Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Katrina: Storm of a Lifetime

Aired August 29, 2006 - 20:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from New Orleans, where it is a far better evening than a year ago, when people all along the Gulf Coast were inundated by Katrina, the storm of a lifetime.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The destruction was unprecedented, the images unforgettable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have no running water. We can't bathe ourselves. We hungry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't either.

O'BRIEN: From Louisiana...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are running out of time.

O'BRIEN: ... across Mississippi, to Alabama, Katrina smashed thousands of homes, took more than 1,800 lives

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All these people you see here dying, it's your fault.

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here.

O'BRIEN: The successes and the failures.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have been out here for three days.

O'BRIEN: A year of hope and despair.


BUSH: This recovery will take a long time.

O'BRIEN: A year after Katrina.


ANNOUNCER: "Katrina: Storm of a Lifetime," a PAULA ZAHN NOW special. O'BRIEN: And welcome to New Orleans. One year later, it is hazy and humid and hot, in the 90s, just about the same weather as a year ago, right after Hurricane Katrina blew away.

The city looks better, certainly, but it is a bittersweet anniversary. A brand-new poll shows, a majority of Americans, six in 10, say they're pessimistic about New Orleans' future. They say they believe the city will never completely recover.

Of course, it all depends on where you look.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): A year after the storm, much of the city of New Orleans is under construction. Other areas still bear the deep scars of Katrina from a year ago.

PHYLLIS MONTANA LEBLANC, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: I am a very, by nature, strong person. But this knocked me down.

O'BRIEN: I went back to New Orleans with three people who spent days in places that would come to symbolize the despair of Katrina and the hope.

DENISE THORNTON, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Oh, it looks great now. It was trashed.

O'BRIEN: Denise Thornton had gone to the Superdome for safety, but then took on another mission, thanks to her husband, who was, coincidentally, the general manager of the facility. With groceries and basic necessities, she immediately started helping some of the others.

THORNTON: The lines were very long. And we have done this before. It is a refuge for special-needs patients. I usually come and help out with the special-needs patients, serve the food.

O'BRIEN: As the largest building in New Orleans, the dome was designated the city's shelter of last resort. They weren't prepared for this.

THORNTON: The rain was coming in, and that the roof was blowing off, and it was -- it was very noisy. It sounded like a subway. It was just really, really loud. And the crowd was starting to panic.

O'BRIEN: There was food, but, with almost 30,000 people with nowhere to go, and tough conditions, the atmosphere grew tense.

THORNTON: Every five minutes, I thought I was leaving. And help would never come. So, yes, I got discouraged. I was fearful.

O'BRIEN: Denise spent five days at the Superdome.

THORNTON: I did wonder how much longer. I thought, could I be here for two weeks? I wasn't afraid that I would run out of food or water. I knew that, somehow, we would live. UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALE: We want help. We want help.

O'BRIEN: Less than a mile away, thousands started gathering outside the Convention Center. A rumor brought them there, and they were hoping for a way out of their nightmare.

Herbert Freeman Jr. bought his elderly mother, Ethel. She needed medical help.

HERBERT FREEMAN JR., HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Well, she was asking me where we was going. I told her we was going to end of the Convention Center, because that's where the police officer say that the bus was coming, and they were going to pick her up first. They're picking up the elderly, the handicapped, and the sick.

O'BRIEN: When the bus finally arrived, it was too late for Ethel, who had spent almost all her life in New Orleans. She died waiting for it at the Convention Center.

Herbert was forced to leave his mother behind, with a note with her name and his phone number, in the hopes that, one day, he would give her a proper burial.

FREEMAN: The one in the wheelchair, that's my mom.

You say, well, I'm sorry your mom died. He said, but you can't go back.

MONTANA LEBLANC: Everything is completely, completely gutted out.

O'BRIEN: Phyllis Montana LeBlanc spent the day before the storm praying. She planned to ride it out at home in east New Orleans. Soon, she says, all she had was under water. She waded through the water, chest high, and, after three days, made her way to New Orleans' main airport. By the time she got there, the massive airlift was under way.

MONTANA LEBLANC: It was total and absolute chaos. And it wasn't as in chaos, as in one person was running here, one person was running there. It was just a bed of death.

O'BRIEN: The airport looked like a military base. There was the constant noise of helicopters flying in and out and buses bringing people. Separated from her family, Phyllis tried to hold herself together.

MONTANA LEBLANC: You can see the hopeless was going. People were tired, and not just tired from walking or tired from hunger or thirst. Their spirit was completely tired.

