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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hurricane Katrina Aftermath; Rescue Efforts and Assessing the Damage

Aired August 30, 2005 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you can still hear me, we will continue to dry to re-establish contact, but we are losing our contact with you. We're going to try to come back, continue to give you as much information as we can pass on, but a final thought is that, again, the fires are continuing to burn here. And, again, this is just the beginning, only 24 hours into what is clearly a situation that could very well be deteriorating by the hour.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. John, thanks very much. John Zarrella reporting for us from New Orleans. John, we'll get back to you as soon as we can re-establish that satellite phone. He was joining us via video camera as well.

This situation, clearly deteriorating in New Orleans and beyond. Happening now, rescues and hard realities in the hurricane disaster area. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information about Katrina's aftermath are coming in simultaneously.

We're watching all fronts. It's 3:00 p.m. along the ravaged Gulf Coast, Central Time. People's lives are literally dangling. Members of the U.S. Coast Guard still coming to the rescue. How many people will they save and how many might not make it? We're watching this story.

A sunken city. Most of New Orleans, now under water. And it likely will be days, maybe weeks, maybe more until the Big Easy dries out. What's being done now to ease the flood waters? We'll go back there live.

And coastal Mississippi is also in crisis. Hundreds already may be dead. An untold number of homes and lives, shattered.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Coast Guard says it's rescued thousands of people in the New Orleans area alone; stranded by the flood waters unleashed by Hurricane Katrina. The situation remains tenuous. Some are being taken to the battered Superdome for medical attention. Dramatic scenes like these, playing out today across the disaster area.

In Mississippi, the Biloxi area looks like a bomb hit it: Home after home reduced to rubble. In one small Mississippi town, crews are putting black marks on homes that contain bodies because they don't have the resources to remove those bodies, at least not yet.

In Alabama, many roads are still blocked by flood waters and downed trees. But officials in Mobile say they feel fortunate that the damage there was not worse.

Katrina, by the numbers. We're following this situation state by state. Let's take a look.

Some of the numbers right now in Louisiana: Two dead confirmed, officials though, fear many, many more; 800,000 people are still without power in Louisiana; 10,000 taking shelter in the Superdome, alone. That could go up to 15,000 or 20,000 shortly.

Over in Mississippi, already 55 confirmed dead. That's an estimate. It could rise well into the hundreds. Nearly 900,000 people are without power. And more than 1,600 Mississippi National Guardsmen have now been activated.

Let's move over to Alabama. Two confirmed dead, more than half-a- million power outages in that state alone. Alabama is sending 800 National Guardsmen to Mississippi. They're trying to help in this situation.

As we've been telling you throughout the past hour, all day, that New Orleans has been very heavily hit. The U.S. Coast Guard is using helicopters, harnesses and some daring heroics to try to help people who are literally stranded on rooftops.

Let's get more on that rescue effort. Joining us now is Captain Pete Simons. He's a deputy incident commander for the U.S. Coast Guard. He's in Alexandria, Louisiana. I hope I'm pronouncing your last name right. It's Simons or Simons?

CAPTAIN PETE SIMONS, U.S. COAST GUARD: It's Simons, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Give us a little sense. You've seen the pictures, the dramatic rescue of these individuals stranded on rooftops. They are put in harnesses. They are taken aboard your helicopters. Give us a sense of what this operation is all about?

SIMONS: Well, as you've eloquently indicated, this is really a phenomenal rescue effort. We've pressed into service all available resources along the Gulf Coast and in fact, this is a national Coast Guard-wise response.

We have air crews that have been brought in from Cape Cod to Miami; west to North Bend, Oregon. In the New Orleans area alone, we have 22 aircraft, helicopters, that have been conducting rescue operations in the downtown area, plucking people off of rooftops and, depending upon on whether or not they require medical attention or just delivery to high ground, taking them to the Superdome or to the nearest available safe spot and then returning for additional people.

And it's, as you can imagine, a tremendous effort on the part of the air crews to respond to what really is a -- just a phenomenal need for assistance there in the downtown area.

BLITZER: Captain Simons, beyond the flood waters and all the other problems, we now see fires erupting in New Orleans and elsewhere. I assume you've seen the pictures. I assume the Coast Guard is trying to deal in some sort of way, with that as well. Can you give us some perspective?

SIMONS: Well, that's correct. But this is, of course, a massive team effort. It involves not only Coast Guard resources, but other federal agencies, FEMA, for example and then state and local agencies. We're working with the Louisiana National Guard, for example -- obviously, city officials, local sheriff's departments and fire departments -- to try to identify what the high priority targets are for action in terms of fire response or emergency medical response or what we call urban search and rescue -- that is, trying to relieve people of really the very difficult conditions they face as a result of this hurricane.

BLITZER: When we see those Coast Guard choppers going in, dropping that harness and lifting these individuals, they're holding on as tightly as they can in those baskets. How dangerous of an operation is this?

SIMONS: Well, it looks much more precarious really than it is. The first step is generally that we lower a rescue swimmer down to brief individuals on what's going to happen. And then they lower the rescue basket down again and one by one retrieve them from the rooftops or whenever they might happen to be -- so that there's an individual from the Coast Guard on the ground and obviously very skilled pilots in the air to make sure that as best as a possible, it's a minimal risk.

