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THE SITUATION ROOM

Chaos in New Orleans; Thousands Believed Dead

Aired September 1, 2005 - 15:10   ET

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


(PREVIOUS PROGRAM WENT OVER TIME)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where we're getting feeds along the Gulf Coast.

The hardest-hit areas are in the grip of desperation and violence. Standing by right now, our CNN reporters throughout the region, ready to bring you complete coverage.

Happening right now, crisis in New Orleans -- fights, fires, gunfire during the evacuation of the Superdome. The mayor has issued a desperate SOS. Over at the Convention Center, thousands wait without food, water or medical care. There are dead as well.

The U.S. military sends in massive redeployments and deploys an aircraft carrier on the scene. Can troops control the chaos? Is it too little too late?

In Mississippi, help arrives, but the task is unimaginable, as the governor puts it. Over a 50-mile area, there is total devastation, with virtually nothing left standing.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The situation in New Orleans grows worse by the hour, if you can imagine that. While refugees are finally being moved out of the Superdome, a horror story is unfolding at another building in the area, the Convention Center.

We have just received this statement in from the mayor, Ray Nagin. "This is a desperate SOS," he says. "Right now, we're out of resources at the Convention Center and don't anticipate enough buses." He goes on to say, "We need buses. Currently, the Convention Center is unsanitary and unsafe and we're running out of supplies for 15,000 to 20,000 people. We are now allowing people to march. They will be marching up the Crescent City Connection to the West Bank Expressway to find relief wherever, wherever they can."

Joining us now over at the Convention Center is our CNN producer Jim Spellman. And he has got the latest developments on the scene for us. Jim, what do you know?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN PRODUCER: Wolf, just minutes ago, for the first time in five days, food was delivered here. A National Guard helicopter got just low enough to drop some MREs, some ready to eat food, and some bottles of water, not nearly enough. Maybe a couple dozen people got some, which, of course, made the other people more angry.

It's been raining here now, the last thing New Orleans needs. It's been raining here for about two hours. So, people now are forced off of the street and off of the median to the underpasses at the Convention Center. They're even more cramped than they were when last we were here.

BLITZER: So, are people walking out of that Convention Center -- they're now authorized -- they're allowed to do so -- and simply marching, trying to get out of New Orleans in any way they possibly can?

SPELLMAN: Wolf, we're going to head down there very soon. And we should be able to get back to you very shortly with that Information.

Here, though, most of the people here are -- I mean, it's still jam-packed as far as you can see. And the Convention Center is several blocks long. The interior is jammed and all of the area underneath the overhangs outside are full. And people have started to try to gain shelter underneath any sort of awning over a doorway and inside the parking garages in the area.

BLITZER: So, just for our viewers who weren't paying very close attention, there were thousands, thousands of New Orleans residents, refugees, if you will, there have been and still remain holed up in the Superdome. But there are many thousands of others who went over to the Convention Center. And they are the ones now in desperate need for help, the mayor issuing this desperate SOS appeal, get help to those people.

And you're saying that, within the past few minutes, a little bit of help, a very little bit of help, has arrived?

SPELLMAN: A very little bit. And things have grown so desperate here, we saw maybe an half-an-hour ago police pulling over a car and handcuffing the driver. They had stolen the car. I'm not sure exactly, in this situation, if that's the right word. They had taken a car. They had four adults and four children crammed in and they were desperately trying to get out because there's no -- there's been no buses for them.

And the police had them get out. And the police have them -- Wolf, I'm sorry. I have to jump into our car. Go.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead, Jim. Jim Spellman is one of our producers. He's at the Convention Center. It's a source of grave concern, Mayor Ray Nagin issuing the statement, saying this is a desperate SOS, a desperate appeal he's making, that they need buses, they need food, they need medicine, they need help to deal with 15,000 to 20,000 people who are stranded inside.

Another of our producers, Kim Segal, is on the phone. She's in New Orleans as well. Kim, where are you?

KIM SEGAL, CNN PRODUCER: I'm actually a few blocks from the Convention Center. I just came from there. Jim went back to see if there was any kind of help or assistance arriving, because let me tell you, people have been there since Monday.

They have had no food, no water. There was a convenience store nearby. They did -- were able -- they were able to break in. But we're talking thousands and thousands of sick, elderly, children, everybody, just down in there desperate need of help. It's quite a situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Were there first-responders, whether police, firefighters, FEMA officials, U.S. military personnel? Kim, who was there?

SEGAL: No one. We were there. And they were glad to see us. It was chaos. There was nobody there, nobody in charge. And there was nobody giving even water. The worst thing also they say is, at night, you know, it's pitch-dark there. And a lot of things are happening at night. They were asking for, at the very least, let's get some light into that area, so it's not pitch-dark at night.

The children, you should see them, they're all just in tears. There are sick people. We saw -- I'm telling you Wolf, we are looking at people who are dying in front of you. It's sick.

