Return to Transcripts main page
PAULA ZAHN NOW
Desperation in New Orleans; Interview With FEMA Director Mike Brown; Interview With Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu
Aired September 1, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, we continue CNN's rolling coverage of the desperate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The state of emergency isn't over, not by a longshot. Here is the most disturbing image I have seen today. It's of an elderly woman who died waiting for help at the New Orleans Convention Center, her body simply covered with a blanket, her wheelchair pushed aside, in the chaos, no one able to provide her the dignity she so deserved.
And just look at the anger and desperation of the people outside the Convention Center. We are getting reports that describe it as a nightmare of crime, human waste, rotten food, dead bodies everywhere. Other reports say sniper fire is hampering efforts to get people out. New Orleans' mayor put out an SOS, a statement today saying, we are overwhelmed and out of resources.
Yet, some people are finally getting out. We have been watching the scene outside of the Superdome, where troops in uniform have finally arrived. They are handing out water and trying to maintain order. A long line of buses has pulled into the city. They will be taking the huge crowd of evacuees to Houston, tens of thousands of them left. So far, they wait and wait and wait.
Here is another sign of progress. Helicopters are now lowering huge sandbags to start repairing one of the levee breaks that caused all of the flooding, two other breaks to repair.
The Convention Center is about 15 blocks from the Superdome. Thousands of people are there. Things are absolutely critical.
Chris Lawrence has been there. He's on the top of a roof of a police station. He joins me now by videophone.
What is the latest from there, Chris? What are you afraid of?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, we are right here on top of the roof.
And I can see from this point and this vantage point right here, we have a pretty good view of the city. Right now, behind me, I can see smoke rising from across the Mississippi River, where police tell us that a mall is literally burning to the ground. Right here in the city, overhead, helicopters are literally just completely surrounding the city. We have seen some news helicopters, but a lot of Red Cross, police helicopters, a lot of the big Chinooks that the military uses. It is virtually a state of siege here in New Orleans right now and just a scene that you never thought you would see in a major American city. Down on the ground, police were telling us when they got us off the street, it's just too dangerous to stay.
One officer said, there have literally been groups of young men roaming the city, shooting at people, attempting to rape women. As we were getting hustled out of our location, one of the officers told a group of young ladies, do not go down that street. He ordered them to turn around and head back up another street. He said, the situation is just extremely dangerous on the ground right now.
ZAHN: Are you...
LAWRENCE: It follows what we have been seeing all day. You not only have the violence, but just this incredible misery. We were at the New Orleans Convention Center today and saw mothers with their babies literally living in raw sewage, in putrid food, just an incredible, horrible scene down there.
Thousands and thousands of families have been going for days now without food, without water. They have no communication with the outside world. And, to make matters worse, they are scared. They -- one police officer said at some point this afternoon, someone drove by and actually shot at some of these people who were just waiting there to be rescued.
They are sitting there, families, mothers with their children, literally with no food or water, waiting to be rescued. And a police officer says, someone shot at them. While we were on the ground there, we saw horrible conditions. We saw an elderly woman who had died in a wheelchair. There was no one to come get her. There's no ambulance. There's no pickup.
She was just sitting on the side of the road next to the Convention Center with a blanket over her. Right next to her on the ground was another body wrapped in a white sheet. So, people are literally dying at the Convention Center. And we expect, if conditions don't change there very soon, that body count will continue to rise -- Paula.
ZAHN: And, of course, the governor of the state has already predicted that she believes the death toll will go into the thousands when they can actually assess all this.
But, Chris, have you seen any signs of federal help there yet?
Please bear with us. I'm going to try one more time.
As you probably know from watching us over the last couple of days, the communication system is severely hampered. At times, people can't use their cell phones at all, and it's very tricky just getting any kind of signal up out of New Orleans. Let me see if I can get Chris Lawrence back.
Chris, are you with me?
OK, very quickly, I want to bring you up to date on what we know at this hour. The head of the National Guard, in charge of the operations there, tells us that as many as 3,500 soldiers will be going into Louisiana tomorrow, 2,500 into Mississippi. There are so many things that officials are worried about, first of all, the health conditions. Because there is no potable water, because there is no food, they are worried about obviously severe dehydration.