The operation itself, obviously, has some dangers in it, but these individuals have done these thousands of times before. And as of last night, we had rescued 1,200 people. As of about midday today, our rescue numbers were in the thousands. We -- it's almost too difficult to keep up with those numbers, but as the air crews return to our operations -- our air operation center there at Bell Chase, we're able to get updates on the number of people rescued.

BLITZER: Captain Simons of the U.S. Coast Guard, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you and all of your personnel on the scene.

SIMONS: Thank you.

BLITZER: We've reestablished contact with our John Zarrella. He's in New Orleans. John, the fires -- we can see the smoke coming up from behind you. Look around you, behind you and share with us what you're seeing.

ZARRELLA: Well, what we're seeing is, just a minute ago we saw a helicopter flying overhead. We don't know if it was police. And that helicopter was broadcasting some sort of a message. We have no idea what it is.

Down below us is -- and towards where the camera view is -- is Canal Street and that's where all the looting was going on earlier today. And it just did not appear that there was enough police manpower to handle the problem that they had there. There was an earlier fire in that same direction where our camera is looking, out by the bridge there, earlier today. Again, somewhere along the Mississippi, we believe. That fire has flared up and then it's calmed down a bit.

And then, that huge fire that is behind me in the distance. Again, we believe perhaps some oil or chemical storage facility there on the Mississippi. And, you know, all around us where you can see -- I think, you know, one of the great problems -- it's very quiet here in the city right now. It's so, so quiet. You don't hear much at all.

Last night was very different when tourists were out on the street, on Canal Street, walking the street. People were milling around, there were police everywhere. But then in the overnight hours when the levee breached and the water began to came in, everything radically changed this morning. And again, everything became impassable and as we know, perhaps 80 percent of the city is under water.

You know, one of the things from covering the New Orleans story for so many years that we'd heard, is that in this worst-case scenario, that if the levees broke, what they would try to do and what apparently what the Army Corps of Engineers is going to try to do is to drop some enormous thousands of pounds sandbags from helicopters into the breech of the levee; try to back -- to block off the water from coming from Lake Pontchartrain into the city and then blow another hole somewhere in the levee so that at another location that would have gravity then pull the water out of the city. And that may be one of the things they're working on doing, a dramatic way to stop the water from coming into the city, because, again, Wolf, it is continuing to rise. It has been rising now for at least -- at least 12 hours that we know. Just a few inches every hour, but a steady creep up, up, up, up. Again, it's in the lobby now of the hotel, up several inches.

Wolf.

BLITZER: So presumably, virtually every building in that downtown area where you are, near the Superdome and beyond, there's, at least water seeping into the ground levels and the basements, if there are any basements, in virtually every building in that area?

ZARRELLA: Oh, absolutely. We could see the water seeping in today. We opened a door -- the hotel management opened the door to the basement to show us down there. Water was just pouring in and coming up into the basement from the street level.

So clearly, in all of these hundreds and hundred thousands of buildings here in the downtown part of the city, they're experiencing that exact same thing. I wish -- from this roof vantage point we can see quite a bit, and, again, it's extremely quiet here. But what we can't see from this vantage point is the Superdome, to get an idea of what is going on there.

The fire continuing to burn in the distance. Again, we're seeing periodically some of those Coast Guard helicopters flying over. I know you were talking to the Coast Guard about the rescue attempts here earlier, that are continuing to go on in New Orleans and in other places along the Gulf Coast. And we've seen some minor -- some building collapses that we did see yesterday.

The thing about it, Wolf, was that what we've -- what was so fascinating was that yesterday you had a different sense of what was going on here, because there was no breach in the levee. We were able to drive around. We saw looting yesterday as well, but you could drive around. You saw the infrastructure that had been destroyed, some buildings that were damaged, the power system that was completely down and water, a lot of water in some places. But nothing compared to the amount of water that is now flooding into the Big Easy.

Wolf.

BLITZER: You did a lot of research going into New Orleans, looking at the worst-case scenarios. And as bad as this situation is, had that hurricane been a Category 4 that had a direct hit on New Orleans, God only knows how much even worse it would have been.

ZARRELLA: Oh, there's no doubt about it. You know, the nightmare scenario here was somewhat avoided, if you can believe it, because the storm Katrina moved -- it veered a little bit to the right.

The levee system was designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. This was a Category 4 hurricane. But on top of that, they have a unique situation in Louisiana where they are literally losing land every year. And this land loss over the past 20 or 25 years, which scientists have been studying, has eroded any kind of a barrier that they once had along the Gulf to these major massive storms.

So more recent modeling of what a hurricane would do to this city showed that those levee systems, the levee system that surrounds the city might not stand up, might be overtopped even by a Category 3 hurricane. Of course, it was designed after Betsy in 1965, which was a Category 3.

So clearly this storm, a 4, even though it missed, caused serious problems.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John. We're going to wrap you, but we're going to get back to you. I want to go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There's a news conference under way, FEMA officials speaking out right now on the disaster that has engulfed this region.

(LIVE EVENT JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: ... They knew of some locations where a large number of people were in a tall building, they were high and dry and safe, although fearful and didn't know what was going on. They couldn't get to that building for the large numbers of people who called out to them and jumped off of their roofs. So they started taking the people who had a higher level of risk in first. And we've evacuated hundreds -- or we've saved hundreds of people from the -- from their rooftops, from the waters. And I know there are -- I'm sure it's in the thousands now. And there are many more that have to be saved.

