Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Baton Rouge Currently Getting Brunt of Gustav; Close Eye on New Orleans Levees; Republican VP Pick Sarah Palin's Teen Daughter is Pregnant
Aired September 1, 2008 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much.
And we're here at the Republican National Convention, but we're watching Hurricane Gustav, as are all the other people who have gathered here, from the top leadership of the Republican Party on down.
They're waiting anxiously for word to make sure that New Orleans will remain safe. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, he's going to be joining us shortly. We'll get an update from him. And he's still worried about those levees, those barriers. We're watching all of this very closely.
Within the coming minutes, we'll also watch this convention -- this abbreviated first day of the convention. They're about to bring down the gavel. We'll have that for you live.
John King is here with us. Gloria Borger is here with us. And we're going to have extensive coverage of all of these stories.
But I want to go to Gustav, first and foremost. We're watching what's going on.
Chris Lawrence is our man on the scene. He's in New Orleans right now.
Chris, tell our viewers where you're and what you're seeing.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm literally just a few feet from the wall -- flood wall of the Industrial Canal. Right over to that side is the Lower Ninth Ward that flooded so horribly during Katrina.
You can see here, this is a flood wall where water was coming through, although I am told by a surveyor just about 30 minutes ago that this is not quite as bad as it looks. He says these flood walls are not designed to be 100 percent watertight, that when you get big storms, they are designed to let some water through. But he also said this one is letting through a lot more water than normal and that seal right there above those sandbags needs to be sealed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The -- because it looks like the water is coming through. You say it looks worse than it actually is.
So what I hear you saying is they're deliberately letting some of that water come through or is this just the water that's coming through that they can't control it, they can't adjust it?
LAWRENCE: Right. These flood walls are designed not to be 100 percent watertight, that in any storm, they will let some water through. But what he's saying with this one is, it's letting more water through than normal -- than it should be -- and that that seal that runs right along the middle of it, above those sandbags, that seal needs to be sealed, at some point soon.
BLITZER: All right. Chris, stand by.
We're watching that flood wall. We're watching all the flood walls, all the barriers, all the levees, to make sure New Orleans remains safe. This is still a question mark even as we speak right now, although we're hoping and praying for the best.
But I want to go up to Baton Rouge right now. There are sustained winds of about 90 miles an hour in the Louisiana capital. And our Brian Todd is on the scene for us.
Brian, it looks terrific. Tell us what's going on.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if this hasn't hit 90 miles an hour here yet, it's about to -- very, very strong gusts, as you can see.
We're standing on the edge of a levee by the Mississippi River. Gustav -- a good part of Gustav's path is touching down on this city right now. I'm going to take you along the levee here. My cameraman, Mark Raven (ph), is going to go with me here.
You can see the trees here are just getting pounded by the storm. The full force of this is hitting right about now and this is about when the mayor said he expected it. We're getting pounded right now -- a lot of really biting rain also hitting us.
The mayor is very, very worried about flooding at this point. No major problems along the levees here and the Mississippi River and Baton Rouge. But the mayor is very, very concerned about flooding.
We just spoke to him a moment ago. He said if they get four to five inches of rain an hour, that's going to be a major problem for flooding in this area. We may be starting to get that right about now.
And another problem here in Baton Rouge, this was not a major evacuation center for the State of Louisiana. They did not order this city to be mandatorily evacuated.. So the mayor told me that he is worried now about having to get some people out that they did not count on evacuating.
So right now, Wolf, you can see the storm surge behind me. Mark is going to show you some of these trees. You might be able to see that bridge behind me -- the new Mississippi River bridge going right over the river. We were up there a short time ago and the winds were just as bad as this and we were almost knocked right off the bridge, it was so strong. Right now, I'm sure they're not letting people on there, Wolf, because, you know, right now we're getting pretty much the full force of this storm.
BLITZER: I don't know if you can hear me, Brian, but if you can, what I hear you saying is that the folks in Baton Rouge didn't leave. They stayed. They're in their homes and they're riding out this storm. Is that right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. Many, many people did stay and are riding out the storm. They did not order this city to be evacuated. Right now, they think people are OK. A lot of people are in shelters here. We were at a shelter earlier with about 500 people. They came from some of the surrounding areas in Baton Rouge.
Right now it's OK. If it gets worse -- if the wind and rain get a lot worse, you're going to see a lot of debris flying into the streets. We've already seen a lot of it here. But the flooding is the major worry.
Right now, they think they're OK. But in the coming hour, two hours, that's going to be critical -- four to five inches of rain an hour. If they start to get that, they are really going to be in a bad way and they're going to really have to mobilize people quickly to get people out of their homes.
Right now, close to 50,000 people -- customers in this city are without power and almost half the state is without power.
BLITZER: Brian, stand by. We're going to be getting back you to.
Let's get the overview right now. We'll go to the CNN Severe Weather Center. Jacqui Jeras is standing by.
All right, Jacqui, update our viewers what we know about this hurricane.
JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, this hurricane has been weakening a little bit, so the maximum sustained winds are down to 90 miles per hour. So we're at category one status. But it still remains an extremely powerful storm.
Here's Baton Rouge, where Brian Todd was. And as we put that into motion, you can see the eye is just to the south of there. And you're getting in the eye wall. So you're getting the worst conditions of Gustav right now pulling into that city. And you can expect to see gusts 90, maybe even a hundred miles per hour at times.
I understand there's extensive power outages in the city -- more than maybe 48,000 people without power at that time.
The threat of tornadoes remains real. We've had these outer bands moving into Mississippi and Alabama in the last couple of hours, bringing warning after warning after warning. And Mobile is under one of those tornado warnings as we speak.
Now, I want to take you into Morgan City, up toward New Iberia, because this is where the eye is pushing on in.
And we've got some real time data from hurricanetracker.com. And these are the estimated one minute average sustained winds. So those winds are steady in New Iberia right now at 51 miles per hour. And notice that they're coming from the north and east right now. Those winds are going to be switching to the south and southeast in the upcoming hours. So these people need to be hunkering down now for the worst of what Gustav has to offer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by, Jacqui, for a moment.
Let's go to Lafayette, Louisiana right now. John Zarrella is on the scene for us.
What's the status of the situation there -- John?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the conditions have continued to deteriorate here in Lafayette for the past couple of hours. And we are now continuing to get heavy, heavy rainfall in here -- heavier than it has been in the past. And the wind is beginning to gust above tropical storm force here. We've had the wind meter out.
And you can see, although we're protected a little bit here by all of these trees, look over here. This is a Vermillion River here, Wolf. And we can really see that across the river there, some nice homes, some of the big trees -- the oak trees over there. Concern, of course, is as this hurricane gets ever closer to us, the center of circulation expected to be here within about the next hour-and-a-half or so, that what we will then see is that sustained, driving wind coming at us. And we may see a lot of trees down, a lot of power lines down. But the concern for the Vermillion River, Wolf, is that as this storm moves inland, emergency managers are worried that if it stalls out, the heavy rains falling, that this river could flood. And in the Lafayette area, they say it could come up to about 14 to 16 feet in some areas.
