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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Mass Exodus Causes Incredible Traffic Jams Along I-10, I-45; Rita Currently Category Four Storm
Aired September 22, 2005 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, everyone.
We are live in Galveston, Texas.
Hurricane Rita on track to hit here or points north and evacuees are having a tough time getting out of harm's way.
It is 4:00 p.m. on the West Coast, 7:00 p.m. in the East and 6:00 p.m. right here in Texas.
360 starts now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a big dangerous storm.
ANNOUNCER: Hurricane Rita -- a category four monster. Tonight, what happens when a 100 year storm strikes twice in a single month? It means more than a million try to escape.
Traffic nightmare -- fleeing Rita, thousands stuck on the roads. Twenty miles in nine years. Many cars broken down and time running out. Where did the evacuation plans go wrong?
A powder keg of danger -- nuclear reactors, chemical plants, oil refineries, dozens in the path of hurricane Rita. As Rita barrels closer, will they be secure and will millions be safe from a toxic threat?
New Orleans, still recovering the dead from Katrina, now braces for more devastation. Even a few inches of water could flood the city again. As it prepares for a worst case scenario, will the levees hold?
This is a special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" -- hurricane Rita.
COOPER: Welcome to 360.
We're live again from Galveston, Texas, a city 90 percent empty at this moment, a city in the path of a hurricane as strong as Katrina. Behind me, an oil rig, several of them, and in the distance some 400 miles away, hurricane Rita. Here's what's happening at this moment.
Rita was downgraded this afternoon to a category four storm. However, it still poses a catastrophic threat. Winds as high as 145 miles an hour. The storm surge could tower 20 feet. It's expected to make landfall Saturday morning, now a little bit later than it was, somewhere in between this city, Galveston, and the Texas-Louisiana border.
Getting out of harm's way is easier said than done. Hundreds of thousands stuck in bumper to bumper gridlock. Officials in Texas have made all lanes on I-45 flow north for about 100 miles. One former mayor says the evacuation plans are "insufficient." We're going to talk in a moment to two people stuck in traffic. And they have been for more than 11 hours now.
Also in Louisiana, Governor Blanco today urged anyone living on the coast to flee and head north. Just go north. To aid in the evacuations, Blanco says she has mobilized more than 800 buses. She also asked for an additional 15,000 National Guard troops to assist in search and recovery operations.
What makes Rita all the more terrifying is not knowing who will get hit the worst and exactly when, exactly where. Tracking the hurricane for us is CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers in Atlanta -- Chad, where is the eye of Rita right now heading?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is still heading just to the north of you, Anderson, to the north of Galveston. And right here, right where the two states come together, Texas and Louisiana, this is the area that I'm most concerned about. We have not seen any type of turn to the north today. It really has been -- it took a turn overnight, but it has been going pretty straight for most of the day, straight into that region.
I am still expecting a slight turn to the north, and that takes it away from the Houston area slightly, puts Houston on the back side and puts all of Louisiana, at least the western half of Louisiana, on the front side of a major category four hurricane. Right now those winds are still 145. If you're keeping track of the latest, 25.8, 89.5. We'll have an update for you in about 45 minutes from the Hurricane Center.
Hurricane warnings all the way from, really, from Port O'Connor right on back to Morgan City. That includes Houston but does not include New Orleans. There are tropical storm warnings for New Orleans.
Something you did with the other hurricane, Anderson, and I was really impressed, forgotten towns. Here are the towns we haven't talked about a lot yet -- Westlake, Sulphur, Jennings, Lafayette, Holly Beach. All of those towns in harm's way tonight. We could either see temperatures there today in the '90s with people trying to get out of town, maybe they can't. Towns like this along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and also the extreme northeastern Texas coast in harm's way of a storm surge, of wind damage. Winds to 140 miles per hour, knocking buildings down. But we all know how much storm surge damage that caused in, let's say, places like Biloxi or Gulfport and into Bay St. Louis.
These are the towns that are going to be hit that hard -- back to you.
COOPER: Chad, when is the next official update of this storm? What is it, 11:00?
MYERS: The next -- the update is going to be 8:00. I just saw one of the vortex messages, we call them, as they fly into the storm. They have a hurricane hunter aircraft in the storm right now. The highest wind speed they could find was 132 knots, which equals about 135 miles per hour at the surface. So they may even weaken it again.
Now, they still have to fly around this thing over and over. There may be higher spots than that in this storm.
But look at this. Look at some of these storms that are already moving through Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama. This is one of the top outer feeder bands. So in some places, the weather is already going downhill and this thing is still 400 miles away.
COOPER: All right, Chad, thanks very much.
We're actually on an inner waterway in the harbor here in Galveston. Behind me, some oil rigs. Dead calm behind me. Just on the other side, of course, the ocean is churning, the waves really picking up. We'll show you some of those pictures a little bit later on.
