Return to Transcripts main page


Water Overtopping Levee in Plaquemines Parish; Continued Hurricane Coverage; Ann Romney Speech Analysis

Aired August 29, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that accumulation really is what a lot of people are worried about and I heard some of the pumping systems were also not working at this time. We're going to try to verify that information. Stand by for us because of course we want to continue following this story.

Our coverage continues here on EARLY START.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We have some breaking news for you. The National Weather Service has just issued, emergency management officials in Plaquemines Parish reported overtopping of a levee on the east bank, from Braithwaite to White Ditch. This will result in significant deep flooding in this area.

They're not using the word breaching. They are using the word overtopping of a levee.

Soledad O'Brien is standing by. We're going to check in with her right now.

Soledad, are you there?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Zoraida. Yes, I'm here. And I can hear you were standing in Jackson Square, which the wind obviously has picked up a ton. Brian Todd is with me as well. He's been here overnight.

I want to talk first about Plaquemines Parish. They're talking about the east side there, that levee there. That would be an eight to nine-foot levee. So, if it's overtopped, that's a pretty significant thing to note overnight from Plaquemines Parish.

We were there yesterday. They were already having some problems with some of the levees. In fact, one of the floodwalls wouldn't close and they had to bring in a construction company really at the last minute to put down some of these HESCO basket. They're massive mesh baskets full of sand and then they covered it over with gravel to road over it because they wanted to be able to get out of the parish if they had to or get emergency vehicles into the parish with that wall. So literally at the last minute creating a wall.

I'm not surprised -- we talked to the parish president. And he was very concerned about some of those levees. So I'm not surprised to hear that news, Zoraida.

Let's talk about what's happening here. This is really the heart of what people think of when they're as tourists come to New Orleans, Jackson Square.

So, talk to me, Brian, a little bit about what you've seen, the flooding certainly much worse than what we saw last night.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Soledad. At least 12 intersections in the city and probably more now are experiencing significant flooding in the streets. This may not count as one of them, but we can certainly illustrate the problem. The flooding in this area has really increased in the last several hours.

We've had debris flying off the trees here, so we have to be careful. Violent surges in the Jackson Square area.

I can kind of walk with you and our photojournalist Ken Towie (ph) can come with me. They're warning people to stay away from these areas in New Orleans and the surrounding areas, because these are very deceivingly deep waters. People sometimes tend to walk through them, drive through them. Very, very dangerous stuff to do here.

This stuff just came down just before our live shot here, these limbs came down off the tree above us. It's a pretty stable tree, but some of the limbs may not be so stable. So this is what we're talking about here. It's a very violent surge here in downtown New Orleans.

Soledad, you mentioned this not a breach, but an overtopping. There were telling us, I was just on the phone, with people in Plaquemines Parish. They were was saying that area was already under a mandatory evacuation and they're going door to door now in Plaquemines to make sure everyone is out of there. They do to expect significant flooding, as you said, but no deaths or injury so far down there as a result of that.

O'BRIEN: Right. Not that we have report yet. We know there were 300 people we saw in three various shelters in Plaquemines Parish. So we're obviously going to check in with them as well.

All right. So, we're going to take a short break. Head it right back to Zoraida in New York. Hey, Zoraida, back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Can I ask you one other question, Soledad? Because you talked to these officials yesterday.

O'BRIEN: Sure. Of course.

SAMBOLIN: The pumping system that they've been talking about yesterday, Rob was very concerned about it. Does that have anything to do with the levees and the accumulation of water not being able to handle the volume? Do you know?

O'BRIEN: That's a different situation, right? The worry in Plaquemines Parish, which is a low-lying parish, they were always concerned about the levees and that's a storm surge. If it's overtopping, that's water flowing blown over the top of the levee. That's different than the pumping situation.

And again, if we take a look some of the standing water, the pumping situation, the problem is right here as Brian was just saying, obviously we're not at an intersection here, but the same general problem. You have to bring in the water and then you have a lot of water. Last night, Zoraida, when I was here, probably two inches at the most, maybe three inches of standing water.

But t if the water starts piling up like this and in the intersections you have, it becomes very problematic because the pumps cannot pump out the water fast enough, especially in the driving rain that we've seen. Two different problems obviously linked, but two very different problems that they're concerned about.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Soledad.

Joining us on the phone right now is the president of Plaquemines Square, Billy Nungesser. Are you there, sir?


SAMBOLIN: I'm sorry, Plaquemines Parish. I apologize for that.

NUNGESSER: That's all right.

SAMBOLIN: So, we just got -- yes, we just got this information now. Emergency management officials in Plaquemines reporting overtopping of a levee. What can you tell us about that?

