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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
L.A. Area Train Wreck; Hurricane Ike Very Strong Category 2 Hurricane; Houston Braces for Ike
Aired September 13, 2008 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Back to you in just a couple of moments. This is a monster storm we're talking about, nearing landfall right now in Texas. Hurricane Ike expected to be the strongest storm to hit that state in a generation. Ike nearly as big, if you can imagine this, as Texas itself. Our correspondents are on the coastline. Our meteorologist are at the weather center.
And hello, everyone, I'm Tony Harris. I'm with you al morning long as we track this huge and very dangerous hurricane.
So, let's start by bringing you up to speed on the very latest. Here is happening right now with this storm. Landfall, probably, near hour. Winds now around 110 miles an hour with gusts even higher. Some coastal communities and on edge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water has inundated the west end of the island. So, we know there's a lot of damage down there. Homes lost, docks down, boats afloat, and on our harbor we have the same problem with the docks. It appears it's all underwater. Until the water recedes, we will not know exactly the extent of the damage. But we believe there is serious damage to the entire island.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: An absolutely colossal storm we're talking about here. Some 900 miles across in its path downtown Houston, Johnson Space Center and the nation's largest cluster of oil refineries.
Our crews are in placed to bring you up to the minute information. Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman. He's in Galveston, in the eyewall. Jeanne Meserve is in Houston. Ali Velshi is in Baytown. And Rick Sanchez is in La Porte here in Atlanta. Meteorologist Chad Myers is in the weather center. Let's get started with Ali Velshi in Baytown.
And Ali, that is a really big refinery town as we know. We will talk about the shutdown of that town and its impact on oil supplies, gas supplies in a moment. But please, take a moment and talk to us about the conditions that you are experiencing right now.
ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I don't know what you really said to me, Tony, because it just started blowing really, really heavily here in Baytown. Interestingly, we have lost power four times now and four times the power has come back. Although, every time it comes back something seems to have change. We're seeing tiles all over the place. We saw some pipes attached to that building next to us come down. Baytown Refinery is the biggest oil refinery on the continent. It refines about 600,000 barrels of oil into gasoline everyday. It's just a little distance from here. It shutdown.
There are 26 refineries, Tony, in Texas. That's a quarter of the United States' refining capacity. Now, at the moment, there's no oil coming in from the Gulf of Mexico because that's all been evacuated. But this refineries, when there is oil, take that oil and make it into -- that makes them to gasoline. If there is damage to these refineries and they don't get up online quickly enough, you're going to see the results across the country.
We're already seeing in Atlanta where you are. We've had gas prices reported at $4.95 a gallon in parts of Florida, where by the way, there's no reason for these prices to be that way because there's no shortage of supply there. We have reports of $5.49. Now, the governor of Florida, the governor of Atlanta, the governors of Alabama and other places have said they're really going to keep an eye out for gauging. Because Alabama and Georgia in particular have anti gauging laws. But you are going to see the effect of this if these refineries are damage.
They cannot operate if they have no power. They cannot operate if they're flooded. And at this point, power seems to be on here in Baytown. But we are right at the entrance of the Houston Shipping Channel where it comes out into Galveston Bay. And that's where we foresee some problems with flooding.
HARRIS: And Ali, I can tell you, I can testify first hand what's happening with gas prices. I don't know if you can hear me, but what's happening with gas prices in the Atlanta area is absolutely ridiculous right now. Some spot shortages and prices really literally going through the roof.
We show pictures of a gas station in Sumter County, South Carolina earlier yesterday with gas at $5.23 a gallon for unleaded regular. And I'm telling you, it looks like there is a bit of a run going on now on gasoline and prices going through the roof.
VELSHI: Right. Let me tell you how this works. We have oil pipelines that ship crude oils to different parts of the country where they are refine in different places from here.
For instance, there's a million barrels a day that goes from here to Chicago. We also have pipelines that ship gasoline, diesel and heating oil through those pipelines that moves very slowly. They moved at about 8 miles per hour.
Now in Katrina, those were damaged. So, there were really legitimate shortages that moved all the way from Texas to Louisiana, through Georgia, through the Carolinas and up to the East Coast. That's not the case right now. So when you're seeing prices in the Carolinas and in Georgia at those levels, there doesn't seem to be a legitimate reason for that. There might be tomorrow, but today there doesn't seem to be. So that's a concern.
In this part of the country, there are shortages because the trucks have not been able to keep the gas stations build up. They won't be back out there until Sunday when the gas station start to open. Some of them won't have power. The companies have generators to give them power and they've got trucks stand by. So don't be too worried if you're in this part of the country and you wake up tomorrow or in Sunday and there isn't gas. They'll get gas to you. But we're going to keep an eye on the gauging situation.
HARRIS: It is unbelievable what's happening. All right. Ali Velshi for us in Baytown, Texas. Ali, appreciate it. We'll get back to you in just a couple of minutes.
Right now, we want to take you to Houston. Our Jeanne Meserve is there.
And Jeanne, for folks who were just tuning in to our coverage of Hurricane Ike, give us a bit of a reset. Talk to us about the conditions you're experiencing right now in Houston.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really just starting to kick up in the past hours. So you can see the wind is gusting, the rain is falling remarkably to my mind anyway. This part of town has power at this point. We've talked to both city and county officials, however. They say at this point, they are getting reports of blackouts. They can't give a specific numbers on that. And that's the big impact they've been expecting from these storm.
