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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Former FEMA Director Grilled Over Hurricane Katrina Response; Interview With Housing & Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson
Aired September 27, 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 ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you all with us tonight.
Suffering along the Texas-Louisiana coast and name-calling back in Washington are tonight's top headlines.
I want to bring you quickly up to speed right now. The victims of Hurricane Rita will get $2,000 per household, just like the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The money will come in a check and is supposed to be used for transportation, food, clothing and rental housing.
President Bush made that announcement during his seventh visit to the Gulf Coast disaster zones, touring Texas and Louisiana today. The president asked evacuees not to return home until their electricity and water services are restored. That could take many weeks.
Also tonight, the overall death toll from Hurricane Katrina now stands at 1,119. That makes it the third deadliest storm in U.S. history, after the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and a Florida storm back in 1928. Hurricane Rita is blamed for seven deaths so far.
And there's a ton of political fallout from the storms. New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass surprised everyone this afternoon by announcing his retirement. He didn't give a reason. That announcement came several hours after we learned that 249 New Orleans police officers -- that is about 15 percent of the force -- will be investigated for going AWOL when Katrina hit.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, some very serious finger-pointing. Former FEMA Director Michael Brown told a sometimes incredulous House committee that the slow response to Hurricane Katrina is the fault of, in his word, dysfunctional state and local officials in Louisiana.
Well, Brown's finger-pointing today caused some lawmakers to hit the ceiling.
Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry watched the fireworks and just filed this report.
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Brown was grilled for over six hours and spent most of the time shifting blame.
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional.
HENRY: Brown was referring to the weekend before Katrina hit, when Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin were slow to call for a mandatory evacuation. The former FEMA director charged, that delay was a tipping point for everything that went wrong.
RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: I think it's unfortunate. I think that for a FEMA director to be in Washington and trying to deflect the attention off of his performance is unbelievable to me.
HENRY: The reaction was just as rough in the hearing room, especially when Brown claimed he was merely a coordinator during the crisis.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: And that's why I'm happy you left, because that kind of, you know, look in the lights like a deer tells me that you weren't capable to do the job. I would have liked you to do...
BROWN: I take great umbrage to that comment, Congressman.
BROWN: Because FEMA -- what people are missing is in this entire conversation is the fact that FEMA did more in Hurricane Katrina than it did in Charlie in Florida and the others.
SHAYS: Why is that relevant?
BROWN: We moved all of those in there. We did all of those things. And things were working in Mississippi and things were working in Alabama.
SHAYS: But, see, why I don't...
BROWN: So I guess you want me to be this superhero that is going to step in there and suddenly take everybody out of New Orleans.
SHAYS: No, what I wanted you to do was do your job of coordinating.
HENRY: Brown claimed that, before the storm, he privately warned the Bush administration and unnamed lawmakers that FEMA was not getting enough funding. This led a Republican to charge, the reason Brown is still on the federal payroll for another month is that he is being paid back for not going public with the budget problems.
SHAYS: And so I'm left with the feeling like the administration feels they have to protect you because you warned them. But you didn't warn us.
BROWN: Well, you should come over here and sit in this chair and see how protected you feel; feel how it feels to be yanked out of where you were trying to do your damndest to make something work and told to go back home; and make the decision that you're going to quit because you're no longer effective, that you're no longer effective because the media is spreading lies about a resume...
SHAYS: No, because you didn't do a good job is why you were let go, because you were clueless about what was happening
HENRY: Only two Democrats showed up for a hearing, with most boycotting because they say the Republican-led probe will let the White House off the hook. They want an investigation by an independent commission instead. But Republicans did press Brown when he tried to dodge a question about his conversations with President Bush and top aides about Katrina.
REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: Excuse me, Mr. Brown, you discussed it with The New York Times.
DAVIS: So, I think at least what you shared with "The New York Times," I think you can share with this committee.
BROWN: I told them we needed help.
ZAHN: That was Ed Henry reporting.
At one point during today's hearing, a Republican congressman complained that the Bush administration values loyalty more than competence or even the truth. Michael Brown's pre-government career has very little to do with disaster relief.
Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has an eye-opening look at how Brown and many other top officials in Washington got their jobs.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Brown is friends with Joe Allbaugh, who was campaign director for George Bush, who became president, and put Allbaugh in the top job at FEMA.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I picked him because he's a good man and knows how to run a very important organization. And I'm proud of my friend.
