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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Levee Overtopped In Plaquemines Parish; Trapped By Hurricane Isaac; NOLA Residents Riding Storm Out; Hurricane Isaac Tests New Levees; Isaac Whips Coastal Regions; Hurricane Isaac Pounds Gulf Coast

Aired August 29, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. Welcome. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT as we're coming to you right from the heart of hurricane Isaac as it hits the city of New Orleans. Lots to tell you about here. There are more than 400,000 people without power. That's word coming from energy at this hour.

We also know that the brunt of the storm is hitting with some 12 feet of storm surges in some parts. We're going to update you on what's happening there. Lots to tell you about in Plaquemines Parish, specifically. That is a very low-lying area. You might remember yesterday, they were talking about mandatory evacuations there.

Today, they have an overtopping of the levee in Plaquemines Parish that has brought lots of water and flooding into the parish. And now, there are rescues that are underway in Plaquemines Parish. Billy Nungesser is the president of Plaquemines Parish. We spent a lot of time talking to him yesterday.

Mr. Nungesser, thanks for being back with us. He's joining us by phone, obviously. So, first, tell me a little bit about these rescues. What do you know? How many people are you trying to get out of their homes?

BILLY NUNGUSSER, PRESIDENT OF PLAQUEMINES PARISH (via telephone): We're not sure how many people are still there. We called for a mandatory evacuation. We do know that three people just rescued a woman off a roof. Two other people -- we're still getting calls of people that didn't heed the warning and get out. We're still trying to get a count of how many people are there. Hopefully the sun will come up soon and give us some light. The driving rain, we can't even see 10 feet from the levee at this moment. So as soon as the sun comes up, the National Guard and coast guard is moving vehicles to Saint Bernard so we can begin a rescue as soon as we can to get into that area.

O'BRIEN: So are those rescues ongoing right now or are you saying they've been put on hold because the wind is so high and rain is so harsh and it's pitch black, frankly?

NUNGESSER: We had a couple of brave citizens that went in with boats and rescued their neighbors. A couple of people with their own boats took it upon themselves to risk their lives and go in and rescue people. We just got a report that three people were rescued. A lady off a roof and two other people were rescued by a local citizen.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the overtopping of the levee. You have a levee system outside the federal levee system which means it's outside the part of the levee that was upgraded a lot over the last several years. Tell me about the levee that's been overtopped. What exactly happened and how bad is it?

NUNGESSER: Those levees, we were raising them every year for the last several years with parish money. We know we had a potential storm surge of nine to 12 feet. We had an eight foot levee. We knew this was going to be a challenge and this storm was not a category 1. This thing delivered a punch and we saw water come over those levees more than Gustav and Ike. And it continues to flow. Wood lawn is an area on the east bank that has never had water. Not even Katrina flooded that area. The highest area on the east along the Mississippi River, there's 5 feet of water at the Woodlawn building for this storm. This storm continues to pump water into that area like we've never seen before.

O'BRIEN: So you're talking about 5 feet of water there. What's the amount of water that you have the highest that you have in the parish. You are pretty much 90 some odd percent during Katrina. How bad is it?

NUNGESSER: On the east bank right now we have reports of people on their roofs and attics and 12 to 14 foot of water. Now, this storm will kick around and deliver the same type of blow to the West Bank. And we're still working with the corps of engineers to see what those estimates are going to be now that this storm has delivered more of a punch than originally thought. We're analyzing what's going to happen from the West Bank when the storm does kick around the West Bank of Plaquemines Parish.

