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U.S. Military Seeks to Avoid Involvement in Forced Evacuations; 30 Die in Louisiana Nursing Home

Aired September 7, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
At this hour, we are following a number of breaking stories from just outside of New Orleans.

Let's get you quickly up to speed on what is happening right now.

From the air, you can see signs of the very grim effort to recover bodies all over the New Orleans area. This is a federal command post on Interstate 10, a receiving point for those recovered bodies.

There are no pictures from the site of a breaking news yet in Chalmette, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans; 30 people have died in a flooded nursing home. And more than 100 other people died awaiting rescue from a dockside warehouse. We have got a crew on the way to that one. We will get an update to you in just a minute.

Meanwhile, back in the city of New Orleans, police say there are still thousands of people who want to be rescued, crews still going door to door tonight in boats. Police will finish the voluntary evacuations before trying to force everyone out. The U.S. military made it clear today that its personnel won't be involved in forced evacuations, whatever that entails.

And just a few hours ago on Capitol Hill, lawmakers announced a joint committee of senior members will investigate why the relief effort got off to such a slow start.

The very latest numbers show 319,000 storm victims have registered for disaster aid. Now each of them will be getting a $2,000 debit card from the federal government.

And a major pumping station in New Orleans' 17 Street canal is up and running at this hour. Notice the foam. That's caused by all the pollution in the water. And what you can't see is even worse. The Environmental Protection Agency confirms that New Orleans' floodwaters are contaminated with several kinds of toxic bacteria and lead.

Fires are still a problem. But look closely. These trucks are actually hooked up to a fire hydrant, which means some of the city's water system is finally working again. Also, notice the firefighters' coats. They're members of the New York Fire Department who've come south to help out.

I want to get right back to our breaking story, the reports of 30 people who died in a nursing home just outside of New Orleans.

Soledad O'Brien has been on the way. She joins us now by the telephone with the very latest on what happened -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Paula, we're talking about St. Bernard Parish, which is described by people who have suffered some of the worst devastation as the very worst of the worst.

This afternoon, Sheriff Jack Stephens confirmed for us in fact, that more than 30 people -- he said 30-plus people dead inside that nursing home. He did say he believed that somewhere between 40 and 50 people were actually evacuated safely. We went to the site today, and, really, three feet of water still, clearly and easily, more than eight feet of water hit that nursing home, flooded, devastated, cars in the parking lot sort of all turned over in a little bit, in a willy-nilly kind of way, just a mess.

And it's a terrible, terrible toll on a community that was utterly devastated by the storm. We were talking to a sheriff's deputy, Paula, who told us, when I asked him to estimate the percentage of St. Bernard's Parish that was damaged, he said, I put it at 100 percent.

The (INAUDIBLE) teams were on the scene today earlier in the afternoon removing, by their estimation, about half of the bodies inside. They came in with a refrigerator truck. Those bodies, of course, go off to the morgue. And then they're going to go work on identification. And then they will try to reunite the remains, if they can, with some of the family members.

There are choppers flying over my head, because, as you mentioned, recovery efforts are still under way in St. Bernard Parish today. We ran into six people who were rescued, four of them very happy to be rescued, two others very angry, actually did not want to be rescued. And, in their words, the military did remove them from their home. I said by force? She said, I consider it to be by force. The woman is 89 years old. She's an attorney. And she said, I had no intention of leaving my home, and they forced me to.

So, clearly, recovery, being able to save people, those are the focuses., and also trying to clean up from what is just an absolute devastation to a community -- Paula.

ZAHN: And I know you've been racing to this location. Have any of the investigators telling anything about these folks that apparently died at a dock warehouse waiting to be rescued? The numbers, now we're being told, up to 100 or so.

O'BRIEN: I think you're talking about the Chalmette Slip, and actually that is now what they're calling camp Katrina.

There, they really have set up this giant warehouse, Navy on the scene as well. And it's kind of the center where the sheriff's department is doing a massive operation. They rescued some 3,000 people. But the sheriff -- I have to tell you, the sheriff, Jack Stephens, who is a big man and a big, strong, tough guy, broke into tears as he described what it is like to lose people who are saved in a rescue, but then die waiting to be actually taken from the rescue site up to some other safer place.

He was not willing to point any fingers of blame, saying he really wants to look forward to fixing things. But it was very tough. He did not put the numbers that high. And other people at the scene also told me they didn't think the numbers were anywhere near 100 for the record, but they did say that they lost people who had actually been recovered and saved from their homes in the water.