There are nearly three million cars and trucks in the Houston- Galveston area and many of them are right now on the road. Families who are desperately trying to escape from Rita are finding themselves stuck in a traffic nightmare. Talk about stuck, I mean there is gridlock for miles and miles. Drivers are telling us stories going nowhere fast.
CNN's John Zarrella has more on the very slow ride out.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Houston's Intercontinental Airport was pure bedlam. Arriving as we did wasn't a problem. But of course no one wants to arrive here. Everyone wants out. And that's all but impossible. Ticketing and security checkpoints were overwhelmed with people taking any flights they could to get anyplace. They just want out and away from the storm.
Abraham Raina (ph) and his family, seven of them traveling together, are trying to get to Seattle. Their route? Hardly direct. Texas up to Alaska and then down to Washington State.
ABRAHAM RAINA: Domestic flights right now are virtually impossible to get. If you don't have a ticket already in hand, you're not going to be getting out.
ZARRELLA: Ferris Gevgouli (ph) and his wife were trying to get to Ohio.
FERRIS GEVGOULI: It's like a madhouse out there. I mean people are all over the streets.
ZARRELLA: If they don't get out now, they probably won't. Flights are being canceled beginning tomorrow. But we're going the other way. Our ride from the airport into Houston went smoothly, until we hit the highway ramp.
(on camera): OK, we're hitting the first major traffic, which is 45 south to downtown. It's backed up.
(voice-over): Drivers pulled over to ask police what they should do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I stayed four hours and went one mile.
ZARRELLA: We headed for the first exit to turn around and try to get on the highway from the feeder road.
(on camera): Mike Miller, my cameraman, is from the Houston area and fortunately we've got him with us. So maybe we'll be able to find our way back to where we've got to meet up with our satellite truck.
(voice-over): On 45 north bound, everyone was simply sitting. We finally made it to the southbound lanes, where there were barely any cars.
(on camera): It's just a parking lot on the other side. All the people trying to go north to get out of Houston and they just simply aren't moving. The traffic is simply not moving.
(voice-over): At least for the people stuck running from Rita, there is still time. But the clock is ticking and it is clear, Houston, we have a problem.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ZARRELLA: We are at the emergency operations center in Houston and it's one of the only places open here in Houston. Gas stations are shut down, restaurants are shut down. This city is buttoned up. Other people we talked to, Anderson, told us they had moved literally in six hours 10 miles, no more than that. It's bad on the roads -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, we're about to find out how bad.
We'll talk to you later.
We go now to one of those families stuck out on the road.
Nick and Linda Nichols have been in their car, get this, since 6:00 a.m. this morning. They are evacuating from Houston and are trying to get to Austin. They have been stuck in the car with their two old English sheepdogs. Late this afternoon, they had been on the highway for nine hours. Guess how much miles they'd actually gone? They'd only covered 20 miles in those nine hours. They join me by phone.
Nick, how is the traffic right now?
NICK NICHOLS, HOUSTON RESIDENTS EVACUATING ON I-10: Well, we're still stuck. We're moving slowly. The contra lane on the other side is moving a lot faster. They opened that lane up and we were stuck watching them go by after we had been there for hours.
We've now been here on the road for 12 hours. We left at 6:00 this morning and it's now 6:00 this evening. And we've traveled, after being stuck and moving very slowly, about 60, 65 miles with two English sheepdogs.
COOPER: Unbelievable. I mean you've got to be frustrated, of course.
Do you feel the authorities are not -- do not have a handle on the situation? I know you're listening to the radio. I know you're probably seeing police out there.
D. NICHOLS: It was so frustrating when we were stuck and things were moving very slowly, if any. And then the contra lane on the other side opened up and these cars raced by. And we never were in that lane. I don't know what happened there. They should have opened it up a long time ago.
COOPER: How, I know, one of your dogs, you've got two dogs with you, old English sheepdogs. I think we have pictures of them. I understand one of them is sick. I mean how do you deal with that?
D. NICHOLS: We've got Daisy and Lucy. And one was sick in the car. You clean up after them then you walk them and make sure they don't do it again, you know?
COOPER: So you're actually walking the dogs on the highway?
D. NICHOLS: Right. That's part of the game with old English sheepdogs.
COOPER: What else did you pack with you...
D. NICHOLS: You pull the car over and let them...
COOPER: ... to bring with you?
D. NICHOLS: ... walk. You walk them out there with you.
COOPER: What else did you bring with you?
D. NICHOLS: Well, we packed -- it took us about 35 minutes to get gas last night. And we've had lunch sandwiches, water, cokes, of course, dog food in the back. We haven't been able to feed the dogs because one of them is sick. And a supply of peanuts and fruit and things like that. Our trip (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
COOPER: How much, I mean what...