Federal officials are saying there could be millions of people without power before this storm is over. And it could take weeks to restore that power, particularly because power crews have still been working over in Louisiana, trying to get power up there.
In this city, there is concern about that. There is concern about water. There are low-lying areas. There were projections that with the big storm surge, you're going to see flooding in parts of Houston proper.
Also, they're concern about the high-rise buildings. Off to my right, we can see a number of them still with their lights on at this point in time and still with their windows intact. But the winds are expected to be very, very strong in this city. They had an incident a couple of decades ago with a very strong hurricane where windows were just smashed out. And I'm told glass in the street measured six inches deep. They are very worried about a repeat of that kind of scenario.
The big danger from falling glass besides the property damage is to people on the street. I have to tell you it is pretty much a ghost town here in Houston. It was during the day yesterday when we walk around, almost everybody had left. Tony, back to you.
HARRIS: OK, Jeanne Meserve in Houston for us.
You know some of the most dramatic pictures we've seen over the last couple of hours have come from Clute, Texas. Our Susan Candiotti is there at times seemingly being tossed around by the winds.
Susan, you're still there. Still hanging in there. Give us the latest on, boy, on the conditions you're experiencing right now. Pretty tough, we can all see that for ourselves.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh yes, this is definitely the strongest it's been of the night. Winds stronger than they have been before. Water streaming in to the parking lot now and coming down in the (INAUDIBLE) now. What's strange is that because the power went out hours ago here, frankly, Tony, when weather wasn't even that bad. It is so dark out here, so pitch dark that you can't really see what you used to be able to see down the street.
And we're hearing noises and banging and bumping, and you can't really tell where it's coming from. So, of course, that makes a little bit spooky.
Now, behind us -- and from time to time you see flash, probably a transformer going, behind us you see this series of chemical plants, one right after the other, so there at least you have some light behind us. That is where that is coming from. Either they're working on their own generators or they're on a different path.
I'm just about a skeleton staff over there, keeping that place to foot. They pretty much, we are told, have shut down their operations. They've gone through disaster drills in the past so they tell us that everything should be safe there. And they deal with, for example, chlorine gas, liquid nitrogen, that kind of thing.
And just in the side of this is a town where I think when we spoke with you earlier today, it's an island called Surfside. Even if we wanted to get there, we couldn't right now because this end of the bridge is now under water. And at the time we were out there before it got dark, it was about seven feet underwater. I can't begin to imagine what it is now. We're about four feet above sea level in this town. And the houses that stood there up to the first floor come up to about 14 feet.
I was going to ask Chad, what kind of a storm surge they are expecting now for us. Now, of course, we're at Freeport, Surfside are about 50 miles south of Galveston.
What do you think, Chad?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Because, Susan, you're wind is actually off shore. The winds are blowing away from the ocean. There still will be surge because there still a big low pressure system heading your way. That will be reduce I think. We're not going to get the 22 to 24-foot surge that will get on the right side of this. But I think you could still see 12 feet. Did you just say you're only four feet above sea level?
CANDIOTTI: That's what the police chief told me and officials here, about four feet above sea level. Maybe about a few miles more. It might be a little bit higher here where we are. We're about five miles from the -- five to ten miles from the shore -- from the gulf, yes.
We're getting this blast that is almost from the, I would say, from the north of the direction now as the bands are coming around.
MYERS: Exactly. That is exactly what's happening. That's the wind that's blowing offshore. That will blow that water offshore as well.
Is there a higher place, though, if this water does come up.
CANDIOTTI: Well, you know, they build a series of levees here over the years. And some of them are as high as 17 feet I am told. We were down there earlier before the sun went down. And so, they are hoping that that will help with the flooding situation.
I mean, the water is going to come up. Obviously, we know that. The question is how high it is going to come up. Even the police chief, just move in to a new house about four months ago, he's worried about that.
We haven't had any incident so far, but we do know (OFF-MIKE) ride out the storm. Over there at Surfside, on that island, despite their best efforts to talk them out. And you'll recall that earlier today, the police have to go in and rescue people.
Remember, they're under an evacuation order. And one of the spookiest things was is the chief said to everyone, if you're going to stay, you better put some sort of identifying mark on yourself. And, in fact, one of the couple that came out, the woman I saw in her arm, the police chief told me on one arm she had written something, whether it was her birth date or what, he wasn't exactly sure. And on her other arm she wrote, I love you.
Now, if that was meant for her, just in case she had stayed, for someone to find eventually, the good news is that she decided to come out in the end. And so, I am quite sure she is probably happy about that decision as well as the other. So, for now, we just got to ride this out. Obviously, we're on the side of the storm that is not as serious as it is to the north of us. On the weaker side of the storm, still we are pounded pretty badly here, Tony.
Well, Susan, I was listening to Chad's advice to you. I'm sure you heard it and we'll take heat of that advice. Susan Candiotti with us from Clute, Texas. Let's get to Chad Myers now.
And Chad, if you would, just give us the big picture of this storm. And all the numbers and the intensity of the storm, and where it is headed. Why don't you take it away and do what you do so well.
MYERS: Still, 105 miles per hour, Tony, in the worst of the eyewall wind. And now the eyewall has moved to the -- actually to the west of Galveston. So, it would be interesting to see our Gary Tuchman live shot coming up here in a little bit because I think his winds have probably dropped off by a factor of 2 or 3, and that is good, because now you're in the eye.
The only problem is you're going to get the other side at some point in time, too. And the winds are going to come from the other direction.
