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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Bush to Address Nation From Louisiana Thursday
Aired September 13, 2005 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, thanks very much. Good evening from New Orleans. We were to speak to the mayor tonight. He just canceled on us. So tonight we will have a discussion and a helicopter ride with a man who predicted the storm, who predicted the flooding and who predicted the failures. He speaks out tonight on 360, 4:00 p.m. on the West Coast, 7:00 p.m. in the East, 6:00 p.m. here in Louisiana. 360 starts now.
Welcome again to 360, live from New Orleans.
Here's what's happening right now at this moment. President Bush plans to address the nation from Louisiana Thursday night. Today he said -- and I quote -- "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility". More on that ahead.
Also, the Army Corps of Engineers today estimated that perhaps 160,000 homes have been left beyond repair in and around New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed. The Engineers also said that there has been much more damage to the levee system around the city than has been previously understood, with miles of levee along the eastern flank of New Orleans simply not there anymore. We'll show you a helicopter ride, a very revealing look at where the levees stand now.
And some signs of progress. Forty-one of New Orleans' 174 pumps are now operational. And the owners of a flooded New Orleans nursing home have been charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of people at the home in the aftermath of Katrina. We'll talk to an attorney for the state.
We begin tonight with a new acting director of FEMA. And I should point out to our viewers, we were expecting to talk to the mayor, Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, a man who we had some very tough questions for. He has backed out of this interview at the last moment.
So tonight we begin by focusing on the new head of FEMA, David Paulison. He's leading an agency that is certainly under fire and has yet to answer a number of questions about their response. FEMA has been under attack from both Republicans and Democrats alike. His task now is substantial. His supporters say he's the right man for the job.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve investigates.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Since Katrina, FEMA has been at the center of a storm all its own. The man being asked to quell it, the new acting director, David Paulison.
DAVID PAULISON, INTERIM FEMA DIRECTOR: I can't deal with what happened in the last two weeks, but I can tell you from this point forward, we are going to be focusing on the victims of this hurricane.
MESERVE: Hurricane Andrew savaged southern Florida in 1992, just weeks after Paulison, a career firefighter, had become chief of the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department.
MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: He actually had a big part to play there in the search and rescue immediately after Andrew. So he's seen what a Category 5 hurricane can do in his own community.
MESERVE: Though emergency management during Hurricane Andrew had its successes -- notably an effective evacuation -- it also had serious failures which have been extensively studied and analyzed. But Paulison, at FEMA as US fire administrator since 2001, did not have an operational role in responding to hurricanes, including Katrina. And some say that is yet another FEMA mistake.
MICHAEL HOPMEIER, SECURITY CONSULTANT: Katrina is similar in many ways, albeit also different, to what we saw in Hurricane Andrew. I think by having used his experience from Andrew, we could have alleviated or prevented many of the problems that we're currently seeing.
MESERVE: Paulison is the one who in 2003 publicly made the much ridiculed recommendation that Americans buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to prepare for a terrorist strike. Many people in the emergency management community say actually it's not a bad piece of advice. But some wonder if Paulison, a firefighter, can mesh with other disciplines like police and public health and if he is equipped to run FEMA programs like housing and financial aid, the bulk of its work.
At least one emergency manager who has worked side by side with Paulison has great hope.
BILLY WAGNER, EMERGENCY MGR, MONROE COUNTY FLORIDA: I believe that the chief will analyze this, analyze the mistakes we made, put the instrumentation together, so we can better be prepared for the next incident of this magnitude.
MESERVE: Administration officials won't speculate on whether Paulison will be asked to take the FEMA position permanently. They do say no changes in leadership are likely until the hurricane season is over and done.
Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, we've heard so many politicians and bureaucrats saying the last two weeks that there was no way to predict what went on. A little bit later on tonight, you're going to hear from a professor from LSU who says, you know what? There was a way to predict it, In fact, he did predict it. They ran models on what a Category 5 hurricane would do to New Orleans. They did this last year. They briefed FEMA. They briefed local government. They briefed state government. They even briefed an official from the White House. He speaks out a little bit later on tonight on 360.
It's undeniable that the poor here have been disproportionately punished by the calamity of the last two weeks. And then there were those who weren't poor before, but now find themselves very poor indeed.
CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has their story.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a stunning sight, Chalmette Medical Center outside New Orleans literally drowning in flood water. Inside, patients too sick to be evacuated and only three doctors and a small staff too dedicated to leave them behind.
DR. BONG MUI, CHIEF OF STAFF, CHALMETTE MEDICAL CENTER: To me, what happened was like a nightmare.
GUTIERREZ: A nightmare being told for the first time, seen through the eyes of a now-weary physician who documented it with his camera.
