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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Hurricane Coverage; Hurricane Sandy Threatens U.S. East Coast; Eye on the Storm; Coast Guard Preparing for Damage

Aired October 29, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

A megastorm, that's what they're calling it. A megastorm hitting the East Coast. It's called hurricane Sandy. It's expected to make a landing along a 700-mile stretch of the most populated part of the East Coast.

I'm Soledad O'Brien. I'm coming to you live this morning from Midtown Manhattan. We're right on the edge of Central Park as we watch the progress of hurricane Sandy.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm Rob Marciano, on the shores of New Jersey, where just to my south, hurricane Sandy is expected to make land fall later tonight. Its effects will be reaching for hundreds of miles. Live report coming up.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sandra Endo in Ocean City, Maryland, where we're feeling the effects of hurricane Sandy already. And (AUDIO BREAK) right in front our eyes. I'll have those dramatic pictures coming up.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm George Howell on the outer banks of North Carolina where we are monitoring a sailing ship that is currently floundering at sea with 15 souls onboard. Details coming up.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman live in Lower Manhattan. This is the evacuation zone. Expecting a storm surge here of six to 11 feet. It could come right up over this wall behind me, threatening lives and livelihood.

O'BRIEN: All right. John Berman and our entire team this morning as we update you with what's happening with hurricane Sandy. The good news, the sun's come up. Bad news, it's gotten a lot windier. We've had intermittent rain here in New York City. But we have seen pictures across the East Coast of some devastating impact of hurricane Sandy.

We've got our special coverage this morning as we go to rolling coverage. It all begins right now. (MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Looking at that picture right there, the satellite picture. That's a category 1 hurricane, hurricane Sandy, nearly 1,000 miles wide. Expected to impact 50 million people from North Carolina, all the way up into New England.

And it's also predicted to smash into a cold front. That's why people talk about this being a superstorm. Also, it is expected that it will sit on the Eastern Seaboard for days, creating dangerous storm surge and flooding conditions as well.

CNN has hurricane Sandy covered like no other network on TV.

We're talking this morning with Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter, Baltimore Mayor Vincent Gray. Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim will join us. Rear Admiral Dan Abel will be with us as well.

Our correspondents, John Berman is live in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. In Ocean City, Maryland, that's where CNN's Sandra Endo is reporting for us. George Howell in Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina. Rob Marciano is live in Asbury Park in New Jersey.

Let's begin with Rob for a look at what this storm is doing right now and where it's headed -- Rob.

MARCIANO: Good morning, Soledad.

You mentioned the extraordinary storm this is, including the cold air. We don't often talk about wind chills in a hurricane. But right now, it feels like it's in the 40s with the wind and cool air. Over my right shoulder, you see the extraordinary surf that's been pounding the shoreline here of eastern Jersey for the past 12 hours. We're coming up on high tide once this morning, and again later on tonight. That will coincide with the expected landfall.

Sandy has strengthened. Let's go over the statistics, 85 mile an hour winds now. Millibar pressure has tied with the lowest that we've seen in history. That of 1938 and that historic hurricane, the Long Island Express.

So, already historic storm and a large one at that with winds extending over 800 miles for tropical storm force winds, and hurricane force winds, nearly 200 miles. This is a beast.

Here is the track forecast. It hasn't changed. The computer models have been spot on. So, this will continue to be the case. But for hundreds of miles on either side of this track, the effects will be felt and felt widespread.

The radar is showing a lot of rainfall from south Jersey, south towards the Delmarva, Virginia, and certainly North Carolina. And the winds continue to gust and increase into the 30s now from Virginia Beach, Atlantic City and up through near Jersey as well. And the wind warnings are extended to Maine back to -- as far west as Columbus, Ohio, and as far south as northern Georgia to give you an idea just how expansive this storm system is. Then the cold air, we've got not only winter storm warnings, but blizzard warnings that are posted for western parts of West Virginia.

Here along the immediate shoreline, evacuations for all of coastal New Jersey, 650,000 people live in this county alone. We've got room for 2,000 people in shelters. Most of those folks who have evacuated have gone to friends and family and certainly to higher ground, because storm surge here, 48 feet expected. Then across Long Island sound, Connecticut, AND potentially New York harbor and southern Manhattan, upwards to six to as much as 11 feet of surge expected.

