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Firefighters Battle Blazes in New Orleans; Congress Grills Top Emergency Officials

Aired September 6, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.
In an out of the disaster zone. This has turned into a day of raging fires and a lot of finger-pointing. And, as we speak, none of it seems anywhere near being under control.

Let's bring you up to speed quickly here.

Some devastating news has just come in. The Louisiana superintendent of education says the public schools in New Orleans and neighboring Saint Bernard Parish may be shut down for the entire school year. That affects nearly 135,000 public school students. Most of them have already fled with their parents.

Helicopters are carrying giant buckets of water from Lake Pontchartrain, dumping the contents on fires that are springing up all over New Orleans. This blaze in the historic Garden District destroyed a couple of 19th century mansions that had been converted into apartments. It was started by a candle.

And now we have learned there's a new problem. The water that still inundates 60 percent of the city is infected with potentially deadly E coli bacteria. It's unhealthy to be anywhere near the floodwater, but rescue workers say many people, perhaps thousands, want to stay in their homes anyway. New Orleans' mayor says they should leave. But he also says things are getting better.


RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We are starting to see some significant progress. I'm starting to see rays of light all throughout what we're doing. We're starting to accumulate accomplishments.


ZAHN: Some New Orleans residents want to get out, but simply can't. The rescue effort is still going on at this hour.

Paratroopers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division will use small boats to navigate flooded areas of New Orleans, as they launch a new search-and-rescue effort.

Now on to the finger-pointing. Over the past few hours, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other top officials have been briefing members of Congress. Some lawmakers are furious about the government's slow response to the catastrophe.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Why the hell couldn't a truckload of water, a truckload of medicine, a busload of physicians, people who could bring help and care and hope to the people, why couldn't they get through?


ZAHN: And, at a Cabinet meeting about the disaster relief effort today, President Bush promised to look into all of the problems himself.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I intend to do is lead a -- to lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong. And I will tell you why. It's very important for us to understand the relationship between the federal government, the state government and the local government when it comes to a major catastrophe.


ZAHN: And, tonight, the White House is getting ready to ask Congress for another $50 billion to pay for ongoing relief efforts.

Before we consider the politics of the disaster, let's take you straight to Jackson Square, New Orleans' French Quarter, right near the Mississippi River, where right now Drew Griffin is watching the desperate effort to fight fires in a city that has no running water.

So, are they succeeding, drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it's incredible to imagine this, but as the city pumps more and more water out of the flooded end, they have an increasing fire threat in the dry end of the city.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Not all of New Orleans is flooding. And the tinder-dry wooden homes of the western Garden District are now fire traps. This morning, a single flame, neighbors say, from a squatter's candle, erupted into a rolling torch.

PATRICK MCCARTHY, GARDEN DISTRICT RESIDENT: The fire guys on the ground are great, but they don't have the right equipment to fight a fire in this environment.

GRIFFIN: Patrick McCarthy watched firefighters race in, but he says the flames spread because hoses from the ground could only do so much, and it took a long time for help to arrive from the air. MCCARTHY: It was two hours before the first helicopter with water showed up, arrived on the scene. If this many helicopters had showed up immediately, the fire would have stopped on the -- would have stopped on St. Andrew's Street. It was one house.

GRIFFIN: It is hard to feel sorry for McCarthy and others here in the Garden District. They are supposed to be out of here, evacuated. There is no power. They are surviving here, some with candles, others smoking and creating the very threat Gene Coffman (ph) now fears.

(on camera): This -- what happened this morning, that's your biggest fear now, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire, because there's no water pressure.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): He lives just across the street.

(on camera): That fire, did you see the flames right there?



I want to show you just how dangerous the situation here is in the lower Garden District. It's so tightly packed, these old wooden homes. Take a look over here. They practically touch in parts. If one starts on fire, the rest go up. And that's what happened.

(voice-over): And, as the pumps begin to drain away the floodwaters, more and more of New Orleans will be drying out, creating even more potential for fires. This blaze was eventually doused. Fire teams from as far as New York are here to make sure the Garden District and the rest of New Orleans is protected.

But just hours later, yet another fire, this time on the waterfront.


GRIFFIN: And keep in mind, Paula, if you have a fire on your block, it's not like you pick up the phone and call 911. Nobody has a phone. If you had a cell phone, the battery is dead. You literally have to run down the street, flag down a National Guardsman or a New Orleans police officer and try to get help to stop that fire. It's a terrible situation.

