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Hurricane Irene is Now Approaching North Carolina; New York Continues Preparations

Aired August 26, 2011 - 23:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isha Sesay at CNN Center in Atlanta.

The National Hurricane Center's just out with a new update on Irene. We'll check in with our own Chad Myers shortly. We'll also go to Anderson Cooper down in Lower Manhattan.

A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg out with a troubling new assessment. They're expecting the storm surge from Irene to flood the area which includes the ground zero construction site with anywhere from six to 12 feet of water. If another low-lying neighborhoods now under mandatory evacuation orders, Mayor Bloomberg tonight saying the city transportation system will shut down at noon tomorrow. All five local airports in danger of flooding. They're being closed arriving flights starting at noon.

Now this is what they're concerned about. Pictures here of Irene hitting the Bahamas. New Yorkers are used to seeing this on TV, not up close, though. But they might see a version of it in about 36 hours from now. All day today Irene was making its way north. And as it did. Emergency plans started kicking in. Warnings went up. People boarded up, stocked up and either hunkered down or took off.

In a moment we'll check in with Anderson and our entire team on Irene.

First Chad Myers and that late bulletin from the national hurricane center. Chad what's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not much change in the forecast and not much change in the track, Isha. We're still at 100 miles per hour. We're still forecast to get slightly weaker as we run the storm over North Carolina and then on up into the northeast. And that's good news. Although, I still think because of the size of this storm that that flooding potential in downtown New York, in Manhattan, in parts of Hoboken and also even toward Rockaway Beach and Long Beach in New York still there as those waves will be pushing, those winds will be pushing water up against that shore for a very long time.

Here's what's happened to the storm and what happened earlier today and also during the day yesterday is the turn happened. And during that turn, there was enough wind shear that was pushing the storm from a different direction that the storm didn't like it very much and the storm really disintegrated for awhile. It was very low pressure. It w extremely low pressure. In fact, right now the pressure is low enough to make a category three hurricane. It's just not organized enough to get those category three winds. That like saying, it could happen tonight. We can wake up tomorrow morning. One of the things the hurricane center will tell you is that the forecast for hurricane wind speed is harder, much harder than hurricane direction.

And so we can wake up tomorrow morning and see that, too, be something maybe even bigger than that. We'll see. I don't think that that's the forecast and that's certainly not what anybody else here thinks as well. But it will drive itself right over North Carolina, very close to Ed Lavendera right there in Wrightsville Beach. Probably farther to the east now over Okroko. Just to the west of the Cape Hatteras light and then back over to the west there of, that's about duck and kerra and over to the east of Virginia beach.

So really back into the ocean here. The problem is that we will have such a large wind field with each one of these circles, each one of these spins that the waves and the wind will be pushing in one direction for a very long time. So just like kind of pushing water for 12 hours in all one direction here around and around and around. You start to pile up the water. And that could actually be a wind- driven surge all the way into parts of the Chesapeake as the water runs in there, although even backing up the James a little bit, or maybe back up toward the Delaware into Wilmington. And then you could even see, everybody's been asking me tonight, what about Philadelphia? We haven't been talking about Philadelphia. What about Philadelphia? And I guess you haven't been talked about very much because you're just far enough to get 60-mile-per-hour winds, 50-mile-per-hour winds. But certainly not the eye.

The big threat with all of this as we get rid of the winds, the big threat, the biggest threat on this side will be the rainfall potential. And Philadelphia, I think that's your biggest potential for rainfall, your biggest potential for damage would be flooding. You could see ten inches of rainfall, Philadelphia. Same story from Brooks Burry back up into parts of the southeastern parts of New York City and new city and all the way back up toward Schenectady and Olgany(ph), Saratoga Spring. Could you imagine what those ragged areas, those rough areas and the pocodos(ph) and cat skill would do with ten inches of rainfall. There is the threat there.

The threat for New York City if you take all that water and pile it up in the harbor and take it and push it around into the north part of Long Island. Long Island sound there. That all is going to have to go to one place and that's all going to be the east river. The east river goes up and all of the eastern parts of Manhattan flood. You get to Williamsburg, get water there. And eve right, that's right, of where LaGuardia is. Water coming up as water's trying to rush from two separate directions. And it can't do it very long without that water rising.