See, this flood wall is substantial here -- probably about 16 feet down to the level of the river.
BLITZER: It looks like we just lost John Zarrella's shot.
He's in Lafayette, Louisiana.
We'll go back to John Zarrella. Actually, I think we've got that shot back -- John, can you hear me?
BLITZER: Can you -- are you still OK?
ZARRELLA: Yes. Yes, Wolf, we're fine.
BLITZER: All right.
BLITZER: How far are you from New Orleans, approximately, John?
ZARRELLA: I think we're probably about 60 miles -- 60 to 80 miles from New Orleans as the crow flies and about 40 to 50 miles due west, for the most part, of Baton Rouge.
BLITZER: And so -- and when we lost your shot, you were making an important point. Go back and reiterate what you were trying to tell us.
ZARRELLA: What we were saying is that right now, we're looking at this -- this flood wall, Wolf, that's up about 16 feet or so here along the Vermillion River. And that the concern is that as this storm moves inland, with all of this rain that it's dumping, if it stalls out on us, then the worry is that the water could come up 14, 16 feet. There's a road called Surrey Street not far from here where they're expecting it -- that it might overtop at Surrey Street. The river could come out of its banks there. Not today, maybe not even tomorrow but perhaps on Wednesday.
But now the water is being driven back right now, because the way the winds are circulating back down and out of the river. So it's staying very, very low right now.
But you can see how we are really getting this steady, heavy rain. Look up into the trees there. You can see that water and that wind just starting to whip through those trees. Not right now terribly bad, Wolf, but it is gusting. It is gusting increasingly heavy.
What we haven't seen and what we're still expecting, though, is that constant straight line wind with that heavy rain just pounding us. And we do expect, as Jacqui Jeras was saying, that within the next hour, hour-and-a-half, the eye -- or what's left of the eye, the center, the core of Hurricane Gustav -- is likely to be right on top of us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, John. Stand by. We'll check back with you.
We're also going to be checking and hearing from Mayor Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, for an update on that city and all the people who evacuate and what's going on.
Also, behind me they're about to bring down the gavel on this first day of the Republican National Convention -- an abbreviated schedule. The first lady, Laura Bush, will be speaking. Cindy McCain will be speaking.
We'll continue our coverage. We're watching both of these stories. They're interrelated and our coverage will continue right after this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome Angie McDermott, Miss Minnesota 2008, who will sing the national anthem. Angie?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
Please welcome Thurl Bailey, former NBA player for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz, who will offer tonight's invocation.
THURL BAILEY, FMR. NBA PLAYER: Our kind and dear, gracious Heavenly Father, as we are all gathered here on this day, at the start of this special and momentous occasion, we are entirely grateful for this opportunity to bow our heads before thee in prayer with humble hearts.
Father, our thoughts and our prayers are with the thousands of men, women and children along the Gulf Coast that are in harm's way of Hurricane Gustav. Father, please protect them and provide wisdom to our leaders.
Father, as we ponder for a moment the importance of where we are and why we're here, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to be able to share in the blessings of freedom.
We pray, Father, that we would never minimize its importance and take it for granted and that we always remember and honor those from our past who gave all of themselves for the realization of liberty. That we show gratitude for those in our present who hold the mantle of responsibility to protect all that we have inherited. And that we continue to diligently pray for those who will be chosen to lead us as we go forward.
Heavenly Father, we pray this day for safekeeping, again, for those along the Gulf Coast and for ourselves here, in this city, that when the time comes, we may all return safely to our homes.
Father, forgive us for our weaknesses and imperfections, as we all continue to strive to do those works that are pleasing unto you.
We offer this prayer in the sacred name of him who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, even Jesus Christ.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please remain standing while the colors are retired.
(RETIRING OF THE COLORS)
BLITZER: So that's it. This Republican National Convention is now official. It has opened, but it is by no means business as usual. This is the most extraordinary political convention because of Hurricane Gustav.
Hurricane Gustav has dramatically affected what's going on here in St. Paul, Minnesota. They've abbreviated the entire four day convention. Right now, on this first day, it was supposed to go into the night, with major speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both of whom canceled their visit here in order to be on top of Hurricane Gustav.
We will be hearing from Cindy McCain and from Laura Bush later. There will be about a two hour or so business session that will go on behind us -- a business session that will go through the credentials, make sure that all is legal in terms of nominating a Republican candidate presidential candidate -- a presidential candidate and a Republican vice presidential candidate. That will take place, business is that.
But they haven't decided yet what they're going to be doing tomorrow. They're going to go forward and make those decisions later.
As soon as we know what the schedule will be for tomorrow, we'll let you know.
But certainly much of this is being affected as a result of what the status is of Hurricane Gustav. They want to see what's happening there and, as a result, they will then make their decisions.
I want to go back to Chris Lawrence. He's on the scene right now.
Actually, Chris Lawrence is not yet ready.
Chad Myers is, though -- is there at the CNN Severe Weather Center -- Chad, help us better appreciate the current status of Gustav.
BLITZER: He's not hearing me right now, but we're going to fix that. We're going to go back to Chad in a moment.
Mike Duncan, the chairman of the Republican Party, he's speaking now, making some preliminary remarks -- mostly business, as I said, business as usual as they're going forward. But it's a very abbreviated session right now because of Hurricane Gustav.
Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore has been our consultant -- our analyst.
If you remember, he was brought in immediately after Katrina three years ago to take charge of the military operation, to help with the disaster that was Katrina.
First of all, General Honore, tell us how you think the situation is unfolding right now.
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): It's bad, but it could have been a lot worse. Point one, Gustav has affected the western part -- southwest of Mississippi.
Number two, as it attacked through Louisiana, it's basically affixed the economic and living conditions in New Orleans for several days to come. Now it's attacking Baton Rouge with 80, 90 mile an hour winds, which will take out the capital, the two universities that are there in Baton Rouge, as well as a group of large refineries that operates in Baton Rouge. So the absence of power could have a significant impact in the Baton Rouge area.
In the lower parishes, down where we were looking earlier this morning, Terrebonne Parish in Houma, Louisiana, where we have the oil imports that are brought in then shipped on to refineries for processing, a significant impact there.
So we've got New Orleans, Baton Rouge and the lifeline for the United States, our oil imports at the barges in -- and, as well as the area covered by the oil reserves.
The other economic engine for Southwest Louisiana is the sugar industry, for which Gustav is putting 60 to 70 mile an hour winds in right now.
So we will know in the next 24 to 36 hours. But right now this is not looking good economically for the entire state.
As you saw earlier, during Katrina, the damage was primarily concentrated in and around Orleans Parish, St. Tammany Parish, St. Bernard. This storm is attacking through the state, as what we would call in the Army the center of gravity of the state -- the largest populated areas, the heart of the industrial complex.
