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Storm Isaac Threatens New Orleans; Republicans Move Ahead with Plans for National Convention; Grand Isle, Louisiana Under Mandatory Evacuation; Weathering The Storm; Plaquemines Parish Waits For Isaac; RNC Gets Its True Start Today; Young Voters Overwhelmingly Support Obama; Humor Columnist Covers Convention

Aired August 28, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. You're watching a special edition of "Starting Point," and we are coming to you live this morning from the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Our "Starting Point" this morning is Isaac on the verge of becoming a full blown hurricane right now and taking aim at Louisiana, the biggest threat storm surge and rainfall. CNN forecasters are predicting flood waters up to 12 feet. And with an eye on Isaac, the Republicans press ahead with the national convention in Tampa.

We've got a packed show for you this morning. We're going to be talking to New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, Louisiana senator, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter will join me. Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia is my guest and columnist, Joel Stein, will join us.

It's Tuesday, August 28th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning. We're coming to you live from the French quarter in New Orleans. Our "STARTING POINT" this morning is tropical storm Isaac, it is gaining strength and has overnight, and it's closing in on the Louisiana coast. The storm is expected to make landfall tonight or early tomorrow morning as a category one hurricane.

Storm surge and potential flooding are the biggest concerns right now. Isaac is expected to bring as much as 20 inches of rain when it hits, could create storm surges up to 12 feet. Thousands of people in Louisiana, in Mississippi, and Alabama are evacuating. We've found many though, even here in New Orleans who have decided to hunker down and ride out the storm.

Here's a live picture of Jackson square this morning, St. Peter's street, a slight wind. We've had rain on and off as well. The big question for the folks in this city and outside the city, will the updated levees and pumps hold against Isaac?

CNN has got coverage for you this morning of tropical storm Isaac. Let's get right to Rob Marciano live this morning at the Port of New Orleans. Hey, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad. You're right about the levee and pump situation. That stuff is all beefed up and ready to go. They had a bit of a dry run during hurricane Gustav in 2008 but even more work has been done since then. It is not a hurricane yet but might as well be, 70-mile-per-hour winds and huge moisture field as well. The last couple frames of the satellite picture, the signature is becoming more classic, on the verge of becoming a hurricane officially. It's 150 miles southeast of New Orleans proper and heading directly for the French quarter and crescent city at 12 miles an hour. Forecast track highlights that.

But at this stage of the game, the exact track is really of no consequence because so many people are going to be affected from Morgan City all the way up to Biloxi, the Gulfport area there. And the surge, anywhere from six to 12 feet, so they are fairly confident that levees we saw yesterday and I had the opportunity to fly over yesterday afternoon with the coast guard and elaborate system, 133 miles worth of this stuff, flood gates, canal closures and pump systems that are going to be put to the test when hurricane Isaac makes its way onshore.

Again, a six to 12-foot storm surge expected. On top of that the rainfall is going to be excessive. This is what we expect for forecast rainfall totals, 10 to 18 inches of rain expected of a long duration event. This is probably going to be a longer duration event than hurricane Katrina. I know we keep making comparisons to Katrina. It is a weaker storm and not as big, but it's going to be moving slower. It's going to be longer duration wind and rain event. The question really Soledad, is we think the levees will hold up but how about the pump systems? They are only designed to pump an inch an hour and during a hurricane you can get three to four inches per hour. I think it's likely we'll see some flooding. The question is, how bad is it going to be?

O'BRIEN: That's the big question today. When you talk about making comparisons to Katrina, tomorrow will be the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina, something here in the gulf coast area knows very well. The massive storm triggering hurricane warnings along a wide stretch of the gulf coast, including the entire Mississippi coast, some spots very, very familiar with disaster. Katrina storm surge totally smashed homes in places like Waveland and Gulfport and long beach on the eastern side of the storm, killed more than 200 people in the state. Seven years later, those places are in the same dangerous position. Many people are evacuating there. David Mattingly is live in Gulfport with more on what's happening there. Good morning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. What we're looking for right now is a lot of rain coming this way. When people look back at Katrina seven years ago, they talk about the storm surge. Storm surge from that storm would have been six to 10 feet over my head where I'm standing right now. They are not expecting anything like that with Isaac as it comes ashore. Instead they are going to be looking at a lot of rain and flooding in low lying areas.

