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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Water Overtopping Levee In Plaquemines Parish; Isaac Soaks Mississippi; Hurricane Coverage

Aired August 29, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I am John Berman live in Tampa, the site of the Republican National Convention.

But we do have breaking news this morning. It is about Hurricane Isaac, which is pounding Louisiana right now. For that, I want to go to Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you, John. And the breaking news is that Emergency Management officials in Plaquemines Parish reported overtopping of a levee on the east bank and it is from a Breakwith to White Ditch.

This will result in significant deep flooding in the area. As you know, Hurricane Isaac has been pouring rain down into that area, which is creating quite a problem there. It is an overtopping of a levee and we're going to get more details here.

We've been talking this morning with the president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser and he is going to join us now as well.

We also have Soledad O'Brien who is in Louisiana. I want to bring you both on. But I'd like to start with you, Mr. Nungesser, because earlier we were a little concerned about these two workers that are stranded on the levee.

You were telling us and you had lost communication with them. Is there an update on that?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT OF PLAQUEMINES PARISH (via telephone): Yes, we did regain communication by radio. And we have someone that is going to make an attempt to reach them by boat. One of the residents has a boat not far from there, very familiar with the area.

He is going to attempt to try to get to them shortly. The problem is you can't see very well, the rain and the wind are blowing so hard and our fire department made attempts to rescue some people in that area.

We had reports there was one lady on a rooftop. And so we're fighting these elements and we're also enlisting the National Guard and the Coast Guard to try to help in these efforts. SAMBOLIN: So it's not the Coast Guard, but an actual resident who will attempt to rescue them?

NUNGESSER: Yes, we just got word he was going to take a boat and he had a boat that was in the area and he was going to make an attempt to try to go get them off the levee.

SAMBOLIN: All right and I want to recap for anybody who is joining us right now. We were talking earlier, this area was under mandatory evacuation, about 2,000 people you had said earlier live in the area.

But some people did stay behind, chose not to evacuate. If you can update on that and Soledad, feel free to jump in, I know the two of you have been chatting since yesterday.

Soledad, you're very familiar with this area as well. We want to update as to how many people still affected. We know originally it was 2,000. Do you have a grasp, President Nungesser as to how many may be behind in their homes? You mentioned one person on the roof of their house --

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "STARTING POINT": Zoraida --

NUNGESSER: Go ahead.

SAMBOLIN: Hold on, Soledad. Mr. Nungesser is going to answer this question and then we'll go out to you.

NUNGESSER: Yes, 2,000 residents live over there. Most of them got out. Less than a dozen out before the water got too high and that's all we know at this time.

SAMBOLIN: Soledad, are you there? Mr. Nungesser, if we could just continue talking -- here's Soledad. Yes, Soledad, can you hear me?

O'BRIEN: Obviously, we're having serious audio problems as the winds have picked up very dramatically here and the rain is kind of painful when it runs into your face.

You know, you're listening to Billy Nungesser talking a little bit about some of the overtopping and the wind really pushing that water overtopping. We're experiencing some of that wind right now.

What he's describing is something we saw a lot of in Hurricane Katrina obviously. People where I am and I'm in the more touristy section of Jackson Square, they feel protected because of the levee work that's been done.

The wall, $1.1 billion wall that they closed the gates on yesterday afternoon to try to protect against any kind of storm surge. Those are some serious upgrades, but obviously anything outside the levee system and anything that hasn't been upgraded is still a weakness -- Zoraida. SAMBOLIN: That's exactly what President Nungesser was saying. President Nungesser, I'm getting a report here, the National Weather Service is receiving reports of 5 feet of water from Wood Lawn Fire Department in the area.

And it says the Plaquemines Emergency Management say the overtopping was a parish back levee from St. Bernard Parish line to White Ditch so the same on. Can you tell us anything about that?

They are saying 5 feet of water from Wood Lawn Fire Department in that area. Where is it in relation to --

NUNGESSER: The Wood Lawn area is an area that actually did not flood for Katrina. We had no water at Wood Lawn from Katrina and there's 5 feet in an area that had no water from Katrina. That tells you water that's being pumped in by the storm.

We also have reports of 10 to 12 feet of water in Holmes. If there's someone in their roof, they are up there because their home is inundated with water.

