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CNN NEWSROOM

More Speculation on Gustva's Potential Damage on the Gulf Coast as it Nears Landfall

Aired August 31, 2008 - 15:00   ET

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


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: The microphones are empty right now, but not very shortly we expect to hear from David Paulison, the head of FEMA, and of course this is all about Hurricane Gustav as Gustav now a Category 3 is heading towards what appears to be New Orleans or very close to New Orleans, according to models that we are looking at the moment.
Along with David Paulison, we expect Ed Hecker as well as Kevin Kolevar, the head of Office of Electricity Deliver and Energy Reliability. And we expect to hear messages similar to made we heard yesterday where the Red Cross came down, the SBA, as well as Health and Human Service trying to articulate the numbers and amount of resources on the ground that can assist when Hurricane Gustav does have landfall.

For instance, yesterday, within this very same hour, Craig Vanderwagen, the head of Health and Human Services, says they plan to evacuate patients with special medical needs that need help in the area, they have 500 in Texas, 400 in Louisiana in terms of evacuations by air in terms of those who have special needs. They have plans in place, we're going to hear the latest on all of that very shortly as we, of course, get the warm-up to those officials coming to that microphone. Very shortly we're going to go straight to it when it does happen.

All right, take a look at this. This is Hurricane Gustav battering western Cuba, the most dangerous storm in the path three years is to strike near New Orleans tomorrow. So, Gustav has passed Cuba and now moves towards New Orleans and now a virtual ghost town, that city is. Hundreds of thousands of Gustav sites have heeded the call to flee. Let's check again with Jacqui Jeras in our CNN Hurricane Center.

Hey Jacqui, yesterday you and I were talking about this. The cone of uncertainty was much wider, it certainly has sort of skinnied up now.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, well, it always does. You know, you have more confidence, obviously, the closer you get to that timing of landfall, so the cone is narrowing a little bit, but it still does extend over towards Texas. So, you know, until we get real close to shore, you know, 24 hours out that's when we start having a lot more confidence in the forecast. But it's looking real imminent right now that Louisiana is going to be taking the brunt of this storm. Now, here you can see on our satellite picture and all of our statistics for you, this is a Category 3 storm now, so it's gone down a little bit from yesterday at its initial peak at 145 miles-per-hour, down to 115. But that's still a major hurricane status, this still causes a lot of damage and destruction.

Location is about 316 miles away from New Orleans. And it's more like 200 plus miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi River. It encompasses almost 2/3 of the Gulf of Mexico, so a very large storm. And the tropical storm force winds, though, extend out 200 miles from the center. That's 200 miles on either side, so do the math there and you know that's 400 miles across. So, it's a very large storm, as well. The hurricane force winds, though, don't go out quite as far, 50 miles from the center of the storm, so that's 100 miles across that you'll be having that huge impact.

You can see the cone is rather narrow, but kind of notice it's a little more difficult to see because we have a lot of text here, Richard, but notice it kind of spreads out over here towards the Galveston area, as well, so that will continue to be a concern. And we haven't talked a lot about what's going to happen after impact. So, I might want to mention, notice all of a sudden these little icons are very close together. We're expecting some major slowing down and forward speed once it gets up towards northern Louisiana into Texas and we may very well have a major flood maker on our hands. So, a lot of fresh water flooding in addition to that surge, which is going to be probably our greatest concern when we talk about impact at landfall.

All right, what can you expect now? We need to hurry up and finish all of your plans. You need it make sure that you started that evacuation if you haven't already, because time is running out. There you can see some of the impact and some of the showers and thundershowers from Gustav and they're getting very close to the Louisiana coastline. So, as soon as these showers arrive, probably another hour or two away, you're going to start to feel those winds begin to pick up with the thunderstorm and sustained tropical storm force winds may be arriving already, as early as this evening. And once that happens, that's pretty much it, you can't get out anywhere, it's not safe any longer to try and get out. So, we're going to be seeing things really change, I think, Richard, in just the next couple of hours.

LUI: Jacqui, you've been saying today, it occupies 2/3 of the size of the Gulf?

JERAS: Pretty much. It's a huge storm, it's very large. Like I said, it's pretty much the same size as what Katrina was. This is just about as large as hurricanes get in size, though not intensity.

LUI: That is huge. OK, and I know there's also the buoys out there that monitor the temperature of the water. You've also been telling us that when Hurricane Gustav gets closer to the coast, it may slow down -- not slow down, but it may get lower in had intensity. Is it because of the water temperature? JERAS: It could. Well, here's -- yea, it is. And you know, I wish I had the -- Dave, if you're available to get a water temperature map for me and throw it up, that would be awesome. He's going to try and do. If not, I promise we'll get to it at the bottom of the hour. But it's been moving over the loop current, which is very warm, a very deep eddy of water and it's kind of getting on the northern fringes of that now.

You know, sometimes it takes a little bit for the storm to catch up, you know, just because it hits the warm water right away doesn't mean it's going to ramp up immediately, it might take a little bit, so we think we're going to see more of that strengthening, but as it gets closer to the coast, the water temperatures, they're still very warm -- don't get me wrong, they're way over 80 degrees here, but not as deep warm water. And so we think a little bit of churning up could be taking place.