But so far two out of the three counties here on coastal Mississippi have declared mandatory evacuations for people living in some low- lying areas. But again, those evacuations are targeted. It's not a massive evacuation across the coast. Everyone, however, watching the storm closely. Over the years since Katrina, there's been a lot of rebuilding going on here all across the Mississippi coast, rebuilding structures and rebuilding infrastructure and roads and bridges and higher, stronger than it was before. And right now people are looking to this storm with more confidence than they would have been prior to Katrina but at the same time still treating this storm with respect. Watching to see what it's going to do now. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: David Mattingly for us in Gulfport. Appreciate the update.

Time to get the latest. Richard Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center. Let's talk with what rob Marciano and David were telling me, storm surge and rain. Has to be the biggest concerns right now.

RICHARD KNABB, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: People often think of the hurricanes and tropical storms as primarily wind storms but that's just part of the equation. The water components are often the more deadly and sometimes the more damaging and we have two water hazards, the storm surge from the rainfall that could lead to inland flooding. Now, the storm surge still the potential on the Mississippi coast, southeast Louisiana is six to 12 feet in some spots, depending on exactly where the winds are pushing into the coast. That's why folks have been -- some folks have been told to evacuate from particular areas that are the most vulnerable.

It's not just going to be a coast alley vent. As it moves inland, this large tropical storm, we're still anticipating to become a hurricane, is going to move slowly inland. It's the large size combined with the slow motion that's going to contribute to very large rainfall totals as this moves inland. And even outside this cone we could see very heavy rainfall totals. Some spots could see as much as 20 inches. That could lead to significant flooding and river flooding in a few days.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask a couple of questions, Richard. You talked about the eye wall forming and not forming. What's the significance of that and the fact it's slow moving, that means all of the rain is going to sit over whatever area that's happening, correct?

KNABB: Yes, the last few days Isaac has been struggling to develop a solid inner core and takes baby steps along the way. It's getting closer and closer and even right now, we see a blow-up of thunderstorms near the center the air force reconnaissance plane showing the pressure falling a little more, all indications it's getting there but hasn't getting over the threshold to become a hurricane yet.

The other component is driven by the steering current around it and there's going to be a little bit of blocking high pressure ridge that will keep this from moving quickly inland. For any one spot in the area where it's going to be moving ashore, and this whole swath of moisture could drop a lot of rain for a lot of people. And that's the inland flood risk that we're concerned about. Inland flooding historically has been responsible for a lot of fatalities and tropical storms and hurricanes come ashore. So it's not just going to be a coastal event.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Richard. We'll see you at the top of the next hour to get another advisory update from you.

Folks living here in New Orleans are hoping that $10 billion in improvements to the levee system will hold during what is now the first real test. Senator David Vitter went out with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He's with us this morning. Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: You've embedded yourself in the army corps of engineers. What did you want to figure out?

VITTER: This is going to be some sort of a test of the post Katrina system so I want to see how we all perform in the test including the corps of engineers in terms of their preparations and processes. I'm going to be with them all through the storm.

O'BRIEN: You've been very critical of them in the past. Yesterday we had weather like this, a little bit balmy, doesn't feel, rain on and off. How was yesterday?

VITTER: All of preparations seem really strong. We'll see how everything goes. Apparently this won't be a very, very string ent test, knock on wood because it will remain a relatively weak hurricane. We're hoping for that. It will be an important test for the system.

O'BRIEN: You've evacuated your family.


O'BRIEN: A lot of people are not evacuating.

VITTER: Yes. I think that's reasonable given the strength of the storm. I got them out of town so I could do my work and I knew they were safe. Given this nature of this storm, I think it's reasonable that most people would stay.

O'BRIEN: What's your biggest concern right now?

VITTER: My biggest --

O'BRIEN: Is it flooding, as we just heard from Richard Knabb?

VITTER: My biggest concern is not with the system that's been built since Katrina. It's with all of the areas outside that system. We really built the system for the last storm. There are major populated areas outside of that system, Western St. Charles, lower Jefferson, those are very, very vulnerable areas with significant population in them.

