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Educating Evacuees; Road to Recovery; EPA & Katrina; Battling Insurgents

Aired September 13, 2005 - 05:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you.
Coming up in the next 30 minutes, the U.S. launched Operation Restore Rights in Tal Afar, Iraq nearly two weeks ago. Are the insurgents backing down? An update from Baghdad is just ahead.

Also, L.A. has got lots of star power, but half the city had no power at all. We will tell you about the huge mistake that turned off the lights. I think that guy is in trouble.

But first, "Now in the News."

The questioning of Judge John Roberts begins today after a day of opening statements. The Senate Judiciary Committee will get down to the details. The chief justice nominee is expected to be answering the committee's questions for the next few days.

David Paulison is stepping in as acting FEMA chief in the wake of Michael Brown's resignation. Paulison brings to the job 30 years of experience in fire and rescue work. He and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff are expected to hold a briefing on the hurricane recovery later this morning.

President Bush heads to the United Nations today fresh off his third tour of the Gulf Coast. But before leaving for New York, the president is scheduled to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at the White House. President Bush is also planning a return trip to the hurricane zone on Thursday.

To the Forecast Center and Chad.

Let's talk about Ophelia.

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's had an identity crisis the past couple of days, can't decide whether it wants to be a hurricane or a tropical storm, either that or it's under the witness protection program. We can't tell yet.

This whole storm is just kind of sitting out here. It's spinning. It's making huge waves, crashing waves, all the way from the North Carolina beaches around Nags Head, right on down south even into South Carolina.

I can get a little closer here for you, and there's the storm itself spinning around. Still a large hole in the middle, not a lot of what we call central dense overcast. Not a lot of big storms right around the middle. They're still around the periphery, which means that the storm is not intensifying very much. It's still a 70-mile- per-hour storm, a very strong tropical storm.

And hurricane warnings, because hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours, from the South Santee River right on up to Cape Lookout as the storm travels right on up the North Carolina coast.

Here's a look at it just brushing Cape Fear right through Wilmington, Morehead City and then back on up toward the northeastern section from about Corolla down through Duck. At 2:00 in the morning on Thursday morning, which will be just a little after we're -- before we get on shore here, before we get on the air, that's when it will actually be the closest to the landfall. And that happens in about 36 to 48 hours.

Carol, thank you.

COSTELLO: All right. Thank you, Chad, we'll get back to you.

Now for more of the latest headlines from the disaster zone in our "Mission Critical" update.

The largest group of bodies found so far being removed from a flooded-out hospital in New Orleans. Forty-five bodies were discovered at the Memorial Medical Center. Many of the dead were older patients from a continuing care center. A hospital administrator says some of the people died from the heat while they were waiting to be rescued.

FEMA plans to create temporary cities for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The head of the agency's housing effort says they could provide housing for about 200,000 people for up to five years. He also compared the trailer home effort to the building of the pyramids.

Reports of a new levee leak in New Orleans turned out to be a false alarm. Water briefly flowed over the repaired levee along the London Avenue Canal, but it was a pumping problem and not a break in the levee. The problem has since been fixed. The pumping operation is expected to have the city almost completely dry by early October.

Thousands of school children evacuated from Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Katrina are now attending schools all across the country. Right now some 7,000 of them have enrolled in classes in the state of Georgia alone, and that number is expected to grow.

Joining us now, George School Superintendent Kathy Cox.

Thank you for waking up so early this morning.

KATHY COX, GEORGIA SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

COSTELLO: Seven thousand students. That's a lot of students to absorb. COX: Yes, and most of them are right around metropolitan Atlanta coming to our larger districts there. And we're in daily contact with districts. They are, in fact, all over Georgia, though. But again, most of them in metropolitan Atlanta where people are beginning to settle into apartments. So, but our districts have just been fantastic about opening their arms and their doors. And our principals have been wonderful to work with.

COSTELLO: You know I'm wondering what the teachers will say or what they said on the first day of classes when these kids came in to class, you know, after obviously being traumatized.

