Return to Transcripts main page
PAULA ZAHN NOW
Picking Up the Pieces From Hurricane Katrina; Interview With Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour; Interview With Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco
Aired August 29, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: For those of you just joining us, welcome. We appreciate your being with us tonight.
Katrina isn't over yet. The catastrophe is still spreading.
We want to show you some absolutely remarkable pictures of the devastation in New Orleans, the first real pictures we have seen out of that city, because of the fact it's been so difficult to transmit any because of all the dangers involved. This is only a few miles west of downtown, absolutely incredible, dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds of homes and businesses under muddy water, and, as you can see, in some cases, the water going all the way up to rooftops.
Every now and then, you see people trying to get out. We saw someone on a boat a little bit earlier. That's in spite of the fact that city officials have told residents not to go anywhere near this area if they've been evacuated because of all the health dangers. We will explain to you a little bit later on tonight.
We want to take you first, though, back to the last 24 hours. It was a huge storm, 1,000 miles across. Its winds are still dangerous, its rain now drenching the Southeast United States, the storm surge a huge concern tonight, some 20 feet in some cases. And we have learned T. three people are dead in Mississippi.
Katrina has just been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it's shaping up to be one of the costliest storms ever to hit the U.S., estimates ranging from $9 billion to $26 billion. There is a tremendous swathe of damage, stretching all the way from Louisiana, across Mississippi and Alabama, all the way to Florida. And we are told some 1.3 million customers without electricity in that four-state area, now the storm spreading north and east as far as Georgia, spawning tornado warnings tonight.
It all started in Louisiana. And instead of the sun rising in the east today, a monster storm screamed in from the south with winds of 140 miles per hour. The eye just missed New Orleans, but came close enough to leave this historic city in shambles. Debris and glass from high-rise hotels danced in the wind. The Superdome, built to be nearly impression inability, wasn't. It leaked, as nearly 10,000 frightened people took shelter inside, the electricity going out at one point as well.
But New Orleans unfortunately is not the whole story tonight, not by a long shot. The worst damage may be along the famous cities and playgrounds of the Gulf Coast, Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama. From interstate highways to stately homes to tourist hotels, everything is flooded and wind-battered. As bad as this looks, it's only a sample. It is still too dangerous to go into the worst-hit areas, even though we are told some people are venturing back to their homes to check out the damage.
Katrina's sustained winds are now at 65 miles an hour. The heart of this storm is over northern Mississippi and Alabama, heading for southwest Tennessee. Along the Mississippi coast, the water was as high as rooftops. Rescue teams can't get in yet. People who fled are being warned to absolutely stay away.
My colleague Anderson Cooper joins me now from Chunky, Mississippi. And he saw the major brunt of the storm this afternoon. How bad does it look right from your perspective right now, Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's definitely calmed down, as you said, Paula. This has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. We're still getting some winds, still getting some rain, but it is really nothing compared.
You know, even an hour or so ago, we drove here from Baton Rouge, took about, I don't know, five -- five, six hours. But in this -- the last hour or two on the road between Jackson, Mississippi, heading east toward the Alabama border -- we're right now outside Meridian, Mississippi -- extremely bad driving conditions, trees down on the road. We saw one tractor-trailer completely overturned on the highway.
The police had responded to that. So, even though the winds have died now, it's now a tropical storm, there's still a lot of danger. There are downed power lines just about everywhere you go. Even behind me, this gas station has been slowly ripping apart over the last hour. These chunks of aluminum have been flying off. And one of them is hitting this power line, which could very easily come down.
And with all this water just laying around, because there has been such intense rain here in Mississippi, there's a lot of flooding, a lot of water on the ground. And when you have downed power lines, Paula, you know what that means. It can be very dangerous, indeed, for people. So people still being advised to stay indoors, because there is just debris flying around through the air. Even though the storm has now been downgraded, Paula.
ZAHN: And we have heard about what the shelter situation is like in the state where you are right now, some 79 American Cross shelters. I guess they're absolutely filled to the gills. Is there any sense, Anderson, when it might be safe for homeowners to come home?
COOPER: Yes, that is the question everyone is asking. And there is not an answer to that. It really depends on where you are.
And the problem is, you know, authorities have so much to deal with at this point, just dealing with downed power lines and trees and overturned trucks, they're not able to assess a lot of these communities. So, they're not able to tell people when it is OK just to go home. They're telling people to please stay off the highways because it is simply not safe. And they don't want a lot of people crowding onto the highways, because the more people you have wandering around, the more trouble you're going to get with all this water lying around, people getting electrocuted.
So, people are being asked to stay where they are. A lot of people, you know, not only in these Red Cross shelters or local shelters, but also just staying down with friends, staying on couches or on the floor of their friends' houses, they're being asked to at least do it, to stay there tonight. And hopefully, maybe by tomorrow, they'll be able to get some information.