This will be worse than hurricane Irene a little over 12 months ago -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I would think much worse than hurricane Irene. Many people were able to dodge that bullet, Rob. I hope that they're not taking -- they're taking this much more seriously, not having gotten complacent after what happened in hurricane Irene.

Rob Marciano updating us. Thank you, rob. Appreciate that.

Let's go right to Sandra Endo. She's in Ocean City in Maryland for us, where if you look at what the beach is doing which is basically eroding, things are getting very tough there. The storm's a fair way away, fair way out.

Sandra, what's the latest?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Actually, Soledad, the conditions are actually getting more rough out here. The wind has certainly picked up. The temperature has dropped.

Take a look at the high tide right now. The waves are massive. And they are certainly crashing ashore.

Also, the beach is eroding right before our eyes. You can see the fence here where it has just been swept away by the waves. And that sand dune is gradually eroding as the waves crash on to it.

Just yesterday, we were standing beyond that fence where a beach was. And now, it's completely covered with water.

We are seeing flooding here and the water is approaching the property line. I guess you can see a property owner standing on his deck right there. I guess he's deciding to ride out the storm, clearly checking on his property.

The water is approaching this line. It's about 100 yards from shore. But clearly the situation is worsening in the minutes.

This is something residents here and officials are certainly going to keep a watchful eye on. They're definitely worried about the high tide, the full moon, and the lingering effect of hurricane Sandy -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ocean City, Maryland, that is where Sandra Endo is for us this morning. Thank you, Sandra. Appreciate that.

Let's get right to George Howell. He's in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, in the outer banks.

George, how is the -- how's the weather right now where you are? Are you seeing it as Sandra is deteriorating pretty fast around you?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, the wind gusts, they come and go. But not nearly as bad as what we saw yesterday and the day before that. It's been really a three-day event out here. The concern right now, it's about the storm surge out there on the Atlantic, also about flooding on the sound side as wind directions change.

Also want to talk about something that's happening out there. I want to show you the Atlantic. Rough, rough waters. About 90 miles from where we are now and 160 miles from the eye of the storm, the HMS Bounty is out there.

Now, that is a replica sailing ship, three-masted sailing ship that was actually created for the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" and also used in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean." Now, this ship had 17 souls onboard.

We know from the Coast Guard that everyone was able to abandon ship. They're on lifeboats. That is good news, because this ship was taking on water. They were not able to move forward because of lost propulsion.

But at this point, we know the Coast Guard, they're trying to effort a rescue, but they're unable to do so given the conditions of what you see out there. So it's a developing situation that we are monitoring very closely.

Again, 17 souls who abandoned ship on lifeboats. The Coast Guard doing their best to get to them, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: George Howell for us, updating us what's happening in the outer banks. Thank you, George. Appreciate it.

I want to head right down to Lower Manhattan, probably, what, 60, 70 blocks from where I am right now. John Berman is there for us.

One of the big concerns is storm surge. They predicted, what? Up to 11 feet of storm surge which could be devastating for that area.

BERMAN: That's right, Soledad. Six to 11 feet.

Actually, we're getting a real taste of what it might be like tonight at 8:50 p.m., which is high tide. We have a high tide actually in about 20 minutes from right now.

You can see behind me there's no extra room here. The water is practically up on top of the sea wall already. We've seen some of the actual waves leap over as it is. This is just with moderate surge right now and high tide. By tonight, we're expecting a much bigger storm surge. Six to 11 feet. It's a full two feet higher than we saw last year during hurricane Irene. And during that hurricane we did get some minor flooding down here.

There's one expert from Columbia University who says one foot more flooding than what we saw in hurricane Irene could cause $50 billion in damage. You were talking about it earlier, Soledad. The issue is water could flood the subway systems here, get into the electrical grid and just cause mayhem.

Again, high tide 8:50 tonight. That might be just when the storm begins there. It is hitting the East Coast with its full force. That could be a huge storm surge -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. John Berman for us this morning -- thank you, John. Appreciate it.

Let's go right to Michael Nutter. He is the mayor of Philadelphia, joining us this morning with what they're doing to prepare for this storm.