O'BRIEN: A year later, the airport is back to normal. The same cannot be said for those who passed through it a year ago.

MONTANA LEBLANC: ... always make it too salty.

O'BRIEN: Phyllis' apartment is gone, but she's back in east New Orleans, living in a FEMA trailer in her sister's yard.

Phyllis talks about her experience as a way of healing. An appearance in Spike Lee's documentary about Hurricane Katrina brought her local fame.

Herbert Freeman buried his mother in November. He is suing FEMA for neglect, and moved to Alabama. He says he has no plans to come back to New Orleans.

The Superdome is set to reopen for the first time on September 25.

Denise Thornton, left there, determined to help her city, starting an organization that helps those who want to return and rebuild.

THORNTON: Almost everything is -- is pretty much done. We just need to get more contractors in here, moving a little bit more quickly. And we're a neighborhood that is coming back.

O'BRIEN: Denise says, she hopes others will be inspired by her enthusiasm and her love for the city.


O'BRIEN: President Bush was in New Orleans today. Despite smiles and handshakes, he did acknowledge that governments on all levels fell short of their responsibilities when Katrina hit.

And even now, a full year after the storm, state and city leaders don't have a master plan for rebuilding.

I asked U.S. Senator David Vitter about that.


SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: Well, I think that's a big difference, in terms of leadership on the ground. We need more of a plan. We need that leadership here on the ground, particularly in the city of New Orleans, but in the state in general. And that has held things up.

You know, Congress and the -- and the American taxpayer have sent down boatloads of money. Now the challenge is getting it to have an impact here on the ground, with a plan, making that happen right, pushing that through the bureaucracy.

O'BRIEN: President Bush, back in September, when he was in Jackson Square, said, what we need are bold moves, and promised, really, bold, bold action...

VITTER: Right. Right.

O'BRIEN: ... to deal with the -- the poverty problem, which really underlines a lot of the problems here in the New Orleans area.

VITTER: Right.

O'BRIEN: Have you seen bold action here?

VITTER: Not yet. I was with the president that night in Jackson Square. He made a very firm commitment, a very bold speech.

The good news is, he's followed through on that in terms of federal money. The unanswered question is, are we going to have the bold action here on the ground, the bold implementation? It is great to send that federal money down. That's a necessary component. But we need the bold reform right here on the ground.

And he has said from the very beginning, he's not going to micromanage the recovery. He's not going to tell Louisiana how to do it. But that means the challenge is even greater for all of us here in the state to promote bold change and bold reform, in a way that wasn't possible before.

O'BRIEN: Shouldn't some things that come with very big price tags, though, be micromanaged, like a -- a sewer system, you know, any kind of infrastructural problems?

VITTER: It has -- it has got to be done, and it has got to be done right.

But the president made clear from the beginning, it shouldn't be done by federal bureaucrats sitting in Washington. I think he's right about that. But that means the challenge for leadership here on the ground is even greater.

O'BRIEN: Senator David Vitter, nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

VITTER: Good to see you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that.


O'BRIEN: Louisiana's senior U.S. senator is Democrat Mary Landrieu.

Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a couple of questions, what we just heard from Senator -- Senator Vitter, if I may.

He talks about the challenges and the responsibility of leadership on the ground, Senator. Why is there, at this point, a year later, a full year later, no -- no plan, no plan for getting people back into their homes, no master plan?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, it is not true. But I'm in Saint Tammany Parish, right here, and celebrating with the people in Saint Tammany Parish in Slidell, the largest city in Saint Tammany, a city that doesn't get much attention. This city was literally in the eye of the storm. It came inland on (INAUDIBLE) and Plaquemines Parish, and then just rammed right into the Gulf Coast, into this part of Saint Tammany Parish.

These people have worked so hard. They have a plan. They have spirit. And our people in Louisiana, whether it is Orleans or Jefferson or Saint Tammany Parish or Saint Bernard, have worked very hard.

What is true is that this devastation was unprecedented. This was not just a hurricane. The levees broke, bringing huge amounts of water that stood for weeks and weeks and weeks. The reason people couldn't help themselves more at the Superdome or the Convention Center is because they were surrounded by 10 to 12 feet of water.

And, if you didn't have a life jacket, and you couldn't swim, there was not a lot of place to go. And people around the country should realize...

O'BRIEN: But, Senator Landrieu, let me interrupt you there for a second. Let me just stop you there for one second, because you started by saying that what I said wasn't true, that there was a plan.

