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Tracking Hurricane Rita

Aired September 20, 2005 - 19:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, from New Orleans. A dangerous twin. First Katrina, now Hurricane Rita, in the Gulf of Mexico, gaining strength. Where it's going to strike next, it's going to be a Cat 4. It's 4:00 p.m. on the West Coast, 7:00 in the East, and 6:00 p.m. right here in New Orleans. 360 starts now.

ANNOUNCER: It's official, and it's not good. By this time tomorrow, Rita is predicted to be a monster Category 4 hurricane, as powerful as Katrina when it hit New Orleans. Rita is already battering the Florida Keys with pounding rain and an unstoppable storm surge.

Could New Orleans really take another direct hit?

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We're a lot smarter this time around. We've learned a lot of hard lessons and now we're much better prepared.

COOPER: Instead of coming home, residents again ordered to run for it. And what about the levees? Will they hold?

Anderson with tough questions tonight for Mayor Ray Nagin. And how to survive if Rita comes roaring into town.

Damage so unimaginable, it's as if a giant eraser wiped away an entire town. Even worse, it looks like Katrina hit yesterday. In three weeks, nothing has changed. The town is still total and complete devastation.

A bold promise made.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You bet, it's going to cost money. But I'm confident we can handle it. We have got to maintain economic growth, and therefore, we should not raise taxes.

ANNOUNCER: The president says the federal government will pay a staggering $200 billion to rebuild. But how? So far, it's a bold idea with no teeth.

This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, "State of Emergency."


COOPER: And welcome back to 360. We're live in New Orleans, in the historic French Quarter, in front of a firehouse.

Tonight, the plan to repopulate this great city is on hold. That's because everyone from Texas to Florida is watching and waiting and holding their breath as another mammoth hurricane approaches. It's hard to believe that story tops what is happening right now at this moment.

Rita is now a Category 2 hurricane, but it is expected to become a huge Category 4 storm by 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. Now, that means it could pack the same catastrophic power as Katrina, with winds of at least 131 miles an hour.

At this moment, the eye is crossing just southeast of Key West. It's on a track to make landfall near Galveston, Texas. That city just moments ago declared a state of emergency. We'll take you there shortly.

As for Hurricane Katrina, the death toll continues to rise. Tonight, the number of confirmed fatalities stands at 970. Seven hundred and thirty-six of those victims right here in Louisiana.

And the faces of the children you have been seeing on your screen for a few days now. They are some of the more than 3,650 boys and girls who have been separated from their parents in the wake of Katrina. CNN, working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, have so far helped resolve 37 of the cases. But more needs to be done.

The news about Hurricane Rita is quickly going from bad to worse. Within the next 24 hours, the storm could carry winds up to 155 miles per hour, and a storm surge of 18 feet; 18 feet above normal. Shocking.

All day today and into tonight, the residents living in the Florida Keys were pounded by Rita's torrential rains, as well as heavy flooding. CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano is in Key West with the latest. Rob, what's happening where you are?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, now, the winds have turned southerly, Anderson, and they haven't let up very much. As a matter of fact, the back side of this storm seems to be worse than the front, which would make sense, because it continues to strengthen as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico. We're on Duval Street, which pretty much is the main strip here in Key West, Florida. Not nearly as crowded as it was this time last night. Much of today, the winds were going from the east to west. Now, they have switched out of the south, which tells us that the storm has been moving on.

How strong have the winds been? Well, we had winds 60, 70, and an unofficial report from a ham radio operator of 102 miles an hour gusting here in Key West late in the afternoon as this storm continues to intensify.

We're kind of on the north side of the island. The biggest storm surge has come on the south side, where the pounding surf broke some of the seawall there down by the airport and the main strip of road there that takes you out of Key West. Not a devastating high tide like that of New Orleans. As far -- as far as what we had for injuries or fatalities, just one injury to report. The mayor has been happy to report that it hasn't been as bad as they thought.

We can only hope that the folks in Galveston can say the same thing just a few days from now. They are prepping. The Gulf of Mexico calm right now on the Texas coastline, but likely to get a little bit more angry as the days wear along, looking for potential landfall somewhere there Friday night. I'll let Chad talk more about that.

That's the latest from here, Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Thanks very much, Rob. We're going to have a lot about Hurricane Rita coming up at this hour. It is the 17th named storm of the season, and it could prove to be just as destructive as Katrina.

The hurricane is taking a path quite similar to the one we saw here just a few weeks ago. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is watching Rita's every move very closely. He joins us live from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Chad, who is in harm's way right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, really, the Florida Keys not out of it at this point in time. Yes, the major part of the eyewall has moved to the west of Key West and really to the north of there, the Dry Tortugas getting hammered pretty hard. But I know there hasn't been that much damage in Key West, but I'm concerned about some of my friends there that are in the Lower Keys. Let's say Upper Matecumbe Key, all the way even into Marathon. They've had other squalls that Key West has not.

