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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Aftermath of Hurricane Rita; Russel Honore Interview
Aired September 24, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of Paula Zahn now. You're looking at a live picture of Lake Charles, Louisiana. It is not what this place looked like just a short nine or ten hours ago. It is a place along the coast -- excuse me, it's a little north of the coast -- that has gotten socked with not only high winds but a tremendous amount of rain.
The man in charge of the military response to this disaster is Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who now, I am told, is on the road between Lake Charles and Lafayette.
Lt. General, I don't know what you've seen today, so why don't you describe to us what you have assessed, what you've canvassed.
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CMDR, HURRICANE KATRINA TASK FORCE (via telephone): We just left Lake Charles -- spent the afternoon there doing some reconnaissance and working with the Calcasieu Parish government leaders, as well as establishing a command post in Lake Charles. I was there with Brigadier General Pratt of the 41st Brigade, Oregon National Guard.
We've started to do some search and rescue off the coast with our naval assets. We have been able to find some citizens in a place called Pelican Island, and the National Guard is moving into Lake Charles now with an MP company and some engineer units to help clear the roads, and the MP unit to help control traffic and at the request of the parish to assist in controlling.
Lake Charles has a lot of tree damage, lot of structural damage -- the Chennault Airfield is particularly hard hit. Many of the buildings were severely damaged. Runway's good but a lot of debris.
We've also moved the 82nd Airborne strike team into Lafayette, and they've arrived at Lafayette and they're pushing south in Abbeville going into Vermilion Parish. We will continue to deploy our forces in. As you know, we are having trouble moving the helicopters from Baton Rouge and New Orleans into Lafayette, but the great United States Coast Guard and our naval and Marine forces working off the Gulf are able to get into Vermilion Parish and into Cameron Parish as we speak. Over.
ZAHN: And that's where we're hearing the most disturbing reports tonight, sir. The governor of Louisiana confirming that she believes there are people trapped around there -- she said this was a part of her state that hasn't flooded like this before, so even though the storm surge was flooded -- the magnitude of this flooding was quite unexpected. Can you give us an update on search and rescues at this hour?
HONORE: Yes, we -- Cameron Parish is flooded. We had two Marines go down on a reconnaissance south of Lake Charles. They got about 15 to 20 miles and just saw this wall of water in Cameron Parish. We're trying to work our helicopters in there now, there and in Vermilion Parish. And as we get more information, we'll continue to work with the parishes on the priority of where we need to go into.
But at this point in time, we're on the eve of conducting that. Most of our Marine and Navy helicopters cannot do night search and rescue. But we've got some Air Force air packages we're going to put in and try to work that area tonight. Over.
ZAHN: We wish your whole team a lot of luck. Lt. General Russel Honore, thank you for taking time out from your very busy and challenging schedule.
Just a reminder that in our last hour, the governor of Louisiana told Anderson that she's very concerned about these ongoing search and rescue operations because the area -- the particular area that General Honore was just talking about is continuing to get blasted by 35 mile- an-hour winds, and she's worried about the stability of her boats in the water. So some of those operations will be suspended until 7:00 a.m. tomorrow. And of course this obviously affects helicopter flight as well.
There is a curfew in effect in that other area that General Honore was talking about, in Lake Charles, from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. And once again the mayor of Lake Charles telling his residents, don't even think about coming home for another 48 hours. Extensive damage to that city, lots of flooding, absolutely no electricity, and he says it's practically impossible to get around tonight.
So as you can see, the story is a long way from being over, and here is the very latest damage report for you at this hour. As I just said, search and rescue teams are traveling by boat and helicopter in south Louisiana tonight looking for people who were forced to their roofs by high water -- in some cases as deep as twelve feet. Officials say at least 100 people may need to be rescued tonight. Remarkably, there are still no deaths to report because of this storm.
Now Rita, which came ashore as a Category 3 hurricane, remains a tropical storm at this hour. It may be getting weaker as it moves inland. Right now it's centered near the Louisiana-Arkansas border. But Chad Myers, our weather expert, told us it could dump 25 inches of rain in some places.
And in Texas, look at these highways -- people anxious to return home are ignoring pleas from top government officials to stay away for now. Highways around Houston are gridlocked again, and there is a lot of concern that people are wasting much-needed gas that could be used in other parts of the region.
Oil refineries in Galveston and Houston may have suffered less damage than feared, but at least two refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, will need significant repairs. It'll probably be tomorrow before we have a handle on what the storm may do to gasoline prices.