So, what is the plan? I can't tell you the number of citizens who have asked me, what is the plan? Should I come back to my home or not? So, what is the plan, if there is one?

LANDRIEU: Well, I will tell you what the plan should be. The plan should be that the federal government has a FEMA that works.

And I think even Senator Vitter would agree with me that the federal bureaucracies have failed this community. And they will probably fail other communities as well.

The president himself said today that he acknowledges the failure of the federal agencies. It is true that we have sent, appropriated $110 billion. But it has been stuck in federal bureaucracies. It was not sent to Louisiana. It was not sent to Saint Tammany Parish. It was not sent to Orleans. Less than 12 percent of the money was sent to the local government.

Most of it is stuck at the Corps of Engineers, stuck at FEMA, or stuck in the Small Business Administration. That is not our governor's responsibility. That is the federal Congress and the federal executive. The president said so today.

So, while we're grateful for the help, my message is that our country is not ready for catastrophic failure, and we need to be. And we need to think. This isn't just about the people of New Orleans or Louisiana being a little disorganized, or a lot disorganized, in the worst catastrophe to ever hit them.

This is about the greatest country on Earth not having the systems in place to spend money's people -- to spend the money well, and to get the job done.

O'BRIEN: Senator Mary Landrieu, thanks for talking with us this -- this evening.

LANDRIEU: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Senator, we appreciate it.

As you may have noticed, we are devoting most of this hour to Hurricane Katrina.

But, as we speak, another "Top Story" is spinning right toward Florida -- coming up next, the very latest on where Tropical Storm Ernesto is heading.

And, then, we will take a look back on one of the most shocking stories in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- allegations of multiple killings at a New Orleans hospital.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We had been downtown, covering the storm itself.

And, when it was over, we ran into Oliver Thomas, the president of the city council, who said to us, my city is dying.

We said, what are you talking about?

And we followed him out I-10 to the Eighth Ward. When we got out of our cars and looked that this neighborhood, we were flabbergasted. The water was up to the eaves of the houses. There were people on the roofs, or popping through the roofs, waving their arms, yelling for help.

We had, had no idea that any of the city was flooded this way, much less miles and miles of it.



O'BRIEN: Tonight, our "Top Story" coverage focuses on the unfolding disaster we were witnessing one year ago tonight, Hurricane Katrina. We're also keeping an eye on a tropical storm, Ernesto, which is heading toward Florida Right now. It is not getting any stronger, though. The forecast has just been updated.

Let's get the very latest from Reynolds Wolf. He's at the CNN Weather Center.

Hey, Reynolds.


The latest from the National Weather Service is, the storm is beginning to weaken just a bit. At this time, all hurricane watches for the state of Florida have been dropped. And the storm is still just edging its way ever so slowly to the north. The center is about 70 miles south of Miami. We're thinking, right before the midnight hour, somewhere along A1A, into the Florida Keys, perhaps even Islamorada, the storm may make landfall, again, as I mentioned, right before the midnight hour.

However, as it stands, the path, forecast path, by the National Hurricane Center does have the storm driving north right through central Florida. And, by the time we get to 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, this storm passing just to the east of Orlando, crossing the Beeline, into the I-4 Corridor, right around the Daytona Beach area.

Now, the storm then expected to cross back into the Atlantic, possibly strengthening, as it feeds off that -- that warm water, then just going east of Charleston, back into the Carolinas, going up into the Piedmont. And, into the higher elevations, you run into the issue of orographic lifting, of that moist air going to the higher elevations in the mountains.

And, if that happens, we could see some really heavy rainfall, perhaps even rainfall as much as -- as feet in many places, including Virginia and into the Carolinas.

That's the latest we have on the storm. Again, it is -- it does appear to be weakening just a bit.

We're going to have another update coming up right around 11:00 this evening. So, of course, stay tuned to CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

O'BRIEN: All right, Reynolds Wolf, thank you. We are going to watch for that. Appreciate that.

Tonight, one of the most chilling stories to come out of Katrina, still unresolved -- a doctor, two nurses facing charges that they murdered four patients at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during the chaos after the storm.

Investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been working on this story for a year -- tonight, an exclusive report. He says Louisiana's attorney general is fighting an uphill battle to bring that case to trial.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first thing Carrie Everett wants you to know about her husband is that he was not dying when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

(on camera): Was your husband dying?