NUNGESSER: Well, the levees are over the top in several locations and we're trying to get the few people that have stayed behind out. The roads are completely unpassable. There were a couple people stuck on the roads. Sheriff deputies are trying to get them to the Mississippi River levee to get them out. And we've got a serious situation over there.

SAMBOLIN: Do you know about how many people you're trying to evacuate?

NUNGESSER: Well, we did a mandatory evacuation, but as always, some people stayed behind. I know of about six or eight people that they were leading out of the parish to St. Bernard parish where there's a floodwall and they go up on the Mississippi River to get around that floodwater to safety.

SAMBOLIN: And we were just talking to Soledad O'Brien who was walking us through some dialogues that she was having credit about there potentially being a problem with the levee. When did you first notice that you were having some problems? Was it yesterday?

NUNGESSER: Well, we knew we were going to have trouble with the projected storm surge. But we were hoping this storm wouldn't sit out there that long as it's done, backtrack and keep pumping the water up against the levees. And there's just only so much that it can take. And not only did we see the worst case scenario, it got worse than that by the storm just stalling and hanging out there. So the levees can only take so much. We're actually in the process of raising those levees prior to this event.

SAMBOLIN: Raising it as part of the billions of dollars spent on the levees or because of the impending storm?

NUNGESSER: No, this is a parish levee that was left out of the federal system. So we were spending parish money to raise it, to give them a fighting chance. We just needed a couple more years and it doesn't look like we got that.

SAMBOLIN: And you're calling it an overtopping or they're calling it an overtopping as opposed to a breach. Do you think it will breach? And does breach mean that it will break through?

NUNGESSER: Well, what happens as the water flows over the top, it eventually will eat out portions of that levee which then it washes away. Either that or the inside the levee will fill up. One or the other will happen.

Either way, that area will be totally inundated with water. It's coming over in several locations and we're trying to get a couple our pump operators that stayed in the pump station out. They tried to come out and couldn't make it out.

So we're working with the Coast Guard now to try to get those people out.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that puts them in harm's way, as well, doesn't it, the people who are working on it?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Mr. Nungesser, can you stand by for a second? I'm going to bring in Rob Marciano to give us more details on the overtopping of the levee -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, as Billy probably mentioned, the levees can only go up so high. And for the most part they're overtopped for a short amount of time, the longer they're overtopped, the more they have the ability to breach. And that water has the ability to dig through at least the earthen levels of the levee.

And what we saw, (INAUDIBLE) the 17th Street Canals appear in New Orleans (INAUDIBLE) that even they can only go down so far. They have put it down deep are now, but they only go so far (INAUDIBLE).

SAMBOLIN: Rob, can you put the mike closer to your mouth? We're having a very hard time hearing you.

MARCIANO: This is the reason that that area was evacuated. The storm surge, the levees only go up so high. And the problem is the longer they're overwashed, and the slower that the storm moves, it's stalling right now, that's when we have the potential to see a breach. And when we get a breach of those levees, you're talking about more of a catastrophic event. Right now, it's an event where we just have to wait and see, hope that they hold. But this is the reason that that area was evacuated and the area that Plaquemines Parish is so susceptible to hurricanes and this is a situation dicey for the folks who live outside of the more fortified levees here around the city of New Orleans -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You're of watching Rob Marciano there live. I don't know if you can hear him very well, but he was talking about the over reaching of the levees there as opposed to breaching and what it is that is causing that.

Do we still have Magnusson (ph) on the phone here?

NUNGESSER: Yes, we do.

SAMBOLIN: Mungesser.

NUNGESSER: Nungesser.

SAMBOLIN: Is he on the phone still?


SAMBOLIN: If you could just walk us through, Mr. Nungesser, I apologize for mispronouncing your name, Mr. Nungesser, if you could walk us through again -- we were listening to Rob Marciano talking about the differences between this overtopping versus the breaching and the fact that the folks who were evacuated from that area specifically because of this and you have given us some more insight telling us that it wasn't covered with the federal dollars and that's why you had evacuated all of the people, and the effort that it's going to take to go door to door at this stage of the game trying to figure out who did decide to stay behind.

NUNGESSER: We tried that. The sheriff's deputies are over there. But all the roads are unpassable and the people they were able to reach and get out, we don't know if some people are left behind. And now we can't get there and there's no way that we can operate a boat or an air boat in these winds.

So if they're in their house and they got a second floor, they'll need to stay there and we'll have to look at rescuing them as soon as this wind dies down or we get daylight and see what water dealing with.

SAMBOLIN: And, Mr. Nungesser, how many people live in that area, when you called for the evacuation, how many did that affect?