It's just -- the volume of the work is incredible. And I just think our people are going to have to draw on their inner strength, like we've never, ever had to do before. It's going to be, in some neighborhoods, total rebuilding.

We don't know the soundness of many, many structures, homes, buildings -- many buildings are totally devastated and down. Some are in shards. You just see just, total shards.

The highway -- the I-10 span between New Orleans and Slidell has many sections of it out. We didn't count, but I'd estimate five, six maybe, sections...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And virtually all the segments are unaligned.

BLANCO: Right, and the segments are offset. You know, it's like a jigsaw puzzle. Exactly, that's how it looks.

So it's totally -- I mean, it's just empty, empty spaces between segments of the highway on both sides, the eastbound and westbound stands.

When you get into Jefferson Parish, Clearview, I think it is, there's very deep water. People have lost their automobiles and had to be saved, by the way. These were people who were trying to come back in. So they became the people who had to be rescued.

And this is the situation that's going on. We tried to -- we did have a fabulous meeting with Mayor Nagin. He has all of his needs stated in a priority fashion, and we are trying to address each and every one of those needs as we speak.

Charity Hospital is out of commission. Big Charity is not functional at this time, and we are trying to evacuate the patients there. I don't know what kind of progress. It's very hard to get there because water has surrounded the hospital. We're trying to evacuate those patients to other state hospitals in other cities in the state.

And the mayor of Kenner was one person we were able to get to. Kenner is locked down, and they're trying very hard -- part of the big problem is the communications network is down. We could not get cell phone access. We could not get BlackBerry access, much less, you know, a land line. The communications network is completely gone.

So they have great needs and we're trying to communicate. And so I believe an emergency communications network will be established pretty shortly, because that's something that has to happen. `

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: The only thing I would add, because we've been on the radio, taking calls as well, and people that have cell phones that are functioning, sometimes they'll say, well, I'm standing here and I don't see any water around me.

Just trust us that when you get up in a helicopter and you can see the breadth and depth of the water and the destruction, whatever people are seeing right around them is only their one little section, but when you get up, as the governor said, most of the roads and highways are impassable, and water is still coming into the city of New Orleans.

The water is up to the rooftops in St. Bernard and Plaquemine. We think there may be only one major way into the city right now and it has to be used for emergency personnel to get food and water and rescue equipment to people who are in desperate need.

So that is going to be our first...

BLANCO: Plus, even once you get in now, you cannot drive around in the city because of the water.

There are only just certain points that can -- that emergency personnel can access. I think I'd like to come to FEMA or -- Colonel Schneider (ph).

LT. COL. PETE SCHNEIDER, SPOKESMAN, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: I know there's been a lot of concern about the levee breaches. We had a conference call just about an hour ago with Colonel Wagner with the Corps of Engineers. He has been up in a helicopter surveying the entire situation, and they're diligently working on a plan that is going to close these breaches.

But one of the things that they want to make sure that they do is that the plan that they come up with is one that will hold, because certainly it would set the efforts back considerably if we do something that is not going to hold.

They feel like the efforts will probably start by late this afternoon, and for sure tomorrow. And they feel like that they can get this accomplished in reasonably short order. But you can imagine, they're not willing to commit exactly at this time how long it will take. But we know that they're diligently working on it. They realize the gravity of the situation. They're not sparing any resources on getting this fixed. And we're confident that the Corps will come up with a solution to this problem quickly.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, LOUISIANA: Thank you

BILL LOKEY, FEDERAL COORDINATING OFFICER FOR FEMA: My name is Bill Lokey. I'm the federal coordinating officer for FEMA for this disaster. We arrive on scene when two things happen under the law. When the governor requests the president for assistance and the president says yes. As you're aware, that was done just a few days ago as a result of this unprecedented disaster.

We work in partnership with the state. Most everything we do is based on state priorities and state requests. Our initial actions now are primarily in the life-saving and life-sustaining arena. We brought in some of our rescue teams from around the country that, as we speak, are in partnership with the wildlife and fisheries folks, the National Guard and the Coast Guard, effecting water rescue. We have some of our medical teams that are working, as we speak, at the Superdome and at some of medical staging areas that have been developed.

We're bringing in additional teams. We have some of our swift water assets from California that the military is flying in, and we'll work continually with the state supporting their requests and the priorities and the life-saving missions.

We're also working on life-sustaining missions, bringing in the commodities of ice, water, and MREs that we have delivered already to the Superdome and other locations, which the state is endeavoring to deliver to needy communities.

And we're working with them in establishing some unified commands where we can work together in some of the hardest hit areas to ensure we have coordinated emergency response. So I think -- I'd also like to introduce Mr. Scott Wells, my deputy, who is mainly involved in some of the direct operations. And that's an over -- summary of what FEMA has done.

And, I believe, Governor, I'll turn it back to you for -- mainly if you ask questions specifically (INAUDIBLE).

BLANCO: We'll try to answer your questions.

QUESTION: What about evacuating the Superdome? Is that something that's being discussed? You talked about getting people out. Is that planned (ph)?

BLANCO: They're putting more and more survivors into the Superdome, and it's very -- the conditions there are very difficult. But we're worrying first about the medically needy. So we have to set up shelters and make sure that their medical needs can be taken care of. Then in the next phase, we'll be looking for places to evacuate the rest of the folks who found themselves at the Superdome.

