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CNN NEWSROOM

Isaac Unleashes on Gulf Coast; Flood Traps Family in Attic; Interview with Senator Mary Landrieu; Isaac Stirs Katrina Memories; Ryan and Rice to Speak Tonight; Power Out, But Pumps Work In Louisiana; Isaac Cuts Power In New Orleans

Aired August 29, 2012 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux and welcome to the "CNN NEWSROOM."

As Issac unleashes on the Gulf Coast, the storm has weakened to barely hurricane strength. It is still pounding the region with heavy rains and strong winds expected to last all day and into the evening, and that is because Issac is moving very slowly. The more it hangs around the more pressure it puts on the systems built to protect against all of the flooding taking place. Water is already pouring over a levee. That is in Plaquemines Parish about 95 miles southeast of New Orleans. Floodwaters are 14 feet deep and rising in some areas. Homes are totally submerged. Energy officials say that more than half a million customers are without power in Louisiana alone.

I want to bring in Chad Myers to talk about what is this hurricane doing. Where is the path and just how much longer do we have?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There we go, now I can talk.

MALVEAUX: You get your mic there.

MYERS: We are switching meteorologists out there. The storm has not moved much and in fact, it is over Homa. It's about 40 miles from where it made landfall at midnight or so last night, again, with our Eddie Lavendera down there.

The problem now is with this levee failure now in Plaquemines Parish. It isn't 95 miles south of New Orleans; it's about ten miles south of New Orleans, where the levee is filling in water from Braithwait. So the water is coming over the top of the bayou side and it's filling in from Braithwait all the way down to White Ditch. This happens because there's a levee to stop the Mississippi River from coming in, and there is a levee to stop the bayou from coming in. Well, this levee was busted. It broke, it's gone now.

The water is filling in and you would think that would be great, because it would just run into the Mississippi, but it can't because now the Mississippi levee is holding this back, so all it will do is to fill the Plaquemines Parish east bank from Braithwait all of the way down. And it will keep going down until they can either blow up that levee, open up the levee to get the water into the Mississippi river and drain out, or it's just going to keep coming up. Those pictures that we just had on three minutes ago were unbelievable with those people being pulled out of there with boats and high water vehicles and the lady saying there's nothing left of Braithwait.

MALVEAUX: So how much longer do they have? You are talking about water just pouring into this area. Are we talking about hours and hours of this happening?

MYERS: Absolutely. It is finally moving and the storm is moving and it is 75 miles per hour and it sounds like a little bit, but it is enormous wind and it is blowing like that for almost 20 hours in the same direction pretty much.

It is moving a little bit, but the winds and the waves are beating on the levees and not so much the levees around New Orleans, because New Orleans in good shape and still working and everything that they did in $11 billion that they spent is still working phenomenally. I'm not kidding, if they had not built that wall from Chefmeanter, the Gulf of Mexico would be pouring into the lake Pontchartrain and it would be overtopping the lakefront. There's no question of how long this wind has been blowing that way. The Army Corps of Engineers, without a doubt, have now saved New Orleans with that water 13-mile barrier to the east of New Orleans that they built to stop the water from coming in. Phenomenal work by the Army Corps.

MALVEAUX: And it is the Plaquemines Parish that is really the area that we're going to be following and watching.

MYERS: You know, the Plaquemines Parish down there from Braithwait down to White Ditch is going to look just like the lower 9th ward did.

MALVEAUX: Wow. That is devastating when you think about that. Chad, we will get back to you. We want to go to a family that we heard from this morning. They did not evacuate. They are now stuck in the attic with their baby. I want you to listen to this phone conversation with our affiliate WWL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF EUGENE ODDO, LOUISIANA FLOODING VICTIM: Right now, I'm in my attic with my wife and my year and a half-year-old baby and the local police came around about 2:00 in the morning and told us that the levee broke, and within an hour the water was coming up. I tried to get the vehicle to the levee, and the river levee is dry, but the water came up so quick, it looks like we lost everything. If I have to, I'm going to have to shoot a hole in my attic here to get up on the roof.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And it is an unbelievable story. Obviously, we hope that people are actually going to get to them and help them out of their home.