Yes, the outer eyewall, the big eyewall itself, has now move onshore. That does not mean this has made landfall so to speak. We have to wait for the middle of this to get onshore. Then, we will call it landfall. I am certain it's still going to be Galveston. There's no way else for this thing to go.
Look at these big waves now. These waves of heavy, heavy rains and the rains bring the winds down with them so Houston really getting pounded. Also, League City and the areas down there. Just the wind coming in, the rain coming in and this is the push. This side of the eye right there, that's the push we talked about as the storm surge is coming in. And this is really going to be -- this has got to be a 25- foot surge for some (INAUDIBLE).
HARRIS: Are you kidding me?
MYERS: No, I'm not kidding you. Anything -- any piece of property that's not 25 feet above the ocean is going to get knock down north of Galveston. We're talking across the little bay here, on this side, that's where the surge is going to be really bad.
Now, we're still going to see 15 to 20 feet in the bay. That's going to be awful the way it is. But this is the area here from Beaumont. And even all the way over here to Lake Charles and Sabine Pass where these guys had been getting 15, 16 feet at times over here, and boy, that took a beating in Rita and they're just barely getting back on their feet by now, and then they're going to get another 15- feet surge. That's going to be a real trouble over there.
HARRIS: Yes. All right, Chad, stay with us. I'm sure Gary is going to want to talk to you in just a moment. Let's get to him right now. Gary Tuchman, Galveston, Texas right now.
And Gary, if you would, talk to us about the conditions there. What are you experiencing?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, it's been a traumatizing night -- morning. It will continue to be traumatizing in a couple of hours. But just like Chad was just talking about, it appears that the eye is starting to move over Galveston, Texas.
30 minutes ago, we had 100 miles per hour sustained hurricane force winds that blew a palm tree down, blew a side of a building down next to us. The winds are now no more than 20 miles per hour. And it's all happened very suddenly. So, check and correct me later when I'm done. But I think with the next half hour, we're going to have almost no winds at all. The eye of this hurricane, Hurricane Ike, is now moving over Galveston, Texas.
We've had about seven hours or eight hours of hurricane or tropical storm force winds, and it's been a situation where the beaches right behind me there, the waves had been going over a 17-feet seawall since early this morning. The street, a major street, major (INAUDIBLE) along the beach here in Galveston, Texas is now underwater. The beach is completely gone.
There are at least three fires burning in the city that fire fighters haven't been able to fight. But we've seen this on hurricane's past when the eye crosses over, you know, you'll have a little time to go out and put out fires, and rescue people who maybe stuck. And that's what we also know.
There had been people who called the police. They wanted to be rescued. They've got second thoughts and realize they shouldn't have stayed. The police said they couldn't go out. And I'm telling you something, it was so treacherous. You couldn't even stand outside. There's no way to physically stand without falling over for a period of time. Police can conduct rescues now if they choose to do so. So, it appeared that the eye is coming over Galveston, Texas. Hurricane Ike very strong Category 2 hurricane.
HARRIS: And Gary, where exactly are you located? Because it sounds like you and your crew had been very smart, strategic about your location. The last time I heard from you, you were in a parking garage. Is that correct?
TUCHMAN: Right, strategic like a chess game. Because we were out by the beach for hours and hours, and it came to the point where the last live report we could do, we just couldn't stand anymore. And it got so dark. I think they're flying through the air. And we are now in a four-story parking garage, Tony. Very secure structure. We can witness everything that's going on. And we're able to broadcast live throughout this whole hurricane, which is a huge hurricane, a strong hurricane and a lot of times you can't broadcast through it. We're able to because of the structure.
HARRIS: All right. Gary Tuchman for us in Galveston Island right now, certainly in the path -- in the eyewall now of that colossal storm. Some 900 miles across. We're going to take a quick break, and come back with more of our coverage of Hurricane Ike in just a moment.
HARRIS: We are following Hurricane Ike all morning along here at CNN. And here's the latest, Ike is a strong and we mean a strong Category 2 storm. It could become a Category 3 before making landfall somewhere along the Texas coastline. Storm surge of 20 feet and beyond, 20 feet and more is possible along with large, battering waves.
Nearly a million people evacuated ahead of the storm. But tens of thousands decided to stick it out and that's got officials really worried. Right now, rescue teams are going out on calls, but the conditions are so bad some rescuers had to abandon their efforts.
Let's get you back to Chad Myers now in our hurricane headquarters.
MYERS: We do have the westernmost -- north westernmost part of the eye wall on shore now in Galveston. And I think this may go right directly over the island as even the center of the eye, that's why the winds have died off there where Gary Tuchman is. But joining me right now is senior hurricane specialist for the National Hurricane Center, Richard Knabb.
Glad you're still awake, sir. I have some questions for you. This was a very fickle storm and its direction and also its size. But at the very -- I mean the last 48 hours, it really came down to, it's going here, we know it's going here, we know it's going to be about this size. It was a 110. We've got some very strong Category 2. Were there any surprises that you've heard so far about wind gusts or storm surges, anything yet?
RICHARD KNABB, SR. HURRICANE SPECIALIST, NHC: Well, nothing too surprising but what we have been doing is looking at the tide gauges in the coastal areas of southeast Texas, southwest Louisiana. The water was coming up well before the circulation center had got as closest to the coast as it is now.
And we think that based on some of those observations we're seeing and some of the reports that you have been showing on your network there, that a large portion of the Galveston Island and large portions of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana are under water. There's just no doubt about that.