It's not a very comfortable situation right now. You can imagine there's no power. It's hot. You know, difficult to get food to them. Now that the water is -- there's water lapping at the foot of the Superdome now. I would guess -- I think I saw people walking in at about knee-deep as they were trying to get into the Superdome from the ground floor. And so we're, you know, that is definitely going to be phased in as we go through these next few hours and days.

QUESTION: Did you fly over lower Plaquemine and St. Bernard Parish? Could you describe what you saw there?

BLANCO: Yes, we did. I guess there we saw mainly rooftops. The taller buildings were okay, I guess, from about the second or, perhaps, the third floor up, but, you know, we know that there are a lot of people that need to be evacuated there, too. And I think some of them probably are being evacuated. But they happen to be in less danger. We have been sending food and water supplies into them.

LANDRIEU: But I'll say that Judge Perez Drive is totally under water. There -- it was hard to tell. It could be anywhere from four to six to eight feet, but basically rooftops in St. Bernard and in Plaquemine.

QUESTION: Other plans of getting generators or something like that to the Superdome so they can get the air conditioning back on and possibly make it a little bit more livable?

BLANCO: The generators that are -- that do exist at the Superdome are now being put in jeopardy by the water. You have to be able to ventilate generators. You can't put them in an enclosed area. And the water -- the rising water is causing a lot of problems. The Superdome is vast. Generators would only technically leave lights on at that facility. I mean, you could have a few lights. And I think they have had that much power, but I think that's now even in jeopardy.

QUESTION: How fast is the water rising?

QUESTION: There's a C-5 that's supposed to come to New Orleans International. Do you have any idea what's going to be inside that transport?

BLANCO: What is it now?

QUESTION: A C-5 Galaxy is going to be brought in to New Orleans tomorrow?

LANDRIEU: Cargo plane. You can tell -- that's a FEMA plane.

LOKEY: That is some more rescue assets from California. At least, we have -- I've been told by the Department of Defense, they have tasked a C-5, it was loading at Travis Air Force Base a little while ago. It's some of the water rescue assets we're bringing in from California.

QUESTION: Can somebody just read the exact dimensions of the two breaches of the levee?

SCHNEIDER: According to the Corps, they feel like that the one breach is almost 300 feet. The second breach is much smaller, but I know that some of you flew over it, you may have a better sense, but that's what I was told.

QUESTION: Can you give us some details about how the Corps is considering plugging those two holes?

SCNEIDER: Well again, they were in their preliminary phases of figuring out exactly what they wanted to do. But to make this as quick as possible, they were talking about getting some sea/land containers and filling it with potentially sand or very, very heavy material, then lifting those containers and plugging the breach that way. They feel like that there would be enough weight that that would hold the water back and would be certainly better than just a temporary solution of throwing the sandbags in that may not hold anyway. But, again, that was just a preliminary way of doing that.

BLITZER: We're going to break away from this news conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The top of the news conference, we heard the Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announce that a plan is now being considered to evacuate the remaining residents of New Orleans, given the flood waters that have come in, given the health problems, the health risks that are clearly developing. She's considering a plan to evacuate everyone left behind. There was a mandatory evacuation from New Orleans, as Hurricane Katrina moved in. Now she's considering a plan to get everyone else out of this city.

Let's move on and speak with Karen Troyer Caraway from Tulane University Hospital is joining us on the phone. I understand that you have a major development under way at your hospital, Karen.

KAREN TROYER CARAWAY, TULANE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Yes, that's correct. We lost power about 30 hours ago. And with the rising water, that started about 11:00 p.m. last night, we've now lost one of our backup generators. So we have, you know, enough portable generators to provide the critically needed care for our patients, but if the water continues to rise, we will lose all of our backup generator power in the building.

We've already lost air, suction, and water. We've got about 200 patients in the facility that we are trying to evacuate. Sixty of those are patients that came to us in the middle of the storm from the Louisiana Superdome. We have a series of medical helicopters that are evacuating patients one and two at a time off the roof of our parking garage, because of the critical issue we have with losing backup generator power.

BLITZER: What do you do with these people? Where are you going to move them, Karen?

CARAWAY: Well a couple of our patients -- our NICU babies have gone to Lafayette Women's Hospital. We've also transported patients to Rapeeds (ph) in Alexandria, Texas Children's in Houston, a hospital in Pensacola. Our corporate office, which is HCA in Nashville, has done an unbelievable job in coordinating resources dedicated to evacuating these patients in a very short period of time, because of the rapidly rising water we have here in New Orleans.

BLITZER: Karen Troyer Caraway, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people at Tulane University Hospital.

Once again, the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, announcing just a little while ago that she's developing a plan to evacuate all the remaining residents of New Orleans, a city of about a half a million people. Those individuals who stayed behind as Hurricane Katrina moved in, they are about presumably to be evacuated, given the flood waters and the dangers that certainly exist there.

Let's go back to Baton Rouge and listen in on the news conference which continues.

LANDRIEU: ...we were able to see a great part of St. Tammany and they've taken on a huge amount of water.

QUESTION: I'm not clear. The problem -- you have these thousands of people stranded now in the city. Is the goal to bring all of those people out? Or is the goal to bring supplies in so they can continue to survive?