NUNGESSER: Well, on the east bay of Plaquemines, we've got about 2,000 people. The south end is behind federal levee. They seem -- we have not got any reports that there's a breach or overtopping in that area.

In the north end, we know of approximately two dozen people that stayed behind. I'd say about half of those we got out. And I'm not sure that the other within's got out or not. We didn't have direct communication with all of them.

SAMBOLIN: And as a result of this overtopping, are you ordering any additional evacuations?

NUNGESSER: Well, mandatory evacuation, that's all you can do and tell people to get out. But, no, the north end of the parish, Belle Chase, the most populated area, is behind part of that new federal 100 year protection. And that's where our shelters are open and for the first time, we were able to keep our residents that did evacuate in the shelters in the parish. I had that 100-year protection not been in place, these people would have been bused four or five hours away to West Monroe, Louisiana up in the north portion of the state to safety.

So this portion that was completed, we don't see any danger for this area at all at this time.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, we really appreciate your time this morning. Good luck to you.

I know you have a lot of hard wok ahead f work ahead of you. We wish you well and the safety of everybody in that area.

And coming up after this break, we're going to talk to meteorologist Karen Maginnis to get the latest on the storm itself, how strong it is and where exactly it is headed.

We'll be right back.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

You're taking a look at live pictures. This is Jackson Square, French Quarter, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

There are whipping winds going on there. I know you cannot see that right now. There is intense flooding in that area.

And we have breaking news that has come into the CNN newsroom. Emergency management officials in Plaquemines Parish reported overtopping of a levee in the east bank, from Braithwaite and White Ditch. This will result in significant, deep flooding in that area.

And we were speaking a little while ago to Billy Nungesser and he's the president of Plaquemines Parish and he would told us that area had gone under a mandatory evacuation. It affected about 2,000 people.

Unfortunately, not everybody left the area. We know some people were hunkering down. They were attempting to go door to door to notify the people that they needed to get out of that area because of the overtopping of the levee. But they no longer have access and it's become very difficult and very dangerous to access that area.

And so, they said, if somebody is still in that area, go to your second floor to find safety until they can get somebody into that area to assist with the evacuations. But right now a very serious situation happening in Plaquemines Parish because of the overtopping of a levee.

We're going to go over to meteorologist Karen Maginnis. She is in the CNN hurricane headquarters.

What can you tell us about this, Karen? We know it's a very precarious situation for this area. We're very concerned about the people left there.

When I asked the president how many people he thought, he said maybe seven to nine. He wasn't sure, because they weren't really keeping track of exactly how many people evacuated.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We have reports that there are people that did not evacuate. In this district Plaquemines Parish, from Braithwaite to White Ditch, this is about 18 miles, they were saying they were going door to door telling people to evacuate as a levee, the 8-foot levee, overtopped. It was not breached. Meaning, there was not a hole. It didn't -- the wave action didn't --

SAMBOLIN: Break through?

MAGINNIS: Exactly. It has overtopped it.

There were also reports that there was nine feet of water in some of these residences. Now, we're going to zoom in and show you most of these look like residential areas. Looks like fairly large lots here, as well. And they were apparently upset because they didn't get the upgrade as far as the levees go.

But we were seeing -- or/and expecting between maybe 15 to 20 inches of rainfall as hurricane Isaac has stalled across the south coast of Louisiana and in particular for Plaquemines County, they have seen substantial rainfall. We're still trying to get those rainfall totals in.

Even you have to go further east, along the coast in Mobile. They saw record rainfall in Mobile in the past 24 hours, more than 4 inches of rain. If we can go back out again, maybe I'll just show you this rainfall imagery or radar. But from the view that we do have, we see the community, you know, just a few homes here and there, and they were going door to door.

But you can imagine what a terrifying situation --

SAMBOLIN: Karen, can you leave that up for a minute in that's the whole area that is affected by this overtopped levee?

MAGINNIS: This is a portion of that area that is affected. The levee -- the portion of the levee that apparently has been overtopped is this 18-mile area, from Braithwaite to White Ditch. And this is the region where they're saying they're going door to door to get people out or people to evacuate.

You have to remember, this is practically the middle of the night. There's not a lot of visibility. And with this overtopped as we said, not breached, it means it hasn't broken, but it's just gone over that levee, that this is a terrifying situation and we looked at the number of people in this district and it's estimated to be about 12,000.

But in this particular 18 mile area, maybe you've got a couple of thousand people right along that levee.

SAMBOLIN: You know, that is exactly what he said earlier. He said it was about 2,000 people and he knows the majority did evacuate, so it's not a lot of people, but at this stage of the game, they cannot get to them. And so they're waiting to see if the Coast Guard can come in and assist them with that.