ZAHN: It's pretty amazing they can be successful at all, given all the obstacles they're up against. Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

And, as I speak, thousands of National Guard troops are still patrolling New Orleans. They are scouring the streets for looters and any other criminals trying to prey on the devastated cities. Officers say they are making some headway, with 124 people in a makeshift jail tonight.

Our Nic Robertson went out with one unit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some suspects at the corner of Fourth and Brainard (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger that. I will be advised, Fourth and Brainard. Fourth and Brainard. That's west. Over.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Captain Hugh Maston (ph) has been in New Orleans four days, mostly rescuing its residents. But today, it's different.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger. It just started this morning. And it's just more and more.

ROBERTSON: Looting, that is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since there are seven identified, that's why we have got so many people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the looters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger that. We don't want to be outnumbered. And we want to be sure that we have plenty of backup.

ROBERTSON: Receding floodwater from his Oklahoma National Guard unit's area of responsibility is drawing in looters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the number again?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four females and three males.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, all elements, be advised. Four females and the three males is the target audience. Over.

ROBERTSON: But the trail seems to be going cold. Then another problem. They hit the floodwater and are forced to hitch a ride.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where you all headed to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixth and Barone (ph) sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Can you take these guys up the street to Fourth, just the next street over?

ROBERTSON: Back on dry land, they spot someone fitting the description.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't happen to have any I.D. on you, would you?

ROBERTSON: He's just out for a walk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it is, around the corner?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's good.

ROBERTSON: Captain Maston's unit moves on. He tells me he's also searching for a new base, deeper into the neighborhood he now controls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't cover the A.O. if we're all back over here together. So, we're spreading out. You know, not -- our goal is to be looter-proof. But whether we can actually do that or not is going to be another thing.

ROBERTSON: A veteran of Iraq and Bosnia, he's no stranger to new environments. But hunting looters in New Orleans' Garden District, he is sorely missing what he had overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, everything here is laid out on grids. The city is laid out on a grid system , whereas, in Bosnia, it's pretty much catch you can, honeycomb, all that kind of other stuff.

ROBERTSON (on camera): So, you should be able to -- this should be easier, then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very much so. Very much so. The only thing that was advantageous for us in Bosnia is, we had vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's take (INAUDIBLE) to identify...

ROBERTSON: Then his men get a lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until we verify everything, ma'am...

ROBERTSON: And restrain a suspect. They think she may have been among the looters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you mind if we go into your house and check?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With your consent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Go ahead. Go in here. Boy, let them in the house. Charles (ph), let them in there. Go ahead. You all go in there. The door open.

ROBERTSON: Within minutes, they realize she appears innocent and release her. Captain Maston leaves frustrated, knowing the looters' local knowledge may have outwitted these soldiers from Oklahoma, this time at least.

Nic Robertson, CNN, New Orleans.


ZAHN: And tonight, the New Orleans Police are struggling to keep order in their city. Officers are working nonstop under nightmarish conditions. The police superintendent today told Oprah Winfrey that 80 percent of his police force is homeless now. And many have no idea what's even happened to their own families. Some of them couldn't hold up, with two committing suicide. Others simply walked away. Nearly one-third of the force went missing, angering their comrades who stayed on the job.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all you cowards that's supposed to wear the badge, are you truly -- are you truly -- can you truly wear the badge, like our motto say? Evidently, you can't.


ZAHN: The stress these men and women are going through is very hard to imagine. I'm joined now by the New Orleans police superintendent, Edwin Compass.

Thank you so much for joining us, sir.

We have heard so much about the enormous pressure your force is under. And you had said on Saturday that you believe that 200 folks on your force simply quit because of everything they're up against. Does that number still hold true tonight?

EDWIN COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, that -- you know, that may be accurate. We haven't really checked the numbers, because we're still in life-saving mode. We are still protecting the city.

That's an administrative thing that we're trying to get adjusted to right now and trying to ascertain exactly where those individuals are. Some people, unfortunately, may be dead. Some individuals may have quit. But we really don't have anything definitive, so we can give an accurate number now. There's 500 people that's unaccounted for right now.

ZAHN: How does that affect the morale of those who have stayed on?

