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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Hurricane Irene Targeting East Coast; Historic Storm Approaches North Carolina; New York Prepares for the Worst

Aired August 26, 2011 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast. We're in New York's Battery Park at the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island.

And come Sunday parts of this island, including the spot where I'm standing, could be underwater.

Here's what Hurricane Irene looked like when it hit the Bahamas. New Yorkers now of course are used to seeing this on TV. Not up close but they might see it here and soon. Here is the view as Irene began moving up the eastern seaboard. As it did emergency plans started to kick in. Airlines began canceling flights. Hospitals moving patients and here in New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg issued the first evacuation orders in city history for low-lying areas including the area, including the one we're standing in tonight.

And for the first time in modern memory, a hurricane warning is in effect for New York City. Meantime, as we speak North Carolina's outer banks are getting hit. We have reporters all over the region. And in a moment, we are going to check in with our correspondents who are underground there.

But I do want to just begin with Chad Myers who just got his hands on a fresh update from the national hurricane center. Chad, what have you learned?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I have learned the storm has turned to the north-northeast. That is the continuation of the right-hand turn, Anderson that we talked about so very long. There's the eye on radar. There's our John Zarrella right there, our Brian Todd right here. I will take you to it. This is a very wet storm right now.

Wind gusts are 45, 47 miles per hour. And that's going to be the story. The winds will stay between 40, 50 and even up to 60 all night long before landfall brings it in as a category one hurricane. Maybe a slight small category two hurricane as we make our way into Atlantic beach for 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. That's where John Zarrella is right now.

But you have to notice the size of the green. That's the size of the tropical storm rainfall, almost 300 miles east to west, 400 miles north to south. That means when it gets close to you, when this storm is within 300 miles of you, you are going to feel the wind of a tropical storm. And you're going to feel that wind for the next 24 hours. So, if you are in a bay like the Chesapeake Bay, that water and that wave action is just going to push water in and the surge is going to be tremendous. Some spots on the western side of Chesapeake Bay could see eight to ten-foot surge. Ocean city, 2:00 a.m. Sunday, that's the closest approach to your hurricane eye. It will be slightly offshore but that's pretty irrelevant. And for Long Island, 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, that's the eye landfall. But for the 12 hours preceding that, the wind will be from the east with it will be pushing water right into the harbor where you are right now Anderson.

And also on the north side of the sound, Long Island sound and also into the harbor are connected by a river called the east river. That's the river likely to swell because water is being pushed in from two different directions. The flooding that occurs there's from about the south street seaport to right where you are could be the worst that we see in this storm.

COOPER: So, Chad, just in terms of the power and size of the storm. It's been weakening, is that correct.

MYERS: That's correct. It weakened all day today. But there's a hurricane hunter aircraft, that's it right there, came out of MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. If that plane right there just found a 123 mile-per-hour wind. So, although the storm did come down today, I believe it's getting its act back together right now.

What we have is a huge storm doing 50 miles per hour. It's like an ice skater in the Olympics, one foot on the ground, all arms out and the leg out doing a slow spin. But when that skater pulls the arms in that momentum gets very fast in one small spot. If this storm brings its arms in that wind speed will increase dramatically because of that angular momentum. It's the reason why the storm is big and slow or lumbering now but could be significantly faster at any time.

COOPER: So, by the time, though, I mean it will hit land, by the time it reaches New York City, though, it will have been over land and will likely slow down, right? And, I mean, I'm sorry, will likely weaken even more. So, what kind of a storm is New York City itself looking at, do we know?

MYERS: Well, we know that when it goes over North Carolina right through here, there's not going lot of land there. You have an island. The barrier island and then you have the sound, chemical sound and there's just basically water. Now it may travel right over New Jersey and if that happens, it will lose some steam but if it's just offshore like the computer models are saying and so as the national hurricane center, then that wind is going to pound into New York City at 70, 80 miles per hour for many hours and that's where the storm surge comes from.

COOPER: OK. Chad, we are going to check in with you through out the hour. I want to check in with Brian Todd who is in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Brian, what's it like there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a very powerful storm surge right here on the beach in Wrightsville. Photojournalist (INAUDIBLE) and I are going to take a walk town. You're looking at Johnny Mercer's fishing pier. No fishing going on tonight. Take a look at these images.

This is a very violent storm surge coming up on the beach here. Emergency management director of New Hanover County (INAUDIBLE) where we are right now told me a short while ago he's worried about these storm surges, over washing the beaches on the dunes here.

