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Ike Keeps Going; Train Collision in Los Angeles

Aired September 13, 2008 - 19:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Texas Gulf Coast, battered and bruised. Tonight rescue and recovery. Emergency crews working the streets with long days ahead. In Ike's wake, downtown Houston closed until further notice. Now, the waiting game. More than two million people in the city could face weeks without power. And Ike's hike. Gas prices all across the country surge.
And terror on the tracks. A deadly crash in Los Angeles has passengers asking how could this happen?

Welcome to our continuing coverage of Hurricane Ike, now downgraded to a tropical storm. Tropical Storm Ike, but it's still causing headache and heartache throughout the state of Texas and Louisiana. Here's what we know at this hour. Thousands of homes have been flooded. I mean, the water right here will tell you that much. This is the area in Bridge City where I am. Extensive flooding, we have seen a number of rescues throughout the day. As many 2.5, 2.6 million people in Louisiana and in Texas currently without power.

I talked to Governor Rick Perry in Texas. He said they could be without power for weeks. That is certainly bad news for the people there. But the worst hit areas no doubt about it, Galveston and in points around here, Orange County near Port Arthur, Texas. We're going to have extensive reporting from this area and also from Galveston. We have correspondents really spread out all throughout Texas. We have Ali Velshi is in Bay City, which was an area where the oil refineries are. We're going to talk about the rise in gas prices, which you have probably already noticed at the pump if you tried to fuel up today.

Gary Tuchman and Rob Marciano are in Galveston, hardest-hit area. Jeanne Meserve is in Houston, where a lot of broken glass, a lot of people without power and a lot of cleanup still needs to be done. And Rick Sanchez is at a coast guard air station where they have been doing dozens of rescues throughout this day. We'll talk to him about some of what he has been seeing and hearing.

Let's go to Gary Tuchman. Actually, first I just want to show you something. We've showing you a lot in this last hour here in Bridge City of just first responders going back and forth bringing out people. We saw at least two people being cared for medically and then taken off into ambulances. They've left behind some life rafts here they dropped off earlier in the day on a little bit of higher ground. That is just -- they had a number of life rafts here, they had some extras. So they just kind of deposited this as a staging area. Those life rafts obviously could be inflated up to rescue any people. But they have brought a lot of life rafts further down this road, down Highway 62, which is basically at this point completely covered in water. They're not allowing any people into this area. There's no telling how long this area is going to be blocked off. I haven't seen anything like this in quite a while, probably since Katrina just in terms of this level of flooding. But here, the response, of course, is very different indeed. We're going to have some of the stories from people here.

Let's go to Gary Tuchman first though who is in Galveston who has been seen some of the worst damage that we have seen today. Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, officially Ike was not considered a major hurricane. When its eye crossed Galveston, Texas right here, it was at 110 miles-per-hour. That was just one mile per hour under Category 3 mayor status. But because of its immense size, it was considered a most dangerous hurricane. And that's why weather forecasters were imploring people the most serious warnings we've ever heard to get out. Well not everybody did get out, as you probably know. That happens in most hurricanes. A lot of people we've talked to like on this street, regret it.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): This is Avenue S 1/2 in Galveston, one of scores of streets we've seen today underwater after Hurricane Ike. The reason we're on the street, it's full of one-story one-family homes. They were the homes that were the subject of a dire National Weather Service notice that said people who did not leave these homes near the beach and were near the beach would face certain death. Well fortunately, that wasn't exactly true. A lot of people stayed behind. That doesn't mean it was easy. As a matter of fact, it was very scary for a lot of these people, including these people in these house who I talked to short time ago, who have agreed to talk to us, Burle and Jamie Holmes. We'll known on the door, they are going to let us in to talk to them.

Thank you for letting us back in. This is Jamie, this is Burle, this is Trouble, their dog. You guys rode it out. Four feet of water you said came into the house. What was that like when the water was pouring in?

JAMIE HOLMES, GALVESTON RESIDENT: It was pretty scary. It was pretty scary.

TUCHMAN: Why did you decide not to leave, Burle?

BURLE HOLMES, GALVESTON RESIDENT: We just have a lot of stuff here we needed to take care of.

TUCHMAN: That's what a lot of people say. Now, the water started coming in, the eye of the hurricane came and it was calm. Then the back end came in. That was worse for us, worse for you, too. You went in the attic. What was that like, climbing into the attic while the water was climbing into your house?

J. HOLMES: That wasn't too bad getting up there, but just --

B. HOLMES: The wind and noise really got scary up there, actually.

TUCHMAN: It was frightening, wasn't it?

J. HOLMES: Yes, yes. Well here's the big question. Let's take a look at the house first of all. The water has receded now, but you can see, you've got a lot of damage here, right?