O'BRIEN: My understanding is those West Bank levees are a little bit shorter than the east bank, which is like eight or nine feet. West bank is at five feet, right?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. There's not many people that live there. Most of them did take the evacuation notice seriously and got out. But we're going to concentrate own rescuing the people and making sure we can get them out of there safely.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk a little bit about the damage that you've seen. I know that you had a chance to stop by your home and it's much more severe than had you expected, right?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. With Katrina, my wall moved in the back of my house and looked like someone breathing as the wind blew moving in and out. The light sockets and water came through the brick, through the light sockets and if you were standing there with a hose. I'm seeing that happen. I have a four-foot hole in my roof and the water is pouring in through the top of my roof. That's the kind of damage -- I rode out Katrina and saw that kind of damage from Katrina. We weren't supposed to see that for category one. And it's just widespread, and these winds were way more than projected. O'BRIEN: It sounds like Plaquemines Parish getting hammered. We're going to continue to watch the rescue efforts that are now underway in your parish. Unclear how many folks need to be pulled off of the roofs and their homes. Thank you, sir for your time. We'll keep checking in with you throughout the morning.

I want to get a check on the weather. Jennifer Delgado has an update. Jennifer focus for me specifically on what's happening in Plaquemines Parish.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We are going to start off talking a bit more and helping people visualize the levee system across Plaquemines Parish. We want to point out to you, of course, this is the east side. As we zoom in more, we want to talk about the area that is threatened by this. Again, we're talking about roughly an 18-mile stretch from Braithwaite all the way down to white ditch.

We're hearing reports of flooding, anywhere from 5 to 10 feet as the gentleman just said, it's built up to 8 feet on the west side of course not quite as tall. As we zoom in more, and he mentioned the West Bank I think he said was not as populated but over towards the east, look at this, Soledad. You can see the homes there. As we zoom in more, we'll show you where the levee system is and it is not very high but yes, of course roads are being flooded out because there's not much to protect it and the homes are threatened.

Earlier the gentleman said there was a rescue operation, and we're happy to hear that everything turns out fine with that because our weather conditions are bad. The center of circulation for hurricane Isaac right now located about 50 miles to the south of New Orleans.

Now, as I show you on the graphic right here, as we track for you, this is what we're expecting as we go through the future, the winds still at 80 miles per hour. We're expecting weakening as it continues to interact with land. It's going to be moving through Louisiana through today as well as through tomorrow. That center of circulation. It's not going to make its way into Arkansas it looks like really for the next 24 to 48 hours but the problem is more heavy rainfall, some of these locations up to 20 inches. So certainly that's going to be a threat to the levee systems.

Yes, it's overtopping but sometimes when these some of these older levee systems we call this a back levee, we can get that water coming in on the back side and it erodes it and basically weakens it from the back side of it. They are not as strong as the newer ones that are better secured into the ground or dug deeper down. It allows for more stability with those federally protected built levees.

O'BRIEN: Lots of concerns about the levees. Jennifer, thank you for that.

We want to remind everybody, it looks like rescues we know one woman has been successfully pulled off of her roof. Unclear the status of other people who seem to be trapped in their homes, and Billy Nungesser was unable to tell us how many folks they are worried about may have decided to ignore the warnings and decide to stay.

Let's get right to Richard Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center. We've been talking to him over the last couple of days. Tell me where we are in this storm. We just got a big band coming right now, obviously the winds picked up and rain as well. Give us a sense of where we are in the hurricane.

RICHARD KNABB, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: For many people it's not even half over. You're not seeing the center pass by you yet and once it does, you still have the southern half of the circulation to go. And this really slow motion overnight has really pointed out how long a duration this is going to be. It's still only moving at six miles per hour. So it is the large size and the slow motion that makes this category 1 hurricane seem worse than the category would tell you because the category only reflects the maximum sustained wind and for this one it's 80 miles per hour.

But the rainfall, the storm surge and duration of the winds and duration of the rains, all of these things are not captured by the category. And for many people it's going to be all day today and into tonight and into tomorrow that the rains and the onshore flow causing the storm surge are going to persist.

O'BRIEN: Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, seemed to think that the category 1 was off. He said I don't believe it. It felt higher than category 1, the winds he's getting in Plaquemines Parish. Could he be right about that?