MUI: We were completely forgotten at the time.
GUTIERREZ: Dr. Bong Mui was chief of staff at this hospital. He took the photos from a window on the second floor.
Did you think you were going to drown?
MUI: Well, the thought actually passed through my mind.
GUTIERREZ: But there was no time to worry. Soon the first floor was under water. Food had to be rushed to the second floor. The parking lot, a lake. Then, some 300 evacuees began to show up by the boatload.
MUI: Some of them came up with dogs, cats and even chickens.
GUTIERREZ: All in a hospital without electricity. Nurses worked by flashlight. The air was thick and hot. One storm-proofed window had to be broken with an oxygen tank just to let fresh air in. And then, there were the patients.
MUI: He broke his attic and swam out. And he was drowned. And we had to treat him with the flashlight. You can see the flashlight here. But we saved him. And this is another man who is suffering a heart attack. And we also saved him.
GUTIERREZ: But four people could not be saved. At times, it became too much.
MUI: Five of the nurses collapsed with dehydration, exhaustion. Two of them had panic attacks.
GUTIERREZ: But they kept on going. They had to. Too many people were counting on them.
MUI: If you look at some of the pictures I took, people look happy. Because they said, well, whatever, we are still alive, we will survive.
GUTIERREZ: After three seemingly endless days, help arrived. Dr. Mui and his Katrina family were finally rescued and taken to the New Orleans Airport, where they were overcome by the sight of hundreds of sick people on the ground.
MUI: People in wheelchairs, people lying on the floor and all of them very sick.
GUTIERREZ: Dr. Mui and his staff immediately offered to help. But he said FEMA officials said no, because of liability concerns.
MUI: They told us that, you know, you could help us by mopping the floor.
GUTIERREZ: And so they did, as people died around them.
MUI: At that moment, both of us were just sitting there and I started crying. And it was that bad, because we felt like we could help, and were not allowed to do anything.
GUTIERREZ: Finally he and his wife came to Houston with thousands of other evacuees. That was the moment Dr. Mui says he realized his previous life, the one that took a lifetime to build, was over with.
MUI: These are our belongings. That's it.
GUTIERREZ: Cash-strapped, unemployed, and homeless, they had to ask for help and live here with a friend.
Is it hard for you to ask?
MUI: Yes. I'm kind of -- like when I apply for food stamps? I never did before. So yes. It's hard.
GUTIERREZ: This is the second time the Muis have had to start all over again in a new place. The first time was after the fall of Saigon when they were separated for five years. Now this, just as they were looking forward to retirement.
MUI: I don't think I can face it again.
GUTIERREZ: You look tired.
MUI: Yes, I am tired, exhausted in a way.
GUTIERREZ: With no practice or home to go back to, Dr. Mui wrote a letter to his medical family.
MUI: We do not know whether -- there will be any chance for all of us to be together again in a family like before. But you can be assured that we will never forget you.
GUTIERREZ: During those moments of defeat, Dr. Mui remembers this little boy in the hospital.
MUI: One of the kids was doing kung fu. He said, I'm fighting Katrina. We're going to fight. We're going to survive.
GUTIERREZ: Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Houston.
COOPER: An extraordinary story. I don't know if you caught one thing that Thelma said and Dr. Mui said, is that when he got to the airport in New Orleans and he offered to help, FEMA officials told him, no, don't help people. There were liability issues. And he says he was told to mop the floor when people around him were dying. This was a doctor who practiced medicine.
We've heard story after story like that. And we're trying to shine a light on them as much as possible because you know, in a week, in two weeks, in three weeks, the fear that people have here and that residents have here is that this is just going to be forgotten, that the rest of the world is going to move on. But there are stories like this that need to be told and answers that need to be gotten and we're trying to do that every night.
360 next, what happened to the 34 people who were found dead at a nursing home, 34 people? Why weren't they evacuated? Tonight the home's owners are in custody. We're going to have the latest, also talk to the state's attorney general.
And later, a hurricane survivor we introduced you to on Friday finally reunited with his family thanks to viewers. And there is hardship mixed with the joy. His story when we come back.
COOPER: You're looking at a live picture of the Hyatt Hotel. That is where the mayor has been setting up shop for the last two weeks or so, living under some pretty deplorable conditions inside there, using that as his command central. We hoped to talk to him tonight. He said he'd come on the program. Then we were told at the last minute he wasn't going to show up. And we had asked a lot of you at home to e- mail some questions that you wanted asked, because we all know there are a lot of questions that we all want answers to.
Hopefully the mayor will come on another night. We'd love to have him anytime.