We're not far from the town. It's right just over our shoulder over here, very close to the buildings, hotels to the houses You got about 20 counties in this region that will be impacted by this storm, 3.5 million people (INAUDIBLE) a few brave souls out here with me, no one around, just watching it for the show. But they need people to get out of here and get out of here quick, Anderson.

COOPER: In terms of wind, in teams of rain, what have you been experiencing?

TODD: The wind is not quite as bad. The waves are very, very sharp and some of the sand is kick up. The wind is not as high as it will be in a few hours. But you can see, it's having an effect on the storm surge. I just talk to couple of people here. They said they never seen a storm surge quite like this on the beach, here in Wrightsville. We're getting pounded with a lot of rain and sand drifting with it, whipping us all around. The beaches down here are pretty abandoned. People are kind a hunkering down at this point, Anderson.

COOPER: And Brian, what time is the storm expected to actually make landfall there?

TODD: The latest I heard Anderson is, probably between, I would say 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., in this general area, maybe a little bit later. Then it is supposed to kind of move, powerful elements moving up the coast into the outer banks. And it's is going to hug the outer banks down there at Wrightsville and it is going to move, it's kind of hard bit out of banks and move north. So, I say we're you know probably less than 12 hours away from the flux of this thing coming right through, Anderson.

COOPER: And has that community largely evacuated or are there still a lot of people there?

TODD: We are told that most of them have evacuated. You know, they take these orders very seriously. They know what they are doing down here. But there are a few people down here. And you can probably you can walk on the beach obviously. And there are few souls down here who have come down here just to see the real show that the beach is showing for them. But there are a lot less out here than we got out here a half hour ago. I think they started to take it seriously and get themselves out of danger.

COOPER: Yes. Brian Todd, appreciate it. We'll continue to check in with you. Let's turn now with John Zarrella who has seen an awful at Hurricane. You know, we've done a lot together. He's in Atlantic Beach just up the coast on where Brian Todd is. What's the situation there, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All throughout the late afternoon the conditions have continued to go downhill, steady rain, squalls moving in. I had my wind meter out and I got some gusts around tropical storm force. Most of the winds have been around 25 miles per hour, pretty steady at about 25 miles per hour. But just about now ten minutes ago, the curfew went into effect. You can see this is the main road right through here in Atlantic beach, Anderson and it's closed down.

The police told people today, went up and down with bull horns and said we're not tolerating anything. Everybody is off the street at 8:00 p.m. We're going to let people get over the bridge and get out if they want past 8:00 p.m. But nobody is getting back on this island until the all year is given. And as Chad was saying and you know, where we are here, could very well see the center of the storm, the eye wall coming right over us very close to us.

So, in interesting scenario here because to my right is the ocean. That's south. The way the coastline comes out. The storm is coming up to us from the south. That's the beach. That over there to the north is the vague sound. So it's quite possible, Anderson, depending on which way the actual storm hits us from, we could get storm surge coming from the ocean on the front side of the storm, and then see it coming from the back side of the storm once it goes by us.

Sort of like you and I saw during Wilma back in '05 when the water came up after the storm, center of the storm had passed us and we saw the storm surge coming up. That's kind of what we might expect here.

Now, the Salvation Army has shelter to open just over the bridge in Morehead City and Salvation Army started serving meals at the three shelters there at about 8:00 p.m. I can tell you, lot of people told us throughout the day, they were going stay and the ride this out. But an equal number if not more said you know what? We're not taking any chance with this. This could be the worst storm here since the 1950s when hurricane Hazel came through. So, a lot of older folks who know what can happen from a major hurricane decided they were going to get out. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes. There's nothing like that experience having gone through it to bring the reality of it home which is something folks in New York have not experienced firsthand. John we'll continue to check with you.

Joining us now Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, he joins us tonight from Miami. So, how does this hurricane compare to others that we've seen?

ED RAPPAPORT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: What's different about this hurricane is that the forecast track which is pretty much locked in nuclear program at least through North Carolina, the eastern part of the state. It is going to be a little bit further to the west than what we've seen for other hurricanes in the northeast and for some folks that means this is the most significant event in 20 years from a tropical system. So normally, when we have a hurricane out here approaching North Carolina we see track move on out the sea, missing New England, missing the coast to the south. From this case, the forecast track comes up through North Carolina, the eastern part of the state but doesn't turn right way. Instead it moves very close to the shore line, perhaps in across long island and southern New England. That means all the weather that's usually in this case worst to the east will be much closer to the metropolitan areas this time around. In fact will definitely hit the southern New England area and since there are strong winds, high surge, right near the center of the storms, we'll see some of that along the east coast as well.