We have just gotten in some brand new pictures out of Lumberton, Texas -- that is near the Louisiana border. Look at this place -- basically, it looks like a bulldozer got to it. That is just up north of Beaumont. Homes surrounded by floodwaters, trees absolutely flattened. We are also told -- as you can see from these pictures, no surprise -- significant wind damage to some of these homes that survived.
Right now, east of Lake Charles, in Abbeville, Louisiana, floodwaters are nine feet deep in some places, dozens of people have already been rescued from rooftops. Sheriff Michael Couvillon, heading the search and rescue operation there, joins me now on the phone.
Welcome, sir. What's your challenge tonight in trying to rescue more people?
MICHAEL COUVILLON, SHERIFF, VERMILION PARISH: As long as the Black Hawk helicopters will fly, we will continuously attempt to rescue individuals. But whenever they fear their lives are in danger, we're going to shut it down till daybreak in the morning.
ZAHN: You're still getting hit with some pretty strong gusts of wind. Are you worried about that right now?
COUVILLON: Yes. As long as the wind's out the south, the water continuously rises. We're very concerned about that.
ZAHN: How many people do you think remain trapped at this hour?
COUVILLON: We have probably 20 to 25 that we cannot account for that we know of.
ZAHN: I'm sorry, sir, you got cut off -- repeat that one more time.
COUVILLON: We have 20 to 25 people that we calls to check on. We have not been able to find these individuals.
ZAHN: Do you think that's just because communication's so bad, or do you think something terrible has happened to them?
COUVILLON: We can't go by boat, because of the surge, the current in the water. We're attempting to find them by helicopters, but we're having problems. We think they're trapped in attics, and we can't see them from there.
ZAHN: And of course you have no electricity at all around there, right?
COUVILLON: No, ma'am.
ZAHN: So no way to communicate unless you're physically there.
COUVILLON: Yes, ma'am. ZAHN: The governor was saying that she feared that some of those people that may be trapped are folks that actually evacuated from the storm and then came back to check out their homes, not realizing that the Vermilion Bay, that river area could flood the way it did. Is that what you found?
COUVILLON: You had a small amount of these people that could have happened to, because the water was rising a foot every half hour.
ZAHN: A foot every half hour. You're from this part of the country; the governor said no one ever expected this kind of flooding. Were you surprised?
COUVILLON: Very surprised. Where I live, in the flood of 1940, I was advised all the cattle stayed there. Right now they have about three foot of water on the same property.
ZAHN: Sheriff, what other kind of damage have you seen? You've talked about the human toll, what has been the damage to buildings?
COUVILLON: As far as for Pecan Island -- they flew over it earlier -- all you see is rooftops of the homes that haven't been capsized.
ZAHN: We're looking at some amazing video, sir, that you can't see, but I know some members of your team have, of people in very small boats trying to get to some of these homeowners. We hope the winds die down so you'll have success in getting to those folks you've heard from.
Sheriff Couvillon, thank you. Good luck.
COUVILLON: Thanks you.
ZAHN: And now let's go back to Abbeville, where Anderson Cooper has travelled to tonight where he just met with the governor of Louisiana. She said some pretty startling things. I think the thing that struck me that she told you is the fact that she's very worried about gasoline shortages, and she's telling people, don't even think about coming home to your homes -- we need 48 hours to resupply some of these areas with gas for search and rescue operations.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yeah, and you know what they're finding is, there were people who came back today in the morning to check on their house, and then because the waters, because this wind is till whipping up from the south, and the surge, the floodwaters are still coming in, people suddenly found themselves trapped. So people who had evacuated who came back this morning are trapped. And the governor's saying, look, just follow what your local leaders are saying. Do not come back to your homes for at least 48 hours, likely longer than that, Paula.
Want to check in with Jason Carroll who's down in Lake Charles, which is to the west of us here in Abbeville.
Jason, how is the situation there? JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you that right now things are definitely looking much better than what we saw before. Emergency crews at this point have two goals in terms of what they're going to have to try to meet: first, they've got to get out into the outlying area, assess the situation and really get an accurate idea of just how widespread the damage is.