ZAHN: Soledad O'Brien, thanks so much for that update.

And as has been the case with this story from day one, it often takes many, many days before you can really nail down some of those details. If we have any more before the end of the show, we will bring them to you live.

Another big concern at this hour is, should people who don't want to leave their own private homes be forced out? Well, the country's mood is pretty clear. A new CNN poll shows 66 percent thinks New Orleans residents shouldn't be allowed to stay. But what about the thousands who remain there tonight?

Well, Louisiana's governor could order the Guard to help the police, if it comes to using force. But an official says the Guard will only help, because forcible evacuations will be the police department's job.


LT. GEN. STEVEN BLUM, NATIONAL GUARD CHIEF: If the law needs to be enforced, the National Guard could be used in that role. But I will tell you, that will be to support the already established and existing civilian law enforcement. We will not replace them. We won't supplant them. We will only expand their capability and assist them in executing the law, if it is in fact ordered.


ZAHN: And that perhaps is the clearest explanation we have heard of how this all might come down, if it does at all.

Christiane Amanpour has spent the day looking into the crisis of forced evacuation.

She joins me now from New Orleans.

Is there any evidence from today that any families were actually forced out by New Orleans Police?


It's really between a rock and a hard place, because officials here are really, sincerely worried about this terrible stagnant and disease-ridden water that is flooding still 60 percent of the city. There are something like 10,000 residents still left. And the mayor has said they must go. But what we found -- and we followed three different patrols -- and you'll see in this report coming up that there's a big -- essentially a crisis amongst the people who are being asked to implement this, because they haven't fully got the orders to do so.

And they don't really know how they're going to forcibly take people out. Look at what we found.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The sniffer dogs are out now. So many bodies just loosely covered still lie in the open, threatening to spread disease like wildfire through the watery graveyard that is the city of New Orleans. The mayor wants everyone out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a martial law declaration in place that gives us legal authority for mandatory evacuations.

AMANPOUR: So, as they have done for eight days, wildlife and fishery teams, those with the boats from all over the country, are going house to waterlogged house.


AMANPOUR: But as Texas Game Warden Derek Iden (ph) knows, this mission is about to get a whole lot more difficult.

(on camera): How do you physically remove people from their houses?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. That's something that's going to be determined. If they don't want to come out on their own -- on their own, you know, free will, then I don't know. It's going to be hard.

AMANPOUR: On dry land, National Guard units from across the country are faced with the same dilemma. Some residents sit with their bags packed, waiting to be evacuated. Others are loaded into trucks and driven off. But many of the estimated 10,000 remaining residents still don't want to leave their city.

And so far, this Guard unit from Oklahoma tells the Simpson family, it's not yet under orders to force them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have exactly when or how they're going to do it yet. As soon as we get the information...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when you all get the information, you all come tell us, because I don't want that -- all the rough stuff and stuff.


AMANPOUR (on camera): The fact is, neither the National Guard troops we have spoken to, nor the water rescue people know quite how they're going to force residents to leave their house. What exactly does mandatory evacuation mean, and how are they going to make it happen?

(voice-over): But officers from the California Highway Patrol, who drove two days to come and help people here, are determined to enforce the mayor's order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police. Open the door.

AMANPOUR: With five minutes to gather belongings, this man and his wife reluctantly emerge. Just moments earlier, their neighbor insisted they were going to stand firm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're roofers and carpenters, and we're waiting to rebuild. This is our city. We are not going to abandon it like...

AMANPOUR: Inside, they have electricity, food, and water because their neighborhood was not badly damaged. But the highway patrolmen on this block are undeterred. And, a few minutes later, heaving with sobs and sadness, the woman joins friends and neighbors on a truck mounted with armed guards.

None of them resisted. Nonetheless, the residents of this block say they are heartbroken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'd like to remain, so we can put This city back together. We love this city. I don't know what else to say.

AMANPOUR: From surviving the flood to refugees in their own country, not knowing where they're going or when they'll return.


AMANPOUR: On the one hand, the officials have sympathy for those who are living in neighborhoods that are not so badly damaged and who want to stay. And, on the other hand, they know they have to clear all those people who are still living in the flooded parts of the city.