COOPER: So for a city like New York I mean what strength do you think the storm will be when it comes into this region? Is there anyway to say definitively?

RAPPAPORT: At this point, what we have is a category two hurricane that's very slowly weakening. We think it will still be category two perhaps category one as it crosses North Carolina. Then that continued slow weakening will persist through the landfall in New England but by the time it gets up to the New York area, southern New England probably looking at a lower end category one hurricane, perhaps upper end of a tropical storm conditions.

What's important about this particular storm is not so much the peak intensity but the duration. It's a very large hurricane. And in North Carolina, they are experiencing hurricane force within for as much as ten hours and the whole east coast near the center of the storm will experience tropical storm conditions for as much as 24 hours. It's a long period of having a battering of wind as well as higher levels of storm surge and because it's so long we'll go through a full tidal cycle in the northeast as well. There will relatively high tides coming this weekend. So the high tides this weekend plus the storm surge has us concern for the shoreline.

COOPER: Yes. There's no doubt about it. A lot of damage no doubt probably long island. I mean, I had no idea, I didn't realize it would linger around for those tropical storm winds for 24 hours. That's with the tidal surge that could be really very unpleasant for an awful lot of people. Ed Rappaport, appreciate it.

Let us know what you think. Follow us of course on Facebook and most on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will try to tweet some tonight, although it's difficult out here.

Next you are going to hear from a hurricane hunter who just got back from a flight through the storm. He'll tell you what he saw. Also, we'll talk to the storm chaser who captured this moment as Hurricane Irene hit the Bahamas and hit it hard.

We also got new video of the damage for you there.

Let's also check in with Isha essay -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson as the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi goes on searches, have been uncovering his network of escape tunnels and secret bunkers. CNN's Sara Sidner got a look. You'll see what we saw tonight when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our breaking news tonight of course Hurricane Irene, the outer rain bands hitting North Carolina on a path heading straight up i-95 right up the east coast, straight to New York City where we are tonight.

A hurricane warning in effect for the city. Mandatory evacuations where I'm standing and other low-lying areas around the city. I'm in Battery Park which is in the southern tip of Manhattan. Moments ago Mayor Mike Bloomberg spoke to residents here. Take listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: MTA, our local mass transit system will be shutting down bus and subway service tomorrow at noon. And once gale force winds arrive later in the evening it's going to be too late to go anywhere. So, the mandatory order requires you to be out by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. From a practical sense if you're not out tomorrow morning you'll find it very difficult to get out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, earlier New York City, excuse me, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had one last warning for anyone who was still at the jersey shore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Get the hell off the beach and Asbury Park and get out. You're done. It's 4:30. You've maximized your tan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: He said warnings takes many factors in to accounting including detailed information from aircraft flying through the storm. A few minutes ago I talked to the NOAA hurricane hunter in serious who has just been right in the middle of Irene. I asked him what it was like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IAN SEARS, HURRICANE HUNTER, NOAA: Yes. I'm on NOAA's C-3 aircraft. We just passed through the center of tropical storm, excuse me, Hurricane Irene. The south side of the storm was kind of benign but the south side of the storm here just south here of Morehead City it's quite bumpy and quite hectic up here. We had to set the seat belt light for an extended period of time we got knocked around quite good.

And I have been in a few other storms prior but this is about far for the course especially with the storm at this stage, category one, category two hurricane. Parts of it can be rough, and parts of it are smooth. But right now, like I said, we're on the north side just out of Morehead City probably about 20 miles north, excuse me, south of Morehead City and we're getting bounced around pretty good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Getting knocked around pretty good, hurricane hunter Ian Sears.

Now, some people chase hurricanes from 30,000 feet. Others do it of course on the ground up close. Sometimes they get video like this. Take a look at this.

We showed a portion it to you at the top of the broadcast. This is what Hurricane Irene looked like as a category three storm when it hit the Bahamas. Storm chaser Jim Edds shot this video. And then take a look, this is some of the damage that the storm did in New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie and just about everybody else in a leadership position has said you don't want to thereabout when stuff like this happens. Jim Edge was. It's his job. He joins us now.