And on top of that, we have a little bit of wind shear system winds which could shave down the storm just a little bit. And that's why, you know, when we were looking at a four yesterday and even getting close to a five, we didn't think it would stay at that intensity as we got towards landfall, but all indications are still that we're looking at a major hurricane, you know, three or better when this reaches the coast tomorrow.

LUI: All right, Jacqui, I know you're working all that data for us, so maybe we'll talk later about those buoys and all those temperatures that we were intimating about earlier. OK, thanks Jacqui.

JERAS: Sure.

LUI: Three years after Katrina leveled New Orleans, it's a far different response to Gustav this year. CNN's Don Lemon, live in Louisiana right now with more on that story.

And hey, how is it going there -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going. And from all accounts, pretty well at least the evacuations according to the people we've been speaking to here, the people who live here and also to some of the city officials. I just want to give you an idea about where I am, Richard. It's amazing because I'm in downtown New Orleans and really it is virtually a ghost town. It looks almost like a police state with the federal government, federal officers manning the streets, as well.

We're in front of Union Passenger Terminal and this is are where people have been coming in, the folks who are going to be taken out of the city. And many of them who have been taken out of the city by Amtrak train, 1900 people yesterday, that train -- two of them went to Memphis, one of this came back and they are going to load up, they say, probably about a thousand people here, 5:30 Central Time, they're going to do it, they say it's the last train and if you're not on that train, you're going to be stuck. The reason they are giving such hard deadlines is because they say at 5:30, once that train gets out of here, they're going to close the floodgates behind them. That path of that train goes through three different flood gates and as soon as they go through the gates, they're going to close those gates behind them. So, everybody has to be on the train by 5:30 Central.

Just want to show you what's going on. This is where people come, also it's one of the sites where they're bringing pets. Last time you remember during Katrina, pets played a big role. People were concerned about all the animals having to be left behind.

One dog brought here today was brought by someone and the dog has puppies and you see them now giving the puppy as bath trying to cool them off before they load all of these animals on to these huge trucks. You see these 18 wheelers, if you turn left here -- and we realize we're digital, so hope it's clear for you -- they are loading them into the back of these air conditioned 18 wheelers, tractor- trailers, here, putting them on and taking them to a safe place until the residents can come back into the city and grab their pets. But I mean, you know, look how cute those little puppies are and there's mom...

LUI: Don, right now, because the FEMA briefing is just with to start. Don Lemon, we'll get back to you later if we can on the latest there out of New Orleans, straight to this briefing.

David Paulison speaking.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

R. DAVID PAULISON, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: ...federal agencies on ground, making sure resources and personnel were there in a safe place to respond. Right now we're focusing on evacuations, that is the key right now, making sure that we do everything possible to get everyone out and out of harm's way.

Had several issues that came up through the night. Had a couple hospitals that had not planned to evacuate, decided they did want to evacuate and so we had to get have a resources and particularly airplane resources to get the special needs people out of there. We also had several nursing homes, quite a few nursing homes who were supposed to have had a plan in place to evacuate their patients to other nursing homes and did not do so. And at the last minute when they found out this is a larger storm than anticipated, had asked for help evacuating those people, most of which were bed ridden.

We worked through the night with NorthCom and TransCom and other to make sure we get fair prep on the ground. Texas National Guard gave us five C-130s and a couple other aircraft and several helicopters and it looks like now we're going to have enough to get everybody out, all those special needs people out of harm's way to do that.

We set up our national emergency family registry locator system, as you remember during Hurricane Katrina, we can't have a system like that in place and it was very difficult for families to locate family members, to find children, the child locator system that's part of that. And that's on the www.FEMA.gov Web site, they can register for that. And there's a toll free number to register for that, also. That's 1-800-588-9822. You have to register to make sure that you want your family members to find you. So that's 1-800-588-9822. Lack of sleep, folks.

Now, we also have another storm out there. We're monitoring Tropical Storm Hanna, which is right along the coast of Florida. We don't know exactly where it's going make land fall, it's a little bit unsure right now, but we have to watch it very carefully. We've got a couple slides to show up.

The first slide shows where some of the pre-positioned stuff that we have where we're going to have thousands of meals, we've got liters of water, tarps, blankets, cots and generators and all pre-positioned at more than 15 different locations and they're in locations we can move very quickly into wherever this storm happens to make landfall.

We have another slide to show you, we have people pre-positioned and where all of our supplies are our instant management teams, our joint field office, emergency response teams, and right now, we have 18 urban search and rescue teams pre-positioned and we may very well open some more up.

So, I told you before that we were going to be ready for this storm. I think we're showing you we are ready for this storm. Again, we cannot -- I can't stop the damage from happening. We can't stop the storm from coming in. What we can come is be as ready as possible, making sure we're ready, the state's ready and the local community is ready.

When we briefed the president earlier, we had all four governors on video conference and we were a few minutes late getting in, when we got in there, they were all talking to each other about how they could help each other. A lot of cooperation going on and I'm very, very pleased to see the coordination and cooperation. It's not only going on from the federal state to local level, but also state to state to share resources. So, anyway, so we'll go ahead and open it up.