SAMBOLIN: And clearly right now, it's very difficult for anybody to see anything and to see if there are more people that are stranded on rooftops because it's just simply too dark?

NUNGESSER: It's dark but also this driving rain is -- you're starting to see it there in the French Quarter, but we've been seeing it all night. And you can't drive in it, can't see.

It stings. You can't see your hand in front of your face. It's wind and driven rain and it's -- it makes it very difficult to do anything out in it.

SAMBOLIN: Soledad was saying that earlier you were actually trying to secure this levee. I believe that was yesterday when she was in the area.

Did the residents see that you were attempting to secure the levee that perhaps there could be a problem and still made the decision to stay behind?

NUNGESSER: Well, we always try to storm proof before an event. Knowing that the storm surge that was projected in those areas, we did everything that was physically possible to beef them up, cover them with plastic the best we could for this event.

But now that we see water at Wood Lawn, and area that had no water for Katrina that tells you the amount of volume of water that is being pushed over the levees into this community, nonstop for all of this time and it's going to continue for several more hours.

SAMBOLIN: That's 5 feet of water from the Wood Lawn Fire Department. How far is that from the levee?

NUNGESSER: Well, that's not far from the levee, but that's the highest area of east bank of Plaquemines Parish, it's never flooded before. And the fire department reported 5 feet there and 12 and 14 feet in other areas. That shows you there's more water being pumped in there than some of those areas saw for Katrina.

SAMBOLIN: And I just want to reiterate here for any of our viewers that are just joining us. This is an overtopping of a levee in Plaquemines Parish and this is a levee that was not covered by the $14.5 billion that were spent on the state after Hurricane Katrina.

There is an article here and it's from the Army Corps of Engineers that said that $1.5 billion in levee upgrades were spent in Plaquemines Parish. And you're telling us it was not a levee that was included in that $1.5 billion. Is that correct?

NUNGESSER: This was levee was left out of the federal system obviously because they didn't seek the justification for the amount of people that live there is the only thing we can figure.

The $1.5 billion that's being spent, that work will start in about a month. That's the west bank, the levees that we were worried about after the storm kicks around and I'm sure we'll be talking about those levees tomorrow.

SAMBOLIN: So the people that are living in that area, will they be evacuated or has that been ordered?

NUNGESSER: They were evacuated the day before yesterday or yesterday, I'm losing track of the days now.

SAMBOLIN: I can't imagine, you're working very hard there. If we can update before I let you go, again, the condition of these two stranded workers. You say they were parish workers. What were they doing in the area? Do you expect to be able to take them out soon?

NUNGESSER: We're going to do everything possible, absolutely. What we do is our pump operators stay in the pump stations as long as they feel safe. The minute they feel safety is a problem, they are authorized to leave immediately and come to the government complex.

These workers saw the water coming over the levee, got in their vehicle and headed out. It came up within minutes to where they didn't feel safe driving their vehicle any further. So they stopped on the levee and we began to try to get to them to get them out of there.

SAMBOLIN: And you did mention earlier that there is a resident in the area with a boat who is going to attempt to rescue?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely, he called in.

SAMBOLIN: We wish them well. It sounds awfully dangerous.

NUNGESSER: It is. He's very brave and we didn't encourage him to do it, but he insisted to try to bring these men back to the main levee.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, that's what you do for your neighbors. President Nungesser, we really appreciate your time this morning. Please standby because I'm sure we're going to check in again.

We really want to know how many people are left behind and if in fact you're able to rescue them. We appreciate your time this morning and good luck to you.

In another part of the gulf coast getting smacked by Isaac, Mississippi. CNN national correspondent David Mattingly is live in Gulfport, Mississippi, which has been getting pounded with wind and you've got some rain right now as well.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've got some rain, but the wind has been very, very consistent all night long. And at times, we've had absolutely torrential rain where you can't see very hard ahead of you, but one of those bands is not with us right now.

We have been getting reports in the last hour of flooding in the low lying areas along the coastal areas of Mississippi. This is -- these areas are hundreds of square miles along the coast here. And in some places they are seeing a couple of feet of floodwaters.

And we haven't really seen significant storm surge just yet because high tide isn't until about mid morning. So that's the point we're expecting to see in some areas possibly up to about 10 feet of storm surge along the coast here in Mississippi as this storm has just parked itself right here on the coast.