Jim, you were on the island when the storm smashed into it. What was it like?

JIM EDDS, STORM CHASER: It was very hard. We thought maybe we would be close to the eye but it wobbled to the west and we got the worst part of it.

COOPER: How badly was the island damaged?

EDDS: We had some telephone polls down, some roof structures that were damaged. The south part of the island was breached. (INAUDIBLE) harbor. Some sails were (INAUDIBLE) on them mast. But, overall, it wasn't too bad. But they build houses a lot stronger here vs. the United States.

COOPER: Yes, they have certainly learned the lesson of past storms.

Jim, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. I'm glad you did OK in the storm.

The first hints of Hurricane Irene are being felt right now in the Carolinas as we've been telling you tonight. Coming up we'll take you live to North Carolina where the storm is expected to make its first landfall. We will have the latest on that next.

And still ahead bracing New York City. The hurricane is already a historic event first-ever mandatory evacuation order for all five boroughs. We are going to take a look at the rare time the northeast has taken a direct hit from a hurricane, what kind of an impact that has had coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well as you know, Hurricane Irene is expected to make its first landfall along the east coast of the United States in North Carolina. Now, a states spokesman said he's concerned about the entire eastern half of the state of, the hurricane could affect 20 counties and 3. 5 million people in North Carolina alone. That's where John Zarrella is with us again tonight from Atlantic Beach.

John, what time is it expected to come there. What kind of preparations have they been making?

ZARRELLA: They say 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, Anderson. If the eye crosses us here, that's the time the center of the storm is expected to get here. But just after first light. Preparations they have taken, not a lot of people have put up shutters or boarded up. We did see some. Most of the people here, at least a good percentage of them did decide to leave. Others said they were going to go ahead and stay. Mandatory evacuation. Of course that mean they still can't force you to leave. But they did this mandatory evacuation police are patrolling all up and down here. Shelters are open, just over in Morehead City over the bridge, two shelters that we know of.

Salvation Army is serving meals there. You know Anderson, one thing to point out as we see the wind picking up and we've gone through heavier wind and rain now. It continues to get heavier and heavier all the time. You know, inland flooding is what kills more people than hurricanes than storm surge these days.

So we're seeing already ground saturated here, a lot of run off already beginning. And, you know, as I was saying earlier, we got Atlantic Ocean to the south here and the vague sound to the north there. We could have storm surge in both directions as the storm comes by and passes us. But inland, there could be a lot of inland flooding and that's a real, real risk for anybody who tries to get out and drive in it and then roads are under water, impassable and that is how loss of life occurs.

But again, Anderson, wind kicking up a little bit, still only right around tropical storm force and gusts. But the rain is steadier, steadier and heavier, as the moments go by here. Anderson?

COOPER: John, stay there. I want to bring in Chad Myers just to kind to talk about where you are, where it plays in to where this thing will make first landfall.

Chad, it terms of where John is what can you tell us?

MYERS: John is right there. There's Morehead City and Atlantic Beach, kind of a dual communities, one's that kind of the ocean and one is the city right behind it. And John, you have a major cell just to your south and southeast, coming your way. This is probably the biggest cell that you've seen so far, winds with at least 50. Right now you're only seeing about 35 to 39. So, almost tropical storm force, but in the next 20 minutes you will easily get to 50 and 55 miles per hour with that nasty bunch of cells coming your way. It's one of the inner outer bands now and as the night goes on every single band will get more windy, and more windy and the gusts will go higher a higher.

COOPER: And in terms of landfall, you're still thinking what, a category two for that area, Chad? MYERS: Absolutely. And with that landfall, the way the shape of the land is, Anderson, the eye being right down here right now, as the eye comes up and the shape of the land is almost like a bowl. And it's going to hoard all of the water and is going to make a big storm surge right here as the storm rolls right on top, literally of John Zarrella in about 10 hours.

COOPER: Chad, stand by and John stand by. We just managed to get North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue on phone for us.

Governor, your state is used to taking some major storm hits. This is a slower storm bigger than a lot of people have seen for a while. Are you ready?

GOV. BEVERLY PERDUE (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Yes, we're ready, Anderson. We got evacuations complete. Everything is tied down. And tonight is a hard night. We're just waiting for it to hit.

COOPER: How have evacuations gone? I mean, you know people say mandatory evacuations. But sometimes a lot of folks don't want to leave.