CROWLEY: Allbaugh brought Brown, a former commission of International Arabian Horse Association, to FEMA. Eventually, Allbaugh resigned. And Democrats say the rest of the story is a disaster spelled with a capital C.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We still have a -- here in the White House a aura of cronyism.
CROWLEY: Brown is exhibit A, but not the whole case. This is the plum book. It's not about color. It's about the jobs. PAUL LIGHT, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: You can go through it and select the position and the title that you might like to have, like the associate deputy undersecretary of interior. Now, that's a nice title, isn't it? Or chief of staff to the assistant secretary of education. That has a nice ring to it for my resume.
CROWLEY: If you helped the president get elected or know somebody who knows somebody who did, then the plum book is a must-read of 3,000 political appointment slots.
LARRY NOBLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: These are jobs in the government that basically bypass the civil service rules about that the president, the White House, can make appointments to, without having to worry about all the civil service rules about exams, qualifications, seniority and those type of things. They are the spoils of war, if you will. They are the spoils of the election.
CROWLEY: 'Twas ever thus. JFK made his brother attorney general. Bill Clinton put his wife in charge of a health care plan. The difference may be that George Bush is very, very good at it.
LIGHT: I have never seen an administration, I have never studied an administration that has used its political appointees more effectively as an extension of the president's own belief system.
CROWLEY: David Safavian once partnered with Grover Norquist, a political ally of President Bush. Safavian became the administration's chief procurement officer, overseeing $300 billion a year in government contracts.
LIGHT: Oh, my God, I mean, on the top 10 list of bad appointments.
CROWLEY: A "TIME" magazine investigation interviewed 12 federal procurement officers who called Safavian the most unqualified person to ever held the job.
(on camera): The head of administration personnel told "TIME" magazine Safavian was by far the most qualified person for the job. Meantime, Safavian quit his job earlier this month and was arrested on charges of obstructing and lying in a criminal investigation unrelated to his job. His lawyer says he will fight the charges vigorously.
(voice-over): The current ambassador to Canada, a former state lawmaker and Bush fund-raiser, said prior to his confirmation that he has seen Canada once 30 years ago. The appointments of both men and Brown's appointment as deputy FEMA director were all approved by Congress.
Bush critics, armed with similar cases, say this is not about giving jobs to friends. It's about giving jobs to unqualified friends. The head of Bush administration personnel declined to be interviewed for this story. But, recently, he denied anyone has gotten a job in this town by knowing somebody who knows somebody.
ZAHN: That was Candy Crowley reporting for us tonight.
The "TIME" investigation she mentioned is in this week's issue of "TIME" magazine. And it asks the disturbing questions, how many more Mike Browns are out there? The magazine's inquiry concludes that the Bush administration is putting connections before experience for top positions in some vital government agencies.
Karen Tumulty is one of the authors of that article. She joins us from Washington and came prepared to name some names tonight.
So, Karen, we just heard Candy mention some names and what she saw as evidence of cronyism. You have come armed with a couple other names, people you think might not have been qualified for key posts.
Let's start off by talking about Julie Myers. Julie Myers is a nominee for the position of head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She would be in charge of the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and would be leading the charge on money laundering, drug and arms smuggling, immigration violations and potential terrorism. Her connections? Julie Myers happens to be married to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's chief of staff and is the niece of Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Myers' nomination hasn't been approved yet, but, clearly, you think is this is an underqualified person.
KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Yes.
This is -- this is a job, because it has so many enormous responsibilities and not to mention a $4 billion budget and 20,000 employees to supervise, where security experts were really expecting a real heavyweight in law enforcement management. What they got was a 36-year-old woman who has never supervised even 200 employees and who barely has the minimum of five years of experience required under law.
ZAHN: Do you think she has any strengths at all?
TUMULTY: Well, she is -- everyone I talked to about her said she's very intelligent, that she is very assertive, and that she has done very, very well in a number of much smaller jobs that she has had in this administration. Right now, she is a White House aide.
ZAHN: Let's go on to the issue of FDA Deputy Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. And we will put up on the screen now some of things about his background we think you ought to know.
He is the second in command at the FDA, in addition to policy duties, is one of the few at the helm of the safety of all drugs and medical devices in this country. His connections? Gottlieb is a longtime friend and colleague of FDA chief Mark McClellan, who happens to be the brother of White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Those connections don't seem all that indicting, Karen. Are they?
TUMULTY: Well, he's -- actually, Mark McClellan is a former FDA chief.