But, in some places, even like New Orleans -- we talked to Miles O'Brien a short time ago. A lot of people had left Baton Rouge, drove to New Orleans, thinking they'd be able to go back to their homes. The police told them to turn right around and get back to Baton Rouge. They simply can't go in because of the flooding, Paula.
ZAHN: Anderson, thanks so much for the update.
And we hope to be talking with Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi in a couple of minutes to get a better sense of when it might be safe for all those homeowners to go home.
Back to New Orleans. Many of you know it's below sea level, the land protected by levees and pumps. But in the city's Ninth Ward today, Hurricane Katrina pushed water over the top of some of those levees and three pumps failed. New Orleans' mayor says about 200 people, including 20 police officers, have been stranded on their rooftops.
Let's go straight to Jeanne Meserve, who is watching part of the rescue effort as it comes down right now. She joins me now on the phone.
I guess you get the clearest view tonight of just how dangerous this storm remains, even in its aftermath.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is just undescribable, Paula. But I will do my best here.
There are people in these houses. They are one-story houses with small attics. The water came up very suddenly, they tell us, after most of the storm has passed. They believe it was the surge, came up quickly. They fled to their attics, those that could. And now boats are going around and they are yelling and they are knocking and they are busting out windows and they are dragging people out of their attics.
But they -- they have too few boats. They have -- there are only two boats working this area. I'm told that the New Orleans Police put out a call to all its officers, saying, if you have a boat, bring it here. Help us. But the officers who have boats cannot get to them, in many cases, because the roads are flooded to their homes.
And so I just saw in -- saw some people bring in jet skis. They are going out on jet skis to try and rescue these people. There's one story that there's an officer up on this bridge and his mother is stranded in one of the homes that we can see from here. I can't imagine what that would be like. The people who have been rescued are sometimes having to be put back in the water (INAUDIBLE) submerged I would guess under a couple of feet of water, so they have to stand out there until they can manage to get the boat across and then take a big group of them into an entrance ramp of I-10, which is being used as a boat ramp.
And you see these people walking up, Paula. They look shell- shocked. They look like refugees. They are refugees. They're piling them into vehicles as best they can and taking them back into town, where hopefully they can get them some warm clothing and help. They have clearly lost everything. And I am told what I am looking at is not the worst of it, that the central part of this ward is much worse off than what I'm seeing here. There will be deaths. I have no doubt about it, Paula.
ZAHN: And you're talking about this tremendous toll in human cost this storm has taken. We understand, as desperate as some of those survivors, at least the ones we saw, waiting in the water look, as they looked up at the helicopter I guess looking for rescue, is, there are some huge health concerns with poisonous snakes out there, fire ants, and mosquitoes infesting the city. Have you heard much about how concerned health officials are about those folks who weren't fortunate enough to get out?
MESERVE: Can I tell you, Paula, I think, right now, people are thinking about something much more elemental. They're just trying to save their lives. It comes down to that.
Yes, we heard things in the previous days about the possibility of there being serious health issues because of the rising waters. But this is life and death. This is life and death. There's just no doubt about it.
ZAHN: Jeanne, you haven't -- Jeanne, you haven't had the ability, since you're in the field, to see what this looks like from the aerials. It just goes on and on and on. And, from our perspective here, you're not talking about dozens of homes. It looks like hundreds and hundreds of homes affected.
MESERVE: I wouldn't be surprised to hear that. I wouldn't be surprised at all.
And, certainly, as far as my eye can see -- and I'm at a fairly high vantage point. And on our way out here, we thought we were seeing horrible flooding when we went through neighborhoods where cars were covered. Well, that turned out to be nothing to what we saw when we got out here. And, as I say, they say that there are areas inaccessible by roadways, something we can't get to, where it looks even worse. Rescue personnel told -- tell me that there are -- there are bodies floating in the water there. The people I see, these are people, Paula, let me explain, who are people of limited resources. These are people who did not have the wherewithal to get out of town. They didn't have cars. There's no way they could pay for a hotel room. They stayed in their houses because they had to. And then the water came up. And I'm sure there were elderly here. There are infirm here. It's just -- it's just horrific.
ZAHN: It is so, so sad. Jeanne Meserve, thank you. We wish those rescuers a lot of luck.
We mentioned at the top of the hour, Hurricane Katrina has been downgraded to a tropical storm. But she is still spawning a lot of trouble, tornadoes in the south.
Let's quickly turn to Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist, to find out what people need to be on the lookout for at this hour.
Hi, Jacqui. What a mess.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it really is.