COMPASS: Well, you know, in any line of work, you're going to have people who are stronger than others. I really don't want to focus on the ones that left.

Let's talk about the jobs that the ones that stayed did. You are talking about 1,200 police officers held this city under insurmountable odds. The only thing we can equate it to is the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, except we won. When you look at the police department working under these conditions, no food, no water, no -- lack of ammunition, no vehicles in waist-deep water that's polluted that we're patrolling, it was an incredible job to keep this city intact.

ZAHN: But your job, Superintendent, is further complicated by the fact that you now have the ATF in town. And it reported today making its first arrest in your city today. You have also had the National Guard enforcing law. Is there a clear chain of command tonight?

COMPASS: Well, you know, that's one of the things that we're taking care of right now. There's a prison that's set up.

And, before, we couldn't set up a prison because we were trying to still save human life. We're still on human life-saving rescue missions. But right now, we have a prison in place at the Amtrak station. We have it manned. We have a report system that's in place, which is a very simple one-page report that's in place. We have designated patrols that is in place. We have shift rotation that's in place right now. But we have come a long way in a short period of time.

ZAHN: Who's in charge tonight?

COMPASS: And you've got to understand, we are doing this with -- I'm in charge right now of the police operations, as from day one.

The National Guard is in charge of the curfew and patrolling areas within the city. You know, we have a joint control and joint command. What we're doing right now is unprecedented. I met with federal agencies. I met with Guards agencies. I met with state agencies. And what we're doing right now is trying to get a cohesive plan in place where, when we get these resources in, we can bring them to one location. When we do services, we don't replicate them.


COMPASS: You have got to understand, we're doing this without electricity, without a building, without telephone communications, with limited radio communications. To say we're at this point right now in such a short period of time is incredible.

ZAHN: Superintendent, I need a real brief answer to this final question; 10,000 residents remain in the city. They're told they need to get out. And you said today that you will evacuate holdouts -- quote -- "with or without their cooperation." What does that mean? Are you going to forcibly remove them?

COMPASS: Well, if necessary.

These people don't understand that they're in harm's way. They can die in these places, like you said, about the fire situation. Then you also have the criminal element that's very well on that is still out there. If they're attacked by a criminal, they can't call for help. And these citizens will have to be removed for their own good.

ZAHN: Superintendent Compass, we wish you the best of luck under horrible circumstances. Thank you for your time.

COMPASS: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

COMPASS: Another story we have been working on all day long is the blame game in Washington. Our country's top emergency officials were called on the congressional carpet tonight. Still on the carpet right now, as I speak. We're going to get a live update.

But, first, a progress report on the ongoing relief efforts.


ZAHN: After Katrina hit, people waited for days to be rescued. They waited for food, for water, for any sign the government even remembered them.

Well, tonight, at this hour, lawmakers are digesting a briefing they've just gotten from Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff and other top administration officials.

Congressional correspondent Ed Henry is waiting on Capitol Hill. And he has already seen the fierce anger as some members of Congress leave the briefing.

What have you heard, Ed?


There was a Senate briefing where there was some anger expressed, but there's a House briefing going on right now in the House chamber downstairs from where I'm standing now. And I can tell you, Michael Chertoff is very likely getting a grilling right now, because senior lawmakers in both parties are expressing deep frustration about the government's very slow response in the initial days to Hurricane Katrina.

But I can also tell you that there's some real political tension developing, because Republicans feel that Democrats are now piling on, and that this is not just about disaster relief, but Democrats are using FEMA as a punching bag in order to score political points against the White House.

If you think back to 9/11 and the reaction to that disaster, leaders in both parties came together to such an extent that they even sang "God Bless America" together on the Capitol steps, a much different scene at the White House today. After a meeting with President Bush, congressional leaders came out to the cameras. And House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had much different views of the disaster relief situation.

Take a look at the body language and what they said. The tension was palpable.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There's going to be a lot of time to point fingers after we get through there. But we need to make sure that we don't have this situation again. And that's what the investigation will be about. Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Let me ask leader Pelosi, what did the president say...


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well, let me just say, because my colleagues said that I was pointing fingers too soon. You're darn right. You're darn right. We have had a -- we're a week behind of where we should be in terms of responding to Katrina.


HENRY: Now, Nancy Pelosi -- right after that, Nancy Pelosi basically called FEMA Director Michael Brown incompetent, said he should be fired.