Right now, Baton Rouge is significantly reduced on power. And as the storm goes north, it's going through the most -- the richest agricultural areas in the state.
So the second and third order effect of this we're probably going to take a few days to assess. The good news is it looks like New Orleans, while it's still in danger, could pass the bullet on this one.
But the overall impact in the state from the loss of power, damage to crops and the impact on the floor oil to the refineries, could have significant impact on the nation.
BLITZER: General Honore, when you say that New Orleans may have dodged a bullet, remember, that was what we said three years ago in the immediate aftermath after Katrina hit New Orleans. And there were several hours where it looked pretty good.
But then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose, as those levees were breached and water began flooding the Lower Ninth Ward and elsewhere in New Orleans.
How much time right now do you think there is before we can definitively say that New Orleans is OK? HONORE: I would say it's going to take another 12 hours, from listening to the technicians and the weather folks, because there's still a lot of pressure along the Industrial Canal. I mean something could happen like one of those ships break away and hit that wall and then the game's over. The whole dynamics change.
But from what the Corps of Engineers is saying right now, their best estimate is that the walls are holding.
Now, what we don't know is unknown events and weather patterns that might change. But as for the time being, the walls are holding, the levees are holding. So, for the time being, this is not a Katrina. Katrina put a 17-foot wall of water into Lake Pontchartrain. That has not happened. The eye of the storm is closer to Baton Rouge.
They can still expect, according to the folks who have been studying this, a possibility for water rising from rain, as well as the last phase of some surge. But we did not see a big surge come in like we saw for Katrina.
So it's looking better now than it looked three or four hours ago. And in 12 hours, I think we'll be on the safe side of New Orleans not being affected by anymore surge that could cause overtopping of the levee system.
Right now we've got some splashing, but all is safe right now. That does not mean people should be headed back to the city. They need to listen to the governor, their parish presidents and to the mayor.
BLITZER: All right, General, stand by, because we have much more to talk about.
We're going to go to Baton Rouge, where Brian Todd is being whipped by those rains and that wind right now.
Chris Lawrence is joining us. He'll be joining us from New Orleans. He's at one of those levees right now.
And we're standing by to speak with the mayor, Ray Nagin.
THE SITUATION ROOM continues our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, there's breaking news. The Gulf Coast in the bull's eye of Hurricane Gustav -- the full extent of the damage still very much unclear. This hour, officials are hopeful they've avoided a repeat of Katrina, but they're warning we're not out of the woods yet. Some New Orleans levees are spilling over, but apparently holding up under torrential rains. We're keeping close watch on those crucial barriers and on the threat of catastrophic flooding. We're also tracking Gustav's path and power right now. It's capable of pounding just about anything in its way.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
If you're just joining us right now, we're here at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where an abbreviated session of the Republican National Convention began only a few moments ago. But this hour, everyone here at the convention, the entire nation, is focused on Hurricane Gustav and how the Gulf Coast is holding up three years almost to the day after Katrina.
Right now, Hurricane Gustav is a Category 1 storm, weaker than it was when it first barreled ashore in Louisiana few hours ago. But it's still packing dangerous winds and drenching rains. In New Orleans, a regional levee director says there's no evidence of major seepage from all those important floodwalls, but in some cases, water is spilling over the top and there are reports of flooding.
And another hurricane, get this, is on the move right now in the Atlantic. Hanna has strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane, and it's now on track to make landfall Friday, near the South Carolina/Georgia border.
Joining us now, as we follow all of this, are our reporters and our analysts, but let's go to Brian Todd first. He's joining us in Baton Rouge, which seems to be getting the brunt of Hurricane Gustav right now.
Brian, tell our viewers what's going on in the Louisiana capital.
TODD: Wolf, it really is getting the brunt of it here. We're getting extremely strong bursts of wind every couple of seconds here. These trees behind me are getting pounded, as you can see.
Our cameraman, Mark Raven, is going to kind of follow me here. I'm along a levee here, along the Mississippi River. We're also going to show you some of the tree damage down here.
A lot of these trees just got knocked over a short time ago. That's a big problem in the city right now. Trees are getting knocked over all over the place. There is debris flying around.
This city really is taking the brunt of the storm right now. They are thinking about ordering people to evacuate soon.
The mayor, we just talked to him a short time ago. They did not order mandatory evacuations for this city, they're thinking about doing it right now. And as you can see, there's a good reason for that.
The storm surge has not really raised the level of the Mississippi too much. Flooding where I am, it's not a huge problem, but obviously wind and rain is. And we're really getting pounded now. You know, this feels like about a million needles hitting your face when the rain hits.
We were up on that bridge a short time ago, Wolf, but I cannot imagine they're letting any vehicles on there now, because it's got to be just too dangerous. It's very dangerous for us to be up on this levee.
I'm going to kind of make my way over here to this pole and kind of anchor myself. OK. I think we're OK now, relatively speaking.
But there's a worry about flooding. They're worried about getting as much as four or five inches of rain an hour. If that happens, Wolf, there's going to be heavy flooding in this city. And the mayor here is going to have to get people out of their homes. He's not even quite sure how he's going to do it.
He's got teams ready to mobilize, but again, this city was not ordered to be evacuated. So right now, they're scrambling to find out contingency plans. Right now they think they're OK, but flooding could be a problem in the coming hours.
BLITZER: About how fast are those winds that you're facing right now, Brian? You've been in a hurricane-simulating machine. How fast are the winds buffeting you?
TODD: I think they're worse than that wind simulator that we went to. You know, the problem with this is, the winds come from different directions about every three seconds. We just got hit from that direction. Now we're getting hit from a really bad gust of wind from to my right. And if I wasn't holding onto this pole, I would probably be in the Mississippi River by now. So, but as far as how fast, I would guess, Wolf, probably between 80 and 90 miles an hour.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. Be careful.
TODD: We just got a little bit of a die-down here. So...
BLITZER: All right. Well, find some shelter because we're all worried about you. I don't want you to do anything that's going to endanger you. I'm really worried about flying debris and other artifacts that could hurt you, so just be careful over there.
And we'll check in with Brian and make sure he's OK.
Let's go to Chris Lawrence right now. He's in New Orleans. He's keeping watch on the city's strained levees.
Many of them were rebuilt, but Mayor Ray Nagin -- and we're standing by to speak to with him live -- he had made the point in recent days, those projects were by no means complete. They still have major problems with those levees and those barriers.
What's the status where you are, Chris?
LAWRENCE: Wolf, exactly. The Industrial Canal, there is nothing -- no structure, no barrier, nothing to prevent a storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain from pouring right through the Industrial Canal. There will be, but that's $700 million and three years to go. So these people here still have a lot to worry about.
We're standing right on the Industrial Canal. We've been looking at it all day from different points, different angles. We have seen overtopping, where the water is pouring over it in certain places. We've seen seepage where the water is coming through some of the plug gates. But as of yet, we have seen no breaches, no breaches of the levees.