Second, they've got to see if anyone's trapped out there, and if so, try to effort some sort of a rescue. The conditions right now definitely going to make that much easier -- if you take a look out there at Lake Charles, haven't seen it look that calm in the past 12- 18 hours. Things definitely looking much better than what we saw earlier today when we were out here this morning, where we saw a strong surge there of water, a high surf there as well. And at one point, there was some concern that the riverboats that are docked out there would be damaged in some way, but they are still anchored. So at least that is certainly good news for those people in the casino areas.
There was flooding in parts of downtown Lake Charles. We've seen some of that water subside at this point, so that certainly is some good news as well. In terms of the type of damage that we've seen, just from taking a tour in this entire area, downed trees, we've seen collapsed buildings, buildings that were partially collapsed, windows blown out, roofs torn off. Definitely the most amount of damage that we saw was at Lake Charles Regional Airport today. That took a major pounding, the main terminal there. The roof there partially collapsed. For anyone who did not evacuate, who did not get out in enough time, it was definitely a frightening night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freight train -- freight train, all night long -- hear the house creaking and feel like it's being pressed by the wind. But I think we're the lucky ones. I think we're extremely lucky. I suspect people south of town who have newer homes are going to be in a lot of trouble.
CARROLL: And one final look there at Lake Charles, looking very calm at this point. Michael, there, who we talked to, stayed at his house with his wife and his two dogs, Interestingly enough, on the outside of his house, he had the number two written, and that was because if he did get in trouble, that was for emergency crews. He wanted them to know that there were two people inside. Fortunately for him, he was not trapped inside, but you know at this point emergency crews are going to be out looking for numbers on other houses to see if there might be someone in there.
Back to you.
COOPER: Jason Carroll, thanks very much. That is something, of course, we have seen and we have all learned emergency crews, when they go house to house, they put those number on the door. Now people are actually putting the numbers on for themselves to help emergency crews if they do respond.
A gentleman by the name of Brendan Beale (ph) joins me now. You have actually been south of here. We're in Abbeville. What are the towns that you have seen that are completely flooded?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About five miles south of here there's a town called -- by the name of Mouton Cove (ph), Esther (ph), Forquette Island (ph) which is all under water, Tolane Gulf (ph) -- salt water from the Gulf has came into those towns. And from what I've discovered, it's only coming up.
COOPER: The water continues to rise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water continues to rise. When I parked our truck there, went and helped my uncle get some essentials out of his house which is flooded, on the way back my truck had water in it, and I was barely able to get the truck out. From what I've seen, the water is only continuing to rise.
COOPER: And you met a -- or, saw a person getting rescued by the Coast Guard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, we sure did. There was a gentleman in a subdivision called Big Woods, which is south of Abbeville who came out himself and rescued his two neighbors. We had then assisted them. The Coast Guard came to my uncle's farm -- the only dry land around -- and airlifted them out of there.
COOPER: How much water are we talking about in some of these communities?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My uncle's house is -- it has about two feet of water in it. My other uncle's house -- it's -- the water is approaching the house. The house was built in 1929 by my great grandparents and I've never experienced water in the house before, and the water is at the doorsteps, literally.
COOPER: Brendan, I wish you luck. I hope your family's okay.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
COOPER: Thanks very much. Brendan Beale (ph), who just went down here south. Those areas are cut off. Tomorrow morning we hope to be able to get down here. We just arrived.
But Paula was talking to General Honore before who said that they are sending a strike team of 82nd Airborne, they're in Lafayette now. They are efforting to get down to Abbeville and points further south. So this is an ongoing operation. We're going to see a lot more of this tomorrow, once dawn breaks.
We're going to take a short break. A lot more -- update on Rita, where the storm is now, and how the conditions are here. I'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: You're watching PAULA ZAHN NOW, with special coverage of Hurricane Rita. ZAHN: Welcome back. It's difficult at this hour for us to get a true understanding of just how devastating Hurricane Rita has been. We have reporters up and down the whole Texas-Louisiana coast. We have talked with the governor of Louisiana tonight, the man from the military who's in charge of operations, and what we are learning is that all of this is being compromised by 35 mile-an-hour winds that are still hitting some parts of Louisiana. And that of course is slowing down some of the search and rescue work being done by helicopters and by boat.
And now we're going to move on to an area that was really hit hard. About 50 miles west from Lake Charles is a place called Port Arthur, Texas. It's an oil refining city that was devastated when Rita came ashore. Senior national correspondent John King met one Port Arthur resident who rode out the storm and actually survived.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mike Phillips was about to evacuate, as Rita closed in on Port Arthur. But he couldn't find gas. And now figures one advantage to riding out the storm is you get a head start on the clean-up.