Also today, Senator Hillary Clinton joined other Democrats in calling for an independent commission to investigate what went wrong. Republicans are not going for that. They say they don't want an independent commission. They want to focus on the rescue and relief efforts. And they're saying the focus on Capitol Hill should be getting money to victims. In fact, the price tag is growing by the hour, Paula.

Today, Republican Senator Trent Lott said he thinks the Congress should spend in excess of $100 billion. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said spend in excess of $150 billion -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Ed, in the end, how successful do folks think the Republican strategy will be, because people out there are scratching their heads tonight, saying, wait a minute? What happened on 9/11, and no matter what you read in the 9/11 Commission report, is entirely different than the prospect of a hurricane that this government did a sophisticated, in-depth study of prior to it hitting.

HENRY: I can tell you, you're right. Republicans up here are very nervous. They are the ones who will be up for reelection next year, not President Bush, since he's a lame duck. They're worried that the country is taking a look at the response, and there was real problems there.

So, that's why they're pushing back so hard, why the president has been to the region twice, why Vice President Cheney is going to the Gulf region later this week, and why Republicans on the Hill are trying to have some congressional hearings. But they don't want to go so far as an independent commission. They're very concerned about this issue.

ZAHN: Ed Henry, thanks so much for the update. We will check in you -- with you later as the story develops and as members of the House come out of that briefing.

As I'm speaking tonight, a filthy, stinking sea still inundates about 60 percent of New Orleans and even some of the surrounding communities. It is a disease-bearing stew of human waste and toxic chemicals.

In fact, one analysis found the level of sewage bacteria in the water in one part of the city far beyond the danger level.

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now from New Orleans.

And you look at these numbers, Elizabeth. And for those of us that don't study them, we don't know what it means, that they found this amount of 20,000 colonies per 100 milliliters. What does that mean?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, what it means is that there's way more fecal coliform in the water than there should be, way more than is considered safe under normal circumstances.


COHEN (voice-over): This water is so filthy that CNN is told the Centers for Disease Control is considering telling people who have been in it to get a vaccination for hepatitis A.

Of course, you don't really need a test to tell you this water is dirty. But we had one done anyways. The analysis of this New Orleans water shows it's full of bacteria from animal and human feces, full, meaning this test by Louisiana State University shows it has more than 20,000 colonies of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters.

Water runoff into rivers is normally supposed to be no more than 200. That's why Mayor Ray Nagin gave this warning Tuesday.

NAGIN: We'd like for everybody to get out because it's a health risk. There are toxins in the water.

COHEN (on camera): So, what does this mean for the people of New Orleans, who are in this water day after day? A week later, the water still smells. It's full of trash and debris. But, of course, what's really dangerous is what you can't see, viruses and bacteria.

(voice-over): Dr. William Shafner (ph), who serves on an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control, says the signs of hepatitis A won't show up for about a month. He said the vaccine can still work even if it's been given after someone's been exposed to the virus. A more immediate concern, some people could become severely ill if they swallowed the bacteria and viruses in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Older people, people who are frail, immunocompromised, and, of course, the tiny infants, they don't have the margin of safety, right? So, any kind of illness can be really serious and potentially deadly with them.

COHEN: For everyone else, being in this water could mean acute diarrhea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hearing about small outbreaks of gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

COHEN: Bacteria and viruses are not the only concern. John Yupkim (ph) is an environmental engineering Ph.D. student at LSU. At our request, he's also testing the water for various chemicals. Results should be back within the next few days. The government says they're working on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can clearly see the interface between the water and the oil, indicating some volatile chemical has leaked through this area. It could be fuel or any kind of chemical.

COHEN: And all the people who spent days in the water are waiting to find out what it could mean for their health now and later.


COHEN: CNN has now learned that the Centers for Disease Control is officially recommending that, if you were exposed to that water in New Orleans, you should get a vaccination against hepatitis A -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yet another thing for these folks to add to their long list of concerns.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

At about 24 minutes past the hour, we're going to quickly move on to the rest of the headlines with Erica Hill of Headline News.

Erica, are you there? There you are.


ZAHN: How are you tonight?

HILL: Nice to see you. I'm well, thanks.