I want to bring in Senator Mary Landrieu of New Orleans. You are at your home in New Orleans here. I understand that you have spoken with both the head of FEMA as well as Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano. Give us a sense of what people are dealing with now, and particularly in Plaquemines Parish.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Well, Suzanne, you are very familiar with this area and this region and it is very unfortunate what is happening in the lower part of Plaquemine Parish and St. Bernard has been getting a lot of pounding. But so has the entire New Orleans region including the center city. It is very unfortunate that people did not heed the warnings that live outside of the federal levee protection to leave. That's what the rescue officials are dealing with this morning.

And you know, our hearts go out to people that were stranded, but the local officials asked over and over again for people to evacuate. So now the Coast Guard has to go out in these very, very tough winds still gusting in some places up to 50, 60, 70 miles an hour and try to do these rescues.

The good news that I can share is that the general area of the metropolitan area and including the Gulf coast -- and I haven't been getting too much information about Mississippi -- but the region in south Louisiana while we have been pummeled by the winds that won't seem to stop, the federal levee is holding. The system that the country invested in is absolutely paying off. We are not out of the woods yet. And something could go wrong, but the investments that have been made here are keeping literally hundreds of thousands and billions of dollars' worth of federal investment safe.

MALVEAUX: Senator, when you say something could go wrong, what are you referring to? What are you talking about? What are the possible scenarios here?

LANDRIEU: Well, I don't have any specifics, other than the storm is very slow-moving. The winds are still coming out of the south and not moving as fast as anyone hoped. It is a nasty and determined storm. It may sound little, because it is only a category 1 and it's broken up some, but don't let it fool you, because it is a dangerous situation down here.

And what I'm saying is, so far so good, Suzanne, but this storm is moving very slowly. The mayor and the governor and the local officials are urging people still here to stay inside. There are some highways that are now flooded. There's some street flooding throughout the region. But again, the Corps of Engineers is on the job. FEMA and Craig Fugate are in Baton Rouge with the governor and the local elected officials. The president has been very engaged, and it is just a matter of a lot of electricity out, but until these winds stop, you can't get your crews out. It doesn't have to be sunshine, but it does have to be safe enough for the Entergy crews to go out to try to start restoring power in the region. Then we can do an assessment of the real damage.

MALVEAUX: I understand, Senator, that there are 75 rescues that have happened in Braithwait. Is there a sense that FEMA can give us, or yourself, about how many people you think are trapped inside of their homes?

LANDRIEU: I think it would be difficult for anybody to give you that. The best person might be the parish president or some of the parish officials. Braithwait is a relatively small community, and again, they were under mandatory evacuation. Lots of people evidently did not or could not evacuate, and sometimes that happens in these storms, people either underestimate their power or they just don't have a way to leave. So the Coast Guard, believe me, is doing everything they can along with state officials, fish and wildlife, to get people to safety.

But I want the country to know that although this is a terrible, determined, and nasty storm, there is no massive catastrophic flooding happening in the region. That's thanks to the extraordinary investments that have been made to elevate homes, and to invest in a Corps levee protection system, and frankly, there were those of us who argued that South Plaquemine should be included. It wasn't. We will revisit that issue, and hopefully people can understand why Grand Isle is so important to protect. It may not have as many people, but the island protects an entire region that benefits the whole country, so we will be working on that when we get back to D.C.

MALVEAUX: And Senator, finally, why is it that Plaquemines Parish did not get that support for a levee?

LANDRIEU: Because the Corps of Engineers has a formula that they use based on economic impact, and so if you are in a rural area or you are in a sparsely populated area, you get much less points than if you are in an urban area. But we keep trying to explain to the Corps, that if you don't take care of some of these rural areas south of New Orleans and this region, you are going to be dealing with having to protect the center of the city, you know, with a 30-foot wall. They are learning, but not quite fast enough.

So we are going to go back and hit it again in Congress to explain. New Orleans is not the only area that has this problem, because there are other places around the country. We are grateful for the investments, and they seem to be working. And the local officials are doing the rescue necessary for the people outside of the protection levee.

MALVEAUX: All right. Senator Landrieu, thank you very much. We appreciate your update and we will get back to you to get more information about the folks trapped in their home and need rescuing.

Along with the Mississippi Gulf coast, Hurricane Issac kicking up waves soaking the area with lots and lots of rain. Officials are thinking that the storm surge could reach up to ten feet. Could get a foot and a half of rain as well.