And where Anderson Cooper is standing right there on the Battery Park, I suspect will be wet not with rain but salt water because of the water getting pushed in from the ocean by tomorrow. Isha?

SESAY: Different areas to be worried about. Chad, thank you. We'll continue to check in with you.

Now let's go to Brian Todd in Wilmington, North Carolina. Brian, what are conditions like where you are?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, we're just getting hit with the outer bands of hurricane Irene and you can see how bad it is here. We're getting really whipped by wind and very strong rains here in Wilmington. We're on the edge of the cape here with the vehicle path. They're very worried about flash flooding. We've already seen traces of it here in Wilmington getting hit pretty hard.

The emergency management director of New Hanover County. I spoke to him just a little while ago. Already some 6,000 customers are without power. This area of the city they've got some power but they're very worried about power lines snapping down. We came from Wrightsville beach over here and saw a lot of power lines just whipping very violently in the win. Not coming down yet. But that's a big concern in this area. Power lines being down, losing power in this area. Flash flooding a huge worry here.

Experts have told us that a lot of time when people die during and after hurricanes it's because they're trying to drive through you know flooded gullies, flooded roads that are a lot deeper with water than they think it is. So experts are saying you've just got to stay out of this stuff during and after a hurricane. Don't try to drive through it. That's going to be a big concern here where flash floods cause that kind of danger.

You know, the wind is kind of whipping at us now from the north. But a lot of the times it will change direction during these hurricanes and come from different directions. So this is kind of what we're dealing with here. Just again the outer bands of hurricane Irene coming ashore here in Wrightsville, in Wilmington. We were like in a trapeze. This is one of 20 counties in North Carolina that are going to be impacted by the storm, about 3 1/2 million people. Nobody on the street here tonight. People are hunkering down, Isha.

SESAY: Yes. Indeed, Brian. I've got to ask you what's your sense of the level of preparedness for the storm there, in North Carolina.

TODD: I think the preparedness has been very good. They're well- versed in hurricanes coming up right into this area, through these rivers on the southern and eastern coast of North Carolina to the outer banks. They know how to get people out of here. They know when to warn them to give them enough lead time to leave places like Wilmington and Wrightsville beach and the outer banks and those kinds of areas. It does take some time because a lot of these places are you know across inlets and the only way to get out is maybe with a two-lane bridge. So you've got to give people enough lead time and they're very well-versed at doing that. So it seems from all appearances here that they've been very well prepared.

SESAY: And with that in mind we see the driving rain right now. What's the sense of when this thing could get really bad?

TODD: Well, I think in the next few hours it's going to get a lot worse. They anticipate landfall sometime between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., a little bit East and a little bit north of here. So it's going to be very bad probably in the next few hours. And again you know, you're looking at about seven to eight hours from now is when it's going to be at its worst peak here in Wilmington and east of here in Wrightsville beach and slightly north outer banks before it starts heading northward.

SESAY: The mandatory evacuations were put in place. Do we know how they went, how well heed those were?

TODD: They went pretty well. The emergency management director here in new Hanover County said that it went very well. And again they gave people enough lead time in a lot of these counties to get out. You know again, if you're inland we're a little bit inland from the coast. If you're inland you have a much better chance of getting out quickly. But in the outer banks and in some of these beaches that you have to cross these inlets to get to you've got to give them enough time and they did that.

By all indications the evacuations went very well. But you know there are still some people who hold out. And I've heard governors from here to Maryland say that's just not a very smart thing to do. Don't do it. One governor in Maryland, Governor O'Malley, was very blunt about it. He said it's just selfish and stupid to do that because you're taking resources away when they really need it the most. So they really are urging people to get out. Still maybe not to late to get out of here, but if people are going to leave they'd better do it soon.

SESAY: Yes, they better to do it soon. Brian Todd, Wilmington, North Carolina. Brian, stay safe you and your entire crew. Thank you.

Let's go next to Jeanne Meserve, She's farter north in ocean city, Maryland. Jean, what's it like where your?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are not feeling the weather effects yet. A little bit of wind, a little surf. They're really not expecting to feel the storm here for another 12 hours or so. But the city itself is eerie.

This is a party town, a beach town on a Friday night in the summer. You'd expect people to be in the streets, for there to be a lot of noise, bars and clubs open. It is completely quiet. You drive down the streets here, there are no cars, there are no people. It reminds me, Isha, of a zombie movie before the zombies make their appearance. That's how totally quiet this place is.