J. HOLMES: Oh, yes. I think we have lost everything.

TUCHMAN: I'm really sorry about that. I'm glad you didn't lose your lives.


J. HOLMES: Yes, thank you.

TUCHMAN: If this happened again, would you do it differently next time?

J. HOLMES: We'd leave.

B. HOLMES: We'd leave, no question about it.

TUCHMAN: No question about it?

B. HOLMES: No question about it. We'd leave.


TUCHMAN: The peak winds occurred here in Galveston between 11:00 p.m. Central Time and 1:00 a.m., about 100, 105 miles-per-hour. It was very scary. It was very dark. The power was out. We could only imagine while we were doing the live reports last night Anderson what kind of casualties we'd see today. And that's why it's absolutely amazing so far that so far here in Galveston, Texas, population 60,000, no casualties, no one has died.

But we must point this out. Streets like this that are covered with water, the police have not gone up and down these streets yet. There are lots of streets that are flooded right now. And we talked to the people who you just saw in our story and we asked them, have you seen the police going up and down the streets to check in your neighbor's houses? And they said they haven't. So hopefully that number of fatalities will stay at zero. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, certainly right now that is just fantastic news. Gary, do you think some folks, though -- they said these warnings said certain death. It was the most severe warning certainly you or I had probably ever heard. There was one warning like that in the advance of Katrina. But do you think some people are going to say, look, this is the kind of cry wolf syndrome. The next time - I know those folks said they would evacuate, but some people are going to say look, it wasn't as bad as the government said it was going to be, and next time I'm not going to evacuate?

TUCHMAN: I mean, this warning is so specific, Anderson. People who live in one-family houses that are one or two stories near the coast face certain death. You know, I think it would have served the National Weather Service well to say it's very likely you could have die. I think that would have the same impact without the certainty angle to it. I know as journalist we never say certainly, we never say never. We try to leave a little leeway either way. So I do know that some people are already saying that, certain death, people didn't die.

Hopefully that won't result in less people evacuating next time. Because a story like this, you should really get the heck out, especially the fact that we're right next to the beach.

COOPER: Yes, you simply never know what is going to happen in these kinds of storms. They can turn last minute as we've seen so many times and be a completely different thing than you think it's going to be.

Let's check in with Rob Marciano. He has also spent the day in Galveston assessing the damage. Rob, pretty tough day.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, for sure, Anderson. What makes Galveston so vulnerable, one it's an island. So even though they have that protective sea wall, you have got three other sides that easily can have a storm surge. The bay side, as well and the gulf side that can squeeze. So this is an eerie site to have a cemetery that is inundated with water and believe it or not, this is not the only one that is inundated with water on the island of Galveston.

It is a 32-mile island, and you go to mile marker 11, and that's when it starts to dips into water on the west end. So they've got a good 20 miles of island that they need for the water to recede before they can truly assess the damage. So the damage is widespread on the side of the island also that has the sea wall, not just from the sea wall being over tops and in some case, damaged, but from the wind. A tremendous amount of wind both on the front side and the back side of this storm, upwards of 100 miles an hour. Certainly do some damage.

We saw a number of buildings that had brick facades and they were scraped of the entire brick layering. You have to have serious wind to do that. Also had some survivors pass through here. We were broadcasting live all day long today. And a couple of survivors passed through our live location and they told us their stories. Listen to this.


MARCIANO: Where did you ride the storm out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right up there actually on the second floor.

MARCIANO: Where's your home?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 81st and sea wall.

MARCIANO: So you evacuated from there. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went from there to here, yes, sir.

MARCIANO: Have you been back to your home?


MARCIANO: How does it look?


MARCIANO: Completely destroyed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Completely. If my girlfriend Colleen is watching, your apartment is fine, baby. We're moving in together.

MARCIANO: What did you think of the storm last night, sweetheart?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I slept in a closet.

MARCIANO: Was that comfortable?


MARCIANO: Were you scared?


MARCIANO: A little? I was scared a lot. You're pretty brave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're islanders. We're the ones who survive.


MARCIANO: I guess we're more fearless when we're younger, and that gentleman certainly had a silver lining to his storm story, putting the heat on his girlfriend. But there were a lot of folks who stayed behind, Anderson, and well, did the right thing in many cases and either moved to a higher place, if you knew that your home was vulnerable, or hunkered down in a safe spot in your home.

We'll just have to wait and see to see when the water recede, especially on the west side, and also on the east side. When you go over towards the Crystal Beach and high island area, we'll have to see what officials say when they assess the damage there. Firefighters only went through 42 structures here on the island and to clear them, and they cleared them of some survivors and found no fatalities. And just to echo Gary's thoughts on that. We certainly hope that number remains zero. Back to you.