They are worried about so many of the things Chris Lawrence just talked about, literally, people walking around in feces, dead bodies being all but ignored, not being removed at all from outside the Convention Center. Unfortunately, a lot of the streets are still blocked. A lot of the city is still underwater, Chris Lawrence just reporting that they could actually see a shopping mall burning down. Fire hydrants aren't working. We know that the local hospitals are having severe problems, no sanitation at all at this hour at Charity Hospital, where nurses are literally pumping bags because of failed generators.
And they just don't know how they are going to make it through the night.
In fact, on the phone right now, I have someone joining us from Charity Hospital. They have only had enough power for a few intensive care wards.
Joining me on the phone is Dr. Ruth Berggren.
Doctor, thanks for joining us.
DR. RUTH BERGGREN, NEW ORLEANS CHARITY HOSPITAL: Thank you for having us.
ZAHN: How severe are things right now?
BERGGREN: Well, we have just had a major setback, Paula. We waited all day for the sniper situation to get stabilized, so that we could recommence evacuating our patients.
About an hour or so ago, we got the signal to bring down patients who could walk. I came down with my patients all the way from the ninth floor, including people with spinal fractures and people who were in federal custody, and we actually loaded them on to boats. And we just saw a boat come back with some of our patients, and we're being told that all the patients that were just evacuated in the second wave are coming back to the hospital, because the place of higher ground to which the patients were taken did not have the expected transport for patients to the next phase of the evacuation.
ZAHN: So, Dr. Berggren, what is going to happen to these patients? Are some of them going to die? BERGGREN: Some of them have died. I -- honestly, as I ran back up the stairs from that scene to come and take this phone call, they were bringing a dead body down from the third floor.
One of my patients, whom we worked very, very hard to get on the critical list and to move out as fast as we could, we have been by his bed all day, was sitting on that boat that came back and leaning over the edge and vomiting. And my heart just breaks for him, because I think he just feels terrible.
ZAHN: What are you going to do to get through the night?
BERGGREN: We're going to stay focused on what we need to do. We're going to continue to take care of patients. We're going to try to make them comfortable. We're going to try to keep them safe. And we will just stay on task and that's how we're going to get through.
ZAHN: Well, keeping them safe is a huge issue tonight, Dr. Berggren.
You mentioned the sniper fire earlier today. Snipers attacked twice when your hospital tried to evacuate patients. Can you describe to us what you saw, what you heard or what other witnesses saw?
Around 11:20 or so this morning, we were being assisted in our evacuation by the National Guard, who was available here for patient transportation. And my husband actually got into one of their vehicles to direct them to where they needed to transport patients. And so, he was the eyewitness to this event. And there was sniper fire on the second vehicle in this caravan that my husband was part of.
And, subsequently, all of the weapons were being pointed up towards the roof where the suspected sniper was. And, later -- I think it was about 20 minutes later -- there was additional gunfire, and my husband saw a man in a white shirt who was shooting. And fire, gunfire, was exchanged.
And, at that point, I was on the ramp of the emergency room and there was a sudden crush of people rushing back into the emergency room shouting, sniper, sniper, sniper. And, at that point, we had to, once again, get the patients back into a safe place. People who were standing needed to sit down.
ZAHN: Well, you have endured so much. And we wish you Godspeed. You're doing the lord's work there. Thank you so much.
The big question, of course, tonight is, where do things stand with the federal response?
Federal Emergency Management Director Mike Brown joins me now from the FEMA command center in Baton Rouge.
Thank you, sir, for joining us. I understand that security isn't your job. I understand that you are up against tremendous obstacles. But how can it be that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of victims have not received any food and water more than 100 hours after Katrina hit?
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Paula, I think it's so important for the American public to understand exactly how catastrophic this disaster is.
I mean, we have a major American city, a major urban area that has been totally demolished. And what we're finding is, is that, as we continue to do the evacuation and get people out, people who have completely lost everything, they have no place to go, they have nothing, that we're finding other people who are literally coming out of second stories of homes, that are suddenly appearing on bridges that are not under water, that people who were unable or chose not to evacuate are suddenly appearing.
And so, this -- this catastrophic disaster continues to grow. I will tell you this, though. Every person in that Convention Center, we just learned about that today. And so, I have directed that we have all available resources to get to that Convention Center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need...
ZAHN: Sir, you aren't telling me...
BROWN: ... and that we take care of those bodies that are there.
ZAHN: Sir, you aren't just telling me you just learned that the folks at the Convention Center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?
BROWN: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the Convention Center people until today.