What he didn't count on was Rita's ferocity.
MIKE PHILLIPS, PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS: About 3:00 this morning, it started. The house started shaking. I kept hearing a lot of noise, you know, tin and everything. Come out here about 4:00 this morning. Found all the trees.
KING (on camera): How long you think it's going to take to deal with this?
PHILLIPS: We're already talking about that. Going to get a chainsaw out maybe later this evening, start trying to get some of this away from the house.
KING (voice-over): Across the city, downed power lines and trees, significant structural damage, and a storm surge that buried a decent chunk of Port Arthur under three feet of water. Up to seven feet in a few of the lowest lying areas.
Joseph Reynolds was watching from his apartment door when the tree out front was uprooted.
JOSEPH REYNOLDS, RESIDENT: Seen it leaning. The wind was blowing it so hard, it was pulling it from the roof, leaning. Then the wind and rain was pushing me back. I couldn't hold my door.
KING: He has no electricity and no running water and no idea when they'll be restored.
REYNOLDS: I called 911 and they said they couldn't send nobody to help me. Later, they're saying -- they said get in your house. Get some pillows, blankets, and stay warm and stay from out the street, telephone poles and naked wires.
KING: Without a doubt, Rita packed a fierce punch. We visited the Sabine Pass near the Texas-Louisiana coastal border when the eye of the storm was just 25 miles offshore. Swirling rains creating a virtual white out.
In Port Arthur, the early rains took one car out of commission well before the hurricane hit shore. We made it through and found a local church that had it just about right.
The eyewall hit about 2:40 a.m. local time, tossing metal with ease, and dumping several inches of rain as it headed north. The best news here is that for all the destruction, early fears that Rita might overwhelm the city's levee and cause major flooding like New Orleans after Katrina did not come to pass.
Still, the few, like Harold Hackett, who rode it out, say they are likely to evacuate next time.
HAROLD HACKETT, PORT ARTHUR RESIDENT: Every tree that you could imagine is down. It's a horrible scene. The wind come through, and it busted every window I had in my house out. I mean, it was horrible. I'm sorry that I rode it out.
ZAHN: John King doesn't normally stand that still. We should explain: the technology we're using for his live shot, given the fact that there's basically no electricity along that coast -- 800,000 customers without power tonight -- is a videophone, and apparently that signal got stuck. We apologize for that.
We're going to move southwest of where John King was reporting from to Galveston, Texas, which was expected to get a lot -- hit a lot worse than it was. That's where we catch up with Red Cross spokesman Peter Teahen.
ZAHN: Peter, thanks so much for being with us. You now have the governor of Texas and of course the governor of Louisiana telling people, please don't even think about coming home for 48 hours. I'm wondering how much pressure that's creating for you and Red Cross shelters as you have to house these people who want to go home.
PETER TEAHEN, RED CROSS SPOKESMAN: We had tens of thousands of people in our shelters last night -- probably just under 100,000. It really doesn't add additional pressure to us because we plan on this. We do not want people to return home because oftentimes it's too dangerous. We know that most deaths and injuries of a hurricane occur after the storm when people race back, get tangled in downed electrical wires, falling trees or unsafe structures. So we're ready to support the government, we want people to be safe. Give the government time to correct the infrastructure and make it safe. We want our families to live.
ZAHN: So if folks can't go home till mid-week next week, you're fine. No problem with supplies?
TEAHEN: Red Cross is always ready, and we've got the commitment of the American public. And that's what makes this, the responsive Red Cross so successful, is we have volunteers that are dedicated, we have access to all the supplies we need. We'll be there because that's where we're needed to be, servicing people right now in those evacuation centers.
ZAHN: Of course, Peter -- I know you don't want to brag about this, but the outpouring of support from the American public is absolutely amazing. You have already raised close to a billion dollars to help out victims of Hurricane Katrina. I know you were aiming for 2 billion. The one thing you weren't counting on was Hurricane Rita. How will that compromise everything you want to do, now that you had a second hurricane you got to deal with?
TEAHEN: Well, we're just going to go back and ask the American public to step forward. That's one of the great things of the partnerships that American Red Cross has with the American public. They've never let us down because they know the Red Cross has never let them down. We have a $1 billion to raise for the response of Katrina, and we know that we're going to have many more millions to raise for Rita. But we know the American public believe in what the Red Cross does, and they're going to be there to support us.