D. NICHOLS: ... has been people are pretty friendly here (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
COOPER: How many more miles have you got to go, Nick?
D. NICHOLS: ... no real. There's not a problem area it looks like. It was just not moving and stuck. And if you move, you're moving very slow. And they urged us to evacuate...
COOPER: How many more miles do you have?
D. NICHOLS: ... which was the plan. And we've gotten that and hopefully we'll get to Austin by tomorrow.
COOPER: How many more miles do you have to go?
D. NICHOLS: I would think about 80, I believe. Something like that, 70 or 80.
COOPER: Wow! What -- we want to check in with both of you later on.
Appreciate you joining us.
I hope your things speed up. I hope you get to Austin quick to see your family.
D. NICHOLS: OK. Good luck to you guys down there in Galveston, too.
COOPER: All right.
All right. We all need a lot of luck and a lot of prayers down here, especially the people trapped on the road. Let's get them -- let's hope those roads get moving pretty quick.
All the preparations, they're in stark contrast to what was done before Katrina, of course. When you factor in what damage Rita could do, it is a good thing people are at least moving out and it's good that they are out there on the highways.
Here's a 360 download from the "Houston Chronicle's" Web site. Today the newspaper reports on a recent study by the State of Texas that suggests a cat four storm hitting near Galveston could destroy 12,000 homes and damage nearly two million other homes. Plus, researchers say the hurricane could cause a whopping $74 billion in damage statewide. Those figures from the "Houston Chronicle."
Coming up next on 360, oil refineries and pipelines already shut down because of this storm. How is going to affect your wallet? What you need to know.
Also ahead tonight, New Orleans under a tropical storm warning due to Rita. The last thing that city needs is drenching rains. Will the already damaged levees hold? We'll take a look.
COOPER: Welcome back to Galveston.
The Gulf of Mexico provides a third of this country's domestic oil, now most of which is then refined out in front of me on the Texas coast and delivered through the Houston ship channel, which is also out there not too far off. Now, all of which means that hurricane Rita is not only threatening a lot of lives, it's also threatening this country's economic life.
CNN's Randi Kaye is in Bay Water, Texas, following the preparations being made there and elsewhere to protect that oil lifeline -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, here in Baytown, Texas, there is a real concern about the Houston ship channel. That is a 50 mile stretch of waterway between the Gulf of Mexico and the Port of Houston. It is lined with about 200 refineries and chemical plants and they could all take a serious hit from hurricane Rita.
Now, many of the plants could suffer severe flooding. They could also suffer some wind damage. The manager at the Shell refinery that we spoke with today said that he has closed their doors there and they will be closed until the storm passes. In fact, all of the refineries along the channel are shut down.
And that is no easy task, let me tell you. They told me that thousands of valves need to be turned off, compressors shut down, flames put out, all of the raw chemicals have to be drained from the system. At the Shell plant, in fact, out of 1,700 employees, only 20 will be staying behind, and that would include security and environmental experts, because there is great concern that hurricane force winds could accuse a chemical leak.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
KAYE: What can happen here? What are your concerns if this plant is hit or any of the plants along the channel are hit?
DAVID MCKINNEY, SHELL OIL: Well, because we deal with so many flammable materials here, the concern is that there could be damage, say, from wind damage that could crack piping or a vessel that when it started up and the product starts going through it again could cause a chemical release.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KAYE: Now, if there is a chemical release, we could see a massive toxic vapor cloud that could travel for miles, although the chemical plants do tell us that they are prepared to contain that.
Now, the other question tonight is how will this affect consumers? More than half of the world's gasoline products are produced here in the Houston ship channel area. The Shell plant that we visited today refines 340,000 barrels of oil a day.
Also, the Houston Port Authority tells me that if a cat four or a cat five hurricane hits the Houston ship channel, they are expecting losses between $15 billion and $23 billion. These plants, even if they don't suffer severe damage, could be closed for more than a week. So as the supply goes down, Anderson, our prices could be going up.
COOPER: It just really seems that way.
Make no mistake, it isn't only our cars that depend on petroleum. The precious commodity is critical to so many things that making a list of them would literally be impossible. Think of oil as the DNA of the modern manufactured world. Now, that being said, the repercussions of a disruption in supply would be widespread, to say the least.
CNN's Ali Velshi has more on that.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All of these disruptions, what does it mean to the economy? Let's start by looking here at the shopping mall. The American consumer committed, resilient and focused, focused right now on rising energy prices. The last four U.S. recessions, not just 1973, were all preceded by sharp increases in the price of oil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have high energy prices, you have, first of all, high gasoline prices that stay around, you could very easily see the economy lose its growth. We could have a recession because of this.
