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Paul Ryan Gives Speech to Republican National Convention; Flooding Continues Along Gulf Coast; Interview with Jeb Bush; Ryan Delivers Rousing Speech At RNC; Ryan's Speech Light On Foreign Policy; Isaac Still A Threat; Isaac Expected To Drench Drought Areas; West Nile Cases Set Record; Online Campaign Stop; "Cajun Navy" To The Rescue; Rice Steals The Spotlight

Aired August 30, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. You're watching a special edition of "STARTING POINT." We're coming to you this morning from St. Bernard Parish, just north -- just south, rather, of New Orleans where we're covering tropical storm now Isaac.

A neighborhood still at risk after water overtopped four levees. We're talking specifically about Plaquemines Parish, which borders on St. Bernard, where I am standing. That's the developing story that we're following for you this morning.

Also going to get to another big story this morning, which is coming to us out of Tampa, Florida. Tonight is the main event at the Republican National Convention which is where former Governor Mitt Romney is going to be accepting the Republican presidential nomination. Late last night Mr. Romney's running mate delivered a warning as he addressed the delegates in Tampa. Listen.


PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.



O'BRIEN: And that as the rain starts pouring in here where we are, where we begin this morning which is in Tampa, Florida, and John Berman is there for us. Hey, John, good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Tonight is the night for Mitt Romney, the one he has been waiting for years. He will give the biggest speech of his political career accepting his party's nomination and making the case for a Romney presidency. The talk this morning, though, is focused on Romney's running mate Paul Ryan who really fired up the convention crowd with a wide ranging attack on President Obama's record and really his entire philosophy. I am joined by White House correspondent Brianna Keilar to walk us through this address. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He hit him on the economy and it was the house budget chairman doing so and the Romney campaign thinks he is a good messenger for this. In this election that is shaping up to be a referendum on President Obama's economic policies. This is where Paul Ryan went. He said we have had four years of a runaround and now it is time for a turnaround in Mitt Romney. Here is part of what he said.


RYAN: It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new. Now all that's left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogan that is already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday's wind.


KEILAR: And the Obama campaign has come out saying that basically what Paul Ryan said was a pack of lies and certainly fact checking him on some things that are fair, but we should also mention there is a new web ad out today from the Obama campaign and, John, it is really sort of the primary coming back to haunt Mitt Romney. They use words from him where he said severely conservative and from Eric Fehrnstrom, the etch-a-sketch moment and Rick Santorum talking about Romney's business experience and a lot of attacks on Bain Capital. So certainly words that are coming back to live another day and probably words that Mitt Romney would not want to be hearing.

BERMAN: We certainly did not expect the Obama campaign to remain quiet during the convention. The other person that really lit up the crowd was the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that gave a speech that seemed to inspire the delegates.

KEILAR: That's right. And if Paul Ryan's goal was to bring up questions about the president's economic policies Condoleezza rice's goal was to bring up questions about President Obama's foreign policy experience and she basically said that he has decided to be a friend rather than a force. Here is part of what she said.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY 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.



KEILAR: And you were in the room listening to this, the reception. I mean, the crowd really got excited, especially at that moment.

BERMAN: For a woman who says she is not going to run for office, it left a lot of people wondering if it one day was a possibility.

Of course, there has been a lot of speculation about someone else for the future, the former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a very popular figure in the Republican party. In 15 minutes I will speak to the former governor, also a surrogate for Mitt Romney and for now let's go back to Soledad in New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. In New Orleans and outside of New Orleans like where we are in St. Bernard Parish and right over that wall Plaquemines Parish, lots of flooding. That flooding is the big story here. The storm is still plotting its way across the state and inundating the state with lots of rain. I want to get right to Rob Marciano at the port of New Orleans. We have seen bands of rain come in and drench us and it stops again. That's an improvement from yesterday.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know, I tell you what, the arms of Isaac are going to continue, the fingers of this storm are going to continue and moisture for the gulf of Mexico and we're going to see sporadic squall lines that will at times just dump tremendous amounts of water not only on New Orleans but across the Mississippi gulf coast and central Louisiana, so that will be an ongoing threat. Live from the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. You see the pipes to the left that have the ability to pump 8,000 gallons of water per second. A couple of them are working at full power now. At the height of the storm all of these were working and working very well.