COX: Well I think most of them said welcome. And just hopefully -- you know I've heard wonderful stories of teachers and principals taking kids literally into their arms and just making sure that they were able to kind of get a fresh start in school.

We are you know talking with our larger districts who have seen hundreds of kids come in. They are in need of counselors. We are organizing an effort through our counselors association to kind of have our manpower come to where the evacuees are in the district, because teachers did tell us and principals did tell us that you know a child will be fine one day but then maybe the next day they come in and they just are having trouble concentrating and they're crying a lot. So we are organizing an effort even also to get our retired counselors activated so that they can come into the schools where we have kids that are having difficulties.

COSTELLO: Of course all of this costs money and it's a lot for the school system to absorb. What are you hearing from the federal government?

COX: Well right now we had received a communication from Secretary Spellings that they are working on all of this. Everything from the issue of flexibility right now with the current federal funds to the issue, also, of, you know, looking at special allocations and how to deal with this from a federal perspective.

We've also talked extensively -- within state government, I spoke to our own Georgia House and Senate education leaders yesterday about when they come back into session in January that we'll have a better idea and a better picture of how the federal government is going to respond so we also then know what the responsibility of the state will be.

Right now you know everyone is just focused on the well being of the children, I'm happy to say. And they are really working on making sure that the children are having a good transition, that they are being welcomed, that their needs are being met.

We're having a huge book bag drive in Atlanta today to hopefully welcome the over 7,000 students now will get enough book bags that every student in the state will be able to have a book bag filled with supplies.

COSTELLO: That's terrific. COX: So, that's -- yes, that's the first needs. But we are definitely in discussion with the federal government about flexibility, and also, of course, new things that we're going to need to help in this unprecedented effort. I mean this is just so unprecedented.

COSTELLO: It is. How much do you think it will cost the school system?

COX: Well, you know roughly it costs about $6,500 per student in the state of Georgia to educate a student. Some districts a little bit more, some districts a little bit less. So, you know, you're looking at you know several hundred thousands of dollars and additional teachers. And you're also talking also sometimes the capacity issue. For some of our schools that they might have to have some trailers put up. So we're going to work with them on all of that.

And just you know I think, from our perspective at the state, our job, too, is to really keep accurate records. And to make sure that we are fully understanding how many and where are they and what lengths have schools had to go to to accommodate so that we can give an accurate picture to the federal government.

COSTELLO: Well God bless you and thanks for...

COX: Thank you.

COSTELLO: ... opening up your arms.

COX: Yes. And God bless all those teachers and principles out there. I'll tell you, they're fantastic. And students from Mississippi and Louisiana are in good hands in the state of Georgia.

COSTELLO: Kathy Cox, Superintendent of Schools in the state of Georgia, thank you for joining us this morning.

Still to come on DAYBREAK, the water is being pumped out of New Orleans, but when will it be safe again? And why isn't the EPA telling us exactly what's in the water? We'll get into that issue.

But first, here's a look at what else is making news this Tuesday.


COSTELLO: Some of the lasting images we have seen are pets left to fend for themselves in the wake of Katrina. But many groups have come together to try to save those animals and reunite them with their families.

It is a daunting task, as CNN's Anderson Cooper found out firsthand at a shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a shaded shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina's voiceless victims are waiting, small dogs and big ones, a pit bull and her pups. They were born in New Orleans' Superdome, puppies of the storm.

JAY CARR, DOG OWNER: I'm going to go from cage to cage to cage to cage.

COOPER: Jay Carr is looking for his two dogs. His wife insists she saw them rescued on TV.

CARR: My wife saw it. And when she screamed, we all thought something bad had happened.

COOPER: Jay abandoned the dogs when he had to swim for safety. He wishes now he had evacuated earlier.

CARR: She punched me. And...

COOPER (on camera): Your wife punched you?

CARR: Yes, when we first saw each other. And my daughter kicked me because I had left the dogs.

COOPER (voice-over): It's no easy task to find a lost pet. There are so many stalls, so many scared faces to look into. The shelter is full. There's simply not enough room.

