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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Aired August 29, 2005 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


AARON BROWN, HOST: Well, at 11 p.m. here in the East, 8 p.m. out West. For those of you just joining us, take a moment or two to recap where things stand along the Gulf Coast and then we'll move ahead.
Katrina fell just short of the monster Category 5 storm everyone had feared. Just short. Just before making landfall, the hurricane veered a little bit, kind of jogged to the east, which spared New Orleans a direct hit. This is what an indirect hit looks like, most of the city under water to one degree or another.

It is especially bad in the eastern suburbs of New Orleans and the exurbs of New Orleans. And you've got a lot of people live out in the developments out there. The levies that are supposed to keep the city dry, New Orleans city mostly below sea level, failed to hold the storm surges back. No one really believed they would.

Tonight people, hundreds of them, we believe, are stranded on rooftops. And search and rescue operations are underway across particularly, again, the eastern part of New Orleans.

Mississippi took the brunt of Katrina's force, the governor calling the damage along the Gulf of Mississippi, Gulfport, Biloxi and that area to be catastrophic. Alabama, the Mobile area, took a huge hit, and inland, too. All of these areas got not just heavy winds but a ton of rain, as well, today that lasted most of the day. Across three states, well over a million people are without power and will likely be without power for some time.

Tonight, Katrina has lost enough of its power to become a tropical storm, but for about 12 hours today, the hurricane raged.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): This is what the storm looked like when it made land at about 6 this morning, a Category 4 storm with winds topping 145 miles an hour. This is what it sounded like in New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were literally racing against the waters. A current was coming in so far this way with the wind blowing that way, was pushing the water up into the house. So it was -- it was beyond devastating.

BROWN: And on the Mississippi Gulf, and in Mobile, Alabama. Tonight nearly a million and a half people are without power in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. There is little clean water in many places. It will be days, perhaps weeks, before there is.

ROBERT THORNTON, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Nothing that I've been through so far in my life compares to what I'm going through now. I mean, I actually -- and I'm a strong fellow -- I was actually scared.

BROWN: And there is much we don't know tonight. Most importantly, how many people died in the storm. It is just too early to account for the missing: who evacuated, who perished.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're never prepared for this. You know, we did a lot of our crying earlier. But there's a lot more crying to be done, because a lot of people lost their lives and lost everything. I know my family, we lost about everything.

BROWN: New Orleans is bad. Gulfport, Mississippi, is worse. Twelve feet of water in some places, reports that casinos are flooded up to the second floor. Again, no short count of the dead, but three deaths in Mississippi have been blamed on Katrina. Rescue workers still can't get to places where they fear others have died or are trapped tonight.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: The state today has suffered a grievous blow on the coast. We're not through. It's a major disaster.

BROWN: As Katrina was approaching land, it took a slight jog to the east. That move is what made things somewhat better than expected in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf course. The governor was asked today what his worst

There are things we do know, of course. We know it was a terrifying experience, even for the 9,000 or so people inside the giant Superdome in New Orleans, which began leaking. And then part of the roof blew off, raising fears of something worse.

We also know that in New Orleans, thousands will spend tonight either in the Superdome again or in evacuation centers and shelters around the city. And they may be there for days to come, because we also know this. While the worst of the storm is over now, what is left behind is virtually indescribable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is still too dangerous for people to return home. If you evacuated and you're in a shelter, if you're with friends and family, please, please stay there. Stay safe. It's too dangerous to come home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Mitch Landrieu is the lieutenant governor of the state of Louisiana, and he joins us now by phone. I'm not sure, Governor, if you could hear that or not. But the governor of the state just said if you're -- if you evacuated the city, stay where you are. Don't come back. When do you think people will be able to come back?

LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU, LOUISIANA: Well, I think it's going to be awhile. The message that we're sending out across the state of Louisiana into the other states where our citizens are is that we're in the search and rescue mode right now. You know, we're sharing this pain and sorrow with Mississippi and Alabama, and I think Governor Barbour and Governor Blanco are on the same page, that we have a lot of work to do.

This is a tremendous amount of damage. We're still in the assessment phase and the search and rescue phase. And we're really encouraging people to stay away until the governors of those states give them a green light to come home. And we think it's going to be some time.

BROWN: Some time. If you're living in the back of a car, some time can be a couple of days. It can also be a couple of weeks. What do you think we're closer to? A couple of days or a couple of weeks?

LANDRIEU: Every day seems forever...

BROWN: Yes.

