updated 9/23/2005 1:28:01 PM ET 2005-09-23T17:28:01

Guests: Robert Eckels, Craig Eiland, Michael Holbrook, Mack McBurnett, Max Mayfield, Rod Tanner

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Hello, everybody.  We are LIVE AND DIRECT from Galveston, Texas, which his a virtual a ghost town.  But some scary signs.  In just the last hour or so, the waves have really picked up here.  You can tell a big storm is on its way.  And hurricane Rita is just 400 miles away from where I‘m standing.  It is a category 4 storm with winds at 145 miles per hour.

There is also traffic gridlock as more than a million people try to get out.  Is this what emergency managers had planned?  You‘re looking at a live picture right now.  You can see it is wall-to-wall traffic outside of Houston.  We‘re talk about that in a moment.

Plus—this is frightening.  We have learned tonight that right here in Galveston Island, where I‘m standing, there is a facility that houses some of the most dangerous diseases in the world, and just one guy is standing behind to keep an eye on them.  Will they be safe?

As you‘re looking at massive waves crashing in on Galveston, coming in

and again, this just happened in the last hour or so—you can tell that a big storm is heading this way.

Let‘s go to NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins for the very latest.  Bill, looks like Galveston already, as I just said, in the last hour or so, the waves are roaring .  It‘s dramatic.

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Yes.  You must be heading towards high tide there, Rita.  And from now and until when the storm passes, each high tide cycle, those waves will get a little bit higher on that seawall.

We have the new information in from the National Hurricane Center from those hurricane hunters that are flying through the plane—a little bit, tiny, tiny bit of encouragement.  The pressure is now up to 916.  Remember, this storm peaked about 24 hours ago at about 898.  So it‘s gone up ever since then.  We need this number to keep going up.  The higher that number gets, the weaker the storm will be.  And I won‘t be happy until it gets up about 950 or 960, if we‘re that lucky, but we probably won‘t.

Max flight-level winds are about 145 miles per hour.  The hurricane hunters reported that the outer eyewall is closed, and it looks excellent on radar presentation.  So the storm is fluctuating a little bit.  And we continue to watch this little increase, little decrease.  And that‘s why we don‘t think it‘s going to be much lower than a category 4 at landfall.  And 145 is the winds.  Remember, this was the last update.  The pressure was at 913, but the hurricane hunters just told us it‘s now at 916.

Still moving to the west-northwest at 10 miles per hour, so it‘s still moving at a decent clip.  One of the concerns is this storm slowing down dramatically once it heads towards the coast.  Saturday morning, category 4 hurricane, in between Houston and Lake Charles in Cameron.  That looks like the target zone right now for this storm.  Still haven‘t ruled out anywhere in the yellow cone, but now it does exclude Corpus Christi.

And you can see once the storm moves in—and this white line here, that‘s Saturday morning.  This next white line is Saturday evening.  So in 12 hours, this storm is going to only go inland by about 40 miles.  This storm is going to slow down, and then after that, we could have significant problems with this storm sitting here somewhere in east Texas or maybe even Louisiana with very heavy rain.  That‘s going to be the second story after the surge and after the winds with the landfall.

I want to show you our exclusive Microcast computers.  This will actually show you how much rain we‘re predicting, going through the entire storm event.  And you‘ll notice—watch as the storm comes inland, all the rainfall totals piling up.  And our computers are saying that the heaviest rains are going to be found from about the Texas/Louisiana border all the way over to about Lafayette, where we could see anywhere between 9 to about 15 inches of rain.  And this only takes us out through—as we head out throughout, probably, it looks like, into maybe about Sunday night or so.  So we have to continue to watch this as we continue to watch the water piling up.  That‘s going to be a whole ‘nother story.

Let me give you a different perspective on wind field on this, where we‘re expecting the landfall.  The red is the strongest of the winds coming on shore as we go throughout Saturday night and into Saturday morning.  So the storm could slow down a little bit.  We‘ll bring you the latest, Rita.

COSBY:  All right, Bill.  Thank you very much.  We appreciate it.

And of course, one of the big hassles here is traffic.  Everybody, millions upon millions of people trying to get out.  In fact, 1.3 million in this area alone.  My colleague, Lester Holt, has been keeping an eye on the traffic and the storm.  Get a load of the waves.  This is pretty incredible.

(CROSSTALK)

LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR:  Yes, they‘re starting to break, looking a little unusual, giving you a hint that something is out there.

But you talk about traffic, Rita.  On this island, 90 percent—officially, 90 percent of the people now have left.  They were evacuated on buses or they left on their own.  The good news is people had listened.  They‘re listening, and they‘re leaving.

The difficult thing is they‘re leaving in such numbers, there‘s nowhere to go.  The traffic in the Houston area has been at a standstill most of the day, stories of people spending hours and hours to go a mile or two.  And the fact is, there are tens of thousands of others who haven‘t left yet, and they‘re starting to feel pretty nervous.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Interstate 45 is virtually at a standstill.

HOLT (voice-over):  As of late this afternoon, all roads lead north from the Texas coast.  For the first time ever, the governor has reversed traffic on the southbound lanes of I-45 to try and create a big one-way express lane out of danger.

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  I want to say something to all those individuals that are stuck in traffic right now.  Stay calm.  Stay patient.  You‘ve done the right thing.