O'BRIEN: Many of them have already evacuated in some cases, like Plaquemines had mandatory evacuation. Of course seven years ago, hurricane Katrina, anybody who lived through that or even a reporter who came to cover it, it brings back a lot of bad feelings and anxiety. Is that what you're seeing? VITTER: Yes, but, again, people in this area are very experienced and know this is not Katrina. So I think they are taking the proper precautions and taking things seriously without panicking.

O'BRIEN: I know there are some gaps that you found as you've been doing this chore with the Army Corps of Engineers. What are the gaps, and have they been fixed?

VITTER: These have been known and identified for quite some time. They are about eight specific discreet small gaps where the corps has to come in with temporary measures when a storm is coming like this. Usually that means one of two things, temporary sheet piling into the ground or big baskets --

O'BRIEN: Mesh sort of --

VITTER: With sand bags.

O'BRIEN: We'll check in with you again tomorrow morning so we can see how the second day went for you. Nice to have you.

VITTER: Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Good luck today.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we'll continue our special live coverage here in New Orleans. The storm clouds from Isaac taking center stage at the Republican National Convention taking place in Tampa. What happens if there is a major flooding event here? What would they do with the event? Would they cancel it? We'll talk to Congressman Randy Forbes up next. We have to take a short break and we're back in just a moment coming to you live from New Orleans.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Roman. Minding your Business this morning, U.S. stock futures are higher. We get new data on home prices later this morning. Everyone is waiting for big summit in Jackson Hole later this week. Debate rages on whether Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke will hint at further form of economic stimulus.

Investors watching oil and gas prices as Isaac fast approaches the gulf coast, emergency preparations under way there. Nearly 80 percent of oil production has been halted in the region. And 48 percent of national gas shut down 346 platforms and 41 rigs have been evacuated. Analysts say gas prices could rise 10 cents in the coming weeks from the storm.

And Apple is calling for eight Samsung phones to be yanked off store shelves after winning the $1 billion patent lawsuit. If you see your phone listed on here, watch out for the next hearing with the judges in California on September 20th on this new request in Apple, a total of 16 Samsung phones and here are a few of them, were found to infringe on the design patent in the largest tech patent suit of our time, a suit that Apple solidly won. Soledad? O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you.

Our top story this morning is tropical storm Isaac expected to turn into a hurricane with the mass side and slow movement. The storm is gaining strength as it heads to the gulf coast. Karen Maginnis is live at the CNN hurricane headquarters in Atlanta.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We heard from the head of the national hurricane center and says all of the ingredients are there to make it to category one hurricane before making landfall. Should this make landfall, across Louisiana coast, more specifically in the New Orleans area.

One of those things is the possibility of tornadoes. And I want to show you what we are expecting. The possibility of damaging tornadoes here because we get those bands that move onshore as they do, they have the potential to spawn tornadoes.

Right now the information you need to know is that we're supporting 70-mile-per-hour winds with the tropical system, but perhaps during the overnight hours, a category one making landfall sometime during the early morning hours of Wednesday as a category one hurricane. For Lake Pontchartrain, this could mean wave heights of about 10 feet. For some of those coastal areas, we could see 20-foot seas and potential for as much as 20 inches of rainfall. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Karen, thank you. We'll continue to check in with you throughout the morning.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, as we continue our special live coverage from New Orleans. We continue to follow Isaac and it's clouding start of the Republican national convention, some saying that maybe the event should be canceled if the event looks very bad. We'll talk with Congressman Randy Forbes coming up next.


O'BRIEN: Good morning, you're looking at the live picture of Gulfport, Mississippi. It looks like a beautiful day, but you can already see the water from the surge coming in. We're monitoring that. David Mattingly is there this morning. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. We're tracking tropical storm Isaac which is expected to be a category one hurricane in the next 24 hours or so.

The other big story is in Tampa, Florida, former Governor Mitt Romney flying there this morning. He's going to be formally nominated for president after a roll call vote. John Berman is at the CNN grill in Tampa.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight in Tampa the spotlight will be on a different Romney, Governor Romney's wife Ann scheduled to speak and New Jersey governor Chris Christie is scheduled to give the key note address. This is under the cloud of Isaac bracing for impact. I'm joined by CNN White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin and Republican Congressman Randy Forbes from Virginia. Congressman Forbes, there has been talk about what is the right thing to do or not do with this convention while Isaac bears down on New Orleans. What do you think?