The problem here on Lake Pontchartrain is that the storm surge from this inundated areas to our west and in Laplace we drove up and tried to get in because we heard it was flooded and unable to do so. This video is showing you just how much water they got and 18 wheeler tractor trailers almost completely submerged and then reports of the rescue effort and dramatic stuff coming out of that town and coast guard video showing their rescue efforts and managed to pluck off the roof of their home a family, a husband and wife and two dogs and they were able to signal the chopper using flashlights, and then brought back to the base in belle chasse and this is what that family had to say about their experience.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he had a harder time because he had the bigger dog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gives me appreciation for what these guys do, I can tell you that.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God in a helicopter.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARCIANO: Just one of at least 200 rescues happening in that town alone and now this morning as our winds have turned from the south, on the other side of the lake similar flooding happening at the moment. Flash flood warning out for the city of Slidell. This storm not over by any stretch, and this lake right here just north of New Orleans is one of the problems. Soledad, back up to you.

O'BRIEN: Lots of areas very hard hit. Rob Marciano watching all of that. You heard Slidell and Laplace. Plaquemines Parish also one of the hardest hit, at least four levees over topped and that created major, major flooding, forcing people who did not heed the mandatory evacuation order up to their roofs and in some cases out of their windows and 100 had to be rescued from here yesterday.

We spoke with parish president Billy Nungesser as it was happening and he joins us by phone. Mr. Nungesser, thank you for your time. Appreciate it. First update me on the number of people who you believe you still need to pull out of homes behind me. I am at the flood wall in St. Bernard Parish between the parish and your parish.

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Last night we believed they got everyone out but we at first like this morning the sheriff's office and the National Guard will be going house to house to make sure they got everyone. We also are going to start an effort this morning on West Bank. Late yesterday I tried to get up highway 23 and the water was rushing up high over 23 so fast that a herd of cattle and deer were running to get out of the flood waters.

And it is ironic. For Katrina I was a private citizen, rode out the storm, and I rescued a family, brought them to my house, and as I attempted to get down river I got a call that the water came over the Jefferson lake canal so fast that family had to flee on foot and eventually be rescue reasonable doubt and that family is living at my home again, the same family that I rescued got driven from their home on the West Bank and my house is raised above the Mississippi river levee, so it didn't flood. They had to be taken by boat to my house again, and they're hunkering down there now.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about plans. We have heard that they're going to try to breech the levees I think on the West Bank and try to get that water now stuck in the parish and out into the Mississippi. Is that right? When would that happen?

NUNGESSER: Actually we're going to breach the back levees as this wind dies down this morning. We're going down at first light by air boat on the West Bank, and as the wind dies down and the levees become visible through the water, we're going to strategically cut those levees and break those levees so the water can move out quickly. We're going to do that on the East and West Bank.

But we have to wait for the wind to die down so it quits pushing the water in and the water that's over the levees can actually flow out and actually see the levees. There are no levees visible. This water came up so quick and so high and it just continued late last night coming up highway 23. The Phillips 66 refinery built levees around their facility and seemed be holding, but that water did come up around that refinery and the levees keeping that refinery from flooding at this time.

O'BRIEN: This wind is picking up, so hopefully it will die down as Rob Marciano is saying. Billy Nungasser, thank you for joining us this morning.

Christine Romans has the rest of the day's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks, Soledad. The national average for a gallon of regular gas $3.83, up two cents in the past 24 hours. Midwest and southern states are the biggest increases because most of their gas comes from the Gulf where the output is cut because of Isaac. Gas prices are expected to ease early next week as the refineries and pipelines in the Gulf come back online.