BLITZER: And we have heard from some of our other colleagues, Kim, that, as you walk around that Convention Center, you see bodies, dead bodies around the Convention Center. Have you seen any?

SEGAL: Yes, unfortunately. We saw one body. A person is in a wheelchair and someone had pushed them off to the side and draped just like a blanket over this person in the wheelchair. And then there is another body next to that. There were others they were willing to show us. We didn't want to see.

BLITZER: I assume, Kim, that these people are starving, if they have had no food over these past two, three days, and they're dehydrated as well, if they've had no clean water to drink. Is that the picture you're painting for us?

SEGAL: Yes, most -- for most of these people. Like I said, there are a few stores that still have things in them that are in the vicinity. And they were able to break in and get some juice and water, but not for everyone. We're talking thousands and thousands of people.

BLITZER: And these are mostly the poorest of the poor, those who couldn't get out of New Orleans or didn't want to get out of New Orleans. These are very poor people to begin with, who don't have much.

SEGAL: Yes. And these are -- you know, a lot of the people we spoke to, Wolf, you know, these are people who work for a living. They're making minimum wage. Their families -- they're supporting families.

And they don't have a car. They wanted to evacuate before the storm came, but they couldn't evacuate because they tell us that they just didn't have transportation.

BLITZER: Kim, hold on for a second. I don't want you to go away.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our CNN medical correspondent, is joining us now as well with information about one of the major hospitals in New Orleans and what's going on there. Sanjay, what are you hearing?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Really remarkable story, Wolf, a story that you don't anticipate with hospitals, sniper fire at Charity Hospital in downtown New Orleans as they were trying to evacuate some of the most critically ill patients there.

We have been hearing about these evacuations for some time now. They were trying specifically to evacuate those patients who were in intensive care units, in need of a ventilator or in need of dialysis. They're evacuating these patients into these amphibious vehicles that are parked in front of the hospital.

One of the doctors, Dr. Tyler Kureels (ph), one of the doctors at Charity Hospital, was actually physically helping evacuate the patients himself. Two vehicles, the back vehicle, as they started to drive off, came under fire. They were able to get all but one of the patients out of the hospital. But some significant fire was exchanged, as there were armed guards in the amphibious vehicles as well.

I asked the doctor, well, who was doing this? Why were they doing that? Do they have any idea? Really no idea as to why they were being fired upon, what was specifically being done there. But a person in a white shirt from a high building close to Charity Hospital started firing upon those two vehicles as they were trying to evacuate these patients.

Wolf.

BLITZER: We have been hearing now, for the past couple days, that there's been extensive looting going on, Sanjay, in New Orleans, including a lot of guns that have been stolen from stores, rifles, automatic weapons, all sorts of weaponry that people have just been going in and taking.

And we have been getting reports that there have been snipers elsewhere in New Orleans. But what you're hearing now is that, at Charity Hospital, one of the major medical facilities in New Orleans, that people have been trying to leave, but they have had to stop leaving because of sniper fire. Is that right?

GUPTA: That is absolutely correct. And it's one of the bigger hospitals in downtown New Orleans. It's sort of county hospital, Wolf. Think of it like that, responsible for taking care of a lot of patients there. They do a lot of trauma there. They do take care of a lot of indigent patients as well in that area.

This hospital overflowing, as the doctors were describing it to me, under I guess the conditions we have all been hearing about now for a couple of days -- lots of water in the hallways, poor electricity, poor resources overall. But now add on this, Wolf, actually taking fire as they're trying to move some of the patients. In this case, they were trying to move them down to Tulane University Hospital. Again, they were able to get this particular group of patients out -- all but one of them at least -- but are very concerned. And one of the comments made to me was, there was absolutely no protection, except for the armed guards in these amphibious vehicles. There was no military presence at all, as they were trying to evacuate these patients. These doctors called me very concerned about that, Wolf.

BLITZER: These are your colleagues, your medical professional colleagues, Sanjay. And what you're hearing from them, I just want to make sure we're precise now, is that they don't see any police, law enforcement, any National Guard or military presence that can protect them at Charity Hospital? Is that right?

GUPTA: They were very clear with me on this point, Wolf. They said they looked around. They were obviously frightened for their lives as they were taking fire. Dr. Ruth Bergeron (ph) specifically, who I just got off the phone with, said that specifically was no -- no presence, no protective presence, except for the armed guards that were in the amphibious vehicles, the private armed guards in those vehicles, but no U.S. military presence.

And they actually asked me to make a point of that, to point out that they -- they were concerned about this and they're concerned about being able to continue to move these patients from Charity Hospital, which has a continuing dwindling supply of resources, to other hospitals. So, you're sort of getting a bad situation getting compounded by the fact they can't move these patients to other hospitals, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because we have -- this comes in the backdrop of this desperate SOS that the mayor has just issued, an SOS saying they can't get the job done. They need help over at the Convention Center.