Mayor Nutter, thank you for being with us. Appreciate you joining us.

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D), PHILADELPHIA, PA (via telephone): Good morning, Soledad. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Walk me through your biggest concern right now.

NUTTER: Our biggest concern is making sure that our citizens are safe. Conditions here are starting to pick up or deteriorate, depending on how you look at it. Heavier rain, winds up in the 20- plus mile an hour range already, wind gusts up near 30. And the temperature is dropping.

So, our big concern is, of course, flooding in low lying areas. In Philadelphia, we have a number of neighborhoods that flood -- flood prone under heavy rain as well as our mass transit system shut down pretty much at midnight, 2:00 a.m. this morning.

So, we're just encouraging folks, shelter in place. If you need to relocate we have three shelters in specific areas of the city -- big high schools, large capacity to take care of folks and their pets. We just don't want citizens out on the street.

All schools are closed -- public schools, Catholic schools, our charter schools and a bunch of colleges and universities.

So this is really about just kind of riding this out, being safe, flashlights, batteries and water supplies, food supplies and just hanging in for a couple days. We're asking citizens to really look out for each other. We got through Irene. This will be tougher, but we can get through this also.

O'BRIEN: Are you finding people are heeding the warnings already, sir?

NUTTER: Yes. We have about 150-plus folks in our shelters. We're getting tweet information @Michael_Nutter. People can follow, responding to citizen concerns. Our 311 system is getting a lot of calls. People are asking for information.

But I think people know we're taking this seriously. President Obama signed an emergency declaration. We're working through our state and Governor Corbett. We're constantly pumping out information to folks.

People know that this is the real deal. They knew that Irene was tough. This is going to be tougher and probably last longer because this is a slow moving storm. So, it's just going to expand on the amount of rain and wind and that's a tough combination for us in a big old northeastern city.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it sure is. Mayor Michael Nutter joining us from Philadelphia -- thank you, sir, for your time. We certainly appreciate it.

Let's head to Baltimore, shall we? Let's chat with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She's the mayor of Baltimore.

Nice to talk to you. We appreciate your time this morning.

Mayor Nutter was telling us he feels that people are heeding the warnings. That even though Irene at least where I am was not such a tough storm, there's still really understanding that there's a big difference between what Irene brought and what Sandy could bring. Are you seeing the same thing?

STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE (D), BALTIMORE: We are seeing the same thing, Soledad. And I feel really bad for you. I wish you were in Baltimore. We'd give you a nice covered shot. Nice inside shot so you wouldn't be out in the weather.

But people are. They are heeding the warning, the roads are pretty much clear. And my concern among other things as Mayor Nutter mentioned is to make sure people aren't driving through standing water. That's a big danger particularly in a city like Baltimore. We have the harbor and a lot of communities surrounding the harbor. We just want people to be safe.

O'BRIEN: So, tell me what you're most concerned about. Obviously the standing water, as you just mentioned. But is it the power outages that worry you the most? Is it the potential for flooding across the city?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: It's more the power outages. And there's so many trees in Baltimore in our communities, with the trees coming down, increasing the power outages. And just to make sure the people are prepared in their homes.

We've been putting out the message for days to make sure you have your nonperishable foods, your battery operated radios, your flashlights, the things that you need so you can ride out this storm. This is a slow moving storm.

I think people forget that we can't start the restorations or BGE can't start the restorations until after the storm has moved. So you have to be prepared to ride out the storm in place.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I think sometimes people forget how long three days is. You know, it's not just a couple of cans of soup. It's a decent amount of water and a decent amount of food.

Do you feel like you're getting all the assistance from the state and from the feds as well?

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Yes. We have great communications with the federal government, President Obama's been fantastic and Governor O'Malley. We've got a great communication. We're already sharing not just information but equipment and supplies. We have our propositioned first responders who've been excellent going above and beyond to make sure that we have everyone in place that needs to be -- fire, police, everyone.

O'BRIEN: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joining us this morning -- thank you, ma'am. We appreciate your time.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I have a feeling we'll be talking to all the mayors we've been talking to this morning, and the governors as well as the storm gets closer and certainly in the aftermath as well.