So far we're hearing from emergency officials to say they are very pleased with the way people heeded evacuation warnings and people who lived in the low-lying areas. We see a couple of thousand people that are in shelters tonight.

We also at this point have several thousand homes that are in the dark without electricity. And as this storm continues, this relentless tropical storm force conditions here, we're going to see the ground continuing to be saturated and trees blowing over and power lines going down and more and more homes in the dark.

So, at this point, the significant thing here is the low-lying areas of coastal Mississippi, we have confirmed that there is flooding, a couple of feet in some areas. Some roads are flooded and some roads are closed and we're really not even close to being out of this storm yet -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: No, this one will stick around for a while. David Mattingly, thank you very much. Stay with us here, we have coverage along the entire gulf coast of Hurricane Isaac.

We're also going to talk about the overtopping of a levee in Plaquemines Parish. Two workers stranded there and there is a resident who is attempting to rescue him at this hour. We're going to try to get more details for you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We are live in New Orleans, Louisiana, where hurricane Isaac has some whipping winds, a lot of flooding in that area.

We have breaking news to report as well. A levee that has been overtopped in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, it extends roughly from Braithwaite to White Ditch. It is causing a lot of havoc in that area.

And Soledad O'Brien is standing by now. And she knows that area very well.

And, Soledad, my big question is, I know you were there yesterday. You were talking to the president of the Plaquemines Parish and he was setting up a system in order to maybe stop this breach of a levee from happening.

Did the people in the area see that happening? Why didn't they heed that warning?

O'BRIEN: Hey, Zoraida. Yes.

Let me first tell you a little bit about where we are. Some of the issues that they're having in Plaquemines Parish are similar to here, which is this driving rain. And when Plaquemines Parish president, Billy Nungesser, talks about the wind blowing some of that water right over that levee, which is about eight to nine foot high on the east side, this is some of that driving rain and wind as well.

The problems in Plaquemines Parish, some of the levee system is outside of the federal levee protection, which means it hasn't been upgraded. That particular levee that he's talking about, that's not the levee system that has had all of money poured into it. They had some serious concerns about that yesterday when we spoke to the parish president. Some of those big concerns obviously are being realized today.

The big problem, of course, Zoraida, as you try to rescue people -- that's what he says now, they are trying to pull people out of what seems to be 10 feet of water, maybe 12 feet of water in the parish because the levee has been overtopped in the area. That is obviously very problematic. Look how dark it is and in this weather it will be almost impossible for rescue crews to get in there until the sun rises a little bit.

Yesterday when we were working in Plaquemines Parish, what we saw was a flood gate outside the system, which means it wasn't even really working. So, what they were trying to create massive, massive sandbags, about my height, probably three feet wide, to block off what was a road that was right in the storm's path essentially.

And then after that they paved a road over it or put gravel over it so that they can bring emergency vehicles in and out of that road. That was a real last minute attempt to try to see if they could hold off some of that, those floodwaters should they come and, obviously, that seems to be a big problem in that parish right now.

We know there are around 300 people who are in shelters in Plaquemines Parish. They had three shelters set up. Yesterday afternoon, they also put a curfew in from dusk to dawn. And those folks are people who thought they were in such low-lying areas it would be better for them to get out of their homes and try to ride out the storm in one of those shelters which included a church and also an auditorium.

Clearly that was a smart decision as they see the problems they are having in that parish right now. We're going to have an opportunity when the sun comes up a bit to check in with folks and see how they are doing today.

For the folks here in New Orleans, they are hoping to avoid those problems in Plaquemines Parish because they created this wall, $1.1 billion levee system. We took some pictures of this yesterday. Runs two miles, big problem, of course, in the past, certainly in Katrina, was there was a surge of water that basically ran up the intercoastal highway and that's what flooded the Lower Ninth Ward, and that's what flooded the city of New Orleans. And that was a big problem for St. Bernard Parish as well, in addition to other problems, clearly.

So, what they are hoping to do in that big wall is block off that storm surge. They close the gates yesterday afternoon and they are hoping that the walls which are 26 feet in some areas, 200 feet from the water down. They're going to be able to protect against the problems that they're seeing in Plaquemines Parish.