Our David Mattingly is joining us from Gulfport. David, tell us what you are dealing with. We are looking at the pictures and we see strong winds and water there, and what are you seeing?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, what we are dealing with right now is this rain. This rain we have seen coming down since midnight. Behind me, I want you to take a look at the ocean behind me. This part of the Gulf of Mexico is normally very placid. You would look out there on a calm day and it would look like a lake out there, but today, it is very angry. We just went through a high tide, and we didn't see that water coming over, over the wall that they have there by the sea.

So, it is possible that the predictions of the storm surge that they were fearing may not be as bad as they thought. But, what we are looking at with this storm, because it hasn't moved and just continues to dump buckets of water every single minute, everywhere across the coastal areas of Mississippi, all of this water is trying to get out, trying to get into the streams and drain away. At the same time, you have the ocean elevated, pushing it back. Spoke to the governor of Mississippi a short while ago, and sorry the wind is picking up now. And really starting to sting as the rain hits. Hold on.

MALVEAUX: Take your time, David, because there is no rush and we can see the conditions that you are dealing with.

MATTINGLY: What he was saying is that they may have to redeploy some resources to other parts of the state away from the coastal areas that deal with the inland flooding that they are now anticipating but nobody thought that this storm would be here this long with this much fury. This is tremendous amount of water, and you know what, Suzanne, on the anniversary of Katrina, the last time I was in a hurricane, standing in the middle of this much wind and rain, it was actually Hurricane Katrina coming ashore in Florida. I joked with friends after that saying I felt like I would drown standing up. There are times in this storm that I have almost felt the same way if you inhale too hard, you will get a mouth full of water, but it has been absolutely relentless. Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: David, I know it is hard to talk, and I know what it is like to be out there covering a kind of hurricane like that, and the strength of the wind, and if you will give us a sense how fast do you think that the speed of the wind is, and just how difficult this is to even be out there, and whether or not there are people who are out there?

MATTINGLY: Well, these are not hurricane-force winds, but tropical storm force winds, and we have had these tropical storms going on since midnight last night. And the thing with these storms they all make their mark in some way with some kind of damage that is unique to that storm. With Isaac, it is going to be this tremendous amount of rainfall and the flooding it leaves behind. When you talk and when you look at it on paper, tropical storm force winds and driving rain sounds like any hurricane, but this particular storm is going to be remembered for quite a while for how much water it is leaving behind and you can see that it is coming down in sheets, and showing no signs of letting up. Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: David, excellent reporting as always. Be safe as you are covering this. We are looking at a lot of damage, and there has been already system some amazing rescues. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were going the try to leave, and then we didn't, because we had nowhere to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: I want to bring you dramatic video and this is a story that we are talking about rescues taking place out of Braithwait, Louisiana. I want you to watch and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First we were trying to leave and then we didn't, because we had nowhere to go. Then they came on TV and said that the storm full and that there was a breach in the levee and then we were trying to leave, but trying to drive in the car, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. With me being a diabetic, and I had a stroke, we were in the house. We stay in a trailer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's it like back there now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bad. Water is over the top of the roof. We had to break through the ceiling and come through the attic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: This woman is not alone. I mean, we know now that there are 75 rescues in that area of Braithwait and 25, we were told, that are awaiting rescue. This is in the parish's east bank. People are literally on rooftops and breaking through attics. This is what we saw seven years ago with Hurricane Katrina and now we see it with Hurricane Isaac.

And, of course, it is testing the levee system in New Orleans. It was rebuilt as you know, and the mayor says he is confident, confident that the levees will hold, but Isaac is moving slowly and New Orleans is getting pounded, and we are talking about rain that is nonstop, and wind. Mayor Mitch Landrieu did not issue an evacuation order, but he did ask people outside of the levee system to leave.

And I want to talk to Martin Savidge who is in New Orleans to talk more about this. Can you give us a sense of the conditions you are dealing with? Where people are in New Orleans? Have they hunkered down? Are they in their homes? How are people doing?

SAVIDGE: Well, first of all let's talk about the conditions. The conditions have been fairly consistent here since the sun came up, and very strong wind. We are sitting in Jackson Square in the French quarter and like you saw with David Mattingly, getting blasted with rain that feels like needles.

A lot of people have left. Ever since Katrina, they take the storms much more seriously than they used to. And there are people hunkering down in place, and it was interesting around and about and not much traffic and the businesses not closed down and not traditional, because used to be that you would come here and people would party all night long, and that has changed. Katrina was a deadly wake-up call, and the fact that the storm comes on the seventh anniversary is extremely sobering here, and no one forgets what happened around this area.