HOLT:  But many drivers have run out of gas waiting to move.  The state has dispatched gas tankers, but they have to ride these highways, too.  And the mayor of Houston says he‘s looking for a plan B.

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON:  We have requested for quite sometime some military airlift capabilities, so we can get fuel closer to the spot, so it can be delivered.

HOLT:  There‘s gridlock at Houston‘s George Bush International Airport, where 100 screeners didn‘t show up for their shifts today.  The airplanes headed out are all full.

But the evacuation plan is working on Galveston Island, its historic town center and beaches largely abandoned, even the jail evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m getting the hell out.

HOLT:  Alice Molney (ph) and Michael Gee (ph) have little money and no car but want to leave.

(on camera):  You called the police?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The police are coming.  They‘re going take us, I believe, to the bus.

HOLT (voice-over):  And minutes later, a city employee does arrive to drive both to the Island Community Center, where buses stand ready to evacuate those with no other means of escape, many with Katrina on their minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was scary.

HOLT:  City officials say if you haven‘t left by now, you‘ve got a problem.

MAYOR PRO TEM JAY JAWORSKI, GALVESTON, TEXAS:  If you don‘t leave by now on a bus, you‘ll be stuck on a highway in hurricane winds.

HOLT:  The last bus left without 79-year-old Helena Avery (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going stay right here and go down with Rita.

HOLT:  Others feared they‘d never find a hotel room even if they did get through traffic, so they decided to ride it out here.  Officials in Galveston are encouraged that Rita‘s changing path may spare them a direct hit.  Still, FEMA is telling everyone to leave and don‘t look back until the coast is clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I don‘t think anyone in the Gulf Coast is out of harm‘s way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLT:  Now, regarding those people who‘ve chosen to stay, here‘s the deal.  Once the winds pick up to 45 miles per hour sustained, the causeway, the bridge that connects the mainland to Galveston, is going to be closed.  There is no official place for people to go.  There is no evacuation center.  In fact, we‘re told, Rita, that there is no shelter of last resort here, like you saw in New Orleans.  There is no official place to go.  So if you‘re riding it out, you‘re riding it out on your own.

COSBY:  And in fact, the mayor said, Look, if you haven‘t left by now,

do so.  You know, (INAUDIBLE) staying at your own peril, basically.  It‘s

amazing.  You know, folks who aren‘t here—just to give everyone a sense

I mean, it is really a ghost town tonight.

HOLT:  It‘s a ghost town, although I just spent some time with a fellow that we‘re going to feature in my story on the “TODAY” show tomorrow, who decided—he was actually out here surfing today.  We had pictures of him surfing...

COSBY:  Yes, we saw a couple of crazy souls!

HOLT:  He‘s the guy you just saw in that story.  We didn‘t realize at the time.  Anyway, he‘s leaving now.  His wife had left.  He said the traffic—he had second thoughts.  Maybe he should stay.  The traffic is so bad.  He figures at this point this evening, he might be able to make a little bit better headway.  So he was packing up, took his little kitten in tow, and he‘s on the road.

COSBY:  All right, Lester.  Thank you very much.  Always good to see you.  And I think you‘re going to be here with us tomorrow, maybe, right?

HOLT:  I‘ll be around, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  We‘re braving it out!

HOLT:  What else would I do?

COSBY:  All right!  Thanks so much, Lester.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLT:  Take care, Rita.

COSBY:  As you heard from Lester, it seems like it‘s just a few reporters sort of braving it out, also some emergency services folks.  And right now, you‘re looking at a live camera.  This is overseeing, basically, the freeways in Houston.  Take a look at these pictures.  This is amazing.  You just heard from Lester, the traffic‘s actually blocking a lot of people from leaving because they‘re deciding just to stay here.  This is amazing!  I mean, these photos are quite dramatic.  Jam-packed, wall to wall, folks just stuck on traffic on the I-10, which is obviously a main artery right out and in of Houston, Texas.  And again, when I was driving from Galveston -- from Houston to Galveston, there was wall-to-wall traffic the entire way.

Let‘s bring in, if we could, the director for homeland security for Harris County, Texas, which oversees Houston, Texas.  He‘s on with us on the phone right now, Judge Robert Eckels.  Judge Eckels, why‘d it take so long, given the traffic that we were just looking at, to see lanes going open the next—you know, in both directions?  Why did you wait to just have it one way?

JUDGE ROBERT ECKELS, HARRIS CO., TEXAS, HOMELAND SECURITY DIR.:  Well, Texas—it‘s not a question of who waited, it‘s a—it‘s a state highway department decision on how they‘re going to operate those roadways.  But part of the issue is that it‘s a long ways.  I think the decision was made pretty quickly early this morning to open them into a two-way street or a two-way to take those outbound lanes and open them up into—or the inbound lanes open to outbound.

But you have to understand, they go for 100 or more miles out to Seguin (ph).  And so we were actually—while we had requested that the state do this early on, we‘re impressed with the speed at which they were able to do so, once that decision was made.  The state...

COSBY:  But why did it take so long, Judge?  Why did the state take so long to do it, when the pictures were...

(CROSSTALK)

ECKELS:  Well, we have to talk to the state about their decisions.  I think that they believe that the system—and I can—you know, you‘re asking me to speak for someone other than us because I‘m not the one who does the highway system.  But the system was believed to be able to handle the capacity and the people that were on it.

