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Children of the Storm

Aired September 9, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Welcome to PAULA ZAHN NOW.
Tonight, we bring you a very special hour, the stories of children who are survivors of Hurricane Katrina. They're the children of the storm.

First, though, the very latest on yet a new storm tonight, and a named one at that. A short time ago, forecasters warned that Hurricane Ophelia is now creeping toward Northern Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. It could come ashore late Monday or early Tuesday. We will keep our eye on it all weekend long for you.

As for Hurricane Katrina, we saw a huge shakeup at the top of the federal relief effort today. FEMA's embattled director, Michael Brown, the man in the light-blue shirt to the far left, is being replaced as the on-site head of relief operations. The new man in charge is wearing the dark blue on the far right. He's a vice admiral -- not the gentleman talking. That's Michael Chertoff. His name is Thad Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard's chief of staff.

Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff made that surprise announcement.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Hurricane Katrina will go down as the largest national disaster in American history. Mike Brown has done everything he possibly could to coordinate the federal response to this unprecedented challenge.


ZAHN: But Brown has also been the target of scathing criticism for what many people say was FEMA's too-little, too-late response in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

Now, on top of that, a "TIME" magazine investigation has turned up discrepancies in Brown's official resume, including the one at the FEMA Web site. Some lawmakers want Brown fired altogether.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The bottom line is that his removal from the scene is a good thing. But, given the allegations that he padded his resume in a serious way, I don't think he should stay as head of FEMA. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And, as we're on the air here tonight, the floodwaters keep draining out of New Orleans, still a lot to go, though. Heavy equipment is scraping mud off of newly exposed streets. Cars, half on the road, half on the ground, show just how high the water used to be. You can't quite tell from that shot, but you'll see the shot a little bit later on.

And, tonight, authorities say they're encouraged that the overall death count may actually be lower than the 10,000 some had feared. That's no family -- solace to the families of those who have lost loved ones, though. This is the nursing home where a number of bodies were discovered this week. Cameras weren't being allowed to show the process of recovering the dead. But CNN has obtained, as Anderson just reported at the top of the hour, a restraining order and is suing to allow media access to the body recovery effort.

The number of evacuees is getting smaller. Only 50 or so people left New Orleans today, down from 200 yesterday. And there have been a few forced evacuations. Our CNN affiliate caught this one on tape yesterday, the woman, who had pulled a gun and a knife, but eventually she was overpowered by police. Authorities say they're still holding off on forcing other holdouts to leave.

And I want to show you now two very young evacuees who need your help. One is a boy. He's either 2 or 3 years old. We don't know his name. His baby-sitter brought him to the Superdome. And child protective services in Houston, Texas, have been taking care of him since last Friday.

This little girl is 18-month-old Shakim Williams, who was dropped at the Superdome by neighbors. Foster parents are taking care of her now.

And you can find out more about how to help her by going to

They are only two of the more than 1,200 children who are separated from their parents tonight. In just a minute, we're going to take you to a place that's trying to reconnect them with their families. But before we focus exclusively on the children of the storm, more on the latest news from the hurricane zone.

Let's turn to Jeff Koinange, who joins me from New Orleans tonight.

What is the latest from there tonight, Jeff?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, officials here in New Orleans saying that they've evacuated everyone who wants to be evacuated.

What does that mean? It means there are still some stragglers staying behind. We spent most of this day in several neighborhoods following law enforcement agencies, just to see what they encounter when they go door to door, basically, people literally wanting to stay, saying they're going to stay for two basic reasons. One, they have pets. They don't want to leave their pets behind because they don't know whether their pets will be allowed wherever they go.

Two, they have lots of valuables in their homes, which means they don't know whether their homes will be safe once they leave town. And they don't know when they'll come back. They're adamant about staying here in New Orleans, officials saying they're not going to force anyone. They're going to continue gently persuading these people.

But, Paula, I can assure you it's going to come to a head at some point, because the city is becoming prone to disease every day. They might -- they may just force those evacuations in the coming days.

ZAHN: So, Jeff, what is the biggest concern there tonight, from the police's standpoint?

KOINANGE: Biggest concern, two things. One, there are still some looters in some areas. As the water recedes, looters move into those areas. And they're still going about their business. That's one concern.