PERDUE: Well, obviously some people don't leave.

You have to let people do what they want to do. That's why it's America. We feel really good that most of our tourists have left. This is height, as you know, of tourism weekend, the last of the summer along all of Coastal Carolina and the southern part of the country.

And so we have got lots of tourists have left. A lot of real people, a lot people who are citizens there have decided to stay. They are smart. We're urging them to use common sense and go out -- not go out tonight in the middle of the storm to try to see what's happening.

But, again, we feel like that we're prepared, that the big problems will come tomorrow as we see what damage is done and as we go into full recovery. But, tonight, our shelters are open. We have got Marine helicopters. We have got highway patrolman, National Guardsmen.

All our resources are fully deployed. And we feel like we have got this part of the storm handled. It's the waiting that's so hard.

COOPER: And the president has already signed a disaster order for your state. You have brought in extra National Guard just to help out, right?

PERDUE: Yes. We've done that. We're fully mobilized in North Carolina. We've even got the water rescue team in place across the state. So, you know, we really have done it so many times in North Carolina. We feel like our system is good. We've prepared as much as we can. But there's always things that are challenges.

And so again during the night we urge people to stay in, to use caution. We urge people to, you know, just be really aware that this doesn't sound like a huge storm right now, 50- or 55-mile-an-hour winds. But we think it's going to stay over our state 10 or 12 hours. And that's where the problems come. That bowl that you were talking about earlier full of water is going to dump somewhere. And when it dumps there's going to be a surge of water, and who knows what will happen?

COOPER: And that's obviously a big concern here in Manhattan, as well. The storm surge and also the slow-moving winds just kind of staying in this area for -- for 12 or more hours, as you say.

Governor, appreciate your time tonight. I know you're busy. Thanks for checking in with us.

PERDUE: Thanks so much.

COOPER: We want to go next to David Mattingly in Kill Devil Hills. He is in North Carolina tonight.

David, what's the situation there?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the governor hit it right on the head. The waiting is the hard part. They know what this storm can do. They've prepared as much as they possibly can. Now everyone has to wait and see what the storm does as it passes through here.

Every passing hour we're getting a little more rain, a little more wind, and the surf pounds just a little bit harder. We've had rain for a couple of hours steady now.

And just a reminder of what's going to be coming later tonight. We've got gale-force winds right now. Some gusts up to tropical storm-force winds, probably. And that's going to continue to increase. We're going to have tropical-storm-storm-force winds overnight, and then we're going to have hurricane-strength winds during the day, followed by more tropical-storm-force winds. This is going to ramp up slowly, be here for awhile, and then ramp down slowly again.

We don't know how many people have actually been staying behind. You heard the governor talking about this, as well. And they're not going door-to-door making people leave. The people who do stay here have been told, though, that if you get in trouble you're on your own.

Everyone's been warned that it's going to be a minimum of 72 hours that they're going to be on their own during the storm and in the aftermath. So everyone's advised that, if they were staying, they need to have the proper supplies, and they need to take every precaution to make sure that they do not need some kind of emergency services. Because they're not going to be able to come help them if there is a problem -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Good -- good advice to try to know that you're going to -- may be on your own for days at a time and to be prepared for that. David Mattingly, we'll check in with you.

Still ahead, why New York City is trying to take no chances. We'll show you what the biggest city in the U.S. is preparing for. What would happen in a worse-case scenario that we don't expect to see that at all.

Plus, Muammar Gadhafi's secret underground city revealed. This is fascinating. CNN's Sara Sidner takes us inside the maze of tunnels and bunkers. It's a fascinating look at part of Libya and part of Tripoli and Gadhafi's rule that we've never seen before. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, we've already seen our reporters in North Carolina. South Carolina's coast is already feeling the power of Hurricane Irene. Debbie Chard is on Pawleys Island, covering the some for our affiliate, WCSC. She joins me now.

How is it? How bad is it where you are right now?

DEBBIE CHARD, WSFC REPORTER: It's actually not bad at all. In fact, a couple of hours ago, the gusts were really the worst. I brought a little wind meter with me, and I clocked them at 42 miles an hour a couple of hours ago. But now we're only getting minor gusts here. So things aren't bad.

We -- to give you an idea of where we are, we're a little south of Myrtle Beach and north of Charleston, South Carolina. So we feel very fortunate.