And they're saying that, although they're not forcing them out yet, they're still trying to coax them out, they're saying they won't be around again with any supplies and water -- back to you, Paula.

ZAHN: That is a threat that has been issued before and still hasn't stopped many of those restaurants -- or residents.

Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much.

At this very moment, the sun is setting over New Orleans and nearby communities. It brings the 10th night in darkness for many who refuse to leave, with reeking water in the streets, with no air- conditioning and the semi-tropical swelter, with mosquitoes in the air and looters still on the loose. Why would anybody want to stay?

Well, Alina Cho talked with some die-hards, like Christiane did as well, who've taken refuge where they find it.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New Orleans is in ruins. Its streets are empty. Thousands have fled. And yet Paul Essex (ph) is happy to be there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm blessed to be alive. You know how many people didn't make it? You know how many of my friends drowned? You know, I'm blessed to be alive.

CHO: We found Essex, his girlfriend, Shelby (ph), and their 3- month-old son, Paul Jr., living at a New Orleans high school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, look at us. We have the biggest room in here. It's neat. It's clean. Look at the food we have. We have enough food for months. And we have water.

CHO: Essex and his family were at their home in the Lower Ninth Ward when the hurricane hit. As their home flooded, they climbed to their rooftop, nailed a wooden box to the roof, and then kept their baby secure inside it. They were rescued two days later. Then they walked to the school. Essex says he never once thought about going to a shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have chaos at the Convention Center. It's thousands of people, when it's just us three.

CHO (on camera): Throughout the neighborhood, we found people wandering the streets, living where they can, saying they won't leave the city. Just down the street from here, we found a group of people living on a city bus.

How does it feel to have this bus?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feel like it make me want to stay home.

CHO (voice-over): After the storm, Joseph Gaines (ph) and his friends parked two city buses next to their flooded home, refuge from the heat and mosquitoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very lucky, very fortunate.

CHO: Here, they have light and air-conditioning. It's so cool at night, they say, they have to use blankets. Gaines says they'll live there until the fuel runs out. When asked how he got the buses there, he told me he took them.

(on camera): Some people might say it's stealing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is, but it's survival even more.

CHO (voice-over): In affluent neighborhoods like this one, where homes average a half-million dollars, 82-year-old Harold Gagne (ph) rode out the storm on his girlfriend's veranda. He's still there now, no electricity, no running water. But Gagne says he has peace. (on camera): When there's been an evacuation order, why not leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean leave everything behind? I don't think so.

CHO (voice-over): Essex and his family had every reason to leave. Their home is under water. They told us they'd stay at the school for a few more days. But when we went back to check on them, it appeared they had left, with family, with friends, or perhaps still on their own.


ZAHN: That was Alina Cho reporting.

Our producer Alex Quade has spent the day embedded with members of the 1st Cav from Ft. Hood, Texas, as they went from door to door trying to convince people remaining in New Orleans to leave their homes.

She joins us on the phone now.

I don't know what response you've gotten, but two of the reporters so far talked about so many people not willing to listen to that directive. What did you see?

ALEX QUADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, unfortunately, you can hear, we have a helicopter going right over our head right now.

We are actually -- we are at the Naval air station at Belle Chasse. This is where the majority of the 1st Cav Aviation Brigade is. We went out with the Black Hawk helicopter team, as they deposited some special operations forces. These forces are the ones who are on the ground. They are going house to house. They are banging on doors. And they're trying to be persuasive. When they find people, they're trying to be verbally persuasive, be very verbally persuasive.

You will see probably in the video, if you're running that, that they are very heavily armed. They are carrying M-4s, big weapons. But they say they are not trying to force people out. They're trying to get them to agree to leave. They're telling them things like, you know, you could be here for 80 days. You will run out of food. You will run out of water. The sewage is going to get backed up. It's dire straits out here.

They're trying to get them to leave on their own.

ZAHN: So, what are most of them telling them? Are they willing to get out and listen?

QUADE: Well, pretty much what's happening is that most of them are -- they just -- they do. They want to stay put. We ran into two gentlemen who said that they think they have family members coming out to get them later on today. And then another gentleman said that he thinks that another helicopter will be airlifting them out.

And that's the thing, is that the 1st Cav is having to provide air support to actually get these, extract these people out of their neighborhoods when they do decide to leave.

ZAHN: Alex Quade, thanks for bringing us up to date on all of that. Appreciate it.