When you look at the failures in New Orleans -- and we've been looking at the failures not only at the local level, but at state level and the federal level -- the failures really went beyond government. They also were failures of people, none perhaps more glaring and horrific than the recent discovery of 34 bodies -- 34 bodies at a nursing home in New Orleans. We're talking about mothers and fathers and grandparents and friends, people who should not have died this way, died on mattresses, drowning in their own beds. It was a horrific scene inside that building.
Less than two hours ago, Louisiana's attorney general announced that the home's two owners have been arrested and were charged with 34 counts of involuntary homicide.
CNN's Drew Griffin has more on the investigation.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): St. Rita's Nursing Home had survived other hurricanes without evacuating its patients. This time the apparent decision by its owners not to flee Katrina may have had deadly consequences.
CHARLES FOTI, JR., LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We prepared an arrest warrant that was signed by a judge in St. Bernard Parish. We talked to their lawyer and today, they have turned themselves in and are currently incarcerated while awaiting whatever bond procedures will happen at the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail. They're charged with 34 counts of involuntary homicide.
GRIFFIN: By Saturday afternoon, Bryan Berducci knew Hurricane Katrina was heading straight for St. Bernard Parish and it was time to make his calls.
DR. BRYAN BERDUCCI, ST. BERNARD PARISH CORONER: Just to ask as a doctor, not as any parish official, are y'all evacuating?
GRIFFIN: Five nursing homes are in this parish, and they are filled with the doctor's patients. He says he asked each one if they planned to get out.
BERDUCCI: All were leaving except St. Rita's.
GRIFFIN: By Sunday the storm was already coming ashore. It was 2:00 in the afternoon. Berducci was no longer acting just as a doctor. He was a county official, picking up his role as coroner. At 2:00 p.m., he says he called St. Rita's with an urgent message -- it was time to leave.
BERDUCCI: And this is around 2:00 Sunday. Now, I told her that I had two buses with two drivers that would take them wherever they wanted.
GRIFFIN: But inside St. Rita's, he says the decision was already made to stay. According to Berducci, five special needs patients could not be evacuated. Ambulances that would have taken the special care patients to the Superdome were no longer available. Berducci says one of the owners, Mabel Mangano, was betting on her experience that this nursing home was on high ground, had never flooded, and that New Orleans had been spared before. BERDUCCI: She said, I have five nurses. I have a generator and I've spoken to the families and they said it was OK to stay.
GRIFFIN: The state Department of Health and Hospitals officials say they were under the assumption that St. Rita's had filed its required evacuation plan. But as with all facilities, it was up to St. Rita's to decide when to evacuate. A last-minute desperate attempt by the owners was only partially successful because the water rose faster than boats could arrive. Two days later, Dr. Bryan Berducci learned what happened. It's the first time, he says, he cried.
BERDUCCI: I think by the time they tried to come back, since these people are bedridden, wheelchair, walker, some with organic brain syndrome, four feet of water would probably be enough for most of them to drown.
GRIFFIN: Were they all patients, as far as you could tell?
BERDUCCI: As far as I can tell, they were all patients.
GRIFFIN: So there were no nurses there or anything?
BERDUCCI: I did not see any nurses or employees.
GRIFFIN: The owners saved some residents, their staff and themselves. So far those owners are not talking. Their attorney says they are good people, telling CNN, "I can promise you there's another side to the story." Jim Cobb says any criticism of his clients, whom he says risked their lives to save others, "are 100 percent out of bounds for people who lost everything".
Tom Rodrigue lost his mom. Like Bertucci, he says he called St. Rita's urging them to evacuate. He says the owners risked his mother's life by not getting out, adding "she is the one who lost everything."
TOM RODRIGUE, SON OF HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: She deserved a chance, you know to be rescued instead of having to drown like a rat.
GRIFFIN: Now all 34 of the dead are part of a growing list Dr. Bryan Berducci keeps in his red book. There are 70 victims listed from his parish so far. Those who died at St. Rita's he says were completely unnecessary deaths, ones the owners will have to live with the rest of their lives.
BERDUCCI: This was a very good home, provided very good care. The owners are very conscientious toward the patients.
GRIFFIN: And just made a very dumb decision?
BERDUCCI: I think they made a poor decision.
GRIFFIN: A very poor decision, Anderson, made under chaotic circumstances, with a hurricane (ph) bearing down their necks. A bad decision that the Louisiana attorney general now says is a crime. Back to you Anderson.
COOPER: Drew, thanks very much for that. Joining me now from Baton Rouge is the Louisiana attorney general, Charles Foti, Jr. Attorney General, thanks very much for being with us. First of all, what were the conditions like inside this home when your personnel got there?
FOTI: It was a total wreck. Water was everyplace. Equipment was scattered all over the place. The place was filled with bodies. You know, let me go back. Go ahead, sorry.
COOPER: Go ahead.