This is the little bit of rain that Rob is in right now. But if I take you up the Upper Keys, up into the Lower Keys, all the way across the Seven-Mile Bridge, of the Ohio Key, all the way down to Bahia-Honda, right up through Marathon, hit very hard this afternoon with squall after squall. Some of the wind reports here over 75 miles per hour. That's enough to bring down limbs -- limbs on top of power lines; power lines that take a day or so to get back up.

Here is Key Largo, Tavernier, Cardson (ph) Road, and right up into Florida City right there, although Florida City, you're just about out of it right now.

Here's how the storm looks. It's a very symmetric storm. That's part of the problems. Storms that are well organized, that are round, don't have sheer blocking them one way or blocking them the other. When you see a storm that's kind of cock-eyed or not quite round, you know that storm isn't going to do very well. When you see a storm that's round and moving into high pressure, no wind aloft, by tomorrow afternoon, Anderson, Category 4 storm.

And by the time it get here, close to 2:00 Friday afternoon, 132 miles per hour is the forecast.

Now, I know this cone stretches all the way from Lafayette, really, all the way down to Brownsville. So don't focus on the line just yet. As we always tell you, 110, 120 hours away, you can't focus on that line.

You can focus on some of these computer models that we look at. We call this the spaghetti map internally here, all the different models, 14 different programmers, 14 different programs, 14 different solutions. One right through Galveston; another all the way down to Mexico.

Yesterday they were in Louisiana, though. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Chad, we're going to check in with you a little bit later on, because we're going to watch this thing very closely, because there are a lot of nervous people here, and any twist or turn can make a big difference for the people who are living not only here in Louisiana, but also Mississippi and Texas. We'll check in with you later.

You know, thousands of people living in the Florida Keyes were evacuated, but tonight, there are many residents who remained, up to half of the population of Key West. The advice they are being given is to simply hunker down. CNN's Rick Sanchez is live in Key West with more -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we've been following the situation here. It seems to be worsening, Anderson. Just the last half hour or so, there's some flooding here. In fact, you might say there's some of it right here on this balcony where we are right now.

But this town, as we walked through it, we find other things is really rooted in history. That Episcopal church that you see right there behind me -- have we got a shot of that -- that Episcopal church was rebuilt in 1909. And as you walk through Duval Street, you see monument after monument, statue after statue, where you get an explanation of the history of this town. And almost all of it is somehow an explanation of a hurricane that came through this town at some point or another, whether it was 1909, 1912, 1935, the great Labor Day hurricane that killed some 600 people.

Maybe that's why so many people here, 50 percent, decided they were going to ride this storm out and stayed in this town. They are certainly hardy folks. They have got a lot of experience with hurricanes. We caught up with a couple of them, who are not even in this area around Key West, a little further down, an area that's a little more dangerous, because they are on a very narrow road. They kept their business open, and we had a chat with them. Here's what they had to say.


SANCHEZ (on camera): I could buy a Florida Lotto ticket in the middle of a hurricane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure. I can try.

SANCHEZ: OK. We'll try it. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I got one. SANCHEZ: So it's working. Here is a Florida Lotto ticket in the middle of a hurricane.


SANCHEZ: Well, I hope this is a winner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe. Maybe not.


SANCHEZ: Well, certainly have to check and see if that's a winner or not. What they are saying is, hey, with so many businesses closed down, this is an opportunity for us to possibly be able to make some money.

One of the things we did find is not so much here in Key West, but as you travel the road along U.S. 1, it's a treacherous road, because there is so many parts of it that are actually washed over. The Atlantic Ocean has actually overtaken U.S. 1, and mixed with the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We have got some tape of that that we're going to be sharing with you, and we'll have that for you in about 20 minutes or so.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Rick, thanks very much. We're also expecting a press conference from the governor of the state of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco. We're going to bring that to you live, if we can. Also, we're expecting to talk to the mayor of New Orleans about preparations here for this storm. As you can imagine, people are watching him like a hawk to see what kind of preparations they are making in advance of Rita possibly coming here. That's ahead on 360.

Also tonight, more on the hurricane. We are closely following the fast growing storm. We're going to bring you the latest update on its strength and the projected path.

And the cost of Katrina. Some estimates say it may cost more than $200 billion. How is the government going to pay for it? We're going to try to find out some answers tonight. We'll be right back.


COOPER: So when all the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina is finally tallied, the bottom line could end up being higher than $200 billion. It's an extraordinary amount, a massive price tag for a federal government deep in debt and fighting two expensive wars overseas.