I also wanted to mention something you said that was important. This was not part of the $14.5 billion that was spent. So they were in the process of trying to build up this levee to make it stronger hoping that it would last a little longer.

So, we're going to continue to check in with you. I love the fact that you're pinpointing exactly the area that is affected by this.

In the meantime, let's head over to our other top story, John Berman is anchoring from Tampa, for the Republican National Convention -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Zoraida. And I should tell everyone that as this news develops in New Orleans, if anything breaks, well go right back to it.

But we want to give you some quick flavor here from Tampa, where Paul Ryan will be the big event tonight. He will accept the party nomination for vice president of the United States. Last night, really just a few hours ago, it was the start. It was Chris Christie giving the keynote address, the governor of New Jersey.

And the star might have been Ann Romney. Mrs. Romney trying to expose Mitt's softer side.

I'm here with CNN chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

And, Jessica, with Ann Romney last night who delivered this speech with incredible grace and poise, there were moments where there was no subtlety at all. It was very clear who her audience was. I want to play one bite that illustrates what I'm talking about. Let's listen.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: We're the mothers. We're the wives. We're the grandmothers. We're the big sisters. We're the little sisters and we are the daughters. You know it's true, don't you?


I love you women!

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: There it is. No subtlety there.


The president has a distinct advantage among women voters. Latest CNN polling shows by 30 points, he's seen as being more in touch with women than Mitt Romney is among likely voters. That is a huge gap. Women were the voters who helped put the president over the top in 2008 and as you know, Romney's trying to win their votes.

And so, this is his weapon to help try to move women. And the category they're really going for are married women. That's where they think they can make some gains. It was an effort to help try to do that.

BERMAN: She talked a lot about their marriage, saying it's not a storybook marriage, it's a real marriage. And that was very interesting.

She talked about her great love for her husband, how they met in high school, went to a high school dance together -- which made it particularly interesting when later in the night, we also heard from Chris Christie who gave the keynote address. He talked about love, but in a much different way. I want to play a sound bite from him.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: We are demanding that our leaders stop tearing each other down and work together to take action on the big things facing America. Tonight, we're going to do what my mother taught me. Tonight, we're going to choose respect over love.


BERMAN: Respect over love.

YELLIN: It's a subtle dig perhaps at the President Obama, suggesting that he's going for popularity over making the tough calls. And sort of vision he's trying to lay out for the Republican Party.

Paul Ryan has laid out the series of cuts or changes to the entitlements program that are politically difficult. And he's saying let's do the thing that will get us respect, making political difficult choices, right, instead of winning the love of voters in the first place.

BERMAN: Chris Christie building a message that tough calls, it's times to make the tough divisions, Mitt Romney is the man to do that.

YELLIN: That was his point. It took his about 17 minutes to make it after he mentioned himself many more times at the beginning.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent, I'm very glad you're here.

Zoraida, as we said, a lot going on today. Paul Ryan delivering his acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination. That's coming up tonight here.

For now, we'll go back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're really looking forward to that.

And when we come back, we're going to have a lot more on this breaking news story. There has been an overtopping or a breach at Plaquemines Parish in New Orleans. We'll get more details, more information for you right after the break.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

You are taking some -- a look at live pictures from Louisiana. I have some breaking news that I wanted to share with you. Emergency management officials in Plaquemines Parish reported overtopping of a levee on the east bank from Braithwaite to White Ditch. This will result in significant deep flooding in that area.

We had spoken earlier to the president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser. He showed a lot of details with us. I want to bring in Karen Maginnis, if we can, because she's got some image, some graphics that we can use to explain the story a little bit better.

What he was telling us what that this area where there was the overtopping, he is not calling it a breach, that it's an area that affects about 2,000 people. There was an evacuation ordered there, but some people stayed behind. So if you could walk us through where that area is and what exactly has happened, Karen.

MAGINNIS: Apparently it's about an 8-foot high levee. And it affects about 18 miles along this river area. This is the region from Braithwaite to White Ditch. Here is that levee.

Along that levee, they're estimating 1900, maybe 2,000 people. We also have seen those reports that some people did not leave. They were effectively going to try to go door to door to make sure people were either safe or out. That's very dangerous to try to make a rescue operation or to search and rescue people who have not evacuated an area that probably needed to.

All right. Take a look at this. We have what looks to be residential areas, kind of spaced out fairly nicely. But as you can see, there's a lot of empty land across this region.

This is the area that they are saying will see significant deep flooding. They have also reported maybe 9 feet. That's how much these homes perhaps up to 9 feet covering the bottom floor. Not this hour in particular, but just saying in general. So that water rushes in and we're looking at between 15 and maybe 20, maybe more than 20 inches of rainfall.