All day, we have been trying to get a handle on just how dangerous it is to get near the floodwaters. That story will be ready in just a few minutes, but, first, a progress report on how the relief effort is going.


ZAHN: And we continue our coverage of Katrina's terrible toll on the Gulf Coast in just a moment, but, first, a look at the day's other big stories with Erica Hill of Headline News. .

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. Good evening to you.

And we start off with an important follow-up to a CNN investigation. Ford is now recalling nearly four million F-150 pickups, Ford Expeditions, and Lincoln Navigators made from 1994 through 2002. Now, as CNN has reported, a cruise control switch is suspected of causing those vehicles to catch fire even with the engine off, and Toyota also announcing a recall, nearly one million Toyota pickups and SUVs, most of them made in the 1990s, being recalled for a steering rod that could snap.

In Iraq, a deadly day in Basra, where a car bomb blew up outside a packed restaurant and market, killing at least 16 people and leaving dozens more wounded. And, in a separate incident in that city, insurgents killed four American contractors and a Defense Ministry official.

But also some good news to report to you from Iraq today. American hostage Roy Hallums, held captive since last November, was rescued in good condition after someone tipped off the U.S. military.

Meantime, everyone keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Ophelia tonight, currently hovering off Florida's northeast coast, right now no word about landfall.

And Chief Justice William Rehnquist laid to rest today at Arlington National Cemetery. In his eulogy, President Bush said Rehnquist was -- quote -- "among our greatest chief justices" -- Paula, back over to you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much. Appreciate it, Erica.

Tonight, we are hearing about people who are getting sick from simple contact with the putrid floodwater in Louisiana. The Centers for Disease Control is warning people to do whatever they can to avoid contact with the rancid mix.

This report just came in from medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This water is officially about the quality you'd find in a sewer. The government said as much today.

VICE ADM. RICHARD CARMONA, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: E coli is growing in amounts that are intolerable. The fact is, is that it is a contaminated soup.

COHEN: Tests by the EPA show the water has 10 times the normal amount of E coli. That's fecal bacteria. CNN's own tests show the number in some areas is more than 100 times higher. So, what about all these people who were wading in it, swimming in it, or worse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some of them have had to drink it, because they were in the water for two or three days, with nothing else to drink.

COHEN: Nurse Dana Amerol (ph) flew in from California to help out Katrina victims. She's taken care of hundreds of patients in the last three days at this shelter in Baton Rouge. She's seen a lot of sick people who were in the filthy New Orleans water, and she fears more will get sick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have this many people in one space, it's going to be hard to contain anything being spread back and forth.

COHEN: The Centers for Disease Control recommended two days ago that evacuees get vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, pneumonia, and the flu. Children and teenagers should get additional shots. And people crammed into places like this shelter are supposed to receive even more, vaccines against chicken pox, mumps, measles, German measles, and hepatitis A.

But there's one problem. Doctors and nurses we talked to on the ground in Louisiana had no idea they were supposed to be immunizing people. Nurse Amerol found out about the CDC vaccine recommendations from us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of miscommunication and a lot of confusion going on in different government agencies. These people have been displaced. And it's sad to see these people walking around with all their worldly belongings in a trash bag, and then have to go through all the government red tape and the B.S. just to try and get a simple shot to prevent them from being sick.

COHEN: At a press conference today, the government didn't mention how they plan on vaccinating the thousands of people who were in the water, people who are now homeless, people who are now scattered around the country, people in shelters, shelters that still have no vaccines to give to protect against the potentially deadly diseases.


COHEN: Now, Paula, you'll have to excuse the helicopter that's overhead. I hope you can hear me.

But the nurse that we talked to today said, you don't have to drink this water to get sick from it. She's treated people with infected blisters and sores -- Paula.

ZAHN: And no telling how long any of those folks had to spend in the water to survive.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

You might be surprised to hear this one fact. With about 60 percent of New Orleans under water, there are parts of the city that aren't flooded at all. And what is happening there tonight? We're going to show you and why some people just don't want to listen to the mayor on our next stop.


ZAHN: And, as I speak tonight, troops such as the 82nd Airborne units and the National Guard are helping to turn the tide against the criminal rampage that swept through New Orleans after the storm.

Now, as streets are attempted to be reclaimed, another kind of heavy lifting begins.

Drew Griffin has that part of the story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is a new cavalry in town, one with fewer guns and more muscle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... you guys to back up and turn around? We have got these streets closed off for cleanup.