We've got to take a short break. We'll be back in just a moment. We're going to continue to update you on the progress of hurricane Sandy.

You're looking at some live pictures of Virginia Beach, Virginia, where these are pretty dramatic pictures. It's a voluntary evacuation order there at this point. But they're also telling folks if you wait too long, there's going to come a point where it's just not possible to evacuate anymore.

More on this storm straight ahead.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at live pictures from Virginia Beach, Virginia, this morning where there is a voluntary evacuation order in effect. But they have warned, officials there have warned if you don't get to it fast enough, there's going to be a point where you run out of options and you can no longer evacuate. Want to bring in Paul Fraim. He's the Norfolk, Virginia, mayor. Nice to talk to you, sir. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate it. Walk me through what the situation is in Norfolk right now.

MAYOR PAUL FRAIM, (D) NORFOLK, VIRGINIA (via telephone): Well, it's pretty wet as you would expect. Look, the biggest concern is the floodwater. You know, the storm has been pounding the coast for so long that it's been pushing water up against the shore. It's now into the rivers. And with each high tide, water builds on the previous tide and we're going to have a high tide here in about an hour, lasts for a couple of hours here. Then we hope that's the worst of it. But this will be the toughest part of the whole storm here, the next couple hours.

O'BRIEN: So you'll have a high tide in a couple hours, then 12 hours later you'll have another one, right? So that must be the one you're most worried about.

FRAIM: We're really worried right now about the one coming up.

O'BRIEN: Really?

FRAIM: We think it'll start to recede after that. High tide will occur around 9:30. It will be with us for a little while. But as it pulls out, that will be the toughest part of our -- of the whole storm. We'll start assessing how much damage there is.

O'BRIEN: Do you have a mandatory evacuation order in effect or are you just sort of allowing people who voluntarily want to evacuate to evacuate?

FRAIM: We do not have a mandatory evacuation order. We have gone door to door in the lower-lying areas and offered assistance to our residents. You know, this is a coastal city. We've been through some tough storms before. This has not been a major wind event for us. It's really -- it's been rain and floodwater. We've had about 4 1/2 inches of rain. We're looking for another maybe 3 inches here. But, again, what it really is is the low-lying areas are getting pounded by water coming into the city.

O'BRIEN: Some of those are hit already in Irene, right? You had problems with storm surge in the wake of Hurricane Irene?

FRAIM: That was one of the worst we've had in modern times and we are almost at that level now, bBut not quite. We'll be a little over seven foot, at high tide 7.2 inches maybe. Irene was around 7.5. But this is a major event for us, for sure.

O'BRIEN: We're taking a look, as I mentioned, from these pictures of the waves in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Are you seeing similar things in Norfolk?

FRAIM: Oh, sure. Absolutely. We have -- we share a coastline with the beach. They're our sister city. There's an area of Norfolk called Ocean View taking the same sort of pounding right now.

O'BRIEN: Mayor Fraim, I thank you for your time this morning. I know you guys are busy so we appreciate it. And we will be watching as you watch with that next high tide which is your most critical high tide. Thank you, sir.

Let's get to Richard Knabb again. He's with the National Hurricane Center. He's been watching this storm for us. So Richard, it was interesting to me to hear he said the high tide that's coming up in Norfolk is the most important one for them. Many have said they worry about the high tide later tonight which is going to coincide with the landfall.

RICHARD KNABB, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, it's all because the surge and the tide maximizing are different depending on exactly where you are. So for points farther north, when the circulation center comes to your south, so if you're in New York City, Long Island Sound, Rhode Island, Connecticut coastline, Massachusetts, the maximum surge would be when the circulation center is passing to the south. So the timing of that surge relative to high tide would be a concern late tonight and early tomorrow. But for points farther south like in Norfolk, the maximum surge might not occur during that time. So it's very, very location specific, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I know that there's been a recent update. Anything new? What's the -- how fast is this storm now traveling?

KNABB: Well, it's moving at a forward speed that's a little bit faster now as it makes this turn to the North-Northwest. It's going to be coming ashore, the center, anyway, late tonight, we think maybe early tomorrow morning.