A Florida appeals granted George Zimmerman's request for a new judge in his murder trial. Zimmerman's attorneys asked that Judge Kenneth Lester be removed because of disparaging comments he made about their client in that July bail order. They say Zimmerman's right to a fair trial was at risk and the appeals court agreed. George Zimmerman is now facing second degree murder charges for the fatal shooting Trayvon Martin back in February.

University officials confirmed Penn State's football team will have to return al trophies between 1998 and 2011 including several bowl game victories, part of the NCAA sanctions handed down for the school's role rather in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.

Ahead on STARTING POINT Romney, Ryan, and the Republican's chances next fall. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush talking about what we can expect tonight.

And we continue our live coverage of tropical storm now, tropical storm Isaac live from St. Bernard Parish. Soledad is there. The latest on rescue efforts. You're watching STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special addition of STARTING POINT coming to you live from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, hundreds of rescues under way ever since Isaac blew through as a hurricane yesterday. Many people left stranded in St. John parish after it went over the bank of Lake Pontchartrain and overtopped a levee and flooded plaque minds parish and we're being told four levees were over topped, forcing those that did not heed the evacuation order to leave their homes. Some cases this had to be rescued off the roof top or out of a window because the water came up so high in their homes. Some of those rescues carried out by big hearted neighbors and the National Guard here as well and the folk from the fish and wildlife as well here.

And as we're sitting here in St. Bernard Parish, many of the folks in St. Bernard Parish were efforts the rescues in Plaquemines Parish right behind this flood wall. You see where it says 20 feet, that's a 20-foot flood wall. On the other side literally is 15 feet of water, if you were to open up that gate we would be utterly flooded. It is the flood wall that has been able to keep most St. Bernard Parish, at least this part not flooded and completely dry.

On the other side, though, are neighborhoods, our homes, developments, and what happened there, 15 to 20 feet of water rushed in, actually submerge the those developments and those are the folks that had to be plucked from their homes and brought around this flood wall into St. Bernard Parish. The folks in St. Bernard Parish felt fortunate to be able to rescue people because, of course, it was the folks in St. Bernard Parish who were in part being rescued seven years ago in hurricane Katrina.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Kazmierzak of the Louisiana National Gurad joins me by phone. Nice to have you, sir. I understand from the Plaquemines Parish president they don't think there are more people that need to be rescued here. What about in other parishes where they have had similar problems in terms of massive flooding?

LT. COL. MIKE KAZMIERZAK, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: The head of operations are going on all over the southeastern part of the state and just last night we finished up -- we didn't finish up, but we evacuated probably more than 150 residents, people in need from Plaquemines but the big thing is in St. John's we said high water vehicles, troops, security folks, down to St. John's parish yesterday in and through the night conducting evacuations all through the night. Still on going. We have evacuated more than 3,000 residents in cooperation with the local authorities.

O'BRIEN: Wow, 3,000 people pulled out of St. John Parish. Let me ask you a question about what the plan is now because obviously where do you take them once you're able to pull them out, especially in the large numbers? Where are they going?

KAZMIERZAK: They're going to shelters throughout the state that have been pre-designated in coordination between the parish and the state authorities. They're getting out of harm's way.

O'BRIEN: So obviously wind is a big problem today. It is much better than it was certainly yesterday. We have these bands of rain that keep coming in and dumping tons of water us on us. Do you have to wait until it is clear? Is wind going to be a problem and weather going to be a problem for you?

KAZMIERZAK: Well, the weather obviously plays a role in this, but that's what we do. The guards out front are working with our local officials whether the weather is bad or not. Like I say, we have been working all through the night and will continue working today and hopefully the winds that calm down and we'll be able to get aircraft up in the air and to assist in those efforts.

O'BRIEN: We certainly hope so. Pointing out that St. John parish a focus of massive rescue efforts. Thanks for talking with us. Thank you for being with us.

We have to take a short break, but still ahead this morning we'll talk about politics, Romney-Ryan, the Republicans' chances next fall, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will talk about what we can expect tonight.