CARRIE EVERETT, WIDOW: No way. No way. No.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Emmett Everett was a 61-year-old, 380- pound man who needed a wheelchair to get around. His wife says he was being treated for a urinary tract infection.

On the Saturday before the storm, Everett was a patient at a smaller hospital in a low-lying area outside New Orleans. It was run by a company called LifeCare. He was to be transferred to the company's facility inside the much bigger Memorial Hospital.

After the transfer, Emmett called his wife, Carrie, to report he was now safe on Memorial's seventh floor.

(on camera): How did he sound?

EVERETT: To me, his old self. He wasn't complaining of hurting or nothing. He said, I'm on -- I'm in Memorial. I'm on the seventh floor.

He gave me the room number, the telephone number.

He said, everything's fine. I love you.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Then, an August 29, Katrina hit. The Everetts' home in the Lower Ninth Ward was destroyed. The family fled. Phones went down. On September 16, after days of searching, Carrie Everett finally reached an official at LifeCare to find out about her husband.

EVERETT: I said, I want to know one thing. Where is my husband?

Well, Ms. Everett, are you -- I said, no, no, no, no, no. Where is Emmett?

Ms. Everett, Emmett expired September 1? I said, today is the 16th. When were you going to tell me? When were you going to tell me?

GRIFFIN: The death certificate says, Emmett died on September 1 -- cause of death, Katrina.

Carrie Everett was told the heat and the lack of water killed her husband. But, last month she was shocked to learn that the people taking care of her husband may have murdered him.

EVERETT: I'm like, who gave them the right to play God? Who gave them the right?

GRIFFIN: The Louisiana attorney general's office has charged Dr. Anna Pou, and two nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, with four counts each of second-degree murder.

Announcing the charges, Attorney General Charles Foti said, his investigation uncovered a lethal cocktail of drugs in at least four patients. Emmett Everett was one of those patients. The evidence from witnesses, medical records and autopsies, Foti said, pointed to one conclusion.

CHARLES FOTI, LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is not euthanasia. This is a homicide. GRIFFIN: The affidavit from the attorney general's office charging the medical workers with second-degree murder uses initials to refer to victims and witnesses. It says that witnesses informed Dr. Anna Pou that one patient, E.E., was aware, conscious, and alert, but that he weighed 380 pounds and was paralyzed, and that Dr. Pou E.E. could not be evacuated.

The affidavit says that Dr. Pou told one witness, a decision has to be made to administer lethal doses.

(on camera): Do you think they just didn't want to bother moving him?

EVERETT: That crossed my mind. You know, let's -- let's be real. You're on the seventh floor. You have a man that is paralyzed, 6'4'', 380 pounds. You want to risk hurting yourself to try and carry him down seven flights of steps?

GRIFFIN: You think that's the reason your husband may have been killed?

EVERETT: Yes. Yes.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): While the Everetts wait to see if criminal prosecution will go forward, the family has filed a civil lawsuit. Their home is destroyed, their lives torn apart. And only three water-damaged photographs remain of the man Carrie Everett says should still be here.

(on camera): You think this was murder?

EVERETT: Yes. Yes, I do.

GRIFFIN: Your husband should be sitting here telling me about his experience?

EVERETT: Yes. Yes, sitting in his wheelchair, with his granddaughter on his lap.


O'BRIEN: Why is Ms. Everett coming forward now, a year after the hurricane?

GRIFFIN: Soledad, this case is now in the hands of the district attorney in Orleans Parish. There is a significant lobbying effort under way to paint this doctor and these two nurses as heroes, heroes of the storm.

She's afraid that her husband and the three other deaths are being lost in all this, that these are true victims of murder. And she wants this case to come to trial. She's afraid it will not because of this lobbying effort going on here.

O'BRIEN: Just the lobbying effort? I mean, you mentioned the witnesses, the medical records, the autopsies as well, vs. a lobbying effort?

GRIFFIN: But, in the state of Louisiana, the attorney general turns that case over to the district attorney. The district attorney has yet to bring this case to a grand jury. All of that information is there. It hasn't gone to the grand jury. Why?

Eddie Jordan, the district attorney, will not tell us. We're waiting. And so is Mrs. Everett.

O'BRIEN: Well, what an upsetting story.

Drew Griffin, thanks. And thanks for following it for the year that you have.

And, for a year, New Orleans' plight has been the focus of worldwide attention. We won't forget Hurricane Katrina's other victims, though.

Coming up next in our "Top Story" coverage: Mississippi's coast, where they're rebuilding from nothing.