We definitely need the rain, because we were seeing a drought here in South Carolina. The rain is welcome. There are a few power outages. And I know the causeway to Pawleys Island was closed because of the high waters. The Atlantic Ocean waves have been monster watches.

There were a few surfers out this afternoon, but later this evening absolutely no one in the water. In fact, the beach -- there was no beach. The high tide normally leaves about ten yards of beach along here. But there was essentially no beach. It washed right up to the dunes, and in fact into the stairways that are the beach access to the ends along this beach.

And the folks here have not ever seen the water that high. It has gone back down, but it stayed high well beyond the high tide at 6 p.m. this evening. So we're just now seeing the Atlantic Ocean recede. And that's the way it looks here right now.

COOPER: And Debbie, the fact that the storm has weakened somewhat over the course of today, do you think that's encouraged a lot of folks around the area just to stay in the area and not evacuate?

CHARD: No, they stayed put. As a matter of fact, I talked to a man who said he had built a concrete house so he never had to leave in the event of a hurricane. Can you believe that?

But in fact, we're actually seeing some folks who are leaving North Carolina and Virginia and are coming this direction, because they know, essentially, that we are seeing just tropical-storm-force winds, and eventually, that will move on out. In fact, you can see the waves behind me are barely moving right now. So I'm hoping that this is the worst of it for us here along the South Carolina coast.

COOPER: Let's hope so. Debbie, appreciate it. Debbie Chard.

Tonight New York, of course, is planning for the worst. And that's what you have to do in a big city like this. Public transportation in the city is going to begin shutting down at noon tomorrow. First time I've ever seen that as a lifelong New Yorker.

I want to show you video we found on YouTube. This was taken in a New York subway station after a severe storm in 2007. Not a hurricane, just a much smaller storm. That's a key point. You can see the flooding that just a regular storm caused. Potential for what a hurricane or even tropical-storm winds could do, obviously much greater than that.

New York has more than 200 underground subway stations -- more than 200 underground subway stations, more than 400 miles of underground tracks. We don't have to tell you that above ground, New York has blocks and blocks of skyscrapers and high-rises, as well. There's concern about, obviously, construction sites with high winds, tropical-storm-force winds picking up debris.

A lot of the millions of people, the more than 8 million people who are living here in New York City, all of them wondering tonight how much damage will Hurricane Irene do? How bad will it really be?

Joining me now is Stephen Flynn, president of the Center for National Policy. It's author of the book "The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation." Also joining us is Chris Cerino, former president of the Structural Engineers Association of New York. I appreciate both of you being with us.

Stephen, in terms of -- I mean, I guess we've got to talk worst-case scenarios, because that's what the city has to plan for. What could we be looking at?

STEPHEN FLYNN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NATIONAL POLICY: Well, from a life safety issues, there really are people in low-lying areas can see some substantial flooding. And that's why I think the mayor stepped out to try to get people out of that zone A area.

The issue is of degree. With all those hurricane-force winds there's a lot of stuff in the streets and construction sites, equipment on terraces. People may have gone to the Hamptons and left stuff behind. So that stuff can get tossed around.

But the really, really big issue is going to affect the entire region is disruption of peoples lives. We're going to lose a lot of electrical power, and the transportation systems are going to be a mess for awhile. And that means people are going to have to essentially camp out in their homes, in their apartments for a substantial period of time.

And when we talk about in outlying areas like Connecticut and Long Island, also very densely populated, trees are going to be taken down. A lot of utilities. Some folks are going to be facing not just days but potentially week or more power outages.

COOPER: And that graph we're showing is potential flooding that could occur in a Category 2 storm. We believe, Chris, though, this thing is coming ashore in North Carolina as a Category 2. The hope is and the belief is that it will slow down, of course, as it travels north, as it lingers over New Jersey and other states. And that by the time it actually hits New York City, if in fact, it continues on that track, that it would be a category -- a low Category 1 or a strong tropical storm, which is still of great concern, given what Stephen was talking about.

And you see that video from the subway system back in 2007 from just a big storm. How structurally sound, Chris, are landmarks and skyscrapers in New York, in Philadelphia, in Boston?

CHRIS CERINO, FORMER PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NATIONAL POLICY: Well, if I can at least give everybody one piece of good news, the -- with the modern codes, the skyscrapers in the city are designed with safety factors that allow them to withstand wind speeds much greater than what we'll see in the next two days. So that's one piece of good news.

COOPER: That's great news.