REP. RANDY FORBES, (R) VIRGINIA: Obviously we're concerned about all of the individuals in New Orleans, Mississippi, wherever this could hit. We want to make sure they are safe. In our country there's a lot of challenges and we're going to continue to deal with all of the challenges. It would be nice if we could deal with each individually, one we have is how to get the economy back on the road it needs to go on and create jobs. While at the same time making sure we're monitoring what happens with the hurricane.

O'BRIEN: Radio talk show host say rush Limbaugh saying the media and Democrats are making more out of the storm than we should. Let's listen to that.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The media is out there saying that hurricane Katrina is now hanging like a paw over the Republican convention in Tampa. So this whole thing has been politicized as the Democrats politicize everything. The hurricane center is the regime. The hurricane center is the commerce department, it is the government, it's Obama.


BERMAN: Is this being politicized?

FORBES: We hope it won't be. Our biggest concern is the victims that could be there. As I mentioned before, Americans all across this country are very, very concerned about getting this country back on the right track and economy going and creating jobs and I think they will listen to that message as well. Americans will have a lot of challenges as we move through the next several years.

BERMAN: Quickly, the "New York Times" picked today to talk about FEMA and what the Republicans have done over the last few years with FEMA. Here is a quote, "Between 2010 and 2012 house Republicans forced a reduction of 42 percent in primary grants for FEMA." What do you think?

FORBES: First of all, John, one of things you have to look at, any of the grants that came into place, the president had to sign them into law so he must have supported them. What we hear from people across the country is the big concern about what this president has done to national defense. We cut national defense by $800 billion. That's not millions, that's billions and trillions. And that's the big thing we want to make sure we're turning around for the country.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're on record voting for those cuts, by the way. Let me turn to tonight for a moment. You're from one of the most important swing states and both candidates vying for Virginia, three major speakers, Rick Santorum, Ann Romney, Chris Christie. Who are you looking forward to the most?

FORBES: There's no question we have three great speakers but Ann Romney is the one I'm looking forward to hearing. The more people see about who mitt Romney really is the more people are going to say they want him to be the next president of the United States and between now and November people are not just going to hear about the person of mitt Romney but his ideas and vision for this country. And I think that's what they are excited about.

BERMAN: Congressman Forbes, thanks for joining us. You can watch the speeches tonight on CNN. Then our primetime coverage begins tonight at 7:00 eastern time with Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper and the rest of the political team later during the 10:00 p.m. hour, Ann Romney will address the delegates and at midnight. Don't miss Piers Morgan who will wrap up day one of the Republican convention, all tonight right here on CNN. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you, still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT as we continue our live coverage of tropical storm Isaac from New Orleans. We'll tell you the story of a woman whose home was completely gutted during hurricane Katrina seven years ago but she says she's not going anywhere this time around. She's done. We'll tell you why she's weathering the storm in her home in Saint Bernard Parish coming up next. You're watching STARTING POINT, and we're back in just a moment from Jackson Square.


O'BRIEN: Good morning, everybody. We're coming to you live from the French Quarter in New Orleans this morning. We're tracking Tropical Storm Isaac. It's picking up steam and slowing down as well, which means it's going to be a serious rain threat.

It could make landfall by tonight, late or early tomorrow morning. Seven years from the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated this region.

As Isaac barrels through the Gulf of Mexico, here is what it looks like from space. NASA satellite imagery showing the huge storm moving into the gulf, sights set on New Orleans and the areas surrounding New Orleans.

We want to get right to meteorologist, Rob Marciano. He is at the Port of New Orleans for us this morning. Rob, good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad. We are at the river front here just real close to where the cruiselines line up and pick up and drop off their passengers. That's not happening today.

Much of the ports is closed, at least some of the bridges that are open and closed via draw bridge. The bridge you see behind me, an iconic structure, the Dish Span Bridge there. The GNO as they like to call it locally.

Notice one thing underneath the bridge is the white caps on the Mississippi. It looks to be flowing the wrong way, which can happen in these things. It happened in Gustav when we had persistent east and northeast winds. And that's what been seeing all night long so at least the top service of the water looks to be flowing in the wrong direction. So this is one of the battles that we're going to be up against today as this storm gets a little bit closer.

You've got rivers that will be at times kind of be getting backed up. You're going to have the storm surge that comes in with the storm anywhere from 6 to 12 feet of it. Not only on the east side of New Orleans, but around the lake area and also across South Western Mississippi, and then the rainfall as well.