We're not going to cut back on our services. We're going to deliver what the people expect us to do. They want us to care for families affected by a disaster. That's our mission, that's what we're going to do, because the people have their trust in us.
ZAHN: Peter, the one problem you had after Hurricane Katrina was the Red Cross was hampered by sometimes some logjams created between local and federal officials or slow response on both of theirs parts. Did you experience any of that with Hurricane Rita?
TEAHEN: I think the response we saw here was a perfect example of how city, state, federal governments and non-profit organizations work together for a successful outcome. We saw a similar response last year in Florida. What this shows is what the Red Cross believes in, is that before a disaster strikes, you have to prepare, you have to plan and you have to train. And when you put those three elements together, you can have a successful response, and that's what we're witnessing now in the response to Hurricane Rita.
ZAHN: Glad to hear it's working better this time around. I guess we all had plenty of lessons to learn. Peter Teahen, good luck to you.
And we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, we're going to take you to an area along the south coast of Louisiana -- very -- as close to the coastline as you could get, where Rick Sanchez is standing by. He is in a part of the coast where search and rescue operations are going on at this hour -- maybe as many as a hundred people still trapped on rooftops. They actually evacuated -- we're told some of them came back to their homes to check on them, and what they weren't counting on, was Vermilion Bay, where -- not far from where Rick Sanchez will be -- that is rising as quickly as a foot an hour.
He'll report on all that on the other side. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: And welcome back we're live in Abbeville, Louisiana. This is a town that has become a staging point for rescue operations which are happening south of me. There is actually a curfew on in this town right now. You can actually see some of the police if you just pan over. They are actually now on patrol at the Abbeville Fire Department. They are passing - hey guys, how are you doing - they are passing out ice to people and also the fire trucks just going around making sure there are no fires happening here.
But they are bringing evacuees from towns further south, towns like Perry and Esther as well as other towns further close to the coast because those towns, many of them are just underwater at this hour and a number of families are stuck there. These are people who either did not evacuate or people who did evacuate but chose to come back early this morning thinking the storm was over when in fact, what they're discovering in this area further south is that the flood waters continue to come, the storm surge continues to come because of these high winds coming out of the south.
CNN's Rick Sanchez is a little bit further south in the Perry, from where I am right now. Let's check in. Rick, what are you seeing?
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing the flooding on this the Vermillion River. It gets a lot worse as you continue going down in this direction in the towns of Intercoastal and Cameron. But I can tell you, Anderson, these are proud people in this area, these are people who are convinced that they are going to be able to weather this, although they seem somewhat surprised by the severity of what has taken place in their area.
They are Cajuns and they are proud to say that they're Cajuns. Leroy Carter (ph) is one of them. Mr. Carter, thanks so much for being with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: When was the last time you experienced something like this or this area experienced something like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we had two years ago Hurricane Lily come straight through this area.
SANCHEZ: But it didn't do the kind of damage or flooding that we're seeing here, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we had damage, but the prolonged wind, southerly wind is really hurting us with all the water.
SANCHEZ: Now I'm talking to some of the folks out here and they're telling me it's been probably the 1940s since you saw the type of flooding you're seeing in this area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what they tell me. I came about in 1946, so I can't help you with that. But that's the worst.
SANCHEZ: So in your lifetime you've never seen anything like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SANCHEZ: What are you hearing about the folks down in Cameron, the folks down in Intercoastal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not good. Standing water. Continuing water. The wind will not lay down and it's coming from the south, pushing water on those areas. It is not good.
SANCHEZ: What are you doing for them or what are you hoping that will be done for them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most immediate thing is people that didn't leave are being taken care of and from what I understand they're being rescued within four hours, maybe five. Not a prolonged thing but it's being handled.
SANCHEZ: Are you glad to see the response you've seen so far with the National Guard trucking through here a couple times already.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and I'm really proud of the local people that took it upon themselves to use their airboats, flat-bottomed boats and whatever else they could to rescue their neighbors.
SANCHEZ: Leroy Carter, thanks so much. We appreciate you talking to us.
I appreciate it.
Well that situation - we've talked to many people like Mr. Carter who say that it's tough, they've never seen anything quite like this, they've never seen the Vermillion flood quite the way it has. They say that many of them in fact were going to just stick it out because they just didn't think that they would see something like this in their lifetime. They're certainly experiencing it now. This is the town of Perry, as you mentioned just a little while ago, Anderson, and it's flooded as well. Not as bad as towns down south but they're certainly dealing with it.