And, later, we will catch up with some of the most unforgettable people we met after the storm of a lifetime.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When we landed at Charity Hospital, on top of the parking deck, it was one of the most remarkable things I have seen as a doctor.

We turned this corner, and there was a sea of patients. And they had been out there for at least a day, the entire day, underneath the hot sun, doctors pumping air into their lungs, trying to keep them alive. They didn't have any power. They didn't have any water. They had very little food. It seemed like a desperate task.

And I remember this one doctor just marching up to me, saying, we have already lost two patients.

And, for me, you know, actually starting to do those beepers and those live shots, seeing the choppers land, and start to evacuate those patients, it was one of the most concrete things that I have seen as a journalist. And I remember one woman actually getting on the chopper, saying to me as she was getting on, thanks for helping us get out of this hell on Earth.




JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: We had just turned off the main street and on to Convention Center Boulevard.

And right there before us was a scene I can only describe as hell on Earth. But it was a scene that I was so familiar with, having worked in so many refugee camps in Africa, a sea of black faces, up and down the Convention Center boulevard, babies screaming, mothers wailing, fathers yelling at us, all of them saying the same thing: Please help us. Please help us. Please help us.

It was an unbelievable scene, and so, so surreal.


O'BRIEN: Hurricane Katrina took more than 200 lives in Mississippi.

Our "Top Story" coverage of the anniversary of the storm takes us to one Mississippi community that is still struggling to come back to life.

Kathleen Koch reports tonight from Bay Saint Louis.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twelve months of back-breaking labor, thousands of volunteers and sheer determination. It's brought parts of Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi back to something close to normal. This was Monte and Danielle Strong's home after Katrina. They and their three children shared a FEMA trailer while rebuilding.

With hurricane season still under way, they wonder whether they did the right thing.

DANIELLE STRONG, RESIDENT OF MISSISSIPPI: It's scary. It's scary all around. You would hate to get back to this point, and, then, you know, find out that you should have sold your house or you should have left.

OK, you're going to have to staple.

KOCH: They also realize they have even less protection now, should another hurricane strike.

MONTE STRONG, RESIDENT: All the beachfront homes and businesses and -- and trees, and -- and all that stuff, all that stuff's gone, you know, so, there's nothing to stop the water now.

KOCH: Most of the debris is gone, but many destroyed buildings aren't, so children go to school in portable trailers in plain sight of their gutted classrooms.

FRANCES WEILER, PRINCIPAL, NORTH BAY ELEMENTARY: It's a constant daily reminder of what we have lost, just like driving our streets of our community is a constant daily reminder of what we have lost.

KOCH: To make matters worse, insurance rates are going up, state wind coverage went up 90 percent.

David Treutel, who sells insurance, lost his home and business, and worries that many won't be able to afford the increases.

DAVID TREUTEL, INSURANCE AGENT: These aren't the wealthy people. These aren't the condominium dwellers. These are the mom-and-pops. These are the teachers. And they just don't have the ability.

KOCH: With one-quarter of the people gone, half the businesses closed, tax revenues have plummeted. Bay Saint Louis is struggling to pay its workers and provide basic services.

EDDIE FAVRE, MAYOR OF BAY SAINT LOUIS, MISSISSIPPI: We're expecting or projecting that, late September, early October, unless something happens, we will be broke. We will be out of money. After that, we don't know what we're going to do.


KOCH: But, luckily, something did happen.

The Mississippi state legislature, just yesterday, at the 11th hour, passed a bill that will give small, struggling cities, like Bay Saint Louis on the Gulf Coast here, grants of up to $3 million. They will not have to pay that money back. That will keep them operating for the next year though no one knows what will happen after that. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: We'll be watching it, of course. Kathleen Koch, thanks for that report.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with a governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour.


O'BRIEN: Mississippi has gotten $22 billion overall in federal funding. Reports though that we have on the ground from people in Mississippi say they're not seeing the money. Pearlington, Mississippi, no post office, no schools. Same thing in Bay St. Louis, no buildings. A lot hasn't changed in a year. Why not?

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, the further west you go the less reconstruction there has been. Pearlington is a little bit of a special case. It's not an incorporated municipality, it is not a town. And it doesn't qualify for a lot of federal aid that other towns across the coast are using now. They have to get all their help through the county government because they're not an incorporated municipality.

O'BRIEN: So do you think that the pace then is something that you're happy with? For example, $3 billion, that's been allotted in the housing grants. As you know, there were 17,000 applications. Only 40 of those applications have been approved and handed out.