MALVEAUX: Martin, I recognize the French quarter and where you are, but at the time of Katrina, some of the hotels were open and it was crowded and a couple of folks kept the restaurants open. Is it dead or are people out and about?

SAVIDGE: No, it is. It is dead. It is really quiet. Just showing you the lay of the land, and anybody would recognize it, the St. Louis cathedral in the background and then if you walk in the other direction, of course, you have Jackson Square, and the park, and the central point and many tourists would normally be here. It is very, very quiet down here. No restaurants open, and no place to get food. Again, all of this is very different from say what you are used to seeing. And let's talk about what people were feeling and remembering as they ride out the storm. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tropical storm conditions expected --

SAVIDGE (voice-over): If you want to know how folks in New Orleans really feel about another hurricane after Hurricane Katrina, well, don't talk to them before the storm, but talk to them during it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just brings all of that back up, the whole experience, and the loss.

SAVIDGE: Bill and Gigi Besch lost everything and started over.

BILL BESCH, KATRINA SURVIVOR: Well, this is all new of course, and this is the house we built after the storm.

SAVIDGE: He admits to being more prepared. He stocks cooler, bought a generator, and added something.

So you added another level to this house.

BESCH: Correct. Just in case.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): As in just in case the city floods again.

Isaac intensifies as we drive to New Orleans East.

SAVIDGE: Derek, how are you? Martin Savidge.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): And meet police officer Derek Brumfield. Like Bill, Derek lost everything except for this picture that hangs prominently in the house.

SAVIDGE: Why is it important to save something?

DEREK BRUMFIELD, POLICE OFFICER: Because it was in the house before and it survived just like me, so I kept it.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Like everyone we meet, Derek alternates between watching the television and watching out the window.

BRUMFIELD: When the wind is blowing hard like that, it is something and brings back memories.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Because of those memories, he evacuated his daughter and grandkids. His neighbor neighbors left, too, so this cop has a new beat.

BRUMFIELD: It's kicking up now.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): His own street.

SAVIDGE: You think that people come out in a storm like this to do some harm?

BRUMFIELD: Well, it has been done.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Derek is not the only one we find out on patrol. I arrive at the home of Dr. Norman Francis in time for the power to go out.

SAVIDGE: We will wait. There we go.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Fortunately, he has a generator. For over half a century he has been the president of Xavier University and married to Blanche even longer. Seven years ago after losing their home, Blanche began suffering from dementia. Norm believes that Katrina played a part.

NORMAN FRANCIS, KATRINA SURVIVOR.: She did not want to go back.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): In the year, they have moved four times.

FRANCIS: You can't have your mind not are drift back to seven years ago. As a matter of fact, the worst time for it to happen is to have it happen at night.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): For the people of New Orleans, the real power of Isaac is not wind, but it is memories.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: Remember, that of course 1, 800 people died in this state alone. Katrina lives on very strongly even as Isaac comes ashore here. But there are strong lessons that were learned, and those are saving lives today. Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Martin, you bring up such an important point, and I was just in New Orleans four weeks ago, and a lot of people post- Katrina were suffering from a lot of psychological and mental distress. I can imagine, too, that today going through this experience that people have a lot of anxiety around this storm. Thank you, Martin, for the strong reporting. I want to move on. She was a power player the last time the Republicans were in the White House, but we're going to hear what Condoleezza Rice thinks of the party's chance of taking back the presidency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The start of the Republican national convention is of course the nominee, but the party got fired up twice last night. Two separate speeches, one about policy, the other purely personal. They came from New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who set out to paint a softer, warmer portrait of her husband.

Tonight in Tampa, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, is set to take the stage. Also, the Bush administration's national security adviser and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Wow.

Straight to Tampa. Hala Gorani had a chance to speak to Condoleezza Rice a few moments ago. First of all, do we expect because there was so much speculation of whether she would be a V.P. pick, if she is going to be a part of Team Romney after the convention?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there was speculation as well, because she was seated next to him at the convention as Ann Romney was giving the speech and after Ann Romney gave the speech, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie was addressing supporters here in Tampa and I asked her straight out "Are you going to be working for Mitt Romney in a possible Romney administration?" This is what she told me, Suzanne.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I wrote a memoir called "No Higher Honor" because I considered it the highest honor to serve in my government. I've done that. I'm not doing it again.

GORANI: Can you be persuaded?