COOPER: Rob, do you have any sense of when the water may start to recede? I just want to show over here, we're already -- it's probably now down about two feet from what it was earlier in the day. I don't know if you can see that telephone pole. There you got it. Rob, any idea on Galveston, how quickly it might be receding? MARCIANO: It's all really localized depending on one, drainage, and two, wind direction. The winds have been pretty gusty all day long out of the south and south west. So where you were and in some places further inland where you not only have a bay or you may have a river and bayou affected, that will take a little bit longer to drain.

Places like this where in essence you have a big puddle, it would be like a big rainstorm - that has to either seep through the ground or the drainage that would typically have to work has to be unclogged. There's a lot of debris obviously from both the storm surge and the wind that is clogging up a lot of what would typically drain very easily. And I suppose that will be just one more task on the to-do list for officials to deal with in the coming days. Anderson?

COOPER: Rob Marciano, appreciate it. We're going to continue to check in with you throughout this hour of our coverage. When we come back, we're going to talk to Chad Myers and get a sense of where the tropical storm is now and also get a sense of the history of the storm, the path it took last night. Why it didn't hit as hard as some thought it might, what that might mean about future storms as well. We'll also check in with Rick Sanchez who has been following some of the dramatic coast guard rescues we have seen throughout the day. We'll be back with more of our coverage.


COOPER: My cameraman just told me there's a water moccasin over there that he's taking a shot of. That's not exactly what I wanted to hear. I actually see it there. That's not exactly the kind of thing you want to see when you're standing around like an idiot in floodwaters, but I'm assured it's a small water moccasin, so that makes me feel much better.

Want to check in with Rick Sanchez who is at Ellington Field Coast Guard Air Station. He's been watching some of the rescues we've seen throughout the day today and yesterday. Rick, a lot of brave men and women in the coast guard who a lot of people are very thankful for tonight.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, Anderson. We're here at Ellington Air Reserve. First order of business, I should tell you, there's some news that I think will be taking place out here and we could share some of that with you now.

Just when I arrived here, I noticed there was some Secret Service field agents from Washington. I came up and had a conversation with them and asked them what it is that they were doing. It seemed like they were doing surveys out here, usually that means they're doing preps for a dignitary or something to take place here.

Indeed, that's going to be happening tomorrow. I couldn't get out of them exactly who is going to be coming to town, but I can tell you that it might be a high-ranking official of the U.S. government, perhaps with homeland security, perhaps even higher.

As we dig into that, and our folks in our political desk in Washington are checking into that information now. But expect that it will be taking place here. What people really want to see when they experience something like this is what's going on with my home? What is my neighborhood like? I can't get back in there. Somebody please show me some of these pictures. That's what we're going to do now thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard.

We've got pictures. I think the first area that we're going to show you now is from an area that's referred to here as Bolivar. It's not far from Galveston proper. Let's go ahead and start rolling the videos. With me now, by the way, is U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Dakata Brodie. Did I get that right? Thanks so much for being with us. All right, we're going to start rolling the video. And there you're seeing it now. What are we looking at? I know this was your mission. Describe it for us.

LT. J.G. DAKATA BRODIE, U.S. COAST GUARD: Basically we started off coming from Corpus Christi early morning one of the first helicopters in. This is the post-surge. The water is now actually starting to recede at this point, and pretty much a lot of the island is pretty much flooded. Any main roads or access roads to try to help people by service vehicles or volunteers that are on the ground are just unable at this point.

SANCHEZ: This is amazing to look at, because you can almost count one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, up to about 15 rows of home deep where the Gulf has actually come in and inundated them.

BRODIE: Absolutely. The sea wall absolutely did its job. It's pretty remarkable to see the amount of damage that happened in Galveston, however, when you went to north or east of Galveston --

SANCHEZ: Which is where this is that we're looking at.

BRODIE: Exactly, you can see Bolivar. Bolivar area was really where the surf had taken away all the beaches and had come and swept quite a few of the houses out.

SANCHEZ: This is amazing video because as you look at it, you realize these folks in a storm like this, really didn't have a chance as far as their homes are concerned. Most of those folks evacuated, right?

BRODIE: There were quite a bit. That was part of our return to help a lot of people evacuate in the last second. There was a big surge, multi agencies coming from the airport, the guard, Coast Guard and falcons and everybody else that participated. But it was a last moment effort to get out as many as safely as possible and out of harm's way.

SANCHEZ: I'll tell you, job well-done. You guys are doing a tremendous job so far. About 60 people rescued, that's over the past 24 hours. And as you can see behind us, still more Coast Guard aircraft coming in, more rescues being affected. I see a C-130 that was just here bringing in some more hurricane supplies as well. Job well-done, we thank you for your work. BRODIE: Thank you, sir.