What has happened in this event is that this hurricane...

COSBY:  Yes.  And in fact, if I could...

ECKELS:  ... oscillated back-and-forth along the coast so much that you wound up having evacuations not only from Houston and Galveston but also from Chambers County, from Corpus Christi area and folks south.  We‘re on top of that.  We have all the Allison (SIC) evacuees (INAUDIBLE) shelters.  But the storm has grown to be much bigger, so many folks are not in coastal flood zones are also choosing to leave.  And it has created, as you would say, Rita, a big mess.

COSBY:  It sure is.  And Judge, stick with us, if you could, because I understand also have with us Texas state representative Craig Eiland.  Maybe he can answer those questions as a state rep.

Let me bring you in, Representative.  Why did it take so long to open up the traffic in both directions, when folks like Judge Eckels and others were saying, Look, the writing is on the wall, we got to get movement here?

CRAIG EILAND (D), TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  I don‘t know.  And that‘s something that‘ll have to be answered later on.  I do know that the state has been working feverishly, trying to get the critical populations evacuated, people from hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living centers, and that that was where their initial focus was.  And this morning, they started putting resources towards getting the people that are already trying to evacuate, getting them fuel and water.

Now, I know Judge Eckels and I were on a conference call earlier this afternoon, around 4:00 o‘clock, where this is now the major number one priority of getting fuel and water to those people, especially on 59, which is on the east side of Texas, to get those people off the road, get them up the road, because, if not, they‘re going to be stranded in at least tropical storm winds and rain of eight to ten inches.  And so we cannot have that catastrophe happen.

I know that the National Guard and other major resources, including the Coast Guard, are working to get fuel and water to those people, to get them off the road and get them up out of this storm‘s path.

But the good thing is everybody took word to evacuate and took the advice to evacuate.  The bad thing is everybody‘s evacuating, and there‘s nowhere to go except east and north—I mean, west and north.  And when you put that many people on, basically, three roads—we have maybe four roads.  You got 59, 45, 290 and I-10, and you‘re trying to evacuate this many people.  It‘s just a major undertaking.

I came from Galveston yesterday.  I left at 12:00 noon, which was six hours before the mandatory evacuation.  And a three-and-a-half-hour trip to Austin took me eight-and-a-half hours.

COSBY:  Yes, and I‘ve heard, you know, some horror stories.  It‘s much even worse today, State Rep.  Let me show, if I could—this is a comment from the governor of Texas, Rick Perry.  He was asked about the traffic situation.  Here‘s what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY:  I would rather you‘d be sitting in traffic for 8 to 12 hours, moving out of that storm‘s path, than taking a chance on staying.  And it doesn‘t change any farther to the east.  We‘re talking about people‘s lives here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Now, Judge Eckels, I‘m going to throw this to you, as sort of a homeland security guy.  What happens to people if they‘re stuck in traffic and the winds start whipping?

ECKELS:  Well, again, we believe that the folks, particularly in the areas where the hurricane will be hitting, will be better off, I think from the governor‘s comments, particularly if you look at the coastal surge zones.  What‘s happened is many people have chosen to leave that are not in areas that have been called for evacuation.  And so when you‘ve got folks that have seen the intensity of the storm and know the strength of their house, they have decided that they wanted to get on the road and get out.

Now, you know, it is better to be wind 100 miles from the coast, you know, sitting in traffic, than it is to be under 20 feet of water on Galveston Island.  So we do believe that these folks made the right decision.  We think that they‘ll get on out of the island or the traffic, that the highway department has done their job to now double the capacity of the roads with the contra flow or the—the—opening the other lanes.

So it appears to be leaving (ph) -- and if you look at other states, the evacuations sometimes takes 15 to 20 hours for people moving out of places like North Carolina.  The difference is here, I think, that we had not expected that, probably had not planned for that, that length of time for most of the folks.  People didn‘t understand how long it might take to get out.  And so as Craig would be aware, when you‘re talking to people, they don‘t—they didn‘t bring, perhaps, the water, the supplies, the gas.  Those kinds of preparations weren‘t there as much as they probably should have been.  So we learn from it and move on.

COSBY:  Right, Judge Eckels.  Thank you very much.  And also Representative Eiland.  We appreciate it.

And stick with us, everybody.  We have learned right here on Galveston Island there is a laboratory that has six of the world‘s most deadliest viruses.  The man who is watching them is going to be coming up next.

And another scary thought.  Are the nuclear reactors sitting on the Gulf able to withstand a powerful hurricane?  We‘re going to find out.

And heartbreak in New Orleans, as if they haven‘t had enough.  That city now under a tropical storm warning.  The rain is coming down.  Just what they need.  what a disaster there.  What is being done from keep it to go under water again?  Stay tuned.  We‘re going to have a live report from New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And you‘re now looking at a live shot here in Galveston Bay, and what you‘re seeing is a pretty ominous sight.  You can see the whitecaps there slamming into the shore.  And I can tell you, just about an hour-and-a-half ago, the waves were very small.  We understand it‘s high tide, but this is a very unusually high tide.  The waves are about four times what they were about an hour ago, a sign that a major, major storm is headed in this direction.

Meantime, traffic is just wall to wall all over Houston.  You‘re looking at a live videocam shot now.  This is of traffic of I-10, the Cady (ph) freeway, which is the main artery there in Houston, a lot of folks here from Galveston and elsewhere just trying to get out, trying to evacuate as a major category 4 hurricane is headed in this direction in the next 24 hours.