We have been showing the satellite picture, 70-mile-per-hour winds. On the verge of becoming a hurricane, but the bigger story will be the slow movement and Soledad mentioned that and the tremendous amount of rain that we're going to have with this. This will be a longer duration event than Hurricane Katrina was.

The winds will be around longer and rainfall will be around longer and those -- that combination will have some dramatic effects on the city of New Orleans and also points especially north and eastward.

These are things we're watching, not much in the way of evacuations here, Soledad. Outside of the protection of the city walls, the levees, the people have been on the move for a day and a half for good reason -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all those low lying areas know that they are in some serious risk there. Rob Marciano, continuing to monitor it for us this morning. Thank you, Rob. Appreciate it.

With hurricane warnings in effect, there are thousands of people in those low lying areas along the gulf coast that have been told they got to evacuate and that includes a tiny fishing village, which is called Grand Isle in Louisiana.

They now have a mandatory evacuation order there. It's where CNN's Ed Lavandera is for us live this morning. Ed, tell me a little bit about Grand Isle. We know that story obviously from the BP oil spill. They've asked everybody to get out. How are folks doing there today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there's a handful of people left on this island, Soledad, this morning. And all indications are in the next few hours many of these people will have left.

We're at the home by a man of name of Dean Blancheard and he has a huge shrimping business down here in Grand Isle. This is his home that we will be using as our bunker throughout this storm. If you look back towards the gulf this way, you can see the darkness in the clouds.

We're just now starting to get the first rain drops falling on us here in Grand Isle. The wind had picked up significantly throughout the night, but this is the first time in the last few seconds that we started feeling the first initial drops of rain. So we anticipate the weather conditions here to only deteriorate further here and quickly in the next couple of hours. We're expecting storm surge up to 7 to 8 feet. That will be the big concern here. We'll be monitoring it closely for you -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, and we'll be monitoring you closely. Please stay safe and Mr. Blancheard as well and anybody who is staying there even though they've been told they need to evacuate. Ed Lavandera for us this morning. We're going to continue to check in with Ed throughout the day obviously.

Here in New Orleans, the mayor, Mitch Landrieu is not issuing an evacuation order for the city. He is though urging people who live outside the levee system to leave.

He told others, quote, "if your plan is to go, now is the time to go." Jackie Grosch is a resident of St. Bernard Parish. She says she's going to stay. First met Jackie back in 2005 right after Hurricane Katrina.

Actually, you saw her house completely destroyed. All that was left was a spiral staircase and she told me why she's riding out the storm.


O'BRIEN: We're in Saint Bernard Parish and we spent a lot of time over the last seven years in the parish, and also literally on this corner. See this sort of hill right there.

That's part of the levee system in St. Bernard Parish and that is what was supposed to protect a lot of the homes here when Katrina hit. They actually were hit by the storm surge reported to be 22 feet high in this neighborhood, wiped some of the homes straight out the foundation.

This home here belongs to Jackie and Gerald Grosch and over the last seven years, we have come back to visit them time and time again to see how they are doing. Their home, post Katrina, immediately afterward, was completely gutted.

You can walk through the living room in fact because the walls had been blown out. Years later, they started rebuilding and they've done a number of renovations and rebuilding to their home.

When we spoke to Jackie just a few minutes ago, she said to me she has absolutely no intention of leaving for Isaac.

Why are you not leaving?

JACKIE GROSCH, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT: Well, it gets old after a while.

O'BRIEN: Packing up?

GROSCH: Packing up and taking journey to where we're going to go. You have to find somewhere to go so we decided to stay. We thought about it and decided to stay.

Zoe's mom works at Aushener so she had to be on duty tonight. So she's here with us. She had the chance to leave with my son, my daughter-in-law and go to Baton Rouge, but she chose to stay with us. I was saying last night, I didn't know if I could do it again. We're here just to keep an eye on things.

O'BRIEN: So when you say couldn't do it, do what?

GROSCH: Rebuild all over again.

O'BRIEN: So you'll hunker down in the house.

GROSCH: We will. We have the second floor and the second floor did make it if you remember that.

O'BRIEN: I do remember that.

GROSCH: The second floor made it. So I figured we're going to be safe.