GRIFFIN: After days of heavily armed troops patrolling with guns at the ready, new troops are arriving with a new mission, to actually clean the place up. This Texas National Guard unit specializes in water purification.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to make the water in New Orleans clean?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. GRIFFIN: With all the attention on floods and fires, you haven't heard much about the fact that there are lots of neighborhoods that need little more than a good cleaning. They were never flooded, some barely touched. Bob Rue (ph) lives on the edge of downtown, where he sells rugs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the Garden District homes, in the French Quarter, it's not touched. The 19th century stuff, before there were levees, is unhurt, except for wind damage.

GRIFFIN: You're ready to get cleaned up, get these streets cleaned up, power on, and you're back in business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to put my sign out for an oriental rug sale pretty soon, and see if I can sell some rugs to some soldiers.


GRIFFIN: Whether Rue can avoid the mayor's everybody-out order remains to be seen. So far, we have seen nothing to indicate the order is being enforced in unscathed neighborhoods. The Garden District for the most part is high and dry. Downtown businesses are scrambling to make repairs. Fallen trees are being cleared from the streets. And the French Quarter on this hot September day actually looks beautiful.

(on camera): Take a look inside the world famous Cafe Du Monde. All they need to do is sweep and get all those tables back out here. Of course, they still need power and water. But , basically the Quarter's ready to go.

(voice-over): Some places don't even need power and water. On Bourbon Street at Johnny White's Sports Bar today, you could walk in and have a cool one. Johnny White's isn't reopened. It never closed.

(on camera): And you're open?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Never closed.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): They've got the sign to prove it. And Katrina couldn't blow that away.


GRIFFIN: You felt a definite mood change for the better in some areas of New Orleans today, Paula, but there remains this cloud, this dread of what they are going to find inside all these houses in the 60 percent of this town that is still underwater.

ZAHN: Something that I think is unimaginable to most of us. Drew Griffin, thanks so much for the update.

Right now, despite the mayor's order to evacuate and a threat of authorities eventually using force to get them out, the National Guard tonight is estimating as many as 15,000 people refusing to leave the city tonight. And one of those people is Deidre Rick. She works in that bar you just saw in that piece, in Johnny White's Sports Bar. She joins me now on the telephone. So Deidre, what are you going to do if the New Orleans police come knocking on your door and say you got to get out?

DEIDRE RICK, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I'm we're just going to try and basically hold tight as long as we can, and say we're here to help people out and feed them and keep it going. So I'd rather not leave.

ZAHN: These forces, of course, have threatened to use some kind of force to get you out. Are you prepared for that?

RICK: Yes, I guess I'm prepared. I'm not going to obviously refuse too hard. But I'm going to try and hold my ground and stay in my home as long as I can, because I love living here and I don't want to leave too much.

ZAHN: You, of course, have heard about all the health concerns because of this rancid water that still sits in most of the city at this hour. Are you worried at all about your health if you stay?

RICK: I'm not really worried because it's further away from where -- in the Quarter. It's mostly out in the (INAUDIBLE) water and everything. So I think we're in a pretty safe area. We have our bottled water and all that. So I feel pretty safe. They gave us all our vaccines. So --

ZAHN: And, Deidre, you say you have enough water now. But how long, or how many weeks' worth of supplies do you have, do you think you can live off of?

RICK: We probably have about a month's supply here. They keep dropping off more and more supplies for us. We have donations coming in from other states all the time.

ZAHN: So it strikes me that the symbolism of keeping this bar open is very important to your community, regardless of the threat of using force to get you out or not.

RICK: Yes. Everybody seems to be pretty cooperative. And they don't seem to want to put force upon us.

ZAHN: Deidre Rick, thank you for sharing your story with us tonight. We appreciate it.

You'd think a disaster this big would make everyone work together. But lately the finger pointing and feuding has been worthy of a political storm warning. And our Tom Foreman's been working on that story. He's going to tell us all about that when we come back.


ZAHN: Every night that I sit here, at least over the last ten nights, at least, there is a statistic that crosses my desk that is rather startling, and I have one for you now. A man named Bob Johansen (ph), who is a spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, says that FEMA now has at its ready 25,000 body bags on hand in Louisiana and asked if authorities expected as many as 25,000 body bags. He said, quote, we don't know what to expect.