BLANCO: Right now, the first goal is to bring enough supplies in to sustain those folks until we can develop a network to get them out.

QUESTION: So the -

BLANCO: So we will do both -- eventually, do both. Yes. I mean, right now, the first goal is to keep them with food and water.

QUESTION: Does the water that's downtown -- does this represent what everyone feared before the hurricane would come, that you would have this toxic soup that has overrun the city?

BLANCO: It didn't -- I wouldn't think it would be toxic soup right now. I think it's just water from the lake, water from the canals. It's, you know, water.

QUESTION: Well, something could be underneath that water.

BLANCO: Pardon?

QUESTION: What could be underneath that water that we need to start worrying about? What's in the water? Is there any...

BLANCO: I can't -- we didn't -- we just saw a lot of water. We couldn't tell you what's under the water except houses and cars are in the water. I mean, there were cars totally submerged.

QUESTION: How fast is it rising? Is it rising very fast in the most seriously flooded areas of New Orleans?

BLANCO: Well, it's rising in the downtown area.

LANDRIEU: It's rising in the downtown area, but I would describe it as slowly rising. But again, these conditions could be changing. I mean, the levees are breached. The water in some areas is still flowing into the city.

So, while our report is an hour old or an hour and a half, the conditions could have changed since we got back. It's a very fluid situation. But the water in downtown area, in the metropolitan area...

VITTER: In the metropolitan area in general, in the huge majority of areas, it's not rising at all. It's the same or it may be lowering slightly. In some parts of New Orleans, because of the 17th Street breach, it may be rising and that seemed to be the case in parts of downtown.

I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening.

QUESTION: How deep is it? Now that it's rising, in the downtown area, how deep is it? Do you have any idea?

BLANCO: Well, right by the dome it was about knee-deep. But in some streets, I think...

VITTER: The French Quarter was dry, as far as I know.

BLANCO: The French Quarter is perfectly dry.

VITTER: As you go to the river and it gets higher. So, I believe the dome would be a low spot that perhaps has flooded recently.

QUESTION: Governor, given your experience here and given the fact that it's -- time is riding on, people are getting tired, some emotions are coming into play, people are starting to get agitated, what message can you send to people across the state to give them some sense that they need to just calm down and relax and as much as possible, make themselves comfortable where they are?

BLANCO: Well, I would suggest that we have a day of prayer tomorrow. I think that would be the very best thing for all of us to calm our spirits and to thank our lord that we all -- we are all survivors. I believe that life is the first and foremost important thing that we all share and property is very important to all of us, but it's tangible and it's something that we can eventually replace.

This is not going to be an easy time for any of our citizens who have been affected in southeast Louisiana by the -- by this storm. The dimensions are unfathomable. But slowly, gradually, we will recover. We will survive. We will rebuild. It's going to take some time and this cannot happen overnight.

Look at what's going on in Florida. A lot of our people are extremely familiar with Florida. It's taken them a long time to recover from last year's storm. And many places of the panhandle, they're not yet recovered. So, I think that our situation is worse than what we saw in Florida last year, but -- or I'm talking about the Destin, Pensacola area -- the area that Louisiana people so dearly love.

But -- and I'm saying it's worse because we have far more people living in a concentrated area than they did. So, it's affected more lives. You know, the people of Jefferson Parish, the people of St. Tammany Parish, the people of St. Bernard, Plaquemine, Orleans, I think they were the most severely affected and I know families affected here in Baton Rouge.

Trees fell on homes and just wiped out houses. And in many other parishes, we had what we could call expected hurricane damage in a lot of the parishes. But what we're dealing with is -- it's not what I would call normal hurricane damage.

We are all very storm-smart, I like to say. We've survived a lot. But this is catastrophic in ways that we've not had to deal with. And -- so all citizens of Louisiana are going to have to help and support the citizens of the southeast region.

QUESTION: Can I follow up by asking you, what kind of things specifically people around the state and in the region can do for those who are directly affected? BLANCO: Well, certainly they can begin to reach out and I know that some people want to contribute money to a fund. The Red Cross is going to be key in helping so many families, and the Red Cross always needs financial help to be able to pull communities across the country together. We need them now more than ever. And they can -- they will be helping with immediate needs. FEMA will be helping with immediate needs. We're going to have to relocate people. First, we have to dry the place out and then we'll be able to determine exactly what's going to have to happen from there. But we will try to find homes.

QUESTION: Just one more quick question. And that is, is there a reasonable expectation -- how should we gear people's expectations? Should people now who are in evacuation shelters 30,000 plus -- should they be thinking in terms of weeks away from home? Or should they be thinking in terms of months away from home? Give them some orientation in terms of what they should be thinking.

BLANCO: That's hard to say. I don't know if they'll be able to move into their homes. If the engineering is done properly, they'll be able to survey their homes.

If we can dry the area out, if we can create passable streets, they may be able to survey their home. But probably it'll -- it will be weeks before they can do that. Because of the devastation, it's hard for me to say how many homes will structurally be salvageable.

QUESTION: Governor, what were the evacuees like in the Superdome? What was it like seeing those thousands of people?

BLANCO: Well, it was moving and I -- you know, you saw the despair in their faces. We didn't cross over because there's water between us and them. We had intended to move away, but we just had to stay at the helipad office.