We have been doing the evacuations from the Superdome for several days. We are taking people out from the Superdome to Houston and to San Antonio. The people in the Superdome have been fed. There are convoys of trucks moving food in there to feed them even tonight. We're taking the Coast Guard and we are taking care of the people who have just appeared on the bridges and the interstates, to get them water tonight. We're doing all of those things.
Those people have suddenly appeared. And I got to tell you, the snipers, the thugs, those people -- I have the First Army at my disposal. General Honore is here. There will be 30,000 National Guard troops in New Orleans. I am going to take control of that. And we are going to make certain that this city is safe and that that poor mother that has the children, that family unit that's just trying to get to a shelter, they are going to be protected.
That's the president's demand. The American public demands it, and we're going to do it.
ZAHN: And what about a situation like you just heard at Charity Hospital tonight, where they were in the process of evacuating patients and they were told, once they got those critically ill patients in a boat, put them on the boat, that the boat had to be sent back because where it was being dispatched to was underwater as well and there wasn't any reasonable place to leave them off?
BROWN: And that is a great example, unfortunately, a great example of how catastrophic this disaster is, that we may have a place that we're going to take critically ill patients and suddenly it's not there, and we have to change plans on the fly.
That's how devastating this is. And that's why we're bringing in the National Guard. That's why the Coast Guard will continue to run missions all night with night vision. That's why the First Army is here. That's why the American public needs to understand exactly how catastrophic the situation is in New Orleans.
ZAHN: And finally tonight, sir, you said earlier today that part of the blame for the -- what you think will be an enormous death toll in New Orleans rests with the people who did not evacuate the city, who didn't heed the warnings. Is that fair, to blame the victims, many of whom tell us they had no way out, they had no cars of their own, and that public assistance wasn't provided to get them out of the city?
BROWN: First of all, Paula, I'm not blaming anyone.
I think, if you listened to what I said, I said that some either chose not to evacuate and some were unable to evacuate. And I -- my heart goes out to every -- even if they chose not to evacuate, my heart still goes out to them, because they now find themselves in this catastrophic disaster. Now is not the time to be blaming. Now is the time to recognize that, whether they chose to evacuate or chose not to evacuate, we have to help them.
ZAHN: And we wish you tremendous luck in that process.
Mike Brown, thank you so much for being with us.
Joining me now on the phone from Baton Rouge is Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Good of you to join us.
First of all, actually, we are going to get to see you after all.
Senator, first of all, I don't know how much you heard of what FEMA Director Mike Brown just had to say. But do you find that description of what his team is up against acceptable?
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Paula, what this nation is facing right now, in my opinion, we have never faced before. And it's going to take all of our concerted effort to stay steady, to stay moving forward. Believe me, there's plenty blame to go around, a total underinvestment by the federal government over many years in this region of the country, despite pleas and warnings from elected officials. There is a failure and breakdown of the communication system that we failed to invest in. But this senator is not going to spend any time blaming anybody.
This senator is going to say, the people are suffering. We need aid. We need support. I thank President Bush. I thank former President Bush. I thank former President Clinton. Please do everything that you can to help us here. The leadership team on the ground, including the governor and all, are doing everything that they know how to do at this time. And I understand that people are suffering. I, myself, have been involved in rescue operations.
My brother has been on a boat in New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parish getting people out. There are people all over the region, in Mississippi and Alabama. So Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, Senator Vitter and I understand your suffering as well. We are, too. We're going to work together...
ZAHN: Senator, do you...
LANDRIEU: ... to do what we can to get through this situation.
ZAHN: When an assessment can actually be made, what do you think the death toll might go up to in your state?
LANDRIEU: Paula, I don't know what the gas prices are going to go up to, but it's going to affect everyone in the country. We are the energy coast. We are the only energy coast in the nation.
ZAHN: Senator, Senator, sorry. Sorry to interrupt you. I know the signal is not clear at all. Actually, what I was asking you about was the death toll, because the governor of your state has predicted...
LANDRIEU: Oh, I'm sorry.
ZAHN: Yes. No, it's not your fault at all. People, they understand...
LANDRIEU: I can't hear it.
ZAHN: Yes, these signals are really, really quite raw. But your own governor predicted that...
LANDRIEU: The death toll. I'm sorry.
ZAHN: ... that the death toll could go well into the thousands. What do you think?
LANDRIEU: It could.
And it's going to be such a hard thing for the people of this nation to watch, because they are going to watch a lot of it. It's going to be extremely difficult. We know that children have died. We know that old people have died. We know that people are dying right now as I speak. All I can say as a senator from this state, that we hope that the military is on the way, and we hope that all assets are being brought to bear by the federal government, by our state government and by our local government.