The second concern, of course, disease. Because the waters are so stagnant, so smelly, full of corpses, sewage, everything you can imagine, and water-borne diseases, the biggest concern is an outbreak of disease. They've already got their hands full right now in New Orleans. They don't want to now start dealing with another major occurrence here -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jeff Koinange, thanks so much for update. Appreciate it.

Now, as we focus on the children of the storm, I want you to see the world through their eyes. Tonight is another night away from home, away from friends, maybe even away from their patients. Every bit of normal life has been smashed, flooded and blown apart.

Listen carefully now for the raw emotions, the raw feelings, as these children of the storm tell their own story in their own simple words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared. I'm scared, because they got water in our house.

JOSHUA ROBERTS, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I was scared during the storm, during the storm. The night before it, I wanted to evacuate, but it was too late.

ELENDRA HILTON, 9 YEARS OLD: The water was pushing in our house. And it came up to our stairs.

JILES BRADFIELD, 6 YEARS OLD: My dad had to pick me up, because, if nobody could have picked me up, I would have drowned.

HILTON: And we (INAUDIBLE) to get (INAUDIBLE) and a helicopter came and got us. ROBERTS: A tree could have fallen on our house. I hope it -- I was just hoping it wouldn't fall on our house. And we were lucky enough. I have seen other houses, and they weren't too lucky.

BRADFIELD: A lot of houses is on the ground. And our roof is gone.

TYA SPARROW, 10 YEARS OLD: My auntie, they say she's dead. And I hope it's really not true. I miss my family. I miss my auntie. I miss everybody who (INAUDIBLE)

HILTON: I miss the most my home.


ZAHN: A continuing issue tonight. There are still holdouts in the darkened homes and streets of New Orleans, people who don't want to leave their city, no matter what. And, undoubtedly, most of them are adults, but not all of them.

And I want you now to meet a very special child. He's one of the few children and, at this hour, maybe even the only child, left in New Orleans.

Here's Alina Cho.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An ordinary little boy in extraordinary circumstances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the only 4-year-old left in town.

CESAR VILLACRES SR., FATHER: Yes, the only 4-year-old in the city right now probably.

CHO: These days, Cesar Villacres spends his days riding his toy bike, swimming and playing in his room, all of the things he did before Katrina, except now he does it alone.

VILLACRES: He has some friends that he usually plays with. And they've left town and haven't come back yet.

CHO: While Cesar's dad stayed behind to watch the cats and the property, mom, Ingrid, and little Cesar left the city just before the storm.

(on camera): Cesar, do you know what a hurricane is?

CESAR VILLACRES JR.: Yes, a big storm.

CHO (voice-over): After the big storm was over, the family was reunited.

INGRID VILLACRES, MOTHER: I'm actually -- I'm happier now that we're together. CESAR VILLACRES JR.: Yes.



CHO (on camera): This is a far different New Orleans than the one we saw just a couple of days ago. Then there were still families staying at home. Now virtually everyone, especially the children, is gone.

(voice-over): Except this 4-year-old holdout and his parents, no power or running water, but enough bottled water and food to last them a month. Even though they can't work right now, they do want to stay because everything they own is there.

CESAR VILLACRES SR.: Well, Ingrid today said she actually liked it, because it's not as noisy.

I. VILLACRES: That was the only thing. It's quiet at night.

CHO: They admit it's strange to see New Orleans like this. And they'll leave if they have to. But they'd rather not.


ZAHN: And we will see what happens to them later on.

Alina Cho reporting.

We need to remember that, in the midst of all this loss and heartbreak, there are people right now, as I speak, who are trying to help these children of the storm. Some of the most important work is going on at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children near Washington, where they're trying to reunite more than 1,200 children separated from their parents either during the storm or after.

Brian Todd is in his war room to describe to us what exactly takes place in that room.

Hi, Brian.


Yes, this is a hastily assembled, but very important command center. This is where they operate the Katrina missing persons hot line. I am going to take you a little bit around the room here. You'll see dozens of law enforcement officers, former law enforcement officers, donating their time to this effort. They are working 16 hours a day, virtually around the clock, trying to connect children with their patients or caretakers.