LANDRIEU: ... in these circumstances. And one of the things that's going to be required is a tremendous amount of patience. As Governor Blanco and both Governor Blanco said, we're still in the assessment phase, because of the way the storm works. And we really do not know.

You can see from your pictures that the Louisiana portion and Mississippi both have been devastated by this storm. It's bigger and stronger and everything than people expected it to be. So I don't know that we know the answer to that yet. It would be premature to say so.

BROWN: OK. Do you have a good feel for how many people are in New Orleans and/or greater New Orleans tonight?

LANDRIEU: That also is hard to tell. We think that we were very successful with convincing most people to leave. As you can see and know now by some of our search and rescue efforts, not everybody left. But upwards of a million people, I think, the mayor estimated left at least the city of New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

And we know from reports that every hotel room, every shelter is filled from in Louisiana and in the surrounding states.

BROWN: That would -- if, in fact, a million people left, and that's a lot of people, as you well know, to move in a couple of days, that still leaves 400,000, 500,000 people in the area without much drinking water, without power. How are you going to get those people food and water, ultimately get them out of where they're stuck?

LANDRIEU: Well, obviously, it's a huge challenge. As you know, the governors of both states and all three states have been in touch with the president. The head of FEMA has been in Louisiana all day. The National Guard and the state police and every other agency that is working on us, as well, working around the close to do everything that they can. They spent the days before the storm staging in areas outside of harm's way so that they would be prepared to be able to move in as soon as it was safe to do so. And all lights are go now, and you know, we're in the search and rescue phase. And you know, we have to say our prayers and hope for the best. But I think we're going to have a difficult time.

BROWN: Was there a moment today -- if there was, where was it -- where you said to yourself, "Oh, my God. This is -- this is actually worse than we" -- not than we prepared for. I don't expect anyone to say that. But worse than we imagined in some sense?

LANDRIEU: Well, ironically, there wasn't, because from a couple of days ago, it was pretty evident to those of us who were watching and who trumpeted the call, you know, across the airways that this was going to be a very bad storm.

You always hope somehow that it's not going to do what it looks like it's going to do. And we were pretty sure a couple of days ago that it was. I think we worked very hard to -- to inform the public about it. We did the best that we could under the most difficult circumstances to be prepared for it.

But as you said, it's very hard to ever be prepared for this, because you never really understand it until you go through it. And just watching the pictures come in that very few people had access to until after the storm left, was just very hard for everybody.

I can tell you that everybody down here is working as hard. We share everybody's sorrow. Many of our family and friends and all of their houses are under water. But you know, as the governor said, you know, Louisianans are a very resilient people. So are the folks from Mississippi and Alabama. We're going to find a way through this.

BROWN: Well, New Orleans is a great city. It's a wonderful state. And it's obviously in some considerable pain and distress tonight. And I'm sure you're hearing from people all over the country. I know we have here. Lots of people sending their best wishes and offers of assistance and anything else they can. And we just wish you the best of luck in the difficult days ahead.

LANDRIEU: Well, we thank you so much for that, and we welcome all the help that anybody can give us. And we're thankful for everybody's prayers.

BROWN: Governor, thank you.

LANDRIEU: Sure enough.

BROWN: Lieutenant governor of the state of Louisiana in Baton Rouge tonight.

Jacqui Jeras is in Atlanta, tracking the storm, which is no longer a hurricane but continues to pack plenty of weather and will for some days as it moves its way up north -- Jacqui. JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right. The center of circulation is near Columbus, Mississippi, right now, Aaron. And our winds are still at 60 miles per hour. That's seriously very strong still, and we could still cause a fair amount of damage with 60 mile- an-hour winds and cause some more scattered power outages and bring some great big tree branches down.

And also, we're concerned about some flash flooding, as we'll see some very heavy rains on the order of maybe through to six inches overall.

Storm is moving pretty quickly, up to the north into the east, around 21 miles per hour. And we're also having quite a number of reports of tornadoes. Tornado watch still remaining in effect across much of eastern Alabama into parts of Georgia, as well.

I want to show you -- there you can see the center of circulation. This is where some of the worst of the winds are going to be, so right near the Alabama-Mississippi state line at this time.

I'm going to take you into some of these outer bands. We've had a number of reports of possible tornado touchdowns in and around parts of central Georgia. We have a tornado warning in effect right now for Veral County (ph). And that's from these outside feed bands, as we call them, that seem to spiral on up on the outside of these storms.