I'm Rick Sanchez, Anderson, back over to you.
COOPER: Rick, thanks very much. We're going to have a lot more information about those towns further south, probably by tomorrow, especially once the light comes, first light we're going to try to get down there ourselves. That's one of the things I know maybe some of you who are watching are thinking why don't we have a better sense right now of this storm, of its impact, of any fatalities or damage and at this point it's just too soon.
You've got to realize in this area all day long we've been still whipped by heavy winds, heavy rains, strong currents, strong winds and so it's very hard, still, and literally gathering information means going to a town. When we got to Abbeville someone had said, one official said there may be as many as a thousand families down there - excuse me, we've got an ambulance going by - might be a thousand families down there, and then the governor says there might me a couple hundred, now someone says 25.
So information very sketchy still at this time but we are just trying to not overstate anything and just trying to bring you as much as we can when we have it. Let's go back to Paula in New York.
ZAHN: Yeah, Anderson, maybe you could help me clarify this because we got two different answers in the last hour. The governor saying that she was going to suspend all air rescue operations until 7:00 a.m. this morning and then I just interviewed the sheriff from around this area, Vermillion Bay, where the water is coming up about one foot every hour and he said as long as the Black Hawks could fly they'd fly and he seemed to be indicating they were still going on.
Have you heard any signs of search and rescue operations at this hour?
COOPER: Yeah, the word that we have is that they are going to continue tonight. The sheriff had said, look, it's up to the pilots. When he talked to General Honore he had said that a lot of the choppers that they have are not capable of flying at night, especially in heavy winds but they do have some air assets that are.
So I think they are going to be trying to do as much as they can tonight but they don't want to endanger any of the first responders who are there and as you know, Paula, they have a number of boats in place ready to go but because of these high winds, they haven't been able to launch the boat, so they are very dependent right now on these air operations and it is very tricky at night in the high winds so they are continuing some operations. I think it's fair to say they are going to be limited in scope compared to what we have seen throughout the day and what we're going to see tomorrow, Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks, Anderson. See you in a little bit. When we come back we're going to travel to New Orleans, a place that was potentially thinking it was going to get re-flooded but I don't think anyone expected that parts of New Orleans were going to be under eight feet of water tonight. Some of that water coming on even before Rita hit. We'll explain why when we come back. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: At this hour, still trying to get our arms around a bunch of conflicting statistics about the impact of Hurricane Rita but these pictures say it all, helicopters helping rescue people tonight in southern Louisiana. These pictures supplied directly from the U.S. Coast Guard. They were taken in Lafitte, Louisiana, which is about 20 miles south of New Orleans. People who weathered the storm are being forced out of their homes by rising floodwaters there. Rita pushed water over the levees, drowning roads, buildings and homes.
But going back to the situation in Louisiana, we can now confirm the Coast Guard was responsible for the rescue of at least 60 people in distress in southwest Louisiana. Now, we mentioned some of the wrath of Rita and the problems it created for New Orleans, new flooding - still trying to recover from Katrina, of course.
The mayor, Ray Nagin, put it this way earlier today. "Katrina was the wash cycle, Rita was the rinse cycle."
New Orleans, of course, didn't get the major hit that so many dreaded, but some neighborhoods are back underwater again and in some cases under eight feet of water. Let's turn to Jeff Koinanage who is downtown in New Orleans tonight. Jeff, how much have you seen of this Lower Ninth Ward that I guess got really whacked again?
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Paula. We spent most of the morning in the Lower Ninth Ward and it was just that - at some point it was up to my knees, at other points way up to my waist, the water gushing from that Industrial Canal that according to the military cracked, that's the word they're using, it's cracked. But work crews, Paula, were working overtime today, trying to seal that so-called crack in the Industrial Canal and also another man-made canal.
Work crews working overtime, the Army Corps of Engineers trying to help them out, making sure they build that part just so that the water doesn't gush over into the Ninth Ward, St. Bernard's Parish, Orleans Parish. It's starting to look like what it was more than three weeks ago, Paula.
ZAHN: The bottom line, though, tonight, is the mayor is telling people don't even think about coming back here until Monday or Tuesday.