And we continue our special live coverage of tropical storm Isaac, now downgraded to a tropical storm. We'll continue to come to you live from St. Bernard Parish just outside of New Orleans. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. We're live from the CNN grill here in Tampa, the site of the Republican National Convention. And tonight is finally Mitt Romney's moment here. He will take the stage and accept the nomination for president. First, this morning all the talk is about his running mate, Paul Ryan, and his rousing speech last night.


RYAN: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?



BERMAN: As we say, Mitt Romney will speak tonight. Also speaking tonight is the former governor of the state we're in right now, Jeb Bush. He joins us live from the Tampa Bay foreign venue, the floor of the convention where he will be speaking tonight. And first off, governor, let me ask, give me a review of Paul Ryan's speech last night.

JEB BUSH, (R) FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I thought it was fantastic. The traditional role of the vice president is to lay out the reasons why the incumbent is not deserving of reelection, and I thought he did it and did it well. And he let people know what's in his heart and where he comes from. I thought it was a pretty compelling speech.

BERMAN: He did talk about the president and what you call divisions quite well. And the question is, did he do it accurately? There are people wondering if they were completely truthful. He talked about President Obama's 2008 trip to a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. I want to listen to what Paul Ryan said.


RYAN: Right there at that plant candidate Obama said I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another 100 years. That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Now, the decision to close that plant came in June, 2008, when President George W. Bush, your brother was in office. Was Mr. Ryan being misleading last night?

JEB BUSH: Not at all. Those are the words that Barack Obama used. It was a campaign promise and yet another campaign promise unfulfilled.

BERMAN: I know you talk about the budget and the debt and deficit quite a bit and Congressman Ryan did last night, too, and he criticized the president for not doing enough to cut spending. He also criticized the president for not acting on the Simpson-Bowles commission. Listen to what he said on that.


RYAN: He created a new bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and did exactly nothing.


BERMAN: If the president did nothing, didn't Paul Ryan do less than nothing or more than nothing? He actually voted against the Simpson-Bowles commission.

JEB BUSH: He voted against it because he did not have any aspect of it that included entitlement reform which is the most pressing budget issue that our country faces, and the Ryan budget does deal with that over the long haul. And so to suggest that Paul Ryan is not completely truthful when he is the only guy in Washington, D.C. that's actually put out a comprehensive plan with a budget attached to it I think is wrong.

BERMAN: I want to talk about an issue I know is close to your heart, outreach to minorities, specifically on the issue of immigration. The Republican platform has language that is against any form of amnesty and calls for end to deportation and funding for sanctuary cities. Do you think the language and tone of this platform is the right message right now from your party?

JEB BUSH: I think the tone couldn't be better and I think I am more interested in what president to be Mitt Romney's views on this are, and I am comfortable with those views. I think he will be a president that will try to solve our immigration problem by securing the border, but then turning this conversation into how can we create sustained economic growth by using a catalytic converter for growth in the pursuit of dreams, and that's an immigration policy that allows people to come in legally and be able to add value and vitality to our country. President Obama has had four years, two of which he had Democratic control of Congress where he promised he was going to have comprehensive immigration reform. He hasn't even submitted it to congress.

BERMAN: Governor, I would be remiss if I didn't mention "The Daily Show's" calling the coverage from Tampa Florida the Republican national convention, "The Road to Jeb Bush, 2016."

JEB BUSH: I am always honored when Jon Stewart using me as a prop.

BERMAN: Governor Jeb Bush, thank you for joining us from the floor. Good luck on your speech and hopefully we'll see you soon.

JEB BUSH: Thanks a lot.

BERMAN: Back to you, Soledad, in New Orleans.

O'BRIEN: We're going to continue to follow the track of Isaac as it is now a tropical storm dumping inches of rain water. We're also going to talk to one of the heroes of this storm, a man who went out in the midst of the storm to rescue his neighbors.