But then -- I get really concerned about this -- we're expecting it to slow down after landfall. So that means because of the combination of that and the large size, this will be a long duration event for many people along the coast and inland. And a lot of life-threatening hazards here. Not just the storm surge at the coast and the hurricane-force winds at least in gusts near the coast, but then tropical storm-force and gale-force winds going well inland. And the heavy rainfall and flooding that could subsequently occur.

So this is going to be a big problem for a lot of folks. Whatever you're told to do by your emergency managers, to evacuate or to stay where you are, heed those advice.

O'BRIEN: Richard Knabb is director of the National Hurricane Service. Thank you, Richard. Appreciate the update.

We've got to take a short break. We'll continue to monitor what's happening with Hurricane Sandy as we continue our rolling coverage, our special coverage. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's start with some live pictures. You're looking at Ventnor City in New Jersey. If you take a look in these pictures, you can see the casinos in Atlantic City are shut down. They are closed down because of the incoming storm.

I also want to show you Asbury Park in New Jersey as well. This is where Rob Marciano has been stationed. Look at those waves coming in. We've seen this situation there deteriorate. We're expecting it to get a lot worse because we're expecting this storm to make landfall sometime tonight, maybe early tomorrow morning. And it's expected to hit dead on into New Jersey and described as in a perpendicular fashion which would, of course, not only blow the waves and wind right onto the coastal areas right there. We're monitoring this for you all morning as we continue to cover Hurricane Sandy in our special coverage on CNN. Short break. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT as we bring you continued live coverage of hurricane Sandy. I'm reporting this morning from right on the side of Central Park. We're in midtown Manhattan in Columbus Circle. Right now we've had intermittent light rain. It's pretty cold. We've had gusting winds occasionally. It has not gotten so bad in New York City. That is not the same along the eastern seaboard.

And 375,000 people, though, in expectations of what will happen over the next several hours have now been evacuated from the low lying areas in New York City. Trains and buses in New York City have been shout town. Also in Washington, D.C., and in Philadelphia as well, school also. Before Sandy even comes ashore, 50 million Americans are being predicted to suffer more than $3 billion in damage. That's even before this storm has actually made landfall.

I want to begin our coverage this morning with our meteorologist Rob Marciano. He's in Asbury Park, New Jersey, not far from where landfall will be sometime late tonight, early tomorrow morning. Rob, what we see behind you, what we usually think of when we think of high winds and stormy, heavy rains that come with a hurricane, is that sometime later this afternoon or evening?

MARCIANO: It'll be later this afternoon and tonight. We're already starting to feel tropical storm force gusts for sure. And the rains and winds have increased dramatically just in the past couple of hours. We're on the Asbury Park boardwalk, an iconic feature. This grandiose structure behind me built in the heyday of the '20s. This surf is certainly busting up the beach right here already up to the boardwalk is the sea foam and the stretches of this ocean, which should be another couple of hundred feet -- or yards out this way. But take a look at this foam. This is extraordinary to be this far ahead of this storm system which really has got about 12 hours before it really truly makes landfall to have the water this far up.

We do anticipate with a four to eight foot storm surge during the height of the storm that the water will be coming up and over the top of this boardwalk and flooding inland parts of Asbury Park and coastal communities up and down the jersey shore will be similar sights. And that's why this entire area has been evacuated and shelters have been put up for folks who live along the coastal areas.

So this will continue to go downhill as far as the weather is concerned. But obviously we have far reaching effects. What is extraordinary with this storm, because it's about 280 miles down that way, that we're already feeling the effects this strong.

And in a biting -- I should tell you a very cold wind. This is like no other hurricane that you can experience. That's why we're calling it this hybrid situation. And that's why this wind field has become so large and so big and will be affecting so many people as we go through time, an extraordinary event taking place here on the jersey shoreline.

But the rain, by the way, is much heavier just down to my south across the Delmarva and in through parts of Virginia. They've really been getting pounded with not only the surf, but the rainfall. That will begin to increase and spread northward to here and about 40 miles north to the southern tip of Manhattan where they'll have their fair share of wind, rain and certainly some storm surge. It could be even worse there and across parts of long Island Sound. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Rob, I'm looking at those pictures of the water coming up behind you. You're right. If they're not expecting this thing to hit for another 12 hours and it's already made it that far, that's pretty dire. We'll continue to check in with Rob Marciano throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

The weather picking up a little bit here. A minute ago I said the rain had stopped. It started up again. Light rain, very light rain, and gusting winds starting again as well.