(on camera): Under Louisiana state law, they haven't been willing to send any of these animals out of state. So this facility, which is a good facility, it's got vets. This dog has been given a bath. She's going to get cleaned up. But this facility can only deal with about 1,300 animals and it's full. There are still thousands more animals out there.

It sounds like sort of bureaucracy is just making this much more difficult than it should be, is that true?

WAYNE PACELLE, PRES., HUMANE SOCIETY OF AMERICA: There is no doubt that bureaucracy has impeded our efforts.

COOPER (voice-over): Wayne Pacelle is President of the Humane Society of America. He wants to move many of these dogs out of state to make room for new ones. But until recently, Louisiana state officials have said no.

(on camera): For the last couple days of this you haven't been able to get more animals in because this facility, which by state law they have to come here, it's been full up. Is that correct?

PACELLE: Well we moved out some yesterday, so we were able to take in a couple of hundred. There was a day that there was no additional intake and they actually prevented us from bringing animals into the facility even though we had some out there.

COOPER (voice-over): Here the dogs are fed and walked. It's not ideal, but it's all they have. People are the priority, of course, but animal advocates say helping pets does help people.

(on camera): Why do you think it's important, I mean even when there are people suffering, to be looking after animals?

PACELLE: You know if you really are on the ground here and have a sense of what's going on, you see that they're absolutely inseparable questions. The people who are still there are staying because they have pets. They don't want to be separated from them. The people who are evacuated and who left their pets behind are calling us inconsolably saying please rescue our pets.

COOPER (voice-over): When we left, Jay Carr still couldn't find his two dogs.

MRS. CARR, DOG OWNER: I thought for sure they were there when she said shar-peis.

COOPER: Perhaps his wife was wrong. Perhaps their dogs haven't been rescued at all. There's only so many more places for them to look. Time is running out.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Gonzales, Louisiana.


COSTELLO: And there are a couple of ways you can help these animals. Donations of food or funds can be made to the Humane Society. And supplies can also be sent to the ASPCA or the Louisiana Branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. You can find out more on our Web site,

Still to come on DAYBREAK, what to do about the water in New Orleans. How bad is it? And even when the water is gone, will the danger linger? And will you know all there is to know? We'll tackle those issues next.


COSTELLO: Yet another agency of the federal government is under fire for its handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. This time it's the EPA. The Society of Environmental Journalists accuses the EPA of being slow to release details about the environmental consequences of Katrina. Several members of the group have filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

And joining us to talk more about that is Perry Beeman. He's the president of the group.

Good morning -- Perry.


COSTELLO: You know I'm looking at a report from the EPA right now that it released yesterday on samples it took in early September. Is this enough or not enough? BEEMAN: I'd say it most certainly is not enough. What has happened here is EPA took two weeks to release data from samples it took a week after this event happened. And so far that's all EPA has released.

And there are really two issues here, Carol, there's the sampling that EPA is doing, but also the request that many reporters have made for information on what chemical releases the companies have reported to EPA to the National Response Center as required by federal law. That information -- none of that information has been released as of last night.

COSTELLO: So you're saying that whatever the EPA released is so general that we really don't know what's in the water right now?

BEEMAN: Well EPA has warned people to stay out of the water, and that's a good idea. But we would like to have the people to have the raw data so they can make their own decisions so they can know whether they agree with EPA's analysis. And not everybody agrees with EPA's standards as well. And in the case of the releases from the factories and the different plants, which are substantial in New Orleans, we really don't know anything.

COSTELLO: And you're talking in regards to the rescue workers who are working so hard in the city of New Orleans. I remember back in 9/11, everybody wanted to know what was floating in the air, because there was that terrible smell. And the EPA was very slow to release any information.

BEEMAN: This was EPA's chance, I think, to make up for that, and so far it just has not performed. Our list serve internally at SEJ, Society of Environmental Journalists, lit up for two days after the press conference that EPA had on September 7, which was the first time it described what it had found. Basically that was about the bacterial readings. And reporters felt that EPA had been evasive, had not responded with the raw data.

Now EPA says they wanted to do some quality control, and that's great, but we ask, you know, if the data were so uncertain, why were you on national press conference, you know, basing your decisions on it.