BARBOUR: 7,500 have been notified of what they're going to get. But is the pace fast enough? No, it is not. We have made record progress. We have cleaned up the debris faster than any other major disaster in American history. It put people in temporary housing, faster and more people than ever before. We have done everything at a record pace. It is just not fast enough.

The federal government takes a bad rap for that. They're doing things faster than they have ever done things before. Do we get frustrated and put out with them sometimes? Yes. I'm sure they get frustrated and put out with us sometimes, too.

O'BRIEN: Well let me ask you about the insurance companies. A federal judge in Mississippi, as I'm sure you know, sided with the insurance companies. They rule that they don't have to pay for flooding damage from Hurricane Katrina. Those same companies tried unsuccessfully to cancel the coverage for wind damage when it occurs in combination with the flooding and they lost on that front. What are you doing about these insurance companies in many cases charging huge, huge rate increases now for people in the area?

BARBOUR: Well let me just say this, because we knew that a lot of people did not have flood insurance, that most people who lived outside the flood zone never had flood insurance, that's why we went to work to get the federal government to make $3 billion available, and it would actually be more than $3 billion available for housing. Because, see, the federal government delineates what is in the flood zone. That's who tells you, your house is in or not in the flood zone. So we thought the federal government bore some responsibility.

O'BRIEN: Haley Barbour is the governor of Mississippi. Governor Barbour, thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

BARBOUR: Well, thank you for noticing how well things are going down here.


O'BRIEN: In the days after Hurricane Katrina, one man's tragedy came to symbolize the plight of the entire Gulf Coast.


HARDY JACKSON, LOST WIFE IN HURRICANE KATRINA: He told me, you can't hold me. She said take care of the kids and the grandkids.


O'BRIEN: Up next, Hardy Jackson's amazing journey to fulfill his wife's last request. Then later, a 911 operator and the people that she helped save. Now they call her a guardian angel.


O'BRIEN: A year ago tonight, we were only just beginning to understand Katrina's toll as our top story coverage of the anniversary continues. Take a look at this tape of one survivor's story. His name is Hardy Jackson. He's from Biloxi, Mississippi and he escaped Katrina's flood waters from the top of his roof. But his wife did not.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't find your wife?

JACKSON: No. She told, I'll try, I hold her hand, tight as I could and she told me, you can't hold me. She said take care of the kids and the grandkids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your wife's name in case we can put this out there?

JACKSON: Jackson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, and what's your name?

JACKSON: Hardy Jackson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you guys going?

JACKSON: We've got nowhere to go, no where I'm going. I'm lost. That's all I had. That's all I had.


O'BRIEN: Hardy Jackson never found his wife's body, but he has fulfilled a last promise to his wife. He has got a new home in Atlanta. He's taking care of their children and their grandchildren, too. It is nice to see you and talk to you. I've got to tell you, that was one of the most heart-breaking interviews to watch. I mean, it's horrible, horrible to see. And the number of people asked me since then, how is that man, that man who begged for help in finding his wife? How are you today?

JACKSON: I'm not doing too good, you know, to tell you the truth. I try to be strong for my kids and grandkids. I want to do what my wife wanted me to do. You know, take care of, look out for my kids and my grandkids. It's not easy. You know, it takes a strong person to do it, you know? Sometime, you know, I feel weak. I think back what she told me. Then I try to get my strength back up. But like I said, you know, it's just getting harder and harder. You know, they haven't found my wife's body.

O'BRIEN: They haven't recovered her body yet?

JACKSON: No. Some people say they found her. And my in-laws to bury her. It just -- it is hard for me and my kids, you know? The way I feel, you know if they did that, it is wrong. That was our job and my kids to do, to put my wife and their mama to rest, that's all we wanted.

O'BRIEN: You were on the rooftop when the storm was coming in and the roof I guess split and you were holding onto her and she knew you couldn't swim and said let me go.

JACKSON: Yes. She knew I couldn't swim. I kept telling her -- she kept telling me if you fall in, grab a hold of something. I'll be there to get you. So I told her, you know, I said you save yourself. I can't swim.

I said you can do better with them kids than I can. But she kept telling me the same thing, Hardy, if you fall in, grab a hold of something. I kept telling her don't worry about me. I can't swim. I know, you know it was all over for me. When I saw, you know, I saw everything. I saw when it first came in. I was there when everything went out.

O'BRIEN: And she washed out with it as well.

JACKSON: Yes. I saw her body going to the bay, laying on her back.