And you heard our eyewitness account from our producer, Kim Segal, who is there saying there's no evidence of National Guard personnel or law enforcement, police over there. And now a second eyewitness account that you're picking up, Sanjay, from Charity Hospital, saying they're desperately in need of help and they don't have the help.

And, as we have been hearing over the past couple days, Sanjay -- and just reinforce this for our viewers -- some of those young infants, some of the elderly, some people who need dialysis or need special critical care equipment, they are going to die pretty soon unless help is on the way.

GUPTA: That's absolutely right, Wolf. And this is shocking as a doctor, as a human being. This is unbelievable. I'm sitting in this airstrip here in Baton Rouge waiting for a helicopter that is supposed to be flying out of New Orleans. I am going to join that helicopter as they go to Houston Children's Hospital. This is for premature babies. This is what this particular chopper is supposed to be picking up.

I have just been called saying they are definitely delayed right now, because they -- they just think it's too unsafe. It's too dangerous at this point to go in there, land a helicopter, actually pick up these premature babies and bring them to Houston. It's just a remarkable, remarkable thing here.

Again, at hospitals -- and, Wolf, as you know, I have been in Iraq, Sri Lanka, and several places around the world. What these doctors are describing to me is just really remarkable. Again, this is happening at hospitals, as patients, injured, critically ill patients, are trying to be evacuated.

BLITZER: Well, we're told, Sanjay, the cavalry is on the way, but they're not there yet, clearly. And people are going to die unless they hurry and get there, Sanjay Gupta reporting for us.

Let's go over to Houston, Texas, right now. Keith Oppenheim is there. That's where so many of these refugees from New Orleans were supposedly being transported from the Superdome in New Orleans over to the Astrodome in Houston.

Keith, I understand you have one of those refugees with you.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're going to talk to Lorell Woodfork, who is standing next to me, in just a moment. But let me just add this.

The transfer from one dome to the other has been going sort of slowly. In about an hour-and-a-half or so, we hear about another 1,000 people are coming. And 2,000 people already in to the Astrodome. But it's a lot of people for a -- even though it's nine-and-a-half acres of space, it's hard to imagine what it is going to be like if they reach capacity of 25,000 people expected to sleep in there.

And one of the people who's going to do just that is Lorell Woodfork.

(PHONE RINGING)

OPPENHEIM: OK. You could not take that phone call.

(CROSSTALK)

OPPENHEIM: Lorell, you had to travel from New Orleans, your home, where your house went under water, to here. What was the bus ride like early this morning?

LORELL WOODFORK, EVACUEE FROM SUPERDOME: The bus ride was fantastic. Much love and respect goes out to the president and our mayor and the governor.

OPPENHEIM: But I understand that you had some concerns along the way, that there were people who were trying to get on the bus who were not part of the official caravan, not from the Superdome?

WOODFORK: That's correct. On our way out of New Orleans, there was people that were saying, let us on, hitting the bus with sticks on the I-10. As we pulled out, they had sheriff and guys with guns pushing them away, because they didn't go through the procedures that we went through. We went through the procedures.

OPPENHEIM: So, it just shows the level of desperation.

Now, you are here with your mom and dad and your brother, Henry, you told me.

WOODFORK: That's correct.

OPPENHEIM: But you're not thinking about staying here and then going back to New Orleans?

WOODFORK: Well, that was -- I was told by -- my mom want to decide. We're going to have a meeting to speak with her daughter later on, after she get her medicine for the -- diabetes medicine. She's going to the hospital right now, and she'll be back getting the rest of her medicine. And then we can travel to South Carolina.

OPPENHEIM: OK. South Carolina is where you want to go. In other words, are you concerned about what it would be like to have to stay inside the Astrodome for, say, three weeks?

WOODFORK: Well, after staying in the Superdome two nights without lights and water and the New Orleans arena for a day, I feel we should just go. You know, my little brother, Kidas (ph), we left him at the Superdome doing volunteer work. I'm doing it here. And all I can do is be supportive to my parents. And whatever they want to do, I'm there for them.

OPPENHEIM: OK. But, in other words, it becomes hard for people to withstand this. It's -- even though this is great generosity from Texas and great support from the Houston area and other places that are going to do similar things, it's not that easy to live in there?

WOODFORK: It's not at all. It's not at all.

I spoke with my Aunt Beverly (ph) earlier. She said no problem. I love you all. She lives in Washington. She says she will send for us, to send us by our sister -- and it's $600 a ticket for a plane ticket. And that's not nothing cheap. And, I mean, she works in the Pentagon. I love my family.