The question is how is the government going to pay for it. President Bush has ruled out raising taxes, so the money might have to be found some other way. CNN's congressional correspondent Joe Johns walked the halls of Capitol Hill to ask lawmakers how they plan to get the funds. Take a look.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Everybody wants to rebuild the Gulf states, but where's the money?

(on camera): How are we going to pay for Katrina?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. We just had a big debate about it.

JOHNS (voice-over): We looked for answers in the crowded hallways of the U.S. Capitol and found the don't touch list was much longer than the list of solution.

(on camera): Are you talking about scaling back tax cuts as one of the options to pay for Katrina?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't -- I mean the tax relief we passed in 2003 has been responsible for the creation of millions of new jobs.

JOHNS (voice-over): Democrats want to put the tax cuts on hold but they are not willing to cut social programs.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: It's not the tax time for cutting Medicaid. It's not the time for cutting student aid.

JOHNS (on camera): Chris (ph), how you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

JOHNS: Good to see you're doing well.

(voice-over): Indiana Congressman Mike Pence and his House conservative allies have a plan.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: To delay the implementation of the prescription drug entitlement for just one year, that would put $40 billion back in the budget.

JOHNS: But what about cutting spending on the Iraq war and an idea with popular support?

PENCE: Now, is not the time for us to reduce our commitment to our soldiers.

JOHNS: Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid wants to roll back the Bush tax cuts but when it comes to big government programs it's hands off.

REID: We want to stop the Republican controlled House and Senate from cutting Medicaid by another $10 billion.

JOHNS: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also wants the tax cuts rolled back. I ask if she would give up tens of millions of dollars in highway funds for her district. She said yes.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: For San Francisco, and the people of San Francisco would be very proud of that. Thank you.

JOHNS: But Pelosi's office called soon after just to clarify she would only give up the money if other do too. One more try.

(on camera): How are y'all going to pay for this?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Right now at least in the short term where we're responding and responding aggressively it does mean that our children ultimately are going to have to pay for it.

JOHNS (voice-over): The clearest answer of the day, also the one option everyone says they want to avoid just borrow the money. Joe Johns, CNN, Capitol Hill.


COOPER: Well $200 billion is a lot of money. The United States has paid big bills like it before. We were wondering, how does Katrina, the estimated cost, compare? We did some digging around. Here's a quick download on what we found.

So far the Iraq war has lost less than Katrina, $186 billion. When adjusted for inflation World War I cost the U.S. $204 billion, just a hair above Katrina's projected cost. And when you add up how much Americans spent on health insurance and tobacco products three years ago it comes to $184 billion, still less than what Katrina might cost. Erica Hill from "HEADLINE NEWS" joins us with some of the other stories we're following tonight. Erica, good evening.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Anderson, nice to see you. We start off overseas. The London bombers caught on camera on a reconnaissance mission. Scotland Yard released this closed circuit TV video you see. It was released today. It shows three of the four bombers at two transit stations nine days before the July 7th attack. Fifty-two people and the four bombers were killed in those attacks.

In Iraq, nine Americans killed in attacks over the past two days, five of them U.S. troops. Three others were security contractors and one a U.S. State Department employee. The deaths bring the number of U.S. troops in Iraq -- killed in Iraq to 1,904.

In New York it's a mistrial in the John Gotti Jr. case. After eight days of deliberations the jury is deadlocked on racketeering charges against the one-time mobster. But the jury did clear him of lesser charges and prosecutors say they will retry Gotti.

Onto Washington now where the Federal Reserve raises a key short term interest rate for the 11th time in a row. Probably not what you wanted to hear. The Fed's hike of a quarter percentage point brought the rate to three-and-three-quarter percent, that is. It is the highest level in more than four years and it came as a surprise to some. Some economists hoping the central bank would make a move and would instead say to wait to see how Hurricane Katrina impacts the economy. But obviously not the case today, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Erica, thanks. We'll see you again in about 30 minutes. The governor of Louisiana is giving a press conference right now. She is telling people to watch the weather reports very closely, for -- to watch the storm. Let's listen in.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: ... however it works itself out. We are -- we still want people to be on alert. While the storm -- the eye of the storm is now projected to go a little more westerly, into the Texas area, it is strengthening and it is projected that it could grow as strong as a Category 3 or possibly even a Category 4.

So that still could give us some impact on the eastern side of that storm. We are watching it and we want our citizens to watch it very carefully. Just as this point in time, know where you're going to go and how you're going to get there. We will also have buses available to evacuate those who have no means of transportation.

I want to make some remarks about the housing situation right now. We've got people who have been in shelters since Katrina raged. They were in shelters in -- two days before the storm hit and then we added more people after the storm hit. Shelter life is not a quality life.

