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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Ryan Jolts the GOP; Relentless Storm; Trapped by Isaac

Aired August 30, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years, we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What is missing is leadership in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A jolt to the GOP convention, Paul Ryan painting the president as a disappointment. And tonight, the main event, Mitt Romney says I accept.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And our other big story, the relentless storm. Isaac is still dumping rain on Louisiana this morning. Right now, we have new evacuations, buses and boats bringing thousands to safety this morning.

Good morning to you. Welcome to early start. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman, live at the CNN grille in Tampa, for the Republican National Convention where tonight, Mitt Romney will give the biggest speech yet of his political life.

Tonight, he will accept the Republican Party nomination and he will make his case to the American people for a Romney presidency.

Last night, it was his running mate, Paul Ryan, who took the fight directly to President Obama in his speech. He attacked the president on health care reform, the jobs crisis, and what Ryan said was a failure in leadership.

I'm joined this morning by CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

And for Republicans waiting for this convention to take a direct aim at President Obama they got their wish last night.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really got this in Paul Ryan and he was very much targeting President Obama on the economy. And that's kind of his wheelhouse being the budget chairman in the House of Representatives. He talked about in his words essentially, the president's disappointment when it comes to spending. He talked about the stimulus package. He talked about health care reform and also how much that cost. And he really lambasted him and sort of talked about in a way how President Obama has been this idol or this icon in a way, and there was an interesting sound byte addressed to that. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So rousing applause there, obviously. But there was this other element to his speech that I found intriguing and that was the iPod moment where he was talking about the difference in music that he enjoys between Mitt Romney and himself. He was sort of saying that Mitt Romney likes elevator music. It was this tongue in cheek poke at Mitt Romney. Maybe he is compared to Paul Ryan, the sort of old kind of fuddy-duddy.

But the point being, we're in on the joke. Did that strike you, too?

BERMAN: You know, it was funny. But I do think there was a risk there reminding people that Mitt Romney may not be what he considers to be, quote-unquote, "cool".

KEILAR: Like his dad.

BERMAN: What was also interesting to me about the Ryan speech, you know, Chris Christie got some criticism for not bringing up Mitt Romney at all until 16 minutes into the speech. Paul Ryan brought him up early and really talked about him throughout the entire speech, sometimes in some somewhat surprising ways.

KEILAR: Yes, he talked about his faith, and this really struck me, because we heard Mike Huckabee talked about Mitt Romney's faith. He talked about it an evangelical, essentially saying I'm an evangelical. But our differences are not that far. And then you have Paul Ryan as a Catholic saying the same thing, we have different faiths, but our values are the same.

Here's that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: Mitt and I also go to different churches, but in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example, and I've been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So I thought that was a really intriguing moment and obviously very clear that the Romney campaign feels this is an issue they need to deal with. It will be an interesting to see if we hear Romney talk about it himself tonight.

BERMAN: They made it clear that the audience connected with Paul Ryan in a really, really intimate way. You know, we saw Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker crying in the Wisconsin delegation.

It was a really interesting night, Zoraida. We have a lot to talk about over here in Tampa. But right now, let's get back to you.

SAMBOLIN: I was reading here. I think it's "USA Today." It says "Ryan puts a fresh face in the Grand Old Party." So, we are looking forward to hearing a lot more. Thank you, John.

And now to our other top story:

Tropical storm Isaac's relentless battering of Southeast Louisiana. It is a slow, agonizing water torture. Take a look at Isaac at this hour. He is slow-moving and still packing 60-mile-per-hour winds and stinging rains.

Right now, thousands of people are being evacuated west of New Orleans, in Saint John Parish, after a storm surge forced water over the banks of Lake Pontchartrain.

Dozens of people who failed to heed the evacuation warnings, finding themselves in need of desperate rescue after water overtopped four levees south of the city in Plaquemines Parish, creating the kind of flooding the parish did not se even during hurricane Katrina.

CNN has Isaac covered like no other network. David Mattingly standing live in Gulfport, Mississippi, meteorologist Karen Maginnis is tracking the system from the CNN center in Atlanta.