And we have a confirmed tornado now on the ground in southeastern Georgia. Law enforcement in Bulloch County have been tracking a tornado for more than a half-an-hour right now. And it is heading towards Statesboro. And that is the location of Georgia's Southern University.
So, all of the students, everybody that lives in Bulloch County, especially into western parts of the county, need to be taking cover at this time. This could be a very dangerous situation. This tornado has been spotted. It's been tracking on the ground at least a half- an-hour. We have had a number of different tornado reports tonight, most of which have been in the state of Georgia. We also have tornado warnings in effect for northern Fulton County.
That includes the Atlanta metro area. A possible tornado has been spotted near Alpharetta at this time. And a brand new warning, Barrow and Walton counties, a radar-indicated tornado there. So, we're going to continue to see some of these outside feeder bands spawn off tornadoes. And this can happen during the day and nighttime.
Typically, we see tornadoes usually during the day. But with a tropical system like this, we're going to continue to see these spawn off. We have a new tornado watch. You can see, this has been extended now, which includes parts of Tennessee, includes much of Alabama, into Georgia. The Florida Panhandle is still in this as well and even nudging into the western Carolinas.
We think that tornadic threat is going to be moving a little farther up to the north as we head into tomorrow. The forecast track, want to show that very quickly, a tropical storm with 65 miles per hour. It's going to be curving up to the north and to the east, heading into the Ohio River Valley and Eastern Great Lakes, and likely see some flooding problems here with four to eight inches of rain -- Paula.
ZAHN: Not what those folks what to hear tonight, especially after what we have seen over the last 24 hours. Jacqui Jeras, thanks so much. We will see you a little bit later on in the hour.
We now turn to Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who is calling the damage along his state's Gulf Coast catastrophic, unprecedented, 135-mile-an-hour winds hitting the host. He fears loss of life in his state. At this hour, some 500 National Guard troops are on their way to help out.
Governor Barbour joins me now on the telephone.
Our best to your great state, sir.
What's your biggest concern right now?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, Paula, we were hit with a direct hit by a massive and powerful storm. And it struck us a grievous blow.
We have had tremendous devastation on the coast. There's catastrophic damage everywhere. And our fear is that a lot of people who we had wanted to leave thought, well, you know, I boarded up for Ivan and evacuated, and nothing happened. I boarded up for Dennis, evacuated. Nothing happened. And, you know, this place was fine during Camille. I'm not going to leave.
Well, we had places that had six feet of water on them today that did not flood with Camille. The storm surge was considerably larger than Camille, probably the worst hurricane that ever hit America. So, I'm very worried about the people that thought that they didn't have to evacuate.
ZAHN: Governor, I know a bit earlier this afternoon, you were quoted as saying that your worst fear is that -- quote -- "There are a lot of dead people out there."
Do you have any sense about how much loss of life you've endured in your state?
BARBOUR: Well, we really don't.
And the reason is -- and someone alluded to it earlier -- the storm was so powerful and it lasted so long and the storm surge was so high and took so long to recede, that we can only begin search-and- rescue about an hour-and-a-half ago. And it is mostly being done in boats by sheriff's deputies and conservation officers from the wildlife parks, the fisheries and parks. Most places, we still cannot get into with vehicles.
So, there's just so much that our people can't get to. We don't have very good reports about the damage, because, again, they can't get to the damage and we cannot get to the places where we fear people chose to ride it out. I mean, our prayer is that people that chose to ride it out rode it out successfully. But we don't know enough yet to know.
ZAHN: Well, our thoughts are with you as you try to rebuild along that whole wide swathe of Gulf Coast. And, again, Governor Barbour, thank you for joining us. We know you've had a really tough 24 hours.
And just a quick thing. I wanted to mention that Governor Barbour had said earlier in the day that he will treat looting ruthlessly and that it will not be tolerated in the state of Mississippi. And that is a concern that we're seeing in all of the states hit by Katrina today.
Still ahead, we move on to Alabama. We look at the fury of Katrina there, where the storm actually pushed a massive oil drilling rig into a bridge over the Mobile River.
Stay with us for more on that.
BRIAN ANDREWS, WFOR CORRESPONDENT: I don't know if you can see it but in the middle of Canal Street there's a tree that's down. I'm going to try to head out toward that mailbox right there and get a glimpse of what I can see, all right?
Kevin, if you see something coming for me just scream at me, all right?
All right. I'm going to crouch down and use this as cover. This is what it's like in downtown New Orleans right now. It is just after 8:20 in the morning Eastern Time and stuff is flying down the street. These are the hurricane-force winds. All right.
That's it, guys. I'm going to come back in. See debris goes flying. We're going to let it go. All right.
Reporting from the hurricane in New Orleans -- come on, let's go for cover -- along with photographer Kevin...