It's hard to tell exactly just how bad it's going to be and how many structures were flooded and damaged. But this has not surprised us because of the size of the storm. Even though we didn't know exactly where the circulation center was going to come ashore, we knew it was going to be a big hurricane, Cat 2 maybe 3. And the storm surge that we're seeing does not surprise us now.
MYERS: We already have 12 feet in Galveston Island, the eye or the center is not even there. Sometimes the surge -- the biggest part of the surge may even come after the eye makes past landfall. Are you concerned that this already -- this 12 feet may turn into 24?
KNABB: Well, it's hard to say if Galveston is going to see more than 20 or 25 feet. But we are concerned that the level could come up some more. And it's a very complicated interaction between the storm and the coastline. In fact, well after the center goes inland, we could see some winds coming on to the north behind us, that could push some water from Galveston Bay over the island.
So, the flooding can happen from various directions, can come around the seawall as it comes ashore, can come from the back side where there's no seawall after it come ashore. And I would not be surprised if the water level comes up some more over Galveston Island and points east. If you look in southwest Louisiana, the water levels are coming up pretty quickly as well.
MYERS: Let's get to southwest Louisiana and also let's get to Houston. A lot of the things I was reading from the Hurricane Center tonight talked about Doppler-indicated winds at thousand feet, could be Category 3, maybe Category 4, somewhere in the 120-mile-per-hour range, and those winds are headed to Houston, some very high buildings there, isn't it?
KNABB: Yes and history tells us this could happen. If you look back to Alicia in 1983, and I was in the Houston area when Alicia came through, and we saw a lot of the windows in the high rises blown out and the glass shattering down to the streets.
We could see a repeat of that. That's certainly a risk here because as you go up from the ground in hurricane, the winds increase. And if you go, say up above the ground by about 25 stories, you can get the equivalent of one Category higher. And if you go a little higher than that, the winds would increase some more.
So, that's why high rises are at such risk of getting windows blown out because the winds go higher as you go up. We saw that with Wilma here in Miami a couple of years ago.
MYERS: Absolutely. All right, switch our attention to this for a moment over to Beaumont, Port Arthur, Lake Charles, some 15-foot storm surges already and probably still more to come tonight, correct?
KNABB: Yes, we're very concerned the extreme southeast Texas here because, you know, Ike is coming in a little bit farther to the west than Rita did. Now the ramifications of that are the southwest Louisiana is going to get similar flooding that they did in Rita, unfortunately. But because this is farther west, that brings the Beaumont-Port Arthur more into play because they're on the eastern side, where the onshore flow is occurring
So, that area is very susceptible to storm surge and not just the immediate coast but propagating well inland. That's where we could see the 20, maybe 25-foot value. So, this is going to impact a large area. We're going to see a lot of damage once we're able to see what happens maybe on Sunday.
MYERS: I'm going to give you the option of saying no comment to this one if you want to. I know you've read the statement out of the Weather Service office there in Houston about certain death if you stay in those homes and people ask me today, do you agree with that, and I said, yes, probably I do because that's certainly could happen.
What do you think?
KNABB: Well, there's a very good reason why emergency managers issue evacuation orders -- to get people away from the deadly storm surge. It is a deadly situation to be caught in a storm surge. If the building floods, then on top of that you have the waves that could damage or destroy the building, it is an extremely life-threatening situation.
So, if people are left behind in the areas that they were ordered evacuated from and the surge does occur in that area, there lives are at risk. So, this is a very dangerous situation and the waters are not going to recede any time soon.
So, this is going to be a long morning before we see just who got the worst surge and what damage there was. But we are very concerned about the safety of people who are left behind in the storm surge areas, definitely.
MYERS: Mr. Richard Knabb, senior hurricane specialist, National Hurricane Center, thank you very much for your time tonight.
And Tony, when I was monitoring KHOU, we can do that -- it was for a while, I'm not sure if it's still on there, but CNN.com/live, you could literally watch the Houston broadcast there live. And they're still streaming live, I believe, even on their Web site. But they were saying that they were getting from Galveston -- the emergency managers, they wouldn't say how many, they just said many -- they were getting many calls from people asking for the managers and the police and the firefighters to come get them and rescue them...
MYERS: ...and they said there's no way we're going outside. We can't, there's 12 feet of water in the street and the winds are blowing 90. So, what can we do? You just have to ride it out. And I'm afraid that did happen for some people.
HARRIS: That is the most amazing aspect of this, covering this throughout the day, from this same position. The number of people who decided after hearing that warning that you just talked about, you referred to just a moment ago, who decided -- we heard numbers of 15 to 20,000 people who decided to stay on Galveston Island.
That has been the most mind-boggling aspect of the storm. The number of people after hearing that warning that decided to stay and try to ride this thing out.
MYERS: People stay because they are afraid they're going to lose their stuff.
MYERS: But you know what? If there's a 15-foot wall of water on your stuff, what's stuff do you have left anyway?
HARRIS: You're going to lose your stuff.
MYERS: You're going to lose your life. And I don't know what the numbers are going to be but, you know, their not numbers, they're lives. And that's -- people just want to stay because they think they can protect themselves when in fact Mother Nature is way bigger than that. HARRIS: And we'll do the second guessing later. At this point, we just want everyone to be safe. And Chad, we appreciate it, thank you. We'll take a break.
You mentioned Houston. There's a big fire and Karen McGinnis is here. We'll talk to her in just a moment. But there was a big fire in Houston. Maybe it's -- Karen, is it still burning?