We couldn't -- we didn't have a vehicle to get us across. So, you know, we saw them looking and you know, walking around. They needed to get out to understand why they were there -- or why they couldn't leave there, I should say. And so, I'm told that they became somewhat calmer once they began to see that they were safe, although not in the best place or not in the place they wanted to be, but that they were safe and that we have enormous problems.

Because there's no power, you see, they don't get to see what's on television. They're not seeing these pictures. I don't know how many of them have radios. Maybe a few. But information is -- they are attempting to deliver information to them. Information and communication is so essential.

QUESTION: Governor, can somebody address how long -- once the breaches are closed, how long will it take to actually pump the water out of New Orleans?

BLANCO: I don't know what the capacity is.

SCHNEIDER: The Corps would have to answer that. We don't have this information available right now, but they assure us that they're working a dual process. One is to close the breach. And at the same time they're getting, you know, getting the pumps and so forth in place, needed to do the pumping.

QUESTION: Governor, for the people that have evacuated and the people that you're planning on evacuating, do you have plans set for long-term shelters throughout the state? What are your plans to -- where are you going to send these people to?

BLANCO: That's where FEMA comes in.

LOKEY: We're working on those options right now. In a normal disaster, we would look for additional housing stock in the community that could be rented. We can provide rental assistance for people and things like that.

This is way more than normal, so we are -- we've got a task force formed working with the state. We're right now surveying available properties to build temporary shelters. We're looking at available properties to build more permanent shelters.

We're looking at purchasing quite a number of travel trailers and mobile homes. We're looking at the potential of floating dormitories and things like that that are available.

And, I would have to say that literally nothing will be off the table, but until we get some other information relative to, you know, what areas we can even put these places on -- and ideally, we'd like to locate people in their old neighborhoods so that they can go back to their same schools and churches. But with something as widespread as this, we're going to be reinventing New Orleans and reinventing the area.

QUESTION: From what you can see now, is this the worst natural disaster that's hit the United States?

LOKEY: In my experience, I would have to say this probably is. And there's a lot of ways to measure it. There's number of fatalities, which is yet unknown in this one. There is, you know, the total cost, the cost covered by FEMA and things like that. But this was certainly, if not the most significant disaster ever to hit the United States and certainly in recent -- in FEMA's history, probably.

QUESTION: Had you ever dealt with a situation where you had tens of thousands of homeless refugees that you had to house?

LOKEY: We felt we came close last year, but this has rather exceed that.

QUESTION: Can New Orleans realistically ever resemble what it was after something of this magnitude? Can it be rebuilt?

LOKEY: Yes. And with time and with effort -- and you know, again, it's hard to use the normal disaster things we use, because this is just so extraordinary. You know, there may be opportunity here, but it's going to take quite some time and the federal government will be here as long as necessary. I have my personal commitment for my job and my orders from the president and the director of FEMA. We are to do everything we possibly can under our laws and regulations and under the authorities of the federal government to bring whatever assistance we can.

Things like this, when you've heard the devastation described, with the number of homes and things like that, it is going to take time.

BLANCO: Let me express it this way. It's mile after mile after mile of homes inundated with water. And it just -- it's endless.

LOKEY: But can and will New Orleans be rebuilt? Absolutely.

BLANCO: Yes, yes.

LOKEY: Absolutely! And as you just heard, FEMA will do everything within their authority. And if they don't have certain authority that they need, we'll be changing that, too.

BLANCO: And we've had a commitment from Director Mike Brown that if special legislation is needed to help us out in any direction, that FEMA cannot -- is not already authorized to do, that they will work with us on that, too. And I know our delegation certainly...

LANDRIEU: Let me say that Senator Vitter and I have already started putting together a legislative package because we realize this is of a substantial magnitude. Our staffs have been working on that together for the last two days.

Just like other parts of the country have been hard hit and special efforts have been made, nothing will be spared to get this community back on its feet. One thing that could be done for housing and shelter, since some of us are actually evacuated here to Baton Rouge, the hotels could make themselves as available as possible for extended stays and be as accommodating.

I know the hotels are doing everything they can. The word is that all the hotels in Louisiana are full, but anything that the hotels can could, churches can do, and others on their own to give people comfort and temporary shelter until each family can figure out a plan for themselves. We don't know if it will be some weeks or months, but saving lives is the front and center effort today.

QUESTION: What areas fared the best? Are there any areas that people who are in these shelters can say, my land is safe?

WELLS: I heard -- Mary and I heard from a state representative -- we didn't see it during this tour -- that Algiers and other areas of the west bank did relatively well and were relatively dry.

There are parts of Metairie -- most of Metairie has water. There are parts of Metairie that look relatively dry, particularly between Bonnabel and Orleans -- Yes. South Kenner, south of Veterans is now dry, but a lot of that had water, including in structures and it just drained to the lake. LANDRIEU: And City Park is under a great deal of water -- the City Park area. What I was explaining to the governor flying over, knowing New Orleans as we both do so well and the region, in this situation, there are areas that have not flooded that are flooded and have significant water, and others that, you know, usually flood that are dry. And I think it's because of the breaches in these canals. And the breaches of the water have made the water flow different than what's usual.

So, I hope as people understand and listen to what we're saying, they won't go by former storms or past storms. This is a different situation and it's -- the water is very deep in places that sometimes it's not even there.