ZAHN: The power of Katrina, so obvious from watching those pictures after she made landfall, as that reporter just told us, about 8:00 a.m. this morning, the city absolutely devastated by Katrina.
And it happens to be one of the most devastating storms to strike the U.S. And today, the president declared Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas. It's been 40 years since New Orleans took a direct hit from a hurricane. That was Betsy. Now, Katrina didn't score a bullseye today. The eye of the storm veered off to the east, but it still packed quite a punch.
David Mattingly has more.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the engine that drives New Orleans tourism, dire prediction of 20-foot flood waters in the French Quarter spelled a disaster that would have been felt for decades, but as Katrina departed, the storm instead left behind an endless parade of debris and surprises.
(on camera): What's most amazing to me as you walk around the Quarter, is how many people you see out on the streets right now.
(voice-over): People who were told to evacuate, didn't. The streets that could have been hit by catastrophic flooding, weren't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of these lights right here, the glass has been smashing against the wall and then coming down the street and everything.
MATTINGLY: Mike Bevis (ph) and Kathy Ebecknell (ph) felt their century-old apartment building was up to the challenge. They made it through with just some damage to the kitchen ceiling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These buildings down here, they've been here for so long and the way they were built that some of them, they're as tough as a bank vault, really.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind was rolling in this way.
MATTINGLY: Upstairs, Mardi Gras bead-makers Rick (ph) and Lori Eichmann (ph) stayed so they could get an early jump on cleanup.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: French Quarter residents are pretty hearty types. We're ready to start cleaning up and getting the show back on the road. We want to have the place decent by Labor Day, so everybody can come down and have a good time.
MATTINGLY: It may be an ambitious goal. Locals residents became sightseers themselves, so they could take in all the damage.
(on camera): There's one thing down this street that all the residents tell us we have to look at and it has nothing to do with all of this debris in the street. There's a lot of masonry and a lot lumber apparently blown off of roofs. It's right around this corner. In this park, we can see some huge trees that are down, crashing through the gate over here. But it isn't the trees that they want us to come look at. It's what's inside.
(voice-over): Massive oaks fell all around, but not on the statue of Jesus. The only apparent damage to the church: A clock that stopped when electricity failed. And even as the rains from a receding Katrina continued to pour, there were signs the party was coming back to life.
(on camera): What are you doing, making a delivery?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Le Madeleine's all our electricity is out. These we're going to spoil tomorrow and so, we'll bringing them to the people who were stuck here from the hotel -- at the hotel. (voice-over): Just off Jackson Square, we find a room full of stranded people who chose a hotel over the Superdome shelter. One tourist we spoke with was looking ahead.
(on camera): Well, we made it through the night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MATTINGLY: What's your concern now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Getting out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting out and getting back to Chicago.
MATTINGLY: Any idea how you're going to do that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely none.
MATTINGLY: But for now, officials are urging everyone -- and we have heard this so many times today -- to stay put. Because of the condition of the roads, no one is able to get in or out with any reliability around here. This is a city that's struggling, Paula, just to restore basic services for the people who live here. They have no idea what they're going to do in terms of bringing the tourists back -- Paula.
ZAHN: ... electricity night. I guess we're told 1.3 million folks without electricity in a four-state area down there, David.
What can you tell us about the folks still stuck at the Astrodome (sic)? How long can they expect to stay there?
MATTINGLY: It's pretty open-ended right now. Everyone is saying, you should not go back to your homes. There are bad situations. They're worried about more people getting hurt when they let them out than they would if they'd allowed them to stay in there.
They're also worried about maintaining order in some of these areas. The police are stretched pretty thin. There's a curfew in effect right now. You can probably see quite a few people behind me, so a lot of people not paying attention to that. There has been some looting in the area. We saw looters arrested here on Canal -- well, some looters arrested here on Canal Street earlier this afternoon.
But police saying they're doing the best they can, and they are stretched pretty thin right now -- Paula.
ZAHN: David Mattingly in New Orleans, I hope those folks heed those warnings. Thanks so much.
Let's get an idea of the big picture now in Louisiana. Joining me now on the phone, Governor Kathleen Blanco. Thanks so much for being with us.
We just saw, Governor, some extraordinary pictures that have been fed in, aerials of an area outside of New Orleans, where it appeared as though maybe 100 homes are under water up to their roof lines. Can you give us a sense how many people need to be rescued tonight, who simply couldn't get out?
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Paula, we have a search- and-rescue mission ongoing. It's been going on since about 4:00 this afternoon.
We have pulled literally hundreds of people out of the waters. We have got boats moving through neighborhoods. We have got hundreds and hundreds of houses inundated with water in eastern New Orleans. And in St. Bernard Parish, we have 1, 200 people stranded in St. Bernard Parish, but safe. And we have got boats moving all through these neighborhoods that are just filled with water.