REAR ADML. SALLY BRICE-O'HARA, U.S. COAST GUARD: Good afternoon, I'm Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, the Coast Guard's deputy commandant for operations. First I want to assure you that there is very strong federal collaboration within the department of Homeland Security and beyond. We have unity of effort and have taken tremendous proactive steps to heightened readiness to respond to this very dangerous storm as it approaches our coast.

We stress early preparations by individuals, particularly mariners. We urge all mariners to heed every warning, take precautions and get yourself into safe havens or evacuate as local officials are telling you to do. And certainly we have very strong partnerships with our state and local authorities in the private sector as the captains of the port of the Coast Guard work carefully in the ports that are likely to be impacted to ensure that all of the commercial vessels and facilities are prepared and ready as the weather approaches.

There are a number of things that we've taken as proactive steps. We've issued broadcast mariners notices so that the public is forewarned. We've had three storm flights that have traversed the area to ensure that we have a good idea of who's out on the water and, again, an opportunity to relay information to those boaters and commercial vessels that are on the water.

And as I mentioned, would he worked very closely with industry. We worked through different phases of port readiness. There are plans that are in place. We are following those plans with the commercial entities. Ultimately when we're 12 hours away from tropical storm or hurricane force weather, then the ports will close. And we anticipate the ports in the New Orleans area will be closed by later today, as will Mobile. We have already secured the ports in Pascagoula and Gulf Port and we are watching very closely the Houston/Galveston area dependent upon the final track of the storm.

Coast Guard members have been evacuated as necessary, but we will not lose continuity of command. Our 8th district commander who has the regional responsibility for the storm area has reelected his command center and staff to Saint Louis. He personally is in the Mobile area and will make an over flight as soon as it is safe to do so after the storm passes.

We're working very closely with FEMA. We have Coast Guard officials embedded with FEMA, with the state EOCs, with the Mine and Mineral Management Service, with the Army Corps of Engineers. We're working very closely with the Department of Defense, particularly with NorthCom and we are ready for this storm.

Again, I'll close by emphasizing that mariners have to heed the advice, take precautions, find safe havens, stay out of this weather. And we'll be the first ones on scene as soon as it's safe to get our aircraft and vessels out to start the assessments. Post-storm, we'll focus on search and rescue and then getting the ports and commerce moving again. Thank you.

MAJ. GEN. RICHARD ROWE, NORTHCOM: Good afternoon, I'm Major General Rich Rowe and I'm representing the United States NorthCom. U.S. NorthCom is responsible for providing Department of Defense unique capabilities for disaster response in support if FEMA and the secretary of defense has given the General Renuart, the NorthCom commander, verbal authorization to respond to the FEMA requests at this point. We are also doing that in close coordination of the National Guard bureau.

At this time, NorthCom is closely monitoring Hurricane Gustav and prepared to respond for requests. I'd like to give you a couple of examples of that response at this point. Major General Basilica, who, some may remember that name, he was the commander of the 256 Brigade in Louisiana at the time Katrina struck and returned from Iraq to take command of Task Force Pelican. His current assignment is as an operational command post commander for Army North or U.S. NorthCom. With his operational command post, he is located at the England air park, Alexandra, Louisiana prepared to provide commander control of Title 10, deployed military forces.

U.S. NorthCom working with the United States Transportation Command has provided contracted airlift, general airlift, to begin to move up to 16,000 general population passengers and cargo. The airlift is moving passengers from New Orleans to Nashville, Tennessee, San Antonio, Texas, Louisville, Kentucky, and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

We expect, during the hours of today, to have a Canadian forces C-17 be added to that air flow provided by the Canadian government, Canadian Armed Forces. Major General Hank Morrow who is the commander of Air Forces North and is our search and rescue commander for our search and rescue over the land is positioning capability at Keesler Air Force Base and Jackson International Guard Base, both in Mississippi. These capabilities will include extended range and night capable aircraft to support search and rescue if that should be required over land.

Aero medical evacuation capabilities, as mentioned by Chief Paulison, we had 10 missions planned today to move 1,000 patients. We currently anticipate that we will be able to execute 13 air missions today that would move up to 1,300 patients that require some type of medical assistance that could be done. And these operations will continue in Louisiana and Texas as long as we can operate off the runways given the wind.

Texas, the governor of Texas has requested 20 active duty aircraft, rotary wind aircraft, for the state of Texas, and eight medium lift helicopters and 12 heavy lift helicopters have been provided to Texas out of 24 that were ready for U.S. NorthCom and U.S. NorthCom is making steps to replenish the reserve to be, if needed.

Defense coordinating officers have been activated and in place with federal representatives and states representatives, emergency managers in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. In addition are emergency preparedness liaison officers are located with region six in Austin, Texas and region four in Atlanta. And we have an additional defense coordinating officer capability located with the FEMA planning group that is looking behind Gustav at the potential of the current Tropical Storm Hanna.