CERINO: There will be motion to the skyscrapers. So, you know, potentially if you're high up you could experience some -- some motion sickness. But there's no structural integrity issues with the building itself.

COOPER: The concern, obviously, in a city like New York, where you have tons of glass and lots of windows with airborne debris, I mean, with winds that are staying, you know, at high levels for 12 or more hours, you could have, as Stephen said, a lot of stuff being picked up from construction sites, Chris.

CERINO: Yes. Airborne debris is -- is my major concern as a structural engineer from debris on construction sites, awnings around the city, patio furniture. There's all sorts of things in the city, trees even in the city and in the suburbs that can cause potential problems. And become missiles for windows.

So definitely, don't be anywhere near glass at -- when the onset of the storm is. And don't take your chances outside.

COOPER: Stephen, you and I have talked about, you know, the infrastructures in big cities in a lot of different ways. But in terms of this storm, how does New York City, for instance, I mean, how is the infrastructure here capable of dealing with something like this?

FLYNN: Well, it's going to be a bit of a challenge, particularly in the transportation side. You know, a lot of our infrastructure, especially in the northeast, is aging and not very gracefully. And it fails sometimes just by, you know, the day-to-day wear and tear.

When you put it under extreme pressure for an extended period of time, we're going to see some failure, and it's going to take awhile to recover. This is everything from pumps that have to be operating in the subway systems here. Dealing with massive rainfall on top of storm surge is really going to be a challenge for that infrastructure.

One good news of sorts here is that, you know, the city's going to go quiet for a little bit of time. But getting it back up, I think, is going to probably take a little longer than most New Yorkers are used.

You know, we really haven't had a major hurricane hit -- hit New York City for almost 100 years in terms of direct hurricane-force winds sustained for a long period of time. Usually Long Island, east Long Island. So this is going to be a bit of a new experience for virtually everybody who's alive in the metro New York City area.

COOPER: Chris, you talked about, you know, the structural integrity of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. So for people who do live in high-rises, you know, above the tenth floor, is it OK for them to stay in their apartments? Do you suggest they go to the lobby, go to a stairwell? What would you recommend?

CERINO: Yes. It's definitely OK to stay in your apartment. Don't be near the glass. I think everybody needs to help out their neighbors. Because basically what you have, if you have balcony furniture or anything that you have on a patio, that can be the projectile into your neighbor's building. So everybody really needs to help out each other.

You know, I know people could be away on vacation, which is a little bit of a hazard in that they wouldn't be back to secure their furniture. But stay inside. Stay away from glass. And don't let a projectile be an issue for you.

COOPER: Yes. Stephen Flynn, I appreciate you being on.

Chris Cerino, good to have you on the program, as well. Thank you for your advice.

Coming up next, we're going to look at a few of the rare times that a hurricane has hit the northeast. What happened back then might give an indication of what could happen this weekend.

Again it's really the high winds and the potential for flooding storm surge that we're worried about in New York City.

We're going to also take you underground inside Libya, in Tripoli, inside a vast network of tunnels under Gadhafi's compound. It's a fascinating look at some of the things the dictator has done over the years. Though, the question tonight, did he use some of these tunnels to escape?

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I'm sure it was used to -- because this place is so big -- to get back and forth. Unbelievable.

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COOPER: I'm in Battery Park in Lower Manhattan tonight, which is in the evacuation zone here in New York City, because it's a low-lying area right on the water. The water is about 20 feet from where I'm standing or 30 feet.

Today Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the unprecedented step of announcing mandatory evacuations from low-lying areas in each of the five burrows of New York, which includes this area of the city. Subways and buses are going to stop running tomorrow afternoon. All Broadway shows for the weekend have been canceled.

And with Irene on the way, we want to take a look at how devastating it can be when the Northeast takes a direct hit from a hurricane. A lot of folks here don't remember, don't have much experience with it. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it's unforgettable.

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COOPER (voice-over): In 1938, the infamous Long Island Express hurricane crashes ashore as a Category 3 storm and wrecks much of New England.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Washed away the pleasant beaches of Long Island.

COOPER: With wind gusts as strong as 186 miles per hour and waves as high as 50 feet, the storm claims nearly 700 lives in the region and destroys almost 9,000 structures, including the Connecticut home of actress Katharine Hepburn.

Six years later, the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 roars onto Long Island, this storm costing more than $100 million in damage. That's about $1.2 billion today. It sunk five ships, including two Coast Guard cutters and a Navy destroyer, and claimed more than 300 lives.