KNABB: The category 1 range has to do the maximum sustained wind. In local areas you can get gusts higher. But people often are surprised at how potent even just category 1 force winds are. If it was a category 2 it would be even worse, no doubt about it. Hurricane warning that we put up a couple of days ago had to do with the fact that we are anticipating winds this strong somewhere in that area. Whoever gets the worst of it will really get some very, very strong winds and we haven't seen any measurements from the aircraft or surface observations suggest it's stronger but category 1 is a potent hurricane in and of itself.

O'BRIEN: It looks like at this moment as if Plaquemines Parish is getting the worst of it. Richard Knabb, we appreciate your times as always.

Let's get right to Rob Marciano. He's right by the levees at the port of New Orleans. You heard Billy Nungesser talk about the issues they are having right now. How does it look where you are?

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: We're OK. We're by the Mississippi River. There's no threat of this overtopping. But that illustrates really the difference between Katrina and this storm and how if you've ridden out one storm, be it category 2, 3, 4, whatever, that doesn't mean you can ride out another storm because it's a lesser category, because the angle of approach means everything. For Plaquemines Parish, this angle of approach came to their south as it did with New Orleans and that parts southeast Louisiana in a more precarious situation in some cases than it did with higher categorized storm. All right, we're going to back off of the protected area here, trying to keep our equipment dry. The rain outside of this is coming down sheets and sideways. Behind me is where the Mississippi River is. And the drought from this spring has it running fairly low. And with the wind blowing against the current, that's backing up the river a little bit. We've seen the river rise a good 5 feet since yesterday morning.

If you can hear it, there are -- the clap of sheet metal and canvas and at times glass breaking down wind of me. That's important, downwind. Upwind of me across this river, you can actually smell smoke. There's a restaurant fire, must be electrical or something, across the river, which for most part is dark. The bridge, the Crescent City connection, that's dark. That went dark last night. So power outages and power flashes continue to happen here as this wind continues to batter the greater New Orleans area as does the rain.

The center of this storm, as Dr. Knabb pointed out, is about 50 miles just due south of New Orleans. And the hurricane force winds extend 50 miles to the east. We're right on the cusp of hurricane-force winds. Not seeing them sustained but we're seeing them gusting at times. And that's why you're seeing the damage around the town -- around town. You're seeing the trees and power lines down around New Orleans. And it looks much, much worse this morning in the crescent city than it did late last night for sure. And it's going to be several hours. Much of the day today, we're going to see these kinds of conditions. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I believe it. We're getting a lot of that wind and rain right now. A moment ago it was much calmer, and certainly those gusting winds are picking up where we are. I want to get to David Mattingly in Gulfport, Mississippi, standing by following the Isaac's progress there. David, how does it look where you are?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now we're getting a strong band of rain coming through here. They just revised the forecast for the rain totals here. We were looking for a foot of rain along places along the Mississippi coast. Because the storm is moving so slowly, they've upgraded that now up to possibly as much as 18 inches in some areas. Everyone bracing to see how much damage they are going to have from the water the storm is dumping on the Mississippi coast.

I mean, look at this. We're 100 miles away from the center of the storm and this is the kind of damage, this is the kind of energy that it storm is throwing at the coast of Mississippi right now. We haven't even begun to see any significant storm surge. Later in the morning, about midway through the morning is when we normally would see high tide. That's when we're going to get a good idea of when storm surge this storm is really packing here on the Mississippi coast. There are some estimates we could see up to 10 feet in some areas.

Already we're getting reports of flooding and all of the low- lying areas that they a mandatory evacuation orders in place. Officials were very encouraged when they saw a couple thousand people taking shelter in the shelters available in the state of Mississippi. But right now everyone is watching the water, watching it fall and watching it rise and watching to see where it might be going. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I would say the same thing here, certainly in Plaquemines Parish, which we are watching there. David Mattingly, thank you for the update. Plaquemines Parish is what we're focused on. A levee there overtopped on the east side, a levee about eight or nine feet high. We spoke to the parish president about what's happening there. We'll check in with him again and update you on the rescue efforts as some people are trapped in their homes. We'll tell you what the progress is there. It's dark and windy and driving rain really challenging for any kind of rescue efforts.