In Scott McClellan's (sic) case, the real question are the other connections he brought into the job. Two months ago, he was running a Wall Street newsletter that was essentially picking stocks, hot biotech stocks for the future. Before he took the job, he had to reaccuse himself from any dealings involving nine companies that he has had business relationships with and that the FDA regulates.
Now, when I interviewed him last week, he said it would be improper for him to be getting involved into any drug safety decisions, that, in fact, he doesn't have the expertise, that he would need to defer to the agency's scientists on this.
However, "TIME" uncovered not one, but two instances, through internal e-mails in the last two weeks, where Scott Gottlieb has second-guessed decisions that agency scientists have made regarding, in one case, holding up a drug trial and, in another, keeping a drug off the market.
ZAHN: To be perfectly fair here and, briefly, Karen, other presidents have done this as well, like Democratic presidents, right?
TUMULTY: Well, one we can think of is President Bill Clinton, who put his wife in charge of his biggest domestic policy initiative.
ZAHN: Oh, yes. And who can forget that firestorm. We were all in the middle of it, covering it.
Karen Tumulty, thank you for dropping by tonight. Appreciate it.
TUMULTY: Thanks a lot, Paula.
ZAHN: Our pleasure.
A stunning new development in New Orleans today reignites a scandal that shocked this whole country. Why did hundreds of police officers simply vanish in the days after Hurricane Katrina? In a minute, one of them tries to explain why he went AWOL.
ZAHN: Now it's time to turn to the situation on the ground in Louisiana tonight and the destruction caused by Hurricane Rita.
Some residents of the parishes south and west of New Orleans went back to what's left of their homes today to clear some of the debris and try to begin the process of assessing the damage. That was the story in Vermilion Parish, where the storm literally drowned some communities and left acres of debris.
Our Ed Lavandera spent the day with some people who are now trying to put their lives back together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my kitchen.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mona Haynes (ph) expected to come back to her home near Henry, Louisiana, and see it just as she had left it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come see the mud on this side.
LAVANDERA: After all, she has lived here 50 years and the home has withstood it all.
They had told me a little bit water in the house. I didn't think anything like this at all.
LAVANDERA: Almost two feet of water and now her daughter and friends are helping clean up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just sit in a corner and cry.
LAVANDERA: The experience has left Haynes a little numb. Many of her belongings are being piled up in the front yard. It's times like this, she says, that make you grateful to have family around.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to get through this. I'm so thankful to have such a good daughter. I don't know if you can say it's consoling to know that others are in the same position that you are. But, in a sense, it is. You're not the only one. And we're lucky, very lucky.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was my favorite tree. It sure was. It was a beautiful, beautiful tree.
LAVANDERA: Bobby Ducet (ph) likes to say that he's the unluckiest man in Welsh, Louisiana. In a town where most homes escaped serious structural damage, a 100-foot water oak tree crashed into the dream home he built with his own hands.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. You don't feel good about it. But it's wood and drywall and paint that can be redone.
And this is what it looks from the inside.
LAVANDERA: Ducet is a carpenter and plans to rebuild his home again for his wife and two children. He says his family's roots are in this town and he's not going anywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it, my final destination in life. That's right. It sure is.
LAVANDERA: That kind of optimism and perseverance are easy to find all over south Louisiana. But 69-year-old Mona Haynes wants her neighbors to remember something else, too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enjoy life while you can. I keep telling that to my two brothers. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ZAHN: We spoke last night with the Vermilion Parish Sheriff Michael Couvillon, who was in need of emergency supplies and clearly angry with FEMA.
Let's see if anything has changed tonight.
Sheriff Michael Couvillon joins me again.
Always good to see you, sir.
Have you gotten anything more of what you need?
Sheriff, this is Paula Zahn? Can you hear me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you hear Paula? Can you hear Paula?
MICHAEL COUVILLON, SHERIFF, VERMILION PARISH: I don't hear a thing she's saying.
ZAHN: All right. I'm going to take one more attempt, as we try to work out our audit board here. Once again, the communications aren't perfect between New York and Vermilion Parish once again.
Sheriff, can hear me now? Paula here.
COUVILLON: Now I can hear you.
ZAHN: OK, sir.
So, are you still angry with FEMA tonight?
I had a meeting with them this afternoon and they explained to me what they were here for. They was not first-responders. They were here to bring food, water and supplies, ice and generators, if available.