Just to give you some perspective though of how high this water is going, look here and you can see the railroad sign right there. A little bit further, the stop sign. And the building just beyond it, that water all the way up to the top of the sign. That water almost completely submerging the top ceiling of that building. It just gives you an idea of the tremendous power of these storms and how quickly this water can rise.
There you're looking at a floodwall. That is what is keeping all that water back. And again, to give you an idea of why this is so important, on the other side of that floodwall, right down the road, right there, is the Lower Ninth Ward, that neighborhood that was just devastated during Katrina when the Industrial Canal basically emptied out into that neighborhood and basically destroyed it.
So those folks will be having this kind of feeling for the next few years, because it's going to take time to build that barrier. And the next hurricane, and the one after that, they're going to have to wonder, will the levees hold? -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And maybe I'm misreading these pictures, but it's certainly, as you've been pointing out, it looks horrible. It looks like those walls with the water seeping in, that those walls are not necessarily all that sturdy. Is it worse -- does it look worse than it actually is, Chris?
LAWRENCE: Yes. I talked to a surveyor here on the scene and he said these -- a lot of these walls, these floodwalls, are not designed to be 100 percent watertight. And what he means by that is when you get a big storm, he said there will be water, that they'll allow some water through. But some of the ones we saw earlier, he said, now, that's allowing a lot more water than what would be normal. He said they've got to go in and they've got to fix that seal.
One good note, just to say, we've been out here now for a few hours. And when we got here, I can tell you, without a doubt, the water level here has dropped at least about a foot since we've been out here maybe three, four hours ago. So as high as it is now, we were watching it lap these walls when we first got here. That's a good sign hopefully that perhaps, you know, it's not going to get any higher -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope. All right. I want to show our viewers, Chris, where you are, where Brian Todd is.
John King is here. He's got the Google map on our magic wall. Give us a little overview of what -- where we're seeing these situations unfold.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And Wolf, here's the red line here. This is the path of the storm. All these little diamonds you see off the coast, these are natural gas and oil drilling installations. So obviously the price of gas could be affected by all this, the price of energy, because of all these installations offshore.
We'll continue to track that.
Now, let's take the storm all the way in. As you see, the path of the storm is to the west and south of New Orleans. Let's go first to where we just saw Chris Lawrence. We're going to go into the city here and I'm going to pull this out.
And remember what General Honore said earlier, that in Katrina, the problem was the surge came off Lake Pontchartrain and down the Industrial Canal. This time the water is coming from the Mississippi River up and there's less of it.
Let's take a closer look right down here inside the Ninth Ward. And as I expand out the map, this is the Industrial Canal.
Remember, you just saw Chris Lawrence with the blue bridge over his shoulder. Here it is right here. This is the Florida Avenue Bridge. And you come in from the city this way and across the bridge, and right down in here is the Ninth Ward.
This is the area that was most devastated, Wolf, in Katrina three years ago. And if you see along the wall here, this is the bridge over -- Chris is right down here under the bridge, and it comes down. This is where you have those floodwalls and gates, and you also have the work of the levees has been done right down in here.
Now, again, last time it was a monster surge that came down the canal this way. This time, a much less surge coming up this way. So let us be hopeful. And we should also make the point, not that many people back in this still very devastated neighborhood.
Now, I'm going to shrink down New Orleans a little bit, and as I shrink it down, I just want to show you a couple other key points.
This is downtown New Orleans. Here's our CNN Gulf Coast bureau over here along the river. So we're obviously monitoring the rainfall.
You remember the Superdome right here, that was the shelter of last resort last time that was so controversial. And all these other canals that come in off the lake, we're watching all of that. So far, relatively so good, I think would be the best way to put that, from all our correspondents.
Now I want to bring you over here to the west and then up to the north, and here's the capital, Baton Rouge. Let me stop the map as we come here, and I'm going to stretch this out again and show you where we just saw Brian Todd.
He was along the river. And you come down here. And as you can see, this is not quite as populated as we pull it out as New Orleans is, obviously, but it is the state capital.
And you see as we pull the map out just a little bit more, you see heavy industry here, also some residential areas. The university is over here that General Honore was talking about, and all that. And it is right down here along the river -- Brian mentioned the bridge. I want to bring us up.
Brian mentioned the bridge coming across the city. And that wooded area where we saw Brian is right down in here. So he's watching the fall here, and that is -- as I shrink back down, this is Baton Rouge, remember, the state capital. As I shrink back down, you see how the river comes down. That is obviously a big source of concern, the surge coming up the river this time, not a downward spiral as we had in the Katrina case.
And come back out, come back out, just so you can see the path of the storm. So as we watch this come north, Brian is feeling the brunt of it here now, starting to head inland. We'll watch communities like Lafayette and Lake Charles, Wolf, as the storm continues inland, and we hope loses power as it does that. But we'll keep an eye on it, and obviously we'll keep an eye on all our correspondents as well.
BLITZER: All right, John. Stand by. We're going to be going back to that map often.
BLITZER: Donna Brazile is here, Bill Bennett is here, our contributors. Gloria Borger is here.
Donna, you're from this area. First of all, what do you think? What's your bottom-line assessment as you see these reports coming in? By no means out of the woods yet, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, clearly I'm focused on the floodwalls in New Orleans. The Lower Ninth Ward was impacted before. Now, that's a very sensitive area, one of two of the lowest points in New Orleans' metropolitan area.
Clearly, I'm worried also about the people of St. Bernard, Plaquemines Parishes, because, again, like the Lower Ninth Ward, they experienced extreme flooding before. My family now is in Baton Rouge. I haven't been able to talk to them in five hours. They lost power a few hours ago.
I know that they're doing well. They have candles, as we say, and water, and they're prepared to ride out the storm. I have another sibling in Lafayette, and she said that the winds have picked up there as well.
So people are just riding it out and they're worried. But right now, the floodwall is holding up.
BLITZER: When your family went to Baton Rouge or Lafayette, you assumed it was going to be safer there than in New Orleans. BRAZILE: Well, my father and two sisters went to Baton Rouge right after Katrina, when they resettled. My dad decided not to go back.
Wolf, he cannot really depart anymore. I mean, he doesn't want to run. He's fragile. And right now he's in higher elevation.
And the mayor of Baton Rouge has made provisions for all of the evacuees to be safe. And they just have to get through the tremendous wind and rain damage that's about to occur.
BLITZER: This hurricane, Bill, it's really having a dramatic effect on all Americans, but especially here in St. Paul right now, because they're waiting -- they're actually -- they're praying that the destruction, the devastation is minimal. So, among other things, they want to go on their business of nominating a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate.
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Well, there are lots of reasons to pray and hope and raise money. And I've been with a bunch of people this morning from the Colorado and Oklahoma delegation, the hotel where we're staying, who are raising money for this. And all their minds are on it and our hearts are in it, but they want to get to work, sure.