And a big night at the RNC, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan rallies the Republican faithful. We'll talk to Congressman Peter King of New York about that and what we can expect from Mitt Romney's big speech tonight. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT special edition as we continue to cover what is now Tropical Storm Isaac.

In just a few moments, we're going to talk to Jesse Shafer. He is being hailed as one of the heroes of Isaac, part of the Cajun Navy going out in the middle of the storm to try to rescue his neighbors.

Also ahead this morning, New York Congressman Peter King is going to weigh in on VP nominee Paul Ryan's speech last night. In that speech, he bashed President Obama, made some factual errors or exaggerations as well.

He is also going to look forward for us tonight for Mitt Romney's speech. That's all ahead. That is our STARTING POINT. Let's get right to John Berman covering that angle for us -- John.

BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad. You know, as you said Paul Ryan, he was on stage last night. He blasted the president on several issues, the economy, health care, his overall leadership.

But by in large, he left tough talk on foreign policy to more seasoned hands like Senator John McCain and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

I have a seasoned foreign policy on hand with me this morning, New York Congressman Peter King. He is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Before I get to foreign policy, which I would like to talk about, let's just talk about Paul Ryan. You were on the floor last night. The delegation seemed to love that speech. REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, Paul Ryan is a great guy, so I am biased on this, but you know, many people in New York have never seen Paul Ryan before.

I have been telling him all week. This guy is great. When you see him, he is going to resonate especially we have a number of competitive congressional races in suburban areas.

And I am confident Paul is going to appeal to them. The average husband and wife, mother and father, grandparents, watching Paul Ryan, and I think will be very moved by him.

BERMAN: I think we anticipated some bias from you already so you don't have to apologize for that. Paul Ryan did talk some about foreign policy and I want to listen to what he said. Let's listen.


RYAN: In our dealings with other nations, Romney-Ryan administration will speak with confidence and clarity. Whenever men and women rise up for their freedom, they will know that the American president is on their side.


BERMAN: You have a congressman with very little foreign policy experience. As a ticket there isn't a lot of experience there. How and why would they be better than President Obama?

KING: I would say the commitment. I worked with Paul. I know he has excessive knowledge of foreign policy issues and what he said last night, I think has to be really the message from the Republican Party.

That President Obama has been inconsistent on foreign policy and what he let happened in Iran several years ago was really inexcusable. The uncertain message he sends to Israel.

So all of this I would say what Ryan and Romney going to have to do and will do so we can have a clear defiant foreign policy and it's not going to shift through months and months. There won't be any apology tour for Mitt Romney.

BERMAN: The American people don't seem to agree with you at least according to our most recent CNN poll on issue of who is better able to handle foreign policy. President Obama enjoys the 55 percent to 40 percent lead right now. So if you're right, why are the American people wrong?

KING: Of course, the issue really hasn't been defined. I mean, the main issue is the economy. When people look at foreign policy, they do see Bin Laden, which --

BERMAN: I think Americans approved pulling the troops out of Iraq. KING: Well, that was begun by President Bush. But my point is that when you have starting with Condy Rice and John McCain start laying out how inconsistent the foreign policy really has been.

Once you get behind the big victories and they were big, no doubting it, but seeing what he has done as far as Israel, as far as Iran, as far as the British, the inconsistent policies, as far as really not working closely with our allies, we'll see the policy is not as good as people think it is right now.

BERMAN: Senator McCain spoke last night about an issue that I know is close to your heart, the issue of leaks and I want to listen to what Senator McCain said.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We can't afford to have the security of our nation -- we can't afford to have the security of our nation and those who bravely defend it in danger because their government leaks secrets of their heroic operations to the media.


BERMAN: As I said, you've accused the White House of leaks as well. Do you have any hard evidence?

KING: First of all, just the White House's own statements. The stories are in the "New York Times" that talk about the cyber attacks on Iran and came from people in the National Security Council meetings. That's the White House.