ZAHN: But your folks are in pretty bad shape. What other kind of help could you use from the federal government, this many days after Rita struck?
COUVILLON: Well, as the sheriff, my job was to evacuate, search, seize and rescue. And I didn't work with FEMA at all. I was worried about evacuating the parish and searching and rescuing and keeping the parish secure.
ZAHN: Sheriff, we're looking at some absolutely horrendous pictures of the damage in your community. I think you were describing as to one point, in some places in your parish, water rising anywhere from a half-foot to a foot an hour.
As begin to see the waters recede, what is going to be the biggest challenge for your community? COUVILLON: To try to rebuild. Hopefully, they'll keep their faith and believe in God and pray for some good to come out of all of this, which might be impossible, but it sure made the parish a whole lot closer and they appreciate help from all the outsiders.
ZAHN: And you, more than anybody else, though, showed great courage. You actually helped rescue members of your own family. Do you have a sliver of hope tonight about what lies ahead for a community that has been totally decimated?
COUVILLON: Just stay together. Don't start arguing with each other. Everybody is tired, frustrated with their loss. And they need to keep their chin up and just try to start their lives all over.
ZAHN: Well, we wish you luck. I will tell you, when you see those pictures, you know it is going to take a long time to rebuild.
Sheriff Michael Couvillon, thanks for your patience. Thanks for your time.
Now, just hours ago, a bombshell shook the New Orleans Police Department, which was already feeling the desertions and disorganization in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. This afternoon, the department's superintendent, Eddie Compass, suddenly resigned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDDIE COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I have served this department for over 26 years. And I have been the pleasure to be superintendent for over three-and-a-half years. I have taken this department through some of the toughest times in its history. And I'm very proud of men and women of this New Orleans Police Department.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: There is a lot of speculation tonight, though, whether Compass was actually fired by Mayor Nagin of New Orleans.
According to the "New Orleans Times-Picayune" Web site -- that's the local paper there -- nola.com, although Compass offered no specific reason for retiring, apparently, his announcement came shortly after a private meeting with the mayor. And last week, it was Nagin's office that released a statement saying Compass' statements about taking guns from people coming back to New Orleans were issued without the knowledge or approval of the mayor.
But it's still not clear tonight whether any of that led to Compass' departure.
Our Mary Snow joins me from New Orleans.
Mary, you have been tracking this story all afternoon long. What is the reaction there? Did he retire or was he booted?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Paula, I talked to the head of police association, who says he has known Eddie Compass for more than 20 years on a personal level and he has worked for him.
And he says he was very surprised by this news. And Mayor Ray Nagin earlier tonight said that he asked the press to please respect Compass' privacy, that this was a personal decision. But, clearly, one is going to ask, was he forced out? Neither one of them are saying. And when I talked to the head of the police association, he says only two people know the answer to that question, Mayor Nagin and Eddie Compass. And both of them aren't talking about it.
ZAHN: You have to imagine, though, no matter what the reasons are for the resignation, this is going to have a negative impact on morale, morale that's already been suppressed during this whole Katrina and Rita nightmare.
And during the whole storm, at the time that everything started really getting chaotic, Eddie Compass had said there were more than 500 officers who couldn't be accounted for. Now 200 -- around 250 of them are facing investigation about where they went during the storm. And that was talked about today. They're going to take this case by case.
And now their leader is gone. So, clearly, there is going to -- there is a crisis in this department. And one has to wonder how much this is going to affect morale, this as the city is really trying to rebuild and get people back in here.
ZAHN: And we have been led to believe the superintendent will only stay on now for another 30 days.
Mary Snow, thanks so much for the update.
As for the desertions Mary just mentioned in the aftermath of Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department is confirming that about 249 officers -- that's about 15 percent of the force -- will actually be investigated for going AWOL after the hurricane. Were they all turncoats or traitors?
Well, Jason Carroll spoke exclusively with one cop who thinks he had a very good reason to leave.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing, man? Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the days of lawlessness, looting and flooding, something happened few people in New Orleans imagines was possible. Hundreds of police officers, like Lieutenant Henry Waller, abandoned their fellow officers and thousands of evacuees when they were needed most.
LT. HENRY WALLER, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I defend it by saying that I left them in a bad situation, but I have would have been leaving my wife in a worse situation.
CARROLL: Waller explained how it happened, saying, Tuesday, August 30, the day after Katrina hit New Orleans, the situation was grave.