The president and I both agree that people in shelters need more stable private housing. I am asking FEMA to work with us. We believe that those shelters served their initial purpose, but now our people need that interim housing that we have been talking about so much. They need more privacy. They need real communities with vital services.

Now, we're identifying land all around Louisiana to put up such interim housing so that we can bring our people home. We are working with local leaders, we are working with churches and we're asking FEMA to allow churches who so desire to use some of their land to set up these interim housing units. FEMA says that they have thousands of trailers available so we need to move them into Louisiana ...

COOPER: That's Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, giving a press conference, telling people to watch -- especially the residents here to watch very closely news reports about this Hurricane, to watch very closely the track of this storm. So much is going to depend on the next several days, the governor also saying she is going to be able to move in very quickly after the storm.

I can tell you I was at a National Guard center earlier today, and they were moving out equipment. They are going to position it north of here. This guard unit, an engineering battalion, was going to be up in Carville, Louisiana, that's actually where James Carville's family is from. And then they're going to watch where the storm goes, and be able to, they say, come back in here quickly. And believe me, we will be watching them very closely. Still to come tonight on 360, we have seen what a strong hurricane did to New Orleans. Should other cities protected by levees be concerned? We're going to take you to another community at risk.

Plus the latest on Rita. How strong is it now? How strong will it become? And where could it strike?


COOPER: The French Quarter of New Orleans, a site we are getting very used to seeing, military vehicles, National Guard vehicles driving around. Every street you go down, there is some sort of law enforcement, military or police here.

You know, the levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans didn't. And now another hurricane may be coming this way. Of course, a lot of reason for folks here to be worried and concerned. But then there are levees in other parts of the country too. Maybe even in your community. For instance, does California have reason to worry? With that here is CNN's Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Rayford Griffin walks his dog Duke along the levee that protects his house in Stockton, California. Like New Orleans, Stockton relies on levees to hold back the water in the rivers and canals that cut through the town. Rayford says the levee break in New Orleans has many of his neighbors now worried.

RAYFORD GRIFFIN, HOMEOWNER: Everybody is concerned. Those -- the newer neighbors are more concerned than others, because they haven't been here that long.

ROWLANDS: More than 600 miles of levees wind through this area of Northern California holding back the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. The worry here is not a hurricane, but an earthquake or major flood. Hundreds if not thousands of homes would be in danger, if the levee system breaks down.

DR. JEFF MOUNT, GEOLOGIST: There's two kinds of levees. Those that have failed and those that will fail. And eventually these homes will be flooded.

ROWLANDS: Jeff Mount is a geologist at the University of California Davis. He estimates that there is a two in three chance that the levee system here will have a major break sometime over the next half century. He says state government has to spend the money now, an estimated 1.3 billion, to reinforce the levees, before something catastrophic takes place. It's not just homes at risk, it's farmland, a rail system, and water pipelines. Two thirds of California gets drinking water from here, a major break would likely contaminate that water supply.

MOUNT: It's just waiting to happen. And it will probably happen sometime over the next 50 years. ROWLANDS: Last year, a levee protecting farmland did break sending water towards hundreds of homes. Emergency repairs were able to hold back the water and avert a potential disaster

DAVID MRAZ, CALIF. DEPT. OF WATER RESOURCES: There was a number of times where it was real touch and go. We would pile the material on, and we could actually watch the material settle, as we brought in the next load to pile some more on.

ROWLANDS: Last year's break was caused by animals digging holes in the levee. There are holes made by animals in the levee across from Rayford Griffin's home. He says for now he's not worried, saying he trusts not only the levee, but also the state of California to make sure that the system is re-enforced.

GRIFFIN: If I did not move, trust me. Especially after what happened in New Orleans.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Stockton, California.


ANNOUNCER: It's official, and it's not good. By this time tomorrow, Rita is predicted to be a monster Category 4 hurricane as powerful as Katrina when it hit New Orleans. Rita is already battering the Florida Keys with pounding rain, and an unstoppable storm surge.

Damage to unimaginable it's as if a giant eraser wiped away an entire town. Even worse, it looks like Katrina hit yesterday. In three weeks nothing is changed. The town is still total and complete devastation.

This special edition of 360 continues.


COOPER: Welcome back to 360. We're in the French Quarter of the beautiful city of New Orleans. A city bracing for possibly another enormous hurricane. Let's tops what's happening right now at this moment. get you up to date.

Hurricane Rita now a Category 2 storm, but there are fears it's going to be upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane by tomorrow afternoon. Right now the eye about 50 miles southwest of Key West.

Tonight, Rita continues to hammer the Florida Keys with heavy rains, high winds. There's also major flooding and reports of tornadoes. We'll bring you there a little later on.