But, obviously, we're watching that very, very closely. Here, this is, of course, tourist central. We're in Jackson Square in New Orleans.

And here's the big problem -- not just the driving wind and rain but standing water we're seeing. When we left here last night, probably 2 inches, much higher than that now. Combination of debris and standing water is what's worrying everybody here because the pumping system, even at the best times, you can't really pump that much water out of the city. It's a real worry for people. So, we're watching that as well.

SAMBOLIN: Soledad, earlier when we were talking to the president, he mentioned a couple of other levees he was concerned about. Do you know anything about that?

O'BRIEN: Yes, this is a problem for Plaquemines Parish. I mean, you take a look at that map that you guys have been showing, a really great map you've had, which really shows Plaquemines Parish is long and thin, right? It's surrounded by all these bayous. There's not much land, you know, in the parish.

And so, you have this complicated levee system dotted all around the area. And so, they are worried about a lot of those levees, they are outside the upgrade region. He's very concerned on the east side, on the west side, they are watching them very closely and they are right to be concerned. They haven't been fixed and it's something they've been before the storm frankly they were worried about the strength of those levees.

We've got Jennifer Delgado joining us. She's live this morning. I can't -- Jennifer, can you hear me?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I hear you. Now, let's take it away, Soledad. Yes, we're going to take a bit more about the overtopping of this breach. Now, I should say of this levee.

As we're showing our graphic here, and we're talking about an 18-mile stretch area that extends from Braithwaite, all the way down to White Ditch. Now, you can kind of see for yourself. Again, this is 18 miles, and it's roughly located about 70 miles away from New Orleans, about 50 to 70 miles.

As I show you right here. This is actually the levee. We do know it was built about eight feet. Now, we're apparently trying to work on the second phase of this levee. Well the problem is of course, we're talking about the overtopping and the rainfall has been incredible.

So when you're talking about persistent heavy rainfall, of course, this is going to put strain on the levee system. We are hearing reports of roughly 1,200 residents that live in the region again. And as you can see for yourself, it's not really widely populated. But this gives an idea.

This is the levee, this is the street view. So, you can see when it starts to come over, yes, it threatens land, of course. Roads are impassable and you're looking at a home right here.

Now, the other problem to is when you're dealing with the heavy rainfall, then you combine in the strong winds and I know they mentioned that a resident was trying to go rescue a resident in need. The problem is whether conditions are so bad right now this is certainly not a smart thing to do.

Now as I minimize this for you a bit more. We want to talk about the bad weather also has happening. As we go over to our radar, we do have actually a tornado warnings in place. Now they are in place.

It looks like roughly to about 5:45, that Central Time for anywhere you're seeing in Mississippi. You can see just to the east of Biloxi and then up towards the north. You can see just northwest of Wiggins.

So, this is in place, which means make sure you are in steady shelter, make sure you try to get to the lowest place in your home because we do have a tornado warning and this will be a great threat really as we go throughout the morning. Now, as I minimize this for you an we take you over and show you on the wider view, we do have a tornado watch in place.

We're expecting this hurricane to weaken as we go later into the day wind wise but the problem is the rainfall is not going to lessen at all. We're talking about an incredible amount. Some of these areas 10 to 20 inches. Certainly, this is going to be a strain on really any of those levee systems and it's going to be really something to see how they all hold up against this -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jennifer, thanks for that update. We're kind of standing in the middle of it. We're covering hurricane Isaac now live for you. You're watching our special coverage.

As we tell you what's happening in the various parishes here, I'm in the middle of the French Quarter, Jackson Square, where the driving wind and rain is actually quite painful and hard to stand up at some points. Big concern here is the flooding. We've seen a little bit of it.

But, of course, we're monitoring what's happening around the city and other parishes as well. Let's get right to Rob Marciano.

Rob, where are you and what are you seeing?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We are at the port of New Orleans, Soledad, and we're seeing some of the structures around us that's actually begin to peel apart just north of where the Carnival Cruise Lines or west where the where the Carnival Cruise Lines load and unload is this industrial area where probably the largest Mardi Gras warehouse is of Mardi Gras stuff.