We're sending more and more rescue teams in. Our mission right now is to rescue people. We're provisioning those that have to be provisioned. But we have also got medical teams that are in place. We are -- we have -- we have a highway that -- an interstate section that -- where spans are out at Slidell, so people cannot come in.
We're asking Louisiana citizens to stay where they are, not to try to come home. It is impossible to get into the city. We have got flooded areas of the interstate. We have blocked off access routes into the region. It's very difficult for our search-and-rescue people to get their work done. But we are working on it.
And, as of tonight, several hundred people have been rescued from their homes, from their attics, from their rooftops. It...
ZAHN: And, Governor, even as you speak, we are looking at a tape that has just been fed to us, remarkable pictures of someone stuck on a rooftop being pulled to safety by the Coast Guard to a helicopter, absolutely extraordinary to watch.
And it makes you wonder -- this is just amazing -- how many more people out there will be in this situation?
BLANCO: We believe there are hundreds more out there.
And so, tonight is critical. We're trying to get to those who are in most danger. Some are actually in safe attics. They don't want to be there, but they're safer than others. But, as we find them, we're breaking through. We're helping them to get out. We're trying our very best. We have got a massive search-and-rescue situation going on. And I believe that, you know, that we're going to pull out hundreds of people.
ZAHN: Well, and, listen, I have great faith, in watching this rescue that you haven't been able to witness on television, but a signal that has been -- or shots that have just been sent in to us. Governor Blanco, the best of luck to you. I know you're also very concerned about the lack of sewage in cities all over your state and potable drinking water. And we also understand residents who are trying to come back to their homes should be very concerned, perhaps, about poisonous snakes, fire ants and mosquitoes infesting the city. It is a very, very sad day all across the Gulf region.
Again, Governor Blanco, thank you.
Still ahead, as we continue our coverage of this monster storm, we will go back to Alabama, even 100 miles from the center of the storm, frightening damage and amazing images.
Stay with us.
ZAHN: If you were wondering tonight just how destructive Hurricane Katrina has been to the whole Gulf Coast, and in particular, here in New Orleans, look at this picture. This is a man being rescued from what is left of his home, just the rooftop surfacing above the water. The U.S. Coast Guard involved in the rescue. We just got off the phone with Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, and she says what you're seeing unfold on your screen tonight, she hopes will be repeated maybe over 100 times. That's how many people she believes are trapped in areas in and around New Orleans.
We believe, and we can't say this with certainty, we're looking at this area called the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Our reporter Jeanne Meserve describing to us that a lot of people who lived in this area simply could not get out. They didn't have transportation. They didn't have cars. The water came up very, very quickly. So you now have federal emergency teams, basically, who will be working around the clock to get to these people. Once again, the governor saying maybe over 100 people need to be rescued tonight.
Let's quickly go to John Zarrella who was in New Orleans as the storm made landfall about 8:00 a.m. this morning. And I guess we're all just beginning to understand how devastating this storm was -- John.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, and you know, in a way, how lucky they were, because how much worse this could have been. All of those horrific stories about the rescues on the rooftops, all of that had been talked about as infinitum by emergency managers, what would happen, what could come to pass, the quick rising water that you had mentioned, people stuck on their rooftops, unable to get out. And the fact that these people had no transportation, no way out of the city. That's why the Superdome was opened, so that these people could get to the Superdome, those that could not get out of the city. But they knew all along this would be the case for some. And in fact, it has been the case.
And all over today as we drove around New Orleans, even though it was not as bad as in the Ninth Ward there, it was very bad in many other places. Every street you went down, there was water. At least a foot, sometimes two feet of water. There were trees down, power lines down. At the Superdome, of course, we know that a portion of the roof came off and the people that did go there for refuge had to be moved to other sections of the Superdome to get them away from the water coming through the roof.
And, you know, with all the heroic efforts you've been reporting on and you've been seeing, of course, there's the other side of the story, of human beings taking advantage of this situation. We drove by a Winn-Dixie supermarket, we saw at least 50, maybe 75 people in there, coming out with shopping carts filled with groceries -- Paula.
ZAHN: Looting an issue in two other states as well tonight. John Zarrella, with the Governor Haley Barbour, who just got off the phone with us from Mississippi saying that he will deal with looters ruthlessly.
President Bush has declared parts of southwest Alabama as federal disaster areas. Mobile is suffering the worst flooding seen in 20 years, in some cases a 20-foot storm surge.
This is brand new video, a major bridge over the Mobile River had to be closed after it was struck by a runaway oil drilling platform. This is a U.S. Highway 98 Bridge. The platform came loose from a ship yard where it was under repair. Joining me now is Alabama Governor Bob Riley. What impact is this going to have on your state? I assume this means this bridge will be out for some time?