RICE: No, I love being a professor at Stanford. One has to know to move on in life. And I am very fortunate to have been the secretary of state, and that is enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: She has said it in the past, and Suzanne, there was speculation as well that she was on the short list for the vice presidential nomination as part of a Team Romney, and of course,

MALVEAUX: I want to bring you dramatic video. This is a story -- we are talking about rescues taking place here; this is out of Brathwaite, Louisiana. I want you to watch and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First we were trying to leave and then we didn't, because we had nowhere to go. Then they came on TV and said that if the power goes off and a breach in the levy, so then we were trying to leave, but trying to drive in the car, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. With me being a diabetic, and I had a stroke, we were in the house. We got -- we stayed in a trailer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's it like back there now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bad. Water is over the top of the roof. We had to break through the ceiling and come through the attic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: This woman is not alone. I mean, we know now that there have been 75 rescues in that area of Braithwaite and 25 we are told that are awaiting rescue. This is in the parishes East Bank. People are litterally on rooftops; they are breaking through attics. This is what we saw seven years ago with Hurricane Katrina. We now we see it with Hurricane Isaac.

And of course it is testing also the levee system in New Orleans. It was rebuilt, as you know, and the mayor says he is confident, he is confident that these levees are going to hold. But Isaac, it is moving slowly; New Orleans is getting pounded. We are talking about rain that is nonstop; wind. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, he did not issue an evacuation order, but he did call for people outside this levee system to simply leave.

I want to talk to Martin Savidge, he's in New Orleans, to talk a little bit about this. And give us a sense of the conditions you are dealing with and where people are in New Orleans. Are they hunkered down? Have they left their homes? How are people doing?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, let's talk about the conditions. The conditions have been fairly consistent here since the sun came up. Very strong wind. We're in the French Quarter standing next to Jackson Square and like, David, as you saw in Misssissippi, getting blasted by needles of rain. So that's pretty much the physical sensation.

As to where people are, it varies. A lot of people left. Ever since Katrina, they take their storms a lot more seriously in this city than they used to. There also are a lot people who are just hunkering down in place. It was interesting, as around about yesterda -- not much traffic, businesses not closed down. Not traditional. Used to be years ago you'd come here, people partied all night long. That has changed. I won't say there are no parties but it's not the way it used to be. Katrina was a wake-up call, a very deadly wake-up call, and the fact that this storm comes on the seventh anniversary, extremely sobering here. No one forgets what happened around this area. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Martin, tell me a little bit about the French Quarter there. I reocgnize where you are. At the time of Katrina, some of the hotels, essentially, they were open and we were all staying and it was crowded. A lot of folks who were staying there; were a couple of restaurants that were open, but not much. Is it pretty much dead around the French Quarter or are people out and about?

SAVIDGE: No, it is. It's dead. I mean it really is very quiet. I'll just show you the lay of the land, I mean, anybody would recognize. We've got St. Louis Cathedral in the background and then if you walk in the other direction, of course, you've got Jackson Square, the park; it's a central point. Many tourists would normally be here. It is very, very quiet down here. No restaurants open, no place to get food.

Again, all of this is very different from, say, what you are used to seeing. Let's talk about what people were feeling and rembering as they ride out the storm. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tropical storm conditions expected with Hurricane --

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Want to know how folks in New Orleans really feel about another hurricane on the anniversary of Katrina? Well, don't talk to them before the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's starting to come down out there.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Talk to them during it.

BILL BOESCH, CARPENTER: It just brings all of that back up, you know, that whole experience and the loss.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Bill and Gigi Boesch lost everything and started over.

BOESCH: And this is all new, of course. This is the house we built after the storm.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He admits to being more prepared since Katrina. He stocks coolers, bought a generator and added something.

SAVIDGE: So you added another level to this house.

BOESCH: Correct. Just in case.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): As in just in case the city floods again. Issac intensifies as we drive to New Orleans East.

SAVIDGE: Derek, how are you? Martin Savidge.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): And meet police officer Derek Brumfield. Like Bill, Derek lost all he had in Katrina, rescuing only this picture that hangs prominently in the house.

SAVIDGE: Why is it important to save something?

DEREK BRUMFIELD, POLICE OFFICER: Because of -- just to think about this was in the house before and it survived, just like me, so I kept it.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Like everyone we meet, Derek alternates between watching the television and watching out the window.