COSTELLO: Well the EPA did come out and say don't drink the water. They have called the water this toxic soup. They said to stay out of the water. In this press release that I see right here, they say that if you have an open cut you could be in danger of being infected by the water. What more needs to be said?

BEEMAN: Well that certainly was good advice, and it seems like it's somewhat obvious advice. But, for example, now we have questions about whether there are PCBs in the water there. There may be dioxin issues. I see today they made a -- talked about their air emission data, but I don't see any on the Web site yet. So you've got a couple of things there.

I mean we think that people deserve to be able to look at all the information. And they have the information from week old data now, week old samples. EPA is sampling every day, where's the rest of it? We'd like to see it. People deserve it. Americans deserve it. Certainly journalists would like to take a look at it. But the case of these releases that's -- there has been nothing.

COSTELLO: And when you talk about PCBs, you're talking about possible cancer causers and perhaps rescue workers need to know what they're working in to go on.

BEEMAN: That's true. And don't forget the people who never left New Orleans or the people who may want to come back. Some of these chemicals will stick around for a long time. And some of EPA's own people have suggested that it could be many days and years before those are gone.

And, also, we don't know that they're testing sediments. And when you're dumping this in the lake, and if those chemicals are lining the sediment, and the air starts turning it up, it could be, you know, swirling around for quite a while.

COSTELLO: Perry Beeman, I know you'll keep working on it. Perry Beeman from the Society of Environmental Journalists, thank you for joining DAYBREAK this morning.

When we come back, much more for you. Stick around.


COSTELLO: Iraq's president is telling "The Washington Post" there are now enough trained Iraqi troops that as many as 50,000 American troops could leave Iraq by the end of the year. President Jalal Talabani meets with President Bush this morning. All of this, while Iraqi and U.S. troops are trying to destroy insurgents holed up in a northern Iraqi city.

Jennifer Eccelston is in Baghdad. She has more on all of this.

Hello -- Jennifer.


That's right, Iraqi and U.S. forces are wrapping up Operation Restoring Rights in the northern city of Tal Afar. This operation is designed to rid the town of suspected terrorists.

Now Iraq's prime minister said the operation was in response to appeals from city officials who wanted to take back the city from insurgents in advance of this crucial referendum on Iraq's new constitution next month.

And the prime minister also said the government was left with no choice but to use military force. A force, which was mainly Iraqi, some 5,000 Iraqi troops backed by over 3,000 American troops. So this is an operation designed to show that Iraqi forces are now better equipped to defend their country. Now the offensive met, according to U.S. officials, minimal resistance. And it appears most of the insurgents fled the city before the operations began. But those joint forces said they arrested and killed hundreds of alleged terrorists and they found weapons caches, including a bomb-making factory.

Now Tal Afar has long been believed to have been used as a channel for equipment and foreign fighters smuggled into Iraq from nearby Syria -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jennifer, I wanted to ask you more about what President Talabani probably will say to President Bush this morning, who knows, about these 50,000 American troops possibly coming home by the end of the year. What have you heard about that?

ECCELSTON: Well, Carol, of course in that interview the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, said he had planned to discuss, as you mentioned, the reduction of U.S. forces during a meeting with President Bush. And that he believed that the United States could begin their withdrawal of some 50,000 troops out of a total of some 140,000 American troops by the end of this year.

Now we believe part of his rationale is because of Iraq's virgining army and police forces numbering now at about 190,000. And the fact that they are capable of defending at least pockets of the country, as witnessed, perhaps, in the offensive that was going on in Tal Afar.

Now U.S. officials have avoided putting an exact timeframe on troop reduction. The Pentagon plans on maintaining or even slightly increasing U.S. force levels here in Iraq in advance of that crucial October 15 referendum on Iraq's new constitution. And U.S. officials say that the White House's strategy for an eventual troop withdrawal hinges on Iraq's approving that constitution and of course holding successful elections this December -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jennifer Eccelston reporting live from Baghdad this morning.

The next hour of DAYBREAK two minutes away.



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