VELSHI: Here's how it works. Rigs, platforms, pipelines and refineries in and around the Gulf of Mexico are already shut down, closing off large chunks of crude oil supply and the things that are made from it -- diesel, jet fuel and gasoline. Natural gas, the fuel of choice for more than 50 million American homes, is at its highest level ever. Well, depending on where and how hard Rita hits, supply could be offline for weeks, maybe months. And tight supply means higher prices, higher for everyone.
But some feel it more than others. Wal-Mart says even before Katrina, high gas prices were hitting its customers. Total energy costs, home and car, are typically about 5 percent of the average family's budget. This year, those costs could be 50 percent higher than that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's money you don't have left over to buy something else with. Maybe it's a night you can't go out to dinner.
VELSHI: Applebee's agrees. The restaurant chain says higher gas prices mean fewer visits by American families. And it's not just your energy bill, it's prices you pay for things that you buy. Higher freight and utility costs paid by businesses end up on the price tag. And that could mean inflation. Besides higher prices, consumers worry about their jobs. The number of people put out of work by Katrina approaching a quarter of a million. That hurts consumer confidence, making people spend less freely. Less spending, less business, fewer jobs.
That's how a strong economy starts to turn around.
DAVID KELLY, PUTNAM INVESTMENTS: We're only going to end up in a recession if American business loses its nerve, because really the key player here is American business and its hiring decisions and its spending decisions.
VELSHI: The American consumer has come to the rescue before. After September 11, Americans spent more than normal on goods and on their homes. American spirit drove the economy back then and a gallon of gas was $1.25.
Ali Velshi, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER: We're going to have a lot more on hurricane Rita in just a moment.
But first, Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS," joins us with some other stories that we're following tonight -- hey, Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Anderson, we're going to take you straight to Washington, where it is a green light for chief justice nominee John Roberts. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee supported his nomination by a vote of 13-5. It will now go to on to the full Senate, which will likely vote on the nomination next week.
Another side of waning support for the war in Iraq, a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 55 percent of Americans want the U.S. to speed up plans for a withdrawal. Only 21 percent say the U.S. will definitely win the war.
And some lawmakers in Washington have presented a bipartisan bill that would require a provision for pets in any state or local disaster preparedness plan requiring FEMA funding. The lawmakers are disturbed that some hurricane Katrina victims refused to leave their homes because they couldn't take their pets. Now, the same thing might happen with hurricane Rita. The communications director for the Houston Red Cross announced today pets are not allowed in Red Cross shelters, which, for the most part, Anderson, from what I understand, is standard practice. So it could be good news there.
COOPER: All right, Erica, thanks for that.
Coming up next on 360, the levees in New Orleans are getting their first major test since giving way to hurricane Katrina. Will they make it through? We'll investigate.
Plus, a thriving community becomes a ghost town, practically overnight. We'll show you around Galveston, which is awfully quiet right now, before the storm.
COOPER: And welcome back.
We are live in Galveston.
You are looking at some of the oil platforms in dry dock here in the bay in Galveston.
In and around New Orleans, there are signs that things are turning around. The pumps have been working and water drained faster than expected. In fact, this week we learned that New Orleans is practically dry. Hurricane Rita, however, could change all of that if the already damaged levees do not hold up.
Here is CNN's Adaora Udoji.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As dark clouds move in, this is it, the last best line of defense for St. Bernard Parish, where floodwaters swallowed tens of thousands of homes after hurricane Katrina. Now, officials fear they have no idea what to expect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess in New York, you all have had the 9/11 event. This might be our 9/11 here.
UDOJI: We're just east of downtown New Orleans, with parish levee engineer Bob Turner, who stayed as the Army Corps of Engineers pulled out. This levee, a 56-mile long soft mound of earth with a steel middle, something kids might run up and down. He calls it an inner levee, a second line of defense. Katrina already destroyed the outer levee, so this is all there is to hold back the storm.
(on camera): It's really windy up here.
ROBERT TURNER, LAKE BORGNE BASIN LEVEE DISTRICT: Yes, it is.
UDOJI: Does that worry you?
TURNER: Well, that's -- this wind is what's driving the water in. That's what's causing the tides to rise. So, yes, that is a little bit of a concern.
UDOJI (voice-over): Windy and raining. Though the eye of Rita is still more than 225 miles away, the outer rain bands are already blowing hard and have dumped so much rain the last 24 hours, water levels are up a foot and rising faster and faster.
(on camera): This is one of the levees. It's like a small hill. And the problem is this -- the water is just yards away and if it rises high enough and storm surges force it over the hill, it'll go straight into the parish.
(voice-over): Weather models predict a storm surge of three to five feet. But Turner says anything over that means big problems.
TURNER: A major hurricane, basically, we have no defense against that right now. None whatsoever.
UDOJI: That's the big question everywhere here -- how will the battered levees hold up?