When I talked two days ago, we had three military installations as FEMA national logistic staging areas, we now have five. These include Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, the Naval Air Station at Meridian, Mississippi, Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Fort Bend, Georgia. We also have taken the steps for force protection of our Department of Defense capabilities that are within the potential strike zone. This includes Marine Forces Reserve that their headquarters is in New Orleans. They have conducted their continuity of operations move from New Orleans to Fort Worth, Texas and are operation there. They are dual hatted as Marine Forces North, so they would be part of an active duty response, if it was needed.

Additionally, hurricane evacuation measures for Department of Defense ships along the coast in aircraft in the potential strike zone have all been tracked and those assets have been moved to safety or properly flashed to be safeguarded very soon. Thank you very much.

KEVIN KOLEVAR, ELECTRIC DELIVER AND ENERGY RELIABILITY: Good afternoon, I'm Kevin Kolevar, assistant secretary of energy for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. assets have been moved to safety or properly flashed to be save guarded. Thank you very much.

The progressive shutdown of petroleum and gas facilities in the path of Hurricane Gustav is continuing in an organized and expected fashion. Before I begin, I want to note that the temporary disruption of oil and gas production in the Gulf is a regular and well practiced event. It happens several times a year in response to tropical storms and hurricanes, and if history is any indicator, we'll be doing this at least once more this year.

On Friday, a number of oil companies began process of suspending operations and withdrawing personnel from offshore platforms. That process should be complete. The Gulf region produces approximately 1.3 million barrels per day, which is about 1/4 of U.S. crude production before as of yesterday, MMS reports that 96 percent of production is now shut in. Natural gas production is affected to a lesser extent.

Gas production for the year stands at 7.4 billion cubic feet per day, which is about 15 percent of the U.S. natural gas production, 82 percent of this production is now shut in. With respect to importation, U.S. imports approximately 5.6 million barrels per day or 56 percent of U.S. crude imports throughout Gulf. Imports of crude and refined products are suspended until the storm passes.

There are 32 refineries in the Gulf Coast with a capacity of 7.1 million barrel as day. The companies operating these refineries are closely monitoring the storm as they decide whether to limit or halt operations. Thus far, we're seeing those facilities located closer to the coast, this is really in the lower Mississippi River and Lake Charles area, shutting down. Those to the north, most significantly ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge facility, are maintaining operations. The Department of Energy will produce the aggregate shut down numbers tomorrow.

Turning to the SPRO, three of the four SPRO sites have suspended operations until the storm has passes, Byian Mound remains operational. The remaining facilities will return to operations once Gustav has passed. The SPRO is currently filled to a record level 707 million barrels. It can be released of 4.4 million barrels per day.

Turning to inventories, the petroleum stock situation is excellent in pad three, which is the region, the gulf region, and in the U.S. Weekly crude stocks are the highest for the year in the United States and weekly gasoline stocks are normal for this time of year in both pad three and the United States.

For natural gas platforms, we have 22 natural gas processing plants located in the eight parishes along the Gulf, totaling 13.2 billion cubic feet per day. Many of the plants have shut down operations due to the shut in of gathering lines and supplying gas to the facilities or due to the mandatory evacuation for the parish. Henry Hub is down, since the saving pipeline system declared force majeure and evacuated personnel from the area. In summary, we expect to see some disruptions to fuel supply when we undertake a significant evacuation. However, absent significant physical damage to the region's energy systems, the record level of supply existent in the strategic petroleum reserve today, coupled with the inventories held both offshore and on shore by the petroleum secretor, should ensure these disruptions are localized and temporary. Thank you.

PAULISON: OK. Questions? I'm sorry. I left the most important guys out. Sorry, guys.

ED HECKER, ARMY CORP OF ENGINEERS: No problem. Good afternoon, I'm Ed Hecker, chief of the Homeland Security office for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Let me first say that the entire Corps of Engineers family, many of whom live and work in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, send our thoughts and prayers to all the people living in the path of the Hurricane Gustav and prepare for a hurricane's landfall.

Our first priority is public safety. We continue to work very closely with state and local emergency managers and levee boards and our sister federal agencies to assist to prepare for Hurricane Gustav's landfall. The Corp is deploying teams from across the nation to the Gulf Coast to assist in our missions assigned by FEMA across the four declared states for debris removal, commodities procurement and delivery, temporary emergency power, temporary housing, temporary roofing, infrastructure assistance and support to every research and rescue. These teams are prepositioned to respond immediately after Hurricane Gustav makes landfall.

The New Orleans area now has the best flood protection in its history. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Corps has completed the repair and restoration of 220 miles of flood walls and levees. Specifically, flood walls have been reinforced at numerous locations. I-walls have been replaced by stronger T-walls at brief sites. Flood walls have been armored and transition points strengthened between flood walls and levees.

The gates and temporary pumping stations at the three outfall canals along Lake Pontchartrain have been tested and are working. We have computerized systems, remotely monitoring water levels in the canals. Interior pump stations have been impaired and improved, 30 overall -- 18 completed, eight others in construction and four in design. Storm-proofing of pump stations is in progress with 26 projects underway, six completed.

As a flood fighting measure, the Corps has placed sand-filled HESCO bastions along 1,800-foot section of the inner harbor navigation canal to provide further reinforcement should we have high stages. The Corps has 400 large sand bags, 4,000, 7,000 pounds each, filled and ready for use for emergency repairs.