Now something else I want you to keep in mind here, kind of an interesting situation that we haven't really dealt with, I don't think, very often this widespread. And I want to go over to our Viper system, as this displays it very well for you tonight.

There are eight different Doppler radar sites across the southeast that are all down tonight. Three in Louisiana, two in Mississippi, one in Kentucky, one in Georgia and one in Florida. So there are a lot of meteorologists here who are working with one arm tied behind their back, trying to detect some of these tornadoes.

The problem is that we're going to have to defer to some of the outside sites, and they tend to bring their signal out much higher over some of these areas. And tornadoes and these types of systems are usually in the very low levels of the atmosphere. So it's going to be a really tough to detect some of these tonight.

And another thing to think of in tropical systems, the rain comes down so very, very heavy that sometimes it's hard to see the tornado. They could be wrapped in rain. So really, a very dangerous situation tonight, especially now that we have nightfall, too. That's another thing that makes them hard to see -- Aaron.

BROWN: You don't have a bit of good news out there, do you tonight?

JERAS: Yes. Not looking great.

BROWN: Thank you, Jacqui. I'm Jacqui Jeras in Atlanta. This is the first we've seen, first reporting we've seen this is Associated Press. If reporting now that at least -- at least 55 people have died in the Gulf area of Mississippi. That's just one area. Fifty-five people.

Just to put some perspective on all of this, if my memory is right, and I'm pretty close on this, about 250 people died that were very early into the reporting on this particular aspect of it with the hurricane when Camilla hit in 1969 in roughly the same area. It's remarkable how close, in fact, it came ashore. Camille in '69. About 250 people died that were very early into the reporting on this particular aspect of the hurricane.

And Associated Press now trying to tally when what it can find out, what A.P. reporters can find out. It is reporting that at least 55 people died in the Gulfport, Mississippi, area. The Gulf area of Mississippi I think is probably a fair way to put it than just the city of Gulfport, being Biloxi and other towns and this is a resort area. It's a gambling center. It's a casino center. A lot of people in the area, many of them got out. But at least 55 did not survive it. And I guarantee you, sadly, that that number will go up before we are done.

Just ahead, a killer storm shifts direction and a thriving resort town turns into no one's idea of a vacation. We'll take a break. This is a special two-hour edition of NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

ANNOUNCER: Keep watching CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Well, just once again, the Associated Press now reporting the first hard numbers on the fatalities from Katrina. About 55 people, according to the A.P. reporting. This is very early reporting in a developing story. It's the kind of number that changes, but that is the first report of 55 people, many of them, we believe, in the state of Mississippi. The state of Mississippi got hit the hardest when the hurricane took this slight jog to the east just before it made landfall.

So in the area around Gulfport and Biloxi, it is a very dire situation tonight. Here's CNN's Jonathan Freed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER) : Flooding throughout Gulfport up to 12 feet deep, many homes almost completely submerged, many homes destroyed. Some people waiting to be rescued. Trees snapped and power lines were downed.

Across Mississippi, more than 350,000 people without electricity. At least three people in the state dead.

Most coastal roads were closed. Portions of Interstate 10, stretching across Mississippi from Louisiana to Alabama, were shut down by flooding.

Mississippi's governor declared a state of emergency and urged people to stay put.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: The state today has suffered a grievous blow along the coast going on through.

FREED: Just 18 miles east, in Biloxi, the storm stacked cars like toys, toppled trees and signs, people trying to take in the damage.

SUZANNE ROGERS, HURRICANE VICTIM: It sounds like a boom, real loud, extremely loud. And glass is everywhere. And the debris started flying in from outside, coming off the roof.

FREED: It peeled the siding off of this hotel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FREED: Aaron, extensive damage was done to our hotel here. It looks decidedly different tonight than it did the last time we spoke. But thankfully, everybody here is safe -- Aaron.

BROWN: You have drinking water, Jon?

FREED: Well, no, we don't have drinking water. In potables, we have just enough to get by. And we're surviving on peanut butter, as well. But it will be better than a lot of the other people here.

BROWN: I bet it is. Do you see a lot of people around?

FREED: There are quite a few people around, and it's thinned out a little bit. Some people have gone off to try to find their homes. Some of them come back just in tears because their homes are just not there. One woman went and found it flattened and said the only thing of hers that she'd come across was one shoe. She's determined, though, to go back and pick through it tomorrow.

BROWN: Jon, get some sleep while you can. It's going to be a difficult day tomorrow. Jon Freed. Jonathan Freed, of our Chicago bureau, who's down in Mississippi tonight.