We actually start out what you could absolutely call an extraordinary development for next month's trial of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator, we're learning, has confessed to giving the orders to execute thousands of Kurds in the 1980s, according to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. President Talabani says there is audio and video of the confessions, and the government is calling for an expedited trial.

In Baghdad today, two more American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, bringing the death total there to 1,890.

Meantime, Chief Justice William Rehnquist lying in repose tonight in the Rotunda of the U.S. Supreme Court. Pallbearers, including Judge John Roberts. That was some of the video you were just watching there. The man nominated to succeed Rehnquist carried his flag-draped coffin into the courthouse today, as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and others looked on. Rehnquist died on Saturday at the age of 80. The Senate begins confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts next Monday.

And more than half of the petroleum production in the Gulf still shut down, but energy prices are actually easing a bit. Crude oil prices dipped to pre-hurricane levels, as millions of barrels of crude were released from emergency reserves, much of it donated by 26 other countries. The price of gasoline remains around $3 a gallon, though, in much of the U.S., Paula.

So still not too much relief at the pumps, unfortunately.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Erica. See you a little bit on tonight.

A little town you probably never even heard of is becoming a very gruesome place. It's where the bodies from New Orleans will be taken. I will be talking with a doctor who's been dealing with them and ask him what he thinks the death count is at this hour.


ZAHN: Right now, we want to talk about a very grim aspect of this terrible disaster which involves some graphic images.

Tonight, the floodwaters are slowly going down around New Orleans, but the worst shock could be yet to come. That's when emergency workers begin the work of removing bodies. FEMA is setting up a giant temporary morgue in Saint Gabriel, Louisiana, 70 miles from New Orleans, to hold what could be thousands of bodies.

But heart-wrenching challenges lie ahead, including trying to identify the dead, many who have been underwater for more than a week, and tracking down their families, so they can be told.

From Baton Rouge, I'm joined now by Dr. Louis Cataldie. He is Louisiana's emergency response medical director.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight, sir.

This is such a grim story to talk about. How many bodies have you received so far, and how many are you expecting?

DR. LOUIS CATALDIE, LOUISIANA EMERGENCY RESPONSE MEDICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Paula, I don't know how many we're going to expect.

We are -- you know, I think it's important for everybody to understand that it's about the individual and not about the number. You know, it's about the little lady with the big brown eyes who is in the Superdome in all that filth who looks at you and you can't do anything for. And somebody hands you a limp kid. And when you come back to her, she's dead. It's about the individual. It's about the one.

And I don't want people to lose track of that, that we handle every person as the individual and with the dignity they deserve. We're coming into probably close to 100 bodies right now, 100 individuals. Certainly, the count is going to go higher. We're not keeping score.

With each recovery, you know, there's more trauma certainly for our city and probably for our nation. I don't know how many individuals we will find, Paula.

ZAHN: And, Doctor, one of your greatest challenges right now is the fact that so much of the efforts now are placed on search and rescue and not the recovery of dead bodies. And as time goes by, these bodies become more badly decomposed, and then you have the problem of -- perhaps even if they have surviving family members, they aren't anywhere around them to identify them. So what is the potential you might not be able to identify many of they'd bodies?

CATALDIE: Well that's really tough. We're looking at three different classifications, if you would, of bodies who are going to come into our morgue. There are going to be folks who we know who they were, because they perhaps died in a hospital or they perhaps drowned in a hospital or drowned in a nursing home. We'll have those records. Hopefully we can identify them from maybe arm bands. So we'll have identified folks.

You're absolutely right. Being in the water that long makes visual identification essentially an impossibility. We'll look for things like identifying marks such as tattoos and personal effects. We'll get DNA. We'll do X-rays if they have prostheses and we'll do fingerprints if we can. But it's going to be a difficult and painful process.

And then there's the third category of homicides who aren't related to the storm.

ZAHN: And then, Doctor, finally tonight, there are reports that the state of Louisiana is thinking about buying land to create some sort of cemetery for all these victims. Is there a possibility that there might, given all the difficulties you talk about, end up being a mass grave for these victims?

CATALDIE: Absolutely not. We will not do a mass grave. We will have individual plots for each person -- each victim that we track through the morgue. We are looking at various locations right now. A task force has submitted various options to our governor. There is no way our governor's going to allow a mass burial. We're not going to treat Louisiana citizens like that.

ZAHN: Dr. Louis Cataldie, thank you for telling us about this very delicate work that lies ahead. Good luck, sir.

And we're going to take you back to New Orleans in just a minute. My colleague is in the city's most famous district, the French Quarter. How things have changed when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, the victims of Katrina are enduring their second week of distress. After an agonizingly slow response, the military is suddenly much more in evidence. Their numbers are growing by the hour. And according to the military 17,000 active-duty forces, 41,000 National Guard, and 2,400 Coast Guard personnel are now deployed. My colleague, Anderson Cooper, is at the Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, he joins me now.

And, Anderson, I know you've been out and about in the city all day long. Given the increased number of folks on the ground there, are you seeing any appreciable difference in the rescue efforts?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, certainly in the sense of security and law and order there is a great improvement. I mean, you don't feel any real sense of threat except in some communities. But, you know, often with these rescue efforts, the left hand doesn't seem to know exactly what the right hand is doing.

You've got dozens of paramedics and firemen and rescue workers from small towns and other states, and they've descended on New Orleans. They want to help. But often they're sort of sent on wild goose chases. And then federal authorities, when they show up, tell them oh, no, you're not really needed here. So there's this big frustration. The state is trying to coordinate the efforts a little bit more. They have a joint center up now tonight for the first time. But there's a long way to go. There's are a lot of very frustrated first responders here. And there's a growing health concern about them as well.

ZAHN: Sure. You were talking about the number of volunteers that are pouring in. Is there a feeling of pessimism or optimism that these coordination problems will be worked out ultimately?

COOPER: Well, I mean, they have to be worked out. It would be just a national disgrace if they aren't. According to -- you know, this is what we are hearing from doctors who are working with them.

But it is still just very frustrating for these first responders. I mean, they are out in water that is toxic, that has body parts and human remains in it. And E. coli according to the CDC. They told us that today. They say don't light a cigarette near this water. There are fires on the water. You've got first responders out on that water, no protective gear. You know, no gloves, no face masks. You know, there's some doctors who are working them have some very real health concerns about their long-term health.

ZAHN: And for very good reasons. Anderson Cooper, thanks so much for the update. Appreciate it.

And despite President Bush's promise to lead a complete investigation of what went right and what went wrong after the hurricane, a lot of people are angry with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Tom Foreman followed one of them to FEMA's doorstep today. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Out of the chaos of the Gulf Coast and the ruins of his own home, Ron Mucha ran for high ground at his daughter's house in Virginia. And for help he came to FEMA's front door in Washington. After all, he's tried to call and file a damage report on the website.

RON MUCHA, STORM VICTIM: I've been trying for five days now. And finally last night, a couple times I had it all done, and it rejected it. I've been calling for all these days just like everybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, can you turn that camera off, please?

FOREMAN: More on Ron later. But FEMA officials are trying desperately to get problems like his off the front page. After a week of blistering attacks over their response to Katrina, the embattled boss, Michael Brown, has disappeared from the camera's eye. No more interviews, making way for new voices to discuss new progress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that the effort's going great.

FOREMAN: And the situation seems to be improving. Some local and state leaders are praising new federal efforts to get housing for the homeless, phones, roads, electricity, water, even debit cards working. But FEMA is not out of the woods.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) CHWMN. HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE.: There were undoubtedly some failures at all levels of government. We're going to take a look at that.

FOREMAN: In addition to bipartisan plans for congressional investigations, FEMA stumbled into a new spat with Mississippi. Fourteen hundred trailers for emergency housing there are right now sitting at an Army base in Atlanta. FEMA says they'll move them as soon as they can directly to where they're need.

(on camera): But critics say such continued disputes mean FEMA chief, Michael Brown, must be fired now for practical, not political reasons.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, (D) MISSISSIPPI: FEMA clearly is flying by the seat of their pants. What we need is a professional in there trained to run disaster preparedness operations, who can make quick decisions, cut through the red tape and get the job done.

FOREMAN: So, what happened to Ron Mucha? He got lucky. Met a FEMA man right in front of the building.

MICHAEL A. BROWN, FEMA: Believe it or not, my name is Michael A. Brown. I'm with FEMA.

MUCHA: Michael Brown...

FOREMAN: Not the Michael Brown, but he did take Ron inside. And when the two of them couldn't get a phone call to the right person even from the lobby, he looked over Ron's damage report and assured him he will get help.

BROWN: Absolutely. Yes. 100 percent.

FOREMAN: It was enough.

MUCHA: They're doing their best, I think. I really think they are.

FOREMAN: For Ron Mucha and FEMA, too, maybe a small step in the right direction.


ZAHN: That was Tom Foreman reporting for us. They have lost their homes. They have lost their jobs. Their money is running out. So is extra space to put them. Is there any good news for the remaining evacuees? Sean Callebs has been busy looking all day and has a report after we show you some ways to help.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm looking for my 23-month-old daughter, Tyshaunda. She got apart from her daddy under the I-10.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it like just to be in this situation?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very hard for anybody to be going through what I'm going through without your child.


ZAHN: Those stories just break your heart. One mother's prayer tonight that someone can tell her where her 23-month-old child, Tidy, is. Unfortunately there are many stories like hers. The latest count shows more than 182,000 evacuees in more than 500 shelters. Thanks to various governments and charities.

And our Sean Callebs has found one man who has taken on an incredible job of helping out some of those evacuees.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You must excuse them if breakfast seems a bit chaotic. Such is the cost of friendship.

It began when Demond Lemon and his family, flooded out of their homes in New Orleans, asked a childhood friend in Houston for a place to stay to avoid conditions in the Astrodome.

DEMOND LEMON, EVACUEE: A lot of people just sleeping on cots, you know, around like hundreds and thousands of people. CALLEBS: For Kirby and Tiffany Robinson, the choice was easy.

KIRBY ROBINSON, FRIEND OF LEMON: I can't see nobody who can actually turn people away. If you've got any space in your house, you should let -- you know, at least let them in.

CALLEBS: A big heart, Kirby couldn't say no. First to the Lemon family, then Demond's mother and her friend. After that, five children from the Lemons' neighborhood. Then their family friends. Their relatives, more extended family. Finally, a friend of a friend with nowhere to turn.

ROBINSON: At this point, we've got about 27 people in here. And you know, just laying everywhere. You know, doing what they can do. They're all grateful, though, you know.

CALLEBS: Food stamps pay for some food. Kirby has pitched in, too. So much he was late with September's rent for his own small apartment. This sprawling ranch house actually belongs to his mother and there's a pool house attached. His guests are thankful.

Evacuee Sherman Robertson says the full house help relieve the sadness and the stress. Working for the city of New Orleans, he was a year from retirement. Now...

SHERMAN ROBERTSON, EVACUEE: I'm just going to have to start all over again. You know, just like day one. Everything's gone, you know. It ain't much we can do about it.

CALLEBS: On top of everything else, Kirby's mother isn't even home. She's in Iraq right now as a civilian contractor.

ROBINSON: Yes. Actually, she's not going to know this until she sees it on the news that all these people are in her house.

CALLEBS: Everyone pitches in: Cleaning, washing, cooking. It's early for many here to think about where they will live permanently, but they say, they'll find a way to get by and move forward with their lives with help from a friend they'll never forget.


CALLEBS: So why, you ask, are the families confused if they're going to live in Houston or in the New Orleans area? Well, they've been so busy trying to set up FEMA aid, getting medicine and also concerned about putting the children in school, they have been focusing on that.

Kirby, however, makes it clear. He wants to do everything in his power to keep all these friends and family together. Paula, even if it does keep him in Dutch with his mother.

ZAHN: Yes. No telling what mom's reaction's going to be. What a big heart her son has. Thanks, Sean Callebs.

And we have some breaking news to share with you right now: The mayor of New Orleans has just issued a special-order that gives police, military, anyone in authority, to force people to leave the city, whether they want to or not, even if they're on their own private property.

And the superintendent of police just told me a short time ago that some of those people may have to be forcibly removed.

When there's a disaster in he anywhere in the world, the U.S. is first in line to help. Where's the rest of the world now that we need help? Richard Quest has been working on finding some answers. His report will ready right out of the break.


ZAHN: While I speak tonight, we are watching a very strange global role reversal play out tonight. A world that has seen one of its most renowned cities brought to its knees in the world's most powerful country is rushing to send supplies, money and medical help. Even impoverished Bangladesh, no stranger to natural disasters, is pledging $1 million for hurricane victims.