But, first, Brian Todd on the phone in Plaquemines Parish, where the levees were just not high enough to hold back the rising floodwaters, and yesterday it was our breaking news that it had overtopped the levees and the president there of Plaquemines Parish said he thought other levees would overtop and it seems like he was right.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): That's right, Zoraida. He was right. This was a danger all along. This parts of this levee only about eight feet high, outside the zone where the government spent so much money, the federal government spent so much money to upgrade the levee system.

So they were concerned that this could happen and they were warning, they did warn every resident. This was under a mandatory evacuation order, that several dozen people decided to stay and several dozen people had to be rescued at the height of hurricane conditions.

So this was, this was a real desperate situation for several hours yesterday. Today is a day to kind of assess this damage. We're supposed to hopefully meet with the president of the parish later, while he assesses some of the damage here and just kind of tries to get his head around how to recover from some of this and what to do about the floodwaters. One thing they're going to try to do to relieve some of the flooding here, the Army Corps of Engineers is going to try what they call a diversion. They have a channel where water from the Mississippi, if it's swollen it's pumped into a marshland that's lower than the Mississippi. But right now the marshland is higher than the Mississippi river. So, they're going to try to reverse that process.

I spoke with an official with the Army Corps of Engineers, Chris Gilmore, and he explained to me how that worked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS GILMORE, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: There's a freshwater diversion channel structure near to that community. Typically, what it does is it diverts freshwater from the Mississippi River into the marshland. What we've be requested from the corps and from the state is actually use it in reverse and use that structure backwards to flow the floodwater from the Braithwaite community in Plaquemines to the Mississippi River.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: This is really just a gravity-based process. The water from the flooding is just open the gates and the water from the flooding hopefully will flood out into the Mississippi River. That's big enough to absorb it at this point. And hopefully provide some relief for thousands of people in this parish -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And, Brian, do you happen to know how many people are affected by all of this flooding?

TODD: Well, it's in the several thousands. They've said that hundreds of people called in and they rescued at least 75 people yesterday. But the number of the people in the parish, it's clearly in the several thousands and will have to make some kind of plan to either evacuate or get to higher ground.

This place was under a mandatory evacuation order. So several people -- I mean, most of the parish did heed the warnings and got out.

SAMBOLIN: I know yesterday the president was saying in that area, about 2,000 people. But I wasn't sure if that expanded because of those additional levees that overtopped.

Brian Todd, thank you so much for that report. We'll check back in with you again.

And late last night, we learned that President Obama signed federal disaster declarations for dozens of areas of Louisiana and Mississippi where nonstop rain led to more dramatic rescues. Dozens of people plucked to safety, some by land and some of them by water.

National correspondent David Mattingly is in Gulfport, Mississippi.

And, David, any let-up to the rain there? I thought I was told that the conditions are almost exactly the same as when we went to you yesterday.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A very sad case of deja vu this morning, this storm still not letting up so much. We have rain. We have tropical storm-force winds this morning. The same thing we've had, more than 24 hours now.

In fact, when I talked to you yesterday, the conditions were almost exactly the same. The only thing different now is this storm is now slowly decreasing in intensity, where yesterday it was still ramping up.

But right now, in Mississippi, we're hearing all over the place, no one anticipated this much rain this long. This storm, when it parked itself just off the Gulf Coast after encountering the Louisiana coast just stopped there. And officials here were planning on this hurricane to come in and then keep moving on out the way they thought it might do.

But instead, with it staying there, all the rain from the eastern side of the storm kept whipping in and dumping right on Mississippi. They had to revise their rainfall estimates from about a foot of rain to over a foot, up to 18 inches. And we're hearing this morning there may have been some areas of Mississippi receiving even more than that.

Overnight and yesterday, we've got reports that there were a couple of instances where people had to be rescued from their work and from their homes. We're also hearing about widespread flooding cutting off roads throughout southern Mississippi. So today, will be finally be the day that officials can get out there with their damage assessment and people might be able to start to get out there and figure out what they're going to have to do to put their lives back together after unfortunately getting caught in all this water, the flooding, and so many of the low-lying areas here in coastal Mississippi.