SANCHEZ: All right, there we go, Anderson. As we get more of these videos, we'll share them with you. Even some that have been taken just within the last couple of hours. We'll be turning those around for you, as well. Back to you Anderson, and by the way, watch out for that snake.

COOPER: Yeah. I think it's gone. At least it's gone underwater so I can't see it so I feel better. Rick, thanks very much for that.

I want to check in with Chad Myers. Chad, you know, I talked to some people today who said the government said certain death if you stay in Galveston. That's not what happened for folks in one or two- story buildings. Sure, it was a scary night, but some folks kind of are skeptical and say you know what, they're not going to heed the government the next time around because the warning was so severe and didn't happen. What do you say to them based on what you know about the track of this storm?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What I say is that the weather service never not Galveston. They had low-lying areas and there were some low-lying areas and right there, Bolivar. If there was a one- story on Bolivar Peninsula and you were in it last night, you're not going to be with us today. That's literally how scary it is. What happened, Anderson, and why this didn't turn into a Galveston event and why it turned into a Bolivar, why it turned into Port Arthur event with the surge here is because at the very last minute, we noticed this three hours out, the storm turned to the north just a little bit and went across Galveston Island rather than across maybe Freeport.

Had this been a Freeport storm crossing, that would have come true. So it's kind of -- it's where the landfall comes. The much higher winds are this way pushing water onshore. This is pushing water offshore. So the surge didn't really get -- the 20-foot surge didn't get to Galveston. It got north of you. And by the way, one of the prettiest parts of Bridge City, Anderson, the wet rand lands. The wet lands have alligators and you're standing in their water. Be careful.

COOPER: I certainly will, I certainly will. I appreciate that. Thank you, Chad. You're going to make my mom start to get very, very nervous indeed. Ali Velshi is in Baytown, I think I said Bay City earlier. It's Baytown, Texas. It's been a long couple of days for all of us, I think. He's looking at the effects on oil refineries and gas prices. We've already seen gas prices jump up in the last 24 hours, and you know that if you've been trying t fill up your tank. Ali, what's going on? Why already have they jumped up?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going up and people are going to feel it, you're right. There was a six- cent jump nationwide on the average price of a gallon of gas. But nationwide isn't the issue. You can see some of the places where we've seen gas go up over $5 in Florida, almost $5 in Georgia.

We've see seen a jump in some states of 20 cents a gallon overnight. Look over my shoulder. I have Baytown refinery here. This is the biggest refinery on the continent, some 570,000 barrels of oil on a normal day are transferred into gasoline.

And this is just one of 26 refineries in Texas, 14 of which were shut down because the storm and 20 of which were in some fashion in the path of the storm. Now the bottom line is there's no oil going from the Gulf of Mexico to these refineries to turn into gas. That's not the problem here, because the offshore platforms probably did OK. The issue is that there's no gas going from these places to your gas station. That's one of the problems here, and that is going to affect you.

The other one is that Baytown itself is a place where people live, and there's been a lot of damage here. There was a lot of flooding. There were trees that came down. We went to one neighborhood today, just a few minutes after a man got to his house and saw a tree had fallen right onto it. Here's what he told us.

OK. You know what? We don't have that right now, Anderson. But he came back like many others. They found trees on their property, they found their houses underwater. So they are still struggling. Many of these people by the way work at these refineries. So it's going to take some time to get these refineries back online. How long it takes is what is going to matter because if it takes too long, you're going to feel that the pump. We're trying to get - we've been talking to the oil companies. They say they are working to start getting gas stations that have worked out of gas supplies by tomorrow. They're evaluating the damage to these refineries and we'll have more on that over the course of the next 24 hours as they take a look at the refineries and see if they get them up and running again, Anderson.

COOPER: Ali, thanks very much.

Talking about gas guzzler, I just want to show you a monster truck here which is just coming by. Our position this is a truck which has been engaged in rescues throughout the day. Just one of the many different kinds of vehicles we have been seeing. We're taking this from our second cameras. So those guys are just heading right by. Well, there it is. It's a monster truck. Just when you think things couldn't get any more surreal, they do.

Our coverage continues. We're also looking at just this horrific train wreck in Los Angeles, which occurred last night around 6:00 p.m. East Coast Time. I believe that was the time, around 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon Los Angeles time. Right now the death toll last count last hour was 24 people dead. We'll get an update on that from Ted Rowlands when we come back. Our coverage continues live from Texas.