Luckily, it looks as if the situation is better. I don't want to belittle anything. And lord knows you've got the local girl here, you have all these experts. I've got nothing to add in terms of expertise.
I hope we can get to business. But we can't get to business until we feel that things are settled there so that it's not inappropriate.
BLITZER: And you heard General Russel Honore tell us it could take another 12 hours to make sure, because all of us remember, and I was on the air at the time, when we thought Katrina was fine and there were reports, you know, New Orleans, you know, dodged a bullet and everybody was taking a sigh of relief. But then hours later, all of a sudden, boom, it happened.
And we know the end result. Sixteen hundred people dead as a result of Katrina. And that whole Lower Ninth Ward, I was just there in February. You could walk through block after block after block where there had been homes and people, just empty, empty, just brown.
You know, you can't believe that this was once a community of families. It was heartbreaking to see it.
I guess if there's any silver lining, if it God forbid were to happen again, if the water went into the Lower Ninth Ward, there are very few people who live there. And everyone seems to have been evacuated successfully this time, as opposed to the last time.
BENNETT: And it does seem as if, you know, people have done their jobs this time at all levels -- federal, state, local. Readiness -- you know, Shakespeare says readiness is all of it. It looks like people were ready.
BLITZER: Gloria, they learned lessons from three years ago, the federal, state and local authorities, and they were with an abundant of caution doing the right things this time.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it is lessons learned. I think it's the ability to self-correct in this country.
I think Congress has spent an awful lot of time, $15 billion. Their work is not done. Only 20 percent of the construction is done in that area, but clearly they have learned how to evacuate, they've learned how to lead.
And I think what we're seeing on CNN over the last 24 hours is really a very, very controlled evacuation. No surprises here.
Nobody wanted to be surprised, Wolf. The only people who are sort of worrying about what to do are the folks behind us at the convention, because this is really an hour-by-hour thing here.
BLITZER: And they want to do the right thing. They want to make sure that folks here aren't partying and hoopla and having a great time at a time when there's an American city and entire Gulf Coast still in danger.
BORGER: Absolutely. The irony is that we always say the conventions are the most scripted thing in American politics.
BENNETT: Yes, right.
BORGER: Now we have a convention that is not scripted, that we really are taking it hour by hour.
BENNETT: How about elections? Does this one seem scripted to you, dear?
BORGER: No, no, no. But conventions are very predictable.
BENNETT: No, no, I agree.
BORGER: Party celebrations. And this one just isn't going to be.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by for a moment. We're going to take a quick break.
We're standing by to speak live with the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. He's going to be joining us and give us an update on his beautiful city. We're anxious to speak with him. We're anxious to hear exactly what's going on.
During the commercial break, we'll keep up on the screen for you all the latest information we're getting on Hurricane Gustav.
Stay with us. Much more of our coverage coming up right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here at the Republican National Convention, but all eyes on the Gulf Coast right now.
Hurricane Gustav, a devastating hurricane, it's moving inland somewhat right now. Baton Rouge right in the bull's eye even as we speak. New Orleans, they're anxiously waiting to make sure those levees, those barriers are holding up.
We won't know for several hours whether or not New Orleans has dodged a bullet this time. We're all over this story.
Mary Matalin is joining us. She's a top Republican strategist.
Let's talk a little bit about your decision and James Carville, your husband. Recently you decided to leave Washington, D.C.. You were living in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, and James is from New Orleans. You picked up, you took your two daughters, you moved back to New Orleans.
First of all, tell our viewers why you made that decision.
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I loved Louisiana and New Orleans before I knew and loved James Carville. It's just an amazing city.
BLITZER: Even though you're from Chicago?
MATALIN: I'm from Chicago. But the music, the art, the food, the ethnic diversity, the beautiful green spaces, I love New Orleans. And this is such a -- we're all feeling somewhat relieved, but as you said, there's another pass through.
And James is really from Baton Rouge. And as you were saying and as Donna was saying, they're being hit really hard. His nephew's house has a tree in the bedroom right now.
BLITZER: Really? But is the family OK though?
BLITZER: Is he in communications? Because Donna's having trouble getting in touch with her family.
MATALIN: Well, let's call James and find out how he's getting through, because he is somehow.
BLITZER: And so you moved up. You got a house in New Orleans. You're living there. But then a few days ago you decided, you know what, you better get out of Dodge.
MATALIN: Yes. You know, it was orderly, as everyone's been saying. And Governor Jindal has just been a spectacular leader, as has everybody in the city as well. And they know what's fooling around with it anymore. And when you've got to move kids and dogs and birds and all the rest of it...
BLITZER: Is that what you did too?
MATALIN: My next door neighbor, Parker (ph), is taking the birds. But I got all the animals and kids out. And James is battening down the hatches.
BLITZER: But all the personal, the pictures, the -- all the personal mementos you got out of there? You think the new house where you're living is safe? Can it sustain a Hurricane 2 force?
MATALIN: Honestly, what -- maybe I need to go through this a couple more times. I hope not. But we brought the kids' homework books. And they brought their mementos. And they're my mementos, so I didn't bring anything.
BLITZER: It's having an impact on this convention. I know you're one of the top strategists in the Republican Party. It's a difficult balance.
How do you go forward with the convention at a time when the Gulf Coast is in danger?
MATALIN: Well, we're lucky to have Maria Cino as a CEO.
BLITZER: I spoke with her yesterday.
MATALIN: And if there's anybody in the country, in the party that can turn this on a dime, and turn it to Senator McCain, one, which is to be service-oriented and move all the schedules around, it was her. So that's what they're doing.
And I've met with a number of delegates, and they're anxious to help. "What can we do?" everywhere. Alabama's already taken in 9,000 evacuees. And Texas and Georgia and all the surrounding states are flying right in to help.
BLITZER: Mary, I want you to stand by for a second if you don't mind. Candy Crowley's up on the podium right now.
There's been a -- I guess we could call it an unusual or a dramatic development in this race for the White House involving the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, and her family.
Candy, update our viewers on what we learned today.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What we learned today is that Sarah Palin, who, of course, is John McCain's choice to be the number two on this ticket, the governor of Alaska, today revealed that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, plans to keep the baby. In fact, will marry the father of this child.
Obviously this is news, according to the McCain campaign, that John McCain knew about before he selected Palin to be on his ticket. Nonetheless, it was certainly a surprise to people here kind of walking through the hall. You could hear bits and pieces of conversation.
What sort of political impact this has, who knows? And we'll tell you that Barack Obama has said, look, first of all, I'm the child of a teenage mother. Second of all, children are off limits. He told reporters to back off this story.
So absolutely nothing out of the Democrats as far as this is concerned. The McCain camp has said this is a totally private matter.
They put it out because there were some Internet rumors about other things about Sarah Palin's current child, that perhaps it wasn't really hers and it was her daughter's. So they put out this news that in fact her daughter is pregnant, five months pregnant, and will indeed be marrying the father. So unusual news in what has turned out to be so far in its first hour a very unusual convention -- Wolf.