H. WALLER: We listened to the radio. And we're hearing the things, the water is still rising. The water is still rising. The water is still rising. The looting is this. The looting is that.
CARROLL: That Tuesday, as 80 percent of New Orleans lay under water, Waller says he told another officer he would get supplies. Waller drove an hour away to Baton Rouge, where stores were open. It was also where his wife was staying with his family. She was upset, fearing something had happened to her father in hurricane-damaged Mississippi. Still, after getting the supplies, Waller says he went back to New Orleans, where he heeded a state trooper's warning at the city's checkpoint.
H. WALLER: And I started thinking. I said, well, you know, we have been hearing this story about the levees breaching all day. What if they're right and I get stuck in this car? I'm no good dead. And so, we will go back tonight. You know, and I will head back in the morning, once we have a better grasp of what is going on.
CARROLL: But Waller did not go back Wednesday morning. He stayed with his family and canceled plans to return to New Orleans Thursday, when his wife got news her father may have drowned. He's listed as missing.
CYNTHEIA WALLER, WIFE OF NEW ORLEANS POLICE OFFICER: I need my husband. And if they want to blame somebody for him leaving, tell them to blame me, because it was me who was literally begging him to stay. Call me a coward. Call me selfish.
H. WALLER: In a time of ultimate crisis, who needs me more, the police department or my wife? And it was a no-brainer for me.
CARROLL: Lieutenant Troy Savage says officers like him, who stayed, resent fellow cops like Waller, who didn't.
LT. TROY SAVAGE, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Everybody had a wife. Everybody has got families. Everybody needed to see them. But we didn't. We all didn't flee. We all didn't run in a time of crisis. And he did that.
CARROLL: Two hundred AWOL officers like Waller have asked to or already have returned to work.
EDDIE COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I knew who the warriors were and who wasn't.
CARROLL: Police Department Superintendent Eddie Compass says all AWOL cops will have hearings to determine whether they can keep their jobs.
COMPASS: We are going to evaluate our whole police department and after-action program. The heroics will be rewarded and the cowardice will be punished.
CARROLL: Compass suspects many officers will be fired. But Savage think there's a worse punishment.
SAVAGE: If I had done that, how do you face your children and try to make them do the right thing ever again? Where is your moral authority over your children or your spouse or anybody? You have -- you've lost it.
H. WALLER: People are going to have their opinions. I can only hope that, over time, people will understand.
CARROLL: Maybe, over time, some people will find understanding. But forgiveness might be more difficult.
ZAHN: Jason Carroll reporting.
The New Orleans Police Department says the outcome of these investigations of AWOL officers will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Once again, the superintendent of police, Eddie Compass, announcing his resignation earlier today. He expects to stay on perhaps as long as just 30 days.
Now, I'm sure you all hate pulling up to the gas pump these days. Even President Bush is calling on Americans to conserve gas by driving less. So, would you care to guess what kind of fuel bill he's running off every time he jets off to the Gulf Coast. Suzanne Malveaux has been adding up the numbers. Brace yourselves for the grand total on the other side.
ZAHN: Well, you probably don't want me to remind you of this. The average price of a gallon of gasoline has climbed to $2.81 this week. And maybe you heard that President Bush was urging us all to conserve gas.
But did you realize the president has made an average of one trip to the Gulf Coast every four days since Katrina?
Here's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time, the former Texas-oil-man-turned-president called on Americans to conserve.
BUSH: I want to thank -- I mean, people just need to recognize that these storms have caused disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive on a trip that's nonessential, that would be helpful. MALVEAUX: A polite suggestion that was immediately followed by an announcement that Mr. Bush would be traveling to hurricane country for the seventh time.
Tuesday, a stop in Beaumont, Texas, and an aerial tour of the Texas-Louisiana border, where refineries produce about 10 percent of the country's gasoline.
BUSH: I saw first-hand how it's hurting.
MALVEAUX: Critics say the president's trips are no more than gas-guzzling photo-ops aimed at improving his image. The White House says it's just the cost of doing business.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I do think there's value in the president going to the Gulf Coast as frequently as he has and in calling for more conservation. But if he really wants to get the nation's attention, then he's going to have to do serious things, hard things.
MALVEAUX: So, what is the cost of moving the president? The White House won't say. But according to the Air Force, as of a month ago, the approximately 4,000 gallons of jet fuel needed to fly the biggest plane in the Air Force One fleet cost just more than $6,000 an hour, compared to about $4,000 an hour last year.