SAMBOLIN: All right. David Mattingly live in Gulfport, Mississippi, for us. Thank you very much.

And meteorologist Karen Maginnis is tracking Isaac and is predicted that it's not going away and just wreaking havoc on those areas.

What's the latest on Isaac?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Zoraida, it has been a very grim situation as we've been watching over the last several days. It's essentially wringing itself out across Louisiana, southern Mississippi and Alabama, just making its way very slowly towards the northwest. Its position puts it 100 miles northwest of New Orleans. But that doesn't mean that we're still not seeing the impact from this for New Orleans.

But over the next several days, it is expected to move on towards Little Rock as a tropical depression, we'll have a remnant area of low pressure that could still potentially squeeze out between three and six inches of rain across the central Mississippi Valley region, eventually making its way towards the Ohio River Valley. But this rainfall may be too little to late for a lot of us summer crops. Take a look at the rainfall totals, and a staggering statistic that's come out of the storm is that New Orleans actually, their one- day total, their 24-hour total of 7.8 inches of rain was more than what they saw when Katrina made landfall. When Katrina made landfall in excess of four inches, but this was almost eight inches, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and that created all of the havoc over there. We'll check back in with you.

Karen Maginnis, live for us in Atlanta, thank you.

And coming up in just a moment on EARLY START, riding the storm out. Yesterday we checked in with a New Orleans man who decided to stay put during hurricane Isaac. Today, we will get an update. Was it the right move for his family? What he went through when Isaac arrived at his doorstep.

And check out this iReport from Frank Underwood of the storm surge in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, just a few hundred feet from the beach. Take a look at that folks. You can see how high and how violent the water is and the folks are standing right in the thick of it. He said he evacuated during hurricane Katrina, but decided not to evacuate this time.

We want to you share your pictures, but we want you to be safe. Go to iReport.com and look for assignment, tropical storm Isaac.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 16 minutes past the hour.

This is a live look at Gulfport, Mississippi, and you can see it is still very windy right there, some whipping winds. There are waves in the background. Our Dave Mattingly is out there and he said the conditions are pretty much the same as they were yesterday morning for those folks still experiencing rain in the region.

Tropical storm Isaac keeping the coast guard very busy.

Check out this video of a helicopter rescue 25 miles northwest of New Orleans in Saint John's Parish where urgent evacuations are under way at this hour.

Take a look at that. A couple and their two dogs didn't have time to get out of their house when the floodwaters began to rise yesterday. They were all lifted to safety unharmed, including the family pets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he had a harder time because he had the bigger dog, which I'm sure she --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gives you more of a appreciation for what these guys do, I can tell you that. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are god.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Top notch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God in a helicopter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Indeed. Coast Guard officials say they might have missed that couple if they had not been shining a flashlight through an upstairs window in order to signal for help. So they are very lucky this morning. So Isaac continues to test the new and improved levee system surrounding New Orleans, beefed up in a $14 million upgrade right after hurricane Katrina.

The city avoided a direct hit from Isaac, a category 1 at the time of landfall.

Joe Locascio rode out the storm in his home in New Orleans, in the neighborhood of Broadmoor, which took major flood damage during hurricane Katrina. He gave us a real-time, play-by-play yesterday and he is joining us on the phone, right now, for an update.

Are you there, Joe?

JOE LOCASCIO, RESIDENT (via telephone): Yes, I'm here. How are you?

SAMBOLIN: I'm doing well, the question is, how are you? How are the conditions right now there?

LOCASCIO: Right now, the conditions are pretty good. It's actually pretty cool. The winds are blowing, kind of squalls coming through. Rain occasionally where we are. But as far as the temperature goes, it's pretty cool and it's kind of nice. I'm sure it's going to warm up today as the sun comes out.

SAMBOLIN: Is it still raining in the area?

LOCASCIO: Just drizzling.

SAMBOLIN: Yesterday when we talked to you, it was about 3:00 in the morning and you were without power. Are you still without power?

LOCASCIO: Still without power, yes.

SAMBOLIN: And what about your neighbors in the area, have you been talking to them at all? How are they doing this morning?