Even more ominous is the scary thought that there‘s a facility that houses some of the most lethal virus in existence.  They‘re all right here in Galveston.  Luckily, there‘s one man who is definitely staying put to keep an eye on that, along with some guards.  That‘s Michael Holbrook.  He‘s the director of the Shope Biosafety Lab 4.

Michael, tell us, first of all—I know you can‘t tell us what kind of viruses, but I mean, when you think about six of the world‘s most deadly viruses, this is a scary thought.

MICHAEL HOLBROOK, DIR., SHOPE BSL-4 LABORATORY:  Yes, it‘s a bit scary.  I mean, but we have everything locked up pretty safely, so it‘s not much of a real concern.

COSBY:  You‘re very calm for a man who takes control of some pretty serious stuff.

HOLBROOK:  Yes.

COSBY:  I know you can‘t tell me what, but what kinds of viruses could be in—you know, some of the deadliest in the world?

HOLBROOK:  A lot of the ones we have are hemorrhagic fever viruses.  We have some virus that cause encephalitis.  Most of the things we have are arbo (ph) viruses.  They‘re transmitted by either mosquitoes or ticks.

COSBY:  These are level 4, considered very highly toxic...

HOLBROOK:  Yes.

COSBY:  ... very deadly.  How do you guard them?

HOLBROOK:  Well, now, we don‘t really guard them so much.  We have a number of levels of security that were built into the building, and they always in place.  And starting Monday, we started our hurricane preparedness plan, and then we basically cleaned up the lab, locked everything in a freezer and fumigated the lab and decontaminated the whole thing.  And it‘s been that way for about the past 12 hours or so.  And so everything‘s, you know, basically locked in freezers behind several layers of the security.

COSBY:  Maximum, maximum security, I would imagine.

HOLBROOK:  Yes.  Yes.

COSBY:  How many guards?  I know you‘ve got a couple of guards who actually came with you here, but how many guards just around the facility?

HOLBROOK:  Well, they have about 75 on campus, and they sort of alternate.  We have a number that patrol the building on a regular basis.  But everything‘s very electronically controlled, and it‘s a pretty tight ship.

COSBY:  And you know, the average American, when you hear something like that, it is quite scary.  You know, the first thing we worry about, is something going to happen to one of the nuclear plants?  Is something going to happen to maybe one of—you know, one—a virus, especially in the light of the day and age that we‘re living in, unfortunately, with terrorism.  How often do you have to go to sort of this state of alert?

HOLBROOK:  Not very often, really.  It‘s a—I mean, hurricanes really are our biggest threat down here.  We don‘t really have any other serious problems, so it‘s—we try not to have to shut down the lab very often, but this is one of those situations where we have to do that.

COSBY:  Michael, stick with us because we still have with us State Representative Craig Eiland.  Craig, I would imagine, you know, as part of your job, is evacuating the medical facilities.  But this sort of takes it to a whole different level, correct?

EILAND:  Yes.  I lived there on Galveston island, and I know that the people that work in that lab live there, too.  And so they sure as hell better have it safe.  And it‘s designed to be safe for hurricanes, and so we all feel pretty comfortable that it is.

COSBY:  What kind of—what kind of level, also, in terms of other facilities of high risk—are you confident that they are secure, not just from the storm but someone taking advantage of us being vulnerable, going in—you know, terrorists or others going in and taking advantage at a very vulnerable time with Mother Nature?

EILAND:  That is a concern, but it‘s always a concern.  I mean, you‘ve got one of the biggest refinery complexes in the world just across the bay from Galveston in Texas City.  And so they always have to be on the lookout, and they have their own security devices to try to protect themselves from terrorist acts.

UTMB has the same thing.  That‘s the University of Texas Medical Branch, where the biosafety lab is, and there‘s going to be another one there.  Just down across the way in Matagorda County is the nuclear plant.  And so all of these things, as well as refineries and other assets, have to be secure.  But there‘s only so much you can do as far as security.

COSBY:  And real quick—let me bring in Michael Holbrook real quickly because we‘re talking about security.  If it is—right now, it‘s a category 4.  Should it go to a category 5 again, how much can that building withstand, particularly when you got the world‘s worst viruses?  How much can it handle?

HOLBROOK:  The building was constructed to be able to take a category 5 hurricane.  I mean, we knew we were on this island, and we knew we had a risk to have this sort of storm.  So I mean, it was built in a manner to prevent it from being damaged by storms like this.  It‘s a pretty—it‘s a 10-inch-thick concrete-reinforced—I mean, it‘s a pretty tough building, so it‘s not going anywhere.

COSBY:  All right, Michael.  Thank you very much.  We appreciate you being with us.

I want to bring in—because as we were just hearing from Representative Craig Eiland, the other concern is not just the medical facilities, not just this place, which of course, is—again, as we‘re looking at some pictures, houses some of the most deadliest viruses in the world—pretty incredible that this man and a whole bunch of armed guards are protecting it—but also nuclear power plants.

Joining us right now on the phone is Mark McBurnett.  He‘s with the South Texas Project.  Mr. McBurnett,  are you confident that the nuclear plants—there‘s one, I understand, in this area.  Do you believe it is secure?