KAREN MCGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The restaurant has burned to the ground.
HARRIS: Burned to the ground. All right. We will show you some of those pictures in just a moment and more of our coverage of Hurricane Ike. Landfall expected within the hour. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
HARRIS: And once again just a huge storm slamming the Texas coast right now. Here is the latest on Hurricane Ike. The National Hurricane Center told us just moments ago that large parts of Galveston Island are likely under water right now. Ike is a strong category 2 storm. It could become a category 3 before making landfall somewhere along the coastline. Storm surge of 20 feet is possible. Waves, well we're talking about that in a moment.
Nearly a million people evacuated ahead of the storm but tens of thousands of others decided to stick it out, particularly on Galveston Island. And that's got officials worried. The rescue teams are going out on calls right now but the conditions are so bad that some rescuers have actually had to abandon those efforts. We're going to bring Chad Myers again. And Chad as we do that, I just want to remind folks that we're going to talk to Karen Maginnis in just a couple of minutes about this huge fire that burned down a restaurant there in Houston but if you could, just sort of talk us through where we are right now.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We just had our first hurricane force gusts at Hobby Airport. And that is still - Hobby Airport still, I just mentioned it, 56 miles from the center and still a good 30 miles from the eye wall. So, we knew and we still know that this is going to be a weather wind event for Houston, not a flooding event, not a surge event, not a salt water or tidal surge event for Houston. Sure, some of the bayous make them up 15 feet and if you're near the bayou you need to know that and hopefully, you figure that out already. But the storm already making those gusts to 75.
There were reports earlier on radar through the National Weather Service and the Hurricane Center that said at about 1,000 feet high, the winds are over 115 miles per hour. And there are buildings. Well, one building in Houston, at 1,002 feet. So there will be wind gusts, well in excess of that category 2 number even in downtown Houston. And seven hundred and something thousand people are without power and probably going up from there. And I think our Karen Maginnis has all that. Tony. HARRIS: And I think you were just talking to Richard not just a moment ago and you guys are really drilling down on the point that the buildings at that height, you're talking about panes of glass and you're talking about a real nightmare particularly at night with this storm. Chad, will heck back with you -
MYERS: Remember the tornado that we had here in Atlanta?
HARRIS: Here in Atlanta. Yes.
MYERS: The Westin, downtown, had about, I don't know, 400 windows -
HARRIS: That's right. That's right.
MYERS: And it is going to cost the Westin Hotel more just to replace those windows than it original costs to build the entire building.
HARRIS: Are you kidding me?
MYERS: Not kidding you.
HARRIS: All right. Chad, back to you in just a couple of moments. Got to quickly get to Susan Candiotti in Clute, Texas. Susan, once again, just give us, if you would, an update on your conditions.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I would say that the - we're in again, at so far, during the night, the most powerful part of the storm today and certainly in terms of hitting us, the wind has now changed direction and is hitting us from the north side. Obviously, that's because the vans are going around and around. They're now coming at us this way. The parking lot here, frankly, I don't know if you can make out this level of detail but this water wasn't here before. It started to fill up just a little bit. This is just flat territory here. Say, it's only about four feet above sea level, I am told. And that is why they have such a concern about flooding here and why they issued a mandatory evacuation order for this area even though this particular spot in Clute is maybe about 10 miles inland from the Gulf.
Now, we spent a good part of the day today and yesterday down in surf side. That's the coastal community, part of it is in the mainland, part of it is on an island, about a 1,000 people live on that island, nearly all of them got out. Nearly all the homes there are built on stilt, some of them higher than others.
So, we heard from Chad, just a little while ago, storm surge is anywhere from 10 and up to 12 feet. They could very well be experiencing flooding. That island is cut off from the mainland "where I am now." We were able to go over there this morning but within a couple of hours the water had already covered the land on the other side of the bridge here. And so, the rescue people, fire, police department cleared out and naturally they brought us out there too. They were able to get eight rescues out. Before they did that, people who they said, you know, I don't understand it, we told them days and days ago to get out, we encouraged them, we asked them, we drove around the island over with a loud speaker, knocked on doors, nevertheless, some people say, they are going to ride out the storm. And then at the last minute, they called for help. And some of the officers with us are scratching their head about this. Why do people always wait until the last minute?
CANDIOTTI: This is the reason why. When it gets like this they can't get out.
HARRIS: Hey, Susan, just a moment ago, you were talking about Surf side just a few moments ago. If you would because earlier I guess it was yesterday afternoon now, let me get my time references correct here, when we were talking to you you were right in the middle of reporting on a rescue there at surf side. How did that all work out? We saw a few people coming out on jet skis but how did that all wrap up?
CANDIOTTI: Right. Well, they eventually did get out and some of those people went out and got themselves a motel to stay in. Others went inland and stayed with relatives which is what police said I wish they had done that to start off with but -
CANDIOTTI: They had to bring in, you know, they had to bring in some high trucks to get them out. In fact the police chief, I think you saw even waded out chest deep in water, at one point, to reach them, and see what kind of shape they were in. Fortunately, no injuries. They got at least three dogs there with the rescue. But one couple sadly, had their dog with them -
HARRIS: That's right. That's right.
CANDIOTTI: And the crashing waves, they just couldn't get to the dog and the dog unfortunately washed away. And that's going to be heartbreaking to those folks, of course.