Also, our other top story is the RNC. We'll tell you what's happening there. Rudy Giuliani will be a guest on STARTING POINT. Our special coverage of hurricane Isaac begins after short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning, welcome everybody. You're watching our special coverage of hurricane Isaac. I'm Soledad O'Brien and this is STARTING POINT. We're being hit by the high winds and driving rain, watching what's happening in Plaquemines Parish today. A rescue effort underway. Unclear how many people did not heed the warnings to evacuate and mandatory evacuation order and now people are being plucked off roofs and a levee has been overtopped.

Our other top story this morning as well, the RNC, the Republican National Convention is taking place in Tampa, Florida. That's where John Berman is this morning for us. Hey, John, good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. I'm at the CNN Grill, live in Tampa, just a short walk from the stage where last night New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivered the keynote address for this convention. And I'm joined this morning by his tri-state neighbor, the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, no stranger to big speeches himself. Grade your tri-state neighbor?

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: A-plus, he did a great job and he gave what I would call a philosophical speech. He contrasted the democratic philosophy that's been in my view ruining the economy for the last four years with the Republican philosophy, can-do spirit, entrepreneurial spirit.

BERMAN: There has been criticism overnight in that it took 16 minutes for him to mention the name Mitt Romney.

GIULIANI: I think his role here was not so much to support just Mitt Romney, his role as to key note speaker and that can change. His role as to key note speaker was to set the background for what this campaign is going to be about, a contrast of ideas and ways of looking at government.

BERMAN: He had an interesting moment I would like to play right now. Deciding what is the most important issue in this election. They used the words respect and love. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 are going to do what my mother taught me. Tonight we're going to choose respect over love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: What do you think he meant by that?

GIULIANI: I'll tell you, very interesting, his mother taught him that. My father taught me that, that it is much more important to be respected than loved. That mean sometimes you have to make very tough decisions that people may not like. Let's say with your children or in business, you have to make difficult decisions that will save a business, even though it might mean you've got to cut out some part of it.

That's what's lacking in government today. They can't make the tough decisions about Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. I was in front of a group of college students two months ago and said to them, how many of you think you're ever going to collect Social Security and Medicare? Four put up their hands, four out of 1,000. This is ridiculous. We know it's going broke but neither the president nor Congress can get it together to fix it, which is what Paul Ryan is challenging us to do and the Democrats are trying to say, he's going to throw granny off the cliff. Actual granny is going to be thrown off the cliff if he doesn't do anything about Medicare, which he seems afraid to do. I think that's the point he was trying to make.

BERMAN: He didn't talk much about Medicare last night.

GIULIANI: That was the philosophical background for what they are trying to say.

BERMAN: What's there a mixed message, though? Ann Romney who spoke before Chris Christie talked a lot about love and their marriage. I want to play something she said about their marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage. Well, let me tell you something, in the storybooks I read, there never were long, long rainy winter afternoons and house with five boys screaming at once. And those story books never seemed to have a chapters called "MS" or "breast cancer." A storybook marriage -- nope, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That's love she's talking about. GIULIANI: Absolutely. She's talking about love between a man and woman and husband and wife. What the governor was talking about was how a public figure should conduct himself. Does he want to become just a product of the public opinion polls and if it's popular, I'm for it. If it isn't popular, I'm against it. I give this talk all the time on leadership, and Ronald Reagan was my hero. And Ronald Reagan stood for positions that were unpopular but fighting communism when people wanted to do detente, about cutting the size of government when they were doing the Great Society. And it turned out his positions were correct.

BERMAN: I will say having been in the hall last night there were a lot of people who loved Ronald Reagan.