And I know personally, Paula, that sheriffs and law enforcement officials, mayors, councilmen, police jurors, have literally been risking their lives for four days. We're doing everything we can. And on their behalf, not my behalf, on their behalf, I want to thank them, ask them to keep it up, use their good judgment, try to get through this. And we're trying to do the very best we can here.
ZAHN: And, Senator, I don't know whether you could hear that -- say this -- but FEMA Director Mike Brown had some good news for you, because he said he believes you'll have 30 (sic) additional U.S. soldiers on the ground there very soon in your state.
Senator Landrieu, thank you so much for your time.
LANDRIEU: Thank you so much. We appreciate it.
ZAHN: Our pleasure. And good luck.
And when we all come back, harrowing stories of survival from inside the Superdome in New Orleans.
Please stay with us.
ZAHN: As we continue to cover this story, things keep on changing, it seems, just every minute. And we just had some fresh tape come into us, and it's a sight that I think we have all been waiting for, evacuees from New Orleans just arriving at the Astrodome in Houston, after a very long day and more than 100 hours after Katrina hit. They came by bus. I think their expressions say it all, besides the exhaustion on their face, but the joy of finally being out of the Superdome.
Right now, about 3,000 New Orleans refugees have actually made it to the Astrodome in Houston.
And that's where we find our own Sean Callebs there tonight.
Describe to us what you've seen throughout the day there.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you, Paula, in the last couple of hours, just a number of buses, completely loaded, have continued to roll in.
On the side of the buses, it says DOT/FEMA to make sure those indeed are the buses heading from the Superdome to the Astrodome. So that city inside the Astrodome is indeed beginning to take shape. There are now more than 4,000 people. We just got an update in the last five minutes. And the buses keep coming in. They expect a great number of people will come in here tomorrow, the Red Cross telling us almost everybody coming here is suffering from dehydration.
But even more -- more importantly to them, many people are in need are dire medical treatment. Some are experiencing complete renal failure. Others went to the Superdome without their medication. There is a medical staff inside here. They are doing everything they can for the thousands of people that, indeed, are arriving.
Once they arrive here, they will find cots on the floor; they will find hot food; they will find clean facilities; they will find doctors to take care of them as well. But they are concerned about the people suffering from post-traumatic shock, people who have simply been through something that is very difficult for anyone to understand outside the New Orleans area.
As far as those people, when they get off the buses, the Red Cross says they are simply terrified. They don't want to come in the Astrodome because it reminds them of the Superdome and what they endured there.
What exactly did they endure over the past several days? Well, we're getting our first images, as well as talking to a number of people. And they describe horrific situation there, water quickly filling up the bottom of the floor, power, of course, going out. So, that makes the dome entirely dark. Eyewitnesses say they can describe seeing a number of violence, criminal acts committed against other people inside the Superdome, something just terribly frightening to all the people that had to go through this, Paula.
ZAHN: How long do you think the people are going to end up have to stay there?
CALLEBS: Well, we can tell you, the Astrodome has cleared its schedule until December. They are prepared to keep people here for months.
So, I think the big question to so many people here, how is it going to play out? This is something -- all the people coming from the New Orleans area, they will be coming here in days. This isn't something that's going to happen in one day. They are also trying to take people into the San Antonio area, perhaps even into the Dallas area, so, Texas really doing a Texas-sized favor to its neighbor to the east, trying to do what they can to help these people who are simply traumatized, in need of medical condition -- medical treatment, and certainly everybody wondering what they are going to return to once they do get a chance to return home.
ZAHN: Sean Callebs, thanks so much for that update.
If you all were watching closely, you could see the look of relief on the faces of those folks that have safely made it from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston.
And we just heard Sean talk about what we're learning for the first time about the conditions inside the Superdome in New Orleans.
And right now, on the phone, we have Tishia Walters, who actually is at the Convention Center, another place that's seen a tremendous amount of difficulty.
Tishia, describe to us what it's been like there over the last couple of days.
TISHIA WALTERS, INSIDE CONVENTION CENTER: What it has been like, right now, we have six dead bodies in the freezer. People are dying.
There is no lights, no water. There is no food. They are killing people. They are just -- they are looking for a 13-year-old child, but they just -- they think she's been raped. They can't find her. There's a child downstairs that's 10 years old that they attempted to rape this morning. And they broke both of her -- they broke both of her ankles.