BRUMFIELD: Wind's blowing hard like that, it's something. It brings back memories.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Because of those memories, he evacuated his daughter and grandkids. His neighbor neighbors left too, so this cop has a new beat.

BRUMFIELD: Yes, it's picking up now?

SAVIDGE (voice-over): His own street.

SAVIDGE: You think that people come out in a storm like this and do some harm?

BRUMFIELD: Yes, it has been done.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Derek isn't the only one we find out on patrol.

SAVIDGE: How are you? Martin Savidge.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): I arrive at the home of Dr. Norman Francis in time for the power to go out.

NORMAN FRANCIS, XAVIER UNIVERSITY, PRESIDENT: So let's just wait. There we go.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Fortunately, he's got a generator. For over half a century he has been the president of Xavier University. He's been married to Blanche even longer. Seven years ago, after losing their home, Blanche began suffering from dementia. Norman thinks Katrina played a part.

FRANCIS: She did not ever want to go back.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): In the years since, they've moved four times.

SAVIDGE: You can't help but some point in the night have your mind drift back to seven years ago.

FRANCIS: Oh, no question about it. And in fact, let me just say to you, the worst times, like it's going to happen, is to have it happen at night.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): For the people of New Orleans, the real power of Isaac is not wind; it's memories.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SAVIDGE: Remember that, of course, there were 1800 people that died in this state alone. Katrina lives on very strongly even as Isaac comes ashore here. But there are strong lessons that were learned and those are saving lives today. Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Martin, you bring up such an important point. I was just in New Orleans about four weeks ago, and a lot of people post- Katrina were suffering from a lot of psychological and mental distress. I can imagine, too, that today, going through this experience, that people have a lot of anxiety around this storm. Thank youerer again, Martin, for your very strong reporting. We really appreciate it.

I want to move on to the power player last time the Republicans were in the White House. But we're going to hear what Condoleezza Rice thinks about the party's chances of taking back the presidency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The star of the Republican Convention is of course the nominee, but the party got fired up last night, twice. Two separate speeches, one about policy; the other purely personal. They came from New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, who set out to paint a softer, warmer portrait of her husband.

Well, tonight in Tampa, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, he's set to take the stage. Also the Bush administration's National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Wow. Straight to Tamapa. Hala Gorani, who's there, and you had a chance to speak to Condoleezza Rice just a couple of minutes ago. First of all, do we expect, because there is so much speculation of whether she was going to be a VP pick, if she is part of Team Romney, if -- after the convention?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and there was speculation as well because she was seen seated next to him at the convention as Ann Romney was giving her speech-- or after Ann Romney gave her speech and the governor New Jersey, Chris Christie, was addressing supporters here in Tampa, Florida.

I asked her straight out, "Are you going to be working for Mitt Romney in a possible Romney administration?" This is what she told me, Suzanne.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I wrote a memoir called "No Higher Honor" because I considered it the highest honor to serve in my government. I've done that. I'm not doing it again.

GORANI: Can you be persuaded?

RICE: No, I love being a professor at Stanford. One has to know to move on in life and I'm very fortunate to have been the Secretary of State, and that's enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Right and she said that in the past and, of course, as you know, Suzanne, there was speculation as well that she was on the short list for the Vice Presidential nomination as part of a Team Romney. Of course, they -- the post ended up going to Paul Ryan.

But there you have it. So, Condoleezza Rice, very much taking part in this.

A little bit earlier, we saw her doing sound checks behind me there at the podium for a speech that is scheduled for this evening.

MALVEAUX: She his a lot of star power for the Republicans. I know a lot of people very interested in what she's going to say tonight. And one of the things that you discussed is the situation in Syria, and the dire case of folks who are being killed there on a daily basis, the civil war that has erupted. Does she believe that the Obama administration is doing enough?

GORANI: No, she doesn't. She says, essentially, they are too late going forward. now whatt has to be looked at is vetting opposition groups, arming vetted rebel groups, as well. And she's saying, essentially, that the Barack Obama administration "wasted time on Syria," but some of these efforts should have been undertaken a long time ago at the beginning of the uprising.

Here's a portion of my conversation with Condoleezza Rice on Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICE: Well, I think we've wasted a lot of time in the Security Council. China and Russia clearly were never going to go along with an international response. I'm sorry that the mission of Kofi Annan, for whom I have a lot of respect, died, as well it should've, as he said.

And so the United States needs to help rally the regional powers to put together a political framework --

GORANI: But military intervention?