But we took a big loss. I mean, I lost my office with my music. I'm TCM news right now, but I'm working with CNN. And this is a blessing to even do an interview to show much New Orleans love the world right now, because we are hysterical and happy to get where we are at today, light, air, water. I mean, I'm taking a shower earlier. This is like a blessing. But we still have sad in our heart that we lost a lot of things in New Orleans.

OPPENHEIM: OK, Lorell Woodfork, I really appreciate your time today.

And I will add, Wolf, that when we went in, we were not allowed on the ground floor. They took us up to the ninth floor. So, it's kind of like looking at an ant colony, if you will. You see all these people moving around, setting up cots, looking at note boards. But when I did a count of the number of cots that pretty much filled the main floor of the Astroturf, not completely, but almost, I counted about 2,000 cots. Now, if you put -- if you're going to sleep 25,000 people inside this Astrodome, you have to ask the question, where are they all going to go? Officials here insist that is the sleeping capacity.

Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Keith, thank you very much. We will check back with you.

The governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, has just uttered these words. She says she's been informed by Louisiana state officials that they now believe Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath have killed, in their words, thousands of people and flooded New Orleans and surrounding parishes. She says no official count has been compiled.

Yesterday, we heard the mayor, Ray Nagin, say that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people may have been killed. Now we're getting this from the governor of Louisiana. Thousands of people, she's being told by her state officials, have in fact been killed. But they don't know exactly how many. We probably won't know that for some time.

Jack Cafferty, we keep saying it gets worse every single day. And it's clearly worse today than yesterday.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, and the thing that's most glaring in all of this is that the conditions continue to deteriorate for the people who are victims in this are and the efforts to do something about it don't seem to be anywhere in sight.

I want to read you something, Wolf. This is a quote from an editorial: "A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource. The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months following 9/11, has vanished." Now that's not from some liberal rag. That is an editorial from one of the most conservative newspapers in the country, New Hampshire's "Union Leader."

"The New York Times," not unexpectedly, kind of chimed in. They said the President showed up a day later than he was needed, and they excoriated him for appearing casual to the point of carelessness. Harsh words coming from FEMA's former Disaster Response Chief Eric Tolbert who says the government was not ready and shifted its attention from natural disasters to fighting the war on terror.

The questions that we ask on THE SITUATION ROOM every afternoon, Wolf, are posted on the website two or three hours before we go on the air. And people who read the website often begin to respond before the show actually starts.

The questions this hour is, how would you rate the response of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina? I got to tell you something. We got 500 or 600 letters, before the show even went on the air. No one, no one says the federal government is doing a good job in handling one of the most atrocious and embarrassing and far reaching and calamitous things that has come along in this country in my lifetime. I'm 62. I don't remember -- I remember the riots in Watts. I remember the earthquake in San Francisco. I remember a lot of things.

I have never ever seen anything as badly bungled and poorly handled as this situation in New Orleans. Where the hell is the water for these people? Why can't sandwiches be dropped to those people that are in that Superdome down there? I mean what is going -- this is Thursday. This is Thursday. This storm happened five days ago. It's a disgrace. And don't think the world isn't watching. This is the government the taxpayers are paying for, and it's fallen right flat on its face, as far as I can see, in the way it's handled this thing.

We're going to talk about something else before the show is over, too, and that's the big elephant in the room. The race and economic class of most of the victims, which the media hasn't discussed much at all, but we will a bit later/

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much. Jack, we're going to go back.

We're going to take a break. But when we come back, I want you and our viewers to know that we're going to speak with a doctor who is right now in Charity Hospital, in New Orleans. We heard Sanjay Gupta, our medical correspondent, point out that that hospital is in desperate straights right now. There is no security. No military presence. No law enforcement presence. No law enforcement presence there. And there are infants, there are elderly, there are people in intensive care and critical condition who desperately need help. They tried to remove some of those people, but they were shot upon, snipers shooting at hospital vehicles.

We'll go back to Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and continue our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The disaster, what's unfolding in New Orleans, elsewhere in the Gulf as well, the situation, especially, especially worrisome in downtown New Orleans.

We have on the line now Phyllis Petrich. She's stranded in one of the hotels in New Orleans. Phyllis, where exactly are you?

PHYLISS PETRICH, STRANDED IN NEW ORLEANS: I'm at the Ritz Carlton on Canal Street in the French Quarter.

BLITZER: How long have you been there?

PETRICH: We arrived here actually for holiday on Thursday evening and we were evacuated to the Grand Ballroom by the middle of the night Sunday. We have been on rations since then. They have evacuated some of the hotel. There are about 300 people left. The Ritz is trying to get buses in here. FEMA will not let them in. They got a group out last night. And of the three buses that got out, FEMA commandeered one of them. We have no idea where they've taken those people. We're in dire straits here. There is no electricity. The sewage is backing up. As I said, the water supply is running low.