GIULIANI: There's no question about it. I'm on the board of the Reagan Library, I have three different busts of Ronald Reagan in my office. He was by far and without any doubt the most consequential president.

BERMAN: Not a controversial stand I think here in Tampa this morning. Rudy Giuliani, thanks for with being with us.

I should tell you that CNN's primetime coverage of the Republican National Convention continues tonight at 7:00 p.m. eastern time with Wolf Blitzer during the 10:00 hour. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will address the delegates, and there's a lot of excitement about that. Piers Morgan wraps up the Republican National Convention right here from the CNN grill. It is all here on CNN. Stay with us and now we want to go back to Soledad in the middle of the storm in New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, and we're going to continue our coverage as well of hurricane Isaac as we monitor what's happening in Louisiana and also in Mississippi. We have reporters up and down the coast. We can update you on the slow progress of this hurricane.

As we pointed out, the winds are strong and the rain has been driving, almost hurts when it hits you in the face. We'll check back in with the folks in Plaquemines Parish. There are rescue efforts under way. We were talking with the parish president a few moments ago about what's happened there as the levee on the east side has been overtopped and bringing lots of water into his parish, something he was very worried about. That and much more straight ahead as STARTING POINT continues. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN's special coverage of hurricane Isaac. We're coming to you live from Jackson Square in the heart of the New Orleans French quarter, the touristy section, driving rain and high winds been picking up. The big problem will be the standing water. Last night it was a couple of inches and now it's really become a problem.

The other part of the problem is this, debris like this coming off the trees so we're trying to watch what's over our heads. We've got to update you in Plaquemines Parish where they have rescues underway and in Gulfport Mississippi, we have a reporter there who will tell us what's happening as the high winds and rain come comes pouring in there and check in with the National Weather Center and weather reporters will figure everybody in what's happening with hurricane Isaac. We'll take a short break and see you back in a few minutes. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. As we cover Hurricane Isaac, which is hitting Louisiana specifically New Orleans where I'm standing in Jackson Square, standing water is what everybody is watching today.

Entergy, the energy company, says there are 400,000 plus customers without power. No surprise when you consider the driving rain and the heavy winds that we've been experiencing over the last couple of hours here in the city of New Orleans.

But Grand Isle, they were really getting smacked much earlier than we were here in New Orleans. And that's where Ed Lavandera is for us. Ed, I know you had a lot of water early on. Can you hear me? Tell me how things are where you are.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad. I can hear you. Actually, if you can imagine this, conditions this morning are much worse than what you saw, what we were dealing with yesterday.

The winds have shifted instead of coming out of the north. They are coming out of the south. We are on the right edge of the eye of this hurricane, which is the more intense side and we're definitely feeling that.

Let me show you some things that we are dealing with and most concerned about in the location where we're at. Remember we're in the home of Dean Blanchard who has a shrimp business down here in Grand Isle.

He's got a three-story home. We're on the second story of that house about 15 to 18 feet off the ground. If you look over the side, we're on top of the garage here. But where that water line is, yesterday when -- last night when we went to bed to catch a few hours of rest, there was a brick lying down there.

The water in the last few hours has gone up probably about a foot and a half, maybe even 2 feet. So there's water coming inside the house where we're at now about 6 inches on that ground floor so that's a situation that is -- to say the least.

Now that the sun is starting to come up, we're getting a sense of how widespread the storm surge is. If you look back out over here, the roads -- you can't drive the roads at this point, incredibly dangerous.

There's a great deal of water and we're on -- as I mentioned on the right edge of the eye of the storm, Soledad. The winds are very intense. This is just as bad as it was if not what we saw last night.

And I've been trying to get in touch with the mayor, but we haven't been able to get any word from any kind of update as to any kind of damage. The good news, there are only 30 people left on the island and most were emergency personnel -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, please stay safe. I know you've been hunkered down with the family there. So our hopes for all of the people that stayed there. I'm dismayed to hear it was getting worse from the bad it was yesterday afternoon. Ed Lavandera for us.