Now, just a little over an hour ago we learned about a helicopter crash in New Orleans. I'm going to turn quickly to my colleague, Anderson Cooper, who is there tonight, who has some of the latest details for us. Was anybody hurt as far as we know?

COOPER: We saw the chopper going down. The reports we have, which are secondhand, from a doctor who we were interviewing who actually ran over to help, to respond to this chopper crash, because it happened within sight of us while we were doing our broadcast tonight. He said that there were two civilian pilots in this helicopter. It was a civilian helicopter. It crashed onto the roof of a building. It broke in half. He described their injuries as light. They were taken, rescued by another helicopter, Blackhawk military helicopter, which came in, plucked them off that rooftop.

The problem was as that helicopter came down, those rotors are incredibly heavy, it sprays this toxic water all over people who are in boats around. And it actually blew over one military boat. So all those first responders, military men, ended up in the water in this bacteria-filled water. So they now have to be evacuated and basically decontaminated.

ZAHN: Not the kind of details any of us ever expected to hear about. Anderson Cooper, thanks so much.

In New Orleans the political finger pointing has been more like elbow throwing. Tom Foreman's been looking into the issue of who's really in charge when a disaster strikes.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Another day, another power struggle in New Orleans. Active duty military troops who are all over the streets say they will not force residents who stayed for the storm to leave now. But the mayor says those people have to go. So who's right? Who's in charge? Both are.

By law the U.S. military cannot engage in law enforcement. But the National Guard can, because it is directed by the state of Louisiana. So the guard, regular military, and police in the birthplace of jazz are improvising.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the military adjusting their personnel to relieve our people, we're giving our people some R and R. So right now we're getting back to normals.

FOREMAN: After much finger pointing New Orleans is teetering toward better days under a shaky but improving coalition. Doctors, engineers, police, housing experts, relief workers, environmentalists are all finally laboring together under the umbrella of the embattled FEMA.

MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: The process has started of rebuilding New Orleans. We're making good progress in Mississippi.

FOREMAN: And FEMA boss Michael Brown is brushing aside calls for resignation.

BROWN: I serve totally at the will of the president of the United States.

FOREMAN: A new command system in Baton Rouge is coordinating all state, local, and federal efforts. That's troubling to some, who say FEMA should have had it in place more than a week ago.

JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER FEMA OFFICIAL: My reaction was the same as the people watching. What's happening here?

FOREMAN: John Copenhaver, a former FEMA regional director, says the agency has plenty of skilled relief teams, but didn't take charge and use them right.

COPENHAVER: The only thing I can tell you right now is that it looks like it was a failure of command and control procedures at the top of the organization.

FOREMAN: But FEMA's defenders argue state and local governments bear responsibility, too. Perhaps, they say, if they had planned better for the storm before it happened FEMA would not have faced such enormous challenges.

Close to the flood, though, where cooperation is finally paying off, there is less talk about blame now, more about finding common ground, and what may be the last lost survivors.


ZAHN: And that was Tom Foreman reporting. It's interesting that Tom would say that, because there's a new poll out today that would indicate that the American public is pretty evenly split on who's to blame, dividing it between the local state officials and federal officials. And some don't think at this stage you should be assigning blame to anyone. They just want answers as to why things went so horribly wrong.

In the days immediately after the hurricane many of us cried with Hardy Jackson. He lost his wife when his house literally broke apart in the storm. We're going to find out how he's doing tonight. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: Of all the stories we've done since Hurricane Katrina struck, I'm always going to remember what happened to Hardy Johnson. And I'm sure you will too when you see his picture.

His house was literally split in two by the force of the storm. Hardy and his wife were in separate halves. And even though they tried holding on to each other, they were swept apart. She was lost.

But now we know what's happened since the day the storm split his house and took his wife. Tony Harris has this update for us.


TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His face is etched into our collective memory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who was at your house with you?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is she now?

JACKSON: Can't find her body. She gone.

HARRIS: And so is Hardy Jackson's story.

JACKSON: I was holding her hand tight as I could. And she told me you can't hold me.

HARRIS: Before the true nightmare of New Orleans was known, Katrina devastated Biloxi, Mississippi. And made Hardy Jackson's anguish one of the indelible images of this disaster.

JACKSON: Everybody see me now. They walk up to me oh, with tears in their eye, oh, and sorrow in their heart.