Our Richard Quest joins me now from London to tell us a little bit more about what the rest of the world is doing to help out. Hi, Richard.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Paula. It is, indeed, around the world a strange business, when we see the United States saying it will accept aid from just about every country that wants to send it, and which means that the Royal Air Force, which once airlifted to Berlin, now sends to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States.


QUEST (voice-over): They're packing the planes as fast as they can. It's an operation to deliver half a million meals as quickly as possible.

(on camera): This giant 747 will carry more than 35 of these pallets to the Southern United States. In total, on this one plane alone, at least 95 tons of meals ready to eat are being sent to America.

(voice-over): Each box contains everything needed to feed four people for a day. Entrees, snacks, teas, coffees, even chocolate. The Royal Air Force rejects criticism about why it's sending food parcels to the wealthiest country in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Americans will run their stocks out incredibly quickly with the current situation over there. So you know, over the next week or 10 days, they will need these supplies.

QUEST: This emergency airlift is the most visible way in which Britain is helping her closest ally.

(on camera): For instance, two more planes are being prepared, to send more meals ready to eat to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

(voice-over): The bill for providing this help will be picked up by the British government, which has also said more food will be sent if necessary.


QUEST: Now, Paula, those planes will be landing in Little Rock, Arkansas about now. The operation to get those food and those goods to the people who need it will be under way. And what everybody's telling me is, they want to avoid the tsunami problem: A lot of aid arriving, but getting it to those most needy proving extremely difficult.

ZAHN: Maybe we've learned some powerful lessons from that. Richard Quest, thanks so much.

Just a few minutes ago, the New Orleans police superintendent told me his department is still in life-saving mode, and all sorts of rescues are still going on in New Orleans tonight. You don't want to miss this update. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: We've heard so much about the human toll of Hurricane Katrina. Tonight, we take a look at some of the world's most silent victims at this hour, the pets left behind. Jeff Koinange spent part of the day with some of the people who are trying to rescue those pets that have been abandoned.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It started off as an attempt to rescue Charlie and Steve Simpson's (ph) cats. They had left them in their home in the uptown section of New Orleans five days ago. They thought the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina wouldn't last more than a week.

They asked us for their help. It was supposed to be a short walk, the Simpsons insisting their home was just around the corner. So on we waded, getting deeper and deeper into the water, until it reached the point Charlie couldn't go any further. Her waders weren't tall enough.

Despite her pleas, we decided it was best she return to the car, while we continued through the waist-high dirty waters.

A short while further, just as we were contemplating turning back, help arrives: A National Guard unit. And in the back of the truck, Charlie Simpson. She had convinced them to take her to her house.

They agreed to take us all to the Simpsons' house.

We get as far as the end of their block and have to come out and walk the rest of the way. The truck's engine may stall in these chest-high waters. We wade on, deeper and deeper.

Finally, we arrive, and enter a world turned upside down. The water inside the house is chest high. Furniture is submerged, as are pictures and family mementos.

We get upstairs, and find three cats are fine. The fourth is missing. The tough task of convincing the cats to come out quickly dawns on us. Finally, one at a time, we manage to grab them, and put two in a carrier and the third in a bag.

Back out, we find more help in the neighborhood. Volunteers patrolling in boats agreed to take the cats on board while we wade after them.

We reach the National Guard unit, still waiting for us, and head back.

As the good Samaritans drop us off, Charlie and her family are back on high ground.


KOINANGE: These are her children.

Jeff Koinange, CNN, New Orleans.


ZAHN: And we quickly go back to the fireworks of Washington, with Ed Henry, who's going to bring us up to date on some briefings that took place between the head of Homeland Security and members of Congress. What else have you heard so far, Ed?

HENRY: The meeting is still going on, but some lawmakers who have left the room have come out to tell us privately that it's very contentious in that room. Several Bush cabinet secretaries taking withering, blistering criticism from lawmakers in both parties. In fact, after some upbeat reports from various cabinet secretaries, one Republican lawmaker stood up and basically said that he thought all the cabinet secretaries deserve an F for what they had done so far. Very rough criticism. Then a Democrat stood up and asked Michael Chertoff at Homeland Security, would you give Michael Brown an F at FEMA? He wouldn't answer.

ZAHN: I guess that's not too surprising, is it, Ed? Ed Henry, thanks so much for that update. We want to thank you all for joining us tonight. Appreciate you being with us. We'll be back here same time, same place tomorrow night. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.


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