We have, fortunately, many Corps contractors that are working on the system improvements that are available to immediately assist with the emergency repair, so we are pre-positioned with resources, contractor, and, of course, Task Force Hope, which was established shortly after Hurricane Katrina, is in place and ready to go into action immediately post-landfall.

We have made significant progress in reducing risk to New Orleans, but major hurricanes may still cause widespread flooding. There is still risk associated with major hurricanes. So, all the preparations are very, very critical. We are working closely with state and local agencies to continuously monitor and assess the levee system performance and we'll respond quickly to any areas of distress once the storm passes.

And just to emphasize, this is not just the Corps of Engineers, this is a unified team between the Corps, state and local agencies to pre-assigned areas of that system to make sure that we're monitoring its condition and we're prepared for rapidly respond together. Thank you very much.

PAULISON: As for the questions, we'll start in the room. You can identify who are you and where you're from.

Sir.

QUESTION: General, I just wanted to be fair...

PAULISON: Keith, can you identify who you are and where you're from?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) from the "New York Times."

PAULISON: Thank you.

QUESTION: The question is on from Texas, have all of that equipment, the aircraft and the helicopters, all been supplied already?

PAULISON: Yes, the ones from Texas.

I'm sorry, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

QUESTION: OK, and what role did FEMA play in resolving the bus problem in New Orleans? Did it play a role or was that at the state level government that resolved that issue?

PAULISON: It was all of us working together. You're talking about the fact the buses didn't show up? Yeah. It was a joint effort, the -- I think 150 or 200 of the original 700 buses showed up, but then the state gave buses, 400 buses, from the state school board and then New Orleans got buses also. So they ended up almost with the same amount of buses they needed for that transport, but it took an effort to pull them all together.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) busses?

PAULISON: No, we did not. We had a contract in place and -- in fact I should back up, we did provide some buses, but the -- I want to give the credit to the city and the state for going out and getting those extra buses, they actually worked very hard to do that.

Yes?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) how has the overall plans and coordination and communication, how has that changed since yesterday's briefing and has Hanna, Tropical Storm Hanna had any contributing factor into that?

PAULISON: Other than stress? No, Hanna hasn't had an impact on us yet. We're still just watching it and we do have teams in North Carolina and we have some urban search and rescue teams pre-staged in Atlanta, so we can pull them either way if something happens.

But the planning has stayed is the same. The coordination, the communication has stayed the same. In fact, that communication system worked extremely well last night. We had all the players in place. So, we worked all night on the fact that there were several hospitals that now decided that they were going to evacuate instead of sheltering in place. That threw several hundred extra patients at us that we were not anticipating. A lot of these people were critical care patients.

We worked with NorthCom very closely to find extra aircraft to make sure we were coordinated and then also we had some nursing homes, like I said earlier, that did not do what they were supposed to do, so that put extra burden on extra patients. And so that communication system we set up working out of a unified command system out of the joint field office really paid off because everybody was there to work out and resolve the issue.

Anytime you have a disaster like this, there's going to be glitches. Things are going to go wrong, things aren't going to go as smoothly as you planned and it's how you resolve those that really determines the outcome. The fact that we had a bump in the road and we were able to get on top of it and get it fixed and find a plan to make sure we took care of people, that was the important thing.

QUESTION: So far, do you have any bumps in the road now that it's getting closer and closer to landfall, I mean, is there any concern with evacuations and dealing with these glitches that people aren't heeding your warning or you aren't going to be able to get out in time?

PAULISON: No, I don't think there's that. I think we have plenty of opportunity to get people out in time. It's those who are choosing not to get out concerns me.

There are people that I've heard saying they're going to ride this storm out. That is not a wise thing to do. This is a very dangerous storm. It could have a significant tidal surge. The West Bank of the levees was not tested during hurricane Katrina. There was some mature witnesses along the entire perimeter -- several places along the perimeter of the levees that have weaknesses. It could either fail, or be over top.

So we want everybody out of the city. It does not make sense to put you, your family, or the first responders at risk by sitting there when there's plenty of opportunity to get out.

LUI: OK. We've been listening to the administrator of FEMA, as well as many of the other staff that he has been consulting and worked with very much in terms of the last 24 hours.

He was saying earlier, David Paulison, that he didn't have much sleep last night and this is because they've been working on evacuation which are still on going. They have put out a lot of different numbers. The take away from all of that to you, is that they have the aircraft, they have the equipment in place and they continue to evacuate elderly and the hospitalized patients that need the help.

Oil and gas infrastructure looks to be in place an they do not expect a large loss or an effect to day-to-day operations after hurricane Gustav passes, as well as search and recovery and first responsibilities as the administrator was just talking about. That is the latest from FEMA. We continue to listen to them and bring you the top points from this briefing as we go on throughout the rest of the day here on CNN.

We'll go for a little bit of a break, we'll be right back with the very latest. We're watching hurricane Gustav.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LUI: All right. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin out again today warning people to, as he put it, get their butts out of town. And announcing a special plan for looters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Let me reiterate, our call is for you to you evacuate now. It's a mandatory evacuation for the West Bank that started at 8:00 a.m. And for the East Bank, we will be implementing a curfew at dusk this afternoon.