FOTI: It's negligent homicide, not involuntary homicide.
COOPER: OK, for homicide. But I've read that the conditions inside, I read that it seemed like they had made some sort of effort to stop the water from coming in. They boarded up one window. They sort of moved a bureau against another window. There was no way that would have been enough to stop the water, right?
FOTI: This was a wall of water coming down the street and went from a couple of inches to six feet, four feet, in a matter of minutes.
You know, there's a standard of care. I'm not saying anything about they're not good people. But you have a duty of care that reasonable people have to do when they are responsible for other people's lives. It's sort of like you being a trustee. You have to act in the most conservative manner to make sure you preserve life, just as Dr. Berducci just said on your show. They were crippled. They were in wheelchairs. They could not make the decision themselves. And family members could not make the decision for someone else. If they believe they shouldn't (ph) stay, they should have taken them out. The administrator had a duty. Plus the fact they had a contract with the ambulance, and they never called them.
COOPER: Is it just the administrator's job? That's the person who charges have been filed against. But does the city, do local government bear some responsibility here? Under the city's evacuation plan, I believe the mayor is supposed to take special care of people who have special needs to get them evacuated out. Was that done, to your knowledge?
FOTI: Well, it's not in New Orleans. St. Rita's is in St. Bernard Parish, which is a county, another place. It's a separate entity. It's a separate parish government.
COOPER: Did the parish government take enough precautions?
FOTI: I'm sorry. I don't think they took enough precaution. But obviously, that's to be -- we thought we had probable cause. That's the initial -- make sure we have probable cause. We took an arrest warrant to a judge in St. Bernard Parish and he read it and signified that we had probable cause to institute these charges. Now, what happens is a trial is a search for truth. It's a search for -- everybody will get their chance to say whatever they want to say. We believe that 34 people died unnecessarily. You ask yourself, if this was your mother, your father, your sister and they were in there and you entrusted them, and the government was paying for them to be there, what duty did you owe these patients?
COOPER: What about the local -- I understand that. And that's what the trial is for and that's what a jury will determine.
From your perspective, what about the local government of St. Bernard Parish? Do they bear any responsibility for not checking on these folks, for not making sure they were evacuated?
FOTI: St. Bernard Parish did both a voluntary evacuation and a mandatory evacuation. They had the opportunity to evacuate. As you heard Dr. Berducci said he had two buses to evacuate. They had a contract with the (INAUDIBLE) ambulance to evacuate anyone else and they were never called.
COOPER: Mr. Attorney General, appreciate you joining us tonight.
Still to come on 360, New Orleans Police officers working long days and nights trying to put their city back on its feet, while privately struggling with their own pains and living without a home. Their story coming up next.
Also ahead, a rare and revealing look at New Orleans from above. The man who predicted what might happen in New Orleans if a Category 5 storm hit. We go up in the air with him to take a look at how much progress is being made and to find out why more wasn't done and why the warnings weren't listened to.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in New Orleans. We're covering a number of stories associated with the storm tonight here in New Orleans and in other regions hilt by Hurricane Katrina.
I want to keep you with up to date with the latest information. So for that, we go now to CNN's Deborah Feyerick, who's at the status alert desk in New York. Deborah?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, status alert, Lafitte, Louisiana. The mayor there destroying thousands of pounds of rotting meat by building fires and burning it all. Residents are being told they can also bury spoiled meat that they've got in their refrigerators. A small group of city officials there trying to clean up Lafitte, which suffered serious wind damage. The biggest concern right now, the possible water contamination may wipe out the shrimping industry, at least in the short-term.
Status alert, St. Bernard Parish. It is still standing, but not for long. City officials believe all 26,000 homes will ultimately have to be torn down. Serious water damage and mold making it unsafe to live there. State and local environment experts today took air, water and soil samples. They're now being analyzed to determine the extent of contamination. Officials say people will be allowed back into their homes to save whatever they can before they're demolished.
That tops our status alert. If you have any information on a parish or town, please e-mail us here StatusAlert@CNN.com.
COOPER: Deborah, thanks. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, before FEMA and the troops arrived, as the world watched New Orleans crumble, the city's police officers were getting a lot of flak. Word had spread they were abandoning their posts, letting New Orleans fall into lawlessness.
In fact, a majority of police, of New Orleans Police, stuck with their jobs, saving lives, working nonstop for days. Most of them, when the break finally does arrive, they can't even go home because there's no home left to go to.
Here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Manuel Curry has been a police officer in New Orleans since 1946, just months after his service at Omaha Beach on D-day. Sergeant Curry, how old are you?
SERGEANT MANUEL CURRY, NOPD: Eighty since February.
TUCHMAN: Eighty years old and you're living here in the Wal-Mart parking lot?