COOPER: As we were covering the storm yesterday, we started seeing these pictures from Los Angeles, a deadly train crash. Two trains colliding head-on. One was going 55 miles-an-hour, the other 45 miles-an-hour. That's what I was told last night at least. Right now the death toll is at 24. It has gradually risen over the last 12 hours. Ted Rowlands has been covering this really from the beginning. Ted, if you can, give us an update.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, right now because of the fact that all of the bodies have been taken out of the trains, the focus here on the investigation has now been handed over to the NSTB. And what they're looking at what exactly happened, why did these two trains end up on the same track? And right now preliminarily they're looking at the engineer of that commuter train. They believe that he may have missed a signal.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): After more than 2 hours of dissecting the lead passenger car looking for victims, rescue crews completed their horrific job with the death toll at 24.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: It was the firefighters there who searched the entire area of the wreckage to determine that there are no more victims there. No more individuals to be found.

ROWLANDS: More than 130 of the estimated 220 on board the commuter train were injured, more than 40 of them critically. Overnight as crews pulled bodies from the wreckage, people waited for word on loved ones that they couldn't contact. For a few moments overnight, rescuers stood silent as the body of an off-duty L.A. police officer was lifted out, killed like most of the other victims, on her way home from work. The commuter train originated in downtown Los Angeles and was headed northwest at the point of the collision, there's a stretch of single-shared track. Authorities are still investigating, but at this point officials believe the engineer of the commuter train somehow missed a warning signal that a freight train was coming in the opposite direction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We believe that it was our engineer who failed to stop at a signal.

ROWLANDS: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the site this afternoon praising rescue workers and offering condolences to the victims and families.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, CALIFORNIA: I just met the family of one of the officers that has died in this accident here, and so it's a very, very tragic situation. It's one of the worst train accidents in modern history in California.

ROWLANDS: The condition inside the lead train car is being described as horrific.

MARIO RUEDA, L.A. FIRE DEPT.: It's been very, very difficult work, but the firefighters and police officers have just done a great job. I'm very proud of them.


ROWLANDS: Fire chief breaking up a little bit there. A lot of folks have been breaking up over the course of the last day because of this tragedy. We just got word that the death toll now is at 25. There are 40 now in critical condition, one of those individuals, Anderson, evidently did not make it. 25 now dead because of this accident.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Just horrific. Ted Rowlands, we appreciate your reporting. With the death toll as it stands now, it is already the worst train disaster in U.S. history in the last 15 years. Certainly one of the worst in California's history at this point. I want to check in with Josh Levs who has been looking at the history of really train accidents over the last couple of years. Josh, what did you find today?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's awful, Anderson. Let's keep in mind, one big reason that this tragedy is such a big story is this is really so rare. You were just talking about 1993. This is the worst train crash since this one you're looking out there. That was in 1993 when Amtrak's Sunset Limited jumped the rails in a weakened bridge and then plunged into a bayou that was near Mobile, Alabama. 47 were killed in that one. And then back in '87, an engineer drove a three-linked engine through a closed track switch into the path of an oncoming train. That killed 16.

Now, I don't want to barrage you with depressing train imagery. I will mention, there are thousands of accidents that happen each year involving trains, and most don't have fatalities. Not long ago, actually, we were reporting, this was in 2006 in Franklin, Massachusetts, there was a commuter train that hit a piece of equipment on the tracks there. Around 20 people were injured, but everyone else otherwise came out OK. It was nothing like we've seen in California.

That's again why this is such a big deal. Now, the government keeps statistics on train fatalities, whether there's caused by derailments or two trains colliding. Let's take a look at this statistics that we pulled out for you. 13 in 2004, 33 people killed in 2005, and in 2006 it was six people, and in 2007 it was eight.

Anderson, I will tell you for those who follow this closely, those accidents don't involve cars going over railroad tracks. The government keeps those separately. For good reason, it makes sense to do that because often those are about what the cars are doing and not something being wrong with the trains themselves. But when you look at those statistics, Anderson, you can see why today is such a historic, really recent history, anyway big deal.

COOPER: Josh Levs, appreciate you putting it into context for us. Josh, thank you for that today. When we come back, we're going to talk to Rusty Dornin who has spent the day all throughout this area witnessing some of the rescues that have taken place. A lot of people who thought they could ride out the storm ended up on the roofs of their homes, in the dark of night waiting for help. And we are still seeing people being brought out here in trucks, in monster trucks, in boats. A lot of efforts by rescuers and that is still going on, and it's probably going to go on for quite sometime. We'll talk to Rusty in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: We're joined by CNN's Rusty Dornin who really throughout this day you have been here watching these rescue operations. What have you seen? How many people are in need of help

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been incredible, Anderson. Because we arrived probably around noon local time, and then there were 200 people they figured that have been rescued, and since that time there have been truckloads, dump trucks, monster trucks, tractors pulling flatbeds full of people. And literally, every single person I talked to said that they got caught and they didn't think it was going to happen. They didn't really believe that it would have been this severe, and to the last one when I asked them, would they do it again, they all said no way. I would never stay again if I knew there was going to be this kind of storm surge.