The National Hurricane Center says there's a chance Rita could slam into Louisiana and Mississippi. Right now it's on a path toward Galveston, Texas. Tonight, that city has issued a state of emergency. Mandatory evacuations begin tomorrow.

To tell you the truth, we almost feel guilty taking up any of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's time at all. He's got to be one of the most hard pressed people in this country right now. For a reason just about everyone understands. Still, there are things only he can tell us. And we appreciate his stopping by. Mayor Nagin, thanks for being with us.

NAGIN: It's great to be here. Unfortunately we're facing another threat. So we're trying to do the best we can.

COOPER: Are you ready? Is New Orleans ready?

NAGIN: Well, yes. I think we're in a much better place this time. We don't have as many residents to deal with, most have evacuated. We probably have a couple of thousand people in the city. And a couple of thousand business people. But we feel as though we can get them out really quickly.

COOPER: It's a tricky thing, though, to evacuate people, if you don't know exactly how many. And there are a lot of first responders here. Do you know how many first responders are on the ground, and is not knowing a problem?

NAGIN: No. The first responders are very well organized. They have a central command post. We have people ready to go, just in case a storm turns our way. And it's going to be a category four storm, so we're really watching it very closely.

COOPER: So, a wife of a firefighter, I was talking, a firefighter from New York. She wanted me to ask you what is going to happen to the first responders? Do they get pulled out with this storm and then sent back in, or do they stay, firefighters, police?

NAGIN: Well we're going to have some firefighters and some police officers to leave, and we'll have an essential group that will stay behind. They will be hunkered down probably in a hotel. It's my understanding, if the storm turns toward us, the cruise ships where they are staying with their families, they will leave and then come back.

COOPER: Big problem last time was buses and bus drivers. Not having them, not getting them to show up. Is it going to be different this time? Do you have buses organized? Who's running it? Where are they going to be?

NAGIN: It's already in place. We moved two bus loads of people today. We had a press conference at about 3:00. Right after the press conference the press went over. We had another bus stage. We moved about another 20 to 25 people. And there's ten more buses just sitting there waiting for people to come.

COOPER: Who is driving these buses?

NAGIN: Well, we working through FEMA again, and we have about -- it's my understanding they have about 500 buses that are staged and ready to go any time we need them.

COOPER: Is there something you learned that you're doing differently this time, in your own personal experience, that you learned from a mistake you made the last time?

NAGIN: Well, you know, the mistake that we made the last time was basically assuming that, you know, after three days we get a lot of resources to come in. Because the hurricane was so severe, and a couple of other breakdowns, that didn't happen. This is a different event. We have plenty of advance notice. We have lots of resources, so we can move people totally out of the city versus moving them to a temporary site, and then getting them out.

COOPER: What do you want people here in New Orleans to know? I mean, are you telling everyone they -- I mean, you're telling -- it's a mandatory evacuation. You want them to leave. Can you make them? I mean, is there anything harder you can do?

NAGIN: Well, you know, we debated that for, you know, just about every day that we've been out here. Whether we force people at gunpoint, and we really don't want to do that. We want to make sure that intelligent people make intelligent decisions, so we are getting as much information out to them. We're strongly encouraging them, and most are abiding by it. Some are not. And we are doing everything we can to convince them otherwise.

COOPER: I want to ask you one question, we're out of time, but I just want to ask you one question about what happened before. Amtrak, on Saturday, called your office, told you guys they had a train, a thousand seats going to Macon, Mississippi. Looking back on it, do you wish you had taken them up on the offer?

NAGIN: You know what, I never got that call. I don't know who they talked to, but I remember us right before the storm was going to hit to check with Amtrak to see if there were any trains that were leaving. And we were told the next available train was September.

COOPER: I can tell you who they talked to. They talked to your head of emergency preparedness, Matthews (ph), because we talked to Amtrak and asked specifically who they talked to. So he never told you about this train leaving?

NAGIN: No, sir. He never did, and we've never had a follow-up discussion about that. I'm glad you gave me a name. Now I have something to follow up on.

COOPER: Mayor, I know you got a million things to do. I'd love to just be able to talk to you one day, just looking back, I know this is maybe not be the time, you got a lot of things on your plate. But I'd love you to come on the program, and just let's look back critically at, not only what your government did right and wrong, but what everyone else did. It would be great. A lot of people just want some answers, and we'd love to have you back on some time.

NAGIN: I think we should do that. And, you know, wherever the analysis goes, that's where it should be. But I will tell you this, I think everyone involved at a significant level should go through the same critical lens that I go through.

COOPER: Hey, I hear you, and I'll invite them all on my program. I want to talk to them all. We do appreciate you coming on at this busy time. Thanks very much, Mayor.

NAGIN: Thank you so much.

COOPER: All right. I want to take you back now to CNN Meteorologist Rob Marciano who's facing the fury of Rita. He joins us live from Key West. Rob, how 's that going where you are?