O'BRIEN: What kind of supplies do you have?

GROSCH: We have chips and dips and --

O'BRIEN: I saw the Oreos.

GROSCH: Chocolate chip cookies, peanuts.

O'BRIEN: Planning to stay for a few days.

GROSCH: Yes, we have a generator. We have our weather radio and we have a cordless TV. So we have something to keep up on everything. We were just getting our life jackets. We're going to have life jackets just in case. But, you know, we have our wall now so I really don't think --

O'BRIEN: That's the far levee has been rebuilt.

GROSCH: This one has, but have you been out there and saw our 30-foot wall that they have put up for us?

O'BRIEN: It's amazing.

GROSCH: It's amazing. That's going to protect us because that's where it came through the last time.

O'BRIEN: This will be the real test.

GROSCH: This is the test. I don't know if it's going to be a true test because they are saying it's not going to be that bad. Of course, you never know what bad is, we didn't think Katrina was bad either.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Jackie Grosch choosing to stay and others being told to leave for their safety obviously. People putting a lot of stock in that upgraded levee system.

There's a mandatory evacuation in place along the east back in Lousiana's Plaquemines Parish, 90 percent of that parish was flooded during Hurricane Katrina.

Billy Nungesser is the president of Plaquemines Parish. It's nice to see you. I remember when we first came in to cover Katrina. We couldn't even get into Plaquemines Parish.

We could get in as far as St. Bernard Parish then we couldn't get in any further for the first couple of days that we were here. You've asked people to evacuate. Are most people heeding your warning?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Most people are I think because of the size of this storm and slow moving and not knowing if it was going to strengthen. I saw the fear in people's eyes and most people did get out.

O'BRIEN: A lot of the levee system has been rebuilt, but a lot of Plaquemines Parish obviously is outside of the levee system and you're low lying.

NUNGESSER: The big difference is normally we would evacuate five hours away to North Louisiana. Having 100-year protection in the north end of the parish, we were able to bring those people, hundreds of people to the Bell Chase Auditorium and keep them in the parish.

A lot of elderly people, it's hard to bring them on the bus four or five hours away. So that's the big difference in this massive flood protection that's been built around New Orleans for our parish is to be able to keep those people for this type of event close to home.

O'BRIEN: What's your biggest concern right now?

NUNGESSER: We have two levees that are not in the federal system, the east and west bank and 5 feet on one side of the river, 8 on the other. Storm surge expected to be 10 or 11 feet.

We're going to see water over tops of the levees and we'll see the storm weaken hopefully and not top the levees, but the way it looks we're going to have water.

O'BRIEN: Last time we spoke, it was really about the BP oil spill. How concern are you -- I mean, the oil is still in the gulf obviously. It didn't just go away. What happens as even a Category 1, maybe Category 2 hurricane comes through?

NUNGESSER: We're going to see some of that oil especially in (inaudible) areas where we went out -- there's so many thick oil on the bottom. We see it kick up ever for a thunderstorm.

So this type of event absolutely will take some of that oil and put it back in the marsh. You won't see the thick oil like during the oil spill.

But you can see it, the thin oil through the marsh and it still does affect the wildlife in the marsh. You don't see those birds covered in oil, but any oil is not good for animals out there.

So we're real concerned and after this event we'll be out there to check those heavily impacted areas to see how much oil does get kicked up back into the marsh.

O'BRIEN: It definitely feels to me, at least, that communication has improved and people take communication much more seriously in terms of the homeowners, everybody is listening to the weather and having conversations about should I go. Even if they opt to not go, they discussed it and thought it through.

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. I think you see people that are going to stay, have a plan. They have made preparation and know what they are going to do and know the protection they are in.

If they are in the 100-year protection, they feel a lot safer, the people outside know what happened years ago with Katrina especially being on the anniversary and they packed up.

O'BRIEN: I mean, I know it is hurricane season so it's not completely bizarre coincidence, but to land on the day it's just --

NUNGESSER: And I think that's what happened. The night before last, I got calls all night, people saying is it going to be a Category 3 when we wake up tomorrow morning and as I did, people stayed up all night wondering what's going to happen first light tomorrow.