Volunteers like Eddie Warner, who have been feeding thousands of police officers and rescue workers, isn't taking any chances, packing up the outdoor kitchen and heading to higher ground.
EDDIE WOERNEK, VOLUNTEER: We're going to have a grand finale on Saturday or Sunday. This storm has ended it.
UDOJI: New Orleans police say they have no idea how many people have evacuated or how many have stayed, though some officers say they haven't seen many people around.
In St. Bernard Parish, Turner is getting ready, turning on water pumps now to push the rainwater out. He says there aren't many people left here.
TURNER: More water in the parish at this point in time is not going to do any -- it can't do any more damage than has already been done. But what it will do is it's going to significantly delay the recovery effort.
UDOJI: He plans to stay unless Rita moves in too close.
Adaora Udoji, CNN, New Orleans.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COOPER: We're going to be watching those levees very closely.
Coming up next on 360, with right approaching, thousands here have left. It's kind of like a ghost town right now. The city with no people here. A closer look inside the ghost town. We'll show you the people who have remained. That's ahead.
Plus, we take you inside one of Houston's hospitals, where the staff says they will keep on working and they are going to ride out the storm.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back to 360. We're live in Galveston, Texas.
Behind me, one of several oil rigs in the area. It's in dry dock. Water here is dead calm, it is still, this is an inland water. This is the harbor. We've even seen some dolphins jumping around, But, soon, all of that is going to change. Hurricane Rita coming closer to shore. Here's a look at what's happening right now at this moment. It's a cat 4 hurricane right now, sustained winds 145 miles per hour. The eye of the storm, some 405 miles away from Galveston. It could hit anywhere from here to the Texas/Louisiana border. Landfall should come Saturday morning, however.
It's the largest evacuation in Texas history, more than a million residents are fleeing Rita. Here in Galveston, 90 percent of 60,000 citizens have left. In a moment, you're going to meet some of them who haven't. The governor has asked President Bush for 10,000 troops to help in rescue and recovery efforts.
And New Orleans is preparing for another possible flood from Rita. The city could see a three to five foot storm surge, but the Army Corps of engineers have shored up the levees and is confident the barriers can withstand the rising sea.
You know, as Rita spins closer to landfall, the hope is that the cooler waters near the coastline are going to weaken the cat 4 storm. For more on the hurricane's path and power, let's check in with CNN sever weather expert Chad Myers in Atlanta.
Chad, where's it at now?
CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Good evening, Anderson. It's almost due south of New Orleans now, which means it would have to make a complete right-hand turn to make a direct hit on New Orleans. And we're just obviously not expecting that. But some these outer bands already are making their way on shore here. Biloxi, Mobile and points northward. Some of these actually have some wind with them, as well. And we're just talking -- I was just watching the story about New Orleans as the wind was pouring in from the east and it has been all day. And I think that's filling up Lake Born and filling up Lake Pontchartrain with feet of water that they certainly can't use and certainly don't need.
There's the storm right there. Still a very dangerous storm. We're going to get an update at 8:00, maybe a few minutes earlier than that from the hurricane center.
The storm itself, though, although, even though we talked about it being a category 5 and it's not now, well, the deal is here is that the storm is still very large, and even if this is only a 4 in the middle, if it was to be a 5, only the very inner ring would be a 5 anyway. The rest of the storm would be just as big. There would still be 4, 3, 2, 1 category all the way from the center outward. Don't focus on that one number. You have to focus more, much, much more, on what is going on with the storm itself.
The highs today 99 in Houston, 101 in Dallas.
Here's the heat that Anderson was talking about. Gulf of Mexico right here, this is your base map. I'm going to bring another map out. This is the color and the temperature of the water. All the reds you see here, where it's been so hot. It went from 115 to 165 to 175 and before it makes landfall it could get into cooler water dropping it into the 130s.
This is the forecast from University of Colorado. Folks there -- that guy even forecasting hurricanes longer than I've been alive. So, I think they know what they're doing. We'll have to see. It's called a loop current. We'll get into it more a little bit later -- Anderson.
COOPER: Chad, thanks. We'll be watching it closely. Check in with you in a little bit.
We are all grateful that Rita is no longer a cat 5 storm, certainly, thankfully only a few hurricanes with that much power has ever hit land. Here are some details in a 360 download.
According to weathermatrix.com, 27 Atlantic hurricanes have reached category 5 intensity, including Rita. Now, of those only three were that strength when they made landfall in the U.S.: the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane, Hurricane Camille, which hit the Mississippi coast in 1969 and Hurricane Andrew which smashed into Dade County, Florida in 1992.
We've shone you the gridlock city of Houston where people are spending hours and hours in their cars, creeping out of Rita's way. Things are also bad in terms of traffic in Louisiana, and heading to Louisiana from Texas, CNN's Gary Tuchman is on the phone, in a car with us from Lake Charles.