TUCHMAN: Sergeant Curry is one of more than 50 homeless New Orleans Police officers who are now sleeping, working, and, yes, living in a parking lot of a Wal-Mart. Could you ever imagine a day where one of your officers would be living in a Wal-Mart parking lot?
CAPTAIN TONY CANNATELLA, NOPD: Never, never, never, never.
TUCHMAN: Captain Tony Cannatella is the commander of the police department's Sixth District. The parking lot is now the precinct headquarters because of damage to the real police building.
CANNATELLA: Where else can you come to work every day and sit in a police car next to another hero? Every day, I come to work, look in the faces of different heroes.
TUCHMAN: They sleep in tents in the parking lot and some other creative places.
Officer Christie Feray (ph) was stranded on the roof of her flooded house for days. Where did you sleep here? OFFICE CHRISTINE FERAY, NOPD: Patrol cars.
TUCHMAN: You're going to sleep in the patrol cars?
FERAY: Yeah, nowhere else or (INAUDIBLE).
TUCHMAN: You were (INAUDIBLE) on the roof of your house in the flood waters.
TUCHMAN: One hundred fifty three officers of the precinct have medical care inside the Wal-Mart, a store that was ransacked by looters in the days after the storm. All the electronic products and jewelry are gone. But now it may be the safest place in town. With the cavalry of the Sixth District in the parking lot.
(on camera): I think a lot of people are going to find it incredible that an 80-year-old member of the police force, had been there 60 years, is living in a parking lot. Do you find that incredible?
TUCHMAN: Would you consider an offer to move into a house or hotel right now?
TUCHMAN: And how come?
CURRY: Because I want to stay with the men. I've been with them. I will stay with them.
TUCHMAN (voice over): Sergeant Curry was actually ordered to leave and join his wife of 50 years who evacuated safely before the storm. But he won't go. So he was given special accommodations. Where did this limo come from?
CURRY: I don't know. I sleep in it.
TUCHMAN (on camera): Let's take a look inside there. So that's your blanket, your bed.
(voice over): And the limo is where this World War II veteran will stay, as long as it takes.
TUCHMAN: Six decades on the job. And tonight, Sergeant Curry will again spend the night with his pillow and blanket in the back of the limousine and then have another 12-hour shift tomorrow. Sergeant Curry is staying at what they are calling, Anderson, all the police officers there, Ft. Wal-Mart.
COOPER: Ft. Wal-Mart. There's a Ft. Apache, another station has been dubbed. Sleeping in a limousine, homeless. I mean, it's ironic, it is tragic. How many officers from that unit, from that station abandoned their post?
TUCHMAN: I mean, there was a lot of talk about this mass abandonment. The police officers here are very insulted by that. One- hundred-fifty-six police officers in that unit, only three aren't working any more. One-hundred-fifty-three are working out of that parking lot.
COOPER: That's an amazing story. Gary, thanks. I don't know how Gary Tuchman finds them, but he always does.
Coming up next on 360, the man who predicted the levee troubles if a massive hurricane hit speaks out. Plus, we take him in the air to see the scene from above.
We're also going to talk to the sheriff of Jefferson Parish about the bridge controversy. Did police officials try to keep people from escaping New Orleans? That story ahead.
COOPER: Welcome back to 360 live from New Orleans. Here's what's happening right now at this moment.
The official death toll in Louisiana now stands at 423. It was 279 just yesterday.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta who's been touring the area estimated the cost of bridge and road repair will be $3 billion in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, as well as Florida.
And Lewis Armstrong International Airport had its first commercial landing today since August 29. It was a flight from Memphis with only 30 people aboard.
And the off again, on again storm called Ophelia is a hurricane once more. It is hovering off the coast of the Carolinas, top winds of at least 75 miles per hour.
Well the only thing that's more painful than standing on the ground here looking out at the devastation of New Orleans is looking down on it from above. That is when you're forced to face the scale of what happened here.
Today I took a helicopter tour with a man who predicted the devastation that would rock New Orleans in the event of a major hurricane. And he wants to know why more wasn't done to prevent it.
COOPER (voice over): Flying above New Orleans for the first time, Professor Ivor van Heerden is stunned by what he sees.
DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN, DIRECTOR, LSU HURRICANE CENTER (voice over): The devastation to this part of New Orleans is incredible. Because most of the houses have been totally destroyed by the wind, and then they would have been flooded, which is the absolute worst- case scenario for a survivor.
COOPER: Professor van Heerden is director of LSU's Hurricane Center. He's feeling not just frustration, but anger as well.
VAN HEERDEN: I couldn't believe what I was seeing, you know, both as a professional and as an American. As a professional, I just couldn't believe that we weren't in there with all our resources as quickly as we could have got in there. But as an American, I was absolutely disgusted.