We've mentioned several times today that rescue operations have been going on in the area east of New Orleans, suburban, exurban areas east of New Orleans. This is where a lot of people have been trapped on rooftops, trapped in attics. Authorities trying to get to them.

Jeanne Meserve, who works out of our Washington bureau, has been down in that part of Louisiana this evening. And Jeanne joins us, I'm certain, by telephone, right?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Aaron.

BROWN: It's been quite a -- we don't use this word lightly, but quite a dramatic and difficult night down there, hadn't it?

MESERVE: It's been horrible. As I left tonight, darkness, of course, had fallen. And you can hear people yelling for help. You can hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come.

But for tonight, they've had to suspend the rescue efforts. It's just too hazardous for them to be out on the boats. There are electrical lines that are still alive. There are gas lines that are still spewing gas. There are cars that are submerged. There are other large objects. The boats can't operate. So they had to suspend operations and leave those people in the homes.

As we were driving back, we passed scores of boats, Fish and Wildlife boats that they brought in. They're flat bottomed. They've obviously going to put them in the water just as soon as they possibly can and go out and reach the people who are out there who desperately need help.

We watched them, some of them, come in. They were in horrible shape, some of them. We watched one woman whose leg had been severed. Mark Biello, one of our cameramen, went out in one of the boats to help shoot. He ended up being out for hours and told horrific tales. He saw bodies. He saw where -- he saw other, just unfathomable things. Dogs wrapped in electrical -- electrical lines who were still alive that were being electrocuted.

The police are having radio problems. At least they were earlier this evening. They didn't have enough boats. They put out an appeal to various police who had personal boats to bring them to the scene. But the problem was the people who had the boats couldn't get to the boats to bring them to the scene to go out and rescue the people.

People are out there tonight. One of the EMS workers told us that the water is driving, and I can tell you that when we came back into the city tonight, it certainly was higher here. Whether it's rising in that neighborhood as much as it has here, I don't know -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jeanne, let me walk you through a couple of things. Are they able -- are authorities able to, in any way, communicate with these people who are stranded and scared and hungry and cold and desperate?

MESERVE: They aren't tonight. When the boats were in the water, as the boats went around through the neighborhood, they yelled. And people yelled back. But Mark, when he came back, told me that -- that some of the people, they just couldn't get to. They just couldn't get to them. They couldn't maneuver the boats in there.

Because this had happened before in Hurricane Betsy, there were many people who kept axes in their homes and had them in the attic in preparation for this. Some people were able to use those axes and make holes in their roof and stick their head out or their body out or climb up completely. But many others clearly didn't have that. Most of the rescuers appeared to be carrying axes, and they were trying to hack them out as best they could to provide access and haul them out.

BROWN: I'm sorry. What...

MESERVE: There were also Coast Guard helicopters involved in it, Aaron, with the seat up (ph), flying overhead. It appears that when they saw someone on a rooftop, they were dropping flares, to try to signal the boats to get there.

BROWN: Is there any sense of -- that there's triage, that they're looking to see who needs help the worst? Or they're just -- they were just getting to whomever they could get to and get them out of there?

MESERVE: I had the distinct impression they were just getting to whoever they could get to. I talked to one fire captain who'd been out in his personal boat. He said he worked an area probably 10 square blocks. He'd rescued 75 people. He said in one instance there were something like 18 people in one house, some of them young. One, he said, appeared to be a newborn.

And he said other boats were working the same area at the same time, also picking up large numbers of people. And he doesn't believe they got all of them. And that's just one 10-block area. I don't know how big the area is. I haven't been able to see any footage from the air, but it appears to go on forever. It's hard for me to comprehend how many people might be out there and how many people's lives are in jeopardy or how many people may already be dead.

BROWN: It's -- it's -- just stay with me for a bit, OK? It's what is -- for everybody now, what's very difficult is there isn't what we refer to in the business as a wide shot. We can't get -- authorities can't get, we can't get, we can't give to those of you who are watching tonight that wide picture of what these scenes are like.

Can you -- what kind of neighborhoods are we talking about? Are these middle class neighborhoods? Are they -- the homes structurally sound? What are we talking about?

MESERVE: Well, the area where I was, and I don't know what the other neighborhoods are like, but this was a poor neighborhood. These were very humble homes. Most of them appeared to be only one story high with, then, some small attic space above them. These people are people of not much means. Some of them, I would guess, do not have cars and didn't have the option of driving away from here. Some of them, I would guess, did not have the money that would have bought them a hotel room.