RICE: No, no, for a political framework, for a post-Assad regime. And then to help vet and arm the opposition so that somebody can stop the slaughter of the Syrian people.

When people say if you arm the opposition, it might get worse, look at what Assad is doing to his people.

GORANI: Well, what's the time frame for that? Because vetting a political opposition, and then vetting armed opposition groups --

RICE: Well, you know, if we had been doing this for the last year, maybe it would be done by now, but we wasted a lot of time in the Security Council.

GORANI: But what do you do from now on?

RICE: From now on, I would hope, by the way, that some of that vetting has been done.

GORANI: We're hearing reports that it is happening.

RICE: Yes, then, in that case, arm the opposition so that they can resist the terror of the Assad regime, so that they can resist the Iranian interference in the affairs of the Syrian people, so that we can do something about the terrible spillover that's starting to happen to Lebanon and Turkey and Iraq.

GORANI: And would you say the U.S. should be arming the rebels?

RICE: I think the United States should be participating in the arming of those rebels, because we have to remember, and you know this region as well as anyone, there are regional agendas by the outside powers that are essentially confessional agendas -- Sunnis arming Sunnis, Shia arming Shia. The United States and Europe bring a more balanced approach to the region and so, yes, we should be participating in it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: All right and there you have it. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. should be participating in arming vetted rebel groups. One of the other things she said is that U.S. foreign policy, perhaps, has been too "muted," quote, unquote, her word, under the Obama administration and that American power, by being in a position of retreat, is not something that is good for this country. That, on the contrary, it should be reaching out and being more proactive in the regions such as the Middle East.

MALVEAUX: Very powerful words coming from Condoleezza Rice. Thank you so much, Hala. Appreciate it.

We're looking at some live pictures here of Ann Romney. This is a day after she really fired up the convention, a very personal speech that she gave about her husband as well as her marriage and love. Right now, she is at a luncheon. This is hosted by a Latino coalition in Tampa. Earlier today, she and the wife of Romeny's VP choice, Paul Ryan, they attended a campaign breakfast and visited a children's hospital.

CNN's primetime coverage continues tonight, 7:00 p.m., with my colleague, Wolf Blitzer. Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, he's going to be speaking at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Piers Morgan is going to be wrapping up the convention's second full day and I'll be reporting live from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Bracing for the storm surge in Louisiana. I'm going to take you inside the storm that is hammering the Gulf Coast.

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MALVEAUX: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. As Isaac unleashes on the Gulf Coast, the storm has weakened to barely hurricane strength, but it is still pounding the region with heavy rain. We're talking about strong winds expected to last all day and all night. That is because Isaac is moving very slowly. The longer it hangs around, the more pressure, of course, it is putting on those systems that are built to protect against all of that flooding.

The water is already pouring over a levee and flooding Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans. Floodwaters 14 feet deep, rising in some areas; and some homes are totally underwater. Energy officials say more than half a million customers are without power in Louisiana alone.

I want to go to St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. That is about 25 miles west of New Orleans. Now officials there, they've asked people to cut back on flushing the toilets because of these power outages. They're also bracing for storm surge. Flooding has been reported everywhere. We have with us on the phone Councilman Clayton "Snookie" Faucheux. Frst of all, tell us what it is like in your parish, St. Charles?

CLAYTON FAUCHEUX, COUNCILMAN, ST. CHARLES PARISH (via telephone): Well, Suzanne, the weather is starting to increase again. We have been pretty close to the eye and it subsided for a while, but now it's starting to increase again with rain and winds continuing to pick up. We've been getting pounded regularly, and due to the length of time of the sustained winds, we are starting to see fatigue and failures in roof and some of the infrastructure. We have a lot of downed powerlines and probably 16,000 to 17,000 residents out of power.

MALVEAUX: It is safe under any condition for people to leave their homes if they are actually faced with flooding?

FAUCHEUX: Suzanne, if people can remain in their homes at this point in time, they are going to be safer than trying to get on the road as the weather continues to pick up.

MALVEAUX: Tell us a little bit about the storm surge. I understand it is still pushing from the Gulf. Do we know when that is going to actually going to peak? Do you expect that there are going to be more buildings that are actually going to be flooded?

FAUCHEUX: Yes, we are expecting more flooding. The word from EOC is that the storm surge has not peaked. We've seen an 8 to 10 foot increase at our water gauges in the river. We're not sure where it's going to peak on what's coming from the Gulf.