COOPER: For weeks politicians have been saying there was no way to predict what happened here -- the flooding, the failures, the needs of the people. The truth is, Professor van Heerden did predict it a year ago. He simulated a major hurricane's effect on New Orleans and had briefed local, state, and federal officials all about it.
VAN HEERDEN: We tried our absolute damndest to warn everybody. And unfortunately, here reality is unfolding in front of our eyes.
COOPER: From the air you can see the signs for help, the holes people punched from attics to escape the water, the school buses that could have been used to evacuate residents. Professor van Heerden believes the levees weren't just overrun by high water. He believes the levees massively failed, because of inadequate design and years of neglect.
VAN HEERDEN: To me, in my opinion, once again it was catastrophic failure of those levees due to a pressure burst. What it means, you know, there was something structurally unsound about the levees.
COOPER: New Orleans is still vulnerable, Professor van Heerden believes. He wants to make sure this doesn't happen again.
(on camera): What questions do you still want answered about, not only the failure of the levees, but the failure of governments to respond?
VAN HEERDEN (on camera): The number one question is, as best as we can tell, the levees failed on Monday afternoon. Why weren't the people told? Why weren't the media told that the levees have failed? A lot of people in New Orleans went to bed thinking it was over. They were dry. They woke up in the middle of the night, they had water in their homes. Why, why, why weren't we warned?
COOPER: Coming up next on 360, people running from the floods say they were turned away from a bridge to safety. Last night we heard the people on that bridge describe the scene. Tonight the sheriff of Jefferson Parish gives his side of the story.
Also ahead tonight Chief Justice nominee John Roberts grilled in Washington. What did he say today? Or perhaps more importantly, what did he not say? We're going to pick apart the hearing. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Well, we spent some time last night looking into why a bridge from New Orleans to the suburbs of the west banks of the Mississippi was closed to evacuees trying to escape the flooding.
Two people who were there told us what they said they saw and heard and felt. Let's listen.
LARRY BRADSHAW, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: We had people in wheelchairs, we had people in strollers, people on crutches, so we were a slow-moving group. And we didn't think anything when we saw the deputies there. Then all of a sudden we heard shooting, but that wasn't so unique because we'd been hearing shooting every day. But it was so close. Then people come running back towards us in a panic, saying the police are shooting at us. And Lorrie Beth and I, we said, that can't be right. That doesn't make any sense.
LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: What we were told by the deputies was that -- excuse me -- is that they were not going to allow another New Orleans, and they weren't going to allow a Superdome to go into their side of the bridge, Gretna.
COOPER: Well, there are a lot of different perspectives of what happened on that bridge. We're trying to search for answers exactly what happened.
Joining us for his perspective, Sheriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish. Chief Lee, appreciate you being with us. Thanks very much.
SHERIFF HARRY LEE, JEFFERSON PARISH, LA.: Yes, there's some misunderstanding. It wasn't Jefferson Parish deputies, it was the Gretna City Police. As you come across the bridge, you enter Jefferson Parish. A couple of hundred yards into Jefferson Parish there is the city of Gretna. I didn't know about it until that night. And I went out there and there was armed guards there holding the crowd.
COOPER: Because the chief of the Gretna Police that we talked to last night said that your personnel were on that bridge, and in fact he said he was doing one small part of the bridge and that you guys ...
LEE: Oh no. No, that was after the first or second night.
COOPER: Right. He's talking -- what we're talking about happening, the allegations being made are about Thursday and even on Friday, that people -- a large group of people, several hundred people -- tried to cross over and that a, you know, combination, whether your officers, the Gretna officers, other officers fired into the air. Did that happen?
LEE: Oh no. No, we didn't fire into the air. There was -- what we did after I heard about the incident ...
COOPER: Did anyone fire into the air? Did officers fire into the air?
LEE: I understand a shot was fired down at the bottom. A shot was fired into the air. But when I got involved in it, what we agreed to do -- people coming across the bridge, rather than going into Gretna and being stopped down there, we would have a bus there and take them direct from the bus directly to the airport to an evacuation shelter.
COOPER: But that didn't happen?
LEE: Yes, that's eventually worked out when I got involved in it. Because the first thing, they wouldn't let them into the city of Gretna the first night, or the second night.
COOPER: Right, but it wasn't just they. I mean, the Gretna Police chief says your officers were there as well. Why wouldn't you just let these people into Gretna or to your parish?
LEE: What was there in Gretna for them?
COOPER: Well, I don't know. Probably not as bad as it was over here.
LEE: Well, no. No, there was nothing in Gretna. There was no electricity, there was no water. There were a lot of the houses that were vacated by citizens who left.