We do have a team here of infection diseases doctors that were here for a conference who have set up a small infirmary to care for the cases of dysentery and vomiting that have come up, as well as other people who have had some illnesses. But all of those medications are now being depleted, and I don't know that anyone is aware that we're here. I realize we're not top priority on anyone's list, but we are here and we are in dire straits, and we need someone to know that we're here, to come in and help to get us out of here.

BLITZER: Do you have enough food and water right now, Phyllis?

PETRICH: Well I don't believe we have very much food left at all. I know that we didn't have any lunch today. We had just a little biscuit or a cookie for breakfast and all we're each being given is a glass of water.

BLITZER: And it's impossible for you simply to leave the hotel and walk out. Not only are there floodwaters there, but it's dangerous, the violence, the looting, the snipers. It's a very dangerous situation.

PETRICH: It is a very dangerous situation. Fortunately, the Ritz has been wonderful. Apparently they have a lot of off-duty policemen that they have access to, that are guarding the hotel with shotguns. They themselves are afraid to go outside, because policemen are being shot at. And it is a very, very difficult situation here.

And I just don't know how we can impress upon people what is really going on here. I think people just don't have a concept, and it's being glossed over. It's being handled so poorly, it just amazes us to hear what's going on outside -- that people just don't understand just the seriousness of the situation.

BLITZER: Where are you from, Phyllis?

PETRICH: I'm from Maryland right now. I actually live in Wisconsin, but I'm a long-term job assignment in Maryland.

BLITZER: If your family if your friends are watching, what would you like to say to them?

PETRICH: That I am alive and well at this moment. I don't know what will happen in the future, but I am alive and safe for the time being, and I just want to get home to them.

BLITZER: Are you traveling by yourself, or do you have children with you?

PETRICH: With my husband. We came here to celebrate our anniversary. And it's one we will not forgot for many years to come. BLITZER: Well, Phyllis, good luck to you. We'll certainly pass on your concerns to authorities and try to make sure that people don't forgot that these hotels, including the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the French Quarter, are endangered right now.

PETRICH: I know, and it would be a different situation if we had made the choice of our own volition to stay here. We could not get out. Once the storm started to hit, the airlines shut down immediately. And none of us could get flights out. We would have left if we could have, but we could not and that's why we're in the situation that we're in.

BLITZER: One final question, Phyllis, before I let you go. Are there any law enforcement authorities, National Guard, police, first responders, FEMA officials, anyone at the Ritz Carlton Hotel trying to help any of you?

PETRICH: Not that we have seen. No. Not at all.

BLITZER: They're invisible right now.

PETRICH: They are invisible. We have no idea where they are. We hear bits and pieces who can get information in that the National Guard is around, but where? We have not seen them. We have not seen FEMA officials. We have seen no one.

BLITZER: Well, if it makes you feel any better, we're told that they're on the way. We don't know how long it will take to get there. They're deploying thousands of troops. But it clearly will take some time for them to get to the scene where you are. Phyllis, we'll talk with you. And good luck to you, your husband and all your friends. I'm sure you've become friendly with a lot of these people at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

PETRICH: ... absolutely wonderful people. There is a group of British nationals that have gotten to BBC. And we're hoping that with us, trying to get to as much people as we can, they will understand just how dangerous and, you know, difficult the situation is for everyone here.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much, Phyllis. Good luck. We'll check back with you. Phyllis Petrich, like so many others, about 300 people, she said, stranded now at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and no help in sight, at least not now, and they're running short of food and water.

Dr. Francesco Simeone is joining us now from the Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Dr. Simeone, we heard Sanjay Gupta describe a desperate situation unfolding at this major medical facility in New Orleans. Tell us what you can about the situation in your hospital.

DR. FRANCESCO SIMEONE, CHARITY HOSPITAL: I'd like to rectify a little the situation. The situation is still difficult, but slightly better than yesterday. We have been actually able to evacuate all our critically ill patients. There is a different code for different patients -- red, yellow and green, depending on their acuity. And almost all the red patients have been evacuated.

We had a really difficult situation in the intensive care unit, because our mechanical ventilators were working on a diesel generator. And sometimes the electricity would go off and we had to personally manually ventilate these patients. So we were really very uncomfortable up until this morning. Then, we were able to transfer four of these patients last night, and the rest of them were evacuated this morning.

From what I hear, there are still two or three so-called red patients. But most of the sickest patients have been transferred. I think they are dealing now with transferring patients from the psychiatry unit. And there are 90 of them are, and 30 of them are considered red.

There is a total number of persons in the hospital of 1,100, approximately. And 500 of them are patients, but of this 500, 150 approximately have been moved out already.

BLITZER: So 150 of the 500 patients have been able to flee the hospital, to get out. So that means about the 350 patients are still there? And you're saying there's still another 600 hospital personnel, doctors, nurses, administrators, who are still in the hospital?

SIMEONE: Yes. And also some of their family members.

BLITZER: Is it too dangerous for them to simply walk out and leave?