Now, the information first comes into this room that we just showed you. If more information needs to be vetted and especially sensitive information, they transfer it into this room here. And then it is vetted, it is screened further, relayed to teams on the field. They have four teams in the field out in the Gulf region, where they have people literally on the ground pounding shoe leather trying to find these kids.

We're going to show you two of them right now. We will put up their pictures on the screen.

Felicity Langlois. She's 3 years old, last known to be with her grandparents in New Orleans. Just a look at some of the ages that you're dealing with here. Also missing is her brother, Nathan Langlois. He is 2 years old. We have the names. We have the ages, last known with their grandparents in New Orleans. And they are just very actively trying to match these two very small children up with parents, grandparents, any caretakers that can call in.

Now, here's the number to call. It is 1-888-544-5475. That is the Katrina missing persons hot line. You can also go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Web site at And they will take your calls. They are trying to match people up. It is a very fluid situation here.

And, Paula, when we come back later in the hour, we're going to be able to tell you about a very fluid situation up to the minute right now at an evacuation center in Oklahoma. They have just gotten about two dozen kids there. We cannot tell you where the center is in Oklahoma because the situation is so very sensitive right now. They have two dozen kids. They have the names of the kids. And, again, we can't tell you those names because that's very sensitive.

But they are very actively following the leads for these children. The children are being taken care of, but they are very, very actively trying to find their parents, Paula.

ZAHN: And, Brian Todd, we're keeping our fingers collectively crossed, because we should make it clear that, out of these statistics, you've got some 300 kids who have been successfully linked back up with their patients.

We look forward to your next report. Thanks, Brian.

And, as we continue our special hour, "Children of the Storm," we're going to go home. Yes, this is what passes for home tonight for thousands of children. What's life really like here? Well, we have been working on that story a long time, and we will share it with you next.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got in an Army truck, and we was -- they were driving through water. And then we got on the bus and came here.



ZAHN: Welcome back to our special, "Children of the Storm." At this hour, hundreds of thousands of children are facing a new stark reality. A storm named Katrina forced them to flee their homes. Now they've been dropped in shelters, strangers among a sea of evacuees.

Gary Tuchman has been talking with a lot of them. And he joins me now from Baton Rouge.

I'm sure you've learned some pretty powerful lessons from these kids, as we all have.


And we come to you from one of the larger shelters here in Baton Rouge, but there are shelters all across the United States. A quarter-million people are in shelters in 17 states and the District of Columbia and, each and every one of them, children whose lives have been turned upside down.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): In a smoky men's room in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a little boy gets a haircut from a man he doesn't even know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on. Stay still just like that.

TUCHMAN: Little D.J. is living a life he has never known, as a boy without a home. He, three brothers and sisters and his mom are now residents of this cavernous sports arena, thousands of people sleeping on cots and on the floor. It's confusing enough for the adults. Imagine being a kid.

(on camera): How old are you, D.J.?


TUCHMAN: Four years old? I'm 44.


TUCHMAN: Forty-four! Nice haircut, by the way.


TUCHMAN: Yes. How do you like my haircut?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't got a haircut!


TUCHMAN (voice-over): D.J. is one of about 600 children here who have lost their homes, their schools, and many of the things they knew. Here, they're having to get used to being frisked by armed members of the National Guard. (on camera): Do you know what happened to your house? What happened?


TUCHMAN: It broke.

(voice-over): Most of the school-age children here had just started their new school year here in the New Orleans area. Arnie Olson (ph) is 5 and was just getting into the swing of kindergarten. Now he, too, has to find a new house.

(on camera): What don't you like about being here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's because I can't go to sleep very good and because this floor is hard and because people be spitting all over.

TUCHMAN: People be what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spitting all over.

TUCHMAN: Spitting?


TUCHMAN: Spitting on the floor?


TUCHMAN: That's not too good, is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And throwing trash on the floor too much.

TUCHMAN: That must be hard, because you don't do that at home, right?


TUCHMAN: Well, what's your favorite part of it here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of like fun, because I have new friends.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): There are plenty of kids to play with. But the fun comes amid chaos little kids shouldn't have to deal with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My child! My child!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's the little boy? Where's that little boy at?