COOPER: Why did they say? I mean, did they not think it was going to be that bad? I know, some people said look, they didn't have the means to leave, but then also we heard from some law enforcement, people said that's not true.

DORNIN: No, there are actually, many people that I've talked to did say they felt like they couldn't afford to leave. But we also spoke to law enforcement who were very angry about that, because in this area they were offered buses, shelters to be able to escape the storm. It was a mandatory evacuation. They were warned it could be dire, there could be certain death even in areas like this, and that they didn't heed the warnings.

And local sheriff deputies are upset because they felt like they have to risk their personnel to rescue these people when they did have the choice and they could have gotten out on their own.

COOPER: So, there have been what. People on rooftops waiting to get out really since late last night.

DORNIN: Late last night, but it came in here really this morning, as when the surge from the rivers after it, you know, come in through the Gulf of Mexico, it came up the rivers. And that's when the flooding here really began. And so many of the people just - they got caught. It was too late to get out.

COOPER: At that point.

DORNIN: Uh-huh.

COOPER: And so what's the status now? I mean, we in the last two hours that we've been on air, an hour and a half. We have seen the one or two seemingly injured people receiving medical attention, being brought out in pickup trucks. Are there still people waiting?

DORNIN: There are still people waiting. We picked up some in a dump truck a half hour ago. A man that has been caught into his house and ended up, he had a boat but he had to wait until it rose up far enough that he could get out. Many of the people, there's no cell phone service. So many people were waving just like in Katrina, waving white flags on top their of roofs, trying to get people's attention to be able to get out. And there's still people who are stranded in areas and can't get out. What we just saw that the National Guard is coming in. There's search and rescue. Coast Guard also have been flying, so people are able to get out. At this point, we don't know if anybody or no one I've talked to says if they know if anyone has been caught or anyone is injured. One interesting thing though is shelters are full. They don't even know where these people are going to go.

COOPER: The highway 62, which is the road that we're on right now. There's a thin slip of it which has a couple inches of water, and that's where these rescue vehicles have been going on. We don't want to clog up that road, so that's why we're off on the side of the road. And this is really where you get the sense of the depth of the water. I mean if you walk out there, it just, it goes down much deeper. We'd be up to our necks.

DORNIN: Very low-lying area. What happens is Bridge City lies between two rivers and it looks like a lake post-Ike. So you go over the bridge again, parked just down the road from here, and then you just see that it is - the flood surge has settled over these lowland areas, I mean it's just lower than sea level and you know, it just flooded the entire area.

COOPER: And we were kind of joking around about a snake earlier. But you actually heard from one person, I mean, we actually saw a snake earlier but you actually heard from one person who got rescued said they were battling off snakes.

DORNIN: They were battling off snakes and apparently, some of the people that were trying to stay in their houses didn't want to stay in their house because rats and snakes were coming into the house. And so they just felt that they had to abandon the house, even though they were going to stick it out, because they saw that the water was beginning to recede a little bit. I mean, it's gone done, probably two or three feet since we were here early this afternoon.

COOPER: We did see a dead rat floating back. I didn't want to mention on air because I didn't want to gross anybody out but now that you mentioned it, you actually do see a fair amount of rats and other critters. So Rusty, great job today. I know it's been a long day for you. Thank you so much. Rusty, more of Rusty throughout this night no doubt as our storm coverage continues. When we come back, we're going to have a lot more.

We're going to show you the effects in Houston. Some 2.6 million in Louisiana and Texas, all without power at this hour and maybe for many weeks to come. And you're seeing some of Randi's video on the other side of our scene, a second ago. But we're going to show you the situation in Houston. A lot of glass thrown around, a lot of those high-rise buildings. We'll show you what happened to them in the darkness last night. Stay tuned.


COOPER: Welcome back. Our coverage continues from all points around Texas tonight and Los Angeles. We're covering that train wreck as well as parts of Louisiana. I want to check in with Jeanne Meserve who is in the city of Houston. A lot of folks without power right now in Houston. It could have been much worse indeed, Jeanne, but some of those high-rise buildings really took a beating.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. I want you to look at the street here right now. It is clear ordinarily. Not an amazing thing. An hour and a half ago it was covered with this, glass that came out of the Chase Tower which is right behind me. This is the tallest building in Texas, and for about 38 stories almost every window in this side was blown out by the wind. When you came through here last night, you could see these sort of vortexes that formed in the intersections as winds came down the cross-streets. And that sort of force and the debris that was out and about in the air just took out all those windows. Quite an amazing sight to see.