Jackson, let's back out on the Google Earth and I want to mention one other thing. We'll take a look a little bit further up on the river in a place called Chalmette. That is this area right here. Earlier in the evening, Zoraida, we had a report of a barge in 60-plus mile an hour winds that broke loose, slammed into three boats. One was a 47-foot boat and sunk it. There were no people reported on those boats. No injuries, no fatalities reported. But it just shows you that those sustained winds that constant wind, the constant pull, that's taking place here does damage.

That's why Chad Myers mentioned earlier in the evening that trees are weakened, the buildings -- the higher up you go, the stronger those winds are. Still at a Category 1 hurricane. I want to show you this very quickly.

We had a period of time, Zoraida about two, three hours where this was not moving at all. It was stationery. But I want to also --

SAMBOLIN: Just dumping water, right? Just dumping rain.

MAGINNIS: Continuously, especially along this eastern edge, and by the way, there still is a tornado watch in effect. But this western edge is looking very interesting. It looks like it's almost falling apart. I hesitate to say that because I don't want people over on this side of the storm to think that it's OK to walk about and think that nothing's going to happen.

We still got these intense bands that are wrapping around this, and as a result, it's going to make it over on this other side. But as this progresses further towards the north and northwest over the next several days, affecting Arkansas, northern sections of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, I need to mention, you're the next in line. But we've seen in excess of 350,000 people without power over the past few hours.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Karen Maginnis live for us in the hurricane center in Atlanta. We really appreciate that. I don't want to lose sight of the fact here that we are talking about an over topping of a levee in the east bank from Braithwaite to White Ditch. There are some people that are trapped -- essentially trapped in that area now because they did not heed the evacuation orders.

And that is according to Plaquemines Parish president, Billy Nungesser or Nungesser. We are going to go back and check in with Soledad O'Brien. She's spent a lot of time in this area, see if we can pinpoint exactly where those people are trapped. We're going to do that right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news into the CNN newsroom. Emergency management officials in Plaquemines Parish reported overtopping of a levee on the east bank. This is from Braithwaite to White Ditch. This will result in significant deep flooding in the area. Really important here that the word I'm using is overtopping and not a breach of the levee. So, the water is so high that it has actually gone over the levee. Let's check in with Rob Marciano. He is live there and can explain us a little bit better for us -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, yes, there's a huge difference between overtopping and breaching and also under watching. Overtopping is -- the levees are designed to overtop. The earth (ph) and levees are designed to overtop but not for an extended period of time, and that's what the concern is.

They've got about an eight-foot levee and 10 or 12-foot storm surge, you do the math. You're going to get some overwashing. So, that's what's going on there, and it's frustrating as a weather reporter. I'm sure it's frustrating for the emergency managers in that parish when you have a mandatory evacuation, when you know the forecast and you know the capabilities of that levee system, and people still don't evacuate.

So, that's the issue -- that's the situation right now. We have a handful of people, maybe more, who have not evacuated that part of Plaquemines Parish and now are at risks as the water continues to pour in from the Gulf of Mexico and overtop that levee system. The northern part of Plaquemines Parish has protection, has supped up (ph) protection since Katrina.

And that's where their shelters are, that's where people were told to evacuate and that's where people who live, obviously, didn't have to evacuate. We, by the way, are along the port of New Orleans, which, of course, is closed as you would imagine. A much worse scenario today than it was last night. Wind's blowing more consistently, near hurricane strength.

This hurricane, the center of it, is 60 to 70 miles to our south. Hurricane force winds extend 50 to 60-mile. That's right on the cusp of getting sustained hurricane force winds. We're getting hurricane force gusts, but not sustained for sure, and the rain continues to come down. Our gear is protected under this overhang here, and at times, you can see just how much water is pouring down off this overhang.

So, that's the other issue I'm sure Karen talked about. We're going to see 10, 15, in some cases, maybe over 20 inches of rainfall, fresh water flooding within this new protection of levee systems in the city of New Orleans. That's going to be issue number one. So, you've got levees in some cases being overtopped, here inside the city where the levees are higher, stronger, likely not to be overtopped.

We are definitely going to see and are seeing some fresh water flooding because of all these torrential rains and how slow this storm is moving. I mean, it is crawling. So, we're into likely for much of the day -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Which seems to be what's causing all of the problem here is how slow it is and how much rain it's dumping in the area.

MARCIANO: Absolutely. And that was the concern as Isaac approached. We kept making comparisons to other storms and the closer it got and the track it started taking which was to the west of New Orleans, which is different from Katrina's path to the east, and obviously, a much weaker storm than Katrina.