LOCASCIO: Yes, we got out today, my daughter and I and my wife, and her boyfriend -- not my wife's boyfriend, my daughter's boyfriend, we went out and we met some neighbors and talked to some neighbors. We walked around, it was still kind of raining but safe to go out. Met a lot of neighbors and saw some downed trees. One house, one tree actually split in two and one side, one-half of the tree fell on one side and half of the tree fell on the other and missed the house completely. I mean, they were really lucky.

SAMBOLIN: Did you say riding bikes?

LOCASCIO: My daughter and her boyfriend actually rode some bikes yesterday a little bit. Just in the neighborhood.

SAMBOLIN: So there's not a lot of debris strewn around in your neighborhood?

LOCASCIO: There was no real strong winds at the time. You could ride a bike around the debris that was on the streets. It was mostly trees, tree parts and limbs.

SAMBOLIN: So, Joe, seven years ago, when hurricane Katrina hit, you and your family evacuated. Are you happy that you decided to stay put this time?

LOCASCIO: I'm happy. I'm happy so far, because we had some water leaks in the house, that if we weren't here, we wouldn't have been able to stop the leaks. And we would have came back to real damage in the house. So I'm glad we stayed.

SAMBOLIN: And clearly, the levees in your area ended up holding up there. Which is really good news for that area.

Joe Locascio, thank you so much for joining us, I hear we're going to be talking to you in the 6:00 hour as well. So, good luck.

LOCASCIO: OK, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: And hopefully you'll get some power soon.

Twenty minutes past the hour. Gas prices still climbing, the effects of Isaac have not helped. But relief at the pump could be just around the corner. We're going to explain, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Welcome back to EARLY START. Twenty- three minutes past the hour. We are minding your business this morning.

You probably saw a jump in gas prices this week because of hurricane Isaac. But there might be some relief coming soon.

Christine Romans is here to explain.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning.

ROMANS: Wholesale gasoline prices are already starting to come down, one reason is because this was a category one storm and onshore damage seems to be limited, and a lot of folks are expecting that you're going to get the energy infrastructure of this country up and running again, very, very quickly. Overnight, AAA reporting gas prices up another two more cents to $3.83 a gallon. But that's the national average. And I like to say, quoting the national average is like quoting the national temperature. It doesn't mean anything, depending on where you live.

So, let's look at the highest prices about I state and what you've seen this week. In Wisconsin, you could see $3.89; $4.15 in California. Illinois, $4.09.

But look at the Midwest, you saw some of the biggest jumps in some parts along the Gulf Coast, obviously, because people were sort of hoarding gasoline or getting a lot of gas before the storm. But in the Midwest in particular, you saw big jumps because that's where, that area is fed by pipelines and, remember, they're not putting stuff through those pipelines.

So the Gulf feeds the Midwest and you saw the gulf basically shut down. That's why the Midwest jumps. I can tell you, though, that a lot of analysts and gas experts are telling me that next week or the week after, you'll start to see gas prices coming back down again -- again because the storm wasn't so big and because of some other things that are going on, including a lot of speculation about whether, they maybe tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

No move on that. No move on that, quite frankly. But you're having a lot of people talk about that in the markets.

Another number I want to tell you about, some new information as well, we're likely going to see the port of New Orleans open tomorrow, that's their hope. Then you'll get people back to work, you'll get wharfs moving again, you'll have cranes starting to work again and we have some first sort of looks at storm damage.

A catastrophe modeling firm says onshore storm damage looks like anywhere from $500 million to $1.5 billion. Those are insured losses, $1.5 billion, obviously much less than anything we saw during Katrina. These numbers change, by the way, as they get in there and take a look at the damage.

It's very early. I'll watch these numbers change. But those are the earliest estimates we've seen so far, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I was reading this morning, it's not in the top ten of natural disasters, which was the good news for this hurricane.

ROMANS: This one is such a rainmaker. It's the rain on this one and that's what's so interesting here. One of the things that the modeling firm was saying is that a newly fortress-like New Orleans, parts of New Orleans with the new fortress-like barriers, it seems to have withstood the storm quite well.