TUCHMAN: A woman is on one of the few pay phones too long. She gets warned about it and angrily leaves the shelter with her young son.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turn it off. Turn it off now.

TUCHMAN: This environment is not conducive to normalcy. The sadness is everywhere. This little girl is told to draw pictures to let her feelings out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Maya (ph). This is Hurricane Katrina.

TUCHMAN: Ten-year-old Maya Isidore (ph) is here with an aunt. Her mother, Debra Isidore (ph), was at work when the hurricane struck, and Maya doesn't know where she is now.

(on camera): What kind of lady is your mom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A caring mom, a nice mom, a nice mother. She cares for me a lot. She's beautiful. She's nice.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Children who gained an understanding of adversity while losing some of their youthful innocence.


TUCHMAN: The schools being closed is a huge problem.

But here's the good news that's happening here. A special after- school program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has started up here.

And with us, two of the students and the teacher. This is Naja (ph) and this is Renel (ph).

Naja, how do you like going to school here?


TUCHMAN: It's great. What do you want to do when you grow up?


TUCHMAN: What kind of doctor do you want to be?


TUCHMAN: All right. So, you've got to study hard, right?

And, Renel, how do you like going to school here?


TUCHMAN: Is it kind of tough being here? Is it noisy here?


TUCHMAN: No? You have good spirits. What do you want to be when you grow up?


TUCHMAN: A fireman. OK, well, I'm sure you're going to be very successful. You guys, thanks for talking with us.

Now, I want to talk to your teacher, because this is Galen Mac (ph), the executive director of the Big Buddy program.


TUCHMAN: The Big Buddy program is an after-school program.

What made you decide to start a program? I mean, it's obvious they needed to go to school.


TUCHMAN: But how did this come about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we -- Big Buddy has been in existence in Baton Rouge for 26 years. And it's always our job to provide programs to children who are not -- when they're not in school.

And so, this just seemed like a natural fit. I mean, we work with children from low-income families, from needy families. And so we thought, why not? Let's got out there. These kids obviously need something to do. We are waiting until the school system gets settled and decide what they're going to do. So, we wanted to provide activities for them.

TUCHMAN: It's wonderful that you're doing this.


TUCHMAN: Thank you all for joining us.

And I wanted to save the best news for last. Fifteen minutes ago, we found out that the little girl we talked to, Maya, has found her mother. They called her cell phone, which wasn't working. She answered the cell phone a short time ago. She's at the Houston Astrodome and she's immediately getting in a car to reunite with her daughter -- Paula.

ZAHN: That is fantastic news, for a change. Thank you, Gary, for bringing that to us.

And as we continue our special hour on "Children of the Storm," we are going to meet some of the tiniest evacuees. How do they get along in a city without power, water, nor parents?

And we are going to have another story we have been working on as well. What is it like going to a school, like some of those kids you just met, that you never even knew existed, let alone thought you'd attend? But, first, at 22 minutes past the hour, let's check in with Erica Hill of Headline News, who has an update of the hour's top stories.

Hi, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Paula. Nice to see you tonight.

ZAHN: Thanks.

HILL: Traders pushed the price of gasoline a bit lower today, good news to start your weekend, the average price for a gallon of regular now about $3 nationwide. A year ago, though, hate to tell you, it was $1.84. The price of heating oil also fell a bit today.

Iraq's president is in Washington. And today, Jalal Talabani said U.S. troops could be out of Iraq within two years. President Talabani says an immediate pullout would be unwise, though, because the troops are needed to frighten Iraq's neighbors. President Bush has refused to mention any timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal.

And Jose Padilla, suspected of helping plot a dirty bomb attack for al Qaeda, will stay in a Navy prison, where he's been now more than three years. A federal appeals court backed the president's power to hold him indefinitely without charges. Padilla's case could go to the Supreme Court next.

And, Paula, that's the latest from Headline News. We will hand it back over to you in New York.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Erica. Appreciate it.

And ahead in our special hour, "Children of the Storm," we're going to take you back to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and show you more faces of children who are hoping their parents are out there somewhere. Can you help them?


ZAHN: We continue now with our special, "Children of the Storm."