Let's get to Washington, D.C. The mayor Vince Gray is there this morning with an update on how things are going there. I know you've declared a state of emergency for Washington, D.C., sir. Tell me a little bit about your biggest concerns this morning.

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY, WASHINGTON D.C.: Well, we have -- very concerned that winds could wreak havoc. Of course, potential flooding is associated with this as well. This is -- we're trying to help our people understand this is unlike anything that we've seen before. And we've worked hard to prepare the city and to get our residents to be able to prepare the city. We've closed the schools. We've closed the D.C. government, the federal government has now been closed. And even our metro subway system, which typically is operational, is not operating today.

O'BRIEN: Usually your city has a number of tourists. What kind of information are you giving them and how are you guiding those folks? I have to imagine many of them have never been in a hurricane before.

GRAY: We're getting -- first of all, letting people know what to expect from this storm. I guess I should say the combination of storms. Secondly, for those people who are in hotels, we're asking them to stay in, do not come outside, because that just -- is just ill-advised. And really giving them the same information that we're giving the residents in the District of Columbia, because while we've had the experience of a hurricane here in the city before, we haven't had anything like this before.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, thank you for joining us this morning with an update on what's happening in Washington, D.C. That's D.C. mayor Vince Gray joining us. Thank you. Appreciate it.

We've got some pictures to show you. President Obama leaving Orlando, Florida. He's heading back to Washington, D.C. he has canceled his event because obviously the inclement weather and concern for folks who are in harm's way with this upcoming storm, incoming storm, has made his team decide that they would not continue their campaigning with the election just about a week and a day away. Obviously there is some interest in continuing campaigning. But for today with the storm approaching both Governor Romney and the president are putting -- curtailing those efforts at getting out there and campaigning.

I want to get to George Howell now. George has been coming to us all morning from Kill Devil Hills, which is in the outer banks in North Carolina. George, we had some good news which I'd love for you to start with. We've talked about that tall ship and the efforts for those folks there. Tell me a little bit about what their situation is now.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, absolutely. We're talking about the replica of the HMS Bounty. That is a ship that was created for the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" and also used in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean." And 17 souls were onboard that ship. You see what's out there right now with the Atlantic. Really, really rough situation there. Apparently this ship, not sure why it was out there. We do know typically it goes from port to port offering tours. Not sure if that is why it was out on the Atlantic during the storm.

But we know that it started taking on water. And the crew had to abandon ship. So the good news as you mentioned, they were able to get on lifeboats. Again, lifeboats out there with those waves, so right now the coast guard's doing their best to get to them. Given the conditions out there, they're not able to get to them. But we know that they've sent out rescue aircraft, so that's headed that way. And they've been able to make communication with them, regain communication. That is good news. It's something we continue to monitor. But, again, 17 people who are out there on those waves, not a good situation given what you see, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Terrible situation. George, explain something to me. When you said lifeboats earlier, I was under the impression that they had sort of gotten in lifeboats and were being rescued. But that's not the case. They're now trying to make their way to land.

HOWELL: No, no.

O'BRIEN: How far are they from you on land?

HOWELL: Well, here along the outer banks, Soledad, so we're about 90 miles from where they are now. In relation to the storm itself, they're about 160 miles from the eye of the storm. So, you know, think about that. Think about what's happening toward the center of that storm.

What you see here is rough. I would imagine it's rougher out there. We're keeping a close eye on this. We know they are in the lifeboats. They were able to get off this sailing ship, this sailing vessel that was taking on water. Again, that is great news. But being in the lifeboats out there, waiting for the coast guard, waiting for this aircraft, that's what we're keeping an eye on right now, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: George, final question for you. So have the rescuers -- are they now on their way? Have they been dispatched? Are the planes -- I know the weather's so bad, but are the planes up in the sky to try to help these 17 people, who they're trying to make a 90-mile basically row in the middle of the storm?