BROWN: Yes.

MESERVE: Clearly, there were many warnings to evacuate, and people were told there was shelter downtown. And I can tell you that the rescuers tell me that everybody they picked up regretted their decision to stay where they were. But clearly, getting out of their homes would not have been easy for these people.

BROWN: How far from downtown or the center of New Orleans were you working?

MESERVE: It's a little hard for me to judge, because we were traveling in such peculiar circumstances and very low rate of speed, having to maneuver around the boats that are on the -- that are on the highway. And I might mention that the -- the exit ramps and the entrance ramps to the highway are now going to be used as boat ramps to get those boats into the water to get out and rescue people.

It's a little difficult for me to judge. I would guess, you know, somewhere between maybe five miles, I would say, to the east of the city.

BROWN: The -- you talked about all the water there and the boats there. Do you have any sense of how deep that water is?

MESERVE: Well, I can tell you that in the vicinity where I was, the water came up to the eaves of the house. And I was told by several rescue workers that we were not seeing the worst of it, that we were at one end of the Ward 9 part of the city and that there's another part, inaccessible by road at this point, where the road -- where the houses were covered to their rooftops. And they were having a great deal of problem gaining access down there. The rescue workers also told me that they saw bodies in that part.

BROWN: Any -- you mentioned earlier that the water seemed to get progressively deeper. The walkway from this, if you don't know, is just a question of tide moving in and tide moving out?

MESERVE: Well, I can tell you that the people who were rescued with whom I had a chance to speak told me that the water came up very suddenly on them. They said most of the storm had passed and what apparently was the storm surge came.

Some of them talked about seeing a little water on their floor, going to the front door, seeing a lot of water, going to the back door, seeing more bodies of water, and then barely having time to get up the stairs. One man I talked to was barefoot. He hadn't had time to put on shoes. Another woman was in her housedress and flip-flops.

As for the water tonight and how fast it may be going up and down, and you know, I may not have the most current information about the tides, but I can tell you that downtown here the water seemed to be, I'd say, six inches or so deeper than it was when I left earlier this afternoon. It may be a totally situation -- different situation...

BROWN: Sure.

MESERVE: ... out where those houses are. But I can tell you, the water certainly did not appear to be going down. And one thing we saw that -- that was, oh, I just couldn't imagine being in this situation, one of the boats had managed to pick up a fairly large group of people.

And it brought them in, and the only -- the only land that was above ground were some railroad tracks. And they put them there and then they had to sit there for what seemed to me to be a couple of hours before another boat could pick them up and bring them in to the highway.

And then when they got to the highway, there was no truck to bring them in to the city, and they set off on foot into the city, Aaron.

BROWN: If you mentioned this, I apologize. Do you have -- and when I say you, I think people understand -- I hope people understand that it's not just you. You're working with a crew of people, a photographer and others. Do you have a sense of how many people may be stranded tonight?

MESERVE: Yes. Nobody has a sense of that. And may I say that the crew was extraordinary. We've had very difficult situations. Our cameraman is working with a broken foot since 9 a.m. this morning to try and get this story to you. Big words of praise for them and for Mark Biello, who went out and ended up in that water, trying to get the rescue boats over partially submerged railroad tracks. It was a heroic piece of work by CNN employees.

BROWN: Our thanks to you for your efforts. It -- you don't need to hear this from me, but you know, people sometimes think that we're a bunch of kind of wacky thrill seekers doing this work, sometimes, and no one who has listened to the words you've spoken or the tone of your voice could possibly think that now. We appreciate your work.

MESERVE: Aaron, thank you. We are sometimes wacky thrill seekers. But when you stand in the dark, and you hear people yelling for help and no one can get to them, it's a totally different experience.

BROWN: Jeanne, thank you. We'll talk later tonight. Thank you.

Jeanne Meserve, been on the team for almost 15 years, I think. She is a very tough, capable, strong reporter, and she met her match on a story tonight.

We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The last eight or 10 minutes kind of took your breath away, doesn't it? I was going to say the worst of Katrina is over. I'm not sure, in fact, that we can say that. What we can say is the worst of the weather is over. But what remains, we are just beginning now, I think, to understand. And that may be far worse than our imaginations to this point.

When she came ashore, it was a Category 4 hurricane. It is now a tropical storm. Sixty mile-an-hour winds now, 145 mile-an-hour winds about 18 hours ago. Extensive damage, as you can see, and as you know.