Tonight, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is working very hard to help some 1,200 kids still separated at this hour from their loved ones. Thousands of e-mail messages and phone calls are pouring in to the center's headquarters right now.

And Brian Todd has been there all day. He joins us once again with the latest.

But, Brian, before you go any further, they've had success with over 250 cases, which is really impressive, considering all the challenges they are up against.

TODD: Paula, they are up against considerable challenges. And you're right. It is very impressive, more than 250 matches. They've matched up those kids with their parents. The kids have been reunited.

But this is -- we are going to give you a look right now at what they're up against. These cases coming here in are incredibly fragmented. There is a special category. There are some kids who are missing outright. There are others who have actually been found and are in shelters, but are looking for their parents.

And we are going to show you a picture of one of them. His name is Theron Carter. He is 10 years old, 4'6'' tall, with dreadlocks. But, as you see, this picture is incredibly blurry, not a great piece of information to dwell on when you're trying to match the child up with his parents.

We are going to also show you now of -- some of the other things that they're up against. I'm going to talk right now to a gentleman who's been here many days and he has worked with the center for many years. His name is Bill Hagmeir (ph).

Bill, if you could join us here for a second.

Now, Bill ran the FBI's child abduction and serial killer unit at one time. And what Bill is going to talk to us about now is a case out of Oklahoma with an evacuation center that has more than two dozen children in it. What can you tell us right now about the situation at that center?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, one of the inherent complications we have got in this catastrophe is the confusion that is involved in moving so many people around and getting complete and accurate data about the missing.

In this particular situation, we had the names of the children, but we didn't have descriptive data to use to compare them to others. So, as we speak right now, these children are being photographed. We're getting the data that we need to look at other databases. And I believe we have gotten one identification just within the last couple of hours.

TODD: OK. Very good. That's what -- we have that information as well, that they have matched up a young boy with his parents within the last couple of hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes., being taken home.

TODD: Very good. Very good. Thank you very much, Bill, for joining us.


TODD: We're going to show you another picture here.

This is, again, a great example of what they're up against here, unknown female child. They do not have her name. They do not have her date of birth. They think, as they say on the Web site, that she may be about 2 years old. They're not even sure of that, of course. She arrived at the Kelly USA center in San Antonio two days ago. And they're frantically trying to match this picture of this little girl with the scant information that they have with any parent or caretaker who can come to her aid. This is the number to call, 1-888- 544-5475. That is the Katrina missing persons hot line. You can also go to their Web site,

Paula, obviously, a very fluid situation here. They have a lot of obstacles, but they are doing incredible work.

ZAHN: Brian, before we let you go, I want to bring you back to the Oklahoma case. And I certainly don't want you to tell us anything that's going to compromise potentially linking these kids with their parents.

In fact, we just lost Brian.

But, obviously, there are a lot of very sensitive issues involved. And that's a good -- a very good reason why Brian was not able to share the names of some of these children who they've just brought to this Oklahoma shelter, nor can he give us descriptions of them or much more information, because, at this point, the situation is fluid. They don't want anything to get in the way of a potential match there. We will be checking back with Brian in just a little bit.

But, ahead on our special hour, "Children of the Storm," they spent the first days of their lives in a city that was no place for children, nor their parents. How did these hurricane babies get to safety, and how are they doing now? Rusty Dornin has been working on that, and she will have these precious little ones' stories for us on the other side.


ZAHN: And we continue our look now at "Children of the Storm" in just a moment, but right now our status alert, CNN is bringing you the latest information from New Orleans on the half hour, every hour on the hour. Deborah Feyerick joins me now with the very latest. Hi Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Paula. Well, the first status alert is on disease. Doctors, nurses and infectious disease specialists are monitoring shelters across the southeast. But right now the outbreaks that many fear have yet to materialize. One small spike did happen with children suffering from diarrhea at the Astrodome. Preliminary results show that the cases may be the result of nothing more than stomach viruses caused by dirty living conditions. Surveillance teams do remain in place at those shelters and emergency rooms across the southeast.

Second status alert, kids' emotional well-being. Pediatricians tonight being warned to look for signs of stress. They say the long- term risks could be difficulty adjusting and lifelong problems associated with this storm. That's the latest status alert. Paula?