HOWELL: We are keeping very close tabs on the details of this. The latest information we got is that that aircraft is en route. Again, that's good news. We know the coast guard was able to make communication with them. So that's good news. They know where they are. Again, we're able to give you that specific information. We know where they are in relation to us, where they are in relation to the eye of the storm. Now it's just a matter of getting them. Something we're keeping an eye on.

O'BRIEN: George Howell updating us this morning on those efforts there as he comes to us from Kill Devil Hills, which is in the outer banks where we've seen some very, very tough weather there. Thank you, George. Obviously George will keep monitoring that situation for those 17 people who are trying to make their way by lifeboat to shore, having abandoned their ship which was taking on water. So now they're just going to make a go for it. The good news is, as George pointed out, they are in communication with the coast guard, planes in the air, apparently, being able to help them as well. But that is -- they've got 90 miles to go to get to land. That is a long, long distance in a lifeboat.

Zoraida Sambolin is updating us on the latest stories making news as well this morning. Good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Nearly half a million people have been evacuated from homes in low lying areas. This is up and down the east coast. In New York where forecasters say an 11 foot storm surge could cause catastrophic damage tonight and into tomorrow, mass transit is shut down along with Wall Street and all public schools.

In New Jersey and Philadelphia, shelters have been opened and thousands of cots are ready for all evacuees. The oncoming storm also causing airlines to cancel more than 7,000 flights in the northeast. That's triggering delays across the country with the ripple effect hitting travelers as far away as Paris.

And NASA is a has released its latest time lapse animation of Sandy. It's huge, ominous and stunning. The view is a vantage point nearly 22,000 miles above the earth from dawn to dusk yesterday. Those are amazing pictures, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Wow. When that shot first came up, Zoraida, I wasn't sure what this was. This is so big in scope, that's what makes it so strange. That is what Sandy looks like, that 1,000-mile-long swath that is this storm. That is the NASA time lapse photography of how this massive storm really got itself together. Wow, that's pretty impressive.

SAMBOLIN: Ominous is a really good word to describe it, wouldn't you say? O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Wow. Wow. Some other shots to show you. Thanks, zoraida. Let's show folks some pictures from Virginia beach, Virginia. Those are pretty dramatic. As you can see right here, high waves there. And that pier has been overtopped a couple of times by some waves. No surprise there that they have been telling people there to stay in. There is a voluntary evacuation order as well.

Let's take you to Vetnor City now in New Jersey. Casinos along the strip, this is right by Atlantic City, those casinos now shut down. Same deal, they're telling folks to stay in as we continue to monitor this storm. We're going to bring you live, continuing special coverage all through the morning into the afternoon, into the evening of hurricane Sandy as it is expected to make landfall not too far from where this picture is a little bit later tonight.

We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Coming to you live in midtown Manhattan in Columbus Circle; right behind me is Central Park. In New York City we've had a light rain and some gusting winds. Not as bad as some of the things we've shown you up and down the East Coast. Let's get right now to John Berman who is downtown in Manhattan in Battery Park City. John, what are you seeing?

BERMAN: It's not so much what I'm seeing. It's what I'm standing in, Soledad. I'm standing in water. It started to flood here. The water has come up over the seawall behind me here. It has started to leak into Battery Park and started to flood this area.

This is the evacuation zone in Manhattan and you can see why. They are concerned here about this storm surge six to 11 feet high. When it gets really bad tonight at high tide, it's high tide right now this morning here in New York which is why I think we're seeing the water come up over these walls here.

The storm surge already starting to affect this city as this massive storm pushes in from the East Coast. But again, just in the last ten minutes here the water started lapping up. And now I'm standing in four inches of water here.

You can tell what has Mayor Michael Bloomberg so concerned. He's ordered mandatory evacuations for about 370,000 people from Lower Manhattan also from the other boroughs here. There are some 76 shelters set up around the city for people to go to. They want people to get to them if they need to be there.

Of course, school is shut down. The subways completely shut down. This is not the massive windblown waves you're seeing up and down the East Coast. This is a slow creep.

You can see there you know some white caps behind me. But the water doesn't look that rough. It will be a slow creep, particularly as you get into the evening with the water rising higher and higher.