Gary, what are you seeing.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're heading west on Interstate-10 going 75 miles per hour without any traffic, but that's because we're heading towards the hurricane. In the other direction, we have witnessed -- we heard about the traffic in Texas, well, here in Louisiana, it's awful also.
For 65 miles, at least, bumper to bumper traffic between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and the west and Lafayette, Louisiana, a little further east. Traffic has opened up a little bit in the southwestern corner of Louisiana, but these people who are driving east to get away from where we think the center of the storm will be, are going to hit that traffic that is not moving.
It is very concerning, because they're literally not moving at all. And it's 65 miles worth of traffic. So, you're going to get a lot of calls after this to expand Interstate-10 from three lanes in each direction to 15 lanes in each direction. Obviously, that won't be serious. But we have real serious issues in Texas, and Louisiana, with this traffic right now -- Anderson.
COOPER: Gary, where are you moving from? And where are you trying to get to?
TUCHMAN: We've been in New Orleans, Anderson. And we're right now working our way to Port Arthur, Texas. And like I said, it's an easy drive because the smart people aren't going the direction that we're going. So, we'll get there in no time whatsoever.
But going the other way, it really is a cause for concern. I don't know if this was done wrong or done right. Either way, a lot of people want to get away and you just can't do it. There's just not enough roadway for all the cars that are on it.
COOPER: Let's hope there is enough time. Gary, thanks.
Now an update on the exodus from Houston, Texas still in progress -- if progress is the right word at all. CNN's Rick Sanchez in Houston going nowhere fast like a lot of other people.
Rick, where are you? What are you seeing?
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're just outside of Houston north of the city just about five miles on the -- just north of the 610 loop. This is Interstate-45 that you can see behind me. We're using our hurricane 1, this is the mobile unit, Anderson, that we usually use to bring you pictures during a hurricane, but it's the prelude to the hurricane that we're showing you right now.
These are people in cars who for the most part have been going one mile an hour. One mile an hour throughout the day. What is happening is many of them are physically are conking out or their vehicles are conking out. We are seeing people literally walking down the highway. And we're also seeing people who are just running out of gas.
I'm going to try and walk slowly so the shot doesn't break up too much. But you can see what they have been instructed to do by state officials, just pull over and put the tops of your car, the hoods of your car up and hopefully some state officials and some gas tankers that we have or that they promise that are coming will come by and try and gas you up.
Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. For many of the people in this area, they say they're having a very, very difficult time with it.
I want to show you one more thing. This is representative of the case all throughout the state. This is a family that I'm going to show you right here. These are the Bolts. The Bolts are about a family of seven and they also have an infant with them. The have an elderly woman who has diabetes. They're having a very tough time with this. They ran out of gas, they are hoping the state will be able to help them. They're part of the plan that FEMA enacted.
They said they could evacuate the city of Houston in 28 hours. Many of the local officials said we don't think you're going to be able to do it. Maybe it should be done on a rolling basis. Redardless, that's the situation here now. It's a very difficult situation for thousands of and thousands of people all the way from Houston to Huntsville through Dallas. They're saying it's a traffic jam and gridlock as long as 100 miles. Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: Unbelievable. Rick, thanks very much. We'll check in again.
Next on 360, in many cities along the coast, there's a mandatory evacuation, but what do you do when you have no car? Will it be New Orleans all over again here in Texas? We're going to investigate that. What happens to people left behind? We'll be right back.
COOPER: Texas Governor Rick Perry is calling it the largest evacuation in his state's history. Some 1.5 million coastal residents are being urged to leave their homes and move inland away from the worst of Hurricane Rita. Like it was in New Orleans before Katrina, there are some Texans who would like to follow that order but cannot do it on their own. They do not have their own vehicles to take them out. This time though, help is on the way we are told. CNN's Chris Lawrence has that part of the story.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are the people who need help the most. People like Bonnie Munoz.
BONNIE MUNOZ, EVACUEE: I just got on my knees and it took me almost 15 minutes to get where I could pick myself up.
LAWRENCE: It's families who can't afford to just gather what they need and drive to safety to wait out the storm.
CATARINA TORRES, EVACUEE: There's a lot of people. They don't have a car. They don't have the instructions -- only that when we go somewhere we take the city bus, you know, to go. I take the city bus to go see my doctor or when I need medicine. I take the city bus. That's what I do.
LAWRENCE (on camera): So you don't have a car to just get in your car and evacuate and drive to a hotel?
TORRES: No, I have no car, no nothing.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Catarina Torres says she watched what happened to people like her in New Orleans. They didn't evacuate and were left behind, then huddled in wretched conditions in the Superdome and the Convention Center.
(on camera): Did you watch what happened in Katrina? Did you see that?