MARK MCBURNETT, SOUTH TEXAS NUCLEAR PROJECT:  Absolutely.  The—of course, our plant is designed for substantially larger winds and more flooding than comes with a force 5 hurricane.  And from a security standpoint, which was the discussion earlier, we have all our security force intact, just like it normally is.  In fact, we‘re staffed with storm crews, which means we have two shifts on site right now.  So actually, I have twice as many officers on site as I normally do.

COSBY:  These are armed guards, I would assume, as we were just hearing from Michael Goodman? (SIC)

MCBURNETT:  Absolutely, very armed, well trained paramilitary guard force meeting Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards.

COSBY:  How often, Mr. McBurnett, do have you to go to this level of concern, as we were just hearing from Michael Goodman with the lab?  It‘s quite rare.

MCBURNETT:  Well, we don‘t have the hurricane threat to the coast very often.  That‘s about how frequent...

COSBY:  How nervous are you should there be damage to the nuclear plant?  What could it do?  What could happen?

MCBURNETT:  Basically, to the plant, not much.  It‘s designed for substantially larger winds and more flooding than comes with this storm.  The primary threat to us is, of course, our concern for our employees and our families that live in the areas affected by the storm and the effect the storm may have on them.  The plant will be fine.

COSBY:  And I understand that your employees have evacuated.  Mr.

McBurnett, thank you very much.

Let me bring in, if I could, Representative Craig Eiland.  Representative, where are you going to be?  You‘re in Austin tonight, but you‘ve got a home here in Galveston.  Are you going to be back here or...

EILAND:  Yes, I‘ll be back there as soon as—I met with the governor yesterday, and as soon as he comes in, I will come in with him to survey the area.  I was going to ask you maybe if you can go check on my house maybe first thing Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon, to make sure everything is OK.

COSBY:  We‘ll be happy, also, to check on the house.  You got to let me know if you need us to look beforehand.  Where is your home in relation to where I‘m standing?  I‘m not too far from the main artery here, where the San Luis (ph) Hotel is, and I‘m on, basically, the main causeway here.  How far away is your home?

EILAND:  I‘m about a half a mile directly behind the San Luis Hotel, so you‘re not far from my house.  I‘m behind the seawall, and hopefully, the seawall will block the majority of the damage.  The things I‘m worried about are trees because even though you‘ve boarded up—my house is made of very thick brick filled with cement.  However, if a tree or a limb breaks off the roof, you know, all kind of things can happen, none of them good.

COSBY:  Well, let‘s hope that doesn‘t, Congressman.  And Representative, we probably will take a look on it.  I‘ll probably be near your house in the next 24 hours or so.  I‘ll keep you posted.  Thank you for being with us.  And say hello to us when you come into town.

And coming up, everybody, hurricane expert Dr. Max Mayfield of the National Weather Service.  This guy is the best in the business.  He‘s going to tell us if the storm is still heading on the same path, what kind of damage to Galveston and up and down the Texas coast.

And the latest from battered New Orleans, now under a tropical storm warning.  How much rain could they get?  How can they handle any more?  That poor city.  Coming up, we got a live report from New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You never think about taking all night long or six, eight, 10 hours to get this far, but that‘s what we‘re talking about just because of the volume of traffic. 

COSBY:  Well, that was the daytime shot, but take a look at it now.  This is the live camera picture of I-10 which is the Katy Freeway.  And actually, there‘s a little more movement there than we saw in the last little bit because right now, in these particular streets, fairly deserted.  But we saw jam packed traffic on another shot. 

There‘s is that shot I was talking to you about.  It‘s just jam packed on that particular artery.  And that‘s the main artery kind of going in and out of Houston which is just a jam packed mess tonight.  But, of course, that‘s the place you want to be.  You want to get out of the affected areas. 

Nearly two million people are all along the Gulf coast trying to get out of Hurricane Rita‘s path.  And joining us now for the latest on where the Category 4 storm is headed is Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center. 

And Max, before we go to you, I just want to show everybody here a live picture of what we‘re seeing here.  This is right here in Galveston.  I‘m right near Galveston Bay and the waves are just crashing in tonight.  Max, I can tell you in the last hour or so, we saw very small waves.  And tonight, just big, white caps.  It seems like there‘s more humidity.  What are we going to experience here in Galveston? 

MAY MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER:  Rita, this is only the beginning.  And the storm surge is, you know—it‘s not a wall of water, it‘s more like a dome.  And it‘ll start coming up very, very gradual, which is what it is doing right now. 

Then as the core of the hurricane gets closer to the coast, then it‘ll coming up much, much more rapidly with battering waves on top of that.  Depending on exactly where the hurricane makes landfall, the high storm surge values, like the 15 to 20 feet, will be near to the east of the landfall. 

So what that means is, if it makes landfall south of Galveston, then all of that storm surge will be pushed well up into Galveston Bay.  If it comes in to the east of Galveston, it will then be in the Port Arthur, Beaumont area.  A little bit further east, the Cameron, Louisiana, Lake Charles area. 

COSBY:  And as we‘re looking at a live picture here, Max, what could be experienced particularly in say Port Arthur, Beaumont, Lake Charles.  How bad could it be there and about what time do you think, Max, it‘s going to hit? 