It barreled through three states: through Louisiana, through Alabama, and especially hard hit was Mississippi. There is severe flooding in all of those places.

This is what New Orleans looked like after Katrina passed through. It could have been much worse. The city was spared a direct hit as the hurricane jogged a little bit to the east. But the eastern suburbs of -- of New Orleans were clearly hammered, and perhaps hit harder than we have characterized up to this point.

We know the Gulf cities in Mississippi, Biloxi and the area around there, were hit extremely hard. Governor Haley Barbour in Mississippi calling the damage catastrophic. The Associated Press tonight is reporting at least 55 people were killed in the storm. Many of those deaths thought to be in Mississippi. But in just listening to the reporting of Jeanne Meserve a short time ago, we have not heard the last of fatalities in this.

Alabama hit extremely hard. Mobile, Alabama, an oil rig broke loose from its moorings, crashed into a bridge. Portions of the Interstate I-10, I believe, under water tonight, which is where we are.

Ray Bias is an emergency worker with the Acadian Ambulance Service. He's been in the Superdome since yesterday when people started flooding in, and Mr. Bias joins us by telephone tonight.

What's it like in there? What's the mood? Is it quiet? Is it noisy? Is it chaotic? What's it like?

RAY BIAS, ACADIAN AMBULANCE SERVICE, NEW ORLEANS: We have two different sections. Ground one is the area where the 15,000 general population and the evacuees came in. It is extremely noisy. We have a small first aid station trying to handle those people. And it's absolutely pandemonium. Very -- it's warm. It's getting warm because we're only on emergency lighting in the dome, and I'm just hoping the situation doesn't last very much longer. But at least several days, I would think.

BROWN: There's obviously no air conditioning. This is one of those buildings that's kept at that -- you know, at a perfect 70 degrees or 71 degrees. Is there -- do the bathrooms work? Is there fresh water available to people?

BIAS: There is quite a few -- what we're doing is feeding them the military ready to eat meals that the National Guard has brought in. And there's plenty of bottled water. The bathrooms are dark, but they are usable. They don't necessarily flush. That's one of the reasons that we probably hopefully won't stay very long in the dome.

There's been some leakage due to holes in the dome. And the folks that had to be moved up to the hall, or the corded (ph) area, which makes maneuvering the small electric ambulances very, very difficult. And there are very, very many needy people in the area: diabetics. We have heart attack and some other injuries that are varying constantly.

BROWN: Just give me your best...

BIAS: There's another -- there's another section of the dome that has the special needs people, and those are people that -- that need -- need some assistance with their medication. The dome is not equipped to be able to handle any more severe patients than that.

I was just told a few minutes ago to -- we're expecting to bring more patients into the dome for triage and try to send them or set them up in the arena, which is across from the dome. The hospitals in the area are flooded, and it appears we'll have to take some of those patients out of the hospitals and bring them here to the dome.

BROWN: Has the situation, in fact, over the last -- I don't know, eight, ten hours or so, has it been getting progressively worse?

BIAS: With the numbers of patients coming back in, yes. With the heat, also, and no air condition, the patients -- the general population is getting a little bit -- a little bit anxious. There's been some -- some attempts to diffuse the tension by allowing them to go out on the -- on the walkway of the dome. Some folks want to smoke, and it's a scenario where they can walk and get outside and get some fresh air.

BROWN: Just give me your best guess. I won't hold you to this, but just sort of you've watched this over the last 24 hours or so. How much longer do you think this could go on in there before it got really pretty nuts?

BIAS: Well, I think we're -- we're close. The needs -- the special needs patients can't stay in here very much longer, and that's why we're working now to get them out of -- of the dome. Because there's been some, as I mentioned, some leakage in -- and not very much light in many of the areas.

BROWN: Well, Ray, we appreciate...

BIAS: We...

BROWN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BIAS: I was going to say, we do have quite a few National Guards people here. The ambulance folks from across the state. And many national emergency organizations. So we're really attempting to get it done, but it's just really chaotic at times.

BROWN: Well, you have our thoughts and our best wishes. Hang in there. I can't imagine how difficult it has been, and it doesn't sound like it's getting better soon. Ray, thank you for your time tonight.

That's Ray Bias. That's the -- honestly, that's the first, best look that at least I've had. Maybe other people have -- other people's reporting, I'm not sure. But I've been on this thing, one way or another, since about 9 this morning. The best look at what it's like inside the Superdome.