ZAHN: Guess we shouldn't be too surprised by either one of those. Deborah Feyerick, thank you.

Now, someday a few lucky children will be able to brag to their friends that they were literally born in a hurricane. Of course they'll never remember what their parents and especially their doctors and nurses went through to save their lives. Here's Rusty Dornin on the hurricane babies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just want to you know mommy and daddy loves you.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Born prematurely, tiny CJ Dupree was only nine hours old when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. After the storm, with floodwaters rising outside the hospital and generators working overtime on the inside, his mother, Kimba had no choice but to give him up for evacuation.

KIMBA DUPREE, NEWBORN'S MOTHER: The fact that they told me hours after I had him that they were going to take him, I mean I was getting ready to fall apart.

DORNIN: As residents fled the city in droves, dozens of babies, most of them premature, were trapped in hospital incubators, their parents expecting the worst to be over in a few days. Nobody expected this, days of chaos, deprivation and violence. Some New Orleans hospitals came under siege. Doctors and nurses stayed on duty, even as conditions grew desperate.

DR. ROCKERICK BENNETT, CHARITY HOSPITAL: We don't have electricity. We don't have water. All the toilets are full. You know, we can't run labs. We can't take x rays. I mean, we're basically back to primitive medicine. Just kind of guessing and treating patients for whatever we think they have.

DORNIN: When it became clear that New Orleans was simply no place for babies, doctors and nurses from six hospitals rushed to evacuate a total of 131 newborns to Baton Rouge, by helicopter, by boat, by anything. Some of New Orleans' newborns weren't airlifted to safety for five days. CJ was carried up five flights of stairs in his incubator to the roof. He and 86 other babies landed here at Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, the clearinghouse for New Orleans' tiniest evacuees. Kimba was reunited with CJ the very next day, but it took his dad quite a bit longer to get here.

CAMARA DUPREE, NEWBORN'S FATHER: Three days felt like three years, you know. So it was really tough.

DORNIN: Laura Pito (ph) was one of the nurses here who scrambled in those critical hours. This was the scene on the roof of Woman's Hospital. Barely time to think, only to act. The mission, save every single one of those babies. People here were passionate about that mission. The tiniest infant weighed just 1 pound. Pito says the first 24 hours were unforgettable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You would have seen controlled chaos. A lot of sweat. A lot of tears. Tears of mothers. They looked like frightened children.

DORNIN: Dr. Steve Spedale says hospital staff worked round the clock. Then came the next chapter in the Katrina-driven drama.

DR. STEVE SPEDALE, WOMAN'S HOSPITAL: The biggest challenge we've had, really, besides the medical care -- and that's really pretty much gone along the norm -- has been reuniting babies with their families. When we first got that huge onslaught of patients, a lot of times we didn't know where the parents were.

DORNIN: Some of the babies have yet to be reunited, their parents scattered in shelters across Mississippi, Texas and Utah. For anxious parents not yet here, a message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would want them to know that we've loved on them. We've held them. We've rocked them. The babies that were very sick and couldn't be held or rocked, we've put our hands on them.

DORNIN: All 131 newborns survived. And all of their parents have been contacted. For the Duprees, that is one big bright light in the darkness of this storm.

CAMARA DUPREE: They're proof of hope, a new beginning. Something to look forward to in spite of the devastation, chaos of Katrina.


DORNIN: CJ Dupree is one of 32 preemies that are still in the hospital, of course, in need of constant care. Seven, again, have not been reunited with their parents yet. One set of parents is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. And hospitals officials say right now they're negotiating. They're not sure if they're going to send those other babies to their parents or if the parents are going to come here. Of course, finances are a problem. They're saying if you want to go to their Web site, You can look into donating some money perhaps and getting these children -- or these parents reunited with their babies. Paula?

ZAHN: I think we'd do just about anything to speed up that process. Rusty Dornin, thank you so much.

As we continue our special hour on "Children of the Storm," we'll meet some of the very lucky ones, yes. As you saw in our last story, there certainly is some luck out there. And these children that you're looking at in these pictures were separated from their mother. How did they get back together? We've been working on that story and we'll have it for you right out of this break.