Once on the ground, the president's motorcade typically is made up of well over a dozen vehicles, including two presidential limousines, an ambulance, vans and SUVs carrying Secret Service and the press.
MALVEAUX (on camera): The White House says that it's doing its part to conserve energy by directing staff to cut out unnecessary travel and to turn off lights and computers after hours.
(voice-over): The press secretary says even expect the president's motorcade to shrink. Curiously, on this trip, it was one of the press vans that had to go.
ZAHN: Figure that. That's Suzanne Malveaux.
And just we have this breaking news in from Fort Hood, Texas, tonight. Private Lynndie England has been sentenced to three years for her role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Yesterday, a military court found her guilty of six out of seven counts. She could have gotten up to nine years in prison.
England, who posed thumbs-up with naked prisoners and with a prisoner on a leash, is the last soldier to be tried for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Once again, Private Lynndie England gets three years in a military prison for her role at Abu Ghraib.
Just ahead, we have an eye-opening look at what many victims of Katrina and Rita may have to look forward to. Would you like to live like this? Our Susan Candiotti has been looking into what happened to some victims of last year's hurricane in Florida. What she found will shock you.
ZAHN: Hundreds of thousands of families left homeless by Katrina may land in mobile home parks set up by FEMA. It's a rerun on a much bigger scale of what happened after hurricanes in Florida last year, when FEMA set up trailer parks in places like Punta Gorda. Free rent for more than a year sounds pretty good, but I want you to see what it's really like for a lot of people still living out of FEMA trailers in Florida.
Here's national correspondent Susan Candiotti.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FEMA's emergency housing trailers in Punta Gorda, Florida, stretch as far as the eye can see. They were put here as an oasis for last year's homeless after Hurricane Charley. But many residents call it a nightmare.
DOYLA LANE, RESIDENT: It's all identical. You cannot have no individuality.
CANDIOTTI: Doyla Lane is a single mom.
LANE: There is just always something. If you get two nights out of the week where you don't see the blue lights flying in here, a fight out here, somebody trying to stab somebody, something, you're doing good.
CANDIOTTI: Lane and her two children, Kevin (ph) and Rachel (ph), are among about 2,000 hurricane victims shoehorned into 500 mobile homes.
(on camera): Doyla, if you could move out here tomorrow, would you?
LANE: Yes. I would be ready to go in less than an hour.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): But like many other families, Doyla Lane cannot afford to leave. In some ways, FEMA park has been a lifesaver, live rent free for 18 months while looking for a new home. But crime that can be found in any neighborhood, the sheriff, here seems magnified among these hurricane victims.
JOHN DAVENPORT, SHERIFF OF CHARLOTTE COUNTY, FLORIDA: They don't necessarily want to be here. But it's better than not having a home at all. And so, you get a lot of stress and a lot of post-traumatic problems from the hurricane.
CANDIOTTI: It took several months for FEMA to pay for police patrols and a guard at the entrance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anywhere from thefts to burglaries to assaults, batteries, domestics. Pretty much everything that we get on the road, we also get here.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): I have counted up basically 14 attempted suicides since this park opened. What do you make of that number, given the size?
DAVENPORT: Stress. Stress. I mean, I think it's a little high for a community that you would have in a normal community of this size.
ROBERT HEBERT, CHARLOTTE COUNTY RECOVERY DIRECTOR: And there you see FEMA off on our left.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Charlotte County's man in charge of long-term relocation showed us how the park's isolation makes the problem worse.
HEBERT: As you said, we are about 10 miles away from town. There's no grocery store. There's a 7/Eleven. If somebody wants to just get a Coke, they have got to either get a cab or drive up the road 10 miles.
CANDIOTTI: Isolated from town, but not from each other.
(on camera): There's no room for a yard and virtually no privacy, only about 20 feet separating neighbor from neighbor. Take a walk into the street and this is what you see, row after row after row of trailers. And for many of these residents, nothing better is on the horizon.
GERRY SAWYER, RESIDENT: All five of us were going to live in this little car.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): That was before FEMA came through with a mobile home last Christmas for Sue and Gerry Sawyer and their three children. But, since then, the Sawyers have not found an affordable home. Officials say real estate has skyrocketed since Charley.
G. SAWYER: Some of the apartments we have applied for which have guaranteed $625, $700 a month, they have got a two-year waiting list.