O'BRIEN: She had asked you to promise that you would take care of the kids, the grandchildren. So you have six children now. Where are you living? What's your situation?

JACKSON: We're in Georgia. Mr. Franklin (ph) bought us a home and I thank him. I would thank him for the rest of my life. He could have, you know, do anything for us. He just has a good heart. He feels my pain, you know. I was going through pain I had never felt in my whole life. I just lost my sister in August. Before I lost my wife. You know, it's just pain on top of pain. It's still going through pain. It is a year. It feels like just happened yesterday, you know? I try to be strong for them kids.

O'BRIEN: How are they doing?

JACKSON: Well, they're doing OK. But I know they still hurting. I can, you know -- I know my kids. They still in pain. But I think they doing a little better than I'm doing, you know?

O'BRIEN: Thank you for coming to talk to us, Hardy Jackson. I know you've had lots of help and certainly lots off prayers.

JACKSON: Oh, yes, ma'am.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate you coming back to talk to us.


O'BRIEN: Despite the fury of the storm of a lifetime, some people did stay on the job. Coming up next, 911 operators who are still haunted by those desperate voices of the storm victims that they could not help and they cannot forget.

And later, a famous jazz man is helping out in the best way that he can.



DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have such a hard time as journalists trying to show the scope of this -- the mile after mile after mile, especially out in St. Bernard. There was just so much nothingness there. And all you sensed was that smell, that awful, awful, awful smell. I had smelled it once before in Somalia. It was that smell of death. But in Somalia when the breeze blew, you didn't smell it. In New Orleans, when that breeze blew, you just could escape it.

I think it's the water that made it all just kind of seep in. And that this smell just wouldn't go away for weeks and weeks and weeks. I think that's what I'll remember the most about this.


O'BRIEN: Our top story coverage continues in Mississippi where hundreds died when Katrina struck, but hundreds more lived because telephones turned into life lines.

Yet one year later, many of the 911 operators who manned the phones during the storm are still suffering. They keep hearing the voices of those they couldn't save. Ted Rowlands has our story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911, where is your emergency?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few people understand the horror of Hurricane Katrina like 911 operators in Biloxi, Mississippi who say they're still haunted a year later by desperate voices pleading for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biloxi Police and fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're about to drown up in the house on Nixon Street. We're about to drown. Water is up almost coming to the ceiling.

DESIREE DUFRENE, 911 DISPATCHER: They were calling us because they were literally at the end. And they needed us to come get them. And when we explained that we couldn't, they just said, well what am I supposed to do?

ROWLANDS: The storm was so bad in Biloxi that emergency crews were pulled off the street. But as the storm continued to rage, the calls kept coming, getting more and more desperate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no one on the roads right now. And they're not allowed out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about a helicopter?


UNIDENIFIED MALE: The water is filling, it's all up inside the house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, sir. All I can tell you to do is do what you need to do to save the life of you and the kids. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If worst comes to worst, my name is Ida, and tell my family I love them.

DUFRENE: I can still hear the phone calls in my head. I can hear the phones ringing. I can hear a woman tell me you got to come get me. My children. I can hear that still.

ROWLANDS: The hardest calls, according to the dispatchers, were from children like this one from a little girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're daddy and your mom are going to take care of you, OK, baby?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I want to get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, sweetheart. I know you do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't get to you. But you're daddy and your momma are going to stay right there with you. And you're going to be OK, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why won't you come get us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's as soon as the weather gets better, OK?

HEATHER GRAF, 911 DISPATCHER: You know -- you know almost deep down that that child is no longer with us. And there was nothing that you could do.

ROWLANDS: One call dispatcher Joetta Zapatta will never forget came from a friend of hers, a former Biloxi Police Officer named Lou Blomberg.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biloxi Police and fire.



L. BLOMBERG: This is, Lou. I'm just calling to let you know that me and momma are going to die.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're house is falling apart?


ROWLANDS: This is a photograph of Pine Street during the storm. This is the house Lou was calling from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are ya'll in the attic, Lou?

L. BLOMBERG: Yes. We can not get to the roof. And it's filled with mud. And momma can't swim, Jo. We're going to die. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have anything that can float. A cooler, an empty cooler, a door that will float?

L. BLOMBERG: Jo, we're gone, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no. Don't say that, Lou.

L. BLOMBERG: There's nothing we can do sweetheart.

ROWLANDS: Joetta was able to keep Lou on the phone and calm him down. She convinced him to look for something to hold on to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, listen Lou. Get the biggest thing that is floating.