Are we going to be forced out of here and see another Katrina take our homes? And I think that was a time when we saw the level of anxiety really high throughout New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: Right. We're going to continue to watch it. Billy Nungesser, it's nice to see you, sir. Maybe another time under better circumstances certainly, but we'll keep watching this story and obviously, Plaquemines Parish as well.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, as we continue to watch Tropical Storm Isaac from this location here in New Orleans, we're also talking, of course, about Republicans, ready to roll today.

The fight for the youth vote is heating up. We're going to talk to Wisconsin congressman and former MTV star Sean Duffy will be our guest. You're watching STARTING POINT and we're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from New Orleans watching as Tropical Storm Isaac is strengthening and aiming at Louisiana.

The other big story today though is in Tampa, Florida where the former governor, Mitt Romney is going to be there today. He's going to join his fellow Republicans trying to put the national convention back on track.

Can he prevent the message though from being drowned out by the tropical storm? Let's get right to John Berman. He is live for us at the CNN Grill in Tampa. Hi, John. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Good morning, Soledad. You know, Isaac has changed a lot of the schedule here in Tampa. One person was scheduled to speak last night was Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.

He is now scheduled to speak tonight. But before he does that, he's here with us right now and also joined by Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent.

Congressman Duffy, I don't want to diminish your speech today, which could be a -- is a very big deal to all of us here.

REPRESENTATIVE SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: It's going to be a stunner.

BERMAN: The Ann Romney speech today is something we're all talking about. One of the reasons why this speech of Mrs. Romney is so important is because many people think it will address what is seen as a weakness for Mitt Romney and that is his likability.

In a recent ABC News/"Washington Post" poll on the question of who is more friendly or likeable, people said President Obama 61 percent, Mitt Romney 27 percent. That's a 34-point gap right there. What can her speech do to fix that?

DUFFY: I think it humanizes Mitt Romney. I think when you marry up like I did and Mitt Romney did, your wife says a lot about who you are and I think she humanizes him and brings a different vision of who Mitt Romney is. I mean, some see Mitt as kind of a stiff guy --

BERMAN: Do you?

DUFFY: Well, he comes across that way sometimes, but the ideas are great. But I think when he's by his Paul Ryan or by his wife he seems to loosen up a little bit. He seems more natural. She's going to show that side of Mitt Romney tonight.

BERMAN: What does it say that this guy has been running for president for five years, he is a still seen as stiff by so many people, by the way, apparently including you?

DUFFY: Listen, though he might be a little stiff, I think Americans carry about policy. Can this guy lead a recovery? Can he put American back to work? Can he help us get on a trajectory to balance with our debt?

Those are the issues that people care about. They are not going, I'm voting for a guy who is more stiff or less stiff, more likeable or less likeable. We're facing serious problems, who can drive a recovery?

I think when people look at Barack Obama and what he's done over four years and the history that Mitt Romney has in business and with the Olympics, they'll say, Mitt Romney is the guy to lead this recovery. I think that's what is going to drive them.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's one group that you definitely wants a guy to relate to and that's young voters. Right now, you are one of the younger members of Congress.

DUFFY: Thank you.

YELLIN: So maybe you can relate to the young ones. Right now, the president has an overwhelming advantage among young voters. I think the latest CNN poll, 73 percent of them lean to President Obama. How concerned are you about this block going to him?

DUFFY: Well, first of all, I got to say this. The president has worked very hard on the youth vote. I saw a stat on college campus every week doing events.

YELLIN: Including this week. The president is there today and tomorrow, yes.

DUFFY: But I think when you look at the unemployment rate at kids getting out of college, it is astronomical. So when you look at prior generations where you get a four-year education and advanced degree, you get out and get a job and make good money and start your family.

Today, our college graduates instead of moving onto the dream jobs, they are moving into their parents' basements and I think they'll hold Barack Obama accountable for that or stay home because they are not excited about this economy. And I think they'll hold the president responsible for the lack of recovery.

BERMAN: Quickly, Congressman, I would be remiss if I did not ask about your speech today in front of a large national audience. We'll all be watching you here in CNN and elsewhere. How nervous are you?

DUFFY: Not at all. I'm looking forward to it. We walked through it and to stand up on the stage. I've been to a few other conventions before to stand up there and address the convention is exciting for me. I'm a guy from Wisconsin, to think I could get a shot at the convention, I'm absolutely thrilled.

BERMAN: What are you going to say?