MALVEAUX: And what kind of rescue efforts are underway?

FAUCHEUX: I'm not sure. I don't think that we have anything actually out in the communities unless it's an extreme emergency and the sheriff's department is responding to those. I haven't had reports of those but I'm sure those will increase as the weather continues to increase.

MALVEAUX: And finally, right now, what is your biggest challenge?

FAUCHEUX: Biggest challenge is going to be flooding and the continuation of the winds that we're receiving. We've had gusts up to 110. Presently, they are a little bit less than that, but we do expect to see an increase as the storm starts to pass this area. But the prolonged winds are definitely going to cause extensive damage.

MALVEAUX: All right. Before I let you go, got to ask you how you got that nickname, "Snookie?"

FAUCHEUX: My grandmother gave it to me the day I was born and it just stuck.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you. Clayton "Snookie" Faucheux, good to see you. I want to go directly to some live pictures here. This is from an affiliate. This is KTVT. This is a crew that is driving through Plaquemines Parish here and what they are seeing here, you can tell that they've a lot of water, there's a lot of rain still. You can se the flood iing there on the street up ahead as the water is building.

This is one of the areas that is very dangerous. This is one of the places where you see a lot of the water, a lot of the flooding. It is also one of the places where they have recorded that people are actually having to be rescued, that they are in their homes, that they are in the upper level, in the attis; there are some stories about people actually having to break through their attic to get to the rooftop. That these kinds of situations are happening, and it is very reminiscent of what we saw with Hurricane Katrina.

There are actually some people who are still waiting to be rescued but the lights are out for more than half a million power customers. We're talking about Southern Louisiana. The pumps, they are still working. We're going to tell you actually how that is possible.

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MALVEAUX: Issac has knocked out power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses. This is in south Louisiana. But the gigantic drainage pumps that suck the rainwater off of the streets; they are still running. How can that actually happen? Well, on the phone we've Joseph Becker. He's the chief engineer at the Sewage and Water Board of New Orleans responsible for the pumps at 24 drainage stations across the city.

So Joe, tell us first of all, the power goes out in New Orleans -- we know the power is out -- how do you actually keep these pumps, these critical pumps, running?

JOSEPH BECKER, CHIEF ENGINEER, SEWAGE AND WATER BOARD: Well, what happens is we actually supply our own power. We provide our own 25-cycle power to these pump stations. The pump stations were built in the 1900s and at that point in time, there was not a reliable power source. So we, when we got into the drainage business here in New Orleans, we had to develop our own power system. And we developed a 25-cycle power system; there wasn't an issued standard in the United States, so we develped our own standard, a 25-cycle power system, and that system remains in effect still today.

MALVEAUX: Joe, it's pretty impressive, but I know that this backup power plant, 100 years old, you mentioned, and Isaac is predicted now to dump as much as 10 more inches of rain in New Orleans in the next 48 hours. Do you think that this can actually keep up?

BECKER: I do. We have the ability with the drainage system in place right now, we can pump over 50,000 cubic feet per second, so that's about the amount of water that flows down the Ohio River during normal flow conditions. So we have a massive drainage pumping system that will be able to keep up with this type of event.

MALVEAUX: And, Joe, I understand that most of these pumps, the huge pumps, really can't be run remotely, so you've got pump workers who actually have to be on these sites across the city. How do you protect them? Are they safe safe?

BECKER: They are safe. The pump stations were designed and they were built as safehouses. In some places, other people will have remote safe houses, and they will go into that bunker, but we've built the stations themselves so they'll be safe houses and this enables us to have personnel on the site and work with the equipment in the event that there's any kind of a problem with the pump or a motor. They can fix that during the event instead of having to wait until it's over to address the issue.

MALVEAUX: All right. Joseph Becker, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Issac already costing you money. Gas prices shot up almost five cents a gallon. Now, according the AAA, the average price for regular rose to $3.80 -- that is the biggest jump in a day since February of last year. Tha was during the Libya War. And Isaac has shut down five major Gulf Coast refineries and cut production of three others.

I want to go ahead and check on the stocks as well ando see how they are doing. We will get that to you as soon as we can. 17 points up, I am told. All right.

Like a lot of Americans, my family was hit by Hurricane Katrina. We're going to talk about how folks in New Orleans are actually weathering this storm, like my cousin Adrian, on the ground, who is of course waiting for Isaac to pass.

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