They're really worried here about flooding, although the army corps of engineers did put in these dunes and extended the beaches. They're expecting that perhaps as much of a sixth of this city could be underwater by the time Irene comes through here tomorrow and tomorrow night. Back to you, Isha.

SESAY: Jeanne Meserve in ocean city, Maryland. Jeanne, stay safe. Thank you.

Now back to Anderson

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Joining us now is Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. He joins us of course 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 now at least through North Carolina through the eastern part of the state is going to be a little bit farther to the west than what we've seen for other hurricanes in the northeast. And for some folks that means this will be the most significant event perhaps in 20 years from a tropical system.

So normally when we have a hurricane out here approaching North Carolina we see the track move on out to sea, missing New England, missing the coast to the south. In this case the forecast track comes up through North Carolina, the eastern part of the state, but doesn't turn right away. Instead it moves very close to the shoreline, perhaps in across Long Island and southern New England. That means all the weather that is usually in this case worst to the east will be much closer to the metropolitan areas this time around. And in fact will definitely hit the southern New England area. And since there are strong winds, high surge right near the center of the storm, 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 any way 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. And then that continued slow weakening will persist through the landfall in New England.

By the time it gets up to the New York area into southern New England we're 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're going to experience hurricane-force winds for as much as 10 hours. And the whole east coast near the center of the storm will experience tropical storm conditions for as much as 24 hours. That's a long period to have a battering of wind as wells, as well as higher levels of storm surge. And because it's so long we're going to go through a full tidal cycle in the northeast as well. And there are going to be relatively high tides coming this weekend. So the high tides this weekend plus the storm surge has us concerned for the shoreline.

COOPER: Yes. There's no doubt about it. A lot of damage no doubt probably in long island. I mean, I had no - I didn't realize it was going to be lingering 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'll try to tweet some tonight, although it's difficult out here.

Up next you'll hear from a hurricane hunter who just got back from a flight through the storm. We'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've also got new video of the damage for you there.

Let's also check in with Isha Sesay right now. Isha?

SESAY: As the hunt for Moammar Gadhafi goes on, searchers have been uncovering his network of escape tunnels and secret bunkers. CNN's Sara Sidner got a look. You'll see what she saw tonight when 360 continue.


COOPER: Breaking news tonight. Of course hurricane Irene, the outer rain bands hitting North Carolina on a path heading straight up I-95 right of the east coast straight to the New York City where we are tonight. A hurricane warning in effect for the city. Mandatory evacuations where I'm standing right now and in other low-lying areas around the city. I'm in Battery Park in the southern tip of Manhattan. Moments ago New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke to residents here.


MAYOR MIKE BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: MTA, our local mass transit system, is shutting down bus and subway service tomorrow at noon. And when scale force winds arrive later in the evening it is just going to be too late to go anywhere. So the mandatory order requires you to be out by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. But from a practical sense if you're not out tomorrow morning you're going to find it very difficult to get out.


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


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, 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.


COOPER: Warnings takes many factors into account including detailed information from aircraft flying through the storm. A few minces ago I talked to the NOAA hurricane hunter Ian Sears who's just been right in the middle of Irene. I asked him what it was like. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IAN SEARS, HURRICANE HUNTER, NOAA: Yes. I'm on NOAA's P3 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 seatbelt light for an extended period of time we got knocked around quite good.

And I've 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.


COOPER: Getting knocked around pretty good. Hurricane hunter Ian Sears.

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

We showed a portion of 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 Edge shot this video. Then take a look.

This is some of the damage that storm did in New Jersey. New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie and just about everyone else in a leadership position has said you do not want to be there 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 EDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really hard. We thought, we wouldn't be so close to the eye but it wobbled to the west and it came right over us and we got the worst part of the eastern eye wall.

COOPER: How badly was the island damaged?

EDGE: We had some power lines down, some roof structures that were damaged. The south part of the island was breached. Some boats sunk in the harbor. Some sails were on the mast. But overall it wasn't too bad. But they build houses a lot stronger here versus the United States.

COOPER: Yes. They've certainly learned the lesson of past storms. Jim, 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 again live to North Carolina where the storm is expected to make its first landfall. We'll have the latest on that next.