DUFFY: I'm going to talk to the youth vote. I'm going to younger Americans about where we need to go as a country and how we leave a brighter future for them than the one we inherited.

BERMAN: We're all be watching. We'll grade you tomorrow morning. Thank you so much for joining us right now. If you want to know what it's like to be behind the scenes, you can join our CNN Election Round Table with Wolf Blitzer and the CNN's whole political team.

This is how you do it, submit your questions, get answers in realtime, it's a live virtual chat. Don't miss the CNN Election Round Table today at 12 noon Eastern.

You do it by logging on to It will be a lot of fun -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Isaac is on the verge of becoming a hurricane. We have brand-new update on Tropical Storm Isaac as it strengthens in the gulf. We're going to bring that to you straight ahead this morning.

Plus, the lighter side of the events at the RNC as columnist give us his take on the Republican National Convention. You're watching STARTING POINT. We have to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. While much of the country is watching Tropical Storm Isaac, there's obviously another big story going on today.

The roll call vote to formally nominate Mitt Romney to be the candidate for president of the United States is happening today at the Republican National Convention, which is taking place in Tampa, Florida.

Later tonight, his wife, Ann, will speak and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will give the keynote address. I want to bring Joel Stein. He is a columnist of "Time" magazine. He is also the author of a new book called "Manmade, A Stupid Quest For Masculinity."

We talked about that book the other day. So how is it that I'm here covering a hurricane and you get to do all the cushy parties at the RNC, Joel? Explain that to me.

JOEL STEIN, COLUMNIST, "TIME": You clearly need to renegotiate your contract. I don't know who is giving you that outfit, but you need a whole different agent, I'm sure.

O'BRIEN: I'm not going to be insulted by that. So the party hasn't started where you are. Earlier, John was telling me that it feels like today is the start. 2:00 p.m. Eastern, it will really officially get kicked off. That hall that we've seen empty pictures of will be filled. What are you doing? You're not a delegate.

STEIN: No, not at all. Yes, it's been going on full steam for more than 24 hours. I went to the liquor lobby party last night, which was awesome, by the way. People talk about there being too much money in politics.

Those people were not at the liquor lobby party last night. There were oysters. Eating shrimp and oysters and shrimp in an aquarium. That's as Republican as I can hope to be. I went to four or five parties yesterday. So, yes, get down here.

O'BRIEN: Wow. That's impressive. I'm not very far from Bourbon Street, but there's nowhere close to four or five parties, which is what you're doing.

Let me ask you a question. Last time you were on with us, we were talking about your book and manly things that you were trying to do to be manly. Are you still on the quest, and have you found any opportunities at the RNC?

STEIN: It is a manly place. I went to the Women Up Pavilion. Hopefully, you'll come here and enjoy it. Sheldon Edellson's wife opened it. So it's a place for women to come and, you know, get their hair done, and have some pink drinks.

And take a break from the war on women that's going on here. But I also went to the "Huffington Post" Spa, which wasn't very manly either come to think of it. But I got Arianna Huffington to give me a massage, with oil and she's pretty good at it. So that was kind of manly in some way.

O'BRIEN: That's making me uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable now.

STEIN: I took off my shirt too. I have video of it. I suggest not watching the video, if just the words make you uncomfortable.

O'BRIEN: Yes, no, I think that's a really bad idea. So you're going to do the same thing for the Dems I assume because I know you are completely bipartisan. Do you have advice for the Dems in the middle of the RNC? What is your take away from what you've seen so far in Tampa?

STEIN: Yes. Keep your convention short. Apparently, no one on TV is interested. They will be distracted by rain or wind. So I suggest maybe a day or half a day is all you really need for this thing. You can still have your parties, but don't bother the TV people with your convention.

O'BRIEN: Fairly confident they are not taking that advice and neither will the Republicans be taking your advice. Joel Stein, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. Appreciate it. Thank you for the advice on my outfit and the Egypt thing.

STEIN: No. You look sporty. You look great. You really do.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Joel. Appreciate that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, our continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Isaac. Right now that storm is gaining strength. It's on the verge of becoming a hurricane. We're live on the gulf coast all morning for you from New Orleans, which is why I am, to Mississippi, where the folks are bracing for the very worst.

Also an in-depth look at the growing storm. A live update from the National Hurricane Center, it's going to happen right at the top the hour. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.