ZAHN: We continue now with "Children of the Storm" and the urgent efforts under way right now to reunite children lost in the chaos and confusion of hurricane Katrina with anybody and their families. But we do have a success story to share with you tonight. Keith Oppenheim has been busy working on it and just filed this report from Houston.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you have an idea of what happened to your home?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. It's underwater.

OPPENHEIM: is it a house? An apartment?


OPPENHEIM: They finish each other's sentences and sometimes speak at the same time, 14-year-old Aisha (ph) on the right and her 16-year-old sister Kevon (ph) are inseparable. For a week, they've been living in a shelter in Longview, a city in northeast Texas, with neighbors, but no family. The girls escaped their flooded New Orleans neighborhood and went to the Superdome with their mom. And then, they say, inside the dome, there was what appeared to be a fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Smoke everywhere.

OPPENHEIM: Was there actually a fire at the superdome because I didn't hear about that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said it was like a smoke bomb to get everybody outside. But I don't know for sure.

OPPENHEIM: But this created confusion?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah and that's the last time I seen my mom.

OPPENHEIM: Their mama is Hermelda (ph) James who says she was told in the confusion to quickly get on a bus to Houston where she believed she would find her daughters at the Astrodome. She didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Explaining. It's just confused, worried. I had nightmares. I just -- I could sleep but I just couldn't get any rest. (INAUDIBLE)

Reporter: In New Orleans one day later, the girls got on a bus that took them from the Superdome in a different direction to this shelter in Longview with no idea what happened to their mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know where she's at. We ain't never had this experience before.

OPPENHEIM: But computer-savvy Kevon went online, hoping to make a connection.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I put the number here. I put the address here, everything so she could still -- like if, she'd go check on a computer again, that she would know the number to call us here.

OPPENHEIM: It worked. Hermelda eventually went to the special Web site set up by Yahoo! and found what she was looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm nervous. I'm happy. I'm anxious. I'm thankful.

OPPENHEIM: When CNN learned the connection was made, we put Hermelda on a plane to get her girls. At noon on Thursday, Aisha and Kevon waited at the shelter, nearly 400 miles away --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm wondering how my children look.

OPPENHEIM: -- Until finally, she arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're alive. They're well. They look like they kept themselves up. They're just beautiful.

OPPENHEIM: It's hard to know where to begin to list all the uncertainties facing this family -- where they will live, work, go to school. It's all unresolved. But now they understand the pain of separation. They believe they can figure out their future together. Is it sort of like that, you know, part of you gets lost?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. Lost, and I couldn't find her.

OPPENHEIM: And is that part of you back?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I'm full, all my pieces together. My puzzle is finished.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, too, mom.




OPPENHEIM: The good news, Paula, is here in Texas in the past week and a half, there have been many reunions like this probably just as emotional. And TV news and particularly the Internet have really made a difference in this age. When you have a crisis of this proportion it's good to see that technology can connect families divided by a disaster. Paula?

ZAHN: Yeah, I sort of -- don't care who's responsible, it's just nice to celebrate these reunions. Keith Oppenheim, thank you for bringing that story to us.

It takes more than a hurricane to make a school go away. And as our special hour on "the Children of the Storm" continues, some students enter a classroom they never even knew existed at a school they never dreamed they'd be attending.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: More now of our special "Children of the Storm." This is the end of a dizzying, disoriented week for teenagers torn from their homes, torn from their friends by hurricane Katrina. Now they find themselves in classrooms suddenly surrounded by total strangers. Here's Sean Callebs.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 16, Donovan Dupleses (ph) has a natural artistic ability and wants to be an architect. Sophomore Laquinta Cutno (ph), an "A" student dreams of being a doctor. But right now they just want to forget how Katrina turned their lives upside down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cry myself to sleep at night all the time, I really do. Because just to see that everything I had is just gone. I cry, and I cry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might not see my brother because my brother is -- was in Mississippi. And I don't know where he's at. I think he's dead. I don't know.

CALLEBS: What Donovan and Laquinta both know, it's harder at night, alone with their thoughts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just lay down and think about what would have happened if Katrina never came, how my life would have been.