GOV. BOB RILEY, (R) ALABAMA: Well, Paula, right now we don't know how much damage there was to the bridge. But just to be on the safe side, we went ahead and closed that down until teams can go out and assess the damage and make a determination whether or not it is safe.
ZAHN: What are you most worried about tonight, Governor?
RILEY: Well we've still got tornado warnings out all over the state. We'll probably have to deal with that throughout the night. But the flooding in Mobile, as you said a moment ago, is at a historic high. It's going to take awhile for that to recede. There's also outlying areas, the barrier islands, Dauphin Island, Biola, La Batre, where we're going to be doing search and rescue out there. But, you know, we're going to come through this. As bad as it is in Alabama, when you look at the devastation in Mississippi and Louisiana, we know that to a large extent it could be much worse here.
ZAHN: I guess that's an important perspective to keep in mind when you see so much pain out there. I know you probably were stunned by the pictures we just saw. One of those rescues taking place by the Coast Guard outside of New Orleans. Very quickly, sir. We understand some 265,000 people in your state are without power tonight. How long do you think they're going to have to deal with that problem?
RILEY: Well, a lot of it is going to be determined by how fast we can get back into those areas. If the water will recede or begin to recede tomorrow, then we've got all the utility crews prestationed there ready to go in. They'll be going in tomorrow, doing damage assessments. So we're hoping as quickly as possible we'll get the power back on. But we do have ice water and all of our MREs ready. They were prepositioned. We've got the National Guard to distribute it. So I think we were as prepared as we could be. But it's going to take a few days to get this back to -- or get Alabama back to normal.
ZAHN: We wish you luck as you try to reestablish that normalcy. Governor Bob Riley, thank you so much for your time tonight.
RILEY: Thank you.
ZAHN: As our coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues, counting the damage. It could be the most expensive storm ever, perhaps try to the tune of $26 billion. And the Red Cross gets set for its bigger -- or that is biggest, disaster mobilization in history.
ZAHN: We're going to take a minute to recap what exactly has happened today. These pictures tell you everything you need to know. This is suburban New Orleans, five to ten miles west of downtown. As far as you can see, there's no dry land. Every home, every shopping mall, is an island. A lot of these folks simply trapped there. They had no way out. Didn't have the resources to have a car, and the water came up quickly. They got stuck there.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall over Louisiana at dawn today. The eye of the storm passed just east of New Orleans. The Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast took the brunt of the storm. In Mississippi, at least three deaths are blamed on Katrina, and something like 1.3 million people are without electricity in four states. President Bush has declared Mississippi and Louisiana disaster areas. Early predictions are that Katrina will cost the insurance industry between nine on the low side to $26 billion, which would be a record, five over Hurricane Andrew.
The storm's remnants still pack 65-mile-an-hour sustained winds, meaning Katrina is still a tropical storm. It's over northern Mississippi and Alabama, headed to southwest Tennessee. But the storm is so big, more than 1,000 miles across -- it has spun tornadoes as far away as Georgia. It damaged at least 30 homes in suburban Atlanta.
It's been about 12 hours since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Tonight, this damage is still revealing itself in the stories of survival that can now be told. Here's Jonathan Freed from Biloxi.
JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the wind pounding the Comfort Inn in Biloxi, Suzanne Rodgers' job ...
SUZANNE RODGERS, HURRICANE VICTIM: Do you need another bed, a roller wide bed in there with you guys?
FREED: ... is making the hurricane refugees here feel as comfortable as possible. But around noon on Monday, it was Rodgers who needed consoling.
RODGERS: Come on! Where's Holly? Come on, come on!
FREED: When a gust blew out the window in her hotel room.
RODGERS: And all the windows on both ends of the third floor are busting out.
FREED (on camera): What did it sound like?
RODGERS: It sounded like a boom.
FREED (voice-over): Rodgers has lived in Biloxi all her life, a life marked by the last monster storm to come through these parts, Hurricane Camille in 1969, when Rodgers was just 9 years old, and says a storm surge almost drowned her and her family.
RODGERS: As it was coming in the front door, we had to go to the back of my aunt's house, while the water was filling up. And I can remember it filled all the way up to my neck. And as a little girl, and there was nowhere for us to go.
FREED: Rodgers says the fear she felt on that day remained buried, until now.
RODGERS: What just happened to us upstairs has -- I was scared. Very, very, very scared. It just put me in the mind of Hurricane Camille.
FREED: But Rodgers managed to push her fears aside, by focusing on the people taking shelter at the hotel, who need her help.
ZAHN: And Suzanne Rodgers, who you just met in that piece, joins us now.