BLITZER: An extraordinary convention unlike any convention I've ever covered. I've covered many of them.
Dana Bash is also working this story for us.
You know, nothing has been -- this is supposed to be a scripted convention. You've been around politics for a long time. Far from scripted. But I wonder what you think about this development about Governor Palin's daughter.
MATALIN: Well, the first thing I'll say is, kudos to Barack Obama to not make it political. The second thing I'll say is this is the most vial blog brouhaha I've ever seen in the existence of blog land. And thirdly...
BLITZER: You mean the initial charge?
MATALIN: Oh, lord.
BLITZER: The initial charge that the baby that was born in April really wasn't hers, but was the grandson.
MATALIN: You know, or she shouldn't have gotten pregnant when she was 44, which is the age I got pregnant with my precious little Emma. It just -- and Barack Obama is right to say what he said, and the family is right obviously to support their daughter in this and love her.
And that's what it is. This is what families go through. So I don't think it will have any political impact whatsoever. It hasn't with any of the delegates that I've spoken with.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to be speaking to James later. We're hoping his family's OK, everybody's OK in the Gulf Coast.
Mary Matalin, thanks very much for coming in. MATALIN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: When are you going to go back to New Orleans?
MATALIN: Well, he's finding out now. I think we might be able to get in Wednesday. Maybe I'll send him ahead to clean out the refrigerator. What do you think of that?
BLITZER: Good idea. Donna, do you have a question for Mary before she goes?
BRAZILE: No. You know, Wolf, Mary and I had the honor of serving on the Louisiana Recovery Authority for the last two and a half years. It's been a labor of love for us both.
We allocate -- had the federal government allocate over $6 billion to rebuild the homes. And I know Governor Jindal and Mayor Nagin would probably like us to go back and lobby Congress to ensure that we have the resources to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
MATALIN: I love working with Donna. You go, girl.
BRAZILE: I love working with Mary.
BLITZER: All right, Guys. Stand by. This love-fest is going to end I'm sure at some point. Stand by.
We're standing by to speak with Mayor Ray Nagin. He's going to be joining us and he's going to tell us the latest on New Orleans, what's going on right now.
Much more of our coverage coming up. We're here in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the Republican convention, the most extraordinary convention I've ever covered, largely because of this natural disaster.
We'll continue our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: It's happening right now. New Orleans levees are being tested, but are not buckling under the pressure. So far, no indication that Gustav's intensity has breached those levees, although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says water is sloshing over the top of some of them.
Gustav also unleashed its wrath on parts of Mississippi. We saw 11-foot storm surges in some parts and left more than 47,000 people without power in six counties.
And the hurricane forces the Republicans to abandon their initial convention plans here in Saint Paul, Minnesota. They have just called it to order just a little while ago. The orders of business will be abbreviated, out of concern for the storm. They're deciding what to do about the balance of this convention right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Fear and flight, damage and devastation, Hurricane Gustav is causing all that, and much more, across the Gulf Coast.
Here are some of the latest developments.
It's now a Category 1 storm, downgraded from a Category 2. Officials say thousands of residents are without power. Meanwhile, we're also keeping our eye on another storm, Hurricane Hanna. It's out in the Atlantic. It's a Category 1 storm right now. It's swirling in the Bahamas. It could swipe Georgia or South Carolina later this week, maybe as early as Friday. We're watching Hanna right now.
John Zarrella is joining us from Lafayette, Louisiana, which is about 70 or 80 miles outside of New Orleans.
It looks pretty miserable, John, where you are right now.
ZARRELLA: Yes. We -- we just got hit pretty hard with a gust of wind, right around well tropical -- well, at -- at or above tropical- storm-force.
Again, we're at ground level. So, we're somewhat protected here -- not as intense as at the higher elevations. But you can see, the clouds are really moving fast. In fact, the sky gets light, and then dark, and alternating back, light and dark, as those clouds circulate around the storm.
We're going to focus here on the river. This is the Vermilion River. And, across, on the other side, we have been watching that, Wolf, all day. And that water has now come up very quickly, about two, three feet,at least. You can see it pouring off there on the other side, as it's draining down from the hillsides, where those houses are.
And here -- look below me here.
We're going to take a look down, Dom (ph).
This is this -- to this wall that we have here, this barrier, and all of this was dry, Wolf, within the last two hours. Now the water is coming up. It's up against this barrier that we have here, protecting us and keeping the river within its banks. And the big concern here is, with all of this rain, and as (AUDIO GAP) And it could just stall out...
BLITZER: I think we just lost John.
John, are you there? Can you still hear me?
ZARRELLA: Yes, I hear you, Wolf. I hear you.
BLITZER: All right, go ahead. (CROSSTALK)
ZARRELLA: I hear you. We -- I was going to say the concern is, that, as this water rises, there could be a lot of serious inland flooding, not just here, but in other areas from other rivers that are coming up.
And, you know, Wolf, we can almost -- you can almost see it when you get those gusts of wind coming at you, where you get those strong bands come through, because it's carrying with it sheets of rain. And the wind and sheets of rain, it -- it -- it looked -- you can see it as it's coming at you. You know you're about to get hit with it.
And here again, now, a little bit of a lull, but the big concern here now, we lost power here. First-responders have been told to be off the streets, although we have heard some sirens in the distance periodically -- not many, but a couple. So, they are apparently still responding to some emergency calls. Clearly we don't know what those are, but, again, one of the big concerns, Wolf, this -- this rising water, and we are seeing it come up, several feet, just within the last couple of hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, be careful over there, John.
ZARRELLA: ... one of those strong gusts now, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to be really careful. As I have been telling all of our reporters, I want you to stay out of harm's way. I'm really worried about flying debris causing some serious injuries. So, just be careful over there.
John Zarrella has covered lots of hurricanes. He understands what's going on. He's not going to do anything overly dangerous. This is a man who has covered hurricanes for years and years and years.
Chris Lawrence is in New Orleans for us right now. He's watching the city's strained levees.
It looks like water is coming over the top, coming under the bottom. But you're -- you have been telling us, Chris, that the experts insist it looks worse than it actually is. Is that right?
LAWRENCE: Yes, Wolf, two changes since the last time I talked to you. One, the rain has started to pick up again. We haven't seen that in a few hours.
And, two, I can say, without a doubt, the water level here is dropping. When we got here, about three or four hours ago, it was at least a foot, maybe two feet higher. It was coming over some of these walls. It is not anymore.
But just to give you some sort of perspective about how quickly this water can rise, you can look out here. You see the Industrial Canal, a major waterway. And then you look and see the railroad sign and that stop sign, where the water is coming almost up to the top, beyond that, the buildings and the car, the little truck -- the white truck parked right in front of that building, with the water rising almost halfway up to the ceiling at one point.