COOPER: Right. Were there people looting and killing each other over here, I mean, in Gretna? Was there water on the ground?
LEE: No. No, there were -- and the reason Gretna did what they did is because of what was going on in New Orleans did not want to happen in Gretna.
COOPER: I mean, right. But, I mean, If there's no water in Gretna and there's areas where they could have gone, you know, some people would say it would be the decent thing to just let these people at least to dry land. Because sending them -- I mean, what was the point of sending them back into New Orleans?
LEE: I didn't send them back. You know ...
COOPER: The officers were ...
LEE: ... I said before, that we got on the bridge after the confrontation there. The following day I said, here's what we'll do. Rather than walk down and saying you can't get in, we'll meet you at the top of the bridge. When we get a bus load, we'll have a police escort to take you directly to the airport.
COOPER: Right, but what they're saying is that actually on Thursday when they arrived and tried to get across, they weren't allowed across, and even on Friday, that some officers came and took food and MREs that they had because they were camping out on the bridge, and told them basically get off the bridge. Go back.
LEE: I didn't know anything about that.
COOPER: You hadn't heard anything about that?
LEE: My agreement to assist the Gretna so we didn't have the problem they had the night before, where they have buses waiting on the top, and there would be a police escort to take them to an evacuation site.
COOPER: If it did happen that multiple shots were fired into the air by officers, with these people waiting on the bridge, would that have been appropriate?
LEE: I don't know who fired the shots, and I don't know why they were fired.
COOPER: But would it have been appropriate police procedure to fire onto -- you know, above the air of several hundred people who were simply trying to get to safety?
LEE: I'm not going to speak for the city of Gretna. It's my understanding we didn't fire any shots. And I understand one shot was fired early on. At the bottom, a shot was fired into the air.
COOPER: Have you asked any of your officers who were there exactly what happened?
LEE: No, no, no. When they had the confrontation the night before, the entirety of that situation was we agreed that we would help them set their bus at the top of the bridge. You've got the top of the bridge. Load the buses.
COOPER: This is Friday you're talking about?
LEE: Whatever day it was. Maybe Thursday or Friday, I don't remember.
COOPER: Because Thursday, as far as from the people on the bridge, there were no buses. They were told there would be buses from New Orleans, there weren't any buses, and they were ordered back -- the Gretna Police chief says not only Gretna Police but your police as well. You're saying that didn't happen.
LEE: No, no, they were not shut down by my police.
COOPER: All right. We're trying to get to bottom of it. We appreciate you joining us for you perspective.
LEE: But they were stopped at the Gretna city line.
COOPER: OK, Sheriff Lee, we appreciate it. Thank you very much.
LEE: Thank you. Bye.
COOPER: We have a lot more to come still on 360. A father's desperate search for his family coming to an end. On Friday we asked you to help him. Tonight we bring you their reunion. There's more to the story, not just a happy ending, a lot more.
Plus, Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, asked the tough questions on abortion, the right to privacy, and other key issues. We're going to examine the hearing and see if anything has been revealed. We'll be right back.
COOPER: We are joined now in Washington by Jeffrey Toobin. The other big story that we have been following this day, a story that could shape the future of our country for decades to come, the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice nominee John Roberts.
Senators grilled the 50-year-old judge about his judicial philosophy, his position on abortion.
Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has been watching it all. Jeffrey, what do you make of today's testimony? Do we have any idea tonight of what Judge Roberts thinks of Roe v. Wade?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think we have slightly more of an idea. I don't want to exaggerate it. But he did answer at least a little bit of questioning about the right to privacy, which is the basis of the Roe v. Wade decision. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: The court has over -- with a series of decisions, going back 80 years, has recognized that personal privacy is a component of the liberty protected by the due process clause. The court has explained that the liberty protected is not limited to freedom from physical restraint. And that it's protected not simply procedurally, but as a substantive matter as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What struck you most about this position?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, a lot of conservatives -- Robert Bork in 1987 -- say, look, the words right to privacy don't appear in the Constitution, I don't believe it's there, I don't believe the Constitution protects it.
John Roberts does. And that is a more moderate position. And it suggests at least a receptivity to the argument that the right to privacy includes the right to gay rights and the right to abortion.
COOPER: You spoke to one of Roberts' staunchest opponents, Senator Ted Kennedy. Were Democrats disappointed or reassured by what they heard from Roberts today?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think it's a mix of views. Just a few minutes ago Senator Schumer from New York, a very harsh critic of Republicans judicial nominees generally, said he was pleasantly surprised by some of what John Roberts said. And I think the right to privacy has something to do with that.