Again, you got to get in there, it's still very early. That's one of the earliest reads you've got.

SAMBOLIN: Except for the overtopping of some areas, we're going to talk to a family who did not have renter's insurance and lost everything.

ROMANS: That was a part of the city that did not have the new fortress-like barriers.

SAMBOLIN: No federal money for them.

All right. Thank you very much, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: It is 26 minutes past the hour.

Let's send it back to John Berman. He is anchoring our coverage of the Republican National Convention. All the talk is about Paul Ryan.

BERMAN: All the talk was about Paul Ryan. He was last night.

But today, we're getting ready for the main event here. Mitt Romney speaking in front of an audience of millions after Paul Ryan. After all the other speakers singing his praises, can Romney sell himself?

Our special coverage from the convention in Tampa continues, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Paul Ryan leading the Republican attack on President Obama, a rousing warm-up for Mitt Romney, who tonight will make the biggest speech of his life.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Trapped in attics, plucked from rooftops, Isaac still dumping rain on Louisiana this morning. And right now, new evacuations, buses and boats bringing thousands of people to safety.

Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 31 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin in New York.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman at the CNN grill, live in Tampa. This is where, of course, the Republican National Convention is happening. And this is where tonight Mitt Romney will make the speech he's been waiting to make for years.

Tonight, he will accept the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States. And while he's feeling the love inside the convention hall, Romney's biggest challenge will be convincing the millions of people watching at home that he's the right man for the job. Running mate Paul Ryan teed things up for Romney last night in his speech and man, did the crowd love it. I'm joined right now by our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

And, Brianna, you know, Paul Ryan really cut in -- laid in to President Obama last night.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Laid into him on his economic policies and his economic accomplishments. He said there had been four years of the run-around and he it's time for the turn-around and he was trying to frame Mitt Romney as the guy who would do that. He talked about how President Obama has delivered empty promises.

And he skewered him one time after another. He was talking about spending in general, the debt and the deficit. He talked about the stimulus or the Recovery Act. He talked about health care reform.

He sort of attacked the iconic nature of President Obama. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters, and wondering, when they can move out and get going with life.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And the campaign obviously really feels that he's the effective messenger here, because of his position as the budget chairman in the House of Representatives.

BERMAN: Now the Obama campaign predictably did not like the speech too much.

KEILAR: No, they didn't. They responded in part, this is from Jim Messina, the head of the Obama campaign.

"He lied about Medicare. He lied about the Recovery Act. He lied about the deficit and debt. He even dishonestly attacked Barack Obama for the closing of a GM plant his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin -- a plant that closed in December 2008 under George W. Bush. He also failed to offer one constructive idea about what he would do to move the country forward."

And on the plant, Ryan talked -- this is plant where under George W. Bush the plans to close it were announced, although ultimately it did happen while President Obama was president.

BERMAN: There were moments where Paul Ryan was fast and loose with the facts, but there may not have been his purpose.

But what people were talking about on the convention floor was Condoleezza Rice. She set that place on fire last night. KEILAR: I thought she delivered a pretty good speech. She went out there and did what she was attempting to do. And if the theme of the night from Republicans taking the stage is that President Obama has shown a lack of leadership, she was there to say he's shown a lack of leadership on foreign policy. So, it was kind of like this one-two punch I think that you got.

She was saying the freest and most compassionate country on earth must be the most powerful and she was talking about strength through power. She sort of said that President Obama is trying to be a friend rather than a force. Here's part of what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETAR OF STATE: One of two things will happen if we don't lead. Either no one will lead and there will be chaos, or someone will fill the vacuum who does not share our values.

My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So obviously she's a very good voice. I think for Republicans to see this. But foreign policy I also think is a little harder to attack on President Obama than say the economy, because he does have some really concrete accomplishments taking out Osama bin Laden, drone strikes that have taken out a lot of al Qaeda leadership and really that the Obama administration has decimated the al Qaeda leadership in Libya.

BERMAN: A lot of the delegates I spoke to last night said the Condoleezza Rice speech is the moment where the convention really caught fire, really begun.