The tropical storm -- I mean the hurricane is still severe and growing stronger and it's scheduled to hit us as a Category 4 storm. Tropical storm force winds could arrive in New Orleans, as early as day break on Monday.

Any citizen that is thinking of staying in the city and they may have a home that is next to a or near a trailer, those trailers are on cinder blocks and you know, what have you. They are only wind rated to 35, 40 miles an hour. When this storm hits, those trailers will move around quite a bit. As a matter of fact, some of them will become projectiles and will start to fly around the city.

Anybody who is caught looting in the city of New Orleans, will go directly to Angola, directly to an Angola. You will not have a temporary stay in the city. You go directly to the big house, in general population. All right? So, I want to make sure that every looter, potential looter, understands that. You will go directly to Angola Prison. And God bless you when you go there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LUI: Well, Mayor Ray Nagin being very clear about what he will do with looters going straight to prison, there. And some folks though, still staying behind despite the order to evacuate by both the mayor, as well as the governor and other officials.

CNN's Ali Velshi joins us live from Grand Isle, Louisiana, just due south of New Orleans. Probably about 80 miles south of New Orleans, very close to the Gulf Coast.

And, Ali, you're really going to be the first wave -- you will feel the first wave on that location.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I got to tell you, Richard, that wasn't the plan. There's a very special reason I'm here and that is, this is the heart of offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. That's why we ended up here. And of course, as we watch this storm track in, it seems like we're going to be pretty close to it.

Now, that means that the oil facilities in this part of the Gulf are closed. I am just a few miles away from Port Fourchon, which is where about 1/3 of the imported oil comes into the United States. The super tankers that we import oil from come into this place. They off load their oil, it gets piped to the refineries. This is the center of offshore oil activity.

Now, very unusually, oil trading has started early today and we saw almost $3 spike in oil at about 2:35 Eastern this afternoon. That was the first time oil has started trading before 6:00 p.m. That's the normal time that it starts trading. So we're watching that carefully.

The other thing I want to tell you, Richard, is that Grand Isle is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a fishing place. A lot of people who work here are in the shrimping industry or they're in the oil industry. About 1,500 people live here through the course of the year. About 15,000 through the summer months. This weekend was supposed to a fishing rodeo, that was obviously canceled. Pretty much everybody is off this island. It's very hard to get off of this island and if it starts to flood, you can't get off.

There is one resident -- there are a few residents, by the way, who aren't leaving. We're at the home of one of them, Dean Blanchard. We're in a fortified house which he think can withstand a pretty heavy storm. There's another resident who's not in that fortified house, it doesn't look that strong. Our producer and Brian Vitalliano (ph), and our former journalist Beth English, just came back from there and they just told me he's not agreeing to leave. The mayor and the fire chief were there trying to get him out and he's not leaving. So, there are very few people left here and this storm put in very hard. But one person at least is not leaving -- Richard.

LUI: Ali Velshi, thank you so much. Grand Isle, Louisiana.

We're going to talk to you again. Ali, on what is happening there and in terms of what you're seeing in weather as well as those staying behind.

But when we come back, we're going to talk about those who are still trying to get out of the area of New Orleans. We're going to visit with Don Lemon, he is he there at one of the evacuation centers. We'll talk to him later today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. Hurricane Gustav looking a little more impressive on the satellite picture now. A major hurricane, Category 3, with winds of 115 miles per hour. It's moving northwest and heading towards the Gulf Coast tomorrow.

We're going to take a break and we'll be back with a special announcement from the Republican National Committee. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In a few minutes we'll learn the fate of the Republican National Convention. It was supposed to begin tomorrow and continue to four days, culminating Thursday night with John McCain's acceptance speech. All that very much up in the air right now because of hurricane Gustav.

A monster hurricane -- it's a Category 3 right now. It's moving through the Gulf of Mexico. It could intensify to a Category 4, maybe even a Category 5. And it's headed directly towards New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of the United States.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from St. Paul, Minnesota. We're on the floor at the Republican Convention here. In a few moments, leaders of the Republican party and John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate. They will announce major, major changes in this schedule of the Republican convention.

These are live pictures you're seeing from the Republican briefing room here in St. Paul. We're going to be hearing from a McCain campaign staff, as well as the chairman of the Republican Party, Mike Duncan. John McCain is expected to address this group, as well, via satellite. He's been in Mississippi, today, touring some of the areas which could be hit by hurricane Gustav.

John King is here, he's been doing some reporting. It was supposed to be very much like the Democratic convention last week. Four straight days of addresses, of music, partying, kicking off tomorrow with the president and the vice president of the United States. But they announced earlier today they're not coming.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're not coming, Wolf. And there will be other substantial changes. Most of all, we are certain about Monday. The rest, they will take pretty much day to day.

But Monday is tomorrow, they will gavel the convention to order, they have to do that to legally nominate John McCain, they have to bring the convention to order. But they will scale back the program, they will do just what they need to do. Pass the rules, check all the boxes they need to make it a legal proceeding. And then they will have a much dramatically smaller program.