SIMEONE: I don't know the level in the rest -- the level of water in the rest of the city. Around the Charity Hospital, we have the water up to the waist. I don't think it's a good idea to walk up through the water because there has been a sewage spillage in the water.

BLITZER: We had heard, Dr. Simeone, from Sanjay Gupta -- he had been speaking to one of your medical colleagues there, saying that a hospital vehicle was shot upon, that there were snipers that were shooting at some of the vehicles as they were trying to leave the hospital. Are you aware of that?

SIMEONE: I heard this rumor. I didn't witness it myself and I cannot confirm it. But somebody else told me that in the neighborhood of Tulane University, there was a person shooting with a small caliber firearm. At that point, we had the National Guard coming in with a helicopter. They landed on the top of the Charity Hospital, and we saw about 15, 20 soldiers, armed, that went through the hospital. So there is the presence of the National Guard.

BLITZER: Are they there now, the National Guard, or have they left?

SIMEONE: I don't know where they are now, because right now, I'm located in the medical intensive care unit and I'm not outside of the emergency room where the evacuation is taking place. It is true that the evacuation is on hold right now before this issue is cleared. BLITZER: So the evacuation is on hold right now. People are not able to leave the hospital. Is that right?

SIMEONE: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. We'll get back with you. Dr. Francesco Simeone is from the medical intensive care unit at Charity Hospital, giving us an update on a clearly deteriorating situation throughout this city.

Tom Foreman lived in New Orleans for some time. You know the city quite well. First of all, Tom, show our viewers where these two locations are, the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the French Quarter and Charity Hospital not too far away in New Orleans.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Let's zoom into New Orleans right now and take a good look at this. This is, of course, the city coming in, Lake Pontchartrain on the north. There's the river swooping through the bottom. There's the Superdome. We all know that, we know what we're talking about here.

Move over just a little bit, over this way, and this is Charity Hospital right up in this area, OK? So now we're in the Charity Hospital area, right next to it. This is the area we're talking about. This is where the shooting occurred, right up in this area here.

Now, if we want to go to the Ritz Carlton -- in fact, by the way, when you talk about the Tulane Medical Center, it's not near Tulane University, which is way uptown. Tulane University Medical Center is right across the road here. So it's very close. Over here is Canal Street. Canal Street's important because Canal Street is where all these other people are inside this...

BLITZER: This is the French Quarter?

FOREMAN: This is the French Quarter on that side. Over here is the central business district. That's the French Quarter. Now, I want to point out something here. We have different pictures here. This is Charity Hospital down here. You know, he said he was surrounded by water. Here's some pictures from just yesterday. This is well before the storm. From just yesterday. Look at the darkness of water all around that.

BLITZER: So the dark is water that's flooded the area.

FOREMAN: All that darkness is the water that has surrounded the Superbowl -- the Superdome and everything else here. There are helipads down in this area normally, but they're covered with water. That's one of the reasons you can't put a helicopter right next to the Superdome right now, although presumably, you could land one on one of these roads. Now, I'm going to go back the normal view for a second here and show you...

BLITZER So this is the before and the after, basically.

FOREMAN: This is before the storm BLITZER: This is before the flood.

FOREMAN: You see no water here. And I want to move down this road here. You see this big road?

BLITZER: Yes.

FOREMAN: This road goes right down here to the water's edge. And when you get to the water's edge, this is the Convention Center.

BLITZER: This where the 20,000 people or so have been stranded, and the mayor has just issued a desperate SOS appeal to get buses there, to save the lives of these people?

FOREMAN: That's exactly right. Over here again is the French Quarter over here. There's the Superdome. This is the Convention Center. When the mayor says he's going to walk out with these people.

BLITZER: He's going to let them walk out and just start walking.

FOREMAN: Well, what he's talking about doing is leading them up this way, to this ramp. Now I want you to look at this.

BLITZER: I mean, he specifically says they could march up the Crescent City Convention Ramp to the West Bank Expressway.

FOREMAN: This is the flooding area. Now, look at this. I've clicked to the Katrina pictures. This is from yesterday. No flooding on these roads. They can get through this entire area. This is all clear in here. I don't know if it was flooded before, but it's not apparently flooded now. They could hit this ramp right here and these bridges. This is the Crescent City Connection. This is what we're talking about.

It would take them over to another part of New Orleans which we've talked about very little in this, which is called the West Bank. This is the -- over here -- the area where they're talking about. The West Bank of the river is what we're talking about. You'll notice again -- this is before Katrina, after Katrina. No real flooding over here.

However, these people are weak. They're hungry. They're without water. Many of them are old, clearly infirmed. By the time you get out of the Convention Center, up this bridge, over here, which is quite high in the air, you're talking about a two, three-mile walk before you're going to get to anything.

BLITZER: Some of these are very old people and some of them are babies.