WWL, one of our affiliates, we talked about the rescue. Plaquemines Parish is where he was in his home. I guess, he decided to ignore the mandatory evacuation order and they are having serious problems with a levee overtopped and lots of water in the parish.

Let's listen to what he told our affiliate, WWL, just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EUGENE ODDO, TRAPPED IN ATTIC (via telephone): Right now in my attic with my wife and my year and a half old baby. The local police came around about 2:00 in the morning and told us the levee broke.

And within an hour water was coming up, barely got my vehicle to the levee. 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 the attic to get out on the roof.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIN: That's a dramatic story. -- major problem there where a levee -- something like they were thinking has been overtopped and that's what we're watching in Plaquemines Parish clearly.

We want to check in with Jackie Grosch. We spoke to her a little while ago before the storm struck. She told me she was going to hunker down in her home in St. Bernard Parish. I think we have her by phone. Are you there?

JACKIE GROSCH, RESIDENT RIDING OUT STORM (via telephone): Yes, I am.

SAMBOLIN: Hi, Jackie. This is Zoraida Sambolin in New York. I'm going to pick up for Soledad here. We're having difficulties obviously because of the storm.

So Soledad said she talked to you and you decided to hunker down. How is it going for you?

GROSCH: Well, it's been kind of bad throughout the night. Really high winds and the rain has been pushing in I guess water underneath my carpet through my side, the whole side of my house that she was starting out on. The canal she was at that she walked up to my house is -- it's up to the top. So it's -- it's full to the top. So -- SAMBOLIN: Where are you right now?

GROSCH: Right now, I'm in my -- in the sunroom in my living room and looking out towards that canal where the levee is right behind it. She'll know that that's where those houses were and they all got blown away from Katrina. That canal is to the top of the canal so it's -- I've never seen it like that to be honest with you.

SAMBOLIN: Are you worried about that? Are you nervous?

GROSCH: Just a little bit. You know, at least it's daylight now and we can see what's going on now. Some of our fences are coming down. It's been a really big wind and rain event. It's a little scary, yes. Luckily my granddaughter is still sleeping so she doesn't know too much about what's going on.

SAMBOLIN: So your granddaughter is there and outside of that, are you alone?

GROSCH: No, I have my husband and my son is here. My son works at -- he works in Braithwaite and he's heard they had 9 foot of water right now. They did have that overtopping of the levee down there and 9 feet of water in the plant now. I have my husband and my son and myself and granddaughter here.

SAMBOLIN: So we've been monitoring that situation as well. Jackie Grosch, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Be safe and I believe Soledad is going to be checking back in with you. Thank you. Let's head over to Soledad. You're back.

O'BRIEN: Yes, Zoraida, I'm back. If Jackie is still with you, I want to ask a quick question because she sounds nervous to me --

GROSCH: I am.

O'BRIEN: If the canal is filled up with water, if that canal is filled up with water and you're telling me that it's up to 9 feet of water or something like that -- how worry are you?

GROSCH: The 9 feet were down in Braithwaite. My son works --

O'BRIEN: Got you, OK.

GROSCH: Facility down there and they do have 9 feet of water in their facility right now.

O'BRIEN: All right, so then tell me about this canal filled up. You sound very anxious to me.

GROSCH: Yes. It's a little nerve-wracking. It's up to the top now and I've never seen it up to the top like that. It's more than up to the top. It's a little scary and it's been pushing like the rain has been pushing water into my living room under -- not a flood, but just rain got my carpet saturated.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jackie, I know you've got a second floor. So you can stay safe if you have to. We'll check in with you and make sure you're doing okay and your granddaughter, Zoe, as well. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

I want to go to Gulfport, Mississippi because that's where David Mattingly is. Obviously, he was having some of the similar weather that we're having right here, strong winds come in and then drop down again.