CANDIOTTI: While daughter Cassandra (ph) donates pennies to the newest hurricane victims, her parents worry they're running out of time. In four months, the leases on all these trailers expire.
(on camera): Come February, what are you going to do?
SUE SAWYER, RESIDENT: I don't know what we're going to do. We're living hand to mouth right now. Every time I think, you know, I have got some money saved, something happens. My car dies. I'm going to lose my job if I can't get to work, so I'm paying for a cab.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): FEMA says it's done what it can. MILDRED ACEVEDO, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: They had signed a contract, so it's not like it's taken them by surprise. They had 18 months to work, to look for permanent housing, to save up money, which is one of the reasons why we do it rent free.
CANDIOTTI: Critics call these big isolated FEMA parks a mistake. Housing policy expert Ronald Utt says, use residential vouchers for victims of Rita and Katrina, go smaller and closer to communities.
DR. RONALD UTT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: There's a lot of cities in the Southeast in Texas and Alabama and Mississippi and over into Florida and Georgia that were not devastated, which have active, lively rental markets with lots of decent apartments and lots of vacancies.
CANDIOTTI: Small comfort for Doyla Lane, who just got a job as a security guard and wonders what's ahead for her family.
LANE: It's not that I'm ungrateful. I just want my own place.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): Where would you like to live?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a big, huge mansion.
CANDIOTTI: And if you couldn't get a big, huge mansion, what would be your second choice?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little small house.
ZAHN: I hope he gets one of the two. That was Susan Candiotti reporting.
We invited FEMA to respond to this report. But, instead, the administration referred us to Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson. His department is not in charge of FEMA, but, as of last week, was ordered to work in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to help Katrina victims find housing.
And Secretary Jackson joins me now.
Thanks so much for joining us, sir.
Can you guarantee tonight that victims of Hurricane Katrina won't have to live the way these residents have lived in these trailer parks?
ALPHONSO JACKSON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Yes, I can. And I can tell you why, because, last week, we approved a voucher program for up to 18 months.
And, in that voucher program, it gives the -- those persons who have been displaced the right to find the apartment complex, the home or single-family home, a duplex as to where they want to live. Therefore, they're not being forced into an area that, in six or seven months, might be the same as the -- as we have just talked about, the trailer parks.
ZAHN: Let's look at the breakdown of the program you're now offering. Each eligible household will get an initial payment of $2,300 over three months. That's $786 a month. But, as you just saw, some people have waited for two years and still haven't gotten an apartment for that amount of money. So, what are you going to do to help those people out and make sure that doesn't happen?
JACKSON: Well, first of all, the people, unlike in Florida, they're not all in the same place. You have some in Texas. You have some in Pennsylvania, some in Ohio.
They're spread out, because they went to many different parts of this country. So, the market is very, very soft in most of the part -- most parts of country, other than really the East and the West Coast. So, what we will do is make sure that the fair-market rent in each one of those cities -- now, it might be $725 in Dallas, but it might be $825 in Chicago. We will adjust that amount so to make sure that they will be able to get an apartment that is decent, safe and will be -- meet their needs to live well.
ZAHN: And, Mr. Secretary, you're not concerned at all that demand will exceed supply in any of these other places you're talking about?
JACKSON: No, because we have talked to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We have talked to the National Association of Counties.
And we realize that, right now, if we just look around the country, within a 500-mile radius, we can find 43,000 units around New Orleans that many of these people can rent or homes, single-family homes, that they can rent. But the real key question is, is that we will adjust the rent to make sure that it meets the fair-market needs. So, even though we say only average, it will probably be $725. In certain areas, it will be much higher than that.
ZAHN: Secretary Jackson, thank you for clarifying all that for us tonight. Good luck, sir.
JACKSON: Thank you.
ZAHN: Appreciate your time.
I want you to stay with us for a walk through a special New Orleans neighborhood. It wasn't the richest place in the city, far from it. But the people who lived here want you to know their stories about the place they used to call home.
ZAHN: There are a number of important stories outside of the disaster zone to talk about tonight. Erica Hill at Headline News joins us now to update the hour's other stop stories.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Paula. The price of gasoline jumped above $3 a gallon again in many areas today, sparking fears of a possible fuel shortage; 25 percent of the country's refinery and energy production remain offline because of hurricane damage. Some analysts think the shortfall will last at least a month.
Al Qaeda is denying he was a major player, but Iraqi officials are calling Abu Azzam's death the most important get in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was captured. The Pentagon says Azzam was responsible for Baghdad bombings the killed hundreds of Iraqis.