WELLS: In the east bank of the city -- we did not go uptown. And I would be hopeful -- I certainly don't know this, but I would be hopeful as you get toward the river uptown, it would be dry as it is downtown, but we didn't go there so I can't say that. And Downtown and the French Quarter, particularly toward the river, were dry.

QUESTION: Are there any provision to get the tourists out that got stranded in hotels? You know, people from other parts of the country might be worried about them.

BLANCO: Is the airport operating?

SCHNEIDER: No.

LOKEY: Well, our basic plans right now are focusing on rescue of the people at risk. We acknowledge there are people that are uncomfortable and stranded, but if they are dry and safe, they need to hang on until we can get the people that truly have a life-safety issue.

But we are looking at plans to get those people evacuated and get them, you know, to the airports and working on scheduling flights out and things like that. But right now, our total focus is on life- saving efforts.

QUESTION: Is that a matter of days? When do you think you'll get to that point where you've taken care of the critical base and can work on...?

LOKEY: I would like to hope we could -- you know, move into that in a matter of days, but we just got started when the weather cleared last night, on the rescue operations. And the total -- we have another function going on with the state today that started this morning we call our Rapid Needs Assessment.

We've had people in helicopters and on the ground doing a survey of the broad area to get the best operational picture possible to plan our immediate response operations. And so, until we can debrief on that and start developing our plans, I would just have to say we'll endeavor to do it as quickly as possible and I hope that it's within days.

QUESTION: Have most of the people on rooftops and in attics now been saved?

BLANCO: We think -- we know a lot of them have. We don't know -- we think there are still some regions that have not been reached, so we know there are more.

QUESTION: Are you still working from calls, or just areas you know of?

BLANCO: Well --

LANDRENEAU: Visuals.

BLANCO: It's visuals and -- go ahead.

LOKEY: Well, there are two things going on. The air operations do basic patterns to cover populated areas and with the boats that are out, we are working -- they have an organized plan of dividing things into manageable units, assigning resources into those units, so that in a systematic pattern, they can check everything, going to higher population and higher priority areas first and targeting areas where people have been reported.

Because if everybody just goes out and starts looking, you might double up in some places and miss others. So, there's a systematic approach to this with the resources set on the priorities we know.

MAJOR GENERAL BENNETT C. LANDRENEAU, ADJUTANT GENERAL, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: I'll just echo that there's a very systematic approach and there's an outstanding effort. There are a lot of boats. There's a lot of aviation assets that are being applied to the search and rescue mission. And the governor was given a briefing by the task force commander for the search and rescue. And it's a very detailed, systematic approach to covering all of the areas and moving quickly and as aggressively as they can.

QUESTION: General Landreneau, are there places you haven't been able to reach yet -- the search and rescue teams haven't been able to reach yet?

LANDRENEAU: That's correct.

QUESTION: There are? What places?

LANDRENEAU: They can reach them, they just haven't got gotten to them yet. They have flown over there.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANCO: ... And then they bring them to dry-dock and then go back out and then they keep pushing out further and further.

LANDRENEAU: Right, but they are mapping it with aviation assets.

QUESTION: How many people have you brought out so far today? Do you have any idea -- any estimate?

BLANCO: This morning we heard 700. We think they are much larger numbers now.

QUESTION: Governor, you said you spoke to the mayor of Kenner. Besides be in lockdown, what else did he have to say about that area?

BLANCO: Mayor Capitano was talking about the lack of communication. And we realize that, that is probably the most severe problem. We've had trouble here communicating with some of our emergency people in the parishes, the local people. And we recognize that an emergency communications network has to be put up.

There are a number of people in Kenner who weathered the storm, apparently and you know, we need food and water for those folks. And they need -- they needed extra security. I think he made a request of General Landreneau to send in more National Guard members for security reasons and for, you know, all manner of help.

LANDRIEU: Thank you all very much.

BLANCO: Thank you.

BLITZER: You've been watching a news conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The governor, Kathleen Blanco, obviously heartbroken as so many millions of people watching what's happening in New Orleans, elsewhere in Alabama and Mississippi are right now. At the beginning of the news conference, we heard the governor utter these words. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLANCO: We are having to bring shipments of food in to the emergency personnel and to those people who are in shelters. We're going to try to get the people in shelters, because isolated by water in most cases. But we're going to try to get those people relocated as soon as we possibly can get a plan together. And a lot of people lost their lives, and we still don't have any idea, because the focus continues to be on rescuing those who have survived.

BLITZER: The governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, saying that a complete evacuation now of all remaining residents under consideration for New Orleans, a city of half a million people. There's no power there, and there won't be any power, any electricity, for some time. She says, really no drinking water, although a lot of water is coming in because those two levees were broken. And sanitation and health hazards remain critical right now.

James Carville is joining us. He's from Louisiana. Your home state, clearly right now a catastrophe, James. You have relatives who are still there?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I have six brothers and sisters who are still there.

BLITZER: Where are they?

CARVILLE: There in Baton Rouge. I had a sister in Slidell, which lost a house. Slidell was probably more devastated than any part of Louisiana. It's a community between New Orleans and the Mississippi line. So it's much closer to where the eye of the storm hit. Nobody can get back. So she's fortunate, in that she's staying with my sister who lives in Perryville, Louisiana, which is right outside of Baton Rouge. So they can stay there, obviously, as long as they want.