We have people -- the police is not doing anything. They are shooting. And the people that has looted the food that was here, they are trying to sell it back to you. They are selling bottles of water for $5. We can't get anything. People are dying everywhere. And there is more and more and more and more and more and more people going to die. And all the police say is, they are coming. They're going to be here.
I have been sitting here since 7:00 this morning. They are telling us that the buses are coming. Get out of the street. And people -- six people have died today. And what are we going to do? We need help. I went to the police station around the corner, the (INAUDIBLE) police station. And I asked them -- because I have some nursing experience, I asked them for things to help these people, the invalids. They told us that the (INAUDIBLE) we should have got out, and now we have to wait.
ZAHN: So, Tishia, are you seeing, besides the police that are on duty, any soldiers at all?
WALTERS: There's no police around here.
ZAHN: You don't see any police at all?
WALTERS: There's no police. It's total chaos. There is no authority figure in this building. They are plucking this building apart. Every -- they're kicking in the doors. They're defecating on the carpets. They're (INAUDIBLE) the stairwells. There is nothing.
ZAHN: And, Tishia, the one thing we're really having trouble figuring out is how many people are at the Convention Center. Do you have any idea?
ZAHN: Do you have any idea how many people are stuck at the Convention Center?
WALTERS: It's about 3,000 people and more of them. There's one man, he can't walk on both of his legs. They look -- they are blistering with sores. And he's barely moving. Last night, we spent the night outside on (INAUDIBLE) highway with babies. There was babies laying in the middle of the highway, because they left us there. A lady, we -- there was one lady we had to resuscitate, because she was dying. Somebody walked up and left her in the wheelchair.
There are people here that really, seriously need help. There's (INAUDIBLE) cardiac. We have diabetics. We have everybody that needs some help. And, right now, we are searching the building for a 13- year-old child that we think has been raped. But there are so many rooms in the Convention Center that we cannot find her.
ZAHN: Well, Tishia, we have just finished interviewing the head of FEMA. And he said he is just finding out about how difficult things are at the Convention Center and that help is on the way.
Tishia Walters with a very vivid account of how awful things are at the Convention Center in New Orleans tonight.
And a reminder that the mayor of New Orleans says, this is a dire situation. He put out an SOS earlier today in a statement, saying they've simply run out of resources.
When we come back, we will be talking with Mike Leavitt, secretary of HHS.
ZAHN: The federal department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency from Louisiana to Florida. Joining me now from Washington is HHS secretary Michael Leavitt. Thank you, sir, for being with us. We know that the water in New Orleans is now being described as a toxic gumbo. It's filled with sewage. It's filled with chemicals. We're hearing very vivid accounts from witnesses at the Convention Center in New Orleans tonight, that literally, dead bodies are being all but shoved aside and allowed to decay. What are you the most worried about.
MICHAEL LEAVITT, HEALTH & HUMAN SVCS. SECRETARY: Watching those stories, Paula, break my heart. I feel frustrated. I'm sure, like you do and other Americans do, but resolved to push forward. We are organizing 24 public health teams of 20 people each. Public health experts who will be moving into the area as rapidly as the areas are available to us. We are deeply concerned about the quality of the water. We are troubled that people could be drinking it, that we could have mosquito hatches, that we could have all kinds of different events that could, in fact, make an unthinkable tragedy more of a tragedy.
ZAHN: But, Secretary, given all of the challenges in getting into downtown New Orleans right now, what could you do possibly about the thousands of dead? We've just heard one woman, in a very painful way, describe walking around in feces and basically walking over dead bodies. What can you do about that in the near term?
LEAVITT: I heard that report. It's deeply troubling. Well we've just got to get those people out. That's the first thing. And I know that's the focus of FEMA and others is to get them out. Then we've got to re-establish the basic services that make a free society clean and healthy and safe. And that will include clean water. It will include food that can be -- people can eat with security and safety. It will mean that we're using the basic rudiments and tools of public safety, including the capacity to -- mosquito abatement through cleaning up the mess.
ZAHN: I need a real brief answer to this. How long do you think it's going to take to bring things under control health-wise? Even during the process of these evacuations?
LEAVITT: We fight public health emergencies day-to-day, and it will be an ongoing fight, I am sure, for weeks and months.
ZAHN: Mr. Secretary, Michael Leavitt, thank you so much for your time. Good luck.