CANDIOTTI: But all in all, so far, so good in terms of injuries. We've heard of a no rescue calls and with serious, seeing those lights over there from the chemical plants, they're still on, I'm wondering if they got their own power supply. I wouldn't be surprised or if they're on a different grid than we are but we are certainly in a blackout -
CANDIOTTI: And had been for several hours now.
HARRIS: OK. Susan, hang in there. Susan Candiotti for us from Clute, Texas. We're going to take a quick break. Our meteorologist Karen Maginnis joins me in just a moment. We will show you some pretty dramatic pictures from a huge fire in Houston. We'll be back in a moment.
HARRIS: So we want to get you caught up now in Hurricane Ike for the very latest. Part of the eye wall on shore now in Galveston, Texas. Though the storm has not made landfall yet, sustained winds are at 110 miles an hour, an hour storm surge along the Texas coastline could reached 25 feet, with flooding being reported in Louisiana as well as Texas. And concerns over possible gas supply disruption because of the storm causing crazy spikes in gas prices in stations across the southeast.
Our meteorologist Karen Maginnis is with me right now and Karen has been a great bit of work for us. You've been actually following the coverage of the storm from the affiliates in the Houston area. And one of the big stories they've been covering this evening is of a fire in a restaurant and some real damage there. There are some injuries to report as well.
KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Exactly, they are saying now that the Brennan Restaurant which has been a very popular restaurant, and I think we're running those pictures right now. The fire started, they believe it was transformer related. They are saying that the restaurant is completely gutted and the reference was it was burned to the ground.
Now in this fire, they say that also there was also a small child, a young toddler, also an adult and they were both injured. Now, we don't know the extent of their injuries, why they may or may not have been in the restaurant itself but this has been a very popular restaurant on Smith Street in downtown Houston.
Now, this is one of several fires that have been reported over the last 12 hours or so. There was also a fire at a boat facility and they're having a difficult time getting to these fires, mainly because the roads are so treacherous. You got down street and down power lines.
HARRIS: That's right.
MAGINNIS: And speaking of that, when I came in at three or four hours ago, they were saying that there were power outages to the tune of about 600,000 people without power, from Central Point Energy. Now, they're saying 725,000 people.
HARRIS: Let's take that number down. 725,000.
MAGINNIS: Yes but the strong caution is they truly suspect that when this is all said and done, they're going to see a million plus people without power. On their web site, they're saying expect two to three weeks before they can even get to turn the power back on, the winds have to go down, 50 and below -
MAGINNIS: Before they can start doing that.
HARRIS: So, you're going to be out of power for weeks.
HARRIS: For weeks here. OK. Karen, appreciate it. Thank you.
I want to get to our Rick Sanchez now. He is in La Porte, Texas. And Rick, boy the last time we saw you, you were hanging on to a hunk of a tree limb and I think I see that in the foreground of your shot here. Give us the latest on the conditions that you're experiencing there in La Porte.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's everything you could possibly imagine and then a little bit more of hell. It's happening now. Storms are, it's really starting to come through. As you can see behind me, the tree limbs are starting to go. I'm - whew. I'm watching awnings - good gosh, Tony. I'm looking at an awning on a building that is being literally ripped off piece by piece. And it's about to fly away. I'll see if we can get a shot of that in just a little bit although I'm looking at it from an angle that might be difficult to do that because we're using our truck.
I look around from time to time because we keep seeing these blue lights just light up the entire sky. And what's happening is transformers are exploding left and right. And as they do, they pop and then you get a quick black out, all the lights go out and you get that power outage and then somehow the lights seemed to be able to at least come back. These are the generator lights in the city.
About 750,000 people are without electricity now. It's just going off all over the place. We just went and took a drive, Tony, to the area around Galveston Bay. Let me tell you where we are. La Porte is one of those little communities around here, off southeast of Houston that is actually bordering the bay, Galveston Bay. Galveston Bay is now getting all that water pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico and I just saw images of Galveston Bay which is usually very tranquil. It looked like the Pacific Ocean. In fact, we got some pictures that we're going to be hopefully rolling for you in a little bit.
SANCHEZ: As I was driving around as well, Tony, you want to break in?
HARRIS: No, no. I was just listening. Just listening.
SANCHEZ: OK. We also, while we were driving around, we also saw what were huge trees in the middle of the road and I'm backing away because there is an awning that is about to fly my way.
HARRIS: Well, Rick. I will jump in now. I mean, that is - that has to be concern number one for you when you're reporting on this because this is a storm that is kicking up these tremendous winds. At night, you can't necessarily see what could be picked up and tossed your way as a projectile.
SANCHEZ: Yes. That's exactly what we're doing right now. It's finally getting to the point now where we're seeing pieces of large chunks of metal flying on the road. And that's why, you know, I don't want to look like a nervous Nellie while I'm talking to you but rather than keeping eye contact on the camera lens -
HARRIS: No, no.
SANCHEZ: - I'm kind of looking around, making sure I got a lay of the land here. It's awnings that shouldn't be up in a hurricane but people put those cheap plastic and aluminum awnings, they're getting torn to shreds all over the place. We see them flying around. We're also now seeing some inundations, some low inland flooding, parts of Galveston Bay have come in around Morgan Point and also here in La Porte as well. And that's obviously creating a pretty big problem as well.
I'm looking at a shot on this side. I'm looking at a shot here on this side too where the trees have fallen down as well. And we'll see if we can position the camera. The key is we haven't gotten the camera wet yet and we don't want to because once that goes down, we got nothing for you. We're going to be dark for the rest of the night. So we got to kind of tuck into a little bit of a cubbyhole here.