Of course, it wasn't just buildings that were hurt glasswise. There were also were a lot of trees down all around Houston. Downtown is mostly smaller architectural trees, but elsewhere in the city very, very large trees coming down. One policeman told us about saying about one tree came down across three different houses. Even the mayor said he had a couple of trees down on his property, including one on his deck. We did talk to one guy before the storm was over who told us he really thought it was the end as he sat in his house weathering through the storm.


MARIO BENITEZ, HOUSTON RESIDENT: We thought how is it going to go down? We got a couple of trees in the house. I got scared about 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. I said, maybe we're going to die. The house starts moving.


MESERVE: A couple of big problems in town. One of them is the power. Most of the city is without power. The city center does have it apparently because the lines here are underground. The other big concern is the water here. They're afraid that there could be - there's a problem with the pressure. They're telling people to conserve so they can get that pressure up, but the good news from Houston, no fatalities, no serious injuries that they know of at this point in time. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Well, that's certainly good news, indeed. We've also been watching the situation in Galveston very closely today. Earlier in the hour we talked to Rob Marciano and CNN's Gary Tuchman who have been covering the storm really for the last more than 24 hours on the barrier island of Galveston. What we heard a lot today from people who rode out the storm and people who are assessing the damage today. Here's some of what we saw.


CHIEF MIKE VARELA, GALVESTON FIRE DEPT.: I know that a lot of people stayed behind and didn't heed the warnings, and the mandatory evacuation. You could see them before the storm walking up and down the beach. We're hoping, we're hoping that we can get to the ones that had calls in that we didn't get to during the height of the storm. That was about probably around 75 calls that we had received.

MAYOR LARRY DAVISON, SURFSIDE BEACH, TEXAS: Our first survey looks like 20 homes have been completely destroyed and maybe 20 to 30 more with some pretty serious damage. We're doing the assessment right now and try to get into the areas that are damaged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was scary, but we made it. I mean, all of us pulled together. She was in the closet with grandma, and we were behind the door holding the doors closed at one point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your daughter's name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Her anyway is Cayenne.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cayenne, what did you think of the storm last night, sweetheart?

CAYENNE: I slept in a closet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that comfortable?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you scared?

CAYENNE: A little.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little? I was scared a lot. You're pretty brave.

CAYENNE: We're islanders. We're the ones who survived!

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON: We have no evidence so far that the water supply is contaminated. What we do know is that the pressure in the water system has reached a level that is too low.

We want to make sure that anyone who has evacuated from one of the evacuation zip codes, before you try to re-enter, contact your local government officials. That is your city officials.

MARIO BENITEZ, HOUSTON RESIDENT: We thought is this how we're going to go down? We have a couple of trees in the house. I got scared about 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. I said, maybe we're going to die. But the house starts moving.


BENITEZ: Really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there times you regretted staying?

BENITEZ: Yes. I said next time I'm going to leave.


COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins us now live in Galveston. Gary, I know a lot of people probably had a couple of those moments in the darkness last night.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a scary night, Anderson. There's no question about it. I mean, we had about five or six hours of tropical storm force and hurricane-force winds. Two solid hours over 100 miles per hour. But what's notable and I've seen this in other hurricanes specially in this one is the randomness of the destruction. Right now, we're about one mile from the beach, right next to the beach on this street we're on, very little damage. But this gives you an idea of just how devastating the wind was.

This is a nail salon. This nail salon is absolutely decimated and the reason I'm walking in here is to show you something. It's a little hard to see but there are couches that were tossed like toys that are all over this nail salon right now. But what's unbelievable - if you can get a shot of this. This is like a calendar. Actually, it's not a calendar. It's an air brush design. When you're in a nail salon, I guess it's the colors you can get. It's a piece of paper just thumb tacked to the wall, and it's still up there. The thumbtacks. The couches were tossed around and the place is destroyed, I mean there's no way to repair this but that piece of paper is still thumb tacked to the wall.

We see that all over the city of 70,000 people. This is a city that hadn't been hit by a hurricane, a strong hurricane for 25 years. It was Hurricane Alicia in 1983 that killed 21 people in this part of Texas from Houston here to Galveston. It cost billions of dollars in damage. So it's really been a generation since they've been hit by a hurricane like this. It was really a stunning evening and early morning. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly was for a lot of folks all around. But, Gary, in terms of the flooding there, do we know when it's going to recede? I guess, I'm going to ask Rob Marciano this early, I guess we just don't know at this point?

TUCHMAN: You, what I historically see, I'm always amazed by this. You see this flooding where you are. This flooding where I am, and you think of New Orleans and think it will take weeks. But most of the time unless there's unusual it only takes a day or two of sunshine. And that stuff starts receding. I would expect by next week at this time we'll see very little flooding in Galveston.