KOINANGE: Don't even think about it, Paula. Because of that water level, again, it's gushed up, it's up to people's knees, people's ankles, people's waists and he doesn't want any more people to cause more destruction by coming back. There's going to be so much confusion. He wants the workers to get in there, do their work, seal those levees and make sure once they're sealed and the water's pumped out again, then people can start coming back.
But here's a positive thing, Paula. The other day the 82 Airborne, who we were with most of this day, they told us because the Army Corps of Engineers did such a great job pumping water out during Katrina, it's going to take a lot less time pumping this water post- Rita.
ZAHN: Wish them luck. Rita certainly didn't help. Jeff Koinange in New Orleans, thank you for the update.
Joining me now from Baton Rouge, the president of the New Orleans City Council, Oliver Thomas, who knows an awful lot about the Lower Ninth Ward.
How concerned are you about this most recent flooding, sir?
OLIVER THOMAS, PRESIDENT, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL: Well, very concerned Paula. This morning we woke up and watching the television really last night, all of the calls around the country, a lot of people were really in shock to see the city flooding again, even with the storm not coming directly towards New Orleans.
I can tell you, I grew up in that area so this is the third time for my family and their property. I was one of those kids rescued in Betsy on top of the house so I don't - probably more depressed now because we were thinking about recovery and now we've been set back again, so this is really hard. It's really hard on all of us.
ZAHN: And, of course, now you have the governor of your state saying today that she's now worried about the overall integrity of these levees, that they may go completely. Are you worried about that?
THOMAS: Absolutely. It should be. I think - one of the things I learned from Chief Parent (ph) during the preparation meeting and listening to the professor from LSU did the slice (ph) models and that - and we all thought about this. What would happen if the water, because of the swiftness of the current and the power of the storm would burrow little holes and little pockets inside the levees? And I don't think anybody has taken that into consideration.
So we really need an assessment of the entire system, even some of those area in the state, around the region where people think they're safe. If you had that current to dig holes inside the levees, it could act like a mudslide, it could sit there until it gives out. We need the Corps to do a total assessment of the system and not just patchwork preparation but full restoration of the levee system so that it can withstand not just a 1, 2 or 3, but a Category 10 hurricane.
We want to be as safe as Holland is next to the North Sea.
ZAHN: Well, I think that is a debate that will be focused on pretty intensely from here. President Oliver Thomas, always glad to have you on here.
THOMAS: Everyone's really taken aback now so we just wish for the best. We need good news but we're happy for our friends in Texas and we're praying for our friends in Southwest Louisiana.
ZAHN: You deserve some good news after insult after insult, again, President Thomas, thanks.
Something that we haven't had a chance to talk about tonight but was a huge problem after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans was the problem of looting. Well, we're already seeing some evidence of that tonight. What's being done to keep homes and businesses secure along the whole Gulf Coast tonight? We'll have a look.
ZAHN: And we're back with the latest information we can find on the impact of Hurricane Rita.
About 50 miles north of where Rita came ashore is the town of Orange, Texas, which sits right on the border with Louisiana. The storm ripped through the town and so did some looters. Here's Dan Simon.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surfs up on Galveston and so are spirits of those who chose to ride out Rita.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sun's out, we didn't get flooded. What more can you ask for?
CALLEBS: Most landmarks on this barrier island escaped unscathed.
Luke's Deli is the place to be for food, drinks and gas. The cash register is ringing.
And the cook didn't sweat our Rita, that happened whipping up the day's special and serving people looking for a hot meal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turkey legs. Big crab turkey legs. They're right there.
CALLEBS: These are snapshots. This is the big picture. A ghost town. The mayor saying at least 95 percent of Galveston's residents followed a mandatory evacuation warning.
MAYOR LYDA ANN THOMAS, GALVESTON: I want to say clearly that the city of Galveston is not safe. It is not safe.
CALLEBS: Rita knocked down many power lines here. Sixty five percent of the island is still without electricity. Only essentially personnel are being allowed to return right now.
However, late in the day the mayor said all residents can return home Sunday morning.
THOMAS: To the citizens of Galveston who want to come back remember that the services are very limited. You need to understand that before you come home.
CALLEBS: This was Galveston at the height of the storm. Three buildings on fire, wind gusting close to 70 miles per hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All your embers were flying from the two building that were totally involved. We had another structure over here to the south catch on fire. We made a stop on that building there.