So are meeting in the oval office. That's the White House. These are the people closest to the president. Right after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the details given out as far as the routes the helicopters took.

How many people on the mission, all that should have ever been said is last night the United States military killed Osama Bin Laden. That's all that should have been said.

BERMAN: This White House has had more prosecutions for leaks than any other, a record number, six for Mr. Obama's first term compared to three for the entire eight years under George W. Bush.

KING: Prosecution can talk about that, middle level people not administration spokes men and people in the administration. We're talking about people in the National Security Council.

We're talking about a small circle of advisers. We're talking about a policy in Yemen where we penetrate the highest levels of al Qaeda. Nobody in Congress knew about it, the small circle in the CIA, the White House, the entire thing was leaked in the Associated Press.

BERMAN: Congressman Peter King, it's always great to see you. I know you hate talking to the media. So it's nice to have you in here.

MCCAIN: I like talking to you.

BERMAN: I appreciate that. Thank you very much. I want to go back for the day's headlines. Christine Romans is in New York.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, John. Tropical Storm Isaac still a big threat this morning. Nearly a million customers now without power in four states.

And the National Weather Service in New Orleans has issued a flash flood emergency for Slidell, Louisiana. That's until 9 a.m. local time.

The storm still a huge rainmaker and Isaac is on the move. Let's bring in meteorologist Karen Maginnis in the CNN Hurricane Headquarters. Good morning.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I want to show you this Google earth. This is breaking news as far as the flooding is concerned.

Here is New Orleans. Here is Slidell. It looks like one of the bayous has back filled so the old town region of Slidell, downtown Slidell. There is a report from the fire department that about 80 percent of the businesses in downtown Slidell are reporting some flooding.

They're saying that this will continue as the bands of rainfall move on shore. Let's go ahead and show you that radar imagery. Right now, we're picking up plenty of moisture coming in from the Gulf of Mexico.

These bands are tending to move a little further towards the east, but nonetheless Slidell located just about in this vicinity. As I mentioned, it is just to the north, slightly northeast of New Orleans, which continues to see its fair share of rainfall.

But as I mentioned, these bands can't produce some pretty heavy rain. Here is Slidell right now. It looks like there is a watch out and flooding potential is great across this region. It doesn't look like the levees have been breached.

But the flood waters are going around it, even around the railroad tracks and that's why Slidell is in danger right now. They say they are continuing evacuations across the region.

And it looks like Slidell you could see another band move through perhaps within the next ten to 15 minutes that could produce pretty significant rainfall rates.

We continue to monitor the situation around Slidell and we'll keep you updated on that.

ROMANS: All right, thank you, Karen. Of course, all of that rain is going to move inland in the drought stricken areas of the Midwest need water desperately. The downpours from Isaac will not necessarily help. Some moisture ahead of the planting of winter wheat could be beneficial, but the huge rainfalls expected could knock down corn, soybean and rice crops that are already weak from the worst drought in 50 years. Plus crop diseases thrive in wet field conditions.

The West Nile virus is responsible for 66 deaths across the U.S. this year. The CDC says almost 1,600 cases have been reported so far and that is the highest number of West Nile cases through the last week of August since the virus was first detected in the U.S. some 13 years ago.

President Obama's online campaign is in full swing. The president took to the social media web site read it yesterday. He spent about 30 minutes on the site answering 10 questions submitted by users. The president took questions about Afghanistan and the corrupting influence of money on politics.

Now to Soledad for the big story right down there in St. Bernard Parish. Good morning.

O'BRIEN: We continue to monitor what's happening here as this thing is now a tropical storm, but as we have been hearing, of course, from our meteorologists, obviously the weather bands are coming in and every so often we get drenched.

I want to talk a little bit about some of the dramatic rescues that happened in Plaquemines Parish as those flood waters quickly moved in. The parish is literally behind me behind this wall and it wasn't just the National Guard that came to the rescue.

It wasn't just the Fish and Wildlife that came. It wasn't just the various police departments and fire departments that came. It was also neighbors able to grab their boats and do what they could to help other neighbors.