We'll be talking about the convention here in Tampa, but right now, Zoraida, I want to go back to you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much, John.

The other big story this morning. Tropical storm Isaac still soaking the Gulf Coast and taking his sweet time. The slow-moving storm is pounding southeast Louisiana right now, 60-mile-per-hour winds and relentless rains still.

At this hour, thousands of people are being evacuated west of New Orleans, in Saint John Parish, after storm surge forced water over the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. Dozens who ignored warnings to evacuate had to be rescued off rooftops by the coast guard and many remain still in harm's way, especially in Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans.

That's where we find Brian Todd standing by live.

Are they in the middle of rescue efforts right now, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, they appear to be, because as of late last night, the parish president said they're still assessing whether there are stranded residents still around. They're still looking for possibly stranded resident.

This situation is still very much touch and go if you go by what he said. He would know, he's got a close read on what's going on here. He's been monitoring it since the levee was overtopped early yesterday morning.

You mentioned the people who stayed behind, some 3,000 of them stayed behind, even though this place was under a mandatory evacuation order. National Guard and other rescue units had to come in under pretty much the height of hurricane conditions and get them out. But yes, the situation still very much in doubt right now.

The parish president --

SAMBOLIN: We lost Brian Todd there, communication with him. We're going to get that. There were a lot of -- Brian, are you back? There you are, great.

TODD: Yes, hi. Yes, the levee that was overtopped is behind where I'm standing right now. This is like a seawall and the levee is behind that, there's still water trickling through here, so the floodwater situation at this point still dangerous.

SAMBOLIN: Brian, do you we know how many levees that were overtopped? We were talking to the president, he knew of one. And he predicted many more would overtop because they were not part of those federally funded dollars to fix the levee system there.

TODD: So far, no major overtoppings. But again, a lot of these levees are fairly I guess you could call them short. I mean, this one was only about eight feet high. And a lot of the levees around here are much higher than that, and this one was, of course, outside the zone of federal protection, as we have been talking about.

But this is the main area of trouble right now. No other major levees have overtopped. But again, you know, the storm surge the wind is still really blowing here. Storm surge still a potential here. The storm when all is said and done may have been hanging over this entire region for close to 50 hours straight.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Brian Todd live for us, thank you very much. We appreciate that report.

And Isaac still a major rain maker, as well a major threat this morning. It appears that beefed-up flood defenses in New Orleans passed this test. But further south in Plaquemines Parish, water surged over eight-foot-high levees. Water was higher than it was in places seven years ago during hurricane Katrina but the levee was not breached.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis is here to explain the difference between the overtopping and the breaching.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Exactly. And just to give you some idea, there was so much rainfall that came so quickly and very relentless. Rainfall rates of one to two inches per hour. It's not quite that now. But we are still seeing what used to be hurricane Isaac just wring itself out across Louisiana.

All right. Here's the levee, here's the water that fills up this basin and it overtops, meaning there's too much, it can't handle it. So it goes over the levee. It doesn't breach it, it doesn't go under it. It doesn't erode it from this side. It just merely goes over the top.

So, we're going to show a different perspective on our Google Earth. Here's Lake Pontchartrain. This is New Orleans and this is Plaquemines County, to the south and southeast of New Orleans. That levee, there are actually two levees, one is the federal levee, $18 billion worth of improvements across the federal levees.

And there is also the back levee, this one. It was this area that was breached that allowed this bowl or bayou to fill up. And so that's why those people saw their first floors, if they weren't built on stilts or were just on pads, concrete paddings, they received between 10 and 12 inches of rainfall.

So what they are planning to do, coming up on Saturday, is somewhere down river, they're going to make a breach in the levee, the federal levee, to allow the rainfall just to kind of drain out and go back into the river. That seems to be the only way that they're going to get the water out. Because essentially this is a bowl, it's not going anywhere until it dries out by itself. But we're looking at, in some areas, 20 inches of rainfall.

So those people have really struggled and you wonder how much a city can take. At one time, Zoraida, we had over 800,000 people in Louisiana without power.

SAMBOLIN: I got to tell you, that is a great explanation with all of those graphics. It makes it easy to understand. Thank you very much, Karen Maginnis.