TORRES: Oh yes, sir. Yes, we sure did. And I said we're not going to go through that.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): In Corpus Christi officials sent buses to help people get out more than two days before Hurricane Rita is expected to hit. And they learned something else in Katrina's aftermath, that families and friends would be separated or lost, unable to find each other. So here they collect names and phone numbers to help families reunite after the storm. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And your address?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's on 1332 11th street.
LAWRENCE: Catarina took her grandsons and dogs, but her husband was in a nursing home and already evacuated with the medical staff.
TORRES: A lot of people died in the nursing home. I don't want, you know, that to happen here.
LAWRENCE: Despite all the careful preparations, she hasn't been able to reach her husband, so as she leaves home behind, Catarina already has a sense of dread, wondering how long it will be before she has her family back together. Chris Lawrence, CNN, Corpus Christi.
COOPER: Well, still to come tonight on 360, Hurricane Rita is barreling this way. We're going to take you back to the CNN Weather Center for an update on the storm, and a lot more on what Galveston looks like right now.
COOPER: We're joined now by Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Gupta, who is in Houston, I should say, monitoring the doctors' progress there. They're trying to keep these hospitals together. We're going to go with Sanjay -- go to him in Houston in a little bit.
But first, we're going to turn to what's happening in New Orleans. Relentless sun, food and water supplies are rapidly spoiling. Ice is what is desperately needed. It is very hard to come by, and some people right now are blaming FEMA. CNN's Tom Foreman Investigates.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the aftermath of any hurricane with no electricity to keep food or medicine cold, ice is important. So, FEMA has ordered tens of millions of pounds to the Gulf coast since Katrina, but, now, truckers are telling of ice convoys sitting by the roadside, aimlessly rerouted from town to town and sometimes never reaching the hurricane victims.
RAE ESPINOZA, INDEPENDENT TRUCK DRIVER: There may be a master plan, but I don't see it.
FOREMAN: Rae Espinoza is from Sacramento. On the 9th he says he started hauling 44,000 pounds of ice for FEMA. Days later he arrived at a staging area in Mississippi where he sat for a week. Then he says he was sent to another town, called back, sent out again and, finally, this week, unloaded.
A lot of the truck drivers from what I understand, they're not going to be -- they're not going to do any more of these FEMA loads. You know, it's just too frustrating out here. Nobody knows what to do.
FOREMAN: Such stories are easy to find. Drivers in one large convoy said they picked up ice in New York, drove to Alabama, sat for two weeks and then drove back to Massachusetts to put their ice into storage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're crazy. It just didn't seem right.
FOREMAN: FEMA, busy with preparations for Rita wouldn't talk to us about the ice issues but they've told several newspapers lately they wound up with too much ice on the Gulf because so many people who might have needed it fled. They say it was better to have too much instead of too little anyway. And it's better to save the excess than waste it. But all that transportation is adding up fast.
(on camera): Look at it this way. You can buy a seven pound bag of ice wholesale in this country for about 50 cents. But for the same amount from a truck that has been riding around for two or three weeks, the federal government appears to be paying nine or 10 times as much, around $5.00 a bag.
TOM SCHATZ, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Perhaps if FEMA had done well in the other parts of their planning, you might forgive this one little item.
FOREMAN: With Rita coming, federal officials are, once again, deploying ice to the Gulf. As a trucker, Ray Espinoza would like some of the work, but, as a taxpayer, he hopes they do it more efficiently this time around.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, no one is going to likely forget in what happened in New Orleans hospitals after Katrina hit there: patients, doctors, staff abandoned, having to keep their patients alive with their hands and little supplies. In Houston, no one wants anything like that to happen. Most of the cities, approximately 72 hospitals are planning to stay open, but they say they have got everything under control. We wanted to take a closer look at that, whether they really do. We go live to Houston and CNN's 360 MD Sanjay Gupta -- Sanjay.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, really interesting here. I have spent the day at Texas Medical Center trying to figure out the answers to those very questions. A couple of things to keep in mind, hospitals are going to stay open here, but because they are also considered in the path of the hurricane, they're probably not going to take any significant number of evacuees, which is different than New Orleans where Houston was a repository for a lot of those evacuees.
Bottom line here is, Anderson, they say they're ready. The generators are above sea level. They got special doors to prevent flooding, and they've increased security. The patients are staying at most of these hospitals in Texas Medical Center, Anderson. COOPER: Sanjay, thanks very much for that.
Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour on PAULA ZAHN NOW. Hey, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Anderson. We have the results of a major CNN investigative report. At first this comes out of New Orleans, at first we heard that a third of the New Orleans Police Department walked off the job as Katrina came their way, now our Drew Griffin looks into complaints that could blow up into the single worst moment in the history of the New Orleans Police Department.