CALLEBS: But now this is reality. Donovan and Laquinta are among 100 hurricane kids who have joined the nearly 3,000 students at Houston's Westside high. It's a big new school, and they say life here is fast and lonely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the friends I had is not around no more, so I really need somebody to talk to, somebody to you know, make me feel like I'm the same person I was before.

CALLEBS: While water was pouring in to New Orleans and authorities tried to restore order, Laquinta was on the outskirts of the city in a shelter, with no power, showers, food or drinking water. Now thousands of families just like hers are standing in lines at shelters to enroll their children in Houston public schools.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The backpack comes with some basic essentials.

CALLEBS: Westside students are donating supplies, food and clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard because I never was the type of person to depend on people to give me things. So it makes me feel -- I feel bad sometimes because I'm, like, I don't want nobody to try to, you know, feel sorry for me.

CALLEBS: High school kids can be cliquish and at times harsh. But Paul Castro, the school's 33-year-old principal, is proud of his students.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's truly remarkable to me is how it's just so natural. No one had to be cajoled, told to do anything, it just happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we can do is help them right now.

CALLEBS: I sat down with a group of seniors. Some of the students who helped raise $17,000 for hurricane victims in just two days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope that we've made them feel welcome enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do ask questions about like what happened and how do they feel about it and what can we do to help.

CALLEBS: The principal says the school district needs millions of dollars to absorb the hurricane kids. But no one is talking about that right now. The focus is on the victims and their futures. For Laquinta, that probably means a permanent move to Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like it's a dream, like I'm just going to wake up one day and be back in my house, but I know it's not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I probably feel when they finally rebuild New Orleans, I'll go back as soon as they rebuild it.

CALLEBS: Right now he's living in a small apartment, crammed in with more than 30 relatives. Part of what keeps him going are these blue and white wristbands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friendship bracelet.

CALLEBS: Gifts from his two best friends, Desmond and Brandon, knowing the storm would scatter the group. So you've not heard from them since they gave you those wristbands?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not yet. I still try to call them.

CALLEBS: How often do you think about them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almost every day. When the sun goes down, I'm like wondering what they doing?

CALLEBS: And wondering when, if ever, his young life will start to feel normal again.


CALLEBS: Great kids and think about what happened to them in a period of about seven days. Living through the hurricane, watching their city flood, put on a bus, brought to a shelter, off to this new school. Paula, school officials say if they do have one big concern, it's the fact this trauma could hit them like a ton of bricks down the road. They don't want to see them drop out or face anything else like that. Paula?

ZAHN: At least for now they seem very strong, though. Sean Callebs, thank you so much.

Throughout this hour on "the Children of the Storm," we have been checking in with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Have they arranged any more reunions? Stay with us for the answer.


ZAHN: Right now as we're doing our show, many of the children who survived hurricane Katrina are spending yet another night without their parents and in some cases without any family members at all. More than 1,200 kids separated from their families during or after the storm. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children is trying to reunite them with loved ones. And keep in mind that every time we put the number of this organization up on the screen, the volume of calls goes up, and that can help to bring a child and family members together. Brian Todd joins me one more time from the center's headquarters in Virginia with an update. Hi again.

TODD: Hi, Paula. Yes, as you mentioned, the number does go up every time we get a live hit, a live hit on television and we put their number up. We're going to take you through another look at the center now. It's very active in here. It's going to be active for another three hours just tonight. It will close down at midnight and will open up promptly at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow morning. Again, they're trying to match names, faces with parents. We're going to give you two of them right now. Ulajiah Cole, nine months old last confirmed to be with her mother in New Orleans on August 22nd. That was a week before the storm hit. She has not been seen since then and nor has her brother, Universal Cole, 2 years old, again last confirmed to be with their mother on August 22nd. You are asked to call the Katrina missing persons hotline if you have any information on these or any other children. That number 1-888-544-5475 or go to, Paula.

ZAHN: Brian Todd, keep up the important reporting there. Thank you so much. And one last reminder to all of you out there. Out of the 1,500 lost children reported after the hurricane, fewer than 300 have actually been reunited with their families. More than 1,200 others tonight are still waiting. We leave you now with one more look at the children of the storm and please pay attention to the numbers you'll see. That's how you can help some of Katrina's youngest victims. Good night.


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