Well it could be very, very bad.  I think the most likely scenario is for it to head towards the extreme northern (ph) coast of Texas there.  It could very easily be a little bit to the left of to the right of that.  And that‘s why we have the warning up, you know, from Morgan City, Louisiana down to Port O‘Connor. 

But if it comes in, let‘s say, between Galveston and Port Arthur, well then the highest storm surge will likely be in the Beaumont, Port Arthur area, you know, the Sabine Lake area.  A little bit farther to the east and they‘ll have tremendous storm surge flooding over in Cameron, Louisiana.  That water will be probably up towards the Lake Charles area similar to what Hurricane Audrey did back in 1957. 

COSBY:  And Max, what is the biggest concern?  Is it storm surge?  Is it wind?  Is it - you know, one of the big fears as we‘re looking at a live picture here of the waves crashing in, of course is the flooding.  But they‘re also worried about some of the tornadoes that could spawn off. 

MAYFIELD:  Rita, we‘ll have to deal with all the hazards of the hurricane.  And the greatest potential for large loss of life, just as in Katrina, is going to be from the storm surge flooding near into the east or where it sort of makes landfall.  But we are also going to have to deal with the wind.  It‘ll be a good test for the building codes there in Texas and Louisiana. 

And then as it moves inland, the threat changes over to the inland flooding and of course the tornadoes.  There will be tornadoes with this hurricane, and I might also say that after it moves inland by late in the weekend, the steering currents will likely collapse, and it may very well stall somewhere over eastern Texas. 

And that means we could have very large rainfall amounts there, you know, late Sunday and beyond.  So that‘s going to have an impact on the folks that have evacuate from the coastal areas.  They need to be very, very careful of that inland flooding too. 

COSBY:  All right, Max.  Thank you very much.  And I‘m sure you and I are going to be talking, my friend, in the next 24 hours.  Thank you so much.  And joining now on the phone is Guy Goodson.  He‘s the mayor of Beaumont, Texas.  Mayor, I would imagine, what‘s the traffic situation where you are?  We‘re looking at a live picture out of Houston where it‘s just wall-to-wall traffic tonight.  What‘s the evacuation situation in your city? 

MAYOR GUY GOODSON, BEAUMONT, TEXAS:  Well, as you may know, we ordered in Jefferson County a mandatory evacuation starting at 6:00 a.m.  We tried to tier it in over several hours for different parts of the county but once the people saw the route of the storm, many people left, and it caused quite a backlog of traffic and it‘s still out there. 

People were talking about six to eight hours just to get out of the county much less very far up into east Texas.  So, yes, it was a very difficult day for motorists, but much like Houston, we‘re trying to move a lot of people down the few roadways. 

COSBY:  And, Mayor, we‘re looking at some of the pictures of the residents evacuating your area.  How many are left? 

GOODSON:  Well, we‘ve not done a house-to-house type search because we were spending all of our resources today getting evacuees out.  We used every one of our local school district buses.  We used all the municipal buses.  They‘re all gone.  We had air resources through the state moving medical special needs people out. 

We had to focus our efforts on getting those people out who have little or no resources or opportunities, not worrying about the people that have the resources to get out but just refuse to do so.  We‘ll be driving around tomorrow encouraging people to get out before the gale force winds hit midday as was just reported.  But we‘re going to expend our efforts on, you know, trying to save lives of those who will take heed and let us do so. 

COSBY:  Obviously, that‘s smart planning.  Mayor, how bad could it be in your area?  As you know, I‘m reporting here now live tonight from Galveston.  So, I‘m normally what, about an hour or so away from you, but I hear it‘s now about a 12-hour drive.  But how bad could it be in your area if it‘s say a Category 4, 3 or even, God forbid, a 5? 

GOODSON:  Well, I think you‘ve got great professional commentary already.  We‘re talking about a major storm surge you have through Sabine Lake and up the rivers that lead into the city of Beaumont, the Neches and Sabine Rivers.  We‘re talking about major tidal influences moving water in, heavy wind damage. 

We don‘t like to think about it, but we‘re in an area of probably not like New Orleans but more like the Mississippi Delta area that was surged in by Katrina.  So, you know, we could see damaging wind and rain to that same effect.  We certainly hope not, but we have to prepare for that eventuality. 

COSBY:  Absolutely.  Mayor, good luck to you, and I‘m sure we‘ll be talking with you at some point tomorrow.  And unfortunately, Texas isn‘t the only area that is already feeling the effects.  If we can go now to a live picture where I am ...

GOODSON:  Thank you, you all have a great night. 

COSBY:  ... right here, in Galveston, you can see the waves still crashing in.  And we‘re definitely get something white caps here, a they‘ve really picked up, again, in the last few hours.  But two hours ago, you could barely even see waves out here.  And in the last few hours, particularly the last two hours alone, major waves coming in and crashing up along this seawall.  The seawall is about 15 feet high.  But again, we‘ve seen major waves coming up. 

In fact, the city manager here is talking about 50-foot waves if the storm hits at full force here.  So that could be a very ominous sign.  Unfortunately, another area that is also worried about Hurricane Rita is New Orleans.  It‘s the first rain that they‘re experiencing today in three weeks.  And that‘s where Michelle Hofland now joins me now live.  Michelle, I understand, is it still raining there? 

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS:  We‘re having a little break right now.  But it started raining here before sunrise this morning.  As you said, it was the first rain we that we had had since Hurricane Katrina more than three-and-a-half weeks ago.  But as the day has gone on, the winds have become stronger and stronger. 