ROWLANDS: A few seconds later Lou finds a mattress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, get by the mattress. Just hang on, Lou. Just hang on to it. Pull her up, Lou.

L. BLOMBERG: No! No! No!

ROWLANDS: Lou's phone dropped into the water, ending the call, but Lou and his mother survived.

FAY BLOMBERG, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Joetta played a big part. And she was our guardian angel.

ROWLANDS: This say photograph of Lou and Fay Blomberg being helped out of their house after the storm. They say this mattress, which Joetta convinced them to hold on to, kept them alive.

L. BLOMBERG: When I got Joetta on the phone, I knew she would be able to put a face to the voice. She was a calming effect for me.

ROWLANDS: Lou and his mother were incredibly lucky. Many of the people that called in that day from their neighborhood did not survive the storm.

Joetta Zepatta won't talk about the call, in part because a year later she's still having a difficult time dealing with the fact that many of the people she talked to did not survive.

HEATHER GRAF, 911 DISPATCHER: I've had to live with it for the past year and try and cope with it, try to deal with it, try to go on. But it is something that you never forget. And all I can do is tell every person that called, we did the best we could with the resources we had.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Biloxi, Mississippi.


O'BRIEN: Here in the New Orleans area, the 911 telephone is still a problem even though there are many fewer phones. One study shows that 100,000 names have been removed from the city's telephone book.

One of the most wonderful things about New Orleans, of course, is the music. It is everywhere. Still ahead, one of the city's most famous musical sons lend his many talents to helping restore its soul.


O'BRIEN: Much of New Orleans remains down and out. But the music it's known for refuses to die. Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis organized a series of Katrina anniversary events, including a concert that's going on tonight. It is part of his efforts keep traditions alive here. Earlier today I spoke with him about New Orleans' future.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): Wynton Marsalis was born and raised in New Orleans, the birth place of jazz. Music inspired this legendary trumpet player. Katrina took away the houses and took away the music, but Marsalis says it did not take away the soul of the city he loves.

(on camera): When you look around this gentile neighborhood, middle class, mixed race, really kind of the heart of the people in the city to a large degree, people like this who lived here, do you see progress? Do you see despair? What do you think?

WYNTON MARSALIS, JAZZ TRUMPETER: I see progress. You know, you see a couple of lots have been cleared. We've got some people who have the overexpensive trailers. We see systems at work and people trying to get back and work on their property and do what people do, which is rebuild their lives.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Marsalis is taking an active role in rebuilding his hometown. He's the co-founder of a charitable trust dedicated to bringing back art and music to New Orleans.

MARSALIS: We brought together people from an entire city, from the Mardi Gras Indian tribes, the social clubs to the big performing arts institutions. And we came with a comprehensive plan of what it would take to bring our city back.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Specifically, how are you going to bring the musicians back?

MARSALIS: Well we have just a plan for a jobs program. Our thinking is that if you get musicians playing, and you get them jobs and working -- it's many ways for musicians to work. They can work around construction sites, they can go into the schools that exist, they can do community function work. If you get the musicians and the different artists, not just musicians, if you get them in the city, you get a core group here, then they will create things. They'll create things for themselves.

O'BRIEN: People who come to visit the city and say, "Should I come back and will I hear music again? I mean, is there any culture to find if I come back?" MARSALIS: Of course, people are still playing. We will always going to be around. There are musicians playing. There are bands playing on the street. The question for us is before the storm, we weren't doing good educating our musicians. You know, it wasn't like we were some kind of heathen of music on earth. That's not our reputation. That's not the truth. The truth of the situation was that we always had education problems. We always had trouble training our artists. This hurricane actually has given us a chance to refocus our energies and understand New Orleans as a place of integration.

And this can be like an experiment for a more modern America. We can solve a lot of the problems we had. We see them now on full display for the whole nation and for the world to see. The question for us is whoever is the leadership in our city, how do we come together and how do we re-establish and rejoice ourselves more in alignment of the best of our traditions? So you know, yes, musicians are here playing. Hopefully we will play better.


O'BRIEN: Wynton Marsalis on his vision for a new New Orleans.

At the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE." Tonight, the end of the road for one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, polygamist Warren Jeffs.


O'BRIEN: A year after Hurricane Katrina and throughout this hour, we've seen the resilience of the human spirit. Despite the suffering and the scars left by Katrina, there is hope. Thanks for joining us. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines