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PAULA ZAHN NOW
New Orleans Recovers Bodies of Hurricane Victims; Some Residents Return Home
Aired September 5, 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: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.
We are just now starting to get a clear picture of the massive disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. It's been a week since that killer storm tore apart the Gulf Coast. But tonight, amid the misery, something new, some signs of hope.
Let's quickly bring you up to speed tonight. These pictures just came in a short while ago. The water gushing out of that huge pipe is water that's now being pumped out of New Orleans. It will take weeks to finish that job.
The pumping started after the Army Corps of Engineers patched up a levee on the 17th Street canal with a combination of new dirt and huge sandbags. But, even as we speak, a much grimmer task is also under way, recovering bodies of the victims. New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, now says as many as 10,000 people may have died in that storm or its aftermath.
As for survivors, fewer than 10,000 people remain in New Orleans. Police are telling them to get out, saying the city is completely destroyed. One of the city's unflooded suburbs, Jefferson Parish, let people go home today to salvage what they could.
Hundreds of thousands may be displaced and may never go back to their homes. The American Red Cross is sheltering more than 142,000 evacuees at shelters in 16 different states; 38,000 National Guard troops are now deployed in the Gulf. It's the Guard's largest response to any national disaster in U.S. history.
And just a few hours ago, the general in charge of the ongoing rescue efforts bristled when told that a Louisiana congressman is complaining that red tape is delaying the rescue operation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, COMMANDER, FIRST U.S. ARMY: That's B.S. I will take that on behalf of every first-responder down there. It's B.S.
I will not diffuse where the congressman may have gotten that from or if he had a personal incident, but I can tell you that's B.S. We've got 300 helicopters and some of the finest EMS workers in the world working down there in New Orleans, and they are making it happen. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: President Bush is also dealing with a lot of criticism and finger-pointing over the slow startup of the federal relief effort. He toured the disaster for the second time in three days.
And, in Houston today, look at this cooperation. You've seen them out there before, former Presidents Bush and Clinton together announcing their brand new fund-raising effort for hurricane recovery in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it's going to take all of us working together, the public, the nonprofits, the private sector, to accomplish our goal.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to have a fund where we can fill in the blanks and help people that are otherwise going to be totally overlooked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: A number of major corporations are already chipping in. Wal-Mart has pledged some $23 million, among others.
For one-million-plus Katrina evacuees, nagging questions remain tonight. How are the loved ones who stuck it out, and, what happened to my house, my belongings?
Well, today, some of those who had to leave their homes got their answers. They were allowed back into Jefferson Parish, the county that lies next to New Orleans, and they got to see firsthand the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Elizabeth Cohen went in with them. She joins us now from Baton Rouge.
Elizabeth, what did you find?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, imagine that you have to leave your house in a rush, leave for a week, and then come back to see what happened when Katrina came through your town. Well, that's what residents of Jefferson Parish had to do.
That's in this parish that's a parish that's just north of New Orleans. Well, that's what they did, and they saw what happened to their houses. And then they tried to figure out how to get on with their lives.
COHEN (voice-over): They started lining up Sunday night. By 6:00 a.m. Monday, the line to get into Jefferson Parish was three miles long. Residents returned to their homes for the first time since Katrina struck. In most of the parish, there's no electricity or running water. For security reasons, a dusk-to-dawn curfew is in force, and women are advised not to travel alone. Water has receded from much of the area, but there is extensive wind damage. Some people couldn't get through their front door.
Others, like Ivy Trosclair, could. Ivy sells custom motorcycles and one look at his shop told him he was in trouble.
(on camera): How much do you think you've lost?
IVY TROSCLAIR, RESIDENT OF JEFFERSON PARISH: I don't know. A lot.
COHEN (voice-over): Many of the bikes are a total loss.
TROSCLAIR, There's water in the engines, the transmissions, the wheel bearings. Yes, they just -- they're probably total losses.
COHEN: His first priority, pay his employees, after that, think about the future. Ivy drives his father-in-law, Barney Desell (ph), to the family used car lot. This billboard fell within a few feet of the lot. What Katrina's high winds didn't ruin, the rising water did. What the water stair spared, the looters ruined.
(on camera): So, which did more damage, the hurricane or the looters?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, probably the looters.
COHEN (voice-over): They even stole his paperwork. So, now Barney's not sure who owes him money or how much.
At Ivy's house, on the other hand, things are just as he left them, including the food, which has been rotting in the heat for a week. With no electricity, he and his family can't live here.
TROSCLAIR: Still virtually homeless and jobless.
COHEN: Ivy fears looters will clean the place out while he's gone. If everything goes perfectly, they might be able to move back in two weeks, but the situation is uncertain and it could take a lot longer.
COHEN: Now, as you can see from those pictures, the damage in Jefferson Parish is nothing like what we saw in New Orleans. However, the water did do some serious damages in those homes. We talked to one man whose mother's home, the ceiling fell in, and, as we saw, plenty of damage from downed trees -- Paula.
ZAHN: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.
Meanwhile, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard has been extremely angry about the federal response to this crisis.
Tonight, he is at his command post in Marrero. He joins me now on the telephone.
Thank you for taking time out from your very challenging activities.
Mr. Broussard, I don't know how much of Elizabeth Cohen's piece you just heard, but the chief concern of your residents that went back to their homes for the first time is that, in their absence, these homes are going to be looted. What can you do to prevent that from happening?
OK. Apparently, our signal with Mr. Broussard has gone down. But that's a chief concern among folks who went home to see their new reality today.
Meanwhile, tonight, search-and-rescue missions are continuing around the clock in New Orleans, a city still largely underwater, a city that the deputy police chief described as destroyed. There is still at this hour no freshwater, no food, no sewage system. Yet, incredibly, some people are refusing to leave, and the mayor of the city now telling them, if they don't get out, he's not going to deliver any more water to them.
David Mattingly has been in the city throughout the day. He joins me now from the New Orleans International Airport.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula.
Tens of thousands of people chose to ride out this storm at home and now thousands of them are choosing not to leave. And authorities have a name for them now. They're called the stragglers.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Even as the floodwaters filled the first floor of his New Orleans house, Ralph Amat was determined to stay.
RALPH AMAT, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: The gutter came down and slammed into the side of the house.
MATTINGLY: There's a hole in the wall. And the roof needs fixing from the hurricane. The hardwood floors are wet and spongy from the flood. Yet, the retired merchant Marine is still willing to stay and take his chances.
(on camera): What do you do all day?
AMAT: I plow up garbage.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): There's no electricity, no running water, no phone and no promise of when they will come back. Amat is driven by a need to protect his property. A .38 and a shotgun came in handy when looters twice tried to break in.
AMAT: I shot at people. I didn't shoot to kill, which is not my fault. I missed. I'm 69 years old. I will be 70 in three days.
MATTINGLY: Sustained for the moment by occasional handouts of food and water from passing military patrols, authorities refer to Amat and others like him as stragglers. And there could be thousands of them. The world they live in reeks of stagnant water and sewage. There's a constant roar of helicopters overhead.
Their once park-like streets are littered with disabled city buses and piles of trash.
(on camera): The smell of rotting garbage is so thick in some areas that it can take your breath away. But behind all the filth and all the debris, there are still neighborhoods, homes, and lives that some people are refusing to leave behind.
PATRICIA KELLY, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: It's pretty much nice.
MATTINGLY (on camera): This is nice?
KELLY: For being out there, it's OK here. This is how we sleep.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Pat Kelly is a missionary forced out of her flooded home. She waits to return to her flooded church and for word from her family, taking up residence for now on the open porch of a beauty parlor.
She and three others sleep on salvaged mattresses, among the flies and stray dogs.
(on camera): But you have the option of leaving. Why do you stay?
KELLY: To leave and go where, sir?
MATTINGLY: You'd rather stay here on a porch?
KELLY: I'm -- oh, I'm doing fine, because my children are up in age. It's not like I have my small babies with me or anything. So I'm fine.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): But, as each day passes, more of the stragglers decide, it's time to go. After holding out for a week, hopes of hearing from her missing son fading, Bettie Perrier is among those who are saying goodbye to a ravaged city.
BETTIE PERRIER, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: If he hear me, your mama and daddy is going to the Convention Center, and we don't know where we're going from there.
MATTINGLY: But many won't be moved. City buses continue to provide transportation to evacuation centers, but none of them is full. The pull of home, such as it is, is just too strong.
MATTINGLY: And authorities are beginning to wonder out loud what will it take to get all of these people on buses and out of here to someplace where it's safe, where they can get a reliable hot meal and freshwater? And it may be just that, Paula. They may say, well, there may come a day when you won't be getting that water or those handouts of food from the military as they walk through your neighborhood.
ZAHN: And, David, as I said at the top of your introduction, the mayor has already threatened not to give them water. So, how do these people plan to survive if they don't get out?
MATTINGLY: They're not planning past the day. I have to wonder if some of them are in denial, wondering if life will come back to their neighborhood, if they could just hold out for that to happen.
I don't believe it will be happening any time in the near future. And I think you're going to see a lot of these people finally coming to that realization and getting on those buses and getting out to shelters.
BLITZER: David Mattingly, thanks for the update.
One of the other stories we're working on tonight involves an absolute scandal. In the face of the worst disaster in their city's history, you won't believe how many members of the New Orleans Police Department simply vanished.
The shocking number right after this short break.
ZAHN: Scenes from all over the state of Louisiana tonight.
As we speak, the New Orleans Police Department is absolutely reeling, not just because officers have been working around the clock, but because we now know that hundreds -- that's right, hundreds -- of New Orleans Police are missing, and many may have simply run away when the storm hit.
Drew Griffin has the shocking details.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katrina cut New Orleans to pieces and shredded its police department. It is a department that now will forever be judged by the cops who stayed and the ones who fled.
LAWRENCE DUPREE, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: People who left, I feel abandoned by them, you know? I feel abandoned. And with that being the case, if they were to come back on the department, it would be hard for me to work next to that type of person.
GRIFFIN: Detective Lawrence Dupree is sick about what happened. He and his buddies all stayed. They fought off the looters. They helped rescue people who were so poor, they were afraid a helicopter ride off their roof would cost too much.
DUPREE: That they'd have to purchase a ticket. I'm like no.
GRIFFIN (on camera): To get on a helicopter?
DUPREE: To get on a helicopter out. They thought that they had to purchase a ticket and were afraid that they couldn't afford it. You know, so it's -- that kind of hits you.
GRIFFIN: What is shocking is, while this city of New Orleans was in the midst of its worst disaster and its citizens in most need of its police, nearly one-third of the NOPD has either fled or never showed up for work. And they're still gone.
WARREN RILEY, NEW ORLEANS DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF: We do have somewhere around 400 or 500 that are not accounted for.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea where they are?
RILEY: No, we certainly don't.
GRIFFIN: In his first news conference since Katrina, Assistant Superintendent of Police Warren Riley admitted, a third of the force is missing. Later, he said he's trying not to rush to judgment.
RILEY: You have some that just ran because of a fear. Do we have a problem with that? Obviously. Some left after the storm, because their homes were wiped out.
GRIFFIN: But for these officers, there is no acceptable explanation. They faced nights of hell, days of rescue work, and the humiliation of knowing some of their own had failed them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the cowards that are here on the New Orleans Police Department that fled the city in a time of need, when you raised your right hand, you were sworn to protect these citizens. Can you truly wear the badge like our motto say? Evidently, you can't.
GRIFFIN: Lawrence Dupree says there can be no excuse. He lost his home and his ring for two other officers, who have already committed suicide. And he is still here.
DUPREE: If we really act the way the situation dictated, we're all probably be killing ourselves. But we're making the best of this bad situation, and it's brought us closer together.
GRIFFIN: Dupree says he's part of a smaller, but now much stronger New Orleans Police Department, the department that stayed and stood firm against the storm.
ZAHN: So, Drew, we know that a lot of different police departments around the country are sending in officers to help out during this transition, but how does the New Orleans Police Department even begin to think about rebuilding -- a third of its force gone?
GRIFFIN: It's going to be tough. They don't know where these guys are.
And the guys who are here, these guys who have been through this fight, have so much admiration for each other, the 1,000 or so that stuck around, they don't want those 400 or 500 guys coming back, no matter what their excuse is, especially, Paula, the guys that fled before the storm hit.
ZAHN: What does the assistant superintendent of police say about that? Are they saying point blank that these men and women won't be welcome back?
GRIFFIN: No, no. He's trying to say that we need to, you know, deal with each one of these guys on a case-by-case basis, I guess go through the administrative procedure to see where they are, why they left.
But, Paula, the guys on the street, they don't care. They say there is no excuse for not being here and for not coming back yet. This is a week after the storm, Paula. These guys are nowhere to be found.
ZAHN: And there's certainly got to be even more bitterness about the fact that it's left them incredibly vulnerable.
GRIFFIN: Especially that, that when they really needed them most, when they have those shoot-outs around the Superdome or around the Convention Center, when they sent in guys to try to fight back some of these thugs, and they just didn't have the manpower, that hurts.
And these guys say, it's like going into a war and the guy next to you in the foxhole, you can't count on. We can't count on those guys anymore and we don't want them back.
ZAHN: Drew Griffin, thank you so much for bringing that to us.
Believe it or not, as we are speaking, some people are actually thinking about the new New Orleans. What does it take to rebuild a city? How long will it take? And would you ever want to live there?
Please stay with us.
ZAHN: At this hour, a symbol of maybe hope down the road. Tonight, water coming out of one pup -- pipe, that is -- water going the right way, out of one New Orleans neighborhood and into Lake Pontchartrain, a small beginning, but it's the start of a big quest, the unwatering of an entire city, which still sits underwater, at least 80 percent of it, and the eventual rebuilding, as the president promised the people who live there in the devastated areas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm also confident that, when it's all said and done, that efforts to rebuild the great city of New Orleans, and to rebuild those communities in Mississippi, and to help the folks in Alabama, will make this nation a stronger place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Alina Cho actually talked with some of the people whose hearts will always be in New Orleans and who are determined to rebuild.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As engineers work feverishly to fix the levees, using helicopters to drop 3,000-pound sandbags to shore them up, as they begin to get the huge pumps working again to drain the city, many in New Orleans are already thinking long-term. The Acme Lock Company was rebuilt after Hurricanes Camille, Betsy and, owner Diane Foto says, after Katrina.
DIANA FOTO, BUSINESS OWNER: I'm going to rebuild this business with insurance and make it better than before.
CHO: She's owned the business since 1989. It's been in her family for three generations. Rebuilding, she admits, will take time, but she's determined and says she won't even think about relocating. That's welcome news to people like Craig Colten.
CRAIG COLTEN, PROFESSOR, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: If we can get the small entrepreneurs back and running the restaurants, the music clubs, the things that make up the heart and soul of this city, I think it will rebound, not quickly, but it will rebound.
CHO: Colten, a professor at Louisiana State University, wrote a book about the geography of New Orleans.
COLTEN: And much of New Orleans towards the lake was exactly like this 300 years ago.
CHO: A mixture of grassy and forested wetlands. Colten says when the Crescent City is rebuilt, some areas should return to their natural state.
COLTEN: Longer term, I think this is an opportunity to really think about how to better use that low area, those low areas within the city.
CHO: Places like the Lower Ninth Ward, which is completely under water. Councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis says, once New Orleans is rebuilt, people will come back.
CYNTHIA WILLARD LEWIS, NEW ORLEANS COUNCILWOMAN: So, while we're having this debate in the public arena about the value of rebuilding a neighborhood, I say that it was done once and it will be done again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can tell you that almost all of the small business owners that are around here that have been here for years are going to stay. They're going to be rebuild, because we all have the same feeling about the city. It's an awesome, it's a wonderful, it's a great city.
ZAHN: That was Alina Cho reporting for us tonight.
Now, there's one guy that a lot of the hurricane victims would like to throw darts at tonight, or worse yet. He's been working around the clock to help them. Do you know who Michael Brown is and why he's very unpopular right now?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Our government failed those people in the beginning. And I take it now there is no dispute about it, that 100 percent of the people recognize that -- that it was a failure.
We should have some sort of Katrina commission. It should be bipartisan, nonpartisan, whatever. We ought to really look at this, as I always try do. What is the best structure and what are the best kinds of personnel decisions you can make to be good at emergency management?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Former President Clinton speaking in Houston earlier today. He and former President Bush are trying to raise lots of money, money that goes directly to the three states most devastated by this hurricane.
Now, lots of hurricane victims agree with President Clinton, victims on both sides of the aisle. They are absolutely furious with the government right now, especially with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They say FEMA mismanaged this crises. One politician even saying that the bureaucracy committed murder. And as our Ed Henry explains, that is making life very uncomfortable for the man at the top of FEMA, Michael Brown.
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Despite the firestorm of criticism, President Bush is standing by his man at FEMA.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Brown, you're doing a heck of a job. FEMA director is working 24/7.
HENRY: But top democrats think Michael Brown should be fired, charging he's in over his head. REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Mr. Brown was regrettably an administrator of an officer or the head of an Arabian Horse Association, hardly qualifying him to address the kind of problems he's looking at now.
HENRY: Before arriving at FEMA in 2001 Brown spent nine years overseeing the International Arabian Horse Association, and had no major disaster relief experience. Brown was initially tapped to serve as FEMA's top lawyer by this college roommate, former Bush campaign manager, Joe Albaugh (ph), who was running the agency at the time.
Even some Republicans have lambasted the Hurricane Katrina relief effort run by Brown, with Louisiana Senator David Vitter giving the federal government a grade of F. A full day after live television cameras starving huddled masses at the New Orleans convention center, Brown said he had been initially unaware of that suffering.
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEMA: We were just as surprised as everybody else. We didn't know the city had used that as a staging area.
HENRY: In an another interview Brown insisted FEMA provided at least one, if not two meals per day to the refugees at the convention center. That was called a bald-faced lie Sunday, by "New Orleans Times Picayune". In an open letter to President Bush, declaring, quote, "Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially."
Brown also seemed caught off guard that so many people did not leave New Orleans before the storm hit, but last year, FEMA did a five-day hurricane drill that found only one-third of the population would leave the city. In part, because 100,000 of the households were too poor to own a car. Now under fire, Brown is defending his credentials.
BROWN: Started out as general counsel of FEMA, ran operations at headquarters through 9/11, and since then 164 presidential disaster declarations, including the California wildfires, the historic outbreak of tornadoes in the Midwest a couple of years ago, and last year's historic four hurricanes that struck Florida. So yeah, I've been through a few disasters in my life.
HENRY: But Brown is sure to be in the hot seat while Congress looks more closely as how FEMA handled the crises on the Gulf Coast.
ZAHN: That was Ed Henry reporting.
And you just met my next guest earlier on in that piece who happens to be that outspoken critic of the way the crisis was handled. Joining me now from Baton Rouge, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.
Good of you to join us.
Last week you said that FEMA was completely dysfunctional and that it had not coherent plan for dealing with this scenario. Should FEMA's Director Mike Brown be fired?
SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: I did say that about FEMA. I also said that about the State Office of Emergency Preparedness. And it was true on both counts. But having said that, Paula, I don't think now is the time to start firing people, because we're in the middle of a crisis.
We need to fix the problems --
ZAHN: Is there any time, Senator --
ZAHN: Is there any time when you think these people should be held accountable?
VITTER: Sure, there is a time but not when people are sitting on roofs and we're saving people. Sure there say time. And I'm going to be leading the charge to ask plenty of questions about a lot of agencies, FEMA, and the state OEP at the top of the list.
ZAHN: Do you think the president could have played a larger leadership role in the earlier days of this crisis?
VITTER: The president was very focused on it very early. As you may know, he signed the first emergency disaster declaration when the storm was two days out, that was almost unprecedented, I think it had been done once before for Hurricane Andrew. But certainly the bureaucracy under him, just like the bureaucracy at the state level fell way, way, way short.
ZAHN: Senator, we have heard horrendous stories today of people returning to New Orleans, those that have been allowed to go back to what's left of their homes, seeing bloated bodies everywhere.
I know that you have predicted a massive death toll. The mayor and both of you saying it could go as high as 10,000. Do you think if relief had come to New Orleans earlier, some of these lives could have been saved?
VITTER: I think that's very clear. I hope we don't reach the sort of toll that we conceivably could and I pray we don't, but it's clear it's going to be significant and it's clear it could have and should have been lower.
ZAHN: How much red tape is still involved in trying to get things done in your state?
VITTER: Way, way too much. I think what we've done successfully in the last few days is basically get around that, by establishing a massive military operation, led by General Honore, and he's doing a great job. We've cut around the red tape that way. But that's not the medium to long-term solution to the problem.
ZAHN: Senator, you have to acknowledge a lot of people out there are saying they wanted to deliver water, Wal-Mart even said and FEMA said no, we don't need your help.
ZAHN: Oh, I'm not disagreeing with that, Paula. I'm agreeing with that, absolutely. All I'm saying is since about Friday we've gotten around that mess through the military. And that's been a success and it's been growing every day. But it's a shame that we have to do this work-around, instead of having federal and the state agency that's effective.
ZAHN: Senator David Vitter thank you for your time.
VITTER: Thank you very much.
ZAHN: Good luck to you and all of the good people there.
We'll bring you a lot more on the state of emergency in Gulf tonight, in just a moment. But first, time for another look at some of the other big stories with Erica Hill of Headline News.
ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINES NEWS ANCHOR: Thank you.
Funeral for William Rehnquist set for Wednesday. President Bush wants the Senate to confirm Judge John Roberts in the post by the end of the month.
Groups that had earlier criticized the president's nominee are now scrambling. They face two battles with the White House. One, over Roberts nomination for the nation's top jurist. The other over who will replace Justice Sandra O'Conner.
Insurgents attack a Humvee and the heavily guarded interior ministry in Baghdad, killing two Iraqi police officers. Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents killed two British soldiers.
Three people are dead and more than a dozen wounded after an explosion at a home in Gaza City used by Palestinian militants. Israel is denying it had a hand in that.
And in the Austrian Alps, emergency workers discovered six children among the nine people who died in a freak accident involving a cable car. Their gondola plunged to the ground after the cable was struck by a concrete bucket being carried by a helicopter.
Paula, that's the latest from Headline News. Back to you in New York.
ZAHN: Terrible story. Erica, thanks.
Texas is so big, you'd think it would never run out of room but they've got a big problem tonight. Are the thousands of evacuees from the storm too much for even Texas to handle?
ZAHN: Look at that picture. Brand new home for so many people forced out of New Orleans and other places along the Gulf Coast.
We're following another development, one as you could see from the picture that's growing by the minute. Texans have opened up their arms to more than a quarter of a million storm victims so far, and thousands more are streaming into the state tonight. They're thankful for clean clothing and a cot in Houston's crowded astrodome but some are getting more than they ever bargained for, having to start a new life in a foreign place. Sean Callebs is there and just filed this report.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For thousands of evacuees, this was the first glimpse of Houston, not a crowded shelter, but a community willing to embrace them when they needed it most.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless you. Thank you so much.
CALLEBS: Many of the 250,000 evacuees in Texas said they want to make Houston home for good. So that means asking a lot of questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it you're looking for, Social Security?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, FEMA, the housing, where they're gonna --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FEMA housing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
CALLEBS: Today, 38-year-old Mona Lisa Wright ventured outside the Astrodome complex for the first time since arriving last Thursday. She wants to bring her 13-year-old son here from where he is temporarily staying in Mississippi and start a new life. Mona Lisa says she has 15 years' experience as a certified nurse assistant.
MONA LISA WRIGHT, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: I'm going to be looking at hospitals, looking at places to find a nice area for my home, and be able to get back and forth, going shopping, getting household stuff.
CALLEBS: Wal-Mart is vowing to find jobs for any of its workers displaced by the storm. Like Estelle Lewis, who is starting work in the deli of a Houston Wal-Mart. Four days ago she was sleeping on this now-notorious overpass in New Orleans wondering if she'd live or die. It won't be easy, but Estelle says she's never going back.
ESTELLE LEWIS, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: That's my goal, to make Houston my home. Live here and get an apartment which I haven't gotten because I don't have the money to get it.
CALLEBS: Robert Eckels is the top Harris County official working with the evacuees.
ROBERT ECKELS, OFFICIAL, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: These are not the people that you are seeing looting on the streets of New Orleans. These are families with their kids. These are folks who had jobs there in New Orleans. They may have been on the lower rung of the economic ladder, but they are hard working folks who are ready to make a new life here.
WRIGHT: I like that. I like the atmosphere. I like the people. They're nice and kind. I think this is where my new life is going to start right here in Texas.
CALLEBS: In the coming weeks people are going to debate what to do about New Orleans. But like Mona Lisa Wright, many evacuees won't wait for that. They have to rebuild their lives starting right now.
CALLEBS: And indeed that is one thing that we are hearing all these people who are ready to rebuild their lives. We heard from the county executive, and they promised to help these people for the future.
Paula, one item, Texas governor says they are overburdened. They'll do everything they can for the quarter million but asking other states to help out.
ZAHN: Where will some of these people end up? Do we know?
CALLEBS: We can tell you as far away as Denver. We know some were actually given plane tickets today to try and go to Denver to relocate. Now, making a 350 mile drive to the West is one thing for these people, but they missed the gumbo. They miss the whole flavor of the city, but many say they have no other choice but to try to rebuild their lives and do it now.
ZAHN: I tell you one thing, Mona Lisa had an admirable attitude, when she spoke with you. I don't know many people are that positive when they've lost basically everything. Sean Callebs, thanks.
CALLEBS: That's great.
ZAHN: We want to you fasten your seat belts. We're about to take you on a hair-raising ride to help some hurricane victims. Takeoff is a couple of minutes away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to thank everybody for what they're doing. If it weren't for this, food, water and ice I don't know how I would make it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the clothes, shoes, plenty of water, plenty ice, plenty food, we thank god for all of the people, all over the world. We feel y'all love.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: Wonderful sense of gratitude. We are hearing Americans have certainly opened up their hearts and their wallets to help the hurricane victims and that tape was just fed to us from a camp in Mississippi.
Even tonight, though, there are uncounted thousands of survivors, all along the Gulf Coast, watching the skies, waiting for help. National Guard Blackhawk helicopters have been dropping badly need supplies all day long. It is the only way to reach isolated victims desperate for just something to eat or drink. Randi Kaye joins us from Biloxi, Mississippi, with the details -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, I have to tell you I saw firsthand how desperate these people are in the outlying areas for their supplies. I'm talking about the areas that are completely, completely isolated from any type of civilization, far up the coast. Nobody has been able to get to these people and they are just starting to get the supplies, the food, the water, the medicine that they so desperately need.
KAYE (voice over): It's rush hour at the National Guard Airbase in Gulfport, Mississippi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you see any people waving, we'll go down there and land.
KAYE: The Guards fleet of Blackhawk helicopters are the lifelines between supplies and survivors. A welcome site for people stranded without food, water or contact with the outside world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty incredible, one aspect but then again it's disappointing and heartbreaking just looking at it all. My heart goes out to these people.
KAYE: This is Pilot Joseph Langloy's first look at the damage. He and his crew from the Florida Army National Guard are just back from Iraq and devastated by what they see.
KAYE (on camera): Right now we're making our way up to the coast and the wind has kicked up, we have the doors open for the Blackhawk, this is what they call ground zero, the worst hit area where we are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This place was wiped out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, definite, ground zero, Randi.
KAYE (voice over): As we wind up our way above the coastline, above towns torn apart, Guard members scan rooftops for anyone attempting to get their attention. In neighborhoods west of Biloxi like Long Beach, Diamond Head and Pass Christian, we drop much need supplies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does anybody else need any MREs right now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I saw the chopper landing I ran up here, you know, across the field, because they were looking for people to evacuate. So I asked them if they could drop ice and water here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody else needs any MREs? We'll take off. We have other deliveries to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, 200 feet. Get over the water. Just like you always do.
KAYE: Next stop, a fire station to deliver ice and water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's great, having the help here. As much as we can get.
KAYE: Providing that help is rewarding, but there's an emotional toll.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is emotional points and it sort of takes your breath away at times and your eyes get a little watery though and it's not sweat.
KAYE: But there has been much sweat, too, the Guard is delivering nearly 100,000 meals a day. They spend more time in the air than on the ground, but they say they'll keep doing it, knowing those down below are looking to the skies for help.
KAYE: And you can tell from that sign you saw there, just how thankful Paula, these people are. It is a very emotional scene on the ground. You're not there for long, just long enough to drop off the supplies and take any new orders these people might have, but it is very emotional.
You are there long enough to hear their stories of survival. How people cut themselves out of their own home, how women and children on the street for three days without food and water. This Guard service is desperately, desperately need and it is finally getting to the areas that need it most. Paula?
ZAHN: Very good, Randi Kaye, thank you so much.
Amidst the days of chaos after the hurricane struck and the finger pointing over who is to blame for the slow official federal response, one story of untold heroes has largely gone unsaid. It is the story of the Red Cross.