In recent times, less powerful but no less dangerous hurricanes have hit the northeast, as well. Twenty years before Hurricane Irene, there was Hurricane Bob. The eye of the storm made landfall on Rhode Island in August 1991 as a strong Category 2 with winds of 115 miles per hour. Bob is blamed for more than $1 billion in damage in 18 storm-related deaths.

Just two months later, Hurricane Grace also threatened as a Category 2 storm before being absorbed by an unusual weather system that led to the Halloween nor'easter of 1991, later called the Perfect Storm. This storm lashed the East Coast of the U.S. with pounding waves and coastal flooding, causing significant damage in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey. Nine people were killed in the storm, which produced 100-foot waves equivalent to a 10-story building. It later inspired the novel by author Sebastian Junger which became a movie.

And then there's the so-called Storm of the Century. Hurricane Gloria, September 1985, recorded winds of up to 150 miles per hour. Gloria made landfall as a powerful Category 3 storm on the Outer Banks of North Carolina before rapidly moving up the East Coast, making a second landfall on Long Island then another in Connecticut, causing significant damage up and down the East Coast and eight storm-related deaths.

And now another tempest is threatening to strike the northeast. In a matter of days, Hurricane Irene may join this dubious list of killer storms.

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COOPER: Well, let's hope not. CNN's tracking Hurricane Irene all night, obviously, all through the weekend. We'll have more on the storm ahead. Right now Isha Sesay joins us in a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in Tripoli the hunt for Muammar Gadhafi continues with Libyan opposition forces combing a network of secret tunnels beneath his compound. Today CNN's Sara Sidner got a look inside the winding tunnels and bunkers and found a virtual city beneath the city.

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SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In this room, this is part of the TV studio. He even has professional videotapes there.

These are actually tapes that -- that CNN still uses.

This is amazing that all of this does exist. It was rumored for so long, and seeing it in person is absolutely almost unbelievable. This whole place is filled with some of Gadhafi's recordings. It would be interesting to see what's on them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: In Mexico, authorities now say at least 52 people died when armed gunmen torched a casino in Monterey. The suspects reportedly arrived in three vehicles and burst into the building with what looked like gallons of gasoline. Mexico's president blamed the attack on terrorists motivated by greed.

U.S. stocks snapped a four-week losing streak. The Dow was 135 points higher at the close and up 4 percent for the week. The S&P 500 and NASDAQ posted gains. Investors apparently liked what Fed chief Ben Bernanke said in a closely-followed speech that made no mention of new plans for more economic stimulus measures.

With Hurricane Irene looming, National Park Service engineers are racing to protect the Washington Monument from further damage. They're working to plug cracks caused by that magnitude 5.8 earthquake just days ago.

All right. Let's get another quick check on Hurricane Irene with our own Chad Myers.

Chad, where is Irene right now? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Irene is about 160 miles south of Atlantic Beach. And that's exactly where one of our crews are, actually, right now. There's 16 -- we had about a 36-mile-per-hour wind gust there, 36. And then over toward Wilmington about a 42-mile- per-hour wind gust.

But something else, Isha, that's happening tonight, too. With the spin of the storm down to the south, some of these storms, the individual storms that are coming onshore, are spinning. And so some of them could actually have tornados. And one tornado warning for Arnslow County that is right there on the way to the Camp Lejeune main gate right there. Indicated by Doppler radar, the potential for tornados tonight, let alone the hurricane. Like they have anything else to worry about. But that's what you get when you have a spinning storm down to the south and that spin pushing these cells, those little convective cells right on shore. Each one of them can actually spin on their own.

There's the wind speeds for parts of Jacksonville, Bloomington, and those wind speeds will definitely come up over the rest of the night. In fact, this is a very large wind field, almost 300 miles from top to bottom. And those winds are still going to be moving up toward Atlantic Beach, right about 7 a.m. in the morning, and then onshore right at about the -- I would say the Ocrakoke lighthouse and then to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. That's where the main wind will be with the storm slightly offshore.

Then Virginia Beach, 7 p.m. tomorrow night. That's where the maximum wind will be. Ocean City by about 2 a.m. Sunday morning and then all the way up into Long Island. And this is what we're concerned about when this wind gets into Long Island. And then all the way back into the northeastern sections of New York City -- Isha.

SESAY: Chad, thank you. Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: More storm coverage ahead on 360. Stay tuned.

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