some quality time with those five sons. And it's true, you know, everything they say. I think they really do really love their mom and dad.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, people watching at home, some are them are probably not Mitt Romney supporters, but whether you favor or oppose the Republican nominee, he is the Republican nominee now, Wolf. He does have a great family and they're part of the story they're trying to tell at this convention tonight.

The five boys you just talked to there understandably, and we'll allow them to be biased. Their dad is now the Republican nominee for president of the United States. Their mom gives a very important speech in prime time tonight.

Let's discuss that ahead with me up here in the sky box. David Gergen, Gloria Borger, Alex Castellanos and Donna Brazile.

Donna, we're at the Republican convention, and you're at my far right. I don't know what to make of that.

David, let me start. You know, people say Mitt Romney, he comes across as stiff; he seems distant, sometimes seems aloof. The Obama campaign has spent millions of dollars saying he's rich and he doesn't care about you, meaning middle-class America. And then they say, well, Ann Romney, she's the antidote. How much can she do in one speech, even if she is brilliant?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- I think she can do a lot, actually. A lot of people will be tuning in tonight, partly because it's a convention, partly because of the storm. And she has, you know, 20 to 30 minutes up there to tell his story.

And she has done -- I think tonight between 9 and 10, they have their two best sales people for Mitt Romney. One of them at the personal side with Ann and the other, Governor Christy, who can do -- talk about the policy side.

And she has a way, as she showed in Gloria's documentary, which I think really was so revealing about Mitt Romney, that she can warm him up. She can tell you things about his faith, for example, which had been so mysterious during this campaign. That -- that give you a sense that here's actually a caring man. He not only has these sons and these 18 grandchildren, but he actually cares about people beyond his family.

And I think that can make a significant -- His goal here tonight is not to make people love him or even to like him, but to like him in the Oval Office. That's where he wants to be.

KING: Interesting way to put it.

Gloria, you did spend a fair amount of time with Ann Romney doing your documentary, "Romney Revealed."


KING: Some spouses do this because they have to. Other political spouses do it because they like it. They actually enjoy being a partner, an important partner but they also enjoy the spotlight.

BORGER: Right.

KING: Where does Ann Romney fit?

BORGER: I think she's a little of -- I think she's a little of each. What she told me was that they discuss everything. I'm sure they discussed the vice-presidential pick. She has been a real partner. She was kind of slow to come to politics, wasn't natural at it. But I would argue, neither is Mitt Romney a natural at politics.

And what she helped me understand is a little bit about what's in his head when he seems stiff and aloof. And it goes back to his father, who made -- who was a very brash politician, made a bunch of mistakes and ruined his political career. And one could say that maybe Mitt Romney overlearned his father's mistakes and therefore has become so candid that he self-edits every time he's out there, and so people feel like there's -- there's a real distance. What she does is she says, "You know what? There is a real guy behind that facade, and I know who he is." And she can be the character witness to that -- to that person.

KING: And the fact that he needs a character witness, Alex, is that a weakness or does every candidate need a character witness?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it never hurts, but I think Romney especially needs to be someone you can connect with.

But let's not underestimate how difficult that is here. You're trying to reveal a human being, what he loves and what he feels, at a political convention: balloons, funny hats. It's a political circus. This is not the place you'd prefer to do it.

Ann Romney is one of the few people who probably is just so genuine and warm, who could maybe break through that tonight. That's going to be her job, but it's a very tough one.

KING: Donna, 12 years ago, even though he'd been vice president for eight years, people said Tipper Gore had to do that it for Al Gore. You managed that campaign. What do you tell the spouse when they're going out to be that character witness?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Of course be yourself. Try to give us a glimpse into the personal life, the man, the person.

I'm sure that Ann Romney is a confidant. Can share with us some stories that Mitt Romney will never tell the American people. She's a top surrogate for the campaign. She's overcome personal -- personal odds. So this is a very important moment for her tonight, as well.

KING: A busy -- Alex, hold that thought. We need to go. We'll come back to you tonight. A very busy night, important night ahead. The first big night of the Republican National Convention. Ann Romney speaks on her husband's behalf. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, gives the keynote address.

Also a lot of key battleground state Republicans will speak tonight. We'll also get an exclusive interview with Mitt Romney's pollster and the Magic Wall. Our prime-time coverage of the Republican convention begins in just a moment.