In Mississippi, the death toll now stands at at least 185 from Katrina. Randi Kaye now joins us from Gulfport where there was tremendous damage. Randi, unfortunately seeing an awful lot of that with her own eyes -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Paula. The situation here can only be described as grim. As you just said, the governor has confirmed 185 dead here in Mississippi. That number is expected to rise. And the problem here, Paula is getting to the dead and getting to the injured. Entire neighborhoods have been crushed. Buildings now look like pancakes. So getting inside is very, very difficult.
We want to show you some new video taken just a couple of hours ago. We flew this afternoon with MEMA, which is the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. We flew over an area called Christian Pass. It is one of the worst hit areas here in Mississippi. It's about 30 minutes west of Biloxi. And if you look at that video, you can see that homes are completely buried in debris. In some cases up to the rooftops. There was a lumber yard there which only added to the mess, dumping plenty of wood on that area. So, and also just keep in mind that that area is pretty far inland. So it took a large storm surge to cover that area and destroy that area.
Tomorrow, MEMA will be take their search and rescue teams to Christian Pass. They haven't been there before. They'll be looking for survivors, and we'll be going along with them. In terms of looting, I know there's been some question about looting here in Mississippi. We looked around today. We asked about it. We talked with some of the security folks here, the police force, and they are not getting reports of extreme looting here in Mississippi. Certainly nothing like New Orleans.
They are getting aid here, though, although it's still coming slowly, Paula. It's making its way very slowly to the neighborhoods. In many cases, the burden is on the people here who have lost their homes and lost their cars to go and get the aid themselves. And we know that that is clearly impossible. National Guard here taking over security still. Eight hundred twenty thousand people without power, Paula.
ZAHN: And we just heard in the last hour the National Guard hopes to get an additional 2,500 troops in there tomorrow, in your state, where you are on duty. Randi Kaye in Biloxi, thanks so much.
Still ahead, Katrina has devastated so many lives. But one family has gone from heartbreak to absolute elation. The incredible story of their amazing reunion with their newborn baby. Next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's also going to require a lot of money. And the federal government will do its part. But the private sector needs to do its part as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: President Bush drafting his father and former president Clinton into the effort to raise private money for disaster relief as they did for Asian tsunami victims. Tonight, there are more than 75,000 victims in shelters all across the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross is just one organization using private donations to help out hurricane victims. Elizabeth Cohen found both heartbreak and hope at one shelter in Baton Rouge.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They call it a shelter, but really, it's a refugee camp. Fifty-five hundred people washed out of their homes looking for food, water, a place to sleep. And many, most importantly, are looking for their loved ones. Maggie Taylor is searching for her son, mother, sister and eight other family members. They were all up on the roof together when a boat came by. Rescuers dragged Maggie into the boat but she was the only one able to get aboard.
MAGGIE TAYLOR, LOST FAMILY IN HURRICANE: They were on the roof. I left them on the roof. I yelled for them to come, but the boat took off.
COHEN: Evacuees lined up at our camera, desperate to get the word out to the world. Desperate for help to find their missing loved ones. A brother and sister searched for their grandparents who refused to leave New Orleans because they'd lived through hurricanes past.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had been through Betsy. He's 81 years old.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We begged him to leave.
COHEN: Carrie Sterling, a fourth year medical student at Louisiana State University, is looking for eight family members. CARRIE STERLING, LOST FAMILY IN HURRICANE: My mother, my brother -- my twin brother, my two sisters, a cousin and my two nephews and a niece.
COHEN: He searched at the River Center Shelter, but no luck. His cousin then called and told him buses full of people had just arrived at Southern University, so he went there. He looked through the list of who had registered, but nothing there either. His next stop, two other Baton Rouge shelters. If they're not there, he'll drive to the Astrodome in Houston.
STERLING: My mom, she is strong, she won't go down without a fight. So no hurricane can stop her from getting to her children.
COHEN: Virginia Wilson had been searching for days.
VIRGINIA WILSON, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Looking for Lisa and the kids kids. Monday we lost contact.
COHEN: Her four friends were up on the roof of a house in Waveland, Mississippi. She feared the worst, but then, while she was eating breakfast Thursday morning with her daughter, their cell phone rang.
WILSON: We just got the news that they did make it out. And they are all right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just started screaming, they're alive, they're alive.
COHEN: Back at the River Center Shelter, thousands of families prayed their stories also will have a happy ending.