Also to my left is an area that has probably hosts a lot of Mardi Gras balls. When we get sun up, we'll be able to show you a structure there that's no doubt used to entertain people is being slowly ripped apart. As you mention, Soledad, the winds have certainly gotten a lot worse as has the rain. I come underneath the protected structure where we're trying to keep our equipment dry, exceedingly difficult because the rain, as you would imagine and as you can see, is coming down side ways and coming down very, very steadily.

Weather now versus what it was seven or eight hours ago is much more consistently bad in the way of winds that are sustained at 40 and in some cases 45 miles per hour, higher gusts than that. We had report of a wind gust on Lake Pontchartrain of 83 miles per hour. So, it looks like for New Orleans, the worse of the storm is now, versus last night.

We're on the right side of it, that is the bad side, the dirty side. Katrina we were on the left side. This has a whole other handful of ramifications and one of which is the overwashing of levees down in Plaquemines Parish. When Katrina came through, Plaquemines Parish, for the most part was OK, as parts as storm surge goes. But because that water is being pushed on the right side, New Orleans and much of the southeast Louisiana quite frankly is getting the brunt of this storm.

On top of that, we've got tornado watch going on and the winds are going to be near hurricane force probably for the next six to eight hours. So, we're in this for a good chunk of today Soledad -- or Zoraida.

O'BRIEN: Well, it certainly isn't feeling good. It's feeling good, like it's gotten stronger. In six to eight hours of this, it's going to be a long way.

All right. Rob Marciano -- thanks, Rob, for that update. We've got to take a short break and come back in just a moment, and we're going to update you on what's happening here in the city of New Orleans and outside as well as we monitor hurricane Isaac and the progress it's making as it hits the Gulf Coast.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

O'BRIEN: Good morning, everybody. Welcome. You're watching our special coverage of hurricane Isaac as it hits the Gulf Coast. We're coming to you live from New Orleans this morning -- New Orleans, Louisiana.

Brian Todd and I have been bearing out the storm overnight.

A couple of things we're watching, the standing water could be a big problem.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Soledad. We've been here since midnight and we can say, I think honestly, you felt it just as I have -- these are the strongest bursts we have seen since midnight of wind and rain, standing water, Soledad.

I mentioned, we can bring you over here. Our photojournalist Greg Keel is going to come with me. This is a huge problem. This is standing water here has increased in volume in the last few hours.

We're getting just a lot of rainfall. I'm not sure how many inches an hour. I believe our meteorologist have said this thing could bring up to 3 inches of rain per hour. I don't know if it's doing that right now but it's getting close. Standing water is a huge danger. City officials say do not go near the stuff and don't step in it, because it is deceivingly deep.

Here's another danger, debris. You can see the debris field behind me. Limbs have been coming down all over the place, flying around us. Greg, I don't know if you can get a shot of the trees up here.

This one is a pretty solid tree but it's been really whipping around and losing a lot of limbs. They are flying around here. We're told that at least 12 intersections of New Orleans right now have water like this, are experiencing some flash flooding and at least 25 intersections, streets are down -- excuse me, trees are down in the streets and brought down power lines with them. And at least two of those locations we were told that people had to be rescued from their homes, evacuated from their homes because trees fell on their homes.

So, Soledad, at least two rescue situations in the city of New Orleans this morning.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about outside the city of New Orleans, Plaquemines Parish, both you and I have spent time there. Billy Nungesser has been on our air. He's the president of Plaquemines Parish, talking about some of the problems they are having there.

It looks like one of the levees there has been overtopped. He said that the strong winds have pushed some of the water right into the parish. They are very concerned about that.

Also people who did not evacuate, they are trying to see if they can locate them. Unsure this hour exactly how many folks they cannot really track down.

TODD: That's right. They are having a tough time getting to them because of these conditions. They do expect some severe flooding as a result of that overtopping, Soledad, and that's a very low lying area. They were under a mandatory evacuation.

And he was a little frustrated this morning when he was on our air that some people didn't get out. He thinks maybe six or eight didn't get out. He doesn't know how much are stranded right now.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they are clearly watching that as well. So, here in New Orleans, one of the issues that they are worried about is the surge. That was a big problem, clearly, of hurricane Katrina.

So you have this flooding, which is a different problem. The storm surge is something, that wall they have now built, at the cost of $1.1 billion, they are hoping is going to protect against any kind of storm surge. It's 26-foot high wall. That should be able to protect the city certainly in what we're seeing so far.