That's a building that holds probably 70,000 to 80,000 people. But it is not designed for this. And as he said, it's not clear how much longer they can go on the way they're going on. But it is clear they're going to have to go on for awhile longer.

We have more coverage as we make our way toward midnight Eastern Time, as we are getting a much better handle, really, in the last 40 minutes or so, of the scope of the tragedy that is unfolding across the Gulf states.

We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: You heard in our conversation with Jeanne Meserve that -- her referencing her shooter, her cameraman, Mark Biello, who went out in a boat for awhile with rescue operations. And Mark came back, and Mark is on the phone now.

Look, there's no great brilliant question here, Mark. What did you see?

MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: Well, Aaron, we came across a group of good Samaritans, three gentlemen that had their own boat that wanted to pitch in on the relief effort. One of them a Vietnam vet.

And what we found as we were putting the boat in the water to go out on some of these relief operations, they were pulling out one of the casualties, one of the victims that drowned. And in this neighborhood, Edgewood, which is not too far from the dome, off of I- 10, there are hundreds and hundreds of homes that are completely flooded. And there are hundreds of people that are still trapped in the attics and in their homes.

We came across people on the rooftops, people punching holes in the attic spaces the water has filled up, all the way up to their attic. And there were many disabled folks, elderly folks. This one gentleman in his 70's, who was a double amputee, clinging onto a tree since 6 this morning, that -- that was pulled out of the water.

And there are many that are still trapped but because of nightfall, the rescue operations are hampered because of the live electric lines that are in the water and the gas lines that are bubbling up right through the water, and you can smell the gas as these lines are leaking.

Mark, you've been doing this for awhile. When you went out there, you had some expectation, I believe, I assume, of what you would see just based on what -- from sort of the starting point. Was it getting -- did it get progressively worse as this -- as this trip went on?

BIELLO: Yes. Apparently, what I think a lot of the rescue operations and a lot of the people don't realize the magnitude of how many people are still trapped in the attics. We're efforting to get all of the video fed down now, but they're chopping through with axes on the rooftops to pull people that are literally just breathing the last air in their homes. And they're up in the rafters up in the attic spaces.

The other big concern is there are a lot of wildlife, a lot of dogs that are trapped on the rooftops and cats, along with humans. And some of them are wrapped up in the power lines, and it's just a very, very discouraging scene. And the local law enforcement and rescue relief are very overwhelmed. We saw one Coast Guard helicopter that was flying overhead, and they were dropping red flares to mark people that they could spot from the air. But gain, you know, there's railroad tracks. There's power lines and gas lines. And once darkness fell.

The most recent thing we saw as we were driving out were the wildlife management people were showing up with their wildlife boats. And these are flat bottomed boats that will be able to cross over railroad tracks and all the power lines that are down, that get tangled up in the props of the regular boats.

So -- but again, as darkness falls, they're saying 300 to 500 are still trapped in these homes.

BROWN: Mark, I don't know if you have access to a monitor there or a TV there so you can see any of the video that we've been showing while we've been talking, but there's this rescue that we've shown several times, a Coast Guard helicopter pulling one man out of a home. Is that roughly in the area, do you know, that you were working in also?

BIELLO: Yes, that's probably the same area. We do not have -- we're still out of power here at the hotel. And I think the biggest concern that they have is the survivability of these people that are still trapped, which they cannot get to this evening because it's just too dangerous to take your boats out. The power lines are underneath the water.

BROWN: Yes.

BIELLO: They're getting caught up in the props. And actually, some of these lines are hot. And also, the gas lines are still bubbling and sending out natural gas. These lines have not been cut off or they didn't have time.

I think there's actually, unfortunately, an anticipation that there could be hundreds of deaths by tomorrow.

BROWN: And again, just so people can grasp, I guess, what we're talking about here, is you had people who, for whatever reason -- I mean, there's no point in our sitting here making judgments about their thinking -- who for whatever reason decided not to go to a shelter, decided to ride it out, to stay in their home. They have moved to the highest point in their home, an attic. They have essentially been trapped in that attic for, most certainly, since early this morning. And in some cases, they punched holes in the roof, correct?

BIELLO: That's correct. And also, some when we went were going through, and I accompanied these three gentlemen in their boat. And then some of the other rescue boats. They would call out to ask if anyone was there, and you could hear the people yelling or screaming from the attic areas.

Now those are just the audible ones that were close to the boat. This neighborhood spans for miles. This is not an isolated few blocks. This is -- it's a large magnitude of homes. Very low income, very poor people. Some people did not have the transportation or means to get to the shelters or were able to evacuate.