MARCIANO: Well, Anderson, the back half of the storm, and not any better than the front half. I suppose the saving grace of Key West is, one, the center of the storm did not come directly over the island. But more importantly, this thing was slow to develop, or at least strengthen throughout the day today, and (INAUDIBLE) Category 2 strength (INAUDIBLE) right below it, and now heading out to sea.

But as it continues to strengthen as it heads out to sea, the wind field is expanding, and the south and southeast winds are just as strong as the east and northeast winds earlier today, if not a little bit stronger than that. A little bit of wind damage here and there. About 8,000 people without power across Monroe County. We have seen some streets flooded. Only one injury, and that was from somebody driving their bike around. Not a very smart move, obviously, in this kind of weather.

Folks starting to come out and about. I mean, to be honest with you, they have been out for quite a bit throughout the day today. That's just the way the attitude is in Key West. They feel like they can survive the storm any way they can, and they are doing it in a festive manner.

Down across the southern part of the island, that's where the south winds kicked in, and that's where the storm surge was the greatest down here. The airport, some of the roads, at least, temporarily washed over. Well now as the storm heads off towards the west, and, yes, strengthens, likely to at least a Category 3, if not Category 4 storm. It looks like the Western Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Coast, is in the sights of what is now Hurricane Rita. Likely somewhere around Texas. Right now we're still getting a little bit here. And, Anderson, probably we'll get wind and quite a bit of rain for the next couple of hours. Back over to you.

COOPER: All right. Rob, stay as safe as you can. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.

The road that strings together the offshore bits and pieces of land that are the Florida Keys strings them together the way beads are strung together to form a necklace. It's called the Overseas Highway, odd name for a road, Overseas Highway. Makes no sense at all, until, well, until you drive on it. CNN's Rick Sanchez is doing that chasing Rita. Take a look.


SANCHEZ (voice over): Take a look at this. One road, one lane each way. Forty-two bridges connecting tiny islands and snaking 126 miles from mainland Florida out into the Florida straits. In other words, a fragile chain dangling in the middle of harm's way. It is the only way in, and the only way out. And you don't want to be on the wrong side, when a five-foot storm surge, like this one, suddenly hits. Keep in mind, this is the midpoint from Key West to the mainland, and there may be no way to turn back from where you came.

(on camera): What you're looking at behind me is the Atlantic Ocean. Now, what's interesting is the Atlantic Ocean is only separated from the Gulf of Mexico by this narrow strip of land. This is US 1. What we're seeing here now is the Atlantic Ocean's waters are, literally, overtaking this roadway, and as it does, it dumps the water on the other side in the Gulf of Mexico, where many boaters felt it would be safe to try and tie down their vessels. What we're find is that many of them are having to go back. Moments ago, we saw a couple of the boaters trying to retie these lines, because it looked like that boat that you see right there behind me was starting to spring loose.

(voice over): If the water levels rise too high here, one of this area's most historic landmarks could lose many of its most, well, most vocal residents.

(on camera): Here at theater of the sea, one of the most popular attractions in the Florida Keys, they are trying to make sure everything is hunkered down, including some of their smallest. This is Tucker. He's a new born sea lion from California.

(voice over): Workers here say they won't leave the Keys. They will ride out the storm with the animals, and do whatever is necessary to keep their birds, sea lions and dolphins from losing their habitat.

JANICE WILSON, ASST. CURATOR, THEATER OF THE SEA: And what we do is we come in here, and we just check them out and make sure they're all OK. Give them some food, because we might not be able to be here later in the day. And then when it's safe for us to come back, we'll come back again, and do the same thing and check them out and make sure they're, you know, OK after the storm.

SANCHEZ: There is probably no more ominous place to be during a storm than Florida's famous Seven Mile Bridge, completed in 1982 to replace the old bridge which ironically enough had been torn up by previous hurricanes. As you go over it, you can see the white caps as Rita's wind gusts create dangerous waves.

(on camera): Right now we're at the midpoint of the seven mile bridge. Think about it. We're three-and-a-half miles into a waterway, an expansive ocean essentially, on a bridge which when it was built was the longest concrete bridge in the entire world.

(voice-over): It's on the other side of that bridge due west that you come to Key West, an island where 50 percent of the population chose to stay, playing what officials call a dangerous guessing game, that Rita would not blow up into a more powerful storm. Rick Sanchez, CNN, the Florida Keys.


COOPER: Still to come tonight on 360 the story of the residents of Kenner, Louisiana. We brought it to you last night. The residents have every reason to be angry. Tonight, we'll tell you what's happened to then.

Plus a town you may not ever have heard of before but which you will never forget. We won't either.