I mean, there was a lot of questions where Roberts fenced. He said that those somewhat inflammatory memos he wrote when he worked in the Reagan Administration he was just supporting policies that were set by people much higher in the food chain than he was. So we didn't learn a lot.
But Roberts is a very cool customer -- very smart, very appealing person. He certainly helped his cause today. And some Democrats may be upset, but I don't think there's any chance he's losing this nomination.
COOPER: All right. Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.
Going to find out what's coming up at the top of the hour right now on Paula Zahn. Hey, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson. Thanks. One of the greatest outrages in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the deaths of 34 people at St. Rita's Nursing Home near New Orleans, that may have been left helpless, left to drown as Hurricane Katrina approached.
This afternoon, St. Rita's owners were charged with criminal negligence, 34 counts. I will be talking exclusively with their attorney, with the attorney general of the state, to better understand the specific charges against them. And we'll also be talking with a doctor who treated a number of the patients at that nursing home, and a nurse that was on duty just as the storm warnings came down. I think it's going to be the most complete picture we've gotten so far, Anderson, of what went wrong at that nursing home.
COOPER: Let's hope so. Paula, thanks.
Coming up next on 360, a father's successful search for his family. The joy also mixed with some pain. You'll find their story, when we come back.
COOPER: Welcome back. We're live in New Orleans. You know, you see a lot of surreal things here in New Orleans these days. One of the most surreal, Steven Seagal dressed up in a SWAT uniform. I don't know if you can see him, that's his back, I think, is turned to the camera. He's driving around, with the SW.AT Team from Jefferson Parish. Not sure why. Just he is. One of the strange things you see here in New Orleans.
On Friday we brought you the story of a New Orleans father who was desperately searching for his five kids and his mother. Tonight we have some good news to report. Earlier this evening, the kids were reunited with their father in Atlanta. We're going to show you that emotional reunion 11:00 p.m. Eastern on a special edition of NEWSNIGHT. I said we have some good news to report, unfortunately, also some sad news as well to tell you. One loss -- the boyfriend of one of the young women in this family. Take a look.
COOPER (voice over): When we met Michael Thompson last Friday, he was looking for his mother and five young children, lost when Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans. He asked our viewers to help find them.
MICHAEL THOMPSON, LOST FAMILY DURING HURRICANE KATRINA: I haven't spoken to them since the day before the storm struck.
COOPER: Michael had been going from shelter to shelter for days, hardly any sleep, running on pure adrenaline. He was asking anyone and everyone if they'd seen his family. Nearly two weeks had passed. And Michael was desperate.
M. THOMPSON: It hasn't been easy. Not knowing if they're well or not. Or what kind of shape they're in. Or where they are at this point. Or how they're faring. It's been difficult.
COOPER: After putting Michael's number on our screen, he received numerous calls. But most of them were fruitless. Finally, he got the news he was hoping for. His mother was safe in Louisiana. And his five children were taken to Atlanta, Georgia. Amid all the good news, however, there was also grief. Michael's second-born, Shelley, had witnessed her boyfriend's death.
SHELLEY THOMPSON, MICHAEL THOMPSON'S DAUGHTER: He drowned trying to come back to the roof with me.
COOPER: Knowing her father is alive and all her brothers and sisters by her side, Shelley is trying to pick up the pieces.
S. THOMPSON: I feel like a big part is gone. A big part of my heart is gone. And it's just hard. I tried. I try to, you know -- I ask God every night to give me strength to, you know, to be strong. You know, because I cry every day, you know. But it's just hard when you just think about all the memories and --
COOPER: As it is for everyone who survived Hurricane Katrina, moving on will not be easy. But at least for Shelley, she can now face that burden with her dad.
COOPER: So many tears have already been shed, so much sadness all across this country. Tonight at 11:00 you'll see some happiness for that family -- a reunion. Their father going to Atlanta with the help of one of our viewers.
We were hoping to have New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on our program tonight. He'd agreed to do it, then was unable to make it. We also had to -- had asked a lot of you viewers to send in questions for the mayor, because I know it's frustrating when you're sitting at home watching this stuff, you want to ask questions.
Here are a few that we received that we would have asked the mayor about. And if the mayor is watching, we'd love to have him on anytime. He's always welcome on 360.
James in Chicago wants to know why didn't the mayor arrange with the governor to have the National Guard drive the buses and help in the evacuation?
Missy from Fayeteville, Arkansas wrote - asked, forcing people to abandon their companion animals seems to have backfired, causing many people to stay behind. Why were people forced to abandon their pets?
Just some of the questions to ask the mayor. We'd love to have him come on.
That's it for 360 tonight. Join me for a Special Edition of NEWSNIGHT starting at 10:00 with Aaron Brown 10:00 to midnight Eastern Time.
PAULA ZAHN NOW is next. Hey, Paula.
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