We're at a little break for a moment. It makes the rain drive into it. Like Jackie was describing, kind of pushing everything right across the street, sometimes me too. David Mattingly, how are things in Gulfport?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, everything we're seeing is almost a carbon copy of the hour before the hour before the hour before. Since midnight, we've had tropical storm conditions here.

Relentlessly the wind and rain have been blowing out of the east. We're about 100 miles away from the center of this storm and we're getting drenched here. And the storm because it's moving so slowly, they've revised the amount of rainfall projected from about a foot, up to about possibly in some areas 18 inches.

That's because this storm is just not going anywhere. All of the water that it's carrying is coming down in sheets. Right now we're seeing -- getting reports of flooding in the low lying areas where the mandatory evacuations were in place and because of that, we're also seeing some roadways flooded.

Some areas cut off. And official here are very encouraged because that I have seen a lot of people heeding the evacuation warnings. A couple of thousand people showing up in shelters so they feel pretty good that most of the people did get out of those areas.

Right now, we're just watching this water fall wondering when is it going to stop. And later we're going to be watching for the storm surge because in the middle of the morning, that's when high tide is here. We haven't seen the worst of the storm surge yet. It's at that time along the Mississippi coast that we could be seeing some areas seeing tidal surge of maybe about 10 feet along the coast.

So we're not anywhere close to the end of this very slow moving disaster right now. And we're still waiting to find a place to put some sort of period at the end of the sentence. But this one just keeps going on and on and on -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, David Mattingly watching that and we're watching it along with you. Thank you for that update. We'll continue watching what's happening here in New Orleans, Jackson Square where I am as well.

I want to tell you that Colonel Fleming from the Army Corps of Engineer is telling us that the levees look good, but we'll take a closer look at what his most recent statement is about the levee system in the city.

We've got to take a short break. We'll come back and check in with more residents to see how they are fairing as they decided to hole up and not evacuate or head for higher ground.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us. You're watching our special coverage of Hurricane Isaac.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT as we track Hurricane Isaac for you. Lots to update you on this morning.

First and foremost, let's focus on Plaquemines Parish because there are rescue efforts under way right now. In fact some great news as the sun rises, they'll have more help so they can see exactly what they are doing.

We heard a little bit earlier this morning from a man who described how he had to be plucked out of his home because the water came in so high in his house. We're following what's happening there in wake of one of the levees on the east side being overtopped.

Lots of water and flooding, a big issue in Plaquemines Parish, we've been talking to parish president, Billy Nungesser. We'll keep checking in with him to see the status of that parish as well.

Entergy telling us that more than 400,000 people are without power. That's been one of the biggest problems we've heard from where I am here in New Orleans. I'm in the French Quarter in Jackson Square specifically.

Obviously for folks who lost air conditioning, power means with the storm sticking around it's going to be a long time before they are able to think about getting out to try to make some of those repairs.

We heard from Colonel Fleming from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Obviously, the Army Corps faced a lot of challenges in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. What they are saying now is the levee system seems to be holding up very, very well.

The concerns though are for the west bank of the city where the biggest pumping station in the world is. That could be a problem because you can see all of this standing water where I am. It's really in the last couple of hours grown a lot because the rain comes in.

And it's really hard to get the water, not just here, but obviously in intersections as well. He has said that he's concerned. That's where that pumping system is really going to be put to the test because the debris is what affects the drainage we see in this little square.

You can imagine what it's like for the rest of the city. So we're monitoring all of that this morning as well. We want to check in with folks who have decided to ride out the storm. We want to take you to Orleans Parish, a woman who decided to hunker down.

Why don't you first -- Karen Smothers is Orleans Parish. Hi, Karen, can you hear me? I'm not sure that Karen Smothers -- I think we are having obviously some challenges with technology considering the weather out here.

Let me try her again. Karen smothers who is in Orleans Parish decided to hunker down and wait out the storm. Can you tell me how you're doing? Karen, can you hear me? Can you tell me how you are?