But clearly, in Plaquemines Parish where much of that parish is outside of the levee system and outside of the levee system and outside of the federal system and outside the rebuild. That's a huge problem for them there.

We're going to continue to monitor hurricane Isaac for you, not only here in New Orleans but from all of our locations. We'll check back in with parish president, Billy Nungesser and find out what's happening in Plaquemines for you, and update on the storm.

We've got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.

You're watching special coverage of hurricane Isaac. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 37 minutes past the hour.

You're taking a live look at New Orleans, Louisiana, where hurricane Isaac is creating quite of bit of havoc. There is a lot of rain falling in the area.

When we first talked about this storm and hurricane, we talked about a big rain event and that is exactly what has been happening. There has been a problem with a levee in Louisiana.

Soledad O'Brien is live on the phone with us right now.

And it's Plaquemines Parish where they had a problem with the levee. I know we have coverage along the entire Gulf Coast there of the storm.

And, Soledad, what can you tell us? What's the latest where you are?

O'BRIEN (via telephone): Where we are, which is in Jackson Square, New Orleans, for anybody who has come as a tourist to the city, probably has spent time in Jackson Square, the French Quarter right now completely desert as the winds are high -- the rain is now a driving rain.

The big concern and you're looking at the live picture of our location. It's very hard to hear when wind picks up.

So, you can see the standing water and that's been a big concern, Zoraida. We were talking about this yesterday with the pumping system. We were very concerned whether the pumps would be able to get the standing water out of the city.

But you're seeing there, symbolic of what's happening at least 12 intersections and had to close them down. They can't get the water out. That's the problem in Plaquemines Parish, as you talked about a minute ago, looks like they are in some trouble, been hearing from the parish president, Billy Nungesser, about the issues there.

It's very, very low lying area. Absolutely hammered in the wake of hurricane Katrina. More than 90 percent was under water. One of those levees has been overtopped. The levee that was not rebuilt, it's outside of the federal protection area and that means that they are expecting some severe flooding, maybe 8 to 10 feet is what the president was saying, parish president was saying, coming into people's homes, big problem because it's so dark out. Very hard to be able to get a rescue operation going and it's unclear how many folks did not heed evacuation warnings and did not get out of their homes in the low-lying parish.

I want to go to Joe Locascio. He is riding out the storm in Broadmoor -- Broadmoor neighborhood which is uptown in New Orleans.

Hey, Joe. Can you hear me?

JOE LOCASCIO, HOME WAS DAMAGED BY KATRINA IN 2005 (via telephone): Ye, I can. How are you?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I'm good. Thank you. How are you is really the question. I know you're with your family.

Tell any about what you've been experiencing.

LOCASCIO: Well, since I was on an hour and a half ago, two broken windows in the house I had to board up. We had water on the first floor, but that's -- we live on the second floor. I went down and there's water standing water in one part of the house downstairs.

O'BRIEN: So, how much water are you talking about on the first floor?

LOCASCIO: There's about six inches but it's only in one room. It's kind of starting to creep up so I had had to move a few things. But that's our floor where we keep our washer and dryer and stuff like that. We don't actually live down there.

O'BRIEN: Give me comparison to what the neighborhood was like in the wake of hurricane Katrina? How much water did you get uptown? I know a lot of homes in uptown were spared.

LOCASCIO: Yes. The uptown area, they were the closer to the river. The closer you were to the river, the better you were. We're probably about maybe 3/4 of a mile from where the water stopped. So we were in the water. We had six feet of water in the house. If you go 3/4 towards the river, that's where the water kind of stopped.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: How are you feeling? The winds are high and we're not far obviously, probably a 20-minute drive or so from where you are. The rain has been a driving rain. We've been watching -- just want to make sure we don't get clocked by anything flying off a tree or coming off a sign.

LOCASCIO: Right.

O'BRIEN: How are you feeling about your decision to stay?

LOCASCIO: I still feel fairly good about it but wish I was somewhere with air conditioning. But, right now, I'm standing on my porch by the front door. It's a nice breeze out here right now obviously.

But we got wind driving through some of our windows, even though they are closed because the wind is hitting the windows so hard, the rain is coming underneath the window. So we're getting a little bit of water in the upstairs but nothing we can't manage.