And I -- there were still quite a few people that were caught, I guess, in the storm surge that kept them trapped in their homes, because the water rose that rapidly.

BROWN: Mark, when we talked with Jeanne a bit ago, she said that it was her sense that, through the course of the time you were out there, from the time you left the hotel in the city to the time -- the time you came back that the water, in fact, was getting deeper, more difficult to operate in. Was that your sense, also?

BIELLO: Yes. Yes, that's -- it is rising. We've seen it rise. It's a slow, gradual rise now. It's not dramatic as before. But that's a big concern, especially with these people that are trapped overnight up in the attic spaces. Because literally, the air, the air pockets, there's no air.

We saw people sticking their hands outside through the rafters, waving little tin cans, aluminum pans to signal, you know, or have some kind of reflection as they were screaming to get them out. Because claustrophobia sets in, too, in these people that are trapped in these homes.

BROWN: Well, in -- not to play television shrink here, but one of the -- one of the problems you have, and if you've ever been stuck in an elevator or any small space, one of the problems you have is not simply that it's uncomfortable. Obviously, it's uncomfortable. Is you don't know how long you're going to be there. You don't know if you're going to be there for five minutes or five days. And that just increases the anxiety that people feel in those situations.

BIELLO: There was -- well, at the very end of the operations, when we had to turn back, it was complete nightfall. And we were actually using battery light on the camera to light the way with the boat. And there was another family waving at us and shining, but there was just no way to get to them, because there were two gas lines that were leaking in the water and there were live power lines that surrounded them.

So the rescue attempts to try to get to these people, it was just too dangerous, especially at nighttime, to get to them. And I'm afraid those people are going to be stuck there overnight, on top of the roof. And just that anticipation of the water rises any more, they're -- they're, you know, they're in bad shape, because there's no where else to go when you're on top of the roof of your own home.

BROWN: Just one more question, Mark, and one question quickly to the control room. Could somebody see if they can find out what the tide pattern is and if that's what we're talking about, that it's -- that it's the tide -- I should know this; I apologize that I don't -- that's causing this water to rise?

Mark, were there dozens of these small boats out there, good Samaritans and officials, several dozen or are we talking a handful? BIELLO: Well, the resources are strapped here. Obviously, they're understaffed, and I don't think anyone grasps the magnitude or has realized how something like this could have happened or how this got by everybody.

This was the only Good Samaritan boat we found. It was just a regular small fishing boat that we went out. The one good sign of hope was the wildlife management teams are showing up because apparently, these boats that I don't know what their animal rescue, they do have floodlights. And they do have power to have these searchlights on the boats, which is mandatory if you're going to get into these rescue operations to try to pull these people out of their homes and try to basically try to save as many lives as they can before the water rises any more or anyone else expires.

BROWN: Mark, thanks a lot. Again, you know, it's easy to sit here in New York. It's a lot harder to be where you guys are, doing the work that you guys have been doing, and you have our respect and admiration for your efforts today. Thank you.

Mark Biello is one of our photojournalists who's been working the story. There are dozens of -- we have dozens of colleagues down there, most of whom you never see on TV, never hear from, who have been doing very difficult work, trying to lay out a very complicated and vast story in terms of square miles.

I mean, this is going on across three states, and there are lots of towns and lots of stories like the ones Mark and Jeanne Meserve have been talking about. Hundreds of people trapped in attics and on rooftops in the eastern part of New Orleans tonight. And we assume, though we can't know this for sure, that there are similar scenes being played out in parts of Mississippi and perhaps in parts of Alabama, as well.

It will be, certainly, 10 or 12 hours, I suspect, daylight tomorrow, before we have a fuller appreciation of how desperate the situation is in some of those areas. We have just a taste of that tonight, and it's not a very comfortable taste, at that.

We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Just a quick final thought in this hour before we hand off our coverage. I suppose over the last 15 years, every year it seems like I've covered, chased hurricanes in one part of the southeast or another. And I never remember a situation quite like the one we have now, where 12, 18 hours after the center of the hurricane passed, or hit land and passed, we still don't have an especially clear picture of what has -- how devastating the damage is.

I think it's going to be well into tomorrow before we really understand the magnitude of the destruction and the magnitude of the loss of life. And just based on what we've learned in the last little bit, my gut says if nothing else, that the numbers are going to be extraordinarily disquieting. Our continuing coverage here on CNN, after the break. We'll see you again tomorrow night. Good night for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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