MAGINNIS: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: We'll check back in with you.

And coming up next on EARLY START -- rescued from Isaac. We will meet a Louisiana father whose family needed help after flooding from Isaac left them stranded in the attic. Their neighbors came through in a really big way. He's going to tell you all about it.

And eye reporters are sharing pictures and video. Check out this report from Alfonso Walker, it shows the entire parking lot of Biloxi's Hard Rock Cafe under water.

We want you to share your pictures. But we would like to be safe. Go to ireport.com, look for assignment tropical storm Isaac. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. It is 44 minutes past the hour.

These are live pictures of Gulfport, Mississippi. The winds are still whipping there. The waters are still angry. Our reporter there is saying the conditions are pretty much the same as they were yesterday morning.

And the storm surge and flooding still threatening lives in Plaquemines parish where levees overtopped and floodwaters have reached 14 feet. When the floodwaters rose, Delgadillo family of Braithwaite, Louisiana, fled to their attic. They were ultimately saved by their neighbors.

Rafael Delgadillo took his cell phone video of his 8-year-old daughter Esena (ph) being lifted to safety.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RESCUER: It's OK love. Yes, we're coming. Look, I'm going to give you. Head first, OK/

All right. He's going to a life vest on you, OK, love?

RAFAEL DELGADILLO: Good girl, baby.

RESCUER: All right, baby, you're good.

RAFAEL: Good girl. All right, cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Well, joining me on the phone is Esena's father, Rafael Delgadillo.

Good morning to you, sir. Are you there?

DELGADILLO (via telephone): Yes, ma'am.

SAMBOLIN: First of all, how is your daughter? Is she OK? The whole family fine?

DELGADILLO: Oh, my daughter is fine. Yes, she's a super trouper and my whole family is fine, yes.

SAMBOLIN: OK. We're very happy to hear that. I do have to ask you -- that area was under mandatory evacuation, why did you decide to stay?

DELGADILLO: Ma'am, because during Katrina, my house did not take any water. And pretty much everybody in that neighborhood, we all realized as a category 1 storm that was coming in and really, nobody was, we didn't feel threatened. We figured we would take a little bit of water, that some houses would take a little bit. We had no idea it was going to be this bad. SAMBOLIN: So, what was going through your head when all of that water started flooding into your home?

DELGADILLO: Really at the time, it was just waking up my daughter, get her to the attic. It was, I got my wife to jump in the attic and moved all our provisions up in the attic. After that, pretty much it was -- just survival mode, really. Didn't have time to panic or get scared or anything. Just pretty much wanted to get everyone safe and get all of our rations put up.

SAMBOLIN: So, could you walk me through the rescue? How did that happen?

DELGADILLO: Yes, basically once we were up in the attic, my neighbor called me to find out, make sure we were OK. We told him we were up in the attic. And he said hang tight. Just wait in the morning. I have my chainsaw with me, so I'm going to have my son come get me first in a boat and he came to get us, it was amazing, because the community in the east bay rallied around.

I want to give a shout-out to Jesse Schaeffer (ph) and his son, Jeffrey Schaeffer, for --

SAMBOLIN: They risked their lives, didn't they, in order to save you?

DELGADILLO: They were huge out here. In fact there's another guy named Brandon Lyons, he's the one that rescued us in his boat. There's a gentleman named Randy Seibert (ph), who allowed people to use his boat to rescue people, Anger Management. It was just really huge.

As soon as my neighbor came over, we heard the voices, we heard the chainsaw running. He cut a whole out and it was time to go.

SAMBOLIN: How high was the water at that point?

DELGADILLO: At that point, the water was about five inches from hitting the ceiling of my house.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness.

DELGADILLO: We were looking down through the attic access, just looking at the water go by.

SAMBOLIN: Where are you and your family this morning?

DELGADILLO: We were in Belle Chase Lion's Club, they set up a temporary shelter. We have some cots and blankets and some food. So it's really nice right now.

SAMBOLIN: I mentioned earlier, you're the family that I was talking about that has no renter's insurance. How are you hoping to recover?