Then, we swing over to the right, and, there, you have got your floodgate, your flood wall. That is what is keeping the power of all that water back. And to tell you why that is so important, if we just went a little bit down the road that way, no more than a few hundred yards, you have the Lower Ninth Ward, the area that was devastated during Hurricane Katrina, when this area, the Industrial Canal basically emptied out into that neighborhood and wiped it out.
Now, eventually, there will be a structure, a barrier, that will prevent storm surge from pouring out of Lake Pontchartrain into this area. But that barrier is still $700 million and three years away. So, the folks here are going to have to put up with not one or two, but with several more hurricanes over the next few years, as they wait and try to hope that these levees will hold -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris, are the pumps working? They're supposed to pump the water out. Are they working? Because I know we have -- they have lost power throughout the entire city.
LAWRENCE: That -- the -- well, I know the pumps were on a different system. They were on their own self-sustaining generator. I'm not at the station where some of those pumps were, like the Seventh Street -- 17th Street Canal.
We were there the other day. And we got a walk-through. And we were assured by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that those were on a separate power source and wouldn't be affected by, say, necessarily a -- a blackout.
I can tell you, with some of the -- what we have seen here along the Industrial Canal, we have seen some over -- overlapping. We have seen the water coming over the walls at certain points, dumping water on the other side.
We have also seen seepage. We have seen the water shoot through some of these flood walls. But I was told by a surveyor that some of the ones that I was showing you earlier not quite as bad as they look, that these walls are not designed to be 100 percent watertight.
And, when you get a big -- big storm like this, they're naturally will be some water that it lets through. But some of these walls that we saw, especially the one right here, it was letting in more water than normal. And they will have to go through and make that seal -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Chris, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you, because we want to make sure those levees hold. And you're our man on the scene.
We're also standing by to hear directly from Mayor Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans. He's going to be checking in with us. We will get the latest assessment of what's happening in this city.
Also, we're here at the convention. Cindy McCain will be speaking before these delegates, as will Mrs. Laura Bush. We will have complete coverage.
We're following all of these stories -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're watching Hurricane Gustav.
And Jeanne Meserve is watching it very closely. She's joining us on the phone now. She's in Baton Rouge, which is being hit really hard right now, the Louisiana capital.
All right, Jeanne, tell us what we know about power throughout the state, throughout the Gulf Coast.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have Just been talking to some of the top officials here at joint field office.
They say, at this point, no reports of deaths from this storm, no reports of serious injuries. The Coast Guard tells us there have been no requests for rescues -- all of that being seen as a very good sign.
However, officials here caution that they don't have teams on the ground yet in some of the areas they think may have been hardest hit.
Here are some of the reports they're getting, unconfirmed reports from Morgan City that a power plant there has been partially destroyed, also that a power plant in Houma has been shut down and may have some damage, also, reports of widespread power outages, as you know.
As for New Orleans, they're seeing only minor local flooding in the Ninth Ward, and they are reporting no problem with the levees. Yes, there has been some waves washing over the top, but they -- everything is intact at this point in time -- no reports of breaches around the state.
They're still waiting to get assessments back from Coast Guard helicopters that are up in the air, but, once again, the Coast Guard says no requests for rescues. They take that as a very positive sign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, but let's not lose sight of the fact that this hurricane is by no means over. It's moving inland right now. It's still a Category 1.
All right, we're going to check back with Jeanne. And she is going to continue to update us on what we know.
Don Lemon is on the scenes in -- on the scene in New Orleans in the Jefferson Parish right now.
How does it look there, Don?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, we just came back from a tour with the National Guard, where they were warning people, even though that they think that the biggest threat is behind them, what they need to do is stay in their homes and stay off the streets, because there's still debris, lots of debris in the area that -- that -- that's falling down here.
This is some of it. If you take a look at this, we're standing here. Just next to me, a 75-pound foot -- a 75-pound light fixture fell to the ground as we were interviewing some National Guard members here. And this is the stuff that's flying around in the area that really becomes shrapnel and can really kill you if it hits you, with these winds at such high speeds.
But you know what? The winds are still going here, and we're still getting more rain. As a matter of fact, a big system just came through. It was dry for a while, and now the rain is coming through. And you can see that black sky in the distance there. We have been touring Jefferson County, East Jefferson County, the area here.
And, believe it or not, Wolf, many people were still inside of their homes when we went around with the National Guard, even though the power lines were on top of some of their homes, trees had fallen in their yards. A lot of people say they didn't want to go anywhere. They just boarded up their homes, and they were going to stay here to protect their stuff.
Some of them had electricity. Others didn't. We are told here, Entergy, the energy company here, has about 430,000 people without power. And then also, Demco, another energy company here, has 95,000 people without power -- I should say, 95,000 homes and businesses, many more people than that.
So, the worst, they think, is over. But, still, there's still some bad weather coming through, still some rain, still some winds. And they're warning people to be careful -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And there's no doubt that people, I -- I suspect -- correct me if I'm wrong, Don -- and you're on the scene -- there are very few people around there. Virtually, the entire city of New Orleans was evacuated. Maybe along the -- the -- the Gulf Coast, a million people fled their homes.
So, there are very few people left in New Orleans. Some estimate, only 10,000 stayed behind. But the few folks that did stay behind -- and you're talking to them -- are they breathing a sigh of -- of relief, or are they saying, you know what, I want to wait another six or 12 hours just to make sure those levees and those -- and those barriers hold up?
LEMON: Yes, they are breathing a sigh of relief. But, again, they -- they think -- as you can see, there it is. This is proof, exactly what we're seeing here and what the weather people have been saying. You're still going to get some bands coming through with rain and wind as well.
So, while they may be breathing a sigh of relief, they still may have -- they may be in danger of -- of -- of some bad weather to come, and even some flooding.
We're watching very closely the 17th Street Canal and also the Industrial Canal to see if -- make sure that they are not breached, where you know the water has been overtopping there. And, so, they have -- they have been concerned about that.
But, also, you mentioned all those people who got out of New Orleans. We saw it on Saturday, as they started evacuating people here by rail, by bus, and even by airplane. And they think they got a lot of people out, most of the people out of downtown New Orleans. And they put that curfew in place yesterday.
But, then, today, as we were driving around Jefferson County here, we're surprised to see, as many people in the National Guard as well, Wolf, to see as many people who were still in their homes. And, again, a sigh of relief, but, still, there's more bad weather to come.
BLITZER: Yes. So, we're not going to say anybody's dodged a bullet, at least not yet.
Don, stay -- stay safe over there. Watch out for that flying debris. We will check back with you.
John King is here with us, here at the -- at Republican National Convention.
A lot of these delegates -- and you have been doing some reporting on this -- they're going out there and they're raising money. We had heard that they were estimating that there could be billions of dollars of reconstruction, of recovery funds that will be needed to deal with New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf Coast. And -- and these people who have come to Saint Paul, they're not wasting any time.