Let's go back to my colleague, Gary Tuchman now. I understand that Gary is standing by in Galveston as he has been all night. My goodness, Gary, I'm getting a sense now, what you guys are going through about an hour ago because we're getting it here, my friend. Gary, what do you got?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, what a huge difference. 40 minutes ago, we had 100 mile per hour sustained wind and now the eye of Hurricane Ike is right over Galveston, is completely calm. It is not raining. I could sit down here and have a picnic on this lawn and it will be a very pleasant evening. You could see some of the damage from this 100 mile per hour winds and we have hurricane force winds for about four or five hours.
This is a huge palm tree. You can't even move it and it was knocked down from the winds and this is just very symptomatic of lots of things that we're seeing in our initial walks because we have a couple of hours now, we are told, that this eye, there is a lot of damage here in Galveston. Much of this island city is under weather, particularly to the south and to the west of me. That's where they don't have a sea wall. Much of that is said to be under water.
But even where I'm standing now, this is the beach front behind me. That beach front, that was a street that we're on all day doing live broadcast, you cannot see the street anymore. It is now part of the Gulf of Mexico. Also, the parking lot next to me full of water. The Holiday Inn Resort, you can't see it from the cameras as the cameras are being protected right now in a parking garage. But the Holiday Inn Resort, half the siding is off the building. Walking out to the main street to the other side, you see concrete, you see light poles. You see trees down. You certainly don't know how much damage there is. There is a lot of damage. It's not over because we're going to get the back side of it shortly.
Chad, we want to go to you now. Do you see that on your radar? The eye over us?
MYERS: You are seven and a half miles from the very, very center, Gary. I know what part of the island that you're on. It's a little bit south of where the ship channel is and I believe, this is going to go right over the Bolivar Peninsula and right over Galveston, right through the ship channel, I had trouble saying that all night and as it's going to go right over the buoys that tell the ship where to go. I'm not kidding. And yes, you are going to get the other side of the eye. And I'm thinking you'll probably have another hour before that happens because of the size of the eye. It's about 30 miles around moving 12 miles an hour. You've been in the eye for a while. That's what you get now.
Hey, Rick. I would like to turn my attention to you. If you think, that's bad and you got 40 more miles an hour to go before you get your sustained, your peak wind speed there. And you'll get better, batten down the hatches, sir.
SANCHEZ: I'll tell you, Chad. It's pretty remarkable to watch buildings incrementally come apart or at least parts of them, I should say. I shouldn't say entire buildings because no building has fallen down at this point. But it's just - I'm watching this awning and any moment now, I'm going to watch that thing fly apart, fly away. And I've been here all night long. And when we were here it was perfectly sound. It certainly isn't now.
I'm underneath an area that's giving me some shelter but I'm just going to walk out there real quick just to show you what it looks like when you walk into this thing. I'll see if I've got enough wire. There is a big difference from what Gary says he is feeling now, being in the eye of the storm. We're still in the middle of this thing and there you see, there you see what it's like when you get inside this thing. I mean, the rains are coming hard and there goes my cap. My golly. I'm getting out of this. There goes another transformer as well. And I am going to step back out of it because it's just getting a little too rough.
And Chad, you're telling me I'm going to get another 40 miles an hour on this thing?
MYERS: Yes, sir. We just got - we just got what we call a reconnaissance plane. The plane is flying back and forth through the eye and across parts of the center in the eye wall. We just got 126 mile per hour flight level wind. That comes down to about 100 to 102 mile per hour, surface wind and that is headed your way. What you have right now is only 60 miles per hour, believe it or not. So add, another 40 on top of that and that awning has no chance. I need you out of the way of anything that's going to fly for sure. Stay in that little cubbyhole and just show us what's flying by. I'll be much happier to see that.
SANCHEZ: So, are we going to be on the western side of the eye wall as we had spoken about earlier.
MYERS: Yes, the western side of the eye wall. And there is a very large squall just to your east in Baytown and probably our Ali Velshi is feeling that. But I don't know if I have a live shot over that from him. As the storm gets closer to you, let me see, I can measure this from right now. From the center to where you are, there's still another 30 miles. So at 12, 13 miles per hour, in two and half hours, that's what you're going to feel your worst wind.
So it's going to be like this -
SANCHEZ: You know, I was just -
MYERS: And it will keep going worse for the next two and a half hours.
SANCHEZ: I was reading the 11 o'clock advisory from the National Hurricane Center. I snuck here into the truck and I got on the internet and they said "the worst flooding will occur during and after the eye passes." How does that figure?
MYERS: Well, you have - it's difficult in three dimensions to figure out where this crosses land and how that interacts with the water getting pushed into the bay. And there's going to be a time that on the back side of this - I don't know maybe another 45 minutes to an hour that the winds begin to shift and really blow from the south directly into Galveston Bay. And that's pushing the water up over Bolivar Peninsula up over Galveston Bay. Those water, those lines still going in. And that's when the area of lowest pressure is on land. So, it's still sucking that water on shore. It's still sucking that water into Galveston Bay and that's why the water will still go up for at least another two and a half hours. Rick.
SANCHEZ: And is the eye really, literally over Galveston right now. I mean, I heard Tuch - Tuch was just saying a moment ago that he didn't see any weather going around them. Is he in it?