DELGADILLO: You know, at this point, I'm just so glad to have my daughter, and my wife healthy so -- I'm getting so many texts from family and church that I'm sure my community is going to rally around us. But at this point I'm just so happy to have my wife and we'll see what happens next.

SAMBOLIN: Well, Rafael Delgadillo, we are very grateful that you're talking to us this morning. We are also very happy that you and your family are safe and well. And we wish you best of luck. Thank you for talking with us this morning.

DELGADILLO: Thank you very much. Have a nice on today.

COSTELLO: Thank you.

And flooding from Isaac swallowed up entire neighborhoods. Plaquemines Parish, complete strangers plucked people from their homes before the emergency crews could actually reach them. We're going to have more on the flooding and the incredible, dramatic rescue efforts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Welcome back to EARLY START: It is 52 minutes past the hour.

Ordinary citizens risk their lives to rescue numbers who were trapped, or were in trouble because of Hurricane Isaac. The storm left entire subdivisions, entire neighborhoods in Plaquemines Parish, you're taking a look there, completely under water.

Anderson Cooper and Soledad O'Brien were there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad O'Brien and I are right over here. We're in St. Bernard Parish. Right over there, on the other side of the levee is Plaquemines parish. All day you have been here, there's at least 10 feet of water or more on other side of this levee and the levee is the only thing that's keeping the water from pouring in here to St. Bernard Parish.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is part of the federal levee protection system that's helping out Saint Bernard's Parish. Unfortunately for Plaquemines Parish, they don't have that. That's the problem. The water is coming in. The storm surge is overtopping the levee, a far back levee back there.

And it's really just poured water in to Plaquemines Parish. The amazing thing about this is it's 20 feet of protection. Right on the other side, their estimates of the water were about 15 to 20 feet high. You can see on the other side, some neighborhood developments, subdivisions are actually completely submerged.

COOPER: Yes, You can see the tops of the roofs.

Let's walk over here, as we walk we've been seeing some very dramatic rescues all day long. Starting early this morning, even before law enforcement rescue crews were going out there, individual citizens were going out in their boats, rescuing people if their attics, from the roofs of buildings, from the tops of levees. We have video of an elderly man being rescued along with four dogs. You get a sense as you get close to this levee, just the height of it is about 20 feet high total, but 16 foot at the gate. You can see a little water pouring out underneath which is where this water is coming from. There's a huge amount of water on the other side of this levee. We have pictures of that as well.

Last I heard, there were still people in need of rescue in Plaquemines parish.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they are the expectations. It's hard to tell specific number of people. Those are folks who ignored the mandatory evacuation orders in place on the other side of the wall in Plaquemines parish. What we were told by people who had to be pulled out of their second-floor windows, is that 2:00 in the morning, they got a call saying there was a breach of the levee. We understand it as an overtopping. But they said they were told it was a breach.

Two hours later, all of a sudden, water poured in. Five feet we're told in a minute. And then people, of course, panicked, ran upstairs and people were lucky enough to be plucked out of their windows.

But they believe some people are still in there. Unfortunately, with weather like this it's hard to get rescue, not only the boats, but obviously the Coast Guard can't put up any choppers. They're having a really difficult time because the weather has been so awful.

COOPER: That's been an area which did not flood during Katrina. So a lot of folks felt Katrina was a much more powerful storm. As we've been saying, as Chad Myers has been saying, every storm is different. Even though this was a cat 1, there were gusts that made it cat 2 strength gusts, more than 100 miles an hour and the storm surge for this area means that this storm is even worse than Katrina was just for this area in Plaquemines Parish.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Anderson and Soledad. And Soledad O'Brien will join us live from Plaquemines Parish in the next hour of EARLY START. Stick around for that.

In the meantime, let's send it back to John Berman. He's anchoring coverage of the Republican national convention with a preview of Mitt Romney, I suspect.

BERMAN: That's right, Zoraida.

Coming up here in Tampa, it is the main event, the biggest speech of Mitt Romney's life. Voters looking for a plan and really to get to know the real man. We will have more from the CNN grill live in Tampa in the next hour.

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