O'BRIEN: When you look out, I assume you have lost power and every one of your neighbors has lost power as well. When you look out your front porch where you're standing, tell me what you're seeing.

LOCASCIO: Now I'm seeing big branches now from that have fallen from trees and some debris but mostly lots of leaves. But now, there's big branches that have fallen off the oak trees in my neighborhood, and every once in a while, you hear transformers going off. There's still power in the area somewhere because the transformers are popping and you hear that every now and then.

O'BRIEN: I know you've sort of hunkered down with your daughter and your wife and some other folks as well. How are they doing?

LOCASCIO: They are all sleeping.

(LAUGHTER)

LOCASCIO: My wife was up with me doing most of the work with the water actually cleaning up the windows but now boarding the windows that have broken. But now I think she went back and took -- she's actually sleeping right now.

O'BRIEN: Great.

LOCASCIO: I'm up by myself.

O'BRIEN: What everybody has been calling the wall, that 2-mile really giant wall that is to protect the intercoastal highway from pouring into the city as it did in hurricane Katrina.

Many people tell me they felt very confident at that wall which is brand-new at one point $1 billion cost, is going to do very well in the storm. How do you feel about it?

LOCASCIO: I mean, I hope it does because if is it doesn't, then we'll have the same -- similar problem we had in Katrina since then the water will get through the industrial canal and could top the levees there. But there's still other levees even if that new project doesn't work, there are still other levees that the water would have to go over.

O'BRIEN: Right. We're watching that as well. Joe Locascio, thanks for talking with us. Go join your family back to bed.

LOCASCIO: You be safe. Thanks.

O'BRIEN: At this point high winds the driving rain, watching where we are as well. Joe Locascio talking with us. He lives in the Broadmoor neighborhood of New Orleans.

We got to check in with our other reporters this morning. We've got David Mattingly who's standing by with us live. He's in Gulfport, Mississippi.

David, last I talked to you, the winds are starting to come in. I have to imagine it's much worse in Gulfport?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been pretty sustained tropical storm conditions since midnight. Some hours it gets a little worse than others. But we're seeing continuous bands of rain, continuous wind.

We're getting an update because the storm is moving so slowly, they are upgrading the predictions for rainfall along the Mississippi coast. Before, we were looking at maybe about a foot of rain here. Now, it's been revised upward -- 14 to 18 inches possible on some parts of the Mississippi coast now.

We're also now getting reports that there is flooding in some low- lying areas along the coast. And when we talk about low-lying areas on coastal Mississippi, we're talking about hundreds of square miles. Some of those areas are seeing flooding, some of those areas a couple of feet right now.

Authorities are also reporting that there is water flooding roadways, some roads are closed. And right now, water is really the enemy from this storm on the Mississippi Coast. And we haven't even started to talk about storm surge yet. We really haven't seen anything significant with this storm in that regard. But high tide comes at mid morning here.

And that's when we could see problems in some places the surf, the high tide coming in, perhaps, 10 feet while the storm surge at that time. So, everyone is still bracing for the worst of this storm, and because it is just moving so slowly, it is being absolutely relentless. The longer this goes, the more the problems that they're seeing now will continue to compound and spread.

So, we're just going to keep an eye on this, and hopefully, that people will have enough time to get out of harm's way if they find that they're not in the place they need to be right now. But authorities were saying that they were very encouraged that people were listening to the evacuation orders.

They saw a couple of thousand people in shelters right now, and right now, we're also seeing several thousand people with the electricity out, and that number is expected to continue as this storm continues its relentless march across the Gulf Coast here, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. David Mattingly reporting live for us from Gulfport, Mississippi. Thanks, David, appreciate that update.

And we should mention the overall number that we're hearing from --

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O'BRIEN: We're live in New Orleans where we are covering hurricane Isaac and the progress that is making across the Gulf Coast. We're obviously having lots of problem standing as the winds have really picked up, and the rain is a driving rain and actually hurts when it slams into your face.

We're monitoring the storm's progress. We want to check in now with Craig Fugate. We've been talking with him over the last couple of days that we were monitoring Isaac's progress. He's in Tallahassee, Florida. Mr. Fugate, thank you for talking with us. We always appreciate it.