HARRIS: Today, Hardy Jackson is trying to fulfill the promise he made to Toni, his wife of 29 years, to take care of their three children and three grandchildren. But it has been a struggle in so many ways. This is the only picture that remains of Toni and Hardy together.

JACKSON: They were my wife. They were my best friend. They were my momma.

HARRIS: Jackson's sister Sharon and her husband in an Atlanta suburb are trying to stabilize the family. But a small three-bedroom house is now home for ten people, including the seven newcomers. Family members who survived a horrible ordeal and have nowhere else to go.

SHARON MACK, HARDY JACKSON'S SISTER: But I just thank God, I thank God that he is safe.

HARRIS: Food, clothing and shelter will bridge the short-term crisis, but coming to terms with the shambles Katrina made of Hardy's life will take a very long time.

JACKSON: It was a knock of death, doom, doom, doom, doom, doom. I said oh, babe, things don't look good, they don't look good. I said baby, please don't let go, please don't let go. Nobody ran to help. Nobody.

Just me and her. And she said, Hardy. She said let go. You can't hold me. I said please, baby, don't say that. I'll save you. Please, don't leave me. She said, take care of them kids and take care of them grandkids.

She looked at my eyes just like I'm looking into your eyes, man, and let go. And she went back to the north, man. That water, man, took her back, I didn't see, somewhere.


HARRIS: Hardy Jackson made a promise to his wife to take care of the kids and the grandkids. It's a promise he plans to keep. He just needs some help to get started.


ZAHN: That was Tony Harris reporting for us tonight.

And as bad as New Orleans looks at this hour, it wasn't hit first, nor was it hit by the very strongest part of the storm. Gary Tuchman has been to the place that was, ground zero. And he's going to show us the bull's eye next.


ZAHN: As bad as the destruction that we're seeing in New Orleans tonight, you're about to see a place that suffered even greater devastation. Katrina's eyes rolled over Plaquemine's Parish to the southeast. It got a direct punch from 145 mile an hour winds. And we're just not able to see the terrifying impact of that storm. Gary Tuchman spent the day in Plaquemines. He just is back now with some incredible video. And joins me live from New Orleans.

Good evening, Gary. Describe to us what it looked like.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, when we knew that the hurricane moved over Plaquemine's Parish to begin with, a lot of people here in Louisiana were telling us that parish will be completely gone. It sticks like a finger southeast of New Orleans. It's 67 miles long into the bayou. Well, we can tell you it's not completely gone, but a lot of it is. The last two thirds, the bottom two thirds of Plaquemine's Parish -- and the locals pronounce it Plaquemine's. Other people in Louisiana say Plaquemine. But the people down there say Plaquemine's. But the lower two thirds is underwater.

Now the water is starting to recede a little bit. But about 32 miles of Plaquemine's Parish from the south, the mouth of the Mississippi, moving up to the north is underwater with heavy devastation. So far, Paula, they found three bodies, but they expect to find more because scores of people never evacuated. We saw in New Mexico National Guard troops. The National Guard just moved into Plaquemine's Parish two days ago, a full week after the hurricane came. They were trying to bash down a door. They were in charge of trying find those who might have died. They bashed down the doors, looked inside, and while we were with them today they did not find anything. But they haven't gone into the hardest-hit part of the parish just yet. One heartwarming scene we saw --

ZAHN: Gary, you --

TUCHMAN: Go ahead, Paula.

ZAHN: Yes. I was going to say you saw a very emotional ceremony today while you were covering this story. What was it exactly?

TUCHMAN: That's right, Paula. What we saw today was a VFW post that was in the water. And in front of that VFW post which was heavily devastated an American flag and a Vietnam P.O.W. flag flying proudly from the flag pole in front of the VFW post. It just so happened that a man came by whose uncle is the treasurer of that post. The New Mexico National Guard troops lowered the flags, and then they organized a ceremony where they marched, walked up to the man, presented him with a flag, and the man who lost his home told us he was very grateful at least to have something from that VFW post that was so important to his uncle.

ZAHN: We're watching those pictures now. What a beautiful, beautiful thing to see. You also spent some time with a man who rode out the storm on a shrimp boat. How did he survive?