They're being hailed today and being called the Cajun Navy. Jesse Shaffer Jr. and his dad are two members of that Cajun Navy and Jesse joins me by phone. Can you hear me?

JESSE SHAFFER, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA (via telephone): Yes, I can. Good morning.

O'BRIEN: All right, congratulations to you because you are being credited with saving so many people's lives. Give me a sense of how you knew that there was going to be a big problem with the water and you were able to get your boat right in, right where I am I think if I am not mistaken and put it right in the water and go in and rescue your neighbors?

SHAFFER: About 4:00 this morning, last night, whenever it was, the surge had risen from normal tide to the road within an hour and we knew there was going to be a problem. It continued to rise out morning and we had to head out there and start saving people. We knew there were people in the park and the subdivision.

O'BRIEN: So the park is literally right behind me, Jesse. You knew people were there. You went in and navigated the streets that I know you know well with your boat. Who were the first you saw and how were you able to rescue them?

SHAFFER: It was actually dark so we had to go in with light and they had people on the roofs. I actually live in that subdivision, so I knew about who was in there. I would get phone calls and messages on Facebook. Just exactly how you would be in there.

O'BRIEN: Messages on Facebook that led to you various people that you knew were missing because obviously I was trying to figure out how you could track down in such dark circumstances and inclement weather. Tell me about the people you pulled out.

SHAFFER: In that subdivision alone we pulled out one couple with a cat, one couple with a six month old baby. We had to bust through an attic and ventilation system to get a 70-year-old man with four dogs. And another individual and we had to rescue two pumping station operators back in the back. We pulled out about 15 in that area.

O'BRIEN: Wow. It's very impressive. Jesse, I know you're about 25 years old, you and your dad were doing that, so we really say thank you and congratulations for being such an incredible hero at a time when it was certainly needed. Jesse Shaffer joining us. Congrats to your dad as well.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back in just a moment, we will continue to update you on what's happening here in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, which is now a tropical storm. We're monitoring severe flooding in the area.

You heard about the flash flood warnings in Slidell and massive rescue efforts going on in St. John's Parish and Plaquemines Parish obviously very badly hit. We're continuing to watch all these top stories where I am.

The other top story this morning is the RNC, the Republican National Convention under way. We're going to hear from the presidential hopeful, hoping to be named nominee today officially, that would be Mitt Romney. We're going to hear his speech tonight. We have a preview of that straight ahead. Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I am John Berman here in the CNN Grill live at the Republican National Convention. Tonight, Mitt Romney will accept his party's nomination for president.

Last night it was his running mate, Paul Ryan, who really made his debut on the national stage. He is now officially the GOP nominee for vice president. Gave a big speech but a lot of people are talking about a different speech, one that came before from Condoleezza Rice. Listen in.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: When the world looking at us today, they see an American government that cannot live within its means. They see an American government that continues to borrow money. That will mortgage the future of generations to come. The world knows that when a nation loses control of its financing, it eventually loses control of its destiny.


BERMAN: With me now is Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican congresswoman from Tennessee and also the co-chair of the Republican Platform Committee.

When the former secretary of state started speaking during the convention last night, it seemed to me that someone flipped a switch and light came over that hall.

REPRESENTATIVE MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Absolutely, it did. She energized that hall. It was a remarkable speech. I think she laid out what -- how our domestic problems affect us and on the global stage, and she did that very well, but didn't you love how she brought it back to a personal story at the end?

BERMAN: An amazing personal story and growing up in Alabama ultimately and going all the way to Foggy Bottom. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, commented during the coverage, he said isn't it interesting the biggest and best and most well received speeches in the convention so far seem to be from women?

BLACKBURN: Indeed they are. I think there is a reason for that. There are so many accomplished, qualified women in the Republican Party. If you want to say why don't all of these women come to the forefront as regularly as they should? I think that our Republican leadership needs to allow women to step forward and kind of open that pathway a little bit more.