There's even the possibility -- Laura Bush, the First Lady, is supposed to speak tomorrow. I'm told that is now iffy, she may have smaller role. The main focus tomorrow, once they get their business done will be on a call to service. Fundraising, aid relief efforts, try to get the delegates here, Republicans around the country and all Americans will be the message, pitch in, do what you can to help.

So day one we know will be almost scrapped essentially. Day two is Tuesday, day-to -day. They want to see what happens with the storm which is supposed to make landfall on Monday, and they will go from there. Most expectations is a dramatically scaled back program on Tuesday, as well. But they will make the decision as they go. And then, as we look further down the road, the plan is to try to get back to business Wednesday and Thursday, with the nomination of John McCain and Sarah Palin his running mate and then the acceptance speeches.

But, again, if the storm is serious and there is significant damage and devastation in a major American city, those plans will be curled back, as well. They have this contingency. They would this convention come in here and very quietly nominate John McCain and his running mate and get the business done without any hoopla fanfare. They're hoping by the middle of the week to be able to get back to a little bit more of a celebration, although the tone will significantly change. This will be a convention about service, about pitching in and helping people; not a party.

BLITZER: That so much will of course, depend as it should, on what happens with hurricane Gustav. The death and destruction that might follow.

Let's get an update now on where Gustav is right now, where it's happening. Jacqui Jeras is out sever weather expert at the CNN weather center..

What do we know about Gustav, Jacqui, right now?

JERAS: Well, right now it's a major hurricane, Wolf, a Category 3.

So, maximum winds at 115 miles per hour. The satellite picture's been looking more impressive over the last couple of hours. The hurricane has been moving over some very warm waters, deep warm waters. And so we think additional intensification is going to be very likely here in the next say, 12 hours or so.

Look at how huge this storm is. This encompasses about 2/3 of the Gulf of Mexico. This thing is 400 miles across. That's how far out the tropical storm force winds extend across side to side, west to east, from this storm. And that, by the way, is equivalent of the size of hurricane Katrina.

Now, it's been moving northwest and staying very steadily on this track since it moved over Cuba, and we expect it to continue to do that. You can see that our cone of uncertainty has really narrowed down very significantly. But it still stretch over to Texas, so keep that in mind. We do think that Louisiana will be taking the brunt of this storm.

Now, it's been picking up a little bit of forward speed. So it's moving at 17 miles per hour now. If it does that, we could -- and stays on that speed, we could see landfall as early as maybe late tomorrow morning. But, some of the computer models slowing it down a little bit prior to landfall, so that could stretch it back a little bit. So, we want to give you a good window of when we're anticipating that impact. But we do think you're going to start to feel the effects of this storm even in just the next couple of hours.

Let's talk a little bit about that potential for strengthening. The location of the storm right now is just starting to pull up into this area, on the northeast side of what we call the loop current. This map that you're looking at, basically this is a water temperature potential energy map. So, the areas where you see the red, that's where we have the most heat and where we have the most available energy to ramp up this storm. We still have time to get through here. And then there's less potential energy as we get closer to the coast. So, that's a little bit of good news with that.

Now, here we have the satellite picture along with the buoys that are out there. So, these are kind of weather observation sites in the middle of the ocean. So, we're going to query a couple for you. This one closest to the storm. And look at the water temperature, 86 degrees, winds there at 27 miles per hour.

We'll sample up here a little closer towards the coast. You can see the water temperature's down a little bit, not much. Still 85 degrees. That's like bath water. Wave height's at nine feet, so we'll watch those start to pick up. And you can see the wave height's only two feet over here, off the shore of Galveston, winds at 11 miles per hour, water temperature is well into the middle 80s in that area as well.

The showers and thundershowers are just offshore now. So we'll watch those to start to pick up in intensity and we'll start to watch those winds pick up. And we think by this evening, Wolf, for the people who hopefully they've already left, if they haven't yet, by this evening, those winds will be strong enough that everybody's going to need to stop and stay put -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we know they've already ordered a dusk to dusk -- dusk to dawn curfew in New Orleans. And the mayor, Ray Nagin, has said anyone caught looting will immediately be sent to jail.

Earlier Reynolds Wolf, our meteorologist, Jacqui, told us this hurricane could make landfall, maybe even 70 miles or so west of New Orleans. That might sound good but not necessarily good for New Orleans because the most dangerous part is the eastern part of this hurricane.

JERAS: That's absolutely right. And you know, one other concern that we have when we talk about the storm is moving so fast at 17 miles per hour. That momentum has to be equated into the maximum wind.

So, you know, if our winds maximum were 100 miles per hour and say this thing was moving at 20 miles an hour, you could be seeing 120-mile-an-hour winds in that north eastern quadrant. So, yes. The easy side of the storm as we call it, where you have the offshore flow, is on the west side of the storm.

And, unfortunately, the angle that this is moving into, Wolf, by the way, as it's moving up toward the north and west, that's going to bring in that southeast flow and those southeasterly winds. And unfortunately, we think that's going to kind of parallel up toward the Mississippi River, which is really bad news for the storm surge issue.

BLITZER: All right. Jacqui, stand by because we're going to be getting back to you.