Still ahead, bracing in New York City. The hurricane is already a historic event, the first ever mandatory evacuation order in effect for parts of all five burrows of New York City. We're going to take a look at the rare times the northeast has taken a direct hit from a hurricane and what kind of impact that has had coming up.


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. And our state spokesman says he is concerned about the eastern half of state that it could affect 20 counties, 3 1/2 million people in North Carolina alone. That's where John Zarrella is with us from Atlantic beach.

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

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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. So just after first light.

Preparations they're 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 means they still can't force you to leave. But they did issue a mandatory evacuation. Police are patrolling all up and down here. Shelters are open just over in Morehead City over the bridge, three 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 some heavier wind and rain now, it just continues to get heavier and heavier all the time. You know, inland flooding is what kills more people in hurricanes than storm surge these days. So we're seeing already ground saturated here. A lot of runoff already beginning. And you know as I was saying earlier, we've got the Atlantic ocean to the south here and the vogue 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 risk for anyone who tries to get out and drive in it and then the roads are underwater, impassible. And that's how loss of life occurs in these things. But again, Anderson, the wind kicking up a little bit. Still only right around tropical storm force in gusts. But the rain, steadier, steadier and heavier as the moments goes by here. Anderson?

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

Chad, in terms of where John is, what can you tell us? MYERS: John is right there. There's Morehead City and there's Atlantic Beach. Kind of dual communities, one's kind of the ocean and one's 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 will at least be 50. Right now you're only seeing about 35, maybe 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 and 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 an 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 it's going to make a big storm surge right here as the storm rolls right over, right on top, literally, of John Zarrella in about ten hours.

COOPER: Chad, stand by and John stand by. We've just managed to get North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue on the 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 awhile. Are you ready?

GOV BEV PERDUE, NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): Yes, we're ready, Anderson. We've got evacuations are complete. Everything's tied down. And tonight's hard night. We're just waiting for it to hit.

COOPER: How have the evacuations gone? I mean, people say mandatory evacuations but sometimes a lot of folks just 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 the highest 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've got lots of tourists have left. A lot of real people, a lot of people are citizens there have decided to stay. They're smart. We're urging them to use common sense and 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 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've got marine helicopters, we've got highway patrol and National Guardsmen. All of our resources are fully deployed. And we feel like we've got this part of the storm handled. It's the waiting that's so hard.

COOPER: And the president's already signed a disaster order for your state. You 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 teams 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 are always things that are challenges. And so, again during the night we urge people to stay in, to use caution. We urge people to just be really aware that this doesn't sound like a huge storm right now, 50 or 50-mile-per-hour winds, but we think it's going to stay over our state 10 or 12 hours. And that's where the problems become. That bowl that you were talking about earlier full of water is going to dump somewhere. 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.


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?


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


COOPER: And welcome back. Coming to you from the southern most tip of the islands of Manhattan are that's expected to be under some amount of water on Sunday when the some hits. It's actually a number of rats running around our feet right now. It's just a little -- yes, it's not very pleasant. A state spokesman in North Carolina says that he is concerned about the entire eastern half of the state, that hurricane could affect 20 counties and 3 1/2 million people in North Carolina alone.

John Zarrella joins us again tonight from Atlantic Beach. Obviously, there's a lot of concern there about the impact of this. It looks like that band that Chad Myers talked about a short time ago, it looks like the rain is maybe getting stronger there right now, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Anderson, it's not that sideways driving, pelting rain that feels like sand when it hits you in the face. But it did intensify a few minutes ago. It's picking up again.

You know, one of the things we're talking about is, you might be able to see. The ground is already pretty saturated here in a lot of these low-lying areas. So one of the big concerns you talk about 20 north Carolina counties, a lot of those are counties that are inland, not right on the coast. That's because of all the rainfall. It has been raining steadily now for several hours.

And as everybody -- as Chad Myers -- has been pointing out, we could be in this kind of weather and worse weather right through tomorrow late afternoon and evening because the core of this hurricane is expected to pass right over us at about 7:00 a.m. in the morning when we'll get those category 1, category 2 hurricane winds many. And then for another six, eight hours on the back side of the storm, we're going to get this tropical storm-force winds and the continuation of the rainfall. So, a long time yet to go before we see any clear skies here -- Anderson.

COOPER: Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

Piers Morgan is next.