COHEN: We have an update on Kerry Sterling, that medical student we told you about, he went to the two shelters that the Red Cross told him about and no one was there, there were no shelters. He's going to go to two more about an hour away from here. And if he can't find his family, then he'll go on to the Astrodome. And his family, he's looking for, among others, a 2-year-old, a 2-month-old and a 1-year- old -- Paula.
ZAHN: Just breaks your heart. Elizabeth Cohen in Baton Rouge, thanks.
We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As I'm speaking, there are many, many people desperately searching for their loved ones. We're doing what we can to help them make a connection.
Carol Lin is standing by at our victim's desk with a story which does have a very happy ending. That's nice for a change, isn't it?
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: You bet, Paula. We have been working this story all night long. The team here at the victims relief desk has been calling hospitals all across Louisiana and Texas trying to track down a little baby by the name of Malia Charles (ph). She is only seven months old and her parents had no idea where she was.
And if you take a look at the devastation in Slidell and the face of this little baby, they had left her at a hospital in Slidell. The devastation here, as it was growing around them. But their baby had pneumonia. So, she had to be treated and the family had to flee.
They ended up in Houston, Texas. But they were trying to get word about their newborn from Northshore Regional Hospital. Nobody was answering the phone. They had heard that the hospital had lost all power, no water, no generators. They had no idea what happened to their baby.
The team here started making calls. And got an answer from the Tenet Hospital headquartered in Houston, Texas. They managed to connect me with the doctor, the pediatrician taking care of Malia (ph), and we hooked up the parents and the doctors so that the parents could have their first conversation about their daughter.
The doctor said that Malia (ph) is being spoiled terribly at the hospital. She's doing great. And what a little personality. And it was a joy to see the smile on these parents' faces knowing that their little girl is OK.
ZAHN: Well, that is such a great news. But you wonder how long it will be before her parents can actually see her.
LIN: Yeah. They are thinking about four days, Paula. They are waiting for the waters to recede. But what a relief their baby is safe and being fed.
ZAHN: Tremendous relief. And yet that four days is probably going to seem like four months. Thank you so much, Carol Lin.
When we come back, we're going to go back to Houston's Astrodome and talk with some of those who survived the ordeal in New Orleans at the Superdome.
ZAHN: One of the most hopeful things we're seeing at this hour is the arrival of people on stretchers, people in wheelchairs at the New Orleans Airport. They are finally getting away from the misery of the city and finally getting some help. Here's David Mattingly on the unfolding drama there.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The line for the moment is painfully long. The sick and the injured fill a New Orleans Airport, some reeling from the rescue that seems to have no end.
RONALD METOYER, EVACUEE: I've been in pain ever since before the storm started. I've been in pain since the surgery two weeks ago.
MATTINGLY: Ronald Metoyer broke his neck and was hurting too much after surgery to evacuate his home. He and his family waded through chest-deep waters and ended up with the hundreds of others wandering the elevated expressways, walking for miles to reach the Superdome. They are now getting their first hot meal and waiting for a final medical evacuation.
METOYER: I'm hurting. But I feel blessed enough not to even feel as much of the pain I was feeling trying to get to this point.
MATTINGLY: And there are many in far worse shape. As the gurneys continue to creep in, patients lie on the floor, some only in hospital gowns. Fans are running, but the air is thick in some areas with the smell of urine and feces. They're all waiting for that one last transfer to a final shelter or a real hospital and real beds. Emergency needs are being met, but some are so sick, the journey itself may prove to be too much.
(on camera): Are there people in this room right now who may not survive the next move they have to make?
JAKE JACOBY, DISASTER MED. ASSISTANCE TEAM: It's possible.
MATTINGLY: How many?
JACOBY: I don't have those numbers.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Helicopter traffic is nonstop. For some, the escape from the misery that is New Orleans means a rain soaked run across a steaming tarmac. For others, it means agonizing separation. This mother is being bused away, not knowing where her newborn baby has already been sent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All these people was on a maternity ward and they had to evacuate us. And I was in ICU and I'm looking for my baby.
MATTINGLY: And yet, there are moments like this.
Ninety-year-old Edna Ramer and her 87 year-old husband Alan, survived 13-foot floodwaters, only to lose sight of each other during a frenzied hospital evacuation.
EDNA RAMER, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Nobody knows we're alive even. They rescued us off the roof of my house.
MATTINGLY: After losing everything else, they again have each other. But with no idea where they will be going next.