COOPER: Stationed in the French Quarter, you're looking at a fire truck which was donated by the New Orleans Fire Department to New York after 9/11. The New York firefighters are now down here, Joe among them, and they have donated the fire truck back here to the city of New Orleans in their time of need.

Galveston, Texas, now -- it's a city that has seen the destruction in New Orleans. And tonight with Hurricane Rita approaching, it's taking steps to reduce the chances of a similar fate. Mandatory evacuations begin tomorrow. Tonight, the city is in a state of emergency.

Joining me on the phone from Galveston is Craig Eiland, a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Thanks very much for being with us, Craig. What are you doing to prepare? How can you get people out of there? Do you have buses? Do you have bus drivers?

CRAIG EILAND (D), TEXAS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Yes, we do. Tomorrow there will be 80 buses at a designated location, a community center, which will begin evacuating people that need transportation. They worked out with -- we have bus drivers. We have city buses, we have all types of buses.

The bus drivers can take their family with them first on the first run so that they don't have to worry about that. So we are prepared and getting people moving. At 6:00 a.m. the nursing homes are supposed to begin a mandatory evacuation and assisted living centers as well.

COOPER: Because as you know, I mean, the people -- the mayor here knew there were 100,000 people in the city who didn't have cars. They claimed they have the buses, but no bus drivers. Do now you how many people approximately will need aid evacuating in terms of people that don't have cars?

EILAND: We don't know exactly. Beginning last year we started trying to get a county registry together and we did have success with the registration of several hundred people, but obviously there's more than that. And now since New Orleans there have been people that have been signing up saying, hey, I am here. I will need assistance. And those people are going to be taken care of, as well. We also have ...

COOPER: Category 4 -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

EILAND: We also have a large hospital here, University of Texas Medical Branch which also has a prison hospital here. And they are beginning evacuations in the morning, as well. COOPER: Look we all know what happened in Galveston, you know, more than 100 years ago, Category 4, an awfully large storm. Do you think you are ready?

EILAND: Well, you can never really be ready for a storm like this if it comes and gives us a direct hit or it is just west of us and leaves us on the dirty side. However, we do have a sea wall that was erected after the 1900 storm. We raised the elevation of the entire island behind the sea wall. And so people -- if people board up and leave town, hopefully there will be something here when they come back. At least if the sea wall is there, that will at least mute part of the storm surge and the tide.

Now there is a significant portion of the island on the west end which has very expensive homes on it built up on stilts and those, although they are 18 feet up in the air, they are still going to be subject to some serious destruction depending on how high the tidal surge is because they have no protection. They are right on the beach and right on the bay.

COOPER: Representative Eiland, I -- this is the first time we've talk. Frankly I hope it's the last because I hope the storm does not come to Galveston. But I wish you all the best, and if it does come, we'll be there and we'll probably talk to you again. Thanks very much.

We're guessing that before the calamity called Katrina the many small towns, the Mississippi Delta, didn't like living in the shadow of New Orleans. Probably they liked being left in peace. But a lot of those places are ruined now, and the people in them feel not left in peace, but really left alone to fend for themselves, ignored, basically forgotten. CNN's Gary Tuchman reports from one such place tonight.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You've probably never heard of the tiny town of Lakeshore, Mississippi. But you are unlikely to forget about it now, because no place was hit harder by Hurricane Katrina. The homes in this coastal town have simply been blown away block after block of nothingness.

Piles of rubble, covering the memories of family lives. Anthony Lejay (ph) and his cousin Steven Bartett (ph) search through the muck of Steven's home for anything of value. Steven's father tells us something horrible about what happened on this one small street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man that used to live right over here in the trailer. He died. And the lady back over that way, she stayed. She died.

TUCHMAN: People from here are still missing. Prayers are being offered for them behind a steeple that was recovered from a decimated church. Steven Bartett Senior has diabetes and cannot walk well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my wheelchair I used to ride around -- I can't walk good. I can't walk -- really I'm not supposed to be walking at all. I talked to a scooter store and I haven't heard from them. I'll going to try to call them again when I get home.

TUCHMAN: Steven Bartett, his wife and son have lost everything except the clothes on their backs. Their car was destroyed. Their dog was killed in the house during the storm.

(on camera): What gives you the strength?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man upstairs.

TUCHMAN: I'm sorry for what you're going through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So many people went through the same thing.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Bartett family will not be coming back to Lakeshore. What happened here is too painful.


TUCHMAN: This is Lakeshore drive, one of the main streets in town. And this is very typical. We see couches, we see chairs, we see stoves, we see ovens. We don't see the houses anymore. And you drive for miles and that's what you see. This is the church we were just talking about. The steeple is all that remains, now a temporary pulpit behind me.