But the size of the circulation that kind of increased as the storm surge a little bit and the speed as which we knew it was going to move, that had everybody concerned. That's really what this storm Isaac is going to be known for. And quite frankly, in the last 12 hours, it's moved even slower than we thought.

So, that's why the rainfall forecast totals really have been inched up just a little bit, and because of the slow movement or at times no movement at all, you're talking about a lot of flooding that's going to happen, not only in New Orleans but in the surrounding parishes right up through South Central Louisiana.

SAMBOLIN: And we see it ebb and flow as we're watching you this morning. Rob Marciano live for us at the port of New Orleans. Thank you very much. And I'd like to bring back in the president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungusser. Sir, are you there?


SAMBOLIN: If we can talk a little bit about that area. We're very concerned about the people who could be left behind and because of this overtopping of the levee there what the situation is right now. Earlier, you told us that it was difficult to access that area and anybody who would not -- who did not heed the warning of the evacuation. Is that still the case right now?

NUNGUSSER: Yes. We've got about 30 vehicles that got to the ferry landing. They're sitting in their vehicles there riding it out. We were able to get some people out into St. Bernard and there parish president (ph) there has taken them into one of his parish buildings. But, the road is inundated.

We've got reports of 10 and 12 foot of water in homes (ph), and we're working with the coast guard. We've got word of a couple people stranded on one of the levees in a vehicle. And, we're working with the coast guard at trying to rescue those people as soon as we get the winds die down or we get first light. As soon as they feel they can use some kind of means to get through them.

SAMBOLIN: When I talked to you earlier, you said that were urging people that if they are in areas like that to go to second floors. Can you talk to me about the homes in the area, how they're built and most of them have a second floor where people can go for safety?

NUNGUSSER: You know, right now, at this point, there's no way to get to them. So, if the water is coming up and they got a second floor, they need to get to it. You know, we don't advise people to go into attic unless they got a way to break out of that attic in case the water continues to come up.

With this wind continuing to drive this rain and push this water (INAUDIBLE) will go, we have an area in the parish, Woodlawn, we call it, that had absolutely no water for Katrina. They have five feet of water there. And we had no water in that area for Katrina. So, this storm is actually driving in more water to the east bank when we saw Katrina.

SAMBOLIN: Wow! And you mentioned that somebody is stranded on a levee, you said, in a car. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

NUNGUSSER: We don't have a lot of information. We lost radio contact with them. And the coast guard is working on a plan to try to get to those people now.

SAMBOLIN: And you say those people, do we know that it's more than one person that's trapped?

NUNGUSSER: Well, it's two guys that were working for the parish, and they're parish employees. And, they were pump operators that were leaving the pump station when the water started coming over the levee, they were evacuating that pump station when the water started to come over the levee.

They're going to be evacuating that pump station, because there was no need to pump anymore. And they got about a halfway down the levee and couldn't go any further.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. And you said you have lost radio communication with them at this stage of the game, so you have no idea what condition they're in right now.

NUNGUSSER: No. Last we talked, they were safe, and we're working with the coast guard to try to come up with a way to get these people.

SAMBOLIN: And how long ago did you talk to them, sir?

NUNGUSSER: We talked to them about ten minutes ago.

SAMBOLIN: OK. And I just wanted to talk a little bit about more the number of people who actually live in that area that you had a mandatory evacuation. I think earlier you said --


SAMBOLIN: Pardon me.


SAMBOLIN: I thought earlier you said that there were about 2,000 people in that area where there was a mandatory evacuation. Is that right?

NUNGUSSER: Yes, there's 2,000 people on the east bank at Plaquemines that we asked to evacuate. Half of them are behind a federal levee on the south end of the east bay. We have no reports that that levee's been breached or topped. The north end of the east bank, Braithwaite to White Ditch, that area is, we understand, completely inundated in water.

SAMBOLIN: And do you have any indication about how many people are left behind?

NUNGUSSER: No, we don't. You know, we had a mandatory evacuation. Sheriff's deputies were going door to door to see who was left behind, and they did get several people out. Several people drove themselves to the ferry landing, which is above the Mississippi river levee. So, they're sitting up there in their vehicles because the roads became impassable very quickly.

Within a matter of minutes, we went from getting people out to the roads being too flooded to move vehicles.

SAMBOLIN: So, earlier, when I talked to you and you said about five to seven people, what you meant was those are the people that were able to get out and wait in that other area?

NUNGUSSER: They were moving out before the water came up. It came up that quickly.

SAMBOLIN: So, you have no idea who still is left behind. There is no number. No concrete number or no best estimate on that.