Suzanne, I guess we can well understand your fear of hurricanes, having lived through a couple of them. When do you think you might be able to go home?
RODGERS: Well, I actually went home about an hour and a half ago. And there is no home to go to. The apartment complex that I lived in, which is on the beach in Ocean Springs, is totally leveled. There's nothing there anymore.
ZAHN: Totally leveled?
RODGERS: Not as much as...
ZAHN: Totally lost?
RODGERS: Totally lost. Totally lost. We actually had to park about three blocks away, and walk as far as we could walk, to the -- where I lived at. And there's nothing there. They're gone. It's all rubble. There's nothing left.
And my neighbors had just built a big, beautiful home, million- dollar home. And it is gone. All the homes on the beach in Biloxi -- in Ocean Springs, excuse me, are gone.
And then, when I left there, after we viewed that, I have nothing left now, we went to Biloxi. We rode over to Biloxi, to see about my mother, where my mother lives. And the water, the rivers have swollen in north Biloxi so bad that you can't get through to drive over there.
So we drove to front (ph) Biloxi where the casinos are. The casinos appear to be still standing. Of course, you know, I don't know about the water and the tidal surges. But there are -- there are like 18 wheelers on top of cars and homes in the middle of the streets, and there's people wandering down the streets with nowhere to go, homeless. They've got maybe a bag over their shoulder, and they're all in the middle of the streets, with nowhere to go. And the homes, houses and boats and cars are just -- debris is just everywhere. It's just -- it's very catastrophic down here. It reminds me of Camille.
ZAHN: Suzanne, I'm sure it does. And you were just describing what it was like to go back to your neighborhood. We should help the audience understand, you're talking about a storm that packed 135- mile-per-hour winds. But help us understand...
ZAHN: ... the construction of an apartment building, where the whole thing went out to sea? You said there's absolutely nothing left?
RODGERS: There's nothing left. All I found that belonged to me was a shoe.
ZAHN: A shoe?
RODGERS: A shoe. That was it. And a chair that I had put inside of my apartment. I lived on the bottom floor. This was a two- story brick building that I lived in. And it was very nice. Of course, we were on the beach. And there is nothing left. There's nothing left. There's -- there's debris hanging from trees. And there's homes that were -- that stood Camille, actually stood Camille. The homes that stood Camille didn't stand this hurricane. They're gone. They're absolutely gone.
And the home that I was telling you about that my friends had just built, it was just -- it was just extremely gorgeous. And it was two stories, and a beautiful home, stucco. It was made of stucco brick. And gone.
ZAHN: Nothing left of it either.
RODGERS: Nothing but -- nothing, nothing left.
ZAHN: Suzanne, what are you standing in front of now? What's behind you?
RODGERS: I'm standing in front of the Comfort Inn. This is where I work. And we got pretty beat up last night also. Today, this morning.
ZAHN: Well, we could see from the pictures when you were standing next to that window, that made me very nervous. What are you going to do now, Suzanne, where are you going to live?
RODGERS: Well, I've got family that live in Jackson. I've got a sister up there. But I'm, you know, presently worried about a younger sister of mine who stayed near the beach this morning. And like, we have no power, and no phone, no way to call. And you know, my family probably they don't know if I'm OK or not. They're all in Jackson. My children are in Jackson. And one is in Destin, Florida. And...
ZAHN: Well, I'm hoping they have power tonight so they can see that you're OK, that you've survived, and...
RODGERS: Yes, right.
ZAHN: ... seemingly undaunted by the challenge that lies ahead. We are so sorry, Suzanne. And we really appreciate...
ZAHN: ... your dropping by to explain to us just how powerful this storm was.
RODGERS: Yes, it was very, very powerful. I can remember Camille. But I can never remember Camille doing what it did to the north side of the Highway 90. You know, a lot of damage was up front. But it's devastating.
ZAHN: Yes, unfortunately -- yeah, they're unfortunately saying this could end up being the most devastating hurricane of all. Suzanne Rodgers, good luck.
We're going to be back with more on Katrina. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: The pictures just keep on getting worse tonight. You're seeing brand new pictures of a home burning in New Orleans tonight. Just a small sample of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, now a tropical storm. And as you no doubt have heard, it is very difficult to get emergency resources through New Orleans because of blocked streets. This neighborhood doesn't look as flooded as some of the other ones we've seen, but definitely a struggle for emergency workers to get their jobs done tonight.
This storm has the potential to break all records for damage and disruption of lives. With so many National Guard troops involved in Iraq, thousands of civilian volunteers are now stepping up to the plate. The Red Cross has in fact, its largest mobilization ever in place for any single natural disaster. Marsha J. Evans is president and CEO of the American Red Cross. She joins me now from Washington.