Tonight the Red Cross is conducting the largest response to a single natural disaster in its 125-year history. The organization has raised more than $400 million for hurricane victims. Its director, Marty Evans, joins me from Houston.
Thanks for coming back. We know that it is a very crowded place where you are, tonight. The governor already saying he is almost at capacity. That he's going to have to airlift evacuees out of the Houston complex, where you are tonight. Can you accommodate these folks elsewhere in the country? Are you ready for them?
MARTY EVANS, DIRECTOR, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Paula, we are ready. We have Red Cross chapters across the country that, actually already have people that left New Orleans have either come via Houston, and other places. We're up and running and ready to receive many more and to help the community embrace these people who are going off to start, who knows, a new life or extended temporary stay.
ZAHN: I know no one could ever have enough resources to do the very important work you have to do. What is your biggest concern right now?
EVANS: Well, Paula, there are several concerns. The first is raising the money. We are a nonprofit organization that exists to serve our fellow neighborhoods, and we, as you say, have raised about $400 million. But when you start thinking about the number of families impacted, it could be 600,000, 700,000, 800,000 families.
Red Cross will be the first step to get them back onto their feet. We're looking at a need for $1 billion or more, so that's why we're asking the public to continue giving. The other thing we need are volunteers, and we can train you with a short amount of training to lend a hand. And there are so many different ways you can lend a hand. You can be in the shelters, you can be at Red Cross chapters helping to process people coming into the area.
ZAHN: You just used a shocking number, 600,000, 700,000 families potentially needing to be relocated. The Red Cross is being stretched in a different way because you're actually trying to reunite children separated from their parents. And in some cases you don't even know if the parents are alive. How much success are you having in bringing these families together?
EVANS: Well, Paula, that is the thing that's really raised my spirits today. I have been in a room where someone has logged on to redcross.org, to the family linking system, put their name and the name of the loved one that they're missing and made a match, which means that they can get reconnected. And it was absolutely the highlight of my day and it happened several times today.
We are having great success and we need everyone who is either themselves evacuated from any part of the region to log on, or people who are missing loved ones to log on so that match can be made.
ZAHN: Marty, I only have 15 seconds left. You just set a huge goal of raising $1 billion. You know that former President Clinton and former President Bush are trying to raise money for a separate fund. Is that going to compete with you?
EVANS: You know, I think the capacity of Americans to show their compassion by making contributions is virtually unlimited, so I don't expect it to degrade our ability. In fact, I think it just raises the focus of people that we've got to get together as a country and help make this a good news story. ZAHN: I'll tell you that is a pretty good sign, Marty, those of us trying to get on to your website can't get on. It's very busy. So we hope Americans continue to give.
EVANS: That's good.
ZAHN: Good luck to you.
EVANS: Thank you.
ZAHN: If you, or someone you know had to leave a pet behind in the storm don't give up hope but grab a pen or pencil and piece of paper. We've been working on a story that has important information that might end up in a very happy reunion.
ZAHN: In the horror of trying to get away from the hurricane thousands of people left something very important behind. Perhaps the most valuable thing in their lives.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, dog.
ZAHN: In New Orleans it isn't just people stranded on the rooftop. She'll find more than birds in the trees. The city's human population is largely evacuated now, but abandoned pets, thousands of them, are everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a Lab. Where you been hiding at, boy?
ZAHN: Thousands of pets now roam where ever they want to. Others, are still tied up to the porches of their homes that have become islands. They don't understand why there is water everywhere. Why their masters can't be found.
But hundreds of people are now pitching to help. Trained pet rescuers working in the disaster area. Hundreds of dogs and cats are being taken to shelters outside of New Orleans, as well as in the city. Animal welfare groups from around the country are pooling their resources.
Evacuees can report a missing or abandoned pet to the ASPCA. Its branches in Louisiana or Houston, Texas. The American Humane Association or groups like petfinder.com.
ZAHN: And we just got an update from the Humane Society. So far, they've rescued more than 300 animals in Louisiana and Mississippi, including dogs, cat, ferrets and a seal.
That wraps it up for all of this on the holiday. Thank you so much for being with us tonight as we wade through some very important information fresh out of Louisiana. Primetime continues now, with Larry King and his guest, former President Bush.
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