NUNGUSSER: No, we don't.

SAMBOLIN: OK. And the last thing I wanted to talk to you a little bit about here is this $14.5 billion that was spent to rebuild the area, including the levees after Katrina. I found an article here saying that there was $1.5 billion in levee upgrades in Plaquemines Parish. Was this particular levee not included in that?

NUNGUSSER: Was not. The $1.5 billion we signed about six weeks ago with the corps of engineers. That's the west bank levees that we're worried about. That work has not started yet. That work will start here before the end of the year and will take two to three years to complete.

SAMBOLIN: So, as this storm continues and we hear that, you know, it just kind of sits and it's dumping an incredible amount of rain, are you concerned about any other levees?

NUNGUSSER: We're concerned about the levees that that money is funded to build on the west bank, because when this storm swings around, we're going to get the same kind of beating on the west levees. The Mississippi River runs in the middle of this parish. We've got four levees, back levees on each side of the river and the Mississippi River levees.

Right now, we're dealing with the east bank back levee. When the storm kicks away, we'll see the same storm surge on the west bank levees that are going to be in the federal system once those levees built with that $1.5 billion.

SAMBOLIN: And so, are you ordering any additional evacuations?

NUNGUSSER: No. The Belle Chasse area is behind the New Orleans billions that was spent. So, we have 100-year protection in the area that we are right now and that's where we evacuated our people to. Usually we bring them five hours away, but because of those federal levees in Belle Chasse, we were able to safely bring the people that needed a shelter right here in Plaquemines Parish keep them close to home.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Billy Nungesser, Plaquemines Parish president, if you could just stand by. I have Soledad O'Brien on the phone. I want to bring her in, as well, because I know -- Soledad, are you there with us?

VOICE OF SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm with you, Zoraida. I can hear you. And I was listening to President Nungesser as he's spoken. I've spent a lot of time in his parish yesterday and obviously talking to him as well. And what he's describing is really, I think, what the great fear was from people there.

The parish is actually very -- in part, very, very long and thin and there's lots of (INAUDIBLE). So, it's very low lying, and really, you know, if you keep sort of taking the main road out of town, you basically hit the water. We spent a lot of time on one of these floodwalls. In fact, as President Nungesser's suggestion (ph), we went down to check it out.

One of the gates of the wall would not close, and they were doing this last minute emergency. And I mean, really, last minute emergency preparations by trying to put this Hesco (ph) basket. The Hesco basket is a little bit of (INAUDIBLE) size, three-foot wide mesh back and they fill it with sand and they lock them all together and that creates a big wall if you can stack them up.

What they were doing was trying to create a road over those Hesco basket so that they'd be able to go block any floodwaters and allow emergency vehicles in and out. They were doing this yesterday afternoon as the rains were coming in and the wind was picking up a little bit really last minute, but they said, you know, this was one of those gates in the part of the levee system that had not been fixed and that was problematic.

So, there were concerns early yesterday that something like this could happen. And when you hear about the overtopping of the levee, I think they're talking about the east part. I think that's a levee that's about eight to nine feet high. And so, (INAUDIBLE). We can show you the pictures where we are. This is in Jackson Square.

You can see that driving wind. You can see what he's talking about. Sending water over that levee. And as it goes over, it obviously wears down the top of the levee, allows no water to go in. That's going to be very problematic. As President Nungesser described trying to rescue people from their homes (INAUDIBLE) it is so dark out and very, very scary, terrifying actually to have people who are up in homes and water is pouring in and impossible to get to them.

You cannot get emergency vehicles to them at this time. Certainly, it's really treacherous. Something you remember very well from hurricane Katrina. You're looking at this map of Plaquemines Parish. It's a very narrow -- that's the parish. It's surrounded by water. And that's why the concern is that more than 90 percent of that parish was under water in Katrina, and he's describing that the post that's not even worse than some of the overtapping --

SAMBOLIN: We have some graphics that are explaining as you go along that we can see them and kind of understand the area a little bit better. Soledad, if you could just stand by. We're going to take a quick break, and then, we're going to bring you back along with President Nungesser to talk a little bit more about Plaquemines Parish and the peril that they're facing now. We'll be right back.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. You are taking a look at a live picture there from New Orleans, Louisiana where hurricane Isaac is reeking its havoc there. There are strong winds. There is some serious flooding. And breaking news to tell you about. Emergency Management Officials in Plaquemines parish reported overtopping of the levee on the east bank.

This is from Braithwaite to White Ditch. This will, they say, result in significant deep flooding in that area. As a matter of fact, we talked to Plaquemines Parish president, Billy Nungesser, and he told us that there is a peril situation going on right now because they did order a mandatory evacuation in this area, and of course, not everybody heeded that warning.