Retired U.S. Army General Russell Honore is standing by, as well. He's a CNN contributor, but all of our viewers will remember him for the work he did -- the heroic work he did, bringing U.S. troops into New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

General Honore, stand by for a moment. John king is going to set the stage for us. He's going to show us on our map over here, what is going on, where the devastation could occur and by some estimates, John, this could even be more devastating than Katrina, which occurred almost exactly three years ago.

KING: That's sad that we even have to discuss that. But, based on what Jacqui just said about the storm, I want to show you using the map, this is a capability we have, that at we wish we didn't have to use.

But as Jacqui just noticed, here's the path of the storm right now. The red dot is where the storm is now. Obviously, the area of concern is right up here in Louisiana, and New Orleans. The orange line is the potential cone. But, the biggest worry right now is right in here.

Now, I want to come back into central New Orleans. And unfortunately, if you see these circles right here -- I'm going to bring and turn this around so you can see it -- but we can come even in closer here. We're going to keep on coming in. This is an area that General Honore knows all too well, sadly. This around here, one of the breaches in the industrial levee down here, two more levee breaches in here. You see the industrial canal that comes through the city. I want to pull this out more here.

Wolf, this is the area of the saddest and most devastating damage of three years ago. This is the ninth ward here; the levee broke here and the canal flooding this area. I was up to my chest in water once, right along, right in here three years ago. Another break down here. This area -- I'm going to pull it out a little bit more -- is where most of the reconstruction work has been done in here. This is where the Army corps of engineers has been urgently working these past three years to get these levees back up to standards.

But, as you well know, while billions has been appropriated, that spending is in process and the work in progress. So, my most fascinating question for General Honore, and as you look here again, this is the low of the ninth ward. This picture goes back a bit. But, it looks very much today, as it does here. It's a wasteland. Nobody lives here. It is devastation.

And the question now is, if this storm packs as much punch as the forecasters say, and keeps on the direction is it now, what would happen here? Are the levees strong enough in their current state to withhold?

BLITZER:: Well, let's put that question to General Honore.

What's the question, General, based on everything you know? And God knows, you've spent a lot of time there.

LT. GEN. RUSSELL HONORE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I was just in that area last Friday -- Friday of this week. And the situation is the levee is a lot stronger. There's not as many people there, which has reduced the risk.

But the probability -- a possibility still exists for those levees to be violated. They're at the industrial canal there's no gate at the end of it. The 17th Street Canal does have a gate at the end of it. But, the lower ninth ward, the good news, not many people there to date. Many of those that were there, the mayor and the federal government have been successful in evacuating.

But the possibility of flooding is still there. This storm has a vote and it could be stronger than Katrina. So, we may be looking at something we can't visualize as far as potential.

BLITZER: When we spoke the other day, General Honore, with the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, he suggested maybe these levees could withstand a Category 2 storm. But a Category 3 or a 4, God forbid a 5, that probably is not going to be -- these levees may not withstand that kind of force.

And if it does happen, the flooding in New Orleans, not just in the lower ninth ward, which is basically empty right now because of what happened three years ago in Katrina. The thoughts of what's going to go on are horrific.

HONORE: Well, I would say the consequences are reduced because of the effectiveness of the evacuation plan.

But, remember, few things made by man can stand up to a Category 5 storm. Few things. The extensive wind, the possibility of flooding, and the tornadoes that will be thrown out 100 to 150 miles away from the eye of the storm, a few things we have can stand up to that amount of destruction that could be created by the Category 5.

I think the steps that have been taken on evacuation is absolutely critical. Kudos to everybody. But remember, we're still in the pre-game show. We'll see how good we are and we're going to really be tested once this thing hits landfall. So, we need to get some -- continue to do search and rescue, get everybody out before the storm. But we need to be leaning forward now, and telling those people who we've evacuated what's next. When can they expect more assistance, where do they go, how do they connect with their families. And then start working on search and rescue as soon as landfall's over with.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to ask you, General Honore, to stand by because we have a lot more to discuss. And no one understands this situation as well as General Honore does.

We're only a few minutes away from the top of the hour when there will be a news conference here in St. Paul, Minnesota. And the fate of this Republican National Convention will be explained. You're looking at live pictures right now of the podium here.

The RNC has set up headquarters. They've been meeting feverishly and reviewing especially with John McCain, the Republican presidential nomination, what to do, how to scale back to truncate this Republican convention. It was supposed to begin tomorrow and go for four days but all that is going to change dramatically.

We're about to hear from Rick Davis, the chairman of the McCain campaign. He will explain. But, also John McCain himself. He's on the scene, he's been on the scene in Mississippi, today. Went down there to see what was going on. But he is now effectively the leader of this Republican Party and it's his decision, by and large, what to do. He'll be speaking to all of us via satellite. They're beaming him in via satellite to explain his thoughts.

Here he is.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... joining me, and I'm getting feedback in my ear here, so maybe our engineers can fix that. If not, I'll continue. I guess I'm going to continue.

I want to say thanks to everybody. Thank you. I wish everybody's having a good time in the Twin Cities. And thanks to the hospitality of our great governor and (VIDEO GAP) in Minnesota.

As you probably know, I'm here in St. Louis. Yesterday we were in Pennsylvania, and the day before in Ohio.