Another man has been arrested in the failed July 21st London bombings. Four other suspects are in custody. The dud bombs were planted two weeks after the suicide bombings that killed 52 people.
And finally, Paula, a U.S. Census Bureau survey shows, for the first time, there are more than one million homes in the U.S. worth at least $1 million. That also happens to be the average price of an apartment in Manhattan. Actually, it' just over $1 million.
That's going to do it for us in Atlanta -- Paula, back to you.
ZAHN: Thanks for the reality check, Erica.
There is a neighborhood in New Orleans that didn't just flood once. The Lower Ninth Ward was inundated twice. And coming up next, John King takes us on an emotional walk through the streets of memories and mud. Should they even try to rebuild?
ZAHN: New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward took the worst of the flooding from Katrina and was drenched again by Rita. The poorest people in New Orleans live there. And now community leaders are bracing for a battle over whether these people will ever be able to go home again.
Here's chief national correspondent John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The water is finally receding in the Lower Ninth Ward, exposing the incomprehensible destruction and offering clues to a neighborhood now in shambles.
There was a little girl with a pink bike, a woman in white shoes. If Ophelia Jackson (ph) made it out alive, she left her purse and her car keys behind. It will be a long time before the Gospel choirs return, maybe too long for the elderly who lived in the small, narrow homes.
(on camera): What goes through your mind?
CYNTHIA WILLARD-LEWIS, NEW ORLEANS COUNCILWOMAN: Oh, it breaks my heart, because every house represents a family. And the family is not here. And so, I pray that they did not lose a loved one.
KING (voice-over): City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis represents the Lower Ninth Ward and is among those concerned, what is rebuilt here will be very different from what stood here just a few weeks ago.
WILLARD-LEWIS: I'm not so foolish as to believe that other agendas are not being fashioned. I would imagine that individuals who focus on the wealth of the land, who focus on the fact that, perhaps, with higher integrity of the levee system, high-rise buildings might be fashionable and trendy.
KING: Fashionable and trendy were not words used to describe the neighborhood where these newspapers warning of what was coming were never delivered; 98 percent of the ward's population was African- American. The average annual income was $27,500, less than half the national average.
And 54 percent of Ninth Ward residents were renters, giving them little say over what happens next here.
(on camera): This is the wreckage of the levee that was designed to protect this neighborhood. When it gave way, the waters flooded in, destroying the homes and the lives of these people with it. You can see it extending for dozens and dozens of feet down the way, again, a wall designed to protect a community now lying, a very symbol of the destruction here.
But if you lift your eyes above the destruction, you see downtown New Orleans just off in the distance. It is that proximity to the center of the city that has many of the poor people who lived here just a few weeks ago worried that, when this is all cleaned up, people with a lot more money than they have will want the land.
(voice-over): This service is 75 miles from New Orleans, Bishop C. Garnett Henning forced to relocate to Baton Rouge, because his Union Bethel AME Church in the Lower Ninth Ward was destroyed in the flooding after Katrina and Rita.
BISHOP C. GARNETT HENNING, UNION BETHEL AME CHURCH: My motto is never, ever give. And that's the way we are going to approaching it. And I'm telling that to the people of our churches. If we let it go quietly, we will lose. The poor people will lose without an advocate.
KING: Willard-Lewis wants guarantees affordable housing will be built and that those forced to leave will have the first chance to move back to the neighborhood Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Fats Domino calls home.
WILLARD-LEWIS: He could live anywhere in the world. He could live in Paris. He could live in London. But he chooses to live in the historic Lower Ninth Ward, on Monday, fixes red beans and rice for all the brothers in the hood.
KING: The debate over what comes next is just beginning, this FEMA team a reminder of a much more urgent priority. Twelve square blocks of the Lower Ninth have still not been searched to take a toll of the dead.
ZAHN: John King reporting for us tonight.
We will take a short break and we will be right back.
ZAHN: And before we leave you tonight, I want to take a second to set something straight.
During my conversation with "TIME" magazines' Karen Tumulty, she misspoke regarding an FDA official's name upon second reference, calling Scott Gottlieb Scott McClellan, who is the White House spokesman. And we mistakenly showed Scott McClellan's picture. They're obviously two different people. And we apologize for that.
And we want to thank you all for being with us tonight. Glad you could drop by. We will be back same time, same place tomorrow night.
In the meantime, "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
Good night, everyone.
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