MYERS: He is absolutely in the middle of it. Absolutely 100 percent in the middle of it. And you got -
SANCHEZ: That's amazing, you know -
MYERS: And he's got nothing and you've got that and then you'll get nothing but that's going to be a few more hours.
SANCHEZ: And then how long before we get it in Houston proper because I also read in the discussion, I think this was the earlier one written by Avila that there's going to be a ton of broken glass in the skyscrapers of Houston.
MYERS: I'm afraid so. I'm afraid those winds are going to gusts to 105 and 110. And that's going to break a lot of glass. With Alicia, they had six inches of glass in the streets. They had to use dump trucks to plow it out of the way with front end loaders to scrap it all up. Hey, Rick, stay inside. I'm going to get to Tony. He's got something else we want to get to. HARRIS: Well, gentlemen, thank you so much. Terrific reporting. Rick, thank you. Chad, thank you. And again, we're trying - you see our four boxes up on the screen right now. We're going to try to get you the very latest pictures in those boxes as they come into the CNN NEWSROOM. I want to get back to a story that meteorologist Karen Maginnis was talking about just a few moments ago.
This huge fire, restaurant fire in Houston. A two-alarm fire, in fact, and a couple of injuries. One of our affiliate reporters did some work on this story. From KTRK, his name is Bob Slovak.
BOB SLOVAK, REPORTER, KTRK: Thank you very much. Yes, we have a Houston landmark going up in flames during a hurricane here in downtown Houston. The name of the restaurant is Brennan's. It's been here for 43 years. The owner is down here. Obviously distraught, he didn't want to go on camera but he told me he thought a transformer blew, caught the restaurant on fire. There have actually been three injuries, two employees. One of the employee's daughters was also injured. He went in to try to save her. We understand he's in a critical condition in one of the Houston area hospitals right now. So there injuries here in downtown Houston.
Now, it would be bad enough battling this blaze just on a normal day but the Houston firefighters are badly in the middle of a hurricane. Every time they seem to have it under control, the winds whip around here in downtown Houston and bring the fire back alive. So, a difficult situation all the way around as the Houston firefighters try to put this out. But it looks like a Houston landmark, Brennan's Restaurant will be a total loss.
HARRIS: Well, Bob, my apologies. I didn't know that you are live for us. I thought we are going to a piece that you have prepared earlier in the evening. Good to see you live with us. If you would please, we thought for a while there that this fire had been pretty much contained but obviously that is not the case. What are we talking about, two or three alarms at this point? And how many units are working that fire right now?
SLOVAK: I counted at least 10 a while ago including two ladder trucks who raise the ladders up to try to put extra water on top of the fire but as I said, the winds are whipping. I don't know what the miles per hour are right now in downtown Houston but every time they seemed to have it under control, the winds just whip it right back up.
HARRIS: OK. Bob Slovak with our affiliate station in Houston, KTRK. Bob, we appreciate it. Thank you.
And very quickly, let's get you back to Rick Sanchez in La Porte, Texas. And Rick, just dramatic pictures when you take, I guess, a couple of steps from your position, how dramatic was that just moments ago to see the winds sort of tossing you around just a bit?
SANCHEZ: Yes. We took - we were in that little cubbyhole back there. And Tony, we decided to see if we can sneak the camera out again. You know, the key here is not to get that camera wet but I think we are in a position where we can show you what we've been looking at. Look at that awning behind me -
SANCHEZ: Oh, darn it. There goes another transformer. Every time a transformer blows up, when one of those things blows, we lose the circuits out here and everything gets real dark.
SANCHEZ: Moments ago, you were able to see it. That thing has been lifted now, several times by this wind that Chad says is nothing compared to what we're going to be getting about an hour from now. Did you find my cap?
Thanks. Not that it does too much good at this point as what it is. At least, it gives me some cover on my head. There we go. Now, we can see it again. Can you see that awning?
HARRIS: Yes, absolutely.
SANCHEZ: Watch that thing go. I mean as the wind comes in, it literally picks it up, then knocks it back down. I have no - another transformer. But it's in strips now which is what's interesting. It started turning into little strips after the wind started getting into it and it just kind of mangled it as has another part of that same building that you can't see. It's in the background now but it start rolling down the road. It was a big giant sheet of metal. Now, the lights come back on. And there you're able to see that awning again.
Now, imagine this incrementally repeating itself.
SANCHEZ: Not only in that building behind me but another building down the way and another building down. And it happens little by little and all of a sudden, bang, you'll have something like that get - let's see what this gusts does to it?
HARRIS: I'm just trying to imagine your situation -
HARRIS: Yes, I'm just trying to imagine your situation in over the next couple of hours as the winds in your area in La Porte pick up by 40 miles per hour in intensity. That is going to be insane in terms of the awning blowing off of those buildings and maybe even bigger pieces of those buildings coming off.
SANCHEZ: Yes, it's amazing. You know, what it tells me when I look around here right now. I'm in a pretty good spot right now is that most of these people didn't think that this hurricane is going to be this intense and they didn't think it was going to be coming directly for them. Because I'm looking at about 10 buildings and I see maybe two of them that actually boarded up. The rest of them, I'm seeing nothing but glass all over me. That's the situation that we see here. (CROSSTALK)
HARRIS: Hey, Rick. Take us to break and we'll reset next hour.
SANCHEZ: All right. Tony Harris is there. I'm here, together we're going to get you through this thing. Obviously, there's a lot going on as this thing intensifies. We'll continue to bring you the very latest pictures as well. From Tony and myself, we're going to take a break. We'll be right back.