As the city sat helpless, there are allegations that some New Orleans cops simply helped them selves to whatever they could grab. An exclusive report coming up on alleged, outrageous behavior. Please, join us at the top of the hour.
COOPER: Paula, thanks for that.
Coming up next on 360, tracking Hurricane Rita, the latest on the storm from Galveston.
COOPER: That's the scene in the Gulf in Galveston, the waves picking up pretty fiercely over the last several hours. Interesting juxtaposition to behind me on the harbor side here just a few blocks away, the water is dead calm, the calm before the storm, of course.
The west is famous for its ghost towns, places that have faded away little by little until there is nothing more than collections of empty buildings. Process usually takes a long time. Not here, however, not now. Galveston has been become a ghost town pretty much overnight.
COOPER: Galveston is waiting, the waves growing bigger, most people are gone, but some die hards remain. Chester Gomez and his girlfriend Arlisa (ph) are still here. They say they want to catch a really big wave. You want to get a little surfing in before?
CHESTER GOMEZ, GALVESTON RESIDENT: Yeah, that's the whole reason I stayed is to go surfing, because I knew it would be good. The ground swell is coming in.
COOPER: You drive down the shore and the stores are all shuttered, the gas stations closed for the storm. If you want to find food, you head to Loops Deli: cops and cowboys eating one last meal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you guys think, since the hurricane is going a little bit more...
COOPER: At the Poop Deck Saloon where "Elite meet in bare feet," the boards are up, but margaritas aren't being served. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Katrina really let us know that this could be your life. And we're all kind of scared of that, you know. I don't want to be in a body bag. Don't zip me up.
COOPER: Mary Aldridge says she'll work until 2:00 a.m. She's not sure if she'll drive north after that.
Not too far from the Poop Deck, Jean Wise is trying to get her horses to safety. A volunteer took six of them in his trailer today. But he had no room for more. She has 33 other horses still stranded, and hopes someone else will come and get them in time.
COOPER: Well, let's hope that, indeed, let's hope this island still has time.
Want to go into Atlanta right now, where CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers has the latest on Hurricane Rita. Chad, what do you know?
MYERS: You know, I find it eerie to look at that picture behind you, Anderson, and not even to see a wave. Not even to see a breeze. And to think, this is what those old sailors used to do when they were leaving South America, Middle America, wherever, Central America and then they'd run into a big hurricane like this and not even know it was there.
To think that that storm is literally less than 36 hours away from making landfall very close to you is very eerie to think about how calm it is right there. I guess that is calm before the storm.
Here is the storm right here. Our rain showers now all the way almost to Atlanta through Mobile, down into Texas, down into Florida, down into Cuba. This thing engulfs the entire Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane warnings Port O'Connor right on up to Morgan City.
And here's Morgan City, Louisiana. And then you get into Houston and then all the way down to Corpus Christi and Port O'Connor. So, there are hurricane warnings, which mean those hurricane warnings mean 24 hours from now or less you'll feeling hurricane conditions.
Now, we've been following this track, and it's been moving a little bit farther to the north all day long, a little bit farther to the right.
I'm going to zoom in and I'm going to give you a little bit closer point of the track. Now, this is the center of the track that's always the line and always the right side of that line is going to be the hardest hit area and the line has continued to turn to the right all day long. In fact, last night at this time it was here. This morning it was here, now, it's actually farther to the right. Still, never follow the line because this could turn right or turn left, but it has been turning really, it has been fading to the right for most of its forecast. Last night at this time, this storm was, in fact, the third largest and deepest in pressure hurricane ever. 888 -- we talk about these millibar things, but 26.35 inches of mercury. If you go look on the barometer that you got from Aunt Kate ten years ago that you never looked at, there isn't a number on the barometer that's that low. It never can get that low unless obviously you're under a hurricane.
Look at the current temperatures right now. Sitting in traffic, no air conditioning because you're afraid to use it because you don't want to run out of gas or not so you're not using the air conditioner, it's 95 degrees in Houston, 98 in Dallas and that heat is all the way up into Arkansas, into Memphis, right into St. Louis tonight -- Anderson.
COOPER: Chad, bottom line, we only have 20 seconds left, how fast is this storm moving?
MYERS: Moving to the west, northwest at about 10 miles per hour, maybe a little bit less. It has slowed down. And it just ran over one of the buoys here in the central part of the Gulf of Mexico with 83 mile-per-hour sustained winds. And I suspect that number is going to go up as soon as that gets a little bit closer.
COOPER: Yeah, no doubt about it. Chad, thanks very much.
That's it for me, Anderson Cooper. Join me again tonight from 10:00 to midnight Eastern time, along with Aaron Brown, for the latest on Hurricane Rita. A two hour special edition of "NEWSNIGHT."
Also, CNN's prime-time coverage continues now with Paula Zahn. Hey, Paula.
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