BERMAN: Suzanna Martinez, the governor of Mexico gave a heck of a speech last night also. After Condoleezza Rice who was a very tough act to follow. Condoleezza Rice, possible presidential candidate one day?

BLACKBURN: I would love to see that. She is a good friend and she is so accomplished and so qualified and would be an excellent leader.

BERMAN: How good does Mitt Romney have to be tonight?

BLACKBURN: He is going to hit a home run.

BERMAN: If he doesn't?

BLACKBURN: He is going to hit a home run. It will be a great speech.

BERMAN: That's your story and you're sticking to it. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, thank you very much for joining us. Soledad, back to you in New Orleans. O'BRIEN: All right, John, we continue to have these bands of rain and wind blow through. Seems that every time you come back to me another rain storm picks up a little bit.

We're going to follow what's happening in the aftermath and the affects of what is now Tropical Storm Isaac. Flooding is the big problem in various communities around the area.

We'll update you on those stories and the rescue efforts as well. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: Isaac is now a tropical storm, but those bands of weather keep rolling through. Obviously, flooding is a big problem. Let's go right to Dave Mattingly who is in Gulfport, Mississippi, for us this morning where I have to imagine, David, the effects are very similar as the storm moves through.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In fact, when I was talking to you this time yesterday, it looked and felt exactly like this. Look, we just got pounding rain right now, tropical storm force winds.

This storm is not done by a long shot with the Mississippi gulf coast. Here in Gulfport, we've had 9 3/4 inches of rain from the storm so far. That's 3 1/2 inches more than we've seen in New Orleans.

And that number is obviously going to be going up by the our here as this rain continues to fall, causing problems all across the gulf. What we have seen here in Mississippi, the biggest problems with flooding we've seen, have been in Bay St. Louis.

That community was hit very hard by Hurricane Katrina. The flooding they saw this time, you know, they expected to see flooding there. But because the storm just stalled and parked here and kept dumping rain, they got a lot more flooding than they were prepared for.

So a lot of high water there that they are dealing with. Over in Biloxi, on the other side of us, they had a lot of street flooding. This is why state officials closed the casinos there before this storm came in, because for a while their streets in some places were almost impassable with the high water there.

In Waveland, Mississippi, we heard about this from the governor of Mississippi. He was telling us about how there were a number of people who had to be rescued, got caught by surprise when those floodwaters came up suddenly. They had to be brought out by boat.

But here in Gulfport, you see what the story is, just continued rain, wave after wave after wave. And we've also had reports of tornadoes in the area. One small tornado confirmed touched down, damaging one house here. And the conditions still exist for those tornadoes to occur.

We're not out of the woods here yet. The totals of rainfall keep going up. And as long as we're having rain, there is not going to be any relief, Soledad, for all of the people who are dealing with the floodwaters right now.

O'BRIEN: All right, David Mattingly for us updating us on what's happening in Gulfport and around Gulfport, Mississippi. Appreciate it.

A lot more to come this morning. We'll continue to update you on what's happening at the RNC today as we are expecting to hear from Governor Mitt Romney as he officially accepts his party's nomination.

Eric Fehrnstorm is a senior adviser to Mitt Romney. We'll be chatting with him straight ahead. We're back in just a moment, short break. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Hi, everybody. Welcome. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT coming to you this morning from St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, which is just south of New Orleans where the rain is once again coming down in sheets and there's high wind.

We are covering Tropical Storm Isaac. It's now a tropical storm, but still making quite a mess here. Neighborhoods are still at risk after the water has overtopped four levees. It has flooded homes and entire neighborhoods, in fact.

We'll continue to watch this developing for you obviously and cover all of the flooding that is happening in this area.

Other big story, of course, comes to us from Tampa, Florida. Tonight the main event at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney will be officially accepting his party's nomination for president. Last night, his running mate delivered a warning pretty much. He was addressing the delegates in Tampa. Here's what he said.


RYAN: 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.