We want to tell you some good news though. Twenty miles to the east of here, here in the state of Mississippi in Gulfport we've been telling you the saga of the eight missing dolphins that were swept from an aquarium into the Gulf of Mexico. All eight were seen together in the Gulf. Four of them were rescued a few days ago.

The other four disappeared, but the latest word, they found the other four in the Gulf 15 miles to the east in Biloxi and all four have been rescued. The entire brood of eight dolphins will all be in a Navy tank tonight in Gulfport. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Well, that's certainly great news. Gary, thanks for that. Coming up next on 360. we're going to get the latest on Hurricane Rita gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico. The question is where is it going? We'll give you the latest. Be right back.


COOPER: We're pleased to be joined right now by some New York City firefighters who are here helping out the New Orleans Fire Department in their time of need. Guys, thanks for being with us. Let's get your names.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike Sullivan (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ray McCormack (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Helmki (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stuart Kirk (ph) from Chicago.

COOPER: And Joe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Taratini (ph).

COOPER: Joe -- I talked to Joe's wife. How are you guys doing down here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing great. The New Orleans firefighters are treating us great and ...

COOPER: The people here appreciate so much you being down here. You must see that on their faces all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we do. They are very happy to be here and we are happy to be here.

COOPER: How is it on your families being away? Joe, I just talked to your wife. She said it was tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a strong family at home. She is great. She is very supportive. She knows what they did for us, so we're returning it.

COOPER: You said you're sick of hearing about me because your wife talks about me all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least you talked to her, that was good. Hopefully that will stop it.

COOPER: What do you want people around the country know about the country that's happening here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just the city is really devastated. And what we're doing, we're just doing a little portion to help the people out here and whatever we can do that's what we are here to do.

COOPER: Well, you are being modest but you're doing a great job. We appreciate you talking to us and appreciate you being here. Thanks very much, and the people do here, as well. Want to find out what is coming up at the top of the hour on Paula Zahn -- Paula.

PAUL ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson. We are going to be taking a look ahead to what could be a potential disaster along the Texas coast. Hurricane Rita, as you have been reporting, appears headed for Galveston, Texas, maybe as early as Friday night, sometime Saturday and it may end up being a Category 4 storm by then, just as strong, possibly stronger, than Hurricane Katrina when it hit New Orleans.

We're going to look at what has happened in Galveston before, including the time I was there for a hurricane named Alicia. And Anderson, to give you an idea of the level of concern in Galveston, Texas tonight, we have heard the mayor and deputy mayor have already evacuated in advance of a mandatory evacuation that gets underway off the island at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. Please join us at the top of the hour for more. COOPER: Paula, thanks for that.

We also have some breaking news to report right now, here from the state of Louisiana. We have just been informed the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco has formally requested President Bush declare Louisiana a state of emergency, to formally declare a state of emergency in the state of Louisiana.

This, of course, a key move in getting federal attention in advance of this oncoming storm. President Bush, of course, on Friday before Hurricane Katrina had declared this area a state of emergency. And the governor had tried to get people to evacuate on the Saturday. Didn't have mandatory evacuations until Sunday.

Clearly trying to correct any mistake that they believe have occurred from Hurricane Katrina, we've just learned that in breaking news that the governor has formally asked the president to declare a state of emergency. We'll bring you any updates in the next couple of minutes

Coming up next, though, on 360 we're going to have the very latest on this hurricane. Where is it heading? How powerful is it? Tomorrow the winds may be as high as 155 miles per hour. We'll get you the latest coming up when we get back Stay with us.


COOPER: Before we go, I want to update you on the latest about Hurricane Rita. Let's check in with Chad Myers at the CNN Severe Weather Center -- Chad.

MYERS: Good afternoon, and good evening, Anderson. I'll tell you what, we finally got the 8:00 p.m. update now, a few minutes early. They raised the wind speed to 105 now. This thing is just exploding in intensity, the eye wall very symmetric to the south and southwest of Key West, about 65 miles there.

The storm is going to continue to intensify. The good news is nothing to hit out here for a while. Here is Key West still seeing wind gusts to 68 miles an hour in the past 20 minutes. Farther up the Keys into the upper Keys, Tavernier, Key Largo seeing the last of the outer bands for you for the night. Wind speeds there over 55 miles per hour and some reports of damage around the upper Keys, as well.

Not just where the eye hits, this storm has affected the entire lower, middle and upper Keys. Here you see the size of it. Some of the clouds all the way to Tampa. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Chad, thanks. Hope you join me again tonight from 10:00 o'clock to midnight Eastern time. Aaron Brown and I are hosting a special two hour edition of "NEWSNIGHT" state of emergency. CNN's prime-time coverage continues right now, however, with Paula Zahn. Hi, Paula.

ZAHN: Hi, Anderson. Thanks so much.


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