FOREMAN: Sure.

BLITZER: I want you to show us where the airport is, as well. We're getting these live pictures in from the airport. It's a staging ground. There's a medical facility there. It's an area they're bringing in supplies. They're bringing in troops. Now you can see it if you if you take a look at this screen right behind you to the left, Tom, you see...

FOREMAN: Right.

BLITZER: They're carrying people off of these helicopters.

FOREMAN: That's where people are coming in. Now look -- you saw the Superdome down here. It's in this big loop down here in the middle. There's the Superdome. We come out, we move over this way to the west. There's the airport. It's out in an area called Kenner. The airport is about 15 miles away. The main way you get back and forth from the airport to town is right up here. It's this road.

BLITZER: You know what, Tom? I'm going to hold -- put you on hold for a second, because I think Ed Lavandera's out at the airport and he can tell us what we're seeing. If we could get word to Ed, that he could explain to us what we're seeing.

Because these pictures that we're seeing -- and I want our viewers to see what we're getting, what's coming in from the airport. They brought some people who are clearly being moved from that helicopter, from that Red Cross helicopter -- you see the Red Cross on the side of that helicopter. They're bringing these people, they're putting them on these conveyor belts, and they're moving them. These people, presumably, Tom, must be in critical condition. They've just been brought in. And presumably, they're going to be transferred to another plane and taken someplace else. Or they're going to be left at this airport, where a medical facility, an emergency medical facility, has been established.

But they're carrying these stretchers and they're putting them right on this little vehicle to move them some place at the airport.

FOREMAN: That's a baggage loading vehicle.

BLITZER: Yeah. That's right. That's what it is, but we're hoping our Ed Lavandera can come up and explain -- he can explain what exactly is happening. You're looking at live pictures from the New Orleans Airport. It's an airport that normally is a pretty busy airport. But now it's been shut down with the exception of emergency flights, supplies coming that are coming in and out.

If Ed Lavandera can hear us, Ed, go ahead and explain what we're seeing. If we can get him up and explain to our viewers what we're seeing.

If we can't do that yet, Tom, we'll continue to -- we're trying to get in touch with him. But these are very, very dramatic pictures that we're seeing coming in from the airport. How far is the airport from town?

FOREMAN: About 15 miles on a normal day. There's a couple of key things that we're going to talk about in a minute here as to why it's so hard to get there now, why it's so hard to get to people downtown. You can also see here, Wolf, this rain we're talking about all day.

BLITZER: It's raining at the airport right now. And they're bringing these people in wheelchairs, on stretchers, they're bringing them to the airport. I think the medical facility, though, I read earlier today is pretty much stretched out, it's pretty overpopulated already. There are a lot of sick individuals that are very, very ill right now. And they're trying to get emergency medical attention. The hospitals -- Charity Hospital, Tulane University Hospital are stretched as we know as well.

Ed Lavandera, can you hear me? It's Wolf.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I hear you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers what's happening at the airport right now. We're watching these dramatic pictures -- people coming off helicopters in stretchers, on wheelchairs. What is happening at the airport?

LAVANDERA: Well, we're trying to gather exactly where these people are coming from. But I'm getting the sense that -- many of them are already dressed in hospital gowns, many elderly people. And I get the sense that many of these folks might be coming from area hospitals.

There's also a good number of people I talked to either -- who were either at the Convention Center, or at the Superdome who had been brought up here.

But what we have seen is a steady stream of helicopters landing here at the New Orleans Airport where we've been reporting from the last day, where FEMA has set up one of these field hospitals. And it has been a constant stream of people here.

In fact, I just spoke with one of the team commanders. And he said to say we're overwhelmed is an understatement. He said to say that this is a catastrophe and a disaster doesn't even begin to explain what they're dealing with.

They are completely overwhelmed. They're hoping -- at one point they had about 1,000 people drop in on this one particular field hospital, way more they even imagined that they would have to see at any one point. They're trying right now to scale that back down and move it a little bit quicker.

But many of these people are also -- if we can maybe pan over to the left a little bit, and show you what else is happening on the tarmac of this airport. Wolf, this has essentially turned into what looks like a military operation. You can see over there military aircraft that have been landing. What we have seen is a lot of these aircraft dropping off materials, being unloaded with what we presume is food and water, and other equipment that might be needed to get everyone through this.

And at the same time, we've also heard reports that many of these people that come here to this particular field hospital are also being put on some of these planes, as they leave.

I just spoke with one group of new mothers. There was a maternity ward from Methodist Hospital here in New Orleans that was evacuated -- and that's one of the helicopters you hear there on the tarmac, so I apologize if you're having a hard time hearing me. But those women who had just given birth within the last two or three days. And they told me that they were now being taken to Fort Worth.