Obviously, we're having some issues so we're going to try to regain that connection with Karen Smothers. Let me set up for you a little bit of the problem where I am and then we'll have Rob weigh in on the biggest issues.

Actually we should point out, while the police drive through our live shot, we've seen officers throughout the night and into the morning certainly doing drive around, keeping an eye on what's happening in the city, not very many people out here of course.

Big issue as I point out is the pumping system and standing water and also the debris. You have to keep your eyes open and make sure you don't smack to the head by anything falling off the tree or buildings as well.

Rob Marciano is in the Port of the New Orleans, which is not very far from where I am. How is it looking where you are, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's looking wet and looking windy and we can finally see now that the sun is coming up across the river, white caps once again across the Mississippi going the wrong way.

The river should be flowing this way. White caps being pushed by the wind and somewhat of a storm surge in our face. Across the river, sporadic lights, about 70 percent of the city is without power.

Can't see it now, I assume that the rain helped put it out, but there was a restaurant fire earlier this morning and you could smell some of the smoke. We're just north of the GNO Bridge, Crescent City Connection.

That doesn't have lights on anymore. They got knocked out last night. We're to the left of where the Carnival CruiseLines unloads their passengers and takes on passengers for shut down the entire port, as you can imagine, is shut down.

But this sort of weather, the heavy rain and the winds that have been sustained really at around 50 miles an hour throughout the city, gusting -- gusts reported at lake front over 80 miles an hour and at the airport just below hurricane strength.

That's been consistent throughout the morning. So that constant battering is taking a toll on some of the structures that we have around us. We are actually on the property of what's got to be the largest Mardigras warehouse and event center.

And some of the flashings from some of the buildings and some of the areas where they hold parties is being torn apart. And as light continues to come up, we'll show you some of that. But the winds, Soledad, are slowly kind of turning as the storm itself continues to make a slow march toward the west.

But because we're so close to the center, about 60 miles from the center, we're right on the edge of where the strongest hurricane force winds are. And that's why we've seen these winds be consistent for the past six hours and will likely continue to be consistent for the next six.

And it's that long duration event. But with the rain, the wind pushing the surge, and the wind just, you know, taking -- hit anything of these buildings and putting a little bit of a hurt on them, that's what's creating some of the damage around the city. And the streets I'm sure where you are littered with some of this debris. Back to you.

O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. And we're not getting a break from these winds either. Rob Marciano for us. Thank you, Rob. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, we'll talk about a couple of things we're following closely. First and foremost, Plaquemines Parish, what's happening there? Clearly, rescue efforts now underway and the sun is coming up. That's great news for them.

The parish president was concerned that the coast guard would not be able to get in until the sun came up and try to rescue an unknown number of people who did not heed the warnings to get out and are now seemed to be trapped in their homes.

We're going to get more information on that as well. And as Rob Marciano just mentioned, the storm making a westward turn so what does that mean for the pumping system, the largest pumping system in the world?

It's there, and it will be a big test for that pumping system. We know that there are a dozen or so intersections closed because of standing water. How big of a problem is that going to be?

Got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment as we continue our special coverage of Hurricane Isaac, a special edition of STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching our live coverage of Hurricane Isaac. We want to get right to Karen Smothers, she is in Orleans Parish. Decided to stick it out and not leave town.

Karen, I think you can hear me now. How are you doing? How is it where you are? All right, Karen, I'm not hearing you so we're going to see if we can re-establish that connection.

We'll tell everybody what we're doing before we head to our commercial break for the start of our next hour, watching Plaquemines Parish very, very closely.

We have talked to people who have been evacuated out of their homes as the water is rushing in. A levee there has been overtopped. We'll update you on what's happening there.

Also they are watching very closely on the east side the levees -- swap that. East side is where the homes are that the levee has been overtopped. West side, they are keeping an eye on that as well.

We're watching that story out of Plaquemines Parish and much more straight ahead as our coverage of Hurricane Isaac continuous on the special edition of STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

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