Again, it was really amazing here. It just slowly started sipping over the walls and all of a sudden we're standing in four inches of water -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: When you consider that we could be 12 hours away, John, from the actual onslaught of this hurricane, at the same time when there'll be another high tide that is really, really a bad scenario. Thank you for that update. We certainly appreciate it. John Berman, he's in the evacuation zone in Battery Park City.

That was flooded in -- in the Hurricane Irene as well. But we are certainly expecting this to be significantly worse than Hurricane Irene.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back in just a moment we're going to talk about efforts by the Coast Guard. They've now shut down the harbor in New York. And -- and we obviously can talk about some of the rescue efforts that are under way as well.

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

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're coming to you live in midtown, Manhattan. We're in Columbus Circle very close to Central Park.

One of the big concerns here in New York City is flooding. You saw John Berman in Lower Manhattan in that evacuation zone. Standing already in some water that's been coming in. We're probably 12 hours away from the storm hitting, plus or minus just a few hours.

Another big concern is power outages. And already there are some just under 20,000 power outages across six northeastern states to report. We are expecting that number to go much higher. Some predictions have said 10 million people could be without power along the East Coast once Hurricane Sandy has done her damage.

We've got lots to talk to you this morning as well about what's happening on the waterways. We want to get to Rear Admiral Dan Abel, he's with the First Coast Guard, he's the district commander, nice to talk to you sir. Thank you for being with us.

Tell me a little bit about what -- what you're doing. I know the waterways New York Harbor has been closed. Is that correct?

REAR ADMIRAL DAN ABEL, DISTRICT COMMANDER, FIRST COAST GUARD: Soledad, yes, it has. But you know your Coast Guard has been working this case, getting ready for this beast. We started middle of last week.

And you know the extent of the storm, we're talking, you know, hurricane force winds from Chatham, Massachusetts to Chesapeake, Virginia. And we're telling folks here it's going to have the seas of a nor'easter and the winds of a hurricane. So this thing is huge. We've started offshore. That was done many days ago. We had a couple hundred fishing boats, commercial fishing boats out there between the airplanes warning them to seek safe haven and cutters that actually shepherded them in we have that taken care of. Coastal wise, I think we're good. We're telling folks to batten down. If you haven't secured your boat, it's probably too late, it's time to get ashore and seek safe haven.

And like you mentioned in the harbors, progressively as we work from south to north we're going to start putting restrictions in and eventually closing those ports when we have to. And gosh, as soon as we can we're going to get them reopened because commerce has to move.

O'BRIEN: Are you finding that people are listening? I mean are you finding that there are some crazy people out there who are out in their vehicle, their -- their fishing craft or something and just not paying attention to some of these warnings that seem very dire to me?

ABEL: Well you know, the Coast Guard here in the -- in the northeast, we normally work about 20 search and rescue cases a day but when you add those types of things and we've seen good and bad. We've been doing -- over the weekend we rescued some -- some surfers who are right off of New Jersey, kayakers, and quite frankly we had a case with a guy in a dinghy who rode out to -- to get his boat that was anchored and ended up it was over his abilities, no life jacket. And he's clinging on to a buoy and calling the Coast Guard on a cell phone.

So those are the type cases we're working.

O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness. Yes that sounds like a terrible thing that you never want to have to ever experience.

Rear Admiral Dan Abel joining us this morning. First Coast Guard district commander. Thank you, sir. I'm sure we'll be checking in with you as this storm actually hits land to see exactly how these waterways are not only faring, and then eventually recovering as well. We appreciate your time this morning.

We've got to take a short break. We continue our rolling live coverage of preparations for Hurricane Sandy making its way onshore. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Before we hand our coverage off to Carol Costello, we want to point out a couple of things we're worried about here in New York City. You saw John Berman already in some of that small flooding that's happening in the evacuation areas downtown. That's a big concern.

But look over here. I'm on the edge of Central Park. You can see the trees. In Hurricane Irene they lost enough trees. $2,200 worth of trees fell down. This storm is expected to be much tougher, much more devastating than Hurricane Irene. And then take a look at this. That's a scaffolding around an art project. New York City is full of scaffolding something like that. Obviously big concerns in a high winds if that scaffoldings starts to collapse. Things that we are watching today.

I want to hand it -- head it over now to CNN NEWSROOM. They're up next.