The rain has become harder and harder.  And earlier today, it was very hot, very humid.  Finally for the first time in weeks, it‘s now cooling off a bit here in New Orleans.  The big concern, of course, is for the levees around here.  Even the experts, the Army Corps of Engineers, say that these patched up levees, these levees patched up with sandbags aren‘t strong enough to handle a huge strong surge.  And so they‘re very concerned about the areas that are dry now that could be washed out again if we get a big storm surge here in New Orleans.

The mayor of New Orleans has, of course, had an evacuation order, a mandatory evacuation order for a large part of the city.  And he says almost every one is out tonight.  I just finished driving through the streets here. 

You can see behind me tonight, there are some lights on in the central business district, but you can take a look over here.  It is dark still over in the French Quarter.  And that‘s what it‘s like in many parts of the City. 

As I drove around tonight, I didn‘t see many people ought at all in the city of New Orleans except for some police officers, some firefighters, only a handful of military people.  Far fewer people than I‘ve seen here over the past few weeks. 

And people are very nervous about Hurricane Rita.  People who have never been nervous about hurricanes before, they are worried.  They‘re worried about the flood. 

And then also tonight, the mayor—or the governor of this state, she‘s declared her state a state of emergency and she‘s urging everyone to leave. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, (D) LOUISIANA:  Hurricane force winds will rip much of western Louisiana.  Rains are projected to be as much as 15 to 20 inches.  Head north!  Head north!  You cannot go east.  You cannot go west.  Head north. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOFLAND:  The governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, has a sobering message for anyone who does decide to stay.  She says write your Social Security number on your arm in indelible ink, that way you can be easily identified if they find your body. 

Rita, back to you. 

COSBY:  Oh, what a frightening through.  Michelle, thank you.  We hope you guys stay safe there.

And still ahead, no matter where the storm goes, we know that there will be a lot of rain.  It is going to be a wet one whether it‘s in New Orleans or here in Galveston.  We‘ll show you just how bad the flooding could get. 

And millions are on the move evacuating before the storm.  But not everybody.  We‘re going to talk to some residents who are riding it out.  They‘re coming up next. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just think it‘s probably safe in my house.  I‘m behind the sea wall.  It‘s—my house is 92-years-old.  It withstood the 1915 hurricane.  It was a category four. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And some people are rushing to get out of town.  You can see it‘s just jam packed traffic.  But there are other folks who are riding the storm out right here with me in Galveston.  And they‘re joining me now.  We‘ve got about five residents who say they‘re sticking with us.  First of all, what‘s your name? 

SHARON NUGENT, GALVESTON RESIDENT:  Sharon Nugent. 

COSBY:  Why are you staying here? 

NUGENT:  Got off work, came to secure my house and watching TV.  And people having so much trouble getting out of town, it really wasn‘t worth it. 

COSBY:  So, the traffic is what is scaring you?  Aren‘t you worried about, when the waves kick in?

NUGENT:  I think people on the road should be more worried than I am. 

COSBY:  Really, you‘re that confident? 

NUGENT:  Yes. 

COSBY:  What‘s going to happen if it‘s bad? 

NUGENT:  We‘ll see. 

COSBY:  We‘re going to pray it won‘t be. 

NUGENT:  There‘s no choice.  So...

COSBY:  Yeah, you have it.  It‘s too late as you heard from the mayor. 

Why‘d you decide to stay, sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I‘ve been through a lot of them.  So, I figured I‘d ride it out again.  None have ever been really bad.  But 150 mile-per-hour winds, I‘ve been through them before.  So, I didn‘t think this one would stay on its course.  Ha-ha. 

COSBY:  So, if you could you speak up a little bit.  But you‘re a former merchant marine, right? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Uh-huh. 

COSBY:  Are you just confident you‘ve handled it all, so you can handle this? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  North Atlantic.  I can handle it all right.  I used to watch it out the wind, all the electric wires sparking. 

COSBY:  What about the mayor, though, saying, get out? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I didn‘t believe it.  Well, a lot of people did.  They were scared.  They ran.  But look what happened with the traffic, you know? 

COSBY:  You‘re going to brave it out here instead? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

COSBY:  All right.  Let me go and get a business owner here too.  Tell us your name. 

SHLOMO HAMO, GALVESTON RESIDENT:  My name is Shlomo Hamo. 

COSBY:  And you‘re originally from Israel, but you moved here to Galveston when? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah, in 1993 I came here. 

COSBY:  Are you worried about—your business is what, gift shops, right? 

HAMO:  Yes, ma‘am.  I have three big gift shops.  And that‘s what I worried about.  You know, it took us a long time to board the windows.  And we was going to go, but then we saw all the traffic on the highway and so many people just make a U-turn and came back.  It was going nowhere there.  And you know get stuck in Houston.  And it‘s very hard.

And my concern is after the things you saw there, what—sometime like a week or two weeks they don‘t let you come in.  And that‘s my concern, because I have three big stores here.  And we just want to be around just to make sure everything will be all right. 

COSBY:  What‘d you do to the stores?  Did you protect the windows? 

HAMO:  Yes, ma‘am.  I have—I put the hurricane shutter all around. 

And it‘s a big store.  It‘s 10,000 feet each one.  It‘s a lot of work. 