One gut-wrenching story with a woman who we'll show you here in a little bit -- we're trying to get that tape to you guys -- is of a woman who gave birth during the storm whose baby was born premature and was taken into an intensive care unit. When I saw the woman, all she was holding was a photograph of the baby and she didn't know where the baby was.

So, the scene here completely chaotic and overwhelming for the FEMA workers and the medical technicians that have been working here 36 hours.

BLITZER: All right. Ed, stand by. I want to continue to show these pictures to our viewers. But I want to bring in archbishop New Orleans, Archbishop Alfred Hughes who's joining us now.

You're in Baton Rouge, Archbishop. As we look at these pictures, as we hear these horror stories unfold, you're one of the major spiritual leaders of New Orleans. Give our viewers your perspective on what is happening.

ALFRED HUGHES, ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ORLEANS: Wolf, we've undergone an extraordinary human catastrophe. The victims who have died, the victims who continue to -- the victims who continue to be in need of rescue, those who are risking their lives in order to reach out to help them -- the police and National Guard are really stretched to capacity. Their first focus has been, and continues to be, on rescue.

But you know, as you have all reported, there's unfortunately a down side to the way in which some people have responded to this situation.

I'd like to tell you, though, Wolf, about a remarkable response taking place here in Baton Rouge. I am about 75 miles east of New Orleans. I left the city at the request of the public officials, as the storm was breaking in. I first was trapped for almost two days in Covington, Louisiana. I came here to Baton Rouge, where I once served as bishop, and I've been working in close collaboration with Bishop Munch, who is the Catholic bishop here now in Baton Rouge.

Church parishes have opened their facilities. We have absorbed people who have been evacuated from nursing homes, set up in church school gymnasiums an interim kind of facility to offer care and social services. And we're partnering Catholic Charities with the American Red Cross, to try to mobilize response. There's over 150,000 people from New Orleans that are here. And we're expecting that the population of metropolitan Baton Rouge, which is about 350,000, will be doubled before we get through absorbing the refugees from New Orleans.

BLITZER: Archbishop, our hearts go out to you, our hearts go out to all the people who have had to flee New Orleans. We wish -- we wish only a speedy, speedy recovery for this town, for this city and for everyone who lives there.

HUGHES: And in the name of our people, I do appeal for help, financial help to Catholic Charities USA, or to the American Red Cross. The American bishops have asked for a collection to be taken up in all the Catholic dioceses. We will be grateful for all the help that can be given to us, so that we can continue to reach out and respond to those who are suffering and in such great need.

BLITZER: Archbishop, we're going to ask you to stay with us. But we have to move on, because we're getting this statement in from a press secretary to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, basically saying, they're trying to move people out as quickly as they can from various parishes, transporting them to New Orleans. "We are overwhelmed and out of resources, but we welcome them with open arms. And we will figure this out together."

Even as they are stretched thin, they are trying to help other people who are, perhaps, in even greater need.

Jack Cafferty, you're watching all of this unfold, and our viewers are as well, Jack. What are they saying?

CAFFERTY: Well, we asked a bit of a loaded question earlier this hour, Wolf, when we said how would you rate the response of the federal government to Hurricane Katrina. We had a ton of mail. I think there's close to 3,500 letters came in, in maybe 15 or 20 minutes.

Here's a sampling.

Penny in Renton, Washington, "I sit here in Seattle wishing like hell I could do anything besides give money and send prayers to help those poor souls. This is not my America. This is not my government. I'm ashamed of this administration beyond any shame I have ever felt before. I hope the people of this country can pull together in spite of government ineptitude to help wherever necessary."

This one is signed Disgusted in El Paso, Texas, "There's no National Guard presence on the Gulf Coast, because they're all in Iraq. We can invade a country on the other side of the world, but we can't drop bottled water from a helicopter on a street in New Orleans."

Delores in Mt. Ephraim, New Jersey, "Get the talking heads off the TV. How many times do we need to hear what they're doing? Pictures show clearly what they're not doing."

John in Carmel, Indiana, "I think the government is handling the program in a remarkable fashion. Calling back Congress is a brilliant move by the president. What I don't like is the negativism from the media. Maybe they should volunteer to go help with the cleanup instead of being so critical."

And Howell in Conway, Arkansas, "Bush and his minions have probably never been in the poorer parts of any American city. It's the greatest failure of the American political system that those with the greatest needs are the least likely to get it." And a lot about calling Congress back.

Wolf, you remember when they ordered the feeding tube disconnected from Terri Schiavo? Congress returned to Washington on a Sunday night in order a pass some sort of a piece of legislation that was calling on them to reconnect the feeding tube. In a matter of hours, they came back on holiday.

This hurricane happened on Monday. They may show up in Washington tomorrow, Friday, to work on a resolution to appropriate some money for these people in New Orleans. I guess it's all about what's important to you, isn't it?

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. We're going to check back with you. You've got another question coming up in the next hour, and the next hour is beginning right now.

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