KING: We have already seen word from just one phone bank center they set up at a hotel here that they have raised -- they're approaching $1.2 million. And that was a little while ago I get an e- mail on that. They may have surpassed that. And that's at the one central location where delegates are told they can go and work phone- banking and give money there.
We know many of the delegations are doing things on their own. And the McCain campaign also just put out a press release saying that they're going to pack -- the delegates are going to help pack up 80,000 care packages, materials that people will need when they're going to back into their homes. Some of that is supplies to clean up. Some of that could be first aid. There's food as well.
So, they're packing up that. And they're -- as they go along, they're finding new ways they can help. I know the convention planners and the McCain campaign have been in touch primarily with the Red Cross, but some other relief agencies, as well, saying, what is it that you need? What can we do to help?
And, obviously, you can't answer a lot of those questions until you see what you're getting from our correspondents on the scene now. Was it as bad as they thought? Is it a power issue? Is it a water issue? Is it roads blocked, so that you need different kind of supplies in different situations?
And the people here say, as they hear from the aid agencies and the government officials down there -- , remember, several of the governors were supposed to be here, and they're, of course, staying home to deal with it -- and they're responding and doing what they can to help.
It's an interesting twist to this convention. And they say they're going to make it about service, and, when they can, get back to the official business.
BLITZER: Normally, these conventions are so scripted, down to -- choreographed to the second. This has been a wild one, because of Hurricane Gustav.
KING: Very different.
BLITZER: And you know what? There's another hurricane that's out in the Atlantic right now, Hurricane Hanna. It's a Category 1. It's moving towards the South Carolina/Georgia coast right now. We expect landfall maybe as early as Friday.
And get this. Part of this wild season, there's a Tropical Storm Ike, Ike. It's brewing right now as well. We are going to have a complete rundown of what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM immediately after this.
BLITZER: We're getting constant updates from the National Hurricane Center. We're here in Saint Paul. We're monitoring the Republican Convention, dramatically affected by Hurricane Gustav.
But let's go to Jacqui Jeras at the CNN Weather Center with the latest on Gustav. What do we know, Jacqui?
JERAS: Well, we know that Gustav is back over land here. It's heading just to the west of the Baton Rouge area now.
Chad, did we get the 5:00 on Gustav? Do you know? It hasn't come in yet. So, we don't have the latest status in terms of the intensity. But the last advisory had it up to 90 miles per hour for maximum sustained winds.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's in. Eighty.
JERAS: Eighty? All right, it's gone down to 80 miles per hour now.
So, it's good to see that it's continuing that weakening trend. But, still, looking at that eyewall up towards near the New Iberia area and on over towards to Lafayette as well, so they are going to be seeing those brutal conditions.
We have got two other storms that we are going to have to be dealing with. Say hello to Ike, as of the 5:00 advisory. This one came in first, so we got it a little bit early. And Ike is now a tropical storm. It's packing winds around 50 miles per hour. It's in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. So, it's not out there bothering anybody just yet. But it is on that westerly track. And we will watch this.
You can see it head towards the Leeward Islands and on over toward the Dominican Republic. It is forecast to become a hurricane in the next couple of days. Now, on top of Ike, we have got Hanna. We haven't talked too much about Hanna yet, but this one has strengthened, too, and it has become a Category 1 hurricane, winds there 75 miles per hour.
And it's just been lingering here across of the southeastern Bahamas and will continue to slowly move in the next 24 to 36 hours, before it picks up forward speed.
Earliest potential for a U.S. landfall could be on Thursday. But we think, more likely, it will be heading up towards Georgia and the Carolinas by the end of the week. This is that busy time of the year, Wolf, where we get a lot of activity. We have three other areas that we're monitoring for potential development. And that is in addition to Ike, Hanna and Gustav.
BLITZER: Yes, I think a lot of these Republicans here, they like Ike. They remember Eisenhower.
BLITZER: They used to wear those "I like Ike" buttons.
BLITZER: They don't like this Ike, though.
BLITZER: And we don't like it either.
Hanna, we will watch. Gustav, we're still watching. What a wild season this is turning out to be.
All right, stand by. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, we're hoping to hear from him momentarily. As soon as we do, we will get an update on what's happening in New Orleans. Also, Dana Bash is standing by. She's working another dramatic story -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Stay with us. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We will get back to Hurricane Gustav in a moment, but there is some other breaking news we're following on John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.
BLITZER: (AUDIO GAP) Alaska delegation. We were pretty surprised when we heard this story earlier, just a little while ago.
Dana, tell our viewers what we know.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know -- and I can tell you, just standing in the Alaska delegation, Wolf, this is probably one of the few places definitely on the -- on the floor of the convention, but maybe even around the country, where the little-known Sarah Palin is actually known pretty well.
But, even here, they learned something about her family that even they didn't know.
BASH (voice-over): Behind Sarah Palin at her V.P. announcement last week, her family, 17-year-old daughter Bristol held her 4-month- old brother. Unknown then, Bristol was hiding a secret. She is five months pregnant, and intends to keep the baby and marry the father.
John McCain's campaign dropped that bombshell as Hurricane Gustav dominated the news. In a statement to reporters, Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, said: "We are proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support."
Top McCain aides insist to CNN that McCain found out early in Palin's vetting process that her teenage daughter was expecting a baby and say Palin herself told McCain in a conversation last week.
STEVE SCHMIDT, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Senator McCain knew that it probably eventually, you know, would become public, as did Governor -- Governor -- Governor Palin. You know, obviously, people -- people would know, because she's going to have a baby, that she was -- that she was pregnant.
BASH: McCain advisers say they decided to make Bristol's pregnancy known now to dispel rampant and inaccurate Internet rumors on liberal blogs, like the Daily Kos, that Sarah Palin's 4-month-old baby, who has Down syndrome, is really Bristol's child.
McCain aides insist they got so many calls, they decided to get the truth out about Bristol's pregnancy.
SCHMIDT: What we want to see happen is the privacy of Governor Palin's daughter respected.
BASH: Barack Obama said he agreed.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have said before, and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off- limits, and people's children are especially off-limits.
BASH: Now, one of the reason -- one main reasons, politically, why John McCain decided to pick Sarah Palin is that she has strong support among social conservatives.
And, in getting this news out to reporters today, McCain aides made a point of reminding us that she is -- she -- that her -- that her daughter is, in fact, keeping her baby.
And when you talk to conservatives, they say that is one of the big reasons that they're actually deciding to rally around her, given the news that we heard today. That's -- conservative leaders, conservative delegates we have talked to on the floor pretty much say the same thing, Wolf. It is primarily because of that decision that they support her and that they -- that they understand that this is something that is tough for her.
Many people here said a couple of words to me. They said, it is a family matter. They said, it is private. They said, at least it shows that her family is -- is giving her child -- that she is giving her child a lot of love -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much.
Our own Kyra Phillips is in Alaska right now. She is going to be joining us shortly in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will get a sense of what's going on in Alaska. She's looking into all of this.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.