COOPER: All right. Gary Tuchman, appreciate that. We're going to talk after this short break to Retired lieutenant General Honore who did so much good in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We'll talk to him about rescue and recovery efforts here as well. Stay tuned.


COOPER: We want to talk a little bit with Retired Lieutenant General Russel Honore who has joined us from Atlanta. What do you make so far of the rescue and recovery efforts that you have seen? What do you think the biggest concern is right now?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, those people we haven't gotten to. Those that have not gone out on the roof and flag down a helicopter or called in for support. The elderly and people who figured out that they just cannot live in their home and they will require rescue the next 24 to 36 hours. The capability is en route. It's in position now in the affected area. It's two 500 vehicle convoys led there by the Texas military force's National Guard. They are getting in position as we speak. They have 70 helicopters from the National Guard and Coast Guard. They evacuated and rescued about 279 people that they alone on the Texas coastline and a half hour ago they were in the process in the high island of rescuing 30 others. So they are on the move. It's going to take time, but I'm afraid the problem is going to get bigger tomorrow as people figure out they can't stay in their homes.

COOPER: As a good point to keep in mind that thing continues well into tomorrow in all likelihood. We are in Orange County close to the city of Orange. We had extensive flooding here and there is still rescue operations going on the way. The power situation, we hear it's going to take several weeks to restore power. How complicated - how complicated a job is it?

HONORE: It is very complicated because now you are going to have to reach out to people on the street and the people who need this information, Anderson, because they don't have power will not be able to get the public message coming from the mayors as well as the first responders who would want to tell them where to go and where to seek help. So it will be a lot of recon on streets by the National Guard and police to go out and reach out to people and see if they want to leave. And I think this morning, we woke up to about 20,000 people in shelters. It is where we're going to shelter people, whether it's going to be local or it's going to be other regions in the state. And that will be a tremendous logistics. Taking care of people after a storm, Anderson, as you know is about logistics. It's not about tactics.

Just getting food, water, shelter and medicine. And bringing in the key life support in drug stores and food stores so people can have stuff to eat if they decide to stay at home.

COOPER: It's hard to see such a response already. The number of National Guard vehicles and first responders that we have seen here the last two hours that we've been on the air. It's, you know, it certainly shows a lot of lessons have been learned and they really did make an effort to pre-position folks in place. And we're seeing the results of that now and no doubt will tomorrow, as well.

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, it's always good to have you on and it's always good to talk to you, sir. Thank you.

When we come back, we're gong to hear from John McCain and Senator Barack Obama and their comments today about what we have witnessed in Texas over the last 24 hours. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: This is a statement John McCain made today. "Cindy and I join every American in offering prayers and assistance to those along the Gulf Coast. We do know that the economic impact from this storm will be severe. Like most Americans our main concern about the impact of this storm will have on gas prices across the country, but our priority now must be to help the relief effort in any way we can."

The floodwaters here are still very much in effect in Orange County here in Texas. We also heard from Barack Obama earlier today in an event in Manchester. Let's play that.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: During difficult times, during moments of tragedy, the American people come together. We may argue, we may differ, but we are all Americans and one of the principles of this great country is that during times of need, we are all in it together. It doesn't matter whether we are Democrat or Republican, black, white or Hispanic, Asian, Native American. We are there for each other at moments of need.


COOPER: Governor Sarah Palin also made a statement at a rally in Alaska. Let's listen.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that I speak for all Alaskans when I express our concern and support, this morning especially for the people of Houston and the coastal areas of Texas especially. Many of them are going to need the help of their fellow citizens in rescue, relief and works of charities. Our campaign website, is going to provide a central point to contribute directly to relief efforts. I urge you to do so.


COOPER: That was Governor Sarah Palin earlier today. We're actually going to have two CNN specials that looks at the life of Sarah Palin and also Joe Biden. That's tonight starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and then 10:00 p.m. Eastern for the Joe Biden special. And then immediately following this program, Roland Martin has a special. But in the minute that remains, we just want to give you a quick look.

Some floodwaters here in Bridge City have receded. If you look over the telephone pole that we have been kind of checking this last two hours, it has gone down maybe a little bit more, probably about two feet, 2 1/2 feet perhaps, gone down from what we saw earlier in this day. But a lot of work remains to be done here. No doubt about it.

Obviously people here are not going to be allowed back any time soon. We are still seeing people being evacuated. We just saw a school bus had a couple of people on it that was pulled out, taking people away. The rescue efforts will no doubt continue throughout tomorrow. We will continue to follow it throughout the day as well. I want to thank all our CNN crews, the cameramen and sound men and women, the satellite engineers who have, at great risk themselves, covered the storm and done it so well. So thank you on behalf of all of us here who have been watching and had the pleasure to work. Roland Martin Special "Seven Weeks to Go," starts right now.