But if you compound that -- people in New Orleans can't get back to their house. And as the governor said, quite correctly, it could be weeks -- who knows how long it will be -- before you can even get in and asses the damage.

She teaches at the St. Margaret Mary Parochial School in Slidell. That school, she tells me, is eight feet under water. Her husband works for Exxon Mobile pipeline in St. Bernard Parish, which his stations are 20 feet under water. He has no idea when he's going back to work.

So this is compounded -- this is the story of one family. There are a million stories just like this.

My brother is a contractor, he owns part of three hotels in New Orleans. One of his business associate's dad has brain cancer, had to call him, move his dad to my brother's bedroom in Baton Rouge. When the electricity went out, he had to get a generator from his contracting office and put in air conditioning in there. You know, the man has got terminal brain cancer.

And this is the kind of human stories -- I'm not just trying to accent my family, but it's the story I know. This -- there are a million stories, many of them, much worse, much, much, worse than what my family's experiencing there. But this is what the storm has done

BLITZER: We're getting new video showing what's happening in New Orleans. Just think about this. Eighty percent of that city, half a million people, James, under water right now. And the water continues to flow into this city. Did you ever think beautiful areas like the French Quarter, historic areas of this major American city, are on the verge of destruction?

CARVILLE: We -- everybody in Louisiana knew that this could happen. I mean, people -- well this is the topic, if the big one hit. I think there was a sense that this was going to be the one that we all dreaded. And then oh, gee, it missed us, and maybe it wasn't quite as bad. I think it's much worse.

As we watch today what happened and watching the governor, watching Governor Barbour of Mississippi -- I mean, don't forget, I mean, those folks have really taken it -- it is the stories that I hear of people living out of pickup trucks.

And understand, these people are not going to be able to get back to their homes for weeks, maybe months. And then when they get back, they're going to have to do an engineering assessment. Then they're -- can you imagine what filing the insurance claims is going to be?

So it's a -- this story is not going to go anywhere, and I hate to be the first one to say this, but the surface temperature in the northern Gulf is two degrees higher than normal, we're at September the 1st tomorrow. There's a good six weeks left of this hurricane season. I wouldn't want to think what would happen if we have another hurricane anywhere in the Northern Gulf.

BLITZER: Just think, one of the reporters at this news conference in Baton Rouge asked the governor and Senator Mary Landrieu who was there, the FEMA representatives, the representatives of the National Guard, this question, and it was sort of chilling when I heard the question. Do you think New Orleans can be rebuilt? Will ever be rebuilt? I mean, when you think about the nature of that question from a reporter, it sends chills up and down your spine.

CARVILLE: I love that city. My wife and I got married in New Orleans. I mean, that's where -- that's our favorite -- my kids, it is their favorite place in the world. And, you know, yes, it can be rebuilt. If anybody that knows me, knows I'm going to be calling for money and be raising money, which is the thing that I can do to do that. I mean, that's going to be huge efforts set up to raise money to help these people.

But you know, sure it's going to be rebuilt, but how and how long it takes is going to be a good question here. It's a big storm. And you know, a lot of people love New Orleans, not just me because I lived there and got married there and my kids love it, but people from all over the country. I can't tell you if I walk down the street, and just, man, I love New Orleans, I had such a good time there, et cetera.

So it is -- and let's not forget just about the people in the Mississippi Coast. I mean, there's real, real devastation there. It is, it's terrible. And let's just hope that we get through the next six weeks of this -- eight weeks, I guess, technically, of this hurricane season and not have something else break out in this Northern Gulf, because I couldn't imagine that.

BLITZER: Let's pray for everyone. Thanks very much, James. And good luck to all your friends and family down there.

We're going to take a quick break. But we're not going to ignore Mississippi. Perhaps hundreds of people have already died along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We're going to go there live.

We're also getting in some new exclusive video. One of our photographers went up in a plane, shot video up and down the Gulf Coast. We're going to show you that video.

Here's some numbers. You need to know these numbers if you'd like to help. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's been watching all of these dramatic developments with all of us. He's also been monitoring you're e-mail. Jack's joining us from New York. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Heart-breaking story, Wolf. It seems kind of callous to discuss gasoline in the wake of everything that's going on interims of the human suffering down there. But there's a possibility that energy could be affected. We get about a fourth of our oil and gas out of the area that was trashed by Katrina. Yesterday Governor Jeb Bush in Florida said that residents could see shortages of gasoline in that state in the coming days. We had pictures of long lines of cars in Mississippi waiting at gas stations for fuel. Experts have not begun to assess all of the damage to the many, many rigs that were shut down and possibly damaged out in the Gulf of Mexico.

So last hour, actually a couple of hours age, we asked at what point should the government consider rationing gasoline. We got a lot of responses.

Jerry in Alpharetta, Georgia, wrote, "Gasoline rationing should be considered when a fair and honest method for allocating such rations can be formulated by a Congress and executive branch that have the best interest of the American people at heart. In other words, never."

John in Hernando, Florida, "Let's start the rationing of fuel now. We seem to forget we're in a war situation. Now there's this mess in the Gulf of Mexico. How about getting the big three U.S. auto makers to stop with the super-huge vehicles and get back to common- sense cars?"

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