TUCHMAN: Yes. We talked to leaders in the parish, and they told us -- and we saw this in Mississippi too last week, a very similar story. But this man was on his little fishing boat. He decided not to evacuate, like a lot of people did not, which obviously wasn't the smart thing to do. He was on his boat. His boat started to break up in the middle of the hurricane. He then jumped on a little more sturdy shrimp boat and rode out the entire storm on shrimp boat and survived to tell about it. We saw it last week when we talked to a Vietnamese-born shrimper in Mississippi who also survived in a shrimp boat. So there are a lost of stories like that. People in shrimp boats who had a nightmare to tell now, but ended up surviving.

ZAHN: And I would say they've got to be feeling pretty lucky having endured what they made it through. Gary Tuchman, thanks so much.

Because of Hurricane Katrina small towns all over the Southeast are a little bigger tonight. They of course have taken in a lot of evacuees. How's everybody settling in? It's a story we've been working on, and we'll have it for you next.


ZAHN: We're just beginning to understand some of the financial costs of what Katrina will take. For example, we've just learned that it's going to cost $2.5 billion just to rebuild the bridges and roads in Mississippi and Louisiana.

And even as I speak tonight, so many evacuees are struggling to try to start again to reclaim their lives. Thousands are sheltered in small towns. They probably wouldn't even have bothered to leave the interstate for it to visit. Well, Daniel Sieberg found one small town in Alabama where some of Katrina's victims have found a haven. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lady here that's looking for a family of two with kids. They have two bedrooms that they're making available. Anybody that needs a place to stay, just get with them, and we'll get you situated. Thank you so much.

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Greenville, Alabama, is small, just off the main road between Montgomery and Mobile. It's not a wealthy city. But the rich generosity of its residents has overwhelmed many of the 500 or so Katrina survivors who have discovered its small town charm.

TONY ORLANDO, EVACUEE: They have just opened their hearts and their arms, and they've shown true citizen love all the way.

SIEBERG: At a barbecue organized for evacuees, the gracious spirit of Greenville's citizens is hard to miss.

JEDDO BELL, GREENVILLE VICE MAYOR: This is how we live from day to day. We live very closely, and we work together. And that's what it's all about. That's the thing that makes the thing tick. That's the thing that makes it stick.

SIEBERG: It sounds like you guys could maybe give the federal government a lesson.

REV. FREDRICK LINDSTROM, JR., ST. THOMAS EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Well, it was wonderful because we didn't have the red tape.

SIEBERG: The town's department of human resources acts as the command center. It's where we found Katinia Fullard and her 3-year- old daughter Mikala (ph) from Gulfport, Mississippi. Katinia's car ran out of gas as she fled the storm.

KATINIA FULLARD, EVACUEE: All these policemans that saw us and everything, why didn't they stop for us or try to help us or anything? They just looked at us like whatever. In Greenville that I've gotten, I've gotten a lot of hospitality. Good people. I've never been to a town to where people are so nice and so giving.

SIEBERG: At the donation center items flow in. All the basics these people have lost. Casper Giglio from just outside New Orleans is trying to do what he can to provide for his family.

GASPER GIGLIO, EVACUEE: I've talked to my boys for the first time today. You know, I told my oldest that he's going to have to be the man of the family and take care of his mom and his little brother. And I'm just trying to get some clothes together so I can send some clothes to them, because she said things are kind of tough over there.

SIEBERG (on camera): The streets of Greenville are quiet right now. It is a town of only 7,000 people, after all. But in the coming days and weeks there will be some new faces around town, because some of the folks who fled the hurricane have decided to call this place their home. (voice over): Like four generations of Karen Davis's family. The hurricane virtually destroyed their town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

KAREN DAVIS, EVACUEE: So thankful for Alabama. The people that's here, oh, wonderful.

SIEBERG: What was the hardest part?

DAVIS: Going and see our houses when we come back. That was the hardest. Seeing everything we had destroyed. That was the hardest thing for me. My car, my house, everything I had. And things that I'd had all my life.

SIEBERG: Karen and tens of thousands like her must now start over. Not many will be as lucky as those who have made it to this town.


ZAHN: Just so many losses to accept at one time. Daniel Sieberg from Greenville, Alabama.

I close tonight with this video that is just in. We reported at the top of the hour there was a civilian helicopter crash in New Orleans. It went down on top of a house. It apparently broke in half, as you can see. Both of the people on board, the pilot and the passenger, were OK, but the draft of the Blackhawk helicopter that helped rescue them caused an air boat to go over. Those men have been successfully plucked from the water. Thanks for joining us tonight. LARRY KING starts right now.


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