ZAHN: But still so much pain, so much agony. David Mattingly reporting.
Tonight, the buses filled with New Orleans refugees continue rolling into Houston. And today, Texas Governor Rick Perry declared an emergency disaster for his state. It frees up money to provide services for the nearly 75,000 storm victims now streaming into Texas. The governor says both Dallas and San Antonio will be taking in 25,000 evacuees each. Houston is getting about 23,000. Two of them, who have just made it to the Astrodome today, Valena Coco, who happens to be a special education teacher, and her daughter, Eliseanne, who is a college student. They both had to endure some horrible days and nights at the Superdome in New Orleans. So Coco, what does it feel like to finally have food and water and more fresh air than you've been accustomed to?
VALENA COCO, EVACUEE: It's been wonderful. When we arrived off of the buses everyone welcomed us. You know, come on in. Let us know what you need. And it was just very beautiful to be welcomed with such open arms.
ELISEANNE COCO, EVACUEE: Very heartwarming.
ZAHN: Valena, how bad did things get at the Superdome? We just had one woman describe things at the Convention Center there, talking about walking over dead bodies, walking in feces, walking in standing water. It sounded like an absolute nightmare. What did you have to put up with?
V. COCO: Well at the dome it was very crowded. Of course, electricity was out, so it was very warm inside. And there were people everywhere. There were holes in the ceiling, so during the storm itself, it rained inside the dome, so the cement floors was very slippery and soiled with trash. So you had people actually in every available space on the cement floors in the hallways, and in seats taking up camp. And it was just very uncomfortable, and it was, you know, a place of last resort.
ZAHN: Eliseanne, we have seen how desperate people are who have been trying to get out of the Superdome for a brief time today. The evacuations stopped by sniper fire, postponed and then started up again. How angry are people who have to stay there, because they simply can't get out yet?
E. COCO: They are upset, I think, because they are looking for family members. It's just everybody is so afraid right now because their family members are missing. They don't know where they are, and that's something that's on everybody's mind. They are trying to stick together through this because so much is going on. And we don't know when the next time we're going to be able to go back home. So we don't know whether or not we'll see our family members again.
ZAHN: Well we wish you luck. I know you have a lot of choices to make about sending your daughter off to college or staying with your mother there in Houston until she gets better. Good luck. Thank you for sharing your stories with us tonight.
Coming up next -- amid the violence and chaos in New Orleans, a story of incredible bravery and sacrifice. We'll share it with you when we come back.
ZAHN: All through Katrina and its aftermath, we've been asking all of you to be citizen journalists and e-mail us your stories. On the phone now is Carol Siu. Tuesday night, she and her husband spent their eighth wedding anniversary fleeing New Orleans with four critically ill patients. Now they are going back for more.
Carol, we have heard some very discouraging reports out of New Orleans tonight about bands of rapists going from block to block, people walking around in feces, dead bodies floating everywhere. And we know that sniper fire continues. And looting. Do you think you're going to be successful in going back to New Orleans and trying to rescue even more patients?
CAROL SIU, DIR. OF NURSING, ST. CHARLES SPECIALTY HOSPITAL: Yes, Paula, thank you. I do think we will be successful. I'm coming in with some National Guards from Camp Beauregard. I would like to thank them for their bravery. And also we're delivering 110 soldiers to be deployed on into New Orleans. We also have an escorted armed police that's coming in with us to continue the evacuation process. I would like to say a quick thanks to Steve Flaherty, CEO, and Gene Smith the President of St. Charles Specialty for trusting my judgment and allowing me to continue on with this. The staff at St. Charles that's done so much sacrificing into assisting these patients. Taylor, who's the director of nursing at Health South, who received our patients without any questions asked. Jeff, the CEO and Brian Ussery the DOEN of Health South rehab who just welcomed us.
ZAHN: Well, Carol Siu, we know you have a big job ahead. You're trying to rescue some 26 hospice patients, along with 40 staff members. We'll be checking in with you tomorrow to see how you've done.
We want to take our last few seconds to update you on what's happening right now. The evacuees from New Orleans arriving by bus at the Houston Astrodome. Texas will be taking in some 75,000 refugees. But there is still tremendous devastation in New Orleans. Troops are outside the Superdome where the crowd is waiting to evacuate. A report on the ground describing increased lawlessness. Mans of -- bands that is, of men raping women. Still no food, no water. That's the latest from here. Good night.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com