CALLEBS: He said that fire stop probably kept the entire block from erupting in flames. Daylight revealed more damage. A restaurant nearly a century old collapsed. A lot of debris. A little flooding.
The mayor wants people back, but on her terms. Long term locals say the storm scared them but.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can only keep some of 'em away so long. They got sand between their toes. They're sand crabs.
CALLEBS (on camera): And I am here to confirm what you may suspect. That wasn't a story on looting but how Galveston really prepared for the worst, but when the history is written about Rita, this area had a lot of anxiety and certainly some real disasters during the evening, but we'll say that it got off pretty much unscathed. Paula, back to you.
ZAHN: Glad to hear about that and on the issue of looting I guess everybody is hoping that the presence of some 36,000 National Guard troops in this region might discourage people from doing just that. Sean Callebs, glad Galveston got off the hook there, although obviously in some tame (ph) tonight but not as bad as expected.
We're going to take a short break. We're going to have more on Hurricane Rita right after this.
ZAHN: A lot of powerful lesions learned for Hurricane Katrina, particularly when it comes to the issue of looting and the folks are hopeful tonight that the presence of some 36,000 National Guard troops might discourage that, as well as some curfews that have been put into place not only in Texas but Louisiana as well.
We're going to take you to the town of Orange, Texas which sits right on the border with Louisiana, as you can see from this map here. The storm ripped through this town and apparently so did some looters. Here's Dan Simon.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look at this. The air ducts.
(voice-over): It looked like a bomb blasted through this Blockbuster Video in the small refinery town of Orange, Texas, the alarm still going off as we took a peak inside. DVDs thrown from their shelves as the forceful winds shattered the windows and created a tornado-like effect throughout the storm.
There didn't appear to be any looting here but police say other businesses did fall victim.
LARRY THURSTON, ORANGE RESIDENT: To me it's one of the lowest things you can do.
SIMON: The front door of this Radio Shack appeared to be deliberately smashed. In fact, authorities believe this entire strip mall was targeted by thieves.
But nature certainly caused the brunt of the damage here. A drive through town showed business after business and home after home heavily damaged by Rita's winds.
THURSTON: It scared me. Twenty inch oak tree coming through the roof of your house, that ain't not fun time. Scared me.
SIMON: Larry Thurston described the unforgettable horror when a tree ripped through his trailer, a familiar sight throughout this small town.
THURSTON: But perhaps the most unusual thing we saw, a stray llama, which had apparently got loose from its owner's back yard.
There were also plenty of lost and confused dogs. Orange fire captain Joe Myers offered this bleak assessment of his community.
JOE MYERS, ORANGE FIRE CAPTAIN: I would say every structure in this county has some form of damage or another. It's going to take us a while to rebuild and it's not going to seem the same without all of our trees. It's going to be a different place.
ZAHN: That was Dan Simon reporting. When we come back, some breaking news on the issue of natural gas pipelines erupting that could have impact on our gas supplies. The latest on that right after this.
ZAHN: And we've got some breaking news to share with you right now. We're just getting word of a hazardous materials team responding to a rupture in one of the natural gas distribution hubs that sends gas across the country. Officials on an aerial tour say they saw natural gas bubbling up from the Henry Hub in Vermillion Parish where flooding has been very severe.
During Hurricane Katrina the Henry Hub and others were actually shut down for a while and that happened to cause a spike in natural gas prices.
We're going to move back to Abbeville, Louisiana, which is where we find my colleague, Anderson Cooper. He is in an area where the local sheriff told me the floodwaters are rising as quickly as a foot an hour. That's remarkable.
COOPER: It is remarkable. This is Vermillion Parish where that other problem you just mentioned is also occurring. You know, this darkness is covering an awful lot and at this point we don't have a sense of what kind of an impact Rita has had in this parish and really throughout the state of Louisiana and Texas.
We have individual stories. We know that south of here in Abbeville there are numbers of people who need evacuation. Who were surprised by these rising floodwaters. Either they were people who didn't evacuate from the original storm or who did evacuate and decided to come back early today despite the warnings of elected officials, who said look, do not come back for at least 48 hours, so tomorrow morning when dawn comes, Paula, we'll see exactly what the situation is.
ZAHN: Well, I hope they listen, the governor saying please don't clog up our highways, don't waste our gas, we need it for the search rescue operation.
Anderson Cooper thanks so much for your update. Thank you all for joining us tonight. LARRY KING LIVE is next.
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