So, they are in effect now trying to figure out what to do with the folks who stayed behind. They sent people in to go door to door, but at this stage of the game, they can no longer do that, because the waters, he said, in some cases, are 12 feet into people's homes. So, they are standing by with the coast guard trying to figure out exactly what to do. About 2,000 people live in that area.

He thinks half definitely got out. Uncertain as to how many people stayed behind. He did say that the first level when they went in knocking on doors, they took out between five and seven people, but he cannot give a best guess estimate as to how many people, perhaps, are left behind. We're continuously checking in with them to see if the situation changes.

We do know that they are working with the coast guard to try to resolve that situation. We do also know that there are some folks stranded right near the levee. It was two workers in that area. And we talked to him maybe about 20 minutes ago, and he said the last time that he had spoken to them was ten minutes before through radio communication, but they no longer had that radio communication.

They do know the exact location of those two men, and he said they are also working on trying to get them to safety. But at this stage of the game, it is a very difficult area to enter, because it is really inundated. It is covered in water. So, we are going to continue to monitor the situation for you and bring you the very latest developments there.

This is in Plaquemines Parish where the situation is happening. In the meantime, we're going to head over to other top story of the morning and that is in Tampa, Florida. John Berman is standing by there anchoring the Republican National Convention coverage. Good morning to you, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Zoraida. And of course, tonight, Paul Ryan will accept the vice presidential nomination for the Republican Party just a few short steps from where I am right now in the CNN Grill. And a few hours ago, it was Chris Christie delivering the keynote address for the Republicans.

But the speech that may have given the most excitement to the crowd came from Ann Romney, Mitt Romney's wife, who is trying to present the sort of softer side to the former Massachusetts governor. Did it work?

I'm joined now by Margaret Hoover, a Republican strategist, former employee of the Bush administration. She's here right now. I want to get a general sense right now. How do you think they did?

MARGARET HOOVER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think they both did good. The first thing you have to keep in mind for these sort of speeches as you're getting to know the candidate, you're building up to Mitt Romney, the first cardinal rule is do no harm. And not only did they do no harm, they also began to -- look, Ann Romney sat there, and she talked about her husband.

And you began to get a sense of his character from the unique character witness and perspective and position that she's had in his life as his partner and the journey they've had for over 40 years. I think she hit a double. She didn't need to hit a home run. But I think she hit a strong double.

BERMAN: A double. Just a double. That's interesting. Now, let me play a little bit of sound she said, because one of the things we've been talking about is the target audience for this may have been the women vote. Of course, Mitt Romney trails President Obama among women. I want to play one short bite where she talks about women in a not too subtle way.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: We're the mothers. We're the wives. We're the grandmothers, we're the big sisters. We're the little sisters, and we are the daughters. You know it's true, don't you?


ROMNEY: I love you women!



BERMAN: So, there's not much nuance in that. I love you women.

HOOVER: So, we knew that Ann Romney was going to talk to women, try to connect with women. Of course, Mitt Romney has been behind women about double digits from President Obama. So, there is no question about whether she was going to try to reach out to women, whether she was going to try to bridge the divide.

She's been part of the debate ever since a Democratic commentator actually said that Ann Romney hasn't had a job the day in her life. And when Ann Romney came out and said, excuse me, I've been a mother of five children, I've worked very hard at this, this has really consumed my life, that's when the numbers started to change in terms of softening -- women softening for Mitt Romney and really having sympathy.

So, we knew she's going to do it. The question for conservatives who really pride ourselves as not pandering to special interest groups is, was Ann Romney able to strike the right balance?

Was she able to invoke the amount of sympathy she invoked during the earlier debate against the war on (ph) women or did she hue too close it the line of simply saying remember, woman, I'm a woman, women, women, women, in a way that rubs conservatives, sometimes, the wrong way.

BERMAN: You say she hit a double, not a home run. Margaret Hoover, thank you very much for being here. We will talk to you throughout the morning. It is great to see you. There is a lot of news going on right now in New Orleans, in Louisiana with hurricane Isaac hitting, and I want to go back to Zoraida for the latest on that.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. We do have the latest on a developing story here. It's breaking news we have, the overtopping of a levee on the east bank from Braithwaite to White Ditch. It's going to result in significant flooding in this area. When we come back, we are going to talk to the president of Plaquemines Parish. He's going to tell us what the situation is right now.

There are some people, we understand, that are stranded. And also standing by is Soledad O'Brien who's very familiar with this (ph) as well. We're going to check in with her as well. We'll be right back.