Here's my question for you. A lot of the conversations we had over the last couple of days were, you know, is FEMA prepared as you see the storm hitting. How are you feeling about the response of FEMA and how people have prepared for this storm, sir? CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, we're in Jackson, Mississippi right now heading to Baton Rouge later today. What I think was really important was the governors of both states that were impacted ordering those evacuations as we're seeing. That storm surge is relentless and people did evacuate.

But for a lot of folks, they need to stay inside while the storm comes through. We have resources ready to go, but until the winds come down, we're really asking people if you're not somewhere that's dangerous, stay where you're at unless you're told to evacuate.

(INAUDIBLE)

SAMBOLIN: Mr. Fugate, this is Zoraida Sambolin back in New York. Sorry about that, but we're having some difficulty, as you can imagine because of the storm with communication there in New Orleans. So, if we could talk a little bit more about particularly Plaquemines Parish.

Have you been following this morning the situation there and the situation with the levee, and you know, the $14.5 billion, I think, that was spent in the area.

And the president there told us, Mr. Nungesser, President Nungesser, that there was no money set aside for that particular levee, and that they were just trying to kind of piece it together in order to protect the people in the area. Can you tell us anything about that?

FUGATE: Well, again, the area you're talking about, the $14 billion was actually the greater city of New Orleans metropolitan area. So, that was the system that, you know, was the reason why the mayor and governor looked at New Orleans and didn't order an evacuation there.

But knowing what they had down in Plaquemine Parish, that's why they did order the evacuations, that those systems were not designed for the storms and that's why they were the evacuations.

SAMBOLIN: And, I know that they're trying to get some assistance into that area right now. Do you know anything about that, whether or not -- we know that there was one person, they said, perhaps, is on the roof of a house that is trapped. Do you know anything about that and the situation there?

FUGATE: No, I don't. I mean, a lot of this response is going to be moment by moment. I know that the governor of Louisiana, Governor Jindal, had his teams ready to go. But we had asked people to evacuate. One of the concerns was during the height of the storm, it's extremely dangerous to try to reach people.

So, again, that will affect and slow down the response until the storm moves through, but there are teams ready to go. But again, we're in Jackson, Mississippi. Now, we're heading to Baton Rouge. This is a developing situation, and just because the storm has started to make that slow move ashore doesn't mean that the danger is over.

In fact, it's going to be increasing as you move inland from the heavy rainfall and additional flash flooding.

SAMBOLIN: And are you in constant communication with them getting updated?

FUGATE: Yes, as updates come in. But again, there is a lot of impacts occurring that are across a large area. And that's why those local officials are doing what they can, but I think people need to understand, during the height of this hurricane, it's very dangerous to try to send teams into areas.

They will where they can, but the storm will slow down the response until it allows conditions that rescuers can get out in.

SAMBOLIN: Soledad O'Brien is joining us now by phone again. Soledad, are you there?

O'BRIEN: Mr. Fugate, I've been listening to your interview with (INAUDIBLE) resources that you sort of -- (INAUDIBLE)

SAMBOLIN: We're having a difficult time with the communication there. I believe I heard the word resources. And so, probably, what Soledad is alluding to is, do you have the resources to handle this sustained storm now? Because unlike hurricane Katrina, you know, that went through, this actually is going to last several days.

It's causing a major amount of flooding in areas. The storm surges that we've heard about, sometimes as high as 10 to 12 feet. Is there a measure for all of that as well in place?

FUGATE: Right. We looked at the populations talking with the states. How many people would be at risk? That's what we had resources coming in. We have more stuff that's available. And again, I think, the challenge is going to be, you cannot get into these areas when the storm is still blowing, but resources are ready to move as soon as conditions permit.

And that's why it was so critical, and this is why in the future, people need to really understand. When local officials and governors are talking about evacuation, it's for this very reason. Dangerous conditions and maybe for long periods of not being able to get back in.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Mr. Fugate, we know that you're very busy, and we appreciate you spending some time with us this morning. Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thank you very much and good luck to you, sir.

That's it for us on EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York. And, I believe John Berman at the Republican National Convention.

BERMAN: I am here, Zoraida. I'm here in the CNN Grill. We're covering all events for the Republican National Convention. We'll be here all day. Thanks for joining us. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien from New Orleans is coming up right now.

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