Marty, what are you hearing from your volunteers on the ground?
MARSHA J. EVANS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Well, this is, as you say, the largest natural disaster response. We have about 239 shelters open. We're sheltering upwards of 75,000 people now. We expect that to grow as people move into our shelters because they cannot get back into their neighborhoods.
It's going to be a long-term operation. We're talking many, many weeks, months, to provide basic emergency services for people and to help them get their things back together.
ZAHN: I know you have been working on a mobilization plan. Are you equipped to deal with the demands of that 75,000 dollar number -- or 75,000 person number going up, mushrooming and particularly for a couple-month period of time if that's what's needed?
EVANS: Well, Paula, it's going to be a big challenge for us. The federal government is mobilizing a lot of additional resources. We partner very closely with the government. We also partner with other nonprofit organizations. We help organize the total response effort.
So, it is enormous and we're also depending on the support of the American public. We are asking that the public make donations to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Go on-line at RedCross.org or call 800-HELP-NOW. This operation is going to be larger, we believe, than the entire total of last summer's four hurricane operations.
ZAHN: That's staggering to hear you say that out loud because it gives us an idea of the enormity of this storm and the damage it caused. And once again, you're looking for financial contributions. You don't want people sending stuff?
EVANS: No. Financial contributions will be the easiest for us to turn into actual disaster relief. We're also asking people to volunteer at their local Red Cross chapter. They can free up some of the trained volunteers to come into the area.
We're going to be moving people in -- disaster volunteers in, from all over the country. We also would like people to donate blood. A disaster of this scale and scope is disrupting our regular blood donation operations throughout the entire region. And so, we need people in other parts of the country to step up to the plate and make that life-important gift of blood.
ZAHN: In closing, Marty, I know you'll agree with me the American public doesn't let us down does it, in times of catastrophe. They really show their generosity of spirit and I hope we all follow through the way we should for the folks so beaten down by this storm.
Thank you so much, Marcia Evans, president of the American Red Cross. Our prime-time coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues now with "LARRY KING LIVE" in just about seven minutes from now. Larry, I know you're covering the aftermath of the storm as well. Who are you going to be talking with tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": A multitude of people, Paula, just as we did last night. We'll have reporters all over the scene, of course, throughout Mississippi and Alabama and of course at New Orleans.
We'll also feature Michael Brown, the undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. The director of FEMA, he'll be with us with an update. We'll also check in with the governor of Louisiana. and those medical technicians who delivered a baby during all of this. All that, right ahead at 9:00. We'll even get in some phone calls from viewers, Paula.
ZAHN: And I'm sure you're going hear some amazing survivor stories as well tonight. I don't know whether you saw those pictures, Larry, the rescue by the Coast Guard, but it gives us an idea of what has to go on tonight.
The governor was telling us -- the governor of Louisiana -- maybe 100 or so people are still trapped on their rooftops. So, we'll be looking for your coverage as well at the top of the hour. Thanks, Larry.
And our coverage of Hurricane Katrinia -- that would be Katrina continues right now. We're so sick of her, we don't want to say her name anymore.
ZAHN: Back to Mississippi, which bore the brunt of the storm today. We know of at least three deaths in that state. Governor Haley Barbour calling the damage along the Gulf Coast catastrophic and expects that there will be many deaths as a result of this storm.
Interstate 10, the major east-west route on the Gulf Coast, is closed because of flooding from the Biloxi River. Well, in the midst of this devastation, there is something of a silver lining. I can't imagine what that would be after seeing the pictures we've been watching tonight, but joining us from Biloxi is Gary Tuchman with that story. Hi, Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Paula, a nice little story to tell our viewers right now. Last night, we told you about an aquarium that was on the beach, right here along the Mississippi coast. An aquarium where it was thought the dolphins would not survive -- Six bottlenosed dolphins. So, they were moved from the Gulfport Aquarium to a swimming pool at a hotel about four miles inland in Gulfport.
Those dolphins have all survived the hurricane. As a matter of fact, we went back there when the winds were going 140 miles per hour. And to coin a phrase, 'they were doing swimmingly.'
They were doing better than anyone in the state of Mississippi. All three dolphins will be OK. It turns out that putting them in a swimming pool treated with salt water was the right thing to do because there was heavy devastation at that aquarium on the beach -- Paula?
ZAHN: Well, I think that's about the only good news I've heard tonight from any of our correspondents or any of the survivors we talked with. That's good. Gary Tuchman, thanks. We are going to be back with a short update right after this.
ZAHN: There's a lot of suffering all along the Gulf Coast tonight. that is the latest from all of us on Hurricane Katrina. Please stay with CNN for the very latest on the storm that has now been downgraded. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com