It‘s a lot of glass.  And we just have to stay to take care of it.

COSBY:  Well, we‘re going to be saying a prayer.  And we‘ve also got -

you, we saw you two guys, let‘s see if we can roll video from earlier today.  We saw you guys marching down the street.  Actually, we don‘t have the shots, but you guys are bringing the flags here with us.  You‘re known as the flag man here in town.  What were you doing walking down the street with your flag?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What else can I do?  I‘ve been carrying it for four years.  And Galveston, I‘ve made it my home.  Devastation will be around.  I need to be here to carry the flag. 

COSBY:  You‘re going to be—this is your nephew.  You two of you are (INAUDIBLE).  You told me that you‘re going to continue carrying this flag as long as you can, and you‘re going to come back out afterwards, why? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.  Right.  Because, you know, people here, they know me.  And they like seeing me.  They tell me they do. 

But, the thing about it is this flag shows a face.  When what we‘ve seen in Louisiana and then, you know, you get up and you carry the flag the next day right after it happens, right after it happened, there are a lot of people will be devastated.  This is going to be bad, you know?  You know, not—I don‘t know, I don‘t know—but...

COSBY:  But you‘ll be the message of hope afterwards. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m going to be out here right after it passes. 

COSBY:  And I hope that that‘s soon.  I hope that it won‘t be that bad and we‘ll hopefully see your smiling face out there soon.  Thank you, all of you.  And I hope all of you will be safe. 

Some folks who are riding it out.  Remember, the mayor said everybody get out.  But these folks are sticking in as you heard for various reasons. 

And coming up, what could it be like if it is a monster storm?  If there is a massive surge?  The storm surge that will likely come with Hurricane Rita isn‘t coming as a surprise to many, especially my next guest who says this island could be washed out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And you can see a massive storm surge right now.  This is also a prediction of how bad it could be if a category five were to hit.  And Rod Tanner wrote about that nightmare scenario in a book called “Surge.”  He joins us now. 

Rod, how worried are you that something as big as a category five could hit?  Could we see what you are showing in this diagram? 

ROD TANNER, AUTHOR:  I am really afraid of it.  When I started doing my research in 2001 and writing the book, I discovered just how vulnerable we were here.  And pretty much the scenario that is in the book is playing out today.  And that‘s the massive traffic jams, and trying to get this many people out of the way.  And hopefully we will, hopefully we will, because I think they started early enough.  We are still a ways away from the storm arriving, but...

COSBY:  Absolutely.  And as we are looking at animations, if we can go back to showing the storm surge, what could happen as we are looking at this picture, if this wall of water, and I don‘t know if you heard, Rod, but the city manager here was essentially saying that maybe a 50, that‘s 5-0 foot wall of water could hit Galveston if it does get a pretty strong hit. 

I don‘t know if you are familiar, but the sea wall that I am standing next to is 15 to 17 feet high.  You do the math, we are talking about a 30-foot wall of water going over the wall. 

TANNER:  Well, actually the storm surge won‘t be quite as bad as Galveston as it is a little further inland up Galveston Bay.  Because what happens is, as water gets shallower, the storm—the water only has one way to go and that‘s up.  So actually the storm surge is a lot worse for Kema (ph) and Seabrooke (ph) (INAUDIBLE), people further up the bay, and Houston ship channel, than actually right at Galveston.  But it‘s going to be...

COSBY:  Which is pretty incredible.  Because we are showing some pictures to the side of you, and the photos on the side of you, were just showing how bad even in the last few hours. 

What about in terms of the nuclear plants, the refineries, the oil refineries, which is a big concern?  What could happen if they get a pretty strong hit? 

TANNER:  That‘s one of the things in the book that I was particularly concerned about, because I think we are very vulnerable in that area.  In that 50-mile area, radius around the bay, there are over 300 refineries, chemical plants, petro chemical plants.  And I think it could really add to the disaster if we get a direct hit.  And, of course, in the book, I had the worst-case scenario.  And let‘s hope that doesn‘t happen. 

COSBY:  You talked about the worst scenario, but that was also around with some weather folks.  Wasn‘t the National Weather Service, didn‘t they play a role?  So, this wasn‘t just made up.  This is actually what could happen if a five hits, correct? 

TANNER:  Exactly.  Exactly.  The research I did—the book is fiction, it‘s totally built on fact.  And I used the (INAUDIBLE) model that the Corps of Engineers used showing how far the storm surge would come up and how bad it would be if we had a category five hit directly.  So everything that is in the book could possibly happen. 

COSBY:  All right, Rod, thank you very much.  The author of “Surge.” 

And everybody, stick with us.  We‘ve got a little bit more right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And tonight, as you can see from the live traffic cam that is I-10 in Houston, traffic is backed up for miles.  Meantime, there are a lot of people who are still saying here.  Fortunately, not everybody, but about 10 percent of the population is staying here in Galveston.  A few hours ago, people playing in the surf, taking advantage of the big waves. 

But let‘s go to a live shot of what it looks like now.  There are a lot of white caps here tonight.  Not a lot of surfers in and around tonight because the waves are really kicking up.  We are getting word that this major storm is going to be hitting here sometime in the next 24 hours.  And we will be live and direct probably in the midst of it when we hit tomorrow night.

Let‘s now go to Joe Scarborough who is in Washington. 

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

END   

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